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Wednesday, August 29, 2012


as part of my enjoying the olympic spirit i had planned to go to the paralympic torch relay.
the official map was much less complicated than the one they had for the olympic relay - due in part to the fact it was only going to be on for a day and because it was a fairly straight forward route - none of the crisscrossing that the olympic torch did.

i had chosen my spot. i knew roughly what time i needed to be there.
then the radio reported they were a couple of hours behind schedule.
and it started to rain.

mmm a new plan needed.
checked out the live video feed (the only sounds that could be heard were the cheering of the crowds and the police and organisers arranging and sorting things).
i could see they were miles away. no need to rush.

i do some other stuff.

they get to museum of london and that is when i decide it is time to make a move to tower hill.
i make the mistake of going for a bus. traffic is jammed up (of course it is the torch relay is delaying it - how dumb am i? - no need to answer that).

i help a russian bloke make a decision about how to get to tower hill - go by docklands light railway, i tell him. will get you there much sooner than the bus will.

i decide to walk.
set out at a fair old pace. clippity cloppity through the back passages of the east end to get me to tower hill.
work up a bit of a sweat, also getting damp in the drizzle.
i get there.
bugger me the relay had picked up its pace since it left the museum of london and it had gone by.
can't be far though as i can see people are still on tower bridge with their noisemakers and some film crews are putting their cameras away.

a cheer goes up. they are at city hall. sorted. no problem. at tooley street i can see the support vehicles. there is a bit of wait. and then the relay team move into view.
the crowd isn't massive but there is a fair few there. lots of cheers and claps. people follow the torch relay as it progress up tooley street and then along jamaica road. films being shot, videos being made, photos being taken. noise made, cheers going up, clapping echoing.
the crowd moves along with the relay - gaining new people, losing some. support for the relay is fulsome, loud and happy.
no one really cares about the drizzle.

a handover point is coming up, the kiss as it is being called, as one team of five pass the flame to the next team of five. everything stops. more film, video and photos - capturing just a little bit of history. more noise, cheers and claps.
it is all done and the new five move off.

i follow them for a little bit more and then watch them go.

it was a heartwarming experience.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


ah the return of workfare.

chris grayling, a minister of the department of work and pensions, has been wittering on about the con/dem coalition government's trial scheme that will see young people who are signing on for the first time and who have never worked before being 'asked' to do three months full-time community work in return for their benefits.

in principle there is little wrong with the idea of workfare. most people would agree that working is better than being unemployed, that being able to earn a decent wage is better than living on benefits.

it is the practice of workfare that always seems to fall far short of rhetoric.

what has sparked mr. grayling into action (aside from the fact that the conservatives love to attack those on benefits)? a question asked of a young bar worker on a late night shift: “so what’s happened to your friends from school?”
the answer: “a lot of them signed on and are sitting at home playing computer games,”
for mr. grayling this is why britain's benefits system need 'desperately' to be reformed.
based on the reply of the young worker you could argue just as well that the employment marker is also in desperate need of reformation. as you could argue that they signed on because there was no work available just as easily as mr. grayling is arguing that they signed on just to get their benefits.

it could be (and i am just throwing this out there) that with youth unemployment around the million mark that the friends of this worker may not have been able to find a job and that without the prospect of a job they have to sign on.

a slight digression here - if my experience is anything to go by another reason for some of the young to sit at home and play their computer games is that the jobcentre is not really there to help people into work, it is there to tick boxes. maybe mr. grayling and the conservatives would be better off spending some money to revamp the jobcentre process and make it something that does actually work towards helping people prepare for and find work.

the rationale behind the scheme is sound. give people a taste of work, let them gain some of the tools needed to work, gain some experience. all these will be of benefit when they look for work - all of them will be good on the cv.

