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December 31, 2006

Good bye 2006!

Well, we have survived another year. And what a year it has been, both personally and on the world stage. On a personal level I have had the interesting experience of retiring, only to find that the days were suddenly filled with more work than I really want! Still it pays the bills, so I had better learn to cope with it. My first novel has been published - albeit through a self-publishing house (Best price for it is still through AuthorHouse UK or AuthorHouse US) - and the second is well down the line of being written, with a more mainstream publisher actually expressing interest. While I doubt this will ever make me into a zillionaire (I should be so lucky!), I do find it is great fun and very relaxing as I try to find believable ways to get my heroes into the situations that make the story.

On a world front the picture is much less rosy I fear, especially with the news that Saddam has been despatched from this life on the end of a short rope. I have no doubt that this will be seen by all the Civil Liberties mob as "Iraq kowtowing to the wishes of the evil US" and by all the Islamic Fundamentalist mob as "Iraq kowtowing to the wishes of the evil US". More bombing and murder will now follow. All in all a year in which the world seems to have lurched closer than ever towards a major confrontation and I have to say that I expect it will happen one of these days, probably triggered by some fundamentalist somewhere who thinks it would be a good idea to obliterate someone he doesn't approve of. I won't take any bets on who, where or when, but the clash of cultures and the present lack of any direction in the West is likely to create the ideal opportunity for some lunatic group.

On a personal note again, the highlights have included my trip to the West of Scotland with Mausi earlier this year, and the various contacts I have had with friends, family and colleagues around the world. June saw a trip to Cincinatti for a Conference which was a huge success. It also provided the opportunity to meet the parents and grandparents of a student I had the privilege of hosting at the college I worked for. Miles seems to have made good use of his time and to have begun to use his skills in a very beneficial way. His family too, made me very welcome and were easily the best example of real American people I have yet met - good solid folks with a great appreciation of the world around them. I also had the chance to visit Belgrade for the first time and to meet and make a range of new friends there. What a fascinating history Eastern Europe and the Balkans share - and what a lot we, in the Western parts need to learn about it if we are to work effectively together in the future.

Well, tonight we say good bye to 2006 and hello to 2007. Let us hope that it brings with it a better set of prospects than we have faced in 2006 and a better and more stable world by its end.

Happy New Year to you all!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:09 PM | TrackBack

December 30, 2006

Die Zauberflöte

And the title is about as far as the Monk dares to go without Mausi's advice on the grammar! Last night we visited the Opera, and, yes, it was the Magic Flute. And yes, it was in German and not English. That said it was a very good production indeed, Papagino and Papagena were top notch and Tamino and Pamina likewise, although Papagino did have the better presence on stage.

The scenery and setting of the opera was interesting, but the overall impression was terrific. The casting of Zarastra, the King of the Night, and his priests was interesting as were their costumes - white robes rather reminiscent of the robes of the Reformation period Theologians - representing the "Eskimos" around whom the story rotates, and some of the scene shifting was done by young boys and girls who are apparently drawn from theatre school in Wiesbaden and Mainz. Three boys who played an important linking role with the star crossed and bewitched lovers (both pairs!) sang beautifully and did their parts extremely well. They were drawn from the Mainz Dom Cathedral choir - a major change of role from their norm, but one they obviously enjoyed immensely!

Probably leaving the best to last, the Queen of the Night, a diminutive Asian lady, sang her part fantastically. She was, as you would expect ably supported by the "savage" slaves - well out of place in the Arctic in grass skirts and Tropical style dress - and her Hand Maidens. Again, the costumes were amazingly exotic, yet fitted well with this Baroque romp.

The Staats Theater, Wiesbaden, is a small and classic opera house, with semi-circular galleries and boxes above the main tiered floor. Internal decoration is best described as a riot of neo-Baroque, the theater having been built under the patronage of Kaiser Wilhelm II in the 1890's. The Grand Foyer boasts the Muses, the Graces, dozens of Cherubs and gilding all drawn together above the grand staircase by the Imperial Eagle.

All in all, a fun evening, at a fun show and in great company. Who cares I only understood about a third of the dialogue - I have a fair idea of the story and its the music that really counts!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:44 PM | TrackBack

December 29, 2006

A lesson in European History

Spent a fascinating day yesterday in the company of Mausi and her husband, exploring the city of Frankfurt am Main. I certainly had not realized that this city was, for several centuries, the Imperial heart of the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor, or Kaiser, being elected here in the Chapel of the Electors which is situated alongside the Dom Cathedral in the ancient heart of the city. It was here too that the Kaisers were crowned in an acient ritual whose nearest parallel is the making and enthronement of an Archbishop.

The Carolingian Emperors came to an end in 1806 and the city became a "Free City" briefly, but saw a revival of its fortunes briefly during 1848-49 when a special parliament was held here to try to create a constitution based on universal suffrage. The Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, however, had other plans, and the city saw the rise of the Hohernzollern family to the the status of Emperors in the Second Reich, which, even at its height could not match the extent of that founded by Charlemagne or Karl der Große as he is titled here.

A fascinating document preserved in the museum here - the "Golden Bull" of Charles IV (Karl IV) which is, in effect, a pact between the Kaiser and the individual states he is overlord too. It sets out the manner in which the Kaiser is to be elected and the procedure for his annointing, crowning and enthronement and a great deal on what he may impose and what he may not impose upon his "vassals" who are, in fact, also his electorate!

Amazing how little we know about the history of so much that is right on the doorstep. If only the Iron Chancellor's plans and those of the Paulkirche parliament had been able to combine, I rather think the history of much of the twentieth century would have been a very different story. But that, as they asy, is history!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:07 AM | TrackBack

December 28, 2006

Absence of entries?

As we have a long day planned for today - a visit to Frankfurt am Main to explore the Imperial past - there is not time to write anything meaningful for today. My apologies, but I promise to catch up tomorrow.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:21 AM | TrackBack

December 27, 2006

An Italian view on the nativity in a German church

Visiting the Marktkirche (Market Church) in Wiesbaden we found this wonderful Neapolitan nativity scene which provides an entirely different vision of the nativity. The scene draws upon the structures and social understandings of Naples and is assembled in painted terracotta. These scenes have apparently a long history in the Naples area and put together in a specific order and manner.

A most colourful and fascinating sight

The stable is always in the centre and lower portion and appears to be in a cave. Descending from the scene above it come the Wise Men with an inn scene immediately to the viewer's left and the shepherds occupying the right hand side of the scene. Herod's court is above the stable while above the inn is a typical Neapolitan domestic situation.

The whole presents a colourful but very Western interpretation of the Christmas story. Judging by the interest shown in this 'crib' by all the visitors during our stay it strikes a cord with many particularly the children.

The church itself was built in the mid nineteenth century to replace the one destroyed by a fire in 1850. From the descriptions of the earlier church it would appear to have been a Baroque decorated building whereas the new one follows the Gothic tradition. The church is of red brick with a very high vaulted nave, galleries over the aisles and an impressive organ. The pulpit is decorated confection standing very high above the congregation and covered by a large sounding board


All in all a very interesting building, obviously well used and much loved by its congregation.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:41 PM | TrackBack

December 26, 2006

Farewell to Tugg

One of my favourite cartoonists has died. "Tugg" also known as Lieutenant Cecil Wilson MBE, has died suddenly. I know that in reproducing one of his masterpieces here I am breaching the copyright, but I sincerely hope and trust that it will be permitted to pass as a sincere tribute to the man and his art. Subscribers to Navy News will know and love his work - and his ability to capture "Jack" in all his moods, hopeful, cheeky, pushing his luck alongside the tensions that always exist between the "Royals" and the Matelots aboard any ship in the RN.

