Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sympathy for the Cameron Family on Ivan's passing

I can't imagine anything worse than losing a child. I can only guess at the agony David and Samantha Cameron must be going through at the sudden loss of their son, Ivan. How hard it must have been for them to explain to their other two children what had happened. My thoughts are with the whole family. I hope that they know that they have the country on their side right now.

I was moved to tears by the simplicity and sincerity of Gordon Brown's words today in the House of Commons. You just know that he meant every single word he was saying and that the pain of losing his precious babe seven years ago is still fresh in his mind.

I was struck that the Commons, usually a hotbed of pomposity, changed from the amphitheatre that it becomes for PMQs to a community supporting one of its members through trial. There was none of this "Honourable Gentleman" this and "Honourable Lady" that - they used proper first names and talked as human beings should.

Let's just hope that the press leave the Camerons alone to grieve in peace.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Blogging may well be light for a while.....

The Glandular Fever at the moment is decreeing that I spend the vast majority of my time either on the sofa trying to stay awake or in bed asleep. I know it will pass eventually and I'm not looking for sympathy, but I suspect blogging will be more intermittent than it has been until I get rid of it.

Twitter is much more suited to me at the moment, as I seem to have the attention span of a goldfish, and 140 characters is about right:-)

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

EU Leaders agree the bleedin' obvious

And locks will be fitted to the stable doors as the horses disappear over the horizon.


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The Best Recipes contain Chocolate

The Observer has a feature in which top chefs choose their top 50 recipes of all time. Gordon Ramsay has somewhat bizarrely chosen a recipe for Oxtail soup. Why would you do that when there's chocolate in the world? Raymond Blanc is thankfully more in tune with my thoughts with this dreamy chocolate mousse.

This all got me thinking about my own favourite recipes.

I love Delia Smith's fallen chocolate souffle with prunes in armagnac and creme fraiche.

For the sake of balance, I should also include some non chocolatey treats...

As far as cakes are concerned, Nigella does a really moist lemon and almond cake which is truly fabulous.

And if you want a delicious snack that can be whipped up in seconds, go for Nigella's spiced pecans - which basically involves maple syrup, butter, pecans and cayenne pepper. Wonderful.

I'm hungry now - why did I start on this?

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Tom Harris, Caviar and Rising Fuel Bills

I have just nipped over to Tom Harris' blog whose adverts at this moment just show the dichotomy that is the modern Labour Party.

At the top is an ad for caviar, truffles and foie gras, all of which are probably way beyond the pockets of the struggling households using the services of the other ad down the page - The headline on that ad is "Families face huge new energy price rises".

I suppose there's something to be said for catering for all tastes...

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Funding Row threatens HPV vaccine programme

Scotland on Sunday has this report outlining how young women who have left school are set to be denied access to the HPV vaccine which prevents the virus which causes cervical cancer becuase of a funding row between GP surgeries and the Scottish Government.

There seems to be a fair amount of rancour between Nicola Sturgeon's Health and Wellbeing Department and GPs at the moment - they are also fighting about plans to extend GP opening hours.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, it needs sorting and soon. We are all being reminded on a daily basis of what can happen if cervical cancer goes undetected and untreated as we watch Jade Goody's sad decline. It would be irreponsible not to ensure that a vaccine which can prevent that disease at not that much cost is not available to women at most risk.

It is important that these young women are not the victims of a war of attrition between Nicola Sturgeon, Shona Robison and the GPs.

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Gordon Brown gets it right for once

I don't know what made me laugh more - the idea of Simon Cowell having his body frozen, thinking he would be doing the nation a service, when he dies in case he can be brought back to life in the future, or Gordon Brown's reported reaction.

I'm assuming that this is a leak aiming to make it seem like our PM actually has a sense of humour. He supposedly said that "I am not sure me coming back from the dead would be quite as popular as Simon." ‘In fact, there may be a public campaign to stop me being frozen"

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Some Random Thoughts on Teenage Parenthood

The reports of new parents 13 year old Alfie Patten and 15 year old Chantelle Steadman has raised the predictable outrage from Red Top Britain, with tabloid journalists competing to get the most sensationalist headlines.

I don't pretend to have all the answers, and I'm not going to make any judgements about the individuals concerned, but a few things came to mind.

My first thought was that these were both relatively young teenagers who should have some privacy and not be plastered all over the tabloid press. The reports only seemed to want to create outrage rather than have their best interests, and those of little baby Maisie, at heart.

If the SNP Government in Scotland had its way, Alfie and Chantelle would both be dragged through the criminal justice system. What good would that do? If the ultimate aim is to prevent teenage pregnancies, how on earth is giving parents a criminal record and treating them as sex offenders going to help them in the future? And surely the money spent on making criminals of them could be better spent in education.

Teenagers are always going to have sex. Always have, always will. In a small perecentage of cases, with the best will in the world, contraception will fail. Some level of teenage pregnancy is therefore almost inevitable. There are some things, though, that I think we need to look at.

Firstly, sex and relationship education. Not just the mechanics, although the methods of staying safe and minimising risk must be taught - the highest rates of teenage pregnancy are in places where abstinence is the only guidance given - but also a bit of contextual stuff about how relationships work and how to behave in them. You can't start on that too early. I go back to the point I have made time and time again that if you treat children with love and respect from the start, then the very high chances are that they will model that behaviour in their dealings with others.

Secondly, how we prepare for parenthood. The idea of mandatory parenting classes given by some new Labour ideologically pure nanny state robot makes me cringe, but there is a place for some education, probably in school, about the effort required to meet a baby's needs. A few days' looking after one of these real-life like baby dolls should be an option for both boys and girls.

Whatever form the parenting and sex education takes, it should be done in a way that engages with its target audience.

