...a blog by Richard Flowers

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Day 2309: DOCTOR WHO: Evolution of the Daleks


I have been UNDERCOVER to report on the latest Doctor Who story – look carefully at this picture of the CULT OF SKARO and you MAY be able to spot an INFILTRATOR…

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…unfortunately, Dalek Caan has ESCAPED! I am now VERY SCARED that he is hiding behind my sofa, so if you will excuse me I am going to go and take shelter in my Daddies’ bedroom while Daddy Richard reviews the rest of this story for you.

It would be easy to be dazzled by the impressive special effects, the thrilling action sequences, or by the obvious visual references to “Frankenstein” (in particular to James Whale’s 1931 Universal classic). But if you were, you would be suckered into mistaking this for some Hollywood hollow spectacular, and miss the more important thematic development that grows not just from “Daleks in Manhattan”, but also from “The Evil of the Daleks” and “Genesis of the Daleks” itself.

“Frankenstein” is subtitled “The Modern Prometheus”, a retelling of the story of the Titan who stole fire from the gods of Olympus to give it to mortal mankind. Superficially – as superficially as the visual referencing of “Frankenstein” by “Evolution of the Daleks” – that is a reference to the lightning bolt that Frankenstein uses to resurrect his stitched together man. But it is also about knowledge, and here that knowledge, that “power of creation”, is represented by genetics, the power that was used in “Genesis…” to create the Daleks in the first place, and now to re-create the entire Dalek race.

And, in context, the fire of Olympus represents free will: Prometheus gives man the ability to make choices for himself, rather than blindly obeying the will of the gods. Similarly, Frankenstein creates in his creature the ability to choose between good and evil for itself. And similarly again, “Evolution of the Daleks” is about the conflict between the Daleks’ law of obey or die, and the human factor of freedom. It is, essentially, what the Time War was fought over, and it is re-enacted here in microcosm.

After establishing the Old Testament memes of Heaven and Hell in last week’s episode, this week Helen Raynor reveals to us almost a New Testament of the Daleks, with Dalek Sec discovering it in himself to be a Dalek messiah. Instead of absolute law handed down from the “creator” in “Genesis…”, Sec wants the Daleks to learn that there can be another way, wouldn’t it be great if they could all just get along.

The irony should not be lost that by absorbing Mr Diagoras – superficially the “bad guy” in last weeks story – Sec has discovered courage, compassion, hope: all of humanity’s finer feelings.

The Frankenstein monster is, in many ways, more human than its creator too and, of course, it too is destroyed by the mob. Alex also points out that Doctor Frankenstein, like Dalek Sec, is a lone genius practicing his forbidden art and creating a single creature – but there is no place for such a unique talent among the Daleks who reproduce their golems on an industrial scale.

Redemption is the message of the New Testament, and redemption – Redemption of the Daleks – is the theme of this episode, with the Daleks being offered redemption first by Solomon, whom they exterminate, then by Sec, whom they exterminate, and finally, at the end, by the Doctor, whom Dalek Caan flees.

Killing off Solomon so soon in the episode was a bold and yet thoroughly correct decision. One of the “fear factor” kids expresses the surprise that “he was a main character!” By giving Solomon all that character development only to “just” kill him is, of course, the whole point. You should remember that everyone who gets killed in a Doctor Who adventure has a story, whether we’ve seen the development or not, and every one of them has a right to expect that story to carry on – killing them always ends those stories. And that’s what Daleks do: they have no respect for your “story” or your “development”; they just kill.

Besides, doing an impression of Thal leader Temmosus (“The Daleks”) is so asking to be exterminated.

But in a sense, Solomon’s death – pointless and little as it is – awakens Dalek Sec to his awareness of humanity. Solomon had courage and that affects Sec. Perhaps significant is the revelation that Dalek Sec is the first Dalek to have known pain in thousands of years. Daleks don’t need courage if they never have to face pain. In their shells, they are anaesthetised to all feelings.

Sec, to his credit, recognises that it is the ability to feel, to connect to the world outside, that challenges humans to better themselves and that gives them their unique powers of survival.

I am reminded that the human that Sec absorbed is named for Diagoras the Atheist, and that Sec begins to question “the creator”.

The Daleks are, of course, the ultimate creationists: they just know that they were created as supreme beings. Though, in fairness, they know because they shot the bugger that did it. But they didn’t kill him because they questioned him; they killed him because they took his word absolutely literally. (And by avoiding naming him, “Evolution of the Daleks” doesn’t just do away with needless backstory, it plays up the theistic metaphor.)

But here we see a bold restatement of one of the series’ core values: the Doctor’s argument with Davros (not to mention endless Cyberleaders) is over the need for emotion. Davros thinks emotion weakens you; the Doctor thinks it makes the universe a better place. It is Davros’ refusal to see this point of view that sets him and the Doctor at odds; it is Sec’s recognition of it that allows the Doctor to reconcile himself with a Dalek.

But the Daleks aren’t interested in redemption. And, like good little fundamentalists, they reject evolution.

There were really two ways to go from the cliff-hanger at the end of last week: I suspected we might see a “Blood of the Daleks” route, with the Doctor siding with the original Daleks to prevent the birth of something worse; Alex, more wisely, saw that the Doctor would join Sec to try and defeat the purpose of the other Daleks. Alex of course was right, and it was really more satisfying that he was. His way round, the Doctor remained true to his ideals, didn’t have to choose the lesser of two evils, and nor were the Daleks compromised in their fundamental inhumanity.

The characterisation of the fully Dalek Daleks was spot on: we loved their conspiratorial glances, suspicious, narrowing eye-lenses and are-we-alone eyestalk movements. It was entirely right that their diabolical deviousness would see them use the Doctor and Sec to complete and perfect the experiment for hybridising all those humans while at the same time subverting it, perverting it to their own ends.

I thought the idea of an army of, essentially, human corpses with Daleks riding around inside them was deliciously grotesque, if subtly played down in the show. A nice touch was the way that Sec referred to his new self as a “Human Dalek”, while the other Daleks called their army of undead “Dalek-Humans”.

And dragging Dalek Sec around in chains was another typically Dalek thing to do: humiliation of humanoids being their second favourite hobby, because – as the Doctor remarks in “Destiny of the Daleks” – they used to be humanoid themselves. These Daleks even recognised a need to retake humanoid form, so enslaving Sec (or as Alex puts it: chaining their conscience) they are really rubbing the point in. Daleks never change their minds, says the Doctor – well these guys do, but they are thoroughly “1984” about old ideas once they’ve decided that they were wrongthinking.

I’m glad that they addressed the issue that I raised last week: why didn’t they just clone more Daleks from themselves? Well, of course, they tried that and if didn’t work. Obviously, that begs the question why not? My suspicion would be that when the Dalek Emperor created the Cult of Skaro he deliberately designed them with a genetic flaw so that they couldn’t reproduce themselves. As Emperor, the very last thing that he would want would be a breed of thinking, questioning Daleks being nurtured within his Empire – after all, look what happened last time!

Which brings me to the climax with the Daleks on stage in the theatre – well someone must have enjoyed Nick Scovell’s “Evil of the Daleks” on stage as much as we did. Alex pointed out that Dalek Caan wiring himself into the walls to take command of the Dalek army was him making himself into a prototype Dalek Emperor (the BBC’s website uses that scary Dalek heartbeat, but Alex is disappointed that it is not available to download). And the final battle is precipitated when a “Dalek” – a “Dalek” infected with the human factor by the Doctor, no less – a “Dalek” questions an order.

My one passing regret was that Caan didn’t migrate to Sec’s discarded Black Dalek shell. Russell T has so gone on about how attached to their Black Dalek they’ve become I was surprised that they would just discard it in the sewers under the Empire State Building.

Well, I’ve spent the whole review talking about the Daleks again, haven’t I? They do rather tend to take things over though, don’t they?

There was more for Martha to do this week – from healing the wounded in Hooverville to battling the pigmen in the Empire State Building. Using the Daleks’ own lightning bolt against them was an inspired touch. Gosh but Martha is brainy: that one was worthy of the Doctor himself. And afterwards, after doing the necessary, she has a very Doctor-like moment of regret. “There should have been another way,” perhaps.

The other humanoid supporting cast were, necessarily, sidelined by the pepperpots. Sidelined or, indeed, shot. Tallulah and Lazlo suffered most – though we were still treated to another great Tallulah pig joke with her concerns about Gammon Radiation, and they did get their happy ending. Sure it was an “oh, he lives,” but having spent so much time setting up the fact that Lazlo was doomed, it was rather nice to defeat expectations by saving him. And it was very Doctor-ish to react to all the death and horror by throwing his all into saving one life if he could.

The Doctor was more of a force of nature than ever in this story: taking the lightning and re-writing it with his own body. (Oh yes he can do that – we saw him doing something similar in “Smith and Jones”, remember?) He doesn’t stop trying to teach the Daleks, though: from the moment he reveals himself to them after the cliff-hanger he’s telling them about music – you can see the effect this later has on Sec when the hybrid is handling the shattered radio; and later he marches straight in lecturing them about the morality of killing. Sec agreeing that killing is wrong brings him up short, though.

He’s at his most deathwish since his ninth incarnation too – offering himself up for extermination in Hooverville, even though it will achieve nothing, it won’t stop the Daleks or even save the people. He has genuinely lost everything again and the Daleks’ survival seems to have pushed him over the edge. In a way, Sec seems to save him in more ways than the physical, giving him something to live for and perhaps giving him some redemption too. Standing in the way of the lightning is about achieving something in a way that standing in the way of extermination wasn’t.

Neither of them were expecting the Time Lord’s salvation to come from a Dalek messiah, and yet they seem to recognise something worthy in each other and maybe even find a kind of respect, if not friendship.

It’s a great ending for the Doctor, too. If ever there was a time when he would be justified in killing a Dalek, surely it is just at the moment that that Dalek has committed genocide. (The Doctor and Martha both avoid genocide by a score of one, incidentally: Martha electrocutes all of the pigmen except Lazlo; the Doctor wipes out all the Daleks except Caan). And yet the Doctor goes to Caan and wants to help. Presumably to take Caan somewhere where he can live harmlessly away from anyone else. Maybe even to take Sec’s route and to evolve. It’s an ending very true to the spirit of what the Doctor stands for, a love of humanity, a love of life. And very true to the spirit of “Genesis of the Daleks” as well.

