The long rambling post that I nearly put on Uborka

( is alive again, so rejoice. It’s all got a bit political over there and it nearly jolly well got my dander up. I almost posted this 2300 word post there, having been invited, but then thought better of it. So, I’ve posted here instead and linked it from over there and put something a little less controversial there, being as uborka is not my blog. I hope the blogging gods will look favourably upon this behaviour).


I’m going to stick my head above the parapet (and thank you Uborkans for the opportunity to do so in this place).

I’m a Tory voter. Mostly. I’ve voted for other parties in my time (the Pro-Europe Tories – remember them? the LibDems – remember them? and the Monster Raving Loony Party –
probably the best use of an X in my entire voting career), but by default I will generally vote for the blue party because I find that they (used to) have the least number of
policies that I found unpalatable (i.e. not more than 95% unpalatable).

The problem now is that, like quite a few other Tory voters that I know, I don’t feel they represent me any more. You see, I’m one of those funny old centre-right people. A bit
like Ken Clarke, but with less Hush Puppies. Not out there with Redwood or Nadine. But not woolly like the yellow party. And not so big government as the red party.

You see, I’m one of those people who quite like the idea of the power of the individual. I quite like libertarianism. I think the best person to make a decision about my life
is me. And, therefore, the same must be true for everyone.

I think gay people should be able to do what they want to do without me or anyone else interfering in what they do. I have no right to say they shouldn’t get married or give a
loving home to a child that needs it or stay in a double bed in a hotel room.

I think the European Union is, on the whole, a good idea. I think we would get more out of it if we put a bit more into it, rather than sniping from the sidelines (even Mrs T
understood that – she never walked away from the discussions in Brussels, whereas DC has done so).

I think government is better when it is small. On the whole, I believe that people, not politicians, know how best to spend their own money and time.

As someone who has spent all their life working with living things, I’m pretty certain that we can find a way to live on this lovely planet without wrecking it. There’s a great
opportunity for our economy if only we pushed a bit of R&D money that way. Progress is possible, in fact it is necessary – but it can be achieved without breaking the place.

I believe that we need a welfare system that helps those that need help. Equally, I’m fairly sure that some people don’t need/deserve the support of the welfare system, but I’m
not yet sure how we figure out who they are. But I am sure we can identify the Philpotts of this world and isolate them without penalizing everyone else who has the misfortune
to need welfare support.

I believe in a meritocracy. That means that, if you’re a grocer’s daughter, you could get to be PM. Equally, if you’re educated in a public school, you are not inherently bad
and unpleasant – you may well be very good at what you do, even if you partook of a little student excess. But being one or the other should not, within the limits of what can be achieved, prevent you from aiming for the best in life. “Best in life”, of course, is for you to define. Not everyone can be PM – one at a time is enough, thanks. Not everyone wants to be PM.

Equally, with meritocracy comes a need for people to want to improve their life. I live in a mixed neighbourhood – mixed in wealth, mixed in background and mixed in attitude,
albeit mostly WASP. If my neighbourhood is anything close to representative (and I doubt that it is), there doesn’t always seem to be a correlation between the desire to
improve life (and I’m sure that improving the world around you improves your own life, by definition) and wealth or background. There are some wealthy people here who are
lovely and give their time, money and energy for others and expect nothing more than a smile and “thanks” in return. There are some poor people who are the same. There are also some wealthy and some poor people who clearly don’t give a toss. I don’t believe poor people are lazy. But they’re not all saints either. Same is true of the wealthy and the
“squeezed middle”. Wealth, inherited or otherwise, is not a barrier to being a good person – being “priviledged” does not make you a bastard and I find the suggestion just as
offensive as saying poor people are lazy scum. Equally, lack of wealth is not a barrier to helping others – just ask the single mum-of-three who is one of the hardest-working
people on the PTA at my son’s primary. Or ask the man I know who was educated at Marlborough (same school as Kate Middleton) and now teaches in a state school.

