Voting UKIP Today Is Insane But Not Because of the Sideshow

There is an election today, an election that means about the same to me as whether Joey Essex becomes the next winner of Pointless, having been given questions solely about spray tanning and alcopops. Motivating myself to vote will be hard. Maybe impossible.

I consider myself reasonably politically aware. I have voted in every general election that I could (though I didn’t postal vote when I lived abroad on the basis that I cared about the result about as much as I cared about if Joey Essex won Pointless). I chose my vote, initially, ideologically as I suspect many eighteen year olds do and I probably bored my friends and family with the loud justification of my choice. Now my political awareness has extended to regularly writing and tweeting about politics and I will choose my next general election vote based upon the candidate only, or I will spoil.

I have voted in local elections. I want a local councillor who best represents me and looks after our interests, particularly in terms of my pet subject education.

I even voted in the AV referendum. A passionate “No”. You may find that odd but I analysed the proposed changes and found the new system to be a fudge, a soft soap to the Liberal Democratss that would leave voting less rather than more accessible, understood only by a small liberal elite. I still have the “no to AV” note on my Facebook page. In summary it goes:

“Mark and John would like to go to the Red Lion but don’t mind the Green Man and would go there as their second preference. Steve likes the Castle only while Darren likes it but secretly wants a coffee as he’s tired. Fred likes the Green Man best but is in love with the barmaid at The Queens Head and wants someone else to choose it for him. Tim and Tom like the Queens Head a bit but Tim also likes coffee while Tom doesn’t want to move from the pub because the footy’s on. Graham, Albert and Mike all prefer coffee to beer, Mike quite likes the Red Lion, Albert is ok with the Castle and Graham doesn’t drink alcohol. They decide to ‘democratically’ decide where they are going by choosing more than one venue. By the time they do the pub is closed, the football’s finished and the barmaid at the Queens Head is shagging Brad.

Meanwhile Duncan, a 17 year old who is predicted three A’s at A level is going to leave university with debts of £50,000 as a result of the others having a vote about changing the way they go out in the evening. Duncan is too young to legally get in a pub.”

Reasonably politically aware then.

Aware enough to know that today there is a national vote in the European Elections. I have known this for a while. I am not, however, politically aware enough that I know the name of my MEPs. You say that’s shameful  for a political blogger. I say I write from the point of view of the everyman, the confused ordinary parent, and none of them know who their MEP is either. The whole thing is, truth be told, a shocking irrelevance and the actual outcome will matter less than Joey Essex winning that proverbial episode of Pointless.

This, combined with the system of Proportional Representation used, tends to mean that the outsiders get a bit of a sniff. The post I linked to may suggest I like outsiders but organised outsiders, particularly those who are ideologically driven, are just as whacked out as the main parties. I’m more for removing the partisan element and replacing it with independents who can truly represent their constituents free of ideology and the whip. It does not gladden my heart that the Greens will probably get an MEP or two or (particularly) that the BNP had an MEP. It makes me think “sod me, how are this disparate group of people ever going to get anything done?”

So I would have happily not voted, and indeed not blogged. What’s the point in taking part in a party political pissing contest when you’re trying to remove yourself from party politics?

“Oh but you must vote, people fought and died for that right” I often hear when people declare they’re not voting at all. Indeed I’ve read exactly that on a message board debate this week. I always find that patronising and, well, just a touch disingenuous. Firstly Hitler was originally elected (perhaps something that people may want to ponder before dropping their cross next to a right wing party) but secondly people didn’t just fight and die for that. They fought to keep Britain British and to liberate France and to repel the Germans from North Africa and because Jews were being gassed and bombs dropped on us and because Churchill jolly well said so. They fought for freedom and freedom includes the right to spend European Election day sitting in front of repeats on Dave with a biro up your nose and a cold bowl of Pot Noodle should you so choose.

Now I know in my general election blog I said I would actively abstain so why is Europe any different? Because I will hunt out a decent candidate in 2015 and only abstain if there isn’t one. Not only do I fundamentally not care who wins the European Election but I will be forced to vote for a party, the very thing I said I wouldn’t do again.

