Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Rescuers "Searched an area four times the size of Britain"

Now I am second to none in the admiration of out armed forces, and of the Special Forces in particular, so I am delighted that they have been able to extract some 300 oil workers from the Libyan desert.
But I do think that the Sunday Telegraph's account is just that bit OTT!
"The rescue teams, who flew out of bases in Malta, searched an area four times the size of Britain to locate workers". Why on earth didn't they simply ask the oil companies for their locations? I'm sure they know them to the nearest yard or so - that is the accuracy I get from my GPS and I'm sure no exploration or drilling team would be without one these days!
But I do like a good adventure story, and I suppose it makes it even more exciting!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Secret Foreign Office Plans

On Wednesday, I expressed by doubt as to whether the Foreign Office had any plans to evacuate British Citizens from the Gulf States in the event of any repetition of the events in Libya.
I was clearly wrong as a mole has sent me a summary of the plans in the form of this Memo of Understanding between the Foreign Office and the Admiralty.

"Following a review of the situation following the end of World War 2, it has been necessary to update our contingency plans in respect of the action to be taken to protect British interests in our Gulf State protectorates and adjoining countries.
"In the event of  a request for assistance from the British Authorities in any of the states concerned, the following action will be taken:
"Naval units of the Royal Navy's Indian Ocean fleet that are at sea will make their best speed to the affected area and will be supported by heavy units from the Royal Naval Bases at Aden and Trincomalee in Ceylon which should be able to sail at 24 hours notice.

"Units of the Mediterranean Fleet, presently in the eastern Mediterranean, will also make best speed for the Suez Canal and will take passage to replace vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Other units will sail from Malta Grand Harbour and Gibraltar towards the Eastern Mediterranean and should be prepared to transit the Suez Canal to provide additional support if necessary.
 "Ships of the Atlantic Fleet, based on the Falklands will be put on readiness for deployment if required"

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Joined-up Thinking

Governments just love to talk of  joined-up thinking, but I have yet to see any. Government Departments are solely concerned with their own activities and spending their budget on their own pet projects. They have no interest whatsoever in how their actions might affect another Department, or indeed anyone else, as long as they can do what they want.

The Daily Telegraph reports today that doctors are warning that "Bed-Blocking" in NHS hospitals has reached the state that if the trend continues over 100,000 of the available 170.000 NHS bed will be filled with people who are well enough to go into residential care. Last month alone, there were 4,600 "delayed discharges", meaning that a similar number of patients awaiting treatment had to wait that much longer. The reason seems quite clear; Local councils, who have the responsibility for providing residential nursing care have cut back their budgets. The coalition has in fact pledged extra funds to local authorities for such care to the extent of £2 billion over the next four years, but it is not "protected" and the councils are free to use it for any purpose within their remit and are doing so.
The result is that the councils are getting the budget (and no doubt using it to employ more diversity officers, racial/female equality enforcers and the like) whilst leaving the NHS with the cost of coping with these elderly patients. These councils simply don't care how their actions affect other arms of government, it's the old trade union "I'm all right, Jack" in a new disguise.

The local councils are clearly misusing funds provided for a specific purpose and this is effectively fraud against the government and hence the taxpayers, and should be of concern to all, young as well as old, as none of us can foresee what might happen in our sunset years.

Although there is no direct evidence, it seems  that the delay in getting British Citizens out of Libya was probably the result of similar budgetary squabbles, no doubt with the Foreign Office arguing that it was MoD's responsibility and vice versa. Probably the failed aircraft on the runway at Gatwick was as a result of them going to the cheapest tenderer (It wouldn't be MoD, they go to the dearest!). After all, the Foreign Office needs to guard its budget so that it can continue to fly officials, first class, to essential conferences in exotic locations.

Joined-up Thinking - You are joking!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Evacuation from Libya

I've just been watching William Hague on TV being interviewed about the evacuation of British Citizens from Libya and I was very far from impressed.
France, Russia, Ireland and a number of other countries have got their citizens out, but so far no British Citizen has got out other than by his own endeavours.
One plane stuck at Gatwick, others awaiting permission and worries about civilian crews. What's happened to the RAF? It still has trooping planes at Brize Norton. And even if they aren't available and civilian crews are unwilling to fly, I'm sure the government has the powers to requisition suitable aircraft and could find crews, RAF or otherwise.
Waiting permission? Well why haven't the aircraft  already been positioned in, say, Malta ready to go in at a moments notice? And as for permission, the French and Russians didn't bother and a couple of fighter aircraft would dissuade the Libyan air force from doing anything silly.  
Lots of the British are in remote desert camps. Where are our helicopters? Whoops, sorry, I forgot, the MoD still have them on order. Even so, I would have though many of these remote camps have some kind of airstrip, if only for light aircraft, but anything is better than nothing. What about desert convoys and dropping our paras as an escort. Isn't that why we have paras so we can put troops into such places. Somehow, if the government stopped worrying about what the Libyans think, it should be possible to organise evauation to Egypt.

