"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Friday, 28 December 2012

Cool Yule

Life in the Elizannie/Other Half household pre/during/after the Yuletide festivities:

My self imposed deadlines which mostly didn't happen, regarding presents/decorations to make; letters/emails/tweets to write; 'phone calls/visits to make. Luckily,whether through age, disinterest or wisdom I don't worry about cleaning the house from top to bottom before Christmas as I used to do in my younger years!

Had my Christmas hair cut last week. 'They' will make one take glasses off when cutting so didn't realise I was wearing my trendy sweatshirt with embroidered logo inside out, nor that 'they' had cut my hair shorter than I had imagined it would be [although I do like it] I had asked for a 'Bradley Wiggins' [a la the Sports Personality of the Year] hairstyle but luckily the hairdresser feminised it a bit. Other Half said that I am not safe to go out on my own but he had odd shoes on so I felt slightly superior.

Perhaps I rather go over the top with my 'A Christmas Carol' obsession [owning 50 film versions and countless print versions] One grandaughter was heard muttering in her sleep 'God Bless Us Everyone'.

Pre-Christmas Festivities:
This year the annual family Pantomime visit and the Church Christmas Carol Service fell on the same day. Different members of the family attending one or both. Luckily no-one got confused and shouted out 'he's behind you' in the wrong place. In the Carol Service Youngest Grandson performed a lovely solo although he had to stand in front of the dias as it is higher than him. Youngest Grandaughter [20 months old] did lead the dancing in the aisle during the last carol ['lead' is a little bit of an exaggeration as she was the only one doing it. But she did get a round of applause]

The Day:
We are lucky to have two Christmas Days as Eldest Grandson goes to his Mum on Christmas Eve evening so we have the first one with him on Christmas Eve. It has long been a custom to have everyone here for tea on that day. Youngest Daughters said she enjoyed that day best because when all the children arrived in the evening they are playing together and it is about family being happy together. The 'real' Christmas Day tends to be more selfish and 'look what I have got'. [Christmas Eve is fun but chaos and Other Half caught me putting the waste paper in the washing machine which shows how far I had lost touch with reality at that point - completely sober too - and when I took the washing out this morning it was to find there was still aluminium foil in there...]

Christmas Day itself is of course the usual celebration of greed and overspending although we do try to keep it simple and include stupid presents and also homemade and thoughtful things which are often more appreciated than the wildly expensive offerings.

Just Other Half and I today so rather quiet. Well apart from Peter Gabriel and the new version War of the Worlds alternating in blaring out on the CD before they are added to the mp3 players. Grandparents and their toys.


Some family members went shopping mall visiting yesterday. As I managed to keep away from such places before the event I am even firmer about keeping away now. Online shopping is the way to go as much as possible although I realise that means the demise of local shops - but when one doesn't have many local shops it is a boon. Anyway we haven't so much money this year as Other Half hasn't worked this Christmas, so its a moot point!! We noticed a definite drop off in the receipt of Christmas cards and several only arrived after we had sent to them. So many people feeling the pinch and my charity donation is going to have to wait until after my next pension payment!!

However we did venture to the nearest small town to buy a few essentials and popped into the M & S food only to find that washing-up liquid was included in their sale. I have never bought that in a sale before and was disappointed to find that lavatory paper was not similary included.

 This bit of time between Christmas and New Year is often a 'taking stock time' both personally and nationally. We won't look at politics too hard just now but personally a few things occur.

Middle Son has had Guillaine Barre syndrome for a year now and is settling to think some of the feeling in his feet may never come back. Still we are thankful to still have him and as it started in mid-December last year he keeps comparing and feeling so much better! Additionally he is facing redundancy, should know mid-January and I think he is facing that with more equanimity than if he hadn't been ill. Silver linings and all that.

 Everyone have been nagging me to get 'something done' about my hearing [which has worsened considerably this year] Actually I don't think there is much that will be able to done about my hearing but will have it all looked at again just to pacify everyone else. Sometimes not hearing what is going on around oneself can be an advantage - not getting involved in disputes or giving opinions for examples - but missing out on jokes and the babies' little gems of words are depressing. Also others' looks of outrage when they think they are being ignored can be upsetting. I often feel like wearing a sign around my neck 'I cannot hear you - please be patient', but we do not live in a patient society and imperfection  and lesser ability than the 'norm' is taken as something of which to be ashamed- an attitude led by government unfortunately.[Little bit of politics creeping in there. Unavoidable really....]

Well, off to 'rip' my new CDs to my mp3 player. Whilst that is happening maybe I will be able to find several of the household necessities which I 'tidied away' last week.

Wishing all a Peaceful and Joyous New Year. And to the Coalition Government - may you find some kindness and commonsense amongst the New Year resolutions. [OK, more politics, but I am Elizannie] God Bless Us, Everyone xx       

Picture above is the Christmas Card Other Half had made for me, adapting a poster for the old Basil Rathbone film version of 'A Christmas Carol'. I seem to be playing the part of [Mrs] Scrooge and Other Half Marley.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

When were we ever all in it together?

I will leave the commenting on the Autumn Statement to all those with better analytical powers than I [I rely on Paul Lewis to put me straight] But of course any change in the financial system in the country and the way that it is arranged and distributed between those who have and those who have not causes more far reaching discussions than just the monetary aspect.

So have we [citizens of this country] ever truly 'been in it together' - and what is this vaunted 'togetherness' anyway?

Look back over history, maybe only as far as the late 18th and 19th century, for examples of this 'togetherness'. What about the too many workers in the Industrial Revolution living in poor conditions around the mills, factories, foundries, mines and their employers living away from the areas in the better air and countryside? What about the agricultural workers thrown off the land they had worked for generations during the enclsures whilst the owners 'ploughed' greater profits into their own bank accounts. The Highland Clearances were another example of 'them and us' when 'them' did NOT want to be in it with 'us'. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were deported for Swearing an Oath which was very similar to that sworn by Freemasons yet none of the latter found themselves shackled and in a boat to Australia with the former.

In the twentieth century, are we thinking about the togetherness that sent ordinary, conscripted, working men who did not understand the reasons for the First World War into the hell of enemy fire at the front line whilst the Generals sat and planned those advances way behind the trenches? [Siegfried Sassoon  above wrote rather a good poem about this * below] And when the men who were lucky enough to return from that war needed jobs, decent homes to live in or care for their injuries did they get it in the same way that medals were handed out to those same Generals and Officers? The togetherness that meant hundreds of men and women from different parts of the UK in the 1930s found it necessary to band together and march to London to illustrate to the 'other half' of the country just how deep was the plight of the unemployed?

The twentieth century also saw a hope of 'togetherness' that was snatched away. Those  of us born after the second world war had the hope that we could become equal wherever we happened to be born - whether in a Castle or a Cottage. The introduction of the Welfare State, the National Health Service, Education that did not have to be paid for so that a child whose parents could not afford school fees could eventually get a university degree - it was a wonderful time to be young. We got our university degrees, we got good jobs and paid a lot of tax and National Insurance. Our old age was secure - we had the State Pension to which we could look forward, the company pension to which we had contributed [thus our life savings] and the National Health Service would mean that we would not finish our lives in the sort of pain and suffering and anxiety our grandparents had suffered. Of course there was still the inequality of those who started out with a lot more money than us - but so what, we would be OK.... and if we were unlucky enough to fall ill or unemployed, we had paid in all those years, that was what the tax and insurance was for, wasn't it?

