Friday, 23 December 2011

Repost on Life 100 years ago

This is a repost of something I did way back in April when I was new to this and maybe didn't have as many followers as I have now.  I was promoted to repost this as I had yet another email that started differently but then went on to complain about taxes.  Exactly the same as the previous email obviously copied without any research.

The other day I received an email, one of those that get sent around between friends which are sometimes funny, sometimes sentimental, sometimes informative and sometimes someone’s rant.  This one comes under the rant category.  It started off quite interestingly, asking the recipient to consider the enormity of the number one billion.  I must admit I was concerned when politicians and others started throwing the figure One Billion about as if it were nothing.  I can remember when the national deficit was measured in Millions not Billions.  Anyway, the beginning of the email went like this:

 ‘I find this quite staggering and really brings into perspective the actual figure of one billion.

This is too true to be funny.
The next time you hear a politician use the word 'billion' in a casual manner, think about whether you want the 'politicians' spending YOUR tax money.

A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising agency did a good job of putting that figure into some perspective in one of its releases.

A.
A billion seconds ago it was 1959.

B.
A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.

C.
A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

D.
A billion days ago no-one walked on the earth on two feet.

E.
A billion Pounds ago was only 13 hours and 12 minutes, at the rate our government is spending it.’

That part of the email made me smile and nod in agreement.  Then it continued and I could not believe what followed :


‘Stamp Duty
Tobacco Tax
Corporate Income Tax
Income Tax
Council Tax
Unemployment Tax
Fishing License Tax
Petrol/Diesel Tax
Inheritance Tax
(tax on top of tax)
Alcohol Tax
V.A.T.
Marriage License Tax
Property Tax
Service charge taxes
Social Security Tax
Vehicle License Registration Tax
Vehicle Sales Tax
Workers Compensation Tax
  Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago and our nation was one of the most prosperous in the world.

We had absolutely no national debt.
We had the largest middle class in the world and Mum stayed home to raise the kids. 


What happened?’



Now the claim that not one of the above taxes existed a 100 years ago shows a lack of research on the part of the writer. 
Stamp Duty – there has always been some form of duty for large financial transactions.
Tobacco Tax – this has existed in one form or another since 1660.  It has varied in amount but has always been there. 
Income Tax was first introduced by Williams Pitt the Younger to raise funds for the Napoleonic Wars.  It was brought in as a temporary measure but apart from a brief gap between 1802 and 1803, when it was rescinded, it has been in existence ever since.

Having got this far after a mere twenty minutes research, I lost interest in looking up the history of all the other taxes mentioned above.  I think there has probably been a License fee for marriages for a long time, someone had to be paid for keeping the registers for Births, Marriages and Deaths.  Lucky they did, else all those people now tracing their ancestors would have nothing to go on.  Land owners have always charged for fishing on their property, that’s why you get poachers.  Some of the other taxes are obviously modern.  Social security did not exist and some of the other things like Workers Compensation Tax and Unemployment Tax I’ve never heard of.  And if any of these taxes sound unfair consider some of the things that have been taxed in the past.  Salt and windows to name just two; the government has never failed to find something to tax.

But the thing that really amazed me was the last paragraph.  ‘We had absolutely no national debt.  We had the largest middle class in the world and Mum stayed home to raise the kids.  What happened?’

We may have had the largest middle class in the world, and those Mums were probably very comfortable with cooks, housekeepers and scullery maids looking after their needs.  The working class, on the other hand, were much less lucky.

Life expectancy for people in 1911 was just 54 years for women and 50 for men.  Families were often large and living on the breadline.  Children were lucky to have their own bed let alone their own bed room.  There was no health care, if you were poor and ill, tough.  You had to pay for the services  of doctors, dentists and midwives and tried hard to do without them.  There were no pension schemes – but then people didn’t live long enough to need a pension.  Clothes had to last for years, not fashion seasons.  You were lucky if you had shoes.

Industrialists made lots of money and created the new middle class at the expense of factory workers who worked long hours, often in dangerous or noisy conditions with no recompense if they were injured.  Children were still being used in factories and down the mines.  Maybe they weren’t as young as those working in the previous century, but they were still working at an age when modern children are expected to be at school.  And talking of mines, the miners had to crawl, sometimes for hours, without pay, to the coal face before they could start work and start earning. - and this was less than 100 years ago.  

We ruled the world with our Empire!  Or, to put it in modern terms, we subjugated the peoples of Africa and Asia, taking the natural resources, the produce of the fields, the treasures of the past, all for the benefit of the homeland. 

True, there was no Vehicle Registration Tax but then again, there were very few vehicles and virtually no roads outside the towns and cities.  What roads there were, were narrow, rutted and often gated to allow farm stock easy access from one field to another.  People worked within walking distance of home.  Families lived within the same neighbourhood. 

So what happened? the email asked.

Conditions for the workers improved so that now everyone shares a decent lifestyle.  Home ownership has increased.  Healthcare is available for everyone.  Education is available for everyone.  We have decent roads (don’t complain about the pot holes, they have been the blight of travellers for centuries and you should see the state of the roads in America!)  Nearly everyone owns or has access to a car.   Every home has a washing machine and TV, probably a computer or two.  In short we have become much richer.

We need the taxes to pay for the things we now take for granted.  How else will roads, schools and hospitals be built?  Given the choice between paying taxes and having the living standards of the masses in 1911, I am happy to pay the taxes.  Whether the money is spent correctly is another argument.  How we can regain our position in the world as an industrial, profit making, country? I don’t know.  Service industry, banking, IT – these are the areas that have replaced the dark satanic mills of Blake’s time and unfortunately they do not provide enough jobs for the expanding population.  Again, this is another topic and nothing to do with the email.         

I doubt very much that whoever wrote the email in the first place will ever read this.  I wonder who he or she is.  What sort of environment they live in.  Have they ever read Dickens, or maybe more relevantly, The Road to Wigan Pier?  If they had I doubt they would regret the taxes we pay.  And remember, if you look at the list above not everyone has to pay all the taxes.  I’m not selling my house, I don’t smoke or fish, the marriage licence is only paid once (unless you are in the habit of getting married more often), I am intent on skiing (that’s Spend the Kids Inheritance, not anything to do with snow) so the government won’t make much out of me when I die!  Now I’m just off to the pub to do my bit for the brewing industry and pay my dues to the exchequer.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Future of Books

I have just watched a programme presented by Alan Yentob  about e-books and their impact on reading and the future of ‘real’ books.  As usual with such programmes, lots of pseudo intellectuals were interviewed along with some writers and publishers, researchers and librarians.  Not one ordinary book reading member of the public.

We were treated to a brief history of printing, an idea in its time so revolutionary it could be compared to the changes that are happening in publishing today.

We were shown books in the Bodleian Library and made to feel that all books held the mystique of those ancient texts which 99.9% of the world will never see (that is not a true mathematical figure, by the way, just my way of saying most of the people in the world).

We were introduced to a writer who works in a log cabin in the back of beyond with no internet or mobile phone who believed such things were evil distractions that made it impossible for people to think for themselves or maintain a train of thought.

There were also some people who believed e-books were good and I agree with them.

I have lots of books in my home, most of which I have owned for years and have never got round to reading.  They sit on shelves and collect dust.  They are bulky and cumbersome.  I’m not intoxicated by the smell of them.  If I sniffed them I would end up sneezing.  I don’t need to feel the paper between my fingers.  What I am interested in is the stories they tell.  It doesn’t matter to me whether I read them on screen on my laptop, on a reader or on paper.

