Posts Tagged ‘Neighbours’
We awoke to blue skies this morning and when I reached the allotment shed the whole place was aglow with an all-is-well-with-the-world ambience. So powerful was the sun that its rays penetrated the shed windows, long a stranger to Windolene. In the corner Eric was already chiselling away at his latest creation. An accountant for all his working life, Eric is now a self-taught joiner of no mean ability and loves to tell all who will listen that he derives more pleasure from a completed chair than he gained from a hundred completed audits.
Our time on the allotment is spent on important work or, if you prefer the verdict of she-who-must-be-obeyed, messing about. Either way it has had a remarkable effect of considerable impact on a bunch of men most of whom spent their earning-days sitting behind a desk. Speaking for myself, I cannot claim to have discoverd skills to match those of Eric, but I remember vividly the first attempt I made to construct a gate for the chicken run. I visited B & Q, borrowed some tools and proceeded to make something that fitted and opened to the touch. I was amazed. Right up to that day such a task would have meant reaching for the yellow pages. Suddenly I felt fulfilled. Suddenly, at the age when I should be sitting on a banch watching equally ancient codgers playing bowls, I was embarking on a new life. It has proved to be one in which neighbours with a DIY probelm send for me. The effect on my self-esteem has been uplifting. Now I won’t die, just wear out amongst fellow craftsmen!
It was that eureka moment that had me looking for books on the subject of manual versus brain work. An early read was ‘The Case for Working with Your Hands’ by Matthew Crawford. ‘Real men’, he wrote, should stop being slaves to their screens and Wi-Fis. They should drive nails into planks and wield spades. Crawford had noticed that graduate entry into professions like his was plummeting, with those supposedly educated for them drifting into listless semi-employment, ” a state of uncommitted future potential”. But he also noticed something aboiut himself. He worked as an academic but worked on motor-bike restoration in his spare time. He noticed that he was always exhausted after a day at the former yet felt strangely exhilerated by the manual labour on the bike.
In his book ‘Craftsmanship’ sociologist Richard Sennett describes a similar reaction. He concludes that the handling of tools is far more than just a passing phase in human evolution. There are “skills in manual labour that link hand and brain and which are still not recognised” he argues. To Sennett it is downright cruel to “assume downward mobility in those who love working with their hands”. It is a natural human activity. Sennett even cites the satisfaction a parent gains from caring for a child. Childcare, he points out, is skilled manual labour that delivers more than just family bonding.
In a way the case for manual labour relates to what is happening to the economy. Ever since tha Thatcher era when technical colleges were replaced by academia there has been an increasing shortage in specialist skills such as plumbing. Apprenticeships have almost vanished except for those in Sugarland. And now graduates are pouring off the academic production lines with skills unsuited to the vacancies of tomorrow. We face a permanent reduction in professional, managerial and financial areas. Consumer spending will shift towards leisure, towards live activity. This covers ranges from hobbies, exploring, riding, festuvals, concerts, restaurants and tourism. Yes they will demand skills such as salesmanship, but most will provide jobs that are literally hands-on as in building, equipment maintenance, cooking etc.
In other words the jobs market of tomorrow will require craftsmanship that we as a society have almost lost. We will not be able to outsouce the mending of a broken pipe to India. If we cannot adjust back to the days when working meant using ones hands we will need to rely on migrants from places such as Germany and East Europe where the tradition of high-status technical education and apprenticeship has not been eroded by the ‘humanities’.
So, like it or not, the majority of careers of tomorrow will require the very manual skills which for generations we have downgraded. But if the experience of we old yet born-again allotment men means anything it is that therein lies self-esteem and job satisfaction long lost in our society. And the powerful message from people such as Crawford and Sennett is that the carpenter, engineer, plumber, needleworker or any other craftsman or woman is pursuing a route back to the inner self that may indeed be more direct than working solely with the head – or the screen.
As we young-old man of the allotment like to cry come back Bob the Builder, all is forgiven!
