Back to the booths we go

Whilst I am convinced that no one has visited this site, or is remotely interested in anything I have to say, I have set it up so I feel obliged to carry it on. To be fair I have been writing recently, just not online.

At the moment, the big story is the impending General Election. Going to the country early in a snap election is a very risky tactic that can, and often has, backfire on an outgoing government. Theresa May says she wants a mandate to go forward with Brexit, which is probably true. My main concern is that she just might get it! As far as I’m concerned, the best move would be to forget the whole thing and instead work closer with our European neighbours not divorce ourselves and pull of the proverbial drawbridge.

Last week’s County Council and Mayoral elections showed a large shift in the Tories’ favour. Turnout was very low, so we can only hope that these results are not an indication of the way things will go next month. Local elections are often seen as a barometer of the public’s feelings about the government, but this is not always the case. Local elections are often fought on local issues, which is how it should be, and turn out is notoriously low, so using them to predict the public’s voting intentions in a national election is often a dangerous thing to do. Looking back, the last general election is a prime of example of why you shouldn’t pay too much attention to the polls. Not that the media have learned their lesson from it.

As always with these things, the focus is on the party leaders, but there has already been much talk of tactical voting, with an indication that some parties are already talking about standing down ion some seats to help others gain votes, noticeably the LibDems and Greens. Whilst this is commendable, it also goes to show just how bad our electoral system is.

One of the highlights of the local elections was the near wipe out of UKIP. I would have liked to see the LibDems pick up more votes, but to see UKIP’s support collapse so drastically was something to smile about. Politic al pundits seem to agree that the beneficiary of the falling UKIP support is the Conservatives, which is not surprise. They are very much the same with their anti-Europe stance and lack of social conscience or morality.

As for the general election itself, hopefully I will have somethings to say as the campaigns get under way. Watch this space…

Goodbye 2016

So here we are at the cusp of a new year. A time to reflect on the year that has passed and to look forward to the year ahead. It is no exaggeration to say that 2016 has been an eventful year, with far too many celebrity deaths and some unexpected political upheavals.

In many ways, the year has been dominated by death. Not only have we lost a great many well-known faces from every walk of life, but also the many thousands who have lost their lives through acts of war or terrorism (or are they one in the same?). We have also seen a near fatal blow to liberal values with the EU referendum and US Presidential elections. Both results were seen as a rejection of the “establishment” view and a victory for public opinion, but how true that is remains to be seen.

On a personal level 2016 has been a very good year for me and my family. It is a year in which we could put ourselves first and do the things we wanted to do. That is not to say things are perfect. They are not. But we are happier and more secure than we have been for some time, and the future is looking good.

In August I fulfilled a lifelong ambition to visit Cornwall. I have wanted to visit this beautiful county for as long as I can remember, and I wasn’t disappointed. The breath-taking splendour of the Minack Theatre, the historical significance of Tintagel and the unparalleled beauty of the land itself are memories I will cherish for a lifetime. I can’t wait to get an opportunity to return as there is so much more I want to see and do.

This summer I also decided to take up photography again, but seriuously this time. I have invested time and money in this new venture and am determined to get to grips with the f-values and shutter speeds this time around. One thing I have discovered already is that I prefer taking photographs of the world around me than of people. I am formulating plans for a couple of projects for the new year which should help me become more confident and hopefully snap some interesting images.

At this point last year I told myself that I was going to do more writing in 2016. Well, that never happened! I did get everything in place, but for several reasons I just never got around to putting pen to paper as I had hoped to do. I still have plans which may or may not see the light of day this year instead. Actually, this ramble is probably the longest single piece of work I have managed to do all year!

We are seeing out the old year with the expectation of further changes. My father-in-law may be moving permanently into a home and our daughter will (hopefully) have her own house by early January which leaves my wife and I very much on our own and gives us the opportunity to do the things we want to do.

 

So, for anyone taking the trouble to read this, I wish everyone a happy new year.

Who is to blame?

