The Plastic Hippo

October 31, 2010

Time stands still

Filed under: History,Literature — theplastichippo @ 1:00 am

The last 60 minutes did not take place. The final hour of summer has been erased, eradicated and turned back to bible-black winter. Welcome Greenwich Mean Time.

Nearly 60 years ago, Dylan Thomas described this time of night in Under Milk Wood:

Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers, the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher, postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman, drunkard, dressmaker, preacher, policeman, the web foot cocklewomen and the tidy wives. Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glow-worms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. And the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields, and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wetnosed yards; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs.”

If the last 60 minutes did not happen, then the last 60 years could also be seen as irrelevant. The babies are crying along with the pensioners and the young girls are now the drunkards and the boys are roaming wicked on the bucking streets of the night. In another piece, Dylan Thomas wrote:

Do not go gentle into that goodnight,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Goodbye British Summer Time or, as some now propose, goodbye Greenwich Mean Time.


October 29, 2010

Things that go bump in the night

Filed under: Education,Politics,Rights — theplastichippo @ 12:29 pm

As if we didn’t have enough to be scared of, Halloween is upon us. Forget the urchins banging on the door demanding confectionery with menaces, or the fact that an injury to an on loan defender seals the relegation of Walsall FC. Disregard the deficit, the certainty of an economic depression and the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer employs people to ensure he pays the minimum of tax. Ignore that the planet has become so scary that NASA are considering one-way tickets to Mars. Be afraid, be very afraid; Boris Johnson is too left wing for Vince Cable.

Bumbling Boz made the mistake of mentioning that he did not wish to see “Kosovo-style social cleansing” of poor people in inner cities due to the coalition government insisting on the capping of housing benefit. Within hours, after being given a stern talking too, Mr Mayor was back-tracking claiming to have been quoted out of context and Liberal Democrat business secretary, Vince Cable, described the words of Boz as “ludicrously inflammatory”. Vince never went to Eton, but his desire to fag for an old Etonian seems to have been fulfilled and why should he worry anyway? The pension of the former chief economist for Shell will have undoubtedly been boosted by a 50 per cent increase in the profits of the oil company that, allegedly, forced a Nigerian dictatorship to execute human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995. Nice one, Vince, but please put the Mr Muscle back in the cupboard, you are supposed to be the Liberal and Boris is supposed to be the Tory.

If Cable is Van Helsing this Halloween, then the Witch-finder General must surely be local government minister Eric Pickles. The champion of “transparency”, he is the guy who is demanding to see the receipts for anything over 500 quid that Mike Bird and his chums spend on our behalf. At the same time as cutting funding to local authorities, Eric is giving councils the “freedom” to borrow against future revenues to finance capital projects. Given the track record of Walsall council in mismanaging money, he will require a ouija board to contact the dearly departed pots of cash. Indeed, yer big man Pickles is so transparent that after he, or someone senior in his department, slagged off some unfortunate civil servant and then spent tax payers money on legal advice, refused to answer a Freedom of Information request to see the bill. West Bromwich MP Tom Watson, more than a match for Pickles in terms of a pie eating contest judging by the size of him, wants to know if Eric is so transparently ghost-like that he needs to be covered in a sheet if he is to be observed walking through walls.

The ghostly apparition of Little Michael Gove would be advised not to emulate the choice of Harrogate Conservative leader Mike Gardner if he decides to attend a Halloween fancy dress party. He should leave the Hitler costume in the wardrobe and stick to dressing like Dobby the House Elf. Gove`s latest haunting involves awarding a half million pound contract to the New Schools Network to offer “impartial” advice to the New Schools Network. No other bids were sought and the tender was not advertised. Free schools will not work and no amount of Scoobie snacks will tempt Shaggy and Scoobie Doo into that tree-house of horror. The new quango is run by a former familiar of Little Michael. Kerching!

Cobbled together policies on education and welfare reform with no meaningful plan for implementation are the result of a coalition based on a lust for power and the ideology of the dark side. Against the constant, background drone of “fairness” and inherited catastrophe, the absence of a plan is becoming evident. The cut in child benefit to higher earners intended to prove that “we are all in this together” is, according to HMRC, “unenforceable”. This has sent the Treasury into melt-down and we hear talk of form-filling, fines and a sinister new database to force through this nonsense using new bureaucracy that will cost more than any possible savings.

