The Plastic Hippo

January 29, 2010

Scotch and Twiglets

Filed under: Politics — theplastichippo @ 7:58 pm

Arriving early and sneaking in through a back door to avoid protesters, Tony Blair arrived at the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. How different from that bright May morning in 1997 when, on the steps of number 10, Tony announced a new dawn for Britain.

The previous evening, back in`97, a less portly and more optimistic hippo settled in front of the television with a large bottle of Scotch and a catering sized bucket of Twiglets. When the Portillo moment arrived and the scale of the landslide became clear, the hippo, wet-faced with little tears of hope, tip-toed to his sleeping babies and gently kissed their foreheads, the future seeming brighter.

After 18 years of Thatcher and Major which brought riotous civil disorder, jingoistic military adventures and parliamentary sleaze, with New Labour in charge, things could only get better. Oh dear, what a disappointment. The undoubted achievements of the Blair and Brown administrations will forever be overshadowed by the monumental mistakes that could so easily have been avoided.

The television images of a youthful Tony ready to mend a broken society in 1997 have been replaced by a grey, shifty looking lawyer circling around the rather benign questioning from the Chilcot inquiry. The good Baroness and the four noble knights do not seem to share the Jeremy Paxman gene. When preparing for war, Blair talked about the “threat” of WMD`s. In a shift of position, today he talks of the “risk” of possible development based on his assessment of some dubious intelligence. There was, he claims, no pact “signed in blood” with George Dubya, no deceit, no sexing up and no cover up. There was no deception, he said, just a decision. History, and not Chilcot, will judge if the decision was correct.

There is no mention of the Chilcot inquiry on the former Prime Minister`s own website, “The Office of Tony Blair”. Instead it leads with news of the completion of phase one of a sewage treatment project in Gaza. Processing raw sewage now seems to be something of a specialty for Teflon Tony. On leaving Downing Street, he was appointed representative in the Middle East for the quartet of interested parties consisting of the UN, the EU, the US and Russia. Putting the road map to peace in the hands of someone who just ordered an invasion in the region is a little like asking the bull to clean up the mess in the china shop.

On May 6, the hippo will once again settle down with the Scotch and the Twiglets and watch the results come in. At some point in the early hours, foreheads now 13 years older will be kissed and a whispered, futile apology offered for failing, violent schools, unclean hospitals, tuition fees and the prospect of a NEET future.

This time there will probably be big tears of trepidation.

January 27, 2010

Et tu Brute?

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 3:19 am

Politics can be a brutal game. On the very day that Sir Michael Wood, senior legal advisor to the Foreign Office during the build up to the invasion of Iraq, well and truly stuck the knife into Jack Straw and, by implication, Tony Blair, we hear that a Walsall cabinet member is to step down to devote more time to his business activities.

Now some might argue that appointing an accountant to oversee leisure and culture is a pretty clear indication of what the council leadership intended for that portfolio, no piles of bricks or unmade beds in Walsall thank you very much. But this might have turn out to be a very shrewd move that goes beyond the constraints of pure economics. In these tough times, a town centre cinema, decent music venue or, heaven forbid, a theatre would overwhelm the dullard populace and so seekers of culture should stick to the yoghurt aisle in one of the soon to be opened branches of Tesco.

Even the lure of a pot of plundered gold dug up in the back yard and the existence of a purpose-built concrete missile silo to house it in was not enough to the entice the aesthetes at the council house to engage in “kulcha”. The Garman Ryan Collection never won any votes in local elections but professional wrestling at the town hall was the cultural high spot of last year. You do the maths.

Culture is not profitable and it would seem that leisure is a similar liability. According to our leader and the former portfolio holder, swimming pools are very expensive to operate and if they don`t make money, they should close. Ambulances and hospitals are very expensive to operate, so therefore …?

Some trinkets and mirrors and glittering beads are guaranteed to keep the natives subdued and compliant. A few light bulbs on Zebedee and the Wombles might inspire feelings of nostalgia in people of the hippo`s generation, but will they drag increasingly obese kids away from the X-Box and the X-Factor?

So goodbye then to Willenhall Leisure Centre, the illuminations and Councillor Barry Sanders. Hang on… welcome back Willenhall Leisure Centre and the illuminations. Tarra a bit Barry.

