Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

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Obituary: BART VENNER: “THE QUIET MAN”

In Obiturary, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:41 am

The Crematorum, near Cinderford, was packed to capacity for the funeral of Bart Venner at the beginning of August. Indeed many of those who came to pay their respects to Bart were unable to get into the building.

Many of us knew Bart through the Labour Party, which he always served faithfully and well.  But there was more to Bart than this. Although not a Forester by birth, his dedication to the Dean gave him the right to regard himself as one.

He came here back in the ‘fifties to take up a training course at the old Parkend Forestry School. And he worked for the Forestry Commission all his working life.

A QUICK REPLANT:

One story told about his forestry work was of a visit to the Dean by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. They planted young oak trees in the plantation beyond Speech House. When they departed, the trees were promptly dug up and taken away as souvenirs. Forestry Commission workers, including Bart, were called out hastily to plant replacements… no names, no pack drill, of course.

Norway spruce were also planted, and, despite a bout of appalling weather in the early 1960s, they also survived as a testament to Bart and his fellow Forestry workers.

Another story from his young Forestry days dated back to the last war, when soldiers used trees for firing practice, peppering the trunks with lead. When the trees were felled for timber, merchants were advised to use metal detectors to check for “lead poisoning” before applying a chain saw to the felled tree trunks.   .

A LABOUR STALWART:

Bart’s allegiance to the Labour Party was engrained in him, like the lettering in a stick of rock.  He held a number of offices within the  Party, including as councillor on the District Council   It’s worth noting, as well, that he was always a  good friend to the Clarion, taking a quiet interest in our paper, and even contributing to its columns.

PEDALLING AWAY:

Bart’s other interest was reflected in his membership of the Forest’s cycling club, and his fellow members were well represented at his funeral. Bart had asked that mourners should attend the event dressed in “something colourful”, and his fellow cyclists came along dressed suitably in their lycra cycling gear.

Those who knew Bart always had a sense of affectionate respect for him. Tributes included the fact that he “was a thoroughly nice chap” and “a true gentleman.” He will be particularly missed by his family.


MEDIA WATCH: STOP PRESS: THE “CITIZEN” BECOMES A WEEKLY

by a Clarion correspondent

So our long-established local evening paper, the Citizen, is ceasing to publish on a daily basis and now will be coming to us on a weekly basis instead.

This should come as no surprise to its readers. It’s happened before in towns and cities across the country as our local press has been cut back, to meet falling sales, and (more important to publishers) cuts in advertising revenue. A number of cities have suffered as their local daily papers have become weekly papers. In many places even local weekly papers have been axed, in a cull of the local press across the UK.

CHANGE IN OWNERSHIP:

For many decades the Citizen and its sister paper, the Cheltenham-based Echo, were owned by the Daily Mail group, which also controlled other local papers throughout the country. The Citizen tended to reflect the business-orientated views and coverage of the Mail group in its pages. But then, a few years back, the Mail decided to sell off all of its interests in the local press – and the Citizen and Echo both passed into the hands of the Mirror group.

A change in the tone of the papers was soon apparent. But, it seems, economies still had to be made. The first, took place when publication of the Citizen was moved out of Gloucester altogether – to the Echo offices in Cheltenham.

Shared facilities didn’t stretch as far as combining the two titles into one paper, however. Perhaps the new owners decided that was a step too far! But it was a far cry from the days when our Citizen managed to produce local editions for the diverse areas in its catchment area – such as the city of Gloucester, the Stroud Valleys – and, of course, the Forest of Dean.

“HEART THROB OF THE COMMUNITY”:

Once upon a time local newspapers represented the heart throb of the local communities where they were published. They were bought eagerly when they appeared on the streets or in the newsagents. Some older folk may remember when daily papers (local and national) would include a “Stop Press” column to be filled with any “breaking news”, as we call it today, just as the paper was about to be roll on to the presses. Others would run to two or more editions.

Those days have, of course, long since gone. And newspapers have had to move with the times. They are no longer just in competition with each other but also with other, more immediate, sources of news such as television or on line, on the ‘web.

But our local press still, or should, perform a function. It keeps members of local communities in touch with each other. It can ferret out the minutiae of local life or provide a platform for local issues and debate.

In the Dean, we still have the Forester, not to mention the “freebie”, the Review (both, incidentally, now owned by the Tindle group), both of which appear weekly and are published in the Forest. And both still maintain a reasonable coverage of local affairs.

WHAT ABOUT THE CITIZEN?

So, what of the Citizen? In September, the paper announced its decision to go weekly. In explanation of the move, it declared: “We still have a loyal print audience but the majority of the people who read the Citizen and the Echo do so just once a week.

“Daily readership is coming more and more from our website Gloucestershire Life and our digital audience – not just on the site but across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter – is showing amazing year-on-year growth. And our digital advertising revenues are growing at the same rate.

“In making this change, we’re acknowledging and reacting to how our readers behave.”

Thus says the Citizen spokesperson. She doesn’t explain, though, why the Citizen plus Echo couldn’t use these rising profits from its online activities to cross-fertilise a daily print edition of its papers. Neither does it give any figures on possible loss of jobs involved in the switch from a six-day a week publication to a weekly.

Of course more and more newspapers are adding “on line” editions to their print versions. The Daily Mail on line edition is particularly successful. But it should not be at the expense of print editions.

When Caxton developed the printing press in the Middle Ages he revolutionised communication. It allowed the emergence of newspapers from the 17th Century onwards. Not immediately, maybe, but over time they became the major source of communicating news, opinion, debate, and so much more.

