My World This Week #2

Watched the movie ‘Despicable Me’ on Sunday morning. Kids movie and a good one too, considering that the ticket price was just £1. Had I known that cinemas price their tickets so low for Sunday morning shows for selected kids movies, I would have taken Anirud for lot more movies than we have. Anyway, better late than never.

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Malyasia Vasudevan – what a gifted singer he was. Sang so many high-pitched songs naturally and his voice is definitely unique. Many of the vintage Rajini songs still stay in our mind because of MV’s voice. ‘Podhuvaaga En Manasu thangam’ (Murattu Kaalai), ‘Manidhan Manidhan’ (Manidhan), ‘Aagaya Gangai’ (Dharma Yuddham’, ‘Poongaatru thirumbuma’ (Mudhal Mariyadhai), ‘Aatukutti muttaiyittu’ (16 Vayadhinile) are some of his many evergreen songs. May his soul rest in peace.

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Enjoyed every bit of PM Manmohan Singh’s presser last week. I am so glad that he called for such a press conference. There were quite a few who believed on his so-called ‘Mr Clean’ tag. If not anything, last week took Mr Clean to cleaners and showed him what he is (in)capable of. More than Manmohan Singh, a lot needs to be said about the media. But, less said the better for electronic media sucks big time.

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Almost six years after moving to my current locality, we just discovered a lovely book warehouse – just a mile away from our home. They are open only on the third weekend of every month and have an impressive collection of books. Best part is not their collection, but that they offer 80% discount on all their stocks. Another, better late than never story. Have I been closing my eyes all these years?

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Got £30 worth of Tesco vouchers that need to be used by the end of February. We were planning to use it for a day out since summer, but the weather gods seem to have different ideas. Looks like I may have to get their validity period extended. But, sonny seems very keen on going to ‘Cadbury World’. Lets see.

London 2012

Way back in 2004, couple of months before Athens Olympics was due to begin, there were concerns that several infrastructure projects were way behind the schedule. There were even speculations that if things were not ready at a certain state by a certain date, International Olympic Committee might even push back the games after levying heavy penalty to Greece. The fact that Greece was plagued with numerous labour strikes didn’t help the matters either. However, things somehow fell in place and Athens 2004 was pretty much successful by any standards.

Fast forward to 2010, we all know the state in which New Delhi is w.r.t. Commonwealth Games 2010. With less than two months to go for the Games, CWG 2010 is in the news for all wrong reasons one could imagine. From toilet rolls to treadmill, everything has cost the tax payer a fortune and the blame game is happily on. Sooner or later, these allegations of corruption and mismanagement will soon be forgotten, just like how we have forgotten 2G Spectrum and numerous other controversies. Given some luck, I am sure that the organisers will also find a way to get the stadiums and other venues ready, as there are reports that ‘work around’ is being done to get the venues in shape. No prizes for guessing if these workarounds will stand after the Games and if the venues will be usable at all.

If all you get to see and hear is about the rubbish that comes out of CWG 2010, I was more than curious about the state of affairs in my adopted country for the forthcoming Olympics. With less than two years to go for the Olympics, it looks like London is far ahead in terms of getting the venues ready. All the venues are ready and will be available for trial runs twelve months before the Games. What I am really worried about is how good the Olympics opening ceremony will be, as the Chinese have set the bar so high in Beijing 2008. However, after watching the happenings in CWG at Delhi, what matters most is not the opening ceremony – but a fair and clean Olympics and am confident that London as a host city will do a good job on that front.

Post Election Scenario

Oh well. Here we are in UK hanging around with a hung parliament, as predicted by the pollsters. This election has been very interesting. With the American style televised debates, it was much more clearer as where each party stood. Also, when so many politicians (not the main guys) taking to social media forums like Twitter, there were umpteen avenues to get the news and gossips every minute.

As it was clear for several weeks now that this election will be a closely fought one, a casual read of the headlines in all the major newspapers for a few days clearly told where their loyalty lie. The way David Dimbleby handled the leaders’s debate and the marathon election night programme was awesome. The next best was Channel 4. Less said the better about Sky News.

This is the third general election in UK in which I have voted. The first two have been eventless and uninteresting. This one apparently wasn’t. The kind of mis-handling that we saw on the election day (not enough ballot papers, people who queued up before the closing time not being able to vote etc) is not only unfortunate, but presented the country in very poor light. As the entire media is busy with the post-election coalition talks, it is not clear if anyo of the voters who could not vote took the matter to the courts. With parties doing whatever they can to get past the magical 326, the effect of any legal action will add a new dimension to the drama that is unfolding in front of us every day.

