Sunday, 17 September 2017

A place of beauty

A place of beauty Thank you to the gardeners of Edinburgh District Council Parks Department who have planted a small patch of land with meadow flowers, in between the children's swing park and the football pitch. The result is beautiful, and it reminds me of the way I think the countryside ought to be. For a few yards, the walk along the footpath from Kilncroft Side to Inglis Green Road is in bloom. Do walk it.

Friday, 8 September 2017

What Duracell and Ever Ready don’t want you to know

Following the appearance of this short article in the Daily Mail dated 7 September 2017 on how to recharge your mobile phone when there is no electric power, How to charge your phone if the power goes out, I feel entitled to publish the following short article on the same subject from the little known Journal of Physics and Mobile Communication.

Four engineering students from the university of Tempinbol, in the little known east European country of Tiurma, have discovered a replacement for conventional mobile phone batteries.

Cut a slice 1½″ × 2″ of British potato. Soak it in a mixture of vinegar, honey and cold tea for three months. Prick holes in both sides of it with a pin. Wrap it in a clean British cabbage leaf and put it in the hole where the phone battery used to be.

Once in place it will power your phone for up to 100 years and what’s more every call you make with it will be free.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A song about the Office of National Statistics

According to the eleven o’clock (in the morning) news on Radio Four today, unemployment has fallen yet again.

Tune: We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line. Acknowledgements to Michael Carr and Jimmy Kennedy.

Once I got a first class math-e-matics degree,
Then I was on the dole.
Now I’m back at work and in the right job for me,
I invent the figures that appear on TV!

I’ve joined the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
Where I work things out and often get them wrong,
It’s where they pay me to make up all the vital facts,
As I blithely go along.
Tell me the figures should be big or small
And I’ll tell you what you want to hear,
I’m in the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
And the answer’s crystal clear.

I’m at the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
Is your manifesto costed through and through?
Do you wonder who’s leading the opinion polls?
’Cause I haven’t got a clue.
All these improvements in the way you live
Are supposed to raise your self esteem,
I’m in the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
Where I fall asleep and dream.

Downstairs in the basement there’s a hardworking clerk,
Oh, what a rigmarole,
Guess how many citizens are looking for work,
Scribbling it on paper while he’s going berserk,

I’m at the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
Will your pension be enough to stay alive?
Have we paid back the debt or just the deficit?
And how many beans make five?
Is the exchange rate going to rise or fall?
Tell me, how long is a piece of string?
And then you take away the number that you first thought of,
Yes, we know that sort of thing.

I’m at the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
I decide on what goes up and what comes down,
I just pluck all the numbers out of empty air
’Cause the abacus broke down,
When people ask me what the future holds
I can cast the runes and draw a graph,
I’m in the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
I can have a damned good laugh.

Ken Johnson

Monday, 29 May 2017

How to stop people using mobile phones while they drive

How to stop people using mobile phones while they drive Not that long ago I was crossing the road at the Pelicon crossing outside Saughton Park, when despite the red traffic light and the green man, a fast car passed within an inch of me, very nearly knocking me over. The driver was, you’ve guessed it, using her mobile phone while driving.

This dangerous practice has attracted some attention in the newspapers of late: for example, Motorists’ anger at plummeting mobile-phone convictions in The Telegraph. But the only solution anyone seems to have canvassed is increasing the fines or driving bans that the courts can hand down.

The trouble is, increasing the penalty has not worked. Penalties for using a mobile phone while driving were increased a few weeks ago, and the number of convictions has pretty much stayed the same.

The penalty for using a mobile phone, of course, should be temporary or permanent confiscation of the phone. This is obvious to any parent or teacher who has become exasperated by watching a child texting and yapping on the phone instead of making their own bed or doing arithmetic. But the long term solution to this serious road safety problem comes from a completely different direction.

Some futuristic engineers see the solution in driverless cars. Obviously, if your car is driverless, you will be able to use a mobile phone just as if you were aboard a bus or a train. When driverless cars are finally put to work on the streets I am sure that the roads will be safer than at any time since the invention of the motor car. But driverless cars are a long way in the future, and in the mean time I see the solution in subscriberless phones. These revolutionary telephones will sense the movement of the car, and immediately start phoning people and holding trivial and unnecessary conversations along the lines of ‘Hello darling, I’ll be working late at the office,’ ‘Happy birthday,’ ‘Does the dog have enough tinned food,’ ‘Eric’s feeling a bit poorly so I gave the stuff to Myra,’ and so forth.

By keeping up an autonomous torrent of inane conversation with friends, the subscriberless phone will free its owner to concentrate on the road ahead.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

A modest comment on the unemployment figures

A modest comment on the unemployment figures Here is the BBC News website’s summary of the unemployment figures published yesterday, 17 May 2017.
  • The UK unemployment rate has fallen to 4·6%, its lowest in 42 years,
  • The jobless rate has not been lower since the June to August period of 1975.
  • The employment rate, the proportion of 16 to 64 year olds in work, was 74·8%, the highest since records began in 1971.

You can take that as the official version of the figures, published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which is the equivalent in today’s money of the Ministry of Truth. Disputing their opinions, particularly it seems in the Houses of Parliament, sets off a hurricane of rage from those who have put their faith in them.

There are many expressions of stunned disbelief in the English language, but like the great George Orwell, writing in his newspaper column ‘As I Please’, on 19 January 1945, I sense that, reading these incredible statements, you find the phrase ‘and then you wake up’ coming immediately to hand. It is common experience that unemployment is completely out of control. Unemployment has in reality reached a level so high that no politician of any political stamp asks to be put in charge of it. Worse, so far, no politician in the last few years has even suggested that anything can, or ought to be, done about it. On the contrary, several recently adopted government policies, for example that on the State pension, require old people to remain employed until an age well into three figures*, and assume, despite train-loads of evidence to the contrary, that there will be well paid work for all who want it.

Not for the first time I sense that the government has been deceived by its own propaganda. This time, though, the Opposition is guilty of pretending to accept ONS statistics on unemployment, for fear of finding itself responsible for a desperately serious problem for which it has neither diagnosis nor remedy.

It is exceedingly difficult to find a job, as my own experience and that of, probably, millions of others has shown. Unemployment is certainly well into the millions. How many millions exactly, nobody knows.

