Friday, September 28, 2007

GO, GO, GO TO NHS REHAB AMY

Concerns for Amy Winehouse and other “rehab celebs” brings to mind the Priory Hospital and NHS treatment for stars.

I was first tipped off about the junkie-star-scam a number of years ago. All hush hush of course...  It was a passing comment that held my interest. The Priory Hospital, where the former 'vet' held a senior position,  apparently regularly played host to 'stars whose treatment was subsidised wholly or in part by the NHS'.

Stars on Soash..?

No. No. No.
 

Thursday, September 27, 2007

RMT WALKOUT: DOPE TEST CHEATS


TheBigRetort uncovers the real reason behind the 'disputes' involving tube and transport workers - and it makes 'sober' reading to passengers.

Travelling home on the North London Line (overground) one evening, I happened to fall into conversation with a fellow traveller who was party to a secret... a dope secret.

He had been watching a televised football match at a pub.

Arsenal -v- Letsgetsmashed. Notably with TfL tube staff (members of the RMT Union) fans in drunken attendance.

His 'best mate' worked on the Tube and had done so for many years....

My fellow traveller warned his friend about his and other tube workers' drinking and drug taking.

His mate, who had work the next day, chuckled... then revealed their strategy for cheating - call it what it is - the transport management's 'drink and dope test safety measures'.

He told TheBigRetort that many London Transport employees who got 'smashed' at these televised drink-an-drug fests then called for a walkout.

The culprits in the transport system? "The spot checks that take place in work to find 'em." [He meant drug or drink levels.] Or at least that is the way this little 'union' saw it.

The stranger's TfL/RMT Union mate claimed that drink-and-drunk-filled 'binges' during and following matches determined transport policy in London. "Not Government... Not passenger... But drink and drugs, 'at's what determines policy. If they didn't do the tests, we'd all happily turn out,' he is alleged to have confided.

On that particular night his drinking companions (TfL staff and RMT Union members)were either so drunk or drugged that a walkout or some other action would follow that night's game.

And it did.

It was so simple... Off duty workers who had drunk alcohol could not go into work the following day as they were still 'over the limit' and a test would reveal this - they are regularly tested. The off duty workers who had been taking illegal drugs that night would only test negative days after their intake. Only then could they return to work and defeat the dope test.

In short, it is drugs that determine whether the trains run or not in this the finest capital city in the world.

Don't believe me? Look at the Arsenal game on the 25th September.

And remember... you heard it at TheBigRetort.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dr Victoria Anyetei murder: man arrested

Kent Police have made an arrest following its investigation into the murder of DR Victoria Anyetei, 53.
Anyetei, a devout Christian, worked as a locum consultant paediatrician at St Thomas’ Hospital, London.
Her body was discovered by her 19-year-old son in her silver Toyota Avensis in Dartford, Kent, at 10.20am on the 14th August.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

IS SUPERBOY SUPERMAN?



Up! Up! And away!!

A piece of legal history written on planet Earth may set a precedent about the copyright ownership of a dead author's work.

Superboy was a “joint work” between Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. However, fast forward to a world dominated by the dastardly legal profession. A chunk of rock has recently been thrown at the Man in Tights, not in the form of deadly Kryptonite... but the American copyright code; itself influenced by European copyright law... and there’s a first.

In 1948, in a previous suit between Jerry Siegel and DC (then called “Detective Comics Inc.”) it was found that Superboy was “separate and distinct” from Superman.

Siegel was found to be its “sole originator.”

The case was settled with DC paying the authors for the “sole and exclusive” rights.

Many believe the pair, who died in some poverty it is said, were ripped off. However, following the authors' deaths, a 1976 revision to the copyright laws allowed the Siegel family in 2002 to give a notice of termination of that agreement. Any grant of rights Jerry Siegel made in 1948 would be undone in 2004. However, DC filed a counterclaim and the present Superboy suit (no pun on earth intended) seeks a determination on this.

The 1948 ruling lacked the jurisdiction to determine copyright issues; purview of the federal courts; the court's then findings were deemed to be relevant to some of the copyright issues (most notably, whether Superboy was a work for hire).

