Friday, June 12, 2015

Cousin Wounda

19th century etching of a chimpanzee

In the Congo the name Wounda means 'close to dying', which is what she was when she was rescued and taken to the Jane Goodall Institute's Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center, where she was nursed back to health. Eventually, she was well enough to be released back into the wild, a sanctuary on Tchindzoulou Island in the nearby Kouilou River. When her crate was open and she was free to go, Wounda hesitated and took stock of the strange situation, then embraced Dr Rebeca Atencia, who'd cared for her, and world-famous primatologist Jane Goodall, before venturing into the forest to explore her new home. The video had me in tears.

And why have I called her Cousin Wounda? As the Jane Goodall Institute says, "Biologically, chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than they are to another species of great apes—gorillas. In fact, humans and chimpanzees share about 95 percent to 98 percent of the same DNA." To think that hungry but ignorant people eat them as "bush meat" - it's like cannibalism. One way or another, humans are responsible for the apes' destruction, loss of habitat being the main problem. Action to save all the great apes - chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans - will also help to save all the other species that share their forest habitats. Click here to find out about action to save them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Thank you, Mr Pickles

Tiverton town councillors have voted to include prayers in council meetings. As the National Secular Society has said, holding prayers in council meetings is divisive, wrong and completely inappropriate. I've been exchanging emails with Tiverton's Town Clerk:
I was interested to read that Tiverton Town Councillors have voted to include prayers on the agenda of their meetings. It may be true that this is legally acceptable, thanks to Mr Pickles, but it isn't morally acceptable. Rather than expecting atheist councillors, or councillors of other faiths, to leave the chamber while prayers are said, it would be more acceptable to have prayers 10 or 15 minutes before a meeting starts. Members should opt in, not opt out. Anything else is sheer bad manners, as it forces religion on non-Christians. Imagine being expected to say prayers from any of the other faiths practised in the UK, such as Paganism?

Other councils have prayers before meetings, making them optional, and it works well.

Town Clerk:
Thank you for your views.
The recommendation to full Council was made after receiving advise from the Legal Officer from the National Association of Local Councils. The decision will be made by Full Council as per our standing orders and constitution.

I understand that in the larger councils provision is made to recognise other faiths.

As noted in the legislation anyone has the option of leaving the room prior to the prayers being said if they wish to.

But why should they leave the room? This places the onus on those who aren't Christian, which is unfair. No matter what your advice, the legal position is essentially wrong as it favours Christians.

Christians are now a minority in the UK. They're no more entitled to foist their beliefs on other people than football fans are entitled to force others to sing football songs with them.

You're no more likely to find me singing with these lads than you are to find me praying.

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.

Monday, May 18, 2015


Several people, when arriving at my house at around tea-time, have commented about the birdsong. Opening their car doors, they're suddenly overwhelmed by the sparrows' commotion, perched in the hedge and shrubs. The birds especially like the thorny pyrocantha, where they feel safe. Friends who live in town say that they haven't heard or seen any sparrows for years. Their numbers are declining around the UK - they're on the red list. Some might say that the sparrows' song isn't very melodious - just lots of cheeping - but to me, it sounds bright and happy. My little colony never goes far. They're at the bird feeders all day, and in and out of the trees, shrubs and hedges in the vicinity. I buy bird food by the sack. They're worth it.

Excuse the poor sound quality, with occasional gurgles from passing traffic. This was recorded on my web cam.

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.