Tuesday 26 April 2005

Gordon bloody Brown.

My employers have just announced a sharesave scheme, which is great. I was in one of these schemes once before, with British Gas Services, and it was rather a good earner. For those of you who don't know, it's a pretty simple idea. You opt to put aside a portion of your salary for three years. At the end of the three years, you get a small bonus added to the total. You then get the option of either taking the money or spending it all on shares in your company. The good bit is that you get to buy the shares at a price fixed at the start of the scheme — so, for instance, my employers could pick a share price of 50p today, and, even if the shares are worth 500p in three years time, I still get to buy them at 50p each — and then immediately resell them, if I wish. Fantastic. Of course, the price could also go down, but I can choose to take the money instead of the shares, so the worst-case scenario is that I get the small bonus. It's a very small bonus, but it's still great by the standards of worst-case scenarios.

I was just about to sign up when I spotted this in the Ts & Cs:

Remember, tax legislation can be changed by the Government, and the rules that apply today may be different when you come to exercise your option or sell your shares.

Good point. Labour are going to win this election, and they've promised not to touch income tax, which means they'll be looking for other things to tax. Would anyone in their right minds think that sharesave schemes aren't prime candidates? Brown might not tax the hell out of this at some point in the next three years, but the risk seems to me to be very high.

Sharesave schemes are good in all sorts of ways: they're a form of saving; they're easy risk-free investment for the working classes; they give employees the opportunity to exert control over their companies and to share in their companies' profits; they give people, including those on low wages, nice big fat lump sums; they give companies a good way of raising funds from their employees without ripping them off. They're just plain good. And here I am, worried about joining one because I am all too aware of our "prudent" Chancellor's record. If his actions have been so good for the economy, then how comes they are discouraging me from taking action that would be good for the economy?

Wednesday 20 April 2005

The misery of certain impending loss.

The Passing Parade writes about insurers and why they're all so bloody miserable:

But almost all insurance people are positive party animals when compared to those sad and somber actuarial wretches who must peddle life insurance for a living. Like card counters at a blackjack table, life insurance is the one area of the insurance casino where the advantage lies entirely with the policyholder; even with the best efforts of doctors and life insurance salesmen to dissuade them the vast majority of people insist on dying. This is disheartening, to say the least, for your average life insurance peddler, who must constantly rethink his commitment to capitalism and the free market in the light of the millions of people willing to die in order to get their hands on the insurance company’s money.


Monday 18 April 2005

The most stupid political analysis ever.

I just took The Public Whip's quiz and it told me:

We suggest you vote Sinn Féin in North Down
— based on how your ex-MP (who is standing again) and MPs of other parties voted in parliament over the last 4 years, compared to your opinion on these issues

Did it really not occur to The Public Whip that there might be another issue in this part of the country, that their advice really ought to consider? You'd've thunk they'd've noticed: it's been on the news and everything.

But, added to the obvious knuckle-dragging idiocy, there are hidden depths of knuckle-dragging idiocy, in the form of this basic and vastly stupid statistical error. Since the IRA's MPs refuse to sit in Parliament, hence do not vote in Parliament, they tend to have a better voting record on pretty much any issue you care to think of. Either you agree with your non-IRA MP about absolutely everything, or your opinions conflict with their voting record on at least one issue. On the other hand, your opinion will never conflict with any IRA MP's voting record, because they don't have one. I've taken the quiz a number of times now with a wide range of different opinions, and, sure enough, it's told me to vote Sinn Fein nearly every time.

Puzzlingly, despite being shown by statistical analysis to be the party to vote for, the IRA haven't even bothered putting up posters round my way. Strange to see such a lack of confidence.

Sunday 17 April 2005

The pending election: some advice.

OK, so here's a bit of election commentary then. I said there wouldn't be any, yet here is some. Sue me.

