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


Thursday, 31 December 2009

Capitalism survives 2009. Official.

At this late hour it now seems very unlikely that 2009 will witness a coke and champagne fueled capitalism finally stagger from the stage of history. Things looked promising at the start of the year but once again the man was able to convince us all that the market is the only game in town. c'est la vie.
For myself, I remain optimistic. As I have mentioned before on this blog, nothing lasts forever. We truly do live in interesting times. Happy New Year.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Good old English vitals.

I hope that you have all recovered from the Christmas blow out. I am not a huge lover of the festive season myself but I do like the grub on offer. It seems to me that traditional Christmas fare represents the best of English food. Roast goose or turkey, game pie, fresh vegetables, all those cold cuts on Boxing Day, steamed puddings, rich fruit cake, mince pies. You have to admit; it almost makes the twin evils of religion and commercialism worth while. I'm minded to go on like this because I have recently revisited George Orwell on English Food and it was something else that the man was right on the money about. But if traditional English food is something to be celebrated, traditional English catering certainly has been pretty dire. In the sixties our eating habits, along with much else, changed dramatically. Chinese and Indian restaurants proved to be a boon because you didn't need to worry about not understanding the menu - nobody did. It seems almost unbelievable now just how hidebound by convention and class was the simple act of eating a meal out. In my own personal journey of discovery two memories stand out. In 1959 I left home and lived above a coffee bar that served spaghetti bolognese. It was the first time that I realized that spaghetti need not come from a tin. By the mid sixties I was working in the Mediterranean and had perhaps got a bit up myself. On a visit home to my parents I informed them that I would prepare a salad. This announcement was greeted with blank stares but undaunted I pressed on and asked if there was any olive oil. "Yes", replied my mother, "there's a bottle of it somewhere, your Dad rubs it in his feet".

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A Christmas Tale.

Once upon a time there was a handsome (but not very bright) prince who decided to show his sympathy for the poor homeless people who had to sleep out on the streets by spending a night sleeping out in the city himself. The members of the Royal Guard who had to sleep out with him were not very pleased but it made what the Town Crier used to call "good copy" and improved the princess popularity rating. Some people said that the prince had inherited his interest in charity from his mother who had been a beautiful (but not very bright) princess much loved by the common (and not very bright) people. From his father, the eco-friendly (but not very bright) Prince Regent, the prince was due to inherit huge wealth. Yet more wealth was held by the prince's (not very bright) grandmother, The Queen. The people loved their queen and always looked forward to her Christmas Message but some of her subjects had been heard muttering that it might have been better if the Royal Family had let all the homeless people sleep in one of the Royal Palaces and mansions by giving the property to Crisis at Christmas. That way EVERYONE, including the prince, could sleep in the warm. A Very Merry Christmas to each and every one of you.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Children's fitness levels continues to decline.

Research at Essex University has shown a significant reduction in the fitness level of children over the past decade. This is a trend that will no doubt continue unless there is a radical transformation of the way that we live; and specifically the way we raise our kids. Over the past thirty or so years a number of social changes have combined to bring about this sad decline in children's well being. First we have experienced the total denigration of any kind of physical work as the thing that kids aspire to has become sitting in front of a computer screen and writing reports, entering data or gambling with other peoples money. The other thing that young people aspire to of course is celebrity. And the possibility of achieving celebrity has become to a large extent the reason behind sports participation.
Schools used to provide a considerable proportion of our sport and physical training but this has been eroded as playing fields have been sold off, continuing expansion of the curriculum has left less time available for sport and the disenchantment and increasing workload of teachers has all but done away with after school clubs. There remains in this country a dedicated band of amateur sports coaches who's selfless work gives kids a chance to have fun, develop their potential and, in some cases, find a meaning in life. But these unsung heroes can only ever reach a minority and can only have a limited impact on the overall physical fitness of the nations children.
The main cause of a decline in fitness is to do with what is in my view something quite sinister - the theft of childhood. A combination of technological innovation providing more and more "on screen" life, virtual rather than real life,( who needs open space when you can play in cyberspace?) and parental fears (cranked up by the media) about the world beyond the front door has resulted in children leading increasingly isolated and inactive lives.
Between now and the 2012 Olympics we will no doubt see a deluge of government propaganda dedicated to justifying the huge Olympic budget in terms of increased physical fitness and sport participation. Some of this rhetoric will be well intentioned, some of it less so. Increasing children's fitness levels has little to do with eye wateringly expensive sports facilities and certainly needs no long (and costly) government think tank reports. Put very simply, it's all about getting outside and charging about with your mates. Just try not to get arrested.

Friday, 18 December 2009

I had that William Caxton in the back of the cab the other day.....

Back in the day girls and boys, before there was internet and blogging and such, we used to communicate by means of leaflets, pamphlets and magazines; what I think you call "hard copy". Small groups of malcontents would spend hours typing propaganda on special stencils and yet more hours of cranking the handle of something called a duplicator. You had to be very stoned. Offset litho could only be undertaken by specialist (equally stoned) community printers and was expensive and also pointless unless you needed a big print run. There was a third option, letterpress. This last, involving the traditional cast metal print, was usually the preserve of commercial printers but there was one exception to this rule. Exchange and Mart was always full of ads for various get rich quick schemes whereby you could escape from wage slavery forever. Among the more sensible of these schemes was the idea of home printing, business cards,wedding invites, that kind of thing. This could be achieved by the purchase of an ADANA hand printing press. The ADANA was a wonderful little machine but required a fair bit of skill to achieve good results. I had forgotten all about the ADANA until researching hand printing for a mate the other day when I discovered that it is still possible to buy reconditioned machines for a couple of hundred quid. Next week - How to start a food co op and claimants union.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A Very Public Sociologist: Beat the Trafigura Gag on the BBC

There are some environmental problems that we can do something about and I'm obliged for the following - A Very Public Sociologist: Beat the Trafigura Gag on the BBC

Climatic jargon made easy.

If you have been following the Copenhagen summit with interest but like me have difficult telling your Anex1 from your LULUCEF there is a useful glossary over on the BBC News site.

Nothing lasts forever.

The Copenhagen summit seems doomed to failure as thousands of accredited delegates are left standing outside in the cold, spiky and brave young protesters are battered by cops and the worlds politicians grapple with the insurmountable problem of dealing with climate change without threatening the economic system that brought it all about in the first place. Part of the problem is that collectively we find it very difficult to visualize a way of life, an economic system, radically different to the one that we have grown up with. We tend to feel, even when intellectually we know it to be untrue, that it was ever thus; that the set of economic relationships we endure are the natural order of things. Is change, real change possible? Of course it is. I can't predict how this will come about but nothing lasts forever. We lived for hundreds of thousands of years as hunter-gatherers. We have been farmers for a mere ten thousand years and industrial capitalism has been around for a trifling couple of centuries. In fact the New World slave plantation economy lasted longer than modern capitalism has and most probably all those Gone With The Wind characters thought their system was the end of history as well. Nothing lasts forever. Change will come alright. The question is will we be the passive victims of that change or will it be the result of our conscious desire for a different way of relating to each other and to the world around us?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Simon Cowell - A Berlusconi for our nation.

