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May 31, 2006

Driving issues

One of my brothers in law drives a lot. My son drives a lot and in time past I used to drive big red lorries (as well as other things) a lot. I no longer get much pleasure out of driving, mainly because it is (a) a chore, and (b) there are too many complete morons on the road. In driving big red lorries at sometimes rather high speeds, I managed to always arrive in one piece and to avoid hitting anything on the way. That isn't to say there weren't some very hairy moments - there were - but it did teach me to expect the driver in front to be totally irrational when faced by a mirror full of red grill and flashing lights. That is assuming he could use a mirror and could hear the siren and bell, later three tone klaxon and still later the electronic yelp system.

As an accident investigator at one point in my career, I was always amazed by the number of motorists who claimed they did not hear the appliance as it came up behind them. Invariably you then discovered that they had a radio or hi-fi system turned well up and the windows closed. On one occassion an appliance was hit as it went through an intersection on a GREEN signal, the motorist having run the RED. OK, we did have control of the traffic signals from the Control Room, but they didn't change that fast! This guy's excuse later to the police - after the crew on the damaged appliance had cut him out of the wreck of his GTi - was that he'd seen the light change but thought it would cycle back to green for him as he got to it. Yep, the court thought so to! Or not, the magistrate was not very sympathetic.

What made me think of this? Well, I was recently cut up by a clown on my way to work. Now I would be the first to admit that I drive to the limit and get annoyed by the "10 miles an hour under the speed limit brigade", so I was going steadily at the limit, when this guy sailed past on a blind rise a fair bit over the speed limit (you can tell - if he makes you feel that you've slowed down to park, that is!) and immediately had to brake hard and slew into the gap between me and a small van ahead of me to avoid the oncoming juggernaut. I can now smugly say that I had seen both - again driving emergency vehicles teaches you to observe the traffic three or four vehicles ahead if you can - so I was ready when he slammed on his brakes to avoid tailending the van. He only just made it. A hundred yards on he braked frantically again as he almost missed the turn to where he wanted to go.

Driving around the countryside these days is a real lottery. I don't mind the tractors, I don't mind the occassional harvester, and I quite enjoy the odd steam traction engine belting along at all of twelve miles an hour if he's in a hurry, but I do get annoyed by the assorted Grockles, Grommits and Lookattatters who insist on cruising around at town speeds when you are trying to get to work. These are the people who speed up so you can't pass where the road is safe to do so and slow right down for corners and any bend. They can turn a 45 minute trip into an hour and a half. And they always travel in convoys!

Ah well, at least I get to live around here permanently, they only visit, but I do wish motor manufacturers would try to get the major defect all these motorist's cars have, and which affects every make of car when that type of person buys it, fixed.

Will somebody please sort out the rear view mirrors so they can see the tail they're pulling? Or better yet, create some sort of grapnel so I can hook onto the inevitable tow hitch they always seem to have, and kill my engine so I don't waste fuel grinding down through the gears while I'm stuck behind them!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 30, 2006

Musical musings

It is said that there is very little under the sun that is "new" and some while ago I stumbled across something written by Lynn S who used to write on Reflections in d minor. I would have to say that I am close to agreement with the sentiments she expressed there - now sadly untraceable by me! In a very short post entitled "Artsy Language" Lynn included a link to a site advertsing a band from Estonia which usually performs medieval music and which had experimented with the music of Black Sabbath on medieval instruments and tempos!

Now I would have to say that Black Sabbath is definitely not on my list of musical appreciation, but this was something else. The band was called Robellus and their latest offering was a CD entitled Sabbatum - which I recently ran across in a well known record emporuium. You got it, the music of Black Sabbath a la medieval. And in Latin. You have to hear this to believe it and excerpts could be downloaded at the website for the band. I did so at the time (2004!) but now can't find the track and the link has ceased to function! Sad, because it was both interesting and good!

Personally I liked what I heard and cannot help but reflect on the fact that a great deal of the medieval sound is now being revived with the aid of modern technology, albeit somewhat "creatively" as many of the tunes and manuscripts have not been that well preserved. That said, groups like the Medieval Babes have made quite an impact on the music scene and I am listening to one of their CD's as I write. I guess that though we may not understand the Latin, its a bit like the opera, we don't actually need to understand it, the sound of it conveys the meaning and the passion.

For the music fundi's who stumble across this blog, the sound produced in plainsong chant or this sort of rythmic cadence produced around a simple harmony of voices, is what brings the walls of a place like Tewkesbury Abbey alive. Speak and the voice is lost, chant it at just the right pitch and it carries right around the building. Sir David Wilcox once told a visitor that the "pitch" of the building of King's College Chapel was A Flat. I would suspect that the "pitch" at the Abbey is around "G" below middle "C" as I have noticed that it picks up my voice (and the others who are, like me, Basses) far more readily than those at a higher pitch.

It is in these conditions that you run into another little medieval trick - tempo! Too fast and you hit the echo returning, too slow and you lose the resonance, so you have to pace yourself and your singing to the "interval" of the building - as much as 8 seconds in some! Great fun, but when you get it right - what a sound!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:41 PM | TrackBack

May 29, 2006

Maids of all work

Portsmouth Dockyard fifty years ago would have been solid with Grey Funnel Liners as the RN's ships were sometimes called, usually by insiders. Since then the number of ships and the facilities that have supported them have been progressively reduced. In the period 1947 - 1957 all but one of the battleships were deleted and sent for scrap. The excuse put forward by the Civil Service was that " a single bomb could destroy and entire fleet". The used the same trash argument in 1964 when they deleted the entire aircraft carrier fleet and the last battleship - HMS Vanguard. The real reason for this destruction of the fleet was the need to raise money to balance the treasury books as spending spiralled out of control under the various Labour Governments headed by Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan. The simple solution? Sell off the big ship's for their scrap value - and pay off the matlots that manned them! Instant Treasury saving and windfall. Who needed the Fleet anyway, after all Mr Wilson's great chum Kruschev was going to be the President of the Soviet State of Europe anyway.

Type 23.JPG
A pair of Type 23 Frigates alongside in Portsmouth. Their single automatic gun mountings belie their real fire power, some of which is concealed in the structure aft of the gun mount.

The Navy was saved by the fact that the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Louis Mountbatten, redesignated the three mini-carriers "Through Decked Cruisers" in order to get around the fact that Parliament (Populated as ever by morons and idiots) had endorsed the Civil Service decision that the Navy did not need Aircraft Carriers. That, in itself, arose from the fact that, again to save money, the Civil Service had cancelled the defence contracts to purchase a new generation of carrier aircraft and our Fleet was therefore left with out of date aircraft for the carriers. A further stay of execution came with the Falklands War, a war we should have lost! We had neither the fire power nor the ships for such an expedition and it was largely down to the fact that those we did have were better handled, more aggressively fought and used than those of the other side than the Civil Service's ongoing cuts had provided for.

Under the present government our armed forces have seen even more swinging cuts in manpower, material and support than under any previous regime. Our fleet is reduced to an operational strength on paper of 35 ships - but more than half of those are small craft. The three carriers are reduced to one in service, one "laid up" and one "in maintenance" and a glance around Portsmouth Dockyard tells the same story of the rest of the larger ships. The truth is that under Blair and his anti-military morons, the civil service has been able to get away yet again with the argument that "one modern frigate has more fire power than the entire Grand Fleet at Jutland." Quite apart from the fact that this is complete tosh, the Grand Fleet numbered well over a hundred ships - which took a lot of individual sinkings to destroy. They could also all be deployed individually to anywhere you needed them - and one ship remains one ship. It may have more fire power, but it is still one ship. Unless the moron in the civil service who obviously thinks it can be more than that is aware of a means whereby that single ship can be in at least forty places simultaneously, he/she/it had better stop using that insulting phrase.

Perhaps the government's "openness and honesty" over the mess in the Home Office can be extended to the MoD and we can at last reveal the fact that the MoD is unfit to manage the defence of the realm - primarliy because the senior Civil Servants who now infest it and have no understanding, knowledge or background in the services are incompetent. On the other hand, maybe that would be a step to far for Blair and his Civil Servant appointees.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 28, 2006

All things considered ......

The last few weeks, if not months, have certainly held their challenges. Not the least of these has been the fact that I have been heavily involved in a redevelopment task which is trying to turn a two week and very intensive course into a one week course with lots of "e-learning" to make up the difference. Now e-learnming certainly has a place in the modern scheme of things, but I have certain very strong reservations about what it can actually achieve in terms of higher level conveyance of knowledge and understanding - especially in highly technical subjects and in situations where a huge amount of the current teaching is not out of books or notes, but out of the heads of the teachers - and is developed and conveyed in the interaction between student and teacher. That cannot and will not happen in an e-learning package - simply because there is no way it can be supported 24/7 by online mentors, teachers of advisers. FAQ's have been mooted as a solution to this, but frankly simply cannot answer all the potential questions and cannot fulfill the requirement to discuss and cross check understanding.

Coupled with a "practical" programme that this is supposed to support that is frankly half baked and does not address half the students required learning needs, and I am not very happy about my professional name being attached to this. This is, in fact compounded by the receipt today, of an "offer to retire - voluntarily" and congratulating me on "my successful application to take voluntary release". Don't you just love management speak?

What it boils down to is that I have been given an option, take a "voluntary" package and go a day after my 60th birthday, or refuse the voluntary package and be retired anyway. Unfortunately they can do this - as long as it is done and dusted by the 31st October. Why? Because the law changes on that date and I would become a very expensive asset in their terms - and one they could not get shot of without making me "redundant" and paying out an even bigger lump of cash.

