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June 2010
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August 2010


There should be a service you can ring that will come and do all your camping packing. Exhausting.

I'm up again in 4 1/2 hours to get to Pembrokeshire in time to put the tent up and whathaveyou hopefully long before dark. and not in the rain, please.

On the subject of film making in Britain:

My friend Alice, btw, referring to the UKFC referred to a fascinating article which puts the film industry in the UK in to perspective, from an actual film maker as opposed to someone looking in from the outside. I think what he's actually arguing for is root & branch change, which... I doubt will ever happen. But it does put my strident 'leave our existing shit alone, even if it's broken, surely it should be mended from within?' attitude out in the long grass somewhat. you were right, Phil :)

Back in a wee while. More ranting will commence mid-Aug, I've no doubt.



Has something happened to American children?

Nora and James went to see Toy Story 3 yesterday whilst I was at work, with Daddy. I got home to find my admittedly slightly over sensitive daughter with gobbets of tears pouring down her face, crying in to McK's shirt and having a terrible time. She never wants to see it again! It's terrible, it's frightening and sad. And so forth.

McK explained the two specific areas of badness: the extended peril sequence and the sad goodbye. The sad goodbye I'm shrugging and at, knowing I'll be mopping up tears from the floor with a bucket when I see it. But the extended peril sequence sounds really rather frightening (extreme danger of incineration for all our lovely Toy Story friends). McK also described 'Big Baby' who sounded quite astonishing as a character - a post - video game influenced zombie baby doll!

...and I thought about those fear inducing elements when compared to Toy Story and Toy Story 2. These are wayyyyy way more sophisticated, surely? Toy Story / 2 are gorgeous films suitable for a whole family from 0-90. Sid *is* nasty but only cartoon villain nasty, similarly to Prospector Pete. The weird mangled toys in TS1 are really daunting and definitely scary, but they puncture the bubble *incredibly* quickly and the feeling of threat is relatively minor. Presumably Pixar have aimed TS3 at the same audience. In which case... what? Sorry? What has happened to American kids aged 6-ish and below? Are they suddenly all far more aware of death, killing, zombies and so forth? Is it a given that they can watch more violence and fear than previously?

Or have they just pitched it a bit older without realising?

(Note: Nora also cried with fear in "Up" which also, is recent. The tense peril in Up being really rather scary dogs ganging up on our heroes. Equally, I was a little bit quizzical at that, but not quite so much. What made Pixar think that kids could take the beautifully realised characters they love being under imminent threat of awful, violent death as being all part of the fun?

So I know everyone says it's a wonderful film n'all, and I'm sure it is. Just... something weird about it.

Ftr: the kids saw it in 2D. James really detests the glasses. nora was adamant she'd be ok, but every film we've seen in 3D with her she ends up taking them off. Please add that general negative review to the many, many anti-3D views that are gaining traction from viewing audiences. *I* don't like it either - being a glasses wearer, 3D is a  royal pain in the ass and I don't even see if after a few minutes anyway.

Jeremy Hunt to axe The UK Film Council

Jeremy Hunt has been making disturbing noises in many directions of late, for example, toward the BBC's online operations and the Arts council, but here's an astonishing piece of news which leaves me almost speechless.

"Government to Axe UK Film Council".

The announcement is a little bit odd, and there are a couple of things that stand out. The Guardian quotes his answer to a question from Ian Paisley Jnr, no less:

"Hunt said he was keen for £3m per annum saved via cuts to the council's administration to be given more directly to film-makers. He also said the plans were not absolutely final, and invited people to voice opinions on the matter".

Three million pounds? When in its 10 year history the UKFC has raised £700 million in worldwide box office? What the hell? This must be an ideological move. It's certainly not financial. Here's another important point. Indie Wire reports that:

"UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt proposed merging and cutting a number of art and sport organizations today, with the goal of, “establishing a direct and less bureaucratic relationship with the British Film Institute.” The government would still back films using lottery funds, but, in the words of statement today, “This would support front-line services while ensuring greater value for money.”"

What front line services? Are you in fact suggesting budget cuts, with money basically going in to administration of the BFI, and the BFI having to make the painful decision as to whether to fund new films or promote and look after its archive of historic reels? What on earth does that statement actually mean?

