Thursday, June 30, 2005

Keep Scotland in Scotland!

This is outrageous! Jason Scotland, Dundee United's Trinidadian striker, has been refused a work permit by the home office. Apparently he's not considered good enough:

"We have been told that Jason was refused his work permit because he was not of the highest calibre and would not make a significant contribution to the Scottish game."

And who made this despicable decision?

"This panel of five ex-players and the one SPL representative came to what we believe to be an incredible decision considering the player's record since he came to Scotland."

Five ex-players? Are they all ex-Dundee players? (Note - Dundee United and Dundee FC are two entirely separate teams and must not be confused. Even though their grounds are in the same street. Actually, they're quite easy to tell apart - Dundee are now in the First Division. Ha.)

What about all the foreign numptys who fill out the reserve teams of Rangers and Celtic? And indeed their first teams. Or are you telling me that Torquay United's Icelandic goalkeeper is irreplaceable? (Actually, he's just buggered off after refusing a drug test, but that's another story.)

For god's sake write to your MPs! This cannot go unchallenged!

A bemused, and unemployed, Jason Scotland said "Is it because I is black?"

Trevor McDonald Savages George Bush

Probably not, eh? The only interview George Bush is giving to the British media prior to the G8 is with Sir Trevor McDonald. A clearly irritated Jeremy Paxman said "Bugger. Let me at him. Let me at him.........."

The Widespread Fame of Richard Whiteley

Just got this in an email from a Microsoft Office mailing list I subscribe to (because I develop Excel spreadsheets for a living - so if you know anyone who needs a custom spreadsheet or some existing ones spruced up, just drop me an email. Rates very reasonable. </plug>)

One of my little pleasures when visiting the UK is watching an amazing little quiz show called Countdown.  When other TV shows have massive prizes, glamorous hosts and simple questions, Countdown has difficult anagrams and number puzzles with the biggest prize being the admiration of your peers and a hearty round of applause.  It was a very English show that had run for 23 years with Richard Whiteley at the helm.

Richard was an ebullient host with a famously outrageous taste in loud jackets and ties. He had an amazingly ability to deliver the worse jokes and puns imaginable as the host in every episode of Countdown over 23 years.  Hopefully the show will continue but we all know it will never be the same.  Richard Whiteley died unexpectedly last Sunday aged 61.  He's survived by his partner Kathryn Apanowicz plus a broader family in the production team at Countdown.

It's extraordinary how popular that show is. I rarely watch it myself, but I know people who tape it (or, these days, skyplus it, I guess) so they can watch it when they get home from work. A friend of mine once worked as a researcher for the MP Austin Mitchell, and told me about the time Richard Whiteley turned up at his office in a morning suit ready for a Mitchell family wedding. A week early.
Can't imagine who they'll find to replace him - not bloody Giles Brandreth, I hope.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It's not Orange, it's Tangerine.

Slugger O'Toole points to this article in the Belfast Telegraph as an example of how "cultural cross-fertilisation in Ireland is exposing the contradictions that infest the narrow outlooks of hardline British and Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland". I was particularly interested in the story of how the Orange Order were invited to march in Cork this St Patrick's day (I know, I know - remember where you heard it first, eh?) as part of the European City of Culture celebrations, and how they were forced to cancel after protests by Sinn Fein meant their safety couldn't be assured. (The Orange Lodge's summary is here - and I bet that is the only time in my life I ever link to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland!) Should Northern Irish Orangemen have been able to march in Cork, given their tradition and beliefs? Of course they bloody should. I find the fact that Cork invited them in the first place, their genuine pleasure in accepting the invitation and the subsequent necessity to withdraw to be a really sad train of events.
I've been reading the EverythingUlster blog quite a bit these last few days, and I thoroughly recommend it to you. It's made me think through a few things, so this could turn into a bit of a rant. Sorry. Actually, no I'm not.

