Saturday, 31 May 2008

Bob the Black Country Brummie BM

No I haven’t been given a gong or gone up in the world. The wife’s been reading the blog. I mentioned in passing my post “Dear Gordon” and said that I was thinking of making it a regular feature, perhaps once a week. A friend of mine had telephoned this morning to say how she enjoyed the recent blogs (thank you Gerry) especially the contributions from Bob Piper. So I have decided it’s a goer and Dear Gordon will happen. The BM is of course Barking Mad which Pat thinks I am anyway, for talking to myself on the internet let alone talking to our PM, who doesn’t listen to his ministers, so my little spot as no chance. But it’s my hobby I insisted and it keeps me out of trouble. Maybe that’s not perhaps totally accurate either because I seem to have upset my MP,some of our local councillors and council officials and judging by some of the telephone calls I get I’m not entirely talking to myself. I do wish my readership would comment more on the blog but I do appreciate your calls. BBCB

Friday, 30 May 2008

It’s Friday so it must be quotes from the grandkids.

On our usual drive to our place yesterday hippy was very quiet. He has conjunctivitis, had hurt his neck and was feeling pretty fed up. It’s unlike him to be quiet and I could not get much of a conversation going. How about giving me a quote for the blog tomorrow? I enquired. This didn’t inspire him but his sister sitting in the back said I’ll give you a couple of quotes granddad. I think we have to thank Sutton girls’ grammar school term planner for the first but the second is a Freddy original I think. Exceptionally good though.
1) Be like a stamp! Stick to your project until it’s delivered.
2) Life’s a journey, sometimes the going gets tough and you have to slow down but with patience and the help of your family and friends you will get there.
I think I got that right. I’m sure they’ll tell me if I miss quoted.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Dear Gordon plus one

Following my Dear Gordon post yesterday I received a comment from Sandwell Councillor Bob Piper. I get very few comments and usually I am prepared to publish unless of course it is offensive. In this case though I have to make an exception. The comment in my view contained inaccuracies which were probably typo errors but nevertheless inaccurate. The starting rate for £120 refund as I understand it depends on your marital status and is in the region of £12000 for a single parent and £9500 for a married earner. Of course I would not expect someone on a salary of £40000 to be given a refund of £120 and shame on you for suggesting it. The other issues you mention for older people are crumbs from the table and the Xmas bonus is £10 which as remained the same since Maggie introduced it. The reference to pensioners being given help with insulation etc is quite true but in his first budget Alistair Darling cut the funding for this scheme.
Bob if you would like to correct the errors I will be glad to publish your complaint.
I think I might make these Dear Gordon letters a regular feature. Seems I hit a tender spot.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Dear Gordon

£5.15 a gallon
My first gallon of gas for my motor bike cost me five bob that’s £0.25. No good looking back I suppose but with inflation running as it is faster than at anytime since the bad days of Heath and Thatcher I couldn’t help but reflect and yesterday we had to fill up my wife’s car. We made the decision to move to a small low emissions car nine months ago to try to be greener and to save money. We have I suppose to some degree managed to save a bit but we will never get the return on our investment we had planned.
I make no excuses for getting on my hobby horse about the sheer incompetence of our prime minister and his government. Or my persistence in my Pensioners against Brown campaign. I started this back in March 2006 after his first budget following the last general election when he stripped pensioners of the £200 bribe he had given during the election campaign. This was a clear indication to me of his attitude to us and followed a series of in my opinion bad decisions starting with £0.75 pence pension increase. I have written to my MP many times about the government’s attitude but with little success to the extent that he now ignores my emails. Recent events though have changed the picture somewhat in as much as that now not only are pensioners against him most of the hard working families in the country are. He uses the phrase helping hard working families quite a lot in his rhetoric. I would like to know how he defines them. My family of Mum, Dad two young children and grandparents are extremely hard working, all of us, and have always been. His £120 give back never came our way because my daughter’s salary is a few pounds over the limit. We are all hurting by the increases in fuel prices, food and other essentials. So what do we do? My daughter and her husband will do as they always do work hard together to provide a better life for my grandkids. We grandparents who now for health reasons can’t work will have to suffer a reduction in our standard of living. In one of my emails to my MP just before Gordon was anointed I pointed out what a bad Prime Minister he would be but it gives me no pleasure to say I told you so.
I liken the present situation to our PM being the captain of the good ship UK which has just hit a rock (northern) the captain is admonishing the navigator for not knowing the rock was there. “But Sir I was only following your course” “Why are all these nasty Arabs and foreigners attacking our ship? The captain asks. That’s what they do Sir? The captain then tells the passengers (us lot) its all OK no need to worry I’ll just back up a little and we’ll be off, I’m the man to captain the ship through these troubled waters and by the way your voyage is going to cost you a lot more and there will be no enquiry into the crash when we do eventually limp into port.
I’m sorry but it just does not work for me. The prime Minister and his front bench have to go. This in itself though gives us a problem. We would certainly have to have a general election and the Tories would win. Not good news for the nation because have you noticed they have not published any real solutions to how we get out of Browns mess. The only politician I have heard recently talking any real sense is Vince Cable and his lot have little chance of getting elected.
The governor of the Bank of England recently said the NICE decade is over. I always thought of it as the LICE low inflation continued expansion decade and it fits better for me with who was running the economy. Gordon during his Prudence period used to tell us the days of boom and bust were over. Well we pensioners never saw much boom but bust is upon us bigger than ever with seemingly little help on the horizon. Abandon ship?
Yours very sincerely
Bob the Black Country Brummie

