I know you signed yourself “Mike” but that’s probably a bit familiar for now. I might get more comfortable with it later on in this letter but for now I think I ought to use your full title of Conservative Representative for Hove and Portslade. Just so everyone knows who you are.
Thank you so much for writing to me for my opinion, not once, but three times! It’s nice to know that in these times of necessary austerity there’s still a bit of spare cash around for headed House of Commons paper with your photo on. Do you get a prize if you use it all up?
Since you are so persistent I thought I’d do you the honour of a reply though I find the questions asked rather simple. In fact, as you are about to find out, I have more comments than could even be fitted overleaf from your simple questions. Perhaps I should have used the overleaf of all three letters I received?
So firstly. It’s nice to know you are in favour of an in / out referendum on the EU in 2017. I fear, however, you may be jumping the gun a bit, a point to which I’ll return later. I do wonder, however, given the proposed date how the good people of Portslade are supposed to make up their minds how they’d vote in it? We are, after all, talking about a totally hypothetical referendum in four years time. Crystal ball? Tea leaves? Perhaps Jeremy Hunt could shake some water in a mysterious way and we could all drink it and get super hero powers that allowed us to see in to the future?
Even if the referendum was tomorrow though there is nowhere near enough information supplied for me, or anyone else who isn’t an MP with a party whip to stick to, to decide. Perhaps you thought it was better to send a simple letter three times than an informative one once. Or perhaps – cynical I know but bear with me – the letter sent gives you the very best chance to receive or even spin the statistics you crave.
Before I could decide such a thing I’d need to seek out a lot more information. What would be the affect be on trade agreements? Would all parties explain copiously that the European Court of Human Rights was bound by the Council of Europe and not the EU? Would I need a visa to see my dad in France? How would the farce that is port and airport immigration deal with even slower lines of people they suddenly have to check more thoroughly? Should I believe UKIP when they say there will be 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians heading here to steal my job, live on benefits and be generally smelly? And is there any chance you could explain why it is that, when discussing Europe, the right reverts to protectionism and the left to defending trade?
I fear that you will actually receive very few replies. Portslade being a working class area – but more working than shirking – most of its residents will be far too busy trying to make ends meet under your austerity regime or struggling with the shortage of Junior School places and the frankly appalling local secondary school to answer hypothetical questions about something no-one understands properly. And any who suddenly find themselves living on one of Portslade’s many estates with an extra bedroom are probably saving all three of your letters to burn for heat when the winter comes round.
But, Mike (see, I said I’d get there), I think the real point is this. Democracy in this country is driven by general elections rather than referenda. As you rightly point out you don’t have a majority. It is my unending hope that come 2015, you, your hopeless Chancellor and your frankly backwards Education Secretary, not to mention Call Me Dave, will be voted back to the obscurity you enjoyed in the thirteen years leading up to 2010.
Hope this helps!
*real name used on printed copy to be posted this morning.
Lilliania-May Thompson is 36. She works in social care and reads The Guardian’s Education section. She has considered Steiner education but couldn’t afford it. Her daughter Alfafa Bean is in Year 2.
“Of course the whole thing is a scandal. I don’t even know what they’re rated for and they take no account of alternative means and methods of education. Who says playing all day isn’t conducive to developing four year olds? Or that vegetarian only school lunches don’t provide proper nutrition? These people would have them sat in rows of desks repeating their times tables by rote and getting slapped with a ruler if they dare speak out.”
Reporter: “And what is the rating of Alfafa Bean’s school?
“Well it’s outstanding. It has been since they started inspecting I believe.”
Reporter: “And how did you get her in?”
“Well I may have fiddled the council’s residency records a bit.”
Oliver Bastard is a commodity trader for a firm of Swiss Nazi brokers in the city, specializing in jackboot futures. He likes rugby, champagne and following Jeremy Clarkson on twitter. His son Timothy is in Year Two at Station Primary.
“Bloody good idea I say! Makes sure they’re learning with the right kind of chap if you catch my drift. I didn’t gazump that Web Designer for the house right next to Timmy’s outstanding school for nothing you know. Now he’ll be able to read and write properly before we send him off to spend his teenage years in buggery and cold showers. An entire education spent without having to speak to a fucking chav. I just wish they did Latin.”
