Archive for January, 2011
No frost this morning which meant that we were able to turn some soil over. It is good to realise that in just a few weeks time we shall be kicking off our veggie growing season. Hopefully we will enjoy more sunshine than was the case last year for there is nothing better that sitting outside the shed watching the beans grow, at least they appear to be growing after a few glasses of Tom’s home-made wine. The truth is that the allotment is hard work for us chicken men during the winter but, to us at least, a real heaven once the days expand and the temperatures improve. Some things are precious and cannot be measured in money.
Sadly our society is becoming besotted by the religion of the market. If allowed to do so, the marketeers will kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. Maybe old Karl Marx wasn’t so far out when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we thought was safe and solid. “Eevrything solid melts into air”, he said. “All that is holy is profaned”. Of course socialism is long since dead but his words ring true today as the NHS is dismantled and even our forests are to be sold off. They are inevitable victims of a greedy ghost that haunts the boardrooms, council chambers and committee rooms from which we are ruled these days. Everything has a market value, nothing is sacrosanct they cry. Certainly not human life or peace of mind if the NHS and forests are any indication!
But it is the intended elimination of our libraries ( which gets the fewest headlines) that troubles me above all others. Faced with the need to meet huge budget cuts every council in the land seems happy to close them down. They are not profitable, cry the marketeers. Their value cannot be measured in terms of cash, say I.
I still remember the first library ticket my Mum obtained for me. I stood entranced before a zillion books and agog at the realisation that I could borrow any of them. I quickly developed a love of books that was to last a lifetime. The love of a book is like no other, you can get to know the characters and share their adventures and lives in your imagination. They can help you escape into a unique world, one that only you inhabit. A wonderful space opens up between reader and book. It is a space that opens up each time you pick up the volume, one of fear, excitement, and astonishment. Your own emotions are given back to you clarified, purified and valued. And libraries provide the key to that magical world that never rejects you, always fascinates you.
Of course libraries of today are much more than a repository for books. They provide expert advice on every subject known to man and then some. They provide internet services. Our local library regularly arranges lectures on local history and regular exhibitions covering art, hobbies and basic learning. The librarians are highly qualified and are happy to share their love of reading and learning with anyone who hesitates to develop their own self understanding to the extent of finding their pathway into the written word.
But this government is likely to prove infinitely more dangerous than the last to anything that appears to offer no profit to slake its thirst for enterprise. In its attempt to fob off those who protest at the loss of such things as forests and libraries, it offers a solution. Let charities and volunteers take them over they cry. How in heavens name could that possibly work?.
Is the role of a librarian so empty that anyone can step up and run it in exchange for a thank you and a cup of tea? And are there volunteers who are extremely literate yet whose lives are so empty, have no families to look after, no jobs, no responsibilities, and are so wealthy that they can commit hours of every day to working for nothing? Assuming such people exist they can, the marketeers tell us, bid for money from a central pot. In other words there will be a ‘bidding culture’ which will set one comminity against another. It will be a further step along the road to infecting every aspect of our lives with commercial pressure. Survive or die and if you survive that very act will kill another.
Perhaps none of this is too surprising given that the country is ruled by multi-millionaires whose sole motivation in life is to make even more. It may well be that the likes of Osborne and Cameron mean well but they simply cannot understand anyone who values anything that has no clear bottom line.
The renowned author Philip Pullman said recently that they should leave libraries alone for “they don’t know the value of what they wish to destroy”. Libraries, he insisted, are “too precious to destroy”.
The only hope is that more people value forests, libraries and culture than the marketeers imagine. Should that prove to be the case they might listen, for there is one thing they value as much as money. That cross on voting slips!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand”…Charles M Schulz. “I think I’m a pretty good judge of people, which is why I hate most of them”…Roseanne. ” There are three kinds of people, those who can count and those who cannot”….”George Carlin. “There are two types of people in the world….good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours more”….Woody Allen. “People shouldn’t be treated like objects. They’re not that valuable”….P J O’Rourke. “The average person thinks he isn’t”…..Larry Lorenzoni “The useless piece of flesh at the end of a penis is called a man”…Jo Brand “They act like God Almighty because they’ve got a willy and can mend a fuse”…..Victoria Wood. “How do I know so much about men? Baby, I went to night school”….Mae West “You can tell a lot about a man y the way he handles lost lugagge nd tangled Christmas tree lights”…..Rick Makin. “My ancestors wandered lost in the wilderness for 40 years because even in biblical times, men would not stop to ask for directions”…..Elayne Boosler. “I never panic when I get lost. I just change where it is I want to go”….Rita Rudner. “God created women because sheep can’t type”…..Kenneth Armbrister”I’d rather be a woman than a man. women can cry, wear cute clothes, and be first to be rescued off sinking ships”……Gilda Radner “The reason men say women and children firstis to test the strength of the lifeboats”…..Jean Kerr
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Enterprise 2. Brittany, France
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who played Frank Spencer in a TV hit? 2. In which TV show did Compo feature?
