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

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

"You do not have to say anything but ...

... it may harm your defence if you do not now mention something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence." - the phrase with which Lord Levy will have been confronted, for a second time, earlier today.

Lord Levy was arrested today on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in relation to the 'cash for honours' inquiry. He was later bailed. Whether he will ever be prosecuted will depend on whether the CPS feel there is a case to answer, when the police eventually present their evidence. I imagine there is quiet panic tonight at 10 Downing Street, despite the public display of calm. If it were not for the damage that this whole affair is already causing to the fabric of public life in the UK then I would be grimly amused by the sordid reality of the way this government conducts its, and our, affairs.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Gay rights in Nigeria, such as they are, are likely to be severely curtailed

A Bill currently being debated by the Nigerian Parliament will impose very severe sanctions on all aspects of homosexual expression:

The Bill is entitled: “The Prohibition of Relationships Between Persons of the Same Sex, Celebration of Marriage by Them, and for Other Matters Connected Therewith.”

The draconian measure will, quite apart from its principal aims as outlined in the title, outlaw membership of a gay group, attending a gay meeting or protest, advocating gay equality, donating money to a gay organisation, hosting or visiting a gay website, the publication or possession of gay safer sex advice, renting or selling a property to a gay couple, expressions of same-sex love in letters or emails, attending a same-sex marriage or blessing ceremony, screening or watching a gay movie, taking or possessing photos of a gay couple, and publishing, selling or loaning a gay book or video.

Even mere socialising by two or more gay people is likely to be interpreted as illegal.

The Bill widens Nigeria’s already harsh anti-gay laws, to criminalise any expression, public or private, of homosexuality. Attending a private gathering of gay people, or imparting HIV prevention information to a gay person, will also become a crime.

Outrageously this Bill is backed by the Anglican Church in Nigeria and by its notoriously homophobic Archbishop, Peter Akinola. If there is to be a rift in the Anglican Communion worldwide, then I think it is high time that the Anglican Church in the UK and in the United States started to face up to this sinister development and sever all ties with it Nigerian sister organisation. The Archbishop of Canterbury should reassess fundamentally where he is leading his Church and proclaim that he will not maintain relations with parts of the Anglican Communion which support such pernicious policies.

Similarly it is high time that the UK takes a stand and tables a motion to suspend Nigeria from membership of the Commonwealth at the next CHOGM if it passes this Bill into law; if fellow Commonwealth members are unwilling to agree to the suspension of Nigeria in these circumstances it is my view that the UK must consider seriously whether its own continuing membership of that organisation is tenable.

Hypocrisy 101 - 'green' advisor commutes 500 miles by air weekly

A senior civil servant reportedly commutes from his home in Gloucestershire to Edinburgh on a weekly basis where he works for the Scottish Executive as head of the Environment and Rural Affairs Department; he was formerly a member of the sustainability commission and said then that the explosion in low-cost air travel was "unsustainable". The gentleman in question, Mr Richard Wakeford, has declined to comment. The Scottish Executive is quoted as saying:

"The Scottish Executive is committed to attracting talented people to work in Scotland.

"We recognise the skills, experience and contribution that people who live outside Scotland can bring to the Executive, and that there may be instances where personal circumstances prevent them from relocating here."

Low Council Tax rise - upcoming Scottish Parliament elction. Coincidence? Hardly!

And so the political charade in Scotland takes the course it last took in the run-up to the last elections for the Scottish Parliament in 2003 if my memory is accurate. Scottish Border's Council has announced its 'lowest ever' increase in Council Tax of only 1.9 per cent. In fact I recall the same pattern of low Council Tax increases before the 1999 and 1995 local council elections, too. Quite obviously our policiticans take the electorate for complete fools, being fully aware that they will simply be grateful for one year's respite (relatively speaking) from the inexorable rise in Council Taxes, knowing full well that this year's 'generosity' will be more than recouped the following year with probable swingeing increases, the next elections being a safe three and half years away by that time.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Scottish Executive ultra vires in Adoption Act?