Come forward into the 21st century and look at our present situation. University education is now so costly that many poorer students are deterred from even applying to university. The sort of interrogation [and I use that word in its true sense] that many have to undergo to receive disability payments is shaming in a so called civilised society. Whilst waiting for the decision to be reached if an individual is entitled to 'welfare' payments, many are quite literally going without food. Education and health provision can be better or worse according to the 'post code lottery' of where one happens to live - in other words richer areas fare better than poorer ones. Look at  the way the Remploy factories have been closed. [Minutes ago closure of the rest of the factories has been announced] Very many ordinary hard working individuals who have all their lives invested in either private or company pension schemes have in the past few years been defrauded when those schemes have failed for different reasons. [You can read about one here ] Those living on a State Pension are finding it increasingly difficult to manage - and yesterdays comments that those on welfare benefits should share in the hardships of the rest of the country and therefore not get much of an increase over the next three years has a very hollow ring.

Then look at this coalition government  with its millionaires and public school educated individuals. Can they really understand the problems  of those living on welfare benefits - of course not but the real question is do they want to? Are they interested and are they asking the right questions of those who know and can advise them? Do they care enough about the tax avoidance and evasion of big companies and richer individuals as much as they seem to fear that just possibily someone somewhere might be getting a pound or two more than they are entitled to on welfare payments? Because believe me, all those that I know who are on welfare benefits have a hard enough job getting that to which they are entitled, with out any extras.

This is a miserable rant, I know. Anyone with a cheerful take on it all, please write on a Charity Christmas Card and post to keep the postmen and women in work.

*The General

‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

. . . .
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

So, what to write about?

Just over two weeks back from our long summer vacation although the dust is still piled up around the house due to my 'suffering' a virus which seemed to have travelled home with us. I bear the latter no ill will although it did seem to remove a lot of coherent thought from my brain to the extent that I watched [and seemed to enjoy] soppy films on the Christmas Channel!

Logical thought seems to be returning so what should I blog about? What has been in the news this week? What about who has 'won' in the Middle East ? - although can anyone be said to have won in a 'campaign' which has left over 150 people dead in just the past week or so?

What about the march in London yesterday by students? Well, as it all passed off peacefully, there hasn't been a lot of media coverage, really. And that's ironic isn't it? Of course I did hear that the MPs had to use another entrance to the Palace of Westminster. I hope they were not too much inconvenienced [See - I can type with my tongue in my cheek] [Photo above courtesy of the BBC]

Earlier this week the General Synod of the Church of England rejected  [by only 6 votes] the motion to allow women bishops. Some say this has caused the worst crisis in the Anglican Church for many years. [News items suggest that now the Church of England is the only employer that does not practice equal opportunities although looking at other religious institutions does not confirm this!] But it is certainly a great disappointment to so many people, not least the outgoing and incoming Archbishops of Canterbury.

Thanksgiving in the United States today. Yet so many of its citizens are living in dire poverty and need, without sufficient healthcare provisions etc. Not that we here in the United Kingdom can afford to be complacent. I heard a radio host yesterday say that if individuals could not make their benefit payments last a week to buy sufficient food they obviously were not budgeting properly. [Radio is still intact but only because I was listening to one that was not actually mine]

All this thinking is getting a bit much. Back to the Christmas Channel methinks......

49 years ago today President Kennedy died. 63 years ago today my sister died. May they both sleep gently.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Remembrance Sunday 2012

There is no point my repeating my beliefs and views about the wearing of poppies and how we should remember all who died in all conflicts everywhere on Remembrance day. I have written pieces over the past two years which can be read here and here and I still remain in the same mind! I have bought white poppies from the Peace Pldege Union for the family and donated to the British Legion and feel fine about it all.

Remembrance Day inevitably becomes for me - as for so many people I suspect - also a day for remembering others too who have passed from this life, as well as those who have been victims of military conflicts. 

This time of year is a time of remembering - Hallowe'en is 'properly' " All Hallows' Eve' ", the night before the Christian festival celebrations of All Saints' Day on the 1st November and All Souls' Day on the 2nd November - both of which celebrate the souls of faithful departed. The ancient festival of Samhain falls around this time too and celebrates a different sort of departure, that of the lighter part of the year. The spirits of the departed were welcomed to the feasting that took place at this time. Somehow from these festivals we have the stories/customs of ghosts abroad on Hallowe'en!

Remember, remember the 5th of November as the old rhyme goes has always seemed a rather horrible time to me, with the ritualistic burning of am image of real person who was killed in a horrific way. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good party and if a bonfire and some hot dogs and toffee apples are included - bring it on! - but I would rather not throw any effigies onto the flames.

Christmas Eve was always a time of remembrance for those who has passed, symbolised by a burning candle in the window of one's dwelling. Dicken's used this in A Christmas Carol when in describes the Ghost of Christmas Past as having:

...from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.
Clearly a candle, which at the end of its journey with Ebenezer Scrooge into the past and the visits to so many long departed souls, Scrooge cannot bear any further revelations and

In the struggle, if that can be called a struggle in which the Ghost with no visible resistance on its own part was undisturbed by any effort of its adversary, Scrooge observed that its light was burning high and bright; and dimly connecting that with its influence over him, he seized the extinguisher-cap, and by a sudden action pressed it down upon its head. The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that the extinguisher covered its whole form; but though Scrooge pressed it down with all his force, he could not hide the light, which streamed from under it, in an unbroken flood upon the ground.
Scrooge snuffs it out.

Don't let us 'snuff out' our remembrances. Tomorrow and everyday are good days to remember all those that have gone before us. Hopefully with happy memories and joy, even if they went before we were ready to let them go. And with that thought let us all hope that those who went due to military conflicts may serve to remind us that in those conflicts there is to much waste of human life and the real answer lies in Pacifism.

The poster above and other information, books etc can be bought from the Peace Pledge Union, details here

Friday, 26 October 2012

Recession? What recession?

Yesterday's news that we are officially out of the recession was surprising. Having just spent three weeks touring Great Britain and now back in Somerset for a few weeks I can assure the powers that be that there are plenty of empty shops and others that are having closing down sales that suggest the recession is still alive and well just for starters. Of course newspapers/media are quoting all the differing indicators that form a recession, a double dip recession and other such phrases but to the individual the most important indicator is whether there is enough money in the household budget to last the week/month/year.

Surely we must all know at least one person who is unemployed and trying to get work and many more who have had their pensions raided. Yet this government persists in talking about benefit scroungers. Yet once again down here in Somerset 'ordinary people' on holiday this year in a small holiday camp, despite the recession, have raised over £2500 for 5 charities - and this is despite less people coming on holiday. Working class people have always believed in a wider society and been very willing to  help others less fortunate than themselves. It is only this millionaire government who have allegedly just 'found' the 'big society'. 

Individuals like my cousin who have given up years to help others are the backbone of this society, not Cameron and co. Thousands of people marching with the TUC on Saturday were expressing their disgust with the austerity measures too. When will the government learn?

