Category Archives: Blog posts

Lockdown Amusements

Amazing what you’ll do to amuse yourself during lockdown.

Thing is… when (most) people get bored they start to think about taking up a hobby, and generally speaking, it corresponds to one of two categories: 1) Something that you did before, but gave it up due to circumstances; 2) Something you imagine you fancy… you see someone on the TV or internet and you think… mama-mia – l can do that!

Well, it transpired that when l was impersonating a saint, (l was visiting an orphanage), nearby was this house (unfortunately closer to a hovel) and outside was a large tree trunk. Desperate for help (financial) they offered me the opportunity to buy it. Areas of the trunk were infested, but I surmised that the majority of the trunk was in reasonable condition. Inquiring as to what they intended to do with it (if someone didn’t purchase), the consensus was that it made reasonable firewood.

You know those crazy moments, the rush of blood to the head (and heart)? Lockdown had destroyed normality, the school was closed, and also the airport. Realising that my time in Burma was going to be indefinite, a notion came upon me to resurrect this once beautiful piece of nature. It really is a bit out of my league (never carved before) but l thought… let’s buy it and think what to make of it later, so for the princely sum of £11, l purchased a 54cm wide x 520 cm long trunk. As it included delivery (l’m a hard bargainer), l graciously condescended to allow them to cut the trunk in half. I couldn’t allow myself to be responsible for that family (including kids) dragging that dead weight about 1,000 yards… 🙂

So here I was, at a dead-end due to lockdown, and a tree trunk: a marriage made in heaven.

But problems arose (don’t they always?) When I had the chance to study the items more carefully, in particular the type of wood, it shocked me to discover how hard this ‘hardwood’ really is. This beloved creature of mine is known as a ’rain’ tree here in Myanmar, but according to my research also known as the ‘monkey-pod’ tree. As the wood is so ****** difficult to cut l guess the name is fitting… they made a monkey out of me- or rather l made a monkey out of myself.

However, perseverance is the ability to take a sucker punch… and so it proved.

I bought myself some cheap chisels (another story, suffice to say they were Chinese crap), and a hammer. Realising how inefficient this method is, I managed to buy a home-made axe and commenced scraping off the bark, and eliminating woodworms. What a majestic tool the axe turned out to be. With a lot of practice, and hours of patience, it really can be used in a dexterous manner.

Next came a two-handed saw; many hours of sweat and swear words followed, for it is a bastard of a tool to operate. Weeks later, and numerous coats of polyurethane, both my carvings were finished. While I am relatively happy with the results, it has tested my perseverance to its limits.

May l humbly suggest that if you’re going stir-crazy, take it out on a piece of wood… with determination (and a lack of other things to do), you never know what you’ll end up with and surprise yourself!

In the beginning…

The work in progress

And in the end…

l Home l

Burmese Days

Burmese Days – The practicalities of life in Myanmar following the pandemic lockdown and the military coup d’état

 

The opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ novel,  ‘A Tale of Two Cities‘.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …” (Para. 1, Line, 1).  This passage suggests an age of radical opposites taking place across the English Channel, (France and the United Kingdom respectively). It tells a story of contrasts and comparisons between London and Paris during the French revolution.

Dickens’s points out major conflicts between family and love, hatred and oppression, good and evil, light and darkness, and wisdom and folly. He begins his tale with a vision that human prosperity cannot be matched with human despair. In fact, he tells about a class war between the rich and the poor. He also tells of a time of despair and suffering on one hand, and joy and hope on the other.

Fast forward 240 years; present day Myanmar. Let us rewrite Dicken’s opening passage to reflect our current situation. ‘It is the worst of times, it is the age of foolishness, it is the epoch of incredulity.’

Globally, the official number of Covid-19 cases presently stands at 20.4M (WHO website 10/07/2020). Here in Myanmar (Burma), the official government figures are 230 cases. Geographically, northern Burma sits between Bangladesh, India, and China. These three countries are ranked amongst the highest number of infections. Forgive me if I treat the official Burmese figures with a degree of scepticism.

The Myanmar official response to the pandemic has been woefully inadequate. As of September 2021, the statistics are as follows:

One dose – 9.1% of the population

Fully vaccinated – 6% of the population

Once again, forgive me for being sceptical, but I would wager that most of those that fall within the ‘fully vaccinated’ are from the military. Added to the woes of the citizens, a coup d’état in Myanmar began on the morning of 1 February 2021, when democratically elected members of the country’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), were deposed by the Tatmadaw—Myanmar’s military—which then vested power in a stratocracy.

