Thursday 30 July 2020

Is Capita working for the London Borough of Barnet?

I really must draw your attention to Mr Reasonables latest blog concerning how the contract with Capita is functioning.

He starts with the following two paragraph
I have been continuing to keep an eye on Barnet's finances during this very difficult time but as lockdown eases I thought to was a good time to start digging a bit deeper into Barnet's finances again, especially as the annual inspection of the accounts is coming up in August.
Click for a readable view of the figures
In terms of the monthly supplier payments it looks like Capita continue to benefit from their contract with Barnet. In June they were paid £12.5 million and this brings the total paid to Capita on the Barnet contract to a whisker under £500 million. When I mention this figure to some people they laugh as they simply don't believe that one council could pay so much money to one company but that is the reality of Capita in Barnet. The table below gives you the detail -----> Click here to read the full article

Mr Reasonable, AKA John Dix has been tracking the contract since it was first conceived. He is someone who's day job involves working with such contracts. As you can see from the figures, Barnet Taxpayers are paying far more than we were lead to believe. As Barnet are contractually tied to Capita, there is no scope for cuts, any cuts will come from other areas. With the Covid19 crisis, council budgets are under pressure as never before. I detect a certain world weariness in John's blog, like John the Baptist, a lone voice of reason in a wilderness of insanity. We really should be challenging our councillors on this matter. I have refrained from council bashing during the crisis. They have more important things to do than worry about bloggers, but these figures are truly alarming. The cuts will hurt the most vulnerable people in Barnet, deprived children, the sick, the elderly and the disabled. The one area that will not suffer is the shareholders of Capita. I don't believe Barnets councillors are bad people or evil, but they really need to do something about this mess. They cannot bury their hands.

Outsourcing of public sector contracts has sucked money out of the local economy and has not delivered betetr services. I co wrote a song about the dangers of outsourcing with my songwriting partner Allen Ashley - this affects you. You pay more tax and you have suffered from a decline in service quality. I cannot understand how anyone would not want our councillors to get on the case and get this mess sorted out.


Tuesday 28 July 2020

City vs United, the Heartbreakers or Queen - No contest for me - A tale of music and football

Music is indeed a strange thing. We all have our own tastes. Mine are not mainstream. For many years (up until the petro dollars arrived in Mancherster), I would draw parallels between my musical tastes and my football club. I supported Manchester City. They were mostly rubbish, but I felt it was a far more preferable route to take than the easy path, supporting United. When City won, it really meant something, because they were so good at losing it when it seemed easier to win. A succession of bad managers, stars who never quite fulfilled their potential, but every so often a Kinkladze would turn up, dribble through the whole Southampton team and score the most beautiful of all goals ever, and you'd realise why. They were never boring, they would mostly break your heart, but occasionally they'd be spectacular, such as the famed 'Maine road Massacre'. when the stars all aligned and they stuffed Manchester United 5-1 in 1989, in the days when such things simply never happened and Derbys were a biannual humiliation. Friends would say "I can't understand why you support a rubbish team, especially when they aren't from round here". I just knew they were the team I wanted to support. The rundown stadium, in the heart of Rusholme was somewhere I always felt at home, especially when they were doing things like throwing away a first half lead of 3-0 against Bournemouth. Meanwhile United clocked up the trophys and filled the silverware cabinet, it all seemed rather fake and vulgar to me, not so much the team, who clearly worked hard, but the Johnny come lately fans, who judged the stadium by the quality of the prawn sarnies.

You may wonder what this has to do with music? I realised that my music tastes in many ways mirrored the team I supported. The bands I really loved were bands full of flawed geniuses. The sort of band that you never know whether they would blow your mind or simply blow their minds on booze and drugs and be incoherent. Most of the best bands I've seen have also been the worst. A good example is The Heartbreakers (Johnny Thunders moob, not Tom Petty). You never knew whether Johnny would amble on, veins full of smack and fall asleep half way through the show, or bound on, and play the most searing set of Rock and Roll you'd ever see in your life.

I was asked by a friend to explain my choice of football club in 1999. Man Utd were winning the Champions League Treble, I saw City beat Gillingham on Penalties in the 3rd tier play off. It was the most spiritually uplifting moment at a football match. I brought my nine year old nephew, a City fan (who had been teetering on the cusp of a United allegiance). City were 2-0 down with 89 minutes on the clock. They equalised. Just before the penalties, my nephew looked at me, worried and said he thought he was having a heart attack. I told him that it was real excitement, the type only Manchester City will ever give you.

I was reminded of the explanation when I was discussing Live Aid with a friend. He asked me who I though was the best band. To his shock, I said the only band I saw was Status Quo. I'd made the wise decision to go to Dingwalls, to watch the Alternative Live Aid. I was drawn by the appearance of Johnny Thunders. Johnny alienated the audience, who were there to feel good by saying "Someone is going to make a lot of money out of all this" and proceeding to launch a stream of invective at all and sundry. He looked a tad worse for wear. It was perhaps a rather depressing day. But a couple of years later, I rocked up at the Marquee, expecting little and got the best 45 minutes of live rock and roll I've ever seen. When Johnny died, I wasn't surprised, but I was saddened. He was a rock and roll star, who lived by his own rules and always looked the part. The songs were filled with drug references and punk nihilism, but some of his music was too beautiful for this life. His acoustic album Hurt Me is the most vulnerable and honest of any album. I find it hard to listen to as it is just too raw. Thunders started as the guitarist in the New York Dolls. Strangely the band I always feel are the Manchester United of Rock and Roll also started as a glam rock outfit. Oddly, I can remember their first appearance on TOTP and thinking they were pretty good. I thought they were a bit like a British Alice Cooper, accessible rock. Punk wasn't around and 1974 was the end of the Glam era.

At the time Seven Seas of Rhye seemed a bit edgy. I liked up tempo noisy rock and this was perhaps the best example of the genre at the time. I'd liked Bolan, but Queen seemed a bit harder. I was eagerly awaiting the follow up. What arrived was perhaps the most shockingly awful piece of music it has ever been my misfortune to encounter. Whilst I'd liked Seven Seas of Rhye, it passed just about everyone else by. That was not the case with the follow up. Bohemian Rhapsody was a monster seller. For decades you couldn't avoid it. If it wasn't bad enough being pompous, self indulgent nonsense, it was off an album called a Night at the Opera. I could think of nothing I'd less rather pay good money to watch than opera, so I ritually burned my copy of Seven Seas of Rhye. I decided on the spot that Queen were the Manchester United of Rock. All of my cousins who were Manchester United fans loved them. All of the people at School who were bullies or morons and supported Manchester United liked them. I tried to reason with one that Seven Seas of Rhye was a better song, but they hadn't even heard of it.

I was musically lost (at the time, I'd not heard of the Dolls). Bohemian Rhapsody launched a short period of the most awful, overblown, bad rock music. There is nothing that ruins a rock song more than an operatic tone and pretentious lyrics. Given that everyone loved Queen, I just assumed I had a screw loose. Then on June 6th, 1977 I saw the Ramones at The Roundhouse. No opera there. No ten minute guitar solos. Short and to the point lyrics. No overblown make up, just jeans, t shirts and ROCK AND ROLL.

It was a moment in my life that altered the course of my life. I spent all of my money on vinyl. There was very little punk music out and our record shop in Mill Hill didn't have much. The first punk album I bought was Puremania by The Vibrators. It was the only album in the shop. The second was LAMF by the Heartbreakers. It was a music I connected with. The first track on the album was "Born To Lose". It was a message I instantly connected with

When you watched Thunders perform, it wasn't theatrical. It was in your face. His Guitar solo's are not crafted virtuoso pieces, that subtly reel you in. They grab you and won't let go, like a rabid rottweiller. It always felt like the whole thing could fall apart at any time, often it did. But it connected and you wanted to be a part of it.

I always thought Queen to be distant and aloof. When we saw Thunders at the Marquee, Thunders spotted one of my band mates in the audience smoking a spliff. He announced that it had to be handed over immediately, in exchange for a  bag of coke. The spliff was taken and smoked on stage. The coke? That never materialised, like many of Johnny's promises. To me, this was City, they give you something, they give you a cherished set of memories, but they didn't give you what you wanted and were better for it.

As for Queen? Well I thought they couldn't record a worse song than Bohemian Rhapsody, but they managed. To me "We are the Champions" will always be associated with United at their most obnoxiously arrogant. I guess that for most of the 90's and 00's City had no real reason to play such a song, wheras United had lots, but my least favourite team cavorting to my least favourite piece of music was simply a fate far too horrible to contemplate.

For City, the song I most associate with the period is Wonderwall by Oasis. To me it is Maine Road, Soggy pies and flat warm beer. The smell of ciggies on the Kippax. The Etihad and the trophies is something different. My son, a millenial City fan has no idea. Although Oasis are to many the sound of City, to me it was The Heartbreakers and Born to Lose I would turn to in my moments of footballing despair. Queen with their mock pomp or the Heartbreakers breaking your heart whilst making you feel human. We are the Champions in a stadium full of Prawn Sandwich munchers or Born To Lose, crying in my beer after another  relegation. I know which I'd choose. You either get it or you don't.

Sunday 26 July 2020

The tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 26/7/2020

Can you believe it? It's already the final Sunday in July, where has the year gone? So little has happened, but we're more than half way through the summer! When lockdown started, I wondered whether it was worth carrying on with this feature, but it has been more popular than ever and I've found a whole bunch of amazing tweeters. If anything it's been a bit more interesting, as it hasn't been a summer promoting garden parties etc, fun though these are and necessary though it is to promote them, some of the stuff has been amazing. But as things open up a semblance of normality returns. I look forward to our first local dog show!

1. Well done to all our community minded citizens

2. And speaking of community minded citizens, I'd put Mr Mark Amies pretty near the top of the pile. Our local pub champion

3. Another community minded local is Sally Baily, Vicar of St Margarets in Edgware, one of the few remaining parts of the High St in Edgware that brings a smile to my face. Sad that idiotic morons have been desecrating her churchyard

4. Do you remember Cricklewood when it was like this? You must have a good memory if you do!

5. Nice!

6. Follow this account if you care about our local pubs

7. If the piccie made you feel a bit hungry, then follow this account!

8. Back to Edgware, back in time

9. The best way to get fit!

10. Good luck to everyone doing music exams today. Hard work pays off!

That's all folks

Saturday 25 July 2020

The Saturday List #272 - My ten favourite pictures of Bunns Lane Work, Mill Hill

Where do you work? What do you see there? I work in a music studio in Bunns Lane Works, a small industrial estate in Mill Hill. I love the place, you see the most interesting things. What do you think? What do you see where you work?

1. I love this picture, which I took recently. A large tower has been installed next to the M1. This will eventually have an advertising hording on top. I sneaked up to the top of it to take this picture of our studio HQ.

Bunns Lane Works electronic sign

2. A lot of small businesses operate from storage containers on the site. These include garden maintenance companies, import exporters and a cardboard wholesaler

Bunns Lane Works electronic sign
3. We see some rather interesting vehicles, as our customers have a good selection of carriages! I rather like this one

Bunns Lane Works collection
4. This is another of my favourite visitors

Bunns Lane Works collection
5. This rather fine motor reminded me of our trip to Cuba a couple of years back.

Bunns Lane Works collection
6. This is one of my favourite pics, a very moody scene taken during break from a False Dots rehearsal last Autumn

Bunns Lane Works collection
7. My brother is a rather fine welder, this is an excellent example of some work he did for a local sculptor

Bunns Lane Works collection
8. Every so often large vehicles take a wrong turn and get stuck under the M1 motorway bridge. It causes havoc, this was one of the recent incidents

Bunns Lane Works collection
9. Our family has had a long association with the site. This picture was taken in 1962. My father ran a crash repairers called MacMetals from 1950 to 1984 on the site. I was raised around motors, most were not quite as impressive as this
Bunns Lane Works collection

10.If ever you wondered what our studios looked like inside, here is a trip down the corridor

That's all folks!

Friday 24 July 2020

Back to Powerleague - I feel like a human being for the first time since March

For the first time since February, I played five a side football at Powerleague in Mill Hill last night. The rest of the boys played a couple of times in March before lockdown, but I had a pretty bad knee injury on 27th Feb, so missed those. The injury only finally cleared up a couple of weeks ago, but I was really nervous. Many thanks to Jill at Mill Hill Physio, who helped me get it on the right track. Sadly when you are 57 years old, things take longer to heal. Last night was a strange game. Just about everyone had put on a few pounds and although some had kept fit, football fit is different. After ten minutes, I was ready for a spell in goal.

The great thing about football is that for the hour, you don't think about any of the other things that burden us. At the end of it, everyone seemed almost elated to have played. It wasn't the best of games, but after the whole covid lockdown, it really was a very refereshing experience. It was only this morning when I woke up, that I realised what a burden had been lifted. I feel a spring in my (achy) legs. Tonight we will be having a bear and something to eat at The Rising Sun.

From a business point of view, it's been an interesting week. When we did our projections, we assumed that the studio would do 10% of its normal turnover in June from 16th,  25% of its normal July turnover, 50% of its normal August, 75% of its normal September turnover. For June it was 15% and for July so far it's been approx 40%, so we are ahead of where we thought we'd be. In short we are not out of the woods, but we are walking towards the exit a bit faster than we anticipated.

I spent the morning putting up signage advising shop customers to wear face coverings. It seems that people are not quite on side with this so far, but we will get there. I think at the moment, gentle reminders is order of the day.

Lets just hope that we are all sensible and we don't do things that will bring a second wave.

Thursday 23 July 2020

Barnet Council - Why do I bother attending meetings?

Last night I dialled into the Barnet Council planning committee. Due to the Covid regulations, virtual meetings are being held. I have to say that I found the process to be deeply unsatisfactory for members of the public. I had asked to make a submission on the planning application made by Barratts for the National Institute for Medical Research site. An associate of mine was also speaking and contacted me yesterday in a panic because he couldn't understand the process of connecting to the meetings. He is someone who has had medical issues and initially he was deeply concerned by the prospect of having any assistance with the technology, as he's been social distancing. In my previous incarnation as a freelance IT consultant, I've attended hundreds, if not thousands of conference calls, but he had never had the pleasure so didn't understand the technology. I had assumed that the council would have a Zoom like facility, but this being Barnet, this was only for councillors and officers. The public had to dial in on audio only. In the end, my associate came to my house for assistance. As the Barratts site has badly affected both his health and his business, he felt obligated to speak. So I set him up on the call in my front room in a socially distanced manner.

He feels (and I agree) that Barnet Council has badly let down both him and his business, in not taking enforcement seriously. He has been noting problems with the site for two years and has had no satisfactory service from the council in dealing with his issues. As for my submission, I wanted the councillors to look at the the guidance officers had given, which I believe had not adequately conveyed the nature of the objections or the problems with the application.

Our case was the third on the agenda. Listening to the preceding two cases was quite demoralising. There were clearly major issues with both applications, but the committee passed both anyway. From what I heard, I was quite staggered that the first was passed. Ellliot Simberg, one of the better Tory Hale councillors made a good case for rejection, but he was summarily ignored. For the second application, I felt that the councillors on the committee did not really bother to explore whether objectors had a valid case. The committee chair, a Conservative attempted to prevent a Labour councillor for asking a perfectly reasonable question of the developers spokesperson. As a lay person, I could see no reason for this intervention. The application was passed easily.

For the application we spoke about, my associate read out his long list of issues. The committee did not bother to ask him any questions. One member, in an act of extraordinary bad manners, did not mute themselves and started loudly clearing their throat during his submission. I was quite shocked that the chair did not reprimand the culprit or give my associate extra time. As someone who is registered deaf, the format that was being used was less than ideal. I could hardly hear what was being said. When it came to my submission, I found I had a loud echo ringing in my ears, making it extremely difficult to concentrate on the text I was reading. I am used to public speaking and performance so I got through, but it was extremely difficult. At the end of my submission, again there were no questions. The application was passed 12-0 by the committee. The officers made some observations that I strongly disagree with. Amongst these they stated that the Mill Hill Preservation Society had not objected. This surprised me as I'd been advised by a member of the committee that they had objected. No comment from the MHPS appears on the Council site. It may well be that due to Covid19, the MHPS had been unable to meet to formulate a response. It strikes me as worrying that such organisations will be excluded because their committee are isolating?  Given the format of the meeting, we had no opportunity to query this.

I have been to hundreds of Barnet Council meetings over the last ten years. Few have been satisfactory, but last nights was the worst. Given my hearing issues, I felt excluded and I felt the complete lack of interest by the committee in what members of the public had to say to be high handed and rude. Not for the first time, I asked myself why I bother attending these meetings. The simple answer is because I find it quite repulsive that councillors, who we elect, can treat the public with such disdain and someone has to call them out. There is no reason why we should not have the same access to the Zoom style meetings as councillors, so that at least we can see their faces and see who is blowing their nose so rudely. In council, we can see when councillors role their eyes at the public. Now it is anonymous. I hadn't expected the council to reject the developers plans. That's not what happens in Barnet these days. I had a faint hope that they might at least enquire why I'd chosen to give up an evening making the points I'd raised. I said that I felt the officers had not properly represented objections by the public in their report. Given that I was limited to three minutes in my submission, I at least expected someone to ask what had lead me to that conclusion, but not one of the 12 councillors on the committee could be bothered to enquire.

People ask why I bother writing a blog. It is so there is a public record of what happened, should anyone be interested.I hope, probably in vain, that one day the electorate of Barnet will wake up to how badly their elected representatives are doing their job. Councillors get an allowance of over £10,000 a year. One would expect them to at least read the paper work and engage with the public. Sadly that is something they have no interest in doing (in my experience). I spent a long time reading the paperwork, I believe there was a serious problem in the presentation of the report. I gave up my Wednesday night to share this. And what did I get for my trouble? Totally ignored.

I stopped hoping that these councillors might feel the slightest need to do their job and represent the general public a long time ago. I just hope that at some point, the voters decide that they want people who will listen to them and at least give them a fair hearing.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Of course Russia meddled in the Brexit vote, they meddle in everything that affects them

I listened with complete incredulity to the coverage of the release of the Parliamentary report into Russian meddling in various UK elections and other votes. Russia is a Superpower. It has huge global reach and influence and under Vladimir Putin, it has been relentlessly rebuilding this across the globe, by means fair and foul. The job of the security services is to keep an eye on this and identify such meddling and stop it, if it is damaging our national interests. This should come as a shock to no one. All nations do this as best they can, with the tools at their disposal. It is clear why Russia would have interests in what has been happening in the UK for quite simple geopolitical reasons.

Support for Scottish Independence is a given, anything that weakens the UK on a global level will be seen by Putin as in the interests of Russia. Putin does what leaders of powerful super states always do. The USA does exactly the same thing, as we are seeing in its power plays against China and North Korea. The UK does it all the time as well. From a Chinese perspective, that is what we are doing in Hong Kong (clearly this is not the British perspective). This is the world we live in and these are the rules we all play by.

None of this is secret, or privileged knowledge. It is the way the world works. Great Britain is a mature power and the Foreign Office and the secret services know all about this. They expect the Russians to meddle, to collect human assets and seek to influence people to their way of thinking. They do this by all sorts of means. The most benign are doing things like setting up the Russia Today TV channel and employing people such as Alex Salmond. That is legal and we should have no problem with such things (whether we treat Salmond with any respect for participating and taking the dosh is a different matter, but that's his business).  At the other end of the scale, we have things like the Salisbury poisonings, done to remind Putin's opponents what happen when you upset the boss.

The job of the Foreign Office and the secret services is to keep an eye on all of this. If they are doing their job properly, they know what the Russian government is up to and when necessary they step in. They can't stop the Russians from doing specific actions such as the Salisbury poisoning (unless they get lucky and get a tip off), but they most certainly should be constantly monitoring and building up a picture of the strategic aims of the Russian government and what they are doing to achieve these aims.

With regards to the Brexit vote, there is no doubt in my mind that it suits the Russian State for the UK to leave the EU. This has little to do with the UK and a lot to do with the fact that the EU is a large, powerful block on its doorstep and many of its former satellites have joined. Anything that weakens the EU is definitely good for the goals of Russia. We make the mistake of thinking we are important in all of this and Russia has a special interest in weakening the UK. That is not what the game is all about. If it screws us up, that is a bonus, but primarily it is to disrupt the workings of the EU. Everything I read on the subject is from a UK centric viewpoint, but nothing Vladimir Putin does is primarily directed at the UK. Whatever he does is in his own or the strategic interests of his government and his agenda for Russia.

As for us, it has been in the economic interests (as deemed by various governments of the day) to have Russian money sloshing around in London. The oligarchs see London as a safe haven and a convenient bolt hole, should they fall from grace with the Tsar. From Putins perspective, this is annoying on a personal level, especially when one of his enemies is getting too vocal or meddling too much. But this is not why he invests so much effort in operations in the UK. He does this simply because the UK has soft power and he has a keen appreciation that we can damage his aspirations for Russia.

For decades, the Foreign office and the secret services have had a keen appreciation and a handle on what they are up to. It is simply inconceivable that they would not be aware of Putin and Russia's interest in things such as the Brexit vote. It strikes me as fairly unlikely that there was a massive treasonous conspiracy by the vote leave campaign to rig the vote in association with Russia, It is also quite likely that the Vote Leave campaign didn't really have a good handle (on an organisational level) as to why Putin and Russia should be so interested. In many ways the interests of vote leave and Putin rather coincidentally collide with regards to the EU. Churchill coined the phrase "my enemies enemy is my friend" and this is what I believe has happened in this case. As we are not at war with Russia, we aloow them to invest and open TV companies, it is difficult to make a strong case that there is any reason why they shouldn't meddle in the way they have. No one has been poisoned or lent upon to vote leave. The fact that the Remain run a woeful campaign is far more significant in the matter than Russian meddling.

I suspect that the reason that the report has been so 'inconclusive' is because there is little evidence that anything materially illegal has been done. The concept that Russia shouldn't seek to forward its own national issues is rather charmingly naive. I suspect that like many 'cunning plans' in foreign policy, ultimately Putin might regret encouraging Brexit. I doubt that the UK will ever be close to Russia politically. Brexit will force us closer to the Anglo sphere of interest (USA, Australia, Canada, NZ). It may well bring us closer to our commonwealth friends such as India, and various African nations. We will be forced to be less insular. Ultimately this may dilute the influence of Russia globally. I suspect the EU will do just fine without us.

A large body of people on the remain side of the argument were hoping that firm evidence that Russia rigged the Brexit vote would emerge. That was never going to happen. The most we could have expected was that a lot of evidence of soft influence was used rather effectively. Personally I'd rather not have such foreign influence, but it happens all the time and all nations do it. To expect Russia to take no interest in what happens in a large competitive trading block on its doorstep is quite ridiculous. When it comes down to it, that is simply what happens in the real world.

Monday 20 July 2020

Why Shamima Begum should have a U.K. trial

Seeing all of the comments regarding Shamima Begum, there are a few points people need to bear in mind.

1. In the U.K. the rule of law applies to everyone. We dont summarily convict anyone without a trial. We can’t only give the full protection of the law to those we like, we give it to those we despise, because that way we ensure justice is done. After WW2 the Nuremberg trials were conducted under British Law and the likes of Herman Goering, who by any measure was more evil than Begum got a fair trial. Stalin wanted to summarily execute the top 50,000 Nazis, but the U.K. insisted that we demonstrate law and justice had won. That is why Begum should face a British court. If the result is she loses her passport and is booted out, after a term in jail, that is fine if due process is followed.

2. The Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 trials show us what happens when the tabloid press whip the nation into a frenzy. There are people who have done worse things than her walking our streets. Much as I hate this, it’s the price for living in a Liberal democracy.

3. The logical alternative is we live in a society like China, where we are currently seeing persecution of Uihgar minorities etc. That’s what happens when you don’t have proper legal process.

4. Legal aid cannot only be given to nice people and those who are probably innocent. Sadly, even monsters should get it, if they qualify. What that ultimately means is the system is transparent and we know that people are in prison because they should be. Of course there are always miscarriages of justice, but the more we ensure that access to legal process is available, the better the quality of the law we receive.

5. One of the greatest qualities of Great Britain is that we live under the rule of law. If ever this is not the case, we will all be vulnerable. Beware of populist politicians who use such cases to undermine universal access to justice.

To finish. My concern with Shamima Begum receives justice and stands trial for her crimes. She was born and raised in the UK and if she has broken our laws, she should be dealt with by our legal system. I happen to think that we deal with convicted terrorists too leniently. I have been following the case of a convicted terrorist, who had been part of a plot to blow up a Jumbo jet. He had been sentanced to four years and served two. He was released and living on benefits. A man who was part of a plot to kill hundreds. I find it hard to believe Begum is worse than him and less entitled to a U.K. trial. This view may not be popular, but neither was the campaigns for the G4 and B6 at the time.

Sunday 19 July 2020

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet 19.07.2020

So it's Sunday, Lockdown is slowly lifting, but sadly most of the Summer fun we'd normally be cataloguing here is still missing. How much has changed in a year? Checkout the corresponding Tweets of the week from 2019. That doesn't mean that there hasn't been some great stuff Tweeted, in fact as we are not promoting events, there is a bit more focus on interesting historical, nature and other local info tweets.  It has actually been a pretty good week for interesting tweets.

1. This series of tweets generated a lot of interest and engagement. Interesting to see how Hendon has changed.

2. You had one job. You really would think the Council would employ people who knew how to spell!

3. This is perhaps the best local feelgood tweet of the week. This brought a big smile to my face
4. If local history is your thing, you'll enjoy this

5. Who would have guessed? Those of you familiar with GAA will know this was a BIG DEAL! Sadly Claremont Road, one of our finest non league grounds is no more, just another anonymous development

6. Nice pic! Bit of Finchley history

7. Hopefully it won't be long before we are back here!

8. If you like snakes this is impressive, if you don't this is rather scary!

9. Always good to see the local litter pickers out!

10. Some rather nice guitars in Mill Hill

That's all folks!

What would have happened if we'd gone into lockdown two weeks earlier?

The Prime Minister + advisor
I had an interesting chat with one of my customers who knows about such things on Friday. The subject was "What would have happened if we'd gone into lockdown two weeks earlier". I got an interesting perspective, one I'd never thought of. If we'd locked down as soon as it became clear that the disease was highly infectious and spreading through our community, and taken an ultra cautious approach, what would have happened? Well it is likely that we'd have had around a quarter of the number of deaths we actually experienced. It is also likely that we'd have been able to emerge from lockdown far more quickly with far less damage to the economy. Possibly people, such as my auntie Audrey would still be alive. As our European friends would not have been influenced, we'd still most likely be having the Champions league played in August, but locally we'd have been out of lockdown far, far earlier, with much less damage to the economy.

But that isn't what we were discussing, marvelous though that scenario would have been. Just suppose the government had been ultra cautious and we'd completely missed the worst of the pandemic, as a result of early lockdown, tight restrictions and a super efficient ramp up of track and trace. What would the Press,the pundits and the twitterati be saying? Sadly, it was suggested that they would all be saying the government bungled the response, closed the economy and the ports for no good reason because nothing much had happened. There are plenty of precedents for this if you care to look. Not least the fact that we've had over 40,000 deaths and some people are still claiming the virus is a hoax. The best example is Y2K. The government and business spent billions on measures to mitigate Y2K and guess what? Nothing happened! Therefore the media has concluded that it was a complete waste of money and a big scam cooked up by the IT industry to make lots of money.

The truth is that a lot of money was spent, we did things properly and that mitigated the risk. Because the job was done, none of the fears occurred. I was working for a debit card processing company at the time. I got a hefty bonus to come in on the night. But I had spent the previous three years working on over 57 major changes to the code to ensure that when you paid for your baked beans in Waitrose the cash went through. I also did work on a Bank ATM system, which had a major upgrade for Y2K. The bank bought a whole new IT system to ensure that it tested all of its transactions end to end, with the new systems repeatedly being run on a future date. All manner of problems were identified and were fixed well in advance. That is the downside of doing your job properly, no one appreciates you.

Perhaps the worst example of this scenario was Germany after the first world war. Despite the carnage and the devastation, there was a school of thought in Germany that they had 'surrendered too easily'. Ultimately this lead to the rise of Nazism and an even more terrible world war. My father was a pilot for bomber command. I once discussed the bombing of cities that Arthur Harris had championed. I felt that the bombing of Dresden was immoral. This troubled my father, who felt that if you hadn't lived through the situation you could possibly understand. He did however make one point which I had to concede. He said that what the RAF had done to Germany had shown the world that if you have bad leaders and they make poor decisions, the whole population suffers. It seems to me that we are seeing this at the moment, what my father didn't realise is that if you have wise and competent leadership, no one really appreciates it because they never see the downside of bad leadership.

It's a bit like car insurance. No one reads the policy, no one checks out how good the service is when we need it, we just buy the cheapest one.Then when we have a smash, we find that they are a company that does everything to avoid paying out. It's only when you need something that you realise you should do things properly and have competent people in charge of important tasks. Whatever we have running the country right now, it isn't a competent team.

