Friday, February 25, 2011

Referendum vote on Thursday 3rd March 2011

Next Thursday there will be a Referendum on the law-making powers of the National Assembly for Wales. The National Assembly for Wales, which is an elected body that represents the people of Wales, takes decisions and makes laws that affect you.

The Assembly has powers to make laws in 20 subject areas:

Agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development
Ancient monuments and historic buildings
Economic development
Education and training
Fire and rescue services and promotion of fire safety
Health and health services
Highways and transport
Local government
National Assembly for Wales
Public administration
Social welfare
Sport and recreation
Town and country planning
Water and flood defence
Welsh language
In each subject area, the Assembly can make laws on some matters, but not others. To make laws on any of these other matters, the Assembly must ask the UK Parliament for its agreement. The UK Parliament then decides each time whether or not the Assembly can make these laws.

What will the referendum ask?
The referendum will ask you whether the Assembly should now be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas listed above.

...So, which way is Stephen voting and why?

I have already voted in the Referendum by a postal vote. I have a postal vote so that I do not miss out because of my job driving a coach under contract to the nationwide company. I have voted "NO".

The decision was easy for me to make. Living in Cardiff I am part of the United Kingdom, a great country of many regions. We have elected a national government to represent the whole of the United Kingdom, that includes me and everyone in the whole of Wales. The place for real government with law making powers, should be just in one location, that is Westminster, where our elected representatives do their business. We should be a United Kingdom, not split into different regions where further elected groups can ignore national government and make up their own laws.

To give further law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales, would be to start a journey on the road to anarchy. This local law making vision could then spread to other regions of the United Kingdom and then the regions would become in competition with each other to attract certain businesses or residents. Then the laws of the United Kingdom would be in total disarray with huge possible regional variations. This would not be fair on the electorate of the whole United Kingdom.

Giving further law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales would further increase the operational costs of the Welsh Assembly. It costs an enormous amount of money to form and run a government. We have paid for it once by forming a democratically elected government in Westminster, to make our laws in all areas. I do not want to pay for a government a second time, to make laws that would only apply to Wales. To give further law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales would only increase the cost of government, with no benefit to the people who are paying for it.

There is only one place for government to make laws, that is Westminster, not down in fashionable Cardiff Bay. Think about it before you vote, because you have already paid for one government, surely you do not want to pay again so that Taffy can make some local laws of his own. Vote "NO" for the cheaper option and keep Wales as a valuable and respected region of the United Kingdom.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fear the Worst by Linwood Barclay .

This book was written for Neetha and in the Acknowledgements, Linwood writes...

Finally, none of this would mean anything without Neetha, Spencer and Paige, who deserves a special thanks. Eating the eggs I'd made her one morning, she said, 'Suppose you came to pick me up at my job, and found out I'd never worked there?'

...Fear the Worst has 471 pages and was written in 2009 but published in Great Britain in 2010. Tim Blake's teenage daughter Sydney is staying with him while she works a summer job at a hotel. But when one day she fails to arrive home from her shift and the staff at the hotel say they have no Sydney Blake working there, Tim Blake - a car salesman - begins to wonder what is going on.

Fear the Worst is written in the first person and it is a crime thriller in the top league. Tim's situation is very easy to relate to and this story has a good pace with a very good attention to detail. It is an engaging story and you develop a great empathy for Tim Blake in his quest to find his missing daughter. Tim has very little information to go on, where is Sydney and why has she lied to him? Why did she not leave a note or phone home?

There are plenty of twists and doubts for the reader to enjoy. You are kept in suspense as to how this story will unfold. This book is an entertaining read but sadly for some families this scenario is a problem they have to bear without a resolution. This novel is a tale of hopeless loss, a missed opportunity and never being able to wind back the clock to be a "good dad". All the options to love and care were taken away from Tim, all his chances are gone forever and he may never get his daughter back and hold her in his arms. You really feel for Tim Blake and as this book ends on page 471 Linwood writes in Italics...

If only I'd known. If only I'd known.

