Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Wheelchairs, Car Parks and PFI's

Monstra mihi pecuniammotto of the N & N car park.

Big story of the day: hospital car parks are costing patients and visitors lots of money. Some hospitals are making a lot of money from car parking charges. Why?

I have practical experience of this problem. When my father-in-law was ill in the Norfolk & Norwich, it car parking fees were paid to visit him or take him for out-patient appointments. Why? Because, after the hospital moved to its new, purpose-built site, it was no longer possible to avoid the car park charges. There simply is no other place to park, despite the fact that the new hospital is two to three miles from the city centre. The old hospital did provide free parking on the street – if you were willing to look for it and walk for a distance. New hospital – new regime. Everybody pays. There simply is no parking anywhere nearby.

This was brought painfully to my attention when I took the old chap to the Norfolk & Norwich for an out-patient appointment. Into the car park – charges incurred. OK, I was expecting that. Leaving him in the car, I went into the hospital to get a wheelchair. Absolutely essential for a man in his 90's recovering from a hernia operation. Anyone care to quibble?

No wheelchairs appeared to be available. I asked the receptionist where I could get one. I was told to go and look for one. So. I did. No luck. Nice new hospital. No wheelchairs. Call me picky, but I would have thought that in a hospital you might find a few wheelchairs. Seems like essential kit. Not as important as a MRI scanner perhaps but nevertheless essential. Not at the N & N – nice new hospital – no wheelchairs - other than a few old ones they brought from the old hospital.

I went to the ward where the old boy was to be treated. No chairs. No advice. The impression was given (not very subtlety) that it was my problem. I wandered about, racking up car park charges, until eventually I managed to find a chair – way up on a different ward. I felt a bit guilty. Perhaps, the person who was using it only left it to go to the loo? I took it anyway.

Meanwhile, father-in-law had been sitting in the car park in 90 degree heat for about 30 minutes. Now that's what I call customer care - never mind health care. Finally I delivered him to the ward and, with little else to do whilst he was treated, I started chatting to the nurses about the lack of wheelchairs. My point was: why not use some of the money from the car park to purchase more wheelchairs? They were horrified. Firstly, and conspiratorially, they confided to me that the reason they were so short of wheelchairs was (wait for it) people pinch them. I was shocked. Why? It appeared that people, like me for example, who had elderly, immobile relatives to transport home simply wheeled the old folks out to the car, loaded them up, with the hospital's wheelchair, and drove off. Why, said I? No idea said they.

Do you suppose, just for argument's sake, I said, that perhaps they might need a wheelchair when they got home to transport their old-uns from the car to the door? Rather like they needed one to transport from ward to car? Come on, what do you think? My attempt at subtle humour was wasted.

Not to seem completely flummoxed I went home and wrote to the hospital, asking, politely, why they couldn't buy some more (actually many more is what I suggested!) wheelchairs with the car park money. Seemed logical to me. People arrive in cars, pay car park charges, need wheelchairs. Solution, use car park money to buy wheelchairs. OK, not exactly rocket science, I admit it.

Eventually I did get a nice letter back, explaining simply, as if both I and my scheme were a bit simple actually, that the car park was not owned by the hospital but was part of the PFI initiative – for which, as a local community needing a hospital, we should be extremely grateful. The fact that this is complete nonsense seems never to have occurred to them. I leave it up to you.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Money, Money Everywhere

What I find most frustrating is the inability, or unwillingness, of the media to follow a story to its proper conclusion.

In the early 1970's I saw a brilliant news item on TV. Apparently some clever clogs down in London had come up with a superb way of paying no tax or national insurance on their wages. What they did, with their employer's (perhaps his name was Del Boy?) collusion, was take their pay in gold sovereigns. These small coins, with a nominal value of one pound, were, and still are, legal tender in the U.K. So, they took their pay at say two pounds a week – in gold sovereigns. Wages, so low that they were not obliged to pay tax or national insurance. But, of course, the gold sovereign itself was worth a lot more. Just take it to a goldsmiths and exchange it for a large portion of cash. Very neat. Lubbly, jubbly as Del Boy would say.

