Monthly Archives: October 2013

Responsibility?

Ambrose Bierce defines Responsibility as ‘A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbour.’

I try to keep out of the detail of current politics but I’ve got a problem I’d like sorting out please. I know there are people out there far wiser than me and I’m sure you can put me right.

Firstly, yesterday when the energy companies were being questioned, it was decided that 5% was a disgraceful profit margin, greedy, disgusting.
Which I suppose is fair enough. But if you go on the Tesco website, Tesco’s own annual review shows that in the years 2009 to 2012 the company had a margin which averaged 6.17%. When are the MPs going to haul them in and demand windfall taxes, price freezes etc? Is energy more important than food?

Also energy costs. I checked. A lot of these Green levies go back to July 2009 when Ed Miliband released ‘The Renewable Energy Strategy’. At the time he commented “We are going to minimise the costs as much as possible, but it is true there is not a low-cost energy future out there.” This document estimated that this renewables policy could cost households as much as £250 per year. But checking on Google you can see that at the time energy experts estimated bills could rise by up to £500 every year. Mr Miliband insisted there would be no cost before 2015.

Given that all this was carried out in public in 2009 and we were (probably) all there and all sort of listening, why are we surprised now?

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Come the revolution?

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It was Plato who said “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” There again he also said “This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are.”

So I was minding my own business, honest I was. But then it broke out all over Facebook like a rash. One overpaid media ‘personality’ metaphorically slaps another overpaid media ‘personality’.

Yeeehaa, cat fight everybody.

I’m afraid that I’d let my two grandmothers judge Brand. They’d have scrubbed his mouth out with soap and water. I remember one of them using the phase ‘foul mouthed and ignorant’ to describe someone. They knew that good manners and basic courtesy was one thing that ‘they’ couldn’t take off you. But then my grandmothers were decent working people, they weren’t ‘edgy’ or ‘relevant’.
(This city is what it is because our citizens are what they are.)

Now I’m not all that old, but I’m old enough to have heard men sit and talk; men for whom Spain was the killing fields of their youth rather than a cheap holiday destination. If you want Anarchy, if you want Revolution, then I’ve talked to the men who tried the real thing. Revolution isn’t posturing on the media or even ranting on facebook, it’s hugging the ground closer than you ever hugged a lover. It’s clutching a cheap mass-produced rifle, nursing it like a child because it might keep you alive. I was told you can always tell the winners, they’re the ones who stand up unaided when the shelling stops. Apparently the dead have probably achieved a no-score draw. The losers are the wounded, depending on whose hands they fall into. If you want revolution, just look at Syria where they’ve got one. Revolutions aren’t discrete, something to be enjoyed solely by consenting adults. Once you’ve got a revolution, everybody’s got it. Pity about the old people and kids but hey, you wanted a revolution.
(This city is what it is because our citizens are what they are.)

And then you get people saying things like they want to kill Tories. Well here I can help. It’s a doddle, any fool can do it.

“Basically you kneel them along the edge of the ditch. Not got a ditch, why let them dig their own, and then you can chuckle as you watch the bloated plutocrats do some honest toil. Then you take your automatic pistol in your right hand. (You are right handed? Yes? Then start from the right hand end of the line so you’re not shooting across youself.) Place the pistol barrel at the back of the neck, if they’re blind folded then just below the blindfold. Then as you release the trigger, with your right knee just nudge the body forward with your knee, it’s tidier that way, more professional, the body should topple forward and the weight of the torso will bring the legs down after it. Then just move onto the next.”
“What if you miss? From this range? OK you might not get a clean kill but being buried alive will finish them off. After all there’s not many ever manage to dig themselves out with their hands tied behind their back is there. But if they’re lucky someone will finish them off with a spade so it’s not your problem.”
“Filling in the ditch? Lawks child, that’s where experience comes in. You have the next lot to be shot dig their ditch parallel to the one that needs filling, so they dig their ditch and fill the previous one at the same time. Told you we’d done this before. And don’t worry about there not being another lot. This is a revolution, there’s always another lot. OK they might not be what you initially meant by Tories this time, they might just be people the Party disapproves of, or troublemakers who upset some local bigwig, or just ‘enemies of the people’. (We get a lot of them.)”

(This city is what it is because our citizens are what they are.)

