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Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Graveyards and Scenery

Next weekend, I'moff on my epic trip round Cheshire with little bro Tricky. I do quite a bit of training but take some photos as I go. Hull is full of great graveyards and the weather has been fine. A couple of new albums on Picassa show a bit of what it looks like:

Hull landscapes

Hull graveyards

Something that astonished me recently was learning that all British railway stations have no garbage bins in the station. Why ? The war on terror states that garbage bins in stations are a security risk.

Thursday, 26 April 2007


Browsing jobs tonight and found this advertisement for a job, "Stakeholder Manager" for the London 2012 Olympics. This is the job description :

Job Purpose

The Olympic Delivery Authority will deliver its projects in close partnership with a range of statutory and non-statutory stakeholders. The Stakeholder Manager (Design, Infrastructure & Planning) will work with project teams throughout the organisation to ensure that the venues and infrastructure benefit from timely and constructive stakeholder input, and deliver a successful legacy to London and the UK.


  • Manage the creation and delivery of strategies for the engagement of key stakeholders (in particular the London Organising Committee, Greater London Authority, Government, local and statutory authorities and regeneration agencies) in the projects and delivery processes of the ODA.
  • Work with ODA project teams to ensure that stakeholder engagement strategies are in place for individual design, construction and legacy projects.
  • Co-ordinate a stakeholder management approach that will assist the ODA to achieve its objectives, thereby mainstreaming stakeholder engagement in all its activities and ensuring that the interests of the stakeholders are identified and understood.

"Mainstreaming stakeholder engagement" ???????????????

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Franks Shop

On Thursday 19th April at approximately 6.38am, I purchased a tuna and mayonaisse sandwich and a cup of tea from “Expressions”, the coffee boutique inside Hull’s Paragon Train Station, prior to boarding the 6.54 for Scarborough. Perhaps an explanation of the motive behind this purchase may move these written proceedings along, before we return to said light refreshment.

Having narrowly failed to get a job at the Natural History Musuem, London, I have re-entered the workforce, albeit semi-illegally, as a freelance theatrical carpenter. This does not mean that I attend construction sites in yellow overalls, purple cravat and red safety boots, rather it means that I have revisited an earlier skillset and have returned to constructing scenery and sets for the stage. My first engagement is at the Steven Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, hence the 6.54am.

I park my bike at the train station and am immediately taken by the proximate sign.

I’m a little apprehensive leaving my precious Fuji anywhere near this sign, and I try to imagine what may have given rise to such a cautious disclaimer. A little worried, I proceed to platform 3 to await the (late) train, but my mind is soon too occupied to worry too much about the bike, because I am bombarded by information. It seems that Britain, anxious to improgve its underperforming railways, has become convinced that the main way to solve the problem is to form a stakeholder committee to examine the problem, force companies publish performance indicators of every possible aspect of performance that it is possible to examine, set up as many websites as possible, and finally appoint an Ombudsman, or Watchdog organisation to whom we can complain when thier website fails to make the trains run on time. Here a couple of posters giving me the performance of my local train company in March.

Did any of this prevent me from having a seven hour train from Manchester to Hull(85 miles) a few weeks ago? Are the trains any cleaner, cheaper, quicker or less crowded than under the old nationalized industries? Well, no actually. I am reminded of the Soviet regimes tendency to constantly pour propoganda down the throats of its own people about tractor production, magnificent scientific progress and glorious grain harvests.

I arrive in Scarborough at 8.30am, having eventually fallen asleep reading Tainter's “The Collapse of Complex Civilizations” and the train tracks rattling a cadence that sounds like “irony, irony, irony”.

The Steven Joseph Theatre is just across the road from the station. I’m greeted by the Production Manager and shown into the workshop. I immediately alert the Production Manager that there's apparently been an earthquake and some poor soul is trapped under the debris. I’m assured that the hapless creature is, in fact, a Yorkshireman (whose name is Frank, I discover, when he decides to talk two days later), and that he’s working. This is Frank’s shop.

JST THeatre Scarborough

I find a pile of garbage to store my tools on top of, and resolve to buy some string later in the day. The theory is that I can attach one end of the string to my tools and gradually unwind it as I move about the shop, much as cave divers do to avoid getting lost. I’m given a badly photocopied set of plans and pretty much get left alone to work.

By the end of the day, I’ve managed to clear enough space to make a small table, and I leave, satisified with a good day’s work. The 17.45 leaves on time and the journey back is just sleeping.