Myanmar’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested after the country’s military seized power, an event which sparked widescale protests, armed resistance and mass killings.

The animosity created by different responses to the pandemic and the coup d’état runs deep. People’s experience has been so divergent. Ability to understand each other has been put under strain.

Measures relating to spending habits, eating, exercising and financial stability, have significantly altered. Research has found that there is also a more concerning picture that has arisen. The social divisions caused by the both the overthrow of the democratically elected government and the pandemic, are stark. How to ensure that these divisions don’t fracture society in the long-term remains an enigma.

Sounds like Mr Dickens was correct.

 

Burmese Days (2)

Burmese Days (2) – A Drenching from the Heavens 

It has been a strange few days. The weather is now confirmed; rainy season is here. For three days, heaven has lifted her skirt and it’s pissed down. My goodness, she must have had a skinful recently. The blessed relief from the constant 45 º and the buckets of sweat, now replaced by torrential rain and clammy aftermath. Well, a change is as good as …

Rest, now that’s something I guess we’re all getting as a result of lockdown; for some a bit more permanent than they’d have liked. For others, the future isn’t much brighter on the employment side. If the virus don’t get you, government policy will.

What’s that you say? Speak up, can’t hear you for your kids screaming. Oh, the schools are to remain closed. Yeah, it’s brilliant for the little ones. Lucky b*****ds, out playing in the sun all day. Stop moaning, think of the quality time your having with them. Reminds me of my own summer holidays. Gosh I could have given Usain Bolt a run for his money then. Had to be lightning fast to avoid a right-hander from my mother.

That sounds like glass clinking! Of course, stupid me, it’s the old man taking the empties out. Bet the shares in alcohol have done okay lately. Speaking of drink, it’s a few minutes to midday,  so must dash. Ciao.

All Aboard to LaLaLand

Stop 1: Peanut Junction

As the gravy train leaves Peanut Junction, the view from a carriage window soon becomes one of desolation. The U.K. is dying from the cancer of greed, selfishness, corruption and the demise of free speech. In parliament, the various parties argue among each other, unable or unwilling to see the things that ordinary citizens are now taking for granted. ‘Official’ employment statistics mask the reality. Unemployment continues to rise due to the combination of poor leadership, a lack of investment in critical areas, and the demise of our manufacturing base. The distortion of employment figures is a grotesque and shameless pretence of labelling young people in jobs as full time when the reality is ‘Zero Hour’ contracts are ‘part-time‘. Schools, hospitals, G.P. surgeries, and housing services are stretched to breaking point; unable to cope with the rising demand that the policies of successive governments have created.

We send our military to fight wars; conflicts fought under false pretence. Our press is under threat from those on high whose real concern is to enable the shackling of information and to bring a curtain down on the window of transparency. Citizen’s rights are trampled under the guise of national security as increasingly trials and inquests are held in secret. Public organisations, such as the BBC and HMRC, continue to squander taxpayer’s money; the NHS and Social Services are under pressure and often fail due to structures that are top-heavy with managers whose apparent concerns are bloated salaries without responsibility. Quangos staffed with people whose only agenda (seemingly) is the continuation of their existence.

Other organisations; such as Health and Safety concoct bizarre rules to enable us to enrich our lives, but in reality, are only interested in trying to justify their position. Banks have been reckless in the pursuit of money. The taxpayer has bailed them out – to the tune of billions – under orders from those who control our nation, and yet they continue to demand assistance for failure. The police have (to a degree), become politicised; adhering to our present route, they will soon appear more of a private security firm than the ‘street bobby’ of yesteryear. Lawyers have milked the system as compensation has become endemic. They have allowed minorities to hold the majority to ransom all in the name of racism, interfaith and human rights. 

A person in a position of power or responsibility who breaks the law should not be able to resign and get away without facing the consequences of their actions. Public figures should have their salaries, bonuses and expenses published while being made to declare any involvement in companies, such as directorships or shareholdings thus avoiding a conflict of interest. M.P.s should ask the electorate at local levels what they want, instead of blindly following party whips. Vital issues such as the Data Communications Bill (snooper’s charter) and the Justice Bill amendments (secret courts) need debating by the public at large. Instead, laws are drawn up by small groups of the self-interested politicians who never involve us in these issues which affect us, and critically never mention them during their electioneering.