All things considered however, I am glad that I have finally received a date on which I will no longer have to dance to the tune of the politicians and their minions who have sold their souls to the ideology of the moment in return for what passes for job security these days. In one way I am my own worst enemy in this regard since I have never been able to bring myself to sing the political ditty of the day and have twice chosen to stand on professional principle rather than bow to coercion and follow a path I could not professionally subscribe to. In both cases I was proved correct in the longer term - and had to help put things back on the right track and repair the damage. I will not do so again. This time I will walk away, with a pension that does not cover the mortgage, but will also be free to earn an honest living without the frustrations I have endured for the last four and half years. I do not, at this stage, know exactly how this will all turn out, but I am reasonably confident that it will turn out well.

Ironically, those who trashed everything I and others had built to make our training credible and of lasting value to our students, have now had to confess that we were right and they got it wrong. Already there are attempts to rebuild what was lost, but it may already be too late to save the institution that has provided the professional emergency service Prescott and Blair have all but destroyed. It is now, thanks to the Civil Servants who imposed gender and equality quotas, unloaded civilian management (which means we now have a "director" on inflated salaries for almost every two teaching staff) on us who know nothing of the service, care nothing for the service and take orders from Whitehall. This has disconnected us from our "customers" and lead, thanks to the mantra of "shorter and cheaper", led to competition springing up in all directions. I suppose I should not complain - since I am now in receipt of job offers from several of the competitors, all of whom are offering better rates than the place I have given so much too.

Am I bitter? Well, I suppose I must be, after all, you cannot give as much as I have tried to do without feeling very sore when your efforts are trashed, denigrated - or simply credited to that amorphous "Management". No doubt, when it all goes down the tubes and the place finally closes, we will see the Honours List adorrned with the names of the present Management all awarded CBE, KBE or DBE as appropriate for "services to the emergency services".

Small wonder that the Australians long ago dubbed these as "Cunning Bastards Efforts", "Knowing Bastards Efforts" and "Deadly B***h's Efforts". I am sorry to say that too many of the gongs handed out in the last few years have gone to people whose career choice has been to play the politics - and to hell with professional conduct. If you want to know what thirty pieces of silver look like - just check the Honours List for the CBE and above awarded to any Civil Servant or any member of the "modern" emergency services for their efforts in "modernising" the services. Equally sadly, this detracts hugely from the just recognition of those who receive the OBE or MBE for their truly deserving efforts to improve a service or to serve their community.

All things considered, it is probably time I went, a pity that it has to be with such a bitter taste and a feeling of wasted effort. What an epitaph for a career!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:06 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 27, 2006

Last of her kind ....

A strange little survivor from a bygone era is tucked away next to HMS Victory at Portsmouth. This is the 'monitor' gunboat M33, and she has survived because she was converted into a floating workshop in the 1920's and remained in use until quite recently. She is now being slowly restored to her original appearance as a small monitor carrying a pair of six-inch naval guns.

HM Monitor M33A.jpg
Under restoration, a nice bow view of HM Monitor M33 in dry-dock at Portsmouth. Her forward six-inch gun is fitted with a tompion and the curved gunshield betrays the age in which she was built.

A whole batch of these little monitors were built between 1914 and 1919 with M33 being the last to be laid down but not the last to be completed. The gun mounts came from old armoured cruisers which carried single mountings and which had shown themselves no match for more modern ships. As the old ships were scrapped, their guns were given to new ones. For some strange reason all of the Class were known as the M15 Class and carried numbers starting from M15 (very original!) and running to M33. For some reason the first batch was M15 to M28, then they had a hiatus on building more for around eight months, then batch two began and M29 to M33 were all built more or less simultaneously. They performed very useful service in shallow tidal and coastal waters in a number of different theatres, being able to support the army from an enemy's flank or in support of a landing party behind enemy lines.

Interestingly while the majority of these little Monitors were steam propelled, four were fitted with diesel engines, which were unreliable as they aged. By all accounts they gave pretty good service right up to the end of WW2.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:27 PM | TrackBack

May 26, 2006

Changing feet ......

So our wonderful new Home Secretary has tried to be open and honest with Parliament, and now must face an interesting barrage of new questions. Firstly he admitted that the central Department of the Government, the one that handles Nationality, Immigration, Justice, Police, Passports and just about everything to do with the day to day running of the very heart of Government is a shambles, mismanaged, lacking leadership and direction, not "fit for purpose" and incompetentence is endemic. What has he done about it? Nothing, not one of the incompetents in the department has been sacked, not one has been demoted and there certainly don't seem to be any plans to do so either!

They still don't know how many criminals are simply walking out of the Open Prisons they should never have been in in the first place and we still have no idea of how many dangerous illegal immigrant criminals have been released "into the community" and are wandering about unsupervised and under no threat of deportation because their home countries would have no qualms about hanging them or throwing them into a prison and losing the keys - something our Liberal Extremist Legal gravytrain would not countenance! The list of debacles in this one government department grows daily and it makes one wonder just what is happening inside other Ministries that we have not yet discovered! Mind you, we can make an educated guess from the announcement today that the "Company" Blair's minions set up to replace the one they stole from the shareholders, Railtrack, is running uyp a debt for the last financial year of £450 million. But that's alright because this year they plan to make a profit of £20 million - because they are to get a subsidy from the taxpayers of some £900 million to 'help' them turn the company around. I wonder what would have happened if the Rover Car Company had been given the same sort of handout. They didn't, and perhaps it was because Blair realised he couldn't get away with stealing another group of shareholders money.

Then, in the midst of all this disaster for the government, they announce that they have a wonderful plan to restore the link between earnings and pensions - but not until 2012 and then it may not happen because dear old cuddly Gordon has gone and added "if the economy can afford too". In other words;

"don't hold your breathe you stupid old git pensioners, because once you've voted me back into power, you can forget the pensions reform for another five years by which time you're all dead anyway!"

Nothing like a little bit of having to face the emptiness of all the 'spin' to make a politician sweat, and dear old Tone is sweating now. I guess he's feeling the knives hidden in the Toga's around him and wondering who Brutus will turn out to be. Well, he and his entire damned party cannot get their comeuppance soon enough for me! The trouble is, there's almost no hope that the Civil Service will get what it deserves - and that is the real pity!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 25, 2006

Simple or not simple at all?

When everybody tells you about the imminent danger of Global Warming it does not really come as a surprise that this year again May started on a rather high temperature level. We've already experienced temperatures around 25 Centigrades and more this year. In Germany we usually have a spell of cold weather between the May 12 and May 15. The nights can even be frosty. These days are called "Die Eisheiligen" and are named "Pankratius", "Sevatius", "Bonifatius", and "Sophie". Well, this year those days and nights were quite warm - ah, Global Warming, remember? Apparently, it is not as simple as that for we've got the cold days now. One of my colleagues even had to scrape a thin layer of ice from his windscreen this morning.

Anyway, Global Warming is quite an interesting phenomenon. It is supposed to melt the ice in the polar regions, which increases the amount of water in the oceans which in turn decreases the speed of the gulf stream. That means, some areas on our planet will experience lower temperatures in the future. England? Scotland? Probably. Perhaps the ice will just be shifting from the poles towards the equator?

The really frustrating bit about it is that there's no way to actually predicts what is going to happen because our environment is such a complex system. But then we are not even any good at predicting simple things. Take "Langton's Ant" for example, a most intriguing two-dimensional system invented by Chris Langton with a very simple set of rules. A little ant is wandering around on an infinite planar grid. The squares on the grid are either white or black. The square the ant steps on turns its colour from white to black or from black to white accordingly. If it lands on a white square it will take a right turn, if it land on a black square it will turn left.

You, the observer, just sit back and watch the ant scuttle over the grid. After the ant has completed a few thousand steps you suddenly see a sort of simple symmetric pattern emerge - it looks very much like a four-leaf clover. That suddenly disappears and the pattern becomes chaotic. After that comes the biggest surprise: the ant is obviously determined to find a way out and starts repeating a 104 step cycle whereby she builds a "highway" straight out of the mess. And the ant keeps building the highway for ever, never goes back to a chaotic stage again.

I must admit that I was immediately intrigued by the little ant when I stumbled across it a couple of years ago. Although the rules are so very simple there is no way to predict what will happen. One just has to watch what the ant will do. The ant reminds you that even apparently simple things might not be that simple and straightforward after all. I wonder what surprises Global Warming warming will have in store for us. It is probably not a straight case of warming up everything on earth at all.

If you would like to see The Ant for yourself - try a google on "Langton's Ant". There are lots of little computer programmes available on the net for you to download and enjoy.

Posted by Mausi at 08:39 PM | Comments (2)

May 24, 2006

A thought for all the safe society nannies and would be nannies ....

Something to make you think a bit. Especailly all those who are so determined to create a society in which nothing bad can happen because they have made yet another law to prevent it, to take away personal responsibility or circumscribe some everyday activity. I rejoiced recently when I heard that an Approved Code of Practice drawn up by the morons of the HSE in Whitehall had been withdrawn because it was not only totally unworkable, but actually increased the danger if anyone was stupid enough to try and follow it! So think on the following!

TO ALL THE KIDS WHO WERE BORN IN THE 1930's, 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's!!

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us.
They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.

As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.

Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.

No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms..........WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!

Not everyone succeeded at everything and some failed. Those who didn't succeed had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever!

The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned

And YOU are one of them! CONGRATULATIONS!

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good and while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were. And you might want to beat the living daylights out of the next namby-pamby wimp who suggests that something ought to be banned as "too dangerous"!

Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:41 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 23, 2006

Whitehall exposed .....

