Make Poverty History

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Where does it all go?

I'm not talking about my money - the money that is paid into the bank by my employer and pension providers - I'm talking about the portion of my money that I don't get - my contribution to the wider society.  On my latest statement from HMRC, on the back page is a breakdown of the spending which totaled up my contributions and split them out, so that I know how much was spent on the various categories.  They even provided a nice graphic.
For those who prefer numbers, here are the percentages I calculated from the numbers that HMRC provided.

Welfare 24.30
Health 20.30
State Pensions 12.90
Education 12.30
National debt interest 5.50
Defence 5.20
Public order and safety 4.20
Transport 4.20
Business and industry 2.50
Government administration 2.10
Culture eg sports, libraries, museums 1.60
Environment 1.60
Housing and utilities eg street lights 1.50
Overseas aid 1.10
UK contribution to the EU budget 0.70
Total 100.01
I'm not sure what prompted this - maybe it was #brexit, but the numbers are revealing.  Here's the things that stand out for me:
  1. We spend more servicing debt than we do on defense.  This is a good reason to get the debt down so there is less interest to pay.  Doing that would provide more (but only a little) for Health and Welfare.
  2. Overseas aid is trivial, so cancelling that, as so many would like to do doesn't really change anything for us, but leaves many of the least well-of in the world in and even worse position.
  3. Housing and utilities eg street lights: I thought that street lights were financed by County Councils, so I'm not sure what this is all about.
  4. The EU contribution is the lowest item. If this is meant to influence my thinking on #brexit, its too late.

Of course there are some questions that need to be answered, for example, is the VAT that I pay spent in the same proportions? I'm assuming that everything they get goes into a big pot and is spent as they wish.  My wish is that were not the case, I'd like to see a line on my payslip that let me know how much I'm contributing to Health and Welfare, that would help in my understanding of how to fund the NHS.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

CenterParcs Longleat, with Thomas - Day 4: The Railway Children

After a reasonable night we were still up late, the morning is spent on breakfast in the villa - nothing special, although I have now worked out how the microwave works so I can cook my porridge the way I like it.
After lunch we went to the pool for a last visit.  We decided to get the 'land train' - a vehicle pulling either two or three coaches seating about 20 per coach.  Very basic, but very necessary on this huge site.  As we drove past some of the people in the villas close to the road waved.  Why is it not just called a train - even without rails road train would work better.  When was the last time you saw a sea train, or an air train.  All trains go on land as far as I know.
Arriving at the pool later than planned we moved dinner back half an hour to get a reasonable amount of time there.  Thomas was seated in his 'flotation device' and was really enjoying being pushed through the water.  At one point he was kicking his legs and moving through the water under his own power, the direction of course was quite random, but I like to think that he realised that it was his action causing the movement.  While the others went off to go down some of the bigger slides he stayed with me, and we went out deeper, where the water was warmer.  By now it is dark outside and the atmosphere was changing inside the pool - the temperature outside was close to zero, inside it had dropped and the water at the edges cooled down quickly.   Thomas was feeling the cold.  Out in the middle the water was still warm so he enjoyed that more.  He was happy to get his mum back though. Then I tried a little swimming   The pool is not designed for straight swimming, but along the divider it is possible occasionally. After a few widths I was tired, and wondering how my shoulder would hold up.
We left the pool, getting washed and dry in the changing rooms and headed to dinner at Las Iguanas.  The service was good and appropriately attentive, the food was nice enough, if a little on the spicy side.  Anyway we all enjoyed ourselves.  The only slight disappointment being the beer - Brave Red Ale - a craft beer, which lacked body, although the taste was OK.