I am sure that many who have passed through one form of military service or another will agree with me that the PTI's were often more frightening than the enemy could ever be! Sometimes even more scary than the GI's or even the Master at Arms at his most bucolic and sarcastic. I think the cartoon below sums up why extremely well!

Tugg final cartoon.jpg

Tugg knew his subjects well, having joined the RN in 1947 as a Naval Air Mechanic and achieved the rank of Sub-Lieutenant in 1964 and his sense of humour was unsurpassed, frequently biting, but always spot on the button. My thoughts are certainly with his family at this time and my prayer is, as ever, "May he rest in peace; and rise in Glory with Christ."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:46 PM | TrackBack

December 25, 2006

A Merry and Blessed Christmas to all!

May I take this opportunity to wish everyone visiting my Blog today to wish you all a very blessed Christmas wherever you are. As you would expect I shall be busy at the Abbey for much of it - and will be taking a short break with Mausi in Germany from Boxing Day onward.

Much is made in recent years of the fact that Christmas is an adaptation of the Pagan Feast of Beltane. Actually, it is the Roman Feast of Saturnalia and it is also the Nordic feast of Mid Winter and, and and ... It was chosen as the date to celebrate the birth of Christ by the early Church becasue the idea of the Mid winter Saturnalia actually sends the same message that the Birth of the Christ Child represents. The Feast is about renewal and the hope of the return the sun, the spring and the season of food cycles. Let's cut away all the sentimentality and garabage about His having been a model baby, no crying, no stress and Mary able to get up and nurse him immediately after giving birth. Strip away all the mythology and we have a baby born of a young bride in a stable in Bethlehem, a special baby because the babe in that stable was the promised Messiah.

If we really look at the whole of that story - removing the Western interpretations and replacing them with the way the inhabitants of first century Judea would have interpretted it. To begin with lets ask about the idea of this family being 'poor'. They owned an ass. Now that in those days, was the equivalent of owning a top of the range luxury car. To travel anywhere was expensive because you had to pay for protection from robbers and you had to pay a tax on entering and leaving each town along the way. And the ability to up stakes and dissappear into Egypt says this family were a bit above the ordinary as well. It certainly speaks of some powerful or wealthy connections able to grease the appropriate palms. Secondly, the term in Aramaic that we have interpretted as "Carpenter" is actually better interpretted as "Major Building Contractors Inc". Carpentry would certainly have been one of the services he provided, but it would have been alongside the entire building thing.

Then there is the issue of the "Stable birth". This may well have taken place in the Caravan Serrai - our "Inn" - and in the stables, but such "Inns" in the first century were far from the nice comfy "room with bath" that we expect today. At best there was one large communal room where you found yourself a clear space and settled down with your possessions for the night. These rooms were usually on the first floor - with the stables beneath them. This served two purposes, one the warmth from the animals (and probably the smells as well) filtered up through the floor and warmed the room above in cold weather, and secondly, as the owner usually stood or slept next to the entrance he was in a position where he could control entry and exit and extract the appropriate payment. The stable may well have been the only place a wonman in labour could get a little privacy for the birth!

Does any of this change the event? No, it may put into perspective a few of the issues we commonly misrepresent - or which the writers of some of our favourite carols misrepresent - but it doesn't change the fact that the baby whose birth we mark at this time represented the dawn of a new relationship for all humaity with the God that Created us, for in this baby the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

As St John wrote: "The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:53 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 24, 2006

Another good review!

Its always good to get a good review, but especially so when the reviewer is also someone you know, knows about the ships the sea and the life aboard. Skipjack has posted a great review of my book and has done me the homour of posting his comments on Amazon as well.

Thanks to all who have bought it - I hope you have all enjoyed it. Skipjack says he felt I rushed the end, and perhaps it is a little crowded, but there does come a point at which you have to draw things to an ending - and this one has left openings for the next story, and possibly some beyond that! Watch out for the sequel, it should go to the publishers around April all being well.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


In Germany today is called "Heiligabend" (Holy Evening) and to me it has always been the most important of the three days Christmas holiday. I remember that as a child this day was filled with expectation and excitement. A bit of dread, too, that the "Christkind" might find my sister's and my room not tidy enough to leave a present for us under the Christmas tree. For before we were invaded by Santa and his reindeers, the Christkind used to bring our presents. It was aided by "Knecht Ruprecht" who would carry along all presents in a large sack. And he had to walk on foot - no reindeers for him.

December 24 was the day when the christmas tree, which had been bought a few days earlier, would finally be taken indoors. My mother always insisted on a real tree, no fake one, and it had to be a fir and not a spruce tree. We were allowed to help my father setting it up properly and then my mother would put the decorations on it. During the first years I remember we had balls in all colours and lots of 'lametta', thin strands of aluminium foil. Over the years it finally changed to only red balls and little ornaments made from straw. Very beautiful.

And my mother also insisted on real candles on the tree. We never had an accident but now that I know a bit more about room fires it gives me a bit of a nightmare. My father always took pains to put candles only in places where they did not interfere with twigs and branches and to put them in an upright position. But he refused to take other safety measures such as putting a bucket of water close by or a small fire extinguisher It was of course lovely watching the candles on the tree burn. When my parents could afford it they bought real beeswax candles which together with the scent from the fresh fir tree gave off a wonderful aroma.

When the tree decorations were finished we would all sit down together for a cup of coffee and homemade Christmas cookies. Afterwards my sister and I were sent off to our room. We could barely await darkness for the Christkind would not come while it was still light outside. Suddenly we would heard hear a small bell jingling and rush to the living room. And there was the tree, the candles ablaze for the first time, the grown up smiling and indeed a few parcels for us under the tree. Now came the hard part: we were supposed to do a little performance, like reciting a Christmas poem or a piece of music. Only then were we give our presents a first inspection.

Traditional dinner on Heiligabend consisted of a potato salad with sausages, a favourite with us children. After dinner we all would sit down together and play games, listen to music and watch the candles on the tree burning.

These evenings have stayed in my memory as times of peace and quiet where the family got together. With the snow we had in those days and the darknes and the cold outside it felt especially good and safe to be inside together in the warmth.

I wish all readers on this blog a very merry and peaceful Christmas.

Posted by Mausi at 12:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 23, 2006

Mediæval Bæbes

On Wednesday evening we had the fun of hearing the Mediæval Bæbes singing in the Abbey. The performance was good, the audience was large - my only complaint was that they used a sound amplification system which, in the Abbeys fantastic acoustic, actually did them no favours at all! The building was designed for the music and the instruments they use - all the amplifier did was fight against it.

Their programme was good, nicely balanced and varied and they didn't disappoint with their repertoire. Their accompanying musicians were brilliant and the instruments were the ideal accompaniment to the voices. The cadences perfectly matched by the buildings natural resonance. It was a wonderful demonstration of the way in which the Norman builders exploited the vaults and arcading to project sound.

