Sanctioned!

He woke up at the noise. The first plane flew over the house at 6am every day, including Sundays, like a Promethean punishment from the Establishment. Although his alarm was set for 7am, he rarely slept beyond the first low-flying aircraft heading for Heathrow Airport. “Please, don’t let them build another runway,” he moaned, as bleary-eyed and with an uncomfortably full bladder, he manoeuvred his swollen legs and numb feet over the edge of the bed and sat up.

despairMarge was still sleeping, ear plugs in and mask on. He looked at her with a mixture of love and envy. He couldn’t sleep with ear plugs in – what would happen if there was a break-in or explosion? Such things were not unheard of on the Runnymede Council estate. He managed a slow, painful shuffle to the bathroom and relieved himself. After a quick wash and shave he returned to the bedroom to get dressed. Not a straight forward procedure, as nerve damage to his hands and feet made routine tasks a trial. He sat on the bed and took his pills.

Johnny was downstairs having his cereal, ear phones in and eyes glued to flashing lights on his tablet. Thankfully, he was a self-sufficient teenager and could make his own way to school.

“What you got on today?”

He removed one ear plug. “Nuffin’ much.”

“Well, let’s hope your teachers can spark an interest; and stay out of trouble.”

The letterbox snapped and he robotically moved to the front door. His heart froze in shock. A brown envelope. He hated getting brown envelopes. It was not his fault he was unable to work anymore due to a chronic condition. These things happen. Now he was in The Welfare System.

He sat at the kitchen table, turning the envelope over in his tingling hands, sitting quite still with bowed head as the boy plonked a mug of tea in front of him and rushed out just as she rushed in, gulping a cup of coffee.

“What you got there?” she said.

“Letter from the sosh.”

She hovered behind him. He could sense her unease.

“I’ll open it when you’ve gone.”

“Oh, no you won’t. I want to know what it says before I go for work. You know our budget is on a shoestring. Any changes will leave us going to the Food Bank. Open it.”

He reluctantly thumbed it open, fearing the outcome. He read in brooding silence.

“Come on then, what does it say?” There was an uneasy tone in her voice.

“It says, ‘…you are required to attend a meeting to review your status as being medically unfit for work.’”

“Oh God!” she cried, as she slumped onto a chair. “Why can’t they leave you alone? Doctors have examined you and said you’re not well enough to return to work. Why are they doing this? I’ve got to go. We’ll talk later.” A kiss on the cheek and she was gone.

He took his time clearing up. Put warm water and washing up liquid in the sink. Pile the dishes in, then sit down. Wash up and leave on the drainer. Sit down. He moved slowly to the lounge and picked up his inhaler and welfare correspondence file. Sit down. He was breathing heavily and took a few seconds to recover. A squirt on the inhaler. His tired eyes wandered to family photos on the wall. One of him with team mates holding a trophy.

The warm sunlight and effect of the medication made him drowsy and afternoon naps were a part of his new routine. He woke to the sound of sobbing coming from the kitchen. Slowly pushing himself up from the armchair, on swollen feet he moved to the kitchen. She was sitting at the table, head in arms, body shaking with deep sobs. He put his arm around her.

“Don’t worry, love. Things will be alright. I’ll get another letter from the doctors. I’ve already made an appointment.”

“Oh no it won’t!” She sat up, red eyed. “Look what’s in today’s paper!”

He read out loud: “‘Sick Dad Killed Himself After Benefits Axed’. Hmm… a Coroner has ruled that a man committed suicide as a result of a government-approved assessor telling him to get a job against doctors’ advice.”

He looked at a photo of the Minister responsible, clearly selected to make him look sinister. She sat up and looked at him miserably, mascara running down her cheeks.

“What are we going to do? You can’t win against these people. They’re on a mission to cut welfare payments at all cost, even killing people! It says in there that 2,500 sick and disabled people have died within two weeks of their benefits payments being stopped after being declared fit for work. It’s not fair!”

