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

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Big Allotment Challenge my arse.

Even by the abysmal standards of reality TV the first episode of The Big Allotment Challenge was bad, very bad. How naive of me to think that there would be space for any kind of look at what allotments have meant as part of our collective social history. I'm sure that away from the ludicrously pristine TV set 'allotments' and back on their own plots, the contestants are happy pottering about, producing a small part of their food, getting to know people they might not otherwise have met, feeling a bit closer to nature and doing all of that stuff that it's so easy to be clever and flippant about but is important to us none the less. Unfortunately none of this was revealed in the program. What can I say about the presenters/judges? Jam Woman. The simpering flower arranger. The only one who was remotely interesting was the retired Royal Head Gardener and I suspect that we may yet find that a little of him goes a long way. The biggest challenge was staying awake.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Strictly Come Digging.

From what I can make of it, BBC2's new series, The Big Allotment Challenge which starts tonight, will be a kind of 'Strictly Come Digging' or 'Britain's Got Club Root'.  Sounds like an unlikely format for a hit TV show but what do I know? I hope that some of the history of the allotment movement will come out during the series. Good article in today's Independent but a shame that David Crouch and Colin Ward's definitive history of the allotment failed to get a mention.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Fuck 'em Debs. Stand for Class War.

Deborah Hopkins, Labour Party parliamentary candidate for St Austell and Newquay, has apparently been suspended by the party for 'conduct unbecoming'. The story goes that Debs used a social media site to suggest of a Tory opponent (not local boy Steve Double surely?)  'I would call you a cunt but you lack the depth and the warmth'. I am unable to confirm the rumour that Millibean had to have the comment explained to him but one thing is for sure; this is just the kind of earthy humour that will not be tolerated in the modern Labour Party.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Is UKIP's leader a flash in the pan?

 Fringe political parties are on a hiding to nothing when it comes to getting a sniff of power. The British electoral system sees to that. For the press, the political fringe has a novelty value when not much else is happening but the main focus is always on personalities rather than policies. The press want fringe leaders who they can get a bit of copy out of. Worthy but dull won't cut it with the hacks. And to be honest, in these days of the political leaders of the major parties seemingly produced by the yard and cut off as required, we could all do with, well, a Nigel Farage I suppose. Lighting up one fag after another, pints of Scruddocks Old Dirigible are consumed with relish and not just purchased as part of a "common man" photo opportunity and left on the bar after a sip. The UKIP leader has always just got time for one more before setting off to tell Brussels what's what. In the imagination of some people the real defence of this country, the true front line, is the almost unbroken line of bungalows that face out to sea along the South Coast. Union Jacks flutter in the fresh onshore wind. UKIP posters are everywhere. They love Farage here. Think that he's a proper gent who talks good sense. We hear a lot about city spivs but only rarely is one identified for us. Well Farage is, or at least was, the real deal. A genuine city spiv. He might talk posh but he need only grow a pencil moustache and he could be a dead ringer for Arthur English or Private Walker from Dads Army. The hacks ignored him for years but they can't get enough of him now. The policies might be rubbish and, like those iffy nylons, will fall to pieces first time that they are worn, but the patter is good. It won't last of course. Farage may very well end up as MP for Basingstoke and provide hours of amusement but sooner or later the shoddy goods will have to be scooped back into the battered suitcase and Dodgy Nigel will be forced to scarper before he gets his velvet collar felt.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Coming Up For Air.

I'm not that much of a re-reader only rarely returning to a book no matter how much I have enjoyed it the first time around. There always seems to be so much other stuff to read. One exception to this, and a book that I have read many times, is George Orwell's Coming Up For Air.  The narrator and central character George Bowling is a fat forty-five year old insurance salesman living with his wife and two kids in a typical suburban semi. Mortgaged up to the hilt, trapped in the rat-race and with the constant fear of war and Fascism at the back of his mind George is not a happy man. A chance flashback sets him to reminiscing about his pre-First World War boyhood in the small Thames Valley market town of Lower Binfield. In his description of Edwardian small town England, of George's growing up and his obsession with fishing, the secret pool inhabited with giant carp, in all of this Orwell surpasses himself.
In the final third of the book George decides to take a few days off and re-discover his old home town after an absence of over twenty years. It will be like "coming up for air" he reckons. In what is I suspect   everyone's favourite part of the the book, George is driving toward Lower Binfield, approaching the crest of a hill from where he will be able to see the old town. The anticipation is palpable. He crests the hill only to find that Lower Binfield has gone, been subsumed by a vast industrial town, another Slough or Dagenham. George perseveres with his visit. Stays a few days. Drinks too much. The final straw is when he discoverers that the secret pool with the carp had been drained and used as a rubbish tip for a back to nature woodland garden development. And all the time there is the incessant backbeat of the coming war. The jackboots, the bombers overhead, rubber truncheons in the face.
George slinks back to his wife in the suburbs. He is not the most sympathetic of characters and in many ways the book is quite misogynistic but something about the wonderful descriptions of simple things draws me back again and again. Perhaps there is another, darker reason why I continue to return to Coming Up For Air. These days it's easy, listening to the chatter going on around you, all that stuff about house prices, all that personal aspiration, Waitrose, "lifestyle", it's easy to feel like you have been shipwrecked on an alien shore. I feel like that myself sometimes. In a strange way I find the fictional George Bowling somehow reassuring. He would understand. George reaches out from the pages and pats me on the arm just as he might if we were sitting together in the saloon bar. "Fuck it Old Chap". "Fuck it all". He rises to his feet. "Same again?"

Thursday, 3 April 2014

An African Hero.

Time and again the history of post-colonial Africa records atrocities committed by the armed forces of the various African states. We have grown used to images of the African soldier swaggering through yet another scene of rape and carnage as misery is heaped upon misery for the ordinary folk who long for nothing but some peace. It is now twenty years since the Rwandan genocide and it's good that one man in particular is being remembered. Mbaye Diagne was a young Senegalese Army officer posted to Rwanda as a UN observer. But observing was never going to be enough for Mbaye who time after time put his life on the line to save defenceless civilians. He charmed his way through roadblocks with a winning smile and perhaps a bottle of whisky until that final roadblock where he was killed by a stray mortar round. He was due to return home in just a couple of weeks. Capt. Mbaye Diagne could be a role model for the armies of Africa and the world. The soldier as a humanitarian. Diagne is remembered on Newsnight tonight and you can find Mark Doyle's moving tribute to the man here.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

MH 370. A field day for conspiracy theorists.

Despite a determined hi-tec SAR operation it seems increasingly unlikely that the wreckage of missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 will now be located, much less recovered. Of course the friends and relatives of the two hundred and thirty nine persons on board the missing aircraft want some concrete information about the fate of their loved ones, some closure. But the world is an uncertain place and many are the thousands who are "missing in action" or "missing presumed dead". It would be a kindness to help the bereaved come to terms with this possibility rather than feeding them false hope. The historical Chinese/Malay antipathy is not helping but far more malign are the combined forces of the world conspiracy theorist and pseudo-scientists who are waiting in the background to peddle their nonsense to the grieving. You mark my words. It's only a matter of time before we get the first talk of 370 and it's passengers being held in a North Korean/Freemason/Lizard detention camp deep in the Indo-China jungle.

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