Monday, April 30, 2007

It's all beginning to make sense (re Bob Woolmer)

It never did fully make sense - Bob Woolmer's death that is - by means most foul.

When hints first emerged of match-fixing, one could be forgiven for leaping to conclusions and thinking "Is that how a top-notch team like Pakistan came to be knocked out by the likes of Ireland ? "

And what of Woolmer's role himself. Just an innocent bystander one hoped who, suddenly finding was happening right under his nose, threatened to blow the whistle ?

But the manner of his death just seemed so - how can one put it - degrading and contemptible ? One need hardly say that all murder fits that description, but for a leading figure in the world of sport to die by strangling seemed like an attempt not just to kill, but to humiliate.

How can a grown and presumably fit man be strangled ? Surely he had the strength to resist ? Or show signs of having put up a struggle ?

But then reports emerged that he was poisoned first, to render weak or unconscious, with the police hinting they knew which substance was used, but were releasing no details, except to say that the choice was a clue to the identity of Woolmer's killer(s).

The plot, as they say, thickens, but this no longer seemed like an ordinary crime involving mere money. There was another ingredient involving violent passions. But what could they be, in the world of cricket ?

This morning we learn that BBC Panorama has uncovered what now seems depressingly credible - the fundamentalist I factor. See link to Telegraph article.

There's just no escaping it, is there, even in the world of international sport ?

Several members of the team were not just devout Muslims - which, let me hasten to add, is not an issue - but belonged to an extreme sect. Firstly we are told, it was interfering with play, as individuals left the field for prayers, needing to be replaced by substitutes.

But what's so unusual about that, one might say ? Muslims taxi drivers are known to stop for devotions without being branded as dangerous fanatics, even if infuriating for their passengers.

Nothing perhaps, except it gets worse, much worse. The Pakistan team's former media manager, a Mr.P.J. Mir claims that a fatwa was placed on his head . That followed his condemning those players who, in his opinion, had allowed this particular sect to undermine their will to win, as a result of which he has had to flee Pakistan .

To reiterate the title: it's all beginning to make sense. Are we seeing yet again the sinister and tragic consequences of what happens when extremists hijack a religion and turn it into a weapon of hate?

Comments welcome: emails to:

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Small earthquake in Folkestone. Not many injured

Aftermath of the Folkestone earthquake (from BBC website)

Did you read about that earthquake in Kent ? It was piddling on the Richter scale - a mere 4.3, but caused quite a bit of structural damage, and must have been quite terrifying for a few seconds. Being England, which is far from any of the world's major fault-lines, most folk would not have had a clue what was going on. One witness in Folkestone thought there had been a terrorist bomb in the Channel Tunnel.

Back in about 1968, when I taught in Accra, the capital of Ghana, I was taking it easy one Saturday afternoon, putting away a few beers. As I went into the kitchen to get another from the fridge, there was this almighty crash from outside, as if a truck had gone into a pothole or over a big bump or similar.

Briefly I felt the floor and kitchen doorway lurch, and found myself grabbing at anything for support.. But then there was silence; I looked out and could not see a thing, so, somewhat puzzled, proceeded to get another bottle of Club from the fridge.

A few minutes later there was a furious banging at the front door, with my two neighbours, Mike and Ann G. standing there white as sheets. By then I'd forgotten the earlier incident ( testimony perhaps, you may be thinking, to the potency of Ghanaian ale) and asked them in all innocence what was the matter. "For God's sake man, don't you know there's been earthquake ?"

So I explained that I thought it was just a truck or something, and invited them in for a beer, but was the butt of jokes for weeks after - the guy downing beers who did not recognise a severe earth tremor for what is was.

As a one-time science teacher delivering that bit of the National Curriculum called Earth Science, I had to think of a way of getting across the explanation for earthquakes.
They are caused when two tectonic plates come together. When ths happens along a lateral fault line, the two plates are moving in opposite directions and so rub against each other.
But the plates tend to stick, and get locked together, due to friction. There is elastic deformation within the rock strata, with pressure gradually building up over time, which may be decades, centuries or longer. Finally, something gives, the plates spring apart with a sudden jerk, releasing huge amounts of energy.

How does one provide a simple picture ? Inspiration struck. Can you click or snap your fingers ? If so, have you ever wondered precisely how that loud sound is produced ?
It's a similar mechanism to an earthquake. You first press your thumb hard against your longest finger -the one between the index and ring finger- using friction to keep them together while you increase the pressure. When you then let the two slide apart, the finger catapults off, and slaps down noisily on the fleshy bit at the base of the thumb.
It's an example of stored potential energy being converted to kinetic energy. It would not be possible but for the initial friction between the two surfaces.

End of science lesson !

Wondering about that title in dubious good taste? Years ago, there was an unofficial competition among Times journalists to write the most boring yet factually accurate newspaper headline. It was won by Claud Cockburn with : Small Earthquake in Chile. Not Many Dead.
According to today's Sunday Times, there was only one casualty of the Kent earthquake, who needed to go to hospital, having suffered head and neck injuries. I don't know his/her name, but here's wishing them a speedy recovery !
Comments always welcome: emails please to

Magic moments

Carcassonne (the little square within the ramparts): if you're lucky, "Chet Atkins" might be playing this evening

Years ago we took the children to stay at a friend's cottage near Cahors in SW France. On the way back from a side trip to the Med we called in at that must-see, buy-the-tee shirt, now tick-the-box destination, Carcassonne.

Of course, everyone scoffs. It's medieval Disneyland, innit, that was given a make-over by Viollet-le-Duc, which had the antiquarians of his day up in arms.

Here, in green font, is what Wikipedia has to say on that controversial 19th century restoration. Skip it if you wish:

The architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, already at work restoring the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, was commissioned to renovate the place.

In 1853.... the fortifications were consolidated here and there but the chief attention was paid to restoring the roofing of the towers and the ramparts, where Viollet-le-Duc ordered the destruction of structures that had encroached against the walls, some of them of considerable age ....... The restoration was strongly criticized during Viollet-le-Duc's lifetime.

Fresh from work in the north of France, he made the error of using slates and restoring the roofs as pointed cones, where local practice was traditionally of tile roofing and low slopes, in a snow-free environment.

Yet, overall, Viollet-le-Duc's achievement at Carcassonne is agreed to be a work of genius, though not of strictest authenticity."

Then there are, needless to say, the tacky souvenir shops, the inevitable little tractor-train ( although handy as a way of seeing the main sights, even if one feels slightly ridiculous), the crush of tourists and coach parties, choc-a-bloc car parks etc.

But in the cool of the evening, when all the coaches and most of the day-trippers have gone, families flock to a small square within the ramparts (see picture above) where they sip their drinks, surreptitiously people-watch and dine as the night falls. If they are lucky, or choose the right evening, they also get to hear a live performance from whoever is booked to play that night.

When we were there it was a guitarist with a Chet Atkins repertoire. I first discovered ther nimble-fingered Chet in my youth, and went to hear him play at the Albert Hall in about 1969. It was a good performance, just slightly spoiled by having R&B aficionados in front banging on about Chet having sold out to pop music. Personally I much prefer his "pop" repertoire to his R&B, not being a great fan of the latter.

Here's a short audio clip of him playing "Travelin" (sic). Make sure your speakers are activated.

That guitar of his acts instantly like a drug on me .

( I should perhaps add that I have never experimented with any illegal substances in my life, not even a puff of wacky baccy. Maybe that's a sign of being unadventurous, but alcohol and (previously) nicotine met all my needs in the mood-enhancing substances department. Being a biochemist by training was another factor too: In my mind's eye I could just picture those dodgy opiate molecules jamming neuro-receptors like microscopic spanners in the works).

Just a few bars from that lilting guitar, with its rippling minor chords, quickly has me up there on Cloud 9, and thus it was that evening.

There was a similar experience when we made a day trip last year to Avignon - another highly proficient Chet Atkins sound-alike was out there in the main square next to the Papal Palace. That guy was good, really good. I went up to congratulate him, and leave something for his next beer. I wish now I had been bolder and asked for his name. I suspect that some street performers are minor celebrities on holiday, or even on tour, who are just keeping their hand in, so to speak. I noticed that guy was constantly going to talk to folk at a table, some of whom were carrying musical instruments.

There have been other such magic moments, as Perry Como was wont to call them, usually with a happy combination of alcohol and music.

In Ghana, where I taught for two years, there was "High Life" dance music at the night clubs, of which A K Mensah was probably the best exponent. It was years before I was able to track down one of his LPs in a London shop . It had a particular number used to transport me away from anxious thoughts about the next day's lesson plans.

On Corfu we heard a particular number played again and again at open air night clubs. It was enchanting. Later, while still on the island, there was much embarassment in a record shop, trying to make the assistant recognise the song I wanted, since the lyric consisted mainly of "Dringi, dringi, dringi (mana mou)" but we got there in the end.

