31 July 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni

Within hours of Bergman’s death it was reported that Michelangelo Antonioni , had died at the age of 94.

Two of European cinema's greatest directors passing in one day... Still, like Bergman, he had a damned good innings and left a legacy of many fine films. What more can you ask for in a life?

Potentilla Monarch's Velvet

30 July 2007


As seen on Black Poplars in the Chase Nature Reserve betwen Hornchurch and Dagenham

Ingmar Bergman

Film-maker Ingmar Bergman has died at his home in Faro, Sweden at the age of 89. No details about the cause of death have yet been released. In a 60-year career he produced numerous classic films including Cries & Whispers, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries.

Bergman was born in 1918. His father was a Lutheran chaplain to the Swedish royal family. As a child, he used to help a local projectionist with film screenings and he went on to train as an actor and director at the University of Stockholm. He eventually became director of the Helsingborg City Theatre in 1944, the same year that saw his first film script, Frenzy, brought to the big. Bergman made his directorial debut with Crisis in 1946, the first of more than 40 films in an illustrious.

It was with the appearance of Summer Interlude in 1951 and Summer with Monika in 1953 that his cinematic work was celebrated. His reputation was confirmed by the international art-house hit The Seventh Seal in 1957. He won his first Oscar for best foreign film in 1961 with The Virgin Spring, based on a 13th century Swedish ballad about a family taking revenge for their daughter's murder. The following year, he repeated the feat with Through A Glass Darkly, which explores the effect of schizophrenia on both the patient and their family. The cinematic version of Fanny and Alexander brought a third best foreign film Oscar in 1982. After retiring from film-making, Bergman continued to work in theatre and television, with his last work, Saraband, shown on Swedish public television in December 2003.

Interestingly Bergman confessed in 2004 that he could not bear to watch his own films because they made him depressed. "I become so jittery and ready to cry... and miserable," he said. "I think it's awful," he said in a rare interview on Swedish TV.

Bergman was a fortunate man - a great film maker who was acknowledged as a master in his field and who lived to a ripe old age. What more can you ask for in a life

Operation Banner ends

Operation Banner, the Army's emergency operation in Northern Ireland, finally comes to an end tomorrow at midnight. Lasting 38 years it was the Army's longest continuous ever campaign involving more than 300,000 personnel. 763 soldiers were killed during the operation.

The Army will maintain 5,000 troops on garrison duties, thus bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK. Security will be the responsibility of the police.

As I have said before I am pretty agnostic on the future of Northern Ireland (whether it stays part of the UK or forms part of a united Ireland that is). Whatever happens the resolution must be peaceful. I hope that (nationalist AND loyalist) terrorism has been consigned to the dustbin of history and we never see a similar operation in Northern Ireland again

29 July 2007

More woes for Tul Bahadur Pun

Tul bahadur Pun is a Gurkha war, one of a handful of living recipients of the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for valour. Two months ago there was a furore the refusal to grant him a visa to settle in the UK. Following a huge outcry the decision was subsequently overturned and he was granted residence in the UK (see my earlier posts here and here. According to today’s Observer he may may be forced to leave Britain because he cannot survive on his meagre army pension, despite recently winning a legal battle for the right to stay.

Now he fears he will be forced to return to Nepal because he and his family are struggling on his annual army pension of £1,584. His lawyer believes he will certainly die if forced to return to Nepal because of the standard of Nepalese medical care. Pun suffered a mild stroke last Sunday and is recovering in hospital. Pun was awarded the VC after single-handedly storming Japanese machine-gun positions during the Second World War. Despite his valour, he was barred from Britain because officials concluded that he did not have 'strong ties with the UK'. The elderly Gurkha has heart problems, asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure and requires daily medication which is not always available in Nepal.

Gordon Brown was made aware of Pun's plight when they met three weeks ago. The Gurkha told him he was struggling to support his wife and son at their home in Hounslow, west London. Pun’s lawyer, Martin Howe, has contacted Treasury solicitors, but no increase has been forthcoming. Pun receives £132 a month, around a quarter of the average British army pension. In addition, he receives £1,500 a year as a Victoria Cross winner. Howe said: 'Whether he can stay here depends on financial considerations and, sadly, after just arriving he might be forced to leave. Gurkhas are living on pensions paid on the basis they are in the 12th-poorest country, Nepal, while the reality is Pun is living in the fourth-richest economy.

His plight coincides this week with the beginning of the first of 2,000 cases of former Gurkhas, many of them also decorated and conflict veterans, appealing against the government's decision to prevent them from living in Britain. Among the cases to be heard this week is that of Corporal Gyanendra Rai, a decorated Falklands hero who suffered terrible injuries at Bluff Cove. Immigration officials fear the 51-year-old will try to stay here if he is granted a visitor's visa for specialised NHS treatment. The ex-machine gunner and father-of-five is in constant pain after his back was hit by shrapnel. Lance-Corporal Birendra Man Shrestha served in the 1991 Gulf War and was decorated three times for bravery.

