Most companies of any size offer a few benefits and perks to their employees. The railway offers more than most. Who wouldn’t want a final salary based pension? They’re hard to come by these days. Some (most? all? I don’t know…) Train Operating Companies also provide a scheme, which I participate in, to buy shares in the business. I buy three shares, two more are thrown in for free. There are conditions, of course, and it really only works if you treat it as a long term deal. But my favourite perk, which works in the here and now, are the travel benefits. I’ve probably touched on this before. But I’m not sure I’ve ever explained the full deal.
This week is a week of anniversaries. Today marks two years since I started working with a train operator as a ticket office clerk. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best job in the world*. Why is this so? The pay is fantastic for the job I perform. But the pay is not why my job is the best in the world. The benefits are great too. We’ve made great use of free and heavily discounted rail travel. But that’s not why my job is the best in the world. There’s a very good final salary based Continue reading
This is a public service announcement by the Mexile in association with an awful lost of frustration and angst. Roughly 24 hours before Mrs P and I were due to fly to Mexico for our two week holiday, there was what I shall refer to as an ‘incident’. I won’t bore you with the details of the ‘incident’. Just one of the consequences. The most pressing consequence. Mrs P was no longer in possession of her Biometric Residence Permit. This Continue reading
The British calendar can be a complicated affair sometimes. Sure, some holiday dates are fixed. Christmas Day and Bonfire night, for example, are always on the 25th December and 5th November. Other dates are fixed-ish. May Day is rarely on 1st May, unlike pretty much everywhere else in the world, but as it is always on the first Monday in May. It’s not too hard to work out. Then there are the variable date holidays. Easter falls sometime Continue reading
This year will be different things to different people. And different organisations, nations and other entities. According to the UN, 2015 is the Year of Light. The Chinese are convinced that this is the year of the sheep. Or goats. One or the other. What sort of offspring do you get from a papa sheep and a mama goat? The Chinese should have picked that, whatever it is. The Russians and the North Koreans have decided that it is the year of friendship between Russia and North Korea. Hey, don’t mock. Everyone needs at least one friend.
So what about the UK? We have the best ‘Year Of’ of them all. Here in Blighty, 2015 is the Year of Mexico. Which makes me happy. In Mexico, they are having the Year of the United Kingdom. Which also makes me happy. There are events galore, and I’m pleased to say that Mrs P and I will be participating. We have our tickets booked for the Lucha Libre at the Royal Albert Hall and for the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez. Both events are in July, and we’re looking forward to both. Myself, more the former than the latter. If you’re there, give us a shout. I will be Mistico and she will be Blue Demon.
I have, for many years, publicised the many links between the UK and Mexico. Some of them are best left alone. Ok, so we may have syphoned off a bit of oil in the early parts of the last century. Possibly quite a lot of oil. We may also have enforced borders between Belize and Mexico that was more in our favour than Mexico’s. But still. We gave you football and pastes. And that counts for a lot, right? Although the best common bond between these great nations? Well that would be myself and Mrs P, of course. and this blog. Alas, the video below gives none of us a mention. Pft.
How is Mexico better than the UK, asked no one ever. Well, there’s the weather. And the food. And the chicas. And the friendly faces. And especially the weather. And the fresh fruits. And the racists, too. Let’s big it up for the Mexican racists. They don’t, quite frankly, get the credit that they deserve. How so are Mexican racists better than UK racists, you might wonder. Well, I have no scientific proof, empirical evidence or hearsay to offer. Just personal experience.
I have been the ‘victim’ of racial abuse twice. The most recent episode happened just a couple of hundred metres from home, a week or so ago. I had seen the chap loitering about Westbourne, earlier. White, shaven headed, casual attire, chunky set of headphones stuck on his head. He looked a bit spaced out. Looks can be deceiving. Our conversation was more than simply ‘spaced out’.
Are you English?
Errr…(wondering where this is going)..yes.
No, you’re not.
I’m pretty sure I am.
No you’re f*****g not, are you!
Ok. But actually I am.