In Today's Sunday Times (perhaps only the Scottish edition, I'm not sure) there is an interesting slant on the 'gay adoption' dispute. Last year the Scottish Parliament passed the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act under which Roman Catholic adoption agencies were granted the right to refer homosexual couples to other agencies. Readers will know (specially if they have read this) what my views are on this subject; I won't go over that again.

However the Sunday Times article includes an interesting comment: "However, because adoption is a reserved matter, Westminster can override Scottish legislation.". Now I am not a constitutional (or any other kind of) lawyer, but it seems to me that the premise of this analysis is fundamentally wrong. My reading of what that implies is that in matters which are 'reserved' to Westminster the Scottish Parliament does not have the right, under the Scotland Act, to legislate. Period. Presumably the House of Commons/House of Lords (i.e. 'Westminster') could grant the Scottish parliament specific powers to legislate in reserved matters either by amending the Scotland Act, or by some other kind of mechanism, but so far as I am aware has not done so. Mind you that would not be the only occasion that the terms of the Scotland Act have been flouted by the Scottish Parliament, with nothing being done at Westminster to rein the Edinburgh 'cowboys' in! (see [*] below)

The situation is not, so far as I can see, in any way analagous to the cases where the Scottish Parliament has decided to allow the Westminster parliament to legislate on its behalf in matters which are devolved to it under the Scotland Act; as for example happened in the case of the Civil Partnerships Act and a few other cases since the Scottish Parliament was legislated into being by the Scotland Act.

[*] - The specific case I am thinking of is the clause in the Scotland Act that covers representation by MPs from Scottish constituencies at Westminster and projects a reduction in the number of MPs from Scotland some years after the coming into being of the Scottish Parliament (and which will take effect at the next Westminster general election, probably in 2009 or 2010) from the current 72 to 59, to take account of the fact that many areas of Scottish domestic legislative powers will now be devolved to Edinburgh. That reduction in Westminster representation from Scotland was supposed, under the Scotland Act, to have resulted in a parallel reduction in the numbers of MSPs at Edinburgh from 129 to 108. However, MSPs voted a couple of years ago to ignore this and to continue to ask the Scots to continue to pay for the additional 21 MSPs, despite the fact that this flouts the terms of the Scotland Act. So far Parliament at Westminster, likewise of course our sorry excuse for a British government, has declined to tackle this affront to its authority and the Labour government seems unwilling to [further] jeopardise its electoral prospects in the upcoming (in May 2007) Scotish Parliament elections by highlighting the matter.

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Will 'News International' itself be punished in phone-tap scandal?

OK, so a journalist and a private investigator have been gaoled and the Editor of the News of the World has resigned. But what, if anything, will happen to sanction the conduct of the proprietors of the newspaper, News International (i.e. the Murdoch clan and other investors), who allowed (more like 'encouraged') their underlings to indulge in questionnable activities intended to boost circulation, advertising revenues and ultimately profits? I suspect the answer is nothing.

I have never purchased, or read in over forty-five years, the News of the World and I stopped taking The Times soon after it was acquired by the same owners; for similar reasons I do not subscribe to Sky; Murdoch is the same creature, remember, who controls the US Fox Network. Like all his business enterprises they are devoted to reactionary politics and in the case of the UK fundamentally opposed to our very system of government; naturally I make no suggestion that he/News International should not be allowed to continue their business activities, I just wish that more people would choose not to use their products.

