Tuesday, 23 June 2009


Incredible. A word that, to my knowledge, has been little used apart from in the Brian de Palma film of the same name is now appearing more and more frequently.

The reason? The thieving scum that inhabit the Houses of Parliament and jokingly pass themselves off as a Government have finally released their expenses. However, it looks as if my speculation that these expense claims were to be sanitised prior to publication was correct, as large amounts of the information is blacked out. But, rather than use the word 'censored', which in effect is what it is, all the trough dwellers are using the word 'redacted'. I strongly suspect that this is because politicians have so little respect for the people that they are supposed to represent that they believe that most people will not realise that when they say redacted they do actually mean censored.

The argument that has been put forward for this censorship is that without it there would be a risk to the personal security of the MPs. Perhaps personal addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses should not be made public due to security issues, but this also gives the thieving scum the opportunity to 'flip' their first and second homes on a regular basis and claim expenses for doing so (people like Blears, for example). However, there is much else that has been hidden on these grounds that in no way relates to their personal security.

In addition, all claims that were made and subsequently rejected (floating duck houses etc) have also been 'redacted'. The public have a right to know just how these politicians are attempting to exploit the system to their own benefit, so censoring failed claims is completely unacceptable. If these people did not want public scrutiny of their affairs then they should not have a. entered public life and b. attempted to use public money to line their own pockets.

However, despite the fact that it would be in the public interest to investigate and prosecute all of the trough dwellers that have done wrong, it appears that there is only to be a limited investigation and no doubt they'll get away with just a slapped wrist.

On the subject of publicity, I finally received a response from Errol Lutton last Wednesday. Did he answer any of the questions that I had originally asked in April? No.

What he did reveal was that despite my contacting the CSA in March of this year, he had spoken to my ex-wife the night before to confirm that what I was telling him was the truth. He also told me that he would be writing to Greg Clark and that I would be kept informed about what was happening. I'll believe it when it happens.

There's a forum where someone has made a Freedom of Information Act request to the CSA about how many complaints they receive each year. It appears that they receive approximately 48,000. I'm amazed, I was sure that it would be more. There is also someone on the same forum that claims that it is pointless to complain just once. Their advice was to complain repeatedly and often!
Changing tack completely, I will struggle for the next month with the power that has been thrust upon me. The Squadron OC is away on business in the Far East, so as the 2ic I have had to step up in his absence. There are advantages, though, as m'Julie and I have been invited to the Mayor's garden party in July. The downside to that will no doubt be the cost of the dress, and the hat, and the shoes, not forgetting the matching bag.........

First stop, County Hall, next stop Buck House!

However, all this is dependent on m'Julie, as she is currently laid up having prolapsed a vertebral disc the weekend before last. And what highly strenuous activity was she participating in when she did this damage? She was watering her plants!

Proof that gardening is, in fact, a dangerous activity and also proof that my refusal to do any gardening is completely justified.

The other problem that I have discovered which may impact on this function is that it is likely that I will be required to wear service dress. Unfortunately, when I tried on the jacket last week, it appears that during the time that it has been in the wardrobe whilst I was off last year, it has shrunk! I am therefore exploring ways of making the jacket bigger, and me smaller.

My efforts at dieting this week are being assisted by the fact that I have developed a dental abscess. This, due to the pain, means that I have very little appetite as well as the fact that, following the commencement of the root canal treatment, I have difficulty opening my mouth.

Currently, I have a temporary filling in place to give the infection a chance to resolve, aided by antibiotics, before going back to finish treatment next Tuesday.

Unfortunately, not only will I be getting lighter, but so will my wallet. Yesterday’s start of treatment set me back £95.00. Maybe I should have asked for a general anaesthetic on top of the local anaesthetic prior to being given the bill.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009


Typical! Part 1: Having spent all that time and effort being sarcastic to that waster Purnell, what does he do? He resigns! Now I'll have to deal with a different Muppet! (Yvette Cooper who, along with her husband, another politician called Ed Balls, seems to be even more corrupt than her predecessor when it comes to parliamentary expenses, if that's possible!) He hasn't gone quietly, either, suggesting that Chairman Brown should step down for the good of everybody.

