Congratulations to Tory controlled Walsall Council

Actually that really should be the EU who’s legislation has managed to drag an area of UK environmental practices into the 20th century* but we’re dealing with the new recycling scheme we’ve got round these parts.

Bit of background. A fortnight ago we got a new wheelie bin. One of those 120 litre ones that is now designated for non-recyclable waste – it’s black btw. The old 240 litre green wheelie bin is now for recyclable waste only and we’re allowed to keep the old green box that was supposed to be for recycling.

Here’s how it should work. The 120 litre bin should be collected on weekly and the 240 litre on a fortnightly basis. All good stuff although I’m curious as to whether the council would have bothered if it weren’t for the EU threatening to impose massive fines on councils but in general terms I like this arrangement as opposed to the previous ‘system’.

Given that Walsall MBC failed to collect my recycling box for the five years I had it and our genuinely positive attitude towards recycling here at Penguin Central I was looking forward to see how the new system would pan out.

A fortnight in and our black bin was collected last week but not the recycling one which is fine because last week we had a couple of bags in it as an overhang of our rubbish that had accumulated before we were able to actually separate everything out. This week we managed to cut our non-recyclables down to a single bag which is pretty good going for a family of four but the recycling bin was getting dangerously close to capacity.

Today’s bin day in our parts and thankfully the recycling bin was emptied. Oddly though, our non-recyclables bin wasn’t. The bin men couldn’t have missed it, it was sitting next to the other bin they emptied so what exactly is all this about? We were promised by my favourite Tory Councillor Rachel Walker who apparently has responsibility for Environment that weekly collections for non-recyclables were guaranteed. If I was in a particularly sarcastic mood I guess I could say this was a case stealth fortnightly collections by the back door but I’m not, they might just have accidentally missed mine.

There is however an important point to this. In a situation where the ability to put out non-recyclables has effectively halved, a missed collection is even more problematic. It is in the end just a good job that we’ve been so good at sorting out our rubbish here which means we’ve still got plenty of space for this week.

That said, I think there should be a little more care taken in how the bins are put back after they’re emptied. The pavements on our road were strewn with bins all over the place this morning which makes me rather glad that I don’t use a wheelchair or motability scooter because I’d have had no chance. It could of course be a clever method of creating temporary chicanes to stop the kids riding their bikes fast on the pavement though.

Well done Tory Walsall council, after 5 years of not collecting my recycling box you’ve managed now not to collect my new non-recycling bin.

*That was deliberate.

It’s official, the LibDem’s control Birmingham City Council

Can’t help a little bit of taking the mickey out of LibDems and in Walsall it isn’t hard but today I had a leaflet come through the door, local elections coming up don’t you know.

I thought I’d take this little snippet out and share it.

Lib-Dem-focus-leaflet-willenhall-south

Now for those not of these parts, a little background. This is from Nadia Fazal, LibDem candidate for my ward, Willenhall South in the forthcoming elections. Nadia’s gets about a bit (political sense) having previously been a member of the Labour Party who wouldn’t elect her to stand, headed off to Respect where they’d let anyone stand but nobody would vote for them and finally she’s ended up as a LibDemmer.

Nadia’s obviously not too hot on her politics, either that or she’s being deliberately misleading but we’ll just take a peek at what she’s saying shall we.

Well, all the stuff about Walsall having the highest council tax, well yes, that’s all correct but what’s this:

“Council tax in Birmingham where the Liberal Democrats are in control has gone up by a below inflation 1.9%”

Now I’ve not been keeping up with things the last week or so due to personal reasons that I’ll write a bit about later but I’m sure I would have noticed mass defections from Labour and the Tories to the LibDems in Birmingham so that they could have taken control of the council.

Ah, that’s right, no, Nadia doesn’t know what she’s talking about, Birmingham would be Tory controlled with a few LibDem bag carriers to make up the numbers.

There’s also this nice little quote:

“where Liberal Democrats have a say in running things, council tax payers get a better deal.”

Nadia’s young, she might not remember but some of us do. When the Tories needed LidDem bag carriers in Walsall a few years back (who were subsequently ditched when the Tories got enough seats to run things on their own) they were so effective in getting a better deal for council tax payers that they forced through an increase of just shy of 20% in one year alone.

