Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Record Breaking Cricket

The time has come to respond to pressure from some readers of this blog who were unimpressed by my quick dismissal of England's Ashes chances after the 1st day of play. I was delighted to wake up on day 4 and 5 of the test and hear that England have batted their way back into the match, the series and I was told in every article the history books!

In fact cricket is one of those sports that thrives on records and statistics. It seems that every test has a new record in it. It is true that records keep dull tests interesting! For example Siddle takes a hat-trick against England, but it is also his birthday. So this story becomes that he is the first person every to take a hat-trick on their birthday! Obviously there are lots of records. Each ground, country, wicket and player have their own records. I want to know if there has ever been a test when there hasn't been a new record!

ohh, I may have strayed back into being the pessimistic cricket fan that got me a few comments from the last blog. But hey, to keep my cricket loving readers happy; I will be less hasty in despairing when the morning news is disappointing. I will stay positive, I promise!

The thing about the Ashes in Australia is that due to it taking place overnight you only get to hear the state of the match once a day. I miss the hour to hour, session to session swings of momentum that take place. Actually England are now well placed to do very well in the series. A quick plug for a great cricket blog written by my cousin Will, who never doubted England even after the 3rd day, called Not Another Cricket Blog

Come on England - I knew you could do it! You're the record breaking team!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Strange days.

I joined Mumsnet yesterday! www.mumsnet.com, started 10 years ago and is, judging by others, an influential website. I joined because I wanted to advertise the Christmas Trees, especially in the Beckenham area. But as I joined I felt like an impostor, was I allowed to join a mum's website? It felt a bit too creepy so I opted for using my wife's details (with her permission of course). Time will tell if mumsnet delivers tree sales or not. But so far the new site is going well, it has the 2nd best sales total so far.

But following my entry into the world of mumsnet I went to an Internet safety talk at my son's school. I was again reminded of the strange world of Internet identity. In fact one of the recommendations for young people is that they don't tell anyone about themselves, using a different name and a distorted picture (a Simpson's character for example). So perhaps the way of the Internet is to pretend to be someone you are not.

Talking of someone that you are not - last night I met a man who is rough sleeping in Lewisham and he came to this country aged 9 from an African country. Mother was born in England, father born in Africa. He was taken into care from 12 onwards. But now at age 23 he is not sure if has a right to remain. This means no benefit and no option of housing except through friends. If this story is true it is another example of the strange ways that our society works. People can live here for 14 years, be educated, get care through social services, go to our prisons, have a National Insurance number BUT the person still doesn't know if he has a right to remain. How strange is that!

Thankfully the cricket (England versus Australia) is not at all strange. It has followed the same pattern as many previous tours. How many times do we go into the Ashes tour in Australia with over inflated optimism, only to wake after the first days play to hear that it the same old story - the Aussies are on top!

This evening I am going to a dinner at Lord's Cricket Ground - now it doesn't get stranger than that!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Allen's new house - A Competitive Spirit

I didn't expect to win the Romanian quiz last night so I was delighted to finish in 3rd place (thanks to the rest of the team, including my son). However, I often make new 'competitions' out of ordinary situations I find myself in. Sometimes these are in my mind but often they are out loud, so I obviously make them achievable.

I won the competition against the foxes. They have not returned to the shed, in fact I have not seen them in my garden at all. Perhaps someone took my advice and has hunted them down. Following the fox blog, someone suggested that urinating in the garden gets rid of unwanted foxes but, thankfully, I have not had to resort to these sorts of tactics. (Yet!)

I worked with someone who managed to make the aimless task of shredding paper into a competition. The aim was not to let the machine stop in between putting paper in. In order to achieve this, you had to keep a constant stream of paper entering the machine. Try it; it is not as easy as you might think.

But the new house has created some other competitions. The first is what being a Dad is all about. It goes like this: the children wake up and put on as many lights as they can, I then try to turn them off faster than they can turn them back on again. And the second is that the new house has windows that produce the largest amount of condensation I have ever seen. The game on this one is to see if I can wipe the windows before pools of water appear on the sills.

I am very competitive about the Christmas Tree count and constantly compare us against the other sites. If you want to play, you have to buy a tree first and then look at the Christmas Tree website. The rules against Edinburgh are that we need to reach 10% of their total.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Danny MacAskill - "Way Back Home" - NEW street trials riding short film

Stunning bike stunts

Before I return to the "Changes to the Welfare system" (it takes me a long time) here is a great clip to enjoy which includes both stunning bike stunts and wonderful Scottish scenery.

Although how did they manage to film with such good weather? Amazing the stunts that can pulled off.

Also as I was cycling home, weaving through the traffic, rain falling, people getting in the way I imagined doing a few stunts to speed up the process of getting home...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Changes to the Welfare System part II

The plan is for the universal credit to replace all the current out-of-work benefits and in-work support. Well let me focus on just one aspect of this, the intention to pay this new benefit on a monthly basis. WOW where do I start. I can only start with some negative comments before I try and find something positive about this idea. Here goes.

1. The amount of money people will have in one go. Currently JSA pays £128 per fortnight so a monthly payment at the same rate that means £277 each month. Imagine the damage that can be caused with that much money! Please let's have some common sense and don't do this.

