Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas One and All

The People's Republic wishes its readers a happy and holy Christmas. May you enjoy the festive period with your family and friends.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate Changed Mind

I was slightly disappointed that the topic for the third Blog Action Day ended up being Climate Change, as I was under the impression that was the same as the topic chosen on the first blog action day two years ago. In fact I was wrong and it was actually about the Environment, which is obviously very similar. I used the day two years ago to urge more political progress on the issue of Global Warming. However, in the last two years, I have grown increasingly sceptical about it.

Sensationalized stories like this one from the supposedly unbiased BBC do not help. As pointed out on the Stirrer forum, all I need to do is rearrange and juxtapose a few sentence to show what nonsense it is.

This route is usually frozen but rising temperatures in the region caused by global warming have melted much of the ice allowing large ships to go through.

But the once impenetrable ice that prevented ships travelling along the northern Russian coast has been retreating rapidly because of global warming in recent decades.

The passage became passable without ice breakers in 2005.

Both ships left South Korea in late July, negotiating the passage off north-eastern Siberia behind two Russian icebreakers.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

World Half Marathon Championships

It was a rather strange site waking up this morning to see some of the top half-marathon runners racing past my house but it was certainly an exciting and welcome one. The course was quite disruptive to people living in South Birmingham particularly if one happened to be, as I did, cut off by the course but had been picked to provide a potential record breaking time. Unfortunately that did not happen on this occasion (not helped of course by Paula Radcliffe having to pull out at a late stage) but I understand the winner of the international female race broke her own personal record.

Monday, September 28, 2009

BNP Suicide Bomber?

West Midlands Regional organisor Mike Bell has been well and truly caught with his pants down. After years of denying the BNP have any links to nazism and proudly boasting that his family had "a pround history of opposing the Nazis in both world wars" (sic) and of collecting money for the Royal British legion, he was photographed this week at a Neo-Nazi Rock concert in Germany where he was the headline speaker. His reaction on the Stirrer forums was really quite disturbing:

prod, probe, attack, destroy me , just be aware that the preservation of the martyr within me will live on.You will all see me very soon unleash the wrath of gods heil Odin, Heil Thor.I shall go down in flames,remember my name it will be etched into your memories forever.You will be part responsible,an unwanted trophy which you will have to take the credit for.

Now, what does this remind you of?

Friday, August 21, 2009

California Day 9: Wal-Mart

With the plane leaving for Britain at 14:30, there was not much we could do on our final half-day in the US. After ensuring we were pretty much packed we headed to Wal-Mart to buy some bits and pieces for the folks back home. Then it was the long drive back to the car rental place at the airport to drop off our trusty Canyonero which had served us so well. We nearly got charged for the scratches that were on it despite the fact it was like that when we got it (and the diagram pointing it out had been marked wrong). We passed the security checks relatively quickly and after reading up on the history of the Pacific Baseball League from the display at the airport, we finished the holiday as we started it with some pizza and a couple of beers.

The flight back was relatively uneventful. I had hoped to watch a few films but only managed to watch the Start Trek one which was decent enough. I did manage to get some sleep though, which proved to be useful as although we arrived back just after midnight California time it was 10:30 in the morning when we arrived in the UK. My only explanation for the missing ten hours was that we were abducted by aliens. As everyone on the plane lost this amount of time as well, I can only conclude this is more common than many people think.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

California Day 8: The Beach

Our last full day in California was spent relaxing, firstly at the hotel recovering from the epic journey to Yosemite and then to Half Moon Bay, a nearby beach which also took us near the airport which would prove useful for the final journey home. The unfortunate thing about the beaches in California is they proved not to be suitable for swimming; this beach had unpredictable waves which made it dangerous, while our trip to Santa Cruz had a notice of potentially contaminated water. Not a patch on Barmouth...

The evening saw us go back to the Cheesecake Factory for a goodbye meal with out hosts. The restaurant was filled to the rafters so we had to wait for a table. As with Fuddrockers on Tuesday we got one of these fascinating gadgets which flashed and buzzed when our order or in this case our table was ready. The wait, however, allowed me to nip to the mall and buy some stuff from a rapidly dwindling amount of dollars. When we got back to the Cheesecake Factory I ordered the amazing Eggplant Sandwich which was not necessarily amazing, but was not bad.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

California Day 7: Yosemite

It would have been a crime to come so close to Yosemite National Park and not visit and day 7 was the day we set aside for the two/three hour drive. It was fortunate we had three drivers registered to use the car as it turned out we would need all of them. The journey was pretty interesting leading us to a variety of roads including country roads that we had not encountered in the US yet. At one point we had to stop at a railway crossing for 10 minutes while a very, very long goods train went past.

It cost $20 to enter Yosemite in a family car and this was the point I took over the driving. We headed to Curry Village where we briefly thought about renting a tent for the night before dismissing it and renting a boat to take out to the stream instead. It was literally a case of three men in a boat but the low water level and our combined weight meant we had to get out a couple of times to push it. We reached the other end an hour or so later and took a shuttle back to Curry Village where we stopped of for a quick snack at the Taco/ Burrito bar before climbing towards the first waterfall (Vernal) on the half-dome day hike.