I’ll reiterate my thought from my review of “Blood of the Daleks”: the Doctor’s victory at the end of “Genesis of the Daleks” – and it is a victory – is in the realisation that if the Time Lords were to exterminate the Daleks then they would become the Daleks. The Doctor chooses a universe where Daleks are not inevitable, where “exterminate” is not the last word.

But where has Dalek Caan gone? No, don’t tell me – especially if he’s going to be back later this year. I’d like some surprises to remain!

It seems to me that the Daleks – or rather Dalek, now – may be trapped on Earth, able to jump forwards or backwards in time but stranded on the planet. Which makes for an interesting dynamic, but rather limits their ability to build their numbers back up again.

Personally, I’d really like to see the Doctor return to the Dalek Invasion of Earth. It’s such an iconic moment in the future-history of Earth as well as in the history of the series that it would have all the resonance of a proper “historical”. It was one of the stories that really transformed the series: up until that point, Earth had been the safe haven that Ian and Barbara longed to return to. Earth had been inviolable. All that changed with the Invasion; all that changed with the Daleks. It’s one of those events that people are sure to remember and may even think has really happened. And I can just imagine Dalek Caan skulking around trying to get hold of some viable Dalek genetic material without getting noticed, one bronze Dalek amidst all the silver Daleks. And it would be somewhere really uncomfortable for the Doctor to be as well, knowing that in say 2165 for once he can’t defeat the monsters because he already has, but not until 2167.

The last line of “Evolution of the Daleks” (Martha asks: “will you see it again?” and the Doctor answers “oh yes; one day”) even echoes “One day I shall come back, oh yes…” from “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”.

But wherever, and whenever, they are sure to return and I am already looking forward to the next encounter. Helen Raynor has brought a depth and allegory to them not seen since the great days of Robert Holmes, Philip Hinchcliffe and David Maloney; I hope that she’ll be back soon too.

Next time… It’s that Mark Gatiss! He’s seventy-six years old, you know. “The Lazarus Experiment”. Saturday at 7pm.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Day 2308: New Earth discovered; Beware of the Cat Monsters!


Space… the way the news treats it these days, you would think it was less like the FINAL FRONTIER and more like the CORNER SHOP.

But, as Mr DOUGLAS ADAMS once said, you might THINK it's a long way down the road to the corner shop, but that's just PEANUTS to space.

Take this new planet that scientists have discovered. Already the newspapers are all calling it "New Earth".

People are talking about it being ONLY twenty light years away. ONLY! That means that even at the speed of LIGHT it would take twenty years to get there! They don't even know Doctor Who GOT CANCELLED yet, let alone know that it is back on! They haven't even seen Mr Sylv!

Not that we CAN travel at the speed of light!

But even supposing we invented some REALLY swishy rocket drive, probably something with ANTI-MATTER, it would be really, really difficult to get anywhere. Accelerate at one gravity (or ten metres per second per second, daddy tells me) for a whole MONTH and you'll still not get as fast as a tenth of the speed of light – at that speed, it would still take you 231 years to get to "New Earth"!

Keep going for 4 months and you might get up to about a third of the speed of light. So the new world is still sixty years away. Not to mention the fact that you've already burnt up at least 6% of your ship's mass – and remember, you've still got to slow down and stop at the other end. And you might want to come back!

But as you keep on accelerating, the effects of RELATIVITY will make it harder and harder to get any more speed out of your spaceship. The laws of physics just end up squishying your nose back into your face as all your relative distances seem to get shorter. On the plus side, this means that FOR YOU the trip seems to fly by… but to people back on Earth you seem to be moving slower so from our perspective you will ALWAYS take more than 20 years to get there.

All of which means that even if we go visiting, we're not getting any postcards back any time soon!

But that's not to say that we cannot concentrate a lot of effort on seeing if there is anything to see.

We could build robot space probes, like the ones that we already send to the planets. Perhaps they could be powered with an ion drive that can accelerate slowly but over very long periods. Even so, we are probably talking CENTURIES to get any kind of signal back. And that's assuming we CAN build a machine that will LAST for that long, especially in the UNPREDICTABLE environment of space where anything from a micro-meteorite to the Great Green Arkleseizure could smash it.

That's quite an investment. Who knows if anyone would even still be here to get the information when the probe robot starts sending it? Still, Darth Vader tried sending probe droids all over the galaxy and it worked for him!

But even from Earth we can use our POWERFUL GESTAPO BINOCULARS TELESCOPES to probe the mysteries of space.

As though it wasn't AMAZINGLY clever enough already, figuring out a way to work out where the planets in outer space ARE just from seeing how their tiny gravity tugs on the stars, now scientists are working on plans to detect whether there might be any LIFE on those planets. By measuring the PLANET-SHINE (which is like MOON SHINE, only I mean the light reflecting from the moon, NOT the BOOZE!) they can try to detect any of the chemical indicators that are caused by living processes – stuff like water, oxygen and methane. All the signs of farting space cows… er…

Even so, the BBC are already speculating what life on the new planet would look like.

(I suspect that this might just be another excuse to use a DALEK photo!)

To be honest, it is very difficult to guess. Obviously there will be ELEPHANTS, but what else is harder to know. This is because we only have one solar system to go on so far, namely our own!

So we have no idea whether life in the universe is very common, very rare, or unique to planet Earth.

The last option would SEEM quite unlikely because Earth's solar system does not seem especially special. Or rather our SUN doesn't seem special, as we can compare it to lots of other stars and go, yup normal. Though it might be that systems with small rocky planets ARE rare. Even though we have now detected many planets around other stars, they are by and large HUGE. That is because it is much harder to detect small Earth-sized ones. And that is what makes this new discovery so SPECIAL – it is the first time we have spotted a planet of the right sort of size in the right sort of place, not too close to its sun and not too far away (what scientists insist on calling the GOLDILOCKS ZONE).

Even if we DO find evidence of life up there – and I do not think it is possible to understate how BIG a discovery that would be! – even if we do find some, it may only be very primitive, like bacteria or amoebas and stuff, just like the life on Earth was very simple single-celled creatures for like three-and-a-half out of the four billion years that life has existed. Or it may be millions of years MORE ADVANCED than we are – remember, life on Earth got a nasty kick in the dinosaurs when that asteroid hit us sixty-five million years ago! The chances of life on another planet being even a bit like us… well, let's just say that there are plenty of OTHER options.

But the fact that we seem to have found a planet so like Earth only – look at me, there I go doing it – only twenty light years away, could be a GOOD SIGN though. A sign that in fact it is not a RARE FLUKE that rocky planets form in the right place, but that maybe LOTS of stars have Earth like planets.

In which case the chances of finding life in the planet-shine seem a lot brighter!

I started with Mr Douglas Adams but I will finish with another SCIENCE FICTION WRITER, Mr Professor Davros Hawking, who is planning on going into space personally.

He thinks that we need to be ready to move to other planets.

The truth may not be orange, but the future is out there! Watch the skies!


Does ANYONE know: what planet is Mr Boy George Oboe on?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Day 2307: Sir Mr the Merciless Fights for Freedom!


Hurrah! for Sir Mr the Merciless who has been prompted into swift action to defend the Freedom of Information Act.

He stood up in the House of Commons yesterday and challenged Lord Blairimort over the bill introduced by a Conservatory backbencher that would make Parliament EXEMPT from answering DIFFICULT questions like "what did you spend your expenses on?"

Sir Menzies asked: "Do you support this shoddy bill. Yes or no?"

This is just the sort of thing that I was calling for yesterday! May I modestly suggest that I am an ELEPHANT OF INFLUENCE once again!

Lord Blairimort REFUSED to give a straight answer – no wonder we need a Freedom of Information Act!

"I am not going to express a view on this," he said.

Are you not A MEMBER of the House of Commons, Lord Blairimort?

Do you not have an INTEREST in whether you have to answer questions put to you or not?

Do you not have a VOTE on the issue in question? Aren't we ENTITLED to know how you intend to cast it?

Do you actually BELIEVE in the Act that your own government passed, or are you trying to get the Conservatories to water it down EVEN MORE for you by the BACK DOOR?

Here is Sir Mr the Merciless' OWN verdict on the Prime Monster's FAILURE TO ANSWER!

Only effective Freedom of Information will restore trust in our government after all the years of the Labour and their SPIN.

But in fact, instead of answering questions in the open, the questions the people WANT answered, the Labour government CONTINUES to employ underhand off-the-record methods to try and push its agenda.

Earlier in the week, policeperson Mr Peter Clarke warned that LEAKS and BRIEFINGS about ongoing TERRORISM cases damaged the police's investigations and might even put people's LIVES at risk!

Now, Liberal Democrat Mr Nick Clogg has produced a dossier of examples of leaks like this coming out of the GOVERNMENT! Stories that were given to the press but later turned out to be PREMATURE or INACCURATE!

Lord Blairimort rejected calls for an inquiry.

He just does NOT like answering questions, does he?

The Newsnight Show caught Lord Blairimort on camera the other day. "Told any more lies?" came a heckled question. "No, I'll leave that to someone else," was Lord Blairimort's laconic response.

Over to you, Mr Frown…

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Day 2306: Lucky Penny


I read in the paper that there is SIXTY-FIVE MILLION POUNDS in lost PENNY COINS out there!

I do not think that these pennies can be THAT lucky – after all they were not lucky for the person that LOST THEM!

According to the latest BARMY survey, the top places to look for free dosh include #1 £26 million on the streets, #2 £11 million in handbags and suitcases, #3 £8 million in the car and #4 £6 million down the back of the sofa.

Maybe I should have a look down the back of MY sofa!


Humph, I think Cuddly Cthulhu must have gotten there first!

The Lucre in the Dark
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IC Wales sent out their own INTREPID REPORTER to see how many pennies were to be found!

He came back with 44p and – thanks to all those coppers in his pockets – a funny walk.

