December 12, 2014
by Paul
1 Comment

Question Time – the one which showed that men can be arseholes* and women can be brilliant

OK. Apologies for being patronising or condescending or an inverse sexist (?), but I enjoyed Question Time last night, speaking as what I regard as an aspirant or humble candidate for male feminist (if they’ll have me) – Lenny Kravitz fan, the token male in an all-female household and Liberal Democrat Women member.

You can imagine the programme planning meeting:

Hey – why don’t we do a special women’s edition. Get two TOTAL ARSEHOLES of men on and then have three really brilliant women to show that women can be totally brilliant and that men can be TOTAL ARSEHOLES.

This was not Farage versus Brand. This was man versus woman. Woman won.

Just so you know, the panel on last night’s Question Time was:

Russell Brand
Nigel Farage
Mary Creagh
Penny Mordaunt
Camilla Cavendish

Russell Brand’s heart is in the right place. I like him. He is a great comedian and works well as a sort of one-man “ginger group” to mix things up a bit. But his entreaties to people not to vote are just stupid and irresponsible. And his labelling of politicians as “them” is absolutely ridiculous. Politicians aren’t “them”. They are us. And if more of us haven’t got the guts to be politicians, then more fool us.

Nigel Farage is Nigel Farage. The M4 is full-up because of immigration. If people fall for that one, then good luck to them. Oh, but of course, we should be having a real debate on immigration. The debate which the professional politicians and media wallahs won’t let us have. BOLLOCKS. We’ve been having that debate since 1968 (at least – doesn’t anyone remember Alf Garnett or Enoch Powell?) and on virtually every edition of Question Time since its inception.

Mary Creagh is one of the few Labour politicians who doesn’t say “What we have said is…” all the blinking time. She is clear and intelligent. A great model for women.

Penny Mordaunt. I was surprised by her. She is remarkably grounded and knowledgeable about issues which are deserving of focus.

Camilla Cavendish is a journalist who knows what she is talking about.

Can I just say this? One of the questions last night was about ya-boo politics. Listen carefully. I will say this only once. It is our responsibility as citizens of this country to realise that the three minutes of PM v Oppo leader of PMQs is about 0.01% of the debates/exchanges in parliament each week. The tweets which showed empty benches versus full chambers “for MP’s salaries debates” (cheap point, Russell Brand, use your brain!) have been exposed as lies. The majority of parliamentary time is spent by earnest, marginally anally-retentive, people talking earnestly about dry, important subjects on behalf of the nation. They then, in the case of Commons MPs, have to travel all the way back to their constituencies (in most cases) to see if they have still got a family and/or a seat left. It is your responsibility as citizens of this country, oh bleating “yaboo politics” and “politicians are all in it for themselves” man and woman, to use your God-given loaf and do sufficient research (like watch BBC Parliament for five minutes other than for PMQs) to realise that you are talking out of your collective arses.

*includes me. I don’t often get that potty-mouthed, so enjoy it while you can. Thank Shepherd Neame’s Bishops Finger.

December 11, 2014
by Paul

House of Lords champagne – the other side of the story

Rather like applying electrodes, my post this morning suddenly sent a surge of life into this blog. I got two responses!!!!

The post itself was blogging at its most classic. That is, a rant banged into an iphone on my knee on the train to London at 7am with the most cursory glance at any basis of “facts”.

So I am grateful for those two responses for reminding me that it is always a good idea to spend a few minutes actually looking for both sides to the story.

First of all, thanks to my good friend and neighbourhood attack sea otter, Mark Valladares, for gracing this site with its first comment since Bruce Forsyth still had his own hair:


On the other hand, the people who drink the champagne may rather want to drink champagne rather than cava. That is their choice, if they wish to pay for it. And, given that catering for outside groups in the Lords generates a profit of about £1 million a year – and they drink quite a lot of that champagne – it strikes me as rather a false economy.”

Thanks also to Baroness Hussein-Ece for putting me right on Twitter:

So, thank you very much, Meral and Mark, for adding greatly to my education today. Not only are peers paid to put in the hard yards on our legislation for life, but I now know that they have enterprisingly taken it upon themselves to provide an excellent service for the nation as an off-licence for over-priced and over-rated French produce without having to interrupt the proceedings of this hothouse of business activity for elections.

What efficiency! We can all be proud of them!

I particularly like the way they earn money for the hard-pressed tax payer by cashing in on the old world snob value of the “House of Lords” label attached to the bottles. Meanwhile, other sparkling wines (and indeed many and varied delicacies) are available, even from the United Kingdom.

