“Eating Carrots Helps You See In the Dark”: Myths & Superstitions That Survive In 21st Century Britain:

Which side of the bed do you get out of in the morning? According to a survey of 2,000 people conducted for the iron supplement brand Spatone , quoted by the Daily Mail journalist Alex Matthews, if you choose the right side you’ll take longer to feel fully awake and are more likely to be in a bad mood for the rest of the day – which is why 10% of those questioned say they’ve also tried the left side to see if it makes any difference.

Anna Berrill, a columnist with the same newspaper, has reported that 5.8 million people in Britain admit to believing in “old wives tales” or to being in some way superstitious. She has cited statistics issued by the Betway Group, a leading online gaming organisation, which reveal that more than ten million won’t walk under a ladder because they fear it will bring them bad luck – a myth that apparently dates back to early Christian teaching that an object with three points represents the Holy Trinity. Another nine million worry that breaking a mirror will result in seven years’ misfortune, 4.3 million have a “lucky number” (with 7 being the most popular), 2.7 million are convinced that if they blow out all the candles on their birthday cake in one breath, the wish they make will come true and more than 800,000 confess that they believe in the power of “lucky underwear”.

Among the other “Top Superstitions” in the UK: Don’t open an umbrella in the house or put new shoes on the table, Friday 13th “is a day to beware” (in Latin countries, it’s usually Tuesday 13th) and if a black cat crosses your path, that means you’ll have problems, though in Japan it’s considered by some to be a good sign. In Germany, so bluecross.org states, it depends on which direction the cat walks in front of you: Left to right means good times ahead, but right to left means the opposite. In Scotland, “tradition suggests that if a black cat appears on your doorstep, you could be coming into money”.

The latest study by Spatone, published on May 8th, has confirmed that “almost four in ten adults in Britain continue to put trust in myths about food, for instance that consuming carrots can improve a person’s eyesight. The “Scientific American” monthly publication agrees that the vegetable’s “beta-carotene / Vitamin A ingredient” can be beneficial, but also points out that “it’s not clear how many carrots would be needed to optimize night vision”. Many other widespread myths, say Spatone, have been conclusively proven to be untrue – such as the notion that eggs are “bad” because they contain high cholesterol. On the contrary, the Readers Digest magazine has declared, “more than 40 years of research has shown that eggs are “nutrient-dense” and can absolutely be part of a healthy diet”.

Gemma Francis, a correspondent for The Independent, on 8th May assessed the accuracy of other common assumptions: “You shouldn’t eat a meal after 8 pm if you want to lose weight”:(False). “Sugar is a great source of energy”:(False: The initial boost it gives you is often followed by a drop in vitality levels); “An apple a day keeps the doctor away and chewing them helps cleans your teeth” (True: They are a good source of Vitamin C which is essential for healthy gums, teeth, bones and skin and their fibrous content can act as a toothbrush).

Some other food products, it seems, possess qualities that are less well-known. Honey, so the Daily Mail commentator Angela Epstein has claimed, can heal wounds:”It’s the only natural antiseptic available which does not damage skin tissues and for centuries has been used to treat infections”. The mercola.com website has asserted that eating tomatoes can limit the risk from sun exposure: “In an experiment at the University of Michigan, participants were asked to consume 16 mg of lycopene from tomato paste with olive oil daily for 10 weeks – the conclusion being that this method was able to reduce ultra-violet induced sunburn by about 40%”.

The Readers Digest has noted that only 5% of the sodium we imbibe comes from the salt we sprinkle on our meals. Most of it “is hidden in packed and processed food” that we buy in supermarkets or eat when we’re dining out in restaurants. Dark chocolate “is said to provide antioxidant benefits, but unfortunately is one of those feel-good foods that is high in fat and sugar”.

The Readers Digest also offers advice on other healthcare myths: “Without exposure to the common cold virus, you can go outside with your hair drenching wet and it would be impossible to catch a cold. It’s the virus, not the cold air, that makes you sick”. It acknowledges that “hunching can be bad for your back” but that sitting up straight for too long can also cause strain: Make sure, it exhorts, that “your chair is at a height where your knees are at a 90 degree angle, your feet can rest flat on the floor and you have proper lower back support.”

Meanwhile, Michelle Manetti, a writer for the Huffington Post, has recommended using the oils from walnuts to remove or seal scratches on furniture made of wood and has proposed various solutions for anyone suffering from nocturnal leg cramps: Avoid caffeine before going to bed, increase your intake of potassium, magnesium, calcium or Vitamin E, ingest a teaspoon of yellow mustard, drink a glass of water with a small amount of baking soda mixed into it – and if none of that works, sleep on your back with your toes pointing towards the ceiling.

Filed under: Healthcare | Posted on May 21st, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Next Windsor Wife: From TV Star To Global Royal Celebrity:

Is it really worthwhile these days becoming famous? The main advantage, the British rock singer David Bowie once observed, is that it guarantees you a good seat in a restaurant. In the film “Notting Hill”, the American actress Julie Roberts told Hugh Grant’s character that “ The fame thing isn’t really real, you know”, which coincides with her own personal opinion that it isn’t the individual who changes with stardom, only the public perception of them. Meghan Markle, who will marry Prince Harry in Windsor’s Castle’s St. George’s Chapel on 19th May, has herself acknowledged that fame brings both opportunities and responsibilities.

However, in the view of some commentators, Meghan hasn’t yet fully grasped the extent to which her life will now be transformed – that being the focus of massive and constant world-wide attention will be on a completely different scale from the plaudits she has received for her performances over the past seven years as attorney Rachel Zane in the American legal drama series “Suits”. Her final appearance in the show was transmitted in the USA on Wednesday 25th April.