Four issues now surround the Superboy copyright:

was the work “derivative”? (In other words, if it was based on Superman there is nothing copyrightable about it);
if any of the copyrightable material in Siegel’s Superboy submissions was in fact later published;
whether it was done as a “joint work” with Joe Shuster, whose rights to Superboy have since gone to DC; and
whether Siegel created Superboy as part of his work-for-hire agreement.

The Judge ruled that Siegel’s employment contract with DC – Superboy - was not a work-for-hire (commissioned), and so the claim rests on whether it is “sufficiently original” and, therefore, includes copyrightable material. Put simply, to what extent had the Superman character been fleshed out to form Superboy?

By the time Siegel submitted his Superboy material to Detective Comics he did so with all the character’s (new) traits and attributes as well as the character’s interaction with other (new) characters.

When co-writer Shuster, one of Superboy’s creators, died without an heir, DC became the de facto owner of his portion; which pitted the conglomerate against Jerry Siegal’s heirs for interest in the franchise.

Originally the copyright code only allowed rights to be held to the first legal date that a work ‘reconverts’ to its author. In Superboy’s case that date has passed... Now truth, justice, and the American way of doings things, look set to be challenged in Superboy versus Superbaddy.

But all things equal under the same sun – whatever its colour – the case centres around what legal Lex Luthors term "copyright reversion deadline”.

Imagine if you will.... a courtroom.

Imagine, if you will... a jury.

In fact, imagine further, if you will... a judge (usually black) and attorney (usually white after all this is Hollywood).

Jerry Siegel pitched an idea about the early life of Superman, the later (or should that be earlier?) Superboy. And here I must approach the bench... because the chicken and the egg of it is... which came first?"

Siegel made his original Superboy submission in late 1938, before Action Comics was a year old, later known as DC Inc, by then the planet Krypton had exploded and spread throughout a galaxy and...

Well, you know the rest.

But what you may not know is that many light years away, on planet Earth, an earthling author had established the early days of Superman as a boy, and the Kents, then unnamed, and a host of pre-characters good and bad later entering into the Superman comic books too. It's almost as if Superman had flown round the earth several times and whoosh!!! created a copyright paradox.

Siegal's work was not part of any “work for hire” agreement. In other words specifically commissioned by DC Inc. The Federal government allowed all contemporary contracts to be terminated on “end dates”. The Siegel family is exercising a legal right to terminate the contract at its end date. (Superman’s copyright enters the public domain at 2013, which may make this a fruitless task.)

The subject is not the man, but the boy; not Jerry but Clark, or Con-El, or Kale-El, or - bloody ‘el how confusing. Anyway, you know what American lawyers are like, Superboy v Superman is a modern day challenge to the whole concept of copyright and trademark, a ‘front running case’, and one that will change our concept of copy and our rights to it.

But this is not just about reversion rights right…?

In fact, the real question being posed in similar cases - across America! - is can someone own a trademark of something that they do not in fact own the copyright to?

Many see it as a “greed” on the side of the Siegal family versus the corporate greed of a major American conglomerate - DC Comics.

Whilst DC Inc claims the character was derived from an existing character - one that the creator signed the rights away to, his surviving family argues that Superboy, with all that alien teen angst, was totally unique, and that the author's ‘fleshing out’ of Superman, an existing character, was enough to make Superboy truly “original”.

But surely younger characters are simply extensions of the adult characters, my super hearing hears you say.

Not so... When Superman/Superboy were written 'back story’ was a new concept — and the “spin-offs” that followed a writer's ‘fleshing’ were unknown. (I always wrote a detailed back story to my characters at the BBC. Mostly this history never made it to the screen but acted as a character ‘bible’, a blueprint for the character's motivation. I should also mention at this point that I sued the BBC for copyright theft, and lost. Oops!)

Taking a man, and turning him into a boy in character terms was a radical idea back then. Jerry’s pitch allowed elements of his creation to be carried over into the later Superman comics (as did mine at the Beeb. So Superman’s character was a derivative of Jerry’s Superboy creation; and not a part of any character bible he was employed to write which did not exist... then. (An important point.I once wrote a whole monologue at the BBC for a series.... It ended up in another episode that I wasn’t paid or credited for!)

All the two super heroes had in common was that they were both extraterrestrial, wore a costume, shared a name, and went on to wear eyeglasses.

Many claim that the Siegal family is bringing the case through “pure greed”. If so, it is a greed that is matched by DC's; it has not surrendered the rights which formed the original legal agreement.