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Phew its hard work keeping up with my grandkids

Back from a very enjoyable long week end with our grandkids up at Centre Parcs in Cumbria. We see quite a lot of them but it’s so much more fun when you have them all day. They are a competitive family so there is always some degree of competitiveness in all their activities. No good us old uns trying to compete on this level but the pub quiz, pool and crown green bowls we can still give them a run for their money. Little grandson with a bit of coaching from granddad soon got the idea of turning the wood so that it dropped close to the target. His comment must be quote of the holiday. The boys are winning 4-3 to the OAPs with the girls failing miserably on 1. Whoever wins this end he proclaims is the winner because if we win we win and if you win you have to play the girls and anybody can beat them. Unfortunately we ran out of time at 4-4 and had to call it a draw. Don’t think Mum and big sister was too pleased.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

The video doesn’t work Granddad

A friend of mine was telling me he had bought a new VCR/DVD recorder and had being having trouble with the VCR not recording. The unit had been returned to the store for repair. On getting the device back the repair sheet read: This machine is in perfect working order now the jig saw puzzle pieces have been removed. I knew what he was going to tell before he finished the tale. When my grandson was the same age as his granddaughter he used marmite on toast in our video.

Sandwell Skills & Learning Awards 2008

Last night I attended the annual awards ceremony for learning and skills in Sandwell. This is Sandwell’s equivalent of the BAFTAs and a very well run event held at our local football stadium The Hawthorns. This event is in its fourth year, coincidently the same amount of time our little organisation Sandwell University of the Third Age (U3A) has been operating. At every one of the award ceremonies we have had either a runner up, a certificate of achievement or last year an outright winner of one of the categories. Well done Sandwell for funding and organising the event and very well done to all the inspirational people who received awards last night. Our most famous son Blind Dave Healy was one of the speakers and a new inspirational award was presented in his name. Not only is Dave an inspiration to us all in West Brom he’s a very funny after dinner speaker.
I mentioned in one of my earlier posts on local politics the lack of these awards in West Brom and the total lack of anything like it in our ward, Newton. This function must have cost a bob or two to put on but the local events need not be lavish affairs.
A very enjoyable evening garnished by the fact I won a couple of match day tickets to see WBA.
Ps I was awarded a certificate in recognition of outstanding accomplishment in the Training Provider of the Year category. Not bad for a rooky bunch of OAPs eh?

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Don’t time fly.

My regular readership tiny as it is has commented on my lack of posts during the last few days. Thank you so much for taking the trouble to phone and tell me. It’s good to know the blog is being read. You could of course leave a comment on the blog. One of them complained that some of the political stuff was boring and asked had I run out of ideas. Don’t know that I agree with either and no I have not run out of ideas just the time.
On the train travelling to and from London I was watching all these whiz kids with their lap tops busily typing away and wondered should I bring my lap top? I dismissed this quickly and decided at my age it was better to watch the English countryside fly by.
I don’t know what it is about London but I’m always glad to be back in good old Sandwell. The pace of life is somehow slower and I think it’s a better place to live. I can just hear our councillors saying something like old Bob’s gone funny in the head he’s glad to be back in successful Sandwell. Well yes “But” we have a lot to do. There was some good news in the local paper last night. Sandwell are negotiating for university status. If this is true it is truly good news because of the other spin offs which will raise the educational aspirations of generations to come and add to the local economy. We could eventually move from metal bashers of which I’m proud to a truly knowledge based economy. Now that would be progress. I do hope it is not just another initiative that ends up in some council officer’s waste bin or another fiasco like The pUBLIC.
Can’t promise the same regular posts because the English grandkids are taking us to Centre Parks over the bank holiday. Don’t think somehow that I’m going to be able to put my feet up much over the week end.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Away day or two

