Friday, 30 August 2019

Proroguing Democracy

I debated about whether to abandon writing my blog for this week, or even for good; the news is just so discouraging, it feels as though I am screaming into a vacuum, and the net result of that is a metaphorical sore throat.

I am of course outraged that our unelected Prime Minister has chosen to bypass any kind of democratic discussion of his Brexit proposals, and then has the nerve to suggest that it has nothing to do with Brexit. His latest outburst (as of 6pm this evening) is to claim that all those trying to prevent the No-Deal Brexit are making it more likely as it gives the European negotiators hope that sense will prevail at the eleventh hour and BJ will cave which he won't. Okay, I've paraphrased the last bit, but that's the general gist.

And what can I do about it?

We've written (well, Rod has, cc'ed me) to our MP in the past, who has replied very politely but firmly stating it was the will of the people and all that, and of course she has concerns but she was sure that Mrs May would address them. That worked out well (not). But the exchange of emails suggests to me that any further contact would be pointless. Maybe I should do it anyway. Then at least the vacuum I'm metaphorically screaming into would have someone else in it.

I could resort to Twitter. Hugh Grant put it most eloquently in this tweet  (those who don't like sweary tweets should probably not follow the link) but has received some appalling comments in reply. Trolling is clearly a major opportunity for those who have excess vitriol. I personally couldn't deal with the kind of attacks that are meted out to Grant and his ilk (eg Philip Pullman) for daring to suggest that what has happened is undemocratic, unethical and, in some aspects, illegal. Fortunately very few people read this blog and most of those are from my own bubble, so I should be okay expressing such views here.

Join a demonstration? I gather there will be several around the country on Saturday, including Oxford (details of them here) but unfortunately I have a prior commitment, going to the graduation of my niece who has just completed her PGCE. I don't know how effective marches will be - the media plays up or down the numbers of demonstrations, depending on their agendas, and the relevant parties/cabals believe what they choose to believe irrespective of the facts.

Ultimately, I feel powerless. And the irony is that many people voted Leave in the referendum because they felt powerless. I can write about it here, I can use poetry as an outlet, but I don't have any real influence over what will happen. I voted in the referendum, and I voted in the general election, and none of it made any difference. It's no wonder that people stop bothering with the democratic process when clearly that's not where the power lies.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Changing the Climate of the Amazon Rainforest

Last week I was going to write about climate change, but the weather was so awful I struggled to do anything at all, let alone put on my wellingtons for the lengthy walk (aka 5 yards) to my office to write a blog entry.

So this week, I am still going to write about climate change, but with a lightly stronger sense of urgency and focus.

The Amazon Rainforest is on fire.

Ok, not *all* of it, though frankly the maps suggest rather a lot. But these are fires that a) are largely man-made in origin, and b) have been burning for over a month.

I know that some forest fires are good for the forest. The redwoods in Yosemite, for example, appreciate a good burn of ground cover occasionally so that the light can get in and the seeds can germinate.

But this is different. This is the planet's lungs, effectively, being destroyed in the name of greed. (Read this article for some in-depth info that will shock you.) The European media have finally noticed too.

We rely on the Amazon rainforest for more than just an interesting range of flora and fauna. The amount of carbon dioxide stored in all those plants is remarkable. And for those who can't remember how the carbon dioxide cycle works, if it's released from plants into the atmosphere, it helps create that Greenhouse Effect that non-scientists don't believe in. It needs to be stored, and we need *lots* of trees to store enough to stop the Greenhouse Effect wreaking havoc.

Nature had reached a reasonable balance between the amount of CO2 we breathed out and the amount the plants could absorb. And now we are wrecking it. How long before we reach a point of no return?

It's no longer a case of remembering to sort your rubbish into the different recycling bins. If this planet is to remain habitable for our children's children, we need to start behaving differently in the first place. Even the politicians have finally realised.

All of which puts my complaint about the August rain that stopped me mowing our 'lawn' last week rather in the shade.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Timetabling a U-Turn

It would be tempting to suggest that there were no entries in July because July was cancelled. In reality, it was because I was away for most of the month. A cancelled month would have been so much better for everyone (rather than just me).

However, here we are in August, whatever the weather, and the usual political silliness on both sides of the Atlantic seems to have extended itself to the people who run the railways.

On August 7th, the news broke that the UK would no longer be part of the Interrail scheme, that allows for extensive railway travel across Europe. Depending on which source you use, we were either pushed out or we withdrew. Either way, the change would have made it unlikely that travellers would have gone beyond London (the pass would still be valid on Eurostar trains) if, indeed, they bothered to visit the UK at all.

People were furious. Especially people running tourist boards of places beyond London.

Astonishingly, the train operators heard the furious people. And on August 8th - a whole day later - the decision was publicly reversed. They *were* going to suggest that a separate BritRail pass would be the best option for visitors to Britain. But not anymore. As per the ITV news website, industry body the Rail Delivery Group said it renewed talks with Eurail Group, the company running the Interrail programme, following "strong reaction to news of our departure." They were, in fact, able to reach an agreement together. Which had been impossible beforehand.

