Monthly Archives: October 2011

Dentally defective rat?

Conservative senator Nicole Eaton has said in a statement to the Senate that the beaver is no longer fit to be Canada’s national emblem, and should be replaced with the polar bear.  She apparently said that the beaver was “an outdated symbol, and a destructive rodent”.

The polar bear – with its “strength, courage, resourcefulness and dignity” – would be a better fit, she argued.

The beaver has been the official emblem of the country since 1975 but the senator believes that it is time for an an “emblem makeover”.

“Many accuse the dentally defective rat of being a nuisance that wreaks havoc on farmlands, roads, lakes, streams and tree plantations,” she said, adding that a country’s symbols can “change over time”.

“It is high time that the beaver step aside as a Canadian emblem or, at the least, share the honour with the stately polar bear.”

Ms Eaton’s staff told The Globe and Mail newspaper that the senator was a fan of polar bears – she has several photos of the Arctic beast in her office. However, a member of Parliament who represents Manitoba said removing the beaver would ignore the animal’s impact on Canada’s history.

“Polar bears are cool but the beaver played a pivotal role in the history of Canada,” said New Democratic Party MP Pat Martin. “It was the relentless pursuit of beaver that opened the great Northwest.”  Early French and English colonists worked and lived in the country’s far reaches to trap beavers for their pelts.

Removing beavers entirely from Canada’s national symbols would be labour-intensive: a stone beaver sits on top of the entrance to Parliament and appears on Canadian nickels.

Michael Runtz, a natural history professor at Carleton University told Canadian television that the national emblem is not just a question of history.

“They are like Canadians. Their demeanour is very pleasant,” he added. “Polar bears inspire fear.”

Thank goodness we don’t have this problem in the UK.  All the countries in Britain have their own patron saint and floral emblem:

England, the Rose and St. George, Scotland, the Thistle and St. Andrew, Ireland the Shamrock and St. Patrick and Wales, the Daffodil or Leek and St. David.

I really can’t see this changing anytime soon – or being debated in Parliament for that matter!!!

Now then, now then

Breaking news today is that Sir Jimmy Savile has died aged 84 at his home in Leeds from heart failure.

Having started playing records in dance halls in the early 1940s, Savile claims to be the first ever DJ; according to his autobiography, the first person to use two turntables and a microphone, which he did at the Grand Records Ball at the Guardbridge Hotel in 1947. Savile is widely acknowledged as being one of the first in England and the world to use twin turntables for continuous play of music, thus pioneering the concept of DJing as we know it today, though this claim has been disputed: twin turntables were illustrated in the BBC Handbook in 1929, and were advertised for sale in Gramophone magazine as early as 1931.

One of the UK’s most recognisable personalities, aside from his TV and radio work, Savile has carried out a considerable amount of charity work (although he never talked about it), including raising money for the Stoke Mandeville Hospital where he worked for many years as a volunteer porter. He raised money for the Spinal Unit, NSIC. (National Spinal Injuries Center). Savile raised money for St Francis Ward – a ward for children and teens with Spinal Cord Injuries. For years, he was the honorary president of Phab (a charity dedicated to the integration of the Physically Handicapped in the Able Bodied community) and has helped raise over £40,000,000.

He also sponsors medical students at the University of Leeds to to perform undergraduate research, donating over £60,000 every year. In 2010 the scheme was extended with a commitment of £500,000 over the following five years.

Savile was also well known for running marathons (many of them again for Phab, including their annual half marathon around Hyde Park). He also completed the London Marathon in 2005.

To me, however, he was the face of Top of the Pops throughout my teenage years and his association with this programme spanned a total of 42 years. On New Year’s Day, 1964, he presented the first ever edition of the show from a television studio – a converted church – in Dickenson Road in Rusholme, Manchester (now demolished). And on 30 July 2006 he also co-hosted the final edition, ending the show with the words “It’s number one, it’s still Top of the Pops”, before being shown turning off the studio lights after the closing credits.

He has a bench in memory of himself with the words ‘Jimmy Savile – but not just yet!’ engraved on it, in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. I hope that someone will “fix it for him” to have that engraving updated with the words “How’s about that then?”.

Where to find Salmond in deep water

When I started writing this blog I made a semi-conscious decision that I would keep it pretty light-hearted and not enter into too dangerous territory.  For this reason I haven’t thus far written about anything remotely political as this is an area which is always controversial and subjective. 

