Monday, 26 September 2005

Inspire Me

I am finding it very hard to think of anything to say about the current political climate. It's not so much that I can't think of anything interesting to say, it's that I can't think of anything AT ALL.

There must be an interesting observation to be made about this phenomenon, but I can't think what it is.

By the way Tim and Mark, I will get round to linking to your blogs.

We Need More Parties, Like There Were Then

I have attended two splendid weddings recently. Last month I was honoured to be invited to a former colleague’s nuptials – James, who worked with me briefly at Conservative Central Office. I had met his wife just once before, and knew no-one else at the gathering. Tempted though I was to re-invent myself as a submarine captain or something, I played it straight, and met some estimable people.

On Saturday my old college friend Katie married Jack, in the gorgeous village of Marston St. Lawrence. I know Katie’s family fairly well, so it was great to catch up with them (all are incredibly nice), and several people from Katie’s year were there too. I hadn’t seen most of them for a very long time, and I’d forgotten what fun they are. Also inspiring were the surroundings – the church is stunning and Katie’s family home is lovely – and the high density of members of HM Armed Forces.

Military dress is BLOODY COOL. Jack and Katie were given a guard of honour, and at that moment I wished I really were a submarine captain. (I think that the senior service is the one I’d best suit.) All of the guys seemed to be good eggs too. They were, however, no match for the Trinitarians on the dancefloor.

I adore dancing. The trick is to affect to be utterly un-self-conscious and throw oneself around with absolute abandon. Rhythm helps, of course, and so does a pair of quick feet. It’s a jungle out there, but with a little Dutch courage, one that can be conquered. I think this could be one of the best ways to shed the remaining excess Greeves.

There is something pretty untoppable about a really good party. We need more of them.

Wednesday, 21 September 2005

Guest Post On The Tory Leadership

I have invited my friend Richard Hill to make a guest post on the Leadership of the Conservative Party. He agreed with me that it would be a good idea to decide WHAT we want from the Leader before determining WHOM we want.

What follows is Richard’s prescription. I don’t agree with all of it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I hope it provokes you to really think too.

The Conservative Party should be figuring out what it has been doing wrong before asking who could do it better. Inevitably, it isn’t. There are few things that Conservative MPs enjoy more than the intrigue of a leadership election and few things they enjoy less than confronting their own failings. Who wouldn’t rather judge a beauty contest than take a long, hard look in the mirror?

To drag our minds back to the ‘what’ rather than the ‘who’, Tommy G has been thinking about a job description for a new leader and I want to suggest some guidelines he should follow. This is more a list of things we must stop doing than things we must start doing – but that’s because we’ve been doing things that make it harder to win elections rather than just failing to do things that would make it easier. I don’t agree with many of Tommy’s suggestions and he will loathe some of mine. Freedom of speech does not mean assisting people to publish views you don’t agree with – and that makes Tommy’s offer to host this all the more generous.

Effectively, there are three pillars to this self-regulatory code: don’t advocate anything that introduces uncertainty about the feasibility or desirability of the party’s agenda – whether this representation is fair or not; it’s not enough to be a different type of Conservatives Party – you also have to be a different type of politician; and say something positive about what central government should start doing rather than just what it should stop doing. But why make three points when seventeen will do?

1. Winning is everything. As Ann Widdecombe puts it: ‘Unless we get into government we can’t do anything about anything.’ After 7/7, the job of Conservative politicians was to give the odd interview outside No.10 and convene the Shadow Cobra committee; the job of Labour politicians was to decide how to make Britain safer. People working in the Downing Street Policy Unit can inspire changes that affect millions of people; people working in the Conservative Policy Unit got to write pamphlets. There’s no point winning the leadership election if you can’t win the general election, so don’t say anything that will help you win the election that doesn’t matter and lose the one that does. So what if the Telegraph says you’re timid if that is the price of convincing target voters that you’re safe?

2. Work for us, not for Labour. At the last election, the most common evaluation of the two parties was ‘I am dissatisfied with Labour overall but still prefer them to the Tories’. It’s no use giving people reasons to vote against Labour if they still have bigger reasons for voting against us. The new leader should remove these reasons one by one. For example, he should veto any policy that allows Labour to respond criticism of their record on health by saying: ‘Well, you want to take £2 billion out of the NHS to subsidise private operations. How is that going to help?’ As long as the party has policies like this, it must choose between saying nothing on the big issues and saying something that loses us support. The leader should seek ‘clear blue water’ only on issues where the arguments are straightforward and in our favour and build bridges across it where they aren’t.