The website says it is a walk of moderate to strenuous difficulty. I wish I had visited the website first as I would have been better prepared. I went up in black jeans, a t-shirt and trainers ("pub wear") with the temperature near 100 degrees Fahrenheit when everyone else was in hiking clothing. My friends were not much better prepared with one of them going up in in little more than plimsolls. It was far and away the most tiring thing I have ever done and there were times when I thought it might have been my final destination. I was absolutely cream-crackered when we got to the footbridge and that was only halfway there, although it was arguably the hardest bit because after that the steps started. Steps as high as my knee with pensioners and kids doing this. Going up was bad enough but I did worry how I was going to get back down (although actually it turned out to be a lot easier). Carrying a bag did not help and we had to share the burden which I think was fair because it contained our only water bottle that we supped from regularly. Our boy in plimsolls nearly slipped on a few occasion on the descent but managed to keep his balance, unlike the lady we saw on the way up who had large cuts at her knees after what must have been a particularly bad fall. The top of the waterfall was impressive though and I would not mind attempting the full trek to the top of half-dome in better shape with the proper gear. Maybe the ascent turned me mad.

When we got back down we decided we had enough time to see the giant sequoia at the other end of the park. It took us an hour to drive there and by the time we made the walk the sun had set and none of the photos I took came out. It was pretty scary walking through that part of Yosemite in the dark in the knowledge that there were bears about. An hour there meant it was an hour to drive back, and we had to fill up at a self-service petrol station we passed in the park. We got back to the Valley and managed to catch a glimpse of the nutters ascending El Capitan at night, who spent the time in the dark hanging off the edge of a cliff shining torches at each other. After two hours driving I had to finally give up the wheel to member one of team Le Mans and fell asleep for the other three hours back. We reached home at nearly two which perhaps meant we would have been justified in staying over.

Yosemite is an amazing place which quite literally will take your breath away. I might have a convenient excuse that I live too far away to justify going back and completing the half dome trail. One would have to be incredibly fit to do it, but Yosemite will inspire you to give it a try.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

California Day 6: Mount Diablo

Time to take our 4X4 up some rugged terrain: we spent the morning driving to the top of the tallest local mountain, Mount Diablo which may have initially been a mistranslation of thicket! The views from the top were indeed impressive and with binoculars one could see San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. We had to pay $7 to take the car to the top of the mountain, but the price does not allow you to take home any momentos from the state park as we found out when we were prevented from taking some cones as big as coconuts back in our car.

The afternoon was spent lazing about the pool back at the hotel before going out in the evening to a burger place near to where we went on the first night. Fuddrockers is a bit like McDonalds but different; the burger comes in a cob, the fries are wedges, and the smallest size is a third of a pound (as compared to a quarter pounder in a British MD). You can put the salad and ketchup on yourself. After this meal fit for a king (or kings), we went to an electrical store that I was prevented from going into on the first day due to a cotton candy gummi bear ice cream problem. I had not missed much as it reminded me of Curry's digital on Highgate Middleway although it probably did have a wider variety of goods including DVDs, Games and musical instruments.

We planned to move on to some Go-Karting later on but ended up playing another round of mini-golf.

Monday, August 17, 2009

California Day 5: San Jose

We were back on the BART on the morning of day 5 to get to San Francisco Airport in order to pick up the car we had rented.  Once at the station we managed to quickly get on the Sky Train, which connects the various terminals at the airport with the car hire place.  When we finally got past the queue and the bureaucracy we found a red Ford Escape waiting for us in the carpark.  Working out how to drive the thing was interesting; obviously US cars are all automatic and do not really have a handbrake, and we found the brakes on this car were quite shall we say responsive.  We headed over to San Jose which is on the way to Pleasanton, where we were staying.  

San Jose lives in the shadow of the much more famous San Francisco, but is actually a city with a bigger population (just smaller than the size of Birmingham).  The problem is there is not much to attract tourists.  There are a lot of Art galleries and museums, and we amused ourselves in the shop for the Tech Museum of Innovation for a bit before walking around downtown San Jose.  It was absolutely dead but very clean, and the parking only cost us $7 for the whole day.  We ate some sandwiches/ paninis in a European-style cafe in the city centre and walked back through the Plaza de Cesar Chavez past some undesirables who had not been there when the mounted police had rode through earlier. I was amused to see a bus to Alum Rock.