What did make me laugh was that the day after he resigned, a news reporter was camped outside Purnell's house in his constituency and reported that people kept stopping and telling him that he was wasting his time as Purnell had only been seen in his constituency once in the last ten years!

However, on the day that he resigned, I did get a letter from Greg Clarke, informing me that he had received my letter and that he had written to the chief executive of the CSA (now called the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission), Stephen Geraghty. This caused me some confusion, as when I had written to Mary Quinn, both the CSA website and the idiot that I spoke to stated that Mary Quinn was the chief executive, although I now notice that the website has been changed, and the Mary Quinn page, although still claiming that she is chief executive of the CSA, appears in the Department for Social Development website.

I didn't think that involving my MP would have much effect other than to get the morons at the CSA to actually do their jobs. But I was wrong, as I found out when Kevin Maguire phoned me on Friday to inform me that he was no longer dealing with my case, as it had been passed over to the Earl Luton (I still think that this could be an alias!) in the parliamentary team.

Whilst I had him on the phone, I also asked Kevin Maguire who his chief executive was. Just as well it wasn't a life or death question as he told me both Stephen Geraghty and Mary Quinn before putting me on hold and finding out before informing me that Mary Quinn is the head of the CSA and Stephen Geraghty is the chief executive. I'm still none the wiser.

I also had the rather bizarre experience of answering my phone yesterday to an Irish voice saying 'Hello, my name is Earl.....' However, that is where the humour ended as this idiot, obviously the Earl Luton that I'd been told about, informed me that he had taken over my case and had fifteen days (another CSA three weeks) to respond. More delays, meaning that by the time that I get this sorted it will be about eight weeks or more since my initial letter. Not exactly efficient when it states on their website
"It can seem difficult to make a complaint, but we want to make it as easy as possible so we can get things right".
Maybe they should let me design a more truthful website for them, perhaps
"Do you know an unemployable village idiot? If so, we have vacancies, especially management positions, just for them here at the Child Support Agency. Experience is a definite disadvantage although very low IQ and inability to perform the most simple of tasks will ensure rapid promotion. If they are exceptionally 'special' they will be assigned to our complaints resolution team in an effort to make it as difficult as possible for our incompetence to be exposed".
Earl Luton seemed quite surprised when I informed him that I expected things to move much faster than he was telling me as it had already been some time since my original complaint. His plea of it not being his fault that this process was taking so long was greeted by my informing him that I didn't care whose fault their inability to actually carry out their job was and that the whole business provided further evidence of the incompetence of the entire agency and all of its employees.

Typical! Part 2: When I received the phone call on Friday, I was on a minibus on my way to the Brecon Beacons having taken the day off to attend the Army Medical Services TA Patrolling Competition which was taking place in the Sennybridge training area, although purely in my role as Sqn 2ic, rather than as a competitor (far too old and unfit for that!)

All week, the weather had been very pleasant, even when we left the Unit for the six hour drive to Wales, it was still sunny, although it was getting a bit nippier the further west we went.

We arrived at 8pm and after a briefing, made our way to the main admin area, where we were eaten alive by midges before the guys headed off and I headed back to a room in the main camp. After that, it all went downhill.

When I got up on Saturday morning, although the sun wasn't visible, it was just overcast and colder than the day before. Stupidly, I left my waterproof in the room in my Bergen. I say stupidly, because no sooner had I got to the training area and had a briefing than the skies opened. And it continued to rain for the next 30 hours!

I managed to get round and see the team and met up with one of my colleagues at lunchtime and we were able to meet up with the team again during the rest of the day. We were lucky. We were moving from point to point in a vehicle, with heating and protected from the rain, whereas the teams were moving on foot.

Inevitably, there were several casualties, quite a few due to the cold and rain, so the decision was taken by the brass that the teams would be returned to the main camp, rather than stay out as they were supposed to. Myself and my colleague waited for the team to return and travelled with them to Sennybridge Camp before making our way to Brecon to the hotel where we were staying, The Castle.

