Farage turning into Boris and some other stuff

He is everywhere isn't he. Farage and the UKIP bandwagon seems almost unstoppable at the moment, and the media are lapping it up. 

One thing he has achieved is to actually start making people realise again that politics is important, and how we must not just sleepwalk into another government as divisive and self interested as the last few have been. As with previous posts, how a cabinet minister can commit financial offences that would see most of us imprisoned and she actually got a pay out and kept her job (and almost all the money) is allowed to happen must be stopped.

Get the beers in, the public are paying.

Get the beers in, the public are paying.

But Farage doesn't care about that. He is on the gravy train to such an extent that he laughs out loud when confronted with tales of his own imaginative uses of expenses and allowances. He laughs out loud a lot when you start to watch him. A hell of a lot. He is also often in or outside a pub having a pint and a smoke. He is a "real bloke" and he knows it. One thing he isn't is stupid, and his PR machine has a ring of Boris's about it. He looks natural having a pint, because he really drinks pints, search out the pictures of Dave, Gideon, Ed etc with a pint in their hands, they have no idea what it is or what to do with it, they look stupid trying to out-Nigel Nigel - and he knows it.

Remember when Boris was a buffoon on Have I Got News For You, and a journalist, a bit of an MP and then became Mayor of London. How funny he was, laughing off his own personal and professional scandals in such a way that people remembered his performance, not what he was actually saying. Look at Farage on last weeks Have I Got News For You and see the similarities, watch the debates he had with the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg - he won them by miles, not by any use of facts or policies, but because he just laughed when confronted with actual facts and figures.

He is in a masterful position at the moment, he can argue and say what he likes and knows he will get media coverage for it, he appears to be unaccountable for anything at all, the scandals around him, his finances, his life and his party are all just jokes to him. He can say what he likes about immigration and HS2, the economy and the country because he knows he will never be in a position to have to deliver a thing. 

All he has to do is wind up the Tories in the Home Counties, and what a job of it he is doing. Local councillors are defecting to UKIP, and they will definitely win some seats in the European and Local Elections coming up - mainly because people use these elections as a way of protesting. Showing the main parties what they want them to focus on, like the Greens used to be, and the BNP, and the Lib Dems - it is a way of identifying issues, but few would actually want any of the fringe parties to be in charge of anything real. There are many articles and in depth pieces about UKIP and Farage himself that show him and his party for the petty hate mongers they are, floods caused by gays, hatred of women, barely hidden racism and so on. At some stage the decision will be taken by someone to destroy him and the political wilderness and game shows with the Hamiltons will be his future.

However, as local level politicians justify their moves to a party that promises a democracy that it can't ever deliver, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some MPs change the colour of their ties and party allegiance before the General Election next year, there is something that troubles me about this, as it always has when serving politicians "cross the floor".

Have a read of Animal Farm and insert your own joke about pigs and troughs here.

Have a read of Animal Farm and insert your own joke about pigs and troughs here.

Why don't they resign their seat?

To simply say to their employers (us, the electorate) "I know you voted for me because of what I said I believed in, I now believe in something else but I am not going to risk you not voting for that" seems incredulous to me. One of my local councillors has just done this, and while he responds to pretty much every tweet he seems to have ignored my questions about this issue, while he bemoans career politicians, thereby proving he is actually what he says he is not.

To not risk asking your voters if they support you and your newly found political views I assumed had gone out of fashion when the Lib Dems ignored the wishes and desires of the people who voted for them so Nick could have a made up job at the big boys table. You just have to watch footage of the House of Commons to see the absolute disdain that Cameron and his buddies have for Nick, you could almost start to feel sorry for him. Almost.

It is important to vote, despite what Russell Brand says - just vote for politics, not personalities.


In unrelated but also political news this week, the 25th Anniversary of the Hillsborough Stadium tragedy has had some wonderful coverage by most of the media this week, and there is finally the inquest underway to attempt to uncover some of the truths behind the events that day. This is right and proper, and necessary for the families and friends of all those who died and were injured that day.

The politicians, police and media of the day should be held to account for what they did and said, the exact same triangle of people and organisations that are involved in so many other legal cases currently.

I like many others sincerely hope that justice is seen to be done here.

Update 17/04

Local councillor did get back to me and said he hadn't thought about resigning his seat, and I was the only person to have mentioned it. He also raised the question that he had been expelled from the local Conservative Party, so should that have triggered an election - well to me yes.

If you are elected as part of a "party" it is highly likely that you have been elected because of that link to a party, so if you are not in that party anymore, you are not actually the choice of the electorate. 

I await the first marginal Tory MP to jump ship in the coming months with interest to see how this would be viewed at a national level.

Minister of what?

Following the debacle of more dishonest and unrepentant MPs in the last weeks, there was a cabinet move around, and the vacant post of Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport has been given to rising star Sajid Javid. Let's not focus on his banking career and exactly what bank he was in charge of and at what time, and fines alongside banking crashes etc.

Instead, let's have a look at what he is responsible for. Culture, Media & Sport. 

Media, take it as a given that should the Tories get in power next time they will smash the BBC, not really a secret there is it, and another topic for another day.

Culture and Sport - now there are areas that almost everyone who reads this blog will have an involvement in, as that means gigs and football matches, concerts and festivals, rugby and cricket. One thing all of these type of events have in common is that at the "top" end there are not enough tickets for all those who want to attend. Everyone accepts this, but almost everyone who is a regular attendee at any of these events also knows and hates the touts, charging extreme prices for spares, exploiting those who can afford it, and creating a secondary market that doesn't need to exist.

Mr Javid is completely in favour of and actively encourages such behaviour.

Speaking in the House of Commons back in 2011 as a backbench MP, Javid said: "Ticket resellers act like classic entrepreneurs, because they fill a gap in the market that they have identified."

"They provide a service that can help people who did not obtain a supply of tickets in the original sale to purchase them for sporting and cultural events. As long as those tickets have been acquired genuinely and lawfully, it is an honest transaction, and there should be no Government restriction on someone's ability to sell them."

He later said: "So long as the individual involved in secondary market transactions has acquired the tickets legitimately, they are providing a service that deserves to be rewarded."

"If a person wishes to devote a large part of their disposable income to see something that is disproportionately attractive to them, why should anyone else care and why should it be their business?"

That piece taken from this much longer article in the Huffington Post linked here.

The standard argument used by people who can either afford, get corporates or don't go to sold out events.

With many fan groups actively campaigning against the use of StubHub, Viagogo and so on, it is saddening to see that the door on any regulation or change to this "industry" is now well and truly closed.

News, Not News, & The Beeb

As an election looms the one topic that will now not go away is the BBC and the license fee, impartiality, pay offs and so on. A few days ago I commented that everyone on the Left says the BBC is Right Wing, and all on the Right see it as a Socialist puppet, and a few just hate it because they have to pay. The instant reaction proved the point, with many people pointing to blogs and reports that matched their point of view. My personal view is that if both "sides" hate you there is a fair chance you are actually getting it right.

I am a massive fan of the BBC. I would gladly pay my licence fee and have access to all other TV cut off. It would be annoying for a few individual programmes, but aside from sport (which I could watch down the pub) and a bit of the C4 output I would be fine. Most of my recorded shows are BBC output, and I am happy to buy box sets of the big series, as I do now, like The Wire, Breaking Bad, West Wing and so on.

However, the BBC needs to stop trying to compete with other broadcasters, especially on the downward spiral that Big Brother spawned and "reality" allowed to breed. I have always seen the role of the BBC to entertain, educate and inform, but now it seems to be falling far to much into the entertainment, mass market fight that it is missing so much of the other areas. It is not being a snob, or just wanting what I want, but I feel a realignment is needed. For instance I never listen to Radio 1, which is as it should be, the channel is aimed at teenagers and I am 45, but I did campaign hard to save 6 Music, which is now in danger of becoming unlistenable to for much of the week.

