Newgate News

Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 24 July 2015

A reluctance to be tolled

This is a story that will strike a chord - or ring a bell - with anyone who has had a reasonable proposal shot down in flames at a meeting.

One Biff Vernon set out recently to pitch an 'unusual piece of public art' to East Lindsey District Council Planning Committee in Lincolnshire:
The £30,000-plus project would have accommodated within an oak frame a brass bell that would have chimed (at various pitches) according to the movements and heights of the tide.
The so-called tide-and-time bell [sic] would have been the sixth in a series of 12 proposed for British coastal locations, with five already having been installed.
The five existing bells are in Appledore, the Isle of Lewis, London, Aberdyfi and Anglesey, with others planned for Orford Ness and Aberdeen. Mr Vernon explained that the proposed bell, designed by Devon artist Marcus Vergette, would provide a 'talking point' and potentially attract tourists to the beach at Anderby Creek, a windswept coastal hamlet north of Skegness.

Personally, I'm not sure I would make a special trip from outside the area, but there's no denying that the bells are an elegant and intriguing concept, a corrosion-resistant doubly-flaring hollow tube, cast using traditional bell-making techniques, containing a clapper activated by waves as the tide rises.

The Council Planning Committee, it seems, were not so impressed.
...councillors refused the application, noting ‘noise pollution’ objections from villagers and further claiming the installation would be a threat to swimmers and marine craft users.
Since the bells are designed to be covered at high tide, that second point does make some sense, although it is certainly not an insurmountable problem and has clearly been successfully tackled at the other sites. The Councillors, however, had not yet finished with Mr Vernon:
Coun Jim Swanson described the idea as ‘a folly’...
Ouch!
...and committee chairman Coun Neil Cooper said oak was inappropriate because it ‘rots like hell’ after contact with water - which was why elm, when available, was used in harbour construction. 
Not surprisingly, after this all-too-public mauling, the local newspaper describes Mr Vernon as 'crestfallen'. In his own account, he speculates that he might have been 'caught up in some internal feud' - a highly plausible explanation to anyone who has observed the collateral damage inflicted by turf wars in such public bodies as NHS trusts and Housing Benefit offices.

I'm not so sure, though. You see, back when the project was in its infancy, it seems to have been intended primarily as a celebration of British tradition, maritime heritage and craftsmanship. The matter of climate change was mentioned by the bell's creator almost as an afterthought:
"Being an island, we have a close relationship with the sea and this is a positive way of looking at our relationship with the sea and the environment." 
The bell is a piece of art, but there could be a practical element as well: "If the bell starts ringing more and more, it's a sign of rising tide levels and global warming. In which case it would be a warning bell."
Over the intervening years, however, the climate change aspect appears to have been seized on and promoted by other agencies until it has become a defining element:
The Time and Tide Bell Project was a finalist for the Climate Change Awards 2011, Best Artistic Response to climate Change.
"Devon artist Marcus Vergette is ringing out a poignant warning on climate change with a permanent installation of 12 giant bells at high tide points around the UK. Rung by the waves, Vergette's seven foot-high bronze bells will strike more often as climate change raises sea levels, and their pitch changes as they become submerged."
Add in the fact that Mr Vernon is known to be a Green Party member and environmental blogger and you have a combination likely to trigger a reflex reaction in the sort of people who don't like to feel they are on the receiving end of a sermon or being used to further someone else's political agenda.

If so, it's a great shame, since, regardless of environmental considerations, the Time and Tide Bell has much to recommend it. With a few tweaks to the design - it's not clear why the oak frame was chosen in preference to the metal or wire supports of the other bells - it could have become a noteworthy feature of Lincolnshire's coastline.

And, as Tavern regulars have doubtless already surmised, bells like these could have a valuable role to play in alerting the unwary to the action of the tide. A modified version could even be installed at locations notorious for walkers cut off by rising water - a trip through the Tavern archives could furnish a handy list - in preference to the threatened electronic warning lights and sounds.

While such an expensive project should not be charged directly to the long-suffering taxpayer - sufficient that its genesis was Arts Council funded - perhaps it would be possible, along with external grants, to encourage subscription among local residents and businesses, particularly if the bells were sited in areas where they would draw visitors and add to an area's amenities.

My own nomination for a potential site (and one where the Council might well be persuaded to chip in)? Definitely Dunwich (the real one in Suffolk, UK; sorry, H P Lovecraft fans), where the sea has engulfed the former medieval city. I haven't recorded any errant littoral pedestrians there, true, but, given local tradition, the place is surely crying out for it:
As the legend goes, if at certain tides you stand upon a bleak stretch of Dunwich beach, its possible to hear the ghostly peals of church bells tolling from beneath the waves. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Sense at last!

Double cause for celebration today; not only will 2015 OQ21 soon be whizzing by a mere 568,000 km away but a journalist has, at long last, said the hitherto unsayable.

History, they say, is written by the victors. Mainstream media opinions on working mothers, in the same way, tend to be written by women who have delegated at least some of their childcare to other women (men, of course, would not dare to pronounce on such a contentious issue and childless women tend to keep their own counsel).

While full-time mothers hover around the edges in comment threads or the blogosphere, the floor of mainstream media and political coverage is firmly held by working mothers intent on justifying their own course of action.

It's also worth noting that we hear little from women who have returned after a full career break; the reason for that becomes lamentably clear when trying to get back into the workplace after a prolonged absence.

I've made my views on this issue known here before* but it is a breath of fresh air to read this from Sarah Vine (or, as she is also known, Mrs Michael Gove):
...the whole concept of childcare has a way of short-circuiting our internal feminist wiring. On the one hand, it’s our right to have meaningful careers; on the other, it’s also our right to have children. 
There’s just one tiny problem: who’s going to look after the kids? 
That is the great paradox of feminism: for every woman forging ahead in the workplace, there’s another taking her place in the home.
Regular readers may recognise more than a little similarity to a post which appeared here last November: 'There are plenty of high-flying self-styled feminists who apparently see nothing incongruous in their household outsourcing the domestic chores to an assortment of low-paid females.' 

Admittedly, it's taken her a while to see the light - she describes having been, in effect, a 'benign but distant' fifties-style 'father' to her young children for years - but better late than never; the response of her children has clearly convinced her that being there for them is the right thing to do and, to her credit, she has admitted it publicly.
Fact is, nannies make life possible for working mothers, but they are no substitute for being a parent. That, I’m afraid, is the one thing you simply cannot delegate.
Two glasses will therefore be raised in the Tavern this evening; 2015 OQ21 and Sarah Vine, your very good health indeed!


*Essentially this:'I firmly believe that a woman is the intellectual and social equal of a man and should be treated as such - with the proviso that a dependent infant is biologically more important than either man or woman and its needs should come first.'



Update: As a bonus, this URL from the Express surely qualifies for some kind of award:
http://www.express.co.uk/news/science/592987/End-of-the-world-asteroid-Blood-Moon-September-apocalypse-armageddon-comet-meteor



Sunday, 19 July 2015

Sunday Soundtrack - "My God - it's full of stars!"

In honour of the Pluto mission this week and the awe-inspiring photographs from the outer reaches of the Solar System, we are revisiting '2001: A Space Odyssey' and Kubrik's inspired pairing of classical music with space-age action.

From the dramatic opening fanfare from Richard Strauss' 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' to the visceral keening of Ligeti's 'Requiem', the pared-down visuals and the music combine to convey the immensity of space.

Given the close collaboration of Arthur C Clarke in the film-making process - a man who must have known his science fiction classics - I wonder whether it is not too fanciful to assume that somewhere behind at least one selection is the 1956 short story 'A Work of Art' by James Blish, in which Richard Strauss is brought back to life in the distant future and invited to compose works on the themes of space-flight and time travel.

