All entries for July 2007

July 31, 2007

Housing or railways – which is worse?

I can’t decide which is in a bigger state of crisis: Britain’s railways or its housing?

Ruth Kelly must have been stifling her laughter last week as she announced exciting plans to essentially cut the number of train seats in Britain. Oh yes, she’s going to increase the actual numbers by about 2-3%, but compare that with the 10% rise in passengers and you can see what sort of mess we’re in. We either need double-decker trains or a new high-speed line up and down the country. But that would put us in danger of getting something right, and we can’t have that.

But then there’s Andrew Gilligan’s documentary on housing which was broadcast on Channel 4 last night. The first section didn’t quite work (it was new homeowners whinging about the quality of new-build homes, and naturally wasn’t very surprising), but the levels of corruption between the government and the construction industry in the latter two-thirds of the programme was incredible, and ultimately depressing.

Remember John Prescott’s miracle £60,000 house that was wildly trumpeted in the heady days of New Labour? He showed us all a prototype and said it would solve all our problems.

Well, it will if you’re willing to pay £255,000 instead. Because that’s what it sells for in reality.

Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to hear that I have a solution (albeit pilfered). Will Hutton has the right idea, as usual. Debt-financed railway building, as proven by the wonderful world of private equity. But more surprisingly, Germaine Greer has the right idea on housing: we need to build upwards. Not only that, but we need to make high-rise attractive. There’s not enough land, we all seem to want to work in cities, and it’s the only answer.

If I was in a sarcastic mood, I’d suggest letting Guardian columnists just launch a coup and be done with it. The Polly Toynbee-loving Tories might not complain any more.


July 23, 2007

Change the National Curriculum – We need weather lessons.

Looking at the number of stranded cars on the roads this weekend, you have to wonder whether people are wearing blinkers that prevent them from looking upwards. Perhaps television sets had a minor failure during the week. Maybe people were so excited by Harry Potter fever, they forgot to check out the weather forecast.

Because some of the complaints after the floods made me think the rain had appeared from nowhere. Did no-one expect roads to get blocked or trains to be cancelled?

Warnings that people should delay travel except where absolutely necessary didn’t seem to be heeded.

Obviously, there was little that could be done in places like Tewkesbury and Upton-upon-Severn. Flooded homes are a consequence of the Anglo-Saxons deciding to live near rivers, often on flood plains.

The most telling photograph was one of a field under several feet of water, next to a sign promising “An Exclusive Development of 2-5 Bedroom Homes”. Anyone thinking about moving to the Thames Gateway would be wise to find an apartment near the top of a block of flats.

As I say, there’s not much that can be done about the towns built close to rivers. The threat of once-in-a-century floods aren’t worth the expense of building permanent defences.

But much like when it snows, hails or gets a bit too hot, Britain goes into meltdown. If millions of people had just stayed at home like they were supposed to, there’d be much less grumbling going on.


July 22, 2007

Brown’s Bounce

Worn down by the British weather, bored of the bloody Beckhams and fed up with the falling dollar (okay, maybe not that last one), Britain seems to have become fond of the quiet life.

Lewis Hamilton isn’t the only quiet yet determined person to be enjoying a summer of popularity. Gordon Brown, too, is feeling groovy.

Today’s Sunday Times/YouGov poll puts the government on 40%, Labour’s best in nearly two years. David Cameron, meanwhile, is off to Rwanda, hoping things can’t get much worse while he’s gone. He’s staring at a seven-point abyss between him and the dour one.

I was one of many who thought the popularity chasm created by Blair’s departure would cause a headache for Brown. But if anything, the workmanlike approach from the new Prime Minister is winning people over. The closest the government has had to a scandal has been the cannabis revelations this week. But this will be a non-issue for Labour while the opposition is led by a man with a (what’s the word…) colourful past.

As Rod Liddle hints in the Sunday Times this morning:

When I was at university – around the same time as Ruth Kelly, as it happens – habitual drug use was divided strictly on party lines. The lefties smoked dope… Coke was seen, back then, as an upwardly mobile, aspirational, Thatcherite drug. I think we need to hear a few more specific confessions from Conservative Central Office, don’t you?

This is not an issue on which the Tories can make much hay, and they were predictably quiet this week.

But if silence is a virtue, it is one Labour have grasped more effectively. While David Cameron practically carpet-bombed Ealing Southall with his presence, Gordon Brown left the by-election to local lieutenants. The result – third for the Tories, a modestly reduced majority for Labour – says it all.

He might be boring, but so far he’s been effective (to use one of his buzzwords, ‘resolute’).

The test will come in the Autumn, when election fever reaches a crescendo. How well can he do rabble-rousing?


