Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold — and thirty-four years must make for a very cold meal. But were Jim Callaghan still alive today, I reckon he’d be chuckling into his cornflakes at the sight of tomorrow morning’s headline in The Sun.
(Futurefire.net Publishing, 168pp, pb £8.00)
If science-fiction has a point beyond simple entertainment – and I would imagine most Interzone readers would say it does –I would submit that the most likely candidate is to push boundaries and challenge norms. So it’s fairly encouraging to see Outlaw Bodies wedding itself to that idea from the introduction: an anthology of stories revolving around “any body that defies social norms and expectations“.
The Great Gatsby is, for me, one of those books which I read at a very formative point in my life, and which deeply affected my view of fiction, art and the world in general. In short, I loved it. It reached me in a rare way that opened my mind to the true potential of fiction and prose, which made me dream.
So Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation always had some scarily big shoes to fill. And it was, probably, always doomed not to quite live up to that initial experience. But fortune favours the bold, after all.
It still saddens me that, since moving to Reading nearly two months ago, I can no longer sit on Wargrave Parish Council. I miss my fellow councillors, and being able to play an active role in shaping the community I lived in. But despite this, no longer being a part of local government gives me a little more freedom in some ways. The freedom, for example, to lament the closure of the Old Post Office coffee shop on Wargrave High Street, the victim of shockingly and embarrassingly short-sighted nimbyism.
So it looks like equal marriage in the UK is on its way to becoming a reality. Not a moment too soon, you might say — but the final proper hurdle in the House of Commons last night wasn’t quite without incident. In particular, the words of , Tory MP and former minister.
I’m not sure if blogging does make any difference to the real world, but on the strength of recent evidence I might have to start trying fancy dress. It certainly seems to have d for my good friend (and fellow PCC-scrutiniser) Jon Harvey.
After turning up to the local Police and Crime Panel meeting dressed as a chauffeur we actually seem to be getting somewhere on Anthony Stansfeld’s cavalier use of expenses.
WARNING: this review contains spoilers. I don’t usually write spoilery reviews, and indeed I thought long and hard about how to make this spoiler-free. But in the end I decided that the vague semi-references which would result from the necessary critical acrobatics just weren’t worth it.
So if you haven’t seen the film, and have thus far remained unspoilt and virginal, then don’t read any further than this.
Or do. Whatever; I don’t really care. But you have been warned.
Cast your minds back to last October/November. The political sphere was abuzz with the impending elections for Police and Crime Commissioners across the country. I, at the time, was warning anyone who would listen that the Conservative candidate in the Thames Valley — one Anthony Stansfeld, always the favourite to win the poll — was unfit for the job.
He was, I said, lacking in any ideas to improve the police, any ingenuity as to what the role was for, and a “cavalier attitude to transparency“. His only discernible policies were that the new commissioner would have a chauffeur, and that he would focus on “rural crime”. Predictably, come voting day a combination of atrocious turnout, atrophied safe Conservative areas, and some truly dreadful independent candidates, Mr Stansfeld won.
Now, I genuinely don’t like saying I told you so. Me being right about Mr Stansfeld gives me no pleasure, for the simple fact that it changes nothing. But it seems that I was right, and that my concerns were well founded. So bully for the voting residents of the Thames Valley.
Mr Stansfield has achieved his only concrete policy, and acquired a chauffeur (on an apparent salary of £19,700 of taxpayers’ money), as well as one of Thames Valley Police’s Audi A6 cars. This despite the millions of pounds of cuts to front-line policing that the police service is having to make.
But that’s not all. According to the Daily Mail (and believe me, I hate to link you there) Stansfield’s acquisition of said car came only after he tried to fiddle expenses rules so that the police force (i.e. all of us) paid for his journey to work. Mr Stansfeld couldn’t claim the 37 mile journey from his home to the HQ in Kidlington. So he moved his office to a small, part-time police station in Hungerford, meaning that travel to Kidlington was no longer travel to his main place of work (and thus could be claimed).