3. Take the narrow road. Every politician likes to promise popular things and no politician likes to promise unpopular things. So successive Conservative leaders have promised lots of nice things (tax cuts, pension increases, more police) and said they’d pay for it all by cutting out waste. If a programme looks too good to be true, people will conclude that it probably is. After all, why should anyone believe that a Conservative Government would be more efficient than a Labour Government unless they already thought we were much more competent? And how can you prove this in Opposition? The sums must not only add up but be seen to add up. That means taking some tough choices with real losers (like the children on the assisted places scheme who lost out when Labour promised smaller class sizes). If you don’t have a believable answer to the question ‘how will you pay for it?’ you shouldn’t have the policy.

4. Forget the little stuff and learn how to say no. It makes life easier for shadow ministers if they can promise to scrap the tax on Olympic lottery tickets, expand the TA, pay special constables, fund a national campaign against uninsured drivers, establish a national parenting service, spend more on marketing tourism, or introduce student bursaries. But is anyone really going to vote for this stuff? If we ever do get close to Labour in the polls, our spending plans will come under a lot more scrutiny than they have in the previous two elections. The leader’s job is to make sure they can withstand it. Labour don’t have to prove that the sums don’t add up – just to sow enough doubt to make people think twice. The more detailed the spending plans, the more targets Labour can choose from.

5. Why promise tax cuts? This is emphatically not the same question as ‘why should taxes be cut?’ People simply don’t believe politicians who promise tax cuts (in 2005, 51% thought a Conservative Government would increase taxes). They’ve seen enough Governments (including Conservative Governments) give with one hand and take with the other. And while two-thirds would prefer spending cuts to tax increases, a similar proportion would prefer spending increases to tax cuts. If you really believe you can convince people that tax cuts are the best use of resources and that people your promises are believable, don’t take your own word for it: commission some opinion research and test the arguments. Remember that you don’t have to rule out cutting taxes for five years, but not everything that isn’t ruled out has to be ruled in. There are plenty of other uses for any savings you identify – such as a zero-tolerance approach to law and order.

6. Forge an agenda for the state. Not every Conservative idea is a small state idea, so throw away the policy template that says central government is always the problem and can never be part of the solution. You can’t express your values by saying that you’d always let someone else decide what to do. So stop shadow ministers from boasting that their first act after measuring up the curtains would be to reduce their own powers. Instead of seeking to delegate ever more responsibilities to the scarcely-elected councillors who crave power or the parents and patients who don’t, think how central government could intervene to make things better. That way, we can actually have something to say about what should happen in public services rather than how they are structured. When many of the biggest issues in 21st century politics involve services provided by the public sector, why should anyone vote for a politician who says ‘I don’t have the answers, but I think someone else might’?

People don’t want choice – they just want their local public services to be good. No child should have to sit on a bus for two hours every day to get to a school that will teach him to read and write. And, while diversity of provision may lead to worthwhile innovation, we already know plenty about what works (traditional teaching methods; visible policing) and what doesn’t (‘progressive’ classrooms and police nowhere near any potential crime scene). So tell the shadow education secretary not to waste time thinking about vouchers until he’s made all primary schools teach reading using synthetic phonics and times tables by rote, and all secondary schools stream their lessons. When Tory MPs write pamphlets saying they look forward to the day when school vouchers produce ‘experimental schools with free play and no uniforms’, say you disagree. Tell the Shadow Home Secretary to confront chief constables and insist that they deploy more officers on the beat; don’t let him pass the buck to local people.

7. Be bored stiff by Europe. Most people want to be ‘in Europe, not run by Europe’. There is no majority in favour of withdrawal – and if there were, it would soon disappear when businesses threatened to move jobs overseas. And do you really want a series of oddballs with pound badges on their lapels to appear on voters’ TV screens singing your praises? Saying you want to renegotiate treaties throws up the spectre of withdrawal and opens a whole can of scare stories. Nor may people whose favoured way of spoiling their ballot paper is to vote UKIP be rational enough to vote for you if you said it was time to get out.

Remember that people can agree with your position and still find your obsessive approach to the subject a little strange. Someone who doesn’t like bananas (straight or otherwise) may not warm to a colleague whose taste buds work in a similar way and feels compelled to talk about this for hours on end. The Europhiles have given up on the euro and the constitution has been publicly executed in more than one country. Just talk about something else.

