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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Year's Eve

Shown every year since 1963 on German TV:



and JD offers this from Bob Dylan on the latter's Theme Time Radio Hour:



A happy New Year to you all. May this be the year that we come out of dystopian dreamland and work on making a real, better world for each other.

Friday, December 27, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Jehosophat and Jones, by JD

... aka The Two Ronnies (UK comedians Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett) - and appropriately enough, presented to you today on National Fruitcake Day (U.S.) - introduced by JD...

From the Comfy Music Hall of Fame we present Gnashville's favorite(sic) sons: Jehosophat & Jones two of the finest Gnashvillains who ever lived. Plus a special guest appearance by Lightweight Louis Danvers, yee-haw!







Thursday, December 26, 2019

Brexit Sprouts

The supermarket chain Morrisons is denying renaming Brussels sprouts to appease Brexiteers, according to 'newspaper' the New European:

https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/morrisons-deny-renaming-brussels-sprouts-due-to-brexit-1-6440344




It's a bit cold for the silly season, but if we're going to bang the patriotic drum let's do it properly, with a round of 'Britons, strike home':

"Following the collapse of the First Coalition, on 10 November 1797, the British Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, announced to the House of Commons that his efforts to make peace with Revolutionary France had failed and that he was now determined to fight the war to its conclusion. In response, the whole House rose to its feet and sang Britons, Strike Home!. The result was the War of the Second Coalition."

Britons, strike home!
Revenge, revenge your Country's wrong.
Fight! Fight and record. Fight!
Fight and record yourselves in Druid's Song.
Fight! Fight and record. Fight!
Fight and record yourselves in Druid's Song.

Or perhaps we should sing the full-fat adaptation written during the Napoleonic invasion scare of 1803 - 1805, the chorus to each verse being:

Britons, strike home! avenge your Country's cause.
Protect your King, your Liberties, and Laws


- liberties and laws that many of our politicians, journalists and influential entertainers have failed to defend, to say the least.

For now, eat your Brexit sprouts with pride.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

O Come All Ye Faithful Jacobites, by JD

I didn't know this! (Ed.)

"O Come All Ye Faithful" (Adeste Fideles) is thought to be a Portuguese hymn for Christmas Day (the earliest manuscript bears the name King John IV and is held in the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa). The English lyrics are attributed to John Francis Wade (1711 - 1786).

The authorship of both the music and the lyrics are open to question. The English lyrics have been changed several times and the Wiki entry goes into some detail but I selected the above interpretation because it suggests that Wade's lyrics were actually subversive.

The words of the hymn have been interpreted as a Jacobite birth ode to Bonnie Prince Charlie. Professor Bennett Zon, head of music at Durham University, has interpreted it this way, claiming that the secret political code was decipherable by the "faithful" (the Jacobites), with "Bethlehem" a common Jacobite cipher for England and Regem Angelorum a pun on Angelorum (Angels) and Anglorum (English).

Wade had fled to France after the Jacobite rising of 1745 was crushed. From the 1740s to 1770s the earliest forms of the carol commonly appeared in English Roman Catholic liturgical books close to prayers for the exiled Old Pretender. In the books by Wade it was often decorated with Jacobite floral imagery, as were other liturgical texts with coded Jacobite meanings.

After the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite rebellions, support for their cause gradually faded and was largely forgotten, to be replaced by an acceptance of Unionism (the Union of the Crowns).



Ref:
https://www.dur.ac.uk/news/newsitem/?itemno=7328
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Francis_Wade
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Come,_All_Ye_Faithful
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacobite_rising_of_1745
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_of_the_Crowns

P.S. JD adds: I am not a Jacobite by the way and I don't know of anyone who is. Occasionally the 1745 becomes the quarter to six rebellion in barroom conversations and nobody is offended :)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

MUSIC FOR CHRISTMAS, by JD

A further selection of music, some old favourites and some new....



















Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Driving Home For Christmas - In Circles... by Wiggiatlarge

A recent excursion onto our new but flawed Northern Distributor Road reminded me of the inadequacies of the Highways Department and planning, this built on the cheap, not in a monetarist way I might add - after all this country specialises in overpriced and late infrastructure - but in the final delivered article.

All junctions are roundabouts even when it is obvious a flyover was the answer, but we don’t do flyovers and tunnels as they are too costly despite the fact our near continental neighbours would not dream of building a decent road without either.

The first thing you notice when entering the roundabouts, and they are all the same, is an extra lane appears on your inside before you exit as can be seen in the image below:



Naturally this has caused both confusion and accidents plus a vocal lobby to change the markings, all to no avail as nobody in the Highways Dept would ever want to admit they made a mistake and they speak of ‘safety is at the forefront of all we do’ and drivers will “adjust” there has been quite a lot of adjusting but accidents still happen and here you can see why.



The driver is at fault but you can see the problem coming from two lanes to three and needing to get into the outside lane to exit. What was the Highway Code ruling? You do not change lanes on a roundabout, although here you have to.

Another local gem is this traffic calming scheme that the jobsworth in the video claims is worth the money as they had to spend by the end of the financial year. Shame that someone didn’t bother to see it spent wisely.

The obvious fault and the one causing accidents (something else that is claimed is because it is new to drivers and they will get used to it, though they haven’t) is the fact there is no right of way, no red arrow, white arrow and signage showing who has the right of way, so it becomes a free for all and the speed limit supposedly imposed by the traffic calming goes out of the window as drivers, idiots, speed up to be at the chicane first.

The mini roundabout is another winner at the start of this chicanery. In the video you can see it is so offset as to be almost invisible and impossible to actually negotiate so drivers either cut off part of it or ignore it completely, and no, despite spending more money it hasn’t improved it as they still have no right of way signs. The dept must be run by someone with the foresight of Diane Abbott.

When we lived in Suffolk Colchester was not that far away and exiting the town on the bypass north they decided to put in this little number - I believe Swindon has one as well, known as the ‘magic roundabout’:




Now amazingly it can work rather well. The problem is two fold: not being something that is universally built, for those coming upon it first time it can be daunting to put it mildly, and it also has no obvious right of way so you hesitate, often without reason but with that sense of survival and it also fails when there is a lot of traffic i.e. rush hour using just two exits as the flow is non stop and it is difficult for any other user to get in so to speak. Another complicated solution on the cheap that a flyover would have solved permanently.

You don’t have to go far to find these engineering wonders. Chelmsford solved a problem forty years ago at the Army and Navy roundabout that was a nightmare in the rush hour: you guessed it, they did the right thing and built a flyover crossing it, only this was a cheap one-way alternating temporary structure, like a Bailey bridge, that forty years later is still there and falling apart. In the meantime traffic has increased and the one way at peak times usage no longer works very well; any chance of the permanent structure promised forty years ago? Nah.



I have featured roundabouts but I am sure anyone could do the same with many other worthy road items such as the many badly-marked and -constructed exit lanes; the world is your omelette, as they say.

For example, we have just had a £5.6 million scheme to widen a road near us to twin lanes both ways to make it easier driving into the city. Only they apparently forgot that they had just finished a scheme on the same road nearer to the centre that has been reduced to one lane as a bus lane has been incorporated at great expense. You know it makes sense.

I will finish this rather joyless piece with another miracle of the road designers' art. This is on the A40 at Cheltenham: there are no words needed to describe this piece of failed logic: those that have to circumnavigate it have marked the offending section. Marvellous.



