Thursday, January 08, 2004

Apartheid – alive and well and living in the non-united, United Kingdom.

Alfie’s latest wizard wheeze appears to have been scuppered by a judicious body swerve from those tartan meanies, north of the border.

Skint Alfie, sucked dry by Chancellor Gordon Brown’s severe internal examination of his wallet, thought he had managed to solve the tricky problem of getting his other 3 kids through Uni’ without having to pay for the criminal ‘Top up fee filch’.

Na├»ve, trusting, skint, John Prescott-worshipping Alfie muses…
"I’ll send them to a Scottish Uni. After all, my centrally collected taxes help to pay for Education for the whole of the UK. Top up fees just apply to England – so to avoid them, I'll send them to Scotland … because I expect Education opportunities to be available UK wide - for citizens of the UK".

Apparently not if this article written by Jason Allardyce from Scotland on Sunday is to be believed. (reproduced in full)

If you've got the time. read it in full - it will surely depress you


ENGLISH students will be charged up to £9,000 more than Scottish undergraduates to study north of the Border under controversial plans drawn up by university chiefs.

Universities Scotland, which represents the country’s higher education sector, says the move is essential to stop universities being swamped by English students trying to escape top-up fees.

The plan - which has been condemned as anti-English and an educational Hadrian’s Wall - would be implemented if Tony Blair won his battle to let universities south of the Border charge up to £3,000 a year in fees.

The proposed Scottish charge on English undergraduates would be applied across the four-year degree course, equalling the top-up fees paid south of the Border over three years.

Scottish educationalists are worried that the introduction of top-up fees in England will spark an exodus north among students looking for a cheaper education, potentially depriving Scots of a university place in their own country.

There are already around 20,000 students from other parts of the UK among the 200,000 who study at Scottish universities.

Universities Scotland has submitted its plan to a Holyrood inquiry into the impact of English top-up fees on Scotland.

Although English students in Scotland would face a financial penalty, those from elsewhere in the European Union would be exempt from the charges.

This is because under European law it is permissible to discriminate against citizens within a member state like the United Kingdom, but not against those from other EU members.

If the funding plan is approved by the Scottish Executive and the level of English students remains broadly as it is now the change could raise around £45m a year for Scottish institutions.

That could help pay for better wages and facilities for the brightest university staff and limit the brain drain to better funded English institutions.

David Caldwell, the director of Universities Scotland, said it was important that Scotland should continue to be perceived as an attractive destination by students from outside its own borders.

But he said it was crucial that Scottish students were not displaced. He said: "There is a broad agreement among principals in Scotland that we want to continue to encourage students to come from every part of the UK, but not at the expense of reducing opportunities for those who live in Scotland.

"We want to attract students from elsewhere but we don’t want them to come to Scotland just because it is cheaper. If they come to Scotland they should pay the same sort of fee they would expect if they were studying in England."

It is understood that an alternative option of capping numbers from England or a quota system to protect Scottish student levels has been ruled out.

Universities Scotland, which is funded by the 21 Scottish universities and colleges of higher education, concedes that charging English students more could lead to a "perverse incentive" where some Scottish institutions increasingly target English students in order to boost their revenue.

Scottish principals are concerned that unless they benefit from similar revenues to their English counterparts they could lose some of their brightest staff who head south for better pay and facilities.

The universities want the Executive to award them over £100m to help close the funding gap they say has opened up between the centres of learning north and south of the Border.

The latest intervention will place added pressure on Jack McConnell to do so.

Last night students and politicians warned against the universities’ proposal which they feared would be perceived as anti-English.

Rami Okashi, the Scottish president of the National Union of Students which opposes top-up fees in any part of the UK, warned that the latest plan could stoke up English resentment against the Scots.

He said: "There is some resentment in England that Scottish people get it so good and that would be emphasised if English people coming to Scotland were charged for being English."

Fiona Hyslop, the shadow enterprise minister, also criticised the idea, saying: "I don’t think their proposed solution is the answer: it’s short term and the wrong reaction."

She said top-up fees in England would not encourage many more English students to head north over the longer term, arguing that a funding gap would lead many to regard English institutions as more attractive places to study.

She also said Scottish universities had a responsibility to treat Scottish students fairly amid concerns that they currently value English qualifications higher than Scottish equivalents.

Murdo Fraser, the Tory lifelong learning spokesman, added: "It’s another example of the Hadrian’s Wall that might be erected. It seems a very perverse situation to penalise English students wishing to come to Scotland on account of an English law forced through by Scottish Labour.

"This sort of reaction shows the mess that further education is getting into all because Tony Blair with Scottish MPs as lobby fodder are hellbent on driving through top up fees for England."

A spokesman for the Executive indicated that it would resist the Universities Scotland idea, saying it has no plans to introduce top-up fees at Scottish universities. The Executive’s approval is required before Universities Scotland can go ahead with the fees.

But the Executive spokesman added that its ongoing higher education review was looking at the potential implications for Scotland of top-up fees in England.

He said: "One group in this review is examining cross-Border flow of students. It would be premature to comment further before the report and evidence from the review goes to ministers in February."

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

A straw-clutching of postings...

Another day, another opportunity to cruise through some of my Christmas books. This one (again bought by Alfreda) is ‘Shite’s Unoriginal Miscellany’ by A.Parody (Ho, ho - geddit!). It's a sort of bargain basement version of the bestseller, 'Schott's Original Miscellany' by Ben Schott

Now I know what you’re thinking … another toilet book for Alfie’s throne room. No, definitely not. This fine volume will be filed under ‘PAP’ (or should that be 'shite'?) in the library – alongside ‘Dale Winton, the sexy stud muffin’ by ‘Hale Minton’, ‘Good Manners Matter’ by Liam Gallagher and the unabridged version of ‘101 Interesting Bridges’ by Scotsman, Ian Girder. (Note and big hint to Alfreda - why did you not get all my pre Christmas hints and prompts and buy me Terry Jones' excellent book - Who murdered Chaucer?)

