Moving forward, not backwards  

Monday, 31 December 2007

I have just returned from Japan from a short trip over the Christmas period. Having spent nearly all of it in bed with flu, it wasn't exactly the best trip I've ever done, but it certainly provided plenty of food for thought in terms of our plans for 2008.

Apart from the obvious reason for travelling, spending time with the family, I wanted to return to Japan with the benefit of a couple of year's "cooling-off" since my last visit to guage how I felt about moving there permanently. Visiting any country recreationally - particularly one that is quite different culturally - I think always inspires thoughts of whether we could actually live there or not. I think relocating abroad is probably something that most people consider at least once. Especially as the UK continues to come apart at the seams. But doing it for real is quite a different matter. For me personally it's a big decision, and I wanted to go there again and look at the place dispassionately and obectively.

Upon landing at Narita, I was immediately struck by the difference between Japan and the UK. And I'm not talking about the obvious ones of language and culture. What I'm talking about is the fact that Narita - like Japan generally - is clean, modern and efficient. Border officials are courteous and prompt. Everything is organised properly and even though border controls are much tighter than they have ever been (they now scan your fingerprints and take the picture of every foriegn national entering the country)the whole process is so effortlessly efficient that it caused no delay at all. Contrast this with the procedure at Heathrow: No fingerprint scan or picture, yet the queue for even UK passports stretched from one side of the hall to the other. Surly-faced, scruffy officials of non-British ethnic descent viewed everyone with suspicion. Passports snatched out of hands and grubbed through roughly with no respect for either the individual or the document. I think most of what you need to know about the differences between Japan and UK are expressed within that comparision.

My overwhelming feeling when arriving in Japan is still one of relief - a feeling of homecoming. I used to feel indignation when the wife referred to the UK as a "backward country". But I can see her point even more clearly now than a couple of years ago, and she is absolutely right. While countries like Japan move forward, the UK is moving backward at an alarming rate. Like a faded poster of Big Ben covering a fetid patch of mouldy wall, we continue to cling onto this idea of our historic importance in the world with increasing desperation, hoping against hope that nobody will spot the rot underneath. Unfortunately, the game is up: The world knows the truth about the UK, and I for one am quite happy to disassociate myself with the grubby, confused and laughable parody of itself that the UK has become.

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A heart-warming tale...  

Sunday, 25 November 2007

This is a quick story about the bond formed between a little girl and a group of building workers. It makes you want to believe in the goodness of people and that there is hope for the human race.

A young family moved into a house next door to an empty plot. One day Joe, Steve and a gang of building workers turned up to start building a house.The young family's 5-year-old daughter naturally took an interest in all the activity going on next door and started talking with the workers.

She hung around and eventually the builders, all with hearts of gold, more or less adopted the little girl as a sort of project mascot. They chatted with her, let her sit with them while they had tea and lunch breaks, and gave her little jobs to do here and there to make her feel important, They even gave her, her very own hard hat and gloves.

At the end of the first week they presented her with a pay envelope containing two pounds in 10p coins. The little girl took her 'pay' home to her mother who suggested that they take the money she had received to the bank the next day to start a savings account.

When they got to the bank the cashier was tickled pink listening to the little girl telling her about her 'work' on the building site and the fact she had a 'pay packet'.

"You must have worked very hard to earn all this", said the bank cashier.

The little girl proudly replied, "I worked all last week with the men building a big house."

"My goodness gracious," said the cashier, "Will you be working on the house again this week, as well?"

The little girl thought for a moment and said...

"I think so. Provided those wankers at Jewson's deliver the fucking bricks."

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One from the archives...  

Friday, 2 November 2007

I've just downloaded Picassa and in the process of it ferretting around on my hard drive for images, I came across this picture I took in Tokyo. The Mrs and I spent a lovely afternoon in the park at the Meiji shrine and I spotted these kids playing nearby. It is such an idyllic scene, it's hard to belive this is in the centre of Tokyo!

Posted by Picasa

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Some sketches  

Sunday, 28 October 2007

True to my word (see previous post) I had a stab at some watercolour sketches his week. They might not look like much, but I have to say I was pretty pleased with the results. Not so much from an artistic or technical point of view, but from a personal one; the process of washing colour onto paper is hugely satisfying. And just like Jonathan Barnes promised, it does create a real emotional connection to the scene.

The first two sketches were done after travelling to an early morning Iaido session at the University of Kent. The University is set on a wooded hillside overlooking the city. When I arrived at 7.30am, the sun was just peering over the horizon and the sky was a really wonderful rainbow of colours. On my way back, the city was shrouded in early morning mist, with th spire of the Cathedral just thrusting through. It was one of those mornings that really made you stop and look at the world; and really appreciate how lucky you are to live in such a place.

This sketch is of a stone lantern in the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo. This is the part of the Imperial Palace grounds that are open to the public on most days. The gardens are really wonderful - beautifully planned and meticulously executed. This particular section is a beautifully constructed scene consisting of waterfalls, ponds and trees. A sense of greenery pervades this place, both accessible and yet mysterious at the same time.

Anyway - I am hooked on watercolour sketching. I can't understand why I have never discovered it before, but I feel at last that I have found an avenue for artistic expression. Thank you Mr Barnes!

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Artists at home  

Sunday, 21 October 2007

We are currently in the middle of the Canterbury Festival - a two week annual arts festival spanning just about every kind of artistic endeavour you could imagine. Canterbury is one of those cities that seems to have more than its fair share of artists, so one of the more interesting regular events is the annual "Artist's Open House" trail, where local artists open their houses to the public on weekends to exhibit their work.

We visited two places yesterday. The first was an absolutely amazing place, that I can only describe as an artist's commune; a rambling Edwardian house filled with the most beautiful and sometimes bizzare sculptures, paintings and ceramics. For some reason I forgot to take any pictures (see previous post). But it was quite an experience.

After that we visited a really nice and very talented family - the Barnes's. The father is into etching and watercolours, his wife is a potter and their daughter makes colourful jewellery. They were absolutely wonderful hosts, making us coffee and answering questions about their work with real openness. The ceramics were absolutely wonderful, and I particularly loved this design - really deep blue and reds set against a perfect gold glaze on the rim.

I was also really impressed with the watercolour sketches of Mr. Barnes. He is clearly someone who has had an interesting and widely travelled life. His sketch books record vignettes of his experiences in Africa, Marrakech and Malaysia amongst others. I said that I was really jealous of his ability to produce these annotated drawings, but he said that he really thought that anyone could do the same, and that he himself had only started a few years ago.His point was that the artistic merit of the sketches really didn't matter that much - the idea is to record your individual perceptions of a moment and a place in your life. At that moment, I really felt inspired to have a go myself. A camera can record an objective impression of something, but I guess a sketch is almost like taking a snapshot of your brain, encompassing not just the physicality of the scene before you, but also your engagement with the moment - what it means to you. I'm enormously attracted to that idea. Not because I feel I have anything interesting to impart to others, but because I have a burning need for some form of creative expression. I used to find this through music, but not so much now. Maybe this would be good for me.

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Autumn colours  

I am really enjoying the camera on my new phone - Nokia N73. It's taken me some time to get used to the concept of being able to document the minutiae of daily living. I guess that's because I grew up with photographic film, and therefore have an in-built abhorance of trigger-happy frivolity. Of course, this is nonsense with today's digital cameras. But old habits die hard. I have learned a lot by watching my daughter, whose uninhibited snapping of anything and everything has generated vast libaries of precious memories.

This time of year is probably my favourite, and I am especially mindful that this Autumn may be my last in England for some time. So the colours and that special sharp edge to the morning air has taken on a particular charm this year.

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Very tasty!  

Monday, 15 October 2007

This is the best roast pork in Canterbury! Cafe Mauresque, Butchery Lane.

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Britain's new slaves  

Sunday, 14 October 2007

My good lady wife took her Life in the UK test last week, and thankfully passed. I think this is a trememdous achievement, and has paved the way for us to hand over another £1000 to the government for the privelege of remaining in the same country as each other. Makes you really proud to be British.

I had an email this week from a lady in Bradford who is helping me research case studies of people affected by these new laws. Some of the stories are quite shocking. It appears that women in abusive relationships, many of whom were forced to come to the UK by arranged marriage, have been relying on the fact that they would be able to escape after a couple of years. That is now not possible: Their feckless husbands naturally refuse to pay for the tests or the courses necessary to gain Indefinate Leave to Remain, and thus these women are effectively held in bondage.

In principle I agree that people who come to this country to settle permanently should be encouraged and supported in their attempts to become integrated. But these new regulations do neither - penalising the law abiding, persecuting the vulnerable while doing nothing to restrict the actions of men in some immigrant communities who cloak their stone-age attitudes behind the veil of cultural tradtions.

