Our trip to hell and back! Really? Back? 

Hi everyone, sorry it has been so long since I last wrote but what started as a dream vacation two months ago, turned into a nightmare. A nightmare that has not yet finished.

It will take me more than one post to let you know what happened. For now, I’ll just give you a brief summary. More details will be given in further posts in the next few weeks.

It all started about a week before my wife Lisa and I were due to leave. We could smell gasoline in our car when it was idling, so we took it into our local repair shop. Two days later, the bad news arrived. The car needed a new engine.

We are on first name terms with the boss, so when he suggested our car be scrapped – that is exactly what we did. Then, and now, there’s not enough money in our bank to replace it. We are stuck at home. We are in the country, nearly a mile from the main road but even there, there is no bus service. And our nearest town is a good 20€ taxi ride away. A car of our own is essential.

Holiday dream shattered

Anyway, back to our vacation.

We had already pre-booked a ride to the airport. He was an hour late, great start.

Flight one, no problem, but flight two was delayed. This meant missing our connection and having to take a replacement flight the next day.

Flight three went without a hitch. Phew, we were in Los Angeles.

We stayed in LA for almost a week, but we didn’t visit anywhere or take a tour, as we gad planned, for reasons I’ll explain in another post.

That Sunday, we flew to San Diego and boarded our cruise ship, the Carnival Miracle. That turned out to be the worst cruise of our lives! Watch here to discover why.

Back in San Diego after the 7-day trip, we had a one-night stay in a hotel. The next morning, I was rushed to hospital by ambulance. Instead of going home, I was set for five days in hospital – and, not having travel insurance, now face a bill of nearly $40,000 .

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To help me meet the costs of a wheelchair accessible vehicle and the hospital care, I have started a Go Fund Me page. Please help by making a donation, however small, HERE.

Thank you

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Nobody puts Baby in the corner

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Baby (Jessie Hart) and Johnny Houseman (Lewis Kirk) danced their way to success in the roles made famous 28 years ago by Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze.

 

A stupendous production with fantastic scenery and stunning visual effects brought a well-deserved standing ovation from a packed theatre when, last night, Lisa and I saw Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage. It was live on stage at Venue Cymru in Llandudno, as part of its UK national tour.

Meanwhile, the same producers have other performing companies on tour in the USA and Australia with more countries lined up to make it a real worldwide enterprise.

Of course, I can only speak of the UK show but if the others are anything like the performance we saw last night, all I can say is: if it comes to a theatre near you, don’t hesitate, buy your tickets immediately.

Moreover, it is on at Venue Cymru until Saturday 17th October, so if you are anywhere near North Wales make the effort to go and see it. You won’t regret it – but don’t delay as tickets are selling really fast.

I doubt many people have not seen the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing that starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey; that was a rip-roaring box office hit and I just have to say that this stage show captured everyone’s favourite parts of the film to perfection.

Lewis Kirk excelled as Johnny Castle while Jessie Hart danced her way into our hearts as Frances Houseman, better known as ‘Baby’.

So let’s take you back. It’s the summer of 1963, and 17 year- old ‘Baby’ is about to learn some major lessons in life as well as a thing or two about dancing.

Baby’s life is about to change forever as she is thrown in at the deep end as Johnny’s leading lady both on-stage and off with breathtaking consequences.

But it is not just Johnny and Baby that were great, there is the rest of the energetic cast that wrapped up the whole audience in a totally authentic stage version of the movie.

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage features hit songs including ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘Hey! Baby’, ‘Do you love me?’ and the heart-stopping ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of my Life’.

Many favourite original masters are featured within this stage sensation blending the movie soundtrack seamlessly with live performances by the cast. Some of these classic tracks include ‘Cry To Me’ by the larger-than-life rhythm & blues singer, Solomon Burke, the no.1 hit single ‘Hey! Baby’ by Bruce Channel and ‘These arms of mine’, Otis Redding’s first solo record.

Of course, the very last and highly emotional scene (yes there were some tears in the audience) is when Johnny says the famous line “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” and then they go into the I’ve Had the Time of my Life dance that culminates in Castle’s lift of Baby as she seems to fly in his arms.

