Sunday 11 November 2012

Remembrance 2012

It has been a kind Remembrance Sunday; dry, bright and cool. 
The cathedral was full to the doors.

The falling of petals during the silence is appreciated by mourners; 
they file quietly to the altar afterwards to take photos. 
Some take a petal as a relic.

For those who prefer a secular Act of Remembrance, the town centre was also full.

People choose to remember; they do not forget.

Saturday 29 September 2012

My favourite Wiki - Supranational European Bodies

This lovely Euler diagram shows that there are alternative bodies we could be members of in a way which is very easy to see.  It's only like a gym membership package or choosing which insurance options to take on a policy. Just move your flag to where you'd rather be. 

Where we ought to move to is a matter for debate, and there could be some additional rules which link certain memberships so that if you want to be in one, you have to be in another, which might constrain which group(s) we go in to.

However, Switzerland seems to do pretty well by being in The Council of Europe, EFTA and the Schengen area.  Admittedly they still have the rulings of the EFTA court to deal with but then, if you are forming mutual trade agreements you must expect there to be a way of arbitrating when club members disagree.

The main thing to grasp is that when David Cameron makes oozy noises about a referendum and Tory ignoramuses pretend you can pick and choose which part of EU law to comply with, either they haven't done their homework or they are telling a flat lie in the hope of electoral success. It's not an in-or-out issue to frighten the children with.

Yes, we can leave the European Union and survive. No, we won't necessarily lose all our memberships although we might have to ask EFTA nicely if they would admit us.  No, we don't really need permission to go. Lawyers will tell you they can't undo this, that or the other.  Tell them we are going to resile, repeal the ECA72, and if they won't get on with the job then, like Cardinal Wolsey, they'll be replaced with Thomas Cromwell.

If it's good enough for Henry VIII, it's good enough for us.

See also Switzerland News

Monday 10 September 2012

Baker - Job of the Month

Back in God's Own Country to continue my vital research in to Yorkshire tearooms.  A perfect opportunity has emerged for one lucky person: Lewis and Cooper want a part-time cook/baker in their tearoom in Northallerton.

Lewis and Cooper's is a grocery shop of units grown-together over the last 112 years.  It specialises in top-quality foods and wine for the discerning diner, cook and host. A wander through their food halls, which grow like a cave system back in to the depths of the building, is an exotic trip back in time. Unlike the deracinated supermarkets, aromas from all round the world waft from the deli, the bakery supplies and faintly from the chiller cabinets. There are bargains; I've had top-notch free range chickens at standard prices and it is the best source for bulk lavender flowers.

Above the shop are parlours set with snowy tables which look out over the high street.

I hold Strong Views on the food in L&C. With the exception of a dispute about the finest kippers, it is the best tearoom because it has philosophy of preparing food for the mouth and stomach rather than the eyes.  This is not to suggest the food is ugly, but it is for consumption, not modelling.

When you sit in the parlour and look across the road and down the high street you see the mighty Bettys,  the twinkling establishment patronised by the Alan Bennett-loving classes. A religious divide opens at this point between those who favour the international polish of the Swiss-influenced Bettys and the British approach of  L&C. 

This is not to imply that Betty's uses anything other than superb ingredients; it's just that they craft witty look-at-me fancies while L&C prefer to serve an exquisite scone with local butter, cream and strawberry jam. 

The difference in approach is reflected in the recruitment policy. Lewis and Cooper are looking for a tip-top home baker and cook.

Contact Becky Robinson on 01609 772 880 for details and an application form. 

Monday 3 September 2012

Where the Buffalo Roam

If the Essex police get tired of sightings of lions and tigers and bears, oh my, they can book a safari in  North Yorkshire  where they will see majestic herds of buffalo and deer sweeping down from the Hambleton Hills.

These magnificent specimen followed our trailer and began to run and jump just like in the Westerns.  While the water buffalo and highland cattle are disinclined to break in to a trot and demand to have the carrots brought to them, the American buffalo - Bison bison, so good they named them twice - are wild animals and always remember that they are supposed to be on a long journey. 

They've settled in well to Yorkshire; the hottest summer days are a trial to them but they are cheerful in the winter and their whole body is adapted to deal with  snow on grassland.  They appreciate some top-up hay and yummy carrots but, unlike the conventional cattle, they don't have to be brought indoors and coddled through to spring.

Up close it's easy to see why the Great Plains people deified the animals; they look at you quietly but with a wary curiosity.  There is definitely Somebody Home. The shaggy fur at the front looks soft and clean; they don't smell. The flanks are much finer skin, almost felty by the look of it - but they won't let you touch them.

This could be tricky. The whole point of them is to find a source of meat which is yummy, lean and unmodified by modern animal husbandry such as antibiotics, but after five minutes they begin seem like huge quiet spirits; things you'd rather have around than not.

The meat is wonderful my co-tasters advise. But I ended up eating venison and orange burger and iron-age pig sausage.  Those are animals which are either air-heads or are bred to be eaten.

These buffalo are spooky, as if they have raced off the cave wall and never changed in all the 20,000 years, still wondering about those annoying apes.

Northallerton, North Yorkshire, DL6 2PD

Thursday 30 August 2012

Blue Moon

You can have a religious argument about the definitions of "a blue moon".  Whatever, this month contains the novelty of two full moons in one calendar month.

As it was so cloudy at the first full moon I wasn't able to see it so I'm hoping for better weather on Friday night. The August moon(s) are my favourite; she floats over the fens and fields as if looking for her own reflection in the water and windows.  The great harvesters creep over the land late in to the evening, half-paddle-steamer, half-dragon, then they vanish improbably by daylight as if they went back to giant burrows.

Logically, everyone knows the moon is a faraway rock but when you look at that silver white disc - or a ruby moon which I've seen - it is impossible to think of it as merely subjectively beautiful; she's objectively, intrinsically beautiful and always was long before there were any humans to wonder if you could reach her.

In 2005 Andrew Smith published his series of interviews with the astronauts who had done more than just wonder.  Standing at the pinnacle of thousands of years of technological development they had been able to answer the question: what's it like to go to the moon?

"Moondust - in search of the men who fell to Earth" was updated in 2009 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing.  It is now 40 years since the final manned Apollo mission and  Smith's book puts the programme in to its historical context. He secured interviews from the remaining moonmen, including email exchanges with Neil Armstrong who clarified many factual points about the mission.