ANY QUESTIONS CAN BE A TURN-OFF!
Did you watch last night’s ‘Any Questions?’ on the Beeb? I did for a while before turning it off in sheer exasperation.
The first question concerned the proposed changes to child benefits and the audience was largely hostile. Each of the non-politicians gave an honest and sensible answer which is that, whatever ones beliefs on the welfare state, the mathematics used whereby one household will lose benefits whilst another, with no one higher taxpayer but a higher total income, will retain it is nonsense.
But the politicians waffled about the mess left by Labour, the dire straits of the country and anything else that came into their heads rather than contemplate that an error had been made. One of them was called, I think, Lady Warsi. She simply refused to stop babbling on and even David Dimbleby was hard put to get a word in edgeways. At one point when for the umpteenth time she said that the coalition had not realised that the country was in a mess, hence their not including benefits in the manifesto, Dimbleby exclaimed that the Conservatives had fought the election on the basis that it was in a mess. She babbled on.
The concept of the Thursday night show is good but it would be even better if the Beeb excluded political parrots whose self understanding is lower that that of my hens!
STRANGE DECISION BY ED MILIBAND!
I have just heard an unofficial story that Alan Johnson has been appointed Shadow Chancellor. If correct this is surely an odd decision by the new Labour leader.
Former postman Alan has distinguished himself in various offices and was an excellent Health Secretary. But is he a qualified accountant and has he the relevant experience at a time when finance looms large?
In terms of relevant ability we already have a poor Chancellor, having an equally inadequate shadow does not sound reassuring!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. U Thant 2. Manchester United
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which newspaper stopped its Saturday edition in 1974? 2. Which group sang ‘Seas of Rhye’?
One of the joys of allotment life is that one works alogside people of all political persuasions or none. There are those who see David Cameron as a real gent whilst some see him as an upper class twit. The former Lib Dems are edging towards the latter view having read his two-page spread in today’s Telegraph where he talks of the Tories and Liberals having ‘bonded together’, a report hardly likely to help the beleaguered Nick Clegg. But the comment that seemed to unite everyone in condemnation was the one regarding the police force. The Prime Minister dismisses its concerns about funding by describing the force as just one of ‘every special interest group in the land, from actors to the police’. They must all put up with it!
Before he finally concludes that the police are no more indispensible than actors Mr Cameron should perhaps turn to the front page of another of his press supporters, the Express. Hounded to death is not an unusual headline these days and in this case the story covers Jenny Ward, an 80 year old, who has been constantly targeted by youths who congregated outside her house drinking and causing trouble. Neighbours claim that police have failed to deal with numerous episodes of anti-social behaviour. Thus emboldened, yobs eventually set a deliberate trap by removing a manhole cover. On the night she fell into it, Mrs Ward, whose husband is in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, failed to spot that the cover was missing. She was trapped for several hours until her cries for help were heard. She was taken to hospital but never fully recovered.
Victor Granda, 46, had known Mrs Ward for many years. he said that “teenagers were making her life a misery. They were throwing stones at her , shouting at her, taunting her. She swas staying out later and later each night for fear of them”. Mr Cameron may be surprised to know that such behaviour is commonplace in less salubrious areas than his own. If he lived in those areas now ruled by the unruly he might revise his view that the police rae merely a special interest group!
None of which suggests that the police should be left to their own devices for they are failing to offer many communities protection and reassurance. Not my view but that of Sir Denis O’Connpor, the Chief |Inspector of Constabulary, who reported this week. He described the behaviour of yobs as a “disease that has been allowed to fester because police have retreated from the streets”. Which does suggest that what is desperately needed is not cuts but an entirely new approach to the role of the beat bobby. A few weeks ago I wrote of an ex-Met police officer who has emigrated to Canada. He reported that his role there as a policeman on the beat was very different to the one he had in London. His full 8-hour turn was out on the streets and he had vitually no paperwork to consume his time.
