Thursday, September 17, 2009

I'm laughing for a change

A bit of an ironic laugh, it's true, but I thought I would share it with you all.

At last Gordon Brown decided to throw the towel in and resign. His cabinet colleagues decided it would be a worthy gesture to name a railway locomotive after him.

So a senior 'Sir Humphrey' went from Whitehall to the National Railway Museum at York, to investigate the possibilities.

"They have a number of locomotives at the NRM without names," a specially-sought consultant told the top civil servant. "Mostly freight locomotives though."

"Oh dear, that's not very fitting for a prime minister," said Sir Humphrey. "How about that big green one, over there ?" he said, pointing to 4472 Flying Scotsman.

"That's already got a name" said the consultant. "It's called 'Flying Scotsman'."

"Oh. Couldn't it be renamed ?" asked Sir Humphrey. "This is a national museum after all, funded by the taxpayer."

"I suppose it might be considered," said the consultant. "After all the LNER renamed a number of their locomotives after directors of the company, and even renamed one of them Dwight D Eisenhower."

"That's excellent", said Sir Humphrey, "So that's settled then...let's look at renaming 4472. But how much will it cost ? We can't spend too much, given the expenses scandal !"

"Well", said the consultant, "Why don't we just paint out the 'F'?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

More tales from the benefit queue

Has the Department for Work and Pensions run out of money for paying benefits? I'm left wondering. For the second time in a month, my ESA has failed to arrive in my bank account on the due date. The last time it happened, I called the DWP and was told ' it's a national computer problem - we don't know why or what causes it'. They said they knew about my missed payment and had already manually rescheduled the payment. It arrived 5 days late.

I asked what would happen if I had no money whatever and could not fall back on savings till the money was in my account. "You can go to your Job Centre and get a crisis loan". Oh yes, more bureaucracy.

WHY is this happening? WHY are people who rely on benefits to pay bills and feed themselves, be treated in such a throwaway manner? What are the problems with the payments system and when are they going to be fixed - Yvette Cooper you should tell us, it's your ship and your watch!

I also received the paperwork about my ESA appeal. When I read what the so-called health professional said I was incredulous. Was this the same medical assessment I attended or did this report talk about someone else?

For instance, one part of the medical assessment procedure referred to my ability to squat and kneel. I can kneel and get up again only with difficulty because of pain in my knees. I demonstrated at that assessment that I could only kneel and get up by leaning on the furniture and not taking all the weight on my knees. I also said I could not squat or sit cross legged at all. In the report I was stated as having no problems with these movements.

On my original form, I had left a number of boxes blank - probably due to the depressed state I was in. The assessment did not re-visit those questions, it simply made assumptions about the answers.

Statements were made about my hypothyroidism which demonstrated clearly that the assessor had no detailed knowledge about this condition, its symptoms or its effects and therefore was inadequately qualified to make any accurate assessment of my ability to work. She was a nurse, not an endocrinologist, or even a GP. The vet I take my cat to would have done a more competent assessment.

The most telling part of the whole report was the part that replied to my challenge that the assessor was incompetent to do the job, that it was not necessary to have a doctor's qualification to become an assessor making judgements about someone's ability to work. How long before we return to having butchers as NHS surgeons to save money?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Justice but not revenge

On December 21st 1988 I was sitting watching television in the small cottage I was renting near Knutsford to the west of Manchester. It wasn’t far from Manchester airport and the aircraft traffic was a ‘feature’ of the location, both low flying craft in and out of Manchester, and higher aircraft on the way elsewhere. The lower flying ones seemed about to land on the roof when the wind was in certain directions.

Later that evening, news started to come in of a disastrous air crash. A plane Pan Am flight 103 headed for New York JFK had come down on the town of Lockerbie near the Scottish border. Houses had been destroyed and many killed and maimed on the ground as well as the loss of all those on the flight.

In the aftermath, a plan of the route that the plane took to where it crashed from its take off at Heathrow was published. I realised that the Pan Am flight COULD have flown over me and I’ve always remembered that evening.

Looking at Wikipedia today, the flight information seems a little confused. It says that the take off was to the northwest and the flight then turned due north over Daventry in the West Midlands towards Scotland. That route would not have taken it over Lockerbie and would have been anomalous for a plane that had to check in with Prestwick air control before leaving Scottish airspace for the Atlantic crossing.

So, lets say that instead of crashing into a Scottish village, the bomb had been detonated earlier and it had crashed on me instead.

I would not have wanted my friends and relatives to prevent or speak against my killer spending his last agonising days at home. We put people in prison as much because they are a public threat as a punishment. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi isn’t much of a public threat in his condition. We have yet to see how Libya will deal with him, but they are keen to renew links with a world that has shunned them. They want and need to build their economy with western links and technology. Perhaps he should be under house arrest for his remaining days so that there can be no suggestion that he could possibly plot further atrocities.

There is another aspect too. If Al Megrahi had been kept in the UK, we would have had to care for him using NHS resources. There are British people who are dying because the NHS refuses them drugs which could help their condition – allegedly on grounds of cost. Isn’t it better that whatever care he gets now is paid for by the Libyan Government and his family and not out of our pockets?

I would like to say that I also support the compassionate release of Ronald Biggs. He had already been moved to a hospital outside the prison and was under a totally unnecessary 24-hour guard. He can’t walk and is being fed via a stomach tube. Does it really matter where he spends his last few days. He has now been moved to a care home close to where his son lives.

We are supposed to be a civilised society. There are British people languishing in jails in various parts of the world, including Islamic countries. Some of them have allegedly not had fair trials. If we are to ask honestly for clemency and humane and fair treatment for them, it is right that we let this dying man go back to Libya and that is something that America seems to have forgotten. Keeping Al Megrahi in prison in Scotland would not have brought loved ones back. Putting people in prison is supposed to be about justice, not revenge.

POSTSCRIPT

This last paragraph has been in the post since first publication, but it seems that commenters are not giving it any consideration or are just not reading the whole post. So I'm highlighting it. Unless the contents are personally abusive or obscene, I will publish all comments regardless of the point of view.
============================================================
I ask would be commenters to put themselves in the position where THEIR loved one is in jail in a foreign country and terminally ill. What would you really want to happen to them?

============================================================

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Art in times of trouble

That, or something similar was the title of a TV programme I watched tonight while I enjoyed a simple supper of omelette and chunky potato fries (rustic oven chips to my Brit audience).

It made me think about how I value my eyesight, and how driven my own world is by the visual image, especially since a friend of mine is losing his sight. I cannot imagine a more visually driven person. Whenever he calls me his first words are usually, ‘Jenny, you just MUST look at this website” He is so disappointed if he happens to catch me away from my PC screen so I can’t instantly respond with equal enthusiasm to what has inspired him, or my PC is on a go slow and I can't get to what he is looking at fast enough.

I cannot imagine how I would respond in the situation that someone said the awful words "You are going blind", but I know I would be angry. Angry that medical science couldn’t intervene to save my sight, but most of all angry that there was so much of the world that I HAVEN’T seen - from places in the UK to active volcanoes in Hawaii, and so many works of art only ever seen as tiny pictures in a book or at best, computer screen sized.

A few years ago, as a birthday treat, my (now estranged) husband took me to an art exhibition.Monet’s paintings were on show in London and such was the enthusiasm to see them, the gallery was open all night. We went in at 1am and for me, time stopped. I had never realised that the canvasses that were so familiar to me were so HUGE. A couple of years later, we visited Monet’s home at Giverny where those paintings were born, and I had the same sense of wonder, all over again.

The art programme I watched showed paintings from miners whose work created over 50 years ago reflected their toil in the mines and their lives above ground. Images of chimneys, yes, and big families, smoky pubs and things you would expect, but also a wonderful one of two men with their racing whippets.

It also showed the paintings that were stored in the same mines during the war while London was being bombed and discussed whether money spent on publicly owned art is a good social investment. In the news this week was the story about paintings previously owned by banks who were bailed out by the Government. Certainly we have the right to see those works, since our taxes saved them from being sold to pay off some of the debts. A free exhibition please.