Saturday 18 July 2020

The Saturday list #271 - my top ten beverages

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What is your favourite drink? It is folklore in my family that when I was sx months old, my eldest brother Frank was left on babysitting duties by my mum. I had been a very sickly baby, being born six weeks early, spending my first few weeks in an incubator. My mum was always paranoid that I'd get ill and drop dead when I was a baby. But by the time I was six months old, I'd put on some weight and was a bit of a fatty, she felt secure enough to have a night out and leave frank in charge (Laurie, his twin was at boarding school learning to be a Catholic priest). Frank was sixteen. Unfortunately for Frank, my sister Catherine, who was fourteen and had helped mum with childcare duties, was out with her mates, so Frank was solely in charge. This was OK until about ten o'clock, when I awoke, hungry and grumpy. I did what babies do. Frank hadn't a clue what to do. But he soon figured out a solution. The story is that my Mum and Dad returned from their night out to find me and Frank sitting happily on the sofa watching Match of The Day, Frank with a hot steaming mug of tea, me with a bottle full of lovely milky, sugary tea. Mum panicked and tried to grab the tea off me, to which I screamed the house down. Eventually the bottle was returned. Mum told Frank that if I died it was all his fault. From that day, a cup of tea became my beverage of choice. I gave up sugar in tea for lent in 1968, when lent finished, I found sugary tea undrinkable. I stopped drinking tea with milk in 2011 when I was diagnosed with Prostate cancer. I usually drink it with a slug of pomogranate juice (which reputedly stops cancer).  But I got to thinking, what is my favourite beverage, I realised that I had different ones for different settings.

Here is my full list

1) A nice cup of tea - my drink of default at all times.
2) A pint of Hophead bitter (as sold by Mill Hill Services Club, accompanied by banter with my friends).
3) A Tanquerie Gin with Fever Tree Elderflower tonic ( my drink of choice when I come home after a hard day).
4) A nice glass of Black Stump 2017 Shiraz ( a pleasant tipple to accompany a barbeque).
5) A cold bottle of Lucozade Orange (but only when I have a hangover).
6) A pint of Guinness (best supped in my Mum's front room, which sadly can't happen anymore, or at The Pogue Traders Xmas gig at the Dublin Castle).
7) A pint of Seafarers at the Artillery Arms near Finsbury Square with my mate Frank the Scouser.
8) A pint of Orange Juice and Lemonade at the Three Hammers after a sunny summer evening kick about in Mill Hill Park.
9) A pint of Kingfisher with a tasty curry in the Mill Hill Tandoori.
10) A glass of Tsing Tsao beer with a Chinese meal in the Good Earth in Mill Hill.

All this talk of food and drink has made me peckish! I think I'll have a cuppa with a bacon sarnie (Made from the finest bacon from Boucherie Gerard in Daws Lane).

Have a great weekend.

Friday 17 July 2020

The Friday Joke 17/7/2020 - Track and Trace and acts of rebellion

This is the one thing you don't want to hear when you are on the train! ---->>>>>>

As regular readers of the Barnet Eye know, Friday is the day we like to kick back and enjoy ourselves. Laughter is good for the body and good for the soul. We've been through a difficult period.

On the David and Carrie Grant show on BBC Radio London, every Saturday they do a throwout, put a couple of random questions out there. Last week the one of the questions was "What was your biggest act of teenage rebellion".

Anyone who knows me will know that there were one or two. When the question was asked one incident stood out. As regular readers will know, I attended Finchley Cathoilc High School. One of the high points (for the headmaster) was an annual mass for the whole school, I can't remember what this was for, possibly St Albans day (he was the schools patron saint). It was a big deal and many priests would be shipped in. One of the years, there was a significant anniversary, possibly the schools 50th Anniversary. The local Bishop was shipped in to celebrate the mass. We were all warned on pain of death that any misbehaviour would mean instant expulsion. The school choir was put through its paces, learning harmonious descant melodies to the hymns we were expected to belt out.

When we were summoned to the school chapel to have a practice, the Headmaster was in attendance. The first run through worked fine. We sung the regular tune and the choir sang the descant harmony. But we were confused by this, it hadn't been explained that the choir would sing a completely different tune. When we were asked to do it again, every one of the boys tried to sing the high pitched soprano line. The cacophony scared cats for miles. The music teacher explained that we just had to sing the regular tune and that the choir were singing a harmony. We were to try it again. Sadly, we were up for winding him up. After three attempts failed miserably, with much humour, the Headmaster announced "You know the tune, anyone who is not in the choir and sings the descant when the Bishop comes will be expelled". Much as we were God fearing Catholics, the chance to wind up a very unpopular Headmaster in front of the Bishop was just too much. At the key moment, the inevitable happened. The whole chapel dissolved into hilarious laughter. The Head stood up and screamed "Lynch, my office". Sadly, and in a way very typical for him, he picked the pupil he least liked to take the rap for the 180 boys who had embarrassed him.

I quite liked Jim Lynch, he was a bit of a nutcase, but he was our nutcase and I'd always got on with him. I felt affronted, the Head had favourites and those he didn't like were never treated fairly. I was determined to do something. I didn't have to wait long. The Good Lord smiled on me, as he always does on the righteous. As we approached the bidding prayers, I felt a build up of gas in my nether regions. Anyone who knows the Liturgy of the Roman Catholic mass knows that at the end of the bidding prayers, there is a moment of silent reflection. As the bishop said "Now a moment of silence for our own private intentions", by bowels emitted the most thunderous fart ever recorded in the Parish of Finchley, possibly the whole of North London. As I expected, the hall dissolved into uproar, but not before my mate Pat Walsh, shout "Yates, you dirty bastard". When order was restored, Stephen Yates was the victim of scowls from all of the assembled teachers.