“Come on, love. There’s no way they’ll find me fit for work. Look at me! Still in my dressing gown in the afternoon. I’m a wreck, and that’s how they’ll see me. Let’s have a cup of tea.” They sipped their teas and munched on biscuits in miserable silence. How can I tell her that I’ve already been sanctioned for missing a meeting?

He persuaded her to go upstairs and have a lie down. His mind was numb. There was nothing else to be done. They’ll probably be better off without me – the Union will pay-out. He took a roll of washing line and a foot stool and walked out into the back yard. Blinked up at the late afternoon sun, he scowled as the shadow of a ‘plane flashed over. Placing the stool under a tree he stood on it and threw the washing line over an overhanging branch.

Madge woke from her nap when the front door slammed.

“Mum! I’m home!” Johnny shouted.

She got up and made her way to the bedroom window, looking down to their tiny patch of garden. She froze in horror at the sight of her husband’s legs standing on a stool under the tree. With a scream she rushed downstairs, past the startled boy, and out into the garden. His head and torso were obscured by the leaves of the tree as she rushed up to him, throwing her arms around his legs and squeezing as tight as she could.

“Hey! What’s going on, you silly mare!”

“Don’t do it!” she sobbed, “We’ll manage!”

“What are you on about? I’m just fixing the washing line!”

Advertisements

Self-Publishing and Book Promotion on a Shoestring Budget

Ripper Tour 046Despite recent health-related set backs, I now have tucked under my broad-brimmed hat a wealth of life experience to stimulate my imagination – I have the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive through my writing.

My book of short stories, Thames Valley Tales, has been my therapy activity, engaging my brain in researching facts,  developing ideas into stories and learning about the art and practice of creative writing.  I decided to find out how to self-publish on a budget of next to nothing.  Amazon Kindle help to lure in amateur writers, like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and have a number of restrictive conditions that you have little choice but to accept…. Basically, you get a platform to promote and sell your book, and they get most/all of the money, whilst attempting to bullying you into promoting it for free.  I made a modest investment in book cover design (on fiverr.com) and the services of a proof reader and copyeditor.  These have been my only external costs, but ones I feel are essential.

I have used Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn and email to shout about it to friends, family and acquaintances.  Now I have added You Tube.  I was fortunate to be offered the chance to appear on Oxford community television channel That’s Oxford TV to be interviewed about my book (see photo), and my eyes lit up when I saw that they put up interviews on You Tube.  My chance to get an author interview clip to add to my social media armoury!  In addition, I enticed the local newspaper, the Windsor & Eton Express, to interview me, and they sent a photographer around to take my mug-shot.  It all helps…

So far I am still about 15-18 copy sales short of hitting the magic number to precipitate an Amazon pay-out of commission to me ($100 threshold before they pay out), no doubt grudgingly done in a dark office somewhere by a penny pinching accountant.  Many new amateur authors never reach the sales threshold to receive a payment, especially when you are selling your work for next to nothing.  Help me out and download it!-

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B011PQHJUQ  or at amazon.com or any worldwide amazon site….

Check out my YouTube interview and leave a comment!

Cringing local newspaper article….

https://windsorexpress.co.uk/News/Areas/Datchet/Datchet-author-publishes-book-of-short-stories-set-around-the-Thames-24092015

 

SHOULD WE TRUST THE CHINESE?

Interesting articles have appeared across the media on Chinese investment in the UK, sparked by their offer to build a nuclear power station here. They will almost certainly insist on manning and running it, for that is what they have done in other countries where they’ve invested. So, who are the Chinese and should we trust them?

Xi-Jinping-china chinese people

The Chancellor, George Osborne, is in China to practice his bowing skills and negotiate a deal that will result in Chinese cash part-funding Britain’s newest nuclear power station. Hinkley Point C in Somerset is to be built to the blueprint of an already existing Chinese nuclear power plant.

China is a one-party communist state, and all their nationals who are allowed to travel abroad work for state owned companies and are party members. They swear an oath of allegiance to the state, and that is where their loyalties lie. When they invest in developing countries, most notably in over a dozen African states, they go straight to State House and hold behind closed doors meetings with those in power.

They are not interested in democracy, only in making deals. From Africa they want their minerals, from Europe they want to increase their power and influence. They are not motivated by personal greed, and therefore their values and motives remain hidden to clumsy Western politicians. In developing countries their deals consist of mineral and mining rights in exchange for infrastructure development (as I have witnessed from my time working in Africa). They will build roads, railways, clinics, schools, office and residential buildings, using local materials and labour, but with Chinese foremen, engineers, architects and other professionals. Work permits are usually hurried through in days, whilst other foreign workers are made to wait in frustration. They opened a black-windowed branch of Bank of China in the capital city I worked in, as they have nothing to do with Western finance systems, apart from assiduously collecting US dollars.

How does this system work in the UK? The answer is, we don’t know. What is being offered in exchange? What are they really after to increase their power and influence over us? They have seen our weakness – money. I would hope that personal inducements to our leaders would be politely declined, but who knows? Our politics in the West are supposed to be open to scrutiny from civil society and the media, who report back to the citizens. The Chinese have state-owned media and control access to the internet. They will feel uncomfortable at their deals being made public, and will try to control the information flow, posing a challenge to our journalists.

This is a clash of cultural inducement practices – the secretive but direct; ‘How much do you want?’ approach of the Chinese versus the; ‘We would want contracts for private firms’ gambit favoured by our politicians, with one eye on future directorships. They are patient and will play a long game to get what they really want. Witness the last Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, threatening to sell off military land in key strategic locations, unless the Chinese agreed to allow democratic elections and a system of self-government in the former colony. They were not happy at being forced into a corner. Now, a few years down the line, witness the democracy protests being crushed and a loyal party member appointed as effective Governor. They get their way in the end.

Practically all UK and US political decisions are based on capitalist values, thinly dressed up as ‘the public good’. This is a cause for concern, because with opening the door to Chinese ‘investment’, we are opening the lid of Pandora’s Box. Their politics are based on growing the power and influence of a one party state, and their citizens are voiceless cogs in the machine. Our power stations, utilities, air and sea ports are seen as key strategic assets, and any foreign ownership should be questioned. We are dealing with a largely secretive communist state that has only recently emerged from being a closed society to calmly taking up its position as a major World power. They have joined our game, but they have their own rules.

Our political leaders are like pioneering spacemen encountering an alien species for the first time, inquisitive and seemingly friendly, but a complete cultural unknown. Smile and say hello… just before it bites your head off.

OTHER CHINESE INVESTMENTS IN TRANSPORT, PROPERTY AND UTILITIES:

 

In October 2013, it was announced that Beijing Construction Engineering Group would be investing £800m into a new area of Manchester Airport called Airport City. The development will provide logistics, manufacturing, office and leisure facilities for Britain’s third busiest airport.

 

In October 2012, 10% of Heathrow Airport was sold to the China Investment Corporation – China’s sovereign wealth fund. The deal took ownership of Britain’s busiest airport to more than 40% controlled by the Chinese, Qatari and Singaporean governments.

 

Britain’s busiest port – Felixstowe in Suffolk – has been wholly owned since 1994 by Hutchisons Port Holdings, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison, run by Chinese-born magnate and billionaire Li Ka-shing. The port has its own police, fire and ambulance services.

 

In 2012, China Investment Corporation – the state-owned fund responsible for managing the country’s foreign exchange reserves – bought a 9% stake in Thames Water, which provides and manages the water supply for 15 million people in and around London.

 

Northumbrian Water, which provides water and sewerage for 2.7 million people in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham, parts of North Yorkshire and parts of Essex and Suffolk is wholly owned by a subsidiary of CK Hutchison.

 

Veolia Water, a France-based company that owns a small part of the UK water firm Affinity Water, is itself 10% owned by SAFE-IC, the Hong Kong subsidiary of China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange. Affinity provides water to 3.5 million people in Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Surrey, and six London boroughs.

 

In December 2012, China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE-IC) bought almost half of the Co-operative Group’s future headquarters in Manchester, called One Angel Square. It also bought 40% of UPP Group Holdings, a major provider of student accommodation in Britain and 100% of City of London glass and steel office block Drapers’ Gardens.

 

Until earlier this year, China Investment Corporation (CIC) owned 19% of Songbird Estates, the parent company of London’s Canary Wharf, home to many of the UK’s largest banks including Barclays and HSBC. It eventually sold up after a bid from a Qatari company. CIC still owns 100% of the City of London headquarters of Deutsche Bank, according to Pinsent Masons LLP.

Thames Valley Tales – Two Months Old!

Themes_Valley_Tales_Cover_5My first dip of the toe into the pool of creative writing…

I’m glad I paid for professional proof-reading and copyediting, as I can face my readers and say, ‘It’s the best I can do at this stage of my development, and I’ve ensured it is technically sound and a smooth read.’

As for the stories themselves…are they engaging? do they stand comparison with other author’s work?  Here’s what my first five reviewers said…

“I love the range of emotions wrapped up in each story.  Witty, informative, educational – a thoroughly interesting read.  Strongly recommend it to any literary reader!”  awww…thanks sis.  I’ll try and be nicer to you…

Here’s a slightly cryptic one from someone I don’t know…

“Great collection of stories. Intriguing and witty.  Popeye shouldn’t read this…but everyone else should.”

Thrilled to get a five start rating from a stranger…but what does it mean???  I can’t see Popeye grappling with a tablet with his big thumbs, open can of spinach in the other hand.  Olive Oyle is a potential reader though…

A review from a member of my writing group is most welcome and I appreciate the peer support…

“Fascinating glimpses into the history of the area.  I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories and wanted some of them to continue so I could find out what happened to the characters.”

Hmmmm….perhaps some stories could be extended into something longer, but I like the short story format because of my short attention span and inclination to hop from one idea to another.

Another review was from a cousin who I have no contact with, so the family grapevine works…

“An excellent collection of short stories which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Well written – can’t wait to read more from this author.”

Wow! great review and from an unexpected quarter… maybe I should re-engage with some distant branches of the extended family.  Especially now I’m an erm… author.

A review from a golf buddy who I never discussed books or reading with, just put his email on a speculative mailing…

“Great little stories.  Who is the murderer at Henley Regatta? Definitely the best of the bunch.”

Nice…and I’ve put ‘Murder at Henley Regatta’ forward for inclusion in an anthology of emerging writers…

With a few sales and a handful of reviews, I feel I’m emerging, blinking into the sunlight, embracing my new status and standing firmly behind my book in a few local media interviews.  It’s a start.  I’m up and running.

HOPE FOR WORKING PEOPLE

On Saturday, 12th September 2015, the UK Labour Party elected a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, by a majority on nearly 60% of the vote. He is the candidate the right wing of British politics feared the most, as his plain-speaking advocacy for the rights of the working people and those disadvantaged in society has brought sneers and character assassination, showing their fear of his strong political stance.

Corbyn is now challenged to unite a Labour Party battered by the UK General Election result. A humiliating defeat characterised by the fragmentation of the working class vote, leaving Labour staring at a bare cupboard. They must now come together and reflect on the lessons learned from their unexpected general election wipe-out, that handed an undeserved win to the surprised Conservatives.

It’s vitally important for the future of British society that the Labour Party get their act together and challenge the dogma of the ruling Conservatives, whose greed-driven agenda is leading to a divided society. Like schoolyard bullies, they are waging war on those less fortunate in society by levelling a 12% across-the-board cut in the welfare bill, regardless of the effect it is having on the sick, poor and disabled. Those with genuine need of help should be supported, not demonised and driven to despair and, in some cases, suicide (as recent figures have shown following a well-supported public petition to force government to release figures on welfare reform victims).

We need a strong Labour Party in opposition to hold the government accountable for their rob-from-the-poor to give-to-the-rich policies. Corbyn can lead that resistance, and show the British people that there is an alternative vision for our society, based on common decency and equitable wealth sharing. I like his talk about re-nationalising utility companies. Why not? At a time when the top 1% of world society own 90% of all wealth, there is a need to try to redress the balance, and show to the rest of the world that there is another way than pure unchecked capitalist greed.

Congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn, a man of the people for the people. The Conservatives ask nervously; “what does he plan to do?” Well, he has said it in his acceptance speech: “No one will be left on the sidelines, everyone should have equal opportunities – that’s what Labour is about…we need to develop economic policies that deal with the issue of inequality.” They must now convince the country that this can be achieved without undermining the strength of the economy.

Let’s listen and give them a chance. Britain can do better…

George Caught Up In Pub Bomb Terror

Life of George Pub BombDon’t panic!  It’s a fiction story line!

In Chapter Two of my serialised novel, Life of George (http://channillo.com/series/life-of-george/), George meets his mate Dave in the pub to plan a trip of a lifetime to celebrate their early retirement from work.  A suspicious man leaves a backpack on the bar rail, seen by George, but too late for him to take any action.  A huge explosion rips through the pub sending both Dave and George flying…

life_of_george_cover02Chapters One and Two are up and can be read by subscribing to channillo.com – at £3.65/month (US$4.99) you can choose up to ten books from their wide range of titles to read (mine plus nine others!), and I expect my novel to be up in full by the end of the year. If you’re an avid e-book reader then why not give it a try?

FIT AND SAFE FOR WORK?

Job Centre PlusShould people certified as medically unfit for work by doctors be forced back to work by a Government obsessed with reducing the number of welfare claimants? I’m sure the families of the dead and injured from the Glasgow bin lorry tragedy would be the first to asks for more stringent screening of employees to identify medical conditions that could compromise safety of other employees and the general public. People who are genuinely unfit for work, and by implication a risk to both themselves and others, should not be forced back to work prematurely as part of a Government cost saving exercise.

Interesting to see the Government, and in particular the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP), squirm uncomfortably at public pressure to release statistics on the number of individuals who have died shortly after having their welfare benefits cut as part of the controversial policy of sanctioning.

Sanctioning is employed by the DWP to penalise claimants who are late or don’t show for appointments, and for other minor misdemeanours that usually crop up during interviews when a claimant can ‘say the wrong thing’, perhaps being led into doing so by a clever interviewer who may be trying to hit a target aimed at reducing the welfare bill (a DWP whistle-blower has admitted this happens).

It seems unnecessarily cruel and harsh to bully mentally and physically ill people, who have been certified as medically unfit for work, in an attempt to reduce spending on welfare with an across-the-board saving rumoured to be 12%. Harassing and tricking the most vulnerable in society to say the wrong thing in an interview or turn up late for an appointment, smacks of the peevish actions of ideologically motivate right-wing minds. Iain Duncan-Smith (DWP Minister) is one such class warrior, determined to deliver on his party’s crusade to punish the sick, poor and disabled in order to reward the rich.

Is this really acceptable behaviour in a G8 country that boasts of its democracy, freedoms and welfare system for looking after the less fortunate in society? Clearly, the current UK Government wants to distance itself from the last part of that claim. I’ll leave the last word with this press statement doing the rounds on the net:-

27 Aug 2015 — Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, and a member of the work and pensions select committee, hit out at the government’s attempts to block publication of the data (on the number of deaths of sanctioned welfare claimants), saying: “It’s disgusting that this government, the one David Cameron promised would be the most open and transparent, would deliberately try and suppress these figures for so long.

“It was only because the Information Commissioner ordered the government to publish them that we can now start to see the damage Iain Duncan-Smith’s cruel regime is having on thousands of innocent and vulnerable people.

“Duncan-Smith has deliberately tried to stop publication of this information, even telling me in the House of Commons that this data didn’t exist, and that’s why I’ve written to the Prime Minister asking him to investigate if this constitutes a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct which, if it does, he should sack him for it.”

To support the petition to force the Government to release these figures go to:-

https://www.change.org/p/hm-courts-and-tribunal-service-publish-stats-showing-how-many-people-have-died-after-their-benefits-stopped/