Next morning, I’m back at Paragon Station, having decided that in addition to the string, I’ll buy a few GPS devices as locationing aids, but first I have to visit “Expressions” to register a complaint. I discovered, once I’d boarded the 6.54 the previous day, that the tuna mayonnaise I'd purchased, was spectacularly stale. I mention it to Customer Services, Gail, who asks if I kept the sandwich in question. No, I reply, I went to Scarborough and the store was not open when I returned at 19.30 that evening. Furthermore, the sandwich would have been stale anyway by the end of the day, so what would have been the point? She consults her manager. Time is passing and my train is soon to depart, but eventually the Manager, Shirley, wanders over and asks the same questions that Gail did. Time continues its inexhorable march, and I should leave, but I have a familiar feeling about the conduct of this interview. Gail pipes up that she thinks she remembers the gentleman (me!). Shirley asks if I kept my receipt or the sandwich. Sadly I did’nt and I have to go NOW, I explain. Shirley looks sceptical and starts serving another customer while slowly, courteouslessly informing me that even if Gail remembers me,no receipt, no sandwich = no proof of purchase = no refund. I heavily suspect I’m being accused of sandwich fraud, and something in Shirley’s manner makes me want to ask “Did you used to work in the JobCentre Plus?”. Discretion being the better part of valour, I defer and run for the 6.54, which is, I discover upon reaching the platform, delayed due to objects on the line – obviously not trains.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Witches familiars (News)

Meet Calli, the smaller of our two cats. Looks very cute, true enough, but Calli has another side - in other words, she can be a monster. On Thursday, the night before an incredibly important interview, and for which I was busily preparing, she escaped out the window, saw a dog and climbed a tree. I have recreated the scene in this badly Photoshopped rendering . Incidentally the branch I've placed her on is the branch she was actually on, and my height estimates are pretty accurate, I measured afterwards.

Of course the little ********** did get down safely - well hpart way at least. After two and a half hours, she'd had enough and started mewling, and desperately climbed down from about thirty five feet to about twenty, slipping and clawing all the way. We then had to get a ladder, climb to her new position, grab her by the neck and escort her home.

The Ploppyshank Syndrome

Its called many things in different parts of the world - in Liverpool and England there's different words or phrases for it - blagging, fronting; in Eire its called blarney and its exponents are said to have the gift of the gab; in New York it takes a certain hutzpah (or chutzpah) to carry it off. Some parts of the world that practice Plain English just call it lying, but there's no romance in that. Nova Scotia has its own variation on this theme, and this post is about the Nova Scotia variety.

I loved many, many things about Nova Scotia, the air, the scenery, the space, the climate, the friends we made, and most of the time, the work I did. There was, however, one aspect of Nova Scotian life that has plagued me, and still continues to, and that is the Ploppyshank Syndrome(PS). PS has been named in honour of one of its chief exponents, a carpenter who we'll call Tony (real name withheld for legal reasons), whose complete inability to take any responsibility at all for any of his actions was elevated to an art form. Shoddiness and shirking are the hallmarks of his work, and lying abou the consequences the usual outcome. He would prefer to take short-cuts, easy-fixes and "tricks of the trade" in every circumstance, even if it took him longer, cost more money and failed in every measurable way. Unfortunately as I discovered during my time in Nova Scotia, among a percentage of the population, Ploppyshankism can be as intrinsic to a culture as ugly American capitalism is in Ontario, and jingoism is among British politicians.

In the case of Tony, this manifested itself in various ways. He fancied himself as craftsman, but looked like a pan-handler, and approached woodwork with the finesse of a blind, emaciated, drunken, angry-at-life lumberjack. He proudly told me of his fishing exploits, but could'nt swim. This, you'll have to understand is not the logical "cannot swim" of the deepsea, or even inshore, trawler man. This is the "cannot swim" of the idiot who regularly takes his children 1/2 mile out to sea in his beautiful pea-green boat. A boat, as I discovered later, he'd built himself. He proudly told me that he was a woodsman, who could be dropped anywhere in the world, and who would survive. Later, on a trip to Port Hawkesbury, 2 hours away from home base, Tony got the tummy upset because Tim Horton's coffee tasted different in Cape Breton. As a man who was a self-made disaster in waiting, everything was always someone or something else's fault. For anyone who is interested in the specifics of one of Tony's incidents, see the comments section at the bottom of this post. The incident is'nt actually that funny, although at the time, once I realised he had'nt actually killed Kenny, I was able to laugh about it as a funny "typical Nova Scotia incident" in a hysterical kind of way(usually after half a bottle of Jamesons).

