Category Archives: serious stuff

Thinking Swindon

This time of year has a number of important dates for me, but one that I often overlook is that it was 37 years ago this month that I moved to Swindon. Since then I have lived at two addresses in the town and, for a year, one in Chiseldon so I have spent more than half my life in and around the town. I seem to have put down roots here, especially if I tell you that I have lived in this house for 32 years.

Swindon was part of my life for any years following my earliest memories. I was born about 25 miles away and, although we gradually moved further and further away, our crockery at home was always referred to as having be bought at Swindon market as were one or to other things around the home. In fact my mother still had some of that stuff when she died and it ended up in the recycling centre over at Cheney Manor.

As a family we moved East through Berkshire and Buckinghamshire to Surrey and then to Essex. I continued that migration through the latter county after I left home and on a rough reckoning had lived at 14 addresses by the time that I decided to take the advice, “Go West, young man”. But Swindon had crossed my path on various ways over the years.

In 1972 I got a job at Brown Brothers in one of their Essex locations at a time when the head office had just moved out of the Great Eastern Street site in London. The admin functions had all gone to Swindon and there was regular contact with people down here, (the central stores operation had moved to Wolverton, another railway town that was to become a big part of my working life a decade and a bit later).

Towards the end of the seventies the railway involved me briefly with the town. The first was when on a day out to the West the locomotive pulling our train failed and we were stuck at Swindon waiting for a replacement for long enough to mean that my day out was effectively wasted and I ended up going straight back to Essex after grabbing a bite to eat at my destination. The following year I was on my way back on the train from Bristol when we were stopped at a signal shortly after passing under the M4. As we waited I could see the new housing development of Toothill, little knowing that I would own one off those houses about 7 years hence.

So what bought me to Swindon? By 1984 I was living in North East Essex, but working in London. I had a three hour round trip commute and so was gone from home before the children were up and home after they went to bed. My marriage was dying as we became strangers and so I wanted a job nearer home and there was nothing much that I could find locally at that time, but the firm that I worked for were expanding their Swindon operation and so I threw my hat into the ring.

A job offer came through and so I moved down here, staying initially at the Swandown Guest House on Victoria Hill, but then moving in with a colleague until the sale of my old house and the purchase of the new one came through in about the November. We lived in Toothill and I had about a 30 minute ‘bus ride to work on the Outer Circle with an annual season ticket that cost me £99 (a weekly rail season ticket from home to work at my previous address had been £127).

It was to be the move that launched my career and gave me much more besides, but initially I felt that I had made a dreadful mistake. As is often the case in business the project that I was due to work on was running late and I had little to do. My first two or three weeks were a round of induction sessions and introductions to people in various departments that I would have to work with, most of whom were really too busy to spare me the time. They had their own language of acronyms and such that baffled me and the organisation’s IT department, the London end of which I had just moved out of, seemed to resent me as a deserter of the cause.

One of the only joys that I had was exploring the industrial heritage of the town after work and one one of those walks I happened to look up at the right moment to see Concorde heading out towards the Atlantic, hearing it seconds later. The evening Concorde became my talisman in those lonely days before the family moved down to join me.

Things got better though. We had a bigger house here and we settled in. The children made new friends and I got my first promotion which eased things financially for us. We exchanged our old banger for a relatively new second hand car and started to have a annual holiday. Life was not too bad; West Swindon was not a bad place to live with the Link Centre within walking distance, the big Carrefour supermarket (now ASDA) as almost our corner shop and plenty of ‘buses to get us into and out of what was then a decent town centre. Swindon was a good place to live in and you could often spend most of a Saturday in town.

As the town spread West and North the council seemed to lose the plot. The genius of the fifties and sixties in reinventing the town faded and somehow it all went wrong. It’s odd, because it is thriving town with plenty of employment and new opportunities coming in regularly, yet the town centre has been allowed to decline to a point where it is hard to see how we can ever get it back. Forward Swindon was a catastrophic failure and odd projects have been allowed to proceed with no apparent cohesive plan while the urban sprawl continues into what was, when I moved here, sacred green belt land.

I do appreciate an element of hypocrisy on my part; all three of my Swindon area homes have been built on what was, fifty or so years ago, open fields. It’s what happens and we have to accept it. The population has been allowed to grow out of control and people have a tendency to breed. All off these people want homes and there are not enough to go around so we either have to cull the population or build more houses; guess which one will happen. High-rise is acknowledged to be unpopular for all sorts of reasons and so more of the fields will have to go. At least here we are using a reasonable amount of brownfield space too, but the spacious developments like to one that I live in, built in the 1970s, are a thing of the past.

