This week bigger pics

    Tuesday 2th April 2014 week 149 England

    The law of averages.

    As a default position, I recommend its best to assume all politicians lie, this way you won’t go far wrong. I say this not because they're all dishonest, but because they have an agenda which I very much doubt is anything like yours. For a start they all want more of your money and they'll pretty much say anything to convince you to hand it over, willingly or otherwise.

    Now I got into a lively debate about pensions and in particular are we, or aren’t we, all living longer?

    “Children born today” I was told by a chap, “will live till they are 100”.

    “Really” I said, with as much scepticism as I could muster.

    “You don’t thinks so?” he asked.

    I pointed out that the oldest living man is some wizened up old Chinese dude whose a hundred and sixteen. This means that had we been chatting back in 1898 he could have said exactly the same thing to me then. He wasn't convinced.

    “Well, look at my dad” he went on, “he's 84 and there’s a good chance I'll live till I'm 84. And you can't deny there’s a lot more old people about”.

    Which really is a daft question as I've no idea if there are. Ask a seven year old the very same question and he'll tell you the worlds populated with kids, like him, and adults that are at least 116 years old which, frankly, is as good an answer as one I can come up with. However thanks to the census I do know there’s more people in the UK than there was when I was seven, so it stands to reason there should be more old people but that doesn’t mean we are living longer. But either way, using your ageing Dad as some kind of human yard stick proves bugger all.

    I said, “The government tell us we all living longer simply because they paid experts to tell them that in the first place”. He looked sceptical. I suggested it would be far more meaningful if they used mortality rates within the 60 to 70 age group to calculate pensionable age as do the Dutch, but they won't, and for obvious reasons. Reasons, I've gone into at length before so I'll not repeat them. 

Getting old looks fun, right?

    I then pointed to a possible flaw in way these expert use the data. They simply looked at the average age people died in one period in history, then, comparing it to another period in history, projected the difference into the near future. However if you carry on projecting still further, by 3050 we'll all be living to the rip old age of 366. Its not going to happen because your only taking one half of the equation into account. Its not we are living longer, its just we're not dying quite so young, there’s a difference. There is also an inherent flaw in using averages in the first place. Take for example six people living in a house. Three children aged 1, 2 and 3, mum and dad who are 23 and grandfather whose 62. This means the average age of the household is nineteen! Yet no one is. Try this one. Take average earnings which our government often quotes. Only around 11% of workers actually earn the average, the other 89% don't. Take out the top earners and the average plummets. You can prove, on paper at least, all kinds of weird and wonderful facts with averages and interpret those results to suit your own argument. Averages, in themselves, mean very little. But this hasn't stopped governments from jumping on the statistical prophesy bandwagon in order to push through unpopular policies.

    But I guarantee, like the chap I was talking to, even if you think the argument above sounds like it might have a thread of truth running though it, many readers will still rather believe what governments tells them. Why? I don’t know.

    Without wanting to sound like a total dick, the truth, really is out there.

 

 

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Wednesday 30th April 2014 week 149 England

    Not all, is what it seems.

    Question. How far would you go to promote your own business, especially if it wasn't doing very well?, where would you draw the line? I ask because I had a lesson from........well a master I guess.

    We've spent a few days in Kent and were lucky enough to find a camp site within cycling distance of one of Hazel's brothers. It was ideal. I checked out the reviews and was delighted to see they were all positively glowing. Suitably encouraged I felt confident in making a reservation.

    The reality, however, was all quite different. The access was down an excruciatingly narrow lane. I thought it odd, as I retracted both my side mirrors to negotiate the lane, no one thought to mention this in any of the reviews. The site was simply an open grass field, which is fine, many camp sites are not much more. On arrival we were met by a short chap wearing his, or perhaps his dads demob suit. I mention this because its factual, and not for comedic effect. He also wore an ear ring. Earrings on older men, in my book, look daft, unless of course they are musicians in which case they are obligatory.

    “Let me show you around” he said, which I thought was a little odd since it was just a 'field', not exactly South Fork. I followed him across to one of those small temporary cabins you see seemingly abandoned by the side of road works, a convenience for the builders. “This is the toilet” he said, proudly throwing back the door. A shaft of light illuminated the cobwebs within. Spiders scuttled away. “We provide toilet paper” he said in a reassuring tone before letting the door swing shut. We then walked toward another shed which was a temporary shed back thirty years ago when it was erected but has since taken root.

Our neighbours

    “And here’s the shower” he said. This was not much better, just as grubby and depressing. Next on the tour was 'the lounge'. This turned out to be the cow shed, at least it was once, before the cows were turfed out to make way for two battered vinyl sofas, a table and a fridge. All, sat in the gloom covered in a thin layer of dust. Little else had been done to make it cosy. The cows would have certainly still recognised it.

    “Here you can watch TV”.

    “Really! I said. Which came out a little higher than I had intended. It made me sound, not impressed, just gob smacked. “It erm.... doesn’t appear to have a TV in it” I added by way of explaining my exclamation.

    “No. Right. Well I could put one in if you want me to”. I wondered at this point just how long he thought we were staying. He then shut the cow shed door and the grand tour came to an end. “Now if there’s anything you need”, -what like a bucket and mop I thought to myself- “Just let me know” he said, as he walked away with £45 of my money for a three night stop over.

    I went back to the van a little bemused. Something was amiss. Either this was not the same camp site, or I'd completely misread the reviews, or we had fallen into a worm-hole and slipped back into the 1950's.

    I checked. I reread the reviews. Not one negative word. No words criticism or dissent. No one mentioned the shabbiness nor neglect. I then noted the reviews, of which there were far too many for such a small site, had a similar thread running through them. The same words were used. Even the same phrases, and all written in the same excited tone. It was then the penny dropped, the owner had written them........... himself.