Fear the Worst is a good book and I think it is better than Too Close to Home . I will vote this novel 4 stars on Goodreads . Linwood Barclay has a clear writing style that fully explains the scene. Here are two examples...

They were hemming and hawing over price - we were seven hundred dollars apart. I excused myself, said I was going to take their latest offer to the sales manager, but instead went into Service and scarfed a chocolate donut from a box at the coffee stand, then went back and told them I could only save them another hundred, but we were going to have a custom pinstriper on site over the next couple of days, and if they took the deal, I could get the Accord custom-pinstriped for free. The guy's eyes lit up, and they went for it. Later, I got a ten-buck pinstriping kit from parts and attached it to the order.

I was heading back to the elevator. Milt in hand, when I heard muffled screaming coming from a room at the end of the hall.
A woman's screams. Short ones. Every few seconds.
Not frightened screams. Not screams of terror. They were cries of pain.
I started heading to the end of the hall, pausing at the doors, trying to figure out which room the cries were coming from.
'Aww!' a woman shouted. Nothing for a few seconds. Then, 'Aww!'
That meant waiting a moment at each door, listening for the next cry to determine whether this was the room.
I was hearing another voice now, another woman. She was shouting, 'You don't go home! You here to work! You try to run away again, they make me do this even harder!'
I had the right door.
Then a noise sounded like thwack
And then the woman screamed, 'Aww!'
Something horrible was happening in that room.
I reached into my pocket, felt the key card. Veronica had called it a pass key. I took that to mean that it would let me into any room, not just the one where I'd stayed.
I like to think I would have gone through that door to help any woman who was in trouble, but at that moment, I was going through that door because I thought it might be Syd.
I put the card into the slot, waited, hoped, for the light to turn green.
It did. I withdrew the card, turned the handle, and burst into the room.
'What's going on in-'
And I stopped, tried to take in what I was looking at.
Standing in front of me was the woman I'd run into in the hotel breakfast nook. Cantana. She was in her hotel uniform. She was holding in her right hand a thin, chrome wand, or stick. I looked a little closer and realized it was an old car antenna.
The other woman in the room was kneeling at the foot of the bed, bent at the waist so that her upper body and arms were splayed out on the bedspread. She was dressed similarly to Cantana, but the big difference was, there was blood seeping through her uniform on her buttocks. She turned her head toward me, and there were tears on her cheeks. She was Asian, mid-twenties.
'What you want?' Cantana asked me. 'How you get in here? What you doing with that?'
She was pointing at Milt.
I was speechless. I started backing out of the room, Cantana still yammering at me. 'What you doing in here? Can't you see we having a meeting?'
Once I was all the way into the hall, Cantana slammed the door in my face. I stood there, dumbstruck, then turned around slowly.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Death of an aunt.

About 10 days ago my parents told me that they had received a telephone call from my Uncle Graham. My cousin Kathryn had been to see him and told him that her mother was very ill. Sheila was not expected to live much longer than the next 14 days. My mother wished to prepare me for the time when my Aunt Sheila passed away. My mother knows that my cousin Kathryn is a keen member on Facebook and wanted me to be aware of Aunt Sheila's failing health before I got a message informing me of her death.

I am not a fan of Facebook and with the knowledge of bad news coming down from Hartlepool, I avoided going on the website. I selfishly wanted to shy away from the live changing problems that my cousins were working through up north in Hartlepool. The days ticked by with no telephone calls or emails received and I held the naive hope that no news, was good news.

Sadly, when I logged onto the internet last night, I had an email from my cousin Kathryn in my inbox...

Subject: hi
Sorry Stephen I have not got your number, our mam died at 4 30 am this morning she went peacefully in the end with me and Paul at her side she is out of pain and with our dad we not sure if Greame has told uncle Bill my number is 01429 [redacted]

...I telephoned my parents to let them know that Dad's twin sister had died. Aunt Sheila was 78 years old. My Uncle Graham had telephoned them earlier and my mother had delayed telling me before she knew I had eaten my dinner. I passed on Kathryn's telephone number to them and had a brief chat to my father. Then I had to motivate myself to contact my cousin Kathryn. I am not a lover of telephones and prefer the medium of email. Writing this blog I find really easy, with the words flying off the keyboard. Writing to a cousin that I have not spoken to for years, on the very day of her mother's death, was a challenge and I initially had writer's block. Biting my lip I managed to post on Kathryn's Facebook wall...

