Finding Things to do in Guadeloupe

It’s tricky to find things to go in Guadeloupe. Not because there aren’t many things to do, they are just not advertised, or when they are there’s no way of findings out when and where they might be. The idea of having an up to date website with a usable map on it does not seem to fit in with the island’s laid back lifestyle. My own house is on a street without a name for example, there really is no way to look up on the internet where the house is. On the positive side the bus service is not as bad I had been rumoured. The busses might not have a timetable but they do show up at fairly frequent intervals, they do give you change, they all go to the Gare in the central town of Pointe-a-Pitre where you can change to another one. They also play fun and loud Caribbean music all the time so even if it takes an hour to get anywhere it feels like a bit of a party while they do it. They don’t however run on weekends, or past 6 o’clock on weekdays which makes them pretty useless for most leisure activities.

However I did make it to the Xeme Panamerican Jeux de Surf which is heavily advertised. As usual with Gwada the best description of a location you can get is the name of a beach, but no maps have beach names on them. So I took a bus to the nearest town and wandered around until I found the beach somewhere on the outskirts. The competitors from the 20-odd countries were all waiting on the beach ready for something to happen. After a couple of hours something did with the first competitors being called. The first competition was Body Boarding. Now I’m not convinced that board surfing in general lives up to its sand-and-sex reputation but body boarding seems especially tame even for surfers. The competitors are in heats with 3 or 4 surfers in each and 20 minutes to do the best moves you can. 15 minutes into the first heat I’m getting worried that nothing is happening but then a large wave comes and the surfers manage some 360 rolls and spins. Next up is the real board surfers, they do manage some impressive twists and turns including a very nice mid-air 360 which was disqualified because he didn’t surf away from it. Actually I’m impressed they can stand up at all. Later I play a game of hide-the-illegally-purchased-beer-from-the-gendarmerie. Fun and games.

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Panamerican Jeux de Surf

Naturally I’ve been looking for canoe clubs in Guadeloupe. There’s a handy government website called guadeloupe-sport.com which gives a boilerplate text to describe canoeing obviously taken from the Federation Francais de Canoe-Kayak because it includes discipines that are not possible here such as slalom or river running. It lists many clubs but only sometimes bothers to list anything other than a name. The only club with a website is two years out of date (and looks like it was made in 1995). So I hired a car and drove to St Francois where the local club hold and elite looking Surf Ski race each year. The building at the marina says “Kayak de Mer” on the outside but when I enquire how one gets to Kayak le mer I’m met with uncertain glances and a reply of “je ne sais pas”. It seems they don’t actually do anything with kayaks except hold the elite race.

So instead I make my way to the Sunset Surf Camp which is the only hostel on the island, and a very cool one at that. Unlike any of the other surf schools its website has clear instructions on how to learn some surfing, turn up at 9 o’clock and join in. Guadeloupe has a lot of rock reefs a few dozen meters off-shore which shelter the beaches from the large waves and create excellent surfing conditions while they are at it. So after a brief theory lesson we were swimming out to the reef. Board surfing involves a lot of swimming, which is hard work (the boards are heavy) and gives you a pain in your neck because you are lying down and looking up for waves to avoid. Then you have to swim even harder to have any hope of catching a wave. I catch one and it’s fun, skimming along with water just below my face. The next progression is standing up. I can’t do it. I can get on my knees but beyond that the board insists on tipping over sideways. After two hours I’m still no nearer standing up. A fun sport but alas far too much effort to reward ratio.

Next day I drive to a town called Le Moule where rumour has it there is an elite canoe club. Again with nothing more than a beach name to go on I drive around and find it on the outskirts of town. I enquire within but am told it’s lunch time and I should come back in a couple of hours, closing for lunch is normal in France and they close twice as long in Guadeloupe. During this enforced lunch break I am amazed to see a school of fish jumping out the water half a dozen times in succession. A choir sings songs in Creole to keep me entertained. After lunch I’m told yes there’s a club here, yes they do interesting things, come along first thing in the morning. Truly a tropical paradise.


Manu and Molem-Gliss sea paddlers

Mornings start early in Gwada, 7:30 in this case, I presume because they don’t have any light in the evenings. We load up the trailer with a bunch of sea kayaks and head south where a group of about 20 post-middle aged adults paddle along the coast through beautiful green water. The swell is large and some of the older members of the group end up off course but we steer them back together again. We find a small white sand beach and splash around for a while before heading back to the launch site past a hundred palm trees. Over Caribbean beers I am chin-chined for being the first Ecossais in the club.

Another enforced two hour lunch in which the only shop in town open selling anything edible is the bookmakers. I join a group for an entirely new activity, waveski. Waveskis are surf boards with seats and foot holds that you paddle. After the comfort of the sea kayak I find it wobbly and hard to control. Especially since I have nothing to brace against with my knees, only a seat-belt and foot straps to keep you in place. We paddle out to the surf, a group of about 15 boys, aged 10 to 16, plus Moul, the club’s famous Champion de Waveski Français. After some false starts I catch my first wave, the “boat” is super-responsive with the bow entirely out the water. I slide down the wave, back up again then try to gracefully come off the back of the wave but with no knee grips I fall straight in. Amazingly I manage to eskimo roll it only to fail to understand the momentum and roll straight back in again. On my next wave to do even worse and capsize immediately. After a few more waves I work out the trick, in kayaks you lean forwards to get more stability from your knees, in waveskis it seems you need to lean back to get more stability from your feet. By the end of the session I am catching them without fear of falling in. The surf setup at the Molem-Gliss canoe club in Le Moule is excellent, the reef is only 100 metres from the boathouse, there is a safety zone where you can paddle out to behind the waves and there are two sections with smaller and larger waves to give an option for your comfort. I have discovered an excellent new branch of canoeing.


My camera broke so no photos of me or Gwada waveskiers, but here is a generic photo to keep you entertained.

Moving to Guadeloupe

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The nights were drawing in, the days cold and dark, the green man had done battle with the winter queen and lost. Time to fly away.

Florida was fun with my Kubuntu community and friends, the mickey mouse burgers, the free alcohol, chlorinated waterfalls and specs written. I could go home to the cold and the dark or I could go on. I choose on. I fly south over blue seas and tropical islands. At Puerto Rico my body is met with a wall of warmth. A strange land this: half American, half Hispanic, half Carribean. The pace of life noticably slower, the queues longer. I take what food I can from the airport lounge and fly on. More islands pass, the clouds of cotton wool floating by.

