The Plastic Hippo

February 24, 2010

Our own personal Jesus

Filed under: Walsall — theplastichippo @ 6:07 pm

Not a lot seems to happen in Walsall Wood, but when it does, it kicks off big time. The strange event in Lichfield Road on Tuesday morning has sent ripples across the internet and other media that could give us a new definition of care in the community.

The facts of the incident are sparse, but what is clear is that an un-named man, either in his 30`s or 40`s, was found to be hanging from a cross attached to a telegraph pole outside a doctors surgery. A passer-by photographed the scene for posterity and within minutes, the image was posted on the internet. Wearing only a loincloth and crown of thorns in sub-zero temperatures, the man was brought down by police and paramedics and taken to hospital suffering from mild hypothermia and to undergo psychiatric tests.

A short time later, a Facebook group was set up which within 24 hours has attracted close to 1,000 subscribers. The majority of comments display a sense of hilarity at this unusual occurrence and there are endless references to Monty Python`s Life of Brian and “No more Nails” adhesive. A national tabloid ran the story and speculated that the incident was a protest against the surgery. News agencies as far away as Adelaide in Australia and in Portugal picked up the story printed in The Sun. Wild rumours began to fly across the internet as to what was the motivation behind such an extraordinary event. A stag night prank was suggested, drug abuse and mental illness were other major themes. Very few commentators seemed in the least bit sympathetic towards the man or what reasons may have drove him to such a bizarre action.

The rumours became darker, leading West Midlands Police to take the unusual step of issuing a statement that categorically denied that the man was a victim of a vigilante attack following a murder outside The Anchor pub in Brownhills. The police also confirmed that the mock crucifixion was a protest against the health service.

The Express & Star, our “local” paper, ran the story tucked away on page 5 and did not bother to put the article online even as the social networking sites were buzzing with speculation and a real need for accurate news. The increasingly influential YamYam was across the story from the beginning and presented the facts as they emerged and added value by linking to Facebook and the blogosphere in terms of context and background. The hippo must declare an interest here as TheYamYam has consistently supported this and other local blogs in bringing opinion to a wider audience.
There is still, though, something very odd about the incident that defies explanation and will continue to cause febrile imaginations to run riot. At the time, the Police described the action as “a spur of the moment thing”, but the construction of a wooden cross, the purchase of a loincloth and the manufacture of a crown of thorns suggests a certain amount of pre-planning and how on earth is it possible to tie yourself to a cross?

Given the speculation and rumour and paucity of facts, we are no closer to knowing the reasons why this man did what he did and perhaps it should remain that way.

If this man is unwell, he should be left in care of professionals who may help him to face his demons. If he has been involved in criminal activity, then that is a matter for the Police and the courts. Any further publicity could compromise legal proceedings. If the whole thing was staged, then such attention seeking should be ignored.

The almost hysterical reaction from Facebookers and Twitterers exposes a dark side of society when a community views a person in difficulties as entertainment. It says more about our collective mental state than it does about our own personal Jesus.

February 23, 2010

Ethelred the Unready found safe and well in Walsall

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 3:08 am

The discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard in a muddy field near Burntwood has had a seismic effect in the world of archaeology and has led to claims that the history of the middle ages may have to be reconsidered. The response from Walsall Council to this remarkable and profoundly important find also needs some consideration.

The ever dependable YamYam has run a story ahead of the local dead tree press reporting on our long awaited civic reaction as to where the shiny treasure should be kept. It seems that our leader, the irrepressible Mike Bird, believes that Walsall is incapable of housing the trove. He says that Walsall does not possess the capability to care for and examine this momentous discovery when every archaeologist and historian in the country would sell their souls just to see this collection of gold.

The purveyor of corporate insignia has described suggestions that The New Art Gallery in Walsall should be the home of the Hoard as “irresponsible”, a word he seems to use as often as a sufferer from Tourretts syndrome uses the F word. Perhaps he has Coprolalia, a condition that results in the involuntary utterance of socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks. His performances in the council chamber might verify this and his mental state has to be questioned.

He was joined in council by Adrian Andrew, the deputy leader, in proposing that the government should pay to keep the Hoard in the Kingdom of Mercia. Councillor Andrew has overseen the death of the ancient Brownhills Market, also in the Kingdom of Mercia. Two other councillors signed the motion, David Turner, the invisible man of Brownhills and Alan Paul who, as the hippo has observed, has something of the Tommy Cooper about him.

Councils in Staffordshire, Lichfield, Tamworth and Birmingham and the Art Fund are campaigning furiously to keep the goodies in the Midlands and have already come up with over £800,000 to keep them here. Walsall has raised nothing – zilch – nada – zero.