Whoever you vote for, they're going to need organisational skills if they win, right? Even the lowliest of MPs has some tasks to complete (I'm told), and, ideally, you don't want said tasks fucked up. At the very least, you'd like a smidgin of competence, right? Right. And what if they end up a minister or secretary of something? Then they could be organising really important stuff, like avoiding nuclear war or providing free milk to dockers. So an important criterion to consider when choosing whom to vote for is, when they're given a task, do they get it broadly right, or is it an unmitigated disaster? Well, I have worked out how you can tell.

You see, I've been looking at the various vote-for-me posters littering our world, and I have noticed that most of them have something in common: bloody awful photos. The sort of photo that, if it were of you, you'd say, "Oh, that one was at that party. God, we were all so drunk. And Keith had got hold of the camera, and he's just got no hand-eye co-ordination at the best of times, but then Samantha jogged his elbow just as he hit the shutter. And I think I was about to throw up. And, anyway, I always look like a monkey in photos. And, Jesus, that lighting's just dreadful." Except these are photos of (probably) sober candidates, in professional photographers' studios, with professional lighting, not at parties, not throwing up. And they've had a whole load of shots done and spent ages going through them all to pick just the right one — what you're looking at could be what they think is the best of maybe a hundred shots. Even worse, they might be right: it could actually be the best one. And it's not just crap. It's really, really crap, with a capital crap.

So your candidate was given a very, very simple task; simpler than most of the things they're likely to be asked to do as an MP: "Get a decent photo for the posters. Here's a wodge of money. Hire a professional photographer. Make sure the end result says 'Vote for me. I'm reliable, honest, friendly, efficient.' You don't have to be good-looking — hey, you're a politician; we're not demanding the impossible here — just try not to look like a leering brain-dead twat."

Now, would you want someone who can't even manage that handling the situation with Iran?

Comedic redevelopment.

A new development on the my-two-year-old-niece-learning-to-speak front. As mentioned before, she can now, sadly, pronounce the letter L, destroying the comic glory of not doing so. However, she is so pleased with her new sound that she overpronounces the letter, always giving it a syllable all of its own. As a result, if you now ask her, "What do you build with?" she replies, clear as day, "Bollocks."

Friday 15 April 2005


One of the things I love about modern phones is that you can buy all sorts of different applications for them. But that's not why I'm blogging; that's just background, to set the mood. No, so I was browsing through the Nokia Software Market and I found TimeTool, which, among other things, does this, apparently:

The Planner helps you to manage weekly repeating events and exonerate the Calendar.

For all your falsely-accused-calendar needs.

Thursday 14 April 2005

Happy birthday to me.

Tomorrow, I will be a hundred and seven. Well, it feels that way. When I am a hundred and seven, I will look back at this and scoff, of course. "No, no," I will say to myself across time itself, "this feels like being a hundred and seven. What you're thinking of is feeling tired and achy from excessive laying of patios, which is, let me assure you, young man, a breeze in comparison. Where's my cocoa?"

To which I reply, "Look, you crazy old bastard, I've been trying in vain to unblock our drains for the last couple of hours, up way above my elbow in shit, and I could quite do without being condescended to by my older self. The reason I feel like I'm a hundred and seven is that, what with the drain situation and my lack of a rubber suit, I smell like you probably smell all the time. Furthermore, piss off."

Anyway, I'm thirty-one tomorrow. Woo.

Monday 11 April 2005

A small observation.

Laying a patio is surprisingly easy.  Mixing sand, cement, and water, however, is the sort of thing the devil would make you do in hell, though I'm sure even Satan would balk at making anyone do it for eternity.  A couple of days would be quite bad enough.  Maybe a week for the guy who invented the new type of bath plug that may not have the unbearably unsightly chain but also doesn't let the bloody water out of the bath.  That's "bloody" as in "cotton-picking".  I've not been killing people in my bath or anything.  Oh no.  What a thought.  Ha ha ha.  Anyway, yes, what was he thinking, whoever he was?  Are plug chains really so bad that we should be willing to trade the excitement of plug levers for the ability to actually empty the actual bath?  Well?  It makes me so angry, I could strangle a manatee in the nude.  There's an obscure quote for you.  Some sort of worthless prize to whomsoever identifies it correctly.  Obviously correctly.  Why would there be a prize for identifying it incorrectly?  That would be quite odd.

