Sunday, 30 December 2012

Bad year, good year, for music

2012 seems to have been a particularly bad year for music and musicians. From Etta James in January, through Whitney Houston, Dory Previn and Davy Jones in February, the year also took Earl Scruggs, Alan Hacker, Greg Ham, Levon Helm, Bert Weedon, Frank Parr, Roland Shaw, Donald "Duck" Dunn, Derek Hammond-Stroud, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Andy Hamilton, Herb Reed, Graeme Bell, Brian Hibbard, Evelyn Lear, Maria Cole, Lol Coxhill, Jon Lord, Kitty Wells, Graham Jackson, Colin Horsley, Jimmy Jones, Marvin Hamlisch, Ruggiero Ricci, Scott McKenzie, Ian Parrott, Joe South, George Hurst, Andy Williams, Big Jim Sullivan, Bill Dees, Hans Werner Henze, Elliott Carter, Martin Fay, Philip Ledger, Ian Campbell, Jonathan Harvey, Dave Brubeck, Charles Rosen, Lisa Della Casa, Galina Vishnevskaya, and Ravi Shankar plus a host of others whose names were unknown to me. Not all of them achieved their Biblical three-score-years-and-ten.

Just recently we lost Fontella Bass - of whom I hope there will be an appreciation on BBC-3 - and Richard Rodney Bennett.

Some of Sir Richard's public statements may have appeared snobbish or dismissive, but a sympathetic interviewer (like Francine Stock on "Front Row" or Neil Brand) could reveal his warm side. He clearly had a rapport with jazz singers Marian Montgomery, Cleo Laine and Claire Martin all of whom he accompanied in professional engagements.

2013 looks like being a good year for anniversaries. As On An Overgrown Path warns us, we are going to be awash with Britten celebrations and performances. But there was a reminder on Radio 3 this morning that George Lloyd, Morton Gould and Jerome Moross (another "classical" composer who was like Sir Richard splendidly inclusive) were also born in 1913, while in continental Europe there will be celebrations of Alkan, Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi (born 1813) and Francis Poulenc (died 1963). In August it will be Gabriel Pierné's 150th and in December, Mascagni's.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Happy birthday, Leonardo Torres

Not Fernando - this is a celebration of one of the pioneers of automation, Leonardo Torres y Quevedo, who was born on this day 160 years ago.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Has the ANC really changed?

Newly re-elected party leader and South African president Jacob Zuma is determined on "political education and cadre development as well as decisive action against ill-discipline" to eliminate dissidence in the African National Congress. So, though the party has calmed international financial markets by appointing Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the nation's richest men, as deputy president and effective prime minister, the rhetoric is still straight out of the red book.

The president has to face a motion of no confidence in the South African parliament next February.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Romania becomes more liberal

There were many more newsworthy events over the weekend: yet another mass shooting in the States and key votes in Japan and Egypt rightly dominated the headlines. However, another election closer to home gave promise for the future of continental Europe. One quarter of the seats in the Romanian parliament were won in an election last week by a Liberal party, which will be the junior coalition party in a social democrat-led government.

It seems like only yesterday that Her Majesty was persuaded to entertain a brutal dictator on the grounds that Romania was a little more friendly to the West than the rest of the Communist bloc.

Friday, 14 December 2012


Expediency has triumphed over concerns about public safety. The Tories believe that gas prices will plunge in England and Wales as they have done in the United States as a result of fracking. They may well be disappointed, as Lancashire Labour MP Graham Jones points out. Even if the miracle were to happen, and the UK were to become self-sufficient in gas, would a major earthquake be a price worth paying for lower fuel bills? Geologists seem content that the tremors which fracking caused around Fylde were merely an acceleration of natural settling, but what may be relatively benign on the Lancashire plain could be destructive in more disordered geology. Even if we are willing to pay that price, what about the cost to the environment? Some may find the Green Party's language apocalyptic, but the thrust of their logic should not be ignored.

One wonders whether Ed Davey totally believed the answer he gave in the House of Commons yesterday.

In Wales, the Western Mail believes that the green light has been given to shale gas exploitation in Wales. I believe that the Welsh Government has some say in the matter, but so far they have not even issued the technical guidance to local authorities that the Liberal Democrats have called for. There is also the little matter of the local environment, which planning authorities must have regard for when making decisions.