But the Metro's footnote (print edition only, I'm afraid) says that £65m in penny coins would weigh twenty-three thousand TONNES – or the same as 4,637 African ELEPHANTS.

They do not say what that would be in FLUFFY ELEPHANTS, but I bet it's a LOT! Maybe 4,638!

Day 2305: Freedom From Freedom From Déjà vu



Another UNDEAD CONSERVATORY is on the rampage!

Despite the excellent efforts of our own Professor Van Helsing, Mr Norman the Baker, the Bill to Exempt Parliament from Telling People What They Are Up To has returned… FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE!

I want to see sixty-five Liberal Democrat BUMS on SEATS in the House of Commons this Friday, all of you with good, LONG speeches! And if you're not there, I shall be wanting to see a note from your MUMMIES and DADDIES. This includes YOU, Sir Mr the Merciless!

We have already heard from Lord Blairimort's new Minister of Justice, Lord Charlie Chum, who insists that the government will be NEUTRAL on this. Neutral? Neutral! Neutral!?!?! On a bill that's trying to overturn one of your MANIFESTO PLEDGES?

When the question is: "will you defend your own Freedom of Information Bill or won't you?", then "We will remain neutral" is a "NO".

Still, it's not like we can expect more from the people who brought us SINGING CCTV and whose response to the HOME OFFICE CRISIS is to hand Charlie Chum an AXE and tell him to GET CHOPPING!

On the other fluffy foot, this could be the perfect test of Mr Balloon's new "responsibility" – will he accept that MPs have to behave responsibly and be SEEN to behave responsibly? Will he, in other words, tell his man, Mr David McClean, to DROP IT?

It is an INTERESTING TEST, do you not think? Let us see who turns up.

And REMEMBER Liberal Democrats – I am not just counting ON you; I will be counting you UP too!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Day 2304: Mr Balloon's Irresponsible Agenda


That silly sausage Mr Balloon has been back on the radio and television telling everyone about his new new idea: responsibility.

This is the same as his LAST new idea, but he's launching it all over again. Perhaps someone needs to take responsibility for making sure he does not REPEAT himself.

The PROBLEM of course is the same as last time: you can only TAKE responsibility; you cannot GIVE it to someone else. You need to give them the AUTHORITY and the RESOURCES to deal with it, but YOU remain responsible.

Mr Balloon's examples on the radio this morning should make it clear exactly what is wrong with his approach.

We need to make headmasters totally responsible for the behaviour of pupils in their schools, said he, and if they need to exclude them then they should be doing so. And the state has got to be responsible for seeing that children do not roam the streets, they should be rounded up and sent back to school.

The Head has to kick them out; the Child Catcher has to take them back.

Am I the ONLY one to see that this is a circular recipe for ENDLESS BUCK-PASSING?

In Mr Balloon's world: "giving responsibility" translates as "saying who is to BLAME". And his answer is set up so that it's always going to be "not me, guv!"

You will be TOTALLY unsurprised to learn that the same extends to Mr Balloon's analysis of who is to blame – who is "responsible" – for the lack of "civility" in society today: yes, you guessed, it's not HIM.

In fact it is, no don't gasp, THE LABOUR for spending the last ten years apparently treating us like BABIES. And certainly NOT the immediately preceding Conservatory government who taught everybody to be completely selfish because there was no such thing as society.

(And I am fairly certain that the Labour spent the first four years treating us in EXACTLY the way that the Conservatories had said they would treat us, by following Conservatory spending plans. Perhaps Mr Balloon would like to take responsibility for THAT?)

In another example of "Balloon Bandwagon Jumping" – the sport that previously saw Mr Balloon saying that children should have more "vivid lives" following a report that said children were worst off in Britain; and the Balloonster calling for absent fathers to be "compelled" to look after their children in response to a spate of nasty gun killings – Mr B tries to link his new/old announcement to the horrid news about toddlers being made to fight.

Here's the thing, Mr Balloon: isn't it just a tiny bit HYPOCRITICAL of you to say that the Labour interferes too much and then say that they are responsible for the actions of some VERY BAD MUMMIES?

You might DECLARE that we are all supposed to take some responsibility, but that doesn't mean that everyone WILL behave responsibly. In fact, you can guarantee that some people WON'T.

So if you REALLY think that responsibility should lie with people then when bad people do bad things you've got to stop BLAMING THE GOVERNMENT.

But what IS Mr Balloon's solution to this "crisis"?

First up, he'd like people to be more polite to one another.

Perhaps he should start with having a word with some of his close colleagues. Neither Mr Boy George Oboe nor Auntie Maude seem to think that they should be above tossing insults around. Perhaps Mr Balloon will take some "responsibility" and sack them both for their incivility. No?

Secondly, he wants to "strengthen families" by giving a tax handout to couple who stay together.

How is this ANY MORE like treating people as adults than the way the Labour behaves? "Do as we say and we'll give you some candy." Who is treating people like BABIES now?

If you REALLY want to show you trust people, then cut the tax thresholds for EVERYONE – and if they behave "responsibly" they will stay together to look after their children because it is the RIGHT THING TO DO, not because you have bribed them differently to the way the Labour would bribe them.

Third, and let's be fair, he DOES agree with returning some powers to local government. The Sustainable Communities Bill first tabled by LIBERAL DEMOCRAT MP Julia Goldsworthy, is about giving local authorities and local communities the power to decide how government spending should be spent in their area.

But why not go further, Mr Balloon? If you don't think that this bill can be enacted until you get into government anyway, why not promise a much more SWEEPING devolution of power – rather than giving local communities a say over big government spending, why don't you promise to give the spending back to them in the first place?

Fourthly, he falls back on the old "blame the media" gambit. People are rude because they see it on the telly, apparently. Oddly enough, Doctor Who is quite popular at the moment but you don't see a lot of people TRAVELLING THROUGH TIME as a result, do you? Well, apart from Mr Balloon's Back-to-the-Fifties TIME WARP anyway!

This on the day that Daddy Alex has already thrown a double fit at the psychologist who is telling MPs that television should be RATIONED for children and BANNED for the under threes!

Hang on – it says here only HALF-an-HOUR A DAY for the 3 to 6-year-olds and only an HOUR A DAY for the 7 to 12-year-olds. Good job I am 7 [R: he is 6] or I couldn't even watch DOCTOR WHO!

Let us see if Mr Balloon condemns this as NANNYING or comes out with a new inquiry into BANNING TELLY, eh!

In the end, Mr Balloon's "responsibility revolution" is based on a FALSE PREMISE. We ALREADY live in a society that is one of the safest, richest, most comfortable, healthiest, longest lived, most cosmopolitan and, through television, most widely informed ever in the history of the world. Mr Balloon wants us to look back though his NOSTALGIA GLASSES to an era that NEVER EXISTED. The John Major theme park view of a Britain of warm cricket and beer on the village green, of Dixon of Dock Green and doffing your cap to… well, to toffs like Mr Balloon.

Our respect for those institutions didn't drain away because we gave up being responsible – it went away because we learned that they didn't deserve our respect in the first place. World War Part One was NOT won on the playing fields of Eton – but the people who had trained there made the decisions that cost MILLIONS of LIVE for nothing. "Dixon of Dock Green" was a FANTASY – "Life on Mars" was the rude wake up call.

You'll not get that respect back. What you need is to support the NEW institutions that people are working out for themselves. A bit more PRAISE and a bit less BLAME would not go amiss, either: less of the lumbering people with new responsibilities; more support for the people who go out there and do. Give people more OPPORTUNITIES – access to resources, cash yes obviously, but also education, and support, give local services the ability to work with people rather than to Whitehall's guidelines, let parents co-operate with schools rather than imposing City McAcademies and lets make local health a part of the local community rather than closing hospitals to save pennies.

We have to let people find their OWN way, and many, many of them will – indeed already DO – take up responsibilities for their children, their parents, their neighbourhoods, their communities. Some people WON'T. But that's life.

The only way to make EVERYONE behave responsibly is to take away ALL of their responsibilities and make all their decisions for them.

Funnily enough, Mr Will has just texted my daddy with a message saying "Mr Balloon is the new Keeper of Traken".

Although that could mean that Mr Balloon is about to get TIME RAMMED by the Master. Ouch!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Day 2303: Power of the 2007 Daleks


Dalek Sec is NOT the only one to have been EXPERIMENTING!

Let us see if THIS works:

This 1966 story has evolved, too!

Day 2302: DOCTOR WHO: Daleks in Manhattan


So, episode one finished with the time-travelling ALIEN WARLORD turning to camera to reveal that, above his sharply-suited human body, his head was a hideous monstrosity of writhing tentacles around a single alien eye…

Still, enough of CITY OF DEATH.

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What did Daddy Richard think about THIS

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I have to ask: why go to America? Not the series, that's obvious and completely brilliant. I mean, if you're a Dalek stuck in the 1930s… it's not like you have to hang around for long before a bunch of folks with plenty of resources and a compatible ideology are going to come along. And if the Doctor happens to turn up and spoil everything, you've always got the option of escaping into space in one of Wernher von Braun's rockets!

Actually, the whole skulking around on Earth – where you just know the Doctor is bound to turn up – is a pretty dumb idea. But then it does depend on your Dalek's state of mind.

Back in "The Parting of the Ways", the Emperor Dalek decided that he had become god and now Dalek Sec, the Black Dalek, leader of the Cult of Skaro, also appears to have gone potty. Rather than megalomania, however, he seems to have succumbed to chronic depression, doubting everything about his own Dalek nature and comparing his own species unfavourably to humans. It certainly seems that senior Daleks have a propensity for mental instability. Mind you, given that they were genetically engineered by a bloke who really set the bar for mad scientists in Doctor Who, it's hardly surprising.

"If we are superior, why are we not victorious?" It's a question that anyone watching might ask about the Daleks – like Rob Sherman's "Dalek" from 2005, going back to challenging the whole concept of what the Doctor's arch-enemies are all about – but for a Dalek itself to voice it is surely a sign of madness – at least in Dalek terms.

