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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Blog 57 Halloween 2013

This week a break from the cross stuff. For my lovely Ashington school writers’ group, here’s the Halloween poem I promised you. Thanks for being lots of fun;

Leah, Billie, Michael, Sam, Scott, Katie, Ellie, Delphi, Regan, Kieran J

Halloween 2013

Chills crawl up your spine
Like the fingers of Death
You sense leering eyes in the gloom
Terror chokes you and lifts
The hairs on your neck
Your mouth is as dry as a tomb. 

And you wonder if turning
Is worse than not knowing
Dread paralyse your breath
As the darkness grows deeper
You stumble and grope
Lurching headlong to your death.

What would you give
For a hint of daylight
Or a lick of sun warmth on your skin
There’s no hand to hold
Just the bones and the mould
Rank stench of corruption and sin

Bring in the butchers
Indiscriminate insane
Who dealt in the currency of screams
The traders in torture
Who mastered that art
Surpassing the darkest of dreams

Let it be Halloween
Forever and ever
Awake in a nightmare’s dank cell
Let the oozing cadavers
And desperate un-dead
Show you the route map to hell

Line up the warmongers
And merchants of woe
Then for each life destroyed or undone
Demons will dance
With a worm wrangled corpse
Another soul easily won

No need for stale stories
That scare little children
To buy good behaviour with fear
For the ghouls and the ghosts
The foul fiends and monsters
And vampires and zombies are here.

Amanda Baker J

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Blog 56 Cheapest Energy Supplier & the Great British Rake Off

According to Cameron – the answer to the scandalous rise in energy prices by the big six suppliers is to switch to a smaller cheaper provider. So that’s alright then.
Cheaper or cheapest not cheap. That is the choice. One private firm or another. If you have the time and energy (excuse the pun) you could set aside a few hours each month searching for a supplier slightly less expensive than the one currently holding you to ransom and switch. That’s if your current provider doesn’t impose a penalty for leaving whatever current tariff they have you on.
Another tremendous idea from Cams is that the Chinese will build nuclear power stations for us. Fab. A foreign power whose ethos and work practices are so different from ours in charge of nuclear power here. Shame it wasn’t Russia or Japan because Chernobyl and Fukushima were such great parties.
According to today's BBC Radio 4 breakfast ‘news’, 8 million Brits will be watching people make buns tonight. The ‘news’ presenter rushed through an interview with Jeremy Hunt, skimming over NHS charges and how people are going to keep warm when they can’t afford to heat their homes, so that we could get onto a ridiculously extended piece about cup cakes. In reality, the only things being thoroughly creamed off in the UK are the profits from utilities that used to belong to us.
I’ve just been endeavouring to book a train to Manchester - there is a connection – (another pun apology). Because I was attempting to use a free voucher - compo for a previous crap journey - I saw that my travel would involve three, possibly four different train companies on the four leg marathon. All more expensive than they used to be despite the competition that was supposed to work in favour of the customer.
I no longer have a land line with BT - there is a connection – (same pun – sorry!) though I am still in dispute with them over charges they’ve tried to levy on what was an unreliable line. Just having the line – even if I rarely used it – became a notable expense to add to all the others that hang over you with almost tangible weight. I’m sure I recall (!) a time when landlines were cheap and reliable and if something went wrong a nice man came round and fixed it.
My water charges – like yours - have gone up exponentially over the years and still – all I actually get out of the tap is H2O.
Buses, at least where I live, are a nightmare of irregularity, unreliability and complex and inflated charges since deregulation in the 80s.
Watch out for the same nonsense with the Post Office.
Somehow – everything in Britain that we used to own is now run for the benefit of shareholders. It’s costing us more and as the prices go up the standard of service seems to decline with equal but opposite momentum.
If you think the NHS is safe, take a real look at what has already happened and just how much private involvement has slimed in courtesy of such schemes as PFI. How many scandals seem to find their roots in poorly paid, under-trained workers and general low staffing levels?
If you really look closely you will see that a lot of council services, even ones you hadn’t imagined, are out to tender. This is privatisation once-removed. Meanwhile many councils continue to make decisions that seem to have no bearing on the desires of their council tax payers – i.e. closing libraries, while giving planning permissions to schemes that local people dislike, making them seem no more accountable to local people than national government.
Unless it’s going to buck the trend of every other piece of national family silver that’s been flogged off - watch the postal service for increased charges and poorer service.
We’ve been legally burgled in our own homes, mugged on our own streets... several times. With increasing frequency the bandits come back for more, sometimes much more, and we have to hand it over. It’s called privatisation.
On a lighter note, I’ll be taking part in the First
UK Women in Comedy Festival - Manchester 
Kings Arms - Salford