Thank goodness Armstrong's mission was successful.  The emergency speech had already been written in case anything went wrongAnd yet, as Smith's book shows, there is curious sense in which the eulogy remains true; the moonmen suffered a kind of death because their old selves would not exist thereafter and nothing they would do subsequently could quite compare with those few days.

This full moon will not have Neil Armstrong beneath it. I believe she'll be looking for him.

Moondust - in search of the men who fell to Earth
Andrew Smith, Bloomsbury 2005, update 2009
ISBN 978 1 4088 02380

Thursday 23 August 2012

Wanna buya Peter Oborne nuddy calendar?

Clutching a lace hanky and smelling salts, Peter Oborne launches in to Prince Harry on the basis that he shouldn't be having all this FUN with a willing young woman in case it fuels the fires of Republicanism.

Really? There has been comment about what we pay for the Prince, but then there would be anyway even if Harry was a cross between Cliff Richard and Mother Theresa. Even the staunchest anti-monarchist I know doesn't think that a young man doing something legal with a consenting adult in the privacy of his own hotel room should be pilloried because a scumbag took photos they should not have.

But since they did, let's be clear: this is a PR triumph.

The overwhelming response has been "Yaaaayyy, go for it Hazza" with a muttered side order of "Lucky sod, he even photographs well".  See our Prince? That one, the one who has plenty of blood in his veins, enough to raise a flagpole, well, that's how a Tudor prince is supposed to look. That's how we like 'em, as if they can kiss and fight and have a go at a serenade.

Of course, this would look saddo if he were still playing strip billiards in ten years time and begun to look as if his skin needed ironing, and the pretty girls exchanged for hanging about with creepy-looking ladyboys the way his great-uncle went over  the late Wallis Simpson, so he shouldn't make a life-long habit of it.

But right now the wisdom of Max Bialystock applies:  When you  got it, baby, flaunt it.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Festival City

Edinburgh is rife with festivals.  There is even a website listing them.   The city is the setting for a new novella by John Robertson Nicoll called The Balloon Man in Edinburgh.
On a fine Spring day in Edinburgh a strange, shabby little man alights from the train at Waverley Station and makes a beeline for Princes Street Gardens bearing gifts for the squirrels that inhabit the trees there. He meets an old Polish gentleman who, feeling sorry for the little "tramp", offers him free temporary accommodation in his large house on the edge of the City's New Town. But old Josef doesn't know what he has let himself or his tenants in for. Over the next few days the old landlord, poor lovelorn Miss Laird and the crook, Driscoll, will all feel the effect of Buster's presence and their lives will be changed forever.
Currently it is available in a Kindle edition, £1.78, and there is a free Kindle app for those of us - like me - who haven't got a Kindle and want to read it on the PC

John R Nicoll also has a blog and is supposed - nudge nudge - to be getting on with writing an important fact-based play about Scotswoman  Jane Haining, who refused to abandon the pupils under her care when the Nazis took power in Hungary. 

Monday 13 August 2012

At the risk of saying something nice.....

Last summer we saw the worst of our youth in the looting and rioting events.  This year there has been a surprisingly touching and noble contradiction; look, they are healthy, they are sporting, they are doing something which involves aspiration and applied effort rather than blaming society.

The reservations about the Olympics  have to be assessed in context:  yes, it's hideously expensive but at least we have something to show for the money, unlike the billions we've shoveled in to the pockets of foreign dictators, pretending that it will help their wretched citizens, or the money we chuck every day down the hole of the EU.

For a start, the Kings Cross concourse is a marvel of engineering.  I look forward to the day they finally undo the bodge which was made of the original frontage but so far the job has been good.

Mayor Boris Johnson  has done well - a Pericles of our age, just like he always wanted to be - in wrangling the city in to a half-way decent condition.  It is a mammoth job as London has been bedeviled by corruption and incompetence since the day the Luftwaffe went home and left the rest of the destruction of communities to the brown-envelope and and system-build brigade.

Socialist utopia, my foot; those estates were clearly built by people who were devoid of talent or taste; it's probably a compliment to think they were bribed - they were probably so dim that they honestly thought they were building something pretty.  As it is, the average Victorian prison or workhouse compares favourably to the Pembury Estate.

There's still a long way to go but at least a start has been made.  The more those tower blocks come down, the better things will be.

Just how much better things are getting might not show to the average Londoner who is there every day but on my last visit there was one  small thing which made me think "Wow" and it won't be apparent to every visitor to this blog.

The toilets under Piccadilly Circus are finally working as they should be in a civilised city.  

Frankly, it was a surprise to find them open, but to find them with an attendant, spotlessly clean and not like unto the devil's arsehole was such a shock that I went back for a second visit in case I'd dreamt it.  There has to be an attendant; that prevents them becoming drugs-exchanges and doss-houses.  Chuck out the lesbian out-reach 5-a-day coordinators and hire lavatory attendants and watch your civic culture improve.

My wish is that in addition to good toilets, Boris considers re-introducing that civilising thing, the drinking fountain, where any passer by, no matter how rich or poor, can get a drink of safe, clean water to keep them from fainting.  It would also to cut down on all the manky plastic bottles floating about.

It can be done;  I give you Bergamo, which has the most wonderful water, like liquid light, freely dispensed from drinking fountains all across the city. Let MacDonald's sponsor the fountains; they can put their logo on it if they like; they can still sell their burgers, orange juice and hot coffee but a sip of water and a safe place to wash your hands should be freely available everyone in the city and ultimately to everyone on the planet.

Monday 30 July 2012

A cheery picture

Saw this down at the tip, lurking at the bottom of a skip.

Didn't rescue it. 

Friday 27 July 2012

Paul Chambers Twitter Trial - post mortem

 "We have concluded that, on an objective assessment, the decision of the crown court that this 'tweet' constituted or included a message of a menacing character was not open to it.
"On this basis, the appeal against conviction must be allowed."
You can see how the magistrate at Doncaster magistrate's court in May 2010 may have been baffled by the high-power prosecution from the Crown Prosecution Service.  In a string of cases over the past two years they have been misapplying law which is broadly written so that they can use it when they need to. Instead, various jobsworths have been trying to score departmental points by bringing novelty cases which should never have got past the screening such as the golliwog in the window and the ludicrous John Terry case.

