andrew's blog

Paint it black

What's the worst thing you've ever done?

Buffy may well come to rue yesterday's antics as her own personal dies horribilis. We don't intend to ever let her forget it.

Yesterday Regan was making herself a cup of tea. She sat down to check her e-mail and rest her feet for a couple of minutes. But what was that sound? Uh oh... silence. Rather like the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, Buffy being quiet is a serious cause for concern.

Our Elizabeth had rooted down to the bottom of the art box and had extracted a washing-up liquid style bottle of black paint from it. She had taken it into the living room, where she had managed to get it open, and then squirt substantially all of the contents over our beloved coffee table. She then stuck her hands into the mess and proceeded to transfer black paint onto most of the surfaces in the living room - her dress, her scooter, the (once) beige carpet, the beige rug...

Fortunately the paint is water-soluble, so Regan was able to clean most of it up after banishing Buffy to our neighbours at No. 69 for half an hour. She did a superb job of cleaning up too. There's still some darkish spots on the carpet, but it doesn't look like the disaster area it was before.

Best of all - after cleaning up the living room, we closed the door to the hall so we could relax and watch some tv. She'd even nailed the back of the door too!

Pictures HERE.

Gated communities are the root of all evil

There's been a heated debate over at The Greenwich Phantom involving erstwhile Greenwich blogger, Inspector Sands. Sands has also picked the topic up on his blog. It's all about gated communities. Rather than sully either of their, rather superior blogs, I thought I'd mess up this one with my views.

I hate gated communities with a vengeance.

The Phantom suggests that gated communities have "no interaction" with the rest of us. The rebuttal from an anonymous gated resident isn't convincing. Yes, people who live in gated communities do sometimes venture into the big bad world outside. But that's not the point.

Gated communities are bad because, for the most part, they restrict the number of interactions with the wider community. And, unfortunately, nearly all the interactions that remain are negative. So you don't get the chance to chat to your neighbour as they put their wheelie bin out. Instead you hear their loud music from an open window behind the gates. Children play behind the gates, rather than with other children in the community. But the families in the affordable housing near us cheerily held a 1am impromptu firework party last October. Quite often the only time you ever knowingly come across a gated resident is when they make you, as a pedestrian, wait for them to drive their car either in or out of the gulag.

Quite simply, the Council should refuse to build any more of these abominations. They are destroying our local community.

Paco Pena's Requiem for the Earth

Last Saturday saw the latest Voicelab performance - a special concert of Paco Pena's Requiem for the Earth. The Requiem is a special piece which mixes flamenco rhythms and themes with the more formal choral tradition, in celebration of the wonder of the Earth. Voicelab Swell, the auditioned choir, got the nod to form part of the 100-strong choir for the concert.

I really enjoyed the Requiem - it's an intriguing mix of exciting flamenco beats and hauntingly beautiful choral music.

Particular highlights were (1) the demented percussionist Rubem Dantas, who is quite obviously a total genius when it comes to rhythms of any sort. At one point he became frustrated with us because we couldn't get it right. So he got up from his cajon, stood in front of us and told us how it went: "can-ta-re, can-ta-re, can-ta-re", all the while his eyes darting back and forth. In later rehearsals we clearly improved because he started turning to us and applauding, including during the actual performance. Great stuff.

And (2) the baritone soloist, Roderick Williams, was simply stunning. A better choice for the part couldn't have been found.

Then things became strange. After the concert, Regan told me that she knew Nati, our Spanish voice coach. It turns out that she works in Greenwich and walks every day from Kidbrooke to Greenwich, passing Regan and the girls as they make their way to school. They've got to recognise each other, and one time Nati gave Katie a book that a friend of hers had published.

Fearing the drunks on the train at that time of night, we decided to brave the riverboat. It was the best idea I've had in ages. We had to get the security guard to unlock the gates (he was very unwilling) but after that we had the boat to ourselves. 25 minutes to the Dome for the three of us for £12 and a superb view of the city (including Tower Bridge opening).

At the Dome, we arrived just as, uh, the Ultimate Fighting Championship finished. And about 2,000 drunk chav skinheads fought their way down to the Underground. Sadly, a couple also found their way onto the bus where they debated, in slurred tones as they chugged down warm Fosters from a can, the finer points of their heroes' savagery.

But, hideous as that might be, it didn't detract from our wonderful evening.

Next Voicelab project is a reprise of the Beethoven for HM the Queen!

There's a review of the Requiem here. They didn't enjoy it as much as I did... ah well.

Greenwich Council pensions review

Greenwich Council has published its financial statements for 2006/2007. They're available here (pdf) if you really want to look at them. So it's time to do a little review of their pensions problem, as I do every year.

The 'good' news is that the net pension liability is only £266 million this year (last year: £300 million). Just to put that figure into perspective, if we were to try to recover this using council tax alone we would need a one-off supplement of about £3,800 (equivalent to a Band D bill of approximately £422 per month). So these are big numbers.

The 'bad' news is that the problem still isn't going away. The improvement of net position of £34 million is actually a £16 million worsening, masked by a £50 million 'improvement' resulting from changes in accounting estimates. So they've reduced the discount rate of liabilities, assumed that assets will return a bit more than last year and, Bob's your uncle, they've created £50 million out of nowhere.

The £34 million worsening is pretty troubling stuff. Current service cost (what employees earned in pension terms as a result of this year's employment) actually exceeded employer contributions by £9.4 million (or, if you prefer, £134 per household). And interest cost (a technical term that is basically the amount by which pension liabilities increased merely as a result of becoming nearer to payment due to a year passing) exceeded return on assets by nearly £4 million (£57 per household). Ideally return on assets would exceed interest cost. The fact that it doesn't means that either there aren't enough assets in the scheme or the Council needs to pay more money in. This is bad.

Even more troubling, settlements & curtailments and payments for past service costs amounted to a further £3.1 million. Most people won't understand what these terms mean so will move on. But bear with me, they're important:

Settlements & curtailments are where employees left the scheme for some reason (e.g. left for another job or were made redundant) and there's no longer a liability to pay. Typically the scheme must give up assets at the same time. The fact that this is a cost means that the Council did badly out of the deal, and we taxpayers will ultimately bear the cost.

Payments for past service costs are where a group of employees received a boost to their pension benefits in respect of work they've already done. It's like a one-time handout to that person, only they didn't have to do any work in return. This was nearly £2 million in the year! Which employee(s) received nearly £2 million of our money, I wonder? Had the Council told them to get lost, we could have had a council tax reduction of nearly £30.

So, another year, another worsening of the pension position. Just when is it going to get any better? At some point, it's clear that council tax payers are going to get tapped to make good the shortfall. It's only fair that the Council should make its own employees pay more towards their gold-plated pensions instead of making us liable for it.

Podcasting

I've entertained myself in the girls' absence by doing a bit of podcasting. Under the gruesome name Aural enema, because frankly that's what it does to your ears, I amuse myself (if nobody else) by the extreme juxtaposition of the sublime and the ridiculous.

If you can see past my own horrific pretension and delusions of grandeur, download episode 1 and episode 2.

Buffy sleep update

A quick update, because we have to go to the Albuquerque Botanical Garden and Aquarium right now!

Buffy slept in her own bed last night and didn't wake up until... ***drum roll*** 6:00am!!

What an amazing kid she is.

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