Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Trouble With Trump

An American friend asked me the other day what I thought of Donald Trump. My first response could have been just to text back and say "He's a fucking idiot". The rise of Trump, and of the right wing in politics across across the West though seems to demand some more careful and nuanced thinking.

My first thought about Trump is that, I sincerely hope, such a character could not exist within British politics. Some of Nigel Farage's more boorish comments do come a close second. The quite appalling sexual comments Trump has made as part of his seemingly inbuilt misogynism would surely have made him a target for all strands of the media and public opinion here would not countenance such an uncouth and vulgar figure for Prime Minister.

What worries me more about Trump and his supporters is that he is tapping into a strand of isolationism and fear which exists in America. There has always been a core of people who believe that big government is against them, that it is responsible for making the US a worse place, that it is responsible for everything from job losses and high levels of taxation to the killing of Kennedy and 9/11. Trump is currently feeding on the worse sorts of conspiracy theories with his constant rhetoric about voting fraud.



This tweet is entirely typical of Trump's narrative, if he loses it won't be because people didn't want him and voted for the other candidate, it will be because the polls were rigged and the media is against him. The real danger here is that people will believe what he says, if people come to believe that voting in one of the world's largest democracies is somehow manipulated then they will become disenfranchised, disillusioned with the political process. Disempowerment and feelings of powerlessness lead to stagnation in politics and the endless continuation of the status quo as people stop voting because they think their vote does not matter, and it helps to make possible the very real danger that people will to extremism and violence.

Trump has also followed a line of racial division, blaming many of America's problems on Latino, specifically Mexican immigrants. This divide and conquer strategy is one we can see across the West at this time and whether the engendered hatred may be an accidental result of policies, in the case of UKIP and Farge perhaps, or is part and parcel of the policies themselves, as with the right wing ideologies of Greece's Golden Dawn and French National Front leader Marine le Pen, it is a dangerous and ugly development. This thought process is typical of the right wing, to simplify what are incredibly complex and interconnected arguments around immigration, employment, taxation and benefits into one ideology simple enough to understand they blame immigrants. It's easy to pin many of your problems on people within your society who look or act differently, Dylann Roof certainly thought so when he walked into a Charlestown church and opened fire on the congregation.

I'm not drawing a straight line between certain political figures and terrorism, and yet, when the landscape of political and social debate changes and open criticism of one group is allowed simply on the basis of that group seeming different from the majority then it legitimises open hatred and poisons rational debate. Groups proscribed against in this way are always among the weakest in society, the Mexicans and Muslims whom Trump rails against are sometimes illegal immigrants, sometimes not, many of them live towards the margins, doing low paid or temporary work. These people often don't have any political voice of their own, it's hard for them to be heard in the large scale media, they may already feel marginalised in society and these feelings will be compounded by people at the very top of the political spectrum railing against them. Want to breed more extremism ? Make people feel threatened, make them economically unstable, divide society against them.

Trump's behaviour towards Clinton and other politicians is deplorable. At his best he is rude and condescending, at his worst he is given to flights of fancy where he treats facts as a malleable substance and presents lies, rumour and possibilities as cast iron truths. He says things in every public debate which would be unconscionable in European circles.

I think the overwhelming feeling from Europe is that Trump is terrible choice propelled forward by huge money and the very worst kind of personal ambition. The speeches he has given about Russia and about the future structure of NATO run counter to everything that NATO has stood for, and against, since its inception, Trump seems to think that NATO can be used as an extension of US military might to which other nations will pay into and not have control over. Madness.

There is a groundswell of support for Trump over here, and if you want to see it expressed most clearly just delve into the web pages and forums of the right wing hate groups, they adore Trump, they think he's speaking the truth on immigration, they hate people who are different from them.

Respected political commentator Jeremy Paxman summed up the European position to Trump this week when he said on the Today programme "I am a European, I cannot imagine anyone voting for Trump in their right mind".

Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Chain Tsunami

Staffing in Harrogate at the moment has become a real problem. As the new Everyman redevelopment has opened with its slew of chain restaurants, and the major redevelopments down Parliament Street begin to open in stages it has become apparent that we have too many food and drink outlets seeking staff from the same pool of people.

We've had tremendous difficulty in recruiting at the moment, and from speaking to other managers and business owners in town, I know of at least two kitchens which are closed at the moment as they have had their chef's poached by one of the chains.

Two well known Harrogate restaurants have closed this year with Dave Burns, the owner of Bed, placing the blame squarely on the competition provided by the new openings. Tom Van Zeller closed his eponymous restaurant earlier in the year also blaming increased competition.

I'm not against increased competition, but it does sadden me that people get excited over the opening of a fairly dull mass market brand like 5 Guys with its wildly overpriced burger offerings, but won't go out and support independant business where the profits are more likely to be farmed back into the community. I know that I work for a large chain so I'm sort of skating on thin ice here, but in my defence on the catering side we're a chain of 26 catering outlets, all of which are situated within parent stores.