there are several problems with the whole thing.
it is not voluntary - and the compulsion element with the threat of the loss of benefits allows for the cry of slave labour.
the fact that these 'workers' are going to be working full-time just for their benefits (£56.25 a week for those under 25) is little more than cheap labour. if mr. grayling was serious about providing these people with a taste of working life then he would make sure that they were getting paid for the work (remember minimum wage is £4.98 per hour for those 18-20, and £6.08 for those over 21). nor are they being asked to 'work' at the same rate as those on apprenticeship schemes, £2.60 an hour). 
it is hard to see how this is anything other than cheap labour.
cheap labour that will not be respected by their employers - after all why should they care they know that these 'workers' are only going to be there for a short period of time, not long enough a time to learn much of use, nor are the employers paying for these 'workers' and because they are not investing in them they have little need to train them.
besides all those that they 'employ' can (and will) be replaced by a new tranche of 'employees' after a few months.

one of the lessons learnt would be that the work environment can be an exploitative experience. not quite what mr. grayling is hoping for (or is it)?

if the coalition government really wanted to teach teenagers about the joys of work then at least make sure that they are getting paid at the national rates - at least they could then see the connection between work and reward. also if proper wages are being paid then it is more likely that these workers will be treated properly - rather than as cheap replaceable labour. of course the employers are unlikely to be penalised for poor performance in their role as an experience provider - just so long as they are able to offer places for teenagers.

a question that pops up is that if there are these positions available then why are they not being filled by full-time proper employees?

the idea of workfare isn't wrong. it can provide a basis for future progression - it needs to be looked at, reformulated and turned into a viable helpful progamme.
part of that process would also be an overhaul of the role of jobcentres - they need to become more about helping people back into employment rather than ticking boxes.

meanwhile mr. grayling and his pals in government need to look to themselves and their rich wealth creating pals (copyright george osborne) and see what they can do to create jobs rather than punish those who don't have jobs, because there are none available for them.  


Monday, August 27, 2012


damien green, the immigration minister, is calling on conservatives to prepared to pass the danny boyle test (i hope he has had words to make sure that michael gove hasn't fiddled with the pass marks), by this he means a celebration of diversity and, one supposes, wholehearted support of the national health service (mr. cameron must be thanking his lucky stars that the bbc was not trumpeted in the olympic opening ceremony).

mr green gives a description of what he sees as being one nation toryism (the fabled ideal of the conservative party): "essentially, one nation conservatism means that every individual deserves a chance to contribute to the health of our society. no-one should be written off because of their background."

not so sure they have a good track record there.

he goes on to say: "if we don't like modern britain, then it is very unlikely that modern britain will like us".

damien, damien, damien. friend, mate me old cocker let me whisper in your shell like - modern britain doesn't like you and there is very little you can do about that.
each and every day that people lose their jobs or see their standards of living cut - they like you even less, and dislike you even more.
each and every day that they see their services cut or hear you blame them for the current economic situation  - they like you even less, and dislike you even more.

what's worse we don't trust you with your talk of compassionate conservatism or of being one nation tories.

my advice don't bother sitting the danny boyle test, you've failed that one already.
go see mr. gove i am sure he can whip up a test you can pass.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


just the other day i was listening to a news piece on the radio. it was about the memory championships that had just been held someplace in the uk.
along with cheese rolling, mud snorking and shove ha'apenny the memory championships are under represented when it comes to media coverage. look if people will watch poker being played on tv then there is scope of any 'sport' to get its time on the small screen.

anyway that is all beside the point.

they were interviewing the winner. she told them of some of the things she had to remember: the order of cards, the order of a very long binary sequence, lists of random letters. all interesting (and very telegenic) stuff.
the standard question was asked: how do you remember it all?

i perked up at that as my memory is pretty ropey (should that be netty?) and no sooner have i tried to remember something than i have forgotten it.
i believe it is in stephen king's 'dreamcatcher' novel that he talks about the 'memory bank' (though to be honest this is from a period of king's work that i stopped reading - so i only know this from the less than wonderful film adaptation) in which the hero can only store so many memories and that in order to add new ones he has to get rid of some old ones.
(a work colleague had his on variation on this - the wank bank, i'll leave it to your imagination just what he stored in there).
some of my oldest friends can remember our school days - i just listen to them and nod. half the time i can't remember the people they are talking about. in truth i have a bunch of memories from school, but not that many and never the same ones as my friends. it is the same with work - people will mention something that happened and i only have the vaguest recollection of it.
i am not good with names - and i went for years seeing retailers who i chatted to regularly on the phone and met at trade shows, but i had no idea of their names.

