Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Chocolate, Barolo and backgammon - the perfect night in

I got a backgammon set for my birthday. Doesn't sound momentous I know, however I've been looking for a decent set for years and I've never been able to find a nice one for under about £250. As I wouldn't class myself a fanatic I've never therefore seen the value of buying one and limited myself to playing on holiday and with friends who have their own.

But a few weeks ago my mother in law found and bought one in John Lewis and it's an absolute cracker of a set. It's come as an absolute bonus with Louis having just been born. As we're completely house tied, we've wiled away dozens of hours, downed too many bottles of Barolo (especially as Nic's breastfeeding ah well) and eaten far too much Green and Blacks. Perfect.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Hats off Mr. Dravid in your 100th test

In an era of power play and increasing run rates you sometimes forget Rahul Dravid when naming the current best cricketers in the world. But ask any cricket fan and they will be sure to tell you that when Dravid comes to the crease you hope to get him early, because if he gets through the first few balls, he could be there 3 days later. The man has stickability beyond anyone else in world cricket. Of course his achievments will always be overshadowed by his teammate Tendulkar's extraordinary parallel career, however Dravid I would wager will end with a higher average (currently 58.16) and one of the highest ever to have been recorded. Rahul you're a legend and I bow down to you sir.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A triumph of dogma over care for our children

Hard as I have tried over the past few weeks, I have completely failed to grasp the intricacies of the proposed education bill. Despite reading last week's New Statesman education special cover to cover, I cannot grasp what the hell difference the bill will make to the average 10 year old entering secondary school next year.

This bill which should be the principle driver for any government in power IMO appears to me to have simply become a point of macho party politics.

Instead of the future care of our children what we have is:

- Tony Blair wildly pursuing his legacy

- 70 odd labour MPs dogmatically pinning their colours to the comprehensive mast (plus Prescott being a flibbertygibbit)

- David Cameron fighting against the right wing of his party (would he really be agreeing with Blair if he hadn't gone to Eton?)

- And Ruth Kelly, doing a very good, bunny on the M1 impression

Actually on the last point, I actually feel quite sorry for Ruth Kelly. She is massively inexperienced and has been handed the true poisoned chalice of the front bench. Each of the ministers who have come and gone have been powerless against Tony Blair's dictatorial approach to the office and those that have stood up to it have simply been sacked. The Tomlinson Report came a mere 2 months after Kelly took the post, frankly she was powerless to implement anything, because Tony had already made up his mind what was going to happen in the run p to the election, so despite it being widely reported that she agreed with most of the findings, she simply went with the flow. Then there was the paedophiles scandal, frankly a more experienced minister would have stamped on the story in a couple of hours, but inertia and vague speeches meant the thing was blown completely out of proportion. And then the education bill - this is so linked to Tony's legacy that she has absolutely no control over it's direction. Frankly in the long term this state of affairs may serve her well, as I don't believe that if the government are defeated she will carry the can for it.

It appears to me that if Labour lose office in 2009 - which I increasingly think will be the case - we will finish with possibly the most pernicious selective system that has ever existed.

'Choice' in education benefits no one but the middle class, who know how to play the system. We will end up with covert selection procedures that polarise the education of our children directly on class lines. At least with an 11 plus system the less well off children had a chance. This way it looks like they'll miss out all together.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Why I love London

As a born and bred Londoner I am fantastically defensive of the city. I love both it's intimacy and it's ability to provide you with complete anaonymity depending on how the mood takes you.

When I was a kid my mother used to tell me, that when you're walking around London always look up, all the good stuff is on the roofs. It's absolutely true and next time you're in the centre of town do it, it'll pay dividends I guarantee you. The other thing is, if you can avoid it never get on a tube, there is no point you will have a far better time walking.

The following are just a few of the reasons why I love London.

1. Walking across Waterloo bidge at dawn in the summer and stopping to look both ways
2. Sitting on the benches in the rookery on Streatham Common on a cold winter's day
3. Taking a stroll across the millennium bridge from Bankside Power Station to St Pauls
4. Standing on Parliament Hill and looking across the city on a clear sunny day.
5. Visiting the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park in high summer
6. Walking across Wandsworth Common to work on a clear spring morning and watching the swans with their new born cygnets.
7. Tumbling straight out of Fabric at 7am and going on to Trade at Turnmills until 2pm - the best clubbing double header on earth
8. Staying at the St Martin's Lane for the hell of it, despite the fact you're 4 miles from home
9. The film and supper club at the Charlotte Street Hotel, preferably to watch 'It's a Wonderful Life'
10. Eating at Chez Bruce the finest most unpretentious restaurant in christendom
11. Singalong Sound of Music at the Prince Charles in Leicester Square, the campest night out ever.
12. Walking the South Bank from Vauxhall to Greenwich
13. Cycling in Ham and pretending you're in the country
14. Star spotting at J.Sheekey - forget the Ivy this is where you're more likely to spot someone famous.
15. Bloody marys and shepherd's pie at the Grenadier just off Sloane Street
16. Walking through Belgravia and realising what a stunningly prosperous country we live in.
17. The Dublin castle, The Brixton Academy, The Balham Kitchen and Bar, Lupo, The Duke of Devonshire, The Bedford to name oh so few
19. Skateboarders at the NFT
20. Rollerbladers in Hyde Park
21. Dulwich gallery
22. The Polka Theatre
23. Walking up Whitehall with Nelson in your sights
24. Being astounded by the Palace of Westminster every time you see it.
25. The guilded grasshopper on top of the Royal Exchange
26. Fresh chorizo sandwiches from Borough Market
27. Buying a ridiculously expensive tailored suit in Jermyn Street
28. Looking down on the Gerkin from Tower 42
29. Sinking Stellas sitting on Clapham Common in high summer watching a movie on the big screen
30. High summer at Brockwell lido
31. Boat parties in Little Venice
32. Being able to get away to the country when you need to

