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Showing posts from March, 2006

Trust Me I'm a Tree Surgeon

From long experience, you know I joke about the probability of any South Eastern train actually arriving at its destination; the odds against a successful trip doubling with every passing station but even I didn’t expect the train to hit a tree!

This happened on the 16:24 train from Victoria to Ramsgate, just outside Faversham, when a depressed tree threw itself across the line and the train conveniently ran into it, splinters and sap everywhere, a gruesome sight by all accounts.

The next thirty minutes was spent with the power off and the driver and conductor attempting to extricate the remains of the tree from under the cab, before we limped into Faversham.

Just as the passengers thought they might arrive home without further hitches, fate threw another cruel spanner in their path, with the announcement that the train would now run fast to Margate, so tough luck for anyone, including me, who lived in between.

Every day’s an adventure with South Eastern trains and I have to repeat the ex…

One Man's Peace

I’m delighted to see that hostage Norman Kember is now home safely from Iraq, having been rescued by British Special Forces, who he appeared to thank in the most ambivalent manner. This rather leaves me wondering what we might be thinking today if a single soldier had been killed or wounded during an attempt to rescue a group which has displayed the most astonishing naivety.

As one security advisor put it some weeks ago, “You don’t go to Iraq unless you can afford the very best personal protection” and Norman Kember and his fellow peace activists couldn’t with their admirable but idealistic objective of spreading the Christian message of peace among the people of Iraq.

But let me offer you a different perspective. What if a Moslem peace group of devout Sunni and Shi’a activists decided that they should spread the word of Islam, which means ‘peace’ among the sectarian streets and communities of west Belfast. How would they be received? Would the people want to know whether they were Prot…

Strange but True

Somewhere, on a cliff top near Hastings, a young man is gazing at the sky, waiting for an aircraft to appear with the message “CORRINA WILL U MARRY ME”.

He’s going to be disappointed!

We had two jobs to do today. One at Southampton for three hours and the other being the wedding proposal for the unlucky and as yet un-engaged Corrina. However, the weather towards the south coast collapsed even faster than we though it might and after a quick conversation with the London controller, we decided to call-off the attempt in six hundred feet of cloud near Shoreham and run back ahead of the front towards Thanet, climbing back to the blue sky on top. There was never a chance of being able to operate from Bembridge on the Isle of Wight safely in the weather that is slowly making its way east.

With luck and some help from Cupid, the disappointed lover may have his chance to “pop the question” in a possible gap in the weather at around 10am tomorrow morning. There’s a very good weather site called T…

Horses for Courses

I was asked yesterday to fly a banner over the Grand National at Aintree next month. A nice job with a good view but with one small problem when the final message was read out to me.

This took the form of a short but very direct sentence, protesting at the risk to our fast, four-legged friends and left me politely declining the offer for fear of being shot down by the police helicopter or any local farmers with a handy 12-bore.

Another pilot told me this morning that he’s actually been fired-upon by rockets while flying over Liverpool – fireworks that is and not SAM 7s – and so I’ve suggested to the advertising agency involved that I’d be happy to take the job if they would be equally happy to make some small cosmetic changes to the message, which in its present form would guarantee an energetic reaction and some interesting TV coverage I'm sure.

A fun video below - best viewed with the music off - of how the US National Guard might deal with an intruding banner aircraft in a simila…

Golden Brown

Listening to Gordon Brown’s budget speech, as a technology business, the category that he believes holds the key to the UK’s economic future; I’m struck by how far he misses the point or simply prefers not to see it.

The Chancellor speaks extravagantly about the need for 14 million skilled graduates and cutting edge technologies but fails to recognise the problematical link between these and the education required to improve the skills base he predicts we will need by 2020. Throwing more money at the recruitment of 3,000 more science and maths teachers and free 'A' level education for all is good, but does not truly address the fundamental malaise in education that ten years of this government has failed to solve. The British workforce has declining productivity and our record in the generation of science graduates is dismal, it’s going backwards.

Not only does Britain need a skilled workforce for the future but it needs a flexible and competitive one as well and writing from th…

Sunday Papers

It’s hard to find one’s hidden optimist reading the Sunday papers today. I’ll give you some examples of the headlines as a good reason for escaping to a quieter life in one of the more isolated monasteries in the Sinai desert.