The poor are not sub-human, evil and to blame for all that is wrong with society. Nor are the rich. We all are. We’ll only fix it if we stop trying to score points off other
people/social groups and try to figure out how to work together to put it right. In my village, one of the things that pains me most is the “them” and “us” culture that divides
the people perceived as “advantaged” from the “disadvantaged”. However, having sat through a few meetings and discussions, I think that divide is, sadly, coming mainly from my neighbours at the “disadvantaged” end of the village. The more prosperous residents can’t understand why, when a meeting was recently held to discuss improving the village
green for everyone to use, some of the “disadvantaged” people stormed out. As some of my wiser neighbours remarked – if someone wealthy wants to pay to do it (they do –
entirely funded by a local resident) then great, why would anyone object? Having questioned one of the objectors, they simply don’t like it because the donor is wealthy. I can’t understand that at all. Surely, if everyone worked together and discussed it, then we could use the cash generosity of some and combine with time generosity of others to make something that benefits everyone. Or am I being idealistic?

If I can afford to send my child to private school (I can’t), then great. You don’t pay for private school out of your taxes (and before people complain about the charitable
status of private schools, most state schools have charitable status or a charitable arm too – why shouldn’t they?). I think grammar schools are a good idea. Making poor
schools better need not be at the expense of the good schools. But make poor schools better is something we should do. Not sure how we do it, though.

There is no reason why state-provided services can not be run by private companies. There is no reason why that should be inherently bad. My father worked for 43 years in the
electricity supply industry – first before nationalisation, then for years when it was nationalised and then finally after it was privatized. He was a union shop steward. He
can tell you what it was like in the 60s and 70s. Private enterprise is often simply more efficient and effective, but we need effective competition so that the consumer
doesn’t get fleeced. Shop around, chaps.

Equally, private enterprise and the market is not always the best solution to a problem. But if you let the state run things, then you let politicians run things. Do you really
want that?

I am certain that nothing in this world is black and white except penguins and zebras. Being dogmatic achieves nothing. However, if you do something that hurts or damages other people, you must expect to suffer the consequences – and that sometimes is black or white.

Being Tory doesn’t make you evil. Ditto being Labour, LibDem, nationalist, Green, or whatever. UKIP? That’s another matter. That said, I feel really quite uncomfortable with
quite a few of the current government’s policies. If there was an election tomorrow, I really don’t know who I would vote for (other than the Cucumber Party, obv.). But political discussion will get the best results, I think. So we need a system that allows grown-up political discussion. When you say that you’re going to end Punch and Judy politics, why don’t you?

I believe in a welfare state, but it has a problem. Shockingly, the politicians lied to us when they set it up after the war. And ever since. They told us that we would pay
money in when we could (when we’re working, earning money) and could draw against it when we need it (when we are sick or hurt, old or infirm, when we have kids). Sounds great.
But, the problem is that, since inception, the money raised today by tax or NI is being spent today on benefits and the NHS. And the cost of both welfare and NHS is going up
faster than the income. There is no pot for your retirement. There is no pot for when you have an accident and need help.
Just like my household finances, it is not sustainable to spend more than you earn. We have to square that circle somehow. But we live in a democracy. To quote Churchill,
“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” As a result, if I form a political party that will balance
the books by cutting spending on the three biggest costs to the state (NHS, welfare, defence) and at the same time increase taxes (Corp Tax, VAT, income tax and NI), I reckon I would garner about three votes at the next election. All the while we live in a democracy with elections every five years, painful decisions will not be taken for fear of
losing power. Equally, long-term decisions will not be taken as the horizon extends only as far as the next election.

Incidentally, the poor didn’t cause the deficit. The politicians did. They spent money on things we couldn’t afford, which have included the banks, the NHS, the banks, the
welfare state and the banks. Oh, and the banks. Problem is, moaning about that won’t get that money back – we’ve got to figure out how we fix the problems we have. We can
certainly start by not making the same mistakes again (so make sure that all kids are taught history and economics in school, really well). But beyond that we need some new
ideas, some of which might be painful and unpalatable – like increasing taxes (hated by the right) AND cutting welfare/NHS (hated by the left). As for the banks – tricky. You
see, if we let them go under and force the shareholders to take the rap, we suddenly realize that we’re all the shareholders, either as taxpayers because the nation owns some
of the most crippled banks or in the form of our pensions and savings. And, as the Cypriots have found, you may suddenly find your savings disappear/diminish if your banks go under. Hmm. Not so easy to solve that, is it? Best pump some money in to stop them falling over…. oh, shit, we’re back to square one.

So, I propose the following manifesto points for the Uborka party. Others may have other views. YMMV.