The reason that I believe this country should have a strong military is so that we can, in the limit, defend our country, but  more importantly so that we can assist and protect British citizens abroad should the occasion arise, something the military, and particularly the Royal Navy with the Marines, used to do extremely well.

We have now shown how incompetent we are (other dictators please note) and have let down our citizens, not only in Libya, but elsewhere in the world where trouble could erupt. We have maybe thousands of ex-pats and holiday makers in the gulf states, I wonder if Hague and the Foreign Office incompetents have even considered what to do if the trouble spreads to these from Bahrain.

The Census (Part 2)

I don't want to participate in the census and consider it a total aste of money as the information being demanded is already in the possession of the authorities (as I outlined yesterday).
However, unlike many other questionnaires, I am legally compelled to complete this one as I have no wish to incur a fine.

It seems that there is no point in going away for the day/night in question as they insist on knowing the detail of those normally resident in the house, so I am limited to my other options of being bloody minded, misunderstanding the questions and using illegible handwriting (the latter not being difficult these days).

Without having seen the form and the questions (I was hoping for a sample on the web) it is difficult to be specific and one problem is that the form consists mainly of tick boxes. However these do give some scope for mischief. Although they normally specify a black ball pen as the forms are computer read, I will use my trusty broad nibbed fountain pen with pale blue ink and ensure that there are plenty of alterations and blots. That should put the computer in its place. It seems unlikely that they would prosecute me for failing to note the ball pen requirement, particularly as I'm getting senile and deaf when I receive unwanted callers.

Then we get to the actual questions:
How many bedrooms? There are two rooms with beds in so that is the answer, although an estate agent would probably say there were four.
Is there a conservatory? No (its just been re-designated as a summer house as it's only used during the summer months).
Is there a garage? As a garage is a building which houses the car the answer must be no. It is a workshop as is apparent from the tools, work benches, etc.
They can't claim I lied, indeed I was doing my very best to be accurate.

Next comes the matter of Mrs EP. I can hardly claim that I don't know her age, etc., but I am wondering if I can claim that the information was provided in confidence and that under the data protection act I am not allowed to divulge it to a third party. Perhaps they will then provide her with her own form which should be interesting, as I have never known her to fill in a form correctly without assistance, a statement with which she would fully agree, and something I find strange for someone of her intelligence.

Our 2 year old grandson stays overnight with us periodically, maybe I'll be able to find some excuse for including him as well! (We need to maximise the population to help the anti-immigration lobby and a bit of double counting will help)
And the finally, I've just discovered from the 1911 census that my grandfather was a Swiss national, so I can declare my ethnic origin as Anglo-Swiss. But I'll remain strictly English for the purpose of this blog.

Any other thoughts are welcome.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Census

Quite a number of blogs have commented on the pointlessness of the forthcoming census and the huge waste of money involved. The 2001 census was a abject failure, with an estimated million people having been omitted, and, in spite of the threats being issued by the authorities, there is good reason to believe that next month's will be even worse.
What I object to is the so-called reasons for holding the census.
Back in 1811 when the first census was held (yes, 1811, not 1841 as many people believe), it was a mere count of males, females and children, usually carried out by the local vicar, and there was probably very good reasons for the government wanting to have some idea as to the country's population bearing in mind that there was no birth or death registration and no centralised information on even relatively basic facts. By 1851, it had become more formal and included names, ages, sex, marital status, occupation and place of birth.
But in this day and age, the government already has all this information, and much more; We have to register births and deaths, get NHS and National Insurance numbers, fill in the electoral register, fill in tax forms, pay council tax, get passports and driving licences. Our children in the main attend state schools where more questions are asked and their finger prints taken. When we want any government service, the first question asked usually concerns one's ethnicity, often followed by one's sexual orientation and whether one has any disability. The councils have full details of most properties by virtue of the planning process, so it is hard to think of anything that officialdom does not already know about us.
The French have shown more sense; they have accepted that the information that they were going to demand in their next census is already in the possession of the various government departments where it is actually needed. Add to this the extreme reluctance of the French to tell the truth to any government official, they decided that the whole thing was a waste of money.
The reasons given for continuing with the census here don't bear logical examination and I will comment on just a couple
"It allows us to plan for the future, such as the need for schools and hospitals"
But they have almost five years from the time a child is born to when it goes to school, and if the immigration staff did their job properly we would know exactly how many school places will be needed.
"It will be useful in 100 years for genealogists"
Well our hobby is genealogy, and I certainly wouldn't advocate the government spending this amount of money to help future genealogists, particularly as I suspect most of the above records will become available on-line for research by then.
We are cutting the country's defence because it costs too much and wasting an estimated £500 million on this stupid exercise. The only thing that becomes apparent is the seeming incompetence of Big Brother to draw together information from the various sources that I listed into a single data base, for which I suppose we should all give heartfelt thanks.