Times change and the world now is not the same as when I moved here. There is no sense of community, but, from my perspective, there hasn’t been one at any of the places I had lived at down here. We have lost the vibrancy of the town centre though. Out of town superstores, shopping centres and strip malls have taken care of that in the same way as they have in most American towns; why pay to park in town when you can park for free around the edges and the shops there are better?

I still live and work here though, and am happy enough to stay. Seventy is creeping closer and I have no idea how many more years I have on this planet, but I see little likelihood that I will move anywhere else now. The town has been good to me; my career exploded after I moved here, I met the love of my life with whom I have shared 32 happy years now and I am very grateful that things conspired to bring me here.

All in all Swindon is OK. You can get to other parts of the country easily from here, some of the most beautiful countryside is a few minutes drive away and the place keeps growing so there are opportunities for those who live here and for their children. Sure there are negatives, but there are more positives. Forward Swindon may be a thoroughly discredited phrase now, but maybe Go Swindon will do instead.

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are we out?

So we appear to have finally left the EU. After much wasted time, much of which falls to the Remain camp and the intransigence of the EU it seems that we have finally left, but we are not yet out. Ceasing to be a member is the end of that stage of the process, but if we are to truly leave we need to start divesting the UK of as much of the EU cobweb as we can and I look forward to seeing signs of that happening.

For me leaving the EU was never about a dislike of Europe or of foreigners. It was about the shackles of the EC and its desire to control every aspect of human existence. I know that much of the EU regulations were written by us, not just because we are good at that sort of thing, but also because it gave us a chance to make them less ridiculous. But that was only worth doing whilst we were members and stuck with having to do everything by committee.

Now that we are out we can use everything that we want to, but have no need to use the things that we did not want. I look forward to seeing them gone.

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Apparently I am a racist

Over the last week I have seen a few posts on social media, some using identical words, that accuse me of being a racist. Not by any direct action I might have taken, but because I am white and was born back in the nineteen fifties. I have heard this argument more than once over the last six or seven years and I am told that it is taught in school here in the UK. 

My initial response that if someone wants to brand me as a racist, then fine, they are entitled to an opinion and I don’t really care what people think of me, especially those that don’t know me from Adam.  I will not criticise them as individuals, but their opinion is fair game.

The people using this argument do not know me, nor what I think, feel or do, yet they will accuse me of something whilst patronising me by saying that it is not my fault; that I am a victim of circumstance. I have no sorrow in saying that I think that this argument is a load of bollocks, because I am what I am through the choices that I have made, through the way that I have interpreted what I have learned and experienced over the, almost, sixty eight years that I have existed. I am capable of critical thought and am not some brainwashed product unable to understand the world around me. If I am a racist then it is not by accident of birth.

I am appalled at the thought that an officer of the law could kneel on a man’s neck until he was beyond help. I am appalled that this could happen anywhere, let alone in the country that has become my part time home for the last twenty eight years. But there is much else afoot in this world that appals me too and at the heart of most of it is ignorance and intolerance. The argument that I am a racist because of my birth does itself demonstrate both of these traits.

Am I a racist? If you want to believe that I am then go ahead. But if you accuse me of that then where is your evidence? What have I done that gives you the right to make that accusation? The principles of natural justice require you to present your case against me, but if all  you have is a sweeping generalisation that I am a racist because I was born white then I suggest that you need to take a long look at your own attitude and beliefs. 

The people who believe that my contemporaries and I are inherently racist are probably not bad people. I don’t know them all so will not judge. I think that they mean well and want to live in the same sort of tolerant society that I do, but if we are to get there we need to understand each other and work together. 

A fundamental part of the accusation of my racism is that I would have been brought up in an atmosphere of white supremacy. This ignores the fact that my parent’s generation fought a war against, in part, the white supremacy of the Nazis and the yellow supremacy of the Japanese. Far from any belief in white supremacy I was taught that all people were equal and when there was the occasional comment from someone to the contrary it jarred. White supremacy is an obvious illustration of racism, but racism is more than white supremacy. Consider the acts of genocide around the world; yellow skinned people killing other yellow skinned, white on white, black on black, brown on brown. These are all illustrations of racial hatred, even when some are wrapped up in religious banners.