It would be a pity if yet more printed newspapers are superseded by the more ephemeral on line alternative when it comes to communication.

 

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EDUCATION MATTERS & HEALTH WATCH

In O. Adams, R.Richardson, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:26 am

COMING TOGETHER:

Earlier this year we heralded the amalgamation of two large teachers’ unions – the NUT and the ATL. Now it has happened, and the result is a union half a million strong – the fourth biggest affiliate to the TUC. Its title is the National Education Union (NEU).

The NEU will have its work cut out. De-regulation and marketisation has seen local authorities undermined and support services cut.  A prescribed narrowed down curriculum is dominated by assessment and testing and teachers’ workloads are unacceptable.    The new union, says the Morning Star, “promotes an opportunity for an organised fight-back against the dominant ideas that have done so much damage in education.”

SATS SCRAPPED FOR 7 YEAR-OLDS:

Infants’ teachers throughout England have no doubt seized with delight on the news that SATS (Standard Assessment Tests) for seven-year-olds are to be scrapped – but not until 2023.  If it has at last been recognised that these tests are, as teachers have long argued, harmful, why wait six years to abolish them? A new “baseline” check will be introduced in the reception class, presumably to help assess progress made – yet it’s something else to fit in to the busy infants’ teacher’s day.

CUTS IN FUNDING:

School funding was one of the key issues in June’s General Election. Here in the Forest leaflets were distributed outlining what the proposed cuts would mean to individual schools. Many Conservative MPs pointed to the cuts as being a decisive factor behind the Tories losing their majority, and several in the worst affected areas lost their seats after sustained anti-cuts campaigns. Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, under significant pressure from her own MPs, was forced finally to find an extra £1.3 billion to ensure that no school was left worse off after the reforms. But heads complain that inflationary cost pressures have not been addressed, and that schools are still losing out in real terms.

TROUBLE UP NORTH:

We have long been concerned at the lack of accountability of academies. Now the Wakefield City Academies Trust has admitted that it is unable to improve its schools quickly enough, and is asking the Department of Education to seek new sponsors for its 21 schools.

Only two years ago this trust was earmarked by the Government as one of the best-performing sponsors in the North. It was handed a share of a £5 million pot to take on more schools.  Since then, however, it has come to light that the trust paid £440,000 to companies owned by the CEO, Mike Ramsay and his daughter.

A report some months ago in the Independent said that the trust had been put in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management.”

SCHOOLING IN FINLAND:

Robin Head, an educationalist writing in the Morning Star, produced an interesting article on education in Finland. It is a country, says Head, whose standards are universally admired and which does very well in the international “Pisa” league tables.

In Finland young children up to the age of seven learn mainly through play, develop at their own pace and are not crammed with inappropriate rules of grammar or mathematical theory.

When more formal teaching is introduced classes are of mixed ability and are kept below 24 pupils in size. Pupils have free transport to their nearest school and free school meals. There are no league tables and no national inspection system – the teaching profession is trusted to regulate itself.

Such a regime, says Robin Head, improves life chances and opportunities for all.

He goes on, “Theresa May and Justine Greenwood would do well to heed the lesson of the Finnish experience.”

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HEALTH WATCH: OPPOSITION TO FOREST HOSPITAL PLANS

When the authorities produced their new plans for hospital provision in the Forest of Dean they might have thought that it was all a matter of working out the details.

It was about replacing the Dean’s two existing hospitals with one single facility (referred to as “the hub” in technical jargon).  It was, they thought, just a matter of deciding where this new “hub” would be sited – and perhaps a bit of tweaking of the facilities to be offered.

Although the concept had been on the cards for some time, it only became public in mid-September – and immediately controversy came bubbling to the surface.

It wasn’t simply a parochial reaction to the (still) rather sketchy plans – though there was a certain amount of that in where, out of the three Forest towns, would the new facilities be based. It was more concern about what this new “hub” would offer.

SOME ANSWERS?

The Forest Review gave us some information. First it would be paid for by the NHS. No threat of private capital, then.  The new hospital would contain a “minimum” of 24 beds. This compares with the combined number of 47 in the Dilke and Lydney at present. Readers can, of course, do their own maths.

Meanwhile, we’re told, that the new “hub” would contain a “wider range of services” possibly including an endoscopy suite. What it wouldn’t have, though is a maternity unit, or a full operating theatre.  For such facilities patients are expected to take themselves out of the Forest to such places as Gloucester or even further afield.

The new hospital is planned to open by 2021 – though given the consultation needed plus the decision making involved before work actually begins, such a planned opening date must be speculative to say the least.

NEED FOR CAMPAIGN:

There is, of course, concern about these plans, with some critics feeling the need for a campaign of opposition on the scale of the “SOS” campaign in a previous decade, when a (“New Labour”) government put forward plans to close both the Forest’s hospitals.. That campaign was successful.

According to one critical Facebook page, “this consultation is asking us to sign up to plans without scrutiny of them.  All we know is there will be half the number of beds there currently is.”

A PERSONAL VIEWPOINT:

Meanwhile, Owen Adams writes:

“… do you worry about the lack of any detail except the new hospital will be ‘state of the art’ , have better X-ray facilities and endoscopy  if we’re really lucky (but no maternity ward and half the number of beds – and no guaranteed minor injuries unit either… )

“Are you concerned that our attachment to the two hospitals is patronisingly classed by professionals as “emotional” or “affectionate” – never mind that the Dilke was built by mostly local subscription, is public land in the heart of the Forest (private developers must already be dreaming of the pounds) and has a covenant for the site to be always used for a facility to treat the poor and the sick?”