I'm not putting links to any images in this post. If you have to go and look for them for yourselves, it might make you remember them better.

It was a very different image that inspired and lifted me today. I am helping with my sailing club’s junior training week. A dozen or so youngsters from as young as nine are learning to sail in the sheltered waters of Chichester Harbour. My job today was to drive the club's 21ft launch 'Sinbad' which acted as a ‘mother ship’ and I was helped by Fiona, the mother of two of the children.

She didn’t have a camera on board, but I got some shots on my mobile phone of Eve and Ralph as they zoomed past us in a lively breeze. I realised later that I had just missed the shot I really wanted because Eve turned her head to look at her sail. The sheer joy of achievement in her expression will stay with me for a very long time, as will the happy smiles of the ones who came alongside us with the instructor, and swapped places with others waiting their turn. Those smiles stuck, even after the inevitable upside-down moments.

It is ironic that today’s society is so evil thinking that I can’t share those pictures with you all and really need to delete them after I have transferred them on a memory stick for Fiona, just in case someone wonders why I have them on my phone. What a sad world that I can’t keep them and let them brighten a dark winter day in the future when creeping age and creaky bones have put an end to my own active sailing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Weasel words to the front line

At this moment I have less respect for the British Government and our Prime Minister than I have ever had.

Gordon Brown's assurances that British troops in Afghanistan are adequately equipped stands starkly against statements of the most senior military personnel that have emerged in the last few days.

Mr Brown clearly realises that he is up against a wall here, and it would have been impossible for him to directly admit that he has ignored military pleas for more money and more equipment. However he could have at least said that he took on board what was said and would listen to the people who are in command in Afghanistan and also to the families who are bearing the grief of loss.

There are those too who wonder exactly what the conflict in Afghanistan is supposed to achieve. Some may even feel that this is a war by the 'Christian' western world on Islam especially since George Bush spoke of it in a term they find repugnant - as a crusade. I'm not hearing enough of what I would like to hear which is that the people of Afghanistan themselves want us to help them fight against extremists in their own country.

If Britain and America are to continue to have support for this conflict, they must clarify and publicise their aims and ensure that they are aims that are achievable and that the whole of our population can be comfortable with.

This is NOT expressing any lack of support for the troops themselves which is a very different thing. If our Government are going to ask our armed forces to go and engage in wars and conflicts for whatever reason, those troops have a total right to be properly equipped.

They also have the right to speak out if they believe that their comrades are dying unnecessarily because someone here wants to cut budgets, and so do the bereaved families. I salute those who have chosen to put their lives on the line for world peace and security.

I don't want to hear any more excuses and lies and face saving from our PM and members of the Government, I want to hear promises that they will do everything they can to ensure our armed forces in Afghanistan get the equipment THEY say they need.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ageist BBC ousts Arlene

It's been a bit of a stressful week as you will have seen from previous posts, and it was only listening to BBC's Broadcasting House this morning that I caught up with something the rest of the world knew about on Thursday.

Alesha Dixon is to replace Arlene Phillips on Strictly Come Dancing. Now Alesha was a worthy winner of the show in 2007, but she does not have Arlene's training or knowledge of dance, or her sharp eye of what works visually on the dance floor.

Ballet star Darcy Bussell will also participate in the judging, and will help competitors with training in the later stages of the show. No problems there, she's a professional dancer and I will respect her opinion.

Arlene Phillips caused a lot of controversy in the last series when audience favourite John Sergeant went out, but the show enjoyed a lot of extra publicity as a result. She can be a very acid and picky judge, but the world of dance is incredibly competitive and very hard work and she is an extremely driven and demanding person.

There was a rumour as long ago as 18th June that Arlene might be due for the chop, and she hinted strongly about it on her Desert Island Discs appearance on July 3rd. (not available on Iplayer due to some rights agreements with the family of show originator Roy Plomley).

The BBC have been widely criticised for this change and the reasons for making it seem pretty weak. The show and the judges were perfect as they, were and there was no justification to change a successful format.

There is more than a sniff of ageism about this although BBC 1 Controller Jay Hunt has denied it saying that Arlene was the 'obvious one to change'.

Well Mr Hunt, it is not obvious to me, or to the show's millions of followers and I don't expect Alesha to have the skills or the presence to shine as a judge, good as she was as a competitor.

Len Goodman, regarded as the head judge of the Strictly Come Dancing panel has said that he is sorry to see Arlene go. We have not heard from her nemesis Craig Revel Horwood with whom Arlene has had some spectacular disagreements.

Arlene will, thankfully not be leaving our screens altogether - she will be joining former Strictly competitor Christine Bleakley on the One Show as a special presenter and commentator on this year's programme. I think we may find out more about how this change occurred which may not be totally flattering to the BBC's image.

It isn't goodnight Arlene just yet.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

DWP and ESA - the final straw

This morning a conversation with the DWP and a look at my bank account knocked me back into depression and leaves me even MORE disgusted with the way that the ESA system treats claimants suffering from mental illnesses and breakdowns.

I was expecting the notification in the post that I hadn't got enough points on the medical assessment to be considered not fit to work.

I wasn't expecting a total ZERO score, based on the form I completed and the medical - it's just so nonsensical. Didn't they read what I said and listen? Even on the points where I KNOW I made it clear I had problems, there is still a zero score.

Next, I checked my bank account as my cash card was not giving me anything. I then found out that my benefit had already been stopped without any warning whatever. Good thing I still have some savings to fall back on, but will be a few days before I can organise to get it into my current account.

I called the DWP again. Apparently, they will re-start the benefit and backdate it but ONLY when I return the appeals form. Had they sent it out, as I asked yesterday? No. They say they have now. They have a two to three month queue for hearing benefit appeals, by which time I might just possibly be well enough to think about work again.

It is a very stinky and cruel system that withdraws benefits from vulnarable people, leaving them without any income whatever, and without warning. Had I gone through all this a few months ago, it might well have pushed me back towards the suicidal feelings I was experiencing at that time and could easily do so for someone else.

And then there's the council tax benefits section. Apparently the DWP managed to write to THEM before they wrote to me, so they were on the phone saying that I had to complete yet MORE forms.

At the moment I am drinking tea, later on it might be something stronger. I have a feeling it will be a sleepless night again, or I stay up and compose letters to Yvette Cooper, my MP David Willets, David Cameron and a few more blameworthy others.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Depressed? Don't expect help from the DWP

Six months ago, a series of personal and financial crises sent me even further into deep depression than I already was. The illness behind it all is hypothyroidism, a condition which, if not adequately treated leaves you exhausted, mentally and physically and unable to deal with life at its best let alone its worst.

If some idiot at my local Job Centre had not given me incorrect information, I might have already been claiming the benefits to which I was entitled and had my previous GP had not been so totally useless my condition might have been better treated and things would never have got that bad. At least I had the strength to go and demand a referral to an endocrinologist and then the energy to insist I saw someone fully trained who made a change in my medication.

When I did get the right information from the Citizens Advice Bureau, which was to apply for ESA, the benefit that has replaced Incapacity Benefit, I was still struggling to deal with daily life. Just applying for ESA is an unnecessarily stressful experience. As a result of the incorrect information I lost two months of benefit and help with my mortgage which could not be backdated because there is a limit to backdating any benefits regardless of the circumstances.

The main form that you are required to complete is designed with two situations in mind.
1. You are suffering from an illness that makes you physically unable to work. You have to describe in minute detail how this affects every aspect of your life and is quite intrusive and personal.

2. You are mentally incapacitated to the point that someone has to complete the form for you.

There is nothing in between. The form simply does not deal with the whole spectrum of mental illness around depression. I made some angry notes on the form to that effect, but they were just ignored.

At some time later two things will happen. You will get called for a medical interview and a 'job-related' interview. The medical interviews, in my area at least are subcontracted to a company called ATOS who employ so-called health professionals to conduct an assessment partially based on what you wrote on the form.