Of course there are thousands more, but hey I like to keep some things a secret.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Hello to FEC

I've just linked FEC's (Hack) blog through from my blog. Check it out, he's got some very interestng things to say IMO. Little bit further to the right than my good self, but he makes for a good debate.

Is it all over for US imperialism?

A short version of the following was posted on the R5L World Board, but as a result of extreme World Board chippiness no one had anything constructive to say on the matter. So, I've expanded it slightly and posted it here on my blog, which is probably a better place for it anyway.

Almost daily I read another example of how the US's neighbours appear to be fronting up to long standing agreements that by and large benefited the US but did little more than allow some form of flexibility for the much smaller partner. All over South America and in Canada there are examples of how the US is losing it's influence in it's own backyard as countries find ways of standing on their own two feet effectively. It's not really Guevara's vision of a United Americas, more a case of individual nationalist states finding the resolve to work things in their favour.

Evo Morales the Bolivian president is currently causing a huge thorn in the US's side by backing the indigenous Coca farmers in their production of Coca leaves the key ingredient in cocaine production. This is a pattern that is likely to be followed by the other major producer of Coca in South America, Peru.

Peru has an election coming up next month and it looks increasingly likely that the South American Socialist clique is set to expand and that the Coca producers of Peru will be freed up in the same way as they have been in Bolivia.

In the 80s the US in conjunction with the Peruvian and Bolivian governments burnt huge tracts of land and massively reduced the supply of coca leaves to Columbia where the major production of cocaine took place.

Obviously the US remain able to exert influence over Columbia on the cocaine production side, however they are helpless to be able to counter the production of the raw materials, as Morales is proving. His assertion is that the leaves will be used for the production of tea and other medicinal and lifestyle items which the US can do little about

In Peru, Ollanta Humala the Hugo Chavez (president of Venezuela) backed nationalist socialist candidate in the upcoming election is increasingly catching the imagination of the electorate. Humala is behind in the polls but Chavez seems to have the kingmaking magic touch at the moment. He's backed the new Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and Morales and appears to be playing a key role for Humala amongst the dispossessed of Peru, whilst seriously upsetting the incumbent right-wing government.

All of this though is a side show in comparison to the most recent Chavez inspired development in the Caribbean. Venezuela is an oil rich and self-sufficient nation producing 3,000,000 barrels of oil per day. As such Chavez has recently brokered the PetroCaribe accord something brought to my attention in an article by Darcus Howe in this week's New Statesman.

'Recently, 13 Caribbean governments signed what is called the PetroCaribe accord, which supplies them with 185,700 barrels of Venezuelan oil daily and defers payments for 30 per cent of the imports for 15 years at an interest rate of 2 per cent a year, the rate decreasing in proportion to the increase in the oil price on the world market. Chavez has gone further. He has also offered the islands a $50m grant for social programmes, which they have accepted.

Oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago did not sign the accord. Barbados, too, has not signed, perhaps fearing that its tourist economy could not survive US displeasure. On the other hand, the agreement has been hugely popular in the countries that have joined up, giving a sense that power is shifting in the hemisphere from Uncle Sam to Venezuela.'

Full article here.

If you believe that the US is an imperialist power, perhaps not geographically but economically you could see all of these developments as the beginning of the end. After all, all empires crumble when they lose control of their backyard.

Further evidence of this theory of crumbling US imperialism and loss of control in it's back yard could be pointed to, North of the US border where Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the decision upon his election to shore up defences in Canada's Northern Territories, a blatant reopening of the Arctic sovereignty debate. The issue is based around the long disputed North West channel that runs between Canada and the Arctic.

The reason it is likely to become such a hotly contested issue is down to global warming. Up until recently the channel has been impassable without serious ice breaking vessels, however as the ice melts, the channel will slowly become navigable. The navigability of the channel will cut the distance between Europe and Asia by 5,000 km, which has obvious benefits as the Chinese economy expands fuelled by FMCG goods that need to be transported by boat. Speed to market could potentially be cut by approximately half from 8 weeks to around 4 to 5

Since Canada's birth this icy desert and the Arctic channel have been claimed by Canada as sovereign land, a position the US have always disagreed with. The US have always contested that the channel is owned by Canada, this despite the 1988 Arctic Co-operation Agreement between the two countries an agreement brokered by Canadian Prime Minister Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Regan where the U.S. promised to get prior permission before a U.S. government ice-breaker or aircraft crossed the Arctic.

