Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Passed the test

I did the Life in the UK Test today, which you now need to pass to be able to apply for UK citizenship.

There were twenty four multiple choice questions, the best of which was "It is illegal to sell cigarettes to anybody under the age of sixteen. True or False?". Anyway, I passed. They don't tell you the score, but who cares! I'll be swearing my allegiance to old Betty (fingers crossed..while I'm swearing) real soon!

Westminster Council: Serving the public

Spotted in Wardour Street @ lunchtime: Some emergency work being done on the watermain. The Thames Water van being booked by a grey ghost.

Westminster's parking is outsourced to NCP, who have revenue targets set by the council, so therefore are extremely ruthless. Check the extract from this New Statesman story:

"......NCP is contractually obliged to deliver so many thousand tickets a year. If it exceeds its target, it receives a cut of the additional income. Poor workers, most of them immigrants, are pushed to hit the target and make the profit. They have to get by on £6.75 an hour. They make extra money not by enforcing the law conscientiously but by issuing more tickets. The privatised wardens, or "parking attendants", as they have been pointlessly renamed, receive a £50 monthly bonus if they issue two tickets on average an hour, which rises to £215 if their hit rate rises to three tickets an hour.

One NCP worker in Westminster told the Standard that: "Wardens feel under massive pressure. Some end up issuing dodgy tickets to meet the targets. One attendant was fired recently for pretending he had fixed loads of tickets to car windscreens. Later dozens of tickets were found in his locker."......."

Monday, January 29, 2007

A quick hop to Kent

Ever since we went to the Faversham Hop Festival, I've wanted to get a couple of strings for the yard here at Pyrland Road. I found out that new plants are only sold between December and April, so Katie and I went down to Essentially Hops in Bekesbourne near Canterbury. They had four varieties of plants for sale. We grabbed two of the dwarf (Prima Dona) variety, as we don't want thirty foot vines covering the house. Apparently they'll grow to twelve foot in a season, and we may get some flowers this season, but definitely will do next, once the roots are established. Watch this space for the first brew (Potential names please....Poison Dwarf??)

On the way down, we called into Canterbury Cathedral, which is well worth a visit. We managed to time it with the end of the 11.30am Sunday service, so we got to hear the organ and choir in full action. Historical highlights of the cathedral include the spot where Thomas a'Beckett was assassinated by the followers of King Henry II (as a result of a comment by the king that was taken out of context, so legend has it). Most impressive tomb in the building was that of Edward of Woodstock, aka "The Black Prince".

We had lunch in a quaint little Tudor Village called Elham. The pub (The Rose & Crown) was pretty cool and authentic. However, service standards really let the place down.
Maybe an aberration, as the reviews are mainly quite good.

Oz Day in N5 Chapter V

Friday was Austraya day, so we had an Austraya Day party (combined with a belated Katie birthday gig). Owing to last year's flu-led cancellation, I think it's the fifth such event at Pyrland Road. The barbie was cranked, we broke out the stubby holders, and many batches of mulled wine were simmered and consumed. I think proceedings wrapped up about half five Satday morning.

Friday, January 26, 2007

OZ DAY II: Shame Howard, Shame.

Cruelty and xenophobia stir and shame the lucky country

The social regression and flag-waving promoted by Australia's neocon prime minister may come unstuck in Guantánamo

John Pilger
Friday January 19, 2007


The Australian writer Donald Horne meant the title of his celebrated book, The Lucky Country, as irony. "Australia is a lucky country run by second-rate people who share its luck," he lamented in 1964, describing much of the Australian elite as unfailingly unoriginal, race-obsessed and in thrall to imperial power and its wars. From Britain's opium adventures to America's current travesty in Iraq, Australians have been sent to fight faraway people with whom they have no quarrel and who offer no threat of invasion. Growing up, I was assured this was a "sacred tradition".

But then another Australia was "discovered". The only war dead whom Australians had never mourned were found right under their noses: those of a remarkable indigenous people who had owned and cared for this ancient land for thousands of years, then fought and died in its defence when the British invaded. In a land littered with cenotaphs, not one honoured them. For many whites, the awakening was rude; for others it was thrilling. In the 70s, thanks largely to the brief, brave and subverted Labor government of Gough Whitlam, the universities opened their studies to these heresies and their gates to a society Mark Twain once identified as "almost entirely populated by the lower orders". A secret history revealed that, long before the rest of the western world, Australian working people had fought for and won a minimum wage, an eight-hour working day, pensions, child benefits and the vote for women. And now there was an astonishing ethnic diversity, and it had happened as if by default: there simply were not enough Britons and "blue-eyed Balts" who wanted to come.

Australia is not often news, cricket and bushfires aside. That is a pity, because the regression of this social democracy into a state of fabricated fear and xenophobia is an object lesson for all societies claiming to be free. In power for more than a decade, the Liberal prime minister, John Howard, comes from the outer reaches of Australia's "neocons". In 1988 he announced that a future government led by him would pursue a "One Australia Policy", a forerunner to Pauline Hanson's infamous One Nation party, whose targets were black Australians and migrants. Howard's targets have been similar. One of his first acts as prime minister was to cut $A400m from the Aboriginal affairs budget. "Political correctness," he said, "has gone too far." Today, black Australians still have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, and their health is the worst in the world. An entirely preventable disease, trachoma - beaten in many poor countries - still blinds many because of appalling living conditions. The impoverishment of black communities, which I have seen change little over the years, was described in 2006 by Save the Children as "some of the worst we have seen in our work all around the world". Instead of a political respect in the form of a national lands rights law, a war of legal attrition has been waged against the Aborigines; and the epidemics and black suicides continue.

