Sunday, April 25, 2010


Malcolm is no great gardener, yet he has a strange liking for any of the ferns in his garden.

Some years ago he purchased a tree fern, a Dicksonia Antarctica, as an unloved "for sale" item at the Eden Project in Cornwall. For the last few weeks Malcolm has found himself obsessing that it would recover after the hard winter. At last things are looking more positive.

And then, nearby, lurking under a shrub there is the spectacle of unfolding, coiled shoots. They are so perky they somehow remind Malcolm of meerkats.

Not an issue of major importance, just a nice feeling: summer is i-coming in. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hyperbolic movement (or lack of it)

There's a peculiarly-silly woman, apparently stuck in Spain, interviewed on the BBC news. She's taking time out to blame Gordon Brown, by name, for the travel problems caused by the Icelandic volcano.

So, it's time for Malcolm's own fuss-in-Channel, continent cut orff! travel nightmare.

Many years since, it was the habit of the Lady-in-his-Life, Malcolm and their developing brood to evacuate London as soon as the summer term ended, and to return only a few days before the autumn term began. This was regarded as a recipe for regaining sanity. After the first week or so, the traumas of teaching in London dissipated. There then ensued a fortnight when life was bearable. Then the tensions would again start to mount.

On this occasion, driving up through La France Profonde, a stage at a time, catching the last smidgeons of culture for another few weeks, the news came through. Revolting French fishermen were blockading the Channel ports over some grievance, of which they seemed to have an endless supply. This was a time long before the Channel tunnel.

So, the route was diverted to Zeebrugge, from where ferries were still operating.

It was also a time before the Euro made border crossings less painful. But also when it was exceedingly difficult to get a filling station to accept UK credit cards.

Suddenly the Lady-in-his-Life prompted Malcolm to note that the needle on the fuel gauge was very low. What to do? Stop and change money into Belgian francs? So Malcolm did a mental calculation: kilometres to go, divide by 1.6 to get miles, compare with expected fuel consumption. Hmm: should be OK.

That, of course, failed to account for the queues and delays into Zeebrugge port.

However, in due course, the car made it up the ramp, onto the ferry. The boat's siren blasted. The massed ranks of Brits spontaneously burst into a derisive Rule Britannia to spite those Froggies.

So far so good.

Fortunately it was down the ramp off the ferry. Which was when the fuel tank finally ran dry.

A customs official gave Malcolm a lift to the nearest filling station, where it was necessary to buy a can to contain a few litres. By the time Malcolm had paid all his dues, it remains to this day the most costly fuel he has ever bought.

Oh, and on the way back up the M2, late at night, while it was tipping down with rain, the car developed a flat. Fortunately it was possible to coast it under a bridge, and do the illegal tyre-change in shelter. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Serious charges

Today's Irish Times reports an imminent sentence by court-martial. This is sufficiently important to be granted prime position, top right above the fold on page 3.

A matelot in the Irish Navy is on several charges:
  • unauthorised disclosure of the operation of State ships;
  • aiding drug running;
  • possession of cocaine ...
and, most heinous (if not inexplicable) of all:
  • being in possession of eight counterfeit hair straighteners.
This last is:
considered prejudicial to good order and discipline under military law.
The mind boggles. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Refections of a fatal crash

Assume that Malcolm has made all the usual, conventional posthumous noises about Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and his entourage.

Accept that he is not totally without feeling: he admits to quavering moments at take-off and landing. They started back in the days when flights from Dublin to regional UK airports involved small high-wing piston-engined aircraft, and the mechanic (in Malcom's full view) finished off closing the engine casing with a rubber hammer.

Bear in mind he still winces from the kangaroo landing a Virgin Atlantic flight man-man-managed at LAX. Particularly when the voice of the chief stewardess came on the PA to say, "Any landing you walk away from is a good one".

Reflect on the ineptness of the lady-pilot's inappropriate announcement, while Malcolm's flight awaited the technician at Boston for the flight back to La Guardia: "Isn't it a bummer when the equipment goes down?"

Now, can we move on?

Last time round, it was 1943 and General Sikorski, Polish Prime Minister in exile, was flying from Gibraltar to London, after reviewing Polish soldiers in the Middle East. The converted Liberator bomber crashed into the harbour on take-off (right), killing all except the Czech pilot.