Friday, 26 January 2007

Talking Dogs ... and the 'gay adoption' row

I know I should really do a post on the current 'issue' plaguing British politics, the attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to subvert a law about to take effect in Britain permitting gay couples, as couples rather than individuals, from being candidates to adopt children, but I simply can't be bothered; I think most readers of this blog will know what my attitude is in this debate - that the interests of the children are paramount and that the best surrogate parents (whoever they are and whatever their genders) that can be found are the most appropriate. Attempting to exclude whole categories of potential adopters simply because a religious cult doesn't like their 'lifestyle' is not in keeping with the UK being a secular, rather than a theocratic, country. Perhaps the Roman Catholic, Church of England and now some Moslem leaders should take themselves off to a true theocracy such as Iran where they can practice their religious bigotry and leave the rest of us in peace. I know I said above that I just couldn't be bothered to write about this, and I just did. So? Whatja gonna do about it?

I think this little video adds a suitably lighter (if idiotic) tone to this Friday afternoon and is an appropriate antidote to the nonsense I've been reading in the past few days on the 'gay adoption' row:

(thru Toby at VividBlurry)

Monday, 22 January 2007

Valencia to Mazarron - and the journey is over

(See UPDATE at end)

The final leg of the journey was relatively brief - about 4 hours in all. The motorways were generally good, although there is a VERY rough section around Alicante where a lot of road works are going on; no doubt in six months or so it will be finished and make driving that section much more relaxing.

On my way down I stopped at a place called Alhama de Murcia to do some supermarket shopping for the first few days - Mercadona (one of the bigger Spanish supermarket chains) have a branch there and once I negotiated my way to the underground car park (a lady who was just about to leave kindly took my ticket from the machine, saving me the trouble of getting out of the car to get it myself - this is obviously a similar situation which I've faced at all the motorway toll booths for the past several days) I was able to stock up with the basic essentials - although when I arrived at the house it was already fairly well stocked so I shall use some of what is there too and replace it before I leave.

Apart from visiting a few people I know very locally and passing by my own little house (in course of construction) I hardly stepped outside the garden the whole weekend, other than to take the dog for walks. I was simply enjoying being here and not having to make another lengthy drive.

The weather is very comfortably warm during the day - around 21 or 22 degrees during the day, but it does get very cold once the sun goes down, making the hot/cold central air-conditioning unit in the house more of a necessity than a luxury. I am pretty comfortably installed - the house isn´t perhaps funrnished or equipped as fully as I plan to do for my own little house when it´s ready, but all the essentials are there, the bed is comfortable and the shower is very satisfactory; with those basics in place life seems a whole lot more rosy!

I´ve just been into the bank here to get rid of quite a bit of the cash in Euros that I was carrying - just as at home it´s obviously not good, nor necessary to carry too much cash around all the time, or even to leave it at the house, however secure that is. Next job will be to retrieve my mailbox key, which I reserved when I was here last May; the office will just have opened 15 minutes ago. Later today I´ll visit the internet service provider (who also does TV and telephone) for my Country Club and hope to be able to arrange temporary internet access from the house I´m staying in for the three months I´m here; that will avoid having to visit the internet café where this is currently being written. I am told the ISP is very obliging and will be able to let me subscribe on a temporary basis, suspending my subscription when I´m away and reconnecting me at my own house later this year when it´s ready. Apparently all the cabling for telecomms to the properties in the Country Club is fibre-optic and the quality is therefore high; speeds not as high as at home (8Mb), but a very acceptable 512Kb - that´s what my broadband at home was at the very beginning.

Right, I must get off to the residents´ office to get my mailbox key, then a little walk with the dog (currently asleep in the car).

UPDATE: (Monday 22JAN07 19.07 CET) Well I visited the ISP this afternoon at about 4.35pm and explained I wanted temporary internet connection in the house I'm renting, then to suspend the account in April when I return to the UK and to have it re-instated at my own house around the end of the year. The man thought for a few moments; I asked if it was 'complicated', he said 'no, just a special case' and proceeded to open my account on his computer; all I had to do was provide my local bank account information and let him see my passport. When I left about 10 minutes later (i.e. at about 4.50pm) it was agreed that the technician would visit tomorrow morning at 9am to install the modem, etc. However, two technicians turned up at the house at about 4.15pm today (!) and in less than 5 minutes I was online. So from start to finish the whole thing took less than 45 minutes - pretty amazing I think you'll agree! Oh and the final icing on the cake - I didn't even have to pay for the connection, just the monthly fee (about 30 Euros); he said I would only be charged for the connection when my own house is wired up later in the year. I've never had service like this before anywhere - this little corner of Spain, in the Country Club, is really very efficient and friendly with it.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Beaune to Valencia - and the sun is shining!

