Friday, 26 December 2003

Happy Christmas

Finally taking the trouble to write to the log after a hectic couple of days.

Yesterday, Christmas Day, indigestion reigned. Well, seriously, Alice was very excited at some of her presents and come the evening her high spirits just got a little too much for the eardrums.

Today we had three - we had the family round so not only was there Alice, there were Lorraine's (Jacqueline's sister) two as well. Still, the kids were well behaved, even if in even higher spirits. We had an excellent joint of roast beef. (Yesterday was the traditional turkey - both cuts from our favourite Hockeys Farm - delicious.)

This morning Alice and I went out to see the new Queen Mary II arrive in Southampton Water. I gave us an hour to get there, which should have been ample, but there was unbelievable traffic. The plan was to go down to Calshot and watch as she came into Southampton Water, but we were still on our way there when we saw her from by Fawley Power Station. So I turned the car around and managed to drive straight through Fawley and actually found a space in a Pub car park, right by the water's edge. Unfortunately it was very misty so we didn't get a good view, but from what we did see, the ship looks magnificent.

I don't normally get "turned on" by machines, but this liner looked absolutely beautiful.

Aside from this, I found out yesterday that my mum was in hospital. Apparently everyone thought everyone else had told me, so nobody called. It's not life-threatening, but I might still have to visit her over the next few days. Not looking forward to that much - its probably an eight-hour journey there and back, and when we visited her just a couple of months ago the return leg alone took eight hours.

Sunday, 21 December 2003

Christmas Shopping

Just got back from a shopping trip to France. We left Portsmouth Friday night, spent Saturday in Caen, then sailed back overnight Saturday to arrive home this morning.

We've been to Caen before, and it was lovely as ever. We basically spent the day wandering, and did some shopping. Alice seemed to like it, although it must have been quite tiring for her. We crowned everything with a trip to an enormous Carrefour, and got lots of nice things for christmas...

Trip home was... interesting. We were on the night crossing amidst gale force winds. The ship rolled everywhere, and somewhat difficult to sleep - for everyone except Alice.

Back home, but because or the rough crossing we all hit the sack for a few more hours as soon as we got home. Next, we got onto the Internet and did a grocery shop for the main christmas things, followed by a visit to a "real life" supermarket to get some things to tide us over the next couple of days.

One thing I found surprising about France. I've been over to France a lot, and in general I find their "culture" regarding shopping etc. to be just a couple of years behind the UK, and have also found the UK to be again, just a couple of years behind the US. But yesterday all of the shops had notices in the window about their Sunday opening hours. Many of the larger shops were open from noon to 7pm, typically. This really shows how silly the UK's Sunday trading laws are - even a catholic country such as France, far more overtly religious than the UK, has more liberal shopping laws.

Friday, 19 December 2003

Having My Say

I've been paying some attention to the "Have Your Say" pages on the BBC's web site recently. Its a good idea for Joe Public to be able to comment on the news stories, but you do tend to get a load of nutters on there. (I'm sure its a deliberate ploy by the beeb to fuel reactions.)

I've just been reading the Saddam Hussein (he was captured last weekend) views. A couple of people said, "Try him, then shoot him". Duh? Did I miss something? Do these people want to shoot him even if he's acquitted at a trial? But he won't be acquitted? Then why have a trial in the first place? Another chap made a point about not hearing any anti-war people suggesting he should be set free and reinstated as President of Iraq. As I've said previously, I don't think this was ever the anti-war stance. I don't think anyone particularly liked Saddam being there, the difference was in what you actually do about it. This guy should look at how much money has been spent thus far, and how much is likely to be spent, and ask himself "Was it worth it?" Does he not realise that these funds come out of our taxes?

There was another discussion about Soham and Ian Huntley. Dreadfully sad. The focus is now on the fact that Huntley had had a string of unproven sex-related allegations made against him over the last seven or eight years, none of which picked up on when he applied for the job at the school. Basically, because they were all unproven, the Police force in question (Humberside) dumped them once a period of time had elapsed, in this case just one month. The Police force attributed this to Data Protection, Privacy etc.

It pains me to say that I'd have to go along with the Police Force on this one, though heaven knows they're taking flak left, right and centre over this. But if an allegation is not proven, how can it possibly be worth anything? You've simply got to make a presumption that someone is innocent, unless proven otherwise. It doesn't matter whether this guy had ten or ten thousand allegations made against him - if they were all unproven, it shouldn't affect his chances of getting a job. Plus, this guy would have an enormously strong human rights case going for him if it did. The thing that makes this argument very sad is that when you take that view, you conclude that you can't take preemptive steps against someone like Huntley. Lots of people are talking about lessons to be learned. I'd have to say that keeping data for just one month seems a little on the short side. But equally, I'd be very concerned about that data - and bear in mind it's completely unproven - being maintained indefinitely. After all, this is the kind of information which leads to prejudice, and I think this is true even if the information remained solely in the possession of the Police. After all, Police officers can be just as prejudiced as anyone else, and history shows they're not beyond building false cases against people who've later been found to be completely innocent. So, what do you do?