The good news is that the Bæbes have said they'd like to do it again, and we would like to have them again. The one thing their sound engineer is keen to change though - is the sound system. He said afterwards that he learned a lot on this trip and our building and will change a few things next time.

I'm looking forward to it already!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:41 PM | TrackBack

December 22, 2006

Books and pricing

The search for a mainstream publisher goes on - at least I have a smaller publishing house nibbling at present, but not yet biting. I have now done another market survey and the one major obstacle I keep running up against is the price of the book. A lot of people would like to buy, but gibe at the price. And I have to admit that, having at last persuaded a smaller bookstore to stock (on sale or return!) it sits alongside "Best Sellers" selling for anything from £3 to £7 and is priced at £10 .... which would you buy? The Unknown author or the one you know?

Well, I have done a bit of checking and I have to say that the price varies enormously across the Amazon sites - from E13 in Germanny to £14.49 in the UK - and one enterprising seller at a whopping E36! In the Us the Dollar price is roughly £9 in equivalent money to the UK, so very much of a muchness with the price on the AuthorHouse site.

So, if you are looking for a late Christmas prezzie and want the best possible price - go to AuthorHouse UK or AuthorHouse US - even with postage it is still the best price going and much closer to the price of the mainstream paperback available in Smits or Waterstones. Pass the word!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:48 AM | TrackBack

December 21, 2006

Immaculate conception

OK, OK, so this is a sensitive subject to some people, but the news is full of the fact that we are expecting a "virgin" birth - in a zoo. It has been known for some time, in fact is written up scientifically, that reptiles and avians don't share the mammilian Y-chromosome. The sex of any hatchling is apparently determined by the temperature during incubation but we don't (at least I haven't seen it anywhere) fully understand the mechanism that produces this. Then there are chickens. A problem for the Battery Hen farmers is the spontaneous appearance among a couple of hundred hens of a Cock Bird. The result is chaos as the battery eggs are supposed to be unfertilised - introduce a cockerell and suddenly the eggs are doing things they should not commercially. The scientists have been working on this one for some time and still haven't full unraveled how a hen chick can change sex when the need or the occassion arises!

The excitement in our press at the moment is over the coming "virgin" birth (hatching out) of a clutch of eggs laid by a Komodo Dragon, nearest male several hundred miles distant! It appears that the Dragon's eggs are fertilised and it is equally the case that she has not had the opportunity to meet up with a Mister Dragon ....

All joking aside, there is a scientific name for this and it is something that has been recorded and documented in other species, but was thought to be a rare and otherwise unusual event. Now it seems, since the Zoos in the UK have now had several of these "events" in the last year, it may not be so unusual after all - in fact, it may well be that, in some species, males may not be necessary in the reproductive role! This probably bodes no good for the future of mamilian males either .....

Again, and trying to be serious for a moment, it has been noted that the modern "Y" Chromosome is seriously different to that carried by our original Homo Sapiens. In fact this is the case in all mammals, the Y-Chromosome is rapidly (give or take another couple of hundred generations) being reduced to a shadow of its original size, shape and function. This may explain why males are more susceptible to certain cancers and some genetic diseases. Males only have one set of genetic data to copy from - and its all on the X-Chromosome. Females, having two X's have two sets of data to copy in the genetic code and thus may carry, but not suffer from, a range of genetic disorders because some mechanism we don't yet understand seems to switch off a defective gene and switch on a good one from the other chromosome.

Perhaps the concept of virgin births in humans is not beyond the realms of possibility - in the far future it may well have become the norm. For now? I think the traditional approach is with us for some time to come. As for the Komodo Mum to be, I hope her offspring prove scientifically as interesting as their species is - after all, this seems to me at any rate to be an interesting example of a species that has the ability to pull itself back from the brink and it may be important for us to know how - the knowledge may be useful to our species one of these days!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:12 PM | TrackBack

December 20, 2006

Comment on todays post

For the first time since I started writing this blog I am declining to post a comment. It is a comment posted against the post I put up this morning and it is so clearly driven by the propagandists vision of the Middle East that I cannot, in conscience, publish it. I hold to the position that Israel has the right to exist and to defend itself against aggression. That is the basic right of any nation state. I do not agree with some of the actions the Israeli government has taken, but I can well understand the provocation that underlies it.

By the same token I cannot and will not support the fundamentalist approach espoused by Hamas, Hizbollah and al Qaeda. I therefore apologise to any reader who feels that I should support the Palestinian "victims" in their war of terror and attrition. I will not support any state funded terrorist organisation since this is merely to endorse the fighting of wars of territory by proxy. Iran, Syria, Saudi and the other states sponsoring the purchase of bombs guns and bullets for Hamas and Hizbollah terrorists to use are fighting an undeclared war through their proxy dupes and victims, the Palestinian people, in the hope that this will hand them greater power and a 'victory' over the hated West.

I do not support the funding of terror groups by any state, my own, the US, the USSR or anyone else, and I will not support the war in the Middle East currently being fought by terror groups on behalf of the Islamic dictatorships and their ambitions of world domination.

Yes, I am practicing censorship - but it is my Blog, and I will not be used to spread vicious propaganda on behalf of anyone's cause.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Lead bullets harm the environment .....

Yup, I guess they do. They're not much good for the people they pass through either, so I suppose the Campaign Against the Arms Trade has a point when they pour scorn on BAE Systems "lead free munitions". On the other hand, the day we discovered the bow and arrow the efficiency with which we kill one another has advanced by leaps and bounds - ask the French survivors of Agincourt about the English Long Bow. Their losses against an English force of just over six thousand exhausted and dyssentry ridden men was over ten thousand dead to the English loss of six hundred - mainly women, children and sick men caught by the Dauphin and his troops in the Baggage train.

Taking the lead out of the ammunition serves two purposes really, one being that the rifling in any gun isn't being plugged with lead as you fire, so it reduces the need to keep clearing that out of the grooves, and second, it probably helps increase velocities and therefore range and accuracy. Gravity has this irritating habit of pulling the projectile into a downward path which increases as the velocity drops, ergo the faster the bullet the further it will go and the more likely it becomes that it will hit the target. There is a negative of course, wind forces can also influence the flight path over long distance - so a heavy bullet is less likely to deviate sideways ....

Oh well, enough ballistics.

The real problem for us all is that the technology, once developed simply does not go back into Pandora's interesting box. Once something emerges, it cannot be ignored. An interesting analogy is the events of the First World War, the technology had advanced so rapidly since the last major European conflict of the 1870's that the Generals on both sides really had no idea of how to handle them. Even today, our troops and their Commanders are constantly having to rethink tactics and battlefield deployment strategy as they come up against new and more devastating weapons. Far from being the "Clinical" exercise that our politicians think it is, warfare is still about killing - and the side that finds the most efficient way to bring attrition to the other side, usually always wins.

The second problem is state sponsored "irregular" armies. They are not new, the Swiss fought a campaign against the Austrians for over a hundred years using terror tactics. The Irish did the same supported for much of the time by France and later, in the twentieth century by funds from the US - OK, not exactly "State" funding, but legally collected and sent by Noraid direct to the IRA. In Africa both the US and the USSR supported rival terror groups, as did China, Cuba and several other "civilised" nations. Go back to another century and you find that the Welsh fought a guerilla campaign against the Edwardian Kings as did the Indians and others in South East Asia against their colonial overlords. Classic examples, if only Mr Blair knew a little more history and a little less of the twisted PC versions he thinks is truth, are the Afghan wars of the nineteenth century, the desert campaigns through the 1920's and 30's in Iraq, the Yemen in the 1950's and 60's and the list goes on. Even the South American drugs cartels have their origins in "freedom" fighter groups who have simply discovered the power of voting with bullets.

