Sunday, 16 February 2014

Was it ever dry once?

The Bristol to Bath cycle path has been closed due to flooding.  This shouldn't come as a great surprise as it runs along what used to be a railway line, and as we all know the default position of railway lines these days is under water.

Look - this chap's child has been washed away, but still he's managing to get their bike home safely.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Just be careful what you call yourself

Looking at today's news pictures of flooding, I was struck by the thought "When did Staines become Staines-upon-Thames?"

Seems like it did a couple of years ago, mostly in order to disassociate itself from Ali G who allegedly lived in Staines, but also to boost its riverside image.  Not a universally popular move - the local football club described it as "pretentious", but they had a day of celebrations including a regatta.

Now they may wish they didn't have such a riverside image.


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Rain, rain, go away, come again another day

Oh, so now the Thames is flooding, and (without wishing to be at all denigrating to those affected) the precious Home Counties constituencies are under threat of excess water, King Canute Cameron is out in his hi-viz jacket promising unlimited money to deal with all this unnecessary water.

Interestingly, one of his own party has been less than complimentary about the Environment Agency.  On his blog I found the following post:

"In 2012-13 the EA spent £1207.4m compared to £1166.6m the year  before. It ended the year with £95.8m cash in the bank. We are told the “cuts” stopped it doing a good job on flooding. How big an increase in spending would it take to qualify as no cut?"

Oh, and I'm not a Tory.

If you look at this site, a whistle-blowing site, you will find countless examples of how money is squandered by office-bound (this seems to be a very loose term) employees whilst those actually out in "the environment" don't get the back-up they need.  The sheer scale of self-certifying hours worked, mileage, abuse of flexitime is stupendous.  There seems to be in excess of one vehicle for every two employees and no fuel cards or suchlike so no checks on when and where fuel is bought.  I'm sure if I tried this HM Revenue & Customs would be down on me like a ton of bricks.

And at the top are figures earning six figure salaries who clearly are not earning them.  These figures are from 2 years ago, but give an idea of the scale of top salaries:

Lord Chris Smith     Chairman                      Environment Agency     £109,999
Graham Ledward    Director of Resources   Environment Agency     £154,999
David Jordan           Director of Operations  Environment Agency     £164,999
Paul Leinster           Chief Executive Officer Environment Agency     £199,999

And then there's the South-West which still has very limited rail links, standing water even on the motorway, and very little prospect of anything changing.

Now, one of my friends spent Christmas Day with wellies on.  I know people whose friends have been isolated, cut off, for over six weeks.  It has become difficult to even talk to some of these people because the sheer scale of lack of sense of help arriving is, quite literally, "doing their heads in".

And to put things into perspective this is what we thought last week.

(I'm just grateful I live half-way up a big hill although, guess what, it's raining again)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

How to remain optimistic

By and large I think we're lucky that we've been self-employed for more than twenty years.  In that time we've re-invented ourselves more times than I care to remember.  We have had to immerse ourselves in new technology several times but kept our standards high.  We have never advertised as such, although we do have a website which still (inexplicably) we get queries through, but most of them are people who can't find our actual e-mail address but can remember our company name, which is quite distinctive.  But there are still some from complete strangers (fortunately genuine).

Over the last four years we have diversified, we have been a bit more aggressive in following up potential leads that we have never had to do before.  Previously all our work came through word of mouth.  We are now quite adept at ringing people and giving a lot of very good advice, obviously in the hope of getting some work but without any overt pressure.  We still have loyal customers.  But times are a-changing yet again. 

Again and again, budgets are being cut.  Technology is moving ahead of itself.  Some things become so unrealistically expensive that the costs just don't add up.   So I need to e-mail all our previous contacts and tell them the truth as it is now.  It's not really a problem, it's more getting people to be able to deliver in an acceptable format whilst they still can, before the main production team move onto another project.

It's okay.  January has always been a pretty lean month.  One year we only turned over  £75 (including VAT).

I have two other jobs - one regular, one irregular. 

I invigilate exams at my youngest's school which is irregular.  Obviously this depends on there being exams, although now there are a lot of mocks because official exams have been condensed (!) into virtually the whole of May and June.  And there is the opportunity of helping out in other ways, such as being a scribe/reader, and I also help out with filming the drama controlled assessments.  And along the way, I realise that even at a pretty pukka school there are students who are quite needy (I find these more interesting, by the way).

My regular job is for two mornings a week (by and large, my choice of which days).  I'm in charge of the archive for a charitable foundation which gives out big money (over a million a year).  I'm conserving the records because the trustees think this is worthwhile and one day people will want to know more about the man who, at one point, gave away a million pounds a week.  The foundation gives money to three main areas - health, education and the elderly.  I may post at some future point more about this.  Suffice to say, it is a good thing.

The fact is, last week I rang the building society to say that I couldn't afford to pay the whole mortgage this month - although I did in fact pay nearly half of it. 

But in the last week I have spoken at length to two of the grandchildren of said foundation man, who have flown in from America and New Zealand (mostly because they are concerned about their parents' health), but who have been more than happy to have their memories recorded.  They've never wanted for money.  They went to private schools.  And perfectly lovely, both of them were. 

And today I heard (purely as a random memory) that in the early '70s their grandfather had taken out insurance to pay the ransom in case they were kidnapped.  (This is the era of Paul Getty III kidnapping - with the cut-off ear sent back - and Patty Hearst.)

I'm living in two completely different worlds here.  It's lucky I walk home so I have time to re-adjust (although I spend most of that time trying to work out what to cook for lunch/tea).

But at the end of the day, however bad it seems to be, however much I'm going round scraping up odd £1 coins, 50ps, whatever that have been put aside, I have to consider that if I/we had had a "permanent job" and I/we had been made redundant (having worked there for x years) we wouldn't have a chance of re-inventing ourselves.  At least we've had the practice.