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

Saturday, 20 December 2014

New Era. A tale of two very different estates.

It's going to be a Christmas to remember down on Hoxton's New Era Estate. Hard work and gritty determination on the part of tenants resulted in rent-racking landlords Westbrook Holdings deciding to sell up to Dolphin Square Charitable Foundation. Affordable rent now seems a certainty for New Era tenants for at least the next twelve months and I for one just doff my cap to an outstanding victory by ordinary folk against a seemingly powerful adversary.  But nothing is quite what it seems in the London  property market and there is a backstory here that I suspect we will hear more of in the New Year.
Dolphin Square Charitable Foundation has an interesting history.
The Dolphin Square development in Pimlico was built by Costain in the 1930's and after passing through the hands of several owners was eventually acquired in the 60's by Westminster City Council who sub-let the site to Dolphin Square Trust who would manage the development and act as a kind of housing association for the next forty years.
The list of former tenants and sub-tenants at the square reads like Who's Who of twentieth century scandal, show-biz, politics and espionage. Everyone from William (Lord Haw Haw) Joyce to Mandy Rice Davies and Christine Keeler, Bud Flanagan, Oswald Mosley, Harold Wilson; all lived in the square at one time or another. If ongoing Met investigations are anything to go by there was also a very dark side to Dolphin Square with the possibility of a paedophile ring and even the murder of some children taking place there.
In 2005 Westminster City Council and Dolphin Square Trust sold the site and with an endowment  resulting from the sale Dolphin Square Charitable Foundation was set up. Some tenants were less than happy with the new owners but such is life.  Now the foundation seem to have rescued New Era tenants from the rapacious clutches of Westbrook Holdings. And the 2005 purchasers of Dolphin Square?  Er… Westbrook Holdings.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The powerful hate to be laughed at.

From Kim Jong-Un to IDS the one thing that political leaders hate is being made a laughing stock of. They truly don't like it up 'em. That's why political cartoonists are so precious to us and such a pain in the arse to the power elites of the world. "National treasure" might be a phrase banded about far too liberally but it's hard to find a better way of describing our own Martin Rowson and Steve Bell. More power to their elbows. Give yourself a Christmas treat and visit the Cartoon Museum why don't you?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

IDS. The Mr Nasty of a very nasty party.

Ten or so years back, when Theresa May suggested that many people thought of the Tories as the Nasty Party, the end result was much earnest, wide eyed proclamations of liberal decency from the party.  Gay marriage? Yes. Hug a tree, or for that matter hug a fucking hoodie?  Bring it on.  But truth be told there really is "something of the night" about not just Micheal Howard but the whole party. The loathsome IDS is just the most public example of a very unpleasant current in politics. We don't need the Guardianistas to explain all this to us but to be fair, Polly Toynbee has a thoughtful and provocative  piece here.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Waste not want not.

I have been known, when feeling particularly grumpy, to dismiss the Green Party as being nothing more than a home for middle-class women who have sublimated their sex drive into recycling. It's an opinion that is not generally well received among my loved ones and has won me few friends. But leaving aside the good people of the Green Party it has to be admitted that recycling has become almost another religion and woe betide the careless individual who deposits an empty bottle in the wrong receptacle. I doubt that the planet needs saving, well not in the foreseeable future anyway, but if it did I doubt that beating ipads into plough shears would help much. Truth be told the best thing to do about waste is have less of it. I'm the last person to propose that we all return to gnawing a raw turnip by candlelight but the rich nations have reached ludicrous levels of consumption and waste. Use less stuff, reuse things and only then consider recycling. Anyway, what do I know about Green issues. Does anyone know how to cook a Great Bustard? I was thinking of getting one for Xmas.
The Waste Hierarchy. 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Some thoughts on torture.

The US Senate's report on CIA torture certainly makes for grim, and at times distressing reading. Of course the Americans don't have a monopoly on the ill treatment, torture and killing of prisoners. The unpleasant truth is that people in positions of power over other human beings frequently behave abominably. It might be comforting to pretend that only people who's religious or political allegiances differ from our own are capable of such barbarity but we know in our hearts that this is not the case. Human beings are capable of great acts of kindness and self-sacrifice but are also prone to acts of unspeakable cruelty. The Standford Prison and Miligram experiments confirmed what even a casual look back at history tells us; there will never be a shortage of torturers.
A free press, an aware and sceptical populace, a strong opposition movement that demands transparency, all these things can help hold in check the thugs of the CIA and ISIS alike. Torture is the logical outcome of power and only constant vigilance can keep us safe. It is frequently claimed that anarchism might sound like a good idea but that human nature will always make it impractical but perhaps it is that very same human nature that makes anarchism so desirable and so necessary.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dirt tracks and dropkicks.

Between 1928 and 1930 two sporting spectaculars, the like of which had never been seen before, arrived in Britain. Neither the dour working class sporting world of mud and fog shrouded football pitches or the Corinthian values of the public schools were any preparation for what was to come. First on the scene was Aussie ex-boxer, circus performer and WW1 flying ace, Digger Pugh who was to be the man to introduce motorcycle speedway to UK. No one had seen anything like it. Teams of riders hurtled around an oval dirt or cinder track at breakneck speeds. "Broadsiding" into the corners one leg trailing along the ground, No Brakes - No Fear was the catchphrase of the speedway rider. Speedway fever gripped the nation, tracks and stadiums opened all across the country and soon every town of any size seemed to have a speedway team.
No sooner had the British sporting public got it's breath back from the excitement of speedway when another sporting entrepreneur arrived on the scene. Henry Irslinger was no stranger to these shores.
The globetrotting wrestler and promoter was born in Vienna but had first made a name for himself on the London music hall stage during the Edwardian wrestling boom. Later he would decamp to America to ply his trade and also made a name for himself in Australia and South Africa.
 By 1930 Islinger was back in London with American wrestler Benny Sherman and together with Sir Athol Oakley and Bill Garnon would launch the next sporting sensation on an unsuspecting public. During the previous decade America had seen the emergence of an entirely new style of professional wrestling. Gone was the old school Greco-Roman that had become so popular in the past. The new "Slam Bang" style that would come to be known as All-In in Britain was something completely different. There seemed to be few rules with the  wrestlers free to hit and kick their opponent at will. It all happened in All-In. Wrestlers hit over the head with buckets and corner stools, unlikely submission holds, blood everywhere, some matches degenerated into full scale riots and certainly no evening was considered to be a real success unless the hapless referee became entangled in the ropes.
The Second World War more or less put paid to speedway and wrestling but both sports would experience a post-war revival. Wrestling was given a brush down and put on it's best behaviour and would eventually experience it's biggest ever boom. By that time Athol Oakley had retired and was running guided tours of the Lorna Doone country of Exmoor and trying to convince holidaymakers that R D Blackmore's novel was based on fact. Compared to convincing punters of the authenticity of wrestling it must have seemed like money for old rope. In the 1950s Digger Pugh would once more take centre stage with his latest brainwave, stockcar racing. You can't keep a good man down. Speedway would go on to survive many ups and downs and is still alive and well albeit on nothing like the scale of years gone by.

Speedway and wrestling were the brainchild of sporting showmen and had histories deep in the tradition of the music halls and the wonderful smoke and mirrors world of the circus, wall of death and fairground sideshows. A not quite respectable, not quite the done thing world that introduced a touch of danger and excitement to the hum-drum lives of the many.  

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