Sunday, 30 September 2012

20th Century Battlefields

The recent series on the BBC entitled "20th Century Battlefields" has been utterly fascinating.

Presented by John and Dan Snow, the series has covered key battles across the globe covered battles across the globe.

For BFTF, the most interesting feature of the series is the clear and concise way the presenters describe the battle, which is a change from some other progeammes. In particular, the programme uses innovative graphics that aim to give the viewer an understanding of the battle, instead of aiming to be as flashy as possible.

A couple of screenshots are shown below, from the episode on the Falklands, to give a feel for how well the graphics conveyed what was going on.

Graphics showing Harriers dropping cluster bombs on Argentinian artillery,
with Argentinian(blue) and British(Red) forces in the background

Graphics showing British(Red) forces during the attack on Mount Tumbledown,
making it really easy to understand what happened during the battle

A really good effort from the BBC, and exactly the kind of informative programme that BFTF likes to see.

So chuffed was BFTF this it sent an email to the BBC thanking them for the clarity of the production.

(Images captured from iplayer)

Related Posts
WW1 from the air (an example of how NOT to explain things to viewers)

Piano Busker

Just a note to say that I saw "The Piano Busker" in Notts town centre this weekend.

He is VERY, VERY, VERY good.

Seriously, he was playing two pianos at the same time - really well.

BFTF was utterly mesmerised.

You can find out more about him at his facebook page:

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Nottingham Citizens and the PCC

Great interview with George Gabriel from Nottingham Citizens today.

Most urgent item was that the election of a Police Commissioner for Nottingham is taking place on 15th November. According to the Government, the PCCs will have a number of responsibilities:

Police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will ensure the policing needs of their communities are met as effectively as possible, bringing communities closer to the police, building confidence in the system and restoring trust.

PCCs will make and influence key decisions that will impact on how your local area looks and feels - from CCTV, street lighting and graffiti to tackling gangs and drug-dealing.

Their job is to listen to the public and then respond to their needs, bringing more of a public voice to policing and giving the public a name and a face to complain to if they aren't satisfied.

Nottingham Citizens aims to hold an action three days before the election, (i.e. on 12th November) which will involve hundreds of Nottingham's citizens and will ask the candidates to commit to addressing the concerns of the people of Nottingham - and Nottingham Citizens are currently undertaking a listening excercise to hear exactly what those concerns are.

You can help Nottingham Citizens in this endeavour by leaving a comment here saying what you think the commissioner should be addressing, or you can email George Directly at It is worth thinking about issues that can be expressed clearly, and where the PCCC could be asked to commit to something specific

Related Links:
Nottingham Citizens
Interview with Milton Keynes Citizens
Hope and Homlessness Commission Report
Tips on Community Organising

Are Banks causing more jewellery burglaries?

UPDATE:27 SEP Realised during the writing of the post that, unbelievably, the "candidates" page on the Nottingham PCC website, does not have any information on who the candidates are!!! Sent an email asking them to correct this.

UPDATE:03 OCT Nottingham Police Authority quickly responded saying "While I understand your question, we are not permitted to promote any candidate or prospective candidate on this site, or indeed in any other way. However, the Home Office will have a dedicated section of their website with information covering all the candidates and we will provide a link to this site once it is live. It is expected to be populated and available to all on 26 October 2012, after the nominations close at Noon on 19 October, when there is the full list of confirmed candidates.I also understand that each local returning officer will be publishing a Notice of Election on 23 October, 2012."

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Framing in Crimson Tide

BFTF has previously written about "Framing" but thought it might be worth mentioning one of the most powerful examples of framing that BFTF has ever heard...

It comes from the Submarine Thriller "Crinson Tide" starring Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington, who play the Captain and Lt Commander respectively.

At one point they are having a formal dinner with the other officers and Washington is being quite cagey with some of his answers to questions, which provokes Hackman into saying the followng line :

"I don't mean to suggest that you're indecisive, Mr. Hunter. Not at all. Just, uh... complicated."

And, of course, what pops up in the viewers mind, despite Hackmans protestations, is that Hackman views Washington as being "indecisive".


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Uncle John and Grandad

"Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours" - that's not just a line from a daytime TV soap opera theme, it's a truism of life.

One aspect of the relationships between neighbours that is often overlooked is that between children and their adult neighbours, and one aspect of this overlooked area is the relationship between children from ethnic minorities and their "native" neighbours.

In the case of BFTF, his earliest and most formative years were spent with an (even then) elderly white british couple who lived next door.

As BFTF's own grandparents were thousands of miles away in the subcontinent, the couple next door somehow ended up becoming known as "Grandad" and "Grandmum".

And they did a pretty good job as Grandparents. They were always around for a chat and BFTF can remember many a day when he would stop to talk to "Grandmum" as she sat in her deckchair in their front garden. They literally saw BFTF grow up, from before he could ride a tricycle to after he went to university.

But more than that was the affection they showed for BFTF and his brother. Even in their later years, when (now grown up) BFTF would visit them, they would always say goodbye with a gentle kiss to the forehead.

And, in time, it was BFTF's own children who would pay them a visit, and be welcomed with the same love BFTF had received.

Sadly, Grandmum passed away some time ago, and Grandad a few years later. At Grandads funeral, a part of a letter from BFTF's brother was read out in which he described how he would fall asleep to the sound of the the chimes from Grandad's clock coming thorugh the brickwork to our bedroom next door. . .

And thne the cycle of life then proceeded to do what it always does - turn full circle.

BFTF was by now living in Nottingham, far from where he grew up "daarn saarf" and had some kids of his own, kids who were doted on by the couple next door (who were granparents themselves). This time it wasn't "Grandad" that they called their neighbour, but "Uncle John". Or,as No3 Son would say as a toddler "Uncajon".

There are perhaps three million Muslims in the UK, and BFTF wonders how many hundreds of thousands of them have had similar relationships with their neighbours as children.

Is is possible to put a value on the love that so many British people have given so freely to so many kids? Or the contribution those "Grandads", "Uncles" and "Aunties" have made to strengthening community cohesion? Or the reciprocal kindness that so many Muslim families have shown in return?

