In Praise of Drummers

mattheldersThere’s an old joke amongst musicians – ‘What do you call someone who hangs around on stage with musicians?’ The punchline? ‘A drummer.’ Well, I like drummers – most of them, anyway. I think that the first drummer that I became really aware of as a personality within a band was Charlie Watts of ‘The Rolling Stones’ . To start with he always appeared older than everyone else there, and looked more like an accountant who’d accidentally found himself sitting behind the drum kit. But by gum, he could drum! And as the rest of the band age, Charlie barely seems to alter. When his colleagues find themselves in the glare of publicity, Charlie stays behind the scenes. Solid. Reliable. Literally a safe pair of hands. And that’s how I regard drummers. There are exceptions to this rule – Keith Moon being the obvious one – but let me run with this!

When I went to University, I remember the death of John Bonham being announced on the radio. It was quite a surprise to me and I think it was possibly one of the few ‘Kennedy’ moments I’d had in my life up to that point – you know, those times when you can remember where you were and what you were doing when a particular news item breaks. The opening drumming of ‘Rock and Roll’ is quite something.

I suppose the thing that bought this train of thought to mind this morning was reading a review of a gig I attended a week or so ago – The Arctic Monkeys here in Sheffield. Specific mention was made of Matt Helders, the drummer, even to the degree of comparing him to Bonham. For me Matt pins together the whole Monkeys sound. Forget the pretty boy front-man Mr Turner – he may be talented but Matt is the Man.  Solid, tight, disciplined and delivering the beat that everything else hangs from. Exactly what you want from a drummer.  Whatever else happens with the Arctics, Matt will be kepeing it ‘High Green Real’.

My other favourite contemporary(ish) drummer is Sean Moore from the Manic Street Preachers.  Sean was always the ‘forgotten Manic’ but he was absolutely critical to the sound. The drumming on ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’ is up there with the best – brilliant.

I’d also say that one of the best tests of a sound system and the acoustics in a gig venue is what it does with a good, crisp, drum set.   Is there a ringing noise just audible around the drums? Does it sound ‘mushy’? Does it break up or even start forcing feedback? If so, the chances are that the drum kit isn’t miked correctly or the sound system isn’t set up correctly; if the latter then the chances are strong that the rest of the band isn’t sounding it’s best either.

Of course, I couldn’t write about drummers without mentioning Phil Collins. And having mentioned him, I will move swiftly on…. Oh, and while I remember…no 12 minute drum solos!

Playing the game of War

StrangeloveOne of my ‘guilty secret’ films is the 1982 John Badham movie ‘War Games’, in which a teenager inadvertently starts the countdown to World War 3 by hacking in to a military computer system. He thinks he’s playing war games, but the computer thinks that it’s the real thing and starts counting down to a real missile launch. At the end of the film, the youth and the computer’s inventor manage to convince the machine to stop it’s attempts to launch the missiles by telling it to try out various game scenarios in which the result is always the same – mutual destruction. The computer, smarter than most politicians, remarks that nuclear war is an interesting game; the only way to win is not to play.

Shame General Jack D Ripper didn’t get the message….(left)

I was reminded of this film the other morning when I read on the BBC’s web site that a couple of Swiss human rights groups have published a paper in which they protest that it’s possible to commit war crimes in many modern computer games. Now, the fact that this is deemed newsworthy in a world in which war crimes of varying magnitudes are committed every day of the year is quite depressing of itself; perhaps these chaps need to look up from playing ‘Call of Duty’ and see what’s happening and what has happened in the last 15 years in the world – not just in Iraq and Afghanistan but closer to ome in Sarajevo and Kossovo. Seriously, the fact that games are discussed in this context brings little credit to academia and belittles the true war crimes that go on. Does this mean we should re-visit films like ‘Platoon’ and ‘Full Metal Jacket’? Should we ban ‘Star Wars’ with it’s depiction of whole planets being zapped out of existence? Do we purge episodes of Star Trek and Stargate from our collective media experience because of their story lines? 