It seems to me that the real problem of a failure to integrate lies not with recently arrived immigrants, but in the attitudes and entrenched practices of the communities that are already here. It is here that the pressure of legistation needs to be applied.

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Labour is flying high...  

Friday, 12 October 2007

First we have a chicken prime minister, now a "magpie chancellor". This government is quickly establishing a reputation for its bird-brained policies, lack of leadership and shameless filching of other people's ideas. But perhaps the avian analogy is an even more appropriate one. After 10 years of broken promises, the poor British electorate knows very well what it's like to be sh*t on from above.

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Talking of disappointment....  

Monday, 8 October 2007

Brown has decided that the interests of the country are best served by not giving the electorate the chance to renew their mandate. Really? I don't think anyone is fooled by this transparent attempt at spinning his lack of courage to appear as strong leadership. I am listening to Jack Straw on TV now telling us that everyone in Labour believes that they would win if an election was called now. Dover Labour MP Glyn Prosser was on local TV immediately before, saying the very same thing. What a coincidence. So, if it's such a forgone conclusion, what are they afraid of? I would have thought that a fresh mandate would allow them to silence the critics permanently and to pursue their policies with confidence. But it appears self-interest and self-preservation are the driving values of this government

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Disappointing desu ne?  

Sunday, 7 October 2007

We went along to the new Japanese restaurant in Canterbury last night, the rather cheekily named "Yo-Shi". My tonkatsu (pictured) was ok (apart from the fact they used Basmati rice instead of Japanese rice) but the service was incredibly slow. Not the waitresses fault, but the kitchen's. Mark and Moe ordered tempura and it took well over an hour to arrive. When it did it was, erm..what's the word..RUBBISH! And extremely expensive. I don't think we'll go again, and judging by the fact that the place was deserted at 8.00pm on a Saturday night, other people seem tohave made the same decision. Which is a shame - it's a nice idea and it could work, as soon as the owner realises that people aren't stupid and they don't like being ripped off.

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Testing times  

This weekend is the last chance for the good wife to practice her knowledge of New Labour propaganda in advance of her Life in the UK test on Monday. I hope she will do ok, but it is going to be a very difficult test to pass. I'm trying to remain positive and upbeat, but inside I am still seething with anger that she has to be subjected to such a ridiculous farce. Not to mention the rip-off fees that she'll have to pay if she passes.

The pressures of this test, of trying to decide how we are going to get through this visa business and what lies ahead has proved an almost cataclysmic strain on our marriage. At times, she is despairing so much about the strain of living here and the financial burden of Brown's tax on immigration that she wants to just jump on a plane and go. I can't blame her. I feel sick that my country, supposedly a paragon of freedom and humanity, has been corrupted into nothing better than a grubby, money-grabbing dictatorship, rank with hypocrisy and deceit. For an illustration, just compare the cost of a residency visa: UK - £750 (£950 if you want it within 16 weeks) Japan - £20, and no racist tests, rip-off language courses or other tricks either.

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Are better times ahead?  

Friday, 5 October 2007

This week appears to have been a good one for the Conservatives, with a successful conference and (at last) some good policy ideas being presented. The effect seems to have been to rattle Brown, which can't be a bad thing. Although Brown hasn't really done anything really terrible yet, and although he seems to be lot more sincere than Blair, there is something about him that I find quite unsettling. I get the feeling that underneath that dour exterior beats the heart of a red-blooded tyrant. I am sure that 5 years under Brown would be a catastrophe for the people of this country, with control-freakery running out of control. ID cards, the banning of immigration and more crippling taxes already on the horizon. Cameron, for all his public school toffery, seems at last to growing into the role of an opposition leader. To be frank, I've always considered him to be a washout as a leader, but finally he has stopped trying to out-Blair Blair and appears to be asserting his own Conservative credentials. And that seems to be having an effect, with Labour plunging significantly in the polls this week. The only puzzling thing is why everyone seems so surprised that a politician saying something he actually believes in rather than what he thinks "middle England" wants to hear has had such an impact on the British people. It's called integrity - a word we hasn't been associated with politics in this country for a very long time. This country needs leadership from the front, not policy driven by opinion polls and focus groups. Have we found such a leader in Cameron? Time will tell.

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erm..that came out wrong  

Friday, 28 September 2007

Twelve of the finest double-entendres ever aired on British TV & Radio.

1. Pat Glenn, weightlifting commentator - "And this is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning and it was amazing!"

2. New Zealand Rugby Commentator - "Andrew Mehrtens loves it when Daryl Gibson comes inside of him."

3. Ted Walsh - Horse Racing Commentator - "This is a really a lovely horse. I once rode her mother."

4. Harry Carpenter at the Oxford-Cambridge boat race 1977 - "Ah, isn't that nice. The wife of the Cambridge President is kissing the Cox of the Oxford Crew."

5. US PGA Commentator - "One of the reasons Arnie (Arnold Palmer) is playing so well is that, before each tee shot, his wife takes out his balls and kisses them . Oh my god!!!!! What have I just said?!!!!"

6. Carenza Lewis about finding food in the Middle Ages on 'Time Team Live' said: "You'd eat beaver if you could get it."

7. A female news anchor who, the day after it was supposed to have snowed and didn't, turned to the weatherman and asked, "So Bob, where's that eight inches you promised me last night?" Not only did HE have to leave the set, but half the crew did too, because they were laughing so hard!

8. Steve Ryder covering the US Masters: "Ballesteros felt much better today after getting a 69 yesterday."

9. Clair Frisby talking about a jumbo hot dog on Look North said: "There's nothing like a big hot sausage inside you on a cold night like this."

10 Mike Hallett discussing missed snooker shots on Sky Sports: "Stephen Hendry jumps on Steve Davis's misses every chance he gets."

11. Michael Buerk on watching Phillipa Forrester cuddle up to a male astronomer for warmth during BBC1's UK eclipse coverage remarked: "They seem cold out there, they're rubbing each other and he's only come in his shorts."

12. Ken Brown commentating on golfer Nick Faldo and his caddie Fanny Sunneson lining-up shots at the Scottish Open: "Some weeks Nick likes to use Fanny, other weeks he prefers to do it by himself."

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Retro - Rocket  

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Today is Moe's birthday. To celebrate, we went to the Ebury hotel in canterbury. It was like stepping back in time to the '70s - complete with soundtrack - but in a good way. Melon for starters anyone? I had the duck with blackcurrent and creme of cassis sauce. Very tasty.

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Does he take sugar?  

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

In an attempt to comply with the new draconian immigration laws in this country, the missus has been packed off to English lessons. For those not up to speed with the latest initiative from this brain-dead government, from April this year only those individuals able to pass the impossible Life in the UK test (i.e. not many) or those who can demonstrate their commitment to this country by passing a 12 month English course are permitted to stay in the country indefinitely. As if getting married, and coughing up the £750 price tag (on top of the £1,500 we have already paid) wasn't enough of a demonstration. Not to mention the should-be-free-but-actually-costs-£200 English course itself. That is, unless you are an asylum seeker or one of our Eastern European cousins, in which case - of course - everything is totally free.

On returning home from her first lesson, I had a look at the slim package of loose-leaf course materials my £200 had purchased. What caught my eye was the list of instructions on the front of the pack of pages. Reading through them, I can't think when I have read a more patronising list of instructions. First, I was helpfully informed that the pack contained several pages of paper and that I should be very careful because said pages were not connected together in any way and were thus prone to getting rather muddled. Oh calamity! But luckily, I was subsequently informed that in the UK we have a thing called a "file" which is designed for just such an eventuality. Using this "file", I would be able to restrain my wayward pages and organise them into a handy logical sequence. Marvellous. There then followed detailed instructions on how to put the whole shooting match together, in case he intellectual challenge of threading several pages into a folder proved too much.

After reading through this, I was left with a number of thoughts: Firstly, since when did ignorance of language equate to ignorance per se? Just because someone is learning English does not mean they are stupid, and to patronise someone in this way is nothing less than snide racism. Secondly, why do the powers that be think they have the right to patronise anyone in this way. Lastly, what has gone wrong in this country that allows such despicable laws to be enacted, cloaking this unpleasant mix of patronising racism in the guise of respectability.

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Wise Words  

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Behind every great man, there is a woman with nothing to wear

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Land of the Rising Blood-Pressure  

Friday, 14 September 2007

Life with my Japanese wife can be extremely demanding. Particularly when she refuses to take-off her "Japanese head" when trying to deal with European problems. We are currently trying to work out what we're going to do when her married visa expires in December. It's a massive problem because of the insane immigration laws in the UK which mean either she has to pass a test that not even native speakers would want to face, or take a course which won't finish until next year. Either way, we are screwed. Not to mention the huge financial penalties which are incurred every time you apply for a visa change.