Yesterday was a worrying day for members of my family with redundancies announced at Ford and Coca-Cola - but not just for us. There will be many more worrying days for many more people and the so called news that the we are out of the recession will not resonate with these people.

Yesterday too Iain Duncan Smith made one of his pronouncements about welfare benefit cuts. If we are out of the recession why is this necessary? Just a thought...

As always when in Somerset I don't have access to my own picture 'library' so I am posting a John Lennon picture and quote instead. Pretty apt I think.

Friday, 19 October 2012

By the Grave of Robert Tressell I Knelt Down


Another in the loose series of Travels with Other Half*

The last week of our travels around Britain saw us visiting a few iconic Socialist sites plus a some other more random choices, perhaps.

It has been remarked that Other Half and I 'do weird things'. I don't really understand this [why change the habits of a life time] but leave others to judge. As I have said before, our places to visit have been idiosyncratic but I have discovered that saying in reply to the question 'what made you visit this place' when paying one's entrance fee 'I have wanted to come here since I was 14' makes one look like an awful geek to the rest of those waiting to pay. Plus there was not a button to push on the till for this answer and I had to choose something else.....

So, a few of the places we visited - in no particular order as they say!:

The place where I looked an awful geek was New Lanark, the mill village built in the 1790s by David Dale who eventually took into partnership Robert Owen, one of my socialist heroes. As Wikipedia puts it, New Lanark 'New Lanark became a successful business and an epitome of utopian socialism'. Quotes from Owen are placed all around the New Lanark 'site', one such placement is shown above.

I also became badly over excited at visiting Coalbrookedale and Ironbridge and getting steeped in the area that is often credited as the birth place of the Industrial Revolution. Spending a couple of days there meant that we really 'absorbed the atmosphere' although when I asked Other Half if he could hear the clogs clattering along the cobbled streets the look he gave me was quite enough......

If you remember that I taught Popular Culture as well as History and English, it will not be a surprise that we had a lovely afternoon indulging in a cream tea in the refreshment room [shown below] of Carnford Station in Lancashire, where the film 'Brief Encounter' was shot. I pretended I was Celia Johnson although Other Half refused to imitate Trevor Howard. I had my photograph taken under the clock and walked up and down the slopes that CJ and TH had run up and down so madly. Oh the excitement!

And of course on visiting Morecambe we took photos of the statue of the sadly missed Eric Morecambe one of which is shown below.

In the Lake District we visited two of the houses where Wordsworth has lived and we strolled along Hadrian's Wall in Cumbria. We visited the Lowry exhibition in Salford - brilliant- and the Tate in Liverpool. We said 'we are names and not numbers' in Portmeirion. Marvelled in the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool and paid homage at Wigan Pier. We had a brilliant time and I have lots more to tell you all [I can see you all yawning and I forgive you]

But the most moving place and time, truly, was finding the grave of Robert Tressell, the author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in the disused Walton Cemetery in Liverpool. Now a City Farm , I searched for the grave in the pouring rain, avoiding the cowpats and sheep doodoos! You can find the story of the grave here and if you think I look rather manic in the photo below please remember the pouring rain and the huge raincoat I am wearing! And yes I knelt down, once to clear the rain from the words to take a picture and once when I fell over in a cow pat!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

On the Road - or Whisky and Kilts

Part two of travels with My Other Half*.

Although we have seemingly stopped travelling this week, by staying in a little wooden lodge by a burn [see I know the correct phraseology] not too far from Fort William, we are in fact using it as a base to travel around the Highlands, some of the Islands and other northerly places in Scotland.

Our choices of places to visit are, as ever, idiosyncratic. As well as 'must see' sites like Loch Ness - taking the usual snaps of each other by the Loch and putting these on facebook with titles like 'The real monster of Loch Ness' [oh the wit!] - some of our destinations have been determined by facts like family history; places where friends and family now live; shopping; places named in Great Literature [me]

Other Half has a couple of places where way back in his family history his ancestors lived. One we visited yesterday and is the furthest North we have reached on this trip: Ullapool in Ross and Cromarty. A really lovely village with a very comprehensive, although deceptively small, museum. The first folder Other Half opened in the family history section of the museum showed a photograph of his grandfather about to depart with his battalion for the front in November 1914. We also managed to fill in a few missing details about the family prior to and just after WW1.

Today's destination on the Isle of Skye was actually one of those really wild ideas of mine. One of my favourite authors is Wilkie Collins [the link is to the excellent site by Paul Lewis], and one of Collins' best books imo is Armadale And as Armadale is a small place on the coast of Skye, I [we!] obviously had to visit.... [Collins' visited Armadale on Skye when yachting around Scotland] A very pretty place to visit. Although the photo of me [courtesy of Other Half] at the Ferry Terminal flatters neither the place nor me it does show the name 'Armadale'!!

We also found an interesting place which allowed me to indulge other odd interests of mine - a tin chapel and a canal system. Another little village, Fort Augustus. Other Half also managed to get me up in a 'gondola' - a sort of cable car - up one of the mountains in the Ben Nevis range. As I am not a lover of heights this was a momentous experience, which I thoroughly enjoyed!

Politics - past and present - can never be completely left behind: listening to the speeches at the Labour Party Conference on the radio whilst driving about and thinking about the Highland Clearances whilst driving around the Glens etc. On the first point I actually enjoyed Ed Milliband's speech, on the second I was even more enraged at the unfairness of the 'us and them' that allowed the Clearances to impoverish even further the already dispossessed.

*With apologies to Graham Greene's Travels With My Aunt

Photo of Ullapool courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ullapool

Friday, 28 September 2012

Goin' Travellin' or Cathedrals & Scones

Elizannie and Other Half are attempting that difficult challenge to marital relations: a road trip and are off on a three week tour around the UK. Spending a lot of time together in a car might prove our nemisis - watch this space - but could equally prove which one has the most patience with the other.

We have just entered Scotland and the biggest problem so far has been the loss of raincoat, probably left in a hotel in York. Since York during our stay experienced flooding due to the second highest levels on the River Ouse and many residents were evacuated from their homes, it would seem mean to have a tantrum over such a small material loss and I did manage to desist mid-scream.

Inevitably one cannot help comparing 'Points of Interest' on the way and we agreed that Lincoln and Durham Cathedrals were equally impressive for different reasons. But the difference in scones in the various tea places were indisputa ble. So far the best has been found in Edinburgh Castle tea shop and would have made the gruelling climb worth while even if we hadn't thought the views magnificent! [More on Edinburgh Castle here] I had a lovely chat with one of the guides in Edinburgh Castle about the shortcomings of a couple of the Stuart[or Stewart in Scotland] Kings. We were also impressed with the Scottish crown jewels, against our better judgement! Subjects for another day, another blog will include perhaps the 'us and them' feeling [or the 'us and plebs' as one cabinet minister would have it] that is enhanced when looking around the stately homes en route. Meanwhile today's other exciting moments have included the first view of the Forth Bridge and our first proper look at a Scottish Loch - Loch Leven just up the road to our hotel. Beautiful, but unfortunately at the moment on this borrowed laptop I can't figure out how to add my photos! Subject for another blog, another day and if you are lucky, dear reader, you might miss the link for that blog! Onward tomorrow, another place!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Who's sorry now, Mr Clegg?

