Monday, 5 September 2016

My Experience of being a Dole Sponger.

Friday July 1st was an odd day, it started off as any other Friday, and ended in a complete train wreck, basically I was made redundant after 13 years with no warning, from normal to out on the street within 30 minutes. Basically the company was placed in liquidation and as such no redundancy would be forthcoming, sure I filled the RP1 form in, but at the time of writing I've received an acknowledgement letter and no more.

Firstly, I reported to the bank that I was going to be unable to be able to pay the repayments on my credit card and loan for my car, after speaking to a girl in India who assured me that the bank would help me in every way they could, I felt happy enough to then report to Tax Credits that I was no longer working. That brought me onto monday when I went to make a claim at the benefits office.

In I went, P45 in hand, letter confirming my redundancy, to be told I would have to make an appointment and come back on Thursday, here's a Housing Benefit form, now clear off. I filled the HB form in and sent it away. Thursday came and I made my claim, then I was referred to my "Adviser"and we drew up a "Jobseekers Agreement" which basically says you'll look for a job in short order. 2 weeks later and I hadn't received a bean, I had just about been able to eat by selling some stuff and through the kindness of friends and family. Meanwhile the NIHE couldn't decide what to do about housing benefit. I live in a 2 bedroom house, seemingly I should be in a 1 bedroom house, fair enough, but where does one find one? Do they expect you to just have one on standby in case you become unemployed? Anything with one bedroom locally is a hell of a lot more expensive than where I rent now. Jobseeking was not a great success, I was applying for everything, usually with no response, I applied for a job driving vans, I drove vans for years, I didn't even get past the psychometric online test, generally I heard nothing back, this would become a frequent theme.

The last week in July was a killer, I still hadn't received any JSA and I was literally living on noodles and porridge. I had signed on for the second time and must have cut a pathetic enough figure that the woman in the benefits office managed to get me £114 of a payment. That was apparently my sum total of benefits for the whole of July, On returning home, I had a letter lying on the mat from the NIHE, seemingly I would have to pay £64 from my £73 weekly JSA towards my housing costs, clearly this was a massive mistake, ringing the NIHE was a waste of a phone call, disinterested woman on the other end who told me I could present myself as homeless, tough shit was the impression I got from her. This was beyond me so I went to my local MLA's office. This was a real turning point as the NIHE basically crapped themselves and rolled over, the problem was that the NIHE assumed I was receiving £39 tax credits weekly. For the record, I was getting £29 a MONTH from tax credits and they were cancelled at the start of July.

After much fannying about, the NIHE told me they would pay the full amount  for 13 weeks, after that £17pw would have to come out of my JSA. £73 would become £56. Great. Interestingly enough I was given an unofficial breakdown of what an adult on JSA is supposed to spend on food, it works out a £3.57 a day. Meanwhile I was applying for more jobs than I could count, the email applications alone took up 2 pages, the wee books they give you to note your jobseeking activity? I filled my first in by the time I made my first proper signing. Then I got another boot in the balls.

Another letter arrived, telling me I was losing another £11 odd a week, the reason for this on the letter was blank. A not so quick call to the benefit office revealed it was for overpayment but nobody knew why, they gave me another number to phone, another drone woman told me it was an overpayment from when I was on incapacity in 1999 after a bike crash left me unable to work. Let me take a moment to clue you in on this. Back then, I was a mess, I was in a failing marriage, in near constant pain and throwing down painkillers and antidepressants down me like smarties, I was literally falling apart, I managed to drag myself together long enough to go back to couriering just long enough to have another biggish crash where I literally signed myself out of hospital to go back to work, to the best of my knowledge I informed them of every change in circumstances, certainly they never got in contact until now. They said I was "untraceable" despite being in full time employment, receiving tax credits, having a car registered in my name, a credit history and indeed being on the electoral register, methinks this was just a way for some computer to try and claw back money. £73 was down to £46.

For the first time I felt useless, old and past it, I could feel the old black dog of depression starting up again, it became an effort to get up at 7am, I had to force myself to go out the front door, I was not a happy bunny and could feel myself withdrawing into a bunker in my head. The old self fortification technique was working again, harden the fuck up Son.

But, like a bolt from the blue I'm back in work, in the old shop, doing the same job because somebody decided to buy the remains of the business and bring it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

A job is a job, but being unemployed is no picnic, I hope to fuck I never have to do it again.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Am I doing it wrong?