1. Replace the current system with benevolent dictatorship. That would get round the short termism and populism. A benevolent dictator will know when to pass the baton. I’ll go
first. And I can promise that power will not corrupt. Absolute power will not corrupt absolutely. Honest.
2. Get involved. Things won’t change if we just sit idly by. That doesn’t mean you have to be an MP – maybe a parish councillor; or member of the school PTA; perhaps the
committee that runs your local social club. Doesn’t matter what it is – get up and do something constructive. You don’t have to run the thing – simply rocking up for your
school PTA and making the teas will be a start.
3. Be nice to each other and to the world. Being unpleasant to the world means that your home and place of work – and that of the people you love and care for – is diminished.
4. Work hard. But enjoy life too. Most things are improved by a smile. Try it. By working hard, you will improve your own lot – and, the better your own lot, the more capable
you will be of helping others/improving the world.
5. Save when you can. You’ll need it one day and don’t reckon on the state having the resources to help you in any meaningful way (ponder the demographics of the UK and work out how many wage-earning tax payers there will be by the time you reach retirement age – doesn’t look good, does it?). But put it in a bank in a sound economy, not the UK. Maybe get some clever people together to try and figure out how to fix the
banks properly, whilst you’re at it.
6. Come up with ideas. Invest in them emotionally. Defend them. Then be prepared to reconsider if it looks like you might be wrong. Our politicians would be generally better at their jobs if they did this.
7. Grow something. The world is calmer around plants. It helps you realise that, even though the world is changing, some things have been much the same for a very long time. Life begins. It blossoms. It produces seed for the next generation. It dies. It helps you take a longer view. You’ll need that.

On the Olympics medal table

So, the Olympics are over and Team GB (that’s the team of sportsmen and sportswomen from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – Team UK would be so much better) has been placed third in the medal table according to the BBC (official broadcaster for the Olympics) – and I assume they get their information from the IOC.

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 United States 46 29 29 104
2 China 38 27 22 87
3 Great Britain & N. Ireland 29 17 19 65
4 Russian Federation 24 25 33 82
5 South Korea 13 8 7 28
6 Germany 11 19 14 44
7 France 11 11 12 34
8 Italy 8 9 11 28
9 Hungary 8 4 5 17
10 Australia 7 16 12 35


I feel uncomfortable with this. The tabulation is determined by the number of gold medals awarded. What happens if you order it by total number of medals awarded?

Britain would move down to fourth, with the Russians taking their place at third. The Canadians, with 18 medals, would suddenly shift from 36th place to 13th. The top ten would look like this:

104 medals – United States
87 medals – China
82 medals – Russian Federation
65 medals – Team UK
44 medals – Germany
38 medals – Japan
35 medals – Australia
34 medals – France
28 medals – Italy
28 medals – South Korea


Surely, the best system would be to give points, three for gold, two for silver and one for bronze. Then you would get this:

225 points – United States
190 points – China
155 points – Russian Federation
140 points – Team UK
85 points – Germany
67 points – France
66 points – Japan
65 points – Australia
62 points – South Korea
53 points – Italy

Other idle thoughts:

USSR – 47 golds, 44 silver, 73 bronze (302 points).*

European Union – 92 golds, 104 silver, 107 bronze (591 points).**


* – I’ve included Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Latvia, Armenia, Estonia, Moldova and Tajikistan.

** – of the EU nations, only Austria, Luxembourg and Malta did not win any medal.

Of course, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania couldn’t be in both Team EU and Team USSR. Between them, they won three golds, two bronze and four silver (19 points). But, however you look at it, Team EU scored more than Team USSR and Team USA put together.


Oh yeah, this blog is still alive.

Why I’m not convinced by the swine flu stats

Hels and Tom both have colds. I’ve had a bit of a sore throat, but it hasn’t come to anything.

When they first went down with a little lethargy, sore throat, snuffliness and all the other usual symptoms, we immediately thought that our turn might have come for swine flu. If it had, we wouldn’t be too worried – we’d get our way through it and get it out of the way. Unpleasant and inconvenient, yes, but probably not life-changing. For the vast majority of people, it’s just a nasty bug.

So, given that, Hels called the doctor. We’d heeded the advice not to actually go to the surgery and it seems our local surgery is well-prepared. Our doctor was able to take Hels’s call (not just the receptionist team) and talked through the symptoms. She (our doctor) seemed a little fed up with the Government’s diagnosis-by-checklist approach. Hels described her symptoms, including her temperature of 37.8 Celsius. The doctor laughed and said that, given her symptoms and according to the checklist, Hels did not have flu but had a cold. If, however, her temperature had been 38 Celsius, that woud have been enough.