The hotel was very nice and fortunately had working radiators, which meant that I was able to place my completely soaking wet uniform on them to dry out. With all the fresh Welsh air of the day and after a couple of pints in the bar, I slept really well. However, when I woke up, because I'd put the radiators on full to dry out my uniform, I was drenched!

After breakfast, it was back to the training area for the last of the events and we left the area at 2pm. And, typically, as we pulled on to the main road, the cloud cleared, revealing blue sky and sunshine, to the extent that we had to put the air con on in the car!

The team had done very well, considering that in the main competitors were from the various Field Hospitals, who have 7-8 times more personnel than the Squadrons to choose from, and finished higher than many of the other Squadrons.

So, sixty hours after leaving home, I was back and the process of sorting out my kit began, ready for the next exercise.

Typical! Part 3: When Alec, my eldest, was thrown out by his mother and moved in with me, I applied for child benefit. An application went in and then I received a letter asking for more information and proof that he is still at school. All this information was sent back to them three weeks ago.

However, last Tuesday there was another letter, identical to the first, with the words 'Duplicate-please reply' written across the top. Curious as to why this was sent, I called the number on the letter.

Unfortunately, when I got through and heard the Irish accent my heart immediately sank. I have nothing against the Irish, but I suspected that this may indicate that this agency was co-located with the morons of the CSA. And the woman I spoke to didn't allay my concerns, as every time I asked her a question or tried to explain to her that I had already sent in the information, she just kept repeating "You need to complete the form with the requested information and send it back". I decided to change tack and asked to speak to the section that was named on the letter.

I was refused access to this section and the woman also refused to tell me whether or not my previous information had been received, just repeating "You need to complete the form with the requested information and send it back".

Eventually, she agreed to inform the relevant section that I had telephoned and assured me that I would receive a call-back within three working days, which was Friday.

On Monday, having heard nothing, I telephoned again and spoke to someone who was much more helpful. What she told me was that it appeared that the section had indeed received the information that they had requested, but that it had been 'misplaced'.

When I asked the woman why it was that her colleague hadn't told me that the information had been lost, she was unable to tell me. She also pointed out that the information hadn't been lost, it had been 'misplaced'. When I asked her where it was and she told me that she didn't know, I suggested that she consult the dictionary and look up the definition of 'lost'.

So, now I have the information (again!) which is being posted to the Child Benefit agency (again!) so let’s see if they lose it (again!).

Monday, 1 June 2009

Silence is not always golden

At the time that I am starting this, it is Sunday evening and the house seems quite large. The reason is that Drew and Maggie have gone home, although it was made difficult for me by the fact that Maggie clearly didn't want to go. I think that it has to be the worst feeling in the world. I suspect that it will be written over a couple of days, so hopefully that feeling will have lessened by the time that this is finished.

The kids had arrived on Wednesday as it was half term, and I was pleased to see that Drew seemed to have fully recovered from the appendicectomy that he'd undergone two weeks previously. On Wednesday evening, m'Julie came up with the idea of visiting Greenwich on the following day. The reason for this is that at Greenwich there is the Royal Observatory, The Queen's House and the National Maritime Museum.

So it was that all five of us descended on Paddock Wood station for the trip up to Greenwich, which was slightly prolonged due to the inevitable problems on the railway, and we arrived in Greenwich at lunchtime. After a nice lunch in a French cafe, we made our way across Greenwich Park to our first stop, the Royal Observatory.

The first, and in fact I think the last time that I was at the Observatory was in 1976, when there had been an exhibition at the Maritime Museum commemorating the 200 years since America had gained independence. It had changed in the 33 years since my last visit.

The main exhibition area of the Royal Observatory is very interesting and we had the inevitable photo of us straddling the prime meridian.
Unfortunately, they were very strict about people not taking photographs inside the actual exhibition area which was a shame as there were so many historic and rare artefacts to be seen.

