Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Internationale

Local government workers have voted to go on strike, or, more accurately, some local government workers, very far from a majority of them, have voted to go on strike, and the world is chorusing that they are being irresponsible. If they or anyone else receives a rise over 2 per cent, disaster will follow, prices will go up, council tax will go up and we will all be doomed. Again, and as I said before, it is always the poor bloody infantry that gets the shitty end of the stick. Profits continue to rise, enormous wealth for those at the top of the economic pyramid continues to grow, yet is the those who struggle most who have to pay and suffer when the economic world goes tits up. I ask again, why can’t the pain be shared about it? Why can’t our economic masters share a bit of the pain for a change? Who is responsible for all this anyway? Not the bloody school caretakers, that’s for sure.

Not that I am for this strike, because I am not, for three reasons. First, Unison cannot seriously claim a mandate for this action, given the very low turnout and the extremely close result of the ballot; second, they have no chance of achieving anything like a significantly improved offer; third the Tory media will have a bloody field day and the next election will be handed to the Tories on a plate. I include the allegedly leftist, allegedly impartial BBC in this, their reporting of the ballot yesterday was shameful both at breakfast time and at teatime: both of the reporters clearly believe that the canard about decent wages for poor folk equates with misery for all of us is an economic fact, not a matter of smug opinion.

Not that Heather Wakefield, the Unison rep covered herself in glory; she came across as extremely arrogant and seemed to say that the low turnout and close result was irrelevant, as she knew what members truly felt. Given her evident omniscience, I wonder why they bothered with a ballot at all. I don’t know who was speaking on behalf of the union in the morning, but he just came across as being as thick as a plank.

So, who do I hate so far, let’s see: well, every capitalist and apologist for capitalism everywhere for a start, then there is the union, and the big media, including the BBC and several BBC reporters, especially the berk on 5 live breakfast, with his estuary English and schoolboy smart arsery; the Tories and , oh yes, nearly forgot: New Bloody Labour, who are ignoring history at their peril.

Back in the seventies we had a period of governance by Labour and it wasn’t a particularly glorious time, which the big media are already reminding us of, and, again, the poor bloody starvlings (that's us!) got the shitty end of the stick. The unions agreed to be restrained in their pay demands, and for a few years they stuck to the agreement, until, not unreasonably, they decided that the poor worker deserved a bit of jam on his bread, and asked for a fairer share of the pot. The government decided to act hard, and there was a series of strikes, accompanied by lurid headlines and then we welcomed in dear old Maggie for 18 years of sheer joy and happiness.

It’s happening again, after all those years of Thatcher and pay deals of 0.5 per cent we all welcomed New Labour and anticipated a fairer deal. Well, we haven’t had one. We have never come close to catching up and our annual rises have barely covered inflation, all this time. Now, the economy has gone tits up, because the bankers have fucked up, and New Labours natural inclination is to let those who suffer most pay the heaviest penalty. I don’t know where new labour keeps its finger these days, but it certainly isn’t on the pulse.

Funnily enough, there is an big article about Richard Layard, the happiness guru in todays Guardian. It is a wide ranging discourse but it touches on the notion that continually seeking economic growth isn't necessarily a good thing, because the evidence suggests that it leads to misery, rather than happiness, which, in a roundabout way, reminded me of some stuff I read years ago about the equality gap causing social dysfunction. The greater the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest, the greater the chance of profound social disharmony.

Stuff it, I'm off to live in Bhutan.

Friday, June 20, 2008

96 Degrees In The Shade

It’s amazing isn’t it how interest groups can dominate the news agenda, especially in this age of 24 hour rolling news. Apart from the mains news stories, most of the stuff you hear on 5 live is little more than an endless discussion prompted by a press release by some organisation trying to drum up publicity. The credit crunch is providing marketing people with undreamt of opportunities. The latest to get in on the act is the potato council, who are telling us that the humble spud is the answer to our current half starved state. The Guardian has a very good and expanding blog post on it and will be highlighting the magic of the spud in one of the weekend editions.

