I recently had the pleasure of talking to the good folk at The Big Green Politics Podcast. If you are in the small group of people who don’t feel that you hear me voice my opinions enough then you can listen again below.
This article was published on Bristol24/7.
Picture this. An energy company to challenge the big six. A company that puts its profits back into Bristol rather than the back pocket of its shareholders. A company that sees the city’s most vulnerable as those it most needs to help, not an opportunity to exploit for marginal profits. A company set up and is wholly owned by the council but is given an arm’s length structure to be able to operate commercially. An energy company that makes international headlines by working locally to turn local sewage into gas to then heat thousands of local homes.
This is a vision for Bristol that won plaudits internationally. Bristol was seen as a leader in creative thinking and potential answers to the impossible austerity question posed by successive governments: could a council raise crucial revenue through private council-owned companies while at the same time tackling the core issues like poverty and climate change?
This is a question that today I fear we may never know the answer to. When you have an idea that is this ambitious, this trailblazing, this bold, you need to throw your whole weight behind it. You need unequivocal political support. You need political leadership.
Today we heard the devastatingly sad news that Bristol Energy will no longer supply the city council – its whole owner – which is switching to a British Gas, one of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies. The current Labour administration who made this decision will tell us that they are “obliged to competitively tender our utility contracts” and this is of course, partially, true.
But as Eleanor Combley, the leader of the Green Councillors said today, “Just a few months ago Full Council voted through an updated policy on social value, committing to promote our local economy and environmental sustainability in the Council’s procurement rules”. Despite this, the Council have now chosen one of the Big Six over their own company to supply their energy.
Combley hits the metaphorical nail on the head when she says, “value for money isn’t just about choosing what is cheapest”.
I have no doubt that in the regimented form filling nature of council procurement British Gas ticked more boxes. But this move is the antithesis to the bold alternative vision outlined at the start of this article. It is a regressive move that will see Bristol tax payer’s money going not to the city but to the shareholders in British Gas. It will see our money going to a company that thrives on charging more to the poorest rather than one whose core aim is to support them.
This in and of itself is worrying. But when framed in the context of the choppy seas of cuts to local councils it becomes deeply worrying. What vision does this administration have for steering us as a city through these devastating cuts? Millions are being stripped from council front-line services in short-term budget-balancing moves but the lack of long-term action coming from the Mayor’s Office is deafening. Bristol wants to know if this administration is bold enough in their remaining 2 years to think big and deliver on projects to take forward the anti-austerity vision that it supposedly stands for.
Today’s news that the Council isn’t standing by its own energy company strongly suggests this administration isn’t.
Sat in the waiting room of Cheltenham Hospital with my Dad I started to google ‘Arriva NHS patient transport’. I had already read all that Hello magazine had to offer, what else was I to do?
And so, I read to fill the time. I read about the company that many local NHS Trusts have contracted to provide patient transport. I read with bemusement about their commitments “to the highest quality of care” and about how patients “inspire” them “to achieve excellence” and laughed to myself about how this failed to tally with my experience. I also started to read alarming numbers of patient testimonies describing being let down by them. About how the most vulnerable were being left for hours with no adequate care.
That morning I had sat by myself for hours as my Dad failed to show up for his appointment. He was coming from Cirencester, less than half an hour’s drive away, but finally arrived close to 2 hours late. They had picked him up 15 minutes after his appointment time and then proceeded to pick other patients up on the way meandering through Cotswold villages.
In that time, I rescheduled his appointment, twice. The receptionist was wonderfully understanding and yet deeply scathing about Arriva. She gave me their direct number saying that the dispatch office of Arriva no longer listened to her. “It shouldn’t but it happens all the time, where we can we will always try and fit people in. Often, I end up having to book patients taxis, it’s not right that people should have to wait around like this” she said.
She was apologetic, nice, but in her mind, unable to help or affect the system that was failing patients.
After the appointment was over Arriva informed me that they were, once again, running late. I rang them directly. They apologised over the phone to me and said that there would be an hour delay in getting my Dad picked up. This was at 12:15, about the time I had originally agreed to take over looking after my 5-month-old baby, and about 1 hour after my 2-hour parking ticket had run out.
What happened next was bordering on the farcical. To be exact:
- I rang at 12:15 to be told they would be there by 1:15.
- I rang at 1:30 to be told they would be there by 2:00
- I rang at 2:15 to be told they would be there by 2:30
- I rang at 2:45 to be told they would be there by 3:00
- I rang at 3:10 and they arrived a few minutes later.
