Getting in a Flap for Labour

We’re ramping up towards the election now (as if you didn’t know) and Corbyn is doing far better than anyone thought he would.  It’s not over yet though, and every vote counts; to which end I have been out leafletting.  Now, as I remember from my days on the Christmas post (every student did a stint on the Christmas post in the ’70’s) letter-boxes come in all shapes and sizes.  Well, not all shapes exactly; but they vary more than you might think: and not all of them are designed for the helpful transition of post from hand to doormat.

It is Labour party policy to have a spatula handy for poking leaflets through and avoiding the nipping of fingers by over-eager dogs.  But even with a handy spatula it is not a piece of cake.  Sure, there are the nice and easy letter-boxes that say come on in; a single flap that opens and closes with the ease of a well-oiled door.  But these are few and far between, and the older ones seem designed to accept nothing larger than a business card, causing valuable leaflets to be folded or squished.  But it gets worse.  Modern letter-boxes have two flaps: an outer one which you lift, and an inner one which you have to push against.  Between these flaps sit two sets of bristles, designed presumably to remove any stray dirt from the post.  It can be quite a performance getting a single leaflet through these letter-boxes; but some houses are not content with this level of difficulty and add a ferocious hinge meaning that if the dog doesn’t get you the letterbox will.

Honestly, don’t people want post?  You begin to wonder: for in addition to the letter-box problem, in richer areas you first have to play ‘hunt the door’.  Some houses seem to delight in hiding their front doors behind a hedge or round a twiddly wall – or else you have to guess which side of the house it’s on, and inevitably it’s not the side you try first.  This seems to me almost a sort of arrogance, like not signposting the entrance to some exclusive club.

But all is not straightforward in poorer areas either; many HMO’s (houses in multiple occupation) have the front rooms as a bedroom and ask you to trudge down an alleyway and locate a postbox at the back.

And – I will never again do this on bin-day: everybody’s bins were in the way.

Anyway, all local households have been issued with a Labour party leaflet which I hope and trust they will read, mark, learn and inwardly digest before going out to vote.

To vote Labour!

Kirk out

 

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Hust! Hust! O Hust!

It’s a funny word, hustings.  It sounds like Hastings, which of course means ‘things said on the spur of the moment to explain to someone who comes into a room unexpectedly, precisely what you are doing.’

http://tmoliff.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/hastings-pln.html

Which, now I come to think of it, may not be too different from Hustings: policies made up on the spur of the moment to explain to electors who come into the room precisely what you plan to do after the election.

Be that as it may (with a small ‘m’, since May declines to debate with anyone), last night’s hustings in Loughborough were by all accounts much more civilised than the TV debate.  I have yet to catch up with this as my arse was on a chair in St Peter’s Centre, listening to five local candidates set out their stall.  It was a good debate, with questions previously submitted (mine didn’t get in, sadly, though I did squeeze in a comment) – and if the mood of that meeting is anything to go by, the Tories will get short shrift.  Nicky Morgan comes across as pleasant and reasonable: she is well-thought of locally and in my seven months here I have come across her three or four times at local events.  So far so good: but her voting record is appalling; she lives in a six-bedroom house in the county and frankly I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her: underneath the charm there is a sly manipulative streak that I do not like.

It is fairly typical I suppose that out of the five candidates we know three personally: Phillip Leicester of the Greens is a stalwart of Friday Room discussion group and spoke eloquently and passionately about Green policies and the need for a more representative system than ‘first past the post’.  Jewel Miah, the Labour candidate and a local guy, spoke well though I could have wished for a tad more passion, and David Walker, who I know from Quaker Meeting, was also eloquent and persuasive.  In addition to Nicky Morgan (sad that the only woman there was a Tory) was the UKIP guy who spoke somewhat haltingly didn’t seem to persuade many people, though he was, by UKIP standards, fairly civilised.

I was determined to get in a comment about the NHS and seized my chance in the middle of a question about public services, expressing my deep concern about the likelihood of it being parcelled up and sold off to ‘the likes of Richard Branson and US insurance companies.’  This got a huge round of applause, which was very heartening.

So all in all, a good hust.  But it is important to remember that this was an event organised by Loughborough churches and as such may not represent the town as a whole.

But I’m hopeful.  I get more hopeful with every day.

Vote Labour (or anyone to get the Tories out)

Kirk out

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Comfrey Cuttings? Cut!

Image result for comfrey open source images

I just discovered this post lurking in the drafts folder: I wrote it a week ago and thought I’d published it, but not so.