Rotem Atar, a “beauty influencer” for the cosmetics firm Estee Lauder, has listed on celebs.allwomenstalk.com “Seven reasons why being famous isn’t that great”. First: It puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you to be simply perfect: “You can’t mess up, you have to be fit and you can’t make mistakes”. Second, you lose almost all your privacy: “There are people watching you, talking about you and writing about you every day.”. Third: The rumours: “The media tends to make things up that are untrue in order to make money”. Fourth: “Every magazine, TV show and social media site will be passing judgement on you”. In addition: The paparazzi will taking photos of you everywhere you go – including outside your house and even trying to block your car. You can’t have a normal lifestyle because you will be constantly under the spotlight.

Indeed, the outspoken UK-based Australian feminist author and convinced republican, Germaine Greer, has already predicted – on her country’s 60 Minute’s TV programme on April 15th – that the marriage won’t last. Meghan (says Greer) will eventually “bolt” and be “out of the door” (as she did with her first husband), the “sacrifice” of giving up her Hollywood career, her home in the US, her relaxed social life and her lifestyle blog “Tig” will seem too one-sided and she will rapidly chafe at the restrictions imposed on her as a member of the royal family.

The Sunday Times columnist, Camilla Long, queried in the newspaper on April 22nd whether “ if you don’t feel you can invite all the most appalling members of your close family to your wedding (specifically, Markle’s half-brother Thomas and half-sister Samantha) maybe you’re marrying the wrong person”. Long considers that “it’s unlikely that Meghan hasn’t already mapped out the big sit-down interview with the TV personality Oprah Winfrey after the divorce is over and she’s fled to America”. Until recently, notes Long, Markle was extremely fashionable; now “she dresses strangely”.

Likewise, in February, the former Conservative government minister, Ann Widdecombe, when interviewed on Channel 5 by the Mail On Sunday journalist, Rachel Johnson, expressed “unease” about a 36-year-old divorcee marrying into the “stuffy” royal family – that, due to her background and attitude, she would be “trouble”. The new biography titled “Meghan, A Hollywood Princess” by author Andrew Morton (who also wrote “Diana: Her True Story”) doesn’t do Markle any favours either. He quotes the jewellery designer Ninaki Priddy’s description of her as “very strategic in the way she cultivates circles of friends. Once she decides you’re not part of her life, she can be very cold”. The reason for the rift between Priddy and Markle after 30 year’s friendship is “a close-kept secret”.

By contrast, all these “doomy forecasts” have pushed the Spectator correspondent, Jenny McCartney, “firmly into the Markle camp”. In the magazine’s latest edition, McCartney points out that Meghan “brings with her qualities that speak to a changing Britain. Her mixed-race heritage – a black African-American mother and a white, Dutch-Irish father – places her among the fastest-growing ethnic minority group in the UK and alters the public profile of the royal family”. Equally significantly, “Markle’s combination of Hollywood glitz and campaigning zeal will help to innoculate the Royal family against criticism in a changing age”. McCartney wishes Markle good luck, especially if (as she seems to anticipate) the “cynical” British press “decides to turn vicious”.

Meanwhile: The Government has issued guidelines for anyone wanting to organise a street party to celebrate the royal wedding, which will take place at 12 noon on 19th May. TV coverage of the event will be from 11.30 am until around 2 pm – so won’t overlap with the cup final the same afternoon between Chelsea and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium, where kick-off will be at 4.15 pm. Street parties which are just for neighbours and residents don’t require a licence, even if music is being provided . The local council’s permission is needed for closing a road: “Some of them, advises the Daily Telegraph, will lend you metal signs and cones to help with this, or you can improvise your own. If your road is part of a bus route, the bus company should be informed in advance that it will be temporarily closed for through traffic”. Hanging out plenty of bunting, declares The Street Party website, will help create a festive atmosphere. The occasion will thereby offer the “traditional (but sometimes rare) chance of meeting your neighbours face to face and encouraging them to join in, even if they aren’t particularly fans of the royal family”.

Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on May 1st, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Switching Queues Is A Waste Of Time: Stay Where You Are And Get Served Faster:

Which is the better place to live: London or Geneva? This is a question that some companies, financial institutions and individuals currently based in the UK are beginning to ask themselves as the Brexit deadline of March 29th 2019 approaches.There are of course a wide range of other options available– Amsterdam, Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris among them. The Swiss city, however, has a particularly alluring global image, due to (so its main English-language newspaper, “The Local” has pointed out), its strategic location in the middle of western Europe, its proximity to France and the nearby Jura mountains, its “high standard of living, great museums, restaurants and art galleries” and the cosmopolitan atmosphere engendered by the presence of so many international organisations.“

“The Local”, however, also acknowledges that Geneva has acquired a reputation for being noisy, very expensive and even “a bit boring”. Furthermore, Geneva’s transport minister, Luc Barthassat, has recently lamented what he considers to be the lack of “British-like” civilised behaviour on the city’s public transport system. As the Sunday Times reported on April 8th, Barthassat has implemented a “GE-Respecte” initiative, whereby actors dressed as “typical British characters such as the Queen, a Coldstream Guard and a City gent, complete with top hat” have been positioned at bus and tram stops to encourage Genevans to queue, not push each other. By contrast, according to a former visitor to the UK quoted by the Sunday Times, “In London, they let people get off the train first, instead of pushing their way on without looking, they don’t shout and they compete to give up seats to the elderly”.

An extreme example of this “polite British stereotype” was highlighted by The Sun journalist, Olivia Loveridge-Greene, on March 10th. Commuters on their way to work or school were filmed clutching their umbrellas in the rain and queuing up to cross a giant puddle which had formed in Tooting High Street, South London, as a result of a burst water pipe. Research conducted by Professor Adrian Furnham of University College London and cited by both the Daily Express and Daily Mail, nevertheless indicates that “although the British have always been renowned for their love of queuing, this may no longer be the case”. These days, it seems, they will only queue for five minutes and 54 seconds before giving up in exasperation; they are “unlikely to join a queue with more than six people and like to have a six-inch radius of personal space”. Taboos apparently include engaging in conversation with others around them while waiting and accepting an offer by someone to go ahead of them in the queue.