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The author’s years of experience in journalism includes being a theatrical columnist and critic.

World has history of extremism

Fire mem

Extremists are generally accepted as being bad news by most people who regard themselves as reasonable or moderate.

Jihadists, such as those making up the murderous Islamic State, are probably the most well-known extremists in today’s world but they are by no means the only ones; neither now nor in history.

In earlier times, fundamentalist Christians found themselves in violent conflict with rebels in Syria; the white-supremacist Klu Klux Klan burnt crosses and carried out terror campaigns mainly in USA’s deep south; and both republican and ‘loyalist’ paramilitary organisations killed and maimed in Northern Ireland. Of course, the most renowned and successful act of terrorism by an extremist group was the 9/11 attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon, Washington DC.

Pool namesAlong with the other plane hijacks, the effect of flying two air liners into the towers was devastating. Thousands died on that sad day, not only many who worked there but also hundreds of firefighters who entered the buildings to try and save people.

And we have seen extreme terrorist groups such as the Red Brigade and Black September. It was the latter group that was responsible for the atrocity involving the kidnap and subsequent massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and one police officer at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. This horrendous event is firmly etched in the memory of those who were around at the time.

To a lesser degree, we have seen American citizens angry at the killing of black people by white police officers. This has given rise to a protest group ranged under the banner of ‘Black Lives Matter’. Some of their protests have included a chant “pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon”, referring to killing police officers. That is a terrible thing to incite. There is no way that I can condone violence of that kind.

While I am reluctant, as a British citizen, to comment on domestic issues in the USA, for what it’s worth, I really do need to express my own views. Right here, right now.

Of course black lives matter, how could anyone argue otherwise? But so do Asian lives, Oriental lives, white lives and soFreedom top on. In short, all lives matter or should matter – not just black ones. It might be that what they really mean is that ‘black lives matter too’ because they don’t believe black people get a fair deal right now.

Veering off the subject slightly, it is amazing to me that society can allow organisations that are distinguished by race or gender. In the UK, we have a Black Police Officers’ Association, an Association of Muslim Police Officers and Women’s organisations of all three of the main political parties, for example. Could we have a White Police Officers Association or Men’s sections of political parties? No? Why not? Simply because White and Men’s would be considered racist and sexist respectively, whereas the Black, Muslim and Women’s groups are seemingly acceptable.

Well, at the risk of utter condemnation from those who disagree, I consider those ‘acceptable’ groups to be just as racist and sexist as the others. And society in general is being hypocritical in allowing such organisations to exist.

 

Main photo: Firefighters’ memorial at 9/11 Memorial.

Middle: Two pools mark the former locations of the Twin Towers, with names of those who died on their surrounds.

Bottom: Freedom Tower, the new 1 World Trade Centre.

All pictures: Ian Franks, December 2014.

Could Sanders win like Corbyn?

bernie sandersJeremy Corbyn new

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senator Bernie Sanders (left) and Jeremy Corbyn MP

Now the new leader of the UK’s Labour Party might not seem in any way connected to a hopeful campaigning to win the US’s Democratic Party nomination as its candidate for the Presidency but there are striking similarities.

Eventual winner of the Labour Party leadership election was, as of course we all know, Jeremy Corbyn. The guy struggled to get onto the ballot paper as not enough MPs supported him. In fact, he made it with only five minutes to go before nominations closed. And then only because some MPs who did not support him, and subsequently did not vote for him, decided to nominate him so that his arguments could be heard.

And heard they were, leading to the outsider, the maverick who has often rebelled and refused to vote as instructed by party whips, being elected with an amazing 59.5% of the votes cast. He won the majority of votes of trade unionists, full members and party supporters. But not the majority of MPs, those he now has to lead in parliament.

Those MPs who nominated him but never actually supported Corbyn or his policies must now regret their actions. He was not supposed to win; he was almost a joke candidate. But his left-wing old Labour message rang true with so many and he quickly became regarded as the most authentic of the four candidates – which is why the pro-Corbyn landslide crushed the other three candidates.