Yesterday's 'apology' by Nick Clegg put me in a bit of a parodying mood:


Who's sorry now, who's sorry now
Whose heart is achin' for breakin' each vow
Who's sad and YELLOW, who's a cryin' FELLOW
Just like we cried over you

Right upto BRIGHTON, just like a WRONG 'UN
WE tried to warn you somehow
You had your way, now you must pay
WE'RE glad that you're sorry now

Right upto BRIGHTON, just like a WRONG'UN
WE tried to warn you somehow
You had your way, now you must pay
WE'RE glad that you're sorry now **

Personally, I think that it was just as easy for Nick Clegg to say sorry for breaking his promise as it was for him to promise all sorts of things pre-election. After all in 2010n he probably thought it was near to impossible that he would have any power post election. He would have realised that the only chance that he could have a stab at power sharing would be through forming a coalition with one of the two other parties - which of course happened - and then he would have the 'excuse' that he would be over ruled in 'big decisions' like this one.

The fact that yesterday's 'apology' is probably a preamble for a conference seeking apologia is all too evident and makes him look like the true hypocrite he really is. The Autotune Remix to which I have put a link below has now been 'accepted' by Clegg on the condition all proceeds go to charity, a children's hospital in Sheffield [his constituency] As Other Half commented, they wouldn't get any funding any other way..... Yet another of this government's achievements of which surely Nick Clegg must be proud. Or is he sorry now?

[Watch Naughty Nick singing his apology here]

**With my apologies to ruining the lovely lyrics [B.Kalmar/T.Snyder/H.Ruby] sung by Connie Francis.

The photograph above has been taken from the live blog by Andrew Sparrow at the Guardian Well worth reading.

Now it is time for my apologies! I am trying to work with the new blogger.com website. Any errors and omissions are therefore my own and the photo of Nick Clegg above should be bigger and I am sure that once I understand the instructions it will be......

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Mr Gove's School Report

It's not like Elizannie to pass up an opportunity to disagree with Michael Gove. He just rattles me whenever he speaks - largely because whatever he says I find usually 100% opposing my own views. I have tried to be fair and mark Gove's examination paper of the school system which has resulted in the new Education Baccalaureate qualification which will come into force in the next few years impartially. But I can't give it a pass rate and these are the reasons why:

How old do I feel now that the exam system for 16 year old has changed *three* times in my life time? CSEs were brought in whilst I was at school and run concurrently with GCE ‘O’ levels which were really divisive – I went to a [really bad] grammar school and the lower forms were not allowed to take ‘O’ levels however good they were at individual subjects. I was in a higher form but had to take ‘O’ levels even in the subjects at which I was really bad! Then the amalgam of GCEs and CSEs: the GCSEs arrived which were supposed to be fairer although with the foundation paper system they were still divisive especially with schools who wanted their rating systems to be based on the number of ‘successes’ on the A-C passes.

And now this, the ‘Gove Levels’. Michael Gove should write out one million times ‘We must not play politics with our childrens’ futures’.

To be fair, there is one thing that I really like about the new system, that one examination board across the country will result in 'a level playing field' for all students - but maybe getting rid of league tables for schools would have been a help too?

If all the money that all these changes will cost is spent in improving the current system instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, surely this would prove a more effective investment? No scheme will ever be perfect but the current system does seem to favour both those who are good at exams *and* those who work steadily throughout the year.

Having worked for some years in education I can of course point to weaknesses of some areas that need improving whilst at the same time recognise strengths in other areas. One area that does not seem to have been addressed so far in detail in the forthcoming system is in the provision of special educational needs like dyslexia and other learning difficulties and I will be reading any announcements in the next few days with interest on these points.

Two examination questions Mr Gove failed to answer are:
1. Why are these 'reforms' not to come into force until after the next General Election?
2. Since the school leaving age is to be raised to 18 why are the 16 year old examinations the 'target' of your venom?

Mr Gove, take note of all those that are examining your results at the moment, please.

Some interesting articles and blogs on this subject:
The Telegraph
The Spectator:Isabel Hardman
The Independent:Richard Garner

Photograph courtesy of Guardian.co.uk

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A Summer of Disconnect

Well, the Elizannie/Other Half entourage arrived home last night after nearly a month of cliff dwelling above the Bristol channel. It was a lovely time, being with so many family and friends but although as always we were sad to leave it is also good to be back with more family and friends, here over looking a different stretch of water: the Thames Estuary.

As always I like a good pun so the blog title refers to quite a few things which happened during the August weeks whilst we were in the West Country. The first and most annoying disconnect refers to the fact that the broadband and telephone signals in our bit of the West Country were even worse than usual. One day I 'phoned Eldest Daughter just to tell her about my pure joy that I had managed to get a telephone signal! However it did mean that I had to desist from angry rants on twitter and facebook about various government and politicians' pronouncements which ultimately meant that I could have been a more placid person with whom to live!

There also seemed to be a complete disconnect at times with several politicians/government bodies and the general public. Just a quick list [leaving out some, obviously....]

[a]ATOS sponsoring the Paralympics [even Jonathan Swift could not have written this, surely? However Mark Steel writes a really good piece on this.]
[b]Examination boards changing the criteria for marking GCSEs but without telling teachers or pupils until the results were published. Head teachers not being sure who to sue? Pupils who had worked really hard - and teachers ditto - devastated.
[c]Virgin trains NOT being awarded the West Coast Main Line rail franchise renewal despite having built the service up over their previous franchise which has run since 1997. Virgin now taking legal action.
[d]Tim Yeo asking if David Cameron is a man or a mouse made me choke on my holiday weetabix. Suggesting that rats are leaving the sinking ship seems to be mixing metaphors when the ship in question is a runway for Heathrow airport. Sending Justine Greening to answer that she strongly opposes this seemed to offer her up as a sacrificial lamb and http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-urged-to-ditch-justine-greening-and-expand-heathrow-8084806.html suggests she may indeed be offered up for Sunday dinner very shortly.
[e] Nick Clegg and George Osbourne seem VERY disconnected over Clegg's idea of an 'emergency tax' on the rich!

The very last disconnect which had me really very cross within minutes of walking through my front door last night was the fact that the bank which I am leaving because they have made such a hash up of my bank account this year [Santander] have done it again and not passed on one of my direct debits to my new bank [The Co-op] Since this was to my union [Unite] I am even more annoyed!

The photograph above was taken in the West Country by Eldest Grandson, aged nearly seven. Any resemblance to any politicians is purely coincidental.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

On Holiday

Elizannie and Other Half are currently on holiday with friends and family, camping on their usual cliff over-looking the Bristol Channel.

Despite trying to ignore the rest of the world subjects currently exercising us include the news that the government are suggesting that NHS hospital trusts invited to expand abroad and the developments around Julian Assange's asylum at the Ecuador Embassy. And what to wear in the next fancy dress competiton, obviously. And playing with the grandchildren and being generally silly.

Monday, 23 July 2012

My Weekend Celebrating a very British Sport

Well I had a thoroughly lovely weekend celebrating British sport. Surprised at that statement? Read on....