The coalition government tells us that we can no longer afford “wasteful quangos” such as the Youth Justice Board, the Audit Commission and the Health Protection Agency. After cancelling the building of new schools and cutting the education budget, it is discovered that a secret quango has been set up to promote the political ideology of “free” schools that will divide communities along political, ethnic and religious lines. If that isn’t frightening enough, higher education will only be available for the rich.

As policies without a plan continue to unravel, Dark Lord Dave and Nearly Spineless Nick and the other long-legged beasties seem to be making it up as they go along. At Halloween, perhaps the offer of a one-way ticket to Mars is the way forward.

In space, no one can hear you scream.

October 25, 2010

Cooks tips

Filed under: Education,Media,Politics — theplastichippo @ 11:54 am

It must be made clear that it was not the fault of the radio or the mallet or the blow torch. It was not the fault of the BBC, Radio 4, Kirsty Young or Shaun Ley. It was partially the fault of Nick Clegg but responsibility for the destruction of a perfectly good wireless and a pudding lies entirely with Little Michael Gove.

For some, preparing a Sunday lunch is as pleasurable an experience as consuming the result. Having the time and space to create something special without the urgency and utility of mid-week meals is a joy and a delight, especially with Radio 4 as a backing track. After breakfast at Broadcasting House with Paddy O’Connell and then doing the dishes and loading the washing machine to the Archers Omnibus, it is soon time for a coffee with the divine Ms Young on a desert island. This Sunday offered a rare treat as the castaway choosing the eight essential pieces of music, the book and the luxury was The Right Honourable Nicholas William Peter Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of what used to be called the Liberal Democrats.

He came across as a reasonable sort of chap and selected some nice music from Chopin to Shakira by way of Johnny Cash and Radiohead. He talked warmly of his parents, wife and children. Interestingly, the music he would like to be marooned with would evoke memories of certain times and places rather than the quality of the piece. There are rare occasions when celebrities are invited to appear twice on Desert Island Discs, notably comedians Arthur Askey and Kenneth Williams. In years to come, perhaps the future Lord Sportacus Clegg of Lazy Town will be invited back to share his memories of the present day and the “music” of the here and now. His new list* might include:

Billionaire – Travie McCoy

Nothing – The Script

What if – Jason Derulo

Turn my swag on – Soulja Boy Tell`em

All time low – The Wanted

Impossible – Shontelle

Pack up – Eliza Doolittle

Shame – Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow

Forget you – Cee Lo Green

(* List compiled by smaller hippos who think that Stella McCartney is named after a Belgian lager)

The nice Mr Clegg did rather well given that he was born just a few months before the summer of love and the release of Sgt. Pepper and was only nine during the summer of punk. Then came the bombshell at the end of the programme. Apparently, he occasionally nips out the back of the House of Commons for a sly Silk Cut. Quelle horreur! Quelle panache.

The midday news that followed featured the Prince and David Bowie fan as its top story, this time with a different tone of voice. Universities will not be able to charge whatever fees they like and a “cap” will be put in place. Maybe… possibly… it’s still under discussion, said Nick. A few minutes earlier he told us how “lucky” he was to have had a privileged and private education.

After the news and some witty nonsense from David Mitchell, Armando Iannucci and others, what better way to start cooking than by listening to the excellent Sheila Dillon on the Food Programme talking about students and food. With the oven chips in the oven and the microwave burgers in the microwave, it was time to prepare dessert as we approach The World This Weekend. In these difficult times, economies have to be made and standards inevitably slip. So the gratin de fruits et champagne sabayon avec almond praline had to be made with inferior cava. Times are hard, we are all in this together and we all have make sacrifices.

Cooks tip #1.

Instead of buying shaved almonds for the praline, buy whole almonds which are cheaper and have more flavour. Place the almonds in a cloth bag or in a tea towel and smash them using a mallet. If they complain, tell them that it is “tough but fair”.

Cooks tip #2

Do not listen to a radio interview with Little Michael Gove when holding a mallet.

Shaun Ley on The World This Weekend set out the proposition that the much celebrated Pupil Premium for “disadvantaged” children was not all that it was set out to be. The Pupil Premium was a Liberal Democrat idea to end inequality in education and was a very good one. After the May election which, as Nick told Kirsty, “nobody won”, the price of Libdem support was to commit additional funding to the education budget to pay for the scheme. “No,” said Labour, “not enough money.” The flirting continued. “Yes, yes, yes,” said the Conservatives, “come in, would you like a sweetie?”