In America, the fight to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for the November 2016 election for the office of President is well under way. In the early stages, this was dominated by Hillary Clinton, wife of former President Bill Clinton. Of course, since being First Lady she has been a Senator, a contender for being the party candidate eight years ago when she lost to Obama, and then served as his Secretary of State during his first term in the White House.

Since enjoying a great start, out of nowhere came competition in the form of a left wing senator from Vermont. Bernie Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist (a word that was once labelled its owner as being un-American and untrustworthy). Now, though, it is Hillary’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State that is leading to her being widely considered the one who cannot be trusted.

While Sander’s policies may be different to Corbyn’s, although some may be quite familiar, his campaign message resonates with those that distrust the establishment and want a new way. Labour high-ups did not want Corbyn and Democratic chiefs don’t want Sanders.

This may be because both Corbyn and Sanders seem to be advocating a new kind of politics and it is this that appears to have caught the imagination of voters. Sanders is now the front runner in both New Hampshire and Iowa, two states that in January will choose whom they support. His fundraising is now at the same level as Clinton’s, he has energised a great deal of support among the young as well as the traditionally disaffected.

Corbyn has also tapped into this pool of support – with the Labour Party’s membership growing by 50,000 in the first week after his election. That is an increase of more than 16% and is still growing.

Could Jeremy Corbyn’s dramatic win in the UK be an indication that Bernie Sanders will be the Democrat candidate for the Presidency?

Free rugby at theatre

theatr 1

Rugby Union fans around the globe are avidly following the fortunes of the various nations in the Rugby World Cup, especially if one of the teams is from their own country.

The group stages end this coming weekend, then the last eight teams go into the knockout stages.

Embarrassingly for this time’s host nation England, its team has become the first in the competition’s history not to qualify for those knockout stages. Yes, with one group game still to play, England knows it cannot reach the quarter-finals. It will be playing Uruguay purely for the honour of winning.

The England team’s fate was decided by losing successive matches to Wales and Australia, both at England’s home ground of Twickenham, over the last week.

It means that Wales face Australia this Saturday to decide the winner and runner-up of group A. This is important as the winner will face the runner-up of group B, likely to be Scotland, while the runner-up will play the winner of group B, almost certainly South Africa.

So, it is great to see that North Wales rugby fans are being given to watch this key match live at Theatr Colwyn. And when I say ‘given’ I mean just that. There will be no charge. It is a tremendous community benefit provided by theatre management.

It is an example of extremely forward thinking by a really progressive management team that deserves to see its theatre packed out.

Actually, Theatre Colwyn is getting used to capacity audiences. As well as live theatrical performances, its progamme includes films as well as live screenings of major live performances elsewhere.

For example, the National Theatre’s production of Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch. This has proved to be in so much demand that the live screening is sold out and the theatre has now announced that it will be having what it calls an ‘encore’ screening on another evening. This is its term for showing of a recording made in Theatr Colwyn of the live performance.

And it is made possible by the installation of a hi-tech, state of the art, digital projector a couple of years, or so, ago.

So, rugby fans will be able to see all the action on Saturday evening on a cinema-sized screen, presented using digital equipment for the very best in both visual and sound quality. That will be a real treat for anyone unable to travel to see the match itself.

Theatr Colwyn, alongside its bigger ‘sister’ Venue Cymru, is owned by the local authority – Conwy County Borough Council. However, to the credit of the councillors, it does not seem to have its ambitions curtailed by excessive amounts of red tape.

As well as being a theatre and cinema, it is also the home of Oriel Colwyn, a gallery that has a continuous variety of exhibitions of art and photography. It is a delightful place to see and often welcomes visitors from around the world. So, wherever in the world you live, if you find yourself in the seaside town of Colwyn Bay do drop in. You will be assured of a warm welcome by manager Philip and his team.

Showing we care

world animal day_edited

Not quite sure why but World Animal Day crept up on me; maybe it was the careful stealth of its approach – like a cat stalking its prey.

Anyway, here it is. Today, 4th October, is World Animal Day, chosen because it is the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. Perhaps we should remember, too, that the Pope chose Francis as his name in honour of St Francis.

So, why do we have a world day for animals? In short, to get people involved in getting a better future for animals.