Last night I caught part of a documentary item in which members of the public talked about their reasons for voting OUT in the EU referendum. Once again, the focus of most people’s arguments was immigration. It seems that in most parts of the country you can’t get a job, a doctor’s appointment or a school place for your child because of EU migrants taking everything.

And this must be true because we were told, or at least encouraged to believe this, by those paragons of virtue Johnson, Gove and Farage.

But let’s think about this. I live in a town with a reasonably sizable number of EU immigrants, mainly Polish, but with a fair sprinkling of other nationalities. And yes, I have trouble getting an appointment at my surgery, but from what I can see, it is the lack of doctors that is to blame, not the patients. Whenever I do get there, what I generally see is a lot of elderly British people. So actually, the problem lies with our aging population and a lack of funding and support for GPs over recent years. From my experience, if it weren’t for the migrant staff working in the NHS, the problem would be much worse.

But, by the Brexit argument, these European doctors, nurses and ancillary staff are actually taking our jobs from under our noses! I mean, if they weren’t here more Brit’s would have a job. Err, wrong! They are here because we have a shortage of people trained and willing to do the work. If you can’t get the job you want, maybe you are either under qualified, unsuitable or expecting too much.

Another problem being blamed on migrants as the lack of places in local schools. Yes, in some areas large increases in population have led to a shortage of places. After all, local authorities plan for future demand based on birth rate, and if a large enough number of families move into an area, this will inevitably lead to problems. But this can happen anywhere and not necessarily be caused by EU migrants. It can also be brought on by premature school closures and by a funding regime that does not allow for any slack in the way of extra places. Schools are encouraged to be full as this is the only way to secure funding. Consequently intake numbers are artificially reduced and staffing and resources cut to suit.

Cutbacks forced by the government have left many local authorities struggling to find even the minimum they need to provide health, social and education services in their areas. Whether there were migrants or not, these draconian cutbacks have devastated services all over the country. If you can’t get the health care you need, blame the government whose budget cuts have forced the closure of hundreds of centres and outreach services and drastically reduced training facilities. It is their policies that have led to disillusioned and underappreciated staff leaving the NHS and our schools in greater numbers than we can replace them. It is successive UK governments who have laid waste to many of the services we have some to rely on, not immigrants, and certainly not the EU.

Cameron and his allies were unable to retaliate against the Brexit claims about the effects immigration is having on our services and economy, because they knew, as did Outers, that Cameron himself was to blame for most of it. He was hardly going to stand up and say, “Actually folks, it’s my fault, not theirs!”

And what is all this about sovereignty? Yes, the EU is not perfect and it does occasionally pass some seemingly ridiculous laws, but nothing like what is claimed by the Eurosceptics. Most are aimed at levelling the playing field across member states, ensuring that free trade and movement can work effectively. It is the UK government’s policies that have resulted in a lack of housing (thanks to the sale of housing stock), under staffing and funding of emergency services, and cutbacks in health care and social welfare.

But the biggest threat to the Eurosceptics of the right is the EU’s on-going agenda regarding our rights. The likes of Gove and Farage want to return to a system that protects the elite at the expense of the workers. They don’t want any of this human rights or worker rights nonsense getting in the way of securing their fortunes and their life styles.

Does anyone actually think that Gove and Johnson give a monkeys about you and me? Of course not. From where I’m standing they look like self-serving elitists seeking power and influence. But now that all their lies and deceptions have been brought to light, I hope that any chance of leadership are now well and truly quashed. And as for Farage, hopefully this time around he will stay resigned! The less I have to see or hear of that egotistical maniac the better.

Am I turning into Victor Meldrew?

one_foot_in_the_grave_victorIt’s a lovely Sunday afternoon, with the summer seemingly having a last fling. But around us there are reminders that the winter is not far off. The geese are flying overhead and yesterday, I popped into our local branch of The Range and walked straight into their Christmas decoration display!

I must admit I felt a Victor Meldrew moment coming on (as in One Foot In The Grave). I am no Scrooge, but to be thinking about Christmas Decorations in the first week of October is just so wrong. And I couldn’t believe my eyes when my boss brought a packet of Mince Pies into work on Friday. I mean, I enjoy Christmas as much as the next person, but there is a time and place and as far as I am concerned, it is definitely the wrong side of November for this kind of thing.