If you do fancy popping out for a good drinking / dining experience in a non-chain setting, here's a few suggestions...

Sweet Basil Valley, York and Yeadon, fantastic Thai and Chinese food, do try the Spicy Squid.

No.11 Somerset House, Harrogate, partner to the Black Hat in Ilkley, this property has seen a string of openings and closures in the last 3 years, but Somerset House look lovely and I do hope it succeeds. Good selection of ales, wines and gin, and a nice looking menu of updated British classics.

The Little Ale House, Harrogate, a charming micrpub.


Monday, October 03, 2016

Update - Mostly Running

I keep thinking that I should get back to blogging more, and then things happen and I don't, as always though, Yorkshiresoul isn't quite dead.

I've continued running all through the year, it may be that as with many things this was a bit of a fad at first - I'll freely admit I'm a bit obsessive about new things, perhaps a bit of compulsive disorder combined with my innate geekiness going on, but, running takes so much more effort, and I seem to be getting so much more back from it that I hope it is going to be a long term thing for me.

I have discovered some level of competitiveness within me that I previously didn't know I had. I've always been happy to mostly coast along with things, to take part and have a laugh rather than try to excel and win, but with running something inside me wakes up and wants to do better, to go further, and faster.

Harewood 10k Dash


When I started running again this year following the stroke I found it incredibly hard. The initial carpark action session was fun, and as it didn't involve any great distance or hills I thought I was doing quite well. The first Out And Back run to Rawdon Crematorium disabused of that. I ran out ok on the downhill sections but coming back I was in trouble, breathless, tired, falling off the back of the peloton in a sleet filled January night. The one thing that made the run alright for me, and which convinced me to come back to the Airecentre Pacers the next week was a club member called Emma. Emma isn't a Run Leader, she isn't a  Blue Bib helper, but she is entirely typical of what I've come to see in this club. Emma was friendly and helpful, she'd seen me in trouble and came back to talk to me. I couldn't even properly talk back, the uphills had taken all my breath so that I could only grunt answers back to her.

After running the Out And Back I went running with the Sunday crew, and there I got into a different running ethos, for while Monday and Wednesday club runs were mostly timed to an hour, or a set distance, Sundays were just about the freedom of running, the beauty of the Yorkshire landscape and the chance to really stretch your legs. Rhona, Ash and Margaret began to teach me that Strava marked distance isn't everything, and that often you can run much further than you think you can when you're not app watching. When I'd improved a little Tony helped me even more, because I think you get better faster by chasing at the back of a fast group than you do from leading a slower group. I don't mean any disrespect to any of my Pacer family reading this. Everybody goes out and does the best they can, but chasing the runners who are faster than you is going to make you one of the faster runners. I once chased Tony down a two mile downhill stretch, and every time I got close enough so that Tony could hear me behind him he put on another burst of pace. Tony is 12 years older than me, he's not a lifetime runner, he's been running for around 8 years, he's an absolute inspiration.

I joined the '12 In 12' group withing the Pacers, the idea being to run, at least, one timed race per month throughout the year, I have run 13 races so far with the Vale of York Half Marathon being the longest, and the John Carrr 5k series being my fastest.

John Carr Series


A couple of months ago the opportunity came to give a little back to the club in the form of becoming a Blue Bib helper. I jumped at the chance to join Rachel, Amanda, Joe, Tess, Jane and all the other leaders who have helped me out so much. To help pass on the ethos of never leaving a runner on their own, getting people fitter and faster, and encouraging people to race. I'm not the best of the Blues, I can't remember all of the routes, I forget half of the stretching routines, but even if I'm running at the front, (assuming Matt, Andy (G or B), Cathy, Rebecca, Nick, Simon N and a host of other faster / better runners are not at the front) then I will loop back for you. I love this bit of the club, looping and helping, it's the ethos of the club in a nutshell.

Prosecco and Pork Pies at the Solstice Saunter


The club's magnificent 'all for one' ethos was really nailed in two recent events. In the Vale of York Half Marathon Layla fell off the pace. We've all done it in races, something pulls and pains, a tear or a twist and we're switched from running to hobbling in an instant. Those #OrangeArmy girls, Sue, Bernie and Natalie, noticed that their compatriot was in trouble and incredibly, in the latter stages of a 13 mile race, looped back to pick up their friend. During the Kielder Marathon Nick fell and twisted his ankle, he hobbled on for a while in freezing conditions, and though details are a bit sketchy here as Tess is such a humble bloke, I gather Tess fairly rescued Nick and got him to a marshall point. It's great that in this club we have runners who can do pound out marathons (and more) like Carole, Sarah, Jane and Nick J, but but when those same runners are willing to sacrifice their own time and finish to help a friend in need, that's when you know you've joined something greater than the sum of its parts.

