Monday, 4 August 2014

Another Bookshop gone

One of my favourite things in this world are books.  Old books, new books, fiction, non-fiction, comic, serious, classic books, Sci-fi books, fantasy books, intellectual books.... Sadly my wife prefers that I buy - Kindle books.

Reading has always been a big part of my life, it was my crutch as a child. I was fairly shy and I was always a fan of sitting down day dreaming with a good book. By the age of 11 I had read all the local libraries Doctor Who books and was working my way into the teenage section. In my late teens I put down the books and picked up the controller but with a regular commute I'm back to reading voraciously again.

One of my favourite, yet costly places to go are books shops and I have a couple of favourites and sadly one of them is now closing. Bargain books at Waterloo is in a perfect location for me. Whenever I have time to kill before a train I nip in and have a browse and have picked up some real bargains. Even when it is closed at 6am when I walk by there is always time to window shop.

Sadly today I read the signs that it was closing down - this makes me sad.

I will now have to rely on WHSmiths which sadly sells at a higher price and tends to be more populist. I don't want to buy from the top 25 of Non-fiction or Fiction, I don't want celebrity biography or some generalist history on World War One - I'd rather browse a topic section, smell the leaves, have that thrill of discovering just what I was looking for like the time I discovered a book on the Boer War that analysed the contribution of Kitchener and especially at the battle of Paardeberg (which is where my great, great Grandfather fought).

Sadly this is becoming far too common with smaller and broader book shops disappearing and being replaced with populist big companies. Waterstones isn't too bad for that but even then they will shrink their sections depending on supply and demand so I find a plethora of vacuous celebrity biography and books on TOWIE and nothing on philosophy and one set of shelves covering history from the Romans to the Victorians, three areas devoted to World War Two and a seven books on local history but a bloody great Costa in the middle of the store.

I will miss the Bargain book shop, more than a person should really but living in a town devoid of bookshops (seriously other than WHSmiths and a Works) there are no dedicated bookshops - I have to go to Chatham or even Rochester - bugger it I'll just look on Amazon (which as good as it is lacks that book buying experience, it is too easy!).

Thursday, 17 July 2014

How I met Your Mother finale review

I’ve just watched the final episode of season 9 of the Hit US sitcom How I met your mother which, if you haven’t seen it is the story of how Ted meets the mother of his children and the love of his life.

Need I say *Spoiler alert* ahoy?

The series has taken up the mantle left by Friends and matched the same dynamic of a group of friends from mixed backgrounds in their late 20s living in a flat in New York and frequenting a bar – with a sly nod to Friends by having them hang out in a coffee shop once and hating it.

The characters are all linked to Ted, who is also the narrator and the central axis of the story with his search for love. It also swept me up in the story as it showed a guy, about my age with the same problems as I have. The whole growing up and making adult decisions, moving out of the 20s into the 30s and leaving his old life behind him in kind of a right of passage from youth to adult to father and husband.

Like Friends it has had a really decent run, it had nine seasons and around two hundred episodes covering a vast array of subjects, encounters and growth of all the characters. There are mountains of cultural references, in gags, great human quality and drama despite the comedy. It was after all, a story about love, life and friendships across the years.

So season 9, the final season, has just finished and I am left with serious mixed emotions. Firstly, as a season I’ve been quite disappointed. The overall story arc was about Barney and Robin’s wedding but with the other leading edge that Ted was going to meet the unnamed mother and fall in love. Sadly it dragged. There were so many complications with the wedding and the other characters (like Lily and Marshall’s planned move to Italy vs. his being given a Judgeship in New York state, Ted still having feelings for Robin and finally letting her go, Barney finally putting his commitment issues down etc…).

