Archive for September, 2013

Osborne’s Offence is Rank, it Smells to Heaven

30/09/2013

In a particularly loathsome cabinet, George Osborne has to be the most loathsome. That horrible self-satisfied, smug smile makes me want to punch him repeatedly. Here we have a multi-millionaire, someone who has no idea whatsoever about how the poor live, how the unemployed live, how anyone on benefits lives. Since this revolting plutocratic cabal took power in 2010, we have seen an unremitting attack on welfare recipients. As I said in a previous post, this is nothing new, but Cameron et al have really got into the gutter. And today Osborne sinks to new levels, even by his noisome standards.

The government’s much vaunted work programme has been shown to have failed, and failed utterly. For all the vast amounts spent on it, vanishingly small numbers were found jobs. Yet, the unemployed (I refuse to use the term “job-seeker”) have been forced into unpaid so-called “work placements”. But, cries Osborne, they’re not unpaid, they still get their dole money. If you apply that logic, that means they are being “paid” considerably less than the minimum wage, which is illegal. If they have to do this work, then pay them the going rate. The government were found to have acted illegally, yet they rushed through a new law to prevent those affected being compensated, with the collusion of Labour. Shame on all of them.

But I digress. The new rank depths he has sunk to were revealed today. He wants to extend the failed programme. To do so in denial of the facts shows it’s got nothing whatever to do with helping people into work, and more to do with punishing them for being out of work. Punishing them for being victims of this government’s policies. It’s got more to do with sounding good to the morons who read the Daily Mail and The Sun. Continuing with the blanket stigmatisation of anyone on benefits regardless of the fact that about half such recipients are in work, and that most people signing on would rather be working. To listen to Osborne, you would think those of us claiming have got a nice easy life. Apparently, we’re all on benefits as a life style choice. Really? I’d like to see Osborne try it; would like to see him living in a council flat in Meir or Middlesbrough, having to trek several miles on expensive buses to sign on (and he wants to make this weekly, or even more frequent!); with poor and declining local services. Let’s see how he likes it. But of course, the bully seldom gets a taste of his own medicine.

Even the DWP have admitted the programme has failed. The Right and the ignorant pontificators always fall back onto their old lie that there are jobs out there if only these lazy sods would take them. That is demonstrably untrue. I’ve said it before, and will doubtless have to do so again: there are two and a half million unemployed and only half a million vacancies at any given time. Do the fucking maths.

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Elegy

29/09/2013

It’s three in the morning and I’m awake again.
A fox’s yelp-bark sends up a
Noteless song from somewhere I can’t see,
A harsh elegy for sleep, perhaps,
Or a desperate plea for sex.
I’ll take the elegy,
However sweetly sourly sung
It won’t please the sleep god,
That fickle bastard
Never listens to prayers never mind
Answering them.
He’ll make an atheist of me soon
But I’ll still be awake,
Still am awake.
Even the fox has given up.

The Hand of History? Not Quite.

29/09/2013

Fotheringhay, as anyone who has studied Tudor history knows, is where Mary Queen of Scots was executed. The foolish Catholic pretender to the English throne, caught in a treason plot by spymaster Francis Walsingham, met her end in the great hall of the castle there, a few miles west of Peterborough. On one of my all to frequent trips to Peterborough this year, I was diverted by bad weather and had seen signs to the place. I resolved to come back, and did so several weeks later.

It was a warm day and I had all the windows open as I roared down the bypass at 70mph and onto the A605 towards Oundle. I followed the brown signs for Fotheringhay, pleased by the change in landscape: after the bleak flatness of the Fens, it was back to more “English” scenery of rolling farmland and woods.

Fotheringhay is a quaint old village with many thatched buildings built of a yellow-cream stone with an unusually wide main street. I parked near the church and walked back. Along a pitted track for a short distance, then over a stile by a farm where there was an information board. There was little to see, with only the small mound giving any impression that there had been anything here, this small field pressed against the limpid waters of the river Nene. Closer to the river were some railings with plaques fixed to them, commemorating the birth of Richard III in 1452 and Mary’s execution 135 years later. Adjacent to the latter, a faded tartan scarf was tied to the rust speckled metal.

