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?"

Thursday, 31 October 2013

What are they doing to our Food?

Our food manufacturers seem to be giving into government "suggestions" that they reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar in our manufactured foods with the result that they are becoming quite tasteless.
First it was salt. Manufacturers were pressurised to reduce the amount of salt in food on the basis that it helps prevent heart problems. What they don't mention is that for older people like myself, lack of salt gives you joint pains which can make life quite uncomfortable. Is it better that I should eat some salt and still be able to walk a few miles, or give it up and be confine to the house by knee pains?

Then it was fat. Too many people in the country are obese, so we must all suffer. The net result seems to be that our ordinary loaves and biscuits have become crumbly. Hobnobs, which used to be one of my favourites, have become so crumbly that there's almost as much in crumbs left on the plate than I've eaten in the form of biscuit. Ginger Nuts have lost their crunch and aren't what they used to be. The latest company to announce a change is Nestle who are to reduce the fat in their Kit Kats, no doubt cutting costs at the same time.

Now today it is sugar, again presumably because of obesity, The government is to lower the minimum amount of sugar that must be used when making jam, and no doubt manufacturers will make full use of this reduction and substitute some cheaper alternative.  Fortunately, it seems that jam will be available from other sources; I alread buy marmalade from a lady who makes and sells it in aid of her church funds; it is far superior than any that I can get in the supermarket and is no more expensive. It doesn't come with a warning that it must be refrigerated after opening as it contains sufficient sugar to allow it to be kept in the sideboard, just as my mother did. Jams are also available from various other organisations raising funds, and already the demand tends to outstrip supply as people seek "the real thing" without added chemicals. Incidentally, when I last looked, a bag of muesli with "no added sugar" cost more at Tesco than one with added sugar!

Its time we were told to look after our own health and the government stopped interfering. If people want to get obese, that's their problem, and although it may cost the NHS money in the short term, they are unlikely to live long lives and will cost the state less in the longer term.

So, I'm going to follow in the footsteps of my parents and grandmother, eating what I fancy in moderation. My one regret is that I can't have decent dripping toast, as I had when I was a child, the modern beef has insufficient fat to produce any worthwhile dripping, although I've now been told that one can buy tubs of it at a local farm shop

My parents ate good food, with plenty of salt, fats and sugar, and both lived well into their nineties,  and my grandmother lived to 102. I'm hoping to follow in their footsteps, but some how I suspect that all the "E numbers" in my food are doing me more harm than the good old fasioned salt, fat and sugar.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The US is spying on Merkel !

Angela Merkel is in a bit if a huff because, it is claimed, US spies have been listening to her telephone conversations and several other countries have joined her in making the same claim.
It is also suggested that GCHQ is involved and it seems clear that Cameron will soon be getting some of the flak.
To me, it is much ado about nothing. It is the duty of our spies to spy, and this should include keeping an eye (or an ear) on our "friends". Of all people, Mrs Merkel, who was brought up within communist East Germany, should appreciate this situation.
But why shouldn't the US spy on her? Although Germany is a member of NATO, it refused NATO access to its facilities during the recent conflict in Libya, and it seems that they would have done the same had NATO decided to take action in Syria. She has also been cosying up to Putin recently which is hardly the actions of a good friend.
It is my view that the primary, and over-riding duty of any government is to protect the country and its people, something that many politicians and commentators seem to forget. I would be very concerned if our spies were not able to intercept communications, it is one of their most important duties. Whether they actually do intercept such communications at a particular time is obviously a decision to be made which is dependent on the current circumstances, and I suspect that most intercepts are merely a matter of who phoned who, rather than an actual transcript of the conversation. It would be very useful for, say, Cameron to know which EU leaders had been having long private conversations before an EU summit and I would consider it is in this country's interests for him to have such information.
Although it is not mentioned, such spying must be somewhat of an embarrassment for the German security services, as they have clearly failed in their duties to protect their Chancellor's communications.
I hope our security services continue to keep a watch on our so-called friends, including the US and Obama, and at the same time dissuade Cameron and his Ministers from making business phone calls from anywhere except their offices.

