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?"

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Thoughts on 2012

When I think about the year ahead, I fell terribly pessimistic.
In particular, on the political front, there seems few grounds for optimism with a total lack of real leadership anywhere in the western world, and reading John Redwood's Diary this morning simply confirmed my view.  He argues that politics, both here and in the US has been living through a long period of followership with policy being determined by focus groups and polls which are frequently both volatile and contradictory.
As John says,
Today we need leadership. The west needs leaders who will explain that we have to change our ways. The west is too debt soaked. The public sector needs to be transformed, to do what it needs to do for less, and to confine its actions to the those most needed. The Euro area needs to settle its intentions quickly – do they want to pay the massive bills needed to complete their union? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and wiser to cut the membership down now, before more economic damage is done?
Then I went on to read the Mail. Normally I take much of what it says with a large pinch of salt, but today, Dominic Sandbrook's comparison with what happened 80 years ago, in the thirties, rang only too true.
After the Wall Street Crash in 1929 — just as after the banking crisis of 2008 — some observers even thought that the worst was over.
But in the summer of 1931, a wave of banking panics swept across central Europe. As the German and Austrian financial houses tottered, Britain’s Labour government came under fierce market pressure to slash spending and cut benefits.
Isn't exactly the same happening now? The Euro crisis is spreading amongst all the countries involved and many informed observers believe that it will break up within the next year causing their banks to have similar problems to those of 1931.
There was weak government in this country under a coalition led by Ramsay MacDonald, and with the politicians seemingly unable to be able do do anything about the rising unemployment, many people lost faith in parliamentary democracy and looked towards Oswald Mosley's Union of British Fascists. In the United States, there were similar problems and President Herbert Hoover seemed impotent to deal with them, just as Obama is today.
One can draw numerous other parallels with the thirties, from the growing power of China (then it was Japan) to the way the dictators of the EU are trying to consolidate their power by appointing non-elected leaders in Greece and Italy.

Here in Britain we have, in my view, a similar weak coalition government to that of the thirties which is quite willing to appease the EU just as Chamberlain appeased Hitler. We are embarking on a similar pattern of disarmament (aka Defence cuts) and failing to stimulate growth. The coalition is constantly squabbling rather than looking for solutions and offers little in the way of real hope for the future.

There is however one big difference between now and the thirties. At that time both Britain and the US had potential future leaders standing in the wings. We had Churchill and the US had Roosevelt, neither of whom were universally liked. But when it came to the crunch, both were accepted as leaders capable of steering their countries to better times.  At this time I can see no such potential leaders in either of our countries.

As I quoted once before, Otto von Bismark, the German statesman said
“Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others.”
I just wish our politicians would have a look at the thirties and see what lessons they might learn from the events of 80 years ago.

So with these rather pessimistic thoughts, we move into the New Year.

Happy New Year!

Monday, 26 December 2011

My Proposed New-Year Message to the Archbishop of Canterbury

I have read or listened to a number of speeches and sermons lately and, as a Christian, I have found those from outside the Church of England to be more relavent that those from within. Having heard a recording of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas sermon, I am far from impressed and feel that, as a change from my writing to politicians from time to time, I should perhaps turn some attention to our church leaders and have been thinking of writing to him along the following lines:
In your Christmas Sermon at Canterbury, you stated that
The most pressing question we now face, we might well say, is who and where we are as a society, Bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost.
I can broadly agree with that statement, but then you went on to compare this summer’s rioters with greedy bankers, and I found it difficult to comprehend exactly what point you were trying to make. Such people represent just a small fraction of one percent of our population, and are, in my view, largely irrelevant when discussing the nation’s problems.

I personally believe that you, and indeed many of our senior Bishops and Clergy are totally out of touch with the reality of what is happening in this country, and I would, with respect, like to draw your attention to the King James Bible, Matthew 7 verse 3.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beame that is in thine own eye

This, I believe, is the crux of the issue. Your assertion that ‘Bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost.’ applies as much, if not more, to the leadership of our Christian Church in this country as elsewhere in our daily lives. Whilst you and your bishops are prepared to address various political issues, generally from a left-wing perspective, you have all singularly failed to address the matter of attacks on the Church and its adherents in this country by what I would describe as a combination of militant atheists and politically correct officialdom.

At a basic level we have Christians being hounded by their employers for wearing or displaying a crucifix; we have an employee being told not to wear a tie with the “fish” symbol as it "would be wrong to show his religious affiliation”, whilst a fellow worker was permitted to wear a turban, which presumably does not! We have a nurse being reprimanded for being willing to offer a prayer on behalf of a patient, and of course the positions of “Sister” in hospitals no longer exist, presumably because of the religious connotations derived from the old Orders of Nursing Nuns. We have a local Council being challenged in court over the centuries old practice of saying prayers prior to a meeting whilst others gave up without a fight.
At a more political level, we have the various issues relating to homosexuality; firstly there was the issue of the adoption of children by homosexual couples and now the matter of homosexual “marriage” (an oxymoron if ever there was one). I cannot recall any senior cleric addressing either issue, presumably for fear of being considered to be politically incorrect. Nor has the Church spoken out about the large number of unmarried heterosexual couples living together and raising what are, in Christian terms, illegitimate children.

In the past, such matters would not only have drawn strong condemnation from the hierarchy of the Church, they would have been addressed from virtually every pulpit in the country as they would have been seen as an attack on the Church and its beliefs. Now they seem to be ignored, with the majority of our clergy seeming unwilling to speak out on matters of real concern to their flocks. It is for these reasons, amongst others, that I believe it is the Church that has "broken the bonds and lost the trust" of many Christians, rather than the reverse.

I would suggest that it is time that the Church returned to what, in modern parlance would be described as its “core business”, that of preaching and teaching Christianity with the objectives of inspiring existing Christians, attracting converts to Christianity and defending our religion and its members against attack. To my mind this is not being done, and I therefore believe that you and your fellow bishops are failing in your duties.

Finally, I would commend to you two recent speeches
Firstly the Christmas address by Her Majesty the Queen, Supreme Governor of the Church of England, in which Her Majesty seems to see a far different world than the one seen by yourself, and which I believe to be the more realistic of the two, and
Secondly that given by our Prime Minister at Oxford a few days previously in which he said, amongst other things, that
 “…… we are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so”.
Unusually for a politician, he is prepared to say so, whilst many of our bishops seemingly are not!
Perhaps a little more polish is required, but in broad terms is summarises how I feel about the Church of England at this time.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Eve

I've just returned home from ringing our church bells for the midnight service. We managed to muster eight ringers and produced some reasonable ringing. When the ringers arrived to ring about 40 minutes before the service, and the Parish Church was already half full. I didn't stay for the service, but when I left, the church was packed to overflowing.
I'm ringing tomorrow, so I need to leave home just after 9 o'clock to ring for the main 10 o'clock service. Then a quick visit to my younger daughter, before she leaves to go to her in-laws for lunch and then to our elder daughter for our Christmas Lunch.
It's all go!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Iraq and Afghanistan - Libya and Egypt

Immediately the "peace keeping" troops left Iran, sectarian war broke out. Clearly this was totally unexpected by our western politicians, but to anyone who is familiar with the history of the area, it was entirely predictable. There has never ever been peace in the Arab world except where there was a strong man in control, and for all that has been said about Saddam, far more Iraqi lives appear to have been lost since he was deposed than during his tyrannical rule. Indeed the only peaceful area of Iraq is that inhabited by the Kurds, who would like to form their own independent country, but have been prevented from doing so by the West, largely at the behest of Turkey.

So moving on to Afghanistan, is there anyone who doesn't believe that exactly the same will happen there the day after the troops pull out? Why do we continue to allow our soldiers to be killed for a clearly unrealisable goal? Surely there can't be any of our politicians who are stupid enough to believe that Afghanistan will settle down to be a peaceful country with democratic rule?

I see exactly the same problem in Egypt and Libya The so called Arab Spring in Egypt is turning to a winter of discontent, and no doubt Libya is following not far behind.

The fact is that democracy in all these countries is still stuck in the 12th century in British terms, but unfortunately they have 21st century weapons at their disposal.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Quangos - New for Old

One of the early announcements made by the present government was that there was to be a "Bonfire of Quangos". This has obviously been similar to my garden bonfires, produced lots of smoke, very little fire and left a majority of the rubbish untouched!
Today's news item in the Daily Mail is typical -
What bonfire? New 'super quango' has already hired 5,000 staff sacked from abolished health bodies

Whilst the Health Protection Agency, the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, the ten Strategic Health Authorities and the 152 Primary Care Trusts are being wound up, the Department of Health has admitted that a ‘significant majority of staff’ will be transferred to the new organisation ‘continuing the roles they currently fulfil’.
So far the new quango "Public Health, England" has taken on some 5000 staff, although it doesn't actually formally come into being until April 2013! I expect that most of them will be collecting redundancy payments from their existing quangos, before being re-employed, no doubt at higher salaries, in this new one.