Reporter: Because it’ll be useful at private school?
“No you idiot, because it makes you fucking miserable and I had to go through it.”
Sara, 29, is a teacher at a satisfactory school. Her son Sam attends the nearest school to her house which has just been rated as “good”. He’s in reception.
“To be honest we’ve had so many inspections where I work and yet I’m sure we’re marked down simply for being in the catchment area of Bernie Grant House over there (here she points to a burned out shell of a block of flats with an Uzi poking out of a top floor window, clearly visible from the Head’s Office at her employer’s, Shameless Primary). We put Sammy in to the nearest school because we don’t think the OFSTED is as important as getting him and me to school on time and having some nice local friends to play with. In any case they always mark you on something different. I’ve literally no idea what we’ll be marked on next.”
Reporter: Here’s Michael Gove’s latest proposal.
“If you want me I’ll be in the toilet weeping.”
Wendy, 34, is a Stay At Home Mum who is also a qualified accountant. Husband Simon is in IT. Their son Toby is due to start school in September.
“Well we’re right on the border between two good schools but when we looked at last year’s admissions it was touch and go whether we’d get in either. The nearest school to us is a church school and it’s outstanding but neither of us are religious and we just didn’t feel right sending him there. Unfortunately we didn’t quite get in either of the other two so now it looks like Toby will have to do a 3 mile return bus trip to Shameless Primary. It’s not ideal but at least they’ve cleared out the last of the crack dealers from Bernie Grant House.”
(noise of reporter choking)
Nigel, 37 lives next door to Wendy with his wife Mandy and their son Frank.
“Come in. Have a pew. And I do mean literally. They gave us that for the kitchen when we made up 60% of the collection for the new church roof. It’s amazing how connected I feel to the church despite only having gone for the last year. What’s that? No that isn’t a Richard Dawkins book on the shelf. Get out! OUT! I need to pray.”
Dave, 40, is “on benefits”. He likes Special Brew, Jeremy Kyle and farting. His son Tyrone is currently excluded.
“What’s an OFSTED? Whaaaaaarrrrrrp!”
As a teenager I rode a bike all the time. From the age of 13 I did a paper round (actually most of the time I did two) and I did them on my bike. For this purpose my parents got me a red “racer” with three gears. At weekends in the summer me and my friend David would ride our bikes up in to The Downs. Sometimes just as far as Devil’s Dyke to shoot our catapults but sometimes a 30 mile, hilly route all round the Sussex countryside and back again. Proper cycling. David provided the puncture repair kit and the knowledge of things like what to do if your chain fell off. I (mechanically inept) provided the company. I enjoyed it immensely.
Then I stopped doing the paper round. Not long after I was with David and attempting a right turn on a busy road when I was knocked off. I only got cuts and bruises but it was enough to put me off and before I knew it I had stopped riding my bike. Up until six months ago the only other times I had ridden a bike were when I was at my mum’s place in France and I borrowed my step dad’s ‘sit up and beg’ bike to ride round the French countryside. Like a little English vicar.
But six months ago I* decided I needed to get a bit fitter and I* also decided the best way to do this would be to get a bike and start cycling again.
*my wife again
I asked some advice of some cycling types on twitter and then mostly ignored it by buying a bike I liked the look of. I know. But for the last few months I have been the proud owner of a hybrid bike which I have ridden as often as I can and, frankly, loved. Quite a few things have changed since I was a teenager however.
To start with it seems that the act of riding a bike has somehow become political. That somehow just by getting on it and riding I’m sticking two fingers up to Jeremy Clarkson style motoring libertarianism. As someone who doesn’t enjoy driving at all I was always ambivalent in the ‘motorist v cyclist’ rows that would sometimes rear their heads in the pub or on message boards or twitter. Now I’m firmly in the cyclist’s corner. Whether this is selfish self interest or just seeing things from a particular point of view I’m not sure.
Then there’s the reputation of cyclists locally. This certainly wasn’t helped when a well liked local business man was killed by a single punch from a cyclist. And while there are plenty of responsible cyclists there are also people like the guy who, on dark winter mornings, cycles the wrong way up my road with no lights or hi viz.