So, anyway, there I was, minding my own business and not voting when along came the Kippers. You’d think – certainly from social media – that this election was actually a straight fight between UKIP and the rest of the world. Farage has managed to get himself on just about every television programme going, and let me tell you, wall to wall Farage is unpleasant. So, frankly, are his party.

There’s Godfrey Bloom and his rantings about Bongo Bongo Land. There’s the Nazi Tattoos and Poofter Shooting.  There’s Farage’s unfortunate comments about Romanians. There have even been suggestions that rivals and mainstream voters should by hung. In short a nasty collection of xenophobia, racism, homophobia and hatred.

“Ohhhh, look at you getting offended on behalf of others” is another unfortunate cliché I’ve seen in the run in to this election when the Kippers rather unfortunate turns of phrase are raised. But once again this misses the mark by a mile. Fellow blogger and gay Dad Nick King was outraged by the shooting comment. One of my Romanian colleagues (and indeed one of my British Asian ones) are terrified by Farage. The Romanian, quite understandably, worried about how the people next door will react the next time she and her perfectly normal professional nuclear family move.

All a jolly good reason not to vote for them you would think. Yet, for me, this part is a mere sideshow in the European Election circus. There are two far better reasons not to vote UKIP. Firstly their economic policy which stinks as much as their candidate selection. It is ironic that their voter demographic seems to be coming largely from the over 65s and the “disenfranchised” protest voters because these are the people who would be hurt the most by a UKIP actually in power somewhere meaningful. They would slash taxes, introducing a flat rate of income tax and abolishing Inheritance Tax, yet they would also increase the number of prisons and introduce a complex and costly immigrations system. They admit themselves that their immigration policies would hurt GDP. And they would part privatise the NHS. In other words health, social and education services would be cut to the very people who need them free and on tap the most – the elderly and the low paid. And you will be low paid. Those crops won’t pick themselves. Those coffee shops and hotels can’t open on zero staff. Where do you think the low paid nurses needed to make a partly private NHS work would come from?

Secondly – and insanely – vote for UKIP today and you will be putting them in to an institution they do not believe in. It’s like electing Gary Neville to play for Liverpool or choosing Simon Cowell to trawl round pubs looking for the best alternative poetry Thursday evenings can provide. They do not want to be there. If they do they’re hypocrites. You are literally wasting your vote more than if I was to spoil it.

Talking of which I have decided not to. I will spend this morning looking at the manifestos of the parties and I will vote this afternoon for the one that is most likely to oppose UKIP.

 

The Great School Place Bun Fight

Yesterday was school places announcement day (Infant, Junior and Primary) or at least it was round here. You could tell because the Facebook jungle drums were all but drowning out the traffic as celebrations were started, appeals commenced and distances from house to school published. A bigger outpouring of self indulgence, a larger First World Problem is hard to imagine.

Firstly I’d better confess. Our local area has five Primary schools within walking distance. Five. One is OFSTED Outstanding, two are Good and two are Satisfactory (all were last inspected when those measures were the accepted standard). The Boy is at the Outstanding one and, through sibling link, Whirlwind should get it too. So you may say I’m writing this from a position of strength, to which I would reply I would happily send them both to four of the five schools. The only one I wouldn’t is a Catholic school because I happen to believe that if an institution has a fairly dubious reputation when it comes to dealing with the sexual abuse of children by its members it’s probably not the best institution in the world to start educating them. But they could go to any of the others. None are failing. None are patrolled by ten year old crack dealers armed with Stanley Knives. Hell, they’re not even slated to become Academies yet.

The bun fight is, of course, centred around getting in to the Outstanding school. It is single form intake (30 places) and has just become an all through Primary instead of a specialist Infants, a local panacea enforced by an inadequate, amateurish council in the face of a places crisis and a reduction in funding from a government obsessed with Free Schools and Academies. This means the overall number of attendees is increasing. Many are likely to have younger siblings who get a higher preference (quite naturally as doing two drop offs at the same time is physically impossible) and therefore, in terms of location, there are far fewer than 30 places available. Now, call me cynical but imagine you had invested quite a lot of time and cash in to getting a house you considered to be in the catchment area, perhaps creating an unnatural and unsustainable house price bubble, only to find you were ten yards too far away this year.