I remember being in London in August several years ago. We went to Harrods and found part of the store closed off as they set up their Christmas department. I really couldn’t believe my eyes and it still shocks me to think about it.

Does this make me a miserable SOB? No, I don’t think so; I just don’t like to see events dragged out way beyond their time. We all know that by Boxing Day the shops will be taking down their Christmas displays and stocking up for Valentines and Easter. In fact, by Christmas the Cadbury’s Cream Eggs will be out.

Even the seasons themselves aren’t spared. Try buying summer clothes for a late get-away after the school’s have broken up! By August it’s all “Back to School” and winter woollies. In fact, you can see the Back to School displays before the holidays have started. I even heard a promotion for food to put in children’s lunchbox in early August. Who the hell is interested in school lunch boxes in August? What is all that about.

Well, I for one won’t be falling for the retail hype. Christmas will happen in it’s own time and I will be ready for it. Sort of.

What next for GB?

Europe and immigration are two issues that have plagued right-leaning folks of Britain for years. If only we could get rid of both, we would be “great” again. Although it looks like the anti-everyone-who-isn’t-us brigade have got their way in truth the referendum result has done little to smooth things over. If anything the cracks in our society are actually getting bigger and more dangerous.

The country is in turmoil and what we need more than anything is strong leadership. Instead, what we have is a lame duck Prime Minister working out his notice, and an opposition tearing itself apart behind a leader who should never have been there in the first place. Add to this escalating racism, economic uncertainty and the prospect of an extremely right-wing Prime Minister, and you have all the ingredients for a damned good sit com. Except this is no joke, it is all too real.

With the Conservatives happily laying into each other, now would be a good time for the opposition to lead the charge against the Tory loonies. But, thanks to electoral gerrymandering, the left is as polarised as the right. And thanks to the fickle nature of British politics, the centre ground previously held by the LibDems has been all but wiped out and made irrelevant nationally.

Poor Jeremy Corbyn. He seems like a nice, genuine guy, but he has no place leading the Labour Party, Let’s be honest, he wasn’t elected for who he was, but for who he wasn’t, and because the membership wanted someone from the left. He faces rebellion from within the Parliamentary party but support on the ground. We will all watch how this unfolds with great interest.

And as for the Tories, internal wrangling over Europe is nothing new, but this time it’s different. This time they need a leader who can rebuild the bridges felled during the referendum campaign. Whoever wins the contest must also be able to connect with the public on both sides of the vote, and that certainly isn’t Gove!

Whoever is leading our political parties this autumn has some very difficult decisions to make. After all, the result of the referendum is not binding and in the end it is parliament that has the last say.

So what can we expect?

Looking back over the referendum debates it seems to me that a lot of people are going to be very disappointed by what comes next. Expectations are that once the dust has settled and divorce proceedings begin the migrant “crisis” will be resolved. There are a couple of problems with this view of things, the first being that there is no crisis! The Out campaign happily blamed all of the country’s ills on immigrants, blaming them for everything from the NHS’ financial troubles to shortages of housing and jobs.

Now, let’s get one thing straight, the problems within the NHS do not stem from rampant immigration, but from draconian cuts and lunatic policies implemented by our own government. If anything it is migrant workers who have kept our health and social care services afloat.

And if you want to point a finger at anyone for the lack of affordable or social housing, rather than wagging your digits at Poles and Romanians, shake it very firmly at David Cameron and George Osborne who have over seen the decimation of our social housing stock and failed to do anything constructive to ease the housing problems. It is government policy and budget cuts that have caused most of our current problems, not immigrants.

Each day brings new opinions and fresh ideas on the way forward, but in all honesty, nobody has any idea what comes next. Let Labour and the Tories have their summer of fun, in-fighting and back stabbing but come the autumn the people of this green and pleasant land will be demanding some clear decisions and strong leadership to get us out of the mess we have been landed in.