Happy motoring.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

AV, not PR

Writing for Briefings for Brexit, Ashley Walsh says the Labour Party should scrap its policy on the EU and abandon its call for voting reform in the form of Proportional Representation.

As a 'former Labour councillor' he is concerned to save the Labour Party. I'm not - and I also loathe the Conservative Party and the 'Liberals.' Political parties are what's wrong with politics. Like flesh-and-blood creatures, organisations have a will to live quite apart from any justification for their existence. The disconnect between Parliament and the people is owing to the absorbing, insular in-fighting in Westminster.

PR would worsen this: it turns voting for a representative into voting for a party, and the latter then decides on who will be your named representative. Many MPs are already too focused on what their Parliamentary bosses and pals want; we really don't need a system that makes the party the unit of political currency.

But as I wrote here long ago, First Past The Post is a terrible arrangement and suits the databank psephologists and strategy managers of the parties, for whom only 'the swing voter in the swing seat' matters. Though I have always voted, throughout my adult life, my vote has had effectively no power at all, with perhaps one exception when the constituency boundaries changed again (and by which time New Labour had thoroughly outworn its welcome) - thanks to the 'safe seat' where I live. The consequence for me and my fellow voters was to be taken for granted.

I suppose Labour likes the idea of PR because according to numbers of votes cast in the latest General Election the Tories would not have gained a majority and Labour would not have had the scale of cull that they have suffered. Result: a hung Parliament, again?

But I'm not convinced that AV would have had the same result. Under AV, you list your preferences so second and third options can come into play if there is not a clear 50%+1 majority in the first count (and two-thirds of seats in the Commons - including the one for my constituency - are gained on a minority of votes cast). The winning candidate is likely to be the one who has tried hardest to win over the centre ground - a centre that will be different in each constituency.

Had AV been the system ten days ago, I think the Conservatives would still have won, thanks to crossover voting from Brexiteers. Let's also not forget that there could be others for whom the Tories might have been a grudging second preference - after all, think of the Northern Labour voters who even held their noses and plumped for Boris as a first choice!

A version of AV is what MPs themselves employ when deciding on a new Speaker - in that case, it's done by a series of rounds in which the lowest scorer is eliminated each time, so the voting behaviour is influenced by who is left in the competition. It doesn't guarantee a great Speaker, but what could?

AV is also the system that the National Government wished to introduce in 1931; the Bill passed the Commons but the government fell before it could pass through all of the other stages. (The Lords wanted PR - why?)

In an extraordinary General Election, we've had the 'second referendum' that the subversatives wanted; perhaps the other second referendum we should have is a rerun of the 2011 one on AV - this time, with balanced media coverage for a change, as we had in 2016 (I still puzzle over how the latter happened). And this time, Labour might go for it.

Friday, December 20, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Christmas Box, by JD

Bob Dylan's "Ring Them Bells" is not meant to be a Christmas song but it sounds as though it ought to be so I have included this excellent cover by Sarah Jarosz.

"The Holiday Blues" and "Longfellow's Yuletide Poem" come from Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour - https://www.themetimeradio.com The much maligned BBC used to broadcast this on Radio2 and I enjoyed listening to it; the Beeb is not all bad you know!

Longfellow's poem was turned into a Christmas Carol in 1872 with music by John Baptiste Calkin and there have been two other musical versions since then.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Heard_the_Bells_on_Christmas_Day

















Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The NHS: an alternative, by JD

In response to the recent post on NHS failings, Nick Drew commented:

It's a ghastly story, Sackers, and very saddening. But my observation is, that the NHS is really only for delivering a broadly-based, rather undifferentiated 'mass average service', which on average will do quite a lot of good - a kind of "hygiene plus" - mass inoculations are a prime example.

If what's wrong with you can be (a) recognised fairly easily, and (b) improved or cured with simple measures - drugs for the most part, but other things like re-hydration and rest - then chances are, you'll see the benefit. Anything requiring subtle diagnostic detective-work, or a highly-trained eye, or an ultra-tailored course of treatment ... and you're back in the lap of the gods. Only the Queen is guaranteed to get the very best that medical science has to offer

The parallels with education are strong: take an illiterate population and impose compulsory, fairly decent basic schooling, and you'll raise the average level quite markedly - indeed, you'll effect a trnsformation. Will every child get exactly the customised teaching etc that would absolutely maximise their life chances? No.

To which I replied:

In principle, agreed; but the f-ups here were down to lack of basic skill (hoist usage), care and attention (reading X-rays, monitoring drug combinations, noticing when the patient isn't sleeping) and not following the sugeon's after-care plan (not the only case I've seen).

Ticking boxes is no replacement for vigilant, shop-floor-walking management.


Now JD offers his perspective, based on his own experiences:

**************

Have you heard of Henry Willink's 1944 proposal for a National Health Service?
https://www.conservativehome.com/highlights/2018/01/profile-henry-willink-the-conservative-who-proposed-a-national-health-service-before-bevan-created-one.html

As I understand it from various other references, Willink would have retained the many Cottage hospitals in the country. Most have now been closed in the name of 'efficiency' meaning 'customers' are obliged to travel to the nearest big shiny new hospital. This is an example of the 'bigger is better' approach to health care which in reality is nothing more than an extension of Henry Ford's production line with doctors and nurses instead of car builders. We already see it on a smaller scale with your local GP allocating ten minutes only to each patient.

Now that I am old I have had the opportunity to enjoy(?) the experience of our sanctified NHS. It doesn't work, it serves only to hand out coloured aspirins (my grandfather's phrase for the pills and tablets handed out for anything and everything).

The medical profession accept the reality of psychosomatic illness. Why then do they not encourage the equally valid concept of psychosomatic well being?
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Psychosomatic-Wellness-Candace-Pert/dp/B0010R3ZR2

"Candace Pert, Ph.D. is a research professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Pert is best known for her discovery of opiate receptors in the brain. She was a featured expert in the highly acclaimed Bill Moyers PBS series Healing and the Mind. In addition to her research efforts, Dr. Pert lectures and teaches about how our minds and feelings influence our health and well-being. She is the author of the bestseller Molecules of Emotion."

I read about Dr Pert a long time ago and I have discovered for myself that psychosomatic wellness does work after doing the opposite of what my epilepsy doctor told me to do: instead of increasing my tablets, I reduced them. She was not amused when I told her which is understandable but I have had no seizures since that time. It's all in the mind!

....and yes, it is the management which is in urgent need of reform, starting in Whitehall!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Boris Johnson: are we in trouble already?

This morning the news is that PM Boris Johnson intends to get the Article 50 deadline enshrined in law - but Classic FM also reports that he is referencing the Political Declaration as the basis for the dealmaking he is to do.

I discussed the changes to May's (or rather, Barnier's) version of the PD in this article on The Conservative Woman - and at the end there's a spreadsheet of the alterations in it.

Unless BoJo goes through his revised version with a thick black censor's pen we will (in my view) continue to be horribly entangled.

More haste, less speed?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Boris Johnson's 'One Nation'

A landslide victory is not enough. Tony Blair had one in 1997 and even many of those who hadn’t voted for him were prepared to give him a chance; a chance he threw away with both hands, preferring to fight the next election from Day One. His student-ignorant ‘eye-catching initiatives’ didn’t tackle the roots of our economic malaise – for a touchstone, just remember the meretricious stupidity of scrapping the Royal Yacht, that floating trade mission for the UK.