I’ve got a bit carried away with gardening this week, and while the two lavender cuttings were settling into their pot, I looked up methods of propagating comfrey.  Mark used to joke about this herb, ‘it doesn’t come free, you know,’ but actually – it does.  Not only that, if it’s in a place where you don’t want it, it’s very hard to get rid of.  But I wanted to take some from between the cracks in the front garden and transport it to the back – to which end, I did some research – and, surprise, surprise, you can’t take cuttings.  I more or less knew this, but whereas the recommended method is to divide the plants and transplant one half, the only comfrey plants available to me have wedged themselves so tightly between paving-slabs that it is impossible to get any garden implement in there.

But all was not lost.  As I wrote ‘comfrey cuttings’ on my notepad, a small twinge occurred in my brain.  It reminded me of something.  Some poking around revealed this to be an abortive follow-up to Dad’s Army called Parsley Sidings.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsley_Sidings

And all of this set me thinking about sequels to sitcoms.  Ones which failed include Joey, the unsuccessful follow-up to Friends; Going Straight, the much less exciting spin-off from Porridge, and one which only I seem to remember, Constant Hot Water, which featured Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner of Coronation St) as a B&B landlady.  I didn’t know, however, that there had been a sequel to M*A*S*H called Aftermash, but so it was.

However not all spin-offs are doomed to oblivion.  Some do even better than their progenitors.  Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? is widely considered to be better than the original, and Frasier is far superior to Cheers.

None of which gets me any further with the comfrey.  I did attempt to dig up a couple of roots, but they both perished.

And this post has gone all squashed.  Maybe that’s what happens if they don’t see the light of day…

Kirk out

 

 

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Gone With Noakes

Image result for John Noakes

People are dropping like flies now: the baby-boomer generation is being mown down like an army at Passchendaele, and barely a day passes without further news of a hero or heroine being taken from us.  Today saw the death of one of my childhood icons, John Noakes.  Like the rest of my generation I grew up with Blue Peter, specifically the Blue Peter of Val, John and Peter Purves (aka Peter Perfect) who to me were the definitive BP team.  I liked Val; she was pleasant and sensible, and Peter was OK but I never really felt close to him.  But John!  John was unique.  In these days of wacky TV personalities it’s hard to appreciate the impact of an eccentric personality on a child in the late ‘sixties, but John broke the mould.  He was not only physically daring, he was accident-prone and clumsy, tripped over his words and laughed at himself.  In an age of staid, respectable, word-perfect presenters, Noakes was a breath of fresh air.

I was upset, though, when I found out later about some of the programme’s secrets.  For some bizarre reason the presenters never had an autocue: they had to learn the script by heart which, for a live programme which went out twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays as God intended) must have been an added strain.  But Noakes later complained that he had felt underpaid and undervalued by the BBC – and when I heard that, I felt almost betrayed.  I had felt so sure that what we saw was what we got – a happy family all working together.  It made me sad.

So RIP John Noakes.  Those of us who came home from school to watch you in black and white will not forget.

John and Shep reunited.

Kirk out

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The Relief of Mattocking

Having come across it in an archaeological context (I have written on many occasions about my brief career as an archaeologist), I did not expect to find a mattock in a garden shed.  To be fair, it is a rather smaller mattock than I’ve been used to, having only one blade and no ‘pickaxe’ bit on the other side, so that at first I took it for a hoe.  But hoe it is not.  It is, as I told Daniel in an effort to engage his enthusiasm, an earth-smasher, a clod-annihilator, a veritable soil-threshing machine.  And it worked!  He smashed away with vim and vigour and mattocked half the area marked out for him to plant his own stuff in.

For which relief, much thanks.  And if you don’t get the reference, you must be younger than I am:

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/relief-mafeking

Speaking of Daniel’s enthusiasm, he has been far from idle.  In addition to learning classical and folk guitar, he is producing some stonking graphic art.  Take a look at this speed-video of him working:

That’s it for today.  Too hot to write much.

Kirk out

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Instead of Cats

I’ve never really been a cat person; I grew up with dogs and appreciate their ability to learn words and obey commands.  A dog is a companion, whereas a cat is an occasional visitor.  But plants?  How can plants keep you company?

Well, ever since I started on the garden here, I’ve been talking to my plants.  I welcome them the moment they show their shoots, and say hello to them every morning.  I tell them how beautiful they are and how brilliantly they’re doing.  When my potatoes poke their dark-green leaves through the soil I say how lovely it is to see them; when tomatoes thrive and grow bushy I give them plenty of praise.

There are two reasons why I think this benefits them.  First is the obvious: that I am exhaling carbon dioxide in their vicinity so that they can breathe it in.  Second – and this is just my opinion – I think it gives me a closer connection to them, which results in me looking after them more effectively and noticing problems early.  Just as the more you talk to your dog the more likely you are to notice when they’re off-colour, so it is with plants.