So you want to change the world? Here’s a tip. You’re not going to achieve anything on Facebook. Facebook is the circuses bit of our ‘bread and circuses’. It’s here as a displacement activity, so people can vent in the comfort of their own homes and then go and hunt down cute cat pictures. It’s here so that people can rant, mock, troll, whatever to their hearts content.
(This city is what it is because our citizens are what they are.)

How many people have ever been to an open political meeting? I went to one a few years back, so long ago I cannot remember the subject under debate. My excuse is that oldest daughter was at archery and I needed something to do to kill a couple of hours. Mind you ‘debate’ wasn’t really the right word for it. The entire audience was pretty well on first name terms with each other, they seemed genuinely surprised when someone new walked in, and even more surprised when I explained I’d come to listen to the discussion.
Because there wasn’t a discussion, it was a case of ‘we hold these things to be self evident’. The talks were a series of rants directed at their demonised opponents and they were greeted with enthusiastic applause by the faithful gathered in the congregation.
Doubtless there was some sort of mirror of this meeting being held elsewhere in town, where the rants would be in support of the opposite proposal and the congregation of the faithful equally enthusiastic.
But, Lord love them, it isn’t their fault. If everyone sits on their backsides at home and doesn’t take part, who is going to raise a polite hand and ask “I say, could you just run through that point again, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense?”
(This city is what it is because our citizens are what they are.)

In fact if enough people turn up, the two opposing groups might even work up the courage to hold their meeting in the same room on the same night!

If you want to change the world then walk out of the door and into the world and actually do something. Chat to an elderly neighbour, go and help out at a youth group, help at the homeless drop in or somewhere providing respite for carers. Some people out there are actually doing this. They’re the cement that holds society together, not cute catch pictures or witty political posts on Facebook.
(This city is what it is because our citizens are what they are.)

And politics? “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” If you don’t like the choice, then stand yourself. Obviously there’s a risk that you might get elected and have to take responsibility and do the chuffing job but hey, into each reign a little life must fall.
You never know, just by standing you might force the others to up their game; you might get people interested and involved. What is important is what happens, not how many ‘likes’ it gets.
Wonder how many people ‘unfriend’ me after this?
(This city is what it is because our citizens are what they are.)

Sex, drugs, rock and roll; (and cute cat pictures.)

It was Samuel Johnson who said “Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”
He also said “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” and I have tried to follow his guidance in this matter.
I once got the job of writing up the annual article in one local paper on what the local authorities in the county had been doing in the way of development within the county. A topic so tedious and worthy that they always hired in a freelancer to do it. I wasn’t complaining, it fed us for a fortnight. Two thirds of the way through I dropped in a couple of dry asides on the general tedium of the subject and the sorry nature of the freelancer’s lot. I got an email from the editor, who proudly announced he’d noticed them and after mature consideration had left them in.
But now where does the hack writer turn for gainful employment, where will his work be most sought after? Just look on Facebook at some of the beautifully scripted stuff which circulates.
Imagine, you’re running a charity that wants to raise its profile but cannot afford to hire a firm of chuggers to mug their way into the newspaper headlines? Then hire a decent writer to produce for you the sort of story that will beguile the tears from the most stony hearted and you’re half way there.
But only half way; we’ve become far more ‘visually orientated’ than our parents generation. Now there has to be pictures as well.
Currently like a lot of people who blog I’m trying to sell something. I’m not too fussed about pushing a political philosophy or this weeks ‘must have’ brand of cosmetics, I’m just trying to sell my books.
But there are millions of blogs and books out there. Everyone and their dog are at it, and thanks to Facebook the dog’s probably got the edge provided he can get someone else to take the pictures.
So we wannabe celebrated authors have to be really tricksie. We’ve got to somehow grab your attention and to lure you in, to get you to at least look at the stuff we’re trying to sell.
Now then, the web is a wonderful tool for collecting feedback. Not only do I know what blog posts I’ve written, WordPress will tell me how many people read each blog and even what countries my readers come from. What is interesting is the difference between what I think is good and what people actually hunt down and read. So I may stick a post up on my blog and think to myself as I do so, “Now that’s a nice piece of work” only to discover that it’s read by a mere handful of people.
Just for the record the best read piece was ‘Horse Burgers and Hypocrisy.’ It was followed very closely and will doubtless be overtaken by ‘Marks and Spencer knicker adverts.’ It has to be said that ‘Four lesbians in a fast car’ is also climbing the charts steadily. Yet ‘A traveller in search of the exotic,’ which I thought rather good; is pretty well nowhere.
Yep, we want sex, drugs and ‘rock and roll’.