Up to about twelve months ago, Tony was the best exponent, (or worst sufferer of PS?) I have met. However, around 2006, a new master emerged, someone whose Ploppyshankism is as down home Nova Scotian as it gets. Step up Tammy, our property manager. I cannot reveal Tammy's real name, or the name of her company, for legal reasons, but as you may know we have been renting our Nova Scotia house to tenants pretty quietly for about four years, using the same property management company. Tammy took over this company in 2006, and the problems started - firstly monthly payments got later and later. We were very busy and at first just made polite e-mail enquiries which were met with plausible sounding replies - vacations had delayed payment, the office accounts system were being re-organised. The tendency to pay late, or not at all, however, really took hold in summer 2006, around about the same time that the company's office phone became permanently transferred to voice mail.

By the end of 2006, the company owed us three months rent, with no explanation. I had even had a meeting with the company when we went to Halifax before Christmas. Tammy, was, I was told "on vacation", but the property manager Colin assured me that everything would be taken care of when she got back. January, and now we're in the UK, and still no payment, either of the overdue rent, and now January's rent as well. I had been consistently pressurising the company for months, but as the stridency of our e-mails and phone calls increased, the company's responses decreased, apart from a pathetic string of excuses.

The excuses we have had from this company include "I'm transferring all owners accounts over to direct debit payment - once that's sorted out the payments will go smoothly" (never happened), "Our office has been broken into" (I could'nt find any Police Report or news item on this on the web), "I was in Laurencetown, looking after a broken water tank so could'nt deposit your money" (for three weeks), and twice she told us "I've couriered your money to your bank in Ontario". The first time she gave this excuse, she even invented cheque numbers and a postal reference so we could "check with our bank". Needless to say, the cheques never arrived at our bank, ever. I pointed this out to her in an e-mail that talked her through the logic of this - as the cheques had never arrived in our account, and as she'd had to subsequently deposit new cheques, how did she feel about lying so blatantly? She never replied to this e-mail. The most stunning excuse was probably the "Tammy's had a brain hemorrhage" excuse. On this occasion, we ignored the excuse, threatened legal action, and so Tammy made a miraculous recovery and came in to work the next day to sign and deposit our cheques.

We now only have three months left with the house, as we'll be selling it this year, and have given Tammy's company, and our poor tenants (who Tammy has NEVER blamed because she knows we can verify whether they've paid or not) notice to quit. We're now sort of up to date in rent, and I was looking forward to ending my relationship with this lying, deceitful,untrustworthy Ploppyshanker. I was looking forward to reducing the amount of PS I had to deal with on a day to day basis until this week. This week, I started trying to recruit realtors to help us sell the house. One of the e-mails I got stated in breathless tones "If you are looking to purchase a home within the HRM region, it would also be my great priviledge to assist you in finding a home that meets your needs" and finished with "Again, I am honoured that you have requested my services in assisting you in the sale of your home. " More Ploppyshank awaits.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Tis a tangled web we weave

I don’t know how many of you have read Jared Diamond’s work, but in his fine treatise “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”, a main tenant of the gentleman’s work focuses on(perhaps I should have said ‘talks about issues around’) observations that the collapse of seemingly viable, complex civilisations – Maya, early Norse Northern Atlantic colonies in Iceland and Newfoundland and Easter Island – were immediately preceded by those same societies having to manufacture increasingly Byzantine, labyrinthine (and any other ‘thine’ you care to mention as long as its bizarrely complicated), solutions to the problems caused by each societies’ own existence. In the case of the Easter Islanders, not much is known about the causes of collapse, just that they went from a flourishing agricultural society capable of carving and erecting huge statues to a cannibalistic group wondering what went wrong as they chopped down the last tree for firewood. My own theory is that they decided to tackle the problems of survival on this tiny Pacific Island by opening a Jobcentre Plus.

Recent contacts with the Jobcentre have been immensely complex and have involved so many of their staff, from call centres in Newcastle, the Six Counties, Liverpool and Hull, that my current ‘six degrees of separation’ (AKA the Kevin Bacon game) score must now be reduced down to three or four degrees. The issue at hand at the moment is whether I qualify for Job Seekers Allowance or not. I undoubtedly am seeking a job, so no problem there, and conversely I am undoubtedly unemployed and in sufficient need of money that I’ve signed up for the YouGov website – a British Government scheme whereby you answer on-line surveys and get paid £1.00 for each completed survey. Of course, I adopt a completely different persona for each survey I complete. I’m either a vegetarian Australian or a Green Oil tycoon, so I try to keep my anarcho-syndicalist credentials alive but the money just keeps rolling in.