I left Beaune on Tuesday morning and after a 4-5 hour drive (including a break for lunch) arrived in Vaisons-la-Romaine safely. I had a great evening with my friends there - lots of conversation (tiring for me as my French although fluent is now more of an effort as I don't use it very often nowadays) and reminiscences about Paris, etc., as well as talk about many other things, including the upcoming French Presidential election. The lady of the house is a very good cook so we had traditional French cooking and a bottle of each of the local white and red wines from their favourite producer nearby - all in all a very nice interlude. I got given a bottle of each wine to take away, so no doubt I'll be opening at least one of them over the coming weekend, when I'm in situ in Mazarron.

Wednesday morning saw me making a fairly early start from Vaisons-la-Romaine (I was away by about 9.10am) and once back on the motorway made fast progress south; I have never driven through Lyon before, but had heard a lot about the tunnel under the city which is a notorious summer blackspot for traffic jams - at this time of year it all went quite smoothly, although the traffic around Lyon was indeed very heavy. I crossed into Spain in mid-afternoon and less than an hour later was arriving in Girona where I had a very pleasant evening in a nice hotel - a palace of French/Spanish minimalist style where I had a lovely meal of a whole sea bass with some rather nice, tasty white wine from the Valladolid area.

This morning, after a relaxed breakfast in Girona, I was on the road just after 10.15am and as I drove south the weather became increasingly sunny and the outside temeprature reading in the car reached 20 degrees C at one point. I arrived here in Valencia in late afternoon - the hotel is again modern and comfortable, although this time in a sort of 'space-age' kind of way - the bathroom is a module, very functional and very well designed, but the whole effect is rather soul-less. I'm intrigued to know what dinner is going to be like. I chose this hotel, like the others I have chosen, because all Accor hotels accept pets and like all chain hotels one knows exactly what one gets for the price, whether from their upmarket or more 'down-market' brands (this time I've been staying in a mixture of their Novotel and Ibis branded hotels; anyone familiar with the Accor name will immediately know what this means in terms of service levels, etc. They also have wi-fi access in most hotels - no doubt an important consideration for the business traveller and for people like me who like to stay online whilst travelling.

Tomorrow I enter the last and relatively short sector of my journey before reaching my destination near Mazarron; I'll stop on the way in a place called Alhama de Murcia where I shall do the very mundane task of visiting a supermarket to stock up on things I shall need for the next day or so. I'll take a few days after I arrive to relax after my lengthy journey so don't plan to try and update the blog again until the early part of next week.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Nairn to Beaune via the Netherlands

The journey down from Inverness to the ferry terminal at Rosyth (just north of Edinburgh) last Friday was uneventful although it was very cold - there was snow at the side of the road over the high mountain passes (Slochd and Drumochter) and the rain was mixed with sleet for quite a while, but the road itself was clear and fortunately there was no ice. A bonus is that there was very little traffic, so I had a pretty clear run down.

Check-in to the ferry was rapid and pleasant and the cabin, as expected, was excellent - as was the food on board (always an important consideration for me). However, because of strong winds (in excess of 60-70mph gusts) departure was delayed for about two hours, as was our arrival the following day in Zeebrugge. However, the crossing itself was relatively smooth, a tribute to the effectiveness of the ship's stabilisers, as the sea was VERY rough.