This, in fact, mirrors what happened to me back in the 1970's. I was employed by the Department of Trade and Industry as an engineer in National Air Traffic Services, and the whole department was transferred to the new Civil Aviation Authority. All staff were compulsorily transferred (without any compensation) and the government of the day trumpeted the huge reduction in civil servants, some 7000 if my memory serves me correctly. But we were still all paid for by the state, as, at that time the Authority had no income of its own. But the overall number of employees increased; the "sponsoring department", the DTI, had to have a group to oversee the activities of the CAA, and of course the CAA had to have a Chairman, Board and all the associated support staff. Since then, the Air Traffic Services, for which I worked has been privatised, but the CAA continues to have something like a 1000 regulatory staff.

I'm quite sure that this "Bonfire of Quango" will be no more than what happened to me, all the same people will be doing all the same jobs (whether they are needed or not) in a new organisation which will generate its own overheads. But the government will be able to claim that 164 quangos have been abolished. Of far more interest to me would be "How much money has been saved?".

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christmas in our Woods

A few weeks ago, I posted a photograph taken in our local woods. The woods are popular with local dog-walkers and those, like myself, wanting a short-cut to our town..
Each year, about this time, a Christmas tree that grows near the edge of the woods is mysteriously decorated. The first time I saw it, the tree was only a couple of feet high, now the top is out of reach, and as the tree has grown, each year more decorations are required.

Woodland Christmas Tree

I don't know who decorates the tree, but I was told by one of the regular wood walkers that it is decorated by a local lady in memory of her young child who died about this time of year.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Metal Thefts

Metal theft is costing this country millions, both in terms of the cost of the stolen metal and making necessary repairs. In addition to these basic costs, there is also the cost of lost time to businesses and individuals due to delayed trains and the like.
In the latest incident, operations at Llandough Hospital in the Vale of Glamorgan have been cancelled because someone stole the cables connecting the emergency generators to the site. This is the latest in a spate of life threatening thefts which have seen railways brought to a halt, motorway warning signs disconnected and phones cut off.

Norman Baker, the local transport minister, said last month: "This problem transcends the railway. It has affected motorways, the coastguard and the telecoms industry. The level of theft tends to follow the price of copper and other metals on world markets."There is a general concern, which I am very happy to share, that the legislation in place isn't designed for the spate of thefts we are seeing."
I'm sorry Mr Baker, but this isn't enough. The government should have brought forward legislation by now to deal with the matter. In the past, governments have rushed through (often ill considered) legislation such as the Dangerous Dogs Act in a matter of weeks They can find time to talk about banning or charging for plastic bags and discuss issues like gay "marriage" in churches, but seem incapable of tackling something that is costing a fortune and putting lives at risk.

As they, or the Civil Service, seem deviod of ideas, could I suggest a few pointers.
1. All scrap metal dealers to be licensed, the licence fee being sufficient to encourage the consolidation of the industry into a few largish companies.
2. No cash transactions, all payments to be made to a bank account.
3. A record to be kept of all purchases in an approved register, the seller to provide identity similar to that required under the money laundering legislation.
4. Substantial penalties; loss of a dealer's license for failure to keep proper records or make sufficient enquiries about the source of scrap, and mandatory imprisonment for those selling stolen metals.
5, Amend the law in such a manner that anyone involved in metal theft is not brought before a court accused of simple metal theft, but is also accused of causing losses to the value of the repair cost, transport delays, etc.

This in some respect is the greater problem, a local church had lead stolen from its roof worth less than £50, but the repair cost ran out at something over £5000. Punishment needs to be in terms of the latter value, rather than the former.

We need action now, not once people have been killed as a result of, say, a major accident on our railways due to the theft of signal cable, or the loss of life at sea because the coast guard communications had been cut.

Monday, 12 December 2011

A New Television - but No "OFF" Switch!

We have just ordered a new Television for our Daughter and Son-in-Law as their Christmas present.
In spite of all the EU green pontificating some months ago about not leaving TVs in standby mode because of the electricity consumption, this TV does not have an "ON/OFF" switch - when plugged in, it is permanently is standby mode.
From the manufacturer's web site it appears that the standby power consumption is 0.3 watts, so if it were to be left in standby mode for a tear, the consumption would be in the order of 2.6 kWh total, roughly equivalent to around 40 hours viewing.
Not a huge amount, I agree, but I'm waiting for the "Greens" to react :-
"If every household has one (or more) of these televisions, the amount of carbon produced would be . . . . . . . . . . . . ". "They must be banned!"
It doesn't worry me, I was just somewhat surprised at the absence of the "ON/OFF" switch, surely it can't be a cost cutting measure.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Cleggiband says "Britain is Isolated"

We have a new joint leader of the opposition,  Edick Clegiband!
The phrase "Britain is now isolated" slips off its forked tongue so smoothly, along with other phrases like "We will no longer have any influence in the World", "isolated and marginalised",  that it is effectively a single entity.

Perhaps we should look at the "British Veto".
What, of course, we don't know is whether any of the other EU countries would have vetoed  the deal; the thing about a veto is that the first country to use it effectively brings discussions to a halt. We will never know if any of the other countries would have got around to using it, simply that we were the first.

The instant reaction of Labour (who automatically oppose the Government without thought) was that this would "Leave Britain isolated" and it was therefore a bad thing, although they gave no indication of why this should be so. Norway and Switzerland are "isolated" in Europe, but this doesn't seem to be doing them any harm. Numerous other countries, with much smaller populations than Britain, are also "isolated" in terms of not being part of a political union - Australia, New Zealand and Canada to mention but three. So isolation doesn't seem to be a bad thing; indeed one might argue that it is advantageous in that these countries can "do their on thing" without having to consult anyone.
"We will have less influence in World Affairs". We don't seem to have much now, so it's hard to see how we could have much less. Why do we want influence anyway? Again you rarely hear mention of the countries that I've listed seeking to influence world affairs and they don't seem to mind.
Of course, politicians and civil servants love to get involved - all that travel to foreign parts at the taxpayers' expense is part of the job!

The LibDems said much the same as Labour with their leader doing one of the fastest U-turns in recent political history. From reluctant acceptance of Cameron's action to outright opposition has taken less than 24 hours, this must be a record! But we are also assured that this won't lead to the break-up of the coalition. You bet it won't - if it did the LibDems would soon learn the meaning of "having no influence"!

But the Clegiband has spoken; it's now a question as to whether anybody considers it worth listening to, particularly as snap surveys apparently indicate that the majority consider that Cameron has done the right thing.

My Picture of the Week

I think this must be my favourite picture of the week.

Photo: Telegraph: Stuart McMahon

The futility of windpower !
This is just one of the 1500 reportable accidents/incidents which have occurred on wind farms in the past 5 years, almost one a day. These included 4 deaths to workers and some 300 injuries.

We are told that last week's incidents were caused by "freak weather", when in fact such weather must be expected as part of Britain's ever changeable weather patterns. In fact the only "freak" weather we might expect in Britain is if the wind blew steadily at around 40mph for a continuous period of more than 24 hours actually allowing electricity to be generated

If this had been a fire in the Generator Hall of a Nuclear Power Station (which is remote from the reactor), or if the Nuclear Industry had had the number of incidents as mentioned above, I'm sure that all hell would have been let loose by now!

Friday, 9 December 2011

The EU - Status Quo prevails

The media today seems to believe that Cameron has had a great victory by standing firm at the EU summit and not conceding any treaty changes. I fact it was not even a good defence as all he has done is to say "No" to any further EU financial powers which might affect this country, and in doing so has upset Sarkozy, and of course avoided any immediate pressure to call a referendum.
In medieval terms, when you are under siege in your castle, it is not a victory to have merely repulsed the attackers and shouted a few nasty words at their leaders; victory comes only when you have totally removed them and their influence from your territory.

But meanwhile, the EU bureaucrats in Brussels continue regardless.
According to the Telegraph
The European Commission is considering introducing rules that will make the UK's 6,850 companies with final salary pension schemes pump billions of pounds into the schemes to reduce their deficits. The rules are designed to make pension schemes in EU member states more financially robust.
So regardless of what happens at the summit, bureaucrats are still trying to make financial rules and Cameron is pretending it is not happening. There has been no great victory, as the BBC would have us believe. Not one single regulation has been repatriated to this country, the status quo prevails.

