Thursday, 31 December 2009

It's A Wonderful Life

I have watched It's a Wonderful Life again this Chrismas and even though it was made in 1946 it was the best thing I saw in the last couple of weeks. In the film James Stewart runs the Building and Loan Association that gives out loans based on personal knowledge of an individual's character and he saves the bank from ruin. It sounds like we could have done with him when Northern Rock collapsed.

The film did make me think of why I am a Liberal Democrat. If you believe in small government and low taxation then this Conservative view puts you on the side of Lionel Barrymore who played Mr Potter. If you are not sure about his character then it is a good time to watch the film. I did think about Gordon Brown too when Mr Potter offers to guarantee all the deposits in the bank. i think that the Liberal Democrats are represented by James Stewart who shows the power of individuals if they work together.

Change the world

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A reluctance to intervene

As we approach the end I have been thinking back over the two visits that I made to the doctor this year and I will share the December visit with you. I didn't see the doctor. I saw the nurse who syringed my ears. I have had this done three or four times in my life so I knew the ropes. I also knew that one moment I could hear nothing and the next I could hear the slightest noise.

Wax is there for a useful purpose. It helps keep the ear dry and prevent infection. So there is a risk involved by syringing ears. You can cause infection by removing wax and if there is a perforation in the ear an infection could develop in the inner ear. Risks cause reluctance to intervene and over the years this work has been confined to those who hold an appropriate certificate. Around twenty years ago I went from GP to occupational health nurse to GP to occupational health nurse to have my ears syringed. Apart from my time and that of the GP and nurse there was a lot of paperwork.

All this extra work comes about because someone has made a claim when something has gone wrong. I could give you the details about the reluctance to carry out my December syringing but I'll save you the energy of reading about it. What is clear is that everyone is so worried about litigation that everything takes so much longer.

Change the world

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Pantomime Time

In this technological age in which you can find out the news from across the world at the click of a button I was reassured yesterday that there are basic pleasures achieved from much simpler forms of communication. I went to see the local pantomime and it was wonderful to see the faces of the children (and adults) when the heroes failed to see the dangerous villain. As it turned out the villain was behind them all the time!

I am sure that Father Christmas was asked for lots of computer games but social activity is alive and well in Morecambe. I am convinced that there is a much greater pleasure achieved by social interaction like going to the theatre than from sitting at a computer. Computers do have their benefits, in fact I am sat at one now, but if I had a choice I would be at the theatre again. Oh yes I would.

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Monday, 28 December 2009

The nineteen days of Christmas

Do you get the impression that Christmas is over? Well it is the 28th of December. In fact the twelve days of Christmas are from the 25th December till the 5th January but you can't help feeling it is over, especially if you have managed to finish your turkey. Some people have to work over the Christmas period, some only get the statutory days. You may be lucky enough to get a couple of weeks holiday around Christmas and New Year, but whether you believe in the religious aspects of Christmas or not, it is a good time to enjoy a break in winter.

If you are an MP this year you get nineteen days of Christmas. Many would argue that MPs don't get a break at all as they have so much work in their constituencies. I guess some will work extremely hard but it is a bit like MPs' expenses used to be - we just don't know how hard they work. What we do know is that they have a recess from Westminster and it lasts much longer than the break that almost everyone else gets. They also return on the 5th January so I suppose it really isn't a Christmas break.

Let's say for the sake of argument that our MPs do work hard, but shouldn't they be working hard on a more regular basis at Westminster?

Change the world

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Greet or attack?

There is an old series of TV adverts for The Guardian which showed a news event from one angle but when viewed from a different perspective the whole story changed. The moral was don't believe the first thing you read or see. I thought of these adverts when I saw the news articles about the attack on the pope at the Christmas Mass.

Early reports described the attack but it looked to me like the damage was done not by the 'attacker' but because she was pulled over by those who were protecting him. The reports went on to suggest that security would have to be tightened because of this breach. Later on Christmas Day I read that the woman only wanted to greet the pontiff.

I know that a secure life may be important to a lot of people, and it is, but it strikes me that the role of the clergy is to reach out to all and sundry. If you stop all risk you end up doing nothing. In fact the steps you take to improve security may turn out to be a cause of risk. For me the most serious aspect is the injury to Cardinal Roger Etchegaray who broke his hip. Let's hope he makes a speedy recovery.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Morecambe Bay cockling

A couple of days before Chrismas I was speaking with a fisherman. In fact he is one of the few remaining fishermen on Morecambe Bay and among other things he was telling me about cockling. The beds are closed at the moment so there is no risk of anyone dying or at least this risk should be minimal. He told me that he don't want to restrict access to the bay because individuals may want to go out and pick a few cockles. Of course this access has to be balanced with safety and the greatest dangers came from the channels formed by the rivers.

