About Me

"Setting the world to rights"...one blog at a time! Plus anything else that comes to mind

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Feelin' lucky

There was a time when it would take me an hour and a half to get to work then an hour and a half home again.  Walk, train, change, train, walk or underground or bus.  From the London suburbs into Victoria station and up to Knightsbridge or whichever branch of the bank I was working in at the time.

I'd have to stand most of the way - if not all of it, push and shove just to get standing room in smelly carriages or buses, battered by noise from busy London traffic.  In the days when smoking was the norm I'd get home in the evening stinking of cigarettes and traffic fumes.

For some years after leaving school it was exciting...parties, pubs...but eventually the commute grew tedious and the night life palled.

Now look at my commute, and only 15 minutes...

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Health provision

The opening ceremony of the Olympics including a celebration of the National Health Service.  Having experienced or heard about health provision in other countries I'm very grateful for the NHS in the UK but how long can it last?  In fact, is it already on the way out?  According to the media it is on the decline but then I'm trying not to be taken in by everything I hear in the media.

So how else can I judge?  Well, by my own observations!  I've had more contact with the NHS recently than I care to think about really.

The aim of the NHS and the Social Services is to safeguard the public health and get help to the people who most need it and support them through difficult times until they can stand on their own feet again.  Temporary help working towards a long term solution.  Or so I had always supposed.

My brother is primary carer for both of our parents.  He's been brilliant but recently suffered some health problems.  A scare in the middle of the night, a visit from the ambulance service, and news that although not life-threatening - thank God - he was too ill to look after them for a while and needed a well-earned break.

So, there we were, in need of help and support.  I work full-time so took three days compassionate leave to arrange respite care.  But what to do?  What could be done?  What help was there out there?  Where to look?  Where to START?

I started with the Social Services and to begin with they were very helpful, right up to the point where they investigated our finances.  Unfortunately, as it turned out, Dad had been saving for some work to be done on the house.  Because of this we're just over the border to be eligible for financial help.

So, there I was, part way down the process of finding two placements, pending a call regarding availability in the county, when I get a call to say we weren't eligible for funding.  Ok, those are the rules, we don't have to like them but we accept them.  I waited for the call back about availability of respite places in the county, fully prepared to pay, but it never came.  I phoned for an update to be told 'you're self-funding, we can't help any more'.  Oh, well that's all right then, if you're self-funding you obviousy know automatically what's available and where to go!

It was like a slap round the face.  I was desperately trying to organise some help, while coping with my parents needs, look after my brother and do some semblance of work from home to cover the sudden absence.  Luckily for me we have good friends who rallied round and between us we got it sorted and found places for my parents to stay while my brother was recovering.

So much for temporary support pending a long term solution!

Not a very good episode with the Social Services; how about the NHS?  While in respite care my father was taken ill and taken to hospital.  He nearly didn't get out of the ambulance, the electronic back door was broken.  He was admitted, finally, and spent four days there.  I went in one day to find he was still in bed, they hadn't got him into his chair that day for some reason, and was struggling to eat his dinner.  He has trouble with his arms and although fine when in a chair he couldn't get the fork to his mouth while in bed.  He'd given up after managing to feed some to his armpit and was trying to drink the juice from a small bowl of fruit when I got there, even though he couldn't get to the fruit itself.

I was fuming, I helped him eat while fending off an orderly who wanted to take his tray away.  I'd phoned earlier to see how he was but they won't discuss patients details over the phone, quite understandably for confidentiality reasons, they tell you to speak to the nurse when you come in.  I waited two and a half hours.  First you have to identify a nurse, not obvious from the different unifirms around.  Then it was...I'm on medication rounds, I'll come back in a minute; I can't find my notes from when I took over the shift, I'll come back to you;  she's with a new admission, she'll be with you shortly; she's in hand-over (shift change), at which point I realised I was going to be back to square one with a new nurse who's...just taken over, I'll find the patient notes and come back to you!

Yes, they're busy and yes, I'm prepared to wait but crumbs, there are limits!  Why were any notes so hard to find?  How did they expect to look after patients if they don't know their condition?  It's not very re-assuring. Eventually I was told to ring during the day and speak to someone then - I told them they wouldn't speak to me on the phone for confidentiality reasons, oh that's ok just set up a password and we'll talk to you!

