Saturday, 11 November 2017

Paula

On Wednesday, I travelled from Newbury, where I'm working at the moment, to Chester, to attend the memorial service just over the border in north Wales of Paula, a friend and old work colleague. Paula died a couple of weeks or so ago, aged 47, of a particularly nasty and aggressive form of brain and spine cancer. She leaves behind a husband, who spoke with outstanding dignity and courage at the service, a 9 year old son, and a large circle of family and friends.

Paula was a rarity - a good time girl (I don't think she'd mind me calling her that), a bon viveur, rarely to be found outside work without a large glass of wine, or a cigarette (or both), in her hand, and yet somebody with the ability to be a true listener. She was the person to whom I turned for comfort and an ear on a particularly grim night in January 2003, and her extraordinary forebearance through the early hours that evening created a debt I never really repaid during the 10 years or so we worked together, despite the many times she sent me to the bar for another round of drinks. I and countless others will miss her greatly.

After the memorial service we retired to a local hotel, where the mood was as sombre as you'd expect at first, but just as Paula always lightened the mood in life, so she did in death - there were upwards of 40 of her work colleagues in the room, most of us well-known to each other, and as the evening went on, so did the drinking and reminiscing. Much of it was about Paula naturally, but there was plenty of re-bonding going on; the evening was a throwback to the days when people in large organisations had local loyalties and friendships.

So many of those local ties seem to have disappeared now, and people's lives are the worse for it. Progress is inevitable of course, and these days that means in large organisations geographically dispersed teams, regular travel, hotdesking, working from home, and remote bosses. But I sense more than that - there's a depersonalisation at work, a lack of connection; engagement between individuals is at a purely functional, rather than at a human level. I could write a PhD thesis on the reasons for this (well I couldn't, but I'm sure an academic type could), but it seems to me there's no wonder in the fact people are stressed, demotivated, and disengaged. I must have talked to nearly 20 people on Wednesday who said "leaving Lloyds Bank was the best thing I've ever done". It's not fair to single Lloyds out of course - their modus operandi is shared by plenty of other big firms.

So kids, yes, maybe it was better in our day. Offices were places where it was ok to have a bit of fun while you worked hard. Maybe it went too far on occasions - the mummification of Ian 'Fish' Fisher at Lloyds Leasing in 1990 with a roll of sellotape while he was on the phone to an important client being a case in point. But it was - literally - painfully funny; a Friday afternoon prank in the days when we were normally too squiffy to do anything constructive after 2pm on a Friday.

Wednesday brought incidents like this, and all that went with them, back to mind. If some of us in the room that evening are reminded to try to re-create a fraction of that fun and lightness of being in our new workplaces - and our lives - as a result of our semi-drunken reflections, then I think that's a reasonable contribution to keeping the memory of Paula alive. RIP Paula - Rejoice In Partying.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Rage against the dying of the light

For the last 12 years or so, I've not necessarily been the strongest, fastest or most skilful sportsperson in the family, but I have been what a lot of people might call the 'fittest' - most stamina, endurance, that kind of thing. This blog has documented some of the things I've been able to do with that fitness.

But I fear that if I haven't relinquished that title already, I'll do so very shortly. T'youngest, you see, was selected at the end of the last academic year to be in Oxford Uni's lightweight rowing squad. These are the young women who have rowing ability, but aren't big or powerful enough to make the full squad. It's still a big deal however - if selected to row against Cambridge they get a full blue (representative honours), and last year 3 of their number went straight into the GB squad. So she's in the squad. But not the final 8. Selection of that won't happen until after Christmas, and between now and then it's a pretty rigorous selection process...

...starting with their training regime. They have 12 sessions a week, 6 on the water and 6 in the gym. Of the on-water sessions, 4 necessitate 5am starts, and the other 2 6.30am starts. The gym sessions vary; one this week was a 1 hour 45 min spinning session. They're training comfortably upwards of 20 hours a week. But that's the only thing that's comfortable. Liv's taken to 10pm bedtimes (she's a student!), drinking irregularly, and an amazingly clean diet. The coaches are hard, psychological, but, it seems, fair. On the one hand, it's brutal. On the other, it's a fantastic opportunity, to truly explore personal boundaries of resilience and performance. As you can probably tell, I'm very proud of Liv, of the achievement obviously, but also for having the guts to embark on that kind of programme. If she fails, I know it won't be for want of determination or persistence, but probably because of the genes her old man lumbered her with. And she will take a level of fitness that she'll struggle to ever match again.

