The Plastic Hippo

February 28, 2011

anyone lived in a pretty how town

Filed under: Literature,Media,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 12:47 am

The hippopotamus amphibious walsallus is not, strictly speaking, nomadic, but occasionally likes to occupy a different stretch of open water. Wishing for some respite from the noise of chainsaws butchering healthy trees in the Arboretum, the pod of hippos plodded north for the half-termly migration to anywhere but Hatherton Lake to wallow in the cool glory of Ullswater.

The hippobus, already overloaded with food, walking boots, kagools, OS maps and hippos, groaned under the additional weight of CD players, Nintendo DS, the lap top and the mobiles. Not, mind you, the mobiles of infancy displaying bi-planes, sheep, stars and moons, but the mobiles that bleep the irritation of connectivity. “What?”, exclaimed the incredulous younger hippos, “no phone signal, no internet, are these people savages? Do they not understand electricity?”

Upon reaching our humble bothy on the northern shore of Ullswater, hard by the basic dwellings of Pooley Bridge, we took stock of the provisions we were lacking. Damn, we forgot the dishwasher tablets and the fine Columbian blend left back in Walsall was destined never to grace the percolator. The in-house DVD collection was also a disappointment. For goodness sake, Mamma Mia and a boxed set of Midsomer Murders. To survive, it was clear that we were were going to have to rough it.

The following morning, booted and wet-suited, we set off down the lake to take in the magnificence of Aira Force. Wordsworth liked this place and it was easy to understand why as Aira Beck leaps 60 feet down the gorge about a click from the lake shore. Then, on to Glenridding for bacon butties and a pint of Jennings at the appropriately named Ramblers Bar. We took the “steamer” back to Pooley Bridge. Not actually a “steamer”, the MV Lady Wakefield chugged through the drizzle powered by diesel as the largest hippo adjourned to the well-stocked bar situated below decks.

Back at the bothy, with muddy boots in the porch, crumpets and cake were enjoyed in front of a crackling log fire as darkness fell with the hooting of owls.

The following day we took to the high fell east of the lake and trudged the Roman “road” that once supplied Ambleside from the fort at Askham. High Street is so named because it is high; the Romans wishing to avoid the possibility of ambush in the lower, forested and marshy valleys. Like other high streets, there was an absence of open shops up in the crags. We descended from the fell into the hamlet of Howtown hoping for tea at the only hotel. Sadly, it was closed for the winter season but a helpful notice informed us that internet connection was available at Penrith. We took tea at the steamer jetty café and watched the floating boats, their hatches battened down until spring.

By day three, cold turkey had set in. Still no phone signal and the equivalent of light years away from the internet. On the lower slopes of Skiddaw, to the north of Keswick, there was half a bar of signal and a hope of connectivity. The urge to call anyone just to say I am here amid the snowdrops and ewes heavy with lamb was worrying. The addiction was quelled with bites of Kendal mint cake.

Later, in Keswick, and with the habit broken, we eschewed the coffee bar that doubled as an internet café and resorted to the Oddfellows Arms for chips and Cumberland sausages and a pint of Hartley XB. The news of some others lunch brought by Twitter could wait.

After a week away, it took hours to catch up with the computer and its e-mails and news. On reflection, the hour spent watching the floating boats at Howtown was a better time. Who needs the internet? Well, today of all days, we do. The biggest miss of the week was TheYamYam. It did not report the imminent closure of the public toilet in Shap or the invitation issued to Barack Obama to visit the pencil museum in Keswick. It did, though, give us news that is important. Walsall today is a bleaker place than low cloud on snow covered Helvellyn without TheYamYam. Sun, moon, stars, rain.

“anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
with by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain”

e e cummings (1894 – 1962)


February 19, 2011

Smoke on the water

Filed under: Literature,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 3:11 am

It would be a fair assumption to think that this humble blog does not hold a high opinion of either the coalition government or the ruling Conservative group in Walsall. It would also be reasonable to assume that the juvenile, vitriolic badinage contained within these pages considers the opposing alternatives with only slightly less contempt. However, the Tories can claim an unbeatable advantage as they are blessed with the genius of sublime irony.

Attempting to deflect the gathering storm of protest against library closures in Walsall, the empty-headed heavy-weights in cabinet were wheeled out to categorically assert that all libraries would remain open. Proof, if proof were needed, of a caring, listening council. Not quite. The libraries that they have decided to close remain unidentified and will close next year. They will remain unidentified and doomed because that will avoid the inconvenience of local people turning into “campaigners” and the complete waste of time our council likes to call “consultation”. The tactic is clear; put a lid on it until after the local elections in May and then start wielding the axe.

The ironic beauty of this duplicity is embodied in a press release issued by the increasingly detached Walsall Council press office. It seems our noble town will be graced by the presence of a Ms Sara Delphi.

The headline, “Astrologer and clairvoyant to visit Walsall Library” just about sums up the future of leisure and culture in this unfortunate borough. Described as “one of the UK’s best known personalities in Tarot, Palmistry and Astrology”, this oracle will be signing her book on March 3, World Book Day in case you didn’t know, at Walsall Central Library. No wonder Jerome K Jerome legged it out of town as soon as he was old enough to walk.

Quite what library members browsing the religion, philosophy and science sections of our excellent library will make of this charlatan is, of course, unknown and Ms Delphi might be advised to ask the sceptics: “Do you know anyone in Walsall who is fearful for the future? Ah, you see, the spirit world is watching.”

Perhaps, though, her visit to the library is just a front to allow her deep cover to perform Tarot readings on cabinet. “Fear the hanged man”, she will say. “May 5 is an auspicious date.” Her wisdom might inform the cabinet in how to make decisions and second guess the inevitable. She might also direct the hollow men to the poetry section where they can read The Waste Land by T S Eliot. Consider Phlebas, the drowned Phoenician sailor, “who was once handsome and tall as you… Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!”

Maybe our own Madame Sosostris will conduct an exercise in phrenology to ascertain if a brain is present in the skulls of those that currently occupy Walsall Council press office. A palm reading might be difficult unless she removes the bank notes clutched firmly in clenched fists. April may yet be the cruellest month.

Not to be outdone in the race for ironic supremacy, Cameron and Clegg have been at it over electoral reform, particularly over the Alternative Vote referendum in May. One says “no”, the other says “yes”.

Cameron said this:
“It could mean a Parliament of second choices.”

“Can you imagine giving the gold medal to someone who finished third?”

“And there could well be an occasion where we have a genuine second-choice government.”

“And I think any system that keeps dead governments living on life support is a massive backward step for accountability and trust in politics.”

Dave might be right, but he wins hands-down on the irony metre. Like Cameron, Clegg is a liar and should be ignored and the life support to a dead government should be switched off as part of the NHS “reforms” that sees the care provided to Cameron’s own tragic child cut and the hospital that delivered Clegg`s child issuing compulsory redundancy notices.

It is becoming clear that this coalition government, nine months from conception to delivery, is intent on obscuring the termination of the welfare state. The poor will suffer; the ill, the disabled and the vulnerable will actually die because of the actions of this unelected bunch of millionaire public school boys. Their friends in the banks and their future employers in the private sector continue to enjoy vast bonuses.

In the relatively short time that the coalition have been in power, the relentless drive to destruction has been accompanied by failure. The odious Michael Gove was judged to be acting unlawfully in his plans to destroy education. The ridiculous Eric Pickles got his sums wrong over local government and Cameron pushed the laughable Caroline Spelman to the dispatch box to apologise for trying to sell off our national forests. Ironically she said the climb down was a victory for common sense. Proof, if proof were needed of a caring, listening government. Not quite, Caroline.

The smoke screen of libraries and forests masks the real intention of both local and national government. They are driven purely by self interest and will always take rather than give. They now present a real threat to the viability of this nation and the entire planet.

In the Middle East and North Africa, people are taking to the streets. Here, those that care sign petitions. The smoke on the water might soon turn into the fire in the sky.