'These people spilt their blood and guts for Britain,' added Howe. 'They were willing to die for us, but they are now not good enough for us to offer them a place to live.' Most Gurkha visa applicants are refused, despite paying £500 in Nepal to apply. Howe cited one case involving the winner of a Military Cross who was paralysed serving in the armed forces: 'He has not even applied for a visa to help his treatment because he cannot afford it.'

What can you say? I say let them come.

Having your head on money is better than having money on your head...

Energy Company Npower has ran a poll to see which sporting personality people would like to see on a British banknote. I am most pleased to see that the winner with over a quarter of the vote was Bobby Moore . Steve Redgrave, the first Briton to win gold medals at five consecutive Olympic games (a feat bettered only by Hungarian fencer Aldar Gerevich who won six consecutive gold medals between 1932 and 1960), cricketer Ian Botham came third.

As a West Ham supporter I will admit that I am a little biased in this matter. Bobby Moore was captain of England’s victorious World Cup side in 1966 - (he was of one of three West Ham players in the team – when will we ever see three West Ham players turning out for England again?). He had a distinguished career winning 108 England caps, an FA Cup winners medal with West Ham in 1964, the European Cup Winners Cup the following year and an FA cup runners up medal in with Fulham (against the Hammers ) in 1975.

Perhaps his crowning glory was his appearance in John Huston’s cinematic masterpiece Escape to Victory - a tale of POWs who triumphed over the Third Reich on the football field. That Bobby failed to get an Oscar nomination for his bravura performance is perhaps the greatest scandal in the Academy’s history . He remains the only person to out-act noted thespian Sylvester Stallone in a screen performance.

On a more serious note, Bobby Moore died of cancer in 1993. He is commemorated by two statues (one outside Wembley stadium and another outside West Ham’s Boleyn Ground which shows him held aloft by Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and Ray Wilson). A stand at the Boleyn Ground is also named after him.

Nothing new under the sun (cycling division)

The Tour de France is undoubtedly one of the great sporting events but not for the first time in recent years it has been hit by scandal (see Michael Rasmussen, Alexander Vinokourov etc). However, French sportswriter Francis Thmoazeau reminds us that there really is nothing new under the sun.

The Tour de France came close to being permanently cancelled was in 1904 ( its second year of existence) when some riders cheated by taking the train or hitch-hiking. The four leading riders were disqualified. The race's founder, Henri Desgrange, was so appalled he nearly threw in the towel, but gave the Tour one last chance. The reprieve went on for another century. In 1924 the Pelissier brothers quit the race in Normandy, summoned the press to a cafe and showed them the pills they claimed they needed to meet the rigours of the Tour - strychnine, cocaine and other unidentified stimulants. Let’s not forget British cyclist Tommy Simpson whose death during the 1967 Tour was in no small part due to drug consumption.

There have been calls in France in recent years, especially after the “Festina affair” in 1998. Scandal or no scandal though, the Tour is still enormously popular: just look at the crowds that turned out for this year’s prologue in London! Crowds still line French roads hoping to catch a glimpse of the race. While the Tour does need to sort itself out (as does the world of competitive cycling) would you “destroy La Scala because the tenor sings out of tune?”

It may take a lot of reform but I am sure the Tour is here to stay. Those who want to look back to a “golden age” of the tour are a bit like those who hanker after a sweeter England (with the crack of leather on willow etc, in that they hanker after something that never quite existed. It doesn’t mean that it can’t exist in the future though.

Last veterans of WWI

At the start of the year there were 53 known veterans alive across the world. Just seven months later, if the Wikipedia listing is to be accepted, there are just 22 veterans alive. There are from the UK(6), France(2), Germany(2), US(3), Italy(6), Germany, Canada, Poland and Australia(One each).

Of the Britons, Harry Patch is the last to have fought in the trenches. At 111 Henry Allingham is the oldest living veteran.

In a few years all will have passed into memory.

28 July 2007

Photo hunt - the answer

My entry for this Saturday's photo hunt has caused some head scratching (and there's not a flea to be seen!). Most people thought it was plant related, given my predilection for plants and macro shots.

The photo is of a young flower head of the Globe Thistle aka Echinops Ritro. I did crop the image and I played around a little with the colour and brightness to make it seem a little crystalline.

I am not sure where it grows in the wild - it isn't a native plant - but it throws up a lot of flower spikes which, when young, look like a mediaeval weapon. As it grows it turns into a metallic blue and is covered in scores of tiny flowers.

It is a magnet for bees as you will see in future posts.

The Descent of Ritchie Blackmore

Love him or hate him, Ritchie Blackmore was a talented guitarist (albeit with a reputation for being somewhat difficult). He made his mark with Deep Purple before leaving in 1975 to form Rainbow.