And how much of a crime is it that all these relationships - all this social cement - is completely absent from the debate about multiculturism and the place of minorities in British society?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Islam, Culture, Art and Identity

Heard a fascinating talk at a local mosque a couple of weeks ago about Islam and Culture. The speaker, who was a student of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, made some interesting points, some of which are summarised below:

Intellect and Passsion are two opposite things, and we all need to have both working together, in a balanced manner, in our minds.

Unfortuntely, the Muslim community has a difficult time balancing what Muslims love and what what is reasonable.

As an example of how powerful identity is, consider a national flag. It is just a piece of fabric with some colours printed on it - but it symbolises so much more and can have a value far beyond its material worth to nationals of that country.

The speaker asked the attendees to consider three questions. What is culture? What is beauty? What is Islam? To genuinely ask people what they thought about a subject is an unusual (and very welcome) thing to see at a mosque and the resulting discussion was quite productive, although people were so wary of saying the wrong thing that the speaker had to urge the attendees to "think outside the religious box"!

One very thought-provoking analogy that the speaker used was that culture was like a cup in that it provided a vessel and context through which concepts such as faith could be carried and taken in, and that "every nation has its cup".

The speaker pointed out that those who wish to deny all arts and culture were denying people a "cup" thorugh which they could understand issues and concepts - and that countries that are without a culture have no identity or cohesion.

He went on to urge the attendees to push to engage better with the arts and humanities and to participate in these fields.

At the end of the talk, one attendee asked why it was that he would not dare recommend a friend to visit an art exhibition if there was even one "unislamic" picture there, but would have no problem with recommending that the same friend go and buy, say, a good value fruit juice in ASDA - even though that supermarket has whole aisles of alcoholic products and non-halal products.

The speaker, and the Imam present, commented that Muslims needed to be able to take what was good from exhibitions, and to be positive about art and the humanities.

How Islamic thought is context based.

Following recent attacks by Muslims on Islamic Shrines in North Africa (I know, how bonkers does that sound!), a local mosque held an event where speakers attenpted to explain how Islamic teachings and traditions needed to be understood in the context of their time and place.

It is perhaps helpful to give a little background, as explained by the speakers.

These shrines are being destroyed by Salafis (otherwise known as Wahhabis) who are from a branch of Islam originating in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century. Salafism became a dominant force in that area due to the collaboration of its founder, Abdul Wahab, with an ambitious local desert warrior (and chief of an agricultural settlement) called Muhammad ibn Saud. Together, they formed the first Saudi state and are the reason that the country is now called "Saudi" arabia.

Salafi beliefs focus very much on the practices of Muslims at and just after the time of Muhammed (PBUH) and ignore much, if not all, of the Islamic thought, literature and concepts that Muslim scholars have discussed and written about in the subsequent 1400 years.

Now, there is no dispute that there are traditions from the time of Muhammed(PBUH) saying that graves should not be built upon - and it is this that the Salafis are trying to enforce by destroying shrines and mausoleums whereever they go.

However, mainstream Islamic thought has long since realised that leaving the graves of famous Islamic scholars and leaders unmarked or very simply marked results in the location of a great many of them becoming lost over time, representing a loss to the Islamic faith and denying Muslims places where they could spiritually connect with their heritage - and it is this view that has allowed the building of these shrines in many Muslim countries over centuries.

Indeed, until the emergence of the Salafis some 200 years ago, there were many such shrines in Saudi Arabia itself, although the Salafis have now largely destroyed them.

Another example of how differnt times have caused Islamic scholars to reach different conclusions is in the practices at the time of a persons burial.

The traditions from the time of the Prophet(PBUH) are that people should be quiet when taking a body to the graveyard and should think about how fleeting life is.

But later scholars found that, instead of contemplating the fact that we all have to die, the people were simply chatting to each other, which was felt to be very inappropriate and spiritually harmful. So, to prevent this, scholars instruced that attendees at funerals should perform some simple "Zikr" (repitition of short spiritual phrases) to keep their minds focussed on where they were.

Moustafa Ismail and his biceps

BFTF has noted numerous articles in the press (for example, see here, here, here and here) about one "Moustafa Ismail" who has been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as having the worlds largest biceps in the world. You can see just how large in the YouTube video below :

And indeed, they are of prodigious proportions.

But they look really weird, and are out of proportion to the rest of his arms and body.

Invariably, the comments sections of each articles if full of people commenting that far from being due exclusively to hard work, Mr Ismail's biceps are the result of injecting his upper arms with an oil such as "Synthol" which inflates their appearance, partly due to the inflammation that it causes. According to Wikipedia, these oils "can cause pulmonary embolisms, nerve damage, infections, stroke,and the formation of oil-filled granulomas, cysts or ulcers in the muscle."

BFTF wonders whether the REAL story here relates to the use of oil injections as a bodybuilding aid, and whether the Guinness Book of Records has checked to see whether Mr Ismail has achieved his impressive upper arm girth through natural means.

So BFTF has asked the Guinness Book of Records exactly that.

With astonishing swiftness, BFTF received a response from Guinness World Records pointing out that the record was for ‘largest upper arm circumference’ rather than the size of biceps or triceps, or how this size is achieved. And added that:
"Based on the feedback we have received from members of the public we are considering looking at this record category in different ways and to this extent we have commissioned specialist research on the subject."

So there you go.

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La Prairie and their skin cream containing "magnetic" Platinum nanoparticles
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Saturday, 15 September 2012

1933 - Letter B

BFTF has been fascinated by the contents of a multi-volume 1933 Odhams Press publication entitled "The British Encyclopedia". The volumes provide a glimpse into the the way the world looked at that time and BFTF thought you, gentle reader, might be interested to read a few extracts from some of the somtimes surprising, sometimes shocking, sometimes sad entries. See here for extracts from other sections of the encyclopaedia

Please note that these are only tiny extracts and are not meant to be a summary of the entire encyclopedia entry.

… The doctrines of a Mohammedan sect whose headquarters are in Persia, founded by Seyd Ali Mohammed in 1844...

...the morality of the sect is pure and cheerful, and it shows great advancement in the treatmetn of women...

...A schism divided the followers of Babism inot tow sects, Bahais and Ezelis. The former have carried on an active propaganda in America.

Baghdad Railway
A railway starting at Konia in Asia Minor...and intended to run to Baghdad and Koweit on the Persian Gulf... German capital was used throughout, and the line was part of the Berlin-Balkan-Baghdad scheme which was to provide Germany with a safe means of transport to India.

