Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Backup Grooveshark Playlist #2

I just realised that if you copy a URL from the browser address bar on Grooveshark there is a # in there and if you rip this full URL the HTML does not contain the playlist.

To get around this I have written a second script that will clean the URL so that it will be identical to a Grooveshark URL link (ie one that someone sends to you or posts online).

New script;

# Pull the name of the playlist from the URL

playlistname=`echo $1 | sed "s/\// /g" | awk '{print "Grooveshark_"$5}'`

# Clean the URL and grab the HTML from the clean URL

cleanURL=`echo $1 | sed "s/#\///"`

wget -O $playlistname.html ${cleanURL}

# Now parse the HTML and extract the songs, then strip the HTML tags

awk '/Songs on Playlist/, $NF ~ /noscript/' $playlistname.html | sed -e :a -e 's/<[^>]*>//g;/ $playlistname

The script is executed the same as before

Back up grooveshark playlist

I've made a script that will back up any Grooveshark playlist and make both a plain text and a html copy (the latter can be opened in a browser and it will be instantly loaded by grooveshark).

The commands are;

# Pull the name of the playlist from the URL

playlistname=`echo $1 | sed "s/\// /g" | awk '{print $4}'`

# Grab the HTML from the URL

wget -O $playlistname.html $1

# Now parse the HTML and extract the songs, then strip the HTML tags

awk '/Songs on Playlist/, $NF ~ /noscript/' $playlistname.html | sed -e :a -e 's/<[^>]*>//g;/ $playlistname

cat $playlistname

Put these commands inside a file (called for example "") and make it executable

chmod u+x

then run it with the URL of the grooveshark playlist


This should produce files Adam+Curtis and Adam+Curtis.html

To convert playlists from iTunes, Spotify and LastFm into Grooveshark I recommend the Groovylists service

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shapes Of Things

On the way; Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, The Chrysalids. I can't find any summaries of the J G Ballad short stories so I'll do them one-by-one. I might post my to read list at some point.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.8

Monday, August 23, 2010

iPod Video on Ubuntu - gTkpod

I've just finished a long round of encoding up a lot of my video files and DVDs so that I can play them on both my PS3 (via mediatomb or a USB brick) and my iPod video.

The two devices place some restrictions on which audio/video codecs they can handle and also on the range of bitrates that are accessible. I'll post my ffmpeg script next time. The main points to mention are that the video size must be 640x480 or 340x240 for the iPod (5.5g) and the audio rate must be 160k or less for both devices. I went for the xvid codec (I would prefer to have used h.264 but I had many many problems getting this to work on both devices consistently).

Anyway the coding is now done and the videos look fine on my large TV but the files aren't so big that they fill up my iPod. To transfer files onto the iPod using the Ubuntu Linux operating system I use gTkpod . I found this to be superb. Multiple iPods are not a problem.

The best feature is the repository option. One can create separate repositories to separate content for different iPods. My wife and I have a lot of overlap in our musical tastes but there is a lot of music of hers I don't want on my iPod and vice-versa. gTkpod makes this simple. We each set up our own repository and populate this with our music choices from our shared collection giving us each our own personal library.

Another good new feature of gTkpod is the ability to tag video files. This way one can divide video into Movies, TV and Music video and label season and episode Nos. Be careful here. The tags aren't embedded into the video files as metadata and so if you move the file to a different folder then your tags will be lost. That's my only criticism - I wish that tag information could be associated with a file even if it isn't embedded.

Anyway I now have The Big Bang Theory Season 1 and The Sopranos Season 3 to keep me occupied when I'm on the move.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ubuntu One Music Store

Ubuntu have launched a DRM free music store as part of their Ubuntu One cloud. I would love this to work. Alas...

Tracks cost 99p and as a quick example the new Gorillaz album is £7.99 (the same price as HMV) . Compare to good old amazon mp3 where the same tracks are 89p each or £5.49 for the lot.

It's not an option really especially since amazon mp3 works so exceptionally well with Linux. Can anyone tell me of any other benefits (apart from cloud synchronisation)?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How a railway franchise should be run

Railway franchisee Grand Central is different. It is not backed by the promise of a taxpayer bailout. If the owners do not make enough money or even if they lose money they cannot pull out of the franchise. This is exactly how a franchise should work.

The big riddle here is how with all this extra risk on board do GC manage to offer lower fares than their rivals? Is this a ploy to establish market share? Or are they genuinely fair fares (sic)? They also offer no advanced booking scheme - one does not have to book a journey months ahead to get a lower fare. It is even possible to buy a ticket on the train without being made to feel like a fare dodger who is causing the aisle to be blocked by a conductor.

It all sounds too good to be true. My last post on DHL was also positive about a privatised business. 2 in one week. All we need now is the rest of the free market to work; the banks, the supermarkets, energy and water franchisees, employers etc.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

God bless DHL

I sold something on eBay. It was very large and I was petrified about going down to the Post Office.

Then I decided to go for a private courier. I booked it. They came to the door on the day and efficiently took the parcel away leaving me with proof of postage.

I tracked the item on their website. I knew when it had arrived and departed every distribution centre along the way. I know the exact time, to the second, that it reached my customer.

23 hours door-to-door. And it cost me just £8. Fantastic. I will never, ever use Royal Mail again for any parcel over 2kg.

This is what a privatised market should offer. I had a service I required and based on the details of this I could choose which service provider I wanted by going to

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Zilla's BLW update

We've been baby led weaning (BLW) with baby Zak for around 5 weeks now and I wanted to post an update and thank BLW Dad for his encouragement and BLW tips. Zak has really taken to eating solids and time has proven that we were right to take the BLW route. Although he will take the odd bit of weetabix or yoghurt from a spoon he insists on feeding himself and will try to grab the spoon for himself when we do spoon feed him. He loves all kinds of food and is happy to try anything we put in front of him, the only foods he has rejected we think had odd textures and that's why he wouldn't entertain them. He doesn't like babybel and some kinds of meat.

Last weekend we went out for our first family meal at a restaurant, with granny and grandad. Zak sat in a highchair and scoffed whatever we gave him from our plates - pieces of chicken, pizza crust, linguine, courgettes. We thoroughly enjoyed all eating together, at the same time, as a family and I was so proud to see my little guy enjoying his meal just like us. The staff at Ask were excellent and didn't bat an eyelid when Zak chucked pasta all over the floor.