Apart from freeing up the mass of bureacracy imposed on British police officers by the last government, Mr Cameron should perhaps give thought to what they are supposed to do with louts in the unlikely event that they make an arrest. His colleague Ken Clarke, an unlikely Justice Minister if ever there was one, seems to believe that they shouldn’t be punished at all which is perhaps another reason for the very low number of arrests made. But a deterrent is needed if many more elderly ladies are not to be hounded to their deaths.
By chance I am currently reading a book written by Steven McLaughlin, who recently served in the army for several years. In ‘Squaddie; a Soldier’s Story’ he describes his basic training for the Marines. “The weeks flew by in a blur of frenetic activity. We were screamed at, pushed around, flogged round the gym, and forced to iron kit and polish boots into the early hours. It was hell on earth and stretched very fibre of my body to breaking point – but at the same time it was deeply satisfying. It was special because it was tough”. For countless years people have suggested that youth camps be created and used for short community punishments. They need not carry a crimnal record and would certainly provide an experience that tormentors of the elderly would not wish to experience again.
Whenever leading politicians have been publicly confronted with an idea of this sort they have dismissed it as an infringement of human rights. Presumably troops have human rights too as do the elderly and vulnerable!
Perhaps what is needed is a Home Secretary who has lived on a difficult estate and who is also tough enough to force the police to get their act together. Clearly what we don’t need is one like Ms May whose self understanding should tell her that she has probably never met a yob in her priviledged life and who is inclined to regard those who need the police as ‘service users’. It is not a service, it is supposed to be a force that strikes fear into the bullies.
Many of our allotment fraternity who have suffered their share of drunken louts suggested, on reading the Telegraph’s lauding of Mr Cameron, that someone should write across the PM’s forehead the words ‘The police are not merely a special interest group’. He would need a big head to accomodate it but given the constant worship of Mr Clegg he will soon be able to manage it. That sounds childish I know, but people are crying enough is enough!
GOOD NEWS FOR DICK FRANCIS FANS!
Some people collect classic reading material, I collect Dick Francis books of which there have been over 40 best sellers. She-who-must-be-obeyed has never had to wrack her brains to decide on my Christmas presents and it has always been a joy to curl up with the latest tale of crime amongst the stables. Sadly Dick died in February of this year.
The good news is that his half-written ‘Crossfire’ has been completed by his son Felix – the books have always been something of a family effort - and will hit the shops shortly. The bad news is that after that the pen of a much loved master writer will be stilled for ever.
MORE HELP NEEDED FOR SMALL CLUBS!
Many small football clubs will today be battling it out in the 2nd Qulaifying round of the F.A.Cup. Wembley is a long way away but the incentive to win is very real for today’s victors will pocket £4000. Such a sum will save many from extinction. In today’s world where almost all sponsorship money is gobbled up by the Premiership millionnaires more and more little clubs are going to the wall despite constant fund-raising on the part of their small band of loyal fans.
Their plight could be eased by redistribution of the cash paid by commercial companies to sponsor the world’s most famous trophy. Would billionnaires like Mr Abramovich really miss the money?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Mars 2. 1972
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. MIRVs were fitted to intercontinental missiles in the 70s. What are they? 2. In which year did the Orient Express complete its last run between Paris and Istanbul?
In their 1966 song ‘Eleanor Rigby’, Lennon and McCartney wrote of ‘all the lonely people’ and asked ‘where do they all come from?’ Loneliness was perceived as a social problem even then, 44 years on it is of epidemic proportions. It seems reasonable to argue that much of it is the result of people living longer and often alone, of families spread across the globe, and streets where many homes are empty for most of the day. But perhaps the greatest factor is the absence of any seven-days-per-week organisation providing a sense of belonging.