He found it hard to believe that anyone would think that they could go cockling at night and this made me ask about who gets a licence. I am still not quite sure who gets the licence but he didn't want anyone to ask him whether he was competent to be on the bay but he understood that checks had to be in place. However he did assure me that a disaster like that of February 2004 should not happen again.

I wrote about J.S. Mill and how his thoughts on freedom applied to dog walkers. Take a look back at the 21st December and you will see that Mill is just as relevant to cockling.

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Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Political correctness is all around us but I am going to stick my neck out and wish you a merry Christmas. Some people, often the decision makers, seem to think that anything to do with Christmas is offensive to non-Christians. You hear all sorts of stories about the word Christmas being banned, and anything with any religious connection will cause offence.

Ten years ago they had 'Wintervals' in Birmingham. I am sure that the person who made this decision would have taken it to avoid offending anyone. The result, of course, is offensive to Christians. A more common expression is 'season's greetings'. I received a card before Christmas with this heading and the photograph looked like it had been taken in summer. So which season were they greeting me with?

I am not offended if anyone wishes me a good day or a happy Diwali. I have been known to say Eid Mubarak and would you believe that I did not wish to offend anyone? The reply to Eid Mubarak may be kul 'am wantum bikhair which means may you be well every year. I really can't find anything offensive with this. Whether you have faith or none there are some polite expressions that you could use. What is impolite is disregarding the feelings of others because of an unfounded fear brought about by political correctness.

Change the world and merry Christmas

Thursday, 24 December 2009

A business based on unhappiness

Why do people play the lottery? Mathematically it is not the thing to do to win money but you can certainly gain a thrill at the prospect of winning a lot so there is one reason to play. However the main reason is because we are dreamers. We want to change our lives. Maybe we want to stop working. It might be that dream holiday is out of our reach. The dreamers who play the lottery are saying that fundamentally they are unhappy with their lives. I don't think you need to think too deeply to realise this.

The argument for the lottery is that someone has to win. However unlikely it is you will hear about them and lives will change. That leads me on to my second point. If you are so lucky that you do win then you will make enemies. It may be that you are a philanthrope and you have great ways of spending your money to help people and save the earth. You may just want to share out all the money with your family and friends and you may know a lot of people however I guarantee that you will find that there are many more people who know you.

There are charities that gain from the proceeds of the lottery business, but how have we really developed into a society that recognises unhappiness and creates more unhappiness by winning or losing? Wouldn't it be nice to follow James Stewart's example in It's a Wonderful Life? Well it is Christmas.

Change the world

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The source of Gordon's insult

I have written about John Hutton before and I disagreed with most of what he had to say. In fact if there was an award for the MP with whom I disagree the most it would go to Mr Hutton. Yesterday he was in the news as he was the cabinet source who described Gordon Brown as an " distaster" if he ever became prime minister. Well done Eddie Mair for informing us.

I have a dilemma because I would like to strongly disagree with anything John Hutton says, but in this case I find it so hard to do. However the obvious problem with finding out the secret source is that he has only had the courage to 'come out' because he is standing down at the next election. This is not a man of courage. I also find his poor use of language a sign of ignorance. There are times when obscenity may be appropriate. However with this example at best it is crass and at worse offensive.

What a shame he is standing down as even his own party could spend a long time criticising him.

Change the world

Employment Selection Process

My children support Blackburn Rovers and when they come over for Christmas I will ask them what they think about the sacking of Mark Hughes by Manchester City. I will watch football on the television but I find it hard to become passionate about a sport that is such a high profile business. I have a lot of sympathy for the fans who decided to follow FC United.

I don't think the fans of any football team will think of themselves primarily as part of a business venture but if they do then they have to consider the ninety minutes on the pitch firstly as entertainment and secondly as a competitiion between two teams . What chance do the poorer teams have against the likes of Chelsea or Manchester United. Alright there are exceptions but generally rich teams win. This takes me back to Mark Hughes. Whether it was fair of not to dismiss him I am sure that success will come the way of Manchester City as long as their manager has the freedom to keep buying the best players.