Although it's turned out messier than I imagined and I seem to always be washing up or putting the dishwasher on, I'm more convinced than ever that BLW is the way to go.

Zilla's TV election

The 2010 election seems to have been billed as the TV election, with leaders debates taking place for the first time in British politics and unprecedented coverage across the terrestrial and satellite 24 hour news channels. But who did the best job of covering the election for a TV audience, and who should accompany the outgoing PM into the sunset?

The good:
  • Gary o'Donohue - Able to explain the most complex of issues concisely and in an easy to understand manner, o'Donohue deserves a much higher profile. Relegated to breakfast time reporting only, allegedly as a result of Nick Robinson's ego, o'Donohue has nevertheless been a voice of clarity and calm for the BBC.
  • Michael Portillo - Once universally derided, Portillo has reinvented himself in the last couple of years into a thoughtful and intelligent political commentator. Unafraid to disagree in the politest possible way, Portillo has been excellent on This Week, as well as the other programmes on various TV networks that he has popped up on.
  • The Sky News election team - The Sky News team were fairly effective throughout the election month, managing to get the big stories and seemingly always in the right place at the right time, particularly during 'Bigotgate'.
  • David Dimbleby - pretty ubiquitous throughout the election coverage, Dimbleby brought the right tone to proceedings, serious but without taking things too seriously and unafraid to take politicians to task.
The bad:
  • Nick Robinson - little better than a state-funded gossip and irritating at the best of times, Robinson has spent the last month jumping up and down like a hyperactive toddler, using 50 words when 10 would have done and has been all over every BBC news bulletin like an unwelcome rash. Despite his high profile Robinson seems unable to provide viewers with any real insight into British politics.
  • Alistair Stewart - the host of the first leaders debate SHOUTED his way through ITV's election coverage.
  • ITV's 'embedded correspondents' - ITV sent a correspondent to follow each party leader around the country to little effect. They reported little of substance or importance throughout the month.

Friday, May 07, 2010

A bizarre result for our Democracy

So we have a hung parliament. A large shift to the Conservatives but not large enough for them to form a government.


36.0% ie

29.3% ie
Liberal Democrat

22.9 ie

The first thing that leaps out is how poor the Liberal Democrats performed. They ran a good campaign. They did very well in the leaders debates and they gained lots of extra exposure. Unfortunately, with extra exposure comes extra scrutiny. Policies such as joining the Euro and an amnesty on illegal immigrants have clearly not gone down well. It is reassuring that people have looked at policy rather than TV persona.

Another reassuring matter is the high turnout. I hope that if a hung parliament cannot be configured and we need a second ballot then the turnout will remain high. If people lose their voice because of boredom then we are all in trouble.

What is truly bizarre about the result is that a Lab/Lib coalition cannot form a government. They will need the support of Plaid Cymru and the SNP for this. In return Plaid have already asked for £0.3 billion extra to their budget. The SNP will also doubtless ask for scottish public sector workers to be partially insulated from the coming cuts. So such a coalition will be a bad result for people in England.

The regional variations are fascinating. In England as things currently stand the Conservatives have 56% of the seats (but only 40% of the vote - that's why we need PR). This means that the people of England have chosen a Conservative government. In NI, Wales and Scotland the Conservatives have only 8 seats out of 119, just 7%. The devolved regions have rejected the Tories as an English party.

This is the true cost of devolution. The people of England have had their choice rejected by regions of Britain that have their own parliament. Budget cuts will now affect the people of England much more severely. Look at the constituency map here. Look how small the devolved regions are. Look how the map is dominated by red and blue. And remember that none of this matters. That orange and green and yellow are deciding the outcome of who loses their jobs and services.

I did not want the Conservatives to win (see earlier posts). I didn't want any of the big three to win. But I didn't want this. For the good of England I'm going to swallow my ideological preferences and say that the Conservatives should be the party to form a government. They got the most votes and the most seats. It won't be so bad - the opposition will be strong enough to keep the Tories in check.

One thing is for certain. Either way Gordon Brown is finished. Only an English Prime Minister will do now for a Lib/Lab pact.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Deficit Reduction Plan for Britain

  • Scrap IT programmes (and take the public sector over to Linux - much cheaper than Microshaft).
  • Scrap Trident and other hugely expensive MoD procurement programmes.
  • Do not sign any more private finance initiative contracts.
  • Stop spending money on consultants and use the civil service more.
  • Reduce the number of NHS managers significantly and stop NHS privatisation.
  • Raise taxes in every area by a small amount.
  • Levy the banks to provide a fund to protect us against another collapse.
  • Tax all migrant workers heavily to pay for the drain on our infrastructure (legal and otherwise).
  • Raise the minimum wage - more tax revenue, companies less likely to hire migrant workers, fewer british citizens on the dole.
  • Encourage a baby boom so we have a young workforce to support the ageing population.
Should save/earn us about £200 billion which pays off the deficit without a single public sector job loss.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Floola is full of bugs

Cross platform Ipod manager Floola is full of bugs. It's a real shame because when I open Floola it looks like it will be perfect for me and I will finally be able to toss the old WXP box out. The options and functionality promise so much. And yet I can't delete songs. I can't delete duplicates either. It just hangs. I've tried fixing orphans and lost files.

This software came recommended in Linux Format. Boo!

Funny thing, our democracy

To form a government a political party in the UK needs a large majority of seats in Parliament. Once it has this majority then the government cannot be forced into calling another general election and its MPs cannot be recalled. We are stuck with the government and their large majority means that they can do whatever they want (like go to war in Iraq). This has gone on for decades with Labour and the Conservatives taking it in turns to have a decade or more in power. Power only changes hands when the public are so sick of a party that they will do anything to see a change of government.

In this election we have a real chance to change the status quo. If there is no outright winner then the Liberal party will become very important in any coalition government. This will almost certainly mean electoral reform so that proportional representation is introduced meaning that the number of votes cast for a party will count and not the number of seats that they gain. The awful spectre of a party finishing third in the popular vote but still gaining enough seats to win the election will be removed. It will mean the end of Conservative majority government. For ever.

Just think about that. Never again will the Tories get into absolute power. The party that represents the rich and the priviliged. The party that decimated northern England in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The party that ruined our place in Europe and will further isolate us to the margins if elected this time. The Tory party that will not give precise figures in its manifesto and will not explain exactly how its 'big society' policies will work.