Yep, that was a good deal for the council tax payers wasn’t it?

Randy lot them Black Country folk (contains profanity)

Possibly a better description might be desperate but just for some light amusement I was having a little wander through the stats to see how people are arriving at the site from particular search terms on Google and two from the last couple of hours stood out.

First up is:

“fuck partys in dudley”

Which thankfully I’m down at 11th place on Google, safely on the second page and:

“women in willenhall wanting to fuck someone at any age”

which is probably more alarming that I’m first on a Google search for such an eloquent use of wording.

The mind boggles sometimes.

Hacking Walsall Council’s servers

Not literally of course. I’m one of those people who has always sought out knowledge and tries to work things out. Much in the same way that I possess the knowledge and skills to illegally rip DVD’s, I also have also over the years accumulated what could be defined as the slightly darker side of the techie nature. I’m not a hacker per say, nor a cracker either so much in the same way that I possess the knowledge to undertake what are decidedly illegal activities, I simply choose not to because it’s against my own principles.

That said, and one of the reasons I’ve been very busy was that I had something rather complicated to sort out with Walsall MBC the other week that required me to pop into their OneStopShop up at the Civic Centre in Walsall.

I’ll start by saying which will not be a surprise to regular readers that I don’t hold Walsall MBC in particularly high regard. I’ve visited the OneStopShop twice before and on both occasions I’ve been dealt with by a member of staff who really didn’t appear to know what they were doing and subsequent problems that arose after those encounters only went to confirm that. I also find it a bit of a pain that I should have to go all the way up to Walsall to sort these things out because they are too inflexible to sort out the issues any other way but there you go. In time past I could have gone to the Neighbourhood office in Willenhall which is a whopping couple hundred yards walk from the house but since the Tories closed them all down and centralised everything (note to self, don’t believe Tories that talk about communities) now us poor residents of Walsall have to wade our way through the complete mess which passes for the road system around the town.

While I was at the OneStopShop waiting my 38 minutes to be served (yes I did time it) I noticed that they’d got some public terminals for web access so I decided to check them out. They’re a bit pants really. Anything interesting or useful like Google are inaccessible along with it seems most blogs so that probably explains why the computers are sitting there unused while their highly inneficient Pentium 4 processors burn up electricity for no reason. Strangely enough this site isn’t restricted which is strange given how critical I’ve been of the council but there you go.

What I did notice however, being the curious Penguin that I am is the setup of the machines. They’re quite restricted in what you can use on them for obvious reasons but with two glaringly obvious exceptions.

First up, there are various bits of the Window XP operating system running and available which if you know what you’re looking for would provide any would-be hacker/cracker a good starting basis for trying to break into their system. I won’t obviously say what but as my blog is read by a number of people up at yon council I’m sure someone will tip-off the IT bods to have a look.

Secondly, and probably more indicative of the times is the rather easy access to the DOS prompt. Now for those under 30 who are not techie bods you probably won’t remember this but back in the days before all these cute little icons that you click to load stuff there was what’s called the Command Prompt. It’s easily recognisable as a black screen with a little flashing white cursor where you can actually type stuff to tell the computer what to do. I was very amazed to find it easily accessible on the public machine and in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing can be an absolute dream for getting in and causing all kinds of mayhem. Perhaps the techie bods at the council are young and don’t know what it’s for or what it can do, or perhaps they’re just schooled in the click an icon approach of a Windows system but someone tell them that this isn’t really a good idea.

In fact, having the computers set up in such a way really isn’t advisable. I mean have they never heard of ‘dummy terminals’ or hey, they could always be really kicking and up to date and run bloody virtual machines through an entirely different server than leaving their system open to attack like that. Just a thought really, never mind, it is only Walsall Council after all.

Just when you thought it was safe to dip your toe into the blue again

It’s interesting to seen how David Cameron has truly changed his party. Nolonger the heartless uncaring breed of Tories that drove our public services to the brink of collapse throughout the 80′s and 90′s. He’s reassured the British people that it’s safe to vote Tory again. That they care about our communities, our elderly, our young and about worker’s welfare and conditions. Gone are the days when people would have to fear for their job or suffer changing working conditions that make them worse off. It’s great to see that Dave has instilled this caring ethic into his party and as someone who happens to live in a local authority (Walsall) controlled by his party that I have to accept as a cynical old leftie that I was wrong about the Tories. They really have changed and one has to look no further than Walsall Council’s budget for this and the forthcoming years to appreciate the focus and dedication that Tories at the local level have towards delivering top notch public services to us residents of all ages and circumstances.