my memory is shot to bits.
that meant i was interested in any techniques that could help me.

i was expecting a bit about mnemonics (itself not easy to remember how to spell) but learning a phrase such as 'never east shredded weat' to remember the points of the compass is one thing but i need help to remember richard of york gave battle in vain (the colours of the rainbow).
the lass gave her secret - she used visual clues in order to remember the long lists of numbers, cards, letters she needed to win. sometimes she associated the list to be remembered to her friends, or to objects she had in her house.

so in order to remember 50 things - it seemed she needed to remember 100, the thing and the thing that reminded her of the thing. given i can't remember the thing the chances of me remember the thing that i decided was going to represent the thing i needed to remember wasn't going to be the most useful tactic.

while it was a nice idea to see if there was a quick and easy way to improve my memory - it turns out that the way to remember things is to be able to remember things in the first place.

looks like i am just going to have to remember to write stuff down and remember not to kid myself that i can remember things.
because i can't.


it shouldn't come as a surprise that sir richard branson isn't gracious in defeat.
virgin and stagecoach have lost out on the west coast line railway. during their tenure of the line virgin increased the number of passengers and improved the service.
there was a time when i was a frequent user of virgin's service - catching the train up to runcorn on a sunday evening and a return on thursday night. it wasn't a cheap service, there were times when it was overcrowded (but then that is what happens when you have several empty first class carriages). all in all it did what it said it would do and mostly did it well.

the conservatives like to throw around buzz words - when mrs. thatcher was in the throes of privatisation orgasms the words were efficiency and economical. the current tory lot, under david cameron, love the sound of the word 'choice'.
funny thing is that the privatised rail service has been heavily subsidised - so basically we have been paying large companies money in order to allow them to make a profit. a profit that they pay out as a dividend to their shareholders while going cap in hand to the government for more subsidies in order to invest in their service (used to be a time when capitalists would invest their profit, but why would you do that when you can get money from the government - as long as you both invoke the entrepreneurial as shown by entrepreneurs then it is ok to use public money to make private companies wealthy).
as for choice the very nature of the railways makes this impractical. - unless i wanted to make some serious detours the only way i was getting to runcorn was on a virgin train.
so much for efficiency, economical and choice.

the process of privatisation was pretty cack handed.
one of the results of this is the franchise system and the bidding that takes place every so many years.

the west cost line was up for bidding.
firstgroup made a better bid - basically they say they will pay the government more for the service - and they are promising a heap of service improvements.
based on that the government did what any sensible government would do - agreed that firstgroup could have the franchise for the next 13 years.

oh no!
sir richard was not best pleased. "outrageous, unjust and simply wrong". he says.
he also claims that based on their bid firstgroup will go bust. implying that he is the better and more realistic businessman.

well since losing the bid he has decided to have his airline open up some internal routes between london and manchester, just the extra numbers that heathrow needed. he says it is to provide competition to british airways in the budget arena. the announcement has nothing to do with him losing the west coast line - it is just his way of preventing british airways from having a monopoly in cheap internal flights.

then he is happy to say how that firstgroup will go out of business very very soon.
perhaps they are better at what they do than sir richard is, not that he would admit it. perhaps they have crunched the numbers better and perhaps they are prepared to pay a bit more for the cash cow than sir richard is.

i guess we will just have to wait and see if sir richard's words of doom come true.
or maybe we won't as there is an online petition that has received more than 100,000 signatures that is demanding that virgin get the line again.
in order to let the popular groundswrell grow sir richard has even offered to run the line on a cost basis or 'free' until the review can be held (and found in his favour)., perhaps he should offer to cut his dividends and the amount he gets as a subsidy?

there is a part of me that likes the fact that sir richard is small-minded and petty and doesn't like to lose.

he has listed the help of several celebs in order to get his case heard and for these stars to drive home the point that when it comes to trains on the west coast there can only be the one - and it is him.

lord alan sugar - who has more standing the community now that he is a tv star than he ever did as a businessman. at least he knows a bit about large scale businesses.