Further evidence may be found by searching on line for ‘How they fiddle the unemployment figures,’ or any synonymous phrase. You will see dozens of hits, each representing a different list of old Spanish customs whereby the ONS reduces the unemployment figures without actually employing anybody.

The only plausible alternative explanation of the disparity between the ONS figures and reality is that the ONS, far from counting the unemployed people and falsifying the results, simply makes up the figures as it goes along.

I doubt whether anyone in government, or anywhere else for that matter, knows who qualifies as unemployed and who doesn’t, let alone the vital information: who is unemployed, where they live, what skills they have, what they might be trained to do, or anything else about them.

What that means, I think, is that nobody in government actually cares about those people, including me, who face the daily misery of having no work to do and precious little money. That is especially poignant in the light of evidence such as a study called Modelling suicide and unemployment (The Guardian, 11/02/15) that, among men at least, unemployment is a common precursor of suicide. To the people who are undergoing it, unemployment is sometimes a burden which they take the most desperate of measures to throw off.

In the absence of any serious proposals from any political party to deal with unemployment, here are my modest proposals to ameliorate it.

  1. Unemployment remains sky high, so stop lying about it. I haven’t spoken to a single person who believes the ONS figures.

    Count unemployed people in exactly the same way as they were counted in the days when an interviewer asked the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, whether he would resign if unemployment were to reach a quarter of a million.

  2. Stop trying to force unemployed people to find work.

    Most unemployed people would probably accept a decent job if they were offered one. Any who prefer to remain on benefits, which means living on a budget so small that many unemployed people cannot afford electricity and food, are at least leaving a job empty so that someone who wants it can have it.

  3. Raise the benefits that unemployed people receive.

    By a stroke of irony, paying unemployed people more money would reduce unemployment. Increasing the amount of money that people actually spend is a pre-requisite for an increase in the amount of goods sold, which is in turn probably a better way of reducing unemployment than not counting people with hats.

  4. Finally, stop buying cheap goods from China. It's one thing to buy some cheap rubbish from China, or anywhere else, when you want some cheap rubbish. If you want a dress that costs ten times what the shop gave for it, doesn't fit and then falls to bits, China is probably the right supplier for you.

    It’s another thing altogether to buy things from a country which appears to have been subsidising the manufacture of various goods and then dumping them in British shops at less than what it costs the Chinese to produce.

★That is an exaggeration, but not a particularly big one.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The truth about St George

The truth about Saint George An article in The Independent headlined This St George’s Day, we should remember that the patron saint of England was an immigrant,” claims that St George was a Turkish immigrant, never set foot in England and was persecuted by the Romans on account of his quaint religious beliefs.

Crusader It’s time to set the record straight. St George was as English as I would be if I lived in England. He was born in Limehouse, went to the Alderman Gruesome comprehensive school and came out illiterate but a well respected street fighter who spent his days drinking warm beer in the Queen Vic. He lived in a cramped terraced house on Darkness Road which he shared with a bricklayer and a jobbing gardener, and he worked as a delivery driver on a zero hours contract with a pizza café.

On 23 April (or its equivalent in the Julian calendar) of 360 AD he heard a commotion from the general area of Blackfriars Bridge. He made his way thither and pushed to the front of the crowd, where he beheld the horrifying spectacle of a vast dragon, the size of at least three elephants tied together, breathing fire so hot that the street lamps wilted and all who came close to it were incinerated.

Crusader2George (he was just plain George in those days, the title came along later) tied his shoelaces and drew his special left-handed sword, smiting the dragon with such speed and strength that its head was completely severed by a single blow, and the animal writhed in agony and fell down dead at his feet.

At which the crowd cheered George to the rafters and the Pope turned up out of nowhere, read George a magic scroll and pinned to his chest the golden medal which converted him into a saint.

After that, unlike most saints, St George never did anything noteworthy ever again. Nonetheless we still celebrate St George’s Day by roasting a goose, baking red and white cakes, dressing up as knights and dragons and pretending to fight each other with plastic sticks, and giving one another gaudily wrapped I-Pads and mobile telephones.

So mark the truth. Never let it be said that St George was a Turkish immigrant. He was as English as you or I would have been, if we were English. If they get away with that, these damned historians will be telling me that Jesus Christ wasn’t born on 25 December of 0 AD, and we can’t have that.

I first published this nonsense in the newsgroup talk.bizarre. The image of St George comes from joeatta78.deviantart.com. The Crusader image came from the Daily Express site.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A good word for the Daily Mail

Of all the British newspapers, the Daily Mail is probably the least respected. I’m the first to admit that on occasion I deride it too. I had an aunt who read the Daily Mail regularly and seemed to actually believe it. Some of the things she said about Black people, for which the Daily Mail would have been her only source of information, probably can't be legally written down on a web page.

Nonetheless, as I said when you were here last week, the on line version of the Daily Mail, however disagreeable you may find its content, is probably the best organised of the on line British papers.

For a start, it is free. Many newspapers on the Net now charge for their services, out of a belief that if they put their publish their content free, nobody will pay to read the same content on paper. So far as I know, that belief has proved mistaken. In particular, The Times is rumoured to be about to abandon its subscription scheme altogether.

Then again, the quality of the Mail’s news is not bad. Breaking news usually gets into the on line paper within an hour or so. This is in contrast to, say, the relentless fake news on offer in the Sunday Sport, which once published a story under the headline World War 2 Bomber Found On Moon. For real news, the only on line paper I can think of which rivals the Mail is The Telegraph, which is as good as any, better than most, and still free.

It is of course its opinions for which the Daily Mail is so widely ridiculed. The Mail obsesses about a handful of peculiarly uninteresting topics, in alphabetical order: house prices, Madeleine McCann, pædophiles, quack medicine, the Royal Family, and women from a lacklustre American city called Los Angeles where clothing appears still to be on the ration.

If you want to read the opinions of the political Right, you can read The Daily Express on line, and if you want to read the opinions of the political Left, you can read The Morning Star as well, although I must say The Morning Star would be more plausible than it is if it didn’t endlessly mistake the Labour Party for something to do with socialism.