Not all e-books are great masterpieces – but then not all printed books are.  I have read some and thought ‘how on earth did this get published?’  I have read some and thought ‘I want to read that again.’  There are thousands of new books published very year; tens of thousands new e-books.  Publishing is a business and a gamble.  Books are not some kind of sacrosanct commodity that has to be worshipped.  They are a product like everything else that is sold.  Once in a while something really great or profound will emerge, but not often.

The important thing about e-books is that they are giving everyone a chance to read.  It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you can get on-line you can download a book.  I’m not sure, yet, about the dominance of one particular provider over another, but you can search for and find lots of books.  Not all.  Some are still not published as e-books and I know hoards of independent writers who will moan if every book published also has an e-version.  But why not?  I would love to have some of my favourite authors on my e-reader – at the right price, or course.  I object to paying paperback prices for something that does not have to be printed, stored, distributed and sold over the counter.

Reading a book in electronic form does not stop the reader thinking about the content.  It does not take the magic away.  You are still reading words that were the thoughts and imagination of the author.  You can still get lost in the story, read for longer than you intended, curse that the journey has ended too quickly and you have to close the book.

I have a new library in my life and I carry it around with me wherever I go.  Is that a bad thing?  I have The Iliad, The Three Musketeers, Alice in Wonderland, nearly every book written by Dickens (can you imagine carrying that lot around in your handbag) along with books by C S Lewis which I read as a teenager and are no longer in print, as well as so many other classics and books by new writers, Brendan Gisby, Gerry McCulloch, Teresa Geering, Simon Swift and a long list of others.

I can remember the last printed book I bought and it was within the last twelve months.  I haven’t read it yet.  I’m not saying it was the LAST printed book I will ever buy, I might still buy another, but most of my recent purchases have been e-books and I love them, one and all.


Saturday, 17 December 2011

The High Street

There is a great deal of concern all over Britain that our towns and cities are losing the traditional High Street.  Why? people are asking, especially those who want us to go and spend money in their shops.

Before that question can be answered we need to think back thirty or forty years and remind ourselves what a traditional High Street used to offer.  Butchers, bakers, fishmongers, greengrocers, banks, dress shops, menswear shops, shoe shops, chemists, furniture shops, carpet shops, electrical shops, record shops, bookshops, newsagents, jewellers – a long list, indeed.

Who would use these shops?  Probably the people who lived within walking distance.  Housewives going to do their weekly, or more likely, daily shop.  Weekly markets provided added extras and brought people into the High Street to look for cheap bargains.

People lived close to the town centres.  If you lived in a big town or city there would be more than one High Street, even if it wasn’t actually called High Street.  Forty years ago not everyone had a car and if you could not walk to the shops you were in trouble.

Most things were bought locally.  I furnished my first home entirely from town centre shops, everything from carpets to the cooker. 

So why are these places no longer thriving?

I think the first thing that happened is that people moved away from the town centre to live on new housing estates.  And I don’t mean council estates, I’m talking about the new housing estates that were built for the up-and-coming, the well-paid factory workers and those seeking the very British desire of owning their own home, complete with garage and garden.  These meant travelling into town, preferably by car because no one wanted to lug all their shopping back on the bus.  Coming to town by car meant parking, which meant councils had to provide car parks, which meant drivers had to pay parking fees.  Judging by the fact that it is often difficult to find a parking space on a Saturday I don’t think these fees have put people off coming to town, it just increases the cost.

Life styles have changed.  More often than not these days both partners in any relationship work (if they are lucky enough to have a job).  This means shopping is no longer a leisurely process but something that has to be done as quickly as possible.  Supermarkets and shopping malls which provide easy and usually free parking, have taken over.

Then we have the British weather.  Always unpredictable, never the same two days running, cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, likely to be wet whatever the season.

Question: would you want to go from the butchers, the bakers, the greengrocers etc, queuing  at every shop to pay, in the wind and the rain, or would you prefer to go to one shop and get all your food at once, in the dry and warm and only queue once?

Question: when you are looking for something special would you want to go around town, in the wind and the rain, looking in all the different shops, or would you prefer to park your car and wander round under cover in a nice climate controlled shopping mall?

Question: if you need something you have never used before and don’t know where to get it, do you wander round town hoping to find a shop that might stock what you want or do you switch on your computer and Google it?

I know which I would do!

So if people are deserting the High Streets for supermarkets, shopping malls and the internet what can be done to stop towns centres becoming black holes?

I am not a town planner or a shopping guru but I would think one thing that would help would be to bring people back to live in the town centres.  If people are living close by they might well use a small grocers to stock up on day to day things. 

Change the opening hours of shops.  What is the point of opening nine to five when your customers are at work?  Supermarkets realise this and most stay open into the evening.  The same with the big shopping malls, they don’t all suddenly close at five.  It’s a pain to those who have to work in the shops but that’s the way life is these days.   Shops are there to serve the customer not the other way around.  Not long ago I had to go to an event in my local town which started at about 6pm.  Because I wasn’t sure how the evening traffic would be I ended up arriving early and thought I would go for a coffee, only to find the town was closed.

I’m probably the wrong person to be writing about this subject as I hate wandering aimlessly around shops.  I’m not interested in browsing for things I don’t need and would happily do all my shopping on line from the comfort of my armchair and without the hassle of driving and parking.  Towns need to be places where people want to meet and do things together, where they feel safe and comfortable.  But then they also need the people who want to go out in the first place, not stop-at-homes like me!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Never Ending Technical Developments

Aahhh!  Google are changing the layout of gmail.  Why?  There is nothing wrong with the old layout.  It is clear, simple, easy to use,what more could you want?  There's an option to try the new layout.  I tried it.  Didn't like it.  Told them so.  But I bet in a few weeks I will have to put up with it as it's changing eventually.  One of the things they have incorporated is pictograms (ok, icons) in the tool bar so that there is a picture of a rubbish bin to represent delete.  Why?  I presume that as people are writing emails they can actually read the words 'delete', 'archive', 'spam', etc without needing a picture to show them.  I gave all that up when I was in primary school and learnt to read.
   I blame Microsoft for all the icons.  The last update of Word and other office programmes, offered ribbons of pictures to represent the things you could do.  So confusing.  What was wrong with the old drop down menu where you could look for what you needed using good old-fashioned words.  I've mastered it, or at least what I need to do what I want to do, but I've minimised the the pesky ribbons and created my own short-cut bar.  
    Back to gmail.  At one time when you signed out of your account you were taken immediately to the sign in page, which was great, especially, if like me, you have more than one account to check.  Now you are taken to a 'sign out' page which has nothing on it apart from the gmail options which are on the sign in page, oh, and a place for ads, which you can block anyway.  So you now have to tell the page you want to sign in and you are then taken back to where you were originally!  Why?  What a waste of time, energy and computer space.
    Then yesterday I signed into my bank.  That's changed!  Once again I was searching for the places I wanted to go on a system that I once knew well and that worked.  It wasn't any clearer.  It wasn't any quicker.  So why change it?
    Ok, I may sound like an old stick-in-the-mud and I do appreciate that things do need to move on.  If they hadn't we would still be using Windows 3.1 and an ancient version of Word.  But I miss some of the things the older versions had.  Take WordArt for example. That is so boring now.  At one time you could write things in a circle, great for making up a logo, words could go up and down, they could be line wavy lines, start small and get bigger, there was so much you could do.  Now it is limited to writing things in straight lines, with a touch of angle-poise and that's about it.  Bring back the Art to WordArt is what I say.
    I suppose we have to keep the tech guys in employment, moving on, ever onwards and upwards.  But where will it all end.  I don't really know for certain but I bet the average user of all these systems use barely 10% of what the package can do.  I once went on a course to try to find out what I didn't know about computer packages.  What I found out was I knew as much as the tutor where some packages were concerned and very little about others because I didn't need them.  Then the next edition came out and everything had to be re-learnt - well, not exactly re-learnt but search for the right icon to do the things you knew how to do in the first place.
    All this technical improvement wouldn't be so bad if it didn't happen so quickly.  No sooner have you bought a new product, be it computer, phone, TV, camera, than the next generation of super wizardry appears.  I'm of the generation where you bought something and expected it to last ten years at least.  Now it is more like ten months and while it is good for the retailers and manufacturers I'm not so sure it is good for the pocket or the environment, but I'm straying into a different subject here, so I will sign off by saying PLEASE stop changing everything!