Ethelred the Unready is regarded as one of the worst Kings of England. Unable to resist Viking attacks, he decided to pay the Scandinavian raiders to go away with Danegelt – a tactic that proved remarkably unsuccessful. Ethelred`s very name is an Anglo-Saxon compound word meaning “noble” and “counsel”. This was soon corrupted to mean bad council after his decision to try and buy his way out of trouble, hence Ethelred the Unready.

Councillor Bird may wish to contemplate his legacy when considering what he has achieved for Walsall. Unready or incapable – history will be the judge

February 19, 2010

Bruce almighty…by George

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 2:20 am

Having temporarily relocated to the Serpentine in Hyde Park for a bit of rummaging in that there London, the Hippo returned to Hatherton Lake today to learn that the MP for Walsall South has called it a day.

Mr George has, of course, said this before and has then changed his mind, but this time it seems his mind is made up. Having been cleared of any expenses fiddling by the Legg report and with a clear conscience, the big guy at the age of 67 has been honest enough to say that his health is suffering, he doesn`t understand the internet and he would like to see his wife a bit more. If only some of the old fogeys on Walsall Council could embrace that epiphany. Some of the younger ones who were puking up Farleys Rusks when George entered parliament might wish to look to him as an example of how to conduct themselves in local politics and put their constituents before ambition.

The Welshman has lived in Walsall since 1972, which is longer than most people born here if demographic statistics are to be believed. He was elected as MP for Walsall South in 1974 and has stayed in the commons ever since.

An influential backbencher, he chaired the House of Commons Defence Committee between 1997 and 2005 and has been a member of the Privy Council since 2001. Not bad for a lad from Mountain Ash, Glamorgan.

But it is as a constituency MP for Walsall that Bruce George will be best remembered. He has held constituency surgeries every week for the last 30 years which is considered to be something of a record. Eschewing fancy London ways he has stayed close to the people of his adopted town and has been a very visible presence in schools, care homes, hospitals and, yes, the local press.

In the next election, which might be sooner than we think if Cameron and his Eton chums keep exposing themselves in public, Walsall South could be seen as a safe Labour seat. If that is the case, God knows what apparatchik metro centric jerk Labour Central Office will foist upon us. The danger is very clear and the local Labour Party must make sure that they select candidates that will represent local people, not some suit from an Ad Agency with a pretty face who is good at spin.

With a fondness for curry, fish and chips, beer and Walsall people, the hippo has a lot in common with Bruce George MP. The difference between the hippo and Bruce is that the hippo is fatter and will never be a great parliamentarian, superb local MP or a thoroughly decent, honest and hard working representative.

The fact that he will no longer represent this town is a sad, sad prospect.

February 14, 2010

Living in never never land

Filed under: Education,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 9:09 pm

Wendy asked Peter Pan where he lived. “With the lost boys,” Peter replied. “They are the children who fall out of their prams when the nurse is looking the other way. If they are not claimed in seven days, they are sent far away to the Never Land.”

Our own Lost Boys at Walsall Council, instead of throwing their toys out of the pram in outrage at the cost of PFI contracts, have chosen to eject themselves from their buggies and have taken the second left and then straight on until morning to live far away with the fairies.

The true cost of Private Finance Initiatives are at last becoming known to us poor souls that have to pay for them. Street lighting contractor Amey will provide £26million worth of illumination over 25 years starting from 2002. For this service, Walsall council tax payers will cough up £102.62million. Nice work if you can get it and Amey can. They are also fleecing local authorities in Wakefield and Manchester. These clever Tinkerbells of the street lighting world are likely to rake in £4billion in PFI contracts. To justify this daylight robbery, our own enlightened council have stated:
“Recent statistical evidence strongly suggests that the PFI project
is making a positive contribution to the improvement in road safety
and the reduction in the fear of crime across the borough.”

To pay for all this, the bright sparks in the Council House think that lamp post advertising is the answer. It is going to take an enormous amount of lost dogs and cats to raise that kind of revenue and even this callous council would surely draw the line at charging grieving friends and relatives for tying a bunch of daffs to the lamp post that killed a joy rider.

But Walsall Council are not the only ones to be taken in by these “have now, pay later” hire purchase schemes. When it is finished, the Manor Hospital will be worth £169million but will have cost £652million. Walsall NHS Trust will be paying Skanska Innisfree for the next 33 years. Let us hope that the nurses keep an eye on the babies in the prams because they are the ones who will have to pay for it if they are lucky enough to grow up and earn a living.

Norwest Holst and other contractors continue to ask the council for more money even though the completion of the ring road was a year late and £5million over budget. Although not strictly a PFI contract, the ring road is a example of a Public Private Partnership in which there is only one winner and you can probably guess that the winner aint us.

Education in Walsall is in the hands of Serco, a private company who are happy to make a profit from doing the jobs that councils and governments are incapable of doing or are unwilling to even try. The details of the contract between Serco and Walsall Council remain a closely guarded secret as, it seems, it is not in the public interest to disclose such trivial matters. Serco is overseeing the Building Schools for the Future project, another PFI scheme, without any meaningful scrutiny from the Lost Boys in the Council House. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have already been spent on unaccountable consultants, “consultations” and grand plans without any evidence of actual improvements in schools. The next general election, regardless of the eventual winner, will probably see BSF pulled and another rise in Serco profits.