To say that I am a racist because of the environment that I was born into is an interesting argument from an academic point and I understand it, but it ignores much that would contradict it. The world was changing rapidly when I was born and things that reflected attitudes of white supremacy like imperialism were already being rejected. After a second major conflict in a quarter of a century there was a strong movement to a more equal and tolerant society, not just in racial terms, but in all terms. Consider where we are now to the time that I was born into nearly seventy years ago. One thing that you will find is that ignorance and intolerance have not gone away and social media has exposed just how rife they are. Not necessarily just in racism, but generally and sadly that is a facet of human nature. We are complex people and do not all think the same.

My code is simple; I will treat you with kindness and respect regardless of your skin colour, race, religion, sex, sexual leanings, wealth or anything else that might, or might not, differentiate you from me. If that is reciprocated then we will get along fine. If it isn’t then I will do my best to have as little further contact with you as possible. If that makes me a racist in your eyes then so be it. In my eyes it makes you a bit of a bigot.

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Big brand bashing

It seems fashionable to bash the big global brands like Amazon, Costa, McDonalds and so on. Regular screams for the castration of their leaders come riding on the back of accusations of tax avoidance and the like.

Rarely do I see any mention of the fact that these businesses employ thousands who pay taxes and spend their money to prop up our economy. No-one wants to mention the benefits that come to their customers in terms of convenience and access. They all provide a service and contribute to the countries that they operate in to some degree, but it is easier for the media, mainstream and social, to bash them. An irony that, especially when you read people using Facebook to do it when that is another of the brands that generates their ire.

A couple of thoughts on this from the perspective of an independent business man. Firstly I would say that about 90% of the meetings that other independents, and small businesses, have asked me to have been in Starbucks, Costa or Cafe Nero and lunches have generally been in KFC, Pret-a-Manger or one of the other big brand fast food outlets. We use them rather than pay for a meeting room at serviced accommodation or an hotel because we only pay for the food and drink. I have even seen job interviews taking place in these places. We use them because they give s what we need and don’t charge too much.

The other thought, here specifically about Amazon, is that a lot of people selling on Amazon are sole traders or small businesses. I fall into the former category and am very happy for Amazon, and for that matter eBay, to give me a global outlet for my wares and an easy way of extracting payment. They might be the scourge of the traditional High Street, but they prop up a lot of smaller traders and provide an entrepreneurial opportunity that was not there fifteen years or so ago.

Bash them if you want to, but they are succeeding because we use them and we do that because they help us to succeed.

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Changes afoot in the ether

I have a silly number of blogs and websites that exploded fifteen years or so ago when I went freelance. Over time a few have fallen by the wayside and this year I began a serious purge. Why? I am getting older and my life has changed a lot from those early days of being out from under the corporate umbrella. The world around me has changed too and current events will bring another step change; if nothing else they are giving me time to think. Continue reading

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“Bloody foreigners!”

This was after the election before last, the one that saw us saddled with an ineffective coalition, and the remark in the title above was overheard on the ‘bus. It would be easy to disniss it as some casual racism from a couple of middle aged white men, for the pair whose conversation I was listening to fitted the bill in terms of skin colour and appearence, but there was more to it. Continue reading

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Free Willy – a touchy subject?

The operation to transplant a penis has been in the news again recently, and I admit that the thought troubles be a little. Not that I am going to be in the market for any fresh trouser equipment you understand, but more as a general, if I can use the term, point. Continue reading

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are you prepared to sign the UK’s death warrant?

Do you remember watching the Berlin Wall as it was pushed over? Possibly you are too young, but got those of us who knew the Cold War period it was a symbol of hope that so many once proud nations could have the chance to escape from the tyranny of the old Soviet Bloc. But as we rejoiced at the scenes little did we know then that another dark force was gathering pace to subjugate all it could gobble up. Continue reading

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An unpalatable thought

The rise of the Trumpster on the politcal scene in the US has brought the inevitable blast of leftist outrage regarding much of what the man appears to stand for; racist, bigot, bully they scream, but maybe there is something that they are missing. Continue reading

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Erecting a leader

It’s always nice when friends get something that they want, even if it is something that you wouldn’t want yourself, and that is how I feel about the Labour Party leadership erection (the malapropism is deliberate, for my feeling is that there has been a preponderance of posturing pricks, a sort of mini version of the general erection back in May when there were hundreds of them). Continue reading

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