Friday 29 June 2012

We shall remember them

Yesterday the memorial to Bomber Command was unveiled and dedicated in Green Park. It is located at the far end of Piccadilly at Hyde Park Corner. It is a beautiful structure cast in a classical style in Portland Stone; with an amazing sculpture in the middle.
I pass by on my way home from work nearly every day and have been watching its construction. Of course I didn't get to see it finally unveiled yesterday as I was on site on the other side of London. 
Under Construction
I shall be paying a visit. My granddad was a bomber pilot; he never spoke about his experiences in the war and he didn't live to see the memorial unveiled.

"Per Ardua Ad Astra"  - Through adversity to the stars.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Sunday 24 June 2012

Sunday Social (3)

Linking up with Ashley and Neely for the Sunday Social!

  • What is your all-time favorite song?
    Do I have to choose just one?! I like such a wide range of bands and singers... I had to cheat and look at my iTunes most played list: well out ahead is Allegri "Miserere Mei, Deus". If you've never heard it listen to it. It soars and lifts the soul. Other top songs are "People are Strange" Echo and the Bunnymen, "New Soul" Yael Naim, "Barbara Streisand" Duck Sauce, "Jesus Walks" Kanye West, "Bullets" Tunng, "Boom Boom Pow" Black Eyed Peas - that's as close as I can get to a 'favourite'!!!
  • What is your favorite singer/band?
    Again hard to choose just one. I'm fond of Frank Sinatra and James Darren; Black Eyed Peas and The Beatles.
  • What is your theme song/song that best describes your life?
    "My Way" (preferably sung by Frank Sinatra); the philosophy is great and I love the lyrics. I quite often sing it in the bath!
  • What songs put you in a good mood?
    I actually have a CD I bought called "Happy Songs"; Van Morrison - Brown Eyed Girl, The Turtles - Happy Together and Louis Armstrong - What A Wonderful World to name but a few.
  • What is your favorite roadtrip music?
    It's been a long time since I really took a roadtrip; but I like music that is mostly instrumental and allows your imagination to run away; songs like Robert Miles's "Children".
  • What song are you embarrassed to admit you love?
    I have a whole hall of shame; including my Steps collection, Spice Girls, Britney Spears and Terry Wogan singing the Floral Dance (probably tops the chart).

Broken Britain

Now is the time to be patriotic. England have not (yet) been knocked out of the Euro 2012 football tournament and the Olympics are about to come to London so we must all support Team GB. It is pretty hard to feel patriotic about a country which is in such a mess, in which so much is broken. I'm not a big current affairs follower; I have sources for information on issues that interest me, and the rest goes by the by. I don't read a newspaper, watch the news, read a news website or generally inform myself. This is a good thing, it keeps my blood pressure down!
I do catch the occasional news bulletin in the car on the way to work (despite my best efforts) and there are things that I hear that are hard to ignore.

This week for example Michael Gove announced plans to bring back O-Levels (and at the same time CSEs for the less academically able). A lot of people seem to think this is a Bad Thing. It isn't and I'll tell you why. 

I'm (nearly) 37 years old. My school year was the first to take the GCSE curriculum from the day they started secondary school. Let me tell you something. It did not teach you much to help you get ahead in life; it needs to do that. I'm not sure what the percentage of school children who leave school at 16 is - but for them, that is education. 

I didn't get straight A grades in my GCSEs; although out of the nine I took I got seven which were A or B grade. I'm lucky to be blessed with a reasonably good intellect; I passed my 11-plus and went to a Grammar School and I was a member of Mensa. I used to get by at school with minimum effort (which is probably why the two subjects I got the lowest grades in were History and Chemistry where you really need to learn stuff). In the two exams for English we didn't even take exams it was all coursework. It wasn't intellectually challenging and honestly what I learnt wasn't taught in a way that I later retained it.

In the course of life I've met people who have been products of this system. They didn't have my advantage of a private primary education where I learnt such skills as spelling, grammar and punctuation. Their GCSE education left them with problems with spelling, grammar and punctuation. This is the supply that we are providing to the workforce. Is it any wonder that youth unemployment is rampant.

There's been a lot of talk about the NHS this week too as the Doctor's went on strike on Thursday. The NHS is a beautiful ideal. As somebody who has a serious medical condition I have a lot of interaction with my Primary Care Trust (PCT). I'm lucky - I get a lot of support, all the support I can imagine. It isn't like that for everyone though.

The problem with the NHS is that it was conceived back in the 1940s when the world was a very different place. People didn't live as long, lots of treatments and operations we take for granted were yet to be discovered, lots of illnesses which now have a good prognosis were fatal. Cosmetic surgery and IVF were a long way in the future.

Not enough money flows into the budgets to fund everything that everyone wants. Nobody wants taxes or National Insurance to increase. Something has to give.

Tax dodging - that has been another story I heard in passing this week. Loopholes to avoid paying money to the tax man.  It put me in mind of a quote from the excellent West Wing - an episode written back around 2000 before the current economic meltdown: "Henry, last fall, every time your boss got on the stump and said, "It's time for the rich to pay their fair share," I hid under a couch and changed my name. I left Gage Whitney making $400,000 a year, which means I paid twenty-seven times the national average in income tax. I paid my fair share, and the fair share of twenty-six other people. And I'm happy to because that's the only way it's gonna work, and it's in my best interest that everybody be able to go to schools and drive on roads, but I don't get twenty-seven votes on Election Day. The fire department doesn't come to my house twenty-seven times faster and the water doesn't come out of my faucet twenty-seven times hotter. The top one percent of wage earners in this country pay for twenty-two percent of this country. Let's not call them names while they're doing it, is all I'm saying."