Thirdly, how we allow the media to make particularly girls sexually aware so soon. There are magazines marketed at 9 year olds which talk about boys and kissing. Thank heaven my daughter is more interested in her hamster and her puppies in my pocket - at the moment at least! Also the clothes that are made for girls that age are pretty skimpy and not actually suitable, I think, for kids. What message are we giving them? We maybe need to think about how we socialise both boys and girls and the expectations we make of them. Even in 21st century Britain, they are not brought up on a level and equal playing field.

Fourthly, not all teenage parents are bad parents. Sure, it's not an ideal situation, but it can work out. Someone very close to me had her first child at 16 and coped as well as I did when I had Anna in my 30s. She took to motherhood in difficult circumstances like a duck to water and has maintained a very close relationship with her daughter who is now in her mid teens herself.

Finally, in my observations of and dealings with teenagers, I would say that the ones who turn to sex (or drink or drugs) rather than rock and roll are the unhappy ones. It's not so much a matter of wealth but of the quality of the relationship with their family, whatever form that family may take, that seems to matter. So, we're back to parenting skills again.

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Jade Goody - good luck to her

You would have to be a really cold, unfeeling person to have no sympathy for the awful situation Jade Goody finds herself in. As a mum, I can only too easily understand the fear and pain at being forcibly taken away from your children, especially when they are as young as her 4 and 5 years old. The nature of her illness is not making it easy for her to enjoy the time she has left with them, either as she appears to be very frail and in huge amounts of pain.

Her first instinct has been to ensure their financial future by making as much money as possible for their education, not just for its own sake but so that they will see that as their legacy from her. She is terrified that they won't remember her and this is her way of giving them something tangible from her. She has the ability to sell magazines and newspapers, so why shouldn't she make the most of it while she can? If that demonstrates something negative about our characters, that's not her problem.

I've been quite a long term supporter of Jade since watching her on Big Brother all those years ago. For her to have been able to forge a career out of her sometimes ill advised antics on the programme and to stay in the public eye for so long, amassing a considerable fortune in the process, is not bad for someone who came from her extremely difficult background.

She may well have displayed significant gaps in her general knowledge and ability to control her temper but I don't think she's as ignorant as she reportedly thinks she is. She has been shrewd enough to take advantage of most of the opportunities that have been offered to her and has known when to take good advice. She has made some spectacular errors in both private and public life but balanced them with a likeable warmth, tenacity and enthusiasm. No other Big Brother contestant has had such longevity in the public eye. The only other reality contestants to have had successful and long term careers have been the likes of Will Young and Leona Lewis, both of whom had the Simon Cowell machine backing them.

Even when she stuffed it up big time on Celebrity Big Brother, making what at the time seemed to be career ending racist and unpleasant comments to her fellow competitor, she managed to get back into public favour by recognising her mistake and making amends.

It seems that the sanest influences in her life are not her immediate family, but publicist Max Clifford and the producer of her Living TV shows Kate Jackson. For all the murky kiss and tells that Max Clifford has been involved in, his influence has undoubtedly been good for Jade. About 15 years ago I sat beside him at the filming of a Sunday lunchtime politics programme in Nottingham. I had no idea who he was, but he was very chatty, gossipy and funny and happy to blether away to a complete stranger. As far as you can tell from a relatively brief conversation, he seemed like a very genine and friendly person. There's no doubt that both his wallet and his reputation will be enhanced by the work he is doing for Jade, but I think he's managed it as well as it could have been done.

In fact, there may be some good that comes out of her public battle with Cancer. We all wish it hadn't happened, but she is raising awareness of the importance of cervical screening and the tabloids are now campaigning for women in England to get screening from 20 rather than 25 as they do in other parts of the UK. Hopefully the availability of the new HPV vaccine will do away with the need for such early or even frequent screening in time but it makes sense to lower the screening age when there is clear evidence that girls are becoming sexually active earlier.

I think it's also helped to make people aware of the issues around cancer treatment, and approaching death which we still are very wary of discussing publicly.

Anyway, all we can hope for Jade is that she that everything goes as she wishes for her wedding tomorrow and that in the weeks to come she is comfortable both physically and emotionally.

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Leave Leith Alone!

I almost choked on my Weetabix when I read about Forth Ports' ridiculous idea to name a huge development that is being built in Leith the Edinburgh Harbour Development.

This is their craziest idea since ship to ship oil transfer - and with a good public campaign, that one was consigned to the dustbin.

A 4000 signature petition has been delivered to the Council and Lib Dem Council leader Jenny Dawe is trying to persuade Forth Ports to change their mind.

Forth Ports need to realise that there is no point in upsetting people for no good reason - and their justification is, frankly, pathetic. Apparently they believe that the name Edinburgh is crucial to getting cruise ships to come here. If they really think that, then maybe they should give the marketing job to someone with some imagination.

I love Leith, it was the first place I lived with my husband 22 years ago, it's a distinct community that does not deserve to be subsumed into Edinburgh, so leave it alone.

If you want to help the campaign, you will find lots of information on the Greener Leith website.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Iain Dale's Top 20 Blogs on Twitter

That nice Mr Dale, the Tory one, not my tribute one has asked his followers on Twitter to direct message him with their nominations for their favourite political blog.

There's one slight problem, though, that I don't think he anticipated. On Twitter, you can only direct message someone if you are both following each other. Of his 2027followers, he is only following 124. So, unless he starts following a lot more people, his selectorate will be limited to a few of the great and the good and not so many Lib Dems. Although Stephen has a vote - so use it wisely and remember you were hankering after my Thai green curry earlier.....:0).

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Heathrow Expansion - the Airplot thickens

Some good reasons why the planned Heathrow expansion is not a good idea......

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Sponsor the Red Nose Day Climbers

I obviously have a thing for throwing money at fools who do crazy things - remember Team Hopelessness, anybody?