Yet the Mail is neither nauseatingly liberal, like The Guardian, which appears to believe that every illegal immigrant, whatever his deeds, should be allowed to stay in the United Kingdom for the rest of his natural life, nor desperately Politikally Korrekt, like the BBC, which still refers to ‘firefighters’ instead of ‘firemen’ in case someone rings them up and pretends to have been dreadfully offended. I sometimes think the BBC would rather yell Fuck! on air, like Russell Brand did in front of the children on Red Nose Day, than describe a man who fights fires for a living as a fireman. Let alone a man who works on the footplate of a steam locomotive shovelling coal onto the fire.

All this ignores one vital consideration.

The opinions expressed by a newspaper, or by any other written communication, are created by their authors. It may be fair to judge the readers of the Daily Mail by the opinions that they read, but because of the Mail’s comment sections, it is also possible to judge the readership by what they write. Often they just write a throw-away catch phrase like ‘Throw them out’ or ‘Bring back the rope,’ but sometimes it is a carefully thought through couple of sentences and often they write what is, politically, the diametric opposite of what would have been posted by the rabid neo-Nazi Daily Mail reader of popular imagination.

Looking at the comments, I have been struck by one or two recurring themes.

Firstly, the sheer illiteracy of some posters. This may well be the true measure of the failure of the schools. Many comments are meaningless, written by readers who are unable to express themselves in written English. I try to skip over those comments rather than rack what is left of my brain working out what the writer wanted to say.

Any comment about a criminal convicted of a violent or sexual offence ignites a sort of firestorm of comments, each one posted by some wannabe gaoler with ideas of torturing the guilty man (it is usually a man) more severely than the wannabe gaoler before him.

Any comment about schools attracts a pile of comments pining for the restoration of the glorious Tripartite System, the competitive, disciplined education system that we had in the ’fifties and ’sixties, instead of the present comprehensive system believed by many (rightly) to set itself the wrong targets and then not hit any of them.

Comments about the afterlife or about everyday vegetables that miraculously cure all known diseases or about children who are the re-incarnation of an ancient prince, king or farmyard animal are greeted with terrifying, enthusiastic credulity.

But the Mail’s cringing obsequiousness towards the Royal Family is not shared in its comment sections. Many readers harbour dark suspicions about the fate of poor Madeleine McCann, who the Mail insists is probably still alive somewhere. Readers do not seem to share the British and American governments’ fears about the Russian Federation doing all it can to undermine the wonderful western life style which most of us don't enjoy. And readers’ comments on dangerous, drunken or homicidal motorists usually deplore the reckless leniency of the Courts — you know, the magistrates and judges who think that being banned from driving is a sort of punishment, instead of just a reduction to the same status as the rest of us.

I suppose I have to admit to sharing all those opinions except the one about the treatment of criminals.

Then again a lot of comments are written in jest and most of those are funny.

I have been a loyal poster of comments to the Daily Mail since 31 July 2015. In that time I have, I imagine, contributed more to the noise than to the signal, but occasionally I post a comment which attracts either nearly universal agreement or nearly universal disagreement. You can tell whether the readers agree or disagree with a comment because each comment is accompanied by its count of likes and dislikes. Looking at those ratings, you can see the opinions of the readers rather than the writers.

Here, so that you may fairly judge the readership of the Daily Mail, are thirty-one comments, all of them written by me, which met either with near unanimous approval or near unanimous disapproval. With the aid of the specially invented Unanimometer, which appears on the left of each comment and shows the percentage of readers who agreed with me, let’s dive in and take a look at them.

41/43, 95% Unanimometer On personal finance

On a suggestion that you should save one hour’s pay per day, The one piece of advice every self-made millionaire swears by for keeping their finances in check

You report that, ‘If you were earning £8 an hour, you should save £8 every day of March, which would result in you saving £248 by the end of the month.’ And you will have saved £1,000,000 after just over 342 years, 2 months and 24 days. See you at the Ritz!


44/47, 96% On food

On a report that a waitress wrote an insulting remark on a restaurant bill, ‘Small egg and tomato omelette for the weird freak:’ Father fumes after posh café hands him his receipt containing a printed insult about his wife

Could someone explain how an ‘egg and [tomato] omelette’ differs from a tomato omelette?


10/10, 100% On immigration

Reply to a comment on a report that police found three illegal immigrants stowing away in a lorry, Moment police discover three ‘illegal’ immigrants from Eritrea in the back of a lorry after the worried driver rang 999 after fearing people were inside

JC4PM wrote,

Pity we didn’t give them a warm welcome considering the hardships they must have endured. Hardship for most people in the UK is when it rains.

You don’t consider a lifetime on benefits and a free house to be a warm enough welcome, obviously.


35/38, 92% On education

On a report that some schools send badly behaved pupils home on the days of Ofsted inspections, The badly behaved pupils kept hidden from Ofsted

Ofsted have been trying, and failing, to pull the wool over our eyes for years. How comes it that only one school, two on a really bad day, is graded Needs Improvement, Poor, Useless, or Worse Than Useless, but a third of the children in the final year of compulsory education can’t read and seven eighths can’t do simple arithmetic?

7/7, 100% On a report that a girl had been sent home from school following a false allegation that she was selling vibrators, Lutheran school principal suspends girl, 12, for three days for ‘selling sex toys’ in the classroom — but it turns out they were actually ‘water snake wigglies’

Do two members of school staff have nothing more important to do than accuse their charges of imaginary sex crimes? The important question is, can Frances Halbeck read and write? If so, apologise to her and then forget the imaginary sex crimes. If not, sack the teachers.

48/51, 94% On streamed schools: Streaming ‘holds back pupils from poor homes:’ Call to stop dividing pupils by ability as children in lower sets get worse teaching

Demolish the comprehensives. Bring back the Eleven Plus, grammar schools, secondary moderns and technical schools.


29/30, 97% On the Royal Family

On a report that a helicopter sometimes flown by Prince William was involved in a near miss, Prince’s helicopter horror as a lethal drone comes within half a second of his air ambulance in dramatic near-miss

I don’t get it. How do you justify saying, ‘Scrounger William cheats death’ when he wasn’t anywhere near the helicopter at the time? He was probably out in some den of iniquity somewhere, getting off his face with his rich friends.


