Book Worms and Political Bugs


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Ian Paisley: That Turbulent Priest

By Dannie Gruff

So I guess we are rid of that turbulent Priest.

No I’m not writing about Thomas Beckett but the arguably even more turbulent (and that really isn’t saying too much) Ian Paisley. By all accounts a loyalist to the max, a talented orator, a bit of a bigot, a nuisance – throwing snowballs at the Taoiseach, heckling the Pope – he led quite a life.

Please don’t think this is any kind of obituary. For one thing, I wouldn’t know where to start, I wasn’t a fan personally. This is just some thoughts on his passing.

Compare the two Paisleys – not Ian Senior and his son Ian Junior – but the Paisley at the height of the troubles and the Paisley who passed this week.

From his journey as “Dr. No”, to one half of the Chuckle Brothers with his pal Martin McGuinness, although it seems this ability to share a laugh with his political opponents was nothing new. 

In essentials, I suspect Paisley remained much as he always was.

My Mum recounted to me earlier how they were all brought up to fear the man and the ideas he preached.

But it seems there was a change, perhaps an acceptance that an ability to compromise and forgive in the cause of peace might actually improve the lives of his constituents a little more than endless shouting and the occasional ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ rally.

Or perhaps he was just tempted by a Higher Power – and when I say that, I mean he was literally tempted by the office of First Minister, not some kind of Jesus in the Desert temptation scenario. (Although if that were the case, surely Peter Mandleson would play the role of Tempter/Satan?)

He was one hell of a heckler. Like a less witty Dennis Skinner. He heckled the Pope, “the scarlet woman of Rome”, denouncing him as the Antichrist. Naturally the Antichrist, the embodiment of evil as we know it would be a woman in Paisley’s mind. But at least he was a fan of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

On a related point to suggest the Pope was a false Prophet was I believe a tad hypocritical. Paisley certainly fancied himself as some kind of Prophet, plus almost everything that came out of his mouth was almost definitely false. I mean he was at one time convinced that seat No. 666 in the European Parliament was reserved for the Antichrist. And no it wasn’t the seat reserved for JP2.

A classic bigot, he held highly conservative and shamelessly anti-Catholic views. That’s Paisley, not JP… Although granted, the two share pretty similar theological principles, just different attitudes to Catholics… Paisley was for want of a better phrase a bit of a “Bible Basher” – I’m not a fan of this term, but there you go – once stating;

“Line dancing is as sinful as any other type of dancing, with its sexual gestures and touching. It is an incitement to lust.”

One can only assume he saw twerking as a one-way ticket to hell.

I don’t need to write about the historic scenes on Devolution Day – maybe I’m too sentimental about such things but I really like re-watching this. 

Respect to Tony for that one. Perhaps partly because of Blair’s own background – Grandson of an Orangeman, later famously converting to Catholicism. Sure like many times before and after, Blair was perhaps a little over-optimistic about his own abilities and influence – to quote from Tony Benn’s Diaries:

Wednesday, September 8, 1999:

Meeting with the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Association from Northern Ireland. There have been 200 attempts by the Orange Order to march along the Catholic Garvaghy Road since the march was banned in 1998.

They told me a quite extraordinary story. Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, had been over to see them with the idea that Tony Blair himself would lead the Orange Order march down the Garvaghy Road and Cherie Blair would lead a parallel march of Catholics.

I said: ‘I can’t believe that suggestion was seriously put forward.’ 

I can. What I can’t believe is why this great idea never came to pass. I’m sure the peace deal would have been a piece of cake after an action like that. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Sure I’m not a fan – But he will go down in the history books. Perhaps for saying so many things with such conviction and then doing the exact opposite; “I will never sit down with Gerry Adams”.

Yes you will.

For his last speech in the Commons he dropped this bombshell;

“There are people in Northern Ireland with diverse religious and political convictions… They can live together as neighbours.”

The fact that political leaders feel the need to say such things reflects how deeply entrenched Sectarianism is in Northern Ireland. For me Paisley’s passing has served as a reminder of how deep these divides go. Of course, few of us were pleased to see the Orange Order sticking their oar in the referendum campaign this weekend. But how some in Scotland draw parallels between their own treatment at the hands of the British Establishment, to the experience of Irish Catholics is beyond me.

Salmond’s no Mandela, I think we can all agree on that one. He’s also no Michael Collins.

I finish with my favourite Paisley quote, one of asking God for help in dealing with Thatcher, that I stumbled across only upon his death. If I can regret one thing, it’s that I never got to see him deliver one of his sermons.

“We pray this night that thou wouldst deal with the prime minister of our country. Oh God, in wrath take vengeance against this wicked, treacherous and lying woman: take vengeance upon her, oh Lord, and grant that we shall see a demonstration of thy power!”

Quite. What an odd man.


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Downton Abbey gets political

So Frances O’Grady thinks Britain is becoming more like Downton Abbey.

Let’s hope not. I mean for one thing, it would be a bloody boring existence.

We’re hearing rumours that Downton’s getting political for its fifth series. Here’s a sneak preview.

The Dowager Duchess and Lady Mary are discussing the atomisation of British society under Dark Sith Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald.

Dowager Duchess (Maggie Smith to you and I) : So he only got in because we gave poor people and women the vote? I warned you all about this! Next they’ll be giving the vote to the Irish, like that Tom Branson, who I’m supposed to treat like one of the family and who now runs Downton. I could swear he used to be my chauffeur.

Lady Mary: Yes he was, and what of it Granny, don’t be so Classist.

Maggie: What does it mean to be “Classist”? Anyway, I’m old money, old times. I don’t even know what a weekend is (only Downton fans will get this one). Why shouldn’t I question it when my grand daughter falls in love with the Chauffeur?