A Russian port on the western shore of the Caspian...the naptha of petroleum springs of Baku have long been known; and the field of fire, so called from emitting inflammable gases, has long been a place of pilgrimage with the Guebres or Fire-Worshippers.

Balkan War
The First Balkan War (Oct.1912 - May 1913) was the effort of thge Balkan League to dismember Turkey in Europe. Each member of the League [Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece[ was alloted a definite strategic objective, and each gained a considerable measure of success.

...Its prosperity is due to the mines of red hematite iron-ore which abound in the district...It has numerous blast-furnesses and one of the largest Bessemer steel works in the world.

A Mohammedan people of Arab race inhabiting chiefly the deserts of Arabia, Syrai, Egypt and North Africa...

...They lead a nomadic existence...varying the monotomy of pastoral life by rading each other and plundering unprotected travellers...

...they are lax in morals and unreliable even in respect of the code of honour attributed to them...

A light woollen fabric made of wool of the natural colour.

A town...with large cotton mills, foundries etc, and in the neighbourhood numerous collieries.

The birthplace of Christ; a small place in Palestine, 5 miles south from Jerusalem..

A great manufacturing city of England, situated on the small river Rhea…It is the principal seat of the hardware manufacture of Britain, producing metal articles of all kinds from pins to steam engines. It manufactures fire-arms in great quantites, swords, jewellery, buttons, tools ,stee-pens, locks, lamps, bedsteads, gas-fittings, sewing-machines, articles of papier-mache, railway carriages etc. The quantity of solid gold and silver plate manufactured is large and the consumption of these metals in electro-plating is very great. Japanning, glass manufacturing and glass-staining or painting form important branches of industry as also does the manufacture of chemicals. At Soho and Smethwick in the vicinity of the town were the famous works founded by Boulton and Watt, who there manufactured the very first steam-engines, where gas was first used, plating perfected and numerous novel applications tried and experiments made…

A town of the United States, near the centre of Alabama, a great seat of the iron trade, having iron-ore, coal and limestone in abundance at hand, so that its blast furnaces, foundries and other works are readily supplied. It has grown up since 1880. Pop. 259,678

Birth Control
…In recent years, the ideal of quality of population rather than quantity has become general; and birth control has been a keenly discussed subject…Dr Marie Stopes is its chief exponent. A medical committee has recommended that no married person should be hindered from obtaining knowledge of contraceptive methods ; while, on the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church denounced all such practices as definitely sinful.

…although the English Law still embodies the tradition which treats blasphemy as a sin, in practice it treats it as an offence against the peace and good order of society. ..

Blast Furnace
[mentions the following improvements : use of hot gas (James B Nielson, 1828, Glasgow); drying of the air (Gayley, 1905, Pittsburg, output inc by 25%, fuel consumption reduced by 20%)

An attack on a locality by explosive missiles from land sea or air. A bombardment is one of the recognised and legitimate methods of making war but, by the Laws and Customs of War as laid down by the Hauge Convention of 1907, its use is confined to the case of defended localities. Fortifications are not necessary to constitute a defended locality, the mere presence of troops is sufficient . A bombardment of an undefended town or locality by any means whatsoever is forbidden. The only apparent exception to this is the case of a naval bombardment, which may be resorted to to coerce an undefended town if such town refuses to comply with requisitions for supplies legitimately made under the Laws and Customs of War...

[Manufactures section] …Takin these in order of importance, we begin with cotton. In this branch of industry Great Britain still remains a long way ahead of other countries… The total value of the cotton goods (including yarn) exported in 1932 was £62, 845,000.

[Wool] is next in importance to that of cotton and draws large for its supplies on other countries, particularly the Australian colonies. The total value of the woollen goods (including yarn) exported in 1932 was £24.004,000.

[Linen and artificial silk also mentioned as being important] …Amongst the most important [of other industries] are the trades connected with iron and steel and other metals, and the manufacture of all kinds of machinery (giving in 1934 a total export of £33,636,000)

[Paper manufacturer and Ship-building also mentioned as being important]

[Commerce section]..It has been generally recognised that the Empire can be self-supporting and for this reason such organisations as the Empire Marketing Board have spared no efforts to foster Imperial trade.

…In his mildness, his readiness to overlook insults, his zeal, chastity and simplicity of life, he was not unlike St Francis of Assisi…

…Although now long banished from Hindustan by the persecutions of the Brahmin, Budddhism prevails in Ceylon, Burmah, Siam, Annam, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Java and Japan…

A fatty substance produced from milk, especially cow’s milk. When the milk is first drawn, this fatty matter is disseminated through it in minute clear globules enclosed in membranous sacs or bags which in a short time rise to the surface and form cream. The cream is then skimmed off to undergo the operation of churning, which by rupturing the sacs effects a separation of the cream into a solid called butter and a liquid called butter-milk, the latter consisting of whey and other caseous matter…the butter, being formed into lumps, is washed till all the butter-milk has been expelled.

FSC/recycled paper : Documents

Examples of companies who do the right thing and use FSC / recycled paper for their till flyers/ documents/ bills/ junk mail etc :

Flyer from The Co-operative

Weekly Offers leaflet at Aldi

Junk Mail from Boots

Junk Mail from the Royal Mail

FSC/recycled paper : Receipts

Examples of companies who do the right thing and use FSC / recycled paper for their till receipts :

Receipt from Aldi

Receipt from Boots caption

Friday, 14 September 2012

Caveats in articles simply don't get read

An article in the Daily Mail today is headlined "Drunk man who threatened to slit pregnant girlfriend’s throat with Stanley knife unless she converted to Islam is spared jail" which reports on how one Kuldeep Chail, commented to Mohammed Malik, a complete stranger, at a bus stop that he was "going to kill her if she won't listen'. Mr Malik was so concerned that he alerted Police.

The more ethnically aware amogst you will already have noticed that "Kuldeep" is not a Muslim name, and indeed the story actually points out, about half way through, that "at Snaresbrook Crown Court today it emerged that Chail is himself a Sikh, not a Muslim"

All pretty clear then?