All of which tells me two things.

One, it is entirely reasonable to change your mind about something publicly when you realise that your previously-held view may not be appropriate.

Two, talking to your opponents when under pressure can yield results.

Both of which suggest to me that a No-Deal Brexit on October 31st is completely unnecessary - provided we have reasonable people in charge. Bring on another General Election, I say...

Friday, 28 June 2019

'In risu veritas'*

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, "Humor (sic) is the good-natured side of a truth." (I'm going with this quote on the subject, as Twain is American, rather than the possibly better-known 'many a true word is spoken in jest', that can be found in Chaucer and Shakespeare.)

While I hesitate to concede that Trump has a good-natured side, the idea that he can joke with Vladimir Putin about election meddling is a little worrying. The Democratic candidate debates have now started in the States, and Trump wants to have four more years - presumably he hasn't undermined the system quite to his personal satisfaction yet - so meddling from a country whose leader thinks that liberalism has had its day, that Trump is talented and that freedom needs to be limited to remain within the bounds of tradition, isn't something to joke about. We need progress from the kind of Stalinesque values Putin seems to hold so dear, not a regression back to them.

Meanwhile, on the same day, it is reported that Theresa May has told Putin there must be no further interference in the style of the Salisbury attack. Of course, Russia denies any involvement. One has to wonder if other interference - such as election [for which read 'referendum'] meddling would be acceptable. I haven't seen any report of Putin's view of Boris, though as someone who is perfectly happy with a personality cult and no problem with outright lying, he'd probably be happy if Boris won.

That's the Boris who says we're out of the EU on October 31st with or without a deal, and his cabinet will be made up of people who support a no-deal Brexit, an arrangement disliked by the banks and industry, quite apart from people who travel much. Though, let's face it, Jeremy isn't a whole lot better.

It's no wonder I'm grumpy and need to apologise unreservedly to anyone who had the misfortune to interact with me yesterday....

*Latin quote by James Joyce apparently, punning on 'in vino veritas'. A bit of bilingual knavery there!

Friday, 21 June 2019

Garden Invasion

I couldn't face writing about the main stories in the news this week, politician-laden as they are, so I thought I'd write about a higher life-form.

This wee beastie.

Not the best of photos, but I didn't want to get too close, and there was a certain amount of camera shake.

I was doing some gardening a few days ago (yes, it does happen, if not as frequently as it should) and was pulling out a load of sticky weed, or as I grew up calling it, lady's bedstraw, and noticed a number of these creatures. They looked like a cross between a scorpion and a caterpillar, and being very brightly coloured, I assumed they were toxic.

They are not aliens, contrary to any initial suspicions, but in fact (I believe, after some extensive research on google) are the larvae of the harlequin ladybird, a large and aggressive immigrant version of our own beloved ladybird. The harlequin ladybird, the internet reliably informs me, is larger and more orange than red, with less distinct spots. A little further perusing of the weeds found a couple of these adult versions, doubtless responsible for the outbreak of something that will probably inspire Hollywood and my nightmares.

(Now the etymologists among you entomologists will of course point out that 'alien' is from 'alia' as in other, from another place, so technically they are aliens. They certainly looked it.)

Alien or just aggressive invader, I wasn't having any of it, so some more ruthless weeding took place, in addition to some preemptive pruning wherever the little 'darlings' had settled. I'm sure they will enjoy the warmth of the composting bin. I could only find a couple this morning when I went searching with the camera app switched on, and this one was trying to do a bunk even as I snapped it.

Admittedly, I wasn't wearing my glasses, so it's possible the garden is laden with them. What chance the birds will snap them up as additional delicacies.....

Friday, 14 June 2019

When going to hospital makes you worse

There used to be signs up in the local GPs' surgery asking patients with 'flu to stay at home, rather than infecting other patients in the waiting room (they may still be there, but I haven't been to the doctor recently so don't know).

It's evidently a problem as people sit around waiting, that all their infectious/contagious conditions can be passed on via the magazines and toys that are supposed to provide entertainment. (I always take a book.) But you would have thought that a hospital would be better able to separate out such people, so that going to hospital generally got you better, rather than worse.

I can't comment on the rate of infection via hospital waiting areas. However, it is worrying that hospital food - so often the target of criticism for its poor quality as it is - can be a fatal source of infection.

The outbreak of illness related to hospital food reported here is potentially very widespread as the company involved supplies 43 NHS trusts across England. It seems to me that economies achieved by production on a very large scale simply result in lower employment across the country and a higher potential risk of problems. And that's before the quality of the meals is considered.

According to the article, the lines known to be affected have been withdrawn and production stopped, for now. But a number of people have died, others are very ill, and I know that if I am in the unfortunate position of being in hospital any time in the near future, I shall be asking for food parcels to be brought by my visitors.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Why I Find British Politics So Depressing

So today Theresa May finally sets aside the poison chalice that is the leadership of the Tory Party.