In addition, regardless of the 1976 revisions to copyright law, where would Superboy be without his S-emblem: if not just a red cloak flying across the vacuum of copyright ‘space’?

But space is not truly a vacuum a lawyer will argue. DC will still have the Superman trademarks. Won’t it?

Actually the Superman Trademark itself may also be subject to later legal challenge. Superboy is being used to actually settle the rights to Superman and the trademark itself; a front running case that will mold future copyright law and trademark ownership. The question now is whether Siegel’s Superboy and the lack of “young Superman” stories early in the character’s publication history of “Superman” may allow “Superboy” to be different enough, proving that even on Planet Krypton schizophrenia may be a problem, caused not by a red sun but by its legal profession.

Apparently the creators were put on a small stipend with paid health care until they died, out of “respect”. As one blogger Thomas Strand states (and here in my edited quote): “…the creators of Superman were literally in the poor house, living in poverty without health care, etc. Corporate America keeps raking in the money, and these guys who CREATED Superman get to die penniless. How is that fair? Finally the US copyright code is giving their families the legal ability to regain the copyrights and return them to the families that created Superman.”

In 2013 the Superman copyright will be transferred back to the families, whatever the eventual outcome, and Superman may not be available for anyone – and that’s a shame Mr Luthor

So, is it a bird? Is it a plane? No... essentially it's a lawsuit.

[Author’s note. I have attempted to deliver a potted history of the case, but due to the exigencies of time - spent with my young daughter mostly - I may not have done it justice. See Grumpy Old Fan, and Thomas Strand, mentioned above, for theirs and other specialist views linked.]

Sunday, September 23, 2007

GEOX SUCKS

By combining a microperforated rubber sole and a breathable waterproof membrane, the Geox system lets perforation go out through the sole keeping feet dry and healthy. At least that's what a certain shoe manufacturer claims.

So why whenever it rains does this poor 'soul' feel water seeping into his socks?

GEOX SUCKS WATER IN AND MINGLES WITH SWEAT.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

SETI SEARCH OVER


In an extraordinary exclusive interview, TheBigRetort speaks to a Pentagon whistelblower who claims a message from outer space is not benign.

Clarence Dacre, former staff officer at the Pentagon, claimed 'first contact’ with an extra-terrestrial civilisation has already happened – it took place thirty years ago.

Apparently it began when a strong, narrow band radio signal was inadvertently picked up by an early SETI researcher. He circled the discovery on the computer printout and wrote "Wow!" alongside.

The comment stuck ever since.

But the signal, said to have lasted for a total of 72 seconds, which bore all the expected hallmarks of potential extraterrestrial contact, remained a one-off, a 'possibility' never repeated.

Or so it seemed... because the human race may be about to go the way of the dinosaur.

Alerted to Mr Dacre’s claims by a correspondent in North Carolina, we were forced to make contact via a combination of email and phone number relays.

We encountered an astonishing conspiracy that started at a simple PO Box in Galveston, Texas - and leads right up to the Whitehouse.

"Forget global warming," we were warned, "Gone too are those petty disputes based on nationality and race - for there is only one 'race'." And although that race may be human if our source is to be believed this may soon change.

Intrigued... we decided to make contact with the mysterious Mr Dacre.

After repeated attempts however, when we finally spoke to the man at the other end of the phone... he seemed agitated - and far from thrilled.

"I have to be cautious. My pension... it could be revoked. They're watching and reading everything."

[In the three hour (taped) interview Dacre would not be drawn on who 'they' were, simply stating that it would soon become 'evident to all'.]

After we managed to gain his trust, Dacre opened up. He claimed that he had recently been dismissed from a specialist department within the US Air Force. He alleged that SETI (The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) was initially funded through a shell company that was really a front for the National Security Agency (NSA), which moved to PR mode to downplay the Wow! signal's significance.

But that was thirty years ago, Jimmy Carter was President of the USA.

Dacre reminded us that President Carter had been a strong believer in UFOs and he was being secretly briefed by the NSA.

“The NSA simply distanced itself from the SETI programme,” he told TheBigRetort.

Astonishingly however, Mr Dacre claims that another message also of ‘non-terrestrial and non-solar-system origin’ was recently received as early as 2004. "Only it’s not a message… it’s an instruction."