And of course, quite rightly the crazy idea of doing anything as sordid as merging the Lords catering operation with the Commons catering operation to save money has been rejected because, in the words of Sir Malcolm Jack, former clerk of the Commons on December 2nd:

The lords feared that the quality of champagne would not be as good if they chose a joint service

December 11, 2014
by Paul
1 Comment

The stupid snobbery of the House of Lords refreshment committee*

It was recently reported that the House of Lords refreshment committee purchased 17,000 bottles of champagne costing £260,000 from 2010 onwards. Suggestions of buying cheaper champagne fell on deaf ears.

A few years ago, loved ones once treated me to a wine tasting with famous wine and drink expert Oz Clarke. OK, it was in a big room with a hundred other people but I was down the front and treated to the full gamma rays of Mr Clarke’s wonderful wit and wisdom. Plastic corks or screw tops are better than cork corks – was one of his pearls of insight.

But old Oz reserved particular venom for a full-on rant about champagne. The gist was: you can spend (2000 prices) £30 on a bottle of champagne or £3 on a bottle of cava. They are exactly the same. So why pay £27 extra for exactly the same thing? You are paying £27 for a hundred years of advertising which has convinced people that sparkling wine from one region is better than another sparkling wine from elsewhere. More fool you. By all means buy it for a special birthday or anniversary but, otherwise, don’t waste your money.

So, the House of Lords refreshment committee have wasted a pile of our dosh (at £15.29 a bottle) simply for the snob value of seeing (or not seeing) the word “champagne” on a label. They could have bought any sparkling wine, my preference would be for British sparkling wine, saved a fortune, and no one would have known the difference.

*UPDATE 12/11/14: Please also read this post which gives the other side of this story. My headline and article above are misleading on their own. The champagne is bought and resold through the extensive House of Lords private catering operation. The peers are not swigging this stuff, I am informed. I apologise for misleading in this single post above but hopefully I have now reflected the whole story on this and the second post.

December 7, 2014
by Paul

Scotland – “alas, poor country! Almost afraid to know itself”

On Thursday I returned, with she who must be obeyed, to my old school, West Buckland School, for the second time this year. After some very convivial conversations in what was the Headmaster’s Living Room (but is now the “Downward Room”) we were privileged to watch “Macbeth” performed by the students. It was in the wonderful 150 building in the theatre, which is an excellent, modern space for drama. The cast and production team can be very proud of themselves. They gave us an entertaining and moving production in the finest tradition of Shakespeare.

The line above, from the play, captured my attention. With apologies to Scots, I think one could be forgiven to think that it applied somewhat to the recent referendum campaign. – Such is the remarkable knack of Shakespeare to supply apposite quotes for the present day.

November 28, 2014
by Paul

Republicans consider not inviting President Obama to give the state of the union speech

This is a laugh. Because they control congress, the US Republicans actually invite the President to give the state of the union address. That’s the keynote speech of the President each year.

But, in a remarkable act of anally retentive insanity, the Republicans are actually seriously considering not inviting President Obama to give the speech this year.

As Taegan Goddard wryly observes:

Perhaps Republicans could have Mitt Romney give the speech and pretend Barack Obama isn’t even president.

November 24, 2014
by Paul

“Daniel” by Elton John – #2/3 of classic songs one takes for granted

….but which are worth listening to with new ears.

Desmond Carrington on Radio Two. Bless him. His voice, with a bit of modification, is similar to that of Sir Alec Guiness. On his weekly show called “The Music goes round” he plays some interesting tunes and relates some interesting tunes.

“Daniel” by Elton John gets played a lot on the radio all over the world. Mainly because of the instrumentation and Elton’s young voice in the original recording, it sounds like a rather saccharine love song. Last week, Old Dezzo related the story behind the song, which I hadn’t heard before. It’s a fictional tale about a blind Vietnam veteran who goes back home to Texas, but can’t cope with all the hero worship he is getting, so escapes to Spain (a place randomly chosen, it seems, mainly because it rhymes with “plane”).

The meaning of the song has been rather lost because the lyric writer, Bernie Taupin, in consulation with Elton John, the tunesmith, cut the last verse because it made the song too long. And, surprise surprise, it was the last verse that actually explained the song. So as a result of that cut, the meaning of the song has become rather wrapped in mystery.

So now you know the story behind the song. I will now listen to this offering with new ears when I hear it in future.

The following version is from 2005. I think Elton john’s interpretation of the song is actually better here than in the studio original. That’s the mark of a real star. As they get older they can make their songs sound better.

November 24, 2014
by Paul

New bill risks destroying any of Israel’s remaining democratic credibility

Apparently Binyamin Netanyahu (who I remember when he was in short trousers as the Israeli spokesman) is facing a challenge to his leadership in the Likud primaries. Likud is his political party.

So that explains why he pledged to bulldoze the houses of the Jerusalem attackers. What an OTT, ridiculous and pernicious move that was!