Sec's not alone, either, as there is a rather lovely scene where one of the other Daleks gazes down on New York and – in an echo of the Doctor's speech about Gallifrey – almost wistfully says "My world is gone". The Doctor is not the only one to have lost everything, and for the Daleks seeing humans flourishing throughout time while they themselves are reduced to just four almost seems to have humbled them.

Certainly that seems to be the real reason that Sec to turn himself into a human-dalek hybrid. He's so confused about humans that he wants to become one.

The reason given – the need to increase their numbers – only makes sense if they've got a problem in producing new Dalek shells. Reinforced by the way they are having to use their own armour for their conductor, it would seem they can't get their suckers on any Dalekenium. Which kind of begs the question, why don't they just go somewhere where they can? Even if there is none anywhere on Earth, these guys can fly. Space is no barrier to them!

Actually, there's got to be more to it than that, since if it takes one Dalek to make one hybrid, then there's not a lot of point – they've clearly got four casings and that's enough to go round. No, obviously the next phase of the plan involves reproduction. Probably taking Sec's hybridised cells and using them to infect the "higher intelligence" humans they've been collecting.

In a way, I'm disappointed. The RadioTimes came out on the Tuesday before the show was broadcast, and of course I couldn't avoid it and so saw the massive spoiler on the cover. Russell, whatever possessed you? Anyway, I spent the day thinking "whyever would the Daleks do that?" I know that the Cult of Skaro have a mandate to think the unthinkable, but surely that doesn't extend to "what's going to gross out the viewers the most?"

And then I thought I'd got the answer: they're doing it because the Doctor told them to. In "Doomsday" he casually refers to their problem opening the genesis arc that they stole form the Time Lords: technology that uses the one thing a Dalek can't do – touch. So, I reasoned, this must be Dalek Sec's idea of what a Time Lord should look like.

I think both Alex and I remain to be convinced by this human-Dalek hybrid idea. The "pepper-pot" shape is so iconic, so alien, so unnatural looking that it would be folly to get rid of it. For all its wonderful mechanical articulation, all rolling eye and twitching tentacles, the hybrid does just look like a man with a particularly silly hat on. Nor did I think that the voice was a great success – again, the mechanical squawking that they make is so much a part of the Daleks success that an un-modulated American accent just didn't have the same oomph. It lacked "playground appeal".

Of course, I wasn't at all happy with the Daleks abusing the term "evolution". Evocative of "Evil of the Daleks" as it may be, it should mean the progressive changes in a species by succession of inherited traits, and not just the transformation of a single individual. But, as Alex pointed out, it is entirely appropriate given the number of ways that their other creator Terry Nation found to get the concept of evolution wrong too.

But we did love that they argued about it. And it was a particularly Dalek kind of argument, finishing with Sec basically saying "no, I'm boss". My suspicion is that he might find it harder to make them do what he says now that he is no longer a Dalek.

(Though somehow I doubt that the cliff-hanger resolution will be:

Dalek Hybrid Sec: I am your future

Dalek Thay: B****ks!

The remaining Daleks exterminate the hybrid.)

It's not as though this hybridisation is without precedent, though: the Emperor was turning humans into Daleks, tuning them into blobs and sticking them in shells; now Sec is trying the reverse.

In fact, this humans-into-Daleks idea goes back earlier than that to Davros' experiments in "Revelation of the Daleks", and there are other several moments where "Daleks in Manhattan" has a "Revelation…" feel, not least when the Daleks are gliding through the sewers and the Doctor pulls Tallulah into a niche to hide. This story doesn't quite manage the "Revelation…" trick of portraying the Daleks as maggots burrowing into the skin of the world, though.

It's reminiscent of "The Evil of the Daleks" too. In that lost Patrick Troughton classic, the Daleks travel to Earth's past to try and obtain for themselves the secret of the "Human Factor", the reason why time and again humans defeat the Daleks. And, of course, their intention is to convert humans into Daleks then too.

In many ways it's the Daleks' episode anyway. The Doctor spends most of it trying to penetrate the mystery: the paper leads him to Hooverville, Diagoras shows him to the sewers where he finds the glowing green whatever-it-is genetic material – charmingly described as "alien pig poo" by the BBC's fear factor forecasters – which finally reveals the presence of the Daleks. Could have lived without the 4-6-gamma-9 technobabbly deduction: what's wrong with something like "fourth segment of time… Dominai Hydrax galaxy… Constellation of Alskar… Skaro!"

The Daleks, in contrast, are able to conduct all their genetic experiments and get some building work completed ahead of schedule. Maybe Tessa Jowell should give them the contract for the 2012 Olympics.

For the train-spotters amongst us, you can play the game of: which member of the Cult of Skaro is which?

Dalek Sec, of course, is easy to spot because he's the one in the Black tin. The others are a little more difficult, even with this handy "spotters guide" from "Battles in Time".

It seems from his name tag that it is Dalek Thay who answers the lift, and who appears again later being wistful before conveying Mr Diagoras to Sec. Except, by the time he gets downstairs, his name tag has changed and now he's Dalek Jast.

Thay appears now to be the one on the left, who challenges Sec to halt the experiment because it violates the most fundamental Dalek tenant. And in fact, Sec does later address the one on the left as Dalek Thay, assuming they haven't all swapped places by then.

Logically, that would leave Dalek Caan the overeager one on Sec's right who replies to Thay's challenge with "Daleks are Supreme!"

However, the Dalek who orders Sec to halt is revealed – in the same scene – to be the one who has sacrificed part of his shell to make the conductor that is being riveted to the mast at the top of the building. Whichever Dalek it is who goes upstairs, we see them from behind as they leave the lift and they've definitely got all the bumps, so it can't be the same one.

Meanwhile, in the sewers, it appears to be Dalek Jast who scans for intelligence with his sucker-arm. He's therefore the one who answers Martha's cry of "It's inhuman" with "We are not human". This suggests that he might have ideological problems with Sec's experiment, but it's also an echo of the Doctor from "Pyramids of Mars", which would fit with Jast being the one who echoed the Doctor's sentiments about losing his planet.

Unfortunately, you can't just tell from the voices. Nick Brigg's Dalek voices are great, but he only does two: the deep one and the high pitched one. And he alternates between them as different Daleks speak. Which, weirdly, gives the impression that Daleks have some kind of "politeness circuit" so that they never speak in the same register as the Dalek who spoke last. Sec and the Dalek who goes upstairs speak in the deep voice, and the two downstairs speak in the higher one, except later, the one with missing bumps challenges Sec in the deep voice and the one who's just brought Diagoras down in the lift presents him to Sec using the high voice…

Best guess: Dalek Jast is the wistful one who goes upstairs and mostly seems to agree with Sec's argument that they need to leave their shells; Dalek Thay is the aggressive one who is missing some bumps and thinks this is not a good plan; and Dalek Caan is the too keen one who's probably doing most of the work since he seems to be the one who injects Sec with the "final solution".

As in "Gridlock", New York is used as a Lexx-like representation of Heaven and Hell.

While the Empire State Building – or Dalek Empire State Building, perhaps – stretches to the heavens, the diabolical Daleks inhabit the underworld with their latest "sub-human" slaves where, almost echoing "Aliens of London", "Daleks in Manhattan" has its own, considerably less cute, pig men. Not quite sure what that is trying to say in a story that goes out of its way to avoid mentioning the racial tension of an America less than half a century after the civil war, and still thirty years before the civil rights movement.

In between, again, the ordinary humans find themselves trapped in a limbo: the motorway in "Gridlock", the Hooverville shanty-town in Central Park here.

If you think these contrasts are accidental, consider the names of the leading human protagonist and antagonist: Solomon and Mr Diagoras. King Solomon, of course, was the fantastically wealthy king of Israel and chum of god in the Old Testament; Diagoras the Atheist lived in 500 BC and was sold into slavery. As Solomon remarks in "Daleks in Manhattan", one minute a guy is on top of the world and the next he's down in Hooverville, for some folks it goes the other way.

Not that Solomon is all as nice as pie. When Diagoras comes offering work at a dollar a day, Solomon persuades the other men that that is a slave wage… but then sneakily takes the job himself. A bit sly or a bit more desperate than he lets on? Or is he just is protecting his place as leader letting the Doctor take over?

In "Doctor Who Confidential" writer Helen Raynor spells out the deliberate similarities between Solomon and Diagoras: both leaders of men, both having fought in the First World War, but each having taken a very different lesson from it.

And if that doesn't convince you, there's always Tallulah's angel with devils song-and-dance number!

How about that! A genuine song-and-dance number in a Doctor Who episode. And on a real stage too! When was the last time Doctor Who stopped the show just for a show-stopper? We suspect it's "The Talons of Weng-Chiang". That had a pig-man in it as well. And was filmed in a real theatre.

(Failing that, Steven and Dodo sing at the piano – and at gunpoint – in "The Gunfighters", and that had dreadful American accents too!)

Producer Phil Collinson said on the podcast commentary that he was disappointed that the stage didn't look more lush. Alex is more disappointed that they didn't turn the grading up to "Technicolor™".

The cleverness of the story, and of that vertical separation, coupled with some marvellous inserts shot from the top of the genuine Empire State Building, is that after the opening establishing shot of the outside of the theatre, you never have to see the famous streets of New York again. Which no doubt saved a fortune. Mr Diagoras' office at the top of the tower – seemingly open to the elements thanks to judicious use of the wind machines – is light and airy, just as you would expect heaven to be. And of course, it has an elevator straight to hell, with that perfect Art Deco door that lights up to resemble a Dalek eye… just as the doors open to reveal a Dalek eye!

Down below, the sewers are also terrifically realised as a dank labyrinth, a cleverly designed set allowing, as Ruther of Castrovalva might say, for much variety of movement. There's only one brief moment where they have to do the "Doctor Who running" thing of not running very fast so that they don't run off the end of the set. Mostly, they can run fine!

While it seemed Freema didn't have a lot to do in this story, often switched for alternative companion Tallulah, she still managed to shine – particularly her sense of fun on arriving on Liberty Island, and her calm authority when directing the prisoners to obey the Daleks' orders. Nice reaction on learning exactly who the Daleks are – obviously a great set up from last week's heart-to-heart in New New York.