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Even with the artist’s impression on the info board, it was hard to get a sense of the place: the word “castle” conjures up images of a large building with immense stone walls, towers, keep, battlements and moat. Unless it had the properties of a Tardis, to describe this place as a castle seems grandiloquent, as does “great hall”. The area seemed simply too small, too insignificant for such titles. Too insignificant for what turned out to be an significant historical event.

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With some head shaking, I climbed the small mound. The flanks were thick with large pink thistles, with large leaves of a strange dirty green-white. There was no one else around and it was peaceful, with just the gentle rustle of the river for company. I couldn’t reconcile this beautiful, quiet spot with such a violent deed as beheading. Try as I did, I got no feel for the place. It wasn’t the distance of time, as I’ve got strong senses from Medieval churches and neolithic sites (such as the stone circle at Stanton Drew in Somerset). It was as if a conscious attempt had been made to erase the place from history. If that is true, it’s almost succeeded. My last image of the place was of two red kites languidly circling the village, and who obligingly flew off as soon as I got my camera out. The hand of history? No. At best, the lightest of breaths shaking a few hairs.

 

Advertising: Polluting the Parts other Poisons Cannot Reach

26/09/2013

I have always loathed advertising. Even when I was young, the prospect of adverts would put me off watching ITV. And back then, there were only two ad breaks an hour. When I got a TV with a remote, as soon as ads came on, I’d turn the sound off; and when I got a VCR, ads would be fast-forwarded. To this day, I will not listen to commercial radio. I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve bought something because of an ad. And even then, I’ve always felt a lingering shame that I let myself be persuaded.

I don’t know if it’s down to age, but ads seem far too ubiquitous now. I don’t watch much TV (and most of that is the BBC), so most ads I come across are via the net. If the net were not so bound up with life now, I would stop using it. And advertisers know this. I especially hate so-called “targeted ads” that “they” think might be of interest to me. Well, just who the fuck do “they” think they are? I am most definitely NOT interested, and I will not buy anything from such ads on principle.

Now I know businesses need to advertise in order to make money. It’s all part of that overpaid and under-scrupulous practice called marketing. It’s just become too prevalent. The two ad breaks an hour on commercial TV became three and then four, and I won’t be surprised if this is relaxed yet again. This is one reason I won’t buy more TV channels. Sorry, but if I have to pay extra for something, I don’t want it cluttered and polluted with ads. I may sometimes complain about the licence fee, but if it’s a toss-up between that and ads on the BBC, I know what I will choose.

What this really demonstrates is that it’s business that rules the world. Politicians, regardless of party, are the all too willing slaves of business. What souls they had were sold to Mammon years ago. Along with our services and a lot of our rights. Nothing can now be allowed to hinder business, regardless of how unethically or criminally it behaves. What the solution to this is I do not know. Just how do you escape from something that has become as common as air?

Indian Summer

25/09/2013

As I sit on the step in the hot sun,
It’s hard to believe it’s September
Until I suddenly remember

Another Indian summer
When I rode along an empty lane,
Warm after many days of rain.

A caged bird finally freed,
I soared through the scented air,
Not ready for winter despair.

And now, under a jangling wind chime,
I’m glad that autumn’s been postponed,
Glad that more sunshine has been loaned:

However short the term,
However long the lease has left to run,
I’m grateful for this late sun.

The bees busy among the pots
Of geranium, clematis and pine,
I sip sunlight as I would a fine wine,

Drunk with a sumptuous meal
Long waited for, with candles on the table,
And summer a half-remembered fable.

If People Had Brains, They’d Be Dangerous

20/09/2013

There has always been a lot of crap spoken about the benefits system. Treating and portraying claimants as scroungers is nothing new, but this government has plumbed new depths.The most depressing aspect of it is just how effective their loathsome propaganda has been. Iain Duncan Smith and his vile acolytes have played a very crude Machiavellian game: scroungers vs strivers, workers vs the unemployed, able-bodied vs the disabled etc etc. Whenever I hear someone pontificating about benefits, my heart sinks. What I hear is the sort of nonsense that comes straight out of a Daily Mail editorial: they’re all lazy bastards and scroungers who want a free ride; they could get a job if they really wanted one, etc. If only life were so simple as this crude Manicheanism suggests. Dr Goebbels would be so proud.

I absolutely deplore the government’s policy as it attacks the poorest in society. That is bad enough. What makes it truly disgusting is the demonisation, and worse still, that so many people believe it and believe it uncritically. As if one bad example can be made an exemplar for all claimants. Sometimes the general stupidity of people depresses me. God gave you brains, you morons, how about using them for once?

