Saturday, 27 December 2008
So how was it for you? Xmas that is.
Half the population (myself included) seem to have been laid up with colds and flu. The rest no doubt incapacitated by such stress related ailments as visitations from the in laws.
Peering into the fridge at one stage I felt sure that we must be hosting the World Eating Championship.
The holiday period provided no let up in the continuing stream of doom laden economic forecasts. It seems certain that a great many people will have a pretty grim time of it in 2009, and as usual they will be the ones who least deserve it. There is a tough time ahead, but we will get through it. What is on the other side? Who knows, but I am convinced that the political elite can only offer a reformed, superficially different version of the same old same old. Real change can only come from the bottom up. We really are living in interesting times.
A happy New Year to you all.
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
I was determined to get at least one decent tramp in before Xmas so last week we had a good roam around the North Downs. A flask of tea and a sarni shared overlooking a view across The Weald. What could be better? Mind you, an enjoyable walk doesn't have to consist of miles of muddy footpaths and spectacular scenery, far from it. I spend far more time wandering around the back streets of London than I do in the country, and some of the best urban walks need not be long at all.
Sunday afternoon was the occasion of Ian Bone's Xmas Booze Up in Borough High Street and I decided to walk to the venue from Waterloo. There is nothing remarkable about the route but it's one that I enjoy non the less. I usually walk past the Old Vic Theatre and down The Cut. At the end of this street, on the corner of Blackfriars Road, is The Ring, a pub with a fine collection of old boxing photos on the wall and close to the site of the old fight venue that it's named after.
Crossing Blackfriars Road and continuing along Union Street a short detour to the right brings us into the very wonderful Copperfield Street. Walking into this tiny street is like entering a lost world. I believe that the terrace cottages were inspired by Octavia Hill one of the founding members of the movement for social housing who was very active in this part of South London.
Returning to Union Street another short diversion, this time to the left, brings me to the site of the Cross Bones Burial Ground in Redcross Way. This unconsecrated ground was a final resting place for prostitutes and paupers. In a touching symbol of solidarity with the "outcast dead" people have left notes and ribbons attached to the gates of this semi-derelict site. From here it's two minutes to the bustle of the Xmas shoppers in Borough Market. Another world.
Thursday, 18 December 2008
The recession is bringing all kinds of people out of the woodwork as the media cast around for someone, anyone, who might be able to offer some explanation for the pigs ear that the wide boys have made of the economy. I'm fully expecting astrologers, aromatherapists and the Church of Later Day Freemasons to all be putting in their two bobs worth any day now. On last night's Radio 4 World Tonight it was the turn of a Professor of Community History from Birmingham University who, after first explaining that he was the first member of his family not to work in a factory, went on to explain how we would have all been much better off if we had stuck to industrial production rather than the service sector. Well yes and no Prof. Yes and no.
Apart from global capitalism deciding on the geographical location of industry with no other consideration but the maximising of profit, even if you take that out of the equation, I don't think that the matter is a straightforward one. All throughout the 80s I was arguing for the retention of our industrial and agricultural base as opposed to trying to base an economy on financial services. This was partly due to finding it easier to understand and appreciate the world of what I considered to be "real" work, as apposed to the more ephemeral world of the service sector, and in no small part to my prejudice against "prats in suits who thought that moving bits of paper around was work". All rubbish of course. The project is to do away with the division between work and leisure and build a world where production is at the service of our desires rather than the creation of profit, and I knew that then as well as I do now.
When my generation left our Secondary Modern Schools at the age of fifteen we were destined for a lifetime of boring, repetitive, alienating factory work. I was one of the lucky few who managed to escape. The thing is Prof, before we start getting all moist about factory work it might be an idea to consider who is actually going to do this work. Cos it ain't going to be me and it sure as fuck ain't going to be you,
Monday, 15 December 2008
Four useful things my Dad told me.
- The English Upper Class are stupid rather than bad.
- Those who don't understand history are doomed to repeat it.
- The old fashioned straight left is the most useful punch in boxing.
- Whatever else, it's important to be on the side of weak against the powerful.
Thursday, 11 December 2008
I have been re-reading Some Lives, David Widgery's story of his life as an East End GP. It's a salutary tale of how the effects of the last economic downturn impacted on the lives of those at the bottom of the heap. Mass privatisation and high unemployment coincided with government plans to change the ethos of claiming benefit. It was the era of "Job Club" and all kinds of other mad schemes intended to make claiming more difficult and in some way "prepare" people for the market in non-existent jobs.
It looks like a similar tranche of bullshit is about to be unleashed on both the long term unemployed and the new army of jobless who are growing by the day. As New Labour prepare to pick up the soiled mantle of tough love from where it was dropped by the retreating Tories all those years ago we might wonder why all this "help" and "training" was not rolled out during the time of economic boom, when the City was awash with dough and traders were spending the equivalent of a cleaners annual salary on a round of drinks.