Ruled by greed and selfishness, the U.K. has become a byword for corruption among the political and business class. Recent history leaves us in no doubt. From MPs fiddling expenses or M.P.s cash for questions to drugs cheats in sports, banks collaborating over lending rates and oil companies’ price-fixing; even royals offering access for money. The actions of this gang of brigands we call a government has become more vicious against the most vulnerable. Bob Dylan never wrote more valid words than: ‘Steal a little, and they put you in jail; steal a lot, and they make you a king.’ The City of London and the Houses of Parliament came out in force to celebrate the life of one of their own who helped make it possible for them to steal with impunity. Their actions speak volumes about the values they embrace. Greed, avarice, and profit above all else; values that Christ condemned so vociferously. Hypocrisy was oozing from them.

Meanwhile, there’s a multitude of the homeless and destitute that increase as the cuts they implement become more profound. Now our elected masters have decided that £65K is barely enough to scratch a living and want to vote themselves a pay rise in the region of £10-20K. Discontent with the extortionate expenses they claim, and the gold-plated pensions they are ‘entitled’ to after five years of hard labour in the bear pit of parliament. If they dislike the wage structure (and £65K sounds darned good to most of the electorate I’m sure) why stand for election? After all, nobody is forcing them. As the train rumbles on and heads through the wasteland the U.K. is fast becoming; someone quoted an M.P. as saying ‘If you pay peanuts you get monkeys.’ Perhaps it’s time to elect our primate cousins, I for one, am confident they couldn’t make a bigger asshole of the country if they tried.

Stop 2 – Trough Halt

Driver Dan eases back on the throttle as the engine approaches Trough Halt. Those inside continue to behave irresponsibly, while occasionally one looks out, but remains unmoved. What they see is a smokescreen, showing little of the real world. With the announcement of the MPs pay rise, the mood becomes more irrational, and the speaker calls for more tax-funded champagne. Arrogance, becomes the order of the day, as they defend their pay rise by comparing themselves to other professions; lawyers, doctors, police chiefs, etc.
But the question remains: since when was being an MP a profession? Lest they have forgotten, let us remind them what the word entails. Professions require a substantial amount of relevant training and education. MPs need no such thing; to be an MP requires no qualifications at all. While some have degrees in philosophy, law, politics or economics, and these indicate a level of intelligence, most seem to lack basic common sense. Does having a degree teach anyone about the problems of the average Joe Blogg? They have no idea on how to legislate for the real world.

Successive governments have wasted billions on IT projects and illegal wars. The system has allowed incompetent managers within the NHS to continue, sold off the Post Office to their chums, and finance the school and hospital buildings through PPI, a system which ensures we will continue to pay until doomsday. Even now, they continue to promote throwing £100 billion (approximation) of the taxpayer’s money on a high-speed rail link, which will save 20 mins travel time and be out of date by completion. Banks have taken this country to the brink of destruction, yet not one person has been charged with the crimes committed.

Within these carriages are people whose levels of incompetence and stupidity are staggering, yet they continue to be blind to the long-term pitfalls their greed will bring about.
Meanwhile, as the train rumbles through Trough Halt, they throw slops from the dining car to the passing public as a sign of their benevolence.

Stop 3: Austerity Crossing

The train clears the station and builds up a head of steam as it heads for Austerity Crossing. In the countryside, the surviving trees are devoid of low hanging fruit; the peasants ragged and gaunt. No one inside the carriage notices, as their crazed behaviour continues. From the six-foot plasma screen, news has filtered through that the Conservatives have won a majority in Parliament.
“Crack open another magnum,” screams one swivel-eyed loon.
“Austerity! They have seen nothing yet,” yells another.
“What’s first George, old boy,” the MP for Wind in the Willows asks.
“Council cuts,” says a gleeful George, explaining the perfect way to deflect blame. “If we cut funding to the LGA’s, we can point the finger at them when those on benefits suffer.”

