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What a load of rubbish

Jan. 3rd, 2010 | 10:42 pm

You know that you're getting old when you start moaning about bin collections.

Well, I'm getting old, because here I go....

We haven't had our bins or recycling collected for three weeks. Around here it's meant to be weekly on a Monday.

It isn't a huge issue for us, as we've never created much waste. But all the roads around here are like bomb sites, as Christmas has caused people to accumulate vast quantities of rubbish and just through it on the kerb.

Our first missed collection was on the 21st due to ice and snow. That's fair enough - the safety of the workers must come first. However, due to a quirk of the calendar our following collection - the 28th - was a bank holiday.

Normally in such circumstances of weather stopping play they catch up with the areas they've missed first, and then move back to their regular schedule. This time nothing of the sort happened.

What this means is that lots of houses that were due to have collections on Tuesdays and Wednesdays have still had weekly collections, yet we have had to wait until tomorrow.

(Incidentally, the mailing that we got from the council in early December stated that the houses that were meant to have collections on the 24th and 25th of December would have them squeezed into the Tuesday and Wednesday collections, so they haven't really noticed any difference, aside from having to wait until tomorrow for "this weeks" collection).

Like I said, for us it isn't an issue. But attempting to navigate the pavements with a pushchair around all the festering bin bags wasn't fun today.

Bleeding councils.

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MP's response to libel reform campaign

Jan. 2nd, 2010 | 05:52 pm

I recently wrote a letter to my MP asking him to support the moves to reform the libel laws in this country, and also to find out his opinion on the current situation.
 
Unfortunately I got a reply that basically said "oh look, there's a fence over there. It looks jolly nice. I'm going to sit on it".
 
Here's the reply:

-------

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding reform of the libel laws, which I have noted. I appreciate you taking the time to contact me about this matter.

You asked me to add my name to Early Day Motion 423. Early Day Motions are an expression of backbench opinion, so as Minister for Rural Affairs and Environment, I am unable to sign them.

However Early Day Motions are just one of the many ways in which Members of Parliament can represent the views of their constituents. As your MP I am able to lobby individual Ministers, including the Prime Minister, informally and through written correspondence.

As you may know Jack Straw MP, the Justice Secretary, is setting up a working group, which will consist of media lawyers and other experts, to examine a range of issues around libel. The aim of this group will be to make recommendations on reform. In addition the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into Press Standards, Privacy and Libel and is considering a wide range of issues in this area of law.

I look forward to learning of the new proposals with great interest.

------

OK, fair enough, he can't sign it due to his position. However, I'm disappointed that he didn't hint either way what his thoughts on the matter were. The "wait and see" approach sounds like he's playing it safe to me. I would have at least liked him to agree or disagree with me that the current laws are wrong. I would have preferred that he disagreed than sitting on the fence!

Here's my original email for reference:

------

I would be interested in finding out if you will be signing the Early Day Motion for reform of the UK libel laws (http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=39987&SESSION=903)

Many people in the UK feel that the current libel laws allow large companies to silence criticism against them due to the high costs of defending a libel lawsuit, and because of the onus for the defendant to prove themselves innocent (and that there was no damage done to the reputation of the other party... I have no idea how you prove that). The UK is now being treated as the 'libel capital' of the world, with international companies using our courts to sue others for words written overseas, merely due to the fact that because of the internet the words and opinions can be read here. There are concerns that this may make overseas publishers unwilling to allow material to be published here.

There is also growing discontent of the way writers and scientists are treated under the current laws, and this cannot possibly be in the public interest. For example, you may be aware of Simon Singh, who is currently appealing a ruling from the Royal Courts of Justice. He cited scientific evidence that questioned the efficacy of chiropractic treatments, yet has still been dragged through the courts since 2008.

You may also be aware of the NHS doctor Ben Goldacre, who was sued for libel by Matthias Rath for articles criticising his promotion of vitamin pills to AIDS sufferers in Africa. The case was eventually dropped, but not until significant legal costs had been incurred defending the action, which has been quoted as 'unlikely' of being recovered by the Guardian newspaper.

The examples go on and on, but you can read them for yourself on the Libel Reform campaign website at http://www.libelreform.org, which includes an excellent report on the current problems with the law as it stands, as well as proposals for change.

I would like to point out that this campaign is supported by an extremely wide cross-section of the UK community. It is supported by journalists, comedians, scientists, TV personalities, bloggers, human rights campaigners, writers and ordinary members of the public.

I would highly encourage you to join your Labour colleagues who have already shown their support for the campaign in supporting the Early Day Motion - I'm sure that they would be more than willing to discuss the issues involved in the EDM with you.

