Is holiday Dave really our man of steel?

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THOUSANDS of people signed a petition demanding that David Cameron should be barred re-entering Britain after his holiday in Lanzarote. But he’s back anyway, hauled out of his deckchair by the steel crisis.

The petition said the prime minister presented “a clear and present danger to Britain”. It’s certainly an amusing thought, but really these petitions are in danger of becoming plain silly. I have signed one or two when the cause seemed important, but the trouble is they just keep rolling on, a surfeit of pointless democracy, a ‘have your say’ orgy of internet complaint.

And while the fantasy scenario of seeing Cameron stopped at immigration and told the country didn’t want him back was amusing, this was a frivolous petition.

Perhaps someone should set up another petition demanding that the prime minister stops trying to sort things out and just stay on holiday. Government ministers return from their holidays, no doubt with a great tug of reluctance, because if they stayed on the beach they would be pilloried in the press. They return because to stay would give the appearance of not giving a flying flip-flop for whatever crisis has blown up in their absence.

The big return is all about giving the right impression and seeming to be in control, even when you are not. Nowadays the prime minister could be as in control in Lanzarote or Land’s End as he is in Downing Street; but it gives a poor impression, so back he comes.

Cameron’s business secretary, Sajid Javid, is also scrambling back home from a trade conference in Australia, where his first reaction to Tata Steel’s announcement that it would be selling off British plants was little more than a free-market shrug from his laissez-fair shoulders.

There are a number of reactions to this impending collapse of the steel industry, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn calling for the ailing industry to be brought back into public ownership. If that happened there would certainly be an irony in a Tory government helping to save steel after a Labour government spent billions propping up the banking industry. And it’s fair to wonder if solid steel is not just as important as invisible banking.

Now I can’t claim to understand the ins and outs of the steel industry, although it does seem that we have done less to protect our industry than other countries. This is partly for long historical reasons, and partly because we are tied to the free-market way of thinking.

Maybe that’s the only way to operate nowadays. But the trouble with free markets is that they are free to do as they wish, including ditching a whole country’s steel industry on a spin of the global roulette wheel. Is this a sensible way to conduct ourselves; is this now the only way we know?

A once great industry is struggling towards the fiery precipice, with jobs under threat at the Port Talbot steelworks in south Wales, alongside sites at Rotherham in South Yorkshire, Corby in Northamptonshire and Shotton in Deeside.

The industry has been a molten stew of worry for decades – and it has been getting worse for the past few years and months while this government, like others before it, looks on and dithers.

Steel is symbolic of strength and sturdiness. Britain once led the world in steel and now we are reduced to being the fifth largest producer in the European Union – a sad demotion in the league of steel.

Steel is what you need to get things done and built; there must surely be a rafter or two in George Osborne’s northern powerhouse. The trouble is that steel is expensive and words are cheap, and it is easier to talk up things than it is to produce something; easier to prostrate ourselves before the Chinese and their billions than it is to wonder if China’s habit of dumping cheap steel on the world hasn’t at least in part caused this problem.

On a cheerier footnote, all this does serve David Cameron right. He went on about how people should have their holidays in the flood-hit parts of Britain, and then buggered off to the sun. And now he’s had to fly back from his holiday, which is a shame.

Footnote: Just after this blog was written, Deckchair Dave said nationalisation was not the answer…

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An anxious flip through the pages of our libraries…

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YOU can measure the health of a society in many ways, but I reckon that libraries are a perfect indicator of how well we are functioning.

According to a BBC investigation, almost 8,000 jobs in UK libraries have disappeared in six years – about a quarter of the overall total.

Over that same period, some 15,000 volunteers have been recruited and 343 libraries have closed. In the BBC online report of this story, the children’s author Alan Gibbons says the public library service faces the “greatest crisis in its history”.

The government responded to the report by saying that it “funded the roll-out of Wi-Fi to help libraries adapt”. They might as well have said: “We funded the communal buying of firelighters for a big book bonfire.”