We have noticed a distinct softening in attitudes to villains over the past few years. Not amongst us, mind you, for we constantly have cause to demand retribution as one lout after another decides that it would be fun to climb over the allotment gate and to smash up anything in sight, including the greenhouses. A few weeks ago Tom fixed a cross piece over the gate and included several upturned nails. It wasn’t long before we were advised to take the primitive defence down since should anyone climbing the gate cut themselves they would be able to sue us for injuries incurred! We have since learned that the local church has had to post warning notices about the non-dry paint it uses on its drainpipes to deter those stealing lead from the roof.
It seems to us that the whole justice system has been amended in favour of the criminal. And we are not alone in thinking thus. Last week saw an outburst from a prominent judge. Judge Julian Lambert won quite a few fans here by saying that “we live in soft times now”. He was furious at having to pass nothing more severe that a community service order on a man who terrified home owner Ross Campbell who heard noises in the night and, on coming downstairs, was confronted by a hooded man in his living room who was piling up computer gear, a wallet and DVDs. Can you imagine how you would feel, but heaven help you if you were young and strong enough to give the burglar a hiding! Do that and you would receive more than community service.
The judge was restricted by a probation report that suggested that the intruder should be spared prison. Had the judge taken that course an appeal would have led to the sentence being overturned. Tory MP Philip Hollobone spoke for many when he said that people shoiuld be brought to account for the ridiculous advice on prison sentences. He added that “the message that soft sentencing sends out is that somebody who breaks into someone’s home will only get community service and that’s not a deterrent. More judges should be speaking out about this”.
Victim Support agreed. A spokesman said that many victims feel let down by the criminal justice system and the complexity of sentencing decisions. Burglary can have a very serious impact upon peoples lives”. They are right on all counts. I know an elderly couple whose peace of mind has been shattered whilst their burglar was given a soft community task and has since burgled again. The complexity issue too is real one, it subsequently emerged that another factor determining Judge Lambert’s decision was the fact that the burglar pleaded guilty. So that’s all right then, commit any crime you like and plead guilty. All is then forgiven.
My self understanding reassures me that I am not a ‘flogger and hanger’ but I genuinely believe that the pendulum has swung too far. I hate to be a prophet of doom but the situation is likely to get much worse. Kenneth Clarke is the softest Justice Minister of all time. Incredibly he seems to believe that no one should go to prison because it doesn’t reform. It probably doesn’t, but it makes society a good deal safer and is a deterrent which fooling around in unsupervised community work-groups most certainly isn’t. Please don’t bother telling me that I’m wrong – I’ve worked as a volunteer alongside a group and can honestly say that the only work done was that of the volunteers.
I imagine that this whole drive toward extreme leniency is heavily influenced by the government’s desire to close prisons and thus to save costs. But what price does one put on peace of mind? We now face a situation where the criminals and bullies walk from magistrate’s courts laughing anf feeling quite relaxed about reoffending, sometimes that very day.
Yesterday a local councillor wrote to me seeking support for opposition to local plans to slash police numbers and dispose altogether of their support community officers. I shall sign the petition without any hope of a u-turn by millionnaires with electronic gates and private security cover. And for good measure practice tax avoidance the outcome of which far exceeds the cost of a hundred prisons.