I grew up as a catholic in Ayrshire, on the South West coast of Scotland, a place that is no stranger to sectarianism. Unusually for a catholic, my father was a police officer and we lived in a succession of police houses in various Ayrshire towns. Our neighbours were always police, and always protestant, and my brother and I used to play with all the other little plodlets. Or Prodlets. There was never, as far as I recall, any grief either from the kids or their parents about us being catholic. My brother and I thought being protestant must be great, because we always had to go to church on Sundays and they didn't. Which means, of course, they must have been heathens, not prods, but that never occurred to us at the time.
We went to catholic primary schools, but when the time came to go to secondary school my parents had pretty much given up on catholicism (long story) so we went to the local protestant - sorry, non-denominational - school. There I painfully discovered the true extent of sectarianism. I do not recommend being a catholic policeman's son at a school in the West Coast of Scotland. Then again, my brother, who's a couple of years younger than me, says he never had any problems. He's in the police now too. You may draw your own conclusions.
Anyway, when it came to applying for universities, I decided to get out of the whole west coast sectarian thing, so I went to Dundee. Stop laughing. There isn't nearly as much sectarianism in the East. Well, those that are tend to become Celtic and Rangers supporters and bugger off west for the weekend. And good riddance too. I myself became a Dundee United supporter, and to this day have to spend hours explaining to English people why our strip is NOT orange, its TANGERINE. Gottit?
To get to the point. Despite disavowing catholicism (and all religion), and denouncing sectarianism, I became firmly involved with Republicans at University. I supported Sinn Fein. I saw Unionists as the enemy. I remained entrenched in these views for many years.
Nonetheless, two of my best friends are Unionists. Not 'some of my best friends are Unionists' - exactly two. About ten years ago I went to their wedding in Enniskillen and had one of the best weeks of my life. The Royal Black Preceptory were strongly represented, my views were well known, and I didn't experience anything but a warm welcome. I also realised that Northern Ireland was a very different place to the Republic, and it began to dawn on me that a united Ireland was going to be a bloody difficult, if not impossible, thing to achieve. And why would anyone in the North really want it?
The last straw came for me this week, with the IRA's admission that they killed Kathleen Feeney, a 14 year old schoolgirl, 30 years ago. At the time they blamed it on the British Army and murdered a soldier in reprisal. In the full knowledge that the British Army had nothing to do with it. No apology to the soldier's family either. Anyway, any lasting republicanism in me disappeared the moment I read that. Actually, that's not true. The Northern Bank robbery and the McCartney murder had pretty much killed it off.

My personal view is that Northern Ireland's best hope for the future is as an independent state within the EU. However, I'm also aware that Northern Ireland gets quite enough advice from people that have never lived there and to that extent haven't got a fucking clue what they're talking about. So feel free to ignore me.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Poor Tim

Well, I guess he won't be winning this year, then.....

Bloody Wimbledon again.

As I write, Him! Tenman! is once again attempting to win a tennis match at Wimbledon. Now, I have zero interest in tennis (I should probably say 'love interest', but that's a whole different, er, ballgame) but at this time every year I develop an interest. A foaming-at-the-mouth, expletive-screaming hate-filled interest. It's not pretty, it's not edifying and it's certainly not attractive. But I can't help it. I just hate Tim Henman's deluded fans. And the entire British media.
I have nothing against Tim at all. I've never met the guy. I'm sure he's very nice - although not when he's shouting at teenage girls "get your heads out of your arses and get me a coke". I'm sure they didn't teach him manners like that at posh school. Anyway, he's a good tennis player. A very good tennis player, even - I believe he's been in the world's top ten for several years. But - and you may need to sit down for this - he is not the best tennis player in the world. He may win Wimbledon, but the chances are he won't. This does not make him a traitor. He has not let us down. He will simply have lost a game of tennis. When he does come to retire I'm sure he'll look back and be proud of his career. I'm pretty bloody sure his bank manager will be proud of his career. Just leave the guy alone - please! I mean, it's not as if the media show any interest when he loses in Bongo-Bongo land, is it?
And now the 'young British hope' Andrew Murray is about to get the same treatment (I say British - he'll be demoted to Scottish again the second he loses). I actually heard an old-school BBC commentator say this on the radio this morning: "Murray and Henman. The contrast. One from the streets, one from the Shires". Which is fucking which?? Murray has a POSH Scottish accent. Very posh indeed. The closest he's come to the streets is the tree-lined boulevards of Morningside. For god's sake, just because he's Scottish does not mean he's a hoody-wearing ned fae the Gorbals.

"I say, that young chap's awfully good, isn't he?"
"Awfully. Scottish, you know."
"Really? How splendid to see one with such a disadvantaged background making something of themselves."
"Oh dear, he's lost."
"Bloody Jocks."

And worse than all of this - no Peter Allen and Jane Garvey to listen to on the way home. Bloody BBC.

More Nick Davies.

The last part of Nick Davies' excellent series on the criminal justice system:

So you listen to the prison officers, and they're reading from the same script - even this hard-assed veteran who mourns the passing of respect and discipline in society. He goes on to complain that the public like their prisons to be warehouses, just storing people to keep the streets clean, but he's had a grown lad crying on his shoulder about being sexually abused by his own father and another bursting with pride about how his dad used to take him on burglaries when he was only so small, and he says he used to be cynical about sorting out the problems of offenders but now he can see the usefulness of it. Apart from anything else, it means the offender's got no excuse any more.