There was a strange pause. Where does the conversation go from here? I shrugged and decided to let him finish it with himself, and carried on walking. A moment later I heard him launch into a tirade of colourful language, with the gist being that I should go home to my own country. It was utterly surreal. For those who might be passing this way for the first time, I should qualify, or rather disqualify, his ham fisted attempt at racial profiling. I am white, 6 foot tall, blue/grey eyes, fair haired and when my skin does have any colour to it, after a little too much sun, you would most definitely associate the tone with English Lobster Red. I was born in London to parents born in London to grandparent born in London and so on. I have an unmistakeably English accent.
How did my racist friend get it so wrong? One can only assume that he’d made up his mind that I was a Polish or other European immigrant and felt it unnecessary to remove those bulky headphones in order to confirm his initial prejudice by actually listening to my responses. In the industry of racial ignorance and hatred, the bar for membership is already set pretty low. This guy dropped it on the floor. Dang, he buried it.
Once upon a time in Mexico, I was asked by a homeless chap for some pesos. I had none. After I had walked a safe distance past he started yelling. ‘Pinch ingles!!’ Over and over. Well, at least three times. Was I offended? No, I was thoroughly impressed. He had managed to identify my nationality correctly, and had not gone for the more likely and obvious Yankee critique. See, Mexican racists are better than British racists. They’re smarter, more thoughtful and more considerate. One nil to Mexico.
Racial prejudice is alive and well, everywhere. Sometimes it’s overt. Often it’s disguised by those who attempt to disguise their prejudice as ‘refreshing candor’. You know the sort. The sentence starts with, ‘I’m not racist, but…‘. And then there are those who are simply unthinkingly ignorant. The latter bunch are not necessarily a bad sort. Just poorly informed, or maybe inclined to speak then think, or perhaps just expressing negative experiences of their own.
The ethnic demographic did change noticeably during my time in Mexico. There are now tons of Polish people in the UK. I like them. They are easy to spot. They are the guys who are usually working that bit harder than the others. My racist friend should take note of that when next choosing a recipient for his ignorance. And amend his spiel – go back and work hard and be productive in your own country while I despoil the local environment and waste perfectly good air by my continuing refusal to cease breathing. Personally, I think we could do with a few more Poles and a few less Brits.
There is a downside to all this immigration though. I thought upon returning to England that I’d be safe to use my real name again when out and about. Hugh Juan could be retired. Alas, it was not to pass. This was a better attempt that some, but it’s not the right spelling. And I do hope Mrs P didn’t notice her new name…
I haven’t uploaded a new postcard for a while. But I found one tucked away in a drawer. It’s ever so British. Ever wondered where the Keep Calm And Carry On phrase sprang from a few years ago? It was created for posters in World War II to keep the collective chin up in the event of a German invasion. Happily, the posters weren’t needed. Unless you lived in the Channel Islands.
Would you like this postcard? It’s free! As are all the postcards in the archive awaiting new owners. Just check out the Postcards page and then follow the instructions. Certain rules apply, which may be made up as I go along and are liable to change without notice. But otherwise, it couldn’t be easier.
Scotland, that rugged mountainous land just to the north of England. The home of the haggis. An English speaking country, supposedly, whaur nae a single body kin actually speak sassenach. A land of homphobic gaelics with no sense of irony. They gave us the likes of Rod Effing Stewart and refuse to take him back. The mystery isn’t why the Scots are voting for independence, but why the English aren’t voting to expel them. And whilst they can’t keep the pound, they definitely can keep Rod Stewart.
But voting for independence, or against it, they are and the day of reckoning is coming up fast. The bookmakers have the No camp as very strong favourites. I personally have the Meh camp way out if front. Either way, it doesn’t look good for the Yes camp at the moment. But things can change, and sometimes they can change quickly.
I am pretty firmly in the Meh camp. It’s a decision for the Scots to make. But at the same time, I can’t help feel that as the inhabitants of the same smallish island, with roughly the same language and such an intertwined history, present and (whether any one likes it or not) future, the status quo is the way to go. The Scots have a good degree of autonomy with their own parliament. A union is usually stronger and more resilient that fragmentation. And there’s an awful lot more in the list of similarities than there is in the list of differences when discussing the English and the Scots. And Scotland does have it plus sides, if you can overlook boiled offal and deep fried Mars bars.