2. The normal budgeting plan of the people I work with is spend all their "pay" within a quick a time as possible. Spend! Spend it so fast that by the end of the day it has all gone. On a fortnightly payment basis there is then only 13 days to endure before the same process happens again.

3. It is claimed that it will bring those on benefit in line with regular payment method of once a month. Most research shows that we are borrowing far more money than we should. There is nothing special about being paid monthly, it doesn't make people sensible about money! If benefit is paid monthly there will be more borrowing which usually causes more arguments (if 'friends' are involved or more room for loan sharks to charge hugely inflated interest levels.)

4. The way that so many find out there is a problem with their claim is when their money does not appear in their account. Once a month means it will be harder to resolve problems that arise. Once every 14 days know the claim is still a live claim, with the changes once every 28/30/31 days a person will find out if there is a problem.

5. Another softener to this idea is to introduce budgeting help. Well there is a clever idea, why hasn't someone thought of that before! Seriously, most people on benefits need help with budgeting and I along with many others have tried to help. If the rest of a persons life is chaotic budgeting help is just a small part of the solution. Ian Duncan Smith is aware of this so I hope that he has enough influence to prevent the government pretending that a simple answer of budgeting advice alone will solve the problems for people on benefit.

And now for some positives

1. Good for loan sharks

2. I presume there are cost savings although with everything being electronic controlled I'm not sure of the extent of the savings.

- Well I'm totally out of positives. Any ideas?

Monday, 15 November 2010

My memory is not what it used to be. Also, my memory is not what it used to be.

This morning I forgot to attend a meeting. Yes, it was in my diary, I just did not remember. But that is nothing compared to what happened yesterday.

I was organising the Feast helpers' meal which followed the morning meetings at King's and someone (obviously an irresponsible person!) had left their car parked in the school car park. [This is where people who have been to either of the 2 morning meetings are meant to park their cars.] So at 1.30pm the car park helpers wanted to leave and because no-one owned up to owning the car they needed to lock the car in overnight. So I announced to the Feast helpers meeting (probably 3 times), "If anyone has a blue Corsa in the car park you must move it, it is going to be locked in!"

I was enjoying my roast dinner when half way through Rebekah turned to me and said, "It's your blue Corsa in the car park!" And, indeed, it was I who was the driver of the blue Corsa. The Feast team thought this was brilliant and probably remember nothing else from the lunchtime training.

The car belongs to my parents who were staying for the weekend and I had used it to get to King's in the morning.

My memory is not what it used to be.

Also, my memory is not what it used to be.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Changes to the Welfare System part I

The news has been dominated by changes to the welfare system. I have so many thoughts I shall have to post a number of blogs.

Before I start I like Ian Duncan Smith. I spoke to him once after he had given a speech that included him describing that he was disillusioned with the effect politician can have, he realised that most politicians live in the Westminster 'glass bubble' and therefore were unable to really change the social injustices in our society. I asked him when did he come to this conclusion expecting him to answer "after I had been party leader" he actually said "before he became party leader". He realised what many of us know, that the hundreds of communities of people offering local help were more effective at really changing lives.

So here is my responses so far to the coalition's welfare changes.

1. I do not get the Big Society concept. I know that it refers to the thousands of smaller charities and community groups doing fantastic work. But whilst during the May election, it provided profile for some groups I am at a loss to know how the coalition is meant to develop 'big society', the obvious answer is resourcing big society, financially and people, but there has been no mention of these things and this is not what i would expect from a conservative government. So whilst promoting big society as the answer to significant public sector job cuts sounds like economic sense to some - why pay someone when volunteers will do it for free - the reality is that big society is never promoted from national profile, it is about local people feeling compassion and responsibility for others. Therefore I don't think government is able to promote the concept. I lead a charity that would be under the 'big society' umbrella and it makes no difference to us. We are still the same, needing good people to give much (time, energy and resources) and striving for financial stability.

2. The Child Benefit change announced about a month ago made a great deal of sense. I remember many years ago Phillipa Stroud, who now works in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) with IDS, explaining how surprised she was that child benefit was available to all. I do not understand why the previous government had not made a similar change to this benefit.

So whilst this change makes sense I fear that it has been implemented in a rushed way like most of the "austerity cuts" and welfare benefit changes . And then when you add the media scrutiny it means that once an announcement is made politicians cannot change their minds, they would fear for their jobs. This is daft because surely public consultation and wisdom in reflection brings a positive balance to planned changes. In this case it is the odd cut off point. If one person in a household is earning over £44K there is no benefit but if 2 earners earn £40K each (i.e. £80K) the household will still get the benefit.

Perhaps the pensioners winter fuel payment should be the next to be linked to need!