The debate on my receipt of Job Seekers Allowance involves the Reciprocal Agreement between the UK and Canada. In short, if I qualify in Canada for EI, this qualification should transfer to the UK and I get paid JSA, at the princely rate of £50.00 per week. The historical background of this agreement, clearly, is that the British Empire ruled Canada for a time and murdered many of its indigenous people, so it’s a kind of Danegeld. Strangely, the British also murdered the French Canadians in their millions as well, but Quebec is excepted from this scheme.

Unfortunately, it appears that for the cyborgs, processing a claim involving Reciprocal Agreements is tantamount to approaching a Magnetical Imageometer Resonatorister machine. An MRI whatitsname thingy-magig is the fiendish instrument that Nel and other boffins power up every morning as they enter their mountain top laboratory- lots of coils, and test tubes and big power breakers to throw, accompanied by diabolical laughter and the unkempting of hair. Within the vicinity of MRI’s, the cyborgs central processing units shut down, transistors blow and smoke issues impressively from unlikely areas. Consequently, any claim involving RA is just too much for the Jobcentre Plus to handle. The result, for me, is that when I received my badly printed Decision, it informed me that I would not qualify for dole because I had not made enough National Insurance Contributions in 2005. RA was not mentioned. Careless of me not to have made contributions to the English National Insurance Scheme, my only excuse being that I was in Canada. I resolve to sort this mess out.

I call the phone box in Ulan Bator, and it is answered first time (!!!!!!!!!!!), by someone who sounds rather cold. Inexplicably, and demonstrating either the impressive optimism of the human spirit, or my own stupidity, my hopes soar – an answer, I anticipate. I explain my problem – namely that I think there has been a mistake processing my claim, and it should have been reviewed under Reciprocal Agreements (RA). Silence. Then a faint crash. “Hello, is anybody there…?”. The line comes alive again with a different voice, stronger, obviously a more robust Series II model “Hello, Claims Section Leader, can I help you? ”. Claims Section Leader deals with the thorny subject of RA swiftly “We cannot answer your question, all we can do is look at your claim and tell you what decision has been made”. I venture that this is exactly the same information that the badly printed letter gave me, and if thats all she can do, there's not much point in us talking. Claims Section Leader agrees. An impasse has arisen, if impasses can arise. This impasse may have been manufactured though. I’m really hesitant now, but I enquire, doggedly, if I can talk to anyone who can give me any information at all? (Hope, by the way, has now buggered off to join Time, who is sunning herself on a beach (the place Time usually retreats to when it realises you are wasting its sole saleable commodity).) Claims Section Leader reluctantly informs me that it can pass my enquiry onto Decisions Sections Leader. These are the units that made the Decision. Can I telephone them myself? No, that’s not allowed. Decisions call you, the customer. Usually within 24 hours. So, I pass my phone number on to Claims Section Leader, who suddenly becomes human and chimes “Good luck with that!”

At first, like a sixteen year old prospective “datee”, I check the answering machine every single time I return to the apartment, even if I’ve only been to the laundry room (our on-going battle with Steven Hall, (neighbour, and author of the excellent novel Raw Shark Texts) to obtain washing machine time from the solitary, broken machine in these apartments, is the stuff of legend and possible subject of another tale). As the days go on, I check the phone’s connections, check the batteries, call the Talking Clock (a British Institution, occasionally the subject of ferocious debate in Parliament) to make sure the phone is working, but five days later, Decisions still have not called. Like my putative datee, I’m embarrassed and annoyed. And like my sixteen year old, I plan my revenge.

My plan is to hit them with their own weapons, namely a badly photocopied piece of paper and a letter written in excruciating Plain English. Admittedly, these are not WMD’s – certain countries would be embarrassed to call this a proportionate response, and the Irish part of me fantasises about the six-pack, but I do have other things to do. Like attend an interview at the Natural History Museum. I decide therefore to delay my revenge until my next signing date, and focus on the welcome horizon of potentially being in a state of post-worklessness.

