Posts Tagged ‘Dark Skies’
“There is a hell, and we are in it”, grunted Albert as we battled with the elements this morning. No one disagreed. Dark skies, driving rain and gusts of up to 50mph would discourage even the most cheerful soul, and Albert does not fall into that category. Someone suggested we lock ourselves in the clubhouse and watch The Sound of Music but even the Von Trapps would probably leave us still grumpy.
What we actually did was have a warming brew and a good moan. No shortage of material for a group of codgers, many of whom spent thir working lives making things. The truck industry was but one of many industries that made Britain one of the world’s leading manufacturers. We not only assembled trucks and buses, we made the engines and bought the transmissions from UK companies. And right across the country large factories reverberated to the sound of machinery. All that began to change when successive governments came to believe that the future lay in financial services, in fact any kind of service that didn’t involve vast numbers of geezers in greasy overalls.
And now we have virtually no manufacturing, the only industries we can boast of are the ones that involve computers, paper and paper-clips. Politicians continue to pay homage to making things as if unaware that the UK shop is shut. Only this year George Osborne said in the budget that we will rebalance growth through “a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”. Can’t happen brother, they have all gone. Britain has gone steadily backwards as an industrial power.
It was noticeable that when his backbenchers demanded yesterday that he retrieve powers from Europe, or Germany as it will become, David Cameron replied that he has drawn a red line beyond which he will use any veto that remains. He has drawn his line around the City of London. Like Blair and Brown before him, he sees the Financial services industry as the only one worth protecting.
In 2007, in his last speech to the UK’s financial bigwigs, Grumpy Gordon said that we needed more of “the vigour , ingenuity and aspiration that you already demonstrate is the hallmark of your success”. Six weeks later “vigour, ingenuity and aspiration” were revealed to be stupidity, recklessness and greed and the global economy was sent plunging into recession from which the UK economy, and its already feeble maufacturing sector, have yet to recover.
There has been no march of the makers. Yesterday data showed that the output of such factories as remain was down by 0.7% in October. The government chooses to blame the Eurozone yet German manufacturing rose strongly in October and has recovered all the ground lost in the recession. In contrast we no longer have a strong manufacturing base and, despite the benefit of a 25% drop in the value of sterling, which makes exports more competitive, our progressive but unremitting decline in the art of making things continues.
The result is that the UK’s deficit in goods continues to widen, as it has since the early 1980s, but now we lack the cushioning effect of North Sea oil and gas production. Yet Cameron and Osborne continue to put all their eggs in one basket, the financial services sector. They say they want it to become relatively less important but until they focus on the need to stimulate a return to manufacture, it is the only show in town. Not reassuring, is it?
What on earth are we thinking of? Even our essential services industry is now largely in the hands of foreign companies. Far from helping recovery, privatised companies such as the German utility E.ON are making things worse. Fuel poverty is rampant as E.ON and the like continue to ratchet up the prices of gas and electricity whilst paying their senior staff salaries and bonuses similar to those of the bankers. The head of the German utility E.ON, Johannes Teyssen, had a total package last year of £3.6 million. He was far from alone. For example the head of British Gas, Phil Bentley, pocketed £4 million including share options.
If we had a dynamic opposition it would now be demanding incentives to manufacture and the taking back of essential services, rather than banks, into public ownership. But such commonsense socialism is alien to those at the top of all our political parties. Protect and cosset the banks they cry, they will save us.
There is as much chance of that as there is of Man Utd winning this year’s Champions League!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Suspicious Minds 2. I’m with Stupid 3. Karl Marx 4. An insect 5. Skull 6. Woody Guthrie 7. Winston Graham 8. A clock 9. Russia 10. Belfast
You don’t need to be a psychologist to realise that the weather affects our moods. A week of downpours, dark skies and enough mud to stage an erotic wrestling contest, have brought out the grumpiness in the allotment gang. Everything seems dismal, despair is never far away, yet a few days of warm sunshine would perk us up no end, suddenly even Nick Clegg would gain promotion from figure of hate to mere subject of humour.