There is little evidence to suggest that playing these military oriented games desensitizes young men; many Western soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will have played games like these and are still traumatised by what they see. War crimes have been a feature of warfare from days immemorial; we can go back to places like Lidic and Malmedy in World War 2, the use of gas warfare in Iraq in the 1920s to subdue local guerillas, etc.

The academics comment that the games ‘permit’ war crimes to be carried out in the game scenarios; I wonder if they’re suggesting that the games should somehow prevent this. Some games do have game play that ‘punishes’ such activities in terms of the chance of ‘winning’ n the game, but are the academics suggesting that the games actually forbid activities that are war crimes in the real world? I hope not….and here’s why.

The gamers have free will within the context of what the game allows them to do. They will almost certainly behave in a way that they wouldn’t behave in real life, and I do think that most people playing ‘Call of Duty’ will realise that there is a difference between Xbox mediate pixel slaughter and real world combat. If the activists are suggesting that the ability to commit a war crime in game is more likely to encourage people to do the same thing outside of the game, then there are two options; some sort of modification to the game play that punishes such activities in the game by a modification of the game scenario, or some sort of total block that restricts the course of action of a player in these scenarios. Now, if the academics believe that gamers might suffer from blurred reality when they commit a game based war crime, logically they must also believe that that other game events also might affect their view of reality.

So….where the game scenario is loaded against war crimes, a player may take the decision that they can do it anyway and live with the game consequences. There is no moral judgement here by the player; they’re operating purely within the game mechanics and dealing with the consequences of their activities in a game theory scenario rather than the more complex world of free will and morality. By the academic logic, the gamer would behave in a similar way in real life, ignoring the morality of the decision in favour of some vague ‘live with the consequences’.

The second scenario is even worse – by the logic of the academics it would appear that a gamer attempting a real world war crime will be somehow prevented from doing so by a kind of ‘deus ex machina’. That hand of God? Friendly aliens? Just in time intervention from a superior officer? Who knows….

Whether folks like it or not, a game is a game is a game. Whilst I find some game scenarios morally repugnant, if you accept that the lack of controls in war games to stop people doing certain acts may encourage them to do those acts in real life, you also have to accept that the ability to do any action in a game will encourage that act in real life. The result, therefore, should be to ban everything with the exception of ping-pong. If you don’t accept this, then you need to leave well alone and accept that freedom of will in the game world reflects freedom of will in the real world, and that what truly matters is the character and moral compass of people.

I think that I shall never see…

oaktree…a thing as lovely as a tree, goes the poem.  We’ve been blessed this year by squirrels in our garden.  We live in a suburb of Sheffield with lots of trees which give a great playground for the squirrels, roosting places for birds, sources of sound effects when the wind blows through the leaves and variable satellite TV quality in the spring and summer when the leaves on a particular nearby tree get in the way of the incoming satellite TV signal!

We’re constantly reminded of the importance of trees to the environment – most of us are aware of the phrase ‘the lungs of the world’ when applied to the rain forests of South America and South East Asia.  Astonishingly enough, even though the world has been on a 40 Capstan Full Strength a day cigarette habit for the last 200 years, those lungs have managed to keep pushing enough Oxygen in to the environment and drawing enough CO2 out to keep the planet livable – quite a feat.

treeaerialWhen I was kid my main regret about our garden was the lack of a tree at the end of it.  It was a loooong garden, just right for a long-wire aerial to support my interest in short wave radio.  Unfortunately, there was no tree.  the traditional supports for a long wire aerial for short wave listening, as portrayed in numerous books, was a house at one end – check! – and a tree at the other.   Sadly, I had no tree, my parents objected to my plan of acquiring a telegraph pole and planting it at the end of the garden, and so my aerial stopped where the last washing line support pole was.   Ah well….

I love ’em.  One of my pleasures in the summer is to find a tree and sit under it – not too difficult an undertaking in Sheffield as we have lots of parks and also lots of trees scattered around the city centre.  When I was researching something the other day I came across a few nice quotes about trees, so thought – why not share them.  And here they are, and what they mean to me.