Money well spent, then.
For a bit of political balance, here’s what the chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance (the bleedin’ Taxpayers’ Alliance, for God’s sake — it’s practically a Tory campaign group) had this to say:
“Anthony Stansfeld’s pop-up office appears to be part of a cynical scam to milk the system for as much cash as possible.“
It’s hard to disagree really, particularly when it seems that the man is still a councillor (with an allowance) on West Berkshire Council.
I think that Anthony Stansfield is a disgrace. But the problem isn’t limited to one bad egg. The entire Police and Crime Commissioner system is flawed, and should be torn down at the earliest available opportunity. Salaries of £85,000 are being handed out to these people in order to politicise police budgets and take accountability. Whatever party banner that person stands under, this cannot be a good route to be taking.
Anthony Stansfeld is not the only problem with Police Commissioners. But he is an excellent example of why we should not have them.
UPDATE: The man himself has spoken up. Anthony Stansfeld has told the Witney Gazette:
“I am extremely good value for money. If I could hire myself I would charge a lot more.“
Modesty and humility is the order of the day then? The biggest emerging problem that I can see is that there is no actual way of holding Mr Stansfeld (or any PCC for that matter) to account. There is no oversight body, no review tribunal, no ethics board. Police and Crime Commissioners really do seem to be a law unto themselves.
So, for those of you who didn’t already know, I spent the last week in the gloriously sunny Portuguese town of Faro. Tucked away on the southern coast, it was beautifully sleepy at the same time as being exotically different. And the end result is that I have come back to the (ironically rainy) United Kingdom feeling newly energised.
In the course of a week, I have seen old buildings with paint flaking; a chapel made of skulls and bones; how Mediterranean locales really wake up at about eight or nine in the evening; what it feels like to walk through a place recognisable, but distinctly alien.
It is experiences like these which, to me, make an excellent holiday. I’m not someone who wants to go to the resorts, the Benidorm-style well-worn Brits-abroad locales. Growing up, my mother always told me “A change is as good as a rest“, something which I have taken to heart; those views off the beaten track are usually those worth seeing.
And I think that’s a big thing which drives me as a writer.
Whilst I was away I had the fantastic news that one of my stories would be published. Those moments are always brilliant, like thermal draughts which lift me up from the doldrums of thinking that it’s all a waste of time and that I’m getting nowhere. But whilst those highs are good for boosting my resolve (and, I’m sure, the resolve of my fellows), it isn’t the fuel in the tank which drives me.
One of the main things I’ve been aware of in writing is that I am an experience-seeker. The mantra “write what you know” is often misunderstood, but there is a real ring of truth to it. It is in the experiences, in seeing the difference, that I find the inspiration to write the edgy, meaningful and engaging stories which I set my sights on.
And that was an itch which Faro has definitely scratched. I return to these shores not only buoyed by a publishing success, but with four immediate ideas for pieces, and memories which will fuel a lifeline more.
Once more, as the bard wrote, unto the breach!
Yes, more good news! Perihelion SF will be publishing my short story, “Robert and Sarah, Across the Universe” in their June issue.
Perihelion is a science-fiction online magazine, specialising in the harder side of the genre, and publishing fiction, reviews and even comic strips. It’s fairly new to the scene, but is very impressive and growing fast.
It’s also free to read, so no excuses!
For my part, “Robert and Sarah…” was a piece I wrote a little while back, as something of an experiment with form and idea. In the end, after a fair amount of editing, rewriting and general writing legwork, I’m quite proud of the result — and am very pleased that it will be appearing in Perihelion.
Perihelion SF is published on the 12th of each month (with May off), so I’ll be posting next month to let you all know where to find it, and possibly give a bit more background to the story itself.
Also, for those of you paying attention, following last month’s appearance in Aphelion Webzine, I have now been published in both Aphelion and Perihelion. Just a bit of geek humour.