Apart from the enterprise aspect of football I find it strange that normal employment law doesn't seem to apply to the teams. Maybe Mark had a contract that said he could be dismissed at any time but how did City recruite so easily. Can they avoid selection procedures? I have no wish to apply but how did they advertise the post? Was the advert equally available to women? Was there any discrimination against any groups in their selection process?

I believe that people should have the ability to choose the best person for the job as they see it, however I thought that the employment law in this country would also be applicable to football team.

Change the world

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Are we prepared for bad weather?

What does the world think of the way we deal with our weather? We have television screens showing pictures of great disruption caused by snowfall when it looks like God has shaken icing sugar over the land. Airports can't deal with this amount of snow and the Channel Tunnel has closed indefinitely. If planes aren't safe in cold weather that is one thing but the excuses that I was hearing were about problems caused by the amount of snow on the ground.

Last night around 10pm I took a very pleasant walk along Broadway in Morecambe. It was snowing fairly heavily but my trusty shoes meant that my steps were sure even with a dog that was pulling from time to time. I did notice no difference between snow landing on the road and snow landing anywhere else. Broadway is a fairly broad way but there was no grit to be seen. This was fine for my photographs but I'm not sure if I want to go driving.

On Sunday evening I drove through Lancaster . Television and radio reports had told me how well prepared we were in Lancashire and we were so much better off than last year when we had icy weather for days at a time! Well now that we were prepared I dared to go up a hill and found myself sliding around. I wasn't on my own. I have heard many stories of people stuck in their cars or unable to get where they wanted to go.

It is one thing to decide that treating the roads in bad weather is not a priority. It is quite another to say that we are prepared but only treat a few roads.

Change the world

P.S. This morning Broadway has been gritted. I travelled to Hest Bank and saw two snowmen. I think this would be the first time that these children had built a snowman and they looked really good.

P.P.S. I am listening to the news on the evening of the 22nd and I hear that councils are working flat out. I thought that my main road was left for a morning shift rather than a night shift so I would question the "flat out" but it used to be the case that side streets were gritted. Council workers may be working flat out but there must be a lot less of them now.

P.P.P.S. I travelled from Morecambe to Chester and back this evening and the roads were fine. They were also the quietest I have ever seen them so congratulations to those who are looking after them.

Monday, 21 December 2009

What would J S Mill say?

I am all for freedom for individuals. If you want a fancy car that can accelerate really quickly then that is up to you. However there should be some restraints on freedom. John Stuart Mill wrote a book about this subject called 'On Liberty'. If an action only affects the individual then they should be free to carry out that action but if others are affected then regulation is needed. In the case of any motor vehicle then we have plenty of regulations, one of which is the speed limit.

There are so many factors about one person's car that affects others. There is the obvious use of the earth's resources, the carbon footprint, the accidents caused and road rage. I am sure that the list could go on for a long time but I will concentrate on speed limits which are generally used for safety. They also have a use in fuel economy. Check out how much fuel is used at 56mph and then at 70mph and 56mph easily wins. As well as this my physics A level tells me that stopping and starting is not good if you don't like buying fuel - something to do with inertia.

The reason I am writing this blog is because so many people think it is alright to break the speed limit. Everyone is safe and it is their fuel. Well I was walking my dog in the centre of Lancaster. I was thinking of walking across the Carlisle bridge which happens to be 40mph. It was late at night and one of the few times when there is no traffic jam and I reckon that the vehicles were travelling at 50mph at least. I didn't feel safe walking there so I turned back after a few steps. J S Mill would say that all the dog walkers should be considered when setting speed limits.

Change the world

Sunday, 20 December 2009

We need another bridge over the Lune.

In November we had the terrible weather that destroyed bridges in Cumbria and took the life of PC Bill Barker. Workington was cut in two and thousands of people were affected. Pupils who used to walk to school had a round trip of hundreds of miles. This mileage came down as other bridges were deemed safe and eventually they got a footbridge. There was a great show of support from all levels of government and I know that many members of the public have done what they can to help. Unfortunately political opportunism meant that the MP for Morecambe called for an additional bridge for Lancaster which was not affected by the floods.