Meanwhile, the remaining EU countries seem to be continuing their meeting without Britain and Hungary (the only country to take our viewpoint), no doubt with the objective of finding ways to impose their will on us without our consent, just as they appointed unelected Prime Ministers in Greece and Italy without the consent of the people.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Euro Crisis - Lack of UK leadership

The Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister is again under pressure, this time from some senior  Tories,  to hold a referendum on the EU as they are particularly concerned that Britain could be adversely affected by the proposed fiscal union being proposed by the Eurozone members as the provisions would extend to all EU members my means of the EU treaty.

What I find disturbing is the last couple of paragraphs in the report:
"In a tactic designed to isolate Britain and split the 10 non-eurozone EU members, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday invited the 23 members of a “Euro Plus” economic pact to monthly summits.
The move, which splits non-euro countries such as Poland, Sweden and Denmark away from Britain, will lead to decisions on broader economic policy being taken without British involvement.".
This is a typical "Divide and Rule" tactic which has been used over the centuries, but it seems that our government has accepted it without murmur, which is perhaps not surprising seeing that most of our representatives in Europe are Gordon Brown's failed EU advisors.

Just as Germany and France have appointed themselves as the de-facto leaders of the Eurozone countries, I am sure that any previous British  Prime Minister  worthy of the name, would have done something similar and called a meeting of the non-Eurozone EU members in London to discuss the issues involved, and in doing so making Britain effectively the leader of these countries rather than allowing Merkosy to take the initiative. But no, whereas once we invariably took the lead in any discussions, Cameron is now allowing us to be being led by the nose.
I would suggest Daniel Hannan and Nigel Farrage as joint Chairmen for such a summit, together I would suggest, they would represent some 75% or more of public opining in this country!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Motorway sped linits - Dutch Style

I'm rather intrigued by this item from DutchNews

"New 130 kph speed limit will raise millions in petrol taxes

"Thursday 01 December 2011
"An increase in the national speed limit on most roads to 130 kph (81 mph) will generate an extra €50m to €100m in petrol taxes, the government’s environmental assessment agency is quoted as saying in the AD.The agency says the higher speed limit will encourage motorists to drive faster and so spend more on petrol.Transport minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen is planning to spend €130m increasing the speed limit on 60% of the nation’s motorways from next September."

A novel way to increase taxation income, I wonder what the Greens think about it?
Perhaps Osborne is hoping for the same results by increasing our motorway limit to 80 mph.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Jeremy Clarkson

I don't usually watch  "To Gear" or indeed many other BBC programmes, so unlike most, up to now, I've had no particular views on Jeremy Clarkson.
But it seems that yesterday, he made some remark on another BBC show that I don't watch about "shooting the Civil Service strikers", which to me seems to be a pretty harmless thing to say, and something that I have said myself in the past about groups of people that I detest.
He was forced to apologise by the BBC, as did the presenter of the programme, et al.

Now was this offensive? Not in my terms. Certainly in no way as offensive as the attack on Andrew Sachs by two so-called comedians or the attack on the disabled by another immature so-called comedian. Neither were condemned by the BBC who described it a "edgy humour", whatever that is and defended the remarks to the limit.
So as far as the BBC is concerned you can say almost what you like about anyone, however crude you care to be, as long as you don't say anything against a left-wing BBC supported cause.

But the BBC isn't the only organisation to come out of this looking ridiculous in the eyes of the  majority of the non-state employed working population, for example

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "Clarkson's comments on the One Show were totally outrageous, and they cannot be tolerated". "We are seeking urgent legal advice about what further action we can take against him and the BBC, and whether or not his comments should be referred to the police."
What an idiot!

And then the Prime Minister, "That’s obviously a silly thing to say and I’m sure he didn’t mean that. I didn’t see the remark but I’m sure it’s a silly thing to say".
No Prime Minister, what you said is silly; can you imagine any of our Great Prime Ministers even condescending to mention the matter? You should stand aloof from such trivia, and by commenting you degrade the office that you hold.

Now doubt there are numerous other useful idiots out there all feigning outrage for the benefit of the media, but I just can't be bothered with them.

Viva Jeremy Clarkson!

The Bleeding Obvious!

The BBC informs us that:

"The drought that has affected parts of England since June will last into next summer if there is insufficient winter rain, the Environment Agency has said."

So if it doesn't rain, we will have a drought, now who would have thought that?

Or is our standard of education now so poor that there is no connection in people's minds between rainy weather and water coming out of their taps?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Privatising Air-Sea Rescue Services.

One of the most idiotic decisions that has been made by this government is, in my view, the decision to privatise the air-sea helicopter rescue service which is at present provided by the R.A.F and the R.N.
See the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.
What possible logic can there be or this decision? How can it possibly be in the best interests of this country?
It would seem that for some reason, the responsibility for such rescue work comes under the Ministry of Transport, and no doubt some bureaucrat has worked out that it will be cheaper, at least in  so far as his budget is concerned, to privatise the activity. No doubt each flight will require authorisation, thus providing more work for administrative staff (Mon-Fri 9am-4pm only!). Of course, such narrow-minded officials never consider the "overall picture" or the overall cost, just their own budget.
Now, I'm not suggesting that the decision is wrong just because Prince William says so, although I think he is right.
If one looks at the situation from a Military viewpoint, it is clear that our Services need an increased helicopter capacity for the various roles that they may have to undertake in the coming years. One of these roles is search and rescue, whether it is a seaman who has fallen overboard from a ship, or a soldier on the battlefield, with numerous other scenarios in between. You can neither acquire the helicopters to carry out such work in five minutes, nor can you instantly train the crew, and thus, if we are to continue to be a military power, we must be prepared to have such men and equipment available for instant deployment. We all should be aware of the time that it takes to train a rescue helicopter pilot from the snippets of news about Prince William's training which have appeared in the media.
So how do you train such crew, and more importantly, keep them fully trained?
When a country is nominally at a state of peace, military training is carried out by various exercises, which by their very nature, can never be true to life, as clearly under such circumstances no one wants to take any unnecessary risks. Such exercises are also very expensive and there is no visible result at the end of the day.
Presumably, for the rescue helicopter crews, exercises would involve picking up dummies and shifting them elsewhere. Even so, the cost of keeping the helicopter in the air is no less, it still has to be serviced and requires fuelling, etc. All that will probably be different, is that the military helicopters, which will still be required, will have a few less "Hours on the clock", and our military pilots.and less training for vital military roles.

The Telegraph states that the Minister's view is that the changes will provide a modern fleet of “fast, reliable helicopters” that would lead to “major improvements in the capability available from the present mix of helicopters”.  The minister said. It would also provide “a more reliable service”.

On the other hand, one might deduce that Ministers don't consider that the R.A.F. and the R.N. require a "modern fleet of fast, reliable helicopters” and that they will have to carry out their Military duties, as usual, with out-of-date equipment and minimal training.

Incidentally, the funding for one of the proposed bids will come from a consortium which includes the Royal Bank of Scotland. As RBS went broke and is now owned by the government, how comes it that it has the funds to provide this "modern fleet of fast, reliable helicopters”? Wouldn't it be better for the government to simply go out and buy them without using an intermediary?

To me the whole deal stinks, we are letting our Services down by using financial slight of hand to make it appear that spending has been cut, and then funding the helicopters by the back door. The main difference is that if the military purchased them, they would be available for general Service use should the need arise. As it is the country will own nothing, just as with our schools and hospitals bought under PFI agreements. Presumably it will also allow the RBS to appear to make a profit on the loan that it will be providing to fund the helicopters, which in turn will allow the government to return it to private ownership.

As I said, the deal stinks, and I'm not smelling AvGas or Jet Fuel!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Builders Part 6

The Builders had a week off last week, because the boss-man, Billy, was at the Ideal Home Exhibition. However work has resumed in earnest this week.
The framework has been erected and the roof structure installed on Monday, but I didn't realised that it would take so long to put in the glass. All the window and door glass is now in place and work has started on the roof, and the first significant snag has been encountered. Two of the angled panes of glass for the complex roof structure are the wrong size, and these need to go in before the panels higher up the roof.. No clue at the moment how long they will take to arrive. While this has been going on, the plumber has prepared the pipes for the radiators, and the electrician has been installing the wiring for the lights and power sockets.
Mrs EP has done the rounds of lighting showrooms - one problem is that numerous types of light bulbs are now being phased out (blame the EU), and of course for a glass roofed structure, one needs lamps that direct the light downward and don't attempt to illuminate the night sky!
What I did discover is that you can now get an equivalent of a standard 60 watt bulb comprising a small halogen lamp inside a standard 60 watt sized envelope with a bayonet cap. For the same light output it consumes a little less than the old bulb, but can hardly be considered "energy saving" in view of the extra materials and energy used in its manufacture, but it does escape the EU ban on standard tungsten 60 watt bulbs. Useful knowledge for when my stock of 60 watt bulbs runs out as we have about 15 currently in use around the house.