What a wonderful leveler a punch (or a brick) in the face is. The pictures of a bloodied Silvio Berlusconi that appeared in the papers this morning show a scared and confused politician who for all his huge wealth and power is brought to the level of any other human being by a simple act of physical confrontation. In this country there has been a tendency to sneer at Berlusconi and patronisingly assume that such a crass figure could never make it in British politics. News that Simon Cowell is considering introducing the X factor format into politics should give pause for thought however.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Traditional MCC match for Abu Dhabi.

There must have been a few old duffers choking on their pre-lunch gin and tonics this morning when it was announced that next seasons traditional MCC v County Champions (Durham in this case) match will not be played at Lords but in Abu Dhabi. Not only that but under floodlights and WITH A PINK BALL. Anyone fancy a punt on the likelihood of a Dubai ABA finals?

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The market can't fix climate change.

I paid a visit to the Trafalgar Square Climate Camp today. "It's anarchy in action", I was assured by one of the campers. I'm not entirely convinced of that, but their hearts are in the right place and you have to respect the initiative. Anyway, the campers can't have any less impact on climate change than the Copenhagen talks that I'm sure will only benefit the Danish hotel and restaurant trade.
Is it me or is there a serious lack of joined up thinking in the mass media regarding the whole question of climate change? Time after time a piece on the future horrors of global warming and the pressing need to reduce emissions is followed by a report on the equally urgent need to get the economy growing again and increase consumer spending. Are these two issues in any way connected? I think that we should be told. And anyone thinking that all this can somehow be fixed by loft insulation and waterwheels needs to get a serious grip.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Class War - tidings of comfort and joy all round.

The so called Run Up To Xmas now seems to kick off shortly after August Bank Holiday so by now the full on retail frenzy is climbing toward it's climax. This is the time of year when us Grumpy Old Men really come into our own and I am reminded of the acquaintance who reckoned that the best Xmas he ever had was the one spent in bed with the flu. Unsurprisingly I suppose, his wife maintains that it was also the best one she has had as well. One thing that is cheering me up a bit is the hope that the New Year looks like seeing a return to some good old fashioned class politics. Not before time.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Keep The Tories Out. deja-vu all over again.

As the reality of a future Tory government looms ever closer more and more people, many of whom really should know better, are once again climbing aboard that rusty old train to nowhere - Vote Labour To Keep The Tories Out. It's as if all of the neo-con policies of New Labour have been forgiven and forgotten at the first whiff of Old Etonian grapeshot. Blair, Brown and the rest of this sorry bunch of City Spiv front men have presided over a redistribution of wealth that Old Labour politicians can only have dreamt of - trouble is it was a redistribution from the less well of to the already wealthy. Times have changed, but nothing about New Labour on the back foot makes me at all hopeful that a further term in office would make them any more likely to question the basic tenet of Blair/Brown philosophy; all hail the market. And yet. And yet hidden deep in the Labour Party is a vein of collectivism and a current of decency that recognizes that there is more to politics than political careers. You don't see much of this tendency these days, certainly not on the Front Bench, and maybe it is doomed to forever be just another fringe meeting. Socialism - remember that? It's the part that all those mandarins of twenty years ago thought made the party unelectable.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Dark Mountain.

I am obliged to the My Arse blog for pointing me in the direction of the Dark Mountain Project. Brainchild of dark mountaineers Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine the project has received a fair bit of attention from the mainstream press and has obviously made a few people sit up and take notice. I recently read Kingsnorth's Real England and found none of the apocalyptic visions of this latest offering. I'm not quite sure what to make of Dark Mountain, which is not to say that I don't welcome it. Check it out for yourselves.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Yachties explain themselves to mullahs. Could be interesting.

I am not at all surprised to hear that the crew of the British yacht being held by Iran "somehow strayed into Iranian waters". Having spent a large chunk of my life working with merchant seamen, Thames Watermen, fishermen etc. I think that I can honestly say that yachties are without doubt the most clueless bunch of bastards you are likely to drift into. In fact the old saying that "the two most useless things that you can have on a ship are a lawnmower and a ex-naval officer" could equely well apply to yachties. I am not able to confirm the rumour that three of the five crew members are called Ollie, but it seems likely.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Capitalism: Last Few Days. Everything Must Go.

I'm off to the Borders closing down sale. Stock up on copies of Kierkegaard and Mott The Hoople CDs. The death throes of capitalism will have it's downside no doubt - but there's going to be some blinding bargains on the High Street.

Friday, 27 November 2009

JG Ballard.

Sci Fi is not really my cup of tea so I have never got around to reading any of the late JG Ballard's novels. Truth is that until recently I knew more about Ballard from the hero worship accorded him by the likes of Will Self and Iain Sinclair than from anything else but I have just completed the autobiography Miracles of Life and am completely smitten. In this wonderful book the writer comes across as being essentially a kind, modest man. A very ordinary man but one who led an extraordinary life and was gifted with an extraordinary imagination. Better minds than mine will judge JG Ballard's literary merit - I just wish that I could have been as good a dad.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Only full financial transparency will slim the fat cats.

The Walker Review has called for banks to disclose the number of staff earning in excess of one million pounds a year but not to have to identify the fat cats. I don't see how this will benefit anyone at all. What is needed is complete financial transparency -FROM EVERYONE. If the income and tax paid by everyone was put in the public domain it would be clear just how big a share of what is after all the common- wealth of the nation, was being taken by each individual. I can see no reason, other than guilt, why anyone would object to this. Of course undeclared income, be it the odd days work "off cards", organized crime or multi-million pound property scams, would remain hidden but the public availability of information on all taxed earning would be a major step in the right direction.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Iraq War Inquiry.

In one sense the Iraq War Inquiry is completely irrelevant. What I mean is that the justification or otherwise of invading that blighted country was decided by the British people in February 2003 when the biggest demonstration in our history assembled on the streets of London to protest against the war. What was interesting about this mass protest was the huge turn out of Middle England - the "make tea not war brigade". But Blair and his henchmen may have been wrong about weapons of mass destruction but they were dead right in the assumption that the overwhelming majority of us would go home after the demo and put our feet up in the self satisfied certainty that we had done our bit. We knew what was right back in 2003. We just lacked the balls to take things through to their logical conclusion.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Dubai Winter Olympics. You heard it here first.

A couple of seemingly unconnected news items emerged over the weekend. One was the announcement that 60 world leaders will attend next months climate summit in Copenhagen and the other was the victory of Lee Westwood in the Dubai World Golf Championships. I did say seemingly unconnected. If all those world leaders run out of something to talk about in Copenhagen they might reflect on the amount of environmental damage done by the building and maintaining of a world class golf course in the middle of a desert. Dubai Winter Olympics anyone?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Berlin.

