Thursday, December 23, 2010

What we can learn from Charles 'Moore'. Or: What a #?$%.

I'm a secondary school maths teacher.  I'm also trying my damnedest to become a children's writer.  So you can imagine how pleased I was when this extract from a television review (yes, a television review) was brought to my attention:
"Take our current obsession with paedophilia. The fact is that a significant number of good teachers have paedophilic tendencies.  If they commit no wrong acts, this should not be seen as a problem.  Their urges towards children, if they control them, may make them more interested in their pupils' welfare than the rest of us would be.  If we want the best for our children we should not be intolerant of the Gladstone equivalents – those who sublimate their dangerous desires to good effect."
Good thing then that I'm in the middle of the second attempt at my third CRB check in 2010.  It's the second attempt because the first one, completed on paper, wasn't sent off before my organisation changed providers and now it has to be completed online, from scratch.

The first two CRB checks of 2010 are irrelevant to my current job because anything the CRB says only counts for the organisation they're saying it to.  So I'll soon be deemed safe to work for three separate organisations, but if I wanted to supervise children during a local theatre group's pantomime rehearsals, I wouldn't be allowed to.  Unless the group were willing to pay £36 to have me checked yet again.

But that doesn't bother me any more, because Charles Moore has opened my eyes.  I now know the truth.  I now understand that this lumbering, archaic, arse-backwards system is necessary, because I'm actually a paedophile desperately resisting the urge to molest those under my charge.  It all makes sense now.

Well, he must be right, mustn't he?  Because, after all, this is a man who "covers politics with the wisdom and insight that come from having edited The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator".  Or, as my friend James put it:

Mind you, this is also a man who thinks Gove understands education.  This Charles Moore chap isn't exactly blessed with a logical understanding of cause, reason and effect.  As shown by his belief that just because someone gives something to you, it must be something worth having:
"It has often been said – by Winston Churchill and T S Eliot among others – that the King James Bible is the greatest work in the English language, and it is true. Guests who appear on Desert Island Discs automatically get the Bible and Shakespeare to go with them."
Q.E.D.  Of course, it goes without saying that an education without the Bible isn't an education at all.  Presumably.

Before you all reach for your email to complain to the Press Complaints Commission, however, do remember that you're unlikely to get anywhere.  Because the PCC now openly admit that while prejudice against an individual should result in an apology, there is no rule of conduct about being prejudiced against a whole group of individuals.

Charles Moore article via @mxfwrites and @SchoolDuggery

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Aid convoy taken hostage by ship owner in row over payments #GazaConvoyHostages

This morning this Facebook Note was brought to my attention.  AidConvoy was leading the Road To Hope Convoy, and it is a charity in which my friend Kieran Turner is heavily involved.  Sadly, he was leading this convoy and was one of those taken hostage.  We're all very concerned for his safety.

A few days ago Aid Convoy were appealing for extra funds as they had to change their route to Gaza and go by sea rather than overland through Egypt.  What seems to have happened now is that the Greek ship owner had an argument with an Egyptian broker over the deal to use the ship, and decided to pull out of harbour without unmooring from the dock first (causing significant damage to the dock), with a convoy vehicle in the rear ship doorway, preventing the doorway from being closed.  Obviously without the hull sealed properly, this makes any sea journey incredibly dangerous.

What's been astonishing to me is how slow the traditional media are to react, even online, to such a dramatic event.  It could have all been over by the time the BBC got in on the act (unfortunately, it isn't) and reported on News 24 just before 3pm - around 15 hours after the original press release.  And it was not only the BBC who have been slow to react.  Could the national news organisations not manage a headline to say something was happening with a short paragraph of limited information?

It wasn't as if the information was unreliable.  There was a press relief by Aid Convoy themselves before midnight and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were publicly acknowledging that they were talking to Libyan authorities by the time the first report appeared in a local newspaper.

