April 4th 2016
We are a quarter of the way through 2016, and it's been quite an active year for me so far. I thought now would be a good time to kick back, make a cup of tea, and saunter down short-term memory lane with me, as I recount all that I've been doing over the last few months. If you like stories about crosswords, windmills, bicycle clips & Guy Cooke, you're in for a treat.
Let's start with my trip of England, which took place in February and brings Guy Cooke to the fore earlier than you might have imagined if you'd thought I was being chronological in that last paragraph. He lives in Huddersfield with his wife Shona, and we had a long-standing plan to watch the mighty Wolves play Huddersfield Town, an opportunity to meet up for the first time since he was married a few years ago. As it happens, we actually saw each other at James Lee's 5-a-side tournament last November, but I was still very much looking forward to seeing him - and, I thought, if I'm going to Huddersfield it is only right and sensible that I drop in on Ant as I pass through Nottinghamshire. And, if I'm in the north, why not pop by and see David & Christine for the first time in five years?
During my 24 or so hours with Ant & family, I introduced him to the exciting game Khet (aka Egyptian Laser Chess), recording a 2-0 victory that was significantly aided by his attention being taken by a restless Abigail. But we also got some exercise, taking Asher to see a windmill - the first time, I believe, he has sampled such delights - and, next to it, a maths-themed playground. I took several photographs of this playground (making very sure that no children were in shot - except in the picture to your right, which contains a small Asher), marvelling at the division-seesaw, the multiplication-wall, and the square-root-standing-there-thing. Asher, it has to be admitted, was rather more interested in going down the slide than in looking at the pi symbol at the top of the slide, but there's hope for the child yet. By the time I left, I think I had persuaded him that my name was Colin, despite the fact that his stuffed dog is also called Colin, and has been - as far as he's concerned - for a rather longer period.
Next up was Huddersfield, the furthest north I've ever driven, and the chance to meet Shona properly (our only previous encounter was a brief hello at their wedding), although she wisely didn't join us for the somewhat limp football match. Huddersfield deservedly defeated Wolves by a single goal, leading Wolves fans (not me) to serenade their opposite numbers with: "How **** must you be, you've only scored one". Despite the scoreline - and the weather - it was a fun day out, and another football ground crossed off the list. After church on the next day, Guy took me up a hill that probably would have afforded great views of Huddersfield if it hadn't been for the wind, rain and clouds. It's always a great pleasure to see Mr Cooke, as those of you who know him will know.
Next stop was Maghull, to see Dave & Chris and - for the first time - their young son Matthew. I could only stay for a few hours, but there was time to visit a local park (I didn't take any photos this time; there were no mathematical symbols of any description) and play a game or two, but mainly to catch up with two very good friends whom I don't get to see enough. Good times. That was it as far as Warwick reunions went on this journey - I didn't bump into the Koan on my way back down the M6 / M5 - but if you read on you'll discover some more in this very blog post. That, my friends, is what they call foreshadowing.
But let us move onto something else entirely: at the start of the year I wrote here that I wanted to do more things that scare me, and that I had a few lined up this year; let's talk about that for a bit. One of those things was doing a sermon for the first time, which I duly did on Palm Sunday (which you can listen to here if you so choose); it was generally well-received by the good people of Cairns Road Baptist Church, I believe, and I more or less got across what I wanted to say. I have a new-found respect for the amount of work that preachers do, given the number of hours it took me to put this together, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to be forced to dig into their Bibles and pray for strength!
Another scary thing I took on was acting in a play. The play itself is still a couple of months away, but read-throughs / rehearsals have been going on since early January, and I will be playing the vicar in a play called Beyond a Joke. Having never really appeared on stage in anything longer or more demanding than an annual sketch in the Chiselborough / West Chinnock Christmas shows (where forgetting your lines is positively encouraged), I really didn't have a clue if I could act at all; so far I seem to be getting away with it, so that's reassuring. The play itself is a kind of murder comedy, rather farcical in places, and if you would like to come and see us then you'll be able to in June (rest assured that I will be plugging this heavily on Facebook nearer the time). My costume is mostly going to be provided by my father, who naturally has dog collars to spare, but who also will be supplying the bicycle clips that make up part of my costume. Sneak preview for you, there.
