Eclectic Blue

Let them eat cake

0 Comments 25 August 2016

The Great British Bake Off returned to our screens last night. Not my screen – I was watching the football – but over 10 million people watched it, almost half the number of people who were watching TV at that time. When the BBC announced some years ago that they were producing a prime time baking show, I guess some of us may have scoffed. Now we’re eating our own words and not a few cakes.

I think it’s rather nice that something as simple as a bakery show attracts such vast audiences. It is a world away from the constant drip feed from the rest of the media which is overwhelmingly gloomy. It allows us to concentrate on being entertained by something that is harmless and doesn’t really matter. And it’s part of the BBC’s remit, to inform, educate and entertain.

That I am not unduly bothered about the show is not a reason for me to call for it to be taken off the air. There is no law which says that I must watch it or like it. If I am not interested in a particular show, I take the seemingly unusual step of not watching it. I recommend this to anyone. Rather than having a turgid rant about a TV show you don’t like, don’t watch it. Do something different. You are a long time dead so don’t waste the one life you do have doing things you don’t like. For every Bake Off, there will be a hundred (a figure I have just made up) misery-inducing news bulletins or a documentary about someone dying of a horrible disease.

I like the TV cookery show genre. There are plenty of us who are rubbish at cooking who could be inspired by the TV chefs and cooks. The cook books sell millions of copies and even I, on admittedly rare occasions, have had a go with varying levels of success. In an era where we are eating too much junk food, particularly by way of fat and sugar filled ready meals, isn’t it a good thing that we should be cooking fresh stuff ourselves? I suppose this might not necessarily apply to the Bake Off where, I would imagine, the end products are highly calorific, but we don’t eat fatty cakes every single day of our lives, do we?

The Bake Off appears to be a kindler, gentler type of TV show and thank goodness for that. At a time when the great TV innovations appear to be naked dating shows and poverty porn, isn’t it nice to have a show where you can sit down, put the cares of the world to one side and see nice people doing nice things?

Eclectic Blue

Delusions

0 Comments 24 August 2016

Clumsy language? “Guilty, as charged, M’lud”. As guilty as the next woman or man. Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith declares himself not a “lunatic” on the same day that an elderly man suffering from “delusions” is sentenced to six years in prison for killing his wife. I feel slightly guilty about raising the subject in the first place because the last thing we want to do is introduce the “speech police” to monitor what everyone says at any one time. Smith didn’t mean to say that he was not mentally ill – which strictly speaking, he did say – but when the BBC referred to the man suffering from “delusions”, they meant that he was suffering from a condition called Paraphrenia, an older person’s version of Schizophrenia. It’s a tricky area, isn’t it?

I give you another example of who this can play out on a day to day level. It is hardly a secret that I am strongly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn being leader of the Labour Party and I was accused on social networks of being “deluded”. I am assuming my accuser was not suggesting that I was mentally ill and suffering from delusions (although he would have been half right) so I bit my tongue and got on with life. I have heard and indeed said much worse and I chose on this instance not to make a fuss about it. If I thought if it was remotely threatening, I’d have made something, maybe quite a lot, out of it.

But then, I have friends who use the word “lunatic” and “mental” as part of their normal vocabulary. It is not being intentionally disrespectful of those with mental health issues. It’s how people have described things and how they’ve always described things. I see this language thing as a kind of evolution.

In matters of colour and race, we rarely use the N word or the P word and are shocked when someone does. Gradually, not through laws or prohibition, certain words and phrases became unacceptable. I remember attending cricket matches when the use of the N word was not just widespread, it was deemed as acceptable.

So, who can effect a serious change in order to gradually refine how we refer to people without coming across as imposing and bullying? By challenging instances, as gently and responsibly as we can. Obviously we do not tread carefully when serious incidents take place – we have laws to deal with that – and sometimes there is an imaginary line which we know we should not cross, but generally we learn to self-police.

Owen Smith should probably not have said he wasn’t a “lunatic” and to date I have shown no symptoms of suffering from delusions. You’ll be the first to know if I do, assuming I am indeed aware.