I do have a couple of strong-ish opinions though. Firstly, that for a vote of independence to be successful, a simple majority is not enough. The 40% rule was controversial in the 1979 vote. But I feel it didn’t go far enough. I feel that a minimum of 50% of the electorate should be the qualifying limit. Independence through apathy isn’t acceptable. If not enough people actually care, then the justification for a break up of the UK isn’t there.
Secondly, of course they can’t keep the bloody pound! The question they will be voting on is ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?‘. Not, ‘Should Scotland be sort of independent, but keep the bits of union it likes?‘ If they want monetary union, and are so confident that automatic membership of the EU is a given, then let them join the Euro. I pass you over to one of the highlights of the British political world, the excellent Question Time.
Pride is commonly referred to as a sin. A deadly one at that. But much like any other emotion, it’s part of our character and won’t be going away. Some forms of pride are more acceptable than others. Pride in a job well done, in the accomplishments of one’s offspring or in the achievements of your team. National pride tends to exist in a slightly murky world, where the triumphs of heroes and heroines share an uncomfortable space with nationalists who seem to focus more on the perceived inferiority of others than anything ‘their gang’ might have actually done.
I’m proud of being British, but it’s sometimes hard to define why. Our history contains stories of gallant exploration and social building, but is stained with genocide and ethnic cleansing. The victories over Napoleon and Hitler go hand in hand with the historical account of our destruction and slavery of African tribes and the murder of countless Indians. If we have pride in the former, should we not bear shame for the latter? No, we cherry pick. Which is another very human characteristic.
But if a Briton wants to be proud of our history, our present and our future, then the world of science is as good a place to point to. For centuries, British scientists, inventors and thinkers have lead the way. Newton, Faraday, Bell, Baird, Crick, Fleming, Eccles, Turing, Babbage, Lovelace, Hooke and Whittle changed the world as much as any general or admiral. The likes of Berners Lee, Dyson, Crick and Higgs continue to fly the flag as high as any Squadron Leader or Field Marshall. There’s a caveat to this, of course. Science and the military walk hand in hand. They rather sustain each other, rather than existing in spite of each other. Let’s over look that though.
As things stand today, this little island sitting in the North Atlantic contains just a single percentage of the worlds population. We contribute, financially, just three per cent of the funds made available for scientific development. Yet we still produce more than fifteen per cent of all significant scientific papers. That’s mightily impressive, by any standard. It’s a little factoid that caught my attention during Brian Cox’ latest television series, Science Britannica. It’s a fascinating three part series. Well worth your time, no matter your nationality.
This gushing editorial on British pride is leading somewhere though. Pride in the past is all well and good, but how well equipped are we for the future? Alas, all is not well. This piece by Robert Peston is one of many articles you could (cherry?) pick from to demonstrate the failings of our educational system. It’s a damning indictment on the investments made by previous governments, on our cultural standards in general and also a warning to what will come. Whilst Westminster argues over tabloid initiated point-scoring issues, education gets cut further, privatized more and pushed further to the sidelines.
Education is one of the very few departments where taxpayers money is genuinely an investment and not an expense. It’s also the very foundation of a fair, balanced society that provides equal opportunity. And it is what will determine the success, or not, of Great Britain as we head deeper into the unknowns of the 21st century. I won’t go into a full blown personal blueprint for the future of education in the UK. Suffice it to say that work does need to be done to fix what is a flawed system. As a given, the very poorest children should have the same opportunities to learn and develop their skills as do the richest. Failure to make that happen doesn’t just mean we write off a chunk of the more needy of our population, but also a good chunk of our future prosperity. And that would not be something to be proud of.
The British passport has always been one of the better, if not the best, passport to be packing in your travel bag. Easier access to former colonial territories. Friendly relations with the US. And the benefits of being part of the EU. My British passport may not, one day in the future, be the one I want to use though. It’s an EU passport too, and as an EU citizen (for the moment…!) I actually have more rights. Even in Britain, as a British citizen. Us Brits have become second rate
citizens subjects in our own country. Why? Where shall I begin.
Mrs P came to the UK in the summer of 2011. The date is important. Had she arrived after July 2012, I would have needed to prove that I have an income in excess of £18,600. Like nearly half the UK population, that’s an income level I do not boast. In one swift stroke, nearly 50% of the UK population were forbidden from marrying a foreign person and living in Britain. You can do one, or the other. Not boast.