It is difficult at times like this, when the weather coincides with cuts and decidedly dodgy national leadership, to accept that in fact things have much improved in so many respects. I was reminded of this by the furore that surrounded the remark by John Cleese that, upon returning to it after many years of absence, he hardly recognises the country of his birth. Inevitably the ghastly politically-correct brigade immediately described the remarks as racist which is exactly the daft reaction one would expect from a truly daft lot. I suspect that, in fact, he was describing an experience of which we tend to remain unaware.
We need distance to appreciate change. As with the ageing of those around you, you don’t notice things that have changed when you see them all the time. Gradualism eliminates awareness of change, particularly the kind that doesn’t annoy. The result is that we fogies tend to bang on about how much better things once were. Not in every respect by any means!
As a boy I was dragged to the chapel three times per Sunday and I must hold some sort of record for attending sermons. I say attending since I can only remember having listened to one. It was given by someone called the Reverend Hamblin Parsons. Since he would by now be 140 years old, it is inevitable that he has long since joined the Parsons in the sky, but I am sure he would be pleased that his talk on ‘Living Above the Existence Line’ still resonates in one heart.
His point was that, in a society such as ours, we constantly redefine the line above which we live rather than manage to exist. Fast forward to today and the list of things we now regard as essential, things without which we merely exist, includes many features that simply didn’t exist in those so-called golden days.
This afternoon, weather permitting, I shall sit in my armchair to watch live cricket. I shall glance at my Sky Plus box and its ‘Live Pause’, ‘series link’ and ‘Anytime’ and wonder how I ever managed without it. She-who-must-be-obeyed will be talking by visual link to her sister in Africa, the boys will be keying messages and pictures to their pals. The washing machine will be humming a gentle reminder of the days when washing-day was one of hard toil and mangling. The car will be standing outside with its SatNav ready to guide us rather easier that did the maps of a thousand folds. And if we fancy a meal out the array of eating places is, compared with yesteryear, extremely comprehensive.
The fact that we are here at all is perhaps the greatest change. When my Gran died at the age of 70 everyone remarked that she had had a “good innings”. We are a long way past that milestone and still chase hens around. The advances in medical treatment and understanding have been astounding.
Of course there are also many negative aspects to the new age but I suspect that they are outweighed by the good. There are many people in the world for whom the existence line has barely changed in all those years but, despite all our woes, we are not amongst them. Advances in technology have led the way in raising the bar of our existence line. For all but the rich, things are slipping now but even when the recession finally grinds to a halt we will still be light years on from where we were in so many respects.
It has become the fashion in Twenty20 cricket to play ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ when a batsman trudges back to the pavilion. Perhaps we old codgers should try singing it more often!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR A VERY SPECIAL WEEKEND QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It would be nice to be one of those people whose disposition never changes. But I have to confess that the moods on the allotments fluctuate in line with the weather. Yesterday felt positively Spring like and the hens were treated to being carried about and given a large area on which to roam. This morning it was tipping it down from dark skies and our feathered friends were catered for but ignored as we achieved clean-out times that would have inpressed a Time and Motion expert. We were back in the warmth of the shed before anyone could shout Leyton Orient.
It is on days like this that one notices the difference between those who have sufficient cash to equip themselves in all-weather kit and those, like Albert and yours truly, who resemble tramps on a losing streak. Even here the oft repeated claim by our less than esteemed national leaders that we are equal and all in it together don’t ring true. Of course it doesn’t matter here but the growing evidence that across the nation the gap between those who have and those who haven’t is widening rapidly is rather more serious.
Only this morning I read of David Cameron’s umpteenth exhortation to volunteer to take over everything from brain surgery to road sweeping. We need a Dunkirk spirit, he cries. It is at best an irritating analogy for whilst the vast army trapped on those long-remembered beaches truly were all in the same predicament, the population of today is in a very different situation. We all know of the Banks with their thousands of millionaires and the cabinet with its host of the even richer, but to an extent they have little effect on the general morale. In fact they provide a useful outlet for our pent up rage!