The survey, notes The Sun, claims that the British spend 52 days of their lives waiting in queues, seven out of ten get especially annoyed when someone pushes in and one in six get anxious if the queue is not in a straight line. Esquire Magazine has published a “Definitive Guide” to the UK’s nine worst queues. At No. 1 is the Airport Security Queue. The Guardian columnist, Patrick Collinson, agrees with this assessment: On 14th April, he queried why 87% of men, when they reach the security control “still ask if they have to remove their belt, while 47% are somehow unaware that iPads can’t be left in their bags”. At No 2, the Bar Queue: You’re relying on the ability of the overworked and underpaid employees to know precisely the chronological order in which customers arrived at the counter. No.3: The Post Office Queue: The person in front of you “ has a dozen parcels to send and the staff have pulled down the shutter on the only lane that seems to be moving”; No 4: The Telephone Queue: “You have to wait for so long on the automated system that you eventually forget why you phoned in the first place. That’s before they need to transfer you the correct department”. The other “most heinous” queues on the Esquire list are those in doctor’s waiting rooms, on the motorway (especially infuriating: drivers who keep changing lanes and cut in front of other motorists), at bus stops, outside nightclubs where access is controlled by “bouncers” and waiting to get into Wimbledon Tennis Stadium during the Championship fortnight in July.

Meanwhile: The Harvard Business School, under the direction of Ryan Buell, an expert in service management, has investigated the phenomenon of “Last Place Aversion in Queues”. The stress of waiting is “intensified not only by how long the line is in front of us, but also how short it is behind us – in particular, whether we’re in the last place, which raises the question as to whether staying in that queue worthwhile”. This reaction “doubles the probability of someone switching queues or even abandoning the queues altogether”.

In its analysis of the study, The Guardian noted that “About one in five people grew impatient at the back and switched to the other line. But on average, those who switched waited 10% longer than if they’d stayed put. Those who switched twice ended up waiting 67% longer”. In Buell’s opinion, this doesn’t make any sense: “The number of people behind you (he told The Guardian) has nothing to do with how long you are going to wait, but it shapes our behaviour”. If we see a line moving faster, we might switch without having enough extra information and we can often get it wrong”. He advises us all to remember that the person in front of us was last until we arrived and so we are only in that situation ourselves until someone else joins the queue.

Filed under: Society | Posted on April 17th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

No More “Quack Quacks”: The End Of Bath-Times For Britain’s Rubber Ducks?

Which are the world’s most dangerous toys? Anyone who wants to find out can refer to the annual list published by the consumer protection organisation “World Against Toys Causing Harm” (WATCH). It’s most recent “Top Ten”, issued in November 2017 and cited in the Daily Mail, includes several products popular at present with many children – among them the “plastic Wonder Woman battle sword” which, say WATCH has the potential to cause blunt-force injuries and Marvel’s “Spider-Man Drone” whose multiple high-speed rotating blades can “inflict significant bodily damage, particularly to the eyes”. Other items featuring in the latest list are: Nerf’s “Zombie Strike” crossbow, which represents a possible hazard for the eyes and face “because it uses a pressurized, pull-back lever to shoot soft projectiles”; “Hand Fidget Spinners”, depicted as constituting a choking hazard and Razor’s “Heel Wheels”. These last ones are strapped onto children’s shoes to turn them into improvised roller skates but apparently pose a burn risk because they provide “real sparking action”.

WATCH has also previously advised parents to be cautious in purchasing toys “which fire ammunition” such as the “Slimeball Slinger”, the “Warcraft Doomhanger” and the “Flying Heroes Superman Launcher” as well as the “Good Dinosaur Galloping Butch”, whose pointed tail can allegedly produce puncture wounds and also anything with a high element of lead, such as the “Princess Expressions Tiara and Jewellery” set. As the Daily Mail has noted, the US Toy Association has dismissed all these warnings as “needlessly frightening” to parents. Joan Siff, the WATCH President disagrees, giving as an example the “Pull Along Pony” by Tolo Toys that’s marketed for children over the age of 1 but has a 19-inch cord. They don’t need a testing laboratory, she pointed out “to know that it’s a strangulation and entanglement hazard”.

A humbler, less technological and rather more traditional toy has now been portrayed as being equally dangerous: On 29th March, the Guardian reported that a joint study carried out by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology and the University of Illinois had discovered “potentially pathogenic bacteria” such as legionella and “pseudomonas aeruginosa” in four out of five rubber ducks used as bath toys. Both the Huffington Post journalist, Natalie Stechyson (“Your Kid’s rubber duck is probably teeming with bacteria and mould”) and the Thomson Reuters news agency (“Yucky Ducky: Those cute yellow bath-time toys are a haven for nasty bugs”) focused on the revelation that a “strikingly high volume of fungus and bacteria, as many as 75 million cells per square metre, have been found in the ducks”.

This is clearly not a welcome development for the manufacturers of these products. The company “Just Ducks” based in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, describes itself as “The Home Of Quack” and as the largest rubber duck shop in the UK. It offers “dozens of categories, hundreds of styles and thousands of characters”. Examples of it’s current best sellers are: the Superhero Duck, the Cat Duck (with painted whiskers and feline ears), the Yarto President Duck (distinctly resembling Donald Trump), footballer and tennis ducks, Top Gun, Celebrity, Explorer, Surfer and Marathon Runner Ducks. One of it’s main competitors would seem to be the “DuckShop” in Rhede, Germany, which claims to be Europe’s leader in this sector and to have the best selection of rubber ducks available online. “Throw these rubber ducks into the tub for a splash of fun (it exhorts). Make Rubber Ducks Great Again!” Among their 800 + “creative designs” are: Mini Doc and Nurse Ducks, Stone Age, Robber, Wizard and Deluxe Lavender Ducks. Your choice , they declare, will “reflect your mood, hobby, character and situation”. The results of the Swiss Federal Institute’s investigations may, however, have finally pulled the bath-plug on the (until now) thriving and prosperous rubber duck industry.

