Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A strange sympathy

Nanda would like to work, Nanda would like to be a normal contributing member of British society but ...

From the Guardian 20 December by
Yeukai Taruvinga ...

"When I tell ordinary British people that I came to this country from Zimbabwe to seek asylum because of Robert Mugabe's government, they are always sympathetic. They see the humanitarian crisis, the old people and children dying of cholera - the UN reported yesterday that there were more than a thousand dead and another 20,000 sufferers. They see on the news night after night what Mugabe is doing to my country. And they see the continuing human rights crisis and how he treats those who oppose him.

Hopes were raised when Mugabe agreed to a power-sharing government with the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai. But it is evident that human rights are still not being respected. In the last two weeks prominent human rights defenders have been abducted by groups suspected of having government links. These include Jestina Mukoko, the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, who has not been seen since she was taken from her home on 3 December.

British politicians have expressed great sympathy towards Zimbabweans. Just last week Gordon Brown said that "we must stand together to defend human rights and democracy, to say firmly to Mugabe that enough is enough", and that it was "our duty" to support the aspirations of the Zimbabwean people. David Cameron has described Zimbabwe as the most important issue in the world today and has pressed for wider sanctions and a rescue package for the Zimbabwean people. And David Miliband has said that, "Zimbabwe's crisis is one that the world has a responsibility to respond to."

It is good to hear all this, but how does it translate into action? It is easy to condemn a government from afar. But if politicians really believe that Mugabe is illegitimate, that his repression of his own people is the most important issue in the world today, why do they behave as they do to his victims?

I got involved in supporting the opposition party when I was a student. Like many MDC supporters, I was beaten up by Mugabe's Zanu-PF thugs when I went to meetings and rallies. When they wrote threats on the walls of my family's house, my mother decided that I should leave the country.

I believed that I would be safe when I came here seven years ago, at the age of 18. When I stepped foot on English soil and claimed asylum, I did not realise that I was in for a long battle. I have been detained - imprisoned - for two and a half months, simply because I claimed asylum. I have been moved between three different detention centres, and taken without notice from Colnbrook at Heathrow, to Yarl's Wood in Bedford to Dungavel in Scotland.

You feel extremely helpless in such places: it is almost impossible to stay in touch with friends or your lawyer, and you believe that anything could happen to you and nobody would know about it. Although suspected terrorists cannot be held without trial for more than 28 days, I was locked up for more than 60 days. In Dungavel at that time there were only half a dozen women and hundreds of foreign criminals awaiting deportation. It was terrifying just to walk around the centre.

It seems to me that political leaders are reluctant to do anything to help those who make their way here. Last week Jacqui Smith said that the government's priority was to ensure that Zimbabwean refugees did not use false passports in order to get to this country. She did not say that refugees should find a fair system when they arrive.

I am still not safe. I have not been given refugee status. After my release from detention I was not allowed benefits nor allowed to work. This is the government's policy of destitution; if you have failed in your asylum claim, then you are forced to live without support. I rely on handouts and gifts from churches and friends, even for the bed I sleep in and the soap I wash with. Most of the people who help me are asylum seekers or refugees themselves, because they understand what it's like.

It is humiliating: not only can I not work, but I cannot study or learn. I am worried about the impact this is going to have on my future. I want to study and work, so that when Mugabe is toppled I and my fellow activists can be the backbone of the new country that will arise from the ashes. But all avenues are blocked to me to grow and give back to society. It is strange that this country, which expresses such sympathy for Zimbabwe's people, condemns its refugees to this kind of life - which is no life at all.

• Yeukai Taruvinga is not allowed to work; the fee for this article has been donated to Women Asylum Seekers Together in London, which she chairs

Merry Christmas

Happy Christmas to all readers.

Grim. I didn't realise how grim.

I had to take alot of Leave without Pay in November thro' sickness. I have been reading the news on the Internet about the global economic recession. Fuel and energy prices, both globally and domestically going haywire. Exchange rates ...

Personal financial hardship led me to ask Teresa, our social-worker if she could arrange something to help us out over December-January. She noted many charities are rejecting grant requests ... their money was invested in the Icelandic bank collapse and no-one is donating.

No-one is donating.

The national chainstore Woolworths, selling everything from toys to CDs to clothes to garden furniture to etc, that existed since many years before I was born, has collapsed. So the employees of our local Woolworths store are facing imminent unemployment. Worse still the town hosts the northwest's Woolworths distribution centre so the town loses 500+ jobs.

TV, radio and pubs are constantly playing the optimistic Slade song "Merry Christmas" ....

Monday, December 22, 2008

npower and Ofgem

I have posted on our experience of the power utility company npower's dubious selling practices. They have been fined £1.8 million by the state energy regulator Ofgem as a result.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Take Another Plane

A Journey through Hell.

I arrived in Rochdale at 06:30 yesterday to spend Christmas and New Year with Nanda, Jaime and Kezia. Hence the two digital paintings in the two posts below done by Kezia and Jaime this morning on the Elonex One t netbook they received in September.

My local travel agency, Mistral Voyages , always book me on the last flight from Lisbon to London assuming that the Sao Tome to Lisbon flight will arrive in Lisbon too late to make an earlier connection to Heathrow. Previous trips TAP, the Portuguese national airline, has managed to not transfer my baggage from one flight in Lisbon to another four hours later to Heathrow - but AirItalia which was the contracted baggage-handler at Heathrow always managed to get my suitcase to me the next day.

A few new twists on this trip ...

I arrived in Lisbon in good time, went through immigration to have a smoke, a beer, a sandwich etc. Finally, my flight came up on the Departure Board "delayed". So I went to enquire and was informed it was in fact cancelled but I had been put on a later unscheduled flight. However, I would have to queue for a new boarding pass. A long queue as most passengers were not transiting but checking in baggage.

So the later flight was also late in departing.

We arrived at Heathrow at at 11:30 pm. My overnight coach to Manchester was at midnight. No time to sit by the baggage carousel for a suitcase that might not be there. So I went straight ttto Baggage Claims, explained and filled in the form.

So Saturday I rang the new baggage service Global Baggage Services and they tell me that yes they have found the bag, but their courier servive TNT doesn't deliver to a destination further than 50 miles from Heathrow on the weekend so I won't get the suitcase until Tuesday!