Still no election commentary here, then.

Friday 8 April 2005

Anatomy of an insufferable self-absorbed wanker.

In my last post, I mentioned that I don't much care for the philosopher Michael Tye. I wasn't going to go on about it, but then I saw this on his homepage:

My interest in philosophy was awakened at Oxford while an undergraduate (though not by my tutor, who spent most of our tutorial time together in silent meditation).

Michael Tye criticises his tutor for not doing enough to teach him philosophy? Well then.

Tye was to be my tutor for the first half of my fourth year at St Andrews. He had just arrived at the university, and so my first tutorial with him was, I think, his first tutorial. Unfortunately, I had one hell of a bad throat at the time and was under doctor's orders to stay in bed — I had a throat ulcer, my doctor said, which sounded alarming. So I called the department, like I was supposed to, and left a message to let Professor Tye know I wouldn't be there. This was totally unexceptional stuff; happened all the time.

So up I turned the next week, feeling better, and the guy just laid into me. He took my ill health to be a personal affront. He clearly didn't believe that I had really been ill; he had received the message I'd left to apologise in advance for my absence but didn't feel the message was good enough in some unspecified way. He informed me that he had turned down a very prestigious professorship in America to accept the St Andrews job, as if that had some bearing on my health. When I refused to apologise for insulting him on the simple grounds that I had not done so, he started his little vendetta against me. He started by giving me two days to write an essay as punishment for my transgression; I refused: I didn't have enough time over the following two days anyway (I did have other classes), and I refused on principle to accept a punishment when I hadn't even come close to breaking any rules. For the next couple of weeks, he ridiculed every single thing I said in tutorials, sneering at me and telling me that my contributions were stupid or unimportant or irrelevant or taken from books that he felt hadn't contributed anything to the field. He also complained that I didn't say enough. (There were three students in those tutorials, and the American girl whose name I forget never uttered a single word. He didn't complain about her lack of contribution.) He made an official complaint about me to the department, including the detail of my missing the first tutorial but carefully leaving out the bit about my letting him know in advance — lying, in other words. Luckily, the then Head of School, Stephen Read, was a very nice and reasonable man who had taught me before and, I think, knew that I wasn't a trouble-maker, so he accepted that I had done nothing wrong and I didn't get any black marks against my record. However, Michael Tye was, by now, refusing to teach me unless I grovelled to him.

Those tutorials were a required course for my degree. The department gave me a special dispensation so that I could still get the degree without ever having to go near Michael fucking Tye ever again.

My interest in philosophy was awakened at Oxford while an undergraduate (though not by my tutor, who spent most of our tutorial time together in silent meditation).

Oh, you poor man. That must have been awful for you.


Mr Save The Queen links to this brilliant article about the ignorant arrogance of the anti-religious, a subject which, as it so happens, I was arguing about only the other day. It's a very good article, and I thoroughly recommend it. But that's not why I'm blogging.

No, I mention it because it twice mentions the philosopher John Haldane, who is, apparently, a bit of an authority on the philosophy of religion these days. This is interesting to me for pure reasons of nostalgia, as I well remember sitting through Professor Haldane's lectures on moral philosophy — which were superb: interesting, enthusiastic, informative, and clear (and what a rare thing clarity is in philosophy). Back in those days, he wasn't a famous philosopher who got name-dropped and recommended, but it was clear to anyone who attended his lectures that the man was brilliant. I understand that he's a devout Catholic, but it says something about the quality of his lectures, not to mention his integrity, that I had to pick that up via the grapevine: six months of moral philosophy lectures and he never once gave even the slightest hint of his own views on abortion, sex, marriage, euthanasia, etc. In fact, it was his recommendation that introduced me to the philosophy of Peter Singer.