We have a massive problem in the Middle East precisely because several states - and I don't think it is just Iran and Syria - are funding the terror groups operated by Hamas, Hizbollah, al Qaeda and everyone else stupid enough to fall for the seventy two virgins and paradise rewards offered. Billions of dollars are being poured into Hizbollah from Iran at this moment for "reconstruction" in Southern Lebanon. No one knows how much of that is being spent on weapons by this ghastly group - but I am pretty sure the Israelis will soon find out! Terrorism is the oldest tool in the war chest - and it is still the ugliest.

We cannot disinvent the gun, the bombs or the other things we use to kill one another. The clock cannot be turned back to an age of smaller populations living with diseases we no longer have, poverty we can't imagine and tugged forelocks to our Local Landowner. It cannot work, and it was never the golden age that some of the anti-military campaigners and tree huggers seem to think it was. Unfortunately we do not seem to be able to stop killing each other either - none of us ever seems to have to look far for a reason or a cause to harm someone else.

We need a strong military as long as there are those loose in the world who look with envy at whatever their neighbours have got, and want to take it. As long as there are those in the world who want to impose their particular set of philosophies, moral standards, culture or world view on everyone else. Vigilance is the only defence, vigilance and preparedness, a lesson we forget all to readily and all too often. "Si vis pacem; para bellum!"
If you seek to maintain peace; prepare for war! Unfortunately that means that we have no choice but to keep developing new ways to do more damage to one another - preferably before someone else finds the way!

I suppose, at the end of the day, that the lead free ammo will at least not leave any lead in the wound to give the traditional dose of lead poisoning. Small mercies perhaps? Yes, guns are used to kill people. So are knives, arrows, darts, hyperdermic syringes, fence poles, clubs, stones and just about anything and everything a man or a woman can pick up and hit someone with. It is not the weapon that kills - it is always the person wielding it. Banning one weapon simply means that someone else will pick it up and use it on the person who has been disarmed and is now defenceless. No one in his right mind believes that supine surrender is a good alternative to terror, no one that is except the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Funded by the KGB throughout the Cold War!) and all the other "Peace" Groups who chant variations on the mantra "Better Red than Dead". What is worse, they would be the first to betray those who tried to organise a "resistance" movement (See definition of "Freedom Fighter", "Terrorist" and "Underground"), turning them in in the hope of scoring brownie points from their new overlords. But then, that is the nature of humanity.

Weapons are a fact of life, we need to make sure they stay in the right hands - and not disarm ourselves so we surrender everything our forebears worked and died for. Lead free ammunition? Why not?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:50 AM | TrackBack

December 19, 2006

Baroque Messiah

Last night attended a superb performance of the Messiah in the Abbey. This is an annual event, performed by the Schola Cantorum at Tewkesbury Abbey under the direction of Ben Nicholas. The Schola was formerly the Abbey School Choir, but sadly the school was finally, after a long struggle to remain open, closed at the end of the last scholastic year. The Choir however, was saved, moving to a new home in Cheltenham at Dean Close School. It formally became the Schola Cantorum when it moved and still sings Evensong in the Abbey at 17.30 on three evenings a week and other services as well when possible.

Last nights performance of Handel's masterpiece was accompanied by an orchestra of the same size as those that performed in the baroque period - in other words - small! BUT, don't confuse small with lack of volume. Baroque trumpets, harpsicord, chamber organ and the full suit of violin, viola cello, double bass and wodwind in the Abbey's vaulted nave make more than enough sound for anyone. The soloists did a superb job as did the chorus and the trumpets in echelon - at the West End with the orchestra at the other end - for "And the trumpet shall sound" sends shivers down the spine. In a departure from his normal arrangement, Ben Nicholas made a small, but significant change to the orchestration for the final great "Amen". Carleton Etherington manned the Mighty Milton at the beginning of the final chorus and supplemented the orchestra and chorus with some subtle chords from the organ, barely noticeable at first, but gradually rising in volume until with almost full organ he joined the great crescendo that concludes the very last Amen. As ever his timing was impecable and the organ ceased speaking at the exact moment the orchestra ceased - but the Milton's resonance is such that the echo rolled for several seconds beyond the cessation - and then the audience erupted in applause.

And the applause was very well deserved, for the Conductor, for the soloists, for the boy choristers and for the chorus. Nor must we forget the musicians whose playing is superb and without whom occassions like this would be rare indeed. What a privilege to be able to sit in the midst of this and listen to such a fine performance. Wine for the soul of the finest quality.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 18, 2006

Christmas cards .....

Well, the intentions were good. I bought the cards in plenty of time, I even managed to get most of the overseas ones done two weeks ago - and posted, which is a good idea if you want them to get to their destination. Pity I have had less success with the local ones!

And now I'm on the point of missing the mail altogether. So todays post is a short one, because I have to get to the post office before it shuts and, as the tide is still high, this means having to drive there! So todays posting is a short one - sorry folks, but there simply aren't enough hours left in the days at the moment!

I'll try for something a little more interesting tomorrow!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 17, 2006

Billy the Blogging Poet

Billy the Blogging Poet is an interesting chap - a former trucker who now earns a living blogging. It is now four years since he started blogging and in his own words he "found himself a success for the first time in his life". He tells me that he is only one unexpected bill away from having to take up regular work again. He runs two blogs, of which The Poet gets 30,000 hits a month! I should be this lucky! He lives in Greensboro, the Blogging Capital of the USA I am told, and has appeared on the local radio station and Fox Television.

One reason I have taken a bit of an interest in this is tha\t I learned that they have used their blogs to raise a very large amount of money for people in need and other charitable causes. "Blogsboro" has become a bit of a model for other bloggers with its own networks covering various aspects of life from politics to the arts. These can be found altmedia, greensboro101 and poetry. The City of Greenboro has televised council and county meetings among the politicians is to ask "What will the bloggers say about this". In fact they are such a political force now that the city has on occassion been forced to reverse policy decisions. If only the UK bloggers could gang up in the same way! Even more interesting is that the bloggers span the political spectrum and often fight among themselves (without actually raining blows on each other!) but then get together for a beer or whatever.

They also hold regular conventions with speakers on topics oif interest to their members - and the politicians take care to visit and be visible!

Billy uses his site to promote people who write or make music - not the mainstream, but those struggling to get recognised. Those who need a boost to get started. As he says, he thinks Eric Clapton is the best musician around, but he also gets more than enough publicity - so Billy promotes those who don't get the support of the record companies. He does this with books as well - again, if you appreciate that there are 2,000 new books a week launched in the US alone, you also get the drift that many of these will simply submerge without trace, swamped under the sheer volume of new works emerging! I sincerely hope that mine is not one of them and so I appreciate the fact that Billy has listed mine on his Blogshoppe site.

Will his site make any of the featured authors and artists rich? Probably not, but it does give them an airing and the support they get from no one else.