Mary/Michelle Dockery: Because it’s not right Granny. Have you not read any Marx? Tom borrowed it from Daddy’s library. Daddy didn’t like Tom reading, particularly when his views about Irish Independence came out. For some reason pertaining to the plot, Daddy never fired him.

Maggie: So why did we all allow my grand daughter to marry a member of the IRA when as I have stated in previous episodes, a woman shouldn’t have political opinions of her own, until she is married – and then she takes on the opinions of her husband (actual quote from the series). Surely this means that Sybil joined the IRA too?

Michelle: Oh Granny. We don’t mention Tom’s IRA links anymore, it’s like it never happened. Besides, you didn’t mind when I married the boring Solicitor.

Maggie: I did mind. Besides you did that to protect Downton.

Matthew during his brief paralysis episode. Ended I believe when Mary dropped a cup of tea and Matthew jumped out of his chair to pick it up. Because I mean, one should always choose ridiculously unbelievable storylines over having disabled leading men.

Michelle: True dat. As I recall, I fell in love with Matthew as a direct consequence of Daddy not fighting for my rightful inheritance as the eldest child.

Maggie: Yes but that was just a pointless story line courtesy of Lord Julian Fellowes, who was at the time fighting for the right for his wife to inherit the Kitchener title. Funny how people’s Socialist Feminist principles come to the fore when people’s titles are under threat.

Michelle: Cheap shot Granny. So you’re not keen on Tom, the IRA guy. Fair. What about Jack, the chap Rose your great-niece, was dating in the last series?

Maggie: You mean the black guy? I was err… totally cool with that, whatever can you mean? Poor Rose. She was broken-hearted when Jack nobly didn’t marry her, as to preserve her class status in society.

Michelle: Quite. Granny, have you ever wondered how our family manages to be both so politically correct and so historically inaccurate at the same time?

Maggie: No, it doesn’t. I care nothing for such things. We all manage to remain white, posh, rich and anti-irish at the end of the day. Now this pesky McDonald, what are we to do with him?

To be continued….

God bless Carson and his love for the status quo.


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How to crash Cannes

By Dannie Gruff

Adapted from my debut novel “How to look like you belong somewhere when you don’t have an invite.”

I realise the Cannes Film Festival finished about a month ago. But then it’s never too late to share hints and tips on crashing things is it? A wiser blogger than I would have written this blog as the Festival came to a close, and people still had some lingering interest. But I’ve always thought courting popularity and relevance is rather bourgeois..

After having worked with a family in Cannes for six months, I knew the town fairly well. I had asked the Grandmother of the kids I looked after, how easy it was to get into the film festival. Her answer left me sorely disappointed, apparently it was as tricky as I had heard with everything shut off to anyone without a pass.

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Around the time we were almost resigned to defeat.

An NUS extra card wasn’t enough either. Even if Pete and I had actually managed to arrange picking up our life memberships before we left. Apparently you needed a letter from a film school too to get a student pass.

But undeterred, we rocked up on the first Saturday night with little but our charms to recommend us. My companions Pete and Greg being sorely hungover from the previous night’s antics – while I was, well just probably doing that thing where I look bored, even when I’m not – so even attempting to look the part seemed like a dubious strategy.

Upon arrival at the front of the Festival Palace we saw what we expected; swarms of people in their best robes and tails holding up signs ranging from “travelled here from England – ticket please” to “will kiss for a pass”. The thing with Cannes is all you need is a ticket for a film screening to gain access. It really is that easy – at least in principle. But there were just too many people doing it, and they seemed to have been hanging round for hours. There must be a way to have more fun.

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Just after we “broke in” via the car park. See our hands already covering the fact we don’t have a pass.

We had almost resigned ourselves to watching The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on the beach (the scraps thrown to the riff-raff of the Festival). But I didn’t come to Cannes Film Festival to sit on a beach and watch a Western. I knew we could find a way, besides I had read that it is possible to crash Cannes on the internet – and as we all know the internet is never wrong.

We had a glass of wine on the bench and discussed the situation. Pete was flaking having been out til at least 7am that morning partying away (classique Pete). We agreed on a collective recharge at McDo’s [French for McDonalds] and so set off with half-opened bottle of wine in hand.

Sorry if this tale is full of more ups and downs than you expected – but don’t fret too much for us – it was by no means a lost cause and suddenly our luck began to change. As we passed the Festival Palace (again), I noticed a group of policeman standing outside a door, who didn’t seem to be checking passes, unlike at the other entrances. It was clearly not an official entrance, but surely behind every door there’s another door waiting? I nudged to Gregor that this gap in the wall had some promise and before I knew it he had casually strolled past the policemen and through the gap.

We followed, trying to remain cool, calm and collected, although trying not to giggle at how “cool” this was, was by no means easy. We were truly giving the finger to the establishment, strolling past policemen patrolling, what turned out to be a car park.

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Looking pleased with ourselves.

Remember those wise words of mine, “behind a door there’s usually a door”? There’s logique to it. After a few minutes exploring this car park, and feeling like perhaps we were never going to make it – we climbed some stairs and Voila – we were in. There were some security guards at the entrance but I imagine no-one thought anyone would be so duplicitous and scheming as to “break-in” through the car park.

The game was on. Our next task was to try hide the fact we weren’t wearing passes, everyone else was – and there were still security checks going on. For the next hour I think I had my hand permanently attached to my neck, like I had a sore throat or something (rock ‘n roll).

We saw something resembling a party and Greg sniffed something resembling Moët (in joke). We headed in the Moët’s direction, finding ourselves in a party right on the coast. Nice enough, but we were getting hungry and the night was young. Alas, cursed for breaking in before our precious McDo.

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Less pleased here.

We tried a couple more smaller parties, but too many had guest lists. One was for Finnish film, where we attempted and failed to convince them we were huge fans. Eventually we found one – I’d be lying if I remembered what it was about – but the main point is, is that they served wine and peanuts. No McDo, but it would do for now.