Anyway, I have just sponsored the idiots who are off to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with the aim of raising at least £1 million for Comic Relief. I have been following the preparations of @fearnecotton and @chrisdjmoyles on Twitter for some time and they are not for the faint hearted.

The climbers, also including Girls Aloud's Kimberley Walsh and Cheryl Cole, former boy band rivals Gary Barlow, Ronan Keating, West End Star Denise Van Outen, GMTV's Ben Shephard and the fantastic Alesha Dixon, set off for their marathon trek at the end of this month. They have clearly given over a significant amount of their lives to this effort.

Even in form, I'd be hard pushed to get up Arthur's Seat so I applaud the fact that they are willing to endure untold pain, suffering and possibly danger and discomfort for the benefit of other people.

Good luck to them all - their exploits will keep us going until Fraser, Gavin, Matt and Graeme get going again later this year.

And if you want to watch their exertions in the comfort of your own home, the brains behind Red Nose day have commissioned some wine so you can drink a wee toast to them as you lie on your sofa.

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Proper support for breastfeeding best prevention for rare condition

I do wish the BBC would get a sense of perspective sometimes and be a bit more responsible about how it reports things. They are running this story about a potentially serious condition that can rarely affect breastfed babies who don't take in enough milk in the first few days of life. They could easily have chosen a less scare-mongering headline than "Breastfed Baby Risk Investigated" which is bound to strike fear into the hearts of anxious new parents or parents to be.

It goes without saying that there are going to be problems if a baby doesn't get enough milk.

It's important that we know how prevalent this condition is and whether its incidence is increasing so that aopropriate action is taken to wipe it out.

The doctor who is running the study into this condition is clear that the answer is not to reach for the formula:

""Once we understand the scale of the problem we can work out what to do about it - how to spot it, and how to act on it," he said.

"But as far as I'm concerned the answer isn't more formula feeding, but increased support for breastfeeding from the outset in the form of counsellors.

"Women who are having difficulties should be monitored and helped - this is something society really needs to invest in."

Ante-natal breastfeeding classes can be very helpful - they allow mothers to create their network of support before the baby is born and also to recognise the signs that their baby is getting enough milk - and when to seek help.

The easiest way to tell is, logically, by what comes out. I wonder if Simpson's Memorial Pavilion (the maternity bit of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary) still produces the very useful, if graphic, leaflet which leaves parents in no doubt that their baby's output is sufficient. There is picture evidence of amount and colour of the bowel movements which indicate that all is well. I used to put about 3 tbsps of water into a newborn nappy and let mums in the support groups I ran feel the weight so they would have some idea of what a wet nappy should feel like.

The trouble is that we throw new parents out of hospital with an hours old baby and then fail to provide them with sufficient support in the community. A busy midwife with 10 minutes to spare once a day if the mum is lucky can't possibly give the time to either identify or advise if there are problems. That's no criticism of the midwives themselves, but of the managers who think that their workloads are realistic.

It's important that new parents have access to a breastfeeding specialist every day if they need it. This doesn't need to be a health professional - drop in baby cafes where there are other mothers there are great, as are breastfeeding support groups. Chances are, you will meet someone there who has been where you are and can give you the information to help. Telephone counselling, and even help by e-mail is provided by organisations like La Leche League and the NCT.

The Government still invests signficantly more money in supporting formula feeding than breastfeeding even in maternity hospitals, and if you take into account free milk tokens to low income households, then that imbalance is even greater. If this study teaches us anything, it's that it's time for that imbalance to be rectified. I always worry about the relentless promotion of breastfeeding without the support to back it up - it's like giving someone a bowl of very thin soup which they say will cure them and a fork to eat it with.

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Government Department in competence Shocker 2

I'm completely shocked that, twice in one week, Government Departments have actually done what they are supposed to do.

Remember my "why should I get free prescriptions" rant from last week? Well, I only filled in the form last Wednesday, and my exemption certificate arrived yesterday.

Can't be bad.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Salmond's Skewed Priorities prolong suffering for many

Take a manifesto with 2 main flagship policies: a referendum on independence, and ditching the unfair Council Tax. The first is wanted by nobody other than nationalists and Greens, the other had a realistic chance of becoming law.

Which do the Nats sacrifice? The one which actually could help people and rid them of the burden of a deeply unjust tax.

They still, as far as we know, intend to press ahead with their referendum on independence, which has even less support in the Parliament.

Why allocate the Parliamentary time to something that's destined to fail when they could build a consensus for a locally set LIT?

Lib Dem Leader Tavish Scott pressed Alex Salmond on this at FMQ's this week.

Here he is talking about it afterwards.

Whoever shoots these things does need to check the lighting first - the brighest thing in this is Tavish's tie and it all looks a bit eerie.

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Geert Wilders - when should people be silenced?

I don't agree with Geert Wilders critique of Islam. It's emotive and unbalanced and paints a picture of the religion that is unrecognisable to most of its followers.

However objectionable and unhelpful I might find his view and his film, I have to say that I was shocked by Chris Huhne's support of the Government's decision to refuse him entry to the UK last week.

My innermost instincts are to protect freedom of speech. When I first came across Labour's No Platform policy in the 1980s, it made me feel queasy. On the face of it it sounds fair enough not to give voice to views which are just so objectionable that they could incite violence against a particular group of people. The trouble with this is that somebody then has to decide what is objectionable. And if you're not careful, what you are allowed to say could become narrower and narrower. The other point is that you have to allow those views to be articulated in order to argue against them. Otherwise they go underground and their proponents have to operate behind front organisations......

I am just listening to the BBC's The Big Questions where people are basically justifying the use of torture as part of a debate. I really don't like that point of view but I don't think they should have been stopped from saying it.

We have legislation against hate crimes in this country, and I think it's right and proper that we should. Nobody should have to face violence or persecution because of their religion, sexuality, race, age or any other aspect of who they are.