8/8 against, 100% against On quack medicine

On a story that a dose of cannabis had cured a child of cancer, I gave my little boy cannabis to help cure his cancer

Bedelia posted,

I work in the industry, it’s real. The wilfully ignorant just choose to stay that way.
To Bedelia: You work in the fake news industry? Do you have any vacancies? I had a rare cancer of the nose but I cured it by eating a wet cardboard box.
4/4, 100% On foreign affairs

On a report that Deutsche Bank believes the pound will fall to $1.06, Deutsche Bank predicts the pound will drop by a fifth by the end of the year due to Brexit

Germany calling, Germany calling. Attention, all British persons. We know why your national currency has declined in value to less than two million Reichsmarks to the Pound. Great German economists calculate that before the end of this year, an egg will change hands for fifteen shillings and a loaf of bread for three pounds eighteen and sixpence. The Bank of England is outclassed and outmanoeuvred by the glorious Reichsbank with its ranks of fund managers and cashiers, all of whom are dedicated to terminating all financial activity in Britain. Soon your rations will be scraps of meat and crusts of bread. You will starve, you will freeze, you will sleep on the street etc.

154/161, 96% On a report that British banks are storing money for Russian criminals, Diamonds, Bentleys, private school fees and a £29m townhouse: How Russian cash ‘laundered by UK banks’ was spent

Will the government now give effect to the Russian extradition warrants currently sitting in a waste paper basket somewhere in Whitehall? Or did they really imagine that the oligarchs and their British and American accomplices came by their wealth honestly?

18/20, 90% On a report that British banks allowed Russian billionaires to launder money, British banks including HSBC, RBS, Barclays and Coutts ‘processed £600million in multi-billion pound Russian money-laundering scam’

Jack Herer wrote,

Fines aren’t working with these big corporations
How about bulldozers?

17/17 against, 100% against On defence

On a report that North Korea might start a war, Inching towards nuclear war? It’s terrifying. North Korea’s use of missiles threatens a new global flashpoint which could suck in South Korea, China, Japan and the US

I think the Americans did do something about Korea. They started a war against one of the smallest and weakest countries in the world, and they lost. Any threat of war from North Korea is the Americans’ own fault. Mark you, without it, the film Mash would never have been made, which makes up for the Americans being on the wrong end of about five million nuclear missiles made in China so they fall to bits and don’t go off bang.

17/18, 94% On a report that a British aircraft carrier was scrapped: Rust in peace, Lusty: Ex-British flagship now lies in bits at demolition yard after being ripped apart to make pots and pans

War raged about them. Enemy forces had taken The Weald and were advancing rapidly on Guildford. Colonel McFlare stared at the map. Sweat ran down his face. ‘God damn them! We’ll send in the aircraft carrier. Give ’em something to think about.’ From the desk in the corner of the bunker, Perkins looked up, ready with the notepad to pass the great Colonel’s orders to the ratings. ‘Sir. If I may ask, shall we bombard them with cheap Turkish saucepans or delay the advance by fifteen minutes and serve them boiled potatoes?’


18/20, 90% On Gideon (‘David’) Osborne

On a report that Mr Osborne has six jobs, Defiant Osborne says his six jobs make parliament better as he is berated by MPs in the Commons for ‘impossible’ conflicts of interest

If Mr Osborne can make do with five jobs, can I have the one that he doesn’t want?


28/31, 90% On the afterlife

On a report of strange apparitions, ‘Ghosts find me:’ The spooky revelations of graveyard and mortuary workers

Funny thing about the ‘confession’ and ‘true tales’ sites on the Net is, all the stories are completely true. Nobody ever makes anything up, not even me. I wonder why that is.


19/19 against, 100% against% On pædophile rings

In reply to a comment on a story that fictitious pædophile activity on Coronation Street gave rise to numerous complaints from viewers, Coronation Street ‘could face Ofcom investigation’ after complaints from viewers about “disturbing’ Bethany Platt sex ring storyline

LKM wrote,

Why? These things happen in real life. By not putting them on soaps is ignorant and makes people live in a fantasy where this awful thing doesn’t happen.
Who do you know who’s experienced anything remotely resembling this exaggerated, lunatic invention?
21/23, 91% On the housing shortage

On a report of a very small flat being rented out for £520 a month, Is this the worst flat in London? Tiny studio where the toilet is just inches from the bed goes on the market for £520 a month

Requisition the flat and move purported refugees in.

26/27. 96% On a report that builders want to build houses on the Green Belt, Call to end the green belt ban: Experts say the housing shortage is holding back Britain’s economic growth

Builders and developers have wanted to get their hands and their bulldozers onto the Green Belt ever since it was created. The problem is nothing to do with the Green Belt and everything to do with extortionate rents and house prices, which suck money out of the economy. Requisition empty buildings, refurbish them and adapt them for residential use, and sell the resulting housing units for £10 each.


13/13 100% On democracy

On the murky details of the Conservative Party’s election expenses, The Prime Minister, the Tatler Tory, his Conservative party Battlebus mistress and a very revealing election expenses leak

Trouble with metaphors and analogies is that eventually people start to believe them. Elections are not a battle. They are democracy in its working clothes. The Tories should repaint the thing and call it the Democracy Bus. Or do Tories imagine an election to be a battle between the forces of good and evil, in which they’re crazed warriors swinging their axes on the side of evil?


67/71, 94% On Jeremy Corbyn MP

On a report that Ann Smith MP had told Jeremy Corbyn MP to resign, Why don’t you just go? Corbyn’s new low as MP tells him to his face to quit.

I thought that when a lowly Member of Parliament did not want to work under the direction of the Leader of the Parliamentary Party, it was the Member who had to resign. So why doesn’t Mrs Wilson, a.k.a. Smith, resign? After, of course, explaining how you get four beds into a one bedroom flat in London.


325/327, 100% On foreign aid

On a report of starvation in Kenya, Victims of the greedy, profiteering vultures of the famine: Shocking dispatch reveals the horrific story of a little boy and his desperate mother starving in the heat of the Kenyan sun

The foreign aid money that could have kept them alive and well is sitting in an anonymous numbered bank account somewhere. Send in the forensic accountants.