I felt that this was bad timing and bad taste. The misery and hardship that had been created by the loss of bridges meant for her that a priority should be given to an area that had lost nothing. It is even worse when you realise that Morecambe is in the number one spot for getting a link road to the M6. There is a lot of vocal opposition to the link road based on environmental grounds (but the same few protestors do seem to live near the road and I would argue that there are benefits to the environment). The planning for the road has been going on for decades and traffic has been getting worse. There is more of a need for a link than ever.

Our MP has thrown her weight in opposing the road but if it is built we would have another bridge over the Lune by default. After decades of planning for the link how long does she think it will take to get another bridge in Lancaster? And how long would this take once you have dealt with priority areas in Cumbria? If a Lancaster bridge collapsed then it is difficult to think that we would have a round trip of hundreds of miles.

Change the world

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Morecambe Town Council Website

I received an email last week from someone who wanted to know about the Morecambe Town Council. I referred them to a local Liberal Democrat councillor or to the town hall but I was thinking how strange to get information from me. It seems that they found me through my blogs and sure enough, if you search for the council then you find one of my blogs on the first page. You also find sites like Lancaster City Council. Unfortunately they don't carry any details for Morecambe's council.

We live in a wonderful age of technology. I can put photos on my website or this blog and people from around the world can see them immediately. We also live in an age where red tape is getting worse and worse. Councillors were elected in June so maybe there will be some official information on the internet in the next few months! Please note the irony of the exclamation mark.

The Morecambe Council has a budget of around £220 000. It is not a huge amount but how much of this money should be spent on a website? Some organisations spend nothing as they use blogs, but I think something should be spent for for Morecambe council. It might help if we compare it with the price that an MP spends on their site. This was exceptional but in 2007 Conservative MP Angela Browning spent £9635 on her website. You may not be surprised to read that it was run by a former Conservative party campaigner. There are many many campaigners who write websites for nothing but as a site for a council is official let's pay a decent hourly rate, say £20 per hour. It might take a day to set it up and then an hour per week to update it. I make that around £1200 including costs for web space.

I wonder how much it will cost and whether the best tender comes from a friend of the councillors. Wouldn't it be nice to think that a volunteer would become the webmaster so that this tier of govenment did not have the same stigma as MPs? Failing that let's see if they get paid more than a generous £1200

Change the world

P.S. As of the 1st March 2010 there is a Morecambe Town Council website to be found at I hope it is a success and more people get involved in local politics because technology reaches out to them.

Friday, 18 December 2009

How to stop Morecambe's decline

I was talking to an elderly gentleman this week. We both live in Morecambe and he has lived here for many years and he told me that he had seen Morecambe go downhill in the last twenty years. I asked why and his first thoughts were about the Arndale Centre. I like this shopping centre but I wondered what he meant so I asked. He explained that the quality of shops had worsened. I didn't get many details but I understand that we used to have a Marks and Spencer's and we don't have a bookshop. Even the Town Hall is a shadow of its former self. I suspect that he has a lot more that he could say about the decline of Morecambe.

I put forward that this decline is partly related to the traffic problems from Morecambe to the motorway and he agreed. I said customers wouldn't travel to Morecambe from the other side of Lancaster and his reply was that he doesn't go to Lancaster. I think this hurts Morecambe much more than it does Lancaster because everyone else has to go through Lancaster to get here.

There is still opposition to the link road. I keep reading the same names in the local newspaper writing about how bad the road is. There was an article just this week about the harm the link will do to one local business. I am afraid the evidence is obvious. Many major employers will not touch Morecambe because of the difficulties getting here. People will not move here if they can't get out. I think there are a lot of positives for Morecambe but unless we get behind the link road we will see further decline.

Change the world

Thursday, 17 December 2009

What is Meg Hillier's punishment?

If we are to have an ID card then it has to be compulsory, otherwise anyone who wants to avoid discovery will just say they don't have a card. So if they are to be compulsory what would the punishment be if you forgot to carry it? Let's say for the sake of argument (because I am against them) that they are important so the fine should be significant. Ideally it would relate to income otherwise it is only a punishment for the poor. Again for the sake of argument, let's call this significant fine a day's wage.

Did you read about Meg Hillier a minister with responsibility for ID cards? It seems that she was promoting the roll-out of the cards in Liverpool. When she looked for her card for the photographers she discovered that she had left it at home. She hasn't broken a law because they aren't compulsory but she has done something much worse. She has advertised the fact that human error will make us all break the law. The ID cards are supposed to be wonderful things and we shouldn't be able to forget them.

