Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

To Kindle or not to Kindle?

I’ve been wondering recently whether to put a Kindle on my birthday wish list.  It’s not my birthday yet folks so don’t panic but you have to realise that in my house I have to start dropping the hints early-on and at regular intervals so they become fixed into the minds of all my family because that way there’s a tiny, teeny chance that I’ll get at least one thing that I want.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Anyway, these kindle things.  They’re popping up in more and more places.  Every time I go into the rest room at work I see yet another colleague with lunch in one hand, kindle in the other.  And at swimming club, the bloke who sits next to me has one.  My friend bought one recently too because she says they’re great for taking on holiday and I have to say, that’s probably the biggest advantage.  It must be nice to read a book by the pool or on the beach without said book falling apart due to sand, beer,  salt-water, tequila’s, sun-cream, ice-cream, wine etc. getting all over it.

So Book or Kindle?  Let’s see . . .

  • Convenience – the holiday thing as mentioned above.  But at least you can share books.  I suspect that not many people would be prepared to lend out their Kindles.  You finish one book on holiday and then you lend it to your friend/sister/whoever and they lend you one back that they’ve just finished.  And there are book shelves in most hotels anyway where visitors take and leave books so you needn’t really take any books with you unless there’s a particular book you want to read.
  • Takes up less space.  Yes, but my book shelf wouldn’t look half as homely with one little kindle sat there instead of my musty collection of books.  In fact it would look really quite lonely.
  • Much easier to read in bed.  Got me there.  I find it really hard to hold my book when I’m led in bed, especially if it’s a large book or a hard-back.  I just can’t get comfy and my wrists start to ache after a while from trying to keep the book open with my thumb.
  • E-books are cheaper.  Yes but it would take a lot of e-book purchases to cancel out the initial cost of the Kindle.  In any case, there are second-hand book shops.  Used books are cheap.  And what about the little corner book shops?  Amazon, on-line Waterstones and what-not have already started to cripple the independents.  How can they ever hope to compete with a Kindle.  And there are the public libraries.  Oh, erm Gideon and Cammy-boy are getting rid of those aren’t they.  Well the central libraries will still be there (I think. Hope).  I can’t see those libraries lending out Kindles although I’m sure there will come a time when libraries are lending out e-books.
  • Kindles make great gifts.  Well that depends on how much you want to spend.  I often buy books as gifts for friends and family.  I love buying people books for their birthday.  It’s  so easy.  You just choose something that’s appropriate to their views or personality and they love that you’ve given them something so thoughtful.  And I love the ritual of writing a witty, personal message on the inside cover then dating and signing it.  How can I do that if the Kindle replaces real books?

Well, there you go.  I think I’ve just talked myself out of abandoning the lovely, pulpy book for a Kindle.  Yes, for me there’s just something about the good, old-fashioned book that can never be replaced by electronics.  It’s the smell.  The feel.  The look.  I love my books.  And I love my beloved book shelf that displays everything I’ve read over the years – each book instantly there to refer to, talk about, hold in my hand and marvel over how much I loved it.

But . . . . wait just one cotton-picking liddle minute you silly girlie.  You’ve forgotten one crucial factor.

Yes, how could I forget the most important issue?  The impact.  THE impact.  Me, who named myself after our lovely planet and consistently banged on about the protection thereof, has recklessly failed to consider the environmental impact factor of  both the Kindle and the book!

[Please turn away now while I partake of some serious self-beratement]

So I did some research and t’would appear that although the production of one single Kindle uses up tons more energy than the production of a seemingly pure and innocent book, from hereon-in it gets much worse for the poor book.  In fact, the pulped version turns into a eco-nightmare compared to the e-book. I won’t go into detail because it hurts too much but trust me, I’m mortified.

Gutted folks.  Truly gutted.  But I have to stay true to my eco-me and so, taking all things into consideration, I have come to the decision that (sob, sniff) the books are not as kind to the environment as Kindles are and it is with the greatest of sulking begrudgement that all my future book purchases will be either used books or e-books.

When I get my Kindle that is.

Bluebells, Caves, Lakes . . . and not a lot more

Well what do you expect when we get two long weekends back-to-back and the sun shining throughout?  Nothing to do with the fact that my synapses are refusing to fire up and I can’t seem to put anything together that would be worthy of reading.  What’s that saying?  The mind is willing but the . . . erm . . . never mind.  The photo’s will have to do – taken in Rydal Water – a family favourite that we visit often over the seasons.  Although there have been some treason-like mutterings from within recently that go something like . . . not there again!  Can’t we think of somewhere different?  And that’s just the husband!  It’s mutiny I tells ya!

This and that and rather a lot more

It’s increasingly challenging for me to find the time to blog these days so it’s frustrating to say the least when there’s just so much to blog about.  For instance, George Monbiot’s nuclear-powered, shot0gun-held-to-his-head U-turn on nuclear power.  Well he must have had a shot-gun held to his head when he wrote this.  Either that or his body was taken over and possessed by an evil force from the nuclear industry.  I mean how else do you explain such an aggressive change-of-heart from someone who spent most of their life campaigning against nuclear power.  He appears to have based his newly-found affection for nuclear energy on the fact that Fukushima was hit by an earthquake and a tidal wave and didn’t cause a global catastrophe.  Oh!  He plays down his pre-Fukushima stance by describing his then views as nuclear-neutral.  Well that’s a load of tripe!  He was never nuclear-neutral.  He was blatantly anti-nuclear.  Here’s what he said a few years ago…

“…nuclear power spreads radioactive pollution, presents a target for terrorists and leaves us with waste that no government wants to handle.”

