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Thursday, 12 October 2017

Winging It

For as long as he could remember, Paul had wanted to travel; to see new sights, to push boundaries, to explore. Don’t get me wrong, he loved his family, he liked his home, but he couldn’t help but feel there was so much more to see out there, far away across the ocean. Life can get a bit repetitive for an Adélie penguin. Waddling down to the water, having a quick snack of krill, waddling back up onto the ice floe. Day in, day out. The same routine. No surprises, no drama, no excitement.

Sometimes, at night, while his friends and family were huddled together for warmth, he’d make his way up to the higher ground, and stare at the moon and Southern lights. Occasionally, he’d see shooting stars arcing silently across the sky, and he would look down at his short, stubby wings, and flap them about a bit. “If only I could fly” he thought “the things I could see, the places I could go”.

Every now and then, the colony would get a visit from humans. Dressed head to toe in survival gear, they’d spend the day mooching around, writing things on their clipboards and taking pictures of the more photogenic penguins. The rest of the Adélies didn’t take much notice, but Paul was fascinated. He watched them closely, he studied their movements. “This is my ticket out of here” he thought. “Humans aren’t really that good at anything. They don’t have wings, they can’t swim well, they can’t even breathe underwater. Yet they’ve managed to explore the furthest reaches of our world. If humans can do it, why not me?”

So, one day, while the scientists were distracted by some science, Paul sneaked into a backpack and found himself being carried towards the ‘Aurora’, the Australian Antarctic Research Vessel. He’d spent ages preparing for this moment, learning to read from discarded notepads, perfecting his Australian accent from listening to the scientists. Now was his time to shine.

He planned to hide on the ship until they were far enough out to sea that the humans wouldn’t be tempted to turn around. A day later, Cape Adare had disappeared below the horizon and they were crunching through the pack ice in the Ross Sea. Paul decided this was the time to make his move. As a deckhand was passing by, he leapt from the backpack and shouted “G’day mate – nice ship you’ve got here” (He thought it was a good ice-breaker.)

Paul wasn’t expecting such an extreme reaction. He hadn’t realised how much of a stir the unexpected arrival of a talking penguin would have on the ship’s crew. Instead of polite conversation or witty banter, there was a reasonable amount of screaming and shouting, lasting several minutes. Eventually, after Paul had explained at length his plans to the Captain, he was granted safe passage. Unlike the team of scientists, the Captain had long realised that it’s best not to be curious. If a talking penguin asks for a lift to Hobart, well, if he’s not doing any harm, give a talking penguin a lift to Hobart. Don’t get too involved. It’s just a few years until retirement.

In the week it took to steam to Australia, Paul finalised his plans. He would get his pilot’s license and set up the first airline to take flightless non-migratory birds on holiday. He was on a mission. “Why not help these birds who, through no fault of their own, can’t fly” he thought “It’s not fair. If humans can’t swim, they take a boat. If they can’t fly they take a plane. If they can’t run very far or very fast, they take a car. It should be the same for animals. I’ll make it that way” .

It was hard going. To pay for his pilot’s course he took odd jobs, working on fishing boats, giving swimming lessons to kids, and occasionally going on talk shows (he’d become a bit of a celebrity locally). Although he found working the controls difficult with his small size and lack of opposable thumbs, there’s no problem that clever use of wooden blocks, tape and string cannot solve. And a year later, there he stood, license in hand, in front of his very own plane. He wanted to give his airline a distinctive name. One that said, “This is MY airline, and it’s GREAT”. So he settled on “My Great Airways”. It seemed right somehow.

And for the next few months, everything went well. He’d pick up Ostriches from Sub-Saharan Africa, Emus from Australia, Rheas from South America, Kiwis from New Zealand, Cassowaries from New Guinea, Penguins from Antarctica, Chickens from Britain, and Turkeys from Turkey. He’d take the birds from hot countries somewhere cooler for their holidays, and birds from cold countries somewhere nice and warm for their break. Word of his new business spread quickly. The birds couldn’t stop Tweeting about it. He got corporate sponsorship and ran the airline as a public service. He only took flightless birds and didn’t ask them to pay (although he once charged a lazy duck who didn’t want to fly himself. He told Paul to put it on his bill).

