April 2011

April heralded the arrival of a much welcome Spring, however it also feels like Summer prematurely is here as well with temperatures reaching the 70’s F (22 C) The old saying goes, cast not a clout until May is out, which is generally interpreted to mean do not wear less clothing until the beginning of June. This old adage appears to have little meaning this year. There is also some debate as to whether this refers to the month of May or the flower of the Hawthorne which is also known as May. If it is the latter, then the flower has already been and gone. One thing is for certain, the unseasonable heat wave as brought everything into bloom at once. Leaves on all trees came out overnight leaving the countryside a dazzling lush bright green.

Yesterday we took one of our occasional trips to Dorchester in Dorset which has an ancient weekly market that we quite like. There is something quite soothing about mooching around the stalls or the flea market section. This was followed by a short journey south to Weymouth where we purchased some fresh crabs and oysters from a quayside fish shop. The new road to Weymouth is now open but alas the old road which contained a steep but scenic hairpin bend has now been torn up. The long beach at Weymouth was heavily packed with early holiday makers all enjoying themselves but as usual, parking remains extremely difficult. We are normally lucky in finding a free short parking spot on the quayside.

At the moment the town of Weymouth appears to be a sea of road works as preparations for the sailing events of the 2012 Olympics are well underway. I could still see no evidence of additional parking and I cannot help but wonder if the thousands of extra visitors coinciding with the additional Summer holiday makers are going to create one huge parking problem. I hope not but I have my doubts. It will certainly be too late to do anything about it once the Olympics have started.

Does Nuclear Power have a future?

It might be reasonable to assume that a big question mark hangs over the future of nuclear power following the damage to four separate reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. This complex has a total of six reactors all fitted with failsafe safety devices and controls. Unfortunately words like failsafe and foolproof are not part of Mother Nature’s vocabulary. Mother Nature is also well-known for throwing unexpected and unpredictable thunderbolts out of a clear blue sky. In north-east Japan this came in the form of a magnitude 9-0 earthquake and the consequent reactor damaging tsunami which destroyed the electrical power supply that many of the safety features relied on.

Clearly this incident has demonstrated that no matter how much safety planning and features are built into the design of a nuclear reactor, there can no longer be a guarantee of 100% safety. Although Fukushima  will now join the well-known names of nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl the list of incidents is much larger. Others include the Mayak or Kyshtym nuclear complex in 1957, Windscale also in 1957, Idaho National Engineering Laboratory in 1961, Severesk, formerly Tomsk-7 in 1967, Tokaimura nuclear fuel processing facility in 1999 and Mihama power plant in 2004 although apparently no radiation leak occurred at this incident.

It is the insidious fear of the potential lethal or genetic mutational effects on the unborn, of radiation that causes such alarm in the world populace. Radiation can be like an invisible and unheard wraith casting its deadly cloak like an unseen shadow over land, people, animals and vegetation with effects of contamination that can last for years.

The only realistic solution to avoiding future nuclear incidents is not to have nuclear power stations at all. However a no nuclear option also requires realistic alternatives. It would be possible to return to fossil fuel based power stations like coal or oil but these raise environmental and cost issues and well as objections on global warming issues. It would also only be a matter of time before fossil fuels become exhausted.  Wind, solar and tidal power are possible alternatives but wind turbines are unsightly and blot landscapes. Although wind and tide have a contributory input to national power requirements, at the moment they only provide a fraction of the ever-growing demand for more and more power. It is questionable if alternative sources will ever fulfil the power need currently supplied by nuclear power.

I expect once the dust, (hopefully not radioactive), has settled over Fukushima, politicians will come to the only foreseeable conclusion that if the world wants power then it will have to accept nuclear power despite its inherent dangers.

The Great State Pension Fiasco


There is a saying that a week in politics is a long time meaning that often events and circumstances can change so rapidly that it can be difficult to predict longer term trends. The UK still has a relatively new coalition Government busy slashing costs to the bone and then coming back for the bone itself. Trying to predict who is likely to win the next general election which could still be another four years away may seem like an impossible crystal ball gazing task. This coupled with a poor choice of political parties, none of which at the moment appear fit for purpose.

However it would appear that in the last few days, the coalition government has already sown the seeds of its own destruction by announcing the creation of a new two-tier old age state pension system. The new pensions to be introduced in 2015 or 2016 will only apply to those individuals that retire after the introduction of the new scheme. Anyone retiring even 24 hours prior to the introduction of the new scheme will not be eligible. The problem being that new retirees will get about 50% more pension a week that existing pensioners many of who are desperate need now. Apart from saying that existing retirees will not be eligible, no other announcement has been made about their already paltry pensions.

