Friday, May 29, 2015

Email to my MP

The local Conservative Association ditched my previous MP, Tim Yeo, and selected a new guy, James Cartlidge, before the election. He won, as might have been expected in this blue county. Although I've never voted Tory in my life (and never will), Tim Yeo was better than most, being a leftish Tory, a humanist, and clued up about environmental issues. He served as Minister for the Environment and Countryside from 1993 to 1994 in Major's government and was Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee. I've heard that some MPs don't seem inclined to respond to constituents' letters or emails when they've been critical of Tory policy, but whenever I wrote to Yeo I always got a detailed reply, even if it wasn't what I was hoping for.

When I read Cartlidge's election address, I wasn't impressed. For a start, he has four kids. Has he never heard of population control? As my mum might have said, he should put a knot in it. Apparently, James argues on conservativehome that the property market should be rebalanced more in favour of those who want to own property than rent it out. He doesn't like the surge in buy-to-let investors, but what about social housing? The Tories' pledge to allow housing association tenants the right to buy their homes is just as big a problem, if not more so.

So I wrote to him. Probably a waste of time, but...
I'm writing about your government's plan to allow housing association tenants to buy their homes. This has to be one of the silliest policies imaginable. It's well known that a significant proportion of the council homes sold under Mrs Thatcher's right-to-buy scheme have ended up in the ownership of buy-to-let landlords who charge higher rents than the councils did, and that many of these rents are being subsidised from the public purse through housing benefit. This is especially true of former council homes in the London boroughs. Not only that, but the sale of council houses has actually resulted in fewer homes becoming available. Since 1980, nearly 2 million homes have been sold under the scheme, while just 345,000 new social properties have been built. The experience of one London housing association, Phoenix, illustrates the reality of right-to-buy. 82 of its properties, valued at £12.7m, were sold under right-to-buy. A subsidy of £100,000 to tenants meant proceeds dropped to £7m. A transfer agreement meant a further £5m went to the former landlord, Lewisham council. Selling 82 homes gave Phoenix enough money to build just 12 new one-bed flats.

I know something about council housing and the housing crisis. As a Babergh District Council tenant for 30 years, I was its first Tenants' Forum chairperson and was a tenants' representative on its Housing Panel. I've taken a keen interest in housing issues for a long time. I can confidently claim that selling housing association stock will not have the effect of easing the housing crisis - just the opposite. Not only that, but I'd question the government's right to do this. I believe that the associations plan a legal challenge.

The obsession with owner-occupation in the UK is misguided. Our European neighbours regard renting as an acceptable way to be housed, including in Germany, where 53% of the population rent and most have indefinite tenancies. Rather than selling off our remaining social housing, it would make much more sense to stop its sale, to build a lot more social housing, to bring more empty properties into use, and to do something about bringing the private rented sector under control with stricter standards and rent control.

The National Housing Federation is among many organisations with expertise in housing that strongly oppose your party's plans, and with good reason. Someone may have imagined that it would be a popular policy to include in your election manifesto, but it has not been thought through. I urge you to prevail upon Mr Cameron to think again.

Yours sincerely ...
Photo of Cartlidge from the UK Parliament website. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015


I recorded the birds singing in my garden this evening.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Elegant letters

If you're not a graphic or web designer, you may not think about the design of the words you're reading. I did Fine Art at college, so typography wasn't part of my course. It's only been since I got a PC and have done some freelance design that I've got to know a little bit about it. Travelling around town, I've been known to shout out the names of some of my favourite fonts when I spot them in posters and shop signs. Weird, yes.

Nueva standard, which I've used in the heading of my blog (see above) used to be included in the list of fonts that came with Photoshop, but it disappeared. All I had left was Nueva condensed, which I hardly use. So now I've made up for the loss, with the advantage of being able to use it in Microsoft Office programmes.

The font was designed by an American, Carol Towmbly, in 1994.

It's possible to download Nueva and many other fonts free of charge. This is as unethical as using someone else's illustration without permission. So I paid, and I have a licence. Now my conscience is telling me to go through this blog and remove all the pictures that aren't copyright-free. I may be some time.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The times they are a-changin'

I read in the Guardian that we have more LGB MPs than anywhere else, which is good. The article referred to the 1997 election, when Stephen Twigg was elected. It says, "Stephen Twigg was gay – a 'practising homosexual', to use a formula still popular at the time." It reminded me of a Suffolk six form conference I was invited to, as one of a panel of speakers on "controversial subjects", including homosexuality and abortion. Considering that, as far as I can remember, Section 28 was still in force, this was quite provocative. One of the other speakers was a member of the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement and another was a homophobic evangelical vicar I'd come across before. He'd been "saved" and was determined to save as many others as he could. After quoting Leviticus (don't they all?), he said he didn't object to homosexuals if they didn't practice. I said that my gay friends didn't need to practice; they knew how to be gay. At this, the hall erupted, with the kids yelling and cheering, to the evident displeasure of the homophobe. I thought to myself, these kids are all right, and things are going to change. And they did.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The height of fashion

Nicola Sturgeon's shoes
According to a study by the Université de Bretagne-Sud, "men behave more favourably towards a woman if she is wearing high-heeled shoes," concluding that "high heels make women more beautiful". Sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann claims "high-heels are an important tool for women hoping to attract a male partner." But if you're looking for a proper grown-up relationship, maybe that's not the sort of partner you want?

