Monday, 3 November 2014

Moved the blog...

I've done bugger-all on this blog for nearly 2 years. Various reasons for that, but mainly because I ran out of stuff to say.

I might start writing stuff again. But, I'll be doing it on my personal website, because I've worked out how to install WordPress.

So, any further updates will be over on my own site;


Tuesday, 8 January 2013


There’s been a lot of twittering about the welfare state this week. In the week that child benefit ceased to be a universal benefit, and the week that the Government are voting to cap benefit rises at 1%, it’s a major topic of discussion.

First, let me make it clear. I believe in the welfare state. If I lose my job, I agree completely that the Government should throw me a safety net whilst I find a new job. Certainly, in the past there are many examples of the Government not doing this enough. The Miners are a prime example. Thousands of people unemployed, with no hope of a similar paid job. Areas of the country left to rot. A national scandal.

But. When I hear on the radio, a woman complaining she is losing her child benefit (it’s her child’s actually, but never mind), and then going on to explain that it affects her because she is putting away to pay for education, I get angry. Child Benefit, surely, is to ensure your kids have clothes, shoes on their feet, food at lunch. It’s not to give your kids an unfair advantage over poorer families when they leave school. If you are putting it aside, then… and I’ll spell this out… “YOU DON’T NEED IT.” If you haven’t got £20.30 a week spare when you earn £60,000 a year, then you are spending TOO MUCH.

In fact, the majority of complainants seem to be people on 4 times my salary complaining their kids will lose out. Er, no they won’t. You earn over £60,000 a year. When you are on holiday this year, tell me you don’t earn enough whilst I’m sat at home counting pennies. It’s a middle class non-problem.

That’s not a complaint about my salary, by the way. I earn a reasonable sum, not as much as I would like, but combined with my wife’s salary we’re ok – still way off £60k a year mind. We are entitled to absolutely zero benefits. Nothing. And I’m not really complaining.  EVERY penny I’ve ever had is mine, I’ve earned it through graft. I never felt it was my right.

I repeat that statement. “I never felt it was my right”. I’ve worked in many jobs over the years, and not always in desirable areas. I’ve met many people for whom state assistance is a way of life. Two, three generations of families who are all so used to the welfare system that they plan it into their lives. This creates two problems. Firstly, it creates a class of people entirely dependent on state support. Secondly, it means that the employers of people who do work, but are subsidised by state support, don’t have to give their employees a decent pay rise. Why bother with a 4% rise, if the Government will fill the gap with tax rebates?

It’s barmy. It’s crazy. It encourages state interference, and means we have to spend more to administer the system. It also keeps people trapped in low-end jobs. I’ve seen so many people working 16-hour weeks, because any more hours and they’d lose tax credits, so they never progress, never get on, continue to be reliant on the state.

That’s why I agree with welfare reform. That’s why I agree with scrapping universal benefits – pension excluded – and means testing them. Some say that people on higher wages get bitter about this, but seeing as high-end tax payers just had a reduction I don’t see the problem! It does, however, create a subculture. That means all benefit claimants get treat as scroungers. That’s just not the case. (there’s very little in this article I disagree with)

However, I think, what we actually need, is a proper discussion and debate about what we want the Welfare state to do. It cannot continue as it is. It costs too much. The problem is, there’ll never be a proper debate. Labour say pay out more. The Tories want rid of it. The Liberals sit between the two. The Press go for headlines that are designed to wind up the public. People with jobs complain they don’t get anything back. The low paid and jobless complain they don’t get enough. Everyone has a viewpoint, and so we just end up with a blazing row and nothing ever gets done. We need to decide what we want the Welfare state to do, and stick to it!

So, Welfare reform is required. It won’t happen. It’ll continue to keep people locked in low pay. It’ll continue not to be fit for purpose. It’ll continue to label claimants as scroungers, and it’ll continue to cost the entire country a fortune without solving the real issues of low pay and poor conditions by employers .

Friday, 5 October 2012

Jimmy bloody Savile


I was in Leeds on the day of Sir James Savile’s funeral. I was at a union meeting. I nipped out during the lunch break, and applauded his gold coffin as it left the Queen’s hotel, along with many others, all filmed by ‘Look North’. I finished my meeting, and wandered over to Leeds cathedral, and watched on the big screens as many people gave heartfelt speeches, about what a generous, caring chap he was.

And I believed them. This was Jimmy Savile. The guy who arranged treats for kids on Saturday nights. The guy who was on the radio. The guy from Top of the Pops. He raised millions for Stoke Mandeville hospital. Yes, he was a bit  mental, but in a likable way. A good egg.

And now, in the last few days, it appears he was actually a perverted old sod, fond of young girls.  If this is true – and it’s yet to be proven – then I feel like a mug. I’m disgusted, but at the same time I feel foolish. I was taken in.

Funnily enough, my first reaction was one of digust that people would turn against such a generous old chap. How dare they sleight a dead man. I suspect my reaction was wrong.

If he is a genuine ‘kiddy fiddler’, then I would quite happily take a JCB through his grave, to dig up the dirty old sod and stick his 45-degree seaview up his arse. He wants a seaview, he can have one from the bottom of the North Sea.

I’m disgusted. I feel let down. I feel taken in. I suspect others feel the same. I suspect this is not the last time it will happen in my life.

Monday, 3 September 2012


I can’t believe I’ve never actually written about Yodel before. But I note, mainly via Twitter, that this rotten delivery company is still causing misery to it’s customers up and down the country, so here I am, putting my experiences in writing, so you all know what to expect when you order from a company that uses Yodel as a courier.

I should, first of all, lay out my expectations of a delivery company. First, they should deliver the parcel Bit obvious, but the clue is in the name, DELIVERY company. If I am not in, they can either leave it with a neighbour, leave it in a secure place – there is a coal bunker at the rear of my house that I am happy fits the bill, as I live in a rural location – or leave a card, with instructions of how I can claim my parcel. This is what every other delivery company does. UPS, Citylink, Parcelforce, DPD, whatever. No problems with any of these companies. Well, asides from an issue with DPD, but it was resolved relatively quickly and easily, and again, if you do this I am not unhappy. I’m not a difficult person to please. I want the basics, done well. Anything extra is a bonus. All four of the following examples failed to make this basic level.

I can start off with an experience that can only be described as a bit slack first, to whet your appetite. I ordered a book from Amazon. You need to know, by the way, that I generally use the back door for entering and leaving my house, never the front. It’s how my house is laid out, it’s easier that way. Anyway, I had a knock on the door one evening. It was my neighbour, asking if I knew about the parcel laying up against the front door. No, I didn’t. No card. Luckily, as I have already mentioned, we live in a rural spot and no-one had bothered pinching it. Yodelfail = not a secure area.

It gets better.

My very first experience with Yodel was last December. I ordered a mobile phone. I had a choice of courier, wasn’t really bothered so went with the default option. DHL. Or, Yodel, as this particular branch of DHL was now part of the countries crappest delivery service. How was I to know? Anyway, I’m sure you can guess that the phone didn’t arrive when expected. The online tracking, however, seemed to indicate that it had been signed for. Had someone at Yodel stolen my phone?

Well no, actually. I rang Yodel, who were useless (although I appear to have been lucky to get through to them) so rang the mobile phone company, who investigated and discovered that Yodel had delivered the phone straight back to the return address. Brilliant. I’ve got a new contract (which had been set up – I had the details from Orange) and no phone. Mobiles4U had to cancel the old contract, and order me a new phone. Which I asked to be delivered by Royal Mail. It arrived the next day. Easy. Unless you are Yodel.

I once made the mistake of ordering an incinerator bin on eBay, without checking the vendors choice of courier. I got home from work one day, and found a message on my answer phone. “Hi, this is <yodel driver>, I’ve only got one parcel so wanting to check if it’s OK to leave it at the petrol station. thanks.” This was followed by another message. “Hi, this is <yodel driver>, I’ve left your parcel at the petrol station.” The petrol station in question is 8 miles away. I pass it on the way home from work. Indeed he had left it there, as I discovered when I went to collect it the next day. I’ve since discovered that Yodel drivers get about a quid for every parcel, so if they’ve only one it’s hardly worth driving the 16 mile round trip. Which would explain the shite service, and exonerates the driver somewhat. Yodel clearly have a flawed business model.

My wife is not immune from these jokers. She ordered some books from Amazon. She was off work, unusually, so paid extra for next day delivery to ensure she’d be in for the delivery. By the end of the day, the books were still in Yodel’s depot. They clearly couldn’t be bothered to deliver that day, obviously it was a bit out of their way, and they don’t understand the concept of next-day delivery. I reckon that means ‘deliver the day after it was ordered’, in case anyone from Yodel is wondering. So she rang Amazon, cancelled the order, and now refuses to buy anything else from them, other than Kindle downloads. They have offered a different courier, but it’s too late. Yodel have guaranteed that Amazon have lost a customer – and we used to buy a lot of stuff from Amazon.

And that, my dear reader, is the way to deal with No-del. Don’t use them. Admittedly, that’s tricky. It means you have to first check with your online company who their courier is. If it’s Yodel, go elsewhere. The more people do this, the more Yodel will lose contracts. It’s the only way. It’ll either bankrupt them, or force them to change their business model. Again, from memory, my wife went to an Argos shop to buy her Kindle, and my Wii-Fit came from Game, who were the only people I could find who didn’t use Yodel. That’s £250 of business straight away, that has been chosen based on courier.  Yodel lost someone business, and other firms gained it by using someone decent. I got my items, and frankly can’t guarantee this with Yodel.

If you complain about them on Twitter, they will monitor your tweet and the customer help-person will get in touch to try and sort out your problem. I gather these people are quite good. Certainly better than their useless call centres. However, it shouldn’t come to this.

I recommend you watch this Watchdog episode. It also contains a response from the company. But they’re still unreliable. And I also recommend you do a search on twitter with #YODEL. You’ll find stories of no delivery, damaged parcels, items thrown over fences, cards left indicating no-one at home when they clearly were, item left in porches that don’t exist. The list is endless.

You know what to do. Say no to Yodel!

Monday, 9 July 2012

What’s to be done about retail banking?

Or to put it another way. What do you want from your bank?

Ed Miliband thinks he knows. He’s come up with a plan to restructure the banking industry. It’s a useful discussion point. Key to his plans are splitting up the banks, forcing the biggest five to sell off up to 1000 branches, to create a further two banks.

I don’t know whether I agree with him or not. Personally, I reckon making two new banks would just create another two problems for the future. He is absolutely correct, however, to suggest that the culture of banking needs to change, and from top to bottom. Investment banking got us into trouble, but retail banking is not currently experiencing it’s finest hour.

To go back to the original question. When I ask people what they want from their bank, I get various responses. More and more people are online banking, certainly people I know. They want a web presence, and a branch if they have a problem, or to pay in a cheque. Other people prefer face-to-face contact. However, they all say the same thing. They want their bank to look after their money.

The conflict arises when you ask people how they want the banks to do this. I’ve come to the conclusion that people want the following.

- Free banking

- Highest interest rates

- Lowest charges

- No-one trying to flog stuff to them.

The last one in particular is an odd one. When it come to money, people think, believe, that they know best. It’s their money and no-one is going to tell them what to do with it.

Well, sorry folks, but therein lies the problem. Banks are owned by shareholders. Shareholders need to make money, short-term. So banks need to make money. Additionally, branch networks and complex IT systems don’t pay to run themselves. Someone has to pay for them. This costs money. Therefore, the current business model for banking means that to pay for free banking, you will get charged when you mess up and you will be approached with new products. Think of it another way. You don’t contribute significantly to ITV, your licence fee pays for BBC, so ITV advertise and try and flog you stuff to pay for their programmes. People get this. When the bank tries to do it, people moan.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the free banking model. It ensures that the wealthiest will never pay for their account, which will be subsidised by the people who are struggling financially and pay loads of charges, the charges ensuring they will never get out out their predicament. It traps the poor into staying poor, and benefits people with money.They might argue that’s fair, and they shouldn’t have to subsidise people incapable of running their own financial affairs. I disagree strongly.

So, Ed, here’s my plan for the banks.

- The big 5 should, indeed, sell off branches. But, the new banks should, actually, be demutualised building societies. No shareholders. The destruction of the building society sector has been to the detriment of the industry as a whole. Building societies belong to the people who invest in them, not shareholders, so they are more accountable. This also means they can look longer term instead of having to provide short-term profits to keep shareholders happy.

- Free banking has to end. I’ve argued this with so many people, but the UK is unusual in having a perceived free banking sector. Banks raise revenue in other ways, not always transparent. I point to PPI mis-selling as an example of how trying to raise funds in a non-transparent way leads to problems. Charge for bank accounts, make money transparently, charge different amounts for services used, i.e.. an online only account will be cheaper than one with branch access. Different banks would, hopefully, have to offer diversity, this should mean people have an excuse to move around and finally, the banks would have to put customers first, not profits.

- Banks have to return to the old days, and become a service industry again, not a sales industry. Bonus-led sales of financial products is simply not sensible. It leads to mis-selling. It leads to dodgy practises. It leads to poor service. For example, if your bank makes money from insurance, and nothing from children's savings accounts, what do you reckon they’ll try and fill the diary with first?

I actually believe these three points would make a massive difference to the industry. The key is service and long-term, not quick bucks and short term profits. Banks must make money, all businesses must make money, but if that profit is sustainable and not bonus-led money grabbing, the industry as a whole will start back on the road to respectability. As it was in the old days. It’s what everyone wants, customers and staff alike.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Stupid cars

The Micra is knackered.

Driving home last week, I pressed the brake pedal and a fairly unpleasant and expensive-sounding grating noise came out of the front of the car. That usually means the brake pads have worn out. Frankly, the brakes have been fading badly for a week or two, so it wasn’t much of a surprise, really.

Now, the Nissan is 14 years old, so I begrudge spending much cash on it. So I went onto eBay, and ordered replacement pads and discs for £30. Reasonable. The discs are scored, mainly due to worn out brake pads scraping against them. Replace the lot. Easy-peasy.

As if.

The bits arrived Saturday, and on Sunday I jacked up the car and made a start. Driver-side first. Without getting into mechanics, the brake comes in two bits, you remove the first bit to replace the pads, but the second bit is fastened to the strut. This is done by two bolts. These bolts seize up, and are a pig to remove. In this case, the 14-year old bolts gave up on life and broke, leaving the brake attached and no means of removing the bolt. In addition, part of the calliper has seized and so the brake calliper needs replacing.

Never mind. I’ll try the other wheel, I thought, and at least I only have to pay the mechanic to rectify one side. No such luck. Although the bolts came off so I could remove the calliper, this is also seized and needs replacing. Fantastic.

Anyway, I’m now awaiting delivery of two new brake callipers, 4 bolts, left handed drill bit to drill out sheared bolts, and a couple of other bits. Price is now up to about 90 quid, and that assumes I can remove the said bolts. Lovely. Probably be about 4 hours labour – minimum – in a garage, and I don’t want to think of the cost of that!

The car, since it’s MOT last September, has cost me about 800 quid in repairs, including replacement gearbox and clutch, welding, front struts, and various other bits. By the end of the week, it’ll have had a complete front brake overhaul.

I suspect it’s days are numbered. Shame, because I actually like it.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Olympic Torch relay.

The Olympic Flame is in our country. We are all meant to cheer.

Some people lit a flame in Greece, flew the flame over to Britain, and it’s going to spend the next 70-odd days wandering around the country. Lots of worthy people, who were nominated for doing good things, or winning competitions, or however, get the chance to carry a glorified fag-lighter a mile down the road, before using it to light another one. They get to keep the torch, for about 300 quid, after which time it appears most of them want to flog it on e-bay (one is currently hitting nearly £70,000 at the time of writing). For charity, granted. So far.

Now. I’m not easily impressed by things. I never have been. If, for example, you have a firework display, it’s unlikely to impress me unless it resembles the New Year’s Eve celebrations at Sydney Harbour Bridge. So some random people carrying a torch around the country, in an attempt to make the London Olympics a national event, won’t move me. At all. In the slightest.

Incidentally, Nazi Germany came up with the torch relay in 1936. Which, I reckon, sums it up.

Go ahead, call me a miserable sod. Fact is, the Olympics will be great. But it might as well be in Sydney for all I care. Getting tickets was a farce, it’s sponsored by big businesses whilst small local firms don’t get a look in, and the best views are on the telly. Which is where I’ll be watching it. Hence, it could be anywhere in the world.

Oddly enough, I’ll be off to France on the day of the opening ceremony. Which, I believe, is where the damn thing was supposed to be!