Time passed

By the later 1960s, the historico-revisionist, David Irving, sank his teeth into some apparent inconsistencies in the original story. He expanded these into Accident. The Death of General Sikorski.

Then Rolf Hochhuth wrote a play, Soldaten, Nekrolog auf Genf (1966) which was translated as Soldiers (1967). This implied that Churchill machinated the crash which killed Sikorsky. The motive was supposedly Sikorski playing footsie with Stalin.

When some (though perhaps, as Irving indicates, not all) documents had became available under the 30-years rule, there was renewed interest. At intervals thereafter, the whole thing has undergone review. Sixty years on, Harry de Quetteville wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph which was more specific still:
A British inquiry in 1943 found that the crash was caused by the plane's controls jamming. But rumours persist of a plot to kill Gen Sikorski, whose defence of the Polish national cause threatened to derail Britain's relationship with the Soviet Union.

Now Poland's president, Lech Kaczynski, and his prime minister, Donald Tusk, have demanded that Gen Sikorski's body be exhumed from its tomb in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, the traditional burial place of Polish heroes. "The tragic circumstances of the death of General Sikorski should be explained," said the president.

Moves to exhume Sikorski's body follow a long campaign by Polish historians, who claim that it was not examined properly before burial. They claim that he might have been killed before the crash, in which his daughter also died, and only the pilot survived. In particular, they want an examination of his skull to see whether he was shot.
de Quetteville goes further, taking the heat off Churchill, by joining some disconnected dots:

... the most insistent rumours suggest that his death was ordered by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, incensed by Gen Sikorski's demand for an investigation into the Katyn massacre of Polish officers by Soviet troops.

Stalin's accusers claim that Gen Sikorski's plane was left unguarded on the runway at Gibraltar, and could easily have been sabotaged. They also point out that on the day of the crash, July 4, 1943, a plane carrying the Soviet ambassador Ivan Maisky and a small retinue of Soviet troops parked next to the doomed Polish leader's aircraft.

Allegations of a plot by the Soviet Union, determined not to let Polish nationalism get in the way of communist expansion after the war, have been further fuelled by the presence on Gibraltar of Kim Philby.

The notorious spy was in charge of British intelligence operations in the territory from 1941 to 1944. The crash occurred 20 years before he defected to Russia, but he is thought to have been a double agent from the start of the war.
Katyn again

Today's reports of this crash involving Lech Kaczynski and his party state:
Polish and Russian officials said no-one survived after the plane apparently hit trees as it approached Smolensk airport in thick fog...

The Polish delegation was flying in from Warsaw to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of thousands of Poles by Soviet forces during WWII. (right)
This one appears a tragic accident, compounded by poor weather and a dodgy aircraft. The Tupolev 154 design dates from the 1960s. It is not a lucky aircraft:
There have been 64 serious flight incidents with Tu-154s, including 36 hull-losses with human fatalities.
Even so, it seems not to be inherently a poor machine:
Statistically, the Tu-154 has one of the poorest safety records. However, Tupolev 154's chequered safety record owes more to errors than technical problems. For individuals used to Boeing or Airbus airliners, the cabin of the Tu-154 can seem cramped. The impression is of an oval interior with a lower ceiling than is common on western airliners.
Even so -- and Malcolm has been beaten to the punch-line:
Conspiracy theories in 3...2....1....
Sphere: Related Content
The dreary steeples re-emerge

No, not Churchill's original, apt and imaginative image, long rendered a cliché, please Malcolm!

Fair enough! says he.

Even so, the electoral pact between the DUP and the UUP in Fermanagh-South Tyrone has turned a near forgone conclusion into something far more interesting. Indeed, overnight, this has become one of the most intriguing constituency races in the whole General Election.

It's a weird abortion of a constituency, stretching half-way across Northern Ireland. One end butts up against the Donegal pan-handle, sniffing the Atlantic winds blowing from Bundoran and Ballyshannon. The other end stretches a toe toward Washing Bay on Lough Neagh. In a straight "us'ns" versus "them'uns", it is usually the nationalists who come out top-dogs. Last outing:

Chris Donnelly, as efficient as ever, crunched the numbers, and the implications, for Slugger O'Toole yesterday:

As of the 2005 Westminster election, Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew held 72% of the combined nationalist vote -- some 18,638 votes compared to the SDLP candidate’s 7,230 votes. In that election the combined nationalist vote exceeded that of the combined unionist vote by some 2,933 votes.