The lives of animals are profoundly affected by the actions of individuals, businesses, and nations.  It’s therefore essential that, as sentient beings, their rightful status as recipients of social justice is established and translated into effective animal protection.

And it is at this point that I feel it is necessary to state my utter distaste for the recent comments made by Princess Michael of Kent when she said that animals do not have “rights” because they cannot pay taxes.

WAD-horse-2_editedSpeaking at a literary festival in the UK, she said: “We’re always hearing about animal rights. Well, I’m a great animal lover, and involved in a lot of conservation, but animals don’t have rights. They don’t have bank accounts, they don’t vote.

“We have an obligation to animals but to say they have rights? You only have rights if you pay your taxes. You earn your rights.”

As a self-professed animal lover who once hand-reared a cheetah, Princess Michael seems to have missed the point. She is saying that as animals cannot do certain human things, they cannot enjoy the same rights as we do. But they surely do have animal rights; they are sentient creatures and they need to be cared for with kindness and fairness as well as being provided with all they need.

World Animal Day organisers say: “Through increased awareness and education, we can help develop a compassionate culture which feeds into legal reform and social progress to make this world a fairer place for all living creatures.  A world where animals are recognised as sentient beings and full regard is always paid to their welfare.

Hopefully, increased awareness linked with better education, for both adults and children, will gradually but steadily WAD-fox-2_editedinfluence attitudes of people towards treating animals in the humane and compassionate way in which they deserve and to which they have a right.

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*As writer of this blog, it is necessary to make it clear that I am in favour of the humane treatment of all animals but am not a vegetarian. I have years of experience in agricultural journalism and believe that animal farming for the provision of meat can be carried out with compassion and kind treatment. I am, however, opposed to the killing of any animals for their skins, furs or any other parts. Similarly, I reject the need for the use of animals in laboratory testing of cosmetics or any other product developed for mankind. There may be justification for limited animal use in the field of medicinal research.

Guide Dogs Week – still time for your support

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Guide Dogs are valued around the world. This one is working in Brazil.

GUIDE DOGS Week, halfway through

Service or assistance dogs, those wonderfully intelligent and friendly creatures, are known throughout the world for their dedication to their owners. They can be hearing dogs, guide dogs or provide another form of invaluable help.

Well, today (Wednesday) is the halfway point of Guide Dogs Week in the UK and it runs until the 11th. The Guide Dogs for the Blind charity is encouraging people to Stand Out for Guide Dogs, part of which is to take a photograph of yourself highlighted in neon paint. It is fun and looks impressive.

The charity says: “We will not rest until people who are blind or partially sighted can enjoy the same freedom of movement as everyone else.

“Every hour another person in the UK goes blind. We need your help to make sure that when someone loses their sight they don’t lose their freedom as well.”

During Guide Dogs Week you can help change more lives and create more partnerships. I urge you to do all that you can to help this great cause.

Many years ago, I was a member of a young men’s service organisation called Round Table. Our chosen charity that year was the Guide Dogs and through effort and determination we raised enough to pay for the training of a dog.

A few years later, I found myself volunteering as an adult leader in the Scouts. Our cub pack was raising money for the same charity and was successful enough to be able to choose a name for a dog. We held our meetings in the church hall, so we named her after the saint of the church.

In the last couple of weeks, twice these fantastic animals have caused me to think of their bravery and commitment to the task they have been expertly trained to carry out.

The first was an incident in which a taxi driver reversed his vehicle onto a pavement (sidewalk in the US) and into a young, newly trained guide dog and her owner. The fact that the pavement was in use seemed not to bother him and the car did not stop until the blind man realised what was happening and tapped on it with his cane.

Police were called but no action is being taken against the driver who has said he is going to claim damages from the blind person for denting the taxi. That is ridiculous, isn’t it? Luckily, the dog only suffered bruising but we don’t yet know if her training will be enough to overcome the shock of the incident.

The second dog is Lara, a yellow Labrador. After just four years’ service, she has been found to be suffering from a birth defect that could not be discovered at an early stage and so she needs help. Her female owner decided to retire her in March this year and, speaking to her just the other day, I asked when she can get a new guide dog. I thought that she would have a new guide living alongside the retired one.

lara2In fact, she won’t have another guide dog while Lara is still with her. Her words brought tears to my eyes.