It  is not be difficult to see this will create massive resentment from those already retired and living on state pensions that woefully lag behind most other European countries. With its usual blinkered approach, the Government appears to underestimated the massive voting power of the “Grey-vote”, and it is the grey-vote that is likely to decide the outcome of the next election whenever it may be.

It is more than likely the Government will find itself faced with an ever-increasing dilemma the nearer the next election approaches. It does not take a soothe-sayer to forecast that the political party that promises to extend the new state pension scheme to all will be the party that will win the next election.

The Conservative Party will be in great difficulty promising this as they are the ones proposing the two-tier system. They have already done many U-turns in their less than a year in power, however to do a U-turn on state pensions would be an admission they were completely wrong. The Liberal Party would also be in great difficulty promising the same state pension for all following the University fees debacle. Having made an election pledge which their leader even signed only to break it within a few weeks of coming to power is likely to mean the electorate will never believe any Liberal Party promise again. This only effectively leaves the Labour Party who at the moment have remained silent on equal new state pensions for all.

My guess is none of these blinkered politicians have not yet foreseen anything past their next week in politics and their forthcoming extensive holiday break, but my guess is the penny will soon drop on this election winning promise with the Labour Party soon climbing on the band-wagon.


Cat on the Roof

Cartoonists often depicted firefighters rescuing damsels in flimsy nighties and other such deeds of daring do. The truth however is often far from such whimsical even if desirable fancies. Some incidents I however experienced beggar belief in terms of outright hilarity and which would do any sitcom writer proud.

One such incident was a call to a cat on the roof of a terraced house in Plaistow. Despite popular belief once again engendered by the cartoonists, firefighter do not normally respond of cats on roofs or stuck in trees, that is the job of the RSPCA. Members of the public making such calls are normally referred to the RSPCA by a Control Officer with the fire service only responding if in the opinion of an RSPCA on site that the fire service would be of assistance. Normally animals like cats will get themselves down when they get hungry enough but other creatures like horses or cows stuck in mud often require a helping hand. In  this particular case we were advised by the RSPCA that a cat had been sitting on the apex of the roof of a terraced house for days and despite the enticements from both himself and an elderly widow who owned the cat, this particular intransigent moggie refused to move.  Normally, continual extensive training enables firefighters to immediately spring into action at the arrival of an incident without hesitation, however there is no real training that can be given for dealing with obstinate animals.

Clearly it required a plan of action to thought out. If the RSPCA officer had not been present, it is likely a quick burst from a jet of water would rapidly resolve the situation, however a much longer but more thoughtful scheme was thought out. Two ladders were pitched to either end of the terraced house on which a colleague and I climbed to either end of the roof. In London, the dividing party-wall between the houses of a terrace continue above roof level and prove a useful handhold for getting to the apex of the roof. After negotiating around chimney stacks at either end of the roof, my colleague and I sat astride the roof apex at opposite ends. This was not a comfortable position due to the angle and pitch of the roof. Although we could have used a roof ladder, it is likely this would have scared the cat who might well run onto the roof of a different house thereby complicating matters. Not scaring the cat was also the reason we were sitting astride the roof with fire helmets removed.

Slowly the two of us, such brave persons that we were, inched our way towards the cat issuing such words of reassurance as “Good Pussy” and the like. The errant feline just looked at us enigmatically and probably wondered what these two strange clowns were doing on her roof. Eventually the both of us were close enough to reach the cat however, any sudden move to grab the feline was likely to prove disastrous so we decide to coax the animal into our arms with kind soothing words instead. It was at this point we were distracted by a noise only to see a skylight set into the rear roof being pushed upwards on its hinges by the end of a broomstick wielded by the elderly widow in the room below. That was immediately followed by the high-pitched voice of the widow calling “Here Puss, puss, puss”. With that the cat made a sudden dash for the skylight leaving us with the sight of the cat’s tail rapidly disappearing into the room below.

It took a few moments before it dawned on us that to the passing public below, all they could see was two firefighters sitting astride the apex of a roof in a strange posture, each facing and within close proximity to each other with no cat present to act as a self explanation for either our presence or peculiar position. I expect passers-by must have though we were about to undertake some dark satanic ritual like a roof dancing ceremony. My colleague and I could not help but start to laugh at the absurdity or our position, so much so, it took several minutes before we even dared to start making our way back down for fear of having an accident due to our raucous laughter.

Even now whenever I hear someone calling their cat, my mind always recalls the voice of the frail elderly widow calling “Here, Puss, puss, puss”.

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