Bad Housekeeping and the unexpected Bill

CEF LEVEL C1 ADVANCED ( colloquial expressions, British English)

BAM! it lands on the doormat, - the unexploded bomb of the unexpected bill.

Things had actually been going along quite nicely. Times had been a bit hard, there had been less overtime than usual, but by cutting out a few luxuries, changing to the cheapest utility providers, and making inroads into the credit card balance, the household budget was looking a bit more manageable. Then just as you thought things were picking up, along comes the shocking demand. We've all been there.

1.7 million pounds. 2.1 billion Euros. There's no disguising it, whichever currency you use, that's an awful lot of money. Not surprisingly, 'our Dave' was 'enraged' and feels entitled to ask not only how much, but why that much, and how it has been calculated. That is actually a very good question.

Ten years ago I had the good fortune to move to Brussels for a year, as 'him indoors'  had landed a contract in that fair city. As my other half worked for a private company, our young children weren't able to get places at the EU schools for the children of EU officials, and they attended instead the British School, where there were nevertheless a good number of offspring of EU workers. During that wonderful time when I was a full-time Mum I would walk the kids down to school at about 9am, when I would see an acquaintance who was an accountant at the EU headquarters strolling down to the tram. As I collected the kids again at about 4pm, he would usually be wandering back towards his generously-sized detached home in one of the best suburbs of Brussels. Perhaps he only worked part-time? Was he a senior official? No, just a regular footsoldier of accountancy, of which there were no doubt many. For this he lived a lifestyle that only very few EU taxpayers could enjoy. Now I'm not suggesting that the EU shouldn't pay market rates to its employees, but the gravy train I witnessed that year was truely something to behold. Small wonder that some southern suburbs of Brussels look like millionaires row, and that the Michelin-starred restaurants of Brussels are thriving- your taxes are keeping them going nicely. Without wanting to be the party-pooper, may I suggest a little belt-tightening wouldn't go amiss?

Apparently the EU accounts have not been signed off  by their own European Court of Auditors for more than 19 years. In 2012 the auditors found 'too many cases of EU money not hitting the target, or being used sub-optimally' ( Vitor Caldeira ECA Chairman 2012). Another report found '86% of the EU budget last year was only partially effective.' Hmm. So whilst getting a reply to the question of how much is easy, getting an answer to the question of why it is that much, and how is it calculated, may simply prove impossible. Don't hold your breath, Dave.

VOCABULARY AND EXPRESSIONS

Our Dave-  David Cameron, UK Prime Minister

utility providers- gas, electricity water companies

to make inroads into something- to start to be effective, to achieve something

'him indoors' 'her indoors' British slang for husband, wife

acquaintance- someone you know but not well enough to be called a friend

gravy train- a  free, easy or over-generous lifestyle or job

party-pooper  British slang for the person who spoils the party by leaving early

belt-tightening    spending less money

auditors  professionals who check the accounts 

'my other half-'  British slang for partner

Sibling Rivalry

You know the one. He's the smaller brother that makes a lot of noise for his size, enjoys a lot of attention, and frequently whinges at the slightest perceived injustice. He's also brilliant, annoying, and a character who's a much-loved part of the family.

Yes, it's time for Scotland to decide whether he ( I always think of Scotland as being masculine for some reason) still wants to be part of the UK family, or whether to stand alone and proudly independent. With its ingenious people, fabulous scenery and oil wealth, it must be a tempting prospect for many Scots to vote 'yes' in the independence referendum on September 18th.

Loved, feared and respected over the centuries by its neighbours England, Wales and Ireland, Scotland has produced great warriors such as Robert Bruce and William Wallace, great inventors like John Logie Baird ( TV) , Graham Bell ( the telephone) and Alexander Fleming ( penicillin) to name but a few. When King James VI inherited the English throne in 1603 there began a Union of Crowns that was later made permanent by the Acts of Union betweeen England and Scotland in 1706 and 1707. Simon Schama described the union as 'what began as a hostile merger would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world.'

We've fought battles over our borders, crowned and murdered each other's royals, married our sons and daughters to each other to keep hold of lands, titles and power. As a result the United Kingdom has been one of the great success stories of history- a small group of islands with just 60million inhabitants, but with a cultural and political influence completely at odds with its size and wealth. Despite loss of empire and economic power, Great Britain still has a voice on the world stage.

What of Scotland on its own? It already has its own Parliament with considerable powers, and is promised more. Scotland apparently wants to keep the Queen and the pound sterling- but how can it, if it is to be a truely independent nation? How will its share of government departments, national debt, and the NHS be split out from that of the rest of the UK? Every citizen will need a new passport, and the new authorities will need a new currency and new legislation for every single area of the national constitution- paperwork that will take years and billions to produce.

What of England on its own? Will Wales and Northern Ireland want to break away as well? What will we call our new country- the one we didn't vote for? The Former UK ( think about it!!)?

Only one thing is certain- if Scotland breaks away we will all be fractured, smaller, poorer and less influential. Like that annoying but much-loved younger sibling, life without him ( or her) would be simply unthinkable.

VOCABULARY

sibling- a brother or sister (  a word that is not used very often in English, except in official or formal contexts, we normally prefer just sister/brother)

rivalry-competition

to whinge- to complain or moan

ingenious- clever, skilled

warriors-fighters, soldiers

influence-power resulting from position,wealth, ability

irreplaceable- cannot be replaced

 

 

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