21 January, 2008


Peeve of the day

Drivers who believe that setting their flashers to hazard mode (all four "trafficators" flashing at once) supersedes parking restrictions.

"But I 'ad me 'azard lights on, Guv, so that must be alright, innit."


Good ol' Wikipedia

Wikipedia gets a lot of knocking, mainly from those with a vested interest in selling information, but there are times when it hits the spot, synthesizing information from various sources into precisely what you need.

A simple question, I thought. I have a London Travelcard, bought primarily for rail use, but I wanted to check its zonal validity on the buses, which I knew was different from the rail/tube/DLR arrangements. After several minutes of frustratingly unproductive googling, I came upon a Wikipedia page providing precisely the information I required.

Of course caution is required, but Wikipedia is definitely one of the Web's killer apps.

17 January, 2008


Ama Sumani: update

A more typical BBC response in this FOOC piece.

I'm sorry. It may be harsh, but Government's job is to see the broader picture and act in the best interests of society as a whole. And for once it is doing it.

Mrs Sumani has no entitlement to extended free treatment from the NHS. It is usual and reasonable to offer emergency, usually palliative, treatment to foreigners in the expectation that they will return home for any necessary follow-up treatment.

It may seem harsh but we can barely afford to provide free-at-the-point-of-use treatment to our own population, who pay for it through their taxes and their NI contributions. We simply cannot afford to provide free-forever treatment to those of the whole world population who contrive to reach our shores. If a special case is made for Mrs Sumani on the humanitarian grounds that she cannot afford to pay for treatment at home, then the same generosity will need to be extended to every HIV/AIDS sufferer in the Third World who can scrape up the wherewithall to blag their way into the UK. We are talking tens, hundreds of millions.

Are those who complain about the inhumane treatment of Mrs Sumani prepared to fund that through their taxes?

If the lifeboat is rated for 60 people, and there are 300 floating in the seas around you, there comes a time when you must starting beating away the grasping hands rather then pulling them aboard. Else we all sink.


Peeve of the week

Why do people queuing to use an ATM queue across the width of the pavement, effectively blocking it, rather than along the wall? In such cases I always make a point of annoying them by barging through the privacy gap left between the first queuer and the person using the machine.


London Life

I was passing a Chinese herbal medicine emporium. Outside was an advert for something called Herbal Viagra, illustrated by a two-pane cartoon. In the first pane a group of people were being menaced by a tank, presumably a Tiananmen Square reference, while one of the group threw something pill shaped into the open hatch. In the second pane, the gun barrel of the tank was pointed firmly skywards, away from the "protesters".

As I was admiring this welcome piece of wit, and wondering whether to take a photograph of it, a Chinee emerged from the shop in the hopes, one presumes, of selling me some of this wonder potion. As the News of the World used to say, I made my excuses and left.

Five minutes later I was accosted, walking along Shaftesbury Avenue, by an elderly Indian gentlemen, whose card described him as a "Yogi", although whether Bear or Berra was not clear. He offered to tell my fortune.

12 January, 2008


English as she is spoke

Notice seen at a pub in the City of London.
We kindly ask you to refrain from smoking in this doorway...
What are the implications of "kindly" here, I wonder. Presumably in that the management is merely asking for customers' co-operation. If the management meant to be unkind, perhaps they would be having at the miscreant smokers with broom handles and throwing buckets of water over them to extinguish the offending gaspers.

Given that the manager of this establishment is English and most of his staff Australian, they can't even claim involuntary Polishness for this solecism.


Hard cases make bad policy

The case of Ama Sumani has been heavily promoted on the BBC, certainly on the World Service and on Radio 4's Today programme. The slant given is that a callous UK Government is denying this poor woman treatment for her cancer, deporting her to her homeland of Ghana to die.