Tomorrow (hopefully) "How should we complete our census form?"

Monday, 21 February 2011


It is interesting to watch what Obama is doing with regards to Libya.
As reported in the "Gates of Vienna", America, under Obama, is
"doing what it does best: “expressing concern”, “calling for restraint on both sides”, “urging the Libyan government not to react with violence”, etc. If none of these stern measures has the desired effect, then it will “continue to monitor the situation closely”.
AGI News reports:
"(AGI) Washington - Barack Obama is evaluating "appropriate action" vis-a-vis Libya. The announcement was made by a US Administration source that asked the regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi to not resort to the use of force against anti-Government protesters. "We will ask the Libyan Government for clarifications. We will continue to raise the need to avoid resorting to violence against peaceful protesters and call for the respect of universal human rights", the source explained. . .
All this inaction gives credence to those who claim that Obama is a Muslim at heart, and there is some logic in their arguments.
Firstly there is no doubt his father was a Muslim, and Islam regards children of Muslims to also be Muslims (Indeed this is a similar position to that adopted by the Roman Catholic Church until comparatively recently)
However, unlike the Catholic Church, it is a basic part of Islamic doctrine is that once a Muslim, always a Muslim, and you cannot opt out. Anyone who does, according to their beliefs should be killed.
Now there are many extremist Islamic clerics who are calling for al sorts of violent actions against the west and against various individuals in the west. Strangely I cannot recall any of them calling for Obama's death, notwithstanding the fact that he is the leader of the country that is their main enemy, and that in their eyes he has deserted Islam.

But then, perhaps he hasn't

I do love a good conspiracy theory!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Bill of Rights.

The BBC reports that the government has announced that the commission set up to examine a possible British Bill of Rights will be co-chaired by two staunch Europhiles, Ken Clarke and Nick Clegg.

Can't see that anything will change!

Halal Meat

I find this UP Pompeii blog very disturbing.
It seems that an ever increasing amount of our meat is now Halal; indeed none of the supermarkets sell  any lamb which is not halal. (Asda declined to comment).
Apart from the fact that many Christians might find it unacceptable for their food to have been subjected to Islamic ritual, even more of us find this barbaric way of killing animals to be totally unacceptable.
Yet, very little has been said in the media about this.
Even more disturbing is that the animal charities have, as far as I am aware, said absolutely nothing. The RSPCA was quite prepared to prosecute a man who drowned a squirrel on the basis that it was cruel and not instantaneous, whilst saying zilch about ritual slaughter (no more donations as far as I am concerned).
And what about the Animal Rights enthusiasts? They seem happy to protest about the killing of a relatively small number of animals in laboratories, but say nothing about the cruelty of this £1 Trillion per annum ritual slaughter industry.
Its time that the foods standards organisation insisted, as a minimum, that Halal food is labelled as such.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Should I buy a daily newspaper?