To me that makes sense and still resonates true; maybe that is because I'm not a top wage earner and never will be and nobody is asking me to pay that much tax; but certainly avoiding even paying your share can't make this country run as it needs to. 

Our Government is (and has been for some time) run by professional politicians. Relatively young people with little or no work life experience outside the world of politics. People who are insulated from the problems and trials of the majority of the population.

Education is broken, health is broken, employment is broken, the economy (no matter what they try and claim) is still broken. People muddle by as best they can, but for many it is a hard painful struggle - I find it hard, right now, to feel affection, let alone patriotism, right now.

Friday 22 June 2012

Those who went before

Yesterday I found out that my Great-Aunt had died at the grand old age of 100 (and 9 months). She was an amazing lady who had led a full and happy life; and when I think about the changes that she saw since her birth in 1911 it is quite mind-boggling.

I'll miss her greatly, she was a fantastic lady with a zest for life and a great sense of fun. When I was young she'd call me 'pink imp' - as I wore quite a lot of pink and was a rather precocious nuisance!

She was the last of my paternal Grandmother's siblings (they were the two youngest) - so all the stories of that generation and those they remember from before now remain untold.

I now pay tribute to the my family (whose genes are my genes) and their lives.
Eugene - my paternal Grandfather. Born in the first decade of the last century in Riga, Latvia. His family was Jewish and fled Russia to escape the pogroms. Unfortunately the next place they landed was Berlin, which they also had to flee as the Nazis took hold. Fluent, so I'm told in several languages, he was killed in an automobile accident on the way to visit my Grandmother and infant Father (who had been evacuated during the war).

Anita - eldest of three children from her Father's 2nd marriage; my Father's mother and wife of Eugene. After his death she bought my father up alone; a single parent ahead of her time. After my parents married she lived with them until her death. Great teller of stories and companion for watching old films - huge fan of James Stewart and Cary Grant! She was an enthusiastic knitter and her knitting bag lived down her side of the sofa; rarely did an evening pass without the 'click-clack' of her needles. She provided many knitted toys and dolls outfits!
She also suffered from asthma which must have been quite a trial until the advent of the modern treatments delivered by inhalers. Her death in my early teens was my first experience of losing a close family member.

Henry - my maternal Grandfather, pictured here in his RAF uniform. He was a bomber pilot during the Second World War; and our family is extremely eager to see the new Bomber Command Memorial shortly to be unveiled in Green Park at Hyde Park Corner. He and my Grandmother were married for sixty years (they did marry young). My Grandfather was an avid reader (if that is genetic he definitely passed that on to me). He was also, despite being born in the 1920s, an avid computer user; a self-taught programmer and owner of several computers. He would have been fascinated, I'm sure by the internet of today.

Peter, my beloved Father. Shown here in my mother's favourite picture of him in his school-days. It is was partly him that inspired me to be a Quantity Surveyor (that being his profession). When I was in my teens he had his own company and I used to help out sometimes comp checking; holding the other end of the tape measuring on site; and even on one memorable occasion moving a corridor of books from shelves to be painted. He and my Mother were married over 35 years (they didn't marry so young); and along with my maternal Grandparents had one of the most loving and enduring marriages I have known. On the back of the Order of Service at his funeral my mother had written a quote from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar "His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world "THIS was a MAN!"".
Sylvia my Great-Aunt. A dancer on the stage in her youth in a precision dance troupe; in her day probably a minor celebrity. She was like a second mother to my father, helping my Grandmother out in school holidays and so forth. My memories of her are of the time spent with her, my Grandmother, and their elder half-brother and half-sister on weekly shopping trips to Brent Cross. These started when they all lived in North London but continued when we moved to Kent and it was a special day out to go up to London on the train, take the Northern Line and then spend the afternoon at Brent Cross. I also have vivid memories of her flat which had one of those old fashioned cage lifts which went up the middle of the stairs. Her flat was on the top floor and often my brother and I would have a race; one in the lift watching the other hurtle up (or down) the stairs. 


Wednesday 20 June 2012

Knitted Monster

A yellow phone box and mini Big Ben have appeared in Trafalgar Square.

84 artists have created replicas to celebrate 25 years of charity Childline.

Read more here:


Sustainability and Environmental issues are probably one the biggest single issues facing the global community in the 21st Century. Never before has an issue impacted so globally and brought consensus from so many countries, or been the catalyst for so much (and such diverse) legislation. 

The most widely used definition of sustainability is one taken from the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) Brundtland Report: ‘sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’

It means that the way that we live our lives and consume our planet's resources isn't just about us and now but about what we leave behind for those that are following us. It's about consumption and disposal; what we build and what we demolish; how we live every aspect of our lives. Even in times of economic hardship it is still an issue that affects every person on the planet.

The roots of sustainability reach back nearly 40 years to the UN Conference on Human Environment held in Stockholm this led to the establishment of many national and international environment and protection agencies including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 

Over the following 20 years a variety of summits and conferences were held around the globe until in 1992 World leaders gathered for the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. UNCED saw the creation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which was ultimately to lead to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. This was finally ratified by the requisite amount of countries in 2004 and automatically came into force. It is the Kyoto Protocol which is the driver behind many pieces of Environmental legislation both in the UK and in the EU. The undertakings made under the Kyoto Protocol were designed to be legally binding.

Since Kyoto there have been serveral more Summits - which brings us two decades on back to Rio for what is now the United Nationals Conference on Sustainable Development.

Take some time to browse the website and see some of the of the challenges we are facing. I shall be following events at the Summit eagerly to see what transpires; keep an eye on my Twitter feed.