Monday, November 24, 2008

Darling Alistair, you've got it wrong again

Mr Alistair Darling, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer is probably, even as I write, checking his notes and preparing to address the House of Commons and give his pre-budget speech.

As you would expect, the main dish on his menu of recession-busting issues was leaked to the press over the weekend.

I totted up what difference a 2.5% cut in the VAT (value added tax) rate would have on my personal ecomomy, but the best I could come up with was a penny off the price of a pack of my favourite chocolate biscuits. You have to do better than that Alistair - couldn't your boss Gordon give you any better tips?

It will make a marginal difference to a tank of diesel for 'Lily' my faithful VW Golf. That is nice, but I am not planning ro replace Lily, or make any other major purchase which I wouldn't have done otherwise and that would bring the Government more VAT in the end.

Had Mr Darling consulted me before decinding on his budgetary changes, this is what I would have advised.
  1. Remove the 5% special VAT rate on energy bills.
    The UK has seen very high rises in energy costs this year, and the energy companies have not been very quick to reflect the drop in oil prices and reduce their tariffs again. This measure would really help every household in the country at a stroke and free up money to spend on other things.
  2. Make the tax rise for the highest earners immediate and restore the 10% lowest income tax rate band. It is nitpicking to say that this Government have not yet broken their pledge not to change income tax rates. the 10% band WAS the standard rate for millions of low-paid workers.
  3. What is the point of delaying this rate, other than to hand a future Government a poison chalice. British workers are already feeling wholly betrayed by the Labour party they used to regard as 'the workers' friend' with policies that helped them
  4. Fix and reduce the tax take on every litre of petrol and diesel so that it is less sensitive to changes in the oil price. Every small business is hit hard when fuel prices rise, from farmers to plumbers and window cleaners. It has to be stabilized and quickly.
  5. There were major complaints from the business community about the most recent changes to corporation tax. Reverting to the previous arrangements would boost business confidence considerably.
  6. Stop mortgage lenders proceeding to home re-posssessions and force them to pass on bank rate changes. What the Government disregard is the fact that millions of UK homeowners are on mortgage interest rates tied to the LIBOR (inter bank lending rate) and NOT the standard bank rate. This is a racket and needs to be made illegal. It is pushing homeowners around the country into arrears when their loans should be getting cheaper to repay. Removing the threat of repossession will make people happier to go and do Christmas shopping and they will be more generous with presents for their families.
  7. Cut the tax rate on beer wines and spirits. That little holiday present to the nation will make it a happier festive season for everyone, including the pub landlords who need a boost. Forget the issue of binge drinking. It's not the price of beer over the bar, but in the supermarket that causes this, plus the social attitudes to drinking. Parents should be much more thoughtful about the standards and examples they set their children about the use and abuse of alcohol. Stop the closure of hundreds of pubs across the country every month and you will do a great deal for the economy and society in all sorts of ways.
In general Mr Darling should be looking more closely at every little thing that will make life financially less stressful for Jane and Joe Public and the small and medium sized businesses that many of them run or work for.

Listen to what the CBI have to say today and anything subsequently said by organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses. The FSB made a submission to the Chancellor in anticipation of today's statement and it will be interesting to see if any of their suggestions are taken up. I have read this document and commend it to the Chancellor who appears to be deaf in that direction and to pleas from ordinary British citizens like yours truly.

I shall send him the link to my blog, but I don't expect to get a reply or a comment!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dances with Toilet Rolls

I have had one of the nicest Saturdays in quite a while, I've laughed and smiled a lot and I haven't cried, although I came close to crying laughing.

I work at home, and it is a matter of self-discipline on weekdays to shower and dress before I start work seriously. I find I get more done and in a more organised way, despite the temptation to slob about in pyjamas for half the morning.

On Saturdays, and Sundays, however, I allow myself a little more relaxation especially in the winter when there is no sailing and I can turn up at the club at midday or later for a spot of lunch, a glass of wine and a chat with friends, which was how today went.

I thought I had done all the shopping on Friday, but realised with some annoyance that there were a couple of things I had forgotten, so had to go to Havant after my lunch break at Langstone. I decided to go to Caffe Nero for a latte and a pastry first - quite a lot of my blogs and articles are born there, as notes in my purple notebook.

Actual shopping began at the discount store Wilkinsons for the toilet rolls as I knew they had a special offer, from a trip earlier in the week. At the till, I refused a carrier bag and carried the multi-pack across the road to Waitrose. I love them for food shopping, but their household stuff can be pricey. Later, putting my purchases in the car, the top of the toilet roll pack ripped a little and one of the rolls fell out.

