Thursday, 17 August 2017

Donald Trump is not a racist

Donald Trump is not a racist.

To paraphrase Sarah Champion. There. I said it. Does that make me an apologist? Or am I just prepared to call out his horrifying character traits for what they are?

As a general rule of thumb racists are not presented with Tree of Life awards by the Jewish National Fund.

Racists don’t get recognised with Ellis Island Medals of Honor for, in the words of the National Ethnic Coalition of Organisations, exemplifying ‘tolerance, brotherhood, diversity and patriotism.’

And racists don’t, in general, describe the leader of the Ku Klux Klan as ‘a bigot, a racist, a problem’ as Trump did of David Duke during an interview on NBC back in 2000.

It’s possible of course that 17 years ago Trump could have been playing a very long game or that philanthropy could have bought awards; but really, if you were a racist, even just a little bit, would you honestly want to be cited publicly and prominently as very definitely not being one?

No, and accepting anyone of us can change our views over the course of year, Donald Trump is not a racist.

Having said that I’m not at all certain that Donald Trump particularly cares about race; it strikes me as being one of the least important things in the world to him.

You see, Donald Trump is an old, rich, white man with, seemingly, little interest in the welfare of anyone other than Donald Trump. How could race possibly be anything other than a side show to him?

No, the most important thing in the world to Donald Trump is his own personal brand.

You boost a brand by having loyal, dedicated customers, or supporters in the case of Trump and just like Gerald Ratner found out many moons ago telling those customers they are foolish is not the ideal tool for retaining their loyalty.

When news broke about Charlottesville essentially that customer loyalty, and not racism, that was President Trump’s first sin. Donald Trump, like any businessman, was not going to tell many of the voters who had put him in his position where to go.

It didn’t have to be racism or anti-Semitism if Donald Trump had a loyal band of customers who feasted nightly of dogs he wouldn’t be denouncing them but asking ‘paw or tail, sir?’

Remember, in brand Trump the loyal customer is always right.

It seems to me that there is only one thing in the world of Donald Trump more important than the customer always being right; it’s that the proprietor is never wrong.

Donald Trump has such startling and simple self belief; such a ‘huuuuge’ ego that like a Pope of Capitalism does not believe he can be fallible and even in the face of demonstrable evidence the error must be with he or she who points it out.

When the media pointed out the Emperor’s New Clothes of diminished inauguration day crowds Donald Trump did not for one second believe the photographic evidence. Donald Trump knew what he saw and his infallibility could only mean that detractors were the ones who were mistaken or lying.

And when his own advisors suggest to him that maybe, just maybe, he might be erring the answer is simple. There is always someone else willing and ready to affirm Donald Trump’s peerless intellect.
No, Donald Trump is not a racist – although equally he isn’t someone who could ever be termed a civil rights campaigner – he is perhaps worse than that.

He is venal and delusional.

Each of those facets on their own can be dangerous; combined who knows, if he remains in office, what the next three and half years may bring?

Monday, 14 August 2017

Mo has had a good run - from Somalia to top of the Brit list: my Catholic Universe column

By the time you read this column, all things being equal, the greatest of all British athletes, Sir Mo Farah, will be preparing for his final ever race on a running track. It is just possible Sir Mo is about to bring home an unprecedented, for a distance runner, eleventh gold medal from a global championships.

In his 10,000 metre race last weekend, the first of a potential double alongside the 5,000 metres this week, Farah looked and ran like the supreme athlete that he is. An early plea for support from his home crowd and undoubtedly a little gamesmanship to antagonise his fellow competitors guaranteed that Mo would be subjected to both a fast paced and at times nasty race as African nations worked together to try and topple Britain’s most mercurial athlete.

It was the aftermath of that race last weekend though that I want to reflect on today and it was, in fact, just one tweet in particular that got me thinking.

Straight after last week’s 10,000 metres race former England Rugby Union hooker Brian Moore took to Twitter writing ‘Mo Farah – simply stupendous’. Within a few minutes another Twitter user replied to Moore’s tweet with just one word ‘somalian (sic)’, Moore’s response was almost as brief and certainly cannot be printed in a family newspaper.

Now on the face of it that unnamed Twitter user was arguably right. Sir Mo had been born in Somalia before his family moved to Djibouti and onwards to London by the time the young Mo was eight years old. But it wasn’t that fact that most interested me but Moore’s exceptionally direct and vitriolic response.