Party politics as a whole doesn't work. All three big parties support a free market, privatised, PFI backed, business led Britain in which the gap between rich and poor widens every year and society crumbles.

So I'll be voting tactically to stop my MP from being a Tory. I want a hung parliament. I want consensus & issue based politics (like that in Germany and many other places in the world) to take over. The end of the party whips. The end of MPs doing as they please in seats for life. The end of MPs working for lobbyists and the end of former Prime Ministers making £20 million from oil companies for taking us to war against an oil rich country.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

If only....

  • Scrap Trident and cancel the aircraft carrier and Eurofighter contracts
  • Break up the banks
  • Ban short selling
  • Tax foreign exchange transactions
  • Raise capital gains tax
  • Raise income tax for the rich while reducing it for the poor.
  • Set a maximum wage and give workers seats on corporate boards.
  • Re-nationalise the railways
  • Curb the power of the supermarkets and gas/electric companies.
  • A living pension for everyone over 80
  • Raise benefits in line with average earnings
  • Scrap tuition fees.
  • Abandon ID cards
  • Stop detaining asylum seekers
  • Shift sentencing away from prison and towards restorative justice
Think this is impossible? The people of Wales get this choice with Plaid.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Leaders Debates

The first ever UK television debate between the three people who hope to be prime minister was held the other night. We expected a dry, safe stage managed affair with little participation from the public. In fact it was surprisingly engaging and opened up genuine differences between the parties.

Nick Clegg was the clear winner. He spoke to the camera and to people who asked him the questions. He tried to answer the audience questions fully and he remembered the names of the people who asked the questions. Brown and Cameron seemed to be bickering amongst themselves. Out of the three parties I would choose the Lib Dems. Unfortunately I live in a Labour seat where the majority shrunk to 8000 at the last election from 20000 the time before. I need to make sure that Caroline Flint doesn't lose her seat to the Tories.

I absolutely do not want a Conservative government. The last time our economy was in this state the Conservatives made things ten times worse by making premature cuts and putting millions into unemployment. Their policies on small government and handing back power to the people are just back door privatisation and deregulation. Deregulation and free markets don't work because human beings are selfish and greedy and will always play the system. And who is going to have time to run a school and do a full time job and look after kids?

Labour have some very interesting policies this time around but I just don't believe that any of them will be enacted. Gordon Brown appeared statesmanlike during the debate and he certainly didn't finish last. My perception was that he hammered Cameron. The problem is that Brown is a political animal. His party seems tired and decaying and corrupt.

My ideal scenario would be a Lib Dem victory and if I get the faintest whiff that they can take our constituency then I'll vote for them. The more realistic scenario is to keep the Tories out and hope for a coalition government (with Vince Cable as chancellor). To get this I'll have to vote Labour for the first time in my life. Yuck.

Party politics is still a poor system. If one party holds a large majority then all sorts of horrific laws and backstage deals get under the radar (see any issue of private eye). The three parties still offer a narrow variation on a theme. Our degree of EU membership has never been put to the public. And the system of deregulated, privatised, PFI, free market capitalism that we are forced to live under is not going to be questioned or altered in any way.

It's a real shame that voters are not being offered any great variety of choice and that people like me cannot vote for the things I want and instead have to tactically vote for the lesser of many evils.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Wire Season 5

And so we have reached the final season and we are 4/10 episodes in. The entertainment levels are higher than ever but the standards and credibility of the storyline have slipped. Just a little. It feels like they have just eased off on the throttle. We are currently in soap opera territory where every character is in jeopardy. Who will survive? The newspaper storyline feels like it was crowbarred in and there seems to be very little connect with the rest of the show so far (apart from a few scenes where McNulty meets a Sun reporter). The Burrell stuff (trying to keep spoilers out of this) and the serial killer stuff doesn't feel like a strong enough bond so far. 6 more episodes to go so we'll see how it develops. But just maybe given the journalism background of the writers this season is a little self indulgent and the cop/drugs stuff has been stretched out to provide a scaffold for their rants about newspaper cuts.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Baby led weaning

I (Zilla) wanted to type up some thoughts on baby led weaning (BLW) in the hope that anyone coming across this might be encouraged to give it a go.

I came across baby led weaning on the internet a while ago and though that the approach would suit baby Zak to a tee, as he is a very independent minded baby. Basically, you forget all your purees and ice cube trays - provided you've waited until bubs is 6 months old and can pick things up, you cook a bit of whatever you're having for tea without sugar or salt, cut it into fist sized pieces, put it on baby's high chair tray and let them have at it.

I was undecided on whether to just take the traditional route until I saw this brilliant video of parents trying BLW for the first time (note for the easily offended: Dad has a bit of a potty mouth). Seeing that baby scoffing chunks of broccoli persuaded me that BLW was the way to go. And so far, it has been. Zak is three days in and already he's been chomping carrot, banana, digestives (naughty Granny), cucumber and broccoli. Today we're having a go at parsnip. We weren't expecting him to eat much at first and although alot of food has ended up on the floor he's been going at his food pieces with great gusto.

Unfortunately there's not alot of info out there on BLW - when I asked the local health visiting team they'd heard of it, but not much else. There is a book available, which I didn't buy, although at the start I felt like I needed some hand holding and wished that I had the book to refer to. There's a good website: and the Youtube videos of course, and that's about it.

Despite the Dept of Health guidelines there's still alot of pressure on parents to wean babies at four months and it can be tough to wait til six months when everyone around you is shovelling purees into their bubs mouths while your baby has to make do with plain old milk. But after just three days Zak has already caught up with his peers in terms of what he can eat and I'm so glad we waited. It's only a matter of weeks before he's going to be nomming entire roast dinners.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why I'm thinking about not voting at the next UK general election

In the UK a general election will be held soon (6th of May). We are told that this is our chance to have our say on how we are governed and that it is our civic duty to vote. In the UK there are many political parties but historically it has only ever been the Conservative Party or the Labour Party that have been elected to form a government and there are no signs that this is about to change. But what are we to do if we do not like either of these two options? This article is a discussion of why the two main political parties have become unpalatable for voters and offers some suggestions for what might be done to rescue the public trust in government and politicians which has never been at a lower ebb.

There are four main reasons why the public believe that neither Labour or the Conservatives should be elected.

1) Dissatisfaction with the behaviour of MPs/HM government.