8. Know Brown’s strengths and his weaknesses. According to Alastair Campbell: ‘When Iain Duncan Smith was Conservative Party leader, Tony Blair insisted on regular discussions to go over his opposite number’s strengths and weaknesses. Strengths as well as weaknesses, I emphasise.Good politicians never underestimate their opponents.’ Gordon Brown is a more formidable politician that Iain Duncan Smith, so don’t imagine that he will make many elementary mistakes. The fact that he has orchestrated one step change in Government spending doesn’t mean he will do so again regardless of whether the economy can bear it.

In their attempt to find an explanation of ‘New Labour’, some Conservatives have sought to co-opt the Blairites as Tories in red rosettes. On this view, the Brownites are Old Labour, red in tooth and claw and their champion’s pasge to No. 10 will see normal service resumed. The truth is more subtle than this. Take the time when Alan Milburn wanted foundation hospitals to borrow money, and Brown said no because he didn’t want to choose between bailing them out and letting them hospital close down (what would you do if you were Chancellor in that situation?). In that instance it was the Blairites who displayed the empty-headed optimism of Old Labour and the Chancellor who gave the world-weary shake of the head that used to safeguard Conservative administrations from misadventure.

Perhaps Brown’s biggest weakness is a matter of style rather than substance. He is the ultimate practitioner of ‘old politics’ and more relentlessly on message than any Blair Babe. Unlike Blair, I can’t remember him ever conceding that he might once have made a mistake about anything. When John Humphrys says the Chancellor ‘is quite easily the most boring political interviewee I have ever had in my whole bloody life’, you can’t disagree. Brown plays every interview like a football team after the 0-0 draw, never answering a question, always sticking to the script, never making a ‘gaffe’ but never being remotely endearing. He clearly detests criticism and blusters his way through it. So…

9. You’re a politician, so don’t behave like one. When people don’t like the way politicians conduct themselves, a clever politician conducts himself differently. Top of the list of complaints is ‘playground politics’, so tell Tory MPs to stop behaving like children in the Commons chamber. What you say about Labour says more about you than it does about them – so reject the sort of disproportionate rhetoric that can make you sound deranged. Use PMQs to question the Prime Minister, not to humiliate yourself by trying to humiliate him.

Your self-confidence should be infectious, not delusional, and voters shouldn’t be taken for granted. In his speech accepting the leadership of the Labour Party, Tony Blair said: ‘The Tories have lost the nation’s trust. But that does not mean we inherit it automatically.’ Yet despite being behind in the polls, Conservatives have continued to talk as though it was beyond doubt that we would be elected at the next election. Why?

Don’t devalue the currency of your criticism by criticising everything and never praising anything the Government does. Don’t, for example, attack ministers for refusing to address a teaching union whose delegates chased a blind secretary of state into a cupboard or pretend the BBC is a guardian of impartiality the moment it attacks Labour (from the Left). ‘This isn’t all down to the Government, but by doing X they have made it worse’ will usually some more credible (and make you sound more grown-up) than ‘this is all Labour’s fault’. Why try to prove that everything bad results from a post-1997 policy change even when it very clearly doesn’t? The two reactions this type of comment will arouse are ‘he would say that’ and a suspicion that you want to take us back to the world as it was. You’ll never convince anyone that it was a mistake to kick us out; instead, try making it easier for them to reconcile voting Labour then with voting Tory now.

10. Treat Parliament with contempt – or at least with a little less reverence. Don’t complain about statistics being released when Parliament is in recess – you might be enjoying a four month holiday, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is. Don’t whinge when announcements are trailed in the media – why should MPs get to hear everything first? Don’t complain about Tony Blair’s voting record – you don’t deserve to be Prime Minister if you’d waste that time traipsing through the division lobbies every night. Consider dropping some of the silly traditions: only political anoraks know who is ‘the Hon Member for X’, so why can’t you call him by his name? ‘Back to the floor’ initiatives (like Michael Portillo’s stint as a hospital porter) have huge potential, so think about making these compulsory for Tory MPs or at lest for the Shadow Cabinet. Then they might not need their highly paid directorships to ‘keep them in touch with the real world’…

11. Don’t allow NIMBYs in your back yard. The Conservative Party can’t just be the party that tries to hold back the tide of progress. We used to argue against tariffs and subsidies – pointing out that millions of people lost a little from these things in order that a few people could gain a lot. Some want us to be on the opposite side of today’s equivalent debate. They think that local people are the only stakeholders (yes, I hate that word too - someone give me a synonym) who should have a say on anything from house building to airport runways to mobile phone masts. Out of context, these things are all unpopular. But I suspect everyone knows deep down that you need masts if you want your mobile phone to work and that a growing population has to be housed somewhere.