The always forthright Mr Moore was simply protecting someone who to most of us is a national treasure. Last year Heinz Beanz, in one of those meaningless surveys manufacturers carry out to get their product into the press, asked Britons what made them most proud to be British and then they listed the results. You might guess many of the things that respondents identified: the NHS; Roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding; Her Majesty, the Queen and decent bacon sandwiches but right there in 21st place was Mo Farah. When we think about what makes us proud to be who we are, for many of us, Sir Mo rightly jumps to the forefront of our consciousness.

Sir Mo’s story is a remarkable one; leaving the country of his birth and separation from an identical twin brother; growing up in a vibrant, multicultural capital city; falling in love and marrying his childhood girlfriend before worldwide domination in the sport of his choosing. It is a tale that undoubtedly resonates with our sense of Britishness.

Just a few short weeks ago another British sportsman celebrated an unprecedented victory. No Briton has ever dominated the world of cycling like Chris Froome and on 23 July this world beating cyclist claimed his fourth victory as winner of the Tour de France; the world’s most famous and arduous bike race.

Froome too was born in Africa, in his case Nairobi, Kenya to an English father and although at first he represented that nation on the international stage and still speaks with the same clipped tones of an African native he has now represented, as of right, Great Britain for many years.

It is undisputable to say though that Froomey, as he is known, doesn’t have anywhere near the adulation from the British public as Sir Mo despite the fact that his sporting achievements are comparable. What is the difference? Why does one sportsman receive almost universal hero status amongst Britons whilst another just a grudging nod of admiration?

It could validly be argued that whilst Froome has never resided in Britain for any period of time Sir Mo spent his formative years in and around East London. It could be, but that doesn’t acknowledge the fact that Farah’s residence has now for a number of years been on the west coast of the United States.

You might suggest that cycling isn’t the same universal sport as athletics, that it takes a ‘real’ native born Brit to break through in that arena. You could argue that but then again no one is seen as more British than Sir Bradley Wiggins, a man born in Belgium to an Australian father and British mother.

No, there is undoubtedly something almost intangible that makes us react in different ways to foreign born British sportsmen and women; and it isn’t necessarily just whether they win or not that makes us see them as countrymen or competing under a flag of convenience.

Look at the list. No one but no one would ever pour doubt on the Britishness of John Barnes, Andrew Strauss, Mike Catt or Justin Rose and yet if I were to ask the nationality of Owen Hargeaves, Greg Rusedski, Lennox Lewis, Zola Budd or Kevin Pietersen I can guarantee that I would hear many times over that the answer was three Canadians and two South Africans.

So what is it that makes us adopt some sportsmen as compatriots more than others? You can’t even suggest that it’s a funny, foreign sounding, name; I’m sure the vast majority of us would agree Chris Froome sounds far more traditionally British than Mo Farah.

In preparing for this week’s column I kept asking myself the same question. What makes someone more ‘British’ than the next man or woman?

I’m sure that you will have heard that for the past few years all schools have been instructed to teach children the concept of ‘fundamental British values’ and I asked myself whether they could provide an answer to my query?

According to OFSTED there are five such values that all of us should share; a respect for democracy; a respect for the rule of law; individual liberty; mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.

It is final point that I believe the answer to my query lies. That mutual respect is as its very wording indicates a reciprocal agreement. It isn’t just about the respect that we show for sportsmen and women but the respect and passion that they show back for our nation.

Every time Sir Mo Farah runs and wins you can see how incredibly proud he is to be draped in that union flag; the passion that John Barnes displayed in playing for his adopted country irrespective of the hideous racial abuse he faced in the 1980’s and ‘90s; the pride that Strauss or Catt displayed each time they pulled on their England jerseys to captain our nation.

Undoubtedly we at least subliminally grade our own respect in the degree of passion shown. There’s little doubt that Kevin Pietersen was and is one of the finest batsman in Cricket but did we ever accept him as English? The answer to that was fairly self-evident the moment allegations of passing team secrets to South Africa surfaced.

Of course, if I am right, and the level of acceptance and adulation is linked to passion and mutual respect there is one fundamental problem and it perhaps affects Chris Froome more than any other sportsman I have mentioned today.