Hence why I'll shortly be relegated. In a week when I passed my 51st birthday (which, in a way, was even more sobering than my 50th, as it was just another unheralded slow step towards infirmity [he wrote cheerfully]), that's just contributed to a sense of going backwards where I've been able to go forwards for the last few years.

Largely, though not completely, coincidentally, however, this was the week when Mendip Rouleur and I agreed between ourselves, and were pencilled in to do, our most ambitious cycling challenge yet. I won't say what it is, because although we've made our choice, we haven't paid our money yet. Suffice to say it's August 2018, and it's long and climby. Our last hurrah before we have to say goodbye to the Matterhorn and hello to the Peak District.

Will it get me my crown back as the fittest member of this branch of the Kinsey Clan? I don't know, and I don't care. Frankly, I'd be happy to be the 4th fittest member if the change were down to others progressing rather than me regressing. But in a week with too much bad news about the health of some of my contemporaries at university and earlier jobs, I'm also happy just to be able to rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Discrimination at work

I'm getting so tired of all the identity politics we suffer from these days. It seems that so many issues come down to whether you're black, white, Asian, male, female, gay, straight, gender-fluid, disabled, blah blah...and often the implication, nay, the explicit message is that if you're in any group other than straight, white, able-bodied male, you're at some kind of disadvantage.  You're discriminated against.

Now, I realise that as a straight, white, able-bodied male, I obviously have all the advantages that could ever be available to anyone, and so am automatically disqualified from commenting on anything due to my 'privilege'.  But that's not going to stop me.  And I have to tell you, I see discrimination all the time.  I work as a management consultant, and experience the inside of many companies.  And I see them discriminate...

I see them discriminate against people who can't read properly, or express themselves clearly, on paper or verbally. Against people who are negative, or can't solve problems, or work effectively with their co-workers. Or can't turn up on time and meet the appearance or presentational requirements of the job. Or make it clear they don't really want to be there. Or, at a different level, can't meet targets, or work quickly and effectively.

What I don't see is them discriminating against women, people who aren't white, gay people, disabled people, or any other perceived minority. The vast, overwhelming majority of the senior managers and board members I work with are solely interested in appointing or promoting people who they believe are best suited to the role in question - because it makes them look good, hit their targets, get financially rewarded, etc.

Ah but, I hear you say, what if they have a bias towards their own type because those are the people they believe are best suited to the roles they're seeking to fill?

Again, I just don't see it. It would be taking things too far to say they're colour- and gender-blind, but I see fair and neutral processes that - while flawed in many respects (an interview is not necessarily a good predictor of on-the-job performance) - result in lots of appointments that more right-on people than me would call "diverse".

(Incidentally, in the one large organisation I worked with where there were quotas and targets for getting women job interviews and senior appointments, the greatest critics of the policy were women managers, as they felt it compromised their ability to create high-performing teams).

I'm not saying there's no prejudice in society, or that it's equally easy for everyone to acquire the knowledge and skills that make them attractive to employers.  Parents, schools and universities need to take a hard look at themselves and ask whether they're really equipping their charges with the attributes they need in the outside world.  Resilience, reliability and the ability to accept and work with others' points of view are critical among them. So it's not helpful or productive to give children or students indulgence, safe spaces or the impression that there's only one acceptable 'belief' in any circumstance; that's going to lead to the kind of behaviour that employers shy away from. With good reason.

So these days when I hear or read reports about gaps in achievement or reward between genders, or races, or people of different sexual inclinations, I turn off or tune out, laced as they always are with some sense of victimhood, or "it's not their fault".  Again, to repeat, I'm one of many straight, white, able-bodied males in British industry, making the private sector money that the taxes on create the wealth that pays for public sector spending, and do you know what? We don't give a monkey's about the gender, race or any other identity politics-based characteristic of the people we need to fill our jobs - we just want them to do a good job, and if we don't think they've got the attitude or ability to do so, well frankly, it's not our fault, whoever they are.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Another French Summer.....