Anyway, whilst thumbing through a bit of ‘Shite', I came across a couple of interesting pages. ….Let me rephrase that - whilst thumbing through this book, I happened across an interesting couple of pages on collective nouns. I used to love reciting these, indeed back in the black and white days of my education, we used to have weekly tests on them.

Back to ‘Shite’s’ – yes, some of my favourites are in there …. ‘A crash of Rhinoceros’ …. ‘A bloat of Hippopotamuses’ and ‘A pandemonium of Parrots’.

They also have a page on contemporary collectives, for example… ‘An attitude of teenagers’ …. ‘A smarm of sycophants’ and ‘A crash of computers ….. Inspired by these tame efforts, I’ve done a few more…..

Alfie’s collective noun collection


A leech of Royalty

A googly of Spin Doctors

An invertebrate of Politicians

A chaff of Weapons Experts

An absence of WMDs

A flock of Labour MPs

A celt of Party Leaders


A plod of Policemen

A quiff of Hairdressers

A fucking useless pile of Estate Agents

A brilliance of graphic designers (obviously)

A luvee of Actors


A jammyness of Lottery Winners

A quaff of beer drinkers

A nandralone of Athletes

A team of footballers (thought long and hard about this one)

A blag of Bloggers

An omnipotence of Victoria Beckham

And finally… a knackeredness of brainwaves.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Fork in the road…….

I’ve been navel gazing recently. I’ve found a few bits and pieces down there amongst the fluffy detritus of belly-buttondom. Looking for old spanners and fondue sets isn’t the main reason for my contemplative melancholia. The introspection imp usually sits on my shoulder every New Year, but it just seems to be a lot more ‘weighty’ this time. So I’ve been wondering, should I go in a new direction – in life – in blogworld – incommunicado - in women’s clothing?

The reason for my disquiet? Channel 4 programmes over Christmas. ‘Relocation, Relocation’ – ‘No turning back’ – ‘Escape to the country’ to name but a few.

I think ‘No turning back’ had a bigger impact than all the others did though. This concentrates on young British couples who sell up and move to a new life in a new Country – usually France, Italy or Spain. This family flogged their poky semi in Welwyn Garden City and headed for Brittany and 30 wooded acres of le God’s own le country – along with a massive carp lake thrown in.

He was a jobbing builder, she did beauty treatment, they had 2 teenage kids and another on the way…. After a sterling amount of work from the builder geezer, he and his family had a really great house, they then shoved 40 grand’s worth of fish into the lake – hey presto! A thriving carp fishing business is born - and enough land potential to get a viable camping holiday business going.

What they had achieved was frontier stuff – and all from the proceeds of the sale of their cruddy semi. The point is – you just couldn’t do that in this Country. How much would a British 30-acre country lake estate with bloody big ancient farmhouse, huge barn and myriad out buildings cost? I doubt you could buy it for a whole street of semis’ – never mind one.

Living the dream costs just too much over here, the only way is if you are willing to go native in France or Spain or wherever…… The land that these people bought was not scrubland, or poor agricultural land, it was prime, mature deciduous woodland – in Brittany.

So, should I start out and live the dream? And if I don’t is there something wrong with me? I’ve said it often enough "I bloody hate this Country" – or rather, thanks to the facile body we call a Government, I hate what it’s become. It’s obvious lots of other people feel the same, a veritable stampede is underway to go east towards the continent and a whole new life.

It’s my second day back and I can only think of Tuscany, Brittany and The Carmargue …. Not web sites, brochures and marketing initiatives.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Steve Irwin – crocodile fears….

What is it with Aussie crocodile worrier Steve Irwin? He takes his 1 month old son with him to feed one of his well pissed off salt water crocs. This thing was massive – and mean ….. There’s old Steve in his mega tight micro short khaki kecks holding a dead chicken in one hand and his young son, Bob in the other. Ever been in the kitchen standing over a gaping swing bin? You’ve got a choccy biscuit in one hand and the freshly peeled silver foil wrapping in the other. You open the bin to accept the discarded packaging - and chuck the biscuit in by mistake……

But to be honest, it’s the crocs and snakes I feel sorry for. I mean, it’s bad enough having one Irwin tormenting reptiles, let alone two.

"Strewth! Bonza Bob, just look at this reptilian bewt."

"Can I poke him dad, can I, can I poke the croc?"

"Sure, Bonza Bob. Let’s dig out our special mahogany/teak mix prodding sticks and give this croc’ a bit of a poke"… Prod, prod, prod, prod "Ohh uur, looks like old lizard breath is getting a bit pissed. Let’s prod him a bit more and see what happens. Crikey, just look at the size of those incisors, They’re each as big as an excited wombat’s willie. While his mouth is open, let’s give his gums a double poke special"... Blimey Bob, with two Irwins poking, prodding and tormenting, it’s double the fun"…..

Best quote of the weekend….

Goes to barmy geordie darts commentator Sid Waddel. He was commenting on the two heavily perspiring PDC World darts finalists, Kevin ’the artist’ Painter and Phil ’the power’ Taylor. How does Sid sum up the sweaty struggle between these two heavyweights? Easy, he says "And these two players are sweating like a couple of stevedores in a sauna"

I couldn't possibly dispute that.

First day back blues.....

It's the first day back after the Christmas break and I am having real trouble thinking. I am having real trouble remembering. I am having real trouble getting enthusiastic about anything....

I need a holiday.