Blog: Keeping it simple

In keeping with the title of this blog, check out these ward profiles I put together at work.

Previously, these were 20-page documents (for each ward) “summarising” the key facts.

I’m not trained in infographics so this is the best I could do using a combination of Microsoft Powerpoint, Excel and infogr.am.

Let me know what you think! It’s meant some other departments are now asking me to help them summarise some of their key information (finance and complaints in particular!)

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Blog: Twenty Thirteen

After that “Summer of Sport”, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and those fireworks over London (11 minutes!), 2013 is finally upon us. And before you can say “damn, that went quick”, 1 January is coming to an end.

It’s clichéd to make New Year’s Resolutions. This time, I’m going for something a little different. A friend recently reminded me how we are all creatures of habit. We exist by pretty much doing the same thing over and over again – ordering the same food, waking up at the same time during the week, having the same routine etc. So my aim is to change at least 1 habit a month (12 habits of the year). The idea being that, over time, what were “bad” habits will be come “good” habits. And eventually, they’d be subject to review too!

One of the habits I definitely want to change is to write more – particularly as my stint at Sky News is now only 4 weeks away. I need to get into the habit of finding something interesting to write about and writing about it. We’ll see how that goes – I had intended to write my first article today about how Britain owes it to itself to be more honest about its limitations in today’s world if it is to stand any chance of “success” in 2013 – but, believe it or not, Ribena came in the way.

Yes you read correctly. Ribena. A Ribena spillage on my Mac meant I spent the whole of today backing everything up on an external hard drive (this takes a long time if you don’t do it regularly). The £600+ repair cost moved me to take decisive action but, since then, the Mac seems to be running ok, save for the random crash here and there and a very slow shutdown time. I may well be in the market for a new laptop in a couple of days pending the outcome of a diagnostic test from one of those local “telecommunications” shops run by Pakistanis. He’s pretty confident he can do a decent job for a fraction of the price…! Gotta love their entrepreneurial spirit – so we’ll see how that works out.

I’m gonna head off and watch Match of the Day now (ManYoo put 4 past Wigan and we’re still top..come on you Reds!) but that GB piece I mentioned earlier is definitely in the pipeline.

Happy New Year and here’s to a fun year of me writing and you reading!

Thanks 🙂

Blog: 10 things I learned…from Istanbul

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I went to Istanbul recently for a bit of a break.  What a great city it is.  I stayed in an area called Sultanahmet where the main Istanbul sights are – the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and the Grand Bazaar – as well as the Cemberlitas Hamami (Turkish Bath).  I wrote a review of the excellent Sultans Royal Hotel I stayed at on TripAdvisor.

I could tell you about all the wonderful things I did, saw and ate during my 4-day, 5-night stay in Istanbul but I thought I’d do something a little different.  Here are 10 things I learned from my time in Istanbul – read and make use of it as you please!

Stray cats are much more pleasant than stray dogs

Everywhere I walked, I saw cats.  Regardless of whether they were rummaging through a bin or sitting on the altar at Hagia Sofia (there was one!) they were pristine and spotless.  Even if you walked up to them, they wouldn’t flinch.  As far as stray anythings go, cats are definitely my favourite.

Fresh fish sandwiches are the future of food

Eminonu is the main port area where the Bosphorus Cruise sets off and is just opposite the Egyptian Spice Market.  Just before setting off on the cruise, I noticed crowds of people in front of 2 boats.  I decided to have a look and realised the crowd were munching away on fresh fish sandwiches at 5TL (about £1.70) a piece.  When I say fresh, I mean fresh.  The fish are caught, simply grilled, very quickly de-boned and stuffed into turkish bread with some salad.  You can buy pickles separately and there are people walking around with drink cans in their hand for you to buy.  I stuck with the sandwich and it was, simply, excellent.  The Eminonu Fish Sandwich boat was definitely a culinary highlight of my stay.

British kebabs are tastier than Turkish ones

Foodies amongst you are probably crying in your soup at this one but it’s true.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown accustomed to the taste of Anglo-Turkish food, but the kebabs in Turkey just…aren’t that great.  Best Kebab House on Chadwell Heath Lane is still the best (or for a Bangladeshi take on it, go to Spice Hut opposite Stepney Green station..amazing!) for a doner.  In Turkey, you won’t even get garlic sauce!