“The best friend on Earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically,
we have one of the greatest resources of the Earth.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

A reminder that the ersources of this planet, though vast, are not large enough unless we do our bit in conserving them and replacing what we use.  And that trees are our our planetary lungs.  I like breathing – if you do too then start paying attention to the News when they report on yet another deforestation carried out in teh name of global capitalism.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” – Traditional Greek Proverb

I love this.  It’s long termism – something wonderful to witness in a society, especially today when our leaders’ view of the long term is the day of the next General Election.  There are several similar ideas to this in different cultures.  The story goes that when a famous French official told his gardener to plant a tree, the gardener turned around and told his master that the tree wouldn’t reach maturity for 100 years.  The Lord of the Manor suggested that there was no time to waste and suggested that his gardener planted the tree immediately!  A Chinese proverb says ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.’  We’re so used to instant gratification – perhaps we should all plant a tree to learn what it is like to be patient.  Short termism will kill us all yet.

 “People who will not sustain trees will soon live in a world which cannot sustain people. “ – Bryce Nelson

 Depressingly true.  As I mentioned above, we need trees to act as the lungs of the world, and to be honest, as we don’t seem able to curtail our desire to consume, we had better keep these lungs healthy.   I have no doubt that somewhere in the world there are very wealthy people planning biodomes in to which they and their families and minions will be able to retreat when the planet can no longer easily sustain life.   I have a sneaking suspicion that these people are also the ones who have pillaged the planet dry in the last 100 years.  If the day ever comes when these guys do run in to their bolt holes, might I suggest that we concrete the doors shut and paint the windows black?

Enjoy the trees.  Preserve them – maybe think about artificial trees this Christmas?  When buying wooden items, use wood from sustainable sources.  Recycle your paper. Let’s keep breathing!

Wanna Blog? Get a train ticket…

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that the blog has had a very patchy few days. Life, as John Lennon reputedly said, is what happens when you’re making other plans. I’d like to add that life is what happens when you step away from the keyboard and do cool stuff like go with your niece to ‘The Deep’ in Hull, go to see the Arctic Monkeys with my wife, attend meetings and do paid work – and generally do stuff involving the outside world.

However, it was bugging me that I was slipping on my personal target which was to blog most days – ideally every day – and so I’ve been extremely lucky today to have to travel up to Harrogate again – a total of around an hour and a half on the train each way – three hours of sitting in Northern Rail’s finest carriages. Wonderful!

And for once I’m not being sarcastic! I charged up the Netbook, didn’t pack the mobile broadband dongle and here I am between Wakefield and Leeds bashing out the second blog post of the morning in to Open Office. When I get home tonight I hope to have 4 or 5 posts based on ideas I’ve had over the last week but where I’ve not had time to actually type them out. I can then load them in to WordPress and publish as required. There are few distractions on a train journey (assuming you don’t end up sharing a carriage with football fans or small children) and if you disconnect any Internet access to your computer you can really settle down and get stuff done!

And that’s the trick – disconnect the Internet connection . I find that Twitter and Facebook can be real time thieves. What I’ve now started doing when I want to achieve anything on a train journey is to either leave the Broadband Modem at home or leave it in the bottom of my bag. I don’t have email installed as standard on my Netbook – only if I’m going to be away for a few days – and so there’s rarely a reason to be on-line when I’m really busy. If I need to check a link or get a reference, I’ll make a note in my Open Office document and when I’ve finished doing what I need to do I can go back on-line and tidy up such loose ends, By not having a live Internet connection running all the time, I don’t get tempted to go swanning off on to web sites, I save battery power and am generally more productive and focussed.

Maybe the next time I get REALLY far behind with things, or perhaps when I need to develop a stock pile of blog articles, I should just buy a day return to Edinburgh and spend the day on the train!

Keeping it up!

The last week has shown me how hard it can sometimes be to keep blogging!  I’m sitting here with Marvin, our large long haired cat who acts like a dog (i.e. he shakes when wet and sits up with his paws on my lap when he wants attention, then after I stroke him he settles down by my feet!) and am struck by the fact that what is good for business and life in general is not necessarily good for blogging.