After driving home we relaxed back at the pool in the hotel while waiting for our friend to get back from work.  After a quick drink at the hotel, we set off out again this time to an American Mall which I will describe as a slightly posher version of the Bull Ring.  We decided to go back to the Alehouse after and because I had managed to catch a cold at the beach on Saturday I volunteered to be the designated driver.  This meant I got behind the wheel of the behemoth that was the Ford Escape for the first time.  I found it quite easy to drive, not having to worry about the gears and with wide roads and no overtaking lanes, it proved relatively easy.  I managed to get to the Alehouse and back without killing anyone, so overall it was a successful day.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

California Day 4: Biking the Bridge

Day 4 took us back into San Francisco to do the very touristy thing of biking the Golden Gate Bridge. Having struggled to make it out of the car park, we spent some time at Lori's Diner to eat fries and milkshake (not a good combination). We ended up at Blazing Saddles to rent some bikes, where I found out riding a bike is harder than it looks. I ended up on a tandem with a more experienced cyclist - what fun we had (although not as much as the group who had rented the three person cycle)! We cycled across the bridge up to Sausalito where we had a short snack (a cheeseboard) before catching the ferry back to San Francisco. Unfortunately, due to the size of the queue of cyclists trying to get on it, we were unable to get on the ferry that took us back to the place we rented the cycles from and ended up taking one to the ferry terminal which was allegedly five minutes down the road. I'm not sure how you were supposed to get there in five minutes but it certainly was not by bike. The ferry did, however, give us some impressive views of the city and Alcatraz island.

In the evening we ended up having dinner at the Cheesecake Factory because everywhere else was closed. The Cheesecake Factory offers a lot of dishes, but surprisingly for the amount of choice, I struggled to find anything I wanted on the menu before I settled for a spaghetti bolognese. The portions here were huge (they offer you a box to take home anything you have not eaten) and we received some typically brilliant American service from the waiter. A couple of people braved the cheesecake for pudding despite the large portions, although I do not believe we were able to finish these off between us. We got home a bit early anticipating an early start, as we had to pick up the 4x4 we had rented on the Internet from San Francisco Airport in the morning.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

California Day 3: Santa Cruz Beach

Day 3 saw us waste the morning attempting to hire a bigger car but we came to the conclusion that there was not anything suitable available in the car hire places we went to and that in any case we probably would not need one until Monday when our current driver was back at work. For the afternoon, we drove to Santa Cruz beach but struggled to find parking. Three of us left the our two friends to find somewhere to park and had a walk round what could only be described as the the US version of Blackpool - and to be honest, it was not that much better. We managed to buy the equivalent of a cornetto from a local shop which was far bigger than any similar ice-cream I had ever purchased from a fridge in Britain, and a beer from a local bar which seem to be in short supply in the US. While at the bar, we heard that our friends had managed to park on the pier and were waiting to meet us. I managed to buy a genuine American hotdog on the pier and thought I was being ripped off until I realised that US prices do not include the dreaded sales tax.  Underneath the pier we saw some sea lions:

After a brief walk/ rest on the beach we decided to move to a quieter location. We found a small cove just past a railway track further down the coast which we stayed at until sunset.

We drove back along the coast and in the evening went out and, having heard of our problems trying to find a bar earlier in the day, were driven to the local alehouse near our hotel for the first time. I had a rather hot chilli dish with sourbread and sampled a couple of what would I guess be described as real ales in Britain. Of all the things we missed from Britain in the US, I guess it was the local watering hole which left the biggest gap.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Califonia Day 2: San Francisco and Baseball

Prior to the beginning of our holiday, my friends who were already in California had booked tickets for the baseball game between the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies for the evening of 31st July. It was therefore an easy decision to spend our first full day in San Francisco prior to the match in the evening. Our driver had taken the car to work, so we got to San Francisco using the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) which runs for part of the route along the centre of the highway. One frustration was that the ticket machine only gives change up to $4.95, but I later found out that there was a change machine behind the ticket machine. Doh!

We got off at Powell Street and decided to take the San Francisco Cable Car to Fishermans Wharf. The Cable Car is like an old-fashioned tram that can get up and down the roads on the steep hills that are part of San Francisco (the film Bullitt is set in the city). The queue was incredibly long and a couple of us left it to buy a day ticket from the local booth (which quaintly, uses a scratch-card style system to choose the date one is travelling on, similar to the West Midlands daytripper cards for buses and trains back in the 80's). The ticket also allowed travellers to use other Muni transport in San Francisco. Back in the queue, we were harrassed by beggars and buskers which did not make for a great first impression of the city. When we finally got onto the Cable Car, it was rather overcrowded. For the first (and possibly only) time in my life, I got off at Fishermans Wharf with an appreciation for Travel West Midlands.

We wandered around Fishermans Wharf where I caught my first glimpse of Alcatraz and Clam Chowder in a bread bowl (although the latter really is an East Coast dish). For some reason, we finally settled for pizza for the third time in three meals. We spent some time walking around San Francisco, including the Ghirardelli shop in the square and an interesting street on a hill with a rather winding road that I am sure people were driving down just for the sake of it.

We got back on the cable car (past a non-threatening busker that looked like Michael Moore with a showman bunny sidekick) and ended up walking through the San Francisco business district, where a bunch of cyclists suddenly seemed to be cycling through the city. We unsuccessfully tried to get on the bus N or P to get the the AT&T park where the Giants play, before realising it was actually an old-fashioned (or should I say new-fashioned) tram and getting on it halfway towards our destination, not before we had walked past the Bay Bridge, however, an impressive bridge in its own right taht holds its own against the more famous Golden Gate bridge.