“My mobility had to come second to her needs.. I am waiting until Lara is no longer with us, wouldn’t be fair, she has a lot of needs so she has to come first.

“I wouldn’t have had it any other way, she took care of me for nearly four years, kept me safe. Now it’s my turn to take care of her and give her the best life I can with the huge restrictions she has. Sadly her working life was very short, she was an amazing guide dog, so intelligent she qualified early, best in her year. She’s a very spoilt lady now!”

And repaying Lara’s dedication and service with such love means that this woman is once again getting about using a white cane.

Such a two-way bond of love and trust is just beyond words.

 

Retired Guide Dog Lara enjoying the sofa.

 

  • You can find Lara’s owner on Twitter @barefoot&paws

 

 

 

 

Ambulance targets ditched for 90% of emergency calls

ambulance colours

If you have a target that you fail to achieve year after year, there is a simple answer. Just tear up the rules and start again.

It’s what is sometimes called ‘moving the goalposts’ – and there really is no better description.

Ambulances have target response times, not just where you live but almost everywhere. In Wales, UK, the target is to reach 65% of emergency incidents in eight minutes. But, after seven consecutive months of improving to 61.7% – so target was still missed – in August the success rate fell to 58.8%. The September figure is not yet available.

So, now a new system for dealing with emergency 999 calls for ambulances in Wales has come into force and response time targets will be scrapped for all but life-threatening cases during a one-year trial.

Calls will now be graded and it is estimated only 10% of the 420,000 ambulance emergencies a year will be coded “red” for the most critical.

Welsh Ambulance Service chief executive Tracy Myhill tried to put some spin on the slackening of the targets by saying that the new system was based on clinical evidence and put the sickest patients first.

Under the new system, emergency telephone operators will assess how serious each incident is and despatch ambulances in the order of severity and according to predetermined classifications which are colour-coded like traffic lights.

Life-threatening emergencies are the top priority, coloured red – and it is only this group, the estimated 10%, to which the eight minute response time target still applies.

In the United States there are no official Federal or State standards for response times but they often do appear in contracts between communities and Emergency Medical Service providers.

This has led to considerable variations between standards in one community and another. New York City, for example, has a 10-minute response requirement on emergency calls, while other places have response time standards of up to 15 minutes.

It seems to be generally accepted within the emergency services field that an ‘ideal’ response time would be within eight minutes for 90% of calls but this objective is rarely achieved and current thinking questions whether or not that standard has ever been valid’.

As call volumes increase and resources and funding fails to keep pace with the growing demand, even large ambulance services find that they have difficulty in meeting the standards. So Wales is definitely not alone.

Whether it is right to change the rules and take 90% of emergency calls outside any response time target, however, is open to question.

I suppose that we will just have to wait and see how the new system works – or doesn’t.

Execution stayed: Beyond reasonable doubt? Really?

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Richard Glossip.  (pic: Sky News)

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin granted a 37 day stay of execution an hour after the US Supreme Court today (Wednesday) refused to consider new evidence.

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After a long legal fight ending in a 3-2 split decision of judges in the state criminal appeal court, a man convicted of murder in the US state of Oklahoma was due to be executed by lethal injection today, Wednesday.

He had lost his final legal bid to avoid being put to death. Only the Governor could order a stay.

Now, I am not going to enter or even start a debate about the rights and wrongs of any country or, as in the US, any state having capital punishment as an ultimate sanction. But I am going to question the competency of a judicial system that has convicted this man, Richard Glossip.

Let’s look at the undisputed facts of the case.

Barry Van Treese, who owned an Oklahoma City motel, was murdered in 1997. At that time, Glossip, now aged 52, worked there.

Justin Sneed, a handyman at the motel, admitted killing Van Treese with a baseball bat but said Glossip had paid him to do it.

He denies any involvement and says he has been ‘framed’.

Strangely, there was no physical evidence linking Glossip to the crime, just the testimony of the then teenager Sneed who escaped the death penalty in return for testifying against Glossip.

Sneed is serving a jail sentence, while Glossip still faces the death penalty.