Not for many of the Mail Online commenters it wasn't, as many of them believed that the accused WAS a Muslim, as shown by their comments, jsut a few of which are shown below :

"See what I mean? It's time for a ban on these extremists..."

"... if this 'man' is so passionate about his religion, then why does he drink and smoke as he is holding a packet of tobacco.. two things which are prohibited in his religion. Hypocrite."

"A Muslim that gets drunk. What another wonderful example of Islam."

"A drunk Muslim, threatening somebody with a Stanley knife and he gets off. Good job he was not a person of no faith, his feet would not have touched before being landed with a stiff jail sentence - are we going barking mad as a nation?"

"Which just goes to show how small riders and caveats in articles simply are not read by many readers, and allow articles to give these readers a message that damages community cohesions and generates ill-will and distrust."

The irony, of course, is that it was a Muslim, Mr Malik, who was the good guy in this story!

UPDATE(15th OCT)- Malala ariives in the UK for Treatment
An article entitled Touchdown: Malala, 14, arrives in UK from Pakistan with her family for life-saving treatment after being shot in the head by Taliban for going to school in the MailOnline today reports on the story of Malala Yousafzai, who had been shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to campaign for the right to a school education. The article describes how Malala has arrived in the UK for treatment, which will take several months.

One question that people might legitimately ask is who is paying for the flight to the UK and subsequent treatment. The article answers this question with a quote by a Pakistani Army official who says that "'All expenses including transportation of Malala by specially equipped air ambulance and treatment abroad will be borne by the government of Pakistan"

But many readers simply did not see this, with the result that the feedback section was littered with comments like the following:

"A British medical team has flown to Pakistan to help doctors looking after 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai and will now transfer her to the UK for 'prolonged treatment'. ------------------- WHO IS PAYING FOR THIS?"

"I thought the NHS was under funded - or is that just for its British patients?"

"While people are waiting for operations, let's just fly someone over to get priority treatment! this country has it all so very very wrong."

"I've just collected my daughters proscription and it cost me fifteen pounds do I need to say more."

The Power of Lobbying

A recent article in the Daily Mail reported on the trial of Azhar Ahmed who, following the death of six British Soldiers in an IED explosion, posted offensive comments on Facebook saying that "all soldiers should die and go to Hell".

Withot wishing to diminish for even a second the pain of families who have lost soldiers in conflicts, one aspect of the report that caught BFTF's attention was that the defendant had also mentioned that he worked at the biscuit firm Fox's and that, as a result of this, the firm "was inundated with complaints...the firm was so concerned about complaints and possible damage to their brand, it was discussed at the top level of it’s parent company."

Which just goes to show how effective small individual actions can be...

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Drones Killing Civilians in Afghanistan
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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Special Olympics

BBC Four once again fulfilled its role to inform and educate by recently broadcasting a programme about the "Special Olympics".

Part of the Olympic movement, but separate to the "ordinary" Olympics and the Paralympics, the Special Olympics is for athletes who have learning difficulties. The programme, titled "I Love Special Olympics" was narrated and directed by Thomas Leader and followed four people on their Special Olympics journey:

Hannah Dempsey, 24, has Downs Syndrome and is a gymnast and dancer who performed in the opening ceremony.

Oliver Everest, 19, who is autistic and blind in one eye - and is a Special Olympics Judo World Champion

Jonathan Frett, 45, suffered brain damage as a child due to measles - and is a medal-winning Ten-Pin Bowler

Tom Brownsword, 17, has aspergers, hates crowds and finds it difficult to mix in a team - yet won Bronze at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens

Thomas narrated how the spectrum of disabilities for competitors at the Special Olympics can range from people who live everyday lives to those who require a lifetime of specialist support.

The programme was allowed to develop at its own pace, and really gave an insight into the Special Olympics movement and the feeling of the athletes - who work just as hard as other Olympians to reach their full potential.

One aspect of the programme that really tore at BFTF's heart was the story of Jonathan - his mother explained how she had used a borrowed pushchair once when visiting relatives - but what Jonathan's Mum didn't know was that this pushchair was being used for a child who had measles - which Jonathan then caught and which was the cause of his brain damage. Clearly feeling partly responsible (as any parent would - even though it was not at all her "fault") she commented that the effort she put into his Special Olympics competitions and training was her "repayment to him"

Lawrie Mcmenemy, president Special Olympics GB, commented that "When I got involved I thought it was the Paralympics and I soon learnt how big it is - in America it is bigger than the Paralympics"

And it was great to see "ordinary" Olympians such as gymnast Beth Tweddle, being part of the coaching team for the Special Olympics competitors.

Special Olympics GB formed in 1978 as part of the global Special Olympics Movement, and currently supports 135 Special Olympics clubs in Great Britain, run by over 2,800 volunteers, and involving 8,000 athletes.

The website gives some context for the movement by pointing out that there are an estimated 1.2 million people in Great Britain with a learning disability. A further 200 babies with learning disabilities are born each week.

And Special Olympics GB has high hopes, aiming, by 2013, to grow the programme from 8,000 to 20,000 athletes and from 2,800 to 6,500 volunteers.

This is part of a three-part series on the Olympics:
Comparison of Olypmpic and Paralympic Team Sizes
Olypmics and Paralympics 2012
The Special Olympics

Sent email to BBC thanking them for raising awarenesss of the Special Olympics by airing this programme and for the tone of the programme itself, which gave the time and space for people to tell their stories.

Olympics and Paralympics 2012

The 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics have been quite a ride!

Everyone will have taken their own memories away from the Olympiad, and BFTF is no exception, which are shown, somewhat self-indulgently, below :

REALLY HEARTWARMING - NHS at the opening ceremony
With the recent NHS reforms threatening to change the very nature of the NHS, an institution that BFTF (as a parent) values almost beyond measure, it was great to see the director of the opening ceremony, Danny Boyle, give the NHS such a starring role. You can see just HOW starring a role here. Certainly sent a message to the US audience!

REALLY EXUBERANT Nicola Adams and Jade Jones
BFTF was charmed by the sheer exuberance of two of Team GB's most ferocious Gold medallists, Nicola Adams (Flyweight Boxing Gold) and Jade Jones (Taekwondo, 57kg class Gold) on winning their competitions. Like Tiggers, they bounced around with megawatt grins on their faces as they celebrated their victories. BFTF wishes them many more years of success in punching and kicking, respectively, the living daylights out of their competitors.