Froome, by all accounts, isn’t the outgoing extrovert as those we take to our hearts are. If stories are to be believed here is a man who is passionate about representing his county but for all his peerless skills as a cyclist simply doesn’t have the personality to show it.

A few weeks ago a sportswoman broke into the national consciousness following her first rate performance at Wimbledon. Johanna Konta was born in Australia and represented that nation professionally until the year 2012 when she started representing Great Britain.  The question now is whether and how we take her to our hearts.

I can tell by now you are asking how this relates to a Catholic newspaper and the point I want to make today is this.

Being British isn’t as simple as five characteristics; it’s much more complicated than that. In all likelihood there are as any different strains of being British as there are people in our nation.
Just because someone is less outgoing or more reserved doesn’t make them any less British.

I am sure, just like in other walks of life, some sportsman and women take up British nationality as a convenience whilst others do so because they feel fundamentally attached to our nation.

Surely our Britishness is about ignoring their possible motivations and welcoming and embracing just the same?

Let us give OFSTED judgements the cynicism they merit - my Coalville Times column

This time eighteen years ago my wife and I were awaiting the arrival of our first child, a son, and fretting about all of those things that first time parents worry about.

What sort of diet were we going to feed him? Although he had not yet even been born had we made sure the electrical sockets had been covered? Were all the sharp edges in our home protected?

And, of course, were stair gates in place both top and bottom to ensure that even though he was months off from being anywhere close to mobile he couldn’t inadvertently get up a flight of stairs?

We also worried about how we were going to pay for our infant son. With only one of us working maybe, just maybe we could manage to pay the bills but undoubtedly it would be tough and at least for my wife her promising career would flat line with no guarantee that it would easily be restarted in the future.

After a great deal of debate and discussion of all the options we came to the conclusion that fairly soon after his birth our son would be entrusted to the care of a nursery.

As first time parents we toured every childcare provider and came to the conclusion, as I am sure many do, that none were perfect for our unique bundle of joy but, on balance, one was marginally better than all of the others. We duly paid the necessary large deposit, roughly equivalent to a month’s mortgage payment, and filled in copious amounts of paperwork comparable to what you’re faced with when buying a new car. I’m surprised we were never asked if we wanted T-Cut or gap insurance?

When he was just a few months old our son went off to nursery. There was nothing wrong with the childcare provider that we had chosen it was, we were regularly informed, classified as ‘Outstanding’ by OFSTED; it’s just that it didn’t feel very good either.

Each month we would hand over several hundred pounds and in return we felt that our son was for the nursery just another unit or widget that was going through their childcare factory. You could guarantee that whilst nursery provision was perfectly perfunctory our provider would show a great deal more zeal when it came down to additional opportunities to increase their own revenue.

The reason I mentioned all of this is that after a few years and two additional children we had by then enough experience and were confident enough in our parenting abilities to take the major decision to change nurseries.

It just so happened that we fell upon the subject of last week’s Coalville Times front page, Orchard House, and decided to take look around. We fell in love with the then newly opened nursery.

From the moment our children went to Orchard House they loved it. The management and staff were professional but more importantly cared for our children; the facilities were first rate and not for one minute did we ever feel that the driving force behind the business was making as much money as possible. As parents we couldn’t have been happier with Orchard House Day Nursery.

Now it’s five years since we were parents of children at Orchard House and undoubtedly in that time a lot can change in any organisation. I felt sad when I read last week’s front page and the damning inspection report issued by OFSTED that the story resulted from; this wasn’t the nursery that we as parents had known.

I’m not writing today’s column because I have any links with Orchard House, other than being a ‘customer’ several years ago I have none, but because I want to reflect on OFSTED judgements.

A provider that was outstandingly good for my children has been slammed whilst one which I thought no better than average was regularly praised.

It’s not just nurseries though. If you read statistics well over 80% of children in Leicestershire attend either Good or Outstanding schools. Yet ask parents directly and I guarantee you that nowhere near 80% of children receive what their parents perceive to be Good or Outstanding educations.

As they grew up my two older children started attending a ‘Good’ school. For one the school is indeed brilliant, for the other barely adequate. Clearly the experience of whether a school is good or not doesn’t vary just from parent to parent but from child to child.

Proclaiming that you are a good school isn’t about who can have the biggest banner or paying for signs on a roundabout it is, undoubtedly, about how you can support the individual needs of a child.

