ALEC SALMOND TALKS ON FOOTBALL AND BOOZE

A few days ago I was listening to an interview with Scotland’s First Minister Alec Salmond on Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4, 10 June). The topic – and I was most impressed with what Salmond said – was the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle both alcohol abuse in general and the sectarian violence that’s recently been in the news associated with Scottish football.

On the alcohol question, I was less impressed with interviewer Jenni Murray’s suggestion: “but surely (the classic interviewer’s knee-jerk) the Scottish economy depends on the whisky industry”, or words to that effect. Salmond countered by saying that whisky wasn’t the main issue in Scotland, in his view; his primary concern seemed to be with binge drinking among the young, therefore less to do with whisky and more to do with cut-price supermarket vodka, cider and high-strength beers, as in England.

Drinking north and south of the border

By the way, Salmond said “we drink more per head (10%, was it? I can’t recall) than you do in England, and you drink too much.” That last throwaway line “ … and you drink too much”  I might have ignored, if said by your average teetotal hellfire preacher; but said with a smile (this was radio, but I can tell) by someone as humorous as Salmond is known to be – a man that I’ll wager likes a drink or two himself – it was OK by me. As G K Chesterton said: “humour gets in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling with the door-handle”. Or words to that effect.

Whisky exports

Going back to the health of the whisky industry (financial health, that is): it wasn’t mentioned but I’d always assumed its success was based largely on exports, not on sales in Scotland. I have in fact heard that Venezuelans often claim to drink more Scotch than the Scots.

Domestic violence links

Salmond mentioned the increased incidence of domestic violence connected with both alcohol and football (especially after the combination that occurs after so-called “Old Firm” matches between Celtic and Rangers). He referred to a scheme they have in Scotland to try and address the problem of domestic violence in general; it’s called the Caledonian System.

Questioning this connection, Jenni Murray said (I can’t recall if she might well have prefaced it with “but surely …”) that the organisation Scottish Women’s Aid have stated there is no link between football, alcohol and domestic violence and that it’s purely a matter of attitudes. Salmond disagreed; and from police statistics I’ve read in the past I would have disagreed too, if they’d asked me.

Want to know more?

… about the Caledonian System: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/Equality/violence-women/CaledonianSystem

Michael J MacMahon, Bristol, UK

e-mail michael.43@blueyonder.co.uk

Book: www.back-to-the-black.com

Voice: www.uk.voicespro.com/view.php?uid=358656

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DEBTORS IN DANGER FROM DMP FIRMS, SAYS OFT


A BBC investigation has found that some debt management companies have been holding on to clients’ cash rather than paying it to creditors, The practice has left many debtors thousands of pounds worse off and facing financial ruin.

If a firm goes out of business and client funds have not been kept in a protected account, some or all of the money is likely to be lost and the debtor becomes liable for the shortfall.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has condemned the practice as “totally unacceptable” and has promised a crackdown.

Repossession order

One couple mentioned in the report had to put their house on the market and could face repossession, after responding to a cold-call from a debt management company and taking out a Debt Management Plan or DMP.

That company, Global Debt Solutions, based in Bolton, offered to arrange a repayment plan for £40,000 of credit card debt and loans. However, after having made payments to Global Debt Solutions for several months, the couple found the money was not being handed over to creditors.

Those creditors have successfully taken the couple to court, so they now have County Court Judgements against them. They’ll also have to go to court on their mortgage, so their debt problems have got far worse instead of being solved. It could soon be at a point where they’ll lose their home.

A widespread practice?

Global Debt Solutions, later known as 3 Step Finance, has been shut down by the Insolvency Service, which found that it did not monitor payments properly.

However, it has emerged that other companies have adopted the same tactic of accepting money from people in debt and not passing it on to creditors.

OFT action

A debtor taking out a DMP with a company using this tactic runs a real risk that the company might fail while the funds are in its account.

David Fisher from the Office of Fair Trading is promising action. “We regard the practice as unacceptable,” he warns. “Where we have evidence we will remove a company’s consumer credit licence, which means it cannot operate.

“We will also next month (i.e. June 2011) be issuing stronger rules for the entire sector, which explain what we expect of them.”

That is welcome news but sadly it is already too late for those debtors who are already dealing, or will soon be dealing, with a repossession order for their home.

