Category Archives: Politics

Sorry, Eurotunnel LeShuttle. I thought it was your fault.

We were booked to travel on the Chunnel from Calais to Folkestone yesterday evening, schedule departure around 8.30pm. We actually arrived 4 hours early, since we’d had good weather and the usual traffic jams around Antwerp hadn’t been as bad as usual. So we were looking forward to getting an early crossing and arriving home at a civilised hour.

The first intimation of a problem came when we passed queues of cars bound for the ferry port but stacked onto the motorway. A lorry had apparently had an accident and blocked the main route, so all traffic was being diverted via the town. We felt glad that we’d chosen the tunnel and not the ferry.
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Chalk and cheese: the attack on good food

My attention was taken by a Tweet from @samphireshop linking to a panic-stricken press release from an organisation called CASH, Consensus Action on Salt & Health.

Well, it certainly alarmed me! Let me quote the headlines from this paper. The use of capitals for emphasis is theirs, by the way:
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A little local kerfuffle

I rarely post about politics, still less local politics which tend to be rather footling. But some things are too funny not to be shared.

So, to set the scene. We live in a modest house on the boundary of a sports club. It’s a nice sports club: playing fields, floodlit hard pitches, a car park, and a modern clubhouse. We’re very close to the clubhouse. As I write, I can see the club kitchen extractor fans about 20 metres away. Only our immediate next-door neighbours are closer to the scene of the action than we are.

When we moved here, the sports club was run by British Rail. It was subsequently sold, and run as a private venture. When we arrived, we found that there was an active local campaign against the club, on the grounds that it was noisy and generated traffic. That campaign has gone on more or less unabated ever since.

Now, we tend to be fairly tolerant people. Besides, I used to work for a brewery many years ago, so we understand a bit about the hospitality industry. But in all fairness to the campaigners, there was a certain amount of truth behind their allegations.

The sports club was indeed noisy. I’m not a football fan, so I don’t entirely understand the culture, but for some reason footballers and their spectators find it impossible to converse except by shouting profanities at the top of their lungs. But that was OK, even when our children were small. They’d have learned those words at school anyway.

And, boy, could those guys drink! The sports club must have been a goldmine for British Rail back in the day. Every night at the weekend you could more or less set your watch by the fights that broke out in the carpark at chucking out time. Woe betide the likely lad who looked at his mate’s bird. The young lady in question would be shrieking, “Leave it, Darren, he’s not worth it!” The two protagonists would hurl curses and challenges at each other. A crowd of delighted spectators would cheer them on.

I don’t think much actual damage was ever done. In fact the only real downside of the evening’s entertainment was that the chap who was deemed the loser would jump into his car and drive off in a furious tyre-screeching temper. I never heard that anyone was killed as a result of their drunken driving, but what may have happened a couple of miles down the road is anyone’s guess.

One night, though, I was woken by tyre-screeching in the wee small hours, but this time coming in. I looked out of the window, to see the tail lights of a car leaving as rapidly as it had arrived. Within a few minutes the clubhouse was completely ablaze. Flames shooting high into the air. Fortunately for us, the wind direction was kind and our house was spared. But that’s why the current premises are so modern.

Anyway, over the years, the campaigns took their toll, and the sports club diminished. It’s had a flicker of a revival in recent times by changing the catering arrangements to an Indian restaurant. The activists responded magnificently by launching a new campaign complaining about the smell. Apparently the smell of Indian food is much more offensive than the smell of hamburgers. Ah, nostalgia! I haven’t heard that sort of thing said since we lived in the racially divided Birmingham of the 1970s.

But this can’t go on. The club can’t possibly be financially viable. The latest plan by the owners is to turn part of it (not all) into a holiday park for camping and caravanning, to run alongside sports facilities. It may seem odd in suburban Harrow, but there are several successful precedents, catering to campers who want to visit central London. Such sites make an ideal base to “do” the London tourist attractions cheaply. Not everyone can afford posh hotels, after all.

Now we’re rather in favour of this idea. We’re keen campers and (more recently) caravanners ourselves. And our experience has been consistently good. The sites we’ve stayed at, both in the UK and abroad, have been attractive, tranquil, and secure. Caravanners and motorhomers are, in our experience, the most careful, considerate and sober of drivers. We’ve never encountered drunken brawling on a caravan park, ever. Indeed, even someone playing music after around 10pm will expect to be silenced by the site wardens in the interests of other campers.