Paul Chambers was fined  and ordered to pay £600 costs  after being convicted of sending "a message of a menacing character", contrary to provisions of the 2003 Communications Act.  This famous message:
"Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"
Much harder to see is why Judge Jacqueline Davies, sitting with two magistrates, dismissed his appeal his appeal in November 2010, saying that the electronic communication was "clearly menacing". 

It's clearly NOT menacing. Nobody gives you 'a week and a bit' in a threat.  In the context of the delay being down to snow, it was obviously a self-referential jibe at the expense of people who say unreasonable things.

There were linguists all over explaining the classic form of the joke, plus the fact that Chambers was fully identified, which should have given her a clue.  Maybe the two magistrates also on the bench were too much in awe of her, too sympathetic, to do what they should have done - take her aside and offer her a drink of water or maybe she should let somebody else hear the case? Maybe somebody not so het-up about personal matters?

Judge Jacqueline Davies lost her much loved husband,  Paul Clark  in  October 2008 and had trekked across the Sinai Desert in memory of him in 2009

Invent Partners thought she was just ignorant of the technology and so relied on what ever gubbins the CPS told her.  They sent an open letter, but not, unfortunately, until it was already obvious that she didn't understand what she had been told.

The nub of it is this: either Jacqueline Davies is a woman who doesn't speak English well enough to understand a joke or her personal grief intruded in to her judgment so that she failed to back-stop the CPS lawyers on the make.  The airport staff are absolved; they just have to report this rubbish, not take a view on it.

None of the magistrates come out of this well; they are supposed to be bastions of common sense under the common law, but at least three here allowed themselves to be cowed, or maybe they also didn't understand what they were being asked to rule on.

My condolences to Her Honour Judge Jacqueline Davies, but grief and ignorance are a bad mix at any time, disastrous in a judge who has not only to sentence the guilty but perform the function of stopping the state - in the person of the CPS this time - from oppressing the innocent citizen.

Judge Jacqueline Davies won't be the only judge who has been wrong-footed by the CPS.  It has been bringing cases, reckless as to whether it is likely to win or lose because it is using the process as punishment.

Paul Chambers had his life turned upside down, lost his job, has a criminal record which although quashed will always be revealed by an enhanced CRB check,  by CPS workers who have managed to hide behind a judge.

He is owed a huge  apology, reparations, and a job for life at the CPS as he now knows much more about the law than they do.

Update 11/04/2013

At the end of 2012 the CPS issued interim guidelines about the prosecution of alleged offences concerning the social media.

Here are the interim guidelines

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Captain Haddock - Gone Fishing

I am richer for having read him, poorer now that he is gone.  Can a blogger make a difference?  Captain Haddock did since to read him was reassurance that pockets of sanity remain in this country. 

Condolences to the family and great thanks for giving his friends and readers, via Max,  the opportunity to express their thanks for his life.

The late Captain Haddock was a prolific commenter but also ran several blogs that carried detailed information about his interests which he illustrated beautifully.

Opinion and investigations - Something Fishy

The Captain's sea angling blog, Fishy Fishy contains, in the first comments, a poignant conversation with another much-missed writer, Mutley The Dog.

His great love of Wiltshire was chronicled and particularly beautifully photographed in his blog Wiltshire Flag.

May he rest in peace, which he loved so much.  


I'm most humbled by your gracious comments ...but it's a case of mistaken identity....another Captain Haddock....who I have seen from time to time around the blogs...

Apologies.  My condolences to the family of the other Captain Haddock, but rejoicing that this one is still with us. 

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Five Rings to Rule Them

Amazon is carrying the Official Olympic Wenlock Police Figurine

You may care to read the reviews.  



 After purchasing this toy I was surprised that it unpacked itself and it's surface to air missile system in my back garden. After a test firing of the missile (which passed through my kitchen, down the hall, through the open front door before slamming into Mrs Greyson's house at number 17) all I can say is that a single eye must clearly hamper effective depth perception. I am inclined to think the toy is unsuitable for small children and neighbours opposite. 


 This toy is worse than masturbating to a picture of Lord Coe, official overlord of the 2012 Olympics. And believe me, I've tried.

Update:  some commenters have noticed that Wenlock reprises that masterpiece of the 20th Century, Francis Bacon's "Three Studies for Figures for the Base of a Crucifixion."  Especially the middle one.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Summer Sponge Pudding

Despite the rain the garden has given usable fruit.  A dish of pearly blackcurrants, emerald gooseberries and ruby wild strawberries.  

Two or three cups full, that's all you need for a summer sponge pudding.

Wash and prepare the fruit, place it in the bottom of a pudding basin and add a decent dredge of sugar.  Put it in a cool oven while you mix up the sponge.  If you do this, it makes the cooking time more reasonable.

Mix up sponge topping made from;
 2 oz sugar
 2 oz butter
 1 egg
 3 oz self-raising flour
 and a splash of milk.  

The consistency should be soft so that it drops off the spoon.  Take out the warm fruit, turn up the oven to about gas mark 5, and add the sponge topping . Add an extra sprinkle of sugar on the top for prettiness. 

Bake at gas mark 5 for about 30 minutes. Check that a knife comes out of the sponge cleanly. If not, leave it for 5 minutes longer until it is ready.   

You can cook this on cold fruit but it seems to take much longer to reach the temperature which makes the sponge puff up. 

Serve with cream, custard or ice cream.

Monday 25 June 2012

A bouquet of Chancellors

Let's look at the backgrounds of the 19 Chancellors of the Exchequer since Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne.  There are more of these than prime ministers as the PM reserves the right to change them. Why Tony Blair didn't change his is one which history will eventually get round to answering.

(There's a pie chart at the bottom which combines the PMs and Chancellors.  The following shows how it was counted).

The first, Rab Butler, was already in office when The Queen arrived.