The first large news site to report was the Daily Record in Scotland, followed by CNN, and only a short while ago the Independent.  If you'd like to follow this, I'm sure people will continue to post updates under the Twitter hashtag #GazaConvoyHostages, and we'd all love you dearly if you kept Kieran and his colleagues in your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Strange And, Quite Frankly, Pervy World Of 1960s Sci-Fi

Yesterday I made the 13 hour odyssey by bus from Inverness back to London, and this little baby kept me entertained the whole way home.

Apart from when I was talking to the Polish guy next to me who apparently got as far as the boot camp on the X Factor.  Really nice chap.  We had a bit of a 1980s medley singalong as our brains started to crack on the final approach to London, and I'm eating the last piece of his carrot cake as I type this.

[Fun fact: when he worked in the Wetherspoon pub next to Windsor Castle, and a plane flew overhead, an American customer once asked, "Why did they build the castle right under the flight path of the airport?"]

He thinks he's probably going to be on telly this Saturday.  Keep an eye out for the Eastern European who looks a bit like a young Vladimir Putin

And, of course, we spent much time gossiping about the incredibly rude driver who kept shouting at people every time they didn't do what he hadn't told them to.

Back to the book, though, which I bought in Leakey's Second Hand Bookshop (& Café), an Inverness attraction recommended to me by both my friend Simon Varwell, and the couple who run St Ann's House B&B (which I really can't recommend highly enough - they are bendoverbackwardly welcoming and helpful).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Beginner's Guide To Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes With Dodgy Statistics

by Julie Embargo, writing for the Grandian about the male-it crunch

Step 1: Start with a dramatic anecdote to reinforce your point before you've even made it.  Anecdotes are important because numbers are essentially meaningless, and a single real life example of someone you once met can prove anything you want it to.

People who've lost a leg make the best anecdotes (try volunteering down the local hospice and making friends with a few cripples) but if all else fails make sure you keep your most melodramatic acquaintances on speed dial.

In today's article, I've used a "considered suicide".  It's used a lot, I know, but it's more "trusty old friend" than "tired and worn out".  With this one example of a man thinking about killing himself after losing his job, I've already proven that men have been hit much harder than the recession than women.  From this point on, it doesn't really matter what I put in the rest of the article, but I have to use a certain number of words, so onwards and upwards!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Bang! And The Moustache Is Gone

Thanks to all the people who donated to the Hoja Project over the course of this little obsession.  It's raised £312.76 in total.

On Tuesday I finally stood up on stage, on my own, in a room full of strangers, and tried to be funny. With moderate success, I think. I'm sure there are lots of things I could improve on, but given what a state I was in for two days running up to the gig, I'm not entirely convinced I'd put myself through it again.

Having said that, I'm a perfectionist, and I'm not sure I could leave myself at a status of merely adequate without trying to improve on it.

I'm a bit too explainy at times and I say "You know" and "Er" a bit too often, but I'm fairly pleased with the outcome. I didn't die on stage and it sounded like I was getting more laughs at the time than you can hear in the video.  Maybe because it seems much longer when watching it back so the laughs are more noticeably spread out.

I'm particularly pleased that I didn't feel to pressured and nervous during the actual performance, despite the random draw for order of performances, which left me as the last act out of twenty (yes, TWENTY) on the night.  It also gave me the opportunity to watch the atmosphere and rewrite my routine several times over in my head, and also refer back to jokes other people had made (one woman said her Maths teacher had been a pervert, which will help explain the first 10 seconds of my act).

The video, by the way, will be available to watch for a week only before I make it private. If you're lucky it may be up slightly longer than that but I'm offering no guarantee.

Those who want to donate, or even become regular donors (which we'd really really appreciate), you can find out how on the Hoja Project Website.

Friday, July 09, 2010

What Do You Reckon? David Cameron Would Like To Know

Well, I suppose it had to happen eventually.  Government by uninformed public forum.  The coalition would like the views of the ordinary man on the street on how to save money, because apparently the opinions of their qualified economic expert advisers aren't enough.