Feeling that rush one can only get from breaking into a Film Festival to gain access to peanut snacks, we decided we should try see a film. The entrance to the main screenings had heavy security, so we tried our luck at the exit, and voila! I think that can sometimes be a trend in society – while people obsessively check credentials at entrances, no-one is actually bothering with the exits.

We snuck into a film screening involving planes and much pretension (it really was awful). After about five minutes, Gregor loudly informed the entire cinema that he was leaving as this was “shit”, and by now Pete and my stomachs were rumbling too much to resist. Slipping out we had a last go in the enclosed area at a Russian film party. We gave fake names but no such luck. I can’t believe neither Countess Danna Grufferina, Count Pyotr Mercosky nor Count Gregory Daubski were on the guest list.. Even our self-assuredness wasn’t enough for them.

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Looking smug.

So now to the highlight of the evening – our recharge at McDo. That’s when we began the fake stories. Hearing British accents almost everywhere we started chatting to randoms and making up histories. This was better fun than the parties – yet this was to be short-lived. We were in cocky-mode now. We needed to do more crashing to fulfil our inner desires for anarchy and rebellion.

Through the process of… telling porkies, we began to stick with our stories. I was soon to be appearing in the new Star Wars – “Shouldn’t you be in London?” A common response. Pete “hipster” Mercer was a composer for some low-budget independent films, though I was sure to inform them that he had turned down “lots of big names”. [Yes I am cringing as I write this]. And Gregor? Well Gregor was of course a published poet. [Alas for Pete and I – this remains the only one of these histories to be actually true.]

Further along the promenade, we saw a large tent and a large queue outside it. So we slipped around the back where a kitchen appeared to be and followed some random chap in. “Besides queuing is for riff raff” we convinced ourselves. The woman stopped me at the kitchen door asking me who I was, and I just pointed at the chap who had gone in just before me and simply said in most probably awful French, “Bonjour, la meme Madame” (the same), I don’t understand how it worked, particularly when I am convinced I must have seemed like a right wally – but it did.

This party was ok, I suppose. I think you should judge a party by the length of the queue, and I’ve never had to queue for a party I really enjoyed. The length of this party’s queue was certainly not correlational to how good it was. It was actually shit, mainly due to the people, the music and the.. well the whole thing in fact.

This can be summed up by a British man I met inside who actually claimed to be “Mr Glastonbury”. As in, that he could get anybody in. (I hope this includes the Abbey as National Trust prices can be extortionate.) He was possibly the most annoying person I’ve ever met, and I’ve met Lembit Opik.

We soon got bored. Next we tried the world famous Carlton, where Harrison (my co-star) was staying. We tried the front door – no luck. So we walked along a few hundred metres and found a small hedge. Judging my chances of jumping over without being seen, I waited for a waiter to turn his back and we were in, strolling up to the hotel like we were the coolest kids in town (writing this all is painful, believe me – but my crashing tips need to be spread to the masses).

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Delicieux snax!

We met some nice, funny people but alas they were all meant to be there and so were slowly heading out to invite-only parties. So we next tried our chances at the beach parties. Now this is what we were waiting for.
Live music, dancing on the beach, unpretentious people (in the main) – generally lots of fun was had. We tried our chances at the next party along the beach but couldn’t get in (I’m not sure why we did that – as the party we were at was perfectly fine – I suppose it’s again that addictive quality to “crashing”). But as folk started leaving, we heard Bohemian Rhapsody at this more exclusive beach party – knew it was our last chance – I mean it’s hardly a middle-of-the-night song is it – and so we jumped the hedge and were in.

And then there was another party at a hotel. Was ok. I mean parties are parties eh?

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Oh dear.

By my calculations we “crashed” five. Yet ironically (or perhaps pitifully) my favourite party was the one that didn’t require sneaking past security guards. Bored, we three musketeers slowly drifted off to the train station and happened across a cute little bar with people spilling out onto the streets. No crashing required, and the people were cooler. Another correlation perhaps?

In typical fashion we lost Greg – so Pete and I began the journey home, as the commuters were off to work. Rock ‘n’ roll! (It was actually Sunday so that line doesn’t really work). Luckily I was with Pete when he fell asleep, otherwise he could have ended up in Italy – tempting though that was. Besides, he would have been fine – like that time he got the London night bus and ended up in Stanstead airport. He only had to wait there seven hours before he could get a bus back.

So what did I learn? Crashing is fun, there’s a sort of addictive thrill that goes with it – and an almost toxic thirst for more – but the most important lesson I learnt was friendship, love and solidarity, with my fellow nobodies.

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A thrilling tale where important lessons of love and friendship were learned. Aaah.

It was the company that made it. Each party was cool but we got quickly bored and wanted to move onto the next adventure. And the less exclusive the party, the more fun we had. No jokes.

Hang on no. That’s not the most important lesson I learnt at all. The most important lesson I learnt was that if you dress relatively well and act like an arrogant, rather conceited partygoer, it’s pretty easy to crash Cannes.

See you next year for more tales of how to do a “f**k you” to the establishment! (In short – through lying to people, while accepting their hospitality, peanuts and wine.)


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Is a Live Below the Line spoof below the line?

The Live Below the Line campaign aims to raise awareness and funds for the fight against extreme poverty. Participants live on £1 a day for 5 days in a bid to have a greater understanding of poverty itself.

Whilst there’s no doubt that participants have the best of intentions, want to do something to help, and learn from experience, there are many elements of the campaign that we take issue with and there are certainly a number of people who seem to miss the point – tweeting that they’re off to enjoy a giant kebab to celebrate completing the challenge, or complaining about the hardship of having to shop in Tescos..

It’s in tribute to such self-sacrifice that we post this diary we’ve obtained.