Sparkling Night

Monsters in the Sparkling Night - Kezia

Surf Boarder

Jaime Surf-Boarding

Monday, December 15, 2008


"Ravens I use in my paintings because they clean up the land ... buzzards also clean up the mistakes on the the highways done by human beings."


Ushahidi (Swahili for "testimony") is a web-based reporting tool allowing Africans caught up in political unrest to report incidents of killing, violence and displacement.

It started in May 2008 during the elections in Kenya, was later used during the attacks on black foreigners in South Africa and since November has started to be used in the conflict zones of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).

Its goal is to create a simple way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response.

The site is a free open-source mash-up which can be run by anybody, anywhere in the world who at the minimum has access to a mobile phone network to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web, visualise it on a map and/or timeline, call up media reports etc etc

Users can report an incident by filling in a very simple form with a description of what happened, when it took place and put it in a category.

As an example, a Red Cross worker waits to distribute buckets to displaced people. Ushahidi can be used to identify areas where aid is required. Incident data is colour coded on the website into categories for events such as military activity, riots, looting, illness and sexual assault. Or whatever you decide.

Even though it is limited by Internet and, to a slightly less limited extent, mobile phone network access (mobile phone networks are one of the fastest growing markets in Africa) and its still experimental nature, I see its enormous potential. Both geographically (e.g. Darfur/Chad, Somalia etc) and thematically (e.g. medical).

From the Ushahidi website:

"The goal of the project is to create a platform that any person or organization can use to set up their own way to collect and visualize information. The core platform will allow for plug-in and extensions so that it can be customized for different locales and needs. This tool will be tested and made available as an open source application that others can download, implement and use to bring awareness to crises in their own region. Organizations can also use the tool for internal monitoring purposes.

The core engine is built on the premise that gathering crisis information from the general public provides new insights into events happening in near real-time. It is being developed by a group of volunteer developers and designers, hailing primarily from Africa. So far there are representatives from Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi, Ghana, Netherlands and the US.

The private alpha of the redesigned Ushahidi Engine was released in October 2008, and is currently undergoing testing in pilot projects including Peace Heroes, the DR Congo crisis and 4 others.

Ushahidi plans to make the Ushahidi mapping tool available globally for free. After initial testing with NGO's the tool will be distributed to interested parties and organizations, and the Ushahidi team will provide technical customizations and support as needed."

... and it is open-source !

Scroll down to link on right.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Off-Treatment - Consultation #1

Today. Our consultant John has just written me

"Just seen her all well, normal count. Bringing back in 6-8 weeks.

Have a great Xmas and new year.


Her counts were at 2.7 and John has taken her off Co-trimoxazole prophylaxis. Excellent!

Other Toilets I have known

1. The traditional French Squat-on-Ceramic. Nice little footmarks moulded into the ceramic so you can position your feet not to get wet. No splashback. Bit awkward I imagine for the old or disabled.

2. Whilst not concerning the "big one", only public "small ones" for men, French pissoirs were often architecturally pleasing. Has anyone ever done a photostudy?

3. The "pit latrine": widely encouraged in the developing world by the likes of the WHO and that marvellous work Where There Is No Doctor for rural healthworkers originated by David Werner. Basically an approximately 2 metre x 2 metre hole in the ground with a reinforced top with a hole over which one squats. See how to make one here.

It can be more or less sophisticated.

In Nyala, Darfur, being dry, we shared a fenced-off open-air pit with the owners of the courtyard. And it being a Muslim household, no problems with toilet paper quality - jug of water and bar of soap next to the pit. Wash with your left hand and eat with your right.

Here, where it rains, sheltered pit latrines are recommended and there have been UN/WHO projects to encourage the local population to construct them - "we'll provide the materials if you provide the labour". I have my own.

A vent is recommended and a simple wooden cover for the hole. You can design the top as you like - I have known someone install a regular European toilet bowl over a pit and then flush it with a bucket of water.

4. The "bucket-drop". I have come across these in both Darfur and N.W. China.

Basically you build a raised holed platform in the outside wall of your courtyard and you defecate into a bucket which is accessible from a "cubicle" on the outside of the wall. Then the nightsoil collectors (the worst job in the world?) come round and collect the contents of the bucket. If they don't come frequently and regularly or you have a large family , the bucket soon becomes fly-ridden overflowing mess.

However, in colder climes during winter this isn't too much of a problem.

In the college holidays of the winter of 1981-82 I toured northern China and visited the famous Buddhist decorated caves of Dunhuang in north-west Gansu province near the border with Xinjiang or Chinese Turkestan (hmm ... another story there).

The local state-run guesthouse was pretty rudimentary. Temperatures were constantly sub-zero, the bucket-drop toilet was across the courtyard. Going outside to relieve oneself in the middle of the night was torture. Looking through the hole of the bucket-drop was a metre high pyramid of offerings. Couldn't see a bucket - was there one? Ones offering froze on contact. I guess being a nightsoil collector was seasonal employment!

5. Anywhere ...

So let us finish herewith my scatological offerings and move on ...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Our Clic Sargent social worker, Teresa, draws my attention that here in the UK December is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The focus this year is on providing children and their carers with more support at home in order to lessen the amount of time in hospital.

Toilet Design and Scatology

Dr Crippen draws my attention to this very amusing post by Dr Grumble on the role of scatology (a fascination with pooh) and the design of toilets in German culture which led me here and here.

Apparently, a toilet bowl in a German residence is so designed that the pooh falls on to a flat horizontal surface so that it can be thoroughly inspected before the flush is pulled. It also has the advantage of no splashback when that "big-one" hits the water and showers your lower end with now contaminated water.

Now, as you can see from the photo below, we very carefully chose our toilet to match the period-style of our four-legged bath-tub. No practical push-button floor-level plastic tank and plastic seat for this pièce de resistance in bathroom design.

Only ...

this elegantly-designed toilet obliges me to inspect my pooh. The angle on the back downslope is such that my "big-one" doesn't directly hit water and thus avoids splashback. But the pooh, being somewhat viscous and sticky in nature, has a tendency to adhere to the ceramic back downslope. As per usual in the modern western world, one wipes one's orifice with a piece of paper that gets thrown into the bowl after the pooh.

And then one pulls the chain, pushes the button or whatever and it's all meant to get washed away ...

Only ...

It doesn't.

Here comes your saviour ... the toilet-brush!

