Sunday, 8 June 2014

Bullied for Twenty Years

When Brian and Dot got married, she was a widow of over fifty and he was eighteen years younger than her. For some reason their neighbours in Birmingham regarded this as a crime. As soon as Brian came on the scene, people made their surprise and disapproval felt. They gossiped, they snooped, they dropped nasty remarks. Dot was disabled even then and in a wheelchair, and Brian has since become disabled but this never led their neighbours to offer them any help or support. On the contrary, Brian and Dot found that they were regarded with hostility and disgust.
         When they went out together, people sneered at them, even spat at them in the street and called them "perverts". They were ridiculed hurtfully in their own hearing. It went on and on.

         There was a next-door neighbour who held a spare key in case Dot ever lost hers. She started snooping. Brian would notice that after they had been out somewhere, things in the house had been moved. Doors that he left shut were now open, and doors that had been left open were shut. When they next went out together, he set a trap, leaving sealed letters inside drawers and when they got back to the house, he found that somebody had opened the drawers and opened the letters.  It was their snooping neighbour, who spread gossip about all sorts of things. "They sleep in the same bed...." she told people. Well that was hardly surprising since they were married! But in her eyes apparently they shouldn't be doing that. Some people may have assumed when Brian came on the scene that he was Dot's son, but they only had to ask.
        They confronted the neighbour and eventually had the locks changed, but she found another way to plague them. She would deliberately bang on the partition wall at night, for hours, disturbing Brian and Dot and preventing them from sleeping. Acts of vandalism started. Believe it or not, local people came along and broke their mobility-car. This happened more than once and so did damage to the house. Another neighbour took to parking his car right across their exit preventing Brian from getting the mobility-car or Dot's wheelchair out.
        Brian is a gentle, timid man who now uses two walking sticks and he did not want to get into any more confrontations. so he consulted a solicitor who advised him to take photographs next time this happened. He did so and even took some video footage that included the wheelchair, proving that there was not enough space to get it out. Then he took the wheelchair back inside. Shortly afterwards he was amazed to get a call from the police. The neighbour had gone to them and brought charges of criminal damage to his car, and Brian was prosecuted. Of course the police should have looked at the evidence and never brought charges, but they did and it seems that the neighbour had some influence with them.  He claimed that his car had been dented and scratched deliberately by Brian using the wheelchair as a weapon! Brian wanted to show his photographs and video in court, proving that he had done no damage, but despite having a lawyer, his evidence was not looked at. The lawyer  just behaved as if he was working for the other side. Brian was convicted for criminal damage.
        On another occasion when Brian was in the garden with his step-daughter, the neighbour verbally abused them and climbed up on the wall, causing part of it to fall down. He then claimed that Brian had injured him, using his walking-stick as a weapon. He took this charge to the police, and once again, he was believed, while Brian was not. Brian was charged with harassment and assault, and despite the fact that the neighbour was fit and able, Brian was convicted. The court just took his word against Brian's.
       Brian has made many approaches to the Criminal Cases Review Council in the hope of an appeal that will finally clear his name and get rid of this unjust criminal record. They have refused to re-open any of his cases and provided him with no help at all. He has complained to the Police Commissioner and he has written to his MP John Spellar, but neither of these complaints have resulted in any positive help or tangible improvement. He has even written to the Ministry of Justice and still got nowhere. A lawyer told him that if he could only put down £20,000 on account he might be able to get the cases re-opened. Of course Brian hasn't got even a tenth of that money and after his experience of lawyers and how useful they were, he wouldn't bet on it making any difference.
      After suffering this sort of misery for twenty years, Brian and Dot are now hoping to sell their home and move into a retirement flat where they will get some on-site care. But even if they move away, it will not change the fact that Brian has an completely unfair criminal record and none of this should have been allowed to happen.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Horrific Attack on Homosexuals in Nigeria

No, there has been no horrific attack on homosexuals in Nigeria. There has been another routine massacre of a few hundred Christians  - but who cares about Christians, or any other downtrodden, oppressed, persecuted group, apart from homosexuals? There are some forms of oppression that are fashionable and some that are not.

The three Christian villages of Attangara, Agapalwa and Ngoshe have been subjected to a brutal attack by islamic militia. They went to the villages claiming to be government troops, on a mission to protect them from Boko Haram, and asked the men and boys to come out of their huts first. Then with warning they gunned them down with machine guns. The women and children were next. Even babies were killed.
Nigerian MP Peter Biye said:
The killings are massive but nobody can give a toll for now because nobody has been able to go to that place because the insurgents are still there. They have taken over the whole area… There are bodies littered over the whole area and people have fled
A community leader of Attagara said:
Hundreds of dead bodies are lying there… because there is nobody that will bury them
the same thing is going on in Somalia , Sudan and many other countries. But never mind, hey? So long as they're not homosexual, their human rights don't matter.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Gravy Train

