An Open Letter to Oliver Letwin MP (Con)

Dear Mr Letwin,

I returned home from shopping this lunchtime to find a poor tree had died partly to fund an election “communication” from you , promoted on behalf of your campaign by a Mr Antony Stanley. My first thoughts were to return to sender with instructions on where one could shove it. However I have decided to respond in more detail.

Your election pamphlet was addressed to me here at the Vicarage. You see my wife is a vicar. In fact Mr Letwin you met my wife during the last election campaign. She was introduced to you in her capacity as a local Church minister in Charlton Down and you completely ignored her. Whatever merits or demerits your party may have I would never vote for someone so rude as to completely ignore and refuse to speak to someone in this way. Manners maketh the man and all that.

But let’s move on – I don’t want to make this personal, I have more of a beef with your party than your own lack of manners. As I said your pamphlet was sent to me at the Vicarage. I know it’s not popular among your church going party colleagues but this house, my wife’s position and our family ethos actually has something to do with the teachings of a man called Jesus of Nazareth. Anglican Tories, are happy to miss out all the giving to the poor, helping the needy bit, and instead favour racist immigration policies and demonising of the meekest members of our society. However I feel that your party is the enemy of everything this house, the church and the teachings of Jesus stand for.`

I want to raise a few points for you to explain why I would never vote for you or any other Tory candidate:

1, The Bedroom Tax – a purely malignant policy with two aims, first to divide and demonise the poor and secondly to save a tiny bit of money that could be spent elsewhere such as on rich pensioners. This policy was never about freeing up larger homes for poorer families – the housing stock didn’t exist to downsize people into. But your party went ahead with it anyway.

2, Tory opposition to Labour’s non-dom policy. A grown up intelligent party might have pulled the rug from under Labour by instantly adopting the same policy. Instead you circled the wagons and defended the fat cats that leach on this nation yet pay little tax here. The “all in this together” rings very hollow.

3, The recently announced changes to inheritance tax rules. The wealthy of this nation do not create their wealth in isolation. Our roads, railways, schools etc. are all used as they built their business empires. It seems perfectly reasonable for the rich to make reparations to society when they die. However as usual your party has decided to man the barricades and ensure very little of this money trickles down.

4, The harsh benefit sanctions driving people to starvation and suicide.

5, The lies on the economy. The figures do not bare out Tory claims that Labour wrecked the economy and you are fixing it. Independent figures show GDP fell due to your draconian slash and burn austerity policies.

6, Focus on the few benefit fraudsters when by its own figures the government wastes more benefits in mistakes and overpayments. The continued focus on the unemployed as your demons of society is revolting scapegoating. Pensioners make up the vast bulk of benefit payments, but of course the old vote for you so you will tip toe around the rich pensioners that receive benefits they do not need.

7, Selling off housing association stock. This one is new and a new low. This wrong-headed nonsense would see you sell off prime housing stock at a loss to fund building more expensive homes. It is totally insane. We have precious little social housing as it is and you want to flog it off? Shame on you.

8, Opposition to European human rights laws protecting workers, the disabled, parents, the sick, the poor – basically the laws that protect anyone from your party and its friends.

9, The attempted coup against the Speaker at the end of the last session of Parliament was shady, disgusting work.

10, TTIP – an assault on our freedoms via the back door. Selling off parts of the NHS to American corporations, relaxing banking laws (well it’s not like the banks would get us into trouble eh?), reducing controls on environment and food safety and even an assault on our democracy itself.

11, The Tory campaign has offered little positive. It’s all been about scaring people into voting for you. Daily Mail tactics – make vulnerable poorly educated people too scared to abandon the Tory party. Your pamphlet which I received today features a banner that devotes two thirds of its space to fostering fear of Labour rather than celebrating your party’s own policies. What’s wrong? Not enough positive policies to trumpet? Scared Labour might be right? I wasn’t going to vote Labour, but this pamphlet has me thinking of doing so.

12, George Osborne’s £8bn NHS boost. A completely fictional pile of money, a desperate attempt to win back some credibility on the subject of health. It failed. What kind of minister, or even chancellor, cannot answer a question asked 15 times about where such a large amount of money will come from? I can claim to be eating unicorn bacon for breakfast tomorrow, it’s just as likely as this £8bn being real.

13, The volunteering policy. So people could take time off from work to help a registered charity such as their local posh private school – but not their normal common village primary? What larks.

