Newgate News

Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Cnuttery? There's an app for that...

With the onset of warmer weather around these shores, we are girding our metaphorical loins to document the usual quota of beach rescues.

Along with the foolhardy who either fail to appreciate the lunar influence on our seas or believe that the laws of physics apply only to other people, the rescue services are frequently called upon to assist the hubristic unwary who think they can walk on water - or rather, water-saturated mud.

Those members of my family who grew up within spitting distance of the Sands of Dee were, to a man (and woman) reared on the poetic fate of Mary, who chose the wrong time to fetch the cattle home across the estuary and thereby met an untimely and soggy end. Such cautionary tales have, for countless generations, been used to teach impressionable youngsters the dangers of coastal mud and a rising tide.

Now, however, with schools more likely to teach the exploits of Anansi the Spider (spelling amended - see below) or Rama and Sita than the sad story of Mary and her cows (or the local equivalent), and with easy travel bringing droves of unwary landlubbers to the seaside, the rescue services have their work cut out.

This weekend brought a particularly up-to-date version of the problem, thanks to a mobile-phone based craze doubtless conceived by urban technophiles who don't see much of Mother Nature in the raw, so to speak:
The coastguard had to be called out after 15 people got stuck in mud while taking part in a hi-tech seaside treasure hunt.
Someone appears to have had the bright idea of hiding the 'treasure' near the low water mark during a spring tide on a stretch of coastline notorious for quicksand. According to the coastguard Operations Officer:
"We have since discovered that they were undertaking the hobby of geocaching. This was in an extremely dangerous place and we would not encourage others to search in these areas because there are complex tidal patterns and deep mud."
Geocaching is, as I understand it, running around with a GPS-enabled smartphone looking for clues; self-preservation, it seems, is optional. The impressive cast called out out by concerned passers-by and credited in full in the Telegraph consisted of:
Clevedon Lifeboat, the coastguard helicopter from Portland, a search and rescue helicopter from RAF Chivenor, the Portishead RNLI inshore lifeboat, teams from the Weston-super-Mare and Portishead Coastguard Rescue and the Somerset Fire and Rescue Firefly Hovercraft.
Along with one for the ultimate selfie fail, it's probably about time they set up a special Darwin Award category for those who, abandoning all common sense, may blithely follow their own pocket-sized Pied Piper into oblivion.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Hot Air, Harman and Hogging It All

Demetrius, as always, hits the nail squarely on the head:
"The sweltering heat in the South and East of England arises from a plume of high pressure caused by hot air movement unusual for this time of year. This is due to a surge of political manifestos."
Foremost among the noxious emissions is the flatulence emanating from Harriet Harman's Big Pink Battle Bus under the guise of a 'Women's Manifesto' - surely as clear an illustration as white facepaint on black celebrities of the principle that discrimination is, for some at least, definitely a one-way street.

Among other gems, this document apparently promises guaranteed childcare from 8am to 6pm, to 'set a goal for fifty per cent of ministerial appointments to public boards to be women' - nothing like ensuring you always get the best person for the job! - and to double paid paternity leave.

It also includes the bright idea of four weeks of unpaid childcare leave for working grandparents; having brought up their own children without the benefit of recent childcare subsidies and tax credits, grandparents are now being invited to forego a month's wages so their grown-up offspring can get to work.

This is apparently because grandmothers "give up their work when the kids are little in order to help the mothers and fathers balance work and home" - in other words, to enable mothers to leave their new babies and find career-based fulfilment in the workplace in the approved feminist fashion.

This, it turns out, is less than ideal for the grandmothers, who put their own careers on hold while youth has its day "and then find that they can't go back to work once the children are back at school because once you're in your late 50s and early 60s it's really hard for a woman to get a job then."

Really Harriet? Could this, perhaps, be because the posts for which they are they are suitably qualified and experienced are already occupied by mothers who have farmed out their children on a daily basis in order to get straight back into the workplace?

It all reminds me of 1990s City superwoman Nicola Horlick, interviewed in her kitchen on how she successfully managed her career and family while her mother silently tackled a sinkful of washing-up in the background. According the the Mail, 'Research suggests 1.9 million grandparents have given up a job, reduced their hours, or taken time off work to look after their grandchildren.'