REALLY CLOSE cycling finishes
Some of the velodrome Gold medals were won by the very thinnist of margins, such as this photo-finish in the Keirin that gave Sir Chris Hoy on of his Gold.

REALLY FAST Paralympic sprinting
The Ambulatory Paralympic sprint events were every bit as exciting as those in the "ordinary" Olympics and it was great to see that it was no longer a show dominated by Oscar Pistorius, with Jonnie Peacock dominating the T44 100m final to bring home the gold with a time of 10.90seconds.

BFTF hopes that the future sees Paralympic sprinters getting faster and faster until they are not just the fastest paralympians, but rather the fastest men (and women) on on the planet - full stop.

REALLY ENTERTAINING Paralympic Presenters
One unexpected aspect of the Paralympics was that it also gave paralympic TV presenters a change to get on the airwaves. Their uniformly professional and energetic performances genuinely left BFTF wondering why they were not more widely represented in TV generally.

Adam Hills, presenter of Channel Fours Paralympics related chat show, was a star previously unknown to BFTF- and it would be great to see him more often on TV.

You can find out more about the C4 Paralympic presenting team here.

This is part of a three-part series on the Olympics:
Comparison of Olypmpic and Paralympic Team Sizes
Olypmics and Paralympics 2012
The Special Olympics

Monday, 10 September 2012

Debunking EU myths

BFTF is always keen to see misleading media reports debunked, and has been delighted to find (via the magic of Reddit) an EU page that lists examples of how media reports on the EU can be misleading, factually incorrect or just plain made up.

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Health and Safety in the Media
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How LITTLE can you buy at a supermarket?

As a general rule, Monday lunchtime sees BFTF and a work colleague or two going to the local TESCO for a few provisions to get through the working week.

But today, BFTF had bought stuff on the way to work, so didnlt really need much at luchtime.

BFTF went along anyway with the vague intention of buying some fair-trade bananas. TESCO didn't have any in stock (or at least none that BFTF likes the look of) and BFTF's mind started thinking about how supermarkets are always encouraging people to buy MORE stuff, so thought it might be a nice change to see how LITTLE one could buy.

Being in the Fruit and Veg aisle, BFTF's gaze fell upon the loose mushrooms and decided that buying a single solitary mushroom was a good place to start:

One single mushroom (which was delicious, by the way)

And it cost 7 new pence

To be fair, the chap at the checkout dealt with the purchase with an admirably straight bat. Good effort young man!

Buying that single mushroom made BFTF thing about how much food one REALLY needs to get through the day.

So, dear reader, BFTF wonders what is the cheapest thing you have bought from a supermarket might be. . . .

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Sustainability of Wanis Mackerel in Tomato Sauce

Palm Oil in ASDA "Best For Baking"

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Speak English!

One issue that has plagued the Muslim community in the UK for the last 30years is that, in many Mosques, the Imam will give his sermon in their first language (often Urdu, for example) even though they know that this is a second language for an increasingly large section of the congregation and that these people may well struggle to understand what he is saying.

Most worryingly, converts to Islam or Muslims from other parts of the world such as Africa are left completely unable to understand what is being said - and may, as a result, look outside the mainstream Muslim community for guidance. This can be a bad thing.

In Nottingham, some mosques are exlusively Urdu language, some exclusively English language and some a mixture of both.

BFTF happened to be a mosque on a particular day when it was important that all of the congregation understood an announcement that was being made, ans was dismayed to hear it being said in Urdu. [NB: It is worth pointing out that this is a pretty good mosque, where the majority of the sermons and announcements are in English]

BFTF decided to send an email about this to an Imam there who has a particular responsibility for converts (and so should be keen for an much as possible to be said in English) :
. . . Given that this was one of the most important announcements of the year, and that there were converts who cannot speak Urdu in the congregation, I find this unacceptable. In addition, many of the Pakistani youngsters did not understand what was said. I know this because I overheard one of them explaining what had been said to his friends.

It would have taken 10 seconds to repeat the announcement in English and the failure to do makes a mockery of Karimia's attempts to support the convert community. I have two questions:

1) Why was this important announcement only made in Urdu.

2) What measures are you going to put in place to ensure that any future announcements are also made in English.
Somewhat to BFTF's surprise, the Imam emailed back within 24hrs saying :
...The answer to your first question why does it happen?
I am sure it was mistake from the Imam.

The answer to your second question how to avoid this?
a) I will talk to our Imam about this matter.
b) I will make aware all the Imams in our fortnightly Dawah meeting.
c) suggest them to put written announcement on the door of the masjid. I hope I have given you sufficient answer.
But BFTF still found himself sending this the next Thursday:
I understand that there was an announcement. . .that some child was taking peoples shoes and leaving them on the stairs -and that if it was found out who this child was, they might get banned from the mosque. Unfortunately, the announcement was made in Urdu so many of the children did not understand it, or only understood it in part.
And this on a Friday a week later :
There was an announcement after [late evening prayers] on Friday regarding a complaint that had been recieved regarding the noise people were making when leaving the mosque and that people should take care to respect their neighbours. Unfortunately, the announcement was in Urdu, so many youngsters simply did not understand what was said - certainly they were just as noisy as usual when leaving the masjid. Nor would any converts, or Arab Muslims have understood what was said. It would have taken just a few seconds to repeat this announcement in English.
And this on Saturday :
There was an announcement after [late evening prayers] today regarding [two forthcoming events] Unfortunately, both announcements were in Urdu so will have been missed by a significant section of the youngsters, as well as converts and arabs. It would have taken just a few seconds to repeat the announcements in English
BFTF happened to be in an informal meeting/meal with a group including another Imam at the mosque and pointed out that these Urdu announcements were not being understood. He replied that this point "was taken on board". The next day heard an announcement, in Urdu, saying that people were making too much noise when leaving the mosque in the evening.....

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Most Important British Institution

A quick question to start this post: What British institutons are most important to you?

By which BFTF means to ask what, in British socety do you really treasure? What would you miss the most if it was gone? BFTF could have come up with lots of glib answers untl about about 30minutes ago, when a chance story made BFTF realse what that key institution was.

