Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Sunday, 30 November 2003

Deal may be close to repatriate UK nationals held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Following on from my posting yesterday, the Observer is today reporting that a deal is imminent between the US and the UK for the 9 Britons held [illegally, in my opinion] by the US authorities at 'Camp Delta'. Of the 9, two may well be released without ANY charges being brought - according to the British lawyer acting for them, Clive Stafford Smith, a British human rights lawyer based in the US.

Stafford Smith apparently believes the other 7 may be required to confess to 'spurious' charges so as to get the Americans to acquiesce in this:


The price of escaping from a nightmare

"The British Government has finally realised it has to help the Americans out of the corner they have painted themselves into. This deal will most likely consist of the British having to plead guilty on some nonsense charge and come back here to serve their sentence. However it seems highly improbable that Iqbal and Rasul will be charged with anything. There simply is nothing there."

Read this related report in today's Independent and you will see just how far-fetched one of the predicted charges sounds. (Of course, and in the interests of the scrupulous objectivity I try to display, the apparent absurdity of such charges if brought does not, of itself, indicate they are necessarily unfounded)

The BBC lists the nine British detainees as:


UK Detainees held in Camp Delta

Shafiq Rasul, 24, of Tipton, West Midlands

Asif Iqbal, 20, of Tipton

Ruhal Ahmed, 20, of Tipton

Martin Mubanga, 29, from north London

Jamal Udeen, 35, from Manchester

Richard Belmar, 23, from London

Tarek Dergoul, 24, from east London

Moazzam Begg, 35, from Birmingham

Feroz Abbasi, 23, from south London


- with the first two, known as the 'Tipton two', being those it is predicted will be released without any charge being filed against them.

Whatever any of these people may have done, they deserve to be tried in a court organised according to the normal tenets of western justice, if there are charges that can be brought plausibly against them. Had the US conducted itself in a civilised manner and taken them before a court in the United States where any allegations against them could have been tested fairly, this whole matter could have been progressed a LONG time ago. Proposing bringing them before a kangaroo 'Military Commission', as had earlier been announced by the US Government, definitely does NOT meet this standard. One of Britain's top judges, Lord Justice Steyn, has rightly condemned the detentions at Guantanamo Bay as:


The opinion of one of Britian's senior judges

"a monstrous failure of justice"

The US is often, and rightly, seen as a beacon of justice in what is a pretty dangerous world, but its behaviour in holding people quite deliberately in a place where they are beyond the jurisdiction of any system of law or the protection of any court, is a stain on this record. If a solution is close then at least that aspect of the nightmare these nine have been subjected to for two years will be over - and the US can genuinely claim that the UK, as President Bush contended during his recent State Visit to this country, is the Unites States' "best friend in the world".

Saturday, 29 November 2003

US prevaricates over mistake made in post-'9/11' detention

This appalling story, reported in the Washington Post (link via 'Drudge'), taking place on US soil, does make one wonder where the war on terrorism is taking western democracy. I have written before about the equally outrageous detentions of so-called 'foreign combatants', a definition unknown to the Geneva convention, held for two years in legal limbo at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but this detention on US soil on what are now admitted to be spurious charges is an even more blatant example of the damage that is being done to the core of beliefs of a great western democracy. It is both sad and deeply worrying for the future.
Can the Israeli Palestinian 'logjam' be broken?

I have just been listening, about 25 minutes ago, to a piece on BBC Radio4 'Today' programme about a 2-day conference in the UK at a country estate 'somewhere in the English countryside' between pretty high-level Israeli and Palestinian delegates. I have been unable, yet, to find a website link for the several interviews which formed the core of the segment, to verify the names etc, but one of those who was there was the son of Ariel Sharon, Israeli Prime Minister, for example. Although he and the Palestinian delegate with whom he was taking a walk in the grounds of the estate would not be interviewed for the programme, a couple of the other delegates were. So far as I can recall one was 'Zeyad abu Zeyad' (sp?) and the other was a member of the Israeli Knesset (name?) and both sounded positive about the desire of both sides for an end to the conflict. The conference was apparently organised by a group called Labour Friends of Israel and Barbara Roche, a Labour MP who was there, was interviewed. She characterised the atmosphere between delegates from both sides as 'surprisingly cordial' and said that some of them seemd to know each other well and to like each other. Apparently both sides agree that the mediation of the US would be crucial in any future major talks, although some form of UK 'intermediation' is hoped for by both sides, bearing in mind the close US/UK ties. Could this kind of thing be a glimmer of a hope for the future?

Another 'glimmer of hope' which I noticed whilst looking for a web link for the above story is here. A young Arab-Israeli has apparently become popular with Israeli youth, having just won a popular Israeli TV 'reality show'; the prize is to become a presenter on an Israeli youth TV channel.

Friday, 28 November 2003

Northern Ireland elections

Here is a link to results as they come in. For comment on what has happened, a good source is sluggerotoole.

I suspect like many British people who don't live in Northern Ireland, or have much connection with contemporary Ireland (the whole island, that is), I have only a limited interest in what happens there. The interminable nature of the 'troubles' has probably reduced whatever greater interest I may once have had in the matter. My knowledge of the complexities of Northern Irish politics, within the province and as they relate to the Republic of ireland, is scant.

On the other hand, I know it is important - if only because of the ever-present risk the 'troubles' might again cross the Irish Sea to pollute the relatively peaceful political scene, by comparison, in England, Scotland and Wales. However, I can't disguise my wish that the whole problem would simply go away.

With 84 of the 108 results in, the last time I looked, it seems that the big gainers this time around are the DUP (led by the Rev Ian Paisley) and Sinn Fein (led by Gerry Adams). The two main moderate 'Unionist' and 'Nationalist' parties, the UUP and the SDLP, seem to have lost some support, specially the latter. There have been occasions in the past when seemingly intractable opponents have made surprising progress in resolving their disputes and 'concocting' a modus operandi in which the two main communities could live in harmony, but it requires a leap of faith at present to believe that the DUP and Sinn Fein can do so.
Hiatus in posting

I haven't posted in about a week, until earlier today. In fact I have not been away, nor ill - simply allowing real life to intrude for a while. Quite a lot of things that needed doing have now been done, although I still have some more personal 'catching up' to do. In any case, I hope to be posting here fairly regularly until next Thursday or Friday, when I shall be away for a long weekend.