Don’t buy anything from the Grand Bazaar

Now, this might be a controversial one.  The Grand Bazaar has over 4,000 shops in it but here’s the thing – there are 1,000 ceramic shops, 1,000 jewellery shops, 1,000 fake handbag shops and another 1,000 general souvenir shops (with turkish delights, tea sets etc.).  Those aren’t specific numbers of course, but that’s pretty much what it felt like.  Despite going in at 11am, I was invariably “the first customer of the day, so good price to bring good luck” according to the shopkeepers.  As it is a major tourist attraction, there’s a 20-25% premium on the prices and the quality isn’t always that great as each shopkeeper is clamouring over the other for business.  Of course, there’s no substitute for being in the hustle ‘n’ bustle and history of the place but, given that I found most of the gifts I bought at a fraction of the price on Isteklal Caddesi (see next point), the Grand Bazaar was a lot of style with little substance…!

Isteklal Caddesi is the best shopping street…ever

Istanbul’s answer to Oxford Street can be found after a hell of a steep walk past the Galata tower.  There’s a single train that runs through the street from one end of it to the other.  It had all the designer shops you’d expect as well as normal tourist shops and a selection of lovely restaurants.  I went there on an early evening with some light rain and the buzz of the place was just fantastic.  Definitely worth a visit – and in the rain – for a taste of metropolitan Istanbul.

Turkish Baths are NOT for the faint-hearted

Don’t do it if you’re body-conscious/don’t want someone to knead your torso like it’s dough/don’t fancy being dragged all over hot marble stone/prefer drinking alcohol to feel tipsy instead of having bones and muscles you didn’t know existed giving you pins ‘n’ needles.

Never tell a shopkeeper you’ll be back later…

As my hotel was right next to the main “Old Istanbul” sights, I had the pleasure of walking through the Arasta Bazaar every day.  It really is the cutest little bazaar and at the end of it, when the evening sets in, you’ll hear the sounds of live Turkish music and smells from exotic shisha pipes at the main cafe there.  There are also loads of shops (not just here, but everywhere in Istanbul).  So, naturally, as a shopper you want to look around and, as shopkeepers, they want you to buy from their shop.  So when I told one particular shopkeeper “I’ll be back” knowing I’d pass the shop on my way back to the hotel, he wagged his finger at me, vein popping out of his neck and said through clenched teeth, “I KNOW WHAT YOU ARRRREEEE”.  Not doing that again.

London definitely needs a tram service

I could pretty much walk everywhere I needed to, but I made the odd journey by tram.  It was such a pleasant experience.  They were air conditioned, regular and simple to navigate.  Best of all, it was very very cheap.  With an Istanbulkart (their Oyster card equivalent), each single journey was 1.95 TL (around 70p).  Despite Istanbul being a very busy city, traffic easily negotiated the trams (and vice versa), whilst it made the city feel a lot more cosmopolitan.  I really think London should have something similar.

Just because someone is old, doesn’t mean they’re not useful

At home, the rise in the retirement age has been the source of great angst for most of the population.  There seems to be this feeling that above a certain number, human beings cease to become useful or able to do anything.  Not so in Turkey.  From the old man sweeping away rainwater at Topkapi Palace to keep it as fresh possible, to other members of the elderly fraternity selling bits ‘n’ bobs on their stalls, everyone was busy.  I don’t doubt that a lot of these people had to do this to make ends meet and, whilst that is sad (let’s be honest, pensions pots now or in the future ain’t gonna keep any of us comfortable…!) it highlighted that this generation is able – and on the whole willing – to work.  Let people retire when they wish to.

Trust is a novel thing in a big city

As a Londoner who uses the Tube pretty much every day of the week, I’m used to everyone being miserable.  I’m also used to the idea that nobody really trusts anybody else around them – myself included.  It’s not a city where people look out for one another.  But in Istanbul, the level of trust I saw and felt was remarkable.  When buying my Istanbulkart from a small stall owner, whose other products were cigarette lighters, keyrings and nail clippers, he told me to wait for 5 minutes as he went off and topped up the card for me.  I waited and in that time, 2 more people arrived wanting to buy a cigarette lighter.  Now, they could easily have walked off with one but no, they waited for what ended up being about 7-8 minutes until the small stall owner returned and handed over my card.  That would never happen in London.  And it should.

Blog: Failed promises…but new opportunities

The last time I wrote on this blog (2 October 2012), I said I was back.

Clearly, I haven’t been.  “Why Eshaan?! Why?!” I hear you scream.  “Why did you build our hopes up this way?”  I have no answer for that my friend.  I really don’t.  But I’ll try and explain some of it.

After my last post, I spent a couple of weeks still recovering from that broken wrist.  I did go to work but all that typing really wasn’t good for me and, as a result, the recovery took a little longer than expected.

