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

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Riff-raff round the back.

Segregated entrances to buildings sounds like something from the Jim Crow days of the Deep South or apartheid South Africa but in London today segregation is all about the colour of money. New luxury developments that have had to provide a few so called affordable housing units in order to get planning permission, are making sure that wealthy apartment owners never have to share a lift with the "affordables". Rich city types have no desire to mingle with the riff-raff so architects have created separate entrances, known as "poor doors" in the trade, so that the coke fuelled Armani set never have to suffer shellsuited oiks cluttering up the vestibule eating whelk sandwiches and saveloy and chips out of a newspaper.
Truly society is like a stew. It need a good stir from time to time or a scum forms on the top.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Justifying budgets down the nick.

The families of Jean Charles de Menezes, Ricky Reel, Stephen Lawrence and Cherry Groce are among those who were spied on by undercover cops. All the families were involved in campaigns to get some form of justice and all were seen as potential sources of embarrassment to the Met. The official police line is that covert operations were necessary, not to discredit family campaigns but to keep tabs on "violent extremists" who had infiltrated the campaigns. There is a long, and not always dishonourable history of revolutionary left groups getting involved in justice campaigns. Sometimes the motivation is just genuinely wanting to help, at others it is to satisfy a need for some form of "activity". Frequently, it has to be admitted, the motivation is more manipulative and may revolve around recruiting new members and selling more newspapers. Rarely is anything very dark going on and certainly nothing that might threaten public safety as the police love to claim. So why do the cops go to such lengths to mount these undercover operations? Partly of course there is a desire to find something with which to discredit the campaigners thus tainting any evidence that they might have against the police. But there is another motive. Particular departments in the police, like those in any other large bureaucratic organisation, have an overriding need to justify budgets. If you can't justify your budget your days are numbered and of course the greater your budget the more your power within the organisation. It is for this that grieving families have been infiltrated and spied on.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

It's only a game but……...

When asked about the pressure of playing cricket, Australian all-rounder and former wartime pilot Keith Miller was dismissive, "Pressure is having a Messerschmidt up your arse. This is just a bloody game".  That might be  the kind of gung-ho attitude that we demand of our sports stars but the truth is that no sport has such a shocking record of mental illness than does first class cricket. In last night's post Test defeat interview Alastair Cook did not look or sound like a well man. We wish him well of course but perhaps it's time for a first-class cricketer to come out and stand up for the victims of all employment centred stress related illness.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Think before you spray.

An old chap down the allotments was being complemented on his clean and weed free plot. "Do you use some kind of special weedkiller," he was asked. Yes he did, replied the old devil, "It's called a hoe". There are many human problems that can be solved by sharp tools and a bit of elbow grease and weeds are one of them. But if hoeing and hand weeding can be the answer for annual weeds there are tough perennials such as bindweed that will simply multiply from broken pieces of root and although much can be achieved by deep digging many amateur growers and most farmers turn to a spray of Round-Up. But Monsanto don't spend millions developing herbicides so that the products can be used sparingly and only when needs must. The more of the stuff used the better for Monsanto and much GM research is focused on developing plant strains that are Round-Up tolerant so that weeds growing in amongst a young crop can be targeted. Round-Up has been a boon to farmers but nothing come for nothing and there are considerable health concerns about the use of this and other agro-chemicals. Sri Lanka and El Salvador have already banned Round-Up and it can only be a matter of time before it's proscribed by the EU. I dislike ideologically driven agriculture and don't claim to be an organic gardener, but I would not trust Monsanto as far as I can throw them.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

You can't do that there 'ere. Oh yes we can.

"You can't just take people's property away from them", is the stock answer to any suggestion that London's housing shortage could, in part at least, be solved by the expropriation of all of the empty "investment properties" that are a blight on the capital. But of course it is perfectly possible for property to be requisitioned in times of greater need. During the war when the toffs fled to their country retreats to escape the bombing they found that bombed out Londoners were being housed in their empty town houses and there was not a thing that they could do about it. Nor were the stately homes of England safe from requisition and many were taken over for military use. No doubt many of the owners saw it as their patriotic duty to comply, others will have squealed like stuck pigs but it made no difference. Selfishness had become, if only superficially and for a short time, unfashionable.
It's a common misconception that the European upper class disliked Bolshevism due to fears about the loss of individual liberty and freedom of speech. Nothing could be further from the truth. They were perfectly happy with putting a stop to all this free speech nonsense, what was really putting the shits up them was the prospect of loosing all their vast estates and accumulated wealth. Such fears would prove to be well founded. But as the case of wartime requisitioning in good old liberal democratic Britain shows, you don't need a revolutionary situation to expropriate private property. Just the political will and a modicum of gumption.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Past splendours in Whitley Bay.

Visiting a long lost relative meant spending a couple of days in the Tyneside resort of Whitley Bay. There is something about decaying seaside resorts that I find strangely fascinating. All that crumbling splendour. The memories of past glory, childhood thrills and countless holiday romances are locked into every inch of the broken, windswept promenades. Whitley Bay was once the holiday destination of choice for generations of Geordies but, although I'm told that the town is still busy at weekends, the Mediterranean package holiday boom put paid to that as it did in so many other resorts. The place has clearly seen better days but in a way I think that the local council have made the right decision in forgoing vanity projects on the sea front and investing instead in a new theatre and library. Sometimes we need to just let the past go and I hope that this friendly old place eventually finds a new future for itself.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Famous Five and the chest expander.

A national movement for physical fitness is, along with vegetarianism, love of dogs and an interest in a United Europe, one of a number of things that Hitler gave a bad name. But some would have it that there has never been a greater need to get people moving and that a national drive toward physical activity is the only thing that can save us from a plague of obesity. This week we had the news that the NHS is to offer gastric bands to thousands of type 2 diabetes sufferers in an effort to get them to lose weight. At the same time a report from the National Trust suggests that today's kids are spending much less time playing outdoors than their parents and grandparents did with a 1/4 of those surveyed spending less than half an hour a day playing outdoors and more than half spending less than an hour outside. You only have to look around you to see that obesity is a problem for very many people and you don't need to be a genius to work out that processed food and lack of exercise are the cause. It is also hard to argue about the benefits to kids of unstructured outdoor play and that far too many parents are over protective of their children. On the other hand I see armies of lads purposefully heading off somewhere clutching their skateboards and the number of people cycling is at an all time high. I'm an active person myself and love exercise but some of the most interesting and fun to be around people I have ever met have been committed couch potatoes. Lifestyle choices are just that, lifestyle choices not moral imperatives. There is probably no need for a revival of the long forgotten Health and Strength League, wonderful though the enamel badges were, and the fictional middle class world of the Famous Five was only fiction after all, but providing sports facilities (rather than vanity projects) and giving kids the right to roam can do no harm at all.

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