James Miller


Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Blog From Kabul


In The Times yesterday there was an excellent article by Lucy Gordon about life and work in Kabul. Her blog is very much worth reading.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Searching for the Real Austerity


I was born in a time of austerity and shortage in 1947. I can just about remember seeing my parents' ration books and my mother always claimed that my face was a picture when I first saw a banana at the age of about three. Food was probably a bit short, but I don't think we went hungry. Although I do have memories of tripe and onions, which is something I wouldn't eat now!

I can also remember my father burning his identity card with a lot of joyous ceremony and sternly telling me that only Nazis and Communists made people carry things like that. Brown beware!

But really I know little of my parents' struggles to feed my younger sister and myself.

The success of the book, Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 by David Kynaston, illustrates how many of us want to find out more about this part of our history. It was a time, when the end of the Second World War should have thrown off all of the gloom and danger. It should have led us quickly into a much better future.

But it didn't! Or did it?

I don't know, as I was too young to experience the trials and tribulations.

Last year, a friend who like me had attended Minchenden Grammar School in Southgate, David Dell, purchased the school papers of Ian Campbell, who had been a earlier student at the school in the 1940s.

The papers are a gold-mine of interesting and unusual information. Perhaps the real nuggets are his letters home to his parents whilst he was on a month-long school trip.

Not as one would expect to say Southend, Brighton, Bognor or some accessible area of the UK, but to the South of France! It must have been a tremendous adventure.

I have started to find out more about this trip, as it gives a whole new angle to what was happening at the time. But at a first look it doesn't seem to be as untypical as you would think.

The final intention of my quest is as yet unknown. But as I have helped several people self-publish books of their memoires and stories on the Internet, I can see myself doing the same with this untold story of a time where things appeared to be bad.

But were they?

I've started a blog on Wordpress at minchenden1947.wordpress.com, where people can watch the progress of my search and also add any comments they wish.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gwyneth Dunwoody


Gwyneth was my neighbour for several years in the early 1970s, when Celia, myself and the children lived in Cromwell Tower in the Barbican.

I feel a great deal of sadness at her passing, as although I probably would never have agreed with her at all on politics, she was very much a person to be admired. She was always someone, who had the right (and often forthright) word at the right time. Just like the time she announced to all and sundry in the foyer of the tower, that Edward Heath couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery.

Perhaps though I remember her most in when one night we went to borrow a cup of sugar and ended up coming home after several very hospitable drinks.

I also remember her mother Baroness Phillips, who when she was Lord Lieutenant of London, presented Metier Management Systems, the company of which I was one of the founders, with our first Queen's Award for Industry.

They don't make them like Gwyneth any more. And judging by the state of British politics, they won't be allowed to in the future.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Letter in The Times


I've just had a letter published in The Times about the varied response of various organisations to bereavement.

Patchy paperwork
The paperwork carried out when a relation dies should be standardised across all organisations

Sir, I was widowed last year, and it is only now that I’m starting to get my life together. The response of the various government and local authority departments in handling all the paperwork involved has been very patchy.

Registrars: excellent, very sympathetic and efficient; Work and Pensions: bereavement allowance came through with a few hiccups, but not too difficult; Premium Bonds: system worked but could have been better; council tax: this was reduced automatically on signing a form by St Edmundsbury — totally painless; DVLA: its online systems worked well; winter fuel payment: found difficult to claim and missed it for last year.

The private sector wasn’t that much better, with some companies having people whose sole job appeared to be to deal with bereavement faring much better than those that didn’t. Some wanted death certificates, some accepted faxed copies and others took my word.

We need a lot more joined-up thinking in this important area, as, with nearly a million deaths in the UK every year, it would surely help the bereavement process for those left behind if every company, organisation, government department and authority were automatically notified. After all, if St Edmundsbury can do it here in supposedly sleepy Suffolk, then surely everyone else can.

James Miller
Newmarket, Suffolk

They left out the bit where I praised Carphone Warehouse and a major bank. But they also left out my moan about trying to remove Celia from Tesco's database.