After the exhibition, we made our way to the only part of the whole 'Greenwich experience' that actually costs anything, the Peter Harrison Planetarium, where we were able to see what the sky should have looked like on Thursday night had there not been so much light pollution.

After the show we made our way back across Greenwich Park to the National Maritime Museum. One thing that I hadn't realised was that the site of the museum had once been the site of the Royal Hospital School, which is the inferior, Naval, equivalent of my old school, The Duke of York's Royal Military School, as well as being the old school of my friend Bruce. 

Unfortunately, we didn't actually get to the museum until nearly 1630, and as it closed at 1700, we had very limited time to look around. However, I'm sure that there will be another visit during the three weeks that the kids are staying over the summer holidays.

Friday was a relaxed day at home, the kids spending most of the day playing World of Warcraft (!), but m'Julie making plans for us all to go out on Saturday.
As the day dawned bright and sunny, the idea that m'Julie had been talking about on Friday was put into action and we headed to the South Coast metropolis that is Eastbourne, aka God's Waiting Room. Although this is not the nearest coast to us, the alternative, Hastings, is in my opinion, a complete cess-pool, hence the choice we made. 

We headed straight to the beach and the girls, who were already wearing their swimming costumes headed into the sea, which resulted in a loss, as Maggie decided that because it’s a stony beach she would wear her sandals. Unfortunately, a large wave sucked off one of them, and despite her best efforts to grab it, it was 'lost at sea'.

Drew also joined the girls, but as he hadn't taking his swimming costume, it was a case of rolling up his shorts and having a paddle.

After a quick meal and a visit to the pier, we all made our way back to the car and headed up to Beachy Head, which although it is so close, is the first time that I'd ever been there. After several attempts to get the video camera in still picture 'timer' mode, I was successful.

As well as being a well known beauty spot, it is also notorious as being a very popular suicide spot, to the extent that there are chaplaincy patrols along the cliffs. As I write this on Monday evening, there is a news report about two adults and a child whose bodies have been found 400 feet down Beachy Head.

Also in the above picture is Percy the Gnome, who was a present last year from H, and, now that he's been painted, is to be pictured in various places that we visit. m'Julie is even talking about his having his own Facebook page!

After all this fresh sea air, we were all feeling quite tired by the time we got home, which meant that for most of us, Sunday was another chill-out day before the kids left, although Hannah did have a dancing exam in the morning that she will find out the result of in a couple of weeks.

So, as I said at the start of this, the house is 'silent' again, so I can return to abusing politicians. The reason for this is that the 'special' person from the CSA with whom I had spoken, apparently called Kevin Maguire, called me back on Wednesday morning.

However, after a ten-minute conversation, rather than suggesting a solution, Kevin Maguire informed me that he 'couldn't make head nor tail' of my case and was having to request the case papers, which would take a further seven to ten working days to reach him. I was left wondering what this person had actually done since receiving my complaint, and was left to conclude what I already knew. Kevin Maguire had clearly done nothing.

Following this very unsatisfactory conversation and having had no response to my original letter, I decided to write to Purnell again to see if I could elicit a response from a second letter:
Dear Mr Purnell,
I wrote to you on 18 April 2009 regarding the incompetence that is rife within the Child Support Agency. To date I have received no reply, not even from your staff, although I am aware that your claiming staffing costs does not necessarily mean that you employ any staff.
Now that your behaviour re: expenses is in the public domain and you no longer have to spend time and effort in any attempts to cover this up, I trust that you will return to your Ministerial duties and look into my complaint and inform me of any action that you have either taken or ordered to be taken.
Yours sincerely
Not content with this, I also wrote to my local MP, Greg Clark, enclosing copies of my letters to both Purnell and the equally useless Mary Quinn. The reason for this is that when I previously had problems with the CSA in 2007, I involved Greg Clark.

Having had no luck from writing to the then Secretary of State, John Hutton, and the then CSA Chief Executive, Stephen Geraghty (another pair of oxygen thieves), I contacted Greg Clark, and within days had a solution.

Hopefully, the result will be the same, particularly as there is bound to be an election before long.