Another, unrelated, Strauss is responsible for perhaps the most hypnotic sequence in the film; I invite you to sit back and enjoy 'An der Schönen Blauen Donau' in a context its composer could never have imagined.




link

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Saturday Ruminations

Here at the Tavern, we like to think we are always up to date with the latest squirrel news. However, when two separate stories appeared this week, your humble host was occupied elsewhere and unable to post.

Fortunately Leg-Iron's new partner in crime was much quicker off the mark, citing both of them in a piece on scary animals - an inclusion with which I heartily concur. Don't be fooled by pictures of impossibly adorable babies falling out of trees; it's all part of their sinister plan to put us off our guard.

Each of us presumably has a similar rogues' gallery of animals to be regarded with deep suspicion - or is it just me? My own list, based on past experience of being besieged in a remote cottage by an implacable herd of them, would definitely include cows, so I was intrigued to hear someone on the radio this week talking about 'Cow Appreciation Day'.

This seemed a rather un-English concept, despite his exhortation to cherish and value our dairy herds, so I did some research. It turns out to be part of an advertising campaign by an American fast food outlet called - brace yourselves - Chick-fil-A (try saying it aloud in its native Southern accent to get the full impact).

I vaguely remember this from a visit to the States in the late 90s: the adverts feature cows displaying hand- (or hoof-)painted signs saying 'EAT MOR CHIKIN'. Cute, perhaps, and certainly memorable, this slogan is so important to the firm that it has to date successfully prosecuted 30 other companies for infringement - as Wikipedia has it, with no small irony, 'Chick-fil-A vigorously protects its intellectual property'.

On 'Cow Appreciation Day', it seems, customers turning up dressed as cows receive a free Chick-fil-ATM meal - though you have to be thorough; anything less than head-to-hoof costume only gets you a free 'entree'. (My source of information is an American website dedicated to bargain-hunting which invites readers to 'Mark your calendar for these upcoming freebies'; treats in the near future include 7-11's 'Free Slurpee Day', though it doesn't say whether you have to dress up for it.)

Meanwhile, back in the UK, while I can appreciate cows as a source of milk and meat and as a scenic addition to the countryside, albeit preferably at a respectful distance, I hope you will understand if I say they remain at the top of my list of 'animals that creep me out'.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Old Boy Network in action

This week brought an interesting coincidence; just as I was pondering the end of my fifth decade and considering what I had - or had not - achieved so far, an e-mail arrived from my alma mater.

On leaving school, by a set of curious chances, I found myself in the hallowed halls of an ancient and prestigious seat of learning. In this august environment, I embarked on an unexceptional academic career and thence to a vocation-led commitment to the chalkface, well away from any public forum.

If I were less contented with this obscurity, I might feel a certain envy when the annual college magazine announces that yet another member of my cohort has taken silk, been elected to Parliament or achieved high status in the world of banking, journalism or the BBC. While I have been enjoying a quiet and uneventful existence, my former fellow-students have, it seems, permeated virtually every aspect of British public life.

That being so, I invite you to consider the circular e-mail I received this week, bearing in mind that its content is addressed to former members of a single Oxbridge college, an enclave within the wider University.

It begins innocently enough, with an invitation to join a new alumni network with four aims; firstly to 'Reconnect':
Find and reminisce with fellow graduates, see what they have been up to and stay in touch.
So far so good, though I can't say I'm exactly tempted; I am so far removed from my 20-year-old self as to be virtually another species and I have no desire to meet anyone who knew me back then. In any case, I doubt I would find anything to match the wealth of experience, expertise, humour, creativity and warmth that exists in the blogs listed on the left.

