Saturday, July 31, 2010

Last Day to vote in Total Politics Blog poll

This is the last day to vote in the Total Politics Blog Poll.  

This poll is co-sponsored by Iain Dale, Liberal Democrat Voice and Labour List.

Here are the rules.

1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

I have already been pretty shameless in asking for your support, so I shall now emulate the dignity of Liberal England in saying that all votes for Caron's Musings will be gratefully received, especially as it's my birthday. 

I support Clare Balding against crassness of Sunday Times #goclare

I have no idea where my head has been this week, but I've only just realised what's been going on with BBC Sports presenter Clare Balding. The F Word has the detail on how uber-pretentious commentator A A Gill described her in some fairly questionable terms regarding her sexuality and appearance. When she complained, she was basically told she was over-reacting by the paper's editor. She's now taking her complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.

I thought she put her case very well when she responded to the editor:

"When the day comes that people stop resigning from high office, being disowned by their families, getting beaten up and in some instances committing suicide because of their sexuality, you may have a point.
This is not about me putting up with having the piss taken out of me, something I have been quite able to withstand, it is about you legitimising name calling. ‘Dyke’ is not shouted out in school playgrounds (or as I’ve had it at an airport) as a compliment, believe me.
It may be your job to defend your writer and your editorial team but if you really think that homophobia does not exist and was not demonstrated beyond being ‘the butt of a joke’ then we have a problem."
Clare is right to take this further and I think she deserves our support.

You do not go to jail for tax credit overpayments, BBC

Today is my birthday. I should be tucked up in my bed having a long lie being fed Earl Grey and chocolate and having my every whim attended to by my loving family.

I should not be in a state of high dudggeon writing an irate blog post about tax credit overpayments because the BBC can't get it right. They get it so wrong that they appear to have turned into the scaremongering Daily Fail.

The biggest mistake, which they don't correct, is that they report one struggling single parent's fears about being unable to pay her tax credit overpayment of £2000.

"She claims both working and child tax credit, but because she has changed jobs frequently over the last year, and her childcare has altered, she has been overpaid.
She has now been told she now owes Revenue and Customs just over £2,000.b. 
She accepts she has to pay it back, but finding £40 out of her weekly budget is hard-going."Obviously I don't have that kind of money," says Sarah, who has put her house up for sale and is seeking cheaper accommodation.
As a result, she says, she has been having sleepless nights, and suffering from severe stress.
"The worst case scenario is: I've not got the money - I'm going to end up in jail," she says."
This is a huge thing to leave uncorrected. You do not go to jail for tax credit overpayments. Tax credit overpayments are stressful and cause real hardship, but I'm concerned that people in that situation could read that report and think there was a possibility that they could lose their liberty and have all the accompanying worry of what would happen to their children and job.
I know a fair bit about the Tax Credit system and I agree that it is fundamentally flawed. Gingerbread is absolutely right on this - people shouldn't have to predict their income a year in advance because circumstances do change. I don't think a person should be saddled with an overpayment because of an unexpected job change or promotion. I think, and it's Liberal Democrat policy, that we should go back to the old system of having fixed payments for 6 months.
The BBC make it sound like the nasty, nasty government is being cruel by reducing the amount that the Government allows your actual income to vary from the estimate you give them. At the moment, it's £25,000 but it will be reduced in subsequent years to £10,000 and then £5,000.
Actually, 4 years ago, that amount brought in by Labour was £2,500. That wasn't enough, and the limit the new Government is reducing  it to is still double what Labour had.
I think that £25,000 of variance is probably too much, but £5000 may be too low. Let me explain why.
In April, a family earning £13,000 a year tells the Tax Credit Office that that's what they expect their income to be for the coming tax year. A family on that income would get several thousand pounds a year in tax credits and help with childcare costs, and rightly so.
In October, Mum gets offered a job in an office earning £12,000 a year.. Obviously that means that the amount of tax credit they will qualify for will be reduced significantly In fact, it may well be reduced to a much lower amount than they have already been paid. It's half way through the year so that means that the household income will be the original £13,000 plus £6,000 Mum is now earning, a total of £19,000. This is not a huge income by any stretch of the imagination. It's only around £1200 per month which, after housing costs are taken off, is quite difficult to live on for a family in normal circumstances. I suggest that that household budget does not have the flexibility to cope with paying back what will be a significant sum in tax credit overpayments.
Compare and contrast with a richer family, just getting the minimum award which everyone on slightly higher incomes up to in some circumstances £75.000 gets. We aren't rich, but we've always qualified for the minimum award. When I started work in 2006, my additional income didn't bring us anywhere near the upper limit, so our payments stayed exactly the same. I'm not saying that should have been different, but I think it's unfair that a system is so inherently flawed that the poorest are susceptible to big overpayments.
In practice what happens is that if the family still qualifies for tax credits, the overpayment is taken out of their next year's entitlement - which obviously has an effect on their household budget.  The problems start if your children grow up or you somehow lose your entitlement to tax credits. Then you will get a demand which will no doubt scare the life out of you, often asking for thousands of pounds by the end of next month, threatening all sorts of dire consequences, like legal action, if you don't pay.
If you ring them up when you get this letter they will usually negotiate a payment plan by instalments - and if they refuse, get your MP on the case.
I do have serious worries about the structural flaws in the tax credits system which can leave people with debt in this way, but I do think that people are now more aware that they need to report any changes of circumstances promptly than they were 5 years ago. 
Many of the overpayments I've helped people with in my time are in fact not due to straightforward changes in circumstances - the incompetence in the system can be incredible. The Tax Credit Office computer seems to have a bizarre mind of its own. It can wipe people's children off their claim and then pursue them for huge overpayments. This would be fine if they simply acknowledged their mistake, fixed it and moved on rather than going through an extended complaints procedure, putting people through hell, stress and worry in the meantime.
I've also seen situations where people have provided the Tax Credit Office with all their information but this hasn't been recorded correctly and they haven't spotted an error on a complex official form. The automated system can drown you with paperwork. Even in our relatively simple affairs, a simple notification of a change of circumstance resulted in an avalanche of 4 forms each from the Tax Credit Office, each one saying something slightly different.
I've also seen situations where people were incorrectly advised by TCO officials were still judged to be liable for the overpayments and it took some doing (and some fairly forensic investigation) to get it all sorted out, taking loads of time.
It's clear that Iain Duncan Smith recognises the inherent flaws in the system and as the BBC reports, he says he thinks the estimation of income in advance issue should be changed. The issue is the time it'll take to bring in that change. In the interests of fairness, people on low incomes should not have to pay back overpayments if they have done everything they are obliged to do correctly and the Government should amend the procedures to make sure that this doesn't happen. I will be the first person on their backs if they fail in this regard. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Caron's Corkers - 30th July

A whirlwind tour of the best of the blogosphere:

Terence Eden talks about how he nearly got sued by the BPI 

Tom Harris' podcast with Doctor Who producer Steven Moffatt could just as easily be titled "Two smug boys on the Terrace". They are smugger than a cat who's managed to get the entire country's supply of cream but the podcast is very funny even if it doesn't tell you that much.