Today, however, I just can’t help myself when I hear that Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, has been caught out, yet again, with what he terms a “mistake” but which the opposition  would call “misleading parliament”. 

He had to apologise yesterday for saying that referendum expert Dr Matt Qvortrup had endorsed the SNP government’s plans for a two-question vote on Scotland’s future.  He later corrected his comments, saying he had used information at Holyrood which was “wrong”.  Prof Qvortrup had told the Times that a two-question referendum was untenable.

We don’t have to look too far to find some other “howlers” from the man himself.

In 2009 his comment in a Spanish television interview that “sterling is sinking like a stone” is indefensible from a UK government minister and could have had serious repercussions on Scottish jobs.

In 2010 during a live television debate he conceded that the perpetrator of the Dunblane massacre would have been treated differently to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi by the Scottish Government had he survived.  Mr Salmond admitted Thomas Hamilton would never have been freed on compassionate grounds had he lived and later contracted terminal cancer.  Political opponents called for an apology and the US families of the Lockerbie victims said the remarks were “astounding”.

The First Minister has a habit of grandstanding and he will say anything to please an audience. 

On this latest debacle, Mr Fraser, the deputy Tory leader, said: “It speaks volumes about this government that, when it comes to their flagship policy of an independence referendum, they mislead, manipulate and manufacture evidence in support of their stance and they browbeat and bully those who dare to take a contrary view.”

The First Minister wants to put two propositions on the ballot paper, one that would mean Scotland becoming an independent country and the other that would preserve the Union with England, albeit with Holyrood being handed all tax powers.

Confusingly, Mr Salmond wants Scots to vote ‘yes’ to both questions. This could give him the consolation prize of more financial powers if he cannot convince people to back full separation.

But the Liberal Democrats questioned what would happen if a majority of Scots did as he wished and supported both propositions, despite their contradictory positions on the Union.

The First Minister’s senior special adviser responded that Scotland would become independent, even if more people backed the second question advocating extra powers but remaining part of the UK.

The astonishing admission appears to confirm concerns expressed by David Cameron, the Prime Minister, that Mr Salmond will attempt to bamboozle Scots into backing independence.

But what do the people of Scotland really want? 

The vast majority of opinion polls conducted post 2006 show support levels for independence at between 20% and 40%.  Despite the large number conducted on the issue, it is difficult to gauge definitively Scottish public opinion on independence because of the often widely varying results.  Poll results often differ wildly depending on the wording of the question, with the terms such as “breakup” and “separation” often provoking a negative response.  For example, an opinion poll published by The Scotsman newspaper in November 2006 revealed that a “Majority of Scots now favour independence”.  However, a poll conducted by Channel 4 only two months later reported that “The figure in support of Scottish independence had seemingly dropped”.  A third poll by The Daily Telegraph claimed that a significant proportion of Britons would accept the breakup of the United Kingdom.  Research conducted in early 2007 revealed a rise in support for nationalist parties across the UK amongst younger voters.  A notable comparison made was that in 1981 55% of respondents claimed to be ‘Very proud’ of Britain whereas in 2007 that number had dropped to 45%.  In a poll in 2007 commissioned by The Scotsman newspaper it said support for Scottish independence was at a 10 year low with only 21% of people in support for it.  Conversely, a 2008 opinion poll commissioned by the Sunday Herald newspaper, showed that support for independence was 41%.  When polls give three options, including an option for greater devolution or a new federal settlement but stopping short of independence, support for independence significantly declines.  In a poll by The Times, published in April 2007, given a choice between independence, the status quo, or greater powers for the Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom, the last option had majority support.

Polls show a consistent support for a referendum, including amongst those who support the continuation of the union.  Most opinion polls performed have a figure of in-principle support for a referendum around 70–75%.  In March 2009,  The Sunday Times published the results of a YouGov survey on Scottish support for independence (mirroring the earlier 2007 poll).  Support for a referendum in principle was found to have fallen to 57% of respondents, with 53% of respondents stating they would vote against independence and 33% stating they would support independence. The Times reported that the fall in support for independence was likely linked to economic recession.

In August 2009, a YouGov survey with the Daily Mail asking if Scottish voters would support independence found that 28% would vote Yes, 57% would vote No, 11% did not know and 5% would not vote.