Although the episodes were mostly good, it felt like they were stalling the main plot and to quote my wife at the end of most of them;
Hurry up and get married for Pete’s sake!
There were lots of references to the Mother, and she meets all of the others and helps them in one way or another, even convincing Robin to go back and marry Barney. With only two episodes to go we were still on the edge of our seats. Marshall and Lily were expecting baby number 3 and decided to go to Italy, Barney and Robin were married and Ted was due to meet the mother by the next episode. Other lose ends were also tied up, even little ones like what was Blah-Blah’s real name? How did Scooter get over Lily? What the hell was Barney’s job? (Please…)

The last two episodes seemed to rush things as they passed the meeting and passed into the future with Ted and (the still unnamed) mother having their two children, Lily and Marshall having their third and his return to corperate law and the devastating news the Robin and Barney have divorced as they couldn’t make things work. We were left with Robin leaving the group of friends as she no longer had any thing in common and that being around Barney was too painful.

So, the finale.

We begin to tie up even more threads. Barney becomes a father after one of his One night stands finally backfires – a truly moving moment when he holds the baby girl for the first time and tells her how much he will love her forever and you finally see him grow up. It was something that struck accord with me as I remembered holding Sophie in my arms for the first time and the feeling that evoked and that deep down I changed as I’m sure we all do the moment we become parents.

 Marshall becomes a judge and out of the job he despises and Ted and (the still unnamed mother) get married on a day that Robin comes back to be with her best friend’s big day, a day that many didn’t think was coming. We see Ted talking of his love for the girl, who we finally find out is called Tracy(!!!!)  and all the times he looked back fondly on their life together, through the highs, lows, the petty arguments and when she got sick and died.

Yes, she died.

The scene dissolves back to his study where he has been narrating the story to his children over the last nine years and telling them about his life and they tell him if they want their permission to ask out Aunt Robin that’s ok. It ends with him standing outside her house holding the iconic blue French horn, a symbol of their love (he stole it for her on their first date back in the pilot!).

Part of me was overly gratified that the subtext for the first four/five seasons of on/off romance and affection (in true Ross/Rachel style) was gratified. Even the other great love of his life (and the girl I’d been rooting for), Victoria had said at the end beginning of season 8 that Ted had to chose between her and Robin’s friendship (reminds me of Emily’s ultimatum in Season 4(?) of Friends…). The show had prided itself that all those who had predicted Ted and Robin would get together were wrong and just when we had accepted it all they fired off that last twist in the last five minutes.

As a romantic and someone who has read a lot of love, the human experience and even walked in the footsteps of Ted at more than one point in my life, I will admit that I cried a little when I re-watched it on E4+1 whilst writing this review.

Then again, the teenage daughter makes the valid point that the whole story barely doesn’t have the mother in it – I mean I can understand the first 8 seasons as it is all about growth and life and hints being dropped about the mother (sorry Tracy) as well as his romantic encounters including being ditched at the altar (by Stella played by Sarah Chalke), the great love that was Victoria (Ashley Williams), the turbulence of Zoe and Jenette… But Season 9 barely has her in it as well and this was meant to be the season they met and fell in love, so in a way – I’m not surprised and a little let down. They have gone to the standard sitcom cliché of he’ll get with her, she’ll be with him and he’ll marry out of the group etc…

Don’t get me wrong it is something that if I ever get a free 100 hours to rewatch the series I’ll be watching it from another viewpoint and nodding along with that smug I know what happens look like the second time I watched Sixth sense, but part of me will always be disappointed a little by the ending and feel eminently sorry for Tracy who has been killed off without chance to be developed fully and is a virtual unknown.

It has been a fantastic series, one that never lost its way like Friends, never changed its basic make up and chemistry like Big Bang Theory and did not over run by too much like Frasier. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and if you have never seen it – dude, you need to watch this sitcom! – I am just in a state of shell shock at the ending and a little disappointed but then again, when there is ever an ending to a series that isn’t your ideal, won't you always be?


Saturday, 12 July 2014

Nick Clegg's gift to the party at Christmas?

As I write this I feel very disloyal, like a Benidict Arnold or a William Joyce. I think the time is coming for Nick Clegg to stand down as leader.

I should quickly state that I think he has done an amazing job as leader and raised the profile of the party a million times higher than it has been since the end of the First World War. He has led us into Government and has got many of our pledges from our manifesto straight into the law. Income tax level has been raised, pupil premium, tripple lock pensions protecting them, we've postponed Trident, helped keep the cuts humane(ish) and improved the amount of apprenticships just to name a few.