Dentists are expected to remove more than half a million children from lists entitling them to free NHS treatment when a new pay deal comes into effect next month.In this month’s budget, Gordon Brown is about to raise Britain’s tax burden to its highest-ever level, higher than in the 1970s under Denis Healey, when the top rate of income tax was 83%, and the early 1980s, when it was 60%.Trevor Philips warns that white people will soon become a minority in Birmingham and other major British cities, posing a “critical” challenge to social stability. One thousand English football hooligans will be allowed to travel to the World Cup in Germany because their "banning orders" have expired.Hundreds of West Indian families in Britain are sending their children b…

Why Cats Talk

I have just received my 2006 Council tax bill and I'm tempted to kick the cat. As I don't own one and the dog, very sensibly, has gone into hiding, I'll have to squeeze a laugh from the video clip shown below and a stiff drink to dull the pain of a 4.67% rise in the annual extortion demand. I'm sure everywhere across the country, other people like me are having to sit down and wonder when the magic £200 a month charge will finally be with us? Within five years perhaps.

I can't wait for the first property inspectors to arrive and start surveying any improvements in advance of next year's charges. I have a 10 degree sea view, between the two houses in front of me and that must be worth at least 10% more in the scheme of things.

Get the Message

Amnesty International called me on Friday. They want a big aerial banner displayed over central London – can’t tell you what it says – but I need to source a twin-engined aircraft to do the job. All a bit complicated of course, the rules involving flying over Big Ben but perhaps one day we should organise a whip-around through this site to fund the exercise, at cost of sending Mr Blair a personal message of our own from the people of Thanet. How about "Goodbye?"

Every Little Helps

Let me see if I understand the argument correctly. You find a £1 Million in loose change in the crack behind your sofa. It happens, every time you sit down, more money leaks into the space behind the cushions and all of a sudden you realise you’re a potential Labour Party donor.

So, do you approach Lord Levy – and not the Labour Party Treasurer - and offer to loan the money to Tony Blair’s fighting fund with absolutely no mention of a peerage or in fact anything else in return for your generosity or do you instead give the windfall anonymously to OXFAM, Christian Aid or any other registered charity?

The answer is of course clear. You loan the money to Tony because he is closer to God, than Gordon and will put your donation to good use he says. “Trust me.”

Mind you, any of you, who like me, was encouraged to be generous to the Tsunami disaster relief fund, will be sad to hear that OXFAM auditors have reportedly discovered that the £32 million that went to Banda Aceh in Indonesia has disap…

Near Miss

I narrowly avoided had my hair parted by the Coastguard patrol this morning as the Islander aircraft swept past the promenade at Westgate towards Margate. I was on my daily run and caught a hurried and very lucky snap with my camera phone.

It's almost exactly twelve months sinceI the privilege of flying it along the same route. but I don't think they knew it was me puffing along the prom!

A Bridge Too Far

In two weeks time, leaders of the global law-enforcement finance and online business community will assemble in London for the annual e-crime congress. In the twelve months since they were here last, we’ve seen the financial services industry under almost constant Trojan horse attack, Denial of Service (DOS) attacks grow by 50% and phishing and identity theft attempts, according to security software company Symantec, approach eight million a day.

For the first time in its history, the e-crime congress will have Yahoo, Amazon, eBay and Skype sharing the floor, with the likes of Al Raji, the largest Islamic bank in the Middle East, the FBI, Professor Ian Angell from the London School Economics and senior police officers from South Korea and the People’s Republic of China. A gathering which illustrates the global nature of a struggle to prevent serious and organised crime dominating the internet in much the same way as pirates threatened the ocean trade routes of the 17th century.

The evid…

Rise of the Cyberbullies

The Guardian reports that one in 10 teenagers say they are victims of the rise of the cyberbullies according to a survey. Figures published yesterday by MSN showed that 11% of 12 to 15 year-olds had been harassed, bullied or victimised.

Many of the 500 teenagers surveyed said they had received threatening emails or messages, while more than a quarter said somebody had published misleading information about them on the web. With many teenagers using instant messaging, blogs and other websites to keep in contact, the threat of cyberbullying is rising, say experts.

"This research shows that as technology has become more sophisticated, so has the way children are bullied," said Elaine Peace of the children's charity NCH. "It is everyone's responsibility to protect children and young people in every sphere of their lives."

A survey last year showed that more than half of children say bullying is a widespread problem in their school, but the growth in online activit…

Gone Missing

Pensions aren’t what they used to be. A damning report published by the official parliamentary watchdog on maladministration has said leaflets on final salary pensions were "inaccurate, incomplete, inconsistent and potentially misleading". "The report shows how the Government broke its promise and left many of them without a penny," she said. "It misled the public into believing their pensions were safe, when they were not."

Of 85,000 people who have lost pensions, only 27 have received any FAS compensation. Some died while waiting.

If I had my own time again, I would never have invested as sensibly as I have done in a scheme which I would have been better off keeping under the bed. Much of the population faces the same problem, in that the final salary they thought they were buying with prudent investment will in fact only stretch to a single Big Mac meal a week in their retirement.

