The Plastic Hippo

August 17, 2010

Show and tell

Filed under: Walsall — theplastichippo @ 10:29 pm

The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Culture is one thing and varnish is another”. As he died in 1882, it is difficult to imagine what he would have made of the Walsall Show that took place in the Arboretum on Saturday and Sunday and the thin covering of burger grease and candy floss that is passed off as culture and leisure in this southern suburb of Bloxwich.

Having binned the dreadful, tawdry and embarrassing illuminations, our enlightened council had to come up with something to hypnotise those of us they regard as the common herd and keep us slack-jawed and open-mouthed with wonder and gratitude. They decided on a fun fair, monster trucks and young men on motorbikes jumping over things. The choice of this “entertainment” and the accompanying culinary delights says more about the state of Walsall than any Art Gallery, Museum or Library (closed on Monday for your information) could ever hope to express.

In a town beset with serious social problems, what kind of messages are our executive trying to send? Bored young people with nothing to do were obliged to part with £3-00 admission to watch other young people churning up the grass and being foolhardy on motorbikes. Ridiculous, gigantic Tonka toys made a lot of noise and then crushed scrap cars cheered on by the clinically obese tucking in to overpriced junk food. Then there was the Pat Collins fun fair; £2-50 a ride and the opportunity to share your previously eaten burger with total strangers. Nice.

The Pat Collins fun fair is owned by Councillor Anthony Harris, cabinet member for…you guessed it… Leisure and Culture. Kerching.

There is, of course, a market for fun fairs, junk food and exhibitions of joy riding and anti-social behaviour, but if our council is serious about tackling these issues then they should lead by example and not promote the lowest common denominator. Other towns, smaller and less well financed than Walsall, manage to stage municipal shows and festivals that enhance the well-being of its inhabitants and make a profit. The Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival and the Brecon Jazz Festival have an international reputation for excellence and the Fairport Cropredy Convention, held on the same weekend as the Walsall Show, generates enough income to keep that tiny community affluent for the next 362 days.

In Walsall, we should wait for the varnish to dry before applying a second coat.

August 16, 2010

Herman Leonard

Filed under: Media,Music — theplastichippo @ 11:45 pm

Herman Leonard 1923 -2010

Photographer and jazz connoisseur, Herman Leonard has died in Los Angeles aged 87. The name might not be familiar, but the images he has left the world will be instantly recognised by those of us with a love of jazz.

Born in 1923, he became active as a photographer in the late 40`s and worked with Yousuf Karsh taking portraits of the likes of Martha Graham, Harry Truman and Albert Einstein. But it was in the legendary New York jazz clubs where he found his inspiration. In the Royal Roost and in Birdland, he crafted iconic images of Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and many other jazz greats. His black and white, smoke filled pictures seem to capture the essence of jazz and were adored by the musicians he featured. He did with his camera what his subjects did with their instruments and you can almost hear the music as you view his photographs.

He later worked in Paris as a fashion photographer and then in Ibiza. In 1988 he and his family settled in London and, down on his luck, managed to secure an exhibition of his work in a tiny gallery in Notting Hill. The response from the public was astonishing and this jazz fan remembers queuing for hours to see the work and then going back a few days days later to queue for hours again.

Herman became a regular visitor to Ronnie Scott`s and the 100 club and even ventured south of the river to the wild south west of the Bull`s Head in Barnes. In breaks between sets, he would test the credulity of fellow punters with often hilarious and usually bawdy anecdotes of New York in the 50`s. The sad thing is, few of us actually believed him or realised how important he was.

He returned to the US and set up home in New Orleans and was happy in that jazz city until Hurricane Katrina came and blew his house down and destroyed most of his property including his personal collection of photographs. Fortunately, the negatives were safely stored in a museum vault and were not damaged. He moved to Los Angeles and remained there until his death.

He was blessed with a long and interesting life and doubly blessed with an amazing creative talent. He probably did not know the meaning of the word pixel.