There was a stroppy German tourist on a similar mission, trying to buy "her song" and indignant that the assistant could not mind-read. She looked first astonished and then disgusted when I broke into "Dringi, dringi dringi " with hip-gyrating body language thrown in for good measure. But she was still berating the assistant as I departed the shop with LP record with a happy grin. The English title of the track, by the way, was "Velvet Mornings".

Some years ago I took some stuff up to St. Andrews for my son, who was studying there. In the street was a group Andean musicians, like one used to see in every big town, maybe not so much these days.

Now I know there's a lot of indifferent pan pipe music out there, but this was heavenly. I wasted no time in buying their tape, and must have played it scores of times. Whenever I think of St. Andrews, I think of those wistful and haunting pan pipes.

Similarly, the return journey from Skye through the Scottish Highlands in the 80s is forever associated in my mind with stopping at a pub for lunch, and hearing Dire Straits perform "Brothers in Arms" for the first time. What a majestic number (if you'll excuse the Adrian Mole adjective).

And when my two sons were still very young, I took them youth-hostelling on the Isle of Wight. On hearing "Smalltown Boy" (Disk 1,Track 6) by Bronski Beat for the first time , I was shoving coin after coin into the juke box while the lads played board games with the locals.

It's the same with films. The most memorable films for me invariably have haunting soundtracks - The Godfather, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Ipcress File, The Go-Between, Battle of Britain (aerial combat scenes), and of course Clint Eastwood's "spaghetti westerns".

I now realise, fairly late in life, that I should try to work in a new musical experience on each holiday. Otherwise I come back feeling I've missed out. It could be bouzouki genre of music, or its local equivalent; it might be hearing something that is current in the charts, assuming it to be reasonably melodic, or having some other musical merit. If all else fails, one can always plonk down at a pavement café and wait for the local busker to arrive with 5 minutes on the accordion or whatever before the hat comes round.

Can anyone recommend places in which good music comes as part of the holiday experience?

Comments and suggestions welcome (by email) to:

Saturday, April 28, 2007

"My Telegraph": first impressions from a volunteer guinea pig


The Daily Telegraph is presently in the final stages of testing what it calls "My Telegraph".

Speaking as one of the "guinea pigs" invited to give it a try ( as a result of attending the Blogger's Open House), and to help reveal unforseen bugs in the software , I would describe it as follows in broad brush terms.

Think of it as a kind of halfway house between being a personal blogger, as I am here, talking about the things that interest one, and being an invited blogger on the Telegraph, where the idea is (arguably) to draw responses from the general readership.

In other words, you sign up as a My Telegraph blogger, and you compose and submit blog posts that then appear in time sequence on "My Telegraph".

Beneath your blog, not surprisingly, is a Comments section, similar to the one on main blogs, where folk respond to your tame or outrageous opinions.

But there's a sting in the tail, from which the Telegraph's own journalist bloggers have been spared. It's a faint echo of "Come Dancing" where you are judged on your performance, in the form of two keys : a green button for YES ("I agree wholeheartedly with what you say") , and a red button that says in effect " NO, your views are a real turn-off, don't give up the day job."

In time, an approval/disapproval rating builds up against each of your blog posts.

Sounds awful, wouldn't you say, at first sight, and I expressed my misgivings when Shane Richmond first hinted it at what was in store, and I put his template under the microscope, to have worst misgivings confirmed.

But I refrained from condemning it out of hand, and on reflection,, I 'm maybe glad now that I reserved judgement.

Why ? Well, I have already put up some 5 or 6 posts on the pilot run (sorry, you cannot see them yet). Some have attracted comments, others have not.

It's early days, granted, but over a period of time the feedback, positive or negative, should give one a feel for the things that strike a chord with others, and those which might best be described as personal idiosyncracies.

Speaking as someone who has been at the chalkface of UK and West African secondary schools ("UK sink schools" through bog-standard comp' s to over-subscribed independents) : never knock feedback, from whatever quarter it comes.

As a previous Headmaster at Accra Academy ( Mr. J.K. Okine, himself an ex-pupil of the school) once put it so succinctly at a staff meeting, in reference to those whingeing pupils: "They see us as we really are".

Wise words indeed.

Comments invited (email only) :

Friday, April 27, 2007

Beware defenders of America's gun culture

It still seems incredible - that one crazed individual could slaughter 32 of his fellow students and teachers. All that disturbed individual had to do was to walk into a shop, sign a piece of paper, and re-emerge with a semi-automatic 9 mm Glock. Once he had laid his hands on a second similar weapon, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, some of which was hollow-headed - designed to kill- he had become a veritable killing machine.

Myself and some others used Toby Harnden's blogs to state one or two home-truths on America's so-called "gun culture" - or as others less flatteringly put it, "gun fetish". But I don't think any of us were prepared for the incendiary response which that elicted from the Stateside regulars who post comments there.

Given the kind of abuse that's been coming the last day or two, notably from "Maddie", and especially Mary Fernandez (Captain), I felt obliged to submit the following to the thread this morning, under the title : "Over the top, and over here".

Here's a link to a blog in the Washington Post , written by E.J.Dionne Jr.

In the short extract that follows, the author makes clear his exasperation, shared by many others in a long, long comments section.

"No one pretends that smarter gun laws would prevent all violence. But it's a disgrace that we can't try to learn from tragedies such as this week's Virginia Tech massacre and figure out whether better laws might at least modestly reduce the likelihood of such horrific events happening again.

Our country is a laughing stock on the rest of the planet because of our devotion to unlimited gun rights. "

I have still to read the entire thread, but some things are clear. One is the polarisation of opinion on the subject of guns. The other is the sense of weary acceptance that nothing will done to control the easy-availability of guns, given the NRA's throttle-hold on US politics. One writer goes so far as to suggest that it was Gore's position on gun control that lost him the election.

However, I do not see anyone being subjected to the kind of derisive put-downs we have seen from Maddie, far less the hysterical rants from Mary F. Either Americans are more moderate with their comments, or the Post's moderators are less tolerant of abusive comment, or possibly both.

Isn't it strange that the two Ms conduct themselves in this fashion on a UK-based blog ? Why do they post here, rather than the Washington Post, or comparable US newspapers ? Is it because they know they can indulge themselves here in hissy fits that would not be tolerated in their own country ?

Methinks that M&M have been taking some huge liberties. Am I alone in thinking this ? Does anyone else agree ?

Update Friday 10:55

I have just realised that an earlier submission to the same thread, sent last night, has not appeared. Maybe it's been censored, or perhaps it is being held back for legal checks ( since it mentions the Phil Spector trial, but is careful to refer to his "alleged" toting of guns ). Irrespective, here it is:

"I find myself asking why Maddie et al bother with blogs from such a piddling little country as ours.

What do they say to their friends or colleagues, one wonders, who find them forever at their laptops logged on to this site ? That they "like to get the UK perspective on US and world affairs" ? Maybe they do, or did, until, that is, it begins to differ from what they want to hear.

When affronted by our expressions of honest opinion, that's the signal for Maddie et al to go into public address mode, trying to silence us with their megadecibel blasts of invective.

Maybe they can't stomach the views that are expressed this side of the pond, views that are not constrained by the shibboleths they acquire from infancy through your parents, churches, schools etc. Our views are ones that make sense to a fairly typical medium-sized nation, living cheek by jowl with dozens of similar sized nations as distinct from a geographically somewhat isolated hulking continental superpower.

Given the geopolitical differences it is hardly surprising that our world-views should differ. We also condemn the absurdly high level of gun-related crime that we hear about almost every day now, whether it's Virginia Tech, or a NASA employee shooting dead a colleague whom he blamed for a bad job review, or a record producer alleged to routinely threaten women with guns for not succumbing to his cleverly disguised charms.

If you don't like the views expressed here, Maddie, there's a simple solution. I'm sure I don't need to tell an intelligent woman like yourself what that is.

So why carry on punishing yourself in this fashion? Do you think America will be weakened by the likes of me being left unchallenged to condemn America for its foreign policy or way of life from a distance of some 3,500 miles ? I feel hugely flattered if you do.

I'm told the Washington Post does good blogs. One wonders how its locally-based bloggers would react if one or more Brits took up residence, routinely flaming them for saying uncomplimentary things about the UK or its European neighbours?"

Comments welcome (by email only):

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Robin completes London Marathon

That's the middle of my three "children", Robin, you see in the picture (taken from the Marathonfoto website - hope they don't mind me showing it here).
Robin successfully completed Sunday's London(Flora) Marathon on Sunday under testing conditions of heat and humidity - apparently the worst in the history of the event.
Anyway, here's what he said of the experience in his, er, round -robin email to everyone who sponsored him, Mum and Dad included.
"Dear all

Well it's all over at least! I got home in 4:41:32 and boy did it really, really hurt!

