Thursday, June 18, 2009


I am trying out three different translators at the moment.

No 1, Yahoo's Babelfish, has a drop-down list and seems efficient, but only has 12 languages. This one is available with flags as an alternative.

No 2, by Google Translate, has flags and 24 languages, and also seems efficient. And it has the advantage of offering a floater (or whatever they are called) with the original text, to read alongside the translation.

No 3, from Widgetbox, has a drop-down list of about 40 languages !!, and takes up the least space (bonus point), but appears the least efficient, as I have not managed to make it translate into German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch or Welsh. I did however get a Latin translation from it, from which I learned that my blog is called NON MORTUUS ETIAMNUNC! in Latin. Sounds impressive, even if it may be rather rough Latin!

I shall be very pleased if anyone cares to try any of them out, and leave an opinion of their relative efficiency and appeal. Eventually I shall have to delete two of them.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Energy bills on line

A year or two ago my lovely son who keeps me and my computer living happily together, did some additional sorting out for me, and transferred my energy and telephone accounts to companies who would charge me less. At the same time I opted for on-line billing, because it seemed a good idea to save some paper, and for paying by direct debit.

I don't think this has been altogether a good thing. The mails drop into my inbox announcing that my bill is ready to be read, but because that means going to their website and logging on, and because as it happens I seem to have a different combination of ID and password for each account, and because I can never remember them, and because payment is automatic so I don't risk being cut off ... (draw a deep breath) ... I tend not to bother looking at them.

Yesterday my carelessness came home to roost. I received a letter (a real space, hard copy letter) announcing that my energy suppliers were going to increase my monthly direct debit by £45 a month, as my account was in debt and my present payment was not enough to cover the amount of electricity and gas "we think you are going to use over the next twelve months". Panic! Stereotypical elderly, confused panic: "Help! I can't understand. I want my son. He'll have to come and sort it out for me. Oh-oh-ohhh!"

But then I pulled myself together and decided it was time to get to understand my energy bills, and to check out whether my consumption had really increased, in spite of having cavity wall insulation done in January. I wasted a lot of time noting down the payments I'd been making over the past couple of years, before realising that I should be checking consumption, rather than charges, which we know have gone up substantially here in the UK. And, to my chagrin, it appeared that my consumption had increased over the previous year.

But had it really? I noted that this latest quarterly bill had been based on an estimated reading, and on the strength of this they were also estimating the amount of energy they thought I would use in the coming year. Not good enough. Definitely not good enough. I would have to take readings myself and post them on line. The trouble is that crouching under the stairs where the meters are, is apt to bring on a spell of dizziness nowadays, and I prefer someone else to do it for me. But this was urgent. Needs must when the devil drives, as they say. I discovered that if I let my typing chair down to its lowest level, and wheeled it through to the hall - (or 'walked' it through like a baby walker!) - I could sit at the right level and only have to bend my head slightly to take the readings with a torch. (I wonder if I could have my meters moved? I bet it would cost a bomb.)

I posted my readings on line, and this morning I got an amended bill, knocking off £85 pounds, and withdrawing the notice that they were going to up my monthly direct debit by £45 a month.

I also discovered that my online account details show my average daily consumption of electricity and gas for the billing period, and also the figures for the same period last year, and it does appear to have gone down not up, which is what I was expecting, after having the insulation done.

So I'm really quite chuffed at the end of the day. And I did need to get to understand the billing system for myself. In future, I shall try to do my own readings each quarter and post them on line.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Schooldays are the happiest... continued

Governor representatives in my Education Authority had a very long-running lobby for improving the clerking arrangements for governing bodies, beginning in 1988 as part of an Education Committee review of the clerking service. They campaigned not only for individual clerks for individual governing bodies, but also for their proper training and support. As so often happens when those fighting for a cause feel that they are not being heard through normal channels, we resorted to special measures. County Councillors attending an education meeting in January 1990 to discuss these issues, were each greeted with a copy of a poem laid on the table in front of them. Whether it was significant in bringing about the desired result we shall never know, but as the author of the work I would like to think that it was. At least it was reprinted in the next issue of the LEA's governors' magazine.

School governors' plea for a proper clerking service

We’ve said it before and we say it again:
We’re ready to learn and we’re willing to train;
We’ll read all the papers and sign on for courses;
But what is the use if we have no resources?

We’ve said it before and we’re saying it now:
We’re learning what’s what and we’re finding out how.
We’re eager to put it to work for our schools,
But to do a good job we must have the right tools.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it with flowers:
The government thinks we should delegate powers
To small sub-committees - but then if we do,
Their meetings and work will need servicing too.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it all day:
We cannot work miracles, try how we may;
We have our own jobs, and our families need us.
Must we do the admin? Will nobody heed us?

We’ve said it before and we want you to hear:
Our voluntary service is costing us dear.
We won’t go on strike, and we don’t want to pack up,
But please! don’t abuse us - do give us the back-up.

We’ve said it before and we’re saying it still:
The way is now clear and we do have the will
To play our full part and square up to the task.
Are the means to this end really too much to ask?

School days are the happiest days ...

Back in 1991, the secondary school of which I was a governor gave a concert, called 'Music Galore', performed by staff, parents and ex-students. Some talented person adorned the programme with this lively cartoon - it was not, however, captioned in the original.

When I got it home the temptation proved too much for me, and I set about identifying each of the characters performing before the curtain here. You will note that I have committed a serious error of political correctness, in that I have named the feet of the fallen character in the middle 'headmaster', when I should of course have written 'headteacher'.

At that time PC was regularly taking me by surprise, perhaps most on the occasion when a staff member said to me: "Oh no, don't ring then, because the phone won't be personned". It took me a double take to realise he meant "manned", and I was on the edge of laughing in his face and causing great offense, when I realised he was serious. He could have said "staffed", which would have worked much better.

I should explain that the DEO was the Divisional Education Officer; our Local Education Authority was divided into divisions, and at the time that I became a governor in the late 1980s, the DEO, on behalf of the Chief Education Officer, took the role of Clerk to all the Governing Bodies in his Division. He more or less ruled the roost where the governing body was concerned, but things were changing.

The government had passed new education acts in 1980 and 1986, governing bodies were becoming more powerful, with much heavier responsibilities, and they were beginning to demand their own individual clerks to help them cope with the extra work. In 1990 our Education Department appointed new Deputy Clerks for the purpose, together with a small budget to enable them to be paid. The DEO was still the top man, but didn't get his own way so often. So the Deputy Clerk in my picture was a very welcome novelty to the school at that time.
[I think that I was actually Chairman of Governors when I made this scurrilous addition to the drawing, but I'm not sure I ever had the courage to show it to anyone else!]