Monthly Archives: October 2013

Lines on the Front

Rather like how my eyes feel after a day in front of the computer.


Not reading the signs

This sign has been placed so high up a local lamp post that only the passengers on the top deck of a double decker bus and the wild, wild wind would stand a chance of seeing it.

And as the wind gusts up to goodness knows how many miles an hour this morning, we can be certain it’s not paying the slightest bit of attention either.


Waiting for the Storm

Much of my life has been storm. Part of that was reflected in my music of choice as a teenager: heavy metal. After a while it became uncool to mention my headbanging roots, but time goes around and around, and in the end it turns out that some of the bands I liked have turned out not only to be cool, but to be seminal. Despite the critics hatred at the time, Black Sabbath is one of them. So there.

Last night, I watched this documentary about Black Sabbath and the making of their breakthrough album Paranoid. I was struck by a number of things. One was how sweet-looking Ozzy was when he was younger, another, the sheer musicianship of the band members. What stuck in my head particularly was how guitarist Tony Iommi credited part of Sabbath’s slightly ‘industrial’ sound to their roots in Aston, Birmingham. Industrial sounds still have me hooked, whether it comes in the form of metal guitar or deep bass dubstep and I think that speaks to the storm inside.

Here is the antithesis to all that -it is Sunday morning, after all. If you think you don’t like Black Sabbath, give this a listen – it’s sublime. The end of the track has Iommi jamming in a sleepily divine jazz, Django Reinhardt influenced style. The thing that links the two guitarists is that they both have lost fingers, or in Iommi’s case, their tips – in an industrial accident at work. Iommi said that in the aftermath, finding out that Reinhardt played with a disability inspired him to carry on playing. And as an added and unrelated bonus, if you are lucky, you might get the great ad that I did, with a Great Dane and some opera. Who could ask for anything more?

I don’t know what it is, but I like it

Before I shuffle from the mortal coil I would like to finish a novel, of which I have the barest bones sticking out of the mud at the moment.

It is set, partly at least, near this boatyard. This is a picture of my favourite boat. It has a wooden hull, sea-silvered. It used to flap in its dry dock under a great blue tarpaulin, but over the winters this has now disintegrated and blown away altogether. The renovation work, or whatever it is that you do to an old boat, is under way, but it is slow. In my mind, this is The Ark. Noah, the captain, comes up on the weekends, when Mrs Noah will let him, and used to rearrange what was left of the tarpaulin. Now that’s gone, I don’t know what he does, but this white flotation device didn’t used to dangle down as it does now. Perhaps Noah kicked it off the deck in irritation one time.


That fake ‘I give a shit’ face

Yesterday, as the government announced Chinese investment in a French company to provide us with more nuclear power, David Cameron tipped up in Hinkley for a photo call in a blue boiler suit attempting to arrange his features into a suitably sympathetic expression for the benefit of us plebs. Do these guys practice it at public school I wonder?

David Cameron fakes both listening and concern. The blue boiler suit enhances his authenticity (in his head only). Via the BBC

Here’s another offender from yesterday too. Npower’s boss, Paul Massara, as they raise energy prices by 10.2%. He’s so concerned about you that he parked himself outside the men’s toilets, wedged between a tea urn and an aspidistra and urged you contact him if you have any concerns about paying your energy bill.

If you are an Npower customer – feel free to shoot him a couple of questions

He’s also on Twitter, going under the ironic name of @energy2live4 The account’s also protected, so I’m going to give that a follow and see if I get accepted…

Well, I’ve bought my jumper Number 10

Increasingly, it his harder and harder to close one’s eyes to the damage that this so-called coalition are wreaking on our country – even if one wanted to.