Do visit Billy's site. It helps keep him in the "B Listings" and it also helps the charities he is helping suppoprt and promote. A very worthy cause and a very worthy effort on his part.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:39 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 16, 2006

High tide in Tewkesbury

The recent very wet and windy weather has at last lifted and this morning we have enjoyed one of those beautiful still and bright days that go with the early days of winter. The trees are now largely bare - the wind has seen to that - and the heavy rain has swollen the Severn and the Avon. Even the little Swilgate is sprawled over its flood plain. It always fascinates me that the tidal affect in the Severn Estuary is actually felt here, particularly if a High Spring Tide coincides with the flooding of the rivers above us. The rise is seldom more than a foot, but it is enough when the flood is really hight, to push it into some of the lower lying properties.

The Abbey bathed in the winter sunlight is refelcted in the still water of the swollen Swilgate stream.

This morning the bright sun, the absence of the wind and the sheer joy of the crisp clean air, made getting out for a walk and a few pictures a must!

And another tranquil view from the South Eastern end!

And now back to writing my Christmas cards - a task put off for too long which now probably means the bulk of them won't get to the addressee in time!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 15, 2006

Book Review

I'm really flattered to find that my book has had what I would rate as an excellent review on the Blog Critics website. In fact I am over the moon - now all I need is for a few more people who read this item to buy the book - and hopefully for some agent type person out there to want to take the author on board!

This really does seem to be the key to getting into the mainstream publishers, you need to be able to sell yourself and your product, and I am a creative person not a salesman! Even more importantly, you have to be able to sell your whole book in one page because that is all the prospective agents and publishers read of any manuscript sent to them. To become a best selling author is a lottery as I have remarked before this, to become even an author that makes an average living out of it requires an enormous volume of work. I am reliably informed that even the top selling authors seldom make enough from their mainstream books to be able to cease writing short stories, articles and other items for magazoines, newspapers or flyers. And some even have to keep a "day job" going to pay the mortgage. Certainly Isaac Asimov, Robert Henlein and Arthur C Clarke in their early careers worked by day and wrote by night. Many others have not really turned to writing fulltime until they were able to take a pension and devote themselves to fulltime writing.

Its a tricky conundrum, because I certainly find that having to keep a fulltime job going (retirement on a small pension isn't the 'jolly' it's cracked up to be!) leaves very little time for writing. That said I am managing to get quite a bit done, so there is hope for the sequel and my other magnum opus - "The rough guide to Fire Investigation".

Watch this space!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 14, 2006

Getting in the Mood for Christmas

Having lived all her life in the northern hemisphere Mausi always associates the weeks around Christmas with snow, excessive cold and refresing gusts of arctic air. All of which makes her look forward to getting inside, lighting a candle and making herself comfortable on the sofa with a hot drink and a good book. But this year Mausi finds it extremely difficult to get herself into the mood for Christmas which is now less than two weeks away. Temperatures during the day are above 10 Celsius and instead of the refreshing arctic air and a clear blue sky a lot of fog comes up in the mornings and tries to linger all day. Believe it or not - one of Mausi's roses is still in bloom and the birds are singing and making a racket in the morning as if it were spring.

But yesterday evening Mausi took a first step to adjust herself to the season. She went to a Christmas dinner with 34 of her colleagues at a restaurant which has once been a mill.

Restaurant 'Wambacher Mühle' with Christmas decorations

The owner of the restaurant has set up a museum next to his restaurant. The upper storey of the museum is used as an extension of the restaurant and here Mausi and her colleagues sat down to dinner. A beautiful surrounding indeed. The owner has not only collected old mill stones but also work benches and all kinds of tools and things from old crafts. It's been great fun walking around and looking at things from trades and crafts that are almost forgotten nowadays.

A small selection of a most astonishing collection

Dining in this room felt like being right at Santa Claus's workshop. A very befitting surrounding for a Christmas dinner. The Christmas tree at the entrance added the finishing touches to the atmosphere. It was decorated the way Mausi likes best - just candles (all right, lights in this case) and red decorations. Beautiful.

The Christmas tree - beautiful!

Even better, when Mausi left the place her car was covered by a thin layer of frosted air and temperature was down to -2 Celsius! Well, it's a start after all - Mausi's starting to look forward to Christmas coming up soon.

Posted by Mausi at 10:04 PM | TrackBack

December 13, 2006

EU Corruption at work?

There is a very worrying report from the House of Lords regarding the case of the EU Commission on food safety and a small British firm which has now been forced out of business on orders from Brussels. This despite the firm having successfully challenged the Commission in the European Court and won - the Commission first made three attempts to impliment the decision in a very slewed manner - and then simply by-passed it by demanding that our own Department of Health pass an immediate and totally unprecendented Statutory Instrument banning the use of any product made by the target firm!

The Lords have rightly challenged the Minister of Health who supinely agreed that it was unprecendented and unfair - but he felt he could not refuse since to do so would place us in breach of an EU Directive! Never mind the fact that the Commission is blatantly in breach of their own laws and in breach of a European Court Judgement! Never mind the fact that the EU Commissions Inspectors have repeatedly misdirected their committee and have flagrantly misapplied both the law and deliberately misinterpretted their own data. This is extremely worrying because it suggests that the Commission has an ulterior motive. Perhaps the Commission should now be investigated because it is almost certainly the case that these orders have come from someone in receipt of a substantial bribe - to put a rival out of business. The Noble Lords are very right to make an issue of this, and very right to be concerned at the ramifications for our democracy.

The Commission has refused to accept the findings of our inspectors who found nothing at all wrong, having conducted a much more thorough going inspection of the premises than the Eurocrats who could not even interpret their own documentation - all they in fact looked at. In fact the UK Inspectors identified that the Commissions inspectors had misrepresented their own data! One is left with the distinct impression that the inspection had only one purpose - to close down a factory which is hurting someone with the ear of the EU Commissioner in providing a better service and product. Now the Commission is threatening to impose a fine on the Department of Health for "failing to protect public health"! That is really rich considering that their data for this has been trashed in court twice! It will be nothing short of a disgrace if the Whitehall W**kers are allowed to pay any such fine - it must be challenged in every court available and the Commissioner himself charged with contempt of Court and of Democracy. Whitehall cannot be allowed to simply accept this!

It is time to stop being so damned supine in Whitehall. Perhaps it is time to issue a summons for the Commission's inspectors to appear in the High Court in Britain to explain their contempt of the law, of the Courts and of the truth. Perhaps standing at the Bar of the House of Lords and undergoing cross examination in the Highest Court in Britain will prove to be a salutory lesson to this bunch of unelected, corrupt and dictatorial despots a salutory lesson.

Sadly, it is unlikely to happen. Not while Blair thinks he can do business with the EU in its present form. It might jeopardise his nice cushy number as a future Commissioner himself.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 12, 2006

The beginning of the end for multi-culturalism?

Mr Blair's sudden conversion into an integrationist is amusing to say the least. He and his party have spent at least the last thirty years telling us that we were institutionally racist because we refused to "celebrate" the desire of every ethnic community to recreate their former homelands culture and to remain outside of the "British" system even though, thank you very much, they wanted the education, opportunities and hand outs.