Perfectly legal as the news item pointed out. And, very clever. Just the sort of human interest story that deserves the occasional outing on the news. Problem was - that was the last I ever heard of it! These were, of course, the days long before the Internet and easy research tools. Although I can't prove it, I believe the government stepped in (somehow) to stop this clever scam before the whole nation went back on the gold standard and no-one paid any tax! The media were, and still are, silent on this subject.

Point is – it's happening all over again. Remember the 54 million the crooks walked off with from the Kent storage depot? Well, surprisingly, the story has disappeared! It was exactly a month ago that I wrote about the efforts of the police to bag the crooks who had nabbed a large sum and then left lots of it laying about. Found some in Kent. Found some in Bexleyheath. Found some in Croydon (my favourite)! Woman walks into a building society branch and tries to deposit five thou still wrapped in the paper bands it had on when the robbers lifted it. A few people have been taken into custody in this case. Mostly on suspicion of handling stolen goods. Some 20 odd million is still missing.

What is the media doing? Not much. Today they finally, after a month of silence, reported another arrest. Another small fry apparently. In the intervening month – nothing – the story has just disappeared. If someone could explain this to me, I'd be very grateful.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Vanishing Vistas

Monstra mihi pecuniam – this should be the Microsoft motto!

According to newspaper reports, Microsoft will not release the latest version of its new Windows operating system until January 2007, after previously saying it hoped to release the software later this year. Windows Vista is Microsoft's first major update of its flagship operating system since Windows XP was released in late 2001.

Let's be fair. Bill Gates is not an easy person to warm to. He does not come across as a personable chap. Mostly, I suspect, because he has more money than a Middle Eastern oil sheik. And, people being as they are, it's more comforting to imagine that he is heartless, miserly, arm-twisting pilloch. However, how he came by all this loot is actually quite an interesting story. Back in the early 70's he was a nerd. A big nerd. A seriously big nerd. Maybe he's better now? Serious wealth may improve people. I'm ready to volunteer for an experiment to test this. Call me. Any time! I digress. Bill, whilst still at school - and later at university – dabbled in the computer business – writing programs for early computers and honing his skills in the business world. He has been monumentally successful. That much is not in doubt.

Not a lot of people know this (as Michael Caine might say) – but the foundation of his “empire” came about almost by accident. Way back in the 70's, IBM made just about the first PC, and they were not at all sure what to do with it. So, as the apocryphal story goes, Bill convinced them to let him write the DOS (disk operating system) for the first IBM PC's. His real genius was in realising that other manufacturers would need a DOS as well, and he already had one. By hook or crook he managed to convince IBM that the DOS he wrote for them (PC-DOS) didn't really belong to them. Nice one, Bill. Therefore, he could legitimately sell it (MS-DOS) to others. And he did. By the bucketful! Soon Microsoft branched out into commercial application software like Microsoft Word 1. Yes, that's Word 1 – and I remember it. Also Windows version 1.1 – it was revolutionary. It was also a long, long time ago.

Bill has made Microsoft one of he best known and most successful companies ever. He must have done, and still be doing something right. Vast numbers of PC's use Microsoft operating systems. And they all pay. Most people have some Microsoft application software as well – and, being honest citizens, they pay for that as well. As computer hardware comes down in price, the software still costs (by comparison) a lot. Some many hundreds of pounds flows into the Microsoft coffers per computer and, wait for it, most of it is unnecessary. There are lots of alternatives and they are mostly free.

I admit this may seem strange. Why would anyone wish to produce software for free? I suspect most of these people are real serious geeks, but so what? Geeks have rights too! Fact is they write software for nothing – and most of it is much better than Microsoft's – and (here comes the key point) much safer. Because most of the world is locked into Microsoft software, the hackers and virus-makers only write stuff to infiltrate MS products. Choose an open source alternative and you have a much better chance of being missed off the hackers' target list.