9/10, 90% On the BBC

On a report that Google carries unsavoury advertisements, BBC and Whitehall pull ads from Google after it is accused of failing to remove antisemitic content in a ‘breach of law and its own rules’

Tim wrote,

Do something radical, if Google run these ads in at the UK, and the funds go to a proscribed organisation, fine them for every ad until it stops. Yes, I know it is difficult, as the web is world wide, but it can be controlled to the layman with basic filters in place, although I admit, on deep searches this could be a nightmare.
Oh, nonsense. The BBC haven’t been given their own way so they’re throwing a tantrum and taking their ball home.
22/24, 92% On energy policy

On a report that ministers disapprove of energy price rises, Ministers pledge action on rip-off energy bills: Crackdown promised after minister attacks ‘unacceptable price rises’

Does the government really believe its own propaganda — the best way to reduce prices is to allow the rip-off merchants to charge as much as they like? Telling people to buy identical electricity from an identical company that uses the same coal, diesel and copper wires is a waste of everybody’s time and money. People are regularly found frozen to death in Scotland because of astronomic electricity and gas prices. Privatisation has failed again. Re-nationalise the electricity and gas industries without compensation and reduce energy prices by 90%.


3/3, 100% On landing a job

On a story about interviews, Would YOU get the job? The 20 toughest interview questions asked by the world’s most élite firms (and how to answer them correctly)

The easiest way to get a job is to sleep with the manager. The other easiest way to get a job is to be the son or daughter of the manager. Never known either method fail.


75/77, 97% On motoring offenders

On a report of a near miss on the roads, Moment BMW driver ‘holding a can of beer’ shoots out from a junction onto a main road forcing a mother to slam on her brakes to avoid a head-on crash

They’ll fine him at least 75p. Just you wait and see.


1/1, 100% On austerity

On a report of the national insurance increase for self employed workers, Tory backlash grows as minister joins MPs including IDS demanding a U-turn over Budget tax raid on self-employed while Chancellor insists he needs to raise money for Brexit

Squealer explained to the animals that when they experienced a fall in their weekly wage, what they were really getting was an increase in their weekly wage, because the pigs had been so successful at reducing the deficit. ‘Thanks to the financial acumen of our great leader, Comrade Napoleon,’ he squealed, ‘when the deficit appears to be increasing out of all control, it is in reality becoming smaller and more easily manageable.’


6/6, 100% On mathematics

On a report that if you Own a bag for life? You’re a safer motorist: Sainsbury’s finds shoppers who use eco carriers are less likely to make an insurance claim

Inferential statistics is hard, as Barbie would have said.


9/9, 100% On divorce

On a a story about counsellors for recently divorced women, From fixing your finances to getting you dating again… Marriage on the rocks? Call the ‘divorcierge’

It is sickening to see greedy self appointed nannies making a pile of money out of unhappy marriages.


13/14, 93% On international travel

On a story about leg room on airline seats, Why BA will soon have less legroom than Ryanair: Airline plans to reduce gap to 29 inches so it can add an extra two rows of seats on short-haul flights

Go by train and ship.


20/21, 95% On money

On a story about fake five pound notes, How to spot a fake fiver: Police release tips on how to tell if you have a counterfeit £5 note after a PCSO raises the alarm over alleged forgeries in circulation

If it says ‘Monopoly’ on it and it shows a picture of Uncle Moneybags, then it’s probably a fake.


5/5, 100% On accidentally buying hamburgers

On a story about people who go into Macdonald’s for a salad and buy a hamburger instead, Why do we go in for a salad… but leave with a Big Mac? History of how things become popular revealed

Your use of the word ‘muck’ will offend many people who toil at all hours for low wages in hot and cramped conditions producing what is probably the finest junk food in the world. Macdonald’s food is excellent of its kind. You want filet de bœuf farci en croûte, you go to the five star Michelin restaurant down the road. Don’t insult Macdonald’s.

Friday, 24 March 2017

My favourite television series

My favourite television series, The Adventures of Mukhtar the Police Dog, is back on Russian television after a long absence. It’s a bit like Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, except with a very clever police dog. The series started in 2004 and has run for 798 exciting episodes, and it won the TEFI (ТЭФИ) Award for Best Daytime Television Series from the Russian Academy of Television in 2014 and again in 2015.

Somebody has put the series onto You Tube. Copy and paste ‘Возвращение Мухтара’ into the search box and you’ll find it.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Not the end of the Monarchy

The Daily Mail On Line, even if you don’t like its politics, is a very well organised on-line newspaper. It is free. It makes no effort — so far — to prevent its readers running ad blockers. It is well laid out, all the main stories of the day are previewed on its splash page, and every headline clicks through onto the story.

True, the Daily Mail is the object of much ridicule. It has a reputation, not entirely deserved, for comically rabid right wing politics. One day I’ll write about its politics, but today I’m banging on about something else.

The Mail has curious obsessions with house prices, quack medicine and the clothes chosen by certain young women. But the reason I read the Mail is its very generous comment policy. I can write comments on most of its stories and other readers can, and do, post their own comments and reply to mine. You can read every comment I’ve ever written on stories in the Mail if you click on my profile there.

So that’s my interest declared.

On 18 March 2017, the Mail On Line ran a story called “London Bridge Is Down” about the unsurprising, if mawkish, fact that rehearsals for the Queen’s funeral have been held. The article took its headline from a claim, which I suspect is unlikely to happen when the need arises, that various officials will refer to Her Majesty's demise by the cryptic phrase “London Bridge is down.”

It is not surprising that rehearsals of grave events of state take place regularly. The point that interests me, which so far as I know neither I nor the Mail nor anybody else has considered, is whether the end of the present reign would be a good moment to reform the British Monarchy.

I am a monarchist. Nevertheless I have the feeling that many British subjects are tired of the antics of certain members of the Royal Family and the enormous amounts of money, property and privilege lavished on people of limited talent and unlimited wealth who are related to the Queen but have not a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding her.

So here’s why I am in favour of the Monarchy.

The monarchy is the only means I know for the leader of the United Kingdom to be politically neutral. You need an apolitical figure to perform ceremonial duties such as opening Parliament, signing Bills into law, pinning medals onto distinguished soldiers, giving out honours to those whose donations to the political party of government merit them, speaking to assemblages of nonentities in Brussels and generally opening supermarkets and town halls.