Well, I'd say you maybe look at how long you keep the information. A year, say. But you don't just do that. You also keep on record full details of the person making the allegation, nominally for the same period. The reason I say this is because just as several allegations against one person would arouse suspicion, so too should multiple allegations made by the same person. False allegations made against law-abiding people are every bit as dangerous, in my opinion.

One final note on the Huntley case. Apparently as well as all of these unproven allegations about Huntley, there was also a Burglary conviction that hadn't been picked up on, due basically to a balls up by one of the police forces involved. Whilst we can debate the other allegations 'til we're blue in the face, this mistake is the unforgivable one. Had this mistake not been made, based on rock-solid data, the two girls would still be alive.
What more can be said. Welcome to the parent's greatest fear.

"Have your say" seems like a good idea. Maybe I should extend the Blog to allow readers to comment.....

Friday, 12 December 2003

Terrorism

Very worrying report published yesterday, by Amnesty International. Apparently there are 14 people sitting in British prisons, who have never even been charged with anything, let alone been convicted by a court. Needless to say, Amnesty is critical, and rightly so - six of them have been locked up for almost two years and any evidence against them has not been made public. Absolutely disgusting. One is hesitant to draw comparisons with abhorrent regimes but, really, this government has take us to war without our consent, and we now learn that they have been locking people up on what could be a series of whims.

Interesting reaction from the British Government - Blunkett (Home Secretary) threatened to resign from Anmesty! They came back with an intelligent quip about it being a shame that a British Home Secretary could not support the aims of a Human Rights organisation. But that is exactly what it boils down to! Terrorism or not, detention without trial is something one associates with dictatorships, not with supposedly civilised democracies.

I recently read Tony Benn's diaries, and as well as being struck by the intelligence of the man, the one thing that struck me was the "depression", almost, that came across. But then there are so many things in the world that should be changed, it must be difficult for people who genuinely want to make the world a better place to feel anything other than disappointment that - however much they have done - there is so much more to do. I feel the same kind of depression when I learn about things like the Amnesty report.

The Chancellor made a pre-budget statement the other day, and hidden deep in the small print there is a promise of further laws to try and turn freelance consultants (of which I am one) into employees. (The reason for this is that employees pay significantly more tax.) They already tried this once, with the IR35 rule, but fortunately I have been able to force my relationships with clients to be outside of these rules. So it looks like there will be fresh battles. I suppose the main thing in my favour is that despite the best efforts of the IR, the IR35 rule is far from watertight - there have been successful appeals against it left, right and centre. And they'll have the same kind of problems with any further rules.

Finally, some reassuring news from Europe. In the UK, our media often leave me with the impression that Britain is just completely out of step with everyone else in Europe on a good many issues. However with the talk of this European Constitution, which I personally think is simply a step too far, it would appear that it's not just Britain with major issues. Many other countries are up in arms also, and surely any final constitution will undoubtedly be severely watered down. It's reassuring, from my point of view, because it shows that it's not just a case of Britain against The Rest.

In saying this, I must say that I do consider myself very much pro-European, but I see "Europe" as a set of trade and passage agreements, perhaps even security and military agreements. But things like common taxation policies surely cannot work over such a large area with so many economies running at different paces. And if the European Parliament becomes the be-all-and-end-all, then my voice becomes that much smaller because I'm one of four or five hundred million, rather than one of sixty million. Can that be good?

On the home front, nothing much happening.

Sunday, 7 December 2003

Sorted

Permissions problem has been sorted, so now we're live.

(This Web Server has had various hardening processes applied to it, to make it more difficult to attack. Unfortunately one of the hardening processes was so hard it stopped the blog engine from working! Oops - but they're both boogying happily together now.)

Hello, World!
Well, it's been a week since the last entry, and that's mainly due to laziness. So it looks like this blog will probably never get to be a daily thing - I'm just not motivated enough.

There's still a problem putting the Blog site onto the live server - something to do with file permissions that I'm currently grinding out. So all of these entries are being written in a "test" setup. Maybe they'll see the light of day one day soon...

Monday, 1 December 2003

Wet Weekend

Fairly busy weekend. Saturday morning there was a Christmas Fayre at Alice's nursery, despite atrocious weather. Father Christmas arrived late - he'd had to walk the last couple of miles because his "sleigh" got caught in traffic! We took our cameras to get a photo of her with FC, but as it was Alice snook in, and the first we knew about it was when she emerged with a packet of sweets!