The things government spokespeople come up with at such times are telling, so here is what the Department for Media, Culture and Sport said in the Guardian report of this BBC investigation: “Libraries are cornerstones of their communities and are part of the fabric of our society, so it’s vital they continue to innovate in order to meet the changing demands of those they serve.

“Government is helping libraries to modernise by funding a Wi-Fi roll-out across England that has benefited more than 1,000 libraries and increasing access to digital services and e-lending.”

This is a classic response. First deflect the criticism by praising what is being affected – “Libraries are cornerstones of their communities…” – and then avoid answering the question by throwing in a distraction – “Government is helping libraries to modernise…”.

Now Wi-Fi may be a wonderful thing for a library – it’s certainly pretty useful round our house (apart from that bloody buffering BT TV). But it’s not the life and soul of a library. That is contained in the pages of the books and the educated minds of the librarians.

Ed Vazey, the culture minister, popped up on the TV news to attack local councils for closing libraries – hiding, in other words, behind the usual argument that such cuts are nothing to do with the government. It’s a useful trick, that one – and Mr Vazey pulled it off with shameless aplomb.

The BBC report used the Freedom of Information Act to gather data from 207 authorities responsible for running libraries. This revealed that 343 libraries had closed, 132 mobile services and 207 based in buildings; a further 111 closures are planned this year; and the number of paid staff in libraries fell from 31,977 in 2010 to 24,044 now; and a further 174 libraries have been transferred to community groups, while 50 have been handed to external organisations to run.

Mr Vazey sees libraries as a success story and if you Google his name and ‘library’ you will find lots of quotes about the wonderfulness of libraries. He’s not wrong about that, but are we seeing the inexorable unravelling of libraries? That is the worry here.

In the BBC online report, you can click your local authority to see what has happened, and this showed that no libraries have closed in York. So that at least is encouraging, although the picture is gloomier for Yorkshire as a whole, according to BBC Look North, which reported that the county had the highest rate of closures.

Now I have been to a few libraries in York where people have been kind enough to sit still while I waffle on about books I have written. Bishopthorpe, Copmanthorpe, Tadcaster Road and the main Explore Library have all called on my services, which was kind of them. I have also popped into our local Acomb Explore library and found it to be buzzing with life.

In this household, my wife is the real library user as I’ve always had a thing about owning books. I still have all my university books from studying English literature, although God only knows why. To prove the past existence of a mind; to sniff the yellowed pages of my distant youth?

But I can see that libraries are important, a true measure of a society that is thoughtfully run and takes proper care of its responsibilities. Libraries are liberating and empowering, they open doors – and they let people borrow books about almost anything (at least they do if they’re still open).

All praise to the volunteers who have kept afloat libraries that would otherwise have shut. But I’m with Philip Pullman, author of the bestselling fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, when he says that the library service should not rely on volunteers.

“It is exploiting people’s goodness and willingness to work and so on,” Pullman told BBC Radio Oxford.

“I am in favour of volunteering but relying on volunteers to provide a service that ought to be statutory is not a good policy. What next? Are we going to rely on volunteer teachers because we can’t find new teachers because all the staffing levels in schools are going down?”

Don’t that say, Philip – it will only give them ideas.

All praise to Nicky Morgan for being as annoying as the boys…

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IT occurs to me that I am occasionally sexist as only Tory men get it in the neck. Let’s put that right by having a go at Nicky Morgan.

The education secretary is every bit as irksome as David Cameron, George Osborne, Jeremy Hunt and other assorted Conservative males. So well done to her for sticking up for the sisterhood and proving that Tory women can be just as annoying as the men.

As the public face of the Government’s plan to force all schools in England to become academies, Morgan is high-handed, condescending and bullying.  Although fair play to her, she did have the guts to stand before the conference of the NASUWT teachers’ union and tell them that they would just have to jolly well do what she said – or stay in for detention for the next four years.

Here is what she actually said: “The teaching unions have a choice – spend the next four years doing battle with us and doing down the profession they represent in the process, or stepping up, seizing the opportunity and promise offered by the white paper and helping us to shape the future of the education system.”

