The Land Down Under

Australians seem unable to throw off the shackles of their national stereotype (sorry, cheap pun), if the latest advertising campaign designed to tempt tourists Down Under is anything to go by.

Prepared at a cost of $150Million it has come under fire for it’s tag line of ‘So where the bloody hell are you?’   A variety of Aussie landscapes are used to good effect, along with characters from grizzled farmers to athletic swimmers and a sun tanned woman leading a line of camels across a beach who says:

“We’ve poured you a beer and we’ve had the camels shampooed, we’ve saved you a spot on the beach. We’ve even got the sharks out of the pool”.

Tourism Australia advert

Finally a bikini clad blonde emerges from the surf and says:

“So where the bloody hell are you?”

The truth is, despite the controversy, Australia remains delightfully true to these stereotypes and, whilst frequently the butt of jokes about a lack of ‘culture’, retains an identity all its’ own.   This, along with a passion for everything sporting, is endemic in a culture that amongst the multi flavoured milkshake that passes for the much of the rest of humanity represents a refreshing change.

So, given that there is no such thing as bad publicity, you may well regard particular campaign as a resounding success already…..

The Youngest Keeper

Last months BASC magazine covered the story of Britains youngest keeper.   Today it is picked up in the Torygraph….

At an age when most 12-year-olds are nagging to be allowed on their computer games, Robert Mandry is itching to get his homework finished in time to check on his pheasants, set his traps and get in a bit of conservation work before it gets dark.

PlayStation, Game Boy and X-Box hold no thrall for him. There is much to do outside, even though the next shooting season is still seven months away. Building on the success of four shoots this winter, Robert now has young birds to rear, vermin to keep at bay and new cover crops to grow.

He is Britain’s youngest gamekeeper. Looking after the shoot on his parents’ 190-acre arable and beef farm in Hampshire is not just a pastime, it is his passion.

The British Association For Shooting and Conservation, the biggest body representing sports shooting in the UK, said it knows of no one younger than Robert who could be classed as a gamekeeper. And it is full of admiration for his dedication and enterprise.

David Kenyon, BASC regional officer for Southern England, has participated in a shoot organised by Robert and said he was extremely impressed. “The depth of his knowledge is excellent. He ran the day,” he said.

Robert’s parents, Charles and Rosie Mandry, allowed Colin Parson, a local gamekeeper, to run a shoot on their land. When he retired last year at the age of 73, Robert was dismayed.

“I had been following him around since I was seven,” he said. “When he went I wanted to carry on.

“When I come home from school I cannot wait to get outside. I don’t mind computer games but I much prefer being a gamekeeper.”

His mother said: “It is the most important thing to him. He lives and breathes gamekeeping.”

Robert spends two hours on gamekeeping each evening and most of his weekends, assisted by his under-keeper, his 10-year-old brother Tom.

His family farm, near Basingstoke, offers about 25 acres of woodland and cover.

Since taking over, he has negotiated with his father to increase cover crops, organised guest and paying guns and recruited and supervised the beaters.

His father holds a shotgun licence and Robert is able to shoot under supervision.

Last year he incubated, reared and released 60 of his own birds as well as buying in 100 poults.

“I plan to hold about four to five shoots next season. I love every minute of it,” he said.

Heartening stuff indeed.. now, I wonder if there is any chance of our two nippers taking an interest…..

Good telly

I am prompted to write this post having read Mr FM’s column this morning.   He asserts that the best TV cop show of all time is The Sweeney.

I could not agree more.   I purchased the DVD collection as my own Xmas present last year (it’s a practice that winds up Shivs as I usually buy something she has already wrapped …. )

Anyway, it’s a cracker of a set, there’s a few good extras with co-stars of the original series and an early John Thaw sit-com as well as interviews with the creator a Mr TK Martin.   Great memories.

The Sweeney was written by Troy Kenneny Martin who penned the movies The Italian Job, Kelly’s Heroes and Bravo Two Zero and was also responsible for Z-Cars and one of the best thrillers of all time, Edge of Darkness.   If you haven’t seen this, it’s another must as it really set the standard from the mid ’80’s for quality drama.   Featuring Bob Peck, Joanne Whalley, Jack Watson and Joe Don Baker.  “The mysterious death of Bob Peck’s activist daughter, leads her straight-laced father, an Inspector of the local police force, through a haunting revelation of the murkiness of the British Nuclear Policy of the eighties.”   Well written, well played edge of the seat stuff.