Next comes 'Give Back':
Introduce, employ and offer to act as a mentor to our graduating students.
Altruism, yes, but also a leg up for the boys (and girls) in the career market, a hint of what is to come next under the heading 'Expand':
Leverage your professional network to get introduced to people you should know.
I'm not sure what that actually means, but, under the management-speak, it certainly sounds remarkably like the Old Boy Network, at least in the context of uniting graduates of the same college online. I'm reminded of a fellow-student who switched place cards at a formal dinner to put himself next to the Master on High Table - now there's someone I really don't want to 'find and reminisce with'.

 Finally, there's 'Advance':
Advance your career through inside connections working in top companies.
And that, in a nutshell, is what everyone who didn't attend this college or one like it is up against in the search for jobs and promotion, at least in circles where such a background is seen as desirable - and this, remember, is before networking on a University level kicks in.

Many of those invited to join the college network can be found in the higher echelons of industry, banking, medicine, government, the media and countless other branches of the Establishment where, if this e-mail achieves its purpose, they will doubtless be joined by others simply by virtue of having passed through the same medieval gates.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

They that go down to the sea in blow-up dinghies (Part 2)

A matter of days after the RNLI fished out a couple of lads adrift with their beer cans in the Bristol Channel, another rescue took place off the Kent coast (apparently a favourite spot for maritime Darwin Award hopefuls, as a trawl through the Tavern archives shows).
A dad has told of the terrifying moment he and his family lost control of their dinghy and drifted out to sea.
In this case, the accidental seafarer was accompanied in the 6ft dinghy by his wife, their nine- and seven-year-old children and their seven-month old baby.
The Gillingham resident, who has asked not be named, said his intention was to “go back and forth” in the shallow water near the beach.
“Families all the time take a dinghy out and have a paddle with their children, we were just unfortunate."
Unfortunate, perhaps, in the fact that the engine failed - although they only bought the boat two days before and were unlikely to be familiar with its management - and the subsequent breaking of an oar, but to set out with a full load and (to judge by the photos) only two life jackets between them was surely unwise, to say the least, especially with an outgoing tide (easily checked online) and a steady offshore wind (according to the RNLI).
“The funny thing is that when the oar snapped, I could have jumped out and pulled the dinghy towards shore because we were so close; it’s hard to explain, but the panic just set in."
Instead, they called for help as they drifted a mile out to sea in worsening conditions - the accompanying video shows the craft riding hazardously low in choppy water - using the mobile phone they had with them. This last precaution absolves them, perhaps, of seeking full Darwin Award Hopeful status despite entrusting themselves and their progeny to a fragile and unfamiliar vessel.

Stung by social media criticism, the father contacted the local press to give details of the rescue, including a gratifyingly thorough tribute to the RNLI crew, and a statement that, somehow, has Zeitgeist written all over it:
“In hindsight, we definitely shouldn’t have done it, trust me the lesson has been learnt. But it was never our intention to go anymore than a matter of feet from the beach, events just took over."

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Half a century

Back in the early 1970s, thanks to the wonder of television, we knew what the future would look like.

By the 21st century, the Space Age would be well and truly under way; ordinary men and women (the latter, for some obscure reason, invariably clad in form-fitting bodysuits or miniskirts) would be going about their daily business in moonbases and interplanetary spacecraft, while back on Earth, families would subsist on daily protein pills and pursue a life of leisure while robots did all the work.

Contemplating these wonders, it was daunting to think that, when the millennium rolled around, I would be approaching the inconceivably advanced age of 35; anything beyond that was so remote as to be hardly worth considering so I never gave it much thought.

Somehow, over the intervening 40 years, it feels as if I've never quite got round to the business of growing up; it is thus with some astonishment that I now find myself staring down the barrels of my 50th birthday. Here I am in the distant future and, to be honest, it isn't at all what I expected. Where, I ask myself, is my personal jet-pack? What happened to those robots to take over the housework?

