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The Other News From England

Week beginning 16 March 1998.

The Other News is made up as a single document, so that you can scroll your way through it.

Click here for Blackspot on automated rail safety measures.





Gabriele Gad




Unions and work


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Stop Press

Last week`s edition.

Index of earlier issues.

For conditions see end of document.


If you haven`t looked at the other News From England before, read this in case it may save you some time.

The Other News consists of a selection of articles on whatever subjects find their way to the top of the pile on the week in which it is written. Whilst some of it is intended to be serious, quite a lot is just a bit of light reading (or heavy, if you are a certain type of person), and intended to keep you amused, and cause people to question some of the assumptions of life. Most of the material here is written by the editor, but no single article necessarily reflects the views of the editor or anyone else who writes here. They only might.


ANY OLD fool can run a business at a profit for a limited span of time if they don`t bother to do any maintenance, and although this thought started going through my head in connection with Railtrak, who seem to be letting both their buildings and the tracks go to pieces (stand on a station and look), my thoughts then travelled on to the running of our college.

The college was originally run as part of that great national asset, the affordable and effective education system. It was, in fact, an investment on behalf of the people for the people, and a useful economic tool for a great many reasons - not least amongst them public morale, which needs to exist for any economic activities to take place. The other uses, like helping people achieve independence, are obvious to all but the most narrow-minded amongst us.

Then a new approach was adopted, in which the students were suddenly the customers, and the college was required to work towards being `self-financing`. This, in effect, is trying to make a profit regardless of whether what the college does is useful to us all. Each year the `subsidy` (paid by everybody in the district, because everybody in the district was gaining in their own way from it`s existence) was reduced, until eventually the fees began to be so high that when the first recession (which may well be attributed to the present fashion for ransacking the economies of publically owned bodies for private gain) student enrolments dropped off. This was followed by cutting back on staff, much resentment of the management and the local council both by staff and students, poor staff morale, and in due course reduced enrolments due to a surly staff struggling to show a positive face against all odds.

Although I see this from the point of view of a member of the teaching staff, I assume the same principle applies across the board. It certainly has done in the case of some others both in management and maintenance with whom I have had some dealings.

Because I am a person who likes to question things I have taken the trouble on occasions to ask certain persons in our college what things like IIP (Investors In People) and Chartermarks are about. The persons concerned have responded by reeling off some execubabble that sounded well rehearsed, but which also sounded like they didn`t believe it. The students (who one must remember are the consumers in this transaction) are not the least bit impressed - in fact, the harder the college tries to go for these things the more disatisfied the students seem to get. I don`t quite know what bothers them, but I can`t help wondering if it is that instead of trying to provide what the students want the college is trying to be perceived as suitable for a Chartermark owing to their IIP efforts.

Does anyone gain from this?

That was going to be my last line, but a bit of discussion of the subject brought me to the conclusion that the government might have deliberately imposed these unmanageable targets in order to wreck the whole system, thus allowing everything to be closed down, a few fortunes to be made from asset-stripping the institutions, and allowing a space to be created for them to be replaced by ordinary business operators who run them like holiday camps or centres for the unemployed.

Oh brave new world.


An email discussion has developed between myself and Blackspot regarding Per Capita Motor Fuel Rationing and electronic tagging. I have asked his permission to publish it because for those who are looking for policy it could be interesting. Unfortunately I have had to edit it partially, as it was more than one email, and also contained other stuff. I would much prefer to put exactly what he said.

Re electronic tagging of cars:-

You appear to have great faith in electronics for one who complains so frequently of your computer failing, I think I would prefer the rationing to the electronic tags personally, as I live on the county border ? (restrict freedom of movement in case you find out someting they don't want you to know ? )

The main problem is how do you know when your tag is broke, of do you just get fined as extra tax, because you are particularly unfortunate. The equipment will probably cost a fortune, so if you cant afford it, you are excluded by Financial Apartheid ! ( you can't use a lets scheme for thistype of thing)

It is probable that a black market in bogus tags may develop, and then there is the question of big brother checking on where you get too ? (they can't do that with tachographs) There is also the problem of cloning the tags, just like mobile phones?

It is very easy to use theoretically beneficial ecological ideas such as fuel tax to be used for what almost amounts to the Ethnic Cleansing of all low income families from rural areas by the use of Financial Apartheid?( apart from a few slaves ? )

Its a bit like the funiture restoration class they asked you to run, perhaps they wanted the course to close down and get all the tools stolen so it would cost a fortune to start it again ?

