The Plastic Hippo

July 29, 2012

Cool Britannia

Filed under: History,Media,Music,Politics,Sport,World — theplastichippo @ 6:46 pm

As acts of political protest and resistance go, standing in front of a bloody huge tank is fairly impressive. There is, however, always an element of futility in lone heroism. It is far more effective to organise en masse, preferably in front of a global television audience.

After years of meticulous planning with nothing being left to chance, the opening ceremony marking the start of a number of sporting activities we are not allowed to name for fear of litigation took place in a city on the River Thames that is not Oxford. The big question was; could the sprawling northern suburb of Croydon match the previous and enormous success of Beijing?

The secrecy surrounding the preparations for the spectacle led to all manner of conspiracy theory rumours, the most common being that all was not well and we, along with the rest of the world, were about to witness an embarrassing debacle. With controversy regarding the role of corporate sponsors, brand police and bungled security arrangements, this cynical viewer opened a bottle of something nice and grabbed the pop corn. Expecting giant, flying burgers, rivers of cola, adorable children singing the praises of a credit card company and pneumatic beauties arriving in a fleet of luxury cars, pen and paper was at hand to record the number of injuries caused as gigantic elements of the ghastly logo failed to land in the right place.

However, the film insert that started the show did offer some subtle clues as to what was to follow. A fly through of the length of the Thames started nicely enough with wheat fields, cricket and playing children, but a CGI inflatable pig over Battersea Power Station followed by God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols indicated that Danny Boyle might be up to something with a little more edge than the state opening of parliament. Those hopes were slightly dashed when the inside of the stadium had been dressed as some strange cross between Hobbiton and Tellytubby Land as farm yard animals and rustic types mingled in olde merrie England. This did not look as if it was going to end well and the prospect of two hours of the band of the Coldstream Guards, a token steel band of smiling men in loud shirts and a little bit of dhol drumming to prove that we are a diverse nation suggested that the bottle of something nice might not last until the entry of Afghanistan into the arena. The thought that some caber tossing and young men dismantling an antique field gun, throwing it over a wall and then putting it back together followed by some dreadful, manufactured pop act would be the grand finale was difficult to shift.

Then it all became a bit subversive with the arrival of lovely, lovely Kenneth Branagh who quoted Caliban from The Tempest and was accompanied by a gaggle of Victorian men wearing top hats. They evicted the peasantry from the land and erected monstrous satanic chimneys amid moustache twirling and smug snarling at the subjugated working class. Depicting the reigning monarch arriving by parachute after leaping out of a helicopter was a breath taking act of lese-majesty made all the more astonishing by Elizabeth Windsor collaborating in the ruse. Tactfully ignoring the conquest, colonisation and plunder of half the planet, we fast forwarded to the poignant arrival of the Windrush before an announcement in French that contained the words “celebration” and “NHS”. At this point, the bottle of something nice was checked to see if it had become empty such was the level of jaw-dropping disbelief.

By its very nature, there is little room for subtlety in producing large scale “industrial theatre” yet Danny Boyle managed to introduce layers of nuance that produced goose bumps on the arms of this grumpy cynic. The decision to use Mike Oldfield as the backing track for the NHS section was inspired. Tubular Bells was the very first album to be released on Virgin Records and was the foundation for Richard Branson`s business empire. Virgin is now buying up great swathes of the NHS with profit and not patient care at its heart. One can only hope that the less subtle imagery of demons, a 40 foot Voldemort, the Child Catcher and Cruella de Vil threatening children was not lost on the likes of Lansley, Gove and Maria Miller. Quite how Danny Boyle got away with this is a mystery.

Boyle had earlier reminded us that we once had a steel industry and later choreographed a human CND sign. Clips from Gregory`s Girl, Kes, Billy Elliot, his own Trainspotting and the infamous Brookside kiss depicted the UK reality a million miles away from a river pageant and who could have ever thought that Pretty Vacant, Relax and Firestarter would be played at such an almighty corporate greed fest. There was no product placement and the awful logo only appeared as a tiny lapel badge on the expensive suits who took time away from the trough to make a speech.