12. This is a secular election. There are some thoughtful people on the Christian wing of the Conservative Party with a lot to contribute, but don’t let them contribute too much. Thankfully, British Conservatives don’t need the support of evangelicals in the same way that American conservatives do. So let the assertion that stem cell research is a form of cannibalism stay on their websites and out of your speeches (imagine the reaction if the research you opposed produced a cure for a major disease). And ask yourself whether championing ‘faith schools’ might sound just a little bit weird to the vast majority of parents who would never use them.

13. Don’t mistake an elephant trap for an open goal. We’re fighting an election in four or five years’ time, not today. Don’t promise to reverse Government initiatives that are unpopular today but might not be in the limelight when it matters. Don’t, for example, promise to repeal tuition fees and then find yourself scrabbling around for a way to pay for this commitment. Even if the tax credit system is a complete mess, think very carefully before committing yourself to major structural changes that could scare millions of people into believing (sometimes correctly) that they’d be worse off.

14. Be robust on the war on terror. Forget all the stuff about how it is the Opposition’s job to oppose – it’s your job to demonstrate that you can be trusted to run the country in difficult times. We don’t ‘do the terrorist’s job for him’ by curtailing his freedoms; we make it harder for him to kill us. This isn’t a clash of civilisations – it’s a clash between civilisation and its antithesis. Don’t put so much as a toe on the wrong side of this debate.

15. Get the right sort of candidates. John Redwood’s slim hopes of becoming Prime Minister in 1995 disappeared when he launched his campaign surrounded by eccentric MPs banging tables and seemingly wearing fancy dress. Similarly, the sort of person who says he wants to get elected to support your Government will tell voters something about the kind of Government you would lead. I don’t want to criticise people who give up every weekend to knock on doors when I’m far too lazy to do this myself, but some of them play to the Tory caricature when we simply can’t afford this.

The modernisers are right to say we need a need a more diverse range of candidates but that is only part of the problem. ‘Black or white’ and ‘male or female’, are much less important questions than ‘normal or abnormal’. I don’t care whether you centralise candidate selection, hold local primaries or just have a word in the ear of association chairmen - but make sure it works.

16. Don’t ‘make the case’ – accept that people have made theirs. Confronted with polling evidence that small state solutions aren’t vote winners, Tories conclude that we need to ‘make the case’ for these things. This supposes that there are millions of people sitting in front of their TV screens waiting for a bloke in a pinstriped suit to tell them how healthcare would be much better if people could make big fat profits out of it. There aren’t – and if there were, they’d be turned off by us rather than turned on by the idea. Labour can talk about private involvement in public services because their good intentions aren’t in doubt. We should focus on proposing ways of improving public services that don’t play to people’s worst fears about us.

17. Do your research. Opinion polls tell you what people think - unless the questions are designed to help you pretend they think differently. Focus groups tell you why they think it. Qualitative research can teach you what your target voters have heard about (usually far less than people in the Westminster village assume), how they describe things, what they can be persuaded of, and - perhaps most importantly - what they can’t be persuaded of. If you can’t make target voters agree with a proposition when they’re locked in a room for an hour with a handful of strangers and a bowl of crisps, you’ll never persuade them when you have to compete for their attention with their jobs, their families and the Eastenders omnibus. Focus groups are also the perfect medium for testing reactions to the sort of arguments that would surround your ideas in an election campaign. If you’d rather drive blindfolded, you shouldn’t be behind the wheel.

These are improving thoughts, and I am very grateful to Richard for sharing them with us. I will reflect further and maybe comment on each point. There's more here that I agree with than either of us might have expected, and more that gives me pause too.

And I reiterate that I welcome guest posts, even when I disagree with their content.