I can't tell you how angry I was, as a family we've had too many admissions in the last few years and this is the first time anyone has mentioned a password, and then only because I told them I wasn't moving until I'd spoken to someone - politely I hasten to add, I was friendly and reasonable through it all, outwardly at least.

We were glad he came out after four days but a week or so later received a letter calling him to attend for a 24-hour ECG because they'd found some irregularities in his heart while he was there.  WHY NOT DO THAT WHILE HE WAS WITH THEM?  Why make him come back later?

There were other problems but hey, enough's enough in one post.  What rubs salt in the wound is all the notices advising patients and visitors there is a zero tolerance policy towards agression towards NHS staff.  Quite right, anyone who abuses someone verbally or physically who is trying to help them not only needs their head examined but should be shoved out the door without treatment.  The only problem is that some of the staff take this as carte blanche to be as rude and unhelpful as possible in the sure knowledge that we can't retaliate. 

Mostly the help is there but it is getting worse and ours are not the only bad experiences, I've learned about many others amongst friends and acquaintances. 

The media have been reporting on similar problems around the country and one of the things they highlight is that some people view the NHS and Social Services not as a temporary support but a lifestyle choice and entitlement.  Those of us who try and make our own way but call for help in emergencies find we are on our own.  It doesn't help that our health service seems to be available to all-comers, it means the funds aren't there to help legitimate needs.  Health tourists - those who come specifically for medical services with no intention of paying; immigrants - who have rights to health services and social services without having paid any money in.  The stories are seemingly endless and I don't just hear about them in the media, I hear of personal experiences.

Sadly I believe the reports in the media on this subject and I foresee lots of trouble if the Government doesn't get to grips with it, we're mugs.  I can fully understand the rage and frustration of people who are constantly giving but not receiving, seeing others benefit from services their own money is funding yet they are not able to access.

Please forgive the rant, it's not as though I've not submitted constructive ideas through the government website, I have, but there comes a time when all that's left is to complain!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Religious views

Today I had occasion to respond to someone's reaction to the bombing in Libya. The person was pretty upset, quite naturally, but spoke against the Muslim religion rather than the individuals. I've set out my response below. Any comments please? I believe I'm right in what I say but I'd be interested to know what other people think.

"I’ve been reading the papers and Chris Stevens seems to have been a remarkable man, I wish there were more like him in the world. I agree, what has been done is outrageous. It’s outrageous that someone who has worked so hard for peace and stability has been killed, along with his fellows. It’s outrageous that anyone would attack innocent people in the name of God, or Allah or any other. I don’t disagree with any of your comments on the appalling reaction to something that is frankly not worth the attention it’s been given. However, I can’t bring myself to blame the religion itself. Atrocities are committed by different religions for different reasons. I’m not a historian and my understanding of the world is naive to say the least. However, as I understand it the Crusaders invaded the Holy Land because they were convinced they had the right; southern Irish bombed innocents in London because the UK supported the Northern Irish in their decision to be part of the UK, a division originating in the differences between Catholics and Protestants. Everywhere in the world there are constant reports of one religion battling another in some way or another, even different sects within the same religion. I’m the only Christian in my family, the others are non-believers. One member is even antagonistic towards all religion believing they are all evil and most of the word’s ills are caused by religion. It’s hard to argue against it when you look at the News but I still believe it’s not the religions, it’s the individuals. I could have blamed the Irish for the fear I experienced working in London in the late ‘70s, ringing round friends to make sure they were safe after one bombing or another but I know some northern and southern Irish and they were as sickened, and scared, as I was. I also know Muslims, have known Jews and one or two of the less mainstream religions. Please, please don’t let hate into your heart. Fomenting hatred and division is something these madmen/monsters/idiots would like to do. I’m not a pacifist, I’ll fight if I have to – in fact I can be a pretty antagonistic person - but I like to fight the right people. I agree with you, appeasement is wrong and I wish I knew a better way but perhaps we can at least act carefully?"

Saturday, 1 September 2012

'Work scheme is "slave labour" '

There's an idea currently touted for a work scheme for youngsters who have just left school.

'18-24 year-olds who have spent less than 6 months in employment since leaving school or college will have to work at least 30 hours a week to get their £56-a-week job-seeker's allowance. They will also get a guaranteed 10 hours a week help preparing their CVs and searching for a job'.

