Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The best of bears

I bought myself A Bear Called Paddington the other day and read it on the tube yesterday. It really is as good as I remember from my childhood. Paddington truly is the best of all the literary bears.

I still have a warm glow inside.

(picture from Paddington's official website)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Things have to get worse before they get better

New Scottish Deputy First Minister and Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon will be announcing this week a strategy for tackling waiting lists. All politicians like to sound tough on waiting lists - waiting lists must come down they all agree but no-one actually knows how to do it and instead they set arbitrary targets which clinicians spend their time struggling to meet.

We now have the situation where there are waiting lists to get onto the reportable waiting lists - the figures look good but people are still waiting to be seen. My suggestion to Nicola Sturgeon is to strip away the previously set targets and take some time to properly assess the situation without taking into account hidden lists.

There will be a short-term hit and bad publicity as the times appear to go up massively, but if a government is serious about tackling problems it must first know exactly what these problems are and have the guts to put in place a strategy which will achieve long-term results, even at the expense of short-term bad headlines.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The missing phone call

Both on Sunday AM (on Sunday) and the Jeremy Vine show yesterday Scotland's SNP First Minister Alex Salmond highlighted that the had yet to hear from Tony Blair. This is just unforgivable discourtesy.

I accept that Blair will not be happy with the result in Scotland and that Alex Salmond probably wasn't who he wanted to see occupy Bute House, however he should have phoned by now to congratulate (even through gritted teeth) the democratically elected First Minister of a constituent nation of the United Kingdom. Not doing so is just an example of the petulance that I have come to expect of our soon to be departed PM.

The PMOS said yesterday that:

"as he was aware, phones were two-way communication devices. He was not sure whether we had received an approach from Mr Salmond's office either."

So he's going for the mature approach then. He has also said in the past week that the "Prime Minister had been to Washington and Iraq, and therefore had been rather busy" and they weren't interested in "gesture politics". Here's a couple of points - I'm sure in this day and age the PM's plane has an airphone. Even on the rainbow tour he can make a thirty second call. And some gestures are actually just good manners - John Major left him a bottle of champagne and a note in number 10 in May 1997 as nothing more than a gesture and to wish him luck.

Blair is always happy to talk about the respect agenda but until he learns some himself he has no right to lecture me on it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Well Done Mars

I was dismayed a few days ago to find out that Mars were planning on changing their production methods to include using animal products and therefore make their products unsuitable for vegetarians.

I'm not a vegetarian and as anyone who knows me can tell you I have a healthy, some may even say unhealthy, dislike and distrust of the nut cutlet-munching, hemp sandal-wearing smug gits BUT I do think that wherever possible we should be moving away from using animal products and certainly not swapping perfectly acceptable non-animal products for animal products. I was very disappointed with the decision and filled out a form on the Masterfood website to say so.

I was very pleased to hear of the reversal of the decision and even more pleased to receive the email below today.

Well done to Mars. We all make mistakes - it's a wise company which acknowledges their customers' anger and speedily rectifies their mistake. I look forward to a summer of Snickers Ice Cream.

Mars Email

"Thank you for taking the time to contact us in connection with the change of ingredients in our chocolate confectionery and ice cream range.

Please note that after recently changing the source of some of the whey that is used in some of our chocolate products we have received lots of feedback that this decision has made it difficult for some of you, especially those of you who are vegetarians, to continue to enjoy our products. We realise that we made a mistake and we apologise. We have committed that we at Mars UK will ensure that a selection of favourite brands including Mars bars, Snickers bars, Galaxy and Maltesers will be suitable for vegetarians in the near future.

Meanwhile we are currently experiencing unusually high volumes of contacts from our consumers and therefore we hope that you understand that, rather than answer your question individually, we are attaching a list of questions and answers we believe would be useful and help answer your enquiry.

Alternatively you can visit our web site ( for this, and other useful information.

Once again thank you for taking the time to contact us. Please do get back in touch, at the dedicated email address below, if your specific query has not been answered and we will do our best to get a speedy response to you.

Yours faithfully

On Behalf of Fiona Dawson
Mars UK

Q1.What are you announcing?

A1.We have recently changed the source of some of the whey which is used in our chocolate products made in the UK from a vegetarian friendly variety to one which contains traces of traditional rennet from animal sources. We have received lots of feedback from consumers and reversed this decision.

Q2.Are you reverting to vegetarian recipes for all of those products that were subject to the ingredient change?

A2.Yes, this announcement means that favourite products - Mars bars, Snickers bars, Galaxy, and Maltesers will once again be suitable for vegetarians.