Monday, 31 October 2011

That Time of Year Again

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only person in the civilised world who does not appreciate the joys of Hallowe'en.  Now don't get me wrong, I have no objection to people dressing up as witches and ghouls and having their own little party or disco, maybe even employing a spooky magician to entertain the kids.  What I do object to is the commercialisation of the 31st October, the cashing in at every opportunity.
    I won't fall into the trap of saying Hallowe'en has been imported from America.  All Hallow's Eve was celebrated in Britain long before America was heard of.  But back then people really believed restless souls wandered the earth in the dark.  Some mean spirited people who were still alive sometimes played tricks on the honest people to frighten them.  A great opportunity to get back at someone who had been bugging you all year.  The main point, however, was to pay homage to and remember those who had died.  It was a Religious festival, All Soul's Day and maybe some enterprising traders did try to make a little extra for themselves but probably not.  This was a time when, if a feast was to be had, it was prepared by people and shared with friends, home raised and home cooked.
     The Hallowe'en that is celebrated now has, more or less, crossed the Atlantic and invaded our shores in recent years.  When I was a child it was barely mentioned.  When my daughter was a child there were sometimes parties arranged by Brownies or other youth organisations - that's if the church where the party was being held did not object.  Children didn't go out 'trick or treating', costumes were home made and the emphasis was on having fun not scaring the pants of anyone.
     Now, Hallowe'en has filled the retail gap between Easter Eggs and Christmas Presents.  Walking around the supermarket today there were costumes, wigs, false freaky nails, masks, cakes and biscuits decorated with skeletons and ghosts, packets of cheap sweets spookily wrapped to name just a few items of merchandise.  I thought we were experiencing hard times!  I daren't look but there are probably Happy Hallowe'en cards to be found if you search hard enough.
     And why do we encourage our children to go 'trick or treating'.  'Demanding money with menaces' might be a more appropriate phrase for that's what it is.  Ok, so probably most kids go around with parents in tow and don't actually no anything nasty, but that's not the point.  When does a child learn the difference between a Hallowe'en treat and throwing a dicky-fit when it doesn't get what it wants?  Should anyone reward a child who demands 'trick or treat'.  Are you rewarding the costume? But that was probably designed and made in China, so all you are really doing is rewarding the Mum for going to the shop.  And what happens to the kids that can't afford the costume or aren't allowed to take part?  Do you only give sweets to the best costumes? No anyone that knocks on the door gets something.  And why should I be disturbed in my own house when I'm eating my dinner or watching the news?
     At the risk of sounding like Scrooge I want to say 'bah humbug' to it all (whatever that means).   This last week or so I have noticed that even writers have been trying to cash in on this day.  The number of books that have been launched for 'Hallowe'en'  has been unbelievable.  How can you have a book for Hallowe'en?  Either the book is scary and full of creepy goings on, or it isn't.  Do you save it only to be read on 31st October?  In that case I wouldn't get through very many.  No, if you want to write horror stories, fine, but don't use Hallowe'en as an excuse to launch them.
    So maybe I am a kill joy, a grumpy old woman or simply someone who wants to be left alone and not disturbed in the privacy of my own home.  I'm not against people having fun in life but I do object to the subtle pressure parents are put under to provide for a made-up 'tradition' and don't feel at all sorry for any supermarkets or other stores who are left with surplus stock on the 1st November.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Quietly Confident

What a week!  Heaven knows what it will mean to my writing career, but Ether Books have accepted some of my short stories.  They will soon be available for download to iphones through a special App. available at :
 http://bit.ly/bpvC84.
Added to that some hard copies of Edge of Extinction have reached England so hopefully I will have some in my hands soon.
The ebook has been featured on Daily Cheap Reads.
Think I need a rest!!

Friday, 30 September 2011

Speed

The final thing that caught my attention before I feel asleep (I always fall asleep when the news is on) was a proposal to raise the speed limit on the motorways to 80mph.
Hurrah!  About time too!
Dont' don't get me wrong, I'm not a petrol head by any means.  Driving is a chore that I do because I have to.  I have no problems with adhering to speed limits, they are there for a purpose.  I have no problem with speed cameras.  They were not invented to make money but to catch people who speed.  If you don't speed you won't have to pay anything.  For too long people ignored speed limits simply because it was not possible to catch the culprits who drove too fast.  I would rather have a camera than a speed hump any day!  I only have a little car and it hates speed humps.
But motorways are roads designed for free flowing, relatively fast moving traffic (except the M25).  Despite the fact that the impression is that all our motorways are clogged up from dawn to dusk with too much traffic, the truth is most of them are relatively free of congestion.  Lots of traffic, yes, but not congestion.  The traffic is moving freely and a huge majority of it is going faster than the current 70 mph limit.
I don't think there will be a sudden rush of people driving at 90 (no pun intended) if the limit is raised to 80.
People will drive at the speed they are comfortable with.
Will people to safe at 80?  I think so.  One prediction was that deaths would rise to something like 130 per year if the speed limit was increased.  Not wishing to sound heartless, but this is nothing when you consider the death-rate from smoking  and other life-style related diseases is in the tens of thousands every year.
What is needed to keep people safe on the motorway is some intensive training for drivers.  We have 3 lane motorways but how often do you see the nearside lane completely empty while drivers tootle along in the middle lane, forcing others to use the outside lane to overtake?
New drivers are allowed on a motorway without any training.  This should be changed.  Training on motorways should be made compulsory with a test to be included on the driving licence.  Until that happens there should be regular TV commercials telling people how to drive on motorways.  These have been shown before but I can't remember the last time I saw one.
Cars today are set up to go from 0-60 in seconds.  The speedometers on most cars show 100 mph plus so why restrict them to 70 on our fastest roads?
  

