The Plastic Hippo

May 21, 2012

Sweet home Chicago

Filed under: Law,Rights,Society,Uncategorized,World — theplastichippo @ 11:31 am

It`s not as if the fine city of Chicago Illinois hasn`t suffered enough, but a G8 summit followed by a NATO summit would test the ingenuity of even Jake and Elwood Blues.

The Chicago Police Department, who might benefit from the fitness test suggested in our own Winsor Report because they seem to be rather overweight, are clearly out of their depth. We can witness some of their public duty here.

Deciding to turn a peaceful demonstration into a shameful display of state power using a variety of tactics and weapons designed to subjugate the people they have sworn an oath to defend is a little like wearing sunglasses in the dark. Here is a fictional account of the CPD in action.

Our own public servants here in dear old Albion, might like to consider which side they are actually on. Asking for support from the public in their own dispute with the government is not going to be much use when they hit the rest of us over the head when the rest of us are in dispute with the same government.

A lesson can be learnt from history. Has there been any progress? Your choice, guys. Have a listen to Neil Young and good luck with policing the Olympics.

June 2, 2011

Singing in the rain

Filed under: Uncategorized — theplastichippo @ 11:57 am

We thought it was all over, but the burghers and good people of the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford had other ideas. United were bringing home another trophy.

Half term took us to a humble bothy in the southern Pennines and the delights of exploring the lanes of Dobcross, Diggle and Delph. However, a drizzling Bank Holiday Monday forced us to consider an alternative under cover activity other than sitting before a primitive five channel television. Fortunately, we had a contingency plan.

After a huge farmhouse breakfast, a 25 minute train journey would take us to Manchester Victoria and a leisurely stroll to Piccadilly Gardens would bring us to the X50 bus and a 25 minute trip to the Lego Discovery Centre at the Trafford Centre. Placed high on the list of places to visit before the end of childhood, we could, with luck, be there in an hour. Unfortunately, we had not taken into account Fergie`s red army.

Pausing to admire the wonderful fountain in Piccadilly Gardens, the younger hippos could not resist becoming a piece of living art and were soon completely drenched. Upon boarding the bus, the incredibly helpful driver ignored the growing puddle and told us of road closures, diversions and delays. After being outclassed and outplayed by the morally superior Barcelona, Manchester United, it seems, were to parade the premiership trophy and not the champion’s league trophy on an open topped bus. The driver said it wasn’t important as he was a City supporter.

At the point where the bus was to divert away from its normal route, the driver came upstairs and explained what was happening and was thoroughly charming. As we progressed in a direction away from Old Trafford, the traffic grew heavier and more flag draped supporters were walking away from the stadium. With cars parked on pavements, grass verges and across people’s drives, the bus was now moving at walking pace. Turning onto a jammed dual carriage-way, the bus took 30 minutes to cover the 100 yards to a set of traffic lights at a cross roads.

Council workers in hi-viz tabards lurked with bollards and when we finally arrived at the lights, a police officer on a motorcycle rode into the centre of the junction and gave a thumbs-up. Our road was closed and by now the younger hippos had given the top of the bus the aroma of wet Labrador. Hundreds of singing supporters had gathered and a helicopter buzzed low overhead. More police motorcycles moved slowly west followed by police on horseback and the crowd began cheering. Then, Van der Sar, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Alex Ferguson and the rest along with the premiership trophy passed in front of us about 20 yards away.

The randomness of causality left us bewildered that serendipity should place us in this space and time that afforded the best seat to witness the celebrations. Such an encounter would be impossible to plan. Loyal supporters, included some of the more rebellious who choose to wear green, trudged away in the rain after our buses had crossed paths. Arriving at the Trafford Centre, we thanked the driver and reminded him that at least City had won the FA Cup.

The Lego Discovery Centre was marvellous but over-priced and the female members of the hippo pod enjoyed denuding the bank account by visiting some very expensive shops. The Trafford Centre itself is utterly ghastly, but more of that later.

Returning to the city centre along empty streets to catch a train back to the hills, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Again at Piccadilly Gardens, the younger hippos decided to take another al fresco shower in the fountain. A flying visit to a nearby Primark secured a change of clothing. Having spent a small fortune, the highlights of the day were a chance encounter with Rooney and Giggs and the joy on the faces of young boys getting soaking wet.