On those figures, Gildernew would need to increase her share of the combined nationalist vote to some 89%, ensuring that more than 4,200 of those SDLP voters (or 60% of them) transfer their vote to Gildernew this time around. To put this in context, when Sinn Fein romped home with five of the six MLAs in West Belfast in 2007, it did so having taken 85% of the combined nationalist vote. Gildernew will need to match and exceed that figure if she is to retain the seat for nationalism.

It's worth the trip to the Ark site which Donnelly references there:

Fermanagh-South Tyrone's population in the 2001 census was 91,127 (10th of the 18 constituencies) ...

  • 52.31% described themselves as Catholic (7th of 18 constituencies); 7.63% as Presbyterian (2nd lowest), 23.28% as Church of Ireland (highest in Northern Ireland), 3.95% as Methodist (10th highest) and 4.34% as members of other Christian denominations (14th highest). 8.27% were "no religion or religion not stated" (15th highest).
  • The translation into "Community background" was 55.58% Catholic (7th out of 18), 43.05% Protestants and other Christians (12th highest), 0.26% other religions and philosophies (13th highest) and 1.11% none (13th).
The all-seeing, all-wise Sammy Morse did the ultimate analysis for the 2007 Assembly poll, tracing the recent electoral history of this maverick constituency. Again, essential reading.

Enter and exit, stage right ...

... the Vice-chairman of the NI Tories, one Jeff Peel.

Peel has been doing much of the heavy-lifting for the UCUNF project, with Owen Paterson wafting in-and-out as "Dave" Cameron's celestial messenger to the world of men.

Paterson may resonate with the old "Big House" Unionists:
Paterson, married to the 4th Viscount Ridley's daughter, owns a large country estate in his North Shropshire constituency (he voted strongly against the hunting ban). He is a member of the Cornerstone Group, which published a report describing the NHS as "Stalinist" and calling for it to be replaced.
Perhaps it's the inevitable competition between blond(e)s, but he certainly didn't charm the Lady of the piece, Sylvia Hermon, the only UUP MP in the out-going parliament. She has bolted the pen, and should survive in North Down. Lady Sylvia has taken a couple of key local figures with her, and the UCUNF brand in North Down looks a broken one.

His chemistry seems to have lubricated better at that mysterious Tory/UUP/DUP cabaling at Hatfield House, in January.

Paterson now hails the result:
We recognise that Fermanagh and South Tyrone has characteristics that are unique within the UK. It has been without any democratic representation for the past nine years. It is the one constituency where there is currently an abstentionist MP, where a single cross community candidate could lead to the restoration of democractic representation at Westminster. In recent weeks and months there has been an upsurge of public opinion across Fermanagh and South Tyrone to find such a candidate. Rodney Connor has impeccable cross community credentials and has a first rate record of public service going back many years. He is hugely respected and admired on all sides. We therefore respect the decision of our Ulster Unionist colleague in Fermanagh to stand aside in his favour. We have had no discussions with the DUP on this matter at all. We are pleased by the fact that Rodney Connor has indicated that he will take the Conservative whip and support David Cameron, while always standing up for his constituents. If elected we will welcome him to Westminster.

Trebles all round?

Well, Peel will be spitting in the G'n'Ts:
If anyone was in any doubt as to how low the Conservative Party could stoop in its attempts to secure a seat in Northern Ireland such doubt will have disappeared today. The decision by Owen Paterson to agree to a joint Conservative/UUP/DUP sectarian candidate for Fermanagh South Tyrone shows that Paterson’s stated aims about introducing a new brand of non-sectarian national politics here is a total sham. For me I have reached the end of the road and will now be tendering my resignation from a political Party that has walked away from any sense of decency and honour in its pursuit of power. This is a very sad day for Northern Ireland. If the Conservative Party could stoop this low here it really begs the question whether the Party is fit to govern the United Kingdom.
That's more than toys-out-of-the-pram. Peel knows the score, where the bodies are buried, the details of the stitch-up. He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.

The Chamberlain approach

What is nearly as interesting is the wall of total ignoral that all this receives across the narrow water of the North Channel. There seems to be a total block on any reference at ConHome (and a couple of other fan-sites) — although, of course, that could be defensive measures against the wit and wisdom of one Malcolm Redfellow and his all-penetrating IP-address.