Sorry folks but I will be out of town for a day or two down in the big city doing my bit to champion the cause for older people. Nothing to revolutionary but don’t expect I will have time to blog. I don’t know how our MPs and councillors can keep up their busy schedules and find time to blog. BTBCBrummie

Litta re-cycling

I was sitting in my bedroom office looking out at the green space in front of my house. My neighbours and I had cut the grass, the trees were starting to come into blossom and after weeding and planting our little bed of bushes I was well pleased. Dog mess is a thing of the past and there was not a jot of litter anywhere to be seen. I then got to thinking about some of the other green sites locally that the council are supposed to maintain. One is constantly littered with beer cans and bottles and some of the others rarely get cut and when they are the mess left is a disgrace. We get the occasional crisp packet or chocolate wrapper and sometimes a drink can. When we do get litter it comes from the green boxes when they are emptied every Friday morning. I can guarantee it, they turn upside down the green box and anything left inside is left on the grass. This in itself is annoying but they leave all the green boxes from my neighbours in the same spot. Can recycling operatives be given fixed penalty notices? and if so do they get one for each piece of litter?

Monday, 12 May 2008

Neighbour hood watch, you’ll cop it.

For many years I have run a neighbourhood watch scheme in my street, helped form a neighbourhood watch association in our ward and been involved with Sandwell’s crime prevention panel. Most of this voluntary work is thankless and I often think our members just humour me. NHW has a good relationship with our local PCSOs and neighbourhood police officers but I often think that the police senior managers think we are just a bunch of do gooders to be tolerated. This attitude varies dependent on the regime and over the years we have had Commanders who were very pro NHW. Recently, mostly because of what I see as senior police indifference I have felt that perhaps it was time for me to pass on the role of coordinator to a younger person(if we can get one). Yesterday I decided to canvass all the membership in my street to sign a petition NHW are promoting to get improvements to safety measures on the duel carriage way which borders our ward. I was very surprised at the result. Almost all of the membership was totally behind the petition and most were very appreciative of what my wife and I have been doing and said so. It is nice sometimes to be appreciated and I thank you all for your support. Even though senior police may not be comfortable with what we are doing my neighbours certainly appreciate it.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

The movement is growing

I have posted on this theme before but I make no apologies for repeating it because it is a major issue that the Labour party will have to deal with and that of course is Gordon Brown. My opposition to him stems back to his blatant bribe of pensioners at the last election and the subsequent removal of the £200 council tax allowance, his policies which have decimated pension funds and his appalling attitude to the Pension Protection Fund and the Financial Assistance Scheme for pensioners who have lost pensions through no fault of their own. I was with some pensioners again yesterday who were affected by the pensions crisis. That’s maybe not such a surprise to my regular reader. I use the singular because if you judge the blog by its comments count I’m mostly talking to myself. The pensioners I refer too were part of my team before retirement and ill health curtailed my economic activities. They were in the main life long trade union members and traditional labour voters. We don’t usually talk politics at our reunions but yesterday was an exception and I never started it (honest). In fact Gordon’s treatment of pensioners and the rising cost of living was the main topic of conversation. I’m not going to labour the point (if you’ll pardon the pun) but dear old Gordon came in for a lot of stick. So you heard it on my blog first if you’re a pensioner join Pensioners against Brown. You know it makes sense. Our consensus was that Labour will never win an election with him in charge.

Friday, 9 May 2008

yummy mummy

Youngest grandson is just like his granddad in that he has a sweet tooth. Ask him what he would like to eat and he will invariably say chocolate cake. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever, he’s always up for cake. He is a tall lad for his age I mention that because it explains what happened next. I think it was his third birthday and we were over in the states to help him celebrate. I told you I’m up for cake anytime. His Mum had made him a splendid cake and left it on the kitchen unit during the evening before his birthday and after he had been put to bed. The following morning I’m lying in bed thinking it’s time to get up when I hear a bump. I get up to investigate and find grandson sitting on the floor surrounded by his birthday cake and eating furiously. He could just reach the counter top and had pulled the cake down on top of him. As I said I’m up a piece of cake and I’m sitting on the floor just about to join the impromptu feast when big sister walks in. She looks at us two and exclaims “you two are so grounded I’m telling mum” Mum enters, with not a lot of cake left to salvage she had to see the funny side of it. Granddad however was in trouble for aiding and abetting. Well you’re only old once! But don’t you just hate it when the grandkids rat on you. Grrr.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Easter day

Easter Sunday, with American granddaughter and her brother who were drawing in their playroom. The picture looked like Jesus on the cross. Wishing to encourage her in this masterpiece of creativity and not being really sure what it was she was trying to draw. Feeling confident now that the picture was developing I ventured the opinion. “Is that Jesus on the cross?” “No” she tutted, “He wouldn’t look happy would he?” She later explained that it was Jesus but when he turned into an Angel. Serves me right for asking.

original picture curtesy of

General Knowledge

We used to do creative stuff when we looked after our grandkids and sometimes we would have little general knowledge quizzes. We would compile the quiz and make sure we had all the correct answers before they came. During one such quiz I asked the eldest granddaughter “where does tea come from?” without hesitation she replied “ASDA” She was only 8 at the time.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

How about this then?