We are no longer a party of the shadows, the discontents, the weirdy beardy party... The guys with the "Give a quiche a chance" t'shirts. We are a serious party that has achieved and deserves support and our activists are out there trying to drum up support and getting it.

The problem is Nick and this is the hardest thing for me to write.

People on the doorstep are not ennamered with Nick. Ultimatly he could come up with the cure for cancer and bring World peace and the Tories would claim it was their move and Nick would still be criticised for the Tuition fees fiasco.

He is still hated for jumping into bed with the Tories and bringing them into power - even though Labour had really messed up the country and change was 4000% needed in 2010. He is blamed for the cuts (not George Osbourne or David Cameron strangely) and for pathologically lying (Which he didn't do). No amount of;

Yeah but we've done this...

is going to help and good, ney excellent candidates are likely to be left behind and a lesser or worse, UKIP, candidate will get in.

I was listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack (Yeah, I know - how awesome am I?) and was thinking about King Theoden of Rohan's comment of "It was not Theoden of Rohan who led our people to victory."

I got to thinking about the party as the kingdom of Rohan and Clegg as Theoden. Theoden was a good king during peace time and in the past wars, he was revered by all but then he fell under the spell of the evil wizard and let the kingdom fall into disarray and had to be saved by a better leader.

Our party is famous for its massive self destruction in 1916 that took almost a century to rectify and has had so many splits and factions in the past we cannot afford for it to happen again as this time it may be fatal.

As much as it pains me to say, Nick needs to step down around Christmas as part of a structured leadership move to allow the new person to get their feet under the table and begin fighting for May 2015. It would give enough time for the party to establish them and the new manifesto as well as have us standing up in Parliament.

I know mine is but one voice in a party of many and that there are those who are more voriferous in their attacks on Nick or in their defence of his position. Ultimatly I think it will come down to a motion at conference, I just think it wouod be better that Nick stood down rather than suffered the humiliation of a rebellion and ousting.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

They cut down my God Damned tree!!!!!

I am royally vexed - Well no, I'm pretty Pissed off actually.

To set the scene, my next door neighbour is attempting to sell her house and there are several aesthetic things that we can help with. As she has no back gate to her property she asked if some workmen who were going to clear her garden could go through our back gate and over her wall. She also asked if we would go halves on repairing the wall between our two properties.  Both of which we agreed to.

A couple of years ago a small tree began growing against the wall and was damaged by one of their kids but it grew and had reached six and a half foot tall and had elderberries ripening. We had
trimmed it recently but pretty much left it as was.

I should say now - we have had no complaints about the tree - and I spoke to next door just last week about unlocking the gate.

I went out for an hour earlier with the family for a walk when I got back from work. When we came out of the shop across the road I saw next door in her front garden cutting something up but didn't see what as I was attempting to get the kids across a busy  road.

When we got into the front garden I noticed she had hurried indoors and no wonder because my tree
was laying across my front garden in several pieces having been cut- the-F**K-down.
It is not so much that the tree has come down as it was an annoyance to my wife and if the wall was going to be rebuilt it was clearly in the way.

What has royally ticked me off is the fact that the tree was on MY property and was cut down with out discussion or permission and what really rubbed the salt in the wound is that the fact I had to go and clear up the God forsaken mess. It was like someone had shot my dog and expected me to bury it.

I was quite attached to that tree as the only patch of real greenery in our front garden, especially as the conifer I bought a few years ago was robbed from outside my front door!

I wouldn't mind but over the last five years my neighbours have royally taken the mick out of me - The kids have thrown all manner of beer bottles, fag ends and rubbish into my back and front gardens and I have complained a total of 0 times. When our other neighbours moved in on the other side they dumped all manner of shit in my overgrown back garden and still I've said nothing.

Well this time I went round, knocked - no reply. My wife told me to let it go, nothing would bring the tree back (and besides she hated it anyway). I know the law is on my side but what's the point in going to a civil court over it?