At least not the blogging I like to do – I’m wordy.  I like writing long articles in this blog.  If I have anything shorter to write it goes to Twitter or Facebook these days.  No, to me, if it’s worth blogging it’s worth blogging well.  I do the odd short piece, but am generally happier with longer pieces and feel that a longer article gives my readers ‘more bang for the buck’.  Unfortunately, when work takes off, and family and other responsibilities swallow up time, the blog gets short shrift.  Which, I think, is how it should be.

One side project that has taken up time over the last two weeks has been to return to an old site of mine, Coffeehouse Chat.  This discussion forum was set up in August 2008 and I closed it in August 2009 after declining usage due to a competing site hitting more right buttons than I was!  However, the world turns and I’m considering whether to refurbish and re-open the site with new facilities.   By the way – anyone who visits – registration and login is turned off but I would welcome comments about colour schemes, etc.  There’s also a nascent user-blogging system being set up at, and a development blog about teh site at .  

And then there’s been work.  Now, despite what our dear Leaders say, for most small businesses I think it’s safe to say that the recession is still biting our ankles.  The major change I’ve found this year has been that the vast majority of my work has been freelance work done from home, rather than regular contract work done ‘on site’.  This has been a great thing in some ways but I have to say the more regular (and higher) income from contract work has been missed.  So….keeping on top of work has become a major priority – and getting new work is an ongoing job!

And there’s my third sector projects.  I’m a Trustee of South Yorkshire Animal Rescue, Treasurer and a Board Director of Hillsborough Forum and am also involved in the activities of Action For Involvement

And I wonder why I can’t find time to blog….

WPMU Installation to support sub-domain blogs

wordpressI’m currently renovating a site of mine – Coffeehouse Chat – with a possible view to re-opening the Forum side of it with new and improved features – including better integration with Social Media and User Blog hosting on the site.  And there was the issue – I wanted to install WordPress-MU – the multi-user edition of WordPress – in such a ways so as to support user blogs in sub-domains on the main site domain – e.g. something like

This is a two stage process that is outlined in the documentation.  the first part is the setting of Wildcards in the DNS settings for the server, and the second part is installing a .htaccess file that actually handles the processing of the redirected incoming requests.

Installing the .htaccess file is nice and easy.  the file is below – it comes with WordPress-MU named as htaccess.dist – simply put it in the directory containing the WordPress sofwtare and rename it to .htaccess.

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase BASE/

#uploaded files
RewriteRule ^(.*/)?files/$ index.php [L]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !.*wp-content/plugins.*
RewriteRule ^(.*/)?files/(.*) wp-content/blogs.php?file=$2 [L]

# add a trailing slash to /wp-admin
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} ^.*/wp-admin$
RewriteRule ^(.+)$ $1/ [R=301,L]

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d
RewriteRule . - [L]
RewriteRule  ^([_0-9a-zA-Z-]+/)?(wp-.*) $2 [L]
RewriteRule  ^([_0-9a-zA-Z-]+/)?(.*\.php)$ $2 [L]
RewriteRule . index.php [L]

<IfModule mod_security.c>
<Files async-upload.php>
SecFilterEngine Off
SecFilterScanPOST Off

So in my case – WordPress-MU installed in a folder called blogs – this file goes in to that folder.

Now, the second part – the Wildcard DNS settings.  Some time ago when I set up an installation of WordPress-MU I had to get my hosting comapny to deal with this for me.  However, this time, a little advice from Samuel at Prime Hosting showed me how to set it up from within cPanel, so I’m going to share that with you here.  If you’re not using cPanel, there may be other ways in your own control panel to do this.

In my installation, WordPress-MU is installed in a fodler called blogs off the root of my public_html directory.  I have set up a subdomain – – to point to it, so that when a user enters this domain they go to the blog create / sign in page.  Now, after checking that this worked happily, I logged in to cPanel for the domain and selected the ‘Subdomains’ control from the Domains panel.

Now the cunning bit…note that this may not work for you in complicated web site set-ups where multiple redirects are involved – but it worked for me.

In the ‘Create a Subdomain’ box, (below) enter ‘*’ as the subdomain name – giving * in my case – and enter the folder on the server where you want things to redirect to as the ‘Document Root’ – in my case public_html/blogs.









Once this is entered, press the create button.  The grid at the foot of the screen should be updated to reflect teh changes just made:







And that is that! 