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You can pick your food out of the sea here.

Guadeloupe appears through the clouds, green and fertile. No wall of heat this time, the plane is already warm. At customs comes my first test of French, will I understand? Words fail, they wave me through. Outside nobody is waiting for me, worry sets in, a foreign land and nobody to help, maybe my colocatiere does not exist, maybe there is no house and my money is gone. She appears, smiling and friendly, speaking impenetrable French. “Plus lentement s’il te plait.” I understand. I can converse. Je suis un francophone.

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A beach in tropical paradise

The house exists, my studio flat has all I need. The dogs and cats are friendly. The swimming pool compact but pleasant. Carrefour is a drive away, a city to commercialism, I buy Guadaloupe sauces and fruits. Life here is expensive but various. We enjoy Guadeloupe food, the savoury fried bananas tasty, the chicken done to perfection. The beach is covered in palm trees, the sun strong but the shade welcoming. The sea is warm like I have never swum in before, a hot bath of blue.


The night chorus outside my bedroom, a symphony of frogs

Why Guadeloupe I am asked. No paticular reason but several inpaticular. It is French and they do not speak French here. I am jealous of people who speak a second language, I feel inferior. Here I have to speak French, I have no choice. It is France, and Europe. A little corner of the EU in the Carribean. A strange detour of a political border but one that works for my advantage, no need for visa or strange currency or work permit. It is a Carribean island, I have never been to this part of the world before, a new place. Time to explore.

BCU Whitewater 3 Star Training and Assessment

I observed two days of Three Star White water kayak training and assessment with coach and assessor Bruce Jolliffe. This was part of a poorly advertised SCA scheme to give subsidised training to club coaches. (The events were mentioned in several places but their dates and locations were hidden away in a tricky to find part of the SCA’s coaching calendar.) I observed it in the hope of becoming a three star assessor and picking up coaching and paddling tips. We went on the Grade 1 occationally 2 River Teith on Saturday and the Grade 2 River Stanley.

We started on the flat with a breathing exercise to help us get good posture. Then some forward paddling commenting on the elements of good forward paddling. We moved onto backwards paddling looking at the difference in where our paddles entered and exited the water compared to forward paddling. The point was made that backwards paddling is a good warm up as it makes use of shoulder muscles not used by forward paddling. The exercise was given of paddling backwards in a circle and the students were allowed to practice that a bit and work out how to do it reliably. There was then the assessment of paddling backwards in a figure of 8, we had three students and two of them were the bhoys to paddle around.

We then paddled a bit downstream, this gives some time for the students to reflect on what they have just done.

At the first rapid we looked at break ins. The students were allowed some time to play then given individual questions to find an answer to “what speed should you go at for a break in?”, “what angle to go at?” “where do you leave one body of water and enter another?”. We had some discussion from that.

I was given the exercise of working out how many strokes it took to do a ferry glide. I did 12 paddling all the way across and 4 with a stern rudder. I was given the feedback to have my arms within a box position of my body (so the paddle is not so far behind me) and use more body rotation which would get more power transfer.

We covered river signals, we were advised against using paddles because they are easily mistaken for just moving paddles around (I fully agree with this). We were advised to acknowledge river signals by making the same one back to the signaller. We did some eddy hopping to show the beginnings of river leadership. He also lead us down a section with his position on the river being far to the outside of the turn, this was for leadership to be able to see around the corner, if being led in such a situation it isn’t always necessary to follow the same river course.

After lunch we did some throwbag practice on land. Starting by just throwing the bag without rope, then throwing the rope into a circle target. We did some re-throws too by collecting the rope into loops in our palms and throwing those, this is less reliable than a clean throw.

Back on the water we did braces. Bruce’s braces were very dynamic with a lot of body movement and the paddle skulling over the surface of the water. He finished with his nose on the front of his deck, as if coming up from a roll. This will take some getting used to. The point was made that high braces are likely to rip your arm out of your shoulder socket.

Rotation was also a key element of the draw stroke ont the move (and hanging draw). To achieve it you need to straighten the leg on the side you are rotating towards.

Similarly for an eskimo rescue there was a lot of rotation and nose being kept to the deck. We also practices eskimo rescues with a paddle (rather than with a boat’s bow). If the rescuer grabs you by the hand wait for them to put your hand on the paddle before rolling up. In practice eskimo rescues with a paddle are very rarely done. Then we did the eskimo rescues on moving water to test it at a 3 star level.

Throwing a throwline to a capsized swimmer was combined with deep water rescues. For my deep water rescue I put a boat on my arm to empty the water and then over the bow of my boat. He turned the boat over and continued to turn it back upside down onto the bow of his boat. He said this reduced lifting weight. (I’m yet to try it, I don’t think my technique has much lifting, and I’m sure I remember Dave Rossiter showing it to me for my FS&RT even though Jason insists Dave has long since changed his technique.)

We did a recipricol teching practice of draw on the move where students were infront of each other and used draw stroke on move as part of overtaking each other.

We did towing with slings and contact towes. He advised us to keep the sling untied because it could be a snag hazard (I’m not convinced by this, it’s not a snag hazard in my pocket).

He did an exercise where the students had to work out how to turn a boat in a circle with only one blade. Then they had to move the boat forward with the same stroke and work out what the difference was. (The answer is edge and where pressure on the stroke.)

Then we had some fun at Thistlebrig, the assessor got out first and wrote his de-brief notes then chatted to each person who all passed.

Review of Moderate Water Endorsement – White Water

In my lengthy quest to get bits of paper saying I can coach I did my Moderate Water Endorsement – White Water with Kim Bull. There were three of us doing a day of training then a day of assessment.

We started off with him doing four short coaching sessions with us on ferry gliding. They covered the four fundamentals and the four teaching styles. Connectivity/guided discovery – where are you touching your boat and order those places from most to least important. Power transfer/practice – try at 30%, 40% and 50% effort. Posture/command – ferry glide and imagine there’s a string out of your head pulling yourself up. Feel/self check – think how it feels as you paddle across.