Spidey tackles Labour accusations that we've sold our soul to the devil.

Dib Lemming is sad that the press are making political capital out of the tragic suicide of Paul Reekie

Dom does a guest post at Kayleigh's bits and pieces about his first impressions of the US and seeing his idol Montoya race. I was so sad for him that the xenophobic crowd has put him off going to a future race. I like to do normal stuff like go to the supermarket in new places as well! This is such an honest and emotional account  and I just love his sexy red rental car.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Early Learning Centre apologises and changes website in response to complaints about sexist language

Finally, here is the follow up post I promised after the brief one I e-mailed earlier.

I am delighted to report that, after Jennie, I and others encouraged our readers to complain to the Early Learning Centre regarding the wording on their website which suggested that girls should dress up in nurses' outfits while the doctors' ones were for boys, the relevant section has changed from this:

"For the little princess in the family we have great feminine outfits like Butterfly Fairy, Sleeping Beauty, Ballerina and Nurse’s uniform. Why not add a medical case for that extra touch of authenticity.
The boys are catered for too, with great Doctor, Policeman & Fireman uniforms, not to mention fantastic Pirate and Knight costumes"

"The whole world is a stage and we have an incredible line-up of classic children’s dressing up outfits that your little ones will love. ELC stock a great range of activity toys for babies including sensory ball pits, play mats, baby gyms and baby ride on toys to ensure your child can learn to move, play and develop in a safe and happy environment.

Our children’s costumes and outfits are perfect for fancy dress parties or for that all-important performance, be it at home or in the school play. Dressing up encourages your child to express themselves in a fun and educational way, serving to increase their long-term confidence."

This is the text of the e-mail I received earlier:

Dear Caron Lindsay,                                              
Thank you for your e-mail to our customer service team.
Following our previous response to your original email regarding the content on our website about our dressing up and role play outfits, we would like to add the following,
We apologise for the inappropriate wording that was placed on dressing up product page, it is certainly not our intention to promote stereotyping and we fully appreciate this does not represent our brand values. At Early Learning Centre we pride ourselves on offering a huge range of toys and in an assortment of colours for customers to choose from and our photography throughout our website and catalogue features boys ironing, girls playing with space aliens, boys playing with dolls, boys cooking and pushing buggies, girls building and playing with remote control insects.
As a direct result of your feedback we immediately removed the text concerned from the website regarding the dressing up outfits and would like to thank you for bringing this to our attention.
We are extremely sorry for any disappointment or upset caused. I hope this information is of help and I have gone some way to restoring your faith in the Early Learning Centre.   

This is good news and it just goes to show that it is worth complaining because sometimes these companies will listen. I really appreciate the fact that several people I know of complained to the Early Learning Centre as a result of reading the post here and that will be the same for the other bloggers who brought it up.

+++ Breaking News: Early Learning Centre removes sexist language from website

My laptop has been taken over by 11 year olds but I've just checked my e-mail & found a message from the Early Learning Centre in response to the complaint I sent them on Tuesday night regarding the way their dressing up outfits were marketed, specifying, among other things, that nurses' outfits were for girls & doctors' outfits for boys.

They have removed that language.

I'm speechless but thrilled that they have acted so quickly. I only boosted the signal raised by Jennie & others, as did Stephen.

I know that ELC received several complaints as a result of my post alone so their customer services Department must have been busy. Credit to them for taking such decisive action so quickly.

I'll update more fully when I can get back on the laptop. Thanks to all who raised this with ELC.

A Voyage Round my Blogroll - Part the Second

Here's the next instalment in a new regular feature where I introduce the bloggers on my blogroll, letting you know why they are there and how I got to know them.

First up is Sara's Always win when you're singing blog. I first came across Sara Tustin as she then was when she was in SDP Students standing for the NUS Executive in the 1980s. I was much too scared to even dare speak to someone as important as she was way back then, but then in the 90s we were both involved in the first Liberal Democrat internet conferencing and got to know each other better then. She's solidly liberal, and someone who's instincts I trust.  She is also the domestic goddess of the Liberal Democrats and in between baking up a storm to send to by-elections (an army marches on its stomach after all), she posts recipes as well as fantastically insightful political stuff. She has a good grip on real life as this piece in which she takes a London councillor and assembly member to task for thinking he's worth his massive salary.

I first came across Meemalee's Kitchen a few months ago during the finals of this year's Masterchef. MiMi is writing  a Burmese cookbook and her food blog contains recipes, restaurant reviews and a lot of Masterchef stuff. She is hilarious and irreverent. She's also a great person to chat to on Twitter - and she likes Doctor Who. What's not to love? Now that Celebrity Masterchef is up and running, she is going to be unmissable.

Rocky Larusso spent a year as an intern in Willie Rennie's office in London a few years ago. He came up to visit the constituency office and was great fun. He recently starting blogging and his first posts have ranged from the re-opening of Kentish Town baths (saved from closure by a Lib Dem campaign), the AV referendum and his recent holiday in Stockholm, where he chatted with Swedish young people about state control of alcohol sales and its effect on binge drinking.

Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting, despite his move to London, remains one of the giants of the Scottish blogosphere. He's not tribal - in fact, he's not even that sure he believes in independence, but he's always interesting. He's a fair bit to the right of me both economically and socially and caused controversy the other week with this post suggesting that a ban on Islamic veil might be a good thing.