So. This is absolutely terrible. If British films are left to 'the market' then films of the like of "Sex Lives of the Potato Men" result, because with only a profit motive to score money from, creative vision plays second fiddle to returns. Returns go for lowest common denominator shite, and shite is what you get. Obviously that's a vast generalisation but look at the stunning roster of films that the UKFC has invested in.

In that list are wonderful, *wonderful* films that say so much about the British sensibility, and which have won many awards. My absolute favourite, I have to say, although it's harrowing bloody watching is Mike Leigh's finest film in years, "Vera Drake". Also another great, idiosyncratic film, "The Last King of Scotland" but that's just to pick out two from the list.

This keys in to a bizarre conversation I had with two friends who I respect hugely, whilst we were all pissed, who stated categorically that we (the British) do not make good films, in comparison to say, the French, and therefore we should stop funding them. I could not believe what I was hearing and I must admit, I think I did some short term damage to my relationship with one of my friends, which was obviously horrible, but Good God, to suggest that "Vera Drake" is nothing less than a work of art? That I am proud my taxes went in to funding, to make a piece of accessible work that can be watched by millions... and to lose the opportunity to help support the next generation of Mike Leighs, of great actors, lighting crew, script writers, editors... to support and celebrate the idiosyncratic and rather wonderful little nation we live in?

No. Just No. NO! It's too much. It's appalling.

Also I just want to point out that a) we only see a few French films over here and frankly, some of them are a little hyped by the middle classes (who like a nice bit of exclusive arts that the low rent don't really understand - tell me I'm wrong, please do), so I'm sure there's an awful lot of French market only cobblers made also and b) French films receive *gigantic* subsidy from the French govt. And rightly so, for the same reasons as outlined above.

Getting back to the "No" point. Please draw a line in the sand here, with me and everyone else. Remember, this is not about saving money. this closure is not inevitable because we owe so much. The UKFC costs a pittance to run, and brings back enormous financial and cultural benefits. It's about something fundamentally screwed up in Jeremy Hunt's vision of what the arts in the UK should be like. There is, as with all things, a petition to sign. Please do it now if you haven't already, although I suspect in that ridiculous way. the only thing the govt will take notice of is a Facebook group if it gets 20k members in 3 days. 

So there's one of the latest outrages for you. I'll keep reporting them as they come in. Jeremy hunt does seem to have an appropriate name.

Parenting stuff

I have been on such a political "tip" (yo) of late, I have neglected to inform you of the comings and goings of the kids. I apologise to any stalkers out there.

Generally speaking it's all good. James started a gymnastics class given that he spends alot of his time spinning around and jumping off furniture to music. I thought he might as well see if he can learn to spin and jump without cracking his head open. In fact, in the back of my mind I'm wondering if he'd be good at dancing - the proper sort - but he hasn't got the attention span, plus he's not really one for communal 'joining in' type endeavors. He loves attention and achievement, but he likes it on his own terms, not having to perform in front of others to do it. So, gymnastics it is. 

His nursery teacher says his reading's pretty good, wide vocabulary etc. It's extremely difficult for me to guage James' reading in comparison to other boys or children, given that by this age, Nora was reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by herself, whereas James is easily bored by the strain of the "aha!" moment not having happened yet. He still has to construct so many words out of sounds in the end he gets fed up and moans that you should be reading to him instead. But, I have to remember, Nora was a bizarre freak child ;)  I know James is ahead. I don't worry about it to be honest. He loves being read to, loves stories, and is getting there in his own time. At some point he'll start reading words back to me of his own volition and things'll start chugging along more quickly.

The fairly interesting thing is that James is streaking ahead in his maths comprehension, apparently. Which makes me realise we haven't got enough around the house to help him. We had a number line for Nor and of course it got ripped along the way. I must get that together. It's rather sweet that so many aspects of him are Mackayish. Stuck is a huge great Irish Hurley body. Heheh. He has my sense of daftness though, along with his sister. I am much proud of that trait. Definitely has origins in my Mother :)

Meanwhile the end of term approaches. A summer stretches ahead with my poor husband desperately thinking up new things for them to do every day. They are (or rather, James is) somewhat less random now though. They are sheperdable. Country days out and such may well be on the agenda.

