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Friday, 23 January 2015

We set sail in hope

For some considerable number of days, now, I have been so buried in Finn's latest tales, that I haven't being paying attention to the more important matter of putting them about. Finn, of course, is far too pre-occupied on some damn fool adventure in The Marish.

Some of you will recall me (as Finn and others) talking about the nightmarish time, there and refusing to say more. Writing the story I had in mind has brought back memories and has been very enjoyable.  (Test readers beware - it's another three chapter plus tale.)

Chrissie and I were digging through some old graphics that we used, the other day. Who can put a name to the duke's flagship?

 It's a crisp, late Winter morning, here in Hertfordshire. The birds are all over the lawn and feeders (I have filled a number of them and sprinkled a bread and end of the cake mix.) There is a feeling of teeming life beginning to awaken again. (It must be time to set sail on another year's adventures.) There was a hard frost on the lawn as I scrunched about, filling seed dispensers and sprinkling suet treats on the small table. The usual robin came to watch, of course. You can never keep a cheeky robin down. He was all over everything in turn as I walked away.

I have a bone to pick with our wood mice. They've been under the netting gnawing my tulip bulbs. You'd think there was enough bird food around to do the trick. They are definitely mammalia non gratia, just now.

Anyone recall that polecat we had down this way, last year?  Chrissie and I found a glis-glis in one of the hides nearby the spot it had been seen, too. This year, how about a pine marten? I've been thinking about going back up to Scotland after the remaining members of the "big six" that we missed last time. I've still to get a good sighting of a Caper'.  Ron, have your camera ready if you guys want to join us on a trip.

Only a couple of months and I can be thinking about the bowls season, again :)  I wonder if Chrissie can make it three years in a row as ladies' champion.  You'd never get her writing about that. All the folks at her work place knew she played but she hadn't told them she was the champion and best lady player in the averages, too. That came out when I was having a drink with them some months ago.  Ah, sweet Sylvander, always staying quiet and being generous and peaceful for others.

Still no sign of the car but some good news, at last.. our bad payees have decided to cough up what they owed us for last June's consultancy work, at last.  Things must be looking up.
(Don't say that too loudly in the squire's presence, though.)

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Scary for Kids?

We watched Coraline, last night. I haven't seen that in ages.

It reminded me what a scary film that could be for younger kids. I imagine there would be a whole group who'd enjoy being scared, like that, too.

It also made me wonder how it was that so few Neil Gaiman stories have been turned into films or modern tv series. 

What about it?   After all, apart from being a creative genius and one of the best writers in the last fifty to a hundred years, his tales have originality and flair. I'd love to see more of his work turned into well funded tv serials or films. American Gods and a remake of Neverwhere would certainly be on my list plus a several season adaptation of Sandman.

So there's something for you to be thinking on, TV screen writers. Just make sure you have the man himself on board too.

And how is it that there are no Culture films based on the Iain M Banks books?

I'd very much like to see Alistair Reynolds books being given a good look over as possible films as well. Maybe even a whole space fiction series.

Which has set me thinking.... there's something I must dig out. Now wherever is it?  *vanishes*

Saturday, 10 January 2015

When you're already down, is bad luck mandatory?

We feel like we have been having a great deal of bad luck in the last couple of years. It started with me becoming ill, of course and, it's probably true that is just bad luck. There are things that one might point to like carrying on in an over-stressful environment when all the rest of the project managers were resigning and being overweight and sitting at the pc for 14 hours a day working and then trying to catch up your email and stuff but... I think it was just unlucky. It happens. I faced up to it, carried right on and tried to find the bright things in life.

But recently, I have come to an opinion that when you are down, you are always liable to get the shit end of the stick.  That translates as feeling like you have all the bad luck. As someone who always used to have good luck and escape things unexpectedly because of the turm of events, I guess I had the feeling I was lucky. I suppose that has to even up over life's course, too.

It doesn't help that the welfare state does not look after those who have worked and paid their dues. It's actually better to be a penniless skiver who takes and never does a thing, saves nothing, has no private pension, spends what they have even if they have more than people realise.  Do you know how little in savings you have to have to be considered too well provisioned to get any income support even if you are currently earning £0?  How can that be? Surely those of us who have put in 30+ years are entitled to earn something approaching a minimum wage in benefits after all the NI and tax we have paid in. No? No... of course not.