Now there is one fly in the angry ointment of my theory. Although Morgan is in charge of education, the academies announcement was actually made in the budget by George Osborne. The chancellor grabbed this one for himself in a telling piece of political theatre, another smoke-and-mirrors conjuring trick among many. Under Osborne the “penny on a pint” budgets of old have become deeply political affairs.

Turning all schools into academies is a hugely important matter, the biggest change in education in decades – and yet it was bundled into the budget. That hardly sounds like the proper time or place to be discussing something so far reaching.

The original aim of academies, as introduced under New Labour, was to boost failing schools. The Coalition government took the idea further – and now the Tories-only administration is ordering all schools to become academies.

It is true that having outstanding heads managing a number of schools might well raise standards. Yet the evidence for the benefits of making all schools academies is contentious. Academies are in themselves neither better nor worse than schools under the control of local authorities; some are better, some are worse. So why the bullying rush?

There are worrying implications here. David Cameron says he wants to ‘free’ schools from the control of local education authorities; yet why are local authorities being shown in this bad light? Many do and have done an excellent job, and many Conservative authorities are among those complaining about the move.

It seems odd for the government to champion devolving power to the regions while at the same time removing regional control of schools, and instead putting education more directly under the control of the government. While also semi-privatising schools so that they are run by academy chains. The long-term danger here is that these schools will in the end be in essence private schools.

Nicky Morgan has an answer for this. It’s an annoying answer so don’t splutter your porridge. She says it is the role of authorities to attract businesses to their area – and attracting academy chains will be just the same. So she is already seeing schools as businesses. That ought to set the end of lesson alarm bell ringing.

In case you have forgotten, the government earlier indulged in an expensive and harmful restructuring of the NHS. Once again ideology and a desire for another big-fix structural reform have put stars in their eyes. And with stars in your eyes, you can’t see where you are going.

Incidentally – or perhaps not so incidentally – the Perry Beeches academy trust in Birmingham is to have its five academies and free schools handed over to a new academy trust after a critical investigation by the Education Funding Agency.

This found financial shortcomings at Perry Beeches, including, according to the Guardian, “third-party payments made to the chief executive, Liam Nolan, on top of his £120,000 salary as executive head teacher”.

You might not be surprised to learn that David Cameron and former education secretary Michael Gove in the past praised the Perry Beeches academies to the skies.

A sorry tale of technology anxiety, as told by an idiot…

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HAVE laptop will travel – don’t have laptop will panic.

On Good Friday everything on my ledge threatened to blow away in the wind. It is not impossible that stupidity had something to do with it. Or technology anxiety. That and being a bit of an idiot.

After writing my blog on Friday, my anti-virus software stopped me from publishing. An echoing phone call to India followed and my machine was taken over remotely as someone in Delhi or wherever lifted the bonnet of the firewall. After that everything was back to normal.

Later a warning came up, and I won’t go into the details because they are boring and anyway I didn’t fully understand. But some hostile or intrusive software appeared to have wormed its way into my laptop.

More calls to India – and an offer to put everything right for £140. End of call to India. I then phoned the company who protect this laptop for a price. “You need to reinstall your computer,” they said.

Outside the sun was shining, my wife was lost in the soil, and I was getting in a fury of uselessness and anxiety. “Won’t I lose the lot – there are books on there and everything?”

“No, it will be fine – you can choose to save all your documents. Afterwards you will have to reinstall some programmes. It’s very easy and we’ll send you an email.”

So I did the necessary and my laptop shut down for ninety minutes or so while Windows reinstalled itself. I paced about, prowling up to the screen and away again, and sat in the sunshine fretting.

My plan for the day had been simple. Sit in the garden for an hour or so and then write: the first had been achieved, the second was disappearing fast.

Eventually the laptop unseized and I had a look. My documents were all still there: a ‘hoo’ and a ‘ray’ to that. Various programmes were missing, including the anti-virus bouncer – “You’re not going in there dressed like that, sunshine” – and Office.