I think religions, governments and philosophies are fair game when it comes to criticism. I do not see why I should be silenced from criticising the homophobia of many organised religions, nor the abuses of human rights which are carried out in the name of religion or dogma across the globe, nor the principles on which these religions or dogma are based.

If we take the Government's logic on the Wilders case to its natural conclusion, would Italy be right to prevent me from going there because of what I've said about the Pope's homophobic pronouncements?

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Torvill and Dean - Bolero still magic 25 years on

Back in the early 80s, when you weren't talking about Charles and Diana, you were talking about Torvill and Dean. Unless of course you were way too cool, hip and trendy to talk about either.

I still remember the excitement of waiting for them to unveil their routine for the next year's competitions.

At the end of 1983, I just totally refused they could ever top the daring, inventive and fast paced Barnum on Ice and wondered if they had peaked too soon, ahead of the vital 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.

I remember feeling quite shocked by Bolero when they first performed it - it took a few times of watching it to take in the haunting beauty of the music combined with the passion and drama of the routine.

Last night ITV showed a programme to celebrate the 25th anniversry of their gold medal winning performance in Sarajevo where they achieved an unprecedented and since unbeaten maximum score. It was good to see the routine in full again, even if it was rather spoiled by Jason Gardiner talking over part of it.

This prompted a meander around their best performances on You Tube, which I'll show below. Enjoy

The first is one of what I think was their best dances, their Paso Doble for the Sarajevo Olympics which I think is brilliant, but it was rather overshadowed by Bolero......

Their lesser known but still good first world championship winning free dance to music from Fame.

From 1982 - Mack and Mabel

That incomparable Barnum routine

And, finally, Bolero

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

I spent some time earlier this morning, under the patient and skilful direction of my beautiful and talented daughter, Anna, making a Valentine's card for my lovely and long-suffering husband Bob. I have not felt well enough to brave the shops so I was panicking slightly, given that my craft skills are probably somewhere as good as the average 3 year old's.

I was quite pleased with the final result - I managed to draw a bear which you could actually recognise. I remember once at a Lib Dem training session drawing a pig and being told that my effort looked like a hot water bottle with legs.

Anyway, Bob did seem to like my my amateurish effort and I don't think he was just being polite. He had hidden my card next to the tea caddy (I am my Granny's girl, after all) and he gave me a lovely bunch of lilies.

I hope he actually realises how much I appreciate him - he is the kindest and most gentle man I have ever met and I am grateful every day for that moment of wisdom that made me grab on to him and refuse to let go all those years ago:-)

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Why are the Nats ignoring Twitter?

Forget Facebook and blogging, it's Twitter that's all the rage at the moment. This is another insidious internet phenomenon that sucks you in gradually and, before you know it, you are hooked. I signed up originally about 5 months ago and my first "tweet" was something along the lines of "Can't work out what the use of this is. Can someone please enlighten me?"

A few months later and I've even downloaded software to help me manage my Twitterlife and I have found that it definitely does have its uses. My blog now feeds into Twitter so every time I post something all my followers are alerted to the fact. And Twitter now feeds onto this blog so you can get a taste of the random things that enter my head from time to time that I wouldn't think of blogging about.

Twitter has shown its worth as a campaigning tool in recent weeks with Jo Swinson MP and James Graham organising their fight against the Government's plans to exempt MPs from Freedom of Information legislation.

Scottish MPs like Jo Swinson, Tom Harris and even the Tory, David Mundell, have taken to regular twittering - Jo and Tom have even done it in the Chamber itself, both of them providing a commentary on Prime Minister's Questions last Wednesday.

When I asked Jo (via Twitter, of course) if it was allowed, she said "yes, it's now allowed, some MPs rather frown upon it but I reckon it's a good way to connect the Chamber to the outside world." Good on all of them for using new technology to engage with the people who elected them.

The one major party who has so far not embraced Twitterdom is the SNP. There is an Alex_Salmond Twitter profile, but that has more to do with our very funny friends at A Leaky Chanter than with Sandi Thom's new singing partner. Some of the updates have been hilarious:

"Brown gets 45 mins on the phone with Obama eh?! I only asked for 15. That's the union oppressing us once again. Super size that Korma."

"Budgets sorted. Took me 4 days to sort out what Swinney took 4 months to cock up. Who's the daddy"

"Thinks Napoleon symbolises military genius and political power - just like himself"

and on bringing Mr Neil into the Cabinet

"There's only room for one Smart Alec in this administration - he's been warned!"

I am surprised that, given the Nat propensity for jumping on every bandwagon imaginable, and their prevalence in the blogosphere, that they haven't recognised the potential of Twitter. Mind you, that's maybe not a bad thing.....

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

And the Hamster's name is......

Thank you to everyone who voted in the hamster naming poll. The results were as follows:

Harry 29.2%
Fluffball 25.0%
Snowball 25.0%
Another suggestion 20.8%

Some of the other suggestions were brilliant - Baldrick suits a hamster of little brain, Gumby, as suggested by Jennie, also went down very well with Anna.

As we always said, this poll was purely advisory but at least she has chosen a name that is on the list. So, the little white ball of fluff is now officially Fluffball.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cowardly SNP Break Local Income Tax Pledge

Of all the things that make me seethe about the SNP Government, their abandonment of their pledge to introduce a Local Income Tax, betraying Scotland's poorest, has me spitting feathers. This deeply unfair tax is here to stay, with the SNP freezes saving the rich much more than they benefit the poor.

Seems that after the budget showdown, this vanilla lite government is not even going to try to do anything that might upset anyone for the next 2 years. What a bunch of defeatists!

Here is Jeremy Purvis' reaction to the news on Tavish TV:

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Why should I get free prescriptions?

