Monday, August 13, 2012

I remember when...

Had there been an Olympic sport of beekeeing, yesterday I would have been in contention for a medal in the race to inspect as many hives as possible in one afternoon. We managed to check all 8 of ours in under two hours. Surely a record!

And so to the closing ceremony of the Olympics. The curtain came down on the games with an extravaganza of British music from the past 50 years. Alas, whilst I could get excited about Queen, ELO, John Lennon, Madness, Take That (minus Robbie) and even the Spice Girls, all from some part of my past, some of the younger musicians were leaving me scratching my head and asking, “Who are they?” A sure sign that I am getting old!
With a gold medal haul of 29, our best since 1908, and with music of the 70s and 80s ringing in my ears, I was able to reminisce about the bad old days at the Olympics. I remember when the Soviets and East Germans soaked up a lion’s share of the gold medals. For those two countries, it was all about attempting to show their system was the best. They had repressive regimes, paranoid governments and a socialist system that certainly did not provide according to need (other than the party hacks who lived a life a privilege) but at least they could cover their failure with sporting triumphs and a haul of medals that probably trebled their entire country’s gold reserves. For us now to beat Russia (admittedly stripped of the other Soviet republics) has to be seen as a triumph. We have one fifth the population of the USA and one twentieth that of China. We have therefore a smaller pool from which to choose our champions. That makes Team GB’s performance all the more remarkable. The question now is, where do we go from here as a sporting country and how to we get there?

A final point about the Olympics. Men’s football has vast resources poured into it. It’s a sport that has taken a disproportionate share of the money available for sport broadcasting rights. The top clubs pay their players unsustainably huge wages. Yet their performance at the Olympics was relatively poor. Why isn’t all that money buying the best?

Friday, August 03, 2012

Retail therapy, trade union style

I received a copy of the Gateshead Unison newsletter yesterday and have just read it now. As you would expect, there were various pages of attack, much of it directed at both Gateshead Council and the Government. On a more positive note there was a useful outline of the reforms to the pension scheme and an explanation that a ballot of members is underway on whether or not to accept the agreement that has now been signed off by ministers. It appears that having reached that agreement after a long and painful process, members are not being pushed to reject it and are being left to make a judgement themselves in the ballot. I hope they vote to accept, and indeed, I would be surprised if they didn’t.

There were two separate articles however that caught my eye. Both on their own would barely register on my own radar screen but both in the same document suggests that Unison needs to kick the habit of not practicing what they preach. One article attacked George Osborne’s regional pay proposals as, amongst other reasons, they would reduce “the amount of money we have to spend in local businesses which will be detrimental to the local economy.” Glad to see Unison is keen to back the local, small-scale, capitalist, private sector economy!

Then go to the back page and the list of social events. In a throwback to the disastrous, debt-fuelled consumerism and materialism of the Blair/Brown years, what is Unison’s idea of a great day out? – retail therapy! Unison are advertising two “shopping trips” as social events over the coming months. As one of those who finds it difficult to reconcile materialism with sustainable living, I find the thought of spending a day shopping as, at best a chore, at worst a day from my life that is permanently wasted and could have been better used.

But are these trips to local shopping centres to support the local shops and local economies about which they expressed so much concern earlier in the same newsletter? No! These are trips to Manchester and Leeds, a considerable distance from Gateshead (400 and 200 mile round trips respectively). Why not arrange a shopping trip to a local centre instead, such as to the Metrocentre, here in Gateshead, or across the Tyne to Eldon Square in Newcastle instead to boost the local economy? Even better, why not arrange a trip to Whickham, our local town centre that we are battling hard to retain as a centre for shops, businesses and leisure – over the past 25 years it has been squeezed heavily by the Metrocentre and Newcastle City Centre. We can give you a much warmer welcome than you can get in Leeds or Mancheser!

Elsewhere in the newsletter, an attack is made on the Council’s proposals to charge for an annual permit for staff to park in the Civic Centre car park. Yet again, this does not sit comfortably with the support Unison gave to Labour over recent local elections. Labour have driven through the introduction of parking charges in Whickham, we fought against them and Unison were urging people not to vote for us.

I am pleased to say however that Labour's campaign in Whickham this year seemed to be the model adopted by a certain couple of Chinese badminton players - their campaign tactics seemed to show they were determined to lose, something they did spectacularly!