Jo Qualmann more seriously examines some of the issues the campaign raises in her blog ‘Why I won’t live below the line’.

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My Live Below the Line Diary: Day One

So here it goes. £1 a day for £5 days. Here’s my story. A tale of suffering but also of hope (after all the suffering).

I’ve always loved the country of Africa and been passionate about poverty, so as I begin the challenge, of course I’m excited to see how I cope with living like an African, but I’m also apprehensive and have a lot of questions about what this week will mean for me.

Can I really live on just £5 for five days when I’d usually spend this on just one glass of vino in a bar?

Will anyone I know spot me shopping in Tesco, or worse, Lidl?

Will those people I’m sure I’ve seen eyeing me up in the gym lose interest if I start to look all thin and mangled?

So many questions!

To kick things off today I went to Tesco to do some poverty-style shopping. It’s not the sort of place I’d usually buy food but I guess this whole week is about new experiences and taking me out of my comfort zone.
I thought it’d be really difficult to buy anything for under £1 but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I could buy for so little. It turns out there’s loads of cheap food on offer if you’re just willing to shop around. I don’t know what people are complaining about.

I found a packet of 20 Weetabix for 99p in the ‘Reduced to clear’ section – I guess because nobody wanted such a dull cereal – so snapped them up. If I have four a day that’s breakfast and lunch sorted!

I also managed to get three tins of Thomas the Tank Engine spaghetti shapes for £1, which will not only be nourishing but spotting the different characters will be the sort of entertaining game an African child would love.

I’m starting to think this week will be a lot of fun.

I also ventured into ‘Poundland’ to see what bargains they had, and managed to get two Easter eggs for a Pound which seems a pretty sweet deal.
I hope the Africans have Poundland where they can pick up cheap Easter eggs. Although in fact do they know it’s Easter-time at all?

This week’s already raising so many questions I’ve never considered before.
After dinner of two tins of spaghetti and an Easter egg for dessert I’m going to bed with my stomach full as well as my head.

I made sure to instagram photos of my dinner, so people can feel involved in my struggle. Just hope none of my followers ever actually have to eat this kind of thing.

1 day down, 4 to go!

This is the amount of food I imagine I'll have to live on!

This is the amount of food I imagine I’ll have to live on!

Day Two

My Live Below the Line odyssey is proving really challenging but also so rewarding.

Today got off to a frustrating start as I tried to toast my Weetabix and found it just fell apart in the toaster. Perhaps this is why the pack was reduced? After attempting to salvage the crumbs and toast them in the AGA, I eventually gave up and was forced to throw away two precious Weetabix slices.

But then I suppose this highlights the sort of setback Africans face all the time. We’re lucky that if something goes wrong with a meal we can just make something else. If their breakfast gets trampled by an elephant or stolen by a monkey they have to go hungry.

But as I ate my replacement slices of Weetabix, cold and raw, I did feel a sense of contentment with my humble fare. Despite all their problems I do envy the Africans their simplicity of life, free of modern stresses and complications.

I made a Weetabix sandwich for lunch, with a couple of cans of tinned fruit for variety. (I don’t think I’ll count this as coming out of my budget as in Africa I would have just found these growing on trees.)

I can’t say this challenge isn’t tough as I’m already worrying about what I’ll make for dinner. I’m not sure I can face another Weetabix main course and Easter egg dessert!
But I’m sure I’ll think of something using my instincts.

At least I’ll have plenty of money I haven’t spent this week on food to spend on other things like some new items for the old wardrobe to cheer me up. Though I might have to really indulge on eating this weekend to ensure I put the weight back on quickly, so the clothes actually fit me!

Day Three

This is hell.

I don’t know how the Africans manage it every day.

I’ve been concerned that I might not be getting the most authentically African experience during my week of living to in poverty, so I started the day by travelling to work in the African manner – walking six miles with my briefcase on my head.
I felt a little guilty as I was wearing shoes – hard to come by for the average African I’m sure, but to be fair they don’t have the threat of London cyclists cycling over their toes (although granted, it must be frightening to go barefoot with all the snakes).

After 100 metres my briefcase had fallen off three times and I’d been abused by some local youths who seemed to think the issue of poverty is funny.
Although I had to give up at the end of my street and jump in a taxi, it gave me a new respect for the women of Nairobi and Johannesburg who have to walk miles every day just to get water.

Now after my stressful journey and a hard day harvesting the fields of management consultancy I’m exhausted.

I’m now feeling very morose and grumpy. For lunch I microwaved up some left-over spaghetti shapes, but they’ve now become a horrible mush and all the engines look the same which is dispiriting.

Knowing I had to make something cheap for dinner I brought a few assorted organic vegetables and herbs to make a healthy stew (I sweet talked the dude at the Delicatessen into selling me some kale, a radish and a mangel-wurzel for a mere £1.50), but I’m afraid it looked and tasted like putrid garbage. No wonder there’s so much violence in Africa with people having to eat stuff like this all the time. I’d be furious!

My mood isn’t helped by the fact the repetitive meals I’m eating are so boring. In Africa I’d at least have some safari animals to keep me entertained while I eat. Might have to put The Lion King on.
Or that Made in Chelsea episode when they all go to Africa to talk about their feelings on safari.

Day Four

This is so tough. I’m worried I’m in the early stages of starvation. I’m sure the seagulls outside my window are starting to eye me up like vultures.

Following the fiasco of last night’s vegetable stew I’m running perilously short on money.

After raw Weetabix for breakfast and a Weetabix sandwich and tin of peaches for lunch I was desperate for something different for dinner. But what could I afford already being down to my last 50p?

I considered doing some hunter-gathering but I thought I might risk arrest if I ventured out with a spear, and I wasn’t sure I’d want to eat a squirrel from the local park even if I could catch one.

