Tuesday 31 December 2013

Stopping smoking

For those whose New Year Resolution is to stop smoking I would not call the following advice, because all our psychologies and physiologies are different, and what works for one does not necessarily work for another.  But for what it’s worth, here’s how I did it.  If it works for you it may save considerable expenditure on Nicorette or other expansive aid flogged by Bigpharma.  It may also give you an excuse to postpone the big moment for a couple of months!

First the background.

Towards the end of 1983 I read a short paragraph in the paper (Guardian of course) saying that somebody had designated 29th February in the following year, a Leap Year, as Stop Smoking Day.  I noted it and passed on.  But something in my mind wouldn’t let me forget it, and as the days went by my brain was registering the niggling message: “This means you Peter, This means you Peter.”   

 By the time Christmas had come and gone, I accepted that it really did mean me and I would try to stop smoking at the end of February.

The motivation was I think important.  I had spent most of the 1970s in Papua New Guinea.  When I came back people often asked me what, if anything, in Britain had changed.  The answer was “Not much (except that potted meat was now called Belgian paté).”  But one thing that had changed significantly was people’s attitude towards smoking. Whereas in the 60s and before it was perfectly normal to enter someone’s house, light up, and they would rush to find you an ash tray, this was no longer the case.  Some would politely ask you not to smoke, others would signal their displeasure by taking ages to find the ash tray.  It became clear that smoking in other people’s houses, or even in some meetings, was no longer acceptable.

So I found myself looking forward to the end of social visits or meetings so that I could get out and have a drag.

So I realised this craving was ruining my enjoyment of other parts of my life.

I believe successful stoppers need a strong motivation.  It could be health, saving money, social (those pathetic groups outside the pubs and some offices), protecting your children.  But if all you have is a vague idea that kicking the habit would be “rather nice” then I suspect you will probably fail.

Some people argue that telling lots of others of your resolve helps you to stick to it.  I did tell others, and persuaded several colleagues (and one or two pupils) to sign up with me.  I think this didn’t make much difference.  I was the only one to see it through.

I believe to this day that my success was due to having suitable substitute.  There are several sophisticated ones available today: patches, E-cigarettes, all I suspect, rather costly.  In my day the choice was more limited, chewing-gum or mints being the most popular.  In spite of my name (Wrigley) I’m not keep on chewing gum, and, having a tendency to put on weight, I wanted to steer clear of mints or other sweets.

So I chose carrots.

On the 28th February, 1984 I bought a pound of carrots, scrubbed them, and from then on repeated the purchase as necessary and carried a few around in my pocket.

On the evening of the 28th I drove a party of pupils up to Newcastle to watch a Shakespeare play at their Theatre Royal, drove them back through the night, smoking furiously up until the dot of midnight, then put my pipe, still lit, in my pocket (this is not as dangerous as you might think: I’d been doing it for almost 30 years without setting myself on fire)) and told myself: That’s it, no more. . . 

From the 29th onwards, at every point in the day when I would normally smoke – first thing with my morning cup of tea, straight after breakfast and every other meal,  on arriving at school,  morning break etc, instead of lighting up I took out a carrot and chewed it.  In public areas such as the school staff–room this produced a certain amount of ridicule, but that didn’t worry me too much.  
The first few days, weeks. even perhaps months, (I can’t remember now) were difficult, but in time the carrots became less and less important, and I eventually found I didn’t need them.  It was several years, however, before I took the irrevocable step of burning all my pipes.

But I am still a smoker. 

I know that one drag and I’d be back on it again.  I’m keen on amateur dramatics but would turn down any part that that required me to smoke.  I still get a minor kick when a smoker walks past me in the street and I get a chance to inhale their smoke.

In summary, to those who plan to stop smoking:

  • 1.        Take a period to psych yourself up for it.

  • 2.       Have a strong motive.

  • 3.       Find a substitute.  Carrots are cheap, effective and highly recommended.
Good luck

Monday 30 December 2013

Flood victims reap what they have sown.

Last Friday David Cameron visited the village of Yalding in Kent to sympathise with, or console, victims of the floods. He received a torrent of criticism.

        "We were literally abandoned. We had no rescuers, nothing for the whole day."

        "[All the council] decided to go on holiday."