The alternative usually canvassed is an elected President. The problem is, unless the elected President can refrain from being a member of any political party, he (she) is a representative of a fraction of the electorate, and can’t possibly represent everybody. If you save your platoon from being incinerated by an enemy daisy-cutter, do you really want to receive your hard earned medal from a member of the political party that sent you into the war in the first place?

The last serious reform of the Monarchy took place in 1649 when Oliver Cromwell ran the country for a while, slaughtering many thousands of civilians and, once established as ‘Lord Protector,’ presiding over a bizarrely intolerant theocratic regime until his death in 1658. After that, much to the relief of your average yeoman, the Monarchy returned and normal service was resumed as soon as possible.

Three and two thirds centuries after the failure of the only revolution that Britain ever had, can we imagine reforms to the monarchy that might keep it going a bit longer? After all, to quote Quentin Hogg, a. k. a. Lord Hailsham, speaking in 1943, ‘If you do not give the people social reform, they will give you social revolution.’

Here are my proposals for reform. I wrote some of these in a comment on the ‘London Bridge is down’ story, which is why I spent so long introducing the story earlier. At the time of writing the comment has 5 votes in favour and 12 against, so I can tell you before you start to read it that you’ll probably think I’m wrong in every point.

Abolish the hereditary principle. Instead, allow any British subject to apply for the job of Monarch by filling in a straightforward form on line or on paper at the local Job Centre. Choose the successful applicant completely at random. The successful applicant shall reign for the rest of his (her) life or until he resigns.

Abolish the Civil List. The incumbent shall receive a salary equivalent to that of an industrial manager and shall have at his disposal a properly audited expense account. Establish conditions of work such that constant drunken skiving will be tolerated, but not paid.

All remaining members of the Royal Family, their husbands, wives, children, girlfriends, boyfriends, friends, relations and hangers-on shall either get a job or be expected to apply for social security, job seekers’ allowance and a Council house.

Palaces to be donated to the National Trust, converted into residential accommodation and used to house purported refugees and recently arrived immigrants. Two exceptions will be granted: one palace in England and one in Scotland shall be rented to the incumbent and will qualify as permitted expenses.

All gifts, favours and trinkets given to the incumbent shall be donated to an appropriate museum or sold at auction and the proceeds given to the poor.

A Royal Train shall be built, maintained and operated by any appropriate train operating company except Branson’s Breakdowns.

A number of Corgis shall be provided by the kennels of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Animals and the incumbent shall provide for their welfare.

The House of Lords shall be replaced by an elected chamber whose members shall not speak for a political party nor for the inhabitants of a particular geographical constituency, but who will state their own opinion, like the people on Question Time who aren’t there to read scripts prepared in advance by their respective Central Offices.

A person shall also become a member of the House of Lords on payment of about £500,000 at 2017 prices to the political party of government, thereby preserving the most remarkable feature of the present system of choosing who governs Britain.

Last and most definitely least, Members of both Houses of Parliament shall wear uniform, just to remind them of the reason we put them there.

That would set us up as a twenty-first century democracy.

25 March 2017. Off topic: Blocked! Today I've been blocked from adding the following comment to a story about Deutsche Bank’s prediction of a further fall in the value of the Pound Sterling, Deutsche Bank predicts the pound will drop by a fifth by the end of the year due to Brexit

Judge for yourself. Here’s the comment.

Germany calling, Germany calling. Achtung! Achtung! All Britisch citizens! Ve know vhy your vainglorious national currency has declined in value to less than two million Reichsmarks to the Pound. Herr Hilter's personal economist calculates that before ze end of zis year, vun egg vill change hands for fifteen schillinks and a loaf of bread for three pounds eighteen and sixpence. The Bank of England is outclassed and outmanoeuvred by the glorious Deutsche Reichsbank viz its vast reserves of looted gold, its well resourced hedge fund managers and its highly trained cashiers, all of whom are dedicated to bringink the financial superiority of the Britisch Empire to an end by nine o'clock on Tuesday. Your rations vill be no more than scraps of meat and crusts of bread, you vill all starve, you will be freezink cold and live in Underground stations etc. etc.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The writing on the wall

Long, long ago, in the heat of battle, a man picked up a brick and, just before throwing it at the enemy, realised that there was a good way of keeping the enemy away from his territory that didn’t involve throwing the brick at him, or at all. President Trump is only the most recent of a long line of generals, emperors and politicians to realise that if you stick large numbers of bricks together with mortar, you can assemble a wall, which with luck and good planning the enemy will find difficult to scale. By building a wall you might be able to keep the enemy off your home turf.

I imagine that when I mention a wall following a territorial boundary, most people think of some horror such as the Berlin Wall, which achieved considerable notoriety, or the Peace Walls that, still unknown to most, run along the religious dividing lines of Belfast.


Click on the thumbnail. The full size photograph opens in a new window.
The photographs are all somebody else’s copyright. I acknowledge the rights of the copyright owners.
Berlin Wall Peace Wall Hadrian’s Wall Byker Wall (wall) Byker Wall (balconies)

Walls do not have to be quite as ugly as those, and if you are going to build walls, you might as well make them attractive things to look at. Hadrian’s Wall, which runs roughly along the border between England and Scotland, is so attractive that tourists come from miles around to see it, and at certain places along its 73 mile length, several organisations of local teichologists have reconstructed the wall so you can see what it looked like during the second, third and fourth centuries AD when Emperor Hadrian, his heirs and successors built it, manned it and maintained it so well that large parts of Hadrian’s Wall are still standing. Secretly I hope that when Scotland gains its independence, the reconstruction of Hadrian’s Wall will be the first thing on President Connery’s agenda.

The Mexican Border is 1,954 miles long. It would be nice to think that any wall which may eventually be built all along that enormous distance will be reasonably attractive to look at. Hadrian’s Wall is a hard act to follow, and you can’t get centurions for love or money these days, but I draw the attention of any wall-building contractor who may be reading this diary to my favourite wall, the Byker Wall, which runs for a mile and a half through Byker in eastern Newcastle upon Tyne. Ralph Erskine was the architect, construction began in 1967, the wall was granted Grade 2 Listed Building status in 2007 and the whole thing has recently been refurbished.