(My emphasis).

And that, I think, is key - no re-offender should ever be able to say they haven't been given every chance, all the help they need, to break the cycle. And, dear Daily Mail reader, this is for the benefit of all of us. It is not "pandering to criminals".

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

From the care-home to the grave.

Today's Guardian has an excellent piece about criminal re-offending. It looks at the life of a Plymouth man called Andrew O'Connor:

By the time he was 10, he was being arrested. By the time he was 15, he was doing custody. By the time he was 30, he was dead. Nothing unusual. There are thousands of Andrew O'Connors shuffling through the dark tunnels of our criminal justice system.

Not to mention having his driving license endorsed at the age of 12. Four years before he could even apply for it.

There will be those who have little sympathy for the Andrew O'Connors of this world, and I can see why, especially if you've had your house burgled by him or your car nicked or been threatened while he was off his head on crack. But the inescapable fact here is that the treatment this man - and thousands of other men and women - received from childhood to the grave shames us all, and lets us all down. And costs us money, if that's your angle. Simple facts - the care system for children doesn't care, the prison system for adults doesn't work. Difficult to argue a good case for the effectiveness of prison when we lock up more people per head of population than the USA - and have a higher recidivism rate.

Before the Mail readers get too upset, it's absurd to suggest that no-one should be sent to prison. There are many, many people who deserve to be in prison and I'm glad they're there. But too often, I repeat, it simply doesn't work.
What do we want prison to be? A punishment? Certainly. A way of keeping bad bastards away from our families? Absolutely. A deterrent? We'd like it to think so. A path to rehabilitation? Abso-fucking-lutely.
So it probably fulfils the first two. Not sure about the third. But the fourth:

By the time the SEU report was published, Andrew O'Connor had been released from custody 11 times and he had never received any effective help for any of the problems that made him an offender.

And think about this as a useful way to prepare a serial burglar for the outside world:

Andrew O'Connor was pushed out of the gate of Long Lartin prison one morning with no address to go to, no job to go to, no GP to look after him and only £46.75 of discharge grant to last him the several weeks it would take him to sign on.

Well, that should work. Make sure he has no money, no job, nowhere to live, no access to help for his addictions and the rest of us should be able to sleep in our beds at night.

The conclusions of the SEU report are not lily-livered liberal hand-wringing. They're common fucking sense. Unfortunately, we're unlikely to see them implemented:

"The premise was that seven government departments would go on to forge a united front against reoffending, and prison would only be used as a last resort. What actually happened was that they cherry-picked the most politically acceptable and convenient actions, and rubbished the rest - namely, the social inclusion measures."

Mustn't upset the Daily Mail now, must we?

By the way, the last paragraph in the piece, a quote from an ex-nurse, is required reading.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Reality has reared it's ugly head again.

Well, I'm flummoxed. Mrs graeme's watching the final of Celebrity Love Island, so I thought: excellent opportunity for a spot of blogging and taking the piss as I sit here keeping her company (I'm nice like that). And I can't think of anything witty, scathing, or just smugly superior to say. It's a perfect target, a kind of open goal really, a bunch of half-pissed half-celebs behaving like kids behind the bike sheds at school. It is the end of civilisation as we know it, I read in the Sundays. It is the worst example of the worst type of tv programming known to man. It will rot the brains of your children (although as graeme jr is not yet two, he's safe in his cot - really, he'll thank me one day). Normally, I'm quite up for a bit of reality tv. I even watched Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen (not that Gary Rhodes, though, that's a step too far). But I haven't watched more than a couple of episodes of this, so I don't feel qualified to comment.
On the other hand, I love Big Brother. And Big Blogger. Especially Big Blogger. Also I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
Actually, I begin to see the problem....... my brain has rotted.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Crap circles

The Sun's front page today shows a photo of a crop circle (or, as Nicky Campbell accidentally-on-purpose called them on the radio this morning, "crap circles") proving that aliens support London's bid for the Olympic Games in 3035, or whenever it is. (I refuse to link to the Sun, even if they did support Labour; best steal a copy if you want a look.) This reminds me that I once saw a crop circle in a field adjoining the Paignton-Totnes road. No arcane symbols here, just a message in English from our alien interlopers. A simple, one-word message. And the word was... "cunt". In twenty-foot high letters. I tell you, octagenarians in flat caps and Nissan Micras were crashing all over the place. Oh how we laughed. And laughed. Now, I'm guessing what happened here is that a couple of delinquent alien hoodies, after a few too many pints of Interstellar Artois, thought it would be a jolly jape to nick a sporty little spaceship, zap over to earth, and use that naughty word they'd seen on Don't Earthlings Talk Funny. Either that or it was a couple of teenage tourists miffed at being dragged off to Torquay with Mam and Dad. Whichever, you have to admire the dedication. Must have taken bloody hours. (By the way, Nicky Campbell also got into trouble for mangling 'West Kent Hunt' on the radio. Twice. Mind you, it's a bloody easy mistake to make....)

