Monday, 26 March 2012


It's been quite a while since I last blogged.  This past fortnight has been a little crazy really, partly for reasons that I would rather not go into, but partly also because of Tesco.
For over a year now we have had regular home deliveries from Tesco and they have worked really well for us.  Living a good mile and a bit from our nearest store, it is not always easy to walk home laden with bags of potatoes, pots of yoghurt and other heavy items.  Therefore to have these delivered to your doorstep is a great thing.
However, in the past couple of months Tesco have closed ten of their local 'hubs' and are operating from a single one in Enfield - which is a long long way from where I live.  As such our order from two months ago arrived an hour and half late.  We had guests at the time and part of our dinner was in said order, making a very embarrasing and frustrating evening for us.
Having been told that they were going through teething problems with their new setup, we decided to wait a few weeks and give them another chance.  Big mistake.  Last week our order failed to turn up at all.  Upon contacting customer services we were told that the driver had in fact turned up but then contacted the depot to say that the customer wasn't in!
We were fuming, to put it mildly, since both of us had been waiting and twiddling our thumbs, not being able to concentrate, for the last two hours.  It did not help matters to be told that we would now have to re-order if we wanted our shopping delivered.  We still have yet to be updated as to how the driver ascertained that we were not in, or whether indeed he had bothered to check.
More annoyingly the Tesco customer feedback forms only hold statements of 1000 characters long whereas my complaint and questions ran for 4000 words.  I had to break it up into five segments, only to find that Tesco then wanted to contact me five times, despite the fact that I had written at the bottom of each one Part X of 5.
After have been given some money off vouchers by the services team we decided to give them one more chance, and to order outside of the rush hour, to be delivered today.  Once again it was late, and I was just about to call them, but at least it turned up.  Most of our order was there, but one important thing was missing...Milk.  How on earth do you run out of milk??
Anyway, as far as we're concerned Tesco have now run out of chances and we will try a different store.  We are holding thumbs and crossing fingers that they will be better.  For now though, here is a poem simply called Messco.


There’s nothing noble in baseline profit
There’s always somebody who has to cough it
Up in the end; The customer
Who barks and yelps,
Yacking their complaints to underpaid service staff
Told nothing but ‘Every Little Helps’
And treated like the hounds of their masters.
The trouble with cost-cutting-corners
Are the sharp edges that can cut both ways
Patronage can be withheld
Loyalty is felled like a tree half-hacked
And needs nothing but a nudge
In a forest that could take others with it.
Beware your cutting of branches.
Maybe it’s time for a self-checkout
Of policy, for there is no doubt
That this is not your Finest* hour.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

What's In A City?

For those of you who don't know, with it being Jubilee year the Queen got the chance to create a new city within the UK.  I guess there have to be some perks to doing the same job for so long.  In order to be eligible, towns and boroughs bid for the chance to be that city, obviously spending a certain amount of public money to do so.  My borough of Tower Hamlets was one of them, however it didn't win.
Now, if there was some tangible benefit of being a city then it might be worth punting a few quid on it.  However if you are called a city then that is it - simply, you are a city.  You do not get tax breaks or to make your own rules any more than you can anyway, it doesn't give you the chance to build a toll gate for everyone who wants to come in, or probably in some cases for those wanting to get out.
So why would you bother?
According to the Tower Hamlets mayor, it would provide extra investment and was backed by businesses.  Personally I start running for the hills as soon as I find out that something has been backed by business since it therefore probably benefits big business in some way and nothing more.
It is far more likely that the mayor saw this as his chance of creating his legacy, to become the mayor who made Tower Hamlets a city.  It would certainly add to his after dinner speaking credentials.  Much more than, say, the mayor who brought food waste recycling to every resident, or perhaps the mayor who created pelican crossings that work in favour of pedestrians and not cars.
Whatever the reason, in a world where less and less money is being spent on public services, my mayor decided to spend even less by giving his ego a boost by betting on something with extremely long odds. He would have been better off buying us all a lottery ticket which would have provided investment to small shops who have lottery machines, a portion of which would have gone to charities, and if anybody won then they would probably also spend their winnings locally.
But then, I doubt 'business' would have back that, would they?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Fire in Babylon

More documentary than film, this story of the West Indies cricket team during the 1970’s and 80’s did however get a limited UK release, and is a must see for any real fan of the game of cricket.
Through interviews with the players of the time, including Viv Richards, Michael Holding and Clive Lloyd, and some colourful characters from the Caribbean islands, it tells how the West Indies went from a divided group of Calypso cricketers to the feared attack that went fifteen years without losing a test series.  It intersperses this with footage from games, along with musical interludes.
This highly enjoyable piece of filmmaking really highlighted for me the difficulties that black cricketers were still undergoing only thirty or so years ago.  In some ways you can look at it and be pleased that there is far less obvious racism, although in the light of recent incidents within football, there is still a long way to go.
In cricket terms it was sad to see that some players, officials and watchers at the time couldn’t see beyond the colour of their skin, and when they started to become dominant, to say that it was only due to not playing the game properly.  They seemed to completely overlook the fact that the winning West Indian team had been inspired by the aggression of the Australian fast bowlers.  But then they of course were white, which makes it OK.
It also gives another slant on the idea that sport and politics should not mix.  However this is only really possible in a perfect world and the truth is that sport is just as intertwined with politics as any other aspect of our lives.  For sportsmen to assume that theirs is an isolated little world is very naive, and as difficult as it is, they should be taking a tougher stand with things that they don’t agree with, even if it means that they cannot play their sport.
But it is also marvellous to see the likes of Holding and Garner, Roberts and Marshall in their prime, peppering batsmen, destroying stumps and causing the mayhem that they did.  One of the great aspects of test cricket is to see how a batsman faces up to a genuine fast bowler.  It is tense and exciting and can really get a crowd going.
I would definitely recommend this to someone who likes their cricket, but also to those who are interested in the social aspects of sport.  Eight out of ten.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Symptoms of Withdrawal