Miranda Raison as Tallulah is also great. Comical and feisty and yet also the romantic heart of the story – her semi-tragic beauty-and-the-beast romance with unlucky pig-boy Lazlo bringing some needed human emotion to this story of Daleks and Time Lords. "most men are pigs" says Tallulah – oh sweetie, if only you knew. Lazlo, played by Ryan Carnes, is also very sweet, and the half-pig mask allows some real depth of emotion to come through from his eyes and posture. Though it would be nice to know how he escaped the Dalek laboratory with his personality and haircut intact. Between them they remind us of the humans caught up in the machine. And personally I put any wandering accent syndrome down to Tallulah putting on a posh nice-girl voice for her theatre performance and letting it wander under stress.

David Tennant, though, just continues to grow in stature as the Doctor. Just as Dalek Jast (probably) contemplating human success and survival shades the edges of the Daleks without weakening them, so Tennant is able to give the Doctor a bitterness that he has lost everything again when he lost Rose and still the Daleks keep coming back to haunt him.

And this is why the Daleks should always return: because they have such a depth of history with the Doctor now, such a mythology.

Next time… What is the gamma spike? How do the Daleks intend to evolve? Will the Doctor do a deal with the devil? And can anyone survive all-out war in Hooverville? "Evolution of the Daleks" at 6.45pm!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Day 2301: Freedom from Freedom of Information


Hooray for the Liberal Democrats, and in particular Mr Norman the Baker MP, who not only bakes the bestest sticky buns in the whole of the House of Commons, he has also scuppered a Conservatory's attempt to get MPs out of having to answer Freedom of Information questions!

Yes, it seems that in Mr Balloon "new" Conservatory Party, the commitment to open and honest government extends about as far as not letting anyone see your expenses claims.

Though it is a BIT ironic that they should try to reduce the reach of free public inquiry in the same week that they tried (and failed) to nobble Mr Frown using information received BY USING the Freedom of Information Act.

They may have HEARD of the Goose that laid the Golden Eggs, but presumably they would like to repeal the Hunting Act in order to go and SHOOT IT!

It had been a bit of a worry that the government might allow this to slip through, what with their not being so very fond of Freedom of Information themselves.

(I am, incidentally, always ASTONISHED when the Labour get caught doing something bad and say "ah, but we brought in the Freedom of Information Act that you used to catch us with!" as though this is an excuse for all NAUGHTY BEHAVIOUR.

Isn't this is a bit like a BURGLAR saying "ah, but I left my fingerprints all over the scene of the crime so that you could catch me!")

As Liberal Democrat MP Mr Steve "World Wide" Webb commented earlier:

"Given that Parliament passed the legislation in the first place, it seems a bit rich for MPs to seek to avoid being covered by it."

He was worried that this would give MPs a BAD NAME, and RIGHTLY SO!

In a proper democracy, people need to be free to ask their government and legislators what they are doing and why they have done it! It seems that neither the Conservatories not the Labour really understand this. They think that asking questions is either IMPERTINENT and EMBARRASSING or an EXPENSIVE waste of TIME and MONEY.

In fact, MPs should have to answers our questions so that we know when THEY are wasting of time and money… because it is OUR time and money that they would be wasting! It ought to be impertinent and embarrassing NOT to answer your constituents' questions.

I am SURE that no one LIKES having to justify their expenses claims, but if we didn't then we could ALL just dip a fluffy foot into the petty cash jar and help ourselves. Where would we be then? In PRISON, that's where – at least if Nice Mr Dr Reid found out!

Fortunately thanks to Mr Norman the Baker, MPs were able to flibbleboost… fibulestibule… fibblybubble.. talk and talk until time ran out so that the Bill had to go to the back of the queue again and now will almost certainly disappear.

It is a GOOD THING that that Pink Dog wasn't in there REDUCING their speeches, isn't it!

Read more about the EXCELLENCE of Mr Norman the Baker from Mr Councillor Stephen Tall.

Meanwhile, in UNRELATED NEWS, the police have handed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service over the Cash for Coronets affair.

Where we go from here depends on whether the Crown Prosecution Service decides to Prosecute the Crown. Maybe we can use the Freedom of Information Act to find out!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Day 2300: Bless this House of Lords


Listening to the The Today Programme this morning, we heard their "Yesterday in Parliament" slot (interestingly banished to the UNLOVED pre-7 o'clock slot, and an hour before the more LISTENER-FRIENDLY quarter-to-eight window given to "Fart for Today"). They chose to cover my chums in the House of Lords Club who were debating the place in society for those WITHOUT religion. And I am glad that they did!

We hear an AWFUL LOT from so-called "religious commentators", and often they are demanding that THEIR opinions have got to be heard. What they don't say is that they only represent a MINORITY. There are a LOT MORE people whose religious opinion amounts to: "well there might be something to it, stands to reason."

I think that it is BRILLIANT that we are even HAVING this debate, and it shows how very far we have come from the days when your religion was picked for you by the Queen and was compulsory at all levels.

Can you even imagine them having a debate like this in TEHRAN? Or even in WASHINGTON?

Anyway, hang on to your hats because it's a BIGGIE, but it's worth the roller-coaster ride just to remember that at least we CAN discuss this like grown ups. Well, maybe not grown ups, but at least like BABY ELEPHANTS!

Lord Harrison started because he had called for the debate in the first place and he framed his remarks around the DIVISIONS that he has seen caused by religion: at school, fellow pupils excluded from Assembly until after prayers; as a parent faced with the non-choice of sending his own children to a church school or out of the district, separating them from their friends; in the House of Lords Club itself, being made to hang around outside until the godbotherers have finished their prayers. (Imagine having to hang around outside your place of work until prayers were finished!)

He would later go on to reflect on how no non-religious person is invited to the Cenotaph for Remembrance Day, and questioned the appropriateness of the commemoration for the victims of the July 7th bombings, including a prominent secularist, taking place in an Anglican Cathedral. Would Christians be happy for a leading Christian to receive only a humanist ceremony, he asked? Our armed forces, our hospitals, our prisons provide RELIGIOUS chaplaincy, but no secular support.

And of course he mentioned in passing my old bugbear of Fart for Today, and also the daily opening of Radio 4 with Prayers for Today, which apparently are increasingly being used as another bully pulpit too.

At the core of his argument is this: with religious attendance continuing to decline, in spite of their best efforts, the more outspoken leaders of the churches – and he singled out remarks from Archbishop Senti-Moo of York attacking "illiberal atheists" and "aggressive secularists" – have decided to put the blame on the non-religious rather than facing up to their own failings.

There is an urgent need to ANSWER their accusations, and to provide some BALANCE and SUPPORT for the many people for whom religion is AT BEST a nice way to get married and buried.

"the 2001 Home Office Citizenship Survey asserts, four out of five of us find that religious belief is not central to our self-identity"

Despite being a supporter of the Labour – voting "religiously" for the Government, ho ho – Lord H is "perturbed" by the "faith agenda" being actively pursued. Lord Blairimort's government fulfilled a promise to promote religious harmony by publishing a paper (yes, that's not what I'D call fulfilling a promise either) publishing a paper called "Working Together", which gave much attention to obtaining the views of very tiny faiths like the Jains and the Zoroastrians but IGNORED and OVERLOOKED the opinions of THE MAJORITY for whom "religion is perfunctory or defunct".

Even more worrying was the companion paper "Building Civil Renewal" which suggested that Civil Servants should be:

"preparing to mount publicity and media-handling strategies to answer adverse criticism from the secular quarter".

As Lord H says, shouldn't secular and humanist (and elephantist!) groups be ENCOURAGED to voice their opinions not made to SHUT UP? And isn't it ALL TOO EASY to start sticking SIMPLISTIC labels on people, thinking of their ethnicity and religious belief as interchangeable? This leads to such UNWARRANTED assumptions as "all Caribbeans are Baptists" and "all Asians are Muslims". After all, only a complete fool would testify that "all English people are PASSIONATE supporters of the Church of England". Even the BISHOPS' affections are only tepid. People are MUCH MORE COMPLICATED than that. And it also leads to the more EXAGGERATED members of a community being put forward – or more often putting THEMSELVES forward – as spokespeople because they have got the FAITH bug bigger than most.

In conclusion, the good Lord called for SEPARATION of church and state activities: schools should not be teaching religion, that should be a job for Sunday School; and isn't it about time that the Church of England was disestablished so that the Head of State – no shame on Her Current Majesty – should be allowed to keep his or her personal and private belief (or non belief) OUT of their job description.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour responded by SPECTACULARLY missing the point when she said that all the "great faiths" are all about people coming together for support and prosperity. Whether they are or aren't (and it's pretty QUESTIONABLE) is not important because you don't HAVE to be "of faith" to want to give and receive support and prosperity. So why EXCLUDE people from the national debate just because they don't sign up to one of your clubs?

This reminds me of the Fart for Today nonsense spouted an hour after the Today in Parliament report on this very debate. Mr John Bell, the ding-dong from the Iona Community, made the UNWISE and rather TASTELESS decision to try and claim some kudos for religion from the HORRIBLE MASSACRE of students in America. Pointing out the HEROISM of elderly Jewish Professor Liviu Librescu who gave his own life in order that students might escape through the window whilst he blocked the door with his body, Mr Bell said: "look, you see! Religion, it's not just about sticking by your own group!"

Never mind that Mr Bell has no power to look into the mind of Professor Librescu (a man described as "devoted to science" by the the Jerusalem Post) to know whether or not it was his religion that inspired him to act so SELFLESSLY and BRAVELY, this is just ONE EXAMPLE – anecdotes do NOT make evidence.

It MAY be true that religion inspires you to look after others of all faiths or none… though a number of RELIGIOUS WARS, from the Crusades to Northern Ireland to the mess that used to be Iraq, suggest that the OPPOSITE might be true.

(Usually, the religions trot out the excuse that "ahh, those were POLITICAL CONFLICTS just dressed up with religion", but that won’t hold water in this case, as the religion is SPECIFICALLY used to dress up the conflict IN ORDER to get your side to stick only to your group and to hate the other side MORE!)

