Notepad on Life

January 6, 2017

Shut the door on your way out, John Kerry

Filed under: foreign,politics — - @ 9:23 am
Tags: ,



January 4, 2017

Integration’s untimely fall at the first fence?

Filed under: Uncategorized — - @ 11:36 pm
Tags: , ,



Pic courtesy of Jay Huang

It may be that there is another reason why New Year fireworks came in three different salvos on Saturday night. I certainly hope so.

But then why else would they light up the sky at 10pm and 11pm, before their traditional manifestation at midnight?

On the town forum, someone claimed to have the answer. Ten o’clock UK time is midnight in Latvia and Lithuania, he explained. When the sky lights up at 11pm, it will be the town’s Polish community striking the matches.

I must stress that I am yet to see this theory corroborated but should it be valid, what does it say about the mindset of many long-term visitors to our shores?

I always try to put myself in the other person’s shoes in  such circumstances, but it’s not helping in this instance. Were I living abroad and someone asked if I would calibrate my New Year’s celebration to my native land, I would look at him as if he were mad. I might ‘phone home’ when midnight struck in the UK, but it would seem the most logical thing in the world to hitch my principal celebration to the time zone in which I now lived. This is my home now, after all, would be my reasoning. These are my people. If I can’t integrate to the point of syncing my New Year with theirs, I might begin to wonder what I was even doing there in the first place.

So much for my view. It now appears, at least, that it might not have much traction elsewhere. If that is indeed the case, what a sad comparison it offers between America on the one hand, so many of whose fiercest patriots came from overseas to invest fully in the American Dream, and Britain on the other; apparently a dormitory town on a national scale. Just somewhere to hang your hat in between pay cheques.

Someone tell me there’s another explanation…

January 2, 2017

The Honours List – always a dark side

Filed under: politics — - @ 11:55 am
Tags: ,

Pic courtesy of Brad Slavin

It’s the part the media didn’t shout about at the back end of December, so busy were they rightfully hailing the achievements of Murray, Farah and Ennis-Hill.

It’s the flipside that seems to accompany every Honours List: the category of recipients that, for the sake of politeness, I’ll call the ‘You’ve Done What, Exactly…?’ category. Rarely is there any fanfare for this section of the List. On this occasion, there is merely the solitary anguished voice of a heartbroken parent.

I don’t know the full ins and outs of the tragic tale of Elliott Johnson, a promising young Conservative who, if his family are to be believed, was driven to suicide by in-house party bullying. If this is so, then they are understandably aggrieved at having fresh scars rubbed raw by the award of an MBE to someone whom they regard as one of the culprits.

I do know, however, that there probably isn’t a political party around that doesn’t have some kind of form when it comes to general use and abuse of human beings. The bereaved father’s anger at cover-ups and “no sense of shame” sounds wearyingly familiar.

Is Alexandra Broadrick MBE a blameless and worthy recipient of the honour? For all I know, yes, but given the murky business of politics, I am damned if I was going to let the publication of this particular Honours List pass without doing what I could to further circulate this important footnote to a dreadful story.

When you’ve finished being dazzled by Sir Mo and Dame Jessica, you might like to ponder the less glittering corners of British society. And make your own mind up.

December 29, 2016

I want your best quote, insurer, not your opening gambit

Filed under: business,Consumer,Finance,Motoring — - @ 1:25 pm

pic courtesy of Gerry Balding

“Sorry to hear that, Mr ********. Can I just ask why you’re cancelling your cover with us?”

“Yes: the renewal quote you sent me was undercut by another firm by 38 pounds. I’ve taken out cover with them instead.”

“Oh…right…Actually, it’s a shame you didn’t get in touch with us first, because we could have probably undercut that, depending on whether any circumstances had changed.”

“But how’s that? You’d already sent me a renewal quote. I assumed that was your best offer.”

“Weeeell…not necessarily…”


Now, I’m not so naive as to have been completely taken aback by this conversation, when renewing my car insurance recently. What did surprise me is the way no attempt was made to mask or even obscure another painful truth about the financial services sector. You know, the sector whose TV ads are often based on the premise that they are your best friends.

Those renewal quotes aren’t their best offer, after all. Just the most they think they can get away with.

Which  is what friends are all about, of course.

December 28, 2016

An opportunity missed, Church of England

Filed under: Christmas,Church,Religion — - @ 5:25 pm

Pic courtesy of Rondo Estrello

For an organisation whose attendance figures would reduce your average Non-League football club to sympathetic tears, this is Day One of the January sales and Black Friday combined.