The Royal Society For the Prevention Of Accidents (ROSPA) website defines “toy” as “any product or material designed or intended for use in play by children of less than 14 years of age”. It observes that the manufacturers have a considerable responsibility to anticipate how their products will be used and to take action at the design stage to prevent injury being caused through foreseeable misuse. ROSPA advises parents to only buy toys that carry the mandatory European Union “CE” symbol as well as the voluntary British Toy and Hobby Association’s (BTHA) “Lion Mark”. They should also make sure they are suitable for the age of the child and check them regularly for wear and tear, disposing of them when necessary.

The British Standards Institute (BSI) similarly takes the view that consumers are well protected by existing legislation such as the “BS EN 71” series. These stipulate that, before they reach the shelves, toys must undergo rigorous testing to ensure they are safe for children to use: “Safety testing a teddy bear, for example, might require tugging its eyes, to make sure a young child couldn’t easily pull them out and swallow them and setting it alight, to verify whether a child holding a teddy bear which caught fire would have time to drop it before being burnt”.

According to the BBC News Business reporter, Lucy Burton, almost all of the 30 “teddy factories” which once existed in Britain have closed down, due to the competition from cheap imported Chinese bears. One has, however, survived: Merrythought Ltd in the Shropshire countryside, founded in 1930. They emphasise that all their bears, which are made from “ a variety of bespoke mohair and other fabrics including alpaca, a range of wools, silks and cottons” are fully safety tested and adhere strictly to prevailing regulations.

Filed under: Healthcare | Posted on April 3rd, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

International Espionage In The Spotlight: How To Become A Secret Agent:

Which is the world’s most powerful intelligence agency? Most people probably assume that this title belongs to America’s CIA , due to its notoriety and because it features in so many spy movies. In fact, surveys on this topic – such as one conducted by the cable & satellite channel Fox News, with its headquarters in New York – invariably place Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) at No.1. According to Abir Gupta, a commentator for story.pick.com, this organization, founded in 1948, “is so dominant that it practically runs the country, along with the army”.

Also included in the “Top Ten” lists compiled by both Gupta and Fox News are: India’s RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), founded in 1968 and whose main function is “to monitor the movement and activities of its neighbours, especially China and Pakistan; Israel’s Mossad (1949), depicted as “the godfather of all intelligence agencies”; The Federal Security Bureau of the Russian Federation (FSB), widely regarded as just a substitute name for the Soviet Union’s KGB (founded in 1918) and currently one focus of speculation as to exactly who initiated and carried out the assassination attempt on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on 4th March.

China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) was founded in 1983. This agency, declares Gupta, “has played a major role in curbing any anti-communist or anti-government revolts” and indeed the strength and popularity of the communist party are “quite dependent on it”. Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst: 1956) has headquarters in both Berlin and Pullach, a district of Munich: “When it comes to getting inside information about the Middle East and Latin America, there are few agencies that can beat it”. The General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) in Paris “receives a huge part of the French Government’s revenue, has more than 5000 employees, and is relatively young (1982) compared to its counterparts”. The basic interest of Australia’s ASIS in Canberra is “centred on the Asian and Pacific regions. It works with such efficiency and secrecy that for years many people in the Australian Government itself were unaware of its activities”.

As anyone who has watched recent James Bond films will be aware, Britain’s MI6 ( Military Intelligence Section 6) is based on the banks of the River Thames, next to Vauxhall Bridge. The Sun journalist, Tom Michael, noted on 19th January that it’s role is to supply the UK Government with “ a global covert capability” – unlike MI5, which deals instead with domestic security threats. MI6 is now recruiting an additional 1,000 spies, in order to increase its numbers to 3,500. Applicants, comments Michael, can apply to be language specialists, tech experts, intelligence officers or security guards to “watch over the iconic and fortress-like SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) building. He warns candidates that they “will face an exhaustive 6-month selection process, during which they will be thoroughly security vetted, assessed medically and repeatedly tested and interviewed to narrow the field down to the very best”.

Anyone seeking a job with either MI5 or MI6 should be a British citizen (either born in the country or naturalised), at least 18 years old and resident in the UK for nine out of the last ten years. The starting salary for a relatively junior intelligence analyst is around £25,000, for tech experts between £30,000 – £55,000 and for an “explosive chemist physical security specialist”, £53,284. There is an increasing tendency, so the Guardian columnist, Matthew Jenkin has observed, for the secret service “to recruit people who are older, have established themselves in other careers and are looking for a change, not just to take them fresh out of university.

It’s now also a myth, the BBC News reporter Peter Taylor, has pointed out, that to be a modern spy you have to be a white upper- class male who has graduated from either Oxford or Cambridge University. On the contrary, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee – cited by the Daily Mail’s Home Affairs Editor, James Slack – has told the UK’s spy chiefs they should recruit middle-aged mothers from websites such as “Mumset” because “they understand people better and are skilled at relationships”. In the view of the committee, action is required to break through the “very traditional male mentality and outlook” currently dominating the ranks of the intelligence agencies.

There are of course other factors which MI5 / MI6 have to take into consideration. The Military Degree Programs website specifies that in the USA, anyone aspiring to be a secret agent “must pass an in-depth background check and submit to a hair follicle drug test”. Furthermore, that high-level government agencies, including the CIA, often run credit checks to ensure that potential employees are not gamblers or over-investors: “Poor financial management skills can portray an otherwise excellent candidate as risky or imprudent: These are not desirable qualities in a spy”.

According to the former Special Branch Officer, Tony Robinson, ideally a person who accepts an invitation to spy for the security services should be motivated by patriotism and attracted by the excitement of the job: “Anyone who would spy for money isn’t necessarily loyal. They are likely to spy for whoever offers the most money”. You especially need to have an excellent memory for names and facts – not to be reliant on recording equipment when, for example, you’re infiltrating a “subversive meeting”. The BBC’s Peter Taylor has emphasised that “The clothes you’re wearing, how you’re walking and how you’re talking” are all aspects you constantly have to be thinking about if you’re a secret agent: “You have to blend in with your surroundings, be Mr or Mrs Grey – a nobody, a person you might pass on the street but forget in a second”.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on March 20th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Higher Bills & Bigger Profits: The UK’s Utility Companies in 2018:

Which professions are most trusted in Britain today? According to research conducted by “This Week” magazine and the Ipsos Mori opinion poll specialists, doctors, nurses and teachers all feature at the top of the “Veracity Index”, followed by judges, scientists and weather forecasters – who, with a percentage score of 76% are now rated above the police (74%). Television news readers and hairdressers are apparently more respected than members of the clergy (down to 65%), lawyers (54%) and the Chief Executives of charity organisations (50%). At the bottom of the list, predictably, are politicians, government ministers, journalists, estate agents, plus (a new addition to the Index) professional footballers.

