Monday, 21 August 2017

On reaching state pension age

I don't know how it works in other parts of the world, but here in the UK those people who are entitled to a State Pension have to formally apply for it when they are within three months of pensionable age: applications can be made either by telephone or online. Since I was due to reach State Pension age on 7th August this year and being one of those people who don't much like using the telephone for official communication because you have no hard-copy record, I made my application to the Department for Works & Pensions via their online service back in May.

The Department for Works & Pensions online application form asked for various details about my public and private life, which I dutifully provided. These details included the name of the bank I wanted my pension to be paid into, the bank's sort-code and my account number... remember this, it's important!

The Department for Works & Pensions online service clearly states that all claims will be dealt with and claimants will normally receive written details confirming their entitlement at least two weeks prior to them reaching pensionable age. Any claimant not receiving such written information is advised to contact the Department for Works & Pensions by telephone when within two weeks of pensionable age. Having not received anything in writing from the Department for Works & Pensions I telephoned to confirm my claim on 25th July. The person I spoke to apologised that I had not been contacted and explained the Department for Works & Pensions had experienced a 'software error' which meant some applicants had 'slipped through the net.' I was assured my application would be processed that day and I subsequently received a letter from the Department for Works & Pensions dated 26th July setting out the details of my claim and confirming my first payment would be made on 7th August.

My 65th birthday came and went and I checked my bank account to make sure my very first pension payment had been made... no... nothing... no pension payment. I gave it a few days then contacted the Department for Works & Pensions by telephone on 11th August to query why my pension had not been paid using the contact telephone number stated on the top of the letter I had received from the Department for Works & Pensions. The representative from the Pension Service I spoke to informed me I had telephone the wrong number and provided me with a different number where she assured me help would be at hand. I telephoned the new number. The second representative from the Pension Service I spoke to informed me I had come through to the wrong department and I was told I should ring a different number where I was once again assured help would be at hand. I telephoned the new number...

Having waited on hold for over 20 minutes with a poor rendition of Vivaldi's Four Seasons playing in the background and constant messages telling me my call was important, but I could almost certainly get the information I required on the Department for Works & Pensions website, which of course I couldn't, I finally managed to speak to yet another representative from the Pension Service. I explained I had not received my first payment from the Pension Service and asked whether there was some problem with my claim. This representative from the Pension Service checked my details and told me there appeared to be no reason why a payment had not been made. She promised to reissue the payment and informed me the money would be in my account within 5 working days. I subsequently received a letter from the Pension Service confirming the payment would be in my account no later than 18th August.

18th August came and went and still no payment from the Department for Works & Pensions.

I telephoned the Department for Works & Pensions again this morning and once again told my tale of woe. On this occasion the representative from the Pension Service I spoke to told me the payment had most definitely been made and accepted by my bank. I assured him no such payment had reached my account and asked if it were possible for him to check my bank details, which he subsequently did. Now bear in mind I had supplied the Department for Works & Pensions with the correct details of my bank back in May and had a hard copy of those downloaded from the Department for Works & Pensions website so I knew they had the right information... the representative from the Pension Service I spoke to this morning apologised because an error had been made by the Department for Works & Pensions and my first pension payment had been paid into a bank account, it just wasn't MY bank account!

The problem has now been solved (I'm not holding my breath) and my first pension payment is being reissued to the correct bank. Despite the wonders of electronic banking I won't receive the payment for 5 working days and believe me if I don't actually receive the payment on this occasion I'll be making a trip to Wolverhampton (yes my regional pension office is in the middle of England, not in Wales as you might expect) and camping out in someone's office until the issue is finally resolved!


If the Department for Works & Pensions has issued a payment or payments to someone else's account, what happens to that money now? Presumably they will reclaim it... I'll bet they're more efficient at getting money back than they have so far been in paying it out!

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Is autumn just around the corner?

One swallow does not a summer make or so the old saying goes, but when they start congregating on telephone lines I can't help thinking autumn must be just around the corner.

Birds on a wire

Don't get me wrong I love the autumn, but I'm always sad to see the swallows leave. British swallows spend their winter in South Africa: they travel through western France, across the Pyrenees, down eastern Spain into Morocco and across the Sahara. Some birds take an alternative route and follow the west coast of Africa thus avoiding the rigours of the Sahara. Either way it's one hell of journey for a such small animals to make.

So with two weeks of August still left in the calendar and the swallows already congregating, does this mean autumn will come early this year?

Friday, 18 August 2017

And the fruits just keep on coming

It's been an exceptional year for fruits from the garden. We've been inundated by raspberries, tayberries and various currants, though sadly they are all over and done now. The strawberries cropped reasonably well earlier in the year and are just producing their late crop now. The only disappointment in the fruit stakes are our pears... there just three on the whole tree!

Next up will be a race between the apples and the grapes, although unless we get come consistent sunshine I fear the grapes probably won't ripen.

Grape vine, Bacchus
These are our white grapes, the variety is called Bacchus, but don't be confused by the name they're a dessert grape.

Grape vine, Bacchus
We have two white vines growing, both Bacchus and I guess if we ever did end up with a huge crop we could try making wine from them despite their being a dessert variety. We also have a Black Hamburg vine chosen because we were assured it's fruit would ripen without sunshine, but in fact it has proved to be less than fruitful.

