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28 May 2008

The Rise of the Trumblies

Now that petrol and diesel are through the roof at over £5 a gallon I've noticed that as more and more car drivers are unable to afford to keep their tanks filled, more of them are driving everywhere at 40 mph or less in an attempt to conserve fuel. We are all becoming "trumblies".

This is increasing both journey times and the level of frustration. It is to be hoped that the Government will get the message being driven home through the current on-road protest by truck drivers that something needs to be done about the huge percentage of the fuel price at the pumps being taken in tax. We are, I think, the most heavily fuel taxed country in Europe.

Haulage companies are going out of business, and the cost of moving foodstuffs and other goods around the country is pushing up the price of everything.

On the subject of taxes I am sure we are all now wondering why our hard-earned cash is being used to fund the outrageous expense demands of Members of Parliament. Thanks to pressure exerted under the Freedom of Information Act we now know for the first time that our money is being used to fund (apparently legitimately) the most ridiculous things, such as installation of pergolas in gardens, mortgage interest payments on second homes that don't even have a mortgage, painting of second homes, maintenance of lawns and hedges, Sky TV subscriptions, and the employment of partners and relatives as Parliamentary Assistants. I'm not saying MPs don't do any work, but they do get paid handsomely for the privilege of representing us and I don't see why we should also be subsidising their additional luxuries. Next time some candidate or other canvasses me on my doorstep I shall demand to know what specific lifestyle extras he or she expects me to be funding if he or she is elected.

25 May 2008

Gore Vidal brightens my Sunday

How refreshing it was to find Gore Vidal as a guest on Andrew Marr's Sunday AM TV program this morning.

It's always a good thing to have someone around who can shine a bright intellectual light into the murky corners of international politics.

As someone who knew President John Kennedy well he was asked by Marr whether it was right that people should see in Barak Obama something of the John Kennedy "Camelot" times. Vidal responded by saying that if he were Obama he would be rather put out by the comparison since whilst John Kennedy had an undoubted charismatic presence he didn't actually do anything useful - he initiated an abortive attempt at invading Cuba and he expanded the war in south east Asia.

Why then, asked Marr, should people be making this comparison?

Because, replied Vidal, we are talking about the United States of Amnesia.

As for George W Bush, the man is certifiable and he has a sinister Vice President with a liking for torture. This nest of ninnies has torn up the Magna Carta and the Constitution.

I couldn't agree more.

21 May 2008

Inside the Mind of the Bureacrat

This morning I received a letter from my local District Council. They had written to me because my part-time work includes driving children to and from school. I was instructed either to attend a course on the safeguarding of children against physical, mental or sexual abuse, or to take the course online. The bureacrat who wrote the letter explained how I could find the appopriate website and how the course would be laid out. At the end of each module I would take an online test, and if I passed all four modules I would be able to print out my Certificate of Basic Awareness in Child Protection. So far so good, but then came the advice, "Your computer will need to be attached to a printer".

I can't help feeling that anyone not in possession of sufficient intelligence to realise that in order to print a document from one's computer it would need to be attached to a printer should not really be in charge of a vehicle, let alone children.

Anyway, I took the online course (it took about an hour) and passed all four tests. Fortunately I also managed to print out my certificate so I could send a copy to the bureacrat. Perhaps I should have enclosed an accompanying letter advising that in order to read it she should first remove it from the envelope.

11 May 2008

Car Review

Can you remember all those Skoda jokes? A few years have gone by since they were common currency in the comedy world, harking back to the days of Communist Czechoslovakia and the somewhat less than wonderful cars they produced. Mind you, we bought them pretty cheaply so perhaps we shouldn't have complained. "You get what you pay for." I almost miss the jokes ..

How do you double the value of your Skoda? Remove the badge.
Why do Skodas have heated rear windows? To keep your hands warm when you're pushing it.

A lot has happened since those days: the "iron curtain" melted, and Czechoslovakia reverted to Slovakia and the Czech Republic. German car makers VW bought Skoda (they must have seen some real potential there) and the quality and consequent popularity of Skodas rose in leaps and bounds. In fact, some motoring correspondents say that the build quality of the vehicles coming out of the Czech factory surpasses that of the VW cars coming out of the German factories.

My own experience backs this up. I have been driving a Skoda Octavia 1.9 litre diesel with automatic gearbox for five years, and can report that it has not suffered a single significant problem. It has been a joy to drive and on long journeys returned over 55 miles per gallon.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to change my car, and so I exchanged my Skoda Octavia 1.9 diesel automatic for a Skoda Octavia 1.9 diesel automatic! It is a 2007 model with 12,000 miles on the clock, previously used by Skoda management.

Although the same model by name as my original car, it has important differences: it has a new 6-speed automatic "DSG" (dual shift gearbox), i.e., if you want manual changes for any reason you just move the gearshift sideways, then give it a nudge forwards to change to a higher gear and a nudge backwards to go lower. In normal automatic mode, although you can just hear changes in the engine note as it goes through the gears you feel absolutely nothing.