Thursday, 20 November 2003

Istanbul terrorism - 2 more major bomb incidents this morning

I just heard on BBC News24 that there have been two further bombings in Istanbul, following on from those on synagogues last Saturday (when 23 people were killed and between 200 and 300 were injured - 257 is the last figure I have).

In the latest incidents, as reported by the BBC, a bomb was detonated in/near the HSBC bank headquarters building and a couple of minutes later a car bomb was detonated at the British Consulate. Reports so far indicate that at least 15 people have been killed and over 300 injured (although I have also heard that 100 have been injured, so the position remains very unclear). Comments I have heard on BBC News24 seem to indicate the attacks are connected to the visit of US President Bush to the UK, and of course the UK is the closest ally of the US; perhaps having concluded it was unlikely to be successful in attacks within the UK, because security is so high at present, they chose British targets elsewhere thought to be more vulnerable.

A group calling itself the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front (apparently also known by the acronym IBDA-C) seems to have claimed responsibility for last Saturday's outrages and claims also to have links to al-Qa'ida. It is being speculated that al-Qa'ida, by one means or another, is behind this latest series of outrages (at the time of writing it is thought there is a risk that today's incidents are not yet over).

The fact that HSBC in Turkey has been attacked (a British-domiciled financial services institution) is of particular interest to me because it is with that organisation that I spent over 20 years of my professional career. I have just heard (a couple of moments ago) on BBC News24 that the bank has announced that an "unknown number" of its staff in Istanbul have been killed. It is also a fact that whilst no HSBC staff were killed in the World Trade Center outrages of 11th September 2001, its office was completely destroyed that day, too - it was located not in one of the two towers which collpased, but in one of the other low-rise buildings which formed part of the WTC complex (5 WTC).

Wednesday, 19 November 2003

Dollar breaches new low against Euro

The FT reports that the Euro closed yesterday 2 cents higher against the US Dollar at $1.1953. During today it breached $1.1970 and when I checked here just a few minutes ago it had fallen back a little to $1.1920 . The US currency is apparently beginning to experience minor difficulty in financing its short-term debt as capital inflows have slowed significantly recently.

Whilst the US quite obviously remains the engine of the world economy, I have for many years wondered how long its international borrowing could go on. I hardly think that the recent changes signal a dramatic shift, but it is perhaps another glimmer of an indication that a major shift may not be too long delayed. It is only quite recently that the Russians chose to price their oil exports in Euros, rather than the US Dollar, for example.
Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Week 22

... and the third week since I moved from 'Induction' to 'Ongoing Weight Loss'. The result was again not quite as good as I might have hoped for, but at least movement continues in the right direction! During the week I was on step 3 of the OWL carb ladder. I lost 0.4kg (0.8lb) and my weight is now (as at Sunday 16th November) 70.5kg, a reduction of 27.5kg since I began (or 60.6lb) - I now have 5.5kg (12.2lb) to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the week:
- waist down a further 0.2 inches to 32.9 inches (total reduction so far 12.1 inches);
- hips down 0.2 inches to 40.0 inches (total reduction so far 8.5 inches);
- thighs no change at 23.1 inches (total reduction so far 5.4 inches).

OWL step 3 (max. 35g carb a day) allowed me to have small quantities of various kinds of nuts - almonds, hazelnuts, brazils and pecans, for example. As from Monday 17th November I moved to step 4 (max. 40g carb a day) and had a small bowl of strawberries and cream that day; various other berries are now allowed as well.
State visit of US President George W Bush and First Lady Laura Bush to the UK

US President and First Lady Bush arrived in London last evening. President Bush, after a formal greeting by HM Queen Elizabeth II earlier today at Buckingham Palace, gave his first and probably the major speech of his visit early this afternoon at the Banqueting House in London. I watched it live on television and as this BBC report shows, his speech was a powerful and friendly one, showing that the President is well capaple of making his points forcefully in a balanced manner, but larded with humour. He is not, perhaps (and this is a personal assessment), the world's greatest orator, but it is quite clear that he is considerably brighter and quick-witted than some of his public appearances prior to the election or in the early stages of his Presidency might have implied; the interview with David Frost broadcast last Sunday, in advance of the visit, showed this very clearly as well. A few of the more interesting remarks he made include:


"America is fortunate to call this country our closest friend in the world"

'the danger of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction aided by dictators represented "the greatest threat of our age" '
"The evil is in plain sight. The danger only increases with denial. Great responsibilities have fallen once again to the great democracies. We will face these threats with open eyes and we will defeat them."
"The men and women of this kingdom are kind and steadfast and generous and brave. And America is fortunate to call this country our closest friend in the world."


During the visit the BBC is posting a Reporters' log, which as with the one they ran during the recent conflict in Iraq, will probably provide amongst the most up to date reporting available.

It's a pity the visit is so constrained by the need to maintain tight levels of security, but the safety of President Bush and those accompanying him, not to mention that of our own Monarch and senior government officials, is paramount. The official website of the British Monarchy gives a great deal of background to relations between the UK and the US and covers the main points of the visit.

Monday, 17 November 2003

Conrad Black stands down as Chief Executive of publishing group Hollinger

In the UK, the company owns The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and magazine The Spectator. Elsewhere it owns the Chigago Sun-Times and the Jerusalem Post, plus various Canadian newspapers. Hollinger has simultaneously announced it may put itself up for sale. The Telegraph titles are apparently the main profit generators of the group.

The moves follow the results of an internal inquiry, authorised earlier this year by Black himself, which concluded that Lord Black and other executives had received more than $32m (£19m) in unauthorised payments.

The Telegraph is the newspaper I read most frequently, although I have always been well aware of its highly-partisan stance on political and social issues which have often seemed, to a regular reader such as myself, to be heavily influenced by input of one kind or another from Black, even if a contrary stance to what his is thought to have been has sometimes been taken. I wonder whether, in future, the Telegraph will be quite so ready to publish letters written by him outlining some of his 'wacky' ideas for this country's future (i.e. that the UK should withdraw from the EU amd instead apply to join NAFTA).

It will be interesting tomorrow to see how these events are covered in The Daily Telegraph.

Schwarzenegger formally sworn-in as California's new governor


Arnold Schwarzenegger was today sworn-in as governor of California, the most populous state in the United States, and if a country the world's 5th largest economy. He replaces Gray Davis, who was thrown out by the electorate in a 'recall' vote - wish we had that possibility here, sometimes.