PFI and PPP were originally introduced by the John Major government in the early 90`s and were, at that time, fiercely opposed by Labour as “backdoor privatisation”. However, once in power, the Blair government embraced the ideas and as recently as last year, Health Secretary Alan Johnson claimed that, in the health sector, there is no other option. There was never a “plan B” for the NHS, he said. It is no surprise that organisations such as the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organisation see this kind of deregulation and privatisation as a rather splendid way of maximising long term profitability. However, since the banking crisis, the major private players have pulled up the drawbridge and PFI`s are now being financed by central government, the exact opposite of what was intended.

Walsall Council is not alone in being unable to organise a booze up in a brewery that it owns and will continue to employ PFI party organisers to hand out the party hats and keep everyone jolly. Living on the never never, once popular in post war Britain, when it was the only way for struggling families to buy a sofa, TV or washing machine, is now a discredited financial option, unless you are a failing local authority. The likes of Amey, Skanska, Norwest Holst and Serco are not charitable organisations working for the common good. They are there to make a profit for their shareholders and directors and are very clever at spotting the easily exploited. This council, blinded by the light of their ineptitude, seem happy to let their grandchildren pick up the bill for short term gratification.

Unrelated to the work of J M Barrie, Never Land has been used to describe parts of the Australian outback in Queensland and the Northern Territory. The incoming British said it was a place you would never, never want to visit, the locals say it is a place you would never, never want to leave. It is unlikely that Walsall could ever match the outback or a Californian ranch formerly owned by one M Jackson as a tourist attraction. However, the arid desolation of one and the distinct weirdness of the other seem somehow apt in describing Walsall and its civic leadership.

With elections looming, perhaps the Lost Boys should stand up against the pirates and Captain Hook and Mr Smee be made aware of the ticking alarm clock contained in the stomach of the hungry crocodile. Maybe then, Walsall can finally grow up.

February 11, 2010

Reefer madness

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 10:12 pm

Back in the early 70`s, the hippo almost recalls conversations conducted through shoulder length hair and a haze of smoke regarding the relative merits of something called black leb and something called grass.

Unusually passive debates centred on which album cover was the best to skin up on, and whether Dark Side of the Moon or Tubular Bells best indicated the meaning of life. All that was irreversibly changed when Roxy Music put style and fashion before music which resulted in the likes of Girls Aloud, any boy band you can think of and the embarrassing spectacle of a couple of attention seeking retards called Jedward.

Since those purple hazy days, the use of recreational pharmaceuticals by young people has increased. But the subtle difference between enhancement and dependence indicates how youth culture has changed. In a society that rewards the corrupt, elevates the inept and implacably criticises young people, who can blame “the youth” from taking a toke of the antidote.

In the late 90`s, we had an American president who once played sax in a rock band and a British prime minister who once played guitar in another rock band. Both have said they that they had smoked dope, with Clinton famously saying he did not inhale. Liberal lawyer Obama cannot have been unaware of drug use in the south side of Chicago and Gordon Brown must know that Edinburgh is crack central in Scotland.

Here in Walsall, we know that drug abuse is a very bad thing and that the dealers in death have to be punished with the full force of the law. The number of cannabis factories discovered by our ever vigilant police suggests that drug production is now a commercial, rather than subversive, enterprise. So it is now vital that predatory drug entrepreneurs are brought before the courts and imprisoned for the sake of our children.
As a very old joke says:

What`s the difference between a drug dealer and a Rolls Royce?

You never see a Rolls Royce at the gates of a Walsall school.

This week has seen the discovery of two industrial strength cannabis factories in Walsall, one in an empty warehouse, the other in a former youth centre. It turns out that the warehouse is joint owned by a Walsall councillor and the youth centre had received funding from the Paddock and Pheasey Local Neighbourhood Partnership with the support of two other Walsall councillors. It is important to point out that the councillors are in no way connected to the illegal cultivation of cannabis and that their reputations are beyond repute.

However, the words “land” and “lord” when conjoined does suggest a certain level of responsibility and for Councillor Mohammed Arif to call for a change in the law to protect innocent landlords from the criminal activities of the guys from Hanoi smacks of stable doors closing.

The Street Star Academy in Pool Street, which the local youth have never heard of, suffered a terrible and convenient flood because of a burst water main and seems to have closed. The prospect of adequate irrigation and secrecy has proved to be irresistible to the growers of the devils weed. Councillor Barry Sanders, recently resigned from cabinet, and Councillor Zahid Ali, about to get his licence back after a drink driving conviction, may have to think again about where they put our money.

As Bob Dylan said:
“Everybody must get stoned.”

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