Thursday, 29 September 2011
If I was a member of the Labour Party, homeward bound from the conference and nursing a near fatal hangover, I would not be happy. Not because Miliband has come across as a bit of a muppet, or because of the embarrassingly contrite apologies,and not even because the party has failed to relaunch itself as any kind of left alternative. No, what would distress me would be the seemingly total lack of any ideas at all. I have absolutely no clue about what Ed Miliband stands for but I suspect that it is a kind of warm, cuddly capitalism where no one gets hurt and no one is too greedy. I thought that the best comments on his "good and bad" companies theme came from Autonomy CEO and techno billionaire Mike Lynch on the Today Program. I may not agree with Lynch's politics but at least he seems capable of reason.
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
At our allotment site we are lucky to have old fashioned hand pumps that will keep us supplied for as long as the water table stays more or less where it is now. Since I retired I have taken on looking after these pumps and as they are such a wonderful example of appropriate technology this is a real pleasure. The pumps are so simple yet so cleverly designed. At a recent talk about pump maintenance that I gave in an effort to get more plotholders involved I was banging on about what a wonderful bit of kit they are and mentioned that they remain a principle source of fresh water in many third world countries. "That will be handy," commented one smart arse, "we'll be a third world country ourselves soon". It's being so cheerful that keeps us going!
Monday, 26 September 2011
Is it just me or do party conference child prodigies give everyone the creeps? I'm sure that Rory Weal is a nice enough young chap and nothing like as smug as that dreadful Hague kid (remember him?). And what about that amazingly articulate young person who got all those Trot juices flowing at Stop The Cuts meetings a while back? Seriously, you have to admire any teenager who is articulate and self-confident enough to address a big conference audience but I can't help thinking that I prefer those young scallywags who were making bonfires in Whitehall nine months ago.
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
For us Freedom Pass psychogeographers, in our seemingly aimless wandering of the streets of London Town, there is just no escaping the Victorian legacy all around us. The strident self-confidence, a level of inequality that makes our own fractured society seem positively utopian, the huge wealth of Empire; the evidence is all there in front of us in the bricks and mortar that even a combined blitz of Nazi bombs and speculative office building have not been able to wipe out. Much of what our ancestors left behind, such as the horrendous Albert Memorial, is mawkish and grotesque but when it came to designing pubs and parks, two of my favourite places, the Victorians knew a thing or two I reckon.
Yesterday I visited two of my favourites. Much as I am a fan the clean lines of modernist architecture and design, when it comes to watering holes give me the Victorians every time. The Princess Louise in High Holborn is probably the best remaining example of a Victorian boozer that you are likely to find. Acres of gilt mirrors, etched glass, wonderful tiles, wood panelling and ornate plasterwork - why, even the urinal is a gem! Enjoy your refreshment and ponder the fact that back in neolithic times that old commie Ewan MacColl ran a folk club upstairs.
Take a short walk south from the Princess Louise. Make your way through Covent Garden, by all means stopping off for a quick one in the Lamb And Flag, cross The Strand and enter the second Victorian gem - The Victoria Embankment Gardens. This is a only a tiny park but to my mind is a real classic. So get yourself a coffee, find a vacant bench and relax. There! Not been a bad afternoon has it?
Sunday, 18 September 2011
How thoughtful of Energy Minister Chris Huhne ( Westminster School and Oxford) to point us all in the right direction regarding the best way to deal with escalating fuel costs. More households than ever are facing the prospect of fuel poverty but according to multi millionaire Huhne this is to some extent their own fault. Seems like we just can't be bothered to spend the time shopping around for a better deal. I see it all now. If I were to waste less time writing this blog and concentrate instead on searching the net for cheaper gas and electricity I could be fucking quids in.
This sort of condescending advice from our betters has a long history. We have even had to suffer well heeled MPs in much publicised "experiments" of living on dole money for a week before lecturing the lazy, undeserving poor on the benefits of a hearty lentil casserole and putting an extra blanket on the bed. OK! There's some truth in all this. There are a number of ways that we can save a bob or two. Growing your own, recycling, shopping around here there and everywhere for a better deal, these are all sensible things to do and yes, all that stuff can be fun - but a lot more fun when you aren't worried sick about the rent or mortgage, the cost of everything going up and just the sheer debilitating lack of any glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. I'm reminded of the slogan that I wrote almost forty years ago - KEEP WARM THIS WINTER. MAKE TROUBLE and look forward to hearing that victims of fuel poverty are getting the circulation going by dancing round a bonfire of Chris Huhne's furniture.