It all comes back to the Tory take on all-things Northern Irish. It's the contemporary faraway country of which they know little.

And this Fermanagh-South Tyrone concordat is unabashed appeasement. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, April 9, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Friday, 9th April, 2010: from Dublin to Armageddon via Norway

Malcolm got engaged in a thread on, which started off by wondering what the Easter 1916 Rising was intended to achieve:
Was the threat of partition a contributory factor that motivated some of the participants in the rebellion and if so was it wrong to oppose partition?
Later in that exchange came Malcolm's small moment of discovery. Flicking pages, a detail jumped out.

For those of a certain age, who cherish the memory of Anneka Rice's bum disappearing down the street, what follows here may be something of a Treasure Hunt.

Arthur Hamilton Norway (1859-1938) was a British Civil Servant in Dublin. He was, to be precise, Assistant Secretary of the General Post Office, responsible for the packet-boats (the "Mail Boats") to Britain. There's something of a family tradition there: Norway ancestors were involved in the packet service out of Falmouth (and one family member featured as a victim in a murder which led to the last public execution in Cornwall). Somehow that little lot involves the Norway Inn, which Malcolm remembers as a good roadside pub between Truro and Falmouth: which welcomed and catered for families with children (and is still going strong).

At Easter 1916, it was Norway's office that became the command post in the GPO for Connolly and Pearse.

Over many years, Norway had churned out books on a whole range of varied topics, but mainly on travel. Highways and Byways in Devon and Cornwall (1904) is based on local travels in a horse-and-trap by Norway and his brother (a country vet), and has a lingering merit and turn-of-the-Victorian charm.

His wife, Mary Louisa (née Gadsden], and he both wrote accounts of Dublin in Easter Week. Hers comprised half a dozen detailed letters she wrote, and was published in 1916 as The Sinn Fein Rebellion As I Saw It. His was Experiences in War. Keith Jeffrey's The Sinn Fein Rebellion as They Saw It (Irish Academic Press, 1999) comprises both (front cover, right).

Malcolm particularly liked Mrs Norway encountering the elderly lady in the Hibernian (where they were all staying) who complained she couldn't sleep: the guns had stopped, and the "silence made her nervous".

Onward, Malcolm!

The Norway's son, Nevil, aged 17, was on Easter holiday from Shrewsbury School. He volunteered as a Red Cross stretcher-bearer, and so saw the events in Sackville Street up close and personal, receiving a commendation for gallantry.

Nevil Norway was rejected by the RFC because of a stammer (!), and joined up as a private in the Suffolks. Fortunately for teen-aged Malcolm's reading development (that awkward transition from Biggles to adult fiction, that was the fag-end of the war, and young Norway got to nearer to the meat-mincer of the Western Front than North Kent.

Our Nev then went to Oxford to study aeronautical engineering. Then, after Oxford, he went to work for De Havilland and learned to fly. He became deputy Chief Engineer under Barnes Wallis, working on airships (it was the Vickers design that actually worked), and was on the R100's return flights to Canada. In his spare-time he followed a family tradition, and wrote stories and novels (his first published in 1926).

In the Second War he was a Lt-Commander in the RNVR, working on secret weapons. This put him in the Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development which quickly became nick-named "The Wheezers and Dodgers". It also put him on the Normandy beaches on D-Day.

After the war he emigrated to Australia, continuing to write books, as Nevil Shute, which sold bushels through the '40s and '50s. Only the arrival of Ian Fleming knocked him off the top of the charts. The best one, for Malcolm, was one of the last: the nuclear-doomsday On the Beach (1957).

So, in a way, that's "four degrees of separation" from James Connolly to Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire. Sphere: Related Content

Mandy Rice-Davis applies: The acronym:
implies that someone is lying to protect their own interests.

