Before I went off to university, my father took me to the local branch of Barclays Bank, introduced me to the Manager and guided me through the process of opening an account. He had himself worked for Barclays, as had his brother, and his father had been Manager of the Finchley branch.
So it was with a heavy heart and a guilty heavenward glance that I decided to close the account – after 51 years. It wasn’t the LIBOR fixing scandal that broke the camel’s back but the second doubling of account-keeping fees in 3 years: from £5 to £10 to £20 per month.
I wrote a letter to the Barclays director who informed me of the changed fees – an actual letter, on paper, in an envelope with a stamp in the corner. I expressed and explained my regret.
Mrs SG thinks me a sentimental old fool, I think, and unrealistic to expect a similarly regretful letter in reply. Not for the first time, Mrs SG was right. Banks are not known for strong emotions. The account is closed, the money transferred, the caravan moves on.
But sometimes, when a breeze moves through the trees, I think I hear my grandfather sigh.
Do you ever hear or read a news item, then glance at the calendar to see if it’s April Fool’s Day? That happened to me when Prince Philip’s Australian knighthood was announced.
It happened again recently when I heard about a school policy to continue setting homework but let the pupils decide whether or not to do it. After checking the calendar I decided to share the information with my readers, embellishing the news with words like ‘insane’, ‘lunacy’ and ‘mind-boggling stupidity’. Then I thought I should do some Googling and look for arguments pro and con. I found a site called debate.org where stakeholders – mainly schoolchildren I think – have recorded their views. Click here to read them.
My view remains unchanged. The children who do their homework will do better in their studies and have better life outcomes. In general they will also be the children who have well educated parents, disciplined home environments, and the advantage of living in communities where aspirations and expectations are high. In other words, existing social differences will be reinforced and magnified.
Looking into my own heart, I know very well that I would not have got very far academically if Mr T J P Yorke, the Headmaster of my school in Crosby, had adopted this insane questionable policy.
The WHO has just fired a shot across the bows of the processed meat industry, with a whiff of grapeshot for the red meat industry too. Links to cancer. Carcinogenic chemicals. If you want some scientific details try this link to the Sydney Morning Herald.
It’s not news that large-scale consumption of red meat and processed meat products is unhealthy. So anyone who’s been paying attention during the last 20 years would have avoided both or at least limited their intake. Same with alcohol and tobacco, especially if one is female and pregnant. Right?
Last night I saw a news item about a little girl whose brain function is permanently impaired because her mother drank heavily during pregnancy. The mother was interviewed and claimed that she didn’t know this might happen.
I don’t want to appear heartless but how can anyone, however dim and ill-informed, not realise that putting poison into one’s bloodstream at a time when that blood is being pumped through a foetus is a very bad idea? Mrs SG worked that out for herself more than 40 years ago.
Last year there was talk in Australia about making it illegal to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Some people objected that this would unfairly target Aboriginal people. Others, more reasonably, asked how such a law could ever be enforced. I think the idea has been quietly dropped.
I have two favourite comic strips which I look at every day, either in a newspaper or online. They are Calvin and Hobbes (by Bill Watterson and Jenny Robb) and Dilbert (by Scott Adams).
Yesterday’s Dilbert strip (double-size because it was Sunday) was about doctors being replaced by computers. In the last frame a nurse appears, armed with a syringe with which to stab the doctor if he tries to do more than read the diagnosis on the computer screen.
“Hello,” I thought, “that’s suspiciously like a joke I heard and re-told a few years ago about Airbus pilots, with a dog instead of a nurse.”
Then I noticed a little note underneath the final frame: ‘Adapted from an old pilot joke.’ It’s not plagiarism if you acknowledge your source. So Dilbert and his creator, Scott Adams, get a gold star from me for reinvigorating a good joke by recycling it in a fresh context, with an honest citation.
When I was a lad In London, Peter Pan was always put on during the Christmas holidays in the West End. Perhaps it still is. And there was always excited speculation about which famous actress (yes, we still had actresses in those days) would don tights and a pointy hat and play the part of Peter. Margaret Lockwood was the one when I was taken to see it, and I still remember the thrill of seeing her fly across the stage on a barely visible wire.
Even more vivid is my memory of the terrible moment when Tinkerbell was on the point of death. Her tiny light flickered and Peter begged us all to shout our affirmation of belief in fairies, for it was only that belief which could restore her. Tears streamed down my innocent face as I yelled, “Yes!!!” They turned to tears of joy as her light stopped flickering and came back strong and vital. My eyes are moist as I write, just thinking about it.
And now the global economy is flickering – as China’s growth rate wanes, the Euro Zone flounders, commodity prices droop, and Christine Lagarde frets about indebtedness. And only our belief can save it. Join with me now, I beg you. Do you believe in economic growth? Do you?! I can’t hear you!!!
I just received a receipt from the Australian Taxation Office. It included a breakdown of how my tax dollar would be spent. It showed that 39% was dedicated to welfare, of which the aged (including Mrs SG and me) are easily the largest category of beneficiaries.
Another 18% of my tax dollars went to the 2nd biggest expenditure category: health. I don’t want to pick on the aged, but I think it’s safe to assume that we end up taking a disproportionate share of that too.
Given that the aged benefit from a proportion of all the other kinds of expenditure (education, defence, transport, public order etc) I reckon, very roughly, that the aged are getting 30% of my taxes. That seems a lot. I wonder whether the rest of my fellow-Australians can afford us.
Yesterday I rowed 500m – not on an actual lake or river, but on a rowing machine in a gym. I rowed hard and was panting at the end. My average power output was 152 watts.
Were I able to row like that for 8 hours per day, six days per week, my output would be equivalent to 5% of the electrical energy that Mrs SG and I consume.
If my efforts were rewarded in cash, at a rate corresponding to the average price we pay for electricity, I would be earning about US$2 per week. Maybe electricity is not so absurdly expensive after all.
So why am I stroppy? Because a calculation like that makes me feel feeble and inadequate!
Do you remember Tom Lehrer? He was a mathematician and satirist in the 1960s and 70s (Vatican Rag, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park…). When Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, Lehrer remarked that political satire was now obsolete.
I had the same feeling in 2015 when Tony Abbott, then Prime Minister, announced an Australian knighthood for Prince Philip. But the Government of the People’s Republic of China has gone one better by awarding the Confucius Peace Prize (the Chinese alternative to the Nobel-branded one) to Robert Mugabe.
Robert Mugabe. The one in Zimbabwe. Not a typo.
It’s springtime in Australia and the magpies are aggressively defending their nests. All day we hear clunks as they collide with our windows, mistaking their own reflections for marauders. I admire their persistence. Time and time again the same magpie will fly at a pane of glass, bang its head, fall down, flutter up and repeat the exercise.
It occurred to me this morning that the magpies’ behaviour is very like that of many humans. Whether it’s deposing dictators and waiting for secular democracy to bloom in their place, or calling on corporations to mitigate the socially harmful effects of their operations through voluntary self-regulation, we keep crashing into the same windows, falling, fluttering up…
Wasn’t it Einstein who characterised this behaviour as the very definition of insanity?
If you want to put someone in a really bad light, call them a racist. This is what’s happening in Australia (and elsewhere) to people who express criticism of Islam. I don’t get it. Anyone can be a Muslim, regardless of their race. Islam is an ideology, not an ethnicity.
A lot of people, especially people in advanced secular societies, don’t much like the beliefs and values that followers of the various branches of Islam adhere to. As an atheist I can understand why. What I can’t understand is why people should be howled down or insulted for expressing an honest opinion.