Tuesday 25 November 2008

Two and a half percent

So the Chancellor of the Exchequer has decided that the solution to the financial problems is to throw money at it. He seems to be operating a kind of 'buy now - pay later' tax plan.

The headline grabber is obviously the two and a half cut in VAT down to 15%. Excited yet? Probably not - and there really is no cause to be. You'll save a couple of pounds on your weekly shop perhaps... a few pennies on a tank of petrol... or will you?

No such headline grabbing news is that fuel and alcohol duties are to rise... (dip into the 230 page report for details - if you have the strength!).

So unless you are out there making some big purchases (which I guess is what the Government are trying to encourage) you probably aren't going to notice much difference.

And how, you wonder, will the Government pay for all this generosity? They won't, of course - we (the tax payer) will. The rate paid by the higher tax band will increase (after the next election) and employers and employees NI contributions will rise (again in 2011).

So it really is buy now, pay later.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Strictly not news

As I get ready for work in the morning and eat my breakfast it is my habit to watch BBC Breakfast on BBC1. I have become aware, recently, of a regrettable habit that they have developed of broadcasting 'news' stories which are actually little more than thinly disguised advertisements for their own programmes.

Some of these aren't too bad as the subject matter is at least based in news (Panorama springs to mind). The one that annoys me the most though is their frequent obsession with 'Strictly Come Dancing'. Regular readers will know that I cannot abide so-called 'reality' TV (although what is real about a bunch of C-list celebrities being put into forced contrived situations is quite beyond me). I have been forced to accept though that people do watch this sort of thing and apparently enjoy it. It still isn't news though.

I was disappointed to see the front page of the Lite given over to a story about John Sargeant  quitting the show. Seriously. Front page news? Disappointed but probably not really surprised. If that wasn't enough, though, about fifteen minutes of Breakfast this morning. This was after the weather and sport, and presumably just before the weather and sport came round again.

Oil tankers attacked by pirates? Possible deflation? Spiralling unemployment figures? Why waste time with any of these when you can talk about not-really celebrities and second rate TV shows. The sooner that BBC, ITV (et al.) stop making these shows the sooner they can plough their money back into making real TV (dramas, comedies, sci-fi) and perhaps try to compete with the massive influx of US made shows.

Tuesday 18 November 2008


I arrived at Green Park Station tonight to find total and utter chaos reigning. The ticket hall was jammed full to the point of bursting and nobody appeared to be getting through the barriers. Information, I thought to myself, would be good at this point. Lo, the PA system sprung to life. The cause of the mayhem (it would appear) was some sort of systems malfunction which was affecting the gates and preventing them from letting people into the Underground. That appeared to be working were the recently installed extra wide disabled gates. This meant only fraction of the usual traffic flow was getting through. Oh dear. I fortunately chose a spot right near one of the working gates and soon found myself on the travel side of the barriers.

The despondent station announcer was requesting 'Pay-as-You-Go' customers reconcile their journeys at their destination. I wish I'd had a camera handy - the vacant emptiness of one side of the ticket barriers contrasted with the chaos of the on the other side was quite a picture.

Oh - and for those who aren't familiar with SNAFU's check out Wikipedia's article.

Fire alarms and bus stops

Yesterday afternoon we were all sitting quietly in the office, getting on with things. The tranquillity was shattered by a loud sound... the fire alarm. That's funny, I thought to myself, they're late today (the alarm test usually being at 10am). Then I thought, even funnier... today is Monday not Tuesday... and the alarm isn't stopping. Either we're on fire or we're having a fire drill. The same thought process was obviously happening around the room as one by one my colleagues reluctantly gathered their jackets and we all trooped off downstairs. We gathered on the pavement (which is our extremely safe muster point) and blocked traffic for a while. Once the man in the fluorescent jacket was satisfied each floor was accounted for we headed back to our offices.

