Monday, 4 December 2017

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's engagement

The worst kept secret in the history of the Royal Family (probably) is out - Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are engaged.  Congratulations to them, they seem well suited and genuinely in love, which is always a good start to a marriage in my humble opinion.

The rumour mill had of course been in overdrive for what seemed like an eternity - it was almost a relief when the official announcement was made, as I'm sure it was for them too.

They'd even had the obligatory TV documentaries about her back-story, which must have all added to the pressure upon the couple. 

Of course, a multi-million pound industry is now going full tilt, producing a range of memorabilia.

No doubt there's a mug factory somewhere which has already started production, a tea towel is being designed with the date of the wedding and the venue, and let's not forget the Royal Mint and their special coins. 

I hope primary schools still give gifts like that to children - I still have my Charles and Diana mug and coin, ready for my great, great grandchildren to take to the Antiques Roadshow.

Personally, I'm hoping for the solar-powered waving Royal figurines which are seen in abundance in touristy towns like Stratford Upon Avon, Oxford or Cambridge etc.  Undoubtedly tacky, and admittedly not in the best possible taste, the waving Queen and corgis still make me smile though (apologies Ma'am).

There's nothing like a Royal Wedding to distract us from the everyday news stories - Brexit, North Korea, Trump, yet more Brexit - so the timing of the announcement wasn't accidental either I'm sure.

They didn't want to steal The Queen and Prince Phillip's 70th wedding anniversary thunder, and it had to be done before the news got lost in the general Christmas and New Year kerfuffle, and Sports Personality of the Year etc.

Of course, the big question on everybody's lips is will we get a Bank Holiday to mark the occasion, like we did with Wills and Kate's nuptials?  Now, an extra day off really would cheer up the nation!

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Shakespeare Schools Festival 2017

Towards the end of November, my family, friends and I headed to the Corby Cube for the Shakespeare Schools Festival.

This is a brilliant way to get youngsters engaging with the works of the Bard, as they are given abridged versions to perform with a lot of the 'olde worlde' words helpfully defined in their scripts.

On the night we visited, we saw three schools perform, and they all did very well.

Wilds Lodge School did Coriolanus, Montsaye Academy tackled 'The Scottish Play' (Macbeth), and Uppingham Community College performed The Tempest.

But that only tells half the story - so much work and hours upon hours of rehearsals had gone into each of their productions.

Workshops were held at the Corby Cube under the guidance of the staff there, dress rehearsals, evening and weekend practice, stage make-up classes, work done at home making costumes, learning lines - all these young people, their teachers and families put so much effort into their plays and it really showed.

These teenagers completely engaged with the works they were performing - and considering they were written 400 years ago in a very different age to our own, that is nothing short of remarkable.

The Tempest was my favourite though, as it was a very clever interpretation.  There were multiple Ariels, a device used because Ariel is a spirit who envelops the characters at various points in the plot.

The young lad who played Prospero has a future on the stage if I'm not mistaken, and the duo playing Caliban the monster deserve a special mention as they were brilliantly menacing.

Trinculo the Jester had the audience in stitches, and I heard it said, and agreed, that the physicality of the comedy that the actor brought to the role was reminiscent of a young Julie Walters.

The teachers and support staff who auditioned the young people, directed them, coached them and spent many hours of their own time working with them to achieve the standards of acting we witnessed deserve medals for their commitment.  Well done to all involved.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Greggs' sausage roll and Cadvent

I like to think I've got a reasonable sense of humour, I don't take myself too seriously, and always try to see the funny side of life.

But - and you knew there was a but coming, didn't you? - I have to say I think some recent Christmas marketing campaigns have been a little, let's say, ill-judged and have left me distinctly unamused.

First up, Greggs.  Greggs' Advertising and Marketing Department, what exactly were you thinking?  How could you possibly consider that substituting the Baby Jesus in the manger for an over-sized sausage roll would be remotely acceptable, even in this mainly-Godless day and age?!

It's in very poor taste - surely not a phrase you want associated with your food? And don't even get me started on what would have happened had your inappropriate humour been aimed at any other religion but Christianity!

Fortunately there's no such thing as Church of England extremism, and I guess you're safe in the knowledge that although a few folk will grumble, there will only be a small minority of principled people who stop purchasing your pasties, pies and pastries in protest.    

Next up Cadbury - who given their Quaker heritage really should know better.

The dictionary definition of advent is "the time leading up to Christmas", which as we all know, whether Christian or not, celebrates the birth of Christ.

So what is Cadvent, a word which appears on their TV adverts?  What exactly are we waiting for, the arrival of chocolate (don't answer that - there's far more to Christmas than large tins of Roses and Quality Street!).

Yes, I know they sell calendars with tiny pieces of chocolate behind the doors at this time of year, but again, I don't think they should be hijacking the word 'advent' for their marketing campaign.

While I appreciate that not everybody in this country is Christian, respect needs to be shown to those that are.  Christmas is still an important religious festival for many; surely tolerance should apply to all religions, including Christianity? 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Remembrance Sunday

History wasn't my favourite subject at school.  I could never seem to remember dates, which seemed then to be what it was all about.

I don't think it helped that the only subjects we seemed to be taught - Tudors and Stuarts and the Reformation - appeared so remote from our lives.

It wasn't until I got much older, and watched Horrible Histories with my daughter and various Dan Snow documentaries, that I discovered how interesting it could be.

I now read historical fiction for pleasure, particularly Robert Harris novels.  I've just read this, by Cicero, quoted in Dictator:  "To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.  For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?"

