Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Monthly Roundup

Time to round-up the month. Stories that caught my eye or imagination or both included: Myleen in go-cart accident; American dream for brave Tomlinson; IBM staff could turn into teachers; Orwell named Hepburn as Soviet supporter; and, Losing Charlie.

"Losing Charlie" reminded us that the tragedy of Charlotte Thompson and her friend, Olivia Bazlington at the railway crossing in Essex was a very human one. The scandal that is the responsibility of Network Rail has not gone away and the public are still at risk. The Sunday Times in printing the diary of Charlotte's father as he tries to come to grips with the loss of his daughter has done a real service to the community. By keeping this tragedy in the news, there is more chance that something, eventually, will be done to ensure that no more innocents are killed simply crossing platforms at stations to get the correct train.

The author of 1984, George Orwell, even though he was an Old Etonian, was a committed socialist. Warning of what he saw as the corruption of the socialist ideal by the communists in Russia in Animal Farm, he went on, in the last years of his life, to write the definitive inditement of totalitarianism, 1984. By the way, now-a-days children think that this is just a popular (and inane) television programme. It was, then, somewhat disturbing to find that he sent a blacklist of crypto-communists and fellow-travellers to the Foreign Office. Perhaps in the very few months left to him - he died shortly after he sent the list - Orwell came to regret his actions. I hope so.

The news that the government might be seeking to experiment with the educational system (now there's a shocker!) by offering to increase the pensions of IBM employees who would go into classrooms to ease the shortage of maths and science teachers beggars the imagination. An expert on teacher recruitment assures the Sunday Times that there is a shortage of about 3,000 qualified maths teachers in our schools. So, what's new. There has been a shortage of maths teachers for as long as anyone can remember. Whilst I'm sure there are a number of "extra fine" people currently employed by IBM who would make excellent teachers, I'm also sure that the number is very small. The nonsensical idea that a life time spent in industry dealing with real problems requiring mathematical understanding is adequate preparation for teaching a class of 13 year olds is just too silly to comment on!

Perennial cancer sufferer Jane Tomlinson is off to cycle across America. For anyone not in the know, Jane was given six months to live six years ago and has spent most of the time in between raising money for cancer research. She must be commended for this. But, I am at a loss to explain her ability to overcome a serious disease and run marathons, enter "iron-man" competitions, cycle all over Europe and many other physically strenuous activities. And, why aren't her doctors more interested in finding out how this woman can survive years after their terminal diagnosis? This we are never told. She starts her Ride Across America on June 29. I wish her well, but I wonder how many cancer sufferers have been debilitated by their inability to match her seemingly endless physical feats?

Finally, the month would not be complete without a Myleen moment. This time she crashed a go-cart whilst engaged in a celebrity go-cart race. This is news?? Myleen's only claim to fame is that she was once "a bit famous" as a member of a pop group. Owing to the sycophantic nature of our local press (please Archant, don't cancel my blog!), every week of so we are treated to a photo of Myleen, an article about Myleen or, if we're really lucky, an interview with Myleen. Why is this? Simple. Myleen is a local girl. Thankfully Myleen's publicist assured the readers that she didn't break her leg - only pulled a muscle. Thank God for small mercies!! Personally, if I never read another Myleen article (non-article really) I will consider myself lucky.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Metatarsals, Club v. Country and Central Contracts

Since every time you turn on the television all you can watch is an up-date on the injured metatarsal of Mr Wayne (The Chief Chav) Rooney, I suppose I am entitled to comment on the goings-on at Team England.

No-one, of course, will pay any attention to common sense. After all, we're talking about football.

Notwithstanding the fact that we have yet to hear the medical update, the Press have already lined up Mr Alec Ferguson (Scots football manager and, presumably, Scots football supporter) as the chief villain in this saga. Mr Rooney (All ears, no brain) has today been seen by the doctor, but we are not to be privy to what the state of his foot is until he sees his club doctor and then the club doctor will let the England team doctor and management know the outcome of the scan. Sounds a convoluted sentence? So is the process!