Presenting the BBC's Young Dancer 2015 final last night, Zoë Ball was perched on ridiculously high heels, as she often is. I guess it's part of her show business image, to wear totally impractical shoes. During Strictly Come Dancing, she must have been glad to sit down. She certainly couldn't dance in them. But why does Nicola Sturgeon totter around on stilettos? They throw her body forward so her gait is unnatural. She probably wears them because she's short. Now what would a psychologist say about that?

Naomi Campbell's spectacular
1993 fall at Westwood's show
It's a very long time since I wore high heels. I had some silly platform soled shoes in my early 20s that were an accident waiting to happen, and it did. Shoes like this remind me of my Aunty Dorothy. She wasn't a real aunt, but our next door neighbour when I was growing up. She always wore high heels and her calf muscles looked like they had knots in. In later life, she had difficulty walking even in flat shoes, due to the damage done by walking on tiptoe for years. In years to come, fashion historians will probably deride very high heels as the height of foolishness.

Click for the history of high heels.

Seems I'm not the only one who's been interested in Nicola Sturgeon's shoes. She was on ITV's Loose Women, where she got side-tracked into talking about her appearance instead of about politics.

Nicola Sturgeon on Loose Women: How the 'most powerful woman in British politics' dealt with questions on shoes and fashion.  

Bit of a hoo-ha at the Cannes Film Festival, when women were turned away from a red carpet screening for not wearing high heels.

Nicola Thorp was told that she had to wear high heels to work as it was part of the dress code. She refused, and is trying to make it illegal for bosses to impose this rule.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Art lovers' heaven

Thoroughly enjoyed Frederick Wiseman's three-hour film on BBC Four about The National Gallery, with no narration and no music, part of the Slow TV season. You have 29 days to see it on iPlayer.

Although I did Art History at college (I did a Diploma in Art & Design), I didn't know about Caravaggio's use of ground colour in his chiaroscuro paintings, which was described as "economical". Nor did I know that when a painting has been cleaned it's varnished before being restored, so that there's a barrier between the original painting and the restoration. This means that if the painting is cleaned and restored again, all the hours of work done by the conservators can be wiped clean in minutes, leaving the canvas as it was before.

In the film, I found the staff and visitors to be as fascinating as the subjects in the paintings, especially in the galleries' subdued lighting. It reminded me of two people. The first was my Uncle George, one of my mother's brothers, who managed a toy shop not far from home. He was naturally talented (as was Mum - must be a family tendency) but I never saw anything of his apart from some pencil drawings. When he retired from the shop he got a job as an attendant in The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (my family's from Merseyside), where he was happy, surrounded by art and art lovers. Perhaps, if he'd had the opportunity, he'd have liked to do what I did, and go to Art College but, like many of his generation, higher education was out of the question, for financial reasons. My grandfather was a merchant seaman and he and Nana had five children to raise. Poor George.

The second person the film reminded me of was Dr Cronheim, who taught Art History at college. He was a small man, swamped by his heavy double-breasted pin-striped suit, who spoke with a thick Austrian or German accent. I don't know anything about him, but he was probably a wartime refugee. Dr Cronheim prided himself on his research into the characters in some of the large Renaissance paintings he lectured about, featuring the patron's families and friends with the holy family. If a patron had paid a lot of money for a religious painting, he might expect to be included in the subjects. If the artist had an especially strong reputation, he'd include himself in the painting too. On one occasion, Dr Cronheim pointed at a man in the bottom right hand corner of a large group surrounding Jesus and some angels and a bunch of others. "Zis is not the artist's brother, as I had first supposed, but the artist's brother-in-law!" He practically squeaked with emotion as he said this, his voice rising in triumph at his cleverness. I have no idea how he deduced the relationship of the man in the painting. I suspect poor Dr Cronheim was disappointed by our reaction, which was more amusement than admiration.

Some stills from the BBC film:

Restorer cleaning a painting
Visitors being lectured
Restorer touching up some blemishes
Alert gallery attendant
Guide lecturing about a painting

Old man sitting in a gallery