September 8th, 2006


blood in the water

The BBC's political correspondent called it `politics at its rawest and most significant.' Peter Mandelson called it a `week of madness.' As an interested observer, there's a morbid fascination, not to mention schadenfreude, in watching the current travails of the Labour Party.
In a lot of ways it's reminiscent of those nature documentaries on television, where the hushed voice of David Attenborough describes the struggle for supremacy between two alpha-male gorillas. Except the voice here is not hushed; scanning the news programmes and the papers, the tone seems more shrill and febrile. I've never really been a fan of Tony Blair but one has to have a certain amount of sympathy for him; he's coming to resemble an injured fish, surrounded by sharks drawn from miles around by the smell of his blood. Maybe `sympathy' is too strong a word.
One thing which has surprised me is how the party which seemed so sure-footed and capable when it came into power now seems so willing to tear itself apart in public. A few hundred years ago this would all have been resolved by one group or the other kicking down its opponents' doors in the wee small hours, putting everyone inside to the sword, and sticking the defeated leader's head on a pike. And really, what we're watching at the moment is just a modern version of that. It's not pretty.
This morning, Charles Clarke waded into the fray by describing Gordon Brown's behaviour as ``absolutely stupid,'' Ruth Kelly was advising everybody to ``settle down,'' and Harriet Harman was raising the spectre of the Tories gaining an advantage unless everybody started pulling together again.
There's a lot of anger there, and I suspect that, compared with what is to come, in a few months the events of this week will look like a scuffle in the corner of the playground over who's going to be school bully.
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    enthralled enthralled

let the train take the strain

You'll all be hearing a lot about the trains I commute to and from work on, and as time goes on you'll realise why, but I was just checking the operating company's online timetables to see if my train's on time tonight and I noticed that the company has an online newsletter. So I had a look, as you do, and I found their description of Public Performance Measure, which basically works out  how well a company is doing by comparing train arrivals with published timetables.
Apparently, and I'm not kidding here, for short-distance journeys such as the ones my operating company runs, trains that arrive less than five minutes later than scheduled are deemed to be on time.
Now, maybe it's just because I'm getting old, but I used to think that if something wasn't on time, it was late. It never occurred to me that there might be a sort of fuzzy five-minute window where everything was still fine and dandy.
The possibilities for this admirably laid-back philosophy seem endless. I could tell my editor that my copy isn't late so long as I get it filed less than five days after the deadline. The BBC Ten O'Clock News could tell viewers that so long as the programme doesn't start after 10.05 it's still starting on time.
Mostly, though, I think it's just a cute way of massaging the figures. And why stop at a five-minute limit? Why not ten? Fifteen? Everything would, after all still be on time.

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    aggravated aggravated