Meanwhile the Green Party run local council are building more cycle lanes. While I should be in favour of this as a big user of them I wouldn’t want budget used on them that could be providing school places or collecting the rubbish. When I was cycling as a teenager there wasn’t a single cycle lane anywhere. In short, cycling can feel controversial.
However, here is the other thing that’s changed since then; thanks to the likes of Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendalton and particularly Wiggo cycling is also cool. In fact this picture of Bradley Wiggens may just be one of the coolest things ever. The cycle lanes that are there are being used more and more and even on quiet routes at odd times of the day I see plenty of fellow cyclists. This is a real Olympic legacy. People of all ages are out there, inspired to do something not because it may be good for them but because it is fun, available and part of the zeitgeist.
For me though, the best thing is how much I enjoy it. Much like when I was regularly playing football or cricket, cycling puts me ‘in the zone’. I don’t have to worry about office politics or making my connection at Gatwick Airport or who threw the weeble or why the carrots that were perfectly good for dinner last week are suddenly disgusting. It’s just me and the bike. Perfect.
Last night I asked twitter if I should go for a ride or start on the wine early but, really, I already knew the answer. As soon as Whirlwind was in bed I saddled up and went for a ride all round Brighton and Shoreham, observing families heading home from the beach and people heading out for a Saturday night on the town. One of the last parts of the route is along a road that runs between the beach and the harbour, near the houses with the private beaches where the slebs all live. It’s quiet at that time of evening and I let rip, pedalling as fast as I could. In no time at all I was overtaken with consummate ease by someone on a road bike who, frankly, left me for dead. I wonder if it was David?
P.S. I know you’re all thinking ‘but why the inane title’? I know I would be. Well it is, of course, a chance to post a link to this obscure song of the same name by Japanese pop band Shonen Knife. If Wiggo doesn’t inspire you to start riding this certainly won’t.
So Father’s Day is approaching. Adverts for power tools seem to be on every thirty seconds and MoonPig.com have found themselves a wonderful new male model so that, however good your parenting, you can still feel inadequate for a whole month leading up to your special day using the simple process of aging.
It’s a day that takes up the thoughts of fellow dad bloggers whether it’s Alex from Dadda Cool quite rightly bemoaning the commercialisation of it all or Hapless Dad’s less than serious present suggestions. As someone who has given up spirits (at least for now) and regards power tools with the same suspicion everyone else reserves for the wrong end of a Kalashnikov (I googled that to check the spelling and not to buy an AK47 by the way Mr Forensic Policeman) there is probably nothing typically blokey that you can buy me anyway. So my Father’s Day wish list is not so much a list of stuff I would like to add to the house that we will shortly be packing up anyway but more a list of stuff I’d like to happen…..
- I would like the toilet flushed by my son. People have commented on my twitter avi but it hasn’t been working recently. The last thing I want on my special day is to sneak upstairs for a half hour read of The Observer behind a locked door only to be greeted by a bowl of bangers and mash.
- I would like to wake up naturally after 7am. Whirlwind, please note that naturally does not include screaming at your brother, doing the Gangnam Style on your bed, yelling “I’VE DONE A POO”, bouncing on my head, bouncing on Mummy’s head, actually doing a poo or attempting to come downstairs and turn on CBeebies by yourself at the age of two, all at the sort of hour that would make your average postman wince.
- I would like not to see the MoonPig.com father’s day advert. Or that tit that advertises Cillit Bang from the tiny aeroplane.
- I would like to be confident enough in my spelling that I don’t have to google things like Kalashnikov (potentially putting me on an international terrorist watch list) or Cillit Bang (the first word of which is one typo away from getting my blog a whole different adult orientated audience).
- I would like something positive to happen at my football club and for England to win the cricket (yes I know we are in to the realms of fantasy now)
- I would like a never ending supply of pork belly that didn’t actually make me fat. Just for the day.
- I would like to be able to send the kids to ACAS when they fight.
- I would like not to be old enough to remember ACAS and to be clever enough to remember if they still exist by myself. Is there actually any call for them post Thatcher? Come to think of it the last newsreader I can remember mentioning them was Kenneth Kendall.
- I would like not to be old enough to remember Kenneth Kendall.
- I would like someone to make it possible for Alex and Sid from CBeebies to have an actual fight while introducing Cloud Babies.