On the way home, I had to make a sharpish turn into the road to avoid a car coming out. I heard something fall off the back seat. On the driveway, opened the car door and most of the rolls fell on my feet, some rolled under the car, others across the drive and one or two escaped onto the footpath. Fortunately by then it was getting dark.

On another day, when I was less happy, I might have howled with anger and frustration, but today I saw the funny side. Giggling hysterically I pursued my escapees and rounded them up without being observed. It was dry, on the driveway at least, and only one was slightly damp that was on the edge of the lawn. I thought I had lost one altogether, but found it under the evergreen hedge in a pile of dead leaves from the overhanging oak tree.

By now, my 'personal assistant' Bailey, was assisting, by sitting on the doorstep, shouting for his tea and superciliously supervising my pathetic efforts to control my shopping.

The evening has been peaceful and productive, getting the traffic going to my
new blog, watching some favourite TV - see previous post - and having a nice dinner. I kept off the alcohol too. So, here I am, still thinking amused about my dance with the loo rolls and ready for a little read before sleep. Goodnight dear readers!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why did John Sergeant quit SCD?

Just heard the news that political journo John Sergeant has quit the UK BBCtv dance show Strictly Come Dancing. Known in other countries as Dancing with the Stars, this tv show has a fantastic following in the UK, regularly topping viewing stats every Saturday and Sunday - Sunday being when the results go out.

John Sergeant and his professional partner Kristina Rihanoff have been a highly controversial entry this year. To be brutally honest, he really doesn't seem to have dancing feet, BUT he has tried hard, trained hard and done his best and the British public have rewarded him by keeping him in the show so far.

However the judges, Craig Revel Horwood, Arlene Phillips, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli have been relentless in their criticism and have repeatedly complained about the voting system that has kept John in.

For myself, I have been 'guilty' of voting for John -because I think he is fun and tries so hard, and to annoy the judges (especially Craig Revell-Horwood), but, I have also voted for other contestants who, in their particular week have danced the best.

I am sorry that this has happened, and many of John's fans will be equally upset, but I also felt sad that Cherie Lunghi went out last week, she really shouldn't have, based on her performance versus John's.

The real question is, what will happen, and what SHOULD happen to the voting system for SCD next year. Rumours and leaks are already emerging - like this one on the Daily Telegraph website.

I would be intrigued to know if similar situations have arisen in other countries where there is a similar show, or are their voting systems different and not dependent on viewer support?

There is also a nagging feeling that we have not yet heard the full story of why he came to this decision, could there have been pressure from other competitors, even pressure from Kristina - all has yet to be revealed.

Over to you dear readers....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Laughing, not angry today :-)

Just to show my lovely readers that I am not always a miserable old moaner, I'll share something that made me smile today.

International yachtswoman Dee Caffari is currently competing in the Vendee Globe round the world yacht race. Before she started, it seems her shore team planned some surprises for her to cheer her up.

According to a report I read in the Daily Mail today, they have hidden naked photos of themselves around the boat for her to find.

Sailing for me these days, mostly goes no further than a race around the cans in Chichester Harbour in my Laser dinghy. If I capsize or get wet and cold, I can look forward to a hot shower and a drink in the sailing club bar when I get back.

If I was a thousand miles from anywhere hospitable, being thrown around a boat in 30 foot or more waves and freezing cold, I'm not sure that even naked pics of Daniel Craig would make me feel better.

Fortunately, from what I am reading, Dee is now in warmer waters and shedding layers of oilskins for shorts and bikini top. Now I am envious!

I also spent a few months working as a watch team member for the last Velux 5 Oceans race and heard plenty about bad weather from the competitors including Robin Knox-Johnston, Mike Golding and Alex Thompson.

Well done Dee, go girl! I'll be watching you via your diary feeds and the Aviva website.

I had to look hard to find the right news item, but here it is!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Judge not lest ye be judged....

A blog I visited today talks about the case of Judge Roy Moore from Alabama . Judge Moore was sued by the ACLU for displaying the Ten Commandments in his courtroom foyer. He has been stripped of his judgeship and now they are trying to strip his right to practice law in Alabama .

The blog quotes a poem written by the judge which ends as follows.

"A sad but Holy God withdraw His hand from Thee.."

What about forgiveness that Christianity preaches, what about tolerance, what about turning the other cheek.

It seems to me that some so-called Christians choose to pervert what Jesus REALLY taught (according to the New Testament) to suit their own narrow minded-ness and the right of others who don't share their beliefs to do what they will with their own lives and their own bodies.

Isn't that what the USA Constitution says along with the right to believe what you will without persecution - even if that isn't a belief in God/Jesus?