Carrier Bags

The second item on the news today that made my ears prick up was the fact that shops in Wales are going to start charging for carrier bags.  Well done.
I confess I am guilty of using easily available carrier bags at the supermarket check-out in the past.  But I have reformed my ways and have been using reusable shopping bags for ages.
I can always remember my mum having shopping holdalls which she took out to the shops with her.  And a shopping trolley when she wanted to get lots of things.  In those days we didn't go shopping in the car, we never had a car - we didn't need a car.
I now carry three or four shopping bags with me in my car, maybe more sometimes if I know I am going to get lots of shopping.  Very occasionally I might not take enough and have to use a carrier bag, but not often.
I was quite amused by the news broadcast.  The charge for bags is going to be 5p.  One person being interviewed thought this was far too high, the bags surely didn't cost that much to make.  I wanted to tell him - that's the point.  It's not about making money out of them, it's about pricing them to the extent people will not want to use them!  Hopefully the shops will also offer reusable bags at 10p which people might be prepared to buy and REUSE.
It's not just the fact that the world is groaning under the pressure of plastic bags, but they also use up valuable resources.  Is there anything else we so willingly make and then simply throw away?  Many supermarkets have managed to reduce their use of carrier bags by encouraging customers to reuse their own bags.  It would be interesting to know how much this has saved in running costs over the last few years.  Even if a bag only costs a penny to produce, or even a fraction of a penny, when hundreds of thousands are used every year, that soon adds up to a lot of pennies.

Rubbish!!

Well, there was a lot on the news tonight that had my blogging fingers twitching.
First up, Rubbish, or the disposal of it.
The trouble is, in this country, maybe the world, we create too much waste.  Many local authorities have now gone to fortnightly rubbish collections.  When these are first introduced the local residents throw up their hands in despair sure that they will be over-run with rats and heaven knows what.  
The truth of the matter is that with one week collecting rubbish and the second week collecting recyclable stuff we do have weekly collections.
Once people get used to the new system they find that the rubbish bin is half empty even when it is only emptied fortnightly.  Larger families may have more difficulty, but in most places larger families can get larger wheelie bins.
So what are the complaints?  Usually that in the summer we will be plagued by flies and bad smells.  Do we need to give people lessons in disposing of their rubbish?  It is easy to prevent flies.  Flies come from maggots, maggots come from eggs that are lain by flies in any available flesh.  Make sure all rubbish is well wrapped before it is put in the bin so that the flies cannot get to it and then they can't lay eggs which will turn into maggots.  Is that so difficult?  It will also reduce smells.
The other big problem is disposable nappies.  These have become so easy to use that even people who try to use modern washable nappies sometimes revert to the quick and easy disposable nappy.  The trouble with these is that they are throw away, but they also last for ever.  However, for the sake of this blog discussion, it is the throwing away part that is the topic, not the fact that before much longer all our reclaimed land will be made up of disposable nappies.  The same thing applies as to other rubbish.  Wrap it well and securely and there will be no interest from flies and little smell.  Better still, get your child toilet trained and save yourself some money.
Toddlers seem to be in nappies much longer these days than they ever used to be.  They are so dry and comfortable, the babies hardly know they have done anything in them, which is wrong.  They need to feel the moisture when they pee, that way they are easier to train to go at set times and in set places.  Again, this is another argument which I won't get into here.  Of course, the nappy producers want to see 2 year olds running about and playing in nappies and disposable pants.  It makes them more money.  My child was clean and dry by the time she was 18 months old.  
Another complaint is the number of bins households are expected to use.  One for rubbish, one for garden waste and one for recyclables.  These bins are sturdy and all have lids.  They are relatively easy for most people to move.  What is the problem with sorting plastic bottles from kitchen scraps?  I admit that in some older areas there may be a problem with storing all these bins but they are far better than plastic bags left at the kerbside!
We all need to realize that the space for dumping our rubbish is running out.  We need to cut down on the amount we produce and we need to recycle as much as we can.  We can all do something about this.  When shopping, avoid things that are overly packaged, and if you cannot avoid buying something in a plastic box or cardboard carton, make sure you recycle or re-use the packaging.  It is not a simple life-style choice that can be ignored, it is an essential to maintaining the world around us.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Why Do They Do It?

I know that title can raise its own question. Why does who do what? In this case it is Why do young people start to smoke?
I was driving through my village one evening during the week and I spotted a lad I sort of know standing with a cigarette in his mouth.  I say 'sort of know' because I know his name, can probably guess his age but I don't know him personally well enough to call him anything but 'a lad from the village.'  It's not the first time I've spotted him smoking; would love to be brave enough to go up to him and tell him to stop, but I'm not.
So why do children start to smoke?  Are they totally unaware of the health risks involved?  The message 'Smoking Kills' on every cigarette packet obviously means nothing to them.  A couple of words put there which everyone ignores.  It's there too often, just like the name of the brand.  Familiarity breeding contempt.
I was lucky enough to grow up in the era when the dangers of smoking were first being broadcast; too young to have started, old enough to take in what was being said.  The buckets of diseased lungs in a research lab were enough to make me vow never to smoke and I never have
My parents both smoked but their smoking did more to put me off than encourage me.  I spent years as a passive smoker and watched everything in the living room take on a yellow tinge, from the ceiling which had to be distempered every couple of years (do people still do that?) to the photo frames on the mantelpiece.
I was also too mean to smoke.  I had limited pocket money being too idle to get a Saturday job and I was certainly not going to sit and burn my money.
None of my friends smoked so I didn't have any peer pressure to start and when I met the lad who was to become my husband, he didn't smoke either, although most of his friends did at the time.  So I was very lucky in that I managed to avoid the pressures to conform.
Would I have succumbed in different circumstances?  I don't think so.  Although a shy child I was always my own child.  I made up my own mind and by the time I had reached the age where others might have tempted me to smoke I already knew : smoking makes you smell, both your breath and your clothes; smoking makes everything around you look dirty; smoking costs you money you could spend on other things (and in those days there weren't many 'other things' from which to choose); smoking turns your teeth a horrible colour; and then - smoking gives you cancer.
At that time researchers were only concerned about lung cancer.  Now it is medically proven that smoking is related to many other cancers and other life threatening medical conditions.
I once asked a neighbour, mother of two young children, who was about ten years older than me and a smoker, was she concerned about smoking? "You've just as likely to get run over by a bus," was her answer.
I'm sorry but NO.  If as many people were killed by buses or any other vehicle on the road, there would be a serious outcry.  Deaths on the roads are barely in the thousands and look at all the traffic calming measures we have to endure; road humps, speed cameras, chicanes on straight roads.  Not long after telling me this I was involved in a serious road traffic accident when a lorry ran over me while I was riding my bike.  I am still here, many years later.  My former neighbour, sadly, isn't.  She suffered breathing problems and couldn't walk very far, heart problems and finally died of a heart attack when she was barely in her sixties and before she had the chance to see her first grandchild.
Of course, when you are young these things are not at the front of your mind.  When you are fourteen, twenty seems old, thirty ancient and anything over that, unbelievable.  But kids, you will live that long.  And what you do when you are young may well affect the rest of your life.
Giving up smoking is, apparently, one of the hardest things to do.  Yet many adults struggle through the process every year.  Those that fail often suffer ill health as a result.  Not every smoker  suffers, there will always be the eighty year old who smoked all his/her life and is as fit as a fiddle.  There will always be the non-smoker who develops lung cancer or heart problems.  But these are the exceptions to the rule.
So why aren't these messages getting through to the kids of today? Do they have so much pocket money they don't have to consider the cost of a packet of cigarettes against the cost of a meal?
I certainly would not have had the freedom of sitting at home to look after the house and family if my husband and I had been smokers.  Sometimes I wish I did smoke so that I could give up and save all the money I spent on cigarettes - but then again, I would have to go out to work to earn that money instead of sitting here writing blogs!
As a non-smoker I don't understand the sensations these little white sticks provide.  As a non-smoker I have never needed them.  As a non-smoke I have lived a comfortable life.  As a non-smoker I take no tablets for high blood pressure and have no breathing problems.  As a non-smoker my skin is not sallow and my teeth are not yellow.  As a non-smoker my mouth doesn't taste like an ashtray and my clothes don't smell.
Maybe every Year 11 child should be taken round the cancer ward of a hospital to meet people who are suffering from smoking.  Maybe every child should be introduced to someone who is dying.  Sounds harsh.  Many children experience this in their own families but far more do not.  Statistics can give a picture of what is happening but if you aren't involved in that 1 in whatever, it means nothing to you.
At one time every bank holiday the news bulletin would announce how many people had died on the roads that day in an attempt to make people drive more carefully.
Maybe we should have a campaign for a month or so that announced how many people had died from smoking related illnesses that day, broken down into age groups.  Maybe then the children would think twice about smoking that first cigarette.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Who Is To Blame?