Johnson doesn’t have the luxury of a honeymoon period: the malcontents have already started their civil disorder in London. He’s ‘on appro’ and we’ll need more than fast talk to retain the nervous new Conservative voters in the North and other long-suffering working-class areas. Mess this up and it’s ‘après soi, le deluge’.

In fact, it could already be too late, if the banking debt in the Eurozone brings the temple down around everyone’s ears before we can get out. BoJo’s vow to work around the clock had better be sincere. And he’ll have to work at the right things. It’s no good fixing the roof when the foundations are cracking. It’s structural and it’s not going to be a quick job, so he’ll have to start straight away.

The late Sir James Goldsmith clearly saw the threat back in 1994, at the time of the GATT talks – the first part of the interview is here. His argument was that sweeping trade liberalisation sets workforces across the world against one another and tips the capital-labour seesaw savagely in favour of the former, inevitably causing growing social tensions in the developed world. It may seem odd that a billionaire should make such a case, but that is to forget that his moral roots were in one of the three Abrahamic religions, all of which impose an obligation to care for the less fortunate.

We are in a secular doctrinal crisis, because the two principal political parties have long since become institutionally globalist. For the party of the CBI, Institute of Directors etc there was just too much money to be made from undermining the British workers (many of whom now have to claim benefits even when working); for New Labour it was too much fun being ‘intensely relaxed’ feasting with oligarchs and too easy to get votes for flinging bones to the dogs under the table while pursuing the neoliberal agenda. Man, what a party that was, and ‘I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left.

What a stroke of luck it was for the Tories this time to face Corbyn, who traduced his own beliefs about the EU and tried to win popularity with a commitment to providing more bones; that, and his propensity for rubbing shoulders with people who shoot dogs. For I’m far from convinced that the life experience of our latest Etonian, though he is undoubtedly bright, has equipped him to understand the need for radical reform. I fear he feels it’s just a matter of ‘think pos’ and another dose of what’s made us sick, get it down you, mate.

If Boris is to prove me wrong, he needs to aim at what Sir James intended when setting up the Referendum Party: getting us completely free of the Lilliputian entanglements of the Berlaymont. If Gray May  and Bullneck Robbins had negotiated with the French after Waterloo we’d have ceded Kent and Essex and paid compensation to the Grande Armée; yet Johnson still clutches the awful Withdrawal Agreement and the even worse Political Declaration (that love-letter from Josephine to Napoleon) with only a few of the more compromising passages redacted.

The current system, globalism, is designed to enable a concentration of wealth and power, which is deflationary: the money boosts asset values rather than being recycled within the economy. So the velocity of money slows, ordinary people find it harder to make a living, the tax base shrinks even as the demand for financial support increases, and austerity eats itself like the worm Ourobouros. It’s great for the winners, until suddenly it isn’t – where are the rich Mayans now?

For all its talk of brotherhood, the EU is a scale model of globalism. Its ‘four freedoms’ allow companies to trade goods and services within the Union, challenging smaller businesses with both the costs of universal regulation and also their bigger competitors’ economies of scale (though, so I understand, discriminating against the financial services where the UK has an advantage); the free movement of capital allows companies to incorporate in the cheapest tax regimes while smuggling out profits from their foreign subsidiaries under the guise of internal transfers to pay for training and other services; and the freedom of movement of people is their liberty to go wherever work is to be had, racing to underbid their fellows.

We have to escape both the frying pan of the EU and the fire of unfettered global ‘free trade’. We can’t abruptly start a trade war with the developing world, but we have to manage the rate of change, compensating via tariffs and trade agreements for the unfair disparities in hourly wage rates that have turned the British working class into claimants.

Perhaps then we can become once again what Napoleon so despised, a nation of small shopkeepers; a nation of modest prosperity, self-reliance and the love of liberty.

Is Johnson’s mercurial mind up to such a detailed and sustained campaign?

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Saving the NHS

Retail is detail, as the great shop managers say. So is medicine, but I’ll come to that in a moment.

In the latest GE campaign, the Left tried beating the Tories over the head with the NHS, again. That photo of the boy on a hospital floor was a good one, wasn’t it? Accusations of fake news from one side, of trolling on the other. All I’d observe from this report is that the hospital only apologised for having nothing but chairs to sit on rather than a trolley, so why the lad was on the ground is a puzzle.


I am also mystified by the empty gravity-feed drip bag lying uselessly across him - and tubes not attached to the nose in the second photo:


... especially since he was still waiting to be seen?

Yes, the NHS is under intense pressure. Partly because it can do much more than it used to; partly because demand then rises even faster than supply; partly because of drugs, drunkenness, quarrels ‘getting stabby’, self-harm and all the other symptoms of a country in moral crisis. And I certainly hold no brief for the chirpy Jeremy Hunt or his hapless successor, but the job description of Health Secretary appears to include ‘scapegoat’, as the Bethany case shows.

And yet, however much you spend, you still have to mind the shop. Let me give you an illustrative case history.

My good friend Jim (name changed) was driving a couple of family members somewhere when an idiot in a window-darkened fast car shot out of a side street at him. Having quick reflexes, Jim swerved clear but then hit a series of three unfilled potholes, jarring his spine. Though in his late seventies, Jim was fit and active – a keen archer – and so it was some time before the back pain intensified to the point where he was X-rayed and vertebral displacement discovered.

When you are old, the system writes you off. Jim told me his GP gave him three plan options, all of which amounted to palliative care. He was to slide bedridden down the helter-skelter into the slot, with painkillers to ease the way.

But Jim wasn’t a quitter, and was highly intelligent. He scoured the internet and found a surgeon able to do the operation to fix his back. It succeeded; now for the physio program to get him back on his feet. Jim was moved to another hospital for the recuperation phase.

The first thing was, Hospital Two took his bed – a highly specialised one – and swapped it for another that was shorter, so that his feet were constantly pressing against the end. There was a hoist next to him, to get him to a chair for a couple of hours each day as part of the rehabilitation program. A couple of times, the staff managed to bump his toes painfully in the process; and increasingly it seems, they just didn’t get him out of bed at all.

Jim had suffered from sleep apnoea for many years, and had a CPAP machine to pump air at night. But nurses tidying busily disturbed the mechanism, which then got blocked with its water. So when I first visited him in hospital he hadn’t slept for four nights. The nurses, often clustered around the workstation outside the ward, hadn’t noticed. I got that sorted, and in subsequent visits kept Jim supplied with newspapers and magazines to keep his active brain occupied; and a squeezy ball to exercise his slowly wasting arm muscles.  They were eventually tidied (thrown) away.

Jim didn’t feel safe there, and wanted to go home – and no, he wasn’t demented. So a fresh home care plan was made and he had an adjustable bed delivered, plus a hoist. But soon after that the family were told not to use the hoist, since they weren’t expert and his wife was about his age. Flat in bed he lay, muscles weakening and even a slight angling up becoming more challenging for him.

Then there was the drugs program. The first painkillers tended to have constipation as a side effect, so Jim was also given laxatives to counteract this. But then the pain prescription was changed yet the laxatives continued, causing constant and strength-sapping diarrhoea until the foul-up was realised.

Speaking of pharmaceuticals, there were some he had never had, and should have had. Jim’s X-ray from the year before had also shown a shadow on his liver; but the technician hadn’t noticed. This was the ‘cloud no bigger than a man’s hand’ that was heading his way. I asked Jim what they were giving him to fight the cancer: nothing.