The intention is to try to enourage a routine of work so they don't become used to a 'benefits lifestyle'. Benefits will be with-held if they don't comply.

There is the usual outcry of 'slave labour'.

Good grief! Slaves are made to work without pay, these youngsters are simply being asked put something back into society in return for benefits in a way that will benefit everyone else while imparting a work ethic. Why is that so wrong?

If the proposal were for them to work for commercial business I would not be so supportive (I believe there was such a proposal but it seems to have foundered) because there are too many employers out there who would abuse the system. However, the proposal is for the youngsters to work for charities or community groups. This is otherwise unpaid work and not taking paid employment away from anyone else. It may not be their dream job but how many of us are in our dream jobs?

One stated objection has been that it would be preferrable to spend the money on courses to give them marketable job skills. Ahem, what exactly is the point of the education system we already have in place if not to provide this? These people have already, supposedly, been through the system and are now as educated as they are going to get, highly qualified or otherwise. They are now out the other side and out of work. Why would we want to spend yet more money on yet more courses, effectively deferring the problem, without any return?

Preparation for life cannot go on indefinitely, eventually life has to be lived.

Frankly, I would like to see this work-for-benefits system extended to other groups of unemployed people, not just school-leavers. It just needs to be thought through and set up properly in the first place.

So long as they have enough time free each week to search for paid employment and attend job interviews where is the downside? Perhaps there is one but I haven't found it yet.

Any thoughts out there?

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Pleased to be wrong

There are times when I'm pleased to be wrong. I've been one of the Olympic-skeptics. I still think we can't afford it and for some reason I can't even explain to myself I'm only vaguely interested in the sports themselves, unlike previous Olympics that I've followed closely, probably just a personal phase. However, I was really worried that we were going to make fools of ourselves over the Opening Ceremony.

I'd actually paid attention to the reports in the papers, on television and word of mouth! When will I ever learn? An idyllic 'green and pleasant land' including fluffy clouds and rain? A layout of fields with idyllic scenes? What were they thinking of? Hah, what was I thinking of? I actually made up my mind before I'd even seen it!

Having seen it, I loved it, perhaps all the more for having expected the worst. Yes, it was chaotic, sometimes confusing, occasionally irritating but then so are we. It was also funny, sometimes moving, always entertaining. When we Olympic-skeptics discussed it between us before the event we were disgusted to think we would be presenting a sugar-sweet, self-absorbed version of the UK to the world. We believed we should not be presenting ourselves at all, that we should be showcasing the ideals of the Olympics. We needn't have worried.

Yes, it was about us but it was us not taking ourselves seriously. The ideals of the Olympics were upheld. I loved the symbolism of the 'petals' coming together to make up the cauldron as the various countries were coming together to compete. I hear there was some dissent abroad about the handing off of the lighting of the cauldron to young athletes. I thought that was great, celebrating the established sporting heroes yet showing it's not just about individuals' achievements but about sporting continuity and the future.

But the thing I enjoyed most? The thing I thought was so great about this ceremony? It was that it was fun and allowed the competitors to relax and enjoy the experience. Did you notice their faces? The absolute joy, the excitement, the sheer pride in representing their countries.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Little beasts!

As a family we're very fond of runner beans so I grow them and I try to be organic about it.

Sadly, blackfly are very fond of runner beans too so I've planted marigolds round the beans this year because blackfly don't like the smell of marigolds. Sadly, those voracious little beasts, slugs, are very fond of marigolds and they've stripped the marigolds back to a central stalk.

So I've been looking up an organic solution. The best one seems to be to surround susceptible plants with chives because slugs don't like the smell of chives.

So, I plant a barrier of chives to protect the marigolds, within that I plant a barrier of marigolds to protect the beans, within that I plant ...er... the one bean plant I've still got room for!


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The party's over

It's over. It's been a hectic and exhausting four days. Lots of work and oh so worth it. I'm incredibly proud to be British but this little Brit needs her sleep ready for work tomorrow. I'm going to forget the snarky remarks from the the anti-Royalist party-poopers I've just read online and get my head down.

Monday, 4 June 2012

The Great British motto: Always Have a Plan B

Yesterday our family joined in the nation's Diamond Jubilee celebrations with a little do of our own with a few friends. It was more sedate than past celebrations.