It appears that the 'having it all' generation of career women, encouraged by the likes of Harman, not only want the taxpayer to fund their childcare but also expect their mothers to sacrifice their own careers to take up the slack; how fortunate, then, that Harman's happy compromise means the grandparents only lose a month's salary instead!

As a bonus, this issue has given us a contender for the most meaningless soundbite of the campaign so far - though, as ever, there's plenty of competition:
"When asked about whether he was assuming that older women could afford to work for free, Mr Miliband said that this was "about going with the grain of people's lives" and that the modern workplace needed to reflect "the reality of family life"."

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Do you think anyone was pleased to see them?

A little more recycling today (with apologies to Thin Lizzy...)

Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed Blairs that have been away;
Haven't changed, have much to say,
But man, I still think them cats are crazy!

They’ve been asking what’s going down
Asking where all the cameras could be found
Now the election's come around
Driving all the voters crazy.

The Blairs are back in town

You know Cherie that used to smile a lot?
Any sniff of a freebie and she’d be there takin' all you got
And then off for a break on some millionaire's yacht,
I mean she was schemin'.

And all that time Tony was about the place,
‘Cool Britannia’ and that smug grin on Tony’s face;
Man, he made politics a disgrace,
As they said - “Things can only get better”.

Spread the word around
Guess who’s back in town

Every night they'll be dressed to kill
Down at the Ivy or the Ritz grill,
The drink will flow and money will spill
And if the people want to bitch, just let them.

And the satirists in the corner blasting out the same old song;
The Blairs’ll ignore it, so hope it won't be long,
Won't be long till summer comes
And then the Blairs are gone again.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Sunday Songbook - Election special

A spot of recycling; the apathy of five years ago has returned with a vengeance, compounded by the occasional burst of suppressed rage, so I've plundered the archives for a bit of music to soothe the savage breast...

It’s not a mystery, we ought to want it;
So much depending and relying on it,
So why on earth should I be feeling nothing,
Wishing it were through?
And I can’t bear this Press pandemonium;
On May the seventh it’ll all be over.
People will vote as they intended to anyway;
Nothing, nothing anyone can do.

We’re in the run-up to a general election,
Each side points out the other’s imperfections,
But all they do to get their message through sounds like so much guff to me.
Recall election night anticipation?
This is more like waiting for an operation;
Will the offending growths be removed
To leave us trouble free?
I’ve just had enough, enough, enough,
I’ve just had enough.
I’ve just had enough, enough, enough,
I’ve just had enough.

Excitement levels couldn’t get much lower;
The whole damn business makes your heart beat slower.
It’s a long time since there’s been any pleasure
Reading Britain’s news.
They’ve all got plans, your future is safe with them,
It’s the same story over and over;
It’s enough to make you want to hide away
Which one’s lying? Could we really care less?

So in the run-up to a general election
I groan and throw away the Politics section;
I’ve heard it all already; there’s no innovation, instead just constant irritation.
And as the juggernaut is set in motion
I start to entertain the dismal notion
It’s too much bother, you won’t win me over
There’s no more left to say;
I’ve just had enough, enough, enough,
I’ve just had enough
Of mock sincerity and fake emotion
Yellow, red or blue.

So here we are, stuck in the run-up to a general election,
Hoping everything will take a new direction,
Or is it all lies...
(ad lib)

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Polishing a Turd

Like that last clinging smear of dog poo on the shoe you thought you had meticulously cleaned, serial bus-stop Lothario Keith MacDonald has this week made another public reappearance.

It seems that, since he was last in the news, his attempts to turn the Sunderland gene pool into a cesspit have continued unabated; the tally of his alleged offspring now stands at 15 or 16 which, in tabloid terms, officially entitles him to the epithet 'feckless'.

It also means that he qualifies to take part in Channel 5's latest freak show along with a collection of similarly fecund specimens dredged up from the Jeremy Kyle standby roster. However, if the Mail - don't go there; it's horrible - is anything to go by, his usual modus operandi of chatting up women (and occasionally impregnating them) on buses doesn't seem to be working any more:
He says he finds it hard to meet new women because of his reputation in Sunderland and is shown in the programme going to Birmingham to 'pull girls'.