Tonight I went for a ride on my bike. It's a nice night so I just chucked some drinkies in the bottle and rode off into the great outdoors, wearing nothing more fancy than an ancient pair of cargo shorts and a seven year old t-shirt. It was a nice night so I just pedalled into the wind until I reached Holywood, there I sat down, drank my drink, Skyped my friend in England, photographed a passing bulk carrier.
told two drunken millies how to get to the train station, then got on the bike and went home.

It wasn't an epic journey, it wasn't fast, it was just a gentle spin on a bike for the sake of it. I didn't wear a helmet and didn't die, didn't wear hi-viz or lycra, didn't see one other cyclist at all.

So I was a solitary cyclist, no lycra, going slowly and just enjoying the good weather.

I must be doing it wrong.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

It's a (Death) trap!!!!

More ranting about the new cycle lane on Alfred St. It was launched, TV crew in attendance, a couple of weeks ago, since then it has proved useful and frustrating in equal measure, when it works, it works brilliantly, when it doesn't, it's frustrating at best and an utter death trap at worst. Firstly the "wands" meant to keep vehicles out, don't. There's a 6m gap between them, quite big enough to get anything smaller than a 7.5 tonner in between, in fact, since the wands are flexible, some bloody minded agency driver will probably drive over them with nothing more than a scratch to the bumper. The original #binlane is still a car park at night. Seemingly the powers that be chose the 6m gap as an experiment. Ok, it has failed, get some more wands in.

The absolute worst part of the whole scheme is the junction of Alfred Street and May Street, it is, in short, a death trap, sooner or later someone is going to be killed or seriously injured by a car turning left into May Street, this is despite the traffic light having a green arrow, a sign on the actual traffic signals and AHEAD ONLY painted on the ground in six foot letters.

Here's a few examples lifted from social media.


Clearly this is a problem that needs sorting out, as it is, it's an accident waiting to happen. Tweets to the PSNI Traffic account have went unanswered, it seems that rather than having a separate signal phase for cyclists top clear the junction, they lumped them in with the cars, hoping against hope that motorists would actually pay attention to the new rules. As it is, it's not if an collision occurs but when.


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Keep yer lid on.......

Once again the great cycle helmet debate has hit the airwaves in NI. With the usual cries that a few cm of polystyrene foam will act as some super Batfink-esque shield of steel to prevent all injuries to cyclists. Never mind if you go under the 2nd axle of an 8-wheeler, if you've a helmet on, you will be fine.

This clearly, is bollocks, I could insert a link to a story regarding a cyclist taken to hospital with the famous "Not wearing a helmet" line when they have suffered no head injury at all, but I would probably fry my brain trying to choose one, similarly, I could go equally nuts trying to choose a story where the poor sod was wearing a helmet but still got squished by a FM7.

Now people perceive cycling as some kind of extreme sport, personally I feel I shouldn't have to wear a plastic hat and dress like a binman or a refugee from Tribal Gathering 1996 to nip into town for a bit of retail therapy. It's not extreme, at all, but lets see how other everyday situations would work out if the same attitude was applied to them.

Take driving. Over half of fatal head injuries are caused by cars, so going with the better safe than sorry attitude so piously directed at cyclists, I'll look at your average car. Say a Mondeo, just like mine, an ordinary family hatchback. Firstly, we'll fit a full roll cage, only we can't as that would mean taking the rear seats out, we'll take the glass out too and fit perspex windows, your lovely heated reclining seats will have to go too in favour of bucket seats and 6 point harnesses, assuming we keep the back seats for your kids, there's no way we can keep your little ones seated above above a plastic tank with 60 litres of unleaded in it, so we'll put a baffled tank in the boot, then we'll plumb in some fire extinguishers and external cut off switches for the electrics. As for driving to the shops, you'll need a full Nomex outfit. Boots, gloves, suit, balaclava, the whole works, your head will be in a helmet with a Nomex lining and the helmet will be connected to a HANS device to stop basilar skull fractures.

This sounds ridiculous, and it is, and that's before your car is sprayed in Hi-viz paint.........

Walking is equally dangerous, you could trip and hurt yourself, so lets suit all pedestrians up in padded suits reminiscent of the Michelin Man, maybe make the suits hi viz too, and the ubiquitous walking helmet and gloves will be worn. Also, lets introduce an alcohol limit for pedestrians, no more walking back form the pub after a few pints, in fact, walking to the bar to get them in, it's deadly! All that glass! Lets limit people to one drink served in a plastic sippy cup.

