Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Modern Times: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur on March 13, 2013 at 12:27 pm

dinosaurLiving in a different world:

If anyone wants to see how the “other half” lives (or aspires to live, anyway), have a leaf through the “Weekend” supplement that comes with the Citizen each Saturday.

I was having an idle look through a recent issue, as you do, and was suddenly struck by a surreal sense of unreality. After glancing at an article entitled “How to be an English gentleman”, I got on to a piece on winning a “top-to-toe pamper” at a beauty spa in Cheltenham . Moving on, there was an item on improving your skin tone, where to go for a “relaxing detox”, more on other spas that you could visit for a bit more pampering, and where to go for a meal, for that cosy evening out. But don’t forget your credit card!

There’s even a piece on “granny chic” if you feel the urge to “give your home a creative makeover”, and one on where to get hand-crafted place mats.

Who, I wonder, lives in this kind of world? Or is it just wishful thinking? I know that many colour supplements are tinged with unreality – the kind of lifestyle they promote is geared towards attracting the advertisers. But even by such standards as this, the Citizen’s weekend supplement was a bit over the top.

Christmas on tick:

Meanwhile for many families it’s been pay-back time, after borrowing the money to try to make Christmas just a bit special. It’s been estimated that something like one and a half million took out loans from the money sharks in the weeks leading up to the big day. There may be some kids out there who believe that it’s Father Christmas who brings the presents – but it’s Dad and Mum who have to pay for them.

Many poorer families, of course, went to local moneylenders, or applied for “short term” loans from such outfits as the insidious “Wonga”. And now they have to pay it back – with interest. Those who could afford it, it seems, just splashed out with their credit cards or took out overdrafts at their bank..

Moving the poverty goal posts:

It’s been estimated that the Government’s changes in benefit payments could drive up to two million more people into poverty. But there are moves to get round this awkward (for the Government, anyway) statistic.

We could just redefine the definition of what constitutes poverty. It’s all relative, after all – isn’t it? Or why not abolish the notion altogether? That would really brush the problem under the carpet.

But it wouldn’t make it go away. However you describe it, we are becoming a more and more unequal society. More and more families are struggling to make ends meet – or at least having to do without the things in life that others take for granted.

Back in the hungry ‘thirties, when kids were forced to go to school barefoot whilst their parents had to endure the humiliating visits of the “means test man” intent on cutting dole payments to the bone, poverty was all too visible. In those days, local authorities often provided free breakfasts for children coming to school with nothing but a gnawing hunger inside them.

Now, along with food banks and “soup kitchens”, these signs of the ‘thirties are returning. Blackpool has become the first authority to provide free school breakfasts.

To quote: “Council leaders and teachers said that the move was essential to combat growing numbers of children arriving at school hungry and unable to concentrate because their parents could no longer afford to give them breakfast.”

There is now a similar scheme in London, covering some fifty schools.

Playing at trains?

FINALLY, I see that the Department of Transport has received a new bid to take over the franchise of the controversial West Coast railway line.

It comes from a toy train maker based in Folkestone, called “BigJigs”, who offer to run the trains rather more cheaply than others bidders might. But the Department of Transport it seems were not impressed. It questioned the “crashworthiness” of the trains on offer, not to mention the “allocation of space” on the average BigJig train set.



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