Saturday, December 30, 2006

We are here!

OK. Safely arrived in Kandy Cottage. News and pictures to follow, with any luck.

It's supposed to be cooler here in the highlands, but today you wouldn't have known. Meanwhile, back at home, it's winter!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, folks!

I'm off on holiday now, so I'd better do a bit of packing I suppose. Maybe I'll manage a few pictures in a while - who knows?

Till later...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Male Restroom Etiquette

Some of you may have wondered why we men don't go to the toilet in groups of three or more. All that and more is explained here, in Male Restroom Etiquette, a video at

Warning - this is true. Kind of. Only look if you really want to know... like that will stop you.
Rating: funny, slightly icky, educational.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Velvet sock and cloven hoof?

"We're not the Nasty Party any more", say the Tories, but today they announced a new immigration policy. They want to "significantly reduce" immigration, and bring in annual quotas. They say that public services will be swamped by the new workers who are moving here to take up many hard-to-fill posts. Except that the birthrate here is falling. The proportion of workers paying into pensions versus retired people claiming pensions is getting dangerously low. And if services are inadequate (and they are) then keeping out foreigners is solving the wrong problem! Maybe we should, you know, improve the services so they can meet our needs?

But it's not just Cameron's Tories -- Labour is even worse! Tony Blair has all of this short-sighted "be nasty to foreigners" badness, with added ID card insanity. They are still pretending that fingerprinting innocent citizens, building a new all-seeing, big brother, national database with files on everyone, and compulsory "voluntary ID cards" for all will somehow help eliminate crime, immigration, terrorism, and rain [1] on bank holidays!

[1] OK - maybe the rainy bank holidays are supposed to be fixed by global warming caused by an ineffective environmental policy.
But the rest is true.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Maybe it is the worst company in the world after all

A few days ago I had a call from O2 (formerly "the worst company I have ever dealt with, bar none"). They offered me a new handset (Nokia E50) and a 20% reduction in rental in exchange for a 1 year extension of the contract.

Nothing appeared, so I rang them this evening.

Surprisingly, they had no record of the new handset - in fact it's not even in their portfolio, they said. Less surprisingly, they did have a record of my 12-month extension to the contract. Effective one week after Dean rang, but there you go.

The department that may be able to help me had (even less surprisingly) gone home. So maybe tomorrow we'll find out how far O2 are on their way to regaining their status of the worst company I have ever dealt with, bar none.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bad Bloggers! Naughty Bloggers!

Apparently blogging is eeeevil, according to Ambassador Youth, an online magazine at "the only website on earth that explains the truth of virtually every biblical doctrine — and in extraordinary detail".

The argument is "interesting" - with no sense of irony, the author begins by lamenting that Blogs give young people (Oh, the horror!) a "voice". Still, I thought you might be interested in this snippet from the fruitcake zone.

Reported in The Register.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Maybe not the worst in the world after all?

Yesterday a nice chap called Dean called, from O2. Now a few years ago they were The Worst Company I Have Ever Dealt With Bar None (a long and sorry tale for another post), but it's been a while since they annoyed me, so I decided to hear him out.

O2 agreed to send me a shiny new phone as a free upgrade, and gave me 20% off my rental (in that order, in case it becomes important). So I'll give it a few days, and see if I've sold my soul to the worst company ever for another year, or if they are actually slightly less evil these days.

While I'm feeling kind and trusting, and inclined to give people another chance, I'm giving the dentist yet another opportunity to get my crown to stay in my mouth. Yes - the crown that seems to fall out every time I leave the country.

On the other hand, someone told me they have good dentists in Hungary - maybe that would take less time in the long run. Again, we'll see...

Read my lips: no new Thatcherism?

OK, so David Cameron and George Osborne didn't actually say that (and apologies to George H Bush). But that surely was the message in their steadfast refusal to commit to the tax-cutting agenda of the previous, dimly-remembered Thatcher administration.

While the electorate is growing tired of New Labour spin in general, and of Tony Blair in particular, they have not forgotten the shadow of the Thatcherite Tories. Back then tax cuts meant slashing services, closing hospitals, and cuts in education. The traditional virtue of cutting your coat according to your cloth was replaced by a mad rush to cut taxes whatever the cost.

If the Tories are to become electable, they need to convince swing voters that they no longer stand for letting the rich go private, and devil take the hindmost. The legacy of the "Nasty Party" must be let go, and seen to be let go.

So in this David Cameron is doing the right thing. Of course, he still needs to give us some idea of what he's for, or he'll be just another Lib Dem home for foundling protest votes.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A wee break

The west coast of Scotland is beautiful this time of year.

and it doesn't rain all the time!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Greenbelt - what's it like?

Lots of spaces, lots of people from many of traditions and backgrounds, lots of events... music... politics... justice... fair trade... international... worship... culture... media...

Lots of stalls, organisations, and places to eat and drink... or shop... or busk!

On Cheltenham racecourse, with lots of health and safety precautions...

And many many tents... and flags... and sometimes mud...

You can get a flavour of the things that happened and even buy (bah!) recordings of some events, from the website at

Unfortunately this year they didn't have the Proclaimers, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, Daleks, Juliet Turner, or the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

You can take the politician out of politics, but can you take the politics out of the politician?

This looked like an explosive lineup, if you'll pardon the expression. Extreme unionist Ian Paisley's DUP and the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, together at last!

Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP and Sinn Fein's Philip McGuigan were to be together on the same platform. There were also peace workers, one from the Corrymela community, and one who had lost his wife in a bombing, to give a bit of perspective. It was a panel discussion in one of the large tents at Greenbelt 2006, chaired by Gareth Higgins of Zero28.

