Friday, 31 July 2009

In Support of Gary McKinnon

I’m very saddened to hear the news that Gary McKinnon has lost the latest round in his fight to avoid extradition to the US on charges of computer hacking.

Gary managed, from his home in North London, to hack into several high level US computers and was eventually tracked down. Now the US authorities – in order to make an example of him – want him extradited to the US to face trial.

It may well be that Gary, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, did wrong. However, he did this in England, not in the US, so any trial should take place here. Allowing a British citizen to be tried by a foreign court for an offence he committed here seems to me to be bizarre in the extreme. Our extradition treaty with the US is very uneven in matters like this.

Furthermore, if the US authorities can’t safeguard their IT systems, whose fault is that? They should be paying him as a consultant, not looking to punish him.

If you don't know much about the background to this case, it's worth looking at:


Tuesday, 28 July 2009

So, What Do you Know About Peru, Then?

I wasn’t really looking forward to today’s job to Warwick Castle and Birmingham from Stratford, discovering that I had 21 Peruvians to look after. For one thing I don’t speak Spanish and for another all I know about Peru involves Machu Picchu, Michael Bentine and Paddington Bear.

Things looked even worse when I met the coach driver and he told me that, despite my worksheet saying “Afternoon Tour of Birmingham”, the group were in fact going to Cadbury World.

When I met the group, apart from the two teachers, they were all 15 year old girls. Really the sort of people likely to want to listen to someone like me.

Well, Jelfy, that’ll teach you to make assumptions. Yes, they were all fashion victims. Yes, they wanted to shop. But goodness were they interested in the Castle and its past and did they know their English history and culture. Certainly more than a lot of British youngsters of the same age know…….and certainly far more than they (or I) would know about Peru. They listened intently to a run through of Henry VIII’s wives, laughed at the story of the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales (allegedly hit on the head by a tennis ball!) and took enough photos to fill up an 8 gig SD card every half hour. They were here to have a good time and a good time they had.

Letting them loose in a chocolate museum in the afternoon produced the sort of reaction you’d expect letting teenagers loose in a chocolate museum. Next week there will be a flight back to Lima unable to take off due to excess baggage, most of it in the form of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.

And to round things off nicely - for me at least - while I was waiting for them to come back to the coach, there happened to be an afternoon concert going on at the Bournville Carillon. We had the Carillon played for our wedding in Bournville and this brought back some very happy memories indeed. There was a visiting Dutch Carilloneur called Frank Steijns playing and it was really rather wonderful. I do love Birmingham. Usually.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Selling What All the World Desires

On that rare thing for me, a Sunday off, we’ve spent the afternoon visiting the Matthew Boulton Exhibition Selling What All the World Desires in the Gas Hall of the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Okay, so I was always going to like it. It’s about Birmingham and concerned with a subject that interests me. But goodness! I was, as they say, just “blown away” by how good it was. I thought I knew a lot about old MB but there I learned loads of new stuff about him. His relationship with Joseph Wright of Derby. The Lunar Society always meeting on Sundays. His political views. His involvement with Benjamin Franklin. All these were revelations to me.

There’s some fabulous stuff on display: clocks and vases for the Royal Collection, a painting from Tate Britain (which was one of my exam pictures years ago), a collection of medallions showing Birmingham landmarks and even Boulton’s personal diary.

The whole thing was pure joy to me from start to finish and I urge anyone vaguely near Birmingham to visit it before it closes on 27 September 2009. It’s even FREE! There are more details at:

I feel inspired to do a themed Birmingham walk just about Matthew Boulton now!

Electronic Clutter

Louise “plumbed in” a new printer to her PC yesterday. Great. That’s more redundant computer peripherals sitting on the landing awaiting disposal (we already have a distinctly quaint CRT monitor that’s been sitting there for weeks).

Women and their ever-changing electronic gadgets, eh?! :-)

Saturday, 25 July 2009

If It's Saturday It Must Be England

I worked in Stratford with a Cypriot group this afternoon. It wasn’t a pleasure for either side, although I’m sure they were quite charming people.

Their day began at 2.00am, flying from Cyprus to Heathrow.

They were then taken to Oxford for a walking tour of the City and lunch.

Next they were brought to Stratford, where they were informed that a slightly odd bearded Englishman was about to take them on a tour. Needless to say, this was not joyous news for them, however brief I endeavoured to keep it. They then headed into Shakespeare’s Birthplace, although their Tour Manager only gave them 30 minutes to do that, which is hard going even when Stratford isn’t heaving with humanity (as it was today).

Then they left for their overnight hotel in…….Liverpool.

Apparently tomorrow they’re visiting Chester in the morning, doing a Windermere cruise in the afternoon and then heading for their overnight hotel in…….Glasgow.

As I said, very pleasant people I'm sure but I was glad I was only with them for half a day.

Why do people devise itineraries like this?

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Desperate Romantics

Living in Birmingham and working in tourism, I do from time to time find myself explaining the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB). (For those that don't know, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is thought to have the largest collection of Pre Raphaelite art in the world.)

In my usual style, I normally explain the PRB by saying that they were a group of 19th century Angry Young Men who wanted to get back to basics in art.......and who did so by sleeping with each others' partners and painting lots of pictures of women with red hair and orange lips.

Having seen last night's BBC2 drama "Desperate Romantics" (the first of six episodes) I now feel entirely justified in my assessment.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Ronnie Biggs

Had Ronnie Biggs served a long sentence for his part in the Great Train Robbery, then he would probably have been released quite some years ago now.

However, he did not serve that sentence. He instead escaped from Wandsworth Prison and lived the life of Riley in Australia and then Brazil. He basked in the “limelight” of being a “celebrity”, posed for photos and mocked Scotland Yard Detective Jack Slipper on television.

Yes, he returned to the UK voluntarily. In 2001, when the money ran out and his health failed.

He spent a lot of time when he should have been in prison out of it. Now he can spend a lot of time in it when – had he acted differently - he could have been out.

He can stay in for the rest of his natural as far as I’m concerned.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Ian Jelf Single Handedly Funds the Royal Mail!

I’ve just had to pay £2.48 in VAT charges for a model bus I ordered from Australia. No problem, it’s outside the EU and I’m happy to pay any taxes due.

To my amazement, though, on top of this sum I’ve had to pay a whopping £8.00 extra to the Royal Mail for the privilege of handling this matter for me.

How can Royal Mail be in financial difficulties if they do this? I feel like I’m personally paying to bail them out!