Thursday, 26 February 2009

Broken Britain - 3: Spot the Odd Man Out

Q: Who is the Odd Man Out from the following list?

- Lord Stevenson, former Chairman of Halifax Bank of Scotland

- Andy Hornby, former Chief Executive of HBoS

- Sir Fred Goodwin, former Chief Executive, Royal Bank of Scotland

- Sir Tom McKillop, former Chairman RBS

- John McFall, M.P., Chairman of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee

- Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer

- Sir Terry Wogan, presenter of BBC Radio 2 breakfast show.

A: Terry Wogan. He is the only one with a Banking qualification.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

State of the Nation 2 - Broken Britain

You know, when I started this blog last year, I never intended it to be some relentless moan about (my) life - I leave that to Charlie Brooker. But four things happened to me this morning, all within the space of one hour; each one of them so accurately depicted just what is wrong with this now-useless and hopeless, broken country.

1 - The post arrived (actually quite early today, at 11am; usually it’s more between noon and 2pm. And these days it gets delivered every Other day).

In the post was my order of new printer cartridges from (remember that name). Or was it? I opened the package to discover I’d been sent someone else’s order.

I telephoned the company and finally got through to a disinterested-sounding gentleman, I’d say, middle-aged. He was already aware of my problem (the other customer having phoned him up).

The man offered no apology. All he said was “Well, it doesn’t happen very often”.

Seeing as this other chap had my order, he said, "why don’t you mail it to him and he can mail your order to you?".

“Fine,” I said, “but what about the mailing costs of £1.15?”. “Oh well", he replied, “I suppose I could credit you with that amount against your next order”.

“What makes you think there’s going to be another order”, I said, doing a double-take. Eventually, after much massaging and persuasion I managed (I think) to get him to send me a free black cartridge. (I’ll believe it when I see it; as of 10th March, nothing has turned up).

So I repackaged the whole thing up again and went to the Post Office, where it actually cost me £1.24 to mail it [it seems that franked mail is cheaper than stamped mail].

2 - Returning from the Post Office I dropped into Tesco, where I was caught in a queue. We were lining up because some twenty-something girl at the counter was trying to remember her pin number.

She was using a credit card to pay for a chocolate bar…costing 42p!

Judging by the look on the face of the woman behind the counter, this was not an uncommon occurrence.

3 - Outside Tesco I wanted to catch a bus (a number 150, if you‘re listening Transport for London). One was approaching.

I happened to be using my walking stick today (my leg was playing up somewhat) so I hailed the bus with my stick. Naturally, I could not run and it was obvious that my walking was a trifle impaired. People were getting on the bus as I approached.

Just as I got to the front doors of the bus, at precisely that moment, the driver - eyes staring straight ahead (ignoring me) - decided to shut the doors and drive off.

All I could do was merrily wave to it as it drove away from me, hoping he might see me in his wing mirror.

4 - Ten minutes later, another 150 turned up. I got on the bus and saw that the Oyster Card machine was broken [the Oyster card is the universal transport card we Londoners use].

The driver calmly waved me onto the bus with a resigned look on his face. At least I got a free bus journey out of it (worth £1.10).

Throughout that journey I pondered on these four incidents and felt: every one of them is just so bloody typical of what is wrong with this country. Things are broken but nobody’s interested in lifting a finger to even get it fixed any more.

We have a broken country - where nobody actually Cares any longer.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Valentines Mansion Reopens

Valentine’s Mansion is situated barely a couple of hundred yards away from Gants Hill tube station (on the far eastern loop of the Central Line, the red line), just down Cranbrook Road South.

Eventually, yesterday (appropriately, Valentine’s Day) the place opened to the public. As you can see by the queues (above), which were constant throughout the entire day, the place proved to be a bigger attraction than anyone could have wished for.

Luckily the weather was a crisp, sunny day, so I decided to take a little stroll around the place (and, I must admit, perhaps show-up the Educator/Re-enactor/Guides somewhat) and was mightily impressed.