Except the really poisonous part, which she hangs on to until the leadership election is conducted and successfully concluded. Being Prime Minister, while we dither over the terms of Brexit.

I don't understand why anyone in their right mind would actively want to be Prime Minister at any time, let alone now when the country is so completely divided. You might have thought that the arrival of Donald Trump would at least unite the country in our loathing of him, but no, Nigel and Boris looked positively delighted to see him.

And the leadership contest continues to rival the Brexit Catastrophe for laughability as the number of candidates is far greater than the number of Tory MEPs. They've had to change the rules to stop it become a total cascade of candidates.

While Theresa May has been leader of the Tory Party, the nation has been dominated by Brexit. Our MPs have been distracted from local issues - such as the completely unnecessary Oxford-Cambridge Expressway - by something that should never have been placed in the hands of the uninformed electorate in the first place. There has been no leadership.

As for the next leader, Boris appears to be the front-runner, a man described by Donald Trump as a friend and a 'great man', although he doesn't seem to be quite so popular within the ranks of his former colleagues in parliament. He probably has his own private health care, so if he is chosen, Trump will doubtless raise the subject again of US interference in the NHS as an integral part of any trade deal.

Our inability to look beyond party politics and some individuals' desire for power is breaking the country. The people who will suffer are those who are powerless to purchase a way out.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Serving a higher cause

There was a slight hiccup in the posting of blog entries as I have been part of the production team behind BCOS' most recent show, Evita. It's kept me busy (and sane!) but in a good way. Even though last year's show, Chess, was a huge success critically and hardly made a loss so that we thought Evita couldn't rival it, it did.

Much of this is down to the people involved - cast, crew, Front of House supporters and others. Whether it was spending spare minutes on Saturday from work to purchase additional supplies for the Front of House, or learning both a chorus part and a principal role in case the leading lady was ill, there is such dedication to the show over and above personal wants, that between us, we pulled off an astonishing piece of theatre that played to virtually full houses of very happy, extremely complimentary people.

Putting something else first, above personal wants, is something that a number of politicians could try. There are too many jokes doing the rounds about the number of Tory party leadership candidates for it to be funny. If only some of those in parliament could try to put the needs of the country first, instead of their party or their own greed for power (naming no names, Mr Johnson), we wouldn't be in the mess we're currently in.

When the bookies' front runners are endorsed by Donald Trump, you know we're in trouble.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Bicester Good Neighbour Scheme, or The Perils of a Coffee-Morning Fundraiser

Bicester Good Neighbour Scheme is a charitable group that matches volunteers with elderly people who feel they would benefit from some home-visiting. You can find out more about them here.

A good friend of ours is one of their volunteers, and we know how much both he and his 'neighbour' get out of the arrangement, so it is a charity we are happy to support. Especially when there is a cake and coffee morning just up the road from us.

We missed the beginning of the event, but it was still crowded when we got there, despite the house concerned being quite large and several rooms given over to the event itself. I tried to get a photo of some of the cake and coffee without including people (I didn't want to have to worry about people's permission for posting photos of them), and this is about the best I could manage.

(I'm not noted for my photographic abilities.)

The biggest problem I faced was not acquiring a cup of black coffee, ably made using a machine identical to my own by the host, but in avoiding the cakes. I have decided this week that the few kilos that crept on over Christmas and since are no longer wanted. As the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed, there were cakes for sale, but there were also cakes and biscuits for consuming with the coffee and tea.

However, I really don't want those extra kilos any more, so I managed to resist.

Resist eating, that is. I seem to have come home with a cake....

Fortunately for me, it's not gluten-free. Though the fudge around the outside it. I may be recruiting some help.

I console myself with the thought that it's all for a good cause. And a local one, too.

Friday, 10 May 2019

What Not To Tweet

I'm not a regular Radio 5 Live listener (surprise surprise!) but I have occasionally heard Danny Baker's show on a Saturday morning, simply because my OH's car radio is usually tuned to Radio 5 Live.

It was generally random, entertaining and often quite funny. Topics were never obvious but nonetheless interesting, in a bizarre way. Most of which was down to the presenters and their on-air relationship.

So it was particularly sad to hear this week that Danny Baker had been sacked for an inappropriate tweet following the birth of Prince Harry and Meghan's child.

In his most recent apology, he acknowledges that he's not a fan of privilege. He selected the first picture he found that reflected that, without thinking further about the possible connotations.

To be honest, the connotations wouldn't have occurred to me either. I don't think of Meghan as being 'black' (or whatever the PC term is these days). She's American, a former actress and married to Prince Harry. I don't really think about her beyond those points. I've had to check online just to discover she's the Duchess of Sussex. So I can't blame Danny Baker for not thinking of it, though as someone in the public eye with goodness knows how many people following him on Twitter, perhaps he should have been a little more circumspect before hitting 'post'.