I was lucky, I guess in knowing people that made it possible for me to get some part-time work. But last year was a bit thin and then when we got a client that turned up a decent bounty payment. They haven't paid what they owe...and now 6 months have passed and we are still chasing them. Industry can thumb its nose at the small guys. Thats one reason so many small businesses don't survive. Does the government have anything in place to protect us and make getting our money easy. No, of course not.

So I guess I might not be surprised that servicing the car I can't afford to replace has cost me another £200 odd and  the airbag light keeps coming on so now Renault and the Autocentre are so busy having an arguement about whether the disgnostic is right. I am told Renault don't believe there is a airbag on the pillars of the sports tourer even though there is a sign with the words airbag written there. I think that the pair of them have forgotten this is not an esoteric techie who's the boss thing, there is a client involved with no car, here and one who doesn't want to pay out £400 more if it's a faulty alert, either.  I have even tried to get a Renault dealer with service experience to talk to them both but after being apparently helpful, do you think they have called back? No, of course Not.

So - the situation is that I have to go to the hospital across the county border as that is the only place I can get the tablets I am on to stay alive. And we, mum and dad-in-law always go shopping once a week and I always take them all as I have the big car. My father-in-law says "don't worry, we'll use mine and I can take you to hospital too."
We get about 400 yards from picking up mum and his clutch burns out with a shower of smoke. Along with a flywheel that went, £1000 worth and he had to wait in a lay by for 4 hours. We came and went with soup and sausage rolls in that time to keep him warm and fed.

Eventually, we took my wife's small and classic old car out and went in that, worried all the way that it might overheat or worse. It only ever makes runs under a couple of miles a few times a week. She works part time. We got there. What do you think? Did luck balance out? No, the hospital pharmacy had failed to get the tablets in. All the patients who needed them were sent packing. I have a few days supply. I just hope others do, too. It's not a nice thought to wonder what might happen if you came off the course that had been keeping you stable and then went back on. What if you became immune or the break let the cancer get back on the attack. Mine is agressive. I don't want to start dying again because someone made an admin error.

That was all last week.

Bad luck?   Well, let's see what else happens this year.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

What price freedom?

What have we got ourselves into?

There was a moment, when we were sitting at the same table as old enemies, allies and all who had come together to free Kuwait from an unwarranted invasion by a bullying, swaggering, overbearing regime led by a man who would have been another Stalin.

Had we grasped the nettle at that moment, perhaps we might have started some sensible discussion over a Palestinian state with Israel sitting alongside Jordan, Syria and Egypt. Perhaps we could have taken an opportunity to mend bridges and put aside the past indignities of crusades that took place hundreds of years ago but which some people of the middle-east still tell as tales of caution even today as if we are still those ancestors who marched into their lands. With such memories, how can we ever have peace with such people?  Yet, there was a chance.

But then we got a taste for being the arbiters of freedom, the world police and went into places where we were not invited, trying to put things right when we had no mandate and in a swift stroke undid all that good will. That failure will be recorded by history because the chances come rarely and we failed.

But none of that could have prepared us for the outpouring of hatred and violence demonstrated by people who profess to belong to and be zealots from a religion that preaches understanding. While all our original religions were written down by men in times when things were different and so need updating, none of them called for such vengeful, spiteful behaviour towards the non believers or towards those who shared the religion except over interpretation or towards those who were from another tribe.

What we have seen today in Paris is another example of disenfranchised men an women who use religion as a cover because they want some cause through which they can express anger, be excited and motivated and be someone. They are the same sort of people who would have been nazis, simbas, beserks who murder and kill under a pretence that it is for their faith and even convince themselves it is so.

I deplore the belief that freedom of expression and freedom in learning can come under such an attack. Those who think they can suppress laughter, creativity, music and free expression will never succeed but we need to see more action to ensure they do not gain ground. They probably haven't thought as far ahead as to how miserable the world would be if they actually got their way in every corner of the globe.