Ten years of telling us all that we, the British, were the racists who "provoked" oiur ethnic minorities and that we were wrong to insist that they integrate themselves fully into our society and the rule of law as we have it, has finally been recognised as a blunder. Predictably the Muslim Council, who have worked hard on Blair and his cronies to win concession after concession from them, have stated they are "alarmed" at his demand that they integrate. After all, they, more than anyone else, have been exploiting the privileged status Blair accorded them set up an entirely separate society within this countries boundaries. They operate their own legal system, their own courts and they refuse to give allegiance to the Crown, stating that it "against their religion.

Now we see members of his cabinet struggling to add their voices to his in denouncing the excesses of their own policy. Sadly the damage is done already, as I have commented repeatedly in this Blog, the concept of a "multi-cultural" society is just another name for Apartheid.It will take years to undo and I doubt very much that this shower of half wits will ever really appreciate the damage they have done - or acknowledge their error!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:44 PM | TrackBack

December 11, 2006

A permanent presence on the moon?

The recent announcement that NASA would like to establish a permanent base on the surface of the moon is exciting news, not least because it is one of the first steps to the stars. A permanent base there would be the staging post for longer voyages of discovery and, as the lunar gravity is about a sixth that of the earth, it would also be much easier to launch a whole range of probes and even manned exploration ships from there than it is from the earth.

Truth is often stranger than fiction and Asimov, Heinlien and Clarke, the greats of the Sci-fi genre, have long postulated having a base there. Once that is established, voyages to Mars and the moons of Jupiter become much more manageable. What I do find interesting is that NASA's proposed station sounds remarkablky like something Asimov described in the 60's. Hardly surprising really since he was a scientist himself. I look forward to the establishment of this station, I just hope I am around to see its being built. Let's hope too that our politicians can keep their fingers out of it and that the scientists can keep the accountants from cheeseparing the budgets for it to nothing.

It seems to me that the three things most likely to wreck this project are, in order; accountants, bureaucrats and politicians. And the greatest threat is probably the accountants!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:08 PM | TrackBack

December 10, 2006

Three cheers for the Archbishop of York!

Three very hearty cheers for the Archbishop. +John Sentamu has proved to be a gale of fresh air for the Church of England! His Grace's latest very measured attack on the attempts to remove Christ from Christmas and to turn it into a secular "festival" of "multi-faith" and no faith excess has struck right to the heart of the sickness that Nu Labour (and it must be said most of Old Labour!) and their placemen and women in the Civil Service have infected this country with over the last thirty years.

Christmas is a Christian festival, it is a celebration of the birth of the infant that grew into the Christ of the cross of Easter. It is not some "multi-faith" bunfight, just as the Millenium was a Christian event - which the morons of Nu Labour and the Civil Service managed to screw up completely by trying to make it "multi-faith". (They held it a year early - there is no "0" in the Roman numeral system - and they then spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get the Muslim, Jewish and other faiths to celebrate a Christian event!) Yes, Christmas does fall on the ancient Roman Saturnalia and on a Druidic festival, Beltane, but it is neither. Certainly the date was chosen because it took over an existing festival and the message of re-birth and renewal was easily transposed upon them. But it is and remains a Christian festival.

The Archbishop, an ex-Judge and lawyer is no fool, and certainly no soft touch. He has struck out at the attempts by secularists and atheists in our society to rewrite our history and to denigrate Christianity and its role in our society. His arguments are powerful - all the more so because, as a good lawyer and judge he has made sure of his case. It is edifying to see how many of Blair's so-called cabinet have suddenly come out in support of Christmas and against that other great shibboleth of the Labour Party - that Christian Festivals are "offensive" to other faiths.

The Archbishop seems to have opened the window to a gale - let us now hope that it blows the whole of this heap of trash away!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:21 PM | TrackBack

December 09, 2006

And now for a bit of fun ....

I am flattered to have my book being promoted on a Blog which devotes itself to, as the author describes it, "wagging the long tail of books, literature, poetry and music". Billy the Blogging Poet, aka Billy Jones has put my book into his "stock" on his Blogshoppe and, I suspect, porbably increased my exposure to the wider public enormously.

Rejection slips continue to arrive from the literary agents, so I soldier on clinging to the thought that IBM once said that there was no future in desktop computers. Interestingly the latest one, the agent has patently not even bothered to do more than take the submission out of my envelope and shove it into the return with a slip. How do I know? The submission was in an opaque wallet with a small seal on the mouth. The seal is unbroken. People telling me I can't have or do something perversely makes me all the more determined to achieve it, so any help from people like Billy is very welcome.

On another positive note, my short story prequel to the book is now with Amazon and looks set to be offered on their Amazon Shorts page shortly. When it goes live I will publish the links to it from this blog. These short stories are designed to be tasters to authors work and to raise the authors profile so I am eagerly looking forward to getting that it will soon be available. At $0.49c a story there isn't anything really for the author other than the exposure to the market. That I want, and that I plan to keep pushing for.

Out of TIme by Patrick G Cox is available from W H Smith, Waterstones (Its in stock in their Oxford Street London store now - honest!), Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon (Germany) and Amazon (France)!

On a more positive note, having now talked directly to Amazon, I mentioned the difficulty in locating my book or my authorship on their site - and behold, it is now fixed. Things can only get better from here!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 08, 2006

'Green' Tax?

I expect it was predictable that the Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the rest of the unscientific and lunatic fringe tree hugging brigade would condemn the Chancellor's latest increase in fuel tax. As far as they are concerned, nothing less than driving every last private motorist off the road by charging swingeing fuel tax, road tax and any other tax they can think of, at rates that no one can afford, is acceptable. They want us all to ride bicycles or walk. They want all internal combustion engines outlawed - but they also want the money from the taxes so they can promote all their cockamamie schemes to reverse climate change.

The latest fuel price hike by our caring Chancellor is not going to be spent on improved public transport. Let's be clear on that, it will vanish into the black hole in Whitehall and pay for more worthless penpushers or the MPs 66% pay hike. Or Blair's £60,000+ per year pension which he can claim from May onwards. It won't be spent on transport - unless its in London.

Yet again we hear the W*nkers of Whitehall rabbiting on about "Carbon" offset and "carbon" exchange - what they mean is no change to the emissions - its OK because we have offset it against something which no longer emits! Like British Industry that isn't producing anymore because its moved to China or India! Yet again the Chancellor boasted about how well the economy is doing and how good our tax savings are - but his own figures don't actually stack up - the cost of Whitehall keeps growing, every "cut" in expenditure seems to end up costing twice as much somewhere else. And his BIG announcement in the "Mini Budget" is a fraud. The "extra" cash for schools is the same money he has announced at least three times to my knowledge.

I would suspect that the only reason the tax on fuel is as low as it is - is because the Chancellor wants to get into Number 10 and become PM before anyone actually figures out ho much its consting them! That's politics for you.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:24 PM | Comments (1)

December 07, 2006

Doing the Christmas Card thing .....

Every year I decide sometime in October that I am going to get ahead of the Christmas Post. And every December, right about now, I find I am about to hit the postal deadline with no cards yet ready to send out. This year seems to have been, if anything, slightly worse than ever!

First, I didn't place my usual order for cards from the Mission to Seafarers when I should have. Fortunately, they are on the ball, so when I did, I got the cards pretty promptly. Now all I have to do is write them and make sure they get into the post. Oh, and do some present shopping. Assuming I can find things for the extended family that are (a) things they really need, and (b) I can afford them. And I have several tasks to complete before Christmas which are necessary so that I can continue to pay the mortgage and - on the other side of the coin - sort out the tax issues that go with being self employed!