- I would like to go a whole day without stepping on some Lego. If I could also go to bed that night without finding Pom Bears in the sheets that would be a bonus.
- Self ironing work clothes. Actually this should be number 1.
Surely this isn’t too much to ask? Happy Father’s Day!
Yesterday saw small protests by far right groups the EDL and BNP and counter demonstrations. The story is not very high up in the mainstream media but it dominated my twitter timeline. A chat about it all last night with @JimmyBHAFC set me thinking.
First let’s state the obvious. The EDL / BNP do not own paying respect to Drummer Rigby or any other fallen soldier for that matter. If you want to do that you can go to a memorial and leave a tribute any time you want. The far right tried to turn a fallen soldier in to a ‘Princess Diana’ issue. Back in the day it seemed you had to publicly outpour your grief for Princess Di (not to mention buy Candle in the Wind) or you were some kind of sick, uncaring bastard who wanted her dead. Now here’s the EDL trying to say that unless you were with them you were against Drummer Rigby. They failed massively and once again were outnumbered by both protesters and the police. Good.
However it also has to be said that while I think that peaceful counter demos are fine the UAF was in danger of scoring an own goal yesterday. They do not own ‘respect’ either. Stand by the side and mock by all means but even fascists have a right to lay wreaths at a memorial in this country. I think it would be a worse place if they didn’t.
So that’s the respect part dealt with but why think about education in all this? Because, for me, politics is starting to polarise as it so often does in times of forced austerity. As the credit crunch hit initially, here in Brighton people veered left, leaving the City with a Green MP and Green led council. (This gave the City an excellent MP and terrible, incompetent joke of a council from the same political party but that’s a whole other post). As further austerity has bitten, as benefit claimants continue to be demonised and as the Tory party obsesses over Europe again a significant portion of the rest of the country has veered right. UKIP support is probably at an all time high, at least in terms of poll ratings. And UKIP (or at least their spokesman) seemed quite happy yesterday to hop on the EDL bandwagon.
So we worried in our chat that this sort of ideology might become more and more attractive to the working classes. How do you stop people from making the two plus two equals five choice that you have to join the right of politics to show respect to those who fight for this country?
Education. I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The EDL may stand for English Defence League but spend just a few minutes looking at their communications on Facebook and you will see that English is not their strong point. In fact most of them can barely spell simple words. Some of them seem to think that Brighton Pavillion is a mosque (should they know different? Of course. It used to be a Royal Palace and is therefore as much part of English history and culture as fish and chips or The Sun. Plus they could have Googled it.). In short we are talking about people whose education is appalling, You could call them thick and you’d be right but that’s not a good thing. As a society we’ve failed them.
But it isn’t enough just to teach children to spell and that two plus two equals four if you ask me. Teaching of respect is equally important and something I worry Michael Gove (yes him again) does not understand in his drive for grammar tests, OFSTED inspections and Free Schools a la Toby Young. Teach a child simply to read and write without thinking and they may not know what to do with it. Teach them to think for themselves and the spelling and reading will come because they will darn well want to express themselves.
I remember when Boy came home and told me about the various festivals they had been taught about (Eid, Diwali) and being once again proud of the school he is at. They do a Nativity too though. He has a couple of Muslim children in his class who were, nevertheless, part of the Christmas concert. This is what true multiculturalism means. Not terrorism or creeping Sharia but learning about one’s own culture whilst learning to respect other people’s. I worry how long they will be able to do this.
When I bang on about education it’s because that is one place where we really can start to make a difference. The UAF blocking the Cenotaph yesterday may have lost a few more to the far right who were heading that way anyway but surely the long game is to not have anyone heading that way in the first place. Not through indoctrination or forced political correctness but by giving everyone a fair chance to think for themselves and to discuss problems in a reasonable manner. This goes for Islamic extremism too. Islamic terrorists have been poorly educated. They are vulnerable people easily brainwashed by hate preachers. They need help to extricate themselves from hate just as much as the EDL.
Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of just having plans to subject 7 year olds to high pressure grammar tests (to start SORTING THE FAILURES at 7), Mr Gove also came up with ways to prevent children, particularly from poor backgrounds, being led into worlds of crime, extremism and hopelessness?
I know some fellow Bloggers are Butlins Ambassadors. I am not but having just spent a week at Butlins Bognor Regis, in The Ocean Hotel, I thought I’d review it. After all, we did spend a fair amount of money on it.
