Saturday, February 07, 2009

Big freeze

The worst snowfall for 18 years at the start of the week, many parts of the country seized up, and even London without buses, some roads blocked.

Monday, I asked a question about the risks of alcohol to pregnant women. There is a great deal of public information about the harmful effects of smoking, but relatively little on alcohol, even in hospitals and GPs' surgeries.

Tuesday, I got in a supplementary about President Obama's offer of help to Pakistan in combatting extremism, asking whether we had made any similar offer and if we were coordinating with the Americans.

Wednesday, I asked a supplementary to Lindsay Northover's question on Zimbabwe:

Lord Avebury: My Lords, it was depressing that the Minister had to explain yet again to the participants at the AU meeting the actual meaning of sanctions. Did the participants understand that Mugabe himself is the main cause of the bankruptcy and universal starvation of the people of Zimbabwe? In any AU fallback plan that may become necessary as a result of the failure of the SADC initiative, will the first priority be to remove Mr Mugabe from office?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, when you are trying to make the current plan work, you do not want to undermine it by immediately discussing hypothetical alternatives should it fail. Again, our emphasis should be on making this work. The AU summiteers called for sanctions to be lifted because they believe that they interfere with humanitarian support to Zimbabwe. As the noble Lord observes, I explained to them again that the sanctions are targeted only at individuals and the corporate entities that are controlled by those individuals; they are not aimed against the people of Zimbabwe. Indeed, Britain is the second most generous humanitarian donor to that country, and I suspect that we will be putting in even more resources for humanitarian assistance by routes that we can control, due to the growing crisis.

Thursday, I had an endoscopy at King's first thing, a procedure I had intended to have photographed, but Lindsay's camera battery unfortunately needed recharging. You lie on your side, a hollow tube is stuck down your throat, and a device is poked through the tube to look at the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum, and to snip buts off for biopsies. Some people have anaesthetic for the procedure, but this means yo have to stay at the hospital for hours afterwards. I cycled to the hospital and back, in time to get to Parliament by 11.00, though not to speak for once!

In the late afternoon I was back at King's for a kidney and prostate scan. Although I had drunk a litre of water before the procedure s instructed, it hadn't reached my bladder, so the radiologist only got pictures of the kidneys, which he said were fine.

Today, Saturday, we attended the National Secular Society event at which Evan Harris MP and me were made joint Secularists of the Year for the work on abolition of blasphemy last year. The award was presented by Richard Dawkins, whose brilliant TV filf on Darwin is now available on DVD. The entertainment was a dramatic reconstruction of the famous debate bewteen Huxley and Bishop 'Soapy Sam' Wilberforce in which the Bishop asked Huxley whether it was through his grandmother or his grandfather that he was descended from the apes. There are several versions of the riposte, but the one recorded by Hooker, who was oresent, was that he would rather have an ape as a grandparent than a man highle endowed by nature and possessed of great means and influence, and yet employs these faculties and that influence for the purpose of introducing ridicule into a scientific discussion. Hooker and my grandfather Sir John Lubbock spoke later in the debate 'with great force', according to Huxley. In the reconstruction, the part of Soapy Sam was played by Terry Sanderson, President of the NSS,and he was impressively unctuous!

In my speech of thanks to the NSS I said they might think it incongruous that the London Borough of Bromley was celebrating the bicentenary of Darwin's birth with a service in the parish church of Downe, where the vicar had anathematised the Origin. My grandfather, who was Darwin's next door neighbour and staunch disciple, stopped attending church in Downe, though he still went to church in Farborough, the next door village, and when Darwin died Sir John was instrumental in getting him a state burial in Westminster Abbey.

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