This sort of CHERRY-PICKING to prove your points really gets my goat! Religion does not come out UNIVERSALLY well from that dreadful situation, given that the killer himself is reported to have been obsessed with Christianity and identified himself with Mr Jesus. It is probably more difficult to score points for yourself by referring to THAT, though!

Back in the House of Lords Club, Liberal Democrat Lord Willie Goodhart rose to support Lord Harrison's remarks about religion in education.

"As I get older I simply get more convinced that there is no credible evidence for the existence of God and see no merit in believing the truth of something not supported by evidence."

He recalled a trip to the then Soviet Union and being asked by a fearsome Russian matriarch: "do you believe in god?" "Well, no not really," he had replied, so she offered "Why do you not stay in Russia then?" He didn't feel the need, was his answer. A roundabout way of saying that he has never felt oppressed for his non-religion.

Although accepting that we come to an education system already comprised of many CofE and Catholic Schools – and if we were to start from scratch, like getting to Tipperary, we wouldn't start from here – but he suggested that we should say this far and no further, and say "no" to any more faith schools.

Then the Archbullock of York Dr John Senti-Moo stood up to answer.

He said:

"For me, religion is a narrative we all inhabit that makes sense to us of what would otherwise be nonsense..."


It OUGHT to go without saying that this is FATUOUS and SILLY, redefining "RELIGION" so broadly that you can include anything you want to. It OUGHT to go without saying, but unfortunately it appears that it doesn't, so THANKFULLY, Mr Chris and Mr James have both said it.

One of the PROBLEMS with the small communion of NUTTERS who are trying to seize control of church so that they can push their WACKY views is that they think they are SOOOOO clever with their little MEMES trying to insinuate some dumb idea into the way that people think in order to wedge minds open to their influence.

They THINK they are so clever, but it only shows that they have no IMAGINATION and only ONE hymn sheet to sing from!

Science takes the chaotic facts of life, the universe and everything and presents an explanation that tries to give us a sense of order and understanding. Religion turns it back into nonsense.

Before that, he had begun with a TELLING little homily, which I think is worth reporting to you IN FULL:

"Twenty-seven years ago I was chaplain to a young offenders remand centre, Latchmere House. Every inmate was asked to declare his religious affiliation, and four young men were registered as having no religion. One Sunday, all the inmates were offered the chance to go to worship. The four young men with no religion declined the offer, while their fellow inmates on the A wing took up the offer. The prison officer, not wanting the four men to remain locked up in their cells, asked them to clean the toilets on the wing. The following Sunday, our four non-religious young men took up the offer to go to worship. The prison officer was puzzled why they had opted in this week. “Why are you going to chapel?” he asked. The four replied, “Sir, we didn’t like the ‘No Religion’ place of worship”. Crudely as they put it, those four young men were saying in their naivety that we are all essentially religious."
Crudely put, your very eminent worship, I think that the young men were telling you that they did not like BEING LOCKED IN A TOILET for expressing their lack of religion.

In order for you to draw the opposite conclusion from this lesson I think suggests that you are either: stark staring BONKERS; completely INSENSIBLE to the Human condition; or a TIME TRAVELLER from 1973…BC!

"For me, this is not a human-centred universe," continued his grace. "Religious and non-religious people need to recognise the absolute mystery of existence."

Why SHOULD non-religious people have to recognise ANYTHING that he fantasises may or may not be the centre of the Universe?

Isn't that just petulantly demanding that he have his own way? He asks why should anything exist at all but then says well the answer's god and you've all got to accept it. Dressing it up as "MYSTERY" doesn't help – for some of us a "MYSTERY" is something to work out, not to preserve!

"For me, the greatest danger we face in this country is the ethical and spiritual problems associated with the concepts of law and freedom."

Well he's RIGHT… except that his answer seems to be MORE LAW and LESS FREEDOM!

"It is a problem for the individual, who swings uneasily between the seemingly old-fashioned moral imperative of a higher authority and the seemingly legitimate demands of their own physical and moral nature."

Spot how he uses "seemingly" as a synonym for the word "NOT". To Mr Senti-Moo, letting people make up their own minds about things is BAD NEWS!

Still, it is GOOD that his grace is there in the House of Lords Club defending "the seemingly old-fashioned moral imperative of a higher authority" with his record of attending, er, 3% of votes. Spoken in nine whole debates he has. Including this one.

He goes on to quote approvingly the warning of another Archpilchard, Mr Stuart Blanch (and well you might):

"we may die the death of those who, in the pursuit of freedom, undermine the law"

and his solution

"…learn from the past and take more seriously than we sometimes do the accumulated wisdom of a peculiar gifted people—the people of the Bible"

That would be the accumulated wisdom that says it is okay to sell your daughter into slavery or to stone someone to death for working on Saturday or to expect a lady to keep silent in Church (hang on, some of them still believe THAT!).

He concluded with a warning against "The severance of law from morality and of religion from law".

This is just more typical religious DOUBLETHINK!

He is trying to imply that MORALITY and RELIGION are one and the same, and that ONLY the religious have a handle on morality.

This is PARTICULARLY ironic in the weeks following the anniversary of the abolition of slavery, because 200 years ago it was the people with MORALITY who won the case AGAINST the people who were basing their argument on RELIGION. Today it is OBVIOUS to us that slavery is just WRONG, and yet at the time, if it had been based on the RELIGIOUS arguments, then the pro-slavery people would have won!

Morality is GREATER than religion, we all have our own MORAL SENSE – otherwise how could we look at the Bible (say) and decide that the LAW in LEVITICUS that says

"eating prawns is an ABOMINATION"

is a rather out-dated guide to the inadvisability of eating seafood in the Sinai area.

Just because there are things that are moral in religion ("thou shalt not kill" is a GOOD example!) does NOT mean that EVERYTHING in religion is moral, nor that NOTHING moral comes from OUTSIDE of religion.

Trying to say that it does, well that is EXACTLY the sort of EXCLUSION of non-religious people that Lord Harrison was worried about in the first place!

How do you follow that? Well, Baroness Flather managed to, with the almost totally fatuous remark: "As we have heard, all religions are essentially good, we all know that. It is the followers who are a problem."

On the other fluffy foot, she did point out "the intent to dilute very important factors such as our wonderful anti-discrimination legislation. In trying to pander to the faith communities our Prime Minister is willing to sacrifice parts of it, which is a very dangerous thing to do."

Pandering to faith communities was, she diagnosed, the problem of the "Blairimort decade" and she too agreed that children's education should not be separated out by the faiths of their parents.

The Bishop of Worcester then went into a flight of fancy concerning the silly legal device that requires that in order to start the debate, Lord Harrison had to put a motion to the House calling for "papers". What, mused the Bish, would such papers contain.

As he said himself: "I am not quite sure what I am saying".

In the end it seemed he decided that he would like to see the papers drawn up for real, for all that they would contain truces and compromises and bitter battles, as they could be a manifesto for how we go forward.

Declaring his interest as chair of the all-Party humanist group, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston also welcomed the debate. He used his contribution to call on the BBC to broaden their religious programming to include humanist and secularist points of view.

He was followed by Baroness Byford who spoke first about Alcoholics Anonymous' "Blue Book" and the USEFUL power of believing in something greater than yourself to help you overcome a seemingly insurmountable addiction. She then told the House about the terribly sad death by suicide of her son.

"All I would say to those who will follow me is that we do need to have some faith, some hope for people, because, without that, other people like my son—who could not find it; it was not that he was not used to it, but he could not find it—will not lead fuller lives as they might otherwise do."

As I said, I think it is very SAD about her son, but I do not think that the will to live can or should come only from believing in a religion. Indeed, it seems that religion was not enough, but really I am in no position to tell. As I said before, one example does not make for evidence one way or another no matter how sad it makes us feel.

Later, Baroness Rendell of Babergh spoke wistfully of the passing of faith into sentiment, and of the impossibility of belief when confronted, as Darwin was, with the reality of nature in all its cruelty and imperfection. The world, she felt, was not noticeably better but neither was it any worse for the passing of god, and at least we still retained the beauty and music of a religious past.

She was followed by former Archbeard of Canterbury, Lord Clarey.

He sought to frame the debate in terms of the difference between those who believe that the Universe has a Creator and those who don't.

This comes down to a rather stunted form of the Argument from Design i.e. "Golly, isn't the Universe nice, God must have made it."

We could play a game of SPOT THE SYLLOGISM if you like!

But then his lordship resorted to the SINGLE MOST ANNOYING PHRASE in the lexicon of the shy-sky-fairy-believer (yes that IS supposed to be annoying in return!) He said:

"I find that some atheists seem to be unaware that their beliefs, too, are at best a faith."

Personally, my Lord, I find that you seem to be unaware that your belief is at best A LIE.

As a militant atheist baby elephant, I do NOT say that there CANNOT BE A GOD; I say that I will not believe in something when there is NO EVIDENCE that there IS one.

I do not invest "faith" in NOT-believing in "god" any more than you, Lord Clarey, invest faith in NOT-believing in Odin, Sutekh or Cuddly Cthulhu!

The evidence for the existence of the Universe is ALL AROUND YOU, Lord Clarey, should you ever bother to stick your pointy head outside your IVORY TOWER (and WHERE did you GET the IVORY, I want to know!!!). But the evidence for the existence of a Creator is REMARKABLY ABSENT, particularly when you consider the VAST SCOPE of places in which you could look for Him.

I will HAPPILY be convinced if the DIVINITY would care to stick his head visibly above the HEAVENLY PARAPET, but so long as my choice is that he either does not exist or is actively hiding from me, I will choose to err in favour of the former assumption.

And – because I know it is NOT a matter of "faith" – I accept that that it IS an assumption. None of this "I just KNOW" rubbish for me!

In the meantime, science has shown us many explanations for why the world is the way that we see it. We should keep looking for MORE answers, not crawl away into a Bible!

Lord Clarey DID accept that there was BAD RELIGION around. He could hardly look at Iraq without HAVING to! "The same could be said of Christianity in the past," he added. And the PRESENT, Lord Clarey if you don't mind looking at America's "god told me to do it" MONKEY-IN-CHIEF.