then there is jamie oliver. a seemingly very nice mockney chap who by all accounts makes some very good foo. to the best of my knowledge none of his cookery programmes have been stopped while jamie addresses the adoring public with his love and knowledge of trains and their destinations.
i am sure he is a relaible witness.

then there is mo farah. a bloke who has just won two gold medals, who understands a thing or two about running on the track, just the wrong sort of track. given all we heard about mo's great sacrifice to win the gold medal: moving to live in the usa you have to wonder just how much he knows about the rail system here. perhaps what he brings to the table is invaluable knowledge of how the american train system works.
or it could be that as mo is getting paid to appear in virgin's broadband ads along with usain bolt that he has decided to do a solid for sir richard and put his name to the campaign. all very scratch my back and i scratch yours.
has nothing to do with running a railway but it does show that sir richard has better frineds. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


there are two givens for late summer period.

that there will be a hoohah over the gcse results - lots of talk about how they are dumbing down blah blah (all by people who would never admit that their results were because of weak exams when they took them) and nor is it ever the independent sector that has been dumbing down - although they always seem to get fantastic results.
that a* from a comprehensive is always going to be a bit dubious, while get it from a private school and well it is backed by the huge fees you pay so it must be ok.

(the cynic in me says that part of this move complaining about the constant and consistent high grades is orchestrated by some of the private schools because it must be hard to justify that large fee when little wayne down the road is getting a*s as well).

the other thing you can rely on is the spate of energy companies who begin to announce how they are having to put their prices up because the wholesale price of fuel has risen once again.
coincidentally this rise comes at the time when most people are going to have to use more electricity and more gas to light and heat their homes.

whoever is doing their buying is obviously choosing the wrong time of year to lay in supplies.
you just wish they would get someone in who would do the negotiations and buying during the summer when fewer people need energy so that they can buy it cheaper.

not that i am suggesting that the energy companies might actually be taking the piss out of us all.
not that i am suggesting that they never seem to be able to lower the prices as much as they put them up.
not that i am suggesting that the whole competition in the energy market is little more than smoke and mirrors and that while we may have choice (the small god of all devoted conservatives) it isn't real choice it is just the choice between them putting it up quite a lot or putting it up a lot. not really that much of a choice.

still come spring they will drop the prices by a few percent less than they increased it in october.
so that will be nice of them.

funny thing is they will still all make big fat as fuck profits.


it was nice while it lasted.

two weeks of, mostly, good sports and sportsmanship. competitors taking their knocks and getting back up to play on without much fuss. competitors accepting their disqualifications and penalties with barely a word.

sure there were a few exceptions. a few drugs cheats, a couple of badminton doubles who were playing to the rules of the game and not the spirit of it (and who were dealt with harshly by the very administrators who put them in that position) and a fencer who thought she had been robbed.
for some their four year wait to be in the mass public consciousness ended in a blink of an eye and they have to wait another four years for another chance.

the olympics have come and gone.

now the football season is back overshadowing all.
it is the return of the petulant whiners, overpaid cheaters, the divers and complainers. rich spoilt footballers who may understand about the concept of fair play but have no idea who to put into practice. for them it is the gobbing and swearing.

for a few weeks the paralympics will remind us that people can play hard, very hard, and play fair and do it for the love of their sport rather than the reward it will bring.

but soon that will all be forgotten as we read, week in and week out, about the exploits of the premiership's star players. some of their antics will take place on the pitch, sometimes they will occur in public places other times it will be in the form of a sleazy kiss and tell story.

the olympics might have been the greatest show on earth, but we all know that the premiership is the only game in town.
oh george what have you said? really what have you said?

my dad, whose elder brother was called george, passed on very few life lessons to me. the one that stuck with me the most was one that happened as we were walking down towards the green gates of the racecourse estate. i think he had decided it was time to give me that speech about the birds and the bees. i am pretty sure most parents dread that moment when they have to give 'the talk'.

