Monday, 21 March 2011

Bronte Burghers

To Haworth in West Yorkshire, now known as Bronte Country. The village has done well out of the brilliant but unlucky Bronte babes, selling cream teas and souvenirs to hundreds of thousands of dutiful pilgrims who trudge up and down the viciously cobbled hill on which they lived.

Mobility of the old folk in Haworth is kept up by a death penalty for anybody who can't manage the incline; it's no place for hip replacements and a wheelchair released at the top would hit the bottom doing 120 mph. Most places would put in a funicular railway and be done with it, but in Howarth every inch is a potential gold mine and so it is lined with gastropubs, holiday cottages, cheesemongers, toyshops and galleries. The tourist centre coyly gives the views at the top of the hill which flattens out in to a charming space fronting the church; it doesn't mention the ski-slope just beyond the Post Office. Photos are misleading; it is steeper than it looks.

The Brontes would always have been awkward, clever girls, following the footsteps of their impoverished but cultured Oirish father, but if that was not enough trouble, Haworth brought the strangeness out in them as even they struggled to portray themselves as ordinary genteel women.

It cannot help but do that; Haworth is a place which hums with Gothick presentments, where the everyday objects are caught in slanting light and for a moment look suspicious, as if they have been caught out having secret conversations with each other just beyond the range of human hearing.

A large hat with flowers will suddenly seem to have faces nestling in the petals, a cat walking along a wall seems stripey, then when you look again, it is plain. The Fleece pub has beer garden, but that is at the top of the fire escape above the roof and is built out over a precipitous drop, or what would be a drop if it wasn't filled with lean-to sheds snuggling against a cliff-face. If you could slip through the treads - which you can't, it is perfectly safe - you would crash through umpteen layers of glass in to the hidden crevasse.

Loitering by Spooks at 22 Main Street - Specialist Bookshop for Psychic Phenomena supplies - a vortex of strangeness is there, right on the stone slab by the side window. There is nothing whatever strange about a shop selling psychic accoutrements, books on Dowsing, Clairvoyance, Healing, Reincarnation, Alternative Medicine, Astrology, Local History, Tarot Cards, Crystals, Essential Oils, Incenses, Runes, Pendulums, Celtic and Mythical Pendants. Those are everywhere

What is strange is the planning application. There is a plan to change the ground floor in to an adult entertainment shop and the basement in to booths for private lap dancing. Maybe it's nominative determinism seeping through the stone. The sign on the wall says Purvs Corner and the shop stands on the junction with Butt Lane.

This is West Yorkshire, no more than a longish bus ride outside Bradford. It is moorland. It's not the fleshpots of York or the Dales with their undulating hips and ice cream parlours. It's not even Whitby with its unique approach to diversity. It's Haworth, dammit, where a lady changes her sheepskin mittens for crochet fingerless gloves indoors. The one place where going about in a burkha is considered foolhardy exposure to the weather, unless you can get it on over a hat and coat.

Who exactly is going to patronize this place? The stag party organizers Red Seven may have a point if sloping up and down the street, visiting good pubs and having great food is your thing. No shortage of those. However, as they say:
Boat party, Bobsleigh, Bungee jumping, City break, Clay pigeon shooting, Coasteering, Day at the races, Drive a supercar, Fishing, Fly a MiG jet fighter in Moscow, Football trip, Go-karting, Golf, Horse riding , Horse racing, Indoor skydiving, Kayaking or canoeing, Off roading, Paintballing, Powerboating, Quad bikes, Rally driving, Rock climbing, Skiing or snowboarding, Skydiving, Surfing, Tank driving, White water rafting and Zorbing (or Sphering). Not all of these are available in Haworth so you may want to consider other locations
The plan seems to be that stag parties will drift about the pubs before their booking in to the club. Are there enough stag parties to warrant this optimism? Despite the international visitors and the good value which Haworth offers them, you won't find "raunchy" on a list of the ten qualities people commonly associate with the town. If you are looking for raunch it's best to start in Leeds.

Haworth does a fair line in repressed passion, though. If unattached it is a good place to look for a certain kind of woman i.e. an available one, but a stag party is unlikely to want to settle down for a night of passionate readings no matter how much significant eye contact is involved.

The planning application closed on 20th March and we shall see what happens. The vortex by the paranormal bookshop giggled and determined that the Clerk to the Council be called Gordon Bashami-Ghoulis.

Update: A controversial Radio 3 dramatisation of Wuthering Heights is being aired. It has gone all DH Lawrence and has Cathy and Heathcliff swearing at each other.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Sir David Attenborough

who also worked with the other brother, Richard Attenborough CBE.

"Madagascar" is a masterpiece. I've been falling asleep in front of Sir David Attenborough masterpieces for as long as I can remember.

It's not boredom; it's that fruity-calm-hushed voice and the complex coloured pictures. No matter how fascinating the material, after about ten minutes the shutters slide down and that's it until the closing credits.

It's not just me. Over his 50 years in broadcasting, thousands of animals have conked-out in Sir David's presence. He puts the 'fluence on them, a Dr Dolittle whose main way of talking to the animals is "You are getting very sleepy. Your paws are heavy, your ears are floppy, your whiskers are drooping, you are just going to rest your eyes for a moment".

