INTERLUDE – Alice in Blunderland – the Mad Hatter’s Committee Meeting

 

The Mad Hatter was in the Chair. “Order, Order” he cried, and Disorder clumped noisily out of the room.

“The Minutes of the last meeting” he said imperiously. The White Knight asked which Minutes he wanted. “The Minutes that go on for days and days, the Minutes that go on for hours, or the Minutes that go on only for seconds?”

“That’s a difficult one” said the Mad Hatter. “Shall we take the Minutes as read?”
“I can’t read.” said Dormouse.

“Pretend to.” said the Mad Hatter.

“How do you pretend to?” said Dormouse still reluctant to agree. “Like you always do.” said the Mad Hatter, getting just a little bit irritated.

Alice looked around the table. It was a well attended meeting. The March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, the White Queen, The Knave of Hearts, Caterpillar, Tweedledum and Tweedledee were all in their place. Dormouse was under his.

The two  professional members looked down on the lay members. Their chairs were six inches higher. Accordingly the lay members looked up to the professionals

And a very small black fly had settled on the wall behind the Mad Hatter’s Chair.

“The Minutes are agreed.” said the Mad Hatter.

“Apologies for absence?” asked the Mad Hatter.

“Humpty Dumpty” said the White Knight. “He had a serious accident since we last met.”

“Any Correspondence?” asked the Mad Hatter.

“Yes, two matters” replied the White Knight. “we have just had a new Plan from the Ogre Queen. It’s on the table. It is an all singing and dancing Plan.”

Alice noticed that an attractive book on the table suddenly started dancing a highland jig and at the same time sang the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

“What’s in the Plan?” asked the Cheshire Cat.

“There’s meetings”. “Great.” said the Cheshire Cat. “New partnerships.”. “Wonderful.” said Caterpillar. “And there’s much more delusion.” said the Mad Hatter. “Don’t you mean Inclusion?” said the White Knight. “A Freudian slip” said the Mad Hatter with a wry smile. “More Inclusion at a rate of 20 per cent per anum.”

 

“Don’t you mean per annum?” Interjected the March Hare. “Well it definitely says per anum” replied the Mad Hatter.

 

“It’s a bit of an enema” said Tweedledum. “Enigma” said Tweedledee.

 

“Either way I move we buy it”  said the Mad Hatter with some finality.

 “Can we afford it?” asked Dormouse suddenly waking up.

“We get paid to buy it, twice the actual cost” said the White Knight helpfully.

“I am still not sure we can afford it” said Dormouse.

“Go back to sleep” said the Mad Hatter. And Dormouse did as he was told.

“Then that’s agreed?” Nods all round, including Dormouse who was nodding away with the rest of them.

 

“We don’t need to consult anyone do we?” Asked the Cheshire Cat, almost rhetorically. “Roundabout midnight any day next week would be suitable” replied the White Knight. “I just don’t understand” said Alice, looking very bemused by all this.

             

The Mad Hatter turned to the Knave of Hearts “Would you explain to Alice  our consultative procedures?”

 

The Knave of Hearts was something of a magician. One of his favourite tricks was to make people completely vanish. Another was to make people appear who didn’t exist at all. He quite liked to don his pointy wizard’s hat on these occasions.

 

This time however he conjured from thin air a mortarboard and a somewhat tattered black gown. There was no limit to the things that he could conjure out of thin air. Most usually it was facts, figures and concept papers that bore no great relation to reality Ever since he came across the Latin tag De minimis non curat Lex, he had called these his tiny mini mice. He much preferred this to his small porkies.

 

The Knave of Hearts, in a somewhat didactic mode, then conducted a short tutorial.  “To understand our consultative procedures you must understand the meaning of consultation. The word consultation  derives from the two words ‘con’ and ‘salutation’. I am sure you know the meaning of both. All you have to do is to put the two together.”

 

“We have actually  written to the Ogre Queen respectfully suggesting that Christmas Day should be designated an Annual Consultation Day when all  the year’s consultation can take place. Is there another day in the calendar with more salutations than that one?” Alice felt that she had to agree. “No there isn’t” she said. “And it is a day of goodwill”  chipped in the March Hare “and we need as much of that as we can get.”

 

“But we have not reached that eminently sensible state of affairs.” continued the Knave of Hearts, ” So the next best time is when people say goodnight to each other. I suggest that we consult next Sunday night.”