Q3.You make lots of other brands - what about the suitability of them?

A3.Other products will also be suitable for vegetarians including Minstrels, Revels, and Ripple. However, Twix, Bounty and Celebrations will continue not to be suitable for vegetarians.

Q4.I'm a vegetarian - which products can I eat / should I avoid?

A4.Currently we cannot guarantee that our products contain vegetarian rennet. However, we are starting to change our manufacturing process with immediate effect. We want to get our vegetarian products on the shelves as soon as possible. During this process of changing the recipes we will provide updates on this consumer care website, on a regular basis. If you are not sure about the suitability of our products please call us on 0845 0450042.

Q5.Why did you decide to change the ingredients in the first place?

A5.We made the change to broaden our supply base in order to ensure we could continue to provide our consumers with products of consistent quality in the future.

Q6.Will you now consult with consumers on any future changes to products?

A6.Yes. This change was a mistake and we are sorry that we may have prevented consumers from enjoying the products they've always enjoyed."

Too true to be funny

The Daily Mash reports on the Scottish election fiasco

I may have found a new favourite website.

Monday, May 21, 2007

(Techni) Colour me unimpressed

Has Andrew Lloyd Webber lost his mind?

How could he kick out Daniel -granted I want Lee to win and have since the audition stages but to choose Lewis over Daniel was just stupid, particularly as in the sing-off Daniel totally sold "Bring HIm Home" - one of the hardest songs in the musicals - while Lewis really struggled.

It's like that useless bird from Maria all over again. Andrew gets his favourites and dumps the good ones to keep them in. Unfair.

Still - I would say that Lee's only serious competition has now gone so that's a good thing.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Rainbow Tour Continues...

So Blair is spending his last 6 weeks touring the world being glamorous and saying cheerio to all his pals. I've always thought he was Evita-like in his pronouncements.

Better not meet any Italian former Admirals...

Friday, May 18, 2007

And the prize for no self-awareness goes to....

...Margo MacDonald MSP.

She has advised someone to "go and find a darkened room and have a quiet lie down" - exactly the words I used about her today.

Margo doll - we all love you, but you've made a roaring arse of yourself in the past week. First standing against Alex Fergusson when he was obviously the right person for the job and getting soundly whipped in the process. And then not voting for Alex Salmond as First Minister just because you were in a wee tuppenny bit with him.

You give good advice Margo, maybe it's time to take some yourself.

Ban on Gay Men Giving Blood

A few weeks ago I signed yet another petition on the 10 Downing Street website. This one was calling for the ban on gay men donating blood to be over-turned. On the day after International Day Against Homophobia to receive the following reply just summed up why the day is needed and why we can't claim that the UK is quite there with equal rights:

"The Government has a duty to ensure that any rules applied to blood donation by the National Blood Service (NBS) achieve a balance between risk reduction and security of supply. The self exclusion criterion concerning gay men has been reached through a close analysis of the epidemiology of confirmed HIV and Hepatitis B positive tests among blood samples from people donating blood at United Kingdom Blood Service sessions.

The Government has been advised that every year from the analysis of nearly three million donations collected by the United Kingdom and Irish Blood Services, about 40 donations are confirmed to be positive for HIV. Of these, a third to a half are given by men who, following further enquiries by the NBS, reveal that they are gay men. Some are donating for the first time but some have given at least once in the previous two years and tested negative on the previous occasion. These figures indicate that some gay men are still giving blood in spite of the current rules.

Although safer sex campaigns have had an impact, it is still considered that the risk of gay men being infected with HIV remains sufficiently high to include the criterion that they should not donate blood. Unfortunately, this means there will be healthy gay men who would be suitable for giving blood but who are excluded by the rule.

However, it is not practical to expect donor session staff to be able to differentiate between gay men with lower or with higher risk lifestyles, so all gay men have to be excluded."

So - because 0.006% (or 0.0006 - it's 6.666667e-4 for you maths geeks) of blood transfusions are affected approximately 7-10% of the population are stopped from giving blood. And who are the other two-thirds to half of the donors whose blood is contaminated?

This is institutionalised homophobia dealing in ridiculous stereotypes of the worst kind. And its shameful coming from a government which claims to be commited to equality


Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are pairing up to star in a new film. To fans of either or both actors this is a good thing. I may even make sure I see it myself.

Co-producer Avi Lerner has apparently said that it is an "event in world history". Really? A bit of exaggeration don't you think?

