12 December 2011

Europe - The Big Half-Truth

Many commentators have criticised the refusal by the UK government to agree to European Union treaty changes that would have ceded control of the UK financial markets.  France in particular maintained the position that these changes, allowing the introduction of an EU-wide transaction tax, were necessary to prevent a repetition of the current crisis.  A transaction tax won't solve the current crisis - it will be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has gone..  

The big half-truth, bordering on a big lie, is the assertion by politicians throughout the EU that the crisis was caused largely by the banks.  Yes, they were part of it, but most European governments have been surviving on budget deficits, with the gap closed by growing levels of borrowing, ever since the introduction of the Euro.  This money was lent by the banks and low rates were underpinned by the assumption that European sovereign lending was all as safe as German debt.

What has really rocked the banks is the discovery (surprise, surprise) that some governments couldn't close their deficits, and at that point, the assumption of safe sovereign lending was blown out of the water.  The governments have caused the banks to lose stability due to their own inability to address their budget deficits.  Politicians keep blaming the banks to shift attention from their own failures.  They don't want to adopt the debt brake (Schuldenbremsen) proposed by Germany, or they're frightened that their electorates won't stomach it. There's a good article from The Economist here.

The big truth that electorates throughout the EU should remember when they next have a chance to vote is that debt must be repaid, sooner or later. If it doesn't look as though debt will be repaid, the lenders will keep raising rates or bond yields to take into account the risk of default. That's reality.

22 November 2011

Hampshire Rugby Clubs

Just updated my map of Hampshire Rugby Clubs (link) from the Hampshire RFU handbook for the 2011-12 season.  Changes are:
  • All mainland and IoW clubs that are full members of Hampshire RFU should now have full address and postcode (for SatNav purposes)
  • One missing club (Les Quennevais) has been added
  • I've tried to put them in alphabetical order but can't get this to stick.  Google maps seems to shuffle them back to a random order (or maybe the order of original creation) next time you open the map
I'll do the Channel Island clubs, schools and associate members as soon as I can.  There are a number of new associates, which I've noted but not yet added.  Beeches RFC seems to lack a location so I can't stick it on a map.  Please advise of any other errors or omissions. 

24 October 2011

Rugby World Cup 2011 thoughts

I think it was a fantastically exciting Rugby World Cup and the All Blacks were worthy winners in the end.  The second half of the final was real edge-of-the-seat stuff, even for a neutral.  The hangovers in all parts of New Zealand today must have been monumental. 

Although Craig Joubert is a fine referee, I didn't think he had a good first half in the final.  Front row dynamics are difficult and sometimes it's wrong to give a penalty - when it isn't clear who (if anyone) has committed an offence.  He also seemed to be pressured by the crowd, playing poor advantages to France and then calling advantage over, but in contrast awarding decisions quickly to New Zealand.  He appeared much more even-handed after half time.  In fact I hardly noticed him in the second half, which is a good sign that he was doing an excellent job. 

There was lots to talk about at every round: there were some fantastic matches, and unexpected results including Ireland's defeat of Australia which pretty much guaranteed that there would be a Northern Hemisphere v Southern Hemisphere final.  The way that some of the smaller countries are progressing is great for the game, and Georgia, for such a tiny country, were magnificent.  The inclusion of Sevens in the Olympics in 2016 is already making countries like Russia and China take Rugby much more seriously, so we could see some powerful newcomers in the later rounds of future World Cups.

Sadly the UK audience were denied the chance to see or hear the opening ceremony because the ITV producers couldn't allow Steve Ryder and his experts to be quiet for a few minutes.  I thought it rude to the organisers to ignore the NZ culture that was featured.  I thought it was a real shame that IBM didn't come up with a few more varied ads for the later stages of the competition.  We've all seen the old dears on the mobility scooters, the barber and the pizza takeaway about 48 times.  Enough is enough.  Audi seemed to change their ads as the weeks went on, which was much more interesting for the audience, but they could have done more too.

We didn't like music played in the stadia during injury stoppages.  I'm sure that Rugby crowds in New Zealand aren't so moronic that they need Sweet Caroline or something else from Neil Diamond's greatest hits to be played when the medics are treating a potentially serious injury.