I know I should not gloat, but I can't help myself, it is almost too good to be true. At long last the incompetence of both the civil servants and the ministers is laid bare for all to see in the disaster zone that is called the "Home Office". For me the simple wonder is that it has taken this long to become public! It has been a standing joke within the civil service for years that the Home Office was so incompetent it would take years for them to even find their own a***s with both hands - so why does it take a string of murders and rapes committed by prisoners who should have been kept in jail literally for life or ejected from the country as soon as they were paroled, to bring it into the open?

It is refreshing to see that a government commissioned report actually accuses Ministers of piling on "unnecessary" legislation which has made the co-ordination and day to day running of the Home Office impossible. I note that they stopped short, apparently, of identifiying the offending legislation, but I suspect that most people would start with the infamous Human Rights Act and continue from there. Who in their right minds except the peculiar class of mentally deficient or perhaps mentally ill advisers that Blair has surrounded himself with, would consider that giving the burglar, mugger and serial murderer the right to sue their victims for injuries sustaned fduring the commission of a crime could possibly be good for justice? It really does take a peculiarly twisted mindset to think that way.

As debacle after debacle is exposed at the Home Office - a senior Civiol Servant admitting cheerfully that he does not have the faintest idea of how many illegal immigrants are in the country followed by the revelation that his own section is employing a large number of them is embarrassing, but then there's more! The prison service (also a HO Section) admits that dangerous prisoners are being sent to "Open" Prisons after a "risk assessment" (no doubt conducted by the said dangerous prisoners friends and relatives!) and are simply dissappearing. Three hundred in one year from a particular prison near where I live! The ludicrous PC demand for the punitive treatment of middle class offenders on comparatively minor misdemeanours while muggers, murderers and rapists are treated leniently is bad enough, but then you also discover that our prisons have an almost revolving door policy whereby a prisoner is released early to make way for a new arrival - frequently reoffending within days!

The report concludes that the Home Office is utterly unable to act in a cohesive or efficient manner - and that is probably an understatement. Prisons are a mess, passports are a mess, immigration is a joke, nationalities division seems to have a nice little number going in the line of sexual favours gets you a nationality registration, the police are in ruins and there has not been a single head roll from among the bombproof incompetents who have created this mess! Much as I would like to say it is all the fault of Blair and his Labour cronies, I can't. The debacle that is Whitehall is a creation of the thinking that subscribes to the view that any idiot with a degree and the training offered by that expensive and luxurious Country Club operated by the Civil Service for the Civil Service and laughingly called the "Civil Service College" can manage any function without any specialist knowledge. In this day and age only someone with fairies at the bottom of the garden and who sees Santa arriving on our rooftops with a sleigh drawn by six reindeer still believes that!

I wonder how much longer we will have to wait to see this bunch of rule making, power broking, paper shufflers get what is due to them for their utter incompetence? Probably far too long! In the meantime they have all but ruined every public service from the mail, through police, fire services, ambulance services, health services and every other service they claim to be "managing". The simple truth is that they are incapable of managing the tea club, never mind the nations assets! And, while we're at it, lets not forget the Treasury, the bunch who, year on year "manage" the economy by demanding arbitrary reductions in budget of X% across the board, then have to find extra cash to fund things late in the year when there is a danger that some vital service will cease to function because of mismanagement and impossible budgeting. Inevitably a cut translateds into job losses, and job losses translate into more social dependency and more demands on the Department of Social Security which measn - ah! More tax and a growth in the Social Security budget! So any "savings" are immediately consumed by the growth in the DSS budget and in the numerous extra civil servants hired to "manage" it.

There is, howver, one item in the news at present which must demand the head of the relevant civil servants on pikes around Whitehall. I refer to the Criminal Records Bureau searches and clearances - another of Blair's draconian measures which still failed to pick up the Soham murderer! This Department has managed to destroy, through their incompetent handling of data, the lives of several thousand people who they have issued "Criminal Records" reports for thus barring them from jobs in a very wide range of fields. Some lost places at university, and some lost jobs. The arrogant SOB who fronts this incompetent troop has refused to apologise and claims that there is no long term harm to any individual from the mistakes. Just shows how much he knows about the system he and his halfwits have set up. Once the CRB has issued a report sayying you have a record, it goes in a register and even if the record is subsequently withdrawn as erroneous, the entry that it was issued remains on the register. Thus any future check brings up the original erroneous record .....

No there is no long term damage. There is only one cure, the Civil Service must be brought to heel, its power curbed and it must be radically downsized and reformed. If necessary the present Civil Service must be sacked in its entirity and replaced by something slim, mean, lean and efficient! We cannot afford to pour good money after bad any longer, the incompetents must be sought out and sacked - and the whole system opened up to scrutiny at every level. This incompetence cannot be tolerated for one moment longer.

As Cromwell is said to have told the House of Commons; "For too long you have brought disgrace upon this house; In the name of God, go!"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:41 PM

May 22, 2006

Politically incorrectness ......

It has been one of those days when you regret actually waking up, never mind getting out of bed. I hate morons, and I especially hate interfering morons. And before anyone argues, in my definition a moron is an otherwise intelligent and possibly even likable person who insists on ignoring the blindingly obvious, gets caught out being where he or she should not be and then tries to argue that it is your fault. When they compound that by demanding that you provide a bunch of paperwork they have no right to ask for - they get nuked.

There is a small part of my workplace that will be glowing quietly for the next several years - but the message has got across - the Monk has taken as much as he is prepared to for the rest of eternity. Pity about the area we will no longer be able to use, but, as it says in the Lord High Executioner's song, "I have a little list, and they surely won't be missed!"

This made me very acutely aware of the parlous state we have got ourselves into in this country by allowing the nannies in Whitehall to take over and decide how, why, when and where we may do anything. Common sense is dead, long live the bureaucrat and the PC adviser! The highlight of the evening has been to find that someone has done that which I wish I'd thought of - written a blog on it! Entitled Polical correctness the awful truth,, the author writes a very well informed and damning piece condemning the manner in which common sense has been subsumed into a wilderness of rules and regulations which make breathing a crime if it is an offence to someone else. Do visit the "Stupidity" pages in which they have listed and explained all the major politically correct debacles or expensive follies for the last couple of years. Priceless - exceept that we have paid for it!

Also worth the effort are visits to all the other sites in his collection of links, the best of which I am going to include below!

Lib Fibs
Campaign against political correctness
The English Rights Campaign

While I do not agree with everything these sites support, I do believe that theirs is a very important voice - one which should be heard and not drowned by the hyserical and strident tones of the PC morons. And, yes, see my definition.

I hereby declare the PC moron hunting season open!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 21, 2006

HMS Warrior - The Black Snake

Another famous sight at the Historic Docks in Portsmouth is the HMS Warrior, the first ship of the Royal Navy that deserves the name 'Battleship'. She was launched in 1860 and joined the Channel Squadron in 1861. Compared to HMS Victory her design is quite revolutionary.

HMS Warrior at Portsmouth

Inspired by the La Gloire a French warship of Napoleon III whose wooden hull was simply clad with iron armour-plating to offer better protection against gun fire the English did things properly and built the whole hull of iron instead of wood. Additionally her guns and machinery were protected by a long 'armoured box' (64.6 m) which was impenetrable, even at close range, by the latest guns at that time. Bow and stern of the ship were not armour-plated but the warrior was divided into watertight compartments to limit the spread of water in case of being holed. Watertight compartments were a great step forward in ship construction but only possible in iron hulls.

In contrast to the former wooden warships HMS Warrior has only one gun deck, equipped with quite a fearsome assortment of guns: 26 x 68 pounders (range 2.5 km), 10 x 110 pounders (range 2.7 miles) and 4 x 40 pounders (range 3 km). The biggest guns on HMS Victory were 32 pounders! Her crew consisted of 705 men.

The Warrior was fitted with a steam engine. But at that time the engine was not fuel efficient enough to make the sails obsolete. Burning 11 tonnes of coal an hour at full speed the Warrior's steaming range was not more than 3500 km, not even enough to let her cross the Atlantic. Therefore great distances were usually covered under sail using steam only to get her in and out of harbour. For this she could telescope down her funnels and the propeller was hoisted clear of the water. Funny enough this had to be down by manpower as the ship lacked powered machinery to perform these task. Just as on the Victory sailors did not exactly have an easy live on the Warrior either

The progress that had been made in ship design over a hundred year becomes evident if you compare a few numbers: The Victory is 69 m long, the Warrior is almost twice that size at 127 m. The beams are almost the same size with 16 and 18 meters. The displacement of the Victory is 3600 tonnes, the Warrior's more than twice as much, namely 9367 tonnes. Under full sail the Victory would reach a top speed of 8 knots compared to 13.75 knots of the Warrior under full sail. Using sail and steam the Warrior would even reach 17.5 knots which must have been quite something at the end of the 19th century.

The Warrior has had (and is probably still having) an interesting life. Being such an awe inspiring fighting machine she never had to fire a shot in anger. Serving in the Navy she entered Portmouth in 1883 and was laid up in a remote corner of Portsmouth Harbour called 'Rotten Row'. In 1929 she became a floating jetty for an oil fuel depot at Milford Haven in Wales. That probably saved her and in 1979 she was towed to Hartlepool for restoration. In June 1987 she arrived back in Portsmouth looking, I should think, as resplendent as on her first day at sea.

Posted by Mausi at 12:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 20, 2006

Colours of the North

One of the things I like most about the North is the light and the colours up there. The air always seems so much clearer in the isles. Of course, with such a sparse population and almost no heavy industry air pollution is not really an item in that area. The colours of the sky and the sea are forever changing and even after a shower everything looks fresh and clear again.