If you want a liberal slant on legal issues, then Jack of Kent is the best place to go. He doesn't always come up with the conclusions you want to hear, but he is always meticulously researched and writes in a much more readable and engaging style than you'd expect from a lawyer. He's been involved in a number of libel cases on a pro bono basis and has recently written on the decision not to prosecute Ian Tomlinson, the Gray/Hilton libel case which has significance for bloggers and the recent Twitterstorm surrounding Gillian McKeith. The one I'm choosing to link to is the post in which he defends Cllr John Dixon, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillor who has been put up before the Standards people for calling scientology stupid.

An Alternative Vote and Gerrymandering Round Up

Labour's behaviour over the Government's plans for electoral reform has infuriated me. It's as if they think that shouting loud and using nasty words like gerrymandering will make mud stick particularly to the Liberal Democrats. Well, it's no substitute for the intelligent, reasoned debate that people are entitled to expect.

I was going to write about this in greater detail but on this occasion I'm bowing out because so many other people have already done it better. Instead, here's a round up of some of the best of the articles on electoral reform:

First of all, have a look at this video which explains AV:

Now everybody knows that the Liberal Democrat policy is for proportional representation and that AV is not proportional. I've long felt lukewarm towards it and have expressed the view that a referendum on AV isn't really that great. I still feel like that, although the lovely elephant's words do make me feel a little warmer to it, particularly the bit about politicians having to engage outside their natural voters. That in itself makes politics healthier. 

Fred Carver gave the opposite point of view on Liberal Democrat Voice and I found that I actually disagreed with him - politics is the art of the possible, after all, and at least this is a move away from first past the post which is really discredited as an electoral system.

On the other aspects of the Government's reforms, namely the equalisation of constituency boundaries, Mark Thompson gives Labour blog Left Foot Forward a right old fisking.

Martin Kettle writes in today's Guardian about the damage Labour is doing to its own credibility by the position it's taking on this Bill:

"Be clear, therefore, that Labour is not trying to protect fairness from those who would destroy it but to perpetuate an unfairness from which Labour itself benefits. Inequality of constituencies is not the only source of bias in the electoral system – but it is certainly one of them. For the past five parliaments it has been biased towards Labour. No amount of red herrings about the danger of reducing the number of MPs, or the inappropriateness of including more than one major change in the same bill, should be permitted to distract from the essential propriety of correcting that bias. To claim this bill should be opposed because it is partisan is not just opportunism, it is an Orwellian inversion of the truth."

Our own James Graham argues that Labour may actually have a point on some of the issues it raises about the equalisation of constituencies particularly in respect of the amount of casework there is in urban areas where registration is low, but that their current attitude precludes proper scrutiny and attempts to find a solution.

"So there are genuine social justice problems that need to be ironed out of this legislation. Unfortunately, by focusing on the false gerrymandering charge, Jack Straw puts party self-interest above the public good and only ensures that the debate in parliament becomes more heated. In doing so, the possibility of MPs working across parties to give the bill proper scrutiny recedes. It is at best self-defeating and at worse a deeply cynical attempt to derail the coalition which has nothing to do with the real issues that are at stake"

There is to me a certain irony in Labour shouting, nay, screeching, to anyone who will listen that we've abandoned our principles by going into coalition with the Tories while at the same time abandoning their own principles to try to destabilise the coalition and perpetuate a situation that benefits them.  I just hope that common sense prevails and that that the ensuing debate on these measures is serious and actually deals with the issues at hand. I won't be holding my breath, though.

Update: Do you know, some people! While I was actually writing this post Stephen produced a brilliant riposte in which he discussed how Labour are abandoning all their key principles and then backed it up with a personal example from West Lothian as to how Labour really care about keeping communities together.

2nd update: and still they keep on coming - although this from Cicero might well have been here earlier and I missed it. But it's good.

Some more good ideas from the Your Freedom site

I've just been having a look around Your Freedom, the site set up at the instigation of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg where we are asked for our suggestions of unnecessary laws to repeal in the Freedom Bill to be published in the next session of Parliament.

Here are some ideas I've come across that I think are worth considering:

A couple of weeks ago I had a prescription to pick up. I went to the pharmacy but was told I'd have to wait an hour or so because the locum pharmacist was on lunch. Fair enough. When I returned, the pharmacist had indeed returned from lunch, but had disappeared, nobody knew where, from the shop floor. They couldn't simply give me the medication which the pharmacist had made up and sealed because they weren't qualified to do so. When the pharmacist eventually re-appeared some 10 minutes later, the assistant behind the counter went and got my medicine and handed it to me. The pharmacist had no input into this transaction whatsoever. She could have given me anybody's medicine. Requiring the pharmacist to oversee all transactions seems to be one of these pieces of bureaucracy we could do without. I certainly wasn't any safer for his presence and it was time consuming and inconvenient. I wasn't surprised to see that someone else had already suggested repeal on Your Freedom.

Then there's this excellent contribution from Mike Brady of Baby Milk Action who calls for a simplification of the Infant Formula and Follow on Formula Regulations in order to bring it into line with the International Code on the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes. This is long overdue. I am fed up of going into supermarkets and seeing promotions and displays of formula that I am fairly certain aren't legal and nothing can be done about. I was really annoyed a few years ago when Katie Price did an interview with OK Magazine which extolled the virtues of formula and around it were advertisements for the brand she was using but the Advertising Standards authority and Trading Standards between them didn't have enough power, and there were sufficient loopholes in the legislation so nothing was done. I felt that that formula manufacturer and the publisher were basically laughing at the Code.

Formula promotion undermines breastfeeding and Mike Brady's proposal shows how much money the NHS could save even if there was a modest increase in breastfeeding rates.

Imagine if you made some mistakes early in y our life which resulted in you getting a  criminal record. You want to lead a law abiding life, but what chance do you have if potential employers reject you simply on the basis of you declaring your previous offences as you are required to do by law? This proposal suggests that employers should not be allowed to reject someone purely on the basis of their declared, unspent convictions.  I'm not sure whether that would actually result in more ex offenders getting jobs, but I think it's worth looking at barriers to employment ex offenders face. It's a big success if someone is able to turn their life around and if we believe in rehabilitation, as I do, we have to help people get into work. Obviously there are some offences which would mean that it's not appropriate for someone to work with vulnerable people, whether children or the elderly, but this proposal is a good starting point to considering how we can help ex offenders re-establish themselves.