Now comes the hard work - following through on his promises and bringing California's runaway deficit under control. Good luck!
"Blogrolling" - problem with a malicious hacker earlier today

I've just been reading the 'Latest News' on the Blogrolling website; Jason confirms that the system was the subject of some kind of malicious attack earlier today - he had 3,000 e-mails (!!) awaiting him when he arose today, poor fellow; I expect my message was one of these. He says he has narrowed down the time-frame when it happened, but is still investigating who was responsible. He was able to restore the corrupted files from an off-site back-up, but this dates from Saturday last so any link updates since then will have been lost - fortunately this doesn't affect me, as I haven't updated my links for a week or so. (I've deleted my earlier posts on this matter, so as not to clutter up my blog)

Sunday, 16 November 2003

Istanbul terrorism - 20 killed. 257 injured

Yesterday morning saw the latest major terrorist outrage, this time in Turkey. Two car bombs exploded outside the city's largest Jewish synagogue, full at the time with celebrants of morning Sabbath day prayers and whilst a Bar-mitzvah ceremony was being conducted.

All the more shocking because Turkey, despite its turbulent history, has a long history of religious tolerance with the Jewish community dating back, at least, until the late 15th century (when there was an infllux of Jewish people expelled from Spain). The Turkish authorities are sceptical it is the work of the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front, who have claimed responsibility, believing instead that the event seems to have been so professionally organised that it is very likely to have international terrorist links. It appears that no part of the world is now now safe from this cancer.

Friday, 14 November 2003

Margaret Hodge, Children's Minister, 'apologises' to abuse victim for her slur

I have put the word 'apologises' in quotes because I want to examine the likely genuineness of her apology. I readily accept that she may be 'sorry' for describing Demetrius Panton as an "extremely disturbed person" - it is what she is actually sorry about that interests me.

According to a BBC report today, her letter of apology includes the following:


"I'd like to apologise unreservedly"

"I am sorry for the distress caused to you in recent days. I'd like to apologise unreservedly for using the words 'is an extremely disturbed person' with reference to you.

"I assure you that I will not repeat these words again."

What interests me is the second sentence, and the reason it has been included. When Margaret Hodge wrote her earlier impertinent letter to BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies, her motive was indisputably to close down the discussion by:
- attempting to intimidate the BBC into silence;
- making remarks about Mr Panton which were obviously not based on fact;
because she assumed that she, as a Government minister, had sufficient influence to preclude either Mr Davies or Mr Panton (should the latter ever become aware of it) retaliating. In both Mr Davies and Mr Panton she found objects of this ministerial arrogance unwilling to accept her actions meekly.

In Mr Panton, in particular, she found (no doubt to her horror) that he was not a 'damaged' individual, but an articulate and very well-educated person who stated, very simply, that he planned to sue Mrs Hodge for defamation. It seems to me that the SOLE reason for that second sentence is that her own legal advisers have concluded that there is a strong possibility that a case brought against their client would succeed. Margaret Hodge is 'sorry' - sorry to have got herself into this awful mess. Her apology is, to me, typical of a person who is arrogant and who has behaved as a bully, but has been found out and FORCED to retract. Whether she is suitable for ANY ministerial position is open to debate, but she is most certainly not fit to remain as Children's Minister.

Thursday, 13 November 2003

Margaret Hodge, Children's Minister, faces growing pressure to explain her behaviour

Read this story in the Guardian about the growing pressure Hodge is coming under to give an explanation both for her dilatory performance whilst Leader of Islington Council and for her attempts to smear one of the victims she ignored as well as her efforts to stifle a BBC investigation.

Wednesday, 12 November 2003

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Week 21

This was the second week since I moved from 'Induction' to 'Ongoing Weight Loss'. The result was not quite as good as the week before, although still reasonable. During the week I was on step 2 of the OWL carb ladder. I lost a further 0.5kg (1.1lb) and my weight is now (as at Sunday 9th November) 70.9kg, a reduction of 27.1kg since I began (or 59.8lb) - I now have 5.9kg (13.0lb) to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the week continue to show reasonable reductions:
- waist down a further 0.2 inches to 33.1 inches (total reduction so far 11.9 inches);
- hips down 0.3 inches to 40.2 inches (total reduction so far 8.3 inches);
- thighs down 0.1 inches to 23.1 inches (total reduction so far 5.4 inches).

On OWL step 2 (max. 30g carb a day), I have been able to eat some fresh cheese (cottage cheese and mozzarella) again - the quanitities allowed are even a little too much for me, indicating just how much my appetite has reduced. But not my feeling of well-being! Since Sunday, I have moved to step 3 (max. 35g carb a day) and I am now allowed to have small quantities of various kinds of nuts - almonds and hazelnuts so far.
How 'Socialists' ignore and then try to smear those who complain - today we are talking about Margaret Hodge

Margaret Hodge is currently Children's Minister in the LabourGovernment. However, between 1982 and 1992 she was Leader of Islington Council (a suburb in north London).

Demetrius Panton was sexually abused whilst a boy and in care at a children's home in Islington (this is not some mere allegation, however, as Mr Panton in 1998 received an out-of-court settlement from Islington and an unqualified apology from the local authority). Some of the abuse occurred during the time when Margaret Hodge was in post as Leader of Islington Council and when Mr Panton had attempted to bring the matter to her attention he was dismissed and no action was taken. A newspaper investigation carried out in 1992 revealed widespread child abuse in Islington Council-run children's homes, a lot of it when Hodge was its Leader. In 1992 Mr Panton had visited Mrs Hodge's 'surgery' whilst she was still Leader of Islington Council and, she not being present, was seen by Steven Twigg, now also a government Junior Minister in her department. He now feigns poor memory of what was discussed at the meeting and 'does not remember' being specifically asked to pass information on to Islington Council's Leader, Margaret Hodge. He says he did not do so, an omission he now 'regrets'. Regrets are really not adequate, though.

Recently the BBC Radio4 'Today' programme has been carrying out an investigation into Margaret Hodge's record as an elected official in the light of her becoming Children's Minister in June 2003, and has high-lighted the apparent neglect of the problems occurring in Islington whilst she was in charge there. Apparently this has provoked the Minister to write to the BBC Chairman, Gavyn Davies (copied to various other BBC executives including Director General Greg Dyke), suggesting that Mr Panton was an "extremely disturbed person" and implying, presumably, that he was not to be relied upon. This despite the compensation paid to him in 1998! As the Daily Telegraph reports today, Det Supt John Sweeney, who led the police investigation, told 'Today':


"I wouldn't say he was disturbed at all."