Sorry for your loss. Uncle Graham had warned my father that your mother was failing and we became resigned to her future. We did not know what to say at this difficult time for you, so we avoided Facebook as we did not want to put extra stress upon you. We were dreading the day that we would receive a message that your mother had died.

Uncle Graham telephoned my father this afternoon. My mother and father are not able to come up to Hartlepool for the funeral due to the length of the journey. Sorry we can not be with you at this very sad time.

Stephen, Gail, Bill and Margaret Clynes.

...Kathryn very quickly commented on her Wall post - she must have been online at the time...

Uncle Bill will have the peace of mind that our mam went peacefully and in no pain or stress at 4.30 am she opened her eyes no fear in them and stopped breathing Paul had her in his arms i was talking to her as she went,, she is with my dad now.. xx

...That comment from my cousin Kathryn broke the ice for me and I was then comfortable making the telephone call that I had been putting off. We had a chat for around 15 minutes which gave Kathryn an opportunity to discharge her emotions. The conversation I had been dreading flowed really easily with no awkward pauses.

I remember Aunt Sheila from my childhood in Hartlepool. Aunt Sheila was her official name but among grown-ups she was known as Flatty. I believe this was because of her walk, Aunt Sheila always appeared as though she would fall over, flat on her face. I always remember her as being very warm, gentle and pastoral. Aunt Sheila was so obviously my father's twin sister, they share so many traits. When my father went away to college in 1968, I was a little terror for my mother to look after. I would walk out of our home and go walk-abouts on my own, disappearing for hours on end. To stop this my mother took away my shoes. This did not stop me, I just put on my mother's size 5 boots - far too big for a 10 year old boy - are marched off into town. My mother was at a loss what to do with her little brat. She turned to Aunt Sheila and Uncle Luke for help. Their response was instant, you can stay with us until Bill returns from college. Uncle Luke drove around Hartlepool in his car until he found little Stephen wandering around in his mother's boots. Uncle Luke to me was a kind, down-to-earth bloke - so a ride in his car was a treat, not an abduction. We stayed with Uncle Luke and Aunt Sheila until my father finished his time at college and we moved to London.

Aunt Sheila always made me feel part of the family. She was so much like my father that it seemed so natural for us all to live at 37 Haswell Avenue together. Since we left Hartlepool I never saw much of Aunt Sheila. It was only on the odd family holiday that we used to meet up. We used to have the odd trip back up north to see all our relatives in Hartlepool but as the years went on, the visits got further apart. I remember one year in the mid 70's when Uncle Luke, Aunt Sheila, cousins Kathryn and Paul came down to Bristol to visit us. Uncle Luke took us out to Wookey Hole, and being a canny man, got Kathryn and I into the tourist attraction at child price admission! Another day we went on a day trip to Bath and to save on car parking fees Uncle Luke parked his Renault 12 in a side street in Walcot. It took us hours wandering around trying to find where the car was parked. In the 1980's Aunt Sheila got up one morning and decided that she wanted to see her twin brother Bill. So off she went down south to visit my parents. Nobody knew Aunt Sheila was coming, until my parents had that knock on the door and there was Flatty standing on the doorstep. Maybe it is a genetic family trait to just put your shoes on and walk. A quick telephone call was made to Uncle Luke and he responded in his usual relaxed style, as though the family pet dog had ran out of the garden gate and gone to the local park. Uncle Luke then got into his car for the long journey down south to pick up Flatty from her latest adventure. A couple of years ago I heard a tale off my parents that made me smile. Aunt Sheila was in a nursing home and had use of a mobility scooter. So off she went with no consideration of battery capacity and guess who had to be rescued with a stranded flat battery mobile scooter? Oh yes, Flatty does it again!