I needed a code for both of these and tore the house apart, and drove my wife to distraction, seeking the laptop box and the receipt. Eventually I found the receipt but not the box,which contained cards with the necessary codes. Every corner of the house was taken apart, along with a few roof tiles. But no box.

Next I needed to read that email, but my two email services had disappeared. Without any visiting offspring to help, I had to find them again – and everything else that had gone missing, taking their passwords with them. This wasted another hour or two; outside the sun was still shining.

I worked out how to re-do the anti-virus package eventually, by tracking down the original email, but there was still Office to reinstall. The code on the receipt didn’t unlock Office, so I tore the house apart some more, then gave up for the day.

After an evening of muttering – “I’ve looked everywhere for that box” – my wife wondered in the morning if I’d looked under our bed. Of course I had – what sort of an idiot did she take me for? Oh, I see: that sort of an idiot, for there it was, lurking in the dust like a cat playing hide-and-seek.

Office reinstalled, I went to check my emails and my work/writing email address was now blank. The lot had gone. Another phone call, another long wait for a reply. Then I was told how to find my original email address.

You will be glad to hear that everything is back in place, apart from those things I have forgotten. And apart from a marble or two that rolled away with a clunk. I am back at my laptop and the world is humming on its axis again. Or something like that.

Good and bad responses to Brussels…

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MATTHEW Doyle of Croydon in South London became instantly notorious earlier this week following the atrocity in Brussels. How this happened is a lesson for our times.

Doyle allegedly claimed on Twitter than he had confronted a Muslim woman to ask her to “explain Brussels” – and that ‘allegedly’ is in there because he has now been charged under the Public Order Act.

He is accused of posting allegedly racist comments and will appear in court tomorrow.

The Metropolitan police said the 46-year-old had “been charged under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986; publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred”.

Doyle is a partner at a talent and PR agency, and so presumably knows about the ins and outs of publicity; he certainly generated a lot for himself.

There are many possible reactions to the horror of what happened in Brussels – and happened four months earlier in Paris, and as happens somewhere in the world almost every day, sometimes without us even noticing.

The reaction that seems the most powerful, the most plangent lies in the simple displays of respect, the chalked comments in the street, the candles and other displays in memory of those who died. It is hard not to be moved by these makeshift shrines, or by the quiet dignity of those who light a candle or leave a message.

True, we didn’t used to carry on like that, and such displays have been ‘blamed’ on the Diana effect, although that is a while ago. Perhaps that is just the way we are now.

Set against such communal heartbreak – and what happened in Brussels was truly heart-breaking – is the non-stop splurge of social media, some of it informative and very affecting; some of it just plain idiotic and hateful.

The informative side of social media is a positive in our lives, I’d say; the rolling reports on Facebook from friends or acquaintances in Brussels brought home what was happening, and let people know they were unharmed.

So that’s the good. The bad lies in the banal and the ridiculous, such as a man allegedly asking a Muslim woman to “explain” Brussels, or any other micro-brained display of ignorance. People who go on Facebook and Twitter and the like to splurge out hatred and stupidity are the worst sort of modern fool, but we seem to be stuck with this now. Once they would have mouthed off in the pub or to their loved ones; now they have a platform and can project outwards, spraying the world with their views.

Another aspect to this is that social media has apparently removed all trace of emotional reticence: no longer is it enough to shed a quiet tear in front of the TV news – unless you emote publicly you are somehow seen as not caring.

I still find this a puzzle, because surely for every well-meaning person turning their Facebook picture into the Belgian or French flag, there is someone else who keeps their sorrow to themselves. Sometimes it seems we confuse having a feeling with having to tell everyone about it on Facebook.

Then there is the political and media reaction to consider. Naturally enough, such attacks produce panic and paranoia from politicians who immediately talk of war – and in doing so help give the twisted terrorists exactly the publicity they want, backed up by sensationalist TV and newspaper coverage.