And how are they going to implement this?  Well, Facebook, of course.  Because you're opinion matters, but only if you are registered with a social networking site with questionable ethics and unrealistic farming simulations.  Rather than designing a website that is actually designed for the purpose.  Or, God forbid, actively seeking out members of the public with whom to engage.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

£10 in 2.5 hours?

Right.  You have til 9pm tonight to make me keep the moustache a little bit longer and perform stand-up comedy with it still fixed to my face.  The donation page has yet to reach £5,060...


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Correlation, causation, and the most offensive article I've ever seen in The Guardian

On the way home today I picked up the copy of the Guardian that was left behind by the person sat next to me.

Now, normally I'd be proud to admit to being the sort of lily-livered lefty who reads the Guardian, but then I wouldn't be banking on page 13.

The Guardian is the home of Bad Science, an excellent column by Ben Goldacre.  Yet page 13 contains an article that is a textbook example of bad science.  I'd also suggest that in the headline - Countries' high rates of disease linked to lower IQs, claim scientists - that the editor should could arguably have insisted on putting the word "scientists" in inverted commas and preceding it with the word "racist".

It starts innocently, albeit banally, enough with a no-shit-Sherlock opening gambit:
People who live in countries where disease is rife may have lower IQs because they have to divert energy away from brain development to fight infections, scientists in the US claim.
Well, yes, quite.  It should be no surprise that small children who are ill or suffering from malnutrition do not have the same resources to devote to brain development.  But this is hardly news.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Boy Who Made My Day (Or, What Happened To The Other Half Of The Train?)

"£1.29 please."

"£1.29 for a cheap plastic biro?"


"I think I just won't bother doing my marking on the way home, then."

I don't think I would have been able to do my marking on the way home anyway.  It was rush hour by the time I got to East Croydon Station today and the trains were all full and slightly delayed.

I boarded the second train that stopped and walked through three carriages before finding a seat, in the middle of a three, next to a nine or ten year old Asian boy, who sat opposite his mother.

The boy grinned at me, and greeted me enthusiastically.  I grinned back at him, and turned my headphones down a little in case any noise was leaking out.

A pretty girl with a flower in her hair sat down opposite me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Moustache-Based Target

Okay, I've been mulling this over.  Dressing up at the weekend was quite enjoyable.  It was amongst friends.  They all understood and knew what I was doing.

However, deciding to show the video to my Sixth Form class today was less enjoyable.  They don't know what I'm really like, and I think I confused and slightly scared them, and embarrassed myself quite a lot.  It was excruciating...

...but important.

If I'm asking people to donate money to the Hoja Project, then I think it's necessary for me to look as stupid and awkward as possible.

Which is why my new target is:

If the Hoja donation page reaches £5,250 before the moustache is shaved off (no earlier than 3rd July) then I'll do a stand up routine dressed as I am in the video.   

If you donate you may make a suggestion about the routine.  I won't guarantee I'll go with it, but I'll go with as many as possible.  You've got a better chance if you keep it clean but unusual (as part of the deal I may well deliberately video this and then show it to my pupils on purpose).

This target may be flexible, and I may break it down into mini-targets approaching the £5,250, each more embarrassing than the last.

So it's likely that, say, £5,100 will get you a stand-up routine with me dressed normally.  £5,150 will get you something a little bit more foolish, and so on.  As suggestions are made I'll make clear pledges on this.

And here's that video again for those who can't be bothered to click the links above:

PS. I've never ever done any stand up before. Standing on my own on stage terrifies me, especially if I'm not well prepared. Which I almost certainly won't be.

PPS. Do pass this on to your friends and get them to donate too.  I'll make sure I advertise where the stand-up is going to be so you can see it live if you are able.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mr Hatchard's Magnificent Moustache (At The Joinee Olympics)


I'm still mulling over what possible targets I could set for 3rd July.  I don't think I'll keep it any longer than that, but I would like to raise a little bit more by making a fool of myself in public.