On its own being ‘Good’ or ‘Requiring Improvement’ doesn’t necessarily mean you are good or that you need to improve; it means you’ve demonstrated at a given time to what degree you’ve complied with a set of guidelines; and you’re assuming that OFSTED’s own inspectors have even then arrived at the right result (in 2015 OFSTED sacked 40% of contracted inspectors for being not up to snuff).

Of course an OFSTED rating is one factor for any parent to consider in the choices they make for their children; but it is just one factor.

Having gone through this process of raising children three times now, and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, let me offer if I may a piece of advice.

When it comes to choosing who will look after and educate your children never let a poor OFSTED grade prevent you from considering a provider; never believe an outstanding one automatically leads to an outstanding education. You can’t go wrong with being a little cynical about OFSTED and their judgements.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Our world today is entirely foreign to older generations - my Catholic Universe column

A few days ago I was talking with an old acquaintance who told me of a story that had recently happened to him.

My old friend had offered to take an elderly relative on a shopping trip to a town that his octogenarian aunt hadn’t visited in many years. The old lady seemed to be enjoying her trip around the gleaming shopping centre; she stopped in a lovely little coffee shop for lunch and searched out bargains in the large department store located at one end of the mall.

On the way home my acquaintance asked his aunt “Have you had a nice day?” her response took him back a little.

“Oh yes, I’ve had a lovely day. The assistants were so friendly and there was so much to see in the shops…and of course there were far fewer black people than where I normally shop.”

As he told me the story I am fairly certain my mouth opened slack-jawed. I’ve met the relative he was telling me about and she is the most generous, kind-hearted, God fearing woman you could ever hope to meet; and here she was coming out with one of the most overtly racist comments I have heard in many years.

My friend’s story started me asking myself was his relative a racist or was she simply a product of her time? Did she have a deep seated hatred of people from other ethnic backgrounds or had she essentially stayed still in a time warp of Love Thy Neighbour and other light entertainment ignorance? Or could it be possible that as she had gotten older she has regressed into a world and longed for surroundings where she felt more comfortable?

My acquaintance maintained that his aunt does not have a single malicious bone in her body, indeed over the years some of her greatest friends had come from other ethnicities, but he couldn’t forget this comment which to his 2017 sensibilities seemed so offensive.

I am now in my mid-forties, I have grown up in a world so different from my friend’s elderly aunt that in many ways it is unrecognisable. I live in a modern multicultural society and I am part of a faith that if not yet wholly embracing is certainly coming to terms with homosexuality.

I am very proud to say that within my lifetime as a church and as congregants we have largely moved away from regularly castigating lesbian and gay Catholics and become a faith that welcomes warmly; cares and accepts for our brothers and sisters regardless of their sexuality.

It hasn’t always been easy for us to adapt but we are getting there.

It is said that even in the face of evidence many if not most of the people who believed in a flat earth were never convinced that, in fact, our world was spherical; in the end those who believed that if they travelled far enough they would simply fall of the edge of the world just died out.

I am sure that the same will happen eventually to those harking back to a long passed youth of mono ethnicity and at lease superficial heterosexuality. Inevitably there will come a time when the vast majority if not all of us celebrates the diverse community in which we live.

But, here is the key point, it isn’t easy for any of us.

I grew up in a world where being different from the norm was accepted; whether you were a part of an ethnic minority in an otherwise entirely white town or a gay man or woman living openly for the first time in history. But I have realised that as I get older and as the world moves on sometimes I am taken aback by how quickly it is changing.

Last week you will recall a major furore in the news ensued when President Donald Trump tweeted that ‘After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.’

Now, to my knowledge and of course I could be wrong, I think in my lifetime I have met just one transgender person which was when a representative of an LGBT group was speaking alongside me on a political platform. I have no idea if there were other transgender people in the room at the time; which of course got me asking how big an issue transgender soldiers is in the US military?

I did some research and according to a report commissioned by the US Defence department at any one time there are around 7,000 people who identify as a different gender from the one they were born as. I have literally no idea whether that number includes or excludes people who identify as gender-fluid; that is not seeing themselves as having a ‘fixed’ gender.

It struck me that in a military of 1.4 million servicemen and women 7,000; half of one percent is still quite a big number. Around one in every two hundred US servicemen and women identify as transgender.