Saturday, 17 September 2011
Today's March For Secular Europe was predictable in a number of ways. A few hundred of us trudged along the mercifully short route from Victoria Embankment to Downing Street for the usual rally and speeches. Don't get me wrong. I may have misgivings about fighting for the separation of Church and State when in reality I would prefer to see the abolition of both, but none the less, I support the Secular Europe Campaign. The less influence that priests, mullahs, ju ju men and god botherers of every description have in our world the better and if undermining their power involves me with a liberal humanist current- so be it. This was pretty much what was going through my mind this afternoon. That is until Maryam Namazie of the Council Of Ex- Muslims took the stage. What a speaker! This is a lady who takes no prisoners. Not for her any wishy-washy liberal concerns about relativism or treading on the toes of some supposed minority. For her the only good religion is one that's on the back foot. Religion is a political force and resistance to it is a political act. If you have not heard her speak catch up here.
Thursday, 15 September 2011
One of the ways that groups of people differentiate themselves from others is by the food that they eat and how that food is prepared. This is no more than an amusing cultural footnote most of the time but the bringing of religion into the equation can make it very unamusing indeed. Proscribed foods, such as pig meat or holy cows, can take on a life or death importance in some societies. My own experiences in this area, while nothing like as dramatic as the Indian Mutiny, for example, have shown that even the most rational and open minded people would think twice about eating something that they were just not used to. Take "her indoors" for example. Coming from a Polish family she was brought up eating beetroot as a hot vegetable and of course as the main ingredient of borsch while I had never eaten it other than as a pickle or salad vegetable. When the subject of beetroot comes up down the allotments I find that the majority of growers still consider it to be something to steep in malt vinegar and eat with summer salads. Strange, but not mind you as strange as Jon Snow's recent revelation that he had never sampled the delights of HP sauce (what?). Britain is full of odd regional culinary variations but surely none more idiosyncratic than the one that I encountered as a teenager. Thames bargemen hailed from either North or South of the Thames Estuary and on the whole Essex and Kent crews got along pretty well. We drank in the same pubs, endured the same bad weather and suffered at the hands of the same owners. But in one important respect we were two distinct tribes and that concerned the famous, or infamous, bargeman's duff. No meal was considered complete without a steamed suet pudding. This monster of the deep, liberally laced with raisins, was wrapped in butter papers and a tea towel ( none of that effete pudding basin nonsense) and plunged into a vat of boiling water and simmered for a couple of hours. Now we come to the contentious bit. Whereas those tough blokes from Erith, Gravesend and the Medway Towns would have the duff as "afters" sprinkled with sugar, the Essex Bargeman preferred his duff to be served with his meat, gravy and spuds. Each side avowed that the other were no more than "fucking savages" but both agreed that any leftover duff should be fried with a few rashers of fat bacon the following morning. I can taste it now.
Monday, 12 September 2011
As I have mentioned previously on this blog, what is unfolding at Dale Farm is more complex then either the local objectors to the site or the Vanessa Redgraves of the world would care to admit to. Now the news that a police raid on a traveller site in Bedfordshire has resulted in a number of half starved slave workers, some held for up to fifteen years, being freed will hopefully concentrate the minds of those people who are keen to support anyone who is in conflict with the authorities. This is not to suggest that all travellers are slave masters of course but we should not be blind to the fact that the travelling community is home to some very unpleasant individuals. This recent raid comes after a similar case in Hampshire in June and will no doubt be used as ammunition against Dale Farm.
This case is about a few dozen vulnerable men held for years to work as labourers. They deserve our sympathy, but no more so than the hundreds of women sold into the sex trade of our major cities. It's a shocking reality that slavery did not end with William Wilbeforce but is still a feature of the modern world.
Saturday, 10 September 2011
The Conway Hall in Red Lion Square has always struck me as a slightly odd place.It's home to the wonderfully named South Place Ethical Society who to their shame hired the hall to the National Front for a meeting in June 1974. During the protest outside the hall Kevin Gately was killed, believed clubbed to death by mounted police. It was a low point for Conway Hall. Over the years I have attended all kinds of events in the slightly shabby but atmospheric old building. Events ranging from a meeting in support of the Anguilla Revolution (look it up!) to the May '68 Celebrations to a Marlene Dietrich tribute a couple of nights ago. Those of you who have an interest in 9/11 truthers and conspiracy theories in general might want to check out the event on 25th September.
Thursday, 8 September 2011
Most people, when addressing someone who's name they do not know, will use a term of endearment - mate, love, dear, chum, depending on, amongst other things, what part of the country they come from. Back in the day when we had a Merchant Navy it was common for men to address each other as "chief". I am now of an age when I sometimes get called "guv". I quite like it. I have noticed however that the middle-class, I suppose in an effort to differentiate themselves from the working, or feral under as we now say, class, have taken to addressing people as "there". "Hello there", they chirp. I don't know how this originated but it may possibly be an aping of the upper-class, "I say, you there." Anyone getting a PhD out of this owes me a pint.