I understand the need to regulate immigration. Some of it is easily solved. Asylum seekers? Well, we could stop bombing other countries to smithereens. The ‘hordes’ of Eastern Europeans that ‘invaded’ the UK when Poland joined the EU? Well, perhaps we should have followed most of the rest of Europe and put a block on them. Although, quite frankly, I find the Poles to be a much nicer, harder working and integrated bunch than an awful lot of Brits. Illegal immigrants? We’re an island for goodness sake. We have it a tone easier than the rest of Europe. We just chose to be lax. Skilled foreign workers? I’m not aware that anyone’s claiming they are a problem.
And then there is Mrs P, and the tiny teeny fraction of immigrants in the UK who have married a British citizen. It was already ridiculous that we had to pay an extortionate £1000 for her initial visa. It’s outrageous that an Indefinite Leave to Remain visa is another £1000. And that a year after that it’s another £1000 for naturalization. There’s no justification for those sort of fees, especially given the absolutely awful level of service you get.
It’s a combination of knee jerk politics and a culture of ripping off anyone who finds themselves at the mercy of the state. If you are the citizen of a country and you wish to marry a foreign person, there should be a streamlined and sensibly priced procedure in place. Not barriers deliberately designed to keep families apart. Even as Mexico is moving away from an archaic immigration policy and towards a system designed to keep families together, the UK goes in the opposite direction.
But I am not just a British citizen, but also a European citizen. As such, I can move to any country in the EU and live and work there. The rest of Europe is more in tune with humanity. In Europe, I can bring my Mexican wife with me. There are treaties that are enshrined into law to give me this right. And there are laws to ensure my wife and I can move freely around Europe. If we wish to move from another European country to the UK, then the UK Border Agency cannot stop us. I just have to show I worked in that EU country for three months.
On arrival, she can get a five year Residence Card and legally work here. The cost? As far as I can see, the cost is entirely measured in time and patience. We could simply bypass the ridiculous, exorbitant and unfair processes of the UK Border Agency, and have a three month European adventure to boot. The biggest cost has already been paid. By the wonderful Surinder Singh. There always has to be a test case. For a test case, you need a person on the wrong end of an unfair law to stand up for himself and take on the state. Good for you Surinder! Does any of this matter to us? We are going back to Mexico, right? But who knows what the future holds…
We don’t have many dangerous animals in the UK. Because we killed all the dangerous ones. Most of them centuries ago. Many of them millenia ago. The antelope, woolly rhino, mammoth, elk, wolverine and walrus are amongst those number. More recent members of the not-so-exclusive UK extinction club include the bear, lynx and the wolf. Humans, you’ll not be surprised to hear, were wholly responsible for these recent extinctions. But us humans aren’t all bad.
There are efforts to reintroduce reindeer, wolves and beavers. Mostly in Scotland. One imagines that they chose Scotland to avoid problems with wild beasts like the wolf attacking humans. This has probably got less to do with lower population density and more to do with the fact that no sane wolf would pick a fight with a drunk Glaswegian on his way home.
But we still have plenty of wildlife, and an awful lot of it is very visible. We’re currently plagued with deer. There are too many by far. Why? Not enough wolves, apparently. Foxes can be seen darting from garden to garden at night. Badgers are rarer, but can still be seen from time to time. Hedgehogs are also pretty common. Although, truth be told, you’re most likely to see these in a ‘roadkill’ sort of setting.
In the mornings you’ll hear a proper chorus of birdsong. In the afternoon, buzzards and eagles can be seen soaring in the skies, looking for prey. Come evening, the birdsong chorus starts up again. Pigeons seem to get noisier in the evening. Britain has the fattest, most aggressive pigeons in the world. In other countries, kids chase the pigeons away, the synchronized flock spiraling into the air causing much merriment for the naughty children. Here in the UK, the pigeons chase the kids to try and rob them of ice creams. They really don’t give a you-know-what. Pigeons are probably a Scottish species. Once night falls, the chorus dies down. And silence settles. Punctuated by haunting toots from owls.
Other than the Scottish pigeon though, there’s not much in the way of dangerous animals on these isles. There’s the False Widow, but no one’s ever been known to die from one of their bites. The weaver fish, with poisonous spines on its back, has claimed a fatality. Once. Back in 1927. So. Not very scary. For scary, we have to look to the adder, a snake belonging to the viper family. But it’s shy and hasn’t killed anyone for nearly forty years.
