Wednesday 28 April 2010

I'm voting for Brown

For non British readers, the UK election campaign was today overtaken by incumbent Prime Minister, Gordon Brown (Labour Party - centre left) being caught out making unguarded remarks when he didn't realise the mike was still on. You can see it all here:-

Long short is the woman who buttonholed him said "You can't say anything about the immigrants ..." in the sense of "I resent immigrants but political correctness is such that one daren't mention the issue." Once in his car, Brown refers to her as a "bigoted woman".

The PM is now being slagged off for being dismissive of ordinary people's views by EVERYBODY including, I regret to say, the BBC. You can read a particularly humbuggy piece from the BBC here.

But what if what he'd been caught saying in the car "I liked her, she obviously hates immigrants - let's get her on board ..."? It would have been "Racist Brown" in the headlines.

Let's be clear. The woman the media are portraying as helpless widowed old grandmother who works with children clearly evinced an aversion to immigrants - watch the tape again. Then, when Brown in an unguarded moment which he thinks is in private criticises her for evincing a view which is contrary to his party's view, he gets slagged off! Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

But enough of the issues, what about the more important issue of the personalities?

I think the man must be a saint.Watch the YouTube vid above again. Right at the beginning where the old trout buttons him, he goes "Yes?" in exactly the same tone as the bit in the Irish Builders episode of Fawlty where the ladies button Basil and he goes "Oh God ..." but recovers his aplomb in the blink of an eye and then engages her for several minutes.

If I'd been Brown, I couldn't have stood there that long while the old rat bag harangued me. After about 20 seconds, I'd have said  "Ah, go boil your head and vote for the Tories if you feel that strongly about it you old cow ..."

But he didn't and then when he got into what he thought was the privacy of the car, what was the reaction of the allegedly volcanic tempered Prime Minister who bullies his staff? He says "It's ridiculous". I think it shows him in a very good light for being remarkably mild mannered after what had undoubtedly been a "disaster". 

Needless to say a carefully choreographed apology had to be orchestrated later in the day at the old witch's house out of which the Prime Minister afterwards emerged with more of a spring in his step.
I suspect tomorrow's papers will be crowded with pictures of the BNP (far right anti-immigrant party) candidate on that same doorstep. Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame Gillian ...

Saturday 24 April 2010

Malta Moment

About 10 years ago, we were on holiday in Malta. One day, we booked and paid for a boat trip the following day to Malta's satellite island of Gozo. The next day, however, it was blowing a hooligan and, quite reasonably, the trip was cancelled. Could we have our money back then, please, we asked the chap at the harbour-side booth we'd paid the previous day. No, he replied. Why not? I'm just the agent, he says, you have to go and ask the shipping company ...

Hah! I was about to launch into a discourse about the legal niceties of the personal liability of agents for undisclosed principals and expound the latin maxim swarthicus como argentum nono decimis possessorum ergo devolvendo prontissimo obligatum est but decided this was a conversation to be had with the organ grinder rather than the monkey. So we stamped off to the office of the shipping company a few blocks away in high dudgeon rehearsing a speech involving such unanswerable logic as "How DARE you refuse to repay us! This country depends on tourism yet you treat your customers with UTTER contempt! I demand to see the Managing Director NOW or my next stop will be the British High Commission! We gave you the George Cross and look how you reward us!" The blackguards! The scoundrels! The, the, the - FOREIGNERS! No respect! No decency!

Instead, we get to the office and what happens? The chap behind the counter goes "You must be Mr King - thank God you're here ..." At this point, he's opening his wallet and pulling out notes "... I've kept the office open over lunch so as to be here to repay everybody. Here's you're money and I'm SO sorry we couldn't sail today - I do hope it hasn't spoiled your holiday ..."

We were like that - "Oh right. Thanks. No problem." And we got outside on to the pavement and looked at each and thought "Hang on! Let's wind that back. That wasn't supposed to happen. We were supposed to have an argument ..."

Hence why the syndrome whereby, when you're geared up for an argument with someone over a relatively trivial matter and that person caves in without a fight and you feel quite disappointed at having been denied the fight is known in the Duncan-King household as a "Malta Moment".

All of which is by way of a very long introduction to the fact that we had a Malta Moment today, the current adversary being British Airways.