CenterParks Longleat, with Thomas - Day 3:The Howling

A slow start to the day is becoming the norm.  The overnight snow had left white patches on the ground, but there was so little it looked like a heavy frost.  Last night was supposed to have been the coldest of the winter so far, with temperatures predicted to drop as low as minus five.  I don't know if it was that cold because the temperature in the villa was quite constant and warm.
We eventually ventured out into the cold, and got as far as the Sports Bar.  We booked a pool table for an hours pool.  Like the bowling my recent experience is non-existent, so I played badly even by my poor standard.  Thomas seemed to enjoy the environment of the sports bar - perhaps it was the endless TV screens showing mostly the same thing, but weirdly some are slightly out of sync.  One or two have different programs.
From the Sports Bar, Jo and I took Thomas back to the villa, while Liz and Ray went to the Aqua Sana for a spa event.  On the way we looked for the bird hide.  It is next to a small pond which was still frozen over at 4pm.  Just up the bank at the back of the pond is a villa with very noisy children playing.  We instantly blamed them for the lack of birds, but a few moments later the real reason became apparent. A cat came prowling through the scene, obviously intent on something we couldn't see and unaware of our presence it went on its way.  The few birds there had been were already gone, and so it was our turn.  We made our way back up the hill on the way back to the villa.  We had not ridden on the 'train' yet, when we arrived at the stop it was just a couple of minutes away.  Frantically we tried to disassemble the push chair as the 'train' arrived, we were still trying as it left, so we gave up and walked back.
Once back in the warm Thomas was soon complaining that he was too hot but even unwrapped he was not happy.  Pointless was on the TV, but having it on was pointless - we couldn't hear it above his cries. Eventually, after I swaddled him and rocked him he dozed off, but not for long - in less than 30 minutes he was back at full volume.  At four months a child knows his mother and father; he also knows when they are not around and protests accordingly. Even the flames from the log fire, which had so fascinated him last night had no effect.  We decided to take him for a walk - back in the bear suit, back in the push chair and on our way up the hill, the volume and frequency reduced slowly.  Near the end of Cascade Way we met mum and dad coming the other way - all is well for the rest of the night.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

CenterParcs Longleat, with Thomas - Day 2: Water World

After a reasonable nights sleep, I comment about the beds and the shower.  The bed is comfortable and large enough for me not to have feet sticking out of the end.  The way the duvet is placed on the bed, and tucked in with a very large sheet means that the duvet only reaches to my chest.  The chalet also cools down quickly, so Thomas was cold during the night.  The central heating is set to automatically return to its default plan after a certain amount of time, so trying to make it stay on over night seems to be impossible. The shower is good, and I enjoyed a good stream of hat water for the duration - no fluctuations in pressure of temperature.  Refreshed by a good night's sleep we are planning to visit the pancake house for breakfast.
Today, we walked the 1.5 miles to the Plaza, and arrived at the pancake house in time for a late breakfast.  The pancakes are very good, I had a Smoked Salmon and rocket pancake.  The others also had a sweet one after their savoury one, but I refrained.  Thomas was offered various tastes from the pancakes, most of which caused him to dribble excessively.
After that it was on to ten-pin bowling.  We had an hour booked and managed two games.  I played badly and could not achieve my usual level of accuracy, so overall I was well beaten.  Never-the-less, we all enjoyed ourselves, passing Thomas around so we could take our turn.  He put up with all of that without a big fuss.
Then to the pool, to introduce Thomas to the water.  The baby flotation devices are expensive, so we decided to look after him, but a couple offered us theirs, as their son had grown out of it.  There are still lots of kind people in the world, and we were very happy to accept their kind offer.  He seemed to enjoy the freedom it provided and was happy kicking his legs and getting some movement.  We were sat just in the wave pool, when the wave started we sat on the edge.  He enjoyed the wave crashing next to us and watching it splash the people next to us - that was perhaps the most entertaining thing for him.  Later we left Liz and Ray in the pool, and took Thomas to get a cup of tea (for us, not him).  We fed him and almost immediately he slept, he barely finished his milk.  Eventually it was just him and I, dozing in the chair - him properly asleep and me nodding off and waking up.
When Liz and Ray returned form the pool we started the return journey to the villa.  We waited for the 'train', but it was full, so we walked back, down the valley and up the other side.  I pushed him all the way - exercise complete for the day!

