Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fresh woods and pastures new

I think you'll find that this is the correct quotation, and fresh fields don't even come into it.

Anyway, the entire Gnu clan has now settled into new and larger accommodation in the embarrassingly posh and Tory area of Bedford Park. Owing to the combined incomptence of the builders and BT, I have no internet service, so I am writing this from the hallowed enclaves of Chiswick Public Library (who use Internet Explorer, curse them).

When normal broadband service is resumed, there'll be more about my now ex-MP, Andrew Slaughter, who has contacted me with patronising reassurance about the Legislative Reform Bill. There'll also be more about my new MP, Ann 'Two Flats' Keen. And I might even get round to finishing that post about the Third Test.

Stay tuned, Gnu fans.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Third Test: England win by 212 runs



I'm a little late to the party, waiting two days before posting about this marvellous match, but it seems English cricket really is alive and well after all (and after we'd feared for its life in the aftermath of the appalling Pakistan tour).

More comment will follow, but there's the small matter of moving home.


Looks like rain


Water fell out of the sky this morning. That doesn't happen often in London. I got Mrs Wildebeest to stand outside with a bucket, so that we might have some kind of reserve to use when our water company introduces a hosepipe ban - despite the fact that its reservoirs are 96% full and a third of its water is lost through leakage before it even reaches our tap.

Never mind. The Gnu family is moving home next week, and we'll be giving the new garden a damn good spray before the ban comes in. If all else fails, we'll have to spit on the roses. I'll just think of Charles Clarke as I do it - that should get the sputum flowing.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

And there was me, thinking we were on the same side


I should have known.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Your life in their hands


So, the game of ping-pong continues. The Commons overturns the amendments added to the ID Cards Bill by the Lords, which would have meant ID cards would be voluntary. So, once again, an ID card will be compulsory but only if you ever want to leave the country.

In the meantime, the government has already spent £32m of our money trying to get this scheme in place, which is supported by only half the country and which hasn't even become law.

In a separate development, the National Audit Office is being asked to investigate failures in a new NHS computer system. The Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford has just moved over to the new system, which is intended eventually to cover the entire country. But Computer Weekly magazine was passed documents showing that the implementation of the new system had led to inconvenience for both staff and patients and, in some cases, risk to patient health and safety. Patients disappeared from the database. Appointments were delayed. Not enough time was allocated to test the system properly.

This is just the first stage in what is said to be the world's largest civil computer project. Now, won't the ID cards scheme require another large civil computer project? Never mind, I'm sure they'll have sorted out all the glitches by that time.

Shall we all go and buy the new Pet Shop Boys album?


Monday, March 13, 2006

Second Test: India win by nine wickets



The exciting, satisfying task of chronicling the success of the English cricket team in the last few years has turned into a heavy-hearted charting of one failure after another.

This was Old England: batting collapses, bowlers that couldn't judge the line right, an apparent inability to work out what to do when the opposition started fighting back. The disastrous note on which this tour began, with the injuries to Giles, Vaughan and Simon Jones and the mysterious dropping out of Trescothick, was momentarily suspended by the team's successful domination of much of the first Test; but that note is resonating loudly again.

On possibly the most England-friendly pitch in the whole of India, and with Flintoff calling the toss correctly for a second time, this should have been a guaranteed victory. Instead, the tourists capitulated in time-honoured, miserable fashion. So determined have England been to follow the success of their old adversaries Australia (on whom more in a moment) that they have developed an aggressive, punishing style of cricket which has served them brilliantly in the Caribbean, South Africa and on home soil. However, Plan B has somehow slipped out of the team's users' manual. A first-class team, a top-of-the-world team, would be able to adapt its gameplan to different conditions. The Asian sub-continent demands a more patient, probing style of cricket which sacrifices a fast scoring rate in favour of applied, dogged, grinding play of the type Graham Thorpe came to personify. It took Australia several goes to conquer India and England have yet to discover the knack.