The remainder of the assessment is anything but personal. They have a computerised system with a series of check boxes which they complete without showing you which boxes they ticked. They do ask you questions and also add some detail based on what you say. The outcome is simple. The boxes result in a score. If you don't score high enough, you are disqualified from ESA. I would advise anyone going to one of these medicals to get help from anyone you can, and know what they are supposed to do. Then, if they don't conduct the medical assessment properly, make a formal complaint to ATOS themselves and to the DWP.

More of what to do in a moment if you are scored too low to stay on ESA.

The other interview is aimed at trying to get you back into a job if you don't have one. The Job Centre gave me a leaflet for an organisation called the Shaw Trust. The leaflet claimed that they could 'get you access to training' by which most people would assume that they actually had funds to do this. Wrong. They have lists of other organisations which may or may not be able to fund the training you need, but it is very limited. What I would need, IF I was well enough to return to work is some very specialised very focussed training in specific software languages that have become the lingua franca of website development in the last few years. The Job Centre had already denied me this, so I'm not hopeful.

Now you would think that you would get the medical interview out of the way to establish whether or not you really were fit for work rather than putting more stress on you by forcing you to attend the job related one. No, the system is arse about face, a situation even admitted by the Shaw Trust.

At one of the job-related sessions the interviewer told me fairly bluntly that people with depression frequently did not tick enough boxes to stay on ESA. Therefore the sessions that I went through with them are now pretty well pointless, because once you are on JSA (the current name for unemployment benefit) a whole load of different conditions apply as to what training you can get. And of course you are then required to start a new claim for JSA with a whole load of new forms, no getting away with just going from one benefit to the other.
Moreover, you are then taken away from the people who were just getting to know about you and what you needed to get back to work and shoved back into the JSA system which is so overloaded at present it can't cope anyway.

I wrote a few months ago about the farcical situation of the Government announcing 'training initiatives' which just don't materialise at the delivery point. I can tell you that, according to a friend trying to get appropriate training from the Job Centre, those funds still are not available where and when they are needed. Still pie in the sky then. This was the previous blog post.

The alternative, which I found today that I am going to have to go through, is the appeals procedure for ESA. It is another stressful and upsetting situation which is anything but helpful for someone not properly recovered from depression and still getting their system back in balance on new hypothyroid medication.

What concerns me most is that processing these forms will result in a lapse of my benefits and even if they are re-instated and backdated pending the appeal, I may be without any income at all for weeks.

When I saw my new GP a week ago, she said that it could take another six months before I get my medication levels completely right and really start to feel well again. At least she is prepared to listen to me and not just rely on blood tests - more box ticking which led to the decline in my health in the first place.

There are very severe shortcomings in the way that ESA is being administered and my fear is that people who have been treated for depressive illnesses are being thrown into this back-to-work system far too soon and may relapse, possibly dangerously.

Before the latest economic decline, we were told that Incapacity Benefit was being replaced by ESA with the aim of getting more people back into work. Well Ms Cooper (Yvette Cooper is the new Minister for Work and Pensions) Mr Brown, there are even fewer jobs now and even less resources to help you get one.

Perhaps you had better just quietly adjust those tick-box scores and let a few more people stay on ESA where they should be anyway.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Still off topic, but angrier

Q. How many Members of Parliament does it take to change a lightbulb?

A. MP's don't screw in lightbulbs, they only screw the taxpayer

See here

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Completely off topic

Sometimes you have to stop being angry for a moment and smile.

Read it all the way thru though cos it does have a point to make....

A young man married a beautiful woman who had previously divorced ten husbands.

On their wedding night, she told her new husband,"Please be gentle; I'm still a virgin."

"What?" said the puzzled groom. "How can that be if you've been married ten times?"

"Well, husband #1 was a Sales Representative; he kept telling me how great it was going to be."

"Husband #2 was in Software Services; he was never really sure how it was supposed to function, but he said he'd look into it and get back to me."

"Husband #3 was from Field Services; he said everything checked out diagnostically but he just couldn't get the system up."

"Husband #4 was in Telemarketing; even though he knew he had the order, he didn't know when he would be able to deliver."

"Husband #5 was an Engineer, he understood the basic process but wanted three years to research, implement, and design a new state-of-the-art method."

"Husband #6 was from Administration; he thought he knew how, but he wasn't sure whether it was his job or not."

"Husband #7 was in Marketing; although he had a product, he was never sure how to position it."

"Husband #8 was a psychiatrist; all he ever did was talk about it."

"Husband #9 was a gynecologist; all he did was look."

"Husband #10 was a stamp collector; all he ever did was.... God, I miss him!"

"But now that I've married you, I'm so excited!"

"Wonderful," said the husband, "but, why?"


"You're with the Government.... This time I KNOW I'm gonna get screwed."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A country fit for heroes to live in?

This year will mark the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day Normandy landings. Every year, a number of those who took part and are still alive to remember D-Day make the crossing to France to see the beaches and coastal areas where they fought and where so many died for their country.

In a year when many of our D-Day veterans will have seen pensions and savings income cut and devalued, a few asked the British Government for financial assistance to make the trip and were turned down because 'it is not a significant anniversary'.

It now appears that they have backed down, and the MoD has agreed to help, but not before it was revealed that Gordon Brown had said he and/or his ministers would attend celebrations in Normandy 'if invited'.

There are huge security costs whenever senior Government members or Royal personages travel abroad, which is going to be far greater than the paltry amount that was being asked to pay a few ferry fares and hotel bills.

What could Gordon Brown have been thinking? How could he possibly imagine that he or any Government member have more rights to be in Normandy on 6th June this year than the veterans who want to travel to remember those who fought on the beaches, drowned trying to swim ashore or were shot or blown up in the water or on land.


A national newspaper has also stepped in to help fund the trip, but an offer of Lottery money was rejected. A representative of The Normandy Veterans' Association said that they did not want the Lottery Fund to take credit for funding the trip at the last minute after the Governent initially refused to contribute.

The sooner this selfish and inept bunch of politicians are kicked out of office, the better it will be for Britain and those who have defended our country and made great contributions to our proud history.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

...and here is the weather forecast...

I don't expect BBC news presenters to appear in immaculate evening dress any more, especially in the case of radio presenters - people don't even believe me any more when I tell them it was like that in the past. I do, however, expect a modicum of professionalism from those who are paid to do a job from my license fee.

I am getting really annoyed with sloppy and careless presenters who mis-read weather forecasts on Radio 4, particularly the ones who just have a line or two of summary (mostly NOT summery!) forecast to read at the end of the news.

I recently listened to one of them saying that 'rain was spreading FROM the east this afternoon' - complete reversal of fact!

What they should have said was either ' rain spreading east' or rain spreading from the WEST'. Don't they even bother to look at the actual forecast and use their common sense rather than simply reading a piece of paper or auto-cue?

I also get annoyed with the ones who refer to the shipping FORECAST as the shipping BULLETIN and tangle up the names of shipping areas or coastal reporting stations.

Please BBC give all your news presenters who don't have full meteorological qualifications at least a basic course in weather terminology, and get them to check the forecast website before their broadcast, so they can relate what they have to read to what is going on outside their cosy studio.

For the shipping forecast presenters, make them learn the shipping areas, coastal stations and inshore areas off by heart and be able to identify them on a map before they get anywhere near reading a forecast.

Or perhaps there is a joker in the pack who likes to trip up unwary new presenters by putting extra commas and spaces in the forecast so we get nonsense like "Dogger, German, Bight, Humber, Thames" or mis-type or mis-spell places leading to rubbish like 'San Deety' for 'Sandettie'.

For the information and interest of those outside of the UK who follow my blog, my local sea area is Wight and where I live is located between Selsey Bill and Lyme Regis, in fact very close to Selsey Bill and my local weather reporting stations Chimet and Cambermet are very useful as an add on to the Met.Office especially for small boat sailors like me.

