July 2008



Best posting on a Liberal Democrat blog

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

I am DISGUSTED! Are you DISGUSTED? Because I am! Even a supposed liberal has an inner kernel of colonelness, as my distressing reaction to two incident-ettes today proves.

First, there was this from the website of the Crediton Courier, a Devon local paper which has just celebrated the publication of its 800th issue. Originally the rubric on the front page read:

801 See’s are first Flash 3D Flip Webpage Issue

Yes, it took me a few mental run-ups as well. It helps to look at it phonetically. Happily, after some pretty stern words of the blither-blither variety from your correspondent, the folk there have amended it. Froth froth, I say, burble burble, and I should think so too, huff puff.

Pah, but that is not the worst of it, sir, mark my words! My latest whimsical tweak on the already ambitious Lib Dem Voice conference plans (currently under wraps but suffice it to say that we might have to clone Stephen in order to get everything done) was to transmogrify our usual Liberal Drinks/blogging buddies meet-up into a marginally better organized and publicized Lib Dem Voice drinks. And hoorah, I thought, we could do it ON THE BEACH! After all, beach begins with B and so does blogging. It’s a zingy name waiting to happen. What could possibly go wrong?

Ok, it could piss it down so we need a plan B “even if it’s just back to Will’s hotel room” (thanks, Will!) We’d have to look into hiring deckchairs and buying up some “cheap supermarket booze”* in advance, but it wouldn’t cost anyone more than an evening at the pub would have done. And we’d have to check whether drinking was permitted on the beach…

Hm. I made contact with the Guardians of the Beach. I was thinking of organizing an informal meet-up of people from the conference on the beach, an absolute maximum attendance of 40-50, was it permissible to drink alcohol and could we reserve deckchairs in advance?

And this is what I got.

Application pack for holding events on Bournemouth Council Parks, Seafront and Town Centre

“Application pack”? Wh- No, no, no, I only wanted to…Wait, wait, stop!

Want to organise an outdoor event in Bournemouth?

Well, in a manner of speaking, I mean it’s only-

Whether it is a small community initiative or a large commercial promotion the Events Team at Bournemouth Borough Council would like to hear from you! With plenty of parkland and countryside within the borough as well as seven miles of golden beach, Bournemouth is the ideal location for a wide range of events.

Oh, brilliant! So is it ok to have a drink on the beach and-

How do I apply for my event?

1. An application form is attached for you to complete and return to the Events Team giving as much detail as possible about your event to include proposed date, time, location, set-up and content.

Set-up and content? Well, some drinks with maybe, you know, some chairs, and-

Please feel free to continue on another piece of paper if you run out of room on the form.

Oh right, that’s a relief…

Alternatively you can submit a separate, more detailed events proposal along with the application form.

Er…

2. On receipt of your application form we will check the availability of your location and the suitability of the event within that location.

Um, what does suitable mean? Cos, I mean, some of us are a bit scruffy to be honest, so…

3. If agreed, a letter of agreement will then be issued detailing the Council’s terms and conditions, which you as an organiser will need to sign up to in order for the event to go ahead.

Terms and conditions? Organiser? Go ahead? It’s some nerds and a couple of bottles of wine…

4. Please do not confirm arrangements or commit yourself to anything costly until a letter of agreement has been issued.

Bum. Well, better cancel the Cash and Carry run then.

5. If you would like to make a collection for your chosen charity as part of your event you will need to obtain a street collection licence.

Oh no, we don’t need to do that, we just-

Please contact Democratic Services on 01202 451163.

You’re shitting me now, aren’t you. “Democratic Services”? Hahahahahah- Oh, ok, you’re not shitting me. Fair enough. No, I don’t have a swearing licence actually, errr, ah bum…

Please note collections cannot be made within the gardens or along the seafront promenade, and any collections in Pier Approach, must be accompanied by entertainment.

Wh. Wh. Why? I mean, not that it matters, but why in the name of ARSE must any collections in Pier Approach be accompanied by entertainment?

What about Health and Safety?

Um. [warily] What about it?

We require the following paperwork at least two weeks prior to your event taking place:

A comprehensive and approved risk assessment, a template of which can be provided for your use. If you have a preferred format then please feel free to submit this.  For further information on risk assessments, please refer to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website – http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/practice.htm.

Erm. “Risk of geekery: high. Risk of excessive discussion of by-election results back to 1987: critical.” Is that ok? No. No, I see, of course not.

A copy of your £5 million Public Liability Insurance.

My WHAT?

If you don’t have public liability insurance, you may qualify for cover under the Council’s own insurance (subject to specific requirements).  Please contact us directly to discuss this further.

I don’t want to insure the blogging community. No-one needs that risk.