        "The  Environment agency said it was up to the council and when I did get through to the council  they          said  if you need sandbags get your own."

        "The people [Cameron] is talking to , the Environment Agency and so on,  They weren't here. .               There  was no one here on Christmas Day and Boxing Day."

Well, it just so happens that in the 2010 General Election the Tories won every single seat in Kent.  The BBC reported a "wipe out" for the other parties.

It may well be, of course, that the burgesses of Yalding are atypical and the village itself  recorded a massive majority for the Greens, Liberal Democrats or other party that believes in the public sector.

But if they are typical, and voted for the party that routinely denigrates the public services, starves them of funds in order to cut taxes, farms profitable functions out to the private sector, cuts regulations so that builders are enabled to build on superficially attractive flood planes, and believes that the state must be reduced in size, they must not be surprised that, when they need it, the public sector isn't there to help them.

For those interested in the jargon of economics, flood defences are a good example of a "public good" in that they are non-rival and non-excludable .  "Non-rival" means that their use by one person does not prevent another's using the same good or service: non-excludable means that someone who has not contributed (ie paid for) the use of the good or service cannot be excluded from benefiting from it.  Street lighting is the standard example, in that one person benefiting from it does not exclude others, and anyone who has not contributed to providing it cannot be excluded from benefiting.

Hence a market is not possible for public goods, and they can be provided only by a public authority: normally local or national government or, in some cases (early lighthouses?) a charity.

PS (Added  30th January )  A friend has pointed out to me that on "Mainly Macro" Simon Wren-Lewis  provides the evidence that the Tories cut spending on flood defences from  2011.  He does not particularly attribute  the present floods to that, but chides the government for not taking advantage of low interest rates and surplus labour to increase the spending, thus helping to avoid  tribulations such as have been experienced in the past week. And which would, of course, have provided a much needed Keynesian stimulus to the economy.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Call for responsible reporting

Last Sunday Vince Cable appeared on the Andrew Marr (TV political discussion) Show and made a few mildly critical comments on some of the directions the Conservatives are taking in the coalition.  The Guardian headlined its report as Cable  hits out. . . and reported bitter personal poison  in relationships within the coalition, though in my view the remarks seemed reasonable, obvious and put without apparent animosity..  Perhaps not surprisingly the newspaper has chosen not to print my letter admonishing them, so here it is instead.

                                                                                              24th December 2013
Letters to the Editor,
The Guardian.

Dear Editor,

Twice this week you have alleged "bitter personal poison" seeping into relationships within the coalition.  (Cable hits out at Tories overmigrant 'panic' Monday 23rd December, and MP urges Cable to quit cabinet after Enoch jibe, Tuesday 24th December).    In my view this is unjustifiable hyperbole based on perfectly reasonable remarks made by Vince Cable on the “Andrew Marr Show." 

On the economy you quote Cable's reference to "a raging housing boom" in the south east.  Well, there is, isn't there? And on immigration: "We periodically get these immigration panics, I remember going back to Enoch Powell and 'rivers of blood'  and all that . . . I think what's happening here  is the Conservatives are in a bit of a panic  because of Ukip."  Well, they are, aren't they? "The simple point is there is very little evidence of benefit tourism from people coming from eastern Europe."   True, and said in a mild and unbelligerent tones.  No “hitting out” at all in my estimation.

For years our political parties have been afraid to air the mildest disagreements within themselves for fear of being pilloried by the media as being prone to splits and unfit to govern. Realistically disagreements and differences of emphasis are even more likely when two or more parties form the government,  a likely possibility in Britain in the future. 

If our democracy is to operate in an adult and rational manner then, certainly, politicians need to recognise that democracy is "government by discussion" rather than by hurling insults at each other.  But they need to be supported in this by media willing to report such discussions in a balanced and reasonable manner and not by imputing exaggerated  animosity to every disagreement.

We expect a newspaper with the standards and traditions of the Guardian to lead the way in this rather than follow the tabloids.

Yours sincerely,

(I note that the newspaper does not necessarily use the same headlines in the on line version as it does in the printed version, but I assure you that what I wrote in the letter is what was printed.)