I have hoped since 2005 for a lovely British Olympic Games in London 2012 - and have watched in dismay as the Olympic ideals seem to have taken such a hammering by the [alleged] underhand ways and incompetence of companies like G4S; the shenanigans of infrastructure schemes that are still to come to fruition like our own local road building scheme and the waste of money by many councils on unnecessary decorations etc.

But we were lucky to join with the happy side of the Games this weekend - when communities get together to celebrate and the true Olympic spirit really does shine through. We spent the weekend in East London with some of our Grandchildren and were in Waltham Forest when the torch was carried into the evening celebration and lit the cauldron. We had no idea who was carrying the torch on its last stage to the cauldron - so it was great to hear the announcement that Fabrice Muamba would be the torch bearer.

Having arrived in England with his parents - political exiles from Zaire - Muamba had attended school in Walthamstow and those who follow football will know all about him even before his dramtic collapse in March this year during the Bolton/Spurs game. His heart stopped for over an hour and probably his life was only saved because not only did the football club have excellent medical facilities but a consultant cardiologist who was at the game gave immediate medical aid.

The reception Muamba got from the crowd was brilliant! He looked frail but very,very happy and in his speech after he had lit the cauldron he again thanked all who had saved his life and described it as a miracle. I don't think I was the only one crying!

The photograph above is not that good, but it is mine! And shows a glimpse of the lovely police lady who stopped the very pushy lady who was trying to elbow my grandchildren away from the front of the barrier. How very dare she!

Onto Dagenham Town Show on Sunday and a chance to have one's picture taken with the real Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch.

Did Elizannie shrink from this challenge? No she did not!
A friend pointed out that I do look as it I am going to swipe one of my political opponents with it. Not a bad idea except [a] I am a pacifist and [b] After the town show the torch was taken off in an armoured type car.
And then to fill the boots of the Elizannie/Other Half household we had the brilliant results of the British Cyclists in the Tour de France! As massive cycling fans it has been an exciting three weeks and although it was obvious on Saturday that barring accidents Bradley Wiggins
would be the overall winner to quote someone 'It's not won until it's won'!! And with our Chris Froome second and Mark Cavendish as stage winner it was quite a day!
A photograph to sum up the excitement. Please note the seat upon which Youngest Granddaughter is viewing the finish to the Tour de France:

Today it has been announced that Sir Chris Hoy, the British Olympic Gold medallist will lead the British Olympians at the Opening Ceremony of the Games

So all in all, a very proud time for a what could be considered a sport which could be considered very British and originally a proletarian one. [Some say that it was a Scot who invented the bicycle]

Ironically, when cycling first 'got going' bikes were a luxury only the well-off could afford. However as soon as mass production meant that the working classes could afford their own bicycles, the rich mostly dropped their interest [apart from the profits that could be made from investing in cycle factories and shops...]

Cycles quickly entered into mainstream literature [H.G.Wells: 'The Wheels of Chance'; Jerome K. Jerome: 'Three Men on the Bummel' for example] and opened up the countryside for the working person. On their days off, the working population could reach areas that were out of walking range/public transport costs. Cycles could also be hired quite cheaply, within the working man's price range.

So bicycles became a leveller in a lot of ways - introducing the masses to areas which previously only their 'betters' had been able to visit.

Of course the sorts of bicycles used in road races now like the Tour de France cost thousands of pounds but in the early days of cycling and racing the differentials were not so large and anyone handy with a spanner could do their own repairs and adjustments!

We watched the Tour de France 'in the flesh when it came to Portsmouth & Brighton in 1994 and there was a big following here in the UK. Hopefully now that we have had three British successes this year we might get another look-in at the tour very soon!!

Onwards to cycling Gold medals in the Olympics!!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Olympic dreams and reality

Honestly, I really was trying to be optimistic about the Olympics. I was excited when our bid succeeded, imagining jobs and contracts for workers in this country - which sadly did not pan out as expected. Please believe I really am not an Olympic Scrooge. Ah well.

I hoped that the Corporate Sponsorship would mean that the tax payer [income, council - both local and county council levels] would not have to dig into his/her pocket - or if money was required it would be as an investment for 'legacy' projects and 'trickle down' and improve local economies.

I loved the idea that the spirit of the games would enthuse our citizens, that young people would perhaps get the idea that sports were something that could be enjoyed in reality and not just played on Xpensive electronic gadgets - at the local park, say. Too many school playing fields have been sold off over the past few years to help pay for necessities within those same schools. And the idea that there would be some 'free' spectacles such as road races that might be passing near to our homes was exciting.

The promises of the 'Cultural Olympics' seemed good to those like me who would rather participate in a pen and paper game that one holding some sort of stick or ball.

It is a shame so far that the weather is being a bit British, but hey ho that's life and we can still all have a good time!


I really don't want to do this, however there is a big but. Or a lot of small buts, medium size buts, all adding up to a rather massive but. Read on...

We won't talk about G4S, although seeing the tents ready for the army to camp out on the downs near here preparatory for the Mountain Biking events is a bit reminiscent of WW11 [no cheeky, I wasn't born then, but I have seen postcards!]

And at the awful traffic chaos which is Sadler's Farm Roundabout Improvements which had 'nothing to do with the Olympics' last year and should have been finished in March, is still not completed and it has been announced today that they will not be completed now before the Olympics which is causing some concern to the OAC. Of course the Essex County Council rate payer foots this bill. [And massive commiserations to all the commuters for the hours lost in all the traffic jams, night and day, since the works started. And all the local businesses which have lost money due to prospective clients being unable to reach them]

I was looking at an 1801 map of the area at the weekend, and it looked oh so peaceful then!

Another aspect to the Sadlers Farm debacle is that the junction leads directly to the nearest of the Park & Ride Carparks to the Hadleigh Mountain biking site. Allegedly due to water logging, this site has now been declared unusable, meanwhile most of the other three sites parking space tickets have been sold. Sadly more council-tax payers' money sailing up Benfleet Creek.

[And in case you all think I am being a bit of a NIMBY, we were in Cornwall recently and saw an area around a community which was in dire need of a road improvement scheme which had been passed and was all set to go until a nearby Olympic event venue popped up and the allocated money switched to building a road for that instead. I am sure there are similar tales around the country]

Luckily the torch relay around the country has been funded by corporate sponsorship and whether or not one is in favour of fast food and drinks sponsoring 'healthy games' it must be acknowledged that without this sponsorship not only the torch relay but the whole games would not be possible. However all the Official flags, bunting etc has to be bought by the local authorities themselves - at a cost - guess what - to the local tax payer. [I believe each flag costs in the region of £200+] And in our own are a club for disabled people has been closed due to lack of funding. Surely this would have been a better investment and Olympic legacy than the flags and bunting?

Meanwhile, not far from here an Essex town had 'organised a series of bunting making workshops across the borough to help local community groups make flags to line the route' [please read all about it in the link] It's a shame that more towns and villages didn't take a more do-it-yourself route to decorations. Those who know me know I love a bit of home made decorations [although sometimes it is to the embarrassment of others] And Other Half has been known on many occasions to paint the garage door with a message when something special has happened: football team winning at Wembley; birth of a baby; degree results et al!