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Happy New Year

Jan. 1st, 2010 | 12:12 am

Happy New Year to you all. Just a quick thought that goes beyond the usual new year messages. The last decade has seen many close family and personal changes for me. I've been close at hand to weddings but also divorces. I've welcomed new arrivals to the family, but also felt the difficulty in letting go those that have departed. In the last decade I've reached many major milestones; like getting a degree, marrying and having a son.

On a wider scale, we've seen amazing leaps in technology yet witnessed religion causing much angst and strife around the world, especially in the form of terrorism and ongoing war.

However, if we think really hard - really really hard - we should realise that the good outweighs the bad. We should never ever lose sight of that, and I trust that in the next decade some wonderful things will happen. No-one knows what the world of technology will bring, but I look forward to finding out. I look forwarding to joining you all in 2010! Have a good one, and never forget the positives in life.

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You say you want a revolution? Evidently, I don't want to change the world

Dec. 31st, 2009 | 08:35 pm

Well, I feel like a big fat stinking hypocrite.

Ever since Lucie was pregnant, I've found myself getting more and more annoyed with the way fathers are treated in this country. To name but a few:

  1. A system that hardly ever asks how the man is feeling and coping whilst the woman is pregant
  2. Men completely ostrasized by health professionals (I remember when I managed to attend one of Lucie's check ups, the midwife blanked me and started asking about "your husband's family's medical history" when I was sat two feet from her)
  3. Antenatal classes usually only held during working hours. Women have a right to attend them fully paid, men have none
  4. Often ordered out of maternity units after their child has been born, sometimes even minutes after
  5. Paternity pay that pays pittance (the other day I was told to 'celebrate' as it had been raised in the budget... from £121 before tax to £123)
  6. Minimal leave for fathers, which means that they feel dislocated from childcare once they return to work, and also doesn't allow families to decide who will be the main caregiver and who will return to work
Those are just the ones that spring to mind right now.

One of the main other things that have annoyed me after child birth is the lack of support for fathers. Many groups are specifically targeted towards females, for example groups like "bosom buddies". There's a reason that they're called mother's groups. They are also without fail held during the working week. Whilst I understand the reasons for this, there is little attempt made to offer early evening groups or weekend ones. Health visitors don't like working outside office hours. When I have managed to turn up to them, two annoying things often happen:
  1. I'm told "it's nice when men take an interest" (more probably would if they were held at convenient times - I don't like this type of comment as I feel it perpetuates a myth that most dads can't be bothered with their kids)
  2. I'm completely blanked or looked at with suspicion as I'm an extremely rare male attendee
To make it worse, there was a group in our local area called "music with mummy". If that isn't a group name that says that men aren't welcome, I don't know what is. Then one day, they changed their name.

Hurrah!

Well, no. They changed it to "music with mummy or granny".

Nice one.

It was one of my bug bears, and I really moaned and moaned about it. One day the woman who organised it turned up to one of Lucie's groups to promote it, so Lucie took it upon herself to moan on my behalf. The response was "it's always been called that" (because that's the answer to all of society's ills) and "no men ever turn up anyway".

Lucie's words must have had an effect though, because shortly after they changed their name to be more inclusive.

Hurrah!

Again, no. It was now:

Music with mummy or granny
(or significant other)

Great, so I'm no longer just a sperm donor, I've been upgraded to the title of significant other. In future, I will not announce myself as Archie's father, I will announce myself as "Archie's significant other".

So I've been whinging, I've been moaning and I've been on my box moaning that someone should do something about it.

Let's move the story on slightly to get to the point. We know the local NCT chairperson quite well (the NCT are the National Childbirth Trust and organise lots of parenting meets and assistance, if you didn't know - I'm acutely aware that us parents talk a different language sometimes). Lucie is a member and has done some work with them. I've even been a hero and donned an apron to help out at one of their nearly new sales in the past (never again, those women are lethal when they're searching for a bargain).

So a few weeks ago she said to me "where are all the fathers? I need someone to start organise some groups and make them feel involved. Fancy taking it on?"

What I should type now is that I said "YES! I've been moaning about this for ages! This is the perfect outlet! A hell of a challenge but it should be fun and worth it"

So did I say that? Eh, no. I waffled about how I would love to, but I'm much too busy. And I am. I have two jobs at the moment, I finish one and then head home and work some more. I don't work the most hours compared to some people by any means, but I am pretty stretched at the minute. I'm working between 45 and 50 hours a week, not including commuting. I just couldn't fit in the organising of this and associated promotion on top.

However, ever since I have felt bad. I am more than happy to moan about this issue, but unlike others I haven't done any proactive when I've had the chance. I feel like a keyboard warrior, nothing more. Maybe I should just forget about it and move on, but I can't.  It just keeps biting away at the back of my mind.

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An atheist's guide to Christmas

Dec. 21st, 2009 | 09:42 pm

I'm not religious. I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned that before.

Further than that, I'm an atheist. Not sure if I've mentioned that either. Lately I've been getting more and more involved with the atheist movement. There's something strangely liberating from actually discussing your view point with others. Before I just never really said much about my beliefs.

You may have heard of some recent atheist campaigns. For example, the bus advert campaign that stated "there's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life". The same people have just started a "don't label me" campaign (against forcing your religious beliefs on your children before they reach an age where they can make their own choice). 

Well, the lady behind the campaigns, Ariane Sherine, recently published a book called "The Atheists' Guide To Christmas". Contributing to the book is an extremely wide range of personalities, from scientists, to bloggers, to journalists, to comedians etc. 

It's not religion-bashing at all, it's the contributors setting out what the winter season personally means to them, and how even as atheists they feel that they can still enjoy the season. Some of the stories are extremely frank and heart warming. So here's mine.

- - - - -

Once I got over the joy of getting amazing presents at Christmas, I lost interest.

You know, the point where you stop getting the stuff you wish for, and started getting what appear to be naff presents. It was a day where I had to sit in with family all day. My brother and sister would always argue just before dinner, we couldn't agree on what to watch on TV and it all seemed very forced.

Then I moved away from home.

Suddenly, I wasn't around family all the time, and it's amazing how little you can see them. All of a sudden, Christmas was about spending a rare day with all my close family. It regained some of the magic and I couldn't care less at being 'forced' to sit in a room with them.

Then when I started working and we were living away from home, we started to have a routine at Christmas. Lucie and I would wake up at home and exchange a few presents. Then we would drive to see her mum (who was often visiting other family members that were on our route) and exchange some more presents. Then we would drive to her dad's and do the same. Finally, we would arrive at my parents' house and spend the rest of the day there.

Now we have Archie and live back near home the routine has changed again. We get to start the day with our Archie's immediate family (i.e. Lucie and me), and then go see our close family.

And it's still a great day for just getting together for the hell of it. There's a multitude of reasons throughout the year why we can't meet up with family, but suddenly on one day you have the perfect excuse. I'm probably lucky that I get on well with my family.

For those who don't, I still think that you can enjoy it by deciding to carve up your time to spend it with people you DO like. You have the ability, even if you don't realise, to decide who you spend this precious time with.

As an atheist, I also appreciate more than Christians the reasons behind the season. I know that most of the nativity story is rubbish, and that many of the traditions have been stolen from older festivals. So I know that the reason we sit down and eat stupid amounts of food and deck the house out in garish lights is because our ancestors needed a winter festival to brighten up the long, dark, cold nights and celebrate the future return of spring. And there's something really nice in that feeling. And the knowledge of which elements are rip offs always gives me a smile when I hear Christians imploring us all to "remember the true meaning of the season".

So to come back to the point, I love the fact that I have now carved out a Christmas Day that I personally want.

I want to eat foolish amounts of food. I want to watch Christmas specials that never live up to expectations. I want to play a board game or play on a games console, even if we don't at any other time of the year. Most of all, I want to spend it with family. Because I want to.

This year, one song above others has summed up my feelings. It's by the Tim Minchin, an atheist comedian who also happens to sing a lot. He does most of his work in the UK but he's from Australia, so Christmas for him too is travelling home to spend time with your family. If you haven't watched it yet, head over here:

Tim Minchin - White Wine In The Sun

The full lyricsCollapse )

So yes. This Christmas, I'll be seeing my dad.

And I really want to.

What's the meaning of Christmas for you?

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(no subject)

Oct. 31st, 2009 | 12:41 am

Third post in a day. Go me.

But I just wanted to mention that I'm highly likely to moan about Halloween later.

The end. 

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Stepping out

Oct. 31st, 2009 | 12:25 am

A few weeks ago I wrote about how baby milestones actually gradually come about, and don't just happen all of a sudden

Nearly a year on...

Well, Archie has been mastering the art of walking for the last few weeks, from tentatively standing up, to walking along the sofa, to walking everywhere using our hands for help, to slowly relying on them less but still needing them for balance, to taking one or two steps between gaps, to taking three or four steps when he isn't thinking too hard about it but wants something that is over there, to walking back and forth between Lucie and me.


That incidentally wasn't the best he did. But unfortunately I didn't think about filming it to begin with, and then typically when I decided to he was getting bored and trying to crawl between us instead.

We also played the greatest game ever earlier. The rules were simple. He would say "yeah", then I would say "yeah, then he would say "yeah", then I would say "yeah, then he would say "yeah", then I would say "yeah, then he would say "yeah", then I would say "yeah, then he would say "yeah", then I would say "yeah, then he would say "yeah", then I would say "yeah, then he would say "yeah" etc. all the time with a huge grin on his face.

It ruled.
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Every vote counts

Oct. 31st, 2009 | 12:06 am

Please excuse me whilst I paraphrase slightly, but what I write will be pretty much what was said:

"I took the advice of the fees office for all expenses I claimed, and they told me that all were allowable within the rules"
- Jacqui Smith on why she thought it was OK to claim her sister's house was her main residence, and her family home as her second property, along with claims for flat screens and scatter cushions

"Advisers are appointed to advise, and ministers are elected to decide"
- Jacqui Smith about 15 minutes later when asked why the government was ignoring the advice of their drugs policy adviser

Now, I'm getting as sick of MPs expenses as the next person. I just want them to work out a system that pretty much works and start running it, and those that used expenses to top up their salary to say they were morally wrong (whether they were told it was in the rules or not).

But I did find these two statements interesting. It appears that if someone says something in an MP's interest (i.e. "yeah, claim what you like, you deserve it!") they'll happily embrace it. 

If, on the other hand, you give them some advice on an issue they don't understand or maybe are fearful of public opinion on, they will happily ignore it. (You might say that they should be fearful of public opinion relating to expenses, but then they got away with it for years, and it was only some whistle-blowing that got it out in the open).

What's so scary about drugs? We have some legalised already, and the government sell them and tax them. What's wrong with an open debate on whether we should make them "more" illegal or legalise them?

If a policy adviser, who has years of experience and studied a multitude of data, says that many illegal drugs are less harmful than tobacco and alcohol, what's wrong with that?

If he has statistical data that proves that more people die horse riding than taking ecstasy, why shouldn't he be allowed to say it? Why did Jacqui Smith ignore all the statistics when she condemned him for such a "dangerous statement"?

I'm not saying that we should take all the advice policy experts give us. But if we've hired them, let's use them. It seems to be that if you don't give them the answer this government wants, then you're not wanted.

But of course, being tough on drugs, irrespectable of the evidence, is a vote winner. And that's all that matters, right?

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Careers advice

Oct. 26th, 2009 | 11:11 pm

 Sometimes, no matter what you do, people will moan.
 
I'm passionate about widening participation in uni. I'm only the second person in my whole family to go to uni (my brother was the first). However, I don't think that uni is for everyone, and it isn't the be all and end all, so for those who leave education with a clear idea of where there going get my vote too.
 
Which is why I'm all for the news that the government are piloting careers advice for pupils as young as seven years old in some areas.
 
 
Of course, rather typically, people are reaching right for their cynical hats.
 
"It's too young/nanny state/ridiculous" etc. is the seemingly typical sentiment.
 
But I think people are missing the opportunity here. This isn't getting kids to say "I want to a career in assurance" or "I want to be an funds manager". This is all about broaden horizons, and letting kids know from a young age that they have options. 
 
What's wrong with giving kids a little forward planning, no matter how flexible?

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Jan Moir

Oct. 18th, 2009 | 02:04 am

Everyone else is talking about it, so what the hell....

I couldn't believe what I was reading when I was read what Jan Moir wrote about Stephen Gately's death. I read it relatively early in the morning, as the power of Twitter was already warming up and news of the 'opinion piece' was spreading. Back then the title was still "Why there is nothing 'natural' about Stephen Gately's death", before they changed it to the (not much better) "A strange, lonely and troubling death..."

Of course, in true Twitter style, I commented on it, read a few @ replies and then returned to work.

Other the absolute rubbish that she wrote - which has already been ripped apart ad naseum by people with a much better way of words than me so I won't dissect it here - I couldn't believe her 'apology'. She attempted to claim that her comments had been misinterpreted and that she was the victim of some sort of orchestrated internet campaign.

Well, wake up Jan, because social media doesn't work like that.

You can't publish an article in the morning and then get literally millions of people to denounce it on mass in a 'planned' way.

Take a good look in the mirror and wonder just why people ripped you to shreds. It's because you took joy in dancing on someone's grave before his family and friends had the chance to bury him, and because your 'opinion piece' was full of stereotypes and bullshit that was obviously aimed to appeal to your narrow-minded readership. I would be quite content if no paper would publish you again, but I'm sure deep down you're loving the attention.

Anyway, that's enough of that. This has to be one of the most funny comebacks to this whole saga, and I'm sure you'll agree it was much better than my blog effort: http://notsowunderbar.blogspot.com/2009/10/why-there-is-nothing-natural-about-jan.html

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