In that time, my mum started studying after 36 painful years of looking after her family.  I’ve been encouraging her to do this for about 7 years, and it was great when she finally took the plunge to do a Certificate in Higher Education in Legal Methods at Birkbeck College (where I did my Masters) with a view to studying Law after its completion.  Helping her make that transition has been inspiring, heart-warming and, at times, incredibly funny.  Soon after starting, she said, “Everyone keeps saying I need to Google this or Google that…what’s my Google?”  When I explained it helps you search websites to find information on anything you need, she asked, quite practically I feel, “how many websites are there?”

You see, my mother is frightfully intelligent.  She had to grow up pretty quickly and can see the wood from the trees better than anyone I know.  But put the internet in front of her and she’ll wilt like spinach.  She is the ultimate technophobe and believes, and I mean genuinely believes, that the pace of technological advancement will leave too many people behind resulting in a mass uprising and societal oblivion.  It’s a compelling argument.

So the technological expectations of modern-day study has been a culture shock for her.  And her old school approach of taking notes upon notes upon notes and hand writing essays (my brother has typed these up for her to date) has been a culture shock for other students on her course.  But nevertheless, she enjoys learning and I’m incredibly proud of her.

Early in November I went to Istanbul for a week’s holiday.  What a wonderful city.  I’ve got a little blog piece lined up about my travels there but it won’t be a typical travel log…so look out for that!

And finally, I recently lined up a 3-week stint with the weekend team at Sky News HD in February 2013.  I’m really excited by this opportunity as broadcasting is something I’ve always wanted to do.  In fact, I’ve had to put up with jibes of “You look like Krishnan (Guru-Murthy, Channel 4 broadcaster)” my whole professional life – my white colleagues lazy attempt to find a celebrity look-alike for me you see.

So I have been pretty busy but that’s still no acceptable excuse for breaking a promise.  I won’t be making any promises this time – except to myself to say that I’ll try much harder to post more regularly!

Blog: I’m back…?

Hello readers!

I know you’ve all been wondering where on earth I’ve disappeared to (just work with me…I like to think people care what I have to say…)

You may remember, I had a stint at The Observer (where I had a few things published and bylined – woo!) and immediately after was caught in the whirlwind that was my brother’s 18th birthday.  I made a return to the stage with a few dances but was particularly busy with the dance choreography of 16 of his friends – all non-Asian – in what proved to be a quite remarkable spectacle of community cohesion in Dagenham.

Since that day 2 weeks ago, I’ve been nursing what I think is a broken wrist (another x-ray coming up soon), catching up with work and, just this weekend, was diagnosed with shingles (eurgh!).

As you can gather it’s all been a bit of a blur.  That said, I’ve still kept my eye out on things that have been happening in the world and there’s so much to say!

So this is me saying I’m back – I hope to have a few things on this blog over the next few weeks and, as always, am grateful to you for taking the time to read and comment.

Blog: Personal finance lessons for UK PLC

My economics degree, career in finance and debt issues have taught me a few things:

  1. Economists have a tendency of overcomplicating pretty simple matters by slapping things onto a graph;
  2. Financiers, in the main, are finding out what works and what doesn’t by trial and error – they don’t control markets, the markets control them
  3. Speculation enslaves economies – credit rating agencies and market traders live by them.  They forget that markets have no memory
  4. Government budgets are pretty pointless “statements of aspiration” rather than anything concrete – it almost invariably leads to disappointment and has taken on an almost ceremonial quality

But perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learnt is that managing debt (like losing weight) is hard, it’s slow and, fundamentally, it’s easy.

With the Eurozone seemingly teetering at the precipice of economic oblivion and the government seemingly clueless about which to do first – cut or grow (Cameron today in a speech at the IoD said, “deficit reduction and growth…they are not alternatives.  Delivering the first, is absolutely vital in securing the second…we cannot blow the budget on more spending and more debt”) – perhaps the solution lies not in the corridors of academia or the glass walls of the City but somewhere much closer to home.

Open any personal finance/debt advice website and you’ll find the following bits of advice – UK PLC could do worse than to learn from them:

Check your credit file

There are a few critical questions you’ll need to address here:

  • Have you been the victim of identity theft – are creditors out there thinking you’re France?
  • Are there inconsistencies in your credit file – did you pay the Saudis or Big Scary Banks Ltd when you said you would?
  • Are you on the electoral roll? – are you still registered to determine affairs in foreign countries or registered to vote in your own?
Once you’ve had a good look, call Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch ratings agencies to correct these errors.  But caution: credit ratings agencies don’t really know what they’re doing but get paid a lot to determine things that, frankly, they are inept at doing.  Nevertheless, it’s good to keep them sweet.