There’s loads more where that came from.  Hmph!  Bloody turn-coat.

And what about this quiet little item?  A new EU directive comes into play soon which will give more power to Big Pharma.  More power! I hear you exclaim.  I know!  Anyway, this new directive sounds ok at first glance. Indeed, but there are implications.  A EU-wide ban will be in place in a few months but from the 1st of May, hundreds of herbal remedies that have been used in the UK for decades will no longer be available to people who have been benefiting from their properties.  This of course may result in people trying to get hold of them via the Internet thus making the control of such remedies impossible . . . and there’s also the added risk that some of these Internet-acquired products will be of a much poorer quality.  It’s a big win for the pharmaceutical profiteers but let me just ask the politicians who’ve made this decision (I suspect muchly due to some sneaky hand-shaking and bribery from the drug companies) a question . . . What do you think people were doing to relieve their illnesses hundreds and hundreds of years ago?  And actually, an important thing to consider is that many herbal medicines are taken by healthy people in order to try and prevent illness.  And we all know the saying about prevention and cure.  But there’s no profit in healthy people is there.  Avaaz have a petition up here.

They’d better keep their hands off my herbal tea!!

Is there room to squeeze in a little personal message to David Cameron?  Yes?  Ooh goodie. . . .

David, do be quiet dear.  Do try to stop being such a condescending twit.  I know it’s hard to keep up the facade of nice, popular man-of-the-people but please try harder to hide your real chauvinistic, homophobic character.  We know you were only trying to be funny and clever and that, but you’re not funny and clever.  You’re witless and boring so do hush up.  Oh and David dear, please try to keep that arrogant, snot-faced, creepy little chancellor of yours under control.  His sneering, giggly, immature face is really making me want to vomit bucket-loads each and every time I see it.  Thank you dear.

Speaking of the patronising Cameron, I’m taking bets on how long after the Royal wedding will it be before Shallow Cam starts using the happiness of the event to spin his ideological visions for Britain.

And to finish, I’ll pop up a picture or two, just to keep the place alive, barely, but alive just the same.  Oh and I’ve sneaked a little video in at the end – a party political broadcast of the Green variety.  Go on – vote for the Green party.  You know you want to.

My middlie taking part in the May Pole dancing for St. George’s day.  So there, BNP.  You can stop spreading the myth that celebrating Englishness is being outlawed.

Bolton Abbey Priory.  I took that picture with my broken little Nikon Coolpix L22.  Impressed?  I am.

Newscloud of sorts

Big Fish Rugby Tour in Swansea . Fabulous rugby-playing by our Under 11 boys . Much bad sportsmanship displayed by winning team’s coaches by-way-of entering two teams separately and doing some dubious jiggery-pokery with said teams . Me-laddie getting pushed about by huge brute of a boy of the ginger-haired variety . Me trying in vain to mask my blatant glee when me-laddie got his revenge on aforementioned huge ginger brute by making an enormously heroic tackle on him thus sending him flying into touch and me-laddie going on to score a magnificent try .  Magnificent try disallowed by dodgy and quite clearly biased ref . Gorgeous weather . Lot’s of freckles .  Too much beer . Too much food . Too little time . Late nights/early mornings . Back to work . Off work again! . Lot’s of pain and soreness, mostly caused by a confused immune system that wouldn’t know a healthy joint (that does not need it’s owners immune system to kick in and randomly attack it and all its brother and sister joints thankyouverymuch) from a real live streptococcal throat infection (that actually does require some attention by said immune system . . . and promptly if you pleaseandthankyouverymuch) . sigh .  Much outpouring of misery and feeling sorry-for-oneself . Back to work . double sigh . Much team conflict . sigh, wail, gnash teeth . Lot’s of regret for having returned to work instead of prolonging sickness leave by exploiting existing condition .

Thank the gods of mercy for weekends.

Arts cuts, police cuts, nursing, crime and tangents . .

Isn’t it strange how the news regarding police cuts doesn’t seem to get the left as animated as they get towards other cuts.  I know the police have not won many public hearts lately due to their public displays of aggression and intimidation at recent protest rallies and suchlike – and quite right too.  We’ve seen some appalling police behaviour and the lack of accountability is downright criminal but I guess they’re not all our enemy.  Just as there are good and bad nurses and good and bad teachers, the same surely applies to the police.

I had three police officers at my house this morning.  Two officers came and went followed by a crime scene investigator.  They were here, in short, because my eldest daughter’s car was broken into.  The poor girl has only had the car for one week.  She was chuffed to bits about it.  What with the sky-scrapingly high insurance costs for new, young drivers, she thought she would never be able to afford a car.  But to her credit,  she somehow made it happen.  She chose the smallest, cheapest, cutest little car available – one with low economical running costs and not so harsh on the environment.

Being a student nurse,  she receives a little bursary each month which just about pays for said car.  But crucially, being a student nurse, she has to go on placements far and wide and at all times of the day and night so a car is really quite essential.  I was very tempted, incidentally, to talk her out of nursing.  She was all set up for university.  Had a guaranteed place at Liverpool and everything.  She couldn’t wait to start.  Why she changed her mind, I’ll never know.  And why she chose to go into nursing befuddles me even more but I suspect her boyfriend, and the reluctance to leave him, had something to with the decision. Ho hum.

Anyway (tangents dear girl, tangents), her shiny, new little car was violated right outside our house the other night and she was gutted.  The perpetrator just popped the lock right out of the door.  Nothing was taken because there was nothing to take.  The police officer said he was probably looking for spare change or hoping to find an ipod because the car came with an ipod thingy where you can plug in your ipod and listen to your playlist.