 

“Agreed” said the Mad Hatter.

“What’s the other letter?” asked the Mad Hatter.

“We are going to be inspected by the two blind mice.” Said White Knight.

“My God” said the March Hare. “No, by two blind mice” said the White Knight.

“I thought there were three of them” said Caterpillar, suddenly getting a word in edgeways.  “One of them has just had a successful cataract operation” said the White Knight.

 “Why isn’t he here then?” asked Caterpillar. “He’s back in hospital with post traumatic shock . . . seeing things for the first time knocked him gaga.”

Alice noticed that that the visit from the two blind mice caused no great concern. “Aren’t you worried?” She asked.

“We’ve just bought the Plan,” said the Mad Hatter.

“Off with our heads if we hadn’t” observed the March Hare.

Alice saw that everyone was laughing hilariously.

“Let’s get down to the main business of the meeting,” said the Mad Hatter. “There is a resolution on the table, moved by the Knave of Hearts and seconded by the March Hare.

‘The Moon is made of cheese’ Knave of Hearts over to you.”

“I like cheese and I can’t do without it” started the Knave of Hearts.

“Not totally relevant” said Caterpillar. “Not relevant maybe, but important” replied the Knave of Hearts, just a trifle aggressively.

“Anyway” he continued, “you can see for yourself it’s made of cheese. It’s round.”

At this point the March Hare intervened. “I second the motion.” he said firmly. “I have the evidence. I’ve been given a piece.” “Where is it then?” asked Alice unable to contain her curiosity. “I’ve swallowed it,” replied the March Hare. “And I’ve swallowed the hook, the line and the sinker that came with it.”

Alice’s curiosity turned to incredulity. “You swallowed the sinker? Wasn’t it a bit indigestible?” “It was the very first time I swallowed it,” replied the March Hare, “but you get used to it. It is now a part of my regular diet.” Tweedledum interposed “That’s my experience too.” And Tweedledee agreed. “Me too” he said.

“Well” said the Mad Hatter “two people have said that the Moon is made of cheese, one has actually eaten some. Can there be any reasonable doubt here? I frankly will go further. I think that the Moon is made of the best English cheddar.”

“An amendment” intervened Caterpillar. “I believe it’s Wensleydale.” “Cheddar” replied the Mad Hatter firmly, and Caterpillar crawled under a leaf on the table.

Alice was still unconvinced. “What about the moon-rock brought back from the moon landing?” She asked. “American propaganda against the Russians” replied the Knave of Hearts. “The landing was filmed in the Nevada desert and that’s where the rock came from.”

“Well I’ll eat my hat” said the Mad Hatter and promptly did so. There was a respectful silence while this was going on.

When he finished, he asked whether the motion was agreed. “Nemine contradicente” said the White Knight. And with nobody quite knowing what that meant, they all nodded their heads including Dormouse who was still nodding away quietly under his seat.

At this point a very strange thing happened. The small black fly on the wall behind the Mad Hatter’s chair suddenly took off, whizzed three times round the room at great speed, buzzing all the way. Then, Alice noticed, it suddenly turned into a wasp and stung the Mad Hatter right on the tip of his nose.  …..   The meeting was then adjourned.

Inspired by Lewis Carroll

Who are the really guilty ones? Authors of the 2006 Building Regs. Grenfell Tower Inferno could happen again … Tomorrow!

 

It’s now just over a year since Grenfell Tower burned alive 71 of its residents. What distinguished it from all other flat and house fires?

 Substantially only one thing. The highly flammable tiles that clad it, with external flames leaping up 19 floors in 12 minutes. The Building Regulations introduced in 2006 and not reviewed since allowed them.

Without them the fire would most likely have been contained.

The fire services would have been right to urge residents to stay put. The Council would have been right to accept the lowest tender for construction – the norm. With correct fire doors no sprinklers would have been needed. A faulty switch or a faulty washing machine no different from lots of other domestic fires safely dealt with by our highly skilled fire service. And no-one killed.

Your boffins should have known. I could have told them! I was involved with the labelling design for upholstery complying with the fire regulations drawn up in the 1980’s. I found the graphic designer in Carlisle for the labels in use today. Your boffins looking for a quick fix didn’t get that right first time then. They thought that if the foam was inflammable the sofa was safe and wouldn’t burn. It was only later that it dawned on them that if the cover material was not “match resistant” as well – the wick for the candle – they hadn’t solved the problem of needless deaths from burning foam.

