Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Don't rate your website

Because of my interest in writing, I have over the years subscribed and registered to websites and newsletters, one of which I received yesterday. It advertised a new site called Ratemywords.com, a website onto which you could upload poems, articles, stories and song lyrics and other members could rate them.

It boasted leaderboards and a community for members to get together to discuss various aspects of writing, and best of all

“When you upload your work to RateMyWords it is time-stamped and saved on our database. This acts as a proof of your work being your intellectual property.”

Doesn’t that sound fantastic? Proof that the particular work belongs to you and safety from people who might read your work, copy it and pass it on as their own.

As such I had a browse around the website, surprised to find that as yet there was very little content on there. I then came across something posted to the short story section which directed me to the terms and conditions of Ratemywords.com.
While reading through them, I found this

“When you provide Content you retain ownership of the intellectual property in that information however you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free licence (with the right to sublicense) to use (including copy, reproduce, adapt, modify, publish, broadcast, transmit, display and distribute) the Content in any and all media including forms not yet developed”

Therefore, although they are happy to provide proof that you are the legal author, they themselves are allowed to use your content however they wish without having to pay you a single fee. All because you uploaded content that you wanted people to read.

Imagine having spent months or years writing your draft novel, and wanting to get some feedback before sending it to a publisher, only to find the possiblity that it’s already been printed and sold by the people behind this website and you can claim nothing from them for all your hard work.

The worst thing about it all is that during the registration process there isn’t even a checkbox to confirm that you do agree with all their terms and conditions. As soon as you choose a username and password, and upload your work, you’ve implicitly agreed, without even knowing.

So, to any budding writers out there, avoid this website, tell others to avoid the website, and above all, always check terms and conditions, otherwise you might find your work is lost through underhand means.

Monday, 29 August 2011


I made my first visit of the year to the BBC Proms this weekend, a wonderful institution that has been going on for over one hundred years.  And by the crowds that queued to get in, it seems that it is still in wonderful health.  You would think that with the world and the country in turmoil, things like classical concerts would be the last thing on people’s minds.  But no, the Royal Albert Hall was packed to enjoy a programme featuring Beethoven’s ‘Erioca’ symphony.
I love to see new crowds enjoying culture when they could quite easily stay at home and watch Big Brother 81 or X Factor 56 but, and I may be at risk of sounding like an old man here, I wish they would respect the institution a little bit more.
Next to me was an Asian man who had the audacity to set up a camcorder on a tripod in order to record the concert, before he was politely told to put it away by a steward.  It still didn’t stop him snapping several hundred photographs of people and the orchestra while the concert was under way, or indeed to film some if it!
Then there were plenty of other people who couldn’t stay away from their mobile phones for more than a minute at a time, despite the fact that a fairly loud announcement before the start of the concert asks for mobile phones to be switched off.  It makes you wonder what could possibly be so important that you would feel obliged to text during the performance of such a wonderful work of art, as well as to affect the enjoyment of others.  Perhaps they wanted to find out who had been voted off Big Brother?
Much more fun to see were the crowds surrounding the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens and to watch the wild birds surrounding the crowds while bread was distributed.  And to see the starlings hopping around with bread in their beaks while being chased by pigeons. It was like something out of Benny Hill.  Funnier still was one young girl picking up pigeons to look at them!
For me, nature wins over humans every time.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Reinventing the Pyramid

There has been a lot of talk off and on over the past few years about the likes of Rangers and Celtic playing within the English leagues. There are good reasons for doing this.

Scottish league football has very little strength in depth and the top two have dominated almost completely over the past two decades. It must be said that some teams have dominated the English leagues too, or at least Manchester United have, but they are a different kettle of fish and their dominance has more to do with Alex Ferguson than anything else.

But dominance by the few is not good in any sporting situation; therefore putting more large clubs within the same league may dilute this to some extent, creating a more level playing field for everyone.

However, there are many reasons for opposing this. Firstly, a “British” league may cause FIFA to rethink the separateness of all the home nations to a greater extent, causing not only Scotland, but also Wales and Northern Ireland to lose their footballing autonomy. This may happen and may need to happen at some point anyway in the future, but for the moment is still a contentious issue.