The first two officers who attended were very nice and helpful.  They showed care and concern towards my daughter and were very attentive.  After they’d completed their bit they left and told me a crime scene investigator would come along later to take fingerprints and stuff.  They asked my daughter if she would need to use the car today and she said yes – she had to go into uni at 12 o clock so they said they’d try to get the forensic guy to come before then.  I didn’t expect this to happen but lo and behold, the lovely lady turned up at about 10.30 with her little black bag of forensics tools.  I was impressed.  She too was very caring and concerned but she couldn’t do any dusting on the car door because it was raining.

I had been listening to the news all morning and there was much talk about the police cuts and cuts to the Arts.  Objections to the Arts cuts, by the way, are easy to dismiss but I don’t mind admitting that I object to these cuts almost as much as other cuts, not least because Art enriches all our lives but more importantly,  there will be many-a knock-on effect by way of employment, education and suchlike and will result in only the well-off being able to afford to study an Arts degree or pursue a particular ‘Arts’ talent.  And youth theatre groups, sports groups . . . what about all those youngsters who are committing time and energy to something fulfilling that they enjoy . . . something that helps to keep them fit and healthy.  We already know that too many unfit teenagers spend their time hanging around streets with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  Tell me what’s beneficial about taking away their facilities when those things give them a focus, where they can learn about commitment, self-respect and teamwork.  The Arts have the power to transform and vastly improve lives.  I’ve seen it working.  Dance teachers are creating community dance-groups everywhere.  It’s classless, genderless and available across the scale.  The kids who attend such groups are growing daily in self-esteem and self-confidence.  And they’re active for god’s sake!  Off the streets.  Not being thugs!  Not being a nuisance!  Not committing crimes!  Isn’t that the goal?  You need look no further than the absolutely fantastic Dance United to realise just how effective and empowering such groups can be.

Basically, Arts funding is there to provide equal opportunities for everybody to have their lives enriched and improved. The Arts cuts are regressive and will make Art and Culture elite and inaccessible to all but a privileged few.   Osborne’s few.

Anyway, where was I? (More tangents.  Focus girl!) My police experience, although brought about by a nasty and annoying crime, was an altogether positive one but it got me thinking about the cuts and how it might affect the three nice officers who dealt with our case.  I don’t know anything about the structure of police forces.  I know that like nurses, doctors, paramedics etc. police officers take a lot of crap from the public.  They deal with aggressive and abusive people on an almost daily basis and are always the first in line for a bashing and being blamed for everyone’s problems.  I do stand by my belief that a lot of officers join the police force for the wrong reasons (ie: power, means to bully etc) but generally speaking, I like to think that, like nurses, teachers etc., most of them are decent with a genuine desire to help others and like most of us, they face worrying times and insecurities.

There’s more to a police force than the images we see of police thuggery on our TV screens and the government’s promises not to cut front line jobs is meaningless given that front-liners depend on non-front-line staff to do their jobs properly so no matter how they spin it, the cuts will detrimentally affect the police and how they protect the public and no matter how bitter the relationship between activist and policeman is, it’s surely in our interest to support them at this time.

Gosh!  It’s all or or nothing with me.

Weekend!

Have I really been away for that long?  What happened to February?  And March!  March downright sneaked right by me without so much as a wave or a by-your-leave.  Well technically March hasn’t gone yet but it’s almost the end of another month.  Time really does fly.

Well anyway . . . how are you?  T’as been a while.

And, making every effort to avoid the doomsday talk, it’s been quite a weekend folks.

We had that lunar perigee and would you know it, it even came with a full moon – and a clear night!  Who the heck planned that?  Not me that’s for sure.  In all honesty, although it was all very pretty and enchanting, I didn’t notice old Mr. Moon looking any closer than he does any other night but then, as  my wise son told me, if we looked at the moon sans perigee and compared it to the perigee (a kind of ‘before and after’ picture) then I’m sure we’d see a difference.

Moving on -

Drum roll if you please . . . England went and won the Six Nations which of course is just as it should be.  And then – even bigger drum roll ( and hey, let’s add huge trumpet fanfare . . . . . . . . . . . me laddie scored the winning try at Sunday’s game in the local rugby tournament.  He also came off the pitch sporting a lovely swollen and bruised cheekbone but, being the roughy-toughy, steely-eyed boy that he is, my concerns were abruptly (not to mention disgustedly) rejected.  [Note to self: must stop calling him me laddie, especially in front of his rugby buddies].

Then we spent some time cabbaging on the sofa with the TV on, mostly Tracy Beaker (yes, you heard! Well he’s a big softie at home).  Tracy Beaker is a childrens TV show based on Jaqueline Wilson’s series of books all about a childrens care home.  Well after watching a couple of back-to-back episodes me laddie (sorry, old habits and all that) now thinks I should put him into care because apparently kids in care have much more fun that he does.  Well that may be so if all care workers were like the ones in Tracy Beaker, and it has to be said, the ones in Tracy Beaker are pretty cool and fantastic, but they are actors – with written lines and stage props and stuff.  And the sad reality is (and to our  great shame my friends) that we are failing our children in care.

And on that note, before I pour out a torrential rant, it’s ta ra for now.  My comeback has gone back and there’s no telling when it will come back again so in the meantime I’ll leave you with this timely little video by the very lovely  . . . .

Erm, it’s been a while . . .

T’is rather hard to know where or how to start when one has been so ludicrously absent from blogs and the posting thereof but I shall give it a go, somewhat sheepishly but hey ho.  No. Actually.  Forget the sheep.  I think I’ll start true to form – with a rant.  Here goes . . .