Regular readers will recall from posts passim the disappointments we suffered at the hands of the World's Favourite Airline on the way back from London to Lisbon in January. First they cancelled our flight meaning we had to stay in a hotel in London overnight and then lost our luggage on the flight the next day meaning our kecks were getting a bit crispy during a subsequent layover in a range of Portuguese destinations none of which included Flores due to the weather disrupting flights to and and among the islands for a number of days thereafter.

Whilst not exactly in the same league as having to be rescued from Santander by a Royal Navy frigate (I would have paid extra for that) due to the volcanic ash cloud, it did leave us out of pocket to the tune of £60 for travel between Heathrow and the hotel and €23.71 for what BA called "first needs" (i.e. kecks) purchased in Modelo in Ponta Delgada.

On the 14th of January, I duly intimated the claim enclosing the receipts as above. Now, you'll be relieved to know I'm going to spare you the details of the tortuous correspondence with BA. Suffice to say that nearly 3 months later we still hadn't been paid and the reply to a registered post letter to BA HQ was to ask us to submit the receipts to an office in Bremen, Germany. But I sent you the receipts 3 months ago!!!, I retorted, and if I do not receive an undertaking to reimburse me within 7 days, I shall have no option but ...

As Neville Chamberlain, famously put it on 3rd September 1939: "I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and consequently this country is at war ..."

For a week or so, it was a phoney war with BA because the volcano had erupted and I thought I would be statesmanlike and let that disperse before I took the fight to the office of embattled BA Chief Executive, Willie Walsh.

But I used the time well, honing the text of my letter to perfection in my head. I also amused myself with mental pictures of WW emerging ashen-faced from yet another gruelling session with the striking cabin staff unions and his PA standing with her notepad saying "The CEO of Iberia's been on the phone several times - he's not happy about the pension fund deficit. We've had another e-mail from Eurocontrol - they're not opening the airspace yet. And you've got a recorded delivery letter from a Mr King ..."

But as the fog of volcanic ash cleared, I could put it off no longer. Having wound myself up to a peak of pompous self-righteousness, I had resolved upon the phrasing "I realise you are a busy man, Mr Walsh, and you must excuse me for trespassing upon your time but British Airways does not have its troubles to seek ..." I also wanted to get in "I seek not a free voucher, merely an apology and the knowledge that you have copied my letter to the Head of Customer Relations with an instruction that lessons be learned ..."

So as I sat down this afternoon to deliver myself of this matchless prose, Carol said "You better check the online banking first in case they've actually paid ..." Which I did.

Oh ...


Thursday 22 April 2010

Our politicians

I've now worked out how you tell Cameron and Clegg apart.

Cameron's mouth is too small:-

and Clegg's eyebrows are too short

That's not a trick of the light. His right eyebrow does actually stop about half an inch short of where it should stop. And the left eyebrow's the same. It's not natural and probably masks a character defect.

Anyway, we got the second Prime Ministerial debate out here in the Azores because it was on Sky News which we do get here. And I certainly couldn't be bothered watching all of it. 90 minutes - oh hell, no.

See what I mean about the eyebrows?

A couple of quick off the cuff observations from what I did watch, though - first, excessive use of the first person plural demonstrative pronoun as in "our schools", "our hospitals" etc. Of course they're trying to sound inclusive but it begins to sound a bit squeamish when they get to "our prisons". How far does this go? "Our corrupt MPs"? "Our paedophile priests"?

Secondly, I actually briefly heard a concrete policy statement uttered by one of them (as opposed to a platitude like "We need to build a fairer society in which our demoralised doctors ..."). It was uttered by Cameron (small mouth one) and I disagreed with it. It was:-

"It's not right that we should have to sell our houses to pay for our care when we're old instead of being able to leave it to our children."

I think we jolly well should have to sell our houses to pay for our care when we're old. That's called self reliance and I thought the Tories believed in that. I'm sure Mrs Thatcher (of blessed memory) did. So what you're saying is that I as Joe Taxpayer have to pay for old Mr X's terminal care so that Mr X's children (our voters?) can score a six figure inheritance? F**k off! Sorry, David but you just lost my vote tonight.

See what I mean about the mouth?

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Boots and nail varnish

Having retired at the age of 43, I'm regularly asked what do I do all day?

The answer to that today was easy - nothing. This is because today was the first "really nice day" of 2010 (it's been a shocking winter and spring, weather-wise on Flores) and it seemed rude after lunch not just to sit out all afternoon and enjoy it, reading books.