Getting back to Uni meet-ups, and last month I got to see Tom in Runnymede, home of the Magna Carta and, somewhat surprisingly, a memorial to JFK. Again, it was great to see him again - something we only manage every couple of years, especially since I stopped having regular tutorials in London as an actuarial student - and it was a great way to end a weekend in which I went to the Listener crossword annual dinner. To be honest, I was intending to write a fair bit about that here but I'm rather running out of steam (unfortunate, given the height of my ironing pile) so for now you'll have to make do with this photo of me alongside the Radix Auditorium Jug. I took this photo - a 'selfie', as the kids call it - in my hotel room at about 1am, having left the revellers for the night; it is, in short, the prize for best newcomer, and I promise I'll tell you more about it sometime soon. Anyways, it was a great night.
More recently, I have entertained Rob here in Bristol, digging out the Khet again - I forgot to mention that I also played Guy a couple of times when I was with him - and, with plenty of practice under my belt, managed to record a few more victories. We decided to be cultured and went to see Hamlet at the Tobacco Factory, a fine traditional production of theatre in the round, and Rob's first experience of a live Shakespeare play. The play's the thing, as they say, and a good time was had by all; we also had one of the best curries I've had for ages, at Coronation Curry House, as it is tradition for Rob & I to have curry whenever he's here. It is also traditional for us to play Fifa, which we did several times; modesty forbids me from revealing who was the winner there. But, since Rob beat me a Scrabble last time he was here, modesty is manifestly failing to forbid me from telling you that I beat him in our Scrabble rematch this time round.
That's it as far as Uni meet-ups go this year so far (Ant, Guy, Dave, Chris, Tom, Rob - not bad, by anyone's count) but I'm pleased to say that I'll be seeing lots more Warwick people, including the groom, at Jason's wedding this Saturday; there are also plans afoot for a classic Ant / Rich / Rob / Colin meet-up on St George's Day later in the month.
I'm really running out of steam now - and, in the unlikely event that anyone's still reading, you probably have too - so I won't go into details about the fun weekend just past when I met up with Mum, Dad & Simon to see a play in London called A Comedy About A Bank Robbery, except to see that it was a very good, frenetic play and a great time was had by all. Oh, and Simon and I went to M&Ms world, where I was very excited to learn about the M&Ms periodic table, as you can see.
Many apologies if you and I did stuff this year that I've not mentioned here (say, for example, if I met up with you in the Deco Lounge, watched Crossroads with you, or drove you to Bristol airport) but I think I've tried the patience of my readership enough with the activities that I have recounted. It has, as I say, been a busy few months. But enough about me. How have you been?
April 11th 2016
There is an internet post, which did the rounds a couple of years ago and resurfaced more recently, called 'Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy'. You can find it here, and I recommend reading it in full, as it is (I think) a very perceptive view of my generation. In short, it suggests that we've all been told we're special, so we think we'll be able to have great lives without working very hard ("Even right now, the GYPSYs [Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies] reading this are thinking, "Good point... but I actually am one of the few special ones" - and this is the problem."); it also says that social media makes us feel worse about our own lives because all we see from others is the good stuff.
And it is on this second point that I feel I a bit guilty about my last post here. Because, even as I was writing it, I thought that it read a bit too much like a "look how great my life is" post, rejoicing in all the things that I've been doing this year. Sure, it is unlikely to have caused too much damage, given how few people read this page and how unlikely it is that any of them think life as a crossword-solving actuary is something to be envied, but it still didn't sit very well with me.
This is not the precursor to a "look how bad my life really is" post, which is no more helpful and no more accurate than the positive version, so don't worry. I am full of admiration for people who write openly and honestly about the ups and downs of their lives - for example, Charissa or, a few years back, Becca - but I decided some time ago that I don't do it well, so it is rare you'll get introspection from me here these days. I feel more comfortable writing about films / politics / crosswords / how Wolves nearly won a game the other day, so that's what you get here now. Speaking of which, Wolves nearly won against Blackburn on Saturday. Inasmuch as they drew. Nil-nil. What a match.
Oh, and once every five years or so I'll write some fiction here. Watch out for those.
With all that out of the way, it might surprise you to learn that I'm going to write more about what I've been up to this year. I just hope you read it not in the spirit of "Wow, what an action-packed and wondersome life Colin has", and more in the spirit of "Hey, that sounds like he had fun. I wonder how much time he spent last week playing Yahtzee on his phone?"
