Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Boxing Day Hunt 2011

Certain subjects instantly  provoke a strong emotional response and hunting with dogs is one of them.  

A regular measure now of the support of the the public for hunting is the annual Boxing Day Meet whereby hunters put on a free show on a slow news day.  The Countryside Alliance has gradually coordinated this in to a carnival event.  Masters are expected to make sure that the best riders are neatly dressed outside a suitable pub, the dogs under control, and everybody gets to take photos.  This is about saying to the public "We hunt and we are part of the landscape" and crucially "So are you."

Over to Bedale then, where the fair weather this morning brought a large field of riders and viewers.  The main photographic event was outside the pub with the riders posing with stirrup cups, but just down by the church in a larger field were all the other riders and a crowd well on its way to a couple of hundred.

The dogs were cheekier than expected; one of them rushed in to the CoOp as if realising there was a handy supply of sausages, another lazy dog wriggled under a parked car and settled down for a snooze, hoping not to be seen while the others made the running.  When the pack set off a small wire haired terrier strained on its leash and whimpered pitifully to go with them, called by the ancient sense which even a chihuahua has, that deep in their DNA is still the string which connects them to a wolf.  

Although the hunting with dogs ban  is a nuisance, wasting police time and obliging people to perform legal dances, it hasn't had quite the effect which was feared.  In fact, what with hunt ball tickets selling fast, carol services, calendars of very well-stacked young ladies, sweat shirts, support events and the general opening of social channels, the idea of hunting has never been more popular.  It has thrown off some of its snottier and exclusive airs and has stepped in to a functional niche which used to be occupied by the Church of England.

Whether people mean to get on a horse is as irrelevant as whether they mean to drive an F1 car.  They don't care if someone else does, it is the excuse for the meetings. Hunting is cheap until you saddle up; you can do all the hanging around for a few pounds and that includes having a drink. Or, if you are feeling skint, bring a flask of tea.

For women, hunting has one huge advantage in that it is one of the few sports where a broad beam is regarded as acceptable. Since the riders are under no obligation to be stick insects, nobody else has to either. Hurrah, I'd like cream on that apple pie, thank you.

No doubt it will horrify the old guard and those who don't much care for the riff raff, but the Countryside Alliance has helped the hunts re-position the sport as a socially binding and inclusive activity.  The editorial slant of magazines such as The Field reflect this; articles which would be more at home in Country Living have crept in to justify the cover-price to an audience which, realistically, is not going to buy a gun, a horse or a sporting estate. But they might buy wellies or sportswear such as Dubarry

The pressure is gearing up, then, to get MPs to repeal the ban. So far, according to the Telegraph, the government has indicated that it doesn't want to talk about this subject, and you can see why. It's not a deal-breaker from a Conservative point of view. If you mean to vote for Cameron, this issue won't prevent that. However, it might alienate some floating voters, particularly urban women who are a crucial swing group for all parties. There are disputes about how widely supported the ban is, but if legislation were simply a numbers  game, then perhaps we'd be out of the EU and have the death penalty restored by next month.

Unhelpfully, a group of Conservatives - Conservatives Against Fox Hunting - have formed themselves in to a classic circular firing squad and are about to disrupt the current delicate balance by slagging-off their own voters. Turkeys may not vote for Christmas but they definitely campaign for it.  Their 'about' page says:
The Hunting Act 2004 is not about class issues, town versus country, civil liberties or  banning rural customs or traditions.
Yes it is. If it hadn't been, they'd have banned fishing, and even Labour wasn't quite that stupid.

For some reason, CAFH keep quoting Brian May of Queen as if being married to an ex-EastEnders actress and current Strictly contestant makes the science drop-out and popular banjo-plunker an authority on environmental conservation.

