Saturday, 31 July 2010

Double standards?

A couple of interesting news stories have caught my eye this week.

Seventeen years ago, the horrific
James Bulger killing sent waves of shock reverberating round, making people wonder how on earth two young boys could be capable of anything so wicked. They were both given new names and identities before being released on licence in 2001, but in a disturbing recent development, it's been revealed that one of them - Jon Venables - has just been sentenced after pleading guilty to having childporn on his computer. Describing it rather ineptly as "breaking the last taboo", he's made quite a few people wonder whether he didn't do that back in 1993 and appears to have learned nothing since? Either way, the trial judge is convinced that his new identity and whereabouts must continue to be kept secret for fear of retaliation.

And as if to reinforce the point that there are people ready and willing to retaliate with their own brand of rough justice, Ian Huntley, of
Soham murders fame (or should one say infamy) is reported to be suing the prison authorities for negligence after having his throat slashed by a fellow-prisoner. Given his notoriety, it's something that could and should have been foreseen - the only question now being whether his claim for compensation is legitimate or not. Perhaps understandably the victims' organizations are appalled, but I was impressed by the comment made by the Prison Reform Trust: "If a court sentences someone to custody, they are not sentencing them to be attacked."

The pitfalls of vigiliante justice are all too obvious.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

"It's Kool to go back to Skool"

I'm not too sure now how I originally came across this -but it's a school-finder website that goes by the name of My Home Town Schools, and at first sight seems to be a bit of a clone of Friends Reunited but on a much smaller scale: the vast majority of the schools listed don't (as yet) have any ex-pupils, and the database is for the most part limited to schools currently in existence. Which is odd, because they boast "we have 1000s of old long forgotten schools listed many with old photos going back to the Victorian / Edwardian era"? Nevertheless, I thought I'd submit the details and get my old school added, and was impressed when I got an email earlier this evening to say it was up.

It was quite easy to register and knock up a quick profile: submitting photos and messages requires them to be moderated, though (unlike Friends Reunited), so I'll be interested to see how long that takes: I can't imagine they're inundated with submissions to check out. I would suspect the whole site may be relatively new, in fact. I'm not expecting to get any long-lost friends turning up from it, but they were understandably keen to get a mention or a link in peoples' blogs or websites, so I'm happy enough to oblige here!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Three generations

I heard the sad news this week that my next-door neighbour has passed away. They've been living here about as long as we have - roughly thirty-five years - and we've got on well, often having a chat about this or that over the garden fence. She'd been losing the battle against cancer for over eighteen months, in and out of hospital a few times and having to give up first work and then her car, so I guess it wasn't totally unexpected. When her son, who still lives only just over the road, came over to tell me the news, he was putting a brave face on it: nevertheless the death of a wife or mother is always a painful loss however it occurs.

I was about his age - 40 - when my mother died. I went totally to pieces and I don't know to this day how I got through that week between her death on the Monday and her funeral on the Friday: nothing had prepared me for it. Perhaps I was lucky (or unlucky according to how you look at it) but I'd never experienced the death of anyone close to me.

My grandparents had both died while we were out in Hong Kong. We couldn't go to their funeral: I don't really remember how my mother coped with it, but knowing her I suspect she shielded me from much of her sorrow. In those days, air travel was an unaffordable luxury and the flights with stopovers would've taken a couple of days each way. Even international phone calls were prohibitively expensive, leaving airmail letters (or telegrams, if the message was both brief and urgent) as the only method of keeping in touch.

I wrote last month about the trip I took to Hornchurch after my mother died, and one of the places I visited was the graveyard at St Andrews Church: I was foolishly hoping to visit my grandparents' graves. But I didn't know where they'd been buried: although on our return from Hong Kong we'd visited the aunts and uncles from time to time whilever they were still living there, I was aware at the back of my mind that we'd never gone to my grandparents' graves, but it hadn't occurred to me that there must've been a reason for that. In fact it wasn't until my father died four years later and I inherited the box of family papers that I discovered two little poignant 'In memoriam' cards which had been sent out to us in Hong Kong and which showed that they'd been cremated - an option which I think was a lot less common in those days than it is now.

So, I was left with just the memories. Their flat was still there, with the iron fire escape leading from the back door in the kitchen, that I used to run up and down as a six-year old whenever we went to see them. I remember them as a kindly old couple: I liked going to visit, and I got the occasional treat - though I don't think I was ever spoiled rotten as some grandchildren appear to be!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Will the phantom penis poster kindly own up?

I spotted this intriguing little news story yesterday: apparently someone has been putting up posters of what is described rather coyly as "male private parts" (why do journalists think it's necessary in this day and age to use such euphemisms?) with a yellow ribbon tied it round and the caption "Fees set to rise later this year." Hmmm... fees for what? Perhaps it's best not to speculate!

