All quiet on the Eastern Front  

Thursday, 28 February 2008

In this, my 100th blog posting, I am happy to be able to report a thawing of international tensions. After 2 days of frosty atmospheres and sharp exchanges, we managed to sort out the problems - I think. Once again, it appears he root cause was a basic lack of communication. No dobt from both sides, and yet I still feel frustrated that after years, the wife still doesn't "get" European culture with regard to the equanimity of status within th martial home. Still there is this lurking demon of the traditional Japanese housewife behind her modern, international outlook. I'm sure it's not the last fight we'll have, but I'm glad this one seems to be over.

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Cold front sweeps in from the West  

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Day 2 of the big chill has dawned. After the wife's comments on Sunday night, I feel totally disinclined to engage with her at all, on any topic. I have always understood marriage to be, essentially, 2 people working together for a common aim. Her understanding seems to be, one person (her) maintaining a tight grip on her own self-interests, while the other (me) works himself into the ground financing it. Of course it is a husband's duty to provide for his family - nobody is questioning that. However the wife has an equal obligation to support and protect her husband's interests while he fulfils this commitment. I can't see how a marriage can work any other way.

There is a cultural issue here, of course, and I am fully aware of that. For that reason, I have been extremely tolerant of her (to my mind) completely insane ideas on domestic finance and the rules governing conduct in the house. The Japanese way is for the man to become a slave to his family; paying for everything while taking a minor role in all household affairs and being the last to be considered when it comes to common courtesies like not making noise late at night. Unfortunately for her, I am not Japanese and nor do I wish to become so. The fact is that she has chosen to travel to Europe to marry a European. From that, one would surmise that she also felt this attitude to be out-of-step with enlighted modern thinking. She is very critical of Japanese men staying out late drinking with friends and chatting to girls in bars, and yet she seems totally unable to connect their motivation for doing so with the intolerable atmosphere created at home by the woman of the house. I find that quite bizarre and extremely immature.

So, I'm giving her a taste of the good-old English cold shoulder: No cups of coffee made for her, no tables laid or plates cleared, no shopping done, no conversation and no consideration for her feelings or quality of life. Hey - maybe I'm turning Japanese after all.

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That'll teach them - British Gas humbled  

Saturday, 23 February 2008

While the news of British Gas's record profits is pretty galling in the light of their recent 15% hike in prices, it could have been worse had it not been for the valient efforts of yours truly. Through a combination of BG's fuck-wittery, a lot of water-muddying and sheer bloody mindedness on my part, I can report victory in my long-running battle with the energy giant. Having reduced BG's profits by a mighty £100 and earned myself a handsome 67 pence refund (yes, really!) I feel a positively Robin-Hoodesque glow of satisfaction.

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Will the last person to leave, please turn out the light  

Friday, 22 February 2008

Britain is experiencing the worst "brain drain" of any country as highly qualified professionals settle abroad, an authoritative international study showed yesterday, writes Robert Winnett, Deputy Political Editor of the Telegraph.

Record numbers of Britons are leaving - many of them doctors, teachers and engineers - in the biggest exodus for almost 50 years.There are now 3.247 million British-born people living abroad, of whom more than 1.1 million are highly-skilled university graduates, say the researchers.More than three quarters of these professionals have settled abroad for more than 10 years, according to the study by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).No other nation is losing so many qualified people, it points out. Britain has now lost more than one in 10 of its most skilled citizens, while overall only Mexico has had more people emigrate. Britain's exodus is far higher than any of the OECD's other 29 members. Germany has lost only 860,000 highly-skilled workers, America 410,000 and France 370,000.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics last year, suggested that 207,000 Britons - one every three minutes - left in 2006. The emigration rate is at its highest since just after the Second World War. The term brain drain was coined in the 1950s following the mass emigration of scientists and other experts to America. Tens of thousands of people also left the country to escape the industrial unrest and high taxes of the 1970s.

Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: "Ten years of Labour has re-created the brain drain. High taxes and Government interference are driving people away."

The study found that foreign-born people make up 8.3 per cent of Britain's population. A House of Lords report into the economic impact of migration is due next month. Prof David Coleman, of St John's, Oxford, said the brain drain was "to do with quality of life, laws and bureaucracy, tax and all the rest of it".

