The Plastic Hippo

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.

December 24, 2010

Silent night

Filed under: Uncategorized — theplastichippo @ 12:14 am

“This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.”

Extract from The Journey of the Magi by T.S.Eliot

An angel appeared to Mary and annunciated that as a young person not in employment, education or training, she did not qualify for the non-existent Education Maintenance Allowance and although an immaculate conception leading to pregnancy was not entirely within her control, she could not expect any support from the state.

And so, a child was born.

Shepherds continued to watch their flocks fearful of travelling into urban areas as the government would hold them financially responsible for any spread of foot and mouth disease.

Three wise men journeyed from the east and after holding a tribunal, decided that Mary, although homeless, was a scrounger. The gifts of child benefit, Bookstart literature for the infant and the right to a safe place to live would be withheld and the savings past on to the money lenders in the temple. King Herod, fearful of an educated underclass that might one day usurp his throne, saddled potential undergraduates with an unmanageable level of debt. This particular beatitude is filled with delicious irony as an increase in tuition fees is just one part of the slaughter of the innocents designed to reduce national debt brought about by greed and avarice. As J Paul Getty once observed: “The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights.”

As for the future of Mary’s boy child, he can forget about attending a decent nursery, receiving adequate health care or any expectation of being blessed with an education. He is considered worthless by his masters and 2,000 years on, reminiscent of Bethlehem under Herod, reserved for the infant is green hill far away without a city wall.

Thankfully, the child may survive until at least Easter, which cannot be said for the current coalition government hell-bent on destruction and the persecution of the meek. If those of honour in national and local government decide like Pontius Pilate to wash their hands of responsibility, they will forsake those that elected them and those that elected them will, ultimately, forsake them. As long as that is okay with Rupert Murdoch.

Jesus, as they say, wept.

September 16, 2010

Hate Mail

Filed under: Uncategorized — theplastichippo @ 10:58 pm

Image credit:

Notes for editors – this front page mock-up is not actually genuine; but satire/parody.

Twitter made its breakthrough into the national consciousness when it was revealed that Stephen Fry was being “followed” by almost all of the inhabitants of heaven and earth. Having become all but synonymous with the 140 character bon mot, the name of our national treasure is inveriably evoked when the printed media cover a story that they have gleaned from Twitter. But, that pillar of respectable journalism and voice of the the people, the Daily Mail, has taken umbridge at some of Mr Fry`s activities.

Stephen and 54 of his prominent chums signed a letter to the Guardian questioning the propriety of “honouring” the Holy Father, Bishop of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State and God`s true representative on Earth with a state visit given the somewhat chequered reputation of the Catholic Church. The signatories pointed out that they had no objections to a visit from the Pope and offered his holiness a welcome. But they also wished to highlight the Catholic Church`s stance on the prohibition of contraception as protection against the scourge of Aids, the denial of basic human rights and the abomination and subsequent cover-up of widespread sexual abuse of children committed by Catholic priests. The Vatican City, they point out, was only ratified as a “state” in 1929 with a treaty signed by Benito Mussolini and they further question the estimated £12million cost to the British tax-payer in these times of savage cuts.

The Daily Mail, not noted for its rationality or welcoming attitude to foreigners, described the letter as an “atheist hate campaign led by Stephen Fry” and an insult to the Pope and to Catholics. A man with the wit, erudition, intellegence and humanity of Stephen Fry was more than capable of dismissing this outrage with a devasting post on his excellent blog. As Fry pointed out, if heaven does actually exist, he is more likely to be allowed in, whereas reporters on the Daily Mail and some Catholic clergy will definitely not be issued with halos, harps and wings.

Even before the Papal Airbus touched down in Edinburgh, things were not going well. Described in the Daily Mail as a “liberal”, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a former senior aide to the pontiff, was reported as describing an arrival at Heathrow as being like arriving in a “third-world” country. A later clarification stated that this was not an observation of the British economy, but a comment on ethnic diversity. Phew, not a insult to Gideon Osborne then, just a teeny-tiny bit racist. He also spoke of an “aggressive atheism” in Britain and the Daily Mail seized on this comment and issued dire warnings of Godless, Bolshevik, atheist celebrities “whipping-up” hatred towards frail, old theologians. Cardinal Kasper was forced to withdraw from the state visit after being struck down with gout. God clearly moves in mysterious ways.