But after a while he started to get complaints. There were burnt penguins, baking in the African Sun, turning black and red. There were frostbitten ostriches, sliding down Antarctic ice floes with icicles hanging from their long necks. “Just take us home please Paul” they begged “We don’t like it here”. “It’s too hot” called the kiwis. “It’s too cold” boomed the emus. “We’re scared of flying” clucked the chickens. “I want a refund” quacked the lazy duck.

And Paul realised not everyone has the same sense of adventure that he does. There’s something comforting about the familiar, the routine, the everyday. There’s something refreshing about the expected. Not everyone wants to be a trend-setter, a boundary-pusher.  Some animals want a quiet life. Sure, history will remember the first Kangaroo to try bouncing the first human on the Moon, the first cat to play the piano. But that life is not for everyone. Although some of the animals didn’t like their trip, it gave them a new sense of appreciation for what they had. And it didn’t stop them trying, in their own way, to make things just a bit better back home.

Paul hasn’t lost his sense of adventure. He still flies, but he’s a commercial airline pilot now. Maybe you’ve flown with him? If you hear a pilot with a strong Australian accent and see fresh mackerel being delivered to the cockpit, have a look. You never know.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Special Care

Special Care

Sam do you remember
all your time in Special Care?
Would you recognise the voices
of the nurses working there?

Would you recognise a photo
from your first night in that place
a tiny mass of wires
in a huge clear plastic case?

Do you have a distant memory
of that frantic afternoon
when you put in an appearance
nearly fourteen weeks too soon?

And Sam do you remember
when I came to visit you? 
Your proud but frightened sister
I just didn’t have a clue.

“When will his eyes be open?”
and “What’s that beeping noise?”
“When will my baby brother
get to play with baby toys?”

Sam, you won’t remember
how I thought I was to blame
when Mum and Dad were crying
while deciding on your name.

They answered all my questions
but they had some of their own
When would they get to hold you?
Would they ever get you home?

When times were tough they thought 
of all the love they had to give
and all the details of a life
that you might never get to live.

So, Sam can you imagine
that now two years from your birth
you‘ve taught us just how fragile
are our precious lives on Earth?


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Memory Foam

Memory Foam

Paler patches where pictures used to hang,
compacted carpet, footprints slowly fade.
Silence fills the rooms where once she'd sang
and weeds reclaim the grass on which kids played.

The mattress on the bed is memory foam
- he hopes that it will still retain her form;
but bricks and wood no longer make a home
- this house will never get to be so warm.

So here he is, he's lying on his side
with arms outstretched across the empty space
- he never thought the bed could feel so wide
without the promise of her love's embrace.

With life so short, our time ticks by so fast
- how long can our impressions truly last


Thursday, 11 May 2017

Claims

*POLITICAL RANT KLAXON*

So, we heard today that the Crown Prosecution Service won't pursue cases against Conservative MPs accused of electoral fraud. The "accounting errors" were made by Tory HQ not individual candidates or their election agents. It's the electoral fraud equivalent of letting off two shoplifters who claimed they both thought the other one paid. 

There's a fair amount of anger about it, but I think getting them on this would be like when they got Al Capone on Tax Evasion charges. I'd argue the dishonesty of these "accounting errors" pale into insignificance compared to the dishonesty of their campaign in general. Is claiming election funding was national as opposed to local as serious as any of their other false claims?

Claiming to represent working Britain when only the rich are getting richer (1,2) 

Claiming to represent the interests of the UK while incompetently wrecking them for short term political gain (3)

Claiming to be stable, but effectively saying while politicians can change their minds, voters can't (May was Remain, previously ruled out election)

Claiming to be strong but avoiding debate during an election they themselves called, not allowing proper scrutiny of their policies.