How should her boss deal with her? I would think that her error is at least thirty times worse than the average forgetful law-breaker. Will she pay a month's wage to charity? That would be interesting.

Change the world

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The CRB check does not protect anyone

I was doing some work for charity yesterday which involved knocking on doors and giving out small presents and a Christmas card to people who lived on their own. Everyone was pleased to see me and it was a very pleasant experience. It also involved going into sheltered accomodation.

On one occassion the first person let me in and I then went to see the manager because I had more to give out and I presumed that they would want to know about me. Unfortunately the manager was nowhere to be seen. In another home I had two presents to give out but in this case I couldn't get in because they weren't at home and the manager wasn't there too. I will try again tomorrow but if there had been a letterbox then the card and present would have been delivered. On the one hand I am concerned about the separation from society which is created by these homes, and on the other I can see gaping holes in security, but my main concern today is about the CRB checks.

I have a few CRB checks and one of them is relevant to the work I was doing. However nobody I met today knew this. The CRB check does not protect anyone. It does allow organisations to defend themselves from any allegations and they can then say they have gone through the due process, but this process is expensive and inefficient. I have had quite a few checks and all of them are only useful on the day they are issued. My greatest concern is for the safety of the individual and it is not affected by any police check.

I have written a previous blog about the decision to create a need for CRB checks followed the Soham murders. Ian Huntley would not have been prevented from carrying out the murders if this legislation had been in place. My suggestion is to find a drawing board and go back to it.

Change the world

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

What is Tony doing with his money?

Take a look at
The Guardian is inviting the general public, and in particular anybody with financial expertise, to help shed light on the mystery of Tony Blair's finances. If you need any help they have published some of Tony's key documents, including the partnership register and accounts for one of his many ventures. The prize for the winner is an original Steve Bell cartoon.

They speculate about the various possible financial motives Tony might have for his labyrinthine arrangements. But then they accidentally give the game away: "The structure is so artificial that in one part of it, Blair is, in effect, forming partnerships with himself."

And there you have it. Britain may have civil partnerships, but for those suffering the pangs of self-love, only in the realm of finances can that love be requited. Point this out to the Guardian quickly, and claim your prize.

Change the world.

Monday, 14 December 2009

If only life were so simple

As I write, Ed Balls is defending the CRB checks that need to be carried out under Labour legislation on the Andrew Marr show. It seems that it has never been the case that parents need checks if they organise childcare for each other. It all sounds so simple. I am afraid that Ed is wrong and it isn't simple at all.

You only have to go back three months to the case of two policewomen who were told that they had broken the law because they looked after each other's childen. It was generally recognised that the legislation was complicated and confusing. This is why the Government is going to great lengths to say how simple everything is.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a Labour politician recognising their errors and saying they are working to correct them.

Change the world

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The great moral question of the day

If your job is to clean the floor then you would think it is fairly straightforward and so there would be little pressure. You would be wrong. Pressure comes from within you and if you could have done a little better then you may feel guilt. Nobody works without moments when they are not concentrating. Some people take unauthorised breaks and it doesn't matter what job you are doing, if you know that you could do better then so could your manager.

One question this week on Any Questions was about the great moral question of the day. Is it the way we leave the world for our children? Is it about equal access to education or is it about inequality in general? My answer would relate to how we treat each other. The person who has to clean the floor may have just as much pressure as the top executive, and how we treat each other relates to happiness. The top earners may be able to buy more commodities but as the Beatles sang, they can't buy love. If your attitude is right then everything else will fall into place.

Change the world

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sometimes you can agree with the Tories

Sir Richard Dannatt was on the panel of Question Time on Thursday and a question did come up about him being in the payroll of the Conservative Party whilst serving in the army. His defence was that he had acted completely honourably and only given advice once he had left the army. Paddy Ashdown had a very good night. He was the expert on most matters during the programme and in particular he had the ideas for Afghanistan.

There may be some defence for Sir Richard. There is no defence for the Conservative Party who put him in an uncomfortable position, to say the least. You can't serve the Government and the opposition at the same time. There is a nasty whiff of treachery in the air when an advisor to the Government is proclaimed as an advisor to the opposition.

I was a little disappointed that there was no mention of the comments from the Conservative Chris Grayling who at the time of the announcement misheard a question about General Dannatt. Thinking that the Government had a new advisor, he said that he hoped it was not a political gimmick. It was all about PR. It is a good thing to get the best advice but I do agree with Chris Grayling. It was a gimmick to announce an army advisor while he was still a serving officer.