It has been a tradition for some time now that Saturday night TV has to be crap. It's a kind of punishment for being too old or too sad to be out clubbing. If you're watching telly on Saturday night you sad bastard you will just have to put up with Celebrity Come
Cooking or whatever. But the last couple of Saturdays have had a welcome change in the form of BBC 2's outstanding Berlin series. Fascinating subject of course and with his informative but understated presentation Matt Frei seems to have grasped that history is more than just a vehicle for the ego of TV personalities. Take note Andrew Marr.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Cockfosters discovered at last.

"This is a Piccadilly Line train to Cockfosters", intones the rather posh voice on the tube PA system. How many times have I heard that and wondered about the nature of this Cockfosters? Last week I finally girded my loins and set off to find out. It is not an expedition to be undertaken if you are pushed for time. Well not if like me, you live on the opposite side of London.
On arrival I discovered a classic 1930's tube station apparently designed by Charles Holden and one of the few stations on the underground network to still have a proper buffet. Not quite like the buffet in Brief Encounter but you can't have everything. Cockfosters is only a couple of miles inside the M25 so really is the outer suburbs. Walking North from the station the expanse of inter-war development ends abruptly to reveal the wooded, rolling countryside of Enfield Chase. Trent Country Park is a real treasure with a proper cafe that looks as though it would be more at home on Kingsland High Street rather than set in this leafy hollow. A mug of tea and bacon sarni later I plunged deeper into the undergrowth and discovered an animal rescue centre where I was able to have a decent conversation with a very amiable sow. The lady who runs the place was nice too. The former mansion of Trent Park is now part of Middlesex Uni but during the war was used to house captured German senior officers. Everything you ever wanted to know about Cockfosters. All part of the service.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

What me, cynical?

All those cynics out there who have been expecting the Lords redevelopment to result in a 'Mc Donalds Lords' the 'Tesco Stand' etc. will have to take comfort from the words of MCC boss Keith Bradshaw, "It's not on the agenda. It's not on the cards. There's no way we will be going down that path." Don't worry you cynics there's plenty of material in the Queens Speech to get your teeth into. New Labour, after twelve years in power and on the eve of a General Election, have decided to introduce a whole raft of new legislation on everything from fiscal responsibility to care for the elderly and increased power for Ofgem to cap energy prices. Terribly negative thing cynicism.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Small mags buck the internet trend.

It 's good to see the current issue of Notes From The Borderland coming out strongly in support of the printed word rather than having a mere internet presence. There are obviously huge advantages to web based publishing but for me nothing will ever take the place of that wonderfully portable and available "hard copy". Another little mag that I usually read is The Land. The summer 2009 issue is largely devoted to a number of exellent pieces on the history of enclosures in this country. What really caught my eye was the article on Austrian poachers and their connection to peasant resistance. The skill and daring of the poacher is something that I have always admired. It's a left wing urban myth to asume that hunting is the perogative of the toffs; they would just like it to be that way.
I don't suppose that the good people who produce both Notes From The Borderland and The Land probably feel that they have a great deal in common, the one being devoted to parapolitics and the other to a radical new kind of rural economy. In fact I think that they have quite a bit in common; well researched and thoroughly referenced articles for a start. Both magazines are also part of a wonderful tradition of small circulation radical publications that we are lucky to have in this country. Something else that they have in common is a stated commitment to the printed copy. More power to their elbow.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Norlington School

Ah! The old school. How the memories come flooding back. Teachers at my old college of knowledge have been on strike as part of a campaign to prevent this comprehensive being turned into an academy. I remember Norlington Boys Secondary Modern as being a pretty ordinary school when I attended it in the 50s. Leyton at the time was a white working class and lower middle class stronghold but not that tough or deprived. At school we were caned pretty frequently. It was a point of honour to own a flick knife but I don't think that it ever crossed our minds to stick it in another human being. Fights were fairly common but teachers tended to encourage us to settle our differences in the boxing ring. At fifteen we were turned out to sink or swim in the job market. I know of only two famous Norlington alumni; Graham Gooch and the Madi Gra Bomber. Nuff said.

How to lose the plot.

For us allotment holders this is the time of year to start winding down and putting the plot to bed for the winter. Muck has been spread. The spring cabbage, onions and garlic are all established and the broad beans are just peeping through the soil. Now for the really hard bit; last nights allotment society AGM. For me of course, unable to keep my mouth shut as usual, this entailed the suggestion that the policing of the condition of plots had resulted in a tenant/landlord relationship developing between the committee and plotholders. It's fair to say that my call for a more "bottom up" approach and suggestion that people would be more inclined to get involved in the maintenance of the site if they felt ownership of it went down like a rat sandwich. Someone even suggested that it would lead to anarchy. The very idea!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Police State one step closer.

The Met's Territorial Support Group have been the subject of 5241 complaints over the last four years of which only nine have been substantiated. One officer has had no less than twenty six allegations of violent assault made against him. The recent culmination of this culture of impunity was the sad death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 demo. None of this should come as a surprise of course. All over the world the behaviour of riot cops is tempered only by what they can get away with. It is against this background that the Commons will today debate the proposed Coroners and Justice Bill. Under this new piece of legislation it will be possible for Coroners inquiries to be suspended on 'security' grounds and replaced by secret hearings. You can find out more about this latest attempt by Jack Straw to further erode hard won rights by clicking here.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Sweet victory for David Haye.

Congratulations to new WBA heavyweight champ David Haye after his convincing win over Nikolia Valuev. Haye showed patience and maturity during his intelligently fought victory and even wobbled the giant Russian in the final round. The heavyweights are always a bit of a conundrum being both the division that exites the fans most and at the same time the one with the smallest pool of talent. Certainly the heavyweight scene has been a bit uninspiring of late but the Bermondsey fighter could very well breathe new life into it.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The links and other matters.

The more observant of you will have no doubt noticed the addition of a labels list to this blog. Those of you that know me will also wonder how on earth someone with my neanderthal IT skill managed to install it. I hope that the site does what it says on the tin. It really is intended to be no more than a light hearted political blog and a vehicle for my thoughts on this and that. I hope that the labels gadget makes it easier to find the stuff that interests you.
The links are a reflection of some of my own interests. There must be thousands of political blogs out there and the few selected here are among the many that I read. Ian Bone is always amusing and also provides an online meeting place for anarchists. Paul Stott's I intend to escape.... remains an inspiration with just the right balance of politics and all his other interests. Paul is a boxing fan as well; top man. In the near future I will be adding more links and perhaps deleting some that are no longer being updated. One site that will remain even though it has not been updated for some time is Classic Cafes. There simply is nothing to replace it. The Wrestling Heritage site is in my view a really fine piece of social history. But they republish a lot of my stuff so I would say that. If this is your first visit to Bad Old Days, welcome, and if you are one of the loyal followers who read this stuff on a regular basis, thanks.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

CO2 and Mark Thatcher - the ultimate toxic assets.