I suppose I should come to expect it now, but I kept getting stopped (inevitably) and being asked if people could take my photograph - some of them I have included here. There was one moment when a lady said "Oh, I do like your costume"....
....."Costume? COSTUME?", I replied. "Madam, this is my everday wear!". I hope I didn't offend her too much.

The house was originally built about 1696, the walled garden was created in 1720 and housed various private residents until 1906. It was bought by the Council in 1912.

For the past 15 years it lay empty and for many years had remained derelict until eventually, about five years ago the local community got together with Redbridge Council and started to restore it to its former glories. Things really kicked in a few years back when they managed to secure a Lottery Grant.

Check out the website for the mansion:

And join the Friends of Valentines Mansion:

All the information you could wish for are in these sites. And don’t just visit the Mansion itself (on three floors, if you include the Artists Studios on the top floor - do visit them) try strolling around the three different gardens there too.

The bulk of the photos were taken by “Ham”. Check his page out:

[16th February: I've just checked out his page and he's posted up a piece about Me! under the banner "Ordinary Londoners No.20". Ho-hum, what a merry life!]

Saturday, 14 February 2009

British Irony

A number of my American friends are still somewhat baffled by this concept of Irony and the British sense of humour (with a ‘u’). How about this:

Today is February 14th - Valentine’s Day. Whooopeee.!

In the UK it is also National Erectile Dysfunction Day. (True).

Now THAT is British irony at work!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

State of the Nation - Your Feedback

Well, I guess my sense of frustration and rage came through my words. Almost immediately I started getting feedback from you, mostly via my Facebook page, but I shall reprint them here:

H. Yates S.A (South Carolina, USA) - 4th February:
Read the blog. Excellent, excellent. One of the things I was shocked by when I lived in Edinburgh was how corroded Britain's national identity has become. Its a problem we face here. The uniting sentiment of a nation is one of the most underrated catalysts for change, yet these modern times have replaced

Richard H.D. (Sunderland, UK) - 4th February:
Fantastic, bravo. Nail. Head. You've hit it.

Atreyu (pseudonym) London - 4th February
Ray, I completely and wholeheartedly agree with you. I have been dying to write about this for a very long time, it has been bubbling in me like a festering sore. I think I have an interesting perspective – that of a person who was born and bred here, then relocated to the Middle East as a young teen, and returned to England as an adult.

This is *NOT* the London of my childhood. Britain has devolved and mutated into a Victorian farce. While you and I are slaving away at our jobs only to have 30% of our salaries taken by the gov’t to subsidise crumbling, useless monoliths like the NHS, we have hundreds of thousands of “asylum seekers” and foreign immigrants who get everything from housing to tax-reductions VIRTUALLY FREE. Not to mention the hoards of trash who dwell in gov’t subsidised council estates, and live on gov’t subsidised benefits, all on OUR expense. It is incredibly demoralising.

It is no bloody wonder that the likes of the BNP are becoming more and more popular, more power to them. I was once a proud socialist, then I returned to London at the age of 22 and discovered what it means to really live in a “socialist” country, or the defunct British version of it at any rate. I could go on for ages, Ray, but I’ll spare you and everyone else the diatribe. Fantastic blog.

Niall S-H (London) - 5th February
Ray, that is a very, very good blog! I don't really see what's controversial about it; Brown is a moron in denial and our infrastructure is teetering on the brink. The trouble is I don't have any solutions for these problems. I imagine few others do, either.

Mark Davids (Netherlands) - 5th February
Great article Ray

Sue (Pittsburgh, Pa. U.S.A) - 12th February
I just read your rant, and it is about the same in the USA.

It seems that the rich are getting richer, the middle class are getting poorer, and the poor are still poor.

At least in Britain with all the taxes you pay, the citizens get healthcare provided.

In the USA, (that arrogantly and ignorantly brags that "we have the best healthcare in the world" and have been brain washed by fear mongering stories that in England and Canada people die waiting for operations, and that socialized medicine would mean the same for USA) we must pay for it ourselves, (or hope our employer chips in a percentage of the cost, if we have a job), and pay for the unaffordable insurance with what is left of our pay after the taxes.