I don't know if there is ANY kind of a dress code for radio presenters any more. Maybe imposing one would remind them that they have an important job to do and that all kinds of people around the country, on land as well as at sea still depend on the BBC to give them accurate weather forecasts, not all of them having easy access to websites at the exact place they work.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Moorings and Millions

On Friday evening I went to the my sailing club's Annual General Meeting. Having served my time on General Committee at the club, I know how hard it is to set fees at a level that reflect the move in prices for the things we have to pay out, business rates, gas, electric, water etc. , to carry out the projects which members say that they want done to tight budgets and to save for the future and against major unexpected expenditure.

You could regard it as a microcosm of running a country. We have 'political parties' within the club broadly representing the fields of activity that we operate, cruisers of various sizes on moorings, racing dinghies, day cruising boats kept ashore etc. Mostly we live peacably side by side and get on with what we personally like doing most.


Inevitably conflicts of interest do occur of various proportions from quite minor tiffs over who gets prime spots in the boat park, to disagreements whether major projects or expenditures should go ahead at all and absolute essentials like what sort of beer we should have in the club bar.

Fortunately spring is on its way and hopefully we'll all be too busy soon actually sailing to argue with each other over anything much beyond the rules of yacht racing.

This year, cruiser owners were asked to pay a one-off extra £20 to cover the cost of a new mooring buoy as part of the increase in their fees. I sat and listened as our Treasurer went meticulously through the accounts then asked for the questions which I knew would inevitably come.

Sure enough, someone asked about the very modest rise in mooring costs. This person does not have the largest boat in the club, but it isn't the smallest either. Anyone who can afford a boat that size can easily afford the extra £20 for the new buoy, plus the few more pounds percentage increase and I was fuming as he whinged on about it. It was pointed out that club moorings are considerably cheaper than open-market conservancy moorings in Chichester Harbour, if indeed he could get one in such a convenient spot and that as the buoys were bulk purchased, he would have had to pay a lot more for such a good product if he had bought it himself.

Thinking about it afterwards, I drew a comparison between this sulky club member and Sir Fred Goodwin who is sitting pretty on a pension of nearly three quarters of a million pounds a year, having brought one of the country's major banks to near collapse. Sir Fred is waving a contract saying that he is legally entitled to this money and isn't giving any of it back or forgoing even part of it in the public interest. Less than one sixth of that sum would pay off my entire mortgage and he is getting that EVERY YEAR until he dies, potentially another 50 if he reaches his centenary.

He could have got the public back on his side by offering to invest some of it where it would serve the common good, like perhaps helping to fund a housing association for people who can't afford a mortgage even at today's low rates or to simply give some of it to charity. I have no doubt whatever that he has sat down with his accountant this and worked out ways to pay as little tax on his pension as he possibly can, so we shouldn't expect to get much back that way.

How do you feel Sir Fred when you see people in Zimbabwe picking up single grains of corn to eat because the greedy and tyrannical Robert Mugabe has demolished the entire agricultural output of his country.

How would you feel Sir Fred if someone who had lost their entire life savings in the crash of your bank came and banged on your door and asked for a sub? Or what if someone who had lost their home after being made redundant due to the RBS bank crash, parked their caravan on your well manicured lawn?

Comic Relief Day is on its way. Let's have a little less conspicuous greed and self-interest please.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gordon vs Barack - I'm not looking forward to April

I am once again less than impressed with our Prime Ministers' performance and ideas about solving our economic ills and I would speculate that President Obama is not going to be any keener on boring Gordon's boring pronouncements when he visits the UK in April.

What we need now is a spark of creativity and enthusiasm to inspire business leaders and bring back at least a trace of 'feel good' to a British populace with a severe attack of winter blues.

Alas, what we are getting is more of the tired old-fashioned predictable ideas we have come to expect from this Government. You couldn't call them initiatives by any means. The word initiate suggests imagination and innovation and that is the last thing we are getting.

I'm not saying there is something wrong with the banks returning to a little more cautious approach to lending and spending. I've already written at length about the difficulties people are having in actually accessing supposed assistance funding and the news this weekend suggests it is not getting any better.

What really worries me is what effect the differences in approach to economic recovery will have on our 'special relationship' with the USA. Once again the would-be cartoonist in me pictures a scene with Barack Obama falling asleep while Gordon rabbits on about not a lot. This is the best picture. The worst one is a difference of opinion and daggers drawn that could seriously hold back OUR recovery if it is not in harmony with what is going on across the Atlantic.

Gordon Brown could be perceived as mean minded and narrow which could result in a distant and polite encounter rather than a friendly and cordial one. I don't think the world can expect a relationship in the vein of Thatcher and Reagan.

Already there are rumours of Labour snipers ganging up to remove Mr Brown. Will any of them succeed in taking his place in Number 10, or better still will we be looking forward to a General Election by the time of the Presidential visit and will Mr Obama also be seeking the views of Opposition leaders.

I worry and wait.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Privacy vs Freedom of Speech

I could have switched radio stations when BBC Radio 4's Law in Action came on the air and probably should have done. Instead I sat in late afternoon traffic on the Chichester by-pass and listened to F1 supremo Max Mosley attempt to justify why journalistic freedom should be sacrificed in order to keep his bedroom antics private.

I remain unconvinced by what he said although he did try. He pleaded that what the News of the World claimed he did and he sued them for, was nothing to do with anyone but him because he had not set himself up as anyone's moral conscience.

The problem is, a certain amount of damage has already been done to media freedom and he is determined to extend it. He mentioned that France has a rather different view, and laws about, of the private life of public people and would like to gag the British media in a similar way.

Now, if so-called celebrities like models, football players and TV presenters manage to make fools of themselves and be shown in the red-tops in all their dubious glory, that is fine with me. They court publicity most of the time, and really have little right to moan when the paparazzi catch them in an off-moment.

What we do not want in the UK is for the media to be prevented from exposing public figures who set themselves up as morally superior then behave in a hypocritical fashion. Nor do we want anyone who has committed a crime to be permitted to hide behind a privacy law in order to escape justice.

Maybe the real problem is that we are all hypocrites to some degree. We say we want freedom of the press, but we don't want pictures of our little peccadilloes decorating the front pages. It's a fine line, but I feel that our civil liberties are being removed at such a rate, the UK needs every right of free speech it can retain in order that someone can speak out when Government goes one step too far in snooping into our private lives.

So, no Mr Mosley, I don't think you should have won all that money in damages and I certainly don't believe that your privacy should be even more protected in the future.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

British Government’s ‘Virtual’ funds

The UK Government recently made announcements about how they were going to help small business owners and also assist people made redundant, not just the unskilled, but executive and professional people as well.

What is in question is do those funds actually exist and are they ever going to reach the people who need them. From what I've seen in the last few days, the answer seems to be a big ‘NO’.

A few weeks ago I had a ‘mystery shop’ assignment that involved visiting my local JobCentre Plus. I hadn’t been there for a while, so wasn’t recognised while I was browsing around looking for posters and trying out the interactive terminals on which you can search for jobs. Later on the assignment required me to reveal who I was and what I was doing so it seems OK to refer to it here. The second part of my job that day involved talking to a manager and after the business I came for was done, I set aside my notebook as I wanted to ask some tough questions unrelated to my assignment.

The initiative to provide additional training for workers at all skill levels had just been announced. More than a year ago, when I WAS visiting the Job Centre regularly, I asked them for funding for some specific training that I felt would help me get back in the job market. I was refused, because they said there was no mechanism for funding in that way. The Government announcement seemed to indicate that this had all changed and I asked the JobCentre manager directly if this was the case.

“Oh yes” he said “We could almost certainly do that now”, “Things have changed since you were here last” I was assured. He went on “The way re-training can be funded is going to be much more flexible”. I also asked about age discrimination and he said that there were ‘initiatives to ensure it didn’t happen’ and this included local and central Government funded posts and education. I applied to Portsmouth City Council, Portsmouth University and Havant Borough Council, in some cases for more than one post, and was turned down each time.

Since then, Channel 4’s Dispatches program 'Too Old to Work' has exposed just how deeply age discrimination is embedded in employment practices and even enshrined in law. I recognised many of the weasel words used in interviews and in rejection letters I had received and encountered before I decided to try to earn a living outside of the wage slave economy.