"I found Demetrious to be very articulate and very measured. I wouldn't say he was disturbed at all. He certainly wanted justice, and I can understand that."

A brief report on the matter is likewise carried in today's Guardian. This smear campaign against someone, an ordinary person (although perhaps not quite so ordinary - see below), who dares to criticise individuals within this present government, coupled with crude attempts to silence the BBC, apparently even mentioning (as a sort of 'killer weapon') the recent tragedy involving weapons expert Dr Kelly, only served to infuriate our national broadcaster. The 'Today' programme was involved in both stories; this emphasises just how valuable this programme is to our democracy in pretty fearlessly holding the government to account. And as for Mr Panton not being 'ordinary', he thankfully seems to have grown up a pretty well-adjusted individual - he is also a special advisor to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. No, Mr Panton is not 'ordinary', nor from all accounts that are worth noting (i.e. not the remarks of the self-serving Margaret Hodge) is he in any way "extremely disturbed".

This latest case is not the first time our government has behaved in this deplorable manner. They attempted to brand as 'racist' quite justified complaints by the family of Rose Addis, a 94-year old lady who had received lamentable service from the NHS. They attributed political motives to some of the injured who dared to speak out after the Paddington rail disaster. No, this government has 'form' in this area.

Unfortunately, despite the latest report yesterday morning on the 'Today' programme, the BBC's own website has NO recent comment on the matter at all, so the intimidation attempted by Margaret Hodge seems to be having major results already. There were two articles, here and here on 1 and 3 July 2003 respectively, which touch tangentially on the issue, but nothing I have been able to trace that is more recent. On the BBC website I did find this morning, though, a sort of 'government press release' from yesterday, advising a breathless public that "Minister for Children Margaret Hodge says the government's aim is to provide affordable pre-school childcare for all families" - naturally this story was also covered widely on BBC televised news bulletins yesterday. But nothing about the suitability of this person, Margaret Hodge, to remain a government Minister.

Monday, 10 November 2003

Iraqi blogger 'Salam Pax' appeared tonight on BBC2 Newsnight

There was a 10 or so minute segment featuring Salam Pax in Baghdad, speaking to camera. The film included his mother in her kitchen, and discussions with various people around the city. It was shown on BBC2 flagship news programme Newsnight this evening (10th November). You should be able to watch the programme by clicking on the link to the 'latest programme', at least until tomorrow evening, when the next day's programme is broadcast.

Here's another BBC link to an earlier article on Salam Pax which may be of interest.
Iraqi Blogs - a fast developing phenomenon

Prior to the invasion of Iraq earlier this year, one Iraqi blogger became very well known ('Salam Pax'); shortly before the culmination of the invasion, he went off air, but fortunately re-appeared some weeks later - eventually being brought to London and writing for a period for the Guardian newspaper. Since returning to Iraq, 'Salam Pax' has posted rather infrequently, most probably because he has to use internet cafes and apparently funds are tight. He no doubt has other more pressing matters on his mind right now, anyway. Unfortunate for us who liked to read what he had to say, but practicalities have probably intervened.

In the last few weeks, several new Iraqi bloggers have appeared, and their personal circumstances seem to allow them to post more or less at will, other time commitments permitting. Firstly, there his Zeyad with his Healing Iraq blog, then a few weeks later we had Alaa with his Mesopotamian blog. Most recently, in the last few days, has appeared a third put up by AYS with his Iraq at a glance blog. Both Zeyad and Alaa seem to have a pretty complete command of English and write very interesting posts. Alaa's use of language can be a bit 'flowery', though - perhaps this is attributable to what he describes as his 'advanced years'; he describes himself as an engineer, but from my own knowledge of Iraqis and Arabs of other nationalities, he is probably a very cultured gentleman quite apart from that. AYS's English is perhaps not quite so good, but it is clear enough what he is trying to say - he is apparently a colleague of Zeyad at the dental clinic they both work at as dentists. I read all three of these blogs very regularly now.

There are a number of other Iraqi blogs which I visit occasionally, for example: Baghdad Burning and G. G, however, has not posted in a couple of months.

There is also the phenomenon of US military personnel posting their own personal blogs. The most famous, until a couple of months ago, was LT Smash who was until recently based in Koweit, but is now back home in San Diego where he continues to write under the name he used prior to his military service as the IndePundit. He is a skillful narrator and writer. There was also the short-lived Boots on the Ground whose somewhat garbled English was interesting to read, although his postings varied from the 'mid-west farmboy' to the 'enthusiastic patriot'; I'm sure it was all sincere, though. I came across LETTERS FROM BAGHDAD recently - this appears to be a genuinely private blog, in that all the messages seem to be addressed to his girlfriend/wife back home although they touch on what is happening in his unit and around him in a very interesting way.

There are a few others I have visited from time to time and I may add an update or amendment of this post in future.

Sunday, 9 November 2003

Bishop of Chester to be 'spoken to by Police' over comments about homosexuals

The Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster, the very 'traditional' Bishop of Chester, is to be spoken to by Police in the course of an inquiry into a complaint made about remarks he made in a newspaper article published on Friday in the Chester Chronicle, according to a report on Ananova.

Cheshire Constabulary confirmed it had received a complaint about the article and was planning to speak to the Bishop. The Police statement, made on behalf of the force by Assistant Chief Constable Graeme Gerrard, said:


Crown Prosecution Service may be asked if any offence committed

"We are aware of the article put in the Chester Chronicle and have received a complaint. We will examine the issues raised in the complaint and will speak to the reporter and the Bishop of Chester before considering any further action."

Bishop Forster included in his article the following:


Views about homosexuality and what constitutes a 'family unit'

"Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorientate themselves. I would encourage them to consider that as an option, but I would not set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject - that's in the area of psychiatric health."
and
"All the sociological evidence is that children fare better when raised in a traditional home by a man and a woman who have committed themselves to life-long marriage."

Bishop Forster was one of nine bishops who, earlier this year, signed a letter opposing the consecration of Dr Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading. Quite apart from its 'anti-gay' aspects, these views are abhorrent to me because they may tend to stigmatise children being brought up, for example, in single parent households or whose parents are not married. Whatever one may think of such arrangements, the children at least are completely innocent.