I find it rather more disturbing that the image was one of the first he found when looking for privileged baby, or whatever search terms he used. I find it odd that the Daily Mail should be one of the first papers to see it as racist. I am disappointed that so many people think it's okay to demand he be fired when they more than likely haven't heard his radio show and aren't aware of his style of humour. I am also a bit disappointed that he tried to gloss over his mistake so casually, to be honest, but perhaps that was down to embarrassment.

Either way, a lesson to all of us, but particularly those in public employ, to think before we tweet. There are some strange people out there who will make sure we live to regret our mistakes.

Friday, 3 May 2019

When a choice isn't much of a choice at all

Never mind world events, the major headline today is about the local council election results.

I don't know about other councils, but the turnout in our district was less than 33%. I don't know if that's because people think local elections aren't relevant, or that there's no point because we're usually a safe Tory seat, or maybe the voters are just fed up with politicians and everything they stand for. The headline, however, that Labour and the Tories have been hit badly by a Brexit backlash, would suggest that for some of us, at least, there was a point, whether at a local or a national level.

Where we live, we only had a choice between two candidates, one from the Labour party and one from the Conservatives. We're big believers in doing our civic duty (how can we complain about the incumbents otherwise?!) and tried to inform ourselves before going to the polling station. 

We had received a flyer from the Labour candidate (though I couldn't find it yesterday) but nothing from his rival. I don't mind cutting back on the use of paper that mostly goes straight into the recycling bin, and from a party point of view it must save on costs, so I don't have a problem with that per se. However, when we tried to find out about the candidates online, there was a statement from the Labour candidate but nothing from the Conservative candidate. Even via the council's own website, there was nothing to be found.

If that wasn't enough to decide us, the Labour candidate is opposed to Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. That's not the rail-link, but another road. Which did not go to public consultation. In an era when we are supposed to be trying to reduce carbon emissions and make more use of public transport, someone in the current government thought it would be a good idea to build another road - and they can't even keep the ones we have in a reasonable condition - to run loosely parallel to the railway line they are rediscovering.

I have no idea whether the Conservative candidate is opposed to the Expressway or not. My guess is not, since he doesn't appear to know where this end of his potential district is.

To quote a popular musical, "Jefferson has beliefs, Burr has none." But it's a pretty sorry state of affairs. I will be interested to find out how many people in our district spoilt their ballots.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Going the distance - or not.

With the London marathon taking place tomorrow, this story seems the most appropriate to look at today.

Shock horror, it seems that not all fitness trackers can accurately monitor the distance their wearers are running, according to a study reported on the BBC news website.

Quite apart from the difference in stride length for individual wearers - and I really hope they took that into account - trying to monitor the distance on a treadmill as opposed to via GPS seems distinctly risky, as there is no guarantee that the treadmill is entirely accurate.

Even using GPS may not be infallible - the first 5k Race for Life I took part in was apparently only 4.8km, according to the GPS on Runkeeper. I like to think that the organisers wouldn't have varied it by that much, and it certainly felt like at least 5km, if not longer!

In the end, does it really matter that much? I can't help thinking that the important thing from a fitness point of view is probably the time spent raising one's heart rate, and if your tracker doesn't have a heart rate monitor, then it probably does have a time-elapsed tracker. Worst case scenario, you can always look at your watch to see how long you've been out running/cycling/skipping....

And of course, go Viv Frost! Here's the link to her JustGiving page in case you want to sponsor her.

Monday, 22 April 2019

My own Easter Message

The news from Sri Lanka is both shocking and saddening. The death toll as I type is set at 290, but so many were injured, I won't be surprised if it rises even further.

Bombing churches on Easter Sunday was always going to have a devastating effect. Devout Christians were clearly being targeted. I thought the trouble with the Tamil Tigers had been settled, so looked at Wikipedia to see if I had been mistaken. I hadn't.

However, what I did see was a report of violent attacks last year on Muslims in Sri Lanka by Buddhists. Buddhists are the majority in Sri Lanka and, although there is no state religion, Buddhism officially occupies a special place.

In recent months, there have also been shootings at synagogues and mosques. I am not a fan of organised religions - generally I see them as part of the patriarchy, trying to keep the little people in order - but I'm also not a fan of killing those little people.

Most religions promote a peaceful way of life - I'm thinking of the moderate branches here, not the extremists that have carried out these recent attacks. There was a meme a couple of days ago on Facebook (I can't find it now, naturally!) drawing attention to all the different religious perpetrators of  mass attacks on those of other religions. It summarised it with "Religion is not the problem; violence is the problem."

I'd really like to believe that. But in these days of increasing polarisation, it seems that religions are also falling foul of the same issue, and it is the silent, moderate, majority that are suffering, while the strident minority push for ever more drastic steps to achieve dominance.