Words such as ‘over-qualified’, ‘we feel you would not fit into our culture’, ‘you would be bored’, ‘this is a very young company’, and ‘would you have a problem working for a manager younger than you’. I had been told that I was being paranoid, that these words could not positively be proved as being ageist, but perhaps now it has been on national TV, if they are used against YOU, I suggest that you think very hard about whether it is actually your age that they have a problem with.

In the program, a young woman, not even fully qualified in accountancy and her father, a qualified and very experienced accountant applied through the same agencies. The young woman was offered a range of opportunities, interviews with agency consultants and with companies. Her 50+ father was told in several cases that the agency had ‘lost his CV’ and all the phrases above came out in relation to jobs he had seen advertised and felt he was well suited to.

On Friday I gave a friend a lift to his JobCentre benefits signon appointment. He has a similar number of years experience in IT as I do and is of similar age. Being male, he has a couple more years to work than I would before state retirement age. He asked the same questions I did, only a couple of weeks ago.


He was told that there was NO money for that purpose, it had been re-allocated to ‘new initiatives’ . So, instead of spending a couple of hundred pounds to spend on us teaching ourselves new software skills that would help fill IT vacancies that are still out there, the British Government would rather spend THOUSANDS on social security benefits until we reach retirement age, then additional retirement benefits to top up our income because we will have spent every penny of savings that we might still have. Very clever.

With reference to the business loans, I heard, on the radio, the sad story of a couple from Scotland who were looking for funding to expand their cafĂ© and catering business. They visited several banks to ask about the much publicised Government guaranteed small business loans. No-one at any of the banks knew how these funds could be accessed and some of them had never even heard of the announcement. The people had been persistent and asked the banks to ask their head offices – still no information and no deals. The radio item featured an Opposition spokesperson asking how this could happen. Hadn’t the entire scheme been discussed with the banks at all?

In both cases it seems that there is an imaginary pie in the sky full of money floating over Westminster with a number of labels attached to it for what it might be spent on. No one can actually get to the cash, and as the priorities are seen to change for the reasons of keeping the press and their own back-benchers quiet, the PM, the Chancellor, Business Secretary and so on just re-earmark the funds for a new purpose.

Presumably that pot of money is now going to be used to prop up the marriage of Lloyds TSB and HBOS who the Treasury encouraged to get together only a month or two ago.

It just doesn’t add up does it.

I really wish I could draw cartoons. Along with Gordon Brown’s assurance that he knew nothing about the FSA hush-up that banks were over–exposed to toxic debts, the humbug flying around the Houses of Parliament this past couple of weeks would have given me endless subjects for my pen.

Maybe I could go into partnership with someone who CAN do the artwork.
Picture this. Gordon Brown is painting himself into the corner of a room. Written across the floor are the words "FSA incompetence" and "banks over exposed". I predict that he is going to regret saying he knew nothing about it.

Or this scenario - dear Gordon is pictured as a grouse with a bevy of guns pointing at him bearing labels of all the things he has said and are very likely to come back to haunt him at some future date. The guns are being fired by his own Cabinet Ministers as well as the Opposition, and somewhere in there you might just find the wonderful Jeremy Clarkson as well who aimed a few shots of his own at the PM recently.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tesco fail to impress on environment and health

At the other end of the car park from my local giant supermarket Tesco at Langstone, there is a recycling facility. At the store end, they seem to be encouraging consumers to take home as much NON-recyclable packaging as they can.

This morning I went in for some croissants or pastries to eat with a cup of coffee, my occasional weekend treat. On the bakery counter, there were loose pain au raisin at 55p each. It is regrettable that the bags to take them away are plastic and not paper, but that’s what I’d expect from Tesco.

On the rack underneath there were plastic packs ofthe same pain au raisin pastries at 89p for two. That’s a 21p difference for exactly the same product, almost 25%. I didn’t mind the idea of buying two on this occasion, as I was thinking I would have one tomorrow. However the thought did cross my mind that single people were being somewhat disadvantaged here and why anyway was I paying less for a product with more packaging?

I paid for my purchases and afterwards took them to the customer service desk to point out the problems. The assistant there agreed it was unfair, stupid but pricing was out of her hands. She also mentioned that she normally worked on the tobacco counter where 2 x 25g packs of rolling tobacco were cheaper than a single 50g pack.

Aren’t we supposed to be discouraged from eating fattening foods and smoking? I tried hard to get it through to her that the reason I was complaining was as much to do with the packaging issue as with the price, but I was getting nowhere.

The insult to injury came when I got home. I had failed to notice that the sell-by date on the pastries was 24 hours past and they hadn’t been removed from sale. They were stale and not very pleasant and went in the bin. More waste and strain on my pocket.

The same Tesco management team were asking the local planning department a year ago to expand the store to a huge and unsightly building to include more clothing and non-food lines so they can compete with local rival stores Asda and Sainsburys. No-one in the area wanted it, but somehow councillors were persuaded to agree to it.
Fortunately, later on, Tesco pulled the plans or at least put them on the back burner saying that this store had been taken off their re-building list.

In the meantime they had gone back to the local council to make some changes to the plans such that would have to go through at least part, if not all of the planning process again and I’m wondering if they were told that those changes would not be well received because of the protests it would re-start and the cost to the council. They claimed that the re-planned store would be ‘greener’. It's a larger store, with more parking so more cars. The traffic nearby already gets seriously clogged at busy times. There was talk once of a dedicated slip road from the A27 main road, but this disappeared from the plans.

If they are so dedicated to being environmentally friendly, why are they encouraging their customers via their prices, to buy items with MORE packaging rather than less.

Do I have anything to thank Tesco for on this visit? Yes, their women's underwear is good value :-) Knickers to Tesco.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Too much PC at BBC

More rows and demands for BBC presenters heads to roll have had nearly as many column inches at the weather this week and I'm utterly fed up with it. It's just got totally out of proportion.

For me the essential difference between this, and the row about Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand is that what was said was not on air.

Millins of people my generation will have had golliwogs as much-loved childhood toys and remember them from the Robertsons Jam adverts. Personally I never even thought about them as representing human beings, there was a total disconnect. Carol Thatcher and I are only 4 years apart in age, and I'm sure its the same for her too.

I don't think her remark indicates that she is a racist in any way shape or form and I think we have all got excessively over sensitive.

Why is it that on one TV or radio programme we are allowed to laugh about racial and gender stereotypes and on others we have to tiptoe round in this ridiculous way.

As for Jeremy Clarkson, it doesn't surprise me one bit. I expect him to be outrageous and he hasn't disappointed this time. I won't deny that some of his more misogynous remarks (and his periodic rudeness about Caterham Se7ens) annoy me, but most of the time he makes me laugh.

He's just running true to form and I wouldn't want him to change one bit.

The One Show has unjustifiably lost a good presenter and the suggestions that Clarkson should be removed from Top Gear is nonsense.

I'd like to bet that Gordon Brown has also had a few regrets this week about his British jobs for British workers remark which I thought at the time might come back to haunt him. I haven't noticed anyone demanding an instant General Election about that faux pas.

Did someone mention the word sledging?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Murphy says 'Lights Out'

Murphy's First Law says that if something can go wrong it will.

Murphy's Second Law says that if something can go wrong, it will, and in the most inconvenient way possible.

I was enjoying a cosy evening in, nice dinner, glass of wine and thought I would have a bath and use my Babyliss jacuzzi mat for some nice relaxation before bed.

It had snowed intermittently all day, but when I looked out mid-evening, it was dry and frosty. I set up the bathroom with a scented candle, poured a second glass of wine, ran the bath, added book and magazines, set up the jacuzzi mat, got into dressing gown, all ready to go. I turned off the bathroom lights to see if I needed a second candle for extra light. I did, so I turned the lights back on. The bathroom lights consist of one ceiling light and a rack with two spotlights on it.

Crack! As I turned the lights back on, one of the spots went. This might have been OK, and no worry, but it also flipped the fuse for the entire upstairs lighting ring.