All of which gives me an excuse to post my favorite recipes. Poverty is not a fashion thing with me, I’ve been skint for years, so I know a thing or three about spuds and pasta, I can tell you.

A week or so back I saw a recipe by Gordon Ramsey for Jersey royals (who said the spud was cheap?) with black pudding, which I adapted, to what I happened to have hanging around. It was possibly the best thing I have ever cooked. You don’t necessarily need Jerseys, by the way.

Take a load of new spuds, peel them, if you want, chop ‘em small and par boil for about 7-8 minutes, drain, then throw into a big frying pan containing a good glug of olive oil. Chop a load of black pudding and throw that in as well, followed by a little box of cherry tomatoes, which you may or may not have skinned, let it all fry and crisp up a bit, then throw in some fresh sage leaves and spinach, followed by a not insignificant glug of balsamic vinegar. Trust me, it’s a good ‘un. Oh, season as and when you see fit..

Stovies: Take a load of waxy spuds, peel them and cover the bottom of a saucepan. Add about 3-5 mls of water and a big knob of butter, season, cover with greaseproof paper, stick a lid on and cook on a low heat for about 40 minutes, giving the pan an occasional shake.

Tartiflette. Bugger the reblochon, the last time I bought one it cost 7 bloody quid, a mixture of cheddar and gruyere will do.

Potato salad: boil the spuds, drain; mix with a simple vinaigrette and then when cool add a load of sour cream, mayo and dijon, which, clearly, you had previously mixed together.

Dauphinoise. Obviously you don’t need me to give you a recipe for Dauphinoise, but I have an easy and foolproof method. Take a load of spuds and slice as thin as you like, boil them up in a pan consisting of a pint of milk and half a pint of cream, with a clove of garlic, for about ten minutes. Put the whole lot in a baking dish, grate some nutmeg on top and slam it in a hottish oven for half an hour. Bob Is your Uncle.

You could take the Ramsey Recipe above, omit the sage , balsamic and black pud, put in some chorizo and use it for the basis of a big omelette, I know you can, because I have done it, although it did include some onions which I had softened to the point of being caramelized as well. Actually, the original thing might work. The next time I do it I will make a huge pile and use the leftovers to make an omelette which will then be the following days lunch at work.

Pasta and Potatoes: cook a load of chopped spuds and pasta shells (about 500 grams in total) in about a litre chicken stock for about ten minutes then add cream, butter, and loads and loads of parmesan and some parsley. Fanny is your aunt.

Barbecued: Slice, parboil, drain, mix up with whatever you want…………..Cajun type spices or an oregano heavy mix of oil and vinegar or lemon juice are good, or just leave them plain then Barbie the buggers!

Also on a Barbie, try those little battered slices of spud you get in the veg section at supermarkets. Just bung ‘em on for ages after the main work has been done and the Barbie is still hot, but not blisteringly so. They are much better than a bag of crisps to help the beer down on a warm night.

While we are on barbies, have you tried barbied carrots? Man, they are something else. Slice a load of carrots up really thin and Barbie the buggers on one of those little foil trays you get. They are a bit special.

There are loads more but I’m fed up now, except to mention the best spud dish of all, which, as everyone knows, is the chip butty. I go for the two fry method myself, when it comes to chips, although I appreciate that it is a contentious area.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Poor Boys Long Way From home

I've been sat in the garden, enjoying the slight nip in the air, drinking some stinkingly foul Aldi beer (don't believe the Aldi hype!) and listening to John Renbourn. Why has no one told me about him before? What fantastic music for a chilly summer night drinking crap beer. I can only imagine how good he might be on a warm night, drinking good beer. Orgasmic, probably. He's not dissimilar to John Fahey, in case you were wondering, and is very famous and well thought of in the ancient old git fraternity. I'm looking at you, brother.

I posted about prices and wages last night, then I woke up and the same stuff was all over the radio, which has pissed me off, frankly. It's like when you discover a band and 6 months later everyone other bugger loves 'em. so you start to despise them. Don't expect to see any more whinging and whining from me on the state of the economy.............I'm sulking.

Firefox 3 is growing on me, I can't say it is love though.

Andy Gill hates Coldplay,and I can only second that emotion, even though I have only knowingly heard one of their songs, the execrable Yellow. Still, I hate everything about them: the luvviness, the self importance, the GlAstonburyness and the sheer Jo Wiliness of them. They make me puke. The only thing wrong with Gills article is that he is too even handed. The world is our oyster these days when it comes to music, how do chumps like this survive?

Chris Martin: thief

He should take up the ukele like me, I never play the same chuffin note twice!

Talking of plagiarists, Raj Persaud, the man who grins like an idiot on day time tv and provides psychiatric profiles of people he has never met for the tabloids has been found guilty of nicking other peoples work. The scoundrel. The biggest surprise is that he is actually employed by a teaching hospital, when to my mind, he has had no credibility for years. Mind you, I know of at least two psychologists who are happy to provide behavioural management plans for people that they have never met.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Streets of Baltimore

Robert Fisk: snapshots of Baghdad.

Any passing social workers will find Fighting Monsters interesting.

I keep hearing that the government feels our financial pain, that the bankers feel our financial pain and that big business feels our financial pain. Then I hear that none us should ask for a pay rise sufficient to cover the increased cost of our daily necessities, because that would be short sighted. If we have a decent rise, prices will have to go up, inflation will rise and we will all be worse off. Fair enough, their brains are large and mine is small and I know nothing of economics.

But a question is bugging away at me: why is it always us at the bottom of the food chain that gets the shitty end of the stick? Banks fail spectacularly, don't worry the taxpayer will bail them out. Rover goes belly up and it's sorry chaps, you will have to retrain as a waiter. Prices of basic commodities go up, so the price of the goods made with them goes up and the price in the shop goes up. There only seems to be one loser here, us.

When the price of everything goes up, why is it only the poor old consumer who has to suffer? Can't the bastard capitalists swallow some pain for a change. Why is that we can work our knackers off, yet have to walk around skint, while big business continues to make huge profits. Why do they have to keep making huge profits? Can't they make a bit less of a profit for a change? Can't they share their sweeties with the rest of us? How much money do the oil companies need? How much do Tescos and the rest of them need? When will these capitalist bastards be sated?

The new Firefox...............I can't stand it, how do I get the old one back?

Found on Mefi, a great site for the cack handed cyclists among us: The Bike Tutor

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Well, I never thought the day would come when I would link to a Daily Mail article, but the day has arrived. You might remember the case of Victoria Climbie, who died a sad and savage death at the hands of relatives a few years ago. The social worker involved in the case was slaughtered and vilified; lost her job and was deregistered. Her managers involved in the case all went on to bigger and better things while the social worker lost her job and reputation.

Little mention was made of the two doctors who said that the child was not at risk, nor of the fact that the social worker, newly qualified, and working a case she should not have been, was being supervised by a religious nutter, nor of the fact that, despite her lack of experience, she was still just about the most experienced member of the team. Little was made of the fact that referrals were just left on her desk, with no background or advice given. Systematic failings took place from the very top, but the people at the top absolved each other of all responsibility and continue to sail blithely on, while the poor bloody infantry, as usual, get their arses shot off.

I can tell you that social service managers have not changed. They still obsess about performance targets and budgets above all else. They still overload social workers with work; they still pile on the pressure and I can guarantee that the next time the shit hits the fan, it will be the social worker who cops all the flak, not the managers, not the medics, not the education department and not the police, all of whom will have been involved in the decision making process and most of whom will be more intimately acquainted with the case.

Why mention it now you might well ask. Well, the social worker has just won her appeal to be reinstated on the social work register, so she is back in the news and has given a great long interview in the Mail on Sunday, which is worth a look even if you aren't a social worker.

And if you don't believe me about the stress inherent in the job, the bloody conservative party agrees. I think the world has turned upside down.

After my eulogy to Welsh novelists a while back, I am reading another book by another Welshman: Sea Holly by Robert Minhinnick. I'm only about 60 pages in so shouldn't really recommend it yet, but so far it is poetic, lyrical and beautiful; I suspect that there might be heartbreak to come. It set among the sad, the mad, the lonely and the washed up who end up like driftwood in a small resort town in Wales, with the disappearance of a young girl at its heart. If you like the sort of thing I usually like you might be surprised, because this is like a proper novel, not a crime caper. Don't let that put you off though.

Apparently, it's set in Porthcawl, which, given a fair wind, I can get to in just over half an hour from where I currently sit. We never go there though, we prefer to whizz by it in search of more salubrious sand, but I might just have to go and have a bit of a mooch around now.

A Minhinnick poem.

All doom and gloom down at the Blues, whatever happened to gallows humour and stoicism?

While I am recommending, I recommend you have a listen to the new Silver Jews album. It was available in it's entirety on their myspace site last week but it looks like you just get 3 tracks now, which is better than nothing.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Mao Tse Tung said

It’s not every day that you catch site of two llamas shagging as you drive to work is it?

I still haven’t fixed my car aerial so my "in car entertainment” options are extremely limited, but the weather was good this morning, which may account for the uninhibited behaviour of the llamas, but certainly enabled me to listen to Nicky Campbell on 5 live for a bit longer than I am used to. The theme of the morning seemed to be swimming. It seems that we are going to be turned into a nation of svelte, lissome, swimmers, courtesy of the Olympics. Swimming will be free, for the over 60’s and under 16’s.

Five live being what it is, they couldn’t just say thank you very much, they had to pick the bones out of it and me being me, I’m going to have a little moan too. The chap they interviewed about this commented that he recognized that it wasn’t just about providing free access; the environment would need to be pleasant before the great unwashed took to the water. This is an important point. My nippers go for swimming lessons every week at the brand spanking new Cwmbran stadium, and it is, not to put too fine a point on it, a stinking, shithole. I also take the kids swimming for fun on weekends, and despite swimming pools in our borough being free, I would sooner gnaw my own arm off than visit them.

The staff are surly and uninterested. The changing rooms dingy, ankle deep in water, with family changing areas that are beyond description. The toilets are dingy, dirty and dark. It is an unpleasant, unwholesome experience, so we drive over the county line for our fun. Until recently, we have been going to Newport, which is marginally better, although the water and changing areas are very cold and the chemicals in the water leave your eyes stinging for days. Again, the staff there, particularly at waterside, are rude and surly.

We are lucky though, a huge pool complex has opened in Cardiff, which, as well as having an enormous pool for serious swimmers, has a separate leisure type effort, with slides, a jacuzzi, a sort of trail thing with all sorts of surprises up it’s sleeve and all manner of water jets, showers and just plain daft stuff to boot. The changing areas are fantastic………………………warm, with loads of large cubicles, hundreds of lockers, plenty of space, spotlessly clean and, somehow, dry. The staff are ok too, no frowns, no huge beat boxes to keep them entertained as they work. The only downside is that you have no opportunity for an actual swim.

So that’s us, we have about 4 pools within ten minutes of the house which the kids could use for free, but we drive twenty odd miles and pay the entrance fee to go somewhere else, somewhere with good, clean facilities and pleasant staff. Throw all the pools open by all means, but if you can’t make the experience generally enjoyable, you may as well invite the good folk of Britain to go and have a dip in the nearest cut, which might be a bit less intimidating. I didn’t mention that did I? Our local leisure centres are really intimidating places to visit. Not pleasant at all.

I haven’t quite finished yet. On the radio they kept banging on about how we have the Olympics to thank for this initiative. How’s that then? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, how many beautiful pools, leisure centres, all weather pitches, fitness trails, sports academies etc, etc, etc could have been built with the money that has gone on the Olympics? How many more people could have access to good quality facilities, if all that money had been spent in every little community in the land?