Who said retirement was a time to enjoy life? I am rapidly discovering that it is hard work!

Every year though I try to send out cards to all my friends, the problem is that many of them are scattered across the globe, so it is essential that I get them in the post by Saturday at the latest - or there is less than no chance they will get them by Christmas. So, please excuse the paucity of this post, but I had better start writing cards - or they simply will not get posted.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:51 PM | TrackBack

December 06, 2006

Christmas banned - in a supposedly Christian nation ...

It could only happen in Blair's Britain. There isn't a heck of a lot I can say about this - except that it really is time to sharpen the pitchforks and to man the barricades, drag all the PC fanatics out into the steets, beat the crap out of them and then decorate the bridges in London and the lamp poles elsewhere with their corpses.

Now that would rekindle the festive spirit. Sadly, its not very Christian either.

It seems that nothing short of our becoming a Muslim state will satisfy our Politically Correct classes, Christianity is everywhere denigrated, derided and debased by our so-called Leaders. Where now Mr Blair's much vaunted "Family Church-going" or his Christian Socialist Values? Ditched, along with all his other empty promises and non-existent values!

Christmas Banned

Nearly three-quarters of British firms are banning Christmas decorations in the workplace for fear of being sued, research has shown. A new survey found most bosses are scared to put up festive tinsel and Christmas trees because they might offend non-Christian workers. Law firm Peninsula said the workplace was becoming caught up in the "wave" of political correctness.

"Christmas trees and decorations may well be a thing of the past in many workplaces this Christmas as political correctness culture has spread to the workplace," managing director Peter Done said.

"Although employers who are enforcing the ban are sceptical and dismayed by this trend, they feel they have little choice in the matter due to the threat of litigation, as they have to protect themselves, their reputation and their livelihood."

Office workers at Tower Hamlets council and the Royal Bank of Scotland have also been banned from hanging up Christmas decorations at work - in case they got hurt.

Staff were barred via email from climbing on office furniture to put up decorations in case they fell off, hurt themselves and sued.

Recently, workplace dispute reconciliation advisors ACAS attracted criticism for warning bosses they had to be politically correct at office parties.

A set of guidelines issued by the service warned against running raffles at end-of-year shindigs, because they might offend Muslims, and against playing too much modern music, because it might offend older members of staff.

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

December 05, 2006

Caution - Dual legal systems in force.

The word is now out on the streets, Blair and his anti-Christian gang can't hide it any longer. Islamic Sharia Law is even now being enforced in the UK - but entirely without legal or constitutional authority! It is being enforced by courts set up in Mosques and it seems the Muslims in Britain are supporting this. They do not recognise the law of the land and have imposed their own - an entirely foreign legal system from the tenth century - upon their community in defiance of Parliament.

Mind you, Parliament is now such a discredited body I almost have sympathy for this, but the fact is that it cannot be allowed to continue. There cannot be two legal systems or two sets of courts in this country, the law has to be one and the same for all our citizens and the Sharia system is totally out of keeping with the UK legal ethos.

How are Blair and co likely to respond to this? Well, I suspect they have already given it their approval, after all, it is part and parcel of the multi-cultural society garbage they have peddled for the last ten years. Our Departments of State are now bastions of Gender Correct, Racially Correct, Atheist Preferred rectitude, increasingly staffed with Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist practitioners from ever ethnic background except White Anglo-Saxon-Norman and, as the latest debacle precipitated by BA has shown , anti-Christian. I am pretty much convinced that we will soon go the way of the Byzantine Empire, infiltrated by Islamic adherents who, admittedly by their own industry, infiltrated the high offices of State, then launched a take-over, ousting the Christians from office and amending the laws to their taste.

At present the Sharia Courts are operating clandestinely, but watch this space, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has already gone on record stating that she "would not object to the introduction of certain elements of the Sharia law system". Well, if I were voting to get rid of her, I would go for the introduction of the bits that bar women from public office, that require two women to testify against the word of one man and several other bits that would see the likes of her and her chums in the civil service booted out of office and kept permanently veiled and muzzled. But I am not. I am for a free fair and open society, not one ruled by clandestine courts rooted in archaic prejudice or for that matter by Politically Correct Mantras and social engineering again based on the prejudice of the current ruling elite!

Now its out in the open, Blair and his cronies had better deal with it - before the country is plunged into a civil conflict provoked by a take-over bid by his extremist friends currently promoting Sharia Law as an alternative to our own.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 04, 2006

A dangerous occupation ....

It was really only a matter of time before something like this happened. The fire in the fireworks warehouse in East Sussex serves to highlight the folly of the government's assault on the fire services and the drive to socially engineer, reduce and "demilitarise" the fire services. In reality the target was the Fire Brigades Union, the last bastion of the Socialist Workers Party within the Labour Party fold. The victims, as all too often in any fight between politicians are the people who actually do the work.

The Chief Fire Officer of this particular Fire and Rescue Service has been one of those at the forefront of the drive to fill all "management" roles above the level of the people who ride on the big red lorries, with "managers" parachuted in from Tesco, the local Job Centre and anywhere but the ranks of those who know anything at all about the job that they are called upon to do. The result has been that they have had to re-employ retired officers to fill the knowledge and experience gap they have created, appointing these ex-officers - sorry, "managers" - as "Operational Support" or "Incident Support" officers. The idea being that they stand beside the Parachutist "Incident Manager", who has no fire or operational experience, and make sure he follows their "advice" and doesn't screw the job up completely!

The supreme irony has to be that one of the two casualties, is one of these "Incident Support" officers, a man who, having done his time and been put out to grass by his "modernising managers" had been hired back to "help" their proteges gain the experience they will never be able to amass because they will never, in a million years, ever be competent to tackle a major incident unsupported. Worse, they will never understand what it is like to be at the sharp end, take orders from someone who does not understand and has never experienced for themselves what it is like "at the sharp end". Sadly, I suspect that these deaths are only the first of many more we will see until the politicians are made to accept the blame for their destruction of a service which, with some faults it has to be said, was by and large pretty good.

Incidents involving explosives are mercifully rare, and few of us ever have the chance to experience dealing with them - thankfully! The incident commander has to understand the likely behaviour of these materials in a fire, for, while they may burn if unconfined, the behaviour is likely to change dramaitically as the burning rate increases as the temperature in the building rises and as the expanding gas increases pressure on the remaining material. The fire tends to increase in speed, flashing from subsonic to supersonic and the resultant detonation can occur with very little warning and very, very swiftly. The standard procedure is to place large water streams at the access points and throw water at it from a long way away. But, that is not always advisable - especially with fireworks as they contain things like magnesium and other metals, which increase their burning rate if you add water! All of this will have had to be taken into account by the Incident Adviser - but at the same time, the fire fighters will have been aware that there were other exposed risks around the building on fire which needed to be protected, and they will have recognised the need to attempt to prevent the fire spreading to involve other fire works. This is a damned if you do, and damned if you don't scenario, every experienced fire officers nightmare, one the inexperienced ex-Tesco Manager would not even begin to understand no matter how often he or she had played video games on the Minerva Suite in London or elsewhere.

I mourn for my lost comrades. I pray for their families - and I hope that those that have "modernised" the fire and rescue service to the state it is now in are exposed for the frauds they are.