I heard one of the chaps from the fifth floor grumbling about having to trek all the way down the five flights of steps. Bah! That is nothing to those of us who have worked in tower blocks and trekked down 30-something flights of steps. Ah, happy memories.

When I first worked in the tower block work was still being undertaken on unoccupied floors, and I think the first month we were there we had to evacuate the building at least once a week. Our muster point was a grassy square a few blocks away (the only place large enough to house a building that size) where you had to go and stand behind the person holding the wooden paddle with your floor number on it. The whole fire drill experience would take the best part of an hour; once all floors were satisfactorily accounted for the building then had to be re-populated in stages. Enough to say on several occasions, after registering our presence, some of my colleagues and I retired to the pub.

Yesterday evening as I was on my way home I found my bus in a queue of slow moving traffic heading past Cemetery Lane. There have been one-way diversions around Cemetery Lane for a few weeks now, and the entire road seems to be affected. Much to my relief the previous threats of no replacement bus stop seem to have been reconsidered as there is a temporary stop just along the road... which is great, as the two either side aren't exactly close.

I had an irritating replacement bus stop experience at the weekend. I decided to circumnavigate the usual annoyance of not being able to find any parking at the library on the weekend by taking the bus... the bus stop being usefully situated right by the Charlton House. Not this weekend. We passed through the Village and sailed through the temporary traffic lights and rapidly onward towards the Standard. Lucky that the road was obstructed by parked vehicles and the bus driver heard me and a fellow passenger complaining and decided to do the decent thing and let us off. That is an even longer walk back from Victoria Way!

The best thing about today, though, is that after labouring under the delusion all morning that today is Wednesday I've just had it pointed out to me that it is in fact Tuesday, so I've just gained half a day! Hurrah!

Thursday 13 November 2008

Little London moments

The other night as I was going home on the Jubilee Line the train driver made the following announcement:

"If I say mind the doors... and the guy on the platform says mind the doors, what do you suppose we want you to do?" (pause) "Mind the doors".

This was after the doors had tried (and failed) to close several times.

This morning our office email wasn't working. Given reason for communications outage. Power cut in Edinburgh. The reason that a power cut 400 miles away kills our email is due to the fact that the Exchange server which processes email lives in Edinburgh and services the whole of the UK (and Europe). I was going to ring the IT guy and hassle him, but after Boss-one rang from overseas and told me he was going to hassle the IT guy I decided that was more than enough for any one person to deal with!

I was feeling a bit guilty this morning. There was a project meeting for one of my projects scheduled at 10am off in the wilds of North (ish) London. The meeting had been arranged about six weeks ago and absolutely nothing has happened on the intervening six weeks (or is likely to in the next six weeks). I told Boss-two that due to an impending deadline I wouldn't make it... he stoically said that he would go (even though he had more meetings to go to in the afternoon). The thing was - six people were attending the meeting from three companies... two from each. Two obviously belonged to the office at which the meeting was being held... two were the Client and two were me and Boss-two. Boss-two called the offices twenty minutes before the meeting (to which he was about to be late) only to find out that the meeting was cancelled. This left me wondering... when exactly was anyone to be told of the cancellation?!

Tuesday 11 November 2008

A whole lot of complaints

Yesterday morning I fell out with the Jubilee Line. First of all there were the advertised 'minor dealys' which meant that three trains came and went before I was able to squeeze on one. I  eventually managed to get on a train and was quietly minding my own business listening to my iPod. This in itself would have appear to have been a mistake. It meant that I missed the announcement (if indeed there was one) at Westminster that the train would not be stopping at Green Park. So the train and I sailed on to Bond Street. Faulty communications equipment was the give excuse for the closure of Green Park. Not a disaster in the normal course of events, just a short walk South from there to my office. However, yesterday it was raining (quite enthusiastically). Superb. Wet and annoyed, what a way to start the day.