So where, I ask, has all the money gone? I can tell you in the USA after our government bailed out banks with our tax dollars, to help our economy- millions were given as bonuses to the top executives according the the evening news.Our idiotic government didn't give the banks any rules and therefore they were within their right and cannot be punished.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

State of the Nation - A Rant

I have been silent for a while (getting Ma‘s house finally emptied, getting it ready for renting out, trying to arrange renting things, so much to do). But it has allowed me time to ponder on many things these past six weeks.

So many of my overseas friends have asked me recently: How are things in London at the moment? What is life like in Britain today?

And this, in part, is my response. What mere print does not do is adequately express the anger, the suppressed frustration and continuous rage that is all-pervading in this country amongst those of us of a certain age group now.

You wanna know what life in this country is like at the moment? We have no life here. We merely exist, trying to get through each day, while being bombarded daily with yet more government incompetence and high-earner corruption. Call this a democracy? Don’t make us laugh!

What a mess. What a terrible, terrible mess. And you know what?, nobody cares anymore.

Over the past decade or so the industrial infrastructure has been knocked out of this country. And now the emotional infrastructure of this country has disintegrated. There is no sense of community anymore. People have lost the capacity to CARE.

Oh, I could go on about this useless, incompetent, broken country; the laughing stock we have become.

Let’s take, as an example, the severe weather we’ve had these last few days. We knew it was coming. We were warned about a week ago. Did the authorities do anything about it?: prepare the trucks for the grit and salt? Work out contingencies for the transport infrastructure? Of course not! This is Britain! what do you expect?

The snow began on Sunday (1st) but really came down and settled as soon as we hit Monday morning. By it lay at least four inches deep….

…and suddenly a Newsflash splashed across BBC 24 News channel. It read: “Extreme weather expected to cause disruption”.

I suppose that’s what they used to call British Understatement. In the circumstances it just looked foolish.

Then Transport For London (the organisation that oversees all the transport links in the capital - and who run their empire like some Stalinist Politburo) calmly announced there would be no London buses running of any kind on Monday 2nd, All Day.

Even Hitler failed to stop the buses running at the height of the Blitz during the Second World War!

The only initial joy was the radio reports of various Bendy-buses sliding and crashing into lamp-posts. Ordinary buses seemed to be OK. You have no idea how much we Londoners detest those bendy buses. Mayor Boris was part-voted into power with his promise to scrap them. They will go eventually, it will just take time.

So when we woke up in the morning, with (at most) six inches of snow around, the entire country was told to “stay at home”. Bloody typical. A drop of snow - or the wrong type if leaves on the line - and the entire bloody country grinds to a halt.

They tried to impress upon us this was the worst winter weather we’ve had in 13 years. So bloody what. The country was Paralysed. Yet Again.

The fact was: by most of the main road arteries had been cleared and cars were happily driving along them. So where were the buses? They didn’t escape from their garages until Tuesday!

For as much as I am a fan of Bo-Jo (Mayor of London, Boris Johnson), this is the first time he has been required to step up to the plate and make a quick and effective decision, and he has been found wanting. [I now withdraw that last statement. It has now come to light - 2nd March - that Transport for London took the decision to withdraw the buses at 11pm Sunday night, announced it Monday morning, yet Boris Johnson was not even informed of this decision until… see what I mean about TfL running themselves like a Russian Politburo? - Shameful].

Besides the absent buses, the tube trains were severely disrupted (some complete lines closed) and the overground trains completely ballsed up. Most airports closed too.

The M25 (the ring road that goes around London?) - had a traffic jam of 50 miles long. Fifty bloody miles. The same could be found across the country.

Of course they could’ve brought the gritter trucks out…. But somebody realised, er, you have to lay down salt first?????? Er, where are the salt trucks? Er, we ain’t got any!

Today, Tuesday 4th (i.e. the next day), the authorities have just announced that the local Councils are rapidly running out of salt and grit.

Oh, and the next wave of blanket snow is expected Thursday and Friday. You just can’t wait for it really, can you. Bring on the chaos.

I look around this country and I see a paralysed, useless Prime Minister (Gordon Brown) at the head of a bankrupt administration (supposedly) in charge of a broken country.

