Goodwill is in short supply this festive season. Rail workers, postal workers, nurses, ambulance workers and more have all called strike action.
The railway is in such a state in parts that it doesn’t need workers to strike to cause disruption, as customers of Transpennine Express and Avanti West Coast, among others, can testify.
The NHS is in meltdown due to chronic underfunding and understaffing caused by mismanagement. Even on non-strike days, people are waiting hours for ambulances. Is it any wonder that nurses and ambulance workers have had enough?
The government has naturally attacked the striking workers, and is now planning to pass draconian anti-strike laws. Add this to the recent laws passed cracking down on protests, and we have a government that can only hang on to control by crushing its opposition.
These are workers who were lauded as “key workers” during the pandemic, dutifully heading into work while the rest of us stayed home and baked banana bread. People stood on their doorsteps and clapped for them, now they are being attacked as lazy and greedy for making some perfectly reasonable demands. After years of pay failing to keep up with inflation, prices are spiralling. People are being forced to choose between heating their homes or eating properly. Some can’t afford to do either.
We all need a pay rise, and for public services to be funded properly. We are in one of the richest economies in the world, it could easily be done.
I am inconvenienced by cancelled trains, and delayed post, but even so: solidarity to all those who are campaigning, and Merry Christmas.
It’s been a weird few days in the UK.
Last Thursday lunchtime, reports came in that the Queen was seriously ill. I was ready to dismiss the news – over the past year or so, there have been several reports of the Queen’s declining health, and each time she has pulled through and lived to see another day. We had all seen her meet the new Prime Minister just two days earlier, and she looked cheerful, if frail. The Queen, it seemed to all of us, would live forever.
However, the confirmation that the Queen’s family was racing to Balmoral, indicated that this was something different. The news was considered serious enough to interrupt a House of Commons debate. Grave enough that BBC One interrupted Bargain Hunt to go to continuous breaking news. The biggest sign that Something Big was happening came a little while later, when all the presenters suddenly donned black clothes, not just on the BBC, but Sky and other channels too.
The hours of speculation became rather gruelling to watch, with little actual news to report and the news channels spending much time broadcasting live pictures of a gate at Balmoral. The actual announcement, when it came, was handled impeccably by Huw Edwards, the true professional that he is.
There is much to debate about the monarchy’s place in British society. On the one hand, you can point to the outpouring of tributes as an indicator of the Queen’s ability to bring people together. Conversely, the entrenched wealth and privilege at the heart of the institution often feels quite inappropriate while millions struggle to make ends meet. It’s certainly rather distasteful to see people being hauled away by police for peaceful protests.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that this is a significant moment. The Queen was woven into our national life in numerous tangible ways: her face on coins, bank notes and postage stamps; her Christmas Day message; her appearances with James Bond and Paddington Bear. For the vast majority of the population, she is the only monarch we have ever known. Her absence is going to take some getting used to.
It was two and a half years ago that Boris Johnson won a landslide majority in a snap general election. It was a horrible day, knowing that a completely amoral, opportunist lazy chancer could be elevated to the highest office in the land.
Now he is (almost) gone, leaving a country in a much worse state than it was when he became Prime Minister. He has destroyed trust in politics through his dishonesty. He has elevated desperately unqualified people to high office. He has pursued a toxic culture war agenda that has turned people against each other and divided the country.
Good riddance to him, but be afraid, because whoever replaces him is going to be just as bad, if not worse.
As for everyone who enabled him to get to this point – the cabinet colleagues who propped him up, the newspaper editors who gave him columns, the Have I Got News For You producers who booked him, the journalists who failed to call out his lies, the pundits who made excuses for him – we see you, and we do not forgive… or forget.
Farewell, Internet Explorer, which officially retired today. It has already vanished from Windows 11, Microsoft’s latest and greatest operating system. Over the next few months, Microsoft is rolling out updates to Windows 10 which will encourage those few people still clicking on the big blue ‘e’ icon to switch to using Microsoft’s new browser, Edge.
It’s all a long way from Internet Explorer’s heyday. IE launched in 1995 when the Web was a very different place – accessed through slow dial-up modem connections, still largely text-only, and mainly the preserve of tech geeks and Star Trek fans. The main web browser for PC users at the time was Netscape Navigator, which had been released in late 1994.
Continue reading “IE was the future, once”
I can’t say much about the horrendous scenes in Ukraine that hasn’t been said more eloquently by others. I am not qualified to comment on world affairs, so unlike pretty much everyone else on Twitter, I will refrain and point you to the BBC, who are doing an excellent job of reporting from the scene.
The pictures on the news, showing terrified children caught up in this conflict, affected me particularly strongly, and I was glad to find a UNICEF appeal to help them. If, like me, you feel completely helpless in the face of the news, that is one small thing you can do.
December 31st 2020 marks the end of an era. A massive upheaval, one which will affect all of our lives and change the way we look at the world.
I’m referring, of course, to the End of Life date for Adobe Flash Player. Not only is Adobe ceasing updates to the software, after nearly a quarter of a century, it will also actively prevent Flash content from being displayed in your browser.
The effect this will have on the average user is negligible. Most websites migrated away from Flash years ago in favour of newer technology. But for internet “old hands” like me, it is a significant moment, and one which stimulates the old nostalgia glands.
Continue reading “Flash! A-ah!”
On 15th March I met my friend for lunch. That was just over two weeks ago, but it feels like ten years. In the intervening fortnight, life as we know it slowly ground to a halt.
While most of the world was celebrating New Year’s Eve, the WHO China Office was made aware of a new type of Coronavirus.
Nobody else noticed for a few weeks. Even as reports came out of China about mounting numbers of deaths, most people in this part of the world (myself included, I must admit) seemed complacent. When those first coachloads of unfortunate tourists arrived at Arrowe Park Hospital, I didn’t really think much of it. In early March, European countries started announcing restrictions on movement and border closures, but at the same time, I was cheerfully planning a trans-continental train trip for June, confident that it would all be over by then.
Three months after that first report to the WHO, there can be few people on Earth who are not aware of COVID-19.
Continue reading “Pandemic! At the Disco”
In a matter of hours, Brexit will take effect and the UK will be out of the EU. An eleven-month transition period begins, where everything carries on more or less as normal until the end of 2020. But after 11pm tonight, there is no going back to the European Union. Nothing has changed, and everything has changed.
Even as we leave, the rest of Europe tries its best to say a cheerful goodbye – singing Auld Lang Syne in the European Parliament and holding a farewell party in Brussels city centre. They can’t quite understand why we’re doing it, but Europeans have shown us immense respect and goodwill – far more than we deserve after the last three years.
I have no idea what happens next. Frankly, I am exhausted after three years following the twists and turns from 23rd June 2016 to today (long story short – we could easily have undone Brexit, but the Remain side simply wasn’t smart enough). Suffice to say, I don’t trust Boris Johnson, and his merry band of Brexiteer charlatans, one bit. We are heading for a future arrangement which will damage the economy and sell out the most vulnerable in society.
Scotland may become independent. Northern Ireland may end up joined to the Republic of Ireland. Can I blame them? Not really; I want to get away from England too.
“You lost, get over it” – I wish I could.
I voted after work on Thursday night, venturing out in the cold and dark to cast my ballot. I’m in one of the safest Labour seats in the country, but one can’t be too careful.
I was nervous. The polls had narrowed in the run-up to polling day, and there was chatter of another hung parliament. On Twitter it was suggested that big names like Dominic Raaaab and even Boris Johnson himself were in trouble, thanks to tactical voting in their constituencies. Even so, it was hard to ignore the opinion polls which still showed a big lead for the Tories.
I tried to distract myself by keeping busy. I answered some emails, wrote out my Christmas cards, scrolled through some photos from my sister’s wedding on Facebook. By 9.45 though, I was nervously pacing up and down, unable to concentrate on anything else. This election was a battle for the soul of our country, and would have effects far beyond this one Parliamentary term.
Then at 10pm, the bomb dropped:-
Continue reading “Fucking hell”
An announcement slipped out today by the Government (no doubt hoping that the Brexit circus would distract everyone) confirms that the plans for compulsory age-verification checks for adult websites will not be going ahead. The plans had already slipped twice – originally planned to roll out in late 2018, it was postponed to July 2019, then was pushed back again to October due to incompetence. Now, Culture Minister Nicky Morgan has confirmed that the plans have been shelved (on the top shelf, presumably).
It does seem to be a universal rule that, as soon as something is invented, it will inevitably end up used for filthy sex stuff. Computers were no exception – I certainly remember the thrills some lads at primary school got from an illicitly-obtained copy of Sam Fox Strip Poker for the Commodore 64. The fact that none of us knew how to play poker hardly seemed to matter. The introduction of modems opened still more horizons – if you knew where to look, bulletin boards offered BBC Micro users a cornucopia (pornucopia?) of pixelated 8-bit erotica, as uncovered a few years ago by John Hoare (VERY NSFW LINK!).
Porn has been on the web for as long as the web has existed. In the olden days of dial-up, it was less of a problem, as postage stamp-sized RealPlayer windows playing at 5 frames per second did not offer much of a thrill. The content that was available was generally locked behind a paywall, requiring a credit card, beyond the means of most under 18s.
However, with the arrival of broadband, and the proliferation of free sites which offer (legally or not) hours of content completely free of charge, it has become a lot easier to find rude videos online. When I was at school, there was one lad at school who found one of his dad’s naughty magazines and brought it in for his mates to excitedly pore over. Now, with a smartphone in every pocket, everyone has instant access to stuff far more potent than a magazine, with no need to worry about the pages getting stuck together.
Continue reading “The Porn Identity”