It's a tricky situation, but what's made it even worse is my wife's total inability to listen to a reasoned long-term plan to get us through this in the most sensible fashion. Instead of listening to me, she prefers to rely on a whole series of misinformed blogs and Japanese websites for guidance through what is an immensely complex set of regulations. The reasoning is, if it's written by a Japanese, then it must be right. Utter cobblers: I don't like to generalise, but of all the people on planet Earth, the Japanese are probably the least likely to have a clue when it comes to dealing with a situation that requires initiative and decisive action.'s really hard work sometimes.

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The Haiku of computers  

Saturday, 8 September 2007

For enraged computer users everywhere - help is at hand in the shape of these handy computer haiku for every eventuality. Sigh...breath deeply and count to 10

Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A file that big?
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Web site you seek
Can not be located but
Countless more exist
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, and reboot.
Order shall return.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
ABORTED effort:
Close all that you have worked on.
You ask way too much.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Yesterday it worked
Today it is not working
Windows is like that.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
First snow, then silence.
This thousand dollar screen
dies so beautifully.

The Tao that is seen
Is not the true Tao, until
You bring fresh toner.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Stay the patient course
Of little worth is your ire
The network is down
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A crash reduces
your expensive computer
to a simple stone.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
You step in the stream
but the water has moved on.
That page is not here.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Out of memory.
We wish to hold the whole sky,
But we never will.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Having been erased,
The document you're seeking
Must now be retyped.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Serious error.
All shortcuts have disappeared. Screen. Mind. Both are blank.

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Spare the rod...  

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The following article appeared in an engineering newsletter that I subscribe to. I'm glad to see other people clearly share my frustration with the modern obsession for removing any and all of life's rough corners.

Mike Page, Editor, writes:

Referring back to my comments about engineering education in schools in the July 23 Newsletter, a reader wrote that while agreeing with what was said, he felt the teacher's standpoint ought to be considered too.

He said: "As a mature engineer who has been made redundant three times from engineering I now see the teaching of students from the other perspective as I now work as a senior technician in a school."

He emphasised: "Don't blame the teachers! Most would like nothing better than to teach practical skills in technology but alas it's the councils themselves who have 'dumbed down' the subjects, because of little Jonnie might burn his finger or get a little soldering flux fumes up his nose. Peter the great said, 'Knowledge is a wonderful thing but never lose the joy of discovery'."

He continued: "If blame is to be apportioned for the lack of skills being taught, blame the average man in the street for taking schools to court because his child cut themselves in school. Blame the government demanding that students are taught how to pass examinations not to learn basic skills in engineering. Employers should blame themselves for their own lack of forethought regarding what is taught in technical collages and their short sightedness for not taking on apprentices."

The reader said: "Schools should teach basic skills, lighting the fire of the imagination of potential new engineers; colleges, technical institutions and the employers themselves should teach the skills they want and mould the minds of this valuable asset."

A number of school teachers have said the same thing and complain of 'dumbing down' practical activities. Many of us learnt from an early age that things can be heavy and hurt when they hit your toes; that fire can be hot; that you need to learn to swim to survive in deep water. Unfortunately, some of our youngsters do not appreciate these things until they experience them later in life. Dumbing down may protect authorities from litigation, but it does not help people gain experience or give confidence to take the occasional risks.

Hear, hear

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Ladies & gentlemen, the bear has left the building.  

Sunday, 2 September 2007

We are trying to make the best of the last few days of Summer holiday we have left before Moe starts school. Today's adventure was to the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. The idea was to visit the wood that was the inspiration for A.A. Milne and Winnie the Pooh. Maybe it's just me, but I would have thought that such an iconic place would be well documented and well celebrated online, but no. After a good amound of searching, I eventually I found a hand-drawn map depicting the location of the woodland in question, and armed with this and our trusty 1985 roadmap of England, we set sail in hope of finding, if not small yellow bears and enchanted forests, at least some pretty scenery. We also wanted to give Moe, brought up on the Disneyed-version of the Pooh stories, the opportunity to say in future life that she had walked in the 100 Acre Wood and experienced for herself the magical charm of this ancient woodland.

Well, naturally we were sadly disappointed on all fronts. For starters, there were hardly any bloody trees there at all! Maybe I'm a bit old fashioned, but to mind, the one vital ingredient that an enchanted forest needs is trees. Instead of deep mysterious woodland, the whole area is basically gorse and bracken. Impressive though the view might be, "Blasted heath" just doesn't have the same emotional appeal as enchanted woodland really.

The second big disappointment was that the local authority had made no effort whatsoever to make the 5km walk remotely interesting for the many visitors the site obviously attracts. How much would it take to put up a few Pooh-related signs - even some bloody directions would be a start. The "Enchanted Place" is actually just a dense clump of pine trees; Roo's sandpit is actually a festering swamp, filled with half-rotten timber; Eeyore's place is a muddy quagmire with a filthy stream running through it.

It's easy to criticise Disney for sanitising and plasticising everything they get their hands on, Pooh being possibly the most telling example. Yet, they know a thing or two about presentation. I read that the locals in the Ashdown Forest were up in arms when Disney Corp offered to fund the renovation of the famous Pooh bridge. I cannot see why, when nobody seems to care very much about making the best of the original. Conservatism for the sake of it does not accomplish anything. Much as I dislike the falsified,plastic Disney vision of the world, sometimes we need a little magic. Instead of magic, Moe will just remember a muddy and pointless slog through te English countryside. What a pity.

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Only in Britain...  

Monday, 27 August 2007

I phoned the local gym and I asked if they could teach me how to do the splits.
He said, "How flexible are you?" I said, "I can't make Tuesdays or Thursdays."

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Back to earth  

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Today is officially the last day of holiday. Yui flies back to japan this afternoon. Everyone will miss her very much

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Monte Carlo or Bust  

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Yesterday's trip to Monaco and Monte Carlo was a success. There is some serious money there and it is a very beautiful place. We even managed to sneak into the casino for a look (they only let you get so far though!) But if I was rich, I'm not sure it would be my cup of tea. For a start, it's absolutely overrun with day-trippers and tourists which would make me feel a bit like a goldfish in a bowl. Not to mention, les touristes sticking their smudgy hands all over my Ferrari while their girlfriend takes their photo. Secondly, it's such a small place I'm sure you'd have no privacy at all. I think for my money, I'd buy one of the superb villas on the Cap d'Ail or in Eze overlooking the Med. Now that would be something worth having!

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No comment necessary  

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

'Nuff said

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Top of le monde, mate  

Monday, 20 August 2007

Today we explored the old town of Vieux Nice - a real rabbit warren of tiny side streets flanked by tall buildings that kind of echo the precipitous landscapes of the Provence hills that lie beyond the town. In former times, Vieux Nice had a reputation as a den of iniquity, but our experience was not in the least threatening. Mind you, I'm not sure I'd want to wander around there late at night!

On the other side of the old town we climbed the 100m high headland get a spectacular view of the Promenade des Anglais and the sweep of the coast. From that angle, the sea looked impossibly inviting and blue. I just wanted to dive straight in. Of course, that would have been rather ill-advised!

On the other side of the headland, you get a superb view of the harbour and all the yachts. One in particular was a real floating palace. It's not hard to see why this part of the world attracts the rich and famous.

Tomorrow we're off to Monaco, via the slightly less glamorous mode of transportation... the bus.

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Quality of life  

Sunday, 19 August 2007

It's very difficult for an Englishman to admit that the French are in any way superior. But equally I find it impossible not to tip my hat and acknowledge that in terms of standard of living, the French win hands down. We in England like to think of ourselves as being fairly European in our outlook,and reasonably civilised in the food and drink department. But spend some time in a place like Nice and the gap between our aspirations and reality becomes all too obvious. While we in England seem to have followed the American model of pre-packaged, sanitised and commoditised shit passing for food, the French have retained freshness, local produce and real variety. Take a look at the vegetables on display in the local supermarket. All fresh, all local and seasonal. This is repeated on the fish counter, the meat counter, the cheese section and the deli. It's an absolute delight. People still bring wheely baskets to the shops and there are still real bakeries and real butchers. Suddenly I realise what we in England have lost in the last 20 years. Can it be that our standard of living is actually travelling in reverse?

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Nice day out  

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Today was out first full day in Nice, and what a beautiful day it was too. It's not hard to see how the Cote d'Azur got its name - the sea was the most fantastic blue I think I've ever seen.

We had a pleasant morning wandering around the town, and a nearly as pleasant afternoon with the girls window shopping and buying a hair dryer, the lack of which is apparently a life-or-death emergency. The Moe Strop-O-Meter remained at a reasonably low reading for most of the day, so all in all, not a bad day in Nice.