14, £9000 tuition fees. The children are the future of this nation. The rich pensioners are not. But your party insists on bolstering the past while robbing from the nation’s future. It is sickening. My children will be paying for your follies long after you are gone.

15, Cuts in social care for the old that means hospital beds are blocked by them, making people waiting for treatment wait longer. Like in many areas you make cuts to get headlines but cost us more money in the long run.

16, Protecting the wealthy, the privileged, the powerful. I see plenty of entertainers from the past have been in court – but not so many party colleague that perhaps frequented Dolphin Square. A cynical person might suggest we’re being offered these entertainers as a decoy. I also see plenty of bankers are still free to wander the streets after wrecking our economy, you’re still friends with them and blame Labour for their wrongdoing. Why are these bankers are not in prison? And why do those in desperate need who wrongly make benefit claims find themselves in prison but not former education secretaries who refurnish their kitchen(s) at our expense? On rule for one, eh?

17, The failure to make the likes of Vodafone pay the billions owed in taxes.

18, Closing libraries. What the actual fuck? Why not just go the whole way and burn books at torchlight parades?

I could list many more, but if I don’t put the shopping in the fridge soon some of it may spoil. And so that will do for now. I’m also a bit cross, so I’d rather go have a wagon wheel and some Fanta than bang my head against this uncaring brick wall any longer.

Mr Letwin, I would never ever vote for you or any of your party. You are the enemy of decency and fairness, your party has attacked and vilified the poor, made the poor hungry and sick, made the sick homeless and driven people to their deaths with your selfishness. The policies of your government since 2010 were an all-out war on the most desperate and needy people in our society, the people without a voice, all so you could hoard wealth for rich pensioners, non-doms and your corporate friends.

When children arrive at school hungry and without warm clothing there is something very sick at the top of our society. I am not a party loyalist – I haven’t even decided where my vote will go in May – but one thing is clear, it will never go to those who abuse the weakest members of our society. My late mother brought me up to believe in decency and kindness – and I am not one of those people who can stomach the cognitive dissonance of kneeling on a Sunday but voting to harm the poor on a Thursday.

Good day to you

Harry Neary

Videogame Ghosts

Lack of interactivity is something I’m noticing more and more in games. It’s not that the worlds used to be more interactive – it’s that as the detail in games has increased the level of interactivity has not kept pace. So while the Paris of Assassin’s Creed Unity is a really amazing thing – I’ve spent house exploring it – after a while I felt like a ghost. So many games we move though these amazing worlds without being able to really reach out and touch them.

Perhaps these lonely avatars wandering though Paris or Chicago of Watch Dogs are a metaphor for a lonely generation. Unintended of course. But I want to be able to give money to a beggar in Watch Dogs, or just talk to someone in Unity, tell a busker they are great, hold someone’s hand.

So many games with amazing game worlds and the only time we can touch them is with a blade or a bullet.

Contrasting Days

My twins were eight years old yesterday. Eight. I can hardly believe it. Those eight years have passed so quickly and so slowly. It seems such a short time ago that I held them in my arms for the first time. So short a time since Lanie and I cooed over Patrick as he breathed the open air for the first time. Pat had a slight issue with his breathing for the first few minutes and it sounded like he was saying “ello, ello”. Or as we waited an eternity for Kitty to show signs of life – silent, still, no signs of life for a few seconds. Seconds that seemed an eternity, then she burst into life with a lamb-like cry that had the whole room moved. The struggles of the previous year forgotten as we held our twin babies, our pride and joy. I have never felt as happy as that moment. To see the smile on Lanie’s face, the relief there and the love for our new little family. I shut my eyes right now and picture it. One of life’s most perfect moments.

That was the day we celebrated yesterday. A day very much to celebrate. The day I became a grown up. The day I became a father. A father of twins, no less. I fussed around during the day yesterday. I made them pizzas, I bought a little cake and some other treats. I helped with Lego constructions. I took photos while they opened presents and took in their joy for my own. These children are becoming funny clever people that are wonderful to be around. So today was worthy of celebrating them. I am so very proud of them.

But every year brings that bitter-suite contrast. The hangover. First we have the day of celebration, where I think of those moments when Lanie and I were united in our joy. Then comes the next day. The day of a less happy anniversary. It’s eight years ago today I held a one-day old Patrick in my arms and told the little pink bundle “I’m so sorry Pat, your mummy has just died.” The beginning of an unfolding nightmare of grief and the hardships of solo baby care. I think of Lanie often, I miss her every day. But the anniversary is always a day when I look deeper into the darkness in that direction. I try not to, but one can’t help it.