In fact, I thought I’d share a few of the highlights with you, of course with a bit of commentary and interpretation of my own. Enjoy.

Increase of 10% on all leisure facilities activities:

Yep, that’s 10%, no not in line with inflation. After all, in a Borough that has one of the worst obesity rates in the country, forget about encouraging people to exercise or take part in sports activities, nah lets just try and screw some extra money out of them. After all if people stop going to the leisure centres, we can always claim they’re under-used and shut them in the future saving even more money. Everyone’s a winner eh?

Got a fiver

Apparently the Bank of England is a bit concerned at the lack of shiny new fivers circulating in the economy. The lack of them that is. There’s plenty hauled up in the nations bank vaults but the ones that get exchanged by us commoners are getting increasingly older and on the worn side.

I heard the bank’s response to this that there’s no demand for them so they don’t put them in cash machines anymore.

I have a slighty different analysis of the situation. Fiver’s aren’t getting into circulation because waiting to get them from the cashier is a waste of time. We are often told by those ignorant little muppets on the right that the private sector runs things better. Been to a bank lately? Following mergers and branch closures the queues are long and indicative not of a competitive market but of one dominated by poor and slow service.

People invariably resort to the cash machine, although these are drying up even in towns like Willenhall. Of course cash machine don’t do fivers, they sometimes don’t even do tenners.

Why is this one wonders? Is it because as the banks state, there’s no demand from the public? No, it’s all about money, if you excuse the pun. There’s no fivers because it’s in the bank’s interest for there to be none. Banks know how much money people take out of machines. This doesn’t change that much in terms of actual value. After all it’s the same regulars taking out pretty much the same amounts of money. If however the banks offered fivers in the machines, they’d run out quicker and need to be restocked on a more regular basis. So what do we have? Consumer’s best interests of money grabbing greedy banks cutting back to save money, sorry, that should be make even more money than the obscene amounts they already make.

There is of course one other possibility. The larger the denomination that is only available encourages people to go overdrawn at the end of the month when they’re down to the last few quid and hey presto even more money in bank charges rolling in, of course all in the interests of the consumer as usual.

Walsall Borough election result before the votes have been counted

I’m going to stick my neck out here and do a bit of election result prediction. Feel free to shoot me down should I get things spectacularly wrong but give me credit that at least I’ve got the bottle to put myself up for a potential right drumming.

Just for information I penned this article on April 28th 2007 in the early hours of the morning. I’ll be releasing it around about the close of polls on election day. There may be an hours discrepancy in terms of the time stamp as I can’t be bothered to adjust my sites times to BST but you’ll see it definitely went up before the votes were counted and feel free to save it but I promise not to try and pull a fast one by retro-editing it simply to make myself look good or get out of the shit if I get it spectacularly wrong.

So here’s how I think the make-up of Walsall will look come next Friday.

Tories 32
Labour 21
Independent 1
LibDems 6

Which is actually how it stood before the election.

In fairness it could be anything between:

Tories 34
Labour 18
Independent 2
LibDems 6

and:

Tories 30
Labour 22
Independent 1
LibDems 6

So anyway, for you delectation I give you a quick run down on what’s going to happen in Walsall. It’s by no means exhaustive and of course there’s things I know and factors at work in some cases that I have no wish to put into the public domain for use by other parties against us but just for a bit of fun and for Paul Macmanomy to take the piss out of me when I get it spectacularly wrong here we go:

Birchills Leamore: Lab Hold

This on paper should be one of the safest Labour seats in the borough yet last year the majority over the Tories got down to 80 something (can’t be bothered to look it up). The reason for this was that the Labour Councillor at the time Carol Rose defected to the Tories, strangely enough she did this a week or so after she failed to get selected to stand for Stourbridge in the 2005 General election after she was flaunting her wares as a committed Labour person so she obviously thought the Tories were a better prospect for her future. She’s standing again but against Tim Oliver the current leader of the Labour group she doesn’t stand much of a chance.

