Two thoughts following the referendum result – and what to do next

This is a quickly written post as I really need to get on with my dissertation today. However, here are two thoughts about what not to do, and what to do following the EU referendum ‘leave’ result.

First – the what not to do. Don’t sign the petition arguing for a second referendum on the same question immediately. We may not like the result (that’s possibly the biggest understatement I’ve ever made), but a second referendum isn’t the answer. At best it would be a sticking plaster that fails to address the underlying causes of the dissatisfaction that many people feel about their situation. At worst, it looks like sour grapes. In fact, I’m in full agreement with the good Lord Bonkers (a.k.a. Jonathan Calder) on this – referendums on anything are a really bad idea in a parliamentary democracy. Read his piece published before the results were known to understand why.

Secondly – the what to do. With the Conservative and Labour parties ripping apart at the seams, an early General Election seems like a real possibility, even with the fixed-term parliaments act in place. If you think that the UK should remain in the EU, I hope that you’ll join the Liberal Democrats. Come and work with us to create an optimistic, liberal and positive vision for the future, that addresses the underlying problems in our country with real solutions, not just cheap slogans.

Bloggers and friends for Remain

I’m all out of inspiration at the moment. It’s been sucked into a black hole known as my dissertation and hopefully will reappear at some point after September. But it is really important to vote – and vote Remain on Thursday. So in lieu of me being able to write something sensible about the referendum, can I heartily recommend these two posts written by fellow bloggers – and friends – instead.

I want my country back – fellow post40blogger Tattooed Mummy writes about her reasons for voting Remain and what she hopes the UK can regain:

I want my friendly country back, the one that can laugh at itself when we meet a foreigner who speaks perfect English while we wallow in shouting and pointing. I want the country back, the one that welcomes the lost and the scared.

Europe, you’ve got my vote – written by a good friend of our family (often referred to as our third daughter).

… in spite of arguments about trade and economy, it needs to be said that it is okay to reason from an ethical position. I support the remain campaign because the EU keeps us together in spite of our differences; it says that we stand together instead of standing apart.

However you come to your decision, I hope that you’ll vote Remain too. Whether you believe the reason to vote Remain is the peace we have enjoyed in Europe since the end of the second world war, the benefits of trading in a single market, EU environmental protections, support for workers’ rights, the freedom to travel within the EU without visas, carnets and other red tape while retaining control of our borders, the security provided by working together to defeat criminals and terrorists, or something else, we have a lot to lose if we fail to vote Remain this Thursday.

Why #RemaIN may be failing the “pink tuna” test

The current batch of opinion polls make worrying reading for those of us backing the remain camp in the forthcoming EU referendum. It’s not lost yet of course – far from it – and I remain convinced of the good sense of my fellow citizens. However, some of the remain tactics do seem to be somewhat less than optimal. I feel that a bit of “pink tuna” may help.

One feature of the campaign that is obviously gratifying to the remain campaign, but has perhaps been a little overplayed, is the welcome endorsement of our continuing EU membership by vast numbers of European and world leaders. However, on reflection, I don’t think that these endorsements are necessarily working in favour of a positive vote to remain in, as they seem to me to fail the pink tuna test.

Let me explain. When my youngest daughter was very much younger, she refused to eat salmon. Nothing we or our family did would convince her that salmon was delicious. But she did like tuna. One of us (almost certainly not me) came up with the idea of re-branding salmon as pink tuna and suggesting that she wouldn’t like it. It worked like a charm and woe-betide anyone who came between her and her pink tuna.

Perhaps if all of these European and world leaders had instead told us that they wanted us to leave, it might have had a positive impact on the remain campaign, by convincing undecided voters that the only reason anyone would want us to leave is that they wanted to keep all of the good stuff that the EU brings to themselves – the pink tuna. Of course, such a ploy would have had no impact on those of us wanting to remain (as we know that salmon and pink tuna are one and the same, and is delicious). But for the tuna eating waverers, it may just have helped them to take a few mouthfuls and discover what the convinced know already.

Undecided voters – pink tuna is delicious, so I really don’t want you to have any of mine.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Customer service at the US and UK borders

I never thought I’d say that customer service is better at the U.S. border than the UK border. Until now.

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica, which required connecting flights through Miami. I can’t say that I was looking forward to experiencing U.S. immigration based on past experiences, but this time I was pleasantly surprised. If you travel on certain types of visas or are on the visa waiver scheme with a valid ESTA, your initial clearance is now carried out using automated passport control (APC) self-service kiosks. Get this process right (which I didn’t the first time I used it as one of my fingers slipped off the biometric reader) and you can pass through immigration in a few minutes. Get it wrong (indicated by an “X” on your receipt) and it means that you have to wait in line, but not for too long as the pressure seems to have been taken off the officials by the kiosks.