Further donations at please and thank you, and you can find out how to become a regular supporter at

Here's what my Year 9s thought of the moustache when I gave them scraps of paper to write their comments on last week (some are pictorial so I had to scan them in):

"It looks awesome but it needs to be bigger and dyed green. and you need a beard!"



"Greatly situated on your face.  Better than that scruffy look."

"looks like one of the three Muskateers"

"Looks OK, like to see it kept"


"Your moustache is as incredible Edmund Blackadder moustache and as funny as Mr Bean and gifted as Rowan Atkinson"

"Makes him look old fashioned, all he needs is a bowler hat."


"I can't actually see it when I look at you from the back of the room."

"Should be more bushy and called bob, or a better name like bob Jr."


"I think it would look good if you curled the sides or do a Poirot Moustache.  At the moment, it looks a bit dodgy."

"Unusual and old-fashioned"

"No comment."

"It makes him look like a Pirate. :) Its cool though."

"He looks even cooler than normal."

"What a swagger moustache! but you need a beard as well"

"It would be better if it was curled"

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Premier League Predictions Thingy - Final Standings

The Premier League finished some time ago, and I did promise there will be a prize for this.

And here are the final scores:

Sean: 33pts
Katie: 42pts
Phil C: 43pts
Martin: 46pts
Hysen: 47pts
Anthony/Abad: 48pts

and, er...

Me: 60pts

Which would make Sean the winner.  If he'd paid his subs.  So Katie wins!  Hooray!  I shall have to arrange a prize.  I'm still yet to do this.

Here's the full spreadsheet

Sunday, June 06, 2010

£12.76 By 9pm Tonight Or The Moustache Gets It...

This week I have been in a play.  We have been hamming up some rather splendidly silly radio plays once performed in all seriousness in the 1940s.

Entering into the spirit of the period, I took this opportunity to regrow my beard and then strategically shave it into a magnificent moustache.  Only, it doesn't look so magnificent when I'm in my normal clothes, spectacles and unstyled hair.  In fact, it looks ridiculous.

Tomorrow, it's the end of the school holidays.  Those of you who know I'm a secondary school maths teacher by day will recognise the significance of this.  I teach teenagers.

So yesterday I tweeted this.  I suggested that if £50 was donated to the Hoja Project by 6pm today, I'd keep the moustache for work tomorrow.

That was probably a little ambitious, on a hot weekend.  Not that many normal people like to spend such a time at home looking at their computer screens.  So I'll do a little deal with you.

If you manage to get the total on the Hoja Donations Page up to £4,800 by 9pm, it'll stay on for tomorrow at least.  That's just £12.76 in a little over 5 hours.  Perfectly doable.  

A further £25 (a total of £4,825) by the same time on Monday evening, and it'll stay on for Tuesday as well. 

Wednesday's my day off, so I'll leave it for then too.  If it reaches £4,850 by 9pm on Wednesday it'll stay on until the end of the school week.

The Hoja Project is, of course, the charity I helped set up in my friend's village in Tanzania a few years ago.  We sponsor secondary school pupils who cannot afford their fees, we have a vocational training centre (VTC) that teaches carpentry, building and tailoring, and we offer microfinance loans to local people (particularly women) to help them set up small businesses and become financially independent.

If you're wondering why you should donate to a project that seems to have exceeded its fundraising target, then you should know that the target on the donation page is rather abitrary.  The page has been open for several years, and is simply the easiest way to donate online to us.  The more money raised, the more people the project can help.

Suggestions for extending targets to £4,900 and £5,000 are welcome.  I still have the Bryl Creem, by the way.  It's horrible stuff, but I'll pollute my hair with it if the money's right.

"Right.  You have your assignment.  Get going."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It's difficult to get angry about this General Election when it's so VERY funny

Before the General Election I had expected that once a Hung Parliament was in place, that politicians would suddenly become much more amenable to each others' opinions and beliefs, but in reality they have resorted to playground bickering.  I teach a class of eleven year olds who make less fuss about working next to people they don't like.