Next the three of us students did sessions on breaking in/out for each other. Sam did a session on stern rudder break ins and us to feel where the pressure is. I did a session on imagining it was a slalom, visualising the strokes needed then checking they were doing that. It turned into guided discovery when I was asked if bow rudder or stern rudder was better answer: bow rudder is for slalomists because you can turn it into a forward stroke) so we explored that along with the angle of the blade in the bow rudder (90 degrees to the current, not relative to the boat).

After lunch we moved down the river and Kim did a session on stern rudder break ins. This is not something I’ve come across before but apparently it’s the best way for beginners and others to break into the current. The stern rudder required feels a lot like a bow rudder, just further behind the boat. It’s not as sudden as a bow rudder and it does more than a support stroke.

We looked at coaching leadership, when we are making decisions on how to do a rapid we need to be aware of the process that lets us make that decision so we can share it with others who will then learn to be river leaders.

One more session from each student, tactics of ferry glides, s-bend break out and ins and I did a session on surfing a wave (which we didn’t really manage, tricky wave).

The next day was assessment day. 6 canoeists turned up. All in dry suits and with their own river boats, was this a sign they knew how to tackle basic rapids already? We each had to do two sessions both of 45 minutes. I hadn’t had much inspiration the night before on sessions and was still pondering what to do when one of them asked what a draw stoke on the move is. So I quickly improvised a session on just that, using a fairly smooth rapid and shouting “rock” at them to get them to react with their draw. For my second session I did the visualising slalom which I had done the day before, focusing more on getting them to have confidence in their break in. Turns out people with dry suits and river boats aren’t necessarily great paddlers.

I was told my assessment sessions were both very good and I would have passed. Alas I haven’t done enough coaching hours in the required environment to be able to pass so this was just for experience and I’ll need to do it again.

We used the River Tyne in northern England. Basic grade 1 maybe 2 rapids. Much talk of access restrictions, hassles from anglers and jealousy about freedom in Scotland. MWE is a useful course, not too lengthy, which brings together 4-star river leadership and level 2 coaching.

BCU 5 Star Leader White Water Training

I did some training with Chris Dickinson of Spean Bridge. I don’t get enough opportunities to get onto higher grade white water rivers and it was great fun to try some new rivers with people who are enthusiasic about the sport. Unlike with low level coaching courses which are often populated with people who work for councils, the leadership awards are generally for people who are strongly into canoeing. 5 Star Leader is pretty similar to 4 Star Leader but on heavier water.

We started out on the River Roy and ended up doing the entire length of it. The rain was on much of the day and the water was rising throughout. While at 4 star level you have four or so hand signals, at 5 star water grades (3-4 with some 5) the chances of needing to communicate complex commands at distance is much higher and we were given a list of about 20 commands to find signals for. We did some skills which I found very easy, maybe the slalom that I’ve done means I can put my boat on a desired wave on demand without having to think about it. We also did some foward paddling tuition which most of the other paddlers had never done but is the sort of thing I do every day in a racing boat. So crossing over disciplines does help a lot. Curious that my skills were marked as being very high when on my 4 star assessment they were considered my weak point, maybe I’ve improved a lot with more hours on the water recently or maybe there’s just a high degree of chance. On an especially large wave in a gorge section I was folling a paddler who capsized and swam which put me off at just the wrong time that I was soon in the water too, although I tried a roll a few times the water was too airated for it to work and I came out, most disappointing. By the end of the day the river was in spate and we had to paddle fast to get to the egress before it became too dangerous. The get out involved using microeddies behind trees and a steep climb up banks with roaps, quite an impressive team effort.

The evening was spent discussing interesting topics like catchment areas and flow rates and finding rivers.

Spean gorge was our paddle on day two and was a large river in lovely surroundings. We did some rescue scenarios which are always worth practicing. At the grade 5 rapid I had another capsize but made the roll which kept me happy. My leadership wasn’t as good as I had hoped, it’s hard to find the balance between instructing people and giving them free rein within boundaries, on coaching and leadership courses such as this people are usual feel the need to follow orders rather than use their own experience, on real paddles the opposite is true with experienced paddlers. We learned an interesting double roll, if you feel your first roll is failing you can swap the paddle blade round quickly and use the momentum to help you roll up on the other side. I’ve tried this in a pool since and you have to be very quick and preferably have nose and ear clips to stop your head filling with water. We also did a draw stroke on the move which is something I should practice more. We learnt why hanging draws are a bad idea, there’s a risk of objects in the water hitting the paddle, I’m glad of this since I never saw the point of a hanging draw anyway. We covered an eddy spin move which is using eddies to spin your boat quicky and gracefully so you can get a view of the complete river without losing too much forward momentum. Finally we stopped and listened to the sound of nature and considered ourselves lucky for being canoeists who can see it close up from a view few others can.

All good fun and very interesting. I highly recommend Chris as a coach. Now I just need to find 30 paddling days on high grade white water to be able to pass the 5 star assessment.

BCU UKCC Level 2 Coach in “Paddlesport” Review

Today I received my certificate for BCU UKCC Level 2 Coach. This means I am now qualified (according to the BCU) to coach canoeing in sheltered water. Of course I’ve been doing this for the last couple of years anyway but I do feel a lot more capable now I’ve gone through the courses. It is a lot of hassle though and a lot of time (I did my Level 2 training over a year ago).

The Training

I don’t remember much about this, it was over a year ago and it was very cold, possibly not best done at the end of November. There were four days of training, some classroom based, one pool based session and plenty of outdoor sessions. There’s some new teaching styles, a breakdown of practice styles and an emphasis on observation and improvement rather than following a pre-set plan.

The Other Bits

Between training and assessment there are a load of pre-assessment tasks. Managing the paperwork, finding courses and people to help with these is a significant undertaking. The BCU’s paperwork is full of mistakes and inconsistencies as usual which doesn’t help.

The first task is a supporting module which means three hours of computer slides, in this case about coaching children and young people. Not terribly interesting, would have been more useful if there actually were some young people to coach rather than just slides explaining what menarche is.

You have to do a course in safeguarding children. Just finding where this course is being held is a struggle, I was pointed at a web page that listed dates from previous years but no future dates. Hidden in SportScotland’s website under a link for 2009 was the dates for 2010. Another three hours of not very interesting computer slides and exercises. Only interesting thing was noting that the British people there were far more paranoid about paedophilia than the continental Europeans in the room.