Conveniently President Trump’s tweets came at around the same time as our Conservative government floated their own political weather balloon suggesting changes to gender identity laws.

Equalities secretary Justine Greening will, it is reported, shortly be undertaking a consultation which would seek to allow people to change the gender on their birth certificates, without any sort of doctors diagnosis, to a different one. It could be that someone being born female formally identifies as male; it could be someone born male having their birth certificate gender changed to ‘X’ or some other non-binary mark.

I am sure that if you happen to be transgender you will have faced all sorts of abuse and the Government is right to try and limit it; equally I’m sure that there will be sick individuals who try to take advantage of changes to legislation for their own duplicitous purposes.

But I must admit that I am having some difficulty in accepting the entire premise. I simply don’t get how it is possible to be non-binary in a variable where there is literally only two options; I don’t see hundreds of transgender people around me; I don’t understand how so many people could have possibly be born into the wrong bodies.

Last week the Gender Identity Development Service produced a report commissioned by NHS England. The report revealed that last year alone 1,986 children, some as young as three, were referred to specialist help for problems with gender identity. Less than 10 years ago, in 2009-10, that figure was 94.

Are we living in a time of great enlightenment or a time when changing genders is just the latest fad following high profile role models such as Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox? Is it possible that being transgender is just the latest medical condition or lifestyle choice du jour?

My point is that I don’t know and that frankly, to me at least, it all feels a bit wrong.

There is very little doubt that we are at the start of the mainstream story of transgender issues; for example we really have little idea about what proportion of transgender people seek to revert to their birth gender somewhere down the line. So much more will become known in the years to come.

Today’s column in actual fact isn’t really about whether you choose to identify with another gender or not, it’s about the millions of us for whom that choice is alien.

Like my friend’s aunt I am struggling with a concept we find difficult. It doesn’t mean that she or I or many, many others are bad people; it means that as times change we all sometimes struggle to keep up.

Thinking about that old lady or my own foibles I am reminded of the words of Pope Francis when he said ‘If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge’.

We may struggle but it is incumbent upon us all to embrace those issues with which we have difficulty.

The Hermitage dilemma – I’ll take the new car please: my Coalville Times column

Let me give you, if I may, a hypothetical choice.

Imagine that you have a car, let’s say a fifteen year old Ford Mondeo, it’s a car you have had since new and it’s served you well. Your Mondeo has done everything you’ve ever asked of it but it is showing signs of wear; like all old cars getting it through it’s MOT gets harder and harder; it’s getting more expensive to run; and let’s be honest it doesn’t have anywhere near the same specification as modern cars, no reversing sensors or Bluetooth connection or in built SatNav.

At some point in the future, no matter how much you look after your faithful old motor it simply isn’t going to be fit for purpose anymore. At some point, depending on your finances, it will either become too expensive to run or simply give up the ghost.

Now imagine I offer you the opportunity to replace that car with a brand new one. You could have a fully loaded, top of the range 2017 Mondeo which with modern financing options would actually save you money, and with adequate safeguards be guaranteed to be around for the next twenty to thirty years.

Which option would you go for? I reckon pretty much every one of you would say “I’ll take the new car please, but where’s the catch?”

I did say at the start of today’s column my question was hypothetical so I don’t really have any cars to offer; but it is a question worth asking because a very similar one is currently being mulled over by our politicians about the future of Whitwick’s Hermitage Leisure Centre.

If you have been down to the Hermo recently you would know that after forty years of faithful service it’s looking a tired. It’s not only in need of a refurbishment but is costly to maintain and run; especially to heat.

To get to the Hermitage you navigate busy local roads and half of the time you simply can’t book in for the popular stuff that people want to do these days. The gym is too small, fitness classes more often than not oversubscribed, and swimming pool really not adequate for delivering the massively popular private lessons. And please, don’t get me started on how revolting the dry side changing rooms are.

Simply put the Hermo is getting to the stage that, if it’s not already there, it will soon be no longer fit for purpose and that means it actually loses money. Hundreds of thousands a year. That’s hundred of thousands that are being paid for directly by you and me through our council tax to make the book balance. Whether we use our leisure centres or not.

Now skip forward. Last year our district council employed consultants to look at what could be done with leisure centres in the district, and particularly the offer that we have available in Coalville.