This data also reflects the public disenchantment with bankers (38%), the business sector in general and particularly with the private companies which control the supply of the UK’s water, gas and electricity. As the re-nationalisation campaigners “We Own It” point out, “only 32% of the public trust the energy industry and 77% of us believe energy should be in public ownership”. WOI’s mission is to “end privatisation for good so that people come before profit”. Public services, they declare, whether it’s the NHS (National Health Service), schools, water, energy, rail, Royal Mail, care work, or council services “should belong to all of us”.

Allister Heath, the former editor of the City AM newspaper, acknowledges that there is “overwhelming support (68%) for the nationalisation of energy companies”. He considers this to be misguided but unsurprising in view of the “pathetic customer services of many of these firms” and the fact that energy prices continue to shoot up unabated. The “Big Six” – British Gas, Npower, EDF, E.ON, Scottish Power and SSE (Scottish & Southern Energy) – are, in the opinion of “Which?” magazine, largely responsible for the low esteem in which they are held by the public. Which? asked nearly 9,000 energy customers to rate their suppliers on a variety of factors, including customer service and the accuracy of bills. Npower got just one star (out of a possible five) for value for money, British Gas and Scottish Power two stars, E.ON, SSE and EDF three stars, whereas the much smaller energy company “Ovo Energy” received four stars.

On 24th February – just before the “big freeze” hit the UK – the Guardian columnist Adam Vaughan reported that the “Big Six” have been accused of deceiving customers paying expensive “standard variable tariffs” (STVs) by moving them on to fixed deals which supposedly will be cheaper but in fact will cost more.Then, in a front page Guardian article on 3rd March, with most of the UK still covered by snow, Vaughan revealed that E.ON had quietly implemented price increases on the coldest spring day on record. This move, he noted, is expected to be the first in a series of price rises from energy providers and has been described by consumer groups as “ devastating news” for households.

As the Press Association reported on 28th February – based on statistics issued by the energy regulator, Ofgem – there is now a trend for customers who are unhappy with the “Big Six” to sign up instead with one of the many smaller, rival companies such as Green Network Energy, Utility Warehouse, Engie and Ecotricity. “Last year, 5.1 million electricity consumers and 4.1 million gas consumers changed supplier, the highest number for almost a decade”. The “This Is Money” website has pointed out that this option is, however, not currently available in the water sector: “You cannot switch supplier because the 25 water companies across England, Scotland and Wales are responsible for customers in set geographical regions. The only way to save money is to install a water meter or cut back on your usage”. The Independent’s political editor, Oliver Wright, contends that this situation has enabled the water companies “to make gains of at least £1.2bn over the past five years from bills being significantly higher than necessary. Among those worst affected have been the poorest customers, with average water bills now representing 5.3% of their annual income”.

Jim Armitage, a correspondent for The Independent, has focused on what he considers to be the “scandal” of the millions of pounds paid by UK consumers that then go to foreign-owned public services. Swathes of Britain’s energy, transport and utility networks, he has emphasised, “are run by companies owned by other European governments – meaning foreign exchequers reap the dividends which then fund their schools and hospitals while their UK customers struggle with burgeoning fares and bills”.

Statistics published by Graham Hiscott, Head of Business for the left-wing Daily Mirror, have indicated that these overseas energy firms are using the extra money they make in the UK to subsidise their customers in their home countries. He cites examples of the contrast in price increases: E.ON (German owned): UK price rises: Gas 21.6%, Electricity 21.4% , compared to 9.1% (Gas) and 6.7% (Electricity) in Germany; Npower (German owned), + 21.6% (Gas) and +12.7% in the UK, but +11% (Gas) and 0% (Electricity) in Germany; EDF (French owned), +22.9% (Gas) & +12.3% (Electricity) in the UK, though just +15% (Gas) and + 3% (Electricity) in France. Scottish Power is a subsidiary of the Spanish company Iberdrola, but both British Gas (part of “Centrica”) and SSE are UK-owned.

In an article captioned “Britain for sale: How long Before a Foreign Power Turns Off Our Lights?”, the Daily Mail commentator, Alex Brummer, has expressed his firm belief that auctioning off our vital services to overseas interests is a risky strategy that has not been adopted by other countries and takes no account of what might happen in the future.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on March 7th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

London Fashion Week A/W 2018: The Perks & Perils Of A Catwalk Career:

IMG_1596Have you ever thought about becoming a model? Do you dream of emulating high-profile fashion super-stars such as Britain’s Cara Delevingne, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Ben Allen and Germany’s Benno Bulang? Do you wonder how you could get a job exhibiting the latest creations by designers such as Jasper Conran, Emilia Wickstead, Margaret Howell and Erdem at key events such as the recent London Fashion Week (LFW:16 – 20 February), how much you’d get paid and what the working conditions would be like?

The first and perhaps hardest step is to be somehow “discovered”. That was how it all started for Naomi Campbell: she was apparently shopping in London’s Covent Garden when she attracted the attention of Beth Boldt, the head of Synchro Model Agency. Within just a few months – still only 15 year’s old – she featured on the front cover of the British version of “Elle” magazine. Similarly, Kate Moss, was spotted at the age of 14 by Sarah Doukas, the founder of Storm Model Management,at New York’s JFK Airport. As Storm told the Huffington Post journalist, Rosy Cherrington, they “just never know”when or where they’ll pick out potential new talent: It could be in supermarket queues, at festivals or on any high street across the UK.