What matters is that people who live and work in the countryside - rather than invest in chunks of it from the sale of catchpenny choons - are not cruel, do not deserve to be insulted that way, and thoroughly understand what they are doing -  unlike CAFH.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Kingdom of Raft

Where the salt water meets the sweet water there is a ramshackle landing stage against which leans an extraordinary craft which could, allegedly, go to sea. Not that anybody should be fool enough to try for the vessel is overgrown with cabins and chimneys, festooned with nets. An empty paddling pool is tethered to it, like a lilly pad in the stream, and on it sit the ducks, quacking insolently at the frustrated cat who lies on a tin roof chittering impotently. The ducks never fall for that old trick. The boat - for there is a boat under there - spreads herself against the bank and the landing stage like an old woman bathing her feet in the river, her skirts spread out and dipping in the water. This is the Raft, the current berth of the Raft family.

A Small Kingdom

Dadder Raft, being a scholar of maritime law, insisted that since time immemorial the land between the highwater mark and low water mark belonged to no one. The legal authority for this was cited as Miss Elizabeth the librarian at the harbour branch library. Since she worked for the council this was regarded as a definitive opinion.

Nana Raft (Mammer as she was then), when challenged to verify the opinion, said the librarian was an expert cable knitter and anyone who could read one of those seafaring patterns obviously knew what they were talking about.

Dadder had always fancied a country seat and reckoned that this gave him the means to acquire one in a certain sense. The river also had high and low water marks and, crucially, one crook in the river's bow was dug as an over-flow for the highest of tides. Most of the year it would not be used but just once or twice it filled with water. Unlike the sea shore, this was only flooded for a few days a year. He argued that this piece of land belonged to him as much as it did to anyone else. A tiny estate which was so prone to flooding that it vanished twice a year appealed to his sense of continuity. He said farmers on the Nile had sorted this out thousands of years earlier.

Squire Bragg who owned the adjoining farm land could probably have challenged this but as he would have had to pay the costs and neither of them fancied arguing with the water bailiffs who maintained they owned the river, yes, and the fish therein, he didn't bother. They agreed to differ so long as Dadder would keep the footpath clear and save Squire Bragg the burden. The bailiffs also reached an accommodation on the matter and Dadder was furnished with a rod licence; what for I know not. He was a tickling man.

Dadder therefore established his HQ which was part bothy, part elderberry bush, on the elbow of the river below the built-up bank. The footpath ran along the top of the bank so only people who really wanted to would make it down in to his Shangri-La. The soaring canes of the elderberry were lashed in to order, their leaves pointing outwards as far as possible. A seat was wedged between the stems, a very long seat that he could even lie down on. Beneath this was a long box with a few tools in it, dragged out when necessary for work. They were not over-worn.

When the foliage was pulled over you would not know there was someone in there at all, except if you heard him snoring or arguing a case with himself, invariably winning. A nearby willow wept silver tears at his eloquence. A rowan stood tall and measured his justice in its blood-red pannicles; it balanced perfectly. Summer passed into autumn and Dadder forsook his flowing realm for his leaning-place at the bar of the Harbour Lights.

It suddenly occurred to him that with the leaves falling he shouldn't leave the toolbox lying where anyone might find it. On an unseasonably warm afternoon with the sun beginning to slant long in the sky, he went back to the bothy only to find he had a squatter.

Madjy Fidjy

A sandy short-haired terrier gave a yip as Dadder came towards the bothy.  The elderberries which had temporarily given it a roof of purple tiles had gone, stripped off by the birds. A pair of smallish cuban-heeled boots wriggled out towards him, followed by a pastry of petticoats, none too clean, and eventually a small torso topped by a grey head wearing a stout hat shaped like cottage loaf.

The terrier rushed back until it was just in front of the petticoats and announced that it would have anyone, do you hear me, anyone, who wanted to make a fight of it.

Dadder was wondering how to approach the delicate matter of trespass when the woman stuck out her none-too clean hand and said: "Madjy Fidjy, house sitting at your service".
"I don't need no house sitting, Madam" replied Dadder, noticing that she didn't seem to be offering service so much as taking it.
"You do. Someone nearly had your tools away. I stopped them".

This may or may not have been true, but Dadder was in no position to argue about it. "What brings you to my property, Madam?"
"Property, is it. Well, my pilgrimage takes me along the road to Walsingham and I'm resting a while. Here, have a cockleshell." She reached in to her apron pocket and handed Dadder a shell as it it were a ticket.  "I ain't got much but I'm not bound for charity. How much do you charge?"
"Charge for what?"
"For the roof, man."
Dadder went blank for a moment at the novelty of being offered money. Besides he had no idea what the going rate was for a night in a bush.  He looked at the booted bundle of rags in front of him. "No charge, so long as your dawg stops trespassers. I don't want people moving in".

Dadder went back to the Harbour Lights, an absentee landlord. He didn't expect to see much of Squire Bragg or the water bailiff this side of next spring so he couldn't see there was much difference if he or his agent - or steward as he thought of her - stood guard on the property.  She had her camp fire, her cooking pot, her shelter and her dog.  Once, when the high tides were expected, he went down and warned her to leave in case the elbow filled up.  That night Madjy Fidjy visited the raft and they had a State Banquet on board with dancing on the path. She read the fortunes of the Raft children, and they were all going to marry handsome princes. Even the boys. Mammer Raft told them not to mention this to the Vicar.

Madjy looked at Dadder's almanac which contained the tide tables, the moon phases and the great calendar which even gave the names of the future winners at Newmarket races.  She looked serious and made counting movements on her fingers, muttering to herself.  

It was the early morning of Christmas Eve when Mammer Raft told Dadder to check on Madjy, see if she wanted to come to Christmas Dinner. She had already stuffed duck feathers in to a pillow and the paddling pool floating in the river looked less full than it had earlier in the year. A wooden decoy sat there now, persuading migrating featherheads to come down for a free feed.

Dadder got up in the dark and trudged along the bank, hoping to run into Madjy at breakfast. The white marker stones of chalk ran along the bank like glimmering bubbles.  As he got to the bothy he realised that no dog was barking.  He scrambled towards the silent willow wands.  No boots, no smoke, no smell or sound of habitation. Not even a wisp of condensed breath escaping between the branches.  He thrust his head in to the bush, fearing to see a stiff figure like the marble effigies on the tombs in the church.

There was nothing. The space was as empty as the cockleshell which had stayed in his pocket.  Dadder watched the silver sun rise in its new position. It conveniently rose between the banks as they pointed north, as if somebody had built them perfectly to cup the rose crown which poured pale blood on the surface of the greysilk river.

Only, his wooden castle was not quite empty.  On his throne of old plank there was a heavy earthen-ware jar with a gut lid stretched over it, tied with brown twine.  An old bit of card poked out from under it and a childish hand had written in pencil stub:
Rowon Jeli 
Zuger, viniger, creb aples, rowen joose 
Thenk kew, gorn to Welsinam for the Birth.

Dadder carried the rowan jelly, the colour of the rising sun, back to the raft and gave it to Mammer.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Man Overboard - Tallbloke and AGW

The police have been dragged in to the Climate Debacle and have begun to confiscate computers at the behest of the US much to the delight of the University of East Anglia, who can't win their faulty argument any more than the Vatican could when it huffily excommunicated Galileo. The disgraced academics want to know who leaked/acquired the emails which showed them massaging data, suppressing dissent and obstructing FoI compliance.
A spokesman for the University of East Anglia said: "We are pleased to hear that the police are continuing to actively pursue the case following the release last month of a second tranche of hacked emails from the Climatic Research Unit. We hope this will result in the arrest of those responsible for the theft of the emails and for distorting the debate on the globally important issue of climate change." (Guardian 15 Dec 2011)
So no sense, then, that disagreeing with a deceitful propaganda exercise is not a criminal offence, despite the availability of the School of Law on campus to explain the niceties.

What matters is that it is in the public interest that the emails emerged purporting to show that the academics at UEA and other places had been cheating to shore up their preferred theory. But it was possible the CRU had a good explanation or that the emails had been misrepresented.  They have always maintained those are their emails which were supposed to be private, not that is is a set of hoax documents. It was possible the CRU had a good explanation for what they appeared to suggest. I settled down to wait for a way to tell whether these emails were private or, more sinisterly, secret.

The intimidation of Tallbloke by the state apparatus decides it for me: the whole AGW must be a fairy story and there may very well be a nasty plot afoot to protect somebody's financial interests in continuing that lie.