Leaving aside the operating system alternatives like Linux, you can still find excellent software that works in Windows and costs nothing. All you have to do is look and do a bit of downloading. So, why don't more people or (this is more to the point) companies use open source software? They could save lots. I mean millions! What about schools, hospitals and government departments? Millions to be saved, and it's all our money. Prejudice or stupidity – all the other possible explanations have to with sinister conspiracy theories. Let's not go there.

Instead, just log on to http://www.msboycott.com/thealt/and http://osswin.sourceforge.net/ and see what's on offer. You might be surprised and, after all, Bill can afford to lose a few customers. The big boys will, no doubt, continue to use Microsoft products so they can pass the costs on to the consumer and “feel” they must have a superior product for no other reason than they paid for it. There's naught queerer than folk.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Everybody Talks – Nobody Does

Monstra mihi pecuniam

Probably the most enduring of all quotations regarding what should be nothing more or less than a meteorological phenomenon is: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Charles D. Warner

In England this is invariably true. English people talk incessantly about the weather – mostly incorrectly. In England there is no weather really. What there is is climate. Despite the fact that we are inundated with statistics “proving” that we are at the mercy of global warming or the imminent (and humongously disastrous) shut-down of the Gulf Stream, the average Briton can barely remember a time when the weather was more “average” and boringly predictable. It was only last autumn when the various “forecasters” were queuing up to predict the worst winter in living memory. Conveniently, they no longer seem to be available for interview.

What is slightly worrying is the noticeable variation in climate and the consequent lack of rainfall. Statistically it has been dry. Very dry. Three of the largest water companies in Southern England announced their plans to deal with this dry interlude only this week. It's hosepipe ban time. “The companies are imposing the restrictions after a prolonged period of below-average rainfall which has left groundwater sources depleted,” informs the Telegraph. This is the next “big thing”. There will be no hoses for washing your car or watering your plants! You have been warned.

Strangely enough I remember fondly the last great drought. It was 1976. A blazing summer with high pressure ensconced over the North Sea from May until October, effectively blocking any weather systems from reaching us. I remember it so well because I was the idiot who laid new turf in my front garden in late April. Turned an interesting shade of off-white before it died completely about mid-July – despite the fact that I spent most of the summer lugging bath water (used) out front in a vain effort to save it. Waste of time – either we didn't take enough baths or there was just not enough water. For the record that was, now, 30 years ago.

Having failed miserably to convince us that their will be ice-bergs in the Thames this year, the media (particularly the newspapers - who have a lot of column inches to fill every day) have wound themselves up for one of their favourite “tizzies” – predicting impending doom.

Our friends at the Telegraph blithely announce that:

“The Environment Agency and eight South East water companies will unveil a website - beatthedrought.com - which advises people how they can conserve water in the face of shortages.

The new website encourages people to take simple steps such as repairing leaking taps and turning off the tap while brushing their teeth to cut the amount of water they use.”

This is really interesting stuff! You have to turn the water off when you are brushing your teeth. You have to put a brick or two in your toilet. No, no, stop laughing! A building brick or two placed in the cistern will displace an equivalent amount of water and save a bundle. Apparently. Remember your Archimedes? Shower instead of bathe. Saves a lot of water. Shower with a friend – no, sorry, I made that one up – but you get the idea.

If Britain should run out of water – then I might have to agree that there is something seriously amiss. After all, this is the home of wet, drizzly, damp, mingy, crappy weather. Honest. Always has been. I'm sure that's why the Romans left. Just too damn cold and wet. And, no-one had invented pizza yet either.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Great 70 Hi Cattle Round-Up