So how, asked Cherrrington, does a model agency decide who to approach? Surprisingly, she observes, there’s no minimum height specified on Storm’s website. However, in addition to the “obvious physical requirements like bone structure plus that essential ingredient of being photogenic” they are looking particularly for people with “personality, charm, style, with something to say for themselves and a good work ethic”. This contrasts somewhat with the job description posted online by the luxury lifestyle brand, Nina Naustdal Couture Ltd, who have been looking for models for a future TV project. They emphasize that they “need girls who are at least 1.80m and guys at least 1.85m. They should also be charismatic people between 18 and 30 years old who are not afraid to be in the spotlight, are in good shape and have walking experience”.

IMG_1585If you don’t want to wait until an agency “scout” notices you while you are choosing your yoghurt in Tescos or Sainsburys, how else can you break into the fashion world? The traditional route is to apply to join a model agency – but you should check first whether they are genuine and legitimate. The best-known ones, such as Elite, Storm, Premier and Model 1, would seem to meet this criteria, but many others do not. On 16th February, coinciding with the first day of LFW, the head of the British Fashion Council (BFC), Caroline Rush, (as reported by the London Evening Standard columnist Lizzie Edmonds) highlighted the fact that the British Fashion Model Agency Association (BFMAA) was established at the end of 2017 “ to promote diversity in the industry and to help support and protect all models, ensure that they are treated appropriately and feel safe throughout any job”. Carolyn Franklin MBE, Professor of Diversity at the Kingston School of Art, acknowledged in her introduction in the LFW Handbook that “In 2018, it is simply not enough to ‘create” without accountability or ethics”.

The BFMAA replaced the Association of Model Agents (AMA) set up in 1974. Its website warns that “there are plenty of scam artists trying to deceive young impressionable people who are interested in modelling”. It is not common practice, advises the BFMAA, for legitimate agencies to ask for a fee when you sign up with them or even at a later stage. None of their income should come from their models, only from clients who want to book them. The US Federal Trade Commission’s list of “indications that you may be dealing with a scam” is equally applicable in the UK. For example, be careful if you are told you have to use a specific photographer (so can’t choose your own), if they promise big salaries and they assure you that they’ll get you lots of work (no modelling or acting job is ever a certainty). Moreover, modelling agencies aren’t the same as modelling and acting schools: “ These claim to provide instruction (for a fee) in poise, diction, skin care, make-up application and the proper walk” – all of which will supposedly guarantee you a successful career in modelling thereafter.

IMG_1632Both the BFMAA and Model Management Ltd (MM) offer practical suggestions for aspiring models: “Maintain a healthy life-style, work-out regularly, apply a nutritious diet, get sufficient sleep and avoid smoking and alcohol. Drink lots of water and avoid too many late nights. A tired model is not a working model – and it shows”. It’s fundamental, they say, to look after your skin and hair, use quality skin and hair care products, keep make-up to a minimum and make sure you take it off before you go to bed. Never get your hair cut or dyed without first consulting your agency. You should be available for as many model castings as possible: These are effectively job interviews and should be regarded as such. If a model agency does offer you a contract, declares MM, “make sure that it’s reliable and includes the standard conditions of the industry. Keep an eye on the following points: percentage of commission, duration of contract, cancellation terms, exclusiveness and any hidden costs or fees”.

IMG_1588 IMG_1589 IMG_1606 IMG_1610 IMG_1618 IMG_1626 IMG_1633 IMG_1638So if you are finally booked for a fashion show, how much will you get paid? The Netflix Social Media Manager, Lexi Nisita, has suggested on Refinery29.inc that the figure could be around £775, though of course models who have become well-known and hence are sought-after earn a great deal more. But if you’re determined nonetheless to make it as a model, then, with a bit of luck, we’ll see you one day on the catwalks at LFW.

Filed under: Society | Posted on February 20th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Hearts, Flowers & Emojis: Romance In The Digital Era:

Have you ever read a book published by the Mills & Boon organisation? If yes, you might not want to admit it: Their novels have been depicted by many feminists as “escapist fiction for women, misogynist and reinforcing gender stereotypes” – with titles such as “Nurses In Love”, “Runaway Bride” and “Moonlight Over Manhattan”. Despite such criticisms, the company – as the Daily Mail journalist, Sarah Oliver, has pointed out – continues to prosper, more than 100 years after it was founded in 1908: “Mills & Boon sell 5.5 million books a year – that’s one every four seconds. They are printed in 26 languages across 109 countries with 150 new titles added every year”. According to the Guardian columnist, Laura Bates, the company publishes 75% of all romantic fiction sold in the UK.

Mills & Boon, however, have now themselves acknowledged that, in the 21st century, “the definition of romance and what being romantic means is no longer clear”. Although Britons spend £1.6bn on gifts and treats for Valentine’s Day “many are unsure whether to convey their affection with cards and flowers, or just a text”. Which is why the company – who insist its books have always kept pace with changing social attitudes and values – has produced a “Definitive Guide to The Art of Romance”, consisting of 20 rules which it believes will “make it easier for reluctant romantics to be successful in finding love and happiness”. The top ten recommended gestures are: Holding hands, having a cuddle, buying a surprise gift, giving flowers to your partner, planning a spontaneous trip away, a candlelit dinner, breakfast in bed,cooking a home-made meal and writing a love letter. Also included in the list: Running a bath for your partner after they’ve had a long day, organising a spontaneous date night, waiting up for your partner to get home, watching the next episode of your favourite TV series together and letting them choose the TV movies, giving your partner a foot massage, sharing an umbrella with your partner. Among the apparent “Top Ten Passion Killers” are (at No.1), mobile phone addiction (especially using it during dinner), being stingy with money, talking with your mouth full, rudeness to those around you, criticising your partner and dominating the conversations between you.