Then there was the Long Term Paddler Development web module. This website was full of so many inconsistencies, typos, missing text and repeated text that I sent a complaint to the chair of the SCA coaching committee (no reply), the SCA coaching coordinator (who told me I could find the answers in a book, despite everything saying the answers are on the website) and the BCU (who said they incorporated my long list of corrections and will review the site, we’ll see). The quiz to pass the module can only be attempted once every 24 hours and because it asks questions that don’t have answers on the website I had to fill it in about a dozen times before I passed. The content is minimal too, I can see the point of being aware that top athletes start as children and vary their training with age until they become elite but that could be covered in one diagram. Adding on recreation to the mix is an obvious late attempt to make it relevant to the majority of canoeists (non competitors) which doesn’t work at all. Very frustrating and a complete waste of time.

First aid training was interesting and fun. Having an outdoors course is important.

The most important bit is the six progressive sessions. Finding punters to follow the sessions is difficult and finding a mentor who is suitably qualified and has the time to watch and review the sessions plus go over all the paperwork is tricky too. After a couple of false starts I did get a group going (the trick is to get them to pay in advance, else they won’t commit). Writing lesson plans is surprisingly time consuming but a useful exercise in getting good sessions.

On top of that there is another 10 hours of kayak and 10 hours of Canadian coaching to do. Easy enough since I’ve been running club nights this year and doing various trips.

The Assessment

The assessment at Glenmore Lodge starts the day before with a session collecting the multitude of paperwork together. After going through it all I discover I’m missing my supporting module certificate, instant fail. You have two sessions with real students. Although the paperwork says you will be contacted before to work out what students you have and what sessions to plan for, this isn’t true. We were told the night before and I spent a late night planning. You are meant to show a good range of teaching styles, observation and all the other necessities of running a good session. In the end I pitched some stuff too high for the students and didn’t show good observation. Then on my personal skills I ended up not being able to control a Canadian on a windy loch, turns out I’m not a very experienced Canadian canoeist, shame I had to find out on the assessment.

So a few months later I did another assessment in Wales. They also didn’t tell us what to expect beforehand so I planned a couple of sessions which didn’t get used. Instead we met the students on the morning and did the sessions after 20 minutes planning time. Strangely they went much better, I was able to put my knowledge of slalom to good use. One student was notably cheeky (“I’m a three star paddler”, “I’m warmed up now”) which helped because I could show her what she didn’t know.

However I didn’t do the warm up before moving boats. I also didn’t bother with helmets for anyone since it was flat water. Doing warm up before moving boats is logical (moving boats is the most strenuous part of these sessions) but I’ve never seen any professional or amateur coach do it. Likewise helmets for flat water seem excessively hassleful but I guess you have to cover your back and there might be hidden objects in the water. After arguing the points the assessor took pity and passed me.

After several weeks of asking I got a replacement from the SCA for the supporting module certificate I had lost on my first assessment. This was then sent back to the SCA along with all the rest of my certificates so they could sign me off as having enough certificates. What a messy system. It then took 3 months for the BCU to send me the final coaching certificate. I wonder what they spend three months doing.

Conclusion

I’ve definitely become a better coach from doing the courses. The mess of paperwork is horrible. The amount of bits that need done is a hassle, but I’m not sure what one I’d remove. Oh yes, Long Term Paddler Development, get rid of that for sure.

RiddellLeaks – Foreign Office Latest

The latest revelations sent to RiddellLeaks have revealed the inner discussions of the High Commission in Sierra Leone. Having not resolved their incorrect e-mail address after the previous shocking leak new e-mails keeps coming into our leakers address, riddell@gmail.

Today’s leaked e-mail shows how the High Commission is trying to influence the democratic process of Sierra Leone by seeking a meeting with officials regarding their road widening scheme. Not only is the British High Commission involved in this foreign interfearence in a soverign state but the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs is involved too and an unspecified wing of the EU. Western corruption at it’s worst!

(OK, nothing very interesting really in this e-mail except 1) FCO continue to send e-mails to the wrong e-mail addresses even once I’ve already informed them 2) Interesting confirmation at the extent China is investing in Africa, “China Railway Seventh Group” are doing the road widening, I wonder what they want in return. 3) Impressive how putting “URGENT” in the subject of an e-mail means I automatically ignore it, checking my inbox I’ve been getting these for the last couple of months.)

Scottish Lib Dems Voting for English Tuition Fees

The UK parliament has voted to increase tuition fees for students in England. I feel very sorry for England’s future students.

As an English matter this affects the affairs of Scottish MPs in two ways, firstly the massive reduction for teaching in English unis will get passed on to the Scottish budget. Secondly Scottish MPs have constituents who are English students who will pay these fees. There is no way this vote could be seen as in any way beneficial to Scotland so any Scottish MP should either abstain or vote no. Unless they were voting as directed by their whip rather than for the good of their constituents.

Here’s the voting record. Naturally the SNP members present all voted against. So did Labour. My own MP, Ian Murray made a spectacularly bad political point which he claimed was a Point of Order. I shall now slag him off on Twitter because that’s how modern politics works. Tory boy Mundell voted for the rise.

Lib Dems, as is their style, couldn’t make up their mind. For English tuition fees: Michael Moore, Jo Swinson, Mike Crockart, Malcolm Bruce, Danny Alexander, Alistair Carmichael. Against English tuition fees: Alan Reid, Menzies Campbell, Charles Kennedy. Interesting to see the former party leaders, presumably with nothing to lose, voting for the sensible thing. Those wanting promotion and junior government posts voting against their election promises. Shame.

Foreign Office Invites me to Security Meeting

Strange e-mail du jour, the Foreign Office’s “Regional Overseas Security Manager & Post Aviation Security Officer” in Freetown inviting me to a meeting to discuss security issues in Sierra Leone. I’ve had quite a few e-mails intended for other people to my riddell@gmail address but I would have expected security officers to actually use secure communications like PGP encryption.

From: Tim.Parkinson@fco.gov.uk [mailto:Tim.Parkinson@fco.gov.uk] 
Sent: 22 November 2010 08:07
To: riddell@googlemail.com; franz.brandl@ec.europa.eu; v@free.auswaertiges-amt.de; Miller Karen FREETOWN EM
Subject: EU Security Meeting

Dear All,
 
I am keen to commence quarterly meetings between us to discuss security issues within SL.
I know I have met each of you individually over the past months, but a collective meeting would be useful.
 
I am hoping to have a meeting prior to Dec 6th if this is possible?
I was thinking Tuesday November 30th if this suits all parties?
 
I look forward to hearing from you, 
 
Tim Parkinson
Regional Overseas Security Manager &
Post Aviation Security Officer
Freetown,
Sierra Leone
(FTN: (8380) Ext 2241)
(Mobile: (+232) 076601001)
(e Mail: Tim.Parkinson@fco.gov.uk)

The Old Guys, a Formulaic Sit-com

You know how sit-coms always have really forced sounding laughter over the soundtrack? That really is from an audience watching it being acted live and being forced to laugh on pain of being shouted at by a Glaswegian woman.

I went to see The Old Guys being recorded. I was very impressed by the BBC’s new studios in Glasgow, large room, lots of large high-definition digital video cameras. 100 rails on the ceiling to move lights, cameras and sound booms up and down. Must have cost a fortune to build (£118 million says the internet). The set is about 40 metres long and features ground floor inside of a house and a deli. The audience must have been about 200 people. The loud Glaswegian woman who gets sent on to do the warm up act is mostly annoying and unamusing but we laugh because that’s our role in the process. Next come on the crew, camera people, sound people, director and the bloke whose job is to carry cable reels around the place. Then the three actors come out and take a bow. They shoot some scenes and when we don’t laugh hard enough they have to re-take them. Every second scene is pre-recorded outside the studio and shown to us on large TV screens, when we don’t laugh hard enough they’re shown twice.

Most pleased to see Stoats porridge bars being used as a prop in one of the outside scenes. Some extras are used in the scenes in the cafe set, Ken Latham of Quaker Summer School organising is one of them, he joined an amateur dramatics society a while ago and I presume this is a way for them to earn some money for the society. They chat away silently while the actors say their lines and we try to laugh.

I can see why these programmes get made, they provide regular employment to the crew and make use of the shiny new recording studio, but the constraints are obvious. It need to have every other scene recorded in the set otherwise its not worth the time to bring in the cast, crew and audience which explains why so many sit-coms are based around a house and a pub/cafe. It’s limited to which actors you have on the day in the set, the outdoor scenes can have more actors but they can’t suddenly appear in the house or pub/cafe because they’re not at the studio recording. The script is dire and nothing about it is creatively original, I can’t help feeling it would be much improved by not having the restrictions of being recorded in a studio and having a laughter track. Probably why I don’t own a TV.


Ken Latham with Trigger. I knew him before he was famous.


Stoats Porridge Bars, free publicity when you send your product to BBC producers.

Edinburgh South Election

I voted for the SNP this election. I wasn’t terribly impressed by their “we don’t want any cuts” idea, it seems to me if you’re in massive debt you should get rid of that debt as soon as possible. But they remain the party that I find myself in agreement with most often and I was very annoyed at them being left out of the leaders debates, the London establishment really doesn’t understand that the party of government should have a say in the main election event.

Voting over I decided to tick off another of the items on my list of things to do before I die and attend the election count for Edinburgh. Kindly the SNP invited me to attend to keep an eye on the counters and make sure they were treating everyone fairly. Turn out an election count is mostly boring. Even the political speaches at the results announement are nothing more than a poor-man’s Oscar thanks.

It’s a busy event, there are at least 65 staff for each constituency on the night and Edinburgh has 5 constituencies. Then there are all the party hangers on who are tasked with keeping an eye on the counter or keeping up spirits for their tired out candidate. There are also press and tele cameras around the place.

As a couning agent my job was to look over the shoulder of the counters as they unfolded the votes and take a rough count to get a feel for which wards are popular and which unpopular with the party I happen to be helping. I’m not sure why they can’t just get the counts listed for each ward officially but seems this low tech low reliabiliity approach is the preferred way.

First unfolding done and suddently everybody stops for lunch. In the middle of the night. Hungry work all this unfolding paper.

The second round of counting starts sometime after midnight when the papers are actually sorted into piles for each party. The occational “none of the above” or even full essay written on the voting paper provide occational humour.

Around one in the morning the higher profile candidates arrive. Colin Fox has been around all night making sure every one of his meagre Scottish Socialist Party votes gets counted properly while Alistair Darling can wander in (followed by a large number of press photographers) much later happily assured he’ll manage to win without any effort.

Around three in the morning the results start getting announced. Alistair Darling was entirely right to assume he’d win without bother. His Labour supporters all look like they would fit much better into the Tory party, polished shoes and all. He didn’t bother giving any more than one sentence for a speach before rushing off to try and pretend he was still in government. Best speaches for the night came from the various socialist parties who seem to have spintered into multiple factions again following Tommy Sheridan imploding. One of them had the microphone turned off while talking all because he wanted to make a serious political point rather than thanking his election agent and dog for helping during the election, shame.

No loony politicians in Edinburgh (a shame, they often make the best ones) but Leith constituency did sport the curious Liberal Party (unrelated to Lib Dems), various socialists and some bloke who claimed to be campaiging for the “great British pound”.

Four sets of results in and Edinburgh remains strongly Labour, infact even stronger than the start of the night. Quite mystifying, presumably people want to keep the Tories out. Only my own Edinburgh South is unfinished. SNP man Sandy Howat turns out to be good crack and quite perceptive but the early count showed he was in poor fouth. Tory bloke failed to make much progress, so there is some sense in the world. The piles of votes in the centre of the counting hall show Lib Dems and Labour to be exactly even. The candidates are called into the centre to be shown the results. The Labour man hugs his agent. Lib Dem Fred Macintosh seems to be talking to the returning officer and before long a bundle recount is in order. An hour later that finishes with more talking and muttering in the centre and a full recount follows soon after. By 5 in the morning most people have gone home but eventually the cheer goes around the hall from the polished show crowd with the Labour rosettes.

Edinburgh South results. Poor old Fred Macintosh who put so many leflets through our door every day lost by 300 votes. Mystifying indeed. Sandy Howat of the SNP moaned about how the country had rejecting the Conservaties but it seems by that logic they wanted Labour. Trouble is the English had a different idea and now David Cameron is Prime Minister. Fooey.

BCU Advanced Whitewater Safety and Rescue

I did the BCU Advanced Whitewater Safety and Rescue course with Steve MacKinnon (H2O Outdoors) and Dave Rossetter (Standing Waves, RCO, SCA, BCU, most everything). The course follows on from the basic Whitewater Safety and Rescue with more jumping in rivers, pulling people off rocks and running after boats. Here are my notes for my own benefit and anyone else who cares to read them.

We talked about safe paddling, how preparations for a safe trip have to be made from the start. The most useful bit of kit for a river leader/rescuer seems to be the 5 metre length of climbers webbing tape, often tied together to make a sling.

Creating an anchor is important for attaching ropes to boats or people. You can create one by tying the length of webbing strapping carried by all river leaders around a rock or tree. Tie it with an overhand knot or an overhand rethread water knot (stronger but harder to undo).

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Climbers webbing/tape sling tied with an overhand knot.
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Tied with a rethreaded water knot

You can wrap the webbing around the anchor three times using the two untied loops as the anchor point, this is wrap 2 tie 1 and is usually more than is necessary for a kayak.

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Using a chair as an anchor with wrap 2 tie 1 (trees are more common than chairs when paddling though)

attaching your throwline to an anchor will create a pulley system for pulling a heavy object such as a person or boat.

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This is a basic 1:1 pulley, it offers no paticular advantage compared to just holding the rope except a change of direction may be useful depending on the terrain

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Here we’ve added a loop in the pulley, it means the holder does not have to hold full tension to keep the rope in place, however it can get tangled

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Here we’ve added an italian hitch a much better way to create a belay to allow the holder to lose tension without slipping (but it does allow to move the rope backwards if needed).

A prussic is a ~1metre length of rope which is tied in a loop (with a double fishermans knot), the rope’s diameter should be smaller than that of your throwline rope. You use a prussic to tie a prusik knot with your throwline rope to act as a ratchet to allow the rope to be reset in position without slipping back under load. (I’m unclear why the BCU mispells the length of rope compared to the name of the knot but they seem to do it consistently).

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A prussic

To pull a heavy load (e.g. pulling a full boat off a rock) you can create a pulley system. A 3:1 pulley system is made with an anchor, a throwline’s rope, pulleys, karabinas and prussics.

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a 3:1 pulley system attached to an anchor (the chair) and tied with a clove hitch at the bottom. When pulling from the rope at the top the rope at the bottom (attached to your heavy canoe) will move with 1/3rd the effort compared to a straight pull and will move only 1/3rd the distance (if the boat is stuck on a rock this is often enough to get it off). Once the pulley has been pulled through the bottom karabina will have moved up to the top one and it can not be reset.

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This pulley system has a prusik knot attached instead of a clove hitch at the bottom. Once the pulley has been pulled through the bottom karabina can be slid back down the rope to continue pulling more.

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Here we have added a second prissic tied with a one way prusik knot called a Klemheist, this will stop the pulley being pulled back if you stop your load, however the knot is likely to get tangled in the pulley and a second person is needed to stop this happening.

Instead of a prussic you can use webbing tape to create a criss cross knot that does the same job

When helping a person down a slope you can attach the rope to their harness on their lifejacket. When raising you can put a rope around their body and hold with karabiner and clove hitch. Ropes used by canoeists aren’t suitable for a vertical lowering, only an aid on a slope.

When climbing down a bank you could lower a person down as described above or you could just attach a rope at the top (not to the person) and use that to help stabalise. Can lower boats using the 1:1 pulley system shown above. You can use alternate ends of the rope for each boat, lower on one end then next boat on the other end which is now raised.

When rescuing a person stuck in the middle of a river usually the first task is to create a stabalising line. Throw or row a rope across the river upstream of the victim (attach two together if on a wide river) and walk down to the victim. You can get it under his arms by pulling tight which will push it under the water briefly (you could also just push down with a paddle blade from the bank). In most cases a stabalising line is enough to allow the victim to save himself.

if you have to send in a person to help the victim use a V or Y lower rescue. Two throwlines are attached to the rescuer’s harness, lose end of one throwline is taken across to the other river bank. The rescuer swims in upstream of the victim and is lowered down the river current by those holding the ropes on the bank. In a Y rescue only one rope is attached to the rescuer and the second rope is attached with a karabina to the first, giving more of a vector to pull the rescuer over.

If you only have access to a single bank you can tie two throwlines together with a sling and have two people throw it over the victim to loop him.

A synch is a rescue system using four throwbags and four people, two on each bank. Two throwlines get stretched across the river from opposite sides on either side of the victim and attached to each other on the opposite bank. The attachment points then each get another throwline which acts as the reset/delay lines. The main lines get pulled tight to create a loop around the victim, the delay lines can be pulled to withdraw the loop or adjust its position.

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A person trapped in a river being rescued by a synch. 1 & 3 are main lines, 2 & 4 are delay lines. This is only useful if you have people on both banks who know how to do this method of rescue.

When chasing a boat down a river which has been separated from its paddler you usually want at least two people, one can scout ahead for danger or opportunities. First thing is to turn the boat upright making it easier to move. Can use a sling to move it.

When rescuing a swimmer from the bank with a throwline (or sling) it is important to shout instructions at the person, often to the point of being aggressive and bossy (you can appologise for being rude once they are safe). You need a good stance. A second person can hold you if you have poor footing, or can hold the rope if poor grip or load is too heavy (and a swimmer in a rapid is a very heavy load). Always hold the rope with thumbs upwards (fingers and wrists turned down). A second rope can be added to the first one to act as a vector pull.

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holding a rope in a z-grip with thumbs up

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throwline with vector line, the vector line makes it much easier to pull the victim to the bank

Live bait means jumping in the river to grab hold of a swimmer in a current. The rescuer has a throwline attached to their life jacket harness. Jumping in too late is better than too soon, the victim can get tangled in the rope if you jump in downstream of them.

