31 January 2007

Blackpool and Greenwich - lessons in gambling

It struck me as rather odd that the council leaders in Blackpool and Greenwich should be griping about their failure to attract the single super-casino licence on offer (see, for example, this article in the Telegraph "Gloom at the Dome and Golden Mile"). They have been quoted saying such things as "This confirms our worst fears and leaves a hole in plans to regenerate north Greenwich" and "We are absolutely gutted. Seven years of work has gone into this bid. We will fight this decision by lobbying and try to change it and we will continue with the process and try to get an early release of new licenses if that's possible." (Blackpool rep on the BBC News report).

I suppose if their respective cities had won the bid and built the casino, if I had lost a packet on the slots or roulette wheel, I could complain thus: "This confirms my worst fears and leaves a hole in plans to regenerate my bank account" or "I am absolutely gutted at number 24 not coming up. Seven years of work went into saving that £50,000. I will fight this decision by lobbying and try to change it and I will continue to pursue my get rich quick schemes regardless of the damage they might do to anyone else".
Yes, I am positive they would be very sympathetic.

FireHouse in the Evening Standard

Everyone has to buy the Evening Standard tonight which has given FireHouse a fantastic review. For those who are too late or in the wrong city, it is also online here. It's always very nice to get such positive publicity, especially for my brother's food, which he has worked so hard to get right.

28 January 2007

Icing on the cake

It is nearly midnight on Sunday. I have briefly logged onto the BBC news website to see what has been happening over the last few days in the big wide world. I haven't looked at a newspaper since Thursday. I took Friday off work and, except for a couple of calls and emails, spent the day with the three most important girls in my life. We went to Aqua Babies at the Kensington Sports Centre near Ladbroke Grove. Yesterday - Saturday - we took a long walk down to the Kings Road and the new farmers' market at the Duke of York's barracks development, where we ended bumping into two different lots of friends quite randomly and making new friends with a lady who, pregnant with twins, who stopped me outside Patisserie Valerie and wanted to know all about our Jane (Spanish - pronounced Yanee) double buggy. Sarah gave her a card and invited her to get in touch by email if she wanted the details of where to get one. Later on my brother came over for tea with his wife and daughter and we finally got around to exchanging Christmas presents. I got some snazzy Sennheiser noise cancelling headphones which will be handy on my travels. I got him a slingbox - I hope he manages to get it to work. We gave our niece a Barbie doll with a battery operated spinning skirt, which has to be seen to be believed. A glimpse of what I am for in the next few years.

This morning we managed to heave ourselves out of bed in time to make it to our church, St Mary the Boltons, for the first time since the girls were christened at the start of December. It seemed fitting to go there today, their six month birthday. When the girls were in Special Care Baby Unit at the Chelsea and Westminster, I could see St Mary's spire from the window by their cot and looked forward to taking them there when they were big enough to come out of hospital.

Just after we arrived, some more friends whom we haven't seen in quite a while came in with their little girl - who I hadn't yet met although she must be about 15 months old - and came and sat down next to us and we discovered that they are expecting another one. Georgina spent the whole service on my lap or on my shoulder, falling asleep during the sermon and waking just in time for communion, but without a sad whimper throughout the whole service, just a few happy squeeks. Francesca was just as good with Sarah and incredibly neither of us ended up in the "fish tank" at the back of the church, where the parents of noisy children retreat to listen to the service through a relay speaker.

At the end of the service a couple who are friends of a very good friend of mine spotted us and came over to say hello and to meet the twins. They're expecting twins as well and were full of questions. Then they told us that they are renovating their house and thought they might need an architect to produce some drawings, so Sarah is seeing them next week.

After church, we trundled off to South Kensington to check out the Aquilla health club as a possible alternative to Aqua Babies and discovered that they run Saturday morning "father and baby" sessions, so decided that we would sign up for those, since I can't exactly take every Friday off.
Then to complete our weekend of pregnant people, after a quick lunch (with the twins trying out their high chairs for the first time, each propped up with a cushion) we went off to Marlow to have tea with an old school friend of Sarah who is expecting in May.