With the kind of hype that was made over Nick Clegg’s performance in the first debate, I was surprised by the results. As for Labour, it had been a very rough ride for them for the last 2+ years. Given that scenario, whatever they have achieved is quite remarkable. Gordon Brown might not be a charismatic leader, but as a party Labour still has its base. On the same token, having such an unpopular government at the helm, it should have been a cake walk of an election for the main opposition party. Despite this, if Tories could not gain majority on their own, there is something seriously wrong with the party or with David Cameron.

For the last 5 days (it is Tuesday noon now), Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have been holding several rounds of negotiations and face-to-face meetings between the leaders that hasn’t yielded any result. For those who only get the one-liners like ‘We are making progress’ etc, it is really boring. It is a well known fact that Lib Dems are demanding ‘proportional representation’ in the electoral system, which Tories are totally against. Either Lib Dems must accept the fact that with 56 MPs, they are not going to get what they want or Tories must realise that without LD, they are not going to go where they want. All eyes are on them to see who blinks first. There was a gossip that Tories have earmarked Home and Education to Lib Dems in the event of Lib-Con coalition government. Though it is very unlikely to happen, I wish that they hand over Treasury to Lib Dems as well. Vince Cable will on any day be a better Chancellor than the inexperienced George Osbourne. In ethical terms, Tories as the party with most number of votes and seats should assume power. Lib-Con coalition will be the better way forward, but I strongly feel that Osbourne will be the weakest link in such a set up.

Although Lib Dems are holding parallel negotiations with Labour, I feel that it is more of a pressure tactic to get more out of Tories rather than anything else. If the Lib-Lab coalition materialises, they will still fall short of majority and will have to rely on the smaller parties leading to a very unstable government. Such an arrangement will definitely lead to another election within a year and in that eventuality, neither Labour nor Lib Dems will be in a position to face the voters.

It is reported that Cameron is not very happy with Clegg for having parallel discussions with Brown. If Cameron wants to bring around Clegg, he should have some secret discussions with Brown. Think about Lab-Con combination. Wouldn’t it add more spice to this drama?

Second Leadership Debate

Had someone told me that all it takes is 90 minutes of airtime to change the political landscape of this country, I would have certainly dismissed that as being too hypothetical. But that is actually what happened last Thursday in the first ever Leadership debate, where in the Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg came out stealing the show and made the forthcoming elections a real three way race. Having set the bar very high for himself, the second debate that happened in Bristol this week set the expectations soaring high.

While the focus of the first one was domestic affairs, the second debate focussed on foreign affairs. This time around, the pressure was more on David Cameron not only to improve his performance, but also to deliver the knock-out punch and seal the pact with the electorate. Did he do it? No, if you ask me. David was a little more aggressive than last week, little more passionate, but fell way short of winning the debate. Quite expectedly, he stole Nick Clegg’s idea of facing the camera than the audience.

Nick Clegg, in my opinion managed to maintain the momentum and that in itself should augur well for his party. He swapped places with David and occupied the centre podium with Gordon remaining at the same place as he was last week. Although Nick appeared to have an edge w.r.t his stand on European Union, thanks to his earlier stint as MEP, his stand on Trident is very much debatable and in my opinion, should not be an election issue. Rather, that is a decision best left to experts.

Gordon Brown on the other hand was better prepared than his two rivals. He appeared more confident, cracked few pre-prepared jokes and even smiled then and there, although the smile appeared very cosmetic and weird.

In a nutshell, this second debate didn’t create any waves as the first one did. All it did is to give Labour a fig leaf of hope. In my opinion, Clegg maintained his lead in the debate and the other two were the joint second. Newspapers might present a different picture, depending on which stable they owe their allegiance to. After all, what they publish is an opinion poll and they are very much entitled to their opinion.

UK Leadership Debate

Warning:A very long post.

The fact that it took 50 years for Britain to ape the American style of debates could explain the hype that surrounded the first of the three live leadership debate that was telecast in ITV1 at prime time last night. Not withstanding the traditional campaigning, it is everyone’s knowledge that a televised debate would make or break the electoral prospect of those aspiring for No. 10 Downing Street. It is easy for the Opposition to put the incumbent Prime Minister on the mat and if there is one way the graph would go for the incumbent, it is South. That is the reason why no incumbent Prime Minister has ever agreed for such a debate in the past. Probably, that is the reason why Gordon Brown agreed for the debate, as he might have been confident that his graph can not go any further down, as it is already at the rock bottom.

All through the day, it was evident that the news channels struggled to balance the coverage of unprecedented air space closure in Britain due to volcanic eruption in Iceland and the preparations leading to the debate that happened in Manchester over domestic policy. The format and the rules for the debate, that include – no clapping, no laughing (from the audience) had been agreed long ago after months of negotiations. In any other general election, like the previous one in 2005 or the one before in 2001, a three way debate would have been sneered at for it has always been Labour or Conservatives who mattered. But this election is different. Very different that there is a distinct possibility of the electorate returning a hung parliament on May 6. So, for the first time in about 65 years, the performance and the prospects of Liberal Democrats assumes significance. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg must have been happy to be placed in par with the other contenders Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

While we have the House of Commons, where the above mentioned leaders battle it out passionately week after week, there are other players (other MPs) who play their role there. In case of these debates, the leaders are on their own, at least after the telecast starts and it becomes a matter of personality and image. In terms of substance, we know very well their policies (or the lack of it), as we have their manifestoes on hand and in any case, all the parties have been campaigning for weeks now. So, it was all a matter of who came out on top – not on substance, but on style.