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

December 03, 2006

Human destiny?

Stephen Hawking has declared that the human race has no option but to conquer space if it wishes to survive. Now I freely admit that I understand very little of the professor's pronouncements on matters of physics or the mathematics underlying it, but this I do follow. It makes perfect sense, but that is where I have a worry. Sense is not a strong point with most of the human race, particularly the ruling classes; that is; the politicians and the bureaucratic classes, and they control the money that goes into research. Research fuels the development of the things we will need to do this, and research is a very low priority unless it is on something linked directly to "how many votes will this get us at the next election."

There is so much exciting research on space, the origins of the universe and the means to get us up there, that it is difficult to see why the politicians can't see the advantage of spending some money on it. Just look at what has been discovered thanks to space programmes: vastly improved computers are a spin off; fibre optics are a spin off; medical research has benefitted because we needed to know the answers to certain exposure risks; synthetic fibres have been developed from the programmes and the list goes on and on. Currently there are a number of programmes being jointly managed between Russia and the US with Europe also doing a great deal in the joint partnership - a partnership which is far more productive than Blair's "Special Relationship".

Among the many things current research is discovering is that Einstein was wrong a number of points - to be fair he thought he might be as well - and we have now discovered that the speed of light is not constant, it varies as does the speed of sound. Gravity also does not behave as Einstein predicted and is stronger in some cases than it should be, or weaker in others. It is also distorted more powerfully by some bodies than others and we have other, as yet, unexplained matters which need further research so we can begin to unravel the knowledge we will need to lift ourselves fully into the cosmos. The research currently going into Fusion Reactions is encouraging, but hopelessly underfunded, all power to the French who have had the courage to take the lead while our own shower of incompetents are still pouring money into black holes that win them votes from the ignorant.

Stepehn Hawking is right, we must conquer space if our race, or whatever it is evolving to become, is to survive. Sadly though, I suspect that the first people to be shipped out will be those carrying the nanny bureucrat genes - and they will breed and strangle any further evolution, thus ensuring the race dies out anyway. Funny that.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:57 AM | TrackBack

December 02, 2006

Another "Stealth" tax .....

I think the latest report on road congestion stinks of corruption. Not only will I have to continue to pay 80% of the price of every litre of fuel in tax to the thieves of the Treasury (and don't forget the VAT!) and the Road Tax to the DVLA (Read the Treasury!) but now I will be required, if this bunch of thieves are allowed to get away with it, to pay, in addition, per mile for using my car! The blythe announcement that this will raise £28 billion "to be spent on improving rail and bus transport" makes me realise that this shower do think the rest of us are completely stupid!

As things stand they spend less than a fifth of the money raised by Road Tax on the roads, the rest vanishes into the Black Hole that is Whitehall's idea of budgetting. This £28 billion will suffer the same fate - and the buss and train service will not improve because it simply can't. These morons live in cities and think that everywhere in the country you can find a bus stop every two hundred yards, that the place is swarming with black cabs and theres a train every twenty minutes. Well there isn't.

Just taking the trip I have had to do over the last couple of days as an example, my journey out took four and quarter hours for the 232 miles, including a stop for comfort and coffee. The journey home took three and a half, but I didn't make any stops. Overnight hotel cost me £61 B&B and the fuel came to £39. Ergo the trip has cost me a little under £180 (if I include an allowance for the running cost of the car!) To do the same journey by rail would have required me to travel into London the day before, stay overnight at a hotel and then travel North. Another night in hotel, then a reverse train journey arriving back at home probably around 11 pm last night. Costing it out I arrive at a figure of a little over £300 all included.

What was particularly noticeable, as I listened to the various political supporters of this cockamamie scheme rabbitting on about the cars causing the congestion, was that the congestion on the motorways was always where there were a group of trucks trying to overtake each other and blocking two, three and, in one case, four traffic lanes! But the trucks are the property of one of the political establishments favourite and most generous slush funders - the Road Hauliers Association. As far as the politicians and the civil servants are concerned, the roads belong to the RHA and not to the motorist - ergo; the motorists (excpet for the politicians and their cronies) must be driven off them (no pun intended) and into inadequate and expensive public transport. This will serve two purposes, both of them dear to the heart of any socialist regime. It will restrict peoples ability to travel and it will increase their control over who travels, where they go and how they are permitted to do so.

It is a well known fact that anyone who is unable to travel outside of a small aea where they work and live, invariably is dependent on his local authority figure for the world view. Which means that we can continue to control people by feeding them lies and fostering envy and greed. Keep the populace tied to their area of origin and don't allow them to check the propaganda for themselves and you have a poplutaion which is easily manipulated by the political classes. This is why the Feudal Barony were so strict on the movement of villeins!

I don't know what the proposed charge for using the roads is likely to be, I am certain that I know who will be hurt by it and it won't be those who can draw a full pension after only ten years of so-called work. It will once againbe those of us who actually live and work in the reality of life outside places like London, those for whom the use of a car is an essential not a luxury. It will be the middle income earner that ends up footing the bill for tthe nice clear roads Blair and his fellow denizens of Whitehall and Westminster want to have for their exclusive use. Damn the lot of them! We have paid for the use of these roads through Road Tax, through exorbitant fuel tax and through our blood sweat and tears! It's time to send the lot of them to Coventry - and to start a letter writing campaign that will bury them in an avalanche of protest!

Time for the resistance to start!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:19 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 01, 2006

Reducing Bureaucracy?

Have you ever noticed that every new government makes a promise of reducing bureaucracy while they are in power? The latest European Commission is no exception. And I am sure everyone would agree that it is indeed high time bureaucracy in Europe was reduced! However, reading about the latest attempt to do so leaves me in serious doubt the this Commssion will achieve anything at all in that direction.

Recently the Germans refused to turn the new European law on 'lighters' into national law. And quite right they are. The whole point of this new European regulation is to make lighters 'child-proof' all over Europe. If you think you can write this down on one single page you don't know the first thing about European laws and regulations. It cannot be done in less than 13! First you have to define the term 'child-proof'. Not child-proof are termed all those lighters which don't look like a lighter but rather like some toy. Pretty straightforward so far.

The next pages deal with the correct process of introducing child-proof lighters into the market. Did you know that a lighter is 'an apparatus using some kind of fuel to generate a flame, which is operated manually ...' and so forth. The European Commission points out that it is usually employed to ignite tobacco but can also be used to set fire to other materials. Ignition of small children is obviously not intended, however. Therefore the lighters must pass a test to be declared child-proof.

It was this test which made the Germans draw the line in the end: Each type of lighter must be by a group of 100 children. None of the children must be older than 51 months (I wonder why?). The tests with each group must be carried out at at least 5 different locations. If the children are unfamiliar with the room where the tests take place they must be given enough time to get accustomed to their surroundings.

I wonder if it will be worthwile for manufacturers to produce lighters in the European Union at all. I also wonder how my parents coped with life 40 years ago. My father was still smoking heavily when we were small kids but we were not allowed to touch matches or lighters or play around with them. My parents left us in no doubt about this. Perhaps the quickest way for reducing bureaucracy in our lives would be to allow people to be responsible for their own lives again instead of trying to find a fool-proof regulation for everything and teaching hundreds of small toddlers how to become little arsonists!

Posted by Mausi at 10:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack