All posts by codgers club

Codgers get blame for hole in coffers – again

by The Codgers' Club Friday, September 5 2014

Villainous pensioners like we Codgers are being blamed once again for the state of the UK’s finances.

For the second successive year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there was a national deficit of £239 million in July when economists had been forecasting a small surplus for the month.

All this was despite tax income being higher than July 2013.

It was when the ONS explained that social benefit payments had risen, that we Codgers (and a few million more over 65s) got the blame.

The explanation was that the rises were mainly due to increased state pensions.

A Treasury spokesman said the government was set to halve the deficit by December, and was quoted as saying: “The government’s long-term economic plan is working, delivering economic security for hardworking people.”

I can hear my fellow Codgers muttering: “nudge, nudge, say no more, say no more.”

The simple fact is we get a state pension that (if we are lucky) rises by the level of inflation. It never goes higher, and sometimes comes not at all. That we have paid National Insurance all our working lives is neither here nor there: pensioners are a drain on the assets of this country.

I’ve already had a close relative accuse my wife and me of being the cause of his “high” taxation. Well, tough!

We did the same for the hard-working pensioners who had worked for a pittance on the railways, in the merchant navy, ordered to fight world wars.

Not everyone agreed with my relative. The BBC was told by economist Azad Zangana: “Despite the very strong economy we are seeing, the government is really struggling to get the public finances under control.”

Codgers – be prepared for pension cuts under the next government. Read the manifestos very carefully.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Plotting a move, lock stock, shed and tyres

by The Codgers' Club Friday, August 29 2014

by Peter Cook

If you think moving house is tough, try moving your allotment.

I have finally conceded defeat to the rabbits and voles and slugs and snails and pigeons who for the past 10 years have made my life a living hell. I have tried trench warfare, chemical warfare, verbal warnings about ferrets, barriers that would rival the Berlin wall. Nothing keeps them out.

Sapper rabbits have created a network of tunnels to undermine my defences. Squadrons of pigeons have developed a technique whereby they land on protective netting forcing it down on to the crop so they can wreak havoc with their beaks. Slithery silent slugs actually tuck into those little blue pellets and demand more, before helping themselves liberally to the beer in my slug traps.

I know when I am beaten, and am now moving to a spacious new plot at the other end of the allotment site.

But you accumulate so much stuff in the course of 10 years, especially when, like me, you are an inveterate rubbish skip pillager.

There is my shed for a start. I can’t leave that behind. It’s made from inch and a quarter pitch-pine tongue and groove planking that once formed the Georgian ceiling of long demolished Chatham Dockyard buildings. That wood must be hundreds of years old, I can’t leave that behind.

So the whole building will have to be dismantled piece by piece and reassembled on the new site.

Then there’s my collection of old tyres set up to form convenient pest-free containers for strawberry plants. (It doesn’t work by the way. Voles come up from underneath and nibble the roots and slugs will always find a way.) Anyway they all have to be shifted, along with the three cast iron baths I use for bringing on young plants.

On top of all that there are fruit bushes and trees to be dug up and transplanted. The more mature ones will have to stay.

I will miss the old plot in many ways. Despite marauding wild beasts I have obtained some tasty produce from time to time. And the wildlife, despite its destructive behaviour, has been fascinating.

However, taking on a new plot gives me an opportunity to get my defences properly built before I start. I challenge any rabbit to chew its way through the corrugated iron that now surrounds it.

So I anticipate that next season I will have prize- winning parsnips, succulent strawberries, perfect potatoes and club root free cabbages.

Come to think of it though, I said the same things this time last year.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Hell is being kept on hold to a call centre

by The Codgers' Club Friday, August 22 2014

by David Jones

I’ve said many times before in this column that if anything is going to drive me to an early grave it will be a call centre. I hate them.

As we wait, growing increasingly frustrated, we are told repeatedly that our call is important. We then join a queue waiting anything up to half an hour to speak to a real person. So our call is important, but obviously not that important.

To be fair, some companies, BT in particular, have a fast-track system which enables you, without joining a queue, to speak to someone in Bombay who doesn’t understand a word you are saying. But at least you can have a ridiculous conversation without waiting too long, or paying extra.

On a serious note, most people want to talk to a customer service desk in the UK about whatever issue they have. There has been growing pressure for companies to scrap their foreign-based call centres, which are much cheaper to run.

This week I read that mobile phone giant EE has found a way round the problem by introducing a ‘priority answering service’ at its call centres, which are now UK-based.

