Monday, July 09, 2007


The Diaries

"Tony. It's Gordon. I'm locked in the toilet."
A phone message from Gordon Brown to Tony Blair as they were discussing which one of them should run for the leadership of the Labour party. Blair is quoted as replying: "You're staying there until you agree."

As I reconcile our country being lead by someone who deals with difficult decisions by making a dash for, and seeking refuge from making any in, the loo, I can only gain solace from the scene in Jurassic Park that epitomised the notion that you can run from responsibility for just so long, but ultimately if you choose to hide, the consequences will eventually catch up and bite.

Making Whoopsie

I found myself in an odd, slightly down mood last night. Mainly having watched an eclectic mix of TV (that will do it every time).

First up was the news, with a story on the new Boeing Dreamliner. Pretty much a technological marvel, it will do its job with a lot less impact on the planet than predecessors. Trouble is, a lot of folk were quick to point out, it will probably mean doing pretty much a lot more jobs for the same, slightly less than optimal impact that such craft impose.

Tricky. Certainly better than nothing. For sure a step in the right direction allowing for the fact that flying is a fact of modern consumer life (for now). But... hard to get too excited, especially if... when... we get a bunch of nasty eco-ads telling us how green it is.

Then I watched a Ch5 doco on 'the world's tallest hotel', the Burj al Arab in Dubai. As an ex Civil Engineer, I could only be transfixed as each seemingly impossible construction challenge was identified... and then solved. The sheer creativity and expertise in making something was awesome to behold, and truly envy-making to one who loves to make stuff.

But... even though I was just able to cope with the fact this was little more than a one hour ad for a pretty out-of-my-league section of the hospitality industry, some of the facts of its eco footprint were really hard to ignore, though the programme makers patently did not have this aspect in mind. They were proud that each suite sucks more juice than a small town!

My deep unease at both of these was at the heart of my depression. I have been trained to and am stimulated by making things; have been my whole life. To see something where before there was nothing is a truly great feeling, especially if it is exceptional, and better yet recognised as such.

Yet these two outstanding achievements would now be things I doubt I could feel too proud about being part of, simply because of the impact they have on the future. And it's hard to argue either would be deemed as positive, at least environmentally. And such feelings are almost totally at odds with the natural desire to want to create something new, and/or beautiful and/or useful.

I have boxes full of sketches for things I'd like to try and make real, maybe even make some money out of, but so few could I honestly put my hand on heart and say they would not have an impact on the planet from whose resources they would need to be made, or in being used would not impose a fresh burden.

And that, despite simply being a very small cog in a vast machine that has to expect you gotta do what your gotta do to support a family, is quite difficult to have nagging away in the back of your mind.

I feel the only solution is a version of the Google mantra 'do no harm'. Which is, 'make things better', embracing every aspect of the word. I think such as the RE:tie do that. I'm just hoping there are more ways to tap into our consumer society that can be viable commercially and offer some measure of mitigation.

As a British citizen, do you have a right to a passport?

The answer, under the new super rules regime brought about by various acts of terrorism is, sadly, No!

OK, its not enviro, re:use or re:cycle centric in any way shape or form, but this needs to be exposed, and what better place to start than a blog.

As a British Citizen, under the old rules, you simply had to prove who you were - birth certificate etc., provide some pictures, get someone to act as a referee, cough up a few quid, and there you go, a valid passport acceptable and recognisable across the planet.

Nowadays, under the new 'super rules' which are rabidly enforced by yet another legion of jobs-worths who don't appear to have a single iota of common sense between them, you have to provide whole reams of evidence, navigate a complex circuit of checks and re-checks, then jump through burning hoops whilst whistling dixie backwards, and then, there you go, the document to which you are entitled - your passport. Except, however, when the passport office still says .... No! Because that proof of who you are is not acceptable under the new rules.

"Computer says ...... Noooh." for those of you who are fans of Little Britain.

This is very close to me, very close, because it involves my step-daughter's boyfriend, who just happens to live, for now, whilst they save up towards enough to at least find their own flat, and eventually a first time house, with us. Now Sids (his nickname) is a really decent, honest guy; he works hard, long hours, even at weekends (he's a self employed joiner) , has never been in trouble in his life, and will help anybody out without complaint. He has no criminal record, is not in the least bit interested in politics, and certainly has no extremist views about anything at all. But, because of some ridiculous enforcement of some ill thought out new rules, it looks as if he (plus my step-daughter) is now going to miss out on his holiday, and almost certainly have to write off all of the cost of it.

The saga of his passport application has now been going on for three months or more. All the relevant documentation has been supplied, some several times over now, but he cannot have a passport because a document from his bank, a bank statement clearly showing his (our) address, is NOT regarded as acceptable evidence of who he is and where he lives. Let's pose a riposte to this from a slightly different angle .... are HIS bank going to post HIS personal banking statements to somewhere where HE DOESN'T LIVE? I think not!

The passport office actually wrote to his referee, a local and well-respected but now retired dentist (who is also a good friend of mine) several weeks ago asking him to confirm that Sids' passport application was indeed valid; this he duly did, both verbally and in writing, and so we thought the problem had been overcome. But no, yet more documentary evidence is required - please may we have a letter from your Employer, Doctor, Dentist, Bank or your Commanding Officer [if you are in the Forces], as further evidence of who you are, and where you live.

Sids asked his Doctor - "no, we can't do that because we have known you for only two years". His dentist - he doesn't have one - he cannot afford to go private, and NHS dentists in our area are now scarcer than the proverbial rocking horse droppings! He doesn't have an Employer - he's self-employed. He is not in the forces, so that option is a non-starter, which leaves his bank. So he took time off work to go and see his bank, but they won't do him a letter because they "don't personally know him"!