Budget for your critical payments first – mortgage, council tax etc.

  • Make sure you’re housed, fed, watered and breathing whilst paying for any associated costs.  Maybe UK PLC should make sure houses, food, water and…er…breathing…is readily available
  • If you’ve got contractual obligations to, I don’t know, unscrupulous governments anywhere else well…you’ve signed a contract.  Just make sure they’re paid – you don’t want a visit from bailiffs for this or run the risk of (re)possession
  • Avoid risk of default – no one wants to feel the wrath of the agencies even though you shouldn’t really be thinking about borrowing at all.

Budget for your minimum payments on non-critical debt – credit cards, loans, overdrafts

  • You owe money to Big Scary Banks Ltd so negotiate a minimum payment plan.  Oh and remember, Big Scary Banks Ltd also owe money to other Big Scary Banks Ltd.  You might default with them, but they’ll probably default with someone else. Either that or they’ll create sub-prime funerals and exotic derivatives to make sure they don’t.  Because that’s just what you do.
  • Keep your payment plan printed and on the wall in front of you for everyone to see.  They’ll support you if you know what you’re up to.

Streamline your spending

  • This isn’t the same as cutting.  This is about going on price comparison websites and making sure you’ve got the best deal. By all means, get rid of what you can do without (such as payments to the “Exclusive Golf Club memberships at the Across The Atlantic Club”), but try and get the best deal.
  • But remember this, because you ARE a government and not an individual, it’s just that little bit easier to make things cheaper for you by making it yourself.
  • Take your own lunch to work instead of buying it from Pret.  Or China.
  • Think of ways to pay out less money to people WHO ACTUALLY WANT TO EARN MONEY THEMSELVES! Young people.  The unemployed.  Able-bodied lazies.
  • See “Invest in Yourself” for some more ways to streamline your spending

Snowball your debts by tackling your most expensive ones first

  • This is great, and really easy to do.
  • Tackle your most expensive debts first with the extra money you “save” as a result of taking in your own lunch
  • For a moral victory, tackle the smallest debt first and give yourself a pat on the back.  Like not making life difficult for old people.  Or children with “special educational needs”

Commit to saving for a rainy day and find more ways to save more

  • Aim to save at least 3 months worth of income for a rainy day.  Don’t touch it.  Put in an ISA and watch it grow tax-free.  Or send it to Switzerland.
  • Set up a savings and investment club and call it “The United Kingdom”.  Get everyone who’s in the club to commit to saving and investing their savings too.  You’ll see everyone getting a little bit more responsible with their money.

Invest in yourself – it might be your only way to earn more

  • The above plan will keep you stable and cutting debt for a while
  • But of course, the more money you earn, the easier it becomes
  • You might have streamlined by taking your own lunch in, but how about building your own cars? Here’s what happens – you get people who you’re paying benefits to working and PAYING YOU TAXES (earning money) and what they create is bought by other people PAYING YOU VAT AND OTHER SUCH TAXES (earning money).
  • How about learning a new skill or undertaking a qualification? We know you’re loved up with service industries but the Chinese aren’t genetically different to us that makes them better with computers.  Or are they? Maybe they are…
  • Be healthy in mind and body too – don’t be afraid to start losing weight or taking up a new hobby.  It’ll help you tackle your debt problem and keep you in it for the long haul.  Weight loss could include less fixation with what the papers say (at parties) and your new hobby could be running government (instead of trying to run the economy).

Blog: Sex-grooming – Paedophilia is the problem, not Pakistanis

A second child-sex grooming ring has been uncovered in East Lancashire and on BBC’s The Big Questions this morning, a debate raged around whether or not this is a “Muslim British-Pakistani” problem.  The Daily Mail-esque question was “After the Asian grooming case, does the Pakistani community need to get its house in order?”   Unsurprisingly, a lot of people are of the opinion that they do.  A fair few have also been careful to be as politically correct as possible.  No one wants to be accused of racism now do they?  But I am disappointed in the reactions to this in the public domain to this.

My first disappointment is that popular media and debates have firmly placed this issue in the “identity politics” category.  It is a crying shame that the abhorrent crime at the core of this – the grooming and sexual abuse of young girls (overwhelmingly white, but some were also Bangladeshi) – has been somewhat lost.  Instead the fashionable, paper-selling criticism of Muslims/Islam (note, they aren’t saying just British-Pakistani) takes primacy over and above the remorse we should be showing these unfortunate young victims.