Aunt Sheila and my father shared a childhood together, he always speaks affectionately of his twin sister. I have never seen Aunt Sheila mimic my father but he does a great impression of his twin sister. Seemingly without any effort my father can do Aunt Sheila's distinctive walk, her speech with that little lisp and that little look they do with those fluttering eyelids.

Aunt Sheila will be sadly missed by everyone. My heart goes out to my cousins Kathryn and Paul. They have now lost both of their parents and my wife Gail knows from her own experience, that feeling they will now develop of feeling somewhat orphaned.

Rest in peace, Aunt Sheila.

Sheila "Flatty" Lawrence, nee Clynes. Born 16th January 1933 - died 20th February 2011.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Confirmation of TUPE.

Following my post on Wednesday 16th February about Little Johnny will not comment - I was pleased to see a new notice attached to the wall of the portacabin when I reported for work this morning.

On Friday 18th February there was a meeting between top management and Unite, the union. My employer is to re-tender all it's contracts with the nationwide company. If it is awarded the diagrams, it will look into buying or leasing new coaches. If it is not awarded the diagrams, then ALL drivers will be transferred under TUPE legislation to the new operator. This use of TUPE legislation has already been agreed between my employer and the nationwide company in advance of the tender outcome.

The Treforest depot diagrams will be re-tendered in February with the outcome decided by the end of March. The Durham depot diagrams will be re-tendered in March with the outcome decided by the end of April. The Birmingham depot diagrams will be re-tendered in May with the outcome decided by the end of June.

This statement has come as a great relief to ALL the drivers at Treforest. No matter what happens, we will still have the same job but may be working out of a nearby depot. This is great news because all our drivers have done their level best to do the job right.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jews not playing fair in London.

Football should be a pleasant game played by honest gentlemen. The players should play fair and not cheat or deceive the other team. But we all know how Jews can cheat at everything and not play by the rules. So, if you have a Jewish football team playing in the Maccabi Southern Football League, you would expect all the players in the Holy Mount Zion team to be Jewish. Sadly the Holy Mount Zion football team, based in North Acton, has been suspended from a London Jewish league for enlisting non-Jewish players. The referee realised one of their players was a Colombian banker called Javier Guevara. Mr Guevara and Polish personal trainer Mariusz Mielniczuk were registered under the names Danny Potter and Simon Laub.

Holy Mount Zion's manager, Rob Lerner, said he used the ringers because there were not enough Jewish players. He said: "I didn't have much choice. I had to, it is the only way I could get a team out." Mr Lerner added the men were "not 100 per cent comfortable" playing under false names. Rival clubs have called for the team to be expelled from the league while a further six players have been asked to prove their "Jewish origins". They include university researcher Luigi Minale, 28, from Milan, Jaime Augusto and Millan Quijano from Colombia, Guri Singer and Andres Tamayo.

This story does not speak well for the honesty of the Jews. For a Jewish team to lie just to take part in a game is hardly sporting. These tactics are dishonest and Holy Mount Zion are not playing fair. This lying attitude is bad for the game and bad for the Jewish community. It does give people something to poke fun at though!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Little Johnny will not comment.

Not much to blog about at the moment, the news stories have been a little low. Rumours circulate all the time and my workplace is no different. On Sunday we had a staff meeting in the canteen to address concerns about the future of our company. Rumours have gone around the drivers and in the regional press that our company is going to cut back. The Unite union has been in contact with management up to national director level but the company has refused to issue a statement of it's plans or comment on press reports. We were told that John, a national director, would address staff in our depot last night at 19.30 and answer questions.

I was working until 20.30 and walked into the workshop just as the meeting was finishing. I heard nothing new and asked 2 drivers on my roster - who had been there from the beginning of the meeting - if any information had been given out as to the future of our depot. Bobby told me that John would not comment on our contract with the nationwide company. Most other questions were replied in the fashion of "I can't comment on that". So drivers were unable to get answers to their questions because Little Johnny will not comment.