First, I will touch upon the recent Taylor/Taylor wedding weekend, where my friend and fellow Warwick alumnus Jason Taylor married Clare Taylor in the far northern reaches of the country (the Lake District) with atypically lovely sunshine and what people assure me are excellent views. It appears that Jason mostly befriended southerners during his time at Warwick, as most of us had to trek up from the likes of Bristol, Southampton, Farnborough or - a bit closer - Nottingham, but we were put to shame by two of his ushers who travelled over from Hong Kong and Australia. In fairness, I'm not sure my journey up the M5 / M6 was any quicker than flying from Sydney would have been... anyways, in recognition of the surnames of the bride and groom my drive was soundtracked by Taylor Swift, when I wasn't listening to a P.G. Wodehouse audiobook.
Once we finally arrived it was great to celebrate the occasion with Jason & Clare, and as usual excellent to meet up with fellow Warwick CU folk, including one or two that I'm not sure I've spoken to in real life since our Warwick days. I would post some pictures here, but during the entire day I only took four photos, and they were all of Matt Shortman carving beef. Ah well. After meeting up with some of the party for breakfast the next morning, it was time to head home - more adventures in slow journeying down the M6 / M5 - before finally reaching Bristol and the opportunity to fall asleep while watching Sunderland vs Leicester; an opportunity I grabbed eagerly.
In other news, I had promised to tell you more about my crosswording adventures at the Listener dinner, and so I shall. The event took place at a fancy hotel in Old Windsor, a few minutes' walk from Runnymede where - as every schoolboy probably doesn't know - the Magna Carta was signed, sealed, delivered in 1215. Apparently the annual Listener dinner alternates between north and south, to give setters & solvers from around the country the hope of a shortish journey at least every other year, and having been in Harrogate last year it was the turn of the south. Indeed, the organiser mentioned that next year would be in the north - the exact location undecided, "at the moment it's looking like it will be either north east or north west". Hmm.
Anyways, I'm not always brilliant at meeting new people, particularly if lots of them know each other already, but I have rarely met a crowd as welcoming as the Listener setters & solvers. It certainly helps to have a shared interest for ready-made discussion - "What did you think of last week's, eh?" being a common conversational gambit - but I was struck by how eager these people were to meet and welcome newbies, and it was rare to be sat in silence for long. As a prize-winner I'd been given a seat at the head table, sat next to the puzzles editor of the Times - a friendly chap called Dave, who looked about the same age as me (the same age as I am; not the same age as I look) and gave some interesting insights into the world of published puzzles. In fact, one of the best things about the evening was being able to talk to setters about their process for putting crosswords together, the reviewing process and the feedback they get, and it has inspired me to get back into clue-setting. I've not done it at all since a few times at Uni, really, but Dave pointed me in the direction of the Crossword Centre, where anyone can submit clues to a particular word on a monthly basis, and I've already had a couple of stabs. This month's answer is LEONARDO DICAPRIO, if anyone wants to have a try - I sent my clue in this morning.
There was a quiz with the dinner, and as you'd expect amid such company there were wheels within wheels, a set of answers all of which included either 'dash' or 'dot' in reference to the recently departed Sir Jeremy Morse, a noted crossword-solver and the inspiration for Dexter's Inspector Morse. As a tie-breaker we had to write a description of him which included an anagram of 'Sir Jeremy Morse' - the group effort from our table, which I'm proud to say I contributed to, was "Outstanding crossword solver's memory is rejoiced"; the adjudicator was not kind to this entry, pointing out that 'rejoiced' is not a transitive verb (I checked my Chambers when I got home; it actually was there as a transitive verb, but only as used by Shakespeare. Good company, I guess), but never mind.
There were three prizes dished out on the night: one for the best solver (of the 29 people who had got all 52 Listeners correct throughout the year, the winner was the person with the longest winning streak who has not previously won); one for the best crossword, deservedly won by 'Shackleton' for a truly masterful effort; and my prize for best newcomer. I got up and said a few words - including the fact that I'd got the second crossword of the year wrong, and had now been seated next to the man who set it - managing not to embarrass myself in the process, I think. It is a very fine trophy, and I'll have to make sure to look after it until it goes to next year's winner.
One of the highlights of the evening was meeting John Green, the man who marks all the Listener entries. He is a truly remarkable gent, who doesn't much like computers so hand-writes everything, including transcribing any feedback the crossword setters receive, and keeping files on every entrant throughout the year. I asked him how many crosswords I had to enter before he recognised me as a regular: "Two" came the quick reply. He then proceeded to tell me all the other Thomases who are regular entrants, and where they hail from; remarkable, as I say. He also sends out a personalised record to anyone who asks, and so it was a week or two later that I got mine, with every error I'd made identified individually, and a note saying that it was nice to meet me and welcoming me to the regulars.