July 19, 2007

Staggering

J.K. Rowling is apparently “staggered” that the New York Times and another U.S. newspaper have written reviews of the (leaked) new Harry Potter book.

Get over yourself, J.K.. It’s just a book.

I’m personally “staggered” that you’ve earned so much money for doing so little. Especially when thousands of authors have written books of higher quality and earned bugger all.

Harry Potter: The McDonalds of the Publishing World.


July 17, 2007

What do you get…

...if you cross a bicycle and a labrador?

Find out here

(perfectly safe for work, by the way)


July 16, 2007

Douglas Hurd

Blogging has been a bit quiet recently, so I thought I’d try and make up for it by letting you listen to an interview with Lord Douglas Hurd, the former Home and Foreign Secretary.

He’s just brought out a book about his predecessor, Sir Robert Peel.

Click on the button below to listen.


Storm in a teacup

I’ve had a very unproductive day at work. My office was evacuated following a bomb threat sent to the newsdesk.

It turns out we were sent warning of the Tesco bomb threats that shut many stores on Saturday, although a local postal strike meant the letter was delayed. The Tesco store involved wasn’t evacuated, but we were shut out for around five hours!

It sounded threatening although was apparently fairly amateurish. The lack of actual explosions at the weekend would suggest they were all mouth and no trousers! I suspect animal rights activists or general anti-Tesco people were to blame.

Anyway, I learnt a few things. Did you know that forensics officers are now officially called CSIs? They even have the t-shirts to match. The CSI-man looked a bit like a Bond villain.

EDIT: My office was the second biggest story on tonight’s ITV News. Not sure what that says about the decision-making at ITV News, but hey.


July 09, 2007

United find a replacement for van Nistelrooy

Carlos Tevez Wayne Rooney just didn’t cut it. Cristiano Ronaldo was never in with a chance. Darren Fletcher was a close call. And Alan Smith was trying too hard.

But finally, Man United have filled the gap left by Ruud van Nistelrooy for United’s Ugly Forward. Yep, Carlos Tevez has big shoes to fill.


July 04, 2007

Relief

I have to say I’ve never been so relieved to change a poxy bit of HTML.

After 114 days, I can drop the ‘Free Alan Johnston’ banner I had on my blog. I suspect I wasn’t the only journalist who pumped my fists with relief this morning.

It sounds like the experience was pretty traumatic, as you’d expect. I hope he gets some rest and is back on our screens when he’s ready for it.


Am I bovvered, Doctor?

My initial reaction seemed to be from another TV comedy… “Are you havin’ a laugh?”

Catherine Tate’s bringing back her character Donna to be the full-time companion to Doctor Who. She was in the last Christmas special, and put in a performance that many people found slightly, well… annoying.

She screeched through most of it, and her character seemed to have been ripped straight out of her sketch show.

But having thought it over for a few hours, I’ve changed my mind. I think this could be genius casting.

Quite frankly, people were getting fed up with the Doctor/Companion having a bit of a romantic quandary, as witnessed with both Billie Piper and Freema Agyeman. Having an older character – who we know already doesn’t fancy the protagonist – will let the relationship be a bit more productive.

And, despite the vitriol you’ll read on the internet, Tate is actually a classically trained actress with some pretty serious roles behind her.

Russell T Davies, head honcho of Doctor Who, suggested in the past that Catherine Tate’s Donna was too annoying to be a permanent fixture in the series. I suspect this means he’s planning to tone her down.

So I’ll reserve judgement until the new series starts. But unless the character’s made a bit less ‘screechy’, viewers won’t be bovvered for much longer.


July 02, 2007

Anything you can do…

David Cameron plays poker with his cabinetI see your Sir John Stevens and raise you Dame Pauline Neville-Jones!

[EDIT] That cheeky Nick Robinson has used the same title for his blog. Great minds…

[EDIT 2] Ooh… he’s lucky. He posted one whole minute before me.


July 01, 2007

Concert for Diana… what a shambles!

I didn’t intend to watch today’s Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium, but my Mum and sister had it on, so I ended up catching bits of it.

Eventually it became unmissable.

Technically, this was the biggest shambles I think I’ve ever seen on British television. Constant sound dips (played out on various radio stations as well), massive delays, embarrassing performances from the likes of P Diddy, and a completely rubbish climax.

Many of the faults seemed to be the BBC’s fault – especially the sound dips. Claudia Winkleman and Jamie Theakston seemed to be on a different planet to the rest of the production: they’d simultaneously announce different bands were about to play, and sometimes both got it wrong.

Let’s hope they get it right for next week’s Live Earth, also at Wembley, or their reputation for live events will be shot to pieces.


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