Conveniently positioned next to the toilet, you cannot use it on first flush as it will become hopelessly mixed-up with the now sodden dirty toilet-paper with which you cleaned your orifice.

Wait for the cistern to fill up, flush again - make sure you're quick with the brush! And if your pooh is particularly adhesive, you may have to repeat the flush yet again.

At work we have, what I can only imagine, typical American lavatory installations where an explosive pooh will drop straight into the water causing serious splashback. However, one flush and it's all gone.

However, I have one complaint (apart from potential splashback) - the toilet paper is the thinnest of thinnest single-ply you can imagine! One has to tear off four sheets at one go and fold them. An anecdote from a colleague recounted how he knew someone who calculated the false economy of a thick chunky single-ply toilet roll versus a seemingly smaller multi-ply European toilet roll.

Anyway, back to our German toilet bowl design - they certainly seem to be a waste of water and demonstrate an unusual fascination with the state of one's pooh!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Blogspot web clipping

We have come in at no. 34 of the top 100 most web-clipped (think that means downloading content for offline use) Blogspot blogs.

Quite pleasing really - bet it's all the BBC iPlayer posts


Not a widespread technology in this part of the world.

On Wednesday it decided to piss down as I exited the house to get into the car to go to work. It was raining cats and dogs as I got out of the car upon arrival at work. As I walked down the corridor to sign the timesheet, colleagues remarked I looked like a wet chicken.

As I walked back across the compound (still raining) to my air-conditioned office, I feared "Oh shit! This is a recipe for a chill..." and then I remembered ...

Several months ago we helped out a scientist from the University of Texas by installing a seismic monitoring station on our worksite. Essentially a probe about a metre into the ground into a complex toy connected to a Sony Clie PDA. Each month we would download the data onto a portable drive, plug the drive into a computer and send him the data. I was amazed that an earthquake in the Philippines could be sensed offshore western central Africa!

Anyway, after supervising the installation of the seismic monitoring station, he upped and left. Just before he left, he walked into my office with a plastic supermarket bag saying "Here's a bunch of old clothes which I'm sure you can find a good home for."

The bag laid, knotted closed, ignored, on a chair in my office for months ... until Wednesday when I decided to see if it had a dry shirt in it - and sure enough, although somewhat dirty, it did.

But to my great surprise, under the pile of dirty clothes, there was a weird ellipsoid device with a separate USB widget made by Logitech. Took it over to our computer centre (rain had become a drizzle) where my IT colleague Danny works.

First we worked out it was a laser pointer and then by plugging in the USB widget and toggling the switch on the back it became a mouse. Plug-and-Play under Windows XP. Took it back to my own work computer and it worked a dream.

As it is not work property, I took it home but worried about Bluetooth mice under Linux. Download numerous libraries? Went to the Logitech site - nothing about Linux. Surfed Bluetooth/Linux/Ubuntu 7.10, found a couple of useful links which I printed out.

Got home - plugged the USB widget into a USB port, fired up Ubuntu 7.10 and it was sensed immediately!

Beats the touchpad!

P.S. This is not a new notebook - Compaq Presario 2100.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Afia Darfur

My employer has just (29 September) set up a daily 30 minute radio programme, Afir Darfur, for the refugees in Darfur or in the camps just over the border in Chad, It is on short-wave (SW). How many of the refugees have access to short-wave radio?

Maybe some have a radio that receives FM (VHF) or AM (MW) but few will have access to SW.

Maybe the African Union under-funded, under-staffed and ineffective peace-keeping force will listen. Maybe the foreign aid agency staff in the camps over the border in Chad will listen ... but as none of them speak Arabic ...

My employer has an FM affiliate station in the Sudanese capital city Khartoum. Its signal will not reach Darfur or eastern Chad. If my employer is serious about reaching the refugees in Darfur and eastern Chad, it will set up an FM station there in El Fasher, Nyala or El Geneina in Darfur or in Abeche just over the border in Chad.

I am disgusted at the waste of taxpayer money, the waste of money on useless propaganda and wish these funds could be spent on peace-keeping, food aid and healthcare.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Kiss of the Spider Woman

A recent visitor left me some DVDs amongst which was Kiss of the Spider Woman. Thanks to Linux and OSS I managed to rip-off the DRM and watch it (again after many years).

I cannot do better than quote the blurb on the DVD cover:

“An intense story, set largely in one prison cell in an unnamed Latin Amerian country, Luis Molina and Valentin Arregui are cell mates and poles apart. Luis is a camp gay man who escapes his grim conditions in a cinematic fantasy, telling a glamorous story of forbidden wartime romance. Valentin, on the other hand, is a revolutionary firebrand, tortured by the authorities but steadfast to his cause.

But through their hardship and the escapism of Luis's storytelling, they come to understand and respect each other. A bond develops and the consequences for both of them are as romantic and tragic as Luis's tale”.

Luis, on his release from prison, sacrifices his life for Valentin's political cause.

I must seek out the novel by Manuel Puig on which the film is based.

In the film Luis is played by William Hurt. I have not seen such brilliant acting since seeing Billie Whitelaw's performance in Samuel Beckett's own direction, at the end of his life, of his play Happy Days.

Emergency Sex

Another book I am currently reading is "Emergency Sex (and other desperate measures) - True Stories from a War Zone" by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson.

It recounts their experiences as aid workers (and colleagues), principally for the United Nations and the International Red Cross, in various war zones around the world between 1990 and 1998 - Cambodia, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Liberia.

Personal and harrowing accounts of how we dismally failed to prevent massacres and genocide, personal tragedies and gross ineptitudes. How the “international community” withdrew from situations which the “international community” could have averted. How we only returned in the aftermath of these “situations” to investigate the mass graves, the war criminals, the strategic failures, to assuage our own guilt.

Wading in the muddy pit of a mass grave to extract a body only for the arm to become detached from a headless corpse is not my idea of a fun job ...

Seemingly, the post-mortems have done little to teach us anything.

The same stories are repeating themselves around the world - Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Burma, D.R. Congo, Darfur, Chad, Somalia (still) etc.

Rent Boys

Male homosexual literature (I'm not talking "Porn") really didn't take off until the latter half of the 19th century with the likes of the inspiration of the US writer/poet Walt Whitman and the UK writer John Addington Symonds (please look at the wikipidea entries on pedastry and paedophilia and whilst you're at it look up "Ages of Consent").