Another YouGov poll in October 2010 showed 34% saying Yes, and 50% not in favour of independence, with the other 16% not sure how they would vote.

A December 2010 face-to-face poll by TNS-BMRB showed 40% supporting independence, 44% opposing, and 16% unsure.

In June 2011, after the SNP majority election win, a poll by TNS-BMRB, with a 1,022 sample, showed independence support up 6% from 18 months previously, with 37% favouring independence in a potential referendum, with 45% against the proposal, and 18% not sure. The poll indicated 46% of people in Glasgow, and 51% of people under 24 supporting independence.

In August 2011, according to a TNS-BMRB/Herald poll, support for independence overtook opposition to independence for the first time since 2008, with 39% of voters saying they would vote yes, 38% saying they would vote no and the remainder of 23% was undecided or refused to say. This poll was the first one out of a series of ten conducted which all showed support for independence greater than outright opposition and as such was celebrated by the SNP as a positive sign that they may be able to reach the 50% mark.

Confused?  You should be … guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens ….. but remember this … theoretical opinion polls only tell half the story. What matters is who actually turns out to vote.

Sense of humour failure?

Following on from my Can’t be Arsed post ( I thought I’d share with you some of the comments that I’ve received from people on the RailUK forum who took exception to my blog post.  People who clearly haven’t a clue what irony is and, to be frank, take themselves and their love of all things “trains” just a tad too seriously!

CompactDStrxion – 18/10/11 @ 12.53
“You obviously didn’t give yourself enough time at the station to purchase your ticket without rushing. It would only have been 15 minutes until the next train.The return ticket is a day return and the tiny difference is essentially due to the return journey being ‘free’ if you’re going back the same day. The real injustice on this route is that there is no period return available.I would also have expected the barrier to retain my ticket and exited through the manned barrier at Haymarket. Your labelling of staff as ‘couldn’t be arsed’ is more than a bit sharp considering the circumstances.”

firespire – 18/10/11 @ 15.43 
“They obvious “couldn’t be arsed” wait for the next train.It just sound like an irate person who after noticing their mistake, didn’t bother to take any time to sort it out at Glasgow station, simply preferring to get annoyed with the train guard was unable to do anything and didn’t like getting told that Glasgow station was the place they should have sorted it out.”
Deerfold – 19/10/11 @ 11.55
“Sounds like someone with a sense of entitlement wanting to publish her woes far and wide. I doubt she’ll be back to see any responses anyway.Yes, the guard on the train could have helped but it was her initial mistake.I’ve done the reverse – accidentally bought a return from a TVM when all I needed was a single – and the difference was rather more than 10p.  What did I do? Told myself not to do something so silly again.”

170401 – 24/10/11 @ 16.10
“You’ve got off quite lucky here, had your “excessed ticket” been picked up by some of Scotrails more enthusiastic staff then best case scenario you would have been looking at paying the single fare again (possibly with a £10 admin fee on top) or worst case you might have currently been at the center of a fraud investigation.The outcome, sadly, for your friendly gateline staff is likely that they’d now be looking for a new job and probably would also be at the center of said fraud investigation.”

When you write things like this you can never be sure of the reactions you’re going to get – these are priceless!  What next I ask myself?????

Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!

New Zealand were crowned world champions at the Rugby World Cup for the first time in 24 years today after squeezing past an inspired France team by a single point.

I am always pleased when the host nation wins a tournament and I am particularly pleased for the All Blacks who have, since 1987, always given us the haka before the game starts and this piece of theatre is both enjoyable and terrifying at the same time!

The traditional Maori war dance involves lots of thigh slapping, scary faces and loud chanting and you can’t help but feel sorry for any opposing team having to stand and watch this without the fear of God running through them! 

Take a look at this and you’ll see what I mean …..


Ice Cream Sandwich anyone?

When I saw the headlines this week about an ice cream sandwich, I was intrigued to find out what all the fuss was about.  It was a wee bit disappointing to find out that it was not in fact something scrumptious to eat that was causing such a stir but the new software that has been released for Android smartphones – disappointing to say the very least!

Apparently, Ice Cream Sandwich adds a range of new features and a redesigned interface and has been  launched in partnership with Samsung, whose Galaxy Nexus handset will be the first to use it.