I’d love to offer some kind of resolution to this. Some kind of lesson here, but it’s hard over the anger that still burns. Hard to offer anything other than “Go fuck yourself Essex NHS”. I miss Lanie. I wish her babies weren’t robbed of her by laziness, negligence and stupidity. I wish a lot of things. Today is my self indulgent day, the day I wallow in it. I’ll be fine tomorrow, back to normal.

Should you be raising a glass today then please think of my twins, raise a glass to them. They are wonderful people. They light up my life. And raise a glass to Lanie, a wonderful woman, my wife, the kindest and funniest person I ever met – and the most wonderful mother that never was. I see her in the twins, I see her smile, her humour, a cheeky twinkle in the eyes. She’s never far from my thoughts. As the years have rolled by I tend to remember the happy over the sad, memories of her bring smiles not tears. Today is the day I allow myself a little self indulgence and wallow in self pity. She was a drama queen too, she’d understand, and allow her grumpy boy a grumpy day.

Lent Sacrifice

I’m not a spiritual person – I don’t give up things for lent as a religious observance. However this year I’ve joined my wife in giving up Twitter and Facebook for lent.

FB is easy. I don’t use it much anyway, there’s only so much bullshit “pass this on” rubbish one can take. “Friends are wonderful, if you have a friend share this to show how much you love them”, “Parents are great, share this if you’re a parent”. You know, that kind of shite.

However I love the discourse of Twitter and already on day one I’m missing it. I’ve had to remove the Tweetdeck icon from my taskbar and from my browser just so I don’t automatically open the program by mistake.

I will likely still post on Twitter/FB without visiting and reading the sites purely because my blog can auto post, I can share links via my browser and I will share links from my Flickr photostream. But the traffic will be one way, it’s just auto stuff, not me getting properly involved in the streams.

I live a long way from my family and have no local friends. I maintain existing friendships via social media – mostly Twitter. So it will be interesting to see how I cope over the next few weeks. It’s an interesting experiment – watch as Harry is shorn of his social contact and slowly goes insane.

Front Element Dust – One Man’s Quest

Maybe others have done this before, but I want to relate a little story of how I solved an issue with my Fujinon 18-55mm and a persistent blob of dust on the inside of the front element.

I had this big piece of dust on the inside front element of the lenses. This didn’t adversely affect the image in any way but was annoying me. I believe it was a dust mite, it even seemed to move around a little and would come towards the edge of the lens when I shone a torch there. But I could not shift it completely, it kept returning to the front element.

I read some advice about killing mites in lenses by freezing. So I sealed the lens in a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer for a few hours. I didn’t release the lens from the bag until it had returned to room temperature. Whatever the dust blob was it didn’t move again after this. But it was still sat there in the middle of the front element. I had killed the beast but not shifted it.

Now I’ve seen all the pictures of smashed front elements still taking pictures. This wasn’t really about image quality, but about something of mine not being how I wanted it. I get that. This was a slightly obsessional thing. And while I have no plans to ever part with this excellent lens I could hardly sell it with a corpse of an invading entity sat their bang in the middle of the front element.

So just now I was looking at this blob of dust and my thoughts went in the direction of the ultrasonic vibration some cameras use to remove dust from the sensor. Many modern cameras shake the sensor at start up and shut down to remove particles of dust. What if made the front element of the lens vibrate? Would that help? What should I use to vibrate the lens?1

I tried my Phillips rotary shaver first. But the damn thing was too smooth. It didn’t vibrate much. I held the body of the shaver against the edge of the lens’ filter ring. No luck. Then I remembered that my beard trimmer vibrated much more as it used reciprocal motion rather than a rotary movement. I fetched that, held the side against the filter ring and fired it up.

Within seconds that pesky blob of dust fell away harmlessly into the corrugations of the inside of the lens barrel. It had been smote by my silly idea. I’m not sure If I’m trying to pass on advice here. Warn you not to be so silly with your gear. Or just sharing something that made me laugh. But there you go, an ad hoc method of removing persistent front element lens dust.2


1No sniggering at the back there.
2I accept no blame for you damaging equipment, or for your significant other asking what exactly are you doing with their vibrating device.