On arrival in Zeebrugge and after exiting the ship, it was simply a matter of setting my SatNav to the address in the Netherlands (near Maastricht) where I wanted to go and about 2 hours and 20 minutes later I was driving up to the front door. I had a great weekend in the little village of Sweikhuizen, visiting with family and friends and a full weekend of activities had been planned, including a very enjoyable birthday party for the hostess of the house where I was staying. Sunday afternoon was spent walking in a group of 10 with frequent stops for coffee and cake and for beers and wine, zigzagging back and forth across the Dutch/Belgian borders.

This morning I left the Netherlands at about 9am and after about 7 hours (with a couple of breaks for coffee and for lunch) I arrived in Beaune, having driven south past Maastricht into Belgium, before arriving about 2 hours later in Luxembourg (where I re-filled the tank with fuel as petrol is much cheaper there); shortly after that I crossed over into France, passing Metz and Nancy before having a break for lunch and to give the dog some water and let her have a walk. Then it was on the road again, passing through Dijon and Gevrey-Chambertin before arriving in Beaune where I am happily installed (along with dog) in a comfortable room with wi-fi access. I've already given the dog her tea and once I have taken her for a short walk will go down to the restaurant for what I hope will be a nice meal, but certainly accompanied by a glass (or two) of rather nice wine from the Cote d'Or region; the hotel has some nice wines in its list (yum yum!).

Tomorrow I head south for Vaisons la Romaine in the Vaucluse (not far from Orange), where I shall be staying with friends so shall not have internet access again until at least Wednesday, when I hope to be in Girona for my first night in Spain.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Departure - tomorrow morning

Well tomorrow morning I shall be departing on my 3-month trip to Spain, via the Netherlands, so the laptop is being packed away and I won't be online again until at least next Monday when, with a bit of luck, I should be able to get online by wi-fi from my hotel in Beaune in the Cote d'Or, my first scheduled stop after leaving the southern Netherlands on Monday morning.

I'll 'see' you all next week. Bye for now.

Monday, 8 January 2007

Bill dissimulates in his blog header banner ... just a little

You may notice that my header banner and the line immediately underneath it indicate that I am now actually in Spain, when I am in fact still at home here in Scotland. I've also put up a rather 'nifty' animated Spanish national flag alongside the Union Flag. I'm scheduled to leave home this coming Thursday, though, and after several days of driving (after a weekend in the Netherlands) will probably cross into Spain from France sometime during Wednesday next week, arriving at my final destination on the Friday. In summary, I've changed the header banner etc. now to save me the trouble of doing it when I'm on the move. The header banner shows, by the way, an image from my own property there - it is rather lovely and peaceful (just like the view I have here, of course).

Test post - update of feed

Test post - update of feed to

Thursday, 4 January 2007

The one week countdown begins

This time next week I shall be waiting at the ferry port at Rosyth to board the Zeebrugge ferry, accompanied by my little dog and various other paraphernalia necessary for a spell of three months or so away from home. En route I shall be spending a weekend in the southern Netherlands in a small village in the South Limburg region with relatives by marriage, before setting off on the Monday.

My first night is scheduled to be in Beaune, in the Cote d'Or region of France; no doubt I shall consume some Burgundy wine and local food that evening. Yum Yum.

On the second evening, I shall be spending the night with a former colleague and his wife from the time when I worked in Paris - they retired, as many Parisians do, to the part of the country where they had spent most of their annual one-month vacations during much of their married life. The Vaucluse area is lovely and I shall be spending the night in Vaisons-la-Romaine, with its almost perfectly preserved Roman amphitheatre; Orange is the nearest sizeable town. I last visited them there fifteen or so years ago, so naturally I shall be taking a bottle of Macallan 18 year old whisky (his favourite) to atone for my absence!

On the third evening I shall finally arrive in Spain, where I will spend the night in Girona; apart from a holiday in Sitges (a well-known 'gay' holiday resort) and visits to nearby Barcelona during my time there, I don't know this part of Spain at all, so I am looking forward to seeing it, if only briefly.