A user entering, say, will be directed to that blog if it exists, or be prompted to create it.

Slow and easy does it!

harrogateI have a client in Harrogate who I visit every couple of weeks, travelling by train.  I went up there a couple of days ago, and as I’d had a particularly hectic couple of days before hand was able to reflect on something that I’ve thought about occasionally in the year that I’ve been visiting Harrogate.  And that is that it’s really pleasantly slow compared to Sheffield.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Sheffield – probably not as much these days as I used to do but it’s still my favourite city.  I don’t particularly like the bustle of cities; I’ve always commented that London is great to visit but I’d hate to live there.  A few days in London used to leave me exhausted – mainly due to dodging the oncoming streams of pedestrians – wherever I walked I always seemed to be heading in the opposite direction to everyone else!  But now I find Harrogate has the same relationship to Sheffield that Sheffield has to London for me, and I love it!

I think the busiest place I’ve encountered recently in terms of lots of people squeezing through a gap has been the exit to the railway station, where for the last month or so there have been about half a dozen railway staff checking tickets when we leave the train from Leeds.  after that it’s typically pretty plain sailing.  The best thing for me about walking through Harrogate is that most people seem to be walking at a pace that allows me to avoid them easily if necessary and for them to change direction without the figuratively speaking ‘squeal of shoe-leather’ and rapid stumbling out of your way that has started to be the way of getting around major city thoroughfares.

Things just go slow in Harrogate – an I mean that in a nice way.  I’ve yet to experience ‘after dark’ but the daytime progression around Harrogate is made easy by a combination of heavily pedestrianised streets and a one-way system that seems to work – from a pedestrian point of view, at least!  The local coffee shops seem to have a different pace as well.  Basically, don’t expect the speed of service to be the same as Sheffield or London.  It isn’t – the chilledness also works in the shops as well, along with a friendliness that seems to be disappearing from Sheffield. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with slow.  I’d started to forget that over the years.  I was born in a small town, lived for a while in a city as a student and then moved to Sheffield – a smaller and slower city – to make my home.  Trips to London and Edinburgh reminded me that city life is faster than I expect.

A friend recently reminded me of the ‘slow food movement’ after I grumbled about poisoning myself with yet another take-away meal, and perhaps it’s the time for a ‘slow-life’ movement to come out of the current economic slowdown.  Does saving 10 minutes really matter that much?  Can’t you just organise your day to leave a little earlier, get there a little later, loiter and lurk, smell the roses, look at the buildings, watch children play. (OK – I appreciate that in Paranoid Britain the latter has it’s own difficulties…) 

There is a famous poem by WH Davies:

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”

Let us join the go slow and stand and stare.

ASP.NET and Oracle – how to stay sane!

I’m currently doing some development work using ASP.NET against an Oracle database.  I have to say that I’ve had more frustrating development experiences, but most of those involved mainframe computers or…oh yes….Visual BASIC 6.0 against Oracle.  Just what is it about Oracle and Microsoft?  Gah!

Anyway – rant over.  In this piece I’d like to share a few useful tips for developing with ASP.NET and Oracle if you’re used to developing with ASP.NET and SQL Server.  There’s nothing magic here, and I’m no expert, but hopefully these pointers might assist anyone else in the position that I’ve found myself in!

Identity Fields

One thing that looks missing from Oracle in the first instance is the ‘Identity’ field that is often used a Primary key field in SQL Server.  It IS possible to implement this in Oracle – one has to use what’s called a ‘Sequence’ and either include a trigger on the ID field of the table to give you the sequence number added automatically or remember to add it via the INSERT command:

    MAXVALUE 999999999999999999999999999
    CACHE 20;

This generates a sequence called table_seq, starting at 1, incrementing by 1 each time, and going up to a VERY large number!  The CACHE 20 line tells Oracle to generate a cache of 20 values from the sequence.  To use this sequence after creation, you can access it via an INSERT command as follows:

INSERT INTO datatable
(id, name)
(table_seq.nextval, 'Joe Pritchard');

the ‘id’ field is the PK field of the table, and the table_seq.nextval gets the next value from the sequence.  To create a truly ‘auto incrementing’ PK field, you create a trigger on the table:

create trigger datatable_trigger
before insert on datatable
for each row
select table_seq.nextval into from dual;