In 2006 your boffins should have known that the whole tile with its backing had to be tested. It was not enough that the outer surface should be fire resistant. And EVERYTHING BURNS if the temperature is high enough. They should have known.

What should have happened after the fire?

You should have banned the tiles – they are banned in the USA and in Europe – and you should have replaced them all within 12 months. That would, of course, have admitted your culpability and your liability with some heads on the block and a bit more than petty cash to sort, but at the least the residents in hundreds of tower blocks could now be sleeping easily at night and, if they owned their flat, not worry about its value. After that could come the inquests and the post mortems.

But that is not your way.

That is not what has happened. You hang everyone else out to dry including our wonderful fire services and the Tory Council in Kensington & Chelsea, and you don’t ban the tiles. You announce a consultation process for the tiles and you try to fabricate a “reasonable doubt” about the flammability of the tiles for your lawyers to hang on to, to eliminate the State’s responsibility. Without admitting responsibility, you give £400m to Councils but nothing to those who now live with the danger to the flats that they own and the blight on their value. There are many of them. You harness the bureaucratic inertia of an enquiry, hope that there won’t be another Grenfell Towers, and gamble with people’s lives and property.

It is high time to break the habit of a lifetime. Forget sovereign immunity. End the myth that the State can do no wrong. Bin the lunatic notion that all the world’s problems stem from the quest for profit and people like Tory councillors in Chelsea & Kensington. Face up to the fact that in 2006 it was the Labour Government of the day, looking for a quick fix, a cheap fix to meet heat-saving targets and prettify tower blocks at the same time, that legitimised a time bomb. Face the fact that the time bomb could have exploded in Labour’s Camden where they evacuated a tower block at 2a.m. in the morning or in any one of hundreds of other blocks, some council owned some privately owned, built since 2006 and clad with these tiles.

You have a terrible habit of refusing to confront reality; and you pay a heavy price for it to this day. Just this last week, 456 unlawful killings at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital exposed after 20 years. Same thing.

This is the leitmotif of all my writing on cycle lanes and special educational needs. The reality is that there are differing and conflicting human needs in a highly complex world. Equality is far too simplistic a word to use especially when it is used to justify selfishness quite regardless of the legitimate needs and rights of others. Fair play is the only way to resolve the differences.

Let me put this bluntly again. The human right to mainstream education a blessing for some, but a curse for others. Some children with special needs have a right to education in a special school. Children without special needs have their rights too. Some have a right to an academic education. Some to an education with practical skills. Equality doesn’t come into it. Fairness does.

I witnessed this as I helped parents, pupils, and their teachers in a special school in their successful campaign to keep their school open as chair of its board of Governors.

Every year since 1978, the price paid in disillusionment, disappointment, frantic efforts and vast expense on NTA’s to try to make it work. Questioning voices suppressed. The media, in simple ignorance, silent.

You have failed to acknowledge this mistake for forty years.

I give you two quotes from the Times Educational Supplement of 4 May 2018 with the Editorial headed “We’ve come so far on inclusion – but we’ve still got so far to go.”

In that issue Baroness Warnock wrote: “The bias towards inclusion was not the only thing wrong with the 1978 report, but, because it seemed revolutionary at the time, and because it was, at least at first, popular with many parents, because it promised to remove the stigma attached to attendance at a special school, it may have been the most damaging in its consequences.”  My play Death of a Nightingale that I staged in London, my website, and my book detail those consequences.

Over 100 special schools were closed. The Editorial now writes: “And the road ahead is about to get tougher. Of the 534,000 extra secondary school students expected by 2026, according to current trends, 58,700 will have SEND and 9,100 will likely have complex needs that qualify for an education, health and care plan.”

On the roads you assert the rights of cyclists, but you ignore the rights of other road users. They come second. And you continue the idiotic idea that you can double the number of cyclists and reduce accidents at the same time

There is to be a new roundabout in Cambridge. It will give priority to cyclists over motorists. This is the report in the Times on June 16: “The Department of Transport (DfT) is investing £550,000 in the project as part of a £7million fund unveiled this week.” Jesse Norman, the cycling Minister said: “This funding, as part of our overall strategy, will help local council make their roads safer.” Roundabouts do pose a safety issue for cyclists. How many still to go?

£1.2bn is not enough to throw this as you plan to construct your cycle super highway into hilly Hampstead, now subject to judicial review.

