On Tony Blair

It took me a while to realise it (2 general elections, I think) but Blair has absolutely no principles. That is to say he is a pragmatist through and through. He works to expediency. How could anyone with any principles whatever move so seamlessly from a close relationship with Clinton to an even closer one with Bush?

He would sell his own grandmother for a bit of influence.

He used the Labour Party to get to power. Last week he enacted his Education legislation leading the Tory party, with the Labour party in opposition. He has completely sidelined the Trade Unions and embraced privatisation, even where nationalisation would clearly make more sense and would be extremely popular (railways). He took us into a war which the vast majoriy of the country has always been against. He managed to get Student Loans on the statute book without ever getting them into a manifesto, by so doing setting this country’s debt culture in concrete. He continues to make noises about climate change while doing absolutely nothing about it other than to make it easy for big business to pollute.

He now has no credible opposition in his own party other than the Chancellor. Neither has strong allies – everyone else is a pygmy by comparison. I think it was Andrew Rawnsley who wrote that when Labour came to power, Blair had only three really able politicians in his cabinet. Robin Cook is dead, Peter Mandleson is in Europe, Gordon Brown is his enemy (compare Trotsky / Stalin). Even Prescott, who wielded a lot of power and could have made life difficult for Blair if he had wanted to, is now just a shell of a man after his recent scandal.

Blair seems to me to be one of the most brilliant politicians this country has ever had. He is a disaster as a Prime Minister, but an absolute master as persuading enough of the people that matter to support him when it matters.

On Civil Liberties

 

“I also strongly disagree that our liberties are being eroded. They have been greatly increased since the adoption of the European Convention of Human Rights.”
So wrote a cycling acquaintance. My response:-
How many examples do you want?

Someone got arrested for reading out a list of 100 Iraq war dead at the Cenotaph.
You are not allowed to demonstrate within 1 km of Parliament.
I remember when members of the public could walk down Downing Street.
The Home Secretar has given himself unprecedented powers of arrest and detention without recourse to judiciary.
People are banged up in Belmarsh without trial.
This country is complicit in the illegal hostage camp at Guantanamo.
There has been a cover-up regarding “extraordinary rendition” flights in UK airspace.
The Government are hell-bent on the introduction of ID cards.
3 cyclists were arrested in Southend for cycling on the road (charge was “Obstructing the highway with a non-motorised vehicle”)
An innocent Brazilian was shot 8 times because the incompetent police thought he was a terrorist. Then they lied about what happened.
A member of this forum, is being prosecuted for cycling on the road.
Perfectly ordinary demonstrators have been held under the Terrorism act when demonstrating against the World’s biggest arms fair (how ironic is that?)

Oh, and the two biggest parties in this country want to scrap the ECHR.

And that’s without even looking anything up.

We live in a society in which the Police are being given more unfettered powers to do what they want and I am sure it is changing their attitude to their job. Everyone’s a victim of that.

Tadpoles

In early March I spotted some frogspawn in a slow-moving bit of stream fed only by the lake overflow in our local park. There was some there last year but I didn’t see any tadpoles – I think all the spawn was killed by a late frost.

This year, the spawn all hatched and for about a week all the tadpoles, thousands of them, stayed in about the same place, all wriggling just below the surface. They were well protected by lots of great reedmace stumps. Each day I took the dog to the park, so the tadpoles seemed to get bigger.

Then one day, just after Easter, someone had been into the water at that point, had pulled out a load of reedmace and dumped it on the bank. The water where the tadpoles had been was turbid with stirred-up mud and there were hardly any tadpoles – just the odd one swimming around in a confused state.

On the May Day bank holiday I was back at the water’s edge, looking at where the tadpoles had been, when some guy turned up with about 50 people, mostly children with a few parents, in tow. “I hope you don’t mind a bit of company,” he said to me, “We’ve some to do some pond dipping.”
“Someone has been here recently clearing out the vegetation,” I replied. “There were loads of tadpole here before they did that.”
“Oh yes, that was me. I wanted to clear out some of the old dead stuff so that we could get at the water more easily!”
I felt like drowning him. I haven’t seen any tadpoles there since.

Janet’s cycling renaissance

My wife has never been a particularly enthusiastic cyclist. We used to cycle a lot in the 1980s when times were hard and we couldn’t afford a car. We used to take the children (we had two in those days) in child seats.

Then a change in jobs and fortune for me and we were motorised again. Eventually, Janet passed her driving test and we forgot about cycling.

In the past 18 months, I have started again. I have been a very active environmental campaigner in recent years and I am a firm believer in practising what I preach. So I bought a Brompton and go to work on it as often as I can (my workplace varies from day to day and so does the amount of equipment I have to take with me).

I persuaded Jan to join me so we bought a T6 off Ebay and we are now a 2 Brompton household.

To begin with, it was a fraught reintroduction. In one or two of the early rides, Jan’s starting technique was definitely suspect. I managed to persuade her to cycle a couple of miles to a friend’s house and we were still married when we got there.

She clearly needed practice after nearly 20 years’ layoff so I suggested a few more rides. These suggestions have been more sympathetically received recently. Then, the first meaningful ride, to her yoga class. We decided that we would ride out together, she would take her bike in, I would go home and she would make her own way an hour and a half later. It’s a round trip of about 6 miles and we’ve done it twice now.