So his argument was basically, we can't cover that up, but the majority of religious people are GOOD and SAINTLY even if we never ever hear about them because of all the shouting from the OTHER kind of religious people and so you should excuse us all the BAD things we do because of that!

But, while there might be one or two nice atheists, on the whole they're just evil.

"…if I may be a little provocative, in my opinion, atheists are not renowned throughout the world for their commitment to the very poor, the starving and the needy. Whereas, as I have already indicated, believers have made and are making an effective contribution throughout the world, it will not do for others to rubbish that and then do little to make up for what they feel are its inadequacies. "

"It is not my intention to score points," he finished!

Rather than BLOWING my own top SKY HIGH, I will merely report the words of kindly Baroness Murphy who felt compelled to reply to Lord Clarey.

"I was going to remain rather calm throughout this, but I was rather offended by the comments of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, about the role that people without faith have played in doing good in the world. He is entirely and wholly wrong. We feel just as passionately as those who have faith about ensuring that society is just."

She went on to speak of her experience as a community psychiatrist in inner London in the 1980s and 90s and how mentally ill people were left to live in the street because they could not follow the religious edicts of the available shelter.

I think Lord Clarey would count the people running that shelter as "doing good" when in fact they were doing real and terrible harm.

You see the thing is, Lord Clarey does NOT really KNOW how much good in the world is done by atheists, humanists, secularists or other non-religious folks. He doesn't know because they just get on and do it because it is the RIGHT thing to do; and they don't go and build enormous great CATHEDRALS with most of the cash and then sing Songs of Praise to themselves about it!

More people spoke before Lord Joffe added his contribution. Speaking as an atheist, though he said he had always admired the Church of England, particularly the courage of its clergy in South Africa, he talked about his experience introducing the recent Assisted Dying Bill.

"I thought that the church’s attitude would be similar to the way in which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester spoke earlier in this debate: calm, thoughtful and constructive. However, I was quite wrong. Compassion and respect for the views of the majority on suffering did not figure in that debate on the part of the opponents."

He went on to describe how the religious community mounted, ultimately successfully, their largest ever political campaign to defeat the bill. Quite flattering, he said, in light of the many wars and famines of recent history on which they might have campaigned.

The question, Lord Joffe wanted to ask, was: who did the church leaders think they were representing? When research showed that even 80% of Catholics and 80% of Protestants supported the bill, just whose will was being imposed on the majority?

More people spoke before it got to the end, and Lord Harrison – as convention dictates – had to withdraw his motion, in spite of what the Bishop of Worcester had said.

He thanked everyone for their contributions, in particular Baroness Byford and Lord Joffe, but in the end gave his prize for best speech to the Bishop of Worcester.

The prize was a China Teapot... in orbit somewhere between Mars and Jupiter.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Day 2299: We Knew Jack Kennedy, Mr Frown. You're No Jack Kennedy!


Guess what, Mr Frown won the no confidence vote. Gosh.

Mr James has already pointed out how POOR the Labour television was – Mr Frown in the back of a taxi, grasping hands reaching forwards to seize the wheel; Lord Blairimort stuck in there with him, eyes desperately flickering around looking for a way out – and he also talked about Mr Frown's new book: "COURAGE: EIGHT PORTRAITS".

However, something that Mr James did not mention was the PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING book by a Mr Senator John F Kennedy: "PROFILES IN COURAGE".

What an UNFORTUNATE coincidence!

Written in 1956, four years before he would become President, the book presents eight portraits profiles of US Senators who defied public opinion and their own parties in order to make a stand on an issue that was important to them.

Nor were these EASY decisions to defend: Thomas Hart Benton stayed with the Democratic party even when they were in favour of expanding slavery to the new territories; Edmund G Ross was one of seven Republicans who voted to acquit President Andrew Johnson of the rival National Union Party; Robert A Taft criticised the trial of the Nazis at Nuremburg.

This reminds me: we should count up the number of times that MR FROWN has taken a COURAGEOUS stance defying his party line…

[R: sound of tumbleweeds]

Poor Mr Frown, I bet he doesn't realise that HIS good idea for a book has been GAZUMPED by a famous much-loved charismatic figure who went on to lead his nation. On the other fluffy foot, he did not serve a full term as President either.

I hope Mr Frown is not too disappointed. Perhaps a holiday in Dallas would cheer him up!

Why Lord Blairimort, whatever can you be doing on that GRASSY KNOLL?

Day 2298: No Confidence in the Conservatories


Apparently, the Conservatory Shadow Chancellor and Minister for the Tuck Shop, Mr Boy George Oboe, is to call for a vote of no-confidence in Mr Frown.

On the scale of STUPIDITY this lies somewhere between a JADE GOODY and a DARWIN AWARD WINNER.

Liberal Democrats would be well advised to have nothing at all to do with it.

FIRST, the COMPLETELY OBVIOUS reply that Mr Frown should make is to start his response by saying:

"Clearly, this motion should be one of no confidence in the SHADOW CHANCELLOR, Mr Boy George Oboe, who cannot add up, tie his own shoe laces or even spot it when I take a tax cut away with the same hand that I give it. And if, as I fully expect to do, I carry the House today, I hope that he will consider his own position."

And Mr Boy George will say: "Err..."

The Labour will win and Mr Boy George will have effectively no-confidenced HIMSELF.

So he either resigns (not a chance) or admits that Conservatory motions are worth less than the paper that they are printed on.

SECOND, Mr Frown needs only to remark:

"Ten years ago you voted against this measure and you have voted against every finance bill since. Throughout those last ten years, this country has seen the longest period of sustained economic growth since ever. Which proves that I was right. And you were wrong. In fact, consistent opposition to a successful economy appears to be the ONLY policy that you have kept over the course of those ten years, because you don't have a single other policy left do you?"

And Mr Boy George will say: "Umm..."

The complete LACK OF COHERENCE to the Conservatory economic position will be LAID BARE. Mr Boy George Oboe cannot convince anyone that he could govern the economy better than the man who has – though a lot of luck but some judgement – kept it rather well for a decade because he DOESN'T HAVE ANY POLICY for what he would do instead.

They try to trot out some nonsense about married couple allowances; they quickly row it back. They try to launch a green-ish tax agenda; they quickly bury it. Every shadow minister and his old Etonian House Master promise a bit more spending here there and everywhere; Mr Boy George has to disavow all of them and say he won't write his budget until he's in the treasury. So never then. He is the IN-OUT-SHAKE-IT-ALL-ABOUT Shadow Chancellor, desperately seeking something, anything to gain a bit of traction.

Plus it looks like Mr Boy George has only just caught up with what the rest of us spotted TEN YEARS AGO. Way to look on the ball, Georgie Boy.

And THIRD, Mr Frown will simply say:

"Oh, you want to talk about ten years ago, do you? Well, ten years ago the Labour had just replaced a Conservatory government that squandered billions on Black Wednesday, doubled the national debt, starved the NHS of cash, broke up the railways, took cash for questions and ATE BABIES! This is the record of the Conservatories and this is what they want to talk about!"

And Mr Boy George will say: "Oops..."

All of Mr Balloon's efforts to put the past IN the past will be undone because the Conservatories THEMSELVES are putting "ten years ago" in play as relevant to today.

There are only two reasons for calling a vote of No Confidence. One is if it is a point of ABSOLUTE PRINCIPLE: e.g. the Prime Monster should not have lied about going to war. The other is if you might be in a position to WIN.

This is neither.

The Conservatories are just trying to make Mr Frown look BAD by muck raking over old news that just happens to have a topical flavour. I know that the Labour have made an ART FORM of announcing and re-announcing policy launches to make them seem new, but now the Conservatories appear to have started re-announcing their OPPOSITION to things! It is POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM GONE MAD.

We should say so and say loudly that we are not interested in supporting them.

They have had TEN YEARS to bring this up and there are so many IMPORTANT things to do now instead. Is this REALLY the most important thing they can think of to do?

It is like the other day on Mr Andy Marr's programme when Mr Balloon said that the first thing he would want to do on getting into number ten would be to hold an inquiry into the Navy letting a couple of sailors sell their story. WHAT?!?!?! What about the ENVIRONMENT? Or CIVIL LIBERTIES? Or NHS reform? Or any of the things that are supposed to be part of the NEW Conservatory agenda. Nope, hold an inquiry. Hold an inquiry into something really minor that everyone will have forgotten by then. That is just TYPICAL of Mr Balloon's Conservatories. Let's not have any policies; let's just hold endless inquiries!

Our MPs should all announce that they will leave the chamber and go and do proper work for their constituents rather than wasting Parliamentary Time with the ALL TALK NO ACTION Conservatories!

If you want something DOING, get a Liberal Democrat!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Day 2297: Yum Yum


We settled down with a late dinner this evening to watch "Edwardian Super Size Me", an everyday gastronomic adventure with all the trimmings and a side order of lard. And extra trimmings.

And extra lard.

It turns out that the people of the Edwardian Era, led by King Edward VII or King Tum-Tum as he was known by his loving subjects, were rather fond of their food. It would be unfair to say that they ate like pigs, mainly because "entire pig for breakfast" seems like a pretty average start to the day!

For this experiment, restraint critic Mr Giles Coren and very funny but much underused Ms Sue Perkins were asked to be Edwardians for a week – wearing all the clothes and eating all the food.

Mr Giles went to see a DOCTOR, Doctor Petty. Or Doctor Pennyfarthing as Mr Giles ended up calling him after his soon-to-be-nightly glass or two of Madeira wine.

"You're completely mad," was Dr Pennyfarthing's professional opinion, "and you'll be dead in a fortnight!"

Good job they were only doing it for a week!

Monday's menu consisted of: Porridge, Sardines on Toast, Curried Eggs, Grilled Cutlets, Coffee & Drinking Chocolate, Bread & Butter, and Honey.

And that was just breakfast!

Luncheon of sauté of kidneys on toast, mashed potatoes, macaroni au gratin and rolled ox tongue (bleurgh!) was followed by High Tea of fruit cake, Madeira cake, hot potato cakes, coconut rocks, bread, toast, and butter before settling in for Dinner of oyster patties, sirloin steak, braised celery, roast goose, potato scallops, and vanilla soufflé to finish.