John Simm as Sam Tyler and Philip Glenister as Gene

Which brings us up to date with a current and unlikely hit cop show, Life of Mars.   Inspector Sam Tyler has a car accident in 2005 and wakes up in 1973.   He wants to go home, but can’t figure out how.   Cue the odd Sweeney style car chase, lot’s of gratuitous punch up’s and a boss with an attitude straight from Jack Regan.  Philip Glenister plays DI Gene Hunt to perfection.   The last episode is next Monday at 9.00.  Don’t miss it.

A good days skiing…

On the basis that a bad days skiing is always better than a good days working, our experience on Saturday was a bit of a result.

Staying in Geneva – just an hour from Les Gets in the French Alps – we checked the webcam first thing.   This was not promising as after heavy snowfall on Friday looked as if it was still ongoing….

Nevertheless, Ash and I were determined to put a few turns in so off we went.   Forewarned that there can be queues to get into the village on Saturday, which is changeover day, we were prepared for a longer journey.   So, two hours after leaving we pulled up to the ‘complet’ sign at the car park.   Brimming with confidence we waited 5 minutes before the barrier went up and in we went.

Ski’s on and passes purchased we were in the TeleCabine in 10 minutes and on the piste 10 minutes later.   And what fabulous snow.   The rainfall earlier in the week had been followed by several feet of fluffy ego snow – even a muppet can ski like a god.

And we did.    Ash skiied really well, easily keeping up with me and not complaining once about tiredness.   We stopped twice, for lunch and  hot chocolate and only stopped when the light began to fail at the end of the day as the evenings heavy snow clouds began to roll in.

So, my first experiences of skiing in Europe were an unqualified success – no lift queues, no pushing and shoving, cheap ski passes, great snow, good lifts and great pistes.

Can’t wait until we go to Whistler at Easter…..

Asbo – the most in one family

In February, Peter and Brian Glover, teenage brothers from Leicester, were thrown out of their home and issued with Asbos after neighbours claimed that the pair shouted abuse, associated with troublemakers, and played with fireworks.

The boys, aged 17 and 14, became the first children to be named and shamed, but mother Claire could hardly have criticised them, since, unable or unwilling to control them, she made it an anti-social hat-trick for the city’s answer to the Waltons. The Glovers are just one of several families that have multiple orders against their name.

The Hunting Ban – NuLabour admits failure

In a remarkable story in the Torygraph today Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall and Chairman of the Countryside Alliance, admitted that the ban on Hunting was not working.    She said that more people are going hunting and more foxes are being killed than ever before, as the imposition of the ban has appealed to the ‘British rebellious streak’.   She adds that ‘people are getting fed up being told how to run their lives’.

In her view, government could not have devised a more ridiculous law is as it contains so many inconsistencies and it should be repealed.   This is not just because the people who hunt want it repealed, but because the police say it is not working.

A cabinet minister admitted the ban had been a ‘complete waste of time’ and that it was ‘the labour party talking to itself rather than listening to the voters’.

All of which is music to our ears…and it doesn’t just extend to hunting!

On holidays

Sitting in the Study at our friends home here in Geneva, looking out over Lac Leman (or Lake Geneva to the rest of us) I am reminded of the saying that ‘a change is as good as a rest’.

Sure I spent yesterday on the couch with a wobbly tummy, followed by 12 hours honest shut eye – and perhaps that is part of the key to my bonhomie today.   I’ve even done a load of mail on the Crackberry, but I’m relaxed and looking forward to heading out towards Les Gets, Mageve or Chamonix to recce the skiing for this afternoon or tomorrow.

The early morning heavy cloud has cleared somewhat and there are patches of blue up there bathing the far banks of the lake in sunlight.   Up on the slopes the webcam still shows snow, but we all know that snowing now, means powder later.   Which reminds me of another quote, this time from Warren Miller the famous skiing photographer..

“I did two great turns today, one before lunch … and one after lunch”

If you are a skiier, you’ll know what he meant.   I’ll let you all know how we get on.

Change for Good?

Whichever way you look at it, this has been quite a week for substantial changes that will affect all of us in England.    A triumvirate of issues with such far reaching significance one has to wonder what is next.