The departure from cabinet of Councillors Sanders has resulted in our leader taking control of the Leisure and Culture portfolio proving conclusively that there is no end to his talent. Having set a budget that would close Willenhall Leisure Centre and confine the illuminations to the recycling bin, he can now claim credit for the reversal of those decisions. Clever, eh? Meanwhile, Councillor Sanders can return to the relative obscurity of his ward and continue being honest with the electorate.

What passes for a political opposition in this town has got itself into a bit of a state and are becoming quite giddy, shrieking of rifts and division and the end of the world as we know it. They should really calm down and realise that it is just an advert. The real decisions are being made by people who are safe in anonymity.

Other members of the cabinet, elevated to positions above their ability, must now be nervously looking over their shoulders. When the wheels come off the Building Schools for the Future project, when the Gigaport fails to materialise, when there is a pile-up on the ring road or when a vulnerable life is lost due to council negligence, perhaps they may decide to devote more time to their business activities. In certain cases that might be working for Wolverhampton City Council, the local NHS Trust, a software consultancy firm, property development, flipping burgers or simple spending more time at their home in France.

One assumes the titan leader is up for taking over all those portfolios as well and we may end up with an elected mayor after all. But let us render unto Caesar what Caesar is due. Councillor Bird should beware the Ides of March.

January 22, 2010

Illuminatus…illegitimus…hippopotamus…

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 4:50 pm

So we are to be “consulted” on the future of Walsall Illuminations. The on-off saga has become almost stroboscopic and all we need now is a car alarm going off and we have the makings of an illegal rave on the bandstand.

One assumes that this latest “consultation” will go the way of previous engagement with the public. The illuminati at the Council House will come to a decision and then spin drones will work out a way of proving that 126% of us would willingly sell a kidney to pay for some sparkly things. School closures, the location of play schemes and youth centres, an elected mayor and the setting of the current slash and burn budget have all been subject to “consultation”. To quote Douglas Adams:

“It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying `Beware of the Leopard`.”
From The Hitchhiker`s Guide to the Galaxy, taken out of context.

But all is not well in the Star Chamber and the cat is now firmly among the pigeons. The enlightened ones in cabinet might not be agreeing on what is the best thing for us lowlife. The portfolio holder and the leader seem to be reading from different scripts and there is talk of a reshuffle. Massive cuts need to be made due the recession and the woeful financial performance of the administration. Huge payouts to whistle-blowers, settled out of court, have to be found from somewhere. The blessed leader has said that leisure will “bear the brunt” of the cuts and somebody has to carry the can. Perhaps the portfolio holder was given the wrong script in the first place.

The problem with illuminati is that they honestly believe they are the best qualified to dictate to the rest of us. Plato started this off with his notion of a “philosopher King”. That led to Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Aristotle tried to put the idea into practice by attempting to train a crown prince as a philosopher. Sadly, the boy turned out to be a half-wit.

It is unlikely that Mike Bird will change his spots and will continue to drop PR clangers in his cheery straight-talking, man-of-the-people blustering style. Despots in waiting, circling like Cassius and Brutus and giving lean and hungry looks to Little Caesar might wish to heed the advice of Mr Adams and beware of the leopard.

January 16, 2010

There`s one born again every minute

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 9:42 pm

Breaking the ice on Hatherton Lake for a spot of foraging, the Hippo noticed a dead pan report in TheYamYam regarding grand plans for the Grace Academy in Darlaston. It seems that the Development Control Committee at Walsall Council has had another look at the proposal to sacrifice George Rose Park on the altar of some rich, mad buggers crusade to save the great unwashed from eternal damnation.

Only two months ago, the same committee rejected the same plans. It seemed that taking a rare green space in that place beyond the M6 where they grow derelict factories might have an impact on the quality of life of the citizens. This decision was surprising as the committee has a Conservative Chair and Vice Chair and a Conservative majority of four. So some naughty Tory councillors must have voted with what is left of their minds rather than doing what they were told. The increasingly unstable Mike Bird warned ominously at the time of “wider implications for the council.” Perhaps his comment was accompanied by one of his “special” looks directed at the naughty ones.

But that was Zen, and this is Tao, so what has changed? Perhaps the naughty ones were taken aside and the full deal was explained to them or, more realistically, they were threatened with an eternity of purgatory.