Media pundits are fond of the old saying that a week is a long time in politics,so last March must be the equivalent of the age of the dinosaurs. Remember back then? All kinds of people, and not just those of my political persuasion, were talking about the whole economic system being called into question. Yes, eight months is a very long time and now we hear that carbon trading is going the same way as mortgages did and that there is already talk of "sub-prime" carbon credits.
Meanwhile over on the other side of town news of the return to UK of Old Etonian merc Simon Mann has sent paymaster "Scratcher" Thatcher into a bout of nervous twitching extreme even by his standards. CO2 and Mark Thatcher - the ultimate toxic assets.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Education. Education..........

Those pushy middle-class parents are at it again. Driving their kids around in vehicles big enough to house most families. Constantly whinging about the cost of private school fees. Always on the lookout for ways to advance the prospects of their own little brood and thus proving Thatcher's dictum about society being a sad figment of leftie imagination. When forced to use the state system they lie and cheat to get places at what they consider to be the "best" schools. God knows what kind of pompous twats their kids will grow up to be.  In view of all this it made a refreshing change  to hear a voice of reason in amongst the braying demands of yummy mummy world. 
On last night's Channel 4 News John O' Farrell made a sensible, reasoned case for sending your kids to the comp down the road; regardless of how much dough you have in the bank. The only thing that he failed to mention was that the majority of parents don't have to face any such dilemma. They simply don't have a choice. There is nothing wrong with privilege - it just needs sharing around a bit more!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Johnson shoots the (expert) messenger.

Home secretary Alan Johnson's decision to sack the government's senior drug advisor David Nutt has stirred up a hornets nest of controversy, and not just about the effects of this or that recreational drug. Already questions are being asked regarding governments likely response to scientific advice on perhaps more pressing matters. What happens if advice on, for example, nuclear waste or climate change fails to fit in with policy? Johnson is defending his actions by claiming that advisers must stick to giving advice and leave the decision making to government. This all sounds sensible enough, democratic even. After all scientific advisers are not elected are they? But the implication of this argument is that whereas people like David Nutt might be experts in the field of science, the likes of Alan Johnson are expert in government; in making decisions on behalf of the rest of us. The signs are that we will end up arguing about the relative merits of unelected (and perhaps arrogant) scientists and elected representatives with their finger on society's pulse. The debate that we should be having of course, is about the role of experts in society. And I'm referring here not just to scientific experts, but to self proclaimed political experts as well.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Ripping Yarns of the Fawcett Family.

 Having procured a copy from Wing Commander Bone at the bookfair I have been reading Hartmann The Anarchist a Victorian ripping yarn available again after being out of print for the past  hundred years (not in itself a great recommendation it must be said).  I was interested to learn that the author was the brother of Colonel Percy Fawcett the famous explorer who disappeared in the Amazon Basin in 1925. In the 50s Fawcett's son published his father's papers as Exploration Fawcett. Now that really was a ripping yarn and is also well overdue for a reprint.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Islam4uk. It's a cracker.

As if last Saturday's Anarchist Bookfair was not enough excitement for one month this Saturday London plays host to a mass rally calling for the establishment of sharia law in UK. Islam4uk are the bunch of space cadets behind this latest addition to the capital's live entertainment scene and their website is well worth a visit. Here they reveal their plans for pubs and football grounds as well as for Trafalgar Square (not a lot of people getting their kit off on the fourth plinth I imagine). There is a very helpful section called "ask the Iman" and a whole heap of information on how to spot the early indications of , and it's always a worry, "becoming kafaar without realising it". I hate to say it, but Islam4uk make the EDL look quite rational.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Race and Intelligence

Last nights Channel4 offering, Race and Intelligence... Sciences Last Taboo, was certainly interesting and in it's way a challenging piece but I felt that it stopped short of dealing fully with the issue not just of race and intelligence but of privilege and attainment. Coming as he does from a family of wealthy Somali traders, educated at Cheltenham College and Oxford and having married into the Baronetcy of Corsehill, privilege is something that Rageh Omaar is singularly well equipped to deal with, and he did try, but the programme seemed unable to get seriously to grips with the issue of class. It also failed to address what to my mind is a pretty important issue and that is the reality that given enough privilege it doesn't matter how intelligent you are.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Freedom on an up.

It must be over forty years ago that I first came across Freedom. During that time the old rag has had a few ups and downs but at the moment seems to be very much on an "up". John Griffin's series on the financial crisis has been interesting and accessible, even to someone like me who tends to start nodding off at the first mention of economics and would rather draw their own teeth than read the FT.  A Sideways Look is always full of good sense and there are usually at least two or three other very good articles. It's a pleasure to open the paper these days. Nice one Freedom.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Give me strength!

I knew of course that as a religion Islam is more than simply divided between Sunni and Shia and that the faith encompasses a number of different sects. What I had not known until I listened to Radio 4s Analysis was that Iran's President Ahmadinejad and his inner circle are members of a Shia sub-sect that are awaiting the imminent return of the Hidden Imam or Mahdi. He is expected to emerge from a well in Southern Iran and notes are dropped down this well to keep the great man abreast of cabinet decisions. A place is set for him at meals. He is expected to return at any time. And we used to worry about Bush's grip on reality. 

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Just because I like boxing it doesn't mean I'm a bad person!

When Carl Froch climbs through the ropes tonight to defend his WBC super-middleweight title against unbeaten Andre Dirrell it will be an event sadly ignored by the overwhelming majority of the British public. It's a shame, but boxing just does not have the mass appeal of the past. However, one small consolation for the reduced attention given the fight game is that we don't have to suffer so many ill-informed calls for the sport to be banned. 
As a kid the first two women Labour MPs that I became aware of were Bessie Braddock and Edith Summerskill. They both had strong views on boxing, Braddock being a fan and Summerskill a fervent abolitionist. When I grew up and started to hang out with progressive, leftie bohemians I found that my love of boxing was rather looked down on. I'm talking about middle-class revolutionaries here; solid working class militants usually took a keen interest in the game. All this was brought home to me a few years later when I attended the first ever Men Against Sexism conference. What an experience. Now bear in mind that I had spent much of my working life around tough dockers and seamen but these 'new men' provided one of the most aggressive, testosterone fueled gatherings I had ever come across. It really was pretty heavy. Anyway at one stage myself and a few like minded comrades decided to investigate the pub opposite the conference venue. As it turned out this pub was the HQ of the London branch of the Ex Professional Boxers Association and the bar was more or less wall to wall scar tissue. A warm and generous spirited welcome was extended from a bunch of genuine hard men with nothing left to prove. A stark contrast to the 'progressives' across the road. Anyway, good luck tonight Carl.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Solidarity with the posties!

I've always had a soft spot for posties. Not only do they do a useful job but over the years have come to be considered as being an indispensable part of our communities. This is not just romantic wishful thinking as I know that many posties, perhaps the majority, feel the same way and see themselves as providing a vital social service. I don't suppose for a moment that postal workers are looking forward to next weeks planned two day strike but feel that management are pushing them further and further onto the back foot. For a bit of background info straight from the horses mouth, there's a very good letter from a postman over on the libcon site. 

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Madeleine Bunting not so bad after all.