ID cards.   First the dreaded cards, planned and proposed by NuLabour on a manifesto promise to make us safer.    Not originally intended to be compulsory, they will be now, when you renew your passport….. ultimately we can be assured they will be mandatory.   Personally, having lived in Hong Kong, pre and post ’97 for so long, I’m not just used to the card, I found it invaluable.   Whether picking up recorded mail or entering and leaving the territory, they simply made life easier – and I’m cynical enough to think that if the powers that be want to have a file on you, they won’t need ID cards as a tool.   The problem I see is that the bad guys will just get round the system, while the good people simply pay up and shut up, yet again.   So, their effectiveness is questionable while the real costs remains elusive.

Smoking.   Now here’s an issue  that  I fear will be as hard to enforce as  that  pariah of  legislation, The Hunting Act.   A total ban on smoking in public places will come into force in mid 2007.   Similarly to the ID card, this goes far beyond the governments pre-election manifesto threat.   Personally, as a typical former smoker, I am fervently against and really wish all my mates would pack it in.   However, as with Mr FM, I am strongly opposed to people being dictated to in this way.   Yes, yes, they will all die earlier and I’ll end up picking up some of the tab via my exhorbitant taxes, but that’s a choice I’d prefer to make and allow them to have.    Of course the real issue is the relentless erosion of freedom of choice.    Remember, from mid ’07 you won’t be able to smoke in your own private club.    What next?    Your home?

Chip and Pin.    If the first two changes didn’t get you, then this last one surely will.    From today retailers may refuse to accept your card without the use of ‘chip and pin’ when shopping.    Once again, I’ve been a fan for years with the EPS system in Hong Kong (Switch here) simply due to convenience and I think it is a wonderful idea that most people, over time, would adopt.   But making it compulsory is simply wrong:  why not let the consumer decide and let weight of opinion drive welcome change, rather than imposition by government?

If you were in any doubt about this governments relentless desire to control our lives at every turn, surely you need no more proof?

Maybe this is just our generations Waterloo(s) and others had theirs and we are all over reacting.   Or maybe it is simply society making good progress and, if done for the right reasons, that’s probably right.

Problem is, I don’t think so.

Skiing in Switzerland

Amidst the mayhem and crisis management that has passed for the last week or so in the office, I am looking forward to spending the rest of the week, en-famille with the Swiss Miss and her lot in Geneva.

A bit of light retail therapy, some decent ‘perche du lac’ and 2 or 3 days skiing are just what we need.

Will put in a few turns for you all.

Pollution takes it’s toll

In the twenty or so years we lived in Hong Kong, whether it be on the Island, or out in the comparatively clean Sai Kung, the air quality deteriorated.    I recall walking up Ma On Shan with a neighbour, the mountain being so high you are able to rise above the pollution which you can then see as an orange brown haze settled across the territory.

Singapore Tim sent me this article from the South China Morning Post – it seems things continue to deteriorate….

“Twently-two people were sent to hospital yesterday, two remaining in critical conditions last night, after taking part in Hong Kong’s biggest marathon amid the worst air pollution since September.

Many of the record 40,000 runners complained the “choking” air affected their performance in the 10th annual Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, half-marathon and 10km events.

One competitor, surnamed Chu, 33, is in a critical condition in Ruttonjee Hospital after collapsing near the finish in Wan Chai. Chu stopped breathing and was resuscitated at the scene before being taken to hospital.

The second runner in critical condition collapsed in Tsing Yi. The man, surnamed Tsang, 53, is in Princess Margaret Hospital.

The air pollution index reached a “very high” 149 in Causeway Bay, 147 in Central and 134 in Mongkok yesterday morning.

Gerry Kipling, who ran the half-marathon, said: “These are the worst conditions I have ever seen.”


Clear the Air chairwoman Annelise Connell said last night: “The air pollution levels were so high … there should have been a warning … to assist the runners to decide if they should risk their health.”

The Observatory said the poor air quality was due to insufficient ventilation in the city, which was surrounded by accumulated pollutants coming from the Pearl River Delta.

But breezes improved conditions in the afternoon, the observatory said, and the air quality would further improve when a northeast monsoon arrived later this week.

The Auxiliary Medical Service said there were 4,825 cases of cramp, nearly double last year’s number. About one in eight runners was affected.

A spokesman for the marathon organiser said it had reminded runners to undertake sufficient training and to warm up before the race.

Hong Kong Medical Association president Choi Kin said: “When people suddenly perform exercise that aims to test their limits, their bodies may not be able to cope.”