Pre-prepared questions from the audience ranged from immigration, economy, NHS, crime, education, political reform, social care etc – covering almost all of the domestic issues. There were complaints from the parties in Scotland and Wales that most of these topics didn’t matter to them. I wonder why. David Cameron was placed at the centre, Gordon Brown to his left and Nick Clegg to Cameron’s right. All three gentlemen in question were allowed to make an opening statement, before taking questions from the audience. Cameron used his opening address to say he was ‘extremely sorry’ for the MP’s expenses scandal, one of the most forthright apologies offered by a politician.

Initially, the debate was more formal and very diplomatic. However, informality was injected soon enough and all three began referring to their rivals by their first names. Brown drew the first blood by attacking Cameron saying ‘This is not question time David, this is answer time’ and Cameron replied back with the answers that Brown demanded. Being an incumbent is not easy. That too, having to defend in a single night, all your actions of the past thirteen years is no easy task and that is what Brown faced. Very often, he was in a position to defend what he did rather than offering the electorate what he would do if he is elected. Having said that, Gordon Brown was better than his usual self. He is one person who will bore you to death with his speech reeling of all the statistics and presenting them in the most uninteresting way possible. Thanks to whoever briefed him, he was quite quite ok, managed a decent smile and came out a lot better than what was expected of him. After all, he is not Tony Blair.

On the first question about immigration, an issue on which Labour has failed miserably Cameron scored convincingly. Conservative policy is to put a cap on the numbers coming in, although he didn’t give any figure, as pointed out by Brown. Nick Clegg’s idea is to introduce a region based system, where the immigrants will be able to work only in a certain region of the country. The idea, although looks great on paper will be more cumbersome to implement and would end up in bureaucratic chaos. Although he said that other countries like Canada and Australia has successfully implemented similar policies, he was making an undue comparison.

From there on, for every issue both of them were repeating what was there in their respective party’s manifesto. Cameron used every opportunity to attack Brown on the proposed NI increase and made sure that the viewers didn’t forget about it by repeating it very often. Clegg kept driving home the point that Lib Dems were the real alternative. At one point where Brown and Cameron were going for each other’s jugular, I had a feeling that they were pointedly ignoring Nick Clegg, making the third party seem more irrelevant. But Clegg was smart enough to say ‘The more they attack each other, they are very much the same and we are very different’. The body language of Clegg deserves a mention here. He was totally at ease, glad to watch the ‘other two’ fight, looked straight into the camera, choosing to address the millions of viewers in the TV rather than the 200+ at the studios and at the same time came to the debate having done his homework well.

From the way Brown was wooing Clegg by saying ‘I agree with you Nick’ (I lost count of the number of times he said that), it was clear that the Prime Minister was wooing Lib Dems, but it was funny to see Clegg showing disinterest in being seen along with Brown. When Cameron reeled out promise after promise stopping only short of a free trip to moon (A futute Tory government will cut deficit, stop NI increase that will save NHS £200m, get adequate cancer drugs, order new helicopters for the forces and what not), Brown was clearly sleeping. It was Clegg who caught Cameron and stopped him on his tracks: ‘David, Lets be honest. You can do one of them, but not all of what you are saying’. I am very surprised that Cameron allowed himself to be caught off guard like this. A man who is at the striking distance of making it big squandered the opportunity. If at all Clegg wanted to make Liberal Democrat more relevant, he has to convert the erstwhile Labour voters to Lib Dems. The best way to do that is to attack Conservatives more and that is precisely what he did.

All the three men in question had a story to tell based on their experience – like Cameron met a Black man in Plymouth who was worried with mass immigration, Clegg had his shock at a hospital ward finding them empty due to lack of doctors and Brown had something similar to say. Midway through the debate, it looked a little boring if not much. The debate went over by few minutes beyond the scheduled 90 minutes and all three were allowed to make a closing statement. Clegg scored here by spelling out at least half a dozen names of those who asked the questions, thanked them and ended the debate by saying: ‘There is an alternative to the two old parties. I know many of you think that all politicians are just the same, I hope I’ve tried to show you that that just isn’t true.’

In a nut shell, Brown tries to instill the fear factor in the public about the Tories wrecking the fragile recovery. Cameron on the other hand, tried to cash in on the failure of Labour for the last thirteen years and instead of being realistic tried to promise the moon. Clegg, who was clearly an underdog, came out on top having set no expectations at the beginning and cashing on ‘we are different from the other two’ theme.

