“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Public school/Oxbridge elite rule country shock.

The stats of inequality always make for sobering and sometimes shocking reading. Ever since I first started to take an interest in politics I have been digesting statistics about the percentage of global wealth owned by a tiny minority of the population. Now the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission have published a report detailing the social and financial advantages of attending private school and Oxbridge. 71% of senior judges, 62% of top army posts, 47% of newspaper columnists, 44% of the Sunday Times Rich List, 35% of Cameron's Cabinet, were all educated privately. But surely this is not a surprise. If there were not such huge advantages to a private education no one would pay the fees.  What is surprising is the numbers of working class people who by hard work and determination manage to break through and reach high standards of personal academic achievement. Some remember where they came from and devote much energy to giving others a hand up - others do not. At the end of the day inequality of opportunity means the loss to society of a huge reservoir of talent and the sad loss of personal fulfilment for countless millions. But we all know this. What we need is not the likes of Owen Jones foaming at the mouth and jerking himself off over the stats of inequality but a vision of what an alternative might look like and how to get to there from here.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Learning the ropes.

I always do my best to make newcomers welcome down at the allotments and if I can pass on any of my limited knowledge of growing a bit of veg I am only too happy to do so. I can well remember when the boot was on the other foot.
When Her Indoors and I rented a cottage and three acres in South Devon back in 1970 we were full of enthusiasm but totally lacking in any knowledge of how to care for livestock or grow anything at all. We borrowed books from Plymouth library but by far our main source of information was due to the kindness of neighbours who patiently explained what to them must truly have seemed the "bleedin' obvious". There was the couple who, as well as holding down full time jobs, ran a small egg and veg enterprise and they took us under their wing and showed us the basics of poultry keeping and horticulture.  There were also the two Arthurs.  One of the Arthurs just seemed to turn up on the doorstep one day, introduced himself and suggested that we keep a few pigs. Being suspicious townies I think that we might have wondered what his game was at first but in no time at all he had formed a pig keeping partnership with "Her Indoors", found us some work spud picking on the farm where he was employed and had become a constant source of information and encouragement.
We inherited the other Arthur as he was keeping bantams on part of the property when we arrived. Arthur number two was a retired farm labourer who lived with his large family on the council estate that bordered our holding. Previously the whole clan had lived in an isolated,and from all accounts pretty primitive, tied cottage with a herd of goats and countless chickens and ducks. The various boxes, runs and coops of bantams kept in our garden were Arthur's link to his past life. Always wearing a flat cap and usually dressed in a rather greasy gabardine raincoat with a piece of baler twine tied around the middle, Arthur would appear in our kitchen every morning, remove his cap, perhaps extract a particularly pretty bantam hen from his pocket, and make polite conversation about the weather before going off to feed and water his flock.   Arthur had spent all of his life in rural Devon apart from during the First World War when he had been "Out in Mespot. " He did his best to advise us but frequently struggled to come to terms with the true depths of our ignorance. One time I decided to scythe the field for hay to feed the goats during the winter. I ran the plan past Arthur. "So I cut it, leave it to dry, turn it and leave to dry again, then bring it in? Is that all you have to do with it Arthur?"  The old chap was silent. Removed his cap. Scratched his head before replying, " Well, there ain't much more you can do with it is there?" We had never met anyone like Arthur before and I doubt if he had met anyone like us either. He would never know that those two clueless young people would remember him for the rest of their lives.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Sale of the century.

I am mainly aware of writer and journalist James Meek through The Peoples Act Of Love, his epic tale of Revolutionary Russia, the Czech Legion, castration cults, armed trains and the Siberian winter. If it were possible for a Scot to write a great Russian novel in the 21st century Meek is your man. Earlier this year he wrote one of the most insightful articles about the current situation in Ukraine that I have come across and now turns his attention closer to home with a new book Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs To Someone Else. The great British knock down sale of national assets may not have been quite as traumatic as the Russian equivalent but it changed the face of this country and there is little sign that the increasing polarisation of wealth is likely to stop any time soon. There will be no going back. I look forward to James Meek's contribution to understanding how it all came to this.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Norman Cornish and the new Kings Cross.

A few days ago some journalist or other, I can't remember what paper, was banging on about how wonderful the new Kings Cross is. Comparing today's uber-sterile environment to the old Kings Cross of prostitutes and junkies this scribe was claiming to wait for a later train these days so cool and trendy had the place become. I would be the last one to glamorise either the sex trade or smack addiction and I well remember just how grim a road York Way was in the seventies but am I the only one to think that the back of the station redevelopment has been hyped up out of all proportion? I wandered through the area the other day on my way to visit the Norman Cornish exhibition at Kings Place. Cornish, who died earlier this month, was the last of the so called Pitmen Painters and his work captures the thirty years he spent in the mines as well as the life of the local pubs and streets. For better or worse it's a world that has gone forever now - and it was a world away from the new Kings Cross.

Monday, 18 August 2014

A sporting weekend to remember.

It was certainly some weekend for British sport. What with the biggest ever medal haul at the European Athletic Championships, the England team taking home the Women's Rugby World Cup, Alistair Cook   coming good in the end and leading his team to victory in the 5th Test and series against India and Sheffield's Kell Brooks winning the IBF version of the World Welterweight Championship, blimey!
What all this sporting activity meant for most of us of course was spending hours slumped on the sofa watching other people exert themselves. All well and good, and I spent far too much time glued to the box myself to start throwing stones at anyone else, but perhaps we could have done with a bit more publicity for initiatives like the Street Games charity who while all the splendours of the elite side of sport were going on gave 1,500 disadvantaged London kids the chance to try a sport at a multi-sport festival. Yes, I do know about the Coke and Mars sponsorship but needs must.

Covert insertions and tangled webs.

Some Kurdish factions are claiming that the jihadist fighters of Islamic State are being secretly trained by the Turkish Army in the hope that IS will act as a buffer to Kurdish national aspirations. It might seem unlikely that the Turkish government would want to fund a force that could well bite the hand that feeds it but when discussing this with "The Man Who Knows" he was quick to point out that it's no more unlikely then the Israelis setting up Hamas as a counter to the PLO or the CIA being patron to mujahadeen/Al-Qaeda. Such are the machinations of realpolitik.

Friday, 15 August 2014

British ingenuity alive and well in Orpington.

We recently paid a visit to Down House the home of Charles Darwin. The house and especially the Head Gardener's tour of the grounds, where Darwin carried out many of the experiments that helped him formulate the theory of evolution, was certainly interesting enough. The top floor of the house is given over to an exhibition detailing the development of Darwin's work and his struggle with the scientific and religious orthodoxy of the day; a visit should possibly be mandatory for all creationist Islamo-Christian funda-mentals. But that's just my opinion!
The journey to Down House involved waiting for a bus in Orpington and we used the time to wander around the shops. It was here, in a local bakers , that we came across an interesting example of both evolution and the British ingenuity exemplified by Darwin's grandfather Josiah Wedgwood. I refer to the evolution of the Cornish Pasty. I am normally pretty conservative when it comes to pasties and reckon that the traditional filling takes some beating but I was unable to resist The Breakfast Pasty.  This gastronomic masterpiece consisted of egg, bacon, sausage and beans IN A PASTY. And they say that the age of British ingenuity finished with the hovercraft.

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