If like me you have tended to dismiss Madeleine Bunting as the Guardian's hag god-botherer you will understand the misgivings that I had about turning up at the RSA for her talk (to coincide with the publication of her book of the same name) on  'Place, Identity and Community'. Regardless of any disagreements I might have with her about a lot of other things I think that she is pretty much on the money when it comes to the importance of 'place'. If we run away from talking about this we leave the field wide open to all those loony nationalists who are only to happy too talk about it. Never thought I'd  say it but, "nice one Madeleine".

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Trouble in the house. Get Legg over.

This is turning out to be a very good week for those of us who view the Palace of Westminster primarily as a source of entertainment, as well as being the place where our worst fears about politicians are confirmed in spades. A new star is born in Sir Thomas Legg (any relation to dear old Dr Legg of Eastenders fame?) and this whole expenses thing has not even started yet. Just wait until we get to the bit about mortgage interest repayment and profits shown on property deals. Meanwhile a firm of dodgy briefs in the pay of the oil trading mafia have attempted to gag the reporting of parliamentary questions regarding the toxic waste dumping activities of these scum-bags. Corruption in parliament? Sure, but you need to take a stroll into The City to find the real corruption. And the real power as well.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Burnham Beeches

With centuries old pollarded trees, rough grazing British White cattle and over 500 acres of woodland, Burnham Beeches is a wonderful place to visit at any time of year but particularly so in autumn. We used to go there quite a bit but yesterday was our first visit in three years. It has to be admitted that in the main the City of London Corporation do a pretty good job of looking after Burnham Beeches and the many other open spaces that they maintain in and around London. They tend to manage with a light touch, not fixing what's not broken and allowing places to keep their individuality. So I was surprised to find that they have removed the old cafe that used nestle in a glade on the Southern edge of Burnham Beeches. It was a bit run down, perhaps old fashioned would be a better term, but was run by a cheerful, friendly girl and you could get a decent cup of tea and bacon sarni and browse the veritable library of local information. It also seemed to be a meeting place for local OAP's. This charming little place would of course be beyond the comprehension of corporate thinking and office bound consultants who are no doubt responsible for the soulless, clone cafe and information point that has replaced it. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Peckham Experiment.

Speaking on the phone yesterday to an old comrade about meeting up at the Anarchist Bookfair he said that he would have to blow me out. Prior commitment at Camberwell College of Art he said. Something to do with the Peckham Experiment. 'The what?' I said.  He was amazed that I hadn't heard of it, and now having found out a bit about it, so am I. 
 Established in the 1930's, the Peckham Experiment was a groundbreaking health centre founded on the principles of self-management and the belief that left to themselves people would spontaneously begin to organise in a creative way. The project was a huge success but eventually closed in 1950, it's philosophy of autonomy and prevention rather than cure being at odds with the new NHS.  Colin Ward wrote at length on the subject and there is a very interesting piece by David Goodway on the History and Policy website.
I feel like the subject of one of those HM Bateman cartoons -  'The Anarchist Who Had Never Heard Of The Peckham Experiment'.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Cameron steals Labour welfare plans shock.

So the future Tory government is going to be tough on the unemployed and no doubt tough on the cause of this regrettable malaise on the part of the idle masses as well. Are New Tories just pinching tired old New Labour policies that in turn fell off the back of an Old Tory lorry? I expect so but that has got to be the least important part of this whole spiteful, narrow minded and seemingly perennial part of British politics. The Tories are seriously suggesting that half a million people on incapacity benefit will be medically reassessed. Who do they think will do this reassessment, an already overburdened NHS?  No of course not. All kinds of  'medical services" companies will be coming out of the woodwork and no doubt recruiting doctors from all over the world to do the front line work. The disabled, the long term unemployed, and the chronically unemployable will jump through a few more hoops to no real advantage other than providing Daily Mail readers with a top up of self-satisfaction. The other people of course who will benefit from all this will be the shareholders of dodgy 'medical' and 'employment' companies. 

Sunday, 4 October 2009

London Anarchist Bookfair.

Once again Queen Mary College in the Mile End Road is playing host to the Anarchist Bookfair. 
It's a chance to get hold of that obscure book you have always meant to read, bump into comrades that you haven't seen for years, listen to interesting and (sometimes) amusing speakers and generally reaffirm that age old suspicion that a better world is possible.  Insurrectionists, feminists, pacifists, situationists, autonomists, permaculturists, special brew and dog on stringists, freedom pass anarchists; they will all be there. We could have a pint after. You know it makes sense.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The Oldie. No thanks.

There's no doubt about it, some stones are best left unturned. Some things best left unsaid.  Just leave it.There are things that even I would not admit to. None the less, right here and now I'm going to fess up to having just read The Oldie for the first time. Now in my defence I would say that (a) I didn't pay for it and (b) that it is not an experience that I intend to repeat. I wish that I could get more angry about middle class Middle England but I just find it depressing. The Oldie. Fucks sake! Were these people ever young? 

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Free Hengameh Shahidi.

Excellent night of stand up at the Bloomsbury Theatre last night. This was a benefit gig in support of the Amnesty campaign to free Iranian journalist Hengameh Shahidi. Good cause and a good laugh - what more do you want? As an added bonus I was able to take a short cut through UCL and have a look at Jeremy Bentham in his glass case. Was that a wink of approval I thought I saw?

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Is this all there is?

Congestion Charge, Tube Strike, Road Works, Fare Increase. Essential travel is a huge preoccupation for Londoners. It would be interesting to know how many people in Greater London are employed close enough to home to be able take a fifteen minute walk to work. Very few I suspect. The 'school run' is an expression that has now become part of modern English and sometimes these kids are being driven miles.  Driving kids to school. Travelling to work. Travelling back to arrive home and slump exhausted in front of the telly. Is this a life? Was it for this that the labour movement of old struggled? Of course, no one wants a return to the isolated and parochial communities of the nineteenth century. Exploring the world at large is one of life's great pleasures. Perhaps this is the key to the whole problem. If work, education, shopping etc. can be provided locally travel could then assume it's rightful place as an adventure, rather than a stressful, dreary, alienating necessity. 

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Windsors have the last laugh.

Europe on the eve of the First World War was on the one hand a continent on the brink of socialist revolution and at the same time, to a large extent, the private estate of one very powerful extended family. The British Monarchy and their close relatives the Hapsburgs, Romanovs and Hohenzollerns were about to have a family falling out that would result in millions dead on the battlefields, human misery on an unprecedented scale and the unravelling of a social order. Almost a century later and in many ways Europe is unrecognizable.We might be no closer to a socialist utopia but at least that ludicrous Gilbert and Sullivan cast of Kings and Queens, Archdukes and Emperors has finally been consigned to the great historical waste disposal unit.  Apart that is from our very own House of Windsor who seem determined to hang around like a bad smell on the landing. It is easy to laugh off the Royals as nothing more than inbred buffoons who, if they do no good, are capable of doing little harm and at least provide amusement for American tourists. It's just that with the civil list standing at 14 million quid annually it's probably a joke that we can ill afford. No matter how much we snigger at Mad Charlie and the rest, I can't help thinking that they are having the last laugh.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Battle of Nine Elms?