Easter is supposed to be a time of new life, Passover celebrates continuing life. For far too many in Sri Lanka this year, that message has been subverted. The silence needs to change.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

When a compromise isn't really that at all

It seems Theresa May is finding it so hard to get the support she needs for her 'deal' from her own party that she is negotiating with Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

I should find the idea of cross-party talks comforting. The idea suggests compromise, something not too extreme in either direction. The coalition government should have managed this (except the LibDems gave away too much in the first place) though we were not aware at the time of just how extreme the Tories would have liked to have been.

But a compromise that would be acceptable to a majority on this particular issue? It seems unlikely. What is even more irksome is that they still seem to be debating the details of a deal for exiting the E.U. They just don't seem to understand that the other 27 countries need to agree with the details and if any of them don't, then it's back to no deal or no Brexit.

Strength is in numbers. The E.U. was set up in such a way as to make it hard for any country to leave without losing out, and there are 27 other countries there to make sure that happens. If we stay in, there are 28 countries in a negotiating bloc, whether for economic/trade deals or for diplomatic stands. That's a pretty large bloc. And the little information emerging now about the details should encourage many leave voters to wonder if they voted the right way, and to consider that another referendum would at the very least be considerably more informed.

Friday, 5 April 2019

A Punishment of Biblical Proportions

The news broke yesterday that the Sultan of Brunei is implementing a number of Sharia law-based punishments, including (but not limited to) stoning to death for homosexuality.

Brunei is not the only country with a death penalty for homosexuality. It joins a list that includes Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, parts of Nigeria, parts of Somalia, parts of Syria and parts of Iraq, though it is unclear how exactly that death penalty may be administered. Homosexuality is illegal in many other countries but 'only' punished with a jail sentence, countries that include many members of the British Commonwealth.

In Europe, the major initiative against homosexuals was instigated by the Roman Catholic Church in the 13th century, though of course it had been forbidden in the Bible (collated by Roman Catholic Clergy in the 6th and 7th century) since the time of Leviticus. Even in Leviticus, however, it is marked as being merely 'detestable' (NIV) - there is no mention of a death penalty.

In the UK, good old Henry VIII oversaw the criminalisation of sodomy in 1533, punishable by hanging, a punishment that was only repealed in 1861. Nothing to be proud of, indeed, but there is a vast difference between hanging and stoning to death.

A number of celebrities, most notably Ellen de Generes and George Clooney, have called for a boycott of hotels in the Dorchester Collection, a group owned ultimately by the extraordinarily wealthy Sultan of Brunei. (The list is here, if you want to know.) But boycotting these hotels - which is not an option for most of us as we couldn't afford to go there in the first place - only punishes the immediate employees rather than their employer, who can probably afford to sell a luxury hotel or two off cheap like last year's Monopoly pieces.

How to respond, then, to the announcement from Brunei? I don't know what the answer is. But it seems terribly sad, at a time when Saudi Arabia is finally allowing a small element of the twentieth century into its ranks with women drivers, that Brunei thinks it appropriate to lurch back to the standards of two millennia ago.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Leading us out of this mess

My niece is currently staying with us while she does a PGCE. It's very hard work (probably the hardest thing *I* ever had to do) but she is enjoying it most of the time, bouncing down to breakfast today for her last day on her current placement but excited that she now knows which school she will be at for her final teaching practice.

While I have largely stopped watching the news for the last couple of years, you would think that, having a trainee teacher in the house, I would be aware of news in the field of education at the very least. Yet I have no idea who the Education Secretary is at the moment. Drowned out perhaps by all the other drama in the political world.

I do however remember the name of Michael Gove. In a pretty dire shower of Education Ministers while I was teaching full time, he was one of the direst. I base this assessment not just on my own recollection of his imposition of new schemes without bothering to test them out first, but also on an almost unanimous vote of no confidence in him in 2013, from the NAHT, the NUT, the NASUWT and the ATL, the NAHT accusing him of creating a climate of fear, bullying and intimidation.

I am therefore less than heartened by a rumour that Gove could become the next leader of the Tory party, and thus the next Prime Minister. I'm not impressed by Theresa May's offer to stand down as party leader if her party will vote in favour of her deal - it smacks of party before country, and echoes Cameron's abject flight after losing the referendum. Gove would just be adding insult to injury - though to be fair, I'm not sure that Johnson or Rees-Mogg would be any better (doubtless they would disagree).

On a lighter note, therefore, a brief word on the importance of putting punctuation in the correct place; which is more appropriate - "there's a maypole dancer" or "Theresa May - pole dancer"? Apologies for the image you now have in your mind....

Friday, 15 March 2019

Consensus in the chaos?

I've tried to avoid discussing either Brexit or Trump as I find both topics deeply depressing. It's getting harder to avoid Brexit in the UK news as each day brings fresh demands and votes from the various sides. And apparently even Trump has weighed in with his opinion.

My husband has a Russian colleague based in Germany who has been trying to follow the news. "I don't understand it," he said. "Can you explain it?" He is not alone.

