Pensions Revolution (time bomb actually)

Monday sees the biggest shake up to pensions law in the UK since, well pretty much since pensions were invented. Instead of now guaranteeing you an extra income for life once you retire from work, you can now cash it all in and buy a boat.

But it's our money cry all the people who will be cashing in their pots and expecting that the value of their fund will be the same as the value of the cheque going to drop through the door a week after they sign the paperwork. They will then be amazed that it is not only taxed, but also reduced quite dramatically with other costs and charges. And that will just be the legal and honest companies.

Already, in fact for months, I have been receiving SMS and emails like this, as soon as the PPI ones started to dry up these pensions ones appeared.

Even with a freephone number, this looks almost as legit as you could, and that is the point. Even if you are not with Aviva there is a small temptation to call to question where they got the number, after all the call is free.

And rest assured, I am sure they will be able to offer all callers, with Aviva or not, something pension related which in essence means you will have a lot less money thatn you would have otherwise.

On the news yesterday there was a report of how in Australia, where this change was made 20 years ago, there are now generations of pensioners with no money, not because of scams directly, just because they have spent it all. 

The issues with this entire concept are huge, and if you think the billions the banks have paid out in PPI seemed like  lot of money, wait about 15 to 20 years when this one gets big. In absolute simple terms once you have spent all the money you will have to rely on the state, so instead of cutting costs this is just building a massive debt with no way of ever recovering it for the state.

Add into this the illegal and immoral companies that will actually be scamming people, and then the legitimate and within the law firms selling people a pile of cash for far more than it looks, and all I can say is that the lawyers must already be counting their bonuses that will come from the back of this.

It actually beggars belief that Labour agree with this policy, which is purely there just to entice "older" voters to vote Conservative, and get people who make poor financial decisions to just get the government to bail them out. Since the Equitable Life policy holders decided that although they had received rates that were impossible to maintain for decades, as soon as they were dropped they wanted laws changed and the state to cover the differences, I have been unable to understand why this becomes the states responsibility. 

Like banks being too big to fail, it is really just a money making machine for the select few - any one, be it a government or a cold caller offering you money for nothing should be avoided at all costs.

Anyway, I look forward to my pensions being raided as I retire to pay for this mess.

Give us your money for..... ??

Todays post included this leaflet on behalf of Chris Adams, the Parliamentary Candidate for the Kippers in Aylesbury. Asking for money, which I don't have an issue with as political campaigns are not centrally funded, and an hilarious "survey" that I will be returning, well it is a freepost address. 

Inspired by this I decided to use my lunch hour to find out more about Chris Adams so I can make sure that my £2500 advertising bus will be put to good use. The odd thing is that he seems very hard to find on line.

He recently deleted his twitter account, from what I can see of the facebook account it is just a regurgitation feed for UKIP posters and links. So I went to the official UKIP Aylesbury website, as clearly all I would need to find would be there.

Weirdly, when there is an election in two months, the candidate has this much to say for himself.

He recently deleted his twitter account, from what I can see of the facebook account it is just a regurgitation feed for UKIP posters and links. So I went to the official UKIP Aylesbury website, as clearly all I would need to find would be there.

 

Vote for me because I have a purple tie appears to be the sole message.

As I had a bit more time on my hands... I had a look at the election results for the Aylesbury Vale District Council from 2011 (linked here) as I wanted to see if I could find out more about the "Political Classes" that he is fighting against. First thing that jumped out at me was the number of candidates over the Vale with the surname Adams. I am sure it is just a coincidence as UKIP seem confident that they are offering something new and not the same old political elite, despite seemingly wanting to have one family running Aylesbury Vale if they could. Also worth a quick mention that the councilor promoting the leaflet through the door today was elected as a Conservative, with a large Conservative majority but decided to change to UKIP and not bother with an election to see if that is what his constituents wanted. Worth bearing in mind when you vote for change from the political elite.

According to the official UKIP Aylesbury website there is not a single special event planned from now until Election Day for UKIP - do they want to get elected, or are they hiding for a reason? It can't all be down to the fairly funny but innocuous article in Private Eye about Chris this week can it? 

Je suis Charlie, unless I disagree with you, obviously...

As memorials and marches continue over Europe after the horrific and senseless murders in France this week, the on line and poster making folk are making the "je suis charlie" message heard loud and clear to all.

A simple and poignant message that at it's core means that we support the magazine almost all of us had barely heard of before, but we support their rights to be satirical, to take the piss out of politics and religion - to be funny and thought provoking. The key message is not whether anyone agrees with that the cartoons were funny, or offensive, badly judged or biting satire. The point is that the publishers are allowed to publish. No laws were being broken, no threats were being made, it was a magazine with a very small circulation and very few people had in real terms seen any of their cartoons.

Now we have almost all seen many of them, and yes some are very funny, and overall most are nothing to do with Islam. Their targets were anyone, any religion, any country, any politician, but sadly there seems to be far too many people now incapable of understanding this and taking extreme views, leading to multiple murders and perversely leading to more people seeing the cartoons and laughing at them than would ever have happened otherwise. Like any rational person I struggle to understand what though process anyone goes through to kill people believing that is what their god wishes to happen.

I am not going to focus on the events though, just the issue of freedom of speech that this has dragged up and the implied agreement of people using the je suis Charlie phrase.