After mass was finished, the Head walked up to Stephen Yates and gave him a good telling off. Stepehen Yates knew that there was no point in arguing with the headmaster, so he was for ever the 'boy who farted in the Bishops mass". A couple of days later, I confessed to Pat Walsh. He simply laughed and said "Yeah, I know but it was funnier that Yates got the blame". It was a cruel place.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday 16 July 2020

This really makes me sick! My first rant of the post lockdown era

Time for a little rant. This makes me sick. If you are responsible you are a class A twat. What is wrong with you? Do you still get mummy to wipe you bum when you go to the bog? You are a disgrace. Of course, you probably won't read this because you are too thick to navigate your way around a keyboard. Rant over.

If you want 5 good reasons why this deserves such a rant.

1. It spoils these beautiful places for everyone else.
2. It costsus all as taxpayers, to have it cleaned up (yes, surprisingly it doesn't magically disappear).
3. This causes harm to animals.
4. It causes people to feel upset.
5. It reminds us that people who are selfish and care nothing for anyone else walk amongst us.

Apologies for the strong language, but it is deserved. We endorse this message from Barnet Council

Wednesday 15 July 2020

The story of the demise of cash in society

Many people have been asking me recently about the demise of cash in society. 

Whilst for many, the lockdown and usage of contactless for everything spells the demise of cash, the process has been going on for a very long time. The invention of the telegram was the start of the demise of cash. Banks soon figured out that money could be moved, without a physical transfer of cash taking place. Although this was a far cry from what we see now, perhaps surprisingly the principles of the cashless transaction were invented. I had to give a presentation a few years ago about the history of electronic payments, to an audience that was unfamiliar with the topic and the principles. To chart the journey, I used the story of my Father and his business career, to show how things have changed.

When he was demobbed from the RAF in 1946, he secured a job as chief pilot for John Howard Ltd. They were a construction company working building oil installations in the middle East. I discussed the job with him before he passed away in 1987. He explained that he had two jobs, one was ferrying VIP's, Surveyors etc around the sites and to various meetings. Whilst this was important, it wasn't his main function. This was to safely transport huge amounts of cash and gold between sites. Many of the sites had no road access, so if people were to be paid, they would be paid in cash and the cash had to be delivered. The same with suppliers etc. There were strict financial controls on how much money could be taken in and out of various countries. There was also huge potential for exploiting exchange rate differences between territories. Sometimes cash had been through three or four conversions before it was delivered. Whilst major financial centres such as New York and London had banks, telecoms etc and money could be wired, in less well developed places, cash was king. Where there was cash, there was people who wanted to nick it, so there was also a need for extensive security. My father got the job for three reasons. The first was that he was a qualified pilot. The second was that he was an ex RAF officer, so deemed trustworthy. The third was that he was a big chap who could look after himself. All of these were key considerations when ferrying large amounts of cash. He was on a very lucrative salary to ensure that he wasn't tempted to fly off into the sunset with the dosh.

When my mother tired of him only turning up to knock out another baby (her words), he set up a crash repair business in Mill Hill. He was very successful and soon employed a dozen workers. They were paid in cash on a Friday. None had bank accounts. Electricity and Gas were paid for at the utility company showrooms. Insurance payments were collected by the man from the Pru, who would turn up once a month to collect premiums. The only cashless transactions were cheque payments. As cars were expensive and only owned by the rich, my parents opened a bank account for the payments. These would be paid in on a friday and the cash withdrawn the following Friday, to pay staff.

The need for travellers and rich people to have access to funds unexpectedly in the late 1950's lead to the creation of credit and charge cards. The technology was all paper based. Participating merchants had vouchers and the card owner would have these 'swiped' and the embossed information would be transferred to the carbonised voucher. Cards such as American Express and Diners Cards were status symbols. The authorisation for small amounts was done by signature. For larger amounts a telephone call would be made to the card company. Vouchers would be paid in to the merchants bank and the card company would bill the card holder for the amount, which would be paid by card or cash at the bank.

This was pretty much the case from the late 1950's through to mid 1960's. round this time, the Bank of England and the UK's major banks also launched BACS. This was the first truly cashless banking system. The primary usage initially was to move payroll funds from companies to employees bank accounts electronically. BACS payments fell into three categories. Payments, used for payroll etc, Standing orders used by account holders to pay utility bills and later Direct Debits, where utilities could take cash out of customers accounts once a mandate had been signed. For large firms and organisations such as the Army, Ford, Barclays, British Leyland etc, this was a huge saving in costs. For the banks, it lead to a massive expansion in accounts. Companies would insist employees opened accounts and often do deals with banks to give sweeteners.  Often the money would go in on a Friday and staff would troop off to the bank to withdraw it all immediately. Banks would charge people to look after their own money, which for some of the old school would not be happy, so sweeteners would be offered. For firms like my father, the expense of setting up a BACS system was prohibitive. For employees who wanted to pay the money into a bank, cheques were paid. Companies preferred this as there was less cost and risk. The traditional British workman didn't as he wanted his cash.

However in 1967, Barclays bank took the next step towards a cashless society (although it didn't really seem like that at the time). The biggest star in the country was Reg Varney, Reg from on the buses. Barclays enrolled him to make the worlds first ATM withdrawal at their Enfield Branch. The system was very different. Barclays issued vouchers for £10 that could be withdrawn in exchange for cash. The ATM and the bank conducted a cashless transaction, but the end product was cash. The ability to get cash out of hours was a huge bonus.

Abbey National - One of the founders of the Link ATM Network
As more people had accounts, the usage of cards increased. Initially most people had what was simply called an "ATM card". This could be used in your own banks ATM. By the 1980's banks reached arrangements with other banks. So Natwest users had access to Midland ATM's and Lloyds and Barclays did the same. In 1986, the Link network was launched by a group of smaller banks and building societies. They reasoned that together, they had a network the size of the bigger banks. Soon, the big boys realised it was cheaper to belong to Link than to have their own private networks. Link became a massively successful network. It also gave access to foreign ATM's through a deal with the Royal Bank of Canada to the Time network in the USA. This meant that as an Abbey National Card holder, you could withdraw cash on holiday in the Florida. At the time this was quite revolutionary. I can remember telling my Father about it and he made a withdrawal at the moment the link was opened, being the first transaction over the network and beating the dignitary, who was still giving a speech ( I was working for Link at the time, so knew when the link was being brought up). He excitedly called me to tell me it worked. That was the last conversation I had with him, before he passed away.