I am genuinely fond of Bill Bryson - as a writer of course, though I imagine him to be a very entertaining person in real life. And, he's a neighbour of mine. He lives, now-a-days, in Wymondham, Norfolk – about 20 miles from here. Being a successful writer he can live fairly well where he likes. The boy from Des Moines must like England because he chooses to live here instead of Iowa. Not a difficult choice if you've ever been to Iowa. In any event I had the good fortune to re-read his account of hiking along the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods, recently and it was as entertaining as it was years ago. I particularly liked his account of a visit to Waynesboro. He and his walking companion, Katz, managed to make it as far as this outpost of civilisation and Bill went off to find a K-Mart – in order to replenish their meagre hiking supplies. No car. They had only just left the trail. So, there's Bill merrily dodging cars, climbing fences, dragging himself through undergrowth and sloshing through streams in order to reach the promised land of cheap consumer shopping. It's very funny. Being Bill Bryson of course, he's really trying to make a point about the Great American Shopper, and he does it very well and very entertainingly. Get the book and read it – you'll laugh a lot and learn some interesting things about America at the same time.

What really struck a chord with me was his description of rampaging through the undergrowth quite close to a major highway and not being noticed by all and sundry. I've been there. And, I'll tell you how and when.

More than 40 years ago I went to work. I became the greatest hamburger cook in America - which, for all intents and purposes, is the world when it comes to cooking hamburgers. When I say cooking hamburgers, I mean really cooking hamburgers – not the ubiquitous Big Mac way – but the old-fashioned, really-cooking way. 70 Hi Drive-In restaurant was a great place. At the age of 16 you really felt that you were responsible for something. Even hamburgers are something.

During the slower months of October, November, December and January the work rota was one night on and one night off. When I was off, Ronnie was on. Out front was Betty – taking the orders, making the drinks, etc. In charge was the owner, Sam – but he usually went home about 6 leaving Betty in charge, ably assisted by Ronnie or me. It might be a bit busy from 5 til 8 – but then fairly quiet until closing at 11. Some evenings when I had nothing much to do except homework, I might check out 70 Hi and have a chat with Ronnie or a free hamburger and Dr Pepper.

One fine evening in early October I propitiously decided to walk up to 70 Hi and see how the workers were getting on. Up the road, almost as if they were following me, came two very large, very healthy and very stupid steers. Aberdeen Angus steers. I ran on to 70 Hi and told Betty and Ronnie what was going on outside. Betty was marginally impressed. Ronnie was ecstatic. Like a man possessed. There were no customers at 70 Hi at that precise moment. While we were speculating on how these valuable animals happened to be slowly meandering up a fairly busy road in the gathering dusk, a man in a battered pick-up truck swung into the car park and enlisted our support in catching the beasts. At first I thought he was the owner of these cows, but no. He merely wanted to catch them and a) claim a substantial reward from the grateful farmer; or b) sell them for beaucoup bucks! Would we help for a share? Do lions eat meat? I said yes. Ronnie said yes.

Wait a minute,” says I. “Ronnie you are supposed to be working at 70 Hi – you better get back in there before any orders for hamburgers come in and Betty comes looking for you!”

Naw,naw - come on! We can catch the cows in a minute and she'll never miss me.”

I was not convinced – but I was also not my fellow worker's keeper. Off we three prospective cattle drovers went. Lacking experience in herding cattle all we succeeded in doing was scaring the steers into a mini-stampede into the undergrowth. We followed. Ronnie should have returned to work. He didn't.

South of 70 Hi for at least a mile there was nothing except a primitive building site that would one day be Interstate 70. At that early stage in construction it consisted of some heavy machinery strewn about and some stakes and tape in the wilderness. I remembered that there was a small creek at the bottom of the hill. It got dark. Very dark, very quickly. We followed the cows, mostly we followed the sound of them crashing through the undergrowth. Ronnie ran full pelt into a barbed wire fence. Good thing he had a thick jacket on or it would have cut him to pieces. Ronnie fell in the creek. I got my feet wet. Our companion swore a lot. Eventually we cornered the offending critters near Wild Woody's. Wild Woody's was the original bargain basement – sort of a poor man's K-Mart.

With no rope to tie them up we were somewhat scuppered. To our rescue came a friendly Wild Woody's security guard who allowed us to corral the steers in a part of their car park - surrounded by a high chain link fence. We were profoundly happy. Ronnie suddenly remembered 70 Hi.