Back to London for a slightly late supper (in those high chairs again) and a bath for the girls. We heated up a jar of goose cassoulet bought from a Frenchman at the farmers' market yesterday and settled down for episodes 3 and 4 of the new series of 24 (which is compelling, if a little silly).

Earlier today, as we were walking back from South Kensington, Sarah told me how happy she was and how the twins were the icing on the cake. Surely, I replied, they're part of the cake - they're the strawberry jam. What does that make me then, Sarah asked, the Victoria Sponge?

Days like this help me put things into perspective. Tomorrow I will go to work and no doubt will get exercised by what is going on there and by things I read in the papers. And maybe I'll be moved to write about political issues, or one day, maybe even do something about them. But however incompetent or corrupt or boneheaded the government of this country is and continues to be, nothing has prevented me from having a perfect long weekend with my girls. Goodnight.

24 January 2007

Ruth Kelly

With apologies to MIKA

(actual lyrics are here)

Do I attract you?
Do I repulse you with my queasy smile?
I guess I’m too Scottish?
I’m an ex-Marxist?
Do I like what you like?

I could be wholesome
I could be loathsome
I guess I’m the Home Secretary
I know you don't you like me
I know you don't you like me but I ain't going to cry

I try to be like Ruth Kelly
But all her looks were too sad
So I apply to Opus Dei
But they've gone Catholic mad!

I could be Brown
I could be Straw
I could be Hilary Benn
I could be Jowell
I could be Powell
I could be anyone you like
Gotta go Green
Gotta be mean
Gotta be everything more
I know you don't you like me
I know you don't you like me
Why don't you walk out the door!

How can I help it
How can I help it
How can I help what you think?
Hello my voter
Hello my voter
Putting my job on the brink

I know you don't you like me
I know you don't you like me
I don't even like myself
Should I bend over?
Should I look older just to be put on the shelf?

I try to be like Ruth Kelly
But all her looks were too sad
So I apply to Opus Dei
But they've gone Catholic mad!

I could be Brown
I could be Straw
I could be Hilary Benn
I could be Jowell
I could be Powell
I could be anyone you like
Gotta go Green
Gotta be mean
Gotta be everything more
I know you don't you like me
I know you don't you like me
Why don't you walk out the door!

Say what you want to satisfy yourself
But you're not even fit for purpose

I could be Brown
I could be Straw
I could be Hilary Benn
I could be Jowell
I could be Powell
I could be anyone you like
Gotta go Green
Gotta be mean
Gotta be everything more
I know you don't you like me
I know you don't you like me
Why don't you walk out the door!

22 January 2007

The problem with trains

If you happen to live in Berkshire or South Oxfordshire and, like many hard working people, commute into London on a daily basis you will be aware of the change in train timetables and the almighty local row which is accompanying this. Luckily, I live in London and knew nothing about it until I went back to my in-law's at the weekend and read about it in a copy of that fine local paper, the Henley Standard.

Rather unusually, this morning I caught the 0756 train from Shiplake (direct to Paddington) as my wife had a meeting in Henley and so we'd spent Sunday night out of town.

The station at Shiplake is tiny. It consists of a small carpark and a small platform. Being rather gauche, I arrived, ooh at least four minutes before the train, whereas the regulars time it perfectly to step onto the platform as the train pulls in. I piled dutifully onto the train and took my seat. There being no ticket office at Shiplake, I expected to be able to buy a ticket on the train. Admittedly, by the time we got to Paddington, it would be have been virtually impossible for anyone to move through the train checking tickets, but it would have been nice to have seen someone try, particularly before the train got too busy. I assumed there would be a ticket barrier at the other end, but nothing of the sort.

I am a law abiding citizen and I would have been quite happy to tender my fare to any employee of First Great Western - and I remain so - but not having the opportunity, I have not. No wonder FGW are cutting services if they are unable to collect fares from people who would happily pay them.

The payback came when I got on the tube - having left my Oyster card at home in London I bought a return ticket for Zone 1 - £8. Welcome to London.

21 January 2007

Ruth Turner Arrest

I sense that opinion is divided over whether the police were right to turn up at Ruth Turner's home at 6.30am on Friday morning to arrest her and take her in for questioning. For the record, I am sure the police were grandstanding. They could have easily have rung her up, or rung her solicitors (if she has instructed any) and asked her to come in for an appointment, to be arrested and be questioned. In the highly unlikely event that she had done a runner, this could have been taken as a clear indication of her guilt.