I include this idea on dealing with homophobic bullying at school to highlight the fact that the Coalition Agreement specifically includes help for schools to tackle this. This is something else that Liberal Democrats can be proud of because I doubt the Tories would have introduced this on their own.

The abolition of control orders is for me a must. Detention without trial or charge or even knowing why the order has been issued is so fundamentally unjust and this practice must be stopped.

A proposal for an evidence based drugs policy is exactly what we need. The alternative point of view has been failing for too long.

Ending 28 day detention without charge- which is, by the way, Liberal Democrat policy. This is as good a time as any to point out the excellent speech made by Julian Huppert, new Lib Dem MP for Cambridge on the subject a few weeks ago when he concluded:

"We do face a serious situation, and we do need to have the right tools to combat terrorism, but 28-day detention without trial is not the right one. It causes too much collateral damage in its effect on our civil liberties and the message that we send to others who might be considering such issues and those who look up to us from other countries. I urge hon. Members to reject 28 days."

The Government is currently reviewing this provision and should report back in the Autumn with future proposals.

I hope you've found this interesting and that it's encouraged and inspired you to put your ideas up on this site for discussion.

Fun and frolics at Wagamama

I had an absolutely brilliant time at Wagamama in Livingston last night with Andrew, Stephen and Elspeth, It's my birthday on Saturday so we had an early celebration.

Elspeth is a long time fan of Wagamama and I've really enjoyed the meals I've had there but it was a new experience for Andrew and Stephen. I ended up mistakenly ordering a vegetarian dish, the yasai yaki soba, which had egg, beansprouts, peppers, onions and garlic with fried shallots, pickled ginger, sesame seeds and coriander vinegar. Despite the lack of chicken and shrimp, which Elspeth had, it was absolutely delicious - packed with very well balanced and individually defined flavours. I think I might even order that one again.  Andrew and Stephen had the Katsu curry, which I'd tried before and liked - it's basically a big chicken nugget (or butternut squash and aubergine as Stephen had it) with curry sauce, a big pile of sticky rice and salad.

We'd ordered 3 side dishes, but ended up with 4 by mistake. Elspeth and Andrew weren't keen on the gyoza which, for their information, contained grilled chicken and vegetables, saying that they had a bit of a weird aftertaste. I have to say I've always had the deep fried duck version before so the softer, almost soft rubbery texture of the steamed ones was different. They didn't look very appetising to be honest - a bit like chyrsalises in a way, but they were fine to taste although by far the most bland dish of the night. We also had tori kara age - fried chicken with chilli and garlic and another delicious chicken dish from the specials menu that was packed with chilli and garlicky flavour. Our bonus prize was the ebi katsu - deep fried breaded prawns with a spicy chilli and garlic sauce. They really don't hold back on their garlic there - a practice I admire as I think there are some things you can never have too much of.

When it was time for pudding, I thought that I was going to be in for a difficult decision - I'd had the white chocolate and ginger cheesecake with the chilli and toffee sauce before and it was amazingly good. Vying for my attention, though, was chocolate cake with dark chocolate wasabi sauce which I'd also been very keen to try. Fortunately, my mind was made up for me because they'd run out of the chilli toffee sauce. The cake itself was soft and rich and topped with a thin layer of creamy frosting and while you got a kick from the sauce, the wasabi didn't overwhelm it.

All this was washed down by a lovely bottle of Pinot Grigio for the three non drivers. The company was excellent and lots of laughs were had. Mr Reeves only occasionally lets the world know on his blog what a smutty mind he has, but in real life that's very different.

It was the sort of night that makes you forget about the actual pain of turning 43 for a little while.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Year on Caron's Musings Part 2 - my favourite posts

As part of my end of term nostalgia, I've been looking back at the last year on this blog, a year that's covered an election and its long build up,  the historic formation of the first coalition government I've seen in my lifetime as well as one containing Liberal Democrats, a new Doctor Who and Michael Schumacher coming back to F1. How much excitement can one year hold?

Anyway, last week I published a list of the top then most popular posts of the last year as determined by Google Analytics. Now, I thought I'd go back down memory lane to share some of my favourites which didn't make the top ten.

First up, there was my view of the intrusive, unnecessary and authoritarian Vetting and Barring scheme planned by the Labour Government to keep our children safe.

I wondered if I'd missed something when Labour were so opposed to the new Government's idea of when Parliament should be dissolved.

I was so angry when Gordon Brown outlined his plans to stigmatise teenage mothers because, you know, getting pregnant is all their fault.

I wrote several posts around the time the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdel Basset Mohmed al-Megrahi. I believed then, and still believe that it was the right thing to do on compassionate grounds. I don't for one moment think that Kenny MacAskill was inflluenced by BP or anyone else, although I had doubts about the process. This post sums up a lot of my thinking at the time.

I was pleased that this review of the Holyrood debate on Megrahi's release was praised by people from various sides as being fair. I do try.

When Nicola Sturgeon faced the wrath of the Scottish Parliament, I was concerned that constituency casewor was becoming a political football.

I celebrated Valentine's Day by looking back at how I met my husband - and it involved lentils.

This slightly tipsy post on Labour's new slogan earlier this year makes me happy because I think it was the first time the Lovely Elephant linked to me.

Talking of elephants, the march of the pregnant ones commenced in March - or, rather, here's my F1 season preview.

But that was after I'd had a whole litter of kittens in sheer excitement at the thought of Mr Schumacher's return.

It was the election and the aftermath that caused many emotional highs and lows. When you're a peace loving leftie liberal hippy, the idea of working with Tories does not come easy, to put it mildly, especially when you're completely exhausted and your emotions have been through the wringer after the worst election night ever.  There was the wait for news, weighing up the options, watching it start to take shape with an eery feeling of surreality, seeing Nick enter Downing Street for the first time.  Since then we've had my splitting of the Coalition Agreement into the good, the meh and the "lock me in a cupboard with the gin bottle", the relative high of the Queen's speech and the awfulness of the Budget, tempered by Danny Alexander rocking the Commons.