All that I can really do is leave my front door open. It may well be an offence in Clarke’s new world not to leave a snack for the burglar but I draw the line at this even if I am infringing the criminal’s human rights!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “When I date a guy, I think, is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with”….Rita Rudner ” I’ve been chased by women before but never when I was awake”….Bob Hope. “I like only two types of men – domestic and foreign”….Mae West. ” When I finally met Mr Right, I had no idea his first name was Always”……Rita Rudner “I’ve been on so many blind dates, I should get a free dog” ….Wendy Liebman. “Two out of five Irish women prefer alcohol to sex and its just my luck to have gone out with both of them”…Joseph O’Connor “The only place men want women to have depth is in their decolletage”…Zsa Zsa Gabor “I was dating this girl for two years, and then the nagging starts, ‘I wanna know your name’…..Mike Binder. “I’m single by choice. Not my choice”…..Orny Adams “There are ways out of everything, apart from Birmingham’s one-way system”….Jasper Carrott. “Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out of it alive”…..Elbert Hubbard “If you want people to think you’re wise, just agree with them”….Leo Rosten “At the unemployment exchange my dad gave his occupation as an astronaut but not prepared to travel”….Roy Chubby Brown.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. John Walker (New Zealand) 2. George Davis
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What was the name of the first US space shuttle? 2. The sinking of the ‘Amoco Cadiz’ caused an oil pollution disaster on which coast?
We had a sharp reminder this morning that winter isn’t over yet. Everything was frozen solid and the long-discarded blow-torch was back in action. There are several supporters for the save the world from climate change lobby but Albert is not one of them. On mornings such as this he delights in reminding us of the predictions that Blackpool beach will become too hot to venture on. I have to admit that it is sometimes easier to believe in global cooling! Of course none of us was sufficiently savvy to climb aboard the biggest racket this country has ever known – and that’s saying something- which is Private Finance Initiatives (PFI). Had we done so, we would be lounging on some distant beach, and I don’t mean Blackpool.
One plus point for the coalition is that it has quickly identified the biggest waste of public money this country has ever known. PFIs were introduced by the last Conservative government and were used throughout the whole of the Blair and Brown years. With the honourable exception of Private Eye they received little publicity and were clearly seen by both Tory and Labour ministers as an easy way to build hospitals and schools without incurring a debit on the national balance sheet.
And private companies have made billions of pounds at the taxpayer’s expense. Under the schemes private enterprises meet the upfront costs of building and then operate them, recouping the money from the taxpayer over many years. Sounds good in theory but the implementation was scandalous. For example, Treasury figures show that taxpayers will spend £229 billion on projects that cost the contractor only £56 billion. The biggest single PFI contractor was ‘Innisfree’, which employs just 14 people but now owns, or co-owns, 28 NHS hospitals and 269 schools.
Its chief executive has built a personal fortune of more than £50 million since founding the company in 1995. Yesterday Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, said that many of the deals done were “ghastly”. He added that “many of the contracts we have discovered were unacceptable and the people on the other side must have been laughing all the way to the bank”.
Many hospitals and schools now have a millstone around their necks. In some cases the buildings will be obsolete long before the debt has been paid off. And to make things even worse the contractors control all maintenance and charge astronomic fees for rectifying even the smallest fault. Many of the original contracts have been sub-contracted and it is now extremely difficult to identify the many snouts gathered around the publicly funded trough.
A campaign being led by Jesse Norman, a Tory bankbencher, is calling for PFI firms to pay a £500 million rebate to the exchequer. He is entirely justified but the chances of it happening are remote. The tuck shop has been closed and the profiteers are heading for sunlit tax havens.
There is probably reason to suspect that even the process of awarding such enormously generous deals was itself corrupt. Either way, successive governments literally gave away more billions than the current national deficit. And yet no one complained, no one questionned what was going on, except for Ian Hislop’s magazine which constantly attempted to blow the whistle on the scandal of our age.
Suddenly everyone can read of a massive contribution to the financial mess that now engulfs us. Suddenly we realise, if we didn’t already know, that politicians of all parties are not to be trusted. Yes the Banks were the prime contributors to our fate but the successive chancellors who went along with this massive racket also played a major part!
So if you are redundant, or in any way a victim of the Osborne cuts, you may be forgiven for thinking that the very people who now assure you that we are all in this together were part of the structure that allowed this daylight robbery to occur!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “Women might start a rumour, but not a war”….Marga Gomez “Smart girls know how to play tennis, piano and dumb”….Lynn Redgrave “Wild horses wouldn’t drag a secret out of most women; however, women seldom have lunch with wild horses”….Ivern Boyett “No woman ever shot her husband while he was doing the dishes”……George Coote “I am all for women’s rights – and for their lefts too”….Groucho Marx “It is noticeable that in all the discussion about the femininity of God, the masculainity of the Devil goes unchallenged”….Christopher Russell “If you think women are the weaker sex just try pulling the blankets over to your side”……Stuart Turner “When they told me that in 2100 women will rule the world my reply was ‘Still?’….Winston Churchill “I look like the girl next door, if you happen to live next to an amusement park”…..Dolly Parton “To attract men I use a perfume called ‘New Car Interior’ “…..Rita Rudner “Men aren’t attracted to me by my mind. They’re attracted by what I don’t mind”…..Gypsy Rose Lee “My wife and I have Olympic sex. Once every four years!”…..Rodney Dangerfield
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Maurice Chevalier 2. Chess
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who was the first to run a mile in under 3min 50sec? 2 In whose name was a cricket pitch dug up and daubed with graffiti?