For a 50p payment, callers are fast-forwarded to the front end of the queue. If you don’t cough up, goodness knows how long you will be waiting. This is nothing short of outrageous, a form of commercial blackmail to extract cash from customers for a service they should be receiving anyway.

It makes my blood boil when I hear EE’s response to the inevitable complaints about its new charging policy. “We have invested heavily in customer service by bringing overseas call centres back to the UK and hiring more staff,” it says.

What that actually means is that we tried the cheap option abroad, but it didn’t work, so we are now going to make our customers pay to meet the costs of correcting our mistake.

Alarmingly, EE is not the first to foist this blatant money-making scheme on callers. Budget airline Ryanair is also charging its customers to jump the queue. It won’t be long before more get in on the act.

It’s time for a customer revolution, which, in the case of EE, has already started. Don’t let them get away with it, or we’ll be on the slippery slope to being charged for goodness knows what.

Companies should start doing what’s best for their customers, not what’s best for their bottom line.

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The final throes of the British Empire

by The Codgers' Club Friday, August 15 2014

by Alan Watkins

A notable anniversary which passed last night has strong links with Medway.

Midnight on August 14 1947 was the precise moment the Indian subcontinent was handed over to the locals to run themselves. It was called Freedom at Midnight. It was the end of the British Empire.

The country was split up in six weeks under instructions from Lord Louis Mountbatten.

It was bound to lead to mistakes, and the errors continue today. One million died in religious and territorial slaughter. More than 20 million were displaced as Hindus headed for India and Muslims made for the two parts of Pakistan. More died when Eastern Pakistan split away to become Bangladesh.

In the midst of it all the influence of Medway people was considerable and it has continued to be the centre of Indian interest to the present day.

Royal Engineers had been in India for about 100 years, exploring and mapping the continent. One – 20-year-old Lt (later Sir) Alexander Cunningham – is known as the Father of Indian Archaeology.

Another was Lt Horatio Hubert Kitchener – who became Secretary of War until he was killed in 1916.

There were many Medway people in India who played roles in the final days of the Raj. Frederick Pound, from Strood, was in the Royal Military Police at the time of partition. His daughter Sheila and her husband Malcolm Leith, of Maidstone Road, Rochester, found a photo album of his time in Rawalpindi and Murree after he died four years ago.

“He never talked of his time in service,” said Malcolm, “except once when he said he would have liked to stay in India – but had a wife back home in England.”

 

Tommy Whatrup, 87, of Lime Court, Wigmore, still has vivid memories of his service with the Queen’s Regiment at the end of the Raj.

“We trained to go to Germany, but weren’t needed so the next thing we were given jungle-wear and told we were going to Burma,” said the former corporal. Then nuclear bombs fell on Japan, ending the war. So they were redirected to India in a peacekeeping role.

They arrived in Bombay – where Tommy posed like so many others in front of the Gateway to India.

“I was very lucky,” said Tommy. “I missed the campaigns in Europe and Burma.”

He shipped back aboard a converted meat ship a few days before partition.

“Trouble had been brewing, but we saw none of it,” he said.

He had heard gunshots in Bombay, but it was his colonel firing two revolvers in the street to let the locals know their battalion was in Bombay.

“They responded by firing their rifles,” he said. The only other indication of trouble was the draining of petrol from army vehicles.

“They were making Molotov cocktails with our fuel,” he said.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Decisions, decisions – there’s no way I’d become a politician

by The Codgers' Club Friday, July 25 2014

by Alan Watkins

Politicians are used to being accused of ineptitude and inefficiency. It comes with their popularity on being elected followed by a mood swing among the rest of us.

They are considering two sets of plans that, if approved, will have a massive impact on us and our way of life in Medway.

One is the decision of what shape a major airport expansion should take and where it should go.

The Isle of Grain might disappear if the concept by Lord Foster is pursued.

Another is Boris Island – the gigantic estuarine fantasy dreamed up by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, for the mouth of the River Thames.

That now appears to have been written off by the politicians, planners and environmentalists.

If so – well done.

The only person who seems to want to support the idea of an airport devastating the landscape and residents, is Clive Lawrence from an organisation called DRINK – Demand Regeneration In North Kent.

Mr Lawrence’s concept is that we need jobs and houses, whatever the cost.

He has failed to convince me it is worth aircraft blasting overhead every few seconds, day and night, non-stop. It’s already bad enough when easyJet pop over every couple of hours to land or take off from Southend airport.

We already have bad pollution.

