Tuesday, 17 December 2019

On the brink

So, that's that.

For people like me who didn't really buy the 'will of the people' schtick when a mere 37% of eligible voters who voted in 2016 to leave the EU, when that small minority of the population was woefully ill-informed about how we should leave, when we should leave, and how much say MPs should have in deciding the answers to those questions, it was a final throw of the dice.

I voted remain in 2016 but I've no great love for the bloated, over-bureaucratic and self-satisfied and self-serving EU. It's just that our economy's roots are too deeply entangled after forty years to free ourselves without doing untold damage. To our tree.

So I'd have been quite happy for Labour's plan to have another go at it, now we know the facts. It would have been awful. But it would have been informed.

I was also quite hoping in my own sweet and politically naive way that we might just get a result that did something - anything - for the millions suffering real, daily poverty. For the NHS. For schools. For all those things we need to be the nation we are.

But, of course, it was not to be.

I’ve been thinking a lot since Thursday night about this. I live in an area that voted overwhelmingly for Brexit in 2016, and that last week returned a Tory with an even bigger majority (it was already huge).

Why do the Turkeys keep voting for Christmas? Putting aside the obvious and overwhelming antipathy to Corbyn nationally, my constituency has historically, consistently and - in my view rather foolishly - returned a Tory forever. They’d have voted Tory even if God himself or the Pope or Kelvin and Oti had been standing.

Then there’s Brexit.

As well as rural poverty, a local hospital about to break under its many burdens and with key departments threatened with closure,  an almost complete lack of other public services, a shortage of housing, and a local (Tory) council (county and local) so cash-strapped and so crippled with inertia that they don't seem to be able even to acknowledge emails (sent by yours truly twice - the first time back in May!) there's the issue of getting GP appointments and accessing all the other services creaking under the crippling strain of a large migrant influx.

I can see why people voted to leave. What I can't understand, nearly four years on, is how they continue to believe that leaving the EU will solve anything.

Because the problems were there long before the migrants arrived: problems of underfunding, problems of micro-managing public sector workers to extinction, problems of a severe shortage of nurses, teachers, doctors and... money.

'Not my problem,' people seem to say. And they’re right. It isn’t. When you’re struggling to feed your own family how can you possibly put your mind to helping others? (Leave aside for a moment the fact that it’s precisely this kind of person who DOES most often help.)  How can you do x and y and z for you and yours and make a difference to someone else's life?

Which is where the politician comes in: of course you can’t, this message, runs. Of course it’s not your problem. It's the system. It's the migrants. It's the homeless. It's the poor. It's the sick. It's the thick. It's the disabled and the needy and the hungry and the lonely.

Just don't ask us who created a society which leads to all this.

Just vote for us and we'll sweep it all under the carpet/sweep them all away back to their own country/sweep them off the waiting lists/sweep them to the food banks/sweep them to the grave...

I don't know what the solution is. All I know is that I haven't much confidence in Brexit or Boris to solve it. Maybe Corbyn couldn't have done it either.

But someone needs to do something.


Before it's too late.

This poem comes from the collection 'Knick-Knack, Union Jack' by Nicholas Fitton, out now and available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2mpmqQl

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Radio Active

How ironic that the BBC should phone to ask me to contribute to a slot on BBC Radio Five Live about children... just when I have to pick said children up from school.

I used to be asked to do this kind of thing a lot. Back in the days of that rare breed the stay-at-home dad and his online manifestation as that even rarer breed the dad blogger (I was the only one once, can you believe it?) I was often phoned and asked to contribute in some way or other to discussions, debates, analyses and other such media jollies. Heck, I even got asked to go on telly!

It was a lot easier when the kids were younger. Easier, though not without its hazards. Both Charlie and his little sister have accompanied me live to local radio studios (for want of childcare) and been extremely well behaved, by and large. Ironically, it was while doing a FaceTime interview on BBC News that it all so nearly went pear-shaped, when Charlie - watching me on telly in the other room - got up excitedly to find me and tell me I was... on the telly. You know that viral video of the little kid being hustled out of the room by the au pair while a be-suited American gives an interview down the line? That was so nearly me, a home-grown version.

Now they're older it should get easier. But it doesn't. For a start, they're busy and that usually means I'm running from one activity to another or getting them fed before band or scouts or something similar. That's another reason I've been out-of-the loop media-wise for a while. But as it happens, my eldest daughter was around today and so I could skip the school run to do the School Running slot with Nihal Arthanayake on BBC Radio 5Live this afternoon.