The triangle of land sits between the stretch of railway connecting Queenstown Road and Vauxhall stations, the South bank of The River, and to the West, the Queenstown Road approach to Chelsea Bridge. The long disused Battersea Power Station, an arts project in waiting, towers over the last port of call for London's ever expanding pack of unwanted Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Battersea Dogs Home. The busy Nine Elms Lane cuts through a landscape that includes a large Postal Sorting Office, the approach road to the New Covent Garden Market and a collection of offices and warehouses, not all of them empty. At the Vauxhall Cross end of the triangle a number of expensive looking blocks of the dreaded 'riverside development' have sprung up, surely a taste of things to come. This is the part of town chosen for the new United States Embassy and I predict that this very ordinary area of post industrial South London is soon going to be scene of a financial and security drama of Olympic proportions. The Battle of Nine Elms may make all those Grosvenor Square skirmishes seem quite pedestrian.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Tammy had Thatcher's number.

At one time comics used to give away free gifts to encourage sales, maybe they still do. I wonder if any of those gifts have survived and if there are perfectly respectable grandfathers who lock themselves in the loo from time to time and stare lovingly at their dog eared Desperate Dan Club membership card? Everything came full circle this week with the Guardian giving away reproductions of classic comics of the seventies and eighties. Dandy, Beano, Roy of the Rovers, all good stuff but it was the 1971 first ever issue of Tammy that did it for me.  Tammy, why didn't I know about this at the time? I can only assume that Tammy was written by ex LSE students who thought that it might be more fun than Red Mole. Take a look at My Father-My Enemy the heartening tale of Julie Jeffries-The Rich Girl With The Rebel Spirit. Julie doesn't rebel against her Victorian mine owner dad by doing a bit of spliff, or spending a few days at climate camp. No, Julia helps organise the miners in there first ever trade union. Bit vanguardist and all that, but blimey! And anyway what did Roy Race ever do for the class struggle? 
 In Slaves of War Orphan Farm (prisoners of an evil and ruthless woman) evacuee children from London are farmed out by the woman who is supposed to be caring for them to work in a nearby quarry. The name given this foul oppressor? Mrs Thatcher. It's at times like this that I think that I understand what the surrealists were on about. The Iron Lady was Secretary of State for Education at the time - and clearly Tammy had her number.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Florence Desmond the real forces sweetheart.

You have to hand it to Vera Lynn, still pretty chipper at 92 and still able to top the charts. The 'Forces Sweetheart' was a massive hit with the troops and numbers like 'We'll Meet Again' and 'White Cliffs of Dover' have become a part of the popular perception of WW2. But if you fancy something a little more risque than Vera's clean living, girl next door act, try and get hold of a copy of Florence Desmond's 1940 recording of  'I've Got The Deepest Shelter in Town'. Spirit of the blitz or what?

Can You Dig It?

Independent think tank New Local Government Network have just published a report calling on government and local authorities to release brownfield sites for small scale agricultural use. The report goes on to suggest that the national shortage of allotments should be met by wealthy landowners (including the Royal Family) allowing land to be used for this purpose and that if this can't be done on a voluntary basis compulsory transfer of unused land to local communities will have to be considered. When you recover from the shock find out more here.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

....... of sausages and city farms

 There aren't all that many memorable legacies of the 70's squatting and community action movement but one that does stand out is Vauxhall City Farm. Few visitors to this oasis of calm and common sense located a couple of minutes walk from MI6 HQ probably realise that it all started with a bunch of  trouble making lefty soap dodgers thirty odd years ago. I popped in the other day to top up on that good feeling that I always get when leaning on a fence rail and gazing at livestock. A lovely feeling, and a lovely place. From the farm I wondered over Vauxhall Bridge and pausing only to check that Brixton's very own lost river, The Effra, was still flowing into the Thames under the MI6 building, headed North. In no time at all I had arrived at my destination, the illustrious Regency Cafe. The Regency is one of the premier eating houses in town (if you don't believe me ask any cabbie) and unlike many otherwise decent cafes serves a proper quality British Banger with the sausage, egg and chips. This gem of a place is a real cafe with real food and a real cafe atmosphere.  Classic cafes and city farms; London at it's best.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Not guilty.

Gordon Brown is responsible for many things but the appalling treatment of wartime code breaker Alan Turing is not one of them. We seem to have developed a need to apologise for historical events sometimes centuries old and over which we could not possibly have any control.
Just as the holocaust is not the responsibility of Germans who's parents had not been born at the time so too am I innocent of responsibility for the treatment of gays in the 1950s, slavery and the horrors of the Norman Conquest. We need to learn from history, not apologise for it. We may shed a tear for victims of the past but we must then move on, and address the injustices of today.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

'No Fun' is NHS prescription.

I don't suppose that the NHS can ever keep up. What I mean is that as medical science advances, making more and more procedures available, so the demand on time and resources must inevitably increase as well. This combined with an ageing population and increased expectations means that the NHS will be forever running just to stay in the same spot. Creeping privatization, targets, media sniping and new layers of bureaucracy, none of this helps but by and large the front line staff just get on with it and knuckle down to provide amazing levels of kindness and professionalism.  So why have management at Swindon's Great Western Hospital suspended seven doctors and nurses for playing the Facebook  "lying down game"?  It's not what you think. The game actually involves posting pictures of yourself lying down in unusual places; the floor of casualty and an air ambulance helipad in this case. There are few things more dispiriting than a "no fun" workplace and the more stressful the job and the more committed the workforce the more they will tend to lark about. It builds cohesion and morale. It's what makes the world go round and truly the world will only be free when the last capitalist is strangled with the guts of the last bureaucrat.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Cider with Rosie.

There are some books that one has known about for years, seen reviewed and mentioned in passing countless times, but just never seem to get round to reading. Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie was one such book until I picked up a copy a few days ago.  It's a wonderful read of course. As an example of the craft of writing alone it stands out, but it is as a record of a lost rural way of life that it is most famous. A way of life that is lost, and I suspect was unlamented, by those who had to endure it. The Cotswolds of Laurie Lee's childhood was replaced eventually by a sterile landscape of second homes for the chattering classes but before we start to wring our hands about the passing of an idyllic, rustic lost age we would do well to remember that for many people the old days were one long round of poverty, ignorance, back breaking work and economic exploitation. The rural past might look attractive from the safe high ground of the London suburbs; less so from a tied cottage with a brood of kids to feed and a wife dying in childbirth.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

At last. Sex on the kitchen floor.

I'm not big on DIY and home improvements but yesterday seemed like as good a time as any to paint our old kitchen table so I spread some newspaper on the floor and set to. Now as an atheist I find it a matter of regret that people believe in any of the many brands of medieval superstition on offer and certainly never get involved in religious infighting or sectarian squabbles. I also very rarely find anything amusing in The Observer but there it was, on the kitchen floor in front of me , a piece by one Kevin McKenna that started, "We Catholics are fond of mocking Protestant rectitude. We tell each other that Presbyterians don't like sex standing up as it may lead to dancing."  Laugh? I nearly knocked the paint over.