Bobby has heard a rumour that our contract with the nationwide company will be transferred to another operator on the 14th March 2011. Due to the refusal by Little Johnny to fully answer questions from the drivers and his refusal to publish a statement about the future of our depot - I think deals have already been done. It is a big shame that management do not keep their staff informed, refuse to answer questions and do not publish their plans.

I think we have been deliberately kept in the dark and this secrecy stinks.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"It's just irritating..." .

Well said the comments by the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev. "It's just irritating. People either oversleep or wake up early and don't know what to do with the hour," he explained. The clocks in Russia will go forward to summer time as usual this spring, but they will not change back to winter time in the autumn. Mr Medvedev argues that changing the clocks twice a year causes "stress and illness" among Russians.

I agree, it's just irritating, the change from summer time to winter time, with a change back again the following spring. This messing about with the clocks really winds up everyone. There is no need for this nonsense, there will always be 24 hours in the day, with shorter hours of daylight in winter. You just have to live with it and get on with your life. Well done President Dmitry Medvedev for talking common sense. I wonder if David Cameron has the guts to change this outdated tradition in the UK. We can only hope from this government, where the parties who came first and third in the election, continue their farce of a coalition.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Now on Freeview channel 89

As time goes on, more and more television channels are being added to Freeview. These broadcasts are free to watch and there is something for everybody. Are you tired of BBC or Sky News? Well now, at no subscription cost, is the excellent 24 hour news channel from Doha, in Qatar. This Arabic news channel is broadcast in English and will be familiar to everyone who enjoys ground breaking news, with an independent edge. Switch your Freeview box to channel 89 and enjoy " Al Jazeera in English. Tonight is a big night for Al Jazeera as they are broadcasting live coverage from the action in Tahrir Square, Cairo as the Egytian president Hosni Mubarak looks set to stand down.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay .

This novel starts off with a prologue all about Derek, a 17 year old boy, who is visiting his neighbours, the Langley's. Derek has a plan, that when the Langley's go away on holiday, he will use their home to entertain his girlfriend Penny. So Derek say's goodbye to the Langley's and pretends to go home but actually hides in their basement. The Langley's leave and Derek is sitting there in the basement. He makes some telephone calls to his girlfriend and decides to wait, in case the Langley's return if they have forgotten something.

Derek is surprised when the Langley's return but continues hiding in their basement. Shortly after their return the door knocks, Albert Langley answers the door and a person or persons enter. A few words are spoken then Albert, his wife Donna and Adam, their son are shot dead. Derek remains in the basement until the killer or killers have gone before he runs home.

From now on this novel is written in the first person, the character is Jim Cutter, who is Derek's father. Jim is a decent, average sort of guy who earns a living cutting people's lawns. Too Close to Home was written in 2008 and has 466 pages. This story is a crime thriller with an intensive plot and a haunting narrative.

What motive was there to kill all of the Langley family? You do not read about a motive but an aura of suspicion abounds. Jim Cutter is feeling lost in the mystery of the triple murder of his neighbours as there is no obvious motive. It is very easy for the average hetrosexual reader to relate to Jim Cutter, as this story progresses at a good pace. The plot is simply first rate, it is very clever, rather involved and complex as it develops a random act of violence into something more personal. Too Close to Home is a rather dark novel, where the reader hopes that things will turn out okay for Jim Cutter. But who can Jim trust, including members of his own family?

The blurb on the back of this book and it's title are misleading. Please ignore those words and start reading this novel with a clear, fresh mind. Too Close to Home is not a shallow plot and you will not guess the solution. I did not enjoy Too Close to Home as much as I enjoyed No Time For Goodbye , but it is still a good read. The ending is a little far fetched but the ground work within this novel is sound. I will vote this book 4 stars on Goodreads .

Sunday, February 06, 2011

International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

Today is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. All girls deserve to grow up free from harmful practices that endanger their health and well-being. But every year, three million women and girls in Africa alone face the prospect of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C), a practice with serious immediate and long-term health effects and a clear violation of fundamental human rights. Worldwide, 100 to 140 million have already undergone the practice.