The UK male homosexual literature movement of the late 19th/early 20th century has become known as the "Uranian" movement. It was always discrete and euphemistic. Perhaps the two definitive academic works on the Uranian movement are Love in Earnest by Timothy d'Arch-Smith and Sexual Heretics, an anthology with a lengthy introduction edited/written by Brian Reade.

Oscar Wilde's failed libel case with the Marquis of Queensbury over his supposed, but actual, homosexual relationship with the Marquis' son, Lord Alfred Douglas, considerably dampened the enthusiasm of the Uranian writers. Oscar Wilde served 2 two years of penal servitude resulting in his famous poem "The Ballad of Reading Jail" and then went into exile in France where the deterioration in his health during his imprisonment soon led to his death.

But in post-WW1 Germany, Berlin thrived on its high-life including its gay clubs. Christopher Isherwood's collection of Berlin scenarios “Goodbye to Berlin”, which inspired the film Cabaret, seems to be an accurate portrayal of Berlin at that time.

One of the books I am currently reading is "The Hustler" by John Henry Mackay, first published in Germany in 1926 as "Der Puppenjunge" under the pseudonym Sagitta and not translated into English until 1985. Mackay was of mixed Scottish-German parentage and moved back to Germany at the age of two after the death of his father. He was more well-known as a writer of anarchist treatises than gay literature.

It relates the story of a 15 year-old boy, Gunther, who arrives alone in Berlin and soon becomes a prostitute, a rent boy. He is picked up by a young man,a closet gay, Hermann, who falls hopelessly in love with him. The novel relates the conflict between a love affair and life as a rent boy.

In contrast to the rather saccharin and euphemistic literature of the Uranian movement, The Hustler, although certainly not pornographic, deals with its theme of male prostitution straight-on.

Mackay died, perhaps fortunately, in 1933, the year Hitler came to power. He would not have survived under the Nazi regime - probably more due to his anarchist beliefs than if the identity of Sagitta had been revealed.

J.H.Mackay 1926. The Hustler. Translation H. Kennedy 1985. Alyson Publications

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A message to Dr Crippen, Dr Rant and Tom Reynolds

I visit your blogs every day.

I respect your opinions of the service, the National Health Service, to which you are contracted in one way or another.

I assume you contracted yourselves with the NHS because you believed in the principles of the NHS.

Kezia, my daughter, is being treated tor Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia under the NHS. She is receiving superb treatment.

To hear your stories distresses me when there are obviously sections of the NHS that are functioning as they should. But your posts on the defects in the NHS, (of which I myself am critical), should neither stop you blogging on the NHS, nor criticising the NHS, nor, deity forbid, stop working for the NHS.

Dr Crippen - you disappear for months. Tom and Dr Rant - you seem 100% depressed.

Please don't do this to us - we need you.


When one goes to a local bar here and asks what is on the menu the inevitable response is "banana" (plantain to you and me in the developed world or less frequently the root vegetable "matabala" cocoyam).

Now a plate of boiled plantains (or cocoyam) does not sound all that appetising - I ate them for years until I realised I didn't much like them and they had started growing delicious new potatoes (above an altitude of c. 900 metres) as well as the inevitable rice, spaghetti, macaroni etc.

So I innocently ask "With what?". An incredulous response "With fish of course" (stupid white man is obviously running through their head).

"What kind of fish?" I ask - come on there is a big difference between a steak of sailfish or tuna and a tiny flying-fish or gar-fish. The former succulent and "meaty", the latter full of tiny bones.

I understand some of the reasons ...

a) In colonial times, if you lived on the coast and were poor, then the only fresh fish you could afford were the small bony ones, so you filled up your stomach with plantain.

b) In colonial times, if you lived inland and were poor with no motorised transport, then the only fish you could afford were the small bony ones dried and salted, so you filled up your stomach with plantain.

c) If you are poor, then or now, and you have 3, 4, 5+ kids to feed, they get plantain or cocoyam to fill their stomachs.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Google Android and other tech news

Google launched its mobile T1 phone with much hoo-ha in October. It operates on the open source Android operating system based on Linux.

The first bug has appeared ... a man was sending a text message to his girlfriend and the message contained the word reboot ... the phone promptly rebooted!

To their credit Google have already issued an automatic bug-fix available tu US users on Tuesday and UK users on Wednesday this week. Blimey ... even I know that issuing the command reboot in a Unix/Linux terminal will result in a ...

In other developments the Australian company IBA Health announced the launch of the first release of its electronic medical record (EMR) software Lorenzo, developed by its subsidiary iSoft, on Wednesday. The NHS Connecting for Health has comissioned this software for keeping patient records throughout most of the north of England (it is purchasing different EMR software for other areas - fully compatible?).

Now I have a few questions here ...

1. IBA Health/iSoft is selling Lorenzo elsewhere so presumably development costs are being shared with other countries.

2. Clearly Lorenzo has to be adaptable to the healthcare systems of different countries.

3. The reply to my FOIA request to the DoH regarding the storage of patient records stated that they would be stored on Solaris Unix servers running Oracle database software. So Lorenzo has to interface with Unix.

4. Are Solaris Unix OS and Oracle database software licenses paid directly to these companies or through DoH contractors (in the case of Lorenzo distributions Computer Sciences Corporation)? If the latter does the DoH know if and how much their contractors are marking-up licensing fees?

4. The DoH contract with Microsoft includes developing (amongst other things?) a Common User Interface (CUI) for Windows workstations - so Lorenzo also has to interface with the Windows CUI. In addition, the EMR software in other areas of England has to interface with Microsoft Windows, Lorenzo, Oracle and Solaris Unix.

5. OGC states that "UK Government will consider obtaining full rights to bespoke software code or customisations of of COTS (Commercial off the Shelf) wherever this provides best value for money." Does the DoH/NHS have full rights to the adapted Lorenzo code and the MS CUI code?

6. Does/will MS Windows Vista, and the projected Windows 7 (issued in beta this week) work with the NHS CUI a customisation of COTS? If

7. The NHS Northwest SHA has been assisting iSoft in trialling their Lorenzo software on a ward or two at the Morecambe (Lancashire) district general hospital. Staff have been maintaining their traditional paper patient records alongside the new Lorenzo system - obviously extra workload to maintain two systems. Who has paid for the extra staff worktime in maintaining both the traditional paper-basd system alongside the iSoft Lorenzo system?