That was our garden at the back of lunchtime today and I hope you'd agree that the prospect of sitting in it reading was a very enticing propsect. However, there was a slight disappointment around 2.30pm when it came on rain. It was not heavy enough to force us inside but it was enough to make me change reading material. That's because I didn't want the pages of my book (about the British Fisheries Society 1786-1893, since you ask) to get crinkled in the rain so I swapped it for the Economist magazine.

We subscribe to the Economist, a British weekly news magazine which believes that democracy and an unrestrained free market will sort all the world's woes from mobile phone coverage in the Horn of Africa through climate change to volcanic ash clouds. But the book reviews are good - so good that they save you the trouble and expense of actually buying the book.

Anyway, I've digressed - where was I? Oh yes, reading about Yemeni politics rather than British fisheries in the rain to save pages being crinkled.

It later brightened up again but - after a wander with my camera during which our neighbour invited me into her back garden for the best view on Flores (above) - I decided to attempt to make a bit of a dent in the backlog of Economists with the result I'm at the end of January (2010) and am fully up to speed with the Haitian earthquake. (This reminds me of the moment in Blackadder when he's got to re-write Dr Johnson's dictionary in 24 hours and, having done "a", the indefinite article, says "Good. So we're well on the way.")

Anyway, after the sun goes down behind the hill behind our house, about 5pm in April (the current month, not the issue of the Economist I'm reading), it got a bit chilly so I repaired indoors for a spot of my other favourite leisure activity which crowds the hours of the day - making model aircraft.

I'm currently embarked on a 1950's Air France Super Constellation but have become bogged down in its "boots". To explain, the "boots" on 1950's airliners were devices along the leading edges of the wings and tail etc. to prevent ice build-up. They were rubber hoses which could be inflated periodically to cause the accreted ice to crack off. Anyway, Minicraft, the makers of the kit, have chosen to represent the boots by supplying black transfers you stick on and wrap round the leading edges. I could have told them this was impractical ... I'm losing you aren't I?

Long short, I felt a bit like the proverbial one-armed paper hanger asking Carol to bring me nail varnish as a last ditch attempt to apply something that might make these boots stick. But to no avail and I'm now embarked on a complicated masking job to apply the boots by paint - almost as egregious as sticking the broken propellor blades back on: how I suffer for my art to get an authentic 1950s airliner ...

Anyway, that's what I did today and it's 23.35. I'm off for a delayed chapter of British fisheries by way of relaxation before bed.

Monday 19 April 2010

Flight into danger

Remember the Scotsman's headline "Scots keep world flying in fallout from volcano"? And the First Minister of the Scottish soi disant Government, Alex Salmon's announcement that Scotland "offered a window of opportunity for flights to be diverted from elsewhere, easing congestion across the Western world."?

Well I offer you a graphic from the BBC's website showing a snapshot of the flight situation at 1.00pm today:-

There doesn't seem to have been much effect on congestion in the USA yet, Alex. Perhaps you need to launch a consultation on engaging with key-stakeholders in the North American transport market (after you've consulted them of course).

Elsewhere, I was thrilled to hear about British Airways sending up a 747 to deliberately fly through the ash cloud to see what happened. I have a lot of questions about this. For example did the pilot look like a cross between Charlton Heston and Chuck Yeager? Was he wearing a parachute in case all four engines stopped and they couldn't get them going again? Did BA's insurers agree to cover them for the loss of the plane? (As I assume not, why not a smaller and more expendable 737?) Was the flight into the ash cloud conducted over water so at least it wouldn't plough into a residential area if the test had gone tits up? Was Charlton Yeager wearing a life jacket?


Sunday 18 April 2010

Cornish woman inconvenienced at airport ...

As you know, I'm a London Gazette man myself but the Scotsman really is an appalling rag.

For my non-Scottish readers, there used to be two Scottish quality broadsheet newspapers, the Scotsman, printed in and preferred by Edinburgh readers, and the Glasgow Herald published in and preferred by, guess where.

You could arguably add the Aberdeen based Press and Journal to the list, the paper which famously, though probably apocryphally, headlined the loss of the Titanic as "Aberdeen Man Drowns at Sea". But if the Titanic were to sink again tomorrow, the Scotsman would report it as "Scots Reported Missing ..."

That's why I can't be doing with the Scotsman - it's so parochial and pathetically, cringingly Scotto-centric like the rest of the world cares in a way only surpassed by my other pet hates, the Scottish National Party.