A Godsend for the press, of course. They can ignore the real issues and concentrate on a bit of Scots bashing instead. Good-O!

The facts are: Manchester United (Northern team that has more "supporters" per head of population in Devon than in Manchester) pay Mr Rooney's wages and, therefore, are not all that keen to have his career jeopardised by an early return to the rigours of international World Cup football; nor are they disposed to let the England medical staff make the ultimate decision as to whether or not his is fit to play. Right-O! Since they pay his exorbitant wages - what do you expect!

Cricket used to have the same problems. Star players would get injured playing for their Counties and then be unavailable for England. Solution: central contracts. Rugby: same-o, same-o.

Of course, football being what it is - a non-nonsensical game played by idiots and watched by morons, no-one will take this proposal seriously. After all, just because it works well in other sports and was instrumental in enabling England to win the rugby World Cup and the Ashes, it would never work in football. One thing is for sure. It is unlikely to be tried.

Unless, as is most likely, England fail to get out of the Group stage because (as the fans may perceive) Roon the Toon is not fit to play. Perhaps the calls for success might drown out the pea-brains from the FA. Not to mention the Nimfy's (not in my football yard) who may, after this humiliation, be persuaded to see sense.

We live in hope.

Personally, I hope the little fat man plays so that we don't have to suffer four years of "if only Rooney had been fit, we would have won" nonsense.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Liverpool Street Station

Interesting article recently in the Sunday Times from Andrew Sullivan, one of their regular columnists. His thesis: Britain and America have a lot more in common than we like to think about, particularly since old Dubbya is so unpopular this side of the Atlantic. Actually, he's getting that way over there as well.

A recent visit by friends from Independence brought this to my attention in a big way. Having travelled around Scotland and done the tourist trail in London, one lady friend expressed her positive amazement at the pristine condition of the public conveniences here in the U.K.

Got me thinking and agreeing with Andrew Sullivan. He contends that despite the antipathy of Britons to the present American administration the two countries are closer than they have ever been. Andrew feels that Britain is far more like America now than it was two decades ago. I agree.

Strolling through the capital with American friends I was struck by how like an American city it really is now-a-days. Starbucks are everywhere, followed closely by the ubiquitous McDonalds and Burger King. Tourists are catered for extensively - with special signs pointing to historical places you used to have to find for yourself. Bar staff are mostly immigrants. Low paid jobs are becoming the province of the black, the brown and the yellow. This is pretty much the America of the 1970's.

And, the toilets are clean.

Liverpool Street Station is a shadow of its former grimy self. Swank shops and arcades cater for the weary traveller. What ever happened to the proverbial greasy spoon? Where are the soot-encrusted bricks, bygones from an age of steam, that used to positively ooze Old World charm? Instead, armed police wander about rousting homeless drunks and their dogs from the dry and insisting they are causing a nuisance by just sitting in the station. Can't get more American than that.

Now, I know this is what passes for progress in Blair's conservative brand of socialism, but, really, shouldn't Britain retain some of the "old world" charm before the tourists dry up and say to each other, "Gosh Mabel, this looks just like Des Moines." When this country was dirty, cheap and somewhat backwards you at least had the feeling that you were in a foreign country. I know the language gives it away - but at least if you imagined that the people weren't speaking English you could transport yourself to a world of Andy Capps, King Arthurs, Shakespeares and Robin Hoods.

Actually, in those days many people did not speak English as they do now. Regional accents abounded. Now they seem all to have been swallowed into Estuary English and imitators of American pop culture and language. There used to be a real feeling that England was a foreign place to American tourists. I'm not sure that applies now, and I regret it.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Nothing is better designed to get people angry and upset than the local government planning regime. On the surface this seems to be an integral part of our society - allowing local people to plan carefully for the development of their neighbourhoods and the concurrent services we all depend on.