Another voice continues.
“But George, you didn’t tell the public all this.”
George, feeling the effects of champagne, reminds him that the manifesto mentioned twelve billion.
“Yes, I know,” mutters the voice, “but you didn’t mention where.”
Raising his voice by a few decibels, George croaks, “Haven’t you any brain cells? If we told them that, we wouldn’t have won the election.”
Lord Fauntleroy stammers.. “but, but that’s not playing cricket old boy.”
George, tiring of explanations to this buffoon, replies. “It’s called politics. Now be a good chap Fawlty, and refresh my glass.”
The honourable member, Jeremiah Chocolat, clears his throat. “I say, George, have you spared a thought for all the other services that will suffer?”
“Like what?” asks George in a mildly rebuking manner.
“Ermmm, the children’s services or the mentally ill, for instance,” replies Jeremiah.
Lord Fauntleroy, seeing an opportunity to impress the chancellor, interjects. “Don’t forget; care for the elderly, youth employment, libraries, road repairs, housing shortages, local hospitals, etc. and that’s just a few off the top of my head. Oh, and lest we forget, the refuse departments.”
“RUBBISH,” screams George, “Is that all you can spout? Don’t you understand that if they don’t endure the mistakes our banker chums made, then we will never increase our wealth? Is that what you want? You think all those skivers and scroungers don’t deserve the pain and misery inflicted upon them. Something for nothing! Not on my watch.” The chancellor’s tone softens. “Look Fawlty old chap, just so you can understand, I will spell it out. The plan is to privatise local government services (LGA’s) under the cloak of austerity. Got that old bean?”
Lord Fauntleroy hesitates. “But what about the rest of the twelve billion in cuts we have to find?”
“Oh stop chattering Fawlty,” George says with a sneer, “I’ll take care of that further down the line.”
The train slows as it reaches Austerity Crossing. Driver Dan reverses into a siding where he brings the engine to a halt. Fireman Fred jumps from the cab and wanders back to couple up the waiting wagon. Everything checked, he returns to the cab and climbs aboard. Driver Dan pushes the throttle, and the engine eases forward.

Stop 4: Britannia’s Crack

Chuff, chuff, chuff, goes the little engine, as the train hauls the carriages out of the Crossing. “That looks a heavy load,” says Barry, one of the two Carrilion trackside labourers still in a job.

“Yes, it’s taking the government ministers to Brexit via Britannia’s Crack,” replies the other.

“Why have they put that wagon in the rear,” asks Barry. 

“It’s doing a little detour; taking Sir Richard and his annual dividend payments to his tax haven; Soddoff.” 

Barry sighs before continuing. “Clever bloke that Dick, knows how to make a few quid.” At which point, the train passes the two remaining Carrilion workers, who doff their caps as they waive their pension rights away.

Inside the carriages, the level of contempt is rising. George has just heard they have removed him as Chancellor. Prime Minister, ‘Porky pie’ Dave has resigned, replaced by the inept Home Secretary. Fawlty, (who had put the refreshments on expenses), returns with a large bucket containing two magnums surrounded by ice. 

“Let’s celebrate George old chap,” he cries, unaware of the latest news. 

“You’re a proper idiot,” screams George, “as imbecilic as those plebs that voted for Brexit.”

  In the engine cab, a heated conversation surrounding the economy and Brexit ensues. Driver Dan studies Fred’s face before speaking. “Let me tell you, from one of your thick leave voters. Before the EU, life was shit; with the EU, life is shit. After the EU, life will be shit. So stop banging on about the fucking economy. There’s no difference between wages and the dole (unemployment benefit), so what the fuck do I care about the economy? I’m on a zero-hours contract working for an agency, what do I care about EU workers’ rights? I have no worker’s rights. How can it be worse for me? How can it be worse? I’ll tell you how it can be better though; stop letting in millions of workers to compete with me for jobs. My kids are in their mid-20s, and they’re living at home. They’re working, but they can’t afford to buy a place of their own because the bank won’t lend them the money. And they can’t afford to rent, because due to housing benefit cuts, renting costs even more than buying. I blame free movement of labour for all this because if 500 migrants hadn’t arrived in my village of 8000 people there wouldn’t be a housing shortage, would there? And then there’s the overcrowded schools. Did I mention the doctors surgeries? They wouldn’t have such big queues, would they?”

Fireman Fred wipes the sweat from his brow. “Look, Dan, employers will have to compete for staff, so, wages will rise. At least, that’s what my local MP says.”