We managed to get to the AT&T park in time and quickly worked out that an innings is over when three people are out. Baseball is a strange game, and my prior belief that it was rounders for girls was only tempered by the fact I have seen how much more competitive the girls at the school I work for play.

Baseball is an intriguing game, but surprisingly for a US sport I have to say that I don't think it is as exciting as the British version, cricket. Many people believe soccer will never be big in the US because the yanks will never see the excitement of a nil-nil draw (and to be honest, neither do I). However, Baseball scores are more similar to football than to cricket, which is much more high-scoring. I think culturally, baseball is too embedded in the American psyche to be under an real threat from cricket, in particular, Twenty20 and the Indian Premier League which I can see one day turning into a true world series with clubs participating from all over the world. The Test-loving purists will hate it, but I think it would be great to see cricket competing commercially with its sister American sport. With India's ascent to superpower status and with its burgeoning population, surely this is only a matter of time?

For the record, the Giants lost 5-1 in the only game they lost in this mini-series to the Phillies. The Giants have never won the World Series since the franchise moved to San Francisco. Will the Birmingham City of baseball be lucky enough to win it this year? On the current evidence it is unlikely - but then again, what would I know?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

California Day 1: Arrival

Thursday July 30th 2009 turned out to be the longest day of my life, quite literally.  After taking the tube from where I had been staying to Heathrow, we managed to check-in on time (save some minor passport trouble) for the 10 hour Virgin Atlantic flight to San Francisco.  We set off around 11:30 BST and arrived around 14:30 local time at the other end.  I mentioned the in-flight entertainment in my previous post so I will not bore you by repeating it here.  Once we got to US immigration, we were asked the standard questions and had to give the relevant fingerprints on the electronic reader (NB: They want four fingers, not your forefinger).  We were picked up from the airport and driven to our hotel/ apartment where we stayed briefly before going out to dinner.  We ended up going to a pizza place in the evening and I had a bottle of Samuel Adams to go with it.  One of my friends had warned me that we would not be served by anyone with an American accent, and while this was true in the pizza place (with the obligatory ID check for the beer which I passed with my British driving license), it was not true at the Ice Cream parlour where I was given some traditional, polite American service by an American (How you guys doing today?).  I like to try things I would not normally get at home while on holiday, and I think I blended in well asking for blue Cotton Candy flavoured ice-cream topped with Gummi Bears (although I did chose the small portion which might have revealed my foreign origins).  Gummi Bears proved to be a rather time-consuming topping, so I did not manage to take full advantage of the visit to the shops nearby.  We ended the day with a round of mini-golf before heading home.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Trip to California

Two weeks ago, I set off for an overnight trip to London to stay at some friends' place before   flying from Heathrow on a trip to California the next day.  Over the next week or so, I hope to recount the experiences of my first trip to the USA and specifically to its most populous state.

One of the regular topics on this blog is the overcentralisation of the country in the capital and Heathrow, in particular the decision to build a third runway, has been criticised previously. There were no direct flights from Britain's sixth busiest airport direct to San Francisco, and the indirect flights were as expensive as the direct flights from Heathrow.  As such, I was forced to use the busiest international airport in the world despite my disdain for it (although I was also travelling with some friends who were based in London).  Even more worrying, originally it looked like we would be flying by BA from a BAA airport; a recipe for disaster if ever there was one.  However, our incompetence meant that we missed the cheaper BA flight and ended up flying Virgin Atlantic - a blessing in disguise in my opinion.  While BA epitomises the third-rate Thatcherite-Blairite capitalism of privatisation of a publicly-owned service to monopolist profiteers who run it down to the point that it is now a dodgy pension fund which does a bit of flying on the side, Virgin Atlantic represents capitalism at its best; entrepreneurs building a business from scratch and delivering a decent product to attract the masses.  Let me say, the flight did not disappoint either; having not flown long-haul since the early 90's, I was amazed at the choice of food and entertainment, over 60 movies and numerous tv shows, numerous games that can be played some against other passengers and even a phone, e-mail and text-message service from the flight (the latter for a premium of course). Discussions with my friends who are temporarily staying in California seemed to confirm that Virgin was indeed better than BA in this respect.

However, flying from Heathrow still left me with the problem of getting to London for a mid-morning flight, which being a weekday could have proved rather expensive had the friends I was flying with not generously offered to let me stay over at theirs.  This left me with the option of getting to London by train either pre-booking via Virgin trains for £7 each way, or using the £19.50 super off-peak with Chiltern railways. Unfortunately, Virgin trains tend to be closer to BA than Virgin Atlantic, and the risk that I would miss the train back to Brum by flight cancellations meant I was prepared to pay more for the slower but more flexible ticket by Chiltern trains, which has the added advantage of leaving via the far superior Birmingham Moor Street Station rather than the overcrowded concrete mass that is Birmingham New Street.  The Chiltern line is really two local services; a local service from Birmingham Snow Hill to Leamington Spa, and one from Bicester to London Marylebone.  Hence the train left packed and pretty much emptied by Bicester, only to fill up again the closer we got to London.  We seemed to stop at a ridiculous amount of stations (I think it was 27) meaning the entire journey took 2 hours 14 minutes instead of the 1 hour 24 it would take from New Street to Euston. Once in London, I had to face the tube.