Peace in Northern Ireland (when it happens) is an event in world history
Genocide in Darfur is an event in world history
Even a Nationalist Government in Scotland is a small event in world history

Two actors being paid to act is not an event in world history, it is a film to look out for.

The cats fight back

For those of you upset by the vicious tortoise the other day the cats strike back

Thursday, May 17, 2007

International Day Against Homophobia

Today is International Day Against Homophobia

There are still 80 countries in the world where it is illegal to be gay and many more where homophobic attacks are common place and not taken seriously by the authorities.

If we want to live in a civilised world Homophobia - and all other forms of discrimination - have to be eliminated.

Happy Birthday Alan

Alan Johnston banner

Today is Alan Johnston's 45th birthday - he was kidnapped 66 days ago in Gaza. We don't know if by terrorists or common criminals (if indeed there is a difference), but the Palestinian government knows who has him. And they probably know where.

If the Palestinians want to be taken seriously as a legitimate government in a volatile world they have to work towards the release of Alan Johnston and the three Israeli soldiers Gilad Shilat, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

There may be legitimate reasons for protest against Israeli or Western nations by the people in Gaza - kidnapping is no a legitimate protest. Hamas have it in their power to bring these four men home - they should do so immediately.

Happy birthday Alan - hope you are at home with your family soon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Eurovision - Taking It All A Wee Bit Seriously

Apparently some vacuous Lib Dem MP has tabled an Early Day Motion calling for a review of the Eurovision voting. Far be it for me to accuse anyone else of taking Eurovision too seriously, after all my shrine to Terry in pride of place in our living room, but honestly....

Is this the best the Lib Dems can come up with? It's hardly a matter of parliamentary importance that the Eastern European nations are ganging up on the poor hard done by nations of the West. Don't let him hear Terry's class suggestion that we should build a wall between east and west, he'll be out there in a flash.

The killer tortoise

Go tortoise. But I thought you guys were supposed to be slow?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Campaign Launch - Scooch for Number One.

My countdown to Eurovision was rudely interrupted by the 40 minute broadband update turning into a 48 hour down-time. So didn't get to finish with a couple more classic clips and my own prediction. Which is just as well because it was a Ukrainian win with Scooch coming a respectable mid table. How wrong I was.

"KD Langovich" (my friend Davy's description not mine) winning with a bland nothingness of a song and poor Scooch being humiliated. And let's be honest not deserving to at all. For the first time in over a decade I am going to buy a single - Scooch have to become number one in the charts. We need to show our support for them. Genuinely this was one of the best British entries in years - it was camp, it had great outfits, a dance even drunken people could do (and trust me by the time Scooch came on we were all drunk!) and the best carry-on-a-like lyrics ever.

So come on, buy Scooch's single and take them to number one.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Countdown to Eurovision ... Part Seven

How could anyone miss the king of Eurovision?

A sensible agreement

Its been announced that the SNP and the Green Party have entered into formal agreement which falls somewhat short of full coalition. To my way of thinking this is a GOOD THING. I'm suspicious of coalitions, people either have to lose too much of their own policies or a minor party gains far too much influence based on their vote share. Why should the fourth party have had the Deputy First Minister-ship in the past? This agreement acknowledges the support of the Green Party and offers benefits without losing the control that a party needs in Government.

I hope that this is enough to secure an SNP administration, but I still feel a bit concerned about the likliehood of a grand Unionist agreement.

Countdown to Eurovision ... Part Six

The woefully misunderstood Daz Sampson from last year. As with Scooch, it's a delight to see people well into their 30s do Eurovision while claiming to be much younger....

Countdown to Eurovision ... Part Five

The final scorecard is now available.

Ta Radio 2 - we love you, Sir Terry and Ken Bruce.

Big Bloody Deal!

So the Electoral Commission is ordering an enquiry into the chaotic counts in Scotland last week. That's a relief to all concerned I'm sure....

Here's my suggestion. Let's skip the protracted and undoubtedly expensive enquiry and abolish the Electoral Commission. They are an unelected, unaccountable bunch of inexperienced hacks who know nothing about running elections and nothing that they have done in the past however many years they have been in existence has aided democracy in Britain in the slightest. Despite being the "elections watchdog"(!) they will not employ people who have either worked for a political party or in electoral administration for the past five years. You know - the people who know how elections are run. The Commissioners who do have experience in local government do NOT have this experience in electoral administration but in areas such as Urban Planning. But mostly the commissioners are people who are members of numerous quangos and committees.

And how comprehensive will their own in-house investigation be? Not very I suspect. I was an election agent when a pilot scheme of electronic voting was carried out. In their reviews did the electoral commission get in touch with me to discover my experiences, the experiences of candidates or electors who contacted us? Did they hell.