Howard rejoices in his promotion of "Australian values" - a very Australian sycophancy to the sugared "values" of foreign power. The darling of a group of white supremacists who buzz around the Murdoch-dominated press and radio talk-back hosts, the prime minister has used acolytes to attack the "black armband view of history", as if the mass killing and resistance of indigenous Australians did not happen. The fine historian Henry Reynolds, author of The Other Side of the Frontier, has been thoroughly smeared, along with other revisionists. In 2005 Andrew Jaspan, a Briton newly appointed editor of the Melbourne Age, was subjected to a vicious neocon campaign that accused him of "reducing" the Age to "another Guardian".

Flag-waving and an unctuous hand-on-heart jingoism, about which sceptical Australians once felt a healthy ambivalence, are now standard features at sporting and other public events. These serve to prepare Australians for renewed militarism and war, as ordained by the Bush administration, and to cover attacks on Australia's Muslim community. Speak out and you may break a 2005 law of sedition meant to intimidate with the threat of imprisonment for up to seven years. Once described in the media as Bush's "deputy sheriff", Howard did not demur when Bush, on hearing this, promoted him to "sheriff for south-east Asia". Like a mini-Blair, he has sent troops and federal police to the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and East Timor. In newly independent East Timor, where Australian governments colluded with Indonesia's 23-year bloody occupation, "regime change" was effectively executed last year with the resignation of the prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, who had the temerity to oppose Canberra's one-sided exploitation of his country's oil and gas resources.

However, it is one man, David Hicks, a spectacular loser in the new Australia, who now threatens Howard's "lucky" facade. Hicks was found among the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and sold as bounty to the Americans by CIA-backed warlords. He has spent more than five years in Guantánamo Bay, including eight months in a cell with no sunlight. He has been tortured, and never charged with any crime. Howard and his attorney-general, Philip Ruddock, have refused even to request Hicks's repatriation, as is his constitutional right, because there are no Australian laws under which Hicks can be charged. Their cruelty is breathtaking. A tenacious campaign by his father, Terry, has ignited a kind of public shame that is growing. This has happened before in Australia, such as the march of a million people across Sydney Harbour Bridge demanding justice for black Australians, and the courageous direct action by young people who forced the closure of notorious outback detention camps for illegal refugees, with their isolation cells, capsicum spray and beatings. Asylum seekers caught in their leaking boats by the ever-vigilant Australian Defence Force are now incarcerated behind electric fences on tiny Christmas Island more than 1,000 miles from the lucky country.

Howard faces no real opposition from the compliant Labor party. The trade unions, facing a rollback of Australia's proud record of workers' rights and up to 43% youth unemployment, have stirred, and filled the streets. But perhaps something wider and deeper is coming from a nation whose most enduring and melancholy self-image is that of disobedient larrikins. During the recent Ashes series, Ian Chappell, one of Australia's most admired cricket captains, walked out of the commentary box when Howard walked in. After seeing for himself conditions in a refugee prison, Chappell said: "These are human beings and you can't just treat them like that ... in cricketing parlance it was like cheating. They were being cheated out of a fair go."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

OZ DAY I: "There is surely nothing that can be done for this side now..."

If you didn't know it already, England are shot. A nine-wicket defeat was gross enough, but it still flattered their performance. They will be slaughtered by the press and former players, and rightly so, but there is a degree to which they simply deserve sympathy. They have been destroyed as a team over the course of this tour, utterly broken by the relentless nature of Australia's cricket. Demoralised beyond repair, missing most strongest personalities and with their two senior batsmen - Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss - entirely out of form, they had no chance against Australia.

See The Guardian's full wrap here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Winter Wonderland. Shame about the trains.

Woke up this morning to a blanket of snow in our backyard. It was reasonably thick, maybe three inches in parts. Of course, all the trains stopped working as a result. I love my bike!

Two days before the Oz day BBQ. Last year we were too sick to have one. Should be fine for '07.

Got some pics right here......

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Happy Birthday


Double Tragedy

In yesterday's Australian media, it was revealed that Blundstone are to cease making their iconic boots in Hobart after over 130 years. Claiming it is uncompetitive to employ domestic labour, the company is shifting manufacturing to India. Sad. Still, get in there and order yourselves some to stockpile.

Meanwhile, in Newington Green, Keith, our faithful local butcher has apparently shut up shop, not to return. This little bombshell has really sent us in to a tailspin. Always open till seven, with great lamb, pork and beef, we never had to think about dinner until we got home. What to do now? We can't revert to the supermarket's interpretation of the word meat. Might have to get into a bit of home slaughtering......

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Oz Trip - The photos

Hi all,

Been back almost two weeks now. We both had a great time back in Australia, catching up with everybody, eating the food and catching the waves. You may have noticed that a camera was never too far away from the action, be it mine, Katie's or Harry's. As such, there's bucketloads of photos up on my smugmug page. I've tried to break them down into reasonably-sized albums, so try not to be too scared and CHECK THEM OUT.

Love youse all,
Scott & Katie.