It does seem that a worryingly large number of people and organisations struggle to understand what freedom of speech is. In simple terms, like the cartoons, you don't have to like or support what the person is saying, but you have to allow them to say it. 

So freedom of speech means racists are allowed to write racist stuff, look (or rather don't) at some of the White Power areas of the internet and you will feel physically sick, the same as what I assume the ISIS areas and websites are like. And here is the nub, there are people tweeting #JeSuisCharlie and even having their avatars as those words while saying websites should be taken down, signing petitions to have people sacked for making jokes or being idiots, reporting people to the police for all manner of non-crimes.

What thought process is that that says "I am in favour of free speech apart from Katie Hopkins or Ched Evans website"? I am not a fan of either of those entities, but they are allowed to speak and show themselves for what they are.

Remember the last election when the BNP were growing in popularity, until Nick Griffin was given what we wanted and invited on Question Time. Many people campaigned and protested about it, but he was shown to be the idiot that he was and was consigned to history. Not letting him speak was actually his key point as it meant he had power, letting him speak ended him. 

Don't ban words, argue them to prove them wrong.

Serial

No, not the cafe in London selling cereal, but the podcast.

**Warning** This is all spoiler and details that you may not want to read if you haven't listened / finished it yet.

The weekly podcast from the USA, re-investigating a murder from 1999, using original interviews and transcripts, evidence from trial and new witnesses and interviews along with many fresh pairs of eyes to review and establish if the man convicted of the crime should have been, and should be in prison.

Like many people, I saw the mentions of this new podcast appear, and grow on twitter to the point I thought I better find and download it. I didn't pay any attention to the site or background, and actually assumed it was fiction for the first few episodes I listened to. Finding out it was a real case changed the way I was listening to it, and like many I started to try and think how I would have seen the evidence if on a jury.

The episodes carried on with finding and revealing new information, and the reviews of old facts that seemed to have never been followed through or checked at the time. The absolute inability to find out if there had ever been a call box at the Best Buy for example, showing that what we assume is black and white is often far from it.

Confusing alibis, conflicting stories, odd mobile phone records and use all building up a picture where the assumption of guilt or innocence changed from episode to episode. 

What changed dramatically for the makers, and clearly influenced the later episodes, was that the new world meant that all the people involved at any level in the case were being publicly identified, and the details of the case were being discussed on global forums - the world turning into a detective agency to seek the answers that were eluding the makers.

They had to start referencing information and details that they may not have seen or followed up, the dynamics of the podcast changing. Especially when spoilers started to appear about re-trials and appeals in the new year.

It is hard to second guess what the makers thought would happen. Unlike a documentary on TV or a newspaper article / review of cases, this was a continuing process. Hours of details and information to absorb, far more than a few thousand words in a magazine or a 30 minute show. This was a totally different concept and process, and one I always felt mildly uncomfortable that it was seen as "entertainment". After all, Hae is dead, not a character from a book, but a real person. Adnan is in prison, locked up, if he is innocent that is a large chunk of his life gone forever.

And that is it. As it was and is real life, it hasn't ended yet. DNA samples to be checked, will that be the key to establishing guilt? A potential serial killer in the area at the time? Jay? Will we ever really know the truth - it would be nice to think so, as currently there are a large number of people with very different stories and versions of a time in the last century that ended with a young girl being killed. It seems, to me, that almost everyone involved is lying about at least some of the details - will we ever find out why?

Adnan is either a victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice, or an outstanding liar and killer - roll on the DNA test and hopefully conclusion for all the family and friends and individuals involved.

Whatever it is, I miss the "mail c-a-himp" introduction weekly on a Thursday :-)

 

There is some good news...

However hard that may be to comprehend when looking at the papers and TV news (this pretty much applies to any day, not just this morning).

I have seen & heard so many people only focusing on the the bleak and inevitable shootings / bombings / murders that have happened and will happen in future, it seems amazing that as a younger man my parents worried about me going to London during bombing campaigns, but we all still went to football and gigs. 

Anyway, not going to get dragged into this.

As you will remember, I am sure, I did a sponsored thing where I only drank tap water for a week. No beer, wine, coffee, tea etc. Links to the start here and end here

Well, the good news is that the results are in - and thanks to all of the generous people on the internets I am so pleased to say that the hundreds of pounds I raised, which you donated, now means this:

  • Women in the Baiga tribe won't have to walk miles to collect water, several times a day.
  • Families in Odisha will now have an individual household tap connection, toilet and bathing area, helping to improve sanitation practices and give safe clean water to families
  • Children in Andhra Pradesh will be able to drink water without fear of getting fluorosis, a skeletal disease that particularly affects young children and the elderly.

Yes, you did this. You made lives better for people you will more than likely never meet. Remember that over the festive period.

Almost everyone on this planet is a good person.

Delivery attempted....

This morning, as often, I had to check on progress and whereabouts of deliveries due, and as all too often there is an issue now with a box of beer that should have been delivered last week. The courier can't answer any questions on the whereabouts as I am the recipient not the sender, and so another day drifts off into a whirl of emails, webchats and phone calls to get my order sorted.

This time the culprit is MyHermes, who are my least favourite courier I have to say. Their standard method of delivery is to throw the parcels over the back gate into the garden, this has happened even when I am in. Our neighbours are also almost always in, so leaving with them should be no issue, as the Royal Mail postman never seems to have any issues.