The best things in life really are free.

Images: HMS11

May 28, 2011

Cash before dishonour

Filed under: Uncategorized — theplastichippo @ 3:36 pm

The noble tradition of a captain going down with the ship is as futile as it is mythical. When something goes wrong, the bottle of Scotch and the loaded revolver is, thankfully, no longer the only option. Honour and responsibility went down with the Titanic.

After the Court of Appeal found that the former Director of Children’s Services in Haringey had been unfairly dismissed, Sharon Shoesmith told the BBC that she “does not do blame” and that “you cannot stop the death of children”. The “you”, in this case, was her.

Peter Connelly was 17 months old when he died at his home of injuries including fractured ribs and a broken back after months of abuse. He and his “family” had been seen 60 times by the department headed by Ms Shoesmith prior to his death in 2007. The scum that inflicted this barbaric cruelty are safely behind bars for the time being and it is interesting that those desperate to apportion “blame” make no mention of those that are actually guilty. It is as if the imprisonment of three sub-humans is not enough to assuage our national shame. More scalps are needed.

Shoesmith has a point when she complains of being singled out for culpability but to accept responsibility and then deny “blame” is, at best, inconsistent. We are told that vast salaries within Local Authorities, particularly at directorship level, are necessary to attract and retain the very best practitioners and offer adequate compensation for the responsibilities of a difficult and often harrowing job. Ms Shoesmith might have been fired unfairly, but the Court of Appeal rejected her assertion that a damning Ofsted report into her department was also unfair. The report revealed that under her leadership, Children’s Services were utterly, completely and dangerously useless.

After deciding not to “do blame”, Ms Shoesmith went on to blame everyone else. When the level of incompetence within her department was revealed, the then Secretary of State, Ed Balls, intervened and fired her. Regarding Mr Balls, she said this:

“I’m still staggered by how irresponsible the Secretary of State was. He almost demonstrated his lack of knowledge and understanding of children’s social care. This was his department yet he took steps that led it into complete disarray.”

So, does she blame Ed Balls for the death of Baby Peter? No, not just Ed Balls. There are other too. She went on:

“As a director of children’s services I cannot control what the police do, I cannot control what health does. I cannot control the fact when a social worker is referring a child for abuse that she rings up and finds that a case has not been allocated to a police officer for four months. I can’t control those matters, this is much more complex than saying you are responsible, let’s sack you and the whole psyche of the nation will be at peace.”

So it is Ed Balls, the Police and the Health Service who should be blamed and not the Director of Children’s Services. That is interesting coming from someone who feels that blame will not produce “anything positive”. By resigning as a result of the Ofsted report, the leader of Haringey council and the portfolio holder accepted their responsibilities and have retained some semblance of honour. Ms Shoesmith, it seems, did not consider resignation.

Haringey and the government have said that they will appeal against the appeal which is good news for lawyers. Speculation is rife that if that appeal is unsuccessful, Ms Shoesmith can expect between £500,000 and £1million in compensation for wrongful dismissal. The Court of Appeal ruled that her dismissal was unfair because she was not allowed the opportunity to defend herself. As the coalition rushes headlong into cutting social services, the police and the NHS, the lessons learnt from all this will be in vain and those services will be unable to prevent this horror from happening again.

Sharon Shoesmith now has the chance to defend herself.

Here is a reminder of someone who did not.

April 28, 2011

Does one want fries with that?

Filed under: Uncategorized — theplastichippo @ 8:44 am

The bunting is hung across the street. The cakes are baked and the cucumber sandwiches prepared. Glass bottles with marble stoppers are filled with lashings of ginger beer and the Union Jacks distributed to every child. Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1981.

Thirty years ago, David Cameron, then aged 15, slept rough on the Mall in the hope of catching a glimpse of a princess. A few days earlier, a disabled man was killed by a police van in what became known as the Toxteth Riots. As thousands huddled in sleeping bags through choice rather than necessity in central London, the then Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, Kenneth Oxford, stated that he and his officers would not be responsible for the fate of anyone on the streets of Liverpool after dark. CS gas canisters and rubber baton rounds were used for the first time on the British mainland. Kenneth was later knighted.