Change the world

Friday, 11 December 2009

Lawyers make the rugby decisions

When I was at school I used to play rugby on Saturday mornings and watch Sale rugby club every other week when they were at home. I mention this because the news yesterday was that Sale are thinking about their response to the news that Wasps are not to blame for the late late cancellation of their match two weeks ago.

It is not good for fans to go to a match and have it cancelled. It is much worse for the away fans but for the players times have changed. The professionals may need to protect themselves more and ask for games to be cancelled if they don't think the ground is fit to play.

The reason why I am writing the blog, and the reason why Sale are giving it some thought before they reply is that the blame for the cancellation is so complicated. Wasps said they wouldn't play but it is the referee's fault because he didn't make it clear that it his decision, so it is his fault.

I find this difficult to understand. Wasps won't play so blame the referee. When I played rugby we obeyed the referee but did blame him whenever we lost. We actually blamed anything we could but now in this professional era it looks like we need lawyers to make any decision.

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Thursday, 10 December 2009

You can't pick and choose your rules

Yesterday's blog was about communication and how important it is in management. It is also important for any walk of life. However there is one thing that is much more important than communication and that is what you wish to communicate. If you say something that is good but don't communicate it then you will get nowhere. If you say something bad but put a good spin on it then you might get somewhere but it wouldn't be good. So the message is all important.

I was walking my dog Molly in a park yesterday where there is a sign saying that dogs must be kept on leads. There was one lady with three little dogs walking next to her who were very well behaved but not on a lead. I explained to my dog that this is how she should behave but I don't think I was the main thing on her mind. One of her dogs came close and I had a struggle to hold on to Molly. She is very friendly but she is not good with other dogs which may be something to do with her coming from a rescue home. Yet she can be good with other animals if she is given a chance. She got a chance shortly after this experience with a big dog who was off the lead.

I thought that this was great. My dog had a chance to socialise with another dog. In the first experience my dog had struggled with me. Both the other dog owners had broken the rules but I knew which one I preferred.

As I was leaving I overheard the first owner complaining about the other one because her little dogs were threatened. You really can't complain about others breaking the rules if you are doing so yourself. Whatever defence she has for herself really isn't good enough to allow her to complain about others. Her dogs had irritated mine, the other dog had become a friend and she was complaining. The moral of this story for me is that you can't pick and choose which rules you are going to obey.

Change the world

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Can Gerry fix it?

I like Gerry Robinson and I watched his programme yesterday about whether he can fix Dementia Care Homes. In 2007 I watched his programmes on the NHS when he worked at Rotherham General Hospital. The difference that he tried to make in the NHS and the difference he is trying to make this time relates to care and attitude.

The staff were not happy in one home because they felt that they were not appreciated. The owner was angry with himself partly because his business was failing and partly because his communication with the staff was not good. He had taken away free food and according to Marx (and Robinson) whenever you get expectations raised and then lowered then you are likely to get revolution, and the staff were revolting.

There was also a breakdown in communication between staff and residents which was noticed when 'care mapping' was carried out. This meant noting what was happening every five minutes without getting involved. The owner recognised that the mapping had highlighted 'appalling' care. The staff could easily have taken this as a personal insult but it looked to me like a management problem to me.

Did Gerry fix it? Well some homes weren't broken but we will have to wait for next week for a full answer.

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Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Could do better.

It looks like Alistair Darling is going to make a "massive U-turn" tomorrow when he mentions the NHS IT system in his pre-Budget report. He is not saying the system is wrong. Have you ever heard a politician say something that they had previously said was wrong? No he is going to scale back the IT in the NHS because it is not "essential to the frontline".

Until 2008 I worked in the Health Service as a physiotherapist. There was widespread recognition that computers were doing a good job but for all the time that I spent on the computer it did not replace my handwritten notes. I used a lot of abbreviations but I was told that the system would be able to accommodate this and I would be writing my notes directly onto a computer.

I remember well when the computerised appointment system came in. I went along as a member of the public to one reception and I overheard that they were closing for a day to get used to the new system. They also said that they could do with a week not one day. This was a frontline service and its service was definitely affected.

One of the benefits of computerised records is that you can go into a hospital at one end of the country and they could access your records from the other end. I never heard that this had been done for anyone and I would imagine that this was no benefit for the majority of people, but I am willing to accept that someone may have done this at some time.