The disgraceful, shameful and disturbing spectacle of government MPs cheering every cut to services for the less well off during the CSR statement will come back to haunt Clegg. Rather than patting Osborne on the back, he should have taken the knife out of his own. There is no additional funding to pay for the Pupil Premium and the crowing triumphalism of announcing a 0.1 per cent increase in the education budget is hollow. The data used by the coalition government states an increase of 0.7 per cent in pupil numbers over the same time period. This will result in a cut of 2.25 per cent on per pupil funding.

As for the Pupil Premium, this will be funded by cutting other things in the education budget, most notably Education Maintenance Allowance. EMA is an offer of between £10 and £30 per week to encourage young adults aged between 16 and 18 in “disadvantaged” circumstances to continue to study in further education. The money is intended to cover travel, lunch and course materials. It is now gone and will pay for the Pupil Premium which, according to the sums, will go to schools in wealthy areas who are unfortunate to have a minority of the “disadvantaged” in their midst. It seems the money will go to house train the poor who insist on using cava rather than champagne and teach their wretched brats some table manners. The budgets for schools with a majority of “disadvantaged” children will be cut. Disadvantaged kids and young adults who need EMA support tend to live in Labour voting areas.

When challenged with all of this on The World This Weekend, Little Michael Gove ignored the questions and spoke gibberish. He refused to accept that the few local councils who had been promised funding to re-build schools were telephoned on Friday night to “inform” them of further cuts. When he said that money was being invested in two-year-olds, the mallet fell and radio silence ensued.

Cooks tip #3

Instead of heating the champagne sabayon under a grill, use a blow torch until the surface is golden-brown.

Cooks tip #4

Do not attempt this technique when thinking of Little Michael Gove`s face.

We scraped off the blackened sabayon and decided to open a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia instead.

October 23, 2010

Downwardly mobile

Filed under: History,Politics,Transport — theplastichippo @ 12:29 am

The late Michael Foot once described Tory war horse Norman Tebbit as a “semi house-trained polecat”. This uncharacteristic vitriol was provoked by the former MP for Chingford accusing Foot of being, of all things, a “fascist”. Nothing provokes an old Fabian more that than the illiberal use of the f-word to besmirch their socialist credentials.

During the widespread and serious civil unrest that marked the first Thatcher parliament, Tebbit became Secretary of State for Employment and famously told the growing number of jobless who were chucking bricks at the Old Bill that his unemployed father did not riot but got on his bike and looked for work. Under his son`s stewardship, unemployment increased to levels not seen since the 1930`s when dear old dad was peddling around the lanes of Enfield.

It might be something about Chingford, but the chap who replaced Tebbit as the sitting MP, mild-mannered Iain Duncan Smith, has come up with some ideas worthy of an Essex rottweiler looking for a bicycle to urinate against or a head to bite off.

Back in June during the earliest days of the coalition government, the caring face of Conservatism suggested forcing unemployed council or housing association tenants out of their homes if they did not find work. IDS is clearly an expert on workforce mobility. When appointed as Tory leader he employed his wife “Betsy”, daughter of the 5th Baron Cottesloe, at tax payers expense, to manage his diary. Mrs IDS, however, stayed home to manage the kids and Iain was dumped as Tory leader in a vote of no confidence.

The heir to Tebbit now has a new job as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The word “Employment” has been tactfully dropped from the job title as it is clearly a misnomer. He has, however, given us the benefit of his wisdom on the need for a less “static” workforce and the delights of public transport particularly in the charming town of Merthyr Tydfil. He complained to Newsnight that the good people of Merthyr “didn’t know if they got on the bus an hour’s journey they’d be in Cardiff and they could look for the job there”. Now that is progress we can all be proud of even if the grammar is suspect. The undeserving poor can now enjoy the bus rather than sitting on the cross bar of Tebbit Senior’s bike.

Sadly, there is a snag for the work shy Tydfilians. The Spending Revue has cut the subsidies paid to bus operators by 20 per cent which means fewer or no buses rolling down the valley into the promised land on the banks of the glistening Taff. The more adventurous job-seeker could try nearby Newport but unfortunately the government intends to close the passport office there with a loss of 250 jobs. There is work available in Somalia or Myanmar or Afghanistan but the men and women of Harlech had better get a move on if their passports are up for renewal.