A quick comment on line has lead to loads of comments and issues about many companies, the two worst seem to be MyHermes and Yodel. Streams of tales of delays and lost & damaged deliveries, trying to re-arrange deliveries and get any form of sense from the companies - it seems the national obsession is moving from the weather to "where is my delivery".

We all know that the suppliers want to use a cheap service, but there is a definite line being crossed, and my comment and new policy is to ask which delivery company will be used, and if MyHermes or Yodel to not place the order. It is the only way!

In a previous role my director often used the phrase "We are all in a race to the bottom" as a way of justifying the ever worsening products and services we offered. The race was one way though, just to get the lowest possible price from all suppliers, with no thought of what the customers actually wanted.

You get what you pay for, and that is never truer today. The cheapest option on line when looking at identical goods is not going to be the best, in any way. We all know that, and the choice is there. Choose a very cheap option with free delivery and you will experience issues, choose the expensive one with timed deliveries etc, and it may cost a bit more, but the service is likely (but not guaranteed) to be better.

If ordering a box of beer (for example...) I want it to turn up at a time convenient to me, not a delivery that is the cheapest option for the supplier. I want a good service, and I understand I may have to pay a pound or two more for that, but hardly any company seems to even make that offer these days. Companies seem to be losing track of the customer, everywhere is a survey about service and delivery on everything you do, and yet the absolute basics seem to go missing until you threaten to leave or cancel the order, when suddenly the good service appears.

As I have said many times, it is almost never the fault of the person on the end of the phone or webchat, so be nice to them, it is a cost saving decision made with no thought of the impact on customers or other parts of the business. On a side note there was an article in the paper earlier this week that agents in call centres give better service and deals to people who are nice to them. Anyone who has ever worked in customer services knows this, and yet it still seems to be a surprise to many. Rest assured if you shout and swear at the person on the end of the phone you will not be getting good service!

So the answer seems to be, as usual, use your spending power wisely. I will, sadly, be cancelling a regular order with one beer supplier, as I can't be bothered to have grief every month, which as I have had three months in a row now is just too much.

Not ordering from companies and telling them why is all I can suggest, or get used to an endless circle of blame and finger pointing while a courier who is offering a service at a price that anyone can see can't be sustainable, delivers your parcel to someone the other side of town, and then makes it your problem to sort out.

The Business Edition

Business in the loosest possible sense of the word, and actually even the word sense seems totally inappropriate.

Anyways, a couple of news stories today to make you wonder what world we are creating, and IS don't even get a look in. 

Firstly, at a Spurs football match last night there were three different pitch incursions, each where the man involved was wearing a shirt for a (not) well known brand of headphones, and also seeming to be filming themselves while running around and being a nuisance. Now, pitch incursions happen, sometimes too much Stella or marching powder makes people act in a way they normally wouldn't. This was different though, these people were filming themselves committing a criminal act, and within minutes of them doing it footage of them before the game and on line messages from a variety of sources were found - you can't hide in the digital age.

So, a very brief summary of what happened (as I see it, I am not the police) and a run down of winners and losers.

  1. THFC. The club has official headphone partners, well, that is what a global brand does, so nothing odd. However they will be the biggest losers here, UEFA could and probably will fine the club, mainly as even after the first one the stewards still seemed incapable of stopping anything. At worst this could also mean a game having to be played behind closed doors, some quite serious financial implications.
  2. Bassbuds. The headphone people. Despite saying they were appalled by this activity, their official twitter feed referenced the people responsible for this before the event, so had at least some involvement. More than likely this would have been some marketing bod deciding to do some edgy viral marketing and picking an on line video channel who claim to be famous for "pranks".
    Losers as they will have lost any contract and credibility with Spurs, and I assume other clubs, their merchandise missing from the Spurs website already. Winners in a way as now people have heard of them.
  3. Trollstation. No, me neither. But now they are famous, and their hits are rocketing. They were behind this, and as the three pranksters were all wearing shirts from bassbudds, it would indicate they were paid for this activity. So winners as they are now famous, albeit in a bad way, but that is what they did it for. They have shown they are the people to contact for "pranks and bantz" style guerrilla marketing. No call for it you say, hmmm, look at your TV and think again.
  4. The 3. Three grown adults who filmed a criminal act, in advance and at the time, for probably no money. No official contract will exist anywhere, they will have got the T-Shits from Big Dave before the game, and their 15 seconds of fame will now have a post-script of a criminal record, football bans and the legacy of being idiots. Losers in the highest sense.
  5. All the rest of us. Losers, as this is the natural progression from selfies to youtube and vine to co-ordinated "pranks" like this. Back when flashmobs were mildly entertaining this was seen and stored by a marketing student. That person now runs an agency getting paid for this, and although will get hung out to dry by their headphones, they should make this a success.

There you have it then, the winners are the villains of the piece. Funny old game.

Secondly, and intrinsically linked, #BlackFriday the sales sensation from our cousins in the USA. This is Boxing Day for us, when our sales happen after our biggest holiday of the year. This may be a shock to many people, but Christmas and Boxing day is a very UK event, like Thanksgiving is a very US event and holiday, they don't translate well. I am always surprised by people who don't understand why many countries and cultures don't celebrate Christmas, it is because it is a Christian festival, not just shopping.