Research conducted by Mills & Boon has indicated that 37% of 18-24 year-olds “do not think that traditionally chivalrous acts, such as standing up at a table when your partner arrives – have a place in the modern world.” Furthermore, even more significantly, that 52% of those questioned said they communicate most with their partner digitally on social media, by text,WhatsApp, video chat and emojis, compared to 46% who communicate most in person. These figures correlate closely with the statistics on “Dating Sites Reviews.com” revealing that half of British singles have never asked someone out on a date face-to-face, only online – which has rather raised the question (as the Daily Mail correspondent, Deni Kirkova, has emphasised) as to whether “flirting in person has become a lost art with young Brits hiding behind their keyboards” in order to chat up a potential partner. Moreover, notes the DSR, 48% of singles have never broken up with someone in person – it was done online or via texting.

The Pew Research Centre (PRC) in Washington DC has concluded that a third of people who have used online dating haven’t yet met up in real life with someone they initially found on an online dating site – which of course also means that 66% have indeed progressed to getting together in person. Around 22% of online daters, say PRC, ask someone to help them create their “perfect profile”.

Does this suggest, as the Media Post.com commentator, Erik Sass, has asked, that “social media is actually sort of anti-social when you consider its tendency to displace real face-to-face communication”? He has quoted the results of a survey by IKEA of 12,000 people in 12 big cities around the world, 68% of whom admitted that they prefer to communicate with other people online, including people in their own home – “the classic scenario of messaging someone in the living room from the kitchen”.

The main disadvantage of online dating, in the opinion of the New York magazine, Psychology Today”, is that it is “a category-based rather than an interaction-based process and people never fall in love with categories”. Blake Eastman, an American body-language expert and founder of “The Nonverbal Group” would seem to agree. He told the CNN reporter Ashley Strickland that, although “ we feel that we don’t need to look people in the eyes to communicate any more, at the end of the day, we’re designed for human contact, not a computer screen”. He did, though, accept that “real life dates” may have lost some of their charm, often because they are too “standardised”, especially in restaurants: “A table between two individuals staring at one another can become an interview with adversarial posturing”.

The self-described “ world-renowned relationship expert” and founder of “Sexy Confidence”, Bostonian Adam Lodolce, (similarly cited by Strickland) shares Eastman’s view that there is a real risk we are killing off our social skills “by retreating behind a glowing screen of of information that offers no chemistry” – but he is also convinced that there are many of us who want to go back to the day when you’re sitting in a coffee shop, making eye contact and there is this mysterious moment when you don’t yet know each other. “As a society, we are seeing that there is still a real way to meet people”.

Happy Valentines Day!

Filed under: Society | Posted on February 6th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

A Lot Of Old Rubbish: Disposing Of Britain’s Waste Mountain:

Have you ever been to Quaglino’s, an upmarket restaurant in the St James SW1 area of London? If not, then you’ve missed out on the opportunity to sample it’s “brasserie-style menu”, among which is featured a Herefordshire beef fillet with green peppercorn sauce for a mere £39 and a 30 gram portion of Siberian Baeri caviar for a slightly pricier £75. While considering what to order for your main meal, you could sip one of their “classic cocktails” such as “El Sombreron”, which consists of “zacapa 23, lime and cantaloupe juice, sipsmith, sloe gin and fresh passion juice”, at a cost of £20.

However, you’d probably have to drink it directly from the glass. As the Evening Standard’s Consumer Business Editor, Jonathan Prynn, reported on 10th January, the owners, D&D London, which runs a total of 40 restaurants & bars, have banned plastic straws from all of their premises. D&D’s Chief Executive, Des Gunewardena, acknowledged to Prynn that he’d had no idea how many straws his staff had been giving out to customers (1.9 million in 2017). This move follows a similar decision taken last autumn by the national pub chain Wetherspoon (70 million a year) and in June by the All Bar One company (4.7 million a year). As Prynn pointed out “Plastic straws are seen as a particularly harmful form of waste because they are made from material that is very hard to recycle and their small size makes it difficult to stop them ending up in rivers and seas. Alternatives can be made from paper”.

The problem of what to do with our discarded plastic has, along with the pressure on NHS hospitals, has dominated the attention of the media during January – far more than Brexit, the Prince Harry-Meghan Merkle wedding in May and concerns about British tennis player Andy Murray’s hip injury. The Guardian columnist Sandra Laville observed on 5th January that many MPs are demanding the introduction of “a 25p extra charge on takeaway coffee in an initiative that could see disposable cups banned in five years time”. Laville quoted statistics provided by the House of Commons Environmental Committee which reveal that 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups are thrown away each year in the UK, almost 5,000 every minute, amounting to 30,000 tonnes of waste. Only 0.25% of them can be recycled, because most of them “are made from cardboard with a tightly bonded polyethylene liner, which is difficult to remove and means they are not accepted by paper mills”. Starbucks and Costa last year began to offer 25p discounts to customers with reusable cups and Pret A Manger have now doubled this to 50p on hot drinks “in an effort to change people’s habits and reduce waste”.

But why the sudden sense of urgency? What has really caused the panic reflected in newspaper headlines this month has been the decision by the Chinese government to ban the importation of rubbish not only from the UK but from several other developed countries such as European Union members, the USA and Japan”. In summer 2017, Guo Jing, an official at the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) informed the World Trade Organization that from 1st January 2018 his country would no longer accept 24 types of solid waste, including polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) bottles, unsorted scrap paper, discarded textiles and vanadium slag. This was – so Jing told journalists – all part of a campaign against “yang laji” (foreign garbage) “ which is loathed by everyone in China”.

The conservation photojournalist, Alex Hofford, has emphasized on “The Conversation” website that the impact of China’s decision will be far -reaching. Although other nations such as Malaysia and Vietnam also take in recycled plastic, their limited capacity won’t compensate for the lost Chinese market, which in 2016 processed more than half the world’s recycled plastic waste (7.3 million tonnes) – 500,000 tonnes of which was shipped from Britain.