I grew up in a semi-rural village where the various churches provided just that. We belonged to the ‘chapel’, and I do mean belonged, for the whole family was there every day per week plus three times on Sundays. Our community was not unusual some seventy years ago and lest you imagine that we were all a la Mother Theresa I hasten to confess that God had only a walk-on role. The chapel was in effect a social centre providng just about every form of recreation available in those long-gone days. The village was split roughly three ways between the Methodists, the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics and never the twain did meet but I remember well that the kids of the other denominations also rejoiced in sports teams, ‘socials’, youth clubs and various other diversions which were far more of an attraction than a battery powered radio set which represented the entire entertainment offering of most local abodes.
But enough of the kids, we simply went along each evening because the adults were there. But what I do clearly recall is the significant number of elderly widows, widowers and infirm who made their way there or, in some instances, were brought along by neighbours. There was always something happening each evening and visiting speakers came and went. Many were in the choir -an ability to read music was not one of the conditions – and they performed concerts galore, visits being made to other local chapels and the like. There was even something called a ‘Bright Hour’ which took place each Thursday afternoon, again visiting speakers were the order of the day.
The whole affair was under the direction of what was called the ‘Leaders Meeting’ and elections to that took place regularly. Like the Milibands of today the ‘family’ regularly fell out and there was often much grousing for the hapless Minister to sort out. He in turn had to be reappointed by the leaders, so his job must have been a tricky one although such matters passed us boys by as we eyed the girls, who even our limited self understanding recognised were the greatest attraction of all.
But the chapel looked after its own.There were appointed sick-visitors who called daily at the home of anyone unable to attend and even employment was often the result of this member or that having a small business. People loved, quarrelled, and looked out for each other. It was an all embracing social centre with God thrown in on Sundays when we would all listen to the outcome of the choirs seemingly endless rehearsals and pray that the local preacher did not exceed the time limit for his sermon. Some services were anticipated with greater delight than others and those such as the harvest festival were particularly popular in that they provided the chance for the well-heeled to bask in the glory of outbidding others when the fruit and veg came under the auctioneer’s hammer. And of course we had a ‘tea’. In fact ‘teas’ at the laden trestles were a regular feature and presumably provided yet another role for those with time on their hands and the need for a role in life.
It was all a long time ago but the memories do prompt me to wonder if the churches of today are missing a trick. If any of the many that are still open were to create a social organisation to provide daily events and involvement for all, the reality surely is that the respondents would be the lonely and,possibly, older members of the community, the very sector that would not be preoccupied with the alternative activities on offer in a hi-tech age. Maybe that feeling of belonging would be rediscovered.
Of course the involvement of kids would be far less likely, they can meet their peers in much more exciting surroundings now. But then again, they are less likely to be in the lonely bracket. Where, you may ask, does God feature in all this.
The only answer is that the target here is the growing epidemic of loneliness. But I am sure that He would approve!
NHS DIRECT; ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF MADNESS!
I was involved in the initial trials carried out with a view to launching a telephone help system aimed at relieving the pressure on GPs. I remember Frank Dobson, the then Health Secretary, proclaiming that ‘we won’t need doctors much longer’. The doctors themselvers took an altogether different view, they simply couldn’t believe that a nurse sitting at a switchboard would feel able to give a diagnosis based on what someone told them over the telephone.
And so it has proved. The service has provided mundane advice but in reality has achieved little other than to gobble up NHS funding and rob hospitals of excellent nursing staff.
Once again we are all paying the price of politicians dabbling in things that they simply do not understand!
BLAIR GETS HIS NINTH HOUSE!
You have to hand it to the guy, our former Prime Minister really knows how to rake in the cash! The latest acquisition is a Londion home for daughter Kathryn for a cool one million.
Isn’t there something slightly immoral about all this? Should someone elected by the people to high office be free to exploit it to this obscene extent?
MURDOCH UNDER ATTACK!
The BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, launched a scathing attack on the ever expending Murdoch media empire last night when he delvered the annual MacTaggart lecture at the Mediaguradian Edinburgh Festival.
As a Sky user I share his views about the quality of much of the tripe screened under the Sky banner. But the biggest complaint of all relates to the endless and assinine advertisements. the idea of having those constantly interrupting the better quality Beeb output is too awful to contemplate!