The Welfare State

BFTF treasures the fact that there are institutions in this country that will help those who are in need, those who cannot support themselves due to illness or other cicumstances.

Imagine you are a young person, in a relatonship, and have been blessed with some lovely children. Life looks good. And then suddenly your partner falls ill and needs almost constant care.

Your income has gone, your partner needs special accomodation, you are stressed to breaking point and you still have to be strong for your kids.

This is the point where the Welfare State needs to swing into action. Decisively, effectively and with passion.

If my taxes pay for nothing else, they had better pay for people like that young couple to be given fast, robust support.

The frightening thing is - it doesn't always happen.

That "chance story" mentioned earlier was a Tweet that linked to a blog by "Manic Mum", whose husband Alex Wood suffered a severe brain injury in 2011 and is now blnd, severly disabled and cognitively impaired.

Please read her story.

BFTF sent an email to Thane Council saying :

"Why is the family of Alex Wood being treated so badly? They need help, not indifferent welfare services. Sort it out."

And an email to a local councillor asking what assurance they can give that Alex and his family would have been treated better in Nottingham.

Update 07-12 Sep
Received email from Thane Council saying that: "Unfortunately Thame Town Council have no knowledge of Alex Wood. If you have an issue with Welfare Services you would need to contact Oxfordshire County Council or alternatively the police." So sent a (somewhat less tetchy) email to Oxfordshire County Council who (on reflection, quite reasonably) replied saying "Unfortunately due to Data Protection this is not something that we are able to discuss with members of the public. I am sure you can appreciate that Oxfordshire County Council has to strictly adhere to Data Protection Law." Related Content Dates in the Square - Summary of Events

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

WW1 from the Air

BFTF recent watched a fascinating programme on BBC called “WW1 from the Air”. It was was based around footage from an airship that travelled along much of the front line, just after hostilities had finished, filming the devastation below.

And “devastation” is the right word, with towns and villages having being reduced, in their entirety, to rubble by the remorseless artillery fire that was a characteristic of the conflict.

The presenter, Fergal Keane, did an excellent job of explaining how the introduction of aircraft into the war gave commanders - for the first time in history - an aerial view of the battlefield and allowed them to direct artillery fire and assess its effects.

Fergal also talked to experts about the conditions that the soldiers faced, painting a grim picture of life in the trenches.

If you read the BBC article about the programme you will notice that there is a picture at the top showing the effects of the artillery bombardment on the village of Passchendale, the image shows “before” and “after” shots of the same area, clearly showing that there was not a single square centimetre of ground that was not now part of a shell crater, and that there not so much as a garden shed had survived the assault intact. A similar image, this time from Wikipedia, is shown below. Note how both images are of the same area, oriented in the same way - so that the reader can quickly and easily compare features in the two images.

Passchendale - before and after shelling.
The white spots in the lower image are water filled shell holes
The reader can see how the the shell craters had become filled with water and it was this kind of mud and water-filled crater landscape that troops had to cross when attacking enemy lines.

Imagine it just for a second.

And then imagine being a soldier in those conditions for months at a time.

What’s with the pop video camerawork.
In contrast to the article, with it’s simple, clear image; the actual programme chose to show these key photographs held by a person, with a camera moving around, and reflections making it hard to see the detail, and only for a few seconds.

"Can you see the Church" - well, no I can't because your hand is in front of it.(Via iplayer)
In another section of the programme, the presenters wished to show how examination of aerial photography had allowed commanders to identify a hidden barracks and then target it with artillery. The presenters then showed the effects of the attack, not by placing the relevant image on screen but rather by displaying it on a wall, having someone stand in front of it and then zooming right up.

Lets inform the viewer by projecting an image onto a wall, zooming right in and then having a bloke stand in front. What could possibly be clearer? (Via iplayer)
It was hugely frustrating to see these important sections of the programme being directed as though they were a pop video.

Incredibly, during this section of the programme, the director chose to spend a lot more time showing the audience the presenters talking to each other than the actual images, as illustrated in the chart below:

Time (in seconds) spent looking at the images vs time spend looking at the presenters.
Of course, the opinion of BFTF is neither here not there, so BFTF took a quick straw poll of friends, family and work colleagues, asking them 5 questions about the Passchendale section of the programme. The questions, together with the possible answers are shown below. Most popular answers are shown in bold:

1) Overall, how do you feel about the audio commentary?
a) Good
b) Bad
c) Indifferent

2) Overall, how do you feel about the visual presentation?
a) Good b) Bad
c) Indifferent

3) Overall, how do you feel about the balance between the time the images were on screen and the time the “talking heads” were on screen?
a) Too much talking heads
b) Too much images
c) About right

4) Regarding the time the images of Passchendaele before and after the attack were on screen, do you think the images:
a) Were on screen too long
b) Were on screen not long enough
c) Were on screen for about the right time

5) Regarding the use of hand held photos and camerawork vs rigidly held photos and camerawork, would you :
a) Prefer hand-held
b) Prefer rigidly held
c) Don’t mind either way

BFTF has been here before:
Back in late 2011, BFTF was so frustrated by similarly "pop video" style camerawork in a science programme that it had contacted the BBC to complain, receiving the following response:

"Thank you for contacting us about ‘The Search for Life: the Drake Equation’ broadcast on BBC Four on 29 December. I understand you feel the camerawork made some of the detail in the programme hard to follow and the graphs should have been presented more clearly.

I am sorry you feel the camerawork was obscuring some detail. This was not an Open University programme where data is everything, while the dialogue did explain the overview of what the data meant. All programmes must strike a balance between content and presentational style and I am sorry you felt the style detracted from some of the detail.

I do understand you feel very strongly about this, so I’d like to assure you that I’ve registered your concerns on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions on future BBC programmes and content.

Image Source:

Related Content:
Great Comedy on Radio 4
Challenging the BBC on their coverage of the NHS Bill

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Domestic Violence in the Muslim Community

Via the magic Of Twitter, BFTF has heard about a guide on preventing Domestic Violence in the Muslim Community.

The publication, written by Makkah Masjid in Leeds, in collaboration with Leeds NHS, offers concise information on the causes of domestic violence, its forms and - most importantly, what Muslim men, women and Imams can practically do to stop domestic violence in their commmunity.