The "Strong" German Economy

Over the past months with the Euro crisis looming, everyone has believed that the German economy is strong and that Germany would be able to (or have to) support the Euro in order to prevent its collapse. One got the impression that the Bundesbank was stuffed so full of money that nothing could go wrong, at least as far as Germany is concerned.
But is this true?
The German government debt as a percentage of GDP is in excess of 80%, not significantly less than that of Spain. The prime minister of Luxembourg, where the ratio is a mere 20%, has said that he thinks that the level of German debt is troubling. 
Yesterday, the German Government tried to sell  €6 billion of government bonds but were left with some €2.35 billion unsold. Whether this was because investors were not prepared to buy them, or Germany was not prepared to pay higher interest rates is unclear, but what does seem to be clear is that investors are steering clear of the Euro. It has also become apparent that, far from the Bundesbank being stuffed with money, Germany is also borrowing billions to make ends meet. In cash terms, rather than as a percentage of GDP, Germany's indebtedness is probably the highest in the Eurozone.
Details are here (Der Spiegel):

 Or if you hold any Euro banknotes, perhaps you should consider this, from today's Telegraph

Monday, 21 November 2011

95% Mortgages

Remind me!
I thought that it was the reckless lending of the banks and other financial institutions which lead to the banking crisis and the Northern Rock and a number of other lenders going broke, both here and in Ireland. The institutions concerned were rightly castigated by the government for being insufficiently prudent in their lending. Don't we now have a state owned "Bad Bank" containing all the failed loans from the Northern Rock?
But it seems that this isn't enough, our government is now proposing to encourage such loans by underwriting 95% mortgages for those who can't save any more! The stated objective is to encourage the housing market and enable first time buyers to get on the housing ladder.
Whilst the objective might be laudable, I cannot believe that a person who can only manage to find 5% of the property price should be taking on a mortgage. Without even thinking of the interest, if the person has had difficulty in finding 5%, how on earth is he going to find  this amount, year on year, for a further 19 years?
Looking back some thirty plus years ago, mortgages were then in short supply, and most building societies at the time insisted that you had a significant amount of money in an account with them for six months or more before they would even consider putting you on their waiting list. Others wanted you to demonstrate that you were capable of making the estimated monthly payments by putting that sum into a regular savings account for an acceptable period, this frequently being a quite difficult requirement for anyone who was paying rent on existing accommodation. A 5% deposit, you're joking, 20% minimum maybe more!
Another point is that making mortgages more readily available is likely to inflate house prices, bringing us back to square one.
Again, before buying our present house, we  had agreed the details and selling price of our previous one with a local estate agent and I was to go in Saturday morning and sign the agreement. On the Thursday the Bank of England reduced the bank rate by quite a bit, and when I went in, the agent said that he'd increased the asking price because buyers would be able to afford a bit more and more buyers could be entering the market.
In other terms, a house has no absolute value, it is merely the amount that someone wanting to buy a property of that type can manage to borrow. Make it easier to borrow, and up goes the price.

So what will the government achieve? It's proposed action seems unlikely to genuinely help first-time buyers as more people will be able to enter the market. At the same time it could leave the taxpayer with a load of bad debts.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Why Socialism will never work!

I was rather taken with this article from "The Commentator"
It explains the flaws of equality in terms that the simplest students might understand!

The Newspapers

I gave up buying a newspaper on a regular basis some while ago when my subscription to the Telegraph ran out and I decided to read the news on-line for a while and see how this compared with the real thing. Now I must make it clear, my interests do not extend to the so-called "celebs", to pop stars or to reality TV shows. Nor do I have that much interest in sport and none in all the sporting scandals. I have been to one football match in my life, in Sweden, because my business host at the time thought it appropriate for an English guest!
The advantage of reading the news on line is that I have set up RSS feeds from those papers that I prefer to read, and can then scan down the headings to see if there is anything of interest. I don't feel that I have to read it all from cover to cover because I've paid good money for the paper and must get my value out of it! I tend to miss the crosswords and Mrs EP misses the Sudoko, but as a book of these costs about the same as a daily paper, there is no problem. So now, I just buy one of the Saturday papers which has a TV supplement for the week, and so save a few hundred pounds a year!

Reading the news on-line also has the advantage that if something happens in another country and you have an interest in the matter, you can invariably find a local English language paper to provide more details. With Germany and the EU being in the news at the moment, one can read various German viewpoints in Der Spiegel which produces an on-line version in English.

Would I go back to buying a Newspaper on a regular basis? It seems unlikely unless one should revert to being just that, a newspaper. It would need to contain real factual, hopefully unbiased, news from around the world and confine issues such as the winner of "Big Brother" to not more than a small paragraph at the bottom of page five.

And as I've mentioned Der Spiegel, I thought that I should quote this from yesterday's on line edition
"The German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said that only fools learned from their own mistakes -- he preferred to learn from the mistakes of others. At the moment, no politician or adviser in Europe has bothered to learn the lessons of the Argentine or Asian debt crises. Indeed, in Europe, they aren't even learning from their own mistakes."

Bismark had something there!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Autumn in the Woods

I went for a walk through our small wood this morning on the way to get my morning newspaper; a lovely day for walking, the temperature was just right and there was just a gentle breeze.
I thought I'd try out the camera on my newly acquired iPod, these are my first attempts.

I don't think the camera (or is it the display) does justice to the colours, but except for the evergreens, most of the leaves have now fallen and the muddy path is well hidden. You could be in the depths of a great forest. were it not for the noise of the motorway traffic in the distance!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Neville Chamberlain or Winston Churchill?

David Cameron has gone off to Berlin today for talks about the EU and its finances with Angela Merkel.
I wonder if he is using Neville Chamberlain or Winston Churchill as his role model?

Will he decide to appease the Germans, and come back having acceded to their wishes waving the equivalent of Chamberlain's piece of  paper, "Peace in our Time"?
Or is this the point when he decides that "enough is enough" and decides to emulate Churchill  and make it clear exactly what he wants - unconditional surrender.

Today's papers seem to make Germany's position quite clear.
The Telegraph headlines "German attempt to derail UK poll" seems clear enough, with the on-line Telegraph giving details here.

The current on-line headline is "German finance minister predicts end of pound as PM meets Merkel".
Wolfgang Schäuble says all of EU will have a common currency  "sooner than people in the British Isles believe", as David Cameron arrives in Berlin for tense talks with Angela Merkel.
This is also reported in the Mail

Elsewhere the Telegraph reveals that, according to a leaked German government document. the Germans want "An intrusive European body with the power to take over the economies of struggling nations should be set up to tackle the eurozone crisis."
As in 1939, many of the other countries in the EU seem to have surrendered or are on the point of capitulation. I wonder how the people of the erstwhile eastern bloc countries are feeling, having rid themselves of their most recent oppressor only to find that their previous invader is now in charge? I wonder how the Danes and the Dutch feel about all this? One might expect Sweden to remain neutral as before and make a substantial profit out of the situation, and France will in due course get a new Vichy style government. Ireland, Spain and Portugal will continue to sit on their fences.

I hope that it will be the equivalent of this picture we see after Cameron's talks

But I fear that it will be the one at the top of the page.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

World War One and my Father

Every Remembrance Sunday, my thoughts always turn towards the First World War rather than more recent wars. There were of course more British fatalities in this war than there have been in all the subsequent conflicts, and it was after this war that the tradition of the Remembrance Sunday
was borrn. Then my thoughts always seem to turn to my father, born in 1899, who served in the closing stages of the war. He never spoke about his experiences, all I know was that he was in the Machine Gun Corps and for a period in the trenches he was attached to a regiment of Australians for whom he had great respect.

After the war, he qualified as a accountant and, presumably because he spoke German as his father was Swiss, he secured a job with the Bayer Products, the British subsidiary of the giant Bayer chemical company. He, and my mother, went to Germany numerous times in the late twenties and thirties and on one occasion he visited Hitler's retreat at Berchtesgaden, I don't know if he actually met Hitler!