Holocaust Memorial Day

There are three possible reasons why someone might object to Holocaust Memorial Day:

1. They are ignorant to the point of knowing practically nothing about the Holocaust.

2. They fear that such a day risks trivialising the Holocaust.

3. They are an anti-Semite.

EVERYONE who opposes Holocaust Memorial Day fits into one of these categories, including people with ‘Sir’ in front of their name.

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Getting It Together

Sometimes it all comes together. I’ve managed to get some regular freelance work, courtesy of someone who I suspect would rather remain nameless, but to whom I am very grateful indeed. On the way back from the meeting, I got a call offering me another job! You wait for a bus all day … and then an axeman goes apeshit in a shopping centre, as my mother always says. It’s nice to feel a little wanted.

I’ve also got some good feedback from an expert about my script, and although there’s a lot of work to be done, I am encouraged.

In further good news, I’ve widened my bench press grip to excellent effect. The pecs are being brought into play much more now, without any ill feeling around the rotator cuff, and I expect my poundage to increase very swiftly. It was always counter-intuitive to be using a narrow grip, as the triceps take the burden that way, and they can never be as powerful as the much bigger chest muscles. It was just that I’d neglected my chest when I wasn’t bench pressing, and so things are evening out now. With an already very good squat and deadlift technique, I think it’s all coming together.

Talking of technique, and thinking about it, I have just read Peter Shilton’s autobiography. He of course goes down in history as our longest serving goalkeeper, and one the finest the world has ever known. He comes across very differently to how I had imagined. Shilton was renowned for being the ultimate professional – VERY hard training, and a maniac for fitness. Consequently, whilst most of his contemporaries - such as the elegant Ray Clemence – were slight and balletic, Shilton was rippling with muscle, and the owner of the biggest shoulders in football. I had always assumed that he was a bit earnest and arrogant.

He’s earnest all right, but not arrogant. His attention to detail, which included developing SIX different ways to punch a ball depending on its trajectory, was born out of a very geeky and endearing obsession. His book goes into extraordinary detail about scores and teams, to an extent that many would find boring, but which the true fan will lap up. Basically Shilton is in love with football, and that is what propelled him to superstardom – a simple desire to be the best. Of course he had bags of self-confidence, but it was of a very pure and admirable sort. As a boy he used to write off to teams for autograph sheets.

There is no mention of the story that he used to hang from the bannisters to stretch his arms, which allegedly left him having to have all his suits and shirts custom made. He is, however, candid about his drinking and gambling, and only released the book once he felt he had conquered his financial problems – because he likes a happy ending. Good for him.

Friday, 9 September 2005

Whatever You Call It, It’s God’s Game

I have a new football team. Of course, I must call it a ‘soccer team’, as it is American. As I think James Hamilton pointed out the other day, this isn’t really anything to be wary of – ‘soccer’ is actually an English word after all.

They are, or it is (an American would say ‘Oxford United IS playing the Swindon Scum next Saturday, whereas an Englishman would say ‘Oxford United ARE etc.’) Charleston Battery. They’re (I can’t get used to referring to them as ‘it’) based in that great city in the great state of South Carolina, they have a lovely looking stadium, and they play in yellow and black. (Oxford play in yellow and blue, my favourite colours).

‘Charleston Battery’ is a cool name. It does sound a bit like a firm of hooligans, or a really aggressive dance, but I love it. I plan to go to a few games next season, if they’ll have me, and have inquired about purchasing a goalkeeper’s top.

I have decided to start playing again myself. I really miss it, and as I’m getting fitter, I’m thinking ‘why not have another go?’. I have set a goal of lining up for a team at the start of the next (English) season, so that gives me nearly a year. Truth be told, I reckon I could play for some sides now, but I may as well get really fit.

It will also be an interesting exercise – to see how good I can get if I put everything into it. I’ve always believed that almost anyone can do almost anything, but traditionalists insist that football is a you-either-have-it-or-you-don’t type deal. Well, let’s test that premise. I’m currently out of shape, have comparatively little talent (although more than I used to get credit for), and I’m nearly 30.

There’s nothing to lose – as with powerlifting, if I can’t be a really good goalkeeper, I’d like to be a fairly good one. Combining powerlifting with football is perfectly possible. I use an abbreviated training method for the former, so I’ll have plenty of time for the latter. And it’ll be good to do a team sport as well as an individual one.