There’s only one thing to do in such circumstances and that’s to melt Facebook down with your actual tears. Or, y’know, get involved with your new community. Maybe join the PTA. Maybe stay involved with your child’s education at home instead of just handing it over. Maybe turn that two in to that all important (from the point of view of the head’s career and the local housing market) one.

There are so many things wrong with this annual shitfest I actually don’t know where to start. Perhaps with the notion that OFSTED ratings are, well, overrated. This is an organisation that wants to turn your three year old in to an academic rather than a small playful child. FFS. By extension they are far more likely to rank academic achievement over any other kind of achievement that makes up a well rounded education.

Our “Outstanding” school was actually only ranked that when it was an Infants, before they extended it to an all through Primary. The education the kids get there, academically, is superb but there are a lot of other issues. It has no playing field. Not a big deal when you’re four but quite an issue when you’re ten. That would be ok if the playground was an adequate size but it isn’t. It’s tiny. Ditto the effect on older children. When I was ten I went to a large Primary with two big playgrounds and a sports field down the road and I played football and mini rugby for the school team. With only 30 in each year (and only ten boys in The Boy’s class) and no field and a postage stamp sized playground this is an opportunity I doubt he will get.

At my Primary there was also a wood and metalwork room and a French teacher from French France. At The Boy’s the language teacher is yet to be appointed. There’s nowhere for a craft (or for that matter music) room. There’s a nice ICT suite though. Let’s hope all thirty of them want to run start-ups in Shoreditch and not be, say, musicians or carpenters or builders. Never mind that. Everyone’s too busy shitting themselves about the impending SATs.

Of course when you transform an institution so quickly there are bound to be issues. I’m not having a pop at the school which has to operate within the constraints it is given. The point is no one knows if it will be a decent Primary because it’s still evolving. The OFSTED rating means literally nothing.

But if that is one side of the coin here’s the other. Are the alternatives really that bad? As I said, I would have a proper moan up if I was allocated the Catholic school but as an atheist I doubt they’d have me anyway. I would happily take a place in any of the others. Our community is mixed and evolving. The schools too. The established Primaries have more space than our school but a slightly less good academic reputation. Another of the local Infants is expanding and hitting the same challenges as our school. I know kids and parents at all of them and, to be honest, you can barely split them with the proverbial fag paper. You’d think from the garment rending kids allocated to these other schools were, in fact, off to the Third World. Now think about the real Third World. Walking miles in the baking sun to get to school. Or no school at all, particularly if you’re a female.

Ah, but Michael Gove says these schools are terrible. He says we’re WAY behind China. Well, to use an excellent but oft quoted phrase he would say that wouldn’t he? It suits his agenda. How else can we bring in the Govian agenda if our “good” schools are really good? No, good must mean awful and satisfactory must mean about to fall down, else they wouldn’t need turning in to academies. Behind China? Dear or dear. I’m not going to lose any actual sleep because we’re supposedly behind a country that drums education in to small brains all day and night and then doesn’t allow them to express their feelings or intelligence (or do any real research) when they’re older. What’s the point in knowing your 342 times table by heart if you can’t write anything without fear of censorship or jail?

There will be some travesties of course. People allocated places miles away that are all but impossible to get to. People who have to drive past their local school to take their kids to one they never considered. Siblings split up. But, if you’re feeling bad because you missed out on a single OFSTED point or you have to walk for an extra five minutes then chill. You’ll be fine. It might even be serendipitous.

Peanut and Coconut Chicken Curry – So Good They Asked for a Doggy Bag

On Sunday it was sunny and we had friends round for the afternoon. Later in the year this will mean a BBQ but given that a) my barbie got a bit broken in the house move b) I left my BBQ cleaning gear at the old house and c) Sanios had run out of decent sausages we decided to make two big pots of curry. OH made one and I made the other. A contest! Yes we were trying to curry favour with our new neighbours and see who could win The Spice is Right. I briefly considered making a Chicken Tarka which is like a chicken tikka only a little otter.

OK I’ll stop now.