While I'm talking about St Andrews philosophy lecturers, it's nice to see that Dr Peter Clark is Head of School now. His lectures were so entertaining that I've based a character in my forthcoming novel on him. (Whether my novel will ever finally come forth is far from certain, but, for now, it's forthcoming.) And it's great to see that this man is no longer on this page, as he was an insufferable self-absorbed wanker.

Thursday 7 April 2005

The law of unintended consequences, yet again.

Jackie links to Amy's transcript of Bill Maher:

A new eight-year study just released reveals that American teenagers who take "virginity" pledges of the sort so favored by the Bush administration wind up with just as many STDs as the other kids.

But that's not all -- taking the pledges also makes a teenage girl six times more likely to perform oral sex, and a boy four times more likely to get anal. Which leads me to an important question: where were these pledges when I was in high school?


Doing what you're told.

Various people, unsurprisingly, have decided that the death of the Pope is the perfect opportunity to slag him off. (In polite society, you don't speak ill of the dead until they're buried. That's not a long wait, but some people don't have that much patience.) Now, I've got plenty of criticisms of Catholicism myself, but I can spot bullshit when I see it, and this idea that John Paul created or helped to create the AIDS epidemic in Africa by refusing to condone the use of condoms is bullshit of the first order.

Not being a Catholic myself, it's possible that I've missed some recent doctrinal development, but, last I checked, the Catholic Church was preaching that each person should have a maximum of one sexual partner per lifetime. Follow that advice, and your chances of getting any STD are virtually nil. The African AIDS epidemic has not, therefore, been caused or exacerbated by Catholics doing what the Pope tells them to. In fact, if everyone in the world had followed the Pope's advice, AIDS would be an unknown disease.

Ah, say the idiots, but you can't really expect people to have enough willpower to stick to that rule, can you? Perhaps not, but if people can break one rule, they can break two. If you don't expect people to follow one of the Pope's instructions, why are you convinced that they have no option but to follow one of his others?

Wednesday 6 April 2005

Dealing with the bloody government.

Just sent this to the DVLNI:


I am currently trying to apply to exchange my GB licence for an NI license. Since I have answered yes to one of the application form's health questions, I require a medical questionnaire before I can submit the application. I have asked for this questionnaire repeatedly: this is the third time I have emailed you: the first time, I was told it would be sent, but it wasn't; the second time, I simply received no response at all. I have also tried phoning your offices, almost always to get an engaged tone, but sometimes to get through to someone who fails to send me the questionnaire.

I understand that you reserve the right to fine me £1000 for not having completed this application, so perhaps you can understand my increasing exasperation that you are not allowing me to do so.

[Details of health problem so that they send me the right form.] Please send me the appropriate form immediately or contact me to explain why you will not do so.

Thank you very much for your help.

The DVLNI are, even by the standards of government agencies, utter pains in the arse. Come to think of it, I never did blog about last year's MOT fiasco.

Most of the mechanics who work in Northern Ireland's MOT test centres were striking for most of last year. (Note to non-UK readers: the MOT is the annual test the government do on any car over four years old to say that it's roadworthy.) Thousands of MOTs were cancelled, appointments being pushed back by four or five months — and then, usually, the new appointments would be cancelled or postponed too. We ended up getting our car MOT'd about ten months after the original appointment date.

Now, as long as you had the letter saying that your appointment had been postponed through no fault of your own, you were allowed to drive without an MOT. That's fair enough. Thing is, though, by law, you can't buy car tax without a valid MOT certificate. The DVLNI's official position on this problem was this: no, you are still not allowed to tax your car without a valid MOT; no, you are still not allowed to drive your car on a public road unless it is taxed; no, there are no exceptions; the police wil consider each case of tax evasion on its individual merits but we must advise you not to drive your car without tax, as that would be illegal. Oh, and, by the way, when we finally get round to doing your MOT, you must back-date your car tax, so you will be paying for the period during which we might arrest you for not paying. Remember, this was affecting thousands of people. If they'd all obeyed the law, the economy would have ground to a halt.