After being turfed out of the restaurant bar in the hotel, we moved on to the other hotel bar (appropriately named the Tempus Bar) at around midnight, where some folk who'd just come back from the rugby asked what we were doing. I explained, and then a pleasant chap spent some time trying to persuade me to abandon crosswords in favour of Su Doku, a much more popular pursuit, he assured me, largely on the basis that his 83 year old father had just made the transition. He was wasting his breath in that respect, as I think I was when I encouraged him to give crosswords a go, but it was as pleasant a conversation as I've ever had with a stranger in a bar after midnight. He did point out the lack of diversity in our crowd - your average Listener dinner attendee is white, male and aged about 60, and the standard deviation is low - which is a shame, but in fairness I'm not sure I can be blamed for it. I'm doing what I can about the average age, anyhow.
I sloped off to bed at around 1am, posting a tired-looking photo of me and the trophy in our - I mean, my - hotel bed, before turning in for the night. I understand that some revellers were still going at least three hours later. Cruciverbalists know how to party.
April 20th 2016
We are just over a fortnight away from the Bristol mayoral election on Thursday 5 May, and, just as I did back in November 2012, I've decided to turn my attention to each of the mayoral candidates here. My main aid in doing this is the leaflet produced by the council (which hasn't yet landed on doormats, but apparently will do soon), but I've also scoured the internet for further information - I'm particularly indebted to the good people at the Bristol Post, who have run profiles of and interviewed each of the candidates (how's that for a plug, Steve?). The search for additional information has proven particularly necessary given that four of the candidates opted out of appearing in the council leaflet; a curious strategy to adopt if you want people to vote for you, but there you go.
As well as the candidates' websites, I've also included Twitter handles where available. Some of them are active Twitter users - George Ferguson, in particular, uses it a lot to engage with the great Bristol public - whereas others don't seem to have got the hang of it just yet, and one or two have avoided it altogether. Anyways, let's go.
Tom Baldwin Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
www.tusc.org.uk & www.socialistparty.org.uk
When Bristol held its first mayoral election four years ago, Tom stood as a representative of 'Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts'. The name has changed slightly but the acronym is still the same, and it appears that Tom's political outlook hasn't changed much either. In fact, the only significant difference between now and 2012 - when he took 1.58% of the vote - is that he's grown a beard.
Tom is eager to "reverse all the current administration's cuts", and he also proposes to implement a £10/hr minimum wage for council staff - won't somebody please think of the council staff! - as well as organising a city-wide referendum on NHS privatisation. It's not clear what powers he thinks the mayor of Bristol has over the NHS, but since none of his policies are based in the real world I don't suppose it really matters. There is no mention of how he would pay for any of his policies, but he does mention that "Britain's richest 1,000 individuals [...] don't even pay their taxes!" so perhaps there's something there.
On the plus side, Tom says that, if elected, he'd take the average wage rather than the current mayor's wage. At least the man's not a hypocrite. On the down side, he decided to run only because he thought Jeremy Corbyn's Labour wasn't left-wing enough. All told, I wouldn't vote for him if the only other candidate were a chicken.
Kay Barnard Liberal Democrats
www.kaybarnard.org & www.bristollibdems.org/sixtofix
The Lib Dems clearly like to go for a doctor. Following Dr. Jon Rogers last time round, we now have Dr. Kay Barnard (wife of Dr. James Barnard), who seems harmless enough. She has a 'six to fix' manifesto, available at the second link above, which covers points such as cheaper public transport, transparency in the council, support for refugees, and a range of green policies. The manifesto is well set out and there's not much to disagree with - in particular, the public transport policies ("Oyster card", park & ride, new stations) sound like good ideas - even if much of it is also being said by most of the other candidates.
That being said, there are some more unusual policies hidden in there as well. Kay supports relaxed policing towards cannabis related offences (this didn't make it into the council leaflet), a £1-a-night 'tourist levy' for people using Bristol's hotel rooms, and free 1 hour parking anywhere in the city for RPZ permit holders. This last idea sounds interesting (RPZs, or 'restricted parking zones', are a hot topic in Bristol, so it's good that Kay has thought further than just banning or reviewing them), although I'm not sure how practically the time limit could be enforced.