And on that note, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the Travel to Interview Scheme(TIS). TIS is the British Government’s assistance programme for people who are in a state of worklessness (on the dole) who may require financial assistance (money) perchance they happen upon an jobseekers opportunity (interview) in a far away place while receiving help and advice (signing a badly photocopied form every two weeks) from Jobcentre customer service officers (cyborgs) in returning to the workforce (being forced into a crappy minimum wage job because times up on your 28 weeks of below subsistence benefits). Let me further introduce you to the 38 page guidelines on issuing travel warrants, the product of TIS, which can be found at:

These guidelines, however, although available via the National Archives, are not generally available to any jobseeker (work shy lay-about) wishing to take advantage of this scheme. Instead, there is a buried reference on the Jobcentre Plus website – precisely one sentence, which advises a jobseeker to contact the Jobcentre if they want to know more about this scheme. So being in the position of worklessness, and having been unexpectedly thrown a lifeline in the form of an opportunity in London, but still desperate for help I again contacted the Jobcentre this week “for more information”, and was ultimately amazed by the response.

I head down to the Jobcentre for an appointment to discuss the TIS and possibly get some help with the journey (Friday train tickets in the UK from Hull to London are £125.00– God Bless privatization and its endless efficiency!) The conduct and the outcome of the interview blow my preconceptions (and possibly future blogs) out of the water. Friendly, helpful, pleasant. Chatty, vibrant, vivacious. Encouraging, witty, devastatingly charming. Intelligent, accommodating, supportive. I'm not describing myself here, but Danielle, my human customer services officer. And "Yes, we'll pay for the ticket. Good luck". I am astonished by this contrast with my other encounters. What possible reason could be behind this volte-face? I’m still reeling, when Danielle, reveals all “The best part is, if you get this job, you won’t have to come here anymore”.

I clutch my travel warrant – free train ticket, yippee! – preciously, checking repeatedly that its secure about my person, like Tracy Helmick Taylor heading for a plane journey, and bicycle away to meet Nel. I don’t really care that the only time the cyborgs have been helpful is when they sense that you may no longer be a blight on New Labour’s economic miracle, I’m off to London. I consider taking one of the cats and wonder if I could do a better job as mayor of London than Ken Livingstone. I also wonder whether the excelllent Mr Diamond really had to travel to Easter Island to uncover examples of civilization boggling complexity. He probably could have just signed on for the dole.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Driffield Market

Went to Driffield market with our neighbours(and friends) Mike and Christine. Driffield is a market town nor-nor-west of Hull - about twenty five minutes in Mike excellent estate car.

A very town-meets-country affair, with lots of pheasant, rabbit, duck and organic stuff. I got some great mustard (I must be getting old to enthuse about mustard!) and we found a stall that produces worm pellets as fertilizer and sells worm kits so you can make your own compost - great idea, great fun - now all I need is a garden.

We've had some great Tuesday night dinners with Mike and Christine - like us they've lived in different places - China, New Zealand, UK, and Christine and MIke are both academics like Nel. This is all by way of introduction to MIke and Christine whom I've invited to the blog, so you may see contribtions from them at some point.

Driffield Market


I promise to keep this page as footy free as possible, but here's two LFC flags from our recent match vs PSV Eindhoven (Holland).

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Spurn Head

Tricky(nickname - real name Richard my "little" brother), Amanda and Ollie visited us last weekend. We went to Spurn Head, an interesting place historically. This is where Spurn Head is ( see image above).

Spurn Head is interesting historically, and we had a pleasant walk, especially Ollie, who was brilliant, because it was a long walk for a four year old. The wind from the North Sea is constant and cold, and the beaches themselves are covered with the rubble of 2000 years of useage - remains of gun emplacements from WW2, an active lifeboat station, beer bottles, driftwood, and underneath all that middens (neolithic land fills) from when Ancient Brits used to hunt and gather here - shellfish and seals.

Spurn Head

Rest of this week has been quite quiet, but I cannot refrain from mentioning the Mighty Reds - Liverpool Football Club at least once in this blog. Now owned by the owners of the Montreal Canadiens, Liverpool last night beat PSV Eindhoven to more or less (apart from the formality of the second leg next week) breeze into the semi-finals of the European Cup Champions League. Winning the Champions League in 2005, and now a place in the final four of Europe's best clubs, Liverpool's sad demise continues. I'll probably be in Liverpool next week for a job interview - unfortunately, tickets are as rare as rocking horse poo.

Dinner with our neighbours tonight, MIke and Christine - good people and hopefully we're going to get together with them once a week for dinner.