Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Only the good die young...

Close or careful readers of this blog (don't laugh, there might be one) will be aware that my musical tastes tend towards the classical. But it's a tendency. Not exclusivity.

In fact, I like to think my musical tastes are quite broad, catholic even. They certainly extend to at least the first two Cranberries albums, partly for the musicality of the band and originality of the songs but mainly because of the beautifully haunting voice of Dolores O'Riordan, now sadly, listed among the ever-increasing realm of those artists and musicians taken from us far too early.

O'Riordan had a troubled early life but triumphed in spectacular circumstances, joining a band who by their own admission could barely play, bringing her own performing and writing talent to bear, and triumphing in the US after a distinctly underwhelming experience in the UK.

The rest, of course, is history. As, sadly, is O'Riordan's voice, now.

Only the good die young, as Billy Joel once sang. And if that might not, quite, be literally true it certainly seems painfully appropriate yet again as we mourn the premature death of another talented singer.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Liar, liar!

Most - if not quite all of us - agree that it's good to talk. That talking - especially to children, particularly about tricky subjects - is the most important way to help them. If you don't like knowledge, try ignorance, as someone once said.

But talking about tricky subjects is, well... tricky.

And there's maybe nothing more tricky than sexual abuse.

Mine you, you wouldn't not tell your children about the dangers of crossing the road or playing with matches just because it might not be all that easy, would you?

What's key is talking appropriately, finding an age-appropriate way to handle sensitive issues. And that isn't easy.

Thankfully, no parent has to approach it single-handedly. The NSPCC campaign called 'Talking PANTS' allocates a simple rule to each letter from P to S and enlists the help of Pantosaurus (it's a cartoon dinosaur game which is free to download from the iOS and Android app store) to make things easier.

Here are the rules:

  • Privates are private 
  • Always remember your body belongs to you
  • No means no
  • Talk about secrets that upset you, and 
  • Speak up – someone can help.

And here's a link where you can find both information and support about the PANTS campaign as well as talking and listening techniques: nspcc.org.uk/pants

And finally, here's the TV ad that accompanies the campaign.


Thursday, 11 January 2018

Duruflé Requiem

On this day in 1902 the French organist and composer Maurice Duruflé was born.

It's probably not a name many people know, although he wrote a Requiem mass every bit the equal of (and possibly better than) that of his more famous countryman, Gabriel Faure.

But that's not the reason I want to mark the anniversary.

Just before Christmas, a friend was killed in a road accident. He was a talented musician and a fine singer. And I remembered that, some years ago when we put on a performance of the Duruflé Requiem in Boston, he came at our invitation to sing the baritone solo.

He stayed with us, too. Repaired our curtains, in fact, when we made a complete hash of hanging them. ("No, really - I enjoy it" were his words when offering - nay, insisting - on doing so.)

He also played our very out-of-tune piano both accompanying my wife on the flute and in duets with her, the latter providing an hilarious 'Les Dawson' moment as - being blessed with perfect pitch - 'Wez' (as he was universally known) transposed at sight what he was reading, the better to match what he was hearing!

He was that good. He will be desperately, sadly missed.

Requiescat in pace.


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The doctor will see you now... if you can afford it

Here's a question for you this morning. Why should a student (full-time, but over nineteen years of age) have to pay healthcare costs (prescriptions, dental charges etc.)?

Feel free to answer in the comment box below, especially if there's something obvious about the logic of making some of the poorest among us pay for things others get for free.

Perhaps you could also answer me this: why should the same student(s) (if they're applying for a possible exemption to the above costs) be expected to declare as INCOME the amount they receive as a student LOAN? (The clue is in the name there, but I've capitalised it, just in case!)

Oh, and while we're about it, perhaps we can also talk about the fact that the esteemed learning institution said student attends sees fit to blow almost the entire total of said student's LOAN (see what I did there? That's for the benefit of any Conservative politicians or Daily Mail journalists who might be reading) the minute s/he (this is, of course, entirely hypothetical) sets foot in the establishment at the start of term. Because it does.

And... (sorry, I just keep thinking of them) can someone also tell me how it's acceptable to penalise a student for happening to have savings - savings saved (as you do with savings) in a variety of ways including working hard at temporary jobs in order both to fund her/his higher education and also, maybe, just maybe, to give him/her self a decent start once he/she graduates.

In debt. Up to fifty grand's worth of debt, to be precise.

But a debt that the NHS seem to want to count as 'income', when applying for healthcare costs exemption!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Tax shouldn't be taxing...

Should it?

Another year, another January ruined not by the need to do the blessed thing per se, but by the sheer perverse difficulty of the bl**dy HMRC website together with their inability - once its completed - to accept the damned document. Just look - hours spent with bits of paper and a calculator - and then this...


I don't mind paying tax, not really. Not doing so is a bit like - I don't know - nicking those free sauce sachets from cafes: fine as long as everyone doesn't do it. What I DO mind - mind terrifically - is those rich bastards (yes, including royalty) who devise (or who employ others to devise) ingenious ways of avoiding their whack.

But even more than that I mind the way the HMRC website is so ridiculously user-unfriendly. Even logging in (as I did today) in order to complete the job I started last week takes you not to where you where before but to a completely different website, from where you struggle (well, I did) to navigate your way back to where you need to be.

And then, once it's done, it won't let you send it to them. Marvellous! I imagine they'd be just as sympathetic if I told them I couldn't submit it on time because my 'puter said 'no'.

But... but. There may just be the slightest glimmer of a silver lining. Because while I was waiting for what eventually didn't happen I was studying the PDF (colour, too!) version of the return I'd just completed. It's the equivalent of the twenty-odd page document I could have filled in by hand if I'd chosen to, I suppose.

Except it's not. It's different. Yes, it has all the answers to my questions, all the figures I've entered neatly placed in all the relevant boxes. But it also contains other boxes - whole sections - breaking down things like additional income into different categories with the aid of actually helpful explanatory notes (i.e. that actually explain things, and in a way that's easy to understand). And, as a result, I realised I'd made a mistake and added stuff that shouldn't be there. And going back and taking it off made a difference - quite a big one - to my bill.

Yes, unfortunately I do still owe them money. Which is just as well, really. Because if they owed me they'd have had to raise a cheque in order to pay me given that I was forced to tick the 'I don't have a bank account' box after failing utterly to be able to fill in the 'bank reference name or number' section.

No, it's not the sort code or the bank's name or my account number. It's some mysterious figure that I can't find anywhere, can't find anyone who seems to know about it, either. But a magic number that you need in order to get past the fierce monster that is section 7 (or whatever).

So, all in all, it's a good job I owe them, don't you think?

Just got to work out now how to let them know...
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