Now the joy of Black Friday is here, and in the best use of it, it seems to be scheduled to last for a few weeks rather than just the day as its name suggests. In the true spirit of the season, retailers are selling off all the stock they were going to discount by 50% anyway, they now put a sticker on it saying the magic BF words and discount it by 20% and clear their entire stock in a day. Genius skills of capitalism and marketing there.

To make sure it is an event, unlike when the Harrods sale used to have people queuing for days to get a TV or a fur coat for a quid, it is now Tesco and Asda starting at midnight. Oddly this lead to people fighting over TVs and coffee machines at one in the morning, who would have thought.

To close, this is from the BBC website, and is only some of the issues dealt with in Manchester during the night. This is people in supermarkets remember.

Keep spending.

62p an hour

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Another PR disaster for politicians who chose to wear the feminist T Shirt in the last week as the Mail on Sunday lead at the weekend with a story about sweat shops and where these garments were made. The figure of 62p an hour was discussed on all the rolling news channels and on line as a disgrace and appalling, with no context behind it whatsoever.

For the avoidance of doubt I am against sweat shops and exploitation of workers whether in the UK or anywhere else.

Anyway, moral indignation about the pay for the workers in this particular factory abounded, and nobody as far as I saw added any context behind this pay. On average a 10 hour day, so maybe £6 a day as a wage, six days a week and you get in the region of £150 a month. 

This may sound odd, but in many places in the world that would be seen as a reasonable salary for a family to be able to live on. Not living like we do in the UK with iPhones and Sky Sports, but far from being homeless and starving. It is hard to actually put it all into a clear measure as food and housing are obviously totally differently costed and paid for in different regions of the world as this link shows. 

The issue is clearly partly with what the workers are paid, but nobody seems to be questioning why they are being sold at £45. Surely the company buying them aren't under the impression that the workers are being paid £10 for each shirt that they make?

It does seem to be a low wage in Mauritius, and I am in no way trying to justify that, but the story could just as easily be "Politician uses XYZ company for their mobile phone who have their call centres in Vietnam where agents are paid 50p an hour" and would you know if that was a good wage or not?

Companies outsource and off-shore because it is cheaper, no other reason. All the commentators on this story (including me) typing their outrage on electronic devices made in similar factories is a confusing image of what is "right and wrong" when it comes to this area of global work.

High Speed To Nowhere

Not a moan about HS2, although when that becomes an election issue it should be fun in the Home Counties, but yet another gripe about BT.

BT Group, which comprises BT Retail who you get your phone from, BT Wholesale who sell wholesale services to other providers and BT Openreach who "own" all the cables and such. But, all one company, one share price. They have to trade in this way to make it fair for competitors like TalkTalk and Sky, and what this means is that people in BT Retail have no idea what BT Openreach are doing, which helps exactly nobody in anyway at all.

My Broadband at home is and always has been appalling, and I know the technical reasons why but that doesn't stop my frustrations. I have two phone lines and broadband connections at home as one is just not good enough to run a couple of PCs and tablets etc, and as for downloading catch up TV and box sets, simply not possible.

So imagine my joy when a few months ago outside the house there were Openreach vans and men all over the place, digging up roads and going down holes - it could surely only mean that fibre was being installed and we would be able to download an album in less than an hour and maybe watch a youtube video without waiting 20 minutes for it to start. 

I went and checked with the guys, and yes, it was all being installed, and all ready to go very soon they said, so I went on line and checked, but nothing could be found. Since then I have spent the last couple of months trying to get sense out of BT as to when we will get fibre, with absolutely no success. Even today according to the Openreach site the exchange is "under review" which means my cabinet is being assessed to see if it can be upgraded, despite the fact it has been.

BT Retail can't even say that much, all they can say is to register on line and I will be updated as and when there is any change.

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A couple of weeks ago people arrived again and put stickers on all the new cabinets, as shown in the pic. 

Pretty definitive really as to what they are saying. All nice and clear, with the Openreach logo all confirming fibre is here, but it is still not possible to order it at all. For clarity, all providers except Virgin have to buy it from BT, so nobody can do anything or sell any services until BT decide to update their systems.

So far just a standard moan about BT, but that is not actually my issue. If it was just BT being inefficient it would still be annoying, but as a private company they can do as they like really - as broadband in the UK is not guaranteed or regulated they can pretty much lay whatever cables they like. On the pic if you look closely it references Connected Counties which is the local agency set up to roll out "rural broadband". This is funded by the state to roll out high speed access to rural areas.

I live on an estate that is ten years old in a major town. Not at all sure how that classes as rural, but what it means is that BT have been paid by the government to install this service, with no need to ever pay the money back, and yet they still can't manage it well. If you look at the list linked here - Openreach - you will see that BT have every single contract, so are getting paid by the state to do what is actually their business.

That is why I am annoyed. To use the service as and when it ever gets agreed by the various parts of BT that they have installed it I am going to have to pay BT for it, even though tax money has paid for the install to be done. Like the railways, this is nothing like privatisation as most imagine it - multi billion pound profit making companies being given state handouts, and managing it badly.

Not a bad deal for BT really.

 

Kippers - If you snooze you lose

I really didn't want to bang on about UKIP, so this will be very short...

Quote from Nigel Farage this morning - "Something big is happening here. People want change, they have had enough of career politicians in three parties."

People have had enough of career politicians so much that they just elected their incumbent MP who now has a purple tie.