11th August, 2011.  The date is very important for this post.  It is a reminder of when society in parts of England went hey-wire.  On Saturday there were riots in Tottenham, London.  These then spread to other parts of London and then over the next couple of days, to other cities.
What started the trouble?  A peaceful protest by a group of people mourning the loss of someone who had been shot dead by the police.  I know nothing of the circumstances surrounding this shooting so will say no more than this protest was hi-jacked by rioters who looted and burned parts of Tottenham.  25 families lost their homes because of a fire started in a shop.
That's all I'm going to say about the actual troubles.  There will be plenty of news reports to look up if you want to know more.
What I want to emphasis is that it was a SMALL MINORITY of thoughtless, criminal, thugs who caused all this damage.  Who reeked havoc, destroyed homes, stole from shops and made life harder for already hard-pressed ordinary people who work in the shops and offices that were wrecked.
6 MILLION people live in London.  The vast majority of them saw no trouble whatsoever, but they must all have been in fear.  But this is Britain and while some hooligans ran riot in around the edges, beach volley ball was being played on Horse Guards Parade.
So who is to blame?
DON'T BLAME the teachers.  To any of the rioters who moan 'Can't get no job.  Ain't got no prospects. Schools let us down.'  my response is - every single child in this country has the opportunity to go to school and learn.  If you bunked off school or disrupted the classes that's YOUR fault.  Teachers are only normal people after all, they are not super beings.  If you cannot pay attention and listen to what your teacher has to say then you will get nowhere.  So, some classes might be boring.  Let me tell you, there are lots of things in life that are going to be boring.  Teachers aren't there to entertain you.
DON'T BLAME the politicians.  Many of the trouble-makers were under age, but not all by any means.  How many of those on the streets were old enough to vote - and out of those how many did?  We live in a democracy.  Many people in the world look to us with envy because of this.  We are fighting in Afghanistan to give the people there the chance of experiencing this.  And what do many people in this country do? Shrug their shoulders when it is time to vote and mutter 'It's not worth bothering, nothing ever changes.' But that is precisely how things do change.  If you didn't vote you haven't got a voice so don't complain if you don't like the cards you have been dealt.
DON'T BLAME the economy.  I know times are hard, especially for those who haven't got a job, or are having benefits cut because they won't work.  But no one in this country is starving.  If it is true that the riots were organised through social networking sites then the participants must have been able to afford computers or the latest hi-tech phones. Somewhere along the line we have created a 'must have' society whether we deserve the rewards or not.  And not all the rioters were unemployed.  Some had jobs.  Whether they still have those jobs today will be interesting to see.  And all those trying to get jobs will now have something on their CRB when it is checked.  Oh dear, was it really worth it.?
So what went wrong.
For the vast majority of people who live in this wonderful country, absolutely nothing.  I know lots of hard working, caring people.  I've worked with hundreds of well behaved, motivated children.  I feel safe walking the streets.
For others, maybe we should start right back at the beginning.
Maybe we should stop supporting teenage mothers by being sympathetic and treating them as victims.  I have never said sex should only be within marriage, but it should only be for overs 16s at least, and maybe over 18s.  Maybe the first words in a sex education class for senior schools should be 'Sex is primarily for making babies.  The fact that there is some pleasure involved is nature's way of making sure that after 9 months of pregnancy where you feel like you are growing to the size of an elephant, hours of painful labour before the excruciating pain of giving birth followed by months of sleepless nights, you actually want to do it all over again to keep the human race going.'
Maybe corporal punishment should be brought back as a deterrent.
Maybe more should be done to inspire children to be more than a prize winner on Britain's Got Talent.
Maybe all those who are found guilty of the crimes that have been committed over the last few days should be lined up in front of the shops they looted with a placard around their neck to name and shame them.  But they would probably feel no shame - that is the sad thing.
Maybe we should reintroduce The Stocks and let people throw rotten food at them until they truly say sorry.
Or send them to work for nothing on the fruit farms that attract so many hard working foreigners.
I certainly don't want to see them sent to prison where they will get a warm bed and three square meals a day.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Statistics

A few days ago a report was issued, with coverage in all the media, that children born today have an exceptional chance of living to 100 plus.  Something like 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 4 boys.
     
     On the other hand, a report issued the day before stressed growing concern about the number of young people becoming ill with life threatening diseases because of alcohol abuse.  People of both sexes suffering organ failure in their thirties because of excessive alcohol consumption.
     
     And, of course, we all know we are becoming a nation of obese, non-exercising couch potatoes addicted to surfing the net instead of the sea and texting people in the next room rather than getting up and going to speak to them physically.

     So how are these report findings compiled?  Do the people who are looking into how long people are living not consult with those researching health?  It would be laughable if it wasn't for the fact that these reports are presumably used to forecast the needs of nation in the future.

     Will there be a crisis in pension provision if everyone lives to be 100?  Will the government need to provide more care homes or retirement communities?  Will there be a growth in the care industry?

     Probably not, because most of the population will have died from drinking and eating too much.  There won't be as many deaths from smoking because cigarettes will be a thing of the past, but heart disease, liver failure and diabetes will be rampant. 

     Before you decide life expectancy will increase in the future it has to be decided why people are living longer now.  The people who are achieving such great age now lived through the deprivation caused by WW2 and the aftermath.  This was a time when food was rationed, cakes were a treat and no one needed to be told they had to eat veg - there was little else to eat.