Miles Davis by Herman Leonard

August 12, 2010


Filed under: Law,Media,Rights — theplastichippo @ 10:26 am

One of the few remaining Liberal Democrats left with any credibility, Anthony Lester, Baron Lester of Herne Hill no less, is putting before the commons a private members bill proposing changes to inadequate legislation regarding liable, slander and defamation. This might seem a little boring to those of us who strike fag ash covered computer keyboards with curry stained fingers and lash out with aplomb at anything that takes our fancy. But bloggers might wish to take the can of Special Brew off the open CD-ROM drive for a moment and consider his Defamation Bill.

The 1996 Defamation Act was passed into law without any reference or consideration of the present day power of the internet, but still governs everything we choose to post on our blogs. If this humble blog were to suggest that, for example, the Leader of Council went around at the dead of night removing the gold fillings from pensioners teeth for personal financial gain; that would be a clear and indefensible case of defamation and could possibly involve a custodial sentence. Basically, it would be a malicious lie. The current law, however, could result in a similar sanction if this humble blog suggested that he was not particularly good at his job.

The bill proposed by my Lord Lester introduces a defence against charges of defamation in the interests of responsible publication on a matter of public interest and actually allows statements of fact, inferences and opinions. What’s not to like.

The current law allows multiple law suits if an alleged defamatory statement is republished or reproduced. Think about that before you click on the Twitter re tweet button. The new bill wants to legally change “fair comment” to “honest opinion” in terms of public interest and, much more importantly, change “justification defence” to “defence of truth”. If the bill is passed, those caught with their trousers down or hands in the till cannot sue a humble blog such as this.

The current law, enacted in 1996, is quite robust. It states that a claimant has to prove that there was a malicious intent to defame someone and protects printers, third party publishers and syndicated editors from being associated with the alleged defamation. That law concerned itself only with newspaper and television editors and the people who produced the finished article. It was passed into law before the words Google, Wikipedia and Blog were ever uttered by man, woman or machine. Times have changed but the law hasn`t.

If the Lester bill fails, those of us who rather enjoy blogging and holding the increasingly bizarre people who claim to own this land to account, will find ourselves classed as criminals. For the record, Cameron, Clegg, Osborne, Cable and every council leader in the country, eat babies for pudding and they have all got it in for me.

Your witness, m`learned friend.

August 10, 2010

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Filed under: Literature,Politics — theplastichippo @ 9:55 pm

As we witness the destruction of education, the NHS, social care, equality, fairness and the hopes and aspirations of generations of people, no amount of bile, invective, sarcasm, witty plays on words, metaphor, irony or satire can truly convey the stupidity of our current, transient political masters.

The sheer scale of consequence beggars belief. BSF, the National Health Service, the abolition of the Food Standards Agency, bounty hunters stalking benefit claimants and the dismantling of the Ministry of Justice, Bryntysilio and Willenhall Leisure Centre are just the start. The men and women who are making these decisions will soon be forgotten, but the legacy of their reckless, divisive vandalism will blight society for decades and beyond.

Even as services vital to those who need them are put to the torch, the thanes and chieftains having persuaded themselves that there is no other course of action, tell us it is for our own good. Safe from the storm that is about to engulf us all, these fools, idiots and walking shadows bellow meaningless, stentorian rhetoric as empty as the promises they were once so keen to make.

Shakespeare, an author who understood both politics and the human condition, wrote this in his Scottish Play:

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.”

(Act 5, Scene 5)

Our masters would do well to remember the events at Dunsinane.

August 8, 2010

Wake me up before you go Gove

Filed under: Education,Law,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 12:21 am

Image credit: Beau Bo D`Or

Yup – it’s that man again – the increasingly ludicrous Secretary of State for Education, Michael “thick kids” Gove. The department he is alleged to run has issued yet another list of schools that might or might not benefit from the munificence of the miserable little pipsqueak. Walsall has done rather well; Walsall children have not.

Pulling out the linings of his trouser pockets to indicate a lack of wonga, Gove axed the £55billion Building Schools for the Future project including the £100million promised to rebuild or refurbish six schools in Walsall. Riddled with asbestos and literally falling apart, schools will now not be improved. Ah well, never mind, it’s not all bad news.