An instruction for what?

“ET is attacking us by stealth. Using our own computers against us.” Dacre insists. He claims that the US government, in tandem with other 'friends', know that the interstellar computer virus arrived from a star system approximately twelve light years from our solar system. "A stone's throw on the galactic scale of failing suns!"

The question raised at the Whitehouse is now that 'they' (the aliens) have the system at their disposal, what are they going to do with it?"

According to Dacre, Pentagon officials believe that these ‘Botnets’ may start breaking encryption codes quite soon. (Ironically this could be done in a similar fashion to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project (SETI.) itself.)

"The first time in history that we have made ‘contact’ and now a supercomputer is under the control of an extraterrestrial source that we invited in,” Dacre opined.

SETI declined to be drawn into the claim that the Wow! signal had been 'confirmed' over three decades ago, a star system plotted, and that a second later signal also arrived, quite recently. In fact it is this later signal that is the true cause of the ‘Storm Worm’ virus that is currently infecting home computers and being attributed to 'criminals'.

A SETI press officer responded, “We use a distributed network of computers to decipher many signals from outer space. We have to study all of the data, so we don’t yet know if this thing commenced with us. However, if this is confirmed, and I don’t say that it is confirmed, perhaps it’s a way of saying Hello, who knows.”

Dacre responded with a chortle, “The Botnet is closer to five million… and growing. Unlike SETI, the storm is working secretly in the background - so it doesn't take all resources, which is clever, very clever - and so the host - the computer - remains unaware of its presence. That’s hardly saying ‘Hello’ or of benign intent…. It's learning by stealth.”

We put it to Dacre that the Storm did not amount to a supercomputer, whatever the source of the attack.

He explained irritably, “It doesn’t take a supercomputer. All it takes is a wide range of computers – at home – and that’s what concerns the Pentagon.”

We asked why?

“Having resources like that….at their disposal…distributed around the planet from another planet… with a high presence… and in a lot of countries…Well?” He ended saying “Global warming… Increased surveillance. This is the perfect place, a planet that is being quickly terraformed and an uncaring apathetic species on it. One day we are going to go to bed and the next…?” He saw no need to finish the statement.

Recent reports claim that a “Storm Worm” botnet virus has been estimated to have between one and five million computers under its control. – without the owner’s knowledge – and is currently creating a cluster in home computers. There has been some speculation as to its origins.

So could an ‘outside’ force currently be worming its way into millions of home PCs whilst their owners remains unaware be of its non-terrestrial origin?

We asked a contact based at IBM for her views on the virus. (To say she was nervous is an understatement.)

“This one’s hot…” she stated. “It’s more powerful than Blue Gene, so anything and all things possible it is being considered. I don’t know myself what’s going on, I don’t have that type of clearance, but there are people here connected to the military who have disappeared. I heard that they are having high-level briefings at a secret location outside of Washington, that much I can say.” (‘Blue Gene’ is a reference to IBM's Blue Gene/L supercomputer.)

Apparently due to its high number of distributed nodes, the Storm Worm’s cluster can scale faster and a lot larger than any supercomputer on earth.

Whatever its origins the cluster now has a combined computing power greater than the most powerful supercomputer in existence – which is alarming.

A NASA press officer initially scoffed at the Clarence Dacre Claims, as we labelled them. But later, after checking ‘with the big boys’, he turned rather officious indeed.

"This is not a quote,” he instructed. “This is on background.” (In other words for your ears only.) “Understood? Repeat background.” He continued, “I am willing to confirm that there is debate – not 'at the highest levels’ as you claim - as to the validity of a million-strong cluster of computers (or more) being comparable to a supercomputer. However, I am assured that it takes more than a pile of CPUs and RAM to make a super computer. In fact one scientist here says that it’s like comparing an army of snipers with a nuclear weapon.” (He laughed at this.)

“A supercomputer like Blue Gene has millions of dollars of R&D, tweaked I/O and an optimised operating system. In all, it's a system with substantial differences to a botnet. As for that connection with NASA and the NSA… well, frankly, it’s baloney," he said. He did not want to dignify Dacre’s claims of extra-terrestrial origin with a response. “Save to say, and don’t quote me, the man has a drink problem.”