Female genital mutilation, or cutting, predates Christianity and Islam - it is thought to have originated in the time of the pharaohs. Although FGM/C has been shown to have many harmful effects, both physical and emotional, the practice is sustained by a set of social rewards, including the idea that girls will face shame and social exclusion, including diminished marriage prospects, if they forego the practice.

Mutilation is practised in 28 African countries , where 140 million women have been subjected to the brutal practice and a further two million are at risk every year. Sister Fa, a Senegalese urban soul and hip-hop star who has been lending her voice to a remarkable new drive against female circumcision in 12 of the countries worst affected by the practice across the continent says "It is when you are alone, when you think: 'How can I not cut my child? She will be marginalised, pushed in a corner'. When the cutting ceremony is organised for the village and one girl is not there, everyone will know that she is not there, the whole village knows she is not cut. Then that girl is treated like an animal, you can't get married, you can't cook or pass water to someone for them to drink."

In Ethiopia, the prevalence rate has fallen from 80% to 74%, in Kenya from 32% to 27% and in Egypt from 97% to 91%.

...I support this International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and wish the agencies success in getting the message across to people so that they do not feel ashamed. These people should be encouraged to become part of the 21st century and leave this awful backward tradition behind. The only place for FGM is in the history books. I was astonished that the prevalence rate in Egypt is 91% - I did not think Egypt was that backward in it's traditions.

When the girl becomes an adult, I believe that is the time for her to choose if she wants her genitals modified. It is wrong for parents to force their children to become victims of these ancient procedures. What surgery consenting adults choose for themselves is their business alone and they should have the freedom to alter their bodies to their desire. But to force this ancient practice on your own child is in my opinion a crime against the person. My view is the same regarding male circumcision.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Press one to speak to a murderer, press two to speak to a fraudster...

Oh we all love those call centres, press one to speak to someone rather dumb, press two to for someone with poor spoken English and so on. Well in India, which is a country well known for outsourcing and call centres, there is a novel experiment for jailbirds to work in call centres.

"We have got so many computer literates and professionals in our prison," said Gopinath Reddy, director general of prisons in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Jail authorities hope that inmates will soon be just as likely to tap at a keyboard as dig vegetables, make carpets or stitch uniforms.

So, you will never quite know just what dark secrets the call centre operator has when they try to sell you something. Jailbirds will sound just the same over the telephone and you will not be able to view their body language or spot ACAB tattooed on their knuckles.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Hosni Mubarak speaks to his peasants .

Gail and I have been taking an interest over the turmoil in Egypt at the moment. This is not just because of our shared interest in current affairs but because we have booked a holiday starting on the 21st September at Marsa Alam in Egypt. Friends have already teased us over the disruption in Tunisia, one of our holiday favourites, and we have told them that we have not booked for Tunisia this year. We proudly told our friends that we have booked for quiet, stable Egypt in September. Now the situation in Egypt has changed and mirrored the mood of Tunisia. We are not bothered and are looking forward to our first holiday in Egypt this September.

Last night, Hosni Mubarak gave a speech on television and it made me smile for two reasons.

One: "My primary responsibility now is security and independence of the nation to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in circumstances that protect Egypt and the Egyptians and allow handing over responsibility to whoever the people choose in the coming presidential election.

I say in all honesty and regardless of the current situation that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term. I have spent enough years of my life in the service of Egypt and its people." - The new presidential term will start in September, I do not know the actual day but we are going to Egypt on the 21st September! New president and new clothes, what new country will we experience as tourists? Time will tell.

Two: "I direct my speech today directly to the people, its Muslims and Christians, old and young, peasants and workers, and all Egyptian men and women in the countryside and city over the whole country." - Laughing out loud Hosni, calling some Egyptians "peasants" is a little strong! Can you imagine David Cameron calling some British voters peasants? No, but I could imagine the Mayor for London making the same faux pas as Hosni Mubarak!

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