This is Deep Purple (Mark Three - David Coverdale (aka Elsie) had replaced Ian Gillan on vocals, Glenn Hughes had replaced Roger Glover) I've always liked this song.

There have been numerous reformations of Deep Purple. Blackmore also resurrected Rainbow for a while. Nowadays, however, he prefers to play twee mediaval-ish, folky stuff with his partner Candice Night:

That was Renaissance Fair. Well I suppose he has made a pile of money so he can do what he likes (and if you like this sort of thing then go ahead and like it!). For me it's just toe curlingly embarrassing fare. And another thing, did he really need to wear that silly hat???

Photo Hunt - Creative

Creative is the theme of this week's Photo Hunt. so here goes:

But what is it? It may or may not be what you think Iwelcome your suggestions.

26 July 2007

Death comes with a purr rather than a scythe

Oscar is a two year old cat that lives at a nursing home in Rhode Island. As can be seen he is a handsome fellow but he developed a reputation as an angel of death.

Oscar, who was adopted as a kitten by staff at the advanced dementia unit of Providence's Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre, has revealed an uncanny tendency to pick which patient is going to die next. According to David Dosa, a geriatrician at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Oscar makes regular rounds, looking in on patients and giving them a quick sniff, before either moving on or settling down for a cuddle.

His predictions appear so accurate that staff immediately start summoning family and clergy to the soon-to-be deathbed. "No one dies on the third floor unless Oscar pays a visit and stays awhile," Dosa wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine. "His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families, Thus far, he has presided over the deaths of more than 25 residents."

Dosa did not offer any explanation for Oscar's ability. The patients are not yet believed to have spotted his skill.

At present the not-wife has three cats atempting to sit on her.... She has not seen this news story yet....

Sometimes scientists look for one thing but find something different, this was the case with researchers at the Washington University in St Louis who were hunting genes that govern our ability to sense pain. What they seem to have found is the gene that lets us feel itchy.

Zhou-Feng Chen, who led the study, was studying mice bred to lack a gene called GRPR, which was thought to be involved in helping pain signals pass along the spinal cord. It soon became clear that the mice reacted to pain in exactly the same way as normal mice. But later on, the team decided to test the animals' response to substances known to cause itching. They found that while the normal mice began repeatedly scratching themselves with their hind legs, the mice lacking GRPR hardly scratched at all.

The chance discovery should help drug developers design pills which can block the itchiness pathway. It could dramatically improve the comfort of people with skin disorders such as eczema, and treatments which can cause chronic itchiness as a side-effect.

Could dramatically improve the comfort of people with eczema, he says? Oh please and do it quickly I say....

25 July 2007

1,000th Post

Mimi is still astonished that there has been no let up in the torrent of drivel. I will of course ensure that the Poor Mouth maintains its extremely low standards over the next 1,000 posts...

More Cameron woes

There are times when even I almost feel sorry for David Cameron. The timing of a visit to Rwanda seems to have blown up in his face. Leaving aside discontent at home it seems that even Rwandans are wondering what he is doing visiting the African state at a time when constituency is under water.

Interviewed on Rwandan Television earlier today he was asked “What do you have to say about continuing with your visit to Rwanda when part of your constituency is completely devastated by floods?” Cameron did reassure the people of Rwanda that he was in constant contact with his constituency and the he hoped to return there soon.

In the meantime another poll is showing the Tories well behind Labour. A Guardian ICM poll, gives Labour 38% and six-point lead over the conservatives who at 32% are on their lowest share in any ICM poll since Michael Howard was leader. This sort of lead would give Labour comfortable majority at a general election

While Brown is on the rise, Cameron seems to be in growing trouble: 21% of voters say their opinion of him has dropped since Mr Brown took over. Conversely almost one in four Tory voters say their view of Mr Brown has gone up since he took over.

The Lib Dems are on 20%

(999th Post)

Wordless Wednesday - Langtons again

This week's Wordless Wednesday entry is another coup;e of photos of an 18th century house in Hornchurch. It is now owned by the local council and is used for weddings and functions.

24 July 2007

The Floatee has landed?

Last month I posted on the possible arrival of Friendly Floatees on British shores. 15 years ago nearly 30,000 plastic bath toys were released into the Pacific Ocean when a container was washed off a cargo ship. Some of these ducks (and other animals) were expected to reach Britain after a 17,000 mile journey that has taken them through the Pacific, into the Arctic Ocean, then past Greenland and the eastern seaboard of the United States.

A week ago the Mail reported that a retired teacher, Penny Harris, may have been the first person to have found one of the ducks on the British coast. She found the plastic yellow toy as she walked her dog on a Devon beach.

All of the ducks which fell overboard were inscribed with the words "The First Years" by American manufacturers First Years Inc. But the marking is not visible on the duck found by Ms Harris – it was covered in barnacles which could obscure the mark and there were large chunks of plastic missing. "It's covered in brown algae and it's got barnacles on it. Its bleached white at the bottom and the top of the head is cracked and has burst open. Said Mrs Harris "I've looked for writing or a serial number but there is a hole in the duck so it could have been on the bit that's missing."