To start off the consultants suggested building a new centre on the Bridge Road car park. It quickly became apparent that size and location on our road network would make that a non-starter but over the months another option of a site just off the A511 near to the McDonalds roundabout started being talked about.

It would, the professionals told the council, allow for a much larger and fit for purpose, easily accessible, financially and environmentally efficient centre to be constructed. A centre which if one or two parcels of land were to be disposed of could be managed and financed by a private provider at no cost to the taxpayers of North West Leicestershire. With smarter management, competitive pricing and lower overheads the books would balance.

It is on the face of it the leisure centre equivalent of my motoring hypothetical.

Last week the Cabinet of the District Council took the decision to progress with plans to build a brand new leisure centre for Coalville. Last Thursday night Richard Blunt, the Leader of NWLDC, volunteered to spend two hours fielding questions and dealing with angry comments from Whitwick residents and parish councillors explaining his and his administration’s position. He certainly wasn’t obliged to.

A new leisure centre is by no means a done deal; it may be that the proposed site for one reason or another isn’t suitable, it may be that after investigation the finances don’t stack up.

But let’s be honest. If our local councils do ever merge to save costs, as many would like to see, then a cash strapped county authority would undoubtedly be asking how in the face of an increasing social care bill it could afford to fund the discretionary service of a loss making, inefficient leisure centre?

No, there is a window of opportunity right now for the district council to protect and enhance our leisure centres by moving to a private trust model used widely elsewhere.

Other may disagree but for me the answer is very simple: “I’ll take the new car please.”

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

On running and Whitwick's wonderful Hermitage Harriers - my August Community Voice column

It was a Sunday evening in the spring of 2006 when I was busy trying to get our two year old toddler to settle down for the night that my wonderful wife, Clare, mentioned to me that she thought she might be pregnant. Clare’s announcement was, to put it mildly, something of a surprise; one that on that evening I wasn’t expecting but in hindsight one of the better bombshells of my life.

Funnily enough this month’s column isn’t about anything to do with babies or pregnancy, in fact it’s about running, but that revelation is indeed extremely relevant to my ‘illustrious’ running career.

Following the death of my father two years earlier I had decided that I needed to lose some weight; to try and get fit so that I could be there to see my own children grow up. So I took up running.

When you are seventeen stone in weight running doesn’t come that easily but I persevered through the aching knees and twisted ankles and after a year or so unbelievably l was starting to look and feel healthier. I started to enter races; local 10k’s to start with and then I got in to the iconic Great North Run.

I was becoming an albeit very slow runner.

Which takes us to one week after the surprise pregnancy announcement.

It was a Friday night and after watching the late news we were getting ready for bed when the telephone rang. After a few rings and a very short conversation; “shall we pretend we’re asleep?” I answered and a very distant voice spoke to me.

“Is that Mr Spence?” I confirmed it was. “I’m delighted to tell you that you have won an all-expenses paid trip to take part in the Chicago Marathon this autumn…”

After a moment of incredulity and a realisation that indeed the promise of a trip was bona fide, it dawned on me that this once in a lifetime prize would take place on the exact same date that our third child was due.

You might imagine the conversation that followed; “Well, I’ve been to two births but I’ve never been to Chicago…” To her immense credit Clare insisted that I couldn’t miss the trip “and the baby will probably be late anyway.”

I am starting to hear you ask what has all of this got to do with Whitwick, Thringstone or Swannington? The answer is simple.

One of the best possible ways to train for a race like a marathon is to join a running club and just a couple of years before my tale Hermitage Harriers had been formed.

Harriers, eponymously named after the Leisure Centre where it is based, is now one of the most successful running clubs in Leicestershire having won league titles aplenty but back then strength in depth may not have been one of our strongest points.

In those days Harriers had plenty of great runners but there was always the chance, because the club was so new, that anyone would score in league races; anyone could be a club record holder.

Astonishingly club record holder at marathon distance was exactly what I turned out to be; far more by virtue of the fact that I was one of the first to run a marathon rather than having claim to any degree of speed, my record didn’t stand for long.

In 2006 Hermitage Harriers was the perfect, sociable, friendly group of people to help you train for a marathon: it still is.