I last saw him in the hospice – he lasted only a few days there. His passing was peaceful. But long premature.

I don’t think money alone would have solved all this. It needed the close attention of a Stuart Rose, or a Philip Green; detail managers. Semi-ignored plans and responsibility sign-offs aren’t enough.

Money, of course; but money employed to best effect.

Friday, December 13, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Juletide Yazz, by JD

A Christmas selection for jazz lovers. Please note that the last video might be offensive to the puritanical youth of today as well as those who have had the statutory humour bypass (available free on the NHS):















Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Trendy Moniker, by Wiggiatlarge

When I was young a double barrelled surname would indicate someone from the upper crust, rarely did the lower reaches of society lay claim to such a fancy moniker.

The origins of such grandiose surnames goes back in time to when in this country the second surname was incorporated for heritable reasons, when there was no male descendant bearing the name and otherwise it would have become extinct.

In other countries there are other reasons for double barrelled surnames but that does not concern us here.

The use of a hyphen in all cases is optional and at the discretion of the people involved. Some families have both the hyphenated and the non versions in another branch of the family; the non hyphen versions cause the most trouble as often the first of the two surnames is taken as a forename.

There are even triple and quadruple barrelled versions; almost all involved landed gentry consolidating estates by marriage.

Why would I be interested in this rather arcane practice? Well, strangely I have a brother whose son has a double barrelled surname. Why they inflicted that on him with my surname as it is, is a mystery, but the business name of my brother and his wife (they live in Switzerland) is double barrelled and they for reasons of their own have given the son not just the double barrelled surname but a forename he will not thank them for in his adulthood; strange world.

But the current trend in these surnames has exploded of late. Watching Match of the Day I could not help but notice the number of footballers with double barrelled surnames emblazoned with difficulty across the back of their shirts; it now seems every Premier League team has a least one in the eleven, some have two or more. I am not really sure why; perhaps it has something to do with the growing preference for adult 'partnerships' over formal marriage. It is almost as if the non-primary-carer parent is staking a claim by imposing this naming. I could be wrong but there is a prevalence in that group of players; one of the first I noticed was Arsenal player Ian Wright's son, Shaun Wright - Phillips; in this case it is for the purposes of identity as Ian has eight kids by four mums ! Plus Shaun was adopted, all very complicated.

But I would assume that is not the norm ? and is there now a trend in taking two surnames simply because you can. Football would be a natural proving ground for such a trend, perhaps the tattoos and ridiculous haircuts have had their day, and the more trendy footballers or their parents are looking for the next thing, double barrelled surnames. We have after all had plenty of celebrities lumbering their offspring with forenames that beggar belief: certain pop stars and the likes of Jamie Oliver showed complete disregard for their offspring, planting names on them that should never have seen the light of day and will provide ridicule for years ahead for the poor kids, you have to have a serious deficiency to do that to a child.

Of course in the USA they have had the strange habit of naming kids in subsequent generations with the same name as the father and as the generations also have children we get the addition of Roman numerals after the names, the second third fourth etc. God help us if this is revived and becomes trendy here and is tagged onto double barrelled surnames, footballers will have to have enough room on their shirts for a paragraph.

Having a surname that is unusual, well it is in the South, has its moments and I remember a man I worked with in the sixties whose surname was Badcock who spent his time on the phone pronouncing it as in Cockburn's Port; the problem was nobody ever approached him and said that, it must have been a nightmare.

Names can be fascinating. Often they have a historical context and are a rich source of the English language. But they also promote an image: who after all would go and see a film star called Bernard Schwartz (Tony Curtis), or Archibald Leach (Cary Grant)? Not quite the same ring to them there.

And I finish with an oft told true story from my misspent youth. One of my friends had the use of his governor's MK 10 Jaguar at the weekends, but only for himself and direct family, all else was forbidden. But this weekend it was decided that four of us including the driver would go up west and have a night out in said car. All went well, until returning home: just a hundred odd yards from where we all lived we were stopped by police for the obvious reason - it looked dodgy having four youths in such a car.

The usual questions were asked and the driver was near breakdown as he saw this as a way to lose his job having broken the rules of usage. Anyway it then got to the stage of wanting the names of all the occupants and one by one we furnished them: the driver was Irvin Levy, the next was George Archibald, the third was (later my best man when I married) Lew Finesilver - it was a very Jewish area, you may have gathered - and lastly myself, John Wigglesworth. Having reached myself the plain clothes officer threw his notebook down and said, “Stop f****** about, now give us your real names,” and threatened us bodily harm if we didn’t. After much protest I was allowed to hot foot it across the road to get proof of identity from my parents' flat and all was grudgingly accepted.

Names, they can get you into a lot of trouble !




Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Election Special, by JD

We know this is just another Whitehall Farce https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitehall_farce so there is no point in taking it seriously -











Dozens more at Dutch Wogan - not sure if any of these are libellous!
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-DYnJtsTeIYL61yoQrp-0A

Pour yourself a wee dram and look forward to:

GE: Politicians Make A Monkey Out Of Us

On my doorstep stood the chimp and his trainer, asking for my vote. What issues were of concern to me? A referendum on the EU, I said (this was 2010). We had a referendum in 1975, said Bonzo. No! I replied, that was the EEC and we were told it was about trade. The Labour minder’s face – she was obviously the brains of the outfit - betrayed amusement at his ineptitude (Mark McCormack was right: always go into a meeting alone).

This was the first time in twenty years anyone from any party had called in person. Prior to 1997 I had been represented by a Labour grandee and the only time I saw or heard him was when he toured the constituency in a tannoy car to say so long and thanks for all the fish. Then the boundaries were redrawn and the (still rock-solid Red) seat was gifted to a London-based nebbish - even now I have had to Google to get his name.

All went well for the heir, even in 2001, by which time my feelings about Blair had hardened into certainty: Smiler was dangerously mad and so I protest-voted Tory for the first time in my life, not that it was going to make the slightest difference.

Some commenters on my last piece deplored British political tribalism and warned against PR because it breaks the link between an MP and his constituents. I completely agree – and yet, what link? No wonder I went by the headquarters organ-grinder: I never saw the monkey.

Until 2010: another Boundary Commission Etch-A-Sketch job and Lucky Boy was no longer in charge of me. So now a LibDem candidate turned up too, contemplating me owlishly. Issues? Europe: I sensed a sag, a weary contempt. But he got in, and when I emailed him in 2011 about sovereignty he replied ‘The EU has no power over parliament.  In fact the Lisbon Treaty included a change for a provision to leave the EU.  Parliament can simply refuse to incorporate EU law and in my view should be a bit more critical.’ I look forward to expert comment on that.

Aaand… back to the idea of service to constituents. In 2012 I tried to get him to ask a question at PMQs, about restoring public access to NS&I Index-Linked Savings Certificates. At this time I was still an IFA and was concerned that one of the first acts of a new “Conservative”-led coalition government was to pave the way for rogering the people’s money with inflation – which they did, as you will have seen since (only global recession has stopped it really taking off, to date).

Commenters talk about the electoral system being unfit for purpose. It’s worse than that: never mind the promotion, look at the product. The MP’s first response was to recast the query as an official letter, and the Treasury Lord who responded gave me two pages of what-we-are doing-for-savers guff that absolutely did not address the question. I responded, “It is not at all up to the standard that I would expect from a Treasury mind; in fact, it is little short of a disgrace,” and pressed for an oral question.