Didn't the new all-indoor Otago Stadium in Dunedin look fantastic?

England were very disappointing, and really seem to have lost their way discipline-wise.  Wales lost shape after Rhys Priestland was injured, and although Warburton's red card looked crucial at the time, more important was the failure to kick from the tee. They lost three matches by a total of five points, and missed out on 40 points in penalties and conversions.  They also missed six attempted drop goals.

All sides seemed to have problems with place kicks; maybe there is more to be discovered about the aerodynamics of the new ball, particularly when painted up for the test matches, wet, and used in real play for half a game or more.
 
I thought the persistent booing of Quade Cooper was an absolute disgrace - nothing to do with Rugby, and a surprise that the Rugby-mad crowds in New Zealand would treat one of the world's great talents in such a disgusting way.  In contrast, I bet McCaw won't be booed for his knee to the eye of Morgan Parra during the final.

Picture from Official RWC2011 site
Every referee seemed to have difficulties at times, but sometimes the criticism was unfair.  Francois Pienaar slammed Wayne Barnes on ITV saying that Contepomi was offside in the Scot v Arg match when Parkes missed a poor drop goal attempt.  The Official RWC2011 match video has a view from behind the posts at the critical moment (about 5 minutes 50 seconds into the recording), and you can see that Contepomi was at the back of the ruck and onside when the ball was already being passed to Parkes. 

He also claimed Alain Rolland was wrong to give a red card to Warburton, but even Welsh referees applaud him for not chickening out, and applying the right sanction for the tackle. 

But all in all, congratulations to New Zealand on hosting a tremendous World Cup.  England will have to do extremely well to match this in 2015.

17 October 2011

Dangerous tackles in Rugby

Last season (2010-11) I wrote down details in my refereeing notebook of 44 Rugby matches where I'd officated.  This excludes tournaments and sevens, and I may not have recorded every card, but the score is 21 cards awarded, of which four were for reckless tackles involving lifting the tackled player's feet above his head.

None of these involved a clear slam, or a drop onto the ground as seen in the Sam Warburton sending-off in the RWC 2011 semi-final.  Instead the tacklers (multiple tacklers in two cases out of four) kept hold when bringing the player down.  The cards were for the danger caused by lifting the feet above the head.

I'm refereeing at levels 9 - 11 (with the occasional 8s and 12s) but it's just as possible for players at this level to be seriously injured by a tip tackle as for an international player.  I think Alain Rolland did exactly what he'd been instructed to do, unfortunately for Wales, who I would love to have seen against the All Blacks in the final.

All cards for the season:

Match 3: Dangerous tackle
Match 8: 2 x continuing handbags well after whistle, 1 x fighting, 1 x dive on try scorer
Match 15: 1 x Repeated offside at ruck and maul, 1 x repeated illegal bind (loose head)
Match 17: 2 x raking
Match 19: trip - clear but in otherwise well-tempered match, it didn't look worth a Red card
Match 25: poor attempt at a punch
Match 27: affray
Match 28: not retiring at penalty
Match 29: dangerous tackle
Match 30: high tackle in red zone preventing possible try
Match 31: 1 x repeated offending inc. high tackle, 1 x raking
Match 32: 1 x dangerous tackle + 1 x offside/fighting (Red), 1 x fighting + 1 x referee abuse (Red)
Match 34: striking with elbow instead of hand-off
Match 38: dangerous tackle


11 October 2011

Apple and Chilli jelly

Great joy - followed Samantha Weinberg's recipe in The Times (£) of Thursday 29th September.  I used almost double the quantities given, to produce 17 pots (various sizes, 100-120 grams) of a delightful Apple and Chilli Jelly.

It might have had more of a kick if we'd been able to grow red chillis like those of a couple of years ago, or buy any really hot small red chillis in local shops. Sadly, we harvested hardly any this year - the second year running that we've had an almost complete failure. The cooking apples came from next door's tree, by arrangement.