What he did do during this period was to develop a deep contempt for all our politicians and particularly the pacifists who were pushing disarmament. The only exception was Churchill, who at that time was "out in the cold" for advocating rearmament. As my father frequently told me, in his later years, if you had travelled around Germany at that time as he did, you would have seen all the signs of a country preparing for war. They were devoting massive amounts of effort and money into building the autobahns, far more than could possibly be justified by the number of vehicles using them.
But it seems that most of our politicians of that time were totally blind to what the didn't want to see; Churchill was the main exception and because of this was branded a warmonger. In his memoirs, Churchill frequently refers to "information that I have received from Germany" and similar phrases. I like to think that my father was possibly one of those supplying information, although it seems unlikely.
I do know, at the start of the war when the government asked anyone who had any recent photographs taken in Germany to forward them to the War Office, my father supplied a considerable number. I don't know if this was amongst them, my parents are in the second row, just behind the arrowed girl in the white dress.

What would my father think of our politicians today?
Like those of the thirties, most of them seem to prefer to ignore reality. They have taken us into an unwinnable war in Afghanistan and prefer to ignore the realities of what is happening in Europe. They have reduced our military to such an extent that they couldn't possibly defend the Falklands, let alone this country. They refuse to accept that we now have an enemy within due to mass immigration or that Germany remains a threat to Europe, using money this time rather than tanks. And more to the point, if they turn out to be wrong, like Chamberlain, where is the latter day "Churchill" to take over?
Is it any surprise that I, like my father before me, hold the majority of our politicians of all parties in total contempt?
- - o o O o o - -

As a side issue, if there is anyone reading this who has any contacts in Switzerland who might be able to help me find more about my grandfather, Johan Schütz, whom according to the 1911 census was born in Fribourg, Switzerland around 1865, please contact me.

Remembrance Sunday

I have just returned from the Remembrance Sunday services at our War Memorial and afterwards in the Parish Church. We rang the half-muffled bells for about twenty minutes before the service started outside at the War Memorial. A small military contingent was present from the Defence School of Languages - all officers with a much decorated NCO to parade them. The Royal British Legion provided a small band and veterans wearing their medals along with the local cadets, scouts and guides provided an impressive turnout. This year the crowds there seemed bigger than ever, and the church was packed afterwards. We sung the hymns that I had learnt and sung at school assembly almost every day of my childhood during the war years. The whole ceremony was very impressive, the more so because of the numbers present.

Returning home, I read John Redwood's daily blog.
He writes about the futility of the first World War and asks why it was fought. It was in no way a "necessary and worthwhile war", there was no ideological reason for our involvement, it was a Balkans war which developed into a Franco-German war and nothing to do with us; we were safe on our side of the English Channel and had no reason to get involved. There was no imperative as with the Second World War; when we had to fight to preserve our independence.

Today, I fully agree with every word that John Redwood says. What he does not say is that to many people in this country the war in Afghanistan is as futile as the First World War, and lives are being needlessly lost for no discernible purpose. There is no idealogical reason (unless you regard it as a war against Islam, and if so why start there?), and it lacks the imperative of being a "necessary and worthwhile war". On this day, more than ever, I ask why our military forces are there.

    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
    We will remember them. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Border Controls - Traitorous Officials

The other day I suggested that our borders were being compromised not so much by Mrs May or indeed by the Head of the Borders Agency, but by officials who owed no loyalty to this country.

Today, the Telegraph reports that an official who wrongfully issued "scores" of visas in exchange "tens of thousands of pounds" faces prison after being found guilty of "misconduct in a public office". Samuel Shoyeju, 53, who is of African descent was a senior border official at the agency’s head office in Croydon, where he vetted African applicants for British passports,
Presumably he is a British Citizen; in my view we should re-think our Treason Laws and charge such people with treason for acting against the interests of this country rather than the minor charge of "misconduct in a public office".

And how many more are there like him, still in their jobs?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Euro Crisis.

I have a great idea for solving the Euro Crisis!
Instead of Greece dropping out the Eurozone, followed in due course bty Italy, then Portugal, Spain and Ireland, why don't France and Germany form a new currency, the "FrancMatk" and leave the Eurozone themselves?
The Euro could then be allowed  to fall in value, just as the Drachma and the Lira did in the good old days, allowing the countries' debts to decrease in value as they did in the past, solving all their problems and at the same time providing cheap holidays for us British.
Better for Germany and France to leave in a planned orderly manner, than the others to leave one by one in chaos.
Stable countries like Holland and Sweden would be able to decide which group to stay with, or even perhaps join the Sterling Zone.

Just a (late night) thought!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Brussels - Just like Moscow in the old days.

Surely I'm not the only person to see the great similarity between the actions of Moscow before the iron curtain was finally demolished and the actions of Brussels now.

According to Mary Ellen Synon, in her blog in the Daily Mail, Brussels believes that it is perfectly in order for them to demand "Governments of National Unity" in countries taking the bailouts. Governments of National Unity, are, of course where they have a coalition, regardless of the wishes of the people, and where there is no effective opposition in their Parliaments.

She says (slightly edited) that
According to both Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister of  Luxembourg, and head of the eurogroup, and Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner in charge of the bail-outs, it is not at least out of order. Rehn claims that, all the eurozone member states in the 'programmes' -- that is, taking the bail-outs and submitting to control by EU/ECB/IMF bureaucrats, and those are Ireland, Portugal and Greece so far (stand by for the big one, Italy) -- have governments of national unity.
She also notes that
Juncker and Rehn insisted last night that the new government of national unity, the moment it is formed, must sign a letter promising to accept the entire rescue (some rescue) deal agreed last month at the summit, otherwise no money will be paid over, not even the amounts already agreed under the earlier, second bailout.

Well doesn't this seem to be exactly the same as the old Soviet bloc?
Romania had a "government of national unity" under Nicolae Ceausescu and East Germany had one under Erich Honecker., who only held their posts courtesy of Moscow.

Now it seems that Greece is going to have a similar type of government where, to put it in perspective,  we just need to substitute the word "Brussels" for "Moscow".  Prospective Greek dictators should perhaps just bear in mind that Ceausescu was executed when the people decided that they'd had enough of him, and that the Greek people have never been slow to get out onto the streets and show their feelings!

Clearly the only difference is that Moscow used tanks to enforce its will, whilst Brussels uses money, much of it coming from unwilling British taxpayers

Nicolas Sarkozy calls Benjamin Netanyahu a 'liar'

This of course has been reported in all media, I merely take my headline from the Telegraph.

So What?  -   I thought all politicians without exception were liars!
I'd much rather read "Politician tells the Truth"!
But if this ever happens, it will only be a backbencher, never a Minister.

I also see Sarkozy's remark as illustrating the on-going French anti-Semitism  Unlike the German nation which has admitted what happened during WW2 and which has done its best to try to make amends ever since, the French have never recognised the extent of their involvement or made any amends.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Immigration Controls

I've been reading the various reports on the "easing" of immigration controls, and my instinct is to suggest that the critics are aiming at the wrong target.

When I have returned home through Heathrow or Gatwick during the past five years or so, I cannot recall one occasion when my passport was inspected by someone whom I would describe of ethnic British descent. I recall the first occasion very clearly, many years ago, when it was examined by a woman wearing  sari, who in spite of my British Passport asked me if I was normally resident in the UK. Frankly, I was quite shocked at the time.

Now I don't doubt the loyalty of 99% or more of our immigration and passport control officers, but it only needs one individual whose loyalties lie elsewhere, to let in an unknown number of unwanted undesirables. At Heathrow this would be particularly easy, an officer could advise an immigrant when he was on duty, it would be quite easy for someone to hang around in the transit lounge until the appropriate time, and then choose the queue where the contact is inspecting passports.
We have already had cases of visas being wrongfully issued, I believe someone of Nigerian descent was involved in a recent case, and before that, an employee at our Embassy in Delhi.
Some countries (amongst them Switzerland, so I am informed) require all border control personnel to have been born in  the country of parents who were also born there.

Some unwanted immigrants may have got into the country whilst controls were relaxed (but they would have needed to know that this was happening), but I am far more concerned about those being let in by corrupt or disloyal officers in the Border Control Agency and other immigration services.

The Builders - Part 5

The on-going conservatory building has been hit by the weather, but they are here in force this morning, although it is still drizzling outside. The parapet of our flat roofed single story lounge has to be modified and raised to accommodate the pitched roof of the conservatory, which requires work on the roofing felt. The remains of the old patio is being cleared ready for  the new block paving to match that at the side and front of the house and the brickie is continuing with the dwarf wall for the new structure.
I'm videoing the work as it proceeds, I'm going to try my hand at a mini-documentary!

I'm not to happy with my newly acquired iPod. I wanted it mainly as a personal organiser, but so far I can't manage to import my address book and appointments. Seems that Windows and Apple don't talk to each other!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Today's News - Instant thoughts

1. Major Road Accident on the M3
All those who are opposing the increase in the motorway speed limit are out in force filling the newspaper comments space with "See, we told you so" before it has even been changed. So far evidence suggests that it was probably caused by a heavy mist and vehicles suddenly braking on a wet road causing jack-knifed lorries. Speed may have been excessive for the conditions, but was unlikely to be more than the speed limit. But then facts don't matter if you are opposed to something.

