Thursday, 27 September 2012

The first counter-blows have been struck!

Those who know me will immediately recognise how pleasing I find this story from the Beeb today. I complain fairly frequently about our complicity in the Americanisation of our language, and my workmates take great delight in trying to get a rise out of me by using American words and American pronunciations at every possible opportunity.

It's an old joke that the UK and US are two nations divided by a common language, but for a long time it's felt that the weight of change was very, very heavily in America's favour, an inevitable consequence of the widespread British consumption of US mass media. So it's nice to know there are a few little counter-jabs scoring in our favour at the moment.

Number one target should be the execrable word 'tuxedo'. If we can get them calling those 'dinner jackets' then we really will have landed one right on their linguistic solar plexus, and perhaps have done something to hold back its apparently unstoppable infiltration of our spoken and, worse, written language. I'm not holding my breath though.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Time and a place

I've just been through Piccadilly Circus on a bus, on the way to work. At all the exits to the tube there, and on the street junctions, were groups of young lads and lasses dressed in Santa Claus outfits, handing out flyers.

Now, speaking as a lover of Christmas, I find this irritating and slightly depressing. Can we not be allowed to live our lives chronologically correctly, as the occasions actually fall? Christmas in September, Easter in February, school uniforms being plugged the moment the summer holidays start (how I hated that as as kid...) There are weeks between, for example, November 5th and Christmas, during which time thoughts can more reasonably be turned toward it, I think. At least by then it's dark and cold, as it's supposed to be at Christmas. This morning was pleasant and sunny - the Piccadilly Circus girls, for example, were wearing those 'sexy' Santa short skirts and stockings, which I could not see them being so cheerful in come December.

But since we're busy moving everything forward in the calendar, why stop there? Let's all go to the beach in January, and demand birthday presents 9 weeks in advance. Why not turn up for meetings days before you're supposed to? Can we please be allowed to enjoy the last few rays of the sun before we start putting twinkly lights up?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Justice for the 96

Back in November of last year I wrote this piece, on the successful efforts of countless thousands of people in applying sufficient pressure on the Government to fully disclose documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster.

Those documents would not ordinarily be released for another 7 years, and their content shows that there are plenty of people with good reason to wish they hadn't been. Many of the families, and many within the football supporting community as a whole, have suspected all along that there was a cover up of the facts of the case. But just how shocking some of the revelations are has led to the Prime Minister standing in a packed and silent House of Commons to offer a formal apology for what he called the 'double injustice' of the original disaster and subsequent smearing and blame of the Liverpool fans.

Some of the main points raised by the independent review, but never published before today, include:

  • New evidence about how the authorities failed, including documents which show a delay from the emergency services when people were being crushed (evidently up to 41 lives could have been saved if the emergency services had acted differently)
  • Shortcomings in the response by the ambulance service and other emergency services in addition to failings by police
  • Rescue attempts were held back by failures of leadership and co-ordination
  • Victims' families were correct in their belief that some of the authorities attempted to create a "completely unjust" account of events that sought to blame the fans
  • "Despicable untruths" about the behaviour of fans were part of police efforts "to develop and publicise a version of events that focused on allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence"
  • Police officers carried out police national computer checks on those who had died in an attempt "to impugn the reputations of the deceased"
  • 116 police statements amended or shortened to remove negative comments about South Yorkshire police's handling of the incident
These quoted from the BBC's website. 

23 years of campaigning for the truth are finally over, but this must not be the end. The findings of the original public enquiry must be quashed, and the people who have lied, the people who have covered up, and the people who have blamed the fans must be punished. The police's part in this must be revealed to the full glare of public scrutiny, and those responsible both for exacerbating the disaster and then smearing the victims in the aftermath must be punished.

I particularly want to see Kelvin MacKenzie sued for what he did. "The Truth", screamed his despicable rag, The Sun, while the victims still lay in the morgues. Liverpool fans caused the crush. Liverpool fans robbed the dead. Liverpool fans spat at, abused and urinated on police officers. It must be true, right? Football fans - tribal, snarling, atavistic scum, right? The Sun said it was their fault, and millions believed them. All now proven, as has been said all along by those who were there, to be utter lies. His former paper's forthcoming apology will cut little ice in Liverpool, where sales of The Sun have never recovered after what they did, and never will.

I want to hear Thatcher apologise for basically demonising football fans for years afterwards, choosing to believe the lies of a police officer over what eye witnesses were saying, and for her government's refusal to properly and impartially investigate what happened.