Directing such a large scale event is difficult enough without the pressure of a live television audience of an estimated one billion people. Add to this the considerable technical challenges and an enormous cast of volunteers and the potential for catastrophe is immense. Danny Boyle must have nerves of steel. By the time the NHS sequence started, performed not by professional actors and dancers but by NHS staff currently in fear for their jobs, this atheist cynic was praying to every deity known and as yet unknown to man that nothing would go wrong. It didn`t and when 96 dancers performed to Abide with Me, tears were flowing. The Hillsborough disaster took 96 lives.

The arrival of the athletes offered a chance to reflect on what had just happened. Spectacular? Yes. A celebration? Yes. A triumph? Yes. An act of political protest and resistance? No.

What Danny Boyle achieved was nothing short of remarkable. In celebrating the long and rich history of these islands by focusing the people who lived and are living here and not on militarism, pomp, conquest and exploitation, he demonstrated to the world why we are still proud to be British. Interestingly, the only performers smiling during the dark, satanic mills section were the wealthy Victorian industrialists. In the other sections, the only people not smiling were the present day politicians and the corporate sponsors sitting up in the expensive seats. All this less than a year since riots and looting in the east end and other inner city area were being broadcast around the world. Even more remarkable is the fact that Boyle managed in the space of three and a half hours to convert this sceptical critic of the tawdry advertising opportunity into believing that the entire bun fight might actually be about Britain and, in case you missed it, sport.

The previous and enormous success of Beijing has indeed been bettered. Remember how the British press and the BBC squealed with outrage when poor people were moved out of the city, private lanes were introduced for the sponsors and officials, any protest smacked down with brutal force and the whole event blanketed by the military and state police? We have improved on Beijing by installing surface-to-air missiles on people`s homes and moored a bloody big assault ship on the river.

On Friday night, as Danny Boyle offered inspiration, hundreds of cyclists were kettled and arrested and a disabled tricycle rider was allegedly pepper sprayed in the face and assaulted. The BBC remained as silent over this inconvenience as they have over the demise of the NHS. It was left to Danny Boyle to point out to the world that, like China, the people of a nation are very different to its government. It was an all too brief three and a half euphoric hours that depicted this country as it actually is; innovative, talented, proud and definitely bonkers which why some of us still love the place even if it is in the hands of some very unpleasant politicians and their paymasters.

By Saturday morning the sport (remember that?) had started and the corporate sponsors left their seats unfilled. The right wing backlash had begun and security were restraining people daring to drink the wrong cola or attempting to photograph a G4S van parked in a disabled parking bay. Normality had returned.

How long before Trafalgar Square becomes Tiananmen Square? Danny Boyle might not be a genius but he`s pretty damn close.


July 25, 2012

Blame it on the boogie

Filed under: Politics — theplastichippo @ 7:10 pm

Don`t blame it on the sunshine. Don`t blame it on the moonlight. Don`t blame it on the good times. Blame it on anything you like to deflect attention away gross incompetence, malice and naked ideological greed.

That font of all wisdom, the Office for National Statistics, has released figures “suggesting”, according to another font of all wisdom the BBC, that the British economy is in a third successive quarter of “negative growth”. Some deranged analysts might interpret this minor blip as a recession, or a double dip recession, or infer that the sensible slash and burn policy of Chancellor Osborne is, in some way, harming the economy. This, of course, is preposterous. According to the fonts of all wisdom, the British economy is not testicled or intercoursed, it`s just some bad weather and a couple of bank holidays that have brought the nation to the brink of ruin.

It is perfectly natural for the chronically inept to offer excuses for their inadequacies and failings. Even faced with obvious evidence, those tasked with producing obvious evidence attempt to ignore the obvious evidence and blame it on the boogie. That font of all wisdom, Joe Grice of the ONS was placed before a microphone and said:
“The bottom line from all this is that the underlying performance of the economy was probably somewhat better than the headline figure of minus 0.7 per cent would suggest, having regard to the extra bank holiday and to the poor weather. How much that effect might be is something we won`t be able to say or to quantify until we have further experience against which to judge.”