You can have a listen if you like on BBC Sounds. It starts at 2:27.30 and includes, among other things, Billy Connolly,  bad grandparents, and fishing...

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Echo Hall, by Virginia Moffatt

Echo HallEcho Hall by Virginia Moffatt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

War destroys families and drives friends apart. But it doesn’t take a war to wreck lives, drive a wedge between husbands and wives and bring a premature end to any hope of happiness. And sometimes it’s not your enemies who inflict most harm, but those closer to home.

Echo Hall echoes with unhappiness, and though world events in the form of three wars account for most of it, the ultimate tragedy arises not from man’s universal inhumanity to man but the domestic bitterness that bubbles and flares and destroys individuals.

I must confess having taken a while to get into this book. I must also admit to skimming some of the epistolary passages which seemed to contain just a little too much detail for my need to get on with the story. But it was worth the effort, if only to realise the haunting symmetry of lives and loves across the generations.

‘Empires rise and empires fall’ as Moffatt says towards the end of the book. And Echo Hall sets the personal cycle of individual birth, life and death against a century of history, where even the empires that survive are utterly transformed.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Brexit means... what, exactly?

"They can't work it out... can you?"

That's the theory behind The Brexit Card Game, a kind of top trumps way of trying to make sense (or fun) of the ever-more-bizarre situation the UK seems to find itself in.

If you or your kids want to try and get to grips with the main players, compare status, deals, ideas, ideals then this game might be for you. Or even if you just want to have a bit of fun with something which, increasingly, is less and less amusing, then... again, this might be the card game for you.

Charlie's made a short film about it. Here you go...

Teacher frustrated by Brexit and youth apathy creates Brexit Card Game to encourage political engagement

Don’t know your Boris from your Barnier? Let The Brexit Game fill in the blanks!

'Top Trumps’ style card game aims to take the mystery out of Brexit - and help educate the next generation of Britain’s voters

Despite three years of wall-to-wall media coverage, many young people are still fairly clueless when it comes to Brexit. Now a teacher working at a school in the Isle ofSheppey has launched a new card game designed to help students learn more about the process - and understand both sides of the argument.

Like many people, Patch Fordham was frustrated by the way Brexit was playing out. He decided to take a light-hearted approach to teaching his sixth-form students about the UK’s bitter and protracted approach to leaving the European Union. He created a pack of playing cards featuring the leading protagonists - including Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel - and used them to get his class more engaged with the process.

The project was so successful, he decided to go one step further and manufacture hundreds of decks of cards to sell online.

The game follows the same principles as ‘Top Trumps’, with all the major Brexit players ranked on attributes such as Power, Fickleness and even Dancing Ability! There is also a ‘Brexit-ometer’ thatshows where each character sits on the Remain-Leave spectrum, as well as some fun facts and quotes.

After the success of the game’s first run, featuring 36 familiar faces on both the UK and EU sides of the debate, Patch is now in the process of designing additional editions that spread the Brexit net further. The new international pack features Pope Francis and Kim Jong Un, while the ‘Best of British?’ deck introduces players to a motley crew of UK MPs such as Dominic Cummings and Joe Swinson.

Although the game pokes fun at the divisive and complicated world of Brexit, it is also designed to educate - and Patch hopes people will use it to build their own knowledge further so they can develop more informed opinions and - ultimately - make better voting decisions in future elections.

“It’s been crazy,” Patch said. “I just wanted to find a fun way to teach the next generation of British voters about politics. My students were incredibly bored of me banging on about current affairs all the time, and pleaded with me to try and make Brexit more fun! It’s kind of snowballed from there, really. I’ve already got over 1000 followers on Instagram and been featured on BBC Radio Northampton!”

Before becoming a teacher, Patch worked at a refugee camp and a school for autistic children, and he is hoping that any proceeds he makes from the game will help him create an educational website designed to make teachers’ lives easier.

“I know The Brexit Game has a limited shelf life,” he added. “Hopefully it will be resolved soon and we can all get on with our lives! But, in the meantime, I hope the game will give people a few laughs and - who knows? - maybe even help them learn something along the way!

The Brexit Game is available on Amazon and from https://www.thebrexitgame.co.uk/
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