Yule Tide

Another Christmas has been and gone and I made the same mistakes.  Every year, no matter how much I try to resist, I fall under the spell of consumerism.  Not obscenely so but enough to make for some serious self-berating.  I argue with myself and finger wag at my kids that we’re cutting back this year . . .  don’t expect so much because I really mean it this time!!! . . . but Captain Capitalism always manages to bewitch me at Christmas and forces me to buy all kinds of crap that no-one really needs (and probably doesn’t even want that much if truth be told).  The food wastage alone is a sin of biblical proportions but it’s the whole Xmas package (and packaging!) that gets so mental.  Well what’s done is done.  I tried to be as green and as ethical as possible but if I’m honest I failed on more levels than I care to admit.  Anyhoo, here are some UK Christmas eco-facts:

  • Every year some one billion cards are used and only a fraction of them are recycled.
  • Almost 3000 tonnes of aluminium foil is used to wrap around the 10 million turkeys we eat every Christmas.
  • Almost half of the toys given will be broken or discarded within three months and because most of them will be plastic, they will be destined straight for our delightful landfill sites.
  • Approximately 23 million jars of pickles, mincemeat and cranberry sauce will be consumed. If all these glass jars were recycled, it would save enough energy to boil water for 60 million cups of tea but alas only a small percentage are recycled.
  • Over 83 square km of wrapping paper will end up in UK rubbish bins, enough to cover an area larger than Guernsey
  • [End of rant]

Winterval

The snow queen visited her lovely self upon us for the second year running (well I know we’ve had snow other years but not with any intensity worth mentioning).  T’was another beautiful Winterval with some delightful bright snowy days and our enchanting moon providing some gorgeous nights with its orange silveryness above us (I know. Just use your imagination).  I sometimes find myself wishing I had a really good camera that would do justice to some of the moons I’ve enjoyed this Autumn/Winter.  Mind you, a proper, decent camera would be wasted on the likes of me so my little Nikon will suffice for my limited technical knowledge.  I don’t even use that to it’s full capacity . . . and I dropped it once so now an elastic band keeps the battery cover closed.  I’m really rubbish sometimes. Anyway, some piccies:

Comfort and Joy

Lovely Middlie provided the joy by dancing in the local theatre panto again and of course she was brilliant.  This year it was Mother Goose and it was hilarious.  And in a rare, out-of-character moment, I was actually organised enough to book tickets early enough to get the comfy seats with optimal viewing.

And finally:

The best thing about 2011 is going to be

England lifting the rugby world cup on my rugby-mad son’s 12th birthday.  Yay!

Well that wasn’t so bad.  TTFN folks.


The Work of the Devil – a quick, random, bullet-pointy post

  • I don’t think anyone has made me want to throw up more than work-of-the-devil David Cameron and I’m thinking particularly about when he was talking to the BBC today from China about the naughty students and the extremely brave police officers at Millbank during the student protests.  Gawd, he is an unbelievably patronising git.  As for that violence caused by a minority, as overblown as it is, the question has been raised – has this ignited a wider public backlash against the cuts in general.  Who knows?  But hey, who said students and young people were politically apathetic?
  • It”s no secret that I am a nervy, jittery person and it doesn’t take much to make me all jumpy.  Well the damned wind outside is proper spooking me out folks.  The letter-box keeps rattling, my lounge door keeps blowing open and, in spite of the double-glazed windows, the silver metal blinds in my boy’s bedroom are blowing right out.  It’s the work of the devil I tells ya.
  • Those memoirs.  There’s no way I will be reading George Bush’s feel-good book-of-love but I did just finish a book called The Help which was utterly unputdownable and highly recommended.  I won’t say too much about it except to quote this line . . . Jackson, Mississippi 1962 – black maids raise white children but aren’t trusted not to steal the family silver.  As for that other book – the work of the devil (probably literally!), like I said, I won’t be reading it – remember, I’m easily spooked, but I have read the news and I’m well aware of what he said about torture in the form of water-boarding having saved British lives but he fails to mention that his torture policies, hell, all of his policies, have put people in more danger than ever.  Clearly there’s no limit to the man’s stupidity and inhumanity but enough about him.  I won’t sleep tonight as it is.
  • I don’t get the The Labour party.  What are they playing at rebelling against the expulsion of Phil Woolas and his anti-immigrant rhetoric?  We know they’re not doing it out of concern for Parliamentary sovereignty.  They’re dividing themselves again.  Are they trying to lose the next election?  Woolas played the race card and lost.  He pandered to the Daily Mailers and we all know that the Daily Mail is the work of the devil.  Harriet Harman was bang on when she gave him the boot.
  • Magnums are utterly yummy.  And probably the work of the devil.

Of spooky days out and broken pinky fingers

Me laddie has been put out of action for a few weeks due to breaking his little finger in two places during a rugby training session.  He had to have surgery to manipulate it back into place.  The orthopaedic registrar informed us that surgery was necessary because the breaks were on growth plates and his finger would not grow properly without the surgery.  They even kept him in overnight and I got to sleep on a chair bed right next to him.  All very dramatic for the sake of a broken pinky finger but we were looked after  very well.  Yep, I experienced for myself the greatness of the NHS, but despite the pledges and the ring-fencing, be in little doubt that the cold, hard hands of Cameron and Giddy-boy will soon be felt around the neck of our beloved NHS.  It’s already happening folks.