Once the victim is at the bank he may need some first aid or comfort. You can use spraydecks or life jackets to provide padding and insulation from the ground. Airbags make for good pillows. Your ever handy tape/webbing sling can be used as a tie for a leg splint or an arm sling. Airbags can help pad out the splint or sling too. A victim who can’t walk can be carried with slings.

Anti Trident Demo in Edinburgh

Went to the anti Trident demo today run by Scotland’s for peace. Quite a quiet affair walking up the high street, could have benefited from some drums. Alex Salmond spoke first, made me happy to live in a country where the first minister still goes on peace marches.

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Oor Alex.

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Quakers

On Having a Birthday on Christmas Eve

My birthday is on Christmas Eve. Every year I get asked by people if this is annoying because people are distracted and I might get one present where otherwise I would get two. Actually I find the opposite is true. On Christmas Eve people are in the mood for a celebration which is due to come, they’ve done all their Christmas preparations and bought any food they need, most people are on holiday and many who aren’t normally in Edinburgh have back here to visit their family. So there are usually plenty of people around with nothing better to do than have some fun. I find few people only give me one present, quite the contrary it means people who wouldn’t have given me anything do give me something. My facebook wall has never been so busy with good wishes (it’s still not going to make me use facebook, humbug) and IRC has been full of birthday pings.

Yesterday I went sledging, this morning I had breakfast brought to me in bed, I got lots of lovely present from lovely people and we went to see Avatar which is Hollywood doing what it does best (doubling the economy of New Zealand). Tomorrow I’m going for a canoe in an open canadian. Christmas can be fun.

Whitewater Guide River Ericht

Today I paddled the River Ericht. We lost a boat after a rescue took longer than it was possible to go chasing after it 🙁

There’s no guide to the Ericht on ukriversguidebook so here’s one I’ve written which I’ll submit to him.

Stats

Level: There is a SEPA gage on the river, anything above 0.9m is paddleable. http://www.sepa.org.uk/water/river_levels/river_level_data.aspx?id=14956
Length: 5km
Time: 1 to 2 hours
Grades: 2/3 (5)

Access

The Ericht put in is from the old section of A93 which is now a gated road two miles north of Blairgowrie. Access to the road is from the north end, once you get onto the new section of A93 watch for a turning on the right opposite a sign marked “Manor Farm Private”. There is an unlocked gate with an SCA sign 20m into the road. The road is no longer maintained so watch out for trees, mud and leaves. Park in the layby 100m north of the closed metal bridge. It is a steep 50m long scramble down a muddy bank to a small eddy in the river, use ropes to get the boats down.

The get out is river left above the weir at Keithbank Mill, walk along the path and over the footbridge to Keithbank Mill (now luxury flats) where you can park. Cargill’s Leap is just below Keithbank Mill and is avoided by all but the daft. An alternative get out is to paddle into Blairgowrie and get out above or below the bridge.

Description

The first 2km is grade 2 with limited gaps for breathers/rescues. The lines are clear and there are few hazards.

Beyond the the A93 bridge there is a final grade 2 rapid before the river goes up a notch and becomes fairly constant grade 3 until Keithbank Mill. Bigger waves and steeper rapids including a broken weir, the unstable confluence with Lornty Burn coming from the right and a pipe crossing above.

The weir at Keithbank mill has a steep angle and best avoided (the normal take out is above it). Shortly after is the grade 5 Cargill’s Leap which includes two narrow channels both with hard recirculation below. The top narrow channel has a chicken shoot on river right but it ends directly in the recirculation which will push you onto the stone bank.

The weir at Blairgowrie is reported to be paddleable and a surf wave appears below the bridge at hight levels.

Warnings

Cargill’s Leap is a notable hazard and counts the death of one paddler researching for the SCA’s Scottish White Water guidebook.

The section above the get in from Bridge of Calley includes the scenic but hazardus Craighall’s Gorge. This is hard to portage and once features on the BBC’s 999 programme after novice paddlers got stuck and had to be rescued by climbers.

Map

Open Whitewater Maps, coming soon

Copyright Jonathan Riddell 2009, may be freely copied with the Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Scotland Licence.

UKCC BCU Level 1 Coaching Course Notes

I did my level 1 canoe coaches course at Glenmore Lodge with Dave Rosseter (who seems to have a large chunk of the market). This includes a day doing the Foundation Safety and Rescue Course. Here are my notes for my own use and anyone else who cares.

Fundamentals of coaching. Coaching priorities are (in order of importance): Safety, Enjoyment, Learning. Safety involves a risk assessment, which can be site specific and can be dynamic (i.e. thinking about risks).

Foundation skills of canoeing are: Posture, Contact Points, Power Transfer and Feel.

There are different teaching styles.

Direct instruction is when you tell people what to do. Pros: Control. Cons: Not student led.
Practice, where you keep doing something. Practice akes permanant (can be good or bad). Can be boring.
Self Check. Give some check points and ask them to see if they are doing it. Gives independence. May do the wrong thing.
Guided Discovery. Ask them to work out how to do something. Gives ownership of learning. Enforces habits. Time consuming.

When observing canoeing look for Body, Boat and Blades. Think about the indicators for a good stroke.

During a rescue the order of importance is: Self, Team, Casualty then Equipment.

Rescue techniques from low to high risk are: shout, reach, throw, row, (go).

When leading remember CLAP: Communication, Line of Site, Avoidance and Position of maximum usefulness.

Learning Styles: Pragmatist (wants to know why, likes feedback and confirmation), Activist (jumps into it, likes discovery), Theorist (wants the technical information), Reflector (sits back and observes, likes demos).

For demos, can separate example and description.

A good coach will be able to teach Technical, Tactical, Physical and Phychological capabilities.

Canoeists First Aid Course Notes

I went on a first aid course held by Leo Hoare of Getafix, the course had an ourdoor activities theme and included plenty of scenarios to get into practice should a problem ever happen. Here are my notes for my own purposes and incase anyone finds them useful.

The definitive first aid manual is the one by St Andrew’s Ambulance. Everyone should have it. Sp Services good place to buy equipment.

Strong waterproof boxes for first aid are from Pelicase.