Blakenall: Lab Hold

Again another seat that should be one of Labour’s safest in the borough. Complicated by a very active Democratic Labour Party candidate but despite that Labour should hold it. If we don’t then there should be some very serious questions asked.

Bloxwich East: Tory Hold

Labour held this seat last year by seven votes if memory serves me correctly, anyway not more than ten. That was with a local candidate who’s well known. This year, not a chance of picking up this seat, Tories will walk it.

Bloxwich West: Tory Hold

Labour have an excellent local candidate here and former Councillor who works hard in the area. Despite that the Tories have a far superior organisational structure in terms of campaigning in Bloxwich which accounts for them holding five out of the six seats in a town that on paper should be completely Labour and as above, our one seat is very tenuous.

Short Heath: LibDem Hold

I’m going to really stick my neck out here and give the positions of the parties.

1.LibDem
2.BNP
3.Tory
4.Labour

I’m not going to go into the reasons but Labour will get slaughtered in this ward and the BNP will pick up a considerable amount of votes and clearly be second.

Willenhall North: LibDem Hold

Change of candidate for the LibDems here. They’ve put up the bloke who stood in Willenhall South last year who was so committed to us, so much so that he’s buggered off to a nice cushy safe LibDem seat.

Willenhall South: Lab Hold

Much to the contrary of Colin Ross and Paul Macmanomy saying this one’s too close to call I’ll go into numbers and predict at least a 200 Labour majority over the LibDems, Tories coming third and the Democratic Labour Party struggling to get over 100 votes if that. Simple analysis, Labour has the strong local candidate who lives in the ward, works very much on local issues and getting things done for people round here. The LibDems have put up that woman who used to be a member of the Labour Party, then joined Respect and has now ended up with them. Scraping the bottom of the barrel for candidates is putting it mildly.

Aldridge Central South, Aldridge North and Walsall Wood, Streetly, Rushall Shelfield and Pelsall: Tory Hold.

I’ve done these wards together because they make up the constituency of Aldridge Brownhills. It’s plain and simple, the Labour Party is next to non-existent in this bit of the world, we stand no chance of winning anything however you’ll note I left the Brownhills ward out which I’ll do next. The only ward to watch would be Rushall Shelfield, one of the BNP’s two target wards in Walsall. They’ll do well here, almost certainly come second but overturn the Tories? Almost certainly not.

Brownhills: Lab Hold

This one’s very tricky. If I was to play it safe I’d say Tory gain but I think Labour might just hold on. Electorally Brownhills is a funny ward. In the all-up election in 2004 it returned two Tories and one Labour although it was narrow between the second Labour candidate and the second Tory. Labour failed to gain it last year by a very narrow margin despite having an excellent campaign and a hard working candidate. It is also complicated by being one of the two focus wards for the BNP in Walsall that has almost turned it into a three way tie between Tory, Labour and the BNP. The BNP might pick it up but I think that the combination of a well known local Labour candidate who works hard in the ward may just see her through with those extra few ‘personal’ votes that such candidates get.

Pheasey Park Farm: Tory Hold

Nothing much to say, the Tories will win.

Bentley Darlaston North: Lab Hold

A presumed safe Labour seat and with the candidate who both works and campaigns hard in the area there shouldn’t be a problem in winning it.

Darlaston South: Lab Hold

Another ward with a hard working Labour Councillor up for re-election. Probably has the best run campaign of any in the borough. There’s a threat from an Independent, the wife of the current Independent councillor for the ward who won last year for very special reasons but against the Labour candidate combined with her formidable campaigning approach (at least compared to the rest of the Labour campaign in Walsall) this should hopefully be a Labour Hold.

Paddock: Tory Hold

Not much to say. The Tories will hold it.

Palfrey: Tory Hold

Another funny ward. A lot of Muslim community politics goes down in this neck of the woods. Last year it was a Labour gain and potentially could be a gain this year but I doubt it.

Pleck: Labour Hold

Again a bit funny due to some Muslim politics which saw a Muslim Tory elected in the all-up election of 2005 who then defected to Labour and decided not to stand this year so it’s a fresh Labour candidate but someone who’s known very well locally and works hard so he’ll probably get through.