The Scotsman's 1st April spoof was SNP proposals to build a new airport in Scotland to be called William Wallace International. Well its coverage today of the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud's effects on air travel in northern Europe is scarcely more credible. Here it is and if you think this is me taking the mick again, you call me Susan if it isn't so and check for yourself here.

Scots keep world flying in fallout from volcano

Airline chaos is set to continue but international services are switched to Glasgow as cloud of ash moves south


SCOTLAND was last night handling some of the only flights in northern Europe as the Icelandic volcano ash cloud forced a continued unprecedented shutdown of the Continent's largest airports.

An Icelandair plane from Reykjavik lands at Glasgow airport yesterday.
There were no signs of a let-up to the chaos, with Transport Secretary Lord Adonis warning that significant air disruption would continue until at least tomorrow.

Seven British Airways flights from the United States and Canada are due to land in Scotland today, with others likely to follow if English airports stay closed.

First Minister Alex Salmond said Scotland offered a "window of opportunity" for flights to be diverted from elsewhere, easing congestion across the Western world.
However, the first European flights into the UK since the most far-reaching restrictions in aviation history were imposed on Thursday were three planes from Iceland's main airport, which has remained open despite the eruption.

Some 600 [sic] passengers aboard the Icelandair aircraft, which touched down last night in Glasgow from Reykjavik, included schoolchildren on trips who had been stranded.

National Air Traffic Control Services (Nats) reopened Scottish airspace under its control yesterday, as the huge ash cloud was estimated to be costing airlines across the world £129 million a day.

However, Nats last night further extended the ban on passenger flights over England and Wales until 1pm today, and this may be extended again at 9am ..."
Here I have to explain for the benefit of non-Scottish readers that the SNP's nickname is "the Nats". I'm going to spare you the rest of full verbatim drivel but I couldn't resist the following further snippets from the same article:-
"Europe's main hubs, where passengers change planes, remained closed, including Heathrow – the world's largest – and Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Copenhagen. Airspace was also restricted in Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic and most of Scandinavia. By contrast, some 1,500 transatlantic passengers are due to flood through Scotland's airports today, including three British Airways Boeing 747 jumbo jets landing at Glasgow from New York and San Francisco."
This reminds me of the Billy Connolly skit about teuchters coming to Glasgow and seeing a bus and saying "Look! A hoose wi wheels!".
Look! A coonsil estate wi wings!
"BA normally only flies between Scotland and London, having axed its transatlantic services from Glasgow more than a decade ago."
Eh? Run that past me again.
"Those caught in the disruption included the Duchess of Cornwall, who was unable to travel from Scotland to sign a book of condolence for the late Polish president Lech Kaczynski at a Polish cultural centre in London."
Just think, Camilla, it could have been a lot worse, hen ...

Friday 16 April 2010

Election Update

Britain broke with tradition today by having its first ever party leaders' live election debate.

For non-British readers, we've never had these before because the party leaders have a live debate every week while parliament is sitting at Prime Minister's Questions. So we weren't really very sure what was going to be new and different about these election debates (except they last for 90 mins whereas PMQs in parliament only last 15 minutes).

Anyway, we couldn't watch live out here in the Azores but I've had a quick scan of the BBC website (the veritable oracle of good political reportage) and my reaction is this:-

Gordon Brown - craggy and Scottish - incumbent Prime Minister. Leader of the Labour Party (centre left), the party of Tony Blair which has been in power with a majority since 1997. Apparently the PM's got a shocking temper and claims of bullying his staff hit the headlines a few weeks ago. I'm not generally in favour of ethnic minorities in high offices of state but I quite like Brown - the bullying claims sent him soaring in my estimation.

David Cameron - youthful and fresh-faced. Leader of the opposition Conservative ("Tory") party (centre right). The party of Mrs Thatcher, in power from 1979 to 1997. Cameron went to Eton (same public school Princes William and Harry went to) and is therefore a "toff" - English for upper class but pretends to be a man of the people. His wife is called Samantha and is commonly known as "Sam Cam". She is pregnant which will be a great electoral asset.

Mick Huhne (pronounced "Hughn") - youthful and fresh faced. Leader of the Liberal Democrat party (centre-centre). Never been in power since Nineteen-Umpteen. (I think I'm right in saying David Lloyd George was the last Lib PM and that was the 1st World War). I know even less about Huhne than I do about Cameron.