Now, the Metropolitan police officer in charge of security for the royal wedding, Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens, has stated that any “criminals” wishing to disrupt or even protest against the imminent nuptials will be dealt with “robustly”. Any veteran of a Scouse wedding will know that there is usually a fight at the reception and we do not want to see uninvited nutters from Muslims Against Crusades and the English Defence League lobbing vol-au-vent at each other or, even worse, the few remaining dissident republican dinosaurs from across the water planting bags of fertiliser around Westminster Abbey. Of course, the safety and security of the happy couple, the monarch and the visiting dignitaries is of paramount importance, but to class dissenting voices who question the cost of this match made in heaven as “criminal” is a worrying development. It would seem that the Met are now integral to the PR hype being peddled by government, the press and the palace to make sure that we celebrate the union of prince and wife and join in with the right royal knees-up. Enjoyment and loyalty to the crown is now compulsory, as is the bill for the wedding.

As the coalition cuts begin to bite, those facing redundancy and those already laid off will certainly enjoy the extra bank holiday and the opportunity to express their joy at a fairy-tale marriage. Street party tables in the middle of the road will not hinder emergency services attempting to attend the sick, elderly and dying because those emergency services are being withdrawn as a “saving”. One can only hope that the dashing groom does not worry too much that his job as a search and rescue helicopter pilot is under threat due to defence cuts. We are all in this together, but most of us will not receive Cornwall and Wales as wedding presents.

Given the hard times of old England, the royal family and the coalition have missed the chance of a lifetime to make “efficiency savings” to offset the cost of staging the spectacular. Clearly such an important couple deserve more than a Registry Office and a few pork pies in the upstairs room of a working mens club so flogging tickets to the Abbey to wealthy social climbers would rake in enough to save the NHS. The rights to the wedding snaps sold to Hello magazine would fund the rebuilding of every school in the land and television companies would fight tooth and nail to produce a new reality show called My Big, Fat Windsor Wedding together with a Bridesmaids Got Talent spin-off. MacDonald’s could do the catering and distribute a nutritious happy meal to every child in the nation instead of a boring mug.

As the big day approaches, this humble blog wishes the young newly-weds a long and happy life together and hopes that the struggle to find and keep employment, a mortgage, being close to a decent hospital and finding a decent school for any future little princes and princesses proves not to be too traumatic. Wishing to avoid the fawning “gawd bless yer, Wills and Kate and gawd bless yer, ma’am” nonsense currently obsessing the media, the hippo intends to spend the day at the bottom of a disused mine shaft with a bottle of Glenmorangie.

Risking lèse majesté, the bottle might need to be super-sized.

April 23, 2011

Time and tide

Filed under: Uncategorized — theplastichippo @ 10:14 pm

After a full and reasonably debauched life, there is little left that can provoke an audible gasp from the author of this humble blog. But as dawn broke over Cardigan Bay, a gasp was followed by a few tiny tears of joy.

Camping is always a mixed pleasure. The connection to Gaia via a sleeping bag and a ground sheet is a penitence of dubious value and discovering rabbit droppings in your flip flops is not the best start to a day. However, lower back pain and a stiff neck are inconsequential when compared to the benefits of communing with nature.

There are those that enjoy the extreme “survivalist” style of camping and there have been times, long ago now, when the hippo resorted to the woods armed only with a ball of string, Oxo cubes, a frighteningly long knife and a squirrel cook book. Those days are, mercifully, long gone but the skills required to fashion a temporary shelter from bracken remain. The Winnebago experience has also been tried but 99 channels of TV rubbish and a freezer full of vichyssoise and lobster thermidore was more luxurious than the family abode and hardly a green education for the younger hippos. A compromise between hardship and convenience had to be found for a short and spontaneous family get-away.

So, off we trekked to the Welsh coast to pitch our camp on a commercial campsite that promised stunning views and excellent facilities. Approached by a causeway which is covered by the tide twice a day, the views are indeed stunning. A simple and efficient reception process highlighted the excellent facilities and we raised our flag as far away from the snack bar and games arcade as possible. Perched atop a low cliff at the very edge of Gwynedd, we gazed out across a shimmering Bae Ceredigion with Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri at our backs and Harlech Castle to the north. To the south were huge sand dunes and a flat, golden beach. Stunning was not an exaggeration.