2. Head of the UK Borders Agency suspended along with two senior staff for unauthorised reductions in the level of passport control.
According to the Mail he has "Previous" both with UKBA and when Governor of Whitemoor maximum security prison when some IRA men obtained guns and escaped.
Likely outcome? Rather than face investigation and embarrassing enquiries, he will probably be allowed to retire "voluntarily" with a lump sum, probably three times his annual salary of £135,000. Within three months he will be working elsewhere, probably for an NHS Trust. Ditto the other two senior staff.

3. Greek Prime Minister wins confidence vote and will try to form a government of National Unity.
What changes? No referendum and a government that is unlikely to be able to push through any austerity measures without riots. Market uncertainty continues.

4. George Osborne says Britain 'will not contribute disproportionately' to bolstered IMF fighting fund.
That means that we WILL contribute proportionately.  And proportionately to what? Last time we paid more than our fair share "to maintain our status and influence" This failed and we certainly have no influence and our status is probably that of "Mugs".
Somewhat different from what Cameron said the previous day; it now seems that there is unlikely to be a parliamentary vote on the increased contribution as Cameron is claiming that it was covered by the previous one. Not surprising as Labour would vote against, as, one might assume, would the 81 Tory euro-rebels.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Vince Cable and Confidential Information

The Telegraph reports that Vince Cable has left confidential information in bins outside his constituency office.
Seems that he just doesn't live in the real world. For years the public have been told to shred any confidential documents because of the problems of identity theft and most people that I know are doing so. Shredders are available quite cheaply now, but in any case he would probably be able to charge the cost of one to expenses.
One can only conclude that he is just plain stupid. and I hope that the Information Commissioner's Office finds that he has breached data protection laws and fines him appropriately as he will hardly be able to charge that to expenses!

The Builders, Part 4

Good progress was made yesterday, The full height end wall was built, and the dwarf wall for the rest was built to damp course level. They were hoping to finish the brickwork today, but the rain is simply tipping down, and the forecast is not encouraging. I can't blame the builders for this delay!
Next week doesn't look much better.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Builders, Part 3

They have been and gone for today.
Yesterday they demolished the remains of the dwarf wall, broke up the old concrete floor with Kango hammers (hence the noise), and started digging. Today, they finished the foundation trench and had filled it with cement by lunchtime, so no more can be done until it is firm enough to start bricklaying, tomorrow, hopefully, if the weather is OK.
It's nice and peaceful now. Mrs EP has decided to go shopping at M&S, using her pensioner's bus pass (she won't park the car in a multi-story park, I'm not needed, hence the bus).
So I've ordered myself an iPod Touch from Amazon to replace my ancient HP iPaq organiser, it'll probably cost less than the shopping expedition!


So Greece is to have a referendum early next year to find out whether the country should accept the EU austerity measures. Whoops, that's really upset the apple cart! The EU doesn't "do" referenda, that's for democratic countries, not those under the Brussels dictatorship.
To an outsider it would seem virtually certain that the people will vote against the EU proposals, the more so because they are German inspired, I've never been to mainland Greece, but have visited the islands for a couple of holidays, and even there, where they rely on tourists, the anti-German sentiment still appeared quite strong, in spite of it now being some 65 years since the end of the war. Yesterday, posters, in German, parodying the Nazi slogan "Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Fuhrer" were displayed in some towns. Meanwhile, top Military leaders in Greece have been replaced by the government, but we are assured that this is NOT because of a potential Military coup.

The Daily Mail lists what will be expected of the Greeks as a result of the deal
  • Income tax threshold would be lowered from €12,000 (£10,300) to €5,000 (£4,300)
  • Retirement age would be raised from 61 to 65
  • VAT would rise from 19 to 23 per cent
  • Higher property taxes
  • Monthly pensions above €1,000 (£860) would be cut by 20 per cent
  • Excise on fuel, cigarettes and alcohol would rise by a third
  • To qualify for a full pension people would be required to complete 40 years work
  • Retirees aged under 55 would lose 40 per cent of their pensions over €1,000 (£860)
  • Public sector wages would be cut by 20 per cent
  • Employees of state-owned enterprises would have their wages cut by 30 per cent
  • A cap would be introduced on wages and bonuses
  • 30,000 civil servants would be suspended on partial pay
  • All temporary contracts for public sector workers would be terminated.
  • Just one in 10 civil servants retiring this year would be replaced
  • New levies on household incomes of between one and five per cent

The observant readers will note that there is nothing in the list about Greeks actually paying their income tax! Apparently there are few people who declare having an income of greater that 30,000 euros,and yet there are more Porches per capita in Greece than in  Germany!

Meanwhile, back in  Germany their Foreign Minister says "[What] we just agreed last week cannot be placed back on the table,", which in itself says a lot about the EU's concept of Democracy. I always believed that when heads of Government met and reached agreements, these were always, in a democracy, subject to Parliamentary approval in each country concerned. Apparently not in German style democracy, once your Fuhrer has decided, you will do what he says whether you like it or not !

I wouldn't pretend to understand international high finance, but it seems that the Eurozone governments have two choices
Firstly, to give Greece billions more money and write off their debts in order to fund their profligacy. What would be the likely costs? Germany suggests that the agreements reached last week will solve the problem albeit at a cost of billions to the Eurozone and to the IMF, an organisation to which the UK contributes.
Secondly, to allow Greece to default and drop out of the Euro. There are those who say that Greece could default and stay in the Euro, but I haven't seen anyone explain how this might be achieved. The cost here will be that the governments concerned will have to write of all the loans given so far, as will a large number of banks.
I favour the second solution; Greece is blackmailing the Eurozone. Of the Daily Mail list, only the increase in VAT will actually bring in more money in the short term, all the others are potential savings in expenditure if they actually take place. Anyway blackmailers always come back for more!
Allowing or forcing Greece to leave the Euro with Greece presumably bringing in the "New Drachma"  will cause enormous losses to governments and banks, but at least it would be a one time event which will be quantifiable and not recurring, unless, of course one of the other southern European countries follows the same course.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Builders, Part 2

On schedule so far. the old conservatory was down in  half a day. The foundation squad arrived today at 7.30! The dwarf brick wall has been knocked down and we now know it had no real foundations! The floor now being dug up, and there was no proper damp course.
It's a good job I didn't accept the quotation which merely proposed to extend the existing dwarf wall and then level up the floor by flooding cement over the whole area. No doubt the cost of putting in proper foundations would have been "extra".

The noise makes it hard to think! It's even hard to read and comprehend the news so any serious blogging is out of the question!

Monday, 31 October 2011

The Builders have arrived

We are having an all glass conservatory built on the back of the house, in direct contradiction to those who claim we should be downsizing at our age. The existing wooden structure, which was there when we bought the house twenty or more years ago, had reached the end of its useful life and was not worth repairing. The new one will be about twice the size, extending along the rear of both the lounge and dining room, and hopefully will look quite nice.
The builder has arrived and demolition is in progress; he says that it will all be gone by this evening and that the foundation diggers will arrive tomorrow or Wednesday. This particular builder constructed a conservatory for a friend, I liked what he did and it seems that, weather permitting, he keeps his promises on time-scales. He also quoted a price for the overall job and detailed what would NOT be included - the flooring and light fittings, which we will get and he will install. All the other quotes were for a very basic conservatory, and whatever you mentioned seemed to be some undefined extra amount. Our friend had no problems with the deal, so I hopeful that this project won't double in cost line in the manner of all too many building contracts.

The building will cost a large part of our savings, and we have thought long and hard about it. However, with our savings decreasing in value by more than 5% p.a. and the likelihood that we will no longer be able to get travel/medical insurance to go on expensive worldwide holiday trips, it seems a good investment. House prices may not be rising, but in this area they are steady. The old structure would have perhaps discouraged a buyer at some future date whilst the new one will add its value to our home. Meanwhile, we will get the pleasure of being able to use it throughout more of the year than at present, knowing that its value, if not appreciating, is certainly not declining at over 5% p.a. like the money in the bank. Short of some major medical emergency requiring private treatment or my erstwhile employer's pension fund going broke, we should be all right and I'll still be able to buy the odd electronic gadget from time to time.