Anyway, me laddie . . . the poor boy is gutted.  He can’t play rugby for another four to six weeks and to rub the salt well and truly in, after waiting nervously for weeks for his teacher to make the team announcements, he just got chosen for the the school’s football team and hasn’t been able to play a single game for them yet.  He was chosen to play goalkeeper, the position that everyone usually dreads but I think they gave him that position on account of his catching skills.  Well, probably more likely because, having played rugby most of his life, he kept trying to catch the ball instead of kick it.  He doesn’t mind being goalie though.  Loitering idly whilst picking paint off the posts and wondering what’s for tea suits him splendidly.

Anyhoo, well and truly out of action is where we are right now and even cycling is out of bounds so we’ve been going on lots of walks – just so his stamina and fitness levels don’t walk away altogether never to be found again.

Yesterday we went to Bolton Abbey and to my delight, there were lot’s of Halloweeny things going on which included a pumpkin trail.  My boy, having turned eleven just last week, was a bit disgusted at such childish nonsense but I have a sneaky feeling that his buddy who came along with us unintentionally induced much of that disgust.  So, not one to miss out on anything, I took part myself and just as I thought, it wasn’t long before they were both butting in and shouting out with unreserved excitment whenever they spotted a pumpkin or a witch.  Even the hubby was caught up in it all.  T’was jolly good Halloween stuff.

I even managed to take some pictures of the beautiful Autumn day so, for your Autumnal pleasure . . .



Austerity – the rich need not apply

Well folks, on the political front, there’s so much been happening in my absence that it’s hard to know where to start but I think the child benefit fiasco is as good an issue as any to begin with.

First off, I know I’m not alone in being utterly bewildered by the fact that they are allowing such a glaringly illogical inequality to occur within the policy and it beggars belief that they can’t come up with a process so that joint incomes are taken into consideration.  I mean come on guys.  You have two policical parties working at this. You can’t all be as dim as dusk!

Anyhoo, the cut itself (and, true to form, here’s where I start contradicting myself again), I really, reeally, reeeally want to defend keeping the child benefit universal, if only on the grounds that it is a citizens income for children and all children are equal etc. but I just can’t bring myself to argue against a principle that says we should stop paying benefits to the well-off and I’ve been quite surprised at how much the left-wing has stretched the universality argument, coming up with all kinds of romantic socialist reasons as to why it’s wrong to take this benefit away from the middle classes  – one being that the they’ll stop supporting welfare for the poor if they don’t get any benefits themselves.  That’s just silly.  There’s nothing bad at all about cutting benefits for the well-off but of course, me being me (I did warn you), I’m not straight -down-the-line in support of it either.  I mean it’s complicated isn’t it.  £44k is considered to be a high income but that high income isn’t quite so high if you have kids is it.  But ultimately, I can’t believe it will impact these families so much as to cause serious hardship so like I said, all things considered, I just can’t bring myself to oppose cutting a benefit to families that could manage quite nicely without it.  A higher threshold maybe but not universal, at least not under current circumstances.

Well anyway, for those just above the threshold, after the cut some of the luxuries will probably have to go – private music tuition and gardeners and suck-like.  Not such an hardship at first glance but there is a knock-on effect.  I absolutely get that it’s not right for low-incomers to have their taxes spent on benefits for the well-off so they can continue to have their grass cut or their kids enriched with private music lessons and I must stress that this is not an argument against the child benefit cut.  Its merely an observation related to unintended consequences or whatever but it has to be said that the people who provide these household services and private tuition etc. rely on fee-paying middle-incomers for their own livelihood.  Many small businesses have been started by ordinary people tapping into a growing demand from working families who can’t fit it all in and so hire people to help out with the chores.  But these are non-essential products and for families that are just above that threshold and have to take a cut in income, it’s the luxuries that go first.  Again, as I said, not a valid argument for giving benefits to the well-off  but the fact remains that it will have its impact on a chunk of small business owners who may be less well-off.  And anyway, more to the point, it really sticks in my throat that the Tories have suddenly found this to be a useful argument.  Does anyone actually believe that the Tories are sincere when they cry out how wrong it is that the hard-working poor should pay taxes to give benefits to higher earners.  Come off it Tories!  Since when have you cared about the poor being disproportionately taxed in comparison to, and to the benefit of, the rich?  Hark at them suddenly being in support of wealth redistribution in the favour of the poor!

Of course all this has deliberately diverted us from their real agenda ie the real cuts that will disadvantage the poor even more than they already are.  The cap on benefits will seriously plunge many families into deeper hardship and it really will come down to having to choose whether to pay the extortionate rent fees or feed their kids.

And this mantra about people on benefits being a lifestyle choice is a blatant insult.  These people do exist, I accept that but not to the extent that the coalition wants us to believe.  Where the hell are all these jobs that the idle spongers should be taking up anyway under threat of losing their benefits?  I know it’s been asked a million times but as far as I can tell, it’s not been answered so I ask again, how can a single-mum be expected to travel twenty odd miles a day to the only job offer she’s had and it’s a job that pays the minimum wage (which probably won’t exist anyway when the Coalition gets its grubby hands on it), while paying for child care and meeting expensive travel costs?  With the VAT increase taken into account how the hell will she make ends meet?

The thing that gets me is that they keep saying we’re in this together and that everyone across the class divide has to take a hit but I’ve looked and looked and I still can’t see where the rich are being affected.  They give this impression that they too are having to make sacrifices too but I fail to see where? The capital gains tax increase is a gesture that will slightly affect ruthless, buy-to-let landlords and second home-owners.  The rest is Tory ideology hidden behind a false, tough-but-fair slogan and everyone with an ounce of sense knows that the poor are going to suffer the heaviest impacts when their ideology goes live.  But what makes it so damn harsh and cruel is that it’s not neccessary.  There are other ways but in the world of Cameron, Clegg and Osborne et al, austerity only applies to the poor.  Top and bottom is, it’s an ideologically motivated attack on the two things that the traditional right-wing hate the most – the poor and the public sector.