Eventually, after much public pressure, they gave in and issued exemption certificates, effectively making it legal for people whose MOTs had been cancelled to drive without tax. But, for the first six months or so of last year, their position was that they would refuse to sell you tax and they would reserve the right to therefore prosecute you for tax evasion. Personally, I think "evasion" implies, well, evasion. Repeatedly trying to pay tax to a government who refuse to take the money is not tax evasion. The DVLNI disagree.

All of which fills me with optimism about what's going to happen with this driving license application.


Hello again.

I just called your offices on 028 70341469 and, very unusually, didn't get an engaged tone. A recorded announcement told me that my expected wait time was 4 minutes; it turned out to be 9. I know that queue speeds aren't precisely predictable, but that's extremely inaccurate. When I got through to one of your staff, he asked me whether I was calling about a bus, lorry, or car; when I said car, he immediately put me through to a different line, where a new recorded announcement told me that my expected wait time was 19 minutes. 19 minutes would be too long anyway, but, assuming a similar level of accuracy for this announcement as for the previous one, that would mean a wait of over 40 minutes, which is ridiculous.

Had I got through in the first instance to an announcement that told me the real expected wait time of 50 minutes, I would simply have hung up. Instead, thanks to your inaccurate information and your policy of making customers queue to get through to a second queue, I have wasted 10 minutes on the phone to your offices with — yet again — nothing to show for it.

All I need, as I have told you many times before, is for you to send me one form. Why is this so difficult? Please provide me with an explanation.

Further update:

That was lucky: I must have got through just seconds after everyone else hung up in disgust, and I got through to someone dead quickly. She asked me whether I was calling about a bus, lorry, or car; I replied that I would hang up if she attempted to transfer me to a twenty-minute queue like her colleague did earlier and that I had been trying to apply for my license for months and couldn't believe that getting hold of one simple form was so difficult. She said that they don't actually have the forms for cars in her office (why on Earth not?). I asked her whether it was possible for her to pass a message to the people who do have the forms in their office. That got her. To be fair to her, she was quite helpful, and says that someone will either send me the form or phone me. To be fair to me, I've heard that one before. I can't say for sure that she was helpful; she sounded helpful. We shall see.

Yet another update:

He said, "I'm going to cut off the bottom of one of your trouser-legs and put it in the library." I thought, there's a turn-up for the books.

And here is a turn-up for the books: someone called me back and then really did send me the form. I know they did, because I have now received it. I am simply dizzy with excitement.

It's tempting to describe this service as "prompt", but of course it isn't. They have promptly and efficiently responded to my umpteenth request, having ignored or screwed up all the previous ones.

I've got responses to both emails, too:

mr reeves
apologies for the delay in sending out the medical form you requested previously. i've passed a copy of your e-mail today to the manager in our medical section to action immediately

It's not entirely clear, but I think I detect a hint of recollection of one of my previous requests. Anyhow, it's an apology and a promise to let their managers know that they've fucked up, and you can't say fairer than that. Looks like I'll be receiving a second copy of the form, now, too.

And here's the other one:

Mr Reeves,
Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience you have most certainly been caused. DVLNI are continually striving to improve customer services and the telephone system is currently under review.The number you rang was the driver licensing section.If you need an application form please let me know and I will have one posted to you.I will also pass the email to driver licensing customer services section where your complaint will be recorded.If you have any further enquiries please contact me.

Again, I can't really criticise that; it's a perfectly good apology, with no silly excuse-making in it — although, come to think of it, no sign of the explanation I asked for. Still, I shall respond graciously.

Does anyone at DVLNI read this blog, I wonder? I seem to get much better service from them when I blog about it.

So he's called an election.

Oo, joy. Nothing like an election to remind me of just how much I hate politics.

If they stand round here, I'm voting UKIP. There is no viable small-government party in the UK right now. One day, there will be, either because a second right-wing party takes over from the Conservatives — maybe UKIP, more likely something that grows out of UKIP — or because the Conservatives change in response to losing half their core support.