Tallbloke himself has been remarkably kind to the police and told the Guardian:

"I am happy to assist the police with their inquiries because I haven't been hiding anything important like some people have. I assisted them with their inquiries, which involved voluntarily answering some questions regarding computer use etc."
He generously over-looked the fact that they turned up with a warrant and didn't need to ask for his cooperation or permission, although they could have had either. He has stuck to the point: what have UEA been hiding?

If getting the science right was what mattered, UEA would have sacked half of its climatocracy pretending to be academics in order to protect the reputation of the university and to avoid all UEA degrees, even the law, medical and humanities ones - becoming a global laughing stock.  The Climate Research Unit is not the only outfit in that very large campus where, let us not forget, it is shortly going to cost over £50k all-in to get a student through a basic degree in geography or what ever. For that, parents will expect a brand which doesn't cause potential employers to fall over laughing.

Let's be clear: this is not for being wrong - scientists are allowed to be wrong if they say 'Hang on, that doesn't look right, are you getting the same results we did'?  It's for refusing to hand over the base data which, apparently, did exist but was left in Phil Jones' jeans and his mum put them in the washing machine. They should be sacked for the cover-up, not the incompetence.

Lord Monckton thinks that if you want to play the criminal law card, the thing to do is to follow the money and ask if there is fraud involved in perpetuating an AGW lie in order to receive money and influence. He wants the police to investigate not just what UEA might have done - which is an issue for robust academic debate - but why, because if it was to enrich themselves by deception, that is definitely within the scope of the criminal law.

UEA issued a load of reports last year, claiming they were independent and they ain't dun nuffink. Here is the index. 
I know what I think and decided it the moment the Inquisition rang Tallbloke's doorbell.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


The Guardian helpfully highlighted the current rates of prosecution of parents for allowing children to truant from school.
A total of 11,757 parents were prosecuted for failing to ensure their child's attendance at school.

Just over 9,000 were convicted, and nearly two-thirds of those were fined.

The highest fine imposed last year was £850, the longest jail sentence was 90 days.

7% of the school population persistently missed school in autumn 2010 and spring 2011.
It is important to clarify the terms here: education is compulsory, school is not. However, the wording around this subject is ambiguous and it is too easily assumed by even informed writers and Education Secretary Michael Gove that school itself is compulsory. As Education Otherwise constantly remind us, it is not.

It is the moral responsibility of the parent to secure an education for the child but the legal right is couched in terms of the right of the child to receive an education. Historically, it was understood from the beginning of publicly funded universal education that if the state tried to make attendance compulsory it would run in to huge resistance, particularly from non-conformist religious groups. The only sensible thing was to make it free and insist that nobody could be kept from an education. Even then, not everyone across the society had a high regard for education for its own sake.

There could be good grounds, then, for prosecuting a parent who is either negligent or obstructive, for example, a parent who refuses to let a girl learn to read, but the cases which seem to be picked up in the papers often involve parents who don't seem to be very good candidates for prosecution.

Here, for example, is Amanda Summers, benefits claimant of Burton. Her 14 year old daughter managed to get to school for about two days out of five. She was very often sent by cab, but wandered off in the afternoon, which is a separate registration period.

Ms Summers was handed a fixed penalty notice by the Education Welfare Officers which would have meant taking benefits money intended to keep her children and paying it back to the council. What was the point of that? All it does is penalize other children in the family for the indolence of the 14 year old. It isn't Ms Summers who keeps walking out of school. What exactly is Ms Summers supposed to do at that point? What is the school supposed to do? Neither of them have any legal right, as far as I can tell, to lock the girl in the classroom. While an EWO is a dab hand at demanding money, they don't appear to be around at lunchtimes in order to escort sulky missy to lunch and back to her class room.

Ms Summers didn't pay the fixed penalty notice, so Staffordshire County Council prosecuted her in the magistrate's court which will do wonders for her employability if an enhanced CRB check is done, just in case there is some outside chance of Ms Summers getting work as a care assistant or similar. So that's her chances of a job gone for a Burton.

Presiding magistrate Christine Warburton said: “She is causing you stress and costing you financially. This financial burden will only increase unless she attends school.”