For the sake of humanity and our survival as an intelligent race, this has to be stopped. Parents and elders we look at you to give your children guidance. There are signs of violent extremism across the globe. Find them another outlet through sport perhaps or some other competition where they can channel their energies. It is your responsibility not that of some greater power.

Otherwise, there will be many more dead sons and daughters soon. Victims and Extremists both cut down to soon, their potential unfufilled.

RIP todays victims of senseless acts of violence. We grieve for you.

Why there is no need to worry about Robots taking over the world

I know that call centres need to use scripts to encourage consistency amongst their agents but you know, this is all going too far.

We don't have to worry about inventing a race of androids, cyborgs or just robots that supercede humanity. We should be worrying that half our adult population will soon be talking like robots and show no signs of being able to exercise initiative at all.

I think there are a number of cases where being able to talk to a human (and here I mean someone who sounds and feels human in a symapthetic and empathic way) is really important.

Like when you are ill, have money troubles, are coping with ageing relatives, trying to deal with yours or a family member's breakdown - that kind of thing.

I had to contact the DWP a few days ago.  It's been nearly three years that I have had cancer, now and while it is currently stable, I'm, not getting any better. The complete lack of testostorone means I can close my eyes and go to sleep any time, really. I certainly can't get through a day without being off a couple of times, at least. I don't have energy just a lot of weight from the steroids and I don't sleep well so tiredness is hardly suprising anyway. I can work part-time, I can write and use my mental skills but if I start gardening or anything physical, I soon realise my limitations against the old me.  So when I asked if the lady could help, I really meant could she help.  I wanted to talk with someone who must encounter similar people in my circumstance, who have worked 30 years or more and don't want to have to use support but have come to a point where they must.

I wanted some sympathy, a feeling that I was talking to a human being who would be on my side.

But it was not to be.  As soon as she started with the statement that she had to ask the questions all the way through so could I not answer until she had finished and that I could be prosecuted, my house destroyed by the military, my family butchered, be taken away and water boarded, boiled in oil and all the rest of it - something she reminded me of every five or six questions in, I knew I might as well have been talking to a machine. Why not just have voice mail interview people and we can press 1 for yes and 2 for no and it can threaten us with extermination in that same dead fish voice?

It's one of the reasons I have always shied away from claiming anything even when I do have the right. The state doesn't see us as people but as nuisances, rebels claiming money that isn't ours, wasters, expenses to the state, useless, criminals.

I remember when I was made redundant. I had a plan to get back to work as a contractor but I started by claiming jobseeker's allowance. After all, I paid in all that money to the state during years of earning high salaries.  I sat opposite some callow youth with maybe a year or two in full time work while he practically accused me of trying to get out of work. I turned on the little shite and said

"You do realise that I have worked for over thirty years, bank holidays, weekends, long hours, late nights and early mornings so don't make out I would ever not be interested in working but I work in a specialist field and I will get work in that field not the first rubbish you throw at me. I'm not some little lad out of school who has no skill and no idea. Now, please let me talk to your supervisor because this conversation is at an end."

I will grant that his supervisor did apologise. You should have seen everyone looking over their little cubicles to see who was being roasted by a member of the public. Most of the time, the DHSS types do the bullying.

I have no doubt that I will have the same experience when I contact the DWP for the next stage and any other government organisation that ought to be giving people like me support. We paid our stamps and our taxes. I was paying in enough to make this demand twice over when I did go back to contracting. The state had their pound of flesh and again when we paid the inflated student fees and living expenses to keep our kids out of this new planned debt cycle that the state wants to get them in.

The issue now is that there simply isn't enough part-time consultancy work for someone like me. I can't come and spend my time in the client office. I'll fall asleep at the desk/in a meeting/briefing/conference and that would look and feel unprofessional. I don't have the energy to drive far or charge about project managing. I have to steer towards retirement and do what I can between. I feel, as you can read, aggrieved for myself and those like me who really have put the years in and would like to continue doing so but we just can't.

So, please Mr Minister, I'm holding out my bowl for a bit of sympathy and support.  Please can I have some more?