Farage is launching a peoples army, apparently, but apart from his fun persona with beer and fags, he is nothing like what he wants people to think. He is an elected MEP, making the most of all the expenses and allowances he is entitled to while barely attending, and making light of the fact that he doesn't. He is an ex City Broker, following in his fathers footsteps. A true man of the people, and nothing like any other politicians...

However, he has the momentum, and also the envious position of being able to say anything at all he likes, their manifesto can be pure jokes, as he will never have to live up to any of his promises as he will never be in power.

The main issue is that the 3 main parties now find themselves in an unenviable position where their leaders are their millstones, where Farage is the opposite, he is a leader of "worth" with no credible party. If Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories don't change their leaders, and very soon, there will be a very interesting hung result after the next election.

Clegg has no credibility at all, even the thought of people voting Lib Dem with him there baffles me, and Milliband - the supposed "left wing" brother is outstandingly good at acting like a man who wants to win an election in no way at all. Gaffe prone in almost every way, and with no clear policies covers those two.

The outcome will be split enough to make running a Government impossible, and that means one thing for sure, Cameron will be gone and Boris will appear as the saviour of the Conservatives, and if you think Cameron is extreme, just wait until you see what Boris is really like.

Going to be an interesting few months ahead.

I will say one thing though, at least Mr Carswell resigned and was elected by his constituents in his new colours, not just changing parties and carrying on as before like so many others lower down the political ladder.

Genoa

As part of our recent trip to Italy we had a couple of days in Genoa, and a few things really jumped out at me. 

It is a very busy and huge port, incredibly industrial, but has a great "old town" with small alleys and wonderful eateries and bars. It also has a red light district that is far bigger than Amsterdams more famous one, either that or a lot of ladies really get dressed up to stand on their doorsteps smiling at passers by.

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As with all Italian towns and cities, it is not short of a church or two, and we looked in a few as we wandered around. One that caught my eye from the guide book which was the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, and specifically the Museo del Tresoro which is part of the same building.

Not his actual head here, that would be silly

Not his actual head here, that would be silly

Down the dark corridor we went and among the treasures, in a surprisingly small room were - The Holy Grail (broken), the plate that Salome received the head of John The Baptist on and also a silver chest which has the remains of John The Baptist.

Now I am no marketing expert, but if you look at how many people go to Turin to see the shroud, which you can't actually see, I would think Genoa would make more of a fuss about having some of the holiest relics there.

Not since I was in Jerusalem trying to decide which piece of the True Cross I should buy have I felt so religious..

John The Baptist is inside here, apparently...

John The Baptist is inside here, apparently...


Water update

Still not poured ice water over my head, but I did complete my challenge of only drinking tap water for a week.

I can't even begin to thank all those who donated so generously to the cause and Frank Water - in all seriousness and with no bullshit, every one of you has saved at least one life. The access to fresh, clean and safe water is something we take for granted, but as I have said so many times, to witness people drinking and washing in water that is green and brown really does test your limits as a human.

People you will never meet or know will have a better life, and I really can't express my happiness at the generousity of friends and strangers alike.

So, just a quick review of the week.

I had a few beers on Sunday evening in preparation of having a week of tap water... and woke up Monday feeling fine. Debbie had a coffee and juice, I had water - and that is pretty much how the week went! No beers, no wine, no juice, no coffee or tea, and to be honest it was the coffee and juice at breakfast that I missed the most over the week. 

A headache from Monday lunchtime until Sunday was not expected or welcome, the feeling of being really hungry to not wanting anything at all to eat as the days moved by was quite weird. Without being too graphic, my urine was strong and dark all week, despite drinking pint after pint of water, and I constantly felt thirsty. Keeping me grounded was the fact that my thirst was solved by walking to a tap, not walking miles or drinking contaminated water.

I made it through #PizzaFriday with no issues, and even Saturday afternoon passed with no massive desire for a beer. Sunday though was a different matter. A walk in the country side around some gardens and lakes, followed by a drive home through villages where pub gardens were full of people enjoying a beer in the sun - I have never fancied a pint so much. Had Debbie not been there I can assure you I would have cracked, but she kept me straight - mainly by refusing to stop the car!

And that was it - Monday I went back to a couple of espressos to start the day with some fruit juice, and after work I stopped at the first pub I passed for a pint - which happens to be the Wetherspoons on the M40 services at Beaconsfield. Annoyingly they didn't take my 50p off voucher, and only had London Pride, but I felt it was needed :-)

Thanks again to all - and just in case you fancy boosting the total just that little bit more, the link is here - Click me to donate :-)

For those wondering how grey my hair is getting - here is a pic of me drinking beer.

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Land of our Fathers

As I have said before, Trafalgar Studios, especially Studio 2, is my favourite theatre, and the plays there tend to be quite excellent, and this was absolutely no exception. The only difference was we usually tie it in with a meal and a few drinks, but as it was my "dry" week we made do with water and a sandwich on the train home!

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A play set in a coal mine like many short descriptions doesn't in any way set you up for the well over 2 hour production, which even with an interval seems far shorter.

6 Men on shift underground, an explosion trapping them, and the audience in a claustrophobic nightmare scenario. The theatre design is made to make you feel you are underground, and it works, far too well. On a few occasions the entire room is plunged into total darkness, unable to see your hand in front of your face, but hearing the conversations and movements of the miners, not for the feint of spirit.

