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Friday, July 22, 2011

21st July - Start

Yesterday had one of the best moments in my life. I watched my son graduate. The ceremony of dressing up in medieval clothing - the more colour, the more qualified, seems a little pompous and dated, yet actually demonstrates the importance and achievement of the person receiving the degree. Regardless of fees, (which I will mention later), its a massive thing to have achieved - leaving home at 18, on your own, to create a new set of friends, pushing yourself, rather than being pushed, to get up, go to lectures, complete work, and then at the end of it, sitting exams in an incredible bubble of pressure as everyone around you is focusing on Finals.

Degree - job done, one educated, level headed lad let loose on the world to make his way. That's all a parent can do, its now all down to him. The point was very clearly made twice during the ceremony. Once by the Chancellor, who emphasized how good a Sheffield degree is in terms of currency - top 10 university, in the UK, top 100 in the World is pretty good to me. It was made more forcibly by one of the guys getting an honourary doctorate. Ed Hill, who is head of the UK's Oceanography unit, told us a bit about his life. He graduated in 1981, which puts him about my age. First one in the family to go to university (ditto) and graduate, he recognised what his degree did for him in terms of his hopes and aspirations for a better life. True social mobility. He was enabled by the same grant system that allowed me to go. Could my parents have afforded to let me go? Possibly, but with a great deal of personal sacrifice and second jobs for all. (And my dad was of a generation when a daughter's role was to get married.) Would I at that time taken on debt? At that time probably not, as I was brought up to only lend money for a house. So I probably wouldn't have gone, and missed a fantastic life changing opportunity, which was the point Ed Hill made.

He told us that every third breath that we take is created by bacteria in the ocean - which is dying. Without his unit and others like it we won't solve the problem of increased population, decreasing resources. Malthus may yet still be proved right. But with starting out in life with debt of £40 thousand +, would this guy from a lower middle class background have gone? His brains lost to the world forever, as he couldn't afford to go, and would probably be an accountant in a practice somewhere (he was good at applied maths).

Our parents paid taxes for us to go, and on my reckoning this guy is on £100k+, so is on 40% tax, so over the 30 years since he graduated, he's more than paid that free education back. Students are now paying for a degree three times. Their parents through taxes once, then through the loan scheme, and then through the alleged extra earnings when they graduate. And yet the stupid short term governments of all colours since the war have wasted our taxes on vain-glorious projects - The Millenium Dome, Olympics, High Speed 2 being three recent examples. We thought we were paying for education and pensions, both of which are being withdrawn from us slowly.

I forsee a future when very educated intelligent graduates come out of university with £40,000 of debt to find that they never ever clear it, because they can only get a job in a call centre at minimum wage. These will not be the Media Studies graduates from the University of Burton, but the high fliers who went on the belief they were getting a better life.This will lead to civil unrest that the Government (of whatever colour) cannot control because they will be able to mobilise, organise and articulate. Either that or they will leave for sunnier climes where they are appreciated, and not have to face jobes of lazy students, 'I'm from the University of Life -me' type comments.

The country is in danger of under-investment in our children. The problem solvers (and higher tax payers) of the next generation. High Speed 2 or more science graduates - I know where my investment would go.

Start - The Jam - ironically was in the charts when I graduated, and was played in the Students Union yesterday when we fetched sandwiches. PS on such a big day I would've prefered a nice lunch out.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

17th July - Top of the World

Years ago my granddad thought and used to tell me quite often, that every time there was some sort of scandal, or in the 60's lots of sex and drugs and rock and roll, that Britain was becoming like the collapse of the Roman Empire - increasingly rotten until eventually it would collapse. I listened but being naive, thought that there was too much good in the world for it ever come to that. Now although I'm still not as old as my granddad was then, I feel that he was right, as the very cornerstones of society are beginning or well on the way to collapse.

There's always been sex scandals - Christine Keeler, and money scandals - the Poulson affair that have rocked society, but nothing compares with this last two years. The wonderful Human Rights Act has removed all rights from decent people, as terrorists and law breakers exercise their rights to avoid the responsibilities of being decent human beings by using our money (Legal Aid) to get released from prison or terrorists kept in the country in case they are killed at home - can't wait for the news item for those killed on the underground or in flight by those who had to be protected from their own death. Meanwhile we virtually have to strip off to get on a plane.

