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

Sunday 30 August 2015

"I predict a riot."

"Without a functioning space for hope, positivity and genuine care, these communities will descend into savagery due to sheer desperation for basic needs to be met."
Thus spake Alan Yentob (if BBC News is to be believed) in an e-mail to the Cabinet Office explaining why a further £3 million should be poured into the gaping maw of Kids Company, the only thing standing between us and criminal dystopia.

The author of this Jeremiad leaves no doubt of the consequences should funding not be forthcoming:
...a "high risk" of looting, rioting and arson attacks on government buildings...."increases" in knife and gun crime, neglect, starvation and modern-day slavery
This, apparently, is what London will be like without Kids Company - read it and tremble! No wonder civil servants have described the language used as 'absurd' and 'hysterical'. Interestingly, the document bears more than a passing resemblance to the literary style of Batmanghelidjh herself; a blend of psycho-jargon and self-importance (not to mention the odd dangling preposition):
Our cause for concern is not hypothetical, but based on a deep understanding of the socio-psychological background that these children operate within.
This last quote raises an intriguing point; if the beneficiaries of Kids Company can be repeatedly described as 'children', for whom it fills the role of 'primary care-giver', who exactly is going to be out rioting and burning down government buildings?

Surely it will not be the well-groomed and photogenic pre-teen girls marched under escort to Downing Street in matching t-shirts to tug at the nation's heartstrings - though I wouldn't put it past some of the mothers vociferously complaining on television about the derailed gravy train of free meals, clothes and residential activity holidays for their offspring.

Instead, I suspect the potential rioters belong to an altogether different stratum of  'clients' who came to light in the Mail today thanks to files leaked by 'a Kids Company insider'. By Batmanghelidjh's own admission elsewhere,
‘Because we have been going for 19 years, some kids that we had in the early days are now older. [...] To give them a daily routine we get them to do things round the place so they are hanging round.’ 
In real terms, this translates into adults - some into their thirties - on the premises on a regular basis and being given substantial cash handouts from Kids Company funds despite evidence of criminal activities and drug abuse.

Personally, I'd have thought that having a number of adult male drug users, some with a record of violence, constantly 'hanging round' would have severely compromised the charity's aim of providing vulnerable children with a place where they could feel safe.

Certainly it must have been more than a little traumatic for youngsters to witness the abuse of kitchen staff by a 26-year-old 'crack den landlord' angry that queuing for food reminded him of being in prison. There was an even worse ordeal in store for one girl:
A handwritten note claims he sexually assaulted a girl on Kids Company premises and worked for the charity in return for cash in hand.
Presumably he qualified for personal attention from Batmanghelidjh herself, like the 29-year-old drug addict, alcoholic and convicted thief banned from seeing his children because of his 'aggressive behaviour' - though it has to be said Kids Company's lengthy (and expensive) involvement in the latter case does not appear to have steered the man away from a life of crime:
 A note says he received a total of £70,000 last year from Kids Company – and stole a further £10,000 from it
It all begs the question, what has Kids Company actually accomplished if, twenty years on, some of its earliest 'clients' are still battening onto it for financial gain at the expense of today's children? Although Yentob's e-mail looks like a threat, it may also be an admission that the charity has - whether through misguided optimism or fear of recidivism (or reprisals) - been bankrolling a group of disaffected career criminals, giving them a common focus and a monstrous sense of entitlement.

Like the clueless women who bought 'handbag pigs' only to find themselves responsible a few months later for large, hungry and destructive boars with distinctly antisocial tendencies, Ms Batmanghelidjh appears to have ignored the possibility that some of the children in receipt of her much-publicised vicarious generosity could, if indulged and encouraged in their dependency, one day grow into something she and her organisation could not control.

Monday 17 August 2015

Who ate all the pies?

Cruel, perhaps, but she's got to be living on something.

Hot on the heels of Ms Batmanghelidjh's assertion that she needs a personal chauffeur because she can't drive and public transport is impossible as she 'can't walk long distances' comes her latest claim:
"I'm a dire cook. I've never even turned on my oven."
It is, of course, possible that she was indulging in a spot of self-deprecating hyperbole for dramatic effect; if so, this is more than a little unwise at the moment, given the intense scrutiny currently directed towards her and Kids Company. On the other hand, if true, such assertions should surely call into question whether she actually has the practical skills and experience to help her 'clients' become productive members of society.