On the way home we noticed that the village Christmas Fayre was on, so we stopped off there too. This time we had to queue to see Santa (yes, we went twice - ask the missus!) but Alice was well behaved because she'd met up with a friend of hers, Caitlin, and they kept each other occupied.Then, since we were all a bit peckish, we went over to the White Horse, Downton, for a spot of lunch. Excellent, and a lovely open fire to help us forget the foul weather outside. Then, home to a nice kip.

Sunday we went over to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, to see the Festival of Christmas. I wasn't impressed. It was very popular - to the extent that it was near impossible to park. And then it cost £20 just to get in. Oh, and the weather was terrible still - but this time we were well and truly outside and in the thick of it. The entrance fee did include admission to all of the ships, so we did the tour of the Victory. Very claustrophobic in there. It was OK for us, since we wandered around for an hour - including some time on deck - then got off again, but one assumes that when the ship was in service the crew had no such accessibility to daylight! Also, the difference between the luxury of Nelson's quarters and the rest of the ship was stark. Of course, it's impossible to tell whether the layout we see today is authentic, but I'm sure it can't be too far off. Lunch - a somewhat soggy Fish and Chips (me) and Sausage and Chips (Alice) came to another tenner - these people really do seize opportunities to grab your money. I definitely think we'll be giving it a miss next year, although it might be good to go back to the Dockyard another day to see the ships properly. But I think we'll wait for a nice, quiet, sunny day - and take a picnic!


Sunday evening, having put things off for a month, I got around to doing the company's accounts - or at least doing the preparation so that the accountant can do the accounts. I dread this each year, but in truth it's not all that complicated once I get going. The worst thing this year was that most of the company's purchases throughout the year had somehow been saved without a category (e.g. Computer Software, Computer Hardware etc.). So I needed to backtrack and work out what each purchase was for. Fortunately, the company hasn't bought much this year. It's the VAT return next.

Northern Ireland remains interesting. The DUP are now the largest Unionist party, and of course they're far more hard-line when it comes to working with the nationalists. So I think there's going to be a period of stagnation, nobody dealing with anyone else. It doesn't bode well for the peace process, but there again it does highlight the obviously strong feelings in the population about Trimble's approach. A shame, because I think Trimble represented the best opportunity for progress - but then it looks like his people consider him to have overstepped the mark.

Also in the news - the woman who made a complaint to the Police when she found out about a late-term abortion because of a cleft palate. News this morning is that this is going to judicial review. Interesting thing is that it's the police who are in the the firing line because they took medical advice and on the basis of the advice decided not to pursue the matter. Quite where the practitioner or the "mother" fit in, I'm not sure. And it all hinges on an ambiguity in the law - as to whether a cleft palate is a serious handicap or not. Be interesting to see which way this one falls. But it makes you wonder how many acts of parliament are sufficiently "woolly" (in this case, by not defining what is a "serious handicap") so as to allow this kind of ambiguity. Most of them, probably.... Then there's the new ban on using mobile phones whilst driving. Fair enough, but nobody seems to know what "driving" is. If you're sitting at a red light, are you driving? What about in a traffic jam? What if you're stationary by the side of the road?

Still, it'll keep the courts in business.

Friday, 28 November 2003

Lack of entries

Although I started off quite well, I haven't written much for a few days. But there's a good reason for this - I've actually been developing the web pages which will allow me to write this web log.

They've just passed their test (although I'm sure I'll be tweaking it here and there), so now there's no excuse.

Elections in Northern Ireland are looking interesting. Sinn Fein look to have done well, so too do Ian Paisley's DUP. Since my views are broadly nationalist - I certainly don't believe NI should be governed from Westminster - I'm not so sure about the latter. Certainly Trimble appears more moderate - wherever I hear him, Paisley just seems to spout hatred.

Funnily enough, I was reading Tony Benn's diary (an excellent read, by the way, a truly principled man, a rarity in politics) a month or so ago, and he had a couple of compliments in there for Ian Paisley. There must be a lot more to the man than his public image. But I suppose the time we'll know progress is being made in NI is when there is no need even for sectarian political parties, but having parties based on social/economic principles instead.

The trains are up the spout. There was a landslip just outside Salisbury station a couple of days ago, and not only has the timetable gone to pot (which I can generally understand) but they have also taken the opportunity to shorten the trains to two-thirds of their normal size. Quite how rolling stock comes into matters, I don't know, but the result is that people are standing all around. Any one crisis is just the excuse for the whole of the system going to pot.

Because of the delays on the trains, most of my waking time this week has been spent either at my client's site, or travelling to it. Not a great deal of time spent at home. Still, the weekend's coming up...

