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Saturday, 9 June 2007

"Sorry, Corporal, we can't sell you a beer - you're too young"

Jack Cornwall was 16 when he won a posthumous VC at Jutland. John Condon was 14 when he was killed near Ypres serving with the Royal Irish. Lance Corporal Ruecker is a bit older, but still barely 20. His gallantry in Afghanistan is described in today's Telegraph, and his commanders are putting him up for a gong.

If Dr Sally Winning gets her way, he won't be able to buy a few cans of Heineken at Tesco to celebrate his homecoming, though. She's worried that alcohol is a bit of a risk and should be kept away from the under 21s. Aah. More of a risk than streams of 7.62 tracer and RPGs being fired at you, then.
Risk-takers to be banned from driving?

THIS wonderful report from the BBC today; proposals to introduce psychometric profiling to the driving test, to exclude persons likely to take risks from driving.

Britain's entrepreneurs, investors, self-employed and small businessmen, together with all members of the armed forces, firemen, construction workers and airline pilots had all better buy bus passes, then.

Just until we've got all the vegetarian, non-smoking, water-drinking 54 mph cheese-avoiders trapped on the M25 by a series of clever progressive road closures and starve the macrobiotic buggers to death.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

The Joy of Brie

De Gaulle asked " How can you govern a country with two hundred and forty six varieties of cheese?". The Joy of Cheese is one of the great glories of France; the terroir, the weather, the altitude, the livestock are all captured in those delicious regional varieties. One can journey from Flanders to the Pyrenees, from Brittany to Alsace on a cheeseboard. As I write I am almost salivating at the remembered forest-floor taste of Saint-Nectaire and the salty bite of ripe Roquefort. We Brits have learned to love French cheese; Brie de Meaux and Camembert are even sold in polystyrene ersatz versions in British supermarkets. I am prepared to forgive French farmers almost anything for standing up to the supermarkets and big distributors, for making cheeses in farm kitchens in which poultry roam at will, for wisps of hay on the rind, for using raw milk still warm from the udder.

But perhaps Nanny's reach extends now even unto
La France Profonde. The Telegraph reports today that Camembert may disappear from the world. No, not the plastic pasteurised tasteless stuff from Tesco, but the real raw cheese made from raw milk. The cheese that glistens and bulges from its rind on the cheeseboard, a living small God of microbacterial activity, an irresistible meal-end squidge. This is a threat to our common human heritage every bit as great as that of a Taliban with a stick of gelignite and a Buddha statue in sight.

Cheese lovers of Britain unite! Let the Joy of Brie and Camembert be unconfined!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

MPs should give up the bottle - maybe

One has a certain sympathy with ex-Tory MP Teddy Taylor in the light of the recent Department of Health report on problem drinking amongst British adults. Nowhere is this problem more apparent than the Palace of Westminster, which is seemingly filled with reeling, vomiting, incapable binge drunks - at the taxpayer's expense.

"The Commons chamber remains empty most of the time, while the multitude of drinking dens are crammed full," said Taylor in 2002. "The problem is that MPs are not finding the debating chamber at all interesting but they have to stay in the building to take part in votes, so, in increasing numbers and with increasing regularity, MPs are dropping into the many bars at Westminster. I have noticed that there are now more people than before who find difficulty in walking along the corridors in a straight line. There is no doubt that beer-drinking in the Commons has gone up by leaps and bounds. The number of teetotallers in the Commons seems to have fallen to me and two ladies, whom I cannot name and perhaps one or two others."

There has been an intermittent correspondence for some years past in the pages of the British Medical Journal debating the merits of compulsory occupational health screening for sitting and would-be MPs; those drinking above the recommended limits could be forced onto rehab programmes, or be suspended from the House. If the Health Secretary is serious about this issue, perhaps this is where she should start.

Of course, such a policy would deprive us of a future Churchill, whose eighty-plus units of alcohol a week was somewhat in excess of the recommended limit of twenty-one units a week. And George Brown and Alan Clark without alcohol may have been just sad mediocrities, like so many larger-than-life figures who when sober seem to deflate like wrinkled balloons.

But if the nation is to take Hewitt seriously, she needs to address the intemperance of her own colleagues first.
Labour's fantasy town planning

The debts we owe to our Victorian forebears allow us to flush the toilet, bury our dead and enjoy the Sun in our local park. Yet these assets - the sewers, cemeteries and green spaces - will all have finite capacity. That Bazalgette's London main sewers, built in 1865, can still cope adequately with the waste of a massively increased 2007 population is a testament to the man's brilliance and foresight, not government planning.

News in the Telegraph today that old cemeteries are to be reused by stacking bodies double.

I've taken a look through Ruth Kelly's fantasy planning for the Thames Gateway. Words aplenty, written in that prozac-cheerful official optimism that blabs of new communities, hundreds of thousands of people living in hutches filled with last year's fashionable furniture.

But nowhere, absolutely nowhere, in the whole Thames Gateway plan is there a mention of a single cemetery. Anywhere. Perhaps in Labour's fantasy world people don't die; or perhaps they have plans for compulsory cremation. One isn't told.

Allotments, cemeteries and sewers are not sexy, but they are necessary. If this bankrupt government spent just five minutes less on inventing spin and looked out of their windows at the built environment created by their Victorian ancestors they'd do us all a service.

Light blogging this week for the usual boatish reason.