Thanks to you all for your advice, encouragement and sponsorship and support - it meant an awful lot

Lets get the negatives out of the way first! I went into the marathon with 3 main aims, other than to raise money for Cancer Research UK:

1. Run the whole way
2. Get a time that I would be proud of
3. Most importantly, enjoy it!

Sadly, on this occasion I failed on 3 counts! It may have something to do with my Scottish genes but I do not like the heat! I spent the last week telling myself that the weather need not make any difference. As they say, "talk is cheap"! The warm conditions made it more difficult for all the runners, particularly those hardy souls in fancy dress.

I had trained and prepared well, and stood on the start line (or more accurately half a mile behind it!) in good spirits. I knew by Mile 8 that all was not well and I was in for a long day. I ditched all pre-race plans about times etc and just tried to get into a rhythm. Just after Mile 16 my legs became very, very heavy and it was just a case of hanging on for a mile at a time. I managed that until just after 24 miles when I started to get blurred vision and feel dizzy, and was forced to slow to a walk. Although it was extremely frustrating to stop runnng just 2 miles from the end, I honestly do not think I would have finished if I had carried on. And so I walked and slow jogged for a mile and half before mustering an awkward trot to the finish line, and a well-earned rest. I managed some lunch with friends who had come out to cheer me on, and I apologise to everyone whose cries of encouragement were completely ignored - I was simply in a world of my own!

I am also very sorry that I didn't finish the pint of lager that I had been dreaming of - shameful!

I can safely say that yesterday's run was the most painful thing I have done.

Did I enjoy it? I was about 50 minutes slower than I was reasonably hoping for which disappoints me, I don't remember running past some of the main sights of London, my big toes poked holes through both trainers, and I've got sunburn! But yes, on balance, it was great to be involved in a fantastic spectacle, and I am certain I will be running again.

Thanks to everyone involved: the marshalls, the volunteers on the drinks stands, and even the concerned old lady who thought that I had expired in the middle of Whitehall. But most of all thanks to everyone for your support! We have raised c. £1,300 for a very worthy cause which is a great effort.


PS You've just reminded me what my 4th unofficial aim was.... to remember to smile at the camera when I ran past - I failed on that count as well ! "
Well done, son, we're proud of you !
Update: email from Jackie on either:
"Hi Colin, just wanted to pass on many congratulations and a well deserved pat on the back to your son! What a fantastic thing to do and all for charity too.

Jackie xx

I am popping in from time to time but I am knee deep in a Charity Ball I help to organise each year so have not had the time. Hope you and yours are well!"
Comments welcome (by email):

Monday, April 23, 2007

Billy Bragg spawns genetic and political debate

The Telegraph has just this minute brought the earlier "Your View" based on Bill Bragg (see my earlier post) to the top of the stack. This is because we are about to be given his answers to questions put to him in the older thread (though much diluted with folk, including myself, choosing to talk round issues instead of obediently posing questions to the Oracle).

This is an opportunity to archive here a difference of opinion between one Martin and myself re the differences between the English and Celts.

He espouses the received wisdom, that the English are for the most part descended from Anglo-Saxon invaders, arriving between the departure of the Romans, and the arrival of the Normans. I am more enamoured of the views of Oppenheimer that most folk inhabiting the British Isles are predominantly of the same racial stock, derived from earlier Basque settlers, and that the various invaders to our shores have left little genetic trace ( a maximum of 10% each) through failure to intermarry (Romans) or reluctance to slaughter and supplant the native population, the latter having learned through many millenia to "roll with the punches" where visitations from Continental Europe are concerned.

Later in the day, when I have a minute, I will copy and paste the entire exchange between Martin and myself.

Later, on Christopher Hope's Telegraph blog on Billy Brag, entitled "Debating Queen and Country" I confessed to not having heard of him until yesterday, which drew a snotty response from another contributor. A robust reply was called for, and duly delivered. Here's the latter exchange, as far as 16:00 today French time.

Billy Who ?

One hesitates to be a wet blanket but this post seems a tad provocative for all the wrong reasons.I'm trying to think of anyone, celebrity or otherwise, whose opinion I value so much that I would queue up to put questions to them on a public forum. Don't take this personally, Billy Bragg, but you are not one of them. Maybe life has passed me by, but until seeing your name on yesterday's "Your View", I had never even heard of you.Now if Christopher Hope had invited another Billy, whose observation and wit re all things British is unerringly right on the nail, then I might have a question or two to put. I refer to the priceless Bill Bryson. Incidentally, why has that national treasure not been knighted yet ? If they can do it for an Irish Boomtown Rat, they can do it for the Des Moines Thunderbolt Kid.
Colin Berry at 22 Apr 2007 17:20

Politics and personality

Not sure someone who doesn't know who Billy Bragg is should be commenting on British politics (see above). What interests me is Bragg's liking for the questions the Telegraph has taken to asking. I have a sense that the Telegraph is one of the few papers that still has a sense of history, and Bragg's interest in radical history is well known. So, question for Mr Bragg, how far do you feel the problems now facing us result from our refusal to take history seriously?

JonCG at 23 Apr 2007 02:58

Willing to foot the bill

I warmly applaud Mr Berry's suggestion that Mr Bryson be knighted .Mr Bryson may then be made to shut up .
Cymbeline at 23 Apr 2007 04:23

Trumpet voluntary

"Not sure someone who doesn't know who Billy Bragg is should be commenting on British politics"

That's a somewhat fatuous remark, JohnCG, and one that's probably best ignored.

But I see from Wikipedia that Billy Bragg was born in 1957. This political naïf, born 13 years earlier, cannot resist the temptation to point out that when in October 1964, Billy Bragg was just 6, I, as News Features editor on behalf of my University newspaper, was interviewing Michael Stewart, the new Labour Minister of Education and Science, at his Curzon Steet headquarters.

Why do commentators on blogs so often attempt to put down their fellow contributors, knowing nothing whatsoever about their background ?

Colin Berry at 23 Apr 2007 09:19

Soyons clair

Speak for yourself , Mr Berry .

Cymbeline at 23 Apr 2007 09:54

We're getting blogged down here, methinks

"Speak for yourself, Mr. Berry ."

There's another fatuous remark. Who else would you expect me to speak for, Cymbeline ? Come to think of it, who do you speak for, if it's not Cymbeline ? Why bother with blogs at all, if all we read are comments from people trying to say what they think others might wish to hear ? Does the term "populist rhetoric" mean anything to you, Cymebeline ?

Er, where do we go to post our own viewpoints ?PS What gives with the Mr ?

Colin Berry at 23 Apr 2007 11:19

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Nice bus - anything but nice

Is this the page you were looking for ? Probably not if you have arrived here from a Google search, which has been misdirecting folk here.

My most recent blog can be found on

Alternatively, use the Search Labels facility in the lower right hand margin.

Back to that Nice bus:

We have had friends staying for a few days who returned to the UK on Thursday. So we did our usual thing of going with them as far as the bus stop in Antibes to see them safely off to the airport on the Nice bus.

When we first came to Antibes, the 200 bus between Cannes and Nice was more like a coach, inasmuch as there was a compartment ("coffe") under the floor for passengers' luggage, accessed via a hatch on the outside. That was handy from one point of view - not having to struggle aboard and then down narrow aisles with suitcases. The downside was that it held up the bus , since officially (at any rate) passengers were not supposed to open the hatch themselves, but wait for the driver to come round.

All that changed some two, maybe three years ago. There is no "coffe" on the new buses, and the luggage goes inside, in a space near the centre door of the bus.

So when the bus arrived on Thursday, it seemed a sensible thing to tell our friends to join the queue at the front door, sans baggages, while I saw to dropping the cases inside. That meant waiting for passengers to disembark via the centre door, and then nipping in with the suitcases, thus sparing my friends the customary struggle.

But this time, things went pear -shaped very quickly. First I had one of the exiting passengers, with a marked resemblance to one of Hamlet's witches, telling me I had to use the front door. Not being easily put off, I quickly dropped the cases in the designated area, but immediately noticed that several passengers were looking daggers and getting agitated. I may have got away with this sort of thing before, but this time I had been spotted, and was committing a cardinal sin.

Before I could exit, the way I came in, the central doors closed on me, and I was trapped. The driver then called for me to get off the bus - by the front door. That meant squeezing past all the boarding passengers, with difficulty, since I was taking the suitcases with me (which seemed prudent).

I tried to make light of it, explaining that I was simply trying to help friends, but there were just silent reproving glances, which was embarrassing and humiliating. The final insult , after finally extricating myself, was to see the bus pull away while my friends were still struggling up the narrow aisle to find their seat.
Typical !

Why all the hassle, one may ask ? Is it because the driver, with his mirror and maybe CCTV, is told to be on the lookout for fare dodgers ?