What's clear is that this rollercoaster still has some way to run - and I will be musing my way through the twists and turns, peaks and troughs of the Lib Dems' first experience of Government at Westminster in my lifetime.

While I'm coping with the slings and arrows of outraged Labourites, and alternating between feeling glad that Lib Dems are implementing Lib Dem policies and feeling faintly nauseous at some of the Tory stuff we're letting through, I shall continue to be distracted by trashy tv, not so trashy Doctor Who and lovely men on bikes. This blog is as much therapy as it is an meander round Liberal Democrat thinking.

So that's it for the nostalgia at the moment. I hope you've enjoyed this little retrospective and have found stuff you haven't read before.  We're done with the navel gazing - until next year!

A Reply from the Early Learning Centre regarding their sexist marketing

Late last night, I blogged this in outrage at the Early Learning Centre's appallingly sexist marketing of their dressing up outfits.

I wrote to them saying that I was horrified that they were marketing nurse outfits directed at girls and doctor outfits directed at boys. I think that limiting the ambitions of kids who are barely out of nappies is unacceptable and not appropriate for the 21st century.

Nor is it really appropriate to push girls to the passive and sparkly, leaving all the action of the pirate, superhero and cowboy to the boys.

My experience of providing a wide range of dressing up outfits is that both genders will wear just about anything. Both girls and boys will get in there with the cloppy shoes and the tutus as much as the Batman outfit or whatever. Each child is individual and what they like should be up to them. They should not be enslaved by the Early Learning Centre's narrow gender stereotyping.

Anyway, I had a reply saying:

Dear Ms Lindsay,

Thank you for your recent email.
It's not our intention to promote stereotyping or sexism, especially to young, possibly impressionable children so I can only apologise that you feel this had been the case. Please be assured that you comments will be passed onto the head office for their consideration.
I have replied saying that I'd like a further reply when this has been discussed at Head Office and I would be happy to discsuss this with them in person.
We shall see...........

Why the midges love my husband

My poor husband Bob has been plagued by midges and other assorted beasties all his life. They find him oh so tasty! Now it looks like we know why.

Apparently, according to research reported in today's Telegraph,  they go for tall men. Men don't really come that much taller than Bob, who's 6 ft 4.

It's a shame, really, because there's not much we can do about it. It's not as if he can stop being tall.

They never used to bother me, but have started to in recent years, possibly because of all the weight I've piled on while being ill and not being able to exercise.

Sensibly, then, we've decided to go to Midge Den for our holidays - a cottage in the Highlands. That'll be fun. On the advice of a friend, who swears by it, I've bought some Avon Skin so Soft to see if that gets rid of them. I'll let you know if it works.

How my lovely husband calms me down

I bought my husband a posh new camera for his birthday exactly a month ago.  He loves it and then some.

He's taken to disappearing as the sun goes down to take photos of clouds.

When he came back last night, he found me in a state of high dudgeon about this.

He couldn't calm me down with words, so he sent me this instead.

It was taken just up the road.

After 23 years, he seems to have worked out how to calm me down. I think it's a beautiful photo so thought I'd share it with you.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What century are the Early Learning Centre living in?

Well, I was actually feeling quite mellow and cheery, having just written a blogpost meandering down memory lane which you will read at a later date.

Then I looked at Jennie's blog, because I always hang on her every word and what I saw there made me very angry indeed.

She pointed out this on the Early Learning Centre website. It's their dressing up outfit page.


For the little princess in the family we have great feminine outfits like Butterfly Fairy, Sleeping Beauty, Ballerina and Nurse’s uniform. Why not add a medical case for that extra touch of authenticity.
The boys are catered for too, with great Doctor, Policeman & Fireman uniforms, not to mention fantastic Pirate and Knight costumes

Who the mucky duck (rhyming slang, don't you know) do the Early Learning Centre think they are marketing their dressing up outfits in such an appallingly outdated and misogynistic way?

Conditioning 3 year olds into thinking that girls are nurses and boys are doctors is an absolute outrage. I kind of thought we'd moved on.

How very dare they try to limit the ambitions of girls and the expectations of boys who are barely out of nappies?

I showed it to Anna who commented that that "wasn't very nice." Although she does like cuddly, pink and sparkly things, she also loves Doctor Who, planets and dinosaurs.

If you are similarly outraged, please complain to them here. Please also join me in refusing to buy anything from them until they change that wording.

Cuddle your baby to help make them a happier adult

Anyone who's ever been on a customer service course for work will no doubt have been given some variation on the theme of "behaviour breeds behaviour".  You know, if you're nice and calm and pleasant to someone and it looks like you really care about them, then they are likely to respond in kind. If you ignore them, or patronise them or lie to them, they are going to get angry, and understandably so.

That common sense approach, of treating others in the way you would want to be treated has positive benefits for all of human relationships - with, some would say, one exception.

Regime orientated parenting methods, some of which have every minute of the day planned in excruciatingly unachievable detail, encourage parents to treat their tiny babies as if they are animals to be trained rather than little people to be nurtured. Gina Ford suggests that babies be put to sleep, alone, in rooms that have been completely blacked out and if they cry, then let them.  There are other methods which discourage eye contact between mother and baby and not responding to baby's cries. Instinctively I feel that these methods are unbelievably cruel and I would never practice or advocate them, but do they actually cause harm?

Some new research has proven that babies who are shown affection by their mothers end up being better able to cope as adults in a range of situations - they are less prone to depression and better at dealing with stress, for a start. It seems so obvious, but it's good this now adds to the growing body of evidence that responsive parenting and gentle nurturing produce happier, better balanced adults who are more able to cope with the stresses life throws at them.

This sort of research is important because it gives mums the confidence to follow their own instincts with their babies rather than fear spoiling them by being over attentive. It's useful for them to have that sort of evidence to show family members who are doubtful about what they are doing.

I think the other thing that's good about this research is that it specifically states that it's the affection from the mother which makes the difference. I don't think that we value mothering or mothers nearly enough but this research shows how important that relationship is in determining our emotional wellbeing in later life. There's a really good book called What mothers do especially when it looks like nothing that has a look at what happens when you become a mother and how important it is to spend time building trust with the baby by responding to them.  Our society is very quick to blame a mother when anything goes wrong with her child, but very slow to reward and give mothers credit for their phenomenal work raising the next generation.