The Grace Academy is run by millionaire evangelical Christian Robert Edmiston who has been questioned by police regarding the cash for honours scandal and has made a series of major donations to the Conservative Party. His organisation boasts of school trips to Africa, not to dig wells or build schools, but to open evangelical radio stations to broadcast creationist nonsense to the gullible.

One of his other trophy schools, the Grace Academy Solihull, has one of the worst records for persistent absence in the country. It could be that the kids there have realised that God has a sense of humour after all and giggle at the thought of God not spending the seventh day resting, but whizzing round the planet planting fossils and stuff called real evidence to fool archaeologists. Carbon dating must really annoy creationist who think the Earth was made a few moments before God blessed us with their birth.

The decision to close the former Darlaston Community Science College and hand over independent control of the school to Edmiston was taken by Cabinet and Serco in the face of massive public opposition and widespread criticism over the lack of adequate consultation. There was no mention of taking the park in the original “consultation”.

Ironically, when the results of the flawed consultation revealed bogus support for the Grace Academy, Councillor Bird is reported to have said that “you can`t keep coming back for more consultation because you don`t like the result.” It seems that principal does not apply to the Development Control Committee.

God would have smiled at the news of Walsall receiving nearly £5 million to restore the Arboretum in the same week that the announcement was made to dig up George Rose Park and turn it into a training camp for Christian soldiers. A council statement said that parks are important as places for people to spend time with family and friends and benefit from having green open spaces to enjoy. It seems that principal does not apply to Darlaston.

In the Arboretum, a refurbished boat house and bandstand will obviously draw visitors from as far away as Chuckery and the Butts. Posh housing for the wealthy on the golf course would be acceptable, their bins are full of goodies, and, at last I can have a decent nights wallow now that the wretched, illuminated tat has been consigned to the skip.

As for what this council will do next to swell its coffers…?

God knows.

January 10, 2010

Taking the mickey bliss…

Filed under: Walsall — theplastichippo @ 8:37 pm

In the late 1960`s, Chairman Mao Zedong of China was asked if he intended to invade India. “Why invade?” he responded. “All I need to do is march half of my people to the top of the Himalayas and tell them to face south and urinate. When the floods subside, we can simply walk in and take control.”

Consider Richard Kral, a Slovakian who in 2005 drove his Audi across the border into Poland to buy cheap booze. After 3 metres of snow fell in 24 hours, his return journey was halted in the high Carpathians when he and his car were buried by an avalanche. The resourceful chap realised that his only hope of survival was to melt the snow. So Richard started drinking the 60 half litre bottles of beer and took to pissing out of the window. Rescuers found him 3 days later, totally wasted but alive.

Former Arsenal player Jens Lehmann, goalkeeper for VfB Stuttgart, nipped over the advertising hoardings and took a leak during his sides champions league win over Unirea Urziceni last month. It would seem an open goal is less pressing than a full bladder.

So what can Walsall learn from these giants of the urethra?

In the current freezing conditions, our lamentable council has been positively crowing about the achievement of gritting 50% of main routes. Yes, that`s half, and not a mention of side streets and pavements. Schools have been forced to close, bus routes are impassable and the rubbish remains uncollected. Triage nurses at A and E departments are considering emigration or early retirement. Sure, the weather is unusual and every local authority in the country is in the same boat, but to brag that half of your major routes have been gritted is the equivalent of urinating off a cliff into the wind.

Supplies of rock salt are dwindling and the wonderfully named Miniature for Transport, Lord Adonis has ordered councils to reduce gritting operations by 25% to preserve stocks. Walsall Council claims that there is enough grit for another month without any knowledge of what the weather will bring. The only sure measure of grit levels is an examination of the relationship between Walsall Council and the gritting contractor Tarmac.

At the start of the present cold snap, the council claimed that “we” are gritting and “our” heroic drivers are making the world safe. Now, as the salt begins to run out, it is “our colleagues at Tarmac” who are doing the work. Soon it will be “Tarmac” and when gridlock ensues, it will be “those nasty profiteers who have ignored their contractual obligations.” We will inevitably hear statements of lessons learnt and a time to draw a line and move on.

But maybe Walsall could learn from Chairman Mao. If even half of our citizens emulated the toilet habits of revellers in Bridge Street on a Saturday night, the ice would disappear. In that way, the council would be able to take the piss both literally and in its current ridiculous announcements.

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