When you don’t admit mistakes, you compound them. You make them worse and last longer. Grenfell Tower is just the latest and the very worst because you leave so many people at risk of being burnt alive.

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The Fly Swatter and his Torch – Do you really want twice as many cyclists in the UK by 2040?

 

 Ever wondered why there are so many cock-ups? Here’s another one in the making as I write.

Visit my website and you will see why I am into fly swatting. Just one fly in particular. The Fly in the Ointment.” Planners and politicians never factor human fallibility into their plans and expectations, least of all their own fallibility. It is the ever-present fly in their ointment – their naiveté.

If you can’t see it, you can’t swat it.” However, even if you do see it, swatting it is not easy. I’ll explain when I come to the fly swatter and his torch later on.

First let me remind you why you need to see the fly. With the policy of Inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools, the educational planners didn’t see it. 70 years on the Times Educational Supplement is still recording that it is a mess. I won’t repeat it all here. Just a quote from their 8 June edition: “Cuts are not the only reason why we’re in the Inclusion mess we’re in…… most of all, among teaching staff, headteachers and governors, attitudes to – and expectations of – disabled young people and their families need to change.” The ideologues didn’t anticipate bullying, exclusions, impact on mental health, the stress on the teaching and caring professions, and additional costs for kids with a multiplicity of totally different special needs.

For me history repeats itself. Another set of planners today are responsible for this bit of lunacy:The government wants cycling and walking to become the norm by 2040 and will target funding innovative ways to encourage people onto a bike or to use their own two feet for shorter journeys. Plans include specific objectives to double cycling, reduce cycling accidents …″. To that end, they are building cycle super highways, a new one due to start in July, running up to Swiss Cottage and Hampstead.

Mike Brown, London’s transport commissioner, said Boris Johnson, the current foreign secretary and former mayor of the capital, had carried out the plans for major cycle lanes too hastily, causing congestion problems for other vehicles. “I think it was ill-judged, it was too fast and ill-thought-through in the speed in which it was done.” Despite that new mayor continues it.

Every planner may not be a cyclist but he or she is a cyclist manqué, the epitome of the perfect lycra-clad, helmet protected cyclist, one that always cycles with fulsome care and attention, and in total conformity with the Highway Code, in a world where all other cyclists are the same, in a world where all other road users will be careful and law abiding, with UK’s roads and roundabouts facilitating it. No unguarded moment from anyone. No temptation to cut a corner. Heaven forbid that planners cut corners. Grenfell Towers’ cladding building regs just an exception. A & E untroubled. Zero injuries and fatalities a worthy objective. The extreme vulnerability of the cyclist on the road totally ignored, and injuries to cyclists seven times more than thought to be the case.

And with that belief, another one. Put a super-cycle highway at everyone’s front door, or a mile or two away, with a few more spaghetti-like segmented but unsegregated cycle lanes where the road is wide enough, and everyone – not just mamils will go out and buy a bike if they haven’t already done so. Just make streets narrower to accommodate all those cycle lanes, gridlock the traffic and make motoring more expensive. Money for all this? A little more QE perhaps?

With that great expectation, the planet will be saved, and no-one will be fat.

Along with the fallibility of the planner and those planned goes the infallibility of the democratic process, even when it has been taken over by a small group of wacky, ego-centric, auto-phobic cycling zealots.And sustain the myth that the State can do no wrong? Even though they increasingly gridlock London by the day. Even though their priority should be to prepare for the coming of electric vehicles to clean the streets of pollution, especially from diesel cars. How about lots of 100kW rapid chargers for all those owners of cars without garages for a start?

Now, I come to the “Fly swatter and the Torch”. I came across on YouTube two very helpful suggestions on fly swatting that have some relevance here. The first graphically explained the difficulty of swatting flies. The fly doesn’t want to be swatted! It has many eyes and can see the swat coming. It takes evasive action if it can. So true here.

The second provides the answer. Shine a torch on it first, and then, hey presto, it’s easy to swat.

The problem of course is no torch. The media has thrown away its torch and substituted a dummy instead. If only there was a London or a provincial editor of the calibre of Sir Harold Evans when he edited the Northern Echo, the Sunday Times, and The Times, and fought against the system for the victims of Thalidomide and for the good name of Timothy Evans hanged for a murder he did not commit. If only there was a crusading investigative journalist like him.

If only cyclists could fly!

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