A brief late addition
This Article in the Telegraph "The Americans should be congratulated for bugging the phones of 35 world leaders, not pilloried" by Con Coughlin is well worth reading.

Housing Shortage - Pensioners to blame

Apparently, according to the Housing Minister, we elderly are to blame for the housing shortage. The Telegraph reports that he considers that the rise of four-generation families is the cause of the current crisis. Whether he feels we are all living too long, or failing to keep our children at home is unclear, but as usual us oldies are to blame for the nation's woes.
Perhaps he would like to consider what happened in our case.
When I retired some years ago, we tried to find a smaller home. Our aim was to find a home of similar "quality", but with less rooms and certainly a smaller garden. We didn't want to move too far as both our daughters live within half an hour's drive. Also, we also didn't want to move too far from public transport and shops, as, at our age, we are uncertain as to how long we would be able to drive a car.  After three years of searching, we gave up. Smaller houses with less land meeting our criteria were fetching almost the same price as our present home, and by the time one had paid stamp duty on the purchase, along with all the other costs, we would have been well out of pocket. So we gave up and stayed put in a family home with a large garden which is ideal for children..
Perhaps the Housing Minister should consider speaking to the Chancellor on this matter, as the stamp duty was the main impediment to our moving, To blame us oldies for the crisis won't get him many votes!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Is Treason No Longer a Crime?

Nothing can be done in this country about the thousands of secret documents stolen by Snowden, that is America's problem, but something could be done about the Guardian which has chosen to leak the contents of  many of those documents to a wider audience. As reported in the Telegraph:
Sir David Omand, who was once Britain’s homeland security adviser to No 10, said Snowden’s actions eclipsed the exploits of the Cambridge spy ring, whose five members leaked information to the Soviet Union during the Second World War and Cold War.
He also says that:
“The assumption the experts are working on is that all that information, or almost all of it, will now be in the hands of Moscow and Beijing. It’s the most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever, much worse than Burgess and MacLean in the Fifties,”
Russia and China will keep any information strictly to themselves, certainly they won't be confiding it to terrorist organisations such as Al Quaeda, as both have problems with Islamic terrorists. However the Guardian chose to publish important items of this information to the world, and in spite of a speech yesterday by Andrew Parker, the Head of MI5 warning that the information published so far has done considerable harm in out fight against terrorists and put individuals' lives at risk,  have announced that they are intending to publish further extracts.

Yesterday in Parliament, a back bencher asked the Home Secretary about the legality of the Guardian's actions and even Nick Clegg condemned what they have done, somewhat to my surprise.

Looking at what has been considered as treason in the not too distant past, there is no doubt in my mind that there is a strong case for prosecuting the Guardian's editor and perhaps its publishers, but regrettably it seems that our establishment has gone soft on such matters.

For those who claim that GCHQ's actions in spying on us are all wrong, I would simply claim that my own human rights were being infringed if the government of this country doesn't take all possible steps to protect me from terrorists. If looking at my e-mail helps them in this process, they are welcome to do so; if mine is typical they would get bored to tears!

Guardian - One who looks after, protects, or defends something.
It would seem that the newspaper of this name prefers to protect its circulation rather than the population of this country!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Russia and Greenpeace