St. Matthews: Tory Hold

I’m biased on this one as the candidate is the one who stood last year in Brownhills. He’s an excellent campaigner and was prior to the 2005 all-up election, the Councillor for this ward. Following the boundary changes this ward changed considerably. To the cries of gerrymandering and such, a large area with a good thousand or so Tory voters got shifted into this ward and effectively wiped Labour out. Is it possible to regain the ward? Sadly probably not and the Labour Group would be all the worse for the lack of the presence of it’s candidate in this ward sitting on the benches.

So there you go. My prediction for Walsall despite all the bad press, investigations, auditors reports (nicely delayed until after the elections), referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service, the background of what amounts to a completely crap Tory run council and I doubt they’ll be any change whatsoever and if anything maybe a Tory gain of one or two.

feel free to take the piss out of me if I get it completely wrong though.

[Update] As it’s polling day I’m going to stick pretty much with the predictions above but with some rather dodgy feelings regarding the Blakenall, Brownhills and Darlaston South wards.

The NHS is awful, we have the worst health service in the world don’t you know…

It’s been a strange week in comparison to normal. My enforced housebound status due to having my toenail removed on Monday has meant I haven’t got out. This has meant I’ve completed lots of jobs (mainly techie) that I’ve been meaning to do for a while and I’ve completely exhausted every one of my RSS feeds in terms of my media consumption.

Every blog I read has been read, every media feed I have has been read, I’ve polished off Zelda the Twilight Princess and gone back through it to find all the hidden stuff, built my Lego Star Destroyer and have found myself at a loose end.

This led me to hunt out some new stuff to consume. I rarely get round to reading the online sections of newspapers, save for the dear old Express and Swastiki for pure frustration at how bad journalism can get but I found myself at the Guardian’s comment is free section. More precisely at this article by Polly Toynbee.

Haven’t read anything by her for years, which may sound odd being a leftie politico type but it’s true. However it made me remember that I’d been planning to write a piece about the impact of consumer society values on expectations of public services. I wasn’t planning on concentrating on the health service in particular but it is a very good example.

I’m not going to reiterate what Polly Toynbee has written, just read her article to get the jist but what struck me most was the comments to her article. I managed to get about half way through before I gave up in despair at the number of people slagging off the NHS, moaning about how much taxes they pay for it or doing down what we have in the UK and comparing it to other countries that have ‘better’ health services.

So I thought I’d share a bit of my own personal experience of the NHS.

I don’t use the health service much, I’ve only ever had one procedure done and short of a few trips to the GP for a bit of professional opinion and the odd bottle of jollop that’s about it. The only procedure I’ve had is the one that took place on Monday to remove my ingrowing big toenail. I visited my GP about five weeks ago because it was painful, he diagnosed it, referred me for the operation that should have been in about four to six weeks so five weeks is pretty much on the money and I had it done. I went back today as the operations are carried out at my local clinic in the town, a walk of about 200 yards to have my dressing changed and that was it. I don’t know how much this procedure cost the NHS nor the cumulative cost of my few visits to the GP over the years but I’d hazard a guess hardly anything compared to the proportion of the taxes that I’ve paid into the system to pay for its running.

The strange thing about this, at least if you are to believe some of the comments on Toynbee’s article is that I’m quite happy about this situation. I am quite happy to pay taxes to run a service that I do not wish to use. I’m happy because I’m not able to predict and control everything in my life. I do not know that one day one the arseholes who speed past my house isn’t going to knock me over and I end up in A&E with the requirement for a lot of treatment. I don’t know if I may suffer from an illness like cancer or suddenly have a heart attack but I do know that I quite like the idea that if I do, then I don’t have to worry too much about it because I won’t have to suddenly fork over thousands of pounds to cover the cost or find out suddenly there’s a clause in my health insurance that “doesn’t cover that condition or illness”. Such as I don’t mind that from my own perspective up till now I’ve paid thousands into the system for other people’s care and treatment, because come the day I may need treatment for something serious, those very same people may be the ones paying in to cover for my treatment. Personally however, I’d be quite happy to pay into the system for the whole of my working life and never have to have had another procedure done other than the one I’ve just had.

