Posts Tagged ‘rants and raves’

My stomach lurched as I arrived home from work yesterday afternoon. On the doormat was a brown paper envelope from the Inland Revenue addressed to me. It’s never good news – I’m not one of these people to ever get a tax rebate – no – it’s usually because they’ve underestimated how much I owe them or they’re writing to tell me my coding is wrong. (As if it’s my fault).

So imagine my astonishment and delight when, upon opening, the first thing I see in large bold letters are the words: ‘… this is not a demand for payment.’

Relief! Even more delightful, the tax office with its new tax-payer-friendly approach is sending out Annual Tax Summaries. Whoop-de-do!  I have my very own, no expenses spared ‘personalised summary,’ presented in a beautiful two page multi-colour document, outlining the ways in which the tax I pay each year is spent. On one side there’s a column of figures detailing exactly how much of my payment goes where and on the other, a stripy pie chart where I can see at a glance the proportions to which the government in its wisdom has shared out my tax and National Insurance Contributions to the greater good. Or not.

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Well, it’s not wise. Just look at the sections. Pretty much a quarter on Welfare; roughly a fifth on Health; a measly little slither for the Culture and Environment segments.  I made myself a cup of tea and got the calculator out. I began working out percentages, which for me is no mean feat, I can tell you.

I don’t really want 24.6% of my contributions to go on Welfare while I’m only paying 1.6% to sports, libraries and museums; I don’t want them to contribute at all to housing and utilities (e.g. street lighting – their example) because I thought that’s what we paid our extortionate council taxes for. I would prefer for them to shove a bit more towards Business and Industry (currently only 2.7%) in the hope that this will provide more training and apprenticeship opportunities to get people off benefits and into work, thereby lessening some of the Welfare need.

But what I really, really do not want is to contribute 2% to Government Administration so they can send me out an Annual Tax Summary. What a waste of time and resources. It’s not as if it’s going to change anything, is it?

Or perhaps it might. In light of the result of this week’s by-election, won by the suitably monickered Mr Reckless (can you believe it – it’s like playing Happy Families) and bearing in mind there is a general election looming next year I’m not sure that these summaries, being sent out to every tax payer in the country was the wisest move. Political feeling in the country is running higher than it has done for decades. Mr Reckless’ party must be rubbing its hands with glee. Sending hard-working folk palpable evidence of government spending is like handing out touch papers.

Stand well back. The times they are a-changing.

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Anyone enjoy food shopping? I don’t. I positively hate it but as we all have to eat then it has to be done at least once a week in, as far as I’m concerned, as little time as possible. Which is why I trail begrudgingly to the supermarket: because it’s convenient.

Or at least it was. Our local store has recently undergone a major refurbishment to for all intents and purposes provide us – the customers – an improved shopping experience. Well, it hasn’t worked for me.

So we now have, on the outskirts of our small country town, a behemoth rivalling the size of an aircraft hangar. The range of goods of course is much wider – one third of the selling square footage is given over to home wares and clothing.  (I can’t bring myself to call it fashion, even though there is a range allegedly designed by Gok Wan).   From boxed dinner services to wooden boards, glassware, utensils, bed linen and plasma screen TV’s to gardening accessories, toys and bath towels.  As if I’m going to rush in and buy a duvet and curtain set from a food store on a whim; it’s just never going to happen.

I don’t remember on any of my prior pilgrimages to the store’s previous incarnation ever being accosted to fill in a customer questionnaire asking if I’d be interested in buying this superfluous stuff while I’m filling my trolley with comestibles. I’m assuming they’ve done their market research and have somehow come to the conclusion that it’s what we want but the general consensus amongst my work colleagues is that it’s anything but convenient.

The inconvenience store…

We now have to walk a distance of about ten miles, weaving up and down the aisles, all now arranged in a completely different order to that we’ve been used to. I’m not even sure the food range has expanded – they just put more of the same onto longer and higher shelves.

And the signage, hanging unhelpfully above – oh, my word. Can anyone tell me, in the name of Del Monte, what the blazes ‘Ambient Fruit’ is? I’d loved to have been around that table discussion when it was decided that this a more appropriate term for tinned peaches. They’ve also done away with the old, exotically entitled ‘Foods of the World’ and gone for a derogatory ‘Ethnic.’

To pick up my daily newspaper I have to push my trolley through the clothing area, past the queues for lottery tickets to the fixture at the foot of the stairway to our new ‘exciting’ restaurant. This establishment is on a mezzanine with far reaching views over harassed shoppers or the newly extended car park. It looks like an airport holding area and is anything but exciting. Quite frankly (and far be it from me to appear judgemental), the calibre of clientele frequenting this restaurant are not the sort to read a daily newspaper.