The duck has been sent to the manufacturer First Years Inc in to claim a $100 (£50) finder's fee. The company offers a $100 reward for an original duck returned to them from the USA, Canada or Iceland.

Was this one of the Floatees washed overboard in the Pacific? I have no idea but it is more interesting that the Beckhams...

Elahe Heidari - Afghan girl

Regular readers of this blog know that I have posted several times about of Elahe Heidari's work ( here and here are two such posts).

This is one of Elahe's recent works, another very powerful image. The subject is an Afghan refugee girl living in Tehran - one of around 900,000 afghan refugees in Iran. It was painted for a UNHCR event in Tehran last month to raise money for the Society for Protection of Children's Rights

23 July 2007

Meme Time - what happened on my birthday.

I have just been nominated for another meme, this time from Shaz at Us Danes & Our Family.
Go to Wikipedia and type in your birthday (month and day). Then you write down 3 events, 2 births, 1 holiday, and tag 5 friends. There are five slots in the meme list.... as you are tagged, you have to remove the name in the first slot and bump everyone up so that your name can be added to the bottom.

I know I have done something similar before but it won’t hurt to try again

The list:

Last Minute Lyn
Are We There Yet??
Sarge Charlie
Comedy Plus
Us Danes

Three Events:

1. Battle of Towton 1461. Fought during the Wars of the Roses it was the Bloodiest battle ever fought on British soil

2. Battle of Cape Matapan 1941 - one of the lesser known naval battles of WWII

3. I’m scraping around for something interesting here so how about Beatles records become available for the first time in the USSR (1986)?

Two Births:

1. I did John Major and Lavrenti Beria last time so how about Bud Cort? I loved Harold and Maude

2. Teofilio Stevenson, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. He never turned professional (a stupid move in my view). A pro bout between Stevenson and Muhammad Ali would have been a fight to see

One Holiday:

1. Not much here so I’ll go for the festival of Ishtar

I will have to come back on the tagees presently

The not-wife expresses irritation.....

... at my leaving a pile of coins, a 120 roll film of the sideboard the front bit off the car stereo on the sideboard for a month or two

22 July 2007

The GDR Still Lives

Every so often I stumble upon a site that deserves numerous lengthy visits. One such recent find is Strange Maps. As one would expect it has lots of fascinating maps, some fictional, some bizarre: many are real, but obscure or virtually forgotten. Although not a map as such there is an entry about Ernst Thallman Island . I think I had read about this somewhere before but I had forgotten about it.

The GDR still lives? Well technically it appears so. Cayo Ernesto Thaelmann, formerly Cayo Blanco del Sur, is 15km (about nine and a half miles) long and 500m (a bit over a quarter of a mile) wide island just off the coast of Cuba in the Gulf of Cojones, sorry Cazones. It is uninhabited, other than occasional tourists.

On the occasion of a state visit in June 1972 Castro made the island a gift to the GDR and it was remnamed in the memory of pre-WWII German Communist leader Ernst Thalmann. One of its beaches was renamed Playa RDA (GDR Beach) and in August 1972 there was an event to mark the island's on the island's ceremonial transfer which involved the unveiling of a bust of Thälmann

After reunification Germany made no claims for the territory and thus the island technically represents the sole landmass of the former communist state The Cuban government now views the gift as a symbolic gesture rather than a concession and would probably not be happy if settled by Germans of any political strip

The Bust of Thallman survived the downfall of communism but could not withstand the ravages of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Other communist nations were more parsimonious that Cuba. Mongolia and Vietnam merely issued stamps to mark Thalmann's centenary in 1986...

The Powerpuff Girls: A Maoist Perspective

The Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) is a collection (A collection? IT IS THE COLLECTION, revisionist scum!) of existing or emerging Maoist internationalist parties, mainly in the English speaking world but also in Francophone nations as well as Puerto Rico and Aztlan (those bits of Mexico ceded to the USA in the 19th Century to you and me) .

Predictably, MIM upholds the revolutionary communist ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and is an internationalist organization that works from the vantage point of the Third World proletariat. It struggles to end the oppression of all groups over other groups; classes, genders, nations. MIM knows this is only possible by building public opinion to seize power through armed struggle. Finally, Revolution is a reality for the United States as the military becomes over-extended in the government's attempts to maintain world hegemony (Yawns) Well you get the message. Just don't forget that the USA should always be described as the United $nakes of Amerikkka in Maoist speak.