During the trial of Stephen Ward (who was charged with living off the immoral earnings of Christine Keeler and Rice-Davies), the prosecuting counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied any involvement with her and Rice-Davies replied, "Well, he would, wouldn't he?"
Not that such ever happens here, at Malcolm Redfellow's World Service! Perish the thought! But the memory of Ms Rice-Davis (right) should be invoked whenever a politico is cornered, caught, and reaches for a gross parody of the truth. As with:
  • Pretty well anything coming under the by-line of Paul Staines (by name and nature) a.k.a. Guido Fawkes: MRDA. In that prime example, it cannot be a coincidence that the acronym come so very close to the classical scholar's expletive of choice: Merda!
  • Those Tory "planned efficiency savings" which aren't going to affect jobs (by the old trick of deferring appointments). Particularly since half of the 40,000 lost jobs seem to come out of places like the Inland Revenue (but equally won't, of course, affect tax raising): MRDA.
  • Chris Grayling (of the great "B&B" issue) is not being kept well out-of-the-limelight, and is a "key" member of the Tory team: MRDA.
  • In the week that one Scottish Tory candidate was forced to resign over financial shenanigans, there will be, says Wee Wully Hague -- anticipating 11 gains north of the border -- a Tory beak-through in Scotland: MRDA.
  • And so, so much more. All MRDA.
One final bit of gratuitous merda

Mandy Rice-Davis remains a legend in her own bed-time for two things:
  • The technicians in at least one television news-studio expected a full drinks-round from any newscaster guilty of the predictable spoonerism: "Randy Mice-Davies".
  • Her bon-mot over the involvement with Lord Astor.
That would be John Jacob Astor, 3rd Viscount Astor of Hever. The present and 4th Viscount Astor is his son, William Waldorf Astor.

No, no! stick with it! It suddenly becomes interesting!

The one thing to be guaranteed among Tories (apart from involvement with unsuitable young females -- Miss Rice-Davis was all of just eighteen when she became an "acquaintance" of 55-year-old Astor) is serial monogamy.

So the present Lord Astor is not only David Cameron's opposition spokesman in the Lords, he is Samantha Cameron's stepfather.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, April 8, 2010


There is a vice named for that early city by the Dead Sea.

And there's this:
The Vatican has again hit back in strong terms at those criticising the Catholic Church over its handling of the sexual abuse of children by priests.

In an interview yesterday a senior Vatican figure, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said criticism of the Holy See over the issue was "truly incomprehensible".
Presumably that surname comes over better in the original Italian.

Or is Malcolm's mind hopelessly warped? Sphere: Related Content
The wrong road, retrodden

Many US news-sites, and a small mess of blog-artists, are fretting over the current phenomenon of the Tea Party movement. Fruit-cakes fully included.

Its insanities were adequately dissected in last week's Doonesbury strips:

There must be some intelligence in that little black wafer, for it transcends mere coincidence that Day Two of the Great British Election Campaign, the bedside iPod's sparrow's fart shuffled up a neat piece of déjà vu:
Oh, we're meetin' at the courthouse at eight o'clock tonight --
You just walk in the door and take the first turn to the right.
Be careful when you get there, we hate to be bereft,
But we're taking down the names of everybody turning left.

Oh, we're the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society,
Here to save our country from a communistic plot.
Join the John Birch Society, help us fill the ranks
To get this movement started we need lots of tools and cranks.
That's from the Chad Mitchell Trio's live album, At the Bitter End, all the way back in March, 1962. It's on YouTube, but as a text-only karaoke version.

The real rib-cracker in that lyric comes just before the final reprise:
Fighting for the right to fight the right fight for the Right.
Which, of course, here, there and anywhere is what really matters.

As always, in any political faction, your opponents are in front of you.

Your political enemies are behind him, marking your back for the sharpened stiletto.

View, if one must, the chain-jerkings of ConHome, and their internecine frotting over the last hemi-demi-semi-quavering of Tory policy on Europe, the less than enthusiastic noises of approval for "Dave", and the constant fear of back-sliding. Any mild dissent marks the accursed troll.

Anything short of a Tory landslide on Election Night (which simply ain't gonna happen) will open the floodgates of recrimination.

A tea-party is the last thing to expect. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Wednesday, 7th April, 2010: a nice new-fangled reptile

When did Malcolm get his first twinges of Bolshiedom?

Well, one starting point may have been (and therefore at Wells-next-the-Sea in very formative years):
In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue ...
... and discovered America.

Except, as Malcolm quickly appreciated, Columbus didn't because:
  • An awful lot of folk had got there before (all those native Americans, Incas, Aztecs, Inuits).
  • Some (St Brendan and Leifr Eiríksson, whoever did the Vinland map for examples) even left something of an account.
  • A large amount of land, and things living on it, had been there all along.
At which point Malcolm re-appraised the meaning of "discovery"

Now, today, we have something of the same:
A new species of giant lizard has been discovered in the Philippines.