Well! Would you believe how hard it was to get a Tam Dalyell-type gimlet thrust at a Minister in the debating chamber? The correspondence ground on and almost a year later the MP’s researcher had drafted the following - I think it’s worth recording for posterity:

'To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he has taken or plans to undertake to maintain the value of savings against increased inflation or devaluations of the pound, if he has given thought to the taxation of savings by the Exchequer in various forms putting off individuals from saving some of their earned income by eroding the investments value, if he shares a concern that efforts to tax the small scale saved income of individuals to rescue financial institutions, such as measures debated by the Cypriot Parliament recently as part of the European Union’s and International Monetary Funds’ bailout terms undermine general confidence and what measures he can or will take to reassure individual savers that their investment will not be used to rescue institutions which have grossly mismanaged their affairs and thus be penalised, via the reduction of the value of their savings, for the mistakes of risk takers on a systemic financial level.’

Most amusing. Of course, it never happened and was never going to, though my representative was happy enough to ask other questions of interest to him and to strain Parliamentary privilege while he was about it. I suppose he was reluctant to sow discord in the Con-LibDem love-match then ongoing.

Let’s face it, whoever you get and however you get them (AV is my preference), who are they going to listen to: an electorate misinformed and manipulated once every five years, or the bosses and buddies they encounter every working day in Westminster?

I do like the suggestion of MP recall – perhaps an ‘annual performance examination (APE)’?

Meanwhile, good luck selecting your own!

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Brexit and Electoral Reform

As BoJo approaches the polls, brandishing his hastily amended May’s Withdrawal Agreement – still toxic, even with the mould scraped off - Nigel Farage considers rebranding (repurposing?) his party as the Reform Party.

Political reform is an unfinished work. Pall Mall’s Reform Club was founded after the 1832 Act, not before; it was intended as a counter to the Carlton, one of whose founding members the Duke of Wellington opposed both the Act and the extension of the right to vote (when his men cheered him at Waterloo he said it came dangerously close to an expression of opinion). The Reform is now merely a social venue but it is high time it recovered its radical role; perhaps Farage should be invited to the relaunch.

Because boy, is he right. If the Tory party gets its way, then to paraphrase Churchill, their Faux Brexit is not even the beginning of the beginning, let alone the end of it. We’re stuck with a hard choice: a Labour Party that betrayed the working class, or a Conservative Party that betrayed the whole country (never forget who first got us into this mess). The latter are no more freedom’s friend than the former.

For despite the sloganising, we are in a battle not to recover democracy, but to establish it for the first time. Westminster is manifestly not the voice of the People: remember that Parliament’s Civil War against the King ignited the Putney Debates, but when Rainsborough argued:

‘I think that the poorest hee that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest hee; and therefore truly, Sir, I think itt clear, that every Man that is to live under a Government ought first by his own Consent to put himself under that Government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that Government that he hath not had a voice to put Himself under.’

... he spoke in vain: Cromwell’s mindset was ‘when we stood for liberty, we weren’t thinking of you morons,’ and not much has changed since then.

Yes, we’ve come a long way from the Old Sarum of 1802, a constituency with an electorate of merely eleven people yet entitled to two MPs, all of whom including the voters were nominated by the landowner.

But as the franchise – universal for under a century – has widened, the struggle to nullify it has become more systematic, and First Past The Post has been one of the greatest tools. Largely thanks to FPTP, 65 seats have stayed with the same Party since WWI and 192 since WWII; yet in some two-thirds of Parliamentary seats, the MP is returned with a minority of votes cast. For example, theoretically with an even three-way split the victor needs only to win 34%.

So we have a large industry built around identifying and persuading ‘the swing voter in the swing seat’; the reward of the loyal moron is to be taken for granted. All that counts is computerised psephology and tailored messaging: pinpoint-accurate bulldung.

The system is so skewed that on average, the UK voter’s pencil cross is only about 30% effective – check how much power you have in your own constituency here. And so much depends on voter concentration: as of 6 December, Political Calculus predicts that with 3.7% of the nation’s votes the SNP will gain 44 seats (6.8% of the House of Commons total), whereas the Brexit Party with 3.1% of the votes will get nothing.

The arrangement suits the major parties very well, of course. What upset the apple cart was holding a Referendum where every person’s vote counted equally so that a white-faced elite has had to firefight an unwanted result. It turns out that the ‘fruitcakes and loons’ were the ones on the green benches, and an unappetising if edifying spectacle they have made of themselves ever since.

And how they fought against the Alternative Vote in 2011, that mess of pottage for which Nick Clegg sacrificed his university fees pledge and his own credibility. Yet 80 years earlier, AV was exactly what Parliament wished to introduce – the Bill passed in the Commons - being thwarted only by the fall of the National Government.

Until we get a fairer system of representation, in my constituency I could vote for the Man in the Moon, but I’d still get Labour.

And until then, what is the legitimacy of a government without the equitable consent of the people?

Friday, December 06, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Gene Clark (cf. The Byrds), by JD

Gene Clark was a founder member of the Byrds alongside Jim 'Roger' McGuinn but seemed to be 'hidden' within the group, all the media attention being directed towards Mc Guinn and his unique sound coming from his twelve string Rickenbaker guitar. But Clark was undoubtedly the heart and soul of the group as he wrote most of their songs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Byrds and this short biography gives an account of his life during and after his time with the Byrds. It is a very honest look at his many problems in his short life.



In the following selection of Clark's music there are only two which were not written by him. 'In The Pines' is a well known and much recorded song by Leadbelly and 'Give My Love To Marie' was written by James Talley but Clark seems to bring out something special in this very moving story of a dying coal miner.

Also included is Del Gato sung here not by Clark but by his brother Rick Clark who co-wrote the song and gives a good and understandably emotional performance, after a faltering start, with help from Carla Olson and John York who was also a member of the Byrds a few years after Gene Clark left.

(Gene Clark's son, Kai Clark, sounds as though he has inherited his father's voice, there are a few videos of him available on YouTube. Worth seeking out.)
















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Sackerson adds:

So sorry, but I must include this!

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

An Unwanted Imposition Averted, by Wiggiatlarge



I thought I would get this in before the spirit of goodwill, over indulgence in alcohol and food stupefies us all for a week or so and quite rightly numbs the truth out there on where we are.

The news that President Macron has said the ‘Dry January’ campaign for France for this coming January has been abandoned, no doubt after much lobbying from the powerful French wine industry, is good news.

It was supposed to follow our own Dry January put in place last year.

https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2019/11/french-government-scraps-plans-for-dry-january-campaign/

This is all part of a creeping authoritarian desire by certain groups and organisations through government to get the “little people”  into line on certain issues.

I am pretty sure the government would have liked to follow Scotland with the minimum pricing racket but feared a backlash, no doubt it is still on the back burner should they need extra taxes to fund theirs and all the parties involved in these pantomime elections' ludicrously expensive promises to the electorate.

Behind all of these trendy fads is an industry waiting to get out, in many cases the industry exists and just needs that official rubber stamp to get into full subsidy mode.