My time in Brittany is drawing to a close for another summer. I hope to make it out for a few weekends before Mrs M comes back to the UK at the end of September, but work starts next week. Initially it's only a 6 week contract, in which case I'll be back here for the second half of September, but these things have a habit of extending themselves.

It's time, therefore, to reflect on the last couple of months, the things that'll stick in my mind, and, I hope, give a bit of flavour of what it's like out here. I'm going to have to work backwards....

Cycling: I seem to have fallen in love with it again. However, it is, I suspect, a holiday romance. Sure I've done some indoor training, but really, I've been riding on the best road surfaces in the world, with the drivers who are most courteous to cyclists, in always warm, and sometimes properly hot weather. It's mostly been in Brittany, but add in a week in the Pyrenees, including a day riding a Tour de France stage that went over the same ground 48 hours later, and really, what's not to love. All my bikes are here in France now, and while I'll be taking the best one home for some proper attention for the first time in a while, I don't think I'll be riding it in the UK; running beckons again.

Thrills and spills: the latest was just last Saturday. Pyrenean cycling buddy Mendip Rouleur was stung by a (we think) hornet. He suffered an anaphylactic reaction - most of his body was covered with hives and swelling. We were in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately his airway stayed open, so we managed to descend out of the mountains to a town, where the original plan was to find a pharmacy. The situation was beyond that by the time we arrived in Luzenac, so an ambulance had to be called, followed by a blue light run to hospital. Once the right drugs were inside him things were fine, but we definitely had 90 minutes or so of proper concern.

Earlier in the week I had incident that was over in not much more then 0.9 seconds rather than 90 minutes, but which was still pretty scary. Descending a mountain called Plateau de Beille (a 16km ascent at an average gradient of over 8%), I was approaching a corner at 65kmh, but hands on the brakes fortunately, when I car overtook a cyclist going up the hill on said corner. I had about 1 metre to miss the car; my back wheel locked up and drifted towards the side of the road, complete with 50 foot drop. I have no idea how I recovered it and missed both the car and the drop, but miraculously I did.

Nature: there's just so damn much of it here. Aside from the very happy event of peace breaking out between the cat and the dog, there's been all sorts. The dog sniffing out and chasing rabbits and hares across fields (without any success it has to be said). Many, many different species of butterflies on the track down to the stream - more than I knew existed. Red squirrels, birds of prey, the dead voles and shrews every morning that they've dropped, and last night, dozens of bats at our back door feasting on a plague of flying ants. [Talking of bats, there can't be many people who have to clear their 'gym' (exercise mat and ball, a few weights) of bat poo each time they go in to use it. That's what I have to do in the uninhabitable-but-still-ok-for-a-gym house next door.] Unfortunately we also had a less welcome wildlife visitor - Colorado beetles, which wiped out our potato harvest.

Harvest: to date (fruit) - raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries in modest quantities. Blackcurrants in vast quantities - upwards of 20 hours it took to pick them all. Vegetables - adequate amounts of red peas, ordinary peas, runner beans, red beans and chard; vast amounts of squashes and courgettes, with (hopefully) tomatoes, onions, okra, maize and chilli peppers still to come. Most culinary herbs are a permanent feature of the veg plot too. Keeping the weeds under control is a near-daily battle, but it's worth it.

Walking: the dog's slowing down a little at the grand old age of 5, but he's still got boundless energy. We walk a minimum of 4.5 miles a day with him; he must do double that as he charges across potato fields, corn fields, pasture and anywhere else where there's interesting sniffing to be done. So we've comfortably walked over 200 miles so far, and none of them flat.