As we reach the dog days of summer and we start thinking about nights drawing in and lights going on a little earlier each day you will often see groups of runners pounding the streets of our villages wearing a vast array of hi visibility clothing. That will more than likely be the members of Hermitage Harriers preparing for winter races, maybe a spring marathon or just trying to keep healthy as they socialise.

But before we get into those darker evenings at 10:30 on Sunday 13th August the Harriers will hold their annual Carl Rutt Memorial 10K race which takes hundreds of runners around the streets of the village and surrounding countryside. The race has gained something of a reputation as being a well organised but gruelling test of stamina.

I have a suggestion: why not take to the streets for a few minutes that day to support not only the runners but also one of our areas most successful sporting clubs. I guarantee you it will be appreciated.

As for me I did run my marathon in Chicago, I had an amazing time, but even better my son was thoughtful enough to hang on for a couple of weeks so that I could be present at his big event too.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Why do I have to pay for you to watch Mrs Brown's Boys? My Coalville Times column

I don’t know about you but I don’t care that Alex Jones, presenter of the One Show and rival with DIY SOS’ door frames for the ‘most wooden thing on TV’ award, gets paid £450,000 for reading an autocue.

I’m not bothered that Steve Wright, one of the few of his generation of disc jockeys not to have been beset by scandal of one form or another, takes home half a million quid each year. Do we still call them ‘disc jockeys’? Does he still have a posse?

And I must be frank I admire that local boy done good, Gary Lineker, has the cajones to think he’s worth £1.8 million, in addition to his crisp fortune, for basically staying up late on a Saturday night to tell us about football matches we already know the results of and many have already watched through various nefarious streaming methods. Well played, sir.

The point is that Ms Jones or Mr Wright or Gary, as I like to call him, have clearly got decent agents who will negotiate for them passionately and, I am told authoritatively, that these three stars and virtually every other on the recently published BBC Rich List could have earned significantly more with private sector broadcasters.

The simple truth is that it is doesn’t bother me too much how much Derek Thompson earns, I don’t think I had ever even heard of Derek Thompson until I read the list and someone told me he’s been in Casualty for more than 70 years, because I simply don’t watch the BBC.

Let me qualify that slightly. I will usually put the news on in the morning in one shape or another, it could be BBC Breakfast or it could be the Today programme, but aside from that: nothing. In fact I would go as far as saying I virtually never watch terrestrial TV.

I pay for Netflix and Amazon Prime; I love audiobooks from Audible and stream music from Spotify; I even still take digital newspapers and magazines and I pay for the lot.

So why when there is nothing for me and my family do I have to pay, or be prosecuted and even go to prison, for entertainment which I simply don’t use or want?

If people want Football Focus or Mrs Brown’s Boys or even the interminable Graham Norton then fine. But surely I shouldn’t stump up for their enjoyment?

It’s like a Leicester City season ticket holder being told they are legally obligated to pay towards Derby County because ‘well, you know, we need a government owned football club’.

No. We have a hugely competitive market in this country trying to entice us in with streaming and quality content; seriously have you seen The Crown on Netflix? it’s amazing; and for the most part I and countless others think they do it far better than a monolithic establishment broadcaster fit for purpose thirty years ago but now with a funding model fit for nothing more than the scrapheap.

I do get that there is an argument for an impartial news organisation, I even get that having one should be funded through taxation. If there was a subscription model just for news I would probably even be one of the first to sign up for it.

But Bargain Hunt? Escape to the Country? Pitch Battle (whatever that is)? Flog It!? Do me a favour!
Of course there is a serious point to all of this. Your annual licence fee is now £147. That’s way more per year than any of the streaming services, with Amazon Prime for considerably less than that you even get your shopping delivered next day free of charge. Just imagine Vanessa Feltz turning up with you groceries?

Given the choice many, many families on lower incomes would choose an option other than our state broadcaster.

In fact there’s a strong argument that the poorest people in our society are subsidising the wealthiest. How on earth can Alan Yentob be on the rich list, and just what does he do? I’ve no idea but I’ll venture there’s not many residents of North West Leicestershire and South Derbyshire who have him down on Series Link.

Crucially though there isn’t a choice. If you own a television you must pay.

Now I don’t have any problem at all with government providing services that we need, you know, a health service and schools and roads, they are essential, that is what government is there for. But just like the world has moved on from a state owned telecoms companies in 2017 we don’t need a barely adequate state broadcaster.

It really is time to end this stunning anachronism.