Those who live reasonably near some of the road races have been told to stay at home and watch the events on TV which seems a bit of a reversal of the ideals. Road closures in a wide circumference from around 3am in the morning of such events means that if one is not within walking distance it will be impossible to get near the events, which is an awful shame. As I type yet another advert on the radio is pumping out this message.

I am very glad that there has been the Cultural Olympiad idea but - and here I sound really grumbly - the fact that so much of it has been concentrated around the capital is a bit of a drawback, and here I go into real Grinch/Scrooge mode [depending on your popular culture tastes] and suggest that not enough is being made of the events all around the country and a little more media advertising might help. So here's a link: http://www.london2012.com/about-us/cultural-olympiad/

I am not all grumbles, honestly. Lots of schools and organisations have had Olympic celebrations, we had a lovely afternoon last week at some of our grandchildren's school where all children got awards for taking part in an Olympic week. Lots of community fun where the torch has travelled. There is still time to pull together and make the games a really happy time. And look at the positives. And we can outface the weather - we are Brits!!

The picture above is of of a 1948 3d stamp celebrating the Olympic games. Just because I like it!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

How the Olympics can make a garden grow

The seeds:

The plants in flower:
I love the internet. The way that from small seeds something bigger can grow. Well sort of. Yesterday in my blog here I put a picture of the latest badges that Other Half and I are wearing and then thought I would show it to all my facebook friends [the seeds]. This engendered a bit of a discussion of the Olympics in general and below is one of my replies [the plants shoot] I then thought a bit more about what I had written and decided to write a bit more on my facebook 'status' [the plants bud] In turn I thought I ought to let my Olympic dream/extended metaphor grow a little and become a blog [The plants in flower]

The plants bud:
'Having a bit of a discussion about the joys [or not] of the London 2012 Olympics and some of you may have seen my reply which unintentionally turned into a bit of a rant! So I am putting it up as my status and hoping that some of you will be able to change my mind and making me feel that it is 'all good' [to quote 'Twenty Twelve']

The plants shoot:
"I must sound a real curmudgeon and even non-sporty me enjoyed the cycling and a few other events in the past. I was thrilled when we were awarded the 2012 games back in 2005. However the misery [and I mean that] engendered by those like us who live near to the games locales by the road building schemes, dreadful cock-ups in planning road closures, the lack of availability of tickets, the 'suggestions' that even if the 'free' events like cycling are coming through your area you stay in and watch them on TV, the 'advice' to those travelling and working in London that they get up earlier and leave later as half the road lanes are to become 'Olympic Lanes' from Monday..... [Many of my neighbours already leave home at 6.30 am and arrive back more than 12 hours later] The money wasted by some local councils on Olympic flags at £300 a flutter per flag [allegedly] when 'they' are cutting back on welfare services to the disabled and the like [and if my local council wish to defend this please do]"

Now of course we have had the news break in the past couple of days about the sterling job that G4S security are doing - NOT. I don't know if any of you heard their 'Chief of Staff' [I am being ironical there btw] interviewed on 'Today', radio 4, this morning? The only pity was that he wasn't being grilled by John Humphries. Worth a 'listen again' imo.

This rant may become supersized [get the McDonalds reference, clever huh?] and become a blog. On the other hand I might just go for a calming down walk in the countryside in the rain.'

The Garden in Bloom:
Well, rain helps the plants grow. But also makes Elizannie a wet and unhappy lady. So I will end the metaphor with some of the good things about the games, hopefully. The corporate sponsors will probably have a lot of merchandise left after the closing ceremony which may mean reductions in prices and cheap Christmas present shopping for all of us [as long as we don't mind giving/receiving things with the awful logo plastered all over. I will just say that I am not proud] Those uncompleted road contracts, security contracts et al may mean huge penalty clause payments by contractors to local and county councils and governments so a reduction in our local and income taxes [sorry, you didn't just say there are no penalty clauses, did you?]

I really am not attacking the corporate sponsorships because without them the cost of the Olympic Games here in the UK in 2012 would have been impossible. Which would have been an awful shame*. So that's all good.

*Can't say this out loud as I have my tongue stuck firmly in my cheek.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Westward Ho or Travels with my Other Half*

Elizannie and Other Half have just returned from another set of travels in the West Country which took in a bit of magic, a sense of awe, a bit of humility and a lot of fun. Returning to the Olympic hysteria surrounding the London suburbs/Thames Estuary was a rude awakening.

A large part of our two weeks away was shared [by arrangement] with a Gateway Club holiday. I have written about this group before, and we have been lucky enough to share holidays with the group on several occasions, but I have desisted writing about the fun we all have from a fear of sounding patronising and using the club members as examples of how we should all 'count our blessings' and rambling on about how those allegedly less advantaged are plucky etc etc, which is how too many observers too often treat the subject.

So what do I write? The truth, perhaps? That we had a good week with friends: lots of laughs, a few tears, a few misunderstandings - all in all a 'normal' week's holiday. Except that there was a lot less complaining than on a 'normal' week's holiday - the generally rotten weather was taken for what it was and it didn't stop anyone from getting on with the fun [although the sight of Other Half after a trip across the moors on an Open Top bus in the pouring rain was worth a thousand words!] Club members dressing up for evening entertainments shamed me into getting out of my scruffy jeans and t-shirts and finding skirts and make-up! No political discussions for a week was quite a relief too, really.

As always, if we had expressed our massive admiration of all the volunteer helpers they would have brushed it aside as they consider they are just on holiday helping out friends and positively do not look for thanks. But a big thank you from us to all from that particular Gateway club for letting us join with them in their fun.

The second week of our travels took us to Cornwall and - for this summer - reasonably good weather. As a 'King Arthur anorak' I wanted to climb to the top of Tintagel Castle and achieved it although I was the last of our party [despite being the youngest by all of eleven months!] to achieve the top of the winding steps! Still it was an impressive view down, and a magical feeling pertaining to King Arthur and his court too.

A further exploration took us on to the village of Boscastle which was disastrously flooded in August 2004. Miraculously no lives were lost but the amount of damage caused and the way that the town has recovered are both awe inspiring. Please do follow the link and read about the way that nature can be savage and man can persevere to rebuild. Our party sat outside a cafe eating scones and looking way above our heads at a sign showing how high the flood waters reached that day - which we remembered well because we were sitting very many miles further along the same coast line, in the pouring rain, enjoying a [wet] bar-be-que, with no idea of the devastation happening further down the coast.

After all these rather thought provoking experiences, it was quite a change to return to the South East and all the developing Olympic shenanigans. When we watched the latest episode of Twenty Twelve, 'Catastrophisation' on the night prior to returning home, it was as usual hysterically funny. However within twenty four hours of our return and after listening to London based radio stations we realised that just maybe some of the fictional situations we had watched could be coming true. And oh, the complaining on the airwaves! So maybe the badges we are wearing should be shared around a bit...

*Once more I have 'lifted' and adapted my blog title from literary sources, this time two books:
Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene
Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley. This book was so successful that entrepreneurs in the 19thC saw 'an opportunity' and built an hotel and other developments of the same name near where the book begins [in Devon] and eventually the village proper - Westward Ho! -developed. The only village in the British Isles with an exclamation mark in its name... but I am not allowed to put an exclamation mark in the 'Labels for this post' on this page. Oh well..