A 'proper' summer: I've rarely worn long trousers in the last 8 weeks, and when I have, more often that not it's been due to a social occasion rather than the need for warmth. We've had about 3 rainy days, and even on those it's been fine for the most part to trundle around in T-shirt and shorts. [I'm writing this outside under the veranda by the back door as it drizzles a bit]. I have a decent tan. We've eaten outside as much as inside. The cat's voluntarily stopped using her litter tray in favour of the garden (though this is not a wholly good thing, as I found out when weeding one night). In short, it's felt like a summer of the sort they always seemed to be when you were a kid. Perhaps not to 1976 standards, but not far off.

I think that's about it. There's nothing particularly glamorous or high-rolling about life out here, but I wouldn't swap it for the world. The peace and quiet, the early morning dog walks, the constant chatter of birdsong, gentle labour in the garden, the (mostly) gentle hum of agriculture going on around us, and the rolling, bucolic bike rides combine to act as a sort of lifestyle Prozac - I'd defy anyone to spend a bit of time here at Le Millet and not go home in a better mental state. But as I said at the start, in a few days' time that's it for me for a while, but mercifully, I won't be returning to either Lloyds Bank or central London. Summer 2017 in France then - rather good I'd say.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Lingo bingo

Judging by both my Twitter and Facebook feeds, everyone's got an opinion on politics at the moment, and to slightly mis-quote Brian Clough, I'm welcome to it. Reason, balance and respect all seem to have temporarily disappeared too, so I'm going to avoid politics for a while.

Instead, I'm going to have a moan about something else that exercises me. I'm a middle-aged man, so lots of things exercise me of course, though one of the joys of middle age is that the grumpiness subsides as quickly as it erupts. This one is to do with language, and the unnecessarily complicated or jargony way of using it that so many people and companies seem to engage in these days. It was a Highways Agency tweet yesterday that set me off.  Two lanes on the M6 had apparently been "compromised" by an accident. They meant two lanes were closed.

I've got plenty of other examples from work and beyond. I could go on about the many times I've been asked to "reach out to" somebody (quite often they're not there). But I think I mean something slightly different, or at least extra, to the usual corporate bullshit. I've just read a very fine book by a neurosurgeon called Henry Marsh called Do No Harm. One of his practices was to have a morning meeting, at which he'd ask a junior member of his team to describe the overnight admissions that might require surgery. On one occasion a junior doctor described a 72 year old woman as "self-caring and self-ambulating". He meant she looked after herself and was able to walk unaided. Marsh took him to task for not saying so - his point being that in this instance that particular use of language de-humanised the patient.

The Highways Agency point is slightly different I think. Corporate jargon exists principally as a parallel language, where by using it, employees are implicitly nodding and winking to each other and saying "I'm in the club, like you". Describing motorway lanes as "compromised" is effectively saying "we've got our own special language because We're Professionals". It's the same when police forces issue statements saying they're taking "a multi-agency approach" to sorting out a particular problem. On the BBC1 programme"The Met: Policing London" a couple of weeks ago, a 50-something copper announced that when he was in a crowd he was "constantly undertaking dynamic risk assessments". He meant he kept his wits about him.

The people who use this type of language may think they're being very grown-up and professional, but actually they're failing in one of the most basic requirements of their job - to communicate simply and effectively. I fear it's also a sign of the de-humanisation of the bureaucrats and corporations that run our lives, but discussion of that is maybe a step too far for now. So a plea to all those who communicate on behalf of their employer, whether that's through press statements, Twitter, or whatever - use the Mum Test, i.e. would you use those phrases, that vocabulary, and so on if you were explaining things to your mum? Would you say the motorway lanes were compromised, or would you say they were closed? Would you ask her to reach out to your dad to ask him what he wanted for his tea? Would you self-ambulate to the shops, or would you just walk there? I think you know the answers. Use the Mum Test, and you'll probably make lots of grumpy middle aged men just a little bit happier.

Friday, 9 June 2017

What should happen now...