It is said that you judge a society by the way we treat the weak. Who are weaker than the old? They paid into the Welfare State on the promise of support from Cradle to Grave, so that it was always there when they needed it. The phrase cradle to grave is now a career choice for all those idle and feckless who queue outside Greggs, with no reason ever to contribute to it. Its not yours by right - get to work you idle sods, and pay in.

I make no excuse for nicking this e-mail that someone sent to me.

'Let's put the pensioners in jail and the criminals in a nursing home. This way the pensioners would have access to showers, hobbies and walks. They'd receive unlimited free prescriptions, dental and medical treatment, wheelchairs etc. and they'd receive money instead of paying it out. They would have constant video monitoring, so they could be helped instantly, if they fell or needed assistance. Bedding would be washed twice a week, and all clothing ironed and returned to them. A guard would check on them every 20 minutes, and bring their meals and snacks to their cell. They would have family visits in a suite built for the purpose. They would have access to a library, weight room, spiritual counselling, pool and education. Simple clothing, shoes, PJs and legal aid would be free on request. Each one would have a PC, TV and radio, and daily phone calls.

The prisoners would get cold food, be left all alone and unsupervised. Lights of at 8pm, and showers once a week. Live in a tiny room, and pay £600 a week and have no hope of ever getting out'. It really is too close to the truth not to feel disillusioned about Justice and Judges favouring the bad over the decent. No more intellectual exercises - common sense please.

Politicians have had their snouts in the trough so far, with the expenses scandal being the tip of the iceberg that is now unwinding in front of us. Regardless of political views the career politician all have the ethics of 'I'm alright Jack - just keep taxing the hard working decent person, to fund pointless wars and the lazy, so that the rest of us have to work until the grave, just like they did in Victorian times' - what next our kids going back up chimneys?

All political leaders have kowtowed so much to Murdoch's papers in the hope that the Sun will back their party rather than the other,(started by Mr Blair or is that a mistype - B-Liar) that no one really wants to go for the jugular. Mr Broon - you were in power when all this crap started - you could have sorted it, but you chose to keep close to that harridan Brooks, so that the Sun would back you. Ethics is not east of London - its morality, which you, your party and the other two bunches of liars and crooks could have and should have dealt with, but you were all scared you might lose power, money or both. Murdoch runs the country - you should have had the balls to take him on to save decency and integrity for our society.

Then we find that the police are in on it as well. No wonder the streets aren't safe, they too are in the pockets of the Dirty Digger. Tapping the phones of the bereaved, especially those who are killed in Blair's pointless war in Afghanistan. No time to solve crime.

Who is left to trust? Not the bankers who played roulette with our pensions and savings. Not the business owners who find it easy to reduce staff rather than do the hard work of coming up with new products or orders. Not the Druid in charge of the church - you know the one that looks like Harold Shipman - this could have been your chance to give people something solid to trust in and believe in - prove that there is decency and integrity, without cost, talk about God, and how he can support us,  instead of meddling in things of a secular nature.

And then I read this morning's paper ( a rugby one), and maybe, just maybe, there's hope. A tale of two rugby players. Andy Blyth was injured in a game at the bottom of a ruck, and was told that he would never walk again. He's fought for every step he's took since and recently got to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, with a group of other retired rugby players. Then there's Richard Parks, a Welsh player forced to retire with a shoulder injury. Being retired too young at the top of his profession, he needed a new challenge. So what has he done? Climbed the highest peak in every continent, walked to both Poles, and do it all by the end of July - less than 6 months. Both of them are worth 10 of Henson and Cipriani and their vain preening. They are worth a million of the people that run our lives. They show that with bravery and courage, anything is possible. Both should be knighted tomorrow - the highest one the Queen can bestow. Honours are not for Civil Servants who have played a political game to get power, they are not for people who have earned a fortune at being good at something (although someone will have to explain Bruce Forsyth to me).

Thank you Parks and Blyth - you've given me hope that there is still old fashioned values left in the world.