Sunday, 4 January 2015

2015 Preview Continued - What Films Might Cause a Stir?

Ok, ok, I kneel or genuflect or whatever in the sure and certain faith that Star Wars "The Force Awakens" will make the Kessel Run and leave everything else in its wake as it hits the hyperspace jump... or will it? What if the hyperdrive motivator is damaged or worse, missing and we end up with something left field of the worst moments of Lucas' last effort?

I will reserve judgement but unlike when Phantom Menace was approaching and I could hardly sit still, I have a sinking feeling about this new reboot.  As much the hints about the storyline when had I been writing it, I would have gone elswhere and further into the future with my ageing original cast members.  But, it says "Star Wars" on the tin! Yes, I hear your cry. You will find few sadder Star Wars fans short of those who are truly obsessed. After all, I can practically repeat the dialogue for New Hope word for word.... And yes, I have much respect for J.J. Abrams's just that.... I feel a disturbance in the force. Hard to see the future is.

Let's get to the also rans, then ;)

I have a feeling that Avengers- The Age of Ultron may compete with Star Wars for the best special effect and high octane film of the year. Judging by how the films have improved so far and thinking about Winter Soldier and Thor the Dark World, you have to be looking forward to this one, superhero fanz.

Woman in Black II - I wasn't one of those knocked off my feet by the idea of bringing a successful if ,limited stage show concept to the big screen. Did it need a sequel. No.
Oh, incidentally, neither did Taken and going to a part 3 is just indulgent.

I may have a look at Blackhat in January. At least that isn't hanging it's title item on someone else's old peg.

Jupiter Ascending caught my eye for February. The plot might look a bit like (but will fall short of) Iain M Banks "Against a dark Background" but interesting cast and directors could promise something very watchable.   I feel very uncertain that The Seventh Son will do a great deal for fantasy film reputations but we live in hope. One film I will not be going anywhere near is "Fifty Shades of Grey" but I have no doubt that anything said about it will fail to get through to the following.... 

March and another that will not be in my potential list will be "Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."  Much enjoyed by the family members over 70 a couple of Xmas' ago, it was very well made, well delivered but ultimately slow and nothing new in the relationships or lessons from life, sorry. Seen them all before.    Branagh's Cinderella looks stellar but should it be performed by live casts? *oof* could that be the sound of it tripping on its petticoats against the latest animated release from the usual suspects, "Home".   And Heart of the Sea will be eaten up by larger films not just by itself - anyway, it just doesn't sound like a whale of a time ;)    I do like Ron Howard films, though so this will be one to watch on the box.

I'm not even going to mention Furious 7 or The Moon and The Sun...oh damn! I just did. Yawn and oh dear. And Run All Night...I think you should Liam...when you saw the script. Don't you think we've had enough of these, now. We get it. You're a tough guy, too.  And please, spare us from another Jurassic Park, another Transporter and another Mad Max. Insane Max by now, surely. As for Tomorrowland, am I the only one who has an issue with George Clooney in anything listed as suspensful and a thriller?  Thankfully the Avengers will be rocking their stuff and then Ant Man will follow hot on the heels of the assembly!  "Avengers Assemble!" We need someone to save the movie year!

The Summer looks like it's going to churn out remakes, games turned into films and what could have been a really good fun feature, The Man from UNCLE but I have a bad feeling about this and you know what should happen after saying that!

I have hopes for Autumn. One is that M Night Shyamalan will come back to the form that some of his early work suggested and  that The Visit will be a classic. And I have a hope that Black Mass will overcome the urge to use stellar casting to excuse a script and will have twists and turns so we are kept wondering what will happen.

Why? Perhaps Ben Kingsley suddenly realised his wallet would be empty by October so persuaded Disney to use him to voice over Bagheera and Zemeckis to cast him in The Walk. Why?  Would Disney remake what is perhaps their best and most perfect animated film of the older genre, The Jungle Book.  Yes, I am sure that Idris Elba will voice Shere Khan well, that Scarlet Johansson will sex up Kaa and Bill Murray will ruin Phil Harris' version of Bare Necessities. Why?  Guys, go find another story to voice over and suggest to Disney that there are many other good tales that Kipling included in the Jungle Books 1 & 2.