What lay behind the design is that a motorway was planned to run adjacent to a housing estate. The housing estate was designed to withstand the noise of the motorway. 1800 flats were built in a continuous wall, with the kitchens and bathrooms on one side and bedrooms and living rooms on the other. The kitchens and bathrooms have small windows, with the result that the motorway noise in the bedrooms and living rooms would have been at a tolerable level. The fad for building motorways through the middle of housing estates died out before the Byker Wall was finished, fortunately, and the motorway against whose noise the Byker Wall was designed to protect its residents was never actually built. Students of transport engineering will not be surprised that there never seems to have been any question of abandoning the motorway just because the residents didn’t want it. They must’ve felt as though they were talking to a brick wall.

1,300 Byker Walls joined end to end, made up of about two and a quarter million flats, would neatly occupy the Mexican border from end to end. What of the cost? President Trump has mentioned that he would like the Mexicans to pay for the wall. If he really wanted to, he could sell the apartments that make up the Mexican Border Wall to the Mexicans and probably make a handsome profit.

And if that doesn’t keep the Mexicans at bay, the only other thing the President can do will be to hurl bricks at them.

14 March 2017. Today's edition of The Long View on Radio Four discussed The Great Hedge of India, also known as the Indian Salt Hedge and the Inland Customs Line. It was an impenetrable thorn hedge 2,400 miles long, built by the British to keep contraband out of British territory in India in the late nineteenth century, which the programme compared to Trump's wall along the Mexican border with the US. Today only two miles of the Great Hedge remain.

21 March 2017. Today I coined the word teichologist and put it into this post. Teichologist means a person interested in walls. I derived it from Greek, τείχος, a wall.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Misery, thy name is Lettuce Rationing

According to the newspapers, Britain is in the grip of a shortage of lettuce. Actually there is no obvious shortage here in Edinburgh. I bought a lettuce in my local Sainsbury's yesterday, but perhaps we are exceptions. Everywhere else long queues are forming outside grocers, market stalls and vegetable shows, while shoppers are carrying string bags in their pockets just in case they happen to notice a lettuce in a shop window on the opposite side of the road.

The official story is that the shortage is due to bad weather. The weather here is pretty average for February in Scotland: rain, wind and freezing temperatures, just like the rest of the year. So I am led to wonder how much of the lettuce shortage is really due to the weather and how much is due to the European Onion's crazy ‘set aside’ policy, under which nice little earner farmers receive payments for not growing food.

Maybe this is what the future holds for other areas of economic activity. On the railways, for instance. The terms of the contract which Govia, aka Southern, holds with the Department of Transport pays them a fixed sum, whether they operate the trains or not. From their point of view, that’s the same as set aside, since they can stop operating trains and claim money for not operating them.

And then there's teaching. Thousands of people are being paid to run schools and teach children even though when they come out of school a third of children can't read and seven eighths can't add up.

It isn't because of the weather, or the leaves on the line, or sitting up after midnight buggering about with a mobile phone. They’re doing it on purpose.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

The sort of pension I want you to get

What do we want?
Free pensions equal to the average wage!
When do we want it?
At age 60!

Pensions are, briefly, in the news again. It is a pity that there are so many distractions to be seen and heard, because old age pensions are one of the most important provisions that a country can make for the people who live in it. One forgets that before the Old Age Pension Act of 1908, people too old or weak to work expected to find themselves in the work-house until the day they died. The workhouses, incidentally did not finally close until 1930. I often have the feeling that some of our sillier politicians pine for the chance to bring back the workhouse.
This week the Daily Mail reported that the Office if Budget Responsibility believes that the pensionable age might rise again, this time to seventy five years.
There seem to me to be three basic objections to that proposal.
Firstly, the present government, though it appears less like a sort of political Keystone Cops than its predecessor, tries to justify its every act of meanness by claiming that ‘austerity’ has made it necessary. You get the feeling that if the United States said they only invaded Iraq because of austerity, everybody in Britain would have accepted their excuse. Usually the government claim that ‘we are all living longer,’ and therefore they cannot pay pensions as generously as before. Nonetheless they continue to spend our money on nuclear weapons, a high speed railway from nowhere to Birmingham, sending advice to Civil Servants not to take cakes into the office and a high maintenance multitude of wastrel Royalty. And while all that goes on, pensioners in the United Kingdom are paid less than almost any other pensioners in western Europe. Sometimes I get really annoyed when the government tells me what I have to put up with instead of understanding that I put them where they are, I pay them, and if I don't want them to boss me around they should damn well stop it.
If you look at the numbers, you can see that this purported justification is false. We are not living longer. The age at which the oldest people die has not changed. Life expectancy has not changed in a hundred years. Life expectancy at birth has increased because babies no longer die in infancy and women no longer die in childbirth. But life expectancy at age 18 has scarcely increased at all, except for people stopping smoking and surviving cancer for longer than once they did. That’s important, because it is at the age of 18 that you start to save for your pension. The number of years during which you will pay pension contributions and the number of years for which you will live on your pension are about the same as ever.
Secondly, unemployment is massive and shows no sign of diminishing. Don't believe the old wives’ tales about unemployment falling or about employment increasing. Neither is true. The figures are more fiddled than Paganini's violin. The terrible fact is that unless things change a lot, and quickly, many people now in their twenties will reach the age of sixty five having never had a paid, full time job with proper wages. By the time they come to claim their old age pension they will have a derisory National Insurance contribution record.
Thirdly, many workers, certainly including me, are not going to be fit enough to continue working long past their sixty fifth birthday. With massive unemployment meaning that every job is filled immediately, often by a friend or relation of a manager, and with the Job Centres reduced to advertising vacancies which are wholly imaginary, many skilled workers will find themselves begging or, worse, scraping a living on Social Security.
I have no clear vision of what ought to happen — obviously it ought to involve giant corporations paying their taxes and government not wasting money on endless computer systems that don't work and wouldn't have made a blind bit of difference to anybody if they had — and nobody cares what I think anyway. I do propose a goal: a distant landmark, if you like, towards which we can all march on our bath chairs and walking sticks and zimmer frames, holding our banners as high as our arthritis allows. It is: Free pensions, paid at age 60, equal in value to the average wage of full time employed persons in the United Kingdom. The government can afford it, and don't let them tell you otherwise. They just don't want to.
If we know where we want to go, there is a small chance that eventually, and once the Revolution has overthrown the old order, we will get there.