As is quite common in Scandinavia we also found brightly painted houses in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.

Main street of Tobermory

Compared to many cities on the Scottish mainland this little town looks exceptionally cheerful in her bright colours. We decided to have an impromptu picnic there with the town to our left and a view of Tobermory Bay to our right.

Tobermory Bay

Pity, it's always others that win the lottery and would be able to afford living in the isles and glens and having a boat to sail around the islands. I cannot imagine why people would want to live at the Mediterranean Sea in Nice or Cannes - I'd prefer the North any time. A fresh, invigorating breez suits me a lot more than the sizzling heat of the South.

Leaving Tobermory we decided to take a "scenic drive" along the B 8073 around the north eastern part of Mull and then back to the south coast. The views were breathtaking but the road turned out to be quite demanding on the driving skills with lots of hairpin turns, blind summits, adventurous sheep etc. Good fun, really!

Mull is famous for the birds that can be observed and spotted there. We were lucky enough to catch at least a glimpse or two of the most famous ones that day: the sea eagle.

Sea eagles on Mull

If you ever get a chance to visit Mull do it by all means. It is well worth the effort.

Posted by Mausi at 10:07 AM | TrackBack

May 19, 2006

Nuclear future?

It was entirely predictable that, as soon as the PM mentioned the "N" word in his speech the other night, that all the usual fluffy jumper, dodgy science brigade from Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and CND would be out in the media in force howling about "renewable" energy and "energy saving" and how the money could be "better spent" on any number of crack brained schemes they espouse. All the usual claptrap about "massive quantities of radioactive waste" and "potential bombs" have re-emerged, alongside, of course, the plea to completely cover the UK in wind turbines, wave generators and barrage schemes. As usual too, the statistics are trotted out that show that, per head of population, we use more energy than a peasant in Dharfor or the outer reaches of the Australian Outback Aboriginal tribesmen. Which ignores completely that fact that a peasant in Africa probably has less need to heat his home than I do, but he also has far more offspring than I do. Ergo, if you measured it on a like for like basis, the balance would be a bit more even!

Looking at the breakdown of energy sources in the UK, we find that currently 40% is from natural gas, 33% from coal (now THAT really pollutes and certainly kills more people than the nuclear industry has done), 20% nuclear and 3% comes from wind turbines and hydr-electric schemes. The pro-renewable lobby want to achieve a balance by 2020 that sees the wind turbine section replace nuclear - ergo to expand it to 23% of the supply, and to run down the coal portion as well. Given that we are already net purchasers of power from French Nuclear Electrc sources for the South East and that the gas we use is increasingly imported from the Middle East and Russia, the sums simply do not stack up in favour of the woolly-pully arguments for renewables - not without a major reduction in power consumption (not going to happen) or a serious reduction in population (again, not likely) or a return to some sort of 1950's idyll where we used less power, heated our homes with small gas fires in one room only and lived on "organic" food which was locally produced.

Lets get real. Nuclear offers the least problems in terms of environmental impact, carbon emmissions and waste. Yes, the disposal of the waste is a longterm problem, but it is not insurmountable and solutions are being found to a great deal of it. The most radioactive part of it, the fuel rods, can be reprocessed and re-used (renewable fuel) and the actual quantities produced and in use at any one time are very small indeed. It is time that the anti-nuclear lobby stopped trying to frighten people with their exaggerations and their decidely iffy science and started behaving positively and responsibly in the pursuit of solutions. They are rapidly becoming a major part of the problem when they should be a part of the solution. For example, few people will now remember the row over the proposal to sink the redundant Brent Spar oil storage platform in a deep trench under the Atlantic. Greenpeace claimed there was over 50,000 tons of oils still onboard and launched court cases, protests and a political campaign to prevent this process - even claiming there was "radioactive waste" onboard.

In the end, the Spar was broken up on land, causing of the order of ten times the pollution and it was then revealed that there was no more than a hundred tons of oil sludge - oily sediment that settles out of crude oil - in the bottom of the tanks and that the "radioactive waste" was in fact this same mud. Have we had any apology for misleading the public? Or for the health hazard they imposed on those who broke it up, disposed of the contaminated steel or the sludge? Of course not! Neither Greenpeace nor Friends of the Earth would wish to own up to the fact that almost all of their campaigning does not rely on science, it is emotive and it is designed to play on the fears of the ignorant. It is time to put a stop to that, and to act responsibly, something those running these political lobby groups are simply incapable of doing.

I rarely agree with this government, but this is one occassion that I do. Nuclear power is the only truly viable way to reduce the serious emmission problem from power generation and we would be lunatic not to use it. Our next big hurdle is to address the one thing everyone ignores - heat exchange. This is only my guess, but my limited understanding of physics tells me that everytime we heat something, the heat must be absorbed in the atmosphere (and the oceans are really only liquid atmosphere!) and it must therefore impact cumulatively on the overall atmospheric heating. More people, generating more heat, more heat to be dissapated and absorbed - and we have a prime source of heating of the atmosphere.

It really is time to stop squabbling over targets and percentages which have no scientific base and to look at the whole problem, not isolated bits of it! For the moment I am for nuclear power, but I also want to see a proper appraisal of the impact of heat loss from everything we do. Only if we address the whole package and take action on every front can we hope to find a solution that does not create a further problem in the future.

Sadly, I think the anti-nuclear groups are incapable of seeing anything constructively or holistically. We opened Pandora's Box a long, long time ago and nothing we have taken out of it can ever go back into it. We have no choice but to find ways of using the things we have taken out wisely, safely and well for the benefit of every single one of us. It's that or extinction.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:07 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 18, 2006

Competence and management

Yesterdays revelation by the Senior Civil Servant in charge of immigration that neither he, nor anyone else in his Department, has the faintest idea of the numbers of illegal immigrants currently living and working Britain should come as no surprise to anyone. Civil Servants simply do not have the competence to do anything like this, if it isn't in one of their "rule books" or something that requires a form to be filled in with completely meaningless information (like the one for housing benefit which requires an 80 year old woman to complete a section on whether or not she has remarried, taken a new partner or given birth during the past twelve months!). Keep a check on illegal immigrants - definitely not, even if it weren't politically incorrect to do so, the Immigration Department is now staffed almost exclusively by immigrants or ethnic minorities.

The whole farce of the comprehensive mess in the health service, in the police and justice system and in the emergency services - we'll leave the military out of this for the moment, they still manage largely as the military always have, by ignoring the civil servants and scrounging what they need when they need it - can be traced to the fact that, over the last thirty or so years (In the case of the Health Service probably the last fifty!) the filing clerks have gradually worked their way into the positions of control. It has been an assidious movement, and I confess that I may well have been one of the managers who allowed it to happen, sparked by the fact that those of us who have actually done the job and know what the service is and how it is delivered, have left the filing and the paperwork to the clerks - who have now an exclusive hold on the finance and information bank! That is how we find ourselves under the control of people who are, essentially, overpaid, over qualified filing clerks whose idea of management is to hold meetings, set targets and shuffle paper around an office.

Services are falling apart because the "management" do not understand the function they manage, do not appreciate that simply changing the seating in the office and not replacing some annoying technocrat has a cascade effect which impacts on service delivery. I recently discovered that the HSE, supposedly the sepcialist group who know everything about everything to do with safety, have had to withdraw and scrap completely their new Health and Safety Code for nuclear facilities. The reason? It was totally and completely unworkable, had anyone attempted to follow its strictures two things would have resulted, first a great deal of safety maintenance work would have become illegal and secondly, some of the recommended procedures were in the same league as those which resulted in Chernobyl. The reason for this? It was written by "expert" consultants and then converted into Civil Service speak so that it could be "all things to all occassions", that wonderful concept that pervades Whitehall, that everything can be reduced to a set of rules written down and slavishly enforced by the filling in of a million new forms.

Lets face it, if you tie everyone up in filling in endless pointless forms, they won't have time to cause any problems.

Perhaps that is the secret behind the rise and rise of the filing clerk from the backroom to the boardroom. The question now is; how the heck do we shove them all back into their boxes and files and remove their unimaginative and stifling influence from the running of commerce, industry, government and every public service in the land? That will be the next revolution!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:46 AM | TrackBack

May 17, 2006

A little laughter ....

Every now and then a little laughter is a must, and browsing Ozguru's blog is usually a good starting point since Peskie and one or two other members of the family started posting jokes there. The most recent one which has some hidden meanings as well - particularly if you actually look up the hymns listed - is his Hymns for all occssions.

Still on the subject of laughter, Mausi had to go to the Saarland recently and, since she knows I am interested in where things are in relation to other places in Europe, she sent me a map of the route she and her colleagues would be driving. Scrutinising it I noticed that Worms is quite close to the route - in fact it is quite close to several towns I have visited with her and her husband. I have often wondered where it was ever since, as a school boy during a history lesson, the teacher mentioned that one of the major events that shaped the Protestant Reformation was the "Diet of Worms". It was not until the end of the lesson that most of us realised - or she realised and corrected our impression - that she was talking about a sort of conference and not some strange culinary invention to make one holier than thou!

Mausi now says that she will never be able to think of the picturesque little city of Worms again without the image of a whole bunch of Reformers stuffing wriggly things into their mouths ......

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:04 AM | TrackBack

May 16, 2006

Cosmic perspectives ....

A friend sent me a poem that not only made me smile, it also made me think! In a rather funny way, it does rather sum up the amazing fact that we have life of any sort - and it makes you wonder where we are going. As a chemist friend is fond of saying - being born is probably the single most dangerous thing you can do; and it goes downhill from there! I don't know who the author of this little gem is, but its certainly worth sharing and I hope that they appreciate the publicity it may or may not get from here. If anyone can enlighten me I will gladly add an atribution!