On both occasions the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel I met were unfailingly professional and polite, combined with good humour. After I’d failed to use the APC kiosk correctly on my first encounter with it, the CBP officer explained to me what I’d got wrong while sharing a joke with my wife (who’d got through APC at the first time of asking). Second time through, on our way back from Costa Rica after both of us had received a clear automated check, the CBP officer who collected our receipts looked at our passports, grinned and alerted his colleagues that the “British were coming (!)”.

Such a contrast to arriving back on Bank Holiday Monday at the UK Border at Heathrow Terminal 3. All of the automated passport gates were out of use as they were being “upgraded”, with a long line of EU nationals waiting to be checked through just two open desks. I’m glad that we were near the front of the queue. Worse, it looked as if all of the UK Border staff had been sent through the Theresa May school of “how to make your face look as if you’re sucking a wasp”. (I remember watching her present medals at the Paralympic swimming in 2012 and she couldn’t have looked more miserable if she’d tried). No smiles, no pleasantries and no obvious humanity present, making the experience a terrible advertisement for visitors to the UK and an unpleasant one for returning UK nationals. Customer service is important – and first impressions are everything.

Made Up

Last Saturday evening I went to the first preview performance of Made Up at Birmingham Rep. I admit to having been more than a little nervous as I walked into the venue as I’ve seen, I think for the first time, a glimpse of the huge effort that goes into putting something of this scale on. The run at the Rep finishes with a performance on Saturday evening and from 24th May – 11th June, Stan’s Cafe are taking the production on a tour of venues in the North East (details here).

The reason I’ve witnessed so much of the process is that Emily has been commuting from our home in Derby to Birmingham during the development and rehearsal process. As I like to be surprised by the theatre I do go to see (that’s the same excuse I use for never having read any Shakespeare by the way), I’ve tried not to listen too much to the stories that have made their way back along the A38 to us, but it was hard not to get caught up a little.

Made Up ProgrammeThe play is a truly enjoyable 75 minutes that allows us to get to know more about the two characters and their back stories. Kate (played by Emily Holyoake) is a young film star and Sue (played by Alexis Tuttle) is her make-up artist. The contrasts between Kate and Sue’s professional personas and the people they are in their personal lives are played out, bracketed by some amazing transformations in Kate’s appearance through the real-time application of make-up. The staging is simple and so allows you to focus on the characters and the transformations, but it does make very effective use of live and pre-recorded video. Without wanting to give away too much, the ‘alien’ transformation is great comedy, with the ‘punk’ transformation being used to make some of the play’s strongest and most poignant statements.

Afterwards I really enjoyed meeting Emily’s fellow cast member, Alexis, as well as some of the production crew in the bar (but of course!). In particular, I felt completely ‘Made Up’ when an audience member approached Emily for an autograph – definitely a “proud father” moment.

A distinction in procrastination

Hello all – and please accept my apologies for being away from here for a little while. “No problem”, I can hear you all saying, “we understand that you’ve been working hard on your dissertation, reading research papers, collecting data and transcribing interviews, analysing it all and making astounding discoveries.”

Hmmm.

Well, the truth is rather more prosaic I’m afraid.

Yes, I have been getting on with my dissertation and doing all of those good things, but possibly not with quite the vigour I really should be. That’s for this month I’ve been promising myself. Instead, I’ve been finding lots of ways to procrastinate, while telling myself that a bit of physical exertion is good for the analysis process, especially as I’m undertaking a qualitative (and largely inductive) approach to it.

My car has never been cleaner.

Clean carThe garage has never been tidier.

Empty garageI demolished a rotten shed that had stood by the side of my house for more than twenty years …

Shed site… and built a new one twice its size. I’ve named it Sheddy McShedface …

Sheddy McShedface… and filled it with all of the things that were in the garage that should have been in the old shed but wouldn’t fit.

Shed interiorI’ve even cut the grass (the elephant is called ‘Steve’ by the way).

Steve the elephantI think these are pretty impressive lengths to go to as far as procrastination is concerned. I’ve awarded myself a distinction, but you may be able to do better perhaps? Do let me know – it will help keep me away from Seale’s book on qualitative research for another evening if you do.

 

A version of this article was previously published at the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 8th May 2016.

My favourite possessions: a cereal bowl and mug

I can be a grumpy so and so. I can be even grumpier than usual in the mornings. The phrase “not a morning person” could have been invented with me in mind. I get particularly grumpy if two of my favourite possessions – an old cereal bowl and much newer Eeyore mug – aren’t available for my use. There’s a picture of these possessions below so that you can admire their awesomeness.

