Saturday, 8 May 2004

Lazy Bones

No entries for over a month! Oh dear, that's hardly dedicated blogging! I'm beginning to wonder whether it was worth developing the blog engine at all..

Still, now that I'm here I might as well say something.

Actually, for all I haven't left any entries, life has been quite busy - some good things, some not-so-good.
The growing season is definitely here, and the last few weekends have been spent, in between rainstorms, out in the garden. I bought an excellent new lawnmower, petrol for the first time, albeit to replace an awful (ly expensive!) Qualcast electric mower which went kaput at less than a year old. The new mower was twice the price of the old one, but 10 times the quality. Given that I'm writing now on Saturday morning, I suspect some weeding may be on the agenda today and tomorrow, again weather permitting (not looking particularly good just yet).

Another activity that has taken up time has been fixing the new bike up. As bought, the bike had 18 gears and I wanted to up this to 27. Also, it was a time trial bike so had the aerodynamic bars at the front, to which the gears were attached. Unfortunately I couldn't get used to this - it felt very wobbly when I tried - so I got rid of the bar and moved the gears back onto the handlebars. Now, they are integrated into the brake housings, which I'm told is state of the art, the kit the professionals use. Whether this will make me ride better I very much doubt, but at least I should be able to change gear more easily.

Last Thursday I got to meet one of my favourite politicians, Tony Benn. (Would he describe himself as a politician or an ex-politician, I wonder - he's pushing 80!) He does these nights where he gives something of a spiel for half an hour or so, and then opens the session into questions and answers. The spiel part was a little predictable - they recorded one of these evenings, it's available on CD and I've listened to it, plus I've read his diaries so am familiar with many of his anecdotes - and so were many of the questions. Iraq of course took centre stage, then he was asked about things like the monarchy, ID cards, Europe, Zimbabwe. To all of which, his answers were well thought out. Even though the questions may perhaps have been fresher, I can't really complain since (a) I didn't put my hand up myself to ask an "interesting" question, and (b) he's the kind of person who is so interesting, and has such a wealth of experience, that you feel you could listen to for hours on end. So when you hear him answer peoples' questions for just an hour, you're bound to feel like there's more to be said. But then, he is almost 80 so one really should cut him some slack!!

I did get to say Hello to him once it was all over, and I certainly enjoyed the experience - I've been wanting to get to one of these events for a couple of years now so it was great that it finally happened and I will remember it for years to come.

Interesting also to note that the night was a sell-out. I think the theatre held 600, and it sounds like tickets were snapped up very quickly indeed. This is consistent with other experiences - I tried to get tickets previously for an event at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, only to find that tickets had long since been sold out. That just goes to show the popularity of the chap - I struggle to think of another polititician who could have this effect. William Hague? Er, no thanks. Plus, the audience was looked as though it was spread right across the spectrum of age and gender. He fielded questions from a guy who looked like he was still at school (Should the voting age be lowered to 16?) and from a woman who appeared to be older than Tony Benn was (I think that was the Europe question). Incidentally, I'd never heard Benn's opinion on the voting question, but he was spot on with his answer. In my opinion, anyone who's considered old enough to either kill or be killed in the name of their country, or to pay taxes to their country, earns the right to vote. And that was pretty much what Benn said (albeit a little more eloquently than I can!).

As an aside, the "interesting" questions I'd have asked would probably have focussed in on the fact that he's an independent voice in what has (appears to have?) become a very ordered party political system. For example, does he think it really matters who wins the next election (i.e. are there any fundamental differences any more between the Tory and Labour parties?), or to ask directly what he thinks of party politics, i.e. toeing the party line. It does seem these days that the "party", and MPs in particular, are very much sheep to be led by the shepherd. And I don't just mean Blair here - this was after all Thatcher's strategy for for many years, and it worked well for her. People will abide by these things if it means gaining or holding on to power, I guess. But since nobody could ever have accused Tony Benn of being a sheep, it would be good to get his opinion on (a) whether he thinks it's a fair comment, and (b) how you go about changing things, in the days of "approved candidate" lists.

One final thing he did say which I'll need to think about - the way he dislikes many services (his examples were health and the trains) refer to "customers" rather than "patients" or "passengers". It's interesting because whilst I agree with much of what Tony Benn says, my gut feel on this one is the exact opposite. I think referring to people as "customers" does introduce this kind of implied relationship between someone who pays for a service and someone who gets paid for performing a service, and I don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing. Certainly I've dealt on a couple of occasions with people in hospitals and doctors' surgeries - admittedly they tend to be admin people rather than doctors or nurses - who act as though they're almost doing you a favour by helping you, and that you're getting a free service in any case. I do think these individals could do with a kick up the backside to remind them that the Health service should see its users, not necessarily its employees, as the top priority. And as for "free" - when I look at my tax return each year I beg to differ. Also, my doctor is a great chap, and I certainly don't mean anything against him personally, but it would be nice if I could make an appointment to see him at my convenience rather than at his convenience. I'm sure I notice this more acutely that most people, given that I'm effectively self employed, but it would be great to get an appointment at 8pm (when I'm generally just getting home from work). OK, that's a simplistic argument. Certainly if I were a doctor I wouldn't fancy having to see people at 7am or 8pm, or on the weekend, but there's got to be a better way. I need to think some more on this one.

I have more to say, but the house has now well-and-truly woken up. More later.

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