Conclusion: take impartial advice

I conclude by saying what I always say: before making any important financial decision – including taking out a Debt Management Plan with a commercial company – take advantage of the free and impartial debt advice which is available these days. I stress the word “impartial”, because some advice is advertised as free but is not impartial, i.e. the organisation has a commercial motive for advising a certain course of action.

The advice you’ll get from the three major national charities working in this field – Citizens Advice, National Debtline and Consumer Credit Counselling Services – is indeed both free and impartial.

There are also many similar (i.e. “not-for-profit”) organisations that operate at a local level but check out carefully that they indeed “not-for-profit” before taking their advice. You can also refer to the Resources section of my book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”; there you’ll find contact details for about 50 advice organisations.

 

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

The full BBC story is at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13568152#story_continues_2

My book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, is available on the following retail sites:

Kindle Store: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004PLMAQM

Smashwords store for other e-formats, including .pdf: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/22886

 

DREAM SCHOOL AND REAL SCHOOL

Jamie Oliver’s latest initiative, “Dream School”, sounds interesting, though I admit I haven’t seen any of the programmes yet. His personality, energy and high profile have ensured the involvement of all those “experts”: people with not only exceptional levels of knowledge but also the time to give the 1:1 attention that many “troubled” children inevitably lack at school.

Teenage nightmare rehabilitated?

A couple of days ago, I tweeted about an interview with former “problem pupil” Angelique Knight on Radio 4’s You and Yours. “Dream School rules”, was my conclusion. The findings were unsurprising to me but encouraging. Unless she was no more than an accomplished actor, Angelique had changed in a short time from a teenage nightmare to a motivated young person who now wants to go to university.

“So what?” you might say. Is this just a neat way to get TV ratings? A country mile from what can be achieved in a practical sense? Resource constraints will never allow this kind of thing, or anything like it? As the saying goes, “You might think that; I couldn’t possibly comment” although I do admit to being pretty impressed when I heard that interview with Angelique Knight.

Real-world school on show

I was even more impressed recently when I saw one small snapshot of what a difference good leadership can make in schools. I was staying overnight at a hall of residence at the London School of Economics (LSE, to us Brits) and when I went down to breakfast the dining hall was half-full of schoolchildren on a study trip; it was university vacation time, so they, and I, were taking advantage of the good-value accommodation such halls offer.

These kids were of primary school age; animated, not Ritalin-sedated, but so well-behaved that I admit to thinking (please forgive my former prejudices) that they must be from a fee-paying school. It’s a well-known fact that discipline is an issue / challenge (we don’t say problem anymore, do we?) in many British state-sector schools, even at primary level.

But not all schools. Suddenly I heard an adult voice raised, in a quietly authoritative tone: “Sit down! How dare you embarrass the school by your behaviour!” Silence reigned again. We random adults looked at each other and smiled; this took many of us back to our own schooldays.

Primary school rules

I went over to a table occupied by half a dozen teachers and congratulated them on the kids’ behaviour. One said: “well, these are pretty tired kids.” That’s when I found they were from a state-sector primary: Southill Primary School in Weymouth, Dorset, and I talked briefly to the Deputy Head, the man who had laid (or is it lain?) down the law.

After the kids had left (in an orderly fashion) I noticed the same guy going round and thanking all the dining-hall and kitchen staff. That impressed me too, as it seemed to be consistent: show respect to kids and to adults alike and with luck you get it back.

As I said before, it was only a snapshot; but it showed what can be done, even without Channel 4’s budget and the presence of TV cameras. I don’t know anything about the academic results of Southill Primary School but I’ll bet they are pretty good.

Ideal vs. real

In conclusion: hats off to Southill. It’s inspiring to find out what could be done in an ideal world, through projects like Dream School. It’s even better to see people who seem to be doing it in the real world.

Want to know more?

Southill Primary School: http://www.southill.dorset.sch.uk/index.html

Jamie Oliver’s “Dream School”: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/jamies-dream-school

BAD NEWS SELLS PAPERS: BUT RADIO PROGRAMMES TOO?

Please indulge me, dear reader, if I take a short canter on one of my favourite hobby-horses. We all know that the thing that best sells newspapers (after sex) is bad news. I once listened to a media consultant speaking at a conference here in Bristol, saying: “News is what somebody, somewhere, doesn’t want you to know. Everything else is advertising.”