Anyway I had to chuckle at the punch-line which quoted a Sussex police spokesman as saying - "If this is a self-portrait the artist won't be in a hurry to be identified” I seem to have done my fair share of criticizing the police just lately, so it's nice to be able to record that, in one area at least, they haven't lost their sense of humour.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Above the law?

I popped across to the supermarket earlier this morning to get the paper and a few bits and pieces, and as I walked across the car park towards the front door I noticed a police car parked in the end space. Nothing unusual in that - they seem to visit quite often, generally to buy a sandwich or something during their shift, I think. What I noticed today, though, is how untidily it had been parked, skewed in the marked space with the offside front wheel firmly over the hatched part which of course you're supposed to leave clear. The car was unoccupied, but as I passed by I saw a WPC come up to it: she must've seen the filthy look I was giving it and read what I was thinking, because as she opened the door and got in, she said: "I might have a prisoner". In fact she didn't, because she drove off alone, and as she did so I spotted that she'd been using one of the spaces set aside for parents with young children in buggies. Perhaps the expected prisoner was a toddler?

The enforcement of parking is generally now up to the local council or parking wardens rather than the police, but all the same I did idly wonder what she'd have said if the positions had been reversed and I'd been the one using a space I wasn't entitled to.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Power of the Press

During the course of the last six months or so since I first put my schooldays website together, I've had something in the region of ten or a dozen exchanges of emails from various people who'd found it and said how much they'd liked looking at it. I very much enjoyed writing my story and putting it together, but it's doubly rewarding when people take the trouble to contact me and compliment me on it. I suppose anyone who hated their time at school wouldn't feel quite so kindly disposed towards it, but then again they presumably wouldn't have bothered looking in the first place.

One of the comments I did get suggested that it might be worth getting a mention in
the local rag. It's something that had already occurred to me, especially as they have a "Nostalgia" section in which they've run stories featuring old local schools and ex-pupils, but I wasn't sure how receptive they'd be to something that was purely online. Nevertheless, I sent them an email last week, and yesterday got a reply saying one of their reporters would like to have a chat with me about it.

This afternoon, the phone rang. The woman on the other end asked if I'd been a pupil at Leamington College for Boys, and when I said yes, she said her son who now lived in Canada had gone to the school, she'd seen my site mentioned in the paper but couldn't get into it. We worked out between us that the paper had evidently already run the story, but had misprinted the URL. Duh! I thanked her for letting me know, and popped out to buy a copy - it comes out on a Friday. Sure enough, although the rest of what they'd printed was accurate enough, there was a typo: a y had become a v, effectively undoing all my good work! If I can get hold of their reporter on Monday, I shall be sorely tempted to suggest he goes back to school for some lessons in proofreading!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Manhunt or witch-hunt?

I wasn't originally intending to comment on this one, but since no less a person than the Prime Minister has seen fit to throw in his (rather ill-informed) two-cents' worth, why shouldn't I?

What drove Raoul Moat to act out his grudge rather than - as most people do - getting over it and getting on with his life - is something I don't suppose anyone will ever really know. However, the shooting at point-blank range of three innocent people, killing one of them, resulted in the UK's biggest and best-publicised manhunt of recent years, and undoubtedly the most expensive -running up a bill of millions and involving, it's been said, a quarter of all the armed police in Britain not to mention the latest sophistication in heat-seeking helicopters and heaven-knows what else. Given that he evaded this massive combination of resources for a whole week, in the glare of nationwide publicity, it's hardly surprising that he's attracted a certain following: the police have not emerged from the whole thing exactly covered in credit. It was always on the cards that the eventual outcome was going to be either a shoot-out when cornered or a suicide and I guess we should all be grateful that no more innocent lives were lost. Nevertheless it all seems a little bizarre especially in view of the several murders and shootings which occurred elsewhere at the same time and which rated hardly a column-inch mention let alone a manhunt.

Obviously his family and close friends will have seen a different side of him to the one portrayed in public and are fully entitled to pay their respects as they see fit. I'm not a devotee of Facebook and don't really care one way or the other about a 'tribute' group. That said, in a free society people are entitled to express their opinions - however flaky or distasteful - and I'm glad that the site has so far resisted the attempts reportedly being made by the goverment to censor it. He's not a martyr and it's idiotic of anyone to try and turn him into one by suppressing legitimate discussion of what actually went on over the last couple of weeks.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The scattergun effect!

One of the most annoying things about searching on the internet is the way a search for a specific subject or topic will produce a ton of unrelated material which, because of the way it's indexed, takes the right constituent pieces but puts them together in the wrong order.