Galaxy Song

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.

The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the ‘Milky Way’.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide.

We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go ’round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.

One thing is for sure, when you contemplate the vastness of space and the sheer hostility of most of it towards any form of life at all, the wonder of the creation cannot but strike home. Life is a rare and precious gift, it does sometimes seem a pity to waste it on some human folly. We should celebrate it, and be thankful for it in all seasons and at all times. We are the stuff of the stars, our atoms that make up our molecules, that form our cells, that make our bodies are all the dust from all the stars since the dawn of creation - in short we are all microcosmic universes of swirling atomic particles that, in their present combination, give us shape and form - and that in turn is animated by something we call "life".

As the Book of Common Prayer reminds us: "Dust you are and to dust you shall return. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes." Perhaps that is why we are so fascinated by the stars and by the cosmos, yet, in galactic terms, our lives are mere nano-seconds in length.

Certainly food for thought in there ......

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:48 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 15, 2006

Highlands and Lowlands

Loch Lomond is situated right at the Highland Boundary Fault which marks the border between Highlands and Lowlands in the West of Scotland. The photo below was taken at the south bank of Loch Lomond catching a first glimpse of the Highlands.

Loch Lomond in the morning with a snow capped Ben Lomond at the back

The change in the landscape between Lowlands and Highlands is quite abrupt and reflects their different geological histories. The rather bare looking mountains of the Highlands were carved out of so called Dalradian rock, named after the ancient Scots kingdom Dalradia. These were originally marine sands, muds lime-rich deposits and layers of volcanic ash. Being buried between 15 to 20 km below the earth surfac they were altered by heat and pressure. Increased pressure and temperatures around 600 deg C brought about the formation of new minerals and sands and muds were transformed into hard cleaved rocks such as slates, phyllites and schists. Earth movements in this area known as the Caledonian Orogeny or mountain building event formed the Highland mountains. In much the same way the Himalaya and the Alps have been formed more recently. It is quite fascinating to know that at the time the Highland mountains were formed Scotland lay south of the equator and belonged to Laurentia, a large continent that subsequently fragmented into eastern North America, Greenland and Scotland.

The Lowlands are more like a basin into which thick layers of Devonian and then Carboniferous sedimentary and volcanic rocks were deposited. The glaciers from the last ice age also took part in shaping the landscape.

Loch Lomond is a beautiful area to explore but can be subjected to quite sudden weather changes. Having climbed half way up a hill on the east side of the Loch we were suddenly surprised by a rain cloud.

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The cloud went as swiftly as it had come upon us

Except for the Western Hebrides rain is almost always "just a shower" in Scotland. Having endured a few minutes of refreshing raindrops and a lively breeze the sun was back and with it a breathtaking view of the Loch and Mountains.

View across to the northwest end of the Loch

Posted by Mausi at 08:44 PM | TrackBack

May 14, 2006

Keeping God in?

A somewhat late post on a somewhat busy day, so I will keep to a short thought for the day!

The picture below shows the restored medieval Rood Screen in the church at Avebury, Wiltshire. Originally the common populace were not permitted beyond this screen - it was an all too real barrier between the sacred and the profane. On the one side, the clergy, clerks and perhaps the odd wealthy benefactor - on the other, furthest away from the altar and thus from the "throne" of God in any worship, were the ordinary people.

The magnificent medieval rood screen in Avebury - a barrier between God and the laity in medieval times.

Thankfully the thinking that erected these screens is now a distant memory and we have returned to welcoming all comers, lay and clergy alike into the presence of God. Of course, it is, and always will be, a moot point as to where one can or will encounter God - since it is He who determines the place and any effort on our part to confine Him or His Holy Spirit is doomed to failure. Theses screens are now curiosities, they make some of these beautiful old churches very difficult to use - and they serve as a reminder of just how little we really understand God or His sacred purpose.

Beyond the Rood Screen tucked into an ancient chapel is this beautiful little organ with it's decorated pipes - note too the "collegiate" seating on the right of the picture for the clergy with their backs to the congregation!

Once all our churches were divided by these screens, some still exist in cathedrals, but the vast majority have been destroyed and while we may regret the loss of some of our history in the process, we can only rejoice in the fact that their passing signalled the realisation that God cannot be confined and that it is the whole people of God that makes up a congregation - not just the clergy!

Praise the Lord for that!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:03 PM | TrackBack

Chepstow Castle

Exploring the British Isles you sometimes wonder what people actually did during the 11th and 12th century apart from building castles and cathedrals. Quite a large number of these buildings seem to have been begun around that time and then added on over the centuries. A fine example is Chepstow Castle situated at the river Wye and guarding the Southern entrance into Wales.

Nowadays it is only a ruin but an impressive one. In 1067, a year after the Battle of Hastings, William fitz Osbern, Earl of Hereford, began the earliest defences at Chepstow. The castle is built on a cliff which effectively protects its Northern side. To the East, West, and South fortifications were added over the years. In the end the castle consisted of three Baileys and strong walls and fortifications on the southern side. These southern walls, however, could not withstand heavy cannon fire during the Civil War. In the end the Castle was taken by the Parliamentary troops and granted to Oliver Cromwell.

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Marten's Tower to the left and the impressive fortified Main Gatehouse to the right

Nowadays the castle is entered through the Main Gatehouse which leads into the Lower Bailey. Around the Lower Bailey the living quarters of the last inhabitants of the castle are built. Marten's Tower must have made quite a nice house to live in with spacious rooms, a fascinating little chapel and quite a view from the windows in the upper stories. It is named, though, after the regicide, Henry Marten, who was imprisoned in the tower.

The Lower Bailey is separated from the Middle Bailey by the East Curtain wall which contains two towers. The next photo, which shows the wall between Lower and Middle Bailey, also shows how effective the cliff must have been in defending the castle. Supplies could be easily brought to the castle by boat but entry was impossible from the waterside.

View from the Middle Bailey along the cliff onto the curtain wall between Lower and Middle Bailey

Between the Middle and the Upper Bailey the Great Tower, the oldest building of the castle, is situated.

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Westen wall of the Great Tower

Originally the Great Tower comprised a basement and a single large room above. Part of the Norman arcade of niches can still be seen on the west wall. A second floor and new windows were added by the sons of William Marshal, who gained Chespstow by marriage in 1189, and completed by Roger Bigod, fifth earl of Norfolk, who inherited Chepstow in 1270. The single large room must have been quite a stately one, well befitting the importance of the masters of Chepstow Castle. A closer look at the niches of the western wall even reveals remains of the eleventh century wall painting.

View from the Upper Bailey onto the muddy river Wye at low tide

The view onto the river is spectacular, at least in bright sunshine. Might be quite different in the usual Welsh drizzle, of course. However, the remains of Chepstow Castle are well worth a visit. Standing inside the Bailey and looking at the walls makes you suddenly realise how long they have actually been there: since 1100. That is almost a millennium ago. America wasn't even discovered then and the world must have been altogether a much smaller place. On the other hand – probably not - because travelling from A to B certainly took up a lot more time than it does nowadays.

Posted by Mausi at 03:42 PM | TrackBack

May 13, 2006

Darwin Awards

OK so I have an off the wall sense of humour when it comes to people doing stupid things and getting their comeuppance - I have a few scars of my own from doing things without considering properly what I'm doing so perhaps I have a right to laugh. The Darwin Awards always provide me with some laughter fodder and there is one in recently for a guy who attempted to emulate Benjamin Franklin's experiment with a kite, a key and loads of safety systems - just in case lightning did turn out to be a form of electricity. It did, but, thanks to Mr Franklin's having been prepared for this, he survived to conduct further studies.

Not so the latest candidate for a Darwin. An electrician who, according to his father, should have known better, this chap flew a kite in a thunder storm, but, because he didn't have enough string, used copper wire to extend it ....

He also failed to take Ben Franklin's precautions. The lightning didn't get him, the high tension cables he flew the kite into did. I just hope that the people who have had this guy work on their electrical systems have adequate insurance for electrical faults and failures causing fires. They may need it.

One more, recently carried in all the UK nationals, is the idiot smoker who was put in hospital to have a serious skin problem sorted out. It involved him being coated from head to foot in a paraffin based ointment, which naturally saturated his pyjamas as well. He was told that he could not, under any circumstances, smoke. But he couldn't live without a fag - so he sneaked out onto the fire escape and lit up. He suffered 70% burns to his body, and did not survive. Hopefully, as one of the criteria for a Darwin is to remove oneself from the genepool completely, he has no offspring. If there is such a thing as a "stupid" gene, let us hope it has bred out of his family - or they could all be at risk of a Darwin.....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:00 AM | TrackBack

May 12, 2006


There is a huge row in the area in which I live over the proposal to close several "cottage" and one larger hospitals, move various service currently available at three or four centres all to one and to cut clinical staff in the process. It is all being done to cut £40 million out of the Gloucestershire Primary Care Trusts budget and to "improve efficiency". As usual, the definition of "efficiency" being applied by the bureaucrats making these cuts is "cutting the costs to a minimum" and has nothing whatever to do with improving the delivery of health and medical care. There is huge anger in the county over the fact that all the cuts are being made at the delivery end - no papershuffling, meeting attending, bean counting, form generating and checking "manager" will lose their jobs - only nurses and clinical staff.