I am no fan of Greenpeace. Whilst I might agree with a few of their objectives, I have absolutely no sympathy for the methods that they employ, which are largely to gain self publicity.
My main objection to them is that they believe that they are above the law and should be free to interfere with anyone going about their legal business should they decree that the business might harm the environment.
Within the UK the law has generally been over-lenient towards their protesters, crimes such as climbing onto the roof of a minister's home to display banners, climbing towers at a power station or most recently opposing fracking have been treated by our judges with little more than a rap on the knuckles.
However the Russians don't take this kindly view. They view attempts to board one of their oil drilling rigs as being piracy. Apparently under international law, a mobile drilling rig is regarded as a ship, and boarding or attempting to board a ship against the operator's wishes is piracy. Having apparently taken a lenient view on a previous occasion, this time the Russians have decided enough is enough and arrested the ship and charged the members of the crew with piracy.
The latest twist to the story is that the Russians claim to have found illegal drugs during a search of the ship, something that Greenpeace vehemently denies claiming the only drugs on board would be medical supplies carried by law.
For once my sympathy is with the Russians. So far they seem to have acted perfectly correctly within international law and are investigating what happened and, having charged various members of the crew with piracy. are now considering other possible charges.
Holland has now become involved as the ship is a Dutch registered vessel and the Russians are now threatening to ban Dutch produce.
This saga will drag on and on and it will need considerable diplomatic effort to secure the release of the vessel and crew. One wonders how much effort will be made by the countries involved; this is the worse time of the year to have a confrontation with Russia who could easily cut off Europe's gas supplies just to show who is the boss. A winter in a cold cell in Murmansk might show these Greenpeace members that the law is the law and that they can't expect lenient British treatment from the Russians.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Power Cuts Are Likely This Winter

As a result of privatisation, the EU "green" policies and generally incompetent governments (both Labour and Conservative) we are quite likely to be faced with electricity power cuts this winter. We have what I understand is the most expensive electricity in Europe, and yet it seems that the authorities are unable to offer us a guaranteed supply, with the National Grid advising us that they will only have about 5% reserve generating capacity as we enter the winter.
How has this come about? Firstly, the EU decided all coal fired power stations should be closed as they produce greenhouse gasses, and that they should be replaced with renewable sources. As we have already exploited all the likely hydro-electric possibilities, the only other non-polluting sources remaining in the short term were nuclear and wind. Both have their problems; there is a vocal anti-nuclear lobby which has become louder since the Japanese disaster, whilst wind generation, apart from its visual pollution, is inefficient and unreliable.
Secondly, privatisation hasn't helped. With privatised generators competing with each other, there is no incentive to provide spare capacity; only generators that are producing electricity earn money and no-one in their right minds is going to provide something like 20% spare capacity for it to sit their idle "just in case".
Thirdly, government incompetence.  Our governments have been slow off the mark with nuclear energy as there is still a perception amongst many people that it is unsafe, although the French now use it as their main source of electricity. So in order that it appears that they are doing something, they have used subsidies to encourage the development of wind power without any consideration as to whether we are getting value for money. The figures provided for total capacity are many times the proven generated capacity simply because the wind rarely blows at the "right" speed for very long at a time. There also has to be equal stand-by capacity for the times when the wind is not blowing and the wind farm owners are not supplying this and instead are relying on the major generators to fill the gap. But why should they?  What's in it for them?
The net result of all this is that the country will have at the most 5% spare capacity during the coming winter, assuming an "average" British winter. If we have one that is worse than average, or we have a significant breakdown at any of the generators we could be in for a difficult time. It is also worth noting that a significant part of the electricity supply now comes from gas powered generators, and at one point last year the country's gas stores were down to about 36 hours demand.
Contacts in the industry tell me that we were lucky to get though the last two winters without an outage and they feel that the National Grid's estimate of 5% reserve is generous in view of the ageing equipment and the possibility of gas shortages.
I trust all those organisations, such as hospitals and other essential services, which have stand-by generators, will ensure that they are in good working order and test them out during the coming month, although I must admit my experience with diesel-powered stand-by sets was that they always started on their monthly test, but invariably failed to start in an emergency!
In the meanwhile I'm considering getting myself a small generator with sufficient capacity to drive the central heating pump, the freezer and some lights. I'd prefer it to be diesel powered as storing sufficient petrol is both unsafe and illegal.
Let's hope that we have some global warming resulting in a mild winter!