Monday, 7 September 2009

The Politics That Dare Not Speak It's Name.

Critics of the Green Party have been known to compare it to a water melon - green on the outside but red at heart. If only. None the less the Brighton conference has seen considerable effort to take the party beyond being a mere environmental campaign group and establish some kind of political world view. There has been much talk of equality, defending the NHS and root and branch changes to our social and political fabric. So are the Greens a libertarian socialist party? Not yet. They still seem to have a real problem about laying their cards on the table. Are they merely looking to create a nice green capitalism, a capitalism without the nasty bits? Indeed do they, like Porrit and his ilk, believe such a thing is possible? Where do the Greens stand on hierarchy, class and profit? More to the point, is the apparent reticence on these issues due to not being sure, not having thought it all through yet, or is it fear that getting too radical may make them unelectable? If it's the latter you can be sure that the New Green modernisers are waiting in the wings. We shall see. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Circus Days.

Brighton, the summer of 1978. In April me and 80,000 others had marched across National Front turf to see Jimmy Pursey jam with The Clash in Victoria Park. It all seemed downhill from there. Punk couldn't last of course. Not as anything that was even mildly threatening to the bastions of power. Punk was doomed to become just another facet of pop-culture, albeit one that provided  hours of fun. People like me had no right to expect anything else, but that didn't help the feelings of disappointment as the 70's drew to a close and the grim reality of what the 80's might hold started to dawn on me. No direction known. I needed a pick-me-up big time and there it was, in the job section of the Argus, WANTED, CIRCUS HANDS.    
The Brighton Centre  was playing host to a circus for a couple of months and they were hiring local labour as ring-hands. I could join the circus without running away! Perfect. In no time at all I was rigging safety nets for the trapeze artists, leading a camel into the ring (my camel was called Iran and it was love at first sight) and quickly running in with a shovel to remove piles of horse, camel and elephant poo. Bobby Robert's elephant act provided me with my personal high point. Along with another guy I would lug a heavy  revolving mirror globe into the centre of the ring. On top of the globe was welded a steel plate and we would go down on one knee, place our hands under the plate to steady it as the elephant did a handstand. Bobby said that it was important not to put our thumbs on top of the plate to avoid having them trodden on. I could see his point. Once the elephant was in the handstand position we would back off and with a gentle shove from Bobby the beast would revolve a couple of times and dismount. That was our signal to run back into the ring and retrieve the prop. We had four seconds to do this before the rest of the elephants came charging into the ring. It's surprising how fast you can run when surrounded by charging elephants.
Lauri Lupino Lane came from a famous theatrical family, had been the star of the pre-war musical hit "Me and My Girl" and had made "The Lambeth Walk" an all time hit. Here he was doing what I came to learn is known as a "slop act", playing the fool with ladders and buckets of shaving foam. Looks easy but is actually a very highly skilled act. I was proud to carry his buckets. I marvelled at the skill and daring of the high flying Star Lords and that legendary trapeze artist Miss Mara and learnt the secret of sawing a lady in half from Ricky and Roddy. Jasmin Smart, legs seemingly reaching to her armpits, rode her beautiful Palomino horse. Chinese contortionists, crazy clowns, unridable mules. Two shows a day, six days a week. The stress levels could have powered a small town but I loved every minute of it. Punk was dead but the circus lived, and just for a while I was a small part of that special world.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Carni on regardless.

Carni may not be what it was but it is still a good day out. Red Stripe, curry goat, Jamaica Patties, sound systems that suck the air from your lungs. What's not to like? Well,all right perhaps it was a trifle insensitive to site the hog-roast stall right in front of the Golborne Road mosque but how reassuring to know that my safety is being taken care of by the same stalwart thin blue line of heroes that looked after us at G20!!! 

Friday, 28 August 2009

Meanwhile over on the other side of town.....

 The media continue to big up the advantages of  "growing your own" but aspiring growers must face up to the huge waiting list for allotments and the fact that not all off us are lucky enough to have gardens. This situation is giving rise to all kinds of initiatives from growing spuds in towers of old car tyres to the radical expropriation of unused land. I'm in favour of all of it, let a thousand cabbages grow. Last weekend I headed over to Hackney to check out one such project and you can do the same without moving from this keyboard by clicking here. It's not the eruption of the marvellous but projects like this can bring people together and lead on to who knows what. 

Thursday, 27 August 2009

High Speed Train To Nowhere.

Can it really be true that anyone is seriously considering building a high speed rail link between London and The North at the cost of twenty seven billion pounds? We are told that the journey time between London and Manchester could be reduced from two hours and ten minutes to one hour and ten. Amazing! Now this is what I think politicians should do. Take a stroll around Tower Hamlets, hop on the slow speed train to Manchester, take a look round Moss Side and have a long hard think. Twenty seven billion quid, could it be put to better use?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Wire too close for comfort for Chris Grayling. Chris who?

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling claims that much of the UK is just like the Baltimore portrayed in The Wire. It's not clear how much if any of the TV show Grayling has actually watched, and I see the thumbprints of spotty young researchers all over this, but what part of the programme is this Tory Boy referring to? The bit about corrupt, self serving politicians and the power of property developers, is that what you mean Chris?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Kropotkin, the lifeboats and me

Most maritime safety legislation, and a good deal of health and safety legislation in general, comes about as the result of a tragedy and the sinking of the Thames passenger vessel Marchioness was to eventually result in a whole raft of new initiatives. I say eventually because it was only after determined campaigning by relatives of the 51 people who lost their lives that night twenty years ago that all of the changes where put in place. One of the initiatives was the introduction in 2002 of RNLI lifeboats to the Thames. I was proud to be asked to take on the training of volunteer crews at one of the new Thames stations and having helped set up the station stayed on for three years. 
I have a lot of respect for the RNLI and I'm not the first anarchist to feel that way about it. Peter Kropotkin was not only an admirer of the lifeboat service but was fond of pointing it out as an example of how a post-revolutionary society might operate. His vision of independent individuals freely cooperating in groups that in turn freely federated with others was in the opinion of that prince of libertarian communists something that could be witnessed here and now in the form of the lifeboat service. 

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Summer of Rage? At least the cricket was good.

Despite a promising start the Summer of Rage never really materialised and the time honoured English tradition of letting things fizzle out seems to have won the day. We can console ourselves with the fact that another time honoured English tradition, letting the Aussies get the better of us, has been forgotten about with England's win at The Oval. What a fantastic Ashes series this has been.  2009, Summer of Rage? Well at least the cricket was good.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Shut Up America!

 As Ronnie Biggs lives out the final act of a long and eventful life as a free man there is one thing that he and his family can be grateful for; at least he never did anything to upset Amerika. Had he been unwise enough to fall foul of the Empire of Stupid he would no doubt have died in prison. 
I have no idea if Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is guilty of the Lockerbie bombing, nor do I have any very strong views about him being released to die at home. I am however more than a little pissed off with hearing American politicians gobbing off on everything from the NHS to who should or should not be freed from British prisons. It's bad enough to have America as intergalactic police force without having to suffer them as world arbiter on ethics and morality as well. 