Most noticeable, to me anyway, is the rampant economic inequality and as winter approaches fuel poverty is a huge contributor to this. Take British Gas’s latest rise in dual fuel prices of 9.2%. That’s a rise that’s eye-watering. To keep my home just on the right side of not-freezing it costs in excess of a thousand pounds a year. If I were with British Gas, I’d be looking at finding in the area of another £100 a year right there. Cancelled Christmas anyone? Now, contrast that with the salary and bonus package of the Chief Executive of British Gas’s parent company, Centrica. What do you reckon he’s worth, selling fuel into a captive market…

1 million quid? 2 million perhaps? Well, you’d be wrong.

According to latest figures widely published in the media, in 2012 the Centrica CEO, Sam Laidlaw, pocketed around £5 million in salary and bonus payments. Across the board of the company – five directors in total and including Laidlaw – the total for director pay totalled just shy of £16 and half million. I don’t want to get into Sam Laidlaw personally, but even if one argued he had earned every one of his five hundred million pennies for Centrica, it begs the question how he managed to squeeze in £125K of work as a non-executive director for HSBC…

I use this as an example of the deep inequalities in our society. And be under no illusions, the UK is, along with the USA, one of the worst for fostering a society where a tiny minority hold most of the wealth. So what? some may say that’s how it works – ‘t’was ever thus. Except, now we know better. Now we have study after study that links a country’s economic inequalities to all kinds of other social ills including: health inequalities which translates as poorer people dying younger, higher rates of mental illness, lower educational achievement, higher rates of teenage pregnancy, more drug abuse, more people sent to prison… Even rates of obesity are higher in unequal societies than in those where the available wealth is distributed more evenly.

In fact, the research shows that most of the social ills that cost most money in terms of interventions in Western societies are heavily linked to how much equality of economic opportunity exists. As the saying now goes, ‘If you want to live the American Dream, move to Finland.’ Social mobility, that which David Cameron likes to wave like a glowing carrot on the end of a big stick at ‘the workers not shirkers’ is almost an impossibility in an structurally unequal society like the UK where vested interests rule the roost. Take London, house prices are booming again, and according to some opinions it will soon be a city where just the very rich and the very poor live. London, meant to be the greatest city of the world, will be a place for only expensively-tailored masked highwaymen and their ragged, snaggle-toothed victims, along with the unsuspecting tourists passing through.

Since the #selfservatives wriggled into government, they have widened the economic inequality gap appreciably, by doing nothing to start to close it. Hence the advice from Downing Street in the face of utility company hikes. Put on a jumper (since withdrawn) and switch to another energy provider. Right, ok. I’ve switched and switched over the last few years and when I work from home I wear clothes and a dressing gown with sheepskin boots (not the branded variety because I can’t afford them) with a woollen blanket over my knees. I do that rather than turn the heating on because I am scared of the bill – despite my repeated switching and using less and less energy I have never managed to reduce the bills. That’s because as much as I try to conserve energy, the monetary savings are more than offset by the relentless tariff increases.

And, I am not, in the scheme of things, poor. But I still can’t afford to heat the house. Spare a thought for those who can’t afford to eat or heat the house. Those people that selfservatives have labelled shirkers. Those people that the government are prepared to sacrifice on the bonfire of austerity. The people the JobCentre sanction at the drop of a hat. I do wonder when the rest of us are going to wake up and realise that there for the grace of *insert supernatural being of choice* go the rest of us. One day, you too could be told that after a year on ESA for disability, and even as you spend three days a week on kidney dialysis you should be seeking work and are no longer entitled to a benefit because your partner earns over £7500 a year.

Not entitled to a benefit if your partner earns £7500 a year and the gas company pay five directors a combined total of £16 million in 2012. Is this the kind of government people are going to vote for again?

Please not. Let’s not pretend it’s not happening.

Here are some links to sites that have the evidence base to back up the gist of this post – that economic inequality is not just a matter of choosing McVities digestives over the value brand – it is in fact deadly.