There is no law in place forbidding negative comment about homosexuals, as there is in the case of matters affecting race or gender. It will be interesting to learn, in due course, what is the outcome of this incident. I hope, at least, that it will lead to a greater awareness of the need to enact legislation to protect homosexuals against this kind of bigotry.
Holyrood Inquiry - the BBC says it will re-consider its refusal to release tapes

Scottish National Party (SNP) leader John Swinney has written to the BBC with a formal request that it release tapes recorded for a documentary on the "devolution project", which included interviews with the late of Donald Dewar and the late Senor Morales, the architect of the project which won the design contest for the new Scottish Parliament building. Because these two gentlemen are no longer available to be called to give evidence before the Inquiry, it seems very reasonable to me (and indeed necessary) for the BBC to comply with the request by the Fraser Inquiry to release the tapes. In his letter, Mr Swinney wrote:


"... allow the people of Scotland to see the whole truth about the Holyrood scandal"

"I have asked that this whole affair be drawn to the attention of the BBC Board of Governors and am pleased that having considered it, they now feel they have to formally examine the decision to withhold the tapes."
and
"This issue has dragged on for too long. It's time for the BBC to recognise that it has to release the tapes and allow the people of Scotland to see the whole truth about the Holyrood scandal."

Quite!

BBC National Governor Sir Robert Smith has now written to Mr Swinney in response:


Will the BBC accede, or continue to stonewall?

"Once the governors have considered this matter in detail, I shall be in a position to respond to you formally on their behalf."

My usual instinct would be to uphold the right of the BBC to refuse to divulge these tapes, but in this instance I have no doubt that the public good will be far better served (and the BBC is a public corporation!) for these tapes to be handed over, and quickly.

Friday, 7 November 2003

Michael Portillo MP to stand down from Parliament at the next election

Michael Portillo announced today that he plans to withdraw from Parliament at the next election, whenever that is called. I am sorry about this, but in no way surprised - I expected it. His announcement was prompted, he tells us, because he had been invited by Mr Michael Howard, new Leader of the Conservative Party, to join his Shadow Cabinet. Being an honourable man, Mr Portillo felt duty-bound to advise Mr Howard of his longer-term intentions, rather than join his Shadow Cabinet, only to leave it when the next election is called.

As for me not being surprised, I am only surprised he stuck it out so long. It is clear that he is not liked by the bulk of the current membership of the Party - I repeat what I said a couple of days ago, in a slightly different context: "the loss is far greater to the Party than I expect it is to Portillo". I have little doubt that Mr Portillo will employ his time usefully in the interests of his constituents in Kensington & Chelsea in the time he remains an MP and that he will continue to be an admirable figure in whatever he chooses to do after that.

The BBC has put up a profile and the Telegraph lists some of his more memorable comments. Both are interesting to read, but of course neither is an 'obituary' - he will, I hope, be around for a long time to come.
Allegations involving a 'senior member' of the British Royal Family

I have noticed over the past couple of weeks that a number of visitors to this site have arrived here as a result of search engine queries relating to 'royal allegations' or some such; these visits have accelerated today after information has been published yesterday in the media.

For the sake of good order, I wish to advise that I have no plans at this time to make any comment on the matter whatsoever.
Holyrood Inquiry - the saga continues - another politician "in the frame"

Evidence presented to the Holyrood Inquiry yesterday seems to put Wendy Alexander in the frame as being 'in a rush' to get the decision, about where to site the Parliament building, made quickly in order to "to maintain momentum and not let the grass grow under our feet". This article in the Scotsman highlights some interesting new evidence. The inquiry was shown an internal Scottish Office minute from 4 September, 1997, giving details of a meeting between ministers, advisers and civil servants to discuss progress on the three sites then under discussion - Calton Hill, Leith and Haymarket. The minute stated:


Keep up the momentum!

"Ms Alexander suggested that, to maintain momentum, it was important that the announcement be made before the Secretary of State left for America on 20 September, particularly as he would be going on his return directly to the party conference."

The report also indicates that Dewar was concerned that the announcement of a choice of site so soon after the untimely death of Diana, Princess of Wales would be 'tasteless' It seems such scruples did not last for very long.

After all, it's only money. Our money, of course, not theirs! Don't worry, though, the 'socialists' are looking out for us ... (Ed: quit the jokeyness at once!). OK, boss.

Thursday, 6 November 2003

Michael Howard has become Leader of the Conservative Party

Amongst other remarks he made when his elevation to Leader was announced, Mr Howard included these sentiments:


A new start?

"And when that happens - indeed even when it does not happen - there are things we will need to remember. That we are a party broad and generous; broad in appeal and generous in outlook."

I will be watching closely to see if these fine words are translated into action in terms of policy how they deal with upcoming issues. It is too soon to say I am 'cautiously hopeful', but at least I can see I might become so.
The U.S. and its bizarre 'plea bargain' system of criminal justice

Firstly, I am vehemently opposed to to the use of capital punishment - state sanctioned killing, in peacetime, is no different (in the moral universe I inhabit) than killing committed by individuals or groups.

The 'Green River' killer, Gary Ridgway, yesterday agreed to statements read out in court by prosecutor Jeff Baird in front of Judge Richard Jones in the King County Superior Court (State of Washington), as part of his plea bargain agreement with state prosecutors, to avoid the death penalty. He admits to killing 48 women.

It is only recently that DNA evidence linked Ridgway to the killings (by strangulation), which took place betwen 1982 and 1984. He was arrested in 2001. Some of Ridgway's statements, as quoted in a BBC report:


The mindset of a pitiless killer

"I wanted to kill as many women as I thought were prostitutes as I possibly could."

"Most of the time I killed them the first time I met them, and I do not have a good memory of their faces."

"I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex."

"I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."

So, not a character to elicit much sympathy.

I imagine the reason for the prosectuion agreeing to this plea bargain is that the DNA evidence is not strong enough to convict him outright - and for him to be executed outright. Or perhaps there are statute of limitations constraints. Not that I am encouraging the use of the death penalty, quite the reverse, but the whole idea of agreeing not to use the legal sanction in place, specifically because the killer has admitted to the killings is a logic a little beyond my undertanding. I would far rather that the death penalty was abolished completely in the United States, but while it is in place it seems hypocritical to do this kind of deal with a man who is quite obviously evil. From the way the court proceedings were conducted, including the participation of Ridgway (all seen on television here), it is clear he is not 'mad', nor 'unfit to plead'. It is also perplexing to me that Ridgway still wants to live, albeit incarcerated for the rest of his life, rather than take the quick route out.

Is it because he is white and quite a lot of the relatives I saw in the courtroom are black? Or is there some other aspect I am missing? Would he have received the same treatment in another part of the United States?