He had to stop talking for the famous gorilla sequence or else they'd have had nothing but a troupe of slumped and snoring primates, nestled like farting carpets on the forest floor. It was a close thing; you can see them yawning.

When Sir David was following a chimpanzee hunting yo, the pan troglodytes, being brighter than gorillas, were all screaming "Run for your life, guys, it's that sleepy man. Next thing you know he'll have us carrying his camera gear and nobody has ever got him to pay a performer yet. "

Luckily, in line with the rules about stage hypnosis, his voice changes its pattern in his closing words of any script. It tends to rise to a question, probably a very good one, but unfortunately at that moment I'm in no condition to understand it let alone answer it. Electricity supply controllers say they stand-by for the surge in demand as the nation staggers blearily to its feet and puts the kettle on.

I reckon Sir David is in the pay of international beverage merchants and what he really says is: "You are getting thirsty. You will remember nothing but in five seconds you will rise and make the tea. Three Two ONE".

Product placement of coffee machines now allowed? Pah, amateurs.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Sheilas' Wheels - an ECJ ruling

The European Court of Justice is the EU court in Luxembourg, the one set up to rule on the interpretation of treaties. It is the court which in the early 1960s made it crystal clear that it was the final arbiter of a new legal order, which we now know as the European Union.

Member states couldn't ignore its rulings and neither could citizens. The potential for the court to rule on all areas of life was implicit in the Treaty of Rome but anyone who pointed this out was dismissed as a swivel-eyed conspiraloon. Gradually, the effective areas of law were extended.

Today, if you want to sell your house, you have to pay to fill in a form - an Energy Performance Certificate - about light bulbs and insulation, not because the buyer gives a hoot as they are interested in location and space, but because an EU regulation says Something Must Be Done, and Britain is a member of the EU and has agreed to abide by laws generated by the European legislation, and the EPC rule is buried down in the fine print of a directive.

The process of challenging the rule itself if so Byzantine that nobody has even tried it in this instance. It would cost a fortune, drive them mad and they'd probably lose, as Mrs Thatcher found out in the Factortame case. I reckon that case helped push her over the edge; she certainly became less anchored in political reality than she had been around then.

The short version is: if it is a ruling of the ECJ, or if you'd lose at the ECJ if you went there, then we have to abide by it for as long as we remain a member state of the European Union.

Today the ECJ has confirmed the opinion of Advocate General Juliane Kokutt that being male or female cannot be used as a factor when calculating motor insurance prices, over-riding derogations (the law being temporarily disapplied) from earlier arguments. The opinion recognized that it is an actuarial fact that the sex of a driver changes the profile of the risk. The ruling says firms can't take that actuarial fact in to consideration when setting price relative to risk from the end of December 2012. Previous derogations no longer hold as a matter of social policy.

The social policy is being set by a court which isn't even our own Supreme Court. Besides, we have a legislature for setting social policy. This would once have been called 'usurping the authority of parliament'. Possibly our own court would have to give the same ruling because of the Equalities Act 2010, but we don't know because it didn't happen here. Our own judges were not given the chance to interpret our own laws, nor our electors to pass an opinion on whether we wanted this act repealed or not.

Because of how the ECJ's website works, you have to go to an index and click on the correct case:




Association Belge des Consommateurs Test-Achats and Others

Social policy

for the preliminary opinion which gives the fact and the legal reasoning.

The Court's confirmation of this opinion is published at:


Association Belge des Consommateurs Test-Achats and Others
Social policy

Many people hold that the original basis of offering prices was sexist. This is to misunderstand the statistical nature of betting, which is all insurance is; the laying-off of risk with someone prepared to aggregate those risks over big numbers for a fee.

The rates were never based on beliefs about driver competence related to gender. It was a matter of counting the claims. Over big numbers men tend to have more accidents and those accidents are more expensive. Over big numbers women tend to have fewer accidents and cheaper ones. There's no secret about it; young men are the highest risk.

As Damon Runyon put it: The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.

In Britain the publicity has focused on the insurance brand "Sheilas' Wheels.” There are other brands, but this is the best known one to pitch itself specifically to females. It isn't Australian and it isn't a company. Rather, it’s a line of insurance wrappers developed since 2005 from esure.

Men can take out policies with Sheilas' Wheels, and if they do the price will be based on a calculation of their statistical risks. It has spent five years attracting female customers and is a brand-leader. It has no problems with the ruling. As far as they are concerned, it is free publicity.

As the customer-base is overwhelmingly female they may be able to lay off some of the risks of the male customers after 2012 against the lower claims of the female customers, at least until the number of male customers rises and they can no longer offer preferential rates compared to the wider market.

From the end of 2012 the company can truthfully say it is unable to offer lower prices reflecting risk related to the sex of the person in front of them. Instead, they will then have to charge women the same price that they would to males which just happens to be more expensive.

You didn't really think any prices were going to come down, did you?

If you want prices to come down, there is a way.....

a useful index h/t City Unslicker
Gonna Get Along Without EU Now Concerned citizens plan a rally, indoors.