Here in Wroxham we are blessed with some of the craziest planners in Christendom. I conclude this from the kinds of decisions they have reached over the years.

Cast your mind back to the infamous Wroxham by-pass. Some bright spark had it in his mind that it would be a good idea to by-pass the centre of Wroxham and greatly improve the road structure in this part of Norfolk. Good idea.

Here is the logical solution: where the main road crosses the railway on the Norwich side of Wroxham; instead of taking a sharp right turn into the main village, go left and across the River Bure, through uninhabited areas, and rejoin the main carriageway on the other side of the village. Unfortunately, there is nothing logical about planning.

Problem - this route would go through a site of special scientific interest. This route is out.

So, bright sparks at the planning authority decided to: go right at the railway bridge, build a two mile viaduct over Wroxham Broad (costing God knows how many millions) and eventually rejoin the road on the other side of the village. Cost? Astronomical. Feasibility? None. Nevertheless, they press on - for a while at least.

Just as an addendum, this route would have passed within 200 yards of some of the most expensive properties in Wroxham - The Avenues. Not surprisingly, the residents of these properties were not overly enthused. As soon as the plan was announced the value of these expensive properties plummeted. One poor chap lost hundred of thousands. Eventually, after many investigations, he got some back when the government agreed that the planners had got it completely wrong! The scheme was dropped. Wasted money? Lots. Accountability? None.

Not content with that 25 year fiasco the planners start all over, this time to move the football club. The ground of Wroxham F.C. is called Trafford Park. The land is leased from the local "squire", Mr Trafford. Before the lease runs out they would rather like to move to somewhere more suitable and improve their facilities. Mr Trafford would rather like to build some houses on the football ground, so he would gladly sell the club new space elsewhere. Sounds a good plan. Everybody wins. Enter the planners.

No chance. It's not in the local development plan. Petitions later, still no chance. It's likely that someone in planning doesn't like Mr Trafford, or houses, or football clubs or Uncle Tom Cobley and all. These are the same folks who allow Network Rail to run stations without safe places to cross to the opposite platforms and fuel depots to be sited in the middle of an industrial estate - close to houses. Remember the The Buncefield Oil Depot in Hemel Hempstead? Great planning guys. You have managed to engineer the largest explosion in Western Europe since the end of World War II - quite close to houses and business premises. My hat is off to the planners. Keep up the good work.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Tum podem extulit horridulum

Again we are forced to confront our worst demons in an article in the Sunday Times reprising the tragic death of Olivia Bazlington and her friend, Charlotte Thompson - two young girls killed whist running to catch a train.

This tragedy, back in December, forced me to write to the EDP protesting the lack of proper pedestrian crossings at so many stations. In response, the paper printed comments from Network Rail:

Network Rail General Manager Phil Heath said: "I find it unbelievable that people are behaving so irresponsibly at railway crossings. By running across when the light is red they are risking their lives, seemingly just to catch a train."

In my original blog, I was upset by Phil's insensitivity. Now I'm outraged. I pray that Phil is a Sunday Times reader or that someone cuts out the article and pins it to his door.

Charlotte's father, Reg, kept a diary chronicling how the family coped with the loss of Charlotte. As Shakespeare's Mark Antony so eloquently said, "If you have tears, prepare to shed them now." Reg's account of every parent's worst nightmare is truly a fitting tribute to his daughter's memory and an inditement of the callous Network Rail officials who are partly responsible for Charlotte's death. By not providing safe places to cross tracks, they are as guilty as any drunk driver who smashes into an innocent pedestrian.

Yet, they have the gall to attempt to blame the pedestrians for running to catch trains.