Whichever way you voted in the referendum, I find it hard to believe that you were expecting the level of uncertainty that we are currently enduring. Some people are not travelling in or out of the UK as they aren't sure how their plans will be affected since we don't know if we will be exiting the EU on 29th March or not, and if we do, whether there will be a deal of some sort. The exchange rate is suffering as traders in other currencies ditch their sterling for something more solid. Various companies are putting hiring plans on hold until they know which country will be their best option for a new HQ. People who *are* travelling after the end of March into Europe with their pets have had to organise certificates well in advance that weren't previously necessary - and may yet not be. These are just some of the repercussions of the uncertainty.

Two years from the triggering of Article 50 to resolve all the various legal and practical issues never seemed like very long to me. The suggestion that the current deal should be thrown out and replaced with a new one in the next two weeks is simply absurd. I've seen extensions of three months mentioned in the press - I fail to see how three months will help us to resolve something for which two years was insufficient.

In or out, I'm sure we can all agree on one thing: the current situation is a clusterfuck of monumental proportions, with no sign of imminent resolution.

Friday, 8 March 2019

World Book Day (a short rant)

Back in 1998, when the UK moved its celebration of the newly-created World Book Day to early March, so that it wouldn't clash with Easter, it was a fun thing. There were £1 book tokens given to every school pupil, a limited selection of £1 books were stocked for the spending of said tokens, and in an effort to promote the whole idea of reading books, some (and I emphasise the *some* here) schools allowed the children to dress as a character from a book for the day. And some of the kids did, utilising things they had in the house already.

I was teaching a Year 4 class at the time (eight year olds, for those unfamiliar) and was known to be heavily into books. So although I'm not generally one for dressing up, I did on this occasion. Black trousers with a tail safety-pinned to the back, a black top, some cardboard ears attached to a hairband, whiskers drawn on with an eye-crayon - and of course, a cardboard box so that whenever anyone looked in my direction, I could put it over my head since I was the cat from My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes. I think the whole outfit involved an outlay of about £2, for the hairband.

Now it seems to be obligatory that not only the pupils but also the staff dress up. Some start preparing weeks beforehand (I know at least one mum who did). Judging by the photos on Facebook, quite a few are costumes either hired or purchased - I suspect the supermarkets do their best to encourage that avenue. One student teacher I know spent Wednesday evening making a costume out of cardboard and tape so that she could dress up for her Year 1 (five year olds) the following day. (She had talked about buying some props beforehand, but being a student teacher, she's on a budget and overworked).

I'm all in favour of encouraging reading. Giving the schools some support when they are struggling with funding for the basics is also to be encouraged. But to put pressure on schools and families to spend time and often quite a lot of money is not acceptable. Peer pressure can be toxic, so the optional nature of the thing has to come from the school's leadership team. Teachers can lead by example - they are supposed to model acceptable behaviours, so this could be just one more.

And I really hope that one meme I saw on Facebook isn't true - that some families spend more on costumes for World Book Day than they spend on books in a year.

Friday, 1 March 2019

When someone you like does something you don't - or vice versa.

I'm reading a highly entertaining book at the moment called 'The Book of Bad Virtues'. It's a collection of anecdotes, poems, and mini-essays extolling the, well, virtues, of disobedience, greed, slacking and so on. It's a book that can be dipped into, or read cover to cover, and is good for reading short extracts out loud.

It's also very clever.

I was so struck by the intellectual humour that I googled the author. His pedigree is strong, starting off in the Cambridge Footlights, being an early writer for Spitting Image, and then departing to the US where he continued to write, act and produce.

But his career seems to have ground to a halt more recently, round about the time an allegation was printed in a major US newspaper regarding sexual impropriety and one of his children.

If the allegations are true, then he has a very seamy side. He would not be the kind of person that one would want to support, and I'm a tiny bit relieved that the book was passed on to me for free and that no further money went in the author's direction.

But in the light of other stories about, for example, Ryan Adams and fans wanting refunds on their tickets (and today it was announced that he has scrapped his UK tour) following unsavoury rumours in the press, it is something that is very relevant.

It can be very difficult to separate out a person's skill from their personal behaviour. We have enough difficulty distinguishing between actors and the characters they play, or their public persona from their private selves, so that is hardly surprising.

But does it matter? If someone has a history of being, say, a sex offender, should we support their artistic endeavours, thus putting money in their pockets? If only the accused were involved, it would be an easier decision. But that is not always the case, and therein lies a problem.

There is a boycott being proposed in the theatre world in the US over the licensing of differing versions of 'To Kill a Mockingbird', in which the lawyers of a more recent one have forced the closure of a number of community theatre productions rather than face legal action. Who is harmed by such a boycott? Certainly, the name at the centre of the legal controversy is harmed, but so too are the employees of the Broadway theatre, the cast of the play, and a whole load of other people associated with the production but completely uninvolved in the threatened lawsuits.

At what point does our moral outrage at the behaviour of one individual outweigh the need to support the livelihoods of totally different people? And all this, of course, assumes that the one individual is in fact guilty of whatever the behaviour is that has caused such offence. A potentially big assumption....