“Are you convinced this project has nothing to do with asset-stripping; the Naylor Report (now Government policy) to help make £220m of NHS cuts (otherwise known as ‘savings’) or to help private contractors rake in one billion pounds in contracts?

“Maybe it’s just me but I feel we’re being ripped off … and a great many of our elected and unelected representatives have fallen for the con (and that goes for people of all political persuasions). Anyone with a vanity development project they want fulfilled?”

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MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:06 am

dinosaurThe Rees-Mogg view on Foodbanks

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the old Etonian MP for North East Somerset, recently voiced his views on Food Banks,

His opinion wasn’t exactly the kind of outright denunciation that we’ve heard from other Tory leaders in the past. Indeedy, he found that the growing use of Food was “rather uplifting”.  After all, he mused, they showed what a “good, compassionate society we are”.

After all, said Rees-Mogg in a radio interview, “I don’t think the state can do everything that it tries.”

Well, it might if it tried. But a Tory-run state doesn’t even try.  It may be quite ruthless in making cuts, but it doesn’t even try to make provision for the growing number of people stuck on or below the poverty level. Under the Tory Government poverty has increased steadily.

But Rees-Mogg denies that. He declares that the increase in the use of food banks has come about because more people in need now know that they’re there. Before Labour “had refused to tell them”.

Eh?  What kind of blinkered world does Rees-Mogg live in?  No wonder he’s the favourite amongst Tory Party members to be the next Party leader.

What me? Party leader?

Another MP who may be touted (or not) as next Tory Party leader is our own Mark Harper.  When asked by the Citizen whether he might throw his hat into the ring, he denied any such thought.

It seems that his name was included in a list of possible contenders published in the Sun newspaper.  But Harper declared in the Citizen that he was focusing on supporting the Prime Minister in “delivering a successful Brexit and making improvements here at home” (sic).

That’s a good boy, Mark. I wouldn’t get ideas above your station if I were you.

Ours not to reason why:

I’m indebted to Terry Haines, Co-op Party member and one-time mayor of Gloucester, for this letter which appeared in a recent issue of The Forester.

“Meeting a respected community leader, who had canvassed with me for a “Remain” vote, I asked: “Voted yet?”

“Yes, OUT, the council didn’t collect my bin last week”.

Another pensioner colleague voted “Out”, annoyed her surgery had re-arranged an appointment.

Earlier I was vehemently told by a “Leave” voter, proudly polishing his new BMW in a street where 40 per cent of the cars were German: “listen mate, the Germans will always want our cars.”

I canvassed many old and poor people epitomised by the “Alf Garnett “diatribe: “I’ve lived under 19 different prime ministers and been poor under every single one.”

This solid “Leave” vote was surprised to find we were in the EU the next week. They were suffering from the 15 per cent rise in retail prices and the losses in the emigrant services they need from their NHS and caring services. Many thought we would be back to the Empire and its imported riches.

Should our country be subjected to such fickleness?”

Indeed, Terry. Indeed.

Cost of Yorkley Court:

It was revealed last month that the cost of evicting those who occupied Yorkley Court amounted to a staggering £150,000.  So now we know where the money went in this whole shoddy business.  The biggest amount was the cost of the overblown police presence at the site, with legal costs also adding to the total sum.

And what was gained by this eviction?  As I see it, nothing at all. But in my opinion. We lost a praise-worthy initiative from a group of eco-farmers (following in the footsteps of the 17th Century “diggers”)

Dinosaur

 

CLARION COMMENT: IT’S BREXIT AGAIN – BUT PERHAPS NOT AS WE’VE KNOWN IT

In Editorial, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 5:58 am

Suddenly Theresa May has changed tack in her negotiations with the EU over our departure from the European Union. Gone is the image of a tough Prime Minister, intent on steam-rolling through a “hard Brexit” (and the harder the better). Suddenly we’ve got the conciliatory May, willing to go that extra term in order to iron out our differences with EU leaders.

In so doing she rather flummoxed such hardliners as Boris Johnson (though he had to swallow his bile and give his backing to the PM). But if such newspapers as the Mail and Express were anything to go by, Boris was soon once more stepping out of line. As for Nigel Farage’s reaction – well, let’s not go down that road!

SO WHY THE CHANGE IN APPROACH?

So why did May execute this sudden volte face in her approach to the EU negotiators? Was it because it eventually dawned on her that being tough was getting her absolutely nowhere? That attempts to fix up alternative trade deals were falling apart? And that the only way to ensure markets for the UK was to extend our connections with the European Union as long as possible?

It’s difficult to say exactly what was going on in her mind – but her new approach of slowing down the whole process involved in Brexit certainly seems to have led to dissent in the ranks of the Tory Party. The Express (24th September) headlined Boris’s claim that he masterminded the Brexit campaign.

“FAKE NEWS”?

Of course the Mail, and (particularly) the Express are noted for producing what’s become known as “fake news”. Maybe we need to take their claims about Boris leading the revolt with a pinch of salt – but having said that, there’s no doubt that there’s dissent in the Tory ranks.

But getting back to the facts, Theresa May chose to propose her change in the Brexit programme at a meeting in Florence. She was there with Philip Hammond, Boris Johnson and David Davis ostensibly to present a united front on her new proposals. In Florence there was no public dissent from the UK (Tory) delegation. What Boris’s private thoughts were at this point were kept to himself.

But there will, no doubt, be dissent amongst the Brexit-leaning members of the Tory Party. There could even possibly be a revival in the fortunes of UKIP (though we’re placing no bets). Suffice to say, May has placed her party at yet another cross-roads. Which direction her membership will choose to go (let alone the electorate as a whole) remains to be seen.