In 2002/2003 millions of people marched on the streets of the UK to protest at government plans to invade a country that had never attacked the UK or any of its citizens, a crime of agression under international law that was opposed by the United Nations. This was in support of a country (the USA) who had been attacked by people from another country (Saudi Arabia) on whom they depend for oil. Quite what this had to do with Iraq or with the people of Britain was another matter. Lies were told and the war happened anyway. Many 100'000's of people died and the reasons we were given for going to war were shown to be a willing lie (WMDs were shown to never have existed and the evidence that they existed was shown to be very dodgy). The will of the people of Britain was ignored.

Before they were elected the Labour government published a manifesto of things that they 'promised' to do if elected. One of these was a promise to ask us if we wanted them to sign the EU treaty on our behalf. The referendum was never held and they signed the treaty anyway. Other countries such as Ireland, France and the Netherlands have held referenda and the vote has been a no in cases. In each case the referenda were re-staged again and again until the voters got so bored with voting that a yes was given. There are times when the public cannot be allowed to dictate the law and government policy - e.g. the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1960s. But the law should represent the will of those who have to be subject to it. The people of Britain have a right to choose how deep our involvement in the European Union should be. Should it be a simple cooperative effort on trading and foreign policy (to help our mutual economies and to improve our negotiating position on the world stage) or should it be a federal superstate wit a president and a constitution. The latter represents a significant change in our democratic rights and we have a right to veto it. The real reason a referendum was not held is that (a) the EU means politicians (MEPs) become much more powerful and more beuarcay means more for the political class to do and (b) big business controls the government and it wants an EU superstate with a single currency and cheap migrant labour. The democratic will of the people that they represent does not figure in the equation. Manifesto pledges should be binding and it should be clearly set out in the manifesto those circumstances under which the pledges could be broken e.g. spending on the armed forces would have to increase if there was a war. Otherwise a manifesto is just false advertising.

But there is another issue that has damaged the standing of politicians far more than the two examples given above. The expenses scandal consistently shocked the British public for most of 2009. MPs made the situation much worse by insisting that they did not break the rules. They just didn't get it. They didn't see that the things they were putting on expenses were quite clearly taking the piss. Most of the public now see all MPs as being in it only for their own gain. (An interesting question that was never raised was how far back this has been going on. We only know about the last parliament. Are there greater scandals in the mists of time. What dodgy expenses claims were made in the sleazy days of the 1990s?).

2) MPs are powerless.

They cannot represent us properly because they have no power. The deregulation and privatisation that has continued since the 1980s has left MPs with little control over the system. There are two main areas where this has reduced the power of our government and diluted our democracy;

The Credit Crunch and the banking crisis were directly caused by the deregulation introduced in the 1980s. This has cost the state billions of pounds and has cost millions of job as we enter recession. I rest my case on this issue.

National assets were sold in the 1980s. We were promised an free market and open choice as to who we paid to provide our services. A great idea. No more late letters and late trains. The Post office was opened up to competition and private companies soon moved in and cheery picked the most profitable parts (business mail). The Royal Mail was left with the loss making parts of the business (ordinary letters and the Post office). The profitable areas once subsidised the loss making areas that provide a community service. The result has been a shocking decline in a service on which we all depend with post office branches closing en masse and it being impossible to get a parcel delivered to the door (we pay to have it delivered to the door but the postman is too pushed for time to bring it on his rounds and attempt delivery so he leaves it at the sorting office where we have to go and collect it).

The railways are another good example. Tracks were ripped up by successive governments and the service declined due to lack of investment. Privatisation brought companies willing to run the profitable parts of the business (carrying passengers) but not the unprofitable parts (maintaining the tracks and the stations) which eventually fell back into state ownership. The service has not improved with all of this choice. Operating companies pull out of unprofitable contracts. Ticket prices continue to rise. And the trains are simply unpleasant to travel on. Crowding is the major problem. The train companies know which services are busy but they refuse to put on extra carriages because this costs more and reduces their profit margins. This is where the government should step in. How about a law that says that a ticket cannot be sold for a train if there is not a seat available? The number of fares that could be collected by a train operator would then be proportional to the number of carriages they provide. Simple economics. Why does no such common sense rule apply? The government are toothless and powerless.

Train tickets are offered in a bewildering variety of prices and types. There is no choice on offer except when to travel and whether to sit in first class. We cannot choose whether to travel with company A or company B based on price because no such choice exists. We often see this where there is no choice offered by the free market or where the choice is blurred. Consider mobile phone tariffs or gas/electricity tariffs. Instead of simple side by side comparison of prices we have a large range of complex tariffs. How about laws that force companies to produce directly comparable tariffs for low, medium and heavy users in each area?

Some of the practices of the gas and electricity companies have been a disgrace. Estimated bills have been a good trick. Gas and electricity meters are deliberately left unread for a long time and the reading is deliberately underestimated. When the meter is eventually read the customer needs to pay for the shortfall in units. The provider can charge at current rates for gas and/or electricity instead of asking the customer to pay the cost of the gas/electricity at the time it was used. How about legislation to define a minimum interval for reading a meter. Or compulsary investment in smart meters? Another trick is where prices do not track wholesale prices and the gas companies recklessly profiteer. How about a rule where the domestic gas price cannot be more than 5% above the wholesale price at any given time? This would have prevented the scenario that happened this winter (a particularly cold one for Britain) where the wholesale price dropped sharply just before the winter started but the providers did not drop domestic tariffs to reflect this until after the winter had ended. It is estimated that each UK household overpaid by £105 over this winter.

Operators are given the contract to run the service for a set number of years. They often lie to get the contract and then do/charge what they want when the have the contract. Investment simply does not occur. How about a rolling investment pot that all contract holders must contribute to? The other problem with privatisation and free markets is that monopolies can emerge if the government does not prevent this. The First company has a near monopoly on bus travel in the UK and the ticket prices that they offer and the cuts in routes they have made are simply unfair.

The other area where British political power has weakened is with the EU. As an example I pick jobs. At the start of 2009 four thousand oil refinery workers went on strike in fear for their jobs as the French oil company Total decided to subcontract an Italian firm which employs Italian and Portuguese workers to carry out maintenance at a refinery in Grimsby.

The state pays Grimsby folk unemployment benefit whilst a company employs people from the other side of europe at a slightly cheaper rate to carry out work in Grimsby. This is effectively the state increasing the profit margins of large foreign companies by paying the local workforce to do nothing. Gordon Brown came out with the empty line 'British jobs for British workers' but he didn't actually do anything because he is powerless to act under EU law.