I have been told that when IT forensics people are called into companies to perform internal investigations into fraud or corruption, they give the suspect a two hour warning that his/her PC is to be examined. This way, if the suspect is guilty, he/she will delete the incriminating files there and then and it is a relatively simple task to search the hard drive for files "deleted" in the previous two hours. I digress.

I am more appalled by the whining from the police about "political interference". Friends and colleague of a suspect rallying round can hardly be criticised if they are genuinely concerned. The fact that they are all politicians is neither here nor there. In fact, it might just encourage them to speak up, if their doing so upsets the officers in charge (who clearly need to grow a backbone if they are going to conduct these sort of inquiries).

The fact that the police are going after Turner for "perverting the course of justice" makes me think that they have not got anything on anyone for the main event. It rather reminds me of the investigation of Martha Stewart in the US who was investigated for insider trading. She was not prosecuted for that, but since she had misled the police during their investigation, she could done for that. In both cases the authorites were/are desperate to get "a result" and don't really care what for.

I would be thrilled to see the Labour government exposed as the bunch of corrupt hypocrites that they are, but I am with those who say the police need to put up or shut up before they do anymore unwarranted damage to our entire political system

18 January 2007

Matthew Taylor MP to spend more time with the family

I appear to have touched a few nerves over on Iain Dale's Diary (LibDem MP to Stand Down), where I suggested that if Matthew Taylor wanted to spend more time with his new family, he could have moved them to London rather than stepping down as an MP. I can't actually believe that anyone still uses that old chestnut and expects to be taken seriously.

Norfolk Blogger, in particular, said "Danvers, what a terribe [sic] attitude that you expect a constituency MP to move from his constituency." And an anonymous commentator told me to "get a life".

Honestly, I do not understand the objection to the idea that an MP should move his family to live in London so that they can all be together during the working week. If I am being so objectionable, what was the point of the reforms in the late nineties which made the Commons sitting hours more "family friendly"? I can see there is little point in Mrs MP (or Mr, for that matter) and the kiddies being in London if hubby (or wifey) is doing three all-night sittings each week, but if they are knocking off early every night, there is no reason they can't be home in time for bath and a story.

The location of one's home in relation to one's workplace is something that lots of people have to grapple with the whole time. Sure, some people do change jobs so that they can live somewhere pleasant, but probably not so often when they are a the top of their game or about to reach their long standing career goals.

Still, NB's use of the phrase "constituency MP" is the sort of meaningless tosh you might expect from a Libdem blogger (however entertaining and interesting he might be in other respects)... all Westminster MPs are, by definition, "constituency" MPs - since, thankfully we do not have some daft PR system which breaks that all important link. However, their job is to represent the constituency in Westminster and not vice versa. Having cut my political teeth in the West Country I feel an affinity to, and I still think the principals elucidated in 1774 by Edmund Burke in his speech to the electors of Bristol are correct.

Maybe I am bitter. Given I am still stuck in the Virgin Islands, having been waiting here all week to go on in front of the Court of Appeal, I think I would be able to spend more time with my family if I stood down from the legal profession and became an MP.

16 January 2007

Cheap flights are not the problem

Another week, another trip. This time to the British Virgin Islands (see idyllic photo, left). I have been here (on business) no less than six times in the past three years, although January is probably the best time to come, given the pleasant climate, so no complaints on that front. Only problem is that the flights are all so full we were waitlisted on our preferred route to come out and are waitlisted on the way back, so it looks like we'll be taking the longer route home via New York. Heavens knows what this will do to my carbon footprint, which is already Yeti sized, given that this is my fifth long haul trip in as many months? But it does highlight that it is not just the Ryanheirs and Easyjetsetters of this world who are causing the icecaps to melt. Even the BA first class lounge at Gatwick was packed to the gunwales.

Still, hope is at hand. If the world can warm up just enough so that places nearer home are warm in January, then maybe the travelling masses can go to the South of France by train or something eco-friendly, leaving plenty of space on the flights to the Caribbean for people like myself (who would actually prefer to stay at home).