Sorry, I cocked up the pictures above - this (below) is Cameron (I think):-

And if you think I'm taking the mick, then the BBC made the same mistake on their website earlier, I kid you not. These fresh-faced and youthful politicians, younger than oneself, are easily mixed up. This is Cameron (leader of the Mrs Thatcher party) honest:-

Who will you be voting for? This should help:-

(Apparently Cameron's actually called Clegg or am I mixing him up with someone else?)

Saturday 10 April 2010

By the Queen, a proclamation ...

Last Tuesday, she ...

... was paid a visit by him ...

If you don't know him well enough to call him Gordon, you call him "Prime Minister" or "Mr Brown". Under no circumstances do you call him "Prime Minister Brown". And you most certainly never, ever call him "Premier Brown" (whether pronounced - in escalating order of teeth gritting aversion - "Premmy-er", "Preemy-er" or - and I can hardly bear to even type this - "Prim-eer".)

The headlines are "Gordon Brown Calls General Election" but in reality a process much more woody than the holding of a press conference has been taking place.

The reason why the Prime Minister called on the Queen at Buckingham Palace was to recommend to her that she dissolve the present parliament and call a new one. The latter act implies the holding of a general election to the lower house of the new parliament, the House of Commons. (The upper house, the House of Lords, is not elected - it's composed of what in other countries would be called "life senators" appointed by the government with a vestigial representation by hereditary aristocrats - dukes, earls, barons etc.)

Her Majesty, being a good constitutional monarch assented to the advice of her Prime Minister and agreed that, on Monday, she will meet with her Privy Council in order to approve a Royal Proclamation dissolving parliament and calling a new one. The text of the proclamation on the occasion of the last British general election in 2005, as promulgated in that raciest of tabloid rags, the London Gazette, was as follows. Before you start reading, observe how the language is replete with ordering Lord High Chancellors and requiring writs forthwith to be issued - there is not a single mention of developing visions, partnership approaches, next steps or engaging with key stakeholders





Whereas We have thought fit, by and with the advice of Our Privy Council, to dissolve this present Parliament, which stands prorogued to Thursday, the fourteenth day of April: We do, for that End, publish this Our Royal Proclamation, and do hereby dissolve the said Parliament accordingly: And the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Members of the House of Commons, are discharged from further Attendance thereat: And We being desirous and resolved, as soon as may be, to meet Our People, and to have their Advice in Parliament, do hereby make known to all Our loving Subjects Our Royal Will and Pleasure to call a new Parliament: and do hereby further declare, that, by and with the advice of Our Privy Council, We have given Order that Our Chancellor of Great Britain and Our Secretary of State for Northern Ireland do respectively, upon Notice thereof, forthwith issue out Writs, in due Form and according to Law, for calling a new Parliament: And We do hereby also, by this Our Royal Proclamation under Our Great Seal of Our Realm, require Writs forthwith to be issued accordingly by Our said Chancellor and Secretary of State respectively, for causing the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons who are to serve in the said Parliament to be duly returned to, and give their attendance in, Our said Parliament on Wednesday, the eleventh day of May next, which Writs are to returnable in due course of Law.

Given at Our Court at Windsor Castle. this eleventh day of April in the Year of our Lord two thousand and five in the fifty-fourth year of Our Reign.


At the Court at
Windsor Castle the 11th day of April 2005
The Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty in Council

Her Majesty, having been this day pleased by Her Royal Proclamation to dissolve the present Parliament and to declare the calling of another, is hereby further pleased, by and with the advice of Her Privy Council, to order that the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland do respectively, upon notice of this Her Majesty’s Order, forthwith cause Writs to be issued in due form and accordingly to Law for the calling of a new Parliament, to meet at the City of Westminster on Wednesday, the eleventh day of May 2005; which Writs are to be returnable in due course of Law. 

Just be grateful I'm sparing you the constitutional niceties as to whether it was necessary for the Queen to dissolve parliament at all given that, under the Septennial Act 1715, it would expire at midnight on 10 May 2010 in any event (it seems that, by convention, parliament is always actively dissolved even if just a short period before its natural expiry). And/or whether it's necessary for the Queen to prorogue parliament before it's dissolved (no, but it seems to be commonly, though not invariably, done).

What's the Latin for "put that in your pipe and smoke it"?