I don't agree this is a disaster. I think it creates the opportunity to get some sense of 'oneness'. Here's how:
  • She must resign - not only was it a disastrous, patronising campaign, but she clearly was massively uncomfortable meeting people and debating face to face. That won't do. She must go immediately preferably; at worst she must indicate her intention to resign soon
  • There can't be a 2nd election this year. We've had the Scottish referendum in 2014, the GE in 2015 & now, the Brexit referendum last year. There's no appetite or energy for another election
  • There can't be a Labour government. Apart from the small matter of them not having enough seats and no mandate (though JC did campaign very well), he, and more particularly his policies, are as loathed by the right as she is by the left, albeit more quietly
  • So, who should be PM? It should be Ruth Davidson, as I think she's the only figure in British politics a majority could coalesce around, but she's and MSP and not an MP more's the pity, so it has to be Boris. I know he creates strong reactions in people, but he is at least a communicator, and can probably reach just enough of the under 35s to be credible
  • The result must be recognised, and particularly the subjects that matter to the younger voters who voted for Labour in big numbers. In reality this means:
    • Brexit: the negotiations must proceed. I haven't seen anything in the results that persuades me the referendum result would be any different if re-run. However, the deal reached must be subject to Parliamentary approval. That should be enough to lead to some moderation, if that's what the majority want
    • NHS: personally, I'd give JC the chance to nominate someone in the Labour Party to be Health Secretary, and promise them a year-on-year increase in real terms, paid for by a combination of freezing rather than reducing corporation tax, and reducing the overseas aid budget - and total autonomy to use that budget
    • Housing: the instigation of a massive programme of local authority house building, paid for by scrapping HS2
    • Tuition fees: a Royal Commission to review the whole current model - numbers going to uni, what courses are on offer and do they create value, and the best funding model that's fair to both student and state
  • Those are the concessions. What the left have to cede to the right is a recognition that our budget must be balanced sooner rather than later. As it is, £48bn a year is going on interest on our debts - we really are crippling future generations if it goes much higher.
There we are. That's what I think should happen. It's 9.30 on Friday morning - let's see how things work out. It's going to be interesting.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Manchester

This one felt personal. I was on United flight 93 five weeks to the day before Al Qaeda hijacked it on 9/11. I've walked down the Promenade des Anglais in Nice several times. I run across Westminster Bridge regularly before work. But those terrorist attacks didn't feel personal. This was different. For the first time, I wept.

My wife and I have met many times before concerts at the exact point the explosion happened. My mum and sister walked past it last Thursday as they left a Take That concert. My eldest daughter and boyfriend live 600 metres away, and heard the explosion (and, bless them, were among the many who offered refuge to those stranded in the city centre). But more than that. Several of the dead were from places I've known well for years. The combination of the type of bomb it was, and the targeting of teenage music fans is a uniquely repulsive mix, if it's not insensitive to compare these horrors.

And then there's Manchester itself. I've no doubt that Newcastle, or Leeds, or Birmingham would have reacted just as admirably. But Manchester is my 'big city', even though I'm Cheshire born-and-bred. It's where I - we - go for some posh shopping, a good night out, and yes, to big concerts. It's our place, along with native Mancs themselves obviously, and all the other folk from Cheshire, Lancashire and beyond who flock to it.

So what? Why am I writing about it, when hundreds of thousands of other words will be written and published? Because I'm angry, that's why. And anger's only constructive if it can lead to improvement, change. I have no platform other than this, so I'm using it to say what I think needs to happen differently. Please share it if you think it has any merit.

So what do we need to do? Lots of things, but they fall into just two big buckets.

First, we need to get on the front foot in terms of preventing these incidents. That's not to suggest the security services don't do a brilliant job in preventing far more of these atrocities than actually happen - I don't know that of course, but I suspect it's true. No, what I'm talking about is doing more than just saying "we've got to carry on as normal, or they've won". Of course we have; what else are we going to do, stay at home all day? But enough of the peace, love and harmony platitudes. I'm not suggesting anyone should target Muslims; I despise the kind of people who verbally or physcially abuse random Muslims, or vandalise mosques.

