Saturday, 24 January 2015

Kenwood Smoothie 2GO SB055 Review

How's the New Year's resolution going. You know, the one about healthy eating? Oh dear...

What you need is... Well, at the risk of sounding like Arkwright or even Granville in (Still) Open All Hours, let's cut to the chase. Eating (and drinking) well is great, but time-consuming. Which is where kitchen gadgets like this - the Kenwood Smoothie 2Go - come in.

We were sent one to try by House of Fraser Electricals, and here's how we got on.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely! As you can see, it's child's play.

Just don't let the children do the chopping!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Democracy Day

Yes, 750 years ago today a French-born military dictator and hostage-taker (King Henry and his son) summonded what is being called the first English Parliament.

Parliament, there's a French word, coming as it does from the verb parlez - to talk - and boy, do they! 
And while we're on the subject, The House of Commons (which is what we're really celebrating today - as Simon de Montfort took the radical step of inviting local worthies as well as Barons and Bishops to parley 750 years ago) wasn't 'common' at all. You wouldn't find any ordinary men (still less, women). But then the term 'commons' doesn't mean common at all but comes from the French (oui) communes, meaning the place where people from the shires came to parley.

I'll get my anorak.

But before I do, and before we all pat ourselves on the back in a typically self-congratulatory manner, here are a few more facts about our English so-called democracy:

1. It costs a fortune.
In spite of the fact that as few as 15% of voters bother, local councillors can claim in excess of £20,000 per annum and qualify for a pension. And for what? No doubt there exist some dynamic, dedicated and effective local authorities out there but I've yet to come across them. And I've experienced a few. In most cases they seem dominated by self-interest, inertia and incompetence. Did I ever tell you how many years I and many others had been pressing our council for parking permits? 

2. It's a merry-go-round.
Ok, that's party politics rather than democracy. But if you want an example of the 'all change' every few years philosophy of Westminster, just take a look at education. Changes in the last ten years alone include: a reformed national curriculum (2009) followed by a new national curriculum (2015); sweeping changes to GCSEs (almost annually); Free Schools; Academies; a National Qualification for Head Teachers followed by the abolition of the National Qualification for Head Teachers. I could go on. But it's too depressing. 

3. Local, schmocal

Of course, party political meddling isn't just confined to Westminster. Local councils have their share of the yah-boo-sucks if they want it, we don't (in spite of what might be best). Our local council had a party that, a few years ago, really got to grips with traffic problems in the town. (Any surprise that they were Independent?) But once the Tories gained control, what happened? 

4. There's too much

You can have too much of a good thing. And I'm convinced we've got too many elected representatives drawing fat expenses cheques (see above). And the problem with electing councils, or parliaments, or talking-shops of any kind is that issues get lost, either because they're too complicated or because our representatives don't think it's sexy enough for them to represent us. Do you know how many MPs voted in a debate last year on autism? 11. Eleven. Out pf 650. 

5. It's inefficient.

I'm not saying no democracy, oh no. I'm just saying, less democracy. More ain't always better, fewer elected representatives who can be more easily held accountable and swiftly removed should they get ideas above their station.

Because, in the end, it's the parley that's wrong with Parliament. Too much talking, not enough thinking. Too many debate talked out of time for obscure party reasons; too many votes and speeches made solely by virtue of having (or wanting) to tow the party line. And too little speaking us for us, the people that put the politicians there. 

That is, if we voted. 

But as his country's great wartime Prime Minister once said, The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter...

In which case - why bother?

Friday, 16 January 2015

Should teacher Stuart Kerner have been spared jail?

What do you think of the 44-year old teacher and his 16 year-old... well, what exactly? Victim? Prey?  Stalker? Lover?

If you haven't heard this news story you can read about it here. Basically, a 44 year old man (Stuart Kerner) was spared jail this week despite being found guilty of having sex with the girl, who was a pupil at the school at which he was vice-principal.

The girl was over the age of consent; the sexual activity was thus consensual in every sense of the word. Indeed, according to the judge, she did more than willingly submit. But Kerner was her teacher or a teacher at her school and therefore in a position of trust. And that made what he did a criminal offence.

Almost every secondary teacher of a similar age will know someone like Stuart Kerner. And men - for it is largely male teachers - will often read such cases with a sigh and whisper there-but-for-grace of God go I. It's an occupational hazard.