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Blog 55 Free Christmas feel-good, courtesy of Cameron

If you thought he was just being an elitist bastard you were wrong. Our glorious leader is actually channelling his inner Dickens.

This year you may go about increasing your household debt to buy stuff for your loved ones that they didn’t want, won’t like and never needed. Perhaps you will try to enjoy the winter break without being freaked out by people scrabbling round trying to buy stuff for their loved ones that they didn’t want, won’t like and never needed. Whatever your inclination, a fuzzy feel-good chwistmas will permeate like rotten egg-nog thanks to Dave Dickens.

We can all indulge in a flaky, fakey, festive, candles-by-firelight, fun, fantasy festive season. There will be authentic rich people smiling and clutching champagne flutes while ornamental poor people peer in through prettily frosted windows. Dirty but decorative urchins will look up wistfully to the starry winter sky as if to say “I hope mummy comes home from the local food bank with some turkey drumsticks in place of the dried milk, tea, cheap sugar and tinned soup she usually gets.”

It’s too good to be true.

Last week in a single news slot – the jolly sounding reporter let us know that certain energy companies were blaming the wicked ‘green’ taxes for their price hike – rather than the amount of profits required to keep the shareholders happy. There followed a piece about some rich oiks spending £130K in one night on a bar tab. In case that isn’t clear - ONE HUDNRED AND THIRTY THOUSAND POUNDS - on alcohol in one night in one bar.

I thought the people (I use that term loosely) at the top of the economic pile were just a bunch of nasty selfish gits who spent their entire energies and focus on keeping hold of inherited wealth whilst skewing the economy to ensure they get more and pay as little tax as possible, grabbing anything of value that previously belonged to all of us. Fool fool fool that I am. One union rep opined on the government’s passion for nationalising debt and privatising profit. He also must be a fool. All along, those we have begun to think of as gutless self-serving shits actually just had a misty Dickensian vision in mind for Britain. In that Britain – rather than equality and proper opportunities for all and fair distribution – very very rich people will occasionally drop a few crumbs from the table while the smiling poor scrabble round gratefully and gaze wonderingly at the safe secure warm healthy lives they will never have. Bob Cratchit eat your heart out (it may come to that!)

Thus have the railways, water, energy, communications been hiked off to the private sector. If anyone was in doubt as to the criminal insipient level of moral corruption involved here – remember one fact only. The public now pay far more in subsidy to the rail companies than we did when the railways were owned by THE COUNTRY. Yet fares are to go up yet again by more than inflation.

To complete the descent into Dickensian Dystopia – the Post Office has now been flogged off. Yes a few ordinary folk got some shares. But that’s like watching hired thugs trashing your neighbour’s house and then standing by and saying – well – the place is trashed anyway – I may as well have a couple of teacups. The Emir of Kuwait reportedly made £20million profit in around 20 minutes by buying the undervalued shares. And this same government is bellyaching about ‘foreigners’ using the NHS. What could the NHS do with a free £20 million? How many cancer treatments would that buy? How many midwives would that pay for? How many dialysis treatments?

But we have food banks! Food banks are now being talked about as if they are here to stay and that says EVERYTHING. They are being formalised. That’s because the British people and the government can see that they are going to be part of British life for a while.