...despite his most recent partner being heavily pregnant, he tells programme-makers he is still desperate to meet new women - and is even shown trying to chat up love interests at a bus stop.
I'm not entirely sure what this televisual feast is intended to achieve but it raises the appalling and very real possibility that MacDonald may launch a media career from it and, worse, that having appeared on TV may enhance his appeal to the less discriminating single female - a type he is clearly experienced at identifying.

Since he currently has nothing to offer the lucky lady apart from the occasional go on his X-box, any further reproductive activity will add to the burden his progeny currently place on the taxpayer. Moreover, if his children share their parents' casual attitude to conception, the fact that the older ones are now in their teens will surely compound the problem in the near future.

In the run-up to the election, politicians take note: a system of benefits and tax credits, to say nothing of housing allocation, that allows MacDonald to pursue his self-indulgent, exploitative, idle lifestyle while a dozen young women bring up his children at public expense is surely a system broken beyond repair.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

El Caminito del rey

This weekend saw the opening of the newly-restored Caminito del Rey - the King's little pathway - in Malaga, Spain.

Originally built in the early 20th century as an access route for workers on a hydroelectric project, the narrow path along the sides of the gorge fell into disrepair and, after several fatalities, was closed to the public by the authorities. Naturally that was seen as a challenge by some...

I discovered this video some time ago; having no head at all for heights - I once froze up and had to be rescued from the walkway in the Palm House at Kew - I confine my occasional vertiginous thrill-seeking to YouTube, where I can vicariously enjoy this sort of thing from the comfort and safety of my own sofa.

While the new path, which has taken three years to complete, boasts a stable base with sufficient guard rails and netting to bring it within the capabilities of less adrenalin-fuelled visitors, I certainly won't be giving it a try, especially given the sections of glass flooring helpfully offering views of the river 100m below.

However, there are plenty of people who do like the idea; the official booking website crashed within hours of opening and there are more than 30,000 people on the waiting list, meaning it is booked solid for the next few months and on course to pay off some of the staggering €2.7 million cost of the refurbishment.

According to the rules, only 50 people per half hour are allowed to enter the trail - one hopes they don't all decide to stand on the same bit of the walkway at once. It's a bit like those signs giving the maximum lift capacity which have you surreptitiously counting the occupants and wondering exactly how much the manufacturers allowed per person - or is that just me?

Even though I can't imagine ever venturing onto the walkway in person - I'd be the one clinging to the cliff with all ten fingernails and frantically counting passers-by - I can certainly see the attraction of the imposing and dramatic scenery.

What a good thing Youtube gives armchair adventurers the chance to experience it while holding on tightly to a reassuring drink!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Messing About In Boats

This year's coastal inadequacy season appears to have got off to a flying start with a 25-ft yacht crashing into rocks just off the Isle of Wight en route to Plymouth.
The boat had no safety equipment, Mr Trejbal was navigating with one page from an atlas and when he was rescued he thought he was 30 miles away - in Southampton.
Ah yes, the old page-torn-from-an-atlas navigation technique so beloved of Darwin Award hopefuls - though a little outdated now, perhaps, given the availability of car sat-nav systems.
It is not known where Mr Trejbal, who is a Czech national, set off from but it is thought he eventually wanted to travel to Turkey.
Such is the wonder of modern technology that it took me only a few seconds to establish that this would entail a journey of around 3,200 nautical miles - taking well over a month in a boat of that size - including a cut across the notoriously rough Bay of Biscay; a tall order indeed for such an ill-equipped expedition.

It's not the first incident of its kind and certainly won't be the last. What always puzzles me is that the possession of a road atlas or vehicle sat-nav suggests that, while on land, at least, these people fully appreciate the importance of having some tangible aid to navigation.

Truly the incompetence of mankind knows no bounds - especially at sea!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Putting the Danegeld on plastic

It's four years since I wrote this on the subject of taxpayer-funded Council credit cards, following hot on the heels of the MPs expenses scandal:
Councillors up and down the land have been hitching a ride on the gravy train – and the gravy in question is rich, meaty and laced with truffle-oil. Luxury hotels, lavish meals and gifts from high-end retailers abound, along with tables at award ceremonies and champagne receptions.
Now it seems there is yet another tranche of spending to investigate at the next level down. The Bristol Post has obtained a breakdown of the City Council's expenditure on payment cards for the past year and it makes very interesting reading indeed (there's a list at the end of the article).