There were also numerous comments about waiting times for procedures and of course of a negative nature so I thought I’d add a few examples. I waiting five weeks to have a minor bit of surgery done relating to a condition that caused me minor discomfort but nothing agonising. I’m reminded back to about 16 years ago when a relative of mine had the same condition. He waited over six months for his operation and apparently that was a reasonable time to expect to wait in those days to have an ingrowing toenail removed. I think I quite like the way things are now because despite my condition being a minor discomfort for the period of five weeks, I don’t think I would have fancied it for six months, not even taking into account how the condition can get progressively more painful the longer it is left.

Second example. My mother had a problem with her ear a few months back. She went to the GP who referred her to a specialist at New Cross hospital in Wolverhampton which took about a fortnight. He saw her and asked her if she’d like to come back the following day to have the procedure done. Not sure about how other people might see that, but having the procedure done the next day seems rather a good service by my standards.

I’ll touch on a bit of comparative health provision which always comes up in these arguments usually about why our health service isn’t ‘as good’ as for example the French, German or Nordic ones. I won’t go into the old debate of comparing it to the US system of individual health insurance as it’s been done to death apart from noting that purely from an administrative cost analysis our system wins hands down in terms of efficiency. It’s simple, one form to fill in, if you’re registered as living at an address in the UK you can get an NHS number and that’s about it. You don’t have to pay for treatment at the point of need and whether you’re taken sick in Wolverhampton, Edinburgh or Machynlleth you can get treatment at the nearest hospital without any hassle. I use that example deliberately as you will see in a minute.

Now I will admit to not knowing much about the French health service apart from it’s based on a combined system of people paying for it through taxation and private health insurance. Germany is pretty much the same which I do know a bit more about for obvious reasons. Is it better? Well yes if your measurement of comparison is in terms of the potential wait you may have for things to get done. Perhaps this is part of the national psyche of the Germans? They don’t tend to like to wait for things, something very evident in Mrs Penguin and with their combined state funded and private health insurance system they get a faster service than we do. Of course they pay for it, not only through higher taxes but also having to afford private health policies on top and we are back to the old adage of getting what you pay for. Whatever rubbish is spouted by the right of British politics we have it fairly good in the UK in terms of taxation, both personal and business. What we have is a health service that is effectively done on the cheap because of the conditions under which it is expected to run. Despite its detractors it’s a pretty damn efficient organisation, of course more could be done but given how we pay comparably less for our health service than our near neighbours on the continent we get a pretty good deal.

Moving on to the Nordic model of which I know more about, in particular of the Finnish system having lived there. Theirs is in essence more comparable to ours in that it’s a directly funded for by the tax-payer system unless things have radically changed since I last lived there.

However here’s why I used the example of our own where it doesn’t matter if you’re in Wolverhampton, Edinburgh or Machynlleth when you need treatment. Much as the Finnish health system could be considered better than our own, less waiting times, better facilities etc etc, it’s not a ‘national’ health service. It’s funding comes through local taxation which on one hand is good in terms of being able to tailor treatments to more specific local areas but if for example you live and pay taxes in Tampere and just happen to be visiting Helsinki when your appendix starts to burst and there have been some examples of this. The doctors in Helsinki have been known to ship the patient 120 miles north back to Tampere so that they pick up the cost.

Personally if I happen to be in Sheffield and my appendix starts to burst I’d quite like to be taken to the local hospital and it done as quickly as possible there than be shipped back to Wolverhampton and that of course raises the issue of what is the overriding priority? As much as the Nordic system is very good, it doesn’t preclude the possibility of costs and funding overruling clinical patient care. I’ll just add that there’s actually another type of health service structure in Finland that I haven’t mentioned, that for students which is completely different and funded through membership of the local student union which is compulsory and has to be paid for. I won’t go into too much detail but over there students unions are very much a part of the social welfare structure as opposed to the organisers of piss-ups at universities over here. (that is a deliberately flippant remark for humorous value, yes I know they do some very important student welfare stuff here too before someone complains but in comparison it is nothing to the extent that they do in Finland)

What’s the conclusion? Well much as we would all want our treatment done the next day, it’s quite clear that in Britain people are not willing to fork over the extra money in taxation to pay for it. We have a pretty good and efficient health service that operates on significantly less money than those in France, Germany and the Nordic countries so we can’t really complain that much. We are spending more on the NHS now than we were under the Tories and the improvements in service and significantly lower waiting times are there to see but for some reason people seem not to understand this expecting everything to be done yesterday and of course not willing to cough up the extra cash to achieve this aim. Something for nothing I think that is called and it’s a very childish perspective to take which perhaps is a sad reflection on the society in which we live.

