Bin collections – a matter of life and death?

In the current snowy conditions, with all the relevant agencies and motoring organisations warning against non-essential travel, Twitter is alive with the sound of people moaning that their bins are not being collected.  It is a collision of two great British media obsessions – the weather and bins.  I haven’t yet seen the Daily Express weave Princess Diana into the picture, but perhaps they are working on that angle right now.

cars and trucks on road in bad weather, blurred image

The most striking aspect of all this Twitter-talk is that most of the people complaining seem to be at home.  I imagine it is far too dangerous for them to attempt to drive their small hatchbacks along the street, let alone walk to work.  And yet they are aghast that council managers are not willing to send out 26 tonne (gross weight when full) wagons down ungritted residential roads, where children are rightly playing (because teachers clearly cannot open schools) to pull heavy bins along icy pavements.

Let’s put it in perspective.  If the council don’t collect your bin, it will have to stay full for a few days.  Most councils are relaxing their side waste policies so they can catch up next week.  Your life won’t be blighted for too long.  Store the waste in the garage, in your recycling bin or perhaps in the boot of the car you can’t drive.

The alternative is that a 26 tonne truck may just slide straight through your garden.

Why Engineers Shouldn’t Design Stuff!

It’s a small complaint.  In a world where people starve, kill each other and worse, this is going to sound like an absurd middle-class whinge.  Which it is, but here goes anyway.

It rained yesterday.  Not just the ordinary rain that we get on a regular basis, but the really heavy stuff that bounces off the pavement, runs down the street and overwhelms the gutters.  I’d rather have 2 hours of that than the usual 3 days of drizzle but it came right at the time of the school run.  So by the time I’d walked up the school drive, through the flooded playground and back down to the car park I was pretty soaked.

The school car park was a mass of three-point turns and kamikazi parents in family cars.  As I manoeuvred out of the car park my stress levels were up, but I made it out and set off.  Taking a deep breath and relaxing, I accelerated over 10mph.  In a BMW that is the point at which the car decides you are properly moving.  Accordingly, the doors locked and the parking sensors switched off.  And the little sensor that knows whether the doors are shut properly decided to tell me that the back door wasn’t shut properly.

It had known this from the second I closed it.  Before I got into the car.  Before I started the engine.  Before I engaged first gear.  Before I released the handbrake.  Instead of troubling me with this crucial information whilst I was in the car park, stationary and able to rectify my mistake, it waited for me to exit a junction and enter a one way street with no safe place to stop.  That, it judged, was the perfect time to tell me that my toddlers door wasn’t closed properly.

If anyone from Munich, or indeed anywhere on Planet Earth, can tell me why that is a good idea then I’d love to hear it.  Right now it has pissed me off enough to put me right off the blue propeller for good.

I pay your wages (and i’m happy to)

Sitting this morning in one of Barnsley’s recently refurbished park play areas with a coffee and a twix I got to pondering just what I get for my council ta (which for the record is just north of £100 per month). More to the point I thought about how it stacks up against my other monthly bills.

TV and broadband costs about £50 per month, and for that I can have as much conversation and telly as I want. I can also do all sorts of interesting stuf on the Internet.

Gas costs about £100, a bit more if you include the service contract. For that I have a warm house and occasionally (and briefly) clean children. If the boiler breaks I get it fixed.

Car insurance – both cars together are about £150 per month. If one gets bent they straighten it for me. It was very poor value until about 12 months ago when I recouped about 17k of my investment…

So, what do the workshy idiots in the Council give me for my £100 per month?

  • Unlimited use of large areas of well kept parkland
  • Empty bins every week
  • Street swept every few week
  • If my house catches fire they send someone round to put it out
  • They educate my children
  • They exercise a degree of control over the pubs and clubs in my area
  • They check that the local chippies and takeaways are ‘broadly compliant’ with health standards
  • They check that the buildings being built in my area won’t fall down any time soon
  • Unlimited loans of books and other media from the library
  • Enforcement of parking laws to ensure the roads keep clear

And probably a few more I’ve overlooked.

So when the direct debit fires again in a few days and takes me that bit closer to skint I wont begrudge it. The system could be fairer (ability to pay shouldn’t be measured by the size of your house) but local government spending is not unreasonable.

Ferry good indeed

I travel to Ireland quite a bit, and although I love the place it’s frankly a pain in the arse if you want to get to anywhere other than Dublin.

At the moment I mostly travel to a place about an hour south-east of Limerick. There are three airport options – Shannon, which isn’t well served; Dublin, which has dozens of flights per day but is a three-hour drive away or Cork, which isn’t well served, is 2 hours away but has a very nice hotel in the airport. So day-trips aren’t possible and there is always hassle with hire cars (Ireland seems to have mostly broken hire cars in my experience).

My normal route is an 90 minute drive to the airport (including parking time), 90 minutes wasted in check-in, an hour flying then 3 hours drive to the client. That means setting off at 4.30am and arriving, exhausted, at about noon. We then get half a day’s work done and stay in a hotel. Half a day’s work the following day then a dash back to Dublin to fly home, exhausted, arriving at about 11pm. In total we get about 9 hours with the client at the expense of 2 very long days.

I have accidentally found an alternative. Instead of the flying I am writing this from the Plus lounge of the Stena Adventurer. It takes a bit longer for sure – the drive to Holyhead is 3 hours and I still need to leave an hour for check-in. The crossing takes 2-3 hours depending on the exact ferry you catch. However, there are some serious upsides…

i) I haven’t had to lug my bags across a car park, onto a bus and through an airport. They are in the boot of my car.
ii) Check-in was a matter of reading out my reference number and hanging a card from the rear-view mirror
iii) At no point have I been frisked, had my shoes removed or had to place my laptop in a plastic tray
iv) There are three (yes, three) separate first-class lounges – one with leather-ish swivel chairs and plasma TV’s, one with meeting tables and one with just chairs. All have free drinks, snacks and waitress-service for full meals, reasonably priced.
v) The wi-fi is not just free, it also works. I don’t have to put my laptop away or fold up my table while we set off.
vi) the nearest person to me in the lounge at present is about 40 feet away. I can’t hear his conversation or smell his feet
vii) if the ferry is late (and it won’t be) it doesn’t matter. My car is downstairs, and when we arrive I’ll drive home.
viii) when I’m bored writing this blog I am going to go to my private cabin and have 3 hours sleep
ix) when I booked, I saw the price and that is what i paid. No ‘ferry terminal’ tax, extra charge for my golf clubs or a hidden fee for booking online / not booking online etc etc.

The price of the trip is £125 each way, plus £25 for the cabin (which I didn’t bother with on the day sailing out). It’s fully flexible – if you are late, just get the next one. If you are early, get the earlier one. Last time I flew it was about £150 plus the cost of the hire car.

So it’s half the price, 100% less hassle and Ryanair don’t get any of my money.

What’s not to like?

It must never happen again….

Last night I watched “The Miner’s Strike” on the telly. This morning I read a heartfelt and well-reasoned blog post on the subject, and felt compelled to add my tuppence-worth.

I was 13 at the time and the program simply reminded me of my perspective at the time. Born and bred in Wakefield, we too were pretty close to the reality of it, as were my wife’s family who all came from Grimethorpe.

Last night’s program astonished me in that the word ‘coal’ was hardly mentioned. It underlined the fact that the miner’s strike had very little to do with coal, even though it did start off as being ostensibly about the mining industry. It was a class-war, started by a power-crazed, dogmatic autocrat. And in the other corner was Margaret Thatcher.

Against the backdrop of a coal-industry that was oversupplying coal at loss-making prices after decades of massive public investment where clearly ‘something had to be done’ were two individuals who callously used their power to send good people into an appalling and distructive situation. I simply cannot understand how Arthur Scargill has escaped largely blame-free whilst the popular view is to rail against the police and just about everyone else. He started a strike without any vote and refused to consider anything short of total government and NCB capitulation.

The police did as they were told because that it was police forces always do. Individuals behaved very badly, as individuals do when forced to take sides. The pickets also did as they were told (or conditioned to do by years of “working class hero” culture) – they were equally manipulated by the NUM leadership who denied them a vote and rapidly became an embarrassment even to the Labour party they were affiliated with.

Orgreave was a dark day. It is widely portrayed as some kind of trade-union ‘Bloody Sunday’ and the misreporting of the events (for example the BBC showing events in the wrong order) certainly doesn’t help matters. There seems little doubt that the police initiated the violence, whether to protect themselves, property and the innocence or for some malevolent higher reason. However, that ignores the fact that somewhere in the order of six thousand pickets (including Scargill himself, complete with loud hailer) mobbed a relatively small place in Sheffield with the intention of forcibly preventing people exercising their freedom to simply go to work. 6000 people is not a picket line. It is an organised riot, and the police had to respond with similar numbers.

In the end, all parties lost. The miners lost their entire industry, partly because of the wider economic situation, partly because they got into a fight with the party that had seen their previous Prime Minister toppled by the NUM and partly because they refused to accept that change had to come.

The people, particularly in the coalfield areas of Yorkshire, South Wales and the North East, saw their society torn apart. Families went hungry and the ordinary “working class” people were divided and degraded. The UK in general squandered the opportunity to properly use a vast resource of energy, driven by a short-term economic view and lack of any real foresight.

Have we learnt any lessons? I don’t think so. Our current Labour government has misused the police and armed forces with a flair that would have taken Thatcher’s breath away. Angry protesters still flood the streets and have pitched battles with the police and achieve virtually nothing. Innocent people still die, whether they are walking home from work through London (see Saturday’s Guardian) or driving a taxi to a colliery. Young servicemen are still dying in numbers because of the political positioning, arrogance and fear of democracy of our government. Trade unions are still stacked full of people with political aspirations and an inability to see any bigger picture than ‘workers against management’.

But the most revealing part of the entire documentary last night was right at the end. The documentary had to wrap up with a quick 2 minute summary of what had happened post-strike and post-mining to the main subjects. Unsurprisingly, those pickets, who were fighting tooth and nail to “save their industry” because there was simply no other option have actually gone on to have happy, productive and fulfilling lives without the coal industry. Relaxed and smiling they told us how they had formed new careers and new skills. Things had turned out so well that they could look back on 1984/5 and say “wouldn’t have missed it for the world”.

That’s perhaps a lesson that large industries, governments and the trade unions could all learn. Change will come and fighting it is usually futile. If change is embraced and communities, businesses and governments work together then it can end well without all the pain, suffering and injustice of 1984.