An open letter to my Spanish teacher

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This is an open letter to my former GCSE and A-level Spanish teacher, indeed the only Spanish teacher I’ve ever had, during the four brief years I spent studying the language, and who, for the sake of this article, I will call Sr. Torro*.

Querida Señor Torro,

In the words of Nick Clegg (as imagined by The Poke – feel free to sing along): I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. There’s no easy way to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Before I get hit with a copyright infringement claim, let me explain.

You were a great teacher. A fantastic teacher. An inspirational teacher. You took someone with almost zero knowledge of the Spanish language and, in two years, turned them into an A* GCSE student. You took an infatuation with a country and its language and turned it into a love. A passion.

And I fucked it up.

I remember with fondness sitting in your classroom in ‘C’ block (C4 if I recall correctly), staring blankly out of the window while you played Juanes (La Camisa Negra) and Julieta Venegas (Limón y Sal), trying in vain to work out the missing words and their meanings.

I remember with fondness the first Spanish idiom you taught me, “todos tenemos nuestro grano de arena”, literally translated as “we all have our grain of sand” but meaning we all have our part to play.

I remember with somewhat less fondness sitting across from you in the music block, stumbling my way through an embarrassing attempt at an oral examination question on the environment.

I remember with less fondness still my mobile phone alarm ringing part-way through a written examination – and the subsequent awkward discussion with the invigilators as to how an alarm can sound even if the phone is switched off!

You were, without a doubt, my favourite teacher, and I just wish I’d paid attention to you more. I’ve always wished I’d paid more attention to you, but never more so than now, when I attempt hopelessly to converse with my new family.

I’d like to meet you one last time to thank you for everything you did and to say sorry for what I didn’t do.

Sorry that I didn’t pay attention as much as I should have. Sorry that I didn’t fulfill the potential I showed when I first stepped foot in your classroom. Sorry that I went from being a promising A*-grade GCSE student to a mediocre C-grade A-level student.

But there’s one thing I will never forgive you for: saying, all those years ago, that Catalan was a regional dialect of Spanish. That made me think learning my wife’s mother tongue would be easier because of my intermediate level of Spanish. It’s not. It’s really not. And in case another of your students grows up to wed a beautiful bride from Barcelona, I’d urge you never to suggest this to your students again.

In seriousness, though, I honestly don’t think it is an exaggeration to suggest my life wouldn’t be where it is today without you. The chain of events that led up to my marriage to my Catalan bride two weeks ago started in your classroom at the age of 14, so thank you.

If you ever read this, thank you.

I just wish I’d listened to you more!

Your (most?) frustrating student,

Alan Collins Pérez de Baños
(formerly Alan Collins)

Disclaimer: My Spanish teacher was not actually called “Sr. Torro” (at least not officially). He wasn’t Spanish. He wasn’t even English. He was Welsh, but could speak four languages – a fact about which I will forever be envious.

UKIP’s Chatham & Aylesford candidate has been accused of sharing Islamophobic posts

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Nicole Bushill, UKIP’s candidate for Chatham & Aylesford in next month’s general election, has been spreading Islamophobic material, according to a campaign group.

Hope Not Hate have today named three UKIP candidates who they have found to be spreading hate material online.

The post highlights five posts Bushill has “shared” on Facebook, including a post railing against an “Islamic halal tax” on Easter eggs:

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and other popular brands:

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The Chatham & Aylesford candidate also turned her sights on Subway:

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and sought to claim that “Islamophobia” doesn’t actually exist:

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It’s not all negativity, though. The UKIP hopeful had some positive words about controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders:

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It’s not exactly clear what “war” it is “we” may just win, but given the results in Holland and France, somehow I don’t think “we’re” winning it…

After Hope Not Hate‘s revelations, I took a look at Bushill’s Twitter feed – and didn’t have to delve too far before finding an extraordinary attack on Islam:

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DON’T PANIC! we’re not Islamic

Somehow I can’t imagine she’d be too popular if she put that slogan on an election leaflet!

Bushill has been approached for a comment.

What is the point of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act?

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Britain will go to the polls on 8 June following the spectacular failure of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act to justify it’s existence.

I know I’m a little late to the party with this article (planning a wedding while working a full-time job makes blogging a little difficult), but it’s clear the Coalition Government’s flagship electoral reform is of little practical use.

Prior to 2011, the Queen could dissolve Parliament at any time simply upon the request of the Prime Minister, allowing the government of the day to opt for an early election if the polls appear to be in their favour – or to force a second election if the first resulted in an unstable hung parliament.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act was first introduced to Parliament in July 2010 by the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as part of a package of constitutional reforms championed by the Liberal Democrats, including a referendum on changing the voting system to Alternative Vote, reducing the number of MPs and making constituency sizes more equal. At the time, Mr Clegg said:

The coalition government is determined to put power where it belongs – with people. You will decide how you want to elect your MPs.

By making constituencies more equal in size, the value of your vote will no longer depend on where you live, and with fewer MPs the cost of politics will be cut.