Things didn't get any better by the evening rush hour either. I arrived at Green Park to be assured of a good service on the Jubilee Line. Five minutes to wait until the first advertised train and thirteen minutes to the second advertised. The first train arrived and I decided to squeeze on as the next train eight minutes away wasn't likely to be any better. Nobody offered The Stick and I a seat - it didn't really matter, the train was so full it would have taken a special skill to fall over!

I finally arrived at North Greenwich to find that the whole of the tube and bus station had turned into a lethal skating rink due to the wet weather - let's face it, it doesn't take much for the bus station with its leaky roof! The 486 was already at the stop and still had an enormous queue - fortunately the 422 had pulled up behind it, so I decided to get on that. I then spent the next however long crawling through what was almost a traffic gridlock which seemed to have engulfed most of the peninsula. The only good thing was that the rain pretty much held of until I reached my front porch!

Today hasn't been much better. First of all I started suffering from my semi-occasional pain in the side. Every time I worry that I've appendicitis and every few months I go and see the doctor who tells me that it isn't. So, I decided to forgo the usual palava of trying to get through to the surgery on the dot of half past eight and cut the queue and go early. I'll get an appointment before nine for sure I thought. I was wrong. Ten o'clock was the earliest available (this was 10 minutes before the phones opened and five mintues after the doors opened). What do I have to do to get an early appointment I asked, as I'm already late for work. Oh, I was told, you can book a week in advance. I pointed out that a week ago I didn't know I'd need to see the Doctor this morning. Stupid system.

Eventually ten o'clock came (and went) and I saw the Doctor half an hour late. He poked (ouch) and prodded (ouch) and determined that it almost definitely probably surely wasn't appendictis. It obviously was 'something' and he determined I should go up to the hospital for a scan. I was told to present myself to Women's Services (what an awful name). I duly did (after the 486 on diversion attempted to take me off along Woolwich Common). The disinterested receptionist looked at my form and told me that althought the Doctor had written 'urgent' this in fact wasn't urgent but 'routine'. Seriously. Does someone want to buy the NHS a dictionary? Routine "regular course of procedure". Not for me. Urgent investigation required to establish the cause of ongoing pain and discomfort. Appointment set one month from now.

I then had to shchlep off to find where the 486 was leaving from as the road outside the hospital was closed. When are they going to be finished digging up the entire Borough?

The Occasional Tourist

One thing I really enjoy about London (and any city if it comes to that) is how much there is to discover. Every so often I find a new bit of London (and perhaps somewhere else) and write about it here in the "Occasional Tourist" series.

The Occasional Tourist posts now have their very own home -

Saturday 8 November 2008

Lord Mayor's Show

Today saw the annual Lord Mayor's Show in the City of London. I really enjoy all the pageantry  and afterwards there is lunch at the Livery Hall; so always a good day out.

This year the weather was not on our side. I arrived at Cannon Street to a light but persistent drizzle. I made my way to my mother's office only to find I was the first to arrive. I amused myself watching the parade participants queuing for the Porta-loos; there were soldiers and airmen, a few Roman centurions, some Victorian maids and a girl on roller-blades; they made an incongrous sight!

We went up to Cheapside to find our spot, and I met my friend and her sister - so well had I described our customary spot they had no trouble finding us. It was still drizzling as the parade started, and this became a steady downpour through the entire parade, subsiding just in time for the Lord Mayor's Coach!

Friday 7 November 2008

More rememberance

I got off the bus by Trafalgar Square this morning as something caught my eye. Was it a new display on the Fourth Plinth at last? No - it was 'Vigil'. This is a remembrance of the First World War. The names of 68,000 Canadians who died in the conflict are being projected onto Canada House - one by  one. This year is the 90th Anniversary of the end of the 'War to End All Wars'.