Favourite possessions - a cereal bowl and Eeyore mugThe cereal bowl is the last remaining of six identical ones that Jane and I acquired when we were married in nineteen eighty ei-was it really that long ago? It’s the ideal shape for a bowl of cornflakes. It’s not so deep that you accidentally overfill it with milk, making them go all soggy (I hate soggy cereal, apart from Weetabix, which I like to think of as a type of nourishing grey soup). It’s not so shallow that you end up with dry ones cutting your mouth to shreds. It’s perfect. It’s mine (if that’s all right with everyone else in my house of course). I would hate for it to be broken, but I expect that in an emergency I might just be able to pick one up from a well-known online auction site.

Then there’s my Eeyore mug. That’s wonderful too, as it takes about a gallon of coffee to fill it (I exaggerate, but only a little) and I need all of that stimulation in a morning to make me feel half human and perhaps a little less grumpy.

Mel, our esteemed editor-in-chief over at Post40Bloggers, has observed that “you take your life in your hands for instance if you use [his] special cereal bowl and/or his Eeyore mug“.

I hope you now all understand why.

 

This post was inspired by the 90th Post40Bloggers writing prompt to write about something that you are attached to, and the gin and tonic consumed at our recent editorial meeting.

The Damned United at Derby Theatre

Last Saturday night I saw Red Ladder Theatre Company’s production of The Damned United at Derby Theatre. The play has been adapted from David Peace’s 2006 novel by Anders Lustgarten. You know that you’re probably going to be impressed by a play when the attention to detail starts before you enter the auditorium. The Match Day Magazine and Programme echoes the style of the publications sold at football grounds in the 70s, even down to the lettered list of matches to write the half-time scores against. As a Derby native, I particularly enjoyed that the programme listed the honours won by the Rams between 1968 and 1972, the era of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, even if this reverie was slightly spoiled by the programme also listing the later achievements of Clough at another East Midlands team.

The Damned United Programme, Script and Tickets   Probably the first thing to note about the play is that it is a lot closer in spirit to (and the “industrial” language of) the novel than the film that starred Michael Sheen in 2009. This makes the play a darker and more intense experience – and a more interesting one, too. Brian Clough’s character, inner thoughts and relationship with Peter Taylor are centre stage, with the brooding presence of Don Revie passing judgement on him from the surrounding screens.

Andrew Lancel gives a well-paced and believable performance as Clough. His efforts are particularly impressive as he’s on stage for most of the 90 minutes without a break. Tony Bell is equally impressive as Taylor and the chemistry between them works well. Like the book, the action switches between the triumphs the pair shared together at Derby and the agonies suffered by Clough at Leeds, where Taylor had refused to join him after the pair had resigned from Derby. The supporting cast of John Graham Davies (Longson, Owen & Bolton), Tom Lorcan (McKenzie), Tony Turner (Kirkland & Cussins) and the ensemble players all help to keep the story moving along at a cracking pace.

The death of Clough’s mother, “The end of anything good. The beginning of everything bad.”, signals Derby’s exit from the European Cup at the hands of Juventus and an allegedly bent referee, with Clough’s bluff being called by the Derby board when they accept his resignation. In the Leeds timeline, the death acts to foreshadow the players’ revolt and Clough being shown the exit.

The play ends with the re-creation of the infamous Yorkshire Television showdown after Clough’s sacking. This is a particularly elegant piece of staging and powerfully done, with Lancel’s Clough interacting directly with the cleverly cut archive footage of Revie.

It’s by far the best production I’ve seen on this stage since the days of the old Derby Playhouse. The run finishes on April 16th, so there’s not much time left, but if you can get a ticket, go and see it. You won’t be disappointed.

The lost art of the end of the roll photograph

One of the lost arts of the digital age is the end of the roll photograph. These were the pictures taken, almost at random, so that a film could be developed before the significance of the events captured in the earlier frames was forgotten. These are some of my favourite examples from my father’s archives.

 

Market Cross Malmesbury 1951The market cross in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, taken in summer 1951. This is on the end of a roll of film that features a holiday in Devon, so this must have been the stopping point on the way back top the Midlands. The woman on the right hand side of the photograph doesn’t look as if she’s having a very good day.

Haste ye back to ScotlandTaken at some point in the mid-1950s as the last photograph from a holiday in Scotland, this end of the roll photograph was presumably a heartfelt wish. It was certainly a popular destination when we went on holiday as a family in the 1970s.

Hanging basket 1983A random photograph of the hanging basket outside our house from 1983. Looking at the angle of the picture I can only assume that it was taken from halfway up a step-ladder!

GNU 706NAnd finally, also from the end of a roll of film shot in 1983 a rear view of my first car that I don’t remember ever having seen before I scanned the negative yesterday evening. Complete with a Radio Derby car sticker from the era before the BBC insisted on imposing a boring corporate brand uniformity across all their local radio stations and a fluffy toy owl on the parcel shelf.

Which leads me to ask a question every bit as random as these end of the roll photographs are. Has anyone ever used a parcel shelf in a car for putting parcels on? No, I thought not.

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