>Telephone numbers!

>We are all used to hearing these days about the “fat cats” and their inflated salaries and, worse still, their ridiculously huge bonus payments.

Still, this morning’s Today programme set me thinking afresh about this. The boss of Network Rail has announced that he won’t be taking a bonus this year (even though Network Rail is apparently doing well). Hurray, we say!

Last year his bonus was £300,000. Crumbs. But he will be taking another bonus which is based on long-term successes, which last year was £200,000. And his salary? A matter of public record, he says, at £600,000.

Now I know Network Rail is a very big concern, and therefore the responsibility shouldered by the Chief Executive is massive, and these figures are cast into the shade by some we have been hearing about recently. But I can’t shake off the feeling that no-one can possibly be worth that much. After all we are only human. We can only do a certain amount of work in a week. The farmer, 1kool, at his busiest, used to do 80-90 hours most weeks, but that got a bit much once he turned 45. He didn’t have responsibility for a large number of people, but animals are more dependent than people are, for their food, water and shelter. I work 3 days a week in a school, in a support role. I have little responsibility but I still feel compelled to be conscientious in my duties. I don’t take unnecessary sick leave or claim unnecessary expenses, or spend my working hours surfing the net. Even the teachers, who earn up to 3 times what I do, are only taking away less than 10% of the salary of the Network Rail man. And no bonus, unless you count the long holidays.

My point is that even the most conscientious and hard working members of society can only dream of earning a tenth of the figures I heard on the radio this morning. There is only so much any one person can do in a day’s work.

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>Coming home

>Arrived back from holiday yesterday. Unfortunately caught a cold while in Madeira, after being a very healthy puppy all through the winter in England! But at least it only spoilt the last day of the holiday. And the flight back – only 3 hours of purgatory with sinuses popping and ears drumming.

During the small hours of this morning, sitting in front of the fire with a Lemsip drink, I was musing on how little I miss “all of this” when I’m away from home. The things that take up all of my time normally – my work, house, books, computer, internet, family, garden etc. True, I was a little bored at times and turned to books, and when in the throes of the virus on Sunday I really, really wanted to be in my own bed. But in general I don’t miss all the “stuff” of everyday life when I’m on holiday. At 4am my mind was crackling with ideas and plans.

I was determined to get said ideas and plans onto the computer before getting back into my normal life, but normal life has a way of butting in. First, I had to phone in sick to work and send a couple of emails. This meant that I had to open up my work email, which led me to read several messages and reply to 2 urgent ones. Later I would have to logon again to check for a reply to my reply… Then I had to email 3kool about a package that was delivered to us by mistake. This meant opening up my home email account. 65 messages! At least half of them spam or just stuff I didn’t want to read, but you have to check them anyway. And then there are the interesting or funny ones. When you’ve dealt with the rubbish you feel you deserve to read the good ones. Which leads to other good things, and so on.

Between this and the unpacking and washing, it’s now nearly 5pm and I only just got here! And the feeling has gone. I’m no longer fresh and free, but bogged down once again in the detail of everyday life.

The news is another thing I haven’t missed. This is controversial I know, but I think we get numbed by hearing news so frequently – every time we turn on the TV or radio, every hour of every day, the headlines repeated over and over. On holiday we turned the TV on to BBC World some evenings, and that was enough. I probably know as much about what’s been happening in the world as I would have if I’d been at home. Not in as much detail perhaps, and not as much about the UK news, but you soon catch up after a week away. I wonder if it would be better not to listen to “The News” at all, but to get a good newspaper (eg the Guardian) a couple of times a week. I would say every day, but doubt if I’d have time to read it as thoroughly as I would like.

In Madeira we were told that although everything costs about as much as in the rest of Europe, average wages are much lower. 650 euros a month (after tax) was mentioned as an average. No way of corroborating this of course, but no real reason to doubt it either, since so many people are employed in the tourist trade as cleaners, bar staff etc and that doesn’t pay well anywhere. I wondered, if I lived in a place with such a pleasant climate and beautiful landscape, could I be satisfied with much less “stuff” and therefore be content with much less money? I’d like to think so, but human nature being what it is, well, what do you think?

>Current affairs

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So, no election this year, eh? G Brown has not bowed to pressure from the Tories and the press, and is now taking the flack for his decision.
Tories are criticising Brown mercilessly for his decision, and for delaying his decision so long. There is no reason, of course, for an election – no law that says an election must be called just because the party leader has changed. The delay, no doubt, was political in nature – make the announcement at the most opportune moment, and force the other parties to spend their conferences talking about nothing else but the possibility of an election. Also, maybe, an element of keeping options open until the last possible moment…
Did Brown bottle it? Or did he make a considered decision and announce it at the most opportune moment? We know what the opposition parties say, but, well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? If Brown had called an election no doubt they would have put an equally unflattering spin on it.
4Kool (younger daughter) says she will not vote when she turns 18 because “I don’t want to encourage them…”
“Spanish practices”: synonym for being lazy, doing as little as possible in one’s employment; antonym for Protestant work ethic, productivity, efficiency etc
Such practices are being discussed at length in the papers and on the radio this weekend, in connection with the Post Office strike. Some workers claim that they are overworked and have to do extra hours on a regular basis just to get the day’s work done. Others claim that they can knock off early when they finish their rounds, effectively working 4 hours and being paid for 8.
Personally, I know both sorts, even in my own little job. Although we are (allegedly) a team, and we have the same priorities and objectives, one member of the team gets by with as little effort as possible, hardly ever doing her contracted hours, let alone overtime. Although intelligent, she is often dead weight, and we resent this. Another member of the team works hard all day, always looking for the next thing to do, never checking emails or surfing the web, and often working significant amounts of overtime even though we are not paid to do so. He also likes to play the martyr a bit. Yours truly tries hard to tread the middle line, always on time in the morning, doing a little overtime if it means a job will get finished, but making it clear that the contracted hours are enough, and that my outside hours are precious to me.
Question: could “Spanish practices” be equated with the current trend towards a better work-life balance? I frequently read exhortations to “downsize”; to cut one’s working hours and have more quality time; to retire early and spend the kids’ inheritance; or to go freelance and work hours to suit oneself instead of being at the constant beck and call of an employer. How do such ideas square with the traditional English work ethic? Or is it a more sinister idea, implying that the employer is being cheated, or even robbed?
Inheritance tax: Conservatives say they will raise the threshold to £1m! Ridiculous. What an obvious, rabble-rousing, electioneering claim. This has found great favour with the tabloid press of course, but Patrick Collinson for one (in the Guardian yesterday) takes a more considered view. If a rich old man leaves just short of £1m to his “children” who are maybe in their 50s, how does this benefit society? The “children” will invest the money, probably in property, thus taking property even further out of reach of the younger generation. Perhaps personal inheritance limit (as opposed to death duties on the whole estate) would provide an incentive for people to leave their accumulated wealth to their grandchildren, nephews and nieces, dividing it more equally among the population? But there would be a shortfall in the Government’s income all the same, and no doubt this would have to be made up from somewhere.
Still, the Tories’ exaggerated posturing may have the positive effect of making the government think more carefully about inheritance tax thresholds. Wait and see…