It is the enormous gap opening up in communities everywhere that is fuelling resentment at policies that hit hardest those least able to cope. And anyone not entirely aware of the trend – a visitor from Mars perhaps – will now be able to learn from the report by the Institute of Public Policy Research the fact that in London, for example, the richest fifth of people earn an average of £686 per week more than those on the bottom fifth of earnings. In the South East the gap is £508 and in the North the gap is rapidly reaching the same astronomic levels.
The report goes on to stress that the places where workers are most unequal appear to have less social cohesion. There have always been ‘posher areas’ in every community but now it is more pronounced than ever before. The old joke about the man who became a Foreman and invited the working class to kiss his a…e no longer rings true for the residential areas of the better-off are still way out of reach of his pay packet.
The statistics reinforce the case of the critics of the all-in-it-together brigade. It is hard to imagine how such a belief will ever become reality for, as the cuts bite ever harder, the victims will not have far to look to spot people for whom they represent mere inconvenience rather than true hardship. All the ingredients for public unrest rather than shared sacrifices are in the air.
No one can reasonably place the blame for the astronomic gap on the coalition. It is the product of a decade in which every tin-pot council decided to pay mega-bucks to its leading lights, an act which inevitably dragged up those next in line. Every Primary Care Trust followed suit and many larger companies, having decided to pay its leaders in millions, felt obliged to pay more to its senior people to provide a cloak of respectability. And over the whole scene, bankers and footballers stoked the fires of expectations by regarding one million as a starting point for negotiations. In my day, as head of a large concern, the unwritten rule was that the person at the top should not be seen to earn more that four times that of the shop-floor worker. Now the ratio is in the hundreds.
There is no short term solution to the outcome of so much greed and reckless extravagence. But it really is ridiculous for ministers to bang on about sharing the pain until they can at least trigger a reduction in the gap between those who scarcely blink at the current massive hike in power bills and those for whom turning the fire off is the only option.
Maybe they could encourage a start by local authorities. Before any reduction in people employed is sanctioned the pay of senior executives could be pinned back to a maximum of, say £80,000. The very act of doing that would trigger a reaction down the line.
And pigs might fly for the culture of me first has been allowed to grow deep roots during a decade that has taken our society to the edge of a very nasty precipice!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ” I don’t know what all this fuss about losing weight is. My wife lost two stones swimming. I don’t know how. I tied them round her neck tight enough”…Les Dawson ” Liquid diets; the powder is mixed with water and tastes exactly like powder mixed with water”….Art Buchwald ” You know why fish are so thin? They eat fish”….Jerry Seinfeld “My only regret in life is that I am not someone else”….Woody Allen “I hope life isn’t a big joke, because I don’t get it”….Jack Handley “If you look like your passport photo you are too ill to travel”…..Will Kommen “When you give a child a hammer everything becomes a nail”……Leo Kaplan “Once you start buying first-aid kits you start having accidents”…..George Mikes “Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children. Life is the other way round”….David Lodge
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Petrol coupons 2. May Day
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which sport is associated with The Crucible? 2 Which tennis star became known as ‘Superbrat’?
Dark skies and constant rain are not the perfect ingredients for a happy day but I still expected to find my pals in good humour as they sloshed up the allotment path. Every one of us is of pensionable age and ministers have just announced generous reforms to the state pension, the retention of our winter fuel payments and bus passes not to mention free TV licences. But it seems that we old ‘uns are a cynical lot for the consensus seemed to be that the politicians have grasped the fact that older people vote and younger ones often forget or don’t bother.
I confess that there is mathematical sense in that. ‘Grey Power’ is surging and the bulk of Conservative votes come from that quarter. That is a statistical fact although I can never work out whether that is because we become more conservative as we age or because Conservatism is dying out. Either way my pals regard with suspicion the largessse suddenly being heaped upon their creaking frames. Of course it has to be said that the level of trust in politicians of any colour now lies lower that a snakes belly, but surely the pension reform is to be welcomed.
Even allowing for grouchiness born of pouring rain and crochetty animals paddling in mud the reaction surprised me. The first point against was that it is not planned for introduction until after the next election which makes its announcement appear somewhat opportunistic. Secondly its funding is said by leading economist to necessitate the raising of the retirement age to 68, and thirdly it appears to be another ‘back of a fag packet’ plan along the lines of Lansley’s NHS reforms now being kicked into touch by about 80 per cent of the medical profession.