As it turned out, Jeffrey Donaldson wasn't able to make it (last minute hitch, or political cold feet, I don't know - I missed the excuses at the start). His place was filled by Alex Easton[1], one of his newer colleagues.

It was encouraging in a way - at least the politicians were in the same place, taking part in a discussion. And they had a chance to listen to each other - and maybe even to speak, afterwards, away from the glare of publicity, as human beings.

It was also encouraging to hear the account of Alan McBride, who lost his wife in an IRA bombing, but is now working for peace.

But it was also depressing.

Depressing because the politicians seemed to stay very much on-message -- Tony Blair's spindoctors would have been proud -- and certainly the party whips will have had little cause for concern. Philip McGuigan in particular lost few opportunities to end a discussion with yet another grievance or accusation, with no chance for his opponent to respond. Playing the game, perhaps, but it sat uncomfortably with his claims to be looking for a way forward, wanting to deal with an unwilling DUP.

One two-part question summed up this approach for me. Alex Easton was asked why they referred to "Roman Catholics" when members of that community never used that description - and he agreed (perhaps naively) that it might be better if people referred to each other simply as Christians. Philip McGuigan was asked why they had started to refer to "unionist paramilitaries" when unionists, as opposed to loyalists, defined themselves as against terrorism. "Answer as a human being" pleaded the chairman. The SF representative responded frankly, calling it a "useful phrase" which put across the message that, in his view, the state, unionists, and loyalists were all part of a movement that had been ranged against those who wanted a United Ireland - and finished with accusations of collusion in past killings.

The other depressing answer was on what the DUP really wanted, before they would agree to form a government. Sinn Fein framed the issue as an increasing set of demands from unionists, where, as soon as republicans addressed one issue, another objection came to the fore[2]. The Chairman asked Alex whether, if Sinn Fein did agree to support law and order and join the police, that would be enough for the DUP. The answer was a discouragingly long yet strangely unspecific list of problems and concerns that needed to be addressed.

I can understand concerns about criminality and the like - but I didn't get the feeling of a party that badly wanted to move forward.

It's going to be a long run up to the 25th November deadline for agreement. But at least there is some dialogue - even if the two politicians were talking at each other rather than to each other.

And it will have done them no harm to hear the voices of three people working for peace, and the concerns of a large audience with a limited patience for traditional politicians' preoccupations.

Faint, glimmering signs of hope, in my more optimistic moments.

[1] Thanks to the reader who pointed out I had wrongly identified the North Down DUP representative.
[2] That's not how it looks to me, as an observer of the developing peace process, but that's a whole other article.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Open-air cinema at Belfast Castle, from the Belfast Film Festival. Fortunately the weather was better than for Opera in the Park!

Friday, September 08, 2006


Lindisfarne castle and abbey, signs of the early celtic christian missionaries[1], and a view from the Island, looking towards the mainland.

[1] Although the statue may be of St Cuthbert, who introduced the Roman rites to Lindisfarne after the synod of Whitby.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

How holy were we, on our pilgrimage to Lindisfarne and Greenbelt?

It's called the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, so the way to get there would be to walk on water, right?

Sadly, even devout pilgrims like ourselves, wending our way to Greenbelt, and visiting on the way the site of the missionaries who brought Christianity to Northumbria - even we had to use more conventional means.

There is something incredibly un-mysterious about signs like this ;-)

Completely ignoring the Edinburgh Festival

We never have time to do everything we'd like - but we can't really complain...

West of Scotland

Friday, September 01, 2006

Folk and Transport Museum is a much better name

I discovered earlier that the Estonians call theirs an Ethnographic Museum, but I think Folk Museum is a better name. A few weeks ago, they were having a "rare breeds" show, with horses, cattle and sheep, as well as all the usual folky things. It was time for some tourism...

There were even baby hedgehogs!

Sorry, no pictures of the trains today :-)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Inspire! Motivate! Mock!

The Internet really is amazing - everything is out there, somewhere!

Make your own demotivational posters at this site.

Photograph by ahawks at, some rights reserved.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

What do they need computers for if they won't do their job?

If Belfast Today (the online edition of the "News Letter") is to be believed, the Northern Ireland Assembly wants new computers for their Party offices. Understandably, Peter Hain said "No!"

If the parties carry on refusing to govern, what would be the point?

On the other hand, if the age of their PCs really is stopping them from getting government back from Tony Blair's direct-rule governors, maybe they could use some of the money they were paid for not working for the past few years to buy themselves a new machine or two. It seems only fair!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Not what you might have expected

Far from marching through catholic housing estates while rioting and calling for all nationalists to be interned, the orangemen and women, and the people who turned out to watch them, enjoyed a peaceful and sunny day out in Maguiresbridge.

But then, the Twelfth of July demonstration in Fermanagh generally is a peaceful and relaxed affair.

The sermon preached to the gathered orangemen, women, and other holidaymakers at "the field" challenged popular stereotypes of the Orange Order, however.

The retired Bishop of Repton, Henry Richmond (a Fermanagh man himself), called for more tolerance and understanding between Roman Catholics and Protestants. He hailed post-Vatican-II changes in Catholic practice, and told the gathering that, although dialogue does not necessarily mean agreeing with those one speaks to, it does require an effort to understand. While differences should be faced, rather than swept under the carpet, there is more that unites Protestants and Catholics than divides them, he said.

Not everyone was as sure as the Bishop that Martin Luther would believe in modern Catholic acceptance of the central doctrine of the Reformation, but they heard an impassioned plea for Protestants and Catholics to work together to increase understanding of where each is coming from.

After the service, food, cups of tea, and some serious rest and relaxation, the bands and lodges were assembled for the long march back through the town.

Probably too quiet a day to make the news...