And finally do NHS CfH know what the fuck they are doing? Who is leading who in NHSCfH - the IT people (are there any?) or the managers?

Do these issues warrant a further FOIA request?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

BBC iPlayer and Tor

For sometime now I've noticed that my previously posted solutions to getting BBC iPlayer (streaming television version) overseas (here) using Tor and Privoxy/Foxproxy are no longer working. After scanning/converting over 90 Autocad dwg files to Acrobat pdf files and thrn cataloging them in html on our workplace Intranet website yesterday, my ennui limits had been reached and I needed some intellectual stimulation. So I downloaded the most recent versions of Tor and the Firefox add-on FoxyProxy, configured them as previously described ... (i.e. Tor to point to StrictExitNodes to named UK Tor servers. The Vidalia GUI for Tor tells me my exit node is in the UK . Web-based IP address search tools show my IP address is the UK.

What is going on? Are the BBC blacklisting UK Tor servers? Have the found a way of tracing Tor routing back to the original machine?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


For 2 1/2 years I have tried to obscure to greater or lesser extents our geographical origin in Africa and our location in the UK.

With posts on the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital, Bury market etc, you will have surmised our UK location is somwhere in the northwest of England. If you are familiar with the town or even the area of the town where we live, then some of the photos I have posted will have given you a good idea.

Our location in Africa is perhaps somewhat vaguer.Somewhere in west/central Africa. A couple of our readers knew where we were from pre-blog days. Only one, Andy Hockley of Csikszereda Musings, whose early working life in many ways mirrored my own, guessed correctly.

I worry about the UK immigration authorities, I worry about the UK health authorities - I've touched upon this before - how the General Practioners (GPs - your family doctor) have refused to report appealing refused asylum seekers (which we are not). who are officially not eligible to free health treatment, to the immigration authorities. They are some of the most vulnerable and deprived members of UK society. How our local PCT accounts department (paying for Kezia's treatment) didn't ask ...

We may not be legally eligible to UK state health and education services - to all the assistance that nurses, doctors, social workers, ambulance drivers, receptionists, school secretaries, teachers and cooks etc etc have unreservedly and confidentially given us.

With Jaime's appearance in Caroline Irby's Guardian/Channel 4 photo-journalism project, we can no longer hide our geographical locations, whether in the UK or Africa - we have been "outed".

In the UK we rent a small furnished terraced house in Rochdale, 30 seconds walk from my brother.

Our home is in the small African (two) island state of Sao Tome e Principe off the west coast of Africa on the equator - get out your atlas.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Two Arseholes in Middle England

Gordon Brown called Alastair Darling into his office one day and said, 'Alastair, I have a great idea! We are going to go all out to win back Middle England '.

'Good idea PM, how will we go about it?' said Darling.

'Well' said Brown 'we'll get ourselves two of those long Barbour coats, some proper wellies, a stick and a flat cap, oh and a Labrador. Then we'll really look the part. We'll go to a nice old country pub, in Much Something or other, and we'll show we really enjoy the countryside, ........ Oh and remember not to mention the Hunting with dogs Act'

'Right PM' said Darling. So a few days later, all kitted out and with the requisite Labrador at heel, they set off from London. Eventually they arrived at just the place they were looking for and found a lovely country pub and, with the dog, went in and up to the bar.

'Good evening Landlord, two pints of you best ale, from the wood please' said Brown.

'Good evening Prime Minister' said the landlord, 'two pints of best it is, coming up'

Brown and Darling stood leaning on the bar contemplating new taxes, nodding now and again to those who came in for a drink, whilst the dog lay quietly at their feet. As they drank their beer they chatted about how heart-rending it was that pensioners were being imprisoned for not paying the council tax.

All of a sudden, the door from the adjacent bar opened and in came a grizzled old shepherd, complete with crook. He walked up to the Labrador lifted its tail and looked underneath, shrugged his shoulders and walked back to the other bar. A few moments later, in came a wizened farmer who followed the same procedure.

To the bewilderment of Brown and Darling people of all ages and gender
followed suit over the next hour.

Eventually, unable to stand it any longer, Darling called the landlord over.

'Tell me' said Darling,'Why did all those people come in and look under the dog's tail like that? Is it an old Custom?

'Good Lord no,' said the landlord.'It's just that someone has told them that there was a Labrador in this bar with two arseholes'.

(Courtesy of my boss).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Biography of a Song

I am currently reading Strange Fruit by David Margolick - the story of the poem/srong posted below.

Written by Abel Meeropol inspired by the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in 1930, it was made famous by Billie Holiday.

Three Government Departments

My FOIA request as to the cost of the DoH's contract with Microsoft received a pretty negative response.

I referred in a previous post to the National Audit Office's reports on the National Programme for IT in the NHS i.e. NHS Connecting for Health. In their first report, dated June 2006. the NAO had the following to say about the NHS contract with Microsoft:

"In November 2004 NHS Connecting for Health negotiated renewal of the Department's NHS-wide licence for Microsoft desktop products, which NHS Connecting for Health estimates will save £330 million over nine years with a firm commitment only for the first three years.

Microsoft agreed that the price paid by the NHS would continuously match the lowest charged anywhere in the world. The agreed price for their committed volume was substantially lower than that previously negotiated by the Office of Government Commerce (on a non-commitment basis) on behalf of UK government users. Microsoft also committed to spend £40 million on developing an NHS user interface to help standardise healthcare applications for clinicians, increasing efficiency and reducing the risk of clinical error.

NHS Connecting for Health also considered open source solutions for NHS IT but decided against doing so for two reasons;

The NHS already had an installed base of 500,000 Microsoft environments and users were familiar with Microsoft, and;
Open source solutions are not necessarily cheaper: they may be cheaper to acquire but the total cost of ownership is material when ongoing support, maintenance and training for users are taken into account."

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) is a department of HM Treasury responsibly for providing advice to all government departments, both national and local, on contracting etc.

In 2002 it produced a report "Open Source Software - Guidance on implementing UK Government Policy". It followed this up with a report "Open Source Software Trials in Government".

It is widely recognised in the IT industry that Unix or "Unix-derivative" operating systems (e.g. Linux) are far more appropriate for servers, particularly webservers. Hence the DoH/NHS will be storing its electronic patient records on Unix (Solaris) servers using Oracle (rather than Microsoft's SQ
L Server or even the open source MySQL) as its database software.