Ice Cream Sandwich – also known as Android 4.0 – follows the tradition of naming versions after cakes, confectionery or frozen desserts – Previous releases have been codenamed Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo and Gingerbread.

Android’s main rival, Apple, released an update to its iOS software last week, although many owners were unable to download it immediately due to overwhelming demand. As an aside, I did manage to download the update to my iPhone but it seems to have lost a lot of the features and apps that I had previously – not great!

Android – which is owned by Google – and Apple are continually leap-frogging each other in terms of design and functions, as both compete for customers in the fast-growing global smartphone market.

According to figures published in August, Android handsets accounted for 48% of smartphones shipped to retailers, compared with 19% for Apple devices. However, many more Android models are available, from manufacturers such as HTC, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson.

The fierce competition has, on occasion, brought the two sides into direct conflict and Apple and Samsung are currently engaged in a number of legal battles, around the world, some of which involve claims of patent infringement and “copying” of device look and feel.

To date, Apple has obtained injunctions on Samsung Galaxy tablets being sold in Germany and Australia, with a ban on some smartphones due to come into effect in the Netherlands.

And, in the news today, we hear that Steve Jobs had said he wanted to destroy Android and would spend all of Apple’s money and his dying breath if that is what it took to do so!  The full extent of his animosity towards Google’s mobile operating system is revealed in a forthcoming authorised biography where Mr Jobs told author Walter Isaacson that he viewed Android’s similarity to iOS as “grand theft”.

All this mobile phone technology is clearly a very serious matter, which is why I feel the need to share this clip with you to put things back into perspective – enjoy!

It wasn’t all raping and pillaging

A Viking ship, which for 1,000 years has held the body of a chieftain, with his shield on his chest and his sword and spear by his side, has been excavated on a remote Scottish peninsula – the first undisturbed Viking ship burial found on the British mainland and which archaeologists have dated to the 10th Century.

The timbers of the ship found on the Ardnamurchan peninsula – the mainland’s most westerly point – rotted into the soil centuries ago, like most of the bones of the man whose coffin it became. 

However the outline of the classic Viking boat, with its pointed prow and stern, remained. Its form is pressed into the soil and its lines traced by hundreds of rivets, some still attached to scraps of wood.

At just 5m long and 1.5m wide, it would have been a dangerously small vessel for crossing the stormy seas between Scandinavia, Scotland and Ireland, but the possessions buried with him suggest the Viking was a considerable traveller – they included a whetstone from Norway, a bronze ringpin from Ireland, his sword with an ornately decorated hilt, a spear and a shield which have survived only as metal fittings, and pottery.

He also had a knife, an axe, and a bronze object thought to be part of a drinking horn. Dozens of iron fragments, still being analysed, were also found in the boat.

This peninsula in the Highlands is still easier to reach by sea than along the single narrow road.  But with its magnificent mountain, sea and sunset views, it was a special place for burials for thousands of years.  The oldest, excavated by the same team three years ago, was a 6,000-year-old neolithic grave, and a bronze age burial mound is nearby.

Hannah Cobb, an archaeologist from the University of Manchester who is co-director of the excavation, said: “We had spotted this low mound the previous year, but said firmly that it was probably just a pile of field clearance rocks from comparatively recent farming.” 

“When we uncovered the whole mound, the team digging came back the first night and said it looked quite like a boat.

“The second night they said: ‘It really does look like a boat.’ The third night they said: ‘We think we really do have a boat’. It was so exciting, we could hardly believe it.”

They recovered fragments of an arm bone and several teeth, which should allow analysis of radioactive isotopes and reveal where the man came from.

The fragments of wood clinging to the rivets should reveal what trees were felled for his ship, and possibly where it was built.

“Such burials were reserved for high status individuals,” Cobb said. “He may have been a chieftain, a famous navigator, or renowned for his wisdom, but this man was clearly special to his people.”

No trace of a settlement site has been found, but the team will be returning to the peninsula next summer.

Years of work will follow on the new find, and may reveal whether the man who lay quietly in his ship for 1,000 years was a local resident, a sailor taking shelter from a storm or whether his body was brought specially to the beautiful site for burial.