By the time Benedict XVI got to Holyrood, “aggressive atheism” had morphed into “aggressive secularism” somewhere along the Corstophine Road. In front of the Queen and the world’s press he said:

“Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny.”

At 14, the future Pope was forced to join the Hitler Youth against his will and so has some real experience of the evils of tyranny. At his advanced age, though, one might expect the occasional lapse of memory even if we take into account his God-given infalliblity. Hitler claimed to be fighting for Christianity against the atheism of Marxist doctrine and the Catholic Church in Germany, in those dark days, were happy to support the Nazi Party. The logical implication of his address in Edinburgh, and a probable theme for the rest of his visit, is that if you do not believe in God, then you are fascist.

There will be many devout and pious Catholics who will feel that this unique and significant visit has been spoilt by the controversies and may feel that their genuine faith has endured an unwarranted attack. Even the most aggressive atheist will acknowledge that the faith of individuals is real and important to that individual regardless of sub-faith, creed or orthodoxy. There will also be people of faith, be they religious or secular, that realise that compassion, virtue and humanity are not the exclusive privilege of the doctrine that they subscribe to. The right of worship is a basic human right – so is the right not to worship.

It is clear that the Pope is most welcome in our country and is an honourable and wise shepherd to his flock. But one might question his earlier pronouncements that homosexuality is an “objective disorder” that is “an intrinsic moral evil” and that the “distribution of prophylactics” will actually increase the threat of HIV/Aids rather than reduced it. As Cardinal Ratzinger, the Pope persuaded his predecessor John Paul II to allow him as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to investigate allegations of the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church. Sadly, God is not available to comment on the success of the investigations.

The Daily Mail described Stephen Fry as a “quizmaster”, but anyone who has read his work or heard him speak will know that he is much more than that. Those that have seen the BBC footage of the Intelligence Squared debate at the Westminster Methodist Central Hall in 2009, where Fry took apart and hung out to dry the motion that the Catholic Church was a force for good in the world, will realise that we are not dealing with Bruce Forsyth. One of his opponents on that day was Anne Widdecombe, currently cutting a dash on Strictly Come Dancing. One shudders to imagine her pas de deux to Tom Lehrer`s Masochism Tango.

People living on the papal motorcade route in Birmingham have been told to stay indoors from six hours before and for two hour after the Pope mobile passes amongst them. Unless they have the 25 quid to see the Pope, Anne Widdecombe showing the cameras what she will not show to God is the only option. Given the choice, faith might be better left to the intellect of St Stephen rather than that of St Anne.

June 18, 2010

Be prepared

Filed under: Uncategorized — theplastichippo @ 11:10 pm

Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scouting movement, became a national hero following his exploits at the siege of Mafeking during the second Boer War. Tony Hayward, chief executive of British Petroleum, is unlikely to receive the Order of Merit for his exploits during the siege of Capitol Hill during the US Congressional Committee hearings into the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

One congressman signalled his intention to “slice and dice” the Birmingham University geology graduate and most of the press talked of the “grilling” of the unfortunate CEO. Grilled he was, basted liberally with gulf crude and served on a bed of Louisiana crawfish and shrimp marinaded in 200 million gallons of black gold. Hayward did himself no favours by refusing to answer questions regarding safety procedures on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and by settling into a siege mentality as to responsibility for the calamity. Irritation felt by the congressmen and women soon turned to anger and then to scorn and the admission by the big boss that he had never heard of the rig until after it blew up killing 11 people dropped him further into the gumbo.

Congress, the American press and the American public are baying for blood and Haywood is in the frame. Here at home the reaction has been, at best, more sanguine but, at worst, a re-run of the American War of independence. It seems that BP is a very important company in terms of the British economy and so Texan refinery explosions, leaking pipelines in Alaska and illegal price fixing in the propane market are all part of the pioneering enterprise of commerce and are beyond criticism. Indeed the usually demure Daily Telegraph recently sprang to the defence of BP and led with a lurid headline describing Obama`s boot on the throat of British pensioners; a reference to the serial polluter and uber carbon producer as being the investment of choice for discerning British pension funds.

