Wednesday, April 28, 2004


I urge you to read Jo Wilding's report from Falluja.

I have met this woman. Whilst the language is emotional and therefore not conducive to objective journalism, I believe the facts of what she writes.

Since she wrote it, things have got much worse.

"It’s a crime and it’s a disgrace to us all. "


Caesareans 'must be discouraged'

This article appears on the BBC website today. Over a fifth of births in this country are now delivered this way. From the tone of the article, you would have thought that it was all due to mothers choosing this option; the "too posh to push" brigade, as they put it.

I obviously don't mix among the posh, but I have never met a woman who preferred the knife. The article itself hints that those who do constitute less than 1.5%. I suspect the main reason for the increase is the fear of the medical profession being sued. A slightly more difficult issue to tackle, and not even hinted at in the article. Instead, it goes on about having women with the mothers (not men, obviously), and isotonic drinks. This is politically correct claptrap surely?

I have witnessed childbirth four times and am amazed at how difficult the process is. How did people get by a few brief years ago, before medical science? Mothers and babies must have died in significant numbers. From nature's point of view, this is surely horribly wasteful. How come natural selection hasn't ensured that all those who don't give birth well have died out? Women still struggle.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Squeals on Wheels

I drove a boat on the road yesterday. It was a Reliant Robin from which the body has been removed and replaced with one from a small speedboat. It was a hoot to drive. Everyone, absolutely everyone, stopped to look. Jaws dropping everywhere and children squealing with delight. A real tonic.

Incidentally, it doesn't have any lights. The owner told me it has a "daytime MOT", and is allowed out only during daylight. I'm not sure if he's pulling my leg (or would that be pulling my rowlock?). I don't think he is.

Warm Folk Club

I played my new half-song last night at Minchinhampton Folk Club. Despite playing badly, the well-attended club seemed to appreciate it. There was real warmth there. I think I'm falling in love with the place. I played (in order):

- Hesitation Blues (Rev Gary Davis)
- Heroes Come Home (me)
- Sunny Afternoon (Ray Davies)
- The Bull (Jake Thackray)

I felt bad about leaving early to pick up my daughter and her boyfriend from Cheltenham.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Heroes Come Home

After eighteen years, Mordechai Vanunu is to be released today. It was supposed to be at 8am this morning, but as I arrived to work, I heard that this had been delayed due to him not properly declaring where he was intending to live. They're not letting him go gracefully.

My "peace friends" have asked me to write a song. I'm not one for writing to order, but I wrote a very short song when Terry Waite was released (1991 - nearly thirteen years ago). I cheated a bit and extended the song with a Vanunu verse and made it an anthem for the wrongly imprisoned. If you can be at the Minchinhampton Folk Club tomorrow night, you will hear the first public airing of a new half-a-song:

Heroes come home

One thousand days in a Lebanon Jail
And although I don’t know you I think I can tell
That you forgive your captors, who gave you that hell,
You’re a good man.

One thousand days, with nothing else to do
But to pray to your God, to help pull you through
All those days and those nights, and the loneliness too,
You’re a strong man.

But now it’s all over and now you are free.
You’re making the world a safer place to be.
So here’s to you for what you’ve done for me
You’re home, Terry you’re home.

But they won’t let him go, though he’s freer than you.
With the freedom to think, no matter what they do.
I’m talking now of Mordechai Vanunu
He’s a good man.

No traitor, no spy that they’ve ever met
Ever showed such courage and sacrifice, yet
They don’t realise they’ll always be in his debt.
He’s a strong man.

So find the heart and let him go free
He’s making the world a safer to be
So here’s to him for what he’s done for me
Heroes, heroes come home.
Heroes, heroes come home.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004


I visited Phil in Devon yesterday. He lives in a farmhouse deep in the countryside that has an attribute sadly lacking in today's world: quiet. We live, by most standards, in a remote part of rural Gloucestershire, but the drone of the traffic, the thwack thwack of the speed limit reminders half a mile away, the mainly military aircraft and farm machinery are never far away.

This quiet threw into relief the wonderful variety of birdsong. I really ought to be able to recognise a few more varieties other than pheasant, chicken and cuckoo. Graham will be able to help me. There's probably a website from which you can download the audio files. I fancy the idea of birdspotting with my ears. It saves forking out for binoculars, and provides the opportunity for statements like: "That's a Warbler that is!".

Jane left work yesterday (while I was enjoying Devon, she came to the office to say goodbye). She's been working here since the year dot. She's one of the very few things on the already seriously underweight "plus side" for working where I do. Andrew left last week (to start a wine tasting business), and Dana is leaving for a new life in America in two weeks. I'll miss them all.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Guitar Workshop

I went to a concert at the Stroud Subscription rooms. The Stroud Easter Blues Festival. I'm always a bit puzzled by music classification. I wouldn't have thought any of the three acts were particularly Blues. First there was Dave Sutherland. He came from the same part of the world as me (Greenwich), and had a Martin Dreadnought with a sound to make your guts wobble. Then there was Christine Collister. She has a voice to die for. Finally there was Martin Simpson. "Arguably the finest finger-style guitarist on the planet" the leaflet said. Well, I wouldn't argue with that.