For the US the agreement was always window-dressing as there was little benefit other than militarily to crossing the Arctic at the time, however in Canada there is a huge popular swell of opinion and pride amongst the Canadian population for it's sovereign rights over the waterway. If the passage becomes navigable that agreement may be sorely tested.

Harper has proposed the construction of a deep water port in the channel to dock Canadian subs and ice breakers and is also planning to replace what is largely a rag tag group of proud mounties with Canadian troops to defend the channel.

The issue may never rear it's head as a serious dispute. However, the action itself one of Harper's first in office comes from a Prime Minister who on the face of it should have been a much friendlier face to the US than the recently defeated left-wing government in Canada and for me is just another example that the US no longer has such a stranglehold on world affairs as they once did.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Meanwhile in South Africa

While we try our best to throw away a great position in India the South Africans have just won the first one day series against the Australians that anyone has managed in 4 years. Finishing with a match that has been described as the 'greatest one dayer in history'. Hats off to Herschelle Gibbs who scored a massive 175. He was on for the first double ton in one day history but holed out in the the 32nd. What I would have given to see 872 runs scored in a day.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

And so the lying begins.

I took Eben off to an appointment at the local pre-school this morning. Luckily (in fact extra luckily considering we're in Lambeth) the local primary is absolutley stonking, it's 3rd in the borough in the league tables, but more importantly it has the most amzingly warm atmosphere to it.

The attached pre-school which Eben will attend from January next year if our application is successful is attached in terms of location, but entirly independent in terms of facilities to the primary, so there's separate toilets, kitchens and so on.

My meeting was with the new head, a guy who joins his long serving assistant head wife to make up what I imagine will be an extremely strong husband and wife team. They have three pre-schoolers themselves and his first words were, that we wants to create a school he'd be delighted to send his own children (obvious I know, but it sounded genuine and the fact his wife is there suggests he really mans business).

The atmosphere was playful, but very structured. He reassured me that he felt the government's current plans to put educational targets on the under 5s were absolute bollocks. He was definitely his own man, wasn't towing a line, very interesting and I have no doubt he's going to do great things.

And then came the question about catchment area. I lied - I said that having moved in recently (18 months it's kind of recent) we hadn't really worked out the catchment area (well we have and we're outside technically). His response - 'our criteria really is church attendance' he then went on to say parental interest was key and it was good to see we were checking so early. It was blunt, unquestioning, but unequivocal - we go to the attached CoE church and we're pretty much guaranteed to get in.

Q. So what are we going to do:

1. We're not religious
2. I have a fundamental issue with faith schools

A. We're going to start going to church

Fuck principle. It's too good an opportunity to miss out on. I've already dressed up for the meeting and taken the good buggy for God's sake why the hell should the deception stop there, keep it going. Anyway I was told by my next door neighbour that it's the best place in the area to meet like-minded people. Her comment 'Frankly I don't know why they don't go the whole hog and put a bar in the back, it'd make things far easier'.

Besides, it's going to save me £7,000 in school fees, I can swallow any amount of God for £7,000.

So here I am one of the priveliged middle classes perpetuating the selective system and alienating the poor in the community to condemn them to a poor start in life. What would my 18 year old self think of me? He'd hate me like the silver spoon grammar school educated prig he was. Hey ho.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

My predictions have been a bit off lately!! But...

Have a chat to David (Citizen of the World) and he'll regale you with a catalogue of failed sporting predications. However back last year I said that Alistair Cook should have replaced Andrew Strauss instead of Paul Collingwood on the tour to Pakistan.

Having said that Cook's century this morning against a decent Indian attack (and importantly on foreign soil - moreover sub-continental foreign soil)was the second of the match following Collingwood's NO 134 in the first innings and considering Collingwood's form in Pakistan, maybe I'm not the next Duncan Fletcher.

Anyway well done that boy, he's destined for great things and really starts to make our top 6 look competitive.

It's a boy!!!!!

Well as I think some of you had guessed I've been trying to look after the whirlwind of a new baby in the house and I now think it's under some sort of control.

Louis was born on Thursday morning after a very slow and very quick labour. By that I mean Nic had 24 hours of 30 minute spaced contractions where we just carried on as normal and then at 1.30 on Thursday morning they suddenly kicked in like a train and it was all over in an hour. I have to say she was unbelieveable and the result our beautiful little boy.

Anyway here are inevitable photos.

He is cute isn't he? Well we think so anyway.

We thought we were looking alright at this point, but actually we were completely shagged when this was taken. I have no excuse (except it was 4.30 in the morning), Nicky had at least done the equivalent of a double marathon.

And Eben well he seems to have taken it all in his stride. (Well apart from intermittently ignoring him and giving him the odd slap). Bless 'em, give it 20 years and I'm sure they'll get on.