(I'm on the) Top of the World - The Carpenters - Parks and Blyth have felt it and allowed me to feel it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

11th July - Fairground

I want to share a new trend with you. Tesco's are not content with dominating the grocery market, running an Argos mail order service, going into insurance, banking and mobile phone services, they are now entering the entertainment business.

How did I find out? Well, I had the audacity to want to go grocery shopping on a Sunday afternoon. I thought Tesco's would be empty as everyone with a family, and a life would be doing something on what is usually classed as a family day. You know the sort of thing, snoozing on the sofa, having a barbeque, walking the dog, taking the kids to a park. That was obviously a trend from the last century that has disappeared from the annals of history, like rickets and Trumpton.

How times have changed. Everyone was in Tesco's.

I don't understand TV programming anymore either. There's me thinking it was about entertainment, watching drama, soaps or sport, the odd documentary about wildlife, or a foriegn tribe just discovered in the Amazon. Instead I find it crammed full of gardening programmes, D-I-Y programmes, housebuying, and cookery programmes. Chores. It's only a matter of time before I am told how to iron a shirt properly in the form of a TV series.

Anyway, back to Tesco's. It's now a family outing on a Sunday afternoon. Mum, dad, and the kids all doing the weekly shop. It was a lovely sunny afternoon, just right for kicking a ball about, going for a bike ride, sitting in the garden reading the last ever News of the Screws. Instead families were enjoying wandering around Tescos. I mean, how exciting is it to buy a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread? Families have special rights in the aisle. They can walk four a breast, stop without warning, not walk in a straight line, and not follow the natural up down routes that the rest of us take. I watched a man, asking his wife who was busily loading a packets of mince into the trolley, if they needed mince this week. Meanwhile he was also picking up mince and putting it in the trolley. I knew what I needed to get and couldn't get to it, as they took up the best part of 6 feet with the way they and their trolley were positioned. One of you is surplus to requirements there, and what are you going to do with the extra packets of mince?

It doesn't take both of you to shop, let alone the whole family. Here's some advice.

Husbands, if you don't trust your wife to shop for food, leave her at home and do it yourself. I'm sure there's jobs she could be doing around the house or better still puttig her feet up. If you trust her to do it, why not stay at home and mend that dripping tap (or whatever) she's nagging you about. Alternatively if you have done all your jobs, sit and read the paper in your chair, or if she doesn't drive, the car.

Mum's and dads, once you have decided who is doing the shopping, why don't the other one take the kids to the park, or on a bike ride, or play with them. Believe me they'll love it.

That way, those of us who see shopping as a chore, and are there at that time, because we work all week, and its our only chance to shop, can get round quicker, get out of there and get ourselves out into the fresh air, or have our feet up as well.

This also applies to family outings to B and Q. Kids aren't interested in self tapping screws. Go on your own.

I understand that single parents may have to take their kids round - usually they are frazzled and generally do it in the evenings or Saturdays, as I've tried shopping then as well.

When I was young, I enjoyed playing games, or reading. Shopping was never high on my priority list. When did all that change for children? Maybe if mums (or dads) were left on their own to do the shopping, they could better control the food being put into the trolley, not succumbing to off-spring pressure, and therefore, into their children - less biscuits and cakes, and the children would be outside playing, burning up calories. We wouldn't then have problems with overweight children.

I can just see that in future, loads of personality less people putting down their hobbies as D-I-Y, gardening, and going to Tescos. Far more exciting than mine of watching sport, reading, understanding art and listening to music.

Fairground - Simply Red. It was probably the colour of my face in anger as I got stopped from getting to the n-th aisle by some kid reading the back of a cereal packet.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

6th July - The Model

I enjoyed the company of a couple of friends last night who were medics. Medics are very matter of fact people, to whom bodily functions holds no embarrassment, so they were ideal to ask the question about camper vans that was bothering me the most. Using a dump station. Having a middle aged bladder inevitably means a midnight visit to the loo, regardless of when I have my last drink in the evening, (even if it is at 6pm.) My first thoughts on reading the spec. on the van was - does it have a loo, or do I need to tramp through the campsite to the loo in the night? Luckily it does have a loo, and so my time out of bed will be reduced. With two middle aged women the problem is doubled, although W is determined to use it as little as possible.