I hope that research like this, showing unequivocally that being affectionate with and responsive to babies, finally discredits those who would undermine the mother/baby relationship. There are lots of complex inter-relationships between mother and baby, on a physical and emotional level,  that we much about with at our peril.

As Dr Joanna Maselko, the lead author of the research says:

"These provocative findings add to the growing evidence that early childhood helps set the stage for later life experiences and provide support for the notion that biological "memories" laid down early may alter psychological and physiological systems and produce latent vulnerabilities or resilience to problems emerging later in adulthood.
"Thus, the quality of early socio-emotional development may have more far-reaching effects than previously believed.
"These findings suggest that early nurturing and warmth have long-lasting positive effects on mental health well into adulthood."
Given the huge social and financial cost of mental health problems such as Depression, and drug and alcohol addiction which cause immense suffering for people who are rarely sufficiently supported and treated, isn't it time that we use evidence such as this to try to prevent it? The message is simple - affection in the early years of life pays dividends in the future. That's not to say that everyone who suffers from these conditions wasn't shown affection as a baby, but that will be a factor for some people.

Nick Clegg promises Recall Elections legislation next year

Nick Clegg scored another Lib Dem win for the Coalition Government by revealing at today's Deputy Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. In response to a question by Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire Jo Swinson, he announced that legislation will be introduced next year to give constituents the right to sack an MP convicted of serious wrongdoing.

Under this proposal, if 10% of constituents expressed a wish for a recall election, it would be held.

Nick called for this last year - in fact it was one of a raft of proposals he wanted enacted over last Summer instead of MPs going on holiday. The other party leaders eventually came round to agreeing with him.

Other highlights of the session included:

  • Nick being very passionate on meaningful devolution of power to the people, giving them real power on things like health and policing;
  • David Blunkett making an idiot of himself by saying that nothing should be done as regards equal constituencies until 100% of people were on the electoral register. It was easy for Nick to compare Labour's inaction in 13 years on this with their assiduousness on it now.
  • A Tory asking about the Great Repeal Bill and Nick answering by using our term for it, the Freedom Bill. I think our's sounds much better and more positive.
  • Jack Straw prefacing a question about who's in charge of the Government during holidays with the phrase "assuming he and the Prime Minister aren't on holiday in Montana today." I suggest he reads Liberal England on this - and reflects on Jonathan's definition of ignorant which is utterly appropriate in this instance.
  • A Labour MP made a futile attempt to make political capital by stating 150 Labour MPs voted against Iraq war and asking how many of Nick's coalition partners did. Nick dealt with that very effectively by praising the MPs who voted against.
I think Nick's becoming much more assured, while continuing true to his own principles and personality, in dealing with these occasions. Yes, Jo fed him an easy question, which I normally don't like to see, but it did enable him to give the House new and meaningful information so we'll overlook that this once.

Expert calls for Formula Marketing Watchdog

A respected neonatologist has called for the establishment of a body to police the implementation on the International Code on the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes. Professor Stewart Forsyth, whose research into infant feeding in Dundee found breastfeeding can reduce inequalities in child health, made the plea in an article for the Archive of Diseases in Childhood.

This seems to me to be an extremely good idea. He is right that the formula milk industry claims that it's abiding by the code, while organisations like Baby Milk Action are continually finding evidence of breaches. There is nobody who looks at the evidence and ensures that the Code is enforced.

It's important that parents across the world are given accurate information about the choices they make with regard to how they feed their babies. It's in everybody's interests to ensure that the International Code is adhered to by formula manufacturers.

I hope that our guy in the Department of Health, Paul Burstow, pursues this. I also read this morning on Helen Duffett's Facebook page that Nick Clegg will be speaking on the Monday of our Conference because he's heading off to the UN. What a good opportunity that would be to pursue this with other Governments and save the 1.5 million lives that are lost every year through unsafe formula feeding across the World.

Nick Clegg's Deputy Prime Minister's Questions today at 11.30 am

This is just a PSA to say that Nick is doing Deputy Prime Minister's Questions in around half an hour.

The first session was an hour before the Budget and I knew I was going to be writing about that all day so I very disloyally spent it out on a sunbed catching some rays.  It was very unlike me to be so sensible and pace myself, but I think it did me some good.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to watching today's session. I guess it's too much to hope that Labour MPs will be so excited by their upcoming holidays that they'll behave like human beings, but we'll see. I live in hope.

If you're around, I shall be tweeting my way through watching it on BBC Parliament.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Caron's Corkers - 26th July

This is a bit of a bumper edition tonight as I'm catching up on a few days' fantastic blogging. These are some of the must-read posts I've found.

First up, I was appalled that Bellgrove Belle was expected to sit on a cold floor to feed her baby.

Tracy Cheetham is a Labour tweeter and blogger. Here she outlines her experience of recovery from Cancer.

Lynne Featherstone, Equalities Minister, outlines how the Liberal Democrats' Body Confidence campaign will be carried through in Government.

Helen has news of the BOTYs

Mat is worried that a Creationist Zoo has won a Government backed award - and I can't say I blame him.

Stephen writes on the passing of Hurricane Higgins.

Finally, Cathode Ray Tube reviews the Doctor Who Prom

Stop BAA taxing elderly, disabled and families at Edinburgh Airport

I am not best pleased that BAA have decided to charge £1 for access to a drop-off area close to the terminal at Edinburgh Airport.

They try to say that there will be a free drop-off area at the long stay car park and people can get a bus to the airport.

Oh well, that's fine then.

Or at least it's fine if you're young, fit, male and flying without young children.

If you're disabled you might be able to struggle to get a bus in the Summer, assuming that they provide wheelchair accessible buses but what if you have to wait for ages in the cold and dark in the Winter?

Ditto if you're elderly.

If you're female, you may not want to stand potentially alone on a dark Winter's morning for safety reasons.

If you have young children, even if there are two of you, managing a toddler and a baby, plus car seat and buggy out of the car that drops you off and on to a bus is going to be a nightmare.

So it's those groups who will be paying the charge.

Your affluent professional worker travelling alone will be able to avoid this tax with ease.