The desktop environment is more controversial, it being cited that Linux desktops are "insufficiently mature".

The OGC seeked to examine this along with the cost benefits of using open source software (henceforth OSS).

I have some limited experience of deploying Linux desktops to regular users - my employer donated some legacy machines to respectively the national radio station, the national television station, a local primary school and the local municipal council's library.

The machines originally ran Windows NT 4.0. As a government organisation and as Microsoft no longer supports NT 4.0 we had to wipe the hard disks and, after some evaluation, I installed Xubuntu Linux (a light version of Ubuntu Linux suited to machines with small hard disks and little RAM).

The first deployment at the national radio station was a disaster - as soon as I turned my back they had a local technician come in and install a pirated copy of Windows XP.

At the television they took to it immediately - two machines for video editing with firewire ports so they could hook up their DVCAMs and download video clips using the open source KinoDV and edit them using the open source Cinelerra suite. Machines were also provided to the director's secretary and the admin. department - pleased as punch, OpenOffice and Mozilla Firefox no problem at all.

The machine offered to the director of the local primary school couldn't even handle the memory requirements of OpenOffice so I made Abiword the default wordprocessor. Both OpenOffice and Abiword will save documents in a variety of formats including MSWord doc and plain text txt (useful for blogging as Google's Blogger does not like doc embedded headers).

One of the case studies in the OGC report is particularly relevant to this post - that of the Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Ireland.

Prior to its adoption of OSS it operated a mixed environment of MS Windows and Unix. The hospital had 3000 directly employed staff, and used 22 Linux servers, 14 Windows servers, a Hewlett-Packard HP3000 mainframe for primary clincal applications and a HP Unix system for financial applications. In 2002 there were 1000 workstations.

The hospital was experiencing severe financial problems and started to look at where it could make cost-savings - including in IT.

The IT department came up with the following results and subsequent implementation, between using OSS and proprietary Closed Source Software:

Email, online forms, laboratory procedures and results, patient care records etc - and even X-ray imaging - could all be dealt with by OSS.

There was some resistance to the Linux desktop GUI - Beaumont purchased an e-learning course to deal with this.

GUIs (there are various) have come a long way in the six years since Beaumont made the change. As I related above, our relatively unsophisticated IT users here in Sao Tome have taken to the Ubuntu-family GUIs as ducks to water.

The OGC strongly recommends that government entities should not tie themselves into closed proprietry systems - the NHS have chosen to do just that!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black body swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Born everywhere, raised in Britain II

Caroline Irby has kindly given us permission to post these other photos from her visit to Jaime, Kezia and Nanda for the Guardian/Channel 4 Born everywhere, raised in Britain project.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

NAO and the NHS CfH

The DoH pointed out the opinion of the National Audit Office (NAO) that the Enterprise Wide Agreement between Microsoft and the NHS represented considerable savings to the taxpayer over normal Microsoft rates and those charged by Microsoft to other government departments.
There are two NAO reports evaluating CfH:

1. "The National Programme for IT in the NHS" (ref. HC 1173 June 2006).

2. i) "The National Programme for IT in the NHS: Progress since 2006" (ref. HC 484-I May 2008)

ii) "The National Programme for IT in the NHS: Project Progress Reports" (ref. HC 484-II May 2008).

These are hefty reports and it will take me some time to get through them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Born everywhere, raised in Britain

The photo journalist Carolyn Irby has been interviewing and photographing children from every country in the world resident in Britain (she managed all but seven) for a Guardian/Channel 4 project. A selection was published in last Saturday's Guardian magazine and all the children, including Jaime representing Sao Tome, can be found on the Guardian's website.

A Channel 4 programme will come out in December/January.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Today Kezia went off-treatment!

Next appointment, Deity-willing, just a check-up in six weeks time!

Joe Orton's Cottage Orgy

The artist Banksy has become famous through his graffiti now sold for thousands of dollars. Last week a Banksy exhibition opened in New York for many thousands of dollars. Not existing works, but a completely new 3-D piece representing a pet-shop where budgerigars are represented by chicken-legs on feet, pigs having sex are represented by hot-dogs, and a monkey watches TV. A visual farce.

I have just re-read the biography, Prick Up Your Ears, of the playwright Joe Orton, the 20th century version of Oscar Wilde, by John Lahr. I am now re-reading the diary he kept during the last year or so of his life before he was killed by his lover Kenneth Halliwell who then committed suicide.

Joe Orton's plays root back through Ronald Firbank, Oscar Wilde (both acknowleged by Orton himself and Lahr) and, even further, to Moliere and the Comédie Francaise, and the Italian comic theatre that resulted in the Punch and Judy puppet shows of British seaside resorts.

In early 1960s Orton and his partner, Kenneth Halliwell, each earned six months in prison for defacing books in their local public library. They would legitimately borrow or illegally steal books and replace pages and photo-plates with images of classic paintings and sculptures ... and then replace them for future readers.

Later, Joe publically satisfied his own voice in the press media as Mrs Edna Welthorpe who roundly criticised the immorality of his plays.

How times do change ... but they don't as elements of the US Public are offended by Banksy's show..

The following extract from the diaries which reminded me of a couple of my earlier post and, although it had me giggling, it may offend you ... so if homosexual male debauchery is not your cup of tea ... don't read on!