More recently, she’s done a longer ride. One afternoon, we covered 16 miles, which is probably a good deal more than a lot of Brompton riders have ever done in one go. It took a couple of hours and involved some dismounting, particularly when the rape fields got to her, but we made it.

I plan to organise a few car or rail-assisted rides in the near future. Watch this space…

On wasps and bees

When I kept bees (from about 1986 to 1997) I was occasionally asked to remove wasps’ nests and the like.

I was always disappointed in how feeble wasps seemed to be when it came to defending themselves against a marauding git armed with a veil and a smoker. I think this was mostly down to the fact that there are so few wasps (probably only a few hundred) in a nest when compared to the honey bee hive.

Bees are a completely different kettle of fish. A good queen honey bee can lay 3000 eggs a day and the average life of the worker in summer is about 6 weeks. By the time you get to July a really big colony might have 80,000 insects in it and they can be very determined – and quite daunting!

They often find their way into your overalls and veil. I think my worst sting was when one found its way into my bellybutton and stung me there. It was agony! Firstly, the sting went in right at the bottom of the crater. Then, of course, because bees have a barbed sting, the insect tried to pull away and couldn’t. I could feel its legs going round and round as it tried to escape.

There’s nothing to be done then but to close up the hive, beat a retreat and deal with the wounds. When the swelling came up it looked like an umbilical hernia!

I stopped beekeeping for three reasons:

1. Daughter no. 1 developed an allergy which put her in hospital for a few days. She now carries an epi-pen but has such a dreadful phobia of insects that in order to avoid one she is likely to run into the road and get killed by a passing bus.

2. Lack of time. It gets to be pretty time-consuming in the summer, dealing with swarm control and honey extraction.

3. All my bees were killed by the dreadful parasite varroasis jacobsoni, which sucks the blood of the bee larva sealed in its cell and shortens considerably the life of the adult bee.

Pox-ridden Bastards

At Christmas, my family invented a new game.

In the game, you have to write a list of people upon whom you wish a painful and disfiguring disease. To keep it topical, we decided that only people in the news in 2005 would count. We called the game “Pox-ridden Bastards”.

Five of us played, myself, three of my children and my daughter’s boyfriend. Mrs. Wow is too sweet-natured and doesn’t wish a curse on anyone.

The rules are simple. If everyone writes down the same name, 1 point each (Tony Blair was the only one chosen by all of us). If 4 out of 5 of you write a name down, 2 points, 3 / 5 three points. To keep it snappy, we limited ourselves to 20 names each.

If you are in a minority, you have to argue the case for your choice. 2 / 5, if subsequently endorsed by the others, means 4 points. 1 / 5 means 5 points. If the others don’t agree with you, nil points.

It actually turned into a very surreal and quite alarming experience.

I got 5 points for Arial Sharon ….

My son got 5 for Tony Banks…

Two of us chose Arnold Schwarzenegger, who very quickly fell off his motor bike and was injured: 4 points.

Unfortunately, one of my 5 pointers, Jeremy Clarkson, is still walking around unscathed.

Would someone else like a game just to see if we can get him?

Bloody cars

I had an LPG converted Astra for 3 1/2 years and did 70000 miles in it. I reckon it saved me £3000 in fuel. Sold it in Feb this year with 93000 on the clock. I was getting fed up with having to drive further than I ought in order to get cheap fuel, and BP / Shell were into the ripoff game, putting the price up in line with petrol even though there is (was?) no excise duty on LPG.

I replaced it with a Prius. I agree that the Prius does not live up to the manufacturer’s mpg claims, but what car ever does? Mine is a 1999 non-hatchback model, imported last October and bought on ebay. Loads of the displays are in Japanese, but these cars are quite popular in N. Zealand and there are some very good websites to help overcome the language problem.

Last fill-up: 35.71 litres after 428 miles (54.5 mpg).

You do gain in motorway driving, but you have to accept that driving a hybrid requires some modifications to your driving technique compared to a “normal” car. Sometimes you can only take full advantage of the hybrid’s qualities when there are no other road users to impede, e.g. coasting to roundabouts to take them at 25mph. It takes an awful long time to lose 60mph momentum and everyone else is in the habit of hitting the brakes late, i.e. wasting all that energy they have spent a fortune generating.

The constant variable transmission is superb and the acceleration at higher speeds quite dramatic for a “boring” 1500 engine. Two power sources, you see!

Onset of arthritis was another reason for me wanting an automatic.

Verdict: I’m delighted with it. I’m getting about 52mpg but that is actually increasing as we all become more accustomed to the different driving technique. I haven’t had it serviced yet and I am aware that there are quite a few 1.9 diesels around which will get similar mpg to mine, but I’ve been down that route too and bloody diesels (or at least, my bloody diesels!) have been very expensive to service.

Biggest drawback: Japanese radio channels are all around the 70 Mhz level, so you have to fit a band expander to pick up British stations. This was already fitted, but the reception is pretty patchy.

The one nagging doubt remains. Isn’t a hybrid just a cop-out, still feeding the hydrocarbon addiction when with a (not massive) lifestyle change I could do without a car all together?