What the bloody hell does that mean? It is fair to say that this utter tosh means that we are now able to say, quantify and judge Osborne as a complete and utter failure as Chancellor. The deficit has increased, the national debt has increased, unemployment has increased once you subtract the guff coming out of the ONS regarding Workfare and part-time employment and the NHS, education and national security has been sold off for the benefit of the already wealthy and to fund tax breaks for tax avoiders. By any measure of competence, Osborne is history.

He will be gone before this wretched coalition government finally implodes. Once the tawdry spectacle of corporate Olympic onanism is over, a cabinet reshuffle will attempt to save the skins of those with the sharpest knives. There is already talk of Jeremy Hunt being dumped to be replaced by Osborne to spare the Chancellor the indignity of waking up one morning to find his head on a pikestaff. Lansley is likely to go and trade minister Lord Green who, after accusations of laundering drug money, might end up sleeping with the fish. Gove will play the long game hoping to become party leader after he has destroyed education and Cameron has been stabbed behind the arras. If that is not too horrific to consider, there is also talk that before that David Laws will return as Chancellor or even Vince Cable being appointed to keep the spineless Libdems onside. Given these possibilities, in short, the game is up. The only question is how much more damage can these greedy idiots do before being convicted of crime.

Don`t blame it on the sunshine. Blame David Cameron.

July 16, 2012

My family and other animals

Filed under: World — theplastichippo @ 7:40 pm

As dysfunctional families go, the hippo household is not unusual in producing bizarre shopping lists. In addition to the usual bread, milk, coffee, oven chips, Glenmorangie and RotoSound pink guitar strings, we now add a live rabbit and a villa in Corfu.

Dispatching best friend, lover and lady wife over the hill to the farm shop to purchase bacon, sausages, beef, eggs, gammon and an assortment of fresh root vegetables might be regarded as a normal behaviour for a nuclear family on a Saturday morning. The mistake was to allow a teenage daughter to accompany the oppressed suffragette hunter-gatherer in performing her womanly duties. They returned with a live rabbit and tickets for a Greek holiday. Confusion arose as the chief cook and bottle washer, in the considerable form of your humble correspondent, assumed that the rabbit was destined for the pot and the Greek holiday was some sort of elaborate practical joke. Resorting to the shed to fetch the meat cleaver and with arms outstretched in the manner of Anthony Quinn performing Zorba`s dance, the horrible realisation dawned that Reggie, as the rabbit had been named, was now part of the family and not dinner. The only good news was that Reggie cost considerably less than the Corfu villa.

It is impossible not to be in love with Mrs Hippo. Her beauty is beyond compare and she has an intellect that would intimidate Simone de Beauvoir. Her ability to deflate the pomposity of this humble author is breathtaking and her spontaneity has led to some unforgettable experiences. Taking the children walking in the high Sierra Nevada above Grenada and, a year or two later, staying in an hotel next door to the birthplace of Vlad Dracul in Transylvania would not have been possible without her adventurous free spirit. The news that we are bound for Corfu prompted the eldest to say that it would be warmer than New York and the youngest to suggests that it would not be as good as Cyprus. For him, Cyprus was good because the locals spoke English, unlike the natives in Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and Prague. Spontaneous trips abroad seem to be breeding like rabbits.

So now, Corfu, birthplace of the Duke of Edinburgh and one time home to Laurence and Gerald Durrell. Odysseus is said to have had relations with Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous and the “burner of ships” on Corfu and Hercules allegedly had it off with Naiad Melite. The Argonauts hid on Corfu after they had nicked the Golden Fleece and it seems that the culture owes more to Venice than to Athens. It could be fun if the air conditioning works.

One problem, however, remains. Forgetting the state of the Greek economy, who the hell is going to feed Reggie the rabbit when we are away?

July 14, 2012

This machine kills fascists

Filed under: Birmingham,History,Literature,Music,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 9:29 pm

The historical significance of Quatorze Juillet is not confined to the storming of the Bastille by the citizenry of Paris in 1789 or the Priestley Riots in Birmingham two years later. On July 14, happy birthday to Woody Guthrie; if he had lived, he would be 100 years old today.