(as a digression i had my own experience of the fear of having to give 'the talk' back when i was a quasi step dad. i was bathing the boy, or more accurately i was preventing him from overfilling the bath and flooding the flat.
the boy: where do babies come from?
me: (gulp) well you know that me and your mummy are built differently. that me and you have a penis your mum has a vagina. (i am pretty sure that here i was beginning to grasp at the words to describe what happens next). well sometimes when a man (me) loves a woman (mummy) then the man stick his pen....
the boy: why does the water spiral down the plug hole?
attention deficit saves the day. to be honest i wasn't much better at explaining the water going down the plug hole either). 

anyway back to the main event.

my dad was trying to kill two birds with the one stone: the talk and to ascertain if i had already been dipping my wick and if not well he had a plan.
part of the conversation involved him telling me that for my 16th birthday he knew a very nice and very experienced lady of the night who would show me a trick or nine. considering that most of the parental presents i got were socks and sensible pants this sounded like a winner to me.

he never really gave me 'the talk' what he did tell me was that he loved my mum and that she was as beautiful to him now as she was way back when, which even now as a jaded and cynical bloke i think of as being as good a definition of love as you are likely to get. he followed this up with the sage advice that when i was dating, courting or playing the field the important thing i had to remember was 'no really meant no'. if they say no, accept it, walk them home and wish them good night. when you get home have a handy shandy 'because, son, that is what your right hand is for/'
not quite what they would have told me if there had been sex education in school - but all in all words to live by, and i have. i may be crestfallen when a lady tells me 'no' (well normally it is 'are you out of your mind: never'), i may want to burst out in tears at the hurt and the rejection - but i am always secure in the knowledge that later i can have a wank.

allegedly julian assange doesn't have my self control.

to be honest i haven't really been following the whole wikileaks saga, and what little i have paid attention to has me thinking that this is less about truth and transparency and more about julian assange's love of publicity.
though i could be very wrong.

gorgeous george galloway, the respect mp, thinks that the charges are trumped up and it is all a reat big conspiracy to shut julian assange and wikileaks up. if you don't agree with him them you are just a supporter of the imperial powers and all they stand for.
got it.
george, julian and wikileaks on the side of the truth angels. they are the light to guide us from the gloom of lies.
usa, gb, william hague and anyone who dares to disagree with 3g and mr. assange (or believe he has a case to answer) are enemies of the light, they are the foul purveyors of lies and deceit, they are champions of the imperial colonialists who want to take truth cage it up send it to the bottom of the see where it will never be seen again - failing that truth will only be available as a weekly programme on bbc4.

listen i like a good conspiracy theory as much as the next man. i am a fan of david icke and make no bones about it. yet there is always a moment when a rant about how 'people are sheep (sheeple as they like to say) and the *ahem* wool is being pulled over out eyes and that they know the truth' when they suddenly demonstrate that they are so off the beaten track that perhaps most of what they have had to say isn't worth listening to.

gorgeous george was defending julian assange in one of his weekly internet broadcasts - sat behind a desk with a big arse microphone he looked like a cross between the king's speech and a racing commentator. some may have said that the moment came even before he started his defence of mr. assange when mr.. galloway berated anyone for thinking that he was an oratorical bully. how could he be such? it was not his fault that some people weren't as clever as he and so couldn't fully appreciate how right mr. galloway was. no it was then.

the bulk of what mr. galloway had to say was a spirited defence of what mr. assange and wikileaks had done and that because of their work they had become a clear and present danger to the powers that be: the usa and by dint of association great britain. this was why willaim hague was dancing to the tune of the american's.
mr. galloway is a skillful orator aided by a rich voice, an impressive vocabulary, passion and righteousness. it all combines to make a powerful package.
and if he had stopped in just the right place - if he had the conversation i had with my dad - perhaps we would be extolling him for once again speaking out against oppression and the potential crushing of the freedom of speech.

but he didn't stop.
nope george galloway ploughed right on, he even admitted that it would be controversial - i guess he didn't realise just how controversial it was. if only he had spoken to ken clarke.
in essence what george galloway wanted to say was the charges against mr. assange have been trumped up and have little basis in fact. if that was all he said he would have been on a winner.
but he didn't stop.
nope he carried on and pretty much said that these women were not raped by mr. assagne as they claimed to be. he continued that to call the (non-consensual, according to the victims) rape was to banish all meaning to the term.
in fact mr. assange may have base morals, he may be a cad, bounder and a rat, but all he is guilty of is poor sexual etiquette.