New Scientist and The Equality Trust which has a good animation on the landing page that shows exactly how much Centrica directors’ eye-watering pay relates to the piddling amount of ‘wealth’ that the rest of us (the 99%) are trying to hold on to, to pay the next gas bill…

Oh, and as a postscript, I bought a man’s jumper in the British Heart Foundation charity shop. It’s a nice blue, and it’s pretty itchy, but it cost £3.50 and it keeps me warm. I am back in the 1970s… As Charles Dickens said, it is the winter of despair indeed.

Edited to add: If you feel strongly, there’s a petition to re-nationalise utilities here. I can’t see it ever happening, but perhaps it might concentrate a few minds.

Pier at Sundown Today

pier sunset 2

A Centenary

This week, so far, has taken the form of some kind of major test. I won’t bore with the details.

However, this day can’t be allowed to slip by without noting that my grandmother would have been one hundred years old today. Sadly, she didn’t quite make the milestone, and we lost her in the summer of 2010.

She was a great influence on me and I miss her greatly. Things happen with the children, or me, and I think, ah Granny would have enjoyed hearing about that. And that was really the thing with her, she was fully engaged with her family for her whole life. It’s a rare thing – not to be engaged with your family hopefully – but to be so on the ball with everyone’s minutiae and daily dealings; the humdrum and the spectacular, the triumphs and the disasters.

I don’t feel sad so much when I think of her these days, which is fairly often. I just smile and am glad we knew he for so long.

My sister has a super photo of her, taken when her last great-granddaughter was a baby. I have some of her with my own children too. I might dig them out tomorrow. In the meantime I remember her with such happiness and gratitude. We read this at her funeral, and it was what she might have said herself.

When I am dead
Cry for me a little
Think of me sometimes
But not too much.
Think of me now and again
As I was in life
At some moments it’s pleasant to recall
But not for long.
Leave me in peace
And I shall leave you in peace
And while you live
Let your thoughts be with the living.

And then, there was this, which was kind of perfect.

Feeling like: the bottom of a boat

I have no idea what that feels like obviously. Most would say, the *bottom of a boat? Surely, an inanimate object that cannot feel!

Well, even if that is so, and there is no evidence I can muster to the contrary… there still remains the fact that the bottom of a boat has a life of it’s own. It spends a lot of time in water, and the water and the salt and the sealife leave their marks. One day, the captain orders that the bottom of the boat be re-treated, so that it remains hole-free and waterproof – seaworthy. So, the boat is hoiked out of the water and put in a dry dock and treated, then, back into the water it goes for the waves to do their worst. A boat has no self-determination. It must merely float until it is overwhelmed by one circumstance or another, upon which it sinks.

That’s why I feel like the bottom of a boat. At least a dry dock gives you a different perspective on life.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Look at this one: a thing of beauty and wonder.

boat hull

*Sea dogs would tell me that the technical name is not bottom, but hull.
Never mind.
Details, schmetails.

‘The badgers moved the goalposts’

I dare not normally speak of badgers and the cull, because my sister is in country ways and has strong, and very valid, views on the whole issue of the spread of TB and the impact on farmers. I sit in the town and have my own views and perhaps they are not quite so valid as I don’t know anyone at all who is affected and neither am I, so it is easy enough to say that my heart bleeds for all the badges being shot. I would also add that the science seemed to suggest a cull would not fix the problem. Equally, I would say, that it hardly seems fair that cows should be slaughtered when they carry TB either, but they are, and no-one appears to be particularly up in arms about that. Or maybe they are, and I missed it, for which I apologise.

However, it is not a laughing matter. It is not funny that a disease is blighting the lives of badgers and cattle. But what really puts the tin lid on it is when a government minister comes on the tv to say the length of the cull needs to be extended because ‘the badgers moved the goalposts.’

Really? Really?

And we trust this lot with a lot more besides the TB and badgers issue.

Saints preserve us. Or, if you are a badger, and you’ve survived the brutal and stupid cull, stand for parliament in my constituency in 2015 and you are guaranteed my vote.

Badgers in charge all the way baby.

Badger from Fantastic Mr Fox