17 February 2017. If you agree with me, please sign my on line E-Petition to Parliament about pension reform. You must be a British citizen or a UK resident to sign it. It's here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/185661/sponsors/yOLF7ucjsGAChNvzYHq.

Friday, 27 January 2017

A small wager

Ladbroke’s have quoted me odds of 50/1 that Britain will still be a member of the European Union at 09.00 on Wednesday 27 January 2117. I intend to bet £Sc20 on it.

I have absolutely no idea at all who will collect the money, or how, should I have predicted events correctly. I shall still win my bet if Britain leaves the EU, turns around and goes back in again, but what I think more likely is that Teresa May will go to Brussels and bugger about for a few months and then announce that we have left the European Union, apart from still being in it.

I shall likely give the betting slip to charity unless my children promise faithfully to live for an unusually long time. You never can tell. With this wager as an incentive, one of them may go on to develop a remarkable drug.

In the last hundred years the price of a loaf of bread has increased by a factor of seventy two, from 5d. to £1·50 (see the web site ‘Back in My Day’) so the winnings will not make anyone rich.

Loaves of bread aside, I can’t find any prediction of inflation over the next century, so I can only estimate the value of the winnings based upon inflation over the last hundred years. That data, which comes from This Is Money, tells me that in 2117, £Sc1020 will be worth £64·48 and that in turn will be worth £Sc64 9s 6d if they reinstate real money.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Let's hear it for junk food

My favourite on line newspaper, the Daily Mail, reports that a nutritionist called Lily Soutter has analysed children's menus at five fast food chains.

Ms Soutter claims (here) that her "extensive knowledge of the science of food and health enables me to help you be the healthiest version of you," but sadly her findings are predictable. "Don't buy your children a cheeseburger or chips at Macdonald's," she nags, "and don't buy them fried breaded chicken and fries (chips) at Pizza Hut, and don't buy them a Kids' Burger at KFC." On and on it goes. Why can't a nutritionist write that chips are good for us, for once?

I have in my otherwise undistinguished life had three children, so I can at least claim to have had a little experience of trying to persuade them to eat. To misquote the great George Orwell, one who believes that the road to health and beauty is paved with uncooked vegetation may fancy dining on lettuce and carrots, but children don't, and I don't blame them. If you gave my children a lettuce or a carrot they would pick it up and ask "What is it?" even though they knew perfectly well. The whole point of a burger bar is to give children food that they want to eat, cheaply and in large quantities. The reason that the whole point of a burger bar is to give children food that they want to eat is that parents are constantly exhausted. We parents want to sit down and have ten minutes' peace and not have to wash up afterwards.

Does Ms Soutter imagine that parents take our children to a burger bar so as to show off our knowledge of dietetics? When I saunter into a burger bar, I invariably order filet mignon with a side order of moules marinières and alfalfa beans with a nice chianti. My children's needs are different. They go to burger bars expecting to play with their mobile phones, assail each other with any weapon within reach, yell, feed other customers' dogs, eat junk food and get grease and synthetic sugary orange juice all over themselves, just like they do at home. All children do. Ms Soutter is a sad, Canute like figure, ordering back the tide of delicious cheeseburgers, chips, pizzas and sweet fizzy drinks, with no success in the offing.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Hobson's Choice: the referendum in Surrey

The last regular blog that I kept of my political opinions is on a site, Toolbox.com, which no longer seems to offer a working blog server, so I am opening a second blog here. OhNoItIsnt exists to give me a platform where I can set down what I think of the news that interests me. I am under the illusion, as I suppose all bloggers have to be, that what I think is of interest to other people. We shall see whether the effort is worth while.

29 January 2017: To my astonishment I have found an archive of the first blog I ever wrote, which I kept between about 1996 and 1998, which makes it one of the first blogs ever. Indeed, according to Wikipedia's History of Blogging, the word blog was first used in 1997.

After that, I kept a blog in Toolbox.com, which has suffered from so many technical problems that I have had to abandon it and take up residence here.

Hobson's Choice: The referendum in Surrey

According to my favourite newspaper, The Daily Mail, (here), Surrey county council is planning a local referendum on whether to raise council tax by 15% in order to finance social care.

Now, if you want to be irritated, if you want to be annoyed, if you want to be made so angry that your blood boils, steam comes out of your ears and someone has to phone the men in white coats, then take advantage of the couple of weeks each year when you are allowed to inspect all the receipts for all the money that the council has spent in the financial year. In Edinburgh, the sorts of payment that anger the tax payers are, above all, Edinburgh Festival. Then, I suppose, come the trams: I happen to be in favour of the trams but they're controversial, so they shall go into my referendum notwithstanding. But, and to many who live here this will come as a surprise, Edinburgh is not the only local authority that has wasted a lot of money. A few minutes spent on Google suggests that Surrey has acquitted itself handsomely of its share of waste. Indeed, Surrey has been singled out for criticism by the fascist demagogues of the Taxpayers' Alliance on several occasions.

Within the past couple of years, Surrey Police entered into a contract for an IT system that doesn't work and another contract, for administration, that also came to nothing. Surrey's refuse collection has recently wasted a huge amount on a contract with a private contractor, and Surrey has also wasted hundreds of thousands on a "core strategy," whatever that is. Those, and £6,000 spent on jewellery for the Mayor of Reigate, are the things that should be decided by referendum.

Social care is, of course, a legal obligation on the council. A council has to provide social care whether it likes it or not, so there is little point having a referendum on the subject. What social care probably needs is an audit, to make sure that the social care money is being spent on caring for people, and not on managers. But core strategies are not indispensable, and neither are baubles with which to decorate the Mayor, so let's vote on them and their likes first.

7 February 2017: Today Surrey county council abandoned its plans for a fifteen per cent increase in council tax. They have decided to raise it by just under 5%. This change, while doubtless welcomed by everybody in Surrey except those who need social care and aren't going to get any, doesn't really do anything about the underlying issue, which is that Surrey county council spends money on things which don't appear important.