unsurprisingly this hasn't gone down well in some circles.
no need to worry mr. galloway knows that his critics are just pawns of the liberal elite. this is all about wikileaks morons. all about shutting wikileaks down.
while he might have been right his own outburst has now moved the story away from wikileaks and it has now become a bit about george galloway and it has become about rape. wikileaks almost fading into the background.
probably not been as helpful as mr. galloway hoped and expected it to be.

assuming that the conspiracy theories are right and the ultimate aim is to drop julian assange into a deep dark cell in the middle of the usa with no one ever being able to talk to him again that is an action that will not sit well with most of the usa's allies and will give them all cause to rethink their relationships with the usa (oh don't be so naive; i can hear mr. galloway saying).
yet as galloway has said this is about wikileaks. so is wikileaks julian assange and without him it just crumbles? doesn't that just make him the progressives version of rupert murdoch, and giving him too much power as to what to release and what not to release?
if wikileaks is more than julian assange then it won't matter if the american law enforcement agencies get their wicked way with him because wikileaks will go on and will go from strength to strength beccause more and more people will support it because of the martyrdom of julian assange.

or it may be as prosaic as julian assange needs to face the accusations and clear his name and then get on with his work at wikileaks and perhaps now he will keep away from the spotlight and let the truth find its own level.

no matter what the language is no means no.
it seems there are still a fair few men who have yet to realise this. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


if it is not the very bright and very hot sun, it is just the humid clammy muggy heavy heat that is annoying me and making me all lethargic.

thanks to going to a couple of free olympic events i got sunburn for the first time since i was a teenager, the two days of sun being the most sun i have probably caught in such a period of time since i was that young.

i don't like the sun.
it doesn't like me.

i am melting.

please can we have winter back.

Monday, August 06, 2012


it is silly to try to talk of who is the winner of the london 2012 olympics and not just because the games have yet to finish.

there are over 10,000 competitors at the london olympics. the vast majority of them will be going home without a medal – but that doesn’t make them losers. some of them will be making history by just competing. others will break records; others will struggle against all odds, while a glorious few will stand on high clutching their prized gold medal.
so just who will be the winner of these london 2012 olympics games? michael phelps has become the winningest olympian of all time. maybe jess ennis who was the face of the games and withstood the pressure to bring home the gold? it could be the saudi women competitors for just being there. maybe usain bolt will do his unprecedented double triple?

just who will be crowned the king of the games?

i can tell you now.

he isn’t even an olympian. he is a politician. step forward boris johnson – the man who has made these games his own. the olympic games have been turned into one very large and successful job application for the leadership of the tory party and to be a future prime minster.
not even being stuck dangling on a zip wire can dent him.
the olympics have sprinkled pixie dust all around him.
that boris is being touted as a potential, and serious, contender for the tory leadership is perhaps the one thing we can criticise the olympics for. it is a very serious charge that all the gold medals for team gb is not going to hide.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


i went.
i watched.
i walked.

the sport may not have been top notch but i have to say i was pretty impressed with the olympic park.
i enjoyed a long wander around the place.
mingling with masses of happy people who like me just wanted to drink up the atmosphere of being there.

for all the talk of the security measures it wasn't that much of a hassle to get into the park (though i am still bemused about the water ban - oh hold on a bottle of coke £2.30 - bemusement gone). the security staff were efficient, friendly and chatty - i guess for some of them dealing with a few irate sports fans is a walk in the (olympic) park compared with dealing with war zones.

considering how many squaddies there are supposed to be on site - i didn't see too many. there were a fair few armed police around the place, but i confess i have never gotten used to seeing the british police armed. most of the police and soldiers in the park were busy helping people or posing with them.


yet the one things that stood out for me was the olympic volunteers. thousands of them there. helpful and smiling. their reward no more than being able to say they were part of it, that they helped make the games a success. unlike the competitors they won't be able to turn london 2012 into a potential cash cow. nor will they be able to turn it into another lucrative job, like seb will do. for them it will be just a great story to tell their friends (who will no doubt be sick of hearing about it by christmas).

the volunteers are the stars of the show.
they all deserve a medal and praise.

i tip my hat to them.