     In the meantime maybe the researchers should be talking to each other - although the figures might mean 1 in 3 will live to 100, 1 in 3 will die from alcohol abuse and 1 in 3 will die from over-eating.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Best way to learn

I have been having a very interesting debate with some friends on Night Publishing about education.  It all started when someone informed us that a state in the US had decided to teach young children keyboard skills instead of learning to write with pencil and paper.
Well, this undoubtedly is going to lead to the end of civilization as we know it!  What horror!  What catastrophe!  Where will it all end?
I, on the other hand, think it is a wonderful idea.  A number of children will probably already be familiar with a keyboard anyway.  Bearing in mind they don't start school in America until the age of 6.  There are many toys that already have keyboards, let alone computers at home.
I will always remember being told by my daughter's primary teacher that when she was told to hurry up with her work her answer was 'but I've got a slow pencil.'  All adults find this highly amusing but what the poor child meant was she was struggling to get the pencil to do what she wanted it to do.  Had she had a keyboard she could have punched in the letters she needed much more easily.
The ability to write does not equate to the ability to learn.  Young children learn from what they see, and they see printed words in books and on flashcards and whatever else the teacher provides.  They do not have to read hand written words, or if they do they are usually really neatly printed. No five year old would be able to make out my handwriting!  So why force them to use a pencil or pen when they have not developed the dexterity to manage this?
Just because someone learns to type first does not mean that they will not later go on to write with a pen.  Just because in the past everyone learnt to write first doesn't mean this should not change.  I learnt to write, then learnt to type.  Why can it not be done the other way round?
When I moved from junior to senior school it was in the days of inkwells and stick pens with disposable nibs.  Every child ended the day with ink stained fingers.  Later we progressed to having our own fountain pens.  Biros were an abomination as far as the teachers were concerned.  Thank heaven those days have gone.  If you want to use a fountain pen, fine, but don't impose one on everyone.  My handwriting certainly does not improve with a fountain pen, I've just tried one.
The important thing in education is to engage with the children and to get them wanting to learn, and most children do want to learn.  Struggling to write can sometimes hamper a child's enthusiasm.  There is nothing worse than not being able to express oneself.  Spellings can be learnt by typing lists of words as easily as writing them (ideally this learning machine should not have a spell checker but it can let the child know if it has made a mistake).  This can be made to be much more fun than old fashioned methods.  And at some point in each child's school life a moment will occur when he or she WANTS to write and will learn the skill in their own way.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Hitting the Bottle

A new medical report was published yesterday.  If ever there was a report that will be ignored it is surely this one.  What did it say?  People over 65 should cut down on the amount of alcohol they drink.  Tell that to the regulars in my local and you will get short shrift, believe me.
Now the thought of lonely, depressed, pensioners drinking themselves into a stupor every night is not a pleasant one and something should undoubtedly be done about anyone who drowns their sorrows in such a way.  It is sad to think they have no other recourse from their woes and as a society more should be done to make sure people do not slip into this loneliness.
However, like everything, not all pensioners are the same, just as not all teenagers or those in-between are the same.
Different people have different tolerances for alcohol depending on what they are used to.   We are social drinkers in my household.  You would struggle to find any alcohol in the house but at the weekend we go to the pub to meet other people and talk about sport and what is going on in the world.  Four pints of beer is normal for my husband and although he would never drive after drinking that amount, he is by no means drunk.  Yet I have been out with someone who doesn't drink regularly and after two pints is definitely tipsy.
I wouldn't encourage anyone to drink till they drop, but what passes for a social drink is way above the limit stated in this report.
If you suddenly tell people to stop drinking it might well do as much harm as the doctors say drinking does.  If people go out to drink it will cut down on their social interaction.  It's hardly worth putting your coat on for one small glass of wine.  If someone has a couple of glasses of wine with their meal or a tot of something before they go to bed, let them.  Apart from anything else, we are constantly told that pensioners are so poor they can't afford heating, so how can they afford to drink - or can't they afford heating because they are spending all their money on drink?  I doubt it.
By the time people have reached the age of 65 please give them the credit to decide how they should live their lives.  They have spent long enough working, let them enjoy a drink or whatever makes them happy.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Wicked Weather (that's wicked as in evil not good!)

Back at the end of April I was jokingly asking all my friends  'Did you enjoy the summer?'
April was glorious.  Warm days, no April showers, hint of good things to come.
Then May arrived.  It may well have been the driest spring since records began, but May was definitely a lot cooler than April.  I consoled myself with the saying 'Ne'er cast a clout till May is out'.  I always take this to mean the end of the month of May, not when may blossom arrives.
So we reached the beginning of June, everything parched through lack of rain, farmers complaining that the ground is too hard, too dry and the crops are not growing well enough.  Admittedly I'm down to two layers of clothing, sometimes only one, and I haven't had to put my thick coat on when I walk the dog, but the summer still seems a long way away.
Last Sunday was the day of a local carnival - and it rained ALL day.  It didn't rain on Saturday, it didn't rain on Monday, but it hammered it down on Sunday.
We are now into the camping season for Guides and Scouts, two organisations I have had close links with over the years.  I remember saying once - I'd like to run a Guide company but I'm not going camping - 20 camps later I handed over to someone else.  This weekend my old Guiding Division and my village cub pack are both holding their annual camps.  The weather forecast - persistent rain tomorrow (when they will be setting up the camps) showers all day Saturday.  The same thing happens every year.
I fervently hope the forecasts are proved wrong.  I know we need rain but why can't it rain at night when most people are asleep?
On a slightly different subject - there is a campaign going on to introduce double summer time, so that people can enjoy the summer evenings.  As I type this, it is the 16th June and 21:53 (according to my computer) and it is still light outside and it has been raining all evening.  It is decidedly chilly and there is no way I would even think about sitting in my garden let alone outside a pub or a cafe.
And my husband wonders why I don't like the British climate!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Wasting Waste or Money

Over the last few years more and more local authorities, or councils, whatever you want to call them, have moved to fortnightly rubbish collections.  This move initially prompts outrage from residents who demand weekly collections because that is what has always been.
     What they don't seem to notice is that fortnightly collections usually come with wheelie bins which are at least twice the size of the old fashioned dustbin and much cleaner and tidier than a pile of rubbish bags left out for the binmen to collect.
     The other advantage is that as well as fortnightly rubbish collections there are usually alternating fortnightly collections of recyclable rubbish and garden waste.
     Some die-hards  think it is a great imposition to have to sort one's own waste before disposing of it.  Some plead for weekly collections to be reinstated, it is everyone's right to have bins emptied every week!  We shouldn't have to pander to waste reducing targets!  We should be allowed to throw away as much as we want!
     Unfortunately there is limited space in which to put all our rubbish.  There are only so many landfill sites available and those that do exist are getting full.  And no-one wants an incinerator on their doorstep.
And why be so willing to throw so much away?  Maybe those who complain about their bins overflowing should look in them and see what they could do to cut down on waste.
     Food packaging has always been a problem but now much of it can be recycled.  Boxes of all sorts can be flattened and put in the recycling bin/bag, whatever you are provided with.  Most of the plastic containers that food comes in can now be recycled along with cans and bottles.  But it's even better if you try to buy produce that does not come in a box to start with.  Certain containers can even be washed and re-used.
     Speaking of bottles, how many households, especially those with children, have too many bottles?  Fizzy pop instead of squash, two litres of squash will go much further than two litres of coke - and be much cheaper.  British tap water is perfectly safe to drink, we don't need shelves of bottled water.  It can always be filtered if you are not sure about it's quality.  And tap water doesn't produce bottles that need to be thrown away.
     I've just put my wheelie bin out ready for tomorrow's collection and it is barely half full.  It wouldn't bother me if it was only emptied once a month.  Smelly kitchen waste, veg and fruit peelings and stuff, go in the compost bin.  Food waste is kept to a minimum as I don't buy or cook too much.  Okay, there are only two of us in this household, and the dog who produces 7 tins a week because she won't eat dried food, but having a larger family does not necessarily mean more waste.
     So to all those who want to go back to the old days of weekly collections I say fine, but can we be charged for each bin collected then I will only put mine out once a month for rubbish and once a month for recycling.  That's 24 bins a year instead of 52 (or 104 if recycling is also done every week).  Bet if we were charged per collection people would soon cut down on their waste.    

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Time

Thanks Sudama.  You are my personal tech guy from now on.  You solve ALL my IT problems.  I used to ask my daughter, she knows the answers but never gets back to me!