Meanwhile, the government admitted yesterday that it will have to build fi…

Poppadom Peerage

I had rather fancied the idea of an ermine hat and a seat in the House of Lords but it seems there are several curry barons and a host of other ‘hangers on’ who have put up rather more than the ‘tenner’ I can afford to ‘loan’ Tony Blair; what they all thought was a dead-cert title and which is now causing uproar among anyone with a sense of political decency, if such a frail thing exists today.

This has led the man in the white suit, Martin Bell, the former independent MP, to comment “Honours are being bought and sold on a scale unknown since the days of Lloyd George. It’s utterly shameless. Lord Northcliffe once said that if he wanted a peerage, he would buy one like an honest man. This is roughly where we are now.”

If that isn’t bad enough, The Sunday Times reveals that Tony and Cherie need to find £16,000 a month between them just to cover their mortgage payment, which rather explains why Ms Booth is rather keen to accept the £30,000 fee for an “Evening with Cherie” at a Stateside en…

Stick in the Mud

The weather’s too bad to get those promised photographs in of ‘Two Chimneys’, Victoria Traffic Lights, King Street and the bloke in the pink suit standing by the Margate Clock tower, so you’ll have to wait a little longer I’m afraid.

In fact, it’s been so wet this week, I’m not sure I’ll get off the ground; Rochester had to close for a couple of days as aircraft sank into the mud. Would anyone like to lend me an aircraft carrier, which is possibly cheaper than using Manston as a temporary base for operations?

Tune in - Pay Up

"The Ministry of Truth contained, it was said, three thousand rooms above ground level, and corresponding ramifications below. Scattered about London there were just three other buildings of similar appearance and size. So completely did they dwarf the surrounding architecture that from the roof of Victory Mansions you could see all four of them simultaneously. "

I have in front of me a TV License renewal notice, which invites me to pay £131.50 to fund the future of the BBC or, it adds “Evaders can be prosecuted and fined up to £1000 or may have their legs broken”.

Since they ask so nicely, I have very little choice but to pay but under protest. Not that I watch much BBC television these days and neither, according to the latest figures, does anyone else, with “Auntie Beeb” now languishing behind the digital channels as viewing figures fall.

Now if the TV licence was, say £50.00 and in return, I was given unbiased news untainted by constant political correctness and supported b…

A Nation of Internet Potatoes

The Guardian reports : "That Britons now spend more time watching the web than watching television, according to Google.

A survey conducted on behalf of the search engine found that the average Briton spends around 164 minutes online every day, compared with 148 minutes watching television. That is equivalent to 41 days a year spent surfing the web: more than almost any other activity apart from sleeping and working.

Television addiction has been Britain's national pastime for years, but experts agree that viewers around the country are increasingly switching on their computer screens instead of their TV sets. And it is a phenomenon that is set to grow, with two thirds of respondents in the Google survey saying that they had increased the time spent online in the last year.

The Google survey found surfers in London and Scotland are the country's heaviest web users, spending more than three hours a day online. That was around 40 minutes more each day than those in the lowest …

Bollywood at the Wheel

A touch of Bollywood on the embankment at Westminster last night. I was walking to the House of Commons when I was dazzled by the stage lights on the opposite side of the road. An Indian film crew was filming a “Bollywood” epic, with lots of dancing up and down the pavement.

Sadly I couldn’t catch the action with my phone camera but perhaps it was a vibrant musical interpretation of the political battles taking place on the other side of the road? Boy meets girl, Boy becomes MP and then Prime Minister. Girl becomes Barrister and Judge. Both become fabulously wealthy and live happily ever after with Cliff Richard and Richard Branson in the Caribbean.

Fly Girl

Having finally managed to put the video online, it's a huge upload, junior pilot, Charlotte Moores shows BBC South East Tonight that flying isn't simply for the birds. 7/10 for the landing but then she can't really see over the instrument panel too well!


I’ve been canned. By the Thanet Gazette that is.

I’d like to think it was one of the £15 million cuts being made by the struggling Trinity Mirror Group but sadly it’s not about money because when I was first asked to write a column, I foolishly agreed to contribute for free, because the company only turned-over £221 million last year and was feeling the pinch.

No, very wisely the Gazette tell me they would prefer a female journalist to write a business column and why not indeed, as I’m definitely an equal opportunity Blogger. I had to laugh though, because when the call came through, I was standing next to the Chief Operating Officer of the CO-OP together with the senior management of Tesco, Somerfield and Woolworth.

I was speaking at the British Retail Consortium’s conference in London. Ironically the Woolworth chap used to run our stores here in Thanet earlier in his career, so I’m sure he’s reading this with interest, because I was offering the conference my views on the consequence…