Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Twisted logic

I was doing the shopping at the supermarket this morning, when I spotted amongst the deodorants and shower gels, a prominent notice (right at head height on the shelf): "For your safety and security, we always prosecute thieves". Huh? Exactly how is prosecuting someone who pinches a can of deodorant for the benefit of MY safety/security, I wonder?

Deterring shoplifters is arguably for the benefit of honest customers generally in that if, say, one in twenty cans gets pilfered, the store simply jacks up the price of the other nineteen to make up for the loss. Whether the prospect of an actual prosecution is a deterrent or not, given the sentence the Court is likely to pass, is a moot point.

I'd be slightly more convinced by the argument that CCTV enhances my safety and security, although the store of course installs it primarily for their benefit rather than mine. Pickpockets and bag-snatchers are known to target other customers, but I believe it's relatively rare for a shoplifter to do so unless the customer gets in the way or tries to stop them. I have occasionally seen notices advising customers to keep hold of their wallets, purses, handbags etc - but much more discreetly and more infrequently. I suspect the store doesn't like either the nuisance value or the bad publicity.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Short shorts Sex on legs!

Another scorching hot day today, with still more to come, hopefully! I did a bit of weeding, watering and tidying in the garden and put all the cacti from the windowsills out on the balcony in the fresh air. Nothing too energetic, but quite relaxing and enjoyable.

I've worn pretty much nothing but shorts this summer - usually my Adidas popper ones, which are quite a thick material and unlined, or my Umbro ones which are a thinner cotton, lined, and somewhat cooler. But today I came across a pair of light Adidas running shorts which I'd totally forgotten I'd got. With a split leg, they're really short, and only just fit me. I'm not sure I'm quite brave enough to wear them to the supermarket, but for the garden they are "the business" as they say. Voila!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Wot... no bouncy castle?

Today has apparently been the hottest day of the year so far, with a temperature up into the eighties. I took Raggs for a walk into the woods this morning, where it was pleasantly cool in the shade of the trees, and she had fun wallowing in the water in the little pond there.

When we got back, the neighbours were busy. Next door had got a huge tent in the back garden, big enough to throw a sizeable party in - although in fact nothing materialized, so perhaps it was just a rehearsal for something later? A couple of the front gardens across the street had little paddling pools, and we heard the shreiks of the kids splashing about, followed in the afternoon by a water slide!

And as I type this entry, I can hear the sounds of the BBQ being cleared away. Not that I'm jealous or anything: I'm sure that if I'd had kids of toddler age they'd have all been joining in, too. At any rate, it's good to see neighbours and their kids getting on well together, and it was a day of happy activities which was achieved at a tiny fraction of the cost of a trip to Alton Towers or somewhere!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Bumper crop

I went out into the garden early this morning and picked some fruit. The strawberries are still very prolific: several hot dry days (with more to come) have ripened them fast without the slugs and snails coming out to do much damage, and so I filled a couple of empty flowerpots with them. The raspberries have grown and flowered profusely this year, but it's a bit early for much fruit yet - though I did get half a pot-full. Finally, I pulled some rhubarb. This is the second lot I've had so far, and while it's doing quite well, the dry spell isn't suiting it quite as well as it does the soft fruit, so I got the watering can out afterwards and gave it a good soaking. A lot more to come yet, all being well!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Giving with one hand and taking back with the other?

So... after the much-advertised emergency budget on Tuesday, I'm just waiting to see what effect it has. I shall be better off by virtue of the extra £1k tax allowance, but worse off with the hike in VAT from 17.5% to 20%. It just remains to be seen to what extent the two cancel each other out.

All in all, I thought it was all pretty unimaginative, with nothing new that hadn't been tried before. If I'd still been at work I'd be a bit unhappy about the freeze in public sector pay: when I left I was only just earning more than the £21k threshold - it was below the National Average Wage then, and presumably still is. But there you go. Pretty much every Labour goverment since the War has financed its policies by spending money it didn't have and got into a fiscal mess as a result.

Remember Harold Wilson's famous quote about "the pound in your pocket hasn't been devalued"? Not much it hadn't!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


I was catching up on my reading a bit yesterday - in particular Shannon's blog, probably my favourite of all the blogs I read regularly. Always inspired and interesting, and I love the way he writes about bringing up his daughter in a style which is refreshingly free from the nauseatingly gooey terms that so many parents seem to use when referring to their young offspring. I imagine she'll come to treasure the memories it'll bring back in years to come.