The 2m-long reptile is a monitor lizard, the group to which the world's longest and largest lizards belong ...

The giant lizard is actually well known to resident Agta and Ilongot tribespeople living in the forests of northern Luzon Island ...

Yet scientists were unaware of its existence.
So, Varanus bitatawa has been there all the time. The locals knew it was there, and were happily chomping on it for lunch. But it didn't formally exist until somebody:
identified the new species on the basis of its body size, scales, colouration and DNA
and gave it a fancy Latin name.

And that's a "discovery".

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Parental choice

You don't teach for forty years (at least not in the kind of schools Malcolm did) without knowing there are two types of truly-frightening extreme parenthood:
  • the lot who are likely to beat their child for not excessively over-achieving;
  • the lot who are likely to beat the teacher for not exalting mediocrity or worse as something admirably spectacular.
Sadly, too, between those extremes one can find a dithering mass of incompetence and ignorance, often compensating for their feelings of inadequacy by either spoiling or neglecting, when talking and relating would be ample.

It is axiomatic that schools cannot be separated from the prevailing social climate and conditions, much as government statisticians and league-tablers might demand the opposite.

Which is why the arcane art of "turning a school round" has to involve parents in a big, big way.

Thus Malcolm's superficial observations in reading a nice Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post.

Richard Cohen considers the sad story of Phoebe Prince.

New readers start here:
Phoebe Prince was born in Bedford (that's Bedford, England). At the age of two, she was removed with her parents to Fanore, in the County Clare. Last autumn, at the age of fifteen, she started at South Hadley High School, near Springfield, Massachusetts. As the "new girl" she was on the receiving end of consistent, concerted bullying attacks, involving racism, sexual slurs and a full-blown Facebook campaign. On 14th January this year she was walking home: she had a can thrown at her from a passing car. This was the last straw: she hanged herself in her wardrobe. Even then the Facebook campaign continued.

In the aftermath all kinds of other blame was laid: the school authorities had been informed, and did nothing, the school nurse and counsellors had not acted ...

Last week six named students (four still at the school) were indicted as adults on a range of counts, from two charges of rape, through the usual paraphernalia of civil rights accusations, to harassment and stalking. Three more unnamed students were charged as juveniles.
Now we come back to Richard Cohen's powerful opinion piece. He takes us through much of the above, neatly appending it to William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Then he arrives at the key point:
You will notice that in all the finger-pointing -- the students, the teachers, the administrators -- not a digit is aimed at the parents. Their children are accused of hounding a classmate to death and the parents apparently knew nothing. Not only that, they are somehow not expected to know anything. The teachers are supposed to know what's going on. The principal. Maybe even the school nurse. But the parents? No. They're off the hook.
There is no point in fisking Cohen in detail: go and read the original. It is fair and balanced, and asks of all of us a load of questions we may not all want to consider.

Malcolm. though, sees one sentence worth broadcasting loud and widely:
We fail schools but never parents.

As we go into the UK election campaign, we have Mr Gove's well-intended, but totally useless programme for schools.

In its short form it consists of just four paragraphs, just 233 words.

It indites politicians and bureaucrats. It uses numerous abstract concepts: opportunity, social mobility, accountability, prestige, attainment ... It checks world league tables, standards (thrice), the curriculum (twice), exam(s) (twice), as well as violence, truancy, keep(ing) order. Teacher/ teaching profession get four mentions: children just the one (as know the children's names), and pupils just one.

Spot (as Richard Cohen undoubtedly would) the missing word.

And the final irony?

The Tory education programme is appended to the notion of "Broken Britain", which Mr Gove recommends we mend it in part by:
the kind of reforms that have worked so well in countries like the USA.
For the purposes of Gove's thesis, it is necessary to regard South Hedley as ... where? Sphere: Related Content

Monday, April 5, 2010

Of cartoons (eventually)

Last week the Lady in his Life and Malcolm made it to 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields for Sir John Soane's Collection.

This ought to be on the short-list for any visitor to London: get there early to avoid a queue (and it's free, though they solicit a contribution). Being not a visitor, but a permanent London resident, it has taken Malcolm many years to get there.

Since there is a perfectly good detailed description (and excellent panoramic viewer) on line, we can dispense with that little lot.

The absolute stonker is the opportunity to view all eight episodes of Hogarth's The Rake's Progress, then turn around and take in all four of An Election (as at the top of this post, the third pane).