Imagine four runways accepting and whisking off super jumbos and motorways and railways, car parks and coach fleets, housing estates and wagons running around the Hoo Peninsula like oversized ants.

Call me a sceptic, but Mr Lawrence might have more support if a few of the businesses he claims to represent had bothered to speak out in favour of the opportunities.

And have you noticed how studiously the Prime Minister and his cohorts are avoiding taking any position over the plan.

Our real problem is the plan for a Lower Thames Crossing.

Costing somewhere between £1 and £4 billion, it will be built – the question is where.

My money would be on the costlier crossing at Higham rather than alongside the existing QEII crossing.

It would avoid increased pollution at Dartford. That is already at dangerous levels. Instead, it would bring them to Rochester.

For the politicians it is a massive challenge. If they say yes to either proposal they will be pilloried. If they say no, chaos will ensue.

They have to approve one of the plans.

But not until the elections are out of the way, Scotland may have separated from the disuniting kingdom, and at least two of the main party leaders face replacement. All of that comes in the next 12 months.

Become a politician? – you must be joking.

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Categories: Moans and groans

The old bike's a bit rusty... and so am I

by The Codgers' Club Monday, July 21 2014

As she released the pressure round my upper arm and consulted the dial, the nurse looked concerned.

I was having one of those health checks your GP offers when you get close to your four-score and 10.

“It’s a bit high,” she said, referring to my blood pressure. Previously she had sucked a finger full of blood out of me for a cholesterol check. That was a bit high too. Not enough to worry about but higher than it should be.

My weight was also up on what the chart said was healthy. But my height seemed to have shrunk. I was only 5ft 7in, instead of the 5ft 8in I had always believed myself to be.

“Well I’m not going on those statins,” I told her.

“Exercise is the best way of dealing with it,” she said. “That and maintaining a healthy diet.”

Well I knew that already, but I thought I was exercising quite a bit already. After all I have allotments to dig, a boat that I am restoring, and until she died recently, a dog to walk.

Then I thought about it a bit. I only do the allotment on two days a week, and it might be a bit of gentle weeding rather than aerobic digging. And working on the boat didn’t always get me puffed out.

So I have dug the old bike out of the garage and pumped up the tyres. I’ve also bought a helmet for the ridiculous price of £30 but I am not going for Lycra. And the yellow jersey can wait.

I hadn’t ridden the old bike for years and both it and I are rusty. It’s a bit scary. Cycle tracks in this country are not worthy of the name and you are not even slightly protected from traffic. I might save myself from a heart attack, only to be knocked into the next world by a passing truck.

Bit by bit though, I am finding the routes where the cars are less likely to go. Sometimes there are pavements that are wide enough for bikes and pedestrians. Occasionally there are even exclusive cycle tracks, though these are few and far between.

When I was a boy I went everywhere on my bike. Everyone did. It never seemed like hard work. Your bike was just an extension of yourself. There were not many cars about in those days of course, so the roads were much safer.

But I have found cycling to be by far the best form of exercise. There is no way you would get me going to a gym, spending huge amounts of dosh to pound a treadmill, heave on a rowing machine or ride a bike that goes nowhere. Besides I hate the smell – all that stale sweat.

Exercise has to be meaningful. I can use my bike to go to the shops or visit people. Even if you just go for a bike ride at least you are seeing the countryside. It’s not just exercise for the sake of exercise.

I also have a rowing boat – a real one that actually floats. It needs a bit of doing up but I can’t wait to get that out on to the water. I know of no better exercise than rowing for tightening the tummy muscles.

The point is, we are constantly being told that increasing numbers of us are getting type-two diabetes caused by obesity from eating too much of the wrong things and not exercising enough.

Other deadly illnesses, such as heart disease, some cancers, and even dementia, are less likely to occur if we eat better and exercise more.

It’s not rocket science. If we eat better and exercise more, we are likely to stay healthier for longer.

No one can make you exercise. You have to do it for yourself. And only you can ensure that there is not too much sugar or fat in your diet.

The government or councils could help by providing more and better cycle tracks and other exercise facilities. But they probably won’t even though there is a good economic case for doing so. Think of all the money that will be saved on healthcare.

So it’s down to us as individuals. All I can say is, that if you want to stay healthy – on yer bike!

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Categories: Moans and groans

Mutant world-ending virus is such a strain

by The Codgers' Club Monday, July 14 2014

by David Jones

This may seem an odd question for a summer’s day in July, but have you ever wondered how the world will end?