This is the first time that I've made jam, marmalade or jelly other than when 'helping' a parent or grandparent (many years ago), so I had to learn by trying it out.  Experiences:
  1. Muslin cloth (£3 from the local ironmonger) tied to a large bowl with string is much less expensive a straining method than a jelly bag with the kit to hold it; the whole caboodle would have cost a stupid £18 in all. Or if you are able, make a stand for a jelly bag out of metal coat hangers that came back with your dry cleaning. 
  2. The measures seem to be about a pound of sugar to a pint of liquid, if that's the size of your measuring jug
  3. The strained liquid looks pale white, having picked up hardly any colour from the chillis. Don't panic. When you add the sugar and start raising to the boil, it darkens. Once it's reached the boil, you can skim off a layer of scum and then what's left will darken more as it approaches the setting point
  4. You don't have to be too gentle when boiling the liquid to set. Make sure it's boiling rather than simmering, and keep an eye on it - you don't want toffee. 
  5. The test described in the article to find the setting point does work - if you're not too gentle.  Stirring doesn't seem to do any harm and as it's nearing readiness, stirring will cause the liquid to bubble up.  That could be your signal to start testing.

30 September 2011

Essential vocabulary

Here's some Rugby vocabulary, gleaned from S4Clic, which has some great Rugby coverage, and Wicipedia, which shows the ingenuity of the Welsh to translate even a Hawaiian word such as wiki into their own tongue.

WelshEnglish
cic gyntaf kick off
cosbipenalty
dacl peryglusdangerous tackle
tirterritory
cam drafodforward pass
caistry
yr EidalItaly
IwerddonIreland
LloegrEngland
prif carlwr / mewnwrscrum half
eilyddionreplacement
Leiniauline out
dacl peryglusdangerous tackle
cerdyn gochred card
Seren y gemStar of the game
Sgor terfynolFinal score
DreigiauDragons
GweilchOspreys
GleisionBlues
buddugoliaethvictory
colliloss
Isdeitlau SaesnegEnglish subtitles
BlaenwyrForwards
Olwyr / CefnwyrBacks
DyfarnwrReferee
HanesCaps
CymruWales
Y LlewodThe Lions
Oed, Pwysau, TaldraAge, Weight, Height
SaflePosition
Safleoedd Rygbi'r Undeb
Blaenwyr
Prop pen rhydd (1)
Bachwr (2)
Prop pen tyn (3)
Clo (4 a 5)
Blaenasgellwr (6 a 7)
Wythwr (8)
Cefnwyr
Mewnwr (9)
Maswr (10)
Canolwr (12 a 13)
Asgellwr (11 a 14)
Cefnwr (15)
Positions in Rugby Union
Forwards
Loose head prop (1)
Hooker (2)
Tight head prop (3)
Second rows / Locks (4 and 5)
Flankers (6 and 7)
No 8 (8)
Backs
Scrum half (9)
Stand off or Fly half (10)
Centres (12 and 13)
Wingers (11 and 14)
Full back (15)




15 August 2011

Beach Books 2011


This is the collection of books that I finished on holiday this summer:

1. Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett




2. Jigs & Reels, Joanne Harris




3. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez




4. Shakespeare, Bill Bryson




5. The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens, David Brooks




6. Fury, Salman Rushdie




7. Notwithstanding, Louis de Bernieres




8. Paradise Lost - Smyrna 1922, Giles Milton




9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson



I read a couple of these on an Amazon Kindle 3G and can report that it's perfectly legible in bright sunlight such as is found on the beach in Greece:
 
Commission received on Amazon sales using the links above will benefit
Petersfield Curry Club

19 July 2011

Hacking

The Tory backbencher, Nick Boles, who lost his cool when Harriet Harman kept interrupting him on BBC Newsnight on 18th July, then uttered a phrase that will come to haunt him, when he described the hacking and police bribery scandals as "a little local difficulty". The revelation that Millie Dowler's phone messages were hacked and some deleted, potentially destroying evidence and giving her parents false hope that she might still be alive, was absolutely vomit-making. I hope that those responsible are prosecuted to the furthest extent that the law will allow. The occasional bent copper taking money for a tip-off? That seems as surprising as the information that bears defecate in the woods.

But when you think about the global issues facing the Government, such as the possible collapse of the euro, Libya, Afghanistan, the recession, the debt, you can see where Boles was coming from with his ill-judged comment.

Harman is following the Labour plan of conflating issues to cause as much noise and confusion as possible around these scandals, on the basis that making noise now will make life uncomfortable for the Government, and hoping that people have short memories and will forget that this mess started on Labour's watch. They have a clear strategy to set a trap for Cameron by demanding an apology for appointing Coulson. If he apologises, he'll be seen as following a lead given by Milliband, if he doesn't then Labour can keep on and on suggesting that Cameron doesn't "get it". The ball is rolling on the enquiries and these should be allowed to run their course.

04 July 2011

EHIC - passing off?

She Who Must Be Obeyed asked me to renew our E111 European health insurance forms today, and I knew that these have been replaced by something new.  I used Google and found e111-nhs.org and nhs-ehic.org.  The first is a site with Universal Check Services and seems to cost £14.99 per application.  It mentions at the bottom of the form that it has no affiliation with the NHS, Department of Health or any other official Government body.  The second also admits that it has no connection with any Government department, and seems to charge £8.99 per application.  There's another one - e111.org.uk, but at least this doesn't use NHS in its web site name.

Now, all of them are offering a service of 'checking' your application, but the online or telephone application service is simple, free and connects directly to the people who will actually process your application.  All you need is your name, address and a permanent (not temporary 'TN') National Insurance number.  It will even work out your proper address from your house number/name and postcode.  The National Health Service Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) EHIC site is at https://www.ehic.org.uk/Internet/home.do.

I don't think that the 'checking' services should be allowed to use NHS in their web site names.  To me there's a nasty niff of 'passing off'  of their sites as something official, and could catch out people who are short of time or patience to read the small print.  How dumb do you have to be to need someone else to check your name, address and NI number?   Of course, our lawmakers and Google encourage this by allowing the sites to place their ads at the top of the search results, instead of excluding them altogether.  Regrettable - either Her Majesty's Government or Google could stop this practice dead in its tracks.

Zopa UK - a little less P2P

I felt a little sad that the peer to peer (P2P) lending site, Zopa UK, has decided to stop offering Zopa Listings.  This facility allowed individual borrowers to pitch to the Zopa lending community for backing for their individual needs, instead of having to convince the people who evaluate loan applications through the standardised Zopa Markets process.  It let the lenders make their own judgments about the rates and amounts at which they would be prepared to lend.

As the loans were filled Dutch auction-style, it was possible to end up with what seemed like a very acceptable rate as a lender, and the borrower could always decline if the overall net rate was too high.   Having said that, the predicted default rates in the Listings looked higher to me, and it's possible that some of these will turn out to be a case of  'a fool and his money... '.  Maybe these loans were high risk investments which weren't being priced correctly by the auction process.

I suppose it's a completely justifiable business decision, but it takes a little bit of the sport out of the game which becomes a little less P2P as a result.  Zopa Markets provide a more controlled way to lend. I  went there because of my frustration with the deposit rate I could get from a high street bank.   It may not be the thing for widows and orphans; only time will tell how good an investment this is, but so far, I seem to be ahead of the high street rates.  If you want to try it, the graphic below has a link (health warning: this includes a little incentive for me if you lend enough after signing up from here)

.

20 March 2011

Six Nations reality check

England's dream of a Grand Slam was smashed into little pieces by an Ireland side that dominated every element of the game.  Up to now, they'd ridden their luck with narrow wins in three of the four matches: 7 points in Cardiff,  8 against France, and 6 against Scotland.  Scotland had shown that it was perfectly possible to stop England from playing,  and that's exactly what Ireland did.  They were able to spoil England's scrum ball with a 45 degree wheel away from Flood on at least three occasions, and they competed ferociously at the breakdown.   

England were on the wrong side of the refereeing team throughout the first half.  They gave a first silly penalty - the backs advancing too quickly at the line out to make it 3-0.  About 12 minutes into the match, Ireland wheeled the scrum, stranding Reddan offside, but he was allowed to play on as the ball emerged. Ashton was penalised for a high tackle on an assistant referee's call (6-0).  Cueto seemed to take an identical high tackle just after the restart, but no call was made.  O'Driscoll had a try disallowed for a forward pass, but an AR call for not rolling away led to a penalty in front of the posts instead (9-0).  Flood missed a shot at goal, and England failed to regather the drop out.  Ireland hacked ahead, and Foden attempted to clear to touch under severe pressure.  No England player was more than 2 metres ahead of the 22m line when the ball was caught near half way, but England were penalised anyway, presumably under the 10 metre law (11.4).  Bowe went over for a try after Sexton's quick tap (14-0).   Another high tackle by Ireland, and D'Arcy lying in the back of an England ruck, also failed to interest the referee or his assistants, although he whistled for offside at the ruck shortly after to give Flood a second shot at goal (14-3). Youngs managed to earn himself a yellow card after he ran the ball into touch and then threw it into the crowd after some last ditch defence against Wallace.  Another AR call, and Sexton duly slotted the penalty for a 17-3 half time lead..  

O'Driscoll scored a good try to take the record for the most tries scored by an Irishman.  Sexton converted, and at 24-3, Ireland were out of sight of the struggling England team.  England's best move of the second half started by Cueto near his own line, carried on with Wood, Hape, Care, Foden, Care, Flood and ended with Ashton passing right to Gordon D'Arcy instead of left to Flood under the Irish posts.  

An interception try by Thompson couldn't make the overall result respectable.  A missed conversion and earlier missed penalties meant that 8 points were lost that would have made a big difference to the final score of 24-8.

Conclusions: Banahan wasn't the right replacement for Tindall at centre, England's kickers lost direction - even Wilkinson.  Easter wasn't able to play an effective part as captain and Hape was pretty much anonymous.  The pack was bullied in tight and loose by Ireland, giving Flood little ball to play with.  Youngs' sin-bin was symptomatic of the rout.  Only Wood and maybe Foden emerged with real credit.

Ireland may have done England a huge unintended favour by giving them this reality check and wake-up call before the summer break leading up to the World Cup.

12 March 2011

Andy Millar

from Andy's Facebook
Maybe it's a sign of the times, but I first got a hint that something was wrong through Facebook.  Then the tributes started rolling in, then the confirmation by e-mail.  Andy died on Friday night, 4th March 2011 and by early Saturday morning many of his Rugby friends knew the shocking news. 

He and Celia pitched up one Saturday afternoon (spring of 1984?)  at Petersfield and said they were planning to move to the area from Milton Keynes, and were looking for a friendly Rugby Club that offered Mini Rugby.  We didn't, but I told Andy that we were looking for someone to organise it.  Sure enough, they did move to Petersfield, and instantly got involved.  Andy played prop for the third XV, absolutely solid and the foundation of a tight-knit unit that included the colonel and me in the second row.  And the promise was honoured: he got the Mini and Junior section of the Club up and running.  It quickly became a huge success, with hundreds of boys and girls taking part in Rugby on Sunday mornings at Penn's Place.  Something soon became clear and has become increasingly important over the years: the parents of Mini and Junior players, with their greater life experience, were often much better organisers than the players, who formed the majority of the Club Committee at the time (I was Hon. Sec).  Many parents have gone on to help in the overall administration of the Club, which has made a huge contribution to its development over the years.

from Andy's Facebook

When the roof of the old Clubhouse was blown off in the Great Storm of 1987, Andy was one of the members of the Clubhouse Organising Committee (CHOC).  He insisted on the construction of the balcony for the new Clubhouse which opened in 1990.  He's pictured right as he could often be seen, offering advice to players and referees.

Andy made another huge contribution as match reporter and author of match programmes.  He made sure that the local press was supplied with high quality reports during the season, and even a trickle of stories during the summer months to keep the Club in the public eye.  When he didn't have the team list from the opposition, sometimes he'd substitute one based on his wide knowledge and wit.  I was delighted to see that Tostig, Godwin and Sweyn were still playing for Winchester.  A few years ago he was rumbled by a former sport sub-editor of the Petersfield Post - when 'Field played Old Paulines, he got a bollocking for Philip and Felix.  Eric Bloodaxe was pushing things a bit far too, and one week I only found through the Hazy Herald that Al Eric, Hunery and Geiser were representing Weybridge Vandals.   But normal service was soon resumed.  About a year ago he excelled himself, with Black, Gang, Chine, Ryde, Pier and Neadle all playing their part for Sandown and Shanklin. 

We'll all miss him, his humour and the passion for the game that he loved.  All our sympathy and thoughts are with Celia and their boys, Alasdair, Iain and Jimmy.

{Update 16/03/2011] Andy's funeral was at St Lawrence's Church, Petersfield, on Wednesday 16th March.  A tremendous number showed up to say goodbye to the big man, family, team mates, friends from far and near; I counted ten referees as well as friends from many other Hampshire Rugby clubs.  Stuart Barden gave a great tribute and the music included two of the great Rugby hymns: Bread of Heaven and Jerusalem.   The wake, back at the Rugby Club, was one of those meetings of old friends that unfortunately is only brought about by the saddest of events.  But it was one you'd be sorry to have missed.

01 March 2011

Another raid on my future pension

Much of the excitement around today's European Court of Justice ruling in insurance premiums has focused on the effects on motor insurance policies.  Young male drivers are dramatically more likely to kill or injure themselves or others than young women, and currently their premiums reflect this fact.  From December 2012, this will be illegal, and on the face of it, women will have to cross-subsidise less safe male drivers.

At the other end of the age range, pension annuities for men currently cost less for the same annual income than those for women, because men have a lower life expectancy.  This ruling will mean that they have to pay more. At the moment, the less well (impaired lives) or the older annuity buyers receive more for the same pot of money, but this could be judged discriminatory too.  We have a whole profession dedicated to this calculation - actuaries - and they could now become an endangered species.  Or they could be employed to find crafty ways and cunning proxies for age, sex and state of health, to circumvent the ruling.

 The Gordon Brown raid on pensions dividend income, poor investment returns, the financial crisis, and now this new ruling, all conspire to reduce my future pension further and further.  Those lucky enough to have a public sector pension won't be affected.  I bet that applies to the ECJ justices.

17 February 2011

BBC2 - The Spice Trail

I'm fascinated by the subject matter, but the presentation was so bad that I had to switch off after 25 minutes. The simpering gushing blather of Kate Humble made this unwatchable.  The travelogue was fine, the content fascinating, the pictures wonderful, and Kate H is great when she's doing voiceover.  But when she gets into the act, projecting herself to the forefront of events, it's stomach churning.

It's not Blue Peter, it's not CBeebies, it's a programme for allegedly intelligent viewers on the BBC's alternative prime channel.  From treading the pepper, to cheering the snake boats, to drinking tea made with Ayurvedic medicines, it's quite nauseating.  I nearly switched off after 15 minutes, and after 25, couldn't stand it any more.  What a shame that the BBC has made an infantile mess of a fascinating subject, instead of treating its viewers like adults.  Maybe episodes 2 and 3 will be better, but I don't hold out much hope.  I'm sorry but this gets my "BBC at its worst" vote.

While available on BBC iPlayer, it's here

10 February 2011

BBC: George VI: The Reluctant King

As the Academy Awards approach, and The King's Speech is thought likely to do quite well, the BBC broadcast a very timely re-showing of the 1999 documentary George VI: The Reluctant King.    It was amazing, inspiring stuff and a great story.  The story was supported by a tremendous array of contributors (some no longer with us), many of whom participated in the actual events.  Only one key witness was missing, and I hope that she didn't find the interpretation of her father's story too inaccurate or distressing.

For me: I thoroughly enjoyed it, BBC at its best.  Sadly it doesn't appear to be available on BBC iPlayer, but it's worth keeping an eye open for another showing.

19 January 2011

Public Accounts Committee turns on PFI

At last, some reality in Westminster about Labour's con trick, the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).   The Spectator is reporting that the Public Accounts Committee has recognised the spectacular waste of money and the inequity of the deals (article here).

I blogged about this in May 'Please can we restore the meaning of investment'...
"The Tories flirted with Public-Private Partnership (PPP), an early version of PFI in the mid 1990s. They rapidly worked out that it was too dangerous. Brown grabbed it with both hands to run up another £500 billion of future debt while turning much of the normal capital investment into bribes for voters or jobs for the boys (and girls), especially in marginal and safe Labour seats. We will be paying for this man's lies, recklessness and dishonesty for the next thirty years."
Please don't let's forget that this was one of Gordon Brown's crimes, and that the idiot Milliband denies responsibility for them - and would repeat them.