OK, so newspapers have to be bought or the publisher will go bust. (alongside “bought”, you can now include subscribing to a website pay-wall, in the case of the Times group of papers). If we complain, as I often do, about the relentless sensationalism of which our media is so fond, the remedy is in our own hands: don’t buy that particular paper.

What really gets my goat (Why “goat”? Answers please!) is when the same policy is adopted by the BBC, which, the last time I checked, is funded by licence fees.

The thing that got me going was just a snippet and I am not even 100% sure of the motivation of the presenter in this case … but I can make an educated guess. The subject was, I think, the London Olympics.

Presenter: “what do you think of these recent rule changes?”

Interviewee: “I am sure that the people who are responsible for those rules have made the changes for a good reason, so it’s up to us to get on with it.”

Presenter: “That’s a very diplomatic answer.”

(Presenter’s thought-bubble: “Rats! No controversy? Very disappointing answer.”)

OK, the presenter’s actual response to the answer was spoken softly, in the very polite voice that particular presenter always uses for her most penetrating questions. I could be adding two and two and making 57 … but I doubt it.

THE QUICKENING PACE OF TIME

“Broadcasting House” is one of my favourite radio programmes and I always make time for it. (0900 every Sunday on BBC Radio 4, if you haven’t got into it yet)

Time was a central theme in one of the first items last Sunday, 13 Feb. A character’s obsession with “the quickening pace of time”, as he grows older, is the central theme of a stop-motion film “The Eagleman Stag”, a 9-minute short nominated for a BAFTA in the “short animation” category. The film’s director Mikey Please was interviewed; the BBC website tells me that he is a freelance animator who graduated from the Royal College of Art last year [only last year and winning a BAFTA? Impressive!]. He has directed several music videos and title sequences as well as making his own short films.

By the way, through watching the award ceremony later that day I now know that Mikey’s film won the BAFTA. Do the people at the BBC know something that we don’t know? Was his selection as an interviewee a lucky or a smart choice? Or did the editors at “Broadcasting House” have a time machine?

Alvin Toffler

The quickening pace of time as one gets older is, of course, not a new theme. I remember reading Future Shock and The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler’s remarkable books of 1973 and1981 respectively. Toffler was very interesting on this phenomenon. He suggested that one solution was for retirees to live in enclaves where clocks ran slower. He was totally serious, of course. Although I haven’t retired, I qualify, age-wise; I want to move there now.

An anecdotal, non-scientific illustration of the time-speeding-up phenomenon came from the late Tony Curtis, when interviewed in his 80s.

Interviewer: “Could you give us a thumb-nail sketch of your movie career?”

Curtis: “Well, I arrived in Hollywood as a very young man with very little money. So I checked in to the cheapest motel I could find. I had a shower and put on a clean shirt; then I came down here to meet you.”

Which proves the point rather neatly.

Stop-motion and “The Wind in the Willows”

Back to that interview about animated film “The Eagleman Stag”. Paddy O’Connell, the host of Broadcasting House, said: “from Wallis and Gromit onwards, the UK has a hold on stop-motion”.

I love Wallis and Gromit to bits (and I live in Bristol, where Aardman Animations is based), but I really must dispute the idea that the UK’s hold on stop-motion started with them. Paddy is maybe too young to remember, or he didn’t have young children in the 80s, as I did, but in 1983 there was a wonderful feature film version of “the Wind in the Willows”, followed by more than one TV series. They were produced by Cosgrove Hall and voiced by wonderful British character actors such as David Jason and Michael Hordern. Both the feature film and the TV series were, according to good old Wikipedia, “sometimes misidentified as being filmed in claymation, which is incorrect. The method used by Cosgrove Hall is a stop-motion animation process using scale model sets and pose-able character figurines.”

Best version

A review of the 1983 feature, on Amazon, says: “Before it became a Wallace-and-Gromit ghetto, model animation was pioneered by Cosgrove Hall – and this is arguably their magnum opus. Beautifully produced, lovingly detailed, with a great vocal cast and classy score, it has the nerve to stick closely to the book. As a result it is the best screen version by miles and, in my opinion, likely to remain so.” To which I can only say “hear, hear!”