But TheBigRetort had never mentioned a debate 'at the highest levels’ in any of our questions to NASA… it was aimed at NSA which refused to comment. Nor had we mentioned any connection between NASA and the NSA. And neither did tea-totalling Clarence Dacre have 'a drink problem'.

So, threat to world security, coverup, hoax? If so, to what ends?

After so many decades of looking up to the sky into the far reaches of outer space and asking Are We Alone, is that answer simply laying at our fingertips?

[Editor’s note. Whilst going to press we received email from the Pentagon press office. “There is no Lieutenant Paul(sic) Dacre employed at the Pentagon, or in any of are (sic) armed services,” it read. “Neither is there a Lieutenant Dacre employed at Nontestcom.” An extremely interesting response indeed… TheBigRetort had never mentioned Dacre’s rank - he had not informed us of it – nor a "Nontestcom”, which stands for Non-Terrestrial Communications. Unfortunately efforts to confirm the above with ‘Lieutenant’ Paul 'Clarence' Dacre have proved fruitless. His phone line has been terminated. Utility companies claim that no one with the name has ever resided at the address and the PO Box initially used for contact has ceased. Asked who settled the bill, the local shopkeeper controlling it said, “Nontestcom.”]

DO YOU KNOW OF A LIEUTENANT PAUL OR CLARENCE DACRE? DO YOU KNOW OF NONTESTCOM? IF YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO ADD TO THIS INTRIGUING STORY, PLEASE GET IN TOUCH.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

NEW MORTGAGE SCAM WARNING

American scamBusters Audri, Jim and Pete bring alarming news from across the Pond that should prove a dire warning for homeowners strapped for cash in dear old Blighty...

Apparently, low interest rates and soaring house prices have encouraged "predatory practices” in America – resulting in the theft of houses, literally.

The con artists use three basic schemes to steal a victim’s home, or as much of the equity in it as possible.

There are many variations, but here’s the basic three:

1) "Equity Stripping" or "Bailout". The scammer "rescues" the victim by getting them to surrender the title deeds, promising that s/he can rent and buy back the house later.

But the scammer simply bleeds the property of most (or all of) the equity and the homeowner usually loses the house.

2) Phantom Help. The supposed “rescuer” charges very high fees for basic phone calls and paperwork that the homeowner could have done himself.

Often, the scammer promises to represent the homeowner in an effort to "work things out", but it's never followed through.

The scammer will insist that the homeowner ignore notices and phone calls from the lender or its agents, almost guaranteeing that the house will be seized. By the time the homeowner knows s/he's been conned, it's too late.

3) “Bait and Switch.” The scammer masquerades as a legitimate housing counselor, armed with mounds of legal documents -- often for new loans to "solve" the homeowner's problem. In reality, the owner signs forged documents that give the scammer ownership.

To make things worse, the victim still owes money for the mortgage, but no longer has the house.

To find potential victims, the scammers consult public notices and purchase lists of bad borrowers from companies that specialise in compiling lists.

They also target people of similar racial, ethnic, religious, and age backgrounds in order to build the trust of potential "pigeons".

Remember… It’s the scammer who wants your bricks and mortar. As the Scambusters rightly point out, "Most banks are not in the business of maintaining or selling property. They're in the business of lending money."

In America, the scams are so new that the law is scrambling to catch up… Prevention is the best remedy.

But after our American cousins rid themselves of this nasty virus, will we catch the same cold?

[For a more in depth study http://www.scambusters.org]

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rightmove: is London falling?

Figures revealing the ‘largest monthly fall in asking prices' since the survey began claim to reveal that London 'fell' by an earth-shattering 2.5%.

An earth-shattering two-point-five.

But don't worry too much... as TheBigRetort reveals, the so-called experts have got it wrong - again. (Caveat follows: For now at least.)

Relatively few new instructions took place during the time that the figures cover; August is a month for holidays not usually given to slogging under the eaves.

To be sure the Rightmove report acknowledges this – but then ignores it.

So why is Rightmove using its data to shoot at the HIP?

Apparently rightmove isn't alone in singling out the introduction of HIPs as a major contributory factor… “The drastic fall of 41% in new instructions for detached houses illustrates the impact of HIPs,” one expert reports.

But is this the case?

