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The Nanny State – Darwin’s Enemy!

I do not often write pieces like this exactly as they happen but having just experienced an example of someone with power but no legitimate authority making decisions for me, I felt it was necessary.

Let me explain.

Last night I went to practice night at my Archery Club with the new equipment that I purchased at great expense in Loughborough last week (the club lets you borrow their gear free of charge for 6 weeks but after that you need to have your own).

One of the bits I didn’t have to buy was an adjustable bowsight because my younger daughter purchased a complete set of Archery gear for me from a colleague at her workplace who has given up the sport. Much of this turns out to be too small for me and will be sold on but the sight is good quality and is reusable. It was duly connected to my new handle.

Anyway I turned up at practice and was soon shooting off my fancy new Aluminium/Carbon Fibre arrows – with some success.

Until, that is, about 30 minutes in – when the sight fell off!

Following a bit of swift detective work I found that the screws holding it to the handle, which I had pinched off the old bow were fractionally too small for the standard-sized holes in the new kit – apparently standards change over the years!

So new screws need to be obtained and the obvious place to get the right ones seemed (to me anyway) to be the place I bought the Bow. Now I have no intention of driving a 120 mile round trip to Loughborough and back again, including the rather confusing Leicester Ring Road, just to buy a packet of screws so an online purchase was obviously needed.

Tuesday morning at the library saw my two current students in the beginners’ course working merrily through the on-line training without too many questions so I decided to whip out my trusty laptop PC and do a spot of on-line purchasing using the Library’s Public Wi-Fi. I opened a browser window and headed for Merlin Archery’s site.

Enter Nanny!

A huge red banner appeared on my screen bearing the words “THIS CONTENT HAS BEEN BLOCKED BECAUSE IT DOES NOT COMPLY WITH THE ACCEPTABLE USAGE POLICY”! It then went on to tell me that my request to access it “has been logged” and I imagine that if the sound hadn’t been muted klaxons would have been going off to lead the Improper Usage Squad directly to me!

To be fair, the message does go on to tell me exactly how I have transgressed the unwritten code:

Category – Personal Weapons, Safe Content Filetypes, Hunting and Sporting, Web Content

Reason – Content of type Personal Weapons (Content filtering) blocked.

So basically, the Library, or more accurately SERCO who provide IT Services for it, have made an arbitrary decision on my behalf that I should not want to go to a particular web site because the things it sells are dangerous!

Who decided that THAT was unacceptable and why then can I browse d-i-y shops (I know I can – I tried) using the same connection and stare without restriction or alarm bells at large, cuddly, sharp axes and big, soft, heavy sledgehammers? With them I could commit much more mayhem on my fellow humans than I could manage with a bow and eight arrows (especially since I can’t aim them properly at present)! So why aren’t B&Q, Wickes etc. blocked then?

Possibly some bleeding heart at SERCO has no objection to sporting goods capable of being used as weapons per se and it may be that the operative word in the “category” mentioned above is “Hunting” – a site selling equipment that some vicious bastard could use to kill little furry creatures obviously needs its access blocking! Plainly, they haven’t seen me out in Lynch Wood chucking Homebase axes at squirrels.

It is all part of the culture that sees takeaway coffee cups contain warnings about the possibility of them containing hot liquids (personally I’d want my money back if they didn’t) or, in a similar vein, the sign that used to be affixed to the radiators in the coffee shop at a nearby country park. “This radiator may become HOT”! Really? Is that a design fault or something?

The Nanny State is everywhere – you cannot now do anything without someone inflicting either their own opinion of what you should look at or making it actually illegal to do almost anything that might be the tiniest bit dangerous. Who gives these people these powers over us? I’ve certainly never read anything about such laws in any political manifesto which means we’ve never actually voted on that issue and “someone” has simply imposed their own will on us.

But don’t get me started on Health & Safety – I’ve already done a bit about that which you can find in the Archives back at 6th April 2010. It may just be time for me to brush off the scrolling screensaver that I mentioned there: “Health & Safety – keeping idiots in the human gene pool”!

Oh, and I’d just like to say to SERCO that I went home, accessed the Merlin Archery website from my woefully unrestricted home PC, ordered the bloody screws and all without harming a single living creature! So the only effect your stupid ban had was to make me extremely annoyed (which no-one should EVER want to do) and to wish for something really unpleasant (such as tripping over a huge pile of Risk Assessment forms) to happen to your I.T. Policy Manager!

Alfie

 

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Green is for “GO”?

 

Reading the last dozen or so posts of mine you might get the idea that I am always lightly amusing, sometimes wittily philosophical and with a memory bank full of happy memories that I enjoy writing down for the pleasure of others. I have to tell you that this is not always the case and sometimes I have to go “darker” in an effort to expunge bad memories and feelings so that I may become what I consider to be a nicer person! That is what this is about.

As many of you reading this will have remembered from earlier posts, I write these articles in pen or pencil, often on the ludicrously long bus ride into Peterborough for my volunteer “work” at the library.

And I discovered on travelling in a few weeks ago that I was without either notebook or pen – a situation that obviously needed redressing as a matter of urgency! I mean, what if I thought of something utterly brilliant on the bus but couldn’t write it down?

So a quick detour to Wilkinson’s (for non-UK residents that’s an all-purpose cheap store partly filling the gap left by the demise of Woolworths in the UK) on the walk from the bus station to the Library was called for and I quickly found a couple of suitable A5 size notebooks before moving on to the pen shelf. Usually in this situation I just pick up a pack of cheap blue or black biros but this time I looked at the other options available and thought “Why not?”

Which explains why (although there is no way you can tell once they’re published) the draft of everything I’ve written so far in 2017 was done in…….. GREEN INK!

And what, I hear some of my readers asking, is special about THAT?

Well those of you who worked for Barclays in the past and particularly those of you whose time with Barclays Bank Trust Company preceded the dreadful Peterborough Tax Centre will undoubtedly remember that no workers on those files were allowed EVER to use green ink because that was the prerogative of the dreaded Inspection Teams.

For the uninitiated I shall explain!

Every 3 years or so each of the 33 local offices received a supposedly unexpected and definitely unwelcome visit from the Spanish Inquisition a.k.a. the Trust Company’s Inspection Team.

This comprised “The Inspector”, usually a “rising star” Manager high in the favour of the Board of Directors, and a number of career minded junior managers from each of the three disciplines – Tax, Investment and Executorship & Trustee. They would be accompanied, usually, by some young “fast-track” smart-arse with no knowledge of any of the relevant subjects and who was there to keep their paperwork in order and aid the preparation of the final report.

I said earlier that the visits were “supposedly” unexpected but everyone had a bit of an idea! While there was, at that time, no such thing as email or social media we all knew people in other offices from sporting events or training courses and the word would quickly go round that “the Narks have gone into…..” some office or other and all of the staff in places that hadn’t been visited in over 2 years would breathe easily for another 4 weeks or so!

I feel your confusion!

Surely, you are thinking, such an examination of work would comprise, in equal measure, praise for things done well and carefully worded constructive criticism for everything else. Because, after all, the Inspectors didn’t bring in any fees themselves and you don’t go upsetting the people who are effectively paying your salary.

Not so!

It was entirely destructive (of morale, at least) with efforts being made to find the tiniest fault if no large errors were apparent.

They went through 10% of each person’s case load and would produce one or more sheets of A4 paper with hand written comments on for every file looked at. This sheet would be divided down the middle with the comments, questions etc. written in green ink down the left hand side and the poor, overworked clerk’s responses (in blue or black ink) on the right.

If they couldn’t find anything amiss with a file there was no praise – you simply weren’t aware that they had looked at it except for green initials on the record sheet!

As the weeks of an inspection went on you would find a growing pile of files on your desk with the sheets of “greenery” tucked in the flap, requiring your urgent attention in addition to your normal workload – which was not allowed to slacken off. This was always a right pain for me as most of my Inspections took place in offices that I had just been transferred into which meant I was always having to respond to stuff my predecessor had done! I suppose, though, that those situations were made up for by a couple of instances where the “Narks” turned up at the old office just after I left!

As the years went by I started to fight back! From responding to everything on a “the Inspector is always right” basis I began to look closely and carefully at the comments and if they were inaccurate or incorrect I would say so in my response with detailed reasons. As the paperwork could not be destroyed by them any more than it could be by “us” anything that showed a particular Inspector to be a technically inept arse (and I did meet a few of those) still had to be kept! 

I loved that; they didn’t!

I also utilised what I called the “inverse response technique” where a rambling, whole page green diatribe about things wrong (in their opinion) with a particular case would be met with a concise response of “Noted”.

Conversely, a short question along the lines of “Do you think that……?” which obviously needed nothing more than a “Yes” or “No” answer would be treated like one of those exam questions that end with the word “Discuss”.

 Sometimes I needed more paper!

The whole process was done in an adversarial and heavy-handed fashion and for very little real result. I am sure we all had cases that we would, for any number of reasons not involving technical errors, have preferred the nit-pickers not to look at but it was best simply to hope that those ones would not get selected in the one in ten chosen (supposedly randomly) for examination.

Anything that drew attention to things you didn’t want them to see was unwise as was discovered by one office in the late 1970s. Just before their Inspection was due they closed all of the awkward, dubious or neglected cases that they did not want to have examined with a view to re-opening them afterwards. This must have had some managerial connivance as all closures had to be authorised and when the deception was somehow spotted all hell broke loose!

I don’t remember if there were dismissals but I cannot recall ever meeting anyone from that particular office so I imagine that something of a purge took place as well as an extended inspection of 100% of their cases including the closed ones! A special team was formed from senior clerical staff and managers from offices all around the country to go into the problem site, review all their work and bring the cases and records completely up to date.

This had repercussions for the rest of us around the UK – not only did we have to keep the work of our “loaned out” colleagues up to date but ordinary Inspections were now extended to include closed cases and the vindictive bastards took to querying minor typos in letters and other really petty ways of getting their revenge for that one office that had fouled up!

I don’t know exactly how they chose members of the Inspection Team but you had to have completed your Institute of Bankers exams (which did not automatically give you any technical know-how in the subject you were pulling people apart over) and not mind that the rest of your Tax Department colleagues would hate your guts for the rest of your career!

It is probably true to say that in my 24 years with Barclays I never met a member of the Inspection Team that I would have wanted to socialise with after work but met plenty that I would have cheerfully put in a weighted sack and dropped in the river!

There were ways of doing that job that would have achieved the desired end in a friendly and constructive fashion but somehow they always picked vicious little power-seekers who wanted it done the nasty way!

It is my earnest hope that writing down these memories will help me to purge myself of the lingering venom and let me move on to happier subjects written about in whatever colour ink I bloody well choose!

You will pleased to know that having lanced that particular psychic abscess I will now be my usual jolly, sunny self again – until something else that seriously rattles my bars comes to the front of my mind anyway.

Alfie

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Prospicimus we sing…..!

Following my recent report of people looking at the posts in the “Schooldays” category of this site I thought it would be rude not to write something for he/them – whoever they may be.

The word “she” was omitted deliberately there as the only female at my secondary school was the Headmaster’s secretary and it’s unlikely to be her.

Incidentally, if you don’t know what I mean about “categories” go to the bottom of the menu down the right of this page. There you will find the tags that I have, so far, chosen for these pieces. This one will be marked as “Schooldays” too when it’s published.

My next thought was of what aspect of school life I could write about that I haven’t already done and since I appear to be blessed (or cursed) with a memory full of this sort of pointless crap I thought:

“I’ll start at Day One and see where it goes!”

At the end of the summer 1964 school term I left Britannia Road Primary School in Ipswich having attended there for but a single term as a result of a family house move across town. I did this in the in the knowledge that, along with only one other boy in my class, I had not passed the “11 Plus” examination and was not destined for Northgate Grammar School!

So, at the beginning of the following September I presented myself in my new uniform (including a cap with a badge on) in the large playground of Copleston Secondary Modern School for Boys – which was actually within sight of the aforementioned Britannia Road school and only the width of a public footpath away.

We “newbies” were gathered together – they found us because only first years bothered (because we’d been TOLD to) to wear caps – and marched up to what was then the school hall. There we were given details of the school rules (which I must have forgotten instantly), the School song (of which more later) and sorted into our classes.

And it was here that I had my first and fortunately only, problem with the school authorities!

Now, as most of you, especially those of you reading this via my Facebook link, will know my real name is neither “Little” nor “Alfie” but is in fact “Searle”. And at the end of that Hogwarts-style “sorting” I was the only person left in the room but for the teacher with the hand-written list of names and HE now had two problems; what to do with me and what to do about “Scarfe” who had not turned up!

It does, I think, say much for our respective intelligences that I worked out what had happened first and had to timidly point out that if you wrote my name badly it might appear to read as Scarfe!

Upon reflection this may be why you never saw the cartoonists Ronald Searle and Gerald Scarfe in the same room together before (very, very) distant cousin Ron’s demise in 2011!

That initial trauma apart there were a number of very new and very strange things that we had to get used to, including:

  • No girls – they were all in the adjoining building and contact was forbidden. This probably explains why so many of the people I know from those days seem to have had so many marriages! We simply weren’t used to them! At least it stopped those sloppy and embarrassing games of “kiss chase” – it did for me anyway although there may even in those days have been some in that all-boys environment that weren’t fussy!
  • Different teachers for different subjects (I’ve mentioned some of them in the following pieces; https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/introduction-to-a-masterpiece/ , https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/master-piece-part-1/ and https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/master-piece-part-2/). I should, in fact, do another in that series to pick up all the ones I’ve remembered since.
  • Lessons in different classrooms all over the school (and even at a different site 1.5 miles away – https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/remember-remember/) and with only minutes to get from each one to the next. The moves from the distant annexe to the main school were done either in the 30 minute slot after registration when the rest of the school was having the daily assembly or during the 15 minute mid-morning break. I must have been so much fitter in those days – especially as I didn’t get access to a bicycle until after the completion of the new building works made the Clifford Road annexe unnecessary! The other bad changeover was when you finished P.E. in the gym and had 5 minutes to shower, get dressed AND get to the next lesson. We became experts at dressing while still more than slightly wet!
  • I don’t recall there being physical punishment at junior school but I was such a goody-goody that I wouldn’t have known about it anyway! At Copleston we had teachers who utilised things like the sole of a Plimsole, the 2 inch thick climbing ropes in the gym, the well-thrown wooden-backed blackboard eraser or Headmaster Ken Armstrong’s cane. I have to say that I had sufficient wits to avoid all of those but suffered my fair share of individual, class and whole school detentions, the latter type including the notable one that followed the detonation of the pipe bomb in the waste incinerator near the cycle sheds. I still wonder who was responsible for that one!
  • Michael Vincent! Yes I do know you’re reading this Mike and I don’t mean anything bad by it! Just remember that I’m listing some of the things I found to be “very new and very strange” and to ME you certainly came under at least one of those headings. OK? For anyone else reading this I should say that Mike was a force of nature at that school. His enthusiasm for anything (such as the “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” radio show or any other “off the wall” comedy of the day) was so “over the top” as to appear almost manic. And as for his out of school activities ….. but I’ll let him tell you about those! We didn’t really understand Mike at all and were somewhat unkind to him but I apologised for that when we resumed contact in 2009 and we are good friends now even though separated by 6000 miles and 6 or 7 hours of time zone difference. I’ll bet if any of us “non-entities” from that year met any of our old teachers and they had trouble placing us mentioning Mike would do the trick! They would probably recede very quickly over the horizon too!
  • Daily Assemblies. I don’t remember having such gatherings of the whole school EVERY DAY at junior school but we certainly did at Copleston. There were only a limited number of ways of avoiding this. Needing to run from the annexe to the main school was one them but I also got out of some by being in the school Recorder Group (later glorified with the name School Orchestra) who met and practised during one Assembly per week. There was a very minor Church of England religious component to the Assembly – one or two hymns and The Lord’s Prayer was about the limit of it but that was enough for the handful of Roman Catholics to have permission to wait outside until the important announcements were made by Ken Armstrong or his deputy. In case you are wondering about students with “other” religious backgrounds – there were none!

    On special occasions such as the start of term, end of term, state visits by local councillors or just when Ken felt like it, we would be required, in these assemblies, to sing The School Song! This had been composed by Ken himself (to try to make us feel like we were at Eton or similar) with music arranged by “Wombat” Woolford the Art Master and Official Pianist. The song was based on the school’s Latin motto which was on our uniform badges and which was “Prospicimus” or “We look forward”. That translation was also in the lyrics which were tediously banal and the first line began with the words I have used as the title of this piece. I won’t bore you with them here but I do have a printed sheet with both the words and the music which I picked up at the school’s 50th birthday event and wrote about here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2009/03/12/boys-will-be-boys/ – if anyone wants a copy……..! I do sometimes think it’s a little ironic that I keep looking backwards at a school that constantly wanted us to look forwards!

Well, that went well! From wondering what to write to almost 1500 words in one evening – that should keep you all going for a while! And, as I’ve said before, if you wish to comment but don’t want to do it on this post directly, please email littlealfie@hotmail.com and I will respond.

Alfie

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Schooldays

 

Doctor, Doctor!

When I was about 6 years of age (that is to say, just before the “Swinging Sixties” began) it was discovered that it wasn’t only the crappy school dinners at Luther Road Primary School (now known as “Hillside”) that were causing me to throw up in bed at night on regular occasions!

The “food” concerned was getting wedged in my throat due to my enlarged Tonsils and a visit to the local hospital was scheduled to whip them out.

This was a considerable improvement on a generation earlier – pre-NHS and in similar circumstances my father had HIS Tonsils removed by the family doctor on my Grandmother’s kitchen table! I’m sure that entailed no risk of infection whatsoever! I can only hope it didn’t interfere too much with my Grandfather’s dinner!

The old Anglesey Road Hospital in Ipswich was a massive Victorian (possibly even Georgian) stone-built building extended quite massively over the years. This extension may even have gone underground to some extent as my enduring memory is of being wheeled to the operating theatre down long, semi-circular, white tiled “tunnel” corridors reminiscent of some old parts of the London Underground.

I am, despite my prestigious GCE “O” Level in Biology, still uncertain as to the purpose or function of Tonsils, save that like the Wasp we seem to be better off without them! What does seem to be the case, however, is that they (Tonsils, that is NOT Wasps) are somehow inextricably linked with similar objects called Adenoids which extend into the nasal area and which are normally removed at the same time.

This double removal happened to me and resulted in a long-lasting psychological effect and what was probably my first brush with non-parental authority!

Before I went into the hospital my parents had dutifully taught me certain social skills, most notably how to avoid the classic small boys’ permanent snot dribble by blowing my nose on a handkerchief.

After my “operation” I fell foul of a rather stern nurse on the children’s ward and, because of the nose element involving those Adenoid things I was told off for blowing my nose as previously taught.  I am aware even now that had she gently explained WHY to me I would have made every effort to keep my hands off the hanky but when I was caught a second time she over-reacted by taking it away from me completely!

My way of revolting against the spiteful cow was a refusal to use a handkerchief at all for some years afterwards to the annoyance of my parents!

Fortunately I had no reason for further involvement with the 1950s/60s hospital system but have over the last 10 years or so (and indeed the last few months) experienced the modern equivalent.

My most powerful and prolonged association came in November 2006 (it was contemplating the 10th anniversary of that event that started me writing this in November 2016) when I collapsed with an allergic reaction.

I don’t believe I have ever told that story here although an abridged version does appear in the 2006 chapter of my fishing memoir) so here it is:

I visited my Doctor on the evening of 6th November 2006 with a “creaky” hip joint and was prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs of the sort that my wife has for serious back aches usually incurred by excessive gardening and which I have used myself in the past.

I took one before going to bed that night at about 11p.m. and woke up 7 hours later with a desperate need to visit the en-suite bathroom. I also noticed that my entire skin felt hot and itchy.

Much of what follows I cannot state as gospel truth as you will see but I don’t think Faith made any of it up.

A few seconds after I went into the bathroom she heard a crash and when I didn’t answer her calls she managed to get the door open, help me to my feet and get me back into bed. As I wasn’t coherent and fearing that I had experienced a stroke of some sort, Faith went downstairs to call an ambulance. While she was doing so I, in my befuddled state, decided once again to go to the bathroom and once again collapsed to the floor, this time passing out completely!

And that was how the Ambulance men found me.

They diagnosed Anaphylactic Shock and started me, in situ, on an Anti-histamine drip to keep me alive while my body tried to shut down completely.

What they failed to realise (and I don’t blame them one bit – saving my life was MUCH more important) was that the central heating had come on at full blast while I was unconscious and I was laying with my left hip wedged up against the feeder pipe for the bathroom radiator!

I spent most of the day in hospital on that drip and what turned out to be a third degree burn was taken to be a graze resulting from my fall in a confined space.

It took several months to heal completely and necessitated going to the Peterborough NHS Walk-in Centre every couple of days to get the dressing changed. As I went back to work after only a couple of days this meant evening visits and as a result I became quite well acquainted with the evening/night shift staff. As we went into December I quipped that as a regular “customer” I should get invited to the Staff Christmas Party.

They replied to the effect that, while they couldn’t invite all of me, my left buttock was welcome to attend!

I’m sure that the whole healing process was extended and made much worse by the fact that the burn, and therefore the dressing, was right where the waistbands of both my underpants and my trousers rubbed against me. That, however, wasn’t the fault of the Walk-in Centre staff for whom I had (and indeed still have) the greatest respect, gratitude and admiration.

Just lately, as I mentioned in my review of the year 2016 a few weeks ago, I have spent a lot of time escorting or visiting various family members at the Peterborough City Hospital and on all of those occasions the “front-line” staff have been brilliant!

And yet, I keep reading of and hearing about “Crisis in the NHS” and “Hospitals cutting back services for lack of cash” and have to conclude that this can only be because there are whole echelons of unnecessary chair-warmers hidden behind the hard working and caring front-line professionals.

Given the amount of well-informed press coverage there must, indeed, be whole teams whose sole purpose is to report on where cuts due to lack of funds need to be made!

Well, I may be being naïve here but wouldn’t cutting out those teams be a grand place to start saving money?

Prune out anyone in a team such as that who doesn’t actually do anything positive (right up to the top level six-figure earners at the head of the chain) in all of the many NHS Trusts around the country and I’m sure funds would suddenly be available again!

Sometimes these articles take a long time to finish due to my lacking a good way to end and this is a case in point!

As I write these last few paragraphs on 1st February 2017 (3 months after I started) I am sitting in a waiting room at the Hospital while my wife has a routine scan for Osteoporosis (all was fine I’m pleased to say) and a lady next to me is reading the Daily Mail which has an apt headline.

“Health tourism ‘chaos’ draining the NHS”!

Apparently the billing process for foreigners who don’t qualify for the “free” service that we natives get by virtue of paying for it, is completely screwed (surprise, surprise) and hundreds of millions of pounds per year are being lost.

Now there’s a job for those “cuts” teams!

Get rid of the people responsible for the messed up process, they are plainly inept , and give new contracts to these other spare parts paying them £1 for every £100 they recover from the non-paying “health tourists”. After all they seem very adept at bullying their own colleagues into cutting costs; squeezing a few quid from some defaulting foreigner should be child’s play!

If they get really good at it they might even be able to rise to the sort of earnings they expect highly trained Nurses to get by on!

And then, of course, there’s the £350 million PER WEEK that the NHS will allegedly get from our saved contributions to the EU following “Brexit” – but how many people would believe in a promise like that enough to vote for it?

How many?

52%?

Really?! It seems as though Education must be in trouble as well!

Right! That’s the National Health Service sorted – all the Government had to do was ask me! What’s next?

Alfie

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

The party ain’t over yet!

When I was younger I used to look at photographs of my grandparents and their siblings and often thought how old and careworn they looked when, in actual fact, they were only in their 40s or 50s!

I realise that they had much harder lives than we do and were probably worn out by hard manual labour and/or raising large families on small incomes; they also had two World Wars with their associated risks of invasion and extermination to contend with – which can’t have helped!

There does, however, seem to have been an automatic assumption in those olden times that, when you reached a certain age, you were required to dress and have your hair done in a way that made you look even older and that made things much worse.

Whatever the reason it cannot be denied that my grandparents looked more than their age, my parents looked their age while I look and feel younger than my age!

Well I would if I were to dye my hair and get rid of this distinguished grey beard anyway!

I definitely FEEL younger anyway – internally most of me feels the same as it did at age 25 (which was 1978 in real life in case you didn’t know) which probably annoys my children who are both past that age themselves!

Life is pretty good right now – I have retired from the rat race, have a volunteer job teaching computers to the “incomputerate” at Peterborough Library that I really enjoy and have a new grandson to make feel like I did when I was 30 (but minus the sleep deprivation)!

So why, as my 64th birthday approaches, is it suddenly being suggested to me that I am about to die?!

Every day for the last week or so I have received an almost identical letter from a whole range of Insurance Companies telling me that I need huge amounts of Life Insurance to look after my family after I have “gone”!

It doesn’t happen at any other time of year so I assume that the intention of these documents is to make the arbitrary one unit increase in my count of years cause me to freak out at the thought of my impending demise and “panic buy” their product. To assist me with this they not only provide me with a partly completed form and a prepaid envelope but also an assurance that (given my obvious impending physical dissolution) I won’t need to have a medical to get their cover!

Bloody cheek!

They all go straight into the shredder despite my feeling that I should really forward them to the police as “threatening behaviour”! I do sometimes put all the accompanying literature (minus the bits with my name on) into the franked envelope and post it back on the grounds that they don’t pay for that postage unless the envelope is used! Perhaps if enough of us indulge in this small act of sabotage, they will stop!

And then, on Friday, after the arrival of another of these letters and while I was regretting that there was no-one I could reasonably shout at about this, I got a phone call from a local Peterborough number.

I did not catch the lady’s name but the conversation went roughly thus:

Her: “Is that <Alfie>?”

Me: “Guilty!”

Her: “I’m calling from the Review Department……..”

Me: “Hold it! The Review Department of which Company, please?”

Her: “I’m calling to ask about your Life Insurance cover…..”

Me: “Oh really? Bad timing on your part then! I’m getting heartily sick of every Insurance Company in the land trying to sell me something just because I have a birthday coming up! It’s a despicable and threatening business practice and I’d like you to report my words to your bosses or ask them to call me themselves so that I can do it! Thank you and goodbye!”

No-one has yet called back and I’m not surprised.

As far as my looking after my “dependants” is concerned that term only really applies to my potential widow and if Faith is concerned at how to cover my funeral expenses I will simply suggest that she drops me into the brown “Garden waste” wheelie bin and let the council dispose of me – although Sods Law says that the timing will be such that I will have to wait 2 weeks for that bin to be collected!

I am reminded of the words my elderly mother still uses whenever someone tells her “You can’t take it with you”.

Her unvarying reply is “If I can’t take it with me, I’m not going!”

Alfie

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

It’s not Rocket science!

The Chinese are credited with inventing gunpowder – as they invented so many other things such as Chinese Takeaways, Chinese Laundries, Chinese New Year, Chinese Burns etcetera!

If you look up “Things invented by the Chinese” in Google you will find an article by the ever-reliable Wikipedia which lists the “big four” Chinese inventions as:

Paper

The (navigational) Compass

Gunpowder (including fireworks and rockets)

Printing

I presume that Printing was last on the list because there was no point in inventing it before you had paper to print on!

I also imagine a day in Chinese history when some Emperor or other decided “At last! Now we can do this!” then took his army, used his lovely new printed paper maps and compasses to find his enemies and blew them to bits with gunpowder-powered rockets!

It may not have happened like that but it’s a nice thought!

Rather surprisingly, and despite the technology being there, using rockets as a weapon of war did not really “take off” (sorry!) for many centuries while their gunpowder power source WAS utilised to lob various projectiles at enemy armies and civilians in European wars from about the 14th Century onwards.

Weapons where the gunpowder propellant actually accompanied the projectile on its journey did not begin to be used by the British Army until after various Indian armies used them against the forces of the British East India Company in the late 1700s – after which unpleasant experience Colonel Sir William Congreve (1772 – 1828) was appointed to conduct Research & Development on rocket artillery at Woolwich Arsenal.

The resulting product was tested by the Royal Navy (setting fire to Boulogne and Copenhagen), used in a fictional Peninsular War battle in Portugal (“Sharpe’s Enemy” by Bernard Cornwall), and used for real against France in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813.

Congreve’s rockets were also (and I am indebted to Bernard Cornwall for this information which was given in the Appendix of the above mentioned novel) used against the United States of America during the war of 1812-14, specifically during the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. This action is commemorated in the lines in the anthem “The Star Spangled Banner” which in its first verse has “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there”.

Over the intervening years, and particularly during the 20th Century, gunpowder has been replaced as a rocket propellant by more efficient chemical reactions increasing the range, and power of these weapons leading to the V2 rockets used against London in World War 2.

Every rocket variant up to and including Vergeltungswaffen Zwei (Vengeance weapon 2) had the same problem – their effectiveness was limited to the accuracy with which they could be AIMED!

This became a difficulty when the speed and manoeuvrability of targets such as aircraft increased to the point where they were able to dodge or outrun things fired directly at them. What was needed was something that could (either internally or externally) be GUIDED.

As early as 1945, when it was thought that Japan would have to be conquered island by island and ship by ship, the USA was trying out radio-controlled, explosive filled “drone” aircraft with primitive TV cameras in the nose to aid the operator. The Japanese, of course used similar explosive-filled aircraft but left the pilots in to aim the plane at U.S. battleships and carriers!

Other much bigger bangs probably slowed that line of research and it is only comparatively recently that such aircraft for reconnaissance and attack have come back into fashion again.

Meanwhile, control by fine wire for ground to ground usage, heat-seeking technology for ground to air or air to air combat and in-built programmable computers with terrain mapping software (as in Cruise missiles) have now given us “smart” guided rockets that can almost 100% guarantee hitting whatever they are either aimed at or are simply told to hit!

As I said earlier the replacement of gunpowder as a propellant vastly improved the range of rockets and this led most importantly to the Human Race getting into space – probably the only way we can ever guarantee our Single-planet species’ survival!

It is my belief that any number of bad things can and probably will happen to us if we continue as we are with all our eggs in one planetary basket and feel deeply that we as a world should be turning all our scientific, technological and industrial ingenuity towards getting “out there” en masse rather than messing about fighting each other over minor trivia like religion, economics and politics.

Of course, our manned efforts to the Moon fizzled out, after only six landings, in 1972 once enough had been done to honour the memory of the late President Kennedy who had initiated the Apollo programme. It was apparently more important to fund the disaster that was the Vietnam War than to continue an actual Human advance!

This post was actually started in about August 2016 and I’m sure you’re wondering where I am going with it.

Well, so am I!

When I picked it up recently (1st February 2017) in my “unfinished” folder I could not, for the life of me, remember what had inspired it. Then I found, in one of my notebooks a couple of apparently random sentences which bought back my chain of thought.

This enabled me to resume the narrative 5 paragraphs ago where I turned it towards space travel and the old Apollo flights. I was heading specifically towards what I saw as the pivotal mission, the one that went wrong, Apollo 13 and its effect on the public will to advance interplanetary travel.

It has long been known that following the relatively routine and uneventful landings and safe returns of Apollos 11 and 12 the American public were becoming bored with space. It took the explosion in the oxygen tank of “Odyssey”, the Apollo 13 Command/Service module and the following life or death struggle to get home to reawaken interest in a further 4 missions.

I wonder how things would have gone if mission Commander Jim Lovell and his crew had not made it back. There are basically two possibilities: firstly that the US manned space programme would have shut down completely with no further moon landings and no ventures outward of any sort for many years. The second alternative (and the one I think is less likely) is that the Americans, inspired by the sacrifice of that crew would have seen the great glory to be had and run with space exploration to the point where we would already now have permanent colonies on the Moon and Mars.

Alas we can never know.

Permit me now to explain the convoluted thought process that brought me here.

Last summer my wife arranged for us to meet up with an old friend of ours in our former home village of Histon, near Cambridge. She was to drive over in the morning and do some shopping with our friend while I, still experimenting with my over 60s bus pass, agreed to join them via that mode of transport after my volunteer session at Peterborough Library finished.

The specific bus that I had to get runs by road from Peterborough to St. Ives then moves onto a special track that was once a railway line for the rest of the trip to Cambridge. There are a number of routes through and around Cambridge indicated by letters of the alphabet but only the “B” route goes to and from Peterborough. The whole thing from St. Ives to Cambridge is known locally as the “guided bus”.

Do you see yet how I got from that trip to the article above?

Well, the note that I found in my little book as mentioned above read as follows:

“Guided Bus -> guided missile.

St. Ives to Cambridge Bus ‘B’ -> Main Bus B.”

Perhaps it will clarify it still further if I remind you that “Main Bus B” was the name of the major electrical conduit in Apollo 13 that blew out when the oxygen tank exploded in the service module and lost them most of their power.

And that’s all it took to set me off.

So, having shared that meaningful insight into my thought processes, do you feel that you understand me and my mental workings a little better?

No. Neither do I.

Alfie

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2017 in Informative

 

Something is happening!

Usually my blog posts get seen by my friend Mike Thomas over in Herefordshire, by my daughter Hannah and my old school-friend and Thailand resident Mike Vincent – the two last named do, I believe, actually subscribe to this site and receive an email whenever anything new is published.

New postings also pop up on my own (i.e. the owner of the real hand that operates Little Alfie like some creepy glove puppet) Facebook page and I can tell from my admin page how many people have looked at the site, what pages they looked at and where in the world they were looking from.

What it doesn’t tell me is WHO they are  – so your guilty blog-reading secrets are perfectly safe!

And for some reason the readership stats have suddenly shot up! At some point around the end of last week they jumped from an average of 2 or 3 “hits” per day to somewhere around 25!

These (presumably) new readers are all in the UK and it is interesting to note that the pages they have visited are all ones that I have classified as “Schooldays” (if you cannot face reading ALL of the almost 300 posts here you can narrow it down by choosing one of the Categories listed at the bottom of the right hand side menu) suggesting that he or they are people I have known from Copleston Secondary Modern School for Boys or (even earlier) Luther Road or Britannia Road Junior Schools in Ipswich.

If you are an old Coplestonian and want to read the collected works of Mike Vincent as well you can find them in the “blogroll” or favourites menu down the right side of this page. His are the ones named “Cornelius”, “Damien” and “Morpheus”. If you don’t mind, please finish mine before you start on his!

Thus far the new reader(s) have remained too shy to add any comments or otherwise identify themselves so it’s all very mysterious.

So may I just say “Hello” and “Welcome” whoever you are, and I hope you enjoy what you are reading.

If you don’t want to tell the world (or the strictly limited Little Alfie readership anyway) who you are and what you think of it please feel free to email direct to littlealfie@hotmail.com which is set to forward all messages to one of my “proper” email accounts.

I will enjoy hearing from you.

Alfie

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2017 in Schooldays