Not only is MIM is concerned with high issues of Maxrist-Leniinst ideology it also does its level best to ensure that then Lnternational Proletaruat are given the best advice and guidance on the best films to watch

Rotten Tomatoes gives the Powerpuff Girls Movie a 67% rating and contains quotes such as "How can anyone resist a cartoon in which the arch enemy of three crime-fighting schoolkids is a monkey called Mojo Jojo?" and "Almost as much fun for grown-ups as it undoubtedly will be for kids"

MIM on the other hand says this this:

The Powerpuff Girls are the latest of superhero comic strip characters. They are three little girls with superpowers that enable them to fly, build things quickly and fight of course. A mutant monkey decides that simians have lived under humyn (sic) rule too long and uses the Powerpuff Girls to build power for his simian mutant creations. In the end, the Powerpuff Girls kill off hundreds of mutant monkeys, gorillas and apes to win victory.

No doubt these are forceful female characters for young children to imbibe. In that sense, "Powerpuff Girls" may contribute to gender equality within society as it exists. On the other hand, society as it exists seems quick to come up with reasons why massive violence is a good thing.

Like Batman and Spiderman the Powerpuff Girls also fight crime in a one-on-one way. Although it would be no problem for the Powerpuff Girls to build homes for all the homeless and organize food production for the hungry--because we've seen their speed in building crazy mutant monkey bases and laboratories-- they still prefer to fight the relatively minor violence of crime one case at a time instead of resolving its roots or eliminating much larger sources of violence.

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.

So there you have it! I have never seen the Powerpuff Girls - I don't routinely watch cartoons made for children (or I haven't since I was a kid myself - Okay I admit it... I used to enjoy Rocko's Modern Life!). I know MIM are a ridiculous little pipsqueak faction. That said, the only Great Leap Forward I would like to see these idiots at MIM make is one into reality.

21 July 2007

More on water and Darfur

A couple of days ago I posted on the possible discovery of a fiant underground lake in the Darfur region of Sudan. Acording to scientist Alain Gachet, however, the lake may have actually dried up millennia ago

In his view the area received too little rain and had the wrong rock types for water storage. On Wednesday, Boston University's Farouk El-Baz said he had received the backing of Sudan's government to begin drilling for water in the newly-discovered lake, in North Darfur. He said radar studies had revealed a depression the size of Lake Erie in North America. But Mr Gachet, who has worked on mineral and water exploration in Africa for 20 years, said the depression identified by the Boston researchers was probably full of water 5,000 to 25,000 years ago.

"This lake was at the bottom of a broad watershed feeding the Nile above Khartoum," Gachet said "This watershed is completely dry today on the southern border of Egypt, Libya and north-western border of Sudan - one of the worst areas in the world." However he said that there was a substantial source of water further south in Darfur where he was he was helping a UN-backed project to drill for water. "There is enough water within these aquifers to bring peace in Darfur... and even more - enough to reconstruct the economy of Darfur."

An increasingly obsolete degree in Physiology and Biochemistry did not give O'Donnell a knowledge of geology so I have no idea who is right here. But if either Gachet or El-Baz is right then there is a faint possibility of eliminating one of the main sources of conflict in Darfur. Sadly the cynic does not hold its breath.

Another good poll for Labour?

I can’t see anything on the paper’s website but Conservative Home is reporting that a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times puts Labour (40%,) seven points ahead of the Tories (33%), the same as last week’s poll in the Sunday Telegraph.

Conservative Home also reports that Brown is also showing a strong lead over Cameron on "sticking to his beliefs" and on being perceived as strong. A majority of respondents, however, believe that Brown should call an election within a few months.

More good news by looks of it

The Number of the Beast Devalued?

A lot of people say that television rots the brain. I say sometimes it can be an education. BBC2 showed a repeat of the cerebral spoof quiz QI last night. Interestingly it was the episode that spurred me on to this post about Thomas Midgely Junior , a great inventor who inadvertently became an environmentalist’s worst nightmare (he developed leaded petrol and determined that CFCs made excellent coolants).

In the same episode there was a question about the number of the beast. The obvious answer was six hundred, three score and six. This is an incorrect answer according to the show. The real answer may in fact be 616. Extensive research on the matter ( okay, I admit it - a quick Google) revealed that this may be the case

A few years ago advanced imaging techniques made it possible to decipher a hoard of previously illegible manuscripts discovered in an ancient dump outside the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus. The papyri were first excavated in 1895, but were badly discoloured and illegible using the technology of the time One of the papyri contained a a fragment from the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament and showed the number 616 as the mark of the Antichrist.

I have no opinion if this is the case or not but i t did strike me that some changes may be necessary:

618 becomes the neighbour of the Beast

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia will have to be replaced by something equally long and unpronounceable

24.8193473 replaces 25.8069758 as the root of all evil.

Bruce Dickinson will also have to change the lyrics to this song:

The A616 will officially be the road to hell, while children taking the shcoolday only route from Winchmore Hill to Edmonton Green will fear for their immortal souls (it being route 616 of course...)
Who says that all tv is simply chewing gum for the eyes?

Photo Hunt - Tiny

Tiny is the theme of this week's Photo Hunt. so here goes:

A single bloom on a Buddelia.