If this sounds mad, how do you think I feel when I hear about mandatory cycle helmets? In certain parts of Australia, non wearing of helmets is punishable by a  hefty fine, a country with probably the greatest selection of deadly animals on the planet will fine you for not wearing a plastic hat in hot conditions. Gives me another reason to avoid the place if nothing else.

But if you see me on my commute, I'll be wearing Hi-viz and a helmet? Hypocritical? Yes, but it's nothing to do with safety, it's to do with money. If the worst happens, I would receive less compensation is I was seen to be contributing to my own demise by not wearing a plastic hat. That's how deeply the helmet myth has penetrated into the psyche of the powers that be in this country.

So far, there have been over 100000 hires of Belfast Bikes, in a year I have seem ONE person riding one with a helmet. Nobody has died. If that's not an example of how ridiculous helmet compulsion sounds, I don't know what is.

Monday, 29 February 2016

This will lose me a few friends.......

Ok, this is going to make me the Katie Hopkins of the Belfast Cycling Community but I don't care. If you're not already offended, read on........

As it stands, the new cycle lane along Alfred Street is the biggest waste of money since the KLF burnt a million quid back in 1994. That is my take on it so far, Cyclesaurus, although pretty much a REALLY shite bit of infra, has died in vain in the quest of providing a new lane for cars to park in.

Exhibit A, M'Lud.

Exhibit B.
 Exhibit C.
 Exhibit D.
 Exhibit E.
 Exhibit F.
 Exhibit G.

All these photos were taken over about a week since folk had access to the cycle lane, they were taken at random times when I happened to be passing with a camera phone. No particular pattern in taking them, it was entirely random.

Now what isn't entirely random, is that there is someone either parked in the cycle lane, or they have blatantly driven up a one way street the wrong way. In every photo.

The last picture with the red Merc is particularly interesting, taken today. I had spotted the Merc on my way into town, I went into town, did some shopping then returned to see it still sitting there, so it's not like they just popped in for a latte. I spied an NSL Redcoat  walking towards the cycle lane, would he be writing a ticket? No, he took one look and dodged round the corner. The same Redcoat, only minutes previously, had harangued a van driver unloading on a double yellow because the Arthur Street loading bay was full on construction equipment.

I know that there are bollards going into Alfred Street, but already drivers are parking in cycle lanes by default, knowing that NSL WILL NOT ENFORCE THEM. Likewise there seems to be reluctance on the part of the PSNI in enforcing the new one-way system in Alfred Street. I also suspect the no left turn onto May St will be similarly ignored.

Hopefully bollards will help, and maybe, just maybe, someone in a position to actually do something will have the gumption to stand up to the inevitable "WAR ON THE MOTORIST" spewing from the usual media gobshites.

Until then, it's money down the drain.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Twenty brings plenty of angst......

Recently, a good part of Belfast city centre came under a new 20mph speed limit. Predictably the local meedja jumped on this as WAR ON THE MOTORIST and a SCAM and equally predictably it turned into an anti cycling rant. 20 mph limits are nothing new and indeed the average speed of traffic in the vast majority of the streets the new limit applies to, would be well under 20mph, at peak times the average speed is less than a brisk walk, so why indeed do we have these speed limits?

In a totally unscientific test, I took to May Street on the first day the new limit applied, it was a Sunday so May St was pretty deserted. Obviously I used the car for this as there's not a chance in hell of Yours Truly sustaining 20mph  on a bicycle unless gravity was assisting. So with the OH monitoring the speed on the GPS, I pointed the car down May St and accelerated up to a true 20mph according to the GPS. The first thing I noticed was that I was immediately overtaken in the Bus Lane to my left by a Black Taxi, then a bus. On my right, I was being overtaken by a Value Cab and an elderly gent in a Nissan Almera. At the 20mph indicated by the GPS, my speedo was reading about 22-23, presumably the speedo in the overtaking vehicles were reading more than that again, especially the bus as I believe that they have calibrated speedos.