Now, the fuse box is in the garage. I was definitely NOT going outside in freezing temperatures in just a dressing gown. Muttering furiously, I put on tracksuit bottoms, t-shirt, fleece and warm socks and back downstairs. I found the right keys went outside and unlocked garage.

If the upstairs lighting has ever fused before, it has done so in daylight and I never noticed that George the Bodger who owned the house before me had wired the garage lights into the upstairs lighting ring - huh?? I hadn't taken a torch out with me because I didn't expect to need it, so had to go back indoors and get one before re-setting the fuse and locking up again.

My fingers were going blue by the time I was back indoors and I remembered Mum's warnings about chilblains.
It was snowing again - well, naturally it was, not quite whiteout conditions, but enough to cover over my footprints in the couple of minutes between the two trips to the garage.

Next thing was to go looking for a replacement spot bulb. In the UK, we have multiple types of bulb fittings. Of course, I had every size and type of spot for the rest of the house, but not the size and fitting I needed. Well of course not!

I did eventually get my bubbly bath, but I was so cross and wound up, it just wasn't so enjoyable or relaxing.

Murphy, I hope you get to live in interesting times.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Paralysed by a bit of snow


Siberia decided that it was time that Britain should share some of its winter snow and dumped a load of it on the South East yesterday and last night.

Now please don’t suppose this was an unheralded event. The Met. Office have been telling us for days to expect snow, and giving out severe weather warnings since Friday.

Yet when it hits, motorways are blocked by jackknifed trucks and abandoned cars, the London bus system and half the underground grind to a halt, and trains into the capital are non-existent. And we are told this is what to expect that nothing more could have been done.

Lunchtime news said losses to economy because of no-one being able to get to work in London could run into over a billion. This is ridiculous! Companies in the UK have simply not got to grips with the concept of working from home where possible.

A home worker anyway, I wisely left it till lunchtime to venture out at all. There was about 2 inches of the fluffy stuff on my car, easily removed with soft broom and wipers. I carefully got as much off as possible, but some people on the roads were not so considerate. A huge lump of snow blew off the roof of the car in front of me and hit my screen – fortunately it was not icy and only blinded me for a second, but it was very dangerous all the same. Please don’t do this. I couldn’t get the car number who did it to me because he went through an amber traffic light and I stopped – says a lot about his/her road hoggishness.

What a load of wimps we are. This is a fraction of the snow that many places in the USA live with all winter. London local authorities had 3 days warning to get their arses in gear and instead sat on said arses and did nothing. Now they are saying that their preparations were good enough, but still somehow they were caught short. Where is the bull, I smell something.

Just to cheer you all up, here are some more pretty snow pictures, my road, sailing club and Langstone shoreline. I’ve linked them to my Picasa album with google map ref, so you'll know where you are looking at.



Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama's brave move for womens' health

I am sure that I am going to offend some people with this post, but I offer no apology for it.

I hope those I might upset, just remember that it is a point of view about choice. They choose to refuse or control choice and I emphatically don't agree with that.

Barack Obama as one of his first major legal changes has chosen to allow USA Government funding for organisations that provide abortion advice or help, as part of access to birth control programs.

Of course, I'm not saying that I would advocate abortion as a desirable form of birth control, but I do most firmly believe that it is not up to the Vatican, any country's Government or anyone else but a woman herself to decide what to do with her own body. She alone has to live with what she chooses to do.

How can anyone be so cruel as to insist that a woman should continue a pregnancy caused by rape or incest or in circumstances that are likely to result in her death, the child's death or horrific disability. Only the mother-to-be should have the right to make that decision without pressure that she might be prosecuted or be cast out by ber community or religious group.

No-one should take this as a blanket approval of abortion from the new President (although they probably will), but an opening up of chances for disadvantaged American women to have more of a chance to get affordable contraception. Those organisations recognise that contraception is a far better option than abortion, but still need the ability to offer advice at the very least as a last resort. It is a health not a moral issue.

This is the controversial part. Why is it that the SAME people and organisations relentlessly condemn a woman and her partner for using birth control and equally insist that they bring children into the world that they can't properly care for instead of promptly allowing them to end the pregnancy.

Over-population is just as much a threat to our planet as climate change and is actually accelerating climate change as more and more people grow to adulthood because of better health care, to drive cars, fly in aeroplanes, cut down forests for firewood and burn fossil fuels.

Every Government and should be promoting the idea that people should VOLUNTARILY limit their families and encourage them to use the best available contraceptive solutions. It is in the interests of womens' health as well and their existing children.

Whatever Higher Power there might be and whatever you want to call it/him/her I am quite sure did not intend and does not want humanity to destroy itself and the planet through over population. Nor would a merciful power want to bring millions of children into the world to starve to death in their first year or to be condemned to live in poverty or to be a constant reminder to their mother of the unhappy circumstances of their conception

Friday, January 23, 2009

Costa lot too much

I was travelling yesterday and called in on a motorway service area on the A27 in Hampshire. In terms of food outlets, it had a Wimpy, a cafeteria serving all day breakfasts and similar food, and a Costa Coffee. I needed a caffeine hit, so went for the Costa.

The first thing I noticed was that the prices seemed high. Costa is not, admittedly my favourite high street coffee shop, but I use it fairly often. I made a note of what I had to eat and drink for future reference.

Later in the day I went into the Costa in Dorchester, South Street. Regrettably I was right. The price for my pain au raisin pastry in there was less than £1.50 vs £2.00 at Rownhams Services. I chose a different coffee in Dorchester to my morning stop, but a glance thru the bevy of old receipts in my purse says that at Clacket Lane Services Costa Coffee on the M25, a cappucino primo is £2.40 whereas I paid £2.

This morning I wrote to Costa's Customer Relations department via email, asking how they could justify this difference.

Now, the services do have to employ staff for more hours per day. But on the other side, their costs of heating, cleaning etc. are shared and I pointed this out. I wonder how detailed an answer I will get.

BBC Radio 4's Food Programme recently featured an item on motorway food. Many years ago, Egon Ronay, a well known food writer, and restaurant reviewer/critic was absolutely scathing about the standard of motorway service catering.

In the intervening period, it has improved, but has also got disproportionately expensive. You can get a breakfast in a J. D. Wetherspoon pub for less than £3.00. The cheapest breakfast on offer yesterday was over £4.00 for a similar plateful. JDW is not the best, but at least I know it has been cooked freshly and not been sitting under hot lights for who knows how long. I should imagine their overheads and ingredient costs were about the same.

The cost of a simple egg sandwich in a motorway service shop can be expected to exceed supermarket or off-motorway petrol station by at least 25%.

I don't see why the travelling public should be exploited so relentlessly when very often we have little choice about where to take a break. They'll be charging for the use of toilets next. Leave your penny on the seat please.

Now - for a change - a thank you and a bouquet.

In my local Waitrose supermarket in Havant today, the checkout op. took the trouble to open up the box of eggs I was buying. I was fairly sure it was the last box of medium organic eggs at a special offer price. I hadn't checked the eggs myself and two eggs were cracked and stuck to the box.

She rang for another assistant who went and looked for some more. She came back with extra large ones, apologised for running out of the smaller size, and said I could have the bigger ones at the same price. Excellent customer service and my grateful thanks to Waitrose for a little help with the food bills.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inefficient collections

If you live in the UK and have ever failed to pay your council tax, a parking ticket or other fine on time, the chances are your debt may have been handed over to a company called Equita Certified Bailiffs.

I hope anyone who works for a local authority or any other company who use these shower of sharks reads this and considers carefully whether their services are actually value for money, My experience with Equita suggests that they are neither efficient or ethical in their business practices. Local authorities who should be looking to get the best service for taxpayers' money if it is necessary to collect overdue council tax should be looking elsewhere.

Last month I contacted Equita to try and get from them a written statement of how much council tax I owed. Havant Borough Council had turned over collection to them after just ONE missed month back in May, and flatly refused to deal with me direct thereafter. They could have saved themselves a lot of money. I hate to think how much they are being charged by Equita per successful collection.