The car park has doubled in size and they’ve even provided electrical hook-up points because they must have calculated that during the inordinate amount of time it takes to charge up an electric car (according to a recent Top Gear programme) will probably be same length of time now needed for one shopper to get around their newly improved store.

Perhaps I should put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak, and stick to on-line grocery shopping: get it delivered direct to my door. Up until now I’ve preferred to select my fresh goods but I could be swayed into not worrying about it.

And isn’t it interesting to note that in the news this week, the shares of this particular supermarket chain, along with one of the other of our ‘big four’ have taken a substantial tumble. Coincidence? Convenience? I don’t think so.

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If you are a lover of dogs or drive an unnecessarily large vehicle, you may want to skip this post in case it causes offence.

You have been warned.

Now, you’re probably wondering to what that word in the title refers. It’s an invented word which became part of my family’s vocabulary since the time I was really quite small. It is a word coined by one eccentric uncle who, while out walking with us as he frequently did on a weekend, would shout out periodically, ‘Mind the Oomjar!’ warning us of unmentionable messes smeared across footpaths left by animals who know no better.

Don’t get me wrong: I like dogs. Some of them I’d even say are cute but I don’t want one. I’m quite happy to join dog-walking friends just so long as I have nothing to do with their accompanying plastic bags. We don’t have the time or the type of lifestyle that would be fair to a furry addition to the family. Shoving a dog in kennels every time we decided to have some time away wouldn’t be kind – it compares to packing your kids off to boarding school at the first opportunity. Why bother to have them in the first place?

It’s the dog owners I have issue with. Or at least some of them. Having just spent the most glorious weekend on the Camel Estuary in North Cornwall, it became apparent very early on that this is a dog’s paradise. Every other person we seemed to encounter had at least one canine in tow, often with an uncomfortably human name. Since when did it ever sound right to name a dog ‘Stan’ or ‘Jonathan?’ Perhaps their children are called Rex and Rover (or even Satan), I don’t know, but to me, there is a blurring of nomenclature here which just sounds weird.

Dog owners arrogantly assume that everyone else will be as besotted with their pooches as they are. So while you’re sitting on your picnic rug on beautiful golden sands, whiling away hours minding your own business and trying to enjoy the scenery, the peace is invariably shattered by the frenzied yapping of a small dog or the louder, gruffer barking of a larger variety followed by the braying tones of an over indulgent owner. A sea-drenched spaniel will probably come bounding over and shake itself all over you while its owner will become terribly offended if you shoo their pet away. They’ll make jokey excuses like ‘Oh, he’s just playing!’ and ‘Oops, sorry: Hector, bad boy, come here!’ which simply aren’t good enough, frankly. I can’t remember ever letting my toddler wipe his jammy little fingers over a complete stranger.

Talking of toddlers – I can illustrate here how barmy some Brits are about their dogs. We witnessed, on a short ferry ride across the river Camel, a young couple with a pushchair containing a dear little boy push a pacifier in his mouth while they proceeded to take photographs of each other with their dog; of the dog and selfies with the dog. The child was completely ignored. What’s that all about?

I don’t care how intelligent or obedient dog owners think their pets are, they can’t read. (The dogs, that is, not the owners – although the jury is out on that one, actually). So when confronted with a large sign at the start of the wonderful coastal path walk that says in large letters ‘No Dog Fouling’ – who in the name of the National Trust is this directed at? We undertook a walk of around five miles along a fantastically beautiful stretch of the South West Path but instead of being able to walk, head up and enjoy all that nature has to offer, we were constantly looking at our feet to watch out for the Oomjar. Where are all the responsible plastic bag wielding dog owners then? And before anyone tries to tell me that it was probably fox – I do know the difference – I live in the country.

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The South West Coastal Path along the Camel Estuary. Good job you can’t view this in Smell-o-Vision.

Dog owners are also very quick to tell you that their animal would never hurt anyone. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. They might be the most docile of pets but they are still unpredictable animals. Owners do not have complete control over their pet’s actions and while I’m happy to believe that a dog won’t bite me, you can’t say for definite that a large excitable one won’t bound up to a toddler, put his paws up and knock the child off his feet potentially causing damage, can you? Dogs can hurt – albeit indirectly – as I know two people who have broken their ankles while out dog walking.

So enough of Oomjar for a minute and on to vehicles: large ones. I drive a small hatchback, perfectly adequate for my needs yet last week while attempting to park at our local station before boarding the London train I was almost thwarted because the station commuter car park is littered with four wheel drive monstrosities or huge people-carriers. These cars are too wide for the current parking bays so those of us with ordinary cars are finding it increasingly difficult to acquire a space. Why are these cars being used just to leave in a car park all day? Why do folk have these vehicles in the first place – do any of them actually use their four wheel drives properly? Have they ever actually been off-road? (No; only in the wretched station car park).