 

 

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 Thursday 1st May 2014 week 149 England

    Your help is required.

    We spent practically the whole of yesterday planning and researching the next leg this odyssey and this legs is going to be our most adventurous yet. -I have to say its one of the fun aspects of doing something like this- I'd roughly worked out a proposed route a few months back that saw us take in twelve countries, eight of which we have never visited. These included Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Switzerland. Montenegro, Greece, Hungary and Bulgaria. However we've hit a wall. Perhaps you might be able to help? In amongst that list you’ve probably spotted the non EU countries, and therein lies our problem. Say what you like about the EU, and plenty do, but when it comes to aimlessly knocking around it in a motor-home or caravan, it's a cake walk.

    In all the countries mentioned, a visa is not required for us British providing we don’t stay any longer than three months, this was encouraging. It was only when I phoned my vehicle Insurance company Saga, did it all go south. They won't cover me while driving in Albania and Montenegro the two non EU countries. The only option we have is to purchase vehicle insurance at the boarders of both countries. The problem, initially, was one of cost. The minimum cover is for a month and no one seems to know how much that's likely to be, even the Albanians themselves. Contact the Albanian embassy and you'll be told its a between 40 and 60 Euros, not an unreasonable amount I think you'll agree. But speak to anyone that’s actually been there, and they'll tell you it can be treble that amount, dependant on whose asking for the cash. Its all a little vague. Email the Montenegro embassy and they won't even bother to answer you.

Albania vehicle technology lead the way in zero percent emissions motoring. that if you don’t count the poop!

    I then went to a couple of international motoring sites looking for answers and have to admit, after reading them, I'm not even sure I want to go. Apparently everyone in Albania speeds, no one pays the slightest attention to speed limits. Apparently they had a speed camera but it was stolen and is now being used by a wedding photography up in the mountains. Its said drivers don't always stop after an accident and pedestrians are apt to wonder into the path of on coming vehicles, 'they rarely look' said one web site. Albania road accident statistics even frighten the statisticians putting them together, they areamong the worse in Europe. -The figures not the statisticians- There are 10k miles of roads of which half have never seen tarmac and street lights are often switched off at night, One site advised; 'don't drive at night as you’ll not see the potholes'. On top of all this drivers have a reputation for being extremely aggressive people. Your informed, should you get into bother with an Albanian motorist, don't take anything they shout and scream at you personally its just there way.     Nice to know.

    Armed with this info we are also now looking at alternate routes, but if there’s anyone out there with more up to date info please drop me a line.

 

 

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     Friday 2nd May 2014 week 149 England

    What's on my mind?

    We think our choices are our own and many are, but some are influenced by others. For example the newspaper you buy. I've mentioned this before, newspapers, through readership analysis, tailor their content to appeal to their readers perceptions of the world. This is done because UK newspaper advertising is worth 2.6 billion a year and advertisers have to know their ads are being seen by their target audience. Editors therefore bias the content of the newspaper, which keeps the readership loyal, and the advertiser money rolling in. It's a sobering thought that had it not been for news media demand for photos of Princess Diana, simply because they sold papers and upped advertising revenue, she might still be alive today.

    Take something as everyday and basic as supermarket shopping. Surely here your choices are your own? Well think on. Your manipulation starts even before you enter the building. Trolley design has been studied and research has suggested consumers tend to buy more when pushing a big trolley. As a consequence hand baskets have actually gotten smaller to discourage people from using them. They suggest there’s quite a complex psychology at work here. It's thought that pushing a huge trolley around with just six items languishing in the bottom might send out the wrong signals. Perhaps you're on a budget? Benefits maybe? or you're not able to feed yourself or the family properly?

Doh!! sooooo embarrising! I never know where to look. 

    Just as you enter, the first thing to assault your senses is the smell. Flowers and fresh bread are often placed near the door. The smell is intended to put us in a positive frame of mind. Studies have shown that, along with babies, flowers, fresh baked bread and brewing coffee are among the top favoured smells. Give shoppers all three out of four and you’ll have then positively drooling.

    The music you hear as you start to amble around is designed to do just that, make you amble. It's not some random choice. It's been carefully selected because research has shown that 'easy listening music', slows people down, they tend not to rush. Play a military two step and you'll have 'em marching out the store within minutes. Interestingly, in fast food restaurants, the opposite is true. They play fast music to get you to eat quicker, depart, and make room for the next customer, sod your digestion.

    The store layout is also designed to influence your choices. They spread the basic everyday items throughout the store. This ensures you'll have to walk past all those tempting luxury, or non essentials or impulse buys.

The way the food is displayed is stage managed. The cereal aisle is a classic example. Healthier cereals are on top. Big bags of oats and bargain cereals are on the bottom and the more expensive big-name brands at eye level. Popular kids TV-advertised cereals are deliberately placed where kids can see them.

Multi-packs are getting bigger. The six pack has been superseded by the twelve pack. We're all familiar with 'buy one get one free'. And yet, its only on out of date items that are sold off at half price. Buying two for one is the same as buy one at half price but it doesn’t shift quantity nor does it fill baskets nor improve your market share. It's been shown the more food we buy, the more we eat. Its partly why, as a nation, we are all getting fatter.

We leave, thinking we've made choices, we have, but just not always our own.

The above only applies if you shop in the big UK chains. In much of Europe the likes of Lidl, Aldi and others are not stigmatised the same way they are in the UK. They are not full of bewildered pensioners nor gaggles of families on low budgets. There, a simple no nonsense approach to the weekly shop is much preferred.

Have a fun weekend........... shopping.

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