On Saturday morning Martin Simpson was running a guitar workshop. I turned up (with guitar) hoping to pick up some wise words. He talked about "playing the guitar in your head". I don't think he played any of his tunes in standard tuning; using many different variations. He spends time "thinking" about where the notes are so he can play the guitar when he picks it up! Most of this was above me.

However, there were some simple points regarding where to place the fingers of the left hand in relation to the frets. Also, he suggested that whatever you do with the guitar, do it with as little movement as possible. This way you can be more accurate and play more quickly.

Then of course, there is practise, practise, practise.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Bone Marrow Donation

For reasons not unconnected with Le Jog, I enquired as to whether I could become a bone marrow donor. Because I'm over 40, I can't. However, had I joined before I was 40, I could stay on the register, and donate, up to age 60.

I was puzzled by this, so I wrote to the Anthony Nolan Trust. I received a prompt reply. Cutting the crap, it's all about money. They say it costs a minimum of £70 to put a donor on the register and they want to get their money's worth. They can't be bothered with those who can only donate for a mere 10 years (like me, age 50).

I asked Whether they would ask for older donors if they had more money. I also asked if I could pay to be put on the register. So far, I haven't received a reply. I suspect the answers will be "no".

They may not want my bone marrow anyway. People say I'm "fit as a butcher's dog" (a butcher's dog would eat too much saturated fat. Maybe that doesn't matter for dogs) but judging by my blood test results yesterday, I suspect the Anthony Nolan people would turn their noses up.

I've given up on The Autograph Man. I couldn't get into it. I'm now looking for another read.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Stupidest Shop in the Country

I heard the other day of the Annual Stupidity Awards. There are various categories. I daresay if you "Googled" you would immediately find out all about it. I would like to propose Countrywide Stores Gloucester as the stupidest shop in the country.

We were on our way to the Dean Heritage Centre and needed some LPG. We looked up the list of LPG suppliers. Countrywide Stores was on our way. Are they open on Sunday? Yes, until 4pm. Perfect!

We arrived and found the LPG pump, but to operate it you needed a key. Inside the shop, we queued for some time at the till. The spotty-faced youth hadn't a clue what we were on about. I swear he didn't know what LPG or Autogas was. He asked a colleague and he directed us to the "Animal Health Counter" on the other side of the shop.

The Animal Health Counter was unmanned (obviously, all the animals in Gloucester are healthy). After some fruitless calling out, a bloke appeared who actually knew about the LPG.

"Oh, to get LPG, unfortunately you have to have an account" (note the word "unfortunately" he obviously considered Countrywide Stores account holders unfortunate. So now, do I).

"Oh, that's ok, I'll open an account" says I, "Can I then have a key?"

"Well you can open an account now, and we then send the key to you through the post"

"So you mean we can't have any LPG now?"

"Nope" (with more than a hint of triumph in his voice)

We walked out of the shop. The Dean Heritage Centre was excellent; most especially for the excellent beer and the guitar playing of John Vickers which was worth the entrance money on its own.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Easter Rush

I took my second daughter to Gatwick on Sunday. She flew out to Bordeaux to see her boyfriend. The flight was 7:20am. They said that we needed to check-in two hours beforehand. We stayed at my parents Saturday night, about a 45 minute drive from Gatwick.

We arrived at Gatwick at about 5:30. The check-in queues for the British Airways flights were enormous and filled with stress. We would have missed the flight, had they not called out for anyone on the Bordeaux flight to move to the front of the queue. I was pleased to see her off and get on the road back home.

While in London, I discussed with my siblings what to do about my father's 80th birthday in May. What do you get someone when they are 80? My vote goes to 80 bottles of wine. That should last him.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Now There's a Funny Thing!

Last night I went for a curry to celebrate two of my work colleagues making the brave decision to start their own recruitment agency. I decided to have a hot one; a particularly hot lamb madras. I felt up for it.

Those who have eaten a hot curry will know the effect it can have on those body parts responsible for disposing of it. To put it politely, when you go for a wee, you get a strong burning sensation at the end of the "old todger". There is a similar effect in the "number twos" department.

I was expecting this. Indeed, I quite like it in a masochistic kind of way.

However, I have recently become a fitness fanatic. I'm admired by all for my ability to lose weight and for my, now, well toned physique. I run every day. Today was warm and I got sweaty. Very sweaty. I was interested to note that, as the sweat ran into my eyes, it stung much more than usual.

Now there's a funny thing!

Thursday, April 01, 2004


I'm writing this as a bookmark in my life. Maybe I'll read it again one day and it will jog my memory with things that otherwise would be lost forever.

I've finished reading Life of Pi. I don't want this to become a book review, but I didn't find it as entertaining as I'd hoped. It seemed to fall between fiction and fantasy without being either. The central character Pi (abbreviated from Piscine - he was named after a swimming pool!) claimed to be Hindu, Muslim and Christian all at the same time. This had no bearing on the story and seemed just a bit too, well, clever. It is a jolly good yarn, but I felt it ought to be more. The religious aspect ought to have imbued it with some spirituality but there were whole tracts I couldn't fathom. I don't want to give the story away, but what was the island full of meerkats all about?

I've now started reading The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith. I'm struggling, as I often do at the start of a new book, and may not persevere. It's meant to be a comedy and I haven't laughed yet.