The shared pain slogan is a lie.

Of Camping and Being Jane

After last year’s fantabulous once-in-a-lifetime holiday in the Caribbean, this year we decided to keep our carbon footprint low and go camping.  It was a bit of a mixed bag of unplannedness and camp-impromptu –  ie – destination wherever and accommodation largely unknown.

And it so happened that Grizdale Forest benefited from our presence at one point because that’s where Go Ape is located.  If you’ve never heard of Go Ape, it’s basically a tree-top assault course involving stupidly high-altitudes and lot’s of crazy tree-swinging.  (If you thought I was a tree hugger before, you should have seen how I clung to those trees in Grizedale!!).

Grizedale Forest is a lovely area with enchanting sculpture trails and several mountain bike routes but it’s a bit too manufactured for our off-the-beaten-track tastes so we don’t visit often.  They also hold two motor rally’s each year which I find a bit odd.  I mean they spend all year preserving and maintaining its beauty and promoting eco-values yet they allow rally cars to fly around the place twice a year which must surely have a substantial environmental impact.  Can’t quite get my head round that one.  I did argue with myself about my own possible hypocrisy in that I’ve just taken part in a tourist attraction there involving hair-raising zip-wires and metal ropes wrapped around trees and loony humans swinging from them but there’s really no comparison.  GoApe is as carbon-neutral an activity as it gets and it’s got to be less of an impact than all those highly-polluting, energy-guzzling over-populated, corporate theme parks that appear on every spare bit of land the Western world has left – if Walmart didn’t get there first.

Anyway, that’s the whys and the wherefores out of the way,  the activity – I was terrified all the way, not least because they leave you – the instructors – they leave you to do the courses alone – all five of them!  After a forty minute training session they just leave you.  I couldn’t believe it.  They give you a whistle and tell you to blow it hard five times in an emergency and that’s it.  They stay on the ground while you’re climbing up huge trees and swinging over huge forests.  But they tell me that’s the point, that it’s all about personal responsibility skills, safety, building self-confidence, conquering fears etc..  Hmm.

Well I survived.  I don’t remember when I stopped trying to guess how many feet above sea level we were and I don’t know at what point it was that my legs stopped pretending to be jelly.  It just seemed easier after a while to simply numb my mind and throw myself into it in a ‘what-the-hell’  all or nothing kind of way.

And I can say with some relief and a not-so-small smidging of personal pride, that we completed all five courses.  We even opted for the ‘extreme’  extreme route on the final leg.  Well to be honest, I was all set to ignore the ‘extreme’ extreme route and turn the other other way towards relative safety.  I’d just about had enough hair-raising adventure by then and no longer wanted to play Jane.  But they wouldn’t let me.  My family, they turned against me, said something about me coming this far and regretting it if I chickened out now.  So I was press-ganged onto the final cliff-edge experience.  Well it was just a Tarzan swing really but with a huge drop.  And it was brilliant.  Totally exhilarating.

But I will just whisper (quietly, between you and me) that the cocky, arrogant fella in the group behind us, the one who tutted impatiently when I froze on the first baby Tarzan swing and sighed patronisingly when I got my boot stuck in the net –  yes, him . . .  he took the easy route.

One enlightening and slightly disconcerting thing I discovered is that my kids have no fear whatsoever.  Gulp.

In all honesty, although I loved the whole experience, I’m still not sure how I feel about GoApe in terms of its impact on nature.  The trees must surely take some bashing.  And the wildlife – the birds, the squirrels, the bats – I’d hate to think they’d been forced to flee from their own habitat for the sake of us humans and our endless search for bigger and crazier kicks.

So I’m going to have to do some research . . . in the hope of appeasing my conscience of course.

Mandela’s Rainbow Nation

What with me being a the mother of a ten-year old rugby superstar, an avid movie fan with a healthy female appreciation for Matt Damon and an armchair anti-apartheid campaigner,  you’d think, in terms of me, that a movie about Nelson Mandela and the South African rugby team with Matt Damon playing the hunky team captain would be the perfect combination for our traditional Friday pizza and dvd night.  You’d think wouldn’t you.

Well you’d be right.

Ah!  You thought I was going to say you’d be wrong dincha!

Invictus is a poem written by William Ernest Henley and it means unconquered.  It’s also a film directed by the brilliant Clint Eastwood and its based on the true events of the 1995 rugby world cup final that Nelson Mandela used in an genuine effort to unify black and white South Africans.

The film is historically accurate as far as I can tell and I loved it . . . LOVED IT.  Morgan Freeman plays Mandela quite brilliantly and Matt Damon is just gorgeous.  The only criticism I would have is that I had to really concentrate on the South African accent, often having to rewind in order to keep up, much to the annoyance of my boys.  But it’s not really a criticism because I think it was deliberately done to avoid losing any authenticity, much to the beauty of the film.  Clint Eastwood has this special way of keeping a big epic story unobtrusive, unpretentious and unfrilly but this only adds to the final feelings of being entirely uplifted and inspired.  He did it in the superb Gran Torina too.

The rugby scenes in the film were superb to watch and it’s worth mentioning from a female perspective that those rugby players were rather yummy when they were scrummaging and flying into each other, but lordy!  The aggression.  How it made me shudder and half-wish that me laddie had chosen football to be mad about.