Friday 27 December 2013

Erudite Immigrants

As Daily Mail readers await with dread (or is it relish: something else to hammer the government with?) their newspaper's prediction of the arrival of up to 29 million (slightly more than the combined populations of both countries) migrants from Bulgaria and Romania on 1st January, here are a few examples of the kinds of questions they will be required to answer in the event they wish to become citizens:

  1. How many members are there in the National Assembly of Wales?
  2. Within what period of time must a baby be registered with the Registrar?
  3. When did the Church of England come into existence?*
  4. When is the National Day of Scotland?
  5. What percentage of children in the UK live with their birth parents?
  6. What percentage of England's population is made up of ethnic minority groups?
  7. How many constituencies are there throughout the UK?
  8. How many days a year must a school open?
  9. When was the Northern Ireland parliament established?
  10. How many years must have passed before an individual's census form is viewable by the public?
To be fair, these are multiple choice type questions with four options, so a candidate has a 25% chance of gaining the correct answer, provided that he or she is wise enough to guess, (although people brought up under the the French sphere of influence are discouraged from guessing, which is one of the factors that makes international comparisons of educational attainment unreliable.

In actual fact very few immigrants from Romania, Bulgaria or anywhere else in Europe will apply for or even want citizenship (or even welfare benefits.)  Most will be young, highly qualified, and healthy, and will return to their country of origin, probably with a well-earned nest-egg to set up a business or household  once their adventure is over.

It would be interesting to know how many of we "natives,"  Daily Mail readers or not, would actually qualify for citizenship if we had to take the test.

*  It seems to be that none of the options given for this questions (1640s; 1530s; 1440s; 1750s) are correct.  St Augustine landed in Kent to "convert" us in 597, but of course the Christian religion was already here, probably brought by merchants in the 3rd Century.  St Alban, our first recorded saint, was martyred at the end of that century (283, though St Bede, our first historian - the Venomous Bee of 1066 and All That fame -  dates it at the beginning of the next, 305).

 I suppose you could argue that England as such didn't exist in those high and far off times (the various different kingdom were not united until Egbert of Wessex became King of All England in 829,)   that these examples represent  represent the Christian church in bits of what was to become England, and that  the Church of England dates from the Reformation in the 1530s, but that, in my view, is to give a misleading impression.

Multiple choice questions open up a minefield, as I discovered when they were introduced in A-level economics examinations.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Deck the walls with bags of lolly . . .


 This account of the Christmas story (bsed on Luke 2, vv1 to 20) has been filched from an American site and slightly amended for British use.  You can see the original on


And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from HM Treasury that all of Britain should go shopping. (And this decree was first made when George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer, as his policy of expansionary fiscal contraction had caused leading economic indicators to dip to their lowest point.) 
And all went out to shop, each to his own centre.
And a Christian also went up from his suburban home to the city with its many centres because he wanted to prove he was from the household of prosperity. And with him was his wife, who was great with economic worry. 
And so it was, that, while they were there, they found many expensive presents, pudgy-faced dolls, trucks that turn into robots, and a various assortment of video (and computer) games. And the woman wrote cheques for those they could afford and charged the rest on many different kinds of plastic cards; she wrapped the presents in bright paper and laid them in the garage; for there was no room for them in her closet.
And there were in the same country children keeping watch over their stockings by night. And, lo, Santa Claus came upon them; and they were sore afraid (expecting to see the special effects, they had seen in the cinemas). 
And Santa said to them, “Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people who can afford it. For unto you will be given this day, in your suburban home, great feasts of turkey, dressing, and cake – and many presents. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the presents wrapped in bright paper, lying beneath an artificial tree adorned with tinsel, coloured balls, and lights.”
And suddenly there was with Santa Claus a multitude of relatives and friends, praising one another and saying, “Glory to you for getting me this gift; it’s just what I’ve always wanted.”
And it came to pass, as the friends and relatives were gone away into their own homes, the parents said to one another, “I am glad that’s over. What a mess! I’m too tired to clean it up now. Let’s go to bed and pick it up tomorrow.” 
And when they had said this, they remembered the statement that had been told them by the shopkeepers: “Christmas comes only once a year.” And they that heard it wondered at those things that were sold to them by the shopkeepers, but the children treasured all their things in their hearts, hoarding their toys from each other. 
And the parents, after a drink, went to bed, glorifying and praising each other for all the bargains they had found in the stores

Merry Christmas