Claiming to be strong but not standing up to big business (4)

Claiming to be the party of the NHS but deliberately choosing to underfund and understaff it (5)

Claiming to be the party of job creation, whilst doing nothing about reducing job security, zero hours contracts and fake self-employment (6)

Claiming to be "Compassionate Conservatives" whilst sanctioning the disabled, demonising benefits claimants and introducing the "rape clause" (7)

Claiming they can be trusted to run the country at a time when the Red Cross declared an Humanitarian crisis in the NHS (8) and the UN declared Tory austerity policies to be in breach of human rights obligations (9)

Claiming to support children but eliminating targets to reduce child poverty (10) and scrapping plans to allow refuge to unaccompanied children fleeing war zones (11)

So, yeah, they've not been prosecuted. But they're not innocent. Not on this, or any of the counts above. But voters can weigh up the evidence and deliver the verdict in June.

1. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/may/07/brexit-boom-creates-record-number-of-uk-billionaires-sunday-times-rich-list 
2.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britains-divided-decade-the-rich-are-64-richer-than-before-the-recession-while-the-poor-are-57-10097038.html
3.
http://descrier.co.uk/politics/opportunism-selfishness-theresa-may-called-early-general-election/
4.
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/04/tories-say-one-thing-and-do-another-tax-avoidance
5.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-nhs-theresa-may-lying-10-billion-a7702456.html
6.
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/zero-hours-contracts-tories-have-broken-their-pledge-on-job-security-a6921696.html
7.
http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/774640/Conservative-party-abuse-disabled-people-cuts-welfare-benefits-George-Freeman
8.
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jan/06/nhs-faces-humanitarian-crisis-rising-demand-british-red-cross
9.
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/06/un-declares-uk-s-austerity-policies-breach-international-human-rights
10.
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jul/01/government-scrap-legal-requirements-child-poverty
11.

https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/home-affairs/immigration/news/83197/lord-dubs-condemns-shabby-government-decision-scrap

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Growing Up

Ears flapping in the breeze;
tongue out, tasting the fresh air rushing through the window crack.
The excitement of the journey.

Don’t tell him we’re going to the vets;
let him enjoy the pure thrill of just going.
Until the reality of the destination dawns.

Just like growing up.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Choices

Life is a series of choices. Big ones, little ones, clear-cut ones, difficult ones, ones that creep up on you without you realizing you’re making them. We’re all constrained by a finite amount of time, money and energy, and what we choose to do with them reflects our priorities. Should I apply for that job? Should I move? Should we have kids? Should I go for a run? Should I sit on the sofa with a double pack of Jaffa cakes watching Aircrash Investigation? Who should I vote for?

We choose our representatives in parliament, and government makes choices on our behalf. With the finite amount of money and time they have, governments’ funding and policies have to reflect their priorities. Do you, for example, prioritise a multi-billion pound nuclear missile system designed to vaporize hundreds of thousands of people in nanoseconds, or do you prioritise something less useful, shiny or tangible… say health and social care?

If you lead a party, you need to convince the electorate that your priorities reflect theirs. But what if they don’t? Well you still need to be elected don’t you? Just blur a few lines, muddy a few waters, shift a few blames. Government talks of compassion but the words don’t match the action. It jars, like if Joe Pasquale was asked to narrate a documentary about the Hindenburg disaster.

2016 and 2017 have been dumpster-fires of a year. We were encouraged to clamber over each other to escape from it, whilst turning round to blame the charred corpses for getting in the way. The “anti-establishment” triumphed over the “metropolitan elites”. Finally. Thank goodness. And whether your preferred anti-establishment candidate was a multi-billion dollar property tycoon who spent his entire life milking the establishment, or a privately-educated tax-avoiding ex-commodities broker, at least now is the time to bask in their victory. They’ve taken back control. I just wished they looked happy about it rather than flailing about with a mixture of confusion, anger and panic, like a dog handed the controls of the Space Shuttle and asked to complete re-entry. The winners continue to blame the losers for the absence of a sensible plan. But at least they’ve taken back control eh?   

So how do you project a unifying message, a message of hope in troubling times? You don’t. You just blame the situation on someone else. Remember when those nurses, firemen, teachers and policemen crashed the entire global financial system? What were they thinking? Thanks a lot guys. Sheesh. Now we’re going to have to “live within our means”.