Such statements, given the admission that these figures cover the holiday season, seem suspect. Detached houses are not kept from sale due to the cost of a £500 HIP alone - if at all; but for other more mundane reasons.

The need to get the family holiday out of the way before buying and selling is one; in addition, and curiously, some of the detached houses referred to above like as not were placed on the market before the HIP itself came into effect; providing a property was marketed before that date a HIP does not apply - a troublesome point for Rightmove surely.

So why is it then that the ‘experts’ are claiming that HIP regulations and the turmoil in the world financial markets are behind the dramatic slow down?

What dramatic slowdown - 2.5%?

And add this to the mortgage pie… The Northern Rock liquidity debacle only came to light after the Rightmove figures were compiled - no reliable indicator there then.

In fact, the real lime in the mortar of the Rightmove figures I suspect are the estate agents and their asking prices (EAAPs for short); which should not be confused with seller expectation prices. The latter of which Rightmove seems oblivious.

And who compiles those SEPs? (I love doing that.)

Why those crafty estate agents of course. Not only do they understand that August is a dry season (not weather wise I hasten to add) - a time when most buyers are away, a time when few properties become actively marketed, and a time when an estate agent says, ‘If you’re not in a hurry let’s test the market’ - but also a time when they say we'll overprice slightly to get you what you want.

And test and overprice they do… With estate agent asking prices set above seller expectation prices (SEPs) in order to negotiate down, not up! - after all this isn't Scotland - everyone's a winner babe.

So how high do estate agents usually set the EAAP in a slow market?

TheBigRetort has compared its own 'data' using what it calls the Charlotte Ultimatum (nothing to do with Bourne, she's knows who she is - my estate agent) and can reveal that this is usually between 2%-2.6% above the seller's expectation.

So there.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bank run: is C&G next?

Has Cheltenham & Gloucester found a way to beat the liquidity squeeze?

C&G is Lloyds TSB Group’s specialist residential mortgage provider.

In August 2007 it wrote to borrowers informing them on “Important information about C&G mortgages”. The mortgage lender warned:

“Cheltenham & Gloucester plc, as you may know, has been part of the Lloyds TSB Group since 1995. What we’re planning to do is change who the ‘lender’ is for your mortgage. Today it is Cheltenham & Gloucester plc. From 1 October, it will be Lloyds TSB Bank plc.”
So what does the lender have to say about its new now-it's-with-us-now-it-aint mortgage?

“This change has been prompted by new international banking regulations which come in on (sic) 1 January 2008 (called the Basil II Accord).”

But has the lender been adding a little too-much Basel to the sub-prime lending stew in order to hide its US stake?

"Basel II is an effort by international banking supervisors to update the original international bank capital accord (Basel I), which has been in effect since 1988. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, on which the United States serves as a participating member, developed Basel II. The revised accord aims to improve the consistency of capital regulations internationally, make regulatory capital more risk sensitive, and promote enhanced risk-management practices among large, internationally active banking organizations. Revisions to Basel I-based rules also are under consideration."

The C&G move is due to be heard at the High Court on the 20th September.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Maggie and I: Encounter with the Iron Lady

Attending a wedding at St Paul's Cathedral I saw a familiar face treading behind the newlyweds.

It was only after we exchanged pleasant 'nods' and 'hellos' that I realised I knew her... and yet we had never met.

It was former Prime Minister now Baroness Thatcher.

'Thatcher!' one of my friends screamed when they heard of the encounter.

Don't know why people do that. You just need to mention her name and they scream, Thatcher! (Well the people I usually hang round with do.)

However it was our encounter later at the reception that has since been written into the history books. It began following a failed attempt to speak to another wedding guest who was having none of it. Pleasantries with me that is.

Whether it was my attire - casual - or the video camera I had used outside the church (Sony), or me in general - George Michael chin - I don't know. Probably a mix of all of these things and more. It is true to say that this 'knight' did not like the cut of yours truly as I introduced myself.

'And who did you say you were with?' Incredulity sounded in his voice. The bride was a former client and friend of my wife's so...

He looked aghast. 'I'm....Sir William Smith!' (Not his real name.) 'I'm a Member of Parliament! And so is my wife!' he exclaimed without prompting and with a Match That air.

'Ah... really?' I responded. The woman was stood away from our conversation. She did look vaguely familiar. I later had heard that she did not like darkies and had made tasteless and controversial jokes about dead foreigners.