When the process of telling the world about the forthcoming release of the latest book, Justice 4.1
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Justice-4-1-Tsarina-Sector-Webster/dp/1908208236/

got serious the book got its own page on Facebook. You can find it at https://www.facebook.com/TsarinaSector?ref=hl if you’re interested. In fact if you want to click the ‘like’ button while you’re there feel free, it gives me a transitory moment of pleasure and costs nothing.

But there’s no point in having a page with nothing on it, so the page has to be kept ‘new’ and ‘interesting’ so I’ve got to keep posting stuff. Of course this is on the web and therefore I get stats. I know how many people look at each post.
And what do I discover? That if the post is just words, a handful of people look at it, but if I include a picture, then the number of people who look at it increases massively. So I’m no mug, I need pictures.
Yet here we hit a problem. Tsarina is a long way away and in our future. Haldar Drom is an obliging sort of chap but even he struggles to get the pictures back through space and time. So what to do? Given that one underlying theme of the book is piracy; there is a certain irony that I’ve taken to ransacking the web for pictures to help promote the book.

To an extent there are openings here for us to help each other. Artists who have work that is sort of suitable and don’t mind it being hijacked (and credited) can get themselves more widely known and shared as they get incidentally promoted by the author, whose book is also incidentally promoted by the artist. We could take this sort of thing further. In Justice 4.1 I mention in passing the sultry chanteuse, Dwine Tillanvor and the song she made famous, ‘Dreams of Ancient Earth.’ If we have a chanteuse out there willing to sing such a song I’m not too proud to promote her video. Indeed I’m probably not too proud to edit the manuscript and change the name of the song.

One thing Facebook has taught me is that as a society we’ve moved beyond being happy to just read the words. We demand the titillation of pictures to attract our attention. What am I doing about it?
Well I’ve finally managed to work in a ‘cute cat’ picture as well. Shame? Me? In this matter I have none……….

It’s fun if you don’t take it too seriously

A nice young couple; he gave the impression that if he had his way, they’d be a courting couple. She managed to subliminally give the impression that so far, he hadn’t.
It was a warm shirt sleeve afternoon in October. He was at the age where he’s still not sure that real men are allowed to smile. On the other hand she’d got to the age where she’d discovered the sheer power of a smile but wasn’t too sure of the fine control. I said ‘Afternoon’ as I passed them and she gave me a smile that was about two hundreds watts per channel. Any more we’d have got a feedback screech.
Then later, on the ward, an old man struggling; not with anything in particular, just struggling. Someone said they thought he’d played rugby, wing three-quarter, for one of the big teams down in Lancashire. That’s proper rugby, thirteen men a side.
Well all that was a few years ago. Now they’re trying to get his mobility back and he’s struggling with the zimmer frame. A physiotherapist old enough to be his daughter is cajoling him; “Come on Charlie, the rest of the ward are envious of you with a girl on each arm.” A nurse who could be a granddaughter is on the other side of him, encouraging him. “Come on; let’s walk to the desk where Julie wants to see you.” And Julie, the ward manager, harassed and swamped in paper looks up from behind the heap of files, stands up and holds out both arms to welcome him.
And somehow, from somewhere, the ghost of that wing three-quarter peers out through the fog. The head comes back, the bottom goes forward and for a little while at least we have mobility.
And then walking down the corridor, ahead of me is an old Lady (she’s left being merely ‘elderly’ some time back) being towed in a wheelchair by two slightly younger ladies who could be siblings, friends or even daughters. Anyway the best estimate is that between the three of them they’ve clocked up damned near two hundred and twenty years.
As I catch up with them, the old Lady sees me and makes eye contact with me. I touched the brim of my cap at her in greeting, she gave me a smile. A smile so full of fun and mischief that seventy years ago she’d have broken hearts. Even thirty years ago it would be a smile to give a respectably married man palpitations. One of the ladies pulling glanced down at the passenger and said “I hope you’re behaving yourself when we cannot keep an eye on you.”
By now I was almost level so I commented, “Well she keeps making eyes at me.”
The lady just looked down at her passenger. “Well if you’ve pulled make sure he’s got a friend for me.”