Life would be a lot simpler for the majority of the country if we used the extra capacity at regional airports rather than putting all our eggs in the baskets of London airports and in particular, London Heathrow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bobby Robson 1933-2009

Sir Bobby Robson was the first England football manager I remember, starting with his ill-fated campaign to win the 1986 World Cup (failing to qualify for the 1984 European Championships was before my time).  England were on the verge of being knocked-out after a loss to Potugal and a draw with Morocco before a Gary Lineker hat-trick defeated Poland 3-0 in the final group game.  An identical scoreline defeated Paraguay in the second round, with another two goals by Mr Lineker which would take him 5/6ths of the way towards the Golden Boot he won that year.   An infamous quarter-final against Argentina, the first match between the two sides since the Falklands war, saw a moment of genius and a moment of disgrace by Diego Maradona send England home; Argentina went on to lift the trophy for the second time.

In 1988 an equally disastrous start saw England fail to recover from defeats to Ireland, Holland and the USSR to go out in the group stage.  Bobby Robson was continually villified by the national press, which continued into the 1990 World Cup where another slow start saw draws against Ireland and Holland.  Mark Wright scored to beat Egypt in the final group game 1-0 and England topped the group.  They went on to beat Belgium (in the last minute of extra-time!) thanks to a David Platt goal, and Cameroon in the quarter-finals after two Gary Lineker penalties.  This took England to the first (and only) World Cup Semi-Final since 1966, in which the Germans broke English hearts by winning the penalty shoot-out after Gary Lineker cancelled out a freak free-kick which went in after being deflected off Paul Parker.  For the second time, Robson's England had been knocked out of the World Cup by the eventual winners.

Normally the national job is the pinnacle of a managers career but if anything Bobby Robson went on to greater things while the national team seemed to go the other way.  PSV, Sporting, Porto, Barcelona and Newcastle awaited Robson in his twilight years, with success being achieved at each club.  His translator at Sporting, a certain Jose Mourinho, went on to become assistant manager with him at Porto and Barcelona, and has turned out to be a half-decent manager himself.  Newcastle would probably give a lot for him to be back as manager.

What I will always remember Robson for, however, was how he conducted himself with the utmost grace and integrity in the space of some vicious attacks from the national press (a situation which only got worse for his successor Graham "the Turnip" Taylor).  Despite, post-86, qualifying for every international tournament he could have, and getting us to our best result in a World Cup on foreign soil in 1990, my impression is he was never truly appreciated by the "experts" writing the football columns in the national press.  These same experts villified him at the beginning of the 1990 World Cup before claiming, with Paul Gascoigne maturing a little in four years time, England would have a great chance of winning the tournament outright in 1994.  Of course, England never qualified for the World Cup in 1994, and Paul Gascoigne never played in a World Cup again.  His biggest problem was that he was not Brian Clough.  Everyone thought Old Big Ead should have been the manager when Robson was appointed.  As such, the gutlessness of the FA overshadowed what Robson achieved for the England national team, which, save a dodgy World Cup win in 1966, was probably more than any other manager of the three lions could claim to have achieved.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

Back in the eighties, a kind of inflation started taking place when describing musicians.  First we simply had stars. Then superstars.  Pretty soon we were talking about megastars.  I do not think we ever got as far as hyperstars, but if we had, surely Michael Jackson is one of the few who would have deserved this description.  How many people can bring down twitter and google on the news of their death?

Undoubtedly a musical genius, he will also be remembered for his overall strangeness and allegations of child abuse.  Having lost his childhood to the world of music, he spent his adulthood trying to regain it.  Perhaps this also expressed itself through his sexuality; certainly his actions always laid him open to criticism.

Hopefully, however, he will be remembered for his music and his worldwide appeal.  No-one could unite people through music quite like Michael Jackson.  His death is a real loss to many people across the world, and he will be sorely missed.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Birmingham Stands Alone

So there we have it. A week ago today, the BNP gained two seats in the European parliament in their most high-profile victories to date. Despite getting less votes than they did in 2004, they gained a bigger proportion of the vote in the North West and Yorkshire & Humber to take the last seats, allocated by proportional representation, in both. I do not think we should be so sure that an increased turnout in future elections under a likely Conservative government will necessarily happen; both the North West and Yorkshire & Humber were part of the postal voting experiment in 2004 designed to increase Labour turnout. We may have to turn to the opposition to the BNP which exists in this country to get them out in five years and remove the stain of electing them sixty years after British troops landed in Normandy in an attempt to remove fascists from Europe. European elections will become more exciting than they ever have.