The Martian...maybe, The Peanuts Movie, maybe but 20 years too late, Hunger Games Part 27, must we?  Then M.I.5 - three or even four Mission Impossibles too far, The Revenant -oh I love the possibilities of that title but oh look, it's going to be High Plains Drifter etc without Eastwood and then we have (we all bow our heads and await the whispered opening words from the pulpit from a galaxy far, far away)......

Will 2015 be a classic film year?  Not based on what I know or can guess but guys, don't worry, There's a new Star Wars film.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

More for 2015

Continuing the 2015 theme, what, I wonder will be the outstanding series that we'll watch (or catch up on) this year.

Head of the list, I put Borgen. The fascinating Danish exploration of politics and behind the scenes of the Danish Parliament ("Borgen" is like saying "Westminster" here) are handled with typical Scandinavian style.  The series illustrates how the trivial and "in the moment" items can override strategy and be blown out of proportion, requiring way more time than they deserve and causing far more waves.

Broadchurch - will the cast move on to a new location and can they produce as intense a dama as the first (but hopefully with a better ending).

The Tunnel - another co-operation between urbane Brit, Karl Roebuck and forthright, job-obsessed Elise Wasserman will be watchable. It was the central reason for this well-scripted show's success alongside tight writing and good support characters. We look forward to see what the writers will do next, assuming another series does appear.

The Blacklist - I know you can pick holes in the way things unfold and the mistakes made but it doesn't alter the fun of watching the ever stylish James Spader running rings around most of the cast and his interaction with Lizzie and Wrestler. Good fun with a dark edge.

I suppose I'd have to say that I'd like to see more crossovers and team battles in Flash and Arrow especially now The Mighty Atom is due to join them. We only need a couple more to have a regular Justice League turnout. I vote Green Lantern and Hawkman so we can see them done properly.  After (spoiler coming) Oliver's apparent fall from the mountain having been stabbed through the chest by Ra's-Al-Ghul, we all wait to see if Flash got him to a medical centre swiftly and if it was, as it appeared, the right side not the heart that he was stabbed through.  A collapsed lung and maybe other damage, mind you...

Oh and how could I forget?  Game of Thrones V.  Stroll on. Our favourite of all. Not long now until they catch up with the books. Come on George...time we had another. It's been many years since we started reading the series.

Friday, 2 January 2015

2015 - Oh to be a soothsayer (sometimes)

It'd be more than useful to be able to cast a few goat's bones and come up with the winners and losers on the stock exchange this year but hey... there are downsides to what you might know, too.

So what's coming in 2015 on the political front?

Firstly, we'll have the whole run in to an election. How did the Conservative-Libdem alliance do out of ten.  I'm not so wont to have a go at the government in power and rant on about how the anonymous "they" should have done this and that nor do I repeat what I read in the papers. I thought it was a good advert for a coalition because if you look closely, you'll see that there was some moderation of right wing politics. You'll see that the Libdems played their part and overall, I think we have to say that the government started in a very bad place economically and in the context of European politics. There were some disturbing movements and signs afoot. Remember seeing London burning. That wasn't just about one incident. That was part of a wider issue that people were having with the state.

It would have gone better if the Libdem percentage had been higher and they had been able to resist the initial rise in student fees although, people need to be realistic. Thirty and odd years ago, something like 2% of us went to a decent university and maybe the same again to polytechnic. Now, a massive percentage go to a vast range of educational facilities calling themselves universities.  We have to face up to some choices and some points. If we want everyone to go, we can't afford the old subsidies and therefore both ends are going to cost more, fees to enable the universities to make ends meet and the costs because there won't be student subsidy either.  Or we could (and in my view, should) go back to a realistic state which recognises that most people are not intellectuals nor university material. We should split the post school training into vocational/manual, vocational/administrative and university for academia and higher qualification work.

Look at what is happening as a result of all the students coming out of the sausage machine. Half or more won't get a job without doing something for free "to get experience" because nobody seems to want people who lack it, some top graduates will go into the burn off schemes that only recruit one or two out of 20 or more but get their pound of flesh from every starter and yes, sorry to sound a snob but the guy with a 3rd from some ex polytechnic/technical college will be treated as a second class citizen because frankly, they are.  Better to get a proper qualification in gas, plumbing or electricity than a low class also run degree from a low class also ran university.