There is no sense of celebration, of course. The families and friends of the victims have vindication but not yet the full justice they crave. But they will. As I said back in November, the truth will out in the end. Tireless work by campaigners, notably among them Andy Burnham MP, who deserves great credit for his determination on this matter, is finally going to get justice for the 96.

It's not just footballers who should learn an Olympic lesson

We've all seen the pictures of the Chancellor being booed heartily by the crowd in the Olympic Stadium when he took part in a medal ceremony. The reaction of most people seemed to be amusement and it is, in fairness, always slightly funny to see a politician getting the bird when they stick their head above the parapet.

But the Tories should be careful to heed what was a pretty emphatic warning. The sound did not come across as a few malcontents - it seemed as though the entire stadium, 82,000 people, were joining in lustily. That is a significant and representative sample of the electorate they have to face at the next general election, letting a deeply unpopular Chancellor know what they think of him. Not that I believe it was an entirely party political thing - witness the reception Cameron and Boris Johnson, Tories both, received at the parade of Olympians outside Buckingham Palace on Monday 10th.

Rather, this was, I believe, a firm statement of the distaste people feel for a man who's making savage cuts to budgets across the public sector, across services that affect everybody, and ignoring the howls of protest that he's doing so too quickly and too deeply. The reshuffle (or rearrangement of the Titanic's deck chairs) they just undertook left Osborne bizarrely unaffected. He seems absolutely bomb-proof, of all the possible candidates Cameron could have moved. I don't know if this represents blind faith in their dogmatic approach to spending policy, blind faith in Osborne himself or simple, stubborn stupidity.

Whichever it is, the Tories may find out to their cost just how heartfelt those boos were, how indicative of the strength of feeling against the Chancellor, if they do not heed them.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Humbling experience at the Paralympics

Sunday was spent at the Paralympics, in the Olympic Park, on a day pass secured by a mate. They've worked things a bit more informally for these games than they did at the Olympics - £10 gets you into the Park, and you can then watch any sport at which there are seats available. This does not, regrettably, get you into the really popular events like the velodrome or the athletics, but it still represents bloody good value. I'm pleased to report that the Park was absolutely swarming with people - the British have clearly embraced the Paralympics just as they did the Olympics.

If any of what follows is patronising to the people about whom I'm writing, I humbly apologise, I certainly do not mean it to. I was particularly keen to see wheelchair basketball - it looked brilliant on the trailers and I hadn't got into the basketball arena when I'd been to the Olympics before. It did not, needless to say, disappoint. A decent crowd in a towering, steep-sided arena, seats with terrific views at no extra cost to the tenner you'd paid to get in, and the same sort of enthusiasm and excitement which characterised the Games a few weeks ago.

What was different, of course, was the athletes. Seriously, sitting there watching them was an awesome experience, in the genuine and true sense of the word. What else can you feel for the Italian basketball player, no legs, only one hand, tearing about the court and scoring baskets? I can't begin to imagine my own response should I find myself wheelchair-bound but I'd be absolutely chuffed with myself if I showed even 10% of the determination and drive that these athletes have. Sitting there with a beer in my hand, knowing my own portly body does no more than play a bit of footy on a Tuesday and get dragged to the gym when I'm not feeling too lazy, makes you sort of wonder what the fuck you've been doing with your time, and how much you take your own body for granted.

The Italians won that one, anyway, leaving a South African side yet to taste victory in the competition, but the honest truth is, I couldn't have given less of a damn about the score. I was, and here's the bit in which I may unwillingly patronise the players, thoroughly bloody impressed with all of them.

Same goes for the wheelchair tennis doubles I also saw. A British side, enjoying the same sort of support all the British Olympians enjoyed, defeating a couple of Canadian lads in straight sets. I've never watched competition tennis, so have no frame of reference with the non-disabled professionals, but what I saw had pace, power and intensity, with one of the British lads in particular showing a deftness of touch on the volley which any tennis player would be bloody thrilled with.

Late in the evening, back home, I saw Pistorius's surprise defeat to the Brazilian lad and his subsequent criticism of the winner's blades in the post-race interview. Here's the story if you missed it. It was a reminder, if any were needed, that the Paralympians take their sport exactly as seriously as everybody else, and that, regrettably, the politicking, arguments and possible cheating are the same. It's sport, basically, exactly as the Olympics are. But the South African's comments were nonetheless disappointing, especially in the light of what he had to go through to be able to run alongside so-called able-bodied athletes just a few weeks ago. He fought a long battle to prove that his blades give him no advantage over runners using only their own legs, as it were, a battle he eventually (and officially, in the eyes of the sport) won. He should perhaps remember that when he thinks about criticising somebody else's blades in future, if he's not to damage the sport's credibility in some eyes.