Can’t be arsed

Did you know that the price of a single off-peak fare from Glasgow to Edinburgh is just 10p less than an off-peak return fare for the same journey?  No?  Nor did I until yesterday.  The “wonderful” organisation that is Scotrail had me blowing steam out of my ears (and probably various other orifices!) with their “can’t be arsed” attitude and complete lack of customer service skills.  Had there not been 2 helpful people based at Haymarket, it would not be a blog posting but a stiff letter of complaint to Head Office I can tell you!

So, what got me all of a lather?  Well, rushing to get the train through from Glasgow Queen Street, I inadvertently pressed the wrong button on the ticket machine and seeing the cost was £11.30 I didn’t realise until only one ticket and a receipt dropped into the tray.  As the train was due to leave and I didn’t want to miss it, I decided to make a run for it and talk to the guard on the train.  This I duly did, to be told that he “can’t do anything about it” and I’d have to go to the ticket office in Glasgow – great idea since I was heading in totally the opposite direction and anyway this clearly wasn’t going to sort out my problem as I still needed to get a return ticket and was unwilling to fork out yet another £11.30 for the privilege.  My first “can’t be arsed” Scotrail person.

When I reached Haymarket, the ticket barrier retained my ticket but I made sure I kept hold of my receipt.  After my meeting I went to the ticket office to be told by the lady at the desk that there was nothing she could do about my dilemma and that I’d have to buy another single ticket.  My second “can’t be arsed” Scotrail person.  Fortunately she was overheard by one of her colleagues who suggested it was worth talking to the man at the gate to see if he could do anything.  My first “helpful” Scotrail person.

The first man at the gate (third “can’t be arsed” person) said that he wouldn’t be able to help me as I didn’t have the original ticket!  I explained that this had been retained by the ticket barrier (naturally) and he said that the original guard on the train should have upgraded me when I still had the ticket in my possession.  Without the ticket there was nothing that could be done and I’d have to buy a new single ticket for another £11.30.

Haymarket Station

Fortunately my knight in shining armour was standing listening to the conversation –  Another Scotrail employee who said he was sure that he could process an “upgrade” for me which would mean me just paying the 10p difference between the tickets.  I could have kissed him.  He dutifully plugged all the details into his little machine and produced the relevant ticket and I handed across my 10p with grateful thanks.

So what does this story illustrate?  Well to me it’s perfectly clear that there is always a solution to a problem if only someone is prepared to make that little bit of effort to help.  All to often our “can’t be arsed” society takes over however and we are left with little faith in human nature. 

On this occasion I would definitely like to thank the lovely man who saved me just over £11 for bringing some sunshine into a cold, grey, rainy day – you are a star.  To the three people who “couldn’t be arsed”, perhaps some customer service training wouldn’t go amiss?  And finally, to Scotrail … what idiot dreamt up such a ludicrous fare policy?

Nifty Fifty

Back in May when I started writing this blog, I had no idea how addictive (or cathartic) this was going to be. Can you believe it? This is actually my 50th post and I felt the need to celebrate what is a quite incredible milestone.

I had no idea that there would be so much to write about, nor how enjoyable it was going to be and I wish I’d started this a lot sooner. My regular readers are always commenting on how much they enjoy my writing and long may it continue. Thank you to each and every one of my readers and I hope to keep you entertained for a long while to come.

So close

With all eyes on Wales this morning, the whole of the UK were willing the team on in this, their most important game for 24 years. The game had it all, a very close scoreline (9-8), a dramatic early sending off and an exciting game for the spectators

There was the usual flurry of comments on the message boards and social media channels when the referee red-carded the Welsh captain, Sam Warburton. It was a hugely controversial decision from referee Alain Rolland. Warburton picked Clerc up and took him over the horizontal, and he failed to return him safely to the ground. But he did not drive him into the turf and it looked like a yellow card to me. Austin Healy on Twitter called it a “most ridiculous decision” but this was soon followed by a tweet from @misterhutt saying “To all of you complaining: what’s the point in having rules if they are not enforced? How’d u feel if Warburton was the victim here?”

The Welsh boys can however hold their heads up high. To play like they did for 70 minutes with 14 men was a tremendous achievement and they were within a hair’s breadth of winning the game on a couple of occasions … but it was not meant to be. They were the better team for most of the game, and had any one of three penalties, one conversion or two drop-goals found their way between the sticks, they would have reached their first ever World Cup final. Instead it is France who go through to face the winners of Sunday’s game between New Zealand and Australia.

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