The onslaught of my pals weakened my first reaction that at last a government is moving toward the Chinese principle of revering the elderly, a hope reinforced by today’s announcemnt of a concerted effort to tackle the appalling lack of care and adequate treatment of people suffering from Alzheimers Disease. In that case the lack of funding and decimation of social workers had already watered down my euphoria.
At the heart of the growing cynicism about any so-called progessive reform lies the growing cynicism about those who purport to be pursuing it. Yesterday Vince Cable did his best to stoke that particular fire. Commenting on the repetition of the fatuous claim that the previous government was solely to blame for our deficit he pointed out that up until the election only he warned of the dangers of the reckless lending practices of the Banks, his reward was to be labelled an “eccentric” and ” party pooper”. He went on to remind us that before the election his new Conservative colleagues were supporting the very economic assumptions and actions that they now ascribe to Grumpy Gordon. Cameron et al were, Uncle Vince claimed, assuming that strong growth was assured for which they were planning new policies for sharing out the spoils. The punchline came when he reminded everyone that “the Conservatives supported the Labour government’s spending plans”.
Perhaps Mr Cable has seen the latest polls showing the impending death of the Lib Dems or perhaps he is staking a claim for the leadership. In fairness he may just be telling the truth but sadly our cynicism has reached the point of ruling such a praiseworthy act as impossible.
Whatever his motive The Business Secretary’s interjection did nothing to restore our belief in fairness or of all being togther in the same boat. Which is a pity since I for one would like to believe in the sudden conversion to the cause of those heading into old age. Shakespeare in 1599 spoke of “Age I do abhor thee, youth I do adore thee” and rather more recently, and less prosaically, Micheal Foot said that “Old age is not all it’s made up to be”. No doubt a vast number of others who, being both poor and old, are struggling to survive, echo those sentiments every day.
So I insist in believing that awareness of the nightmare of being old, vulnerable and uncared for is growing in high places. Having said that, what passes for my self understanding says that it should not rank higher than the needs of younger people, who seem to be the real victims of the cuts.
So mixed are my feelings on the response to the growing percentage of old’uns that I would make a hopeless Chancellor. Then again the present incumbant doesn’t seem too sure of himself either for the light he sees in the tunnel begins to appear ominously as another crash travelling at speed toward us.
ARMY INTERROGATION METHODS UNDER QUESTION!
There seem to be more leaks in the military arena than are to be found in an old bucket. Today The Guardian has laid hands on documents that deal with the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan that leave a very nasty taste in the mouth.
Training aids and documents tell trainee military interrogators that prisoners should be stripped before they are questionned and subsequently blindfolded to increase the sense of pressure. Also recommended are broken sleeping patterns, ear muffs and plastic handcuffs. One shudders to think what is recommended in documents yet to be leaked!
All of these practices are in breach of the Geneva Convention but, even more importantly, are surely likely to increase hostility to our troops on the ground. And the fact that the mad people on the other side are equally inhumane is beside the point. If we have nothing left to teach them about civilised behaviour we should get out now!
LIES AND YET MORE LIES!
On last Thursday ‘Question Time’ we had yet another loopy minister repeating the old lie about our paying millions of pounds in interest to foreign governments which then go on to build schools and hospitals with our cash. Do they really believe this tripe or are they simply lying? Either way it does nothing to increase confidence.
The truth is that 70 per cent of our debt is owed to British Insurance companies and pension funds, the Bank of England, and British building societies. Of the 30 per cent of gilts in issue held overseas there are no involvements directly with foreign governments.
How many more goons are going to trot out the well worn guff about funding overseas hospitals etc? For that matter how many more will claim that the recession was caused by the last government. That being so why are they rioting in France, Spain and the rest?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Thornton Wilder 2. Paul Revere
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which sport did the Chiefs beat the Vikings in 1970? 2. In which event did Ron Hill win European gold in 1970?