When they did arrive, they apologised for being late by saying “we weren’t sure which department you were in”. I didn’t quite have the emotional energy to respond. I had arrived that morning at 10:30 to support my Dad through a 5-minute routine appointment. I was leaving close to 5 hours later.
Sadly, though this seems far from unusual. As one nurse who came out to see us still waiting retorted, “why am I not surprised to see you still here?”. My cursory google search gave dozens of comparable stories. 67-year old Brian Cropton from Stonehouse commented that “it’s just getting worse and worse” after he found himself regularly let down by them being left for hours and on occasion completely abandoned.
This chimes not only with the experience of the NHS staff who I spoke to, but also one of the official records. Last year in July members of Gloucestershire County Council’s Health and Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee told Arriva its performance was not good enough. One local Cllr commented that “Arriva have patently failed in a number of areas and it simply isn’t good enough” and that “[The] report is full of excuses”.
This came a year after an official warning was issued in late 2015 for “consistent failure to achieve a number of required Key Performance Indicator standards”.
I write this now not just because my own experience was awful but because it fits into a wider pattern – not once since Arriva Transport Ltd took the Gloucestershire NHS contract have they hit their own target of 95% of patients being dropped off between 45 minutes before and 15 minutes after their appointments. Pause on this point for a minute. Even if they had hit their targets, 1 in 20 patients would not be dropped off within an hour slot of their appointments. Can you imagine the logistical and financial impact this is having?
With one year left on their contract, I wonder if anything will change. Will it just be renewed? Is the NHS in a financial state to pay for better services? Is there any reason not to bring the service back in-house?
I don’t know. What I do know though is that the receptionist I spoke to told me about an elderly man who cried in her waiting room because he just wanted to get back to his bed and I know that is not OK.
In the pre-dawn light, I sit with my new-born, my first-born child. He is curled like a wrinkled cashew nut on my belly with his hands tucked up under his chin. He gurgles, a bit of milky vomit drips out of the corner of his mouth, and he smiles as he lets out a little fart. He is, in his father’s eyes in these grey hours of the night, the image of perfection.
For the last three weeks, I have been on paternity leave. This time has been invaluable. It is time when I spend hours cuddling my boy on the sofa feeling like I can never be close enough to him for long enough. I know this time will never be repeated and so I breath in every moment we spend together. It absorbs my every being as I consciously and subconsciously devote myself to him. At this stage, it seems to take my all just to respond to his basic needs but I daydream as I hold him. I daydream about supporting him through his life ahead, helping him shape his own future, live his own dreams, fulfil the potential of this whole new human life that sits in my arms.
The moments not taken up by cuddling, nappy changes and feeds are spent with a never-ending rotation of domestic chores. The clothes washing cycle never stops, the house is seemingly never tidy and the babygrows at hand are always too big or too small and need sorting by size. These domestic rituals though add to a profound sense of connection as everything I do somehow feels connected to his wellbeing.
I constantly search for the balance between being caring and just common sense. In one moment, I find myself crouching down on the cold tiles of our kitchen floor. Seconds later in a tired daze I find myself still staring at the new array of washing powders in my cupboard wondering if you really need different washing powder for babygrows?
I still have no idea. There is a lot I still have no idea about.
The last three weeks have been an unprecedented learning curve for me but one that I feel somewhere deep inside me that I have spent 30 years preparing for. It feels natural to be so out of my depth – a billion first time parents all lost at sea.
I imagine first time parenthood as something that equals us all as we all wallow in this strange mixture of cluelessness and powerful natural guiding urges. We stumble through the late nights following snippets of information we garner from friends, family, and increasingly the internet as we continue to learn from our mistakes.
I realise that before anyone has children (time I now refer to as B.C) nobody tells you that a ‘Newborn’ babygrow by one brand might be bigger than an ‘Up to 3 months’ babygrow from another. Why would they? Thus, I now find myself fumbling around for a clean babygrow in the middle of night after he has invariably spilt a bodily liquid or two on his last outfit. I curse the ridiculous, baffling array of poppers that fail in their very specific raison d’être of making it supposedly easier to take a babygrow on and off.
Nobody tells you how are you expected to work all this out without caffeine?
But my wife and I muddle through. As most parents eventually do. And after the nappy has been changed and as the scrunched up ball of tears in my arms goes from a rolling boil of cries to a gentle simmer it feels like he finally starts to forgive my mistakes. He soothes his way into silence as he scrunches up his miniature fists and turns his body into mine. His weight sits lightly as he head nestles into the crease on the inside of my elbow and he gurgles softly and dribbles down my chest.