We walked back. I wanted to see what would happen. Like a moth to a flame I couldn't resist, even though I was in the clear, I somehow felt responsible. I should have stopped Ronnie from being so irresponsible. Anyway, I wanted to see Betty kill him in case I was called upon to give evidence at her trial. I was fairly sure she would get off – justifiable homicide.

We must have been gone for at least an hour, maybe more. It was unlikely that there had been no customers during that time. Unlikely, but possible. Clutching at straws. Ronnie was good at that. I'll never forget the look on Betty's face when we sloped in the back door. I don't think that I have ever seen anyone so angry. Customers were seemingly everywhere. Things were cooking (loosely) on the grill, Betty was running between the back and the front, french fries were merrily burning in the deep fat fryer, half prepared burgers of all sizes, shapes and descriptions lay everywhere: it was painful to watch. She did not say a thing. I pitched in to help Ronnie make some order from the chaos. I was sure Ronnie would be fired, possibly me as well. In the circumstances Betty must have called Sam and we expected him to walk in at any moment. He never turned up. Betty had (somehow) kept stumm. It was (and still is) inexplicable. After half an hour, Ronnie tried talking to her, but she just glared at him so he shut up. I went home.

Next day must have been a Saturday for I met Ronnie in the morning and we raced to Wild Woody's to inspect our livestock. They were gone. No sign of them. Too late we remembered that we were just fairly stupid kids. We had forgotten to take the name of the friendly, foul-mouthed pick-up driver. We neglected to ask the security guard his name. Needless to say, we did not get a receipt for two items of expensive lost fauna. Everyone we asked at Woody's looked at us like we were demented.

We went home. No-body got fired. Thanks Betty – you deserved better.

I hope somebody choked on those steaks. Hopefully it was a security guard and a pick-up driver. Don't think there was mad cow disease then, but one can hope.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Its proper English pronunciation is neejer, although naiger is also acceptable. - Wikipedia (modified by me).

There must be a campaign somewhere to overcome the pernicious influence of the French on our language and culture. If not – let's start one! We could call it the Agincourt Society

Hold on – someone has beaten me to it. Damn!

His Excellency Alexander Malcolm McKinnon is the founder of the International Agincourt Society celebrating the battle of Agincourt a philanthropist, adventurer and international playboy. He is also the inventor of the one billionth supplier principle the topic of which is forming the basis of his first book.

The Agincourt Society

Strictly a white-tie celebrity event, the bi-annual Agincourt Society Dinners take place to celebrate the failure of the French to beat the English despite their superior numbers during the battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415. The event is open to all non-French nationals, the venue being selected on an ad-hoc basis at the most colonial location possible. Earlier venues have included Bombay, Beijing and Shanghai and celebrities have included Emilia ('I'm a big, big girl, in a big, big world...'). Proceeds are given to the needy, preferably someone blind.

  • Wikipedia

Ok -old McKinnon is most probably a complete nutter – but his heart is in the right place! I would definitely like to party with these people!

(aside) Don't know if you are aware of Wikipedia and how it works. Suffice to say that you cannot always rely on it to provide the most unbiased information in the world – as anyone can contribute to and edit articles. I'm unable to vouch for the veracity or this report or the mental state of the aforementioned Alexander McKinnon.

Back to the question at hand. Who (if it was not some “pay em back for Agincourt” French nutter) managed to convince the BBC, among others, that the African country which has been called for as long as I can remember Nei-jur is really some Frogified pronunciation, Knee-shair! What is the possible explanation? Could it be that the cheese-eating surrender monkeys are actively engaged in subverting the English speaking world? Wouldn't put it past them.