I’ve seen all of these animals in the wild. My adder experience being many decades ago. I fished a snake out of Rickmansworth Aquadrome in a little net and took it back to my family. They weren’t impressed. I’ve seen grass snakes too. But there was one animal that I’d never seen till yesterday. The Slow Worm. It looks very much like a snake. But it is, so I read, a lizard. Without legs. It was sunning itself on the drive. It’s not a very big creature. It is very docile. It’s also very much a gardeners friend – it loves to feast on slugs. That’s him in the photos above and below.
This dear lizard has a very glamorous golden coat to it, don’t you think? I poked his tail to check he was still alive. He gave me a slightly aggrieved glance. But he stood his ground. That’s not usually a good defence tactic for most weakly armoured animals. He should strike a cobra pose. If it works for tiddles, then why not for him?
It’s been a very, very long winter. Not the coldest, although it’s had its moments. But ever so long. We’d forgotten what sun was. October was drearier than usual. November, December, January and February the usual bleak and miserable winter. March should have seen the first signs of spring, with trees shooting new leaves. But the temperatures stayed subdued. The skies stayed gray. The shoots stayed hidden.
April came and April went, in much the same way as March. But in the final days of April, the sun did put in an appearance. The mercury rose and spring, ever so belatedly, arrived. It’s amazing how quickly the landscape can change in this country with the arrival of spring. Damn, foreboding greys and sodden greens disappear to be replaced with blue skies and splashed of every colour imaginably shooting from every crevice of soil.
We went to Exbury Gardens, one of the most famous gardens in the country. It’s renowned for it’s spring blooms of rhododendrons and azaleas. We were a bit early, truth be told. In another week or two, it’ll be a complete riot of colour and the manicured lawns will disappear beneath a carpet of blossom. The photos on Flickr are here (just the blooms) and here (blooms and Mrs P). Or you can just have a brief glimpse by clicking on one of the photos below to see a quickie twelve shot slideshow. Happy spring to you all!
You may accuse me of bias if you wish, and you may have a point, but I happen to think that the Union Flag is the best looking flag in the world. All flags are unique, true, but the Union Flag is more unique than most. For a start, it’s not simply three stripes. Far too many countries employ the three stripe rule. Bland. Secondly, it has three colours. Flag should have three colours. Two colours is too plain. Four becomes messy. Lastly, it has no tacky symbols tacked on, be they stars, sickles, suns, crescents or flora and fauna.
The Union Flag (it’s only the Union Jack at sea) is unique, classy and instantly recognizable. I also love the fact that people make so many abstract and imaginative variations upon it. You can mess around with the colours and add lacy edges if you wish to create something even more unique. Mexico could learn a lesson or two from the Union Flag. It is possible to go over the top when ‘protecting‘ your flag…
But alas, the Union Flag is an endangered species. In little over a year Scotland will hold a referendum to determine whether or not to break away from the United Kingdom and form their own country. I am personally against such a breakaway but I will not have a say in this referendum. That, quite rightly, is an issue for the Scots themselves. I don’t believe that the nationalists will succeed. I don’t believe it would be good for Scotland. It probably wouldn’t have much impact for England. We’d be a little better off, but not so much so that anyone notices. The Scottish Nationalist Party have a real wishy washy view on independence, where they seem to be wanting to cherry pick the bits of the Union they like, and ditch the bad bits. If it’s an independence vote, then it should be a case of in or out.
I am trying to find out what sort of turnout they need for the vote to be enforceable. I thought it scandalous that the Scots and Welsh were awarded self governments during Tony Blair’s tenure based on a handful of people turning up to vote. The previous referendum to that, in the 70s, required a turnout of at least 40%. Personally, I would insert a requirement for 50% of the registered electorate, regardless of how many turn up, to vote ‘Yes’ for the referendum to be valid. The default vote should always be for the status quo.
The consequences of Scottish independence are massive. For a start, the United Kingdom will cease to exist. After all, we will be left with England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Northern Ireland is a province and Wales a quasi form of principality. Only England and Scotland are/were kingdoms, and if one of them does the off….well there’s no ‘united’ to that, is there. Great Britain will also cease to have any political meaning to it and will once again solely become a geographical term. Northern Ireland, of course, has never actually been part of Great Britain.