Sunday, 23 November 2003

Bowling

10-pin bowling today, for a quick game. I actually got about 4 strikes and achieved one of my highest scores. Jacqueline did better than she normally does also - she beat Alice today(!) and scored a spare on her last throw. Alice loves it but you can tell that she can't wait until she's big enough to bowl the ball herself rather than using that ramp contraption. Her criteria for choosing the ball was basically to pick one that was pink! Then afterwards we went to the Supermarket afterwards and despite freezing rain by the bucket load, Alice still asked for (and got) a Slush Puppie when we'd finished!

The events in Georgia have hit primetime news. They're calling it another "velvet revolution" and it looks like Shevardnadze has flown out of the country. All happened very quickly, like the fall of the Eastern Block. I guess this is what comes of an unhappy army, police and population, and highlights that qualities required in peacetime are very different from those regarded in times of upheaval. For someone who was an architect of the downfall of the Soviet Union, and then one of the people responsible for ending the civil war in Georgia, it's a fairly ignominious ending to a career.

Saturday, 22 November 2003

Rainy Days

Up early, and visited David Brown's (Salisbury) for an excellent breakfast. Salisbury was very quiet - first because if was raining and second because the Rugby World Cup final was on. I'm not a big fan of rugby, but it's probably worth mentioning that England beat Australia. I suppose if doesn't happen every day...

Salisbury looking very christmassey already.

Went on up to a nearby farm shop, Hockeys, to order the christmas turkey. Always excellent quality, especially with all the scares about supermarket meat. At least you feel you've got some assurance. BBC24 were showing scenes from Georgia. Protesters have invaded their parliament, and it looks like Shevardnadze's days could be numbered. It's funny, but I remember him, along with Gorbachev, as one of the architects of the end of the Soviet Union. Quite a reformer. I vaguely remember that he was heavily involved in the ending of their civil war only a decade ago. How times have obviously changed...

Apart from that, a quiet day. It's been raining all the time but it does look like the grass seed I planted a couple of weeks ago has taken. Good - the lawn is in something of a state.

Friday, 21 November 2003

Welcome to London, George

For the first time since I was at university, today I went on a demonstration. George Bush is in town, and to mark the occasion thousands of protestors descended on central London. For me, I left the office of one of my clients just that little bit earlier than usual and headed off to Trafalgar Square to join in.

Of course the professional demonstrators were in evidence (Socialist Worker obviously still going strong after all these years) but there were also plenty of people in suits (who presumably, like me, had come from work), as well as countless ordinary-looking people who looked like they'd come to London to make a day of it.

On the train home, I listened to the radio to hear Radio 4 say that people were protesting Bush's visit. Er.....not quite. At least not for me. As far as I am concerned he is welcome to visit the UK. I just don't like his stance on Iraq, that's why I turned up. I'm one of many people who believes I've been lied to by George Bush and Tony Blair regarding the justification for invading Iraq. I believe an invasion was the only thing on their agenda right from Day One, and that they have used whatever means available to them to make this happen. And I think these people need to be made aware that there are lots of voiceless people who think that what they did was plain wrong.

So, I disagree with them. But I disagree with lots of things (Jacqueline will verify this!) but am not often moved to protest. So why now?

Well, I think the things which made the difference were a couple of puerile statements from the White House press machine, plus reading some comments on the BBC's web site from American readers, who said how difficult it is to protest in the USA these days. The White House statements?
  • you should be thankful that you're allowed to protest - Iraquis weren't allowed to.
I know this. Sadam was a nasty piece of work, and this is why I supported the world's stance against Iraq, and when all is said and done it is a good thing that he has gone. However this was not any kind of "revelation". It's not as if a few astute people realised this while the rest of us basked in ignorance. We all knew there was a problem, and frankly I resent somebody thinking I was incapable of grasping that fact.

Where I differ from these "wise men" is not in the appreciation of the problem, but in what the solution was. From where I'm standing, this was exactly the stance of France, Germany and Russia also. I don't even think this difference is particularly subtle - even somebody like me can articulate it in a couple of sentences. But it does seem to have escaped many supporters of the invasion, including, it would seem, the White House.


The second point on this same statement, and this really exposes the shallow depth of the original remark, is to raise the question "Does the fact that people in some countries are not "at liberty" justify going to war against the countries? If so, one could very quickly build a list of countries....But I'm sure that very few people would make that assertion - it's just too simplistic. So too is the White House's statement.
  • There's no point being against the invasion now. The invasion has happened. Deal with it. What we need to do now is to look forward to plan the future for Iraq.
Sorry, but no. Yes, there is nothing I can do about the invasion of Iraq now. It has happened. But it was fundamentally wrong. And the underlying thought process of the US administration (and the UK government) to lead us into this situation was wrong. And just as it was wrong 6 months ago, it is still wrong today. But, it still exists today and this is why I must speak out.

This is why people protest. Because the people who made the decisions are still making the decisions, and if they made the wrong decisions 6 months ago they could make the same wrong decisions tomorrow. I sometimes despair for the world my daughter will inherit.