From My Diary 17 September

17/09/2013

The only time I feel anything like content (let alone happy) is when I’m asleep. And only then precisely because I don’t, can’t, feel never mind think. Only then is there any forgetting of the current situation. Only then is there any release from the hopelessness that has settled so heavily on me; from that feeling of futility in whatever I do.

The days have become attempts to find things to help them pass, to speed them along until it’s time to sleep. An attempt to read deeply of the book of forgetting. Even sleep is a fickle swine, remaining out of reach with a sneer as I turn and turn in the narrowing sheets, and that gingerly to avoid the agonising calf cramp that always seems on the point of striking. When sleep does finally arrive, I’d feel relief if I could feel.

Kier Stoke Strikes Again

17/09/2013

Kier Stoke have done it again. Another triumph. This time it concerns the fire door replacement programme for the high rise flats in the city. It was clear from the outset that the doors were of a poor quality and were shoddily installed. Worse, they were of a type unsuitable for use as a front door as they were too flimsy, so were not secure. (I’m sure the Leader would not want such a door to his house). Many residents complained about this, but the Council’s response was to dismiss all such complaints: we are doing this for your own good so to complain means you are against fire safety. Just how patronising is that? Some residents refused to allow access for the doors to be fitted, and reiterated their concerns over security. The Council’s response to this was not to treat the complainants as adults and discuss the issues sensibly. No, they threatened to evict anyone who refused.

Thankfully, some residents refused to be intimidated. They made formal complaints and after two years of wrangling, the Council finally deigned to order an inspection of the work done. The report when it came was damning. A high level of defects were found which meant that the doors were not safe. The report can be found here.

The Council admitted to The Sentinel on 1st August 2013 that mistakes had been made and they made a half-hearted, grudging apology. Well, that does not go far enough. Numerous questions still need to be answered:

  1. The report was delivered to the Council in March 2013 yet they did not write to the residents until August 2013. Why the delay?
  2. Concerns over security have still not been addressed. Why?
  3. The Council’s letter to residents states that Kier are to carry out remedial works. Given that Kier messed it up, why are they still involved?
  4. Given that the doors are safety critical (which the Council was so keen to remind us of) and that they do not meet the required standard, have any staff been disciplined for this monumental failure? And if not, why?
  5. Just how much of our money they have wasted through their arrogance?

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have hardly covered themselves in glory over this. They should have been grown up enough to listen to their tenants and admit their failures far earlier. This whole sorry affair has further lowered the reputation of an organisation I was once proud to work for. Let us now hope that fire doors are fitted that are both fit for purpose and sturdy enough to be secure. Sadly, I have no confidence that this will happen.

The Last Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Rule of Stupid Bosses

08/09/2013

What is it about some people in management positions who get on despite their patent and manifest lack of ability and lack of people skills? I have had the misfortune of coming across several such people, and the worst of all, the absolute pits, was my team leader at Serco-Peterborough. She was the worst manager I’ve ever had to work with, and I’ve worked with some turkeys in my time.

So what made her so awful? Not only is she one of the rudest and most patronising people I’ve ever met, she is also one of the most stupid. Harsh words perhaps, but it became obvious very quickly. She could seldom answer any queries I had without hiding behind bluster or rudeness: you should know that; have you [bothered] reading your notes? Well pardon me if I thought answering queries was part of your fucking job. Contrast this with the better managers at Stoke, who could quote chapter and verse from the regs and how to apply it to the query, without having to ask anyone else or look it up. Ask too many queries at Peterborough and I’d find myself summoned to see the service manager. (who I privately referred to as “The Brick”, for I’d have been better talking to one). Why don’t you know this? etc etc.

I could do nothing right in their eyes, and the team leader seemed to take pleasure in pointing this out as often as she could. As I wrote in a poem at the time (The Voices), if this is said to you often enough, you will start to believe it. No matter how much you may fight against it, it will wear you down. A war of attrition, fought with words rather than bullets. And it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Looking back on it now, I believe I was set up to fail.

This will be the last time I write about this. This is the final venting of spleen. One cannot live on resentment and an over-developed sense of grievance. It poisons, slowly and chronically. So I will conclude with one final piece of vitriol, a last expectoration of bubbling spite. I can only wish both managers ill, but for the team leader, I hope one day she gets found out. I hope one day she picks on the wrong person and gets sacked for it. I won’t hold my breath for I’m enough of a realist to know that people like her seldom get justice visited on them. I’m sure the bitch will go far.