Equita did not answer my letter sent to them in the middle of December. I tried writing again, faxing and phoning all to no effect. I was left on the end of a phone line for 25 minutes then cut off, put through to an extension that was never answered and could, for all I know be a phone in an empty office or a line with no phone on it at all.

I should mention that Equita's main publicly available phone line as printed on their correspondence is an 0870 premium rate number. BT customers are now enjoying free 0870 calls. Virgin Media, who supply my landline do not offer that and the charges per minute are considerably higher than the geographic rate. The website Saynoto870 offers consumers alternative numbers for thousands of companies who scam their customers this way.

At the beginning of last week, a recorded message from Equita when I entered my reference number said my case had been passed to a local collector in my area and gave a mobile phone number. On my first attempt he said that they hadn't yet provided him with my file. I called several more times and got his voicemail or no answer at all. I texted and did not get a reply.

Finally this morning he rang me and I let him have both barrels about Equita's misdemeanours. I was rather unfair because it turns out that he didn't get the file till late last week so didn't know what was going on. As you might guess, NONE of the correspondence sent to Equita over the past month was in the file when it arrived, but it is now!

We were able to agree payment of the remainder of my council tax over the phone and called round this afternoon to collect cheques for the next couple of months and copies of the missing letters, including those sent to me, again not on the file. He was very kind and sympathetic about my current financial problems and depression and wished me well.

He also agreed that Equita's efficiency in the way they dealt with him and members of the public left a lot to be desired. If you get caught in between Equita and some other organisation, I suggest you go straight to your local trading standards office and make a complaint about Equita and whoever else has farmed out their debts to them.

I am considering my next move, because I'm not happy that my local council is using them to collect late tax. They might well do better to do the job themselves and might save some people in my area a lot of stress into the bargain. I am now able to go and make a benefit claim for my council tax because I now know what I owe. If I'd known that a month ago, that issue might also have been sorted out and I would have been saved some sleepless nights and worry.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Incinerated Balls!

This is not, as you might think a rant about my absent spouse and what I'd like to do to him, or even how I would like to deal with the British Prime Minister or the soon-to-be ex-President of the USA,

I am angry with myself for wasting food and energy.

I had planned a pasta supper and remembered that in the freezer I had some garlicky dough balls. Oh Yum. I put the oven on, put in the dough balls, cooked the tortelloni, added a good shot of pesto and dished up. I had carefully timed everything so that by the time I had everything on a tray, including a nice glass of wine, the dough balls would be cooked.

I forgot them.

About an hour later I noticed the smell. When I got in the kitchen I also noticed that it was quite smoky and I realised what I'd done and started to swear. The cat dived out through the catflap into the rain and wind, alarmed at the shouting. Incinerated balls out, kitchen door open for a few minutes and the extractor fan on high. The gas oven should have been on for less than 20 minutes including heating up time. It was on high for an hour and a half and I've wasted food which I hate to do really. Not even the birds would touch the remains, they are absolute cinders.

My consolation is a whole bar of almond and raisin chocolate and another glass of wine. I don't care if the combination gives me a headache. And I bet the kitchen will STILL smell in the morning, extractor or not.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Software whinges

Since part of it is about a blogging resource, which I actually reviewed over on My Greetings to You at some length and praise, possibly this post ought to be there, but it's all thoughts from me, so I guess doesn't matter too much.

One of my blogs is hosted on Today.com who are supposed to pay per post. OK, it's not much, but it has potential to be more. Yesterday, I suddenly got an alert in my account to say that I would be getting a bigger payment per cpm, and my pay per post was reduced to ZERO!

Now hold on there. In December, I only had a couple of posts because I was struck down with a nasty flu virus, not to mention colossal depression. However, as things got better in January, I've posted on For the Love of British Food most days and much enjoyed the research and recipe tests that have gone into each post's production. Not ONE of those posts has yet been reviewed!

I posted a snotty note in the user forum, which was removed almost immediately - I thought it might happen, but I got some messages from sympathetic users who saw the message before it was deleted . They do say that when the posts are eventually reviewed that the payment status may change again. It had b***** better do.

The other software annoyance has been ZoneAlarm. Over the past 5 days I have expended many hours trying to figure out why the latest auto-update was trying to destroy my system. The advice from the user forum there was some help, but fell short of being really useful by suggesting something that was incomprehensible. My main PC which is running almost the same configuration has been OK, it was the laptop that was troublesome.

Why would uninstalling and re-installing through a wired connection rather than through my router make any difference. I will be on the forum again in the morning telling them that actually it didn't make a squit of difference. What DID work was downloading and using the clean utility they suggested, rebooting, then downloading and re-installing the latest version as two steps rather than a download and install in one process. It took several attempts since last Sunday to get back to normality.

There was also the irritation that ZoneAlarm tries too hard to sell you its paid upgrades. In my annoyance to get things right again, I didn't notice that I had the wrong box ticked and made the solution more difficult than it needed to have been.

ZoneAlarm used to be a really reliable well tested product for a freebie. Now I'm not so confident about it, but not rattled enough to be prepared to pay for a product I don't really want. And, the standard of customer support (it was an admin who replied) isn't too hot either.

I didn't sleep too well last night, so rather than posting on the food blog tonight, I have scribbled a few notes of an idea, which I'll pick up on tomorrow.

Shipping and weather forecast is telling me that the big winds aren't coming till tomorrow and the weekend and that we might have snow on Monday. Must buy the garden dickybirds some more food, I forgot today. Too much giggling with friend Cath in Caffe Nero and giving the male inhabitants of Havant scores out of 10 for fitness as they walked past where we were sitting in the window. Most didn't even make 50%.

Zeds time. Night night.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Don't be seduced....

I had to do some market research this week on a couple of major high street names in the UK travel world.

While was sitting with the travel advisor and discussing my travel requirements - all imaginary, but she didn't know that, there was a lot of banter going on between the advisors and some heavy bartering apparently happening in a phone call to the company's head office.

A little bit of earwigging gained me some useful information for other travellers, and also some evidence of very sharp practices in the industry.

Let's say you want to take your family to Florida during the school holidays. How do you go about getting the best prices and discount offers?


I can tell you what NOT to do.

Don't get a load of brochures, wade through them then try to work out from the small print what is and what is not included. The brochure price is NOT what you pay! There are fuel surcharges, transfer costs, airport parking, room supplements, insurance and all sorts of things which will massively increase what you see. You may not be told about spot deals for free child places, special Disney passes, inclusive car hire or airport parking in the UK.

Nor is it a good plan to just Google for where you want to go and think that the price you are seeing is a fantastic bargain - ooooohh noooo

Do a sort of end-to-end list. Starting from your front door and ending back there, think of all the things that are going to comprise your holiday cost.

Include all the elements above, and also make a note of food and drinks because they will be relevant if you are looking at self-catering at one end, or an all-inclusive resort at the other - the all-inclusive label very often specifies 'local drinks' and that you have to eat in specific restaurants on site or pay a supplement to book in a more luxurious eating place.

What I overheard was this. The customer they were talking about had been in and been advised about some prices. They had gone online and found the same holiday cheaper. The head office wanted to know the exact website they used to ensure the comparison really was like for like. In this case the customer got discounted back to the web price but with the security of booking with a high street name.

OK so now I know the wrinkles, but the average person is not going to know that and is going to be paying full whack and putting money in the pockets of holiday companies in the UK when they could be saving and taking more spending cash on holiday with them, or upgrading to a better hotel.

By all means use the brochures to find out about areas, resorts and hotel specifications, but don't be seduced!

Maybe we need a little more regulation in the package travel industry so that the price you see really IS what you pay. I've heard and seen several consumer programmes on UK radio and TV recently who would agree.

B*** blogger

I have just spent the last 25 minutes creating a new post about sharp practices in the UK travel industry.

I finished, hit the publish button and instead of publishing, I got an error - and when I went back to my post, the box was empty.

Normally I write in MS Word first, then spend a frustrating amount of time, removing bits of unwanted formatting so my paragraph breaks are where I want them to be.