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Dance of the suger prum fairly  

Friday, 17 August 2007

Moe's dance show went more or less according to plan. I thought it was very good. I know how hard they'd worked for it, and it was clear to see where all that hard work went. There were no less than 4 costume changes in the 20 minute set, each one accomplished absolutely seamlessly and with perfect professionalism. The only major problem was during a Chinese dance set when a couple of the girls got their ribbons entangled which was pretty much disasterous for them. But, these things happen in live shows and on stage, they handled it very professionally. From what I understand there were plenty of tears backstage, but that too is part of live performance.

Moe did well and was quite pleased I think. So much so, that she actually cheered up for nearly 30 minutes before sliding into another sulk. Sigh...

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Paris? No thanks  

I find it hard to understand why people get so worked up about Paris. Admittedly, I've only been here a few times, but each time I have been irritated, enraged or just disgusted. Anything but enchanted, in fact. I guess it's very much like London in that respect. But at least London doesn't pass itself off as anything other than what it is. Paris, on the other hand, likes to potray itself as the city of gastronomy, culture and l'amour. But I find these ideals hard to square with what I see as the reality of a city plagued by anti-social behaviour, high cost of living and an unjustifiable elitist attitude And the French are - of course - bewildering in the way they deal with these problems.

From our hotel window on Monday, I witnessed a full-on scrap between ther police armed with riot batons and the local yobs armed with scaffold poles. The boys in blue were clearly up for it, but when the yobs backed down, the police just let them walk away! They were back in the same place within 10 minutes, doing their deals. It's a funny old place.

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Les Anglais (et les Japonase) Sont Arrivee  

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Well, we've arrived safely in Paris on the first leg of our mini Grand Tour. True to form, things have gone entirely to plan, but not in the way that I was expecting. Following our family motto of "Hope for the best and expect the worse" I was fully anticipating the British weather, Network Rail, British Airways or the London Underground to throw a characteristic and predictable spanner in the works. But no: The sun shone, the man at the station was helpful and efficient; the train arrived on time and didn't fall off the rails at any point or catch fire. Everything went absolutely swimmingly in fact, until about 10 minutes before we arrived at Victoria when Yui was suddenly taken sick. In the space of 10 minutes, she went from happy to pasty-faced,commode-hugging tom and dick. She made the journey OK, but the poor love was really sick when we arrived at the hotel. It turns out she had had a dose of BBQ-food poisoning before she left Japan, so we are hoping it's just a 24 hr thing. I've told her she's first on the loop-the-loop rollercoaster at Eurodisney tomorrow, just to keep her spirits up. She seems a little better now, so I hope she'll be stronger tomorrow.

So, after that - Moe decides to throw a wobbly for some inexplicable reason. Well, not so inexplicable in that it's obviously my fault. Midori has tried very hard to keep the peace, but I feel that somebody could do with being a little bit more appreciative of the effort and expense that other people have gone to in making her Eurodisney dance show aspirations a reality. Sigh...feels like I'm wasting my time with that girl sometimes. Anyway, I maybe should remember the family motto....

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Anniversary treats!  

Monday, 6 August 2007

Today is our anniversary and to celebrate we visited the excellent Michael Caines restaurant in the new Abode Hotel in Canterbury. It was in this hotel (or rather a former incarnation of it)that we got married. At the end of the meal they brought us this. Wonderful!

The whole occasion has given us time to reflect on the trials and tribulations of the last two years. It has been hard - almost impossibly hard at times. But somehow we've made it this far. I am absolutely lost in admiration for my wife and daughter and how they have coped with their lives being turned utterly upside down. We are aleady talking about the next stage of our lives, in Japan. I just pray that I will be able to manage the difficulties of living in a foreign land as well as they have done.

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Thank the lord for technology  

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Welcome to my office!

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A lovely afternoon by the sea  

Sunday, 29 July 2007

I have re-discovered the beautiful little seaside town of Broadstairs. England at its best. I sometimes forget that this country is not yet completely trashed, and we still have some wonderful places left.

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An inspiring experience  

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The visit of Hatakenaka sensei was universally considered a success, and I think all the attendees would agree with me when I say it has been a truly inspiring 4-days of iaido and budo. Hatakenaka sensei is very good indeed, superb in fact. I hear she will be challenging 8th Dan next year, which is the highest qualification possible in iaido under ZNKR rules.

But perhaps the most inspiring thing has been the enthusiasm and openmindedness of the organising club at the University. They have embraced these new ideas about their iai with real passion and committment. Their earnest and diligent approach to learning a completely new syllabus has been truly impressive. The efforts made by the guys at the Uni, Doug Evans and the attendees from Minato Ku have been tremendous and have had an extremely positive effect on my iaido, and of everyone that was there.

By contrast, the usual BKA "clique" was notable for its absence. There are several high ranking dan grades within an easy drive of the University that clearly could not be bothered. I wonder who have shown themselves to be the true students of budo - those with titles and high ranking dan grades, or those that have approached the teaching with humility and enthusiasm. I know what I think!

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Pure as the driven slush  

Friday, 20 July 2007

So, the cash for honours enquiry looks like it's coming to a conclusion. And - surprise, surprise - no charges are expected. Once again Blair and his odious chums have slimed their way out of being held to account. There is certainly no doubt in my mind, and in the minds of most people, that corruption lay at the heart of the Blair administration. While we can expect to see a lot of gloating, told-you-so faces over the next few days, I think most people are not fooled. Blair, after all, is a lawyer: If anyone knows how to cheat the system, he does.

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Touching the future  

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Microsoft are rumoured to be rolling out their Surface product early next year. Here is a sneak preview of where they see this technology going, and I must say, I'm pretty excited by this. Judging by the number of companies working on this idea of multi-point interactivity, it seems very clear that this is the technology vector for the next stage of the digital revolution. Cool!

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Hello World  

I am writing this while sitting in the Two Sawyers pub in Canterbury. Now that's what I call civilisation! Beer and blogging is of course a dangerous combination. But what a wonderful feeling of liberation to be able to interact with the world and - dare I mention it - even work, free from any physical bounderies. Sitting in the pub writing this with a cold beer is extremely pleasant, but the implications for my working life are quite profound.

With the growing confidence in the internet, there is a steady migration of our "stuff" from a personal space, to an online one. Banking, of course, is a familiar example. When people are willing to trust their personal finances to a computer or a website, then you know we have reached a kind of watershed. What's happening now is that we are starting to move our workplaces there as well. I have noticed a growing sub-culture of knowledge workers who are actually rejecting the whole organised office thing in favour of a nomadic lifestyle - moving from place to place, while maintaining their business presence solely online and interacting with it by laptop from wherever they happen to be at the time. I really believe these "cyber nomads" represent the future of knowledge business, and I really want to embrace that freedom. I've just got to convince all my clients that it's the way to go, then I'll be sitting here every afternoon!

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The life giving sword  

Monday, 16 July 2007

This weekend sees the visit of Hatakenaka sensei to Canterbury for a 4 day iaido seminar. This is a most significant event and one, which although I am looking forward to, I am also a little nervous about. From what I have read, Hatakenaka sensei is a hard taskmaster. I just hope my poor knackered body can stand the pace. The driving force behind this seminar has been a guy at the University who runs a karate club that includes iai-jutsu as part of its syllabus. The school that they follow is not a classical style, but one derived in the 1930s to teach Imperial Army officers how to use their Army-issue weapons. I don't know this guy, but I have seen the kata that they practice because they have posted videos on the internet. It does indeed seem a very "practical" style. This has prompted me to think about the differences between a "do" and a "jutsu" style and the implications that each have on the "why" we practice, as opposed to "what" we practice.

Most martial artists understand the difference between "do" and "jutsu" to be the difference between using martial arts as a means of self-development as opposed to learning how to win real fights. I read something recently that says this differentiation is actually a modern Western invention and has no meaning in Japan. However I am pretty sure that is incorrect.

Modern Japanese people in general have an abhorance of physical violence, and to resort to violence to settle disputes is to considered to be extremely course behaviour. This attitude comes in large part from the period immediately after the last war, in which the Japanese population paid an extremely high price for their nation's aggressive behaviour. Before the war, Japanese martial arts had become closely associated with nationalistic philosophy and for this reason, martial arts were all banned by the occupying American forces after the war. Even though the ban was lifted in 1953, This association between nationalism and martial arts still exists in the minds of many Japanese people. To see Westerners flailing around with swords makes many of them uncomfortable still.

Yet despite this, it is clearly recognised that the discipline and personal growth that the pursuit of martial training can achieve brings many positive benefits. So it was that the "do" philosophy, with its emphasis on personal development as opposed to combat effectiveness, has become the prevalent one in Japan today and the rest of the world. There are however a significant number of people - mostly in the West - that regard combat effectiveness as an important goal for them. Hence the rise in MMA and the endless discussions in martial arts magazines about "would it work on the street". I think when you are talking about unarmed styles, I think this can still be a valid point of view. We live in a violent society, and many people feel the need to equip themselves with effective fighting knowledge - this "jutsu" knowledge. However, as we don't (yet) live in a society where life and death encounters with a sword are common, I struggle to see the relevance of "jutsu" when it comes to the sword arts.