The Joy of Maps

03/09/2013

Ever since childhood, I’ve loved maps. From my first world atlas to the road maps I’d look in wonder at to help pass long car journeys, I found them fascinating. My favourites have to be the Ordnance Survey (OS). What started as the one inch to the mile series, have now morphed into the pink covered Landrangers. From the broad sweep of a road atlas, that gives tantalising hints of the landscape, in the OS you swim in a lush, warm ocean of detail. Roads whose importance is denoted by their colour: blue, green, red, brown, yellow or uncoloured; place names, sometimes with a Latin annotation to denote a Roman settlement, that show the range of influences over the centuries (Celtic, Roman, Saxon, Norse); rivers and other watercourses; battle sites; contour lines, densely packed or none; remote settlements and farmsteads with weird names (Dog-in-a-Doublet Farm near Thorney, Cambs has to be my favourite, and the strangest, Sodom in Denbighshire).

From my local sheet, number 118 for Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield, (which I’ve now had four of, the first of which is now very battered), which still holds much interest, to a growing number of other sheets I’ve acquired when I travel somewhere new. All can help pass a weary winter evening, poring over the Croesian richness of their detail.

Sometimes, just looking at how some places appear on the map makes me want to go there. On sheet 134 (Norwich and the Broads), a narrow swathe of white runs from Norwich for several miles south-east, with not a contour line to be seen and crossed only by numerous rivers and streams, picked out a thin blue. Either side of this, the contours pick up again, so this white and blue area leaps off the paper at you. In complete contrast, on sheet 9 (Cape Wrath), dense contours are punctuated by thousands of small lochs and only the very occasional road, where even the “A” roads are single track, and all the names are Gaelic. Seeing this, I just had to go there, had to see it. (Writing this, I had to pause to look at the map again, for the first time in years, and I want to go there, now). Maps like these can create adventures without ever having to set foot outside your door. Even so, I always like to take the map to the place it describes, take it home almost.

Fascinating though this wealth of detail is, sometimes you need the bigger sweep of a larger map. Then you see the long straights of Roman roads, scarce a bend for mile after mile (look at the A5 in the Midlands for instance). The A15 north of Lincoln follows the old Roman road of Ermine Street for several miles, and is, I believe, the longest piece of straight road in England. The effect is rather spoiled by a kink near Scampton, as if a giant was drawing the road along a ruler and accidentally drew round a finger. (The real reason is rather more prosaic, an extension to the runway at RAF Scampton). This reminds me of a story I read about when the Moscow – St Petersburg railway was being planned, Tsar Nicholas I used a ruler on the map and drew round a finger. He was so widely feared the curve was apparently included on the finished line just in case!

Mention of railways brings me to that fascinating, romantic mark on the OS “Cse of Old Rly”, or these days as “dismantled railway”. The faint dotted lines which also showed cuttings, embankments, and bridges, which often abruptly end where the old alignment has been lost to plough, new roads or building. Sometimes you can pick it up again nearby, but not always: the old Midland and Great Northern route around Caistor has vanished. If I come across such a route when I’m travelling, I will usually go and investigate it, see how much remains. The answer is usually not much, or nothing at all. You need an old map to see where stations were. Thankfully there are many resources online now to make this industrial archeology easy. There is also a company called Cassini that reprints old OS 1 inch maps realigned to the current Landranger sheet, and I have a few of these.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a collector, but whenever I come across a second hand bookshop, I will usually pick up an old one inch OS. Indeed, the first time I visited Holyhead, I used such a map from 1955 to navigate as I did not have anything newer. The first thing I look for will be former railways, seeing them marked in a black as open with stations and all the features intact, not the faint dots of the closed. Those maps even distinguish between open and closed stations and single and multiple track lines.

Many times, my mental journeys round the paper of the map has been to follow the “Cse of Old Rly”, and to wonder about the line, when it closed and what it would have been like to travel over. The internet has made this easier too, with satellite images showing the long abandoned earthworks. Much as I appreciate these technologies, they can never hope to surpass the thrill of expectation that comes from opening or unfolding a proper paper map.

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My first copy of the Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield OS map


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