1   R. A. Butler    Cambridge, Pembroke

2   Harold Macmillan   Oxford, Balliol

Peter Thorneycroft  Royal Military Academy, Woolwich

Derick Heathcoat-Amory  Oxford, Christ Church

5   Selwyn Lloyd   Cambridge, Magdalene

Reginald Maudling   Oxford, Merton

James Callaghan  Didn't go to Oxford - sat civil service exams instead

8   Roy Jenkins  Oxford, Balliol

9   Iain Macleod  Cambridge, Gonville and Caius

10  Anthony Barber  As a PoW,  law degree via the Red Cross, then Oxford, Oriel

11  Denis Healey  Oxford, Balliol

12 Sir Geoffrey Howe  Cambridge, Trinity Hall

13 Nigel Lawson  Oxford, Christ Church

14 Sir John Major  Didn't go to university - took banking exams

15 Norman Lamont  Cambridge, Fitzwilliam

16 Kenneth Clarke  Cambridge, Gonville and Caius

17  Gordon Brown  Edinburgh

18  Alistair Darling  Aberdeen

19  George Osborne  Oxford, Magdalene

Chancellors of the Exchequer
The totals for provision of Chancellors of the Exchequer

Oxford  8
Cambridge 6
Other universities/colleges/professional exams 5

Oxford would have had 9  because Jim Callaghan would have gone there if he'd had the money, although which college is not known.  Balliol scores 3, ahead of Cambridge's Gonville and Caius with 2.

To combine that with the previous bouquet of prime ministers it must be remembered that you get  different answers depending on whether you count the number of offices (because some people served as both PM and Chancellor) or the number of administrations (because some people got more than one term).

Prime Ministers
Totals for the provision of Prime Ministers (inc. Nick Clegg )

Oxford 8
Cambridge 1 (Nick Clegg)
Other universities/colleges/professional exams 4

Combined Totals

A crude combined total is to add the two counts, which means some people will be double-counted such as Harold Macmillan, who served as PM and Chancellor, while Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair will have their multiple terms under-represented. It will give the general proportions although it won't be numerically accurate. I've included Nick Clegg, so consider Cambridge slightly over-represented if you wish, but the effect is negligible.

Combined  provision of colleges to office:

Oxford 16 
Cambridge 7 
Others universities/colleges/professional exams 9

The fiddle-factor to beware of is that Oxford is under-represented in this count.  Wilson, Blair and Thatcher served multiple terms. In a fully-expanded count they would have scored at least 8 between them (assuming you count by term even if it isn't a full one)  and all three went to Oxford. However, they didn't go to Balliol, thus allowing the effect of Balliol to appear slightly more dominant than it might be, although you would have to look across the other offices of state - Home Secretary,  Foreign Secretary, and perhaps Lord Chancellor - to analyse that.. 

Dominance of Balliol

Despite the fiddle-factor it is still worth looking at the dominance of Balliol, but bear in mind that a weighted count would give St John's (Blair) and Somerville (Thatcher) more prominence.

Office holders educated at Oxford

1  Anthony Eden -   Balliol
2  Harold Macmillan - Balliol 
3  Sir Alec Douglas-Home  -   Christ Church 
4  Harold Wilson  -   Jesus
5  Edward Heath   -     Balliol
6  Margaret Thatcher -  Somervillle
7  Tony Blair - St John's
8  David Cameron - Brasenose
9  Derick Heathcote-Amory  - Christ Church
10 Reginald Maudling -  Merton
11 Roy Jenkins - Balliol
12 Anthony Barber - Oriel
13 Denis Healey - Balliol
14 Nigel Lawson - Christ Church
15 George Osborne - Magdalene

Of the Oxford colleges, Balliol is the front-runner with 5 but Christ Church is chasing it with 3. At Cambridge, Gonville and Caius also scores three.

Oxford colleges
Balliol 5
Christ Church 3
Others 7
The direction is clear; Oxford is dominant in these two key offices of state, particularly PMs, but precisely how dominant depends on how you do the counting.  A fuller analysis would extend to the Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Lord Chancellor and be based on  a weighting for the number of years in office.


It is surprising that Oxford has retained its dominance given the competition from Cambridge and ancient universities such as Edinburgh.  Besides, universities such as Durham were established in the early Victorian period and many of the Red Brick (i.e early 20th Century universities) have had a century to catch up. Even the Plate-Glass universities have been in business for about 50 years.

Even more surprising is that it has dominance over Cambridge which outclasses it in some technical subjects.

Approximate proportions of higher education of PM and Chancellor of the Exchequer

Thursday 21 June 2012

Summer Solstice 2012

A garden at Sunset, solstice evening 2012, around 9pm (sunset at Stonehenge at 9.26pm)

 Was that a face at the window?

That way

 Soft footsteps vanish down the mown path

 To visit a pet from long ago.

Let's hope the rain holds off in the morning for the sunrise at Stonehenge as the visitors will be camped out all night to see it on Thursday 21st June 2012  at 0452 hrs (4.52am)

Monday 11 June 2012

Bigamy and Pervez Choudhry

Obviously I don't want to waste much sympathy on ex-councillor Pervez Choudhry of Slough but his plea of guilty to bigamy may eventually be challenged on several matters of fact.

Mr Choudhry is said to be preparing an appeal although he pleaded guilty to bigamy when advised that his second wedding was a marriage for the purposes of criminal law.  This would be a chance for the Court of Appeal to revisit this antique area of law which has public policy implications. The police and CPS and UKBA (who sometimes come across it in connection with other immigration crimes)  need a bigamy charging checklist to work from but the CPS website lists only cases.  

The reporting of the current case has been cloudy and the latest summaries don't help much.
Judge Ian Grainger told him:
‘ Bigamy is in no sense a private matter. The rule . . . is a simple one – one spouse at a time. ‘Whatever cultural roots that rule may have, there’s practical wisdom in that rule.’
Practical wisdom it may be, but the judge is wrong about it being a rule. Polygamy is recognised in Pakistan so contracting a marriage there is not barred merely because a marriage exists elsewhere. While it can't be contracted here, it is recognised here - much to the annoyance of people who think you should not be able to claim benefits for multiple wives .  

This area of law is more complicated than it looks. 

The BBC pointed out  as far back as 2000 that one of the complaints which immigrant women have is finding that their husbands can contract second marriages 'back home' and there is nothing they can do about it.
The police say there is little they can do. Colin Cramphorn from the Association of Chief Police Officers says he finds cases like Sameera's disturbing, but he believes that politicians need to clarify the law.
"Clearly those communities that have a tradition which allows polygamous marriage have a point of view and they are keen to have that point of view taken into account and recognised as part of a multi-cultural society," says Mr Cramphorn.
"But of course if the law is equivocal, as it currently is, then that prevents all of us achieving the kind of clarity that would no doubt be helpful in the longer term."
The law produces inconsistent results in that Pervez Choudhry could be charged with bigamy whereas other men doing exactly the same thing could not, but it is not as equivocal as Colin Cramphorn claimed. There is law under there, albeit ancient and groaning under the strain of changes.