This piece, strangely enough on the BBC's own site, gives a little more depth. The radio reports implied that Ms Sumani was here on a student visa, which had run out. The detail is a little more complex. Ms Sumani arrived on a visitor's visa, which she subsequently converted to a student visa, having enrolled on a course. Her lack of English prevented her from taking the course and instead she took up illegal work. This in itself is suspicious. She and the college administrators must have known from the outset that she was incapable of doing the course. She was only found out by the ever-vigilant Border and Immigration Agency when, returning from a visit to Ghana for her husband's funeral, she attempted to re-enter the country.

In Accra, UK immigration officials accompanying Ms Sumani back to Ghana have offered to foot the bill for three months' treatment at an Accra hospital, some £3000. The Ghanaian hospital has refused to admit her, on the grounds that she has no funding for longer-term treatment. Forgive me for being a cynical old Hector, but that sounds like brinkmanship to me, a bit of a negotiating ploy to squeeze more moolah out of Whitey. If they admit her pro tem, then charitable efforts within Ghana itself might fund her continuing treatment. British people sometimes have to take that chance, the consequence of finite resources, with an NHS to which they have paid in all their lives.

So there we have it. An illegal immigrant and a foreign hospital playing emotional blackmail games with the guilt-ridden colonists. No, sorry, I don't buy into it.

09 January, 2008


Going for the easy targets

The Times, which has made something of a campaign of this, reports on HMG's unwillingness to grant asylum to Iraqis who have acted as interpreters for the British forces in Iraq.

So, if a man make his way to Calais, hides in the back of an artic and manages to smuggle himself into the UK, then provided he keeps his head down, the Government will make no effort to find him and remove him. If he is found out, he will apply for asylum and in due course the Government will give up and grant him indefinite leave to remain in one of its periodic amnesties.

If a man arrive on a visitor's visa from Lagos, pops down to Thamesmead and buys himself some forged documents, and lives here for years, the Government will do nothing to detect the fraud, nothing to deport him should he be embarrassingly accidentally discovered; in due course, having brought his wife over by the same route, he will sire some UK-born sprogs, and HMG will obligingly tidy up the bureaucratic inconvenience by granting citizenship all around.

But if a man voluntarily put himself in harm's way in the service of the British Crown in a foreign war, so that he and his family are in mortal danger from retribution once British forces have withdrawn, our dear leaders will wring their hands, um and ah, and leave the poor blighter to his fate.



Hillary, Barack and John go to Manchester

No, not the title of some obscure comedy "romp" fillum, or even a hitherto undiscovered Enid Blyton.

But given that the Democratic hopefuls include, for the first time I believe, both a tart and a spade (sorry, a female and a man of genuinely African-American heritage), the pundits have been speculating about the impact on the female and the Black vote. Will women be tempted to vote for Hillary because she's one of them and empathizes with their needs? Will Blacks be inclined to vote for Obama because he's Black, or at least Blackish, and therefore perceived to be on their side? Such speculation and the reactions it posits have been accepted as natural, reasonable and expected.

Well, I am White and male. If I were also perchance an American living in New Hampshire and a registered Democrat, and I expressed the intention of voting for John Edwards because he is also a White male who will understand my needs and be on my side, I wonder if that view would be seen as reasonable.

Somehow I think not.

I am minded of the agitated Indian commentator, interviewed on the radio, who was insistent that Harbhajan Singh could not be accused of racism because he is a brown man.

Curious aren't they, life's little asymmetries?

08 January, 2008


The joys of diversity

I am in a boozer in bootiful downtown Greenwich and I have just ordered a pint of Guinness. The barman, of indeterminate origin but probably Polish, hunts around for the correct branded pint glass with some difficulty, but eventual success. I quip, "I don't care what it looks like, so long as it holds a pint". Of course, he misunderstands, thinking apparently that I am querying/complaining about the fact that he is pulling the pint from a different tap than last time, and apologizes with some placatory remark about "it's all coming from the same system".

A totally trivial episode. But it grinds you down, the steady loss of the shared culture in London, as we all become foreigners in a shared locus, a shared terra nullius. When was the last time you could walk into a pub or a shop in the cold weather and make some casual remark about brass monkeys with the certainty that the comment would be understood and appreciated as part of the common linguistic culture?

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