Although Link made cash easy to get, it was clearly not something that contributed to a cashless society, but the technology that it used opened the floodgates. Although credit cards had been around for a long time, the technology that drove ATM's and the networks that had been set up, meant that it became economical to use cards in a paperless system. These systems were called Point of Sale systems (POS). Initially they were limited to big companies, petrol stations, supermarkets etc. People who could afford the large scale investment to develop the POS systems. Companies such as Visa and Access (remember them), launched debit cards. These allowed payments from cards to be taken directly from your current account, rather than going through a third party billing system. These cards used a fairly rudimentary security system, based on the encoding of your account details on a magstripe on the back of the card.

The next step was the development of chip and pin cards. For many users, there was initially little difference, but this technology, where the card actually has a computer chip on it, allowed the advent of contactless technology. Not too many people realise that when you tap, the transaction is checked against your bank account, to see if the card has been stolen or that you have sufficient funds.

The other major innovation was the advent of home computers in the mid 1980's. These enabled us to have home banking. These systems mean you can pay bills etc, from the luxury of your own home. No more queueing to pay in cheques. As these systems developed, we have seen less and less people using banks. As a business owner, who takes cash, we have to pay in cash on a weekly basis, as many musicians still operate in real money. Often, at the branch, it is only other businesses and people wanting foreign exchange that you see in branch.

Once parents figure out how to give toddlers pocket money, there is a good chance that the children born soon will never need do a cash payment in their lives.

That is the story of how we got to where we are. But there is far more to the matter. I firmly believe that most people, even those working in banks at a senior level don't really understand the monster they have created. Those who are savvy and know how to work the system can get interest free cash on interest holiday deals from card companies, can buy things fully insured by their credit card company, can get cash back on purchases through card incentive schemes and can get a great deal. Sadly many are like a relative of mine, who has a permanant £12,000 balances on their card, only paying the 27% interest. When I enquired why they didn't move the balance to an interest free card, I was told "it was too much hassle". They are paying over £3,000 a year to the card company in interest. To me that is insane. Loyalty to credit card schemes is to me the most crazy concept of all.

There is also a lot of talk of fraud and cyber crime. Again, this is something that few of us seem to really understand. I personally would advise that cash is spread around. We can never be entirely sure that an account is safe from hackers (or from the failure of the financial system). Therefore if we have multiple accounts, each of which delivers its own benefits, then we can minimise the risk of a fraudster cleaning us out. It is also worth knowing what company actually owns the bank you use. As RBS and Nat West are owned by the same company, if you have more than £85,000 in the two organisations, you are at risk if they fail. By having multiple accounts, if you get hacked, you will still have access to money.

Many conspiracy theorists believe that a cashless society is the ultimate aim of a big brother style government. Whilst the government likes the fact that money in the bank is traceable, it is extraordinarily naïve to believe that they could have orchastrated the series of events that have lead to the current situation. Having had some experience of government IT projects, I was shocked at how little of the governments IT policy is in any way thought through. Sadly I have signed non disclosure agreements so I can say no more, but if they had their act together, there are plenty of things that they would be doing around the area of benefit fraud etc that would give instant quick wins.

I was recently discussing this with a friend, who said they would not perform contactless transactions because they feared their privacy was compromised by 'the government knowing what they were spending their money on'. I found this to be hilarious, given that they had a smart phone and were logged into Google. Your phone has become a tracker beacon and your every move is monitored, so why worry whether someone might know you bought a tin of beans at Tesco's? If you are genuinely worried, go off grid and dump all of your technology. It amuses me that people don't realise that their iPhone could dob them in for speeding, if the govt really had their act together.

Going back to small business. Sadly my father passed in 1987, his business being sold when he retired in 1984. But I still run a business and employ 12 people. I have not paid my staff in cash for over 25 years. Last year 60% of payments were cashless. Since we reopened, this has increased to 95% (mostly vending machine takings now). My staff all have smartphones that they use for payments. All have bank accounts and use online banking.

So should you be worried about the evolution of a cash free society? I think that this is the wrong question. The question is whether you should be worried about the government misusing the opportunities a cashless society present. The answer to this is yes. In China we have seen the government using technology to effectively 'disappear' people's financial profile. This leaves them destitute. Do I think a British Conservative, Labour or Lib Dem government would do such things? I doubt it, but democracy is not a given. The only thing that does comfort me, is that we'd need a government run by people who really understood the technology before we really could see anything worrying. As for criminals. In 1984, my father was robbed by an armed gang picking up the cash wages from Lloyds bank in Mill Hill Broadway. Crime has always been with us. If someone is to nick the staff's wages, I'd rather they did it without hitting me on the head with a baseball bat. Crime will always be with us.

I don't often talk about my 'other career' here, but this is a subject in which I am something of an expert. Between 1983 and 2017, I worked as an It consultant specialising in banking payment systems. I started as my musical career had left me with huge debts and I wanted a lucrative job for six months to clear them. I was lucky to do a TOPS course (remember them) in Computer Operations and get a job with one of the UK's top IT companies, working in electronic payments. They supplied the software that ran the Link ATM network. I transferred to BT, who managed the network in 1986, to set this up, working as the first technical support manager on the project. I then got a job at TSB bank working on the CHAPS system (CHAPS is the system used to make instant, large value cash payments in the UK most people would know it from house purchases). After a couple of years there, I fancied working locally and got a job at BACS, who manage standing order payments and direct debits. They  . From there I went to Streamline (now part of World Pay) working on credit and debit transactions and also Natwest, overseeing their project to join the LINK ATM network. After that, I joined JP Morgan, who run the Post Office Cardholder Account scheme for the Post Office. This replaced bank giro cheques with a card based electronic payments system. In short, I've worked on all of the major cash transmission networks in the UK.