Major oil find in Cumbria

Well obviously I’d struck oil; it was the only rational explanation. Not only that I was quids in because it was already refined and ready to use. Never let it be said that I’m not a jammy beggar at times.

But perhaps you need an explanation; a reason for my certainty, an elucidation for my obvious good luck.
Well there I was, just about breakfast time, just about to go in for my breakfast when the Bin lorry pulls into the yard. I said ‘Hi’ to the lads and was chatting to them when I noticed oil dripping from a hydraulic pipe. Being the helpful sort of chap I am I said something along the lines of ‘Oh look, there’s oil dripping out of your hydraulic pipe.”
The driver glanced at it and said, “No, there is no oil dripping out of our hydraulic pipe.”
I pondered the small but spreading pool. Had the ‘Kindly Ones’ decided to restore equipoise and pay me back in one go for all the hassle and missed opportunities up to date. Had I got Cumbria’s first commercial oil well?
So I said “So there is no oil dripping from your hydraulic pipe?”
The driver also pondered the pool. “There cannot be, there isn’t a leak, because if there was it would be on the sheet, and it isn’t on the sheet.”
I nodded wisely and asked “There’s a story here isn’t there?”
And I was told the story.
When the bin men turn up at work at 6am, they have to fill in a sheet for each vehicle which says everything’s fit to go. However life is too short. They go and get on with the work and leave the sheets for the lad looking after the office to fill in. This he does and has them all ready by the time the various managers arrive at their desks, at 9am. Obviously everything on the vehicles is OK, it must be or they wouldn’t be out working, stands to reason doesn’t it.
Yet on this wagon they’d noticed a small hydraulic leak. An executive decision had been taken by the driver. If they reported it, the wagon would have gone in to the garage, they’d have been issued with the back up vehicle (a fate to be avoided it seems) and it would be a lot of faff and nonsense. But in five days time the wagon was going in for a service anyway and that was timed for their ‘weekend off’. If the driver mentioned it when he took it in to the garage, the lads there would fix the leak as part of the service.
Then there was another problem. They were losing oil. So they had to replace it. Not a problem you would think, there was a barrel of the damned stuff for that very purpose. So they just kept the oil topped up from the barrel.
It was at this point one of the managers noticed that there was oil gone from the barrel. Yet there was no need for it to be used because when he checked the sheets, none of the wagons had an oil leak. So someone must be stealing it!
Immediately it was announced that there were to be investigations leading to charges, prosecution, dismissal and whatever. So the driver was forced to act. And here he showed true genius. That evening he quietly punched a small hole in the back of the drum, just below the oil level, so a little ran out. He waited till next day and pointed out to the manager the oil leak and suggested that this small oil spill was actually the reason why they were short of oil. Immediately the manager sprang into action. An oil spill is a manager responsibility, there are pollution control plans, people to inform, forms to fill in, investigations to be made, and a manager might be in trouble.
So with brisk managerial efficiency he launched the cover-up, the leaking drum was never mentioned again and on the appropriate date the wagon went into the garage and got its annual service and had the pipe fixed ‘while they were on with it.”
Gives you a warm feeling to know we’re in such good hands doesn’t it.

Maggie was right? Or are Nurses Angels?

Well that’s got your attention I suppose. Perhaps we could fall back on Plato who said “This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are.”
What set this off was the fact that during the last three months or so I’ve walked, lonely and largely unafraid, through the highways and byways of hospitals, care homes, nursing homes, dental surgeries and more.
I’ve watched a doctor so young that in her green pyjamas she looked like she ought to be dragging a teddy bear behind her; yet she coped with a frightened alcoholic with skill and compassion. I’ve sat in a curtained ‘cubicle’ in A&E by the bedside of a sleeping elderly man and overheard the conversation in the cubicles on either side and at the nurses’ station. I’ve had two roots extracted by a Polish dentist who is so good that should she ever decide to go back to Poland I’ll probably have to resort to working through my single male friends to find one who scrubs up well enough to entice her into staying.
Sometimes in all this process I’ve been the patient, sometimes I’ve been there to help and support, and frankly I prefer the latter role.
It’s not just hospital nurses, I’ve seen lasses behind the desk coping with computer systems that work with the slick alacrity of continental drift and yet they still manage to smile. I saw one lass in the offices who was so mortified by the way the system had screwed up a patients appointment that she personally dropped off a new appointment letter for the patient on her way home from work.
I’ve talked to porters who manage to keep cheerful, cleaning staff who get overlooked and people of more than a dozen different nationalities.
I suppose it might help in that this is the North, we’re not a high wage economy and even the salary you get working in a care home looks good money.
But the big question, are these people angels? Of course not; they’re something far more precious, they’re ordinary human beings trying to do a tricky, difficult job, and trying to do it with compassion.