The rooms at the Ocean are spacious, modern and comfortable. The kaleidoscope lights are a cool feature and the kids loved their Wham! and Pow! Beds and stuff boxes. The bath and showers are excellent and the bed comfy (I slept very nicely for a whole week). The wi-fi is very simple to connect. So far so good. Even better were the Butlins Butlers. A team down on the lower ground floor who, as well as taking your luggage, will book anything from a restaurant, to an activity to make you a balloon animal (Whirlwind woke me up with hers the next morning but even so…). They are friendly, funny, efficient and great with the kids.
There are a few small peeves. The kid’s den doesn’t have a door. On the first night this meant Whirlwind kept getting up and running round the room after which OH and I decided we’d prefer if it did have a door. Also there are only two lifts. This would be ok if check outs and ins were spread out but as they all take place on the same day you can’t get in the lifts on those days – really annoying considering that everyone staying there has kids and / or elderly people in the party and a good deal of luggage. There are too many rooms for the cleaners to get round. We had gone four days before it got a ‘full’ service and even then they didn’t change the sheets. The loo was only properly cleaned once.
Overall though probably a 7.5/10.
Certain things put me off when eating out. Among these are buffets, unseasoned meat, meanness and bad service. We got all of the above at one stage or another. Buffets fill me with dread, a cornucopia of food drying out, going cold and being sneezed on and the Ocean’s buffet didn’t disappoint. The breakfast was never less than lukewarm. At least on the first couple of days we could serve ourselves but after that we had to be served like prisoners causing longer queues and colder food. On two random breakfasts there are no tea spoons to stir your drinks. The butter and sugar keep moving. On the last day they run out of milk and someone is dispatched to the shop. One waiter tells us it will be 30 mins. Another 5. It was about 10. This put us off the buffet in the evenings and we tried a few places round the complex.
Of these Turner’s is the most ‘well heeled’ – which is to say expensive. The menu is by UKIP (£12 for Cottage Pie) and on the first visit the service by Basil Fawlty. The strap line should be “Turner’s – taking the ‘modern’ out of Modern British”. When we went on the Tuesday night we weren’t allowed in without using the hand sanitiser (the families either side were though) by a man who looked more like a roving manager than a waiter. He then forgot to give us a wine list or the butter that comes with the steak that was supposed to season it, leaving a bland hunk of unseasoned meat. We still go back for the last night blow out and it’s much better, the girl serving us giving the best food service of the week.
Papa John’s fresh pizzas were great but, once again, price very much encouraged you to have their buffet instead. Eat there all week and you’ll end up the size of Rick Waller.
The Beachcomber pub does standard chain pub food well (think a good Harvester) but when we try to get a voucher for it we’re told we need to give 24 hours notice. “No one mentioned that at check in” we point out to the butler. “That’s because the rule changed this week.”
Eventually it was explained to us that the hand sanitisers and being served by the staff were because of a suspected outbreak of a sickness bug. We met no one all week whose kid had this but plenty who’d thrown up once due to a treats, excitement and rides combo. The sanitising doesn’t work anyway. For the last three days Whirlwind gets a terrible flu bug and is confined to barracks. Possibly this is because, while you have to practically suit up to eat, everywhere else germy hands are being placed on rides and in to piles of 2p pieces.
The dining packages are a rip off unless you do stick to the hotel buffet. We spent a good deal on ‘overspends’ and yet never really got back our initial outlay either. I would love someone from Butlins to justify why the buffet is valued at £17.50 per adult yet the adult allowances on vouchers for other venues are only £13.50?
The overall impression is of penny pinching and box ticking. 4/10.
Kids and Entertainment
This is where Butlins should score highly and I’m pleased to report they did. There are large-ish queues for some shows and for the free ones you have to get there early but they’re well worth the wait if you have little ones. Both ours loved Barney and Thomas, gibbered happily about the puppet shows and boogied at the Tots Disco.
Sports were also really good (but see below). Boy did two football mornings, one a free for all and the other requiring booking and we also played family rounders. Both kids adored the pool. Whirlwind, before she got ill and despite being only 2 was on the water slides in the little pool and the bigger slide with Daddy while Boy loved the wave machine and also set a new personal best for the furthest he’s swam. The go-karts were a big Boy favourite but be careful, as they’re £5 a go for about 4 minutes.