Just that example shows a lot. 6 Music is not what many of us fought to save anymore, it is playlist driven to the extreme in the week, and the "music news" features seem to be reading the previous days NME headlines. There are some excellent indie and alternative shows there that are not possible on commercial radio - this is where I always believed the charter of 6 Music was - why just be like XFM, why not have Cerys, Tom Robinson, Huey etc playing what they love.

Anyway, I digress as usual. What actually prompted me to moan about the BBC was the Breakfast "news" on the 26th. I turned on the news channel, which at 8AM is a joint broadcast with the BBC1 show. The Coming Up Soon announcement included Alan Titchmarsh (new book) Samuel L Jackson and Scarlet Johannsen (new film), Chris Martin & Gwynneth Paltrow (divorce) and Dr Hook (I had stopped listening by then). They struggled to refer to any news at all, it was like reading the cover of Heat at a train station while buying a coffee.

Maybe these presenters stole all the news?

Maybe these presenters stole all the news?

This isn't news, or even close to news. Why is the BBC putting out such rubbish? Just because other stations have 24 hour rolling news doesn't mean everyone else has to. Many channels are not 24*7, why is the BBC not making quality output when needed rather than dross just to fill the gaps? Leave that to the commercial stations who need the advertising. After one (female) presenter left recently one of the "hot favourites" to replace her is another pretty lady who currently works on a game show and is known for tight dresses. Certainly no mention of being a journalist anywhere I could see.

The list of shows that are now on the BBC as they seem to want to compete directly with ITV is idiotic. Reality shows all over the place and poor attempts at game shows rather than the quality shows they used to be world known for. You know what, if Johnathon Ross wants to go to C4 for a billion quid, let him - there are more than enough presenters far better than him about anyway. Shows like The Apprentice have become a parody of themselves. What was a business based show (look up the first series) is now just heavily edited footage to poke fun at those desperate for their 15 minutes. The last final was between a lady who wanted to open cosmetic surgeries and another lady who is now the sex editor in a lads mag. Throw in the heinous K Hopkins as a third finalist and that would get laughed out of a Brass Eye script for being ludicrous. 

In short then, being the best doesn't mean being first or biggest. Breaking news is needed by Sky and ITV to get hits on their websites for advertising, the BBC should be the place people go to in order to see the full story and details, not pages about divorced celebrities.

The other "news" article that caused moral panic this week was the detail that there were going to be new Wills in the UK to comply with Sharia Law. This had all the usual suspects piping up about multiculturalism and immigration (all of which is naturally linked to the word illegal) as English Law was being changed for the Muslims.

Funny how this doesn't say "Christians Only"

Funny how this doesn't say "Christians Only"

Only it wasn't, at all. As all the same sources reported in the following days in far smaller type face, there is no change to the law at all. I could write a Will now and specify that only males could benefit from my estate, and that £20k would be given to Gruff Rhys because I enjoyed his music and £10k to a cats home. That would be legally binding, same as if I put in there exclusions such as anyone who is a Christian or a Hindu could not have a penny. We may not like it, but that can be done now, and tomorrow will be no different, the law has simply not changed, but it is another point for those so inclined to use to show how the country is being taken over..

What I think about a Sharia Law Will is pretty much the same  as a Christian one, or any religion you care to add to the list, even the lunatic Scientologists. Surely if the person concerned and making their will holds any faith dear to themselves, it is more than likely that their family also do, so what is the actual need for a Will, as the relatives would all know what to do anyway? Yes, hugely over-simplistic, but that is the point. Where in any religious book does it say you need a Will? Like a pre-nup as I have written about before, it doesn't get a mention. The reason being because you are supposed to trust your family and relatives.

The only reason Wills exist is because people didn't trust their relatives or religion, so they turned to the Law to ensure their wishes were kept. Overall a sad indictment of Religion as a whole really in my small and insignificant view. It seems almost funny when you look at it like that, the story, if presented slightly differently is "Muslims want to be more like Christians under UK Law".

Funny old world.

Some rambling thoughts on the Budget

There will be far better summaries and focus articles than this, most of them with actual maths to show (depending on which paper you are reading) why the budget was either the best thing ever, or the worst thing ever, but a few points really jumped out at me about this one.

Firstly all the talk pre-budget was the new £1 coin design. Not sure if there is a more idiotic distraction tactic than having discussions around Blue Peter style competitions to design the "tails" side of the new coin, but it certainly worked as the morning agenda on the news and on line. So an early win for the Chancellor there, he must have thought he was on a roll.

Humourously this mornings news agenda is based around an idiotic and knowingly insulting (and probably made as a joke that was never meant to be public) poster from the Conservative Party Chairman, referencing how bingo and beer was good for "them". All in it together, don't make me laugh.

Onto the actual budget then....

You will never look as natural as Farage so don't try

You will never look as natural as Farage so don't try

1p off the price of a pint. I defy anyone to be able to name a pub that has changed their prices accordingly as a result of this. It simply won't happen. There will be a slight saving somewhere in the production and distribution chain, but with the prices as they are it will be impossible for anyone buying a pint to benefit from. One interesting on line affect of this was seeing what people all over the UK pay for their pint of choice, as the joke "all I need to do is buy xxx pints and I will have a free one" was tweeted all day, and seemed to vary from 200 to 650 from what I saw, showing the price of a pint is far from constant. So as a headline grabbing publicity stunt it works, but makes no difference to anyone in real terms.

Bingo duty halved and duty on the fixed odds betting terminals (computer roulette machines) raised. So bingo gambling good and machine betting bad? In real terms, bingo returns to the treasury must be tiny so there is no real difference, and the increase in the FOBT is huge, so a nice little earner. For those who don't know, these machines is why there are bookies everywhere now, not a sudden increase in people betting on horses, but a limit in the number of machines per shop but no limit on the number of shops...

Massive changes to pensions that are too complex to go into, but seem to have taken many by complete surprise, which usually smacks of a last minute idea that has not been thought through. Also changes to savings vehicles and new investments for pensioners. If I was a more cynical man I would say it was directly aimed at getting the older generation to vote Tory and not UKIP in a year and a bit, which it is. Also if I wanted to invest in the over 65s only bonds, surely I would just give a parent the cash to put in - they could say they won it on the bingo!

No increase on fuel, and the planned rise cancelled - a wise political move, that needs to be off the agenda as election year gets closer, can't be having the agenda driven by that, especially with the unknown future with Russia as it stands.

Increase in the Help to Buy scheme. As I have said since this was introduced, what was in all that "toxic debt" that was one of the factors behind the recession? Encouraging people to borrow up and over affordable levels on historically low interest rates when the increases are almost guaranteed next year seems an insane idea. Creating a housing boom when people are still having their houses repossessed as a result of the last one..

Anyway, the usual nonsense debates by the politicians showed that although the Tories are completely out of touch with most of the electorate (hence the huge gifts to pensioners) Labour have no defence or opposition capable of or worthy of winning an election and the Lib Dems don't count.

One thing that I only realised this morning, is with the fixed election dates now, there is a budget about 3 months before the election. As a betting man I would say to place your pension pot on some promises that involve substantial tax cuts for those on basic rate will be the key discussion point twelve months from today.

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Will You Divorce Me....

Before any panic sets in, that is not a conversation we will be having today at home, as it is our 12th Wedding Anniversary, and a cooking marathon is underway and wine is chilling and breathing all over the place!

In the news this week was talks on making "pre-nup" agreements an actual legally binding contract between couples before they get married (or civil ceremonied). How does that actually work in life, what is in peoples heads that makes this normal?