What I find peculiar is that without any physical evidence, the prosecution’s case depended solely on the word of the person who admits carrying out the murder. And he became a prosecution witness as part of a deal with the District Attorney; a deal that meant he did not have to face the death penalty for his actions.

So, the court in Oklahoma had the word of one man against another – with no physical evidence.

Now, I may be missing something here but it seems to me to be impossible for anyone on a jury to say, after considering the testimonies of both men, that Glossip was guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Hell, I would surely have had reasonable doubt.

But two juries did decide just that. Yes, somehow, he was convicted twice.

And that is why Richard Glossip’s life was almost ended today. I don’t know if Glossip is innocent but to me he was not proved guilty beyond all reasonable doubt and that means he should have been acquitted.

It is often said that if you are not guilty you have nothing to fear. It seems that may not be true in all parts of the US.

British justice with understanding and compassion

Meanwhile, in the UK, a woman who admitted stabbing a man to death has had her prison sentence reduced from 7 years to just 3½ years. She had been cleared of murder but convicted of manslaughter.sarah sands

Her victim, Michael Pleasted, was a convicted paedophile and was on bail awaiting trial on further charges of sexual assault on young boys.

The judge stated that he had reduced the sentence to such a level because Sarah Sands, 32, (pictured right) had lost control and afterwards had given herself up to police, admitted what she had done, had not attempted to conceal or dispose of any evidence and had shown remorse through the investigation and trial.

He described it as an extraordinary case and also said the he had taken into account that Sands is a single mother.

I can think of more than a few people who would have happily done the same thing as this woman.

(Sarah Sands’s pic: Metropolitan Police/PA)

Sombrero Silly Students

sombrero  pedro's

Oh dear, it’s the silly season again. Well, to be totally honest, students’ union officers at a British university have proved just how daft supposedly intelligent people can be. A prime example of such silliness was in clamping down on a bit of fun in the name of fighting ‘racism’ and following their own ill-thought out rules.

It all came about at the Freshers’ Fair held at the University of East Anglia. This is where new students go to find out more about various clubs and societies they may want to join and also some local businesses take the opportunity to introduce themselves.

And it was one of these commercial operations that ran into trouble. Why? You might well ask.

Pedro’s, a local Tex-Mex restaurant chose to give away sombreros, you know the type – the outsize Mexican hat, to promote their business.

That’s where the Ministry of Silly Walks Rules got involved in the form of the union officials. They moved quickly to stop Pedro’s staff giving out any more hats and even went around taking the hats from students who had accepted them.

Then, with all the pomposity and seriousness they could muster they said that they took that action because non-Mexicans wearing the traditional item of headwear could be seen as offensive.

A union spokesman stated that the handing out of sombreros breached a key advertising policy which was sent to all stall holders before the event, prohibiting any use of stereotypical imagery in advertising.

It says: “Discriminatory or stereotypical language or imagery aimed towards any group or individual based on characteristics will not be permitted as part of our advertising.” Apparently, the sombreros were seen as potentially offensive and even racist under the policy that lists 15 types of discrimination, some of which include colour, ethnic origin and nationality.

Now, anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time will know that my wife is American. So, I asked her two questions: First, I asked if an American restaurant in the UK chose to give away promotional Stetsons, the traditional cowboy hat, and she saw them worn by non-Americans of any ethnic origin at all, would she be offended. She answered NO.

Ok so far, so onto the second question: I knew Lisa had been to Mexico and I needed her first-hand experience. Do they sell sombreros to tourists as souvenirs? YES, she said. And are they offended when a non-Mexican wears one? NO, of course not, she answered.

That rather destroys the silly rules to which the students’ union officials were claiming to be adhering. If Mexicans in Mexico sell these hats to tourists, how can anyone believe that they can cause offence? It is just nonsense.

One fresher is reported by a student newspaper as saying: “”It’s ridiculous – it’s a comedy hat, not some sort of sacred religious dress. Who is going to get offended? Speedy Gonzales?”

I could not agree more.

And, while I commend the union for attempting to be inclusive and non-discriminatory, it does desperately need two things as a matter of urgency, a sense of humour and a good portion of common sense.