Listening to Clegg for the first time, he does appear to make sense on lot of things. The man with the golden tie far exceeded my expectations, basically because I didn’t have any on him. Now that he has raised the bar for himself, it would be interesting to see how he performs next Thursday. If Cameron is serious about moving into No. 10 Downing Street, he has to seal the deal with the electorate at the earliest. After what was seen yesterday, that is by no means an easy task.

Eyjafjallajoekull

Most of the twitterati in UK talk about the volcanic ash that has caused the British airports to be shut down for the day. Seems that the ash might even over shadow the supposedly historic Leader’s Debate today.

Did any one notice the name of the area where that volcano is located. It is Eyjafjallajoekull. Now, I want all of those who said that my name sounds very complicated to be lined up and made to pronounce Eyjafjallajoekull. BBC Magazine has even got a pronounciation guide for this name.

Opinion Polls

I don’t give a damn to opinion polls conducted in India. In UK though, in the two general elections I have seen (2001, 2005) the pollsters had called it right. But 2010 elections appear to be a very close call and heading for a tight finish. The below Yougov / Sun poll suggests that the hung parliament is a very distinct possibility, inspite of Sun being open supporters of Tories.

Conservatives 36
Labour 34
Liberal Democrats 17
Other 13

If this poll is anything to go by, 13% (Others) is a big number in this context and they hold the key. Have a weird feeling that Lab + Lib Dems will form a coalition government in May.

Hospital Stay

It started with the common cold and fever for Anirud. When we took him to the doctor thinking that it could be chicken pox, he suggested that we consult the pediatrician, who sent us to a different hospital for monitoring his health, as they were not sure about the cause of fever. To cut a long story short, while the temperature graph spiked high on and off, few tests were done on Anirud and the cause of the fever was established. As I type, he is still convalescing, but a lot better than how he was.

But this post was not about Anirud’s health. It is about Stoke Mandeville hospital, where he was admitted for five days. Ever since I came to UK, I am used to people crib a lot about NHS. At times, I have been frustrated – but mostly at not getting the appointment sooner enough from the doctor’s surgery. Fortunately, we never had the necessity to use the services of NHS all these years. The past week as you know, proved to be an aberration. The way Anirud was taken care of at the hospital was really great. The staff at the hospital were really excellent. As worried parents, we had lots of questions and looking at the way they answered, it seems that they have mastered patience as an art. Although it was the toughest week for us, as a family, the hospital made it a lot easier for us. We do owe it to them.

Non-Vegetarian

Few years ago, an ex-manager of mine who happened to be a vegetarian had a customary dinner with one of his prestigious client. The client, being a very famous hotelier had taken personal interest in selecting the menu at one of his restaurants. My manager, who clearly didn’t expect the kind of hospitality was very embarassed to say that he was a vegetarian and proceeded with the dinner, without having a clue of what he ate. After the dinner, out of the ear shot of his client, he asked about the menu to one of the waiters. The waiter, who was beaming with pride on serving such a tasteful menu told him that the main item was an aligator. He had further told him that what my manager ate was the tail of the aligator, which was supposedly the ‘tastiest’ part of that animal. I am not sure if that bit of info pleased him or not, but he did realise that overnight he had come a long way from being a ‘pure vegetarian’.

Being a vegetarian myself, my knowledge on non-vegetarian cuisine is limited to the basics. While browsing through a discount vouchers website recently, I accidentally came across a restaurant called Archipelago in London, who is supposedly famous for serving Kangaroo and Ostrich fillets. Thanks to the above mentioned incident, I know the extent to which people go to satisfy their tongue buds. So, I was not entirely shocked or awed at the menu. But one item, that this restaurant is also famous for is – hold your breath – chocolate dipped scorpions. Eeek… they have a picture of that stuff in their website. Didn’t know people eat scorpions and all. Well, when people can stomach snakes, scorpions aren’t that bad. At least, in size. But I couldn’t digest it. I meant the thought.

Carnatic Music @ Milton Keynes

Dhwani, a group from Milton Keynes in UK formed to celebrate the cultural diversity of music is holding a Carnatic Music concert at Chrysalis Theatre in MK on Sunday, 11th April 2010. Vocalists Ranjani and Gayathri are accompanied by Jyotsana Srikanth on violin and Sudhindhra on Mridangam. Check out their budding website or drop an email at dhwani.mk [at] googlemail [dot] com, should you need more details.

Personally, I am looking forward to the event as its about 10 years since I attended a Carnatic concert. Not that I am a connoiseur, but am certainly an interested fan. When I attended the last one at London in July 2000, little did I know that it will be a memorable one for I got a chance to interact with Dr. K.J.Yesudas that day.