I suggest the following rules to make a truly fair and open labour market across Europe.

A company cannot draft in migrant workers from within the EU unless the jobs in question have been made equally available to local workers. A worker cannot be paid less than the local minimum wage.

3) Bad government.

One can always find examples of mistakes made by government. For example the Home Office lost the personal details of all child benefit claimants in the UK. It also lost the files of thousands of criminals. Gordon Brown sold off part of the UK gold reserves when gold prices were at rock bottom. If he had waited we would have made £5billion extra.

The biggest scandal of all is in how the government is hiding the true amount of national debt. Large scale long term construction projects like schools & hospitals cost money. Lots of money. One way for MPs to get around this is to go to the private sector for finance - a PFI company builds the thing and leases it back to the government. If the cost of the building project rises then the PFI company takes all the risk. Seems sensible. Only this never happens. When costs rise the PFI they are added to the bill. The costs are also extortionate and PFI has been compared to buying a house using a credit card. Monbiot has written about this at length and it regularly features in Private Eye. The PFI scheme to run and widen the M25 for 30 years will cost £6.5 billion. To run it as is and just use the hard shoulder at busy times would cost just £478 million. MPs like PFI because they can invest massively now and they won't be around to pick up the debt which is tens (if not hundreds) of billions of £s.

4) Party Politics does not work.

What if I agree with the Tory policy on how they would reduce the unemployment figures but I agree with the labour policy on inheritance tax? Who should I vote for? Should I rank issues in order of importance to me and weigh up which party I agree with most on balance? What if both parties have the same policy on most areas and what if I disagree with this? What if my MP ignores the will of the many on an issue (how do MPs truly know what public opinion is on any particular issue anyway?) and just votes along party lines? What can I do? The truth is that the two main political parties are so similar as to render the choice meaningless. The Labour government of the last 13 years has essentially continued the free market /deregulation /privatisation policies of the Tory government that was incumbent before it for 17 years (with some extra public spending thrown in). We are told that there is a real difference between the parties now in how they would deal with the budget deficit (Labour would wait until we started to come out of recession before making public spending cuts). This is essentially a recipe for how they would clear up the mess that they have created between themselves and not a clear choice of which package of rules they would put into place to make society a place fair for all.

Party policies are now defined not by what they think is best for us all but by the demands of business. How can it be democratic for private donations to be made to political parties? How can a government make objective decisions about what is best for the country when they rely on the donations of those with vested interests to run for office in the first place? I suggest that donations to individual parties should be banned and that donations should only be allowed into a general pool which would be shared out equally amongst all parties that won more than a certain number of seats at the last election. Small parties and new parties would then share a general pool of second tier donation money in the ratio of the number of seats that they are competing for. This system is not perfect and I am certain that political donations would dry up completely if there was nothing to gain by making a donation to British politics in general.

Non-stop by Brian Aldiss

Wow. The first novel of Brian Aldiss, one of the grand old men of British science fiction and it is superb. An accident on board a generation starship cripples the infrastructure and resets the society inside so that they forget where they are and their morals and religion are altered. The book is all about the quest of a few of the inhabitants to find out what the nature of their universe is.

There are two really impressive things about this piece. The first is how Aldiss unfolds the story. We know all along that we are inside a starship but Aldiss keeps the plot exciting and provides a good drip-drip of suspense and revelations. The ending also provides a nice surprise and a good resolution. The second impressive thing is that this is a page turner. Some SF provides enjoyment by allowing us to bathe in the details. Not here. We want to find out what happens.

The atmosphere and the characters instantly print upon the mind and the feel of the ship as the characters make their winding trek through the decks filled ponics (overgrown hydroponic plants) is perfect. One fault means I can't give a perfect score. One of the main groups of enemies are rats. This is perfectly acceptable as a plot device (it drives the tribe of Gregg into teaming up with forwards and allows the laser and the diary to be passed on) but did the rats really have to be telepathic?! Did they really have to be able to wield objects and subjugate other animals like rabbits and moths?! Rats on earth have not evolved such abilities. Another fault is that Complain never gets to meet up with his old tribe. We never get a moment where they see how he was right to question the nature of things.

All in all I think this work will stay in my mind for a good long time.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Review of Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

I reviewed my attempt to read this some time ago and how I just gave up. Well, something kept nagging away at me and I tried again. Again I got bored by three separate character threads, long winded exposition and disparate timelines.

And then about 100 pages in it all came together. It turned into a thriller. There are some beautiful set pieces and I like the characters because he doesn't bother trying to color them in. We have people, we know what they look like and we know their motives. End of.

This is a fantastic hard SF novel with some very memorable passages and many many interesting ideas. So apologies to Mr. Reynolds for my earlier lazy review. This cold tale has made me want to continue the series and check out some of his other work.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Wire

I don't like bandwagons. I refused to vote for New Labour (and I was right). I refused to get into Oasis when all around me were losing their heads (and I was right). Everyone started going on about the Sopranos. I just couldn't be bothered. I don't like gangster films and as far as I was concerned this was just a cheap rip off for TV. Incidentally I saw Goodfellas for the first time a few weeks ago and I loved it even though it felt like a feature length special of the Sopranos set in the 1960s. Anyway I was wrong about the Sopranos. My wife and I spent nearly a year picking through it (there must be over a hundred episodes) and avoiding spoilers that would just spring up without warning in newspapers and magazines.

With spoiler avoidance in mind we decided to try out season one of the Wire. The weight of good reviews, starting off with Charlie Brooker on Screenwipe, broke the dam. From all of this positive press we knew to expect a realistic show that treats the viewers like adults with a brain and that there would be no good guys and bad guys. It was all this and more. More than any other TV show it moved me to another world. I just forgot who I was each time I watched it because I was totally immersed. I was standing next to the guys on the roof taking pictures. I was laughing as McNulty got his kids to do surveillance of drug dealers and egging Omar on as he robbed drug dealers (the best character in season 1 for me). I was nervously looking around and hoping no-one was going to get Wallace so he had a chance to go back to school and get his life together. Wallace deserved this because he looked after all the drug orphan kids in the neighbourhood and seeing that guy with the hole in his eye broke his brain. That was his only crime. Being too sensitive. And they still... Now I'm doing it. Spoiling it for anyone who hasn't seen it. I used the past the tense about Wallace there.