If so, then that is incredibly small-minded. Why ? Because up until about 2 years ago, the fare from Antibes to the airport was quite hefty, over 7 euros. Suddenly it was reduced to its present nominal sum - a mere €1.30, which isn't bad considering it's a 12 mile journey.

The idea is presumably to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and use buses. If so, then it's hardly the end of the world if the occasional fare dodger slips aboard - it's hardly going to alter the finances, given the service must be heavily subsidised as it is

But to prevent that dire calamity, passengers with luggage, of all ages and physical condition, are forced to negotiate the official route via the front door, past the driver-cum-gendarme-, and those hazardous first few seconds when the bus moves away.

But I could cite a far worse example of the official mindset, unable or unwilling to lighten up, to be sensible, to be reasonable.

About 3 years ago, our 200 bus to the airport failed to arrive on time.

After about 15 minutes we assumed it must have been cancelled, and didn't want to wait 40 minutes for the next. Then another Nice bus appeared, one that does not call in at the airport, but stops instead at the Cap 3000 shopping centre about a mile away.

So I made a quick decision, and persuaded another couple behind us in the queue to jump on this bus instead. We paid our (then) extortionate fares, but no sooner were we underway when we spotted our intended 200 bus coming up behind.

So we jumped off at the next stop, boarded the proper bus, and, waving our tickets, explained what had happened, and that we were not expecting to be made to pay a second time.

Now I should explain that the situation was complicated by the fact that we were not permitted to talk to the driver directly. Someone else, apparently a relief driver, decided to handle this situation, but what then happened still amazes and rankles to this day.

He pulled out his mobile phone and began describing our "case" to his superiors back at base. This conversation went on, and on and on, while the bus stayed where it was, loaded with passengers for the airport and elsewhere who seemed bemused.

Each time I and my wife tried to cut in, with words like "please don't hold up the bus on our account" he brusquely waved us aside as if to say, stop, you are distracting me.

You will not believe this, but that bus stayed stationary for at least 15 minutes (I kid thee not), during which time I put my head round the door and apologized to the passengers for the delay, saying I was now quite willing to pay a second time rather than delay their progress. But still C3P0 gabbled on and on into his phone, oblivious to everyone else.

This incident brought home to me aspects of the French national character: a respect for set procedures that overrides all other considerations such as commonsense and reasonableness. And secondly, that there is a resigned acceptance by the French public that no official can be expected to exercise inititative or independent thought if faced with a unfamiliar situation. It all has to be done by the book, or referred to higher authority. It puts one in mind of tourists' experience with the old Soviet Union. But what is it they say: France is the only country to have made a success of communism .

Can you imagine how embarrassed I was - having persuaded that other couple to jump on the first bus, rather than wait for the late one to arrive ?

There was a small consolation: none of us was made to cough up for a second fare . Maybe the decision came finally from the Elysée Palace. But was that good grounds for delaying a bus for some 15 minutes, full of passengers with planes to catch ? But not a single one of them murmured a word of protest ! Make of that what you will .....

Comments welcome: emails to:

Friday, April 20, 2007

Britannian, and proud of it.

"Should we be looking for a new England ?" is the question posed on today's Telegraph "Your View".

This was an opportunity to dust off some ideas developed here late last year. See link to "Re-discovered: our Britannian heritage".

Here's what I have just sent:

"My views on Englishness have been totally transformed since reading the work of Stephen Oppenheimer, the Oxford geneticist.

Contrary to what we have been told until recently, the English are not for the most part a bastard race of Anglo-Saxon stock who arrived relatively recently, eg 8th century AD.

(ed. I meant to say "mongrel", not "bastard")

Nor can the Celts (Scots, Welsh and Irish) claim to be older, more authentic inhabitants of the British Isles. According to Oppenheimer, most British and Irish share about 70-80% of their genes in common (the remainder being Celt, Anglo-Saxon, Norman etc). That's because we are all derived from Basque settlers who arrived some 15,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, as the last ice began to recede, but while Britain was still joined to Europe by a land bridge.

As I said a while ago on my own blog, I no longer regard myself as English or British, because these terms are either too vague, or in the latter case have acquired ugly racial overtones that I dislike.

I regard myself as a "Britannian", with a long proud history of continuous social, linguistic and technological evolution. Invaders have come to our shores, but we have learned from all of them, and then either booted out the ones we don't like, or integrated and assimilated the ones we do.

We Britannians are not Johnny Come Latelys. We, like the Basques of the Pyrenees, are one of the oldest surviving races in Europe.

But unlike our Basque cousins, we dumped our difficult language, and created a blend of Germanic and Latin that is recognized the world over as being without parallel for expressing oneself in virtually every context one can imagine - social, technical, literary, you name it. That's why English is the world's lingua franca (noting use of a term that keeps the Latins happy).

Forget St.George's Day. Who was St.George anyway ? Who cares ?

Let's instead celebrate the arrival of the first Basque immigrant to our shores. Then we should give the present day Basques the benefit of our experience in how to work constructively with locals of a different ethnic stripe instead of making a fetish of separateness, because that is the true Britannian genius - avoiding absurd excesses of national chauvinism - while still calling most of the shots !

Updated Saturday 18:55
It would seem that my fellow countrymen are still not ready for the genetic iconoclasm of Stephen Oppenheimer - they prefer to cling on to the old received wisdom that the English are the descendants of Anglo-Saxon invaders from lands that are presently Denmark and Germany, and that they decimated the native "Celtic" population. "Ben" popped up on the thread as a kindred spirit, only to be ridiculed by "Martin":
Here's an extract from Ben's comment:
"The English are an ancient nation who have been on this land for 12,000 years since the last ice age.
The invasions that have occurred have not, according to the latest DNA testing of the nation, changed the makeup of England much. In fact the Anglo Saxon invasion which many previously believed to be the basis of the English, only affect 5% of the bloodlines.
So Mr Blom, the truth is we are not a mixture of lots of nations, we are our own nation and have been for a very, very, very long time................To this racist, anti English government, the racist anti-English left, the racist anti-English PC brigade and to everyone else who feels they can take our England and tell us what to do in our own lands. You cannot. We will not accept this anymore.
The English make up 83% of the British Isles. We are not going to put up with this nonsense anymore. To England and the English !!!"
Posted by Ben on April 20, 2007 2:35 PM
Response from Martin (he begins by quoting Ben):
"In fact the Anglo Saxon invasion which many previously believed to be the basis of the English, only affect 5% of the bloodlines."
This is just simply, patently and absolutely untrue. ANY genetic study carried out will show the contrary. All such genetic studies have shown an overwhelming preponderence of people who are genetically indistinguishable from the Dutch and the Danes and clearly distinguishable from the Welsh, Irish and other celts.
Where do people get these ideas from? Even channel 4's new series on Saturday nights, Face of Britain, has come to this conclusion. 5%? It looks like you have plucked it out of thin air, and certainly despite a degree in Anglo-Saxon history and culture I haven't seen it before. The English are a race distinct from the Celtic peoples around them. Britain is nothing more than an artificial concept created for political reasons, and it is time to lay it to rest.
Posted by Martin on April 20, 2007 7:57 PM

My reply (submitted 17:46 French time):

Martin (April 20, 2007 7:57 PM) asks where the ideas come from that most British share the same (Basquish) genes, with there being little difference in genetic makeup of those in East Anglia ("Anglo-Saxons") from those in Wales ("Celts").
Whilst not wishing to downplay the value of his degree in Anglo-Saxon, I suggest he get familiar with the work of the Oxford geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer. Here is a link to an article he wrote for the Telegraph last year following publication of his book:

See also my earlier post on this thread, and yesterday's post to my blog entitled "Britannian- and proud of it".

Are you by any chance the same Martin I met at the Telegraph's Bloggers' Open House ?

More later (maybe).
Geekish footnote: apologies for all the cramped text above. It was not intended to be that way. I have edited twice, inserting spaces at intervals to allow in some white space, but as soon as I hit the Publish button it all reverts to suet-pudding mode. Why this is I don't know, but suspect it's to do with cutting and pasting text, either direct from the Telegraph, or via an email buffer, which I tend to use as a temporary warehouse. It would appear that Blogger's default settings are easily over-ridden by those of imported text.
The current fashion is to "migrate" (yuk) to TypePad 's blogging platform (yuk). But from what I have seen so far (Salut! etc) one type of quirkiness is replaced with another .....
This site needs tweaking ( a less in-your-face hippo logo, less cluttered, less self-indulgent margin etc) but here's one blogger who's sticking with "Blogger/ blogspot" for now".

Comments invited, with view to posting here (unless considered offensive). emails to:

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Post mortem on the Virginia massacre

Up until 1975 there used to be something called the "House Un-American Activities Committee", a title that tended to occasion mirth this side of the pond.

I'm trying to imagine how it would have dealt with Cho-Seung Hui.

Possibly as follows ?