It is proposed to close several Accident and Emergency Centres and concentrate these at Gloucester and Cheltenham leaving the Forest of Dean and the further reaches of the County (we might be small but we are an odd shape and rather scattered) faced with the prospect of long journey times to receive emergency treatment. Maternity services are all to be focussed on Gloucester Royal Hospital which is not the most convenient place to get to for anything and given that it will now also have to cope with the closure and movement to that site of pediatrics, mental health and the day care treatment of children with longterm health needs, and you have a recipe for disaster - or at best chaos. Successful and well managed units are being axed here to give the bureaucrats more power and the public less choice and even longer waiting lists.

THis situation really sums up the problem which afflicts not just the NHS but every public service at present. To many bright accountants brandishing MBA's and similar "business" qualifications are now running services and functions they do not have any concept of the actual delivery of and can judge things only on the cost. As has been said many times before, they can tell you the cost of every paper clip, but they have no concept of the value of anything. Thus, in their pursuit of "greater efficiency" they use the rule of Efficiency = Cheaper.

This group of number driven bureaucrats and econocrats have no concept of what it costs at the delivery end in terms of pressure on the ever decreasing numbers of staff qualified or actually in post to deliver any service. They express admiration and "grateful thanks" for the efforts staff put in to provide the service, but they then look at the figures and wonder why "customer" satisfaction is falling, "consumer" confidence has evaporated and complaints keep rising. They wonder why, when they do hold "public consultations" - a euphemism for "we wanted to tell you what you want or can have" - they are invariably surprised at the depth of anger and loathing they get from the public and almost invariably pass the blame for their mismanagement and ignorance to Whitehall. Mind you, the problems do originate in Whitehall, where the same concept of any "administrator" is able to "manage" any function and doesn't need to understand it in order to doso - just "manage" the numbers.

The problem is, of course, that the gap between expectations and delivery is getting wider - precisely because the delivery is being reduced to make the numbers "efficient", and action which does not translate into better services. One of the commentators on the radio phone in I was following this morning as I drove to work, made the point concisely. He pointed out that the senior "managers" in the NHS - and he identified himself as someone in the NHS - earn the same money as the senior consultants, doctors and nurses and this spreads across the board with Diary Secretaries - the ones who manage the Waiting Lists - earning as much as the Nurses (who are so over stretched that they are to be cut in number so that they can be more efficient). The Health Secretary's claim recently that the NHS Waiting Lists are now lower than ever before is just one example of how "efficiency by numbers" works. The Waiting Lists are lower than ever before because no Waiting List is longer than eighteen months. If you haven't had an appointment within eighteen months - you are simply dropped from the list and your Doctor must reapply for you to be placed on a fresh one! A nice little fraud which if tried in commerce or industry would get you a visit from the Fraud Squad!

Every industry, every public service and every part of commerce is increasingly being taken over by the bean counters whose idea of efficiency is not "are we delivering the goods". Their own numbers speak for themselves - the NHS is now populated by about 600,000 medical staff and technicians and about the same number of administrators, managers and bureaucrats. As the latter group grow in power, the cost of delivery escalates astronomically and the deliverers are reduced "to save money". This is happening in several public services including the police, fire and rescue and the ambulance service. It is even being done to the Military where ever Regiment, every Naval Base, every Airbase is now run by civilian "managers" who count the cost of everything and make sure the troops never have the equipment they need. What is forgotten by those who argue that this is more "efficient" and "cost effective" and "frees the specialists to do what they do best" is that, when I have a Doctor running a hospital, in a crisis he or she can get down to A&E and help deliver medicine! No space wasting bureaucrat can ever do that!

Administrators are a necessary evil - but they do not have the knowledge, skills or background to run major services, commercial enterprises or industries - and they should never, under any circumstances, be allowed to "manage" uniformed or medical services. They simply are not capable of being useful in a crisis and they cost far to much for what they are capable of doing. At the end of the day, all you can expect out of an "Administrator" or Non-technical "Manager" is that they can make some tea for the people actually putting their klives on the line in a war, or fighting a fire, or dealing with a riot - or, in the NHS, performing life saving surgery or giving medical attention. They simply cannot be taken out of their cosy offices to fill the gaps they have created in the delivery end and that makes them absolutely useless as managers or supervisors.

It's time to put the technocrats back in control of these services and demote the bureaucrats to the broom cupboards and filing cabinets they do understand. Then, and only then, will we will see an improvement in "efficiency"!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:03 AM | TrackBack

May 11, 2006

The World's Oldest Commissioned Warship

One of the highlights during my recent visit to England and Scotland undoubtedly was a day at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth. Much to the Monk's astonishment Portsmouth greeted us with bright sunshine. Apparently it usually tries its best to live up to the old myth that it is forever raining in England.

One cannot, of course, stroll through the dockyard without having a closer look at the HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson's famous flagship in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. She is a beautiful ship although she was built for one purpose only: destruction.

The HMS Victory in dry dock in Portsmouth

The HMS Victory was designed as a fighting machine. Three decks carried three different sizes of guns: 30 x 32 pounders on the lower deck, 28 x 24 pounders and 30 x long 12 pounders on the upper deck. There were additional smaller guns on the quarter deck and fo'c'sle. Each pair of 32 pounders was operated by a crew of fifteen. Reloading and firing a gun is quite a complicated business, especially if you have to do it on a dark, smoke-filled gun deck. Nelson's seamen were so very well trained that they could reload and fire these heavy guns within 90 s, which gave them a clear advantage over their enemies. Moreover the Victory is said to have been an excellent sailing ship making 8 knots at top speed.

On entering the ship one is astonished how low the ceilings are and instantly starts to wonder what life must have been like on a ship like that. The crew at Trafalgar comprised 821 men. About 500 of them lived on the lower gun deck. As the gun ports were usually kept closed it must have been dark, damp and extremely smelly down there. The men slept in hammocks of 400 mm width. That is so narrow actually that they had to sleep with their heads next to the feet of their neighbours! The stench of unwashed bodies must have been overpowering but probably the human nose just shuts down in situations like this.

Food and drink supplies on the other hand were generous, amounting to something like 5000 calories per day: cold oatmeal porridge for breakfast, salted meat stew cookes in the galley for dinner and biscuits and cheese for dinner. It was a pity that the ship's biscuits were soon invaded by weevils who had to be shaken out by gently tapping the biscuit on the table before eating it. Small wonder most seamen apparently preferred to enjoy their biscuits in darkness ... Drink consisted of half a pint of rum a day mixed with (often salty) water. But getting drunk was a major offence and would be punished. Discipline was very strict on board. I suppose it had to be considering the living conditions on a ship like that.

Still - considering the general living conditions of poorer people in the 18th/19th century the seamen were probably not that badly off. They had a sheltered place to stay, they had work and income, and they had sufficient food each day. That is probably a lot more than a worker in a coal mine had at that time. And they would often sail for years before they had to go into battle. Out of the 821 that went to Trafalgar surprisingly few were actually killed and wounded.

On the other hand I would very easily forego the experience of being a 'powder monkey', boys aged between 8 and 14 years, during battle on board the Victory. You had to feel your way down to the lowest deck where the sacks of powder for the guns were filled. For the three different types of cannons, three differently sized powder bags were stored in three different places so that the risk of mix ups was kept to a minimum. You had to take the powder bags and hurry back to your place through darkness and most probably silence as most of the seamen on the gun decks went deaf after the first salvo was fired. And those on the lower decks weren't even able to see what was coming their way. I know, I'd suffer badly from claustrophobia.

Mind you, on deck things can't have looked much brighter in a battle. Broadsides were usually fired at each other at close quarters, different types of cannon balls were designed to do maximum damage and snipers were aiming at you from the opposing ship. One of those mortally wounded Lord Nelson on October 21, 1805, who died a few hours later.

You certainly wouldn't want to see her coming at you like this ...

After a day around the docks you wonder why so much effort, thought and creativity always seems to go into the building of weapons and war machinery.

Posted by Mausi at 06:00 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 10, 2006

Terror and bullying

The breaking news that Glaxo shareholders are being targetted by a shadowy "Animal Liberation" movement who have acquired their names addresses and shareholding details from the registers at Company House highlights what I consider to be one of the most difficult aspects of living in a supposedly free and democratic society. Particularly one living in the latter stages of "liberal" and humanist political control. The BBC is being very careful - as are the police and the company - to describe the authors of this attack on ordinary shareholders, as "bullying". But ist it bullying, or should it be considered as something far more serious. In my opinion this is terrorism and should be treated as such.

This is one of the dilemas faced in our free society, just where does the freedom to dissent from the mainstream start to become urban terrorism? What is an acceptable form of protest and what is not? Does the sort of rioting that France has recently seen consititute an assault on the liberty and freedom of the majority or should it be seen as a legitimate expression of anger against a legislature that is attempting to address a ludicrous situation put in place by well meaning but frankly impractical left wingers who have created a monstrous state machine and legislative mountain which is seriously damaging France's economic growth? Recent images of the streets of Paris may well be alarmist and overstating the real position, but they do give an indication of a worrying expansion of the lack of suitable jobs and housing for the growing numbers of school leavers and emigrants.

Here at home we see the continuing rise of the BNP and, like them or loathe them, they are cashing in on a response to what many people see as a breakdown of our values, a loss of opportunities for British youngsters and a growing flood of immigrants who may or may not bring with them skills the country lacks. But, it is fair to ask, if we lack these skills why do we continue to pay workers to be idle and to remain unskilled in these when there are jobs that are available to them - if they have the skill or can reskill? Again, we have to ask, why do we fund the idle protester lobby who barracade harbours and ferries because they disagree with live animal shipments? Why do we continue to pay housing benefit to those who turn their houses and flats into bomb factories or who use the handouts to buy equipment with which to spread terror and fear - whether for animal rights or for any other perceived "right" they feel they should be handed?