In the leaflet she says that her "first political action was to fight Mrs. Thatcher's Poll Tax", but otherwise there's not much Tory-bashing. In fact, she says that her style of leadership is "co-operation, consultation and consensus". She sounds pretty sensible, but I just don't think the Lib Dems have the support to come close on this one.
Tony Britt Independent
Tony is another returning candidate from 2012, having persuaded only 761 people to vote for him last time. Perhaps it is this low figure that has led him to get discouraged about voter turnout, asking in the council leaflet "Why do 74% of Bristolians not vote?", a question he quickly answers: "Because we have no faith in our MPs and councillors." The answer to this problem, apparently, is to set up a new Bristol Charter - well, actually, Tony is a firm believer in the power of rhetorical questions, so: "When shall we write a new Charter? [...] Now, in 2016, is this the time for a new Bristol charter?"
Like all the candidates, he has recorded a short video on the Bristol Post site outlining why he wants to mayor. Unlike the other candidates, though, he ends his "Er... come to an end now. That sort of put me off". I would assume that the Post was offering re-takes if required; if so, Tony turned them down. He is also the only candidate who, instead of having a photograph of himself in the leaflet, has a photo of a composite artwork he put together, which I think is a picture of him. Instead, I've shown here the picture of himself that he uses as the banner on his website.
Other than the Bristol charter, Tony's main policies are a 'legacy pot' that will pay for education and health following government cuts, and support to ensure that both parents can play a part in their children's upbringing. The ideas are not really thought through, but sadly it appears that Tony is driven by personal experience: he has not seen his daughter for over seven years, and that does put a different light on his mayoral campaign.
Tony's website includes a moving testimony about his faith in God: "Tony seeks a life in obedience to the voice of God and in service of others. It is with this Spirit that he enters this mayoral campaign." Oddly, he also said in his Bristol Post interview that, following his 2012 campaign, he was told: "26 per cent of Bristol voted and out of that 26 per cent, 24 per cent were Christians and out of that 24 per cent, 10,000 Conservative Christians were told to vote for George [Ferguson]". I'm really not sure what to make of him, but I think he's a kind-hearted chap who's out of his depth, so I don't really want to pick over his manifesto too much. If you want to cheer him up, follow him on Twitter. There are only 12 of us doing it.
Tony Dyer Green Party
In a sign of the exciting 21st-century world we live in, Tony is one of several candidates to include a QR code in his leaflet contribution. What a time to be alive. He hasn't held an elected post - in fairness, he represents the Green Party - but he is the party's national spokesperson for local government issues, whatever that means.
Actually, the Greens are not without their supporters in this neck of the woods, coming relatively close to winning a seat in Bristol West last year, and Bristol was European Green Capital in 2015. It is this support of green attitudes, perversely, that is likely to make Tony an also-ran, because it means that other candidates are also burnishing their green credentials (e.g. Kay Barnard's 'Bristol Green Deal'; and George Ferguson is so green that some Green party members are picking him above Tony). Perhaps being aware of this, his ten key priorities do move away from the environment - housing, transport, education, care for the disabled and a 'Womanifesto' all get a look in - but it's all a little dull. There's not even a repeat of his predecessor's curious promise to remove advertising from Bristol. I am starting to wonder if Bristol is more drug-infused than I'd realised, though, as Tony calls for decrimininalisation of drug possession ("see Portugal"), and the introduction of 'safe injecting rooms'. There's also a section of his website called 'Violence Against Women' which, it turns out, he is against, and a section called 'Culture' which, I think, he is for.
George Ferguson Bristol First
I voted for George last time round, keen to have a mayor who was independent of party politics (even though, technically, he is not a true independent because he represents the hastily-devised 'Bristol First' party), but four years down the line I'm torn. Ask anyone what George has done in his four years as mayor and they're sure to mention either the RPZs or the 20mph limits (both of which he supports but didn't actually introduce himself), unpopular measures that many other candidates have pledged to either review or repeal.
Perhaps mindful of this, George doesn't include either measure in his seven bullet points headed "Delivers while others talk" - a slightly unfair distinction, given that the 'others' weren't actually mayor. He does include the Bristol Arena (which has rather split opinion in Bristol, but sounds like a great idea to me), the fact that we've been European Green Capital & City of Sport (the latter doesn't kick in until 2017; this year there are 20 such cities including, oddly, eight from Italy) and that he's created 'more jobs than any other UK core city'. This last is a bit post hoc / procter hoc for my taste, and I'm not sure what a 'core city' is, but certainly George's take is that Bristol's in fairly good shape.