There are benefits to computers in the NHS. I thought the improvements for x-rays was fantastic. I do like computers. I write two blogs every day and I use my computers for so many things. However it looks like most of the NHS IT system could be better and saving hundreds of millions of pounds may not be a bad move for Mr Darling.

Change the world

Monday, 7 December 2009

Ban The Imaginary Ban

A couple of days ago I was speaking with a group of teachers and we got on to the subject of photography. I noticed a general sense of relief that cameras were banned from school. If cameras were allowed into schools it only takes one parent to object to their child being photographed and you have real problems. In practice what this means is that nobody gets photos of their children at any school performance.

The conversation went on to the subject of photography in public places. Again I noticed a general agreement among the teachers that photographs should not be taken near groups of schoolchildren. I remembered that I had recently read about someone who was challenged about their photography in public. The photographer was asked if they had permission to take photographs in this public place. The answer was in the form of a question. If the photographer could be told who they should ask then they would say if they had permission. I thought that this was a good answer except if you are in a position to give this answer then you are probably not enjoying your photography.

Yesterday the queen became involved in this topic by asking for privacy from the paparazzi when she is at Sandringham over Christmas. I think that everyone has a right to privacy on private land and anyone who invades this privacy could be prosecuted. Unfortunately this view does not address the main problem. We live in a society in which everyone is guilty of the worst type of crimes unless they can produce evidence from imaginary thought police to say otherwise. Why do we accept that we should just ban photographers? Why not ban everyone from being near groups of children, after all who knows what they might be thinking?

By all means let's do something about unacceptable behaviour but with the present way of thinking just carrying a camera is behaving irresponsibly.

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Sunday, 6 December 2009

Terminological Inexactitudes

When do you tell lies? It is the sort of question that you find in some newspapers and magazines that use questions and answers to interview people. A common answer is that the interviewee lies in order to protect their friends.

When I was a student in the eighties I was taught some psychology and I distinctly remember that we should not be confirming illusions. If someone is confused then they become more confused if you lie to them. The Bible tells us that we must not bear false witness but are there really times when the truth hurts and lying does no harm? I'll let you decide that one, but I wonder if that is what Tiger Woods used as his defence to his wife.

Winston Churchill gave us the expression 'terminological inexactitude'. It is unparliamentary to call an MP a liar so at least you now have a polite expression for the next time you meet an MP.

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Saturday, 5 December 2009

Where do dead pigeons go?

I saw some pigeons yesterday who looked like they had a death wish. There were three of four of them who were feeding on something in the road. A car came along and slowed down and then stopped. Then a pedestrian clapped her hands and they flew off - only to come back a few seconds later. I knew this person who told me that she had seen flattened pigeons and she even saw one person drive over a pigeon. He stopped very near to the incident and she managed to give him a piece of her mind.

My opinion is based on my Manchester upbringing where pigeons are generally seen as a pest, and the words of my driving instructor. He asked me if I had ever seen a pigeon that had been hit by a car and I hadn't. I still haven't. Where do dead pigeons go? He said if you slow down unexpectedly you may cause an accident. A child could run out into the road and cause a driver to make an emergency stop. If a car goes into the back of you it is their fault for not anticipating the stop and not leaving the correct distance between their car and yours. However an emergency stop is a risky manoeuvre and he told me not to change the way I drive for pigeons.

I didn't find any help in the Highway Code but I do slow down if I feel it is safe. If I don't think it is safe then I drive in exactly the way that my instructor taught me. If you have an answer then let me know.

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Friday, 4 December 2009

See the terror in their eyes

Have you ever told a teacher that they get long summer holidays? It doesn't go down very well. Another bad idea is to suggest to a police officer that they use their siren when they are late for their dinner. This doesn't get a laugh. It doesn't even get a smile. It is a bit like telling an MP that they get good expenses or a city banker that they don't deserve their bonus. Much worse than any of this is to ask a nurse anything while they are giving out drugs. They need to concentrate and errors may be fatal. Even minor errors may lead to disciplinary action.

I have been visiting a friend in hospital and one of the first things that she said to me was that she wanted to go to the toilet and had been waiting for a considerable length of time. The ward was made up of many side wards and I had looked round them all. The only nurse that I could see was giving out drugs. I waited at the door and when she looked at me I apologised for interrupting her and asked if there was anyone I could ask for help. It was too late. You could see terror in her eyes. How dare I interrupt her? She told me that I would just have to look around. I looked everywhere on the ward. The only nurse that I then found had just sat down on a break and I apologised to her for asking if there was anyone to help.