Instead I have taken a couple of punitive measures. My back gate is now sealed tight, no bugger is opening it and if I catch someone in my garden, so help me God!
Second, I am pretty certain that the dividing wall is her wall so if it she wants it rebuilt/repaired I won't be footing a penny. If it is my wall then I'm happy with it's tumbledown rustic look and will not be paying for it...

Sorry - I am just so angry and I needed to vent. Can anyone suggest what I can do about it or should I just lay back and take this as well?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Labour's Youth tax

Today has been a day of mild confusion for me. I've read the link so kindly given to me by Medway Labour with Ed's announcement of the removal of jobs seeker's allowance for under 21s. It says a lot but also not much.

I agree that the benefit system is bloated and needs redress. I know that the budget is shafted and there are cuts that have gone the wrong way such as the cuts to the Coastguard. I also agree that we need to get people out of the benefit trap.

There is, however some serious issues with Labour's new policy. Overall unemployment is down (last I checked) and the overall number of Apprenticeships are up with Coalition policies to encourage large companies to take on people. However there is, naturally, a saturation point where no more can be taken on.

I take the point that we can't all be astronauts and that sitting on the dole waiting or the England call up or for Simon Cowell to snap them up and actually getting off your arse and working and there should be incentives.

My concerns are that not everyone will be able to get into this training. As I said earlier, there is a saturation point and ultimately if we train say 500,000 electricians a year - where are they going to go? People are working later in life to top up their near worthless pensions. This means posts are not opening up as much. Trade jobs such as Electricians, plumbers, carpenters also require a building projects and housing projects, something that is very slow to get off the ground especially with Councils not willing to invest in a lot of regeneration projects of the dire urban centres. The same is true for so many other careers, the Labour motion is trusting that the job market will be able to support all of these apprenticeships and training and that they will have job spaces for the qualified at the end of it. Seems like an awful gamble with our young's lives. This isn't the late 1930s where the population was small enough and an economy that could support growth and workers in factories. Even then my grandfather was forced to become an apprentice and into the army by his father and he always resented the choice being thrust on him. 

I fear as well that with such a large workforce the employers can be "competitive" with their wages i.e. pay them less. If ten people with similar qualifications apply for the same job you hire the one who will work for less. It is good business. 

It also makes me wonder about the fate of older workers in society. In a perfect world no one is ageist and that you get a job on your merits. In reality though employers make business decisions and are more likely to hire a you g back rather than an older applicant who may have family commitments.

It seems to me, as an observer, that between the major parties, things have got really rough for the young. The Coalition took away the education fund, tripled tuition fees to screw up further education, successive governments have made it harder and harder to get a house so now they're stuck living with their parents and now we're taking away the safety net of job seekers allowance and forcing them to pick a trade.

It would be better to put the money into the education system to support A'levels or towards Further education rather than bribing people into a career and life choice or find yourself cut off by the state.

It is just so illiberal, ill thought out and patronising that... I just can't get behind it.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Removing Foreign influences from Schools is bad

I am greatly concerned by the rumours that are flying around (I've not been able to watch the news or read a paper today or this weekend as my kids make me watch Tangled and Frozen AGAIN...) about Michael Gove's plans to remove non-British subject matter and books from our schools.

Where I work we have a video on loop of a Minister stating that his party had removed all the foreign influences on the Country's Culture. Sadly this Minister was Reichsminister Josef Goebbels and his speech ran something like this:

We have a German theatre, a German Press, German Music and German Arts. Those who said that we could not remove the Jews from our culture have been proven spectacularly wrong.

OK - this is a pretty extreme example.

However just by thinking about this and tweeting earlier I realised how much could be denied to our children.

How many of these books would be banned?
No Four Musketeers, Count of Monte Cristo Goethe, Schiller, Mozart, Beethoven, Washington Irving (who I think is a genius!), Schubart, Bach, Schuman, Saint Saens Carnival of the animals, Catcher in the Rye, To kill a Mockingbird, Dostoyevsky, Pasternak, Les Miserables, Haiku Poems, Marx and Engles....

World War One studies will only have the poetry of Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and not include the classic that is "All quiet on the Western front" by the German author/soldier Remarque.