Secondly this would have the knock-on effect of Scotland losing out in Europe in terms of guaranteeing their sides can participate in UEFA competitions. It would make sense for UEFA to allow the same number of British clubs to participate as there are now, but depending on results you may find that English clubs benefiting to the detriment of Scottish clubs. This of course is assuming that the Scottish clubs would fair poorly within a British structure.

However, this week we saw all the Scottish clubs go out of Europe before the competitions proper even started. As such there is much self-flagellation within Scottish football and the Scottish media, typical of modern hysteria when it comes to these sorts of situations. It is likely that this will be nothing more than an aberration and next year Scottish clubs will fair a little better.

However, no Scottish team has performed as well as English teams in Europe for many years, this cannot be denied. It is probably due to a lack of good competition for the top Scottish teams who usually find it easy to beat their more average opponents. And if their poor results continue, then the formation of British leagues could well be the solution.

Re-imagining the British league system may not be as complicated as you might think. There are 134 clubs within the English and Scottish league system, so you could easily place the top 54 within three leagues of 18 teams to make a British Premier, British 1st Division and British 2nd Division. The remaining 80 teams are placed in four regional leagues of 20 teams to comprise the fourth tier.

How promotion and relegation would work within these divisions would have to be decided, but it seems to work well for non-league football where regional divisions are more commonplace. It would also allow the fans of poorer teams who are often poorer themselves, to see more matches against local opposition rather than having to travel the rather long distances that you see today.

As an example, I took the top 42 English teams and the teams within the Scottish Premier and using their final positions last year, compiled the top three leagues as follows. Perhaps in future it will be commonplace to see a match between Bolton and Dundee United, the results for Scottish clubs in Europe in the next few years will tell.

British Premier League

1 Manchester Utd

2 Chelsea

3 Manchester City

4 Arsenal

5 Tottenham

6 Liverpool

7 Everton

8 Fulham

9 Aston Villa

10 Sunderland

11 WBA

12 Newcastle

13 Stoke

14 Bolton

15 Rangers

16 Celtic

17 Hearts

18 Dundee Utd

British 1st Division

1 Blackburn

2 Wigan

3 Wolves

4 Birmingham

5 Blackpool

6 West Ham


8 Norwich

9 Swansea

10 Cardiff

11 Reading

12 Notts Forest

13 Leeds

14 Burnley

15 Kilmarnock

16 Motherwell

17 Inverness

18 St Johnstone

British 2nd Division

1 Millwall

2 Leicester

3 Hull

4 Middlesbrough

5 Ipswich

6 Watford

7 Bristol City

8 Portsmouth

9 Barnsley

10 Coventry

11 Derby

12 Crystal Palace

13 Doncaster

14 Preston

15 Aberdeen

16 Hibernian

17 St Mirren

18 Hamilton

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Dodgy Landlords - Part 3

When I first moved in I noticed that there was never any hot water or heating in the middle of the day, but simply put this down to the number of people in the property and the subsequent problems this would cause. Annoying as it was, I didn’t believe anything could be done about it.

After some time I found the timer controls and realised that the hot water was actually switched off during the day. Since I realised that more hot water was actually needed by the house I began to change the settings, only to find that they would be changed back again on a Friday after the landlord had been.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that my room being the last in sequence, the radiator seemed to fill more with air than it did water. I complained on a weekly basis to my landlord (especially during the winter when my room would never be warm), but rather than properly check the system out, he slightly bled my radiator and that was it.

I would be surprised if during last winter it got above 14 degrees in my room and at night it would be colder. I would regularly find myself wearing two pairs of socks, about four layers of clothing, a hat, gloves and scarf while inside!

Eventually to make a point I started setting the heating and hot water to come on all day, in order to bring about some warmth. This led to the landlord leaving a notice by the timer that by “his express orders, the timer was not to be changed”. This led me in turn to seek out legal advice via the internet at which I was told that this was arguably illegal.