Wednesday, 5 November 2003

All seems quiet - haven't heard any fireworks for around 15 minutes

.... so it's about time for me to take the 'doggette' for her final walk and for me to get to bed soon after we get back.
Atkins Diet - BBC2 'Money Programme' broadcast today at 7.30pm

Thie is the text of an e-mail I just sent to the link from the BBC 'Money Programme' website:



Hello

I have just watched your programme with much interest - I am an Atkins dieter.

It was very enjoyable, but I half-expected to hear that the diet would be debunked on a factual basis. True, there were lots of accusations - which I've heard MANY times before - but in reality it seemed just to be peddlers of carbohydrates bleating about the crisis in their markets.

As a committed free-marketeer I have some advice for potato and grain growers - switch to other things for at least part of your production, for example salads and some other vegetables which aren't saturated with carbs generally or sugar in particular (i.e. carrots). That's the 'business' bit, that should appeal to the food-producers' accountants.

I started the diet on 15 June 2003 when my weight was 216 lb - my height is 5' 7" and I am 51 years old. As at Sunday 2nd November I had lost almost 59 lb. I have about 14 lb left to reach my target.

Since about 2 weeks I moved from the 'Induction' phase to the 'Ongoing Weight Loss' stage. I expect to stay on this until mid-December when my target is to have about 7 or 8 lb left to lose. I will then move to 'Pre-maintenance' and plan to take until end-March to reach my target (i.e. over about 3 1/2 months).

I had my blood checked out about 8 weeks ago and all my cholesterol levels (HDL/LDL) are now 'normal' as, of course, is my blood pressure. I check my BP at home regularly using a home monitor I have had for years. I feel better now than I have for many years and have the great morale boost of having lost over 11 inches on my waist and 8 inches on my hips and appropriate amounts elsewhere.

The purchase of a new wardrobe, still continuing, is a very enjoyable experience - and as I live entirely without any kind of credit (I must be one of the few people who can genuinely say this!) I am entirely without guilt at my current spending spree. I use credit cards only as a convenience and the balances are settled automatically by direct debits or the equivalent (in certain other countries).

As one of those featured on the programme said, if hard evidence (not just scare stories by people with vested interests) is presented showing the diet to be dangerous in the long-term then I shall certainly study it very carefully before continuing with the diet. Meanwhile, I plan to continue eating according to Dr Atkins principles for the rest of my life. Personally I have not felt the need to indulge in any of the low-carb products becoming more widely available - I have no 'cravings' whatsoever. The only indulgence I plan is to have 1 (repeat 1) small roast potato on Christmas Day. I am perfectly happy with my new diet - for someone who has been a perpetual snacker all his life until now, that is pretty incredible - even to me.

Thanks again for a most interesting programme.

Sincerely
Bill Cameron



Holyrood Inquiry - what I suspected all along

It starts to get quite personal. Lord Fraser said:


A pretty obvious inference

“It might appear to a member of the public that this whole exercise was something of a sham and misleading."

- referring to the competition to choose a site for the new Scottish Parliament building.
"Great Britain 5th for e-government"

- and top for "willingness to interact with citizens over the net". Interesting article here - I don't know if there's a permalink, so it may disappear off the page quickly.




Luke Walmsley
Rest in Peace




I've been trying to work out how to react to this. It is simply grotesque and outrageous.

It is not even as if horrors affecting children are specially unusual nowadays. There's this, this and this - and many others. No more!
'Guy Fawkes Day' photographs taken at Nairn shore

The photograph shows the view from the viewpoint distance marker to the harbour and the sand dunes at Findhorn beyond it.



There are some more photographs here.
Anti-gay storm in Scottish Parliament equal opportunities committee meeting

The BBC is reporting a homophobic outburst from Ghulam Nabi of the UK Islamic Mission, who stated to the committee:


Islamic homophobia

"... gay couples do not serve any purpose in society."

Charming!

And just so our friends in the Roman Catholic Church don't feel left out, here's what Catholic priest John Keenan said, adding his criticisms to the plans to give homosexual couples equal legal rights:


Roman Catholic homophobia

"marriage between man and woman is the best context for...the proper development of society."


It's really just like in the 'good old days' of the late and much-unlamented Cardinal Thomas Winning.
Is Michael Portillo scheduled for a shock return to front-bench politics?

Personally I hope so, although I am not exactly holding my breath. It was notable that in 'Breakfast with Frost' last Sunday morning, he did not categorically deny that he would decline to serve in a Michael Howard Shadow Cabinet, although he has recently categorically denied that he envisages ever becoming Leader of the Conservative Party - prior to the recent vote of confidence on Iain Duncan Smith he stated candidly, and correctly, that there was no point in putting his name forward because he did not have sufficient support within the Party. Unpalatable, and the loss is far greater to the Party than I expect it is to Portillo, but it's a fact. What he did say though, during the David Frost session, was that he did not expect to receive a call from Michael Howard, although he strongly endorsed his candidature.

However, this article in DeHavilland which I spotted a little while ago gives some hope that this may yet occur and they speculate he may replace Oliver Letwin as Shadow Home Secretary, who is widely thought to be slated for the Shadow Chancellor position. We can but live in hope!
BBC Radio Scotland on Freeview

I mentioned a little further down the page that BBC Radio Scotland is organising a 'Blogday' today, for 16 bloggers based in Scotland. When I was contacted about this, a week or so ago I think, I mentioned that I rarely if ever listened to Radio Scotland (I know, I'm rapping my knuckles as I type!), mainly being a Radio4 or Radio3 person - shows my vintage, I suppose. Anyway, I noticed a few weeks ago when I last updated my Freeview playlist that BBC Radio Scotland has been added to the menu and is on Freeview 89, if anyone is interested.

Of course, the digital quality of Freeview means it is completely distortion-free, which can sometimes be a problem with FM in certain weather conditions. In this part of Scotland, too, we don't yet receive digital radio broadcasts per se, so the only way of receiving them is on Freeview (and probably on satellite, too, but as I don't have that wired in - there's a dish on the roof of our building - I'm not certain about that). Another radio channel I now listen to pretty frequently is the BBC World Service (Freeview 80), as coverage on medium wave up our way is pretty sporadic and it's nearly impossible to pick up on Short Wave as the beams aren't directed at us.