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

It shouldn't take a Chancellor of the Exchequer.....

In the past few hours it has been reported that tax revenue is down [over 7%] and Government spending which includes social welfare payments is up [8%]. Quelle surprise! It shouldn't take a chancellor of the exchequer to work out why. When a growing percentage of the population falls out of work, [1] they are not paying tax [2] they are not able to afford goods and services to businesses which in turn would provide tax revenues on profits made to the exchequer [3] newly unemployed will probably be calling upon the social welfare services for financial help.

NB of course [2] is dependent upon morally upright businesses and proprietors who pay their tax 'properly' and don't off shore it like Phillip Green or pay accountants vast fees to avoid paying 'normal' rates of tax in this country, like Jimmy Carr. Although of course obviously the accountants would pay tax in this country at the standard rates....

Meanwhile, just in case a needy person is getting 50p more than that to which the government might think those claimants might possibly be entitled, our caring: 'we are all in this together' government is persecuting the disabled, unemployed and disadvantaged by cutting benefits and allowances and demonising those groups as much as they can.

Of course if those groups had more money to spend it would go into their local economies as they frittered it away in local shops on those trifling luxuries like food. Some would obviously go abroad for goods and services like heating and other utilities - now out of public ownership and owned by foreign companies. Or do I sound xenophobic? Still that's not the consumers' fault.

Unlike the large amounts the super rich are saving in their legal tax avoidance schemes, those amounts which are often - by the nature of where the money is placed - spent abroad and thus enliven some other economy and not the one where the source of the taxes on the profits originated. And of course we do know that many of the super rich habitually spend their money abroad anyway.

The photograph? Oh, I am sorry to admit my teeth are a little put on edge by photographs of Gideon Osbourne so thought I would put up one of the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer after the second World War, Stafford Cripps. It was said that people didn't mind his economic measures too much because he looked so pinched and miserable himself! Photograph courtesy of the National Archive.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

That Was The Jubilee That Was

Not a word about how if the Bank Holiday had not been moved forward a week to ‘accommodate’ certain dates there would have been pictures in the media of sunburnt bodies wearing jubilee hats.

Not a word about the security guards provided at no wages and given no facilities by Tory peers. Doesn’t actually smack of good security cover but if a Tory peer thinks that is OK, well who am I to judge otherwise.

[Not a word, of course, about the implications of the above on the security arrangements for the forthcoming Olympic Games. That just doesn't bear thinking about let alone speaking/writing about]

Not a word about all the ‘ordinary’ people who travelled – often at great expense – to London to watch the flotilla go by on the Thames only to find that however early they arrived the ‘Riverside positions’ were either ticketed or reserved for ‘special’ parties.

Not a word about the way so many of the citizens of the UK felt marginalised because their home country was not represented on the Union flag or by any other flags being flown locally. [Especially not a word about the Welsh nation, so much of whose labour was used to power and supply the Industrial Revolution yet is regularly ignored when the ‘people of the UK represented by the Union flag’ is mentioned]

Not a word about all those who were forced to take a day’s holiday on Tuesday yet did not get paid because it was ‘discretionary’.

And not a word about my entry for the village Jubilee Hat competition. It represented the people of the UK rather than royalty and also displayed Britannia, the Welsh Dragon flag and the flag of St David incorporated with the Union flag. Strangely it did not win. But I had fun. Especially when the hat was described as a 'rebel entry'.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Put Out More Flags*

Here's the thing. I am not patriotic as such - I worry that patriotism can lead to the sort of nationalism that can lead to wars. But I do believe that one should try to make where one lives a better place and in fact one has a duty so to do.

Also I love a good celebration. So I am not adverse to joining in with the odd jubilee party, with a few reservations of course!

Firstly, I am not paying extra for stuff like iced cakes just because instead of the usual pink or yellow icing they are iced in red & blue & white. Come on! And wrapping a loaf of bread in a red, white and blue plastic bag will not make me buy it for the sandwiches over the Co-op's own - when they are placed on the table who sees the wrapping!

Secondly, all the 'tat' [aka 'memorabilia'] that is being sold in the name of the jubilee celebrations is really winding me up - especially as so much is as made not in the UK - if we want to get souvenirs, we could still make our own or ensure that any we do buy is made in the UK or commonwealth, couldn't we?

Thirdly - and to me most importantly - the Union flags and bunting. This can actually be quite divisive to many of our citizens. Very many of us are not completely 'British'. And even those who are, may feel - as I do - that it has never been fair to those of us with Welsh blood that the Union flag does not represent all the UK nations. [Don't start with the 'Wales is a principality argument'. It does not wash with us] So this set me off thinking. Rather than exclude all those in these islands who feel excluded by the Union flag, lets all fly flags that are important to us along side it.

So I have just got out some of the flags which are important to me and which I have marched under at various times, or flown from my front door! Of course I had to take a photo and in no particular order: the Red Flag, the Peace Flag, my Union Flag [Unite], the Union Flag [checking that it is the right way up], the Welsh Dragon and St David's Flags.

So lets all Put Out More Flags, celebrate what is important to us and our differences and have a good Bank Holiday!

This blog was inspired by Bethan Jenkins AM

*This is the title of a novel by Evelyn Waugh. The titles are the only things Waugh and I have in common.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Oh what a Circus, Oh what a show! Or what did the Olympics do for us?

Yes, I have mashed up two famous shows/films in this blog title. The first half is from the title song to the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita, the second half is a misquote from Monty Python's Life of Brian In case it is thought this blog is a show business review, read on Dear Reader...

I don't think that Elizannie would make a good spy. Taking the above photograph last night, in Kent Avenue, Dagenham and trying to be unobtrusive, didn't sit lightly on my shoulders. Firstly I am not that handy with a camera [well actually it was my 'phone, don't own a camera] and secondly I need a lot of time to 'frame' and get the 'subject' in the right place. And the fact that I was taking the picture out of a car window and the car was moving, albeit slowly, wasn't helping. And waiting until the two burly security men on the gate about 200 hundred yards away were looking the other way also wasn't helping. I developed a shake. It wasn't until I got home and enlarged the picture on my laptop that I realised the notice just showing on the left hand side of the picture says:
Warning: Surveillance cameras are operating in this car park.
If I had seen this at the time camera shake would have been even more interesting.....

So why have I taken a snap of this 'Big Top'? Well it is actually the rehearsal area for the opening and closing ceremonies of the forthcoming Olympics. OK, this has to be done somewhere and as you can all see, this appears to be a pretty deserted and unloved piece of ground. But I see the whole area as a metaphor for how much Britain - and its workforce - has changed in the past ten years or so.

Until just over ten years ago, since 1931, this site housed one of the major manufacturing areas of the Ford Motor Company in Britain. It was opened by the first Edsel Ford and at its peak of vehicle production it was producing 1200 cars a day and had a two shift pattern. It employed up to 30,000 people. I grew up near to this plant and at shift change time one couldn't cross the main roads for the employees flooding from the factory gates. Happy times.