Iai-jutsu (Toyama ryu to give its technical name) arose as a practical response to a practical need, that of training Army officers to use their weapon to kill effectively. This is a very different objective to training in a classical style to improve awareness, concentration and co-ordination. Personally, I find it rather disturbing that anyone would want to follow this path. You don't, for example, see "Canterbury Bayonentting Club" listed anywhere, yet iai-jutsu amounts to the same thing. And, because it was designed to teach inexperienced students the basics quickly, it lacks the depth of a classical style.

I don't like to be critical of someone else's school, but I have to be honest and say that I feel extremely uncomfortable with the idea of "iai-jutsu" as I have seen it demonstrated. There is, for example, one technique in the syllabus that looks like it was intended to behead a kneeling prisoner. This is about as far away from the practice and philosophy of classical Japanese martial arts as you can get. I can only hope that this weekend will prove a revelation for these "iai-jutsu" guys to think again about what they are doing.

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A Flag of Honour  

Sunday, 15 July 2007

I have just finished watching Flags of Our Fathers. It was not the film I expected to see from an American director - particularly from someone like Clint Eastwood. But that's not a bad thing. It was a bold film; an honest film and certainly a challenging one for an American director. And given its graphic portrayal of the human costs of propaganda, a topical one. It refreshing to see America looking at itself with eyes unclouded by myopic patriotism. Can it be that America is starting to reject spin? I think what Eastwod has done with this film is to try to understand the true nature of the nobility of the American people, and by understanding that, the noblity of others.

Flags of Our Fathers is a sad film in many ways; Along with heroism, it portrays racism, injustice, brutality and cynacism. The dark underbelly of the American Dream. Yet, for all that, it also depicts something noble at the heart of the American ideal. An inherent honesty that shines through in spite of the best efforts of those who would try to manipulate simple courage and integrity for their own ends. This was a brave film for Eastwood. A brave film for any American director. Maybe the US is starting to grow up.

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The best eulogy to Blair - ever!  

Thursday, 12 July 2007

This great piece comes from the pen of "Curmugeon" who writes in the obscure "Magnet" - a magazine circulating in Kent & Sussex. The author is a writer of rare wit that never fails to amuse.

On my birthday Mr Blair finally announced that he was leaving. It seemed over generous, a card or a pair of socks would have done. After all, I am so obliged to
him for what he has done for me over the past decade, I hardly know how to express my gratitude. Perhaps I’ll start with the Millennium Dome. Remember how it kept us amused for so long trying to guess what it was for; well worth the best part of a billion spent on it and the couple of million a month it’s cost us since. I’ve heard it’s going to be sold to some nice American friend of Mr Prescott who is going to have some chums around for a little roulette. I do hope so. I wonder if anyone ever did guess what it was for. Tony has given me such pleasure over the years. The endless game of musical ministers was always a delight. As soon as one minister was eventually forced to resign in disgrace, he or she would run around to the back door, come in again and before you could say ‘Grace and Favour’ be back as a minister once more. The eventual loser would be the one who couldn’t find a ministerial desk and was shunted off to a million pound sinecure in Brussels. I don’t think there was one minister in the original 1997 cabinet who didn’t join in - what a lot of sports they all were. They certainly showed up the last lot who could only manage a few brown envelopes and a freebie weekend in the Paris Ritz. Tony left that lot at the starting tape, with free holidays all over the world, especially with that hospitable Mr Berlesconi, who I’m told did so much for Italian democracy and Italian actresses.

Closer to home we owe Tony still more. He has advanced the cause of women’s rights enormously by raising up all those delightfully identical women ministers. It is a great pillar on his legacy. Despite their incompetence being only exceeded by their ability to patronise and the fact that they all appeared to have been cloned by aliens in an artificial limb factory, they have decorated the political horizon like stench pipes at a toxic waste disposal plant.

On a more personal level I owe thanks to my leader for the extra care I now take with my appearance. Now that I know I can be photographed and filmed up to three hundred times, as soon as I pop a metatarsal over my threshold, I never go out without a top hat, spats, plus fours and my malacca cane. You’ve probably seen me queuing in Lidls. It’s the least I can do to repay Tony for all the trouble he has gone to, to create his 1984 theme park throughout our country. There is so much else that I need to hank him for. No longer do I have to face overcrowded train journeys unable to find a seat, because now, I can no longer afford to buy a ticket. And I am far less likely nowadays to be stabbed in the street, because I can no longer go out, as I have to stay in to save up for the monthly council tax bill. But then again I do save a lot on my dental costs as I can’t find a dentist.

There are so many boons and benefits under Tone. I have been driving since just after the man with the red flag no longer needed to walk in front of me. Down these motorised decades I have never had an accident or committed a traffic offence. Well no more do I need to rely on my intelligence, now all I need is a roadside flashing eye to dictate to me. Another burden lifted off me by Tone’s compassionate hand. Oh and there was education, education, education. How excited we were with all the reforms, which were then themselves reformed, replaced, cancelled, reintroduced and reformed again. I know your tuition fees have cost me over £10,000 in the last decade, but it has all been worth it, as now nearly 75% of 11 year olds can almost read. You have also removed a great worry from my student debt-ridden children. Allowing people to borrow as much as they can stuff inside a pantechnicon, has meant that house prices are so far out of my offsprings’ grasp that they will never have the bother of finding a home. Neither will they be troubled by the crumbling family bungalow, when I have finally laid down my quill, as they will have to sell it to pay Tony’s Inheritance Tax. So many worries lifted.

You had such a skill at doubling our taxation and using our money Tone, that it left us gasping with admiration. Your ability to spend our money incompetently, inefficiently and prodigally could not be matched. Every time you computerised to modernise it cost us billions. From air traffic control and identity cards to the NHS and everything in between. Some say it would have been better if you had just stuffed our money down a sperm whale’s blow hole, or thrown it out of a Tiger Moth while looping the loop over the channel in a north westerly, or used it to make a papier mâché model of Hemel Hempstead, but not me. I was entranced by all the jolly capers.

The new licensing laws that cost licensees 10 times more to do exactly the same as they had done before, the pointless farrago of £600 compulsory house surveys (as if any buyer would rely on one) and 30,000 doctors without jobs to go to all kept me rolling with mirth. I seemed to be falling continuously down Alice’s rabbit hole. I can’t believe Tone, you won’t be here for me any more. As a parting gift you have so generously spent 10 million of my money on trying to stop me having my evening glass of Moldovan Claret.

I’ll always be here for you Tony. Even when they come to arrest you for taking money from wannabe peers, or when they drag you off to the International Court of Justice as a war criminal or when the truth comes out about that awkward Dr Kelly who knew too much, I’ll still be here for you Tony. I know there is absolutely no substance to any of these wild accusations. Even if there were Tone, I am sure you could spin your way out of them like a king size spider and get it all sown up with a friendly report from a hand-picked lord. And if the worst comes to the ultimate worst, I shall still be here for you Tone, contributing to your two grand a week pension, until for one of us, the joke is finally over.

By Curmudgeon

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Tour de France Hits Canterbury  

Here is the best Tour de France picture that my poor little phone could manage. By contrast, Canterbury Council did an absolutely splendid job of organising the event. They even managed to arrange sunshine - these guys are WELL connected!

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My favourite brand....  

Spotted in Thais R Us, Canterbury

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Only in Britain...  

Commenting on a complaint from a Mr. Arthur Purdey about a large gas bill, a spokesman for North West Gas said, "We agree it was rather high for the time of year. It's possible Mr. Purdey has been charged for the gas used up during the explosion that destroyed his house."
(The Daily Telegraph)

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The Fall of Tone  

Well, that slimeball Blair has finally gone, and with him has gone the vitriol-powered engine that has fuelled a good proportion of this blog. All I can wish for now is that Blair's new career as Middle East "peace envoy" comes to a violent and ironic end at the hands of one of the gunmen or bombers that he has helped to create. It would be a fitting and neat end to the whole sordid disaster that was the Blair era. But...I can't help feeling we won't be that lucky: While countless thousands lay dead in Iraqi mortuaries, and the lives of hundreds of UK citizens are bound to be ruined as a direct result of Blair's folly, the man himself will doubtless avoid any kind of retribution for his many crimes.

The thing that is most annoying about the coronation of Brown is that he hasn't done anything to upset me yet. I was all ready to launch into a campaign of righteous indignation about having a new leader foisted on us, when lo and behold, he actually does something that makes sense - i.e. deciding it should be parliament and not the premier that decides whether we go to war in future. Firstly, I was surprised that this seemed to be top of Brown's "to-do" list, but more so I was appalled to realise that such a move was actually necessary. I had always thought that we lived in a parliamentary democracy, but it appears I was wrong. Anyway, if you're reading this Mr. Brown, don't get carried away with the idea that I think you're in anyway a decent sort of bloke. Nevertheless, one small step back down the road to democracy can't be a bad thing.