Perhaps the next government will take a long and serious look at that issue. It's hurting everyone, right now and we are getting thousands of kids emerging with expectations that have not been managed or been realistic and that leads to anger, frustration and depression.

What else?   The financial situation appears to be turning about. The Conservative-Libdem Plan was valid. That isn't to say that the alternatives were not valid either. What had to be done was to take a course and stick to it.  There is a danger in voting in a Labour government, right now if they simply reverse course too soon and we end up back at the place we were.  Another reason I'd like a coalition. It could be a Labour one but they must not dominate it too much.

Then, we undoubtably have a vote on Europe. I hope (but do not expect) that we could have a grown up debate with a lot of properly presented information so we can make an informed choice. Please, ladies and gentlemen of the House, can we avoid an unnecessary flood of emotion but most of all avoid party politic slinging such as being more interested in whether Politician A completely agrees with the PM/Leader of his/her faction than the subject.  I believe that one reason the British people dislike and distrust politicians is that there is so much avoidance, ignorant disagreement because you seem to have to put down anything the opposition party suggest rather than being an adult and recognising that you may have areas of agreement. If politicians stopped being children and started working together, we might develop mature coalition politics as are common in Scandinavia where government is far more for the people than here.

BTW, do you remember all that criticism of banks and the over extended credit?  Did anyone actually deal with that?  My hope is that the new government look hard at this area. I'm not earning anything like what I did but I can run up a bigger credit card bill than ever, borrow more money than I can afford and get myself into a bigger mess than 5 years ago. Does that sound right?  I think we are still living on credit far too much and that carpet needs pulling out from under people with some lessons in how to live to your means and I mean lessons, real government sponsored night college lessons for the dopes who don't know that you can't have a new car, holiday abroad and wide screen tv and home cinema without having to pay for it somewhere along the way.

I believe as I write, we are still heavily invested in a number of far flung spots despite our talk of having moved out. I'd like to see less spent on "defence" (how that was never called "attack" or at least The Ministry of War). Yes, we ought to have an new aircraft carrier, probably two. But can we stop trying to police the world and play our part in UN/Nato ops and keep it at that. We can all see there are extremist governments and wars we'd like to put a stop to but this has to be a united mankind not the US and a few allies.

I hope that the British people will not knee jerk away from backing the Libdems (although I think it inevitable) and go over to UKIP who are as much of a threat to sensible, mature government as the National Front were, sorry, British Nationalist Party.  And while green is good, Green is often a long way from what you might expect in terms of being about sustainable energy projects that will do far from green things to places that ought to be protected. It would be good to see Green, Libdem and others taking part in a coalition. I think we are very far from that, just now. Let's not become like the US. Polarisation within the two parties is showing some ugly signs over the pond. You might find that having a "Tea Party" might not be about nice jam and scones.   Can you imagine voting in someone who believes that people co-incided with the dinosaurs on the basis of trying to replace reality with timing from the bible? (Don't answer that one without pausing for thought ;)

I think we will see the press behave as badly as they always do, slanting things to try to brainwash the dullards into voting the way the owners want and trying to reduce the serious to a trivial level as ever. I find myself constantly disappointed in the media, especially when I hear some presenters say we ought to have an adult conversation and then pick on items that have no bearing on policy or the effect on our lives.

I'd like to see continuing investment in space travel and exploration. If we don't move thinking forward, what purpose is there in our existence? We surely must continue to try to answer the big questions or we might as well hand over to the next generation of primates.

I think we will see the same six to eight teams contest the Premiership and England will not end up winning the one day cricket trophy even if they get a run of luck. I'd love to see 2015 being the year that we re-start the old home championships in football with Wales, England, Northern Ireland and Scotland playing each other for the cup, either over one or maybe two seasons. I'd like to see a closer battle for the F1 titles between constructors with multiple race winners. Oh yes, and I'd like to see Sepp Blatter kicked out of FIFA and indicted from something. I'm sure there are few who deserve it more.                                                                                                                                                    

I could go on but I won't.