I had a week off work last week, and much needed it was too.  Not that I do a stressful job or anything - far from it in fact - it's just that we've been a bit short handed lately and with the knowledge that I have to get some spreadsheets in place later in the summer it felt like I wasn't moving forward.
Anyway, it was a nice break, in some ways nicer because by fiancee was feeling unwell and as such we didn't really do much.  It was a week of reading books, listening to the radio and marking the time of day with meals, with a brief excursion to the registry office to register our intent to get married.
After somewhat withdrawing from the world for a few days you get to realise that you don't miss it at all.  One of the hardest things as a human being at the moment is reconciling your own personal life and all the things that matter to you with the world as a whole and how that may or may not affect someone in a small village on Kiribati.  And what is hardest is knowing how little control you have over it.
For all our democracy we still only have a faint say in who even runs the country, and how they then act afterwards is completely beyond our control for five years, until we get a faint say again.  So by the time their actions, combined with the actions of other leaders and other countries, affects that person on Kiribati we have lost all control and influence.  But then the media portray that it's all our fault, and if we just buy a different shampoo then it'll all be well.
Well, maybe I'm being a bit over the top, but you get the point.
What I'm trying to say really is that when you get away from all the 'stuff' that floats around in the world, you begin to realise what is actually important; It's the people you care about, a roof over your head and some good food in your belly.  It just gets you wishing for an isolated cottage somewhere with a bit of land to grow vegetables, a fruit tree, a handful of chickens and a couple of sheep; At least it does in my dream world.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Rich Man's Plaything

I have been a fan of Sheffield Wednesday for almost twenty years now, and nothing, until two days ago, has made me consider no longer being a fan. Through relegations and promotions, the ups and the numerous lows, I have followed them, but please consider the recent developments.
The team as of Wednesday lay third in the league, and only two points behind second place.  After a run of three defeats, they had still drawn a home crowd of 36.600 (the highest in the whole football league this season outside the Premiership) for their game against Sheffield Utd, which they won. The chairman, Milan Mandaric then sacked the manager.
This same chairman had only recently been acquitted of tax evasion, but then since he is a very rich man, he would be.  The trouble with tax law is that it is not black and white.  There are lots of different things that you can do in certain situations, and it depends a lot on your motives.  And motives can never really be proven in a court of law, and least not without reasonable doubt.
It got me thinking about how much the world is now nothing more than a rich man’s plaything.  A bit of a leap from a football club sacking its manager you might say, but hear me out.
Sticking with football, a vast majority of clubs are owned by rich men, and they don’t always treat them as they should.  With Roman Abramovitch at Chelsea who also sacks managers for fun, with the problems at Portsmouth and now Rangers, along with other numerous clubs that have been mismanaged financially, with no thought to the human and emotional side which is the fans and which is what keeps the clubs going.
Then there are the oil companies who happily ruin ecologies all over the world, and the banks who constantly gamble with other people’s money and as we have seen with the recent crash, their lives and livelihoods too.  It’s rare to find a politician (especially in the UK) who isn’t a millionaire and of course there are the media moguls and the advertisers who constantly tell us what we can read and see, and more importantly what we can’t.
We have all become the baby brother who is thrown out of the sandpit, forced to stand by and watch as the older brother accepts payment for his friends to soil into what should be ours to enjoy, before they all go off and destroy someone else’s toys.  How we stop them, sadly I have no answers for.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Bourne's Identity

For a while now I have seen books in the library by an author called Sam Bourne.  To me it always cried out as the type of books which I occasionally read, and mostly enjoy, but somehow feel that I should be reading something meatier.  This sounds rather pompous I know, but it’s not meant to be.  It’s more the fact that a lot of those books are in fact very bad, and by reading them it almost feels as if you are giving credence to the bad book industry.
Anyway, I recently found out, after listening to Radio 2’s Drivetime show, that Sam Bourne is in fact Jonathan Freedland.  Being a well know journalist in his own right, his agent and publishers had decided that his thriller writing should come out in another name because they were worried that the target audience for the books would be put off by seeing Freedland’s name on the cover.
Ironically this was the reason why I had not previously read any of his books, but quickly rushed out to get one from the library after I had found out the truth; yes, perhaps I am a bit snobbish after all, and certainly odd.
The book I have just read is called The Chosen One, not his latest, and not his first either.  It sits somewhere in the middle.  But still, it is very good.  It starts off with a brand new hope of a President (where have we heard that before?) having recently taken office, but then two bombshells about him are broken within two days...a third is posited.  The person leaking this information is then found dead and the whole country is asking: Was he silenced by the President?
The book is exciting and definitely a page turner (I read it in just over a day), but also poses some intriguing questions. I won’t give them away here since that would ruin the story, but take it from me that as well as being a thriller it does have a meatier content.  And I will definitely be looking out for more Sam Bourne books in future.