Driver Dan shakes his head from side to side before replying. “Employers have always competed for staff. Have wages kept pace with inflation? No. The NHS is short of staff. Have wages gone up? No. Farmers are short of crop-pickers. Have wages risen? No. Prisons are short of staff. Have wages gone up? Go on, have a fucking guess; you’ve got a 50/50 chance of getting this right, Fred.” 

Fireman Fred doesn’t want to chance his luck, so shovels another load of coal into the furnace. Driver Dan shakes his head and continues to speak. “Run by Directly Operated Railways (nationalised), the East Coast Rail was the most efficient rail operator in the country, paying millions back to the treasury in profits. The Transport Minister re-privatises the line after being bunged by Virgin, then tells us it makes sense. Any sense he had was shafted out of him long ago. These twats are the only ones benefiting from this deal. I could go on and on. When are you going to wake up? You’re on shit wages because employers are paying shit wages. They’re paying shit wages because trillions of pounds have been squirrelled out of the economy by finance capitalists. Unleashed on your life by Reagan and Thatcher, and continued today by other assholes; including that bearded smart-arse from Virgin who climbed aboard. Shovel another load of coal Fred we’re approaching Britannia’s Crack. It’s a steep climb, but once we’re over the hump, it’s downhill all the way.”

Hold Your Tongue (Keep Quiet)

Hold Your Tongue

As a child, when I first heard the phrase ‘Hold your tongue,’ I was baffled. Why would I want to, and more importantly, why would anyone want to ask me to? Of course, as is the way of learning, I learnt the hard way. Try it . . . hold your tongue and speak . . . thought not.

‘Haud yer wheesht,’ (keep quiet) my granny would say if I interrupted adults during their conversation. She was a real dragon, spat verbal flames and kept a bamboo cane that could inflict as much pain as a swipe from a dragon’s mythological tail.

There are many phrases, or idioms related to keeping quiet; most are uncomplimentary. Some of the least offensive are not only the words used, but how the speaker delivers the words: the tone of voice. Try it yourself. Say the words keep quiet in a jocular way and we can even laugh. You could be ribbed about a new boyfriend or girlfriend and this expression wouldn’t cause offence. Others are Bite your lip, or Give it a bye, or perhaps Shut it, but this would definitely be borderline.

Most of the others are generally likely to rile.

Shut your face, shut your trap, keep your trap shut and shut your gob. If someone tells you any of these, they are telling you rudely that you should be quiet and not say anything. They  all make the top league.

Gob, a slang word for mouth. Now there’s a word that makes me smile. To find the reason for my mirth, I’d have to go back to my childhood. It concerns one of my favourite (then) sweets, the daddy of them all when it comes to ‘holding your tongue’: the mighty Gobstopper.

Has any product ever been more aptly named? I doubt it. That oversized sphere made from layer after layer of water, corn syrup, food colouring, and a sugar called dextrose. It has an alternative name, Jawbreaker. Even White Fang would have difficulty crunching one of them. You just had to suck for hours, but the name Gobstopper tickles my fancy.

Now to some of the real embarrassing, or downright shameful terms. If you happen to be on the end of this vitriol you’d better be prepared to walk away or take action.

Shut the fuck up, Stop talking shite, even Put a sock in it could be inflammatory, but the idiom Put up or shut up leaves no room for doubt (used to tell someone in a somewhat rude way to start doing something or to stop talking about it. You’ve complained long enough).

Speaking of which – if in doubt – Hold your tongue!

Thought for the Day

Geese


Geese are so human… cantankerous, unreliable, do a lot of squawking and never turn up on time. Every morning for the last week, I have tried to photograph them as they fly over the house. The height they fly generally makes it challenging to capture a decent image (with the equipment I have). They come in dribs and drabs, between 0600 and 0730, but during this period the house is a place of utter chaos. With kids gone, I am left with the scraps, both food (on the floor) and the stragglers from the geese migration, but even they seem to delight in causing me grief.
This morning, I was ready as usual with the camera when nature called. With geese, the one thing you know (by the noise they make) is when they are on their way. Halfway thru doing the necessary, I heard them. By the time I had finished and grabbed my camera, there they were, perfect height, perfect flight path, ten metres above the house.
The law of sod. They were gone before I could say ‘Jack Flash.’
Bastards.
I’m going to fix them though… they are on my Xmas lunch menu. Remember, geese, what goes around, comes around.