"... popped into a little pissoir - just four pissers. It was dark because somone had taken the bulb away. There were three figures pissing. I had a piss and, as my eyes became used to the gloom, I saw that only one of the figures was worth having - a labouring type with cropped hair and, with cropped hair, wearing jeans and a dark short coat. Another man entered and the man next to the labourer moved away, not out of the place altogether, but back against the wall. The new man had a pee and left the place and, before the man against the wall could return to his place, I nipped in sharpish and stood next to the labourer. I put my hand down and felt his cock, he immediatley started to play with mine. The youngish man with fair hair, standing back against the wall, went into the vacant place. I unbuttoned the top of my jeans and unloosened my belt in order to allow the labourer free rein with my balls.The man next to me began to feel my bum. At this point a fifth man entered. Nobody moved. It was dark. Just a little light spilled into the place from the street, not enough to see immediately. The man next to me moved back to allow the fifth man to piss. But the fifth man very quickly flashed his cock and the man next to me returned to my side, lifting up my coat and shoving his hand down the back of my trousers. The fifth man kept puffing on a cigarette and, by the glowing end, watching. A sixth man came into the pissoir. As it was so dark nobody bothered to move. After an interval (during which the fifth man watched me feel the labourer, the labourer stroked my cock, and the man beside me pulled my jeans down even further) I noticed that the sixth man was kneeling down beside the youngish man with fair hair and sucking his cock. A seventh man came in, but by now nobody cared. The number of people in the place was so large that detection was quite impossible. And anyway, as soon became apparent when the seventh man stuck his head down on a level with my fly, he wanted a cock in his mouth too. For some moments nothing happened. Then an eighth man, bearded and stocky, came in. He pushed the sixth man roughly away from the fair-haired man and quickly sucked the fair-headed man off. The man beside me had pulled my jeans down over my buttocks and was trying to push his prick between my legs. The fair-haired man, having been sucked off, hastily left the place. The bearded man came over and nudged away the seventh man from me and, opening my fly, began sucking me like a maniac. The labourer, getting very excited by my feeling his cock with both hands, suddenly glued his mouth to mine. The little pissoir under the bridge had become the scene of a frenzied homosexual saturnalia. No more than two feet away the citizens of Holloway moved about their ordinary business. I came, squirting into the bearded man's mouth, and quickly pulled up my jeans. As I was about to leave, I heard the bearded man hissing quietly, 'I suck people off! Who wants his cock sucked?' When I left, the labourer was just shoving his cock into the man's mouth to keep him quiet. I caught the bus home.

I told Kenneth who said, 'It sounds as though eightpence and a bus down the Holloway Road was more interesting than £200 and a plane to Tripoli.'

Monday, October 20, 2008

Microsoft and the DoH - Random Thoughts

What do you and I think of this?

Here are some of my random of my thoughts ...

1. It was passed up from the NHS Connecting for Health (CfH) Freedom of Information Officer (FIO) to the Department of Health FIO. Does this say anything about DoH planning and contract awards? Or does this say something about the control of information in the NHS/DoH? The implication is that the contract is between NHS CfH, not the DoH, and Microsoft. However, it may be that the DoH administers the contract on behalf of NHS CfH.

2. The answer to my Question a) raises a number of issues. We are told that under the terms of the Enterprise Wide Agreement (EWA) with Microsoft the government is not allowed to reveal its cost – hardly seems to be in the spirit of open government.

In the first paragraph of this answer we are assured that the National Audit Office (NAO) considers the EWA good value for money compared to contracts between Microsoft and other government departments – this does not say much for these other contracts. Are they also subject to non-revelation of price clauses? Was the NAO's opinion declared publically?

The lack of openness seems to be in direct contradiction of all the government's hype about the free market and open competition.

With twisted logic it is argued that the non-revelation of the contract price results in a cheaper price and thus a lower burden to the taxpayer. What if Microsoft had to compete transparently? What price Freedom of Information?

This rather seems to mirror the European Union's concerns at Microsoft's monopolistic practices. Was the original EWA an open tender? If so, were there any other bidders? What were the terms of the 3-year extension clause? Is Microsoft undercutting, at a loss, potential competitors in order to gain a monopoly in the NHS? By the time this renewal (2007-2010) of the EWA is up, then the NHS will be so intricately tied into Microsoft systems that it will be obliged to renew again and again ... and Microsoft will have the NHS by the short-and-curlies and be able to charge whatever it wants.

3. The answers to my questions b) and c) are somewhat surprising and inadequate. From the Microsoft NHS website I have since learned that Microsoft has an EWA reseller programme divided up by Strategic Health Authorities.

The SHAs are distributed among three companies hence:

Bytes Technology Group

North West SHA,
West Midlands SHA,
London SHA
South West, South East and South Central SHAs

Please contact Bytes Technology Group at:
0208 786 1570

Computacenter Ltd.
East of England SHA
East Midlands SHA
Or as part of any Arms Length Body

Please contact Computacenter Ltd at:
0800 055 6661

Trustmarque Solutions

North East SHA
Yorkshire andtThe Humber SHA
Department of Health

Please contact Trustmarque Solutions at:
0870 121 0322

Clearly, Microsoft's criteria for the selection of resellers and their remuneration are not going to be in the public domain.

I also discover that, as stated in the FIO's reply, that individual NHS entities, can enter “individual contracts” with Microsoft under its Select Licensing programme, without reference to CfH or the DoH. This programme is also administered through Microsoft resellers (generally the same ones as under the EWA) who are administratively organised by SHA. Surely the EWA should cover all NHS Microsoft needs? If CfH/DoH does not know how many of these contracts are held and what they are for, how can it plan for the EWA? How does it know whether the EWA is covering NHS needs?

4. I am somewhat relieved the planned Personal Care Record database will be stored on Solaris Unix servers using an Oracle database rather than Windows servers using MS-SQL database server software. With and by whom is/are the Solaris/Oracle contract/s held? What are the effective dates of such contract(s)?

The DoH FIO's reply seems to raise more questions than it provides answers.

Dear Readers - should I pursue this with a further FOIA request? If so, what should I request? Suggestions please in the comments or by email.

Friday, October 17, 2008

FOIA - Microsoft and the DoH

The reply ...

Our ref: DE00000356344

15 October 2008

Dear Mr Gascoigne,

Thank you for your request for information, under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’), about Microsoft as a supplier of IT products and services to the NHS, and as a supplier to NHS Connecting for Health in connection with the Summary Care Record (‘centralised patient record system’). Your request was received on 7 October and it has been passed to me for reply.

Please find answers to each of your requests in turn below:

(a) How much the NHS is paying Microsoft for licensing of Microsoft's Operating Systems and any support services directly provided by Microsoft?

The terms of the Enterprise Wide Arrangement (EWA) negotiated between NHS Connecting for Health and Microsoft on behalf of the NHS preclude our revealing the pricing details to parties outside of Government. This proviso reflects the fact that the information is commercially sensitive information, and as such is exempt under section 43 of the Act, which exempts information whose disclosure would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person. However, I can confirm that the National Audit Office have accepted that the prices the NHS is paying under the EWA are lower than those available under other agreements with Microsoft negotiated by the Office of Government Commerce on behalf of Government departments.