I saw Frank Dobson on the BBC complaining that the LibDems are not to be trusted, because, er, they just aren't, okay?  Liam Fox has been making very loud noises about how the public "didn't vote for electoral reform" when the campaign to get a Hung Parliament was largely centred around forcing electoral reform onto the agenda, and no, of course the electorate as a whole didn't vote specifically for electoral reform.  But then, they didn't vote exclusively for the economy either.  They voted their local MPs into Parliament.

There were a lot of comments yesterday about how Brown is unelected, as would be any Labour successor, as if we elect our Prime Ministers directly.  It's a beautiful irony that many of the people arguing passionately that electoral reform isn't important, are also the very same people complaining when the current Prime Minister follows the existing electoral system precisely as it is laid out.

A couple of days ago I was getting quite angry about how politicians were regressing to their tribal instincts and publicly making wild and offensive generalisations about each other.  Now, however, my anger has matured into endless amusement at the people we have chosen to run our country and at the feckless imbeciles taking it all seriously under the rolling 24-hour banner of "BREAKING NEWS".

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

How The #LibDems in #Islington Lost My Vote #IslingN

This is Rhodri Jamieson-Ball.  He's the LibDem PPC for Islington North in the General Election.  I wasn't going to vote for him anyway, but something he's been doing has helped lose my votes for his colleagues in the Local Elections.

I've already been a bit annoyed about the LibDems in Islington before.  I'm sure I've mentioned on here their chronic over-leafleting, and their screaming negative politics against the "can't win here" Conservatives and the "want to close the Whittington hospital" Labour candidates.

They never seem to have anything much positive to say about their own policies, apart from freezing council tax and giving young people priority for social housing.  Their campaign literature is a broken record, political noise that I simply began to filter out after their third or fourth contribution to my doormat.

Welcome To Big Society. Go Fuck Yourselves.

Just in case anyone was in any doubt that Big Society is a euphemism for closure of key public services and mass privatisation under the guise of "choice", there's a great article in the Independent about Fulham and Hammersmith Council, that "model of compassionate conservatism".  You can read the whole article here, but here's the bit that made me least angry, if only because it's so ridiculous:
"I walk the borough for days, trying to find what Cameron celebrates about this council – until, at the tip of the borough, I find a large grassy metaphor for Conservative priorities that seems so crude that I wonder whether it could have been secretly designed by the Socialist Workers Party cartoonist and plonked in my path. Hurlingham Park was a big vibrant patch of green where kids from the local estates could play, and run on one of the few professional running tracks in the country, in a setting so classically beautiful it was used in the film Chariots of Fire. But then the Conservatives were elected. They handed the park over to a large international polo consortium that has ripped out the running track and shut the park down for a month every year – so rich people can watch polo for hundreds of pounds a day."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, and Elections #ge2010

Lies about possible coalitions, lies about Hung Parliaments and the economy, lies about the need for reform, and lies about Nick Clegg.

I was a little bit confused this Monday morning.  I saw headlines about how Nick Clegg was likely to join the Tories in a coalition.  Then I read how he'd said this on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 on Sunday.

Now, I watched the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.  Nick Clegg said nothing of the sort.  He said that if Labour won the most seats in this year's election, but came third in the popular vote, then they should have no automatic right to have a crack at forming the next Government.

He said that the Tories, assuming they won the popular vote, should have first crack at the whip of attempting to form a Government.

He said he wouldn't rule out working with anyone, because the exact situation is uncertain and it would be foolish to say such a thing, but that the public would be unlikely to support Brown to remain.

He also repeatedly and patiently explained his very sensible regional work permits policy while Andrew Marr seemed to wilfully misunderstand him, like a belligerent pub local parroting half an argument he overheard someone else have just the other day that he didn't quite understand the first time.

Because of the unfair electoral system, there is no way the Lib Dems could get enough MPs to force through electoral reform entirely on their own steam.  They'd need the support of one of the other two parties - it's a bit of a Catch22.