I celebrated the Silver Jubilee as a teenager working in London. I remember walking along Knightsbridge arm in arm with some friends, singing. In my tone-deafedness there's a part of Streets of London that leads naturally, for me, into the 23rd Psalm and such was my enthusiasm I took the others along with me. We'd started out in a couple of local pubs and were heading back to the bank we were working in for some serious partying.

For the Golden Jubilee our family hosted a formal meal. I decorated the house in red, white and blue, we dressed up in red, white and blue and I cooked a sit down meal for eight of coronation chicken starter followed by crown roast of lamb and ending with cherries jubilee.

For the Diamond Jubilee we aimed for something more informal and relaxed, a barbecue! No-one can say we're not optimists but we had a plan B. If it was dry we'd barbecue the meat and serve it with salad outside. If it was wet we'd grill it and serve it with salad inside. I've spent hours in the garden over the past few weeks getting it looking good for just this occasion so I was keeping everything crossed for fine weather to eat outside.

Come the day it was pouring all morning but it dried up by midday and although it was too cold to sit out we had hopes of barbecued meat. The barbecue was lit, with some difficulty, the meat cooking away nicely and then...OF COURSE, it started to rain. Gently at first, ok...then the heavens opened and we participated in another great British tradition...barbecuing under an umbrella! My brother manned the barbecue, brolly in hand, and I dashed between him and the kitchen transferring the meat to a warming pan in the oven as it finished cooking. It was a hoot! It gave us all a good laugh and didn't detract one iota from the fun we all had.

I'd had the foresight to put all the decorations up indoors, just in case, so we were surrounded by red, white and blue bunting, spinners and a wealth of balloons. Not to mention the Union Jack flying outside the house, another pinned over the fireplace and Union Jack tablecloth, plates, napkins and cups on the table. Totally and completely over the top and no doubts whatsoever as to what WE were celebrating!

It was great, we watched the Thames Pageant on television, laughed over our barbecue and the vagaries of our weather, enjoyed our meal and toasted our Queen.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

HM Queen Elizabeth II

So, here we are, the Jubilee weekend. There's been a lot of royalty-bashing over the years but I'm not alone in finding comfort in the continuity our royal family brings to our lives. Presidents come and go, politicians are power-hungry, self-interested...oops, sorry, getting sidetracked. Anyway, the fact is I like them, well, most of them, no family's perfect.

Considering there are only a few of them and millions of the rest of us it's rather surprising that my family has seen or had contact with four of them, even if the contact was only second hand. Or maybe not, considering how much work they do.

When I was in my 20's, working in London, I was about to cross the road when the lights changed from red. As I paused there on the pavement with another girl, a stranger, we both noticed the big black car just about to drive off. Sat in there was the Queen Mother! As soon as she saw we'd spotted her she waved and smiled at us, just the two of us!

About the same time a neighbour of ours was working as a camerman. One of his jobs included a special about Princess Anne. He was full of praise for her, she started work earlier than the crew, went out of her way to make sure they got what they wanted and was still working as they knocked off for the day.

Many years later my mother was strolling down a country lane with a friend. A horse came towards then and they stepped to one side to let it pass. It was Princess Anne and she gave them a smile and wished them a good morning.

A few years back Mum spotted Miss Zara Phillips at a spa. She says she seemed a really nice person, smiling and taking time to pass the time of day as she wandered around.

The point is, if they were more available, meeting them, seeing them just wouldn't be special. Because they're apart, live a life so different from us, belong to a family known to all of us but not part of our daily lives it's thrilling to have sight of them, to have the chance to say with pleasure and surprise 'she was really nice, she was just like everyone else!'.

This weekend our family's going to celebrate our Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Unashamedly British, proud of our Queen and thankful for someone we can respect on the throne.

No, I've not forgotten the fourth person. Last but not least was the Queen, Mum & Dad were thrilled to receive an anniversary card on their Diamond Wedding anniversary last year.

The Queen and the Queen Mother's dedication to their roles is legendary, Princess Anne carries out her duties quietly, doing more than people are aware, the younger members of the family are growing into their roles, taking their lead from the Queen and becoming fine role models. So, no matter how tenuously, we feel lucky to have had 'connections' to four generations of our royal family. A family headed by a lady who has commanded our respect for so many years.