It was not all bad news, however, as BNP no 2 Simon Darby got nowhere near getting a seat in the West Midlands constituency. The sixth seat went to UKIP, with the potential seventh, should Lisbon be ratified, going to a third Tory. Next would have been the BNP, but the population in the region is not big enough for us to get any more representation. Perhaps we need a few more immigrants?

This leave Birmingham, unlike London, Manchester and Leeds, free of fascist representation at any level, which is quite funny given the national press have tended to think we are one of the most likely places to elect Nazis. Just like Britain in 1940, Birmingham now stands alone as a bastion of freedom in the fight against fascism. Let us not underestimate how much fascists can damage the reputation of a city. Richard Barnbrook, elected to the London assembly under PR with just over 5% of the vote, has undermined England's 2018/22 bid for the World Cup and potentially embarrassed the Queen by attempting to take Nick Griffin to Buckingham Palace with him; both a direct consequence of his election. If it had been any other city other than Our Glorious Capital! no doubt the press would have been sneering. Perhaps all future events to promote the country should take place away from London to stop this happening in future. All we need is a major city that has refuted fascism at the ballot box at every opportunity.

How about Birmingham?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Green Day?

On their website, the BNP have been talking up their chances of getting some seats in the European elections. Having analysed the local election results and assuming local votes will also translate into European votes (with a couple of other caveats), they believe they will get between 1 and 4 seats (one or two in the North West, one in the North East and one in the West Midlands).

For the West Midlands:

Average BNP vote: 12.6 percent. Result: One possible Euro BNP seat. (This result could be boosted by the fact that the best BNP-supporting areas in the West Midlands - Stoke, Sandwell, Dudley and others - did not have local elections on Thursday, meaning that large numbers of BNP voters are not reflected in this average figure.)
Leaving aside the facts that an increased UKIP vote, local votes do not necessarily translate into european votes and there were no local elections in BNP stronghold areas, the signs look ominous. Will the fascists really win four seats on the anniversary of Winston Churchill's "Fight them on the Beaches" speech?

Possibly not. I reported on the political betting website that turnout seemed to have been good in Sparkbrook, a predominantly Muslim area. This was despite the fact that Respect were not standing in the European elections and there was no council election (Respect have all three councillors in Sparkbrook). Newsnight also interviewed some Sikhs on election day who came out to vote to stop the BNP. Anecdotal evidence suggests that BMEs may have come out to vote in higher numbers in an attempt to stop the BNP.

The Green party may be key. Salma Yaqoob has called for Respect voters to vote for the Greens in the absence of a Respect candidate. The combined Respect/ Green total at the last European election would have beaten the BNP by .1%. The Green Party had "Say no to Racism" as their strapline on the ballot paper. I am pretty confident that Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP will get one seat each in the West Midlands constituency, with the Conservatives getting two. I believe the final seat will be a tossup between a third Conservative, second UKIP, or maiden BNP or perhaps possibly Green. It will be very close. I just hope that people exercised their right to vote.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

We Will Fight Them at the Ballot Box

Thursday will see the 69th anniversary of one of Winston Churchill's most famous speeches. Thurday will also see the European elections takes place, with the big three parties bracing themselves for a kicking from the electorate due to the expenses saga.  One of the parties hoping to benefit are the BNP, who are tipped to win one or two seats in the North West and West Midlands constiuencies.   Readers of this blog will be under no illusions; despite its best efforts to clean up its image, this is still essentially a racist, fascist party. Don't believe me?  Take a look at its section 2 of its constitution:

Their leader, Nick Griffin, has continually denied the Holocaust ever took place, calling it the "Holohoax".

Recently, in guidance sent to his party members he claimed black and asian Britons do not exist;  the correct term for such people is "racial foregners".  The manual describes the BNP's "ultimate aim" as the "lawful, humane and voluntary repatriation of the resident foreigners of the UK".

There is absolutely no doubt that immigration is a big issue for people living in Britain today.  The question is, are the beliefs expressed above representative of what the British people think, or has the debate been hijacked by racists in an attempt to turn legitimate grievances against government policy into a wider attack on anyone who is different?

For quite some time I have believed there is a need for the immigration debate to be deracialised.  While I do not support them, I was glad to see UKIP park their tank on the BNP's lawn with this party political broadcast on Friday:

It is a question of space, not race, says television cook Rustie Lee on the UKIP European election leaflet.  It is more important than ever not to confuse race and immigration.  While the issues may be related, they are not the same.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Brew Coup to Unseat Whitby

You may not have noticed it, but at the moment a coup is taking place in Birmingham that will culminate tomorrow at 5.30pm. Randal Brew, a Conservative councillor for Northfield, fed up of the lack of consultation from the current Council Leader Mike Whitby, has challenged him for the top job at the city council as originally broken by the Stirrer. With nearly one in ten unemployed in the city as a result of the economic crisis, Randal plans to deflate us out of recession by cutting 3000 jobs at the City Council, famously the biggest local authority in Europe and twice the size of the European Commission - a plan which is sure to enthuse the nasty party who would, if they chose Brew, look to be going down the route of Thatcher rather than the liberal Conservative traditions of Joseph Chamberlain which made this city what it is today.