Now that everyone from Toby Young to Transcendental Maharishi Whatsit to business empires wanting to add education to their corporate social responsibility profiles, can open a Free School we might ask, "free in what sense?" Some of the parents interviewed in the last few days seem to be under the impression that an education comparable to a public school one is being offered, but for free. There was a Free School movement in this country years ago and many anarchists were involved in it. These schools aimed to be free from learning by rote and free from the unquestioning obedience and brutal regimes of corporal punishment that was the norm in British education; state and private. Some of these schools, such as A.S Neill's Summerhill, were far from free in the monetary sense with fees comparable to other establishments in the private sector. Most of us felt that isolating kids from the mainstream, be it in some posh private school or a free for all hippy establishment, was both socially divisive and not in the best interests of the kids themselves and that "free range" was something perhaps best reserved for poultry. We opted for the Comp down the road. By the late 70's many of the radical ideas about the role of freedom in child development had filtered through to the mainstream. Those are the very ideas that have been consistently challenged by the right ever since and routinely blamed for every social ill imaginable. How ironic that the most recent critique of the idea of freedom in education will come from "Free Schools".
Monday, 5 September 2011
I'm afraid that I did not turn out to protest the EDL's expedition to the East End. I figured that the two hundred thousand residents of Tower Hamlets could probably manage without me. From what I can make out the Master Race got totally poleaxed in Kings Cross, hurled abuse at anyone a bit foreign looking and made their way back to Luton via Aldgate Tube Station. Not my idea of a day out but each to their own. No, I spent the weekend in North Devon exploring the Lorna Doone country. Walking up the valley of Badgworthy Water to the remains of the old medieval village it's easy to see how RD Blackmoor was able to fantasize about this hidden tree lined cleft in the moor being the headquarters of a band of outlaws. It is a truly magical landscape.
Early the following morning, walking down Lynton High Street to get the paper, I paused outside Lloyds Bank. A note had been tucked behind a pipe running up the wall. Curious as ever I stopped to read it. "The revolution will not be televised", it read. Who was the author? Lynton's only Gil Scott-Heron fan? A teenage revolutionary trapped in this quiet village that becomes infested with Devon Cream Tea eating, Daily Mail reading coffin-dodgers in summer?
Will she make the break and take her dreams for reality because she believes in the reality of her dreams? I hope so.
Thursday, 1 September 2011
A number of things are happening at Dale Farm. For starters there is the question of planning permission, or rather the lack of planning permission. Basildon Council are adamant that establishing a residential settlement without planning permission can't be tolerated regardless of who owns the land. For them it's a straightforward planning issue. Most of us, and I'm no different, have a pretty ambiguous attitude toward planning. We hate bureaucratic interference but not as much as we hate powerful developers or supermarkets who can afford to force a planning department into court over and over again until they finally wear them down. Some of us wonder how come Canary Wharf required no planning permission but woe betide any harmless back to the lander who buys a small plot of secluded woodland and decides to live there.
Something else unfolding at Dale Farm is another act in the long drama of the provision of traveler sites. The 1968 Caravan Sites Act, it's eventual repeal in 1994 and the recognition by traveling people that even owning the land that they pulled up on would be no guarantee of being left in peace are all part of a sorry history. It's a history that government, local authorities and the police all come out off looking a lot less than heroic or even remotely generous spirited.
Yet another strand to the story is the perennial distrust that the mainstream of society has toward anyone on the margins. In the past I have lived as an itinerant canal boater and finished my working life as a Thames lockkeeper so have seen that particular branch of travelling life from both sides. I could never see what the problem was. Sure, many people start out with a dream of continually cruising only to find that the reality of work/signing on, schools, doctors etc make staying in one place for long periods a better option. It is also very easy to put a few items (coal, firewood) on the bank and end up with the place looking less than tidy. I speak as someone who kept poultry on the towpath and even had a secret garden where we grew vegetables and a huge crop of dope. It can get a bit out of hand but truth be told we did very little harm. I am convinced that much of the objection to travelers is all about a bitter envy of a people who are perceived, however inaccurately, as being more "free" and in some way getting away with something; something their critics would love to get away with if only they had the bottle. Economic hard times, combined with a housing shortage and high rents, will likely lead to an increase in the number of people living a marginal life. As always they will be easy scapegoats and at the moment the coalition must be credited with not creating the kind of rabid atmosphere that led to the Battle Of The Beanfield under Thatcher.
So is all this an apology for the Irish traveler community? Not really. I suspect that Vanessa Redgrave would be less than enamoured if a couple of hundred travellers rocked up next to her drum. All that Catholicism, superstition, anti-social behaviour and dodgy asphalt jobs mean that we have little in common apart from a genuine love of boxing and the turf. But then again.....