Committee chairman: According to this indictment before me, Mr.Hui, you have been harassing and frightening your fellow students, writing violent and disturbing essays, been considered suicidal to the extent that you were referred for psychiatric evaluation and counselling. What can you say that will persuade this Committee that your continuing presence is conducive to the interests and welfare of this great nation of ours ?

Cho-Seung Hui: Mr.Chairman, I have lived in this great nation of yours for 15 years now, and for most of that time have nurtured a single ambition that lies at the heart of the American Dream.

Last week I drove a few blocks from where I live and entered what for me was truly an Aladdin's Cave. It was a firearms store, where I purchased my very first weapon, a Glock, none of your cheap stuff, for which I have been saving for many, many months. Allow me please to describe to you the capabilities of this weapon ....

Chairman: Sorry, but I shall have to interrupt you there, Mr.Hui. Well I'll be darned, just whose idea was it to file a complaint on this fine young man ?

Mr. Hui, or Cho-Seung if I may address you as such, I can only apologise profusely on behalf of this Committee that such a fine specimen of American manhood as yourself should find himself arraigned before us today. The system has failed you grievously, Mr.Hui, and America must hang its head in shame. Case dismissed ! God bless you, Mr.Hui. God bless America. Oh, before you go, what kind of Glock was it? Did you get a good price ?

ed: the above was submitted to Daniel Hannan's blog on the Telegraph, and went up about 2 minutes later !

Update 12:00 midday:

Returned from an errand to find the following from the increasingly unpleasant "James N."

Colin - Laughing at Death

Colin Berry demonstrates above just how much amusement he's getting out of this story. He should be ashamed of himself.

James N. at 19 Apr 2007 08:26

Replied with the following:

"No, I'm not laughing at death, James N., and it is characteristic of your moral humbug that you should suggest as much.

There is sadly nothing we can do now for the 32 dead or their grieving friends and relatives. But until America sees sense on gun control, then these atrocities will continue, and I will not be intimidated by you or anyone else into maintaining silent vigils for the dead, when for all we know, there are other disturbed individuals walking into US gun shops right now, free to commit copy cat crimes.

True friendship can mean telling folk things they don't want to hear."

Update Thursday 14:24 Comment from "Maddie" (aka Boadicea of the Blogs):

They're Still Smarting

Colin Berry, who continues to exhibit the failures of British society, using a deranged murderer to further his dislike (projection?) of America. Maybe it's the pain of looking at their history, and seeing how far they have fallen, or maybe it's the pain of looking at their future and seeing what is coming. With their tiny island, gloomy skies, and lost sovereignty, they look at the great and vast land of America and think, "if only those Yanks hadn't whipped our a**". Instead, they've been relegated to an insignificant, goodie-bag taking, yob-cultured, Eeeewwwer.It would be sad,...if it wasn't so damn funny.

Maddie at 19 Apr 2007 10:39

My reply:

"You're so right, Maddie. It is damn funny - I refer to your last comment. In fact, it's hilarious in the extreme. It seems that we have touched a raw nerve somewhere under that carapace of yours.

Is it because chickens aplenty are coming home to roost on America's failure to introduce a few commonsense gun controls ?

It must be really tough for you right now, watching reality wreck that American dream - based on the idea that your New World can get away with doing/not doing things that would be considered madness in our boring Old World.

But please accept one thing. I'm not interested in trading insults or debating points, and never have been.

What's at issue right now is the perception abroad of American society, which reflects more broadly on Western society in general. It's to do with your approach to the prime function of government, namely the protection of public safety.

How many more Virginia Techs are you prepared to tolerate before you take the simple steps necessary to stop loonies from slaughtering your children ?"

Update: Thursday 14:30 This comments has just appeared from "Karen" :

If he's not rotting in hell...

"then what is hell for other than to hold those like him? Colin, Phil, and others can twitter on and on about "how can Americans not ban guns" but you can't ban EVIL. This guy was hell bent on evil. I suppose that cocaine is illegal in the UK and "banned" - would the gun grabbers here claim that cocaine isn't available? If they can't get a drug free island, how do they thing all illegal guns will be kept out of the country too. It's your country to do as you wish....but personally I'm not buying the fairytale that you can grab guns and not have crime rates go UP.I suppose it's beyond comprehension of Phil et al that the campus was supposed to be a "gun free" zone. Yeah...that sure helped, didn't it?Toby IS right about: "Or maybe universities fear getting sued for kicking people out?"Until the ACLU came along you could get people committed a more easily."
Karen at 19 Apr 2007 11:52

My reply: Title: Don't say we didn't try

"It's not about "crime rate going up", Karen. It's about indiscriminate slaughter, aka multiple killings, aka massacres, aka shooting sprees, such as Hungerford and Dunblane here in the UK, and Texas, Columbine and now Virginia Tech in your country.

If you and your compatriots refuse to grasp that simple distinction, then all I can say is "God help you", because no else can, despite our trying."

Update: Thurday 21:40

Comment from Maddie:

They're Still Smarting

Colin Berry, who continues to exhibit the failures of British society, using a deranged murderer to further his dislike (projection?) of America. Maybe it's the pain of looking at their history, and seeing how far they have fallen, or maybe it's the pain of looking at their future and seeing what is coming. With their tiny island, gloomy skies, and lost sovereignty, they look at the great and vast land of America and think, "if only those Yanks hadn't whipped our a**". Instead, they've been relegated to an insignificant, goodie-bag taking, yob-cultured, Eeeewwwer.It would be sad,...if it wasn't so damn funny.

Maddie at 19 Apr 2007 10:39

My reply to Maddie:
Overdue reality check

"You're so right, Maddie. It is damn funny - I refer to your last comment. In fact, it's hilarious in the extreme. It seems that we have touched a raw nerve somewhere under that carapace of yours. Is it because chickens aplenty are coming home to roost on America's failure to introduce a few commonsense gun controls ? It must be really tough for you right now, watching reality wreck that American dream - based on the idea that your New World can get away with doing/not doing things that would be considered madness in our boring Old World.But please accept one thing. I'm not interested in trading insults or debating points, and never have been. What's at issue right now is the perception abroad of American society, which reflects more broadly on Western society in general. It's to do with your approach to the prime function of government, namely the protection of public safety. How many more Virginia Techs are you prepared to tolerate before you take the simple steps necessary to stop loonies from slaughtering your children ?"

Colin Berry at 19 Apr 2007 13:02

Second comment from James N.
Moral Humbug?

"Colin Berry - Look, I've taken your side in the past during your spats with Bill Taylor, but look at what you wrote on this board. You made some sort of bizarre joke about the House Un-American Activities Committee, which is an utter non-sequitur, adds nothing to your argument, and is strong evidence that you're just having a jolly time of it on these boards.
Your purpose here is clearly amusement, and nothing more. I really don't know what's set you off these past few days (you're usually more sensible) but you're making bizarre posts that serve no purpose but to offend. You've obviously said your piece...I think it's time to move on now."

James N. at 19 Apr 2007 18:31

My reply to James N:

Steady on...

"Maybe what "set me off", as you put it James N., is the obscenity of what happened at Virginia Tech, coupled with the certain knowledge that it will happen again and again, until the US takes steps to prevent these lethal weapons falling into the wrong hands. And, in case you missed it, the humour in my Un-American Activities skit was black. If it elicited any smiles, they would have been grim.

Final word of well-intentioned advice, James: try to be less personal with your remarks. The blog is supposed to be a free-market in opinions, not a bear pit."

Colin Berry at 19 Apr 2007 20:18

Comments are invited. emails to:

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Shoddy goods: what's the EU doing about them ?

We saw a spotlight we liked in Antibes' Conforama store. It was floor standing, attractively gold-lacquered, had a small powerful halogen bulb, and could be angled. So they ordered one in, we payed our €75 or thereabouts, and thought we should get at least 10 years of use, if not longer.

Imagine my surprise on having to replace the bulb after a few months - they are not cheap. Then it began to flicker the other day. On opening up the lamp compartment, I found to my horror that there's been overheating, which has roasted the electrical insulation such that bare wires are visible. In fact the only thing that prevents the exposed wires from touching the metal casing - making the whole appliance live - and probably lethal - is a tiny plastic sleeve.
And suppose the bare wires had made contact ? Would we not be protected by an earth wire ?Nope, because the appliance, despite having a metal casing, comes fitted with a two pin French plug, with no earthing socket. In Britain, the only metal appliances that are allowed to be sold with a two-pin, unearther plug are those deemed to be "double-insulated". I hardly think that a tiny plastic sleeve separating live electrics from casing would be deemed "double-insulated".

So what do I do ? Traipse back to Conforma. Demand a refund ? Well, there' a problem. I've mislaid the receipt, and it's probably out of guarantee anyway. But there's a wider issue at stake here. The appliance in my view is badly designed and potentially hazardous. And we have bought other stuff at Conforama, as well as Carrefour across the road, that is frankly shoddy. And despite most if not all being imported goods, mainly from the Far east, they have not been particularly cheap.