In that same Picture Room there is the odd "Raphael" (though probably not), a Watteau, numerous beautifully-drawn Soane architectural drawings, and a delectable Turner water-colour. And you get them all at one standing.

Of course there is more to come: three Canalettos (Riva degli Schiavoni, The Rialto Bridge from the North and Piazza S. Marco) down the other end of the corridor.

Back to the present day

But it was those Hogarths that came to Malcolm's mind with today's newspapers.

Yes, it is a bit of a stretch from Hogarth to Martin Rowson, but the sheer complexity, the busy-ness of his cartoon for today's Guardian deserves considerable respect:

The more one looks, the more one sees: the altar-boys, the nod to Kurt Westergaard. Was it an effective cartoon? Well, view the Guardian's Comment is Free for evidence.

To round off the morning, The Times had Morten Morland's pertinent dig at Cameron's weekend problems:All-in-all, a visual feast. Sphere: Related Content
Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...
Here's another semi-regular which hasn't had a recent outing, so:
Monday, 5th April, 2010: daffodils and falling standards

This day Malcolm's sum of personal knowledge was increased in two small ways.

1. There is such a thing as the "National Daffodil Collection":
A field of yellow at the National Daffodil Collection at Trevarno, Cornwall (left), heralded the onset of spring as much of the country enjoyed Easter Day sunshine.
Alerted by that Tim
es piece, Malcolm went to the fountain-head for clarification:
The National Daffodil Collection Showgarden at Trevarno now features over 2500 varieties and celebrates a joint venture with Ron Scamp, an internationally renowned daffodil grower, Mark Vandervliet of New Generation Daffodils in Cornwall and Carlos Vanderveek from Breezand in Holland. The collection has been extended to include much of Carlos’s own collection and that of the late Karol Vanderveeks famous collection in Holland.

The Collection at Trevarno is now the greatest available for public viewing and research to be found in the world today. As time and space permits more will be added. Surely a display not to be missed!
-- Ron Scamp?
-- No more cheap sniggering, thank you, Malcolm!

Anyway, Trevorno even has a web-cams (right) so one can watch the Cornish rain falling, the flag of St Piran a-flutter in the background, and the
small birds feeding.

Not a bad bit of serendipity.

2. Denim for brekkers!

Also from the Times (page 13, sidebar) comes more deplorable laxity:
A last bastion of formality has crumbled with news that jeans can now be worn at the Ritz, London's most opulent hotel. However, the rule applies to breakfast only and sticklers for tradition will be reassured to hear that trainers will still not be permitted.
Phew! Malcolm can breathe again.
The old boy's cardiac arrest was imminent for an instant there.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Clown Prince Dave's disunited kingdom

Black moods in the Black North

Malcolm has spent too long snickering about the collapse of the great UCUNF project. The scoresheet for this epic project amounts to a total debacle:
The net result is that, in this moment of DUP weakness, the UUP faces a Westminster whitewash.

Hence Malcolm's persistent, spiteful, gleeful heh-heh (alternating with the sneezing of a foul cold).

A Glasgow kiss

There would seem to be problems, not wholly dissimilar from the South Antrim/North Down fusses, in Glasgow. This from today's Herald:
A leading Scottish Conservative has quit as a general election candidate amid claims that senior party members were like a “nest of vipers”.

Heather MacLeod, who resigned after a “bitter and bloody” feud with fellow Tories, said she felt “complete and utter disgust” with a section of the Scottish Conservatives.

She also accused the Scottish party of failing to match leader David Cameron’s progress and said she had concerns about an allegedly inappropriate relationship between two senior Tories.
There is yet another angle. Mrs MacLeod is under intra-Party attack because:
... some Tories raised questions about Mrs MacLeod’s financial background.

According to Companies House, Mrs MacLeod has been a director of companies that have gone into liquidation.
A Reigate chop

Meanwhile, perhaps stirred by the update from the latest issue of Private Eye, in deepest East Surrey, there is similar discontent:
David Cameron was hit by a Tory race row last night amid claims that up to 100 activists have signed a petition demanding the deselection of one of his leading black candidates.

Party sources say Sam Gyimah, a 33-year-old entrepreneur chosen to fight the safe seat of Surrey East, has faced smears over his business interests.