One hundred years ago this ground was marsh land surrounding Dagenham Docks - looking out over the Thames. After WW1 reclamation work started and Ford bought the land and built their factory there. Lots of my family were employed there. The site was like a little industrial village - it had its own foundry (since closed and moved to Germany. Some workers in the Dagenham factory contracted asbestosis); a Power Station [which used to contribute to the National Grid]; a Medical Centre [which saved the NHS a lot of money in minor injury treatments. I was even treated there in my very short career with Ford]; an apprentice training building – 350 were started each year in the 1960s and at that time all were expected to be found a job at the end of their apprenticeship; a Stamping Die and Assembly tool room - in other words this plant was more or less self sufficient. The local shops looked after the workers well, f'r instance the local barbers could provide a 3/6p haircut while the bus you hopped off waited for traffic to move at shift change over in Chequers Lane - true story!! Another true story, to illustrate how cutting edge the plant and its engineering was over the years, is the fact that the first KUKA assembly robots in the UK automotive industry were used there.

But life moves on, the little shops that served the workers have closed and when Ford [like other large manufacturers] decided it had to 'rationalise' globally, it was its UK plants that were closed and employees who lost their jobd. The work from the UK was sent to Ford plants in different areas of the world where although labour costs are higher than in the UK they cannot close plants because labour laws in those countries make it impossible to get rid of employees in the way they can be dispensed with in the UK. Although ironically Ford still expects to sell its products here, failing to understand that the redundant workers are unable to find new jobs and cannot afford to buy new cars etc.

Meanwhile successive British governments, who have given regional grants to manufacturers here, like Ford, in the past, happily wave goodbye to such manufacturers. Last week we had the sickening sight of David Cameron and Nick Clegg in what was once a Ford owned Tractor Plant in Basildon, Essex burbling on about how it is manufacturing industry that is going to save our nation and relieve us of the deficit.

But how? We have so little manufacturing industry left - compared to, say, forty years ago. Worryingly, so much knowledge and experience has also been lost. Engineers are not valued in this country, in fact I signed a petition Make 'Engineer' a protected title just last month. [When we lived in Germany an Engineer was considered as one of the professions. Here it is looked down upon as 'dirty job' despite the number of qualifications required to fulfil the role and the amount of technical innovations that can bring revenue into the country] If you saw Dave & Nick on the news doing their double act last week you may have noticed a lack of enthusiasm in their audience of workers. Not far away, in the town, are many empty shops and factories where businesses have closed down due to the recession in the past few years. In fact just a couple of miles away stood the 'overflow' Ford factory for its Dagenham plant, built with the aid of a regional grant in the 1950s. That factory closed in 2009 with the loss of many jobs.

So from Marsh land to Industrial Giant to Olympic Rehearsal site. Where next? There was talk about a prison being built there but plans have changed. Some talk of a housing estate, although local services would be severely stretched one would think. Another factory to employ the many unemployed in the area, provide apprenticeships for the young in the area and fund growth in the area by sourcing satellite industries and financing small shops. Sounds good doesn't it? It happened in 1931. With a bit of Government encouragement it could happen again and in other such areas in the UK. If they really meant what they said last week.

The photograph was taken not far from the River Thames. Fire fighters and ARP wardens used to watch the aircraft from all nations flying up and down the Thames from the roof of the Ford Buildings here in WW2.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Degredation of the Unemployed

Not a snappy/humourous title. Probably not a snappy/humourous picture when I eventually add one. I am feeling fed up today. Being fed up with this government is a usual and unremarkable state, but watching the slow disintegration of a close friend due to the way he is being treated in the search for employment is not so usual - luckily - for us and we are finding it hard. Not so hard as he, obviously, but knowing that too many other millions like him are also suffering and remembering how one hundred years ago this was a too normal state and wondering if this government is using rocketing unemployment as a way of ensuring a cheap labour pool for future employers is terrifying.

If you have been reading earlier blogs you will know about our friend's struggle to find another job after his third redundancy in six months. His employment history is on those earlier blogs so it is not repeated here. But with the loss of his own business a few years ago and his gradual descent through a sucession of jobs which are lessening in both skill and remuneration seems to mirror the manufacturing history of the country since Maggie Thatcher was Prime Minister. She appeared to set out to destroy manufacturing in Britain and in that she was very successful - and if we look at the figures in this Guardian article we can see that this probably contributed to what the Guardian is suggesting that 'this recession is now worse than the 1930s'.

Back to my job-seeking friend, who thought he couldn't be treated much worse by the officials at the job centre. [He is not blaming individuals, who are enforcing rules 'from above' - government, I mean] Yesterday he was sent for a job making sandwiches - at the minimum wage [it will become clear why this is in bold and repeated, read on] to the town about 3 miles away. Not at all what he is qualified to do, but hey, it is a bit of money after all. And he could get there by bike. He was told if he didn't go to the interview his allowance would be stopped, but that wasn't his incentive to go, especially as he is still waiting for that allowance to start after 6 weeks of unemployment.

So he arrives at the interview which has been set up with further job centre officials, to be told that he has to attend a further interview at a larger town 20 miles away. The official asked how my friend would get there, when he replied 'by car if you will pay the petrol', he was told that petrol money was not given - only public transport costs. He replied, 'fair enough I'll go by train', only to be told that since he had said he had a car, he had to go by car... Oh, and my friend was told to shave off his beard as it didn't look good at an interview [Other Half definitely not impressed at this. Neither was I, very partial to a man with a beard, me. Remember the Brian Blessed kiss?]

The interview was at 8pm last night [thats OK, unemployed are not entitled to have a social life, are they?] Five other men and six women were at wat amounted to a quasi seminar. Remember this is for a minimum wage position. And then the crowning glory of it all. The position[s] were actually in a large town roughly 80 miles, halfway around the M25 to us. I googled the best way to get there [remember this is for a minimum wage position and these were the alternatives:

Suggested routes
71.1 mi, 1 hour 32 mins
In current traffic: 1 hour 52 mins
72.4 mi, 1 hour 33 mins
In current traffic: 1 hour 50 mins
79.5 mi, 1 hour 33 mins
In current traffic: 1 hour 35 mins
1 hour 56 mins
Public Transport (3 transfers

I don't know if I mentioned that this is for position which pays the minimum wage and the hours are from 6.00am to 3.00pm. It is actually impossible to get to the town by public transport as our trains - although we are on a mainline - do not run all through the night. I looked up the cost of Public Transport via train however and a daily return when the trains are running would be - and this is the cheapest off peak fare - £26.10p. Go figure

This would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. And it is tragic. Whilst I have been typing this, my friend was actually visiting his GP for his annual asthma check-up. To his shock and horror, the GP asked if there was anything worrying him as he thought he may have had a mini-stroke and sent him to the local hospital for tests. What my friend has been putting down to anxiety due to his unemployment and general lack of money issues the doctor sees as symptoms of a stroke. He is 43 years old, apart from sporadic asthma generally fit and a non-smoker.

If I started this blog feeling fed-up, I cannot describe how I feel now. I am sitting here trying to think what to do, who to lobby, who to annoy. If you can help me to raise awareness of all those in this situation, please do.

The photograph is as grey as this story. Unemployed on the Hunger Marches in S.Wales in the 1930s. Enough said.