Airecentre Pacers, Yorkshire's Friendliest Running Club.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Where Now Is The Passion For Brexit ?

The ongoing fallout from the Brexit vote has produced a number of interesting outcomes, and the ongoing effect on the democratic process is one of them.

In the normal state of UK politics, when a vote has been called and made, and pledges have been put into the public sphere, there follows a set of checks and balances with an official opposition to ensure rigorous adherence to promises. We have seen recently how a government which has tried to impose things which were not manifesto promises, the imposition of Academy status on all schools, was met by a tide of protest. In the case of Brexit, things seem very different, indeed we seem to have entered an age in which the winners, not the losers, want to abandon political precedent.

If you came to my restaurant because I had advertised "Britain's Biggest Lobster - £20" but then sold you a single langoustine for the same money you would have every right to complain, and your complaint could be supported by law. If you make a promise to send £350m a week to the NHS, and then renege on that promise as soon as the vote is counted, what happens ? We are living in an age when lying to the electorate has fewer consequences than the false advertising of a fish special.

There have been accusations that the Brexit side never expected to win and that they had no strategy whatsoever for the actual Brexit if they did, and the rapidity with which many of the Leave camp leaders have fled the political scene following the vote seems to add credence to this notion. An ennui has set in with Leave supporters, they don't want to hear the howls of outrage from the 48%, and they don't seem to care that the cause they supported so passionately has withered away. The alternative is more disturbing, that many Leave voters did not believe the claims of the Brexit camp, that they accepted the possibilities of economic decline but voted Leave anyway in a warm surge of fuzzy nationalism.

Other people have voted Leave for entirely different reasons. If you live on some council estates in, for example, South Wales, and you haven't got a job by age 20, then the chances are you might never have a job for the rest of your adult life. Some communities devastated by the loss of the mines, steelworks and shipyards have not recovered economically 30 years after the main employers collapsed. If you've lived for years on benefits and austerity and no hope and David Cameron says the EU brings wealth and job security then you had every right to cast your ballot the other way because at least the other side promised a change of some sort when the status quo had brought your family nothing for generations. Perhaps these voters didn't expect to win, and didn't expect a win would bring them change anyway, after all, they've voted so often and received nothing in return.

For the rest of the 52% though, what is going on ? You were promised a new golden age, you were promised a well of funding for the NHS, a dramatic slowdown in immigration, and end to faceless bureaucracy and a booming economy. Leave leaders have first backtracked on their commitments, and then departed the political scene as if recognising that the Leave win is a poison chalice with the power to taint and harm all whom it touches. This perhaps is the nub of the matter, if things do not go according to Brexit promises over the coming years then the blame for each and every economic and social failing is going to be laid at the Leave door. Brexit and its leaders will become a scapegoat, imagined or real, for every political problem and fiscal woe. In this Theresa May is probably in the strongest position to benefit politically if she becomes the next PM. As a Remain campaigner, however fainthearted, May will not be tainted by a failing economy, her defence will always be that she believed we took the wrong decision, but that she is working hard to make the best of a bad lot.

The Leave website was purged of speech transcripts and promise documents days after the vote, highly prominent members of the Leave campaign have admitted that promises made were either unrealistic, or just would not happen. Leave voters, are you not outraged ? Many economic indicators predict that the UK economy will slow down, or perhaps slide into recession, you were promised better times. Leave voters, are you not outraged ? You were promised a crackdown on immigration, but Leave leaders have publicly admitted that the actual triggering of Article 50 may cause the largest surge in immigration the UK has seen in its involvement with the EU. Leave voters, are you not outraged ?

Or are you apathetic, not bothered, unwilling to use the fire and passion you burned with those few weeks ago to pressure your leaders into holding true to their promises. You surely didn't vote Leave just so you could hold your Union Jack a little higher and wave it a little more vigorously, you didn't embark on this project only expecting a bit of nationalistic pride in return, because I took a wallet brimming with nationalistic pride to the bank yesterday to pay my mortgage, but they said that I'd have to pay just like I did last month, in cold hard cash.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The John Carr Series



Being new to world of competitive racing I’m only just getting used to the social politics of the starting line, so for those of you who haven’t entered a race yet, here’s how it works.
Towards the rear of the huddle of runners the starting line is pretty much like club runs, it’s chatty and social, you are free to express feelings of nervousness and to comment on how fit, and fast, all the other runners look.

In the middle of the peloton things begin to change. You become aware of other runners appraising you, and then they edge past you with an “Excuse me” which holds distinct undertones of “I cannot help but notice that you are considerably older / fatter / more bandy legged than I, and therefore I need to start in front of you lest your shambling gait and ungainly manner impedes me in my quest for a PB.”