Clumsy language, probably no big deal almost all of the time. As mental health loses its stigma – and that may take decades – things will gradually right themselves.

Eclectic Blue

EU campaign if you want to, I’ve had enough

0 Comments 24 August 2016

It must surely be obvious to anyone outside of the Corbyn cult that Owen Smith is the obvious choice to become the next leader of the Labour Party, but only because he is the least worst candidate of the two. When he is thumped in the forthcoming election by Labour’s accidental leader nothing will have changed, other than Labour taking another massive step towards electoral oblivion.

Whilst Corbyn’s public pronouncements are little better than Chauncey Gardner’s in Being There, Smith has an uncanny knack of mostly saying the right thing and then coming out with stuff like negotiating with the islamic fascists of ISIS and now calling for another EU referendum. It is with the latter I shall dwell on today.

I did not want an EU referendum in the first place. I don’t agree with referendums on anything, ever. I support the idea of electing representatives to parliament to make decisions on our behalf and holding them to account by way of what happens at the following general election. It’s not ideal, but it’s a system that just about endures. It’s also a good system for avoiding divisive binary choices like the one with the EU.

It doesn’t matter now but I always felt that Britain could do better than just hold an in/out vote. But that was never what Cameron’s referendum was all about. His referendum was Tory Party management on an epic scale, involving the entire electorate to resolve his “European problem”. And now look what’s happened. It all got out of control, turned into a punch up about immigration and now, at some future unspecified date, we’ll be leaving the EU. And leave the EU we must.

The new PM announces that “Brexit means Brexit” even if no one knows what Brexit means but now the public has spoken politicians need to get on with it, whatever it is. I agree that whatever terms are negotiated need to put before the people, but not by way of another referendum. They should form part of the various manifestos of the main parties. If the Tories negotiate something that trashes workers’ rights, damaging the economy and restricting freedom of movement, let them present it to the electorate in 2020. If Labour or anyone else objects to the new terms, let them present it to the electorate in their own manifesto. You can bet that the differences will go down party lines anyway.

No one should have been under any illusion as to what would happen if we voted to leave the EU (although some were taken in by the lies on one side and the exaggerations on the other) so what is happening should be no surprise. But above everything else, I am EU-ed out. I so wanted to stay, to protect freedom to travel, live and study abroad with minimal obstructions and I liked the very idea of the EU and what it stood for in helping to keep the peace. But all of us, including Owen Smith and me, need to move on.

In any event, the likes of Smith (and me) will have plenty of time to think in the next year of Corbyn’s ruinous “leadership” until the next challenger emerges. The EU decision has been taken and whilst 48% of us thought it was a terrible decision, 52% didn’t. It’s the end, I’m afraid.

Eclectic Blue

View from my anorak

0 Comments 23 August 2016

And so to Birmingham with son number one to check out potential places to live when he starts work there in September. Anyway, enough about Birmingham. It’s the Lickey Hills I want to talk about and the Lickey Incline in particular.

My anorak has pretty well been laid to rest in recent years and my railway obsession is not quite what it was. But driving back from Birmingham today, I quietly suggested a trip to Britain’s “steepest sustained main-line railway incline” might be in order. To my surprise and delight, the request met with enthusiastic ears.

First, we drove to Bromsgrove Station which isn’t where it used to be, which was at the very foot of the incline. That station no longer exists, replaced by a brand new modern structure 100 yards or so to the south. But you can still see the extraordinary change of gradient to the stunning 1 in 37 that runs up to Barnt Green. Not as well as I wanted to, though. So, we gambled and followed a narrow country lane to Vigo Bridge and – hey presto – there was a small dirt track where we left the car to see the railway. And what a view it is.

It’s one of those very odd places where you can still walk across the mainline without breaking the law, not that we did, officer (in case the law has changed). Anyway, the spot is about halfway up the incline, revealing the sheer scale of the gradient and revealing what an obstacle it must have been in the days of steam.

Whilst the modern express units swished effortlessly down the hill, a rickety old multiple unit chugged its way slowly to the summit, passing us at near walking pace.

In the olden days, steam hauled trains simply could not pull their carriages unassisted up the hill and it was easy to see why. Normally, to the lay-person, a gradient is indiscernible but the Lickey you cannot miss. You’d get knackered cycling up a gradient like that (well, I would). Steam trains used the services of a banker – a locomotive to push the train up the incline, to prevent it from stopping altogether. This still happens with some freight trains, although the modern express trains carry sufficient horsepower to crest the summit with minimal effort.

I suspect that not many people will be interested in this part of my blog and I don’t blame anyone who isn’t. To me, however, this was a bucket list item crossed off. Not a holiday to the Maldives, a night at the Waldorf or watching the whales in New England. Just a sad middle-aged man having a great time watching trains on the steepest embankment in the land.

TOMORROW: Tune in as I watch paint dry and grass go.

Eclectic Blue

The £4,096,500 question

0 Comments 23 August 2016

The Independent, which used to be a newspaper, says today that each medal gained by Britain at the Olympic Games cost the Lottery and the taxpayer £4,096,500. That’s a lot of money and some have suggested we should divert all these funds to searching for a cure for cancer instead. You could broaden that out, couldn’t you, and divert the money to searching for cures for Parkinsons, dementia, Huntingdons, MS and every single awful disease known to mankind. It’s a valid argument if you don’t believe that sporting excellence is good for the national psyche and inspiring for the next generation who are all, according to the Mail, obese drug addicts. In reality, £4.1 million is not really a huge sum.

Given that we are paying £100 million of taxpayers’ money to kill badgers (lottery funding is not being used, at least not yet, but there’s always time) which will not make a scrap of difference to TB in cattle, perhaps it’s not that much after all. And each flight mission to bomb ISIS in Syria costs about £1 million. Perhaps it’s not so bad to fund world class athletes instead?

But fear not. According to Boris Johnson and the Leave campaigners, we are about to be awash with money with no less than £350 million a week available to the exchequer once we leave the EU. (I should attach a health warning to this claim: it is a filthy black lie, but nonetheless we need to hold Johnson and co to their promises, even if they were only political promises.)

I detest the argument that public money should not be spent on things that are deemed to be unnecessary and of little use to the country. If you were particularly vindictive, you could include all manner of things like old people, traffic lights and lollypop ladies to this list on the grounds that they were all a drain on public finances. This is not a view to which I subscribe, I hasten to add, but where do you draw the line?

Things like sporting success require investment, which means money and sporting success is surely a good thing. I glow with pride when our superstars trounce the opposition at the Olympics and I know that once the tournament is over thousands, maybe millions of people are inspired to take part in sports. My argument is not that we should spend less on sport, but more.

Grassroots sports have been hammered since the Tories came to power in 2010. Local authorities drained off cash now charge huge sums for sports clubs to play, state schools barely teach some sports at all. Investment at this level has shrunk dramatically. I don’t want athletics to be confined to just Mo Farah at the top, I want kids (and grown ups, for that matter) to be participating at the non elite level too.

In any event, the sums invested in top sport are minuscule compared to what governments spend on what we consider to be priorities. Let’s not moan about it: let’s embrace success, build on it and spend more. We’ll be healthier physically and spiritually, too.

Eclectic Blue

Cutting to the bone

0 Comments 22 August 2016

Uh oh. Don’t you just dread it when a newly elected politician says something like this: “(We have)”inherited a huge financial challenge which is proving bigger than we knew even a month or two ago”. In political parlance, “challenge” means an insurmountable problem which we do not have the first clue how to resolve. The person who had made this statement just happens to be the new Bristol mayor Marvin Rees.

Rees has announced that the council is £29 million in debt. And when we hear figures like that, we know what he means. We’re in deep doo-doo. I am no mathematician but even I can work out the seriousness of the situation, especially when the mayor says 1000 jobs will have to go, hopefully by voluntary means. Steve Crawshaw, from the trade union UNISON is not scaremongering when he says: “We are seeing the beginnings of a crisis in social care and you only have to look around the city streets to see the homelessness that results.” In fact, I’d go much further than that. We are well into a crisis in social care, a sector which has been decimated by the Tories (and, lest we forget, the Lib Dems) since 2010. Already, many people are relying on the charities for basic services and requirements but goodwill only goes so far.