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Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Tameshigiri means test cutting. Traditionally it was a means of determining a blade's sharpness and cutting ability. Today, it's probably the ultimate test of iaido technique and concentration. As you can see, the blades are bloody sharp!

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Do we value democracy so cheaply?  

Friday, 8 June 2007

Since coming to office, Tony Blair’s Labour Party has caused irreparable damage to the British way of life and to our standing in the world community. From crime, to education, the health service, social justice, immigration and foreign policy, we have had plentiful promises but little else. Despite being constantly bombarded with dubious facts and figures to the contrary, it is most people’s experience that life under Labour has not improved and has in fact got much worse in many key areas. Many people feel completely disenfranchised by a political system driven by spin, half-truths and poorly-conceived legislation. Incompetence, arrogance and complete indifference to the will of the people appear to have replaced our democracy. The recent example of the ridiculous Olympic logo that has made our country a laughing stock around the world is a classic example, but one could also cite the HIPS fiasco, the cash for honours enquiry and of course the disastrous war in Iraq – an unforgivable act that has left a foul and bloody stain on our national pride that will take a generation or more to expunge. The reins of power are about to be handed over to an individual with no democratic mandate, no clear policies, no international experience and a worrying reputation for his totalitarian management style.

Given the woeful track record of the last ten years, and the worrying prospects for the future under Brown, I feel that we, the people of Britain, should be given the opportunity to exercise our democratic right to determine our leaders. I think we have the right to demand a General Election, to be called immediately after Blair’s departure.

Please take the time to visit my petition Here

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Blunkett achieves what Hitler couldn't  

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Just when you think this country can't get any more shit, Blair's government manages to plummet to even greater depths of incompetance. Surprisingly, dear reader, and despite the fact that Ruth Kelly has managed to elevate her already impressive track record to achieve sublime levels of blundering ineptitude worthy of note, I'm not referring to the debacle over the HIPs scheme. No. I refer to a new law, sneaked in when nobody was looking, that is a good deal more sinister.

As of April this year, new regulations came into force concerning the issuing of UK visas, namely the requirement to pass either a test on “Life in the UK” or to submit evidence of the completion of an ESOL course (English for speakers of other languages). On the face of it, it would appear perfectly reasonable for individuals wishing to become British citizens to have acquired a degree of knowledge about UK life, our customs and language. However, these regulations are now also being applied to all individuals wishing to remain in the UK. My wife and daughter being two such individuals.

Needless to say, there are no ESOL schemes currently running in our area. Nationally, all the schemes are so ridiculously over subscribed as to be virtually impossible to get on. The Life In The UK Test - the other route to permanent residency - is, as one would expect, chock full of meaningless facts and figures (most of which are out of date anyway), half-truths, inaccuracies and politically correct nonsense. All of which conspire to make it the most irrelevant, inaccessible and worthless test of eligability imaginable. Not to mention completely unachievable - including by most British people too, incidentally. We are a normal, law abiding and decent family, living under our own means and not claiming any form of state support. Yet because of this outrageous new law we are now facing the prospect of our family never being allowed to settle here in peace. I consider this to be a gross injustices.

My wife entered the UK on a fiancée visa (£500). We were then forced to pay another £500 in order that my wife could stay in the UK for a further two years. At the end of this period, we were told that assuming we were still living together, we could then apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK (for another £500, naturally).

As of 2nd April, the fee has leapt to a monstrous and totally unjustifiable £750 AND there is now a requirement for her to pass the test for British citizenship, even though she has no desire to become a British citizen, nor will she receive any of the benefits of citizenship should she pass, such as participation in the democratic process. The only alternative is to keep paying £395 to extend her existing visa, with no guarantee that they will do so and therefore no long term security.

All I want to do is live in peace with my wife and family. We have paid huge sums of money and jumped through every hoop that has been placed in our path in order to do so. Now we have to live with the potential that our family can be broken up and our lives ruined on the whim of some semi-literate fuckwit in the Home Office; A sword of Damacles, delivered into their hands because of this totally inhumane and unjust law and this ridiculous test.

Blunkett, the architect of this supremely idiotic piece of legislation, should reflect that this country went to war to safeguard the rights of people not to be victimised and persecuted on account of their race or ethnicity. This test smacks of the Nazi test of Aryan purity and represents an injustice of similar magnitude. As many have already pointed out, it does nothing to stem the tide of miscreants flooding into the UK - it only hits those families and individuals who have tried to follow the law and behave responsibly. It is discriminatory,racist and totally unjustifiable on any grounds other than as a way to exclude decent people from the UK and to rip them off.

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The Legacy of Lies  

Friday, 11 May 2007

So, after 10 years of broken promises and bullshit, Blair has finally named the day. It will come as no surprise to any regular reader of this blog when I say "good riddance". But, overjoyed as I am to finally see the back of such a despicable sleazeball, I am also depressed by the knowledge that by the time the big day comes around, the PR clean-up campaign will have ensured that Blair's sins are expunged and he will leave as he arrived - that fluffy, squeeky clean, earnest individual we all know and love. Just like the criminals featured nightly on the numerous police docu-soaps, you just know that despite the overwhelming weight of evidence to the contrary, he'll end up sailing away from the scene of the crime without a stain on his character. The timing of the departure announcement itself was transparent, bordering on the pathetic: It's obvious Blair has been waiting for a good news story on which to float his announcement, and the devolution of power in Northern Ireland provided just such a convenient vehicle.

The really scary thing is just how effective his methods are: It's noticable how the post-Blair analysis vox pops all seem to be echoing the same sentiments - "We know he's made some mistakes, but he's really not that bad". Blair himself, in characteristic fake candidity, admits that maybe expectations of his premiership were too high in 1997. Is he saying that we, the people, laid this unfair burden on his shoulders? A burden that despite valiant efforts, he was unable to bear? Poor Tony. The reality is that expectations were high because that's what he promised. Remember "Things Can Only Get Better"? Remember "Education, Education,Education"? Remember "Tough on Crime, Tough on the Causes of Crime"? All his words, and his promises: All promises he has singularly failed to keep. And now, after 10 years of excuses, the best he can come up with is "I did my best but you asked too much."

I will never forgive or forget the damage that this individual and his incompetant cronies have done to our country, to our standing in the international community and to the countless thousands of innocents around the world whose lives have been destroyed his blundering mismanagement. To all those people tempted to reach for the rose-coloured spectacles, I say you owe it to your fellow citizens and to all decent people in the world to not let Blair slime his way out of his personal responsibility for 65,000 dead civilians in Iraq, a third-world health service, a country crippled by petty beauracracy, a country rotten with anti-social behaviour, with corruption; devoid of civic morality. An education system designed to not to educate, but to entrap in debt; and a society where the favoured rich get filthy rich on the backs of hard-pressed tax payers.

There's much debate about what will be remembered as Blair's legacy: Luckily, we will all be able to be reminded of Tony everytime we want to find an NHS dentist, or we need medical treatment, or feel intimidated by gangs of drunken yobs, or get fined for doing 41 mph in a 40 mph limit. Things can only get better? How wrong we were.

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Cycle Brighton in 5 seconds!  

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Further to my last little example of the less-than-eagle-eyed checking of exam materials at Edexcel, I came across the following passage in an AS level exam paper.

"Some British towns are beginning to create attractive cycle paths. Nottingham, for example, has the greatest length of cycle paths in England at 180kms; Brighton, on the other hand, has a cycle lane barely two meters long."

Now that's what I call a short cycling holiday!

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Standardze ov english r az gud az eva sez Blair  

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Call me old fashioned, but I would have thought it would have been reasonable to expect that teachers knew how to spell properly. Whilst reviewing some work set for my daughter, I came across the following section of data:


What makes this even worse, is that this data was supplied by the exam board Edexcel as part of the official coursework material. The fact that the people setting the questions at the examination board can't spell properly is bad enough. That they are so slack that nobody even checks their work is unforgivable.

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The wisdom of British Gas  

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Extracts from today's conversation with the intellectual giants of British Gas's amusing titled "customer services" department.....

Q: "I'm ringing to find out why my direct debit has gone from £52 a month to £122"
A: "Because that's how much you owe" How helpful

Q: "But why has the account risen to such a level without my knowledge"
A:"What's probably happened is that you've used a lot of gas, for example, if your thermostat is turned up high or've used it a lot" No shit, Einstein

Q:"But I can't afford £122 a month"
A:" All I can advise is that you pay the outstanding amount to bring the account up to date" If I can't afford 122, it's unlikely I'll be able to afford the 530 you say I owe - f***wit

Q:"So why have you not told me about this before?"
A "We sent a bill on 30th March"
Q:" But it's the 11th of April - where is it?"
A:"It can take up to 2 weeks to reach you" What kind of stamps are you using?