Regular readers of my blog will know I had a wee bit of a break at the end of last year when a mean virus knocked me for six. I haven't felt right since then and have felt particularly rubbish for the last 2.5 weeks or so. Last Friday, my GP decided to take all my blood and send it for analysis. If I ever forget in the future, please remind me that my blood is in my left arm, not my right. I remembered from when I was pregnant that one arm gave up blood easily and one stubbornly held on to it as though my life depended on it. Unfortunately I couldn't remember which and so he had to try both. What a delight that was for a state registered needlephobic coward like me!

My latent hypochondria had kicked in and I was convinced that I had something scary. I was therefore quite relieved when my GP phoned on Monday evening to tell me that I had Glandular Fever. Sure, I have to respect it and err on the side of sense for once in my life - so I will be spending Valentine's Day with my husband rather than campaigning in Dunfermline, even if I have to kiss him through clingfilm like Chuck in Pushing Daisies!

So, I thought, that was that. Then I got a phone call from the GP yesterday to say that the next lot of tests showed an underactive thyroid and I'd need to take medicine forever more. He then told me that there was a silver lining - that this would entitle me to free prescriptions forever as hypothyroidism was one of the narrow list of conditions that was given free prescription status way back in the 1960s.

To be honest, I feel a bit guilty. Why should I get free prescrptions and somebody with Cancer has to pay for them? In the end of the day, I can afford the fiver every couple of months and I feel a bit bad about taking health service resources from people with really scary, life threatening conditions.

I know that the SNP Government up here plans to remove all prescription charges eventually, but I'm sure I could find a better use for the millions that would cost. I just wonder if there isn't some more sensible solution to prescription charging. I just don't think I'm a deserving case to get free prescriptions for everything for the rest of my life when others who have much worse illnesses have to pay.

What do other people think?

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Louis Walsh seeks £1.3 million for next X Factor

The papers have been full of X Factor Judge speculation for weeks. First Dannii's out and Posh is in, then Lily and Charlotte are supposedly scrapping for a place at the judging table - the facts, ie Charlotte's blatant denial in OK magazine not even getting a look in - then suddenly Dannii's back. And they haven't even begun discussing contracts yet... It's a game of virtual musical chairs that will keep the X Factor in the headlines all the way until the show begins again in June.

Now Louis Walsh has reportedly asked for a whopping pay rise, from £800,000 to £1.3 million. Not many people will be getting a 40%+ increase this year. A Labour blogger has slagged him for even asking in such a time of economic downturn. If this were public money he was going for, I'd be right up there with him, but if this is true, whether he gets it or not will depend pretty much on Simon Cowell's largesse.

I think that TV personalities on prime time shows get paid way too much and worry that this is at the expense of production values and regional programming. You don't get to make a programme these days unless it's going to be a ratings winner, so the range of what's available to watch becomes ever narrower. And even if your show is good, like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, or Pushing Daisies (yes I know they're American but stay with me), you are likely to get cancelled if you don't dominate the viewing in your slot.

An interesting little footnote to this story - again, if the figures were to be believed, Louis was on about £800,000, Dannii was on somewhere around £600,000 - £800,000 and Cheryl was on £500,000 for this last series. We'll ignore Simon, who earns squillions cos he owns the show. Whatever happened to the concept of equal pay for work of equal value?

The Judges' pay is a matter for them and Cowell to resolve in the end of the day - and at least, when it comes to the obscenely overpaid, they can still look down on footballers and former bank bosses. And in fact, some current senior managers in banks if Gordon Brown doesn't grow a backbone and stop them from being paid huge bonuses with our money.

I guess this is as good a time as ever to have a wee look back at why we love the X Factor so much. It gives us such classic moments as this....

or this

I just wonder if this newly formed group will find their way to the Glasgow auditions this year. The girl's ok, but the bloke is well dodgy....

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Lord Lucan meets Captain Mainwaring

Evidence, as if we ever needed it, that John Thurso is a legend.

He's right - once a visit to the bank manager had to be taken very seriously. You wore a suit and looked as respectable as you possibly could, because this person's impression of you could affect your future life and prospects.

This person would know your affairs backwards and would make informed judgements on whether to lend you money. Ok, they were sometimes more conservative than they should have been, but as we have seen this might not always have been a bad thing.

In recent times, getting a mortgage has involved ringing up a call centre, giving a little bit of information and 15 minutes later being told you can get way funds way beyond your ability to repay them.

Now the elastic has snapped back in again and it's extremely difficult to get any credit.

We need to go back to that happy medium of personal banking and decisions made on the basis of sustainability rather than greed.

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I'm happy for this man to sleep tonight....

At least he tried to alert people to what was going on and got the sack for his pains.

When are we going to start listening to people before it's too late?

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Government Department in Competence Shock

I do actually like to praise things from time to time. Sadly, the Government does not often give me the opportunity.

Credit where it's due though. On Saturday afternoon, I ordered next year's tax disc for my car online. It arrived today.

Did better than what it said on the tin.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

City Firm to hold lavish men-only Agent Provocateur Party

Do you know, I can't believe what a smooth ride it was. The time machine went back all the way to the 1970s and I barely noticed.

I opened the paper today to see a story that belongs way back in the days of medallions, hairy chests and Benny Hill.

3i, an equity firm, has invited a selection of city bankers to attend a party with a "short lingerie presentation" in association with Agent Provocateur. It's a pre-Valentine occasion, where the firm's latest creations will be modelled. Of course, it's only men who have been invited.

They really don't get treating women as equals, do they?

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Another Silly Sunday Quiz

Ooh, look at me - a modern, cool nerd. Who'd have thunk it?

Your result for The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test...

Modern, Cool Nerd

61 % Nerd, 65% Geek, 35% Dork

For The Record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.

A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.

A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.

You scored better than half in Nerd and Geek, earning you the title of: Modern, Cool Nerd.