Down at the actual front line it’s just chaos. People are actually jostling for position, jostling I tell you! On a Wednesday night in Apperley Bridge ! Honestly folks, if we allow this sort of thing to continue then it’ll spread to Sainsbury’s deli counter queue and there will be hummus in the aisles.
The other thing that happens at all races is the pre-race announcement. Tradition here is that you shouldn’t be able to hear a word, no matter if the starting marshal is warning you of a bear pit on the first corner, the standard race announcement always sounds like an angry bee trapped in a metal dustbin half a mile away. Saltaire Striders haven’t got the hang of this, I could hear every word perfectly.

3-2-1 we’re off, briefly, there’s a few seconds of runner concertina as we sprint into the backs of the runners in front, who have en masse adopted the starting line pose of left arm raised, right hand on left wrist to activate their Garmin as they cross the line. Runners who haven’t managed to hit ‘start run’ on Strava will later be seen openly weeping as they approach the finish line.

(Photo - Rachael Smith)


5k is tough, I have no idea how to pace this, there isn’t enough time to settle into a jog, it just feels like sprinting all the way.  There are some small hills, enough to make your thighs burn, and then before the halfway you can see the really fast people flying past on the homeward half.  Legs burning, lungs bursting, I’m ready to chuck it in and just jog to the finish when we hit Orange Corner, a wall of Pacer shirts, a friendly cacophony fills the air, can I run this hard to the finish line, with that support, too right I can.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Anatomy Of A Half-Marathon

I popped out on Friday 4th to do a spot of running, I had in mind I'd do roughly a six mile loop into Guiseley, and then perhaps press on for a second six mile loop down into Otley if I was feeling good. The weather was cool but sunny with a very light breeze, pretty much perfect weather for running.

Miles 1-3) I'm feeling really good this morning, running at a couple of seconds under 9 minutes a mile which is a good pace for me and easily a minute faster than when I picked up running again in January. Probably because I'm wearing a hip belt for my water bottle (I hate carrying stuff in my hands shwn running), I need a pee, now I need a pee all I can think about is needing a pee.

Mile 3.5) Pop into the leisure centre for bio-break. As always the amount of pee expelled, about an eggcup full, is out of all proportion to the amount of relief gained.

Mile 6) I'm feeling really good, still under 9 mins which is probably too fast but it's hard to slow down when you're running so well. I'm back at Menston so yes, I'm going to push on for the half marathon. Ahead of me I've got at least two miles downhill into Otley and then some flat miles along to Burley. I'm running with my earphones in and a steady diet of Ramones - Wildhearts - Massive Wagons - Megadeth to keep me going, I don't mind shorter solo runs without music, but on longer treks I get fed up of the sound of my trainers slapping the pavement.

Mile 8) Still running well, but I'm so hot, there's little beads of sweat bouncing off me with every pace. Worst bit of the run so far was when I stopped at the Ilkley Road / Otley Bypass roundabout waiting for traffic, my legs felt a little heavy after I'd waited for a couple of minutes and when I tried to pick up the pace again it's feeling a little more laboured.

Mile 10) Ok, I'm feeling a little tired now. It is quite a warm morning and the water in my bottle has warmed up nicely and is doing little to refresh me. Thankful for a handy bush on the bypass to Burley for another bio-break, not so thankful for the short stretch without pavement, busses and trucks are big scary things up close.  There's a little uphill section on old Otley Road and I've really slowed down. All the way round I've been telling myself how good I'm feeling, but now I'm not, I seem to have switched from positive self motivation to grim determination in about half a mile.

Mile 11) Along the flattish bit out from Burley back towards Menston. The flat miles at the start of the run felt great, I felt light and bouncy, each step was easy and thoughtless. Now I feel leaden, heavy and strained, every footstep slaps down hard and jars my frame. And the uphill bit is still to come.

Mile 12) Uphill. Up Bradford Road. This is awful. What on earth posessed me to do this ? I'm tired, soaked with sweat from head to toe, my legs are aching, thighs are starting to burn, there's a niggle in my left calf which wasn't bothering me on the flat but which is spiking now with each step. Thud

Mile 13) I made it up the hill, lumbered around Menston Park and now I'm moving along Main Street in an ungainly, elephantine manner. I'm hating having to cross roads as the six inch drop off each pavement edge is hideous and my legs are so stiff now I'm scared I might stumble ovet the pavement on the other side.

Mile 13.1) I'm home, and I should be elated, but my brain has fried from the heat and exercise and somehow I've convinced myself that the half marathon distance is about 13.5 miles. For a moment I consider giving up, but then with a quite remarkable outburst of swearing I set off again, moving with wooden legs towards Bleach Mills, turn around, swear some more, get home again, 13.7 miles, and that's me knackered.