And what about Maggie and society? Well what she said was “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour.”

And what did I see? A lot of people with families of their own to support; people who may have aging parents or young children or dysfunctional friends of their own. But they’re people who rise above this and get on with the job and CARE for those their work brings them in contact with.

Frankly it’s contemptibly easy to strive for ‘peace’ or work for ‘equality’. What’s really difficult is to be nice to the people you meet during the day, to care for people who’ve frankly got no-one to blame but themselves, to help the unfashionable, the un-sexy, the unwashed. Society doesn’t do this, people do this, and it is because people do this that we have a society that’s worth a damn. And if you want a better society then the hard way to improve it, but the only way that works, is for you, as a person, to actually get down in the muck and strife of the every day and help people, as individuals, one at a time.
Yeah legislation can help, probably as often as it can hinder, but new laws on their own will save no-one. Indeed as Tacitus said, “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.”

Computers, politicians and pig slurry

A lot of years ago now I was in the 5th form at school; (This is in the good old days before they changed everything to years etc) and we had, believe it or not, a careers master who would talk to us.
Admittedly he was a maths master who did careers as well but he was keen, and obviously had a mate working in the field because we were used as the guinea pigs when they tested a ‘computerised careers questionnaire.’ Really that should be in flashing lights or at least italic because no one had heard of them before.
Anyway I did the questionnaire along with the other ninety lads in the year and thought to more about it: Until I was called back in to answer a question that had been troubling them.
The format, if I remember it properly, was the questions were in the form of ‘would you prefer to do x or y.’ This doubtless made the answers easy to put into the computer (remember this is a 1970s computer) and they were comparatively easy to answer. There was one small issue which had brought me to their attention. The question was, “Would you prefer to clean out pigs or look after old people?” I, alone of all those who had filled in this questionnaire had answered, “Clean out pigs.”
Because this question was apparently to calibrate the system and ensure that those filling it in were being serious and could read etc, the guy whose project it was really wanted to see me. What he discovered was that I had read the question, pondered it carefully and then, based on my knowledge and experience, answered it.
After all, I knew that cleaning out pigs tended to be a high pressure hose job, done in working hours, sometimes preceded by a quick pass or two with a tractor loader to get rid of the heavy stuff. Looking after old people was constant, hard, demanding work; often thankless, often unending and normally unsocial.
The problem is that the questioner had written his question without any real comprehension of the nature of the alternatives he’d included in his question. What he had been thinking was ‘clean out pigs’ equals dirty disgusting back breaking work. On the other hand was ‘looking after old people’ cuddly, virtuous, socially desirable. Pity about the reality, yet I was the only person who was apparently grounded in the reality.

What set this off was someone said that they felt that David Cameron should be put to cleaning out pig sties. Firstly there aren’t any, or if there are it would be a doddle of a job because they’ll be the proud property of smallholders with a cherished pig or two. Secondly the last thing we need in one of the most efficient industries this country has is some untrained noddy wandering in and doing a job he isn’t trained for. If you doubt the efficiency, look at the farm gate prices. Currently milk is now about 33 pence a litre. We got 30 pence a litre back in 1996. (I use milk as an indicator because I know the prices without checking.) Perhaps civil servants could survive with their departments still on 1996 budgets.

But it also showed (and I’m not picking on one person) how food production and the people involved in it, is regarded in this country. We’re a suggested dumping ground, a gulag for politicians. I can think of no other class of people less suited to taking part in a real job where you have to take responsibility for your actions and own up when you screw up.

Oh, and the ‘computerised careers questionnaire.’ Well much to the surprise of our Careers master, it said I ought to be a farmer or a journalist. Actually I’m both simultaneously, and occasionally over the years I’ve often wished I could meet the guy who designed the system, just to tell him he got at least one right.