In these moments when he is fed, clean, and happy he moves into my body like the missing piece of jigsaw that I never knew I was missing. In those early hours when no one exists in the world except for us, I see how he completes me in a way I didn’t know I needed.
I realise as I sit in the early hours of the morning holding my baby boy, that he isn’t just a whole new human life but something that makes me twice the man I was before.
A quick photo blog to introduce you to my baby boy, Arran Idris Hyndside. Born last week through a planned c-section. These are a few snapshot photos. The first is a few seconds after his birth, the rest follow in rough chronological order. Needless to say, I am one proud Dad and feel really lucky to have so many incredible friends and family around who are supporting us with a seemingly never ending stream of love.
Mum, Dad, and baby boy are all doing well and enjoying this special time together.
*These photos can only be used with specific prior permission. If you’re interested in using them then please contact me.
A few photographs of walking up Plynlimon, the highest point of the Cambrian Mountains, in Mid-Wales with a few friends.
Winter-sun, snow and ice on top and no winds made it a perfect day to head to the hills.
For a suggested route click here. Click on any photograph to enlarge.
Please contact me about using photographs elsewhere.
The Lofoten are arctic islands. They are dramatic in every respect. From the jagged mountains that stretch out of the impossibly blue seas, to the never setting sun, right through to the eye watering prices they ask for their locally crafted ales. Incredibly, everyone I meet on these islands seem oblivious to it all, quietly going out to their work which seems to be mainly farming or fishing.
Maybe because of the never setting sun, but these islands hold a timelessness. The islands support some of the oldest mountains in the world that stand as watchman over every day’s activities. Time ebbs and flows intertwined with just the occasional break for dried fish, homemade waffles or, I’m told, the alarming local specialty –lutefisk!
At any time in the never ending day you can glance up in any direction to see mountain peaks. Often they are lit with unworldly pinks and oranges as the sun roller-coasters through the sky dipping precariously close to the horizon before soaring back up to warm this unlikely mild arctic climate.
As you travel along single track roads every house you pass seems to hold the archetype of the Norwegian Grandmother with the smell of waffles wafting through the air by every open window. Step away and this sweetness sits in juxtaposition to the smell of the sea salt mixed with ever present the potent ever present fishing industry clustered around every port.
The coastline dominates both the industry here and the geography. Wherever you are on these small island it seems you’re always close enough to hear the sea perpetually lapping against the shores. The same back and forth that defined these islands for millions of years that offer a reassuring promise that they will do for a millennium to come.
With waffles seemingly cooked continuously and with the sun refusing to set, the need to distinguish between breakfast, lunch and dinner melts away like the soft, sweet brown cheese that melts into the hearts of the freshly cooked waffles. As a visitor, it’s hard not to melt into this routine of existing.
Despite all this, despite the magnificent mountains, despite the crashing sea that stretches out in every direction, despite the spectacular light that shines a warmth gently onto everything we do, despite all this, everyone I meet seems unaware of it. Or at least, only interested only in making sure we, the visitors, are well fed and enjoying our time here.
Dried fish and wet shores, a warm sun perpetually in a cold sky, such massive mountains on such a small series of islands. In a way this juxtaposition of life, land and beauty makes perfect sense. In many ways little seems to make much sense on Lofoten. The one thing you can say for sure though, is that everything on the Lofoten Islands is dramatic and that if you haven’t already, you should visit.
Douglas Nicol was a man who greeted with back slaps, booming smiles and sparking eyes but it was the way he gifted the most subtle of kindness that I will remember him by.
I first met him when working for Don Foster MP in Bath and Douglas was a newly elected councillor. He was as hard working a councillor as he was insistent that I join him in the pub after a day’s work. It is a memory of one of these such occasions that resonates as my main memory of him and what I wanted to share now after hearing of his death.
We were walking through the centre of Bath towards the sort of pub you have to duck through the doorway to get into – all low ceilings and eccentric locals. We were going to meet some of Doug’s friends to watch the rugby and enjoy a few beers, perhaps two of the things he enjoyed the most.
Douglas knew me reasonably well by this point and he also knew that at this time I had less than little money. As we walked Doug stopped to get money from a cash machine and handed me a £20 note. I looked quizzically at the note and then him. With sparkling eyes he said it was so I could buy his mates the first round of beers. The only way he insisted, to introduce yourself to his friends.
Everyone, myself included, would have thought Douglas a top guy if he had gone to the bar and paid for a round for me. But this small act which was more about enabling friendships than anything else optimised his endless thoughtful and unassuming kindness.
This anecdote could have been pulled from hundreds of different examples of his kindness. Someone who didn’t spend enough time with Douglas (or someone who had spent too much time with him) might have missed these small acts, but they were littered into his day to day life, into his actions as a councillor and into the very way in which he approached people.