I know a lot of people who have been married years, my parents well over 50 years now, but also know some who split in the first year of marriage, in a couple of cases where they had been together for many years before getting married. What sort of a lie are you living if your marriage doesn't even last a year - why are you going through with it knowing it won't last?

And to me, that is a pre-nup agreement summed up in one.

Top of the Empire State Building or on a beach, or in a fancy restaurant, the question is popped "Will you marry me" which traditionally has the implied lines following that it is for the rest of your lives. At what point do you drop in to conversation that you don't think it is going to last, and you actually think it will end so acrimoniously that you need to have written down who gets what. 

Divorce happens, and clearly sometimes it is out of the blue for one of the parties involved, but to really decide that it is likely that is going to happen in my mind means that possibly getting married is not the best idea at that stage in your relationship.

Anyway, in funnier news, Debbie was looking up a recipe in an old cook book from 1968 of her mums from before she got married, and weirdly it is full of adverts as well as recipes. Some funny and of times gone by, and this excellent one for a Kenwood Chef. Like many decades, it was different back then....

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And on that note, we are off out for a drink before lunch.

The Culture Issue

A few things that I feel deserve a bit of a review, and also some moaning at the end, so basically something for readers old and new today.

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First off on Saturday we went to a photography exhibition at the Science Museum, which apart from seeming an odd venue for this event is also well worth spending a few hours in every now and then.

As the poster her shows, the exhibition focussed on the work of the late Tony Ray-Jones and is collated by, and also includes work by, Martin Parr. It is always hard to describe works of art using just words, but the image on the poster and some of those on the website were enough to pique my interest, and also that of Debbie who is a photographer.

All in black and white, and from the late 60s and early 70s, this is a social history of times gone by but that I still seem to have in my memory, some from actual memory and obviously a lot from acquired memories.

Images of people at the seaside and in beauty competitions alongside village fetes and traditions, this is nostalgia wrapped up in a purely English feel. Men on the beach in vests and braces, doing DIY in three piece suits, truly memories of days gone by, I have a mild obsession with the English seaside resort and its history so found a lot of the pictures absolutely riveting. Look quickly and you see the main subject, look again and more and more makes its way into your mind. Many times I was stood staring at pictures for 5 minutes or more.

A girl on a blanket on Brighton beach, look again and also on the blanket are piles of 7" singles and a portable record player, look again and there is more. Ray-Jones knew what he wanted to do and what he wanted to capture, many of his notebooks and lists are part of the exhibition, giving a really clear insight into what he wanted to achieve, sadly unfulfilled as he died at 31.

Well worth the £8 to see it, inspiring and thought provoking, along with some excellent laughs included, anyone of around my age and older will really see their youth in these pictures, and for the others, it is an eyeopener. Look out for the man in the East End of London with a pet monkey, looking like it is more natural than anything else in the world!

Later the same day we went to see a stage adaptation of my favourite book, 1984. It was with some trepidation that I decided to go, as even the trailers for the film that was made in '84 were so bad that I have never bothered to watch the film, as the imagary is key to the book. 

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However, all the reviews were positive, and it didn't take long to see why. 

Rather than just transfer the story to the stage, it was far more about Winston and his descent into paranoia and the inevitable end, that if you know the book, it can only ever end that way. Repeated scenes with subtle differences, background stories and a superb stage set that worked perfectly made it a wonderful play. Some scenes played out and viewed on a large screen, others in the multipurpose room and towards the end Room 101 was as it should be, like the hospital in Manhunter, over the ridiculous setting for Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

The "Two Minute Hate" scene where all the cast are on the front of the stage was intimidating and unnerving, as was the torture at the end, brutal while hidden, it was not for the faint hearted.

This was the end of the run, but if the play is ever on again I advise going to see it, as with the photography exhibition, better than anticipated.

And to end a moan, that is a little late, but justified. 

Anyone following the music press or listening to 6 Music in the last few weeks can't help but have noticed that Prince was "on tour" in the UK. The speech marks are because he wasn't really on tour, but acting like a total idiot, I am so glad that I don't actually like his music enough to have wanted to see him live. What he did was announce a few hours before where he was playing, and expect people to turn up and queue for hours to maybe get in. Clearly the celebrities all managed to get in without having to queue for hours, which would be enough to make me violent!

That in itself is bad enough, but some of the gigs didn't start until midnight, which is fine if you are unemployed and live next door to the venue meaning you can turn up at a moments notice, queue all afternoon, see the gig and get home without having to worry about work the next day. Or if you are a rich pop star with a limo to the hotel / afterparty and you don't have to get up for work.

Like Axl Rose and the Bieber, forgetting that without the fans he is nothing, and then treating them with utter contempt, it made me laugh out loud that at one of the Manchester shows only 100 people were queuing so were let in early to the first show. I will say that the few people I know who did get in said he was superb and excellent, but that would be the least you would expect for taking a day off work with no notice...

 

Cheesy, in a good way.

While discussing Sunday Roast Lunches on twitter the other day (who said it was all pictures of food and cats....) I mentioned that one of the components of ours is always Cheesy Leeks, and so much so that anyone who is coming for lunch checks in advance that this will be part of the meal.

A few people asked for the recipe, so rather than try and explain in a sequence of tweets with room for about 10 words in each, here is the recipe via the very talented @imagingessence. As she was doing the cooking I took the pictures, which always drives her mad :-)

Large leeks cut in half and sliced.

Imaging Essence Cheesy Leeks-3.jpg

large knob of butter - about 20g

heaped teaspoon of plain flour

half level teaspoon mustard powder

Good handful of grated cheese - parmesan or strong flavoured cheddar

Imaging Essence Cheesy Leeks-4.jpg

salt & pepper

Milk - semi skimmed or full fat

Sweat the leeks in the butter until just about cooked through, still with a bit of crunch.  Add the flour and mustard and cook out over a medium heat for a few minutes stirring all the time (non stick saucepan the best).

Imaging Essence Cheesy Leeks-5.jpg

Then add the milk a splash at a time mixing through well between splashes until required consistency, not to runny but you want it to be creamy.  Add seasoning and the cheese and stir through thoroughly.

Imaging Essence Cheesy Leeks-6.jpg

Tip if you are going to make in advance, put some grease proof paper on the top to stop a skin forming and remove just before reheating in the pan.

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And that is it. An excellent addition to your roast dinner - and make sure you have enough left over to mix into the Bubble & Squeak for tea on Monday!

High Speed Internet - The Slow Response....

As regular listeners will be aware I was bothering my MP about the provision of high speed broadband, not just in my own interests as there is a far wider issue here. The original post from November 2013 is linked here.

I got the initial reply from my MP and also Ed Vaizey from the Department for Culture Media & Sport last week, and have uploaded copies here (with my address removed being the only changes). 

In short, and in a totally unsurprising way not one of my questions was actually answered and as yet after 2 months BT have not replied at all. So the Government see no need to actually update me on work that is being paid for from central funds to a very profitable PLC, and BT see no reason to reply at all. My questions were not complicated, and could be answered by any number of people off the top of their head, but as I know from experience and others in similar situations the answer should it ever arrive will include the words "commercially sensitive".

While there are commercial issues at stake, this helps me and others not one bit, so I will chug along on my slow internet connection while I wait for the response from BT and then follow up with next steps, including I guess an FOI request to see if I can get anywhere.

My frustration is not at any individual, after all mistakes are made and people move onto different jobs and companies, but nobody seems willing to even accept that there is a problem let alone engage in a process to start addressing it.

Letters copied below should you want to read a load of nothing.

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What we did on our holidays....

Coming to the end of posts about Japan now, this one a brief recap of where we went over Christmas and New Year and the next one more a combination of hints and tips that we picked up from many people before we went that really helped, and a few people have been asking for.