In her Sunday Times article Ann McFerran lets the bereaved father do the talking - to great effect. His diary, written on the family's computer, speaks volumes for those who can no longer speak for themselves, namely the two young girls killed that day. When he writes, "I have decided that I might sue the railway company. The station must be made safe. Trust me on this one. I won't give up, not ever." - I want to rush out and find the person(s) responsible for this atrocity and make them read this father's anguish to their own children as a bed-time story. Maybe then they would listen.

I am hoping that Reg will not give up in his fight to make rail stations safe for all. I am hoping that this story will not be buried by the "bean counters" who run Network Rail and most of our public services. I am hoping that these two innocent girls will not have died in vain. I'm hoping.

I am also hoping that the journalist who wrote the article for the Sunday Times will continue to research this story.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

End of the World?

Press reports have surfaced concerning strange electrical phenomena at Hellesdon in Norwich. Apparently, concerned residents have been reporting strange goings on with their electrical appliances for some time.

Car remote controls have mysteriously stopped working. Car alarms are going off without any apparent reason. Garage doors don't open, or can't be closed. Residents are baffled.

All very interesting in a human interest kind of way. Just the sort of story the newspapers like: very mysterious, but no real substance.

Or, is there?

Residents, at first, thought that it might be something to do with Norwich Airport, which is not very far away. Airport says, "Nothing to do with us, Guv!" Evening News contacts local electrical engineers - no explanations. Spokesman for Norfolk Constabulary says, "Nothing to do with us, and we have had no reports of problems."

End of story: or, is it?

Electricity has only been around for about 100 years in it's present form - we'll discount lightning for the purposes of this discussion - Edison demonstrated the light bulb in 1879. Not much happened before 1900 and then the "electricity" age really got going. In just the last 40- 50 years we have seen an explosion in the use of electricity so that our modern society cannot survive without it. We are surrounded every day by an electromagnetic field - generated to service our lifestyle - this was inconceivable to our grandparent's generation. Who knows what the long term affects may be?

Some facts: a substantial fraction (roughly 30%) of 19-20 yr old men in Denmark have sperm densities so low as to likely impair fertility. Further, there has been a steady decline in sperm quality in Denmark underway for several decades. The researchers in Denmark conclude that the decline in the quality of Danish sperm is not due to any social factors - but is real.

Some more facts: "after an extensive review of data from 61 published studies, three California researchers have concluded that a decline in average sperm density reported in the U.S. and other Western countries may be even greater than previously estimated. Their analysis of data collected from 1938 to 1990 indicates that sperm densities in the United States have exhibited an average annual decrease of 1.5 million sperm per millilitre of collected sample, or about 1.5 percent per year, while those in European countries have declined at about twice that rate (3.1 percent per year)."

Finally: "it's well known to physicians who deal with male infertility that the vast majority of male infertility is due to low sperm counts and/or poor sperm quality. What isn't as well known is that multiple studies have shown that in highly industrialized countries(my italics), sperm counts and sperm quality has been decreasing during the past 40 to 50 years. One of the most widely publicized studies showing a decline in sperm quality was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal in 1992 by Carlsen et al.5 The study was a meta-analysis of 61 studies done between 1938 and 1991 that examined sperm counts and sperm quality in men without a history of infertility. The results were startling: both sperm counts and sperm density showed significant declines between 1938 and 1991. ( I would submit that the increase in electro-magnetic radiation was pronounced for the first time in this era )This led the authors of the study to conclude that "as male fertility is to some extent correlated with sperm count, the results may reflect an overall reduction in male fertility."

Ok, Ok - I can hear some of you echoing Dawn French in the Vicar of Dibley, "Ok, we're on the outskirts of Looney Land, next stop city centre!" All I'm saying is: wouldn't it be diabolically ironic if the modern world and it's electricity-based culture was the cause of the eventual demise of man! And, we never got near the innings of the dinosaurs. Wait a minute, this could, however, be a boon for the last man with motive sperm. Form an orderly queue, please ladies. Talk about The Handmaid's Tale in reverse - I sure hope it's me!