So we are carrying on life pretty much as normal. Hels has taken a little time off work (heavy colds tend to knock her down a bit anyway due to previous illnesses in her 20s). But we are not putting ourselves into quarantine.

What I wonder is this: given that our doctor is aware that this cold bug is going around at the moment, how many of the 100,000 new cases this week really are H1N1 flu and how many are just summer colds? Are we getting false information and is the Government making decisions based on that? What will happen if/when we actually get real flu later in the year?

As an aside, the Government gave advice last weekend (as reported by the BBC) that expectant mothers and mothers of under-5s should stay away from crowds. I presume they haven’t visited your average ante-natal clinic lately, because they are never crowded, obviously. And, what of fathers of under-5s? Presumably, if they stayed away from crowded places (like shops, offices, railway stations and workplaces) the economy would grind to a halt.

As Hels put it – the Government takes the nation to war but can’t seem to work out what to do about a virus.

On the European elections

It’s the European elections tomorrow.

official EU elections graphic


Given that going to the polling station and placing an X should be compulsory (with the added provision of a none-of-the-above option), what choice is there for a euro-enthusiast in the UK?

Here’s my understanding:

  • Labour: policy seems to consist of deferring any decision or committment to Europe for ever, because if you always have to decide tomorrow, then you never have to decide at all. But then, given the current mess of the domestic Labour party, I wouldn’t trust them to decide how to get out of a paper bag.
  • LibDem: nominally the most pro-euro of the three main parties, but with some quite clearly bonkers policies, most notably the idea of a referendum on EU membership. I can’t quite understand the need for this – allegedly it is to highlight the benefits of membership, but surely we can do this without such silly and unnecessary brinkmanship? But I think they’ll do well this weekend.
  • Conservatives: can see the benefits of being in the EU, but want to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership, presumably to make the UK even more semi-detached. Committed to oppose the Lisbon Treaty and committed to never signing up to the euro. And probably not to Schengen either. So, let’s be totally and utterly semi-detached with no influence on the way the EU is run – clearly bonkers, as how can you change and improve something you perceive as flawed if you don’t get involved in running it? It’s like the man in the Dog and Duck who always says that “they” should do something about it. Unless you are one of “them”, then you can’t do anything.
  • Libertas EU: Declan Ganley’s plaything, easily confused with the completely bonkers perma-tanned Kilroy-Silk’s madcap adventure (which was called Veritas). Although portrayed by the media as an anti-EU party, they are, in fact, pro-EU. But they want to completely redefine the EU – and show a basic misunderstanding of how the EU works (that is, that a massive chunk of EU power and decision making actually comes from the Council, not the Commission, and is therefore made by elected politicians – national leaders and cabinet members). I don’t think that there is any doubt that the EU needs some reform, but I’m not sure that this is the right model.
  • Green: again, a reform-heavy agenda. But their manifesto states that they are opposed to the euro and opposed to the Single Market and intend to levy more taxation in international trade. Surely these policies (certainly the last two) combined with their desire to break up “large” companies, thereby destroying economy of scale, would be so disruptive to commerce and trade that they would seriously damage the economy – and it’s probably not a good time to be doing that. Also, they want to encourage the “individual and household economy” which sounds like a way of encouraging so-called grey or black market transactions – completely outside the scope of the taxation system. The problem with that is that, somehow, they have to pay for the environment and social welfare policies (free care for all elderly persons, regardless of wealth, anyone?). This way financial ruin lies – even worse financial ruin than that we already have.

So, I’m stumped. I want to vote for a pro-Europe, pro-EU, pro-euro party. But I don’t like any of the options available. Any ideas?

By the way: I will be flying an EU flag at our gate tomorrow. If my neighbour can put up BNP posters (I’m not kidding), then it seems the right thing to do.


Geoffrey Smith, RIP.

I remember watching Geoffrey Smith’s World Of Flowers when it was first broadcast, although I can’t have been more than 11 or 12 at the time. It was a stunning series, years ahead of its time. Now we are used to series (often on BBC4) that tackle a subject in depth with lots of footage shot on location around the world and fronted by an expert who is passionate about their subject and gets their message across through sheer force of personality (I’m thinking of people like Jim al-Khalili and Rageh Omaar). That series was a great influence on me, tackling a different genus in each episode and getting across the personality of the plants concerned, the people involved in their introduction and development in cultivation and the places and locations from which they originate.