We decided on Japan for Christmas and New Year for a few reasons, a place we had always wanted to visit being top, but also due to a combination of offers and points and airmiles we were able to fly Business Class there and back, which at least meant we could catch up on some films and have a comfortable flight! Filled with anticipation that cost was going to be extreme, as so many people comment on the costs, the initial planning looked quite reasonable, to the level that I had to keep double checking the exchange calculator as some places seemed almost too cheap.

Anyway, we boarded the flight, had some champers, and had all accommodation booked and a rough plan of what we were going to do each day sorted. It is always hard on a two week holiday to get the balance of not wanting to have a totally fixed schedule but also not wanting to have to spend time every day finding hotels. The luxury of travelling somewhere for months when younger, and not having to worry is long gone now sadly. Into Tokyo where we picked up our rail passes and onto the first hotel.

Instantly noticing the trains are clean, spotlessly clean, as are the tubes and underground, and the streets. And it was quiet. Could a place be more opposite to India? The roads are quiet, electric cars appear to be the majority, horns not being leant on, it was almost eerie, this was the middle of the day in a busy part of town - not what I expected at all. The hotel was spotlessly clean, slippers and room wear provided (as in every hotel), small and compact would be an estate agents description but a bed, toilet and shower - what else do you want on holiday?

First mealA wander down to the Rappongi district to get some bearings and more importantly some food and the area was certainly busier, with shops and restaurants everywhere, the majority without English menus which is a positive as it means you are not in a full tourist area. We picked a place at random, but had a small queue in the doorway, so after watching others add their name to a list, I did the same and hoped that meant we would eat soon! Within a few minutes we were taken to a table and given at least 4 different versions of what seemed to be the same menu and given some green tea and water (as everywhere). Ordering some Ramen Noodle dishes by pointing and using our very limited Japanese seemed to go OK, although Debbie also tried to order 2 beers, the waiter smiled, laughed, walked away and was never seen again - so we didn't have our first beer there!

Plastic Food PlatesSightseeing the next day in a slightly dull Tokyo weather-wise, the top of the Tokyo Tower not even visible, but we started at the Sensoji Temple, possibly the biggest tourist attraction, and then after discovering an area called "Kitchen Town", a street in Asakusa, we went there to be amazed by the displays and arrays of kitchen implements and restaurant paraphernalia - including multiple shops selling platic plates of food and drinks. These are actually used outside almost all restaurants and made to order to show exactly what you will get, size and portion wise, if you eat there. Some of them were incredibly realistic, and the prices matched the quality as you would expect.

Snow Monkeys in the bath!The next day was a train ride to the mountains to the West to have a long walk in the hills, see the Snow Monkeys and sat in a traditional Ryokan, sleeping on rattan futons and using the Onsen hot tubs was excellent after a very long day. Stumbling accross a micro-brewery on the walk back to the accommodation was a welcome surprise, and a wonderful pint of a local (strong) beer. Dinner at a small restaurant where nothing was in English again worked out well, fried dumplings and stews were what came out from the tiny kitchen, and the restaurant was full of Japanese locals so I think we hit a lucky one there!

Off to Mt Fuji next for a few days, which is linked here. Also a very long (and cold) walk around two of the five lakes in almost complete solitude was lovely. Although in a tourist area the place we stayed was hidden away and 20 miles from the theme park and massive hotels, an excellent find, and food to match. The fact that all the staff from the hotel came out to flag the bus down seemed to be not only a friendly gesture but also an indicator that they were used to people missing them and being stuck 20 miles from the train station!

More excellent train travel to Kyoto, with Bento Boxes and a can of beer on the train, like pretty much everyone in our carriage, certainly a better train meal than a Burger King. Kyoto is what many of the pictures of Japan looks like, loads of temples and shrines to visit and walk around, hi-tech areas for shopping and a fantastic amount of food to eat. Over the few days there we had dumplings, pork, fish, sushi, sashimi, noodles and a great amount of street food. Stuffed buns and balls with fillings ranging from sweet bean paste to spicy pork and eel, items on sticks from chunks of raw tuna to whole squid. One thing you wont do in Kyoto is be hungry.

Almost never ending gatesA side trip out to the town of Nara to climb a hill with 36,000 gates to pass through was a breathtaking morning, in the physical as well as the visual sense. Mile after mile of orange gates, painted with prayers and shrines with offerings at every turn. Again it seems prayer and offering is the default position for so many people for so many reasons. For interest, there are five different sizes of gates, and they are all replaced every five years, the cheapest works out at around £1000 and the dearest was well over a hundred times that - so rest assured someone somewhere had their prayers answered for their "business" to succeed.

On to Hiroshima the next day, there is clearly not a lot to say about the town that doesn't reflect what happened there, the museum is haunting and absolutely depressing in every way about the desire of humans to self destruct. Our one break to an Irish Bar as I wanted a few simple pints and Debbie had a pizza for tea was there, which was close to the Red Light area in Hiroshima, which is indicated on the map given us by the hotel as "A bit of a dodgy area", which is a polite way of putting it I guess.

Back to Tokyo on the bullet train, again clean, fast, quiet, spacious - there really is so much to learn from Japan on how they run their transport systems. Tokyo like any major city is so huge you could spend a month there alone and still not really scratch the surface. We were sadly too late getting to the shop where you can hire a cat to stroke by the hour (not a euphemism by the way) but went to the Sumo arena and Tokyo Tower, the Imperial Gardens and the youth area and park of Hakaburu which again needs a whole seperate piece to try and describe.

Yellowfin TunaThe fish market at Tsukiji is one of the must see places in Tokyo, and I can assure you the numbers of people there trying to buy fresh (and alive) fish of all descriptions and the queues for the restaurants are like nothing I have experienced. To "walk" down one street of less than 100 metres took just over 40 minutes, the mass of humanity at total gridlock. We escaped in the end by diving through a restaurant kitchen and back door. 

The wholesale market earlier was a different experience, all the traders clearly used to tourists with varying levels and amounts of camera equipment, but not giving any quarter to them. It is a trade market and they are doing business, but keeping your eyes open and smiling a lot lead to Debbie getting some quite stunning photographs and me getting a few snapshots and almost getting run over by the fork lift trucks hurtling around everywhere. Quite an eye opener for me - I had no idea that much of the tuna was flash frozen on the boats and cut up with band-saws, the really expensive fresh tuna being cut in a way that I am sure would put some surgeons to shame.

Overall, and I have written far more than I thought, and missed out well over half of the places we visited, I can't recommend Japan enough for a holiday! And there are more pictures should you want to see them if you click the link at the top.

Employment - Japanese Guarantee

While travelling and holidaying all over the place, there are some places that I always seem to find myself, and that is the religious buildings in whatever place I am in. It is logical really, they tend to be among the oldest, biggest, impressive buildings anywhere, and there is always something to learn about the locals or culture there as well.

There is a common theme among almost all of them, all countries and religions alike, and that is a seemingly insatiable desire to hoover money from the pockets of visitors. Entry fees and donations to help with the upkeep of something I have no issue with at all, but in some cases the sole purpose of the place seems to be purely to make money. I am old and ugly enough to realise that many of these buildings are covered in and full of gold, so while there are some who use the money in a "charitable" way there are more than enough who seem addicted to bling, not helping the hungry.

Anyway, while I could rant on about this for weeks, just a quick example of what I mean - these pictures from the Golden Temple in Tokyo (yes, it is covered in gold), but typical of almost all places of worship we visited in Japan. Buy a candle, a piece of wood, a piece of paper, a bracelet, an orange gate - write something on it and your prayer will come true.