This model is the "Elegance" rather than my previous "Ambiente" and so has a higher spec., including automatic climate control that can be adjusted individually by the driver and the front seat passenger, plus a facility for cooling the glove box. The diesel engine is very quiet, and inside the car it is not much different from driving a petrol engine. Another nice touch is the automatically dimming rear view mirror when a bright light comes up behind you. Another new feature (to me at least) is Cruise Control which I tried out on the A64 dual carriageway between York and Malton, a section that includes a steep hill. It was great fun setting the speed at 70 mph, and taking my foot off the pedal. When we hit the steep hill, the car just dropped a gear and maintained 70 mph to the top of the hill, with me doing nothing but steer. (OK, you people who've been driving with cruise control for years - give me a break - this is my first. Allow me to display some pleasure!)

The in-car entertainment includes FM and AM radio, having three FM and three AM memory banks, each of which holds 6 stations, so that's up to 36 pre-set stations. There is a single CD slot above the radio console, but in the (cavernous) boot (sorry trunk, if you're American!) there is also a 6-CD changer unit, so there is potential for playing up to 7 CDs. If that isn't enough to be going on with you can also listen to all the music on your iPod.

I can't believe that there will still be people out there who worry about a Skoda badge on the front of their car, but I have no hesitation in recommending these reliable, well-built, economical cars.

05 May 2008

Boris Johnson London Mayor - 1st Speech 2 April 2008

More people would take an interest in politics if all the major political parties encouraged outspoken, free-thinking, humorous politicians like Boris Johnson, instead of the usual cheerless, on-message automatons that seem to be the order of the day at the moment.

Goodbye Red Ken, hello Blue Boris

Last week's election for the Mayor of London produced an unexpected upset for the incumbent Labour Party's "Red Ken" Livingstone, or .. as he became known during the election campaign .. "Ken Leavingsoon".

After two periods in office (a total of eight years) he achieved quite a lot in raising the image of London, reducing traffic congestion, and encouraging new development. On the flip side, his traffic congestion charge became controversial when the charges started going up, and the control zone was extended. The London Underground private finance initiative went belly up, and Ken was also criticised for his allocation of large financial grants to some pretty weird and questionable organisations. He also liked to play host to controversial political and religious figures, especially from the Muslim community; and whilst he was happy to organise St Patrick's Day parades, he would not give house room to any demonstration of English pride on St George's day.

He was, and is, in many ways a bit of a comedian with a controversial love life and a passion for newts (though I hasten to add there is no connection between the two!)

Londoners were really given the chance of voting for one of two comedians, because along came Boris Johnson for the Conservatives out of the blue - he of the tousled hair, TV show performances, posh voice, and frequently voiced political gaffes.

Boris is such a loose cannon in the Conservative Party that he was soon assigned a team of advisers to try and keep him away from his role of comedian and firmly on the straight and narrow political message. But anyone who knows Boris knows that this is a waste of time. Indeed this is part of his success: he is so outspoken, so "un-PC", so good at appearing to be a complete buffoon whilst actually concealing a sharp intellect and huge knowledge that even those would rather stick pins in their eyes than vote Conservative grudgingly acknowledge their affection for him.

It was, then, perhaps no great surprise that he should manage to come along and upset Red Ken's applecart.

Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick (ex-police commander) was out of site. He is a decent man who nevertheless seems to have suffered a charisma bypass and was therefore completely unable to compete against the two larger-than-life characters fielded by the Labour and Conservative Parties.

Other News

Petty Bureacracy is alive and well

It's good to know that we still employ pea-brained "jobsworths" in public service to remind us just how stupid human beings can be. Last week an 82-year old woman disabled with Parkinson's Disease parked her car in Kendal to take a rest as she was feeling unwell. It was a no-parking area, but she possessed a "disabled" permit to display in her windscreen, so she was legally parked with the permit on display. Unfortunately she had not noticed that the permit was on display upside down. A parking warden came along, and rather than waking up the sleeping woman to politely draw attention to her oversight he just slapped a penalty notice on her windscreen. South Lakeland Council rejected her appeal.

In the same week, at the other end of the country, in London, a woman was prosecuted because her "Oyster" pre-paid bus card was 20p short of the amount for the journey. She swiped the card on the machine next to the driver and didn't notice the bleep indicating it was short of funds. The driver said nothing. During her journey an Inspector boarded the bus, and on checking her ticket said she was 20p short. The woman apologised and immediately got our her purse to pay the difference. The Inspector was having none of that: he said he would have to report her, she would get a form in the post on which she could explain herself. She got the form, explained the circumstances and submitted it. Next thing she knows is she's been summoned to appear before Sutton magistrates later this month.

What kind of country have we become, with such idiots messing up our lives? Is it a reflection of our education system that such people are produced and given paid jobs?