Thursday, 12 March 2015

He's Dead jim.

Leonard Nimoy
Image from Leonard Nimoy@TheRealNimoy
Although it's now been a couple of weeks since the death of Leonard Nimoy, I couldn't let the occasion go unmentioned in my blog.

I am, and always have been, a fan of Star Trek and saw the original concept through it's various incarnations. The original series, now endlessly repeated on various satellite channels, seems embarrassingly dated when viewed through 21st century eyes but at the time, was groundbreaking stuff. 

For a start, it was the only science fiction programme where the spaceships didn't have massive wings bolted to the tail for no apparent reason. The iconic shape of the Enterprise has proved remarkably enduring and exists with only few modifications in the motion picture reboots.

Likewise, Spock has continued to be a constant and secure thread linking all of the various Star Trek spin-offs. It has been commented that Spock was the only character from the original pilot episode to survive into the second pilot and while this is technically true, Leonard Nimoy wasn't the only actor to do so. Majel Barrett (later to become Wife of Gene Roddenberry) who played the part of the unnamed Number One in the first pilot reappeared in the following TV series as Nurse Chapel, then later as Lwaxana Troi in The Next Generation. She also provided the voice for most of the computer systems throughout the various series. 

She was ditched as First Officer as the idea of a woman in a senior position was thought to be unpopular. Strangely enough, this was especially so among female viewers.

I don't plan on making this a biography of Leonard Nimoy as there are any number of these already written by people far more capable than me. His two autobiographies, ""I Am Not Spock", published in 1975 and ""I Am Spock" published in 1995 will tell you much about this very talented individual who also had a very successful career as a film director and photographer.

To close this item, I would just like to mention a couple of things. I don't want to appear in any way disrespectful of Leonard Nimoy by pointing out two incidents which I am sure he would see the funny side of.

Firstly, step forward the Westboro Baptist Church. This is a truly loathsome bunch of bigots who make it their business to, among other things, picket the funerals of US service persons killed while on duty, displaying racist and homophobic banners. They were intending to picket Leonard Nimoy's funeral but no-one would tell them where it was being held.

And, while we are on the subject of loathsome bigots, my old mate Joshua Bonehill-Paine also had something to say about it as well by publishing a Twitter post showing a doctored picture of Spock with a Nazi Jewish yellow star on his Starfleet uniform. I will have more to say about Bonehead later.

eagle heights

I want to mention the most excellent Birds of Prey Centre at Eagle Heights. You can find them at the top of the hill in Lullingstone Lane, Eynsford and they are well worth the visit. 

Recently, there have been a small number of negative comments about them on the Trip Adviser website and I think it's worth setting the record straight.

I have visited a number of times and can say that I always found it to be a brilliant experience. If you visit, don't expect a slick, Disneyesque event. This is a working environment and some of the facilities may seem a bit basic for those more used to commercial entertainment centres but this means that most of the resource is directed at the care of the animals rather than the comfort of visitors. Some people don't seem to like that very much.

As well as the usual displays of flying birds, they provide photography workshops and several opportunities to work with the animals themselves. I did a hawking session where we went out into the local countryside and learned how to fly the birds. It was brilliant. I also had an afternoon session where we were given the opportunity to photograph the birds in settings of our own choosing.

They also regularly visit local schools to give displays and talks about conservation and have successfully reintroduced Buzzards to the local area.

Eagle Heights supports the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured birds and contributes to the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Africa.

You should really make the effort to visit.

The picture on the left shows a Mrs Grump back in 2005 wrestling with a really friendly Harris Hawk; part of the Hawking Day I mentioned earlier.

The Eurovision song contest

The Eurovision Song Contest will soon be upon us again. Sorry about that.

Back in the early 1950s, various schemes were dreamed up to try and reunite a war torn Europe and one of these was the Eurovision Song Contest. As you would expect, it did no such thing and has been plagued by controversy almost from the start with claims of vote rigging, (in 1968, Cliff Richard's entry "Congratulations" was said to have been pushed off the top spot by a scheme rigged by the Franco regime in Spain) and political posturing.

Last year, the whole thing hit rock bottom with the audience booing at a couple of teenage girls singing a song for Russia because they didn't like Vladimir Putin's foreign policies.

Most of the winning entries have sunk without trace along with the artist performing them. To be fair, there have been a few notable successes as well; ABBA seemed to do quite well as I recall.

At one time, the main competition seemed to be who could think up the silliest song title. I seem to recall a comedy sketch (can't remember which show) sending the whole thing up with a panel voting for the song which went "bing bang boom bong" or something like. Having said that, didn't Monty Python do "Bing Tiddle-Tiddle Bong"? I'm sure they did.

Yes they did - here it is

Council tax saga

For the last few years, I have been Mrs Grump's full time carer. She has both rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis which makes her mobility severely limited and means I am responsible for pretty much everything of a domestic nature.

I used to receive Carer's Allowance for this but it all ended in March last year on my 65th birthday. Because I was now claiming retirement pension, I couldn't get Carer's Allowance; it's what's known as an overlapping benefit if you want the technical term and means you can have one or the other but not both. The DSS sent me a very nice letter explaining that they wouldn't be giving me any more money and why.

You can therefore imagine my surprise when I received a council tax and housing benefit award letter with the Carer's Allowance still listed as income. I wrote back to the council pointing out their error and included a copy of the letter from the DSS showing that I was no longer receiving Carer's Allowance.

They however were having none of it and claimed that, 'according to their records', I was receiving this benefit. I had to ask them for a copy of this "record" because if I was supposed to be receiving Carer's Allowance, no-one was telling me.

What I got was a screen print from the Government's CMS computer system. This is an extraordinarily complex programme and dates back to the beginning of time. I mentioned it in an earlier post. It seems the Government want someone to sort it out but nobody knows how it works or what operating system it uses.

Anyway, back to Carer's Allowance. Although I am no longer entitled to receive Carer's Allowance, I still have what's called an underlying entitlement. This means that I don't get any money but I'm still passported into other benefits because of this underlying entitlement. Because the computer system won't do this unless it shows me receiving Carer's Allowance, then that's what it does. This is why the DSS sends out the letter to show that it isn't in payment. I hope you're still with me because it gets complicated a bit later.

Eventually they managed to sort it out but it took many weeks and all I got from the council was a new assessment, no apology making a total fist of it.

I thought that was the end of the matter but no. In January this year I got another letter from the council, this time saying that my pension had increased in October and I hadn't informed them. This created an overpayment of benefit which they wanted me to repay.

My pension doesn't go up in October, it goes up (if at all) in April. Once again, I had to ask for details of where this information was supposed to have come from and once again I got a screen print, this time from revenue and customs.

Some idiot in the council tax benefit office was reading the list of payments the wrong way round and had decided that my payment had increased instead of decreased. Once again, I had to write and explain their error and once again I got another letter in reply with even more incorrect maths on it.

Two or three more letters and a phone call later, they finally admitted their mistake and agreed that the original figure was correct and I didn't owe them anything. This time I even had a really nice letter from Mrs N Edwards who is the Benefits Manager no less, apologising for the confusion.

What really worries me is this. I am pretty savvy when it comes to legal stuff like this; working for the CAB for 10 years and Jobcentre Plus for another 10 means I can understand what all the paperwork means and what the rules are. How many other people are receiving letters like this from Bexley Council demanding money as a result of basic errors and how many of them are paying up assuming the council must know what they are doing?

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