The latest work of fiction puked out of the Department of Education states that two, or maybe three, Walsall schools will receive funding for a rebuild after all. List number six includes The Grace Academy, Darlaston and Shelfield Academy. Funding for Walsall Academy is on hold until October and the wonderfully anachronistic Comprehensive Spending Review. These schools were never a part of BSF.

Regular readers of this humble blog will recall that the Grace Academy was founded in the face of public opposition and through a laughable council consultation process by a Mr Robert Edmiston, serial Tory Party donor, creationist nutter, helper of police enquiries and would-be peer. He also managed to grab half a park to expand his rather disturbing empire.

Shelfield Academy intends to flatten a nursery for its expansion into selective education and cabinet member for children and young people, Rachel Andrew, has described this latest announcement as “mixed news”. Ms Andrew is a “trustee”, what used to be called a governor, of Shelfield Academy.

Walsall Academy, built seven years ago at a cost of £23million will have to wait and see if Gove decides to rebuild it. Local children who do not make it past the selection process, have disabilities, special needs or qualify for free school meals, will have time to reflect upon their station in life as they take two buses to attend the crumbling, ruined and now abandoned schools left available to them.

The decision taken by Gove to fund only academies is perverse beyond comprehension and displays all of the logic that has produced the likes of Celebrity Big Brother and Britain’s Got Talent. Let`s have a laugh at the disadvantaged and the hopeless. Academies were originally intended for children in deprived areas and established in 2000 by a Labour government with the intention of closing the academic gap between the haves and the have-nots. However, successive ministers from David Blunkett, Charles Clarke, Ruth Kelly (remember her?) and the equally odious Ed Balls have allowed that vision to fade. Now Gove is continuing that tradition of calamity and is consigning hundreds of thousands of young people, and their schools, to the scrap heap.

The snivelling little git crowed that applications for academy status and interest in setting up equally daft “free schools” was “overwhelming” but, it fact, only 153 schools have applied to become academies and only 62 have expressed an interest in forming a free school. It transpires that clicking the “More Info” button on the government web site is counted as an intention to apply. Any head teacher or governing body hearing of an available pot of money would be failing to do their jobs if they did not seek more information. There are 24,000 schools in England and Wales.

Clearly Gove has some difficulty with mathematics and with moral fibre. When list number four, or was it five, was discovered to be wrong, he stood in the commons and promised to visit the areas where schools expecting BSF funding are now being left to rot after spending a lot of money on nothing. Sandwell was a priority and Gove agreed to visit – in August – when schools are closed. Then it turns out that he was not available, perhaps his mum won’t let him out on his own. So Sandwell went to him and the burghers were greeted with implacable silence.

Fortunately, our civic leaders in Walsall have been spared the ordeal of being bored into sleep by a man so banal that he makes John Major sound like Oscar Wilde. They share his implacable silence and there was no need for council leader Mike Bird to spend any of his £1.64 per hour “allowance” on an away day to London accompanied by Uncle Bob Edmiston or the trustees of Shelfield Academy.

Faced with the tedium of any contact with Gove, at least James Goudie QC, an expert on public law, has managed to stay awake. He has told Gove that local authorities have “a fairly strong case” in taking legal action to recover money wasted on BSF. This would result in a huge compensation bill and, more importantly, no new schools being built.

The undue haste in introducing the Acamedies Bill into law has raised a few eyebrows and a quick look at the list of the academies that have secured funding suggests that the move is politically motivated rather than being in the best interest of pupils. The schools blessed with the hand of Gove are in marginal parliamentary seats. When, and not if, the coalition government falls apart after the few remaining Liberal Democrats with a conscience cry “hold enough”, a snap general election looms and Tory election leaflets will be full of nonsense about schools.

It is unlikely that Conservative and skint Walsall would offer so much as a whimper in reaction to the destuction of education in the borough and we will be denied the prospect of Bird v Gove in a court room. Pity, they might have bored each other to death.

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