That's why BAA's decision to make a fast buck out of people by imposing this charge is completely and utterly wrong. I'm glad to see that Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart and MSP Margaret Smith are campaigning against it.

If you agree with them, please join me in signing their petition here.

Could Fast Track Deportation Judgement help Florence and Precious?

I've just seen it reported on the BBC website that the Goverment's policy of fast track deportation has been ruled unlawful by the High Court. Yet again, the UK Border Agency has been shown to get it wrong.

I wonder if this could possibly help Florence and Precious Mhango who are currently living in Glasgow. They have already in the past been detained and actually put on an aircraft for Malawi before being granted a last minute reprieve.

I am not an immigration legal expert, but I wonder if making sure everyone has the right to challenge removal orders will allow the Court to focus solely on Precious' wellbeing. I hope that is the case - although I would point out that Home Secretary Theresa May could end this now by using her discretion to allow them to stay here as so many in the local community want.

I was almost in tears last night when I read MSP Anne McLaughlin's latest impassioned blog posting. I know this situation is hardest for Florence and Precious, but don't under-estimate the effect on those who are trying to help them. I know what it's like to lose sleep over people's situations so I have huge amounts of empathy with Anne. Casework is not just a pile of paperwork a representative has to get through.. Each file represents a life in turmoil. I know that she has done and will continue to do everything she possibly can for Florence and Precious and for this deserves our respect, admiration and support.

F1: Fuming at Ferrari after Felipe Fiasco

I didn't write about yesterday's German Grand Prix yesterday partly because I was too angry, partly because I had to go out, and partly when I got back in I'd had a few glasses of very nice fizzy wine. By the way, thank you, Charles and Siobhan, for that.

18 hours from the end of the race has done nothing to dampen my fury at what happened 18 laps from the end of the race.

At this point, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa was in the lead. Not by much, but he had been leading the race from the start having taken advantage of an aggressive move by pole sitter Sebastian Vettel which took him and Alonso out of contention.

Massa has not had the best season, and is well behind in the World Drivers' Championship. On the other hand, Fernando Alonso badly needed a win to boost his challenge for this year's title. Yesterday he started out around 50 points adrift of leader Lewis Hamilton and the 25 points for victory put him a mere 34 points behind.

Alonso clearly wasn't chuffed about being stuck behind his team-mate as a team radio transmission of him saying "this is ridiculous" shows.

Ted Kravitz, the BBC's man in the pitlane told us that there seemed to be a robust discusssion going on at Ferrari.

Over team radio we heard Massa's engineer, Rob Smedley, tell him that he could win this.

Smedley and Massa have a really close and trusting working relationship. Rob Smedley has never been allowed to forget the radio call to  a stressed Massa during the washout Malaysian grand prix last year in which he addresed him as "Felipe, baby." Massa has a whole load of trust and confidence in him in a relationship that's been built up over 5 years.

At 18 laps to go, with Alonso having failed to pass Massa on his own, Smedley said over the radio to Massa in a tone that implied that he was not happy about the task he'd been given:

"Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm that you've understood this message".

A few moments later, Massa slowed down and moved over so Alonso could pass him, depriving himself of a race victory.

Smedley then said to him. "Good lad, sorry"

To me that seems an utterly blatant breach of Article 39.1 of the Sporting Regulations which states that

"Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited."

This isn't the first time that we've seen something like that this season - in Turkey Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button had a superb sparring session between them brought to a halt by their engineers telling them they had to save fuel, which effectively maintained Lewis' lead over Jenson in the race.  Telling a driver not to attack, though is not the same as manipulating a result so that one driver gives his place to his team-mate.

Maximising points is important for teams, because their position in the Constructors' Championship impacts on the sponsorship they can attract. However, Ferrari is hardly short of a bob or two and they were heading for maximum points in the race regardless of the order in which their drivers finished.

After the race, Michael Schumacher eloquently and articulately presented the case for what Ferrari had done, saying that teams had to make decisions based on obtaining the best result for the team, and saying how those extra points for Alonso might be crucial if it came down to a close fight for the Drivers' title at the end of the season.

Schumi, of course, and Ferrari, was the reason the rule on team orders was introduced in the first place because of this incident:

At the time I was absolutely horrified to see Rubens Barrichello allow Michael Schumacher past him on the finish line, sacrificing his own well deserved victory at the request of his team.  I didn't like it then and I don't like it now.

The video clip shows that Rubens pulled over after then Ferrari team boss Jean Todt handed then technical director Ross Brawn a note.  Jean Todt is now head of the FIA, the body in charge of the sport. It reacted to this by fining Ferrari $100,000. To a team of great wealth, this is the equivalent of you or I having our Starbucks coffee money taken off us. They are being referred to the World Motorsport Council, but I won't hold my breath about anything coming out of that.

The recipient of the note in 2002, Ross Brawn, had to watch two of his drivers compete for the championship until the very last race of last season. He took the decision to let them fight it out amongst themselves with the proviso that they didn't take each other off. I think that promoted good relations across the whole team and was a highly sensible approach. In fact, having been beaten, Rubens Barrichello lent Jenson his private plane so he could stay a bit longer in Brazil and party after he won the championship there in the penultimate race of the season.

I always think that teams get the best out of drivers if they let them compete openly and don't try to manipulate things. Surely that's the way to better results. Much better to have two motivated drivers than one who's just there as the spare.

Christian Horner of Red Bull Racing would do well to follow Ross Brawn's example with his two drivers, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, either of whom could still win the championship. Twice this season the team has seemed to favour Vettel. The first time was in Turkey when Vettel pulled a daft move on Webber while they were 1st and 2nd and put himself out of the running and demoting Webber to 3rd where he finished. The team initially put the blame on Webber for this incident although they later retracted it. This didn't help when Mark Webber had his new upgraded front wing taken off him and given to Sebastian Vettel at Silverstone a few weeks later.

Now, I like both drivers - indeed they are together at 6 and 7 of my list of drivers. I think the Red Bull management has been shocking, though. The team has now come to an agreement that any upgrades will be given first to the driver in the leading position in the championship. As an aside, Eddie Jordan cheekily but cleverly asked Christian Horner on Saturday if this meant that there would be no upgrades available while Mark Webber was in top position.  Undoubtedly, there has been a great deal of unpleasantness which, with a bit of better management, could have been avoided.