The situation in Pakistan is less clear.  A quick google of the searches going on recently shows that everyone else is also hoping the Wiki on marriage law in Pakistan will be updated. At time of writing it looks like the Nikah, the religious part of the wedding in Muslim-majority Pakistan, is separate from the civil registration of a marriage, which is approximately the same as here but the religious marriage may have a legal status in Islam. The civil registration should be a matter of discoverable fact; the dispute, however, hinges on whether the nikah should be regarded as a valid marriage or a personal contract here.

It doesn't help that in this example Choudhry kept changing his story as to which of his weddings didn't count for legal purposes here and obviously felt guilty. Faced with the beautiful GP, Dr Zabina Shahian, who appeared to be crazy about him...well, who wouldn't have been flattered and suddenly seen themselves as Mr Rochester in their own feverish Bronte romance?

The following attempts to sort out the poorly-reported facts, to point out what needs to be verified, and explain how we got in this muddle.

Legal background 
The first thing to note is that bigamy applies differentially to nationals and non-nationals.  The lead case is old:  Reg v Topping 1856. This was decided based on earlier statutes which were consolidated slightly later in the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 (OAPA1861), which is why the statute references are younger than the lead case.  

Mr Topping had two wives, one in Scotland, one in England.  It was held to be bigamy. In the Age of Empire  the law on bigamy traveled with the British subject, binding him where ever he was and making that law available to the local judiciary to try a British citizen. He couldn't appeal to local law. Once he was married, that's it, he was married and couldn't contract a second elsewhere without the end of the first one.  We could then get on to arguing about whether it was a marriage for the purposes of the act, or who was a subject of Her Majesty, or what constitutes evidence of the end of a marriage but the main thing here is:  s.57 of the OAPA still applies to subjects of Her Majesty.

The  Offences Against the Person Act 1861 

Section 57 states: (my emphasis)

57 Bigamy. Offence may be dealt with where offender shall be apprehended. Not to extend to second marriages, &c. herein stated.

Whosoever, being married, shall marry any other person during the life of the former husband or wife, whether the second marriage shall have taken place in England or Ireland or elsewhere, shall be guilty 
The act clarifies that non-nationals are not bound by this act, which is just as well as nobody wants to arrest visiting polygamous royalty - although it will apply in certain circumstances if they contract a marriage here.
that nothing in this section contained shall extend to any second marriage contracted elsewhere than in England and Ireland by any other than a subject of Her Majesty,
As outlined in the sentencing appeal by Philip Stark in 2007,  Mr Stark  - a US citizen - was prosecuted for bigamy here.  Mr Stark had married his first wife in Southend and begun divorce proceedings some years later. He reached the nisi stage but did not finalise the divorce.  He then married his second wife in Basingstoke.  This meant that the first marriage had not been properly ended and he could be prosecuted for bigamy, to which he pleaded guilty.  

It is important to note that as he was not British, he could have contracted both marriages in a jurisdiction which admits polygamous marriage and been outside the scope of this legislation (but not perhaps his home state's.)  There can also be an argument that so long as the second marriage was "elsewhere than in England and Ireland" then he would also have been proof against prosecution for bigamy here.  However, that is an argument for another day. 

The Dispute 
Pervez Choudhry married Hameda Daulat in 1986, possibly here but it could have been in Pakistan. In December 2010 he married Dr Zabina Shahian, a GP from Birmingham, in Pakistan. He gave her to understand he was divorced, but he was not (although this may also be disputed).  It is assumed that Mr Choudhry is a British Citizen or else considerations in the Stark case above, apply.

Whether both of those are marriages for the purpose of the prosecution is the key point. If either one of them is not legally recognised, the charge of bigamy cannot be brought. The status of the marriages is one of legal fact to be verified inside the appropriate legal system.

The following is my best guess. To make out the charge of bigamy there are four elements:

1) He (or she) has to be a British subject bound by OAPA which could be shown by his birth certificate or naturalisation. Alternatively,  s.57 applies to non-nationals who contract valid marriages here, but this is more complex question and presumably not at issue in this case.  There is an element of mens rea; OAPA provided defences such as when people thought dead turned up a decade later. The defendant has to know they are misrepresenting themselves as free to marry which entails a measure of deception.

2) The first wedding has to be recognised as a marriage, which in this case means registered in the normal way here or perhaps by civil registration in Pakistan. A nikah - a religious declaration - may not be enough, whether here or there.   This is the debated point and it is by no means clear.  However, both countries have systems of civil registration of religious ceremonies, so at least that much could be verified.

3)  The first marriage, if legally established, has not been ended by divorce or other valid declaration of nullity.  It follows that Separation is not enough. A decree nisi is not enough. The divorce or other instrument has to be completed. 

4) The second marriage must also be legally recognised; a nikah, a witnessed contract, may not be not enough. Again, this is the point of dispute: Dr Shahian appears to have applied for a ruling from Pakistan that a nikah is a recognised marriage in Pakistan; however the reports do not make it clear if the assertion is that there is an accompanying civil registration. I believe the question is not whether a nikah is recognised there, but whether it ought to be recognised here. That is a matter of public policy, not to be decided on individual hardship. Up till now the belief has been that a non-registered marriage contract is not recognized in British law.

The foregoing shows that there is plenty of room for dispute and confusion. The police and CPS need clarification of when a possible charge of bigamy exists. There could probably be many more prosecutions if there was a will to bring the cases. 

Whether a nikah should be regarded as a valid marriage is a delicate political question which impinges on the definition of marriage across the society.   Currently there are thought to be a number of men contracting nikah-only marriages believing that this will mean they are regarded as cohabitees, not married, and thus outside the scope of UK marriage law for the purposes of property on separation or inheritance. 

