15 November 2011

Reflections on Remembrance

Remembrance Sunday has come and gone again.  Over the years, the usual commemoration for me has been a brief introduction in the course of a normal church service, sometimes given by a veteran or, more usually, the widow of a veteran, then two minute's silence, sometimes followed by a recitation of, 'They shall not grow old...'  There was never anything disrespectful about the event but there was always the impression that it was something that was done because it was the thing to be done; and I certainly think it should be done; we should never forget the cost of the freedom we enjoy today.

A couple of years ago, my Beloved and I were in London at this time of year and so made a particular point of attending the Remembrance ceremony at the Cenotaph.  It was a notable event, and no doubt deeply meaningful for those who have either participated or lost loved ones in armed conflict.  We stood next to an ex-serviceman who attended every year.  I would like to say we were there to honour those who gave their lives as much as he was but clearly it was a much more personal thing for him.  For me, the pomp of the event lessened the experience.

This year was very different.  Having recently become involved in a local church, we attended the joint Remembrance commemoration in the village.  The whole service was given over to the act of remembrance, attended by servicemen and women from a nearby barracks, elderly veterans marked out by their medals, and uniformed youth organisations, and followed by a procession to the local war memorial. 

Seeing the boys' and girls' uniformed groups reminded me of Church Parades I attended when I was a Cub.  I was surprised to realise that I had no clue at that time what Church Parade was about, and amused to note that modern day members do not seem to be taught how to march.

At the War Memorial, we and a couple of hundred others observed our two minute's silence, witnessed the playing of last post and the laying of wreaths, offered prayers, and remembered the fallen.  It became a much more meaningful event.

The War Memorial bears the names of those from our village who gave their lives.  The realisation of that grounded the event, making more real the fact that real people, local people belonging to families that still live here and remember their fallen, had left their homes and loved ones and given their lives so that we could know and enjoy peace in our land.

I thought about the futility of war, its waste of life and the lost potential, all for the vanity of evil men bent on oppression and conquest.  If only we could find some other way to settle differences, or even just accept them...

I thought also about those who did not die in war or conflict, who survived maimed, or even unscathed but who nonetheless sacrificed their youth, and who have since born the mental scars of their experiences.  I remembered my grandfather who fought as an infantryman at the Somme and in other battles in the First World War, rose to the rank of acting Major in the Home Guard during the Second, but died 21 years ago at the age of 98.  Though he survived, I believe his children lost the father he could have been, and I the grandfather, as a result of his experiences in the trenches.

War is a dreadful thing.  We do not appreciate or value the peace we have in our land anywhere near as much as we ought.  We owe the fallen and those who fought and survived a debt of gratitude.  I would like to think that, could they see us, they would be satisfied with what we have made of their legacy but, somehow, looking at us and the way we are, I doubt it...

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

(From 'For the Fallen' by Laurence Binyon, 1869-1943.)

12 November 2011

DIY - How to Fall Out of the Loft

We have decided to decorate the hallway. It should be easy because the hallway is a very small space. Needless to say, nothing is ever easy. It's complicated by virtue of the fact that I am married to a woman.

My Beloved wants new flooring, and I have to admit that the laminate flooring left by the house's previous owner is less than exciting. She also wanted a socket in the hallway (there having not been one up to now) and downlighters instead of a pendant light; all this in addition to new wallpaper and a lick of paint.

The socket got done on Thursday evening. This was surprisingly easy. The hallway is in the modern, single-storey extension of the house. Consequently, the internal walls are hollow and faced with plasterboard, much easier to work with than the lath-and-plaster construction in the old part of the house. The loft space above the extension has easy-to-find power cables, and so the obvious way to fit the socket was to drop a spur through the wall from above. This was all achieved with a couple of small holes needed to get past horizontal woodwork inside the wall, and only one hole drilled from above into the wrong room. The second attempt found the inside of the wall easily.

Today, I did the downlighters. The main problem with this job was having to clear junk from the loft so I could lift the boarding that lay over the area where one of the new lights was to go. I had already planned the job itself and bought the necessary fittings and additional tools on the way home on Thursday. Actually installing the lights was straightforward. The cutter I had bought made very simple the job of covering myself with plaster dust. Connecting wiring is always fiddly - there never seems to be enough room in a junction box. I dare say that electricians find it easy, having the benefit of plenty of practice, but for even the gifted amateur that I am it is a time-consuming, fiddly annoyance made worse by always being in a confined space. Connecting lighting units, their being overhead, also plays havoc with my neck and shoulders.

Anyway, all went well, and the final task was to make sure that the new lighting units were ventilated and not covered by loft insulation. Again, this was an easy task, and I had even remembered to buy (and wear) a mask to keep dust and insulation fibres out of my lungs.

Now we come to the highlight of the event. Crawling around between joists and roof bracing is a clumsy pass-time when you've been working for several hours and have forgotten to stop for lunch. One objective is to avoid placing one's foot in the room below by passing it through the plasterboard ceiling. In attempting to avoid the aforementioned disaster (successfully, I say now in an attempt to spare you any stress), I reached out to grasp a bookcase for support. This bookcase is normally nailed to the rafters but I had had to move it to get to the ceiling and, at this point in the proceedings, it was free-standing and unwilling to take my weight. Consequently, I found myself undertaking an unplanned lateral transition. In an attempt to arrest my fall, I stepped out only to find that my foot was on the less than firm support rendered by the open loft hatch. Had I not fitted a loft ladder when we moved into the house, I may well have fallen all the way to the floor below. As it happens, my concession to the influence of gravity was somewhat truncated, and I ended up half in and half out of the loft, having bent my thumb back during my flight, bashed my side against the rim of the hatchway, and clonked my right knee on the ladder for whose presence I heaved a hearty thanks heavenwards.

I decided that enough was enough and, since the actual job was done, I would reorganise the loft tomorrow and just tidy up the mess I had made down below.

Tomorrow, after a night's sleep has provided chance for the aches and bruises to set in, I will probably discover just how much damage I have done myself...

Meanwhile, I will attempt to allay the pain by use of muscle-relaxant in the form of a Cumberland Ale or two, and any other such medication that may be within reach...

04 November 2011

Public Sector Pensions Crisis

I am sick of hearing some private sector workers bleating on about how their taxes are being used to pay public sector pensions.  It is true that state pension is paid from taxes and all of us who pay tax, whether in the private or public sector, are therefore funding state pension.  That means that I, a public sector worker, am playing my part in supporting retired private sector workers just as much as anyone else is.

It is a myth that private sector workers pay public sector pensions through their taxes.

Let me point out that for the last 34 years I have been paying income tax, just as private sector workers have.  For the whole of that time I have been paying into a pension scheme (unlike some in the private sector) and so it is I who have made provision for the pension I will eventually receive.

Down the years, government has taken my pension contribution and promised, through a contractual agreement, benefit in retirement through the NHS Pension Scheme.  Government has not, however, taken my contributions and invested them in order to generate those benefits.  No.  My contributions go into the treasury and government uses the money as it sees fit.

You could consider that government uses the contributions of working public sector employees to pay the pensions of retired public sector workers.

The unions have suggested to government that a proper investment scheme be set up using public employees' contributions so that public sector pensions are self-sustaining and clearly independent of the tax system.  This is, of course, unpalatable to government because it would no longer have access to a very large amount of money to mismanage.

What is truly tragic is the failure of government to ensure that private sector workers are signed up to a decent, properly regulated and ring-fenced pension scheme, that people like Robert Maxwell cannot make off with the pension funds of those who are, and that companies are not allowed to take pension fund holidays so they can pay bigger dividends to their shareholders.

Private sector workers should be up in arms to make sure they are treated well rather than trying to see that the public sector gets done down.  Instead of moaning, 'Why should they have that?' they should be demanding, 'Why can't we have it too?'  As far as I am concerned, everyone should be able to look forward to financial security in their declining years.  There are no free hand-outs to be had, however.  Future security means giving up otherwise disposable income now in contribution to the fund.

I pay my way in society through my taxes and make a contribution to society through my work.  I am paying for my pension.  I am not a parasite!