Run this and then you can add a new row to the table without specifying the id field:

INSERT INTO datatable
( 'Joe Pritchard');

Boolean Fields

Oracle doesn’t support them.  the best approach I’ve found is to have an integer field and treat 0 as false and 1 as true.  This then works well with ASP.NET checkboxes.  For example:

<asp:TemplateField HeaderText=”Is Admin.” SortExpression=”IsAdministrator” > 

<ItemTemplate > <asp:CheckBox runat=”server” ID=”IsAdministrator” Text=’<%# Bind(“IsAdministrator”) %> Checked=’<%# Bind(“IsAdministrator”) %> />  


Don’t forget the provider Name

When setting up a SQLDataSource control, don’t forget to specify the provide Name in the ConnectionString.  If you do, the error message obtained is not exactly meaningful at first glance, referring as it does to Unicode!  


<asp:SqlDataSource ID=”SqlDataSource1″ runat=”server” ConnectionString=”<%$ ConnectionStrings:ConnectionString %> ProviderName=”<%$ ConnectionStrings:ConnectionString.ProviderName %>

This also requires you to specify the Provider in the ConnectionString:

 < add name=ConnectionString connectionString=Data;User ID=jp;Password=test;Unicode=True providerName=System.Data.OracleClient/>

Watch table and field name lengths

This can be extremely frustrating.  And I mean extremely!  If you are likely to find yourself explicitly specifying the table name and the field name in a SELECT statement, for example, then the combained length MUST NOT exceed 30 character (this includes the ‘.’ separating table and field – so keep table and field names as short as is practicable.

Quote marks around table and field names

When putting SQL statements together for use by SQLDataSource or other ASP.NET controls that use the OracleClient provider, don’t forget to surround the Oracle field and table names with quotation marks:

SELECT "id", "name" FROM "names"


SELECT "names"."id", "names"."name" FROM "names"

Parameter Handling

If you are using Parameters with a SQLDataSource control, don’t forget that the OracleClient uses a colon instead of the ‘@’ sign:

DeleteCommand=’DELETE FROM “moad_agrippa_users” WHERE “UserID” = :UserID’

The other thing to note is that the parameter does not require quotation marks around it.

I hope this piece has been useful – it will act as an aide-memoire for me the next time I come back to work on Oracle / ASP.NET sites!

Exclusion 2.0 – is daft jargon necessary?

turtleI just came across this on my Twitter feed – a reference to a ” ‘Future of the web’ Turtle” at Open 09.  Yup – a turtle.  After some Googling about and learning more than I ever wanted to know about our green, aquatic co-travellers on Planet earth, I eventually went to the Open 09 web site where I found the following:

“And in the true spirit of social media, the content of the sessions will be decided by the delegates contributing to what will happen on the day via the OPEN 09 blogs. The blogs are the virtual spaces where the themes for sessions – we’re calling them ‘Turtles’ – will be debated and decided. We’ll be adding more Turtles that focus on particular areas of the creative industries.”

Ahhh…that explained it.  A blog for a session / seminar.  Cool.  So why call them turtles?  This seems to be an increasing habit amongst the more bleeding edge practitioners of web development to create a new (and often meaningless) lexicon to describe what they do.

Sorry, guys, but this is the sort of meaningless jargonny media-waffle that just produces an exclusive air around a lot of these sorts of events.   My own impression is that the same people attend the round of conferences and seminars, chucking ideas around, hatching turtles, but rarely communicating what the Hell is actually happening to the rest of the world.

I earn my crust through web and software development.  As I said to a potential client / colleague yesterday – I’m a ‘meat and potatoes’ sort of developer.  My clients expect me to deliver reliable, working systems within budget that add value to their business.  For many businesses, Social Media is still something that swallows up their bandwidth rather than adds to the bottom line, and I’m not sure that this sort of jargon helps us get any sort of message across.

My view of jargon is that it’s used by people of a shared culture to reduce the amount of communication necessary to get a particular concept over to their co-practitioners in an agreed form.  This fad simply makes it looks like we’re trying to keep these sorts of events as ‘parties for the cool kids only’ and that cannot be good. 