I am sure he will be missed by many. RIP mate.
But on this overcast autumnal Thursday morning it didn’t feel odd. It felt completely normal, completely natural, and as I found out, remarkably in common with others who have suffered the loss of miscarriage.
To understand how my wife and I got here I need to talk about a few months ago and the joyful surprise shock of finding out she was pregnant. It was certainly a surprise, but a very welcome one. The prospect of becoming first time parents is as exciting as it is utterly daunting. It is the sort of exciting that sits deep in your belly far away from the rationality of your mind.
Immediately however we were given words of caution. The pain in her gut we were told might be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy (we now think it was actually a symptom of endometriosis – a condition impacting around 2 million women in the UK alone and yet remains one of our societies many unspoken taboos).
There were however weeks, after which the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy was dismissed, where we could see a new life embedded into the womb, living, offering the promise of all that life could lay ahead of it.
There was one particular moment. A moment when my heart skipped a beat, when my life seemed to freeze for a second, when this gloop of cells that we had affectionately started referring to as ‘mischief’ showed a heartbeat, perhaps the most definitive sign of life. It is this moment that is both etched into my mind’s eye and also the one that is now printed on a piece of photographic paper decomposing in compost under an array of flowers.
As soon as we suspected a miscarriage was a possibility, my wife and I talked of a need we both felt to plant something, to grow something, to have something to mark this oh so sad possibility. At the time though I thought this was just us – something that said more about my wife and me than about the experience we were going through. It turns out however that this is remarkably common.
One of the wonderful staff at the hospital who talked to us with the patience and understanding that we needed gently dropped into conversation that decades earlier she had planted a tree. Her main reflection now is that she worries she wouldn’t be able to take it with her if she were ever to move house.
The hospital staff also gave us the compassionately crafted NHS literature on miscarriage which has a whole section on the prospect of burying something to mark the loss and that many also marked this by planting something nearby.
And so this is how we found ourselves folding a small photo of a gloop of mischief and placing it down into pot of moist compost. Mischief was measured in millimetres but sits with a magnitude hard to explain in our hearts. I can’t explain why but it feels right knowing that mischief is buried deep in moist compost surrounded by bulbs of snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells with a medley of late summer flowers sitting on top like a multi-coloured crown.
This is just my reflection of something that has happened to my wife and I, but one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage – which left me thinking how I had lived three decades of my life without hearing someone talk about it. I hope that if someone who has experienced a miscarriage reads this that they feel reassured that they are not alone.
It had to come at some point. It just did.
I feel sadder than you can imagine writing this. But this is, for now at least, the end of Hynd’s Blog.
A couple of months ago I wrote about how I hoped to fit blogging into my new job and life back in the UK. It was an ambitious plan that I really wanted to make work because I have, in an odd sort of way, grown to really love this blog.
Sadly though, despite the optimism (something that I like to think optimises the last 5 years on this blog), despite the support from so many friends, family and complete strangers, despite the very best of intentions, I just have not been able to implement this plan.
A number of factors have forced me into this situation. There are two that spring to mind.
Firstly, not having enough time to research topics that are close to my heart has pushed my writing closer and closer to either the descriptive or the repetitive of others opinions. Descriptive and repetitive are two adjectives that act as nails to an analytical blog’s coffin.
Secondly, the metaphorical biting of my virtual tongue that I referred to in my previous post has, sadly, pushed the content on Hynd’s Blog closer and closer to the mundane. Again, not the best adjective to be associated with a blog.
A little about the second point:
I am no longer just having to worry about my own reputation – something that it is easy to be flippant about – but also one of an elected Mayor. Most civilised readers of this blog would find it hard to comprehend the level of sinister attacks some are willing to make against the Mayor. I have little doubt that some of those attacking him would happily do this through personally attacking his staff. It is the opposite of the old adage playing the ball not the player.
It has already got to a stage where not saying something online leads to quite unpleasant personal attacks.
In an effort to not fuel these trolls I realise that I have moved beyond the cautious and into the utterly mundane. With the odd exception, I have not written anything of any particular interest in the last few months.
For someone who is surrounded by inspiration, innovation and interest and who is driven by intrigue into it all, this realisation profoundly saddens me.
I cannot see this situation changing and so part of my decision to end Hynd’s Blog is based on a desire not to see it limp on for the coming months.
Looking back though, Hynd’s Blog is something that I remain profoundly proud of. It has dipped in an out of the top 100 influential UK political blogs, it been visited by hundreds of thousands of people and most of all, it has, on the rarest of occasions, succeeded in convincing people to change their minds on a given subject.
