Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Your Country's Commemoration Needs You, By Jingo!

The choice of Lord Kitchener's image - and blunt 'your country needs you' slogan as the coin design to commemorate the centenary of World War I bodes ill for those, like Jeremy Paxman, who feared the coalition government would turn this event into a jingoistic flag-waver, or worse, a flag-draped smokescreen that could be harnessed for electoral purposes. My granddad, who served as a Driver in the Army Service Corps in Greece and Macedonia in that conflict used to joke that they gave them a medal that said they'd fought 'for civilisation' because the powers that be couldn't admit to not having a clue as to what the war had actually been about. The forthcoming centenary will evoke many feelings - while my grandfather's generation have now passed on - they left a powerful evocation of the suffering and horror of war, even though they were told not to talk about it when they returned - and many didn't because deference to authority was such a powerful element of early 20th century society. Times have changed, and the memory of our loved ones - both those who returned and those who did not - taken together with our current prediliction for conflict and even involving the military in schools means we should not merely accept the events and artefacts given to us to remember but rather actively question their motive and appropriateness over the next four years.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Goodwill ends at Tesco

Predictably, I suppose, the season of peace and goodwill ends when the sales start. For me, signs that normal incivility had returned came when the man next to me at the customer service counter decided to be boorish and unpleasant to the young female assistant serving him. She managed it well, with a slight reddening of the cheeks developing in response to a tirade that sprang, seemingly, from nowhere. But the most striking them was that none of her co-workers offered any assistance or solidarity after the moron had left. Are they so used to it - or is it company policy not to show weakness in the face of aggressive behaviour?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ofgem's unwelcome Christmas gift to Co-operative Energy customers

Ofgem, the scourge of overcharging energy companies everywhere, has decided, in its infinite non-wisdom, that the dividend, beloved of co-op customers for generations, has no place in the 'regulated' energy market. Co-operative Energy, a not-for-profit gas and energy provider - of the sort that is really needed to ensure genuine competition in a decidedly non-competitive sector - has been ordered by Ofgem to stop paying dividends to Co-operative members that sign up for its services but who have no 'democratic connection' with Co-operative Energy's owner, the Midcounties Co-operative. Evidence of a rather parochial approach by the industry regulator, while it lets the 'big six' carry on regardless with their cosy price-fixing ways.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Indoor skateboarding, yawn

Watching son play X-box skateboard game. Can't think of anything more futile or boring than virtual-reality skateboarding. Is this a sign of an unbridgeable generation gap or just that I've finally morphed into an old fart?

Just one more teenaged sleepover until Christmas...

The combination of a December birthday and a rash promise comes home to roost tonight. Telling recently-birthdayed son that he can have a sleepover turns into reality tonight. Deep joy, and I'm locking the fridge. Oh, and the three of them are in a band. The neighbours are going to love this.

Christmas at the Farm Shop

An early start this morning; after queuing for an age last year, I decided to get to the farm shop when it first opened. Now feeling knackered but justified, as only the second person in the place at 7.00 can.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

They do things differently in the Diocese of Chichester

The Church of England's Diocese of Chichester has had to move quickly to distance itself from anti-gay comments made by one of its own elected General Synod representatives. Fresh from a conference in Jamaica, Andrea Minichiello Williams, urged the Jamaican government to maintain its criminal ban on homosexuality, before going on to trot out the old saw that homosexuality is the same as paedophilia. The important thing here is that the diocese has only distanced itself - not taken steps to remove its representative. How very Anglican - half-measures and a little light condemnation.

Hammond - the ideal politician to drone on about drones

Interesting piece from RAF Waddington - the UK's drone central - on the operation of what the MOD wants us to call Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems (UAVS), in fact anything but 'drones'. A losing battle if ever there was one. But then again, there is more than the naming issue that seems unreal. Locking the 'crew' into a windowless metal container in their flying overalls to operate an aircraft thousands of miles away is also pretty unreal - they could just as easily rock up for 'work' in jeans and t-shirt. The only thing that is real - and lethal - is the payload. That and the admitted chance of 'collateral damage'. The RPAS/UAV/drone pilot can speak to troops on the ground, or a lawyer in the UK; why don't the go the extra mile and let them phone a friend? Then again, if they did, they'd probably have an American accent, because 'our' drones only operate courtesy of US satellite technology. Biggles it most certainly isn't.

Friday, December 13, 2013

That Christmas spirit

Had a great time at a Leeds toy shop today, after three customer services staff had calmed down the near homicidal patron ahead of me in the queue. She obviously wanted to leave someone feeling a warm glow-in a pool of their own blood, by the sound of things.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

A free guide to cutting energy bills, sort of...

In October, I 'switched' from Scottish Power to another 'energy provider', who I will refer to as C, for a property we had rented since the end of August. Remember the dates - and the UK weather at the time - they are important. C ask for 'final' gas and electric readings, which were to be passed onto Scottish Power to enable them to prepare final bills. All went well with the electricity side of things, but the gas bill proved much more problematic. First, Scottish Power sent a final bill for £116.00, based on 'estimated' start and end dates. When I queried this, pointing out that the period from August to the start of October had been unseasonably warm for the UK, this was reduced immediately to £75.00. Feeling that this was still, possibly, on the high side - and noting, once again, that the new figure was based on two 'estimated' readings, I contacted Scottish Power again (no mean feat, given the uncommunicative nature of ther call centre set-up), where I learned that they had never received the 'final' gas reading from C. Turning into my own volunteer Scottish Power customer service adviser, I called C, who gave me the 'final' gas meter reading that I had sent them in October (what do I have that Scottish Power doesn't, I wondered...). Not wanting to brave the call centre wait again, and having received a mildly threatening letter about late payment from Scottish Power, I sent the readings to the manager who had, supposedly, signed the threatener and was rewarded with an email, informing me that a new bill, using the real 'final' reading would be sent to me. It arrived yesterday - in the sum of £50.00: a £66 reduction on the first attempt. The moral of the story? If you can't find the scrap of paper that you wrote the readings on, at least remember what the weather was like at the time.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Windows 8 - welcome to computing's netherworld

The prognosis wasn't good. I couldn't even get my Windows 7 laptop to switch on and the guy in our local computer repair shop said it was 'beyond economical repair', so - taking the advice of my IT guru, I've just taken delivery of the latest Lenovo Ideapad, which came complete with the all-singing, all-dancing Windows 8. From the start, it didn't feel right. The front screen looks as if you should be swiping at apps, like a tablet, but all you've got is the touch-pad or mouse. And you don't go straight to the desktop. In fact, I didn't seem able to go to anything; frustration soon crept in: at every turn, all Mr Gates' minions wanted to do was sell me something, or want to know where my mum was born. I soon felt like swiping more than the screen. Enter 14 year-old son, home from school. He's just earned himself a tenner for sorting out the entire mess I'd got myself into. Might even be able to do some work tomorrow - if I can find my way back to the desk-top, that is.