Teatime, Christmas Eve. A candlelit carol service and the church building packed like it’s 1829 with a captive audience to die for. Eager kids and attendant parents and grandparents. People who might otherwise not enter a church without pallbearers beneath them but do so because they’re with relatives and don’t want to be seen as the sourpuss. Atheists, agnostics, sceptics and ‘lapsed’; all there because of the pull of family or of childhood echoes that refuse to die.

Once a year, the church gets this chance. Surely to God, between the crib, the candles and endless verses of Little Donkey, there is the chance to take 10 minutes and reach out to those people in earnest from the pulpit? Remind them (or maybe make them aware for the first time ever) that whatever they might make of his mission statement and brand management, this Jesus was no myth, but a real person. That Christmas Day was but a curtain raiser for a message and mission that changed the world.

Ten minutes in which to let everyone know that this ancient building is not just open on Christmas Eve, but on most days of the year, welcoming those who wish to pray, reflect, cry their hearts out, or even the most committed non-believer who just wants to enjoy the music or brief respite from a tumultuous world. To reassure them that there will be no pressure or hard sell on such occasions, just a warm welcome and as much or as little evangelism as each of them seeks.

But you didn’t do it, Reverend. You just trotted out the same old Nativity clichés and Christmas niceties, let the same old carols roll by and then beamed politely as everyone filed out afterwards. Your one moment of gravitas in 60 minutes the health and safety announcement for when it came to us lighting our candles. Another year, another golden opportunity gone begging. I just wish my faith in spiritual osmosis matched your own.

“Excellent”, you beamed at the regulars afterwards. “No-one got burnt.”

Indeed not. Figuratively speaking though, I doubt anyone was set on fire, either.

December 21, 2016

Cop this plea – there’s no degree in ‘streetwise’

Filed under: crime,Education,Law and order — - @ 5:00 pm
Tags: , ,

Pic courtesy of Police-Mad-Liam

It’s hard to pick highlights in Peter Hitchens’ latest excellent Mail on Sunday column, but vested family interest leads me to the last item, on the misguided plan to make university degrees mandatory for would-be police officers.

“Graduates spend the first ten years in any job discovering that they don’t, in fact, know everything, while the non-graduates roll their eyes in despair,” writes Hitchens. 

“What police officers need is not a certificate, but the common sense that comes from years of friendly contact with the people they serve.”

I shudder to think how many potentially excellent policemen and women will now never materialise because of the fashionable yet flawed belief that only higher education can unlock a young person’s potential. What a slap in the face for those myriad ‘failures’  who left school with nothing, only to become rip-roaring successes once they were set free to engage a world beyond Academia.

It’s just not everyone’s bag, the life of dissertations and doctorates. There are people whose talents lie in their hands, in hand-eye co-ordination, or in tackling real problems instead of the more abstract variety. If that means three years in the University of Life then they should be allowed to get on with it, not erroneously pigeon-holed just to keep the quota brigade happy.

We don’t need spectacular double-firsts from our police. We need street-savvy, impeccable people skills and an air of mild intimidation that can, when warranted, be fully backed up by the judicious use of brawn. And you don’t learn those qualities over cappuccino in some junior common room.

As for how the whole thing might yet backfire on those who dreamt it up, meanwhile, just Google ‘university’ and ‘snowflakes’, and brace yourself for the day when our boys in blue ask if they can sit this particular riot out because they’ve been ‘triggered’.


December 19, 2016

French at a bus stop – a nation transformed

Filed under: Culture,music — - @ 12:29 pm
Tags: , ,

Whether or not climate change is the culprit, it was the type of English winter evening that I have come to despise. No crisp, cleansing cold, just a disheartening mild wetness; creepy drizzle making persistent inroads down the back of my neck, forcing me into the haven of the bus shelter.

The woman already in there could have been talking to a friend or partner. I caught the word “acheter“, so maybe the subject was Christmas shopping. All that mattered, however, was that she was speaking into her mobile phone in animated French, and the longer she did so, the more transformed our location became, like when you catch part of a song you haven’t heard in years, and your environment is suddenly tinged by memories.

The rain gradually took on a romantic aspect. Reflected office lights twinkled in a thousand tiny pools on the road and sullen Nature was lifted by human charm. Someone lighting up a Gauloise at this point would have been  favourably received.

What if you could extrapolate that cameo, I wondered, walking through the city bus station, half-an-hour later: replace the tinny Christmas jingles on the PA with a bit of what follows. Would its denizens find their mood softening without really knowing why? Would they smile at strangers and pass the time of day? Would love fill the air instead of the all-pervading stench of dope?

Play some of this and envisage your own local bus station as you do so. Has to be worth a try at least.