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Awards Season

Tonight is the annual TV-athon that is the Academy Awards, aka the Oscars. The TV channels can't show us the films, so instead they wax lyrical (or otherwise) on red carpet fashion and interview as many as possible for their brief promotional speech for a category in which the outcome has already been decided.

There's been a lot of controversy in the news about the awards - are they diverse enough, who makes the long lists, who gets to vote, why do we have to see the awarding of the technical awards when most of us have no idea whatsoever about the difference the technical stuff makes - and this year's awards have been no different. I happened to be in the US for the Golden Globes and watched them on an American TV channel, and they were very lengthy and there was certainly far too much mutual congratulatory back-slapping for my personal taste. But - I watched them.

So why *do* we watch them? Many of the films haven't even been screened in the UK yet, and a number of them are not to everyone's taste. The voting may or may not be along the lines of 'he hasn't had one yet and he deserves it' (or 'he may be a brilliant artiste but at a personal level I can't stand him so I'm not voting for him') but it is still interesting to see which films are deemed worthy/worth seeing, without the hassle of sitting through the trailers for another film that has only come to my attention courtesy of another film critic.

And of course awards are nice to give. Public recognition of being outstanding in one's field is a huge compliment, even if one doesn't particularly like being recognised in public. At a local level, we give them too. At the end of last night's final performance of the annual village pantomime, various significant contributors from a creative aspect were thanked in front of the audience, with lots of applause. At BCOS too, we have internal awards with associated banter for the general post-show humour, but we also like to thank external contributors very publicly, as so often the work they do, much like the cinematographers and sound editors, is essential without being highly visible - until it's not done, of course.

So here's to an entertaining session on very late-night TV and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for all those original screenplay writers who made the shortlist....

Friday, 15 February 2019

Educating Us All on Climate Change

Most of us have accepted the concept of climate change, rather than global warming, as the weather around the globe becomes more extreme. There are still deniers, who appear not to understand basic science, or who point to harsh winters and think that's incompatible with global warming, or who don't believe that the activities of the human race are accelerating a possibly cyclical process.

Here in our village, many of us have solar panels on our roofs, a small contribution to the diminution of fossil fuel use and its subsequent impact on the environment. Of course, the lack of support for public transport means we usually have to drive to get out the village as the buses are few and far between. But we try. At least, some of us do.

Today a number of UK schoolchildren joined a growing global youth protest against the lack of effort being made to do something about climate change. Emission reduction targets are feeble at best, and at worst not even being met. For the younger generations, this has a potentially catastrophic effect, and it is no surprise that they are annoyed at the lazy reactions of an older generation that will have died before the sea levels rise to a significantly destructive level.

Younger people are becoming more mobilised on a number of issues. It is a year since the Parkland shootings in Florida, and thanks in part to the protests led by the survivors of the shooting, 67 bills have been signed in various states, by Republicans and Democrats, to curb gun violence. It's a start, though the Parkland students would ask for more; adolescent hormone-driven emotions and guns are not a good combination.

In the UK, young people have been the driving force behind other protests, not always with noticeable success. Tuition fees still went up, though they have stalled for now. Many young people who want to be part of the EU blame the older generation for the Leave vote, and feel betrayed by people that they think won't be around to reap the whirlwind.

Have young people always been this politically engaged? They were certainly active in the 1960s, and formed part of the protest against the poll tax in . But now they are more organised, and that must be thanks to social media. Today's protesters were asking for the voting age to be lowered to 16, and politicians will have to change their ways radically whether they grant this demand or not. Young people know what they want more than we realise, and they're not afraid to ask for it vociferously.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Her Prime Highness?

While some condemn the British Royal Family for being dependent on state handouts, I find myself quietly amused by the news that a member of the Thai royal family is being criticised for getting herself a job.

Okay, to be fair, the 'job' she has got is the nomination for prime minister via the party that is associated with Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist party that is anti-royalist and that was also ousted by the current ruling military. She's probably not getting paid much for it, but her leading critic is her brother, the king.

Thai politics and the Thai royal family are like oil and water - they are not supposed to mix. The princess married a commoner some years ago and renounced all her royal ties, so that even though she is now divorced, she is claiming that she can engage with politics.

Criticism of the Thai monarchy is considered treason, but these days, criticism of politicians the world over is fashionable. I wonder whether criticism of a semi-royal politician will diminish the Thai monarchy itself.

Two links if you haven't seen the story, one in the Washington Post, the other from the BBC.

Friday, 1 February 2019

The Unkindest Cut

For the first time in the UK, someone has been found guilty of the genital mutilation of their daughter. Is it more shocking that it is mother who has been found guilty?