This time, I did it 'off the cuff' . Of course I'll rewrite it all tomorrow, but that DOESN'T help my frustration and anger now.

I just cut and pasted this little rant into Notepad - just in case it happens all over again.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Nearly past being angry about some things

Something strange has happened this week. Having made up my mind to do some things I really didn't want to do, I now feel a huge sense of relief. Sad too, but also that I can cope with the next few days at least. There is some anger too, read on. I think I have reached a plateau of wisdom where I can work to change what can be changed and to fret and agonize less about what is in the past and about the things over which I do not, and never will have any control.

Even the fact that my estranged husband decided he was too tired to come to an arranged meeting on Wednesday about the house re-possession didn't wind me up as much as it might have done. He claimed he'd had a 13 hour day, and a major virus attack on the computer systems he works with. Maybe it's not true, but I can't prove it or force him to come. Or maybe I am just too tired to worry any more.

By the time this is posted he'll have an email telling him the same things, but basically I've decided to cash in the last of my savings so that I can stay in the house for a few more months and sell it myself rather than let those crooks at Derbyshire Home Loans repossess and sell it at some ridiculously low price. I would never forgive myself, not to mention not having a roof over my head.

And the second thing, I stood across the road from the estate agents for several long agonising minutes before getting the courage to go in there and start the selling process. Well, half start it anyway. We talked about these stupid Home Information packs that UK house sellers have to have, and what the market had done since 2004 and whether the house had a chance to sell in this horribly depressed market. I wanted to do two things before I actually put the for sale sign up. Firstly to tell John, and secondly to have a chance to clean and tidy up before the agent comes round to do an appraisal.

My car is kaput at the moment, engineer coming tomorrow, so I was on 'Shanks pony' home after a nice latte and a pastry in Caffe Nero. I was exhausted when I got indoors. It's not a long walk, 20 minutes with a footbridge across the A27 thrown in, lots of steps or a long ramp, but I've got some knee damage and I'm definitely not fit.

Before all that, I had gone through a 2 hour heart wringing session with my psychiatrist Last night was a journey through the darkest suicidal feelings I have ever experienced. Before, it has always been a 'cry for help' when the thoughts about how and where have been mixed with the idea of how I might be rescued or saved at the last moment and that John would come back. This was very different. I just made up my mind that it was time, I was totally at the end of my rope and that I no longer want to be found or saved. If the car had not been broken and I couldn't drive to the beach and do what I was thinking about I might well not be here telling you about it. The strange thing was that I was also still thinking about the future and lots of 'what ifs'.

Sib took me and picked me up from Parkway. He's got a mystery shop to do on a pub with expenses for food tomorrow, and he's asked me along so I won't have to worry about cooking. I've had home-made soup for dinner and a sandwich made with the lovely French-style crusty bread I bought this afternoon.

Rachel (my doctor at Parkway) helped me to make a sort of plan for what I would do so I didn't repeat last night. We also talked about the events that led up to John leaving, and the still very sore feelings of betrayal, not just by him, but also by the person who used to be my best friend and her daughter who I believe was having an affair with John, and also by John's Mum who apparently knew what was going on, even right back to when we were on holiday in the USA 3 months before he left.

Rene never wanted us to get married in the first place. She wants grandchildren and that was more important to her than her son being able to choose who he married regardless of age and fertility. She also never understood the special friendship I have with Sib who I was married to before John, for 19 years. We will never be a couple in that sense again, but we've known each other since our teens and at school and you can't just wipe that out. I thought John understood, but maybe he never really did or perhaps I made him feel excluded somehow.

I got over to Rachel too, how much I still feel so angry that John punished me for being ill with the thyroid problem, wanting to believe I didn't love him and refusing to accept the medical evidence, but also that I was sad and guilty I couldn't support him more when he was depressed by events at work, and traumatised by the car accident he had, and needed me to understand.

So there it is. I have a little more work to do on the other blog post I started earlier about my favourite soup recipes and I have to compose the email to John. Then I can go to bed and I do believe that I will sleep.

Friday 9th

Today, being the 3-year anniversary of John leaving could have been really difficult, but the decisions I made earlier in the week have made a lot of difference. I have negotiated a deal with the mortgage lender, the repo is cancelled and I've had two good nights sleep.

Sib and I went for our pub curry last night, not the nicest JDW we've been in, and we de-camped back to Havant for another drink. Someone I know who also knows John was in the pub, she scowled at me, then got texting. Well, Mrs Nosey, if you WERE texting him, tough, because he already knew who I was going to be with last night.

Car guy was supposed to come back today and take 'Lily' away for a service and some TLC, but he didn't turn up. Don't know why. Sib gave me a lift to Chichester today to do a mystery shop and quick supermarket stop.

John is supposed to be at the sailing club tonight. I'll have to walk there, but it's only about 10 mins. I don't want a fight with him, and I don't think it will go that way. I'm doing what he wants as far as the house is concerned.

I'd better go and get something warming to eat....weather is supposed to warm up over the w/end but hasn't yet.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Resolving to be a statistic

I want to say here and now that in my entire working life, I have spent less than 6 months existing on any kind of state benefit. I don't count my student grant - not loans back in 1969/70. We are supposed to have free education in the UK, and hopefully we will again one day.

However, I am feeling very let down by the system into which I have paid my taxes and NI contributions since aged 21 and it's about time it gave me a little back. I wasn't at all in good health when my husband left, and I hadn't been for several years. He was happy to support me (so he said) for a long time, I was hoping to build a business online, and now I am beginning to get there, but have had a lot of false starts. However, it is barely feeding me, not enough to pay the mortgage or my utility bills and my savings have dwindled to below what I am told is the means-tested benefit threshold.

So, as of tomorrow, I am setting my sights on incapacity benefit, council tax relief, housing benefit, and anything else I can get my hands on to help me keep my home and pay my bills, until such time as my depression lifts enough to look for properly paid work again - if I can get a job without running up against the age discrimination I experienced the last time I was looking seriously.

I can see how and why people get into the benefits system and never escape again. As long as you don't actually have money in any kind of savings, you can get away with not working because the Job Centre system is, frankly a joke. Employers don't have to advertise every post with them, not even public bodies like local authorities. I told the Job Centre that IMO I had been discriminated against by our local council on one of the vacancies I applied for. I got no help, no advice, and they didn't call the council and investigate, even though the vacancy was one that had been on the Job Centre system.

Secondly, the training that the Job Centre can provide is very limited and if you go to them and say you want a couple of hundred pounds to buy online training that would give you a better chance of finding a job, they have no mechanism for doing this. I actually had to pull out of applying for a very good scheme that would have given me temporary employment at the end of it as well as some top class training because I found out that the Job Centre would not fund my travel. If I'd gone through with it, I would not in all probability now be a prospective drain on the state system.

They say glibly that you should be applying for 20 jobs a week - HUH? - in this economic climate ? I'm going to be 58 in a few months. In terms of the amount of administration that it is going to cost to get those benefits and do what I have to, in order to stay on benefits, the State would be better off giving me my retirement pension early and have done with it.

I hate begging, and I am going to feel a distinct sense of shame and failure about becoming part of the benefits system. However I am going to grit my teeth and say to the world, there were a lot of years that I contributed, I've never had a family to need educating and healthcare, never lived in publicly provided housing etc, but now I AM in need, I hope that I'll get some help. We don't have a 'work-fare' system in the UK as such, although there are mutterings it is on the way. If there was, I would be more than happy to do a job that was of benefit to the community in return for any hand-outs.

If you have any sympathy for me and my present predicament, I'm putting a Paypal donation button on this blog. I can promise you that it won't be puffed into the air in cig. smoke or swilled down my throat in cheap supermarket booze. I would very much rather you joined one of my online businesses (see the list of my other blogs), or even paid a paltry dollar or two to advertise your blog on mine, but will understand if you prefer to make a straight donation.

And if you want to offer me a job - I've got years of IT experience and a willingness to try any office-based admin job in my locality that anyone might suggest. If there is a way I can make my CV downloadable here, I'll do it, or you can ask for it.