There are other factors involved, of course, which makes one feel relatively positive about England's future. They have a very, very inexperienced middle order - Bell, Pietersen and Collingwood have just short of thirty Tests between them. Deprived of the experience of Trescothick and Vaughan, and the match-winning reverse swing of the brittle Simon Jones, England were always going to be on the back foot in this series. Alistair Cook is a great find, with a wonderful future ahead of him, but he couldn't be expected to produce the goods every single match, and India is a cruel place to make your debut. To have drawn (in impressive style) the first match was an achievement which earned the respect of all but the notoriously partisan Indian press. That this match followed familiar lines is... well, it was going to happen at some point.

And one shouldn't ignore the fact that India have most of the cards in their pocket: Kumble would be the finest leg-spinner in the world, were Shane Warne not to exist. The batting line-up is arguably the strongest in the world (Australia might have the edge over it, but the Ashes showed them to be not the team we thought they were). And, at long last, India have a pace bowler with real talent and threat: in the warm-up game, the unseen Munaf Patel destroyed the English line-up and he repeated the trick here. Brought up on years of warning about the deadliness of Indian spinners, our batsmen were not prepared for some of the fast stuff to be of equal quality.

And so to Mumbai, a spin-friendly pitch, and a match India can almost be guaranteed to win. Down to third go England in the international Test rankings, and there they deserve to be until they can muster the collective (and injury-free) talent and experience to beat the Asians on their own patch. This match, and the Pakistani tour in November, suggest that that time is still some way off.

Still, it's not all bad news: the most incredible one-day international match ever played (though some say the World Cup semi-final of 1999 at Edgbaston was more thrilling) took place yesterday in Johannesburg, and - this deserves bold print - Australia were hammered. Having set the hosts a world-record 435 to win the South Africans, possibly motivated by a "hell, let's go for it, we can't win anyway" mentality, smashed their way through the Australian bowling and set a new world record of their own with one ball to spare.

Since I don't have SKY Sports (I refuse to countenance a penny of my money going into Murdoch's pocket), I was able to follow the match only on the internet, but that was exciting enough. My mother (who has paid the devil's shilling) kindly rang me and screamed her way through the last couple of overs. The atmosphere was extraordinary, and this result sets up a thrilling prospect for the forthcoming Test series. Having been beaten in the Ashes, having lost this one-day series and drawn one with England, having even been beaten by Bangladesh, the era of Australian domination which has reigned supreme over international cricket for a dozen years is just about tipping over the edge into a downward spiral. Read the scorecard and enjoy.


A brief announcement

Just passed my driving test, at the age of 37 and at the third attempt.

No flowers, please.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Capitally pissed off


Apparently, there are 'too few public toilets' in London, according to a report for the London Assembly.

While it's obviously difficult to find somewhere to go to the loo in central London, I'm not sure that there's a "quality of life crisis", as the report says. Sounds like someone's trying to make the report sound a good deal more dramatic and important (and less amusing) than it really is.

That someone might be Joanne McCartney, Chair of the London Assembly's Health and Public Services Committee:
"This is not just an issue of inconvenience. It is about people's dignity and quality of life.
Er, yeah. Well, I guess it's pretty undignified if you wet yourself in a bus shelter but, to be honest, in London that sort of behaviour goes pretty much unnoticed.

Just one public toilet for each one of the 28m people who visit London each year. Well, call me stupid (no, don't), but I'd have thought you only need one public toilet at a time. I don't stand in Piccadilly Circus thinking, oh, God, there are six public toilets I can use, which one am I going to pick? The one with the sensor-activated taps? The one with the softest toilet paper? The one with the poncy bloke in a uniform who brushes the lapels of your anorak and then expects a pound in return? The one... oh, never mind, too late now.

Anyway, for those of you still panicking with your legs crossed, here's Oscar's handy guide to where to go to the loo for free in central London (and these are just the ones I know about):