I hold out no hopes whatsoever for the success of these enquiries. No-one with any common sense will be asked for their opinions and it will all turn out to be someone elses fault.

Countdown to Eurovision ... Part Four

Come on the Scooch

Countdown to Eurovision ... Part Three

Oh dear oh dear - semi-final results are very disappointing.

No Belgium, no Switzerland and their live vampires and no big Draq Queen from Denmark. Instead rubbish singers from Eastern Europe who actually think it's a song contest....

It's time for the countries of Western Europe to rise up and start to block vote against this bloc voting, let's reclaim Eurovision in the name of over the top campness and get away from wailing wummin and pretty boys (Both in and out of bands).

Come on Scooch - we look to you to lead the way. Fly the Flag for a camp-fest.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blair Steps Down

Ok, so it's hardly an exclusive but Blair has just announced his resignation.

It was shaping up as the best speech of his career, starting with a nice tribute to his agent. As an agent who never got thanked I thought it was a particularly nice touch. Then a comment about the best way to avoid the pitfalls of power was to step away - a very insightful statement.

Then he got all political. Oh dear. It all went downhill from there.

He asked when we last heard of pensioners freezing to death because they couldn't afford to pay their bills. Last winter. Fuel Poverty kills up to 25000 pensioners every single year and 4 million people are believed to suffer from fuel poverty.

He boasted about better results in the NHS and Education. Only if you accept that the targets these results refer to are a good thing. The major point is that spending on the NHS has doubled since Blair took over yet benefits are not doubled. There are waiting lists to get onto waiting lists, the MTAS system is in total disarray, MRSA deaths are on the increase, I could go on and on....

He took credit for intervening in the Kosovo crisis which is fine - but what's happening today in Darfur?

I didn't hear any mention of the NI peace progress as Radio 2 came and went from his LONG speech however I doubt there was tribute paid to John Major.

The speech, like all of his Premiership, sounded bloody good - but once you start thinking about it it just doesn't seem so impreesive.

Countdown to Eurovision ... Part Two

Some personal favourites on their way

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Countdown to Eurovision ... Part One

Quite apt celebratory 200th post. Eurovision is coming closer and the party is being prepared.

I haven't listened to anyone except the mighty Scooch yet, I enjoy the surprise that the night (or semi-final night) brings.

So - scorecards for semi-final printed off, countries allocated to a couple of people, first thoughts on the Terry Wogan shrine and decorations started - and all ideas welcome on these. Next steps - actually do the shrine, make the food, buy the Ouzo and (I suppose) actually clean the house.

It's getting affy exciting.

Margo for Presiding Officer?


Interesting theory - I like it. Although I do wonder if the schoolboy fantasies of a strong woman with a bit of power are starting to get out of control. First Bella, now Margo....

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Get on with it

While I'm pleased about the election results on Thursday (ok mid-morning Friday), Scotland hasn't come out of the day well. The counting process was a shambles, the electronic counting was deeply flawed, the ballot papers were dreadful and the decision to introduce STV on the day of a general election was a recipe for chaos. And now the Parliament won't actually start back on time.

Sweet Jesus what is going on? If this is a Labour/Lib Dem ploy to show that Scotland couldn't cope as an independent nation then it's working pretty well. Run the country - this shower couldn't run the proverbial piss-up. Or rather the SNP could run it, the others are just stalling. It's time for Labour and the Lib Dems to accept the result and let the party with the most seats get on with running the country - and show that minority government can work.

Self Awareness Is A Wonderful Thing....

The few days campaigning in Glasgow was a bit of an eye-opener for me. Turns out I am a bad-tempered control freak. I like things to be done my way and when they aren't then they are just wrong. For two pins (actually a salary matching the one I'm on now) I would move back to Glasgow and sort the SNP out - I guarantee they would win several more seats FPTP within 8 years; but I would probably make myself the most unpopular person around.

But the most worrying thing is when I express surprise that I am bad tempered no-one has rushed to my defence. Everyone just looks shocked it took me so long to realise it.

Apologies to anyone I snapped at in the past week (or even longer than that) but frankly you were doing it wrong and should just accept that my way is best.

Book News

How is exciting is this?

A new book by Armistead Maupin, following the wonderful Michael Tolliver's story.

Surely the literary event of the year - with the possible exception of Harry Potter. I may have picked my first book for the holiday.

And if you're in Liverpool the man himself will be reading as part of Homotopia.

Very exciting....