Rants and raves: The haves and the have-nots

There’s something about our modern society that really bothers me: While many of us live in what can only be described as sheer luxury, about a million people go to bed hungry every night.

During my financial and economic studies at university, I was taught that economics involved the utilisation of scarce resources to satisfy unlimited needs. When only certain people’s needs are satisfied, there surely must be something fundamentally wrong with the way we run our economies.

The fact of the matter is that the current economic crisis in the world isn’t making things better. Poor people seem to be getting poorer and the divide between the haves and the have-nots is getting wider.

I’m no bleeding heart liberal, either. I have no intention of giving up my nice apartment and my shiny new car and heading for a third world country to hand out food parcels. On the other hand, I’m not stupid enough to think that things can go on like this forever. Sooner or later, the day will come that we will pay the price for neglecting such a large percentage of human society and allowing them to sink into abject poverty.

I’m a financial expert, not an economist, so I will refrain from suggesting solutions to the problem. What I can say, however, is that the sooner we all realise we’re sitting on a time bomb here, the better. Collectively, we have to find a solution that works for all of us, otherwise I’m afraid we’re facing a bleak future.

Rant time – cheats in sport

There’s nothing worse than a cheat in sport. I honestly don’t see the point of winning if you’ve cheated. How could you look yourself in the mirror at night? I suppose the money probably helps though.

My sport is swimming, but I also have a slight interest in watching cycling, which it’s safe to say has had more than its fair share of cheaters over the last few years. While the Lance Armstrong affair hopefully signals the end of a sorry era of cheating once and for all, it is hard for cycling fans to avoid feeling jaded. We have been lied to time and time again by the professionals. It’s little consolation that their towers of lies come tumbling down eventually.

The ray of hope is Bradley Wiggins and the new generation. The Sports Personality of the Year is a breath of fresh air, and managed to win the Tour de France clean last year. He’s outspoken against doping, and it must be incredibly frustrating for him to have his wonderful achievements somewhat overshadowed by the cheats.

The sheer difficulty of an event such as the Tour de France is one of the main reasons people are drawn to cheating. In some ways, I do have a little sympathy. David Millar, for example, is now a fervent anti-drugs campaigner. He reformed after he was caught doping several years ago. In his book, he details the stresses the cyclists were put under. There was undoubtedly a lot of pressure put on the cyclists to cheat if they wanted to remain in their dream job.

On the other hand, I’m sick of the argument that everyone was doing it so it was a level playing field. The simple fact is that these drugs affected people in different ways, so it was in no way level. This is before even addressing the fact that there were many cyclists who stuck to their morals, consistently finishing at the back of the race.

There’s no way around it: careers and livelihoods were ruined as a result of other people cheating.

Despite the evidence, I feel cycling has something of an unfair reputation. Most of the offences that are coming to light now were committed many years ago, and I truly believe the sport has mostly cleaned up.

Then there’s the fact that testing is far more rigorous in cycling than other professional sports. I have my suspicions about other sports that test their athletes far less.

Many people get angry about being lied to when they find out an athlete they admire has cheated. I simply feel sad. Someone who is able to lie and cheat their way to completely hollow victories, defrauding their fans and other competitors in the process, is someone to be pitied, and nothing more.

Red in tooth and claw

Facebook is an irritant – a necessary one.  I have friends all round the world and across the country and I’d never otherwise keep in contact with most of them.

One thing that particularly annoys me about the website – or to be more specific, its users – is that perfectly sensible, intelligent people insist on posting cute pictures of their babies, cute pictures of baby animals, and motivational messages of various types.

Each to his own, certainly.  But why bombard your friends with such tripe?

It is weird, but there are far more cute animal photos than anything else on there.  What’s more, I feel that Nature doesn’t do cute.  Nature does eating cute animals, maiming cute animals and generally causing death and nastiness everywhere.

Not that I don’t love Nature – of course I do.  I appreciate it every time I walk out into some hills to see the landscape stretching out and through the horizon.  I love to hear the crickets buzzing and the birds singing and the occasional bark of a fox.

But what the cute pictures brigade forgets is that Nature in all her glory isn’t just represented by a bear cub picture, or a baby penguin.  It’s also represented by bears fighting each other for territory.  Crows mobbing a cat, or a kestrel.  A fox entering a chicken coop and murdering all the birds for the sake of it – not because he wants to eat them.

The best thing I saw recently couldn’t be captured on a photo, and it certainly wasn’t cute.  I was sitting near a cairn at the top of a large hill in the Lakes, eating my sandwiches and wishing I had more.

I heard a peculiar squawking and shrieking, and then a lot of rustling in the nearby moorland undergrowth.

A magpie – we see these in big towns and cities in huge gangs, but there aren’t so many out in the countryside – was flying low over the bracken, squealing and chattering and making a huge racket.  A fox emerged from the undergrowth, headed directly towards me, as the bird above it continued to fly with it, diving at it and trying to hit it.

The fox had another magpie in its jaw.  It hung on to its victim, and veered off round the cairn as it clocked me, the second magpie in hot pursuit.

That was a drama which no-one else saw.  No photos recorded it, but it will be seared into my mind for many years to come.

I love Nature.  Not Facebook’s version of it, but Nature, red in tooth and claw.

Car rant

You haven’t had one of my rants for a while, so I’ll get this one over with as quickly as I can.

I like to drive.  In fact, scrub that; I love driving.  I have an almost vintage VW Golf GTI, with alloy wheels and a specialist glaze on the paintwork that cost me a lot to have done.  My car is not quite my world, but in my life it ranks slightly further down the list from my niece and nephew, and slightly higher up from my sister.

Last night, there I was, minding my own business, getting mad because the temporary traffic lights at a series of road works were turning green and then almost immediately red, letting no more than one car through at a time.  I had just planned that, when I became the second car in the queue, I was going to go when the first car went, because it wouldn’t make much difference to the timing, when I was jolted forwards without having made any move at all and nearly broke my nose on the steering wheel!

All I could see in the dark of my rear windscreen was some red lights, so I unfastened my seatbelt and got out.  A teenager got out of his car and was looking at the damage with dismay.

“What happened?” I asked.  “Oh no,” he said, “My mum’s going to kill me.”

He’d clearly just come out of the drive backwards a lot faster than any normal person would.

“What are you going to do about it?” says I. “Have you got insurance?”

He looked scornful and for the first time ever, I felt old, and slightly fuddy-duddy.

“Of course.” He looked at my car again. “I wish I had an old banger cos I wouldn’t bother getting it repaired.”

I would just like to say at this point: cheeky little so and so.

“Are you going to pay for it or do it through insurance?” I asked.  I wasn’t going to let him off at all.

He paid.  A new set of rear offside lights for my Golf and a new bumper.  He tried to insist that the scratches would have come out with T-cut but I wasn’t taking any chances whatsoever.

I can’t help feeling that a bit more humility might have saved him the bumper, but that’s tough. A lesson yet to be learned, I suspect.

Rants and Raves: What happened to Christmas?

What the hell went wrong with society that we no longer know how to celebrate Christmas? Do you still remember how Christmas was spent when you were a child? How does it compare to the way you spend Christmas now?

Perhaps I am just getting old, but with every passing Christmas I experience a little less of the joy that the day always held for me. I know it has been said a million times, so saying it once more probably won’t make much of a difference: the whole thing has become so bloody commercial.

When I was growing up, which wasn’t that long ago, the extended family always came over for Christmas. And I don’t mean the odd one or two of them. I mean tons of them. Family would visit from far away, sometimes for a week or two, bringing with them carloads of cousins to play with.

It’s amazing how we enjoyed those days without any iPads or PlayStations. We just had ourselves and we often had to invent clever games to pass the time.

I will also never forget the magic of a real Christmas tree. Not the minute plastic ones that often pass for Christmas trees nowadays, but a real, big one – big enough for the whole family to gather around and experience the excitement of small gifts from various family members. Most of those gifts would probably be passed off as insignificant trinkets in today’s world, but to us they had real meaning because they came from the heart of someone whom you had shared many great hours with.


Making Our Living Room A Bit More Private

For the past year I’ve sat in my living room which looks out onto the street and noticed people looking straight in at me as they walk by.  I can’t stand it, I have currently got two options:

1. Let them stare in

2. Close the curtains, resulting in me getting no light.

Neither are preferable, so I’ve decided to get some blinds too, rather than a nasty pair of net curtains.

So my next step is to find a decent pair of wooden blinds from someone like Tuiss.  They have some fairly high quality looking pieces and the prices are pretty good.

I’ll probably order these over the weekend and then put them in on an evening when they arrive.