I left a sign next to his, but when he next arrived, he simply removed it. I spoke to him about it at which he said that the gas bill would simply be too large if the heating was left on all day and it would not be worth him staying a landlord. I think that, if nothing else, tells you all you need to know about the man.

Thankfully by then I had acquired a better job, with better references and finances, and was able to afford to rent a property via an agency. My new landlord has been very helpful, friendly, and timely with rectifying faults

However I fear for those on lower incomes who will not be able to afford the much higher rents required for a decent service and will have to make do with landlords who are simply in it for the money.

Friday, 26 August 2011


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Dodgy Landlords - Part 2

My new property seemed okay when I first viewed the place, and the landlord seemed fine. But it just shows that first impressions aren’t up to everything. Plus when I say that the landlord seemed fine, I should have guessed that he might be dodgy but the problem was that what I now know to be either illegal or bad practice, I did not know at the time. After all we cannot know about every rule and regulation about everything in the world can we? We have to trust that people are honest.

When I say I should have guessed, it came with the fact that he wrote a lower amount for rent on the contract than he actually took. He put this difference down to the fact that he paid the council tax, water and gas bills, but later I found out that it was probably a tax dodge. He also put the property’s address as his own address, even though he did not live there.

Deposits these days are a much safer affair, but this landlord got out of having to register one by claiming that it was more of a month’s rent in advance and that the last month would be free. Technically I think this is legal, but it should possibly have been a sign that he was not completely above board.

His advert had stated that the house was “HMO standard”, since there were nine people living there, and when I looked around he stated there was a cleaner for the showers and bathrooms (all shared) and staircases. It turned out that there was no cleaner at all, in fact one of the residents occasionally cleaned, and I wonder if the property was actually a registered HMO. I had no fire escape other than the main entrance three floors down and the floor of my room sloped in various directions, sagging in the middle.

My window frames were half rotten and one night one of the panes of glass even slipped a centimetre to leave a gap at the top. After telling my landlord, rather than repairing the window he simply slotted a small sliver of wood into the gap and said it was repaired. I used to have nightmares of the frame finally rotting through, the glass breaking up upon the tiled roof and splinters raining down upon the children, who lived in the basement, while they played in their garden.

The rent was collected weekly, in cash, by the landlord. When I first moved in I expected it to be during the day, but on average he turned up at about 9pm on a Friday night. Sometimes he wouldn’t turn up at all without informing me and I would stay up late for no reason. He found it impossible to understand why this was so rude, annoying and arrogant of him. It being a weekly rent, I later found out that by law he should provide a rent book, but he didn’t.

After living there several months he left a later saying that next week the rent would go up. I thought nothing of this since the rent was paid weekly, but again I later found out that he would have been required to give a months notice of a rental increase.

But all this was nothing compared to the situation regarding the heating and hot water.


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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Dodgy Landlords - Part 1

Private rental prices in the UK are increasing rapidly and with wages and interest rates stagnant, this only makes it more difficult for people to find somewhere to live. Getting together enough money for a deposit takes many years of saving and whilst you’re saving you’ve still got to live somewhere. Unfortunately with rental prices somewhere in the region of 56% of gross pay, the amounts you can save every month are extremely small, making this a viscous circle of which only land and property owners are in control of.

The majority of landlords are respectable, with a reasonable moral compass as to their responsibilities; however there are many more that are not. And as rents increase, it is likely that more and more people will have no choice but to turn to these bottom end landlords. I have personal experience of the less scrupulous.

The first of which was either Russian, or at least eastern European and mostly seemed absolutely fine. In fact throughout the two years in which I rented the property I heard nothing from him. However, the problem was that the electricity board heard nothing from him either.

Shortly before I moved out a key meter suddenly appeared next to the electricity meter (strangely there was no key and with a large amount of credit showing), along with an open letter stating that over £2000 was owed for electricity. I should point out that my rental contract was an “all inclusive”, and so it was the landlords responsibility to pay all bills.

As time went on the credit slowly dropped, but a call the landlord went to voicemail and no response came. Finally the electricity disappeared completely, for a day or so, before more credit mysteriously appeared in the meter. Once more I called the landlord but with the same outcome.