*falls over at own hilarity*

*gets pelted with rotten fruit*

What I finally went for was a tweak. Ordinarily I hate tweaks. The only thing worse than a tweak is a twist. The worst person for this (at least on television) is Lorraine Pascal. Fairly much her whole schtick is to take something perfectly classic and normal and do a tweak or a twist on it so it just about becomes her own. Chicken wings with coleslaw? Ah, but she’s using red cabbage. Roast dinner? Yes, but see here, she’s done the chicken a wee bit differently. It’s fine for a dish or two but a whole series? Really? Anyway, despite my loathing of twists and tweaks my Peanut and Coconut Chicken is essentially a twist on this well thumbed internet recipe.

The problem is it NEEDS changing. The recipe uses pork tenderloin. Chop and cook a pork tenderloin for the cooking time given there and it will be as tough as old boots. So I substitute chicken breast or thigh. Secondly it uses light coconut milk and advises topping up with half a can of water. If you use chicken breast and scale up for 6 people as I had to the breasts will release liquid as they brown and you can just use a 250ml carton of long life coconut cream. This is only 89p from the aforementioned Sainos yet will leave you with a richer, thicker sauce. Thirdly I leave the baby corn out because I find it to be the work of the devil but you feel free to add it if you really, really like baby corn. Fourthly because I was bulking up the portion I upped the peanut butter and curry paste but kept them in proportion with each other. Fifthly they add too much sugar.

I won’t say I won the cook off. I’ll just say that the Boy’s friend’s dad noticed there was a little bit left in the saucepan and asked me if I would mind putting it in a Tupperware container so he could take it in to work for his lunch the next day. Naturally I obliged.

Peanut and Coconut Chicken Curry – Serves 6 in a garden plus one lunch for a hungry dock worker

Splash of vegetable oil

Bunch spring onions sliced

Small bunch coriander, stalks chopped, leaves separated and chopped.

5 large or 6 medium chicken breasts, thinly sliced with the grain

5 tbsp Thai red curry paste

5 tbsp crunchy peanut butter (NOT smooth)

1 TEA SPOON brown sugar

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

250ml carton coconut cream

Juice of 1 lime

Method is broadly the same as the link but the above necessitates small changes.

Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a casserole dish and fry the coriander stalks and spring onions for a minute. Add the chicken breast and stir fry until all the pieces just start to colour. Stir in the peanut butter and curry paste then add the sugar, soy and THEN the coconut cream. You should have plenty of liquid. Only add water if you do not.

Mix well, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then take the lid off, add the lime juice, thicken for about a minute. Serve with chopped coriander leaves on top.

The Perfect Meal

This time he’d hit the mother lode. The steak gleamed at him beguilingly. Hung for 28 days and yet it looked as fresh as Will I Am modelling a new pair of trainers in a laundry, covered in Cilit Bang. Probably fresher.

Gently he brushed it with olive oil and seasoned it to perfection with salt and pepper and he let it come up to room temperature. It was needed medium rare , two minutes on either side and then rested for three more. The diner was not to be disappointed.

The new mushroom supplier had come up trumps too. It was late in the season but these looked like they’d just been found in the woods by a clever but very clean and non-destructive dog. He crushed a garlic clove in sea salt and measured out the perfect amount of butter to hold them both.

The chips? Triple cooked of course. Anything else didn’t really cut it these days. They had had their first two dealings with heat, a good boiling, a drying out and a light deep fry. They were ready for phase three, a really good deep fry. Nice and crispy. God, how he loved making these. Taking them out at the end sang of perfection.

Gently he heated the garlic mushrooms, giving them a stir but never forgetting that he needed to take care of the meat too. The meat was king, Without it the dish was ruined.

Timer set up, pan heated, he executed the perfect drop of steak in to pan, away from the body so as not to burn. The chips were nearly ready and a plate was warming. After exactly two minutes he turned it. Then, a minute later he began to push the top with his finger, testing the flexibility to assess the doneness. As soon as he hit “medium rare” it came out of the pan and on to the warm plate to rest. Warm to keep it warm, not hot to cook it more.

He tasted the mushrooms. They were delightful. The garlic he brought back from that market in Rennes really never let him down. That was how to stay one step ahead of the competition.

Now he plated everything else up to exacting standards. The mushrooms in a ring. The chips layered carefully in a criss-cross pile. A little of the cooking jus spooned over everything.