The kids are all getting  skittish at school. Potentially something that contributed to a particular lad in Nora's class pushing her over in PE so that her face and mouth crashed directly onto the tarmac. I didn't see Nor until the evening at the end of term school disco, weirdly, where she showed me inside her mouth and to be honest it was a bit of a shock. Proper physical damage always makes one think of objective medical photos, somehow. It doesn't look real, or attributable to the person you love. All I can say is that I've not seen a gum injury like it. Luckily it seems relatively superficial but ugh, good god. It still looks horrible. I can state with absolute certainty that her two adult front teeth being only part grown / barely there at all, is the reason why she will still have her own two front teeth and not artificial ones. I'm amazed she didn't lose any. Poor Nora. Awful. That's two nasty 'mouth bang down on the pavement/floor' incidents she's had now in her life. The first killed her front baby tooth and it went grey. I'm just hoping that the mouth's ability to heal itself will keep this from being too awful. That and some antibacterial mouthwash.

And James has learned to play Draughts, and loves it.

That's it for updates!

Stand up against tabloid racist scare tactics

Martin Belam has already written something this morning about today's Daily Express headline, "One in five Britons will be ethnics" which is possibly more eloquent than  my own effort will be. He talks about the point that the headline is scaremongering on the back of birth/death statistics which are current, extrapolating that 30 years in to the future. So the assumptions are dubious in any case, regardless of what those assumptions are. Read the post, anyway.

I think we should all write something today, and not link to the newspaper in question to give them the advertising revenue they would like. Instead, I want to tell you that my daughter is currently working out who to invite to her summer end of term party. The children she wants to invite are from a white English background, an African background, a Caribbean background and a Pakistani background. They all live in London, and they are all Britons. And she is no more interested in what their background is that we are. She wants to invite them because they are nice.

The proprietor, Editor and lead writer of the Daily Express responsible for OK'ing today's headline should examine their consciences.

ConDem latest atrocities horror

Oh there's almost no point in doing this is there. It's all so astonishingly rubbish.

Right. Here's number one. Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary who previously stated it was time to cease the war against motorists (what he actually meant was, stop the dreadful state sponsored rule changes limiting cars to 20 mph in built up areas. Of course! because it's so important that cars should have the freedom of choice to decide to drive fast enough to kill children in the road, instead of only seriously wounding them), has been telling OAP's that they should buck up, and pay for bus fairs instead of using their free passes. If they can afford it, of course.

Hey, I need to show you what's written on this piece of paper, Phil. It's a certain universal truth you might have missed. It reads: "Only poor people use buses for non-commuting journeys".

The above makes me wonder what he's got up his sleeve for a few months time. Having played it reasonably, and the cost not gone down (see above for reason), will he open handedly confess that there's no more money in the pot, and some kind of half fare must be brought in?

Here's the second of today's crusade against the Nanny state, which is actually cost cutting to the detriment of the poor. The abolition of the Food Standards Agency. It employs 2000 people apparently, and here's its mission statement:

"The Food Standards Agency carries out a range of work to make sure food is safe to eat, including funding research on chemical, microbiological and radiological safety, as well as food hygiene and allergy."

In practice, this means they looks at the following areas: Chemical and Microbiological safety; food hygiene, allergy and Intolerance; Radiological safety (eg: irradiated food research); Animal diseases and their effect on the food chain & human nutrition. Etc.

The most notable visible thing they've done is fought the lobbying of the food industry to reduce salt % in food, successfully. 

Research which I need to look up has many times over the years shown that food in areas of limited economic wealth has a tendency to be a) more expensive for basics and b) less healthy than food available in more affluent areas. Those stuck in housing estates with no access to cars do not have large scale Asdas, or Tescos nearby, and have to make do with the local food stores. Some other relevant research which again, I cannot give you a link for did an assessment in terms of calories which showed the amount of calories in cost in healthy versus unhealthy food. 'Healthy' calories are far, far more expensive than foods bulked out with flavour enhancing sugar, salt and fat. So poor people can fill their children with food, certainly. But it might well be food with limited health benefits other than providing some fuel to get them through till supper.

The food Standards Agency was created in order to fight the profit motive of business in order to put the consumer's needs first, and draw a line in the sand. This is not a freedom of choice issue. This is the Govt working on behalf of its constituents, who would not be able to gain as much traction working independently.