So, not wanting to pass up the opportunity to guarantee I get a job, 200 yen seemed a small price to pay. And I didn't feel guilty that World Peace was only an extra 300 yen, I am sure someone else will pay that one...

Trains - and why we all need to do better

New Year in the UK and train fares continue the upward march, to the point that to buy a season ticket and "extras" like the bus to the station is now approaching £10,000 gross for many people. That is a hell of a lot of money to just get to work for anyone. Clearly the service, or at least the perception of it, does not improve at anything like the rate of the price to use it.

Anyone who uses twitter in the mornings just sees an endless series of complaints, and it seems no rail company is that much better or worse. Delays, cancellations, short trains, missed connections, rammed conditions, broken toilets, wrong platform information.... The list is almost endless, and yet is the same in the summer, the winter and the dreaded "leaf season" that seems to be a surprise that only started happening in the last few years.

As you may have realised (or indeed become totally bored with) I and the wife spent Christmas and New Year in Japan, and chose to use public transport for all the travel we had planned as we had no desire to hire a car. 

Train passes purchased we left the airport, and even from the first train we caught the difference in service was so outstandingly different it is hard to comprehend what Japanese travellers must think when they arrive in the UK for the first time.

Not just the look of the trains, but the size of them, the frequency, the spacious seats, the simple booking system, the 100% absolute cleanliness. Also the speed, the efficiency, if the train arrival was late it more than likely meant your watch was wrong. In a country covered in mountains that is prone to earthquakes the way their train (and in the cities they have one) the underground services run should be the aspiration level for the rest of the world.

At the start / end of the journey every seat is reversed so that everyone faces in direction of travel, but if you are in a group of 4 for example, you can change the seat configuration to suit you. A team of cleaners actually clean the train, spotlessly. Every surface cleaned, every bin emptied, toilets cleaner than many hotels I have stayed at over the years are just part of the benefits.

Laid out in ways that there is maximum luggage room in racks and at the ends of the carriages, tables that are not affected if the person in front reclines their seat - the shinkansen range as pictured is the rough equivalent of Virgin trains on the West Coast line. I say rough equivalent, the similarity ends with the word "Train". Clearly there is a cost, but it was far cheaper than expected, and a two week pass for almost all trains was a lot less than an open return to Manchester from London. (Two week pass = £264. Return from Euston to Manchester today= £321).

That is stunning isn't it - even though I know and accept the travel pass is subsidised for tourists, there were hardly any restrictions, we went on the fastest trains at peak times, with booked seats and had no issues at all with any availability. We changed some trains to get seats together instead of two aisle seats, hardly an inconvenience when the next train was due within five minutes on a route of a six hour journey.

So the first point is that I feel all executives from all the train companies in the UK need to go to Japan and travel for 2 weeks exclusively by train, and then return to the UK and do the same. Any of them who then say they are proud of the service offered in the UK are either lying or stupid.

The second point comes down to us the public though, and is just as important when understanding how good the service overall is. On every platform there are markers showing where the doors will be, and marked on the platform is where to queue. This is adhered to as close to 100% as you can get, and makes all the difference. Everyone getting off gets off, and the people who arrived on the platform first get on first. No pushing, no shoving, no arguments, just simple common sense and politeness. Almost no rubbish is left in or around the seats, everyone takes it to the bins at the ends of the carriages. Nobody makes or answers a phone call in the carriage, they go to the end of the carriage and use the cubicles provided.

What seems like total sense is what is missing from almost all UK train travel in my experience, but this requires a huge shift in manners and "intelligence" as everyone has to comply with the guidelines for it to work, but it works in Japan so why not here in the UK?

As we move closer to building HS2, which will still not be to the standard in Japan, do we need a much wider overhaul of all the railways, how they work, how we use them, and getting what we pay for - I think we do - and while I will criticise the rail companies in the UK as much as the next commuter, we also need to take some responsibility.

Meal At Shojiko

Although on holiday and limiting any blogging, the meal we had this evening (21st December) was just so amazing that I wanted to write something about it before falling asleep, so it was still fresh in my mind. I am looking over a lake and on the other side of it is Mt Fuji, its snow capped summit shrouded in cloud is a wonderful backdrop to any meal, but one as good as tonights it just made it even more special.

We are in a hotel on Lake Shoji in Japan, and what seemed like a fairly average priced dinner, B&B at £125 for the two of us now seems the best value possible. An early dinner at 6.30 is not our usual meal time, but washed and ready we went down and the display of food on the table was just outstandingly beautiful, and also seemed to be a meal for more than just the two of us. We have eaten in some of the finest restaurants in review guides over the years and while no expert I can tell good food when I eat it. I will try and list all the plates of food we had as I remember them, but remember that each came with dressings and extra bits on the plate as well, so what may not sound over stunning is just the headline and not the whole story. In no particular order...

Cured duck breast

Caramelised walnuts

Mussel in shell with bean curd

Mussel with spiced ginger

Fish tempura presented in a deep fried fish basket

Pickled vegetables

Vegetable tempura

Aubergine over spiced chicken

Sashimi of prawn, tuna, octopus, salmon, crab

Beef finely sliced and fried on the table

Crab in a clear broth with vegetables

Terrine of mackerel, crab, salmon, pickles, seaweeds and squid

Miso soup and rice

Fruit

Warm and chilled sake.

And in the morning we are getting up for a private rooftop Onsen (hot tub) to watch the sun rise before breakfast. To say this is as close to perfect as it gets is no exaggeration.

It is now the morning of the 22nd of December and we have just had a hot Onsen bath on the roof while watching the sun rise over Mt Fuji.

Just wow. 


 

High Speed Internet - if only

As regular listeners will know I have been banging on about telecoms a bit, so I finally got round to sending the below letter to my MP. I have redacted my address as I don't trust the interweb :-)

Letter as here, the only area that may not make sense to non telecoms people is the reference to SIN 349, which is an obligation on BT to provide a working line to any residence in the UK that wants it (with some exceptions, but this would get very long winded). The key point is that it only refers to voice, as in making and receiving calls. Despite what many people think there is no obligation on BT (or anyone) to provide a broadband service. In regulation terms broadband is viewed the same as 1471 or voicemail, meaning that if you can't get broadband, the ultimate answer is either "tough" or "get the government to pay for it" of which neither option seems right to me?

Anyway, here you go - 

 

Dear Mr Liddington

I am writing to you today as a constituent with some specific questions for you and some of your colleagues around provision of broadband services where I live, but this is linked to some wider questions about funding of BT and their non-provision of suitable services.

For clarity I will use the term “BT” to mean the BT Group, I am fully aware of the internal organisation structure for Openreach, Wholesale and Retail but as there is only one listed company on the Stock Market it is one entity. I am also discounting Virgin Media from any points here as they are no longer cabling anywhere as far as I can ascertain so their services are limited and restricted to existing geographic areas.

It is hard to find a week where there is not a story in the news about more funding being given to BT to roll out broadband and high speed internet access to rural areas over the whole of the UK. As BT are the only player involved here I have concerns as to how and why this money is being given. BT are responsible and own the infrastructure on which the fixed line telecoms and broadband services are run. BT is a hugely profitable company that is now appearing to rely on state funding to deliver its core business to residences in the UK.

While it is galling to see BT spending billions on TV sport for many reasons, it does raise the question as to why this money is not being used to build and maintain and future proof the network, it could be argued that the government is funding BT Sport TV services, but that is a debate for another day.

My concern is the network and provision of “superfast” broadband over fibre, products such as BT Infinity and the same service resold to other providers such as Sky and TalkTalk. Secondary to this is the provision and supply of “high speed” broadband over the traditional copper network with the headline speeds of *up to 24Mbps.