Eventually, examining the more dubious looking sections of Tesco, I managed to pick up a box of sausages for £1. I threw half of them away to make up for going over budget, but this still left me 4 sausages for 50p.

I then thought I might try cooking them over a fire for an authentic African experience, and I was rather proud of myself that, with the help of a few logs ‘borrowed’ from next door’s woodpile (sssh!), a cigarette lighter and an old can of petrol, I managed to get a blaze going in the back garden.

Unfortunately I was a bit too good at getting the fire going and within a few minutes my sausages were burnt, charred and inedible, and it had also destroyed a large section of the lawn.
I have really struggled to get the fire if I didn’t have smoke-detecting sprinklers in the garden. One can never be too careful.
I felt such a failure, though to be fair in Africa I’d probably have a few wives to help me cook.

All this meant I had to eat Weetabix yet again on my own for dinner. On top of the starvation, I actually feel really lonely too from having to cancel all the lunch dates I had planned.

I certainly have!

I certainly have!!

This whole week has been so exhausting. I can’t imagine having to do a tribal war dance on these energy levels.

Luckily tomorrow is my last day of poverty. It can’t come soon enough!

Day Five

Today’s been the toughest one of all and I’m not sure if I’d have managed it if I didn’t have the end in sight.

I was really struggling, but luckily I did have a stroke of good luck. On the way to work I passed an ice cream parlour offering free samples. I went back throughout the day and had about eight cones of ice-cream. Both filling and tasty!

I did wonder if by accepting free food I was cheating on the challenge, but I don’t think so as the free samples were just the equivalent of the aid agencies you find in Africa giving out free stuff.

I might request that the money I raise in sponsorship could be used specifically to provide ice cream for African children, and perhaps an airfare for me so I can hand them out myself, while telling them my inspiring story. Though would I have time before the ice-cream melted in the scorching African heat? Might have to rethink this.

I imagine for welcome for my ice-cream van will be something like this.

I imagine for welcome for my ice-cream van will be something like this.

This week’s been really tough, but it’s also been eye-opening, and looking back I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of living in poverty. I feel so much stronger as a person now I know I could manage it. From now on I’ll follow the plight of Africans with a new understanding, and the work of heroes like Bono with a new appreciation.

I’m so lucky to live in a wealthy country and must keep using my good fortune to help others.
I do think if only more people appreciated their privilege the world would be a happier place.

On the way back from work a homeless man whined at me for money. ‘Sorry mate’ I said ‘I understand real poverty. You don’t know how lucky you are.’

But thanks to my week of living below the line I now do. Hakuna Matata.

Now it’s 5pm – the week’s basically over. I’m off to get the biggest Nando’s to celebrate!

 


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Frozen isn’t Feminist?! Let it go!

By Dannie Gruff

Over the last few months if there’s one thing I should be sick of it’s 5 year old girls singing “Libérée, délivrée, Je ne mentirai plus jamais”.

When I started working with these kids, I had no idea what they were talking about. I mean I suppose even for those with working-levels of Franglais, “Libérée” sounds something like “liberate”, so I guessed it was some kind of younger girls’ feminist anthem.

Then I clocked on. A few months ago, I realised that my girls were singing “Let it go” from Disney’s Frozen. I wasn’t well acquainted with the song at the time, or it’s singer, Idina Menzel – or as John Travolta calls her for some reason – Adele Dazeem, but that was all to change. (Though now I’ve got to know her back catalogue it makes slightly more sense that friends used to sing ‘Defying Grufferty’ at me.)

I recently found another family and along with it, another 5 year old girl who sings this song, all the time. I’m not exaggerating – to say these girls love this song wouldn’t do it justice. It’s all they sing. Personally I’m more a fan of je voudrais un bonhomme de neige/ do you want to build a Snowman, but I know better than to argue with a 5 year old about such things.

So, I watched the film with the kids a little while back. I enjoyed it, it was in French but it was Disney so…. you know I got the jist. I particularly enjoyed Olaf the Snowman and his pipe dream of chilling out under the sun. My favourite character? Elsa of course. What a woman!

More recently, I happened across an article written by a dad. He doesn’t go out of his way to herald Frozen as a feminist masterpiece, but he does talk about it in light of his daughter’s love for Let it Go/ Libérée, délivrée. And argues that the song is at the centre of the film’s message; “I want versus I am”.

It seems no coincidence that children everywhere adore this song.

So I went on a fact-finding mission. Asking my two girls (from different schools, different parts of town) who they preferred – Elsa the Queen of Arendelle and/or Snow, or her younger sister Anna – who in some ways is your classic Disney heroine – she makes some bad decisions (going in search of her sister without a coat in a blizzard being one example), is often quite helpless, is certainly a hopeless romantic, but does indeed end up with her Prince Charming.

I don’t mean to be harsh to Anna, I find her a most endearing, fun character – particularly when she gets cross or when she sings such lines as “I don’t know if I’m elated or gassy”.

But she’s nothing to Elsa.

So I was surprised when googling “Frozen, feminist”, I found only negative articles and blogs. I read a few and while not without their important points, each one seems to fail to mention – unlike this dad I mentioned earlier – what young girls are saying about the film.

So back to my quizzing of these five year old girls. Who did they prefer?

Elsa of course. And why? Answers ranged from “because she is the one with the power”, to “because she is her own person”. (Not much of a range, I know but then my working sample was two.) One of the four year old boys I work with said a similar thing.

When I pressed as to why they didn’t want to be Anna; the one with the romantic happy-ever-after ending, the answers were again pretty straightforward, both saying that marriage was of little importance to either of them. One even said she would rather be alone and frighten people than be somebody’s wife. I can sympathise with that.