I finally decided that I should move out and quickly, but with the haste that was required and the lack of funds for somewhere via an agency, I took the first reasonable seeming property that was available.

Now I phoned my landlord again to say I was moving out, several times, and even stopped my last months rent. Amazingly I still received no response and after leaving the property unlocked with the keys on the inside, I often wonder whether anyone else has moved in.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

My Book - Flights of Mind

Time travelling artists, coffee shop romances and ghostly meetings are themes of just some of the stories, whilst personal reflections and observations in a modern, romantic and sometimes humourous style, form the poetry, in this collections of writings made between 2004 and 2010

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Riot of Questions

Luckily I was out of London during the riots a fortnight ago, and luckier still, despite living in east London, my home and area was not affected. However, it has not stopped me pondering them over the last two weeks.

Despite all that has been said in the media, there is still no particular cause cited and I doubt that there ever will be. After all, very little is being said now anyway since the news moves on very quickly these days.

That there is something inherently wrong with our society is obvious and as far as I believe, it is down to one simple thing and to many things all at once. The worship of money as the saviour of our souls is the problem, along with all that stems from it.

We are constantly bombarded with advertising for clothes and cars, possessions, status ideals, and it cannot be coincidence that the majority of things looted were fancy trainers and jewellery. It wasn’t the basics such as food. Is it no wonder that people feel like they’re failing in life if they do not have these things?

Money causes far more problems that it solves. Give someone money and it never be enough, they will always want more. Give someone a flatscreen TV and they want it with HD. Give them one with HD and they want it to be surround sound with 3D capability and a Sky subscription.

People also want to work. Some people think that they don’t, probably because they’ve seen their parents without jobs and never worked themselves, but deep down they want to feel part of society, to contribute, and surely the only way to do that is through work?

It is ridiculous to have a society where people flog away for 60 or more hours per week, while some do nothing. Surely it would be better for everyone if we all worked 25 hours a week and that it was enough to get by?

There is also too much expectation on people to be and have to be completely independent as young as possible. To have your own home, with all mod cons, at 21, along with everything your parents worked towards for forty years. Years ago children stayed at home with their parents until they married, contributing something towards housekeeping, and saving for the future. Now it’s all spend spend spend on themselves and living as far away as possible. Is it parents pushing their children out, or expectation on behalf of the children that they should have it all now? I don’t know.

I have posed more questions than answers, and the only answer I can come up with is that the only true way forward is a completely moneyless society in which people understand that as long as they have food in their bellies, a roof over their heads, a job to do, and family and friends nearby, that they need nothing else.

It must also be a society in which we are all equal, no matter what job we do, no matter whether we are male or female, in which there is also no concept of ownership, other than everything owned in common by all.

Unfortunately the recent experiments in Communism within Russia and China have shown that this can still go wrong, however those societies did not abolish money and ownership and perhaps that’s where they did go wrong?

I’m no expert in these things, I have no idea whether it would actually work, or how you would bring it about, and perhaps it’s nothing more than a utopian dream, but I like to think that it’s a dream worth having.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Blades Breakthrough

A report taken from today’s Daily Satiriser…

Scientists were left celebrating and baffled by a major breakthrough this morning when it appeared that a fan of football club Sheffield United showed evidence of being able to send a text message.

“We didn’t even think it was possible for them to be capable of any form of communication other than inarticulate shouts and chants…” said a spokesperson today, and continued, “…this is a real breakthrough for half of Sheffield. We were hoping to have them capable of using computers within 20 years, but we might realistically reduce that to 15 now.”

The breakthrough in question happened during this morning’s broadcast of the Radio 2 breakfast show during a discussion about Pigfests. A United fan texted in to state that a Pigfest took place at Hillsborough in Sheffield every other Saturday, without it being picked up on by either the Producer or the Presenter, a Mr Chris Evans.

A fan of Sheffield Wednesday said “It seems quite fitting that the first thing they texted would be a comment against us…”

Neil Warnock was unavailable for comment, the reason for which was not understood.