However, I think we need to get a little more muscular in our responses. I'm obviously no expert, but ideas that to me seem to have some sense to them include:

- segregating the Muslim prison population between those who aren't radicalised and those who are, with solitary confinement for the most strident of the radicalisers
- checking on the messages imams in mosques are spreading to their congregation. And if that has to mean non-Muslims undertaking that activity, so be it
- looking very carefully at the overseas funding of the madrassas, particularly from the Saudis. If that risks upsetting them, again, so be it
- withdrawing the passport of anyone who leaves to fight for ISIS abroad, even if they were UK-born. No exceptions
- rigorously enforcing control orders
- banning Muslim-only faith schools
- doing whatever we can to undermine the ability of sections of the community to live wholly separate existences from the mainstream - withdrawing translation services in all but emergency circumstances for the NHS and in the legal system for example

As I write this, these things feel a bit intemperate. But as I'm writing this in France, I ask myself: if I were a member of a religion here, though I was wholly peaceful, law-abiding and integrated, would I feel any of the above list unreasonable if some extreme elements of my religion were killing and maiming indiscriminately? I'd like to think not.

Which brings me to my second bucket of things we need to do. If we were to do some or all of the above, there would undoubtedly be cries of "it's racist", "it's Islamophobic". And, I regret to say, the vast majority of our political classes are so afraid of those labels sticking, they steer clear of the muscular approach to preventing these incidents. But it's time for us to treat those accusations the same way elements of the black and gay populations have historically reacted to the choice insults thrown at them - they appropriated the words for themselves; you know the ones I'm talking about.

So yes, if you want to call me racist or Islamophobic for believing in any of the above list, fair enough; if that's your definition, I'll take it. I know there's a million miles between the idiot on the football terraces who makes gorilla noises at a black footballer and what or who I am, but I'm not going to waste my energy or be diverted by 'proving' I'm not racist. If you think I am, that's your prerogative. I'm not going to worry any more. And I am going to say these things out loud, and in public. Many of us should. I'm not giving succour to skinheaded scum. But I refuse, by not saying them, to give succour to jihadist scum.

We need to get that message across to politicians. Of course it's right for them to remind us that the vast majority of muslims have nothing to do with terrorism, and of the dangers of a backlash. Yes fine, tell us that terrorists aren't going to divide us. But for God's sake, do everything, EVERYTHING, possible to prevent another incident which results in medics having to pick nuts and bolts out of children's heads, or police having to collect body parts off the the floor of a concert hall. Stop this thing at source; make it so that MI5 don't have anything to infiltrate and thwart. And if that means you're called some unpleasant names along the way, don't fall into the trap of defending yourself - if stopping the slaughter is someone's definition of being racist, accept it, and do what you need to anyway.


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Nice Big Election

Sorry for the 'ooo, missus' nature of the title, but I had to get your attention with something that wasn't too serious, given what follows.  So here we go, the Top 10 Things That Matter To Me And What I Think Politicians Should Be Addressing And What I Will Be Voting On:


  1. The Deficit & Overall Debt Levels - they're still hideous. They're still lumbering future generations with massive debt repayments, if, or rather, when interest rates return to historic norms. It needs sorting, even if that means taking unpopular decisions, e.g. abandoning the triple lock for pensioners, of whom there are many perfectly well-off ones getting unrequired money off the state.
  2. Housing - the current market is scandalous. It's a failed market, with real prices at all time highs through failure to match demand with supply, both private and public. There's plenty more governments could be doing to ensure that owning a home is not a pipedream for the majority of under 35s. "Use it or lose it" granting of planning permission to housebuilding firms to stop them creating land banks would be a start.
  3. NHS - it's not a national marvel, it's not the envy of the world, our doctors and nurses don't have a global monopoly on compassion, the model shouldn't be sacrosanct. Many, many countries get significantly better health outcomes with comparable levels of spend. It's a combination of arrogance, nostalgia and timidity that stops us learning from the much better systems that exist across the world. Time for this sacred cow to be slaughtered.
  4. Overseas aid budget - partly, see 1. above. Partly, see 8. below. Partly, too much of it is squandered. Repeal the ludicrous Act of Parliament that commits us to spending 0.7% of GDP on it (that was just Cameron grandstanding), target aid where it's not going to disappear down a plughole of fraud and appropriation.
  5. Brexit - it's got to be done, so do it properly. Do everything possible to ensure we have an open and co-operative trading relationship with as many nations as possible, we have a decent immigration mix of the people we need and the people that genuinely need us (i.e. war-driven refugees), and match infrastructure planning to the resulting levels of population growth.
  6. Social care generally, and for the elderly in particular - the current situation gums up the NHS, and provides wildly differing standards of care at wildly differing cost. This, more than the triple lock on pensioner benefits, is the key to ensuring we look after the infirm and the elderly properly. It needs some imagination, and maybe some more money.
  7. Physical infrastructure - too much of our transport system operates so closely to its capacity that minor problems create disproportionate disruption and misery. Or it's just in a terrible state. I'm not sure the £50bn on HS2 is the best use of that cash - review it, do it quickly, and get projects started elsewhere
  8. Defence & intelligence - beef them up. We face a range of threats. Defence cuts have gone too far, and intelligence is the key to ensuring as few innocent policemen, tourists and ordinary citizens are murdered as possible. Oh, that and...
  9. Prisons - which are a disgrace from everything I read. Prisoners need to be segregated properly, whether that's violent offenders from everyone else, or those at risk of Islamic radicalisation from the people who'll radicalise them. Rehabilitation needs to be a real thing, rather than just a word on a mission statement. Security needs to be effective so that drugs and phones can't get in. If we don't do this, and soon, I fear more trouble in prisons themselves, and out on the streets from those who are released
  10. Public health - this one is my little quirk, and covers a multitude of things. I'm not in favour of tokenistic things like a fizzy drinks tax. I want people, starting in schools, educated in the basics of nutrition, exercise and looking after themselves. I want it safer and easier to make healthy choices around cycling, running, walking.
So there we are. Those are the things that matter to me. You'll be different. But I will be voting, and for the party that I think provides the best set of answers to my priorities.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

You're grounded...

So this time yesterday I was sitting on the ferry, all smug with beer in hand and my lovely new trailer sitting on the car deck. Should have known better. Nearly every first day at the house here in France proves difficult for one reason and another, and today was no different, as I shall relate.

So, I emptied the car and then decided to tow the trailer to the back garden, where it'll live. There's a small slope up the entrance to the garden, so I took the jockey wheel off the trailer so as not to snag it on the bolt where the gates to the garden meet in the middle. All was fine - trailer parked, time to put the car back round the front of the house.

Only this time as I drove over the gate bolt, there was the most sickening noise of the car's underside scraping over it, and as it turned out, getting stuck. Here's the offending item, post my mangling of it, but still with car on top.


At this point, I'd rushed to the garage, dug out a jack, and lifted the back wheels off the ground to at least relieve the pressure on the underside, chocking all four wheels first of course.

The question was - how to free the car? The moment I let it down off the jack, it was wedged again.

Theory number 1 - try to manoeuvre the concrete bolt and bolt back into position with rope (pictured), so as to re-create enough clearance. Fail; they were was loud and proud, and not going anywhere thanks very much.

Theory number 2 - pump the car tyres up to 45 psi, wedge some planks under the back wheels, and reverse (as it's rear wheel drive and its rear was pointing upwards anyway, thus:


Fail. All I succeeded in doing was burning some rubber and half burying the plank on the right hand side in the ground.

Theory number 3 (I was running out of theories at this point, and there's no-one around to consult on a March Mothering Sunday afternoon in rural France) - dig out the concrete block and bolt by digging a channel sideways, emerging on the left hand side of the car. So that's what I did. For an hour I lay on my belly and dug a 3 feet long, 1 foot deep, 1 foot wide channel in order to wiggle a pretty heavy concrete block out, with a variety of tools. It was more The Great Escape than A Year In Provence. I've had less fun on Sunday afternoons, but I can't remember when.

Anyway, it worked, two hours after the original incident. The car is parked round the front again. The bolt caught on a lateral strut underneath, and I don't think I've damaged exhaust or any other pipes. I'll go for a drive tomorrow to see if the thing now goes forward sideways, if you know what I mean.

Still, it could have been worse - it could still be there awaiting professional recovery. But here's my tip for the day - if you want to sharpen up your problem-solving abilities and self-reliance, just be a prannock in the first place. No, I mean buy a house in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country.

Any suggestions for what would have been a better approach - keep them to yourself thanks.


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