Now what really is funny, is that people are using the 20 mph limits as a scapegoat for increased traffic, certainly there have been a few days when the traffic was diabolical, but a quick scan of the Trafficwatch NI reveals that on the days of the near gridlocks, there has been a crash on a main arterial route far outside the 20mph limited area and indeed the worst gridlock was caused by a multi commercial vehicle crash at 4am on a 50 mph dual carriageway. The local Federation Of Small Businesses has also joined in with the naysaying, claiming that Belfast was a hostile place for cars. This is clearly untrue. Belfast city centre is awash with car parking spaces, vast swathes of empty ground have been converted to car parking, within 150 metres of where I'm sitting typing this, there are no fewer than 5 surface car parks, one of which is exclusively for the use of Belfast City Council, not only that, any vacant piece of ground, such as the corner of the Lucas Building site, is parked on by freeloading commuters who simply do not want to pay parking charges. As part owner of a small business in central Belfast, I have had no customer complain about the 20mph speed limit, I have had several complain of lack of money in the present economic climate, but to be honest, speed limits really aren't that high on peoples agenda.

Another agrument that has been trotted out is that since people aren't being massacred on the streets by cars, what is the point? That's the sort of argument that I want to answer with "Why have any speed limit then?" My car is capable of cruising at over 100mph, should I be allowed to cruise along the A1 at 100? Of course not, most people would say. So certain speed limits are ok then? What makes this one different? Central Belfast in the area the limit applies to, has a road layout dating back to the 1700's, usually the traffic is such that 20 mph is a dream, but when the roads are that bit clearer, 30 mph is madness. People talk about the "Nighttime economy" in Belfast. In this night time economy, a lot of people have a few bevvies, or they're just so busy having a good time that they're not really following the Green Cross Code as it where, hence 20mph is much safer for everyone using the road.

So, in short, my opinion is that the 20 limit is a good thing, it's certainly NOT a bad thing, I fail to see the problem? Do You?

Monday, 14 December 2015

It's all fun, until someone loses a bollock.......

Wee cheerful post this.

Growing up in Belfast in the early 80s, was actually pretty cool, sure you got frisked in town, even a kid like me, but in general it was actually all right, mainly because when you're seven years old, you can't really comprehend what all the crap on the telly is all about.  Personally I just wanted to grow up to be a truck driver, albeit one who went to work looking like Adam Ant. Back then, the only people who had computers were banks and offices and only very posh kids had Atari games consoles, for the rest of us, our entertainment was our bicycles.

Back in '82, nearly everybody  round my way rode Raleighs, mainly because there was a Raleigh dealer round the corner, quite a few came from a Littlewoods book, 26 weeks at so much per week. And the main two bikes were the Chopper and the Grifter. The Chopper was, and still is, a design classic, but I never really liked them that much, mainly although in 1982 I was a bigger 7yo, I was still 7yo, and the Chopper was a bit on the big side, there was a smaller version, called a Tomahawk that wasn't as well equipped and IIRC came in a horrendous orange colour. I was firmly in the Grifter camp, Grifters were probably the beginning of my love affair with heavy machinery, the tubing of the frame seemed to come from decommissioned naval gun barrels, it had 3 gears, mudguards, a strange foam seat and tyre that sounded like an army Saracen.  Light and agile, they were not, but, they had been in production for 6 years and were showing their age, the Chopper had been about from the late 60s and by 1982 was practically antique.

About this time, BMX bikes started being sold over here, Eddie Kidd was jumping stuff on a motorbike and The Fall Guy was on telly every Thursday night and in every young boy is a daredevil waiting to get out, and eventually one of our little clique got a BMX. Soon we were building ramps and jumping off them, fine on a BMX but not so good for the rest of us. The ramps got higher and higher and the jumps got longer and longer, eventually we were getting up to about the height of a car, ok for the BMX kiddies, less so on a Grifter! A BMX would fly off the end of the ramp, a Grifter just plummets. Eventually the curvy forks on the Grifter started curving more and more and pretty soon, it was decreed that she was dead.

My £100 bike was knackered, but fortunately, Mother dearest shelled out for a BMX for me, but that's another story....

 And the title of this piece? There was a chap, we'll call him DJ, who was the big brother of one of the guys in our group, who could wheelie a Chopper, one day he has happily wheelieing away when the front wheel fell out. There has never been a mightier struggle than DJ trying to keep the wheel from coming down, but gravity won and he was hurled over the bars, catching his undercarriage in the process.

We don't know if he actually lost a bollock, but that was the story, although he was known and "One Hung Lo" from that moment on.

Poor sod!