Saturday, 30 April 2011

Great British Engineering

Whether or not you're a royalist, an ardent republican or a 'couldn't give a toss'-ist, surely you'd have to admit there were some good things about yesterday's marital malarkey.

There's something deeply appealing about a huge crowd of people just having fun, for example, even if part of your brain is a bit appalled that that's their definition of fun. The service itself was beautiful, I thought; lovely music and nice to see trees lining the nave. And I must admit I do get a kick from the precision and pomp with which the military can do their stuff on such ceremonial occasions.

But let's not lose sight of the real triumph of the day - British engineering. Three examples in particular left me breathless and emotional. I think the images will speak for themselves.

Thursday, 21 April 2011


OK, so I said 'sod politics' in the last post, but the forthcoming referendum for AV has been making me think. A painful and unusual sensation.

Nearly a year ago I was able to share with you a startling vision of how the prospect of electoral change formed part of the birth of the Conservative/LibDem coalition. Having moved on, the LibDems are getting the chance of a popular vote for electoral reform, one of their main demands before forming the coalition. They're getting the chance of a fairly minor reform, and one which Nick Clegg is reported to have described as a 'miserable little compromise. A bit like the coalition, yes. But a stepping-stone towards a more profound reform, they hope.

I haven't yet decided which way to vote. On the one hand, I believe that if someone's proposing any significant constitutional reform, it's down to them to make the case, and the default position if you're undecided, or find the case unconvincing, is that you vote that things should stay as they are. And I find the pro-AV case unconvincing. On the other hand, I believe that our current system is unfit for purpose, and perhaps any change is preferable to leaving things as they are, even if we have no clear idea of the consequences of the change.

The real trouble to my mind is that however we elect our politicians, the kind of people who are politicians, and the political system itself, aren't what we need. The main parties are so closely aligned along the middle ground that there isn't a great deal of clear water between them anymore. If you're old enough you can remember a youngish Maggie Thatcher facing off an elderly Michael Foot, with people like Norman Tebbitt and Arthur Scargill chipping in from the sidelines. Plenty of clear water there. Nowadays they're all Euro-Pols, from the same three or four bloody schools and the same two universities... professional politicians from their teens, doing it for a living rather than from conviction. They don't seem to argue about what they'd do so much as how quickly they'd do it. And in any case, it's increasingly clear to me that the politicians make very few decisions, and set very little policy. That stuff's all a bit confusing, so they leave it to the policy advisers in the Ministries. These advisers are of course not elected, and can do their planning of policy without having to worry about popular approval. For example, when Ken Clarke talks about prison versus community punishment, you can bet half a dollar that most of it has come via a nice lady called Julie Taylor, who is Director of Offender Management, Strategy Directorate, Ministry of Justice. I will apologise if wrong but as far as I can find out, she hasn't risen to her current extremely well paid level by being a lawyer, or a prison governor, or a probation worker. Apparently she's a former hospital administrator. I'm sure she's a very able woman. But I'm sure you'll take my point: who is actually in charge? How fitted to the task are they? And on whose authority do they act?

A plague on all their houses, then, say I. (Bet they're worried now, eh?)

The last word on the forthcoming referendum goes to one of my neighbours, overheard outside the pub earlier on:

"Tell you what I'm going to do... I'm going to put a tick in the box marked 'yes', then write underneath 'but alternatively, no'. That's an alternative vote, innit?"

Sunday, 10 April 2011

I needed to get out more

It's been a very fallow spell here on the QO blog. My life is so very ordinary that I've never thought of the blog as an online diary: why disturb all those electrons for something so deeply, deeply tedious from the point of view of the rest of the online world? And often pretty tedious from my point of view, too.

And yet, maybe we can add value in some small way by the recounting of a weekend well spent. If it doesn't add value, well, I don't really mind, and you can always register your protest in the comments. So here we go: the sort of weekend the QO really enjoys.

Friday: finish working mid-afternoon and head into town to RV with Mrs QO at the Canalhouse. Move on with some reluctance to the Trip to Jerusalem to meet other friends. Drink at least one pint too many before returning home for pizza with way too much Tabasco on.

Saturday: spring nimbly out of bed... OK, crawl reluctantly out of bed... and prepare to go out with Father of QO into the urban fringe countryside. Walk some six miles in glorious sunshine, spotting a hare and hearing the first skylark of the year. Arrive with enormous thirst at a real gem of a pub. Connoisseurs of Nottinghamshire pubs may be able to ID the place from this pic. Hint: to the west of the city, and sadly no longer the brewery tap.

Consume excellent beer and steak & ale pie with chips. Return home for a little restorative period of inactivity, then head out onto the local nature reserve for an evening stroll, enjoying some fine dusk music from the song thrushes and blackbirds.

Sunday: up at 05.30, out on another local nature reserve by 06.15 to hear the dawn chorus at full chat. Magnificent. Spend some time stalking a lovely fluid singer and eventually put the binoculars on a blackcap. Home to thaw out with freshly brewed coffee. Brunch of scrambled eggs and crisp bacon. In the afternoon, two hours of volunteer work on the reserve, pulling Himalayan Balsam seedlings out before they can get started, the little buggers. Enjoy not-too-stressful work in the sunshine, then repair to local for well-earned beers.

So, some physical exercise, some nature conservation, enjoyment of the local wildlife, plenty of beer and time with friends and relations. And sunshine. Sod politics, I'm intellectually downsizing, me.