[note] I’d originally titled this article “In pursuit of happiness” and intended to go on to other areas but I’ve decided to keep it more focused on health issues. I’ll do the more general theme another time.

A little bit of self indulgence

I’ve been a bit busy the last few days and last night in particular. Equally today would also have been quite busy as I planned to install some double-glazing, but due to the lack of supply of suitable plugs in Willenhall and deliveries due on Tuesday that job will have to be postponed. The reason I was busy last night was that I installed the latest version of Ubuntu Linux (edgy eft) on my computer, not sure why as the next release (grumpy groundhog) who thinks of these names, is released in April. Suffice to say it’s not as simple as the long term supported release of dapper drake but I was impressed with the startup and shut down times. 1m10 and 21seconds respectively. That on an old Celeron 1Ghz with 512Mb of ram ain’t bad in anyone’s book. (startup also includes the time it took me to log on and type my password of course).

That’s left me with a little time to do a bit of blogging while some DNS settings propagate across the net on a new project. So the subject for today is Google rankings and keyword referrals. Don’t worry, it’s not too techie.

As designing websites is one of the myriad of things that I do, I like to think I’m not so bad at what’s called SEO (search engine optimisation). This is what some web designers consider to be one of the darker arts of the techie but to be honest I’ve never really approached it that way. Yes, I know how to fiddle the system to get a site to the top of Google but I don’t, primarily because it’s cheating and will screw you over in the long-run anyway. I stick by the good practice route of developing well structured websites and a few other nifty but principled ways.

Partly it’s a technical challenge which is always something I’m up for but also a curiosity at what is possible. Now just a note for the first techie to point out I’m not using SEF URL’s, yes I know, there’s a very good reason for it and I’m still not overly convinced they’re as valuable to SEO as some people make out.

As these things interest me, I do tend to keep a close eye on the statistics of my site. Not in the way that self-important little idiots like PratTory do to impress about the vast numbers of people that find their little bits of writing interesting but I’m more interested in keyword searches through (primarily Google) that lead people to this site. BTW, Google ‘prattory’ Google’s got it right on that one.

So for a bit of amusement, here’s a few results from Google (.co.uk version, can vary slightly on other national versions). Some I’ve done a little bit of deliberate targeting on, others are simply accidental or sheer coincidence. All terms are specific, are relevant and true as of today when I double-checked them and I’ve put a bit of commentary in on some of them. I also want to clarify a few things as the last week or so certain people have been arriving at my site through specific search terms and I want to put the record straight.

“political penguin” 1st – Hey it’s the name of the site, I of course deliberately targeted this one, I do after all want people to find my site. I was however quite impressed it hit the no.1 spot within 36 hours of the site going live and hasn’t budged since.

“buying knuckledusters” 2nd – I did one post when I mentioned this, why I’m no.2 I have no idea. There are still an alarming number of people ending up at my site with this search term.

“Walsall MBC” 3rd – Thought this was quite strange when it first cropped up on Google and I’ve been slowly rising ever since. Interesting to think that one of the first impressions people might get of Walsall Council could be through my website. I’m sure that isn’t what all those marketing and PR people up at the council might want.

“Walsall politics/Walsall political” 1st – Quite proud of this one. Not deliberate I promise.

“Willenhall politics/Willenhall political” 1st – Again, same as the last one.

“Wolverhampton politics” 3rd – Given I write hardly anything about Wolverhampton this one is a bit surprising, but there you go. Equally I stand no chance with the term “wolverhampton political” Wolverhampton Uni has a political studies department, they like totally rule.

“deputy leadership contest” 2nd. Another real surprise given how little I’ve written on it, but there you go, not deliberate of course.