I can vividly recall an occasion when God's grace was nearly not so bountiful. A girl, fifteen at the time, took to hanging around outside my classroom, found out where I lived and began following me in the street. Nothing came of it. She grew tired, I suppose, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

But there were others - colleagues, friends - for whom it was different. Some of them no doubt wake in the night terrified that one day there will be knock on the door and a warrant for their arrest. There were - and as Kerner shows, still are - some awful abuses of power even if nothing technically illegal (at the time) ever happened.

But in other cases some of these men have marriages and families to show for the mutual love and trust they shared with girls they once taught. Back in the eighties, and before the law added abuse of trust to the charge sheet, teachers did sometimes fall in love with their pupils. Not often, maybe. And not openly. But they did, and such relationships didn't all end in tragedy.

Today, such men would be charged, tried and possibly jailed. Or at the very least, like Kermer, given a suspended sentence and placed on the Sex Offenders register for life together with a life ban from working with children. And in most cases this is an entirely appropriate response. But maybe not all.

There was a tremendous backlash after the sentence was passed. The judge is herself now under investigation for her summing up. It may be a mistake to say (as she did) that the girl as good as 'groomed' the teacher. And although the Attorney General yesterday rejected the call for a review of the sentence - on the rather curious grounds that the offence 'wasn't covered by the unduly lenient sentence scheme' - there are today moves afoot to change that ruling.

Let's be clear about this. A suspended sentence doesn't mean Kerner won't go to prison. Just that he won't provided he does nothing - nothing - to bring him to the attention of the police for the next eighteen months. And he's not 'got away' with anything, in losing career, respect, and possibly his family. And this attempt to shed light on the debate is emphatically not about blaming the victim or excusing criminal behaviour. But crimes are often complex collisions of human passions and demand an individual response and the consideration of unique circumstances - something that appears to be more difficult thanks to knee jerk headline grabbing reactions to what the press more often regard as lenient sentences.

I've this week finished Richard Cole's highly entertaining (not to say eyebrow-raising) autobiography, Fathomless Riches, or How I Went from Pop to Pulpit. Coles descriptions of himself reveal someone more vulnerable and at risk in his twenties and thirties than a great many sixteen year olds are. And what of Stephen Fry and his thirty-year-junior lover and fiancé.

Age, and age-gaps, aren't as obviously important as we assume. The age of consent in sixteen. For the next two years the law further protects girls (and boys) from the predatory advances of those in positions of authority over them.

But not all advances are predatory; not all young people need such protection. And a fair number of those who are older and should know better, might. Before we all jump to conclusions we need to step back and consider things clearly, calmly and with the facts of the matter - the individual matter - before us.

Which is what Judge Joanna Greenberg QC did.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Happy Birthday Ladybird!

It's Happy 100th Birthday, Ladybird! Yes, the iconic children's books are exactly 100 years old today and if, like me, you grew up with these lovely little volumes then that fact can't fail to fill you with a warm glow of nostalgia.

Who can forget Peter and Jane? Personally, the non-fiction titles (Exploring Space; How it works... Television; The Road Makers) were my favourites while my sister went for classic tales re-told: Rapunzel, The Elves and the Shoemaker and The Gingerbread Boy.

Thankfully, my own children still read them: there's a sizeable collection still at Grandma's to add to the ones I seem to have incorporated into my own library over the years. Charlie, when we're away, has a habit of choosing 'Tootles the Taxi' whilst Eloise, I'm pleased to say, is in Disney cold-turkey with a penchant for the aforementioned Rapunzel. Not a tangled hair in sight!

I'm delighted the little gems are still glistening; the simple appeal is timeless even if, at times, the text isn't quite as politically-correct as we'd now expect. And over the years they've inspired their fair share of parody titles. I'm not sure there ever was a Ladybird Book of Hallucinogenic Drugs...

Still less, a Let's Make Bombs...

I rather like the idea of a Ladybird Book of Breasts, though, as well as a Book of Superfluous Facial Hair.

But when all's said and done, the best titles were always above parody anyway. Some years ago my (eldest) daughter bought me a fabulous Ladybird mug complete with an example of the iconic Ladybird art and an extract which purported to be from the Ladybird Book of Cricket.

And until recently, I thought that was parody too. But no, it's there in the original - a time-capsule memory of a moment when such things actually happened. Or if they didn't, when they ought to have done.

Happy Birthday Ladybird!

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