Nerds didn't use to be cool, but in the 90's that all changed. It used to be that, if you were a computer expert, you had to wear plaid or a pocket protector or suspenders or something that announced to the world that you couldn't quite fit in. Not anymore. Now, the intelligent and geeky have eked out for themselves a modicum of respect at the very least, and "geek is chic." The Modern, Cool Nerd is intelligent, knowledgable and always the person to call in a crisis (needing computer advice/an arcane bit of trivia knowledge). They are the one you want as your lifeline in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (or the one up there, winning the million bucks)!


Also, you might want to check out some of my other tests if you're interested in any of the following:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Professional Wrestling

Love & Sexuality


Thanks Again! -- THE NERD? GEEK? OR DORK? TEST

Take The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test
at HelloQuizzy

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Will Brown find a Backbone on Bank Bonuses?

Well Alistair Darling said all the right things on the Politics Show - about what a disgrace it was that senior managers in banks paid themselves such obscene bonuses while leading us to hell in a hand cart. They're all right in their mansions while the rest of us fear for our jobs and worry if we'll ever get a mortgage again.

So you'd think, that if the Government were so opposed to these huge multi million pound payouts, they'd stop 'em now they control such a whopping share of the banks. Nah. What do we get? An independent review!

Come on, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that these bonuses are plain wrong, that the whole culture of the banking system, built on incentivising short term risk, is utterly wrong.

Compare and contrast with Nick Clegg's clear and decisive plan to stop what he calls the casino capitalism and end these massive payouts. He wants rewards to come for sustainable financial management rather than heady short term gains.

Be clear, though, that it's only the senior executives, who have been responsible for this chaos, that he wants to penalise. The people who are on the front line, the staff who serve people in the branches and on the phones, should continue to be rewarded for good performance.

It's quite clear that the Government could quite simply be more decisive about how it uses its large shares in the bank. Each of us is paying £1000 for the privilege of keeping them afloat, and we don't want to see millions going to people who got us in this mess in the first place.

Why does a Labour Government find it so difficult to say "enough - no more" to big business yet so easy to penalise the most vulnerable in our society?

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Help persuade Irish Government to let under threat Nigerian family stay

Hat tip to Liberal Conspiracy for highlighting this story .

Basically Pamela Izevbekhai and her two daughters, aged 5 and 7 sought asylum in Ireland, 4 years ago, after a third daughter died after being forced to undergo forced genital mutilation in their home country of Nigeria.

I can just imagine the fear that must be in Pamela's heart when she remembers that terrible event. If the family is forced to return to Nigeria, there will be nothing that can be done to protect the two younger girls from the same abuse.

For some crazy reason, I somehow had more faith in the Irish Government than I do in our own. I thought they might be more compassionate and less rigid in their rules. I think that they clearly have an obligation under EU rules to grant this family asylum. They could choose to end their ordeal right now and assure them that they are free to stay in Ireland. Their lcoal community in Sligo is to be behind them which has to be a good thing.

The video on the Liberal Conspiracy site is over 10 minutes long. I managed less than a minute as it describes in detail the gruesome process of FGM. How anybody could put a child through that is beyond me.

If you want to help, there are lots of ideas how on the Let them Stay.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Six Point Leap for the Lib Dems in new poll

I don't often get too excited about opinion polls but this one, showing the Lib Dems up 6 points on the previous similar poll, can't be bad.

It must be significant that this comes in the month where:

Vince Cable has been again been vocal about the economy

The Lib Dems opposed Israeli action in Gaza

The Lib Dems led the campaign against the Goverment's plans to exempt MP's expenses from Freedom on Information legislation

The Lib Dems vocally opposed the Government's plans for a third runway at Heathrow.

My natural scepticism for opinion polls remains, and there is never any substitute for on the ground local campaigning, but I think that this shows that we are having a positive impact.

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Clarkson - My Secret Shame!

I have a confession to make. I think Jeremy Clarkson can be obnoxious and ignorant, but despite his occasional lapse into beyond-the-pale bad taste, most of the time he is absolutely hilarious. We are all Top Gear fans in this house, even Anna, who has been known to trawl the Dave schedules for repeats of the programme. My husband, whose profession as a health and safety adviser regularly gets the sharp end of Clarkson's tongue, is a total fan and has all his books.

He's strayed once again into controversy because of his comments about Gordon Brown. Now, I will defend anybody's right to call the Prime Minister an idiot. If you hold high office, you are going to get abuse like that, and, frankly, that's not a bad thing. I'd prefer my criticism of elected officials to be a bit more precise, but who am I to be prescriptive? Scottish you can't really argue about - he is and he's proud of it. So what. The one-eyed bit was tasteless, I will give you that and Clarkson has, rightly, apologised.

I once got incredibly incensed by a Clarkson Sunday Times rant against women drivers - basically wishing bad things on us because, apparently, a woman driver wouldn't let him out of a side road on his way to work that morning. So, I wrote to him, in my best Outraged of Nottinghamshire (as I was then)form. I was very surprised to get a very friendly note back a few weeks' later basically agreeing with me and cracking a few jokes. He has obviously read what I'd written because he commented on a point I'd made about my husband's new car at the time. I was impressed that he had taken the time and trouble to respond.

I despair sometimes, well, actually, a lot, at the tabloid tendency's inability just to live and let live. It makes me so angry that they go on at Clarkson for his comments about Brown but think nothing of printing homophobic rants from their columnists as the Mail On Sunday did last week. I don't think they should be stopped from printing that stuff, however much I disagree with it, but this is just another example of their intrinsic hypocrisy.

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Bashir Ahmad MSP

For all the heat that's generated in the chamber at Holyrood, the Parliament and its staff are actually quite a close knit community.

The one thing that comes across more than anything else about Bashir Ahmad, SNP MSP for Glasgow, who sadly died yesterday, is what a decent, nice man he was. Yousuf has written some personal memories on his blog.