Allies of Mr Gyimah, a member of Mr Cameron’s ‘A-List’ of preferred candidates, claim the campaign to throw him out is racially motivated.
Tears before bed-time

David Cameron's "nasty Party" seems to be a somewhat "broken society". And that's even before Mr Grayling salts the wounds. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Alex Doonesbury neon-light issue

When Gary Trudeau sent Alex to MIT, at first, like all first-year students at any decent university, she found the going tough.

One week's strip had her feeling homesick. Her night-time consolation was the myriad of neon indicator lights on various appliances and peripherals gleaming back at her.

Nearer home

As he sits at his Mac in Redfellow Hovel, Malcolm has before and around him:
  • the amber/green of the power cord indicator;
  • the two greens on the JBL speakers;
  • the green on the Epson scanner;
  • twin blues on the external hard drives;
  • and occasional lime-green on the Sony DVD-recorder;
  • a red on the surge-protected extension adaptor ...
Across the room:
  • a green on the Airport Extreme;
  • four greens and a flashing amber on the cable modem (Virginmedia can interrupt those in an instant, and too frequently do) ...
Were Malcolm to venture into the sitting-room, there would be neons on the tv, the cable box, the DVD, the sound processor, possibly the magsafe cord of the Lady's Macbook ...

When Malcolm awoke this morning, there was:
  • beside him, the green on the iPod dock;
while, across the room, something different, something Doonesbury:
  • a large blue on the Canon printer (moved into this bedroom in anticipation of the arrival of grand-children)
  • the green on the Airport, assuring that the printer was linked to the wi-fi.
The other side of the bed would be:
  • the digital radio-alarm,
  • a mobile phone charger ...
So, for heaven's sake, let's not venture into the tech-savvy Pert Young Piece's luxury suite, or into the kitchen.

And all that's a quick glance at one typical home, typical of thousands similar in North London alone.

Somewhere along the Trent Valley there is a multi-megawatt power station specifically dedicated to generating the juice for all these neons.

Alex Doonesbury would have a bumper-sticker to protest. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Times for discrimination

Perhaps there should be a small graffito on the News International pay-wall: Mac-users not welcome.

The story so far:

Malcolm finds it convenient to pay for one of the Times subscription schemes: it saves a bit of money.

As part of that subscription, Malcolm finds he is entitled to be a "member" of the Times+ scheme. Over a period of many months, he has found that beneficial just the once: getting a discount to the British Library exhibition on Henry VIII.

The present:

It was inevitable, perhaps as an initial "come-on" later to be chargeable, that subscribers should be invited to access the on-line resources of the Times and Sunday Times (soon to disappear behind the pay-wall).

That led to Malcolm reconsidering the "benefits" of this involvement.

Why! here's one! An invitation to download an audiobook:
This month, you can download Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, the huge bestseller that evocatively imagines the story of the girl behind one of Vermeer’s best loved paintings.

Girl with a Pearl Earring is set in seventeenth century Holland and follows the spirited Griet, a girl sent to work in the house of masterful painter Vermeer, inspiring him to produce one of his most magnificent works.

Times+ members can download their free audiobook of Girl with a Peal [sic] Earring, worth £10.99, by clicking on the download links on the right.
Except a large part of the potential invitees are excluded from that offer.

Go two stages further and find this:
WARNING: You are trying to download content for Microsoft Windows Media Player that requires a license. You must use Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, 7 or 8 and make sure ActiveX is enable [sic] in order to download this file.
  • Malcolm, as frequently rehearsed here, is proudly and loudly a Mac-user.
  • Microsoft suspended development of Internet Explorer back in mid-2003, with version 5.2.3.
  • There is, therefore, no obvious way Malcolm (and other Mac-users) can access this download.
Go to the fountain-head!

Malcolm therefore e-mailed

So far, the only response is an automated one:
Thank you for your email. This has been passed onto the relevant department for their attention. Should your enquiry require an answer you will be contacted within three working days.
Yes, it bloody-well does require an answer.


Response received:
Unfortunately, the audiobooks in the Culture+ Harper Audio promotion are available exclusively on Windows platforms and devices at the moment.

Despite our best endeavours, we have been unable to secure an alternative solution that will provide the quality and value that we would wish to offer. However, we will continue in our endeavours to find an alternative solution that will support more platforms and will if, and when, we secure this we will heavily advert the fact on the site.

We apologise for the inconvenience.
That makes News International involvement with iPad look iffy.

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