BACKWARDS WITH THE LIB DEMS:

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats have been meeting in conference under their new leader, Vince Cable (back once more in the Commons). They chose another road completely – one that would involve another referendum, to bring the UK back into the European Union. Whether such a move is even possible is questionable. And whether it would achieve the desired effect is not certain. The Lib Dems’ approach seems to be that voters should be told that they made the wrong choice, and they’re being given a second chance to change their minds.

Sadly, Mr. Cable, that’s not quite how it works. Particularly when the Party only has twelve MPs at its disposal!


LABOUR IN CONFERENCE: LABOUR UNITES BEHIND CORBYN (But still has differences over BREXIT)

The Labour Party chose Brighton (again) for its annual conference in September. This time it really seemed like a Party preparing for power.

When the next General Election will be remains to be seen. That depends largely on who’s leading the Tories when the time comes (It might well not be Theresa May). What’s clear is that the Labour Party is united behind Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – even though there seem to be still significant differences over Brexit.

Even before the referendum there were those in the Party who backed Brexit (though the official party line was to remain part of the EU). Now opinion has become even more fragmented within Labour. There were those who demonstrated outside conference carrying both Labour banners and EU flags. As for Jeremy, he seems to have taken a more idiosyncratic line.

It’s not over the free movement of labour once we actually leave the European Union (there seems to be general agreement over this). It’s over how far we can accept a transitional period of association with the EU (or agreeing to the “market” elements of association with it) if its rules oppose the re-nationalisation of key elements of our infrastructure (such as the railways, for example). Or indulging in public investment projects. This may be a valid point.

Basically, if we follow the Jeremy Corbyn vision then we leave the EU, but accept the right of its citizens to travel to or to live or work in England – but also work for the right to plan and shape our own economy, including the public ownership of key elements within that economy.

Differences were still apparent at Labour’s conference, but it’s likely that such a line will gain general agreement. For one who has spent long and formative years within the EU (and its predecessor, the European Economic Union), it has changed our perceptions. To a certain extent we’ve all become Europeans now. The right to travel or to live and work throughout Europe has become ingrained and (to some extent) is practised even by the most hardened Eurosceptics.

It would be regrettable if that was to change. Maybe Labour’s conference has done something to ensure that it doesn’t. After all we still have links with like-minded European political parties plus the trade union movement.

Of course Labour’s conference debated other, equally important topics. At the end of the day, the “i” newspaper commented that Labour was now looking like “a Government in waiting”.

We’ll see…

EDUCATION MATTERS: SCHOOLS OUT FOR THE SUMMER BREAK

In R.Richardson, Uncategorized on September 22, 2017 at 1:20 pm

NOTE: we still promote print-first, so if you’d like your Clarion more up to date, then please subscribe to the print edition. Online is FREE, so we need your subs to keep going – that’s why we post to the web a bit later. Although sometimes we do drop the occasional web-only special edition, or unedited longer pieces – so do drop by even if you do read print first. Thanks – your Clarion needs you.


So, schools are out – and what’s been happening in the final few weeks of the academic year?

One consequence of Theresa May’s ill-judged decision to hold a General Election is that a number of her more right-wing policies have had to be modified. As far as education is concerned the abandoned policy which has had most teachers and educationalists cheering is the fact that the grammar school expansion programme will now not happen – not yet anyway, and hopefully not ever.

WASTING MONEY:

Although grammar schools have been put on the back burner, the Government’s free school programme goes ahead. An NUT review of available data found that £138.5 million has been wasted on free schools that have either closed, partially closed or failed to open. This would fund 3,680 teachers for a year.

The report came out days after Justine Greenwood (Education Secretary) announced that 130 more free schools would be created.

Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, declared that the initiative would fail to provide schools in the areas where they were most needed, and the cost entailed came at a time of unprecedented budget cuts for schools.

SATS FOR THE YOUNG:

Both the NUT and the ATL unions have condemned the “Sats” exams which pupils take in their final year at primary school. In the last two years these tests have been toughened up, and only 61 per cent of pupils have reached the expected standard this year. According to Kevin Courteney (NUT) 95 per cent of teachers say that the tests “reduce pupils’ access to a broad and balanced curriculum”

Almost 40 per cent of 11-year-olds are being given the message that they have not reached the expected standard and are not ready to begin secondary education. Mary Bousted (ATL) echoed these sentiments and said that “SATS are at the centre of a toxic accountability system that is driving teachers and leaders out of the profession.”

PROFITS MADE OVERSEAS:

We have commented before on the profits to be made by private companies from educational provision. In May, the AGM was held of Pearson, the largest such international company. Teachers from Britain rallied to protest against them.

Why were teachers so angry? Pearson is “up to its neck” in the privatisation of schools in Africa and Asia, helping to fund Bridge International Academies, a so-called low-fee school chain. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have also helped to set up the chain. Bridge has received millions from Britain’s overseas aid budget and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has pointed out that using aid money to fund private education is against its principles. Bridge’s academies undermine public education provision, which is open to all in Third World countries starving it of investment and funds. Moreover, the education provided by Bridge schools has been widely criticised. A standardised and scripted curriculum is delivered by teachers following lessons on a tablet and pupils are subjected to endless standardised tests.

In Uganda all Bridge schools were ordered to close because of their use of unqualified teachers and unsanitary conditions. Although Bridge academies with their connections to big business is the most widespread private school chain in Asia and Africa, there are others. One such, reported on recently in the Morning Star is Omega in Ghana (see picture, left).