They fly, supposedly, on Monday next (16th July), but as the situation is now at a total impasse, that looks increasingly unlikely. The 'super rules' require an additional letter which provides proof of identity and of address, the only option he has is his bank, who are not willing to do so, for what are, to me, quite understandable reasons (they know who he is, but not WHO he is, if you get my drift - they don't personally know him). The passport office will not, under any circumstances, move their position even one millimetre.

I fully understand that obtaining a passport needs to be something that incorporates a good deal of checks on identity, but this is now getting ridiculous. They've had his birth certificate, his NI number, his tax references, driving licence, medical cards, referee's letter (plus a second follow up letter); they know all about his family back to great-grandparents and beyond; they know about his height, weight, eye and hair colour, blood type and probably even about his moles and tattoo; they probably even know about his speeding fine from a few years ago; but they won't believe that he is who he is and where he lives until he gets another piece of evidence that he is unable to obtain.

Every other government body apart from the passport office seems to know who he is, and where he currently lives. It would seem that the 'rules' have taken over from common sense in every respect - jobs-worths enforce the rules, there are NO exceptions under any circumstances.

So, if YOU are planning an overseas holiday and do not yet have a British passport, just make sure that:......

-You are NOT self-employed,
-You DO have a dentist,
-You have been with you doctor for AT LEAST two years,
-You have NOT changed address within the last few months,
-You DO personally know your bank manager,

..... because if you don't, you can say goodbye to your holiday; you can write off whatever you've already paid for it - the new super rules enforced by the jobs-worths at the passport office will see to that very efficiently for you; whilst they ensure that any potential evil international terrorists, those just like Sids, and just like YOU, are unable to obtain passports.

And yes, you've guessed it, most travel insurance will NOT pay out if you have to cancel because you cannot obtain a passport - that's your own fault!


Just one little question, but can any one explain this to me? If you are NOT a British citizen, but are an asylum seeker with a criminal record, intent on killing British citizens, like Muktar Ibrahim, the leader of the July 21st suicide bombing attempt (see The Telegraph), how can you get British citizenship and then a passport without any problems?

Addendum 2:
A single telephone call of complaint to HSBC's head office about the refusal of one of their branches to provide a letter in evidence as to who Sids is and where he lives produced an immediate reaction. HSBC's Head Office pretty much instantly overturned the branch's negative decision and a confirmatory evidence letter that should be acceptable to the passport office jobs-worths is now on its way.
Let's hope it arrives in time for Sids to get up to Liverpool and get his passport sorted in time.
Fingers crossed everyone!

Things are not really going too well. This morning, a letter arrived from the bank (HSBC) - apparently Sids & Bex got really excited until they opened it only to find ......... another simple reprinted bank statement showing his (our) address; an exact replica of the document that the passport office jobs-worths have already rejected as unacceptable as 'additional evidence of who he is'. Is the HSBC populated by utterly inept idiots or what? They are not coming out of this saga at all well.

OK, now to bring out the big guns. Heaven help HSBC, but Sids has now gotten his mum on the job. Several calls later, with threats to sue the bank for the loss of their holiday, the HSBC head office people agreed to fax a copy of the requisite letter to our nearest branch (Market Drayton).
Hmmmm .... now why couldn't they have faxed the document directly to the passport office on the morning of the 9/7/2007?

Off the youngsters went to pick up the said letter - only to find that the MD branch do NOT have a fax machine!! More phone calls from a now somewhat violently irate mum, lots of 'fleas in ears', so to speak, and the letter has finally been faxed to a branch in the potteries, where it is being picked up, and taken forthwith, up to the Liverpool passport office.

Let's hope that the passport office jobs-worths pull their fingers out and sort things out asap. Bearing in mind that there is another 24 hour postal strike starting at midnight tonight, I'm still not overtly optimistic that Sids' passport will arrive in time for them to fly off on holiday at 6:00 am monday next.

I'll still cross my fingers! (But they probably don't come anywhere near as 'cross' as Sids' mum is!)


Finally, at 6:00 pm yesterday, after 5 hours at the passport office, Sids finally received his passport. A bit lucky really, as if his original application had not been in before the deadline, he would have fallen foul of the new rule whereby passports will only be posted to applicants. Given the postal strike, it would not have arrived by Saturday.

But, all's well that ends well, and off they will fly on Monday morning.

When the sh*t hits the pan

This doesn't look good: BBC's car show in salt pan storm

For an envirophile, I am often an odd defender of Jeremy Clarkson. But of late, and despite having money and profile and money enough not to need to stray as far into shock jock territory, he has rather persisted in saying some silly things just to keep the ratings up.

Now, it seems, he is party to doing them too.

In an era when conspicuous consumption is beginning to sink in as not necessarily the best plan in the world, for the world, whilst they exist for purchase I can still only defend his and his team's right to do whatever they want in the name of entertainment with ever more stupidly configured lumps of high-velocity tin. In fact, by such excess, it's possible that they may be adding ammo to the cause.

But this doesn't seem the smartest move coming, as it does, on top of the drive through pristine countryside here just to plonk a Land Rover atop an mountaintop.

Following that, you'd reckon they might just be sensitive to such issues, or maybe they thought no one would notice 'out there'.

The only thing that rings a little odd is the use of the word 'accused', which is media speak for 'perfectly legal but worth stirring up to see what sticks'. It is either a conservation area, or it isn't. And if it isn't, then while messing up some pretty scenery isn't that nice a thing to do, sadly there is not much one can do about it.

So I guess the best one get hope for is that it just doesn't look good. Like he would care.