Back to the point at hand though. The flag. The Union Flag is a combination of the flags of Ireland, Scotland and England. It’s actually been around since before the union of England and Scotland. If there’s no Scotland what happens to the flag. This is an as yet unanswered question. It doesn’t just affect the UK. There’s a whole bunch of countries using the Union Flag in their flag, including Australia and New Zealand. Some Canadian states also use it, and one state of the USA has a Union Flag in the corner. That state being Hawaii. Ironic really, seeing as Hawaiian born Obama was accused of being ‘too British’ to be president.
Perhaps these countries will see this as the right time to ditch the Union Flag. Maybe those who are still technically ‘attached’ to the UK will see this as the right time to declare themselves full republics too. I’m thinking of Australia, Canada and New Zealand in particular. They could join other former colonies who have in the last couple of decades ditched the Union Flag – South Africa and Hong Kong. The repercussions of Scottish independence could be quite far reaching.
The Union Flag looks a bit bare in the image above, with the Scottish blue removed. Perhaps this would be the right moment to include a bit of Welsh in the flag. See the image below. I think adding the Welsh Dragon would be a bit tacky (see my comments from the first paragraph!) but why not add a bit of their green. We could market it as a promotion to the Welsh! Of course, another option, is to simply ignore the fact Scotland has gone it’s own way and just carry on with the Union Flag as it is.
When I arrived back in the UK in February 2011 the country was stricken with drought. That changed about a year later, when it began raining. It hasn’t stopped since. The country has been stricken with flooding for the last year as a result. A nightmare for insurers and home owners. The photo below is of a river going through a field near to my home. I accidentally mapped it in Poland in Lightroom, but it is in fact in Dorset. I promise. I worked in a service station sited alongside the field for the best part of six years. It always flooded during heavy rains.
I have to ask a few dumb questions when doing home insurance quotes. One of them is, ‘has your property, or any other properties within 3.1 miles previously suffered from flood damage’. I add a caveat, of sorts…..’to the best of your knowledge’. I get some dumb answers to match my dumb question. Some people will tell me there hasn’t been any flooding since the great flood of 50, 100 or 200 years ago. They should probably just shut up. But they don’t, so I tick the box and send their premium shooting up.
Others just answer ‘no’. Even though I often know the answer is yes. The most responsible answer to such a dumb question? ‘What sort of a dumb question is that? Three point one miles? How am I supposed to know?’ It’s not, however, an acceptable answer. I need a yes or a no, and I either tick the box or I don’t. The insurance industry and government have a real headache on their hands with the issue of flooding, and it doesn’t look like being resolved anytime soon.
On the subject of home insurance, I have a project in the offing. A ‘dummies guide to insuring your home’ sort of a thing. An insiders guide cum expose. One thing that has become apparent to me over the last couple of years is that 99% of home owners haven’t got the slightest clue what they are doing. Customers will complain that insurers try everything to wriggle out of claims. Do you know how often I hear that? About the same amount as I hear people tell me that they haven’t read their documents because ‘no ever actually reads them, do they/ I haven’t got time to read all that stuff, there’s too much of it/ I just file them for when I need them/…’ etc.
So in summary, people who don’t know what they are insured for, and what they aren’t insured for, get upset when they find out too late what they are insured for or (more to the point) what they are not insured for. The sad fact is that the majority of home owners in the UK are dummies. They need the appropriate guide. I doubt they will read it. But for those that do want to know how to get a quote, the best price, the right cover and how not to make the silly mistakes I see people making every day, I will provide. At a cost, of course. The joy of Kindle publishing…
If every you venture onto tech forums, you can’t help but notice that there seems to be an ongoing, and never ending, Apple v Android v The Rest flame war that rages between fanboys, and fangirls, of the competing eco systems. I wouldn’t describe myself as a fanboy. I like Apple products. But I wouldn’t buy one at the moment. They are, whatever else anyone might say, over priced. And they aren’t ‘better’. The volume advantage in the Apple appstore doesn’t count for tuppence. I couldn’t possibly use 1,000 apps, let alone 100,000 or a million. The Apple appstore does have two advantages that do count however.