Spoilers are now my enemy and yours too if you're also catching up. Before I saw the end of The Wire series one I was looking at some box sets in Sainsburys and right there on the cover of season 4 was a picture that told me the outcome of season 1. I said 'bastard' out loud and a middle aged lady with a suit scowled at me but nuts to her because the season finale was ruined. What idiot put that image on the front of the box? The DVDs are silly too. To play an episode you have to go via a menu that tells you what happens in that episode. Duh. The synopsis is written in the same font as the 'play episode' text. Silly.

Why didn't I just start watching The Sopranos and The Wire and Battlestar Galactica when they first came out? Good telly, give it a go. First answer - Lost. Gave it a try and very quickly realised they were just making it up as they went along. Second answer - 24. Third answer - Heroes. I'm lying on that last one. I watched one episode and spotted the upcoming bullshit straight off. Some shows are worth the effort for at least a season or two. Like My Name is Earl which didn't jump the shark until season 3. The Big Bang Theory is still awesome and might even make it to my DVD collection. South Park is weird in that it gets better with age like wine unlike The Simpsons whose ass has turned to vinegar. Honestly that show is dead to me now. My latest experiment is East Bound and Down. Seen episode 1 and it was very funny. So I'll take the gamble and be ready to abandon ship if I see it starts to sink. I might be investing my time in a flop but this is a gamble worth taking because by being up to date I'll avoid those dreaded spoilers.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

My baby son

Hello blog. I've been neglecting you for a long time. The reason is that Nicola and I have been having a baby. Now he's born I have even less time to give to you. I'm a bit frazzled. There are jobs to do everywhere I look. Everything needs attention. Every time I remember a fire and put it out I spot two new ones; wash the dishes and notice that the basil plant on the window sill needs watering. Move the herb plant and notice that the kitchen window needs to be cleaned. Clean the kitchen windows and notice that the garden needs work. And on and on.

Of course none of this is getting done. I'm just enjoying spending time with my new little buddy. I should probably make a record of what I remember before it fades. You were born on tuesday at 4.08pm. On monday night we went into the hospital because mum was bleeding and we had you on the baby monitor just to be on the safe side. Mum had some practice contractions that we saw on the paper trace out. We got home after midnight (I'd been up at 7am for work in York and done two 1 hour commutes that day). We got home and had toast and hot chocolate and watched the Simpsons then fell asleep at around 1am. At 5am mums contractions started for real. By 8am they were uncomfortable. We contacted the hospital and they told us to put mum in a hot bath to see if the contractions went away. They didn't. They got worse. We got to the hospital at about 930am on a sunny day (very warm for September). Mum was still only 2cm dilated and it was early labour but we had to stay in because mum wasn't dealing well with the pain. She had a morphine injection and tried to relax. We were down on the ward and could hear other mums in early labour and families coming to visit their newborn babies. At lunchtime granny barbara called over (she works as a secretary at the hospital) and bought dad a sandwich and a coffee. We went up to see mum and granny B held her hand for a few contractions anc calmed her down. Granny B left at 1pm and we thought that the action wouldn't start until about 6pm. At 2pm mums waters broke. I took her into a bathroom and we cleaned her up and took off her wet clothes. She was now wearing some rather fetching paper undies. Mum then wanted to start pushing and we waited for a delivery room to become free.

We went upstairs in the lift. Mums morphine had worn off but she wasn't allowed any more because the was in the final stages of labour - she had to do the whole thing with only gas and air. Our delivery nurse was called Jo Brown and she was a nice lady with dreadlocks. It took 1hr40mins for you to be born. Mum went from being almost asleep with me wiping her with a cool towel and stroking her hair to being bolt upright and screaming and pushing. It was like someone flicked a switch every ten minutes. My job was to support her head and encourage her to push. After struggling with the pain earlier on she was now like a lioness. When they wanted three pushes per round of contractions she gave them four. When they said keep pushing she kept pushing and pushed harder. She was amazing and I was so proud of her.

When you were nearly out you started to get tired and so they assisted your delivery. A big fat lady doctor came in and they sucked you out. You were born with your eyes open and you went straight onto mums tummy. While they stitched up mum and passed the placenta I held you. I took off my t-shirt and we went skin to skin. I sat next to the window with you for about an hour. Then I made mum some tea and toast. Mum went in the bath and you went in your cot with your new clothes on and a little muslin bobble hat to cover up your head that was swollen from suction. Daddy told everyone the good news on his mobile phone. We all went down to the ward just in time for visitors and saw Granny B, Grandad John and Uncle Stewart. We had to leave you and mummy in overnight as a precaution and I went to your grandparents house for pork chops and chips. I got home about 10pm and fed poppy the cat and had a pint of bitter to celebrate.

That was 9 days ago. The day after we took you home when you'd had your health checks. We had visits from everyone who couldn't make it the night before. Granny Janny and Mick, Grandad Jimmy, your uncles james, george and charlie and aunty becky. So far you've been to baby club and the supermarket Granny B and Ganda Js and Grandad Jimmys. It's been a very tiring week. Difficult to get you feeding and changed and settled. But we are really enjoying it and we have both already fallen for your cheeky little face. We registered your birth on monday (it's thursday today, my 29th birthday).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reasons for US/UK friction

  1. The new administration wanting to distance itself from the Iraq War
  2. The NHS being smeared as part of the US medical finance reform debate
  3. The release of the Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds

Saturday, March 07, 2009 mp3 site

The mp3 shop on is superb and it beats the pants of most of it's competitors (although I still dearly love bleep). Here's why;

  1. It is cheap
  2. There is no digital rights management
  3. It is quick
  4. There is a good selection
  5. They have linux versions of their download assistant
Today I have been downloading some great records;

Oxygene and Equinoxe by Jean-Michel Jarre and Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass

I've also been searching for treasure. Two sites I really love are cosmobells and 36 15 moog. Both are blogs written by collectors who find rare treasure on vinal and make mp3 files available. If you like electronica and old moog and synth music it is a hoarde of precious things the likes of which cannot be found or bought anywhere. My 'free' find of the day is High Tech by CLaude Larson

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Review of 'The Man In The High Castle' by Philip K. Dick

Not the first alternative history novel but the one that defines the genre. President Truman was assassinated and the Allies lost WWII. We are in the Western half of the USA which is controlled by Japan. The Nazis, who have exterminated the whole of Africa, are exploring the solar system (but are decades behind in the develpoment of TV) and plotting to nuke the Japanese. They control the Western USA. There are many plot threads. One is about moderate groups in Germany trying to get a warning to the Japanese. The main thread has an author (living in a fortified hideout called the high castle) who has written a mirror image novel of the one we are reading; 'what if the allies had won' from the perspective of his reality. This is very different to our reality.