The issues got us talking and as always when Nelson Mandela is mentioned in our house, my frustratingly stubborn husband, who loves to play the oh-so-tiresome devil’s advocate (he calls it critical thinking.  I call it being bloody awkward) started making the predictable sniggery comments . . . not everyone sees him as a hero and the even less imaginative freedom fighter or terrorist.  Well blah, blah.

You know me folks, I always bite and the predictable heated discussion ensued.   I won’t divulge the details sufficeth to say that although there were no flying objects,  one or two heavy doors and the slamming thereof were involved, muchly on account of my weak inability to not be wound up by said spouse and his own spooky ability to make me throw the hissiest of tantrums that my kids would admire and envy.

Anyhoo, back to Mandela.  I can speak about him here without fear of having to throw heavy objects at sarky husbands.  Mandela dreamed of a rainbow nation and although there is still much to be done to heal and unify the nation, because of Mandela, there are no longer any  “whites only” signs, black people can apply for jobs that were only available to whites under the evil apartheid system and blacks and whites can socialise in public without fear of punishment.

Sadly, racial tensions are still alive in South Africa but no-one can knock Nelson Mandela for what he did for the country and the progress he has made so far.  As far as I’m concerned, he is up there with the best of our true world heroes and I truly hope that the country never stops striving for that Rainbow Nation that it so dearly needs and deserves.

And stuff the football, it’s great that rugby has at last been given some publicity by the movie industry.

Mandela is said to have memorised the poem Invictus during his imprisonment. You can read it here but here’s a verse taken from it:

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul

Climbing Skiddaw

What’s a free school and other Things That Got Me Mad

There’s been so much that I’ve wanted to blog about this week and I just haven’t found the time but some things annoy me so much that I just have to get it out.  So if you’re curious about what got me typing so furiously, here goes:

# It was the sentencing of that Baroness Scotland’s cleaner that got me started.  I mean, what the hell has she been locked up for?  Her tight-fisted and very wealthy employer ripped off the tax-payers and her punishment is to pay it back.  Her cleaner gets done for scrubbing floors for a measly few quid and her punishment is a prison sentence!  So she lied about her visa but bloody hell, she wasn’t out there beating up old ladies or claiming indecent expenses or anything.  She was working fer feck’s sake!  The mind boggles. It really does.  And I’m glad she’s managed to profit from her woes by telling her story to the papers.  Hell, her wealthy employer who spouts social justice and equality while claiming many thousands in expenses paid her cleaner barely above the minimum wage.

Anyway, now that I’m here, I might as well offload the other stuff so here goes . . .

##  It’s sad that, in this supposedly liberal and tolerant (haha!!) society, David (“the years of public sector plenty are over“) Laws felt the need to hide his sexuality.  He was doing himself and the gay community no favours by keeping it secret but ultimately, it was his decision and he had every right to keep his personal privacy, well, private.

As for the expenses thingy, that’s a different kettle of fish and what can I say except how silly of the man!  So he’s  not one of the worst expenses offenders but he was fully aware of public feeling over this and he still took his chances.  I don’t really care how wonderfully promising he was . . . what a great political loss and all that.  He wasn’t clever enough to realise he’d get caught and as a multi-millionaire himself, he had no need to fiddle the tax-payer in order to pay his partners mortgage for him – but to continue the deceit even after all the expenses hoo-ha while demanding that we suffer cuts in public spending is just too insulting so it’s bloody right that he should resign.  As with the illegal cleaner, we all know that benefit fraudsters and the like get thrown in jail so why should Mr. Integrity get away with fiddling.  If he really wanted to keep his sexuality private why didn’t he just not claim at all?  He’s a multi-millionaire for heavens sake!  It wouldn’t have hurt him.

What I found strangest though was that although his sexuality should be of no consequence, as a gay man, he clearly felt comfortable swapping values with a bunch of institutionally homophobic, nuclear family-obssessed Tory nutters.

### What the heck is a free school?  Seriously, I don’t know.  How do parents start one?  How is it free? Are the schools going to be in people’s houses?  Are the parents going to be the teachers and the grandma’s the welfare assistants (that’s dinner ladies to you and me)?  How will these schools be regulated?  I’m not kidding.  Call me stupid but I really don’t know how to picture these free schools.  And what happens to the kids when the parents get fed up of playing schools?  Do these wonder-parents expect the state schools (which will have been run down to neglectful levels by now) to take them back in? Can these super free schools be selective in who they admit?  I mean are they free to say no to difficult or special-needs kids so that they might remain exclusive and high up in the league tables?  What about anti-discrimination laws and stuff?  Can these free schools be exempt from them?  Will they be allowed to have whites only schools?  Will Mad Melanie Phillpots scream and stamp her feet at the number of Islamic schools popping up?  Questions, questions.

All this talk of competition driving up the standards is a bit worrying when it comes to education because it usually results in inequality whereby the middle-classes benefit and the poorest slip further down as usual.  And so it goes that those who already have it all shall be given more and those who hath very little shall have it taken away.

And why does this silly government wish to take power away from the local education authorities and give it to private enterprise and invite Outstanding schools to become Academies when, as Charles Tyrie from Nottingham pointed out in this letters article, it’s the local education authorities that have delivered the ‘Outstanding’ status of these schools.  Is it a case of thanks for doing all the hard work, now bugger off?  And more concerns – to paraphrase a paragraph from aforementioned Letters article, all those school services (IT, payroll, personnel, training, school dinners etc.)  that were provided by the councils will be sold to the Academies by sponsors – with profit in mind.  Yep, I can smell private profiteering.  I always can when the Tories are around.  I’m just not comfortable with the fact that private firms are about to have a huge influence on the education and wider school life of our children.  And after reading said Letters page, my suspicion is confirmed.  To quote Patti Rundall . . .