There was a happy ending to this story but I will spare you the detail. Wouldn't it be nice if there were enough staff in hospitals? Wouldn't it be nice if staff took their breaks so that nurses weren't left on their own giving out drugs? Wouldn't it be nice if we could laugh about our work?

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More misguided conviction

Two blogs today! I have to mention Margaret Beckett who reminded me of my blog on 21st November about misguided conviction. She had the final word on the mansion tax on yesterday's Question Time. She said "as is so often the case, the Liberal Democrat figures just don't add up". This was from the woman who a few sentences earlier thought that there were only 86 houses valued over £2 million when the figure is 86 000. The Liberal Democrats go to great lengths to have their figures audited but Margaret mustn't have paid attention again.

The next question was about the number of troops going to Afghanistan. A member of the audience told us that the French aren't going to send more troops. Margaret Beckett can't comment on this and the gentleman in the audience said it was in that day's paper. I haven't read it but I believe him. Margaret's preparations for the programme just don't add up.

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Thursday, 3 December 2009

Have you broken any laws?

Let me start by writing that I don't think that people should drive and use a mobile phone at the same time. I was wondering if it is an offence to hold a mobile phone whilst driving and I was told that the police would check the phone records to see if you were using it. Let's say that you weren't. Would you still be prosecuted? If you have been stopped by the police and they have checked your records then they must be suspecting that you are driving without due care.

What if you were holding a piece of fruit? I was told that there have been prosecutions for eating fruit and the person who told me also said that they had eaten fruit whilst driving many times. They also said they set off driving and put on their belt while they are slowly moving.

It strikes me that everyone is guilty of something especially when you have so many new laws coming out of Westminster that even the law makers can't keep up with them. It also strikes me that if the Government wanted to stop some aspect of bad driving then they could do so. What about a car that only starts when the belt is fastened? What about cars that don't go past the speed limit?

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Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The effects of stardom

There is a rumour (possibly vicious) that Simon Cowell is a smoker who smokes in the studio in a place which is not designated for smokers. He is fined for doing so but continues to smoke and pay fines. I don't know if there is any truth in this rumour but there are many examples of fines that are not related to income. How many rich sport stars hire top lawyers when they are in court? Not only is a fine nothing to them in comparison to the average wage earner, but top lawyers mean less convictions.

Tiger Woods is in the news because he has been involved in a car accident near his Florida home. The news also tells us that he is to blame for the crash. Ideally justice would relate to wealth if the penalty is financial. If there is a set fine then it becomes meaningless for the rich and you end up with one law for the rich and one law for the poor.

Simon Cowell, Tiger Woods and any other star should face two penalties. One for the law that they break and one because of the effect that this will have on anyone that looks up to them. When a football star abuses a referee then the Sunday footballer follows suite. When a celebrity drives recklessly then others will follow.

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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The moral high ground

I wrote about the morality of owning two houses last week. If we have empty houses and people living on the streets then there should be some social pressure for us to house them. I know that some people will argue that homeless people want to be homeless and there is plenty of support for them. If they find one or two people who have chosen this way of life then anecdotally they are correct. It is freezing on the streets of Morecambe today so my anecdote is that I would not chose to be homeless and however good your net, some people get through.

There is also a moral question surrounding the ownership of large houses. If you live on your own and have six bedrooms then what do you do with them? Well you might have a really good reason to have so many rooms but when you get to the fifth empty bedroom then you are starting to lose the moral high ground. I can hear people reading this blog who are now saying "but I don't want to share my house however many spare bedrooms I have in my house". I don't want to advocate house sharing but there is still a question about ownership of large houses with rooms doing nothing when others are homeless. In Morecambe we know a thing or two about large boarding houses that are converted to flats.

House sharing may not be the answer for many but a mansion tax could help people think again about owning large houses. The Liberal Democrats were in the news yesterday because they were rethinking this tax. I thought that this was a good idea so I was surprised, only to find that in the next sentence the threshold was rising from one to two million pounds. OK the moral argument is stronger if your house is more expensive. I know the main reason for the tax is to improve the coffers but it does also play some part in the moral argument for housing the homeless.

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