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The shamefaced idiot of Europe  

Given the revelation that perhaps the "special relationship" isn't so special after all, maybe it's time to consider a bit of rebranding for the UK. My suggestion would be to replace the proud British lion with a toothless, naive and trusting puppy dog. Maybe we could call it Tony.

I find it hard to understand why our politicians seem unable to grasp the most basic fact about American foreign policy: It exists solely to protect American interests. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a naive fool. There is no special relationship, and I don't believe there ever was. Where was the USA in 1940 when we stood alone against Hitler?

Tony Blair and his idiot cohorts fell hook line and sinker for Bush's lies and misinformation. Ignoring the justified scepticism of our more mature European cousins (not to mention the 2 million people who marched in central London against the war), Blair blindly followed the American line without question, taking us into an illegal and pointless war which has destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. To say we look pretty bloody stupid is a bit of an understatement.

We have gained nothing by war in Iraq except making ourselves the number one target for terrorists. Brave British soldiers are risking their lives every day, fighting a war that brings us nothing. America, on the other hand, now has control of the second largest oil reserves on the planet, which they are busy pumping out through a newly constructed oil terminal in Israel.

The word I would use for what Blair and Campbell, Straw and all the others have done is treason. Until recently, we used to shoot people for it. If only....

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Another immigration smokescreen  

Thursday, 21 February 2008

I notice that the topic of immigration has once again reared its head in the media. And once again, we are hearing tough words from Smith, Brown et al about how they are going to tackle the issue. And once again, either by stupidity or by design, they've missed the bloody point. Instead of tackling the real issues, they are once again using blunderbus legislation which unfairly penalises the long-suffering, law-abiding residents like us without touching those individuals causing all the problems.

Smith is talking about making it even tougher to stay in the UK if you are from outside the EU. So that's families like us, forced to cough up even larger sums of money (we've spent £2,500 in the last 3 years just to keep our family together) and jump through even more ridiculous hoops ("Life in the UK" etc). Meanwhile, the country is flooded with hordes of East Europeans, causing huge pressures on our ailing law enforcement, health and social services. It's a classic bit of sleight of hand from this government: distract the public with a bit of finger pointing and tough talk, while completely ignoring the real problem.

My wife views this attitude as pure racism, and I find it hard to argue with that. This government's attittude seems to be to pick on the brown, black and yellow skinned people, while allowing the white-skinned christians from Europe to flood in unchecked. For proof about this government's bias, look at recent cases like that poor Philipino guy whose wife was killed by an incompetant NHS trust, or the case of Hartley Alleyne- a former West Indian test cricketer and teacher in Canterbury for 30 years - threatened with deportation because he didn't have the right NVQ.

I absolutely refute the argument that mass migration from East Europe is delivering any kind of benefit to this country. Even the ones that are working legally and paying taxes do so at a lower rate than their native counterparts, thus devaluing the work market. Speak to any plumber or carpenter if you don't believe me. The money they earn is invariably sent back to their home country and so does nothing to benefit our economy.

So while this government steals the headlines with tough talk about immigration, law-abiding and valued contributors to our society are turned away by punitive legislation, while the tsunami of unskilled East European immigrants continues unchecked. Brilliant strategy. I can't wait to leave.

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To err is human; but to really screw it up you need a civil servant and a computer  

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Hot on the heels of the Child Benefit data disaster and the foreign prisoner fiasco, we have another digital cock-up. This time it's the Home Office again - a CD containing the DNA details of 2000 wanted criminals sent by the Dutch police was left unactioned on some idiot's desk for over a year. Checks carried out recently reveal that 15 of these suspects are in the UK and 11 of them have gone on to commit further serious crime here. Well done Home Office.

I think we've all become somewhat immune to hearing about civil service and government blundering, but coming so soon after similar high-profile incidents, it is quite amazing that nothing seems to have been done to sort the problem out. The reason being, I suspect, is that the management culture in government and in the civil service has been allowed to flounder to such an extent that change is now impossible. To put it bluntly, we are not only being led by idiots but also administered by them too, through systems which perpetuate a culture of failure.