Consumerism gone mad

Whether it’s an unconscious effort to distance ourselves from our closest neighbours or a natural gravitation towards those who share our language (after a fashion!), we as a nation seem more inclined to look towards the US for our cultural inspiration than we do towards Europe.

As an island nation we have always been fiercely independent. For hundreds of years we have refused to be dictated to by other nations. But since the mid twentieth century that has been somewhat on the decline. We are increasingly influenced by American ideas and seems more than happy adopt whatever crazy ideas they come up with.

The latest American import into our daily lives is Black Friday! It is only the Americans who can follow a day when they come together to give thanks for their good fortunes with an orgy of commercialism. The founding fathers would be horrified I think.

For a week now there have been advertising campaigns from all the big retailers promising unbeatable savings on almost everything from a pair of gloves to a second hand car. Thankfully this year we did not see a repeat of the hostility and rampant greed that made last year’s event such an embarrassing mess.

I am sure that there are people out there who did manage to secure themselves a bargain and are happy with their day. But I can’t help feeling sorry for the shop workers. Many of them will have had to start work at some ungodly hour just to ensure that everything was ready for the frenzy their employers anticipated. In fact, most of the day’s trading seems to have been online and many shopping centres and stores did not get anything like the numbers of customers they were expecting.

But for many, Friday was just the beginning as most retails are stretching the whole crazy thing over the whole weekend, or even in some cases, beyond. I only hope that they find their efforts were not worth it and that we can return this unnecessary import back where it came from.

Not that this will make a lot of difference. Even now businesses are laying their plans for the next round of sales due to start on Boxing Day. Once again it is the poor shop floor staff who will have to cut short their Christmas holiday to feed our ever growing consumer greed. The one certainty is that I won’t be visiting any shops on Boxing Day, as I didn’t on Friday either. I like a bargain as much as the next person but the thought of being part of the sales frenzy horrifies me – I can’t think of a worse way to spend a day off work.

To be or not to be…

This week I was fortunate enough to see the National Theatre Live performance of Hamlet. Filmed live at London’s Barbican Theatre. It gives those of us who cannot afford the trip to see world class productions.

My interest in Shakespeare is relatively recent. For a few years I have found myself increasingly drawn to these plays, mainly through my work in a school, but also through dramatizations on TV. But there is nothing like seeing them on the live stage.

My interest was rekindled several years ago when I saw Macbeth in Manchester. It was a real eye opener for me. For one thing, I felt able to follow the plot and dialogue better than I thought I would. I have been waiting for an opportunity to see another, but the cost has always held me back. But with the NT Live productions I can see these performances without leaving town. And for £10 a ticket, what’s not to like?

I was talking about this to a colleague at work this week. Shakespeare may be our country’s greatest playwright, but the language of his work is difficult and makes him inaccessible to many people. That is why modern adaptations are so important. But seeing these plays performed in the environment they were written for is almost magical.

His stories are timeless and the dialogue riddled with word and phrases that have become a part of our everyday language. I was particularly amazed at the number of phrases I heard during the performance of Hamlet that I knew and used myself without knowing where they came from. And that doesn’t include the two major speeches.

Looking back I am not surprised that it took me so long to see the magic of Shakespeare. My first experience was for my O-Level Literature at high school in the 1970s. We had to read “Julius Caesar”, not one of the most popular of the bard’s works and certainly not the most inspiring as far as I was concerned. The main problem with learning Shakespeare at that time was my teacher. Luckily I was already an avid reader, but even I found myself turned off by a man who had no flair for teaching. I don’t dispute his love of literature, but his lessons were so tedious and uninspiring that I often found myself falling asleep. It took me years to discover that both Shakespeare and Jane Austen were actually quite good writers.

Reading any pre-twentieth century literature has its challenges. The language changes the older thew work, and many of the references need explanation. I remember reading Twelfth Night several years ago. I struggled with language but managed to follow it, in much the same way I had with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. But in the end, plays are written to be performed live and following the written word on the page is never as good as a live performance.

I am looking forward to future opportunities during 2016 to catch some more live performances. In the meantime we have a family outing to see another NT Live performance during Christmas week – Jane Eyre.