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?"

Friday, 31 December 2010

The Tay Bridge Disaster and Afghanistan

You might ask what is the connection between an event that took place 131 years ago and Afghanistan.
Following Subrosa's blog on the subject of the collapse of the Tay Bridge, I decided to re-read my copy of John Prebble's book, "The High Girders".
One little paragraph caught my eye;
"The news went across Britain by the electric telegraph. In the later editions, all daily  newspapers replaced their lead stories. News of the storming of Sherpur, of the struggle about Kabul, of the anxiety felt for General Roberts' forces in Afghanistan gave way before the Tay Bridge disaster."

Engineering design, materials and standards have changed enormously in the 131 years, but seemingly not the military or political situation in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

PC speak

"Our community of 212,000 is enriched by its mix of cultures and backgrounds"
So sayeth the Chief Executive of Luton Borough Council in a letter in today's Telegraph.
For "enriched" read "taken-over"!

I spent part of my childhood living in the outskirts of Luton and would certainly not think of returning however enriched it now is.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Business Bribary

Can someone please explain the difference between
  1. A UK Company paying a huge sum to a foreign company acting as their agent in that country in order to secure a large contract and thus increase their business and secure jobs in the UK
  2. A UK Company paying a huge sum to a Local Council to secure planning permission and thus increase their business and secure jobs in the UK
In the first instance, a typical example is British Aerospace which has been hounded by the serious fraud office on allegations that their actions amount to bribery. Although the reason why we should be concerned about bribery in another country where it is a way of life, simply escapes me.

In the second instance, Tesco  is to build a state-of-the-art police station in West Bromwich in order to secure planning permission for their biggest store to date (today's Sunday Mail),

Can anyone please explain why the first example constitutes bribery and the second does not. Do the Police overlook the matter because they are the beneficiaries?

I wonder who would investigate if some person or organisation made a formal complaint about possible bribery?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Vince Cable Why hasn't he been fired?

Reading about what Vince Cable has said, it is clear to me that he should have been instantly fired from the Cabinet. No ifs or buts, just given the boot.
He was the Business Secretary and was to have been responsible for arbitrating on issues involving Murdoch and BSkyB. He made an astounding attack on Murdoch to some of his presumed constituents which clearly made it obvious that Murdoch wouldn't get a fair hearing. This was nothing to do with his satisfaction or dissatisfaction as to the actions of the coalition, it was plain simple stupidity and shows that he is totally unfit for high office.
He is now, as Simon Heffer puts it in today's Daily Telegraph, the "Certain Bits of Business Only Secretary".
Why was he let off so leniently as compared with Lord Young, a life long Tory, who made a few remarks which, to many, didn't seem too unreasonable? He wasn't even in the cabinet but merely an unpaid advisor, but was instantly fired and treated like a pariah.
I would strongly recommend reading Simon Heffer's article

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Snow Clearance - Blame the Global Warming Experts for the Chaos

Not so many years ago, a well know Professor (presumably of Global Warming) announced that children born in Britain from then on would be extremely unlikely ever to see snow in their gardens again. Even if you din't see this ridiculous claim, no-one can be unaware that for at least the past decade, all the Government experts and advisers have predicted global warming , and all around the world, wherever you have looked, somebody is claiming that a particular event has been caused by global warming.

It is these people who are responsible for the lack of snow clearance - if the experts say snow is a thing of the past, why invest capital in clearance facilities?

A local County Councillor told me that they hadn't made any significant investment in snow clearance equipment for quite a few years simply because all the experts suggested that global warming was on the increase. As my councillor friend remarked, "Can you imagine what our electorate would think if we put a significant sum into our budget for snow clearance equipment, at a time when we are being forced to reduce other services. "Any local politician would be mad to suggest such a thing, and we'd lose votes to the Greens if we dare even suggest it".

For once I believe that he has a perfectly valid point of view (and its not often I can say that about politicians). As a politician, you are duty bound to listen to the relevant experts on such matters as well as the electorate, and all would seem to have been in accord for the last few years, "It would be a criminal waste of money to invest in snow-ploughs and the like" is the common viewpoint.
As mentioned elsewhere in the media, most county councils with miles of country roads have also ceased to pay retainers to farmers and other small contractors to keep the necessary equipment available on the basis that it is now unnecessary.