Now, a controversial subject. The Live8 backlash. I realise this may not be universally popular, but I find myself agreeing with Damon Albarn. For a start, Geldof really does seem to have lost it - sail across the English channel and bring back French people, then make them march to Edinburgh? Apart from the fact that the English channel is about the most dangerous waterway in the world, isn't kidnapping an offence? Even if it is French people? (Sorry, that was entirely gratuitous. I love the French. Obviously lived in England too long.) Ok, I know he didn't advocate kidnapping. I'm exaggerating for effect. He clearly thinks lots of French people will want to join in. He might be right - or he might have lost his marbles.
Just to be absolutely clear, I wholeheartedly support the aims of Live8, I'm just really not sure in what way it helps. A few years ago I spent some time in Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. There is hellish poverty in these places, especially Mozambique, but as Albarn says there is also a great deal of good stuff (if you ever get the chance, go here; it's the most fantastic place I've ever been - just watch out for the Rhodies). It's time to stop polarising Africa into villains and victims and recognise that not everything on the continent is in a mess. It seems to me that Gordon Brown has a plan, and is going the right way about attempting to deliver it. Best leave him to get on with it....  my word, I came over all serious then. Sorry. And I am prepared to have the error of my ways spelled out....

And finally, Liverpool Get Let Into The Champion's League Shock. Jammy bastards. I mean, they didn't even score against Chelsea and they still won the bloody game. Not that I'm a Chelsea fan, I just have an irrational dislike of Liverpool FC. Probably because me Grandma's a Manc.

Oh, not quite finally. Get on over to Big Blogger and check out the fun. Much more entertaining than the telly version, I promise you, although with fewer breasts on display. So far, anyway....

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Ilfracombe. Because I can. Posted by Hello

The Eden Project, med biome. Just trying out this Hello thing. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 06, 2005

Your own personal windfarm.

Personal wind turbines from British Gas - stick one on your roof and generate your own electricity. If it's very windy you can even sell the excess back - or spend a few days picking roof tiles and mangled blades up from the street. From the British Gas website:

A tiny version of its big brother the windfarm turbine, the Windsave rooftop model is expected to produce around 1kw of electricity to supplement the property's existing national grid supply – enough to power a TV and DVD player, computer, the fridge and freezer and several lights.

And apparently no planning permission required either.  At 'around £1500' you may wish to do the maths and work out return on investment yourself.

And speaking of green things, at last the green half of Northern Ireland will have someplace to shop as Asda (Wal-Mart to non-Brits) bail out the over-ambitious Morrisons. Must be a nightmare having to endure all that red, white and blue at Tesco's. And to prove their credentials, the first price cut listed in Asda's own press release - Guinness! (Find it yourself, they get enough publicity without me linking to them.)

Thought for the day, from today's lunchtime conversation in the canteen of gainful employment - the logical conclusion of the application of GM technology to the food chain, and how we can end world hunger? "Grow more cows." Genius.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

On Blogging, and also on Europe

I've just had my first blogging crisis. The 'What the fuck is the point, and I'm writing complete crap' one that leads to anguish and agonising over the next post. Then I realised no bugger is reading it anyway, so might as well just carry on pleasing myself. Actually, She Weevil did leave a comment, for which thanks. Yes, indeed, I have occasionally been known to foment rebellion in the work canteen....

Actually, the work canteen (actually, the work restaurant - anyone know Gordon Ramsay's mobile number?) is an excellent place to judge the mood of the nation. The topic for today was Europe, all over the bloody place. The consensus being that because the French voted against the constitution then it must be a Good Thing and can we have our referendum now please, Mr Blair, so we can vote Oui. Just to annoy them. The token French bloke at the table (oh, yes, we're a thoroughly multinational company) tried to explain that the Non vote did not mean the French were anti-Europe, while my German mate tried to explain the meaning of the word Schadenfreude. Quite entertaining all round.

Being Scottish (but thoroughly enjoying living in England for many years now), I've had quite a while to get used to being ruled from a foreign capital and adopting their currency. Although in our case, obviously, we actually run the foreign capital and its currency.......