What, asks Hofford, will now happen to all that waste? It’s a dilemma which, according to the Guardian’s environmental correspondent, Matthew Taylor, on 3rd January, is already creating a crisis for local authorities in the UK. He noted that Simon Ellin, the chief executive of the Recycling Association, “has already seen some lower-grade plastics piling up at recycling plants around the country”. Furthermore, because Britain has relied on exporting plastic recycling to China for 20 years, no-one knows what will now happen: If it no longer pays for his Association’s members to take and sort the waste delivered to them by the councils, they might stop accepting it altogether, which could then result in local authorities suspending their rubbish collections: “It could really lead to chaos”. In the opinion of Lee Marshall, chief executive of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (cited by Henry Bodkin of the Daily Telegraph), Councils will either have to increase taxes or cut waste services: “Neither will be popular: In some places in England, rubbish is already only collected once every three weeks”.

The LitterBins.co.uk website acknowledges that it’s understandable why many people don’t think about what happens to their rubbish once it’s been taken away. But if it can’t be recycled or incinerated, it has to go somewhere – usually to landfills: However, “that land has to be prepared first, to prevent decaying matter and bacteria leaking into water sources and causing health issues in the local area”.The European Commission has meanwhile issued suggestions as to how we can all be a bit less wasteful. Among them: Buy only the amount of fresh food you need and enjoy your leftovers by turning them into exciting new dishes, put your “non-meat scraps” into a compost bin and have your old, unwanted clothing shredded so it can be turned into packaging, insulation or raw material for textiles”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on January 15th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

It’s The Festive Season: So Forget About Brexit (For The Moment):

How do you feel about the big European Union debate? Perhaps you share the view of much of the UK population who – according to William Wallace in the Independent on 29th October – are completely fed up with the whole thing. The media and the politicians might be obsessed by the negotiations with the Brussels bureaucrats – but most people’s priority at the moment is more likely to be planning for Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and deciding what presents to buy for their friends and family.

A survey conducted by NatCen Social Research – featured in the latest edition of The Economist magazine – has concluded that very few voters have changed their minds since the Referendum last year, that those in favour of leaving the EU still think it’s a good idea, but that it’s being handled very badly. In the opinion of The Guardian on 9th December, the agreement reached between British Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU commission the previous day – on how much the UK will have to pay for the “divorce” (£40 billion?), the future rights of EU citizens in the UK and what will happen with the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland – was the “easy bit; the most difficult part lies ahead”.

Has all this seemingly interminable wrangling adversely affected the mood of the British public? Apparently not. In November, the Office For National Statistics (ONS) released “its first data on national well-being since the Referendum on June 23rd 2016”. This indicated – noted the International Business Times on November 7th – that “Britons are happier, despite a squeeze on household incomes, higher inflation and a weaker pound”, although the ONS also acknowledged that “as we have not yet left the EU, the implications it will have for the daily lives of people in the UK remain to be seen”.

An article on November 8th by Steve Doughty, the Social Affairs Correspondent for the pro-Brexit Daily Mail, was unequivocally jubilant about the ONS report. “Forget Brexit doom and gloom”, proclaimed the headline: “ Levels of contentment have hit record levels in the year after the decision to leave”. Instead a plunge into worry and fear, wrote Doughty, “there is convincing evidence of rising happiness and satisfaction with life”. The ONS findings, he asserted “undermine claims that people are alarmed by the prospect of economic reverses and deeply concerned about the future”. On the contrary, “the national anxiety measure now stands at 2.91 out of ten, compared to 3.13 in the spring of 2011”.

The ONS figures correlate closely with those contained in the Legatum Institute’s Global Prosperity Index 2017. This analyses each country’s economic quality, business environment, governance, personal freedom,social capital, safety and security, education, health and natural environment. It ranks the UK at No 10 – below Norway, New Zealand, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Canada and Australia, but above Germany (11), the USA (18), France (19), Spain (20) and Italy (30). The highest ranked Latin American nation is Costa Rica at No.29.

The World Happiness Report 2017, issued by the United Nations, has the same top ten as the Legatum Institute, though Costa Rica (12) and the USA (14) are both further up, while Germany (16) and the UK (19) are lower on their list. The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, has published a chart showing the variations in happiness across the UK: it has denominated the district of Craven in North Yorkshire as the happiest place in the UK with 8.3% and Hertsmere in Hertfordshire the saddest with just 6.87%. Hackney is portrayed as the most downcast borough in London.

Other available statistics somewhat contradict the rosy picture provided by the ONS. Andrew Macaskill, a correspondent for the Reuters news agency, on 4th December highlighted a poll conducted by the research firm Survation, which revealed that “half of Britons support a second vote on whether to leave the EU and a third said they would be worse off financially outside the world’s largest trading bloc”. Chris Morris, the “Reality Check” correspondent for BBC News, reported on 29th September that between July 2016-June 2017, 64,400 UK citizens applied for Irish passports, followed by applications for Spain (4,558), Sweden (2,002), Denmark (604), Poland (332), Finland (115), Greece (34), Czech Republic (27), Croatia (13), Romania (7).

The London Evening Standard on 29th November focused on the possibility of a “public backlash” against Britain having to pay a Brexit “divorce bill” of around £50 billion .The same newspaper on 5th December drew attention to the fact that millions of rail users will be hit with fare increases of up to 3.6% in January – the biggest for 5 years – “due to Brexit and the slump in the pound” .

More immediately: The Good Housekeeping magazine has carried out an investigation into the cheapest items currently on the shelves of the UK’s main supermarket chains. It’s verdict (as quoted by the Guardian’s consumer affairs correspondent, Rebecca Smithers, on 28th November ): The “Brexit effect” has pushed up the price of Christmas. The cost of a turkey the same size as one on sale for £8 at Christmas 2016 will now be £8.99; Brussels sprouts, 88p (58p last December); Mince pies £1.58 (£1.49); Christmas cake £3.99 (£3.00); parsnips 88p (58p); Carrots 35 p (29p). Cranberry sauce, though, has stayed the same at 55p and if you’re partial to Christmas pudding, that’s gone down from £3.49 to £3.00.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on December 12th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

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