These cards are issued to, among others, senior managers, head teachers and 'managers of residential care homes and social workers who need to supply goods to vulnerable people'. That being so, one could reasonably expect a certain amount to be spent on food, clothing and basic furniture to cover emergencies and there are, indeed, substantial payments to Ikea and Asda (£10,000 and £32,400 respectively).

Likewise, shoes, haircuts, cinema outings and inexpensive restaurant meals for youngsters in Council care would probably not be deemed excessive - though £3,266 does seem rather a lot for cinema tickets and eyebrows might be raised at 'multiple trips to Rileys [sic] Snooker Club for pupils at the St Matthias Pupil Referral Unit'.

Some of the payments, however, are rather more baffling: a staggering £686 on 'iTunes downloads', for example, and '£44 in what appears to be a tattoo parlour', not to mention...
....a one-off £189.50 payment to Gay Times magazine. The council insisted this figure was incorrect, and it actually spent £33 on a subscription to Diva magazine, a lesbian magazine, for its library service.
I should have thought that, in this day and age, you could be a lesbian on the internet for nothing. Certainly the only people I've ever seen reading magazines and newspapers in my local library are elderly gentlemen in flat hats who are not, I assume, 'Diva' magazine's target audience.

Most contentious of all are bills for £100 at Ralph Lauren in Spain and £170 for a pair of Ugg boots. Mention of these items brought the Council to the comment section to explain:
 - We've tracked down some more detail: the Ralph Lauren purchase wasn't from Barcelona, it's from their UK website which is billed via Barcelona, and was to buy Christmas presents for children in a residential home. The Ugg boots were another online purchase; to replace a stolen pair which a child in a residential home had got for Christmas.
Now I know that children in care are probably having a rough time and, in modern parlance, may need to enhance their self-esteem, but Ralph Lauren? A quick visit to the website in question reveals that the cheapest child's accessory - a branded baseball cap - will set you back £20. Is it really sensible to endorse and indulge (at public expense) an appetite for designer labels among children who, a few years hence, will have to learn sensible management of a limited budget?

I'm not, of course, advocating Dickensian levels of oppression and uniformity, but surely you don't have to desire the return of the workhouse to suggest that gifts should be of a less overpriced and superficial nature (though perhaps the impressive £37,800 - over £3,000 per month - spent on Amazon included books and educational toys; we can but hope!). Some of the comments on the article, however, suggest a very different point of view:
 - As I understand it a number of these items were bought for looked after children and the boots to replace some for a child whose boots were stolen. Nothing like making a scandal out of the needs of vulnerable people. The journalist should apologise and give the days salary to charity! 
 - I can't believe that people on here begrudge a Christmas present for someone in a childrens home and to replace some stolen Ugg boots for a child in a childrens home.
Try as I might, I can't quite square designer clothing and £170 Ugg boots with 'the needs of vulnerable people'. While it is reasonable that children in care should receive gifts where culturally appropriate, I would never buy Ralph Lauren branded goods for my own children and I have every sympathy with taxpayers objecting to such wanton extravagance being exercised on their behalf.

As for the stolen boots, there are not enough details to make a judgement, but was it really necessary to replace them (assuming they were indeed the genuine article - '99% of all Uggs on ebay are fakes') with something expensive enough to be a liability in a communal setting? Unless council staff were to blame, there is surely no obligation on the taxpayer to do so.

All in all, it looks rather like someone here is playing Fairy Godmother at other people's expense and enjoying a nice warm glow of generosity while the public foots the bill.