Now, to bring this back more or less 'on topic' (!), I thought as part of the 'Blogday' thingie I should at least make an effort and listen to BBC Radio Scotland at least a little - and indeed the morning programme I'm listening to at present is quite interesting in parts, so perhaps I'll flick the switches a little more in future. I tend to listen to it, when I do, in the car as the FM reception is sometimes better than on the other channels I listen to, for example Classic FM, when I'm driving in remote areas. Even on the A9 there is a bit just north of Bruar for about 20 or 30 miles where even Long Wave reception becomes impossible because of the deep valleys the road passes through - so then I resort to the CD.
"The dividends are a comin' in"

I've just been to the mailbox to retrieve LOADS of junk mail and a few more relevant things - a few more dividend statements and a couple of investment statements. This is the time of year when a lot of companies declare their interims and cumulatively they can be quite 'interesting'. The investment statements, whilst not exactly great, are a lot better than they were in the spring so, at least on paper, the news remains pretty good. As a long-term investor I don't pay too much attention to short-term movements, whether up or down, but there's no denying it is much better to be aware of a slight upward trend rather than the reverse! Now, breakfast for me and the 'doggette' is my mission - yes, I know it's not exactly day-break (even in these semi-arctic latitudes!!), but I tend to be late-ish to bed and late-ish to rise, or a least it is when I get going properly for the day.
Guy Fawkes and the 'Gunpowder Plot'

Yesterday was the 398th anniversary of the arrest of Guy Fawkes, whose plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament had been discovered before it could be carried out. Nowadays, this plot is commemorated by fireworks on the evening of 5th November, as well as by the burning of a ‘guy’ (or effigy of Guy Fawkes) atop a bonfire of wood and whatever other inflammable material can be found. Since moving to live in Nairn about three years ago, I've noticed that there is always a pyre of wood on the beach, made out of driftwood (this is less than about 100 yards from my windows so it would be good to get a good view of it burning - I imagine safety rules prevent this). My childhood memories of this evening are very good – apart from the apples obtained by ‘ducking’ for them on Halloween on 31st October, there always seemed to be toffee apples as well, a particular seasonal treat.

However, this evening I’ll make sure that I’m indoors before it gets too dark and with all the curtains and blinds drawn. Personally I love to see fireworks go off, and where I live, overlooking a large open links close to the sea and next to a cricket pitch, I get a superb view of any fireworks being let off in many parts of the town. However, my dog Tara has a completely different viewpoint! She is, like most dogs, terrified of fireworks and the noise and flashes they make, so it is kinder to protect her from them. I’ll take her out for the last walk of the day quite late in the evening, when I hope all the fireworks will have been used.

There’s some more historical background about the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ and Halloween here, if you want to read more about it.
Today is ‘Blogday’

BBC Radio Scotland is launching its ‘Blogday’ today in preparation for a programme on the subject of blogging in Scotland, which is to be broadcast early next month (I think on 5th December).

A number of ‘blogs’ by people living in Scotland have been selected for inclusion, of which my little ‘blog’ is one, but we are asked to post normally (if indeed posting a blog at all could be considered ‘normal’!) throughout the day so that a snapshot of a day in the life of a group of bloggers can be used as the basis for the programme. Apart from anything else, the list of those bloggers taking part will prove useful to me in identifying some worthwhile places to visit from time to time. My own existing links to blogs are deliberately relatively few, and very much US-based, but it is always good to learn about other worthwhile blogs – specially those closer to home. The producer of the programme, Margaret Telfer, has launched her own blog as part of the experiment and it can be found at littleblip.co.uk and the list of participating bloggers can be found here.
Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Week 20

This was the first full week since I moved from 'Induction' to 'Ongoing Weight Loss' and even with the potential for slippage, as I was away for the weekend, I had a pretty good result whilst still on step 1 of the OWL carb ladder as I lost a further 0.6kg (1.4lb) in the past week and my weight is now (as at Sunday 2nd November) 71.4kg, a reduction of 26.6kg since I began (or 58.7lb) - I now have 6.4kg (14.1lb) to reach my target of 65kg. Once again, measurement indicators for the week show moderate, but steady, reductions:
- waist down a further 0.2 inches to 33.3 inches (total reduction so far 11.7 inches);
- hips down 0.3 inches to 40.5 inches (total reduction so far 8.0 inches);
- thighs down 0.1 inches to 23.2 inches (total reduction so far 5.3 inches).

As I have been on OWL step 1 (max. 25g carb a day), I have been enjoying some of the cooked vegetables I haven't been able to have for several months (broccoli, asparagus, French beans, etc), and even a medium tomato every couple of days, plus small additional amounts of salads. I’ve decided to proceed in the coming week to step 2 (fresh cheeses, such as cottage cheese and mozzarella for example), beginning 3 November, with a max. of 30g carb a day, rather than by-passing that for nuts, which is stage 3 of the ladder. I’ll reserve that treat for the following week!

It remains my target to move to 'Pre-Maintenance' by mid-December, when I hope to have only 7-8lb left to lose, and the remaining target loss over the following 3 1/2 months to about end-March 2004, when I’ll enter the ‘Lifetime Maintenance’ phase.

As well as posting a weekly summary of my progress on ‘Atkins’ here, I also post a more detailed diary in the Atkins Bulletin Board, usually on a weekly basis as well , which gives sample daily menus and this may dispel some of the myths about this diet. If you scroll right down to the bottom of the page there you’ll see a before/after picture which shows the dramatic physical changes I’ve experienced – the ‘after’ picture was taken toward the end of September so there has obviously been some more change since then, although I’ll be updating this photograph again shortly.

I’m looking forward to watching the programme this evening on BBC2 at 7.30pm – I’ll probably be having my Atkins-style dinner whilst watching it!

Tuesday, 4 November 2003

Holyrood Inquiry - Dewar decision on Scottish Parliament building pinpointed

Today's proceedings, discussed in this article in the Scotsman, revealed further clues about what really happened. Mr Gordon, a senior civil servant, said:


Politics came before the public interest

“I’m not sure whether a commitment had been given but there was a target to have the site of the Parliament decided before the second reading of the Scotland Bill in the second week of January 1998.”
and
“It would be a key political milestone, that second reading, and it would be unfortunate if a lot of the attention at that time was still taken up by there not having been a decision yet on the site for the Scottish Parliament.”

It is easy to seem grandiloquent, as Dewar increasingly came to be seen prior to his demise (but never by me), when the assets being handled for reasons of political expediency belong to other people and not to the individual making the decision. It is beginning to sound as if our dear Prime Minister allowed his Secretary of State for Scotland at the then Scottish Office to conduct himself like a feudal chieftain given charge of a province in a mediaeval kingdom!
Amanda Platell quits the Conservatives - now the healing can begin!