Piccadilly Circus Tube - utterly offensive, smelly, shabby, full of suspicious looking men avoiding your gaze (mind you, that goes for most men's toilets), but perfectly located
The National Gallery - in the basement. Adequately maintained. You can look at the art if you want, but it's simplest to turn right at the entrance, wander nonchalantly down the stairs and find (eventually) the loos. You won't even have to have your bag searched (THINKS: oh, dear, have I just given al-Qa'ida a tip?)
John Lewis, Oxford Street - men's toilets are on the second and third floors. Bit difficult to find among the Persian carpets and mahogany tallboys, but look above you and you'll see the signs.
Prêt à Manger, outside Leicester Square Tube - technically you have to buy something and ask for the code, just like at McDonald's, but hang around outside the door and someone's bound to come in or out and they can just hold the door open for you!
The Natural History Museum - only disadvantage is that there's often a long queue to get in.
Most hospitals - they usually have a public toilet near the entrance. Failing that, ask for Genito-Urinary Out-Patients; they're bound to have one handy.
Any pub - let's face it, the old 'customers only' provision stands, but if the place is crowded enough no one's going to notice (unless they've got those security things in place, which is becoming increasingly frequent - but then just use the Prêt technique, above).

The above applies to men's toilets, but probably works equally well for women's (of which I have far less experience). Anyway, your dignity when visiting the capital should remain intact.

Easy peesy, Ms McCartney. Excuse me, I'll be back in a moment...


Monday, March 06, 2006

First Test: Match drawn



England's tour of India could have had a better start, let's face it. All those who were hoping for a powerful bounce-back from the Pakistan fiasco must have been weeping into their Stellas when first Ashley Giles was ruled out following surgery, then Marcus Trescothick flew home in distress to be with his wife (still no one knows why, although rumours are inevitably numerous), then Michael Vaughan's dodgy knee gave way again and finally, our Ashes hero, Simon Jones, was laid up and sent home with yet another freak accident.

So, with a strong-looking Indian team (they've found some seamers at last) facing virtually an England 2nd XI with an untried captain, Flintoff, in command for the first time, and three players who'd never played for England before, the tears must have flowed freely. And at the end of the first day, when England had been reduced to 246-7, the eyes must have been wept dry.

It's a tribute, then, to the depth of strength in this England team that we went on to dominate the next three days' play. Monty Panesar, the delightfully-named first Sikh to play for England, showed that (at least on these wickets) the hype about him wasn't just hype, as he dismissed Tendulkar for his first Test wicket (a prize he shares with Michael Vaughan) and kept the Indian scoring rate to a trudge. Paul Collingwood, after a coming-of-age tour of Pakistan in which he finally dragged his highest Test score beyond 50, now finally arrived on the world-class stage by alternately grinding and thumping his way to an innings-saving 134no. Alistair Cook flew halfway around the world from the England 'A' Tour in the Caribbean, stopped off at Heathrow for whatever magic potion Getafix had been quietly brewing for him, arrived in India, shrugged off the jetlag and made a century on his Test debut. And Man of the Match Matthew Hoggard took five Indian wickets for about two runs in a display of masterful bowling (which I couldn't watch, not wishing to have SKY and not wishing to get up at four in the morning) which proved that he is more than just the quiet one in England's Fantastic Four pace bowlers.

That the Indians put on a battling attempt to make up an impossible target by slogging the ball around in the last session has been wrongly interpreted by the press as a courageous fightback. The target was never seriously achievable, and England's apparent panic and over-defensiveness may have been visibly uncertain but was tactically safe - those idiots who've been going on about 'shades of Edgbaston, August 2005' were way off the mark. Anyway, let's just remember who won at Edgbaston, shall we?

So, both sides emerge with some credit, but fans of English cricket must be delighted that our apparent weaknesses have so readily been compensated for. Like Australia, when our first-rank players are down and out, we just find some spare first-rank players to step into their places. English cricket is healthier in these last few years than it's been for twenty years. If the Ashes didn't prove it, this match - whatever else happens in the tour - has.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Honey, I concealed the mortgage


Imagine, if you will, the conversation:

"Honey, can you spare a fiver? I need to pop down to the newsagents'."

"Of course. Here you are."

"Gosh, your wallet looks awfully full."

"Ah, yes, er... it's one of those expanding wallets. It stretches as you put the banknotes in. Gives the impression that it's stuffed full of money, when it isn't."

"How super."

"Yes, I got it in Italy."

Craig Murray is equally sceptical.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dydd Dewi Sant Hapus


Today, as all fellow Welsh people will be well aware, is St David's Day.

Prompted by The Moai, let me link to these people, who have a topical appeal.