The ruling self-styled "progressive partnership" Conservative-Lib Dem coalition (ConDem for short) who run the city are famously opposed to an elected Mayor which would "concentrate too much power in one persons hands".  They prefer the current system which would allow 49 Conservative councillors to elect the leader behind closed doors; presumably the Liberal Democrats will not get a choice.  Meanwhile, Birmingham's 750,000 strong electorate will only be allowed to make our views known next May when a third of the council seats will be up for grabs, which means little is likely to change and in any case we might be slightly distracted by the general election, which is likely to happen on the same day.  Nice to see democracy is alive and kicking in Birmingham, eh?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Targetting Benefit Thieves

I am fed up with the journalists swallowing the MPs excuses that it was "within the rules" What rule allows you to claim expenses on a house not in your constituency or in London? As politicalbetting points out:

1971 Guidelines:
The Additional Costs Allowance reimburses “for expenses wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred when staying overnight away from their main UK residence…for the purposes of performing Parliamentary duties. This excludes expenses that have been incurred for purely personal or political purposes.”

The Green Book 2009:
Members are cautioned against instances “where they may appear to be vulnerable to criticism or accusations of impropriety.” It also reminds MPs that their conduct should be placed concepts of “selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, leadership.”
What has gone on is nothing short of benefit fraud. I expect to see MPs fined, imprisoned and generally made and example of. Perhaps a few could appear on the next government benefit fraud hotline campaign with a white circle around them and a finger pointing at them.

Should we be phoning this hotline (0800 854 440) with the evidence coming out and shopping our MPs?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Insuring Future Custom

Two years after purchasing my house, I finally got round this week to switching the home insurance to a cheaper deal (effectively halving my bill).  I was dreading phoning up the old insurance company to cancel it, expecting the hard sell to keep me.  I was pleasantly surprised that they did not bother and allowed me to cancel without even putting up a fight.  Against the generally received principles of capitalism (at least prior to the recent problems) this actually gave me a rather favourable opinion of the company, and makes it more likely that I will consider them in future.

Of course, being a deal that was negotiated through the estate agents, perhaps they just realised they had got what they could out of me and were happy to move on to the next mug.   Nevertheless, well done Groupama.  Other companies would do well to consider your tactics themselves.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How to Get Away with Murder

1. Join Her Majesty's Constabulary

2. Lose control in a high-pressure situation and, directly or indirectly, lead to the death of at least one innocent, law-abiding citizen

3. (Key step) Slander and libel those whose death you have been responsible for.  (Do not worry,  they won't be able to defend themselves)

4. Get your mates in the judiciary to limit the terms of the 'independent inquiry' (snigger)

For some fine examples of this technique, see Hillsborough, Menezes and Tomlinson.

Written on the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

City of God

Friday saw the announcement that the Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nicholls, will replace Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor to become the most senior Catholic in England and Wales as Archbishop of Westminster. It follows a recent tradition of Birmingham being a training ground for seniority in the clergy, after John Sentamu took up the position of Archbishop of York from the Anglican equivalent back in 2005. I guess no-one can say Brum is a godless city.

Many people have commented that Vincent Nicholls is an ambitious man, who made a mistake by making it too clear he wanted the role. I have only met him once, at a Mass for Healthcare workers at St Michael's Church in the city centre, where I got the impression he was a deeply humble and spiritual man. I wish him well in his new role.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

When Will the Aquatic Ape Theory Appear on the Horizon?

Watching Horizon last night about whether humans could unlearn their naked shame, I found myself amazed at exactly how complicated some of the theories have got that explain why we are a naked, bipedal, big-brained ape when the much ridiculed aquatic ape theory is a lot more elegant at explaining so much of humanities features. Having read the Descent of Woman, the aquatic ape theory explains:

a) that we became hairless to help us move through water
b) why humans and human babies in particular have a natural propensity to swim and dive
c) why we have a subcutaneous layer of fat (namely to replace the primary function of fur: to keep us warm)
d) why we walk on two legs (to keep our head above water stupid)
e) the origins of Ophidiophobia (humans often think of snakes as 'slimy' but in fact their skin is dry. Are we confusing them with far more poisonous eels?)
f) the origins of the hymen (to keep out water)

and possibly many more. Given how many hoops the scientific community have to jump through to justify the 'sweat-cooling theory' for example, I really cannot understand why the aquatic ape theory has not been gained more traction. Can it really be because it has mainly appeared hitherto in a treatise on feminist evolutionary theory?

One problem with evolutionary theories is that they can explain much but predict little. As a result, a lot of nonsensical theories can be proposed by so-called serious scientists. Is Elaine Morgan the misunderstood Darwin of our time?

Monday, February 16, 2009

ID Cards by the Back Door?

Perhaps someone in the government is reading this blog.

I once pondered whether Facebook was a private sector solution to the ID card: people sign up to it involuntarily, it is free and the government (or Facebook) can keep tags on what you are doing and who you are in contact with.