My thoughts are with his family as they come to terms with their loss.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Will Iain Dale and Derek Draper please just grow up

I would never in a million years trust a Tory to defend any of our basic liberties, but I don't think Iain Dale is a racist.

Nor would I, to be honest, trust a member of the Labour Party to respect individuality and the right to freedom of expression but I don't think Derek Draper is the spawn of the devil.

The pair of them have been fighting all week about Iain's defence of Carol Thatcher's unfortunate turn of phrase.

Now, I wouldn't have used that terminology, nor do I like it. Others may take a different view. It would be good to debate these issues in a civilised fashion.

Instead we have an unsavoury and unseemly collection of hissy fits beteween Dale and Draper which seems to be polluting the entire internet. It seems to me that Draper is doing his best to stoke the fire and Dale is only too willing to be wound up.

It's gone from blogs to the media to Twitter.

Please can it just stop.

The internet is big enough for both of you. It's not some jungle where one of you has to be the King. Some of us actually like reading both of you when you are not trying to score points off each other. Can you not just draw a line under all of this and move on.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Snap a Policeman while you still can......

Thank you to Jennie for inviting me to the Facebook event National Take a Photograph of a Police Officer Day

Now why would you want to do this? Well, I hadn't realised, but one of the provisions of the Government's counter terrorism bill could mean that if you are caught taking a photo of a police officer come 16 February, you could find yourself in big trouble. In fact you could end up being sent to prison for up to 10 years for taking photographs of people "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism." That sounds like a pretty woolly definition that could mean anything it wants to be. Frankly I wouldn't like to spend years rotting in jail while some kind civil liberties charity takes my case to the European Court of Human Rights.

There is a sense of irony in all of this, though. A few weeks ago, I was walking very innocently down the street, with only peaceful intent in my mind, and I could barely move for being photgraphed by the Police. They snapped me from high up on buildings and from their mobile camera vans. It was like being followed around by a black and white clad paparazzi. God knows what they are doing with the results of their gross intrusion into my privacy. No doubt I'm on some database somewhere with my card marked....

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Swinson Exposes Tax Credit Nightmare

Earlier this week, Jo Swinson, Lib Dem MP for East Dunbartonshire secured a debate in Westminster Hall in which she highlighted how many of her constituents have been failed by the Government's tax credit system.

She told how one constituent's income was recorded as £340 rather than £30000 leading to a massive overpayment. They hadn't noticed the error. Believe me, tax credit award notices are not easy documents to understand and an error is easy to miss.

Another was being pursued for an overpayment of £10,000 when the Tax Credit Office paid in £6000 to her bank account, again in error.

Any MP will be able to tell you similar stories. A system that is supposed to help take people out of poverty can often lead to them being forced to repay money paid to them in error. This can cause terrible hardship. If the Tax Credit Office makes a mistake, and the claimant fails to notice, it is the claimant who has to take the hit.

I personally have seen cases where the official error is so obvious and the Tax Credit Office still insists that the resulting overpayment is recoverable and it has taken the independent Adjudicator or the Parliamentary Ombudsman to find against them before they grudgingly accept their mistake. In the meantime, the claimant has gone through so much stress.

Don't believe the Minister's assurances that the Tax Credit Office always allows reasonable time to pay, either. Lower income households are under huge pressure at the best of times but particularly in this harsh economic climate and can ill afford to be paying the price of official incompetence.

Oh, and by the way, happy birthday, Jo.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Yay! Kez is back!

Glad to see that Kezia Dugdale has given her soapbox a lick of paint,and returned to the Blogosphere with a splash of colour! She's joined the ever growing ranks of us twitterers too.

Welcome back, Kez.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Strong first months for Tavish as Lib Dem Leader.

Two interesting quotes about Tavish Scott in recent days.

The first is from the most recent Sunday Times, but not the online version, sadly. I have just poked myself in the eye with the print version while looking for this:

"Of all the Party leaders, Scott has come closest to landing a blow on the mercurial First Minister. It was he who led the running on Salmond's apparent obfuscation on the floor of the Parliament."

I have Willie to thank for the next one which actually made me laugh out loud. In an interview on Good Morning Scotland the day after the budget fell, Tavish came out with "It would be important to recognise that the First Minister is not the Prime Minister, nor is Alex Salmond the Queen." It's time somebody told him that!

It's not like me to be happy with a leader, and particularly one I didn't vote for, but I think this one's doing fine. He has led the way on the economy, on HBOS, on SNP's appalling squandering of our natural heritage by selling off the forests. He's bound to annoy me at some stage, but so far so good.

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Lib Dems help build a better budget for Scotland

Well, it just goes to show what a bit of constructive dialogue can do. Learn well for next year, Salmond and Swinney.

Here is an extract from the e-mail leader Tavish Scott sent round party members earlier.

You may remember that I was clear that the Budget proposed by the SNP was not an adequate response to the economic trauma facing Scotland.

Nonetheless, I indicated that our door remained open for discussions. You may have heard that serious negotiations took place over the weekend. As a result, an agreement has been published today that allows the Liberal Democrats to support the Budget.

We made a series of economic proposals to improve the Budget.

We have been working hard to look beyond "tomorrow". Too rarely do politicians think beyond tomorrow's headlines. But the recession is not going to be over tomorrow, or any time soon. So we have been working hard for long term benefits for Scotland.

We were clear from the outset that everything that the Government does should be focussed on tackling the recession that has hit Scotland.

We proposed an Economic Storm Rescue Plan. Our proposals bring triple
benefits: they lock in long term benefits to Scotland and the economy; they will help the Government meet its aims; and they line up the resources for permanent tax cuts for low and middle income earners.