And so it goes on, through sub-contracted performers’ insurance, land licensed to specific uses, temporary event notices (TENs) and costs (£80 + VAT). It’s bureaucracy gone mad in Bournemouth, I tell you! Fpah!

So that’s that brilliant wheeze down the toilet, which is a tremendous shame because it means I don’t get to fill out the risk assessment form. This intriguingly suggests in ticky-box form not only the usual potential hazards…

alcohol

animals

crowds

noise concerns

flammable materials

food preparation

laser/strobe effects

temporary structures

stunts

water (duh)

…but also the far more exciting…

physical/psychological effects

flying

night-time operations

sources of radiation

risk of infection

weapons

possibility of violence

Sounds like a cracking night out.

In the course of doing my looking up about all this, I came across this fascinating little document, which will one day form the core text of someone’s monograph on “Paranoia, Prejudice and PR-speak in the early 21st century: a study of the roots of authoritarian repression in a Dorset seaside resort.”

The opener sets out a number of commendable if laughably phrased objectives for the town’s “night time economy”, namely that Bournemouth’s nights be “inclusive, safe, exciting, market leading, sustainable and community owned”.

And yes, by George, you’ve got it, the first way in which they intend to do this is by banning the drinking of alcohol in public. This policy merits a jaunty tick in the “inclusive” box, so they must be using that special Middle England definition of inclusive which means “including the sort of people we like and excluding everybody else”.

It’s odd because, sneery and dismissive as I am (well, I don’t like to disappoint), so much else in the document is common sense and even interesting. They’re developing a night bus and a special under-18s club – and free chocolate handed out to clubbers (of all ages) as they leave is a policy that will always find favour with this colonel. And there is to be an increase in 4am licenced cafes “offering people a place to relax, eat and sober up at the end of a night out”. Fantastic idea.

So if they can see this makes sense, why can’t they see what is wrong with the blanket assumptions about “disorderly groups of youths”, and specifically, the idea that they shouldn’t be allowed to have a night out, even if they aren’t doing the faintest bit of harm to another soul?

That sort of pandering to prejudice will only encourage the less enlightened among the townsfolk who comment on the Bournemouth Echo website in these terms:

I went to the beach on Sunday and was shocked at the amount of people boozing. Do we really need to sit around necking cans of Stella in the sunshine? It made me feel embarrassed to be British. You wouldn’t get that in any other country. Surely it’s illegal to be drinking tins of beer on the beach. Why isn’t it enforced?

On a happier note, I did see a girl with some great cans.

I don’t normally get too excited about chauvinism in its many unlovely forms, because I take the view that, well, in 20 years time many of the worst offenders will be wormfood anyway. But this is just an irresistible contrast. It’s appalling if people consume a legally sold product in public without harming anybody else, and it should be banned solely on the basis that they “shouldn’t” want to do it. And yet it’s ok to make cringily awful comments like that which make even the laziest sub-feminist want to take a number four iron to the bollocks of the offender.

What kind of world, eh? Eh? Froth froth froth!

* This phrase now must be used in inverted commas. It is obligatory.

Don’t like a meme you’ve been handed? Then substitute another! Pass it on, boys, pass it on…

Millennium Elephant tagged us with this song meme during our relocation interregnum, and while we do, in general, listen to songs, we haven’t actually bought or listened to anything new for some time. This is partly on account of my having come to cling to Classic FM for sanity during my house move, and partly because I am, to be honest, rapidly turning into an old fart who thinks music stopped with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and the Arcade Fire. I won’t even be retro for another twenty years.

So instead, I’ve decided to adopt this meme, which I came across on One Hour Ahead while building my gargantuan and soon-to-be-unveiled blogroll. It’s a Livejournal meme but I’m sure they won’t mind if I nick it, so long as I say publicly how utterly wonderful I consider Livejournal to be. Going through it made me realise what a girlie I actually am. Three quarters of my favourite books from this list are about bittersweet nearly-missed-it love in one form or another. Dear, dear. And quite possibly, crumbs. Can anyone save me by pointing me towards the six books I haven’t read on here which might also stand a chance of becoming favourites?

In a further departure from meme normality, I haven’t tagged anybody. This is the ultimate liberal meme. Pick it up only if you want to, and if it doesn’t infringe your personal freedoms.

“The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed.
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you love.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or were forced to read at school and hated.
5) Reprint this list in your own blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve only read 6 and force books upon them

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 The Harry Potter Series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

And so there you have it. Slushy and badly read.