There is something odd about her repeated insistence that she does not do such everyday things as using an oven or taking a bus or tube, or her claim 'never' to have worn off-the-peg clothes; it rather suggests she considers such mundane matters to be somehow beneath her, fit only for lesser mortals.
"Even when I have surgery I refuse to wear the ugly hospital robes and I delight the operating theatre team with my avant-garde pyjamas."
It's clear she regards herself as entitled to special treatment and attention. I understand that she must be very busy at work - although not too busy to comb John Lewis and Selfridges for designer-label gifts - and might need some assistance, but, as more revelations emerge about Kids Company, she is starting to look like a one-woman job creation scheme.

First we have the chauffeur (receiving not only his salary but a contribution towards his children's private education), and his sister-in-law, recruited ‘not because she is a crony but she is an extraordinarily brilliant accountant’, which is presumably why the organisation is in such great financial shape.

Let's be charitable, though; perhaps the accountant's mind wasn't always entirely on the job since she, together with her niece, is apparently also responsible for sewing Ms Batmanghelidjh's elaborate outfits from random fabric pieces brought in by staff and children. Another staff member supplies the earrings and turbans, while two more work on her signature fingerless gloves (a clear sartorial indication that, whatever needs doing, she won't be getting her own hands dirty).

By my reckoning, that's six employees devoting at least part of their time to her personal service (to say nothing of the staff and children roaming the streets and picking a pocket or two finding ownerless pieces of fabric) along with the half-dozen or so personal assistants needed to do all the paperwork due to her dyslexia - although they may, like the multi-tasking accountant, be numbered among the seamstresses too.

And now, it seems, we need to add to the roster whoever it is who is providing her with food, since she is, by her own admission, almost certainly not self-catering. Whether she takes all her meals at Kids Company or subsists on daily takeaways at home, a pattern is emerging of someone unwilling - or too self-important - to take care of her own needs rather than imposing on others.

There's something very familiar, at least to a beekeeper, about a female who is waited on, groomed and fed by a coterie of dedicated workers. The hive exists primarily to maintain the Queen Bee as she produces the next generation; it's starting to look as if, substituting hugging for egg-laying, the ultimate purpose of Kids Company was much the same.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Invasion of the Brummie Snatchers

There's proof today, it if were needed, that the silly season is well under way. A Freedom of Information request by staff at a Banbury newspaper (who surely have better things to do) has revealed a fascinating fact:
It may sound out of this world but Thames Valley Police has dealt with 15 reports of aliens in just four years.
This includes sightings in Milton Keynes, Oxford, High Wycombe and Chipping Norton, where 'residents claimed to have spotted little green men twice'.

Here at the Tavern, we like to keep an eye out for tales of visitors from beyond the void, particularly since I was one of a number of people who saw an unexplained object in the sky over rural Scotland one night in the mid-70s. (Occam's razor - always a useful tool when dealing with the paranormal - suggests it was a prototype drone from a nearby military base).

According to the news article,
Back in 2007, UFO expert Michael Soper claimed the Thames Valley area was becoming an alien hotspot.
Which is quite odd, because back in March, Birmingham Mail readers were told....
Back in 2010, UFO expert Richard Lawrence claimed Birmingham was becoming an alien hotspot.
,,,in an article beginning:
It’s out of this world – West Midlands Police has dealt with 23 reports of ALIENS in just four years.
Spooky! Or, alternatively*, lazy journalism; "It's summer, half the staff are off on holiday and we need a front-page article by midday on Tuesday - see if you can nick a piece from someone else's archives".

It's not even as if Thames Valley can compete with Birmingham's grand total of 23 sightings:
Three of the cases concerned alien abduction plots while two others claimed attacks were mounted by extra terrestrials. 
Four more were reports of people talking to or hearing aliens, while the majority – 14 – were sightings of little green men.
According to the police, five were registered as false alarms and advice was given in three cases - sadly, the report does not say what it was, although I'm guessing it had something to do with laying off the illegal substances - leaving fifteen presumably unaccounted for; heady stuff for local UFO enthusiasts.

I'm particularly intrigued by the 'alien abduction plots'; I must admit that I am having some difficulty anyway with the idea of the West Midlands as a point of first contact, and why extra-terrestrials would want to make off with the locals there, as opposed to, say, CERN (assuming their intentions are intellectual) or their usual remote rural USA (for more fundamental purposes) is more than a little baffling.

Surely they would be better off in Chipping Norton, where it would actually make sense to say, "Take me to your leader".