On the travelling theme, I was also highly miffed to lose my can of extra strong OFF (mosquito repellent) at security at Gatwick as it contained (or could have contained) more than 100ml of liquid. Stupid of me not to pack it in my big suitcase, but I thought I would have got away with it, given I had managed to get a large can of Gillette shaving foam in my hand luggage through security at JFK in December. I wonder what the magic of 100ml is anyway? More to the point, since I had run out of room in the little plastic bag, I had left some freebie tubes of shampoo and conditioner in my sponge bag and this was not picked up by the x-ray machine. Nice to know that our new anti-terrorist procedures are operating pretty much on the honour system.

But on the plus side, I have only picked up one mosquito bite so far, so the OFF was probably unnecessary in any case.

10 January 2007

Nutrition - what's it all about...

Ok - although this is not a site for jokes I thought I would make an exception:

In the beginning God covered the earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, with green, yellow and red vegetables of all kinds so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

Then using God's bountiful gifts, Satan created Dairy Ice Cream and Magnums. And Satan said "You want hot fudge with that? and Man said "Yes!" And Woman said "I'll have one too with chocolate chips". And lo they gained 10 pounds.

And God created the healthy yoghurt that woman might keep the figure that man found so fair. And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat and sugar from the cane and combined them. And Woman went from size 12 to size 14.

So God said "Try my fresh green salad". And Satan presented Blue Cheese dressing and garlic croutons on the side. And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.

God then said "I have sent you healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them". And Satan brought forth deep fried coconut king prawns, butter-dipped lobster chunks and chicken fried steak, so big it needed its own platter, and Man's cholesterol went through the roof.

Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with potassium and good nutrition. Then Satan peeled off the healthy skin and sliced the starchy centre into chips and deep fried them in animal fats adding copious quantities of salt. And Man put on more pounds.

God then brought forth running shoes so that his Children might lose those extra pounds. And Satan came forth with a cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels. And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering light and started wearing stretch jogging suits.

Then God gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite and Satan created McDonalds and the 99p double cheeseburger. Then Satan said "You want fries with that?" and Man replied "Yes, And super size 'em". And Satan said "It is good." And Man and Woman went into cardiac arrest.

God sighed ......... and created quadruple by-pass surgery. And then ........... Satan chuckled and created the National Health Service.

THE FINAL WORD ON NUTRITION After an exhaustive review of the research literature, here's the final word on nutrition and health:

1. Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
2. Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
3. Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
4. Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
5. Germans drink beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.

CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

09 January 2007

Gerry Robinson and the NHS

I have just watched the first episode of "Can Gerry Robinson save the NHS" on Channel 4 which I had Sky+ed. The problem he confronts is that individual hospitals are funded according to the number of patients treated, whereas doctors and nurses are paid the same regardless how many patients they operate on or see at a clinic.

Is the solution not almost too obvious? Why can't the medical staff have their pay linked to the revenue they earn for the hospital, whether individually or as teams? No doubt this would be met with a barrage of complaint claiming that this would diminish standards etc, but it seems to work in most other industries. Surely this reform would be the logicial conclusion to the concept of the internal market? That, and opting medics out of the European Working Time Directive.

05 January 2007

"Too posh to push"?

According to an article in today’s Evening Standard (I can’t find the link), Dr Tim Crayford, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, has said that he doesn’t want the NHS to spend money on caesarean sections for mothers who are “too posh to push”, and instead wants the money spent on providing things like Herceptin to cancer patients.

The Chairman of the Health Select Committee, Kevin Barron, has also weighed in threatening an inquiry by his committee if the Department of Health doesn’t review the issue. I bet they are quaking in their boots.

There are a couple of things going on here: first this story. I thought it sounded familiar, and when I searched “caesarean” on the Evening Standard’s website, I found an article from June 2003 calling for exactly the same restrictions from the All-Party Commons Health Committee - here. Even worse, today’s story is not exactly fresh either, as it is just a rehash of a story appearing on CareandHealth.com dated 22 December 2006.

More important by far is the issue itself. Are “posh” women really depriving cancer patients of life-saving drugs with their unreasonable demands for unnecessary treatment?