Omega offers “pay-as-you-go” education, i.e. if a parent cannot afford the school fee on any given day, the child does not attend. The schools are set up in shacks and the teachers are mainly unqualified. The Ghana National Association of Teachers mobilised to urge the World Bank to stop funding the schools, and two of our main teaching unions, the NUT and NAS/UWT, have lent them their backing.

A BIT OF CLARITY NEEDED:

Some clarity is needed in Labour’s education policy re. Student fees and debt. In June, before the election, Jeremy Corbyn said: “First of all we want to get out of student fees altogether… plus reduce or ameliorate the massive debts owed by graduates. “  Subsequently John McDonell endorsed that. But in a Parliamentary debate on July 18, Angela Rayner, Labour’s education spokesperson, said that there were “no plans” to write off existing loans and that her party had “never promised to do so.”, And had only promised to abolish tuition fees from the date when Labour might be elected.

Graduates struggling to pay off huge debts, and indeed some undergraduates at present accruing them might see that as something of a betrayal. It’s true that our party leader failed at the time to clarify what was meant by plans to “reduce or ameliorate “graduates’ massive debts.

Compiled by RUTH RICHARDSON

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on September 22, 2017 at 12:56 pm

dinosaurPOINT TAKEN:

I’ve received a response from one of the quartet of former Labour councillors who’d chosen to resign from the party and sit on the district council as “Independent Labour”.

Bill Osborne puts a somewhat different viewpoint from what seemed to have been agreed by his colleagues.  He tells me that his resignation was in fact motivated more by his suspension from the Labour Party (at national level) which deprived him of his vote in the second leadership election  – when Jeremy Corbyn was confirmed as party leader.

Bill described this as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.  He also makes the point that the only reason that Labour’s NEC could provide for his suspension was that a comment Bill had made on social media “might have caused offence”.

Which, perhaps, casts a rather different light on Bill’s decision to leave Labour’s ranks. Personally, I take his point!

It’s an opt out:

I’ve always been a fan of the 1950s film, Passport to Pimlico, in which a plucky community in central London decides to opt out and declare itself independent – facing the full wrath of bureaucracy as a result.

It might not be on the same scale, but I was drawn to a piece in the Citizen the other week.  Dr. William Riches, from Newnham, has decided to declare his home an “independent republic”  His wife, Judith, has been declared president, and his children and grandchildren  are citizens.

When the UK finally leaves the EU anyone visiting his home by the Severn, Middlewatch, will have to make sure that they have their passports with them – plus a visa.  And Dr. Riches  and his family will then formally apply for entry to the European Union.

Dr. Riches (a retired university lecturer) is a much-travelled Europhile, and has worked in America, Canada and Northern Ireland.  He’s no “Little Englander”, and sees the world on a different scale than many of those who backed Brexit.  Good luck to him, I say.

Applying for European citizenship?

Of course there are other ways to make the point that you want to remain part of Europe. The kind of “hard Brexit” advocated by many enthusiasts, who believe that we can just go it alone, is bound to create mass upheaval. There are those Brits who’d chosen to make their homes in mainland Europe – as well as  those Europeans who’d chosen to make the UK their home.  Now all this is about to be torn apart.

But a new initiative is now being launched, to try to allow Brits to retain their European citizenship (as shown ou our current passports).  At present we all have “the right to move and reside freely within the territory of Member States under objective conditions of freedom and dignity.”

A new initiative is being launched to allow UK resident citizens to maintain these rights.  So, for more details, email info@eucitizen2017.org

Go on, give it a try!

Dinosaur

Life isn’t worth living (a review)

In C.Spiby, Reviews, Uncategorized on July 4, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Hermit_ionescoA review by C. Spiby of the novel ‘The Hermit’ by Eugene Ionesco

One of the most famous philosophical maxims is ‘The unexamined life is not worth living (1)’. Absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco’s only novel ‘The Hermit’ (1973) (2) is the absolute embodiment of this aphorism, albeit the conclusion presented being that, actually, life isn’t worth living examined or not.

An anonymous clerk inherits a small fortune which permits him to quit his meaningless office job where he is at most distracted to derision by the romances and mini-dramas that play out before him at work. On his last day, the clerk and his colleagues retire to the local restaurant for drinks – more out of social duty than actual like of one another. And this is where Ionesco excels: a complete affinity for the everyday interactions of ordinary people, most notably their subtexts and suspicions masked by social airs and conformities. It’s what makes ‘The Hermit’ an interesting study of late 20th century man without being particularly kind about him.

And yet somehow we readers warm to the rich hermit who has now moved to the suburbs of France albeit still within reach of the all-important restaurant where he can gorge himself whilst watching the world go by; satisfy his suspicions of the people that pass in the street or spy on him behind net curtains. His outlook tempts our sympathies for the hermit to begin to wain as he descends deeper and deeper into paranoiac excursions compelled by his own loneliness. Imagine a French bourgeois Charles Bukowski where, like Buk, there’s plenty of drink and little work, but where male chauvinism is replaced with a seething disdain for fellow man writ large and even existence itself.

Temporarily distracted by a brief and dour affair with a waitress, her leaving triggers a full-on descent into darkness. His fall coincides with the onset of events which feel a bit like Paris 1968 and the social unease surrounding it. He’s immersed in a fantasy of urban revolt and revolution akin to the civil spark possible from ’68. Except soon, though, there’s blood in the streets and shootings, which reminded me more of the fall of Yugoslavia but happening just a few streets away. Rather than engage in the uprising, our protagonist for the most part sets himself as observer whilst workers drink up their wine, revolvers in their pockets and rifles at their side waiting to return to the barricades. The hermit questions the point of revolution, makes no distinction between left and right but nor can he seem to distinguish between love and hate, participation and non-participation even as violence erupts around him, on the periphery. We’re never told what’s happening and why, just like the hermit we experience the outcome, and for the first time we fully feel the way he does about life in general: as an outsider. It’s quite a feat of writing.