Have you seen the latest idea for turning telephone sales people into battery hens, they don't give you your own desk, just a locker, and you have to use mobile phones ?

Re electronic tagging of cars (my response and his to mine):-

> >You appear to have great faith in electronics for one who complains so> >frequently of your computer failing, I think I would prefer the rationing to the electronic tags personally, as I live on the county border ? (restrict freedom of movement in case you find out someting they don't want you to know ? )

> > I was thinking of bar codes on the bumpers or sills and readers on lamp posts or telegraph posts. That way there is nothing much to maintain on the car, and if the counter fails to record then the punter pays nothing.

The present administration would never go for that idea and round here the bar code would get covered in shit pretty soon in winter. There are hundreds of small cross border roads around here and fitting them all with cross border electronic equipment would cost a fortune, even if you could find the mains electric. As you probably know we are on the lancs/yorks border, but its nearer for people just over the border to work or shop in the other county, its a very tricky problem, perhaps a limited radius tax disc without the electronics could work better for rural areas, try reading the last half of The fuel Tax myth (this is an earlier Blackspot article) and my idea for public transport credit cards with your tax disc ?

> > I don`t think it would cost individuals anything for the equipment, as one is only using labels.

They wont adopt anything they can't ripp you off for ?

> Perhaps they would call it economic cleansing. There has always been a danger of that.

Its here, but everyone is watching them do it in Kosovo, and they could never imagine such a thing going on here in our free western democracy ?

(bspt wrote:)

Did you see or hear Martin Bell at PMQ this week, He asked if it would be better if MPs were allowed to ask questions of their own choosing, instead of being given specific " spin " questions by the party whips...

> >Its a bit like the funiture restoration class they asked you to run, > >perhaps they wanted the course to close down and get all the tools stolen so it would cost a fortune to start it again ?

> > You may be right, though I thought they were trying to conform with > government guidelines instead of doing that which they thought would work,> because doing the right thing under the current regime can lead to the sack - and now you have put a surprising thought in my head: Suppose the government guidelines are deliberately designed to sabotage adult education?

> > > >Have you seen the latest idea for turning telephone sales people into battery hens, they don't give you your own desk, just a locker, and you have to use mobile phones ?

> > I expect they put in some padding and stuff though

They use the same large office, but nobody is allowed their own desk, I expect that people will go in early to claim the best desks near the windows, and if you are late you get a crap position ?

> >.....the title will be How Much Automation ?

> > And incidentally relates in some way to my tagging thing, doesn`t it?

Yes it does, but I would not be happy to rely on this computer or software, and there is no evidence that any other systems are significantly better in reliability, I suppose its OK if you dont have to experience major disruption when it fails safe ?

(here there was a long description of a mechanical problem not related)

(Blackspot): I fell about with laughter watching top gear this week, brilliant ?


On Friday, a few students and I go out to lunch in the local cafe if we get the chance. It has become almost a ritual to be associated with what must be almost the longest-running class our college has.

Myrtle, who has been coming to Friday Woodwork since the early eighties and has used the class to make half the furniture in her house out of bits of oak from skips, was hurrying to get to the cafe and in her haste locked her handbag and both sets of car keys inside her car.

Not wishing to miss the lunch trip, and not knowing quite what to do, she asked me to take her in mine, and as I had all the seats down and Elisabeth was in the front seat she had to sit inside the tailgate on the floor - where my dog used to sit smiling at passers-by.

"I`m the smallest, see?" she said.

We drove to the cafe, had lunch, went round the charity shop, Elisabeth bought a new tube for her fluorescent light, and Lesley went to the cleaner`s, then we went to Myrtle`s house for the third set of car keys, she made us coffee and gave us a piece of her 88th birthday cake (yes!) and after that we all piled back into the car like a bunch of teenagers and drove her back to the college carpark, where she thanked everyone for an enjoyable lunchtime and we all went our separate ways.

That`s the sort of thing I like about adult ed. You don`t get it from a course plan.


Freemasons seem to have died as a subject this last week or so, and it is easy to speculate that what is happening is that the media have been ordered by their masonry to not print anything, the government realises it is outnumbered and has backed down (possibly owing to large numbers of the brotherhood in the ranks), and we are in for a further few decades of dodgy dealing of every kind, until one day there will be no democracy at all (instead of only a little like we have now) in this country because although there may be some puppets in there pretending to be doing something the only people making any real decisions will be freemasons - and even then only a few amongst the many.