We also bought a table and four chairs at Conforma, with a fairly rustic but attractive hammered enamel finish. After a couple of years, had to throw one of the chairs out - a broken back, clearly unrepairable, and later spotted another identical chair in our local skip.

There was the Indian carpet with a label that reads "Sun...". Yet after a few months it looks ancient due to bleachig and yellowing , while the underside still looks new. One assumes that some local dye, possibly vegetable in origin, has been used that is not light-resistant. That's another €45 wasted.

Then there's the rowing machine from Carrefour, which you put together yourself. But the seat does not glide - there are no runners, and in fact tips dangerously from side to side. Thinking I might have assembled it incorrectly, I returned to the store to look at the display model, and found it to be in an even worse state than my own.

There's a pattern then, of buying goods, invariably imported, that are simply not fit for purpose. It was the same in England some 5 years ago when i was trying to upgrade our house to ensure a quick sale. We bought and installed a B&Q bath, the only one available off the shelf, that was "shell style". But as soon as water splashed over that raised shell rim, it had nowhere to go except the floor. B&Q refused to give a refund. We ended up taking it out and down to the local dump, and replacing with anothher bath. I bought packs of wood tile flooring for the kitchen, made from "Rhodesian ". Within weeks, all the parts exposed to direct light faded, so one was left with a mottled effect. Again, not fit for purpose. One could go on - B&Q ceramic wall tiles that were a mixture of two entirely different shades, a pull cord light that was absurdly noisy, etc etc

Monday, April 16, 2007

Compendium of crap arguments used by the gun lobby

The death toll in the Virginia massacre now stands at 32. Even if it stayed at this figure, it ranks as the worst of a long and sickening series of such incidents.

The UK too has had its deranged killers turning guns on ordinary men, women and even tiny children - Hungerford and Dunblane are the horrors that spring to mind. The response to these, especially Dunblane, was such abject horror that the UK government under John Major introduced some of the world's most stringent gun control legislation. That does not make a repetition impossible, but probably far less likely: mercifully there has been no further massacres, even if illegally-held hand guns proliferate in inner cities, but that is a different kind of crime, ie the targeted killings of individuals rather than indiscriminate slaughter. That does not make it any less reprehensible - it's still the taking of life- but there's a greater horror to being gunned down by a complete stranger than by someone whom one is deemed to have crossed in the past, especially if in the pursuit of crime (often drugs-related).

This is what I have previously called a 'piton post'. This is the first purchase on a difficult subject. I posted the following earlier this evening to the Telegraph's "Your View" which poses the question "Why are there so many shootings in America ? "

"We've been here before, and sadly we'll be here again. Why ? Because Americans are too self-indulgent to take on board what is obvious to the rest of the world - namely that weapons of "self-defence" become the means for revenge and mass execution in the wrong hands.

Now where will it happens next time, one wonders ? Maybe in the States of those congressmen and senators who consistently vote against gun control legislation ?"

Already the weasel words have appeared on this thread, the dissembling, the attempts to shift blame. Tomorrow, I will pull these comments out the thread, and attempt a sane and rational reply to this sickening propaganda - much of which I suspect to be orchestrated.

Let's just start with that old chesnut.

"It's not the gun that kills. It's the person who fires it".

Incorrect. It's the gun that kills. That's why the gun is called a "weapon". Place that weapon in the hands of a deranged individual and it becomes what is called " a lethal weapon". All that is required of the user is to load, point and fire. Do that repeatedly with other human beings in the line of fire, and you have what is known as a "massacre". It's hardly rocket science, is it ?

"When you outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have guns"

Following Dunblane, the UK outlawed most guns, but did something very smart and unexpected. It allowed the police and armed forces to keep their weapons. This dispensation was granted because the police and armed forces are what are known as "the forces of law and order". Now who else but us clever Brits would have thought of doing that ? We're kind of funny like that, restricting lethal weapons to individuals who are trained and disciplined, wear a uniform, undergo regular medical tests etc etc.

It's not just guns that kill. Are you going to ban knives and baseball bats as well ?

If someone goes berserk in a public place wielding a knife or baseball bat, I like to think I would have a go. I'd grab whatever was available - a chair say- and use it defensively to get in close, and then offensively, to disable the nutter. But if he was using a firearm, I'd do the same as everyone else - armed police included - which is to hit the deck and try to stay out of the line of fire, on the assumption, correct or otherwise, that a bullet can be lethal at 100 yards or more.

They banned guns in the UK, and what happened ? - shootings increased ! Your gun control had the opposite effect to the one intended.

I wish I had £5 for every time I've seen that bit of puerile nonsense. The UK's draconian gun control legislation was a response to Dunblane, Hungerford and other multiple shootings that were carried out with weapons legally owned. Their owners were people who had previously been considered to be mentally sound, but who suddenly flipped, and then turned themselves into killing machines. There is only one rational response to that, which is to make it harder for ordinary citizens to own guns. That does not prevent the criminal fraternity, or drug cartels, or inner city gangs from obtaining illegal weapons. But they tend to be used mainly for internecine warfare, for criminal holdups etc which, although a blot on civilized society, do not have the same ability to shock as the kind of revolting mass slaughter we saw yesterday.

Even the summary "execution" of one bunch of hoods by another, as in the St.Valentine's Day Massacre, induces a strong sense of revulsion. Substitute bright young university students, full of hopes and dreams for the future, for those Chicago gangsters and one's sense of indignation and outrage goes offscale.

We bare (sic) the right for the simple reason that if for any reason a radical faction were to gain control of this great nation, the U.S., then the populace would have the duty to rise up and resist.

Oh yes ? And what about the Armed Forces ? Whose side are they on when you descend on the White House to turf out the bunch you so despise ? Better make sure they are on yours. But if they, then your services are not required, and you can put your Smith and Wesson back under your pillow, and continue lying awake, waiting for sounds in the back yard.

But here's another question to ponder: how come other counties manage to rid themselves of police states, totalitarian regimes and oddball dictators etc without their waiters, filling station attendants, shopworkers etc having to become instant Rambos for the duration ? Are you not aware of the various revolutions that have occurred around the world in recent years, with few if any shots being fired, that have succeeded either by peaceful means - public protests, general strikes, or by the military staging a quick clinical coup, and installing a provisional government ?

Who's to say that a ragtag assortment of gun-toting vigilantes are not lying in wait right now, at various secret locations dotted throughout the Appalachians, seeking any pretext to take over, and who once installed at the White House (in their dreams) , would announce that since they represent the true will of the people, they are there to stay.

Update: Tuesday 11:45 Toby Harnden has just posted to his Telly blog on this topic. Here's my tuppenceworth, under the title "Taking aim at the gun lobby" which appeared within seconds of submitting:

"I put up a new post on my blog yesterday under the indelicate title: "Compendium of crap arguments used by the gun lobby". So far, I've taken just 4 of the intelligence-insulting debating points that get trotted out after each of these massacres, and tried to give them short shrift. But if the comments appearing on "Your View" (currently standing at 182) are anything to go by, several more will need addressing before the day is out.

One suspects that America's love affair with guns is finally beginning to wane, given the all-too-prevalent philosophy of "Love thy neighbor, until he gets on your nerves, in which case you go downtown, buy a gun, shoot the b*stard - and all the other neighbors too while you're about it".

Second contribution to the Harnden thread:

Title: Diversions from the point at issue

Why this constant attempt to muddy the waters, by reference to explosives or knives?

Making bombs requires knowledge, commitment, taking risks with one's own life. As such it is the weapon of the terrorist, which seems an apt desciption of Timothy McVeigh. He had a political grudge.

But Hungerford, Dunblane, Columbine and now Virginia were the work of people whose grudge was against neighbours, fellow students etc and for whom the possession of weapons made it absurdly easy for them to go on their killing sprees.

There was an instance of someone going berserk with a machete at a Wolverhampton school, in which the teacher and several children were grievously wounded. But mercifully no one died, and the assailant was finally disarmed - not something one can readily do when firearms are involved.

The UK's stringent gun control legistation was a response to nutters intent on indiscriminate slaughter. It was never imagined that it would curb the activity of terrorists, gun-toting gang members, or the smash-and-grab criminal fraternity. Attempts by the gun lobby to claim that increases in those fringe activities involving illegally owned weapons, ones that don't generally involve multiple killings, are proof that gun control in the UK has failed, are an attempt to distract from the success of the legislation: so far there have been no further Dunblane/Virginia type massacres on UK soil.

I think Robert Fraser has me confused with someone else. I am not a Marxist, nor am I wildly enthusiastic about the EU (but feel that if it didn't exist, something similar would have to be invented).