Later still the revolution is now just a mess of reactionary forces and even worse just factions of the same side in some areas (a nod to the example of the anarchists and communists during the Spanish Civil War, perhaps?): now though everything is questioned and assessed for its value and meaning albeit without consequence or engagement. At one point the hermit muses that he wishes he’d study philosophy more, to be able to understand the meaningless of the universe as he sees it and perhaps therefore find some kind of purpose.

Best known for his absurdist plays like ‘The Chairs’, ‘Rhinoceros’ and ‘The Lesson’, Ionesco spent most of his life in France and help establish the theatre of the absurd in the 1950’s. And yet this novel is at its best when it observes our ordinariness, in my opinion.

Ultimately ‘The Hermit’ is a downbeat analysis of humanity not least since the absurdity of life being meaningless is, in this instance, not providing us with freedom from restrained opportunity or social structures like the church and such like as the existentialists argued. Only love hints at the possibility of meaning but the sad fact is that the hermit in question, despite all his fair riches, just isn’t very good at it.

At one point a waitress observes of him: ‘You keep to yourself too much, Monsieur.’ To which he replies – summing up the book entirely – ‘I’m surrounded by people. I’m surrounded by the crowd. By the crowd or by nothing.’

The Hermit’ is indeed a gloomy book but engaging until the end even as it becomes more and more fantastical. In that absurdity it becomes more satirical, almost a different book. And yet somehow its pace which takes you from the banal to the absurd works – it makes the essence of the absurd all the more believable.

I don’t know why Ionesco never wrote another novel, returning to plays and literary criticism. This might be a shame, as the tension of an impending insurrection is palpable in the second half and the descent into loneliness compelling in the first – and because of this the scope of this possibly allegorical sweep of humanity and the universe of emotion and reality means the work takes on a wider importance than its easy-to-read style would suggest.

It’s moments of cynical humour show Ionesco as a master of timing and it is his ability to make an unappealing protagonist a figure of our continued interest is, in my opinion, always the mark of a good writer. Worth reading. Worth living.

  1. Spoken by Socrates through Plato’s Apology
  2. I was reading the 1983 English translation published by Calder – looks like it’s currently out of print, but second-hand copies are available online

Clarion Comment: BEWARE THE IDES OF MAY

In Editorial, Uncategorized on April 25, 2017 at 12:44 pm

It’s interesting how quickly memories of Cameron’s premiership fade away, Now that Theresa May is at the helm, Cameron has become well and truly yesterday’s man.

So, what do we make of May’s reign so far? It’s been less than a year – but we can’t complain that it’s been uneventful. We’ve had her attempts to woo Donald Trump (the US president that most of us love to hate). There’s been her decision to opt for a “hard brexit” from the European Union. And there’s been her attempt to drive Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP into a corner which threaten to produce further divisions between England and Scotland – perhaps irreparable ones.

One of May’s major flaws as Prime Minister (or indeed as a politician) is her acerbic style. She’s like a bull terrier, constantly on attack mode. In her view, political opponents are there to be put down, their faces ground into the mud. But it may be that she’s taken on more than she can chew when she decided to take on Nicola Sturgeon.

BAD JUDGEMENT:

Another flaw with Theresa May is a marked lack of judgement. What on earth led her to invite Trump over on a state visit to the UK when he’d hardly got himself settled into the White House? Her haste flouted all existing protocols as well as offending millions of people.

Another example of bad judgement was her decision to go for a “hard brexit” from Europe. If we look at the overall figures, the referendum results showed deep divisions between those who wished to stay and those who voted to leave. Those who voted to leave won – but by a slender margin. In the circumstances might it have been better to aim for a course that respected the majority without trampling on the concerns of the minority? Let alone upsetting the European Union – the bloc that one way or another we will have to do business with.

REVIVING THE DODO?

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, she has chosen to take on the education establishment with her persistence in ploughing scarce resources into the setting up of new grammar schools. Selective education was phased out over fifty years ago. Most rational folk regard it as dead as a dodo, and in Parliament a cross-party alliance, including Nicky Morgan (former education Minister), Lucy Powell (Labour’s shadow minister) and Nick Clegg for the Lib Dems, has emerged to rally opposition to grammar schools.   So, the question is, why has May chosen to revive the whole controversy now, to the point where she’s even divided her own party?

The opposition to May’s plans led by Morgan, Powell and Clegg were spelled out in The Observer on 19th March. Whilst making the point that whilst they had their differences, they were all agreed that selection was bad for schools, and bad for societies that they served. Selection failed to tackle inequality or to boost social mobility.

A MATTER OF EXPENSES:

Another blot on the horizon that has rocked the Tory Party is the electoral expenses scandal in a dozen or so “key” constituencies (including the Thanet seat, where Nigel Farage made his bid for election). Inflated expenses involving the Tory electoral machine were not declared in these seats, possibly having an impact on the results.

Of course, May wasn’t guilty of involvement in this. It happened on Cameron’s watch. But it’s been an episode in which she’s chosen to take a low profile approach, despite the fact that it could have repercussions on her Parliamentary Party – possibly even a loss of a few of her MPs (a factor that should concentrate May’s mind considering the limited size of her majority).