The storming of the Bastille is still celebrated as a symbol of the relevance of the French Revolution and with socialist president Francois Hollande`s feet now firmly under the Elysee Palace table, the commemoration this year is especially poignant. Spare a thought, though, for theologian, scientists, natural philosopher and former resident of Sparkbrook, Joseph Priestley. After inventing soda water, discovering oxygen and establishing Unitarianism in England, this dissenting cleric went on to influence John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham in the formulation of utilitarianism. No surprise then that there is a statue of him standing in Birmingham city centre. Sadly, he was not afforded the honour during his lifetime.

In 1791, when he and some of his enlightened chums in the Lunar Society decided to organise a dinner to celebrate the second anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, a drunken mob burnt down his church and his house as well as the homes of other Lunar Society luminaries. It has been alleged that the “Church-and-King” mob were acting under the instructions issued by Birmingham politicians and senior Birmingham Anglican clergymen who considered the Enlightenment as being the work of the devil. Priestley was forced to flee to Hackney and after more sustained harassment and persecution, eventually left these shores and settled with his family in Pennsylvania. The then Prime Minister, William Pitt the younger and the then monarch, King George III were not sorry to see the back of him. Priestley was described by his opponents as ungodly, unpatriotic and a threat to national security. Thank goodness we have moved on from those unenlightened times. Now, when we fear opposition, we do not hire drunken mobs to burn our enemies out. Instead we hire arsonists to clear the way for property developers. Consider Great Barr Hall, on the border of Walsall and Birmingham, where the Lunar Society once met and torched not once but twice to make way for “bespoke executive residences”.

Priestly died in February 1804, 108 and half years before the birth of Woody Guthrie and 129 and a half years before a democratically elected German fascist government banned all other political parties. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a rather long but very good poem in which he said:
“…Lo! Priestley there, patriot, and saint, and sage,
Him, full of years, from his beloved native land
Statesman blood-stained and priests idolatrous
By dark lies maddening the blind multitude
Drove with vain hate…”

Happy Bastille Day. Where are Joseph Priestley and Woody Guthrie when you need them most?

July 8, 2012

Finite Incantatem

Filed under: Fiction,Media,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 9:33 am

Have you ever wondered what happened to Hermione Granger after she graduated from Hogwarts? Well, armed with an alluring set of spells and a desperate need to be noticed, she went on to be a proper little madam.

Craving the attention she lacked at school, she joined the Conservative Party, then the Labour Party, then campaigned for the Liberal Democrat Party and then joined the Conservative Party again. Frantic for notoriety, she took to composing penny dreadful “chick lit” novels which expressed her own irrational and unfounded ambition. For a day job, she went from “chick lit” to “rock chick” working for MTV and then EMI. It was during this period that the attention seeking involving class A narcotics and punk iconoclast cellist Kenny Nigel started to get out of hand. She shares the honour of being formally dismissed by EMI along with punk iconoclasts Rotten Liar and Hissing Sid.

Undaunted, she married Ron Weasel, a property developer, but domestic bliss did not last and the desire for fame and adulation led eventually to the House of Commons. Or the Ministry of Magic as it is known in non-muggle circles.

Hermione embarked on a second marriage to rock impresario Peter Mental, manager of the legendary Jimmy Bridesmaid, the Freezing Bolognese Salts and, somewhat appropriately, Plastica Surgica. Later, Hermione Mental, as she is now known, weaved her magic spells over the internet and summoned up her own version in which anyone who disagrees with her is dispatched to the Prison of Azkaban.

Louise Mensch
Her most recent attack on the dark arts has seen her raise her wand against a local council that was unfortunate enough to have its social media engagement either hacked or suffer a muggle mistake. Unfortunately, Hermione`s vengeance did not take into account the fact that the errant wizard, for all his failings, was doing okay in promoting Hufflepuff in spite of being employed by Slytherin.

Fans of the Harry Potter books will know that there is a special spell that counteracts other spells. Sadly, “Finite Incantatem” only works on areas rather than objects or individuals and has no power to ward off Unforgivable Curses. Hermione, now herself corrupted in the dark arts, should remember that social media, in the noble house of Gryffindor, has spells that will protect the honour of Nearly Headless Dan and even given that we might complain, we intend to keep the Quidditch cup for social media engagement in the trophy room at the Walsall Council House.

Oh, Hermione, if only you had married Harry.

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