Granted, I have at my personal disposal better communication equipment and more processing power than than the Apollo space programme. There are computers hidden in my household appliances, I scan and pack my own groceries (though the robot servant would come in very handy there) and I can manage my finances or buy virtually anything I want over the telephone or internet at any time of the day or night.

But - although I appreciate the ability to download pictures of cats doing silly things in Anchorage, Alaska - much of the rest of life is business as usual. What has changed is my own attitude, and it's made me wonder how much of that has been formed by those early aspirations.

For those of us born in the summer of '65, just as the first space-walk was taking place and Bob Dylan upsetting his fans by 'going electric', progress was a given; emerging from the Winter of Discontent, we came of age in Thatcher's Britain where, whatever your politics, it was impossible not to feel the impact of technological advances (remember your first Walkman?) or to compare our bright new youth culture with the perpetually brown-and-orange 1970s.

Then came the 1990s - grunge and recession - and, before we knew it, the magical 2000 was upon us with the 'River of Fire', setting the scene for the arrival of middle-aged cynicism and disappointment. On top of that, 24-hour news coverage has given us the ability to see our political masters as never before, warts and all, and it's not a pretty sight. At the same time, we are old enough to recall the failures of successive administrations and see the pitfalls and hidden agendas of every new government initiative.

With the potential of the internet, this growing cynicism was able, for some, to manifest itself in blogging, which leads me to an interesting (for me at least) observation; of the dozen or so general-interest blogs I read regularly and with which I frequently find myself in agreement, often with a shock of recognition at an opinion that precisely matches my own, at least two are written by my exact contemporaries.

That being so, I should like to raise a virtual glass to Kath and Pavlov's Cat, both of whom turned fifty in the last fortnight, and to any other bloggers hovering around the half-century mark (I suspect at least one more, which would make it a significant proportion of my sidebar born in 1965 or thereabouts).

Given the political, social and technological developments of the last 50 years and they way they have shaped my generation, I wonder whether this affinity is, in the words of Heinrich Böll, 'neither accident nor design, but simply unavoidable'.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

They that go down to the sea in blow-up dinghies

As the coastal Darwin Award Hopeful season continues, we have the slightly baffling story of two would-be mariners picked up by the RNLI off the Somerset coast.

The lifeboat crew, scrambled from work when the Coastguard spotted the child-sized boat drifting a mile out to sea, arrived to find the leaking 5ft dinghy occupied by two full-grown men 'oblivious that they were out of control and at the mercy of the very strong tides'.

The intrepid amateur seafarers had been at sea for three hours already, having drastically underestimated the distance to their intended destination of Steep Holm, a rocky island five miles offshore in the Bristol Channel.

What they expected to do there is, it has to be said, something of a mystery:
It is a nature reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest famed for its beautiful May-flowering wild peony. It is home to the remains of a 12th century Augustinian priory.
While it also boasts the remnants of wartime military installations and a Victorian barracks (now a 'Visitor and Education/Exhibition Centre'), it is hard to see this plethora of aesthetic and intellectual stimulation appealing to the bare-chested duo - one sporting abundant tattoos and a back-to-front baseball cap - pictured in the RNLI report.

Even if I am wrong and their motives were of the loftiest, they chose an odd way to go about it. Regular day trips are on offer and, given that Steep Holm is 'in the middle of a busy shipping channel, isolated by brisk tidal currents and a difficult landing place', it takes a special sort of mindset to purchase a toy boat from a beach shop and set off merrily into the blue.

Sadly for the men and women of the RNLI, there's a lot of it about.



Update: The Mail has since got hold of the story - claiming in its inimitable style, that they were 'five miles out' and 'without a paddle', despite the oars clearly visible in the accompanying video and the article stating 'a mile'- and identified the pair:
Mr Hole - a tattoo artist - said: 'It was going well until we got a small puncture and the boat started slowly going flat. We were miles from where we set off. I'm not sure how we got the puncture, but I think it might have been off one of the beer cans cutting the inside.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

'...it fell: and great was the fall of it.'