A bumble bee getting a snack from teasel flowers

Tiny? well in both cases the blooms are pretty small...

20 July 2007


Cuckoo Pint

the berries of Arum maculatum (aka Cuckoo Pint, aka Lords and Ladies)

Brown Happy! Campbell relieved? Cameron gloomy?

Gordon Brown will be relieved this morning as Labour has held both Sedgefield and Ealing Southall, but with reduced majorities. Labour won Sedgefield, the seat formerly held by Tony Blair, with a majority of just under 7,000 compared to one of over 18,000 at the general election. In Ealing Southall, Labour’s majority fell from over 11,000 to 5,000.

In both seats there were substantial swings to the Liberal Democrats. This result should quell some of the recent calls for Menzies Campbell to stand down as the Lib Dem leader.

For Cameron and the Tories (or David Cameron’s Conservatives, however, it was a poor night. Despite putting an awful lot of resources into the Ealing Southall campaign, their share of the vote was little different to the general election (oh dear!). If I could be bothered I would take a look at some Tory blogs to see how their performance has been spun.. I would imagine they are accentuating the positive. Well Tony Lit did wear some smashing ties....

16 months and no charges?

The BBC is reporting that nobody is likely to face charges after the cash for honours investigation, despite four arrests. Tony Blair and former Tory leader Michael Howard were among the 136 people interviewed during the course of the investigation.

The Crown Prosecution Service is set to announce its decision in the morning. We shall see. It looks after all that the investigation was a whole lot of nothing. I dread to think how much this all cost.

That broom serves a purpose, human

Mimi, objects to the fact that the floor hasn't bween swept in a while. This week's entry for the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos at Plant porn and pussycats

19 July 2007

The Jam - Going Underground

John Foxx - Europe after the rain

Water means peace for Darfur?

The discovery of a huge underground lake in Darfur may help bring ease one of the causes of conflict in the desert region of southern Sudan according to scientists. Researchers hope to drill at least 1,000 wells in the Darfur region and pump the long-hidden water. Hopefully it will hasten the end of an brutal and largely ignored conflict that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced.

"Much of the unrest in Darfur and the misery is due to water shortages," said geologist Farouk El-Baz, director of the Boston University Centre for Remote Sensing, told the Associated Press. By studying satellite and radar images, Mr Baz and other Boston University researchers identified possible streams running from a 5,000-year-old lake that is now obscured by the sands of northern Darfur. The lake occupied an area of nearly 12,000.

Scientists plan to identify the best location for drilling the first wells. Egypt has pledged to drill the first 20, and the UN mission in Sudan also plans to drill several more for use by its peacekeeping forces, the university said. In a recent article for the Washington Post, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, cited the lack of water as one of the reasons behind the conflict. Camel herders replenished themselves at the farmers' wells and grazed on their lands. The farmers responded by erecting fences amid fears that their land would be ruined by passing herds.

Darfur activists warned, however, that the discovery of water would not relieve victims of "the politics of a genocidal regime".Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College in Massachusetts, told the Boston Globe: "What you see is not simply a competition for the scarce resources of Darfur. If we want to look at the violence in Darfur, we don't look underground, we look at the political realities that exist today."

Given the rate of climate change across the world, access to water will become a source of conflict, especially in more unstable regions. It is not inconceivable that Israel’s next war with Syria and Jordan could be over access to the River Jordan. I don’t hold out too much hope that peace will come to Darfur anytime soon but it is worth a try.

Tories breach electoral law?

I first saw this piece of news last night Politicial Penguin . The papers are reporting today that the Tories are in trouble over the leak of the postal ballot result of today’s Ealing Southall by-election.

Telegraph diarist Jonathan Isaby posted details of the postal ballot on his blog last night. He wrote: "[A] source inside the Tory campaign [in Ealing] reports that it was looking incredibly close, with them calculating the main parties' tallies as follows: ..." The post was taken down soon after. By law, political parties are allowed representatives to oversee the validation process, however any release of an indication of how the vote is going is strictly prohibited on the grounds that it could influence subsequent votes. The offence is punishable by up to six months in prison. The Conservative party was unavailable for comment last night.

The news is just another turn in the Ealing Southall campaign. We have seen Labour councillors defect to the Tories (including an unsuccessful prospective candidate) and the news that the Tory candidate donated money to Labour just before he was adopted as a candidate.

18 July 2007

Hirst Emin good, Vettriano bad

Like most people I can be a little conservative when it comes to art, like most the people. I like what I like and for me a pickled shark should be displayed in specialist food store not an art gallery. As for Tracy Emin and her bed, I say skid marks are the sign of poor wiping skills and not artistic talent. Elahe Heidari’s work does far more for me than anything created by Emin or Damian Hirst.