Whatever current film holds the record for swearing is well beaten here as well, probably in the first few minutes - this is an unedited version of what it must have been like to be in such a situation and all the better for it. The action moves from absolute side splitting comedy moments to the task at hand of getting out of the mine swiftly, and back again. Set in 1979 there are references to the upcoming election, and as you would expect the views on the likely winner are firm, and put forward in no uncertain terms.

Not sure some of the younger audience members got all of the references

Not sure some of the younger audience members got all of the references

As the play evolves, the characters individually come to life and through hushed whispers and full on fights the secrets of a community of men start to come out. No spoilers here, but like The Lord Of The Flies, people change quickly when forced to.

Twists and turns abound, but the claustrophobia and the lack of food / water drive the second act into a far bleaker place. The singing and fun goes and is replaced by the reality of the situation, and the situations of those friends and family who are above ground, and what could happen to them if there was no rescue for them.

This is a brutal and raw play, with emotions at all ends of the scale, all the cast absolutely outstanding in their roles and depictions of the characters they play. It is only on for a few weeks, but I would recommend this as a night out - not as a first date or maybe one that your nan would enjoy, but if this was a film it would be on the awards short list and everyone would want to see it.


Water water everywhere....

...and not a drop to drink.

While much of the internet community is pouring buckets of iced water over themselves (while hopefully donating to charity and learning something about ALS / Motor Neuron Disease) there is another aspect of water and charity that I signed up for a few weeks ago that starts next week.

Anyone who knows me or reads this knows that I have spent a fair bit of time in India for work and holiday in the last few years, one of the few things I miss about my last job is the free time I had while working there! While there and since I have tried to do what little I can to help individuals and people there and that is why Frank Water grabbed my eye at WOMAD festival. A small charity that focuses on water, and the impact that access to safe water has on all of India.

Even in areas I visited in India, toilets were rare, and running water was visibly not clean. Bathing, washing clothes and pots in the same water used to defecate in seems incomprehensible to almost anyone reading this, as we have all had showers, baths, drinks and put the washing machine and dishwasher on in the last day. 

Pic from BBC site

Pic from BBC site

In his Independence Day speech the Indian PM, Narendra Modi made reference to getting toilets installed in all homes and schools in four years, an honourable comment, but so unfeasible that it is hard to take it seriously. The millions living in the slums just in Kolkata to have access to toilets in four years would be amazing, the whole of India.... But - at least he acknowledges the issue and raises it. It is the water that makes people ill when in India, not the food.

Anyway, before I digress too far, what am I doing this year, and more importantly in the next week about this?

Well, I am taking on the challenge, and yes it is a small challenge, to drink nothing but tap water for a week from the time I wake up on 1st September to the time I get up again on the 8th September. I will eat as usual to be clear.

A small challenge, but on an average I would say that I currently drink a pint of fruit juice a day, at least ten coffees, a couple of pints of beer a day, wine at weekends, and various squash and fizzy drinks whenever I fancy it. On my desk as I type is a coffee, a blackcurrant juice and soda mix and a glass of water - I do like a drink!

I am donating myself, and would welcome any donation that anyone feels able to give. Please use the link here, and give anything. Quite literally a quid saves a life.

Thank you.

Bv8m-LNIcAAa63b.jpg

Here is the link again :-)

https://www.justgiving.com/SimonJ68/

And have a look around the Frank Water site as well, and next time you are at the tap take a second to think how your life would be if that was even 100 yards away.

 

 

More Beer Landlord

A joke for about 3 people I used to know at school in the title there...

Anyway, after a trip to a local brewery at the weekend it seemed only right to go to The Great British Beer Festival.

Off to Olympia, which is rarely as good as it sounds, but it is one of the more impressive exhibition halls in London, and what is billed as one of the biggest pubs in the world. With over 900 beers and ciders there, even drinking in 1/3 of a pint measures means that there is no way you can work your way through all of the beers there, but I have no doubt that some will try... Beers from all over the world are there, from the major brewers like who have stands of their own to the small and tiny ones that you have never seen before, and quite probably never will again apart from at events like this.

Glass to keep on a shelf until the cat knocks it off...

Glass to keep on a shelf until the cat knocks it off...

We arrived just as the Stormtroopers Marching Band were walking about, link to the vine here should you want to see it... But was far more important to get trying some beers and meet some people from social media who were also there.

While the beers are available in 1/3'rds, 1/2's and pints, and while I try and kid myself that I will drink halves to be sensible, I know myself too well and having a half just looks too much like a mouthful so gets drunk in one, and a third is basically just a drop, so much to the sneers of the connoisseurs I stick to drinking pints, although not as many as I used to it has to be said.

What did jump out was the amount of people doing video blogs and live uploads as they were trying beers. The natural progression I guess, following on from updates on facebook and twitter, to blogs and vines, people with semi-professional equipment filming themselves with live uploads of beer tasting and reviews. Having just read how much some people are getting paid to advertise products on their vine accounts it is clearly a lucrative hobby for some people, and just a hobby / social media sharing exercise for others. (For reference, and as always, I never get paid or take gifts for reviews of anything, I actually don't review stuff if I am asked to even if I like it).

Anyway, we had a fair few beers, met some good people, but as it was a Tuesday there was no staying to the bitter end for us, so we had a burger and a quick wander about the stalls there, which is where I bought a little present for myself.