I must admit that that chimes with me more than the horror stories that some of the other candidates have painted: in honesty, for example, I have no idea if Bristol is suffering a housing crisis, although I'm very aware that my time in Redland / Cotham / Clifton and now Brentry is not necessarily representative of the wider Bristol. George is relentlessly positive - except when harangued by Paul Saville; see below - and, despite spending my mornings crawling through Henleaze at [redacted]mph, I can't help but warm to him when I see him being interviewed.
It's not just the perception that George is anti-car that has turned many people against him, though: his perceived arrogance has also annoyed many, and it's true that he is not afraid to use his mayoral powers in the face of significant disagreement. While some candidates would return much decision-making to cabinet or council, George is very much his own man - indeed, he apparently sacked one councillor, and has streamlined the council, cutting £35m from its operating budget - which often rubs people up the wrong way. He could certainly afford to be a bit more gracious in some of his political encounters, but on the other hand he is a visible mayor, often out and about in the city engaging with Bristol's public, and he doesn't get all the recognition he deserves: e.g. for turning down a £9,000 pay rise last year.
When it comes down to it, I am keen that Bristol's mayor remains independent rather than affiliated with a particular political party, and George is the only electable candidate who fulfils that criterion.
Stoney Garnett Independent
Another returning candidate, Stoney (real name Garnett Farmer, allegedly) didn't have a website or an entry in the council booklet in 2012; four years later, he still has neither. That being the case, it's not easy to find more information now than I had on him last time round, when I revealed here that he was "a part time comedian, former postman and ertswhile unofficial Bristol City FC employee (before being banned from the ground)" - although I'm no longer sure if he ever was banned from the ground - and that he might have been in an episode of Robin of Sherwood.
Stoney's trademark is his red hat, which didn't serve him as well as George Ferguson's red trousers in the last mayoral election but still got him exactly one vote more than Tom Baldwin.
I would happily watch a flat-sharing sitcom featuring Tom and Stoney, now I come to think of it, not least because of the latter's views on immigration and asylum seekers: "We love you coming to Bristol, you can stay for a nice weekend, fabulous. Obviously we got to clear up after. But, you can't come and live here because we're going to run out of space. [...] We've already got brilliant Caribbeans and Sikhs here and they're Bristolians, they're okay. But I say we've got to stop, because we're full up."
Stoney makes the dubious claim that George Ferguson had him as his second choice in 2012 - perhaps their shared affinity for red clothing swayed George in the polling booth - but the hat isn't all he has to recommend himself; his call to arms is pretty persuasive: "I think I'm the one you should vote for because I'm pretty honest in my ways".
Mayor Festus Kudehinbu Independent
It appears that this candidate's first name is actually Mayor: not only that, but he didn't change it specially for the elections - the name is common in his native Nigeria, he says - so if that's not worth a few votes then I don't know what is.
As a cabbie, Mayor speaks for many of us when he says that he wants to scrap the 20mph zones in Bristol - a pledge that most of the non-independent candidates seem too scared to make, given the risk of bad publicity with safety campaigners - as well as, like almost everyone else, solving housing and public transport issues. He tells the Bristol Post that he'd like to move Bristol forward "in terms of jobs and the creation of... er... jobs", and he's also a keen supporter of bringing back the St Paul's Carnival.
To be honest, he seems like a good man but not one who has many original ideas - even his Twitter feed is an endless series of re-tweets - and I'm pretty much convinced he's only running because he got confused about his own first name.
John Langley Independent
There's been a reasonable amount of press attention around John, given that he used to perform as an, ahem, adult actor under the pseudonym Johnny Rockard. He also served as vice chairman [sic] of Bristol's UKIP party until they parted ways after he filmed part of an, ahem, adult film in what he describes as 'a private corner' of a park. This was not John's first brush with the law, as he - and there's really no way to make this funny - has a conviction for assaulting a four-year-old.
Moving swiftly on, he also used to have a pet goose called Gertrude, and apparently worries that he might struggle to get votes at this election because people will think "they've heard it all before". Not sure about that, John.
John may have told the Bristol Post that his first priority was to find out how the council works, and his second was to work out exactly how to take things forward, but he is not a man without ideas. He has spearheaded a campaign to get all Bristol bus announcements to be made in a Bristolian accent, wants to rename Bristol Temple Meads as Bristol Brunel Station, and wants companies to pay the council if they put 'chuggers' on the street (actually, I quite like that one).