Time will tell whether we are right.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Gold Reserves

Earlier this year, the Daily Telegraph listed the ten countries with the largest gold reserves. Needless to say Britain wasn't on the list as Gordon Brown sold over half our reserves at rock bottom prices, leaving us at No 17 in the list.
OK, Gordon was right in saying that you can't actually do anything with gold, but as long as others value it, gold is a very good investment, particularly in troubled financial times like the present.
As might be expected, USA is the biggest holder of gold with over 8000 tonnes. But rather surprisingly, Germany came second with 3400 tonnes, somewhat more than the IMF with some 2800 tons. So in terms of actual recognisable wealth, as distinct from fiat money such as the Euro, Germany has more wealth than the IMF.
Again, somewhat surprisingly, Italy came next with around 2450 tonnes, closely followed by France with some 2435 tonnes.
The point that I am making is that the IMF is asking for more money in order support the southern European Countries, and it is likely that we are will be expected to contribute far more than those countries with these large gold reserves. For some reason, last time the IMF wanted more funds, we apparently contributed more than these other countries in order to "maintain our standing" within the IMF, and it seems likely that this will happen again.

So exactly what is our "Standing" within the IMF ? Precisely zero, as far as I can ascertain. The Head is a Frenchwoman with a proven track record of being an enthusiastic supporter of the Euro. Why we supported her, rather than the Australian candidate is beyond my comprehension; someone from a country which has managed to avoid the worst of the recession would have seemed an ideal choice. Not only does this show how pro-Europe this government is, but it also demonstrated that we support IMF funds being used to prop up the Euro.

The stated objective of the IMF is to support individual countries, not currencies, and support is only given to countries who are prepared to take appropriate steps to rectify their economic shortcomings. Support for the Euro, and Greece in particular, should thus be refused on both counts.
As has been said by others, the IMF would not support, say, California which is virtually broke, as it is the responsibility of those issuing the fiat currency, in this case the US Treasury. Why then does it support Greece, which is part of another fiat currency which in itself has no problems as it is still retaining its value against both the Pound and the Dollar.
So much for our "Standing" in the IMF; it appears to be breaking its own rules and we can do nothing about it - indeed we seem to be aiding and abetting in the matter.

Oh, and our Gold reserves?  A mere 310 tons last February!

Thursday, 27 October 2011


I am in a bloody minded mood today, so am following my motto (see heading).

I was almost run down by a cyclist whilst walking along the pavement in our local shopping centre, which was followed with verbal abuse "for being in his way". I am not happy!
Two nights ago, whilst driving home from bell ringing practice along a well used, wooded, but unlit lane, I was nearly in collision with another cyclist who appeared to be wearing camouflage clothing whilst riding his bicycle without lights. I only noticed the minuscule reflectors on the pedals at the last moment. Perhaps he has a suicide wish!
As I can't work off my temper on them, I've decided to make a Freedom of Information request to the Thames Valley Police, as follows

"I would like to make a request under the Freedom of Information legislation as to the number of pedal cyclists who have been prosecuted by the Thames Valley Police (or the Crown Prosecution Service on their behalf) during the most recent twelve month period for which statistics are available.
If possible, in addition to the total numbers, I would like to know the numbers of those who have been prosecuted for offences relating to
a. Riding their bicycle on the pavement,
b. Riding their bicycle during the hours of darkness without the necessary lights.
In order not to place a undue burden on your office and incur unnecessary costs, figures within, say, plus or minus 5% would be acceptable for my research.
An e-mailed reply will be perfectly acceptable."

I think that the figures in all categories will be zero, but time will tell.
If any one reading this would like to make a similar request in their own area, I would appreciate being informed of the results.

"New self defence powers"

According to the Telegraph,
"Householders are to be given tough new self defence powers to confront burglars without the risk of being prosecuted".

I'm sure this is a good thing, particularly for the reasonably young and fit. But what can someone who is not so young  and fit?  Will it become legal to deliberately have a suitable weapon in, say, your bedroom in case you get a burglar whilst you are in bed? At present, if I keep a kitchen knife in the bedroom for such an emergency, it would be counted against me if I used it to kill or injure a burglar on the basis that my action was pre-meditated. If I kept a baseball or cricket bat in the bedroom, this too would seem out of order as I play neither game. What about pepper sprays and the like? If it's legal for the police to use them in self-defence, why not the householder? The best I can think of at the moment are some of the kitchen cleaning aerosols; I suspect that directed at someone's eyes, they would do more harm than pepper.

Apparently Kenneth Clarke said :“We will ensure that if you do react instinctively to repel an intruder you will not be punished for it – as long as you used reasonable force.” In the case of pensioners we must be allowed something to use in our instinctive reaction, otherwise as far as we are concerned there is no change in the real situation.I see no reason why it should not be made legal to own and use a pepper spray, mace or some similar repellent within the confines of ones own property.

Monday, 24 October 2011

EU Referendum

We now know how many of our MPs actually believe in Democracy.
Exactly one hundred and eleven.
The rest obviously believe they know better than the electorate and believe in a Party Dictatorship where the electorate is merely able to choose a party.

A referendum is the ultimate expression of democracy, and the only possible reasons for not having one are if
a. There is no clear demand from the public for one, which is clearly not so in this case
b. The cost. But the government was prepared to find the money for one on AV, in which few had any interest, so they can hardly claim that would be a problem.

It is no excuse to argue that it is the wrong time or that it would be a distraction from more important issues, in politicians eyes it will always be the wrong time, and they will always believe that there are more important issues. That will never change.

It is quite simple,

MoD - Will Hammond be any better?

Both the Telegraph and the BBC have reported that Hammond has said he would like to see an investigation into the death of Gaddafi, who was captured alive during the fall of his home town Sirte on Thursday.  What on earth would this achieve?
The rebel movement in Libya is a series of largely tribal militias who own no allegiance to anyone but their own tribe. They certainly are unlikely to have heard of the Geneva Convention or of Human Rights, having for so long been deprived of any rights themselves.
Nevertheless, Hammond feels that "The fledgling Libyan government will understand that its reputation in the international community is a little bit stained by what happened," Perhaps he is right about the "International Community" if he means all those politicians and officials who make a living out of attending international meetings. But if he'd said "Real People", you'd be hard pressed to find enough concerned people in Britain to fill a double decker bus!

In any event, such issues are foreign policy, and Hammond is the Minister of Defence who should have more than enough work to do in his own territory. I'm sure that William Hague, having seen the resignation of one wannabe Foreign Secretary at MoD will hardly welcome another contender.

If Hammond wants an enquiry, why not have one within his specific area of responsibility, where he has the authority to order a enquiry? Such an enquiry should encompass not only the activities of Fox and Werritty, but also the actions (or actually the inaction) of our security services with regards to Werritty. Such an enquiry should not be carried out internally, but by the police.

And if our new wannabe Foreign Secretary wants an enquiry by the "International Community", what about pressing for one into the deaths of the 23 Coptic Christians in Egypt, who were killed, not be a disorganised rabble, but by the well disciplined Egyptian Army?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Libya - Islamic Law

Late night thought:

The Telegraph reports that:

"Libya's interim leader outlined more radical plans to introduce Islamic law than expected as he declared the official liberation of the country."

"More radical than expected" - than expected by whom?
Certainly not unexpected by me,, nor by most bloggers that I read!

MoD - More Werritty

Both the Telegraph and the Mail report that MI6 was very concerned about the activities of Werritty as far back as February this year because of the possibility that his actions could prejudice the Foreign Office's position on Iran. William Hague apparently discussed the issue with Fox but it seems that, in spite of this, Werritty continued to attend sensitive meetings, including one with Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, and others with Matthew Gould, our Israeli Ambassador. At the same time, he was also having meetings with Iranian dissidents both here and in the States, seemingly encouraging them to believe that they would get Britain's support if push came to shove. It almost seems as if Fox was trying to run a separate foreign policy, by proxy.

At the time of his resignation, Fox insisted that national security had not been undermined by the meetings, which in the narrow context might even possibly be true, but nothing was said about our foreign policy, where is would appear that it certainly was being undermined, much to the concern of William Hague.

The piece in the Mail also stated that "City of London Police last night confirmed that its officers were considering investigating  Mr Werritty for fraud.
Personally, I think that he (and possibly Fox) should be investigated under the Official Secrets Act.

Finally, I continue to be intrigued by the continued description of Werritty in the media as "Fox's best man", a description which can clearly be interpreted in more ways than one. I wonder if it was his second best man who was at Fox's flat when it was burgled?

MoD - The Worms start to come out of the Woodwork!

Firstly, the Telegraph, reveals, under the heading
"Inside the corporate intelligence company which bankrolled Liam Fox" that "A South African intelligence expert made payments of as much as £60,000 through his security company for an unregistered charity linked to Dr Liam Fox." It continues to say "that [the company's] main source of income is providing intelligence for big business.".
It is worth reading the full article if only to appreciate the number of "big names" who are or have been involved with the company, from the Duke of Westminster downward.