None of this is surprising, in the sense that something horribly sensational had happened – yet the most powerful defence against militants who wish to upend our lives is to carry on living as we have always done, not to change in response to their ‘demands’.

In his Guardian column on this topic, former Times editor Simon Jenkins provides an interesting quote from the Belfast academic Richard English in his manual Terrorism: How To Respond. He writes that English “defines the threat to democracy as not the ‘limited danger’ of death and destruction. It is the danger ‘of provoking ill-judged, extravagant and counterproductive state responses’”.

Something to remember this week.

Good and bad responses to Brussels…

MATTHEW Doyle of Croydon in South London became instantly notorious earlier this week following the atrocity in Brussels. How this happened is a lesson for our times.

Doyle allegedly claimed on Twitter than he had confronted a Muslim woman to ask her to “explain Brussels” – and that ‘allegedly’ is in there because he has now been charged under the Public Order Act.

He is accused of posting allegedly racist comments and will appear in court tomorrow.

The Metropolitan police said the 46-year-old had “been charged under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986; publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred”.

Doyle is a partner at a talent and PR agency, and so presumably knows about the ins and outs of publicity; he certainly generated a lot for himself.

There are many possible reactions to the horror of what happened in Brussels – and happened four months earlier in Paris, and as happens somewhere in the world almost every day, sometimes without us even noticing.

The reaction that seems the most powerful, the most plangent lies in the simple displays of respect, the chalked comments in the street, the candles and other displays in memory of those who died. It is hard not to be moved by these makeshift shrines, or by the quiet dignity of those who light a candle or leave a message.

True, we didn’t used to carry on like that, and such displays have been ‘blamed’ on the Diana effect, although that is a while ago. Perhaps that is just the way we are now.

Set against such communal heartbreak – and what happened in Brussels was truly heart-breaking – is the non-stop splurge of social media, some of it informative and very affecting; some of it just plain idiotic and hateful.

The informative side of social media is a positive in our lives, I’d say; the rolling reports on Facebook from friends or acquaintances in Brussels brought home what was happening, and let people know they were unharmed.

So that’s the good. The bad lies in the banal and the ridiculous, such as a man allegedly asking a Muslim woman to “explain” Brussels, or any other micro-brained display of ignorance. People who go on Facebook and Twitter and the like to splurge out hatred and ignorance are the worst sort of modern fool, but we seem to be stuck with this now. Once they would have mouthed off in the pub or to their loved ones; now they have a platform and can project outwards, spraying the world with their views.

Another aspect to this is that social media has apparently removed all trace of emotional reticence: no longer is it enough to shed a quiet tear in front of the TV news – unless you emote publicly you are somehow seen as not caring.

I still find this a puzzle, because surely for every well-meaning person turning their Facebook picture into the Belgian or French flag, there is someone else who keeps their sorrow to themselves. Sometimes it seems we confuse having a feeling with having to tell everyone about it on Facebook.

Then there is the political and media reaction to consider. Naturally enough, such attacks produce panic and paranoia from politicians who immediately talk of war – and in doing so help give the twisted terrorists exactly the publicity they want, backed up by sensationalist TV and newspaper coverage.

None of this is surprising, in the sense that something horribly sensational had happened – yet the most powerful defence against militants who wish to upend our lives is to carry on living as we have always done, not to change in response to their ‘demands’.

In his Guardian column on this topic, former Times editor Simon Jenkins provides an interesting quote from the Belfast academic Richard English in his manual Terrorism: How To Respond. He writes that English “defines the threat to democracy as not the ‘limited danger’ of death and destruction. It is the danger ‘of provoking ill-judged, extravagant and counterproductive state responses’”.

Something to remember this week.

Good and bad responses to what happenedin Brussels…

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

MATTHEW Doyle of Croydon in South London became instantly notorious earlier this week following the atrocity in Brussels. How this happened is a lesson for our times.

Doyle allegedly claimed on Twitter than he had confronted a Muslim woman to ask her to “explain Brussels” – and that ‘allegedly’ is in there because he has now been charged under the Public Order Act.