Shaista Gohir is the head of the UK's Muslim Women's Network. She says:
''If a couple has a nikah in a Muslim country then the marriage IS recognised under UK law. But many do not realise that this is NOT the case if the nikah is conducted in this country,''
At the moment there is a vague feeling that bigamy laws do not apply to Muslims, which is why it was so difficult for both women to persuade the authorities to bring the case. But being of a particular religion doesn't normally exempt a citizen from the law. The issue here is citizenship and what will be recognised as a marriage for the purposes of bigamy, marriage law, divorce law, family law and inheritance.

Above all, a law which is based on wording nearly 200 years old, from the age when sailing to Australia took three months, is due a review.

A useful review of the cases to date occurs incidentally to a British Virgin Islands case discussing sentences for the various contexts of bigamy, but this is not a complete review.

Friday 1 June 2012

Epping and Ongar - All Aboard!

It is with great pleasure the volunteers of the Epping Ongar Railway announce that they are rolling them waggons and are hoping for a summer of steamy fun. 

They have a timetable running right through to the Santa Specials and they are within easy reach of East London so grab the bookings (tickets available on line) now if you want to take the tots on a day out without having to travel too far.  

Thursday 31 May 2012

A bouquet of prime ministers

There have been twelve prime ministers since Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne.  Churchill was in office when she got there.

In order (source: Wikipedia):-

Winston Churchill  - Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
Anthony Eden -   Bailliol, Oxford
Harold Macmillan - Bailiol, Oxford
Sir Alec Douglas-Home  -   Christ Church, Oxford
Harold Wilson  -   Jesus,  Oxford
Edward Heath        Bailliol, Oxford
James Callaghan - Took the Oxford entrance exam, but didn't have the money to attend.
Margaret Thatcher -  Somervillle, Oxford
John Major -     didn't go to university
Tony Blair - St John's, Oxford
Gordon Brown - Edinburgh
David Cameron - Brasenose, Oxford.

Of that twelve, eight went to Oxford. It was nearly nine but for Callaghan taking civil service exams instead. None went to Cambridge, although it depends on if you include Nick Clegg who was at Robinson, Cambridge.  He's not prime minister but that might depend on whether Cameron has a bizarre accident with a windmill and a bicycle.

Oxford has also supplied us with the current back-ups. Boris Johnson (Balliol ) and both of the Milibands (Corpus Christi) and Ed Balls (Keeble) and Osborne (Magdalen). It's a very long shot indeed, but if you fancy Louise Mensch's chances, she went to Christ Church, which would nudge that college up in to second place behind Balliol, while Michael Gove would be a first showing for Lady Margaret Hall. Probably not in the running, but Theresa May went to St Hugh's and Hague, like Osborne, went to Magdalen.

If BoJo ever gets through the magical door, it will take Balliol's score to 4 which will be very difficult for any other college to match unless Balliol is disqualified for the next sixty years. Yvette Cooper (Mrs Ed Balls) is also Balliol, so the college is uncannily good at spotting potential contenders.

Looking at the two who didn't go to university - Callaghan and Major - the lack of an Oxford degree doesn't seem to have made a difference to their performance as PM.  Both took other professional exams, both were wrong about a significant number of  issues and lost office as a result.

Winston Churchill doesn't really count in this sequence. Since he passed out of Sandhurst 20th in his year of 130, he was no slouch. Luckily for us, since he didn't go to Oxford his idea was to fight Germany rather than defend ourselves by being pre-emptively invaded by Soviet Russia. Sadly, he eventually lost that half of the war but not for want of trying.  Baroness Thatcher went to Oxford but gets a special pass because she studied a proper subject: Chemistry.

Outside of No 10,  a mention must be made of Baroness Shirley Williams (Somerville) and Baroness Mary Warnock (Lady Margaret Hall), architects of the worst aspects of the education system which, sadly, was signed in to existence by Mrs Thatcher who was rather trusting in those days and thought the teachers and civil servants knew what they were doing. Perhaps they did.

So let's hear less about "Oxbridge" as if they were both equally culpable. It's incontrovertibly Oxford which has landed us with the majority of front-rank noodles.  

Or maybe not. 

Part II -  A bouquet of Chancellors

Update: Helen Mirren has read for the part of the Queen, again, in a drama which follows the relationships of the monarch to her prime ministers.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Pretendy government at

Back in September 2009 Witterings from Witney looked at a  body called GovNet Communications which paid various nabobs to be on their 'board'.   There's nothing unusual in this; sometimes the board member makes a useful contribution by way of consultancy, other times they are hired for their contacts or air of respectability and glamour.

Now WfW has received letter from solicitors Turner Parkinson LLP crossly stating that their client is not at all happy with the post. 

GovNet Communiations is a trading style of Partnership Media Group Limited no. 3307092

While the domain name is  allowable, the unwary will easily confuse it with, and thereby be encouraged to mis-read the website as a government organ, especially with a board studded with lords who used to be ministers and an existing MP. The current key government website is but is the beta site which may replace it.

It is a hazard of the domain name system that very similar names can be generated but owned by different people. Nominet will resolve disputes of this sort without going to court. Based on a quick reading of the nominet archive, Nominet asks users to make sure that websites are sufficiently different so as not to mislead people and takes in to account whether other intellectual property protections - such as trademarks - exist.  An intellectual property lawyer would have to advise as to whether the government has taken out any protections which would make the domain name '' one they could complain about.

GovNet is proud of its speakers and essentially, sells influence 
Understanding ModernGov draws together a range of senior Government contacts, bringing you the very best speakers and trainers with the most relevant knowledge.
They also have another product called Understanding ModernGov copied on both the and registrations.  Nothing wrong with that, but the unwary might think they are part of the government.  Wording on the website fosters that impression.  For example:
Understanding ModernGov provide a portfolio of highly informative, interactive Government training courses that clearly and concisely explain the mechanisms of government and parliament.
But they aren't 'Government training courses' in the sense of being produced by the government, They are a set of talks about the government which you can pay to listen to. In some cases, from people who you've already paid once to do their job, and who are now selling their arses - or more likely, ours - to the highest bidder.

As the GovNet domain tells us:
Each course is CPD Certified, providing an in-depth perspective of the mechanisms that drive central, regional and local government.
They are certificated in as much as there is an established trade body, the CPD Certification Service, which acts as an umbrella for private training providers.

Membership of the CPD Certification Service signifies the corporate commitment to the sharing of knowledge and enables members to have a wide range of material independently certified by us and to utilise our certified CPD symbol on items promoting their CPD material and on Certificates of Attendance and CPD Self-Assessment Forms.

