Monthly Archives: March 2011

A poignant moment

Regard, and respect Malcolm’s record to date on

This, to his amazement, is post number 1000.

It ought to be a significant, dignified, seminal essay on one or other matter of great importance.

Instead, he found himself reflecting on the sad state (heh, heh!) of the Liberal Democrat Party.

This derived from a valid point being raised by Paul Waugh.

Waugh earned Malcolm’s respect, and the commendation of others, while he was political columnist for the London Evening Standard . He was uniquely worth the effort of hefting that rag-tag piece of newsprint. Now Waugh prates for “Lord” Ashcroft’s PoliticsHome, and is one of the few things in front of the pay-wall (but, still, usually well worth the effort).

Waugh is now suggesting a serious cash shortfall coming up for the LibDems.

LibDems “tithe” their elected representatives (so, admittedly, do other parties, if less blatantly).

Note that Waugh is here addressing only the English local elections:

Mike Smithson at Political Betting suggested earlier this week that Labour ought to be winning 500 seats each from the Tories and the Lib Dems. A Sun/YouGov analysis by local elections expert Colin Rallings then suggested that things could be even worse, with the Libs losing 700 of their 1850 councillors and the Conservatives losing 1,000 of their 5,050 councillors.

But whether it’s 500 or 700 Lib Dem losses, there’s a very significant fact that applies to them in a way it doesn’t to the Tories.

Losing seats means not just losing prestige and power – it also means losing hard cash.

There’s a good gloss on the Rallings Sun/YouGov poll (without messing with pay-walls) by Mike Smithson at

Now apply all that equally to the Assembly elections in Scotland and, indeed, to Wales.

Scotland looks dire for the LibDems: this week’s Scotsman/YouGov poll has the Party trailing in fifth spot — as graphic, right —  even behind the Greens (who seem to be emerging as the protest vote of choice). That is a loss of some 11 seats (down from 16 in the present Assembly).

In Wales, the latest polling suggests at least one LibDem loss in the Assembly (which, admittedly, is a better deal than the predicted collapse of  Plaid Cymru).

Suddenly the LibDem apparatus looks distinctly “shook” — as they (used to) say in West Cork).

Furthermore, now that the LibDems are inside the belly of the ConDem beast, they have already mislaid their “Short Money”, and therefore are another £1.75 million out of pocket.

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Filed under Britain, Lib Dems, Paul Waugh, politics, politicshome, Scotland, Scottish Parliament, Wales

A rook’s parliament

No: not a further response to the expenses scandals of the last Westminster Parliament.

The collective noun for a group of rooks is “a parliament”. The noise must be the basis of the metaphor.

This was seen at dusk in the grounds of the Manor House Hotel at Killadeas, by Lough Erne:

Malcolm’s Dear Old Dad: You know the difference between a rook and a crow?

Malcolm (with resignation): Tell me again.

Dear Old Dad: When you see a rook on its own, it’s a crow. When you see several crows together, they’re rooks.

Boom! Boom!

Now, turn your back on the rooks, look the other way, towards the setting sun:

There are worse places to be.

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Positive root agitator

Here’s one with all kinds of subversive messages:

As seen outside Dan Winter’s Cottage (the birth-place of the Orange Order).

Make of that what you will.

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Filed under Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, Religious division

Rebekah Brooks: she talk with forked tongue

Even the dimmest in Malcolm’s classes would understand the ambiguity in advertisements such as:

Nothing works faster than [Brand x]!

Indeed, the odd cry of “so buy nothing!” became the (cleaned-up) norm when faced with a double-entendre.

Thus, such students, now reached maturity and more, would have looked wryly at the strap across the front page of yesterday’s Times.

We see a mash-up of royals, sportsmen, William Hague, President Obama, an opera singer, all hailing the boast:

Britain’s bestselling digital newspaper

That should, of course, be translated to:

Britain’s only digital newspaper

Now consider the numbers, which appear as the single story on page 5, so deemed more significant than minor matters such as Libya (page 6) and Japanese fall-out (page 15).

Here’s the skinny:

News International announced in November that the papers’ new digital products had recorded more than 105,000 sales in four months. At the end of February the total sales figure stood at 222,000.

That, too, is ambiguous.

It could (and logically does) mean that after seven months (212 days, if Malcolm’s count of the calendar is correct) the average daily “sale” for the on-line Times and Sunday Times may be little more than 1,000 a day:

222,000 = 1,047

What makes that even more remarkable is that pre-paid subscribers to the print edition get the on-line one free. Are they included in the numbers?

Malcolm buys his daily dose of the Times/Sunday Times and the Guardian/Observer through the token scheme. Every quarter he receives a small booklet of identified daily tokens. The result is he gets the expensive Saturday and Sunday issues for “free”. He can also access the on-line Times/Sunday Times sites without charge, let or hindrance.

These tokens cause persistent problems at check-outs: “Oooh, I’ve never seen one of these before!”. That suggests they are not widely used.

One way and another, the News International digital editions may not be anything like the success claimed. As Malcolm recalls, when the November claim was made, Guido Fawkes noted that the Times numbers paled into insignificance, and by a considerable factor, against his daily stat-porn.

An equally cynical view comes from Dan Sabbagh in Tuesday’s Guardian, armed with an alternative — and authoritative —view of the numbers:

A total of 79,000 people pay to subscribe to the Times and Sunday Times online, on an iPad or via a Kindle, a gain of 29,000 over the past five months, according to figures for the end of February released by News Corporation on Tuesday.

The figure is up on the 50,000 reported in November, suggesting that News Corp is making some progress with the much debated ‘paywall’ model, although it comes at a time when higher-priced print sales of the Times are falling sharply.