Look out for Workhouses re-opening in Britain any time soon, young girls selling matches on street corners and little boys working up chimneys.

Please sir – we don’t want any more!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Blog 54 Glaxo Smith Kline is not the answer – WE are.

Unbelievable, astounding, mindboggling, amazing (etc etc) but TRUE!

The scientific shock-fact-discovery-announcement-revelation on Radio 4’s breakfast news was a real mind bender (if your mind is especially malleable that is).

SCIENTISTS, it was claimed last week, have concluded that some people suffering from heart disease get more benefit from exercise than they do from medication (please visualise a gob-smacked facial expression here).

I was so amazed I nearly forgot to be irritated by the moronic way science is reported. Items of brain-wilting, soul atrophying dimness masquerading as information worthy of broadcast is becoming depressing.

A disease which is often caused by lack of exercise can be aided or alleviated by EXERCISE. Good lord. Next they’ll discover that the problem of being tired can be resolved by going to bed.

If scientists have managed to make this breakthrough and the BBC have aired the revelation on prime time programming, what else could be coming our way? Because let’s face it – hardly a week goes by without some super futuristic announcement about cures – genetic, chemical, biological or otherwise - which will end sickness, inherited illness, starvation etc. Usually the small print or garbled unintelligible bits at the end can be missed, such as –

‘Only tested on fleas so far’

‘1 out of 100,000 responded with only a couple of horrific side effects’

‘This is still in a very experimental stage and may show no results for 35 years or EVER but if we don’t promote it now we may lose our funding’

And so on.

The reality is that very few diseases have been absolutely cured or eradicated recently by immunisation or medical breakthrough. Since polio can you name one?

Some of the really awful ones are returning with a vengeance and with new strains. Historically, rich countries concentrated on their own populations while germs and bacteria failed to respect borders.

This morning’s ‘break-through’ announcement relates to malaria, killer of hundreds of thousands every year. The drug GSK wish to see licensed has been shown to reduce incidents of malaria by (for example) a quarter in infants – in the test groups but the effect of the drug is also thought to decline and the W.H.O believe its benefit – if at all – is simply another string to the anti-malaria bow and possibly a short-term one at that. And yet mining companies are still being allowed to abandon open mining sites that then fill with stagnant water which encourages the malaria mosquito. The 600,000 who die annually are mainly based in the poorest parts of Africa. Do we need these stats to tell us that poverty is the real terminal disease? What is the point of tackling malaria without dealing with poverty and industrial abuse?

Our contradictions are going to kill us.

One of the truly unpalatable messages we just don’t want to hear is that some things may not be curable in the real sense of the word. Research into a cure for Alzheimer’s was significantly downgraded last year by three major drugs companies on the basis that they could no longer spend their resources with no realistic ROI on the horizon.

Many new drugs are prohibitively expensive, labour intensive and complex to administer. Use of that new medication for a single patient as set against resources that could medicate or treat far greater numbers makes it unviable and possibly unethical. And if anyone thinks that we can save a human life at any cost they are forgetting that ‘any cost’ may mean the lives of people whose conditions are more easily and effectively dealt with. In other words we in the West, where we seem to have begun to think we are immortal, have to start taking a realistic approach to health and medicine.

Scientists cannot be blamed for being enthusiastic about scientific discovery but the media have a responsibility in the way they air these stories. The manner in which they handled the false measles vaccination soap opera was scandalous. As recently as this year the effects of that have come back to bite us. The public has to be trusted with sensible information and not treated alternately to horror scare stories and tales of wonder cures.

Far from being anti-science I am simply pro-common sense. The sooner we get the hang of the idea that we are going to have to take responsibility for ourselves and also care for everyone not just the rich – the better for all of us.

I wonder if the people with their off-shore accounts think that germs growing ever more immune to modern drugs as well as those we’ve relied on for decades will bypass them in the future because they are rich.