John likes to be controversial: his online claims include the suggestion that Bristol is being 'raped' of cash, and he has written a 4,200 word blog post (where, 500 words in, he says "I'm not one for unnecessarily padding things out") called "I'm a terrorist. Admit it. Are you?". I have not made it past the first page, nor - given his past career - have I dared to click on the link to his YouTube channel 'The Naked Truth'. John will not be our next mayor.
Charles Lucas The Conservative Party
As far as I can tell, Charles has not set up a separate Twitter account for his mayoral bid, so the above links to his councillor account, where the most recent tweet (January 7) is about his astounding success in getting an abandoned moped removed from a Bristol pavement.
Despite a fairly polished-looking website, I suspect that Charles isn't really hot on all things digital: as well as his lack of Twitter activity, his video for the Bristol Post begins "When do you want me to start? ... My name's Charles Lucas. I'm standing to be the Conservative candidate to be mayor of Bristol in May". No, Charles, you're not.
Any party candidate has to decide how much they want to bring national politics into this local mayoral election, and Charles has gone pretty heavy on the Westminster angle, claiming to the Post that the Tory government "are not going to dish out the money to a Labour mayor or, dare I say it, to an independent mayor. [...] It's human nature to help your own side. I would suggest that if a Conservative mayor approached central Government requesting money, it might help." Even as a Tory voter that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
There's more, though: the main picture on Charles's website contrasts himself as 'Your Man in City Hall' vs. Marvin Rees as 'Corbyn's Man in City Hall', which might work up to a point - Corbyn is toxic for many voters, myself included - but trips over its own logic, as it's unclear why Marvin would be party-led and Charles wouldn't. This party-political sniping is self-defeating, since Bristol clearly showed in 2012 that we value independence in a mayor.
It's a shame, because Charles has experience and has some sensible - albeit not particularly original - ideas, majoring on transport reviews (RPZs, railways stations, bus lanes, 'Brunel Card', cycle networks) as well as housing, libraries and helping the homeless. On this last point, he says that there are more people living on the streets in Bristol than anywhere else in the UK outside London (this appears to be true). He also, in a clear dig at George Ferguson, proposes a veto on mayoral decisions if 75% of councillors vote against them; he may also have been thinking of George - or Marvin Rees - when he told the Post: "I am not turning up for everything and asking you to send a photographer so I can be caught and be put on the front cover of your newspaper every day like certain other members of this campaign like to do."
I do not think Charles is the man to lead Bristol, given how much he appears to be caught up in party politics. The people of Bristol are unlikely to vote for him, anyhow, not least because he lives in a 'whopping Georgian pile in Clifton' (according to the Post) and, for a hobby, runs a fine wine company.
Marvin Johnathan Rees Labour Party
The mayoral election in 2012 was a two-horse race between George Ferguson and Marvin (receiving 35% & 29% of the first-preference votes respectively) and it looks like going that way again, although it might be even closer this time round.
In the Bristol Post videos all candidates had to walk into frame before starting their spiel: Marvin was, I think, the only one to approach from the viewer's left, which may be a subtle indication of his party politics. Or maybe there was just a wall on the other side, I don't know. In fact, Marvin leans far less heavily on national politics than Charles Lucas does, which I really admire when cheap swings at 'Tory cuts' are all the rage (especially given that, four years ago, his website contained several attacks on the Conservative candidate at the time). This might be because he doesn't see Charles as a threat - which is probably fair - but it's also symptomatic of a grown-up attitude to politics that does the man credit; he doesn't make cheap jibes or insult-by-association, instead promoting his policies (his manifesto is detailed) and his love of Bristol: "a vibrant, diverse and exciting community".
Of course, this focus on local issues might also be because Marvin isn't a big fan of Jeremy Corbyn. He doesn't say it outright, but in speaking to the Post he emphasised that "this is a Bristol election", before saying: "If you are asking me if I am for or against Jeremy Corbyn, it's not that simple. I go to church, I question God; I don't have a Messianic approach. Do I want him to win? Yes. [...] Do I think he is a Messiah? No." As mentioned there, Marvin is a committed Christian and that certainly attracts me to him as a candidate... although, in fairness, I know plenty of Christians who would make terrible mayors.