He took the plate to his counter. He fetched a knife and fork. Sadly he stared at his flat. For all the disposable income you gained by being single with no kids it didn’t half make dinner time lonely. The room felt emptier than Katie Price’s mind.

“Fuck this” he thought. “I’m going for fish n chips. Perhaps someone in the queue will talk to me.”

Two men have a conversation about privatising the railways

Now, we all know that these days the rail system in the UK is private. It used to be a state owned joke named British Rail. Then Maggie Thatcher decided that since British Rail was a national joke what would be much better would be to have lots of smaller more regional jokes. But how did she achieve it?  Notaproperblog towers have uncovered, after a completely made up FOI request, the transcript of a conversation between two Whitehall Mandarins, which was recorded by a KGB bug that was ironically hidden in a mandarin. The names of these civil servants both seem to be Gerald. Don’t ask.

Scene – The Ministry of Transport, a private room

Sir Gerald: Have you seen what that mad old bat wants to do now?

Gerald The Underling: Annexe Sweden? Sterilize poor people? Introduce compulsory flag waving and tea dances at sixth form colleges?

Sir Gerald: Blimey. Have you been looking at the five year project plan while I was out? Anyway it’s not any of those. At least not yet. It is nearly as crazy though.

Gerald The Underling: Amaze me.

Sir Gerald: She wants to privatise the railways to encourage competition.

 Gerald The Underling: Competition? So there will more lots more lines built with companies offering alternative routes, rolling stock and arrival times then?

Sir Gerald: Er no. That’s the thing. No money for new lines. Plus there’s the planning permission and so on. So anyone taking on a train operating company will have to use the existing track and signals.

Gerald The Underling: What could possibly go wrong?

Sir Gerald: Oh lots. The way to minimise risk, if you ask me is to only get the new companies to be responsible for the running of the trains up to a point. The maintenance of the infrastructure should be with a single very large company because they’re always the most effective. There should be plenty of revenue streams for such a company and I can’t ever imagine a situation where they’d go bust and need to be bailed out. Then at least the train companies will only have half the job to worry about. Plus the public will never quite be sure whose fault it is when things go wrong.

Gerald The Underling: How do we sell this to the public then?

Sir Gerald: Cheaper tickets of course dear boy! You’ll be able to travel for practically nothing so long as you do it on a specific train, late at night, that you booked at least three months in advance. Of course any private company worth it’s salt will offset this by increasing prices for it’s regular commuters but this might at least reduce demand. Have you seen them at East Croydon these days? They’re hanging off the sides like an Indian bus passenger.

Gerald The Underling: So it might be unpopular with commuters?

Sir Gerald: Oh only when it snows, or rains a lot, or it’s autumn or the really huge company break the signals or one of the smaller ones break the trains or one of them doesn’t turn up for work or one of the companies lease broken rolling stock to another. Or it’s too hot. Or too dry. 

Gerald The Underling: Will there still be first class?

Sir Gerald: Oh yes dear boy. You don’t think the batty old cow would risk travelling in cattle class do you now?

At this point the recording degrades and what sounds like brandy glasses being chinked can just about be heard over the fuzz.

Moral Panics, Youth Culture and Neknominate

On Sunday, thanks to following some of the DJs who made my early twenties so memorable that there are lots of bits I can’t remember, I saw a link to this article by Luke Bainbridge in The Guardian about the dawn of Acid House which I RTd to more interest than I thought I would get. It seems there really are a lot of old ravers out there.

When Acid House first became a thing here, when clubs like Shoom and The Hacienda sprang up, and everything Luke writes about took place I was just too young to appreciate it. I was still at school and one of the subjects I was studying was Sociology.  One of the recommended texts was a book called Folk Devils and Moral Panics by Stanley Cohen. Originally published in the 1970s it has been regularly revised, and of course it has needed to be. The central subject is that the media and those in power regularly seek to marginalise and vilify groups seen as a threat to the social norm. Moral panics were once driven by youth culture; Teds, Mods, Rockers, Skinheads and, after the first publication Punks, Football Hooligans and Acid House. But now the focus is different. Think of headlines these days (especially the Mail and Express as well as tabloids) and who are the targets? Assylum Seekers, Labour politicians, the weather and “the internet”. Has youth culture disappeared altogether or do we now need different targets?