I'm simply surprised that more organisations haven't used what I consider to be a perfectly valid excuse. The railway infrastructure is government owned and our major roads are the responsibility of the Highways Agency - the Treasury surely wouldn't allocate them funds for new equipment in view of the advice given by the experts; just think of what the media would have been saying about waste!
And of course the shareholders in the privatised airports would have been unlikely to think much of the idea if it affected their dividends! Remember, Heathrow is now owned by the Spanish; what do they know about snow?

So, to me, it's very clear who is to blame for the current dire situation, it is all those experts who have been predicting global warming. You can only blame our those responsible in government, councils, railways and airports for having been gullible enough to believe them.


Sunday, 19 December 2010


Do you get the impression that the BBC doesn't understand negative numbers?

On Monday the minimum is greater than the maximum.
Pergaps they should have stuck with Fahrenheit!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

MPs' Expenses

MPs are at it again, claiming that the rules governing expenses are too onerous and that the rules requiring them to only have small apartments, rather than the previous lavish mansions that they had under the old regime, is "anti-family and not acceptable".
There is a simple solution to the problem:
Civil Servants on Grades 6 or 7 earn approximately the same salary as that received by MPs. Why not simply use the same rules and expense scales that would be applied to these civil servants in the event that they are posted away from home on detached duties?
After all, they are the people who effectively determine the Civil Service pay scales and expenses regime, so surely "What's good for the goose is good for the gander".

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Hospitals face fines for mixed sex wards

"Hospitals face fines for mixed sex wards" is a front age headline in today's Daily Telegraph.
What on earth is the logic in doing this?
The hospitals which still have mixed sex wards claim that the reason is that they are short of money to make the necessary changes, and that they need to spend  what they have in other more important areas. If this is so, fining the hospitals won't hurry things along but simply cause even more problems, so it would seem that a patient will suffer twice  - in having to be in  a mixed sex ward and then finding possibly that the necessary treatment is delayed for lack of money.
One thing that is a dead certainty is that any shortfall won't come out of the administration budget - indeed, it could increase due to the extra problems involved in finding areas to cut to pay the fine!

If any fine is to be imposed, it should be imposed on the individual hospital administrators and senior administrative staff when it would have some meaning, otherwise it is a totally pointless exercise which will disadvantage patients still further.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Our Students are Mugs

Our students have been taken for a ride - Not by the government but by their incompetent leadership.  Various left wing groups, anarchists, anti-wars groups and a whole rag bag of layabouts and vandals who just like to smash things up have taken them for a ride.
All these groups have managed to cause mayhem without themselves being directly involved causing the public to blame it all on students, who will now have far less public sympathy.

Most of these groups couldn't care less about further education, all they want is an excuse to further their own ends, preferably in disguise. If students believe that the Socialist Worker's Party was there to support them, they are more stupid than I thought.

No doubt student leaders were pleased, perhaps flattered, when other groups offered to"support" them and provided help; they clearly haven't lived long enough to learn that there is no such thing as a "free lunch".

When the Countryside Alliance protest that took place in London back in 2002 they steadfastly refused any offers of "help" or "support" from other groups although a few did manage to muscle in on the protest.  An estimated 400,000 people took part in that demonstration and there were few problems.   Indeed, that was the only occasion that I have ever seen when I believe that the Police could be accused of violence rather than the demonstrators.

Our students have a lot to learn, and much of it won't be taught in the lecture room. Meanwhile, if their leaders have any sense, they will embark on a sensible PR campaign if they wish to restore some standing with the general public

Friday, 10 December 2010

Why so many students?