Commercial sponsorship of “education” is not philanthropy – it assists the corporate agenda on many levels. Not only does it blur the boundaries between advertising, marketing and education; it helps the most dangerous corporations build public trust and re-establish themselves as forces for good. Before long the curriculum is distorted in favour of business interests – and our children start believing that companies can be trusted to regulate themselves.

Gulp!

#### Probably the Thing That Got Me Mad the most is the BP oil leak.  Well I say mad but utterly heartbroken and dismayed is closer to how I feel.  It doesn’t need me to tell you that it’s an absolutely tragic and catastrophic man-made event on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start.  I imagine Obama now severely regrets allowing the field to be opened for exploration but we all know that hindsight is a pretty useless ability and Obama should know that if Sarah Palin thinks it’s right then it very definitely isn’t.

It’s just terrible to see all that destruction and loss of life by such a dirty, uncleanable fossil fuel that the oil-heads have come to love so much that they will pursue it endlessly, risking any and every disastrous consequence in order to fill their barrels.

BP has apparently been downplaying the level of devastation that has occurred and this is dangerous in itself because it’s misleading and the destruction is ongoing.  From what I’ve heard, the extent of the damage is unknown, probably limitless and it begs the question, how many more of these disasters are we willing to cause before it’s too late?

We all know how much we’ve come to depend on the black stuff but if this disaster doesn’t demonstrate just how dirty and dangerous oil drilling is then I really doubt that we will ever, ever learn, such is the stupidity of humans.

…………

Well, that’s it I think.  The end of Things That Got Me Mad.  Well there’s more but I want to think happy thoughts now so here’s a picture or two of where we were last week.  Please note that we actually climbed that waterfall.  And you may be amused to know that I fell while walking through Malham village, right in front of a café and a pub full of people sitting at the tables outside, enjoying the weather and being entertained by the stunts of a loony woman who can’t tie the laces of her walking boots . . . and kids rolling on the floor laughing at their undignified mother making a complete arse of herself.  But I soldiered on.  We climbed Gordale Scar (no mean feat I can tell you) and jumped and skipped across the limestone pavements to Malham Tarn.  And on the way back we rescued a little lamb who got lost from its frantic mother.  A lovely day full of sunburnt shoulders, freckles, squashed butties and water.  Lot’s of water.   Well it was HOT!

Erm, I really hurt my elbow when I fell.  Thank you.

Happy 101 Sweet Friends – a meme moment

The delightfully gruff PaddyK has tagged me and right proper chuffed is how I’m feeling about it.  I mean Paddy is one of my very top favourite writers and his dry wit and pragmatic wisdom has me laughing out loud and spluttering into my coffee many-a-time.  So to be tagged by such a force can only be interpreted as a compliment and I thank the good and lovely man for that.  My only problem is that I have to tag ten blogging friends too but I don’t actually have ten friends who blog regularly so five will have to do.

What you do:  List 10 things that make your day and then give this award to ten (five) bloggers.  So here goes:

Ten things that make my day (or made my day once):

1. Hearing an old favourite song played on the radio when I’m alone in the car and it’s played early on enough in my journey so that I get to hear it in its entirety before I get to where I’m going and I don’t have to sit in my car pretending to chat on the phone or look for something till it finishes.

2.  An act of kindness.  As touchy-feely as it sounds, I mean it.  For me it’s the little things in life that uplift, inspire and quite simply make the world seem better.

3.  Hearing me laddie play a piece of guitar music perfectly after weeks of struggling with it.

4.  Watching me laddie score a try at rugby.  His position is hooker and he’s great at that but he rarely scores a try so when he does, my mad  inner-madwoman is usually released and I can be seen jumping,  yelling and whooping on the sidelines like a, erm, mad madwoman.

5.   Morning cup of coffee brought to me while I snooze in bed.  I get this treatment every Saturday and it’s often the best part of my day.  Usually goes pear-shaped from then on due to boring stuff such as laundry, cleaning, mopping, shopping and squabbling kids then picks up again in the evening, which brings me nicely to my number 6.

6.  A glass of white wine, a bowl of green olives and my feet up while hubby cooks dinner.  Another regular Saturday treat.

7.  Seeing three deer jump out of the woods and run across our path right in front of us.  This happened last weekend when we were hiking on Great Gable in the Lake District.  It was one of those heart-stopping moments and it definitely made my day.

8.  My middle daughter getting in from school and telling me all about her day – word for word.  Never a dull moment for this girlie.  Her life is full of sunshine because that’s just the way she is and I love listening to her.  Sometimes I’m busy and I only half listen but that’s my loss.

9.  Coming home from work to a clean and tidy house.  This is a rarity.  Every now and then one of my girls has a rare attack of domesticity and gets stuck into the dishes and the dirt.  Only the women will understand just how wonderful it feels to come back to a tidy home.

10.  Getting a Green MP in Westminster at long last.

There you go.  And the five friends that I am tagging are my other favourite bloggers.  Feel free not to take part:

The romantic Mysoul whose makes me think and writes beautiful poetry and prose.  Her blog is a haven.

The wise and witty Zhisou who is very clever with words.  He makes everything simple.

The lovely Helen who has a warm compassion for humanity.  She’s also a published poet.

The sweet and loyal Jose who has encouraged and supported my blog since I began writing here.

The unassuming and tolerant JimJay from The Daily (Maybe) whose blog has been a great source for Green party information and interesting links.  As a dedicated Green party member I suspect he will be too busy to take part in this.  Fair enough.

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