I was going to say that I'm with TheBigRetort but--

--'Ah, there's Margaret! he thundered, 'Must go!'

And with that I was left looking at empty space.

But there is a defining moment in every one's life when we ask: Am I Going to Be Dismissed From The Social Calendar That Easily?

Moving James-Bond-like between him and the former prime minster, I took her hand. 'Hello, M, how are you?' I said. 'Morgan, John Morgan.'

'Hello dear!' she bellowed back in that familiar voice. Softened somewhat by those senior years, "M" looked quite good all told. (Born in Liverpool, I always shorten peoples names. She knew that. I was the first to call Liz Hurley "Liz".)

Sir William must have thought the PM and I were mates because all the old windbag could muster was 'Of course!' Followed by a sound that I took for capitulation. 'Harrumph!' he went.

The daughter's a bit of a beauty and there being no better title than "Daddy", I forced her towards my target.

'Margaret, may I introduce my daughter to you?'

'Of course! Hello dear!' came Maggie's delighted and forceful reply.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the daughter, like Sir William, did not do the hello thing very well. She looked at her feet, did not respond to questions from this stranger, and pretty much ignored all the platitudes bestowed on her by the Iron Lady. So there was I a sort of envoy between the canapes.

From Toxteth to Whitehall.

Arise Sir John, knight of the round table I saw entered in the yearbook of my demolished Secondary Modern. (The building was knocked down. The yearbook was nicked.)

The PM and I fell into an easy banter. My daughter enchanting her (via me it must be said). Me enchanting me.

Baroness Thatcher: 'And how old are you?'

Daughter Stony Silence.

Me: Five.

Baroness Thatcher: 'Ah... Believe it or not I can still remember when I was your age..'

Daughter Stony Silence.

Me: 'I'm sure you can.'

Baroness Thatcher: 'And that was a long time ago!'

Daughter Stony Silence.

Me (lamely and bad idea): 'Nonsense! You don't look a day over fifty'

Baroness Thatcher suddenly goes all Belgrano. Eyes narrow to slits. What was she thinking? Creep? She was too much of a lady to say.

Well, in a BigRetort exclusive I can reveal a state secret. That hard-nosed Iron Maiden with the heart of stone is secretly a little softy, turned by a five-year-old - and Dad of course.

And what of Sir William, I hear you ask.

Banished abroad (they call it the 'countryside') with his Tory wife. where you don't see many dark faces but still hear them 'jokes'.

MAGGIE AND I. MAGGIE AND ME. MAGS AN' RAGS. I haven't yet decided on a title. But all offers duly considered.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Is this traffic mismanagement I see before me?

Congestion charge... Penalty charge... Bus Lane contravention... you can see where this is leading. TheBigRetort exposes a scandal which threatens to drive a coach-and-horse-shit through City Hall - and with it Ken Livingstone's orifice.

The thorn in the Mayor's side? A 'money box junction' situated at Lewisham Way/Parkfield Road, recently nominated as one of England's busiest and noisiest interchanges.

It may seem strange to ask but ask I shall - weren't yellow box junctions designed to increase traffic flow - as Transport for London claims - or are they simply money-raking, tax-gathering, toll gates, the ME stand YOU deliver of 21st Century government?

And whilst we are on that particular rant... will mayoral candidate that toff from Henley on Thames get the votes with moving traffic contraventions as his 'ticket'? (He's not an old fogey, he's a yogey; a young fogey.) Or will that right-leaning ego-driven shock jock from London's Biggest One-way Conversation (?) Nick Ferrari opt for less tax on a Mercedes and throw his fat wallet into the ring? (Come on Nick, mate, join the race. The, err, human race.)

Actually I haven't got a clue... I'm more interested in what the (new) mayor is going to do for that London minority being 'driven' to extinction - ethnically cleansed? - that great unwashed: the car owner. (It used to be No Blacks No Irish No Dogs. Now it's No 4x4s.)

TfL should have conducted an impact study into the traffic flowing through this junction, but look at the picture... Try to guess what's missing. Here's a clue. Moving traffic contraventions...three words synonymous with 'stealth' and 'Tax' and Transport for London has the same letters at the beginning of each word as Tax for London. TfL... Gerrit?

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