Bizarrely I have no idea what variety our apple tree is. The little bundle of twigs and associated root-ball was sold as a Victoria Plumb. Once the plant started growing and produced leaves it obviously wasn't going to be a plum. I've always enjoyed apples so we decided to leave the tree and let it grow, this is the second year it has produced a reasonable crop of fruit.

These apples will be ready for eating a few weeks from now, they are crisp and slightly sweet and quite delicious with a piece of good cheese.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Typical British summertime and the British fixation with the weather

As everyone knows we Brits love to talk about the weather... for those who don't really know us that's because under normal circumstances no two days are ever the same.

Last Sunday's weather forecast said this area was going to be dull and overcast, however the day turned out to be bright, sunny and very warm... just goes to show what the weather wizards know! Having decided to take advantage of an early start we undertook a trip to the Ships Graveyard at Purton in Gloucestershire. Having wandered among the hulks we hit the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal bank and walked through to Sharpness Dock. Towards the old dock entrance and modern day marina is an area where enthusiasts 'park' their canal barges - there are literally hundreds of them!

Canal barges at Sharpness - Sunday
As you can see from the above photograph, Sunday was a lovely day. Compare that sunny image to one of the images I took in damp, overcast Newport on Monday morning:

City Footbridge, Newport - Monday
Tuesday's forecast was sunny intervals and indeed the morning wasn't bad at all, quite warm with some nice sunshine. The afternoon was wet and dismal. Yesterday was a mixture of sunshine and cloud with the occasional light rain shower. Here's a mobile phone image I captured during a sunny period yesterday morning:

Transporter Bridge, Newport - Wednesday
So far today has been broadly similar to yesterday with the addition of some wind, but without the rain... are you starting to build up a picture of the average British Summertime here? With such variation in our weather is there any wonder we Brits discuss it at every given opportunity?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

'Graffiti, art or eye-sore?'

I spotted a couple of examples of street art (graffiti) while walking in Newport a couple of days ago. The pieces in question were directly opposite one another in an alleyway that used to be known as Carpenter's Cut back when I was a kid; I don't recall the alley ever having an actual street sign and checking out the location on Google maps, I find the alleyway is not designated. It was well known to people of my generation because it gave access to the rear bar of the Carpenter's Arms, known as the Log Box, which had a great jukebox back in the day. But I digress... back to the street art.

This first piece, whilst colourful and well defined, does nothing for me at all. The artist is undoubtedly skilled, just look at the detail in the lettering, but as piece of art it leaves me cold.

I photographed this second piece from both left and right because the alleyway is not wide enough for me to capture the whole thing in the amount of detain I required. Looking at this on the building's wall I found my eye immediately drawn into the piece, then found myself questioning whether it was the work of one artist or two? Note the lettering holds the tag Ghost Writers, while the figure is wearing a tee-shirt with the logo Ink Devils emblazoned on the chest. I admire the skill that has gone into this piece of art it appeals to me on several levels and whoever worked on it, I like it. 

I think it's interesting that these two pieces of street art, possibly by the selfsame artist and displayed immediately opposite each other, should engender such a different reaction in me. They also raise the question in my mind, 'Graffiti, art or eye-sore?'

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Newport on a damp, grey Monday morning

Spent a few hours trudging around the old home town yesterday, from necessity not from choice. Had a camera with me so took a few images of the greyness.

The Riverfront, Newport City Footbridge, University City Campus - mid-tide
Near the city centre, the residential east bank of the River Usk overlooks (near to far) the University of South Wales, Newport City Campus, Newport's City Footbridge, office block and Riverside Arts Centre.

Newport City Footbridge
A welcome addition for pedestrians and cyclists, the City Footbridge offers convenient access to both banks of the river.

Transporter Bridge - near high tide
Newport's famous Transported Bridge, designed by the French engineer Ferdinand Arnodin to provide a river crossing and still allow high masted ships access to the town's riverside wharves was built and opened in 1906.

The towers stand 241 feet 5 inches tall (73.6 metres) and the span is 644 feet 9 inches (196.56 metres). The distance between the centres of the anchorage caissons is 1,545 feet 5 inches (471.06 metres). Power to propel the transporter platform or gondola is provided by two 35 hp (26.1 kW) electric motors, which in turn drive a large winch, situated in an elevated winding house at the eastern end of the bridge. This winch is sufficient to drive the gondola through its 196.56 metre total travel at a speed of 3 metres per second.

This is the oldest and largest of the three historic transporter bridges which remain in Britain, and also the largest of eight such bridges which remain worldwide.

Looking back into the city from the SDR - near high tide
The Southern Distributor Road bridge offers a good vantage point to look back along the tidal River Usk towards the centre of the city, the view is very different at low tide.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Purton on Severn - ships graveyard

It had been a while since I last visited the ships graveyard at Purton so as I was up early having spent half of Saturday night up watching the Perseid meteor shower a Sunday jaunt into Merrie England seemed like a good idea.

For those who don't know, the ships graveyard at Purton was created in an attempt to stop the erosion of the river bank and therefore protect the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. In essence around 80 vessels of various types have been beached on the muddy bank over the years to add strength and prevent the tides from displacing more of the natural river bank.

I find Purton to be both a sad and a joyous place. It always saddens me to see ships of and description deliberately sunk or left to rot, but at the same time the various rotting hulks at Purton offer unlimited photo opportunities for a rust freak like me.