He is accused of posting allegedly racist comments and will appear in court tomorrow.

The Metropolitan police said the 46-year-old had “been charged under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986; publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred”.

Doyle is a partner at a talent and PR agency, and so presumably knows about the ins and outs of publicity; he certainly generated a lot for himself.

There are many possible reactions to the horror of what happened in Brussels – and happened four months earlier in Paris, and as happens somewhere in the world almost every day, sometimes without us even noticing.

The reaction that seems the most powerful, the most plangent lies in the simple displays of respect, the chalked comments in the street, the candles and other displays in memory of those who died. It is hard not to be moved by these makeshift shrines, or by the quiet dignity of those who light a candle or leave a message.

True, we didn’t used to carry on like that, and such displays have been ‘blamed’ on the Diana effect, although that is a while ago. Perhaps that is just the way we are now.

Set against such communal heartbreak – and what happened in Brussels was truly heart-breaking – is the non-stop splurge of social media, some of it informative and very affecting; some of it just plain idiotic and hateful.

The informative side of social media is a positive in our lives, I’d say; the rolling reports on Facebook from friends or acquaintances in Brussels brought home what was happening, and let people know they were unharmed.

So that’s the good. The bad lies in the banal and the ridiculous, such as a man allegedly asking a Muslim woman to “explain” Brussels, or any other micro-brained display of ignorance. People who go on Facebook and Twitter and the like to splurge out hatred and ignorance are the worst sort of modern fool, but we seem to be stuck with this now. Once they would have mouthed off in the pub or to their loved ones; now they have a platform and can project outwards, spraying the world with their views.

Another aspect to this is that social media has apparently removed all trace of emotional reticence: no longer is it enough to shed a quiet tear in front of the TV news – unless you emote publicly you are somehow seen as not caring.

I still find this a puzzle, because surely for every well-meaning person turning their Facebook picture into the Belgian or French flag, there is someone else who keeps their sorrow to themselves. Sometimes it seems we confuse having a feeling with having to tell everyone about it on Facebook.

Then there is the political and media reaction to consider. Naturally enough, such attacks produce panic and paranoia from politicians who immediately talk of war – and in doing so help give the twisted terrorists exactly the publicity they want, backed up by sensationalist TV and newspaper coverage.

None of this is surprising, in the sense that something horribly sensational had happened – yet the most powerful defence against militants who wish to upend our lives is to carry on as we have always done, not to change in response to their ‘demands’.

In his Guardian column on this topic, former Times editor Simon Jenkins provides an interesting quote from the Belfast academic Richard English in his manual Terrorism: How To Respond. He writes that English “defines the threat to democracy as not the ‘limited danger’ of death and destruction. It is the danger ‘of provoking ill-judged, extravagant and counterproductive state responses’”.

Something to remember this week.

A no is a no, however awesome… but that no was better than most…

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SOME slaps to the face hurt less than others. And I say that as the owner of a face much slapped.

When you apply for jobs there are a number of responses, virtually all by email. Often you receive what we might call the cold decline… “This post attracted many applicants who were more suited to what we require, so we will not be taking your application any further on this occasion. Sadly, we cannot enter into further details about our decision…”

And between the lines you read: “This post attracted many applicants who were an awful lot smarter and younger than you, and probably better looking too, so no chance – and don’t even think of asking us why.”

Others are perfectly friendly and I read one of those just now before sitting down at the blog face. This explained that I didn’t have enough experience for one aspect of the job – and added that the company in question had one ex-journalist on the staff already (well, there are a lot going spare nowadays).

So the rejection below was different. The job was part-time and in London but could be done on a freelance basis from home, according to the advert. This sounded good to me as steady money would help fill in the gaps round my freelance work: a bit of mortar to hold all those words together.