There is an awful lot of “Emperor’s New Clothes” about the art world. There is also a lot of snottiness towards the “conventional” This means that Emin and Hirst are praised to the high heavens while artist, Jack Vettriano, is derided for being “populist” and “unchallenging” artist. I fail to see what his work has to do with supporting the rights and power of the people or even representing the popular view but I will let that pass. There is nothing wrong, per se, with his work but it leaves me stone cold. His painting “the Singing Butler” is Britain’s most reproduced artwork but I wouldn’t give a print of it wall space.

Seven of Vetriano’s paintings that have hung for a decade in Sir Terence Conran's Bluebird restaurant in London are to be auctioned in Scotland next month and are expected to reach over £1m. One painting, Bluebird at Bonneville, is alone expected to sell for up to £600,000. The image captures the scene of the ninth and final land-speed record broken by Sir Malcolm Campbell on the Utah salt flats in 1935.

I say like what you like even if all of your taste is in your mouth (I thank Jen for introducing this expression to me what seems an age ago now). If you want to spend £600k on a Vettriano, then as far as I am concerned your tongue can sense sweet, sour , salty, bitter, umami AND art... I would say the same about that money spend on a Hirst.

Hold on Vettriano is populist and Hirst isn’t? Threewords spring to mind. Fat, Les and Vindaloo. For was it not the case that a certain Mr Hirst was involved in the football song with the name of a hot curry. Oh yes, he was being ironic or is it post modern?. Judge for yourself:

America shows criminal disregard for British cultural icon

When NBC produced Victoria Beckham: Coming to America, they must have thought they had a new Osbornes on their hands. Sadly (for NBC not the USA) it would seem that America cares less about the Beckhams than Britain should.

Instead they were licking their wounds after a rare savaging at the hands of the usually docile US entertainment media. Originally planned as a six part series had to conclude that there was not enough rubbish for anything more than a one hour special about the no-talent twig.

Linda Stasi (just as well she doesn’t write on security matters...) described it as "An orgy of self-indulgence. You will sit there slack-jawed at the gall of these people who think we are that stupid," Alessandra Securitate (sorry that should be Stanley), the New York Times cultural critic, wrote “There must be a reason NBC chose to lavish an hour of prime time tonight on Victoria Beckham: Coming to America... If she can retain viewers past the first commercial break, then the results will be conclusive... there is no such thing as celebrity ditz-fatigue, Watching (it) is a little like watching cheddarvision.tv, the website devoted to the ripening of a 44lb wheel of cheese,"

I feel a bit uneasy that America has not taken Victoria Beckham into its ample bosom. Surely such a large country has room for another crass, talentless head on a stick. On the other hand when you have so many Britneys, Paris Hiltons, Nicole Ritchies and so on why bother import another? Why am I uneasy? If she can’t establish herself in the US and shill her jeans and sunglasses then she may come back to the UK. America’s gain would be our loss!

If I should die, think only this of me--- Wordless Wednesday

That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever




(From the Soldier by Rupert Brooke) These gravestones are this week's Wordless Wednesday entry.

The first photo shows the grave stones of four WWI volunteers from the Pacific island of Niue who served on the Western Front and who died in 1916 at the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital in Hornchurch. This earlier post tells their story.

Raimund Sanders Draper was an American pilot serving in the RAF. He sacrificed his life rather than crash his Spitfire into a Hornchurch school. The school's name was changed from Suttons to Sanders Draper in the 1970s. This post from last year provides more information about "Smudge" Draper.

I know nothing about Elzalel Konvalina except that he would have served with the RAF's 313 (Czech ) Squadron which was based at RAF Hornchurch at the time.

All of these men are buried in or near St Andrew's Church in Hornchurch. All of them gave their lives frighting in wars far away from home.

17 July 2007

A Daily Delivery of McGonagall

As stated in a ost a couple of days ago McGonagall Online is an excellent resource for all things related to the worst poet ever to write in the English Language (Dermot Hudson, on reflection, has not yet demonstrated that his work is consistently atrocious over a lifetime).

One of it's best features is the ability to sign up for a daily dose of the poetry of William Topaz to be delivered fesh every morning to your inbox. Today's "gem" is The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. Here are a few verses for your delight and delectation - the whole poem is hust too much pleasure!

Twas in the year of 1897, and on the 22nd of June,
Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee in London caused a great boom;
Because high and low came from afar to see,
The grand celebrations at Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee.

People were there from almost every foreign land,
Which made the scene really imposing and grand;
Especially the Queen's carriage, drawn by eight coloured bays,
And when the spectators saw it joyous shouts they did raise.

Then the sound of the National Anthem was heard quite clear,
And the sound the hearts of the mighty crowd it did cheer;
As they heard the loyal hymning on the morning air,
The scene was most beautiful and surpassing fair.

The Natal mounted troops were loudly cheered, they looked so grand,
And also the London Irish Emerald Isle Band;
Oh if was a most magnificent sight to see.
The Malta Militia and Artillery,
And the Trinidad Artillery, and also bodies of infantry,
And, as the crowd gazed thereon, it filled their hearts with glee.