- The SNP have changed their position and will now engage with the Calman Commission. This is the best way to get extra powers for the Scottish Parliament. It will allow, for example, the Forth Bridge to be paid for without jeopardising every other transport project in Scotland. Professor John Curtice told the BBC on Sunday that this concession could be the "most interesting long-term consequence of all of this."
Lord (Jim) Wallace, Liberal Democrat representative on the Calman Commission
said: "I welcome this truly significant and progressive move. As a result of the new position of the Scottish Government there is now assembled a powerful coalition for change."

- The SNP have changed their position on the Scottish Futures Trust. They will now give the quango a funding stream to restart school building in Scotland. Local councils and the construction industry had criticised the SFT for paralysing investment.
Councillor Jenny Dawe, the Liberal Democrat leader of Edinburgh, has welcomed this move. She said today, "A proper programme of support for school building will be a very helpful move. So far, this has been missing from the Government's plans."

- The SNP have changed their mind and agreed to seek a Finance Sector Jobs Task Force to protect the financial services industry in Scotland, which is so important for our economy.

- The SNP have agreed to a new strategic review of Government spending.
This will identify where resources are not being used to support the economy. It will unlock the resources that could pay for permanent tax cuts for low and middle earners.

- The SNP have changed their position and will ask their Council of Economic Advisers to make recommendations on the Budget to help it meet the challenge of the recession.

Not a bad result at all! Even the BBC coverage is all about the Lib Dems. I quite liked the phrase "it is thought Labour will be offered a lesser deal".

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One rule for the rich, another for the poor.

Two things caught my eye today. In the first, Our Vince outlines the importance of closing tax loopholes which allow large corporations to avoid paying their rightful taxes.

Compare and contrast with, Tom Brake MP's observation that in London alone, 716000 applications for crisis loans were turned down by the Benefits Agency last year.

These emergency loans are there to help people on low incomes or benefits when they need help most. I have personally seen people in desperate circumstances be turned down for those loans for essential and unexpected costs. Sometimes people are forced to apply for them because of unacceptable delays in processing their applications for benefits. How would you like it if you had to survive on £60 a week Job Seekers' Allowance and your cooker breaks down, for example? Your bank will laugh at you if you ask for credit, that's even if you have an account. How do you fix or replace it?

To add insult to injury, the application process is not for the faint hearted. The number you have to dial is an 0800 number. It's free - or so you would think. Remember that the poorest don't often have landlines these days and it cost - sometimes signifcantly, to dial from a mobile. Often people can't get through for hours to a human being, which just adds to the stress of the situation.

On top of all that, the Government is thinking of charging commercial rates of interest on these loans.

So, the Government is doing nothing to stop wealthy big business avoid tax, but can't help out the most vulnerable in their time of need. How very new Labour.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Unions' recipe for disaster in power station dispute

Take a hefty bit of anxiety about the economic downturn, when people are worried about whether they will still have a job at the end of the week, month of year.

Add the idea that foreign workers might be stealing British jobs.

Whip into frenzy.

That will give you the angry and unpleasant scenes we've seen at Lindsey, Longannet, Sellafield and other places across the country.

It's deeply depressing to see such hatred and I worry that it's only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt.

Pandering to prejudice is no way to relieve people's concerns about the economic downturn. If we were to do what the unions wanted, we'd be in complete lumber as we have far more British people working in the EU than citizens of other EU countries working here.

The way forward on all of this is not for Gordon Brown to buckle and give the Unions what they want. It's for the Government to recognise the ineffectiveness of its measures to tackle the economic downturn and to take radical action. Their VAT cut is their next ineffective, expensive waste of time after ID cards. As usual, Vince has some pretty sensible suggestions. Let's create lots of jobs by embarking on some much needed public investment instead. By doing that we will equip ourselves well for the future and minimise the suffering that unemployment causes to individuals and families.

For once in my life I agree with Peter Mandelson, who has stated that a protectionist approach would "turn recession into depression".

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has been characteristically robust in condemning the line spewed out by the unions and some Labour MPs by stating some simple facts - think about the effect on employment if every British worker in the EU was sent home.

The Government needs to stop trying to blame other people for its failings and take decisive, effective action to get us through the recession.

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How can a "dirty weekend in Glasgow" lead here?

I don't really indulge in too much statporn. It just gives me a headache. Every so often, though, I like to have a wee look to see who my readers are and how they are finding this blog. I suppose I must be a little bit geeky to even know this, because I wouldn't have had a clue a few months ago, but my counter has a page which tells me, when it can, the website which referred the reader to me. From that I can see that my posting of Bishop Gene Robinson's Inaugural prayer and the the Tony Benn on the DEC Gaza appeal have been amongst recent favourites.

I was somewhat perplexed, though, to find that someone had typed "dirty weekend in Glasgow" and got here. Utterly bizarre!

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Hamster Naming Poll 2

Some months ago I ran a poll, purely advisory in nature, to garner opinion on what Anna should name her new hamster. She completely ignored the result and instead went for a name that wasn't even on the list, but she thought it was helpful.

Sadly, our much loved little Powder Puff passed away on the same day as President Obama was inaugurated. She had a tumour in her intestine and had to be put to sleep. I have to say how proud I was of Anna for being so brave. The vet thought she was fantastic.

So, we now have a new inhabitant of our re-designed cage. In Anna's words "He is a long haired white Syrian with dark eyes and pink ears with a tiny black spot on each one. He has a very cute face and wouldn't say boo to a goose. We have been calling him Mr Brainless Wonder due to his habit of making a nest in hiis wheel. He also burrowed under his hamster igloo, sits in his food bowl and will run into his wheel if you look at him from across a room or touch the lid of his cage. When he can overcome his nervousness, he loves to be cuddled."

She was very keen to have another poll, and so we'd appreciate your vote. You'll note that we have an option for you to suggest your own name, which you can do by commenting to this post.

The poll closes in one week's time, February 9th.

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