It seems I was in the right area, but had the wrong website. The government are using Twitter.

While creating the Twitter account for this blog (feel free to follow me!) I decided to follow the Downing Street Twitter site to see what the government were up to.

They immediately put me on their follow list!

Unperturbed, I put out my first tweet claiming the ProBrum's presence on Twitter was another step towards independence. That should put the wind up the London-based navel-gazing ruling elite bastards.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Let it Snow

I am not sure what it is about snow that excites me. Maybe it brings back memories of snowball fights and snowmen when I was younger. Or maybe it is because the familiar and commonplace look so different just for a while. Perhaps the whiteness of snow symbolises a purity and cleansing of the world; a rebirth of sorts . Whatever, it is a welcome change from the drudgery of daily life.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Calling all budding actors...

I have been asked by e-mail to advertise the following event which may be of interest to any West Midlands-based budding actors who read this blog. Please note that event has nothing to do with this blog and you should always take the appropriate precautions when submitting any details over the internet.

The Rage Ensemble present their next production

Our Country's Good

May 14th - 16th 2009 @ a Birmingham theatre

Now casting !! - Casting day Saturday Jan 31st - Open Workshop
audition 11am - 5pm, Birmingham, contact for further details.

YOU MUST BE 16+ (older than school leaving age)

The Rage Ensemble is Back!!!!!!! - an amateur arts organisation run by
Rage giving people of all ages the opportunity to work with
professionals to create productions using film, theatre, music....

We are putting on a production of 'Our Country's Good' and we need YOU!!!!!!!

A professional director will work with the cast to create a fantastic
show in one of Birmingham's premier theatres. The play will be
rehearsed at a central location, three evenings a week, culminating in
a fantastic opportunity to perform at one of the city's finest venues.

All 22 parts are to be cast, and that's where we need your help. If
you are based in Birmingham, and are an amateur actor, or are looking
to gain some on-stage experience, or are just looking to make new
friends and have some fun, come along to the open audition.

Register your interest by contacting us via our website with a picture of yourself (it can be any picture,
it's just for reference purposes) your name and age and we'll get back
to you with more details.

This is going to be a fantastic experience for all involved. If you
are interested in volunteering 'behind the scenes,' contact us with
your interests.

Contact us via

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Dawn

For a man renowned for his use of words, Barry did not half bungle the Oath of office.

Highlight of the inauguration speech:

"we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Headline from Blair's victory speech; let's hope this "one" is the real deal

Update 21/10:
It seems I have been a bit harsh on Barack

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bloody Useless State-Head

Tomorrow will be George W Bush's final day as President and this is my tribute. The defining moment of the Bush presidency was of course September 11 2001. I will never forget that after Bush was told a second plane had hit the World Trade Centre, he sat aound for five minutes reading "The Pet Goat" because nobody had told him what he was supposed to be doing.

Conservative leadership at its best.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


The decision to build a third runway at Heathrow is another example of bad London-centric government. There are arguments a lot wider than the simplistic environmentalism vs the economy dichotomy perpetuated by the government and the green lobby; there are some specific issues about the very positioning and nature of Heathrow as well.

Heathrow is based on a Hub and Spoke model, which is fine if you are flying packages around the world, but goes against the trends of passenger flights over the years. For example, when I used to fly to India in the 80s I used to have to take a coach to London, a plane to Bombay International, a taxi from Bombay International to Bombay Domestic and finally a plane from Bombay Domestic to Goa. The whole journey used to take around two days. The last time I did this journey in 1999, I flew direct from Birmingham International to Goa and it took eight hours on a charter flight (only double the time it once took me to get home from work on the infamous day the gritters of Birmingham went missing). I have not flown from Heathrow since 1990 and from London since 1994. Now that I have got the option, I want to fly from Birmingham (or somewhere else relatively closer). For example, in 2006 I flew to Munich and it took around an hour. It would have taken me four times as as long to get into London to make that flight.

Ignore the Airbus A380, Boeing (who actually make money rather than being subsidised by the European governments) have been concentrating on smaller planes for more tailored flying and the budget airlines tend to be the most successful at the moment, flying full planes to smaller airports.

Heathrow also lies in an awful position to the West of London meaning flights come in and go out over Greater London to the continent which is far from ideal. A new airport (as some have suggested) on an artificial island at the mouth of the Thames Estuary would in my mind be a better solution.

A new runway at Heathrow is set in the old business mentality. An alternative would be to develop the smaller regional airports to take more of flights and/ or a high speed rail link as the Conservatives have suggested. I would like to see Heathrow closed or scaled down with a new purpose built airport replacing it. Yet again the rest of the country is being ignored while the government defends the one-trick wonder British economy that is the financial sector in London. A new airport would be a brave decision, whereas a third runway is just the easiest one.

As for the governments argument that they want to defend British jobs during the current economic crisis, given that it will take around five or possibly more likely ten years for the new runway to be built, one wonders how long they expect the credit crunch to continue.

Adapted from my comments on the Stirrer Heathrow new runway and terminal approval thread.