I should be thrilled to bits at a Ferrari 1-2 today, delighted to see both drivers on the podium. I feel flat, though, because victory for Felipe was taken off him. Alonso may well have managed to get past him on his own without manipulation of the situation. I'm not alone. Twitter has been alight with fans complaining about what happened. The crowd in Germany were virtually silent when Alonso and Massa were given their prizes on the podium before erupting in support for Vettel, who finished third.

Yesterday's events were all the more poignant given that it was a year to the day since Felipe Massa had had that horrific accident in Hungary which put him out for the remainder of last season with a serious head injury. At that time, the Ferrari mechanics made a sign which they displayed before the race on Sunday 26th July saying Forza Felipe, Siamo con te, or Strengh, Felipe, we are with you. Regrettably, Hockenheim yesterday proved that sentiment was conditional.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

F1: 2010 drivers in order of preference

Yesterday during quali, Sarah, Kayleigh and I were talking about putting this year's drivers in order of how much we liked them based on not much more than our gut instincts towards them. Sarah and Kayleigh published their lists separately and now here is mine.

The two places about which there could be no doubt were first and last and that held true for the others, too with all of us having a common last place. My original list posted on Twitter didn't include Sakon Yamamoto but I guess he can't be blamed for all the musical cars at Hispania Racing so he's in this one.

So, here goes:

The Top Ten

1.  Schumi - who else, really?
2.  Rubens - the nicest guy in F1 ever
3 . Felipe Massa - Ferrari's finest and amazingly brave after horrible accident last year
4.  Heikki Kovalainen - great to see him happy and settled at Lotus this year
5.  Karun Chandhok - so courteous, takes everything in his stride, trainee Rubens
6.  Mark Webber - fantastic driver, occasionally lets heart rule head but forgivably so
7 . Sebastian Vettel - incredibly talented and I find him impossible to dislike
8.  Nico Rosberg - he's funny and has settled in well at Mercedes
9.  Jarno Trulli - the Trains are bigger, but he's lovely and has a vineyard
10.Robert Kubica - conscientiously helping Renault get back on course to challenge for the top

The Midfield

11. Fernando Alonso - for talent alone. Not chuffed with some of moves he's pulled on people esp Massa
12. Kamui Kobayashi - so high cos of his brave overtaking moves
13. Nico Hulkenberg - nice guy & lucky to have Rubens as team mate
14. Jenson Button - higher than he would have been in last year's list cos of way he's settled at McLaren
15. Timo Glock - deserves a much better car than he has
16. Pedro De La Rosa - good to see him back
17. Jaime Alguesuari - hasn't set heather on fire but doing ok
18. Adrian Sutil - hasn't entirely lost his unfortunate habit of getting in people's way

The off-radar lot - I don't have anything against this lot but they just haven't drawn my attention that much

19. Tonio Liuzzi
20. Vitaly Petrov
21. Sebastian Buemi
22. Bruno Senna
23. Lucas Di Grassi
24. Sakon Yamomoto

And a long way further down in my estimation

25. Lewis Hamilton, who still shows no sign of being grateful for the opportunites life has thrown at him

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tour de France: can Andy Schleck deliver karma for Contador?

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how I'd developed a huge interest in the Tour De France and since then, my interest has been enhanced by what has been a thrilling race.

The highlights for me have been:

  • Mark Cavendish's struggle to find early form and his return to win 4 stages despite the loss of his main lead out man Mark Renshaw.
  • Renshaw's disqualification for headbutting one opponent and blocking another - which, to be honest, seemed a little harsh in the circumstances.
  • Watching Lance Armstrong in his final Tour and reliving the moment when he ended up riding through a field on a previous tour. which was recreated on the same road this year
  • Seeing British rider Geraint Thomas wear the white jersey for best young rider for the first week

It's amazing that so far the riders have completed around 3500 km - that's somewhere around 2200 miles in old money - and the cumulative time difference between the top 2 riders is 8 seconds. How closely matched can you get? It comes to less than a sixth of a minute after 88 hours of cycling.

It's taken me a while to get used to the Tour vernacular. It is a bit weird to hear a person being referred to as "the yellow jersey" and to get to grips with the protocols and unwritten rules of the cycling world.

One of those unwritten rules is that you don't take advantage of a rival's mechanical problem to further your cause. It appears that this is one of these rules that is honoured in the breach after Spain's Alberto Contador sped past Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, whose chain had fallen off. It took him a minute or so to sort that out but by then, even after he had stormed through the field, his 31 second lead had turned into an 8 second deficit and he had to hand his yellow jersey over to the Spaniard.  The boos directed at Contador on the podium showed how the crowd felt.

This episode meant that Schleck had to attack on the last climb on Thursday. I watched that very scary climb up the Col de Tourmalet with my heart in my mouth and applauded both riders for the way they stuck to each other like glue. The Contador of last year would have shaken off Schleck, but he was not able to do so. He tried to attack and just couldn't get rid of him. Schleck won the stage by a whisker.

That epic climb is well worth watching:

One of the things that amazes me is how the riders can concentrate with spectators coming so close to them as well as motorbikes and cars which provide them with nourishment and support along the way. They are literally inches away from them. I'd be annoyed about people invading my personal space to that extent in real life, but in the middle of a race upon which my career depended it would be unbearable.

While you might think an 8 second deficit might be overcome easily in today's final time trial, most commentators seem to think that because Contador is a better time trialler, Schleck's chance has gone. I say that that seems so last year. It's clear to me that Schleck has had the better race and but for some mechanical misfortune would still be leading by a margin. To me, whatever happens today, he will be the real winner of the Tour de France 2010 - I hope he can find the form to be the actual one too.

I've loved the unpredictability of the race - all the jerseys have been fiercely contested and have changed hands several times. The scenery is absolutely amazing. It's made me want to visit France, which I've never done. Whether going through flat, forested areas, through vineyards and pretty towns, to mountain top villages with very scary drops, this Tour has showcased France beautifully.

I am looking forward to the climax of the sprinters' competition on the Champs Elysees tomorrow - with Mark Cavendish still in with a chance of winning.

Then it's a long wait to next year's start in La Vendee.


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