I say we, but it’s only fair some people are excused. We don’t want to go too overboard. Better give MPs a pay rise, they’re going to have to work hard to sort out our mess. And bankers too, let’s not forget them. Better start increasing their bonuses again, we want to attract the top talent over here. And if worst comes to worst at least we can blame immigrants or refugees, because nothing shows you live in an inclusive, caring society like focusing on exactly which part of our tiny orbiting projectile vulnerable and desperate people were born on.

The crash was a great excuse for austerity, which was a great excuse to cut public services. And when the deficit went up, they didn’t change course: cut further, cut deeper. Like a malaria-riddled Victorian missionary struggling through dense jungle, just machete the holy fuck out of everything. We’re on a mission. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. We hear the mantra “we need a strong economy first to fund services”. I can see that. It’s not like having a healthy, happy, educated, safe and secure population ever helped anyone is it? Maybe think of it the other way round.

After the crash we thought there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. Just keep our heads down, work hard, and it’ll all get better eventually. But it didn’t. Then things turned to Brex-shit. *Sighs* It’s like the end of the Shawshank Redemption, you’re Andy Dufresne, crawling through that sewer pipe towards a life of freedom. But when you get to the end of the pipe, you realise there’s another, and another, and another, until you can’t remember what it’s like to not be crawling on your hands and knees, surrounded by fetid stench, yearning for a different life. But by then it’s too late. You’re institutionalised. One of the pipe-people. Make the most of it. Raise a pipe-family. Little Billie and Rowdy Roddy. The Pipers

But how do you convince people that cutting services is the right thing to do? After all, these are national institutions that people are rightly proud of. Well, you don’t. You just “control the narrative”. Be creative. Use the right language. Say things like ”Overspend” rather than Underfund, Efficiency savings” rather than Crippling cuts, “Sustainability” rather than “Privatisation” and Ringfencing” instead of Failure to keep up with an entirely predictable increase in demand.

Ringfencing or protection of budgets is a great one, as all it relies on is convincing people that things don’t change over time. I could have “ringfenced” my pocket money back in the 80s, but although at the time that was sufficient to fund my ‘sitting around watching He-man and drinking Um-Bongo’ lifestyle, demands on my finances have increased and it would no longer fund the ‘crippling mortgage, wife, three kids and despair at humanity’ lifestyle I lead today.

If that doesn’t work, just remember to use really really big numbers. Like properly huge ones. It’s less obvious if one number is substantially smaller than another if it still seems pretty big. If you feel it isn’t big enough, make it seem much bigger by combining a number of years together, and if you can, compare it to a much smallerr number, ideally from the mid 18th century when you could buy a house for a tenner. If all else fails, just keep repeating a number and repeating it and repeating it, with the absolute confidence of a cult member. Say for example “An extra 10 billion pounds for the health service”. Don’t worry that it’s not true, that it’s been disproved by countless people including fellow government ministers, that you’ve stretched the time over which it’s given and that in order for it to be given you’re asking for over double that amount in cuts. In the end it sounds like a really really big number. Whoah - check out Billy Big Budget over there. Thanks mate, we’ve never had it so good. Because the trick is not just convincing people the real news is fake, it’s also convincing people your fake news is real.

And here’s the problem. To make proper choices you need to have an honest debate and weigh up the evidence. And we’re not getting that debate. Our priorities and choices may be different but at least let’s talk about it properly. Don’t let them sell us their image of a society when they do everything they can to avoid paying their fair share towards it. Don’t let them tell us something’s unaffordable or unsustainable, just because they think the 1% deserve a tax cut instead.

Keep a close eye on their choices. They’ll show you what their priorities really are.






Wednesday, 1 March 2017

One Country



We planted the flag, but it didn’t grow

Oh no! Let’s find something different to sow

We’ll pull up the drawbridge, we’ll turn off the lights

We’ll round them all up and we’ll read them their rights

We’ll build a huge wall, and we’ll get them to pay

(But if they say no, we’ll push on anyway)

We’ll strengthen the army, campaigns will be planned

(For ease we’ll find foes that are closer to hand)

And when that’s all done, we all should unite

One country, together, to fight the good fight