While I was reading Cohen I was a folk devil, but I just didn’t realise it. I was a diligent student in the week but at weekends I put on my Lois cords and my Puma trainers and my Lacoste jumper and I stood on the terraces of the Goldstone Ground’s North Stand and watched Brighton play football. These days I doubt that strikes fear in to anyone’s hearts but at the time my parents must have been terrified. When the Bradford fire tragically struck in May 1985 I had just started going to home games with my mates. By the time of Hillsborough I was going away too. On the day of Hillsborough I was on the terraces at Elland Road , Leeds with about 150 other hardy Brighton fans. We’d been threatened on the motorway and, when the announcement first came through that the Liverpool game had been suspended due to ‘crowd problems’, the Leeds end cheered. I suspect my own father was mightily relieved when I got in that night and I don’t mind admitting that I spent the journey home in tears, yet still I didn’t feel personally in danger. Danger for me was having to stay in on a Saturday and get bored to death by Des Lynam and Noel Edmunds.

Then, in 1990 my life changed again. I walked in to a club in Brighton and Andy Weatherall was DJing. The whole place was going mental and the dancing was most certainly of the freaky variety. No one danced like that at the underage nights at the Top Rank Suite that consisted of ‘clubbing’ in my teens. The next month we went back to the same club to see Fabi Paras and it was just as good. Soon I was a regular at another club, The Zap on Brighton seafront, and its crazy, hedonistic, mixed-gay Friday nights. From there it was clubs in London and Universe raves. The music was constantly evolving, sub genres like Balearic, Deep House, Trance, Hard House, Happy Hardcore, Drum n Bass. We were always looking for the party, never wanting to stop, but if our collective funds would only stretch to a can of lager there was still no Noel Edmunds. You’d pile round someone’s house to play tunes and pour over the latest releases. Have you heard this track? What about this mix? This DJ? Hedonistic it might have been but it revolved around art and the underground.

At sometime during this period Leah Betts died after taking Ecstasy. She was not the only victim but in my mind she is the most famous, and now, as a parent myself I can empathise far more with her poor father. Then there were the raids, the beatings and those who came out of the scene with psychological problems. But none of this put me off at the time, nor do I regret this period of my life. It’s simply something that happened, the pull of a music and culture I found irresistible. Thanks to the writers and editors of the Mail and the Sun however, old ladies in Gloucestershire and office managers in Hertfordshire found it absolutely terrifying.

Now I am a parent and entering middle age I should be the one who’s frightened but instead I find myself an angry old man bemoaning the sanitising of the things I loved as a youth. Football in now played in giant, corporate bowls and most eighteen year olds can’t afford a ticket. Dance music is regularly on Heart FM and the next you know it’ll be on Magic. Big raves seem to have disappeared. Where it was once Dirty Leeds and Dave Haslam now it’s Dirty Money and David Guetta. What’s worse nothing seems to have replaced either. Youth Culture appears to be dead.

Perhaps the cause of this is also the source of our greatest modern moral panic – the internet. Where once you had to join a group of friends, out and about, to feel some cultural belonging now you just have to join a Facebook group. Where once you needed to find a dealer in a club now you can use your bitcoins on the Silk Road and buy the latest legal high without fear of anything much except condemnation from the Mail (and you can bet this particularly dark corner of the internet will continue to evolve no matter what). Where once you had to be invited to a party to play drinking games and spin the bottle and truth or dare, now you can play NekNominate.

As a parent should I be worried? Perhaps, but not the way many would think. My own youthful experience tells me that there is risk everywhere. My own youthful experience tells me young people will always do stupid things and that they will vary on a scale from Exceedingly Stupid to A Bit Silly. My experience as both a parent and someone who emerged from the fug of the early 90s to have a job that partly involves assessing risk tells me you can never completely remove danger.