I lived and worked in the USA for 2 years.The Kent State campus killings occurred while I was there - but that was the so-called disciplined National Guard doing the shooting. If that's how the forces of law and order behave when armed, is it any wonder that private citizens think so little about arming themselves to the teeth, and turning themselves into killing machines ?
Colin Berry at 17 Apr 2007 11:51

Third contribution to Harnden thread

Title: Save the tears for later

Toby, in his post, hinted at the dilemma one faces when each new shooting spree occurs: how long do we restrict ourselves to expressions of grief before cutting to the chase ? Don Hughes is adamant that talk of the causes and remedies is premature: we should wear our black armbands for a week before addressing the underlying issues.

Well, you can count me out, not through any disrespect for the dead, or to those who are suddenly bereaved (my heart goes out to them) but out of respect for the bereaved-to-be.

Because while otherwise sane and rational people come to this and other sites, saying that guns, and their free availability, are here to stay in US society, and that obscenities like Virginia are the price one pays for Americans' atavistic need to possess a firearm, then future bloodbaths such as occurred yesterday are assured.

Meanwhile, we Brits and Europeans are forced to watch these frightful images on our screens with monotonous regulariity, to empathise with people who have seen their sons and daughters lives snuffed out in an instant, and when we come to our home grown blogs such as this to express our indignation and outrage, what happens ? Stateside apologists for the blood-soaked status quo insult our intelligence by trotting out the same old drivel, the same recycled evasive or mudslinging claptrap, probably cadged from some dog-eared NRA manual that appeared in the mailbox at the time of the last elections for Congress or Senate, and has been sitting on the mantelpiece ever since, to be dusted off on occasions such as this.

I would like to express my deep respect for all future victims of US style massacres, perpetrated by disturbed individuals firing off indiscriminately with weapons easily purchased, and legally owned.

So next time there's a Virginia-style masssacre, I shall feel free to pick up this argument where we left off, with no decent period of mourning, and preface my remarks with this sentence, in quotation marks, dated 17th April 2007.

Anyone care to guess how long we wait for the next one, how many victims, and how many folk pop up on blogs with trite remarks like "Look, it's not the gun that kills, bla bla bla .... ? ".

Fourth contribution to Harnden thread:

Title: An argument that cuts both ways

You had to go back to the 1920s to find your example of massacre-by-dynamite, Karen. There would presumably have been more recent cases if dynamite were available, over the counter, the way that your guns are.

Ipso facto, restrict the sale of guns, as you do dynamite, and the Karens of the 22nd century might have to go back through the archives to 2007 to find when the last mass execution by shop-bought firearms took place.

Update: Wed 18th April, 01:30 The following has just been submitted to Toby Harnden's blog, but will probably not appear until tomorrow morning. It's a response to that vocal all-female US lobby that cruises the Telegraph blogs in search of what it sees as anti-US sentiment. Woe betide anyone who attracts those beady eyes !

"Dear Arlene, Maddie, Mary F et al

Nothing would please me more than deal with all the many points you raise, some relevant, some flippant, but it would end up looking like a legal defence from someone charged with a public order offence (maybe that was the idea !) and be so long as to look somewhat self-indulgent. But how many are still reading this thread anyway, so that exercise is hardly worth the candle (look at the time of posting!)?

So I decided instead to stay constructive, and have just posted the following to the "Your View" thread, in the smug knowledge that the last submission sits at the top of the pile !!!

"There is one disturbing possibility that all Americans need to consider, namely that the real motive in all these shooting sprees was suicide.

Think about it: Hungerford, Dunblane, Columbine, Virginia: in all these tragic incidents, the perpetrators shot themselves BEFORE coming under fire from police marksmen. So who's to say that without the easy availability of hand guns in America (or in Britain until after Dunblane) the perpetrators would have been forced to despatch themselves by other means (overdoses, jumping in front of trains, off tall buildings etc) that do not generally injure others.

But by making available to disturbed people a quick clinical means of suicide, it's hardly surprising that a small proportion decide to precede the act of self-destruction with one for which the gun was actually designed, namely shooting other people.

Gun owners will naturally protest that their weapons are intended for self-defence, not intentional homicide, but the subtlety of that distinction may be lost on a certain type who feels driven to suicide, and is more angry than sad.

Maybe a certain type of suicidee sees the gun as a tool for making society pay a price for bringing them to the point where suicide seems the only escape from their problems of adjustment.

If this analysis is correct, then Columbines and Virginias are inevitable for as long as guns are easily available, especially as each horror tends to spawn copycat versions.

America and other nations with lax gun control are playing a deadly game of Russian roulette with their schoolchildren, students, and other citizens."

Update: Wednesday 09:20: Toby Harnden has a new post ("In the dorm room of a mass murderer"), in which he asks why the warning signs were not spotted and acted upon, given that student's strange behaviour. This has just been sent off:

"There are 300 million people in the US, which means 300 million unique personalities, all trying to make sense of the modern world.

Among them sadly will be those who have given up hope of understanding the world around them, who are contemplating suicide, and are casting around for a means of ending it all.
America's lax gun laws mean they can go out and purchase, with absurd ease, a highly efficient means of self-dispatch - a firearm.

But if they feel so inclined they can also use it take their revenge on a society which they hold responsible for their feeling so worthless.

So if you are looking for warning signs of an imminent massacre, Toby, I would have thought the sight of a college student going into a gunshop and splashing out some $600 dollars would be a reasonable start. What possible use would a student have for a semi-automatic pistol ? It's not as if he was a homeowner, wanting protection for himself or family against intruders.

Why were the university authorities not notified ? Perhaps Americans are more concerned about the human rights of gun owners than they are of citizens who choose not to bear arms - and who have unwisely, perhaps, placed their trust in a flawed system."

Update Wednesday 12:00 midday

Yesterday I signalled that I had said everything I wanted to say on Toby's original Virginia massacre post ( now off the blogroll, and only accessible in his personal folder). However, a somewhat detached, dare one say smug, late posting from "Martin" (surely not the same one I met at the Telly blogger's evening ?) provoked me to respond as follows:

Title: Sickening inevitability

"So Michael's risk of being randomly killed goes from 0.00000000001% to 0.00000000002%.

He seems not to care that the rest of us experience nausea when switching on our TV to watch the world news.

Meanwhile his fellow Americans, like the ones who post to this site, have the cheek to call us hard-nosed and hard-hearted for failing to join in on their post-Diana displays of heart-on-sleeve grieving.

Whereas Diana's death was almost certainly an accident (whatever Dodi's father might think) the 32 deaths in Virginia were entirely forseeable, thanks to America's lax gun laws. It's only a matter of time before we switch on our sets and go through the whole sickening spectacle again of a society playing Russian roulette with its children."

To be continued later today. Comments invited by email:

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

England as it used to be ( before Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair)

David Llewellyn posted today on the subject of golliwogs and lost innocence. That drew a reply from one "Stuart" bemoaning our modern, greedy violent society, where the hoodies will stab you, as soon as look at you. That got me thinking about the sight in my youth of teddy boys, walking menacingly down the high street, five -a -breast, at least some carrying flick knifes - and the fact that there are folk today whose faces probably still bear the marks of that era.

In a lighter mood, I sent the following by way of reply, under the title "Root out nostalgist bigotry":

"Stuart's attempts to claim that his yesterdays were superior to my todays simply cannot pass unchallenged, nor can his implication that his yesterdays are more rose-tinted than my own.

His comments smack of blatant nostalgism, of which we are seeing too much these days - far more than when I was young.

Isn't nostalgism simply a way of claiming supremacy of age or imagination ?

You are engaging in non-PC speak, Stuart, a reflection of your faulty cognition and erroneous choice of newspaper.

Are you aware that you are creating a new class of victim, namely folk who did not realise just how bad things have become ? If you persist in this fashion, Stuart, then we bleeding-heart guardianistas may feel obliged to set up a new action group to seek out and confront nostalgism at all levels of society. "

I then keyed "nostalgia jokes" into Google, but instead of finding nostalgia jokes, came up with this link.