We are still failing miserably with the unpalatable message that prevention is better than remedy. Not only is it better – in a few years, for many conditions we believe to be easily treated now, prevention may be the only option.

Meanwhile look out for more announcements

Kids who are stuck in front of TV as soon as the umbilical cord is cut probably won’t function well at school, physically or mentally.

It will turn out that Botox is bad for you.

Car use is killing us – actually, violently and also slowly and horribly.

Grass is green and pigs can’t fly.

If you fancy a fictional account of where I think this will end – why not treat yourself to a read of The Remainder – a short story of mine based on the last verse of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men (“This is the way the worlds ends / Not with a bang but a whimper”)  ROOT anthology published by iron press 2013

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Blog 53. I suffer from PANTs syndrome, do you?

Being both random and more light-hearted this week I’ll take the opportunity to apologise to those folk who posted comments to Brown Girl over the months. After a year I only just found the courage to delve into the cogs and wheels of the apparatus. After breaking the blog two or three times in the first few months it was too scary to go messing about. But people kept asking if their comments had been received. They never had or so it seemed. Maybe they were floating round the e-stratosphere unable to land. On a whim a couple few days ago I finally went a wandering in the workings, explored the oily insides of the blog machinery and found a tool that led me to a list of hitherto un-opened options. With some trepidation I clicked and up popped a very long list of comments. As there was no sign of imminent implosion of the blog, no ‘error on the page’ or notice that the function would ‘shut down in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 seconds' I read all the input. THANK YOU. In future I will try and read them in good time and publish a selection.

For anyone who finds this level of Luddite behaviour and techno-trepidation pitiable, what can I say? I have an aversion to technology that may be verging on a syndrome. If my disorder does not yet have an acronym lets use this for now; Persistent Aversion to New Technologies or PANTs. I tried Terror Inducing Technologies but that wasn’t so good.

Now my lack of car, dishwasher, home internet, TV, microwave, i-phone etc can be attributed to this new and fascinating condition rather than, let's say, my budget. Also the fact that I’ve never been on facebook or tweeted. Or maybe those last two are to do with the fact that I am repelled by the idea of the mass exposure of the grimiest aspects of human nature. Who can tell?

The syndrome might be even more complicated and intriguing than that.

There could be an element of just generally not liking new things.  Maybe that’s why I shop in charity shops rather than high street stores. Actually no. I do that because of the price and also because you occasionally find interesting stuff in charity shops whereas once you’ve been in one high street clothes store you pretty much know what is in all of them. On the other hand I do still ride the bicycle that my parents bought me when I was 8!

How – you ask with a hint of scepticism in your voice – do you cope with the blog? Well, the blog was forced on me by an ongoing problem. Anyone under the age of 35 who came to see me perform would look through me as if I was vaporising when I responded to their request for a web reference of Fb page with a negative. They would back away from me faintly disturbed when they realised I only existed in the real world.

My aversion to technology often tips over into fear and that can become socially disabling. Recently I was talking to a guy from Warwickshire county council in relation to the library event in Leamington. He joked that I should send him a message ‘by pigeon’. Instead of appreciating this witticism, panic took hold. I assumed he was referring to some recent manifestation of internet communication wizardry that had passed me by. The Tweet had been superseded by Pigeon! There was a horrible silence on the phone. My lack of knowledge morphed into a blank of heavy breathing. I was yet again on my own little island of not so blissful ignorance.

Not that me and jokes have a comfortable history. Once while performing at a fundraiser I quipped that if people went onto eBay they'd find one of my kidneys for auction. There was a deathly hush followed by a few titters then relieved sporadic chuckles. A friend later explained that there were enough people in the audience who knew me to hesitate on the question of whether I was mad enough to do such a thing. But I digress (hoorah)

The comments were ALL read before being deleted to make way for more so in future I will navigate to the comments cog in sensible time and publish the ones that say marvellous things.

Many Thanks.

And to fellow PANTs sufferers, the cure is to pretend it’s not happening and eat cake.