Ever since I started work, I have always bought a daily newspaper. My parents took the Daily Express, which in those days was probably read by those who would read the Daily Mail these days. I started to take the Telegraph, mainly because, at the time, it was probably the best newspaper for jobs in my particular field, and indeed, I think that I secured all my jobs through their advertisements. So even when I became settled in a particular job, I continued to take it, probably more from habit than anything else. For the past few years, I have had a subscription, which offered the paper at roughly half price, but now, with it due for renewal, I am wondering whether I should continue.
During the past year I have realised that my daily paper contains less and less real news. The Telegraph, which used to pride itself in its foreign news coverage now has very little. We are in Europe (whether we like it or not), but where is the European news? Well there is a bit from Italy at the moment, but only because of the antics of Silvio Berlusconi, which whilst being interesting, are hardly representative of the real Italian news. What's happening in Australia - something must be taking place, but since the Queensland floods, I haven't seen a mention. As for New Zealand (or Canada), do they still exist?
So I am now finding that of a weekday, I am probably interested in probably less than a third of the paper. The leading articles no longer exhibit the quality they once did, and the only other part that I find worth reading are the financial pages.
Weekends, the situation is far worse with the largely unread (advertising) supplements.
Property (beyond my class), motoring (marginal interest), travel (exotic places and more adverts), Cruise Style (the same), gardening (Mrs EP might glance at it), "Review" (the TV & Radio listings are useful), Money (the same advice each week, better advice generally available on the web) and "Weekend" (the odd bit of interest). There is also a glossy magazine both on Saturday and Sunday, again mainly advertising, and certainty not items that I would buy if sold separately. I haven't mentioned sport, I'm not particularly interested in sport, but I accept that it would be unreasonable for a newspaper not to cover the subject in some detail; I just wish that there was more of other news.

The only advantage of the newspaper, is that it provides an incentive for me to go for my daily walk, and as I've paid a subscription, I'm determined to get my money's worth. Will I go for a walk without that incentive? Who knows, no doubt time will tell!
Meanwhile, I've taken to reading the news on my laptop at breakfast along with quite a few blogs, and I have a feeling that this is the future. Perhaps I can persuade Mrs EP that I should use to saving in the subscription to pay towards one of these latest tablet PCs, enabling me to read the news from the internet whilst sitting in the comfort of my armchair. I'll probably get away with it, provided that I go and buy the daily Mail on Saturday for its excellent TV supplement!

Monday, 14 February 2011

Local Government Pay

A Daily Telegraph front page headline today reads:
"220 town hall bosses earning more than Cameron"

I strongly disagree. No town hall boss earns more than Cameron, or indeed any recent Prime Minister (including Brown). They may be paid more, but that is an entirely different thing!

And I bet no-one looks at their expenses like they now look at those of our MPs.

In Praise of our GPs' receptionists

Reports indicate that GPs are being encouraged to dispense with receptionists and start using a NHS call-centre, basically in the belief that it will save money. Letters in some newspapers seem to indicate that the public will support this mainly on the basis that it is always difficult to get through to the local surgery, and when they do, there are never any appointments left. Do they think it will be any better if they have to use a call-centre; if they do, in my view, they definitely need to see a doctor!

Now I won't be as foolish as to claim that the ladies at our surgery are the best, but I do think it would be hard for them to be much better. Yes, it is sometimes hard to get through on the phone, yes, they are sometimes harassed and perhaps a bit stroppy when you call, but I suspect, from what I've seen, some of the patients are far worse.

But they do far more than just make appointments; most of them know the regular patients and which doctor they see before they've even looked at the computer. They know other needs, like the fact that Mrs Smith is disabled and can't get up the stairs to Dr Jones' normal consulting room, and so ensure that one of the ground floor rooms is available. They know my wife needs a blood test every month and prefers a particular nurse and they make the arrangement accordingly. They know the hypochondriacs, and more importantly the opposite, as in the case of a near neighbour who rang up for an appointment not having seen a doctor for more than five years. Which ever one took the call when he rang and asked for "a reasonably urgent appointment" realised that someone who never visits the surgery and makes that type of request, genuinely needs a doctor. (He did, and was admitted to hospital).
When I popped in the other day to get the results of a blood test, neither of us knew what the results meant, but rather than having to make an appointment with the doctor, our receptionist suggested that the nurse might be able to help if I would wait a minute whist she finished with her present patient. She did help, and an unnecessary appointment with the doctor was avoided.
Is a call-centre going to be able to do all these things? Will a call-centre be able to go and chase away delivery lorries & vans parked across the car park entrance? Will a call-centre be able to take a wad of prescriptions along to the pharmasists down the street or indeed deal with requests for repeat prescriptions?
We all know the answer.
One improvement which could be made:
A friend who uses another local surgery can make appointments on-line, but not order repeat prescriptions. At our surgery, I can order repeat prescriptions, but not make appointments! Perhaps they should have a chat with each other.
So "Long live our surgery's receptionists".

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Egypt - Hopefully Change for the Better.