When I look at job advertisements (out of curiosity!), I notice that these days employers are demanding degrees for jobs which, in my young days, they would have merely asked for a school leaving certificate or possibly 3-4 "A" levels. Why? The jobs in question are basically the same as they were then, and one might, in fact, argue that they are easier these days due to the advent of computers and calculators. Why on earth do employers now want degrees for the same jobs?
One answer is that with so many people applying for some jobs it an easy way to sort out the candidates, but this is contrary to (what I understood to be) normal employment practices where one would try to avoid employing staff who were over-qualified for the job.
The only conclusion that I have reached is that today's equivalent of the school leaving certificate, several "good" "A" levels, is just not worth the paper it is printed on. All subjects in the old school leaving certificate had to be taken at the same time, there were no modules which you could take and then forget, and if you failed (or got an insufficient grade) in one subject, you had to re-sit the lot. Now, given time, it is virtually impossible not to pass a good selection of subjects.
Thus, there is no doubt in my mind that the only reason employers now ask for degrees is because they feel that standards have fallen so much that that a first degree is now equivalent to the School Leaving Certificate of my days.

This explains why education costs have risen so much, and why we have so many students. It is now taking three years longer to reach an acceptable standard of education for "ordinary" jobs, and of course for jobs that once required a first degree, a master's is now essential.

We need to restore real standards in all our schools; we need to make sure that instead of being 25th in the league table for reading ability we are in the top five. We need to take similar action with maths, where we are currently 30th and science where we are 16th. If we were to manage this, probably only half the present numbers of students would need, or want to go to university. Our poor lower schools are to blame for this university fees situation along with constant left wing politically correct interference and a total lack of discipline, and now those students who would like to better themselves are feeling the pain.

With good standards at eighteen, possibly only half the present numbers of school leavers would want (or need) to go to university, overall costs would fall, and free tuition could be restored at a smaller number of highly respected world beating universities

As a footnote, until yesterday's demonstrations, I had some sympathy for the protesting students as I felt that the education system had let them down by not providing adequate education at secondary level; now I am starting to wonder whether they were the ones responsible for the disruption and poor behaviour in our schools which is a significant cause of this poor education.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Educational Standards

The OECD has tested the educational standards of 15 year olds in a number of developing countries, and Britain has performed abysmally.
We are 25th in the list as far as reading is concerned, with Hong Kong and Shanghai coming near the top and Japan in eighth position. When you consider the nature of their alphabet (if that's what you call it) and the complexity of their script, it becomes quite obvious that something is badly wrong in this country.
Our maths is even worse, with Britain in 30th position, and science not much better with us in 16th position.
If one looks at the English speaking Commonwealth nations, Canada, New Zealand & Australia, all perform far, far better than we do, and when you look at the detail, you find they spend far less per head.
Where have we gone wrong? Why are our standards in the "Three R's" far worse than they were 100 years ago? My grandmother, born in 1862 was one of nine children in a working class family. She went to the "National School" which she left at an age of 12 and never had any further formal education, working in hotels and later running a boarding house. But she had beautiful handwriting (I've still got some of her letters) and her style of writing and her command of the English language was far better than most people in this country could manage these days. When I knew her, she had a wide range of the Classics on her bookshelf and conscientiously visited the public library each week to get some fresh books (there was no TV!).
So why are 20% of our children at the age of 15 being described as "functionally illiterate", particularly as we are now spending more on their education than ever before?
There is no doubt in my mind that the teachers are largely to blame. They have embraced all kinds of unproven trendy ideas, insisted on (unnecessary) high levels of education for teachers in junior schools, and connived in the lack of discipline in the class.
I believe that we have badly let down all our children by failing to do the right thing.
Who needs a degree to teach a child to read or write? My wife taught both of our girls to read long before they went to school , and then was castigated for having done so!
In my grandmother's day, teachers were apprenticed and learnt to teach "on the job" with a more experienced teacher.Why on earth do we consider it necessary to send them to training college?
It's time we got back to first principles, concentrated on the basics, forgot computers and trendy modern ideas and simply concentrated on the core objective of ensuring that our children can read and write.
Until children can read and write fluently, they cannot sensibly study any other subject or even get a worthwhile job. Of course they will leave school knowing about all the fashionable things like global warming, human rights, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and how to sue for damages, but will know absolutely nothing of use in the real world except how to claim benefits.
The next generation of children have been badly let down by theteaching establishment.