Basically Theresa May seems to be riding high in the polls, with no overall opposition from within the Tory Party faithful – but it may well be that this degree of support is based on shaky ground. There are plenty of challenges ahead, starting off with how she manages to handle our exit from the European Union.

We’re indebted to Joy Johnson, in her Tribune column for these last words on Theresa May:

“It’s a Prime Minister that masquerades as the champion of ordinary working people as she sidles up to Donald Trump after racing over the Atlantic to be his first foreign visitor (after his election as president).

“It’s a government that has all the hallmarks of a harsh, hard right administration. Nothing that has been done so far can illustrate this approach so well as their policy to ignore Alfred Dubs’ amendment to the Immigration Act. Out of the thousands of unaccompanied refugee children who made it to Europe the UK was going to take in 3,000. Yet even this figure was too high for May’s administration. They pulled the plug at 350 children. Shameful.”


The brutal Indifference of Deportation

And it’s happening on May’s watch

from a Clarion correspondent

Are we suffering from an obsession? Or is someone at the Home Office just trawling through files to see who can be deported from Britain next?

Certainly there seems to be both a lack of any sign of compassion in the way that deportation is being used against those who are seen as “breaking the rules”. It almost seems to qualify as a vigilante approach.

Two cases have been highlighted in the media recently. The first was that of Irene Clennel. She had lived in Britain for over thirty years. She has a UK husband, two children born in this country – and even a grandchild. But this didn’t stop her from being seized by the authorities taken to a detention centre in Lanarkshire where she was transported to Singapore and left with the grand sum of £12 in her pocket.

Back home she’d acted as her sick husband’s carer. But earlier, it seems, she’d had to return to Singapore for lengthy periods of time to care for her dying parents. Because of this she lost her rights to remain in Britain. Now she’s back in Singapore, where (since the death of her parents) she knows nobody.

DETAINED AT YARL’S WOOD:

The other case concerns Sophia Kamba, from Kettering. She has been held in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre for some five months.

Now she has learned that her 13-year old son Joel has sickle cell anaemia. With his condition deteriorating he has been admitted to hospital twice in the past few months.

Sophia Kamba (who has lived and worked in the UK for 27 years) has applied for leave from Yarl’s Wood to be with her son. Incidentally, Sophia was born in Britain, as was her mother, but she failed to get naturalised.

In response to her plea for temporary release to see her son, she was told: “you can Skype him from Jamaica.”

As this issue is being prepared, her appeal for temporary leave from detention is still under consideration.

 

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on April 25, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Saving our Forest way of life:

dinosaurMany old timers in the Forest regret the passing of the “old ways”. Patterns of life have certainly changed over the past fifty years or so.  Mining is now a thing of the past – apart from a scattering of free miners, and even they are fading away.

And we’re losing that thick, sometimes impenetrable, “Vorest” accent, swamped as we are by outside influences. Basically the population is changing as once settled communities are affected by the arrival of incomers in our midst.

Whether this is a good thing or bad depends on your point of view. Me, I couldn’t possibly comment.

But I was interested to see in the local press that attempts had been made to raise money from the heritage lottery to save the distinctive Forest dialect for future generations.

It’s in danger of being lost completely, say those behind the bid.  They aim to make use of oral history recordings (both of the spoken and written word). Attempts will be made to introduce youngsters in the Dean to old patterns of employment – such as ochre mining and “ship badgering” (in other words tending the free-range Forest sheep).

As an old dinosaur I wish them luck. But I must confess to a certain degree of skepticism. We’re all caught up in the forces of change, whether we like it or not. The population of the Forest is changing, patterns of employment, too, are not what they used to be. The best we can hope for is to build up a bank of memories for generations to come. To let them know what our “Land between two rivers” used to be like.

Mark Harper has his say:

I read one of Mark Harper’s contributions to the Citizen the other week with a little bit of interest. Only a little, mind. He is, after all still our MP even if he has been consigned to the backbenches in the Commons.

Now he’s out of government he does seem to be scrabbling around for something relevant to say. He skirts cautiously round the subject of Brexit, before lighting on the High Speed Rail Act which will it seems generate “new jobs and economic growth”.  The trouble is that none of it really affects the Forest of Dean. And it’s somewhat overblown anyway. Our own railway connections will remain exactly the same, apart from some dubious connections in the Bristol direction from Severn Tunnel Junction.

He then lights on the Government’s Bus Services Bill, which will help local authorities improve bus services. Oh yeah? Who’re you kidding? With Stagecoach now running the lion’s share of bus services in and out of the Forest?  I don’t think so.

Then Mark seems to run out of things to say. He rather limply tells us that “the Government is getting on with the day-to-day job of running the country, as well as delivering Brexit.” Yes, that’s what many of us are afraid of.

hoof_signs_victory

Tory Mark Harper MP will be forever linked with the betrayal of what we hold dear and in common: our Forest!

But to be fair to Mark he does go on to tell us about his constituency, with people contacting him “email, phone or in writing.”  He adds that “in addition to this I have continued to attend local events, visit businesses and meet local residents around the constituency.” Well, that’s what he’s paid for.

 

All in all I got the impression that Harper, now he’s no longer involved in Government circles, is casting around to find things to say to his constituents.  But never mind. At least some would say he’s trying. Others might add that he’s very trying.

Clarionposter

The Good Life? Or not so good.

It seems that after trying vegetarianism we’re now being encouraged to go the whole hog (if that’s the right way to put it) and go Vegan. Veganism is the “smart way to save the planet” we’re told.