In this latest incident, the useless recipient of this vital data decided to go on sick leave for a year. What does it say about the management of this section that apparently nobody was given the task of covering this role during their absence? If such measures were not deemed necessary, then why does this role even exist in the first place? I strongly suspect that the reason for absence is something suitably pathetic, like "stress", but even if this individual had good reason to be absent for such a long period, surely any half-decent manager would have either covered the role with a short-term contract or replaced them altogether, moving "sick note" into a new role upon their return.

What this case reveals in stark detail is the total ineptitude of those charged with administering this country; a culture where the individual rights of those within these organisations takes total precedence over their responsibilities. I despair that even if we manage to get rid of Brown at the next election, we're still saddled with his legions of incompentant monkeys running the country.

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Only in Britain...  

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

At the height of the gale, the harbourmaster radioed a coastguard and asked him to estimate the wind speed. He replied he was sorry, but he didn't have a gauge. However, if it was any help, the wind had just blown his Land Rover off the cliff.

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Words of Wisdom  

Monday, 18 February 2008

There are two theories about how to win an argument with a woman. Neither one works

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It is with profound regret....  

London Times Obituary of the late Mr. Common Sense

'Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:Knowing when to come in out of the rain; why the early bird gets theworm; Life isn't always fair; and maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge). His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an Elastoplast to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault. Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers; I Know My Rights, I Want It Now, Someone Else Is To Blame, and I'm A Victim. Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.'

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Words of wisdom  

Friday, 15 February 2008

Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

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"Now is the winter of our discount tent" - Retail monotony in the Bard's hometown  

A short drive from Stow is the world-famous Stratford upon Avon, birth and final resting place of William Shakespere. It is an undeniably pretty town, with some lovely views over the canal and the river. Nevertheless, while undoubtedly steeped in history and a cultural centre of immense importance, I found it a bit like any other market town in Britain.

And that sense of sameness is something that has really struck me over the last three days. It appears that every high street in the country now has virtually the same mixture of shops. Any regional variation seems to have been driven out by the big corporates, and any sparks of diversity submerged in an ocean of Starbucks, WH Smiths, Clinton Cards and all the rest. In a town like Stratford, famous the world over for the creative contribution it has made to civilisation, this tide of blandness seems strangely out of place.

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Day 3 - Stow  

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The weather smiled on us once again for the last day of our trip, making it a glorious hat-trick of sunshine and azure blue skies. We arrived in Stow on the Wold last night to a warm reception from our hosts the Kings. Moe's eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw the spacious bathroom - her extended soak leaving plenty of time for me and the missus to get reasonably sloshed on a bottle of Oddbin's finest, packed for that very purpose.

Stow is a beautiful little Cotswold market town, and one that has a surprising amount of interesting shops lining its capacious square. A careful trawl of the charity shops brought us a delightful bone china tea service for 20 quid - absolute bargain! After exhausting all that Stow had to offer, we headed off to Stratford upon Avon for the afternoon.

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Day 2 - Bath and beyond  

Today dawned brilliant and blue just like yesterday, providing the absolute perfect setting for our day out in Bath. I've only been to Bath a couple of times, and I think most of those I was working so I didn't see much of the place. The plan for today was for the girls to visit the Thermae Spa - about the closest thing to an onsen you'll find in Britain - while I wandered around exploring the city. I wasn't disappointed. Bath is an absolutely beautiful city and one day wasn't nearly enough to see it all, so I hope we'll return in the near future.

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Heading West  

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Today is the first day of our 3 day mini trip to the West country. The idea is to give the girls a look at Merrie Old England before we disappear to Japan. This first leg has taken us to Stonehenge and Avebury, and finally to Bath, where I am writing this entry.

Stonehenge was wonderful, and I think it made a big impression on the girls. The view of the stones as you come over the hill on the road from Andover is really stunning. The weather couldn't have been better, and the setting for our visit absolutely perfect.

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Spring has sprung  

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Today is a flawless Spring morning in England. Yes, I know it's only February but the flowers are already showing their faces and everything seems to be waking up from its Winter sleep. It is worrying that Spring appears to have arrived so early, but its beauthy is undeniable.