So - I had to ask, how do you empty it? The reply was - with great care - you must get the angle right or risk splash-back. A fellow BBQ guest asked if you could just leave the top off, and let it drain while you were driving. Apparently not, as solid matter gets left behind. The next question was - how often? every couple of days. Mmm I thought - there was 4 of them and only two of us, I'll get away with once every four days, and if W takes a turn, then that's every eight days.

A bloke at work suggested buying a crate of beer. If we looked girly and helpless, then a man would come to the rescue, based on the principle that most men could be bought with a bottle of beer - solve the problem and beer is the reward. Got to be a real gentleman though to deal with bodily functions, and someone else's at that, without embarassment to anyone.

D also advised that emptying with a hangover is not an easy thing to do either. I said, but its only a matter of connecting up a pipe. Oh no, he said, think of a 40 litre water butt that you have to carry to a drain, and tip. Mmm, I now know why the angle is so critical, and why emptying frequently is a better strategy - less to carry and splashback on pouring. Wellies might also need packing.

I thought if we toss for emptying, I must find that double headed coin.....

I think I've just established the first tour rule for the pair of us. At a minimum, number 2's have to be done in a public or campsite loo.

D also told us of the time (as the only Brit), he went sailing for 6 weeks in the crystal clear blue Australian seas. On using the heads, he flushed it away. In boats, that all goes out to sea, as it cannot be stored. As he returned to deck, one of his Aussie mates said, Blimey, who's done that one. As D was the last one to use the heads, he had to own up, but his embarrassment was tinted with pride, as they were impressed by the scale of the thing. Makes you proud to be British.

In true British style, a blog about the national obsession with bowels.

I chose this song by Kraftwerk, not because it was relevant, although the subject of the blog is generally what I would like to do to their music, but because I enjoyed the quote by Bill Bailey in the Metro this morning, where he described seeing the group in concert as watching as a bunch of carpet fitters in a warehouse typing on their computers.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

5th July - Rat Race

In an effort to focus the mind of G towards the world of work, friends have allowed him to work within their business in the accounts department. This generous offer is already making him realise the lifestyle change that work brings about that the rest of us have experienced, as we entered the world of work.

Last week an important customer was visiting the business. The customer is a household name. Instead of G warning me of this the night before, so he could ensure he had a clean shirt, I had a grumpy text in the morning. 'Where's all my shirts?' Reply: 'In the ironing basket, why not wear that check or red one?'. Grumpy text number 2: 'Not work shirts - going out shirts.' Grumpy text number 3 from work: 'I've got on eon out of the basket'. (He later told me that he thought those shirts were unsuitable for how important this customer was to the business.') I was pleased that he cared enough to get it right, even if the shirt was unironed.

Later the same day, grumpy text number 4: 'I've forgot my lunch and I have no money'. Reply: 'Lend some from J'. Grumpy text number 5: 'She's not in today.' A day for the taxman I think.

In one day he learnt 2 lessons. Prepare for work the night before, and carry a bit of money - you never know what you might need it for.

Life is hectic at the moment. With one car between two of us, we have to plan our days, which means that I have to be picked up from the gym around 6 each evening, G coming straight from work. We don't normally eat until 7-7.30pm. Last night G was asked to play 5-a- side football at 7.15, and so tea was a yoghurt and a banana. When he came in at 9, I cooked tea. G remarked that there's no time for himself. 12 hours at work (including travelling times,) 8 hours asleep, leaves only 4 hours for himself to do stuff he enjoys. I hadn't the heart to say, well that's pretty much your life for the next 50 years, (he'll probably have to work until he's 70 by then).

We are both in the same boat, but at different stages in our career. G is waking up to the fact that enjoying work is important, as we spend so long there. I've probably got 20 years left of working life iin me, health permitting. That's a long time to do something we don't care enough about, but neither of us can afford to be too fussy, as its a big bad world out there.

Rat Race - The Specials. Because the race is getting faster and nastier.