A few extracts are shown below :

On why Muslim women may be reluctant to report domestic violence :
"Domestic abuse affects all communities including the Muslim community. However, evidence suggests that many women from ethnic minority backgrounds tolerate regular abuse because of cultural attitudes which can make seeking help more difficult i.e. bringing shame upon the family."

On what Muslim men can do :
"Men can also sign up to the online White Ribbon Campaign (, also here in Nottingham) and make a personal pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about men’s violence against women in all its forms"

On what Imams can do :
"Having regular sermons (khutbas) in the community to talk about such issues ...Inviting expert organisations (such as the White Ribbon Campaign) to deliver training/workshops in the mosques"

So what can be done in Nottingham?
BFTF wondered how this guide could be promoted in Nottingham, so, as an initial effort, did the following:

Dialogue with mosques
BFTF emailed three local mosques and was heartened to find that all the Imams had, or are about to, raise this issue with their congregations.

Dialogue with Council (community cohesion dept)
Initially, BFTF asked whether the deparment could liase with some mosques and encourage them to discuss this issue with their congregations.
Update(Sep12): No response other than acknowledgment from Council. Chased up again.
Update(Sep12): No response other than acknowledgment from Council. Chased up again.
Update(Oct12): Council asked what I was proposing, so I told them what I thought would be a good response from them (see below). Council responded that this issue would be raised at a relevant forthocoming meeting and that the Leeds NHS booklet had been shared with colleagues. Following is the ideal response that BFTF said it would be good to see :
Thank you for your enquiry. It is the job of the Communities department to build relationships with the different communities in Nottingham and, in support of this, we are in regular contact with a number of Nottinghams Mosques, from a variety of branches of Islam and ethnic communities. We cannot, clearly, keep up an ongoing dialogue with every single mosque in Nottingham . The communities department shares the concern expressed by you, Leeds NHS and the Makkah Masjid, that the leaders of the Muslim community need to speak out on this issue. To this end the communities department will contact several of Nottinghams mosques and ask them what they are doing to raise awareness of this issue - and to offer the resources of the Leeds NHS booklet to help them in their efforts. And we will feedback the results of this effort back to you.
Update(Dec2012): No response so chased council up again.
Update(Dec2012): Council emailed back saying that I should be talking to someone else. So BFTF emailed the "someone else"
Update(Dec2012): Received a postiive response from "someone else". Bounced a response back. Hoping to see some activity soon!
Update(Dec2012): By the magic of Twitter, became aware of this work being done at the East London Mosque.
Update(May2013): No response so chased council up again.
Update(May2013): No response so chased council up again.
Update(May2013): Received a response saying they would "find out where all the projects have got to" and that "the police lead on this who was doing some work with communities has left"

Dialogue with the Police
Seeing that a dialogue with the Council was proving fruitless, BFTF took advantage of a circulated email about their Honour Based violence team provoked BFTF into asking if they could contact and mosques(6th May 2013). They very quickly responded saying that they already had plans to be "making visits in the near future to four county Moslem communities" which was encouraging.

Update(11 Dec 2013): Chased up and was told that someone was "looking for a way to ensure this gets delivered to every mosque."

Update(Jan 2016): Osma Irshad
Recently read an article by Osma Irshad, describing her time in an abusive marriage, how she finally left and the support she now gives to others in a similar situation.

"...He would use my hair to drag me off the bed, kicking and punching me, telling me how it would not affect the baby I was carrying. He had our house bugged and used other means to spy on me. I wouldn’t say anything thinking it’s my fault as I married him and didn’t listen to my parents..."

"...I had two boys whilst with him.... But little did I know that it was harming my boys and their future. One day, my eldest son who was 3 at the time was not happy with me as I wouldn’t give him a toy, to my amazement he said ‘go in the kitchen I’ll sort you out”. He said exactly what my husband would say to me when he wanted to beat me up away from the boys..."
Osma describes how, after leaving her abusive husband, she began to put her life back together :

"..I started doing different courses. I finally landed a job within the civil service which I love, and I am a qualified makeup artist too. I talk openly about my abuse on social media...I get many sisters that contact me for advice and find it easy to talk to me. In the last few years I have had sisters that thought the only way out was to commit suicide but after a chat with me, they realised that they are worth more than that..."
You can contact Osma via her Facebook page :

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Hexbugs at Toys R Us

The end of Ramadan meams the celebration of Eid - and for childrem, Eid means PRESENTS !

BFTF is largely hopeless at buying presents, due almost exlusively to a character flaw that causes BFTF to leave present buying to the absolute last minute - despite knowing for weeks that presents would definitely need to be bought.

So, anyway, BFTF found himself in Toys R Us looking for something suitable for No1 and No2 Niece - and the combination of the fact they they are blessed with intelligence and BFTF's geekiness resulted in a wish to buy them something that was both educational and fun.

For No2 niece, this turned out to be a "Hexbug", which is a tiny mechanical robot-like device. It turned out that No2 niece absolutely LOVED THE HEXBUG TO BITS.

A Hexbug - this one is remote controlled and can walk and rotate.

So what's the problem, you may ask?

Well, what concerned BFTF was that the Hexbugs were on the "Action And Adventure" boys-toys aisle, suggesting that Toys R Us didn't think that girls would be interested in Hexbugs. BFTF was about to email Toys R Us about this but then realised that it was not clear what BFTF actually wanted.

Hexbugs at the near end of the "Action and Adventure" aisle

Was it ok that the cars etc to be "Boys Toys" but not the Hexbugs?

Perhaps it was good to have the Hexbugs in this aisle as youngstes who were interested in this kind of thing would be able to find it easily?

Where exactly DID BFTF want the Hexbugs stocked?

On reflection, it didn't seem clear what to do for the best. What do you think, dear reader, were the Hexbugs located in the right place?

(Oh, and by the way, Rubiks cubes were over 20% more expensive in Toys R Us than in Tescos)

20,000 page views

Thank you, dear reader, for taking the blog hit count to 20,000 !! A small number in absolute terms, of course, but still something of a milestone.

To mark the occasion, the blog has been through a minor revamp (tabs at the top of the page have been tidied up, link colours are now "standard", change to the title font).

And it seems like a good time to remind readers that the blog has quite a few posts that are updated after initial publication, usually because some kind of feedback has been received from an organisation (see here for an example). The only way of being aware of these updates is if you follow the blog via Facebook or Twitter, so if you want to stay up-to-date with developments, social media is the way to do it.