With the advent of warmer weather, we are bracing ourselves for the seasonal surge in the number of citizens of our island nation who set off for a spot of littoral recreation blissfully unaware that the sea will not necessarily stay put for the duration of their visit.

We are, of course, familiar with tales of Foolish Virgins plucked to safety after ambling along the water's edge or driving onto the sand with no thought for the rising tide but occasionally the inundations are on a grander scale, where freely available tide tables have somehow been overlooked.

This week furnished a particularly entertaining and cheerfully harmless example:
A long-awaited sandcastle competition on Cleethorpes beach had to be abandoned after the tide came in, and washed away the exhibits.
 It seems, according to the organisers, that there had been 'some misunderstanding about how early the tide would come in'. So who was in charge?
Organised by the British Architects (RBA) Love Architecture programme, the event was staged in front and to the side of the Pier.
This may not come as a surprise to anyone who has had to endure the inconvenience and impracticality of living or working in an 'award-winning' building - the sort where the architect has won prizes (or lucrative public sector contracts) for an assortment of radical features in drawings and scale models without the faintest idea of how to make those high-flown 'concepts' work in the real world.

Five teams of architects and nine teams from the general public were involved, making this a reasonably large-scale enterprise and one the organisers presumably hoped would be an excellent public relations exercise for their profession.
The competition was to finish around 3pm but with an hour to go all hope was lost as the tide came in which surrounded and then swamped the creations.
Stop! It's too much!
There were only four castles still standing on dry land by the end.
While less euphonious that the usual piss-up/brewery analogy, you have to admit that the inability to organise a sandcastle competition on a beach must confer some sort of distinction.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Happy Asteroid Day!

Here at the Tavern we like to think that every day is Asteroid Day, but today it's official; the word 'bandwaggon' springs irresistibly to mind as the mass media weigh in with exclusives on every side, aiming to outdo each other with tales of near misses and earth-skimming behemoths.

As  it happens, we've had one of these in our sights for a while; July 7th brings us the whopping 65m+ 2015 HM10 a mere 442,000km away - rather less than ten times the length of the Pan--American Highway - which probably justifies some serious carousing.

The Metro, striking out at something of a tangent, has chosen to gratify readers of an apocaholic disposition by outlining an assortment of other interesting ways in which our species could be wiped out and concluding that an asteroid strike might not be such a bad way to go, considering. While sadly lacking in detail, it does, at least, provide a refreshing change to the general hysterical hyperbole over space-rocks passing safely by at nearly 20 lunar distances.

Asteroid Day, meanwhile, largely amounts to a massive public awareness campaign (for those who are not regular readers of this blog) and an invitation to sign a declaration calling for:
  • Employ available technology to detect and track Near-Earth Asteroids that threaten human populations via governments and private and philanthropic organisations.
  • A rapid hundred-fold acceleration of the discovery and tracking of Near-Earth Asteroids to 100,000 per year within the next ten years.
  • Global adoption of Asteroid Day, heightening awareness of the asteroid hazard and our efforts to prevent impacts, on June 30, 2015.
While deploring their slightly iffy grammar and wondering what happens to resolution 2 if there are insufficient asteroids out there to meet the target of 100,000 discoveries a year, I can say that the third of these is an aim I support wholeheartedly - not least because it's an excellent excuse for a party.

Meanwhile, matters astronomical are to the fore today in the form of the leap second to be added tonight to keep atomic clocks in line with the earth's rotation. My favourite coverage of the story is this 'down wid da kidz' version from Radio 1's 'Newsbeat' page:
[Last time it happened]  In 2012 a number of big websites including Mozilla, Reddit, Gawker, LinkedIn, FourSquare and Yelp were caught out and went a bit wrong.
Newsbeat got in touch with Robert Edwards, head of science at the Royal Observatory Greenwich - the place were [sic] time in the UK is kept. 
As a bonus, they helpfully include a picture of  'a clock at Newsbeat HQ' so their readers can be sure what they are talking about.