You must put what weight on this you think fit.  Some trade bodies are stronger than others. In general, the older established ones have acquired legal protections linked with the obligation to enforce minimum standards and the mechanism to do it, and their stamp carries weight, especially if they can exclude other people from using identifying words in that trade, e.g. The Law Society.   However you should never assume a body has any legal authority until you've checked.

Here for example, is an Intellectual Property course, which originates in a specialist body with legal standing and is delivered by recognized training bodies, which is definitely worth the money.  That's the sort of thing to look for when buying training. 

The existence of Partnership Media Group Limited is on the and websites but it is gently down-played, directing the attention to the Government Procurement Service logo with "supplier" written under it in tiny letters, misleading the glancing eye as to who is providing the material.
  we are the UK's leading Public Sector publisher and events organiser.
Well, yes, that may be strictly true in the sense of publishing material about the public sector, by it isn't a "Public Sector" publisher and events organizer.

The names, images and logos identifying the GovNet News and Events portal and Search the Public Sector (STePS™) , are proprietary marks of the Partnership Media Group Limited trading as GovNet Communications. Copying of our logos and/or any other third party logos accessed via this website is not permitted without prior approval from the relevant copyright owner.
Did they bother asking the UK government if it minded someone taking a domain name so very close to their own?

Monday 21 May 2012

The ASA and judicial review

There have been updates in the tale of Cranmer and the Advertising Standards Authority, (ASA)  where Brer ASA punches the tar baby Cranmer for not raising its hat to him, only to find that he gets stuck in a worse mess than being offended.

It is not clear why the ASA decided to have this fight which is a political one disguised as being about an advert.  What little authority the ASA has has arises from the willingness of advertisers to accept its rulings rather than risk having a statutory body created. It is industry-funded which is better than taxpayer-funded.  There are plenty of firms who just ignore the rulings; presumably they are not worried about whether the ASA can lean on publishers or search engines to restrict access to their material. Here is a list of them.

The eminent blogger Guido Fawkes says this in a comment to Cranmer:
The reason I ignore them is because they have no power. No statutory basis. They are a self-appointed, self-regulatory organisation ............. no different from the green ink loonies who write to me every day apart from the fact that they have a letterhead.
 Which prompts the question:

If judicial review is the process for reviewing the decision-making process of  public and quasi-public bodies, is the ASA the sort of organisation which can be taken to judicial review?

There has been at least one judicial review which by the very act of being heard bolsters the view that the ASA is a quasi-public body doing public work and, besides, people keep responding to the ASA as if it had Authority. 

In an earlier case the ASA investigated whether quoting passages from the bible can be an advert which causes offence and concluded that they were and should not be used again. Instead of pointing out that ASA is not the first body in history to have suggested that Christians can't say what they are going to say whether you like it or not, the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church (SFPC) took the ASA to judicial review. (This was a Northern Ireland case).

Mr Justice Treacy found for the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church:
Mr Justice Treacy accepted that there had clearly been an interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression [Art 10] since the effect of the ASA’s decision was to prevent the applicant advertising in similar terms in the future.  

He accepted, however, that the ASA had a legitimate aim of maintaining a system of self regulation in the advertising industry which provides adequate controls against the publication of material that would cause widespread or serious offence, including offence that interferes with the rights of readers of a particular sexual orientation to respect for their dignity and private life. 
 (Summary of judgment here.   Full judgment here.)

Mr Justice Treacy appears to have accepted that the ASA is a quasi-public body doing public work.  The ASA aren't about to contradict him. They engaged the experienced  Dinah Rose of Blackstone Chambers and she doesn't appear to have argued for dismissal on the grounds that the claimant could not bring her client to judicial review. That would have been to argue that the ASA has no legal standing and isn't a quasi-public body.

The Sandown Free Presbyterian church brought the case for its own purposes so it didn't ask that prior question. The reviewer of the case - because there were internal challenges first - also thought the ASA had authority.
I consider that the ASA has a duty to weigh up the arguments and counter-arguments and decide whether the advertisement has, or is likely to have, caused serious or widespread offence. That decision must be taken with due regard to the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards of decency.
My emphasis on "duty".  Does it have a duty?  It certainly can give whatever opinions it likes, but then so can any club on the behaviour of its members.

In paragraph 53 the court makes explicit its belief about the status of the ASA;
  1. Moreover, seriously offensive advertising attacking a particular sexual orientation may interfere with the right to dignity, and the right to respect for his or her private life, of the reader of the advertisement. This right is itself protected under Art.8 of the Convention, and the ASA, as a public authority, has a positive obligation to protect that right.
By paragraph 66 the judgment implicitly accepts the ASA as an emanation of the state even though it is in the form of a private company, industry-funded and cannot compel compliance. In paragraph 73 he considers that although this isn't an example, there could be instances where the ASA would be entitled to order the church "You can't say that".

But surely that depends on establishing whether the ASA have any power to order anybody around who doesn't want to be?  Making an assumption doesn't deal with the prior legal question: can the ASA be brought to judicial review?  

This is not the first time the question has been raised since governments began to set up private agencies to do quasi-public work.  In 1987 that question was asked about the Panel on Takeovers and Mergers. The discussion involved looking at the reality of regulatory power being distributed in a world which was changing.

There is no hard-and-fast rule about this; the court reserved the right to decide to hear a case because nobody can foresee exactly how administrative structures will be in the future.  However, strong guidelines emerged for when a body's decisions can be reviewed: (note: my summary, not definitive)

- the body has to be producing effects in public law

- the body does not need to have statutory support but it ought to be able to point to something official from which it emanates, although that might be a convoluted route as a result of other acts which does not set it up directly.

- the body's rulings cannot be ignored, that is, if it has enforcement power such that when it gives a ruling, it is only fair that it should be reviewable by the courts.

Not all of these have to be in place to bring a case. Their Lordships tried to differentiate an argument between members in a private club with situations where that club has public law effects.

Applying that to the present example, the first is arguable. The ASA has some effect on advertisers but would you call that public law? It involves cutting off the access to revenue by telling publications not to accept advertising, which is definitely an exercise of real power.

The second is also arguable. The ASA keeps saying the government recognizes it but do they have a duty to undertake investigations.  What power compels them to do an investigation when they are unwilling?