Doing a little research on the topic of FGM before writing this blog entry (and goodness knows what that's going to do for the ads I get shown now!), there are several reasons put forward for FGM, some of them suggesting that there are health benefits, but most commentators posit it as a means of controlling the girls in question, usually within a patriarchal society. There are different levels of mutilation, the most extreme of which effectively creates an external hymen, so that a potential husband can easily tell whether his bride is a virgin or not. (Putting a young girl through such pain so that a man many years later doesn't have to take her word for something - take it on faith - seems exceptionally cruel, especially when the cultural arguments usually cite religious reasons. Religion is all about taking things on faith without physical proof. But I digress.)

It seems bizarre to me that a mother would, having endured the pain of FGM herself, choose to inflict it on her own children. Perhaps it's hard to break with a cultural tradition, particularly in a tight-knit community, but that is a good argument for greater integration of people with different traditions into our society. Not all cultural practices are worth preserving.

And as for calling it 'female circumcision' as a means of normalising it, instead of using the word 'mutilation', that really just calls into question the whole business of male circumcision instead. But on a snowy day in the shires, that's a debate for another day.

Friday, 25 January 2019

The Art of the Possible

The latest 'top news' story on the BBC news pages is headed "Trump announces deal to lift shutdown".

If only the news were as good as the headline suggests.

It's a temporary measure, getting people back to work for three weeks, and then the US government  and all the federal employees face the same predicament.

Trump insists that he's going to get the funding for his wall, either in the budget or via declaring a national emergency, presumably thinking that the threat of the constitutional crisis this would evoke will be enough to bring the Democrats into line and make them write the budget he wants.

It must be hard for him to realise that being President is not the same as being CEO and that sometimes the dreaded C word needs to be used - and no, I don't mean covfefe.

As some students of US history know, and all those who have seen Hamilton know, originally when one of two candidates was elected US President, the loser/runner-up became the Vice-President. The gentle art of compromise (not to mention decent campaigning without resorting to derogatory comments about your opponent) was essential for anything to get done.

There seems to be a view in governments on both sides of the Atlantic that if you compromise with the opposition, you have somehow lost. You haven't, you've governed. And the people you are governing have won.

Fingers crossed that someone with the ear of the President/control of his Twitter account can help him understand this some time in the next three weeks.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Elderly Driver Involved in Prang

The top story on BBC News at the moment is about Trump accusing someone else of lying when they said he instructed a lawyer to lie on his behalf. Not so much fake news as old news. (And how can he remember anyway?)

So instead, I'm looking at the next story down, about Prince Philip being involved in a car accident. The dent in his car is noticeable, and the story says his car rolled, both of which suggest he was the hittee rather than the hitter. Someone in the other car has a broken wrist, but otherwise all the personal injuries were in the nature of scrapes and cuts. Apparently he has said the sun dazzled him. A common problem in this country, as it's such a rarity that we don't generally wear sunglasses to drive.

Why, therefore, promote the story so heavily? A minor obsession with the Royal Family is the only reason I can think for it, unless there is a campaign about to be launched to restrict the issuing of driving licences to the elderly.

The local council were already debating reducing the speed limit on that road, which may or may not be a good thing. There are plenty of roads round here that have a limit of 40 or 50 which everyone exceeds because the roads are straight and wide with good visibility. I'm all in favour of keeping speed limits down in villages (and not *just* because I live in one), and particularly near schools. In the US, many places double speeding fines near schools at the beginning and end of the school day - not necessary in this village, as the parked cars on the school run provide a complex chicane that can only be negotiated at about 15 mph on a good day.

The issue of elderly drivers is also one that crops up in the news whenever an elderly person is involved in an accident, particularly when driving the wrong way on the motorway. But to suggest that therefore all elderly drivers over, say, 70 should have their licences taken away is ridiculous. For a start, in our village, the bus service is relatively good but is still only hourly and finishes by 7pm. In Spain, once a driver reaches the age of 70, they have to take a virtual-reality test every couple of years, not just an eyesight test, but something on a computer that tests reaction times and hand-eye coordination.

Doing something to prevent accidents for the rising number of drivers over 70 can only be a good thing - and not just because we can't all afford a new car the next day or a chauffeur.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Back to the original view/intent

Anyone who reads my blog will know that I’m not a big believer in “New Year’s Resolutions”. I’m happy to set myself challenges for the year, some of which may even be successful, but the whole “it’s a miserable month so I’m going to change my life” approach is something I do not embrace.

So any changes I make now are not so much because it’s the new year, but because a number of changes have taken place in my life recently, and I’ve just been away on holiday with a chance to do a lot of thinking.

One of the things that has bugged me is my complete ineptitude when it comes to writing a regular blog. There are only so many times I can write about coping with depression or apologising for the long gap between entries. Originally, when I set up this blog (after closing down my fictional blog), I had intended to comment on things in the news, with a perspective from a leafy English shire village. Why didn’t I do that? In part, I think I was worried about offending people. The views became inoffensive, bland and, to be honest, boring.

Therefore, without wishing to offend people deliberately, but acknowledging that I probably will anyway, I shall go back to the original plan. Once a week, I intend to pick one of the news stories of the day and present my view, possibly including how it pertains to life in an English village. And any offensive or trolling comments will be deleted.