Friday, 3 June 2011

What time is it?

What time zone is in control of this website?  My last post was recorded at 06:22.  Believe me it is more like 14:23.  I am never anywhere at 06:22 apart from under the covers hiding from the light!

Website update

Ok. the post I've put up called Men at War is also on my website www.kristen-stone-the-writer.com which I have also revamped 'cos I wanted to add a bit of colour to it.  Wish I could have mixed and matched the old heading to the coloured pages, but hey, it's a freebie site so I can't really complain, can I.
Can't believe I have yet another follower!

Men and War

So what has been in the news lately that will spark my rant button?  Not a great deal apart from the continuing wars and conflicts around the world.
Have you ever noticed that wars are nearly always started by men.  I say nearly as there are a few exceptions – there were the Amazon women of Greek mythology, Boudica in Britain and Margaret Thatcher attacking  (sorry I should say defending) the Faulklands.
I have often wondered if this need to fight stems from some primal instinct to protect territory or extend it.   School-age boys often tussle together if not resort to a fall blown fight.  Often these encounters are the start of lifelong friendships.  As boys grow older they develop loyalties, to school, to football teams, to the town in which they live.  We have all seen how these loyalties can be hyped up until things overflow into violence against an opposing side.
Where did this all begin?  I’m no historian, psychologist or anthropologist, but I often wonder if this is not something built in to the psyche of the male personality.  Centuries ago, in the bronze age or maybe even earlier, when people began to live together in communities, there were many dangers.  The men were the hunters and protectors.  They defended against raiders from other settlements – and also carried out their own raids.  Cattle and women being the main targets.
This could be why, even today, people are wary of strangers, of those who live in the next town, the next county or the next country.  Many governments have tried to make discrimination illegal but mistrust of the unknown is another inherent trait.  How many people reading this know of the people from the next town down the road being called names?  I could quote some sayings now but in the interests of peace and harmony, won’t.
But war is more than defending one’s own village, isn’t it?  Depends on which side you are on.  The aggressors are usually led be control freaks, dictators or those who want to extend their territory or power.   They psyche up their followers, making the opposition into evil devil worshipers or some such thing.  There are examples enough in history for me not to need to name such tyrants.  They start their war of attrition and those being invaded have to fight back.
Take war out of the equation and the need to fight will erupt in other ways, especially in the young.  Gangs are formed.  That’s nothing new, although the level of violence has escalated in recent years.  Teddy Boys, Mods and Rockers – probably others before them, have all had followers who got involved in ‘trouble.’  Football fans chant abuse at each other at matches, usually all in the name of a good laugh, but why are people surprised if this turns to fighting?
And why are people so surprised that alcohol causes trouble?  In the old days, the days of hand to hand combat with swords and spears,  it was almost compulsory to get your army drunk before they went into battle, else the more sensible would have turned around and gone home.
So what turns an overwise loving and caring person into some minor version of the Incredible Hulk?  It must be something inherited over the millennia.  I have seen this happen when out with my own husband.  He was a bit of a lad when he was young.  A night out wasn’t successful unless it had ended in a fight.  Fortunately he had got over that stage by the time I met him, but even today, if we are out together,  at night, and a stranger approaches from the shadows, he is ready to floor him, while I am quite happy to either ignore the stranger or say a pleasant ‘hello’.   I used to live in a poorer part of London, that’s the polite way of putting it, and would walk home from the bus stop in the dark without any qualms.  (All seven stone, five foot one and a half inch of me).  When my husband came to visit, he now tells me, he would be waiting for someone to attack him.  Maybe, today, that would be the case, but I’m talking about a good few years ago (nearly let my age slip there). 
Will we ever solve this problem?  Probably not and in the main I don’t think I would want to.  Yes, it would be good to get rid of all the psychopaths who want to do nasty things to people, those who become dictators or fanatics who think only their beliefs are right.  But on the whole I wouldn’t want to live in a world full of passive men.  Neither do I like the idea of aggressive women.  Vive le difference! 
Sometimes I think the world would be a much nicer place if it were governed by women.  But then I think, to be a good politician you need strong masculine traits which defeats the point of women ruling the world.  We do anyway, the men just don’t realize!

©Kristen Stone 2011

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Oh My God!!! or should that be OMG?

All of a sudden I am being noticed!  Yikes!  Lil'ole me.  Years of writing with no one taking any notice and suddenly... The trouble is.. will I find enough time to keep all my followers interested?  By the time I've checked my email, Facebook, Twitter, read all the forum posts on Night, not forgetting the blogs people put on, updated my website and written a blog, read one of the wonderful books Tim publishes for us ... when will I have time to write?
But thanks to everyone who is taking an interest.
Right, I'm off to finish a little something I started this morning.  Just another rant on the way of life and why other people don't get it!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Bringer

Just finished reading The Bringer by Samantha Towle, another Night Publishing author.  I really enjoyed this book.  A love story with a difference.  At first the narrator tells us she isn't human but a being who has the job of taking people to heaven when they die.  She has no feelings, no emotions.  Then one day.... I won't tell you any more but will say it gets very complex.  Well worth popping along to Amazon and getting a Kindle copy.  I love ebooks!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Power of Nature

There have been so many natural disasters this year it is hard to believe it is not yet the end of May.
Earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, plus the resulting tsunami, tornadoes in America, volcanoes in Iceland.  And that's just the things we got to hear about.  No doubt in the coming months we will be told of bushfires and floods in different parts of the world.
It just goes to show that with all our technology and sophistication Mother Nature is still in charge.  That the planet has its own life which has been evolving since its creation and we are merely visitors to the surface.

Wow!  That's a bit profound for this time of night (23:35).  I think I'd better go to bed!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Traffic Lights

I was out shopping earlier today, in the wind and the showers, and as I tried to cross a busy road a thought occurred to me - not for the first time.  This particular thought, I mean, not any thought in general, I do get those quite often.  Anyway.  WHO WAS THE IDIOT WHO THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO MAKE PEDESTRIANS HAVE TO WAIT TWICE WHEN CROSSING THE ROAD USING A PEDESTRIAN CROSSING CONTROLLED BY TRAFFIC LIGHTS?
Once upon a time when you pressed the button on a crossing the traffic stopped in both directions at the same time and the pedestrian could walk straight across the road.
For the past few years these crossings have been replaced by ones where you have to cross to a central 'island', 'refuge' whatever, I don't know what they call them, press another button and wait for the traffic on that side of the road to stop.  WHY?   And why doesn't it work automatically.  If you are crossing to the middle you have to cross to the other side, so why isn't there some sort of connection between the two sets of lights?  Why can't we cross the road in one fail swoop?
No doubt it is down to traffic flow and management, but I can't see that it makes much difference.  The traffic still has to stop.
Have these planners ever tried crossing a road with a pushchair and a toddler, in the rain, in the wind, standing in the middle of the road with traffic roaring past on both sides of you?  Not forgetting the zigzagging you have to do to get from one crossing 'gate' to the other.  It's no wonder that people stranded in the middle of these crossings take it into their own hands and cross when there is no traffic coming, thus leaving cars stopping at red lights for no reason because the people have already gone.
And if traffic lights are so clever these days, why can't they sense when there is no traffic and turn red so that people don't have to stand around waiting?  By the time the cars appear they can be green again and no one gets held up and people can cross in safety.
I know it doesn't take that long for the lights to change, but when you are standing on that central reservation it feels like ages.
These crossings may be appropriate for dual carriageways but not on single carriageway roads even if they have two lanes of traffic in each direction.  I can see no benefit in them whatsoever and shall continue to mutter to myself every time I need to cross the road to get from one side of the town to the other.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Hearing Test For The Dog

It is a rare warm, sunny, day.  The dog is in the garden, basking in the sun.  Time for a walk.  What will bring her in?
Velcro strapping on my sandals? No
The click of the buckle on my bum-bag containing the necessary poo-bags? No
The faint tinkle of the collar attached to her lead?  WATCH OUT! A gingery-brown torpedo has just shot through the back door!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

What is a Billion?