In the meantime, the result of this election makes no difference. Whoever wins, we will continue to live in a police state and it will continue to get worse. Think the Tories would bring back double jeopardy or presumption of innocence? Nah, that would be "soft on crime". Craven idiots. And they plan to increase "public" spending, which presumably means they think that, after eight years of massive Labour majority behaving just as you'd expect a massive Labour majority to behave, not enough taxpayers' money is being spent by the state. Conservative my arse.

I remember the '79 election clearly. I remember going on a rally, wearing the Labour T-shirts and rosettes, meeting Shirley Williams; I remember the photographer coming round to take official pictures of the candidate at home with her family. I was five. What was I doing wearing a fucking rosette? I was a prop. So yeah, I had my fill of elections many years ago. Expect no commentary from me. There might be a bit, but don't expect it.

Tuesday 5 April 2005

UK Government bans stealth.

The ever-informative This is True has alerted me to our beloved government's latest nastiness:

The Government has ruled that it is now illegal to shoot a crow, rook or pigeon for the pot without scaring it first. The legislation says shooters must attempt to frighten off the birds before pulling the trigger.

Only when the birds fail to respond can he or she shoot it for dinner. The same rule applies to farmers who have shooting days blasting woodpigeons and rooks to protect their crops or gamebirds.

... Failure to comply can result in a fine of up to £5,000 or a maximum six months in prison.

Much as I'd love to say that this is yet another example of the Government's insane levels of stupidity, I think it's a rather shrewd bit of maneouvring. The subjects of this law are the last civilians left in the UK who can use guns legally. This, I reckon, is the first move in criminalising them.

A sure sign that this is deliberate and sneaky is the Government's use of their popular "New law? What new law?" trick:

There was uproar from country organisations but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs denied that there was any change of law and issued a clarification.

That's a new one.

This has only added to the confusion, for it underlines that scaring must always be a precursor to shooting and that records of scaring may be required.

See? It can't be a new law, because this clarification of the old law makes it clear that the new law, which isn't new, is exactly the same as the old law, which is still current. The fact that you and your ancestors have been hunting for centuries without shouting "Duck!" at your prey is pure coincidence, or possibly amnesia.

And what about that alarming phrase, "records of scaring"?

Defra said: “It is not a requirement that detailed records of non-lethal methods are kept, although this may be helpful under some circumstances. Users must however be able to explain why they believe that such methods are either ineffective or impracticable.”

"Under some circumstances." Right. "When we arrest you," is what they mean by that. In other words, not only do you have to scare a pigeon before you're allowed to shoot it, but, if you want to avoid prosecution, you'd better get the pigeon to sign a sworn statement that it felt startled. Anyone who shoots a pigeon or pheasant can now be prosecuted, and the onus will be on them to prove their innocence, to prove that they made a loud noise and waved their arms before pulling the trigger. Most hunters work alone or with other hunters (who, in court, would be co-defendants and therefore useless as witnesses), so almost no-one is ever going to be able to prove that.

Furthermore, they have effectively banned the shooting of pigeons and other game birds for food. That stuff about non-lethal methods is the key: what's a non-lethal method of eating a pigeon? The law is based on the assumption that the only allowable reason to shoot at a bird is to stop it being a pest. With that principle established, your eating the bird you've shot will itself be evidence against you.

And, if the only point in shooting at a bird is to make it stop whatever it's doing and go away... well, what sort of crazy bird is going to sit tight if you run at it screaming? Shooting birds is now illegal. But only implicitly illegal, so lots of people will ignore the new law, and some of those people will end up in jail.

At some point in the next Parliament, the government — which will be Labour — will announce that this scaring method isn't working and that stiffer measures are required. Or, more likely, they'll enact stiffer measures without bothering to announce it. They intend to ban shotguns. And, once they've done that, there will be no more gun crime in Britain. Can't wait.

I'd hold out some hope for jury nullification, but the bastards are trying to get rid of juries too.

Incidentally, the government spends lots of money on exterminating thousands of pigeons every year, because they're disease-carrying vermin.