Humph. A recent item in one paper I read said this isn’t necessarily so.  It doesn’t take into account the air miles that our vegetables travel before they arrive in our shopping bags. Or unless we have our own allotments, how growing them devastates rain forests or other natural climatic regions. Not only that but those who go in for those trendy veggie boxes are more likely to throw away half the contents.

So, let’s think about our culinary habits, eh?

Dinosaur

obituary: Fidel Castro: 1926-2016

In Obiturary, S. Richardson, Uncategorized on April 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm

“HISTORY WILL ABSOLVE ME”
by Sarah Richardson

Fidel Castro’s death in November last year was an event which made me remember and reflect on my time in Cuba. I have been interested in Castro, and the Cuban Revolution, since 1986 when I went on a brigade there with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. The experience impressed me deeply and helped to shape my outlook on life.

Castro was born into a wealthy farming family in Oriente Cuba in 1926. He grew up to become a young idealistic lawyer, much like Nelson Mandela whom he later much admired.  However, after several setbacks and a clampdown by the authorities he came to believe, like Mandela, that change would only come through armed struggle.

In 1952 a right-wing army general, Fulgenico Batista staged a military coup in Cuba. The country had become a playground for rich Americans with casinos, prostitution, bars and drugs.  Money was siphoned off overseas and little profit went to ordinary Cubans.  Castro recruited a group of revolutionaries to storm the Moncada Barracks on July 26 1953. The attempted coup failed and the leaders, including Castro, were imprisoned.

After his release in 1954 he travelled to Mexico and formed the 26th July movement with his younger brother Raul and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. They landed their boat, the “Granma” with around 80 revolutionaries  on the coast of Cuba in 1956. After three years of fighting from their base in the Sierra Maestra mountains, the rebels won and Fidel Castro was proclaimed President in 1959.

AMERICAN HOSTILITY:
Although initially non-aligned, Castro was rebuffed by the US when private property was nationalised in Cuba and Marxist-Leninists appointed to the Government, notably Che Guevara. Then in 1961, the CIA backed an invasion of Cuba by Cuban dissidents and exiles at the Bay of Pigs. It failed.  But probably the biggest test for Castro’s leadership was the 1963 Cuban missile crisis. By then, Castro had made trade deals with the Soviet Union, notably that the Russians should take most of the island’s sugar harvest in the wake of the US embargo.  In return Kruschev wanted to site nuclear missiles on Cuba, 90 miles from the coast of Florida.

This sparked a major diplomatic incident between America and the USSR. Those who lived through this time remember thinking that it could mean the end of the world. Fortunately a peace deal was brokered and agreed, the weapons were removed from Cuba and an uneasy truce began. The CIA continued to mount attacks on Castro’s life throughout his time in office – which were eventually turned into a book and a film, “634 ways to kill Castro.”

POSITIVE REFORMS:
Domestically, during the 1960s and ‘70s, Castro established the positive reforms which improved living conditions for ordinary Cubans and made the Cuban model desirable internationally, particularly among countries in Africa and Latin America. Universal free health care and education were established as well as subsidised housing.

As well as strengthening relations with the Soviet Union, Cuba supported many leftist and democratic movements worldwide. Sadly, Che Guevara was murdered by the CIA in Bolivia in 1967 when he was supporting the struggle there.  Castro was a leading figure in the non-aligned movement and sent 40,000 troops and medical staff to Angola in the 1960s which helped the country gain independence. In Latin America, Cuba supported the revolution in Nicaragua and the war against the Contras (who were also CIA backed) from 1979 to 1990. It’s unfortunate that, like Cuba, Angola and Nicaragua have retained the same presidents for several decades – Dos Santos in Angola  and Ortega in Nicaragua.  Perhaps less controversially, Castro supported the leftist governments of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Hugo Chavez in Venezuala and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. As one young Cuban remarked, “when Fidel came to power we were a pebble in the ocean. Now everyone knows about us.”

BREAK UP OF SOVIET UNION:
In 1989, Gorbachev began reforms  which would lead to the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of  the special relationship with Cuba by the end of the 1990s. Castro stepped down as President in 2008 due to ill health, and his brother Raul has led Cuba through some cautious changes, notably the reopening of of the US Embassy in Havana in 2015, Obama’s visit to Cuba in 2016 and the beginning again of direct flights between the US and Cuba.

When Castro died, everyone agreed that he had made a mark on history – his detractors that he repressed opposition and free speech, supporters that his struggle for an egalitarian society in Cuba superseded this. When I visited in 1986, the links with the Soviet Union were still in place. I was staying in an international camp with those from other European countries as well as young Cubans.   In our brigade there was a young miner and a miner’s wife. The Miners’ Strike had finished the year before. We had many conversations with Cubans, and their understanding of international issues, despite never leaving the island, was deep and reflective.  I was impressed by their knowledge and understanding of the Broadwater Farm Riots, which had recently taken place in London.

We visited the prison where Castro had been placed after the failed Moncada coup. The island where the prison was had been re-named “Isle of Youth” and it welcomed students from around the world, including Angola and Mozambique. We sang and danced with some of these students . We helped to build homes on a building site and in the evenings listened to political talks and sang “The Internationale” together, each in his or her  own language.

There was very limited choice of products in the shops and Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) were flourishing. These encouraged people to spy on their neighbours and report “un-revolutionary” behaviour. I am more critical of Castro’s Cuba now than as an idealistic 25 year old. However, I would agree with the final line in Simon Tisdall’s obituary on Fidel  (Observer, 27 November 2016): “For the most part, Castro, iconic figure of the left, was on the right side of history”

SARAH RICHARDSON