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Archie whips up a storm  

Having wandered into the socio-political minefield that is our so-called multicultural society, Archie's quite clearly put in his foot in it - or rather, on it-with his remarks that sharia law is inevitable in the UK . The explosion of public outcry will reverberate for quite some time. And with good reason. I have long puzzled about the equanimity with which the long-suffering British public seems to have accepted one blunder after another from the present establishment. But history shows all too clearly what the powers that be seem to have forgotten: The British people can be extremely tolerant, but only to a point. It could very well be that the remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury may have been a step too far into the realms of wishy-washy liberalism.

At last, people seem to be publicly saying that enough is enough when it comes to pandering to the demands of an alien culture whose vowed intent seems to be to become the dominant force in British society. My own view - and one that I suspect is shared by the majority of people in this country - is that of "when in Rome..." If muslims find our laws and culture so intolerable, then they should perhaps consider relocating to a country more acceptable to their sensibilities. However I suspect that the reason they don't seem to be too keen to do that is because they know all too well that they would not be allowed the freedom of expression that they enjoy in this country. The appalling case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh being a notable recent example.

The word "hypocrisy" springs unbidden to mind.

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You know you're getting old when.....  

Friday, 8 February 2008

...the once subversive songs of your youth are now played out as muzak in pub restaurants.

Working at the Southern Manufacturing & Electronics show this week, I stayed in a rather overpriced but ok pub/hotel. Whilst enjoying an overpriced but ok meal in the restaurant, I was shocked to hear The Stanglers' "Peaches" playing in the background. Not the sanitised radio version mind, but the full unexpurgated X-rated version that once caused my mum to go pale and drop her cup of tea.

For anyone who was young during the Punk era, lyrical profanity was the essence of the Punk zeitgeist - shocking, exciting and very cool. Hugh Cornwall's rasping vocal really took me back to that afternoon many years ago when my mum strolled into my bedroom just as Hugh roared the phrase "Oh Shit, there goes the charabang." To say she was unimpressed was an understatement. Sitting in this nondescript pub restaurant, I wondered if such coarse outbursts still had the power to shock in an age of gangsta rap and M&M, when the idea seems to be to fill the entire song with beeps and blank spaces. I observed a family group of granny, mum & dad and assorted children seated across the restaurant; I waited for Hugh's frank discourse upon the anatomical peculiarities of an observed bathing beauty to arrive, with all the decorum of a massive and unexpected fart; But alas, there was not the slightest flicker of reaction. call me old-fashioned, but the word "clitoris" is not one I would normally expect to make an appearance over dinner with granny. Or maybe it is, and I'm more old-fashioned than I thought.

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A sad state of affairs  

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

In the latest shocking screw-up by the NHS, a young Philipino mother (actually a healthcare professional herself) was killed by some idiot nurse administering an epidural intravenously. The interesting thing in this case is that it is actually the NHS that has been found guilty of unlawful killing, as opposed to the nurse. This is the first time this kind of judgement has been made and is surely a landmark in Labour's scandalous destruction of the NHS.

What has made this story even worse is the news that the poor girl's husband - also Philipino - now is due to be deported thanks to the insane immigration laws in this country. So, just to recap: This young professional family comes to the UK in the hope of a better life and to raise a family; the young mother is killed by an incompetant and ill-qualified NHS nurse, and her husband is subsequently thrown out of the country. Wonderful. Makes you wonder if we can even call oursleves a civilised society anymore.

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Is this what they mean by a just society?  

Monday, 4 February 2008

I heard on the news this weekend that Rose Gibb, the former CEO of the Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust is to get a £75,000 pay-off after being forced to resign her post. The reason for her resignation is the small matter of the deaths of 90 people through contracting infections from poorly cleaned hospitals, the responsibility for which of course rests with the organsation that Gibb oversaw. You can read all about it on the excellent Burning Our Money blog here

There are several things that really upset me about this story. Firstly, the fact that public money should be used to reward Gibb for such monumental incompetance is nothing short of disgusting. She should actually be in prison for criminal negligence. Secondly, the fact that Gibb has the affrontery to claim money from the public purse in this way reveals just what a living shit of a human being she actually is. Thirdly, while I can scarcely imagine the torment that the families of those people that died must be feeling, I can all-too-easily envisage the fight they'll have on their hands to receive a pittance in compensation. It really depresses me that such injustice can be wrought on innocent people - destroying lives, while the guilty are free to swan off clearly remorse-free and with a considerable sum of our money.