The other day I received an email, one of those that get sent around between friends which are sometimes funny, sometimes sentimental, sometimes informative and sometimes someone’s rant.  This one comes under the rant category.  It started off quite interestingly, asking the recipient to consider the enormity of the number one billion.  I must admit I was concerned when politicians and others started throwing the figure One Billion about as if it were nothing.  I can remember when the national deficit was measured in Millions not Billions.  Anyway, the beginning of the email went like this:

 ‘I find this quite staggering and really brings into perspective the actual figure of one billion.

This is too true to be funny.
The next time you hear a politician use the word 'billion' in a casual manner, think about whether you want the 'politicians' spending YOUR tax money.

A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising agency did a good job of putting that figure into some perspective in one of its releases.

A.
A billion seconds ago it was 1959.

B.
A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.

C.
A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

D.
A billion days ago no-one walked on the earth on two feet.

E.
A billion Pounds ago was only 13 hours and 12 minutes, at the rate our government is spending it.’

That part of the email made me smile and nod in agreement.  Then it continued and I could not believe what followed :


‘Stamp Duty
Tobacco Tax
Corporate Income Tax
Income Tax
Council Tax
Unemployment Tax
Fishing License Tax
Petrol/Diesel Tax
Inheritance Tax
(tax on top of tax)
Alcohol Tax
V.A.T.
Marriage License Tax
Property Tax
Service charge taxes
Social Security Tax
Vehicle License Registration Tax
Vehicle Sales Tax
Workers Compensation Tax
  Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago and our nation was one of the most prosperous in the world.

We had absolutely no national debt.
We had the largest middle class in the world and Mum stayed home to raise the kids. 


What happened?’



Now the claim that not one of the above taxes existed a 100 years ago shows a lack of research on the part of the writer. 
Stamp Duty – there has always been some form of duty for large financial transactions.
Tobacco Tax – this has existed in one form or another since 1660.  It has varied in amount but has always been there. 
Income Tax was first introduced by Williams Pitt the Younger to raise funds for the Napoleonic Wars.  It was brought in as a temporary measure but apart from a brief gap between 1802 and 1803, when it was rescinded, it has been in existence ever since.

Having got this far after a mere twenty minutes research, I lost interest in looking up the history of all the other taxes mentioned above.  I think there has probably been a License fee for marriages for a long time, someone had to be paid for keeping the registers for Births, Marriages and Deaths.  Lucky they did, else all those people now tracing their ancestors would have nothing to go on.  Land owners have always charged for fishing on their property, that’s why you get poachers.  Some of the other taxes are obviously modern.  Social security did not exist and some of the other things like Workers Compensation Tax and Unemployment Tax I’ve never heard of.  And if any of these taxes sound unfair consider some of the things that have been taxed in the past.  Salt and windows to name just two; the government has never failed to find something to tax.

But the thing that really amazed me was the last paragraph.  ‘We had absolutely no national debt.  We had the largest middle class in the world and Mum stayed home to raise the kids.  What happened?’

We may have had the largest middle class in the world, and those Mums were probably very comfortable with cooks, housekeepers and scullery maids looking after their needs.  The working class, on the other hand, were much less lucky.

Life expectancy for people in 1911 was just 54 years for women and 50 for men.  Families were often large and living on the breadline.  Children were lucky to have their own bed let alone their own bed room.  There was no health care, if you were poor and ill, tough.  You had to pay for the services  of doctors, dentists and midwives and tried hard to do without them.  There were no pension schemes – but then people didn’t live long enough to need a pension.  Clothes had to last for years, not fashion seasons.  You were lucky if you had shoes.

Industrialists made lots of money and created the new middle class at the expense of factory workers who worked long hours, often in dangerous or noisy conditions with no recompense if they were injured.  Children were still being used in factories and down the mines.  Maybe they weren’t as young as those working in the previous century, but they were still working at an age when modern children are expected to be at school.  And talking of mines, the miners had to crawl, sometimes for hours, without pay, to the coal face before they could start work and start earning.

We ruled the world with our Empire!  Or, to put it in modern terms, we subjugated the peoples of Africa and Asia, taking the natural resources, the produce of the fields, the treasures of the past, all for the benefit of the homeland. 

True, there was no Vehicle Registration Tax but then again, there were very few vehicles and virtually no roads outside the towns and cities.  What roads there were, were narrow, rutted and often gated to allow farm stock easy access from one field to another.  People worked within walking distance of home.  Families lived within the same neighbourhood. 

So what happened? the email asked.

Conditions for the workers improved so that now everyone shares a decent lifestyle.  Home ownership has increased.  Healthcare is available for everyone.  Education is available for everyone.  We have decent roads (don’t complain about the pot holes, they have been the blight of travellers for centuries and you should see the state of the roads in America!)  Nearly everyone owns or has access to a car.   Every home has a washing machine and TV, probably a computer or two.  In short we have become much richer.

We need the taxes to pay for the things we now take for granted.  How else will roads, schools and hospitals be built?  Given the choice between paying taxes and having the living standards of the masses in 1911, I am happy to pay the taxes.  Whether the money is spent correctly is another argument.  How we can regain our position in the world as an industrial, profit making, country? I don’t know.  Service industry, banking, IT – these are the areas that have replaced the dark satanic mills of Blake’s time and unfortunately they do not provide enough jobs for the expanding population.  Again, this is another topic and nothing to do with the email.         

I doubt very much that whoever wrote the email in the first place will ever read this.  I wonder who he or she is.  What sort of environment they live in.  Have they ever read Dickens, or maybe more relevantly, The Road to Wigan Pier?  If they had I doubt they would regret the taxes we pay.  And remember, if you look at the list above not everyone has to pay all the taxes.  I’m not selling my house, I don’t smoke or fish, the marriage licence is only paid once (unless you are in the habit of getting married more often), I am intent on skiing (that’s Spend the Kids Inheritance, not anything to do with snow) so the government won’t make much out of me when I die!  Now I’m just off to the pub to do my bit for the brewing industry and pay my dues to the exchequer.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Headache on a Monday afternoon - 2nd try

Having decided to change the title of my book I have been sitting here all afternoon trying to design a cover.  Suddenly realized I needed a back as well as a front.  Think I have managed something.  Time will tell.  One of these days I might be able to afford a real designer, but so much has happened in the last 3 months I don't know if I could cope with going that far.
Think I'd better take the dog for a walk and clear my head.  She got all excited when I tripped over her when I was trying to get to the printer, but she's snoring again now.  Won't last long.  As soon as I stand up she will be awake and eager to go.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon

The sun has been shining.  The washing is dry.  Looks like spring has well and truly sprung.
I am now trying to find out how to make myself known because in July my first book is coming out!
I can hardly believe I am saying that.  Look out for more news, soon.