Long Live the Queen!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Let the EU wind down

In January I published a post called 'Differences' that included my views on why the EU couldn't work at this time. Yestewrday I read a newspaper article that brought that post to mind.

The article was slanted towards breaking up the EU and quoted a...

'Nobel Prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman...in 1997: "Europe exemplifies a situation unfavourable to a common currency. It is composed of separate nations, speaking different languages, with different customs, and having citizens feeling far greater loyalty and attachment to their own country than to a common market or to the idea of Europe". As he hardly needed to point out to his American readers, currency in the US took place after, and not before, political union, the right way round.'

Interesting..so close to my own ideas! At some stage in our lives I expect most of us make discoveries that we think are unique but in fact are common knowledge. I can remember as a young child making the discovery that if I filled the bath too full it overflowed when I got in - I had "displaced" the water. I was a little put out to learn that not only had some long-ago Greek already made the discovery but he'd taken it a step further with some mysteriously clever calculation or other. These days I'm happy to accept that if others are thinking along the same lines then maybe my ideas hold some water after all.

The EU and the single currency are in a woeful state at the moment. However we get out of it it's going to be messy. So, if there's a chance we're right about it being the wrong time for the EU to develop perhaps it would be a good idea for our illustrious leaders to rein in their ambition and work towards a loosening of ties in a considered and careful manner until we're in a situation we can all live with.

It's going to hurt one way or another, let's do it quiety and amicably or at least ensure we end up with a good solid basis on which to build a better arrangement - slowly!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The ties that bind us

The lovely, serene and beautiful aunt I mentioned as dying in a previous post has died. There was no blood link, no family link but she was still my aunt. Because neither of our families had much money when I was a child, my parents sent me and my brother to stay with my aunt and uncle for a couple of weeks holiday during the summer and they sent their daughter to stay with my parents. It was great! We lived in the London suburbs, it was green enough but my aunt and uncle had a small-holding on the coast. Auntie took us cockling down in the cove and afterwards I can remember standing at the kitchen sink helping her wash them before boiling and pickling them. Delicious! I picked up a small shell from the beach and gave it to her. She kept that shell for the rest of her life, in her purse, took it with her abroad on holidays, everywhere! It's still in her purse and her daughter is going to keep it, in her own purse from now on. A couple of years ago she laughingly reminded us of the chickens she kept. There were two enclosures and my bother and I were each given responsibility for one of the enclosures. It involved feeding the chickens and collecting the eggs. We were so excited about this we virtually followed the chickens round with our hands out waiting for them to lay an egg. It wasn't all fun, I can also remember crouching on the corner of their stairs crying my eyes out with home-sickness. Auntie just came and sat with her arms round me before taking me back to bed with the promise to ring my parents the next morning. Of course, everything was great and exciting again the next morning. Dad and uncle have been friends since they were youngsters and the families have remained close down the years. Holidays, family celebrations, even now we live hundreds of miles apart we stayed in touch. Mum rang auntie regularly during her final illness, Dad's ringing uncle regularly now she's gone. So there's no blood link but so what? Shared history, shared experiences, memories of a kind, smiling lady who brought pleasure and happiness to all who knew her. Those are good, strong links that will never break and why I claim her as my aunt. I love you auntie.

Saturday, 31 March 2012


Isn't it strange the way things happen?

Our family was supposed to be in Devon for a wedding this weekend. My father wasn't well enough for the journey so my brother stayed behind to look after him. My mother and I tried to get there but she had a fall before we left. Turns out, she'd had a small bleed on the brain, which had caused the fall, but we didn't know it at the time.

The bleed would have happened anyway but if she hadn't been so determined to get to the wedding she would probably have taken her normal dose of Warfarin and gone to bed, which could have led to further bleeding and then brain damage. Instead, she insisted she was ok so we set off.

We hit delays on the motorway, so we turned off and dropped down through Bath intending to pick up the A303. Because the traffic in Bath held us up we stopped at services before Frome for a snack and drink. This was when she took ill and realised she couldn't go on, and because we were where we were, we were within 15-20 minutes drive from Bath Hospital where most of her heart medical records are. Because we stopped at the hospital to have her checked over they spotted the bleed and she is now in the best place having the best care at the earliest possible time.

No matter what happens now the bride and groom have unknowingly given her the best possible chance of a good recovery. Their marriage is truly blessed.