February 17, 2011

A voice in the wilderness

Filed under: Media,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 11:25 pm

The news that The YamYam is to cease publication has caused understandable dismay in the burgeoning Walsall online community and is especially melancholic for this humble blog. Without The YamYam, this blog would have a readership of one and only read once just to check for spelling and typing errors.

Even if it concentrated simply on collating local news, The YamYam would be the envy of any town inadequately “served” by failing, traditional news media. One need only pick up a copy of the woeful Express and Star to see that local newspapers are doomed. The other day, the print version of the E&S ran an important front page story about the future of Bryntysilio, a place of relevance for thousands of Walsall children past, present and future. It did not appear on the E&S online news feed. The YamYam picked it up later not from a news report, but from a letter to the Advertiser.

If this vigilance in directing readers to local news was not enough, The YamYam links to sport and business stories. Where else would a fan of Bloxwich United find a match report of a 3 – 1 away defeat to Tividale FC and where else would you discover that Walsall has the highest percentage of empty retail premises in the West Midlands.

But, and declaring a personal interest, it is the comment section that gives The YamYam the edge over old media. All manner of raving lunatics are allowed to vent their spleen including councillors, lefties, righties, worms, pigs, edible fungi, old baggages, cycling gods from Brownhills and even a polypropylene river horse. Here, again, The YamYam has the advantage as most of the rants, rages and ridicule are, with the exception of the plastic migrant from Botswana, articulate, informative, intelligent, entertaining and passionate. Compare this to the real crack-pots who write letters to the local printed press. Why oh why oh why. It’s disgusting.

The sadness at the passing of The YamYam is not, however, universal. Clearly the established press will be pleased to see the back of this upstart, accusing such sites of plagiarism and ignoring the levels of traffic being directed to their own websites. Other will no doubt crow that online news sites will always fail because they cannot make money. Perhaps not today, but the Murdoch’s of this world are looking over their shoulders and shuddering. The future is not behind a pay wall.

Far from being sad, the incompetents who rule Walsall will celebrate the end of The YamYam. With an ineffective political opposition, the comment section offered the only channel for challenge and criticism of the small group of men and women who are ruining this town. They hate being held to internet account.

If aliens, lurking beyond the dark side of the moon are watching us and monitoring our internet traffic, even a quick look at the main page of The YamYam will give them an accurate description of Walsall. Try it for yourself and imagine that you lived far, far away. With The YamYam gone, the little green men will have to rely on the council website, patronising tweets from the council press office and the ridiculous What’s On Walsall to paint a picture of the borough.

The YamYam was our last defence against the death rays.

Adieu YamYam, and thank you.

February 14, 2011

Ground Hog Day

Filed under: Education,Environment,History,Literature,Media,Politics,Rights,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 12:33 am

On the 42nd day of the year 2011, Ground Hog Day was more than a week late in Pennsylvania, 18 days late in Cairo, seven months late in Sandwell, a thousand years on Cannock Chase and much later than that in Walsall. It remains to be seen if the hope of Spring is a false promise or a prompt to send us back to our burrows to sleep through the continuing winter blizzards.

February 11 was, to use David Cameron’s words, “a remarkable day”. We celebrated the births of Thomas Edison, King Farouk of Egypt, Dennis Skinner, Manuel Noriega, Gene Vincent, Jeb Bush, Sarah Palin and Jennifer Aniston. Imagine compiling a horoscope for that lot. We also commemorated the passing of Rene Descartes, Sylvia Plath, Roger Vadim, Jackie Pallo and Alexander McQueen.

Also on this day, Henry VIII became the supreme head of the Church of England, Elbridge Gerry invents gerrymandering, the Lateran Pact was signed between the Pope and Mussolini, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini takes power in Iran and Nelson Mandela is released after 27 years of captivity. February 11 was a busy day for folks who like to remember stuff.

This time next year, thanks to the people who claim to rule us and have made such a mess of things, there will be an awful lot more to remember.