So I worry that today’s hedonism is really nihilism, that it is getting wasted for getting wasted’s sake. That the cultural attachment, the forming of society and friends for life is disappearing. That no one goes round to a mates to play a record this days when they can just send them a You Tube link by Facebook.  I worry that all of the above makes me sound as old and out of touch as the people who shook their heads at the Blackburn and Orbital raves. I worry that the creators of the moral panics are dealing with this very, very badly, by making giant corporate ISPs the gatekeepers of content and the preventers of risk. Did your kid see some inappropriate content? Did they get wasted in a Facebook drinking game? Let’s tighten those network filters. Let’s remove that content.

I would rather live in a world where parents were intelligent enough to provide guidance for their children off the top of their own heads. Where the reward for a little risk was cultural enrichment. And where the things that were demonised in the papers were not Romanians or drinking games or winter storms but Fun Boy hair and David Guetta remixes.

A Trip to The Lego Movie

This weekend I took Boy and his friend from school to watch The Lego Movie after weeks of pestering and a ‘number of sleeps’ countdown by both of them. Now, don’t worry, I’m not about to review the movie in detail or give away any spoilers. It’s enough to say they enjoyed it immensely (except for a bit in the middle when Boy got upset because it looked like the baddies would win) and I didn’t. And that’s more the point of this post. The things we will do for our kids.

Obviously there is the whole protective thing. The second I became a parent I knew I would do anything for them and that this would include rescuing them from the proverbial burning building or speeding bus, no matter what the consequences to myself. In short I would give up my life to save theirs. Of this I am certain. It’s not even a conscious decision but more like an instinct I have been aware of fairly much since my wife first became pregnant with the boy.

But there are masses of other things you sacrifice when you become a parent and one of those appears to be your principles.

Now. The Lego Movie. A two hour advert for a toy company. “But it’s only 100 minutes” I hear a pedantic IMDb regular shout. True, but the brand awareness begins way before you get in the cinema. The word Lego is large on posters and on the tickets. There are ‘Lego the Movie’ giveaways. Two popular television adverts were re-shot using CGI Lego people and shown during the trailers. It doesn’t really let up.

Maybe I’m making too much of it. But what would be your reaction if there was a small re-title? How cool would it be going to see “The KFC Movie” (complete with complementary junk food and a BT advert at the start re-shot to feature people dressed as The Colonel and a comedy chicken)? What about “The GlaxoSmithKline” movie in which their miracle pills cure a world being made sick by an evil megalomaniac? Cool eh? No?

Of course it’s hardly the first business / film /brand tie up in history either. Harry Potter moved from book to brand in about the same time as you can say ‘millionaire author’. There was a Super Mario Bros movie as far back as 1993 and a Sonic one a while later. Disney is arguably an enormous circle of brand. But I bet none of these featured a plot where an ordinary citizen was caught up in a war against a creepy homogonous mega corp run by someone called President Business. Do you not see? They get away with it because Lego is cool – which, of course is reinforced by their branding.

I think I’m trying to say it’s not really my cup of tea.

But there was much more than that about the morning that wasn’t my cup of tea. Yes I said morning. At 10am on a Saturday I was buying the tickets from a machine at the front of the cinema. Pre-kids I would be gently nursing a bacon sarnie and a hangover at that time. Or sleeping. Then there was the fact that the cinema was at The Brighton Marina. I hate the Brighton Marina. It is the anti-Brighton. When I think of my home town I think of stumbling out of an independent record or book shop in to a street art performance. I think of Georgian architecture and seedy pubs and little, local, restaurants and cafes. Take the sea away from the Marina and it could be Milton Keynes.

And because it is Milton Keynes on sea and because there is a massive multi national chain cinema there it also houses a McDonalds. And because brands tie up McDonalds had a Lego Movie giveaway. And because they did, that’s where the kids wanted to go for lunch. I hate McDonalds a lot, lot, lot, lot more than I hate either Lego or Milton Keynes. Of course I said yes.

The kids had a blast. Boy’s friend came round to ours for a bit after and they played Lego. When his mum came for him he bounced up and down and said what a good time he had. Boy was absolutely beaming. I may have broken every principle in my brain but my kid had had a good time. While I have been writing this I have also been considering how immensely bored he would be in a record store or book shop or cafe that was primarily for slightly leftie adults.

That’s the lesson. If you’re reading this and considering kids then know this. Sooner rather than later they will guilt trip you in to something you don’t want to do. If you have kids already? You know I’m right. The sacrifices never really end.