Monday 4 April 2005

Advice overkill.

Saw this yesterday at Homebase:


Good for him.

I'm not usually interested in royalty, but this is too good to let be. Prince Charles has slagged off the press. Good for him. Royalty correspondents are just paparazzi putting on airs.

[The photocall at Klosters] is arranged each year in return for the media then leaving the royal party in peace.

In other words, Prince Charles is being blackmailed. And, while being blackmailed, he had the temerity to complain. His blackmailers have gleefully spread the news of his overheard complaints. Apparently, this is "a public relations disaster" for him. I fail to see why.

I think royalty correspondents may have got the wrong end of the stick about why they're in work. No-one watches a Nicholas Witchell report because they like Nicholas Witchell, apart from his mum. The only reason anyone is interested in what he says is that they're interested in the Royal Family, and, as a rule, people who are interested in the Royal Family like the Royal Family. Most of the public, hearing that Prince Charles has slagged off a royalty reporter, will either completely fail to give a shit or will say "Good." The only people who will cry "Oh, poor, poor Nicholas Witchell! Oh, that wicked prince!" are other journalists. Like Jenny Bond, for instance:

At last, it's official. Prince Charles can't stand the "bloody" media, he hates photo-calls and has a deep dislike of one journalist in particular: Nick Witchell, my old BBC colleague.

The Klosters pantomime is always a joke: three princes perch precariously on an icy ledge and reluctantly submit themselves to a few pictures and a couple of ludicrously soft questions. In return the press are expected to leave them alone for the rest of their holiday.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

So the blackmailers don't even have the decency always to respect their side of the bargain, yet still complain about how their blackmailees are reluctant (reluctant! — oh, how simply awful), and are all in a tizzy because it's turned out that at least one of the royals can't stand them. Here's a question for Jenny Bond: can you think of any reason why Prince Charles or any other member of his family would like reporters? What things do you do that might make him happy?

When Witchell quite reasonably asked how the princes were feeling about the forthcoming nuptials, Charles seemed almost unable to look the reporter in the face. He squirmed and grimaced as William gamely took the lead - declaring that he was "very happy".

When Witchell pressed Charles himself for a response about the wedding, the hapless bridegroom first employed sarcasm - "I'm very glad you have heard of it anyway" - and then confided (or so he thought) to his sons that he "couldn't bear" Witchell anyway.

"I mean he's so awful, he really is," he added.

The microphones lying in the snow at his feet picked up every word. The prince looked naïve and foolish; the photo-call was revealed for what it was - a complete sham.

See, Jenny Bond doesn't seem to realise that it has been obvious for many years that the photoshoot is a sham, and neither does she realise what it is about it that makes it one. The fault isn't that the prince doesn't really love the reporters; no-one in their right minds has ever thought he did. The fault is that the media can't bloody leave him alone. The sham is that this gets reported as if it's news: Prince Charles Goes On Skiing Holiday At Same Location And Same Time As In Every Previous Year. No-one cares. Even people who are interested in the Royal Family don't think this is news. Yet there it is on our screens, every bloody year.

Quite why Prince Charles has taken against Nick Witchell so violently is a mystery. Both he and I - in my 14 years as the BBC's royal correspondent - have trodden a firm but fair line in reporting on royalty.

This woman is deluded. Why on Earth would Prince Charles give a shit that she was firm but fair? "Fair" means "critical of everything he does wrong"; "firm" means "critical of everything he does right". And that's fine; that's a reporter's job; she works, after all, for the BBC and for her audience, not for the Royals.

Reporters are not there to be liked by the people they report on

Ah, so she does realise. Fine. So stop whinging.

Prince Charles and his sons will have to accept that "bloody people" like Nick Witchell and the rest of the media pack who were invited to the ski slopes by Clarence House have an important job to do.