Items to carry:

  • Asprin, for heart attacks
  • Phone
  • Asthma inhailer, blue (prescription only, find a friendly doctor)
  • bandages
  • wound dressing
  • sterile water and/or wipes
  • scissors
  • dermabond glue (alternatives to stitches, only if far away from help, very expensive)
  • plasters, waterproof
  • paper stitches/steripads
  • torch
  • triangular bandages, preferably made of canvas and oversized for canoeing
  • disposable gloves, for hygene
  • glucagel for hypo-diabetic fits (or sugar)
  • duct tape, useful for everything

When dealing with an incident remember priority: Self, Team, Public, Casualty

Check vital (life) signs.

  • Level of counciousness – alert, vocal, pain (pinch ear hard), unresponsive
  • Breathing – ear to mouth, hand on tummy for 10 seconds. Gurgling not good, put on side. Rasping, side, clear mouth. Panting, could be shock, check for bleeding
  • Pulse, check for 15 seconds and x4. Typical resting pulse is 60-80, children/fat people 90+, athelites down to 30. Hard to find and fast suggests blood loss. Slow and easy to find suggests head injury.
  • Temperature, check under arm
  • Colour. blotchy suggests alergy. grey or white not good. too red could be CO poisoning, asphyxiation, sunburn. Check inside lip on dark skin.

When attending a casulty the ABCs are:

  • A: Alert, Airway, Assess, Ambulance
  • B: Breathing
  • C: Circulation, Catastrophic bleeding, Cold, Colour, Capillary Refill
  • D: Deformity
  • E: Evaluation, Emotion/TLC, Environment

For chocking: 5 back slaps, 5 abdonimal thrusts

CPR: 30 chest compresses @ 100/minute, 2 breaths

broken rib, tape fro spine to check to hold a bit. Flail broken rib, nasty

Puncture wound – stop air getting in, duct tape it.

Protruding object, leave it in, pad round it and bandage.

Heart attack, get them sitting up, give asprin.

Sprains need Rest, Ice (cover in tea towel to stop frost burns), Elevation, Compression.

There is no way to tell between a sprain and a break except an x-ray.

For broken/sprained arm: lower arm, sling infront of shoulder; higher arm, sling behind shoulder.

Broken colar bone use figure of 8 sling.

Don’t put a dislocated shoulder back in. You can put back in a dislocated finger but you have to be confident when doing it, pull hard.

Diabetics can be high or low on sugar. Hypo (low) acts slow, drunk, give them sugar. Hyper (high) jump around, give them insulin injection. For an unconcious diabetic where it’s unknown if too high or low smell their breath, if pungent and sweet then too high, else too low.

Epileptics, don’t go in a closed canoe.

Allergic anaphylactic shock has a closed airway and dilated bloodvesels. Give adrenaline injection, gives about 45 minutes of recovery time. Put their feet up,

Scottish European Election Results

I went to see the European election announcement. SNP were out in force. Labour kept a low profile. Lib Dems and Tories both managed to claim victory despite losing. BNP racists didn’t get near a seat but were depressingly high compared to some of the other small parties.


Cheesy bunch.

More photos on Flickr

European Election in Scotland

My voting paper came through the door. There’s a long list of parties to chose from, some of whom I’ve never hard of. What’s depressing is the lack of political campaigning and news coverage. I’ve had lots of political leaflets through the door recently, but none of them have mentioned any EU policities. EU policies are hard to come by since the parliament is only a revision chamber (although this should change a bit if the Lisbon treaty comes through) and there’s no democratic government, but they could at least try.

I looked up all the (non-fascist) party’s websites and they’re all sadly lacking. I was most impressed with the lib dems who have a readable one page summary and Scottish Greens who actually put their manifesto PDF online. Scottish Labour have an interesting list of 100 things their MEPs have done, but no mention of what they will do. All the parties have videos, which are all entirely uninteresting, they’re about UK or Scottish issues and nothing to do with Europe.

EU Profiler is an interesting site which quizzes you on what you want and returns parties. I’m between SNP and Lib Dem. I’ve put my cross on the paper for SNP. The Lib Dems lost my vote by saying they want more military funding, while the SNP remain pleasingly against nuclear weapons (not that it’s an EU issue). SNP MEPs have also been very helpful to me in the past when I’ve written to them.

The postal ballot paper is far too complex, it involves reading lots of disjointed text and pictures, tearing in some places and not tearing in others. It’s also not single transferable vote, you only get to chose for one party and they chose the candidates for you.

If only one of the parties had mentioned they were against software patents, I’d have voted for them unreservadly.

Curiosities of Politics

This isn’t an easy admission to make, but I read the News of the World website. The first thing that’s curious about the site is that even the scant amount of non-celebrity stories in the newspaper are really hard to find on it, it really is all celebrity non-news focused. Eventually I find the story about my MP Nigel Griffiths who has been photographed with a woman in her underwear in the House of Commons. Well, allegedly, the photos are of someone sticking their leg outside a door. He isn’t actually in any of the photos. And even if you were drunk and seduced by a suspiciously keen women wouldn’t you realise something was up when she started sticking her leg outside the office door where a photographer happened to be? It feels a lot like a set up to me but why then would the paper sit on the photos for six months. I don’t understand it.

There’s a European election in a month but from the activity of the parties you would never know it. Alastair Darling sent a constituent communications leaflet round saying he was “determined to do his bit” to help people in these hard times, like giving money handouts to pregnant mothers. Governments handing out money always seems like a desparate attempt to get votes. As Chancellor it would seem he could “do his bit” by fixing the economy, but that wasn’t mentioned. All very strange but not as strange as sending your constituent communications leaflets to the wrong addresses, I live in Nigel Griffiths’ constituency, no wonder the economy is screwed. Oh and no mention of European elections.

SNP sent me a begging letter for money (I’m a party member, they do this frequently) claiming they needed it for the European elections, then go on to give a questionnaire about council matters. Curiously off topic. Lib Dems sent round their newspaper which I usually quite like (as propaganda goes), again minimal reference to European elections. I watched a Tory party election broadcast with David Cameron, entirely about UK issues and barely a mention that there’s an election coming up. It’s like the parties just have nothing to say on the topic.

The only party I have had anything from which is actually about the elctions is UKIP. The usual Europhobic scaremongering with a picture of (Conservative party man) Winston Churchill on it. Just how stupid are these people? Winston Churchill was the first person to suggest a “United States of Europe” and was all for integration. Meanwhile the fascist BNP has voters who don’t exist.