The biggest mistake I ever made in my life surrounded football. We have a guy in the village who had played for Oxford, and one day my dad announced that he had asked Pete to coach me and some friends, and Pete had agreed. I was to get together a list of people. This was an incredible opportunity. I was so overwhelmingly excited about the prospect that I thought about it and thought about it and thought about it – and didn’t do anything about it. That’s right, it never happened.

I’ve lived far too much of my life in my head. The reason I dabbled with weights for years and never really did anything with them until recently is that I spent so much time imaging glory that I never really put my mind to how to achieve it – by actually getting on with it. Now, although I write about powerlifting, I only think about it in order to work out technique. I don’t spend ages daydreaming about winning trophies. The result? I am finally enjoying the real life experience of lifting.

So too it must be with football. I let some bad experiences of playing as a kid put me off for far too long. I got a hard time when I played (badly) for a boy’s team, which scarred me a little, and my OCD had me fretting about glove brands when I should have been thinking about how to cut out a cross. I got back into it at college, but then I got much too heavy. I'm just beginning to appreciate how much I want to play again.

The final point is good news. Powerlifters and goalkeepers both improve with age, and can compete at the top level well into their early forties. OK, so I ought to have a 200kg bench press by now, and probably would if I had trained hard from the age of 13. I could have enjoyed several seasons of football, and built up a wealth of experience.

But I don’t have a decade-and-a-half’s worth of injuries to worry about, nor have I got fed up with the sports. The urgency of having to get on with it now if I am possibly going to get genuinely good should serve as a real spur.

I’ll keep you posted. I'm playing five-a-side tonight.

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

I’m Holding Out For A Hero

My difficulties with Typepad apparently (hopefully I should say) a thing of the past, I have a post up at Once More today. Please check it out.

Is Liam Fox Standing?

Yes. He's just comically small.

Very naughty joke, courtesy of a friend that I presume will want to remain nameless!

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Cricket, Lovely Cricket

Mark and Richard have both chastised me for not paying tribute to the England cricket team, whose sterling efforts in the Ashes have so captivated the nation. Perhaps an explanation is due.

Is it because I take a ‘drink no wine before it’s time’ attitude, and only want to wax lyrical when the Ashes have been secured? No. Is it because I think cricket is an inferior sport? Not at all. Is it because I object to the inclusion in the side of players who were not born in England? No. It’s very straightforward: I don’t like cricket very much.

Apart from a highly enjoyable spell at college when I played under Mark’s expert captaincy, I’ve never played the game. We did track and field at school during the summer, and as school discus champ, that suited me just fine. I pretty much never watch cricket on TV, and as a rule I find it rather boring.

Now don’t get me wrong – I repeat that I am NOT saying that cricket is an inferior sport. I actually think that most sports are admirable, and that it is just a question of taste. I can even rack my brain and remember enjoying the odd spell of cricket on TV. And certainly they are superb sportsmen – exhibiting mental and physical stamina, good strength and excellent hand-eye coordination. My friend Ben Gannon played for Gloucestershire and Middlesex, and I was very interested in his progress. And I like the fact that you can play over five days and still draw. Those kinds of idiosyncrasies add to the gaiety of nations.

I suppose what I’m really saying is that you don’t have to have contempt for things you don’t like. I am almost wholly uninterested in art. I become desperate for the exit within five minutes of a classical concert beginning. Do I think those things should be banned or invariably deprecated? Of course not.

I think much of one’s interest in a sport is dependent on the extent to which one understands it. I know I’d have liked American Football a bit better if I had truly appreciated everything that was going on. As it was I marvelled at the crowds, enjoyed hanging out with my friends, but didn’t really get into the games themselves. So here’s a challenge to me – learn more about these two great sports, and see if true love can blossom.

I have to part with a little sideswipe at my two buddies. When it comes to rugby and football, Mark supports Eire, and Richard supports Scotland. So how come they have any affection at all for the England cricket team? What’s going on there guys?!

Bench Press Report

Well, we did it. Last Sunday at least 200 of us packed into Que Pasa in Banbury, to watch or take part in our bench press competition. All told we have raised about £1,100 for Scope so far. There’s still time to kindly sponsor me, at, or you can email me at if you don’t want to donate online.

Enormous thanks are due to all my friends who made a donation, but I would like to single out Mark, who volunteered to come in and help for several hours. Phil was also good enough to show up. And my family were all there with bells on.

I benched badly, and am pissed off about that, but we are going to have raised a lot of cash, and I’ll have better days under the bar in future.
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