Our settlement was established as Great Backed Black Gulls and Common Tern patrolled the shoreline, Sandpipers and Curlews cried, finches bustled in the almost blooming wild roses and marsh orchids. Skylarks ascended above our encampment. They were joined overhead by Hawk fast jet training aircraft from RAF Valley on Anglesey. They came in fast and low over the sea to practice strafing runs on the decommissioned airfield just across the estuary that separated the island from the mainland. Ironically, the airfield was last used to test Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, the drones currently being deployed over Libya, and was operated by Serco. Small world.

The Royal Air Force, however, were not the only ones to break this pastoral idyll with loud noise. Our decision to pitch far away from the excellent facilities in the hope of securing peace and quiet seemed to be rendered futile by the arrival of two car loads of potential neighbours, their radios blaring what sounded like an industrial jack hammer accompanied by an air raid siren and an imbecile shouting at the top of his voice. They stopped briefly to swear at each other, throw some recently emptied Special Brew cans out of the cars and allow two Staffordshire Bull attack dogs to crap close to our tents. The hippo growled and they thankfully moved on.

Having regained control of the prairie, the hippo nation consolidated the reservation with an essential clothes drying line, a raised fire and cooking tripod and, unusually, a structure to provide shade from a gloriously hot sun rather than from the wind and the rain. Sun block administered, the afternoon was spent foraging for Doritos and hunter-gathering the wherewithal for a passable corned beef hash from the campsite mini-mart. A trip to the excellent facilities introduced us to the fellow travellers we were destined to share the island with.

Sweet Jesus, Holy Mother Mary and all the Angels, some of these people were fat. So fat that walking was a problem. Some had to take a breather holding onto a wall before taking the next drag of their cigarette. Cans of beer seemed tiny as they lay cradled in gargantuan fists. A child so vast that he deserves a dedicated flag on Google Earth, became breathless from the effort of lifting a burger to his face. His parents, equally immense, could find meaningful employment as flood defences. On the beach, Greenpeace inflatables were trying to drag some of them back into the sea.

A newspaper, picked up from next to the out of date Fanta and BOGOF Jaffa Cake offers, reported the slim thoughts of our slim leader David Cameron. Apparently, he does not wish to pay his taxes to support the obese, the addicted and the alcoholic through Incapacity Benefit. Perhaps he should first encourage his party donors and his Chancellor to pay their taxes before pontificating about government support for the vulnerable. With complete disregard to actual facts, Cameron has again attacked those without a voice to respond. First it was people with disabilities, then immigrants, now it’s everybody else. Cameron may not have the charisma of Hitler or the dress sense of Mussolini, but the message is the same. Identify and isolate the weakest and then turn on them by inciting first distrust and then hatred. The abrogation of compassion and basic humanity is high on the agenda of this bastard coalition government. Maybe “call me Dave” had this statement from Mussolini in mind:

“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”

As for the corpulent society with their addictions and garish tattoos, if you can’t run you can’t fight and that’s exactly where this bunch want you. And the trainee RAF pilots pretending to take out Welsh airfields and facing redundancy? Their time would be better spent practising bombing raids on Whitehall, Downing Street, the Department of Education and the Department of Health. Cameron, Clegg, Osborne, Gove and Lansley are the enemies of the people.

It is remarkable how quickly one adjusts to life under canvas on an island. The sun and the tides dictate the day rather than the appointment diary, the internet or the work of fiction that is the train timetable between Walsall and Birmingham. Up and about at dawn and in bed an hour after nightfall after some rough cider harks back to a time before the human race became domesticated.

One morning, up before God was awake, a fat hippo addicted to cigarettes and alcohol stood facing the sea as the sun roared up from behind Snowdon. As the sun warmed the bay, a sleek shape broke the surface. About 30 metres off-shore, a dolphin was looking for breakfast.

It seemed that we were the only creatures alive at that hour. It was a sight that deserved an audible gasp and, given the state of our nation, a few bitter tears.

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