Wednesday, 25 June 2008

A Bathfull of Culture
There is always something going on in Bath but each June the International Music Festival squeezes more concerts into two weeks than most venues in the UK manage in a year. Every space is used either by the official programme or the increasingly popular Fringe.
By chance we were in Bath for the last May bank holiday and so caught the first few days of this the 40th anniversary festival. On the Friday night we watched the fireworks from the third floor of Elton House (Landmark Trust) after wandering around the city where there appeared to be as many street performers as visitors.
After a hectic Saturday and Sunday of which some of you are already aware, we relaxed on Monday by visiting some Landmark Friends who were staying in another Landmark - Beckford's Tower. Joe and John, you may remember, had come to our rescue in May last year when we miscalculated the journey from Froghall to Alton Station. This year, however, we needed their help in eating some chocolate cake. As the rain and wind were punishing us for booking so much sun on the Saturday we decided to do some culture and booked three concerts for that afternoon and evening.
We started at lunchtime with Peter and Kathryn Tickell performing folk-based songs on Northumbrian pipes, violins and guitar. I was a little wary of bagpipes beforehand but I was enthralled by their performance. It was lively and moving and even humorous in parts, I hardly noticed the rain when we emerged from the Assembly Rooms. After a late lunch we went to the Forum to hear a jazz quartet. The music was not memorable as each musician seemed more interested in his individual performance than in the ensemble effect. The City Church which occupies this ex-cinema on Sundays has restored the Art Deco features immaculately and I was happy for the music to accompany the greater pleasure of taking in the d├ęcor. At 22.30h we ventured forth again to another church hall but on a different scale. Whilst the Forum could probably seat 800, the Intervention Studio did not seat one tenth that number. This more intimate setting was more appropriate for the solo concert by Wu Man who plays the Chinese Pipa. Her repertoire on this stringed instrument similar to the lute included the traditional lyrical and martial works but also more modern interpretation of the instrument's scope. As we walked the 50 yards back to Elton House at midnight the evening was now dry and mild. A fitting preparation for bed.
More smoke and mirrors
Last July 26 I voiced scepticism at the effectiveness of the carbon trading system to reduce global warming. This week I read the following in the Sunday Times relating to a coal fired power station to be built in India by Tata (the company which owns Land Rover, Jaguar, Corus and Tetley Tea.

When the plant ....becomes operational in 2011 it will emit 25.7m tonnes of Carbon Dioxide a year - more than any power station in Britain. Yet it will be classed by the United Nations as a source of Clean Power . That means Tata will be able to sell surplus carbon credits established under the Kyoto Treaty to firms in the West. Energy firms will be able to buy these credits as an alternative to reducing their own Carbon Dioxide emissions. It is estimated Tata could earn £30m from such sales.

Allowing for journalistic inaccuracies and jingoism I still do not understand how this benefits anyone other than the energy firms involved.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Take a Bite
Down to London today for annual appointment at Moorfields. All clear for another year. I have been attending here or the long-gone branch in High Holborn for 40+ years and the management of the out-patients' clinic is worse now than it was in 1964. Such is progress. Four hours waiting for a 20 minute appointment seems normal nowadays. It really makes me wonder when the word appointment changed its meaning. Four consultants cannot examine 40 patients at the same time but this message is not understood by those making the appointments
However, two good things emerged form the train journey. Firstly I used my BITE card for the first time with no problems. If you travel by train a proportion of your journey will be spent waiting at a station somewhere. There will usually be a variety of refreshment establishments and with the BITE card most of them offer 20% discount for no other reason than that you have a card! To obtain the card for FREE log on to There really is no catch.
My second fortunate occurrence was that I managed to travel on several trains without leaving a laptop or a bright orange file marked Top Secret on any of them. Now I know why I failed the Civil Service entrance exams.
The Lost Property Manager of Transport for London recently divulged that amongst the 170,000 items turned in last year were a bag with two human skulls, a stuffed puffer fish, inflatable dolls, breast implants, a coffin, false teeth and limbs, a suitcase with £10,000 in cash, 32,268 books, 27,964 bags and 25,802 items of clothing. Obviously some people take the Civil Service training more seriously than I.
Margaret has just reminded me of another benefit accruing from my journey today - I was out of her way for a whole day.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

All Steamed Up
We seldom see steam powered boats on the canal but yesterday Beatrice pootled by us to stop for lunch at the Red Lion in Fenny Stratford.

Built eight years ago by the father of the lady passenger, it is named after her mother.

A steam engine of a different scale was in steam over this weekend at The Bratch near Wombourne , Staffs. From 1906 to 1960 the two triple-expansion - Victoria and Alexandra - pumped one and a half million gallons of water per day each to Bilston. Victoria has been restored to working order by the Friends of the Bratch

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Vive de Gaule!
35 years ago two events took place which were destined to affect the UK population (or some of it) significantly. Margaret and I were married and UK joined the Common Market.
I am quite accustomed to being in a minority. In the referendum on the EEC which it was then called in 1975 I was in the 2:1 minority who voted NO. I believe I was in an even smaller minority by actually reading the Treaty of Rome. It was quite clear to me that the aim of the original six members was for a political union. What we were sold was the Common Market which developed into the European Economic Community. This has now morphed into the European Union. I have always been in favour of a harmonization of trade agreements but not in a United States of Europe which is where we appear to be headed. Let's not pretend that our leaders are pressing for a reform of the EU to improve the economic or social conditions of the population. As always, their only motivation is power - either directly and personal or indirectly and corporate. It is clear that USA cannot hope to maintain its economic and political dominance in the face of the rise of China and India. To quote our leaders 'the EU is punching below its weight in the political world' This is their true concern.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

42 is the answer
According to Douglas Adams in The Hitch-Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is
This number has been causing considerable heat in Parliament recently. I am not in a position to judge whether 28 days is sufficient time for the authorities to carry out their investigative processes or not. However I can certainly say that most of the 'facts' presented for and against the case for extending the period of custody for terrorist suspects were bunkum. About the only thing I heard which made any sense at all was this. We do not know what crises we may have to cope with in the future but the time to prepare for them is before they occur. Legislation introduced in the panic following a disaster is usually another disaster.
In 1997, in the aftermath of the massacre of 16 children at a primary school in Dunblane hand guns were outlawed in Britain. It is almost impossible to establish whether gun crime has increased or decreased since then as by picking and mixing the statistics for shotguns, handguns, airguns and replicas any case can be supported. However the impression I have is that this panic ban has not made a noticeable difference to the illegal use of guns. Some indisputable figures I do find interesting. After the Hungerford shooting in 1987 a gun amnesty yielded 48,000 guns. Following Dunblane a similar amnesty produced 23,000 guns and 700,000 rounds of ammunition In 2003 a further amnesty after the shooting of Letisha Shakespear and her cousin in Birmingham 43,000 guns and over a million rounds of ammunition were handed in..
Although all the argument recently has been about the number 42 this Bill worries me for a more fundamental reason and that has been voiced by David Davis today. Over the past ten years there has been a relentless erosion of our liberty by power mad politicians. I have a vain hope that the announcement by Mr. Davis today will herald the end of this process. One has to have hope.