And, by setting the date that parliament will dissolve, our prime minister is giving up the right to pick and choose the date of the next general election – that’s a true first in British politics.

The Alternative Vote system was roundly rejected by the electorate and, partly as a result, the Liberal Democrats withdrew their support for reducing the number of MPs and redrawing the electoral boundaries. Fixed-term Parliaments, setting 5-year Parliaments in stone unless the incumbent government loses a vote of no confidence and cannot regain the confidence of the House within 14 days or a two-thirds majority of all MPs vote for an early election, was the only meaningful constitutional reform to make it onto the statute book.

The Act was meant to provide stability, almost guaranteeing a five-year timetable for governments to carry out their manifesto promises, whilst stopping Prime Ministers from holding an early election for political gain. To (mis)quote Captain Blackadder:

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In the current Parliament, 434 MPs were required to vote in favour of an election. The two largest parties, the Conservatives and Labour, hold 330 and 229 seats, respectively, or 559 MPs in total. The 2010 election resulted in 564 MPs for the top two parties. In 2005 they had 568 of the then 659 MPs, 579 MPs in 2001 and in 1997 the Government and Main Opposition accounted for a combined total of 583 MPs.

It would take an Opposition in an extreme state of dysfunction and disarray to refuse the electorate the opportunity to vote them into power and, when the Fixed-term Parliaments Act was first called upon to stop what appeared to be a clear attempt by Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May to capitalise upon an almost-constant 20-point poll lead over a disunited Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, it failed miserably.

Even the desperate state Labour presently finds itself in was not enough to persuade more than a handful of it’s MPs to vote against an election, with the motion passing by 522 to 13. The only real opposition came from the Scottish National Party, who decided to abstain (which is, in reality, no different to voting against an election when the motion requires a positive vote from two-thirds of members to succeed).

Granted, the present political reality was not envisaged when the legislation was drawn up seven years ago; Britain is leaving the EU, the country is bitterly divided and the Prime Minister has a weak majority and no personal mandate from the electorate, having been anointed without so much as a vote of her own party members following the resignation of her predecessor.

That notwithstanding, if the decision to go to the country were so easy for MPs to take in such turbulent circumstances, it is incredibly difficult to imagine a scenario in which any bid for an early election would fail, calling the fundamental point of the Act into serious question.

Like it or not, we are heading for the polls on 8 June – and one of the first acts of the new government, whichever flag they fly under, should be to reform or scrap a pointless and redundant Fixed-term Parliaments Act!

Rainham North councillors begin fight against new Gillingham Football Club stadium

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Rainham North’s Conservative councillors appear to have begun their fight against a new football stadium being built in their ward.

Gillingham Football Club Chairman Paul Scally called on fans to write in support of the Mill Hill site being pencilled in as the location of a future 25,000-seat stadium during Medway Council’s Local Plan consultation.

The consultation document itself is relatively mute on the subject of a new stadium, referring to the club only three times over its 132 pages:

The regeneration area would extend beyond Gillingham to include a modern football stadium for Gillingham Football Club at Mill Hill, supported by a mixed development of apartments, shops and wider leisure facilities. An iconic building would establish the new character of this area and mark the extent of the regeneration zone. – p23

Gillingham Football Club was established in 1893 and is based at Priestfield Stadium, Gillingham with a capacity of around 11,000. The stadium is within 0.5 miles of Gillingham Railway Station and is located in a predominantly residential area. The club has aspirations to upgrade its stadium and has actively been contemplating moving from its Priestfield site, developing this site for housing. The club has made representations to the council as part of the Local Plan process, promoting its interest to develop a new site at Mill Hill, Gillingham, that would involve a major new stadium supported by wider leisure, retail and residential development. – p86

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The Council will work alongside Gillingham FC to develop an appropriate strategy to secure the club’s future development in Medway. – p89

Following Mr Scally’s decision to ask fans to write in support of the club, two local councillors, whose ward includes the Mill Hill site and surrounding area, have written to local residents, on Council-headed paper, urging them to make their own representations to the Council before the 18 April deadline.

GFC Councillor Letter

Vaughan Hewett, then a UKIP councillor for the area, presented a 400-strong petition of local residents against a stadium in 2015 and promised to continue to oppose any such plans in that year’s local elections, which he lost.

Now it appears Councillors David Carr and Martin Potter, whilst striking a conciliatory tone in their letter, are ready to take up the mantle of a fight against both the ground and its enabling development.

The councillors’ letter comes as Mr Scally has written to selected households in Gillingham with free tickets for the Gillingham v Fleetwood match on 22 April, in what appears to be the start of a PR campaign in support of his future plans for the club, their new ground and the site of Priestfield Stadium, the club’s home since it’s formation in 1893.

Anyone who wishes to respond to the Local Plan consultation, whether on the stadium or any other matter, can do so either by email to futuremedway@medway.gov.uk or by post to Planning Policy team, the Planning Service, Medway Council, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TR. The consultation closes at 5pm on Tuesday, 18 April.