In a quote from the BBC News website “In 2011, then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that 90% of premises in every local authority area of the UK should have access to internet speeds above 24 megabits per second by May 2015 and a minimum of 2Mbps for others.”

Where I live my broadband speeds are slow and unreliable, so much so that I have had to have a second phone line fitted to enable my house to have useable services. This is not because I live in a rural area, or a long way from the telephone exchange, but because BT chose to cable up this area with a technology called TPON which was a cheap alternative to copper at the time. This was common in many new build areas well into this century. The issue is that TPON is not capable of delivering high speed or superfast broadband.

This restriction means I am unable to use many services seen as standard these days, to download a programme on iPlayer takes longer than the programme itself lasts, and services such as Netflix and ironically BT Sport are not possible to use.

I could raise many more issues, and I have friends and colleagues over the country who have this exact same issue, where houses built at a different time and within a few hundred metres are enjoying speeds of 80Mbps and upwards, I am struggling to get the BBC News page to load on a speed of less than 5% of that.

Listed here are some specific questions I would like answers on from Ian Livingston the Minister for Trade and Investment, and also Maria Miller the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport (or whoever is currently responsible for this project).

  • ·         What are the current figures and progress to the targets based on the announcement by Jeremy Hunt?

  • ·         How many houses in total in the UK were cabled using TPON?

  • ·         How many of the above were cabled after it was known and established that this technology was not compatible with high speed broadband?

  • ·         What plans are in place to upgrade this nationwide to be suitable for next generation services such as BT Infinity?

  • ·         Specifically for Fairford Leys, what plans are in place for upgrades to the network to enable a standard of service that is acceptable, meaning superfast broadband?

I am fully aware of the lack of regulation around broadband and the ability of BT to use “SIN 349” as a route to reject many questions and specifics around the provision and supply of broadband services and would also expect this to be a question that Mr Livingston and his contacts at BT to be asked.

Should you require any further details from me please ask, otherwise I await your replies.

 

Yours sincerely

SimonJ68

 

Links and references:

Jeremy Hunt Quote - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23173157

TPON - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TPON_(fibre_optic_cables)

BT Group - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BT_Group

Remember

As we again reach Remembrance Sunday I was reminded of how it is not a global day of remembrance, and that there are many countries who chose to remember different events in different ways. I was reading an Australian paper  where the specific reference to the decline in events on 11th November was a cause for concern as the main focus is centred on Anzac Day which is 25th April each year.

In no way am I passing judgement on what is the correct date or event to remember, after all in the UK almost all the focus is now on the Sunday nearest, not actually the 11th November. What I didn't realise is that Anzac Day is a public holiday in Australia and New Zealand, something that Remembrance Day is not in the UK.

This took me back in time to 96 when I was travelling around Greece and Turkey and visited Gallipoli and took a tour of the battlefields there with a few of the Australians I hade been with for a few weeks. Like almost all travellers we took the bus to Canakkale from Istanbul and found a hostel to stay in for a couple of days. The routine was the same for everyone, check in, go for a beer, book on the tour for the next day and then watch the film Gallipoli on a VHS in the hostel. It seemed every hostel showed it at 9PM every night, with the idea that watching it before you went on the tour would make the context better.

We were up early, crammed into minibuses in numbers that make the underground during rush hour seem civilised and drove to the battlefields we had seen in film the previous evening. Our guide was excellent, taking us to all the key places, explaining everything and taking us past all the sings that said no entry. We went down into the trenches, and this was where everyone went quiet, as this was absolutely terrifying. The distance between the allied trenches and the Turkish ones was about 5 metres in places. You could have actually spat on the enemy as easy as shot at them.

For years these trenches barely moved. So much so that the Turkish soldiers threw food at the allies as they were starving, and this was not correct. It was OK to shoot each other, but not to win if the fight wasn't fair. We walked through some of the trenches and tunnels, everyone had tears in their eyes. The film we had laughed at the previous evening while drinking cheap beer suddenly didn't seem funny anymore. The guide showed us something then that stunned me. He just bended down and picked up a handful of dirt and dust from the bottom of the trench, and in his hand were a few bullets, and a number of casings. He gestured at everyone to do the same, and that was the souvenirs for all. 

What amazed me was this was over 80 years after the war, and millions of tourists visited every year, and yet there were still battle remains just laying on the earth like it was a week before. Speaking to others who had been there they all had the same experiences in different areas. So many bullets were fired that 80 years later they were still just laying about.

We went to the beach to see the rest of the tour and lesson, and visited the graveyards and memorials, which at any military site is just too emotional for words. 

Then we sat down for some food, and some cheap wine that appeared from somewhere, and it was then that I was asked what I was doing there, in a mildly threatening way. Someone I had not met before realising I was from the UK asked why I was visiting, and what it had to do with my history, using the line "you lot don't even remember this battle".

To say I was stunned was an understatement, this Australian felt he was allowed to question why an Englishman would be at Gallipoli. Glenn who I had known for a while instantly calmed the situation down, and we started to talk. The other guy had no idea at all that UK troops had even been involved in Gallipoli, let alone that the numbers of dead from the UK were almost 5 times as many as those from Australia. Despite it being a National Holiday and being taught in schools not one of the group I was with knew that UK troops were there and had died in numbers.

The one question they all asked was why we didn't commemorate the day in any way or seem to make any fuss over it. I had no answer apart from the fact that when looking at the numbers dead and the impact on the overall war, it was a battle on the small side compared to many others. A shocking and flippant view really for something seen as a turning point in history for Australia and New Zealand.

We shared more wine and beers later, there was no animosity, and as we all read the books in the hostel that evening as the next batch watched the film, we all learned more, and I am sure they all remember that day as much as I do, for so many reasons.

The futility of war for me, shown by trenches that never moved, soldiers sharing food so they could kill with a clear conscience and as always the rows and rows of those small white headstones.

Kemal Ataturk was a soldier there, and later the first President of the Turkish Republic, he wrote this to families of those he fought.

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…

 
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

 

Spin the wheel of change

The discussions about energy companies and "what are we going to do with them" continues apace with all politicians of all parties seeming to spout an increasing amount of nonsense and soundbites about what they are going to do. The short answer being nothing as they can, and are, pretty much doing what they can already.

Not going to get into any of the rights and wrongs about their business models, I am assuming a level of understanding that grasps the concept of shares and dividends.... More a look at what is, or more importantly what isn't happening or going to happen any time soon.

After promises of price capping from Labour (met with instant price rises from all the gas / electricity suppliers) the Conservatives are now going to set up a body to look at the regulations and how the companies are behaving. I am fairly sure that there are a number of QANGOS already looking at this, so will they all be paying the money back for failing us? 

The key point for almost all consumers is the ever increasing cost of the utilities, with 10% annual rises not uncommon and bills approaching levels that are quite scary numbers for a hell of a lot of people. Wages not going anywhere near the increases in bills, train fares and pretty much everything else. This is what Labour where attempting to address with the price cap promise, a nice idea, but impossible to implement, but it did get the issue on the news agenda, and it is staying there.

Yesterday Ed Davey jumped feet first into the pit, by promising faster switching for consumers between the so called Big 6.

Excellent news - oh, hang on, what did he say? Speed up the switching of suppliers? Who asked for that?

Nobody did, and that is where the magic happens. For the last few weeks all over the news and papers and consumer shows the owners of the myriad of switching sites have been plugging the need to switch suppliers as the best advice for customers, and the best way to save money, and suddenly this becomes the aim of the government. To not only promote this, but to make it quicker and easier.

Hmm, you may think this is a good thing, after all, these sites all offer great deals to change providers for not only gas and electric, but almost everything that has a cost associated to it. The naive among you may want to look away now.