Section 43 is subject to the public interest test. Considerations I have taken into account in deciding the balance of public interest in relation to your request are that disclosure would b e consistent with policies for open government and accountability for public expenditure. Disclosure would also illustrate value for money in the context of the National Programme for IT. Considerations for withholding the information are that disclosure is likely to mean that Microsoft would not give the NHS such preferential pricing in any future arrangement. Furthermore, other suppliers are likely to become wary of offering NHS Connecting for Health or the NHS (and potentially other public sector organisations) exceptionally favourable terms in future if they perceive the risk that they too may have their lowest prices revealed in response to ad hoc requests for their disclosure. Hence, the net effect of revealing these particular price details is likely to be to increase future costs for the public sector/the taxpayer.

(b) How many discrete contracts does the NHS have with Microsoft? If more than one, what products/services are provided under each contract and what is the cost of each contract?

(c) If 3rd-part vendors are contracted to provide support services for Microsoft products, how many such contracts exist, how are they administered, and what is their total value?

Neither the Department of Health nor NHS Connecting for Health collect information about the number, nature or value of any such separate agreements.

I should explain that the NHS is not a single organisation or legal entity. In addition to contracts held centrally on behalf of the NHS as a whole, each NHS organisation is at liberty to enter into further bilateral agreements with Microsoft or its commercial partners for products or services to meet their local needs without the knowledge, or need for approval, of either NHS Connecting for Health or the Department of Health.

(d) What operating system is planned to be used on fileservers hosting the centralised patient record system, and with which core-database software is it being implemented?

I can confirm that the Summary Care Record sits on servers running the Sun Microsystems Open Solaris 10 ("Unix") operating system, in an Oracle 10g database.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of our decision, you should write to the Section Head of the Department’s Freedom of Information Unit at the following address:

Freedom of Information Unit

Department of Health

Room 334b

Skipton House

80 London Road


If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner (ICO) for a decision. Generally, the ICO cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the complaints procedure provided by the Department. The ICO can be contacted at:

The Information Commissioner’s Office

Wycliffe House

Water Lane




Yours sincerely,

Stuart Craig

Department of Health

Room 317

79 Whitehall

London SW1A 2NS

Friday, October 10, 2008


... is on!

I wrote to our social-workers and consultant and he quite happily agreed to a delay of the next "inspection" for a week as long as Kezia doesn't take her weekly dose of oral methotrexate - to let her blood-count recover.

Pete is taking them over to Blackpool on Monday afternoon. There is no direct public transport route (even though relatively close in distance) back home the following Sunday, and Pete and Paula, and our friend Margaret, are all unable to collect them. Public transport with no direct connection, with luggage, two young children and language difficulties would be difficult.

Paula's son, Stefan, has offered to go all the way to Blackpool via Hebden Bridge to meet them.

Thank you to all who have helped us on this.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


It seems my Freedom of Information request to NHS Connecting for Health has been passed on to the Department of Health as I received this email today ...

Acknowledgement of case DE00000356344 received by the Department of Health.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Biting the Bullet

Tom Reynold's post on the NHS IT Connecting for Health consultation finally inspired me to sumnon up the courage to make the following Freedom of Information request ... watch this space.

Dear Angus

Thank you for your email.

Your request has been forwarded to Mr Paley and you should receive a
response shortly.


Peter Cavanagh
Information Officer

Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Directorate
NHS Connecting for Health

-----Original Message-----

Subject: FOIA request

Dear Mr Paley

I wish to obtain the following information about the NHS Connecting for Health programme under the terms of the FOIA.

a) how much the NHS is paying Microsoft for licensing of Microsoft's Operating Systems and any support services directly provided by Microsoft?

b) how many discrete contracts does the NHS have with Microsoft? If more than one, what products/services are provided under each contract and what is the cost of each contract?

c) if 3rd-part vendors are contracted to provide support services for Microsoft products, how many such contracts exist, how are they administered, and what is their total value?

d) what operating system is planned to be used on fileservers hosting the centralised patient record system, and with which core-database software is it being implemented?

If my request needs to be submitted in a different format, please advise.

Best regards

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tajen Samak bi Tahen

My favourite local Lebanese store has finally started selling Tahini. I have been using it exclusively for making home-made houmous. I shopped there earlier this week to buy another tub and chick-peas, and Fred (yes that is really his name) on the till asked me if I had ever tried fish with a tahini sauce ... I never have. “Delicious” he says. So I go home and dig out Alan Davidson's "Mediterranean Seafood" - there are two Lebanese recipes for white-fish served with a tahini sauce. In the first, "Tajen Samak bi Tahen", a good whitefish, such as a grouper, is baked in a the tahini sauce consisting of lemon, salt, water and tahini. It is accompanied by rice cooked with onion and pine-nut kernels, The second recipe, "Samkeh Mechwiyeh and Tartor Sauce with Pine-nut Kernels", bakes the same fish, but serves it with a separate tahini sauce and can be served hot or cold. In this the pine-kernels are pounded into the tahini sauce.

I bought the pine-kernels on Thursday – fuckin' hell 10 Euros for 100 grammes!

On Saturday Hamilton and I went shopping for fish - I was looking for merou (grouper) or maybe barracuda - after scouring the fish-market (slowly - chock-a-block on a Saturday morning) unsuccessfully - there were only sailfish, tuna family (yes your mouth is watering - but the taste of tahini must not be overwhelmed by the fish - it must have white meat) or "poor" fish, so we went down to the small quay on the city's bay where the middle-sized fishing business' (small trawlers or motorised 10m open fibreglass boats as opposed to a dug-out tree trunk) sell their catch. No merou or barracuda. So I dubiously bought an "alada" - an amberjack (of which Alan Davidson tells me there are are various around the world) - it has a yellow stripe along its side. Then off to Fred's shop to buy some good rice rather than EU/Japan rice rubbish-bin rice found on the market! Fred recommended a 5 kg bag of Egyptian rice but it was short-grain and clearly meant for paellas and risottos (there was an illustration of a prawn on the packaging) so I opted for a 2 kg bag of Pakistani Basmati rice (packaged in Lebanon in a rather nice cloth bag with a zip). Hamilton really couldn't understand why I was spending good money on such expensive rice, rice being rice after all, but I wasn't going to be a spendthrift on EU or Japanese rice-mountain rice when I was spending a fortune on tahini and olive oil. Hamilton cleaned and filleted the fish and then I followed Alan Daividson's instructions as best I could. It was superb! But I burnt the pine-nuts!