I've seen it all now  - the local supermarket is selling bags of gravy, and they cost £2.99 each. Yes, that's right, plastic pouches of ready-made gravy, priced at nearly three pounds, which is enough to buy a whole meal. There is a choice of red wine gravy flavoured with rosemary, white wine gravy flavoured with tarragon and one or two more. What are you going to pour it on? Surely if you've got the time to roast a joint of meat, you've got the time to make gravy?  Or are people going to just slurp it out of the packet?
      I still haven't got over seeing pots of ready-made porridge being sold for about a pound each in supermarkets and at posh continental caf├ęs. People must be bonkers to buy ready-made porridge and pay that ridiculous price for it. All you do is add oats to hot water or milk and cook it for a few minutes. That really is all there is to it. Then there are the sad packets of ready-made pancakes, yes, ready-made pancakes, sold cold and clammy in a plastic box, which you are meant to take home and warm up in the microwave. What tosser would do that? I have even seen shops selling ready-cooked omelettes. Yes, melancholy cold slabs of omelette made in a factory somewhere and being sold in a supermarket so that someone can chew on them stale and miss out on the pleasure of making one fresh and bubbly in its butter, and sliding it from pan to plate. That is of course to miss out on the essential pleasure of an omelette.
      We are getting lazier and lazier. Nowadays we watch more and more cookery programmes and we have better equipped and better designed kitchens than any previous generation, yet we eat ready meals in millions, and seem less able to cook than ever before. The shops are full of shelves of ready-made tomato sauces, that work out about three times as expensive (at least) as a tomato sauce you make yourself with the simplest of ingredients. There are acres of cook-in sauces that quite honestly swindle people who have never bothered to find out what is in a sauce. As for gravy, for God's sake, here is the recipe once and for all: pour the meat juices and fat out of the roasting pan into a small saucepan, and using a wooden spoon stir enough flour into it to form a smooth paste. It should turn light brown but not burn. Now slowly start adding a liquid  - if you want red wine gravy add half a glass of red wine, a little at a time, and let it cook gently over a very low heat. For £1.99 you can buy a small 25cl bottle of red wine, in the same supermarket where they sell pouches of gravy. Add about a glass of hot water a little at a time and stir gently until your gravy thickens. If the gravy goes lumpy at any point, use a wire whisk to de-lump it. Drop in a sprig of rosemary and any other seasonings you want. Then take it off the stove, put a lid on it and keep it very hot for another ten minutes (on the top of an Aga is ideal), stirring from time to time. You now have one and half glasses of wine left to quaff and you have change out of the £2.99 you would have spent on buying the gravy ready-made.


Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Why Can't Oxford Save Stansfeld Outdoor Education Centre?

Nobody in Headington wants to lose Stansfeld Outdoor Education Centre, on the edge of Quarry, where I live. Its seventeen acres  include woodland, marshland and several ponds. The centre is used by local schools, scouts, guides and visitors from elsewhere, giving children a chance to do live field study. The site is a place where wildlife can find a refuge from our urbanized world, a habitat for birds, butterflies, frogs, bees, dragonflies and water-beetles.

 I remember how inspirational field study was for me at the age of ten, when my class was taken for day-long walks in Epping Forest, such a welcome change from the classroom. We learned the names of wild flowers  - gypsywort, purple loosestrife, and rosebay willow-herb. It's very important for a child to grow up knowing what real flowers look like, NOT those hideous bright red tulips like lollipops on sticks.  We were taught how to identify safe mushrooms. Stansfeld provides a nature reserve, a green corridor from the built-up area of Headington out towards Shotover.

It also provides a training ground for Oxford Conservation Volunteers, who practice doing things like hedgelaying and coppicing at Stansfeld. And outdoor education is now recognized a valuable resource for helping children with conditions on the autism spectrum. It encourages general personal development in ways that classroom education never can.
Unfortunately the Stansfeld Centre is owned by Birmingham City Council which is closing it down on 31st July this year. They say that it is running at a loss of £1 million per year and needs £4.1 million spent on repairs. But other sources say that it lost  - that is to say cost  - only £100,000 last year, and that is mainly owing to the economic downturn, as fewer schools and parties are booking to use the premises, which do need some refurbishment in the long run.

The Friends of Quarry have held an urgent Public Meeting ... the LibDem councillors have all flapped and posed for the cameras to Save Stansfeld and launched petitions online, but that will have little impact. There has been an Official Consultation, which always guarantees nothing will happen, and there was even talk about local community groups trying to buy it.

The ridiculous thing is that the land is valued at only £375,000. This is because it is designated as agricultural land, not as a development site. So why can't Oxford City Council stump up £375,000, the price of a semi-detached house in most areas within the ring road, and keep the Centre for future generations?
What this boils down to is that Oxford City Council, which is spending £7.5 million for a grand new swimming-pool at Blackbird Leys, has not got a contingency fund of £375,000 set aside for pressing needs like this, or is simply not willing to find the money. That is disgraceful. This problem should have been foreseen. Stansfeld has always been owned by Birmingham City Council and the Oxford Council should have predicted that one day this anomalous situation would have to be resolved.
The upshot will probably be that somebody snaps up the land for £375,000 and then gets permission to build houses on all or part of it. That would fit in nicely with the City and the County's plans to squash 160,000 new homes into Oxfordshire. They are probably glad that the closure of Stansfeld gives them a chance to further this build-over-everything plan for Britain.