The truth is, without learning about our history and passing this on to future generations, we are destined to repeat the same mistakes.

That, for me, is the message of Remembrance Sunday.  It is vital that we remember the lives that were lost in order for us to have our freedom today.  Equally, we must ensure that we never again endure the loss of life on such a massive scale.

This year's Remembrance Sunday was bright but bitingly cold, just as I remember them being way back when I was a Brownie and then a Guide, my mother insistent on me cramming as many layers under my uniform as I could as no coats were allowed on parade.

I thought of this as I saw the Beavers and Cubs in their uniforms, proudly parading behind Gretton Silver Band, as they made their way from the Baptist Church down to the Village Green and the War Memorial for the wreath laying ceremony.

Two Audi cars had to stop and wait as a high-viz jacket-clad man halted the traffic in order to let the column of about 100 people march solemnly to the sound of the bass drum.  Symbolic, perhaps, but also an example of how far we've come.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Paradise Papers

The Paradise Papers - truthfully they sound far more exotic than they actually are.  It should be a spy novel by Graham Greene turned into a four-part Sunday night drama, rather than documents outlining people's offshore tax avoidance arrangements.

It would all be completely, achingly dull except for the fact that by using these arrangements the super-rich are actually siphoning away funds from the less well-off by avoiding paying tax on it.

Money that could be spent on hospitals, schools, libraries, subsidised rural bus routes etc.  You know, the things that ordinary people need, and the sort of things that the super-rich are probably unaware even exist.

The phrase that I keep hearing repeated on the news is that 'this arrangement isn't illegal'.

But what I want to shout back at the television - and have been known to - is 'it may not be illegal but it's immoral!'

What I can't understand - and I don't think it's just because I've never had large sums of money that need to be squirrelled away to the Bahamas or similar so it can have a holiday in the sunshine - is why anybody would think that this is OK.

If you call yourself a British citizen, if you decide to live here and abide by the laws of the land, then it surely follows you must contribute to the society in which you choose to reside?

If you're a British sportsperson, who proudly drapes the Union Flag around your shoulders while you balance atop the rostrum singing the National Anthem and smiling broadly, then pay your taxes in the country that you state you're so proud to represent.

Similarly, if you're a large company, making squillions of pounds out of ordinary citizens in this country by flogging them expensive phones etc, at least make sure you're paying a decent amount of corporation tax on those massive sales.

Hiding huge sums of money in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying UK taxes is unfair, it's immoral, and it should be illegal.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Great British Bake Off 2017 result

Yes, this is another Great British Bake Off column, and no, I'm not apologising for it as I know most of us have been watching it, even though we promised ourselves we wouldn't what with Mary, Mel and Sue being absent and the move away from Auntie Beeb's apron-clad bosom.

We thought it wasn't going to be the same on Channel Four but in truth it wasn't that different, with the exception of those pesky adverts popping up at just the wrong time.

Sandi and Noel grew on us and proved to be quite a convincing double act.  Prue seemed even kinder than Mary at times - who thought that was possible - and Paul was Paul, but with a few more smiles, which may be because of his enlarged pay cheque, but who can really say?

It turns out, the key to the success of the programme isn't the mix of the presenters at all, but that it gets us to genuinely care about the contestants and what happens to them. 

We invest in their baking journeys, we get upset when they get knocked out, and even find ourselves shouting at the television 'No, not Liam!  Liam shouldn't be going home!', or was that just me?!

The three finalists - Steven, Sophie and Kate - were all likeable in their own ways.  Steven and Sophie were from the very organised spectrum of culinary creations, whereas I felt Kate was a little more creative (i.e. haphazard) with her offerings, much as I imagine I would be if in some parallel universe I managed to qualify for Bake Off. 

Ultimately, I didn't really mind who of the three won, which was just as well because trying to avoid finding out before the show aired after Prue's Hallowe'en Twitter-fail was a showstopper challenge in itself.

Sophie was eventually officially named as the winner, and she deserved it after creating an amazing 'ode to the honey bee' entremet cake, complete with a glaze that resembled marble - not something that I shall be attempting to replicate any time soon!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

The importance of Northamptonshire's libraries

"The arts are essential to any complete national life.  The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them... ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due."

Winston Churchill said this, and it seems particularly apt with the proposed cuts to Northamptonshire's libraries.

Now I can't imagine people are going to take to the streets and march about a library shutting, or chain themselves to the gates in front, but truthfully we should care just as much about this as more high profile spending cuts because this is just the start.

Northamptonshire hasn't been fairly funded for a while now we're told, and despite our councillors and MPs lobbying the Government for more money none has so far been forthcoming.

While the current national administration ties itself in knots over Brexit, our county is struggling to balance its books and - as usual - it's the ordinary people who will suffer.

Libraries are important, particularly if you haven't got much disposable income.  Growing up, I relied on Kettering and Corby Libraries in particular for reference books for my homework.

While I appreciate we now live in a very different world and youngsters use the internet for much of their homework research, there are some people for whom the library is an important lifeline.

Parents/carers take their children in there for reading sessions, and who can dispute the value of ensuring the next generation has free, easy access to books and can read?  The library van which visits the villages is a popular service, particularly with people who struggle to get into town for various reasons.

Reading is a vital skill, books are still important, and a society without either is missing something fundamental.  Do we really want our county to be devoid of such basics? 

Our county's current slogan is 'Let Yourself Grow' - if these cuts are allowed to happen, perhaps 'let yourself go' would be more appropriate?