You can ASK another person to understand what you believe and offer them the chance to do the same, you can't FORCE them to accept it or IMO you are actually no better than Hitler.

Sort your own lives out, look into your own hearts and minds and find vanity, pride, hatred and self-righteousness. Get rid of those, then you can preach to others what to do with THEIR lives.

I would have fewer issues with the pro-lifers if most of them didn't also speak vehemently against contraception and teaching sex-education and birth control in school. Not just in USA, but worldwide.

This judge has been appointed by the USA to enforce and uphold the law of the land, NOT the law as he sees it.

He should put aside his personal beliefs when he is at work, or if he can't do this, he should resign. It's a simple choice.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Remembrance – we haven’t learned yet

On the day when people around the world were remembering those who died in two World Wars and countless other conflicts, a BBC television programme chose to pay tribute to a woman who worked for and passionately believed in – peace.

Vera Brittain was the mother of British politician Shirley Williams. Vera lost her fiancé and many close friends in WW1 and worked in a front-line hospital in France, nursing victims of gassing and the horrible wounds caused by shell-fire.

22 years ago, I was working in Belgium, on an IT project that periodically took me out of my Brussels office and down to the Mons area which was the scene of some of the worst fighting in the first months of WW1.

Just by co-incidence, at the same time, I had discovered Vera’s book ‘Testament of Youth’ and I set out to find the grave of her fiancĂ© Roland Leighton in the little village of Louvencourt in a landscape that is even after all this time, still scarred by the conflict of 90 years ago. My journey took me over the border into France and through towns and villages I only knew the names of, as sites of battles such as Cambrai and Albert.

In the TV programme today, Jo Brand, best known as a comedienne, made the same poignant journey to Louvencourt, as she told Vera’s story, from her childhood in northern England to the end of WW1 when she returned to Oxford University to complete her Classics degree. Vera gave up her Somerville College place at the end of her first year to enrol as a volunteer nurse.

If I have a small criticism of the programme today, it was that it missed the details of how hard Vera struggled to get that university place. There was none of the expectation of today’s young men and women that they will have an equal right to further education. She had to fight the opinions of her parents and also to qualify for entrance to Oxford, which seems to have been a peculiarly complicated process for women at that time.

What it did achieve was to highlight first hand experiences of nursing the wounded, of stories from Roland and from her brother Edward and their friends of the horrors of the conflict on the Somme and at Arras.

What is even sadder is that 90 years on from the signing of the Armistice at the end of WW1, the world is still engaged in so many conflicts and wars.

Surely it is time now that we learn to stop fighting over land and religious differences and join together to conserve our planet’s natural resources and share what we have. If that lesson is not learned very soon, I can forsee another World War, except that this time we will be fighting for the very survival of the human race.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just a little angry with the Daniel Craig critics

I've just been reading some comments about the new Bond film in a forum I belong to.

I didn't agree with all that was said, so I went off to read some 'professional' reviews of the film on various newspaper and film websites.

Here is my review.

Somehow the lack of a really credible and coherent storyline in the new Bond film, 'Quantum of Solace' didn't matter too much.

The trailers before were advertising Quantum of Solace, the game, and the visually disturbing action sequences had far more in common with a than a movie.

I love Daniel Craig as Bond, the only actors that really ever did it for me in the role were Connery, Brosnan and now Craig. Have to say though, that there were just not enough shots of Craig undressed to keep me really happy - this was all we got.

Having met Roger Moore years ago (before he ever did his first Bond movie), the fact that he is so short, sort of destroyed the tough-guy image - he was FAR too nice to be Bond. Daniel Craig is going to have to be careful what other roles he selects, to maintain his Bond image.

Mathieu Amalric's slimy playing of Dominic Greene was equal to all we have come to expect from Bond film baddies - I hated him on first sight.

General Medrano, played by Joaquin Cosio was a little too genial and teddybearish to start with - I was almost thinking the man from Del-Monte, but he got really nasty later.

I was pleased that we only heard rather than saw him beating up the girl - there is far too much real sexual and domestic violence against women in the world to be putting it on-screen, but it would have been even better if Camille (Olga Kurylenko) had got there in time and killed him before he got started.

The bit with junior agent Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), dying covered in oil just didn't work and I don't know why Judi Dench had to spend almost the entire movie in a dressing gown that looked like it came from Oxfam.

Going for a few post-movie drinks with my friend, we found ourselves discussing the prospect of future water wars and commercial organisations holding the world to ransom over essential resources as much as the movie itself - now that IS scary.

I don't agree with some of the less complimentary reviews I've read, the movies have always been about escapism and suspending reality - perhaps we expect too much from Bond movies, or just expect the wrong things.