I have no idea why, but as soon as I saw this I just had to have it, just something very strange and compelling about it.

Just the plainness of the label, never made to be kept as a souvenir, but over 30 years later it now sits on my shelf of odds and sods.

Not fit for human consumption apparently...


Breakfast Beer

We are all agreed on "Airport Law" that whenever you are in an airport there is no concept of time, and a beer is always allowed (maybe not so much if you have work at the other end of the flight...)?

This weekend wasn't an airport trip, but as we were in the area early we popped along to one of the local small breweries around Aylesbury, The Vale Brewery Co, as they were launching a new special edition beer, there were going to be vintage cars there, and well, they promised a free pint!

Arriving about 9.30, there were a number of old minis in the car park, as the beer is called Self Preservation Society and the pump clip has the cars on it, made famous in The Italian Job film.

Car owner clubs, like scooterists and cyclists, can seem an odd bunch at times, fixated on the size of a nut or shape of a mirror, but the dozen or so minis that were there all seemed to be owned by fairly normal people, and Debbie being far more interested in cars than I am got into a number of conversations about them - her first car was a mini.

What stands out so much is the size of them compared to the new versions made today. They are absolutely tiny - certainly not a family car or one for a long journey these days! 

I was far more interested in trying the new beer, so headed into the brewery to get mine, and obviously one for Debbie as well....

I actually only started drinking "real ale" this year, I had always been a lager / cider drinker with Guinness in the winter, but in the last 7 or so months I can count the lagers I have had on one hand and while not becoming a total ale bore, I am learning the differences in styles and blends, how the tastes vary and also how to make it. After going on a course in July I was inspired and have actually just bottled my first batch of beers - so in 6 weeks or so I will either be very ill or enjoying the fruits of my labour!

The new beer we sampled was excellent, and I was glad to see that by the time we got to the pub in the late afternoon they already had it on one of the pumps so I had a few more, sadly not as sunny as the morning was.

There is also the "buy local" drive behind beer, it is brewed and sold locally, so far better than buying generic mass produced beer that is probably owned by a tax avoiding multinational, and like using a local butcher rather than a supermarket, the quality is that much better, and the price if anything is cheaper. So buy it local, and drink responsibly..... 

Proof I do own at least one shirt that is not a Fred Perry

Proof I do own at least one shirt that is not a Fred Perry

To see some far more interesting images from the hour we were there, there are a few on the website of Imaging Essence which you can get to by clicking here.

There is no hope

Bleak title, bleak blog.

Sad but true, and to think all the people involved actually profess to believe in the same God, but the escalation in Israel / Gaza / Palestine in the last few days just shows that neither "side" is prepared or to be honest capable of living together in peace. It just can't happen, two entities both want the same exact thing and will just go on killing each other until someone somewhere uses nuclear and we all go pop.

Religion, race, poverty, class all have parts to play in this, but as even the people on the same side or the same religion can't agree on how to worship their god or what bits of what book they believe in I don't hold out a lot of hope for any of us.

I am an atheist, not an agnostic.

There is no God. sorry if that is not what you believe, but I don't see a lot of atheists fighting over plots of land where stories are supposed to have happened in the past. All of history is littered with wars and mass killings where people believed in a different book, and that really shows no signs of slowing down at all. Don't forget that there are still incredibly active wars killing hundreds of people underway in many other countries at the moment, they are just not on the news anymore.

Like Putin in Russia, Israel seem to work on the principle that they can do what they like, as they ultimately know that the USA and Europe are actually powerless to stop them. So it continues all over, and the wider question of where are these countries getting all these weapons from just hangs in the air like the elephant in the room.

Social media not helping any of the points of view either in my opinion. The Gaza situation has become, and I have no idea how, a "left v right" argument, and you appear to have to be on one side or the other. My feeds and time lines are split on tribal lines like football fans, with very few in the middle seeming to have any sense or understanding that everyone involved in this conflict is going to end up on the losing side.

So many images posted of "This is what is happening in Gaza now" that are from different conflicts and far from accurate, mixed with ones like this.

This appeared on my timeline as an RT with the text "Hamas Terrorist hangs and postion kids on a fence in front of a house to ensure the #IDF will not strike the building"

No date, no location, no proof of anything but a highly inflammatory image and words that has been retweeted and posted thousands of times in the last 24 hours.

What if the true picture was "Man helps children down from fence after prank goes wrong"? 

A very quick search shows that whatever the picture is actually of, it was taken in April 2014 not this week, but the speed of wanting to show how "bad" the other side is means that the truth is not actually needed, the image is out there, people have seen it and made decisions based on it. 

This happens more and more, and as the war continues and even more gruesome images will appear and be manipulated the hatred will continue to grow and escalate.

I have no idea at all how this will pan out or end, but what I do know is while there is genuine hatred on all sides, there is no possible happy ending here.

The Religion Issue

Like the old adage goes, never talk politics or religion in a pub, the same could be said for a lot of the internet. Some subjects for many people are taboo because of the fear of upsetting or alienating some people, and so I will make it clear now I am an atheist, but if anyone believes in any level of religion, fair play - it is your choice.

Anyway, some news and reading in the last few days includes..

Why Icelanders are wary of elves living under the rocks

Car Bomb kills dozens in Syria

Fierce battles for key cities in Iraq

Auschwitz guard arrested in US

and for some reason I ended up reading a lot about the Mormons and Scientologists again.