We cannot just remove a whole swathe of ideas and literature, the opportunity to expand young minds literally and musically just because the writer or composer's are not British. It is madness, like putting on the blinkers! Young people should learn who they enjoy culturally and given choice rather than being railroaded into just Dickens and Shakespeare.

The subject of history will be decimated as we concentrate entirely on Britain and her achievements. I studied world history starting at school with the slave trade and its impact on European and American history, economy and society. I went on to study Russia 1900-90, Japanese Middle ages and Modern history as well as the Renaissance across Europe in the 15th and 16th century - a period in which England was nothing but a sleepy backwater compared to the courts of Florence and Paris.

Britain has not experienced revolution, not in the same way as France and Russia and even Germany! Its history can be very rich, it can also be very dull - has anyone read history from 1815-51? I really struggled and I was interested! History is a multi-faceted subject with other nations having an input in British actions. Take the Boer War - Germany was actively politicking and supporting the Boer to cause trouble with Britain. Half if not more of Britain's policies were influenced by France.

The British Monarchy and its genealogy has been foreign for centuries and their interactions with their families abroad have started and ended many wars over the centuries. Victoria was half German, she married a German and she was Grandmother to the Kaiser. King George I didn't speak English, and George II only grudgingly. William III was a Dutchman, Mary Queen of Scots was French... Are they to be culled?

I agree that there are many aspects of British Culture that have been forgotten like Robin Hood, Mallory's King Arthur, Lord of the Flies, Poetry by Yeats, Byron, Shelley and history like the Boer War that has long been forgotten that maybe should appear in school but not at the expense of cleansing "foreign" influences like this.

Half of growing up is discovering what you like, opening up your mind and reading around be it in English, History or even musically. Let us not stifle our young from the beginning and leave them thinking that British is the only way.

Guess that is one more thing I will have to be teaching my kids outside of school. They will read whatever they want and be taught about foreign politics, history and geography by us.

To quote a great writer (can't remember if it was Burke or Heinrich Hahn) - Where once you burn books you will soon burn people.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

My retirement from Politics

I have arrived at a very sad but easy decision.
Baby #3 from 12 week scan
As of September I will cease to be an active member of the Liberal Democrat party and the unofficial Go-To Medway LibDem guy.

Before people start braying about the collapse of the party or a lack of my commitment I have two words.... Pulmonary Atresia

A few weeks ago Sam (my wife) and I went for the twelve week scan of our third (and final) child expecting they would be as healthy as Sophie and Ollie. 

Sadly we were wrong. There was a complication and we were referred to Kings hospital.

They have a condition called Pulmonary Atresia. The right side of the heart that pumps to the lungs is either missing (aorta) or detrimentally too small (ventricle), also the vital Pulmonary artery is blocked and too small to carry blood to the lungs.

The outlook was not good. There is extensive surgery to re-plumb the heart and lungs which can have renal and digestive side effects, physical disability and curtailed life expectancy. 

After two weeks of trying to decide whether to give the child a go or to be cruel to be kind and end it now we went back for another scan.

Nothing had changed but we were told the surgery was actually fairly routine and a curtailed life expectancy actually meant Early adulthood.

Neither of us, despite being pro-choice could bring ourselves to terminate and we felt that it was better to let fate decide and give the baby a shot at life and see what happens.

The baby is due in October and must be born in London where it will be rushed to intensive care and if strong enough be operated on a few days later with a follow up four months later.

The next year will be hard on my wife, my other two kids (especially on Sophie) and the baby. I will do what I've always done and knuckle under and put them first. Baby's health is never going to be great and depending on blood vessel development in the lungs and the success of the operations mean that I will need to dedicate a lot of time to them.

My time is going to be exceptionally valuable and I'm making sacrifices and sadly being an active member of the party is one of them. I feel guilty as next year is going to be vital for the Medway branch but family must and always will come first.

I'll still be blogging on my history blog from time to time (I'm not dead after all!) but this blog will be indefinitely suspended from September onwards I'm afraid.
I'm sad to let it go and may post on a very rare basis. This has been a big part of my life since 2010 and want to thank you all for reading.