I also bought my second Poppy today. My first Poppy was affixed securely with a pin to my coat two days ago. This morning I noticed that whilst the pin remained securely fastened the Poppy itself did not. I'd like to think that someone picked it up and gave it a good home, but given the disappointing amount of Poppies I've seen this year I doubt very much that would have been the case.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Remember, rememeber

Last night I was waiting for a bus at North Greenwich station (as I do nearly every evening) and watching fireworks light up the sky (there's a very panoramic view of much of the Borough's of Greenwich and Newham waiting there). "How lovely", I thought to myself, "that the UK are celebrating the new US President". It took me some moments to come to the conclusion that as the 5th November it might be Guy Fawkes Night (aka Bonfire Night) that was being celebrated.

I've never been much of a fan of fireworks. As a small child I didn't like the noise, and as I've got older I just cant' see the point of spending all that money - unless you go to a really splendid organised display. As a pet owner for many years I also dislike the distress that they cause to animals. The thing I like the least is the trend in recent years for fireworks to stretch through the Autumn from Diwali (which can fall up to two weeks before Guy Fawkes night) to New Years and even beyond.

Every year we hear about the terrible accidents that have been caused by carelessly used fireworks. Every year I put up with fireworks at anti-social times of day and night. Every year I wonder why there is no apparent attempt to enforce the law with regards to fireworks. Yes, there is a law. You may not set-off fireworks between 11pm and 7am except on a number of exempted days (5th November, Diwali, New Year and Chinese New Year).

I wonder how many of the fireworks being set off on and around the 5th November this year were done with any thought as to why? It is my long held belief that anyone wishing to purchase fireworks for the 5th November should be asked what it is, precisely, that they are commemorating. That would cut down the pops, the whizzes and the bangs!

As for me, well, I manage a good few free displays courtesy of my neighbours through my bedroom window every year.

Remember, remember the fifth of November; gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder and treason should ever be forgot...

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Brave new world

I've always been extremely interested in politics. I studied British politics as an A-level course for two years and US politics as a minor credit for a year at University. At one time I even thought I might like to be a politician (my family certainly thought I was argumentative enough!).

I therefore took very seriously last night's US Presidential election. I did a great deal of research yesterday lunchtime, and even formulated myself a spreadsheet to track the results. There was only one fly in the ointment... the 5 hour time difference between the UK and the East Coast (let's not even contemplate the West Coast). My solution (as to all late night events) take a nap and get back up again. So, at half past midnight I settled myself down to watch the election results roll (or as it turned out drip) in.

The last Presidential election was (fairly predictably) four years ago; and haven't things changed in that short time. Yes, of course I remember watching the BBC, and possibly occasionally flicking channels to see what was happening with other media outlets. I don't remember using the internet much though. Not so this year! At one point I managed to crash Firefox as I attempted to simultaneously follow CNN, ABC, ITV and the BBC at once. I had Twitter open twice - once to Tweet myself and once to follow the dedicated Twitter election feed. Oh yes, and I was keeping up with other night-owl friends awake on Facebook. Information overload. It gave me cause to ask myself - can one person possibly need that much information?!

In the end it was all to naught anyway, as 3am approached my body gave up and I had to go back to bed again in order to be awake and alert for work on Wednesday. Fortunately the V+ box did stay awake through the night, so I got to see the moment when Obama's Electoral College tally tipped the magic 270 votes.

So, all changed today... a Democrat in the White House for the first time in 8 years... a black President for the first time, well, ever... and an election result which appears to be happily accepted without any accusations of impropriety being levelled. Brave New World indeed.

Saturday 1 November 2008


Halloween doesn't have a long tradition in the UK the same way that it does in the US. I have very few memories of Halloween as a child... a costume party here and there (mostly my memories are of bobbing for apples) certainly we never went trick or treating. I'm not sure that we'd have got very far in semi-rural Kent knocking on our neighbours doors, I'm pretty certain they'd have been straight on to our parents to find out what we were up to.
However, childhood traditions aside I always do get a pumpkin to carve. I've never managed to work out any recipes for the flesh but I do like to roast and eat the pips. Best hot and straight out of the oven.