It would be going too far to say that the programme had a direct influence on my choice of future career (other circumstances in my life had far greater influence), but it was certainly in the background. I hope that they repeat it soon as a tribute – it would be of interest to anyone, not just gardening enthusiasts.

Crouchers Bottom

Lewes District Council is making a big fuss about street names. They want to sanitise them by using a pre-approval process for new names to rule out anything that might have a double entendre (even if unintended) or that might be "aesthetically displeasing".

What a load of nonsense. Lewes DC is LibDem controlled and this is a poor advert for them. It smacks of pettiness and small-mindedness.

There are many names which have heritage value that could certainly be considered rude now. I used to havea girlfriend who lived at Crouchers. Just down the road was a country hotel that used the name Crouchers Bottom, which had been the name of the property for hundreds of years. In Sussex, there are plenty of Bottoms (valleys and dips). There is also a Gay Street (homophobic?), Black Down (racist?), the river Uck (yes, the signs get defaced all the time – boring, kids, not funny any more). Lewes itself sits on the River Ouse – it doesn’t really ooze anything and it isn’t a particularly attractive word (it’s just an old word for river), but nobody would want to change it.

It’s a dangerous policy. There is an area of Southsea which features the unbelievably tedious names of Harold Road and Trevor Road – so called because, before it was developed, the land was owned by a family with these names. The area adjoins Fawcett Road which has a pub at one end – you guessed: The Fawcett Inn. More entendres than you could shake a stick at. But I suspect that these aesthetically displeasing names were just fine when they were new – language and attitudes change with time.

And do we really want to have a bunch of wholly anodyne names for roads? Downs View is incredibly over-used in this area. Around Chichester, anything to do with the local heritage (Roman history, the Cathedral, motor racing at Goodwood and local flying aces/aircraft of World War Two) gets used time and time again. Or you end up with a situation like that at Kings Hill (what used to be West Malling airfield) where all the roads are named for varieties of apples – braeburn, russet, worcester and bramley – or old aircraft – typhoon, tempest, anson and stirling. They soon merge one into the next in the warren of identikit houses.

Perhaps there should be pressure on developers to be original. Maybe they should be made not to repeat a road name that has already been used in the same district. That would certainly get rid of the Downs View/Street/Road/Close problem. But it might lead to things like the road near my parents’ house called Syke Cluan Close (apparently, it is named for a place in Scotland, although Google draws a blank) – not relevant to the local area, hard to spell for the locals, but certainly original.

Any funny names up your way?

Time flying

It only took until around 7.15pm today, 2nd January, for me to say to Hels: "bloody hell, the year is flying past already!"

2009 is certainly going to be interesting, potentially dramatic and quite possibly bloody terrifying. As Gordon put it, we will all get there by the end of 2009, but it might be useful to know where "there" is.

Meanwhile, we have "reduced lighting" in our conservatory as the electricians have been (i.e. my father and brother) in preparation for the replacement of our conservatory this week. You’d think that replacing a conservatory would not be something to tackle in times of financial uncertainty, but this qualifies as a distress purchase due to the fact that water has been pouring in and it is about to collapse. It’s only costing us <cough> thousand pounds, but it does mean that we are the conservatory company’s new best friends. It will, at least, let in more light and reduce drafts – so we should be more energy efficient, at least by a small bit.


Other thrift measures in place include:

  • taking a permit to saw down trees in a well-known National Forest and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in order to get cheap fuel for our home (and to wind up passing dog-walkers/conservationists);
  • thinking about laying more insulation in the loft;
  • starting work on the allotment – potatoes are currently chitting on my office floor and a big box of seeds lies ready. But we need to do more digging yet and also source some poo;
  • encouraging Tom to use the loo instead of nappies – he is late at making this transition, but shows no enthusiasm for it;
  • installing a new, energy-efficient washing machine (another distress purchase – water flooded across the floor and the engineer scratched his chin and sucked on his teeth, just as the warranty had expired);
  • enjoying days out that consist of walking with occasional added pint/coffee, or heavy use of the National Trust card;
  • DartTag – £1 instead of £1.50. It’s the way ahead, and it makes a groovy BEEEEEP noise and makes the barrier go up all by itself.

Are you saving cash?