And the link - all of this is religion based at some level, and the difference, one of the stories here is actually a positive one. Whatever faith anyone has, it must always be remembered that it is only faith and as we have seen over the centuries an unbelievable amount of damage to the race is caused by and rooted in religious differences. 

In recent history, Ireland, Iraq, the Holocaust, Syria and so on are all basically people killing each other based on their God, who in all cases here is actually the same God. And not even that, but they believe in the same stories about the same god, just chose to interpret them in a different way. Humourously during an interview on the news this week about ISIS with a senior Iraqi politician he said "even Al Qaeda think ISIS are extreme". The group who flew planes into buildings think some of their ilk are extreme - the mind boggles.

We are not allowed to see correspondence between Blair and Bush that lead to the invasion of Iraq, but we do know they prayed for guidance on what to do. And this is barely questioned by most while others who make their choices based on their religion are ridiculed.

So what of some other bits and pieces, Mormons and Scientologists hate having it pointed out that their religions are a little idiotic and clearly built on a level of fiction that makes the creation of the Christian Bible look positively a well audited process.

I could just carry on naming religions one at a time and pointing out what is wrong with them, but deep down we all know don't we? It is also not a coincidence that the people at the top of pretty much every religion I can think of seem to have a lot of gold.

And the Icelandic people, they move a big rock when building a road to keep the elves happy.

I don't know about you, but if you held a gun to my head and said I had to pick one to believe in, I would be living in Iceland quite shortly after.

Bash at Trafalgar

Not a demo or a war, but the play Bash at the excellent Trafalgar Studios was our destination on Saturday. 

Firstly Trafalgar Studios is one of my favourite theatres, and studio 2 has to be visited to see anything on there, as it is a wonderful venue. A stage about as big as your lounge at home and under 100 seats, if you are in the front row your feet are on the stage, and for small and intense productions there is no better place. However, when the productions are intense and especially monologues, the feeling that the actors are directing their questions, issues, rants at you personally is hard to avoid. We have seen some superb productions here, and this one looked interesting as well.

BashPoster

Bash: Latter-Day Plays by Neil LaBute is three separate half hour-ish plays with a theme of twists and turns and shocks. The first and last are just one actor, the middle one has two actors. If you start your though of light entertainment on a scale where one side is a musical with Abba songs, this play is at the other end of the scale. It is not "fun" but was absolutely outstanding.

All four actors were on their West End debuts, and this was the last day of the plays run, so sadly you will have to look it up somewhere else should you want to go and see it at some stage in the future, which you should. 

We didn't know that much about the play before arriving, so just had expectations of a good play and then some dinner after.

The first play, a man in a hotel room talking to a stranger to get a secret off his chest. It is hard to describe without giving the plot away, but there are twists enough in this half hour that would fill a mini-series on TV quite easily. Talking into the audience as he unburdens his story, the tension in the room was palpable, and as it ended there was clearly a gap as the audience tried to decide whether to clap, as the performance was superb, but the applause almost felt like applauding the story, which is odd.

Second was a couple, who were of Amish faith, and had spent a night in New York at a party, or a bash, and sitting side by side but both talking as individuals about how the night in the city went. A night out with two very contrasting view points, and disturbing imagery conjured up by the actors, it was engrossing as the different reasons for some events were unfolded, and the fear at the end of the play that this was far from the end of the story for the couple.

Finally a lone female, seeming to be in therapy, or possibly at a police station, giving answers to unheard questions and responses about school experiences with a teacher, and not in the educational sense. Sexual abuse and a child and a sudden twist that came from nowhere, almost like when Omar was shot in The Wire. (That isn't a spoiler, it is ten years old!!).

Excellent cast, and the time absolutely flew by which is a good sign of a great play, the entire audience sat for longer than normal at the end of a play, almost catching their breath.

Emerging in to the sunny warmth of Trafalgar Square was almost cathartic.


Confused?

This is the body of an email I received yesterday from Sky Bet. Pretty sure I used the account once to get a free bet, which won, so I took the money and forgot all about the account. That isn't confusing obviously, but this email is...

Opt in for Exclusive Offers and Free Bets

Hi xxxxxx,
We'd like to tell you how to make the most of your Sky Bet account. But to do this, we need you to give us the green light.

Our records show that you're not currently opted in to get offers by email or text message, so you're missing out on Exclusive World Cup free bets and offers that aren't advertised on our website.

Plus, if you opt in, you can expect more personalised communications from us. For example, you'll be the first to know about our limited-time-only enhanced odds Price Boosts, brand new offers and latest updates from our Free Bet Club.

Want to make the most out of your Sky Bet account? Opting in will only take a minute. In return, we promise not to bombard you or share your details with other companies. And if you ever want to opt out it's easy - just let us know.

 

The fact that I have opted out or emails seems to have passed them by somewhat here, and at the end they tell me how easy it would be to opt out it I wanted to, despite the fact I am already opted out.

I was reminded of a work trip to India a few years ago when I had been massively delayed and was absolutely shattered. I hung the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, locked it and pressed the Do Not Disturb button to put a red light on the outside of the door, turned off the phone and set as Do Not Disturb. Falling instantly asleep I was awoken 30 minutes later with constant banging and knocking on the door.

The front desk wanted to check if I wanted the bed turned down before I went to bed....