I could go on, but it's just too depressing. The thing that really upsets me is not just their total incompetance ( I have been trying to sort out this account since LAST OCTOBER!) but the fact that by employing such morons, they clearly think each and every customer is just a piece of shit to be talked down to.

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For Queen and Country  

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

There is much discussion at the moment about the decision by the MoD to allow the 15 captured sailors to sell their stories to the media. One of the detainees appeared on tv today, commenting that "Somebody is going to make some money out of this, why not the people that were there?" Interesting, that a serving officer should choose to talk about money, as opposed to honour or duty. The sheer incompetence of allowing 15 armed UK service personnel to be captured two miles inside their own territorial waters is one thing, but to further compound that disgrace by handling it as if it was somekind of reality tv show is almost beyond belief. The chain-smoking single mother at the centre of the row (what a perfect exemplar of Tony Blair's Britain) assures us that "a percentage" of the six figure sum will be going to charity. Well, that's alright then.

On a day when another six soldiers were killed in Tony Blair's pointless war, we are supposed to feel sympathy for this group. Maybe somebody should have told these people that a career in the armed services does, unfortunately, carry with it a degree of risk and that they may be required to face unpleasant and life-threatening situations. Maybe somebody should point out that, generally speaking, they are supposed to fire the weapons they have been given rather than just hand them over like a bunch of naughty schoolchildren. Moreover, as members of Her Majesty's Armed Services, they are expected to handle themselves with dignity and with a sense of duty - rather than cash - uppermost in their minds. However, given that the politicians that sent them to war are themselves a bunch of dispicable, incompetant and dishonourable liars, we really shouldn't be surprised.

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Monday, 2 April 2007

The following is an extract from a book called Lost Japan, by Alex Kerr. I discovered it on an excellent blog site put together by a Canadian guy called Jeff.

The folding of the fukusa, the sliding movement of the feet in Noh, the grip of the sword in martial arts - everything was difficult. Moreover, as the seminar progressed, it became clear that these movements were not merely ornamental, but expressed a philosophy. For instance, I encountered the rhythm jo, ha, kyu, zanshin; basically this is quite simple, amounting to "slow, fast, faster, stop". When wiping the tea scoop with the fukusa in the tearoom, we were taught to start slowly (jo) speed up a bit at the center of the scoop (ha) and finish off at the end quickly (kyu). At the instant one draws the fukusa off the tip of the scoop, there is the closing zanshin, which means "leaving behind the heart". Then one returns to zero, in preparation for the next rhythn of jo, ha, kyu.At first I thought this rhythm was a pecularity of tea, but I soon found that it applies in exactly the same way to the foot movements and raising of the fan in Noh drama. In martial arts and calligraphy as well, this rhythm governs all movements. Over the course of the seminar I realized that jo, ha, kyu underlies every single one of Japan's traditional arts. The teachers went on to explain that jo, ha, kyu, zanshin is the fundamental rhythm of nature - it defines the destinies of men, the course of eras, even the growth of galaxies and the very ebb and flow of the universe.-Alex Kerr

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Labour are not the only hypocrites  

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Conservative spokesman Liam Fox has just appeared on TV commenting on the capture of 15 British service personnel by Iran. His argument was that this seizure was "illegal, outrageous and completely against International law." What a shame he didn't use such vociferous language against the war in Iraq. If the Conservatives had made such a stand before the invasion, maybe our people wouldn't be put in harms way in the first place.

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The Rotten Heart of London  

The Kyodo News Agency reported that Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, has launched an amazing racist tirade against the Japanese nation, inferring that the Japanese Embassy’s refusal to pay the congestion charge is somehow linked to past war atrocities. Speaking at a news conference about congestion charging, he told the LBC radio station, "I think there are several problems with Japan that we could go on about here. Admitting their guilt for all the war crimes would be one thing. So if they've not got round to doing that, I doubt they're too worried about the congestion charge."

The Embassies of around 50 nations are refusing to pay the congestion charge because they argue the charge is in fact a tax, which under diplomatic law they are therefore exempt from paying. The United States is reported to be the worst offender, notching up an incredible £891,000 in unpaid fines. Several African nations are well over the £500,000 mark, while Japan is sitting on a relatively modest £312,000 of unpaid tickets. The revolt over congestion charging was lead by the US and Germany in 2005. So why doesn’t Ken Livingstone attribute Germany’s refusal to pay to its Nazi beliefs? Or condemn the Americans for their savage imperialism in the Middle East which has left countless thousands dead and whole nations in ruins? Why is it that amongst all the countries of the world, Japan is the only country where it is acceptable to tar an entire culture with one collective brush?

A look at the BBC news website will reveal a similar racist bias against the Japanese - giving free reign to Chinese commentators to rage against Japan for past atrocities, while conveniently forgetting about more contemporary Chinese misdemeanours such as Tibet and the brutal crushing of the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. Everyone seems to have forgotten too about past British atrocities such as the massacre of 120 innocent men women and children at Amritsar in the 1920’s. Why is it that everybody finds it so easy to condemn Japanese people?

Most people would answer that question by saying – like Livingstone – that it’s because the Japanese have never been held to account for wartime aggression. That may or may not be true, but nobody ever asks why that might be: Why is it that comparatively few Japanese wartime leaders were executed or imprisoned after the war? Why is it that Japanese people were never, and still aren’t being given the opportunity to understand and acknowledge their country’s role in the Pacific war? Why doesn’t anybody ever question why the Japanese went to war in the first place?

The injustice of Livingstone’s remarks are that they in effect accuse all Japanese people of being complicit in wartime atrocities, when in actual fact most Japanese people today have very little understanding or knowledge of the war. Why? Because the US conveniently ripped-out that page of the history books to serve its own interests in post-war Asia. It allowed Japanese political, industrial and military leaders to escape trial, so they could help rebuild Japan in America’s image, thus providing a bulwark against the spread of communism in Asia and a convenient trading post for America. Not too mention, of course, a captive supply of cheap manufactured goods, rather like the US theft of the Iraqi people’s oil wealth. Of course it could only achieve this by also changing the perspective of the Japanese people themselves, who were encouraged to believe that their own culture is tainted: Prior to their adopting Western “civilisation” Japanese culture is often either not mentioned, devalued or seen somehow as sub-standard. People also forget that, like Germany, Japan was effectively under a military dictatorship at the time of the war. It’s therefore difficult to see the justification of labelling an entire nation as war criminals, for a war they know nothing about and in which they were not complicit,. It would be just as preposterous and outageous to label all American’s “baby-killers” for their guilt in the Vietnam war or all modern-day Germans as Nazis.

And while we are on the subject of wars fought in Asia, it’s also worth reminding ourselves why Japan was forced down the road to war in the first place: America’s commercial and political interests in Asia led it to intervene militarily in Japan’s internal affairs. Commodore Perry’s fleet of US warships that arrived in Tokyo Bay in 1853 effectively forced the Japanese to respond by adopting Western-style militarism, setting in motion a chain of events that would inevitably lead it into conflict.

In some ways, I agree with Livingstone that war criminals should not be allowed to hide their crimes under a cover of silence. The only problem is, he needs to start a little higher up his list of unpaid parking tickets to find the real criminals in this story.

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Free the mind and your ass will follow!  

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Writing in his work Hei-Ho-Kaden-Sho (Hereditary Manual of Martial Arts), Yagyu Munenori (1571-1647) said ,"A mind that stops changing and becomes rigid will result in disaster. While mind, with no shape and no colour, is imperceptable to the eyes, it is still recognisable if it is fixed and strays over something. Just as white silk becomes red in colour if it is stained with red dyes, so the human mind becomes visible if it is stained by emotion or thought." Achieving the state of mushin ("no mind") is the goal of martial arts training. A mind that is visible because it is coloured by thought or emotion, cannot by definition be in a state of mushin. No embu in Iaido should therefore show the emotions or thought because this would betray a mind that is fixed and rigid. This illustrates the link between Zen philosophy and martial arts very well. A mind that is visible to an enemy means that he can easily devise a strategy to gain victory. A mind that is free and can move without restriction cannot be caught in this way.

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Where did all the money go?'s a clue  

Saturday, 24 March 2007

The Fujitsu manager who recently told a conference that the NHS I.T. programme “isn’t working” and “isn’t going to work”, found himself up before the Public Accounts Committee last wek. Suspended from his job as soon as his words hit the pages of Computer Weekly, Andrew Rollerson confirmed that although he remained an enthusiast for NHS I.T., all his comments, including that the whole thing might end up “a camel, and not the racehorse that we might try to produce”, had been accurately reported.
Rollerson went further and declared that “the appropriate mechanism for consultation in order to achieve the objective has not yet been found.” In other words, four years into the programme, the people running it still don’t know what’s required by the NHS trusts having to use the wretched systems. (Private Eye)

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Only in Britain...  