We saw the sun this morning if only for a moment, not enough to bring to mind images of Blackpool sands bathed in the stuff. But it did tend to remind us that we spend a great deal of our lives under clouds, not a cheering thought given that experts yesterday warned us that the effect of global warming will be for more cloud than we have ever experienced. Now that’s something to look forward to remarked Bill as he collected the eggs. Bill has undertaken this role, my pals having agreed to a little delegation. Mind you it won’t be many days before they begin to interfere in regard to washing, marking or boxing. In truth we are not as good at delegating as we like to imagine.
Neither it seems is big Eric Pickles, the communities secretary. A few months ago he won the approval of this site when he said that central government was going to “get out of the hair of local government and let councils take their own decisions”. It sounded a great idea although the more cynical amongst us suspected that it was a very handy way of handing down the blame when the cuts bite.
But already the new won freedom has been somewhat eroded. Yesterday Mr Pickles told local authorities that they must protect bin services for fear of “an army of angry middle England”. He told the New Local Govrnment Network conference that “we need to remember that rubbish is the most visible and most frontline service of all in return for what they pay in council tax”. No ifs, no buts, no passing reference to carer services, children’s services or even libraries. Most of those, the big man assumes, are used by the working classes whose vote has been lost anyway.
So despite all the promises to delegate decisions to local Trumpton Towers, big Eric is going to call the shots when political expediency demands it. The new localism appears to have had as short a life as a mosquito. And it also tells us something about the extent to which Westminster is out of touch with real life. Where we live the bin collection for domestic waste is fortnightly and seems to work well with recycling material collected alternately. It is certainly not the service that makes people angry.
Folk in these parts are far more concerned with plans to close down libraries, discontinue home care for the elderly sick and services for vulnerable children. Even meals-on-wheels has been chopped and we are told that there is much more bad news to come as a result of the massive reductions in government funding.
We may not be middle England as Mr Pickles defines it. We do not have long drives leading to posh houses or three BMWs per family. But we do have enough nous to work out just what the real priorities are. And if we have to choose between care visitors for dementia sufferers and having our wheelie bins weighing the equivalent of five elephants we will risk the hernia.
So come on big fellow. We have been numbered amongst your fans so far but suddenly we wonder if you may be as daft as the rest of the coalition folk who come from planet Zog. Either leave the councils to run their shows (and answer to the moans) or take back the control that you so recently surrendered to a smattering of applause. You can’t have it both ways!
SAVE FORESTS CAMPAIGN GATHERS MOMENTUM!
The coalition’s plan to sell off the forests presently controlled by the Forestry Commission has caused public outrage and the campaign being conducted by ’38 Degrees’ has already attracted 250,000 objectors to their on-line petition. If you go on to the website you will also notice that we are urged to approach our MPs. I did just that.
I had an immediate reply from Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. He is “deeply concerned by the plan”. Lindsay makes the point that if passed, the Bill could result in restricted access to our forests at a time when people are becoming more urbanised and rely on access to our open spaces. As a result the Deputy Speaker does not believe that woodlands should be privatised. As Deputy Speaker Lindsay will not be voting but he will be chairing the debates and will ensure that the government is held to account. He has already written to Secretary of State Caroline Spellman.