And this graphic demonstrates perfectly why:

It's a screen shot of the BBC's Election Calculator.  I set all three parties to an equal share of the popular vote, to see what would happen.  Labour would only just miss out on an overall majority, with more than three times as many seats as the Lib Dems, with the Tories exactly half way in between the two.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Up The Creek Without A Mullet, by Simon Varwell

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading a book called Up The Creek Without A Mullet by a friend of mine called Simon Varwell.

I met Simon four years ago through the kindness collective Join Me.  He's a lovely chap with a fondness for bad puns, and his book is about his early attempts to visit every place in the world with the word "Mullet" in its name.

It all started when he was traveling with a friend in Eastern Europe and to pass the time they tried to spot as many mullet haircuts as possible in a single day.

He later found out there was a village in Albania called Mullet, and then started to take the game slightly too far.  When he had the opportunity to accompany our mutual friend Kieran back to Albania, he couldn't resist starting his challenge.

Admittedly I got an extra level enjoyment out of the book every time Simon mentioned someone I also know, so I'm a little biased, but it's a very well written and entertaining book that anyone can enjoy.

Somehow I managed to track down a decent copy of his appearance on New Zealand current affairs programme 'Close Up' in 2008, for your enjoyment.  It also explains the concept much better than I ever could with the written word.  This is my friend:

Some of the profits from the book go to Kieran's charity Aid Convoy, which does fantastic work getting supplies to where they are needed, sometimes in very dangerous circumstances.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Voter Apathy Now So Bad The Politicians Are Joining In

That there on the left is what the House of Commons looked like debating one of the most important Bills in the history of free speech and copyright protection.  Looks a bit... empty, doesn't it?

In fact, over 100 MPs waltzed in after the debate was over and cast their vote to pass the Digital Economy Bill, while a further 412 MPs - that's 64% of the total in the Commons, didn't even bother to show up and vote at all.  The Conservatives were the worst offenders - just 9 of them (4.7% of their total) used their vote.

And yet you can bet that if there is low turnout for the General Election on 6th May, these will be among the first people to criticise the British electorate for not engaging in democracy.

I find it frightening that so many MPs fail to understand the importance of new technology, and it says much that one of the ministers responsible for driving this Bill through Parliament thinks that the IP in "IP address" stands for "Intellectual Property".

In fact the politicians have so little understanding of this issue, that they'll happily pass a new law clamping down on intellectual property theft with one hand, whilst stealing images from the BBC website to use in their childish poster campaigns with the other.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Saturday School - All For The Good Of The Children (And Not The Convenience Of The Parents, In Any Way, At All)

Michael Gove, the Tory Shadow Schools Secretary, has been telling the ATL that disadvantaged pupils would benefit from staying in school for longer hours and on Saturdays.

Potentially of course this would be a wonderful idea, provided it didn't wasn't just entirely extra normal lessons and provided fun learning experiences for the children, exploring beyond the restrictions of the curriculum, and didn't just load more work onto the already overburdened teachers, or give pupils a more negative attitude to school.  Somehow, I doubt it would be implemented with such thoughtfulness, though.

Never mind.  At least the Tories are doing this for the poor children and not for the convenience of their parents, right?
"Parents would love to have schools starting earlier in some circumstances, and certainly going on later in the afternoon, given the reality of [their] working lives," he said.
Oh.  Perhaps not then.

In related shock news, rent-a-quote lobby group Parents Outloud say something sensible in response:
Margaret Morrissey, of the lobby group Parents Outloud, said: "I think the suggestion the government made about one-to-one teaching for these kids would be a more preferable way of improving these children's performance.

"I am just not sure whether taking away a child at weekends is actually going to make them cleverer in the week."
Wonders will never cease.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why the BBC should save 6Music...

... in a very well written article by the very first 6Music DJ Phill Jupitus.

6Music is exactly the sort of (relatively) cheap broadcasting that the BBC should be investing in, providing a public service by promoting a range of unknown and upcoming artistic talent.  As opposed to the safe-from-the-cull Radio 1, who simply play whatever the record companies are pushing on them.