I have included the name of the company because they handled the rejection with a winning touch of humanity. Here is what they had to say: “Thanks for the application. We don’t like to leave candidates in limbo here at TalentRocket and although we think your application has lots of awesome qualities, we don’t feel like you’re quite right for what we’re looking for right now. We hope you’re not too disappointed but, trust me, there are lots of great companies out there. Our advice, don’t settle. Make sure you find a company that aligns with your personal values and that will challenge you to grow…”

Now clearly a message which said that my awesome qualities were just what they were looking for would have painted a smile on the day, but there you go. This email did at least attempt to convey something uplifting – an incline to go with the decline.

Worst of all by far are the companies you never hear from again. I could name a few and two private schools and one university are examples from among the many. Nothing and nowt, zilch and zero. How very rude. And how lacking in empathy. Another day in limbo-land.

So that’s why this one rejection seemed better than most. No is no however you dress it up; no is still no if it comes with a sparkle of awesomeness. But still, I think companies could learn from this approach which is certainly better than the auto-email slap in the face. Sometimes you can’t ever remember which job they are turning you down for, as all you get is a code of some sort (“Your application for job xyz@2&0 has been unsuccessful”).

Large and bureaucratic organisations such as the NHS don’t always let you know anything, expecting the candidate to log on to a website to check on the progress of their application. In that case all you get is one word: under status of application it will say: “unsuccessful.”

Some messages do arrive from the NHS. I received one the other day saying that although the communications job in question had been advertised publicly, only candidates who already worked in the NHS and whose jobs were at risk or facing change were being considered.

So on I go, scrabbling up that scree. Met a friend yesterday about a bit of writing work. Interviewing someone this afternoon for proper paragraphs to be typed up for a newspaper. On and up I go. There’s a spindly tree up ahead. I’ll just grab hold of that and…

Another cruel and dreadful day, in Brussels this time…

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THERE are two Word files for this blog on my laptop. The second one opens every day on the Monday in November after the dreadful assaults in Paris. Now with gloomy circularity, we are back there again, only this time in Brussels.

At the weekend today presenter John Humphrys wrote an appreciation of the great broadcaster Cliff Michelmore, a man who helped shape modern broadcasting. He recalled being a young ITV reporter at the Aberfan disaster in 1966 and rushing about the place, attempting to capture what had happened when a waste tip flattened a primary school, burying the children.

“I spent much of that awful day on the phone in the village pub trying to convey the horror of it over the landlord’s phone. Trying and failing,” Humprhys said.

When Michelmore went live on the BBC, he opened his report by saying: “I don’t know how to begin. Never in my life have I seen anything like this. I hope I never see anything like it again.”

Simple and sombre – and to the point.

The Aberfan disaster is the first such tragedy I recall seeing on the television; the first but certainly not the last. Then terrorism took over, with the IRA attacks, 911 and the London bombings; and Paris and everything horrific in between. Horrors carried out now in the name of a religion that wants nothing to do with such barbarity, as has been the case before, thanks to a twisted agenda that makes no sense to most people.

Michelmore’s words speak to us across the decades in a way, capturing the sense of incomprehension, except that tragically we keep seeing things like this, again and again. Something truly dreadful happens, usually killing or injuring ordinary people going about their ordinary lives. Eventually life goes back to normal, or as near to normal as possible, the skin of everyday life forms again. And then it happens once more.

Brussels had been braced for an attack, and when it came it was as cruel and dreadful as could have been imagined. Four months after the deadly Paris attacks, we are there again, with bloody mayhem in a different European capital after an attack thought to have been carried out by the Islamic State group.

The bomb attacks yesterday morning were co-ordinated to cause maximum harm and confusion. Explosions went off at the city’s Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek metro station – and came four days after the arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam in connection with the Paris shootings. Whether the attacks were planned as revenge for that arrest remains to be determined, although it would hardly be surprising if that were the case.

The way we learn about such terrible events has changed beyond recognition since Aberfan. Back then disasters happened in real time, and the news took its time. Now disasters happen and we know the first details within minutes, while the horror is unfolding.