I remember very little of my own very early childhood - until I was about six or seven only maybe a dozen isolated hazy recollections come to mind. Even looking at the handful of photos which have survived doesn't trigger anything. Before my parents bought their first house and we "settled" when I was 14, we'd lived in a total of I think ten different places, none longer than three years and most a matter of a few months. While I was growing up it didn't seem to matter all that much: a facet of the Army life was that everyone else was in the same boat, and so the answer to the question "Where are you from?" was easy - it was the last place you happened to have lived at.

But when my mother died in 1988 I quite unexpectedly found myself experiencing an acute sense of not "belonging" anywhere. My stongest link with my past had suddenly been broken, and although by that time I'd been living in Coventry 15 years, the longest time I'd ever lived anywhere, it wasn't "home". So one Saturday, I set off on a train journey down to London - to Hornchurch - in search of my past. It was where I was born, where my grandparents and aunts/uncles had lived, and because we always used to go visiting them, it was the only place we ever went back to.

I remember on the 45-minute journey out on the District Line losing count of the number of times I nearly got off at the next station, endlessly doubting whether I was going to find what I was looking for - half-remembered places and events from thirty or more years previously. But I persevered. And I was glad I did. Although my grandparents had died and all my relatives had moved away, everywhere was just as I'd remembered it: the road from Upminster Bridge station leading past my grandparents' flat... the newsagents' where I'd been treated to an ice lolly... my aunts' houses next door to each other on Upminster Road... the fence I'd looked through as a small boy at the school where my cousins had gone... my other aunt's house just round the corner... and the church where I'd been baptised. And finally, on the other side of town, the house we'd lived in when I was just a baby, still just about recognizable from the background in a couple of old photos of me in my pram.

I took some photos to cement it all in my memory and a few days later when I'd had them developed I looked at the souvenir of my little pilgrimage. I'd found the answer to my question; I had a past; I'd found my roots.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Serendipity n. - the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident

Last autumn, when I came across the Flickr photos which first inspired me to start reminiscing back to my schooldays, there was a link to a GeoCities site on which it looked like there would be a lot more material. As luck would have it, it was just after the time that Yahoo pulled the plug on GeoCities, and the guy who'd posted the link couldn't remember whose the site was. It didn't seem to have been archived or cached anywhere and he tried e-mailing (using that part of the URL which was an e-mail addy) but without getting a reply. For some while afterwards I tried searching occasionally to see if anything turned up about it, but I'd more or less given up hope of finding any clues.

But then the other night I was looking at the updated profiles on Friends Reunited, when I spotted that another ex-pupil had put the same link in his profile. On the offchance, I shot him a message asking if he knew whose the site was, and he replied the following night that it was his! He said he wants to re-upload it when he's found a suitable ftp hosting for it: I'm not sure how keen he is, but he did say that there had been quite a bit of material on it, so having done what I assume would've been a fair amount of work, and now he knows he's got an interested reader, it may spur him on. I'm hoping so, anyway, having unexpectedly found the missing piece to my puzzle!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Free speech... but not when we're paying for it!

An odd little news item I came across tucked away inconspicuously yesterday reveals that two people were banned from using the city library's computers in the last three years for *allegedly* accessing porn. Rather oddly, I thought, there wasn't any comment on the significance of this, especially as it was in response to a Freedom of Information request which presupposes that the information wouldn't have been revealed otherwise. It doesn't say what they were looking at, but to rate a three-month ban it can't have been anything "serious" and obviously wasn't anything illegal. In any case I believe that Coventry Libraries are one of the majority of UK public libraries who use Websense to block supposedly objectionable material.

The argument used in favour of having this sort of ruling is that users are accessing material in a semi-public place and that in any case some people would not appreciate their Council Tax being used to fund the provision of free porn. On a very simplistic level, that argument has a certain degree of merit - but as an ex-librarian who always firmly upheld the principle that consenting adults should be free to choose for themselves what material they do or don't read and look at, I find this particular form of censorship - and that's basically what it is - particularly abhorrent.

Throughout the history of libraries, there's always been a tradition that access to free speech is an important right to be safeguarded against attempts by "the authorities" to censor and block it. It's rather sad, I think, that in the 21st century the very technology which should make it easier than ever before to promote the free exchange of ideas is now being used instead to stifle it.