Ah, I know – they must be owned and carelessly parked by the same unthinking types that let their animals leave their Oomjar all over the place. You’d need a big car for children and dogs, wouldn’t you? But only at the weekend when they all head off for Cornwall to ruin the place for the rest of us.

Any invented words still in use in your family?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There is nothing better guaranteed to lift my mood and alleviate stress (other than my rediscovered ability to take a walk) than to watch a bit of junk TV. None of the worthwhile stuff that I probably should be watching – the news, documentaries, serious drama, – oh no – I mean the half-hour comedy shows that don’t pretend to educate: they just make us laugh. And that, as we know only too well, is the best medicine.

One show I make a point of trying to catch is Room 101. I like the concept. The title is taken from a place in  George Orwell’s novel 1984, where prisoners are subjected to their worst nightmare or phobia. Apparently Orwell named room 101 after a conference room at the BBC where he used to sit through endless tedious meetings. After some of our recent staff meetings, I know how he feels.

 On the TV show (which was originally a radio programme), guests are invited to consign three things that, in their opinion, should be forever banished. This is right up my street – humour mixed with a little light-hearted ranting. As you might imagine, should I ever become famous enough and get invited onto the show, I have my own list of items ready and waiting.

 As I’m a realist and that is never going to happen, I might as well share them with you now.

 The first item I’d banish was going to be the pesky mosquito, but then I thought that might upset some of the more ecologically balanced of you so I did a bit of research and discovered that they are vital to the food chain (unfortunately for me, who has started to itch just writing about them); their larvae providing nutrient-packed snacks for fish and other aquatic animals as well as their adult form being equally nutritious to birds, bats and spiders.

So I’ll leave the wildlife alone and concentrate on life’s minutiae.

First of all, I’d get rid of a certain type of junk mail. I’m not adverse to all of it – some has proved quite useful, especially during my papier-mâché phase – but the mail that irritates me the most and which goes straight through and gums up our home shredder, is that which contains those self-adhesive name and address labels that all charities seem hell bent on sending to all and sundry. I do not want hundreds of labels with my details printed next to the charity’s logo. I never use them. Nor do I want to buy endless raffle tickets or use the greetings cards and bookmark they so thoughtfully enclose. Why are these charities wasting all this money sending stuff out that I don’t want? I reckon I get at least one envelope filled with this rubbish every week. I feel sorry for our overloaded postman.

Secondly, there is nothing that maddens me more than looking forward to an evening at a London theatre, sitting in a seat costing not an inconsiderable sum, to discover that the CONSTANTLY NOSHING family has purchased the seats either in front or directly behind me.

The Constantly-Noshing’s usually arrive last and push their way along the row, dangling their plastic bags full of crackly wrapped confectionary over their arms, aiming to clout as many as possible of their fellow theatregoers over the head on the way. They then proceed (usually breathing heavily due to an abnormal burst of exercise), to noisily remove their outer garments and hang them over the seats in front, infringing any personal space one might have hoped to secure in an old Victorian theatre. While for most of us, the curtain going up heralds the start of the performance, to the Constantly-Noshing’s this is a signal to begin passing their substantial boxes of chocolates amongst them, making sure to take as long as possible to unwrap each sweet and then smooth each wrapper out before dropping it on the floor. Unless you are watching back to back performances of all Shakespeare’s Henry’s, the play is unlikely to outlast the Constantly-Noshing’s supply of unnecessary nourishment.

So my second item for my Room 101 would be the Constantly-Noshing family unless they would like to confine their activity to the multiplex cinema – our local is called the Odeon, which I refer to as the OOO – Odeon of Obesity – because you have to wade through a popcorn mountain and super-sized, clanking iced-filled plastic beakers to get anywhere near a screen. Now that I have discovered our little local independent cinema, which screens films I actually want to see, where the average age of the audience is probably ninety-five and where tea, coffee and tepid Chablis are on sale in an ante room during the interval, I’m happy to let the Constantly-Noshing’s and their mobile-phone wielding off-spring have the run (waddle) of the OOO.

3627378331[1]Lastly (well, not really, but as I’m only allowed three things, lastly for now), I’d have to ban unimaginative packaging, best illustrated at the moment by the pile-‘em-high, sell-‘em-for-a-fortune boxes of thin chocolate eggs that have been on sale in our supermarkets since New Year’s Eve.

These Easter eggs are nestling in boxes with the exact same design as the always available chocolate bars which provide more actual chocolate for your money.

It doesn’t take much to package something up prettily. I refuse to buy anything that is sold in a stack, preferring to seek out something like these little eggs (a local super market’s own brand – good on them) and shoving them in a nest made from the shredded remains of my junk mail.

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Grrr… Well that’s enough of that. I’m off up the common.  What would you banish?

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