The redcoats are amazing. So good with kids. In the first half of the week in particular we had two very happy children.
There is managerial stupidity even here though. Boy’s second soccer session is moved to an old Astroturf pitch covered in sand and water. The pro soccer coach (who’s excellent) and Ajax style drills are moved while a falconry display is held on the new state of the art soccer pitch. It’s immensely frustrating and drops the mark from 10/10 to 9/10
The negative part of this review might come as a surprise as I tweeted quite positively early on in the week. However the grinding application of petty rules wears on you, especially when you’re told it’s to protect your child and then they get sick anyway.
It has to be said the kids mostly enjoyed themselves and that’s what family holidays are about so we’d probably go back. We wouldn’t buy a meal package again however. Holidaying in the UK means no airport and flight stress, again great for the kids, but for half the week the weather was awful.
As an adult going to a Butlins Hotel you need to ignore the flashy marketing, blogger tie ups and Vine posts and set your expectations to mass check in, all you can eat and lager with everything. Until you can choose whatever days you want to holiday and until managers concentrate on giving the guests a good time instead of health and safety check lists Butlins will always live in the past.
Perhaps the weirdest weaning method I have ever come across is that used by American actor, vegan and (IMO) nut-job Alicia Silverstone. Admittedly being a nut-job seems to be a prerequisite for Hollywood actors who, if they’re not members of cults seem instead to be intent on frying their brains on alcohol and drugs or joining food groups like the raw food movement (no Woody Harrelson, just because you were in a couple of movies does not give you the right to instruct us all to forage for nuts and berries for the rest of our life).
In March 2012 Silverstone was reported to have posted a You Tube video and blog in which she is seen chewing her food and then spitting it in to the waiting mouth of her baby Bear Blu, a la mama bird. This I’m against, mainly because it sounds disgusting. Food spitting is a parenting prejudice I am happy to admit to.
But how did it come about? In fact she got the idea from her lesser known but just as rich and mad sister Mavis and her son Rodney Bear Blu though their video was never posted. Luckily I had an exclusive peek and have transcribed it for you below………..
Mavis Silverstone: Ok then Bear, er I mean Rodney, Mommy’s going to make you a yummy feast!
Rodney Bear Blu: (sotto voce) You sure? That looks like you’re making more of that collards drizzled with flax oil.
Mavis Silverstone: YEAH BABY!! Here we are. Miso soup, collards and radish with flax oil and grated daikon
Rodney Bear Blu: (sotto voce) Oh for fucks sake. No cheeseburger then.
Mavis Silverstone: Open wiiiide! *chews furiously* Here we go! *spits in to baby’s mouth*
Rodney Bear Blu: *gags* *pukes*
Mavis Silverstone: Oh my poor wickle baby!! Are you sick honey? You want me to chew you up more daikon? It’s very healing.
Rodney Bear Blu: No it isn’t! It’s fucking minging! You know the only thing worse than pre-chewed grated daikon? Fucking pre-sucked miso soup! You know that by the time it gets to me it just tastes of saliva right? YOUR saliva? You want that I should just cut out the middle man next time and just suck your tongue?
Mavis Silverstone: Oh…baby you can talk….and you sound a bit like a British football hooligan. How did that happen?
Rodney Bear Blu: Never mind that you sappy hippy bitch. Listen up. Stop with the pre-chewed food nonsense. I’m a baby human not a baby bird. Just get me some regular food, cut it up and give it to me on a plate so that I can tip it all over the floor like any normal baby. And also some meat would be nice. In fact anything that wasn’t drizzled in flax oil would be nice. But meat please, once a week. And since I know how much that daikon costs you, you can make it wagyu beef – cooked sous vide.
Mavis Silverstone: But honey, just like my better known sister I’m a vegan!
Rodney Bear Blu: Oh yeah! Of course you are. So you definitely wouldn’t want anyone going to the newspapers about your secret sausage collection would you.
Mavis Silverstone: Actually they’d probably be more interested in how you can talk like that at 10 months old but I take your point. Wagyu beef it is. Unchewed.
*stalks off to make herself some dandelion tea*