Secondly, under the heading
"Second Defence Minister faces questions over links with Liam Fox’s best man", they claim that Lord Astor of Hever, the Under Secretary of State for Defence, has had closer links with Adam Werritty than previously realised. The Telegraph says that Lord Astor was actually a trustee of the "charity", Atlantic Bridge, which employed Mr Werritty and paid for him to travel the world alongside Dr Fox. "Mr Werritty had been Atlantic Bridge’s only employee and it paid him more than £90,000 in wages and expenses.".

A Labour MP is demanding an enquiry into the whole matter, claiming that “There is a basic lack of transparency here and the official investigation needs to be broadened to get to the bottom of what was really going on.”. For once I must say I must agree with Labour. Yes, the worms are truly starting to come out of the woodwork!

** "Atlantic Bridge" called itself a charity, but was not registered with the Charity Commission, and is now being wound up.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Alex Salmond: Scotland is in the driving seat

The Telegraph headlines a news item as above, with Alex Salmond telling the Prime Minister that
"The days of Westminster politicians telling Scotland what to do or what to think are over. The Scottish people will set the agenda for the future."
Good, I have no objection to that concept, but whilst Scotland is in the EU, Brussels will be telling the Scots what to do far more frequently than Westminster ever did. Perhaps Salmond should be making it clear to the Scottish people whether he intends to leave the EU as well as the United Kingdom.

David Camerons reply should surely be:
"The days of Scottish MPs coming to Westminster and voting on purely English matters and determining the political composition of the British Government are also over. The English, in future will determine their own destiny."

He has nothing to loose from such a stance, there are no Tory MPs elected in Scotland so it would not affect the Conservative Party's position in a future government.

Friday, 21 October 2011

UN Demands an Enguiry into Gaddafi's Death

Just what do they expect this to achieve (other than wasting money on, presumably, jollies to Libya)?

It would be more to the point if they demanded an enquiry into, say, the deaths of 26 Coptic Christians in Egypt and the destruction of their churches.

Referendum on the EU

As Danniel Hannan points out in The Telegraph today, at the last general election the LibDems were calling for a referendum on the EU both in leaflets and on their web site.
The page on the web site has recently been removed, but the Telegraph provides a copy of the leaflet.

As this is hard to read, the Telegraph kindly provides this link to the Google Archive

Once again we are given a good reason for not believing a word that politicians say, and particularly for not believing anything that a LibDem says.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Gaddafi Killed - Does it matter how?

Gaddafi has been shot dead, allegedly after he was captured. The human rights fanatics are working themselves up into a frenzy.. "It looks as if it was extra-judicial murder" claim the BBC.

So what? He had many thousands killed without trial, cosigning bodies to mass graves. Why should anyone be concerned that he was killed in the same manner?

Whilst he remained alive, there was always some hope for his supporters. They could mount attacks or terrorist operations in an attempt to secure his release; now they are without a cause.
The only loss will be to lawyers, media and the like; A trial in Libya or at The Hague would keep lots of lawyers busy (no doubt at our expense) and the media would have a field day, but to what end?
I suspect a lot of people in high places (such as Blair) will privately be glad he was killed; a trial might reveal things that they would rather not be said.

Personally, I hope, and believe, he will burn in Hell

A Debate on a Referendum

So at long last, Parliament is going to have a debate about having a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU!

But the general consensus of the media seems to be that the debate will be lost because the Tories will be whipped to vote against it, or possibly some government stooge will table a "Spoiler" motion or amendment as has happened in the past with other issues.

I take the view that any MP, whether pro or anti the EU should vote for a referendum if he/she believes in democracy. A referendum is the ultimate expression of the wishes of the electorate, and any MP who votes against one is effectively saying to the electorate that he knows better, or, more succinctly, "drop dead"! Even the LibDems should support a referendum, if they are right in their beliefs that the public want be in the EU, the referendum will confirm this and put the argument to rest for a good few years. Surely they are not so dishonourable as to be taking the position "We believe in the EU, and whether you believe or not, you are not going to have a say in the matter". This was the view of the Medieval Church - perhaps the LibDems see the EU as the new religion!

But what will happen if we are allowed a referendum?
I suspect that Brussels officials will do their best to ensure that there is a "No" vote to leaving the EU. I anticipate that they will spend billions of our money on campaigning and producing scare stories about how withdrawal will wreck our economy, the environment and anything else that they can think of.

The problem doesn't stop with getting a referendum, the bigger problem will be how to get a fair referendum and hopefully this will be properly addressed in due course.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Foxy Affair

No, not Foxy Knoxy, but Foxy Liam.

Today the Telegraph reports that Whitehall Officials have no idea whatsoever as to where Werritty gets his money or what he does for a living.
Officials have no information about a man who has been allowed into high level meetings at the MoD which would normally require full security clearance!
I remember visiting the MoD many years ago at a time when I had security clearance to "Secret" level, but in spite of this, I couldn't get past the lobby without a escort, even though I knew exactly where I was going. Yet this man appears to come and go at will without any security checks and more to the point, they have no information as to his sources of income.  For all they know, he could be a Russian spy, or perhaps worse, an American spy! They simply have no idea!

I don't intend to comment on the possible relationship between Fox and Werritty, but if I discovered that a "friend" of mine was making arrangements for people to meet me and apparently charging £10,000 a time, (as reported elsewhere) he would very quickly cease to be my friend! But then I was brought up in a different era, and the standards that I would set myself no longer seem to apply.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Tesco - Sales down, Profits up

The Telegraph reports today on Tesdo
"Like-for-like sales at British stores - those open for more that a year - fell 0.7pc year-on-year in the second quarter"
"Pre-tax profits increased 12pc to £1.88bn in the six months to August 27"
OK, they claim that the profits came from Europe and Asia not the UK, but I am certainly not surprised that UK sales fell; couples like Mrs EP and myself are getting fed up with their "offers".

Today Mrs EP wanted a savoy cabbage; 78p or two for a Pound. What would we do with two cabbages? Even one is probably too much for the two of us. So we would have to pay 28p more that what is still a profitable price for the privilege of only having one.
I like doughnuts; over the past year they've gone up from 12 or so pence to 25 pence when bought individually. But a bag of five doughnuts costs 55 pence or two for a pound, so they could in fact still sell them at ten pence each and presumably make a profit. As we normally buy just two doughnuts, an experiment is now in place to ascertain the "freezability" of doughnuts. Will a warm microwaved doughnut with my elevensies be as good as one straight from the shop?
Yes, in most businesses you can negotiate a discount for quantity, but you would have to buy far lager numbers and you might get a 5-10% discount, and what Tesco is doing, as far as I am concerned is totally unacceptable - a 36% discount for buying two cabbages or a 48% discount for buying 5 doughnuts (if my maths is correct!)
For perishable goods, in many cases it is cheaper for us to buy one for the price of one at Waitrose, and as we can walk there, we also save the cost of petrol.

An afterthought: I did get two four packs of "Speckled Hen" for £8, so they're not all bad!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Conservative Conference - The NHS

Up to now all that has been said by speakers at the Conservative Party Conference has been said before. Osborne, in particular had nothing worth saying, other than "no-change".

But Andrew Lansley talking about the NHS said that "The NHS will introduce mandatory language tests for doctors moving to Britain after training elsewhere in the European Union.".
An interesting statement, but will the EU allow it?  Up to now the line has been "We're terribly sorry, but the EU insists on qualified doctors being allowed to work anywhere within the EU". Obviously we will need to wait and see. It is perhaps also worth noting that nothing was said about nurses, with whom the average patient probably has more contact.
He also said  “And all that is why, since the election, we now have 1,500 more doctors and 5,000 fewer managers in the NHS.
This may be true in terms of numbers, but as has been pointed out to me by a female consultant that I know, the medical schools are now turning out more female doctors than ever before, but many of these, once fully qualified, only work part time, and in her view the "full-time equivalent" of doctors in the NHS has actually fallen . This has been confirmed as far as I am concerned by what has happened following the retirement of my full-time (male) GP.  I have been allocated to a new female doctor, but informed that she will only be working three days a week.  "You are of course free to see any of the other doctors on days when she is not available should you wish". Assuming, of course that I am able to get an appointment from the reduced "doctor-hours" now available at the surgery.
If this is typical, I suspect that the 1500 extra doctors are needed merely because more doctors are working part time.

PS  Does anyone know how many hospitals there are in the UK? The loss of 5000 administrators doesn't seem to be many when averaged over all our hospitals, one or two per hospital maybe; not much of an achievement!