It would not be “fair” to dwell on the fate that befell coal mines under a previous Conservative government or the earlier civil unrest and disorder known as the Merthyr Uprising. In 1831, locals rioted as a protest against pay cuts, job losses and the unfair collection of debt. It was the first time in British history that protesters marched under a red flag. With Iain repeating Norman and the likely return of feudal serfdom, perhaps history has more doppelgänger waiting to emerge. According to George Santayana:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So, Norman Tebbit was correct all along and it is time for all of us to take the penny-farthing out of the bike shed. Or maybe not. Cycling England, a body that promotes the green and healthy transport option, has just been axed because it was such a wasteful quango. Whig Lord Melbourne, who approved the execution and “transportation” of Merthyr trouble-makers in 1831, would be proud.

October 21, 2010

The history of the world in one object

Filed under: History,Media,Politics,Rights — theplastichippo @ 3:56 pm


Image credit:


It was a bad and shameful day. The axe and not the ballot box has prevailed. Inherited wealth and privilege once again holds sway over those unfortunate enough to be born poor. Glib rhetoric describing “fairness” has replaced any semblance of care, compassion and responsibility.

The sight of democratically elected representatives screaming with the frenzied delight of a dog fight audience as each new cut to burden the weak, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable was announced in parliament, will sicken anyone who cherishes civilization. The breathtaking arrogance of Osborne and his rich chums in punishing those in need for the excesses of other rich chums will result in anger or worse, or utter, abject despair in those who played no part in creating a banking crisis that, to use the very words of Gideon, “brought us to the brink of bankruptcy”.

When this coalition government assumed power in what can best be described as a constitutional coup d’etat, democracy and basic humanity went the same way as the money going to bail out inept and greedy bankers and, for good measure, to pay obscene bonuses for their trouble. Only two thirds of the electorate voted in May and of them, only one third voted for the Conservatives. Considerably less voted Liberal Democrat but their votes can be discounted anyway as the Libdem manifesto promises were torn up along with the Conservative deceptions in exchange for snout room at the trough. This government simply does not have a mandate to beat the poor and send us hurtling back to recession and ultimate ruin.

Claiming that it “always pays to work”, Gideon`s 100 page bible (£45 for the print version) savages the welfare system to reduce national debt and at the same time condemns 500,000 public sector employees to a future without hope. Graduates will be guaranteed debt but not a career, the private sector will contract rather than expand and the old, the sick and people with disabilities will be left to rot unless they have the independent means of Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Osborne. It might “always pay to work” but in a Big Society described by Cameron as a “broken society” just a few, short months ago, vital services will need to be provided on a voluntary basis at no cost to government. Investment, not cruelty or charity, is the way to lead recovery.

The structural deficit is indeed calamitous when viewed as a collection of figures on a spreadsheet. It is mentioned in every second breath and it needs to be tackled. “Fair” is uttered in every first breath as if saying it over and over again makes it true. But the consequences of this debt have yet to be manifested in hardship, unemployment, homelessness or social disorder and nor are they likely to. That will change when the Spending Revue starts to bite. The coalition have had to move fast to instigate some suffering before the nation realises that carrying a £150billion debt burden has not lived up to the dire prediction of financial ruin. When the trouble starts, we will be told it is due to the debt and not the barbarism of abandoning those we should care for.

The BBC, itself now subject to a 16 per cent cut to satisfy the greed of another rich chum, a certain Rupert Murdoch, managed to resist the temptation of turning their cameras onto the baying, near hysterical MPs who did not possess the self control to disguise their delight at scroungers in wheelchairs finally losing rights and dignity. That would be a sight, along with their expenses claims, deemed inappropriate for viewing by their constituents.

The BBC recently ran an excellent Radio 4 series describing the progress of civilization through 100 objects. The admirable Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, illustrated human development using modern and ancient artefacts that signify step changes in the way humanity interacts with the planet. One of the earliest objects is a 2million year old basalt chopping tool discovered in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Created through the necessity to survive, it took another million years to evolve into a hand axe for both defence and attack.

Later objects chart the the Renaissance and the Enlightenment but the two most striking inclusions into the list is a credit card and the remarkable Throne of Weapons made by artist Cristovao Estavao Canhavato from present day Mozambique. The credit card has replaced the cutting tool as a means to live and the axe has been replaced by recycled AK47s. The next stage of human development, if the likes of Osborne, Cameron and Clegg are the best representatives of humanity we can offer, is a return to the axe and to oblivion.

It was a bad and shameful day welcomed only by the grim reaper.

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