Friday, 23 March 2007

A young girl who was blown out to sea on a set of inflatable teeth was rescued by a man on an inflatable lobster. A coast guard spokesman commented, "This sort of thing is all too common".
(The Times)

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Making the grade  

My recent grading to 1st Dan Iaido is a source of great satisfaction to me. But with it has come some mixed feelings. Or possibly, the act of achieving a personal goal has simply revealed that there are many more peaks to climb on this journey

I discovered, by chance, an excellent blog by a young guy called Richard who also graded to 1st Dan on the same day that I did. One of the things that he mentioned was that he'd spotted a couple of people grading to 1st and 2nd Dan that he felt didn't quite hit the mark in terms of the standard of their Iaido. Hopefully he wasn't referring to me! His comment was that by being awarded the grade, his own - our own - grading had been devalued as a result. My gut reaction was to kind-of agree with that: I have heard of people that have graded to ikkyu after just one or two months of practice. In our dojo, we have to pass kyu gradings all the way up from 6 to 1 before we are allowed to go forward to do the national grading. In my case, around 3 years of patient study. And this is pretty fast by Japanese stadards! I have seen some pretty appalling Iaido (thankfully not too many examples at Watchet)which has neverhteless resulted in a grading pass. There is no doubt in my mind, that there is a definite BKA "clique" which favours certain individuals over others. However, on reflection, I have realised that to trouble ones mind with such thoughts is actually to miss the point of Iaido

The point of Iaido - in my humble opinion - is simply to enjoy the journey, not the thought of the destination. We don't wear distinguishing marks like coloured belts because such outward manifestations of grade are actually quite meaningless. It is the inner journey that marks out the committed traveller from the casual one. It's no accident that Koryu has no gradings. We all like to feel we've achieved some form of recognition for our efforts. But personally speaking, the satisfaction that comes from understanding and performing a technique well is infinitely more rewarding.

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A cruel day  

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Today I had the unenviable task of bringing back home the dead and broken body of our dear cat Rocky. A gentle, intelligent and affectionate creature, hit by a car and skittled into the undergrowth like a lifeless rag doll. What a sad day. What an ignoble end to a beautiful young life. And what a bitter lesson in the impermanance of things. Yet it's worth remembering that, short thought it was, Rocky had a wonderful life full of love and happiness. How many of us will be so fortunate in our lives? I'm happy that we could make that life for him. But I am so sad that a little light has gone out of my life with his passing.

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The art of expression  

Monday, 19 March 2007

In Iaido, we are constantly challenged with trying to achieve the 'correct' way to demonstrate technique. This search for perfection is an indisputably important aspect of practice, for it is through this constant effort that we train and hone the spirit to become better individuals. But, worthy though it is, the quest for perfection is a virtue that can be taken too far. Taken to excess, slavish adherence to 'perfection' can, I believe, damage the true spirit of Iaido.

Iaido is a martial art. An “art” – as opposed to a science – encompasses a broad range of truths. Unlike the cold logic of a science, an art is a distinctly human expression; an individual’s expression of a personal idea or belief. In his writings, Bruce Lee made many references to the need for individuals to express themselves freely. Because any art is an individual expression, any assessment of it is largely a subjective one. In music or painting, it has no meaning to say one style of art is better than any other. Could you say objectively, for example, that classical music is better than Hip-Hop? Or that the Impressionists were better than the Old Masters? You can analyse painting or music objectively in terms of its technical difficulty or its lifelike qualities, but not its artistic virtue. That could only be a subjective assessment based on your own personal beliefs, preferences or abilities. Some people want to be moved by music; some people just wanna dance!

Continuing the musical analogy, it is not necessary to be classically trained to create good music. Many of the greatest musicians of modern times have had no formal training at all, and yet they still managed to write songs that moved entire generations. It could even be argued that too much classical training or a slavish adherence to established wisdom actually stifles expression. Take away the freedom to bend the rules and you take away an individual’s ability to express themselves. Without this vital spark of expression, art is reduced to mere science. I have known world-class concert pianists, for example, who were unable to improvise a single note without seeing it written down. Expression is why composers, and not pianists, are remembered as great artists.

But in all but a very few cases, innate talent alone is not enough: There has to be some kind of formal structure to act as a framework. Truly great music arises when the desire to express oneself in a uniquely personal way is tempered with technical ability – the “classical” knowledge of harmony, rhythm and melody. Every musician has their own unique style; a combination of technical and expressive elements, fused within the crucible of their own experience. The martial artist has to be the same: We are all individuals with our own motivation for following whatever path we have chosen. For some, pure technical excellence in a classical style is their goal; for others, a burning desire to develop practical combat skills. Either way, there has to be an element of one within the other. There is, therefore, a relationship between the two.

Of course, there has to be a technical structure to any art. But within these bounderies, it is meaningless to say that an individual's particular expression of it has no value because it doesn’t fit with another's classification of what is 'correct', just as it would be meaningless to say classical music is no good because you can’t dance to it. Each has its own place and its own value. The classical bedrock of knowledge that underpins all fighting arts has been laid down through the efforts of countless individuals over countless generations, each expressing their art in their own individual way. It is only by building upon the efforts of others that art itself can evolve and move forward, and this can’t happen if your mind is closed to the teachings of others. A true artist searches for inspiration wherever it may be found. There is an old Norse saying: “None is so good he lacks all fault, none so wretched he lacks all virtue.”

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Anchors Away  

Thursday, 22 February 2007

If I were asked to identify the one single characterisitic that defines modern society, I would say 'selfishness'. There's no doubt in my mind that selfishness plays a huge role in many of the problems which are all too evident in the world we live in today. Placing your own interests above those of others, or above society in general, causes resentment, stress and anxiety in those around you.

Preoccupation with one's self is the textbook definition of selfishness. But another might be as the opposite of selflessness. Selflessness is a trait which used to be admired in others, and one that in a less cynical age, people would aspire to cultivate in themselves. Our slavish addiction to the idea of the self can make this appear quite a difficult idea. But it's not really so alien; It's the same quality that drives a parent to protect a child, a fireman to risk his life saving others. In a more mundane way, it is also found in the countless small acts of everyday courteousness and consideration for others which is essential in any civilised society. The fact that such niceties seem to be in terminal decline are an indication of increasingly self-centred attitudes. But does "looking after number one" make us more happy as individuals? I don't think so.

In the Buddhist teachings, all human suffering arises from attachment. As all things in life are demonstrably impermanent, emotional attachment to anything that we can touch in this life will inevitably bring a sense of loss and heartache as those things pass away from us. Worse still, a mind which is "fixed" or "stuck" on a particular idea ceases to percieve the world in an open and honest way, and becomes deluded and rigid. A mind that is fixed and unyielding cannot grow, cannot fully experience all that life has to offer. And, as in all things in nature, that which doesn't grow inevitably dies.

To be attached to one's self - to be selfish - is to fix the mind into a closed and rigid state in which life becomes filled with frustration, regret and remorse. Removing such a restriction frees us from concern by removing our emotional attachments to transient things. The removal of worry allows happiness to arise as a natural consequence. Naturally,letting go of the emotional anchor that keeps us shackled and unabled to ride life's turbulent waves is easier said than done. But,true happiness can only come when we learn to let go.

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Bang to rights  

Monday, 19 February 2007

I came across something startling in the papers yesterday. Apparently, by 2009 we'll all have to report to special processing centres to have our fingerprints scanned for inclusion on biometric identity cards being proposed by the Home Office. I am a bit worried by this. Not for the fact that I am concerned that the powers-that-be will uncover any wrong doing on my part. It's because it's one more step down the road to a UK where the population is micro-managed, tracked, plotted and analysed. Like any police state, in such a situation there is -by definition -a presumption of non-specific culpability... you must be guilty of something - we just don't know what yet! Doesn't this go against the most fundemental principle of English Law and of democracy? And while we hear so much hand-wringing about protecting the rights of wrongdoers, what about the rights of decent ordinary people to go about their lives without having Blair's thought police looking over their shoulders?

We are already one of the most monitored populations on the planet. Why do we need yet more scrutiny? The answer is down to the idealogical trap that Blair's government has led us into. Bleeding heart liberals (with a small L), mired in their own politically-correct idealogy, cannot find the courage to confront and deal with the real miscreants in society because that might infringe their "human rights". So, society in general has to share the blame collectively. This means we are all presumed to be guilty and must be monitored and controlled on that basis. I don't want to live in this kind of world: It's about time politicians found the courage to grasp difficult social issues and deal with them decisively. The very future of democracy - our democracy - is at stake if they don't.

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