I’ve always wondered at Disney’s obsession with romance. With Princes who sweep a young, usually naïve, and always beautiful damsel off her sweet little feet. Frozen, like other more recent Disney films gives couples a little time to get to know each other first. (OK granted, I think Anna and Kristoff know each other for about a day, but I doubt many people notice that and besides they go through a lot together…)

It seems to me that much of the criticism of Frozen seems to come from people who haven’t actually spoken to young children about what it means to them. Having not considered that in the eyes of young children, the fact that Elsa is saved at the end not from Prince Charming’s kiss but from the love of her sister – says a great deal.

Some feminist criticism has been levelled at the fact Disney changed the name of the Hans Christian Anderson story on which the film is loosely based, from The Snow Queen; to Frozen, removing any sign that the film centres around women. Because that’s usually what Disney does – shy away from having woman-centered titles…

Now I’m not saying that Disney’s most famous titled-leading ladies, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White – are in my view very good role models for young women. Despite being often strong women themselves, they only find redemption via a man they barely know. But Frozen is different. It’s pretty bloody obvious in my mind that the two leading characters are women – the male characters in this film undoubtedly pale into significance (perhaps ironically except Olaf the Snowman, though I’m not sure he defines either way). Throughout the film, the men are rather negative characters, bar nice wholesome Kristoff who is by no means perfect and a bit of a Fixer-Upper (I’m still not sure what this means).

Unsurprisingly, it seems non-English speaking children would rather not watch their favourite films in English with subtitles. In fact almost every other translation has directly-translated The Snow Queen, and almost no other country has used the title Frozen. So if there is any confusion about the role of men in the film, the families I work with are in little doubt that it stars a woman (I suppose it could be a gay Queen.. but come on a gay leading character in a Disney film? They won’t risk that again after Hercules…) And I wager more children have seen it in languages other than English around the world anyway. So, although it might be easier to critique in this way, we shouldn’t act like English is the only language in existence.

Other criticism says that many of the women characters in Anderson’s original tale have been replaced by chaps. And that in fact the original story centres around a young girl Gerda who is on a mission to rescue a boy, Kai. Sure, they’ve cut some women out of the original tale. But surely nobody can doubt that the two women at the centre of the story are by far the strongest characters. Besides in the original story, The Snow Queen is the enemy – I thought it was a nice twist that Elsa was a sort of strange mix of both good and bad, a complex character who could be rather cold and cruel (the antithesis of the classic Disney heroine), yet sacrificed her own happiness to protect her sister from harm. Besides she can also put up a good fight and she’s had far from an easy life.

I could have written a detailed feminist critique deconstructing various scenes from this film, like sisters before me. But I don’t think you can write about this film and at the same time ignore the voices and views of those who love the film so much.

And I also strongly believe that the song at the centre of the film is the main moment for young women out there. So rarely are films made where a young woman is talking about not what she wants to be, or what she could learn to be – but in fact what she has always been, something that is an intrinsic part of her identity – despite being reviled by almost everyone for it.

The girls I look after who sing this anthem so often, particularly love playing out the scene in the song where she lets her hair fall free, from a rather boring middle-aged up-do to a long free, dare I say it, even slightly messy number. She then slams the door on all the other haters.

I hope these kids – girls and boys alike – continue to appreciate the wonderful free-spirited, often selfless Elsa.

Sometimes it feels like others are too quick to assume children are too naïve to comprehend what a woman – who finally chooses to embrace her true identity – looks like. For my part, I think kids, and particularly young girls, know a woman not defined by the men around them when they see one. You go Elsa.


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REVEALED: Chris Grayling’s Personal List of Banned Books for Prisoners

As Dannie’s home MP is Chris Grayling, we have some sources within his office, and as such we’ve obtained these shocking internal emails from within the Ministry of Justice.

They expose beyond doubt the weak intellectual foundations upon which the ban on prisoners receiving books is based.

**

From: Grayling, Chris <graylingc@parliament.uk>
Date: 31st March 15:32
Subject: RE: Books in Prison
To: Simon Hughes <hughess@parliament.uk>

Hughes,

Thanks for tweeting in defence of the ban on prisoners being sent books.

Your loyalty is appreciated. And duly noted.

I see a load of writers worried about their royalties are still complaining – and that naturally our friends at the BBC are giving them airtime.

I’m not sure our argument that prisoners are still reading 50 Shades of Grey is really winning these eggheads over, so I’ve drawn up a little list of the sort of dangerous books that in fact inspired the ban.

I’m planning to write to HM Prison’s Service asap asking them to check each and every cell for the “books” outlined below, to prove our point.

In the meantime perhaps you could mention them in any media interviews,

Cheers,

Chris

 

Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci

We don’t want to be encouraging prisoners to think about political theory. Well in fact to think at all. It just adds fuel to the fire of this “votes for prisoners” claptrap.

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Titles like this will just depress morale for those in solitary confinement.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Assume this is some kind of social commentary about the rise of food banks? Don’t want HM Government blamed for people not controlling their finances.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Raskolnikov got a mere eight years labouring in Siberia. Another novel soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime. Much like a certain opposition party we all know. Rasko also gets redemption at the end which isn’t really our line.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Don’t want to encourage pensioners to complain they’ve got no money, no prospects, no country… we get enough of that already.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde

Again, paints a very unhelpful view of prison life. Also written by Oscar Wilde, a highly disreputable character when he was loafing around Parisian B&Bs. I don’t think the owners should have been obliged to let him stay but that’s another story. I’ve made this point before.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Such sentiments will only encourage whining appeals against the bedroom tax upon release.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Again prisoners just don’t deserve such things.

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

Haven’t these crooks got better things to do in prison than read celebrity biographies of over-rated Welsh crooners?

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Isn’t she pals with the Browns? Besides, why would anyone read this? Wizards aren’t real.
Add that whole lot of Oxford intellectuals Tolkien, Lewis etc… Sure they use Lions and Wizards to spread the gospel but it still reeks of the dark arts.

Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Don’t want any prisoners thinking if they start eating people’s livers with fava beans and a nice Chianti, they’ll get a glass screen instead of bars – all in a bid to intimidate us.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Don’t want books suggesting some prison sentences may be unjust. Also, doesn’t this promote terrorism?

The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

Prison is no place to find your soul-mate. Or use the clever positioning of a poster and a small chisel to break your way out of prison. (Hope you’ve read/seen it or I’ve just spoiled the end, soz.)

Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly

Assume this is the sort of Marxist nonsense Michael Gove wants us to crack down on?

The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers took their Children’s Future by David Willetts

The less said about this the better… Particularly given the mess poor David’s got himself into with tuition fees.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Definitely not the sort of message we want. Scarlett replaces paid black workers with unpaid convicts in the Reconstruction Era and gets criticised for “exploiting” them. I think using convicts as free labour is a great idea, as IDS is proving with workfare.

Anything by Katie Price

Most criminals are just in my opinion too stupid to understand her delicate, yet rich use of satire and symbolism. I bloody loved her latest offer, “Love Lipstick and Lies” but these Philistines won’t.

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

Sensationalist propaganda about prison and debt being social problems. Also an unfair portrayal of hard-working bureaucrats.

Paddington Bear by Michael Bond

A disgraceful book which encourages the harbouring of illegal immigrants. I hardly think a ‘Please look after this bear’ note constitutes correct paperwork? This Brown family should have texted ‘Go Home’ to report the Peruvian scrounger as soon as he turned up.

Prisonomics by Vicky Pryce

I’m not keen on prisoners reading, let alone writing books. Don’t want that bloody Lib Dem (no offence Simon….) giving them ideas.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Haven’t read it but the title suggests it’ll just be used for cheap satirical digs at the Ministry of Justice.

The Right-Honourable Chris Grayling MP
Member of Parliament for Epsom and Ewell
House of Commons,
London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 8194
Fax: 020 7219 1763

UK Parliament Disclaimer:

This e-mail is confidential to the intended recipient. If you have received it in error, please notify the sender and delete it from your system. Any unauthorised use, disclosure, or copying is not permitted. This e-mail has been checked for viruses, but no liability is accepted for any damage caused by any virus transmitted by this e-mail.

—-

From: Simon Hughes <hughess@parliament.uk>
Date: 31st March 15:35
Subject: RE: Books in Prison
To: Grayling, Chris <graylingc@parliament.uk>

Chris,

Thanks for this. Agree wholeheartedly. Will tow the line for sure if any media opportunities arrive. Come to think of it, are there any forthcoming slots that I could step-in and do? Newsnight perhaps?

And can I just confirm that the Bible is still ok? I mean if it’s good enough for people who use Britannia Hotels…?

Si

Simon Hughes MP
Member of Parliament for Bermondsey and Old Southwark
House of Commons,
London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 8194
Fax: 020 7219 1763

UK Parliament Disclaimer:

This e-mail is confidential to the intended recipient. If you have received it in error, please notify the sender and delete it from your system. Any unauthorised use, disclosure, or copying is not permitted. This e-mail has been checked for viruses, but no liability is accepted for any damage caused by any virus transmitted by this e-mail.

—–

Grayling and Clegg bravely explain to some convicts why books are bad for them.

From: Grayling, Chris <graylingc@parliament.uk>
Date: 31st March 16:30
Subject: RE: Books in Prison
To: Simon Hughes <hughess@parliament.uk>

Sure yeah the Bible’s fine. We don’t have to pay for them anyway.

In terms of media stuff, let me get back to you.

Come to think of it I don’t think we should just stop with books. Some songs have atrocious messages. Gangsters’ Paradise for instance.

Also, I want to Break free, Jailbreak, Mercy Seat.. there’s loads of undesirable messages in those too.

And obviously anything by Johnny Cash.

Perhaps we should work on a pre-election crack-down?

The Right-Honourable Chris Grayling MP
Member of Parliament for Epsom and Ewell
House of Commons,
London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 8194
Fax: 020 7219 1763

UK Parliament Disclaimer:

This e-mail is confidential to the intended recipient. If you have received it in error, please notify the sender and delete it from your system. Any unauthorised use, disclosure, or copying is not permitted. This e-mail has been checked for viruses, but no liability is accepted for any damage caused by any virus transmitted by this e-mail.

———–

From: Simon Hughes <hughess@parliament.uk>
Date: 31st March 16:35
Subject: RE: Books in Prison
To: Grayling, Chris <graylingc@parliament.uk>

Yes Sir!

:)

Simon Hughes MP
Member of Parliament for Bermondsey and Old Southwark
House of Commons,
London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 8194
Fax: 020 7219 1763

UK Parliament Disclaimer:

This e-mail is confidential to the intended recipient. If you have received it in error, please notify the sender and delete it from your system. Any unauthorised use, disclosure, or copying is not permitted. This e-mail has been checked for viruses, but no liability is accepted for any damage caused by any virus transmitted by this e-mail.

 

#booksforprisoners


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Crucial questions of Labour History: Was Attlee or Blair a better typist?

By Joe Oliver

The flurry of reviews appearing for John Campbell’s new biography of Roy Jenkins have made me lust to read it with all the fervour of Jenkins lusting after a fine claret or a new centre party.

Roy Jenkins, 1991However, wincing at the £30 cover price, I’ve contented myself with returning to Jenkins’ own 1991 autobiography A Life at the Centre (picked up for £3 in an Oxfam shop), from the cover of which a well-rounded (in every sense) Jenkins smiles owlishly at the reader amidst a nest of books.

It’s well worth reading both as an interesting account of life at the centre of political events for much of the twentieth century, and for no other reason than that Jenkins has such a rich, entertaining writing style.