And lastly, now seems like a good time to mention the top 10 most read posts on the blog :

This is what is wrong with the NHS Bill

Booing the national anthem

Interview : Yaseen and Emmanuel House

Interview : Prof Ian Shaw on the NHS

Food Banks in Nottingham

Muslim-Christian Prayer at BMCC

Paralympic vs Olympic team sizes

Talk : Animal Testing

Coal Mining in Nottingham

Interiew : Citizens UK and Himmah

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Walking ahead of Mrs BFTF

Dear reader,

If you happened to see me shopping with Mrs BFTF in Notts town centre yesterday morning, you may have caught me at a moment where I was walking a short distance ahead of her.

As I was wearing a rather nifty looking Jubba at the time, you may have come to the conclusion that this was an example of a Muslim man insisting that his wife walks 10 paces behind him (a practice that BFTF has never heard mentioned by any Imam, or seen written in any book, btw)

On the contrary, this was due to me wearing sturdy walking boots and being a hurry, while Mrs BFTF wasn't and wasn't.

Please be reassured that I stopped and waited for Mrs BFTF as soon as I realised that a gap had opened up.

I hope we're cool now.

This is a Jubba

Incidentally, when we go out for a walk, Mrs BFTF invariably leaves me for dead


BFTF has been pondering the seemingly simple act of walking recently, and has noticed that the BFTF family members have styles of walking that are as different as chalk and cheese, or garlic and coriander, or, indeed, aloo and baingan.

BFTF tends to be looking around and taking in the sights as he walks, and if in the countryside or a park is easily distracted by an interesting looking tree, a weird insect or even a pretty cloud. Any of these can result in the digital camera being whipped out for a quick snap and trees may result in the double whammy of getting their picture taken AND their being looked up in the Collins Gem Book of British Trees if BFTF is not sure what type of tree they are. All of this can make for a rate of progress that is somewhat on the slow side. Especially if the tree in question is a fir tree, as they just all look the same - just needles on branches. You’d think there would be some distinguishing characteristics but oh no that would be too easy wouldn’t it, so often BFTF is unable to narrow the possibilities down sufficiently to have any confidence of being able to identify the tree. This can be very frustrating.

You see ? That’s the problem right there - too easily distracted.

In marked contrast, once Mrs BFTF starts walking somewhere, she has no intention of stopping for anything until she reaches her destination. The surrounding buildings, trees and other features are all just things that get in the way. She might notice changes in gradient, but there is never any noticeable change in pace. You might say she has the same walking style as a Royal Marine Commando.She just wants to how far to go and in which direction before she will set off at a brisk pace with a determined look in her eyes and a rifle on her shoulder.

Okay, so maybe she doesn’t have a rifle.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

Moving on to the kids, well they have a whole different set of styles again. Perhaps most notable amongst them is No3 son, who will start any walk with bags of energy and will talk to you without cessation or interruption (just like BBC2 Test Match coverage in the old days) from the moment you start walking to the moment you stop. No one trick pony, No3 sons could be talking, in his characteristically animated way, about what he has done at school, what he has seen on the TV or maybe what he has read in a book, mashallah. As a parent, it can be tough to stay focused on what he is saying, especially if you are BFTF.

On the plus side, he will walk happily wherever you are going and will keep walking right up the moment he runs out of energy. Now, some people run out of energy slowly, over a long period of time - while other people run out of energy in a rather sudden way. No3 son definitely falls into the latter category, so it always pays to consider what his likely range is before setting out.

Note: This article has previously been published, in a slightly amended form, in the Invitation magazine.

Tesco Dried Apples

BFTF tries to eat healthily, mostly fails mind you, but does at least try.

And as part of this effort, was chuffed to see that Tesco are selling packets of dried apple at a very reasonable price.

Unlike other dried fruit lines that BFTF has seen, this one is just apple, no addded sweetener or other nonsense - and being a fruit, the fibre content is very high, at 8.7g per 100g of product!

And it delivers on the taste front too, with feedback from family and work colleagues being uniformly positive.

So are there any down sides? Well, BFTF did have a couple of concerns, and put them to Tesco in the email below :

"I've been buying your dried apple product recently (code :5051399296210) and only have good things to say about it. It is tasty, simple, free from added sugar and high in natural fibre. I like it a lot.

Having said that, I wonder whether you could give some reassurance on two aspects of its production.

1) Can you confirm that natural forests have not been cleared to make way for the orchards.

2) Can you confirm that the orchard workers and fruit pickers are paid a living wage and treated in line with ILO / ETI recommendations?"

UPDATE : 03 OCT 12
Tesco did try and phone BFTF within a day or two, but BFTF missed their calls. Recently chased this up with them and received the following:

"I would like to assure you that safeguarding both the environments we source from, and the communities we work in, is something we take seriously.

We are currently not aware of any land management issues, or cases of bad practice, at this farm however we are following this up with our supplier.

With regards to your second point, we were a signatory and founder member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) which was established in 1998, which includes a commitment to paying living wages. One of the core principles of our Tesco ‘Trading Fairly’ programme, which derives its principles from the ETI, focuses on our commitment to high labour standards and to ensuring compliance through supplier self-assessment and regular independent audits.

'Trading Fairly' is fully integrated within Tesco's operations, forming a key part of our broader strategy for corporate responsibility. Its objectives and activities are delivered by a wide range of commercial staff, overseen by a specialist ethical trading team including dedicated local staff in key supplying countries.

I hope that this response has assured you that we are committed to ensure high labour standards through-out our supply chain. More information about our ‘Trading Fairly’ programme can be found on our website,

UPDATE : 09 DEC 12
Received the following reassuring comments from TESCO:
No forests have been cleared in order to produce this product.

Here's some more information on our pledge to ensuring all of our products are from sustainable sources:

We are committed to safeguarding the environment and communities we source from.

We are committed to tackling deforestation, including working with other consumer goods companies. Tesco co-chairs (with Unilever) the sustainability pillar of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). In November 2010, the group agreed a resolution pledging to mobilise resources within the respective businesses to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020.

The companies will achieve this both by individual company initiatives and by working collectively in partnership with governments and NGOs.