*Unless, of course, it is an orchestrated campaign for an as-yet-undisclosed purpose and we are being softened-up by advertisers (or aliens).

Friday 7 August 2015

“It is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable.”

At the risk of seeming somewhat trivial, one tiny element of the Kids Company debacle has stuck in my mind.

Much of Ms Batmanghelidjh's recent rhetoric has centred round assertions that her organisation is aimed at helping children who are suffering untold amounts of abuse in the home.
The catastrophic abandonment of children who are suffering is a testimony to our collective moral failing. I hope one day the childhood maltreatment wound, that is so deeply hurting this country, will heal.
That being so, it seems odd that a posse of mothers (see Ambush Predator) has voluntarily come forward to state that their children are regular 'clients', parading for the media their anger at the loss of an organisation which, they say, provides activity holidays, homework clubs and meals for their children and 'gives them clothes'.

This last point is reminiscent of the Bristol Council employees using Council funds to buy Ralph Lauren gifts and Ugg boots for children in care; the mindset responsible can be clearly seen in in the comment responding to criticism thus: " I can't believe that people on here begrudge a Christmas present for someone in a children's home".

Straw men aside, there is something flawed about the whole notion; it is not only irresponsible to use public money in this way but also surely unrealistic - if not downright immoral - to encourage a taste for and expectation of designer goods in young people who will, in the near future, have to manage a limited budget.

With that in mind, I invite you to consider the words of Camila Batmanghelidjh in an interview with the Design Museum:
The only time I buy clothes is for the children of Kids Company - many of them don't have any parents or family members. I like to buy personally for them for Christmas and their birthdays. I also buy stuff if I see something that would suit them. 
The scale suggests this is be paid for not out of her own pocket (funded by the charity in any case) but from donations secured for the welfare of vulnerable children. Doubtless the words 'self-esteem' will figure somewhere in the justification, given the source of these gifts:
Christmas Eve, I am usually between John Lewis and Selfridges buying everything that's in the sales...
John Lewis? Selfridges? Even at sale prices, I would have been unlikely to buy clothes there for my own children. Such shops are surely well beyond the (legitimate) means of most people living in the areas where Kids Company plies its trade.
...because on Christmas Day we have some 4,000* children, young people and vulnerable adults coming to us for lunch, and I like to give all the ones who don't have family a big bag of clothes as presents.
How nice! And, judging by the mother bewailing the loss of free clothing on the TV news, it's not only the ones without families who benefited from this largesse. There's benefit for Ms Batmanghelidjh too; a gratifying glow of sentiment:
They get so excited when they open them, it always brings tears to my eyes. 
Funnily enough, my eyes are watering too at the potential cost of several hundred 'big bags of clothes' from Selfridges  - to say nothing of the extra shopping trips 'for their birthdays' and impulse buys 'if I see something that would suit them'. 

How many thousands a year, would you say? Perhaps a drop in Kids Company's multi-million pound ocean, but a significant one nonetheless, it serves to illustrate, however benevolent her intentions, just how impractical and naive a clothes-obsessed millionaire's daughter - 'Every day for me is a fashion treat' - can be when entrusted with other people's money.

* Really? Who does the catering? And at what cost? Or is this another example of numerical sleight-of-hand, like the still-ubiquitous assertion (included in the Design Museum piece) that Kids Company 'reaches 36,000 children a year with therapeutic care' - a figure since revealed to include the classmates, parents and teachers of any child in receipt of Kids Company services.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Quote of the week - didn't we try that already?

One of the Sunday papers offers this, from a young Eritrean who has been in the migrant camp at Calais for two months:
We want to go to Britain only because of our bad governments and dictators. I would like to see Europe civilise Africa and the Middle East.
What form, I wonder, would this hoped-for civilisation take? Peacekeeping forces? Regime change? A permanent presence, at least until the population feel safe?

It's hardly as if anyone thanked us last time:
Take up the White Man's burden 
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:—
"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Tuesday 4 August 2015

A legal flaw, or how I could have stolen a small fortune

Every now and then, a news story comes along where I think I may actually have something useful to add to the debate. In this case, it is on the unsavoury topic of predatory relatives exploiting their nearest and dearest:
The number of adult children stealing from their elderly parents has shot up. In the first half of 2015, crown courts dealt with £2.1 million worth of cases of families stealing from one another - almost four times more than the same time last year. Fraud against elderly relatives made up 80% of it.
It turns out that some people, at least, have all the family feeling of scorpions or sand tiger sharks. 'Frustrated' by waiting for their aged relatives to shuffle off this mortal coil and pass on their inheritance, over-45s have been plundering the bank accounts entrusted to them.