I am reminded of those old Spike Milligan comedy series from the 1970s (pre-Python): Q7, Q8, Q9 etc. Whenever they did not know how to end a sketch or were lost for a punch line, the entire cast would suddenly freeze, rooted to the spot, then stare straight at the camera lens and recite in unison: “What are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do now?…” as they slowly shuffled off sideways out of shot.

THAT is the state of this government and of this country. Paralysed. What are we gonna do now?

At least in America, now, with Obama, there is a sense of, not exactly unity, but at least a sense of "coming togetherness" to fight this recession.

But the UK? Bankrupt is the word: bankrupt of ideas, bankrupt of nerve, bankrupt of will to do anything to get us out of this shit.

Let me give you an example: last week the International Monetary Fund brought out a report that said the UK economy was the worst placed to deal with the recession of all the westernised countries. But Brown's government rejected the report's that's alright then, isn't it...?

And what was Mr. Gordon Brown’s primary concern amidst all this chaos? At the same time as the I.M.F. report he made it publicly known that he was worried that cartoonists in this country make him look “too fat”. This is true. What a sad, sick joke it has all become.

On top of all that, we now have wildcat strikes, blockades and pickets at various refineries and power plants because ‘foreign workers’ (from the E.U.) are being given jobs before UK / Scottish workers.

Such a pity that one of Brown's mantras at his party's conference last year was (and I quote) "British Jobs for British Workers".... but he's even back-peddled on that one now saying he didn’t really mean it like that......

It seems to me this is simply the latest logical step in the rise (and increasing popularity) of various far-Right organisations, the most high-profile being the BNP (British National Party). They have already made considerable inroads into local politics, getting Councillors in impressive numbers (even my local Council has a BNP Councillor. I predict they will have at least 3 - a minimum of 3 - by the time of the next local elections in a couple of years time).

But already the two main political parties (Labour and Conservative) are trying to link in our minds these protests and the BNP. You can begin to understand just why the main parties fear these "upstarts" and are prepared to use any tactic possible to do them down. Trouble is, the more they try to slag-off the BNP, the more that uncommitted middle-of-the-roaders start to sympathise with them because (as they perceive it) they are clearly having their democratic rights of freedom-of-speech restricted. Duh!

I do urge you to track down a film from the 1970s called Network, starring Peter Finch. He plays a newsreader sick of reading out daily garbage news stories and he snaps, on-air, and during the transmission he urges all the viewers to go to their windows, open their windows and yell at the top of their voices: “I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore”. And soon the populace across America are yelling this mantra.

These conclusions I’ve reached have not come to me in recent months (‘credit crunch’ and all that), but have been brewing in me since the scales first fell from my eyes about seven years ago. It was the local elections and I was approached by one of the major parties, and they asked “would you be interested in becoming a local Councillor?” I said to them “Well, what’s in it for me?”. And these are the exact words that were said to me:

“Don’t you worry. You stick with us. We’ll make sure you do well out of it”.

WHY did I turn them down?

(Moreover, a colleague of mine was approached at the same time - but by the other major UK political party. He asked the same question and he was given, pretty much, the exact same response as I received).

Is it my age? I just feel so tired and beaten-up these days, sometimes even defeated. This Government bleats on about this recession lasting for about two years before we’re through it. But I listen to my friends and contacts, and every banker pal I‘ve had a coffee with recently, every accountant I know, every estate agent I’ve spoken to agree on the same thing: this one is going to last more like 9 years (yes, that’s NINE years).

I shall turn 57 next month, in nine years I shall be 66, and I have to ask myself this: do I really want to spend the next decade of precious years of my life in this miserable, miserable country?

Believe me, the prospect of my relocating to a permanently sunny place attracts more and more. I already planned to be travelling thru 2009 looking at places….. Caribbean…USA maybe….. Any suggestions? - I just want a place that’s warm (but not humid - humidity kills me), and somewhere with a slight breeze off the sea (has to be near the sea), and somewhere where I can wear all my suits everyday and not feel uncomfortable about it).

I always said I would do it once I got the house sorted out and renting...looks like that will be a reality in the next few weeks....

State of the Nation? ‘State’ indeed. What a state!