Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Council Houses

I’m no economic expert, and I’m most aware that there are never easy answers to economic crises, but I am concerned that the government are being awfully quiet about something that I feel could make a bit difference.

I think that it is well accepted that the current woes have been brought about by personal debt, in the western world, being out of control. Fuelled by property prices and people’s desire to own, banks and other lending institutions have sort to make huge profits by making credit easier to access. Thus helping to maintain the upward movement of property prices a Catch 22 situation! That is until it all came crashing down around everybody’s ears.

Given that, in our present system, housing is the principle driver in economic growth, I would have thought that a house building programme was essential at this moment in time to stave off the worst of the effects of the recession. Also given the current shortage of mortgages and the reluctance of people to borrow we can in no way rely on private house building to make much of a contribution. There are, as far as I can see, three very good reasons (I’m sure there are many more actually) for increasing the number of houses built. These reasons are both moral and economic, and they are:

There is a housing shortage
It would keep building workers in employment and retain those skills in the system
New homes means that people by new things to go in them, thus upping consumer spending.

If the private sector can’t deliver on housing what would be so wrong with the government financing a major council house building programme?
They are throwing money at so many other things and they have stated that they intend to fund public projects, so building houses would have such a beneficial effect on the economy. Schools and hospitals are important and I wouldn’t want to give the impression that they should not be built at all, but I do think housing should be at the very top of the list. I also believe that we should not be spending money on building offices or new council chambers or any other so called 'prestige’ projects.

A return to having a decent council housing stock, as well as having economic benefits, would also have social ones. If you treat people well they will respond to that treatment. It won’t be a universal panacea. You can’t solve society’s ills with just one initiative, but it would be a good start. Society, broken by Thatcherite policies, will take a long time to heal. This could help with repairing the damage.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Classical gas

I get quite irritated by talk of energy shortages and price rises. It was known when North Sea gas first came ashore that it had a finite lifespan. In fact it has lasted a bit longer than 'the experts' said it would. So why the fuck haven't successive governments planned for it?
I suppose the answer to that is easy. Thatcher!

When I was a lad we produced all of our own gas. Town gas it was called. It was made from coal, and the wonderful ventricle-clearing smell of coal tar hung in the air around every gas works. Now I’m not suggesting that we return to those heavily polluted innocent days. But is it that difficult to make gas?

Why aren’t we producing our own natural gas?
Natural gas is essentially methane, and it's all around us emitting from our compost heaps, from rubbish on our land fill sites, from farms and from sewage works. I'm sure that human crap alone would be enough to cook the nation's dinners and that's before we've even scratched the surface of bovine flatulence.

Disposing of all our garden waste, rubbish and shit is a major problem, but it wouldn't be if we treated them like the valuable resources that they are. I suspect that costs involved in developing the technology and setting up the plants is currently what is holding things back, but if the government can rescue the banking industry it can surely subsidise the investment needed for natural gas. Or better still force the energy companies to invest in such projects as with the energy efficiency initiative.

I can't believe that it would be that difficult to return to the days when we were self-sufficient in gas. After all it's not rocket science!

Monday, 10 November 2008

My poor old back

A couple of weeks ago I hurt my back. I know exactly how I did it. I did it carrying my work-provided laptop. And before you all think what a wimp I am I’ll explain. I've had the laptop, from new, for about two years or so. It is a Dell of generous proportions, so a somewhat weighty beast. The case that it was provided with could be described as robust. I think it's been designed to withstand nuclear fallout. As a consequence the combination of bag and computer make their presence felt. Now, enter the need to get to the railway station in limited time and you have the makings of a disaster waiting to happen. Well it did, albeit in a perhaps more subtle way than you might imagine. Picture this. The strap was on my left shoulder and the bag itself was resting around my right hip area. This is all very well when you are standing still or even strolling along minding the view. But when walking a pace to catch a train Newton's law of motion comes into play. Your striding motion causes the bag to bang on your hip and then fly out side wards, a process that repeats continuously as you rush. To counteract this process I held the bag against my body to stop it flapping about. At the same time I must have braced myself in such a way that the whole process pulled a muscle or strained my back in some other fashion. All I know is that by the time I got home I was in agony. East Midlands' trains don't help of course with their ancient cattle-truck-carriages designed for short-arsed fuckers with 25" inside leg measurements.

After a night's sleep my back felt marginally better, so I went off to work, but as the day wore on it got more and more painful and started to stiffen up. That evening I had arranged to meet a friend at the Norwich Beer Festival. The venue is St Andrew's hall, an old church. We sat in the cloisters drinking our ale. I must say that the alcohol helped to deaden the pain, but at the same time the draft passing us where we sat was weaving its own spell. I arrived home and sat down for a while with a nice cup of tea. It was when I tried to get up that it hit me. I couldn't. I crawled to bed on my hands and knees in the most excruciating pain, and that's where I stayed for the next twenty-four hours, only moving to go to the toilet.

Sitting on the lavvy was the worst thing. No, I take that back. Getting up from sitting on it was what was really bad. Straightening up was just so painful. Standing up or lying out flat were fine, just anything in between didn't work quite so well.

After two weeks I’m still in some pain, but it is getting better. One of the joys of getting older is that defective parts of your body take a damned sight longer to repair than when you are young and supple. And sometimes they don't always fully repair. Who said that fifty was the new thirty?