I guess I should declare my interest here: Sarah gave birth the NHS by c-section last year. As far as I know, it was only available to her because she was having twins (i.e. she had no other medical reason) but it was not strongly put forward by her doctors (I wanted to say “pushed hard” but the metaphor was unfortunate). It was her two cousins, one a GP and the other a senior NHS consultant who pretty much insisted she took this route, given the not insignificant chance of complications for the second birth. In the event Georgina (who came out second) was a breach baby, so if Francesca had been born naturally, the chances are that Sarah would have then had to go through a stressful emergency c-section right after giving birth. So I wonder, who are all these “posh” women having medically superfluous c-sections on the NHS? If they are so posh, why aren’t they going private?

The bigger issue is simply that this is a classic New Labour cynical manoeuvre - blaming a defenceless and innocent group of largely imaginary people to deflect attention from the utter failure of the Government to address its inability to turn higher spending into better public services. According to the various press article, a c-section costs the NHS around £2,800 - £780 more than a regular birth - a drop in the ocean. A single injection of Herceptin costs £400, a full course costs £21,800 (according to a 2005 article in the Daily Telegraph) - that’s a lot of c-sections.

Of course, the NHS provides a lot of unnecessary treatments, if your definition of "unnecessary" is to treat anything which is not life threatening. Damn it, they provide hot baths and cups of tea to patients who are presumably “too posh” to have cold showers and a glass of water - why not pump all that money into “saving lives” as well. The fact is that we all pay for the NHS (ironically, Sarah is, as I type, working on her personal tax return and will no doubt be submitting a cheque which will more than cover the treatment she received last year), and it is there to help all of us whether we are on death’s door or whether we simply would like a doctor to keep us fit, active, healthy or even just productive (and yes, Sarah was working again within about four days).

If the Rt Hon. Kevin Barron MP or Dr Crayford thinks that the NHS needs to provide Herceptin they should be calling the Government to account to find the money to pay for it instead of wasting it on teaching civil servants how to tidy their desks! (The £7m spent on this bizarre initiative alone would have paid for 321 women to be treated by Herceptin or 2500 c-sections - take your pick).

PS: A further example of the sort of waste I am referring to: our twins arrived seven weeks early on 28 July - when Sarah was under the knife, I jokingly asked if we needed to cancel the c-section planned for 1 September…. Don’t be silly, said the nurse, we’ll take care of that. But lo and behold, five weeks later, we got a call from the hospital asking if we were coming in for the operation… you’re joking? I said… apparently the “system” hadn’t been updated (more like there is no system) and they hadn’t noticed the two Baillieu babies lying in the neo-natal for three weeks. I hope they were able to slot someone else in that morning and that the staff didn’t wait around with no-one to slice open. If they’d known, they could have quickly stitched Kevin Barron’s mouth shut - now that would have been money well spent.
UPDATE: There is a further article in today's Telegraph, which mentions an important statistic omitted from the Care and Health article - "Most caesareans are carried out because of medical complications, a slow progressing labour or the mother having had the surgery during a previous birth. The proportion performed as a result of a request by the mother is about 1.5 per cent of all births." - as I said above, Crayford and Barron are tilting at imaginary windmills.

04 January 2007

Five things

I have been tagged by Prague Tory (who was originally tagged by Iain Dale) to list five things you probably don't know about me and probably didn't want to know. Given that this is my first tagging, I am delighted to play along...

1. I have double jointed thumbs.

2. I am named after an ancestor who was a regicide.

3. I was, for a brief time, a motorcycle courier.

4. I broke my leg skiing on 31 December 1982.

5. I have never met anyone else called Danvers, although I know there are some out there.

I am now allowed to tag some others, which I will do later. Any volunteers?
Update: My tag victims are - Donal Blaney (for being new), Tony Sharp (you didn't realise that commenting is volunteering), and Jeffrey Archer ('cause you just never know...)

03 January 2007

New Links

I have added a few more bloggers to my "blog roll"...

Dizzy Thinks - an entertaining and lively blog, with a current penchant for political hot totty.
Prague Tory - Mr Anonymous from the Czech Republic.
Nicolas Webb - Conservative Future Chairman for Bristol and Gloucestershire and thereby my political descendant.