To give an example, I usually check out which of my Flickr photos have been viewed the most, and how people found them. It's not much more than idle curiosity on my part, but it's a bit of an indication of the sort of stuff that it's probably not worth bothering to upload. Most searching seems to give fairly predictable results, but the one that caught my eye yesterday was "hairy beach stud" - and this is what they found:

It's an old polaroid holiday snap from the 1980s, and the caption reads: "On the beach with Sweep (the dog)- Me in tight jeans and DM boots with our first dog - a nice hairy one named Sweep. I was the envy of all the local lads in those boots: the 14-hole ones had only just come out and they all wanted to know where I'd got them from."

So the "beach" came from the title, the "hairy" from the subtitle, and the "stud" from the 'studded' tag I used to label the studded leather belt I was wearing. But rather obviously (or so I think, anyway) neither of us really fits the description of a hairy beach stud!

Ah well.... life is full of its little disappointments for someone.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Uninvited guests

I woke up this morning and made the unwelcome discovery that we'd had intruder(s) in the garden during the night. The fence at the bottom had a slat broken off, the raspberry canes had been trampled and broken as had a couple of tomato plants, the wire fence separating our garden from next door's had been twisted and partially broken - and their yucca bore signs of someoene having been rash enough to tangle with it.

We live in a cul-de-sac, and our garden gives access via the bottom fence and a block of garages with a flat roof to a close leading out onto the main road, which makes a convenient getaway route for your friendly neighbourhood burglar. With this in mind, I rang up The Bill. I wasn't altogether surprised that the guy who took the call didn't seem too enthused with interest with my piece of crime-solving intelligence, but he did check to see whether anything with a possible connection had been reported. Apparently there were some dodgy goings-on involving a car and the house at the far end of the street at around 2.30am, but it didn't amount to anything - or so he told me. I asked him to make a note anyway in case anything else came to light later, so he took my name and phone number.

Later in the morning, I mentioned what had happened to my other next-door neighbour in case their garden had been entered, but she said not. Feeling rather unnecessarily over-suspicious, I checked all round ours, in the bushes, and in the wheelie bins, in case anything had been dumped in a hurry. I noted in passing that the garden tools which I'd developed the very bad habit of leaving out all night, were still there, so I made a note to be more careful from now on!

About 5pm, the doorbell rang. It was the woman from the end house, together with my neighbours' son, who had evidently heard the story of what had gone on. There had indeed been some sort of a disturbance during the night as a result of which she'd had her bag taken with her keys in. I took them to see the damage, but predictably enough there was no sign of either bag or keys. I don't suppose I shall hear any more about it. The offender(s) in the unlikely event of being caught would only get some meaningless community work sentence. Perhaps repairing the fence and planting some new raspberry canes for me would be a suitable reparation?

Oh - I nearly forgot. Raggs must've been disturbed, because she barked in the middle of it all, but only three or four times before going back to sleep, having I imagine concluded she'd done her job as the fierce guard dog and scared them all off. Silly mutt!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Driller killer

I had an appointment at the Dentist's yesterday. Not my favourite way of whiling away an hour on a sunny afternoon - more a case of doing the dirty deed that needs to be done.

The entertainment started with a scrape and polish from the hygienist. As a yukky job, I think personally that scraping gunge off peoples' teeth all day for a living must take a bit of beating, but maybe they enjoy it - I guess it takes all sorts. Anyway, she wasn't the usual hygienist, who is quite chirpy and chatty, and her communication in monosyllables wasn't my idea of the perfect bedside manner. Coupled with some rather vicious digging with a sharp instrument which made my gums bleed. It was apparently because I didn't "floss" enough: the way she said it was more of a criticism than an apology. We got round to discussing why not and maybe it was the flippant way I said "I'm lazy" which must've put her back up, but I got treated like a naughty schoolboy who hadn't done his homework properly. Considering I was paying £30 or so for the experience, I shall be making I sure I get an appointment with the regular hygienist in future!

A check-up from the dentist himself revealed two small cavities: I don't very often escape these days without having to have some work done! Rather sadly, they're both in teeth which hadn't been filled before, and I must confess I was quite proud of having up until then still got eight totally unblemished teeth left. Nothing lasts forever, though, and I think my teeth on the whole have survived reasonably well. I remember as a teenager the familiar sight of my parents' dentures soaking overnight in their little beakers in the bathroom at home: I don't remember a time when my mother didn't have false teeth, and my father had a decreasing number of his own teeth left by the time he was my age. It may be a sign of better dental care these days, or perhaps some hereditary factor - or possibly a combination of both. My dentist, being something of a perfectionist takes the other side of the 'glass half empty/half full' thing, and sighs somewhat over the fact I don't take more care of them!