As I write this, I am watching a programme on Star Plus discussing child sexual abuse in India – harrowing stories are being shared by men and women who were sexually abused as children in a country where there is no law to address child sexual abuse issues and where 53% of people say they have been subjected to sexual abuse as a child.  And it wasn’t just Indians who were at it.  In 2001, the Anchorage Case saw Alan Waters and Duncan Grant (two very Muslim and British-Pakistani names), two British ex-naval officers, charged with running their own sex ring.  They are known in India as “The British Paedophiles”.  Under the pretext of running a shelter, these two men scoured the streets of Mumbai offering food to children living on the streets.  These children were then passed around to adults – native and foreign – to be sexually abused.  The nature of India’s legal system meant that it wasn’t until 2011 that the Supreme Court were able to serve justice thanks to the perseverance of the world’s largest children’s phone emergency outreach service, CHILDLINE India Foundation and the Maharashtra Government.  Waters and Grant are no different from the Khans and Alis charged in Rochdale – they are all cut from the same disgusting cloth.

Our first reaction should always be to support the victims – they’ve done nothing wrong and there is no better response to any abuse than to see those abused rising above it and, hopefully, preventing a repeat of this anywhere else.  In fact, experts, commentators, policy and sociologists/psychologists aren’t going to prevent girls from falling into this trap again.  Those who have been abused are the only ones who can possibly understand the circumstances, feelings and nuances that led them to become victims.  These young girls should be supported and empowered to overcome their trauma.  They are the only ones that other victims can possibly trust to understand and empathise with their predicament.

Instead, most people are fixated on who to blame and how to frame that blame.  I hope and pray that justice is served swiftly and firmly.  But, moreover, I hope and pray that we uncover existing abuses (if there are more) and prevent, as best we can, any in the future.  The critical point is that throughout all societies there are, and will always be, some that will exploit and prey on the vulnerable.  That trait is not limited to Muslim British-Pakistanis.

And it is here that my second disappointment lies.  I am all for calling a spade a spade.  But the spade most of us seem to have chosen here is the wrong one.  There are fundamental issues that meant these girls were vulnerable and “prey-able” in the first place – that should be our first concern.  Why were they in that situation in the first place?  Why are girls as young as 11 in situations where they can be preyed on, venturing into unwelcoming environments.  Before you throw your toys out of the pram, yes everyone should be free to go wherever they like without fearing perverts.  But if that were the case, we wouldn’t need any policing of our streets.  There would be no need for discipline from parents to children.  The vast majority of victims were from difficult backgrounds – why don’t we address these issues first?

As for the ethnic make-up of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.  We should not be surprised that Muslim British-Pakistanis in Lancashire hang out together.  That’s how communities are formed.  People gravitate to those who are most similar to them – white working classes, British Asians, Bullingdon club government ministers… Even within these communities, there are sub-communities – Millwall/West Ham football fans, doctors/engineers, News International chummies.  In the case of Rochdale, it was their collective paedophilia that brought them closer together – not their faith or their ethnicity – to carry out these atrocious acts.

Even the cultural “explanations” based on the perpetrators’ ethnicity is, to my mind, a little lazy.  Muslim British Pakistanis aren’t the only ones that can’t talk about sex openly in their communities.  They’re not the only ones who have arranged marriages.  They aren’t the only ones that act as though it’s ok to bully women.  In fact, the thing that should alarm us most is the seeming increase in child sexual abuse cases since 2004/05.  NSPCC can point to an increasing number of calls to Childline about sexual abuse since 2004/05.  Would it be safe for me to then say that the UK, culturally, has an increased tendency to sexually abuse their children based on the evidence? Probably not.

In such a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone’s business, that nobody thought to report this before it had gone too far (one is too far) says more about those that knew it was happening than those that did it.  Perhaps the overwhelming majority of that community were Pakistani but this isn’t a solely Pakistani problem.  Crimewatch didn’t come into existence because British Pakistanis weren’t reporting crimes.  Catholic priests didn’t get away with their crimes because British Pakistanis weren’t reporting them.

According to Rochdale’s most recent Community Plan, 11.43% of its population is BME.  Newsflash: that’s still a minority.  It has been widely reported that white people are overwhelmingly represented on the sex offenders register.

We should be dreaming of a society where there is no need for a sex offenders register.  We should be dreaming of a society where young girls are not preyed upon by unscrupulous men – alone or in groups.  Until then, let’s try not to create a schism from which there may be no turning back.