Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • What's up doc? No Jewish medics in ER

    Jan Shure
    May 18, 2009

    In a little over a week, on May 28, the 22nd episode of the 15th and final series of the hugely successful hospital drama, ER, goes out on Channel 4.

    Having been a devoted fan since the third series in 1996/7, I have watched a succession of medics and ancillary staff at County General in Chicago save a thousand lives. I have watched, horrified but hugely entertained as they have seized crash carts to restart hearts, as they fell in and out of love, as they fell ill, raved, roared, romanced, flirted, called the time of death, committed suicide and lost children. I flinched as they were kidnapped, shot at by marauding Congo militias and marauding Chicago gangbangers, were abducted, had burning aircraft fall on them, fell out of the sky or had a limb ripped off by helicopter rotor blades... The 15 years have seen some pretty extreme, but utterly riveting TV, acted by an extraordinarily talented ensemble cast whose most famous former member is George Clooney.

    If, like me, you have been a faithful fan, perhaps you can answer a question that has been bothering me since it popped into my head last week when I was watching The One Where George Clooney and Juliana Margulies Guest Star...

  • Late for work - but with a good excuse

    Richard Burton
    May 18, 2009

    The day began a little later than usual for some of us - because a woman almost gave birth on a train.

    Passengers travelling on the Central Line into the City were stuck for about 20 minutes as the driver gave constant updates. But left out the best bits.

    After first explaining there appeared to be a door problem with the train in front at St Paul's Station, he then announced the unexpected labour.

  • Why I don't blame Sir Victor

    Candice Krieger
    May 18, 2009

    Sir Victor Blank's decision to step down as chairman of Lloyds Banking Group has apparently stunned the City. Really? Surely it's not that much of a surprise. Sir Victor has faced mounting pressure to step down since Lloyds - that conservatively-run bank known for its strong dividend payouts and risk controls - took over ailing HBOS in a rescue bid last September.

    The deal, which saved the taxpayer from having to intervene, was viewed as a huge favour to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who waved aside competition concerns over the deal. The result: a superbank for Britain, and for Sir Victor, a place bang in the middle of the limelight. He initially won plaudits for preventing the collapse of the mortgage lender. But the takeover - and soaring bad debts that came with it - has since crippled Lloyds, and Sir Victor's reputation. 

    Critics say Sir Victor's decision to go was one to spare his blushes, allowing him to avoid a potentially embarrassing showdown with investors over his re-election at next month's annual meeting. Maybe. But then he has been left with little choice.

  • Yeah, right

    Stephen Pollard
    May 15, 2009

    From today's Times:

    Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, who is under
    investigation over her Commons allowances, is said by her colleagues to have
    asked Mr Brown if she can stand down from the Cabinet so that she can
    concentrate on trying to retain her marginal seat.

    Aha. The Labour version of spending more time with the family. 

  • Forget dog-food, it's moat maintenance we really need to halt

    Jan Shure
    May 13, 2009

    My colleague Jenni Frazer has already touched on the subject of MPs expenses in her blog (, and while I am equally amused by the female MP who claimed £4.47 for dog food, that particular member's misuse of the system pales so far into insignificance compared to that of the swimming pool-owning class of Tory MPs, that I actually feel pity for her.

    That her name could be traduced (by the Daily Telegraph) for claiming less than a fiver to feed her mutt, seems positively spiteful compared with the abject greed revealed by the MPs who claimed thousands for such "essentials" as swimming pool maintenance, gardening (one Tory's £5,650 over nine months for the maintenance of his patch), stamp duty, manure for perfecting a lawn, a helipad and even Douglas Hogg's moat clearance.

    If there really is a will among party leaders to clean up this appalling misuse of taxpayers money - as both David Cameron and Gordon Brown have claimed - it seems that someone needs to work out a formula that is as close to fair, equable and abuse-proof as it is possible to be. And that means taking away the ability of MPs to submit claims for pretty much anything they fancy (dog-food, gardening, helipads, moats), and their ability to choose any kind of home (or homes) they feel appropriate. There are, after all, only so many permutations of family homes and constituency locations and by working out what they are, specific sums - with London weightings - could be applied to homes, travel and very tightly scrutinised living expenses.

  • Yes, really, flights at 2005 prices to Tel Aviv

    Jan Shure
    May 13, 2009

    Whoever said competition wasn't healthy clearly knew nothing about the price of flights to Israel or the impact of the economic downturn on the travel business.
    Until comparatively recently, the London-Tel Aviv route was neatly shared by BA and El Al, who charged roughly similar fares for roughly similar dates.

    Then, along came bmi, with its business-friendly service and - from this month, - a second daily flights from Heathrow to Ben-Gurion, and it must have dawned on Israel's national carrier that they might need to actually become a bit more competitive if they wanted to hang on to their business share from the UK.

    As we have seen, the first move - following the demise of Thomson's Tel Aviv route from Luton - was to introduce more or less daily flights from Luton (so convenient for the Jewish heartland of north London) to Tel Aviv, with a lower price introductory fare.
    And today, the airline has announced a new instant purchase economy flight from £267 return from Heathrow to B-G, and from £254 from Luton to B-G - both fares cheaper, in real terms, than in 2005. The fares are for travel only up to July 3 (and may be booked up to the date of travel), but for everyone who wants to avoid mid-summer, and isn't tied by school holidays, it is very encouraging news. Now, if only Israeli hoteliers could be a bit more competitive, life in Planet Travel would be perfect.