The consideration by Bridgend CBC of an application for shale gas exploration in Maesteg will be instructive. I understand that Peter Black, AM for South Wales West, has registered an objection and that the planning committee will discuss the matter in January.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Ash die-back

- or chalara fraxinea, the binomial given it by the Polish professor who first described it. Radio 4 had an interesting programme about the fungus's origins, spread and possible remedies yesterday:

The Woodland Trust (Coed Cadw's parent organisation) has issued a handy leaflet on the fungus, with a request to report trees showing the signs pictured within. There is a chalara helpline: 08459 33 55 77 and two email addresses: and

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Permeability of the security services

I haven't read the Pat Finucane report yet, but the prime minister's summary of it in his statement in Westminster today was frightening. Sir Desmond de Silva stops short of blaming Northern Ireland Office ministers, but otherwise unfolds a grim tale of elements of the security services and of the Royal Ulster Constabulary colluding with loyalist gangs in violent action against republican sympathisers, culminating in the murder, in front of his wife and children, of a respected solicitor.

I accept that the RUC has been replaced, and that the security services are now established on a legal basis with oversight, but it seems to me that what went wrong in Northern Ireland could go wrong again. The administration should not put more information about all our personal contacts into the hands of more spooks.  Liberal Democrat MPs are right to oppose the offending provisions of the Data Communications Bill.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

I've got a handful of thongs to bring you

"Pliable", no hagiographer, has a sarcastic comment on forthcoming anniversary plans. He writes: "you can buy a Wagner thong from But I searched in vain for a Britten thong, which surely would become a collector's item. Come on Aldeburgh, step up to the plate."

Friday, 7 December 2012

Crossed kukris

If you are still casting round for a Christmas present with a difference, and want to support a good cause, why not visit the Gurkha museum shop at Although the Campaign for Justice for the Gurkhas was successful in winning the right to residence of some loyal servants of the Crown, the plight of those who live in Nepal and their families remains.

Incidentally, the Fair Fuel UK campaign has proved another success for Peter Carroll, as George Osborne was persuaded to put off a rise in fuel duty sine die. Now, if  he could only succeed on a personal level in winning a Westminster seat for the Liberal Democrats, he could make a difference on a wide range of issues.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Anyone would think they did it deliberately

Local authorities, already hard pressed to achieve responsibility for housing benefit in April 2013, are handicapped by the mess that the Labour Welsh government has made of approving the necessary regulations. The BBC story is here:

Peter Black has commented that the Welsh Government had treated the public and the Welsh Assembly with contempt, adding: "We are meant to be a legislature not the Carl Sargeant fan club."

Criminal libel

A fellow resident of Skewen (a Skewenian?) a Mr Saul Gresham, had a letter in yesterday's Independent. He wrote:

One of the reasons that people fear the press is that in order to obtain redress for wrongdoing they need to employ expensive lawyers. If, however, libel were to become a criminal offence such that public prosecutions became the first stage of legal action, then the likelihood of casual and wanton defamation would be reduced. The civil action could follow later and would be less costly to the wronged party and consequently more likely to restrain the less reputable members of the press.

In fact, there was an offence of criminal libel on the statute book until three years ago, when it was removed by an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill introduced in the Lords by the Labour government. The abolition was widely welcomed by journalists and civil rights campaigners, no doubt minded of the history of its use by authoritarian governments.

However, the escapades of the press as they affected ordinary citizens since then suggest that, rather than removing the offence altogether, it would have been more prudent to amend it along the lines Mr Gresham has in mind. In any case, a more enlightened judiciary these days would not allow its oppressive use as 18th and 19th century governments got away with.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Leveson report and the EU

Willis Pickard at Liberal Democrat Voice points out another instance of misrepresentation by the London press: its coverage of European Union matters. The defenders of the status quo maintain that all the sins which gave rise to Leveson were criminal acts,  so that there is no need for a change in the law. Here,  however, is another case where the criminal law would have been ineffective, as with the defamation of people who cannot afford recourse to law.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

More tree-felling

I'm glad I referred to the NPT web-site before I set off for a long-delayed meeting again with Friends of Craig Gwladus for their regular monthly maintenance morning. Fungal diseases of trees seem to be on the increase these days - warmer damper weather helping their spread, perhaps? - so one has to accept the council's reasons for closing the park while felling takes place and their assurances that replacement broadleaved saplings will be planted. The candidates for replacement must be restricted: ash is obviously out, elm has not yet generated immunity from so-called Dutch elm disease and there must be worries about oak. So far, the ancient oaks in the park seem to have been free of oak decline but the risk of introducing the disease on imported saplings would be too great.