A little more serious today because of some of the cost saving issues raised in my earlier posts. Before the first full council meeting of this term to give them something to think about.
Cost savings;-
If Sandwell want to save money which is better than alienating the population by increasing council tax year on year, I would like to make the following suggestions. Some of these were included in my local election post but I thought it worthwhile to summarise.

Money saving tip No1
Turn of the chandelier in the council house reception. 50 plus bulbs at 60watts and during daylight hours useless. There you go, more than enough savings here to allow free entry to Sandwell Park Farm during the week. Saving probably £1000 per year

Tip No2
I propose the council run a suggestion scheme for all direct council tax payers, with a prize worth winning: two years community charge for the winner and one year for each of three runners up. The tax payers would be asked to make suggestions on cost saving initiatives. I know from my time in industry that schemes of this type will only bring a small number of really good suggestions but these will have significant savings attached to them. Savings potentially £100K per year

Tip No3
Why in Sandwell are car parking charges only made in West Bromwich? The other five towns are free. Let us introduce the same rigid car parking regime across the whole borough. This question of car parking is quite complex and later I will raise some other more contentious parking anomalies. It’s difficult to estimate the amount of revenue that this one single measure would raise but it’s in the thousands but I guess because of the political map of the other towns this is never likely to happen.
With my first three cost saving ideas we are looking at potentially many thousands, so why do our councillors dilly dally with what they talk of as efficiency savings lets get on with it.
I don’t want this to appear I’m having a witch hunt with my Council but I do think they should consider the efficiency options before taking the easy route of raising taxes and particularly where they affect vulnerable older residents. They are after all a Socialist administration. Savings £50K per annum

Tip No 4
Litter picking! Why not introduce a payment by results scheme instead of paying by the hour, pay by the bag and change the routes so that they all had a go at the grot spots. Perhaps add some interest by making the pickers wardens with the ability to fine offenders. Difficult to estimate the savings here but from my experience in industry we would find a substantial saving and cleaner borough. I’m estimating £25K in the first year. Let’s have the debate, cost saving should be an agenda item at every council meeting. If you have a culture of trying to prevent waste you will keep costs and hence council tax down. Saving £25K

Tip No5
Councillor’s and council officers’ expenses. Ask the question is that overnight stay really essential? Do we have to have a seminar in the most expensive venue in Sandwell? Could we use cheaper hotels when overnight stays are necessary and should we be paying a drinks allowance. I know you could argue that we have to offer the best facilities to get the best people but this kind of thinking is only adding to the problem. Sandwell is a poor area, we need to encourage wealth into the borough not waste what we already have. Realistic savings I suppose in the order of £50k per year.

Tip No6 Electricity.
With modern lighting systems we could have every off highway or estate road lit by using solar lighting. There would be an initial cost but this could be recovered from central government as part of the drive to reduce CO2 emissions. The savings to Sandwell council tax payers would be enormous. If solar panels were fitted to the council house where there are plenty of suitable sites the savings would be even more substantial and Sandwell would be seen has leading the way towards the governments tough emission reduction targets and we would all benefit. The lower level roof of the council house is ideal for this application at some stage of the day they are in direct sunlight. Without knowing the energy budget for the council it’s impossible to estimate the saving but I would guess it amounts to £80K per year. Return on capital probably three years and immediate if central governments funds used.

Tip No7
If I go into work in West Brom it costs me £2 to park all day, unless I scratch around for an on street parking spot which is inconvenient and rarer than rocking horse shit. If I go to our council house I park free after getting the token for the barrier. Can you guess what’s coming next? Got it in one! Introduce car parking charges for councillors and council staff. Off the cuff :- 300 car park spaces £2 per day = £600 * 5 = £3000 per week * 48 = £144000 per year. A similar situation applies at the training and development centre. So perhaps if applied to all sites it’s a much bigger number. Now that’s worth having. I can feel a big reduction in council tax coming. Perhaps you could make the case against this scenario.
Total increased revenue to Sandwell circa £450K. If I’m, say 30% out it still gives a massive revenue increase of £315K per annum. Enough to cut the cost of meals on wheels and a lot of other unpopular anti pensioner measures which this council have introduced over the last few years and without having to increase council tax.
How about that then?