It also explains this latest development. The Israeli cabinet has approved a bill which would basically reduce anyone but Jews in Israel to second-class citizens.

Basically this would be Israel machine gunning itself in the foot and then cutting its nose off and poking itself in both eyes.

All through the recent troubles, one of the few defences (in debates) which Israel has had, has been that it is a democratic state with a reasonable number of non-Jewish citizens, many of whom are active in society, such as members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. If they get rid of that Unique Selling Point, then they will really be destroying any remaining piece of credibility they have.

I am pleased to say that the Israeli cabinet was split on the matter. The vote was 14-7 and there was, it has been reported, very “rancourous” debate before the vote. Crucially, both the Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, and the Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, are said to be opposed to the bill. Trust the legal beagles to spot the fatal flaw in this one!

One can only hope that the Knesset sees sense and rejects this bill.

November 22, 2014
by Paul

Reagan and George W Bush signed far more executive orders than Obama

We hear the US Republicans squealing about Obama acting like a monarch with his executive order signings. But notable Republican presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George W Bush issued far more executive orders than Obama has done. Here are the numbers from Wikipedia.

President/total EOs
Ronald Reagan 381
George W Bush 291
Richard Nixon 346
Dwight Eisenhower 484
Barack Obama 194

Ah but Barack Obama has still got a while left in office, I hear you cry. Well, FiveThirtyEight have done an executive orders per year rate graphic which is equally stark:

President/EOs per year
Reagan 47.6
W Bush 36.4
Nixon 62.3
Eisenhower 60.5
Obama 33.6

Republicans are kicking up a fuss about Obama’s proposed executive orders to grant amnesties to illegal immigrants. But Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush did, more or less, the same thing. The then opposition, the Democrats, didn’t kick up anything like as much of a stink as the Republicans are now doing.

November 22, 2014
by Paul

Classic songs one takes for granted, but which are worth listening to with new ears #1/3

Jo Whiley. Just hearing her name drives me mad for some reason. Hearing her breathless voice is like finger nails down a blackboard for me. Excruciating. I don’t know why. I’m sure she’s a very nice and talented woman.

But last night on Radio Two she span a disk, or clicked an MP3, which she has probably played a thousand times before. It is probably playing somewhere in the world at all times. “Midnight train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

But it just happened to hit Chez Burbles at the opportune moment, as we were disembarking from the car. And we just felt moved to do the full performance with the backing vocals and the “whoo whoo”s and hands pulling the engineer’s cord and everything. The full works. It really was a magic moment.

Enjoy this. She has the most kickarse voice. And note the boys and their moves! Temptations! Four Tops! Eat your heart out!

This is a very high energy live version.

Oh, and very well done to Jo Whiley for spinning/clicking on this one!

November 16, 2014
by Paul

I thought I would need a stout brown paper bag to watch the Sainsburys advert….and I was right

Oh puuuhlease! The trench warfare of the first world war was one of the most disgusting, heinous, awful situations humanity has ever inflicted on itself.

To depict this in a beautiful, crafted, sickly advert to make us spend more money at a supermarket is beneath contempt.

I will not be touching Sainsburys with a barge pole this Christmas. This advert is disgusting. It is completely out of context. The truce football happened in December 1914 just after the war started and before the real horrors started. Yes, it really happened. But Hitler was really nice to (non-Jewish) children. So why not show an advert showing Hitler being nice to children without mentioning the Holocaust? That’s how ridiculous and distasteful it is. The British Legion thing is not only a fig leaf, they are seeking to burnish their image by being involved with the British Legion while drawing people in to spend more money. The whole thing is utterly disgusting.

November 16, 2014
by Paul

Putin sends his warships to Australia’s Gold Coast

A bizarre story. To coincide with the G20 meeting in Australia, Putin sent three of his warships to hover in international waters nearby.

But what I found amusing is that Australia sent out three naval ships to meet the Russians. One of them, HMAS Paramatta (pictured above) contacted the biggest Russian cruiser, Varyag, to conduct a communications exercise, called a “COMMEX”, which involves testing mutual radio communications, signal flags and semaphore lights. This was apparently carried out in a friendly spirit. “The Russians have responded happily to the exercise,” a government source said.

It seems to be the international naval equivalent of saying “Hello, how are you?” or, sort of, dancing round the handbags.

Very amusing.

As a little bonus for all naval fans, here is an Australian TV report from onboard the HMAS Paramatta when it returned home to Sydney from service in the Middle East:

November 16, 2014
by Paul

In pictures: the 1964 general election

Following on from my previous post, here are some wonderful images from the 1964 General Election. Just scroll down to view them, then hover over each photo to see the caption.