Some of the one -liners there are very, very funny, don't you think ? Here's a sample, cut and pasted:

90% of all statistics are made up
A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.
Every time I've built character, I've regretted it.
You can't have everything. Where would you put it?
A chicken is an egg's way of producing more eggs.
A day not wasted is a day wasted!
A diplomat thinks twice before saying nothing.
A friend: someone who likes you even after they know you.
A Smith & Wesson *ALWAYS* beats 4 Aces.
A waist is a terrible thing to mind.
According to my calculations the problem doesn't exist.
All I want is a warm bed, a kind word and unlimited power
Alone: In bad company.
Always remember no matter where you go, there you are.
Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.
An unbreakable toy is useful for breaking other toys.
Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly.
Any fool can criticize, condemn, & complain. And most do.
As I said before, I never repeat myself.
As long as I can remember, I've had amnesia.
Bigamy : one wife too many. Monogamy : same thing.
Confusion not only reigns, it pours.
Constant change is here to stay.
Do steam rollers really roll steam?
Doesn't expecting the unexpected make the unexpected become the expected?
Efficiency takes time! Frugality: who can afford it?
Everyone is entitled to my opinion.
Everyone is gifted. Some open the package sooner.
Forgive your enemies...but REMEMBER THEIR NAMES!
Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional!
I feel like a fugitive from the law of averages.
I hate to repeat gossip, so I'll only say this once.
If a parsley farmer is sued, can they garnish his wages?
If a stealth bomber crashes in a forest, will it make a sound?
If a turtle doesn't have a shell, is he homeless or naked?
If at first you don't succeed, call it version 1.0
If you're cross-eyed and have dyslexia, can you read all right.
Instead of talking to your plants, if you yelled at them would they still grow?
Is it possible to be totally partial?
Is there another work for synonym?
Isn't it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do "practice"?
It said, "Insert disk #3," but only two will fit!
Justify my text? I'm sorry but it has no excuse.
Logic: The art of being wrong with confidence...
Maintenance-free: When it breaks, it can't be fixed...
Microwave: Signal from a friendly micro...
Multitasking: Screwing up several things at once...
Never forget: 2 + 2 = 5 for extremely large values of 2.
Nostalgia: The good old days multiplied by a bad memory...
Some days you're the dog, some days you're the hydrant
This message transmitted on 100% recycled electrons.
When companies ship Styrofoam, what do they pack it in?
When sign makers go on strike, is anything written on their signs?
Where do forest rangers go to "get away from it all"?
Who is General Failure and why is he reading my disk?
Why do people who know the least know it the loudest?
Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? Are they afraid someone will clean them?
Why do they report power outages on TV?
Why is the word abbreviation so long?
Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?

Comments always welcome: emails to:

Friday, April 13, 2007

Telegraph Bloggers' Open House

Updated Sunday 15th April 21:50 There was a link on Shane Richmond's blog to one Robin Hamman. He's a BBC man with an impressive cv in internet involvement that goes way back to the mid 80s. I posted some comments today on Robin's blog that got us talking about the pros and cons of the Bloggers' evening.

Robin was impressed by the open plan, hi-tech newsroom. So was I, but less so with being whizzed through, and not seeing what was happening at one or more of the scores of work stations. Naturally the journalists were preoccupied with putting the paper to bed, but there was an all-too-apparent resentment at our intrusion on their territory. I contrasted this with the reception that Jane, I and fellow Antiboulenc Association members received when we visited the HQ of Nice-Matin, our regional newspaper, early in February. Here's a video clip: in it, a sub-editor explains the final tweaking of front page layout.

Updated Saturday 18:10 French time: This "thank you" letter went off to Shane Richmond's Telegraph blog. It has just appeared in the latest crop of comments.

"That's an inspired choice of location, Shane, for the Telegraph's new HQ, right next door to Victoria Station.

And here's a clip of you answering a question about your moderation policies:

As you say, there were a lot of media professionals there, so that commentors and/or personal bloggers like Ped, Martin and myself were not only heavily outnumbered, but felt a bit like garden gnomes on occasions - attracting the odd one or two bemused expressions.

Maybe you should consider some colour-coded name badges next time, so that birds of a feather can locate each other more readily. And while there are issues of commercial confidentiality, I would have liked to hear more about viewing statistics: what proportion of visitors coming to the online Telegraph log onto blogs, how many blogs posts do they read, and the relationship, if any, between the number of hits and the typical number of comments ? It's a blokish thing - lists, tables, pie charts etc.

But it was interesting and valuable, nonethethless, to see you, Ceri Radford, Ian Douglas and so many of your other blogging colleagues on your home ground. Thanks to you all for giving up your time.

Thanks too for the hospitality. While lacking in the social lubricant department (company policy I gather) your caterers certainly titillated the taste buds. Thanks also for being so tolerant of our intrusive cameras - although one could see that some of your people in the newsroom are still not comfortable having lenses pointed at THEM. Think of it as poetic justice !"

Oops: I discover that I have omitted to mention Simon Dickson as a fellow commentor - someone who cames across on Thursday evening as a thinker and effective speaker. He considers that regular commenters should be given a personal portfolio in which all their comments are stored. Sounds like a good idea to this garden gnome.

But he hints that Shane Richmond's plans for a revamp (all hush hush for now) may include something along the same lines. We live in exciting times, as the barriers separating the pros from us amateurs become breached.

The Telly's recruitment of guest bloggers from "Your View" (Simon Coulter, David Llewellyn, Phil Slocombe) was a defining moment in that regard. That initiative did not get a mention, incidentally, at least not while I was in the main venue ( but might have been when I was away doing the tour of the newsroom ). I chose not to raise it, for fear that it would be interpreted as angling for consideration myself.

But contrary to what some might think, it's not something that bothers me right now. Certainly I would not wish to be producing blog posts on an industrial scale, and would be reluctant for friends and family to read them if they were to attract the kind of comments that have been attached to Phil Slocombe's. Our friend Richard of Orléans has been particularly uncharitable in that respect, which won't come as a surprise to many. One wonders if that is why we are seeing fewer posts from Phil S in recent days - one suspects that the fun's gone out of it for him when he sees himself vilified not just for what he says, but for who he is, in this case an ex-serviceman (RAF) and proud of it.

Folk who visit my blog regularly will know my views on petty sniping, targetting and harassment, which is something the blogosphere needs to address and deal with, but cannot while it gets confused with issues of free speech.

Updated Saturday 10:10 French time. Here's a video clip with sound track of me and traffic outside the Telegraph's HQ . It's handily situated for those who have just come in from Gatwick, seeing as how it's right next door to Victoria mainline station !

Friday 12 th April

Yesterday, as some of you know, I attended the Telegraph's Bloggers' Open House, held at their Victoria HQ.

Shane Richmond, the host, has already posted. I'm naturally flattered to be mentioned by name, although I only spoke to Shane briefly. He was surrounded most of the time by what he refers to as "media types", so this humble commenter, way down the food chain, thought it best not to intrude.

In fact it was not till things were winding up, and the agency caterers were beginning to check their watches that I said to fellow "commenter" Ped that there was a tricky social duty to perform: how to say goodbye to one's host without having said hello ?

Ped solved in true military fashion (that being his background) by staging a frontal assault on Shane's little circle, and saying there was someone who wanted to introduce himself. The conversation was brief, mainly about Shane's spoof post that had us all (briefly) fooled. Later there was a quick pint down the local with Ceri Radford and Ian Douglas, both of them charming company (and one them very good looking). It's pronounced "Kerry" by the way, as I discovered early on, she being a Welsh lass.

Thus ends the first instalment. I have just uploaded the first video clip to YouTube. It's one of Shane answering a question from the floor about moderation policy, so you will need your speakers turned on. At one point the camera ( a miniature one in video mode, needless to say, not a proper camcorder) pans round to a guy with light coloured suit sitting next to the aisle. Sadly it took most of the evening to establish who he was (Ped) , and that he, Martin and myself were probably the only commenters present.

Martin and I are sitting together in the centre of the snapshot on Shane's post. I'm the one with silver hair, specs and permatan, hand on chin.

Suggestion to SR: next time get us minority commenters to identify ourselves, so we can form a little club of kindred spirits over the canapés, once the formal bit is over. But I'm glad I was there, for a number of reasons (about which more later).

Next instalment: probably about 10pm French time, if I don't fall asleep first (had to be up at 4am this morning to get the first flight back from Gatwick). Beware the so-called "courtesy coaches" that shuttle back and forth between Gatwick and the local hotels. They are bad for the blood pressure. More on that later.

ed: back sooner than expected. There's a new post from Ben Fenton just appeared, with a close -up of the audience. Ped's the one in the red tie. Ped warned YsT about not over-reacting to a CYKW. He told me once, and then, just in case I'd missed the message, he told me a second time, and then, during our brief encounter with SR, a third time, and, if I'm not mistaken, it kind of crept back into the conversation a fourth time. The phrase "message received" could be heard to be uttered at least twice last night.

Update: Thursday 21:20 If there were such a thing as a 12th commandment , it would be: never let yourself be distracted from the main point ( and never type too fast into Blogger's flaky text-entry software, unless you want your text to jump somewhere totally unexpected, like the "Link" box beneath one's chosen Title, I kid thee not).

But a thread opened earlier today on Peter Foster's "India" post which I recommend everyone to read. Putting Brit cynicism aside, be prepared please to make a gesture, no matter how small. Maybe the guy's a dreamer, but as the lady in South Pacific said: " If you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true ? "

See original mission statement of "Dreams and Daemons" ' (buried back deep in the archives).

Comments welcome (provided they don't try to equate me with Attila the Hun, the Devil Incarnate, President Aminadinnerjacket, Your Typical Brit, Gordon Brown etc) :