Monday, February 12, 2018

CenterParcs Longleat, with Thomas - Day 1: Lost in space

The journey to CenterParcs started, as all holiday journeys do, not with a single step, but 20 minutes loading the car.  We decided to take the petrol vehicle, mainly because it has more space. Also, because I haven't got as far as signing the electric one up for charging points yet.  Then we traveled six miles in the wrong direction to meet with Liz, Ray and Thomas and to pick up some of their luggage.  The convoy (just two vehicles) set off down the A13 to the M25. For most of the journey the traffic was reasonable, there were only ne or two small jams.  We stopped at Fleet Services on the M3 for lunch - Burger King.  The temporary facilities are really quite nice, very open and airy, but warm enough none-the-less.  The most notable thing about the services, which I could just about have got to, was that all the re-charging points appeared to be cordoned off. The remainder of the journey was uneventful, and Thomas slept for most of the journey.  Then we drove into Longleat Forest, the signs are clear enough, but I had no idea where I was in relation to anything else.  Maps are provided, but they need magnification to be of real use. 
The accommodation is clean, warm and modern - much nicer than I was expecting. There are TV's in every bedroom and also one in the lounge / diner / kitchen.  The storage space in the bedrooms looks small, but is more than adequate. The bathrooms are also very modern. The first order of business after exploring the rooms is to get the devices connected to WiFi - that was much easier than expected.
Waiting for us was a large box of Krispy Kreme Donuts - very welcome, and logs for the wood burner (more on that later).  The donuts just underlined what lunch had already proven - sticking to the diet this week is going to be impossible.
After a while, Liz and I took the cars off site and parked them in the car park, then walked into the Plaza. Jo, Ray and Thomas walked from the chalet and we met at the bowling alley for a drink.  Prices are a little high, but I suppose that is to be expected.  At least they have Doombar.
The walk back in the dark was confusing for me, but Liz knew where she was going.  We are about 1.6 miles from the Plaza, so a return trip should be enough for my daily walking requirement, though I will have to move faster than I did tonight.  I would have expected to get a better view of the Milky Way on a clear cold night, especially as the lights are all dim, low level and mainly under fir trees, but it wasn't so different from Billericay.

Friday, January 05, 2018


I have been put on different statins. The previous ones came in a box half the size and had two strips with 14 tablets each.  These come in a larger box and waste huge amounts of plastic - which is non-recyclable.  There are four of these in the box.  The tablets are so small they could easily put two weeks supply on each sheet.  What a waste!

The pencil is there to give a sense of scale.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Gran Caneria 16 Nov 2017

Once again the island bus service failed to impress.  We waited for the bus at the top of the hill above the hotel, where we could have got off yesterday. The journey to Palmito Park is about 25 minutes, the bus was late again, this time about 15 minutes. We purchased a return ticket.  The zoo is in a valley, it is the furthest inland we have been and it is the hottest day so far with temparatures already at 28 centigrade.
There is lots of climbing to do - up and down the side of the valley, fortunately there is plenty of tree cover.  The geography means that the enclosures are relatively small, so there are no big cats, or wolf packs.  Some of the creatures have much less space than is desirable. 
Apart from the zoo there is an orchid display and a cactus garden. 
The most impressive thing is the dolphin pool, we were determined to see the display but the instructions were not clear, in fact, they mostly concentrated on selling their dolphin experiences - I guess the entrance fee doesn't really cover the cost of running the zoo. 
Arriving too early we decided to have some lunch in the restuarant.  The service was very efficient, they are clearly practised at serving people and getting them out in time for the display.  The food was good, but relatively expensive.
We were sat outside in the full sun just after midday, covered in factor 50 sun cream and shaded only by a wide brimmed hat.  The pool is in a valley, which is a sun trap, it is very hot.  The display is amazing, showing both the skills of the dolphins and their trainers.

The next display was the exotic birds, again we are out in the sun, this time near the top of a hill, it is still very hot. The birds are allowed to fly free, they have nowhere to go, so they always come back - eventually.  On one occasion we were told one has stayed out for three days.  Three different eagles were on display, only two came back during the show, the other was still circling the next ridge, way up above the zoo, it was just visible if you could see it without staring into the sun.
About 4pm we left the zoo and waited in the shade for the bus back.  It arrived empty, and left on time - much better then the outward journey.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Gran Canaria 15 Nov 2017

Today's round trip, unlike yesterdays, would involve a lot mote effort on our part.  We are planning to walk along the Maspalomas beach then turn left and walk up to the beach at Playa del Ingles, and back through the town.  First though we are going to have a ride on a camel.

It's not far to the camels, the signs are easy to see, if rather amateurishly painted - black paint on green background cut in the shape of arrows.  Crude but effective.  The camp is made to look like a bedouin tent, but beneath it is a solid building - made of brick and wood.  We didn't get to sit on a camel, rather on a seat carried by the camel, one of us on each side.  The seats are built on a tubular steel frame and must be quite heavy, the addition of two adults must mean the camels work quite hard.  Either way they didn't seem bothered and easily rose from their sitting positions, tipping the passengers forward at an alarming angle.  The safety mechanism is a simple rope tied to the frame on one side and wrapped around it and pulled tight over it on the other - not exactly secure.  Jo was worried that hers was not tied tightly and held on very tightly throughout.  Although the ride was a good experience, it cannot be described as a desert experience because Maspalomas is visible in almost every direction, and never out of view.
From there we walked towards the beach, passing a small reservoir and spotted a grey heron on the far shore.  We didn't bring binoculars, so couldn't get a really good look.
We set off along the beach that borders the dunes, sometimes paddling in the sea, sometimes walking on the hot dry sand.  Progress was slow, partly because of the sand and partly because the beach is packed with people going in both directions, but mainly it seemed coming towards us. Part way along the beach becomes 'clothing optional', with very few taking the option.  We got to the other end about an hour after we arrived at the beach and started to look for somewhere for lunch.
The cafes on the beach are slightly on the expensive side, but the one we chose served good food, even if they spent a lot of time brushing the sand away.  They delivered the wrong meal, but soon corrected the situation, even if the waiter was quite angry (not at us).
After lunch we took a 35 minute walk across town along the same road as yesterday and bought ice cream from the Spa before walking down the hill back to the hotel.
From there we headed to the pool for a relaxing (read exausting) swim - how unfit we are!
According to Runkeeper we have covered 7.57 miles today (only a little of which was done by the camel).

oday I found out how the kitchen lights work.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gran Cararia 14 Nov 2017

We decided to do the round trip that the Jet 2 representative had recommended, but we started later than planned because of a poor night's sleep.  Breakfast was very crowded (perhaps something to do with being later) either way a light breakfast was planned - just porridge and toast.
Bad news from the family meant some onward communication was required which added another delay, but these things cannot be avoided.
By now an hour later than planned we set off for the bus.  Not sure of the stops we walked further than we needed and waited ... and waited.  The bus from Maspalomas to Puerto Rico is the number 90.  The time table on the stop says it is due at 23 minutes past the hour.  At about 50 minutes past the hour a number 90 went past while I was checking that I hadn't somehow mis-understood the timetable.  So the timetable is wrong.  The next 90 came about an hour later.  The plan for the day had fallen apart.
The bus journey was un-eventful, stopping in quite a few villages, and only spending a short time on the dual carriageway. We arrived in Peurto Rico and got off the bus.  It is a tourist trap and very busy. We had lunch at a very international resturant, with menus in at least seven languages, called Mau-Mau.  The food was good and the service friendly but the orange juice is from a box, not freshly squeezed as we have found it in most other places.
Then onto the ferry, part two of the round trip.  It sails on the hour every hour and is right at the end of the bay.  We missed it by about a minute, it went just as we arrived to buy tickets.  So, time for ice cream and a walk around the end of the bay.  It was a hot day and we were both soon covered in melted chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce.
Finally, we get on the ferry to Morgan.  The ferry provides some great views of the island - the volcanic rocks, dry and apparently uninhabited contrast with the clusters of modern hotels in each gully, and the crowded beaches in each bay.  The way the hotels climb the side of the mountain reminds me of Cornwall, although the climate is radically different as are the buildings, but the principle is the same.
Once in Morgan, and with our trust in the bus service destroyed we find the return bus first.  We had intended to then look around, but the bus is there and almost ready to go.  We decide to board as there is no telling whether the next one will run or when.  It is a shame because this is the first town that looks like it existed before the tourist invasion and still retains a little of the character it once had.  Some of the architecture looks quite interesting.  The bus journey back is direct and anything but interesting as it speeds along the dual carriageway.  It would drop us at the top of the hill on the opposite side of the hotel to where we picked up the 90, but I didn't know that, so as I was following it on googls maps, we jumped off with about a mile to go (on foot).  The bus had at least another couple of miles and was going south instead of west at the time.
At the top of the hill we bought chocolate from the Spa shop.
We sat in the bar at the hotel and had a drink and relaxed after our unnecessarily speedy trip.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Gran Caneria 13 Nov 2017