More to follow.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Carrying Christmas Trees

The Feast training session happens this Sunday after the 11.30 meeting. This involves a Roast dinner, yes it will be a fabulous dinner followed by the training. We will discuss the delights and challenges of the Feast. There will be opportunity for feedback and ideas for the future. Hopefully the afternoon will be inspiring and fun! We will finish at 3.30pm

We will mention Christmas Trees which now has sales in double figures for SE London, see www.caringchristmastrees.com or as my youngest child called it Carrying Christmas Trees. In fact you can carry Christmas Trees by becoming a volunteer, which means that you either help set up sites or be there at the distribution sites. This is a really fun role and the places will go very quickly so book in today. Please volunteer online at the volunteering page of www.caringchristmastrees.com

And also we will mention that Barclays Bank are going to put some money into the Feast Christmas party. Which is great! Some staff from the bank are coming to King's to run a money skills session on Wednesday 24th 2.00pm-5.00pm which will be a combination of how to training exercises such as budgeting and shopping plus planning how the money will be spent at the Christmas Party. If you would like to be involved in spending Barclays money helping homeless people have a fab Christmas Party please let us know. You can come along to the skills training session or send me an email with your best ideas.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Shoes off if you love the Villa!

I have followed the Villa for many years (I am typing this with a brummie accent) and yesterday I had a birthday treat by getting to see the boys play against Fulham. Craven cottage is a great ground to watch football although early in the 1st half when the ball was hoofed out of the ground by a Fulham defender it became clear that there was only one ball at Craven Cottage. Times are hard even in the West of London. It felt like a few minutes later that someone eventually managed to get the only ball back.

But the most surprising moment of the afternoon, apart from Fulham having a shot in the second half, was when I turned to see the massive Villa support who stood and sang throughout all waving their shoes in the air. This is totally true, hence the "shoes off if you love the Villa" chant. Apart from getting cold feet, football stadiums have come a long way that anyone would brave removing a shoe for fear of standing in all the rubbish fans leave behind. I never saw anyone on the Holte End in the 80's wave their shoe in the air. It was a spectacle with plenty of cameras being used to record it. Just wait for Sepp Blater and FIFA to find some way of banning this sort of behaviour.

Back to the game, 1-0 up at half time - super Marc Albrighton! Villa's dominant second half display lulled us into false euphoria that this was the easiest 3 points until the 94th minute Fulham scored, bubble burst. It felt like a defeat! Gutting, but I'd reconnected with all the passion of being a football fan. Even if I didn't take my shoes off.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

I still feel young!

Today is my 38th birthday. My children think I am very old and those I met at a gathering of the Newfrontiers London Church Leaders thought I was still very young!

I feel young, in fact when I am talking to anyone above the age of roughly 18 I can think that I am the same age as them. Ridiculous obviously but it is the way I think. In fact I find it a shock when I find out afterwards that I am 10, 15 years older than someone I met. And I think many other men do the same thing however I don't think women tend to do the same.

Yesterday I spoke with someone who was the same age as me. He was a Romanian man who was angry. He came to England in 1996 and twice he was caught and sent back to Romania but his third time he was successful. He got into England by climbing under a train getting onto a metal bar. I asked how do you stay on when the train is travelling at high speeds. The answer - He tied himself to the metal bar! He has a tough life, no benefit, limited work and rejection because he is Romanian and no right to remain. What a way to live and then 5 years ago his wife died. No wonder he was angry!

Talking of age and the Feast - it is always a great place to go to feel good for your age because so many people who come to the Feast have abused their bodies and sadly have aged much faster than they should. Hence people are really shocked that I have 4 children and (in their words) look so young. But they are even more shocked when I say I had all 4 children with the same woman!

I am looking forward to being 40 - I often think about what to do to celebrate that milestone. Perhaps a big mountain adventure in Scotland or to have a big joint 40th Birthday Party with Rebekah.

But I am looking forward to the next year, which I am sure will have plenty of adventures of its own!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Heroes and Villains

Yesterday I was a hero. With my 2 youngest children we built a fabulous piece of art. As we began the masterpiece my youngest said "this is my best day ever!!" and followed it by announcing that I was the "best Dad she had ever had" Daughter no.3 was very quick to remind her that I was the only Dad she has got. [Earthly at least]

As I was enjoying the praise, I got thinking about Heroes and Villains, knowing that it wouldn't take long before my daughters thought I wasn't so great. In fact this afternoon, about 24 hours from my moment of being the hero, one of my daughters told me,
"I wish Mummy was here."
"Why is that?" I asked
"Because she knows how to look after us properly!"

So I went from Hero to Villain in 24 hours

I got thinking about my heroes this year. The surgeon who removed the cancerous lump from Rebekah. This was best summed up by son who when he met the surgeon thanked him for saving his Mums life. Other heroes would be those who contributed to us moving house especially those who moved us! Or friends from our campsite who helped us take down our tent after I had damaged my knee and couldn't walk without crutches.

But these are heroic acts and for a passing moment these people are heroes, yet the only one who stands the test of time to be my true hero is Jesus. His heroic acts have daily impact and have no limit, no restrictions. He is the one who who is worthy of my full praise. He will always be my Hero.

Now I guess with a title like this, the more sports minded of you may be thinking I would be talking about the mighty Aston Villa who despite the 0-0 result against the Blues yesterday are still the best team in ... well definitely North Birmingham!

However the game was another reminder that Footballers are not genuine heroes and never will be!