But it doesn’t end there.  I have a graded system of reward and punishment.  I am mildly discouraging towards herb bennett, harshly critical towards dandelions, vitriolic with brambles and ivy, and openly hostile with the current bane of my life, horsetail.  Equisetum arvense, as it is Latinly known, is one of the most ferociously invasive weeds ever.  Its roots can go down as far as five feet (yes, five feet!) and are soil-coloured: failure to remove any part of a root, however small, will result in lots of little pony-tails springing up like a miniature forest.  Not only that, but instead of flowers these plants have spore-bearing tips which, if disturbed, will scatter tiny spores over a wide area like a giant horsetail sneeze.

I’ve read a lot about this, and the advice seems to be, don’t try to dig it out.  Pinch or cut off at soil level and keep at it 24/7.  If you do this for the next five years you might stand a chance of getting rid of it.  Alternatively you can use weed-killer but first you have to crush the plant as it has silica in the stem and so will not absorb it otherwise.

And yet in spite of all this I can’t help having a sneaking respect for horsetail.  It’s clearly a primeval plant – you can tell that just by looking – and in prehistoric times it was much larger.  In fact it was a full-grown tree.  It’s kind of interesting, if abhorrent, to see this tiny tree-like thing poking through the soil; and I can’t help respecting its persistence.  In addition it has various herbal uses,  such as treating urinary incontinence and some kinds of arthritis.

I’d better stop talking about this now otherwise OH will want us to grow the stuff deliberately…

Kirk out

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All our Daughters? Desperately Seeking Meaning in Manchester

Like many of us I woke this morning to the news that another terror attack has happened in Manchester.  I guess this one was a little closer to home, in that our daughter goes to Manchester a lot, and theoretically could have been involved.  Imagining a loved one caught up in such an event brings it close to your heart in a way that no statistics can.  I got the news via Facebook messenger from our daughter (she’s in Leicester right now, so I wouldn’t have worried) and then went to other news sites for details.  I now know as much as anyone about what happened.  Presumably details will emerge of the who and the how; presumably as usual the why will remain a mystery.

So I go on Facebook briefly – and immediately I am assaulted by a scattering of comments about Muslims, not from friends (who would be immediately unfriended) but by members of groups I belong to.  I won’t repeat what the comments said, since they were fairly predictable; but it goes to the heart of my problems about Facebook.  I go there every day because I want to communicate with friends, to share life events, to find out what my children are up to, and to catch up with the latest news in, for example, the Labour Party (no campaigning today as a mark of respect.)  Yet every day I am assaulted – and that is not too strong a word – by hatred, vitriol, insults and prejudice.  When I post even the mildest of comments I am unsure whether it might, out of nowhere, receive an aggressive response from someone who has read into it a meaning which I never intended.

I’ve tried various responses to this: preventive, ie trying to make my meaning as clear as possible; asking questions, eg when someone posts an aggressive comment, asking why they think as they do, and most effective of all, hiding, unfollowing and in extreme cases, blocking.  I am careful to mind my mental health when on Facebook, and when posts have a detrimental effect on me, I hide them or unfollow the conversation.

All this seems as nothing in the face of an event like last night’s: and yet it is somehow relevant.  How do we deal with atrocities like this?  I am aware that, as mere bystanders, we don’t have to deal with very much, and yet there are our own feelings and responses, and those of others with whom we interact.  So how do we deal with the inevitable upsurge in hatred and prejudice?  Here are some ideas:

Hiding and unfollowing: don’t read the tabloids or follow the trolls.  The tabloids have vested interests and are not open to argument, and the trolls just want the attention.

Asking questions: when in contact with far-right groups, ask mild, polite questions.  Why do you think that?  What makes you say that?  Which particular aspects of sharia law do you disagree with?  Their beliefs are usually unfocussed and emotional – specific questions can cut into that.

Stand alongside the persecuted: when witnessing a verbal attack on someone, stand alongside them.  Ask if they are OK, or strike up a conversation.  (Naturally a physical attack needs to trigger a call to the police.)

Difficult though it is, avoid rage and vitriol: these achieve nothing beyond raising your own blood pressure.  As the Buddha says, trying to hurt someone with anger is like throwing a spear made of fire.  You burn your own hand first.  If situations and people enrage you, come back when you’re calmer and ask questions.  Above all, don’t get into arguments; debate peacefully.

The scenario in Manchester reminded me of Arthur Miller’s play, ‘All My Sons.’  A corrupt aircraft manufacturer allows faulty parts to be fitted into planes, resulting in the death of young pilots, one of whom turns out to be his son.  The title of the play comes from his final recognition that there is no difference between his son and the others: that they were ‘all his sons.’

And there’s the rub.  My daughter, thank god, was not in Manchester last night.  But other daughters were.  All our daughters were.

Kirk out

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