ALL of the switching sites exist for one reason and one reason alone. They get (in some cases huge) commissions from the gaining provider. Their sole existence is based on people changing suppliers, of course they want to make this the argument.

Totally bypassing the actual issue for almost all of us which is the increasing bills, the narrative is now becoming how easy switching should and could be. Not making it up on the spot as I initially thought, it was a genius point to make, as the news proved last night and this morning where all the usual switching sites were and are getting hours worth of free advertising, dressed up as factual news.

Perfect. Now we have another QANGO to investigate and force the switching process to be faster, something that no customer has ever asked for. But the heat will come off as they all work together to show that switching is easy, and fun, and we should all do it all the time, while the prices continue to rise.

One other point I must raise about Ed Davey yesterday, he said it should be like switching broadband "with a few clicks of the mouse". Now, I have worked in telecoms for nearly 20 years, and I can assure you that while many people would like this to be true it isn't for many reasons. Depending on where you live, how old your lines are, what services you want, which supplier you are with and so on a broadband switch can involve about 6 different physical changes to wires and cables to be made. Is actually harder to move telecoms than it is gas and electric, but that is not to say that all changes should be within 10 days at the most, and without issue or fault.

This again is not the issue, nobody wants or expects it to be instant, we want it to happen in a timely manner and work. And if possible to be cheaper. Like all our bills, mobiles, TV, utilities, car insurance and so on, why should we pay more than we need to.

So, am I saying we should be using switching sites?

Nope - do it yourself, it is an even better deal that way.

The golden rule in all service industries is that it is always better and cheaper to keep a customer than it is to find a new one. This is first day business studies material, once you have a customer, assuming they pay on time and such, you keep them.

The easiest and best way to reduce your bills is simply to call the provider you are with and tell then you are leaving. They won't drop the price by 50% instantly, but if you stick to your guns you will be surprised how much you can get. Make sure that you have a reason for leaving, and a deal you are going to - there is no point in telling Sky you are leaving to BT Fibre if you can't get fibre in your area for example - they will know this.

I changed mobile suppliers recently as I found an amazing deal to move to, and when I called to cancel my existing contract their first response was that I would have to pay all outstanding amounts for the months left on my contract and a 30 day notice period. Within the hour they were offering to halve my monthly bill, send a new phone and a new tablet for free as well. Same as car insurance, look for some other quotes and then phone your existing insurer with the renewal notice to hand and say this is the price you are leaving to - they match it within a few minutes.

The beauty of this approach is you get a better deal with only the hassle of being on the phone for a bit, with the added bonus that if the existing supplier doesn't match the new deal you can still leave anyway. There is no way you can lose.

No third parties, no commissions, no switching costs for the companies - they want to keep you, so make them show it with the prices.

The power really is yours in many areas, but so many people choose not to use it.

And the winner is....

Well, not the majority of the country as usual.

Like Gordon Brown selling off the gold at the wrong time, and Mrs Thatcher selling off stuff that didn't even belong to the Government (welcome back TSB) the privatisation of the Royal Mail that went through today seems to be a further bungled attempt to make money from nothing. Not since Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone has something been so badly timed, and yet welcomed.

Before going to bed for most of the UK the Royal Mail was worth in the region of £3.3 billion, as I write this at about 10AM on Friday it is "worth" £4.4 billion. Not a bad return, although the extra £1.1 billion didn't go to the country or the debt, or even the badger cull, but to private investors.

Surely even the most basic concept of capitalism is to sell at as high a price as you can, so whatever party you support these days, this has to be a mistake that should cost people their jobs - it won't clearly.

In the week when energy prices and controls and rail tickets are all headline news and all the politicians are fighting over which set of prices they are pretending that they can control, to privatise another service would seem an impossible task. Somehow it managed to get through with a few tiny concessions and is now a private service. All future profits will be in the private sector, and rest assured that if it goes wrong it will be bailed out by whatever Government is in power at the time. This is what makes it even more wrong than it is at first glance.

If the business can be run in a more efficient and "profitable" way, which as the city says it can or nobody would have bought shares, why can it not be run in this way when owned by the state for the benefit of all?

Clearly a lot of this is ideological, and if you believe something different to me, that doesn't make you right and me wrong, it means you have a different opinion - odd how often people have to explain this to people on the internet really, maybe sending them a letter would work better.

However, if you support and are happy about this privatisation there is a logical step that you are happy about the gas and electric, water and telecoms, railways and so on. So you are happy that all utility bills and train tickets move inexorably upwards and the companies either make record profits, or continue to be subsidised.

Which is a good privatisation? Electricity where most is now owned by institutions outside the UK so profits are not even held here, or the railways where the subsidies paid to them each year to keep providing the service are numbers at the extreme end of madness? How is success defined, why is everyone so scared of re-nationalising the railway but is happy to pour multi millions of pounds into failing companies? 

If you have made the quick profit on shares on privatisation, I trust that you will not be moaning in future when there are no deliveries on Saturdays and if you want something to be delivered next day it costs a fiver not 60p. Like complaining that the energy prices are increasing by about 8% this week as winter approaches, it is too late to complain now.

What actually makes me the most annoyed about this whole saga is that there is no opposition to it from the supposed opposition in Government. Why are they not leading with "As soon as we are elected this will be re-nationalised at the price you paid today, and while we are at it, so will all the railways"?

Personally that may make me consider voting again.

Film 1985

Warning - Contains Spoilers.....

During some film based chatter a few weeks ago I made a passing comment that I had never seen any of the Back To The Future (BTTF) films, among many others. The sharp intakes of breath globally came over the internet loud and clear, as did the questions mainly starting with the word 'How?' as it seemed I had committed a crime as serious as not knowing what twerking is.

So, based on some continued bullying and also the quite superb @ANDREW0675 offering to post me the DVDs I committed that I would watch the first BTTF, and possibly the sequels depending on how it went. I assumed it would just be dated, some poor comedy and a bad use of the rules of time travel and that would be about it, but I was actually surprised as I viewed the film at the weekend.

Yes the main components were there, a naughty schoolboy of 17 being played by someone ten years older, but like the Fonz in Happy Days, no-one seemed to notice that..

The basic plot must be known to all, and now even me, is that he goes back in time due in part to a Libyan assassination plot, and then has to meddle to make sure history works correctly and he will exist in the future.

The back in time parts were very reminiscent of Grease in the main, with the standard bully, nerd, pretty girls and an upcoming dance as the basics, with the added fun of the time traveller who nobody seemed to question apart from assuming his body warmer was a life jacket.

And like Grease, it had a PG rating on release, which in simple terms means that anyone can watch it, it is often on TV in the afternoons on one of the myriad of ITV stations. 

Like Grease, I am sure a lot of the plot would go over the heads of the very young viewers, but what seemed to be the central part of the story was that when Martys mum was the victim of what appeared quite clear to be attempted rape. All the friends of the bully / rapist seemed to think this was nothing odd and all looked and then got on with something else. It was by stopping this happening that the father was able to cement his dance with the mother and ensure that Marty would be born after all. 

This was the bit that seemed very odd to me, the bully got his comeuppance in the new future as instead of being the boss, he was the car washer, while at the time nobody seemed to think that any action at all needed to be taken when what was happening was quite clear. Yes I was watching a film aimed at teenagers with the cynical mind of a man whose teens are far off in the distance, but it really made me feel a bit odd. Searching and reading other reviews no-one seems overly bothered by this scene and events, even Wikipedia only has this "A drunk Biff unexpectedly shows up, pulls Marty from the car, and attempts to force himself on Lorraine.

Obviously the plot needed something to try and make it viable, but this came over as a very odd choice for a film aimed at children / teenagers, but I guess I am in the minority with this view.