After 7,000 years of oppression under dictatorship, the people of Egypt finally have a slim chance of achieving something approximating to democracy and, therefore, civilization. In just 18 days, they toppled a 21st century Pharaoh not by violence but by a belief in freedom led by young people who had grown angry at corruption, lies and tyranny. They solved the riddle of the Sphinx and Mubarak hobbles off on three legs in the knowledge that his “assets”, estimated to be $70billion, about the same as the Egyptian national debt, have been frozen by those that control the Swiss banks. What is astonishing is that those who defied oppression and the stones and petrol bombs of hired thugs to claim democracy and freedom, welcome and trust governmental control by the military. The defenders of Tahrir Square remain there but now are armed with brooms and bin bags and the army high command must allow the peaceful transition to a new Egyptian civilization. Their difficult journey to that goal has only just begun. Things, though, are not looking good in Cairo.

Those with the courage to make a stand against injustice become the victors and although Sandwell might not have a Valley of the Kings, it does have a valley of kingfishers set in a rather attractive country park and has triumphed in a less dramatic stand against iniquity. Along with every other local authority in our green and pleasant land, Sandwell suffers from crumbling schools, inadequate classrooms and a scandalous level of investment in the future of education. When Building Schools for the Future was unceremoniously cut in a vindictive act of spite by the idiot masquerading as a Secretary of State for Education, most local authorities, including Walsall, shrugged compliant shoulders and accepted the punishment dished out by Madame Gove. Some councils, and Walsall in particular, seemed to enjoy the humiliation.

Not so, Sandwell who, along with five other courageous councils, mounted a legal challenge and February 11 saw them victorious in the High Court. Mr Justice Holman ruled that Michael Gove had acted “unlawfully” and that his conduct was “so unfair as to amount to abuse of power”. It is coincidental that the catalogue of destruction perpetrated by Gove and his department includes the sweeping away of the unnecessary bureaucracy of Criminal Record checks designed to protect children from bad people who wish to harm them. Given the decision by the judge, the unlawful and abusive Gove should not be allowed anywhere near a child and headteachers forced into photo opportunities might like to see his CRB form before allowing him into their schools.

Any minister with even a shred of honour would resign in shame over such a failure and any Prime Minister connected to the real world would dismiss the incompetent hoping to avoid the embarrassment of attention from the Crown Prosecution Service. But these strange days just got even stranger with the Department of Education claiming victory “on the substantive points” of the decision and were pleased to point out that any reconsideration on providing buildings that might, one day, provide anything remotely described as an education would be undertaken by the Right Honourable Michael Andrew Gove MP. Hurrah, the future of our children is in safe hands.

It was not just in Sharm el-Sheik and the Department of Education that February 11 saw rats poking their heads out of holes to see if was safe outside. The coalition rodents in Westminster backed down over the sell-off of national forests and the weasels in Walsall claimed that no libraries would close. This is complete, utter, grade A bovine excrement or, in other words, lies.

If allowed to remain in place, the unelected will continue with their plans and these latest announcements are intended to placate those who rather than occupy a square, have chosen to sign petitions. The hope is that middle England, with the green wellies and Golden Labrador in the four-by-four ready to defend the greensward, will return to voting Conservative and those nerdy book-loving types in Walsall will stay at home on May 5 and not impede the long tradition of vote rigging in the borough. But revolution starts with a whisper and people are already shouting.

Throughout the Egyptian uprising, the most crucial gauge of the viability of the state was how the administration was described by the media. At the start, the BBC reported on “the Egyptian government”, by the time the secret police and paid thugs were hurling stones and petrol bombs into Tahrir Square, it had become “the Mubarak regime”. When the army told Uncle Hosni to go, it was the end of “a dictatorship”. The excellent Al Jazeera on the other hand, whose coverage was superb, described Mubarak as a dictator from day one and must have been delighted to be blamed for the unrest by the Deputy President Omar Suleiman. Omar lasted in the job for a total of 14 days.

The events on the streets of Tunis and Cairo will not have gone unnoticed by the people and “governments” in Algiers, Beirut, Tripoli, Tel Aviv, Sana’a and even the last feudal sheikdoms of the Gulf States. Al Jazeera is providing accurate reporting on the actions of those nervous “governments”. Perhaps they should dispatch news crews to Westminster and Lichfield Street, Walsall.