Compared with an active sports club, traffic will be hugely reduced. However you cut the figures, a caravan site would generate at most 10% of the vehicle traffic of a sports club. We are in any case on a busy commuter route with many thousands of vehicles passing each day, including huge trucks for the local access point for maintenance of the West Coast Main Line.

The landscaping of the site will attract songbirds, sadly depleted by the silly fashion for encouraging predators. Everything about the proposal seems to us to be positive, or at worst, neutral.

So, you’re thinking, the local campaigners will be delighted. They’re getting all that they’ve expressed a wish for, and more. Ummm, no. Quite the reverse. The site will, allegedly, generate more noise, traffic, and smells, even though the supporting figures seems to be sadly lacking. Well, s’obvious, isn’t it? Stands to reason. Also caravan sites attract an undesirable class of person. Yes, really, that’s what many of the letters of objection say. I keep expecting John Cleese to pop up on the council’s planning website saying, “No riff-raff!”

Finally, it’s interesting to see how the politicians jump. There’s a fair slab of support for the campaigners, who have very successfully frightened the local residents. And politicians don’t remain in office by listening to the minority view. Reason and logic have nothing to do with it. Just votes. The local MPs have signed the petition against the caravan site, but have otherwise wisely kept their powder dry.

I’ll leave it to a local councillor, self-styled @Councillorsuzie, to sum up what they think of minority views. I quote: “What rubbish!” I’d like to think that @Councillorsuzie will be publishing the facts to back up the claims about more noise, traffic, smells, and riff-raff. But I’m not holding my breath.

Humpty Dumpty Words

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

It may be just me becoming a bit of a grouch, but I’m becoming increasingly irritated with the practice of subverting words in public discourse to disparage something or someone that the speaker doesn’t approve of, or elevate something that they do. BBC commentators are particularly adept at it, but the print media and the blogosphere are just as guilty. And of course vested interests latch on and exploit it like anything.
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When animal cruelty propaganda is harmful

A bit of a serious posting, this one. I’ve been burbling on about chickens for months now, ever since we decided to get them. But it wasn’t a trivial decision. I’ve never kept animals, as a child or as an adult. I had neither the time nor the inclination.

So I’m immensely aware of our obligation to treat our livestock properly and humanely. We’ve read as widely as we can, attended courses and lectures, and talked to experienced poultry keepers. We’re also acutely aware of the unpleasant practices of the poultry industry, and the impact that the laws and regulations intended for commercial farms have on domestic chicken keepers, not always for the better.

Before going on, here’s a picture of real and commonplace animal cruelty, taken at a French street market just before Christmas.

Turkeys at Desvres market, Christmas 2011

Spot the problem? No, neither did I at the time. More later in the post.
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Towards an ever looser union

There are so many important things to blog about. Cake, chickens, and shooting, for instance. But the big topic of the moment is Europe and the UK veto of the latest treaty change.

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Monster Chickens

As I’ve been reading books, blogs, and all sorts of internet material about chicken keeping, I have been prompted to ponder the subject of monster chickens. I guess that we bought into the idea of keeping a few chickens for the normal rather middle-class suburban reasons: fresh eggs, maybe a little of our own home-grown meat, from happy chickens rather than unhappy caged ones.

But I’ve started to wonder whether battery cages are the greatest of the problems of modern poultry.
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Bread and salt

We bake our own bread. It’s not always beautiful, but it’s always delicious.

But the food fascists are on my trail. Some ghastly little committee of busybodies called “Consensus Action on Salt and Health” is pressing for targets on salt in bread to be reduced from 1.1% to 1%.
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The woes of public consultation

I was invited to a local council consultation the other evening.  I’m not sure why my name came out of the hat, but I was available, so why not?  The topic was performance monitoring of council services, and informing residents of the results.

I realised that I actually knew nothing at all about their costs and value for money, and except for personal experience, nothing about service levels either.  How much does it cost to empty my bin, or paint a green cycle lane on the road, or provide us with an allotment?  And even if I knew, how could I tell whether they were competitively priced?  And even if I knew that, how could I judge whether the service delivered a worthwhile outcome?

But what turned out to be so fascinating wasn’t the topic, but the process.
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Katharine Birbalsingh under house arrest

I was enormously impressed by Katharine Birbalsingh’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference. It pointed up the failings of modern education in Britain clearly and concisely. She deserved her standing ovation.

What she didn’t deserve is what happened next. The school that she works for – a Church of England school, no less – took the stance that the Burmese government might adopt, and sent her to “work from home” whilst her “case is reviewed”.
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