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Don't shout...We're doing our best....  

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Today has been one of those kicked-backed, reflective sort of days where you wake up with nothing planned, no objectives and no agenda. After a late start and an even more leisurely breakfast, me and the wife drifted into town for a mooch around the shops and a trip to the library before meandering into a restaurant for an extended lunch. Over lunch we talked a lot about the state of the country ( a favourite topic) and in the process, I was reminded of something I had seen on our walk into town.

Passing the main bus station, I saw a bus bearing the slogan "Working towards safer communities". I stopped to ponder this statement. Naturally, we have all become very familiar with this kind of Blair-speak mission statement over the last 10 years: "Building a safe, just and tolerant society", "Re-building Britain's Railways", "NHS, your health, your choices" being just some of the more nauseating ones. But how many times do we stop to really scratch beneath the superficial gloss to think about what these catch phrases really reveal about the state of our society.

"Working towards safer communities" is a case in point. What does that mean? On face value, it appears a perfectly admirable objective. However if you think about it a little more deeply, it does imply that the community is less safe than it should be. This is interesting, as there can surely only be two states of safeness: safe and not safe. To work towards a state of safeness means that, by definition, the present state must be that of non-safe. It's like the NHS saying, "Working towards more alive patients".

The second telling point is the phrase "working towards". Working towards is a passive, wishy-washy, whining sort of a phrase, implying earnest but ineffectual efforts towards the objective in mind. It could be paraphrased easily to "We're doing our best". Notice also that the phrase "working towards" carries no real commitment to the objective. It doesn't say, for example, "To protect and serve" or "making the streets safe". No, all it says is "We are trying to..." So, implicit in the statement of intent is the caveat that if we should fail to achieve the objective, you should not criticise because we did our best.

So to translate, "Working towards safer communities" actually means "We doing our best to make a safe community". When your house if broken into, or you're mugged on the street, you should therefore not be critical of the government that has failed to protect you because they were - no doubt pointed out with indignant huffiness - doing their best, as if this somehow abdicates them from any further responsibility.

The point is, of course, that their best is not good enough, and no amount of woolly-minded, politically correct mission statements will hide the fact. The only promises of value are those that make specific commitments. The first duty of government is to create a safe society for its citizens. Either it is, or it isn't safe: There is no such thing as nearly safe, mainly safe or mostly safe; and there is no such thing as "working towards" safe. To have failed to secure the safety of its citizens in its own society, is failure - pure and simple.

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Just the job....  

Saturday, 2 February 2008

A bloke goes into the Job Centre in Newcastle and sees a card advertising for a Gynaecologist's Assistant.Interested he goes to learn more. "Can you give me some more details about this?" he asks the guy behind the desk.The Job Centre guy sifts through his files and replies, "Uh - yes here it is... OK, the job entails you getting patients ready for the gynaecologist.You have to help them out of their underwear, lie them down and wash their nether regions.Then apply shaving foam and shave off all their pubic hair then rub in soothing oils so they're ready for the gynaecologist's examination.There's an annual salary of £45,000 but I'm afraid you'll have to go to Oxford.""Oh why, is that where the job's based?""No - that's where the end of the queue is"

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Life is a load of balls, says mum  

Friday, 1 February 2008

As emailed by my mum...

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 glasses of wine... A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else He asked once more if the jar was full.The students responded with a unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two glasses of wine from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed. 'Now,' said the professor, as the laughter subsided, 'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things; your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favourite passions; things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else; the small stuff.

If you put the sand into the jar first, he continued, there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life: If you spend all your time and energy on the small Stuff. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18 holes. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first; the Things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.' One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the wine represented. The professor smiled. 'I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of glasses of wine with a friend.'

Or you could just fill the whole jar with wine and leave the balls to somebody else!

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