Will it end not with a bang but with a whimper? Will the ants take over, as H.G. Wells once predicted?.

I’m a bit of a sci-fi fan, so I’ve seen most of the movies about the end of civilisation. After 50 years in a newsroom hearing about people’s troubles every day, I feel the need for a large dose of escapism. I prefer my entertainment light years away!

You can take your pick about the ways in which Armageddon will arrive: there’s an asteroid impact; nuclear war; a giant solar flare; a massive volcano eruption, or a pandemic, a disease of global proportions.

The latter is one of the movie makers’ favourites – we’ve had Outbreak starring Dustin Hoffman, Contagion starring Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow and, of course, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.

The Danny Boyle film is particularly fascinating because it tells the story of a small group of survivors and their struggle to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic world following the accidental release of a deadly virus.

That could never happen, could it? Pure sci-fi hokum. But truth has a nasty habit of being stranger than fiction.

I was horrified to read last week that a virologist in the USA – already controversial through his research in making influenza viruses more infectious – has now gone one step further.

He has genetically manipulated the 2009 strain of pandemic flu so that it can escape the control of the immune system’s neutralising antibodies.

No doubt he would say it’s all in the long-term interests of beneficial medical research and that nothing can possibly go wrong as his “new” virus is kept under lock and key in ultra-secure laboratory conditions.

But what we now have, thanks to Prof Yoshiro Kawaoka, is a strain of a flu virus with the capability to cause a deadly pandemic because we have no defence against it.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that Prof Kawaoka is a mad scientist about to cause the end of the world.

No, what worries me is that once these mutant strains of a virus have been created, it’s going to be impossible to get the genie back in the bottle.

Who’s to say what might happen next time if an even more deadly and incurable virus is artificially created, perhaps by someone whose motives are less altruistic than Prof Kawakoa’s and under less secure laboratory conditions?

Then Danny Boyle’s grim vision of our future might not seem so far-fetched after all.

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Amid football fever do the war horrors hover

by The Codgers' Club Friday, June 20 2014

by David Jones

In the middle of the World Cup, the photographs of young men being led away to be executed, some wearing T-shirts bearing the names of their Manchester United footballing heroes, was a surreal but horrific sight even by Iraq’s usual yardstick of horrors.

Some observers estimate the number of surrendered Iraqi soldiers murdered by Sunni extremist fighters at around 1,700. It was an appalling massacre of war crime proportions.

The politics of Iraq are too complicated even to begin to explain.

Rival religious factions, tribal loyalties, corruption and poor planning following the US-led 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, are all in the melting pot as Iraq begins to disintegrate.

And so, as we enjoy the summer and contemplate England’s World Cup progress (or lack of it, depending on the result of yesterday’s game), will you be asking yourself: What’s all this got to do with us? Who cares?

The obvious answer is that a total takeover of Iraq by extreme fundamentalists will mean bad news for all Western countries as the horror is exported in our direction.

But there is another question I keep asking myself: How do the parents, wives, girlfriends, sisters of the 136 British soldiers killed in action in Iraq, plus the 315 wounded – some maimed for life – feel about what’s happening over there? Will they be bitter and angry, believing their loved ones died for nothing now that Iraq is falling apart?

Soldiers serving in war zones view things differently from their relatives at home. They have a job to do and they get on with it. The politics of it all don’t concern them.

And, oddly enough, they worry very little, if at all, about the danger. I should know – my son served in Iraq for six months.

Dread

“Dad, don’t worry about it,” he would say. “Statistically, the chances of being killed or injured are very small.”

He might not have worried about it, but we certainly did. It was probably the worst six months of our lives and we lived in dread of a knock at the door by someone in an Army uniform. But he came home in one piece and when he walked through the arrivals lounge at Stansted Airport it was as though a dark cloud hovering over us had been suddenly lifted.

If he had been killed, or maimed, how would we feel today? We would have been proud of him, of course, but the inescapable conclusion is that we would be tortured for the rest of our lives in the certainty that his, and so many other, lives had been wasted.

The British Army is now in the last stages of its withdrawal from that other long-running conflict, Afghanistan.

There, the British death toll – 453 – is much higher. The likelihood is that Afghanistan, too, will fall apart when coalition forces leave and 453 sets of relatives will be asking themselves the same questions.

The one overriding lesson to emerge from all the carnage is that attempts to impose Western-style democracy on countries which have no history of democracy will always be doomed to failure.

We have learned that lesson the hard way – in blood.