The botanical gardens that is situated along the side of the '50 metre' road that leads to the hotel is closed on Sunday's, so today is our first chance to visit it.  While it looks small, it is packed with exhibits. We enjoyed our walk around - up and down the hill, up and down the hill, taking pictures of the various plants.  Then the day was spoilt when by camera battery needed to be charged.
This morning, for breakfast, I had found mushrooms - they were peppered, not too much, but enough to disguise the delicate flavour.  There is also porridge available, which I will try another day.
After breakfast we spoke to the representative from Jet 2, who scribbled a lot of things to do on the map.  As Jo is better today, our exploration can begin.
Approaching lunchtime, we walked into San Fernando, finally away from the resort area, with its endless hotels and into a residentail area we began to get a better feel for the island.  San Fernando has a long shopping street with both small shops and cafes and large department stores. We had lunch outside a very Spanish cafe - I had deep fried chicken wings and chips, the chicken was very hot and just about cooked - still a little pink. Fortunately it did not make me ill.  Jo's chicken sandwich looked much better.
In the supermarket we bought dish cloths, honey, lemon and cough sweets.  On the way back we visited the park - a formal garden, a play area for children, and quite a lot of seating.  It was mainly populated by youngish men comsuming cans of cheap larger and laughing and joking loudly.  The park is next to the church, which is closed all day on Mondays, and open at 7:30pm every other day.  We had a drink in a bar opposite the church before making our way back to the hotel.
We decided to try dinner in the refectory - serve yourself (like breakfast). I had grilled Tilapia, potatoes, peas and sweet corn. It was nice enough, but unremarkable.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Gran Caneria 12 Nov 2017

Jo is still not well, so today we will mainly stay in the room.  Our first real experience of the hotel is breakfast.  It is downstairs, underneath the foyer.  There is a huge variety, as there has to be for any hotel dealing with an international clientele.  Now I want a full english breakfast, but I cannot find mushrooms or tomatoes. There is also a very strange small flat cake like thing which turns out to be made of potatoe, egg and cheese.  It has a rubbery texture, but is very tasty.  The other strange thing was the lack of cold milk for the cereal.  Not a good breakfast experience for the first day.
Quite a while after breakfast we took a stroll out of the hotel and towards the beach.  We walked for about a mile, just past the fork in the road where it crosses what looks like a dried up miniature canal which I believe is a large drainage ditch - Barranco de Maspalomas. We stopped in a restuarant on the edge of the canal and had drinks and a very nice lunch - grilled sardines for me and vegetable risotto for Jo.
We then took a very lesiurely stroll back to the hotel (43/min per mile).  There we paid for some time on the TV (there are only a couple of free channels) to watch a replay of the Brazilian GP.  The TV channels are not as listed, either on the TV, or the cards in the gueats book.  Nothing unusual there.
Most of the day was spent reading and relaxing - the only way I can enjoy the heat.