And, as if that were not enough, Jupiter and Venus are joining forces, at least from our perspective, this evening to put on what out distant ancestors would have seen as a spectacular lightshow - though it's likely to be less of a novelty to our jaded 21st-century visual palates.

All in all, then, I think this calls for a celebration; I invite you to join me in the Tavern (though  you may need to dust off the bar-stools) and raise a glass to Asteroid Day - many happy returns!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Soundtrack Sunday: "Cut, you buggers, cut!"

I've been meaning for some time to start a series of posts on a theme; other people have done poems, music, books and films, so I thought I'd combine two of those and do film music.

Every now and then, a film achieves that perfect combination of soundtrack and story that enhances both. There are plenty to choose from, so I make no apology for selecting according to my own idiosyncratic criteria.

Obviously some of this will make no sense if you haven't seen the film but, at the least, it should provide some interesting listening for a Sunday evening.

I'm starting with one of my all-time favourite films. With a dramatic story by Kipling, a cast headed by Sean Connery and Michael Caine and imposing scenery shot in grand style under John Huston's direction, 'The Man Who Would Be King' would have been excellent even without Maurice Jarre's accompanying score; add in the music, with its fitting blend of militarism, Victorian bombast and poignancy, and it becomes something great.

(Link to video here)


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

"It must be right; I got it off the internet..."

Remember the Canvey Island nativity play?
The “Christmas Tale” stars a pair of robbers, named Bob and Bill, who raid a jewellery store in broad daylight to steal a manger full of rubies and emeralds.
There's a similar theme at work in a grammar exercise recently given to primary school children across the Estuary in Sheerness. We know this because one parent was so 'shocked' that she was apparently obliged to go to the local press and have it reported, complete with carefully posed photographs.

In an exercise designed to test the appropriate use of the pronouns 'I' and 'me', children had to complete the following sentence:
Hand ..... the money before ..... put a bullet through your head.
Could it, perhaps, be part of the continued attempt to reflect modern urban society in the school curriculum? And, if so, can we look forward to the same thing emerging in, say, Maths,
If Liam and Kane steal £140 and divide it in the ratio 3:4...
Physics,
Sayeed takes a BMW without the owner's consent and drives it into a wall at 70km/h....
or Biology?
How can Shanice and Ami use this graph to record the growth of their cannabis plants...?
Educational orthodoxy demands that work set should be as relevant as possible to the lives and interests of pupils - though it's not clear whether that would extend to a crime-themed nativity play in an area which had recently seen several armed robberies  - which raises some interesting questions about the test paper's provenance.

We do know it was downloaded from the generally respected Times Educational Supplement resource-sharing site. It's an excellent example of the spurious authority lent by the imprimatur of the internet; an unquestioning teacher seems to have handed it out without the proof reading which would have detected the rank illiteracy (or devious trap) of asking pupils to use 'I' or 'me' to complete:
When I asked the Scotsman if he enjoyed haggis, he looked at me and said ‘Och .....’ 
I doubt the 'bullet' sentence caused any lasting damage, though it does seem unnecessarily crass to include it in a grammar exercise for primary-age children. What concerns me more is the idea of teachers indiscriminately trawling the internet for off-the-peg lessons and homework with no guarantee of quality.

Over the past 50 years, the nature of education has shifted from imparting knowledge and skills to teachers being expected to keep pupils - or 'learners' - entertained. The result has been a desperate scramble for novelty while trying to satisfy the demand for constant exhaustive record-keeping - senior management and inspectors do love a brightly-coloured progress chart or graph - and a corresponding lack of consistency in what some of us would call the basics.

Borrowing back a comment I left at Julia's place recently, on a post highlighting the effects of this degeneration,
Truly we have an education system at which the rest of the world can only wonder!