Sometimes delays and obstacles happen for the best.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The good and the bad

Sometimes this world seems filled with the ignorant and the arrogant. Bullies who try to make the world their way either through manipulation or terrorism. People who are only out for themselves. Sometimes it seems as though these are the only people in this world. Sometimes it pays to remember that they aren't the only ones and that they aren't even a majority.

There are people in this world who grace us with their generosity of heart, impress us with their courage or just make us smile. Big gestures, small kindnesses.

There's the man who turned back to open and hold the door this morning when my hands were full; the greasy haired, skinny, leather-jacketed man I might have crossed the road to avoid if I'd come across him on a dark night but who smiled and spoke gently as I ducked under his arm.

The person who picked up a lost glove and put it on a nearby windowsill for the owner to come back and find.

The mand who looked after my grandfather as he was suffering a heart-attack, decades ago, and cared for him until the ambulance arrived.

The ladies who helped my grandmother the other year when she had a nasty fall in the street.

My cousin who was told she had a year to live; who turned down all treatment and spent the rest of her time l-i-v-i-n-g! Miss you girl!

The lady in my grandmother's sheltered accomodation who cooks for herself every day...and cooks enough to share around whoever most needs a meal that day. Whose grandchildren adore her and go with her to help weeding, planting or anything else someone may need done.

The stranger who smiles in the street.

The truck driver in the Canadian Rockies who stopped to help when I'd broken down on a hillside, in the middle of a forest, in the middle of no-where. Who said he'd report to the motorhome hire company when he got back to base and then make sure one of the other truckers heading back this way would let me know to reassure me it was done. Sure enough, an hour later, a truck slowed down on it's way past, the horn sounded and the driver frantically waved a thumbs-up as he went past. He checked up on me later through the CB radio with the tow-truck driver to make sure I'd been rescued ok.

My lovely, serene and beautiful aunt who has only a few months to live has also turned down painful and debilitating treatment in order to spend the time she has left enjoying the company of her husband, family and friends. No regrets she says, she's had a wonderful life and a wonderful marriage.

The couple who took a lonely traveller under their wing for a day, never having met her before.

The friend who listens.

Old people, young people, people near and people far away. People in my life now and people I used to know. There are far more kind, generous and friendly people, or just plain ok people than there are of the other kind. If that's so in my little world, why should it be otherwise elsewhere?

Look around you folks, can you see more good than bad? I hope so.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Benefit capping

We have families in this country with five or ten or more children but no wage earners, in massive houses in expensive areas living off benefits. The Government wants to crack down on this sort of thing by limiting benefits to £26,000 per annum. The church (Church of England) is opposing the move until such time as the Government agrees to leave child benefit out of the equation on the basis the benefit is for the children not the parents and they shouldn’t suffer.

This was the topic of conversation in the paper shop this morning. The local paper shop is a centre for deep philosophical discussion…and gossip…in many small towns around the country! Folk go in to buy their morning paper, spot the headlines and let off a head of steam before wandering out again. Sometimes, if the headlines hit a sore enough spot, the discussions spread over quite a few days.

The consensus of these bread-earners was that benefits should be limited even lower than £26,000, down to the minimum wage in fact. The thought was - why should they be working and keeping their family on far less than £26,000 and at the same time paying for others to have a better lifestyle and not work towards a penny of it? They most certainly didn’t have a burning urge to fund someone else’s outsize family!

I agree with them wholeheartedly. The point that children should not suffer for their parents is fair but how much of the money that goes in child support actually goes to the children? Are parents who are so irresponsible and selfish as to have that many children in the first place, the sort of people who can be trusted with the money needed to bring those children up? I know of what I speak, sadly I’ve seen situations with my own eyes where children are neglected while the parents smoke, drink, take drugs and completely fail to instil discipline or prepare them for a working life. The majority of these children grow to do the same themselves. The cycle needs to be broken.

Yes, I know not everyone claiming benefits is avoiding work, and no, I don’t want to prevent anyone who really needs help from getting it. But – the welfare system is intended as short-term help for people who find themselves in need through no fault of their own; it’s not meant to be a lifestyle choice, using children as money-cows.