Or that we’re trying to hide the fact we have nothing relevant to give businesses – which is even worse.

Book Review – ‘Fantasy Island’ by Dan Atkinson and Larry Elliot

fantasyislandNo, nothing to do the 1970s TV series with Ricardo Montalban as a bloke who made wishes come true on an Island with a combination of technology, actors and smoke and mirrors.  Although…..  Nope, this is a review of a book by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson,  published by Constable in 2007, ISBN Number 978-1-84529-605-6.  Before the NuLab apologists come scuttling out to bleat that Dan Atkinson is a writer with the Daily Mail, and so is biased, I’d suggest they read the book anyway and follow up on the statistics therein.  One final warning – this is a scary book for anyone who cares about the state of the UK after 12 years of NuLab Governance and it will almost certainly make you very angry indeed.


The book is well written – I digested it in two sittings – although the statistical bits (not too many) and the explanation of why the economy is going to crap out may require a couple of readings.  It’s worth noting that this book was written before the recent financial meltdown, which it predicts to a great degree.

In the book, the authors examine the rise to power of the new Labour philosophy, and then highlight in 7 chapters the ‘big lies’ that have turned Great Britain in to the ‘Fantasy Island’ of the title, where we can have endless debt with no comebacks, enjoy highly paid jobs for which we are unqualified, have limitless growth without environmental impact and where the state machine is apparently being made leaner whilst increasing in size.  All being paid for by jobs in the ‘creative economy’.  Oh, and how we can project military force around the world and play the part of a super-power whilst cutting back on defence expenditure.  Some of us have been banging on about the impossibility of this for some time now – I wish that I’d encountered this book a couple of years ago as it pulls together all the material one needs to take a good hard swing at New Labour and the Blairite nightmare.

The 7 core chapters deal with the following issues:

  1. Britain’s debt timebomb – well, that one went off in our faces around the time this book was published.
  2. Reliance on the Creative Economy – some statistics on the true value of the ‘creative economy’ to Britain make it clear that it was indeed bullshit to rely on it.  Having spent time working in the film industry in the early 2000s, I can definitely concur – the UK film industry, for example, is one where, in 2000, over 60% of films made in Britain stayed unreleased after being finished and where film-makers made films that they thought punters should see – the cultural colonialism of North London.  By 2004, the balance of payments credit due to film was a paltry 160 million.  At least it was a credit – that due to TV was in deficit to the tune of over 300 million.  Music is also in a mess.  If we follow the NuLab plan we may be relying on ‘The X Factor’ winners to get us out of the hole….
  3. Shrinking Prices AND increased living standards – the fantasy being that we get our cheap toys and non-essential goodies at the EXPENSE of our standard of living. 
  4. Failing Public Sector – deals with issues such as educational ‘grades inflation’ and how the PFI has allowed the private sector to cream off lots of money without any real improvement in productivity.
  5. The Workforce – attempting to keep unemployment down whilst ploughing in lots of new legislation – resulting in a highly exploited workforce with lots of outsourcing. 
  6. Defence – increasing military commitments as the US’s bagman, whilst reduction in real terms of defence budget to suit New Labour doctrine.
  7. Environment – trying to con us all that we can have everything AND not screw up the planet.  Although New Labour aren’t alone here.

fantasyislandtvNot very pleasant reading – although there is a chapter that offers a couple of alternative paths to take.  Learning to be frugal is something we’re likely to have to get used to over the next few years, anyway, so that will be easy medicine to take – the vast majority of us have no real alternative.  And one other thing after reading this book – it reinforces the old saw that Labour are not fit to govern – which is a dreadful thing for those of us who once had such hopes for the Left in the UK.

It’s a worthwhile book to get a feel for how we in the UK have been royally screwed in the last 12 years.  Regard it as a companion piece to Nick Cohen’s ‘What’s Left’ – but please don’t read them both in the same sitting and blame me when your head explodes…

At least on the TV show, all ended well for the people who’d bought their fantasy.  Just where are the two guys in the white suits when we need them?