Because once I’ve popped, I can’t stop…

I am amused, as well as sicky-sick with disgust, to discover that Tory GLA member Brian Coleman has run up an £8,000 taxi bill over the year to March 2008. For why, because it was precisely halfway through that period that he penned this rather telling objectionable-old-Tory-plonker diatribe against my former home, the good old LB of Haringey:

The pre-1965 Borough of Hornsey, once a centre of suburban middle class respectability which was subsumed into ghastly Haringey is an area where decent folk lock their car doors as they drive through and has returned no Conservative Councillors whatsoever since 1998.

So that’s why he takes taxis everywhere. He’s scared. He continues to dissect his reasoning thus:

The combination of allowing huge Edwardian family houses to be converted into bed sits and the ‘white flight’ in the face of rising crime has meant that areas such as Streatham, Wembley and Willesden have changed beyond all recognition.

Yes, how very dare young professionals rent rat-holes at stratospheric rates from semi-legal landlords in order to keep their daily commute into their chosen slave-pit below the two-hour mark. It shouldn’t be allowed, I tell you. And how dare people be black, a demographic categorisation which is known to be associated with higher crime rates. Have they no shame?

When Sir John Betjeman made his famous documentary on ‘Metro-land’ no self-respecting Suburb was without a flourishing Rotary Club, Townswomen’s Guild, Cricket, Bowls and sundry other Sports Club.

They boasted a selection of Churches, a Tory MP and an active Local Amenity Society. Now with most women working, intense career pressures on the whole workforce, vast mortgages to pay and the changes in family life, most of the voluntary sector in Suburban London is in meltdown with endless organisations unable to get anyone to serve on their Committees.

This is a man with his finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary London, as all concerned whist-drive-goers will agree. I’d go so far as to say that this is the kind of big picture overview one could only derive from travelling everywhere in a taxi for a year.

After a long period of internal strife in the People’s Republic while we moved house, my revival to blogging is partly inspired by The Call from the party about renewing my membership subscription (“Are you enjoying being a member of the Lib Dems?” Yesyesyes, really, honest, I will blog, I will I will I will! Poor woman never knew what hit her. I felt so guilty I even paid the full recommended membership fee) and partly by a Citizen who has recently claimed, on my Facebook wall, that I am his only source of news, a state of affairs which, if true, induces in me the sort of chronic low-level panic I normally reserve for running late for long pre-booked train journeys.

So to celebrate, let’s relaunch the beleaguered People’s Republic with a champagne reception, a gourmet picnic, live cutting edge music, elegant surroundings and an altogether fabulous party!* Did you enjoy it? Right then, to business, and where better to start after a lay-off than a bit of Tory-bashing?

Make it happen (and if you’re going to click on that link, be ready for the springiness of the hair which will quickly fill your browser) is the handle of the relaunched Lib Dem tax policy With Bells On - as you will already know if you haven’t been living under a rock for the last week or if I’m not your only source of news.

There’s not much I can say about this welcome firming up of liberal principles that hasn’t already been said here and, hehehe, here. But I would add that, as a slogan, Make it happen forms an interesting counterpoint to the Tories’ You can get it if you really want it tagline. In both cases, the “it” is critical. “It” is a flexible word that fills the space in people’s heads marked “What I want/the world needs”. “It” is the common goal shared between catchphraser and catchphrasee. Whether they have the same common goal in reality is another matter – but it’s something the catchphrasee will generally have worked out from the accompanying policies and mood music.

The difference in mood music is, of course, that our tagline talks about what the world needs. It’s a call to action, an exhortation to create and/or better something. The Tories’ tagline appeals directly to individuals’ self-interest (it’s actually the tagline for their recruitment drive, I see. Figures.) As a piece of semantic positioning, this heartens me. You can get it if you really want it always did strike me as preternaturally ghastly, a 1980s Mazda advert throwback of a catchphrase, and our related idea is just well, light years more appealing unless you’re a self-caricaturing estate agent**.

But more than that, an appeal to self-interest is an increasingly nonsensical position for the Tories to take, given that they are on record last week as refusing to rule out tax rises, which is code for fully intending to send them through the roof. If you’re going to set out your stall to the nakedly self-interested, you should make sure you can satisfy their greed. What kind of self-respecting self-interested person doesn’t want to pay less tax? What is there left for people to get if they really want it?

Presumably, only the chance to lock up everybody under the age of 25. And their mums. Expect the Tories to continue majoring on the “You can force everyone you faintly disapprove of to starve in the gutter as a sort of sop to your self-respect as your employer goes down the tube, your living costs rocket and your house plummets in value if you really want to” message.

* Owing to insurmountable technical difficulties, guests are asked to provide their own champagne, gourmet food, music, company, ambience and venue. Dress formal.

** Not that all estate agents aren’t lovely and wonderful people, of course. Particularly those in Devon.

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