Here’s a thought…why doesn’t the Government issue notice that with effect from 2013, child benefit will be limited to two children for any one mother and there will be no obligation on society to provide larger accommodation as well as capping benefits at £26,000? Anyone who has more than two children after that has only themselves to blame. Child benefit lasts up to age 16 so in 17 years time it will be down to a reasonable level and perhaps we’ll be on the way to a more responsible society?

Where does the church fit into this? Well, perhaps they could ease the burden by selling some of their huge assets and giving more practical help in supporting and re-educating the families so we can introduce the two-child limit now. Get out there and lead by example instead of sticking their noses into politics. It’s not universal but mostly the only time we hear from the church is for church-spire fundraisers and gathering clothing to send abroad. If they’re actually doing more then they’re being incredibly quiet about it.

Saturday, 7 January 2012


Yesterday, at work, I was on the phone dealing with a query from a client in Germany. His English was laboured but my German is a whole lot worse – around twenty words of German and twelve of those are the numbers one to twelve – so I wasn’t about to make any judgements. Once we’d finished with business it was clear he wanted to chat, well, we weren’t busy and keeping clients happy is part of my job so I was happy to listen. He’d been a really sweet man to deal with and that wasn’t about to change. He was in his mid sixties and I understood him to be retired from some sort of educational post involving politics.

He asked politely if it would be ok for him to broach a subject that until now has apparently been taboo between our countries. The gist of it was that he was aware the Germans had a bad reputation based on their history (which I assumed to mean in relation to the wars but I could have misunderstood), to which I felt obliged to mention they also had a good reputation as hard workers and brilliant technicians, especially in industry. Regardless of this, his point was that, putting our history aside, we are much more alike than many others of the European Community. It seemed important to him that at least one person over here should know that the general population in Germany did not agree with their politicians’ stance with regard to the European Union. He was perfectly clear in his meaning, using simple words; that the general populace in Germany was behind the UK in standing up to recent proposals put forward by Germany and France.

To be fair, so you know the basis for my thinking, I’m not in favour of the EU. I don’t object to the common market side of it, that’s not a dissimilar concept to the Commonwealth, just involving different countries. I just don’t see why we should want any deeper entanglements. I’ve never been an advocate of ‘bigger is better’; in my mind it simply makes things more unwieldy and more difficult to control. Also, Europe is a wonderfully complex and diverse mix of peoples, lifestyles, and beliefs. Those differences are what makes Europe such a richly interesting place, I would hate to see it reduced to a position where there would be no difference between one country and the next – how boring! However, because of these differences, there is a great disparity in attitude towards work ethics and collecting taxes, amongst many others. Besides, which country’s peoples, lifestyle and beliefs are the best? Who should we all mould ourselves around? No – best we evolve separately. If that evolution leads us into closer ties and eventual merging into one society then fine, but let it happen naturally, gradually, over a long period of time. So far, we’ve been hurried, harried, hustled, pushed and bullied into what we are today – and IT’S NOT WORKING! All countries of the EU have long histories and traditions. We don’t do well being told what to do. We all want to stamp our own personality on the union; we are not ready to be what France and Germany are trying to make us into.

I had rather thought my view was a small and solitary one but my conversation with the sweet German seems to show otherwise. I’ve spoken to others here over the last 24 hours and I’m not the only one to hold these views. The consensus (ok…it’s not a large consensus) seems to be that we’re not ready yet; we’re too entrenched in our outlooks due to our long histories and we need more experience working together under a ‘Common Market’ before we try to take any further steps.

The EU could work, eventually; the US is an example of different states, with different rules working together. So why should it work so much better for them than us? Well, history is a large part. There is just SO MUCH history in Europe between the different member countries, so many differences to put aside. The countries are entrenched in their own history and not naturally looking to associate themselves with others. The Americans were made up of the more adventurous individuals of the old countries, they were people who were looking for a different life and willing to work hard to achieve that. They WANTED to create something new, even if they didn’t know what it was they were aiming for while they were living through it. We in Europe, however, are not made of the same mind-set and until we WANT it, it’s not going to work. The Americans didn’t manage it overnight and even then, not without difficulties. If they, with their younger outlook and drive couldn’t manage it without problems, how can we, with our centuries of discord and differences manage it in a mere few years?

No, I say better to re-trench, work together as best we can until we become more used to each other and wait and see how matters develop. Who knows...perhaps the end result will be better for evolving rather than being forced?