I am proud beyond words of what Hynd’s Blog has grown to be and I hope that at some point, it will have a future.
With all this in mind all is left to say is a huge thank you to you for coming along for the ride – it has been a blast!
PS – I plan to cross-post anything I publish elsewhere so stay signed up if you want to be notified of when I post these occasional articles!
Campaigns are brewing in the lead up to the General Election 2015. Have a look at these two mugs produced by the Labour Party and the Green Party respectively:
In the age of easy photo editing I checked the best I could to make sure this wasn’t a spoof. Apparently it isn’t.
This is what politics in the UK is reduced to – a mug’s game!
Update – some asked how I knew this wasn’t a spoof. I don’t know for sure but they both seem to have the product up on their websites (you can purchase either mug from here (Labour) or here (Green)) and I even asked a sitting (Lib Dem) MP (see here).
Today’s Independent reported on the case of Aderonke Apata, a Nigerian in the UK who is claiming asylum on the grounds of her sexuality. It reports:
‘The Home Secretary’s barrister, Andrew Bird, argued that Ms Apata was “not part of the social group known as lesbians” but had “indulged in same-sex activity”. He continued: “You can’t be a heterosexual one day and a lesbian the next day. Just as you can’t change your race.”’
2015 in case you are wondering.
Yep, it is 2015 and we still have a government department putting on record statements like this.
As if this wasn’t enough Mr Brid is quoted referencing her well documented mental health issues (including post-traumatic stress and an attempted suicide) as saying:
‘if she is suicidal and depressed she is making a jolly good show of it’.
By jolly good god.
This was so ludicrously absurd that I had to double check that this wasn’t a liberal baiting spoof! As far as I can tell it isn’t. These are the actual words of a man paid to represent the Home Office.
Mr Bird’s argument is based on a legal idea that goes something like this…just because an asylum seeker self-identifies as a lesbian, and indeed sleeps with other women, she is not actually a lesbian.
Want to know the logic? Read on…
In short, Mr Bird’s argument is based on the idea that because she has not always self-identified as a lesbian, she has, by ‘coming out’, shown her sexuality is changeable. Which conveniently fits her into some mad legal category which is outside of the ‘particular social group’ definition in the Refugee Convention.
Ever feel like law sits outside of common sense?
Well don’t be so quick to judge. A counter argument sitting much more closely within the humanitarian bounds of sanity was presented in this case (and many before). Our blogging friends over at the Justice Gap summarizes it well:
‘What Mr Bird’s case fails to take into account… is the stream of case law which shows that the real test is whether a characteristic is in the control of the individual to change (and so ‘mutable’) or whether it is a part of themselves that they cannot at this time be expected or able to change (and so ‘immutable’). So for example a child seeking asylum cannot force themselves to be older so they are not at risk on return and likewise a lesbian asylum seeker cannot simply choose to change their sexuality. This is notwithstanding that a child will eventually grow up and that there may have been a time in her past where a lesbian woman had not identified herself as a lesbian.’
The stakes in this game of pedantic legal back and forth are high however. Homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison in Nigeria (thanks to recent laws) and there has been a spike in violence against gay people within the country (related to international pressure?).
There are very real human consequences to this decision.
The judge is yet to make a final call – Hynd’s Blog waits with a virtual weight in its stomach for the verdict.
One of the amazing things about living in Bristol is the diversity and range of (what I affectionately refer to as) ‘extra-curricular activity for grown ups’. In other words, stuff to do outside of work time.
In the last couple of weeks I have been to Bristol Hippodrome to watch ‘War Horse’ (One sentence review – really really impressive, just not as impressive people make it to be), to The Exchange to listen to American singer-song writer, Tim Barry (One sentence review – full angst, emotion and lyrical word play scooped up into an impressive live performance in a cool venue), and to the University of Bristol to listen to George Monbiot give a free public lecture as part of the ‘Festival of Ideas’ on ‘What a Green Government Could do if it Really Tried’ (One sentence review – a challenging, entertaining talk delivered with no notes that, although it rarely touched on the title of the talk, provided plenty of food for thought).
This diversity of stuff to do is part of what makes Bristol such a cool place to live. Whatever your budget, there is, on any given night, something amazing to do.
Anyway – if you are unlucky enough to be not living in Bristol then never fear! As the Festival of Ideas have been good enough to upload the Monbiot talk I thought it would be nice to share a little bit of this Bristol love and post it here…
Hope you enjoy listening to it – let me know what you think (can we bring elephants to Bristol???).