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PAKISTAN BLOW IT AGAIN!
After their much improved performance in the third Test, Pakistan reverted to their recent poor form at Lords today.Not for the first time their batting was well below that required for Test crciket and once again they failed to muster a three-figure score. Small wonder that ticket sales have been poor for this series!
QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. M M Kaye 2. Jane Goodall
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which country was taken over by the Khymer Rouge in the early 70s? 2. In 1976 Nigeria announced plans for a new capital .What is it called?
The biggest spy swap since the Cold War kept us ferret-breeders entertained as we waited for the Spain versus Holland showdown consoled only by the fact that there will be one Brit on the pitch, albeit the referee. In fact it encouraged those of us currently making regular visits to the Job Centre to wonder just how one goes about becoming what is now referred to as an agent. Appetites were whettened by the terms on offer, the Kremlin having announced that those returning would be offered appartments for life and up to £2000 per month living allowance.
That presumably is a low rate since the people returning to Russia are clearly low-grade, the ten having been accepted as a job lot in exchange for just four heading the other way. And it is easy to undertsnad that since they all seem to have been engaged in obtaining information that could easily have been gained at the local libraries collection of social surveys. In fairness they seem to have worked hard because many neighbours gave evidence of having seen them photographing milkmen and paper-boys but the use of it all has to be open to question.
John Le Carre, who knows a thing or two about the noble art, has described those nicked in the United States as ‘spy-babies’ equipped with magic dead-letter boxes and microdots. He also raises an interesting point. Whose great cause did they think they were serving? Were the ghosts of Russia’s past whispering to them? Were they dreaming of Josef Stalin’s second coming or the Tsars of the Holy Russian Empire brought alive?
Once upon a time spies had motives. There was capitalism and there was communism. You could choose who to serve. Yes there was also the blackmail, the sex, and the feeling of getting your own back when you had been passed over for promotion but deep down there was a cause. But now there is just Mother Russia and Mother America, two huge continents out of control drowning together in the oily waters of capitalism. Presumably spying is now just a job, not a vocation.
All that apart some of my colleagues in the allotment shed are displeased at the announcement that one of those shipped off by the Americans has applied to come her to do her spying. Why she feels the need to apply when anyone can just walk in is another matter, but in essence my pals feel that it is unfair. In the Premiership foreign players keep our own out of the game and now in spying the same is to be allowed. Prepostorous and anyway we can tell Putin all he needs to now about our milkmen without his having to subsidise the Home office whose budget no longer allows for such things.
The sad thing is that when spying would really be useful it is never available. Take the scandal of Deepcut barracks. Four young recruits were the subject of fatal shootings there and to this day there is no logical explanation. Shortly before the election the father of one received a letter from Nick Clegg criticising the government’s refusal to allow a full inquiry. And the Lib Dem’s then shadow armed forces minister, Nick Harvey, also slammed the government for failing to take action to ‘get to the bottom of these tragic events’. Now Harvey is the actual armed forces minister and, in true Lib Dem tradition has changed his mind.
All that is known is that at the time of the deaths Deepcut was alleged by some to be out of control with vulnerable young trainess exposed to bullying. Hopefully the Courts will eventually order an inquiry but in the meantime it is an example of an area of activity where good old fashioned spying or whistle-blowing might be of benefit rather than a modern version of a Brian Rix farce.
NEWS HEADLINES; Nick Clegg has remarked that coalitions are here for good and we have seen the last of the two party system. XX Lib Dem leaders in Liverpool have warned of a mass desertion of the Party by disillusioned members and elected representatives. XX The VAT rise will cost charities £150 million according to the Charity Tax group.
THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW UNTIL YESTERDAY; Four million men were demobbed between June 1945 and December 1946. XX The Mini , designed by Alec Issigonis, was launched in 1959 at a retail price of £497.By 1965 one million had been sold!