This has happened for two reasons, or two that I can immediately think of, but it’s all down to technology. The newsgathering technology is so much more sophisticated nowadays and delivers the horrors to us almost immediately. And thanks to mobile phones, everybody can record these dreadful events, and often the most affecting footage comes from the phones of witnesses.

And then there is the internet. As I was at home on the laptop, news kept pinging in on Facebook, snippets from a Brussels-based former York journalist, and news of someone who lived down our old street. Both are safe, thankfully.

It is always hard to know what to say about these events, and some of what is being said this morning hardly helps. Thank you to the Sun for pointing out that last month David Cameron said Europe helps make Britain safer – “How hollow that sounds today.”

That comment sounds kind of hollow to me too, a little too opportunistic, a little too quick to link one thing to another. There is talk of war and how this war compares to past wars; and there is discussion of whether or not this is a war, with the Guardian offering the following: “Talk of war amounts to handing Isis the victory it needs. It is a vocabulary that lends Isis a certain and entirely unwarranted legitimacy, by casting it almost as a state.”

I’d say that was about right. And the lessons? Better use of intelligence, I guess. Let the last word go to a cartoon. Colombian cartoonist Vladimir Flores draws Tintin reading the headlines and saying: “Mon Dieu…!” His cartoon went viral on social media yesterday, perhaps because it says it all.

King of the vultures tries to calm the blooded flapping…

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

OH, let’s go back to those vultures. When last we met, the IDS vulture had flapped off to a distant rock to lick his wounds, surfacing again on Sunday on the Andrew Marr perch, where he insisted he was more in the way of a dove.

Having caused mayhem by attacking his Conservative companions, and having dipped his mean beak in the self-delusion pool, the IDS vulture withdrew once more, leaving much political mayhem in his wake.

Yesterday the King of the Vultures put on his darkest suit and indulged in a spot of smooth fighting talk in the Bird House, cheered on by his fellow vultures, even those who were not fully on side.

Now the King of the Vultures is good in a corner, and came out with his feathers standing proud, insisted that his party were on the side of the little birds, and that they really were caring and compassionate vultures, contrary to the rumours. He also defended the traitorous IDS vulture and the bean-counting money vulture, who stayed away from the Bird House, even though his cunning financial plan now lay in blooded tatters on the floor, having been sabotaged by the IDS vulture.

The leader of the others put on a bit of a sparrow show, hopping about in the budget dust without really scoring a hit. All this suggested that the vultures were doing the most damage to themselves, and needed no help from their enemies opposite…

David Cameron was in pinkly puffed-up fighting mood yesterday, and you have to admit that he is good in a corner – even if all that amounts to is being easily up for the performance.

So we got the usual compassionate Conservatism stuff and the one-nation stuff, all of which he can say by rote. And there’s the rub – he makes these proclamations with such regularity and such ease that in the end they sound like what they are: just words, well-meant, clever words with little bearing on reality.

Cameron doused the flames by praising Iain Duncan Smith, whom he allegedly called a “shit” when he read the resignation letter, and also praised chancellor George Osborne – as he always does. Say what you like about the Tories but those two stick together, having been united from the start, and having learnt how not to conduct themselves by watching the endless Blair/Brown civil warfare.

Sometimes it seems that Osborne is really the man in charge, with Cameron wheeled out to give the presentational spiel. And this is why the busted budget is such bad news for the government: so much hinges on Osborne’s grand financial plan (or, if you wish, grand financial illusion) that if it threatens to tumble, everything really is in a bad way.

Osborne stayed away from the Commons yesterday. Perhaps there were other demands on his time; a High-Vis Fetish Convention somewhere, maybe. In truth, of course, he was hunkered down in the Treasury trying to dig his way out of that £4 billion hole caused by the abandonment of his harsh disability cuts. Today he will go to the Commons to defend his battered budget – the first time a chancellor has done that in 20 years.

Oh, my mood does perk up when the vultures land themselves in a mess. Incidentally, do you know what the collective noun is for these birds? A search produces conflicting answers, but the best one by far is a “venue of vultures”. How grand is that?