As Jupitus points out, 6Music DJs get a generous three free plays an hour outside of the station playlist. 

Let's not succumb to the bleatings of the BBC's media rivals, eh?  Or we'll all be listening to Cheryl Cole.  And what a boring life that would be.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

PCC Rules That Jan Moir Didn't Break Guidelines In Stephen Gately Article

This is utterly ridiculous, and will be commented on effectively elsewhere, so I'm not going to post a massive rant - just a couple of links to other people's blogs.

First up, for a more serious look at why this ruling is completely typical of the ineffectual PCC, here's Tabloid Watch.

Second, for those who enjoy the ranting of idiots, Army of Dave has been looking at the eternally bemusing BBC's Have Your Say.

As MacGuffin of Tabloid Watch has just pointed out to me on Twitter, the BBC Have Your Say question isn't even strictly relevant - the point is that Moir outright lied, not that she merely offended people.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Simon Singh's Weird Idea That Just Might Work

Hello there.  Long time no write.

I got this email from today.  I signed up some time ago but please do consider signing the petition.  I think most online petitions are rubbish and spurious but this is a weighty and worthy campaign gaining significant momentum.

Dear Friends,

I’ve had an idea – an unusual idea, but I think it might just work.
As you know, England ’s chilling libel laws need to be reformed. One way to help achieve this is for 100,000 people to sign the petition for libel reform before the political parties write their manifestos for the election. We have 17,000 signatures, but we really need 100,000, and we need your help to get there.
My idea
My idea is simple: if everyone who has already signed up persuades just one more person each week to sign the petition then we will reach our goal within a month!

One person per week is all we need, but please spread the word as much as you can. In fact, if you persuade 10 people to sign up then email me ( and I promise to thank you by printing your name in my next book … which I will start writing as soon as I have put my own libel case behind me. I cannot say when this will be, but it is a very real promise. My only caveat is that I will limit this to the first thousand people who recruit ten supporters.

When persuading your friends remember to tell them:  

(a) English libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee.
(b) These laws gag scientists, bloggers and journalists who want to discuss matters of genuine public interest (and public health!).
(c) Our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the powerful (Saudi billionaires, Russian oligarchs and overseas corporations) come to London to sue writers because English libel laws are so hostile to responsible journalism. (In fact, it is exactly because English libel laws have this global impact that we welcome signatories to the petition from around the world.)
(d) Vested interests can use their resources to bully and intimidate those who seek to question them. The cost of a libel trial in England is 100 times more expensive than the European average and typically runs to over £1 million.
(e) Three separate ongoing libel cases involve myself and two medical researchers raising concerns about three medical treatments. We face losing £1 million each. In future, why would anyone else raise similar concerns? If these health matters are not reported, then the public is put at risk.

My experience has been sobering. I’ve had to spend £100,000 to defend my writing and have put my life on hold for almost two years. However, the prospect of reforming our libel laws keeps me cheerful.
Thanks so much for your support. We’ve only got one shot at this – so I hope you can persuade 1 (or maybe 10) friends, family and colleagues to sign.

Massive thanks,

The Libel Reform Campaign is a coalition of English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science.

So far, 188 MPs have signed our Parliamentary Early Day Motion calling for libel reform and the Justice Secretary Jack Straw has formed a working party that the Libel Reform Coalition is represented on.
Please also considering donating to keep our campaign going:

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Karamu Afrika! 22nd February, School of Oriental and African Studies - in aid of The Hoja Project

Cross-posted from the Hoja Project Blog (the Hoja Project is the charity I helped set up in my friend's village in Tanzania).

[Click on the picture to make it bigger...]

It would be great to see you at this event.  You can find SOAS here on this map.  It's close the Russell Square on the Picadilly Line, or Goodge Street on the Northern Line (Charing Cross branch).

Contact 07584 065211 or email for more information.

You can also RSVP to the Facebook event page, and invite all of your friends.  All of them.