The £29 million is but the latest hammer blow against Bristolians and there is more, far more, to come. I was told last week by a senior local politician that the Tory cuts announced last year barely account for 40% of the cuts planned between now and 2020. And we are not talking about “trimming the fat” from local services: we are cutting through the flesh to the bone. It may not seem important to the fortunate majority who are in work and can afford to remain active and independent. For the most vulnerable, who have nowhere else to turn, this could be life changing and in some instances life ending.

Look at the sort of people who will be affected by cuts to the frontline. The old and the young, especially the most vulnerable. Those with care needs including those with conditions like dementia and Parkinsons. People who require meals on wheels. The mentally ill. In other words, the people who need more help than the rest of us. The government has chosen to inflict the most pain on those who already the most pain.

Mr Crawshaw urges Mayor Rees to “show leadership” which sounds reasonable, but what can he mean? Sure, he will have to approach Theresa May and try to persuade to plug the financial gap her predecessors left, but then she voted for all these gaps too. He can’t refuse to set a budget so would that leadership simply be a matter of choosing which budget to raise? Or maybe showing leadership to Mr Crawshaw’s eyes means a slick and effective and very public campaign to force the government to change their minds? It could be this, but it could also be a line from that great political line “Something must be done”, preferably by someone.

It’s probably all of the above, minus the “something” bit.

Either way, this great city of ours is facing a crisis of epic proportions and Mr Rees is putting down an early marker to prepare the battleground ahead.

With the national Labour Party increasingly irrelevant, future conflicts will be played at local level, certainly in the big cities with mayors. This may be no bad thing given the low level of respect people hold for politicians these days.

Eclectic Blue

House

0 Comments 22 August 2016

The Daily Mirror announces good news for anyone hoping to buy their own house anytime soon. Beneath the headline, “Start of the fall – house prices to begin dropping next year!” follows the sub-headline “As uncertainty about the future of the UK rises, the effect on house prices worsens according to the latest report from economists at Countrywide.” So, good news, then. House prices are, at last, to fall! Oh no they’re not.

It turns out that house prices are not actually going to fall, they are still going to rise, only less quickly. There might be a brief fall but it will be nothing like the inexorable rises that are going to carry on regardless.

The paper talks grimly – it should surely be happily? – of “prices forecast to contract” and “some modest falls in house prices”and then adds statistics that appear to suggest the precise opposite.

Happily, the Mirror gives an example of the cuts to house prices which are on the way. There will be “3.5% growth in 2016, contract by 1.25% in 2017 but rise again by 2% the year after.” I am not an expert on property prices, but this appears to be what we call a blip. Two substantial price rises with a small fall in the middle. Overall, house prices will carry on going up. Great.

And I suppose if you buy up houses for profit and not to live in, you will want house prices to get higher and higher and this non story will be of little concern to you.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

Eclectic Blue

Yes we Khan

0 Comments 21 August 2016

The fans of Jeremy Corbyn never fail to disappoint. Whilst the old boy tours the land, bathing in the adulation from his cult following, speaking only to those who agree with him, his followers remind us about his “kinder, gentler politics”. This includes attacking London mayor Sadiq Khan for being a Zionist. “Also, SadiqKhan,” says one of the fans on twitter, “So busy pretending to be a Muslim while happily serving his Tel Aviv masters? You folks can have him, no loss!” There are several things wrong here.

For one thing, Sadiq Khan is not pretending to be a Muslim: he is a Muslim. This is an unfortunate fact that does not play well in the post-truth Corbyn era, where lies are presented as truth. Lies and ignorance. Why Tel Aviv, since the capital of Israel and the home of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) is Jerusalem? Some people are punching well beneath the belt here.

There is plenty more of this abuse on social networks and it’s not difficult to work out why: Khan has come out in favour of Owen Smith as the best choice to lead the Labour Party. And if you cannot argue on the basis of facts, then rely on smears and abuse instead, always the hard left’s preferred modus operandi.