The chapter on his comparatively brief time as Home Secretary ‘The Liberal Hour’ (or precisely the Liberal twenty-one months) is fascinating, accommodating at breakneck speed the aftermath of the abolition of the death penalty, reform of divorce laws, modernisation of the police and judiciary, the legalisation of homosexuality, abortion and (most crucially of course) Sunday opening of cinemas.

While his account of his time as a code breaker during the Second World War is one of the best descriptions of what actually went on in the huts at Bletchley Park. (Given the friendship between Jenkins and Robert Harris, I was slightly disappointed that a young Jenkins doesn’t make a cameo in Harris’ Bletchly-based thriller Enigma.)

The section on his celebrated 1979 Dimbleby Lecture is perhaps one of the most valiant attempts to make the issue of constitutional reform exciting.

Jenkins is also a man after my own heart at collecting historical minutiae, and the book is stuffed with interesting facts and anecdotes.

One in particular which caught my eye was his account of his friendship with Clement Attlee (mildly ironic given historians will probably remember Jenkins’ name in association with his door-stopper biography of Churchill).
Jenkins knew Atlee well – he was a family friend, Jenkins father Arthur having served as his Parliamentary Private Secretary, and so, in 1946 Atlee invited him to edit a volume of his speeches (Presumably a slim volume given how famously taciturn he was).

As Jenkins records ‘For this I was paid £50…Typical of both of us was what then followed. He sent me the cheque himself. I was slow to acknowledge. About five days later I received one of his famous self-typed pungent missives:

Dear Roy, I sent! you a
Cheque fOR £50 a week ago. I
(have nothad? an acknowledgement.
You’Rs eVer,
C.R.Attlee

Luckily a hasty apology restored good relations, but Jenkins remembers the incident as remarkable for ‘What other Prime Minister would ever have produced such a letter on his own typewriter?’

Probably none while in office, though talk of Prime Ministers and typos did remind me of an old C.V. of Tony Blair’s which turned up a few years ago to mild mockery in the press.

Written in 1983 when he was seeking to be selection for the Sedgefield constituency, it comes across as an amiable enough document, with a few points of interest to those with a sweet tooth for historical trivia, such as the alphabet soup of trade unions Blair mentions to stress his Labour credentials.

That Blair was a member of the National Council for Civil Liberties, like many other Labour politicians, is not surprising, particularly given he was a lawyer, but it might have bemused some years later when the N.C.C.L., now Liberty, found itself vigorously opposing proposals for 90 days detention, ID cards and a host of other Blair Government measures.

Blair himself would probably have been surprised as a proud member of C.N.D. to learn that it 20 years’ time he’d be both Prime Minister, and spending billions renewing Trident.

However the comforting vague, abstract quality of his ambition for a Labour Party providing ‘radical solutions within a framework that people understand and which touches their everyday lives’ seems reassuringly like the Blair we know.

But the point that really stands out is just how terribly typed it is, with the massed ranks of typos making Attlee look like a touch typist in comparison.
It’s probably fair to assume it was hastily typed before a selection meeting on a typewriter which didn’t have a backspace function, as there really are some howlers – including one typo so unfortunate it’d make the most hardened career adviser shudder.

Name: Tony Blair

Age: 30 years

Trade Union: Transport and General Workers Union

Previous Parliamentary Experience:
I stood, during the Falklands war, in the Beaconsfield by-election, a Tory seat with a mojority of 93,000. I lost, (unsurprisingly) but gained valuable experience. Michael Foot speaking an BBC Newsnight said:
“In my view Tony Glair will make an exceptional contribution to British politics in the months and years ahead”

Background:
From 1972    -75 I attended Oxford University (St. John’s College) where Iread law.
In 1975-6 I was pupip to Alexander Irving Q.C. At the end of my pupillage, at the age of 24 years, I was awarded a full place in Chanbers as a practising barrister.

Nature of work:
I specialise in trada union and industrial law, which, in effect, has meant living and wording in London.
I also work for several major County Councils and in the area of civil liberties. The Unions I have worked for include TGWU; ISTC; NUR; GMBATU; TSSA; AUEW; NALGO.

Amongst the major cases in which I have bee involved over the past few years are:
– Defending the Labour Party in court action ageinshe Reg Prentice and his supporters
– Several cases arising aout of redundancies espesially at the British Steel Corporation, inclusing winning the unfair dismissal claim of the 30 Birmingham steelworkers

I am a member of the Excutive committee of the Society of Labout Cangreess and of C.N.D.; N.C.C.L.; L.C.C.

Family:
I am married to Cherie Booth, who was bor and bred in Liverpool. Cherie is now a barrister ( having come top in the professional exams in 1976 for the whole country). She specialises in child care and adoption work.
Cherie’s father is the actor Tony Booth of ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ fame. Anthony and Pat Phoenix form ‘Coronotion Stree’ both came and canvassed for me when I previously stood for Parliament and would be happy to do so again.

Short statement of views and intent:
I have always wanked to come back to the North East to represent the community here.
I would of course live in the sostituency in selected, and I would be a full-time M.P. to put the best case for logal people in Westmenster.
I believe in a united Labout Party offering radical solutions within a framework that people understand and which touches their everyday lives. I support party policy as determind by Party Conference.
When arguments do take place they should take place within the party, not on the media, and in a spirit of democray. That means not only the right to express your views, but the right to have them listened to.
**

Tony Blair typingBlair, as we’ve been reminded by evidence in on-going criminal trials, is now an avid user of emails, so we can assume with the help of computer power only found in Bletchley Park in Attlee’s day, he’s now a much better typist.

But I found his 1980s efforts rather pleasing, both as for providing rare comparison between Blair and Attlee, and proving, than if someone with such a terribly typed C.V. rise to become Prime Minister, there’s hope for any job applicant.
We all have to start somewhere.

 

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