Those who are not all that impressed with conspiracy theories may well shrug their shoulders and conclude that I'm just being silly and alarmist. But, it has happened before. As people moved around the world populating the vastness of the North American continent and Australia, to mention just two of the empty spaces, they soon ran out of, or got bored with, indigenous place names. Consequently, they appropriated names from a variety of places and applied them freely (and fairly imprecisely) to their new surroundings. I wouldn't be surprised if the Froggies did the same in places like Algeria, Syria, Cambodia and various enclaves in Africa – one of which would be Niger. So, when they appropriated place names – they were not really very interested in appropriating the “correct” pronunciation – i.e. ignorant slobs populating such places as Baton Rouge (red stick in French, pronounced as Batten Roodge in Lousiana); Boise (wooded in French, pronounced as Boysee in Idaho); and my personal favourite, Grand Teton National Park (pronounced as Grand Teeun – Big Tits to you and me). Most people view these “mis-pronunciations” as rather charming examples of the capacity of our forebears to mangle language – particularly a language that wasn't their native one. Not the Froggies!

The foundation of the Academie fran├žais in 1634 created an official body whose goal ever since has been the purification and preservation of the French language. This group of 40 members (the so-called "immortals") chosen for life still exists today and wages a war against, among other issues, franglais, i.e., against the importation of English words into French. And they are ruthless in pursuit of what they see as encroachments by other languages.

Not difficult to predict what the Academie would do about the “mis-pronunciation” of one of their former African colonies by the Roast Beefs. They would wage a campaign to infiltrate the powers that influence (so they think) language use in the UK and attempt to get the Frog sounds into English. Count on it! So, who would they target? The BBC - bet on it. And, sorry to say it may be working. Certainly the BBC are using the Frenchified pronunciation. Stop it!

What is to be done? Don't get mad – get even. Every chance you get insist on pronouncing all French words as if they were English (a bemused look on you face when the Froggies look horrified also helps); so, proclaim that Paris (not pear-ee) is a charming little town in Texas and that lake in Missouri is properly pronounced as Pom de Tar, not Pomme de Terre. That will drive them mad.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oil Prices - Myths and Legends

Audio, video, disco!

Revisiting some of the issues in, It's a Gas Man – my blog of 17 February.

Some unpalatable truths about the price of oil and, by implication, gas have been distilled recently. What previous generations thought of as incredibly cheap gas turns out to be mostly a myth. The peak price for Brent crude, as measured in 2002 prices, was in 1981. Previous oil shocks have been painful – but not nearly so painful as we may have thought. Real prices for oil, adjusted for inflation, were actually far higher in 1981, peaking at an adjusted figure of about $55 a barrel. Likewise the percentage of money households spend on energy was 9.5% - today's figure for comparison is about 5%. So, the price of oil is not really historically very high.

Nor has the “high” price of oil resulted in a downturn in the global economy. Shocks in the 1970's had as much to do with the inadequate political expediences as real economic damage. Our leaders at the time were all too ready to peddle the litany that all the problems were caused by someone else – in that case greedy Arabs. Real pressures in the world economy were probably more instrumental in the downturns of 1973 – the Yom Kippur War, the rise in oil prices of 1979 - the Iran-Iraq War, and the price pressures caused mostly by invasion of Kuwait by Sadly Insane in 1990. Economic growth is forecast to be 4.8% this year and 4.5% in 2007. In 2001-2003 the rise was a more modest 3%. The lesson seems to be clear. The price of oil is not a very strong indicator of impending recession in the world economy. More important are the economic decisions taken by governments. Even with the news this week of astronomic rises in home energy costs – in the 20 – 25% range, the cost of energy per household is about half what it was 20 years ago. This is hardly an Armageddon scenario.

It's more the psychological impact of artificial barriers being crossed that is worrying. When the price of gas reaches some new high, say breaking the 3 dollar barrier, it's hard to avoid the bandwagon effect. Commentators and pundits queue up to propose dire consequences if the price remains high. Anyone talking calm and sense is drowned out by the unrealistic demands of consumers to return to the era of cheap gas - whenever that might have been?

With Dubbya making some of the right noises, like proposing to wean the U.S. off cheap oil and therefore lessen the demands and tensions it creates in the political sphere, there might be a window of opportunity to bring America into the real world of energy consumption. “Might be” is about as high a chance as you could reasonably bet on. The chance of convincing Americans that the price of oil is historically low is more likely to be met with scepticism – if not anger.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Dubbya Tries to Bowl the Doosra

Audio, video, disco!