The vegan push from what is a small, but as we are constantly reminded ‘growing’ minority is a case in point: never a day goes by it seems without some celebrity informing us of their virtue by having given up meat to save the planet. I wonder if they ever think how it looks when the likes of Leonardo de Caprio tells us to stay at home to save the planet while he jets off to another climate conference, or Lewis Hamilton telling us we should all give up meat to cleanse the air while he hurtles round race tracks world wide burning fossil fuel - the ‘evil’ fossil fuel - at an alarming rate and of course uses his private jet to get back to his Monaco home. All of them, and there are many, must deep down realise that they look ridiculous; or maybe not, it really is for the little people only.

The organisations that want change in whatever form all start with the premise they are saving something, lives, lifestyle, the planet, and all require the little people to help with donations or to change their way of life because x says you should.

Amazingly nearly all have gained traction over the years and all morph into subsidiaries of government, even having the ear whenever they like of ministers and top officials, and even a place at the table for government meetings on relevant issues. None of course have been voted for and very few people who donate realise what they have become.

It is only when a disaster for a ‘charity’ such as the Save the Children’one of a short while back emerge that some relevant truths unfold and the same organisation has been found to only spend 7p of every pound on their actual work and only 3p on the children whilst the CEO rakes in 174k . We have become so used to the adverts on TV asking for the obligatory £3 a month I am sure many just sign up without ever delving into what that organisation actually does. Water Aid or Action Aid has been asking for the £3  a month for it seems decades to supply clean water in in places like Africa; if they have actually spent the money on wells and pumps Africa must be like travelling through a ski slalom course, there must be so many pumps and wells there, but are there ?

So no wonder new organisations are on the look out to start up and get on the gravy train of public largesse whether direct or through government. ER is but the latest to flex its muscles and threaten dire consequences unless we all toe the ER line and give money. St Greta of Hamburger is just the latest icon that vulnerable idiots will get behind despite being a puppet and a fraud: the latest yacht trip that has all eco loons frothing at the mouth turns out to have had the crew flying to the States to bring the sainted one back so she can speak at the climate conference in Madrid.Nnotice how she walks straight into these events, partly because no attendee would have the guts to say what a sham it all was and the rest see $ signs down the road which she can assist in acquiring, through, you guessed it, the tax payer.

The taxpayer, that forgotten ingredient in any spending spree justified or not is a big part of all the major parties' promises for this election. However many actually come to fruition, you can guarantee waste, corruption and pocket lining on a major scale - we haven’t reached Italian levels yet (think of Venice), but we or they are learning fast: MPs' expenses are back above ‘scandal’ levels and not a peep.

The Labour manifesto for what it is worth promises all sorts of eco policies involving huge amounts of other people's money so they can claim to be greener than anyone else; and if these plans are carried out large sections of current production in this country will go to the wall - the Green Agenda will not replace any lost industries other than on paper as nearly all are subsidised, so higher and higher energy prices are inevitable.

The manifesto is worth at least a deep scan as within it further restrictions are hinted at and indeed promised as we 'must' improve our carbon footprint even if the country goes to the wall achieving their aims.

https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/a-green-industrial-revolution/

I don’t think I have ever read as much political unachievable propaganda in one go in my life. It is full of malfeasance, fantasy and downright lies. It is a socialist utopian upland with all living the dream at someone else's expense, and this is just the green part of their spending plans. The sums are enormous and will bankrupt the nation if they take this path, and all for what? We sit on 400 years of coal, and fracking would produce gas, but fracking is dangerous they say despite no danger anywhere having been recorded.

I would lose the will to live if I read the other parties' equivalent to all this but I doubt there would be much difference in approach though the projected numbers may be less. But these are only manifestos; as we are all aware they mean nothing to a party that gets power, after all, that is all they really want.

What we can be sure of in the not so distant future is a further restriction on travel, either by limiting the mode of travel or pricing. Alcohol restrictions as in the Scottish example will no doubt be a starter for ten Then there will be guidance on what food you can eat, as eating the right food saves the planet! and releases land for crops - though it doesn’t as grazing land is not suitable for crops, being mostly thin topsoil over rock. Energy will rise in price and be rationed as our capacity to produce is way below the needs of the eco revolution and will stay that way for decades through our lack of investment in infrastructure.

Having said all that it hasn’t happened just yet so I am putting up extra Christmas lights, at least another two thousand, as a small way of thumbing my nose at the lot of them, a sort of mini Deck the Halls, as I am pretty sure Frostmas or whatever it will be called along with nut roast and candles is not that far away.

Have a good one!


Friday, November 29, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Sacred Harp, by JD

This style of 'a capella' singing is new to me. It is called Sacred Harp singing or Shape Singing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_Harp

I had not heard of it until I came across a link in a comment on a US blog a couple of weeks ago. The link was the first video shown below. I found this brief description beneath one of the other videos in the series but don't remember which:

"Welcome to the incredible talent of the Sacred Heart Singers of Cork, an Irish music group who sing a cappella in the style of Sacred Harp, a sacred choral music that originated in the American South of the United States.

"Having originated in the South in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the singers are led not by traditional musical notes but by shapes which represent the different pitches while time is not kept with a formal conductor but through the communal keeping of time as everybody beats their hands."

The tune and lyrics of Babylon Is Fallen are thought to be from the 17th century and it then travelled to the USA with the Shakers. In the USA it is known as Shape Singing and, by coincidence, that phrase appeared in the new BBC series on the origins of country music.

The first of Ken Burns' films told the story of the first recordings made in Bristol, Tennessee in 1927. One of the singers had borrowed the Shape Singing hymn book from a local Methodist church and had adapted some of the tunes/lyrics for his recording sessions.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000bhfw

Apart from the brief notes above it is difficult to find much information on this Sacred Harp or Shape singing but there is a lot of it on YouTube.













Friday, November 22, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Marin Marais, by JD

This week's music comes from the French composer Marin Marais (1656 - 1728) who wrote music for the viola da gamba, a stringed instrument similar to the cello but with seven strings as opposed to the cello's four.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marin_Marais













Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Wine for Christmas…. Again….Already….. by Wiggiatlarge



Writing this is a wonderful example of how realising that it is time for another listing, is that the years go by ever quicker. If I didn’t have a calendar I would have guessed it was around August Bank Holiday, at the latest, but it isn’t and time for the annual suggestions. Unlike the tasters in the magazines and online who have access to unlimited wines, my list is from wines I have purchased and tasted/drunk with very few exceptions.

Christmas is the time for celebration, or should be, though this year there is very little in this land to celebrate. All the more reason to buy a few bottles for the festive season and enjoy that warm feeling you will not get if you read the dead tree press or watch television news.
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Celebration means sparkling wine and Champagne, and as before I have to confess this is an area I have the least input on. I do like the odd bottle of Champagne/sparkling wine but have with very few exceptions found it difficult to justify the price for the pleasure it gives; but I am in a minority, so believing in the main these bottles will be used for family gatherings and parties I have kept the price down to manageable levels as one bottle will not usually suffice.

In no particular order:
  • Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Cremant de Loire Brut - I can genuinely recommend this at around £11.
  • Aldi do a very presentable Champagne at the ridiculous price (for Champagne, that is !) of £12.49: Veuve Monsigny Brut Grand Reserve NV
  • Asda ditto with their own Extra Special Louis Bernard Champagne.
  • Morrisons Adrien Chopin brut Champagne at currently £15
      and at Waitrose a couple or so of goodies from a very large choice:
  • Cave de Lugny NV sparkling Burgundy at £13.99.
  • Juve & Camps seleccion reserve Cava £11.99, which is very good at this price level.
  • L’Atzar Cava Reserve at £10.99 - another great value Cava.
  • Bird in Hand Sparkling Pinot Noir  at £15.99 for something a bit different from Australia, in effect a rosé
  • And a goody from our own vineyards if you want to push the boat out a bit more: Ridgeview Bloomsbury NV  - £28.99.