My final night before I arrive at my destination will be on the outskirts of the city of Valencia, again an area of Spain I have not visited before, but which in years to come I intend to explore, during my planned extended stays in Spain.

If I can get my laptop wi-fi to operate (it works fine, it's me who is not very familiar with hooking-up wi-fi when away from home - sigh) I shall blog on my way down to Spain, but failing that will blog sporadically once I reach Mazarron in Murcia.

However, because my departure is now only a week away I shall not be blogging very much until then (nothing new there then - Ed.) - I have lots of things to do and final arrangements to make before I go. Oh, and did I forget to say it? Yes, I think I did!
A very Happy New Year to everyone!

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

The perils of online banking ... Grrr!!

UPDATE - see update at end of this post.

I have been using my bank's telephone banking service for several years with absolutely no problem, but thought it would be good to start using the online equivalent, too, specially as I am shortly going to be abroad for several months and it would be easier (and cheaper - remember I am Scottish, he he) to interact with the bank here in the UK when necessary online than on the telephone. Anyway I had it all set-up a week or so ago and it seemed to be working fine.

However I had been told by several telephone helpline people, both from the telephone and online banking helpdesks that the passwords and security codes for the two services were independent of each other. I now discover that this is total nonsense as, according to the lady I have just spoken with at the online telephone helpdesk, when I set up the online service it in fact supercedes the telephone banking password and codes (this is just ten minutes, ten minutes[!], after I had been told by a lady at the telephone banking helpdesk that they are different!!!).

So the scenario half an hour ago was as follows: go online to check my various account balances. No problem - I even printed out a statement for the current account.

Then I tried to log into the telephone banking service to transfer some money between accounts (to settle an interim tax bill before I go abroad), but it wouldn't let me because of password/security code problems (as I now discover because I should have used the same codes as for online banking)!

The result of this fiasco is that I am now locked out of both telephone and online banking until the codes can be reset by 'snail mail' and by telephone. Frankly, Royal Bank of Scotland, this is not a problem I want to have just a few days before I am due to depart for Spain until April! The online banking lady says she is going to make sure there is feedback about giving customers rubbish information (about the interoperativity of password/security codes between the two services). As there is plenty of money in both the accounts that would have been affected by the transfer that started this whole problem, I shall pay the tax bill tomorrow in the old-fashioned way with a cheque at the bank; I simply operate a tax savings account for my own accounting convenience.

Rant over; I'm off to bed! (At least the rotten head cold I've been suffering with for the past 3 or 4 days seems to be on the mend).

UPDATE: (Wednesday 10JAN07 10.20 GMT) Well, the saga continues; I received last Friday the confirmation form which I had to sign and send back to the bank; they apparently did not register it into their computer until yesterday (it is not entirely clear whether they received it yesterday or Monday). In any case, someone at the bank decided to be 'helpful' by requesting that an 'activation code' be sent to me, which another part of the same organisation tells me is completely unnecessary as my signature on the form sent back was adequate to re-activate the account. However, now that the activation code has been reqauested it cannot be stopped so unless it arrives, by some miracle, later today in the post then I simply will not be able to get back online until I get back here in April, nor of course will I be able even to use the telephone banking service. The two departments in The Royal Bank of Scotland that deal with online ('digital') and telephone ('direct') banking hardly seem to talk to each other, the basic reason it seems to me why this whole fiasco has occurred. I'll decide whjat to do about my banking arrangements in the UK when I return in late-April; having banked with them for almost thirty years (my accounts for the ten years prior to that were in London with a small specialised bank) I am reluctant to move, but this recent incident has frustrated me enormously.

On the bright side, however (and I always try and look on the 'bright side' - note cunning reference to Monty Python), I did manage to find locally (in that good old standby shop Woolworths) the two kinds of lithium button cells, CR2025 and CR2032, this morning that I needed for two different pieces of electronic gadgetry I am taking with me and whose back-up cells hadn't been changed for a while.