Bush fire ... enraged Indian cricket fans react to George Bush's intention to play cricket with Pakistani children by burning his effigy on Sunday.

It has all happened as I asked – but all too soon. Fantastic set of pictures in the Sunday Times showing how Dubbya has been converted to my way of thinking. No, before you jump to conclusions, he's not decided to pull out of Iraq. No - he has not proposed a complete rethink on America's energy policy. No - he has not decided to go hunting with Dick Cheney. He has been photographed in Pakistan enjoying some cricket practice with some Pakistani children. He bowls, not the greatest action in the world admittedly, and he bats - without troubling the purists with his range of strokes. But, (and this is the key point) he doesn't look all that completely bemused or confused about what he's doing. Has he been having secret lessons? Is this a scoop? Remember, you heard it here first.

Cricket is adored in Asia. In India, one of Dubbya's stops in this buddy-making exercise, cricket is almost a religion. More to the point, in Pakistan - within whose borders old Who's-a-ma-Binliner may well be hiding – cricket is fantastically popular. So, popular that the former Pakistani cricket captain, Imran Khan, has carved out a semi-successful career as opposition politician, despite the fact that no-one in Pakistan, apparently,agrees with his policies. Not a real problem if you are one of the all-time leading wicket-takers in Pakistani Test history. These pashtoons have a very interesting history at least in oral traditions.

Sir Alexander Brunes in his Travels into Bokhara, which he published in 1835, speaking of the Afghans said: "The Afghans call themselves Bani Israel, or the children of Israel, but consider the term Yahoodi, or Jew, to be one of reproach. They say that Nebuchadnezzar, after the overthrow of Israel, transplanted them into the towns of Ghore near Bamean and that they were called after their Chief Afghana… they say that they lived as Israelites till Khalid summoned them in the first century of the Mohammadans… Having precisely stated the traditions and history of the Afghans I see no good reason for discrediting them… the Afghans look like Jews and the younger brother marries the widow of the elder. The Afghans entertain strong prejudices against the Jewish nation, which would at least show that they have no desire to claim – without just cause – a descent from them. [Sir Alexander Brunes, Travels into Bokhara, Vol. 2:139-141.]

The photo of Dubbya playing cricket accompanies an entertaining article from the Sydney Morning Herald, (Aussies are also cricket-mad) entitled, “Dubya working on his doosra” For you non-cricket playing folk, the doosra is a ball bowled by a right arm orthodox off-spinner that moves the other way – like a leg-break, apparently In Hindi and Urdu, doosra means "second" or "other". Perhaps this is what has enraged the Indian cricket fans. Looking at the photos in the Sunday Times and judging from Dubbya's bowling action, he may be working on his own version of the “other” and more mysterious delivery, perhaps called the “don'tra” - or maybe the “contra”. Both would work for me.

Seriously, as cricket was exported (fairly painlessly) to those parts of the globe that used to be coloured red, i.e. the British Empire, so was the mental attitude and spirit of fair play that has become synonymous with the game. Even if you don't know the game very well, the phrase, “It's just not cricket,” translates easily as “nice people don't do things like that.” We could use a dose of that attitude in Iran and Iraq – that's for sure.

Part of the appeal of the game is it's very “gentleness” for lack of a better word. Cricketers are invariable (at least in public) polite about their opponents and quick to praise the opposition as fellow members of the honourable company of cricketers. This would be useful in the slums of Baghdad. If the British troops down in Basra are not engaging the local kids by giving them bats and balls, I'd be very surprised.

In private, of course, cricketers as professional sportsmen are just as capable of trying a bit of verbal gamesmanship as anyone. Australians are past masters at “sledging” (as this practice is known). Best illustrative example: Zimbabwean batsman and part-time chicken farmer Eddo Brandes was the proposed victim of the wit of Australian bowler, Glenn McGrath, “Hey Eddo, why are you so F*****g Fat?” Eddo Brandes, “Because every time f***your mother, she throws me a biscuit”. Now, that's what I call a come back!