While his manifesto covers a number of issues - including the standard areas of housing, RPZs and education - the focus seems to be social equality, perhaps driven by the fact that he himself grew up in poverty, and it's certainly true that Bristol is very divided in social terms. Whether or not a mayor could change that is a different question, but it's a worthy aim. I don't agree with everything in his manifesto - it pushes green politics further than I would like, including a commitment to "maintain a Frack-Free Bristol"; the suggestion that the cabinet would always be "at least 50% women" is curious at best - but there's plenty of good, well thought-out stuff there.
If Marvin were standing as an independent, I'd probably vote for him. As it is, his party affiliations - even if worn lightly - are concerning to me, especially given that Labour are the largest party in terms of local councillors. It's a tricky one.
Paul Anthony Saville Independent
Paul sprang to minor fame in May 2013 when he recorded himself asking George Ferguson about RPZs - and, indeed, democracy - in a conversation / diatribe that he recorded on YouTube. His coup was that he managed to get George to tell him to "**** off", a misstep that has helped colour the mayor's public image in the eyes of many. Watch the clip, though, and Paul is the one who comes off worse (well, actually, the guy who interjects that "democracy is fascism by another name, you p***k" probably comes off worst) and it's hard to see why he thought this was a good launchpad for candidacy.
Paul is a hipster. I say this with confidence, not just because of his hair and penchant for waistcoats, but also because his job involves tricycling to weddings to sell ice cream (summer) and tea (winter), something which the Bristol Post generously decribes as 'running two businesses'. According to his Twitter feed he also has a small side-line in selling greetings cards featuring a cartoon of George Ferguson, as a gnome, defecating.
Paul decided to crowd-source his manifesto, resulting in 44 points, my favourite of which being compulsory sandwich provision for all attendees at council meetings (fun fact: Paul was ejected from a council meeting for trying to eat a cheese sandwich). He is also keen for council staff to finish work at 2.30pm on Friday. Not sure why.
Paul basically reminds me of someone who has an unaccountably large number of 'Likes' on Facebook.
Christine Charlotte Townsend Independent
There are single-issue candidates and then there are single-issue candidates: Christine is the most single-issue of them all, focusing entirely on education in her council leaflet entry (one of only two independent candidates who bothered submitting something). She is a teacher, so the focus is understandable, but it's unlikely to win her votes across the board when her four mayoral priorities are: (i) free school meals; (ii) school places for local children; (iii) removing 'backdoor' social selection in schools; and (iv) "what Bristol children need from their schools".
In fairness, Christine recognises that people might question this one-sided approach, and told the Post: "I am not suggesting that I am an expert in all these different fields (such as transport and financial affairs) but neither is anybody else." A bold claim. Where you might expect her to be an expert, though, is basic literacy: a shame, then, that her leaflet entry includes the phrase "...the local authority exercises its' legal duty...". On the other hand, it does include a cheering cartoon of parents winning a schools admissions hurdles race.
Christine links to the IfB (Independents for Bristol) site from her Twitter page, but they curiously don't seem to have made any mention of her - not even in the 'Independents for Bristol candidates for the May elections' news story on their site. Perhaps it's her defeatist attitude that's put them off - "I am under no illusion that I am not in any way going to win" she says, and I think she means the opposite - but in reality I imagine she's running to raise the issues rather than win election, and fair play to her for that. I'm sure she'll get votes from some parents, but not from me.
Paul Anthony Turner UK Independence Party (UKIP)
If you thought Tony Britt was struggling in the Twittersphere, you should take a look at Paul's Twitter profile: I just became his fourth follower, and of his 115 tweets since joining earlier in the month, 75 are links to his Facebook page and one is a claim that he got 10/10 on a Facebook geography quiz.
Paul's main qualification for UKIP candidacy is presumably that he's never been caught filming pornography in the park, but he is also keen to emphasise his common sense and prudence, particularly when it comes to spending our taxes. He is, after all, treasurer of Bristol UKIP, and - according to his interview with Post - he did quite a bit of canoeing when he was a teenager.
It's always a tough gig being a UKIP candidate in a local election, because the likelihood of Bristol becoming independent of Europe under his mayordom is fairly low. That being the case, he has to push the same policies as everyone else: housing, RPZs, education etc. all get a look-in, although he makes no mention of public transport in his council leaflet entry. He does suggest that we should "Capitalise on ... the city's green spaces", neatly side-stepping John Prescott's infamous: "The green belt is a Labour achievement, and we mean to build on it." Good work, Paul.
|what was I listening to?
Some Nights - Fun.
|what was I reading?
Blandings Castle - P. G. Wodehouse
|what was I watching?