Sunday, 27 June 2010

Take me out to the ballgame

Today’s musings come not from the usual E3 massive, but from beautiful, sunny San Francisco. So part of the current epic holiday has been an introduction to the game of baseball; thrown in at the deep end watching two Boston Red Sox vs. San Francisco Giants games at A&T Park. Plus a host of other Red Sox games on the TV.

It’s a fun game and once you get into it I can see the attraction (although I was disappointed with the distinct lack of nacho hats, as the Simpsons would have me believe existed).

Yesterday’s game also brought the highlight of almost catching a foul ball. I say almost because I was actually ducking trying to avoid getting hit in the head Fever Pitch style. The ball bounced out of a guy’s hand behind me, and ended up in my bag. He then proceeded to launch himself over the seats, landing on me and grabbed the ball out of my bag. What he didn’t realise is that we were a pretty large group.

When I say pretty large, I’m not just talking about the number of us, but in fact the composition of the party included a high proportion of men who you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley (pussycats the lot of them).

As his eyes travelled down the row, you could actually see the moment that he wished he hadn’t been quite so eager to claim the ball for himself. What he opened himself up to was a stream of constant banter for the rest of the game, which whilst was good-natured, I’m not entirely convinced he was aware of that!

So to sum up my baseball experience thus far; hitting anything is unusual, getting to first base even more so. There are adverts everywhere, especially when you watch on TV. It’s a long game with exciting moments; try not to be in the bathroom when these happen. And if you happen to have the opportunity to catch a foul ball, be careful who you’re squashing, unless you want 2 hours of teasing and banter. It was all good natured I promise…

Thursday, 10 June 2010

One hot meal a day... not much to ask?

The government has announced that it is dropping plans for primary school children from low income working families to receive free school meals. In the same letter, Education Minister Michael Gove also announced cuts to pilot projects to provide free school meals to every primary school child in five local authorities.

About a 18 months ago I joined the governing body of Ferry Lane Primary School, which is based on the Ferry Lane estate in Tottenham Hale. The school is racing up through the results and ratings, after a dismal Ofsted report a few years ago. Most of our kids speak English as their second language; we have huge Turkish and Somalian communities on the estate, which is where most of our kids live. Most of our kids also recieve free school meals.

I was elected Chair of the Curriculum Committee about a year ago, and consequently have responsibility for the oversight and implementation of how and what the kids are taught. There is often such an emphasis on statistics and results that you can be blindsided and forget to look at the children and families behind the numbers. With our school, statistical anomalies can often be explained by the teachers because they know the children, the families and the communities, which is one of the reasons I love being involved. The school engenders a real sense of community, and the facilities are used by a wide number of different groups from the estate.

I know first hand how important it is for the children to be guaranteed one hot, healthy meal a day. It not only allows them to concentrate better, but also provides them with a sense of security. They know their school is looking after them, as well as just being somewhere they have to attend. Now that school meals meet the new nutritional standards, ensuring that children eat them has a number of health and education benefits. These include improving classroom behaviour, helping develop healthy eating habits and encouraging children to try new foods. These benefits are particularly important for children from the most disadvantaged homes.

For years, campaigners including the Children’s Food Campaign have been highlighting the injustice that many children living in poverty fail to qualify for free school meals. The decision to extend eligibility for free school meals to primary school children from low income working households, announced by the previous government in December 2009, went some way to addressing this. This change in policy represents a backwards step.

Poverty in working households is a big problem: currently, 60 per cent of children living in poverty have at least one parent in work. Abandoning plans to provide free school meals to these children, will have consequences which we will see reflected in the results and statistics.

All of these reasons are why I'm asking you to take five minutes and send an email or letter to Education Minister, Michael Gove MP, in opposition to these cuts, which will see some of the UK’s poorest children losing out.

You can send your message by email to, or by post to:
Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Secretary of State for Education
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street

Template letter (from the Children School Meals campaign)
Dear Mr Gove,
I am writing to ask you to reconsider your recent decision which drops plans to extend free school meal eligibility to primary school children from working families with a household income of less than £16,190.
There is good evidence of the health and educational benefits of school meals, including improving classroom behaviour and helping children develop healthy eating habits which will stay with them for the long term.
Sixty per cent of children that live in poverty have at least one parent in work. Failing to provide these children with a free healthy school meal is very likely to discourage parents from getting work, as school meals currently cost families around £300 per child each year.
Going ahead with the planned extension of eligibility for free school meals to primary school children from low income working families would have lifted 50,000 children out of poverty, and made a significant contribution to reducing health and educational inequalities.
While I am well aware of the pressures to reduce public spending, I urge you to reconsider these cuts in the light of your government’s promise to protect the country’s poorest families from their worst effects.
Yours sincerely,

Friday, 4 June 2010

Going the whole hog...

In the pub beer garden opposite my office they are currently roasting a hog. A whole hog and nothing but the hog. I've been a bit upset by it all day, mainly because every time I leave the office I'm confronted with it, in addition to the fact that it's all we can smell today.

I've been a vegetarian since I was about 10, and in that time have never been tempted to eat meat. There was one occasion when I bit into a scampi thinking it was a breaded mushroom, but it was quickly spat out and I spent the rest of the evening feeling pretty sick. We were on holiday the summer when I told my parents that I no longer wanted to eat meat, but it was hard because they kept cooking my favourite meals. They supported me by only cooking veggie dinners for a whole month when we got back, which gave me the kick start I needed. I'm eternally grateful to them for this.

I have lots of friends who are vegetarians and vegans based on animal rights arguments; which whilst I respect, don't form the underlying basis for my personal choice when it comes to eating meat or not. My parents have just given a home to three ex-battery farmed chickens; called Paulo, Di and Canio. The state of these poor birds when they arrived really shocked me. I have other friends who are vegetarians because they are aware of the environmental impact of the meat industry. Again whilst these a valid reasons, they aren't mine.

I've never been particularly preachy about my vegetarianism. For me, the idea of eating something that used to be alive, running or swimming around, talking to its brothers and sisters, completely turns my stomach. And as soon as I was conscious of the fact that meat comes from animals, then that was enough for me.

What I can't abide is people that eat meat, who don't face up to where their meals are coming from. The people that say, oh I couldn't eat it if I saw its head, or eyes, or tail, or whatever. At least understand that you are killing an animal to eat it. If you can face up to that and either not care or choose to eat it after that, then fair play. That's your decision. The same as choosing not to eat meat is my decision.

And whilst the hog roast is making me feel uneasy and uncomfortable, in some aspects I'd rather the pub was doing that then just BBQing sausages. At least the customers will see exactly where their dinner is coming from.

PS The hog is now wearing a fetching jacket of silver foil. Not unlike our new Home Secretary...