Thursday, 28 May 2009

European Elections

The European elections are only a week away and, in case you haven’t heard yet, it’s really important that we vote. Nick Cohen is wrong when he argues that extremism isn’t on the rise in the UK; it is.

It is tempting to go for a knee-jerk reaction following the expenses’ gravy train and just stay at home, but the European elections are actually a chance influence the way Europe is heading economically, politically and socially. Vote!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Swimming Backwards Underwater

I have mastered the art of swimming underwater backwards and thought I would pass on tips to anyone interested:

Take time to collect your breath and slow down your breathing, taking a couple of deep breaths before you take the final breath to last you the length underwater. The final deep breath will probably be an audible gasp; don’t be afraid to make it.

Give yourself a good momentum when you push off from the wall; you don’t have oxygen time to waste on gaining speed underwater.

Tip your head right back so that the top of your head is at a 180 degree angle from the surface of the water.

Use a backwards breaststroke motion.

Position yourself close to the surface of the water as it will give you more freedom to manoeuvre your head, should you need/want to. It also means that you will avoid banging your head on the bottom of the pool (I speak from trial and error experience).

Look where you are going (that is part of the fun anyway). Have someone swim a normal breaststroke in front of you if it helps.

Let out your breath very, very slowly at regular intervals from your nose, not your mouth. (I have been advised to try a nose peg, but haven't got around to trying this way yet.)

Set yourself a goal – 10 meters, 15 metres, 20 metres, 25 metres and beyond...

Friday, 22 May 2009

Bee Crisis and Vince Cable

Could it be that coverage of the bee crisis that has led to a surge in interest surrounding bees has paradoxically exacerbated the problem with an increase in beehive thefts?

An article in The Independent today:

There is only one MP I know of who has taken the bee crisis issue seriously and was among the first to raise the issue in Parliament. He is also one of the MPs who has emerged squeaky clean from the expenses fiasco – Vincent Cable.

2012 Olympics "On Track"

Did anybody else feel like jumping in a lake after reading yesterday’s papers?

Well, for anyone who hasn’t spotted it yet, I have found a snippet of good news in a small, right hand corner of The Guardian, not quite buried on page 15:

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Human Rights Victory For Soldiers

Well done to the three senior judges who overruled the Ministry of Defence’s claims that British soldiers can only be protected by the Human Rights Act within the confines of a military base.

The Guardian reported on this ruling today:


This means that it is now a legal human right for every soldier to be equipped with the highest standard of equipment. This will mean an awful lot to soldiers. When I sat down for a meal with soldiers on a training exercise in Macedonia in 2007 and asked them about their profession in general, this was one of the things that came up. The lack of adequate equipment affected the way they viewed themselves through the eyes of those telling them what they have to do – i.e. the Government.

In this case, the Human Rights Act is not being applied in the kind of naive way that Shadow Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, is suggesting, whereby every soldier is ensured the right to life on the battlefield; it is ensuring that soldiers’ lives are valued.

Monday, 18 May 2009

British Bees

Anyone who doubts natural selection should read the Daily Telegraph today – Native Bee May Take Sting Out of Britain’s Hive Crisis.

Ian Johnston reports that a Bibba study has confirmed British bees are better able to survive external threats because they have adapted to the climate. Beekeepers will know this any way. British bees are hardy, bullish types who are more likely to sting than sweeter natured New Zealand bees. And their nature is reflected in the taste of the honey they produce. But the native black honeybee with its thick hair and large body, which helps keep it warm, copes much better with the shorter breading season in Britain.

Not enough people know that bees play an important role in pollinating crops and are estimated to be worth up to £850 million to the British economy. So if there is a bee crisis, which there is, the Government should be listening up.

Just think about this – if we didn’t have bees, we wouldn’t have love.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

London 2012 Olympics

I am feeling very bold today and so I am going to come out and officially declare my support for the 2012 Olympics in Stratford. No more of this cynicism and indifference to it; I am glad we are hosting it. When journalist James Morrison asked a class of trainee NCTJ reporters at Brighton College in 2005 who was in favour of the fact that we were hosting it, I can only recall me and Daniel Murdoch putting up our hands. In another show of hands, a few declared themselves against it, but the large majority didn’t care.

So much of the British attitude towards the Olympics has been like a mirror image of that infamous Evening Standard billboard: “It’s getting worse.” When someone asked me why I spend 50 minutes travelling to a swimming pool all the way across town, I answered that it was because there wasn’t a decent pool in East London. “My God,” was the response. “And that’s where we are hosting the Olympics.” But it’s not just swimming. Commonwealth Games champion Dalton Grant (high jump) has told me on numerous occasions all the reasons why it is fantastic that this will be on our doorstep and why we had better get our act together and seize the opportunity.

The only time comedian Paul Merton ever went down in my estimation was when he made a dig at the Olympics being held in Statford on national TV. Something about East Londoners being able to use the stadium following the Games as a dumping ground for their settees. He delivered the joke in such a way that for a moment he reminded me of Ian Hislop. THAT was what was so worrying. And I have written so many East London fly-tipping stories in my time, that it was all a bit too much.

Besides, I have had the chance to watch the stadium grow from birth because I often make journeys which take me through Stratford Station. It actually gives us commuters something interesting to watch as Stratford used to be a boring station.

So, be prepared! There may be more blog posts in support of the Olympics to come.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Tori Amos Is Back

Just when you thought she had disappeared, Tori Amos is back. And she has been thinking about the world’s financial crisis:

Instead of coming up with dull, practical ideas like mine (, she has decided the solution is to redefine what is a sexy, powerful male. I look forward to hearing how she does that on her new album. She is the best living, commercially successful female musician out there, after all.

Monday, 11 May 2009

The Power Of Prayer

I can’t remember the last time I got down on my knees and prayed at the foot of my bed. It always struck me as quite an anachronistic thing to do, a Catholic thing even, and I have only ever been moved to do it on very rare occasions. But last week I was indeed moved to pray for news from a particular loved-one. Almost as soon as I had done it (I was only on my knees for about 10 seconds), I forgot about it and carried on with my day (I was in Spain at the time). Then later on that day, I heard news. It only occurred to me a couple of hours after I had received the news that I had in fact prayed that morning.

A couple of days later I started reading Love In The Time of Cholera where characters like Florentino Ariza are sometimes moved by the Holy Spirit, or at least believe themselves to be.