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Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween and early Christmas hype

Since 2001 spending in the UK on Halloween has risen from a few million pounds a year to around £350M. Now I've no problem with children dressing up and making a few Halloween masks or candles from pumpkins, but I find the commercialisation of this activity nothing short of a scandal. In the same vein, the Christmas hype starts in some shops as early as late September, which is ridiculous. Why does our capitalist, money centred, world draw so many of us in to this? Why can't Halloween be the simple, low key, fun it once was and why can't Christmas be, well, at Christmas?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Those Indian calls trying to fix my viruses

Even though I have telephone preference registration to minimise unwanted phone calls, I regularly get calls around  lunchtime from an Indian call centre perporting to be from a company wanting to fix a virus on my PC which they've detected. Do they really think I am that stupid? What worries me are all the people who may believe this rubbish and disclose all sorts of data by allowing these rats to steal PC data.

Not sure what is the best tactic to use when taking the call - ignore it, play along for 5 minutes to waste their time, be very rude, threaten them by saying I am from the internet fraud police, or what.

What is sad is the person in the call centre is probably just trying to earn a living, whereas the people behind it have nothing but malicious intent. Is there anything one can do to reduce this menace?

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Fixing the Euro?

So the politicians in Brussels have come up with a package to fix the Euro debt problem. Why does my mind think of Neville Chamberlain coming down the plane steps having arrived back from his meeting with Hitler in Munich in 1938? Probably because I think this bit of paper and his have about as much chance of working.

I hope the plan works, but think it totally wrong that the good honest workers of Europe have to bail out profligate and irresponsible governments and banks. The voice of the common man will not accept this much longer. Many, but not all, citizens of Greece have made tax avoidance a way of life. In Italy corruption is still endemic. If countries cannot run their affairs properly when members of the European club then they MUST take the consequences of their (in)action. If the Greeks are allowed a haircut on their debts why not Ireland?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Military expenditure

Today I heard that the UK government  has agreed to upgrade Warrior military vehicles at a cost of £1 billion. Will these really help quell riots on our streets or make the world a safer place?

Like the decision to upgrade the Trident submarines at costs up to £100 billion over a lifetime, I cannot understand what possesses our politicians. In an age when budgets are tight there are surely better ways to safeguard national security that to throw away money on rubbishy things like this.

Do we NEVER learn that wars rarely achieve anything other than stirring up hatred and bad feeling for years to come? Although not a Quaker myself, I am a firm supporter of the Quaker way of peace and reconciliation.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Simple pleasures

Feeding the ducks near Ely Cathedral
Nearly 4 years ago we had our first little grandson. Since then we have been blessed with another grandson and a little granddaughter.  It is hard to explain just how powerful a bond there is between grandparents and grandchildren: in some ways it is even stronger than the bond to our own children. Today we enjoyed the simple pleasures of walking around Ely with its cathedral with our eldest grandson, feeding the ducks and walking in the woods and playing hide-and-seek between the trees. We know that all too soon he and the other grandchildren will grow older and away from us. For now we are enjoying every single moment.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Cambridge Guided Busway

This morning my wife and I used the new guided busway from Cambridge to St Ives for the first time. It was excellent with double decker buses with good leather seats, free wi-fi. Being over 60 we get to travel for free. It runs for most of the way on the track of the old St Ives to Cambridge railway line.

St Ives is a pleasant little town by the river (don't confuse with the other one in Cornwall) with some interesting shops. The whole busway was the centre of controversy as it was very late opening. I hope it is successful and attracts lots of customers. See also

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Recycling: why is it so difficult in the UK?

There is a lot that can be done to improve our recycling in the UK. My wife and I do our best trying to recycle whatever we can - papers, plastics, food waste, garden waste etc, but trying to get it recycled is far from easy.  More needs to be done to simplify the process.

We carefully save all our plastics which seem to be marked as suitable for recycling: bottles, yoghurt cartons, soft fruit plastic boxes, etc. As our local recycling centre has been closed to save costs - barmy decision - we take them 11 miles each way to our nearest centre. When there, we find only bottles can be put in the plastics recycling, so we have to separate out all the plastic food cartons as they have to go in a different bin. Then there is the garden and food waste. Some is composted. Our local council provides thick brown paper sacks for this waste and they collect it at the doorstep every 2 weeks. If I want to get more sacks I get charged 50 pence each.  Finally, we get a black bin (household non-recycled stuff) collection every week despite this bag being only about a quarter full these days.

My annoyances are these:

(a) Why not make it more clear what is, and is not, recyclable on the labels in the first place?
(b) Why do suppliers like Waitrose and Tesco sell so much stuff in non-recyclable plastic packaging?
(c) Why do I have to travel a 22 mile round trip to dispose of much of my plastics?
(d) Why should I have to pay 50p for each extra recycling sack when using them saves money on landfill?
(e) Why is recycling policy different all over the country from area to area?

Why does trying to save landfill costs and helping the environment have to be so very difficult here in the UK? Other countries make it easy, but here we seem to make it very hard.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Death in a Multiverse

My religious views oscillate from being a theist to total atheist and back again. Of late, my views have been changing partly as a result of reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, which I found an absorbing and honest book.

Nonetheless, I am still basically open minded when it comes to thinking what happens when we die. I am not a believer in Father Christmas, tooth fairies or heaven as such, but I do think that the universe(s?) we inhabit are barely understood and our place in time puzzling. In a multiple universe all things in all time may be possible so who can be sure that this one life of ours is "it"?  The very existence of each one of us is a miracle of coincidences and chances over a period of billions of years: just one sexual coupling missed, or one chance meeting of two people missed, in all that time and you or I would not be here at all. Can we even be sure that we are not living some kind of dream?

So, when we finally drop down dead will we just cease to be? Or will we find ourselves in another universe as someone or something else, even perhaps reliving the very same lives but choosing different paths at the critical moments when we went in one direction and wondered what would have happened had we chosen differently?

Medical Records

Recently my wife and I made requests at our local surgery for copies of our childhood medical records. They were very helpful and managed to produce mine and photocopy them for me. However my wife's records before the age of 20 were missing. There is usually a small charge for copying these but as there were only a few pages of records, plus letters relating breaking my leg as a youngster, they did not charge me.

Recent experience of hospitals - my daughter-in-law in Kent and my wife in Addenbrookes in Cambridge 2 weeks ago - confirm that, although medical care is generally excellent, the handling of medical records data is appalling: how many times do you have to give the same information to different people? Surely in this day and age it is possible to manage a simple database of information on a patient and have this available over a secure wi-fi network in hospitals? OK, grand national database schemes may be too complicated (although I don't see why) but on a local level surely there is no excuse. Not being asked the same questions by a dozen different people when in hospital would surely make the patient experience a better one, and save the NHS both time and money.

At least I now have a copy of my early medical records in PDF format.

Charity Letters

Do you get annoyed when people like the British Red Cross send envelopes filled with greetings cards begging for a contribution and putting emotional blackmail on you? I  prefer to give when I choose and wonder how much money is wasted with these unsolicited postings costing at least 50 pence a time.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Power to the People

This picture appeared on my Facebook pages today. It shows someone on one of the marches across the world protesting at bankers and the mess they have caused.  I think it is excellent and speaks volumes about the concerns of good, decent and ordinary people. Stupid bankers have gambled away OUR pensions and OUR livelihoods for the sake of THEIR short-term gain. Power to the people!!