BP are clearly guilty of massive contraventions of safety legislation in a very dangerous industry as well as complacency, incompetence and arrogance in its desire to put profit before safety, the environment and global public outrage. Even given the fact that Tony Haywood sold one third of his considerable BP shareholding at massive personal financial gain and a reduction in dividend to pension funds just one month before the flambé of Deepwater Horizon, it is possible to feel some sympathy for him.

Sitting in the bear pit of a congressional hearing more reminiscent of the Jerry Springer Show rather than the genteel surroundings of something like the Chilcot Inquiry, Haywood might be forgiven for asking: “why me?”. BP is 39% American owned and the rig was being operated by American companies including the infamous Halliburton, former vice-president Dick Cheney`s own personal pension fund, and flew a Marshall Islands flag of convenience. The irony of being shouted at by American politicians that owe their positions of power and, in some cases, comfortable livelihoods to the patronage of the massive oil industry lobby will not be lost on Tony Haywood.

The fire-storm and public floggings that BP must now endure might be justified, but the reason for the humiliation is because the black, sticky stuff is washing up on the bayous and not somewhere else. The Niger Delta is a long way from the Mississippi, but Nigeria suffers oil spills on the scale of Deepwater Horizon every single year. Thousands of the poorest people in the world die as a result of flash fires from leaking pipelines run on the surface through their villages and as a direct result of poisoning brought about by oil company pollution. The compensation and reparation demanded by the American government is not available to the dispossessed of Africa and elsewhere.

Haywood might also be wondering why Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide, has not been invited to sit on the naughty step. In 1984, an American owed chemical plant in Bhopal leaked poison gas and killed 15,000 people. Anderson knew his plants were unsafe but only authorised remedial work on plants within US borders, the Bhopal plant safety being seen as an expensive extravagance. The Indian government issued an arrest warrant but big, brave Anderson legged it back to the states and has been there ever since with his own government refusing extradition back to India to face the music. The day before Haywood sat in the hot seat, seven minor Union Carbide managers were finally convicted of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and fined $2,000.

When the Exxon Valdez hit a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989, the oil company quickly circulated a rumour that the master of the supertanker was blind drunk and that the environmental disaster was his fault, not theirs. However, the subsequent inquiry discovered that the ship did not have sufficient crew, the captain was sober but suffering from exhaustion and the Sonar system that would have identified the dangerous reef had not been working throughout the previous year as Exxon considered it too expensive to repair. Even now, Exxon continue to successfully block claims for compensation, helped by their friends in Congress, the Senate and the Supreme Court.

Closer to home, without even thinking about the reaction if an American company operating in the North Sea ruined the beautiful beaches of Northumberland, it is not only BP who allows greed to come before safety. British oil industry companies involved in the Buncefield explosion and fire in 2005, as well as Total and Texaco, have just been found guilty of negligence and face massive fines. It is considered a miracle that there were no deaths in the biggest explosion in Europe since World War Two which actually registered 2.4 on the Richter Scale. There are many who are happy to feed America’s addiction to oil and the addiction of oil companies to profitability. The US remains the biggest user and the biggest polluter and both addict and pushers have gone beyond just stealing to pay for the habit; they now resort to murder.

Henry Waxman, chair of the congressional committee inquiry into Deepwater Horizon needs to be very careful when dealing with major oil companies, they pack a powerful punch. When activists objected to the conduct of oil companies in Nigeria, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other campaigners from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People were executed by the state on trumped-up charges of incitement to murder. It was later revealed that Shell had threatened, bribed and invented witnesses to testify against the men who had dared to question the authority of the oil company. Let us hope that Congressman Waxman remembers history.

The other BP, Baden-Powell, was sent to South Africa in 1896 to quell a rebellion during the Second Matabele War when the locals objected to the British South Africa Company nicking their land for mineral deposits. BP saw the natives off after ordering the execution by firing squad of a Matabele chief who refused to co-operate.

BP then went Scouting for Boys.

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