I have always had an interest in Egypt. As a child I was fascinated by the pyramids and the postage stamps showing pictures of a postman on a camel. Later, with a growing interest in engineering, I was interested in the construction of the Suez Canal.
However for me, the most important event is the fact that it was a very well known Egyptian heart surgeon who saved my younger daughter's life as a baby getting on for forty years ago. Only recently, since I retired, have I been able to visit the country, something I enjoyed very much in spite of the overpowering heat.
On our most recent visit, last autumn, we went up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan on a river boat (or to an engineer, a modern hotel on a barge). Our Egyptologist guide, a university lecturer, had qualified in the UK and was what I would call a modern Muslim. He was happy to talk about our respective religions and was far from happy about the extremists who were trying to make Islam something that it wasn't. He considered that we'd been very foolish to let Muslims get away with demands for so many privileges in Britain. When he was a student here, he saw no problem in going into a pub, even buying a friend a beer, provided he could have something non-alcoholic.
As we travelled around, we didn't notice any particular western hostility. I used a video camera without any problems, and on one occasion was filming in a street and stopped for fear of problems because a crowd of Muslim schoolgirls were getting off a bus. To the contrary, they all waved at the tourists and wanted to be in the videos. You couldn't do that in England these days!
So I wish the country well. I have high hopes of the army which is modelled on British lines (at one time their officers were mainly Sandhurst trained) and I believe it when they say that they will restore civilian government in due course. Far better this, and hopefully a peaceful transition, that trying to do it now when there are no political parties and the only organised group apart from the government party is the Muslim Brotherhood which seeks an Islamic state.
Hopefully the army might even produce an Egyptian  Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who will firmly found a secular state as in Turkey.

EDL comes to town

This blog is worth reading.

Inspector Gadget contrasts the difference (with after the event pictures) between the "peaceful" student demonstration in London and the "we must stop these racist tugs" EDL (English Defence League) demonstration in Luton last weekend.
I know which I'd rather have in town!

Incidentally, I was surprised to read that the town centre in Luton is still called St Georges Square and that it hasn't been changed in the interests of "racial harmony"

Its time the BBC got an atlas!

Nice to learn that Cork is in Northern Ireland!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood

The BBC web site lists a number of bullet points about the Muslim Brotherhood, three of which are that it:
  • Rejects use of violence and supports democratic principles
  • Wants to create a state governed by Islamic law
  • Slogan: "Islam is the Solution"
Can someone explain how the support of "democratic principles" can be reconciled with "a state governed by Islamic law"?

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Big Society

In today's Daily Telegraph, Peter Osborne, their chief political commentator, writes about David Cameron's "Big Society" and concludes that if it collapses, so will David Cameron.
Personally, I feel the name "Big Society" actually puts most people off. It smacks of "Big Brother", and I find it difficult to understand why someone like David Cameron, with his experience in PR, should have come up with this name for his concept. Indeed the name seems totally at odds with what I understand he is trying to achieve.
What most of us want is the exact opposite, The Small Society! We want local decisions to be made locally. We want the Parish Council, or possibly the District Council, to make the decision as to whether Tescbury can build a local supermarket, not some civil servant in Whitehall. The only time Whitehall should become involved is when it is a matter of national interest involving a large number of councils,  such as the new (and largely unwanted) high speed railway to the Midlands.
But the name Big Society gives the exact opposite impression - the little man won't have a say because the Big Society needs something different and its needs are paramount.
In any case, Big Government has rarely ever given up any powers voluntarily, which is why the "one in, one out" proposal for regulations has totally failed. I remember all the arguments against the abolition of food rationing after the war - it would be a disaster; there would be massive shortages and only the rich would be able to eat as prices rose in a free market - I remember my parents being worried. But what happened? Shortages for maybe a couple of weeks and then a surplus. The same with the abolition of Exchange Control - the country will go bankrupt if people are allowed to take their own money and spend it abroad!
We need a "Small Society" and the removal of huge swathes of regulation and we are going to get a "Big Society" with even more regulation.
I hope Cameron does fail, and if, as Peter Osborn believes, this means that he gets thrown out, so much the better.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

For your Health and Safety!

I do like this, as reported in "A Tangled Web"!

In response to Obamacare, which requires all US Citizens, to purchase appropriate Health Insurance, in the interests of their health, five South Dakota lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require any adult 21 or older to buy a firearm “sufficient to provide for their ordinary self-defense”, presumably in the interests of their safety.

This is Health and Safety at its best!