Well, "finish" if you don't count the aforementioned glass of Madeira and a goose leg that poor Sue just hadn't been able to face.

But Monday was just a run-of-the-mill sort of a day. No really! That's what they ate when they WEREN'T trying to impress anyone.

Tuesday started with breakfast at Simpsons on the Strand with a light repast of smoked haddock, scrambled eggs, kippers, cold cuts, one roast pheasant, fruit, bacon, sausages, devilled kidneys, scones and kedgeree.

By this time Sue and Mr Giles were barely able to move, so they decided to try out an Edwardian diet. This turned out to be, basically, exactly the same as any other Edwardian meal, but chewed and chewed and chewed until either the food turned to liquid or you died of lockjaw.

Oysters, foie gras terrine, roast cod with asparagus, mutton hotpot, pink Yorkshire rhubarb and clotted cream were all given this treatment. Which was a shame as it probably wasn't helping them cut calories but it was killing all the flavours stone dead.

It was claimed that King Edward had tried this diet himself – but, said Mr Giles looking at a portly portrait, the evidence would appear other wise. This made both of my daddies scoff. (No NOT in the Edwardian fashion!) Surely the evidence is only against him having used the Fletcherism Diet if it ACTUALLY WORKS! said Daddy Richard; personally, I think the evidence of him shows that the diet has no effect whatsoever, said Daddy Alex.

Still, no time to worry about that as they had to hurry home in order to host a dinner party.

Melon glacé, mock turtle soup, sole au gratin, crab and asparagus mousse in aspic, boiled mutton with caper sauce, quail pudding and a rather wobbly punch romaine jelly for pud. The quail pudding, by the way, was a whole quali each, wrapped in fillet steak and sealed in a suet crust.

By this point, Daddy Richard was looking rather queasy, but Daddy Alex said his mouth was watering. I said that we could try this diet if I could have the equivalent in STICKY BUNS, and Daddy Alex AGREED!

I reckon that this must be at least ten-million-and-four sticky buns, but Daddy Richard tells me that 5000 calories a day is only about 20 sticky buns. I think he is trying to get out of it, don't you!

Meanwhile, dinner guest Mr Roy Fattersly was pointing out, while tucking into the suet pudding, that only nought-point-one per cent of the population could actually afford to live like this. The rest were on bread and dripping once a day if they were lucky. Not that this had stopped Mr Roy from turning up for the dinner, but maybe it was just so that he could make exactly that point. And at least he had the grace to depart before the food fight broke out!

In fact, Mr Giles told us that a dinner party like this one – which, if you were a society hostess, you would be expected to serve up two or three times a week – would cost £24 in old money. Which was equivalent to TWO THOUSAND POUNDS today.

Or to put it another way, you would need something like SEVEN MILLION pounds of capital just to be able to afford the DINNER PARTIES.

And that was just dinner for 8 – you might be expected to have up to 20 guests. Multiply the money appropriately.

Wednesday, and after the usual breakfast, Mr Giles was off to Simpsons Chophouse of Cornhill for the lunch of a city gent: steak and kidney pudding with a giant sausage, then a huge pork chop and then stewed cheese served with mustard on little bits of toast.

Sue unfortunately was not allowed in. Simpsons did not admit women until 1916 and that was after the Edwardian era was over – King Tum Tum passed away from (to nobody's surprise) a massive double heart attack in 1910.

So, barred from the bastion of male do-dah, she took a day-trip to Brighton instead.

The Edwardians loved to take the train down to the coast, though on the way they would take in a – you guessed it – five-course luncheon. Sue doubted that South West Trains were quite up to the silver service these days, so brought a HUGE hamper and a picnic of lobster mousse, toasted whole sardines, a rolled salmon cone (which Sue called an oily fish CORNETTO) and something in a plastic tub made of curried fish and garlic the smell of which left most of the other passengers to Brighton in a semi-comatose state. I hope that the BBC paid for their train tickets!

Daddy Alex, on the other fluffy foot – a Daddy who claims not to be as fond of fish as he is of LARD – has CONFESSED to a strange HANKERING to find out what the deadly fish-and-garlic-box contained. But not while Daddy Richard is in the same hemisphere, he promises.

(Incidentally, on the subject of the EVIL FISH COURSE, dear Mr Paul suggests I might have something to say about Scottish politics. Whatever can he mean???)

Sue was, of course, doing all this in a full-on WHALEBONE CORSET. So, she admitted, it was sometimes something of a STRAIN. (And that was BEFORE we went into the to-camera TOILET MONOLOGUES!) Despite being taught the ETIQUETTE of eating cakes at the Ritz – small bites and then make conversation about sewing, or try a little French – she had to admit that a lot of the time she was just pushing the food around the plate and leaving lots. In fact, she said, many Edwardian ladies would confine themselves to bed rather than face the horrors of the breakfast and luncheon tables!

Mr Giles was also kitted out in Edwardian garb, and that afternoon it meant big flappy shorts in order to try some Edwardian exercise: a game of five which looked like a crowded squash court where everyone had forgotten their bat. I am NOT SURE that the athletic authorities today would approve of Mr Giles use of BANNED SUBSTANCES either – namely a big cigar and a bigger glass of brandy.

Then back home for another huge dinner.

In the interest of a more feminine approach – and to try and rebalance her now desperately Atkins diet – Sue took Mr Giles to a vegetarian restaurant on Thursday. Yes, it turns out they DID have veggie restaurants in Edwardian times. About thirty of them. Not that the Edwardians really thought of vegetables as proper food.

They were also a HOTBED of the SUFFRAGETTE movement. This came about for three reasons. Firstly, because the vegetarian restaurants were also Temperance Houses and so, with only ginger beer to drink, rather than falling asleep in the afternoon they could spend it in fervent political discussion. Secondly, vegetarian food did not need as much preparation as half-a-dozen meat courses and this liberated ladies from the stove. And thirdly, anyone unlucky enough to be sent to prison for protesting the right to vote was well advised NOT to eat the meat!

The thing to go with all of this FOOD is of course something to DRINK, and the Edwardians were it turns out terribly fond of CHAMPAGNE. In fact it was usually BREAKFAST TIME when they were wiring their way into their first bottle and the rest of the day would be carried along in a fizz of bubble.

No wonder Mr Steed is always dressed as an Edwardian gent!

So, after having some pink fizz at Harrods to start them off, Saturday saw Sue and Mr Giles off to Hampstead Heath for a spot of picnicking. Of course, they didn't have the forty-odd servants to lay it all out for them, and Sue did insist on experimenting with a newfangled (invented 1892 but commercially available from 1904) Thermos flask for TEA, but good old Mr Giles stuck in to his lobster and champers.

But the climax of the week was to be an all out blow out at the Savoy, recreating an actual meal from 1906. King Tum Tum had SERIOUSLY taken to eating out – after years of having to cope with his mother's home cooking at Windsor Castle, you cannot really blame him! And apparently, a huge meal, like the one that Mr Giles and Sue were about to indulge in, would cost only £7. Obviously that is still the equivalent to £600 today. But remember how expensive the dinner parties were in comparison. Eating out quickly became VERY popular.

(Plus there was the whole "you can mix with exciting and exotic actors and dancers and opera stars without having to invite such a vulgar class of people into your own home". Which was nice.)

Of course, today in the real world, eating at the Savoy has gotten a BIT more expensive. Here is what they had to eat. And by now they were no longer having to force it down. Which was nice for tonight, but probably a bit worrying for the next week when they have to come down to today's portions.

First course: £1,000 worth of Beluga Caviar and native and rock oysters.

Second course: Pot au feu Henry IV. Mr Giles called it the shoulder, shank, rib and tail of beef braised all day and served in their broth with a blob of béarnaise, but it's basically beef soup. With the beef added back in.

Third course: A choice of sole cardinale and whitebait. Or, if you're eating the Edwardian way, both.

Fourth course: Chicken d'Albufera, i.e. a whole chicken (each, obviously) stuffed with rice, truffles and foie gras, served in a sauce of boiled cream, triply-reduced, with mushrooms and more truffles and quenelles of veal tongue and chicken.

Fifth course: saddle of lamb with spring vegetables and parsley potatoes. Not that the Edwardians really thought of vegetables as proper food.

Sixth course: pressed Rouen ducklings. This was the bit where even Daddy Alex went a bit cross-eyed. Four duckling were individually hand strangled especially for them in France. Once roasted, they were placed into a solid silver duck press so that they could be crushed before their – and our! – eyes. "Ooh, it's a duckling smoothie," said Sue. What was left of their insides was then scraped out, stuck in the liquidiser, liquidised, brought back and boilded up in a silver dish with the blood that had been squeezed out and a dash of champagne (obviously) in order to produce a sauce for the meat. "Mmmm, slightly bummy duck's blood," said Sue.

Seventh course: asparagus hollandaise, just a little something to clear the palate. Or in Sue's case, to get caught immovably between the teeth. The Edwardians apparently loved this but it's supposed to be a bit bad for the gout.

Eighth course: Peach Melba, served in a hand-carved ice-swan that was bigger than ME!. This dessert is of course named after the famous opera singer: Dame Placido Flamingo.

Ninth course: Canapés à la Diane, which looked like yet more truffles on toast.

Tenth course: call for ambulance!

The week finished with a return visit to Doctor Pennyfarthing, whose tests of Mr Giles revealed that he had increased his body fat by 10%, increased his cholesterol by 15% and increased the gout-causing urea in his blood by a third! And he was now clinically dead.

The Edwardians, you see, had a life expectancy of 42. Yes, 42. Oddly enough, something about eating the equivalent of an entire family of hippopotami every week might have had some deleterious effect on their health. Either that or they just EXPLODED.

So presumably they didn't live long enough to learn that all that bacon was good for the latest health scare very bad for you.

Sadly, this whole way of life was killed off by World War part one and an invasion of American BREAKFAST CEREALS.

Anyway, even before the ICKY SQUISHED duck, Daddy Alex had started to realise that something was MISSING from all this Edwardian excess. And then it dawned on him: the missing ingredient – CHOCOLATE.

Stuff that for a game of soldiers, then, he said. The Edwardian diet is OFF!