An explanation of sorts is, perhaps, to be found in this, from the same author as the second comment quoted above:
There are families around Bristol that have caused trouble. Property has been damaged, anti social behaviour has caused problems and this has perpetuated over time. 
Now lets look at the costs. Council repairing property, council sending officers to sort out anti social behaviour, legal costs with bringing asbos, legal costs when pursuing broken asbos, court costs, prison costs and all of the officer costs to do the above, plus the police costs and the unquantifiable cost of the effect on neighbours and the local community. 
So now lets look at the programme. It's a high touch programme where council officers help these families change behaviour through the provision of support. The programme has been massively successful and all of the behaviour and costs that I listed above have been dramatically reduced. So the public sector has found a far cheaper way of dealing with problem families.
Revealing, I think you'll agree. It will be interesting to have a look at Bristol's crime figures in a few years' time to see how effective this strategy has proved - particularly if this exposure means the supply of Council-funded goodies dries up.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Six of the best

It was the usual Ankh-Morpork mob in times of crisis; half of them were here to complain, a quarter of them were here to watch the other half, and the remainder were here to rob, importune or sell hot-dogs to the rest. (Terry Pratchett, 'Guards! Guards!')
It's been quite a week for asteroids. According to a fellow enthusiast:
...on March 10, 2015, a 12–28 meter asteroid dubbed 2015 ET cosmically “just missed us”, zipping past Earth at 0.3 lunar distances – 115,200 kilometers, or 71, 580 miles.
Then the pocket-sized 2015 EO6 - possibly the subject of this video - whizzed by a similar distance away, followed by 2015EQ and 2015 EK (both between 15 and 33m in diameter) and the slightly smaller 2015 EF and, today, 2015 EO all passing a mere million or so kilometres above our heads.

The startling number of close fly-bys detected recently, even if they aren't of a size to send us the way of the dinosaurs, makes it much easier to appreciate that an asteroid strike isn't a matter of 'if', but of 'when'.

Eschatology aside, I rather suspect most of us aren't exactly prepared for this. True, official bodies have been undertaking mock exercises, which has to be a good thing, but, on an individual level, I don't see much hope for a sensible and reasoned reaction.

Part of the problem is the constant cries of 'Wolf!' from the media. We've become accustomed to a sort of semi-permanent wibble about everything from global warming to imminent food shortages in the Home Counties while life goes on seemingly unaffected; like children dropping crisp packets on their way home from yet another anti-littering PSHE lesson, the population has ceased to take any notice of what is being said.

Occasionally, however, a particularly alarmist message gets through and we are treated to the edifying sight of supermarkets besieged by shoving hordes squabbling over the last baked goods, fearful lest a threatened snowstorm should delay deliveries and plunge them into an appalling carbohydrate shortage. So used are we to instant gratification that even the mildest of deprivation seems to bring out the worst in some people.

Should a diminutive asteroid land on some part of our green and pleasant land tomorrow, I hope the affected population will find some measure of altruism and organised response. Failing that, I fervently hope those most likely to act selfishly or exploit the situation are squarely underneath when it hits (along with a few particularly deserving cases; I have a carefully-maintained mental list).

Meanwhile, every fly-by is an excuse for a drink and this week, in spirit at least, we will be broaching a bottle of Jimkin Bearhugger's finest to drink to all six, before raising a seventh glass in salute to the much-lamented Terry Pratchett.

Monday, 2 March 2015

"Live long and prosper!"

I wonder if Leonard Nimoy ever thought, when he adapted a traditional Orthodox Jewish prayer gesture for his new television role, that thousands of small fingers would be painstakingly coaxed into the same position every school breaktime for years afterwards.

I can't be the only one who, on learning of his recent death, responded with an automatic Vulcan salute, half-surprised that the muscle memory persists to this day.

Gene Roddenberry's vision may look dated now but, growing up in a place where a 'foreigner' was a Southerner from over the English border, a crew of humans of all nationalities united in space exploration was a novel and thought-provoking concept (though we all knew, of course, that Scotty had to be the real hero, whatever Kirk and Spock got up to); add in a character from a distant planet and we were all completely hooked.

The early 1970s were heady times for space-mad nerdlets; real-life moon rockets vied for attention with the fictional exploits of intergalactic travellers and the crew of the errant moon base in the optimistically named  'Space 1999' (a series which, to my delighted surprise, still had a devoted following in Austria in 1982, when British television had moved on to 'Boys From the Blackstuff' and invented Channel 4).