I know one friend of mine has a tendency to look at this from an Anarchistic perspective, that actually chimes with the Tory "freedom of choice" argument. What the hell have we got a govt agency telling people what to eat for? People can vote with their wallets can't they? Well, not in an economically limited household they can't. They're at the fucking mercy of a Friedman-esque short term profit oriented food economy. 

I'm struck sometimes by a quote the previously mentioned celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver voiced when discussing his school dinners initiative. He said that whilst he was at school, he used to spend all his money on comics, whereas at school itself, he was 'forced' to read Shakespeare etc in his English classes. Given the choice, he would never have read those books, and would have stayed forever in comics land. But school knew better, and knew he needed to read other stuff too. This is very relevant to the kind of state run agencies that the Tories (and who know which Liberals) want to disband. There are, though we all wish there weren't, extremely stupid and very poor (not mutually exclusive, btw) people out there, who will not always as first choice, buy the healthiest thing for them, or more importantly, their kids. It is *wholly appropriate* that a standards agency exists in order to help curb the excesses of the food industry. It ain't Nannying. It's  - well, practically, it's saving the NHS money, apart from anything else.

There's a whole bunch of other news about the NHS today, but I'm reserving judgment on what it actually means. My main criteria for wrongness at the moment are: will this disempower the poor? Will then disadvantage poor children?/working(single) mothers? Yet another ideological regrouping of the NHS costing even more money is to be expected, but I'm not sure it will affect the above criteria directly yet.

Stories and Lies in Andrew Lansley's campaign against Jamie Oliver

Private Eye has already done a good job of dissecting Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond's ridiculous statement, that he was going to "end the war on motorists" (URL's not online, bleedin' Private Eye and its antiquated view of the media!). Basically, they revealed the appalling strictures on train travel that the last govt had put in place, and the limited investment in public transport as a whole - whereas road building etc has been positively encouraged. Anyway. The thing is I think we see a pattern here which politicians the world over have discovered is a great way of staying in favour with their natural core voters, whilst basically lying. George Bush was a master of the art, often bare faced lying in his excuses for press conferences. The last govt was just as bad. I don't really see the coalition govt taking this to new levels, simply doing more of the same. It deserves to be pointed out though, in any case.

So. Simple attention grabbing headline (check this out, the "war on motorists" was being dissected by the Guardian in *2004*). Follow up consisting of "Eh? Beg your pardon but surely that's wrong?" is a) only in the broadsheets and b) not on the front page.

Last week, the new Health Secretary Andrew Lansley made a preposterous attack on Jamie Oliver's campaign for healthier school meals, in which, lest we forget, Oliver spent vast swathes of his own money and his rep on building up a culture of properly cooked, healthy meals as school dinners instead of the now demonised "Turkey Twizzler". This hits in to key Tory territory: apparent freedom of choice. In this case, it's actually budget tightening, disguised as freedom of choice.  Here's what Andrew "I've done my research" Lansley said about Jamie Oliver's campaign:

“If we are constantly lecturing people and trying to tell them what to do, we will actually find that we undermine and are counterproductive in the results that we achieve.

“Jamie Oliver, quite rightly, was talking about trying to improve the diet of children in schools and improving school meals, but the net effect was the number of children eating school meals in many of these places didn't go up, it went down."

“So then the schools said: 'It's okay to bring packed lunches but we've got to determine what's in the packed lunches, we've got to decide what's in the packed lunches.’

“To which the parents' response was that they gave children money, and children are actually spending more money outside school, buying snacks in local shops, instead of on school lunches.”

Let's be clear what Lansley's doing here - he's created a story - and it is a story, without a grain of truth (no references offered), in order to sell his shtick.

Right! Let's look at the evidence then, shall we? Which Lansley obviously did do, but chose to either willfully ignore, or not mention, because it didn't fit his 'parental choice' story.

"More pupils eat school lunches" says the School Foods Trust

"Oliver campaign 'raised results' says research from Oxford University

In other words: school dinner numbers initially went down but now they've gone right up again, and in areas where the school dinner policy has been introduced, this has a supportive effect on pupils: better results, less sick time.

Where's your story celebrating that success, Mr Lansley?

It's worthwhile remembering this point, parents, if things start slipping back. It's the poor kids who will suffer, but then we know already they don't really care about poor kids anyway, do they (see previous installments of vitriolic anger).