Labour MPs are not making up stories about Corbyn’s unsuitability to the Labour leader’s office. Testimony from countless people has created a consistent pattern of incompetence. He is unable to hold the Tories to account in parliament, despite 33 years of parliamentary experience, and he is unable to properly chair the shadow cabinet without deferring at all times to the real power behind the throne, the unpleasant John McDonnell. And he has no policies, just positions which are little more than idle rhetoric or slogans.

It does actually matter that the leader of the opposition can build an effective team to take on the Tories and it does actually matter that the general public needs to persuaded that the leader of the opposition can be imagined as a potential prime minister. Not even his closest comrades seriously believe that.

The cult following I understand. Many people feel utterly disenfranchised by the current political system and that explains in part how Corbyn has risen from a lifetime on the back benches to become Labour’s accidental leader. And somehow, the outdated class-based hard left politics of the 1980s, which saw Labour demolished in the 1980s, have been dressed up as something new. But Corbyn is as new and fresh as a black and white television. What he offers is something different, something insubstantial, a politics of easy promises and no solutions. That will only work for a short while.

Khan’s intervention will make little difference because the cult of Corbyn will ensure he is returned to office with a thumping majority and Labour will become further away from power than ever.

Some years ago, Corbyn called for annual elections for the Labour leadership, something supported by his key ally Mark Serwotka whose own union, the PCS, re-elects its own hard left leadership on an annual basis (on a lower than 10% turn out). Well, he’d better get used to annual leadership challenges because they aren’t going away.

Labour is not, as the Corbyn cult following believes, a social movement. It is a political party which has the avowed aim of securing the election of members of parliament to improve the lives of working people. This is why the fight must go on, to rid the party of the wreckers of the hard left once and for all and return the party to a powerful fighting machine as it was under Tony Blair. This is not to call for the return of New Labour because we are in a different place in history now, but if we don’t aim to win general elections, Labour can help no one. This might be enough for the toy town revolutionaries who quite fancy a Labour government but won’t do a thing to help bring one about other than to support yesterday’s man who has nothing to offer for today or tomorrow.

Where I disagree with Sadiq Khan is when he says Jeremy Corbyn is a “principled Labour man”. The friend of the IRA, of Hamas, of Hezbollah. The man who took money from Iran’s press TV when the government were busy executing people. The list is a long one. Of course, Corbyn is not alone in dealing with corrupt regimes and terrorists – far from it – but let’s stop the pretence that he’s the good guy and the others are the bad guys.

Sadiq Khan, a proven winner, is right to say Corbyn is not up to the job. And at some time in the future, Khan may need to return to parliament to once and for all defeat him in a leadership election.

Eclectic Blue

Spread the word

0 Comments 20 August 2016

The ludicrous Christian Voice organisation, led by the completely mad Stephen Green, has this week truly excelled itself in upholding bigoted religious values. “You have only one life,” says Christian Voice, “and your whole duty is to obey God and live your life as He would have you live it.” But if you are gay, Green and his bampot friends want you to die. “The Bible calls for the ultimate penalty for sodomy,” rants Green. No bad reason for ignoring it, then?

Christian Voice continues: “The United Kingdom today is in deep decline. Social and economic trends and the UK crime statistics reveal a nation beset by rising crime, family breakdown, infertility, drug-taking, debt, indecency, profligacy and perversion.” Apparently, it’s all because we rebelled against Deuteronomy and ignored Gods laws, which were invented when nobody knew what was going on. Really. You couldn’t make it up, except that with religion somebody sure did make it all up.

The shopping list of decline looks a bit random to me and I am not sure any of the reasons have any basis in fact. Where do I begin?

Rising crime – Actually, it’s falling.
Family breakdown – I am not quite sure how this can be blamed on secularism, atheism or humanism but I do know that both my unsuccessful first marriage and my highly successful second had no element of religious superstition in them.
Infertility – What?
Drug-taking – I am not sure what God had to say about drug addiction. From what I can tell, there is scant reference to it in the bible. If drug-taking includes alcohol, then God’s old mate Noah, who built an ark at the age of 850, was a drunk who used to hang around naked with his sons.
Debt – Thou shall not have a credit card bill.
Indecency – As long as it’s legal…
Profligacy – Totally subjective.
Perversion – See under indecency.