This lunacy will at best save £15m. We are not even selling the family silver, we are giving it away!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “It’s a pity more men are not bastards by birth instead of vocation”….Katherine Whitehorn “Men are those creatures with two legs and eight hands”….Jayne Mansfield ”Men hate to lose. I once beat my husband at tennis. I asked him if we were ever going to have sex again. He replied yes but not with each other!”….Rita Rudner “If they ever invent a vibrator that can open pickle jars, men have had it”….Jeff Green “Men do cry but only when assembling furniture”….Rita Rudner “Men are like car alarms – they both make a lot of noise no one listens to”…..Diane Jordon “It’s not the men in your life that counts – it’s the life in your men!”….Mae West “Where would men be today if it weren’t for women? In the Garden of Eden eating watermelon and taking it easy”….C Kennedy “He may have hair on his chest but sister so did Lassie”….Cole Porter
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. The Irish Republic 2, Uri Geller
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. A French actor, known for his suave style and tilted straw hats , died in 1974. Name? 2. In 1971 Fischer beat Petrosian – playing what?
The suggestion of frost hung in the air this morning and we retired to the shed as quickly as possible. We had company because a robin has taken up residence. Robins have a touch of the Andy Gray about them and are certainly not the friendly creatures depicted on a zillion cards. This one, having decided that a heated room complete with sacks of corn represents good digs, regularly attempts to drive us out and is not averse to a flying attack. But today we were too preoccupied with Tom’s story to pay too much notice. He was on the warpath for a local garage which, he claims, failed to tighten his wheelnuts on service. The result was that one of them overtook him as he drove down Headley Way. We did make the point that it is always prudent to check such things personally lest some apprentice was hungover.
It prompted me to wonder if the coalition is aware of the dangers of wheels coming off. I am no economist but it is hard to escape the worry that the economy is heading that way. A lot of finance wizards are set against the idea of cutting at the speed of light whilst trying to create growth. Yesterday we learned that the UK growth has ground to a halt and George Osborne’s explanation of too much snow sounded suspiciously like straw-clutching.
Indeed there were various other statistics guaranteed to have us reaching for the worry beads. Inflation is up to 5 per cent and climbing, as is unemployment. Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, issued a warning that wages will continue to fall sharply in real terms, and every day brings fresh politically damaging stories of people who are falling into the poverty trap and beyond. Right now even the rosiest spectacles show only dark clouds.
Perhaps most worrying of all is the fact that the worst in curbing spending, such as the hike in VAT has yet to have its impact, and many within the coalition’s MPs are now calling for a coherent review with a view to examining the speed of the deficit-reduction plans set out back in June. But Osborne, backed by Cameron, is not for turning and is prepared to stake the future of the government on his high speed programme. The wheels are wobbling but he is driving on.
The nightmare for the rest of us is that by the time it becomes apparent that a double-dip recession is on the cards, it will be too late for anyone to do anything except rebel against the government, And there are already worrying signs that we heading for a summer of discontent. Such police as are spared the axe would be well advised to swat up on ‘kettling’ techniques!
Given his apparent indifference to the Channel Four cliams that he is avoiding personal tax to the extent of over a million pounds one can only assume that Osborne is either crass or arrogant. Then again I guess that if I was a multi-millionnaire I too might be slightly disinclined to worry about the rising cost of tinned beans.
To be fair we may find by the autumn that the worries of various experts including Ed Balls and Vince Cable were groundless. But the wheels are definitely wobbling and a pause to check the nuts might be wise!
WISHING OUR LIVES AWAY!
I stood in a queue yesterday and began to wonder if I would be there for life. When I eventually reached the counter I realised that people had been choosing Christmas cards. They were reduced in price but discussions about Aunty Ethel liking snow scenes took time. Are they all mad?
From there I went to a supermarket where I found a shelf laden with Easter Eggs. These were not reduced in price but there were people discussing their respective merits before wheeling their trolleys to the cashout. Are they all mad too?
Perhaps it is just me being a grump but I can’t help wondering if we are wishing our lives away. Or if these folk can find nothing better to do. After all there are vast numbers of voluntary groups crying out for help.
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ” I still miss me ex, but my aim is improving”….Woody Woodbury. ” I never even approved of divorce until I got married”….Diane Ford “I’m not upset about my divorce. I’m only uposet I’m not a widow”….Roseanne. “My husband and I divorced over religious reasons. He thought he was God, and I didn’t”…..Vera Foster. “I come from a wealthy divorced family. My Mums wealthy, my Dad’s divorced”…..Pauley Shore ” I never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back”….Zsa Zsa Gabor. “I was so horrified when I read about the harmful effects of smoking that I gave up reading”….Henny Youngman. “If smoking is not permitted in heaven I won’t go”…Mark Twain.
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. John Ford 2. The cello.TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Of which country was Sean Lemass (died 1971) a former leader? 2. Who became famous for mysteriously bending spoons? ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????