Part of the problem here is the politically correct lobby who have for years hero worshipped the likes of Che Guevarra, Pol Pot and anyone else who took up arms against the great Military/Industrial Capitalist regimes who have created the generous welfare states they live in. It is the fine distinction between "freedom fighter" and "terrorist" that these idiots insist on making that creates the problem - and of course, the voters who support the present government are frequently made up of a large number of the very same freeloading urban terrorists who embark on the sort of campaign the Glaxo shareholders are currently facing. It is time to stop playing games with these people, their actions are straightforward terrorism and must be treated as such. The police must throw as many resources at this as they have done against the Islamic terror cells active in this country and treat them the same way.

This is not legitimate protest, this is terrorism - and let us hope the new Home Secretary deals with it swiftly and firmly. I won't be holding my breathe though, he is, after all, the same man who thinks the IRA are men of peace fighting to save their religion and freedom from Unionist (and therefore not Labour!) occuppiers of Northern Ireland.

Oh, and most of the Labour Party are secretly in on this activity anyway - middle class shareholders? Capitalist filth in the eyes of Mr Blair and his Class Warriors.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:05 PM | TrackBack

May 09, 2006

Late entry!

Today has been rather busy and very disjointed so neither Mausi nor the Monk could get time out to do anything about posting any sort of meaningful ramble. So, in a desperate and no doubt crude attempt to keep a daily posting going the Monk offers this picture taken en route to Loch Ness.

Another of Scotland's iconic Castles - Eileen Donan on Loch Alsh.

Good night.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:23 PM | TrackBack

May 08, 2006

Monday mayhem?

Having a long break from the usual daily bind is both a good thing and a bad one. It's bad because you return to work to find that a skip and a power digger are necessary to rediscover your desk, your coffee mug is growing interesting fungii and there may well be dragons lurking in some of the under explored areas of your office. Its good because that initial feeling of euphoria keeps you in a bouyant mood even though the rest of your body is saying "Dontwannabehere!" and drumming its heels!

When you work in the public sector the other piece of fun is the constant changes of direction, such as having replaced a failed wine steward as head of the department with a kindergarten teacher to oversee the failed fire fighter who at least knew what one of those big red lorries we use actually does who was the minister responsible - they changed the departmental name and then replaced the fire fighter type with a feminist who has never even seen a big red lorry so that she can run what's left of the fire service completely into the ground and turn it into yet another feminised non-service. My colleagues are all speculating today what future (if any) we have left here, and how much this latest change of name which will no doubt require new letterheads, new compliments slips, new memo pads and new website and probably a "re-launch" to get across to the paying public that we have a "new" face and a"new" mission, will cost Joe Taxpayer. Probably a billion squid or so, but hey, who cares, its all in the interests of that nice, Mr Squeaky Clean Blair staying in power so it has to be worth it.

As for good old "Two Jags" he's very much now also "No Job but still got Two Stately Homes at the Taxpayers Expense" so he's laughing. Are you?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:03 PM | TrackBack

May 07, 2006

Sunday ramblings ......

Coming to the end of a glorious four weeks holiday, actually last years leave allocation, I face returning to work tomorrow with the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I know that my desk will be piled high with work that has simply been left for me to address when I return. The end of the holiday has also meant that the flat feels empty as Mausi has returned to her lovely home in the Taunus Mountains and I no longer have the fun of her company to liven up my day. That said, we have had a great four weeks exploring Scotland, South and West England and even a bit of Wales. It has been tremendous to have time out of all my other jobs and duties like this, and I am grateful to the Lord for giving me the joy of friends who mean so much to me.

Of course, while all this has been in progress there has been a major upheaval in the political scene, one I have studiously ignored since it only makes me angry and I have had no desire to get annoyed - Monday will be time enough for that! But it has made me consider the wisdom of several books I have been reading as I go through the process of selection for possible ordination.

One of the books, written by the present Bishop of Durham, reminded me of the fact that Jesus came into a world riven by political agendas and died because of them. His sacrifice at the hands of the Sanhedrin was made inevitable by His confronting their agenda which had little to do with their disapproval of His claims to Messiahship and everything to do with the agenda of power - and their remaining in control of it! Other books reminded me that the quest for political power is certainly not a modern invention, the Bible tells, in the prophets, the story of conflict between the way of God and the way of political power - materialism, power mongering, "deals with the Devil" are all symptoms of people who have turned away from the path God has set and His laws, to impose their own, all designed to ensure that they obtain the wealth and hold the power.

But, as Mr Blair is discovering, power corrupts very swiftly, and human sentiment is fickle. He swept to power in 1997 behind the image of a shining knight on a white charger who was going to make Britain a fairer and politically correct place to live, and now he is so covered in ordure that the stench of the corruption of his administration makes the Sanhedrin look good. Human nature is so easily led astray, so easily corrupted by holding power for too long, just as was the case among the various courts in Biblical times among the Israeli and Judaic nobility in antiquity. It was their corruption which led to the division of the Kingdom built by David and Solomon and ultimately to its disappearance as they courted power for themselves. It was this that the prophest railed against so loudly.

But equally striking in my reading was the fact that the ordinary people were, as ever, caught between their "leaders" and the harsh realities of life. I was again reminded that the exile invloved not, as one would think, the removal of the entire population of Israel and Judah, but of its nobility. The Babylonians weren't stupid, you needed to leave the peasants in place to continue working the land and plying the ir crafts in order to keep the tax coffers filled. One does wonder what the populace thought of the change - probably not a lot in the end since one bunch of "masters" was probably much the same as another in the end. As the Margrave of Brandenburg is famously on record as saying; "Es ist ein untertanen untersacht ..." (It is an underlying principle that.. ) and he went on to say that the general populace had nothing to say on any great matter that counted for anything, a principle held by those in power since the invention of politics and still practiced today even by those supossedly elected to office anywhere!

Jesus came, not to replace that corrupt power mongering earthly system with a new one for us to manipulate and corrupt, but with an incorruptible kingdom, one based entirely on a renewal of life and a purification of our nature. It is that which we celebrate in this season of Easter and in our daily worship.

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:20 AM | TrackBack

May 06, 2006

Skye scenes

After arriving in Skye in gales and driving rain, the next morning dawned clear and beautiful. So, after a sumptious breakfast, we set out around Trotternish, the Northern Peninsula of the island. This is the wild and scenic bit with steep mountains and hills, deep glens and sheer cliffs with spectacular waterfalls. First stop was the Old Man of Storr, which Mausi climbed far enough to get a decent picture! The Monk stayed in the car park and admired the view! Climbing mountains "because they are there" is not his scene, he only climbs them when its essential!

The spectacular Old Man of Storr pinnacles. Mausi met some exhausted Japanese tourists who had exhausted the ability to exchange greetings after climbing all the way up and back down again to their waiting coach!

Next stop was a spectacular waterfall which is difficult to photograph, but which tumbles down a sheer cliff beneath the road, then falls through a narrow gorge a further couple of hundred feet to discharge into the sea. From there we continued on round the coast to the bassalt cliffs known as "Kilt Rock", the basalt pillars creating the appearance of folds in a kilt while the limes tone and sandstone interlayers create the "tartan" pattern.

Kilt Rock, a basalt cliff with intruding layers of other rocks.

From there we continued to the remains of Duntulm Castle, once the stronghold of the MacDonalds. The castle stands on a spectacular peninsula and is approachable only from one side. Below, in a shallow bay protected by outlying islands are the remaining traces of the drawslips where once the MacDonald galleys would have been drawn ashore. The castle itself is now a crumbling ruin, much of it dangerous and most of its stone robbed out to build a more imposing and more comfortable house for the family in the 16th Century. The family were eventually eclipsed as the dominant leaders on this island by the MacLeod's whose castle at Dunvegan lies in Vaternish to the West.

The crumbling remains of Duntulm Castle perched on its promontory.

Duntulm provided a good spot for a good walk and a light lunch, while we enjoyed the breeze off the sea, the sound of the sea and the birds. From there we went on to see the grave of Flora MacDonald, she of Bonny Prince Charlie fame (Ironically she and her husband ended up working for the MacLeod of Dunvegan Castle - a supporter of George I and his successors!) and then it was short drive to Uig, where again we took advantage of a good vantage point on the road that rises up the cliff face to sit and watch a ferry arrive, discharge, load and depart again for the Western Isles. This brought us to a cross roads which gave us the option of returning to Portree or driving on around the Vaternish peninsula and seeing Dunvegan Castle - no prize for guessing which was our choice.

Dunvegan Castle from the Lochside.

Dunvegan's gardens were just starting to get their spring foliage, but were still peaceful and well worth the visit. In full bloom, these must be spectacular, but the varieties of plants will mean that there will be ongoing beauty throughout rather than one "explosion" of bloom. The Castle itself is a fascinating place and very well worth the visit. It is obviously a home as well as a place of interest and the guides go out of their way to make you welcome. Anyone visiting Skye really does need to put this one on their list of places to see.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:08 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 05, 2006

This 'n that.....

OK, OK, so I'm soft on ships. Any ship, all ships, especially beautiful ships ..... But I couldn't resist taking and sharing this picture which shows the Iolaire of Iona, the lovely little ship that took us from Iona to Staffa. She has twin Perkins engines and screws and triple rudders which help to make her particularly nimble and manoeuverable. As you can see from the picture the landing stage at Staffa demands both skill and manoeuverability - or there would be something of a nasty accident sooner rather than later!