What I liked about the book was how Dick was not afraid to deal with the issues of racism. I like how he has the Japanese as quite moderate people (much nicer than the nazis). I like how he deals with colonialism by having some US people adopting Japanese mannerisms and speech and thought patterns and how the Japanese will buy any old forged historical relics that they think are authentic pieces of US history.

What I don't like is how he doesn't seem to address the question as to whether it is the German leaders who are evil or whether he considers there to be any redeeming qualities in the German people. The nazis just seem like cartoon nasties. The other problem with the story is that is doesn't go anywhere. Society is not changed by the man in the high castle. The ending has a big revelation which is interesting and deals with parallel universes (and alternate histories) but this is derived from the I-Ching. And this is the BIG problem with the story; PKD worked out the plot by consulting the I-Ching (the book of changes). This must have been very trendy at the time (it reminds me of the use of tarot cards in Slaughterhouse 5) but it doesn't make for a good plot. I also found it a bit boring during the story when the characters consulted the I-Ching to decide their next course of action. The bit where Julia realises that the man in the high castle used the I-Ching to write his book was also a bit self indulgent.

Overall a good book, well written but apart from some interesting ideas it doesn't go anywhere. I enjoyed some passages and found others to be a chore. It's a good sci-fi book but not in my top five.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Millions for defense, but not one cent for survival

Government investment in nuclear missiles : £20 billion

Government investment in hybrid/green/electric cars : £20 million

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kiss of death for the New Tintin film

Daniel Craig has been cast as the 'villain Red Rackham' in the new Tintin movie that Spielberg is doing. Every film that Craig has been in has been a terrible flop. Oh and there is no Red Rackham in the book. He's a historical character and he and Tintin never meet. Another kiss of death for the project is that Peter Jackson will direct a sequel. Oh no. Not Peter 'self indulgently make King Kong over three hours long when the Simpsons did the movie in ten minutes' Jackson.

On the plus side Stephen Moffat is the writer. He's currently the main guy on Dr. Who but I always remember him on Coupling, one of the cleverest and funniest shows ever. Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock will be either genius or just plain wrong. Tintin himself is perversely not an important casting job. The character is an everyman, quite bland and personality free. A blank canvas for the other characters to be painted onto.

They better not screw with something as good as Tintin. I personally think it won't work. The hook was always the quality of the line drawings in the artwork and the way they moved the story and depicted the action and drama in those tiny cells. So good it inspired Andy Warhol.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Review of 'Revelation Space' by Alistair Reynold

I tried, I really did. This novel came recommended to me. I was warned it was a bit slow. But I give up. It is advertised as a gonzo, cyberpunk space opera and it won some awards (but not the Hugo or the Nebula). I have a doctorate in physics so big concepts don't scare me but I just can't get into it. The plot is glacial and it jumps around in time. The characters are one dimensional and I have no empathy with them. The editors didn't do their job here. It's just indulgent crap. I just don't care what happens at the end so I'll be selling this book on amazon. If I want to read a novel like this I'll go for Iain M. Banks or even try Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss. In the meantime I'll be getting on with reading The Man In The High Castle by Philip K Dick. And I'll post a review of The Complete Short Stories Vol. 1 by J. G. Ballard.

Revision of Review of Slaghterhouse 5 and wardsback time

Like a lazy journalist I didn't check my sources. Initial reports of the death toll at Dresden and Hiroshima, reported by Vonnegut were 135'000 and 71'000. In later years the estimates have been corrected to 30'000 and 135'000 respectively.

I also forgot to mention my favourite passage in the book where Billy sees a bombing raid in a movie whilst his time is running backwards;

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the rack and shipped back to the United States, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous content into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anyone ever again.

Red Dwarf did a whole episode where the crew visit a place and time where time is running backwards. A famous contemporary novel would be Time's Arrow, a 1991 Martin Amis novel . Reference [3] on this page from also tells us that

Other antecedents include Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carrol; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, where the White Queen claims that she lives backwards in time; An Age by Brian Aldiss; Counter-Clock World by Philip K. Dick; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which a man is born at the age of 70 and proceeds backward to a state of infancy; and "Mr. F is Mr. F" by J.G. Ballard. In his Afterword to Time's Arrow, Amis refers obliquely to the Dresden fire-bombing description in Slaughterhouse Five while discussing influences on his own novel.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Review of 'Slaughterhouse 5' by Kurt Vonnegut

LISTEN: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

This book centres around the firebombing of Dresden in WWII as witnessed by the author, a US POW at the time who survived by being locked in the Slaughterhouse 5 of the title. The attack on Dresden killed 135'000 people, almost all of which were innocent civilians; by contrast the attack on Hiroshima killed 71'000. However, Vonnegut takes a different path than just explaining what he witnessed. The really innovative thing about this novel is that woven into the facts is a science fiction story told from the perspective of the lead character Billy Pilgrim. Billy does not experience time in a linear fashion. His life jumps forward and back, from future to the past. The cynic would say that Vonnegut did this to pad out the story (he almost admits as much in the intro, although this is most probably his modest attempt at admitting he couldn't remember too many details from Dresden) but it makes for an excellent way to fit the war experiences into the context of the mans life and the juxtapositions of various events in the life of Billy Pilgrim are very funny. We also learn why Vonnegut got into science fiction; 'Billy had seen the biggest massacre in European history, which was the fire bombing of Dresden... they we trying to reinvent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was a big help. ...everything there was to know about life was in the Brother Karamazov, by Dostoevsky. But that isn't enough any more.'

It also enables Vonnegut to bring in some of his worldviews. Billy Pilgrim is abducted by aliens who take him to live in a zoo on their home planet where he has to have sex with a fellow abductee, a famous movie star. The aliens experience time all at once with no past or future and their perspective helps Billy overcome his own being unstuck in time. 'when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it's very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed always will exist' ... 'the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that same person is just fine in plenty of other moments.' We also get 'it is a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor' .. 'their [the American poor] most destructive untruth is that it is easy for an American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.' Vonnegut was a good friend of socialist historian Howard Zinn.