Blimey. How much incorrectness can you pack into one sentence? Look, firstly, at no point did Charles claim that the reporters didn't have important jobs to do or suggest that they shouldn't be allowed to do their job. He didn't storm out of the photoshoot or anything; he grinned and bore it, same as every year. All he said was that he didn't like it or the reporters. Since Jenny Bond has admitted that she regularly complained at the event, too —

My persistent grumble at such events was the princes' refusal to be properly miked up for decent broadcast sound.

— just what is her problem? Why is it OK for a reporter to whinge about the event but not OK for the Prince?

Secondly, if Charles had claimed that the reporters didn't have important jobs to do, he'd've been right. People who unblock drains have important jobs to do. Doctors have important jobs to do. Computer programmers have important jobs to do. Many journalists have important jobs to do. Royalty correspondents are dispensable.

Sunday 3 April 2005

A great day.

I started today by making a totally wasted journey. Later, I made a couple of trips to the local dump with carloads of rubbish — and the dump was inexplicably popular today, so that involved spending ages in queues of traffic in an ugly bit of town in a hot car with nothing but crap on the radio. I bought a load of builder's ballast, which is preposterously heavy stuff, and lugged it from A to B, giving myself various aches and strains. This evening, we went to one of my favourite restaurants, but it was full with a queue out the door, so we didn't get to eat there.

Yet, somehow, today was just wonderful. I can't figure out why.

Must be Spring.

Friday 1 April 2005

I suppose I ought to do this.

I believe that everyone has the right to commit suicide. I also believe that everyone has the obligation to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. So that's a bit of a conundrum, right there, and I don't claim that I know how fully to resolve it. Even still.

Anyone who makes a "living will" (and there's a strange bit of terminology for you) should, I believe, have the wishes expressed in that will respected by everyone else. If you don't want a blood transfusion, more fool you, but it's your decision. You don't want to be put on a life support machine, that's your decision. You don't want to be fed, that's your decision. Fair enough. But what you absolutely do not have the right to do is to make it anyone else's decision. How dare you force me to decide whether to kill you? How dare you do that to my conscience?

And that was my response to the late Terri Schiavo. Maybe she didn't want to live like that; maybe she would have asked for the tube to be removed, had she been able to. But she didn't make a living will, so tough shit. What she wanted didn't come into it. In the absence of clear instructions from her, she should have been kept alive, even if it were against her will. She didn't have the right to make her suicide anyone else's responsibility. And, to be fair to her, she didn't try to.

It is very sad that the Florida courts do not share my opinion. It is very sad that so many people think that comments made in passing and reported second-hand should have enough legal weight to kill. I've made comments like that before. I don't want them dredged up in court with my life hanging in the balance.

Now, I'm not in Florida, but public opinion in the UK seems to be similarly split as in the US. There are plenty of people here in Britain who, were I comatose, would presume to speak on my behalf, despite never having known me; plenty of people who would earnestly tell my doctors that what I really wanted was death. And who knows where British law is headed? So I'd better make myself absolutely clear.

If I'm ever unlucky enough to find myself suffering from locked-in syndrome, if there's no improvement after one year, I want to die. Having a completely active mind and a totally paralysed body would be hell, and I don't think it's something I could stand. Aside from that, I choose life. If I'm comatose, keep me alive. If I can even twitch just one finger, keep me alive. If I can grunt incoherently, keep me alive. If I can communicate at all, no matter how pains-takingly, keep me alive. If I need a feeding tube, leave it in. If my wife speaks on my behalf, listen to her with respect. If anyone else claims to be speaking on my behalf, tell them from me that they can go and fuck themselves.

I'm aware that, this being just a blog post, it doesn't have as much legal standing as a proper living will. But it carries more weight than the opinions of everyone else, because this is my opinion, and I am the only person on Earth with the right to choose my suicide.

Have the parole rules changed?

I know that it used to be the case that no-one qualified for parole without admitting their guilt and expressing their contrition. That was why Tony Martin did his full sentence. Under those rules, Jonathan King would have walked out of jail, given his statements to the press, and been arrested immediately for parole violation.

So have the rules changed, then? I didn't know.