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Dish the dirt

You know how it is when an appliance breaks down, you suddenly can’t live without it. I have been called the bloggers Victor. Well I’m at it again. Our dishwasher recently gave up on us after not to distinguished a career. No not me, the machine. So off we went to our favourite electrical store to replace it. A replacement was quickly chosen and delivery agreed. The store was excellent in getting it to us on time and I fitted it with a little help from a mate. Then things started to go down hill. The machine did not work. No problem I thought I’ll get an engineer, can’t be much of a problem. Press 1 for service press 2 for spares press 3 to pick your nose etc etc, you're in queue, your call is valuable to us so listen to our crappy music for awhile. Do these modern call centres really annoy you? Eventually the engineer man arrives runs is test program tells us we is knutty there’s nought wrong with machine and wants to charge us. Off he trotts, without payment, in his little van. The following morning machine not working. Back to store get replacement. This is now working. Moral of this tale is I won’t be recommending anyone to buy a Whirlpool dishwasher.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Kids say the most bizarre things

The other evening I asked my two English Grandchildren what they wanted to do when they grew up. Previously my granddaughter wanted to be a speedway rider and the grandson famous. This time granddaughter said she was going to wait until the very last minute after completing her PhD (she’s 13) before deciding what she wanted to be. Nothing wrong with aiming high I thought. The minister for education would be delighted with that reply. Grandson (11) in his usual bubbly chatty way said “I want to dominate the world” he’s been watching too much tele I thought but then he went on to explain how he would divide it up. What country would you like he asked his sister: America she said. Good choice he said. It became apparent he intended to include all the family in sharing out the world. Italy was going to Nan Pat, because she liked it, Switzerland to his other Nan for the same reason. Granddad Bob was getting the Falkland Islands because they are out of the way. I know my place and where I fit in this pecking order. The remainder of the family and extended family got varying bequests which lead me to believe if he has been watching too much tele is geography is excellent. I’m not saying who got Zimbabwe because it might incriminate me. I think I preferred him just wanting to be famous.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Kids say the funniest things

We always seem to have the best conversations with our Grandkids when we are driving. Perhaps it’s because of the proximity and they are so to speak a captive audience. Awhile ago we were driving and chatting when my wife asked them how they would remember their grandparents! The eldest said Nan Pat teaches us how to make things, how to paint and do arts and crafts. Her other Nan she said teaches us games and how to play and have fun. What about granddad Bob I enquired with some trepidation. Oh you teach us boring intellectual stuff and about politics. I must admit to being a bit miffed about this but I pressed on anxious to know what they thought of their other granddad. After a long pause my grandson said oh that’s easy he teaches us to swear. Sorry John! Honest that’s what he said.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

A guest blogger today, Pat

To celebrate the return to normality my editor in chief (the wife) has written this little poem.

I’m glad the election is over at last,
bonus and banana skins are a thing of the past.
Together at breakfast small talk we will share,
no more he’s in his study glued to the chair.
Who said, who, what were to begin,
everyone’s scarred they’ll get a banana skin.
It says leave your comment on the computer screen,
I’m leaving mine now, before I start to scream.
Labour, Liberal and Tory were all in the race,
the Greens were disqualified; they’re a waste of space.


Friday, 2 May 2008

Oh dear did I get it wrong!

Pete the West Brom Blogger commented this morning that the wheels came of my Guesstimometer, yes, but we did it in style and what a cock up. He’s right of course, it’s back to the drawing board for that little algorism. Congratulations to Joyce on what appears to be a big vote of confidence in her. I would like to have a dialogue with them, I’d like to say better dialogue but that’s never been possible. I suppose they will take this as a vote of confidence and carry on as before which in my opinion is bad news for Newton. I was appalled watching the election program last night at the arrogance of the Labour cabinet ministers on the panel. In my view not only are they not listening, they do not think we have a crisis and if we do it’s not their fault. The view seems to be that pretty much all MPs think Brown’s the man for the job and it’ll all be for the best. Can I make a suggestion for all local branches of the labour party up and down the country; they debate the following motion at their most mortem meeting:- That this branch call upon our MP (enter name) at the earliest possible opportunity call upon the parliamentary party to start the process to elect a new leader.

That’s enough politics. I’ve had a complaint or to be accurate several concerning the blog getting to political. Well I’m listening and in future I will return to the “more interesting stuff” as one complainant put it with I hope some input from my grandkids.