It would be a recipe for revolution, and as revolutions usually result in zero democracy and not infrequently in even greater inequality than we have now I don`t really fancy it.

Gabriele Gad on alternative therapy.



Some of the LETSSwing material will be available as sheet music on the net soon - and some other stuff that I have written for other bands and orchestras.

I have been saying this for five weeks now, but have patience. The person on whose website it will be placed is a learner (even more than I am), and I have to go to someone else`s computer to scan the manuscripts (I do this on the LETS, by the way).

If you are in a LETS somewhere and would like LETSSwing to play to you, please contact

LETSSwing and/or I also do gigs for money - a variety of types of music.


Chords continued - melody intruments.

Guitars have a slightly different problem with expressing chords and arpeggios because it is not so easy on a guitar to see the places your notes and chords fit into the general pattern. A guitar can play chords and arpeggios, but the fingerings are worked out by a slightly different method, and the playing techniques seem to be pretty well unique to guitars. I will not go into guitar playing at great length because although I know how it is done I don`t have much skill in the field. Perhaps the main thing to say is that an electric guitar is able to play long sustained notes and chords whilst an acoustic (non-electric) guitar only has a relatively short sustain (look that up either in a musical or an ordinary dictionary if you don`t know what I mean).

The easiest way (if you have the patience for it) to work out chords and arpeggios on a guitar is to draw a diagram of the notes available on the fingerboard. Each fret (the little metal strips across the fingerboard) works as the beginning of the string when you press your finger onto the string just behind it, and the frets are so arranged as to raise the note by half a tone when you do this. This means that you can draw the six strings going one way and the frets going across and mark the name of the note to be got at any given place on the diagram. Work them out by counting.

The standard tuning for a guitar is E two octaves below middle C for the lowest (thickest) string, A for the next, D, G, B, and E for the highest. Just to confuse us all, the strings are numbered the other way round! So actually that highest E string is called the first string whilst the lowest E is called the sixth string. When you have unscrambled that, you will need to go on thus:

The 6th string when open (no fingers on) plays an E, and so the first fret is an F (look at a keyboard if you don`t believe me), the second fret is an F sharp, the third a G, the fourth a G sharp....and so on.

If you fill in your diagram up to about the fifteenth fret for all strings you can get an idea of how many chords can be got by pressing fingers on in various arrangements. The limits are the number of fingers you have (not as many as strings), how far you can stretch them, and the contortions you can get your fingers into.

For ease, work out the notes in an E chord (see earlier issues) because this is an easy one to finger, and find a way you could put your fingers on the fretboard to get this chord, bearing in mind that on a guitar it may not be considered bad practice to use more than one of any given note - even the third of the chord, which is considered unacceptable by some people on other instruments and in orchestral scores - and it is also acceptable to cover more than one string with one finger.

I expect you have come up with a nice little three finger one which nevertheless uses all the strings, and hopefully you will find a few others played in different positions on the fingerboard. Strum it, and hear how it sounds. The other two that are usually needed for simple tunes in E are A and B7 (see earlier issue to work them out). These will take a day or two to learn to play, and then try them out on a few songs.

For a great many guitarists it is great step forward when they manage to start devising ways to make the instrument sound good without using all the strings - after all, you don`t have to, do you? This enables the making of many chords that are quite easy to finger. You will have to play about with things to know which ones work well and which ones just work (and which ones don`t).

I have talked about chords so far, but arpeggios can be found by the same method. In fact, it is not difficult to finger the chord and then run your thumb across the strings slowly to sound an arpeggio, and if you are really keen you might like to try using the thumb and fingers (normally only the first three fingers) of the right hand to play these arpeggios by picking one string with each finger. You can, of course, always watch people playing guitars as well to get some fingerings and tricks.

Next thing to do is to go through a sequence of chords/arpeggios steadily and evenly without stopping. This might enable you to hear how the tune itself is hinted at by the notes you play. Pavanne is a good number for this, and in the LETSSwing version starts off with a guitar doing just this for eight bars, followed by the next eight bars with just the guitar and the bass. Then the whole band comes in, starting again from the beginning. It is a very slow, peaceful and sombre number.