There are some good Proseccos among all the rubbish but not having tasted any apart from one, they stay unmentioned. This is now a very popular and large category and there is something for everyone if you like sparkling wine. The one was Tesco's Finest Prosecco Brut at £8: I thought it decent and good value. Critics thought a lot more of it and gave it best value bubbly, which shows how tastes can vary, I just did not think it was ‘that’ good.
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We follow with Port and Sherry and the fortified section. Sherry has been struggling with sales in recent years but the figures for this year show a very welcome and decent increase in sales. The depressed market has meant depressed retail prices for many years but this could all change so take advantage of some of the bargains of the wine world while you can. Port on the other hand is still struggling to sell and again there are some relative bargains in the sector.

If you like vintage port and don’t want to spend the £60-100 pounds needed to buy the best examples like Taylors and Grahams then look for the lesser brands, often the Portuguese owned ones such as Kopke, the oldest Port House of all, Ramos Pinto and Calem, or the single vineyard vintage ports put out by the likes of Taylors, Grahams and Warre normally seen as Quintas (single vineyards), some in wooden gift boxes and often as low as £20 when on offer. Taylors Vargelas is a good one and available at Waitrose and elsewhere.

Port is not difficult to evaluate, it changes little as to what is on offer year on year, and many of the more popular ones are made to standard that varies little each year, nonetheless the quality is high across the board.

If you want a ruby port to please Granny when she appears at Christmas, Morrisons Ruby Port as last year is still the option that is easiest on the pocket and within the bottle is real quality, a bargain.
I would go for something a bit better at this time. All the major players, Taylors, Graham, Warres, Cockburn, Sandeman and so on do very good LBVs, late bottled vintage, crusted and tawny ports with age. The tawny versions are probably the best in this category and the ten-year versions from all of them will not break the bank though my favorite and that of many who have tasted it is not so cheap: Grahams 20 year Tawny will set you back the best part of £40 but is worth every penny, again available at Waitrose and elsewhere.

For a sweeter tooth some very good Marsalas such as those from Pellegrino and Marco de Bartoli are worth looking out for and again won't break the bank at well under £10, they also double up as a drink and a wonderful addition to pour over ice cream and certain desserts, plus many of these dessert wines are in half bottles so no waste if you just want a glass. Look out also for Madeiras: they are not in fashion at the moment and the vineyards are going through a hard time, but the likes of Blandys Duke of Clarence is available at ASDA for a tenner and Henriques & Henriques Full Rich Madeira is available at Waitrose for £10.99, another out of fashion bargain.

As I said sherry is apparently on the up, there are certainly more of the better higher priced sherries coming onto the market but not really in supermarkets, in fact supermarkets seem to be cutting back their ranges. Sainsbury’s has for instance gone nearly all own label and no longer include a fino or manzanilla at all in their range !

For the dry finos and manzanillas the choice is stark unless you are a member of the Wine Society or have a good independent merchant near you.

So the choice comes down to Morrisons own label fino which is amazing value at £5.50; and Waitrose own label fino and award winning manzanilla at £7.65 - both are reliable and way above their price in quality. Another quality manzanilla available at Waitrose and elsewhere is Solear by Barbadillo, lovely wine for little more and Hidalgos Pasana Pastrada Manzanilla.

For Amontillados and Olorosos the choice is better if you shop at Waitrose, every where else is cutting back on sherry and introducing own labels. Sainsbury's no longer do a Fino own label and Majestic have all but abandoned sherry altogether apart from one Amontillado by the very good firm of Hidalgo, Napoleon Seco (dry) at £14.99. Tesco have one stand out Oloroso under the Finest label: a half bottle of Pedro Ximinez at £6.00. A standout Oloroso is Morrisons the Best, made by Lustau one of the great sherry houses this, dry nutty and recommended, £5.50, a bargain.

Waitrose is fast becoming the only supermarket that does a decent range of sherries and their own label Amontillado at £7.65 is to be recommended, they also stock Lustaus East India Solers Oloroso an old sherry in a 50cc bottle at £11.99, plus a very good 12 years old oloroso from Williams and Humbert at £11.99, they also stock the Gonzalez Byass range in half bottles with which you cannot go wrong.
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Bargain wines: the "five pound ceiling", so called by the trade as buyers here are reluctant to spend more on a bottle of wine has not stopped the trade continually pushing for people to spend ‘a little more’ and reap the benefits. All things being equal it makes sense, it is true that the actual value of the wine in a five pound bottle is as low as 30p, the rest taken up with tax, marketing, packaging and of course profits for all involved. If you spend a tenner on a bottle the value of the wine rises to around £1.60, so you can see where they are coming from. As usual that presupposes that the wine is any good so spending a tenner does not guarantee quality because of the price alone.

Five pounds for a bottle: are there any good ones out there? For those throwing parties, five pound bottles make sense as few will care much about the quality as long as it is drinkable, yet there are some decent bottles at that price or near even now so it does no harm to look for them.Most of that bracket is controlled by the huge wineries such as the American giant Gallo, and the Australian equivalents, the Barefoot, Yellowtail etc bottles dominate, yet you can see on the shelves some other more distinctive bargains. You have to be careful in this sector as often new wines are put in competition to win awards and recognition and that year's production can be very good for the money, but subsequent vintages have a habit of sliding down the quality scale as the initial vintage is in effect a loss leader.

Anyway, here's a few reds to get you started:

  • Sainsbury's Rioja Era Cosana Crianza at £5.85 is a steal and seems to keep up the standard vintage to vintage
  • Tesco do a gluggable Nero D’Avola at £5.50
  • Waitrose do an own label Romanian Pinot Noir at £5.50 which for a decent PN is ridiculous
  • Morrisons do a equally good Pinot Noir from Argentina by Trapiche at two for £10, perfect party wines.
  • Aldi do an ‘Exquisite’ Malbec at £5.99 that just squeezes in and is decent, plus Toro Loco organico Utiel Requena at £4.99 is the bargain of them all and the best of several Toro Loco wines. Aldi in fact easily outstrip everyone on VFM cheapies.
  • Lidl manage a couple of decent cheapies: their Winemakers Selection Barrosa Valley Shiraz  £5.99 is a bargain for a fruity full on Shiraz, plus there is a ridiculously cheap (at £3.99) Cimarosa South African Pinotage, cheap enough to fill everyone's boots.
  • A late addition and a very big prizewinner from ASDA is Wine Atlas Feteascu Neagra for £5.25 a bottle, berry flavours fresh and a terrific party wine, from Romania - we are at last going to see more good wines at fair prices from the eastern bloc.