Naturally checks exist to prevent this sort of thing, at least in the case where a family member has applied to take control of a dementia sufferer's finances as court-appointed Deputy when he or she no longer has the mental capacity to nominate a Power of Attorney.

Quite rightly, the Deputy must submit annual accounts for scrutiny; this involves a lengthy form on which all assets, income and expenditure must be accounted for to the last penny - no easy task for an amateur, especially when, with care home fees, savings and property sales (also the responsibility of the deputy), the sums can run into tens of thousands each way.

Incredible as it seems, there is a serious loophole in this system.When the person for whom the Deputy is acting dies, the court order immediately ceases to apply and there is no further contact. Meanwhile, the solicitor handling the estate is only interested in the account balances from the moment of death onwards. There is nowhere to submit the accounts for the final few months - all that careful bookkeeping impresses no-one - and nobody wants to know what the previous year's assets were.

As a Deputy, had I been so inclined - and had I previously been less open with other family members about the estate - I could easily have withdrawn money from the bank accounts in the months before my relative's death and given his solicitor a drastically reduced balance to distribute (although, after several years of care home fees, my 'cut' would have fallen very far short of the £100k threshold for the statistics above).

Admittedly, there might have been an outside chance of my relative living until the next year-end but the ultimate demise can often be predicted some weeks before - easily time enough to extract a large windfall from the bank rather than waiting to receive a fraction of the estate after probate.

I appreciate that this post lacks zing - it's difficult to be anything other than turgid when dealing with legal and financial technicalities - and that my audience is limited, but it seems to me worth pointing out that the current system is offering an open door to a Deputy who wishes to defraud other relatives or steal from a dying family member.

Monday 3 August 2015

Women and children first

A newspaper picture today shows a three-year-old child being held by a man sitting atop a wire fence. According to the story, her mother has brought her to the migrant camp at Calais where, night after night, she is passed from hand to hand over razor wire fences as they try to get into the Eurotunnel compound.
'I tell her it's a game,' said Mary 'I tell her that if we win, she is going to meet Daddy'.
And if they lose? How safe is a three-year-old amid mass attempts to breach a security perimeter in the middle of the night, let alone trying to board a lorry or train? Previous nights have ended with mother and child being turned away by police or removed from the enclave and returning to camp - they may not be so lucky next time.

They are apparently trying to join the child's father who, having left Eritrea before her birth to avoid military service, is now working in London  as an 'odd-job man', which presumably means that either he has been granted asylum or other official status - in which case there are channels through which they can apply* - or he is working illegally.

If it is the latter, surely he could rejoin his wife in France and apply for asylum there (UK officialdom might well be persuaded to help) instead of waiting in London while they risk their lives trying to reach him. Something here is definitely not right.

Media accounts suggest that, in recent weeks, the camps in Calais have swollen with an unprecedented number of women and children. It is hardly surprising, then, that tactics are changing - instead of individuals climbing barriers and racing for lorries or trains, we are seeing fences flattened by mass movement and collective action.

Whatever the professionally offended think (Longrider and Anna Raccoon have tackled their objections admirably) the term for this is 'swarm intelligence'. As one path closes, the swarm seeks out new ways to overcome an obstacle; in the analogy that David Cameron didn't steal , I likened it to wildebeest crossing a crocodile-infested river, driven on by the arrival of cows and calves joining the advance guard of males.

There is, however, one important difference. Hungry crocodiles actively seek out helpless young wildebeest to attack; police and border guards will surely be particularly averse to using force on children. Unless something is done to remove them from the nightly onslaught, we may yet see babies and children forming an involuntary human shield in the fight against increasingly beleaguered defences.

Last night, in what seems to be a new development (swarm intelligence again), a group of men blocked a road by lying down in the path of lorries, only moving when the riot police arrived at dawn. How long, I wonder, before there are children lying on the roads and train tracks or held up in the vanguard of a stone-throwing mob storming the ferry or Eurotunnel terminals?

And who would willingly give the order to use tear gas and batons - or, given the likely escalation, water cannon and plastic bullets - against a little girl in pink leggings?

*Once a person is granted protection in the UK, they have the right to work, claim benefits and be re-united with their spouse and children (under 18).