Without wishing to appear too disrespectful, this really is a load of old tosh. All of it. And actually, they are very dangerous people. Witness their rampant paranoia: “The Christian Faith itself is under attack from the media and homosexual activists.” Now I haven’t noticed any of these “homosexual activists” but then under their bizarre definition calculation, I am a heterosexual activist, except that like most gay and straight people I am not an activist at all, whatever that means. We do know what they mean though. There is a shady group of gay people rushing round to turn straight people into gay people. They’re being brainwashed, you see. Not brainwashed like the religious zealots, oh no. That’s different.

The Olympic games have given Christian Voice the opportunity to spread their hateful bigotry still further and they have informed us today “Turning gay doesn’t seem to have done Tom Daley any favours” when he failed to qualify for the diving finals. I would take great issue with the term “turning gay” but whatever happened with Daley it is no one else’s business but his own. Furthermore, his sexuality has nothing to do with his success, or otherwise, as a sportsman. And anyway, why on earth are we having discussions like these? The only people with the problems are those in Christian Voice. (By the way, this follows a relentless campaign attacking Caster Semenya with tweets like “Sorry but you aren’t a woman.”)

I do not want to ban Green for his spiteful bigotry and hatred because this is still a free country and people have the right to say offensive things. But let’s be clear that if Green had his way, our freedoms would be dramatically curtailed with the reintroduction of archaic blasphemy laws and he will need to be defeated by weight of argument and debate. This should not be too difficult.

Spread the word: God is not great.

Eclectic Blue

Shake that fat

0 Comments 20 August 2016

I can’t make up my mind up about this obesity crisis malarkey. I agree with everyone and I disagree with everyone, too. Is it the business of parents to ensure that their children eat healthily? Yes, it is. Parental responsibility comes first, does it? And isn’t it the business of government too, when faced with an obesity crisis of epidemic levels? Well, yes it is. It’s all black and white, isn’t it? Well, actually no. The shades of grey are getting greyer by the day.

At this stage, let’s look at a statistic. By 2050, over 35% of boys and 20% of girls aged 6 to 10 are expected to be obese. Over a third of boys and a fifth of girls. Now, I can easily make a case for saying that it’s none of the state’s business to interfere with parents who are allowing, wilfully or not, their children to become obese, but who is paying for it? Why, we are. It is costing us £5 billion to deal with the medical costs of obesity. So it is our problem after all.

I grew up in an era where there was little by way of junk food to be had so all the junk food I had was at home. I was served endless sugary drinks and fatty food. We didn’t know any different and in any event we didn’t have any money to be any different even if we did. I know now, in my dotage, what constitutes healthy food and unhealthy food and I try, most of the time, to stick by that. Lots of fruit and veg, almost nothing fried and soft drinks like Pepsi Max. I learned a little late in life, but at least I learned. Not everyone did.

Poorer, less educated, people have the worst issues with obesity. That’s not me being snooty: it’s a fact. Despite the absolute fact that healthy fresh food costs less than frozen “ready meals” many people, for many reasons, still choose the latter. But take Asda. They sell a “wonky box” of misshapen vegetables for £3.50, a couple of which would last a family the best part of a week. But a Pizza or a Lasagne tastes far better and it’s quicker to prepare!

I think we can all agree, whether we believe it is the fault of parents (like I do) or the fault of government (like I do), it is A Good Thing for people to eat healthier food. It helps people live a better and longer life, it saves taxpayers billions of pounds. We all have our part to play.

It will require education in order to get the healthy eating message across and it should require some element of government action by way of advertising and taxing unhealthy foods.

Many of us face an ongoing fight to keep our weight down and some of us are more successful than others (and I am with the others at the moment). I’d certainly feel a lot better about myself if I lost a stone or so and I’ll bet people who are much more overweight than me would like to lose a lot more. Whether I look in the mirror or I look around me in the queue at Tesco, there are more pounds on view than there should be. First and foremost, it’s my personal responsibility to deal with it but secondly, as a fellow human being and taxpayer, I think the government has an important role to play.

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