Smart motorways need education before electronics

Filed under: Motoring — - @ 11:44 am
Tags: ,



Pic courtesy of Patrick Hoesly

Just heard a Spotify ad for something called ‘smart motorways‘. It only entered my consciousness late in the clip but it sounded like something to do with picking your spot to park when your car is in trouble. Apparently there are ‘refuge areas’ for such contingencies now, just in case the hard shoulder may be needed to defuse congestion.

I had to smile. It reminded me of those ‘Green’ campaigns where the little guy – often in the form of school children – is busy jumping through all sorts of hoops to minimise his carbon footprint, while world leaders and their entourages continue to fly great big jumbo jets to their climate change summits, even in this age of video conferencing.

I’m sure the smart motorway concept will already have guzzled down millions in funding. Sadly, I’m equally certain that in all the man hours involved, not once will the elephant in this particular room have been acknowledged.

I use motorways extensively each month and I believe one particular form of ‘smartness’ would cut traffic snarl-ups considerably in this country, given that many traffic queues – as I learnt several years ago – are prompted by a simple wave effect . Something causes a few cars to slow down momentarily and the delay ripples through the traffic behind them until that initial slowing translates into several minutes of standstill further down the road. If you’ve ever found traffic moving normally after a 10-minute crawl, with no sign of any accident, and wondered what the hell the problem had been, chances are  it was that.

And a prime cause of this knock-on effect? Lorry drivers who decide to overtake a lorry in front even though five or six cars are clearly approaching in the overtaking lane. Lorry pulls out and takes a minute to crawl past the one in front, and so the wave begins.

I’m prepared to cut the culprits an inch of slack here, in that I have no doubt some of them work to punishing deadlines set by bosses sat in comfy offices, rejoicing in their new tracking software. If an HGV driver simply has to get by a slowcoach in front and the traffic from behind is relentless, then he can be excused. Too often, though, when conditions are far more forgiving, I see overtaking manoeuvres that could easily have been postponed briefly until a decent gap opened up in the traffic behind.

You want to make our motorways smarter, start by getting the haulage industry into school.

December 18, 2016

Corrie McKeague – might you know anything…?

Filed under: crime,News — - @ 11:04 am
Tags: , ,

Doing the rounds on Facebook:


“This photo, if you knew already, would need no words. For those of you who don’t, [the top picture shows] Nicola Urquhart. She’s a police officer from Dunfermline, Scotland. What she was doing today was look for her son. A clue as to where he is, or, more likely, his body. Corrie McKeague is his name. He’s the RAF serviceman I’ve shared posts about. My previous posts probably didn’t evoke much emotion. But, look at this one, please.

“This mum is searching forest undergrowth for her child. Her baby boy. Though an adult, he’s her baby still. He will always be her baby. He’s been gone 11 weeks now. It’s almost Xmas. He disappeared at the end of September. An innocuous night out. He walked into an area behind shops, out of view of CCTV, and has not been seen since. He couldn’t leave on foot without being seen. So, theories racing around, a vehicle was used. Either voluntarily or not, Corrie is no longer in that area he was last seen. His phone last received signal in an area north west of the town. His RAF base a completely different direction.

“This mum is searching…anywhere, everywhere, for her boy. Her beautiful son, who’s been serving our country. This photo, is why I’ve been sharing posts, asking everyone to join, share and donate. There’s a man of 23 out there. Somewhere. He should be at home now in Scotland on service leave for Xmas, but he’s not- he’s missing. His mum is exhausted, cold, desperate. She needs you. Everyone. Join the group, share the posts, and donate a quid if you can. Police resources are limited due to government cuts. SULSAR, the Suffolk area search and rescue, have been looking for Corrie for weeks. They led today.

“Look again, at the photo. Nicola. A mum, police officer, woman. Searching for her baby. Please help. Someone might see a post you share and have the answer to this mystery. Scenario we want is he’s safe and well but been held. Or he’s hurt but okay. Failing that, and, after this time, more realistically, he’s been knocked down and been left somewhere in the Bury St Edmonds area of Suffolk. There are different theories; different degrees of criminality. The worst we can all imagine. It doesn’t need to be said.

“Look at this photo. Corrie is her boy, on a night out who’s disappeared. It could be one of us parents looking for our child instead. You’d want everyone to help in ANY way. A tweet. A share. A pound.

“This photo could be you.”

💙 #FindCorrie

December 11, 2016

Dejected by Christmas, ejected from cricket

Filed under: Christmas,Consumer,Sport — - @ 11:12 pm
Tags: ,

A week in which I learnt of a shopping centre that is now offering hypnotism for shoppers overcome by the terrifying ordeal that is Christmas, and that players of cricket – once “a sphere of wholesome discipline”* – have finally reached the point where they are no better than footballers.

This thing we call Society: we’re all satisfied that it’s still moving forwards, yes…?


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