Summers was fined £35, reduced from £50 for her early admission of failure to ensure a child attended school. She was also ordered to pay £50 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge. A total of £100, which is going to do even more wonders for her family at Christmas.

What presiding magistrate Christine Warburton failed to explain in her infinite wisdom, was what exactly is Ms Summers supposed to do? This is a 14 year old girl. Hell's teeth, have you ever tried shifting one of those if they don't want to move? Dynamite would weep.

Ms Summers isn't allowed to thrash her, can't chain her up or refuse her food. About the most she is allowed to do is either talk to her or refuse to talk to her, neither of which seem terribly effective. Maybe bribery would work. Or perhaps she could have a big blow-up row which would result in the police being called and all the younger Summers being taken in to care while young Ms Summers concentrates on getting pregnant by the nearest yob, then it will be the council's problem to find her a flat and people will stop talking about this tedious school business.

Amanda Summers could, perhaps, chuck her out on the street in order to prevent her causing any more financial damage to the family. She could ring the social services and say 'Here, you collect her, I'm not having anything more to do with her. If you are so clever, how come half your in-care children run away? Still, have it your own way - if you think you can get her to stay in school, good luck with that pal. Only, I bet they don't prosecute you for failing to do the impossible.'

Alternatively, instead of paying the wages and public sector pensions of a bunch of EWOs and lawyers to go gadding about the magistrate's court, make them do something useful and go to Ms Summer's house and teach the girl in her bedroom, if that's what it takes. If you really believe it is about education and not the compulsion by the state. Or we could think about funding more boarding school places, which has been known to work in the past. The MP David Lammy is blunt in that he believes this saved him from the fate which befell some of his cohort. You can fund a fair number of places if you spend it on school places rather than job-creation schemes for lawyers.

Researchers claim there is a steady rate of 7%-10% of education refusniks. The thing to do is to research the age at which the behaviour sets in. Despite evidence that there may be truancy at primary schools, I will bet you it is around age 14, an age hitherto accepted by most societies as being capable of holding down entry-level jobs. I don't believe passing any amount of legislation will change that. Unfortunately, it is also true that there are fewer and fewer of those jobs available.

Our best chance - and one which is being taken in small instances in some schools - is to recognize that for a number of students, school attendance after the age of 14 is not going to happen in a meaningful intellectual sense, not even if we nailed their feet to the classroom floor. We have been flogging that horse for about a hundred years; it is time to admit that it is dead.

What might just work is that between the ages of 11-14, they may be persuaded that it is in their interests to do just enough readin', writin' and 'rithmetic so that they can go in to a pre-arranged apprenticeship which will see them mostly out of school, except for day attendance.

It's a tall order considering the declining number of jobs - and firms - which are willing to take on fourteen year olds. The jobs are going to be of a fixed nature; it will be care work, catering, customer service, warehouse, ground work, cleaning, maintenance, beauty, fashion, animal care, maybe even some manufacturing if there is any left in the country.

The CRB system means that people in general don't want to work with minors - it is just too complex and fraught with the danger of malicious accusations - but there was a time when we weren't so paranoid so it must be possible to think this through again.

The alternative is to continue to sling Amanda Summers and others like her in to jail, which will only cost us a fortune in prison costs and foster care and still won't achieve the only thing which matters: getting Ms Summers Junior an appropriate education, in school or otherwise.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Fiery Monster

Kicking about on a delayed train at sunrise were a group of young passengers making urgent phone calls, trying to set up a rendezvous, unsure of where they were supposed to be working that day. What kind of a job is it where you don't even know where you are supposed to be?

As we drew in to a station there was a rip in time and we went past a steam train, its throat glowing like a waking dragon and the steam and smoke blowing out of its lungs, a glittering tail of dining coaches decked out in tinsel and sparkling glass.

The young people jumped up, calling "Hurrah, there she is" and "Everybody ready to work, let's go". Then they rushed across the platform to their train which had been held for them as they are the waiting staff on a time machine.

Forget being an air hostess - is there any more glamorous or romantic work than crewing on a time-warp?