With such a background - not to mention the early influence of the lids protecting the Clangers' underground homes from meteorite impacts and space debris - it's hardly surprising that this blog has retained an interest in extra-terrestrial matters and asteroids in particular.

Today, therefore, we have double cause for celebration in 2015 DO215 and 2015 DS23, two 50-odd metre wide space rocks passing by today at around 1.2 million km. Rather bigger than the Chelyabinsk meteor, they are, as their designations show, relatively recent discoveries, a reminder that NASA's impressive detection equipment is doing well - and that there are plenty of as yet undetected bodies out there.

And tonight, we are not only raising our usual glass in the Tavern to mark the event but also drinking a toast to Leonard Nimoy and to the unforgettable original Mr Spock.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Follow the money

Remember Baroness Uddin? Chucked out of the House of Lords until she paid back the £125,000 she fiddled on expenses and claiming to be penniless, she had the gall to ask to be reinstated in order to pay the money back out of the taxpayer-funded daily allowance.

When that failed, at the end of her 18-month suspension, she had a rummage down the back of the sofa and miraculously came up with the cash in a handy lump sum.

Only it turns out that the sofa in question wasn't her own. According to the Register of Members' Interests (via Breitbart), she received an interest free loan for £124,000 from three sources.

Given all the other investment opportunities out there, one wonders whether these benefactors would really sacrifice the use of that amount out of the goodness of their hearts or the desire to see Baroness Uddin's little face light up in gratitude.

What's more, £10,000 came from 'two businessmen from the Islam Channel' which, according to Breitbart,
...has been accused of giving a platform to terrorist sympathisers and anti-Semitism. In November 2010 Ofcom ruled the channel had breached the broadcasting code after presenters supported violence against women, martial [sic] rape and accused women who wear perfume of being “prostitutes”.
Most of the channel's output appears rather less controversial, which is a good thing, given that 'UK government research [in 2008] found that 59% of British Muslims watched the channel.' (Wikipedia), but I wonder whether Baroness Uddin agrees with the programme stating that women should not be 'permitted to hold a position of leadership in government'  - and what she thinks of the CEO's alleged links to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Islamic finance does not, of course, permit the direct charging of interest on loans. Instead, the lender may effectively acquire a whole or part share of any assets and a share of any income or benefit generated. When the asset in question is a member of the House of Lords, this surely raises some disquieting questions.

In the light of this generous financial backing for the Baroness, the inspiration for our past musical efforts seems even more appropriate...

She kept a home down in Wapping,
Where subsidies helped pay the rent,
A mansion in Bangladesh,
And don’t forget the flat in Kent,
Pressed for a remedy, she says she’s in penury,
But once she’s back in Westminster then all will be fine;
Three hundred quid a day she’d get,
She’d use your cash to pay her debt
Extraordinarily nice!
She's Manzila Uddin,
Baroness of Bethnal Green,
House of Lords expenses queen;
Her arrant greed will blow your mind. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A prestigious award

Out with the Oscars! Banish the Baftas! Douglas Carswell, newly-hatched UKIP MP and occasional muse of this blog has been shortlisted for the Westminster Public Affairs’ Political Twitter Awards 2015 (nope, me neither).

He's one of six hopeful contenders for the Funniest Tweet Award with:
“Are there enough Lib Dems left to form a circular firing squad?”
It's not exactly going to have them rolling in the aisles, but I suppose that, in politics, you have to take your laughs where you can find them.

Still, it's better to be known for that than for the fact your daughter used your twitter account to invite all your 28,000 followers to play 'Hello Kitty World'. In any case, Carswell probably needs cheering up, since the other boys in Parliament have been hiding his homework and calling him names:
He said: “The Bufton Tufton element of the Tory party has definitely started to get a bit cross with me.” But he wouldn’t be drawn on how they had expressed their distaste – and insisted he didn’t care. 
Last month, Carswell arrived at his place on the House of Commons benches to find that someone had scrawled “FO” on his prayer card – short for “F*** Off”.
Wouldn't it be nice if the next election brought us a crop of grown-ups - or, even better, a Parliament prepared to work together for the greater good of the British people. No chance of that, of course; the tribalism and point-scoring is far too deeply ingrained.

As for the Lib Dems, with Nick Clegg in charge, the result is surely something more like this...