Whites in this cheap grouping offer a much more varied choice for reasons I simply don’t know, they easily outstrip the reds. I’ll start with:

  • Aldi - under the Exquisite label they have a very good Rias Baixas Alberino and a Sauvignon Blanc from Freemans Bay both £5.99, plus a Sauvignon Blanc from the Leyda Valley (Chile) £5.49. Add to that a very drinkable Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie £5.69 and again under the own label a Limestone Coast Chardonnay £5.99 and you have if you want pretty well covered the needs of white party wines.
  • Morrisons own Sauvignon Blanc from Chile at £4.50 is if nothing else drinkable and at that price you can fill up your guests' glasses without feeling your wallet draining.
  • Waitrose have a Hungarian Hilltop Estate Pinot Grigio that has been reduced to £5.99
  • Lidl stock a very good value Soave Classico £4.49, a Cimarosa Torrontes from Argentina £4.99 and another under the Cimarosa label, a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough £5.99.
  • ASDA have a Viognier if you would like something a little different: La Grand Clauzy, currently at £5.00.

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Right, let's get away from the party cheapies. Better wines: here are some wines red and white that you might fancy over the festive period either with food or on their own, no particular price points though the expensive stuff is not usually stocked by supermarkets anyway.

Some new finds among this selection, there could be many more but I have tried to whittle it down to something manageable.

Just a point before I start: it is no surprise and I voiced such some years back, now that the supermarkets have cornered the everyday wine trade the choice is being throttled and more own labels are taking over. Tesco in particular have gone from what was a good high street wine retailer to an extremely, in the main, boring one with more own labels and big brands than anyone else, but the others are not far behind. It was inevitable with their buying power this would happen. Given nothing to compare with, own labels are not inherently bad but do give the supermarkets the chance to price without comparison.

Firstly Waitrose, the last supermarket to still have a decent range of wines from individual growers. Starting with their reds:

  • Wirra Wirra Church Block a blend of three grapes from the Barrosa very reliable - £13.99
  • Vinalba Reserve Malbec from Argentina also £13.99, Vinalba do a very good range of wines at or around the ten pound mark.
  • Kilikanoon Grenache Shiraz Mataro £10.99
  • Castilo de Olite Collecion from Spain very good price-quality ratio at £9.99
  • Chateau Maris Organic Minervois £10.99 very upfront fruit but fresh, and from the same stable
  • Chateau Maris Les Planels Cru La Liviniere £17.99 - I really liked this one
  • Le Sabbie dell’Etna Rosso £12.99
  • Baiocchi Montefalco Sagrantin - an unusual grape but very nice wine: £15.99

Waitrose have quite a few others more than worthy of inclusion plus their fine wine section, but I have tried to keep the selection fresh.

White wines from Waitrose:

From a large range of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs that do little for me despite their popularity, the best I have tasted are:
  • Astrolabe Awatere £19.99
  • Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc £14.99 
  • and a Pinot Gris as good as I have tasted outside of the Alsace, from ARA Single Vineyard at £10.99.
Waitrose whites from elsewhere:
  • A better Italian, Terredora Greco di Tufo £14.99
  • From Bordeaux. Chateau La Louviere is a classic blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, lovely with fish dishes £24.99
  • and a Chardonnay from California: Frei Brothers Sonoma Reserve £17.99.

Majestic are going through a time of takeover so I've no idea what lies ahead. They have suffered for a variety of reasons, the main one being the strange pricing policies. Nevertheless there are some good red wines there:

  • Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva 2009 £19.99
  • Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2016 La Casetta £14.99
  • Nero Oro Riserva from Sicily £11.99
  • Gnarly Dudes Shiraz from Two Hands winery £18.99
  • Vinalba Touriga Nacional-Malbec Reserve £11.99 - the pick for me of five different Vinalba wines Majestic do, all good.

Whites:

  • Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc is for me as good as any from NZ with that grape £17.99
  • Domaine Saint Ferriol Viognier is a cracker at £12.99
  • a spicy Gerwurtztraminer from Schlumberger, Les Princes Abbes, great firm nice wine £14.99
  • a lovely Chardonnay from Domaine Begude ‘Arcturus’ from the Limoux region: expensive but worth it £36.00
  • a better than average Gavi La Raia ‘Il Borgo’ £11.99 finishes those that I have tried from Majestic.


The Sainsbury's whites that caught the eye during the year:

  • Stellenrust Chenin Blanc from SA at £8.50 is a good buy 
  • also from SA the Bellingham Bernard Series Rousanne makes a change £10.25


Tesco have just introduced a Rhone white from Guigal who do not seem to make a bad wine, Guigal Cote de Rhone White is £12.00.

Aldi have a rather good white Grenache, Baron de Ley Garnacha Blanca at £8.99 and a Kirkberg from Austria Gruner Veltliner £8.99 a favoured grape with many.

In reds Aldi actually have found a Barberesco for £9.99 Roversi normally I would steer clear of cheap wines from this part of the world but this one bucks the trend amazing value for a prestigious bottle.

Whereas ASDA can offer Cascina Valentino Roero Arneis, a difficult grape and rarely true to type but here they managed a good stab at it at a very good price £9.50.

Morrisons are not known for top end wines, yet in their offerings

  • the Vinalba Malbec and blends are a good buy and usually at least one is on offer at around £10
  • Contino Reserva Rioja is a top rate version at £22.50 
  • and they usually have the Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir at £14.00 which is cheaper than anyone else for a good South American version of the grape.


Anyone looking for a Riesling will struggle to find anything in these stores, only Majestic have few, the best being from Australia. The ones they have I haven’t tried but by reputation for quality the Greywacke version would be the one I would go for, otherwise the choice is dire.

I no longer have a decent Co-op near me. The last one had a very good range of wines and many rather surprising ones, it was always worth a browse, but from their web site I see a very good Bordeaux, Ch Senejac 2012 £17 pounds is available, not the sort of wine you expect at the Co-Op but you would be wrong, lovely wine to go with the Christmas dinner. If you like spicy Rhone reds they do a couple from the firm of Perrin, a Chateauneuf de Pape Les Sinards £20 and a Vinsobres Les Cornuds at just £10.
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Pudding or dessert wines are not everyone's taste yet again there are many lovely bottles to be had, if you have  sweet tooth or want something to go with the Stilton or any other strong blue cheese. These are wines that I have had over time and they are normally very reliable, just a few then:


  • Aldi have an Australian ‘sticky’ De Bortolis Liquer Muscat at £8,
  • Sainsbury's do a rather special treat Royal Tokaji Late Harvest in their Taste the Difference range 50cl bottle at £10 a real value buy for such a prestigious winery
  • Waitrose again have easily the biggest range in these wines: a Sauterne from Ch Liot a half bottle at £13.99 is good value, plus from the Loire Chateau Gaudrelle Vouvray Reserve Especial Moelleux, another half bottle at £10.99 makes a change - a lot of very good sweet wines come from the Loire but are rarely seen.  

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You may have noticed there are no rosés shown, that is because I rarely drink them, but instead a photo of a rosé will have to suffice !

Perhaps "pink wine" would be a better term...

What this past year has shown is the contraction in many areas of wine within the supermarkets. Own labels and big brands now rule.

If you want find interesting wines you are going to have to look elsewhere, I have mentioned before The Wine Society have a wonderful range at all price points the £40 life membership is worth every penny and you get £20 back on your first order they are well worth a look.
https://www.thewinesociety.com/

I hope there is something there for everyone, not including £20-plus wines apart from one or two is a deliberate move as I imagine drinkers who regularly spend that sort of money don’t need any help from me !

So Christmas beckons to all...

Cheers!
Salute!
Prost!
Sante!
Salude!
Skal!
Na zdorovie!
Kanpai!

... and whatever else fits the bill

Happy Christmas to You!