His second main philosophy is that there is no free will. People aren't evil or bad, just tied to events. This makes for a very even handed, non judgmental anti war story; he isn't blaming anyone he just reports the absurd surreal situations he finds himself in (using soap made from human fat [see Fight Club] and emerging from his bombing refuge to find the streets still hot and what seem like little logs lying around that turn out to be the people caught in the firestorm)
. This book is bitter, moving, warm, easy to read and very, very funny. Kurt Vonnegut died very recently and it then became apparent how influential he had been upon many (notably filmaker Michael Moore). So it goes.

'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom always to tell the difference.'


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Review of 'Dune' by Frank Herbert

Just finished reading Dune by Frank Hebert and I must say it has been very enjoyable. I was always put off reading it by the bad reviews the film always gets and it just didn't seem like my cup of tea. But I was sucked in by the good quality of the prose and the way the story is elegantly unfolded. Frank Herbert has a way of using the lightest of touches to describe an awful lot of content.

All the way through the book I was expecting a huge battle between the Fremen army and the Imperial forces as a grand finale. In fact the ending does involve a battle and even a final duel between Paul and Feud Rautha and all the loose ends are tied up but this occupies very few pages.

Now I have finished it I have realised what the story is really about; how a people must coexist with an environment of they are to tame it. The other big aspect of the story is personal development and awareness of and sensitivity to the motives of others. It has made me think more and more about being subtle in my dealings with people and holding things back until I'm certain it's to my advantage to reveal them openly.

The main character is very likeable. He's a scrawny kid who gradually accumulates powerful but subtle abilities over a number of years of personal growth as he becomes the Kwisatch Haderach. Not a super hero who one day acquires magical powers. Paul is aware of himself and able to identify his strengths and his limitations, a skill that all of us need to become balanced adults.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Council response to my noisy neighbours complaint

Response from Doncaster council about my noise complaint. Needless to say, they went to the wrong address. They seem to know where my address is when it's time to send the council tax bill. Also notice the poor grammar.

"I am contacting you with regard to your recent email relating to our response to your complaint.

The night time noise patrol service operates between 21.00 hours and 03.00 hours every Friday and Saturday evening with the exception of the Christmas period. The service is staffed my means of and Environmental Health Practitioner and an Enforcement Officer working together. As the night progresses complaints steadily build up and the calls are dealt with in the order that they came in. This unfortunately builds a delay into our response time. In order that we can be more effective we do ask the complainant to contact us back if the noise nuisance has stopped.

With regard to your specific complaint, I can advise you that I have spoken to the officers on duty that night and read the report logs for that night.

It would appear that the first discrepancy was with the address they had been given by the Police. The address given was ****. Quite some time was lost looking for this particular location. It was eventually assumed to be !!!!. The Duty Officer did attend at 01.35 hours and reported the situation as all quiet at that time.

I feel there is some confusion over the your comment that the Council would be contacting you the following day to update you with the events of the night. Where a client request further contact this can be arranged but it would usually be the following week not the day after as this would be a none working day.

In order to deal with a problem it usually necessary for the Duty Officer to visit the complainant's property to assess the noise nuisance. The officer did attempt to contact you but they assumed on the night that you had gone to bed as the music had stopped.

In conclusion I apologise for any inconvenience this situation has caused you and hope that we can be of service to you in the future."

Monday, September 01, 2008

Noisy neighbours

On the Saturday night of the bank holiday weekend we had a serious noise problem. Our neighbours across the way erected an immense gazebo in their garden, hired a DJ and started blasting dance music out from 6.30 pm on two speakers which I'm certain were illegal to use in a residential area. With my doors and windows shut and the TV on I couldn't escape the noise. After an hour I went round to ask them to turn down the volume just a little. About 20 houses look onto the noisy neighbours garden and several of our other neighbours had the same idea to complain. Unfortunately, the problem household couldn't hear their own doorbell.

Next step was to call the police. The dispatcher was very helpful and sympathetic. She explained that dealing with noise issues no longer fell under the police remit even if this constituted a breach of the peace (that's right, even if a crime had been committed). I was told that the council environmental health department would deal with it. I was told that someone would be sent out tonight and that I would be interviewed the next day, at the very least by telephone. I was very grateful when the police dispatcher offered to call this through on my behalf.

At 11.30 pm I got a call from a surly lady at the council. I explained to her that my neighbours were having a rave party in the garden and that everyone around was fed up. When she discovered that it was a one off incident and not a recurrent problem her interest in helping me vanished. She was mocking as she said someone would be out eventually and that they'd call me tomorrow and explain what action they had taken. In the meantime I was asked to call back if they switched the noise off because they were very busy.

At 1.30 am, with a pounding headache after seven hours of constant noise and with nowhere else to go to escape, I abandoned ship and went to see the Tinsley cooling towers demolition. When I returned at 4.30 am the music was still at full volume. The council had not been out. I fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion. The next day I was not interviewed or contacted in any way by the council.

My question is; what does a person have to do to get help from the authorities when such a blatant breach of the peace is occuring? And why did the council (who are funded to discharge this responsibility) do nothing at all to help myself and the people nearby who pay thousands and thousands of pounds in council tax each year?

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Meet our new favourite girl!

I'll post more about Poppy and her story in the next couple of days.
Nic xx

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Live long and prosper

I'm having a bit of a clear out. Eating 5 a day, drinking lots of water. Choosing the better food option when things are available. I eat fresh home cooked food anyway and I've virtually given up on alcohol all together. Small changes.

I even thought about taking more exercise. Until I read this. I'm supposed to do five hours of exercise a week. I'd be happy to take a 30 minute stroll a few times a week, do a bit of gardening and play on my nintendo wii. But this means I need to go mad. It's the single most offputting piece of health advice ever put across. It says if you want to maintain weight you're in for it and forget it if you want to permanently lose weight.

Say I live for another 40 years. This means I need to spend 87 days solid doing exercise. That's a quarter of a year or 0.6 % of my remaining life. I know what you'll say; the benefits far outweigh the effort. I'll live far extra than 87 days, I'll have healthier later years (apart from the hip replacement I'll need from running) and I might even enjoy exercise and feel happier and more energetic. But the thought of pulling on my running shoes on those dark cold winter evenings or coming out of the swimming baths when it's blowing an ice cold gale or jumping out of the car on a sweltering hot day to go back out running makes me depressed.