His Excellency Chan Yin Hun in his carriage was a great attraction,
And his Oriental garb seemed to give the people great satisfaction;
While the two little Battenberg's carriage, as it drove along,
Received from the people cheering loud and long.

Her Majesty the Empress Frederick a great sensation made,
She was one of the chief attractions in the whole cavalcade;
And in her carriage was the Princess Louise, the Marchioness of Lorne,
In a beautiful white dress, which did per person adorn.

The 42nd Highlanders looked very fine,
When they appeared and took up a position on the line;
And the magnificent decorations in the Strand,
As far east as the Griffin wets attractive and grand.

The welcome given to Commander-in-Chief Lord Wolseley was very flattering,
The people cheered him until the streets did ring;
And the foreign princes were watched with rivetted admiration,
And caused among the sight-seers great consternation,

And in conclusion, I most earnestly do pray,
May God protect Her Majesty for many a day;
My blessing on her noble form and on her lofty head,
And may she wear a crown of glory hereafter when dead.

Go on, I dare you to sign up.. You know you want to!

Pagans up in arms over the Cerne Abbas Lardo

For the second time in a month pagans have been enraged by what they see as defacement of one of their sacred sites. Some have pledged to perform "rain magic" (as if that’s been necessary this summer) to wash away an image of Homer Simpson that has been painted next to the Cerne Abbas giant.

Painted in water-based biodegradable paint the image of Homer Simpson holding aloft a sacred doughnut is intended to promote the release of the new Simpsons film. Ann Bryn-Evans, joint Wessex district manager for The Pagan Federation, said: "We'll be doing some rain magic to bring the rain and wash it away. I'm amazed they got permission to do something so ridiculous. It's an area of scientific interest."

Pagans have co-opted the Cerne Abbas giant as a sacred site when in all probability it is not of great antiquity and has no pagan connection at all. Although some theories date the giant to the roman era (relating either to a fertility cult or intended as a representation of the emperor Commodus who reigned from 180-193 and who usually portrayed himself as Hercules) the prevailing theory is that it dates back to the time of the Commonwealth (see this post from last July).

The generally accepted theory is that the Giant was made by servants of the local Lord of the Manor, Denzil Holles as a parody of Oliver Cromwell. While Holles was a leading Parliamentary figure during the Civil War – he was one of the five MPs Charles I attempted to arrest in 1642 - he hated Cromwell with a passion. Cromwell was also sometimes referred to as "England's Hercules" by his enemies. The theory is given further weight by the fact that the very first reference to the giant dates back to just 1694 where the local churchwarden’s accounts show a payment of 3 shillings was made towards the re-cutting of the giant. In addition, John Hutchins wrote in 1751 in his Guide to Dorset that the carving had only been done the previous century.

While the true date my never be resolved it does seem that pagans have no more call on the giant than anyone else. They might as well have co-opted Westminster Abbey as a sacred site. Personally I’m not bothered by the image of Homer Simpson. It does not harm to the site and it will be gone in a few weeks anyway, rain spell or none.


Simone or Simone's Butterfly has given me an award for my ability to schmooze whhic is described thus:

Schmoozing is the natural ability to converse casually, especially in order to gain an advantage or make a social connection. Good schmoozers effortlessly weave their way in and out of the blogsphere, leaving friendly trails and smiles, happily making new friends along the way. They don’t limit their visits to only the rich and successful, but spend some time to say hello to new blogs as well. They are the ones who engage others in meaningful conversations, refusing to let it end at a mere hello - all the while fostering a sense of closeness and friendship....

I am touched! and I will have to think about paying forward this award to other worthy recipients. In the meantime here is footage of my favourite ever award ceremony:

16 July 2007

Boris throws his hat into the ring

Following considerable speculation (and some mirth) Boris Johnson (featured left with his press secretary and campaign coordinator) has confirmed that he will seek to become the Tory candidate for London mayor. If selected he will face Ken Livingstone who is looking for a third term as mayor

Mr Johnson, speaking to reporters described London as "Here we are, in one of the most depressed towns in Southern England, a place that is arguably too full of drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs.". Sorry that was him writing about Portsmouth in April.. What he said actually said that it was "fantastic city" and that being mayor would be a "wonderful chance to serve London".

He added: "I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received from so many people across London.London is an outstandingly varied and beautiful place and it deserves a proper debate. I want to bring fresh ideas to the capital and offer a new direction for Londoners, besides if you vote Tory it will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.” (well he didn't say that last thing then but, what the hell!)

Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, with whom the Johnson has appeared on Have I Got News For You, said: "It's good news for comedy, if not for London. "I just think it'll make life much more interesting."

I must admit I find Johnson occasionally funny but most of the time I just want to grasp him warmly by the throat. I don’t care for Livingstone, I have never have cared for him but I don’t think he’ll worry too much from a Johnson challenge.