“peter francis walsall” 3rd.

OK, that’s the fun over. Here’s why I decided to cover this subject. The last week or so some interesting search terms have been cropping up from some interesting sources. Here’s the rundown.

“Ian Shires” 5th
“Ian Shires libdem” 1st – also works for ‘lib dem’ with a space.
“colin ross libdem” 3rd – also works for ‘lib dem’ as well.
“walsall libdem” 4th
“walsall libdems” 5th

For those who don’t know, Ian Shires is the leader of the Liberal Democrats on Walsall Council and Colin Ross is his assistant who is employed by Walsall Council and whose salary is paid for by the Council Tax payers of Walsall. Now for some reason these search terms have been popping up rather regularly over the last couple of weeks and this made me think I should have a look into it.

After a little digging it appeared that the search term for ‘Ian Shires’ was penned by someone on a Telewest broadband (now Virgin media) connection somewhere in Willenhall. It didn’t show up as the usual server for this side of Willenhall so I’m assuming it came from somewhere in Short Heath or Willenhall North – interesting that. What’s also interesting that they seemed particularly keen to check out everything that I’d written in my LibDem bashing section.

Now to be fair I wouldn’t have mentioned all this were it not for the fact that I’ve been getting more hits the last few days which is highly unusual. Coupled with an anonymous tip off to something going on up at yon council which I’m looking into and the fact that yesterday two of these referrals came directly from Walsall Council’s own webserver.

I guess if I’ve got so many people wanting to know what I’m writing about LibDems in Walsall then I better dig out the archive to keep them happy. Suffice to say, yes, a few things to come when I can put them together and see, I’ve even put this article in the LibDem bashing category so they know where to find it, aren’t I nice?

Being an arsie consumer and a sad day for Willenhall

Two days ago I got a letter from my Building Society (Portman) informing me that following their evaluation period their branch in Willenhall has been earmarked for closure along with branches in Albrighton, Bewdley, Bloxwich, Cradley Heath, Oakengates, Perton, Tettenhall and Wombourne.

This miffed me rather a bit, for two particular reasons.

Firstly, when the merger took place or takeover depending on your view between what was my Building Society (Staffordshire) and Portman we were all assured about the commitment to providing services and this wasn’t as some people expressed the view, a takeover and asset stripping by a bunch of southern arseholes (apologies to any readers from the South of England but such views were expressed).

I’ll admit I voted for the merger on the basis of promises made and perhaps a belief in the higher moral principle of the mutual sector which had been based on previous good experience.

However as it would seem, yes, it has been a takeover by a bunch of southern arseholes who don’t give a stuff about their Staffordshire customers. Notably they have not seen fit to close any branches on their own previous turf, just ours.

Equally now, thanks to their readjustment a nice big office block on the Wolverhampton ring road (the previous headquarters of the Staffordshire) now stands empty so this begs the question about what we as customers actually got out of this deal? Apart from a couple hundred quid sweetener. Personally I’d have preferred not to have the money and keep my local branch open.

Secondly, this means that Willenhall, for the first time in its history (post Building Societies existing of course) will not have a single Building Society in the town. I remember myself a time when there were five but sadly it seems that these days have gone. I could understand if Willenhall was some backwater village with half a dozen houses and a few sheep, but with a population of over 30,000 it’s hardly that.

Building Societies have long been the place where people on lower incomes have been able to save as opposed to banks who aren’t interested in such customers. Sadly this means that these people on low incomes and particularly pensioners will be hit the hardest.

For myself I’ve always been with the Staffordshire as have my parents. They set up my first account with them when I was born to put some money away and so did I with my son. I’ve always saved with them and even though it wasn’t the cheapest option I took out my mortgage with them as I would rather do business with a local company that puts money back into the local community and economy.

So what to do now. Probably a few years ago I would have accepted the situation but as I near 30 I’m increasingly vindictive with my consumer habits. If companies piss me off I simply won’t use them again and take my business elsewhere.

So that’s it, come the end of April when Portman merge with/get taken over by Nationwide, this customer will be treating them with the contempt for which his years of loyalty have been treated and taking the merger money and buggering off to the West Bromwich Building Society. At least they do a lot more community stuff and actually have far better customer service anyway.