Of course none of this has anything to do with unemployment and certainly nothing to do with helping the long term jobless toward a richer and more fulfilling life. This is all about reassuring a spiteful middle class Middle England that, despite what they read in the Mail on Sunday, that New Labour is still very much a party of the centre right.
I know that this is by and large a light hearted blog, bit surreal, bit tongue in cheek and so on but I want to be serious just for a moment. I want to salute the brave young comrades in Greece who at this very moment are just on the brink of calling everything into question. If they can take and hold territory. If they can resist not only the brute power of the state but also the recuperation of the liberal/left. Well, who knows. Good luck.
Monday, 8 December 2008
Turned out for the Climate March on Saturday. Well, I like the drumming and I suppose that you never can tell. I'm not entirely sure why, but in spite of the fact that I have spent most of my working life and a good deal of my leisure time in the great outdoors, I find it difficult to get very motivated about green politics, unless we are talking about environmental justice that is. Anyway I didn't think that I could hack the speeches at Parliament Square, much less the painfully worthy "Seize The Day" so split to the Red Lion for a pint.I must also confess that I find the average vegan activist, who thinks that growing beansprouts on the kitchen windowsill makes them an expert in world food production, a bit of a pain in the balls.
Mind you, here at HQ we are well into recycling, although we do regret that recycling operatives no longer give out goldfish and have a horse to pat. Clearly we can't continue to use valuable land for landfill sites when it's needed for golf courses, but the once simple act of putting out the bins is getting more and more complicated. Current instructions from the council state that we should place paper and cardboard in the BLUE box and glass,plastics and cans in the BLACK box. They then go on to say that after collection all the stuff will be mixed together prior to being squashed and sent to a sorting facility!! I'm reliably informed that you can now get a degree in rubbish, or "waste management" as it's known.
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
I tend to think that an "Austerity Olympics" for 2012 might not be such a bad idea. Something more along the lines of the last time London hosted the games in 1948 might be more in keeping with the coming hard times. Olympic Village in a converted army camp. Extra one egg per week for the wrestlers. Give the boxing team as much jelly and custard as they want. Whole thing put on at a cost equal to Seb Coe's salary. We might even end up with some real 1948 type sporting heroes like Jim Halliday who, released from a Japanese POW camp as a walking skeleton, built himself up on post-war rations and heavy squats with rusty weights to go on and win a bronze in the weightlifting.
Compare this with our fearless cricket team. One minute Kev's boys are crying in their beer about not being able to consolidate their bank balance's in the Indian Premier League and the next they can't wait to get out of the place. No question of playing on as a gesture of solidarity with the nations traumatised fans. I've had it up to here with today's overpayed sports stars. No one wants a return to the days of professional footballers struggling to make ends meet and fighters retiring without a pot to piss in. I want to see players getting a decent reward for all the hours of training and dedication, but come on guys. Play the game
Monday, 1 December 2008
Other peoples hobbies are always difficult to understand. Radio controlled models, tennis and taking a lively interest in the genealogy and internal politics of Trotskyist grouplets are all hobbies that strike me as being only marginally more entertaining than watching paint dry but hey! that's just me. Others find these things totally riveting and more power to their elbow I say. I'm in favour of hobbies, the very idea of them tends to make me feel all warm in a sort of pipe and tank top kind of way.
On my bookshelf, and I suppose that you could count books as one of my hobbies, I have a 1930s edition of The Universal Book of Hobbies and Handicrafts by Sid Hedges. It's a blinder. There is basic information on over a hundred hobbies ranging from Applique Work (me neither) to Wood Carving by way of Boating, Bookbinding, Self-defence and Television (that's making a set, not being an expert on Corrie). But it's the introduction that really gets my juices flowing. I don't know who Sid Hedges was but I tell you, he was one of us. Sid had much to say about unemployment, the alienation of work and the tyranny of machines. Here he is on the importance of hobbies, " they will become more important still, for as mankind shakes itself clear of the old jungle habits of hating and arming and fighting so there will be more scope for living...... Is it too much to hope that the various Whitehall Ministries of War may one day be replaced by Ministries of the Peoples Leisure?"
Of course you could accuse Sid of a certain naivety; while he was writing all this stuff about Fretwork and Home Gymnastics Hitler was putting the final touches to his plans for a new United Europe. Perhaps that is the whole point. If only Adolf had just relaxed and got on with his painting. Done evening classes. Joined the local Art Group. Maybe made friends with a nice Jewish girl. It could all have been so different.
One of my own hobbies is old fashioned systems of physical training and a few years back I got hold of a book on the subject called "Dinosaur Training". About the same time I bought a wormery for making compost and I was tempted to put on my CV under "Hobbies and Interests" - Dinosaur Training and Worm Breeding. I had visions of a HR department somewhere, " blimey! bloke here not only breeds worms, he trains fucking dinosaurs as well".