The first is that new apps do tend to hit the Apple marketplace quicker. Flickr’s new app still isn’t out on Android yet, and neither is the BBC’s iPlayer app with download abilities. Why not? Well the reason kinda leads me into the second advantage. Whilst Android is fragmented across a huge number of different hardware devices, meaning some apps need tweaking for different handsets, the Apple eco system feeds just a single piece of hardware. Ok, there’s the iPhone and iPod Touch. But they are for all intent identical.
That also means that when there is an OS update, Android users often have to wait for their handset manufacturers and carriers to develop and deploy it. The case in point. My beloved Samsung Galaxy S2. There have been devices rocking Android’s latest incarnation, Jelly Bean, since last July. I’ve had to sit and wait for nigh on eight months for it to finally release for the Galaxy S2 in the UK. But last weekend, after months of rumours and delays, I got a Google sized dose of Jelly Bean.
Was it worth the wait? It was certainly a bit of a wait for the download to finish. More than 300 mbs, which seems to have impacted somewhat on the phones available storage. But it’s not a problem. I have a 32gb SD card installed to supplement my storage needs. The installation went through fine though. Restart. And? Looked pretty much the same, truth be told. But now with Google Now, the much vaunted new product that keeps you up to date with all things local.
I tried to install the widget, but was left with a greyed out bar suggesting that I ‘get Google Now’. I thought I had got Google Now. It turns out you need to set it up first, and to do that, you need to find a slightly obscure and bland blue Google app. You can see it in the left hand image, on the right hand side beneath the weather app. What do I get from Google Now? So far, I’m sorry to say, not a lot. A weather app. And when I’m out a map showing me how to get home. It’s early days though. I suspect it will burst to life when I hit London in a couple of weekend, and I have more than just a few trees and fields in my local area. Let’s hope so.
I mentioned that the OS looks pretty much the same. It does. But it is a little tidier. A little easier on the eye in places. Pull down the Notification bar, and there’s a row of settings along the top. As there used to be. But swipe, and you get a few more. The My Files folder is the biggest improvement, making navigation a little easier, especially if you’re just trying to get to the external SD card. And the Display Brightness setting is suddenly ever so prominent. That turns out to be important.
One thing I noticed missing on reboot was the Task Manager. I have, or had, an icon on the front of my phone, for killing apps and preserving battery life. It turns out that you now have to hold down the Home button. As before, it brings up a list of open apps, but it now has a bar along the bottom. The left hand icon opens up the Task Manager. The middle icon opens up Google Now – they’re clearly pushing that as ‘the way forward’. And the last icon just closes all open apps.
There is a downside to the Jelly Bean update for the Galaxy S2. A downside that makes ease of access to the Display Brightness and Task Manager important. Battery life. Or lack of it. I noticed shockingly rapid battery drain straight away, and a search of the internet tells me I’m not the only one. Far from it. I pity anyone on the standard 1800mh battery – even my extended 2000mh battery fails to get through a day of even light-ish use. Not even close to a day, in fact. With moderate use, my battery is pretty much done shortly after lunch.
Setting default apps is easy, as you’d expect. But the reminder screen (middle image above) is slightly annoying. I get it. I know how to reset default settings. Stop flashing up every darned time. One welcome update though is to Samsung’s Swype keyboard. This alone makes it worth trading in an iPhone for a Sammy. No tapping, just swyping. It works incredibly well. I wouldn’t go back to tapping. No sir. That’s so 1980’s. One issue I’ve always had , though, is when I’ve reset the phone and wiped the dictionary. If you swype in something it doesn’t recognise, it’ll guess, and often guess badly.
This affects me more than most. I tend to send several emails signed Gay rather than Gary before I remember. And if I go for my whole name? Well that’s just gayness all the way. My many gay friends will know I have nothing against gays, nor gayness, for that matter. But I’m sure you can see how it’s a bit irritating! But with the Jelly Bean update comes a new Swype feature that saves your dictionary using your Google account. Brilliant!
My Jelly Bean verdict? Very much evolutionary rather than revolutionary. As most up dates are. But some of the new features are very welcome. Google Now has potential, even if I’m yet to see the fruits of Googles labour. But the battery drain is a serious issue. I do hope there’s a new update to resolve that soon.