The Times’s printed circulation – as measured by the number of copies sold in the UK and Ireland – has fallen by 12.1% or 58,421 copies in the past year, hitting 425,627 in February. A more resilient Sunday Times declined 6.9% or 74,557 to reach 1,005,206 in the same month.

Online subscribers are worth far less to News Corp because the price it is charging is so heavily discounted compared with the print edition. The £2-a-week online charge amounts to £8.67 a month – by comparison a loyal, daily buyer of both titles at the newsstand pays £8.70 a week.

So all the heavy plugging, across all News International outlets and elsewhere, has garnered just a thousand new e-subscribers per week, while shedding a slightly larger number from print sales.

Hardly a raging success story.

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Filed under Guardian, Guido Fawkes, Observer, Paul Staines, reading, Sunday Times, Times

Update: Glad to stay at home

Yesterday, at Redfellow Hovel, Malcolm overheard an ominous telephone call between the Lady in his Life and Number One Daughter (on the way to work in Noo Joisey).

It involved a firm promise to “come over later in the year”. Since the Noo Joisey contingent is firmly scheduled for Easter in London, this bodes ill for an expedition in the other direction.

Meanwhile, the “adolescent” Egyptian Cobra is gaining greater fame and following.

Malcolm knew this story would creep and creep.

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Filed under BBC, New Jersey, New York City, New York Times

Through the Sperrins, inadvertently

Here’s one made earlier (Tuesday, 15th March); but not posted in the absence of a wi-fi connection.

Coming off the Coleraine ring road (it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it) the Lady in his Life was driving Malcolm south and west. Somehow the SatNav and Malcolm’s interpretation thereof significantly differed.

With her barely-nuanced sigh of frustration, the Goddess of the Sat Nav (apparently, she is “English Annie”) declaimed “Recalculating” and made further suggestions.

The result was a direct(-ish) route through the Sperrins. First up the Banagher Glen, with the snow lying on Mullaghmore (that’s anglicising An Mullach Mór, “The Great Summit”, of which there’s another in the County Sligo) and Mullaghaneany (An Mullach an Ionaidh, “the Summit of the Wonder”). A wriggle between the biggest of the lot, Sawel (an effete translation of Samhail Phite Mheabh, well worth the Googling) and Mullaghcloga, and down the B47 in the Glenelly River valley to Plumbridge (which does have a fine bridge). Then a brief encounter with the A5 to nip through Newtownstewart (here’s that Perthshire-Tyrone-Virginia link of Betsy Bell and Mary Gray, mapping the Ulster-Scots migration, to ponder on). Notice the second “W” there, not to be confused with the Galloway town the expedition by-passed on Monday.

By world standards these are pathetic as “mountains”: the Sperrins struggle to exceed 600 metres, but do so repeatedly along the east-west ridge. The old pre-Famine fields stretch up from the townlands in the valleys to where the rocks take over and defeat even the most desperate of soil-scrubbers. In March the main crop is sheep: at this height, unlike the lower country, the lambs are unborn as yet. The tops of the mountains have a dandruff of snow still.

There’s little traffic beyond school buses and the odd ag-rick-ul-cher-al ve-hick-al (it is a tradition between the Lady in his Life and Malcolm that the expression be given its full weight and length. Inevitably, each ag-rick-ul-cher-al ve-hick-al trundles at its own rate, and is impassable on these roads. Equally inevitably, this means we are trapped in noxious proximity to a dung-card laden high with … soil-enhancing nutriment.

By this time (not having the detailed 1:50,000 Discoverer Series number 12 and 13) Malcolm is totally lost and reliant on “English Annie”, who seems to be stuck on In point five of a mile, turn left, turn Left!

Eventually a Turn right, turn Right! meant arrival on the B4, and west down the valley of the Glendarragh River, but not (as Malcolm had been expecting) at Ederney, but some miles further to the east. This meant another of those pointless Lady in his Life/Malcolm exchanges, based on punning permutations of the placename Lack:

— What does Lack lack?
— Pretty well everything by the look of it.

There’s no disrespect there for An Leac: Ware, Wye, Hoo, Ugley and Looe (along with many others) get the same treatment. At the extreme end, there even a book to help one with such idiocy. Otherwise, the young idea put it into perspective:

— I’m bored. Tell us one of your bad jokes, Grand-dad.

Anyway, past Lack and Ederney, cutting the corner at Kesh and south on the B82, there’s finally an occasional glimpse of the Lough over the hedges.

Past Castle Archdale (now a marina and caravan park, but an important piece of recent history) and it’s touch down at the Manor House Hotel at Killadeas.

A stroll in the late evening light (which persists this far west). A shower. A beer (or three) in the cellar bar. A decent meal (and an adequate Cabernet). To roost in the widest four-poster bed outside a museum.

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Titfer, no tat.

This day, the goodly citizens of Muswell Hill had their first sighting of Malcolm’s new titfer:

This is now his officially-designated End-of-Empire Hat.

It will be worn on suitable occasions.

Why, “End-of-Empire”, Malc?

First, the political element: it is a fine product of Hanna Hats of Tirconaill Street, Donegal Town, so escaped the galling chain in 1922, which is one fair reason.

Secondly, the geographic argument:  it was purchased in Belleek, in about the last retail premises before County Fermanagh reaches the bridge over the Erne, and therefore probably the most western gents’ outfitters in the UK. Indeed, so far west, so adjacent to Donegal, that the price was quoted in Euros.

Now, if anyone knows the whereabouts of Malcolm’s Pendleton Indy hat (OK: mock, if you must), bought in Portland, Oregon, size 7³⁄₈, a small reward might be payable.

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