That should keep you busy for a bit. Pavanne will be one of the first tunes I will put on the sheetmusic site (URL to follow). It is intermediate rather than beginner, but with a fair amount of effort it should be possible for a fairly early player to play at least the G minor sections. I can - just - and if I struggle I can play the B flat section.

Unions and work

A note arrived in the college this week addressed to me as one of the members of the Joint Negotiating Committee. It was from the NATFHE (National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education) rep., and suggested a meeting to discuss what we were trying to achieve for our electorate. We would not wish to exclude NATFHE from discussions, and I am sure all would agree that we have a certain lack of professionalism (as do the council people), but they were a total disaster in connection with my redundancy, and I am still trying to pursue my losses that resulted from their representing me.

As far as I know NATFHE have failed to agree terms in most districts so far, and so there is no more chance in our college than anywhere else, particularly if we are trying to go for an open system that is constantly open to re-negotiation on all sides (I`m a bit of an extremist in this particular area).

On the other hand, it would be nice to know what NATFHE think, and we certainly don`t want to get in their way or work against them. They do, after all, represent a few of the staff.


We`re always making things out of other people`s junk in my classes, and this week I made something that would appeal to several categories of enthusiasts, including recyclers, interior designers, shopfitters and non-purist antique enthusiasts.

It was a framed mirror made entirely from recycled materials (aside from glue and pins) and very simple and quick to make. The mirror came from a skip, and was cut by methods I have already described in an earlier edition of The Other News, whilst the rest of the project consisted of a piece of genuine mahogony plywood from a dismantled college classroom locker and a few bits of packing crate cut down to suitable sizes (we have a circular saw to reduce timber, but this is not essential if one has a reasonable store of thrown out timber, because it will almost inevitably contain pieces of one by one or two by one planed timber) and some glue, pins, filler, French polish and finishing wax - and something to back it with and hang it.

Here is the method. The plywood was about two feet by one and a half feet, and I cut a decorative shape to one end of it (to make a top) and a hole through the middle for the mirror. Then I pinned and glued strips on the back surrounding the hole and about one inch away from it. This made a mirror frame into which a mirror could be put from behind. Behind the mirror and pinned into the strips there is another piece of thin ply to hold the mirror in (don`t bang pins into the mirror(!), but at an angle into the strips).

That is all. But before actually putting the mirror into the frame, it is worth painting the inside of the frame black to avoid reflections of rough back of frame areas in the edge of the mirror, and polishing the front of the frame - which is a whole subject in itself, but in very simple terms you can brush French polish onto the surface, allow it to dry, rub it with very fine steel wool, paint on another coat, rub it again, and when it is dry rub it over with finishing wax or furniture wax (not silicone wax), let that dry, then buff it with a piece of cotton rag.

With French polish it is a matter of trying it and going on putting on coats until you are happy - in most people`s opinions the thinner the polish the nicer the result.

In my mirror there were a few odd dents and chips out of the wood on the front, so I mixed some dark paste (stuff rather like cocoa powder, which I daresay would do) with French polish to make a filler of the right colour (I had darkened the wood) and filled them with it. This was left to dry, and rubbed down flush, then brushed over with polish. I only decided to do it after I had put on a couple of coats of polish, but it has stuck because it is mixed with polish. I ended up with four coats as a result.

The hanging string needs to be attached to the strips rather than the ply, and would normally be done by screwing small metal eyes (one either side) into them and tying a string across between them.

Small ads


I want some Locolink stuff. This is the program and disks for getting data off Amstrad PCW`s onto ordinary PC`s.

Cheap laptop for writing the Other News when away from base. Contact

Wanted pc/Acorn monitor, London area.

Who knows where on the Internet I can get a good freeware or shareware score-writing program that will run on my p100 or Acorn 5000? Please contact

For sale or barter

(Will take LETS currencies): Industrial quality roofrack about 7 feet X 3.5 feet, made to measure for ford Sierra estate. I used it for woodwork contracting. It is the best I`ve ever seen. Contact

Same again, about 48" by 96", but lesser quality, for Ford Granada estate or Volvo 7 series - free owing to poor condition - but it works.


LETSSwing (the London all-LETS-members band) need a percussionist. Suit someone who thinks of playing and writing music as a creative, co-operative, gentle activity, who likes out-of-date pop and jazz, and who doesn`t like making a noise. We play so quiet you could have it in your livingroom without bothering the neighbours most of the time, and are looking at the possibilities for involvement in `the community` (playing in hospitals and so on). Contact

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notes re publication.

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