As for the time travel plot, like the Terminator franchise, it just makes no sense. Taking the invention back to before it was invented to the person who invents it so it gets invented is just annoying. Like Terminator, the enjoyment of the films is spoiled by the basics, but that is a whole different argument for a different day.

The end of BTTF though is a happy family with "justice" served to the bully, and the scientist who needs to invent it not being killed when he should have been, and ends by going to the future. Although the lives of the parents and their peers have changed, Marty seems to be just the same, as does the rest of the world, but as Homer Simpson taught us in Treehouse of Horror V, that is just not how it works...

Not sure I will watch the sequels to be honest, but I did complete my promise and now I have seen BTTF, and for reference I will not be watching Titanic or The Full Monty which are remaining on my not seen list!!

Am I really writing these words

I agree with Tommy Robinson of the EDL.

Wow. That actually made me shiver, but the time is right to say something here.

Firstly, to be absolutely clear why some of you should continue reading, and maybe some shouldn't.....

  • The EDL is a racist organisation. I have never met anyone who is "In the EDL" who doesn't use the terms "Muslim" and "Paki" as interchangeable, not single people, but many.

  • I detest all forms of religious extremism. Christians bombing abortion hospitals, Jews hating other Jews for various infringements of what they see as "Gods Law", Islamic fundamentalists thinking that shooting girls in the head is a good idea. All of them as bad as each other.

  •  I abhor all forms of racism
  • Sharia Law has no place. 
  • Child abuse whatever race or religion you are associated to is still child abuse.
  • Madrassas teaching the Koran and Texan Schools teaching evolution as a myth and Creationism as fact, equally bad. 

So, back to the fun stuff.

As I am sure all of you know Tommy Robinson and a mate were refused service in Selfridges by a salesperson and they were given a slap up dinner to say sorry, and as I write this the salesperson is suspended from work. The only reason not to serve them is that he is Tommy Robinson of the EDL.

This pains me so much, but the salesperson was wrong.

Once again the EDL are winning the PR battle, once again poor little Tommy can complain about victimisation, once again much of the right wing media can support him in his smaller issues, while glossing over the racism.

One thing works and should be done in every case like this. Serve him, in the politest, most professional way that you have ever served anyone. Show him he is irrelevant. Show him you don't care. Let him know you know who he is, and you despise his views, but serve him. Show him you are above his level. Every time, every single time.

Giving him and his "organisation" free publicity like this is exactly what he wants. Many of the sites and blogs I read and often tend to agree with have got this whole point completely wrong. He wants to be refused service - he is almost begging for it. Like Katie Hopkins and Russell Brand he is bright enough to know that being in the papers is enough - it actually doesn't matter what for. The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about as Oscar Wilde said, and in todays multi-media age it is truer than ever. 

The oxygen of publicity is what he wants, and once again the well meaning have fallen for it.

Some ideas... When the EDL announce a march in town XXXX - just ignore them. No counter demonstration, no need for police to worry about dual marches, just let them do it. It won't make the news, they won't have a fight, in 2 months time you will never hear from them again. It really is that simple. Turn up, fight, get on the news, get arrested and all that happens is twice as many turn out the next time. 

As a veteran of the end of the NF and many years of the BNP I surprise myself with this idea, but that is what works. Like UKIP - make them legitimate by giving them airtime and they become legitimate, and start to become a real issue. Remember when the Greens where everywhere and always on the news, and now can't be found apart from being seen as fringe groups, this is what needs to happen to the EDL. Just ignore them and they will go back to eating curries from their local Bengali restaurant and getting cabs home from Afghan immigrants without ever actually adding up what that means to their views.

I will gladly serve in any pub, wait in any restaurant or attend any till in Selfridges to serve Tommy. I detest everything he is and how he hides behind the mask of legitimacy, but I will never allow him to be treated as he wants to treat others. 

Is it really that complicated, or I am I alienating everyone from all "sides" on this one?

There is only one image of the EDL that should be seen and shown, and it is the one to the left.

****************************************************************************

While annoying almost everyone, my comments on the "Y word" debate that even our Dear Leader has seen fit to comment on this week.

I am a Spurs fan, I used to use the Yid word, I no longer do. For me the reason was that when I took time to think about it, I would never use it in front of my elderly Jewish relatives, so why should I at football. My view, my choice. 

Factually, I totally agree with why and how fans of Spurs adopted this, but as above, I think we are now missing the point. Instead of attacking comedians who need to get on TV, why is all the anger not directed at the clubs, stewards and police forces who allow hissing, nazi salutes & songs about Jews to happen every season? 

Personally I couldn't care less if we chant "Spurs Army" or "Blue'n'White Army", but I do care a lot about why West Ham and Chelsea (and almost all other clubs if I am honest) can use the words and terms in a pure hate way and have no action taken. 

That is the issue to fight on - not what you want to sing.

Focus on the end game, not the pre-match analysis.

Always on line, at a price

For those who know me or follow me on twitter you will be aware that I spend far too much of my life on trains and in hotels for work, which is nowhere near as glamorous and exciting as it sounds. While some are better than others, the company budget means that more often than not it is a "business" hotel, often in the middle of nowhere, with little choice of food and drink, let alone anything else.

Like many business travellers, the main option in the evening is to work, and if not work to more than likely be doing something on line. TV catchup on iPlayer and streaming football as well as just the general browsing, email, Skype, twitter and so on that forms part of daily life for so many of us now.

Internet access in hotels is one of lifes great mysteries and challenges now. 

 

  • Will they have it - almost always yes
  • Is it free in the bar - quite often yes
  • Is it so slow as to be almost unusable - far too often
  • Are there charges - astonishingly yes!

 

Chargeable internet access when rooms cost in the region of £100 a night, it seems astonishing, and it is one of the most annoying things I encounter.

It is strangely perverse in that the cheaper hotels and independent ones seem to give access for free. It is rarely excellent, and never going to be the best, but it is free and in the price, so the ability to work and play is there, and nobody will complain because it is free. Some of the more expensive chains charge, varying from a fiver a night to this weeks winner, The Holiday Inn in Warrington which is a stunning £16 a night.

In every hotel I stay in I ask for the free wifi code, and most give it, often when it is supposed to be chargeable, but not this week. £16 for a service that at one stage was so slow it wouldn't load the speed test site, but when it was connected it never managed above 2Mb. All that for more than almost anyone pays monthly for the service at home. The few hotels I stay in often clearly got fed up with me asking for free access that they now give me the codes at check in, a small thing, but if I was booking the rooms myself I would pick them.

The issue for me is that during the week the people staying in these hotels during the week are almost exclusively there for work reasons, with some level of expenses that can be claimed, so these charges are paid by the company and the tabs are signed off without a thought. But that money needs to be claimed from somewhere, so it just adds to expenses and costs for all businesses which in turn adds to higher costs for customers. People pay it without thinking as it is not their money.

On a linked example I stayed in a hotel in Bracknell a few years ago, and in the morning there was no hot water, at all. So nobody could have a bath or shower. While checking out, everyone was moaning and the staff were apologetic but doing nothing. I refused to pay, and the answer back was "Well, your company are paying not you!", so I refused to sign and made sure the company didn't pay the bill. If I was paying to stay and there was no hot water I wouldn't pay, so why should my employer be billed for substandard service?

If I was the manager of a hotel or a marketing person for a hotel chain, I would insist on good quality and non-chargeable broadband in all rooms, and make a massive fuss about it on booking sites etc. The cost can be absorbed into other areas easy enough, but the benefits would be an increase in customer satisfaction and reduction in complaints like the one I will be making to get the broadband costs back.

Like many situations, it is the little things, and while the rest of the service and stay at the Holiday Inn is actually very good for a "business" hotel by a motorway, I would never choose to stay there again.