Ms Platell writes what I would describe as a joke article in the Guardian newspaper, announcing her resignation from the Conservative Party, saying that she is 'disgusted' by the treatment meted out to Iain Duncan Smith.

This is the lady, remember, who oversaw William Hague's media profile during the time he was Leader of the Conservative Party. Hague started off, after the massive defeat of the 1997 election, as an apparently moderate right-of-centre Conservative and by the end of year two, or the beginning of year three, of his tenure had taken the Party considerably further to the right in a deluded attempt to galvanise the anti-European, anti-immigration vote. It seems clear that Ms Platell was, at least partially, the architect of this disastrous policy. And with the elevation of Iain Duncan Smith to the Leadership in 2001 the Party's far-right consolidated their position, as a result of the ridiculously short-sighted leadership election rules foisted on the Party by William Hague. If the Party wishes only to talk to itself this may have been acceptable, but the Party's purpose, surely, was to attract a lot of people who had either never or had formerly voted 'Conservative'. So the election of Iain Duncan Smith was essentially a narcissistic folly - which has, thankfully, now been corrected.

Ms Platell will undoubtedly continue to 'gripe' from the sidelines, but I hope the Conservative Party can now get on with the business of developing policies for a modern Britain.
Canon Gene Robinson is consecrated a Bishop - and controversy ensues

Canon Gene Robinson was consecrated a Bishop in New Hampshire over the weekend. As the first openly gay man to become a Bishop, this was bound to cause controversy. There is a very good round-up of the various reactions to his consecration from The Witness, a newspaper in Natal, South Africa. There are some interesting letters on the subject from some of their readers.

The video clips I have seen of the consecration service in the past couple of days show what seems to be a huge crowd of people, all seemingly overjoyed at the elevation of this good man. A wide mixture of people seemed to share the joy, including his former wife and their child(ren?).

I doubt very much whether the bleatings of the Anglican 'conservatives' (aka 'homophobes') will divert the North American Episcopate from its course of action.
The future for the Conservative Party - if it wants to have one

I've only just had a chance to start reading this week's Economist magazine, but as usual they have some penetrating things to say, no more so than its reaction to the parliamentary 'putsch' last week to oust the hapless Mr Iain Duncan Smith and, at the time of writing, the seemingly unstoppable impetus to replace him with one of yesterday's men, Mr Michael Howard. I've written about this last week, as the events were unfolding, so I won't go into enormous detail here.

Some of the links to Economist articles below may perhaps not be accessible to non-subscribers; I'm sorry about this. For my own part, I find this magazine essential reading and have done do for many years.

The first Leader Now for the Hard Part in the Economist says, in summary (mine), that whilst replacing Duncan Smith is a positive step, the difficulties the Conservative Party faces are not in any way solely those due to him. This brief quotation rings so true with my own experiences as an erstwhile Conservative Party activist, in the attitudes of where and with whom we should concentrate our efforts:


Remoteness and arrogance

"The harsher truth is that would-be Tory MPs lack the required patience and humility, while few of those who are already MPs are prepared to stray beyond their comfort zones of genteel constituency and clubby Westminster."

There are a couple of other very interesting articles(Over to Howard and A flight to competence - Bagehot) which I think it worthwhile to read - I don't agree with everything they say, but above all they follow the Economist policy of attempting to be objective in what they report.
Is the 'War on Terrorism' fatally corrupting our systems of justice?

I was jolted out of my morning torpor today by the subject of "Thought for the Day", a regular slot at around 7.45am on BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme. The speaker took as his topic a recent decision before The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) that the government was right to hold a number of individuals. The ten suspected international terrorists being held without trial have thus lost their appeal against their detention. You can read full details of this case, or at least as full as current tenets of British justice deign to allow us to know in this BBC report and a very forthright condemnation of the whole proceedings in a press release issued by Amnesty International.

I wrote about this whole issue and the legal preparatory work that seemed to be being laid in the wake of '9/11' to combat terrorism, and the dangers that some of these steps represented for the very freedoms our government purports to be trying to protect on our behalf, soon after the event in September 2001 and much more recently in January 2003 on my other main website.

Whilst I strongly agree on the need to protect ourselves against extremists, or 'terrorists' if you will in this context, I do wonder at the docility of most of my fellow citizens in the face of what is being done their names. Should the 'war on terrorism' ever be won, how ready do you think our democratically elected government and our appointed judicial system will be, either or both of them, to repeal the draconian pieces of legislation which underpin this sinister phase in our country's history? I find it quite extraordinary, also, that the level of discussion in the press and the media generally is so modest and only mildly critical (in some quarters) - if we did not have a Labour government in power at present, and instead had a Conservative government in power, I do wonder whether the media and public reaction would have been quite the same.

Monday, 3 November 2003

Light 'blogging' today

Well, I'm glad to say that my weekend down at Pitlochry for the NTS members' centre conference was both enjoyable and useful this time, much more so than when I last attended it two years ago. There was a particularly useful discussion on insurance, something that is becoming increasingly important in the light of recent legislation and changes in the social climate. I even managed to have a relatively clear run on the A9 in both directions as the traffic was fast-moving and well spaced so those who wanted to overtake could do so safely.

Apart from doing some shopping this morning, my most important task has been to pick up my dog Tara from the kennels. She is always looked after well there, but it is nice to have her back.

This afterrnoon I must prepare my report as Treasurer for our local wine-tasting group as we have a committee meeting this evening. Last Monday we had our monthly tasting, this time of "Gold Medal" wines. One of our members has been a judge at the medal award tastings down in England for the past several years and over the course of the week he is there each year, lucky man, is able to taste a vast range of wines. Those he selected for us to taste were uniformly excellent, in all the price ranges he chose, and none was ludicrously expensive - well, almost none! The final wine he showed us, not really part of the formal tasting, was something to savour at the end and was a complete novelty to me and most of the others there. It was an 'ice-wine' from Canada, produced in British Columbia. The grapes are picked only when the air temperature drops below -10 degC for several hours, so the sugars and flavours become very concentrated. The result is light, fragrant and unctuous wine. The month before we were privileged to have as our guest speaker a South African 'Master of Wine', based in London, who showed us some excellent South African wines; her knowledge of wines seems to be enormous and as a public speaker she was first-rate.