But, as Guido Fawkes demonstrated at the very beginning, the third ground is the weakest. If you have a choice whether to take any notice of them, at least in certain media, then how are they a tribunal or a public body?

If  the ASA is not a public body because it cannot enforce its rulings, why is it being taken to judicial review?

If the ASA is a public body, can the Freedom on Information Act be used to prise open its secret complaints procedure?

Tuesday 15 May 2012

A little more about the ASA

Cranmer has published the response he has given to the ASA.

The ASA has issued a pompous statement which seems to miss the main point: they haven't got any grounds to investigate and even if they had what they think of as a right to investigate, they still haven't got any power to do anything except, maybe, to hand it to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) who are most unlikely to want to tangle with this one. The EHRC prefer to stick to beating up fond old couples such as Mr and Mrs Bull down in Cornwall (and then claiming they didn't mean to launch a second attack for more money), and calling Christianity an infection.

We can all investigate. A little more about the ASA is useful to collect.

Firstly, it's not an "authority". It's a company as registered at Companies House, specifically:

Company No. 00733214

The members of the council are all listed on the website with short clickable biographies.  The best known are Lord Smith - that's Chris Smith who, although gay, has never made any secret of it and has never allowed it to be an issue in any of his work, at least as far as I know, Professor Andrew Motion best known for his poetry (some of which is OK but not as good as Pam Ayres), and Martin Narey, best known for heading up Barnardos and signing-off the sort of ads which stigmatize white men as child beaters. 

The people who run the organization day to day include 
Miles Lockwood, Director of Complaints and Investigations
Miles joined the ASA in September 2010 and is responsible for leading the complaints and investigations teams, the core function of the ASA, who dealt with over 28,000 complaints last year. He studied History at the University of Nottingham and then obtained two post graduate certifications in Law at Nottingham Law School. Qualifying as a solicitor in 1998, he worked in commercial legal practice and specialised in general litigation and dispute resolution matters. 
Lockwood's top-class biography continues. It is hard to believe that he signed off a poorly screened complaint which is not within the scope of their own code, so perhaps he didn't know about it.

It isn't the first time that the ASA has had a spat like this with Christians.  At the end of March 2012, the ASA took issue with a standard  Christian leaflet where they offer to pray over you in the belief that this can promote healing.  The group who gave out the leaflet also included a sensible health warning about visiting your doctor.  There was no suggestion that they tried to coerce belief, cozen money out of people or prevent people getting proper medical attention.

This didn't stop the ASA sticking their noses in, attempting to make themselves arbiters of the printed material which barely qualifies as promotional.  There's nothing unusual about healing services; the ASA appears to be trying to claim the right to tell churches they can't use the word 'healing' at all.   

Since Christians have the unfortunate trait of often being irritating they don't get the support they deserve when their right to freedom of expression is infringed.  Blogs which should have known better failed to identify this as an freedom of speech and religious expression argument, thinking this was about a literal interpretation of what everyone with a scrap of education knows is poetic language and religious belief, both of which are entitled to protection and are matters of opinion, not fact. Why isn't Andrew Motion doing something brave like protecting freedom of speech?

The ASA used its considerable industry funding to lean on a bunch of harmless street pray-ers whose earnest desire is that my knee will be fixed without surgery by divine intervention.  Let 'em try, I say.  If it works, I'm better off, if it doesn't I'm no worse off and I'm still on the waiting list.  How strange that the hedge-witches, shamen and priests all accept that it is my choice whether to go for surgery or not but the ASA thinks it knows what is best for me.

The disputes over faith healing and what can be said about it stem in part from the antagonism in the alternative health-care field.   This was foolishly increased when the chiropractors decided to try to use lawfare (good word, I just heard it) to silence their critics. 

They attempted to sue Simon Singh for libel and such is the state of our laws that they were able to be a significant nuisance until finally dropping the case in April 2010.  It went all the way to the Appeal Court, though, before they were told that Singh's original article was comment, not fact, and that he was entitled to express his opinion.

There is a suggestion from one blog campaign that the ASA isn't up to much, but  it is confusing because it attempts to be over-clever and simply does not understand the ASAs limitations.  Then again, the ASA doesn't understand its limitations.

The website  has a series of pages expressing its rage over quackery and the apparent inability of the ASA to do anything about it.   I share some of their anger but they don't seem to understand how difficult it is to draw that line, especially since some medical doctors have engaged in quackery and misrepresentation, often in places which do matter such as when they are expert witnesses in court.

In climate science we've had the epic quackery of Global Warming but so far the ASA hasn't sent any letters to UEA asking them too explain themselves or tear out pages of their undergraduate prospectus which presents them as having a science faculty.

The bugaboo of asa-rocks is asa-sucks, the defunct campaign which noticed that the ASA was not sticking to the process of receiving a complaint and investigating, but instead had got in bed with another campaign, the Nightingale Collaboration, to systematically challenge the alternative services sector.   When this was revealed, the ASA dropped the association.

The Nightingale Collaboration makes some good points, but as it was fuelled by reasonable outrage at the use of the libel laws against Singh, its main  purpose was to return-volley lawfare against the Chiropractors by finding something they can't substantiate then reporting them to the Trading Standards which does have some legal standing, unlike the ASA. This summary gives a fair over-view of both sides.  The chiropractors should not have played rough if they didn't want the same level of response.

The other alternative care providers generally took a robust attitude to the ASA, advising that on receipt of a letter you should consider binning it as junk mail or perhaps making a complaint to the ASA that you have been contacted by an organization which misrepresents itself as having legal authority.

Technically, the ASA could take issue with every beauty parlour whose facials claim to rejuvenate the skin. That is an impossible claim to substantiate for prior reasons based on entropy.  However, the ASA would find itself even less popular if it decided to go after Madame Rene; do they seriously think her customers expect her to do miracles?  Her customers are not interested in hearing they look like WH Auden and there is little she can do about it; they expect Madame Rene to get on with the aromatherapy massage and for the ASA to mind its own beeswax.

I will decide for myself what I think of god-botherers and beauticians.  

Update:  In which Cranmer fisks the ASA interim statement and it emerges that the group who were supposed to have complained are very cross because they didn't, although one of them complained about about a separate magazine.

Update: Bucko points out that the ASA fail to comply fully with company law.