November 14, 2014
by Paul
1 Comment

Stunning 1964 General Election programme on BBC Parliament

I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I have had great fun this week watching the 1964 General Election results programmeon BBC Parliament.

It was a real nail-biter. In the end it came down to two seats, or a majority of four for Labour. In fact, just an hour into the programme, with only a few seats declared, a huge caption came right across the screen saying “LIKELY MAJ LAB 40″. Such a prediction was completely out of whack with the swings being announced at the time. But no comment was made and the programme sailed on. Weird. Random, indeed.

Richard Dimbleby, anchoring the whole show, came across as rather bumbling and pompous. At one point, David Butler and Ian Trethowen were most excited about a recount at Hornsey but Dimbleby told them (who he called “Mr Butler” and “Mr Trethowen”) to calm down and no mention was ever made again about of the recount at Hornsey as far as I heard.

The whole thing was hideously male-dominated. In the first two hours of the programme only one woman spoke and that was when an interviewer said: “And what about a lady verdict?”. But there were hordes of women running round in the background doing chores for the men!

There was loads of smoking – cigars for Tories and pipes for Labour men.

It was extraordinary to see so many men who were either big names at the time or went on to be big BBC names involved in the programme: Bob McKenzie, Robin Day, Raymond Baxter, Geoffrey Wheeler, Alan Whicker, Michael Barratt, Magnus Magnusson, John Tidmarsh, Kenneth Allsop.

One of the bizarre sights was seeing Peter Crampton (of whom I have memories from BBC Spotlight South-West) interviewing Mark Bonham-Carter hanging out of a window in Torrington. It was interesting that David Owen was the Labour candidate in that battle, which was won by the local Tory, Peter Mills.

Smethwick was an appalling result, caused by a disgracefully racist campaign by the Tory involved. The name “Smethwick” is, I think, still synonymous, for some people, with that campaign. Harold Wilson defied the result and appointed Patrick Gordon-Walker (the Labour man who was defeated by the Tory at Smethwick) as Foreign Secretary. However, Gordon-Walker then lost a by-election a few months later and stood down from office. He won another seat later and returned to government.

Jo Grimond appeared quite a lot on the programme from Liberal HQ. Interestingly, he mentioned that Liberal party policy at the time was to have AV in rural areas and PR in urban seats.

It was great to see Barbara Castle and various other Labour figures appearing. James Callaghan seemed so cheerful. Tony Benn was very Tony Benn. And George Brown! My goodness! Stand by your beds! Talk about an attack dog!

Sir Tufton Beamish won Lewes for the Tories. I hadn’t heard his name before, but he was obviously the inspiration for “Sir Tufton Bufton” in Private Eye.

I noticed that the cameras at the counts focused in on the ballot papers quite closely, and on the supervisors carrying round ballots etc, while the commentators discussed exactly what the bundles were and where they were going. I don’t think that would be allowed these days.

Ted Dexter was the Conservative candidate in Cardiff South East (Defeated by Jim Callaghan). Yes, Ted Dexter the cricketer, who took time off from a test match to do it.

Peter Tapsell lost!

Bill Deedes was elected in Ashford. (Shurely shome mishtake?-Ed)

Jimmy Edwards, the comedian, stood for the Tories in London Paddington and lost.

A young John Juno, the sometime/long time Express editor appeared quite reasonable when interviewed. Anthony Howard was obviously a rising star as a commentator.

But the over-riding impression I had was of how lovely Harold Wilson was. As an example, you hear politicians perfunctionarily thanking the returning officer at counts. But Harold Wilson made a long and effusive speech singing the praises of the returning officer and his staff. It really was quite something.

November 9, 2014
by Paul
1 Comment

Remembrance Day and the importance of Federica Mogherini

imageWhat a crazy headline! – I hear my non-reader cry.

Bear with me.

The Remembrance service today at St Nicolas Church, Newbury was very moving and a great tribute to the fallen. Curate Rev John Aldis delivered an excellent sermon which included reference to Michael Williams in Henry V.

As John enumereated the millions killed in wars over the last two centuries, my thoughts wondered on to what we can do to stop the horrors of war.

One of the key crises which threatens world (in)stability at the moment is that in Ukraine.

One of the key ways we can influence that situation is through the EU. In this, the role of the EU’s High Representative is key. Catherine Ashton, who was in that role until last week, pulled off a remarkable coup by leading the deal with Iran. So one asks who in the new Commission could fill her shoes. Well, the new High Representative for EU, as of November 1st, is Federica Mogherini (Pictured above).

We can only hope and pray that Ms Mogherini does a good job in helping to resolve the Ukranian crisis. She has a lot of responsibility riding on her shoulders. Mikhail Gorbachev’s warning yesterday, that we could be on the brink of a new Cold War, are chillingly realistic.

Photo by European External Action Service – EEAS