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Categories: Moans and groans

The perfect pint - but only in a proper glass

by The Codgers' Club Monday, June 16 2014

by Alan Watkins

Joy, for most codgers, is supping a pint of ale.

It has to be the real stuff. None of the keggie-flague that killed off a number of breweries because it was so fizzy, tasteless, colourless and riskless. But it also has to be in the right container.

It’s no good having a straight-sided circle of glass, or worse still, a squared pint laden with three dimensional figureheads and multiple logos.

Slurpers of Moon Welcome, Nelson’s Armpit or Virginia Water Pale Ale need to drink from a true pint mug.

That means consuming beer from glasses with dimples. They show us the golden harvest colours, resurrect the image of the earth from which this lifesaver came, and magnify the perfections (or imperfections) of the nectar.

Some years ago, I remember, I had a lively discussion with Jonathan Neame. He’s the chief executive of Shepherd Neame, a Kent brewery that has been around at least since James I introduced whisky to his court.

Jonathan was enthusing about a new drinks container (he called it a glass but it was plastic so how could it be graced with such a title?) he was testing at a number of events.

The bottom of the container was designed to slot on to a tiny hose set in the bar which measured out half a litre of ale and not a drop more – or less.

His concern was the margin of profit that was lost – or the risk of prosecution that followed – the failure of the bar staff to pour precisely 500cc of ale into the glass.

He feared over-measure would lead to financial problems. If it was under-measure, the weights and measures men would materialise from behind the waiting kegs.

I tried a 500cc pint. As pressurised beer goes it was passable, but it was handled like a child’s drink, not a man’s.

These days the chances of being offered a dimpled glass at your local hostelry are rare. This is partly because of the lager glasses that have loutishly consigned the real ale glasses to the recycling bins.

There is also no longer a glassmaker in Britain who produces glasses with dimples and handles that you can grasp.

Personally, I thread my fingers between glass and handle and use my thumb to upend the liquid on a parched summer’s day.

Yet the dimpled pint is making a welcome return. A glassmaker in ... wait for it ... Turkey is producing the traditional British ale glass, complete with grasper, wide brim, aroma-dispensing, solid non-slippability. And all power to him.

Maybe that is why we see so many Turkish lorries on our motorways these days: saving the British pub from perfection-seeking potability.

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Categories: Moans and groans

How the duchess deals with unwanted callers

by The Codgers' Club Friday, June 6 2014

by Peter Cook

Why does everyone think they should have first dibs into that much depleted pool that is our bank account?

Every day we seem to get calls from people telling us how we can save pots of money by handing large wedges over to them.

We can do this by sticking solar panels on our roof apparently, or by investing in a new boiler, or by taking out life insurance – which turns out to be death insurance – or by investing in some private health scheme, or by switching to a new energy supplier, changing our car insurance, home insurance, pet insurance and so on.

The other day I got a phone call on a crackling satellite link from India asking me to take part in a marketing survey. In a moment of weakness I agreed. I could hardly hear a word of what Jasmine – or whatever her name was – was saying and it seemed to go on forever.

Within minutes of putting the phone down I was being called by all sorts of people offering products and services if only we would hand over our bank account details and sign a direct debit form. Now charities are getting in on it. They all want that all important signature that gives them access to our bank account. We are not ungenerous. When Unicef or the Disasters Emergency Committee need money for Syrian refugees or tsunami victims, we are invariably there with our debit cards. We regularly contribute to other causes.

But I want to decide which charities I support, how much I should give them and how it should be paid. I do not want the emotional blackmail of being told that unless we sign a direct debit, millions will die or suffer a plague of frogs.

Apart from anything else, the amount of time these unsolicited callers take up is immense. If we agreed to talk to them all we would do nothing else. And why do they always call when there’s something vitally important you want to watch on the telly – like Celebrity Are You Being Ripped Off?

So we have now decided on a blanket ban on calls from anyone who might conceivably want to save us money by helping themselves to it via a direct debit.

My carer has a wonderful technique for this. She adopts the voice of a Lady Bracknell and tells these blood suckers: “This is the Dowager Duchess of Davington’s private residence. All calls should be forwarded to her London home. You’ll find the number in Debrett’s.”

What they make of that in call centre land I’ll never know.

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Categories: Moans and groans

The Codgers' Club

They are the old boys who like nothing more than to moan and groan about life's everyday problems. The Codgers' Club members - Peter Cook, David Jones and Alan Watkins - grumble through life, always viewing the glass as half-empty. Here they share their latest wit and wisdom.

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