If you must check out this sort of thing – go to http://chateautoby.com/?page_id=18 but remember some are fairly rude.

Notwithstanding these professionals, the recreational game is usually punctuated by no more than an occasional harsh word – usually directed at your team-mates rather than the opposition. With the neighbours of the Pashtoons (Iraqi and Iranian) engaged in a friendly game of cricket and learning about respect, sportsmanship and turning the other cheek, we might all benefit.

Last word to:

1 week at number 1 - 13 weeks in the charts

I say, I don't like cricket, oh no, I love it.
I don't like cricket, no no, I love it.

p.s. The most amusing part of the Dubbya story is the photos of him playing cricket with some Pakistani kids. The captions are a riot! First photo of four: My fellow Americans, greetings from Pakistan, where I am learning to play this country's unusual version of baseball. Second photo: This is my first attempt at being a bowlsman. And to think that folks say we Texans have a funny way of walking. Photo three: Here I am being the batsman. Unfortunately, I hit it so hard we had to ask NASA for our ball back. Photo four: Out? You cannot be serious! As president of the United States, I totally condemnify the actions of the Evil Empire.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Ditchingham Chickens

Audio, video, disco!

For fifty years or more, locals in South Norfolk and North Suffolk have become so used to seeing chickens at the roundabout on the A143 - it has simply become known as the “chicken” roundabout. A few years ago a bright spark at the Norfolk County Council had a plan to get rid of these feral feather-shedders, but he was scuppered by the local residents who mounted a co-ordinated campaign to save the birds by having “Chicken Alert” signs erected on the approaches to the roundabout. Norfolk County Council abandoned their plans.

Andy Barber, local musician, cartoonist and poultry fan was so moved by the plight of the chickens that he was moved to write a song about them. It's called, rather poignantly, the Bungay Chicken Protest Song. May not make him famous, but it will make him popular with local chicken fanciers.

The CD is available from the Post Office, Ditchingham and the Green Dragon pub in Bungay.

Aside: this Green Dragon is an excellent pub. They have some super local ales and some of the best pizza you'll find this side of Bologna. Check it out first chance you get!

That wasn't the end of the problems for the chickens either. Some people have, apparently, been stealing them. Hen campaigners believe (until recently) they are being rustled.

"The hens and their chicks have been sort of systematically - we think - stolen and sold," said long-time supporter Deidra Shepherd.

"They are quite famous. They are very interesting interbreeds and I think people are very interested in them and they want to acquire them so they have been disappearing.

You have a mother with chicks all doing very well and you go the next day and she is gone - and it's not foxes, it's not mink."

Norfolk police have been asked to investigate the disappearing chickens.

Well, I ask you – is nothing sacred?

Just when things were beginning to look up for the Ditchingham chickens, along comes bird flu. No guessing required as to the reaction of the paranoid chicken haters of East Anglia -they've started to dump their unwanted chicks at the roundabout! The population has doubled since H5N1 became a hot topic. From the usual 50 or so, the population has swelled to over 150 in the last few weeks. Bungay resident Gordon Knowles has fed the Ditchingham chickens for years - and he's not happy. He says people are just dumping unwanted chickens at the roundabout. And it's costing him a packet! He's up to three bags of feed a week and all the bread he can get. He thinks 80 or 90 have arrived recently. (That's a lot of chickens! And, the newcomers are not doing so well. Apparently, you can spot recent arrivals by their flattened innards littering the road!) Gordon thinks it would be a shame if the chicks – who have survived chicken rustlers, threats of eviction by the council and a plague of rats fell foul to a virus.

So, if bird flu becomes a reality, not just a distant threat - what happens to the resident Ditchingham birds? A spokes man for the council says that because the chickens are wild birds, they are no-one's actual responsibility. In other words – sod the damn things – it's nothing to do with us!

Is time running out for Ditchingham's most famous residents? Will anyone organise a campaign to protect them for this insidious threat? Why are the vaccination vans not already on site? There are questions to be answered.