The lovely Iolaire of Iona alongside the landstage on Staffa. In evidence are the outlying reef and outcrop out of sight to the right of the cliff is the basalt outcrop which funnels any running sea straight onto the landing stage.

Travelling North to Skye brought me some more ship and boat pictures including one at Mallaig and several more at Portree. In Mallaig I was able to capture (between the rain and the spray!) a shot of a small and very sturdy looking little ship perched on the quay under maintenance. Named Pibroch she made a pretty little picture, as did a larger version moored in the harbour and evidently converted from a fishing vessel to a motor cruiser.

Pibroch perched on the quayside at Mallaig.

Despite the hairy drive on Skye, Portree provided a beautiful shot the next day, of the tranquil harbour - but more of that tomorrow. For now - my impression of the journey from Armadale to Portree .......

Flying sheep on Skye

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:48 AM | TrackBack

May 04, 2006

I came down from the Isle o' Skye ....

As the song says, "let the wind blow low, let the wind blow high ..." We left Mull with a fairly strong wind kicking up a small "chop" in the Sound of Mull, the channel between Mull and the mainland, on a ferry which runs from Fishnish to Lochaline. Then we took a very scenic route North and West on a single track "A" Road round Loch Sunart and following the A861 up the West coast to Mallaig where another ferry could be taken to Skye.

The small ferry that runs between the quanitly named Fishnish and the mainland town of Lochaline, seen approaching the Fishnish end of the run.

By the time we reached Mallaig, the weather had turned quite nasty - the rain driving at you with intent to wet, and the wind aiding and abetting in no uncertain terms. The sea in the Sound of Sleat was decidedly mobile, great lumps of water moving fairly swiftly, a real contrast to all our previous ferry trips and the boat ride to Staffa. That said, the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale is more than capable of dealing with the seas in this Sound and although a little lumpy, the trip was accomplished fairly smoothly.

Now it must be said that Skye can be one of two sorts of place. Beautifully tranquil and heavenly, or wet and windy as the other place! The drive from Armadale up the again single track A Road to Harrapool and thence to Portree was accomplished in really spectacular rain and wind. The windscreen wipers coped with the rain, the driver was a little less sure about coping with the sheep being blown off the hillsides and across the roads! That said we arrived safely, found, through the Tourist Information Office, a comfortable B&B and then set about exploring for a place to eat.

Portree was full of film crew on that day, something being made which stars Robert de Niro apparently, and all the hotels were fully booked as were most of the B&B's with a view of the more scenic parts of town, but we did manage to find a restuarant with superb food and a view out over the harbour. We can definitely commend to anyone who is planning to visit Skye a trip down onto the main quay in the tiny harbour, walk down to the end of the quay and just past a pink painted B&B you will find a small restaurant. Staff and food are great!

Islands can be very interesting from a weather point of view - we went to bed with wind and rain shaking the trees and lashing the streets - and woke to bright sunlight and gentle breeze the next day!

More tomorrow!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:21 AM | TrackBack

May 03, 2006

Guest Post

The only entrant to my little competition earlier - the mystery photo - came from Slimjim, so he duly gets his prize, a Guest Post on this blog.

Whilst Rome is Burning

Well, the meltdown of New Labour is continuing, despite the best efforts of the Downing Street press machine. We are witnessing the outcome of the lies of the New Labour Project, as the chickens are coming home to roost.

Just exactly what have this sorry bunch of criminals and political chancers achieved over the last 9 years? Despite what we are spoon-fed, the record is not particularly good, is it? If we could highlight what encapsulates New Labour and their achievements, what would our list look like?

• Lies
• Deception
• Higher taxes
• Increased public spending
• Decrease in manufacturing base
• Restrictions on freedom
• Massive increase in legislation
• Massive rise in immigration
• Very little environmental improvements
• An illegal war based on lies
• Downgrading of traditional family & Christian values
• Promotion of homosexuality and other minority causes
• Explosion of political correctness

I could go on, but I think you must be getting the picture by now! Am I being too negative? In the interests of fairness and balance, let’s look at their positive achievements:

• Healthy economy (for now, but wait and see what happens if Brown keeps on increasing his spending & borrowing)
• Low inflation
• Low interest rates (N.B. the last 2 are more to do with the Bank of England than no. 11)
• Better pensions (for MPs!)
• Best year for the NHS (OK, I’m really taking the mickey now…)

Oops, I seem to have run out of ideas! Please feel free to add to the list if you can…

So where does this leave us? What exactly will Blair’s legacy mean to most of us? Well, as I see it, our democracy and Parliamentary processes and procedures have been hijacked by an oligarchy of self-serving professional politicians, failed lawyers and trades unionists. Their raison d’etre was to gain power and retain it whatever the cost. The end justifies the means. But forgive me for asking - what is the end? This schizophrenic regime is unsure whether it is socialist or capitalist. It wants to be both. It also wants to fool all the people all of the time. It certainly seems to pressing ahead with redistribution of wealth, whilst entirely neglecting to ensure that we are producing wealth too! The third way?

The only difference between the current UK set-up and a Third World dictatorship is that we are allowed the dubious privilege of electing our dictator! I have no doubt in my mind, as I am sure you have too, that we need urgent and drastic changes to safeguard democracy in our country. Who will deliver that change? That’s the big problem we face. Turkeys wouldn’t vote for Christmas, so who is going to make the difference? Why, it’s you, dear voter. You have the power to make a difference. Not voting is not going to make things better, unless we all put ‘none of the above’ on our ballot papers. Making us vote compulsorily isn’t the way to go either. Have you noticed how lazy this government is? It doesn’t feel the need to educate, persuade and inform us of the errors of our ways. It’s much easier to pass laws and criminalise us in the process.

Finally, back to the title of this post. Whilst Bliar is fiddling, why exactly are we in this mess? I believe that this is due to 3 main reasons:

1. Power is concentrated too much at the centre of government, thus making it harder to be accountable democratically;
2. This is the most mendacious administration in British history, and liars always get found out in the end!
3. Policy is based mainly on political ideology, rather than the public interest.

Due to the above, we have witnessed an absolute erosion in trust and credibility of the executive. Essentially, this rotten government has been found out, and is no longer fit to govern.

I would like to thank the Monk for giving me this opportunity to communicate and to you for taking the time to read this. Thank you.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:09 AM | Comments (3)

May 02, 2006

Puffins and geology

The island of Staffa, North of Iona and West of the Isle of Mull, is a geological gem. The island is composed of layers of volcanic ash and huge basalt columns. These columns formed millions of years ago when hot flowing basalt lava flowed over a layer of ash (several hundred feet thick in places) and then was suddenly cooled by immersion. This causes the basalt to form into hexagonal, sexagonal and even octagonal "pillars".

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An islet at the Southern coast of Staffa built of *gonal-shaped basalt pillars

Those on Staffa are matched by the Giants Causeway in Antrim, 70 miles away on the coast of Ireland. Legend links the two places as Staffa is the site of Finghal's Cave and in Irish folk legends, the islands of Western Scotland are boulders thrown by the Irish giant Finn M'Couhl in a battle with an enemy on the Scottish side.

The spectacular basalt pillars which form the island of Staffa, with Finghal's cave opening to the right.

We were fortunate to have a flat calm sea and almost no breeze for our trip to Staffa from Fionnphort, as it allowed us to enjoy the spectular views of the variety of sea birds, the clear seas and the surrounding islands - the Isles of Treshnish. Climbing the cliffs and certainly clambering along the ledge into Finghal's Cave is not recommended in rough weather since the landing stage at the island is approached between a huge basalt pillar pile and two submerged ledges. The sea breaks through the gap between Staffa and the outlying basalt islet with some force according to our skipper and I can well believe him.

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Puffins - straight out of Enid Blyton's famous "The Sea of Adventure"

The climb up the cliff face is well worth the effort as is the trek to the other end of the island. The Puffins had arrived only a few weeks earlier - they spend the winter in mid-Atlantic - and rather like having people visit as this drives away the guillemots, Herring Gulls and other birds that rob them and their underground nests. As the pictures show, they waddled quite close to us and the other members of the party. Funny little fellows, there is apparently little distinction between male and female that humans can spot - so presumably the Puffins know and can tell easily enough! They make a strange groaning and grumbling noise as they congregate and this goes on all the time. In flight they are quite graceful, with wings designed for skimming and swimming. They have been recorded diving to almost 60 metres, but more usually swim down to between 20 and 30 meters to catch sand eels.

Departing Staffa after an hour on the island, our skipper announced that, as several elderly members of the party had not seen the Puffins close too, nor been able to get to Finghal's Cave, he would make a small detour. He did, we got a close view of a raft of Puffins swimming and diving and then, in a feat of seamanship that was thoroughly professional and displayed his skill, took the 70 foot launch into the mouth of Finghal's Cave, stopped engines and drifted gently part way into the interior.


A thoroughly memorable and truly worthwhile trip!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:30 AM | TrackBack

May 01, 2006

The light shines in the darkness.....

In this case the reflected light, but the picture neatly sums up the meaning of the passage from St John;

"the lights shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not."

The simple cross reflecting the light through the doorway of the tiny Church in the graveyard of the Abbey on Iona.

For many this simple image of the light and dark, sums up the entire sweep of their faith, as indeed it does for me. If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, and therefore the light of the world, seeing Him in the simplicity and beauty of a setting like this does touch the soul. We left Iona with the feeling that the ancient Celtic Church blessing:

May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine always on your face,
May the road rise up to meet your feet,
May the rain fall always on your fields, and
Until we meet again,
May the Lord hold you safe in the palm of His hand.

had been bestowed on us. May His blessing be always with you.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:18 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack