Thursday, June 26, 2008

Let's watch a film together.

A workmate passed me a DVD the other week, it was a film that Matthew thought I would be interested in watching. The film is called The Kite Runner and is based on a book of the same title by Khaled Hosseini . By coincidence Gail had bought me that book as a Fathers' Day present. I had to decide whether to watch the film or to read the book first. I thought I would read the book first to get the full story and then watch the film. Reading through the book I told Gail what an excellent read the book was and that she should enjoy watching the film.

Last night we inserted the DVD into our player and cuddled up on the sofa to watch Matthew's copy of The Kite Runner . The first surprise was that actors in many parts of this film were speaking in Dari and we had to read the subtitles below the picture. This annoys Gail because she likes to multi-task and having to read subtitles stops her from doing this. Then the movie comes to the part in the book when Hassan catches the blue kite but is challenged by Assef who informs him that he can keep the kite but a price has to be paid. All of a sudden there is a scream from Gail and she smacks me on my left elbow. She swears at me loudly and tells me this film is terrible. I assure her that this film is good, it is gritty and that life can be cruel. She asks me if there are any more graphic moments to shock her. I think very quickly and assure her that there will probably be another 2 incidents that she may find upsetting but I can tell her when to look away from the screen. With this reassurance she agrees to continue watching the film. This film is classified in the UK as a 12A but it shocked this 56 year old grandmother sat next to me.

We get to the scene where an incident takes place at the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul and I ask Gail to look away now. She looks away and my left elbow is saved another slap. All I have to warn her about is the incident in a hotel room in Islamabad . The film does not tell the story of the time Amir spends at this hotel in Islamabad. I hope that Matthew reads my copy of the book because those chapters are an important part of the whole story. Had Gail watched a filmed adaptation of those chapters, I would probably have had another slap to my left elbow followed by a stream of bad language as she hobbled up the stairs to bed.

I enjoyed watching this film and so did Gail after her initial outburst. The director Marc Forster had a very difficult job condensing this film into 122 minutes. I loved the start of the film where Khaled Hosseini talks to camera about his book and the work of NGO's in Afghanistan. I cannot fault this film, as a film. It is a moving film but because of the subtitles you will think that you may as well have read the book.

If you had a choice to read the book OR watch the film, then my vote would be to read the book, without a doubt. You get so much more from reading the book compared to watching this film. The social commentary, history and background incidents to the story are all covered in the book. You miss out on nothing by reading the book but gain so much more. To read the book means that you understand the whole picture and get to know a lot about human nature and the modern history of Afghanistan.

If you have watched this film then I urge you to buy and read the book. It is a wonderful story to read and your emotions will rage as you turn the pages. I do hope that Matthew takes the time to read the book now that he has seen the outline depicted.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini .

This book, which was published in paperback in 2004, was a joy to read. This is the second book by Khaled Hosseini that I have read. I read his second novel called A Thousand Splendid Suns when I was on holiday in Tunisia last December. When I started reading The Kite Runner it was like putting on an old pair of slippers. I slipped into this story like talking to an old friend on the telephone. Khaled writes with such warmth and the quality of his writing is first class.

The Kite Runner is a very powerful story in two different ways. You can read this book from cover to cover with the same attitude of watching a movie. In fact a film has been made of this book. Equally you can work through all the moral dilemmas explored in this book. This novel is set in Afghanistan, Pakistan and America but the issues raised are global. You have all the character and colour of life in Afghanistan and this novel perfectly reflects the troubled history of modern Afghanistan.

The whole book is written from the viewpoint of Amir, from when he was 12 years old up to his mid 40's. It explores his relationships with his best friend Hassan and his father. His mother died during his child birth and ironically he and Hassan had the same nursing mother.

I will not spoil the book for people who have not read it or have not seen the film. At the end of this book I felt as though I had been beaten with a stick. Khaled writes with such passion and the emotions he invokes in the reader made me cry in places. He really knows what makes people tick and explores love, loyalty, class, pride, redemption and the keeping of secrets. The pace of this book is natural and you do not know where it is leading. You feel as though you are in Amir's shoes as he grows up and learns by his mistakes, whilst he begins to understand how life in Afghanistan actually works. You also learn a lot about life in Afghanistan, the hopes of Afghanis and the life of Afghan emigrants in their new neighbourhoods, wherever they may be.

All in all, a brilliant read for just £7.99

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Summer Solstice and Midsummer .

It's that time of year again when we get the maximum daylight before the days start getting shorter. The whole cycle of life continues with it's regular peaks and troughs. It is at this time of year that I become reflective and sum thinks up. The book that I am reading at the moment is called The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini which raises in the reader many issues about life. This post is not to discuss this excellent book which I will review when I finish reading it. This book however has lead me to question many things which I aim to outline in this post.

Life rolls on like the earth continues it's orbit. The cycle of life is quite regular as the seasons pass. People come and people go all the time. People leave and come into the workplace all the time. People are given names at work but really they are just a number, another wage number. A month after that employee has gone and things are just the same. That ex-employee has been forgotten and we then realize that every one at work is just a wage number.

Life ends for most people in their 70's but there are many that die younger. Take out of these numbers the people who die in wars and road traffic accidents and you have a considerable number who do not reach 50. An old friend of mine in Bristol passed away recently - he was the same age as me, 49. He did not know that his death was coming just around the corner, like a bolt out of the blue. Gail's cousin who was in his 40's has just died, a big surprise to everyone.

How long will I live? Will I suddenly have a bolt out of the blue? I feel very well and in perfect health but so did Paul and Grayson. Then the thoughts generated by this book spring into my mind. What will I leave behind on this earth? The memory of me in this blog will remain in cyberspace for anybody to read. People who have never met me when I was alive, so that they can put opinions behind yet another number who walked this earth. Is this all I am, just another number who walked this earth? Will I be forgotten just like another ex-employee?

I look around and I understand what I have during this life. I now understand about life, friends and family. I understand about love and hope, the past and a future that may be long or short. I know what we have as individuals and as a society. I know the power of numbers and how we are both small and big in other peoples' lives. I do not fear the death that will come to us all, for we are just a number walking this earth.

As another season and cycle of life starts I know my place as a very small, forgettable number on this earth. Sweet dreams everyone!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Strike hits Shell petrol supplies.

Petrol supplies to Shell garages were hit today as hundreds of drivers launched a four-day strike in a long-running row over pay which union leaders warned will lead to shortages over the weekend. Industry officials said there were no reports of panic-buying by drivers, one maintaining: "We are genuinely not seeing increased demand."

Unite joint leader Tony Woodley joined strikers on the picket line at Stanlow and said "Despite what management is saying, our members are on a basic wage of £31,800 and if they had remained working for Shell that would now be £46,000. What we are asking for is a basic wage of £36,000. A 7 per cent pay offer looked very fair but we are talking about a very low base so it is just not acceptable".

Hoyer and Suckling Transport said they had put two offers to the union today - an increase for this year of 7.3 per cent backdated to 1 January 2008, which would take average earnings to over £39,000, with a further 6% increase from January 1 2009, which would take earnings to around £41,500.

...Are these spokesmen on the same planet as me? I do not think so as I think that the current high price of fuel has reduced demand at filling stations throughout our country, this is not motorists heeding governmental advice not to panic buy. I feel that the volume of cars on our motorways has also decreased with the recent rises in the price of fuel.

I have no sympathy with the striking tanker drivers who are already on incredibly good money. A basic wage of £31,800 is brilliant and for Tony Woodley to claim that
"we are talking about a very low base" is stupid and an insult to people on normal wages. Everybody else in our country would be over the moon with a 7 per cent pay rise but not these overpaid tanker drivers who think the sky is the limit. I think the bosses should call their bluff and sack the lot of them for breach of contract. Then the penny will drop with these greedy tanker drivers, who have voted for the strike action and they will then learn that they are employees just like everyone else. We all have a price on our heads, a market price - not a fantasy market price. There are plenty of people ready to take their places on their existing money, never mind another 7 per cent on top.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

the collectors by David Baldacci .

I have just finished reading the collectors by David Baldacci. This book was published in paperback in 2007. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this thriller. David Baldacci is a prolific author - a master of writing thrillers and on the strength of the collectors I would be very happy to buy his other books.

This book is full of detail, the pace is fast and everything fits together. If you enjoy the TV series Spooks , then you should like this book. A con artist called Annabelle pulls 2 short cons and 1 long con whilst far away some murders are taking place. This novel is set in America and is a story of gambling, politics and espionage. David Baldacci cleverly links these 2 story lines together into 1 huge jigsaw of a story. The reader discovers each piece of this jigsaw and everything is explained.

The structure of this book is classic. A tremendous amount of work has gone into this novel so that everything fits in tight and this book reads like clockwork. It is very involved but everything adds up. There are no loose ends or gaps.

At the end of the book you think "WOW! - that is how somethings can be done". You then wonder how much of this goes on in real life. I cannot fault this book at all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Update: Credit card fraud soars despite 'chip and pin'.

Further to my post dated Saturday 15th March 2008 on this blog, we were not the only people to be robbed by "card not present" fraud. Hackers have gained access to the details of thousands of credit cards used to buy clothing from the Cotton Traders website. All card-holders were, or should have been, contacted by their bank and issued with new cards following the attack in January. Cotton Traders said a claim by the BBC website that the hacking involved 38,000 cards was "wildly inaccurate" but declined to state its own figure. In a statement, the company added: "In January 2008, we identified a security issue. We immediately brought in industry security experts to resolve the problem."

...Well, well - this story has taken a long time to break in the press. Considering that the attack on our account happened on the 7th March 2008 and Cotton Traders are talking about a January 2008 security breach then I think that the BBC website estimate of 38,000 cards is right and that they never really resolved the security issues. This really annoys me and I feel there are a lot people who may not have checked their bank statements and the criminals have got away with their money. When this happens Cotton Traders would not have lost any money or product.

With the benefit of experience I will not be buying anything from Cotton Traders again, either online or in one of their shops. Cotton Traders have kept this story away from the press and when companies do this it really gets up my nose.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Life's a beach - but in Birmingham?

Oh what hot weather we are having here in the UK at the moment. The temperatures are soaring and you have to be careful where you sit. Some buildings are very hot inside and you should escape them and find a place outside to sit in the shade.

On Sunday I walked into a rest room in Oxford Street, Birmingham at a facility than can only be described as Guantanamo Bay Lite . The heat in this room was so high, it was unbearable so I walked straight back out and leaned against a wall outside in the compound.

I was determined to find a better place for my rest break in Birmingham yesterday. I walked up to the Bull Ring, Shopping Centre which is a short walk away from the compound. On entering the Shopping Area you are confronted by a very welcome large sign that states "No Smoking beyond this point". I knew that this was a suitable area to spend my rest break but where could I sit? Birmingham is a very long way from the sea, in any direction - it is in the centre of England, the capital of the Midlands - hence the name. What did I find? I found a beach, an artificial beach in the middle of Birmingham. There were free deck chairs to sit on and a stage offering shade from the fierce sun. Marvelous, I sat down and enjoyed reading my current book whilst drinking water and eating my tea cakes. What a wonderful refreshing break I had at this lovely man made beach. Thank you Birmingham, what a lovely resource you have created for people passing through. This is far better than spending your rest break in a detention camp further down the road. What a lovely spot the Bull Ring Beach is, for shoppers, workers and people traveling through. Next time I am in Birmingham again I shall be going to the beach, my carrier back and lunch at the ready.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Spot the worker.

I am off to work this afternoon and last week I was given a new item of uniform that I must wear. I have not bought clothes for work since 1978, my employers have always provided my work clothes. Never before in my working life have I been given one of these, a Hi-Vis Waistcoat made to EN471 Specification: Class 2 out of 100% Polyester in a bright yellow/green colour. It has Black Polyester Bound Edges, 2 Band & 2 Brace, 2 Reflective Strips stitched on around body & 1 over each shoulder with a Velcro Fastening down the middle. My company name and logo is stenciled on the back of this bright garment.

Well, now I stand out in the crowd and wearing this garment last week I was aware just how ubiquitous these Hi-Vis Waistcoats have become throughout the British workplace. Everywhere I look there are workers dressed in these yellow/green Hi-Vis Waistcoats. No matter what the person's job is they are wearing a Hi-Vis Waistcoat. A man stands up from a chair and he must put on a Hi-Vis Waistcoat before he can walk away. Foreign visitors may think that these Hi-Vis Waistcoats are a national dress because they are so common among the workforce.

What I am aware of, which has nothing to do with Elf and Safety, is that customers can identify workers very quickly at a glance. These Hi-Vis Waistcoats really stand out in a way that uniforms can not. The employee does not portray a corporate company image which is rather subtle but these Hi-Vis Waistcoats SHOUT OUT the message "I WORK HERE".

Should these Hi-Vis Waistcoats be worn all the time is open to debate. There is no need to wear them all the time, only when there is an increased risk of injury to the employee. Some workers wear them all the time so that they do not have to remember to put them on in vulnerable locations. I see a lot of bus, coach and lorry drivers coming towards me with the driver wearing the Hi-Vis Waistcoat in the cab. This practice of wearing the Hi-Vis Waistcoat whilst driving is a similar clan style statement to bikers riding motorcycles wearing a cut-off denim jacket over their protective coat.

This uniform item is cheap, just £4.50 buys you a Hi-Vis Waistcoat in yellow/green or a bright railway orange. These make the workers stand out from the crowd and I worry that employers in the future may withdraw the company uniform in favour of just supplying a Hi-Vis Waistcoat and nothing else. Then I would have to buy my own work clothes, out of my own pocket, which is something I have not done since 1978.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Revealed: Secret plan to keep Iraq under US control.

Bush wants 50 military bases, control of Iraqi airspace and legal immunity for all American soldiers and contractors. A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November. The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

...Well, well, America has conquered Iraq. America now wants to make Iraq it's 51st State of America and put the people of Iraq into slavery. America wants it's new conquered country to be a 2 class society, with one law for the crusaders and another law for the native Iraqi's. All of this to be achieved by the agreement of the American puppet government in Iraq before America decides whether to elect another right wing warmongerer or a black man. How foolish George Bush continues to be in his war on terror. He will never live and let live but continues to inflame relations throughout the Middle East. Bush is making no new friends with his plans to control Iraq indefinitely. Bush will not learn from history like the Russians had to with Afghanistan.

The Iraqi people will not take this lying down and a lot of blood will flow before the Iraqi people send the American crusaders home. Whether the Americans go home with their tails between their legs or in body bags is their choice depending on how long they overstay the welcome that was never given to them.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Drink ban party sparks Tube closures and arrests.

Police arrested 17 people and closed six London Underground stations following chaotic scenes after thousands spent the night partying to mark the last day of drinking on the Tube, British Transport Police said today. Eyewitnesses said there were nightmarish scenes on trains and in stations as thousands of drunken partygoers began fighting and vomiting as the night drew to a conclusion. From today an alcohol ban came into effect on the Tube, London buses, Docklands Light Railway and tram services across the capital banning people drinking from - and carrying - open containers of alcohol. The measure was announced earlier this month by new London mayor Boris Johnson.

...What a disgrace this has been, there is a time and a place for most things. I thought that the drinking of alcohol on public transport throughout the London area would have already been prohibited. The ban that the new London mayor Boris Johnson has introduced should have been in force long ago. Public transport and alcohol do not mix and the people who abuse alcohol on public transport are at the lowest end of the market. Closing six underground stations because of the problems caused, shows how unacceptable a liberal attitude to alcohol consumption on public transport can be. Thank goodness a leading nationwide coach operator does not allow alcohol consumption on it's services although policing of this is as inadequate as the legal compliance with compulsory seat belt wearing by passengers.

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