As the May 5 local elections approach, will they be the first to talk of “the Cameron dictatorship” or “the Bird regime”? Will they quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley who ends his poem Dirge for the Year with this:

“January gray is here,
Like a sexton by her grave;
February bears the bier,
March with grief doth howl and rave,
And April weeps – but, O ye Hours!
Follow with May’s fairest flowers.”

You could order a copy from your local library or ask about the poem at your local school. But then again, the Ground Hogs are still hibernating.

February 11, 2011

Quiet please

Filed under: Education,Politics,Rights,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 1:44 am

Libraries are places of quiescent contemplation, study, joy, education and truth. Walsall has 16 wonderful libraries staffed by expert, professional and caring people who are the guardians of knowledge. Sadly, only truth is missing thanks to the fiction writers occupying seats around the cabinet table in Walsall Council House.

In January, bon vivant fun fair owner Councillor Anthony Harris, cabinet member for Leisure and Culture, let slip that six libraries would close. Far from being an uncharacteristic lurch toward candour following yet another long lunch, this was confirmed in a council statement issued on January 11. It states:

“Indications show that six of the 16 libraries may close but the locations will only be decided after the review, library chiefs say.

“We are not able to identify the locations which may be affected until the review is finished but we’re optimistic we will offer an improved service,” Councillor Harris added.”

Now, there is something of the Brothers Grimm about this review of library services. The draft budget document currently being imposed clearly states that the “remodelling” of library services will save £673,874 in 2012 and the same amount in 2013. If the review has not yet been completed, the accuracy of these figures which come down to individual pounds, suggests a plot worthy of Agatha Christie with the final page denouement being written first and the twists and turns worked out later. Indeed, one conservative councillor assured his constituents that their local library would not be closed.

There was, of course, understandable outrage and it did not take long before Walsall readers organised campaigns, petitions and demonstrations against the dismantling of collective culture and heritage. Interestingly, library staff have been told that if they protest about closure, even by signing a petition, they will find themselves summarily dismissed and loose any hope of redundancy payment. Ray Bradbury will be wincing.

Fast forward one month to February 10 and it seems that no libraries will be closed in Walsall. Apparently it was all “scaremongering” instigated by Karl Marx and Walsall’s own Groucho, Harpo and Chico became rather shrill in the local press and even the forgotten brother Gummo pitched in with his penny dreadful`s worth. Council Leader Groucho Bird said:

“Some will say the council is doing a U-turn but no libraries are closing in the next year.”

Right, “in the next year”, a bit like the increase in cabinet allowances he has generously deferred until next year. Harpo Towe was next:

“It is again disappointing to hear the Labour Party trying to make political capital over this budget, a budget they appear not to understand. There is no plan in this budget to close libraries, in fact we are investing more than £232,000 in libraries. No libraries will close in the financial year 2011/2012. After that, it is a moveable feast.”

One cannot escape the image of Towe honking a motor horn, lifting his leg and placing the hand of an incredulous journalist under his knee. Not to be outdone, Chico Andrew complained of the “political amnesia” displayed by the Labour Party. This logic suggests that Eric Pickles is a card carrying Marxist. In fact, and this might come as a shock to Walsall cabinet, Pickles was once actually a communist. It’s true – honest.

The forgotten man of forgotten words, Gummo Harris, made a major back-track and said:

“I can assure this cabinet, council officers and the community that we are not in a similar position to other authorities who say “we are shutting, we are closing” because we are not.”

Oh yes we are. In the face of public opposition the jokers in cabinet have simple postponed the vandalism until the storm has died down in the same way that the cabinet allowance increases will be back next year. Councillor Harris might like to reflect on the fate of the other missing brother, his predecessor Councillor Zeppo Sanders, who made the mistake of opening his mouth about the secret plans for Walsall illuminations and the future of the Arboretum. Silence, in cabinet, is golden.

The council leadership are clearly rattled and although he might not share the charm, boyish good looks and lovely dark hair of a Hosni Mubarak, Mike Bird and the rest of his cronies would do well to listen to public opinion. In the peaceful reading rooms and book stacks of libraries, Bird should take his own advice and “put up or shut up” or at least tell us the truth.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at