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Man on Wire

I missed Man on Wire when it came out on general release and watched this account of Philippe Petit's blood chilling 1974 high wire walk between the World Trade Centres twin towers for the first time last night. It was worth waiting for. The film was a celebration of adventure, victimless crime, love, playfulness and optimism. It stands in stark contrast to the dreadful final moments of those twin towers. Perhaps this film should be watched by all aspiring jihadists.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Food for thought.

My Unison in house magazine arrived yesterday and unless you can get wildly exited about Dave Prentis and A Million Voices for Change it's, well, not wildly exiting. One thing that did catch my eye was a full page advertisement for the "Nostalgic Cook Book - the ultimate book of old fashioned recipes including many wartime recipes that kept our workforce both happy and healthy and kept our soldiers fit to fight in the battlefields!" Among the gastronomic delights on offer are Wooton Pie, Mock Oyster Pudding and Grilled Pilchards on Toast. On the same day that Unison unleashed this on it's unsuspectimg members Environment Secretary Hilary Benn announced a new government initiative on food security in the face of climate change and population growth. Conspiracy theories are launched on less than this. 
In the coming months the debate on food security will no doubt give rise to a number of ideas that have been around for a while being dusted off and given a new airing. Three that the media have picked up on already are: 
 Grow Your Own. Very trendy at the moment and certainly there is much to be said for it. DIY food production has a long and honourable history in this country and there is no doubt that it can make a significant contribution to overcoming food shortages but the real problem is the lack of available land. Every unused piece of waste ground would need to be brought into production as happened during World War 2. DIY food production has the potential to bring people together both in the struggle to make land available and in the collective effort to feed ourselves. I look forward to the launch of the Red and Black Pig Club.
Vegetarianism. I don't know why but the anarchist movement has always seemed to have had more than it's fair share of vegetarians. There are certainly very sound arguments for reducing our meat consumption but that is not the same as becoming vegetarian. The reality is that it is not possible to produce eggs, milk, cheese etc; without also producing meat. What we choose to do with this meat is up to us but the best thing to do is eat it! Livestock is a major component of all agricultural systems and is likely to remain so.
Improvement in efficiency. It depends of course how we measure efficiency, but in terms of yields per acre agriculture has never been so efficient. It's not production that is inefficient but distribution and I'm not referring here to the fact that half the world can't afford to eat what is produced, criminal though that is, no it's the shocking levels of waste that are now inbuilt into the food distribution system that I'm concerned about. Don't let them con you into thinking that you are somehow to blame for this. It is not the out of date food in your fridge that is the real problem; it's the crops left rotting in the field because some suit from Tesco thinks that it is not the right size or shape. It's the whole stranglehold that the supermarkets have on food production and the fact that growers are producing to satisfy not the need for food but the needs of retail marketing strategies and the production of profit. That is the real inefficiency, but you probably won't hear this from Hilary Benn, or Dave Prentice.

Friday, 7 August 2009

A Call For Transparency

Andrew Simms of the New Economic Foundation argues for a maximum as well as a minimum wage in today's Guardian. Not a recommendation likely to go down well in The City I would have thought nor one likely to be implemented any time soon but certainly one of a number of ideas that need to be given a public airing.  Personally I am in favour of complete financial transparency. Every aspect of everyone's finances should be out there in the public domain. When I worked for the Environment Agency we had a Performance Related Pay system. Needless to say I spent some time arguing against what was nothing more than a device to enable management to divide the workforce and the secrecy surrounding individuals salaries helped to foster this division. I always made a point of openly discussing what I was paid. Management hated it. Wages, expenses, profit on the sale of houses, make it all public knowledge. Not just for MPs but for all of us.
In this country we have developed a culture of privacy about money and about politics as well. An "it's my business" attitude that is at odds with any suggestion that politics and earnings are not just personal concerns but social concerns as well. Get it out in the open I say. It's nothing to be ashamed of; or is it?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Vestas Eviction planned for tomorrow.

Whatever happens at the Vestas occupation tomorrow the workers concerned have been a beacon to us all. The decision on how to play it tomorrow is theirs alone and they can hold their heads high in any event. One thing I am sure about is that they will remember these past days for the rest of their lives. Nothing will ever be the same again.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Citizen Woolas and the meaning of life.

Immigration minister and philosophy graduate Phil Woolas is keen to introduce a points system for aspiring UK citizens. According to Philosophy Phil  points will be awarded for positive action such as voluntary work, campaigning for a political party ( any particular party in mind Phil?) and trade union activity. Points will be lost for negative action like attending demos and generally causing trouble. The rest of you philosophers out there will have spotted the problem straight away but I'll run it past you just in case. When out potential citizens have finished cleaning Phil's hotel room for the minimum wage and start using all that spare time for political and union activity they may find that this activity gets them into trouble. Can you see what I'm getting at here Phil?  Phil Woolas. He ain't no fucking Wittgenstein.

Friday, 31 July 2009

The Empire Strikes Back.

When George Bush stridently proclaimed that no American  citizen would ever stand trial in the International Court on his watch he wasn't kidding. Obama's attitude to international law has yet to be tested but there is little evidence so far of much change of heart in the American administration. International law and extradition treaties are something to be used by America when it suits, and ignored the rest of the time. Nothing will be allowed to get in the way of America's role as World Leader. Britain happily plays the part of most favoured poodle, rolling over on demand. That's why we invaded Iraq, and that's why Asperger's sufferer and UFO nut hacker Gary McKinnon will be shortly taking a trip stateside accompanied by a couple of crew-cut, grim faced US Marshals. The Empire strikes back and the British establishment does what it does best; America's bidding.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Don't you worry 'bout a thing.

A flu pandemic will be no laughing matter of course, and even if the death toll remains relatively small every fatality will be a personal tragedy. No one who has lost someone close to them wants to hear a lot of cod philosophy about life and death but the truth is that living is actually quite a dangerous undertaking; and is likely to remain so. I mention this because, and again I don't underestimate the misery that a flu pandemic will bring, because as a society we seem to be in the grip of an outbreak, not of influenza, but of anxiety. Never has a culture been so cushioned against misfortune, and never has a people been so worried about what might go wrong.  Children are driven to school, to see friends, to take part in sport and other activities. Never allowed to just wander off and explore the world for fear of abduction, life is portrayed by parents, not as an adventure but as one long anxiety ridden quest for security. 
A certain level of concern, as opposed to anxiety, is of course vital for our survival. If we aren't concerned about our kids getting run over we won't bother to teach them how to safely cross the road. If we aren't concerned about eating next year we won't save the seed corn and so on but increasingly we are seeing a rational precautionary principle being overtaken by levels of anxiety bordering on the clinical. It's no good sticking our heads in the sand regarding the threat from radical Islam, but the chances of a terrorist outrage bear no relation to the amount of time devoted to the threat in the media and the levels of anxiety generated. From knife crime to credit crunch to obesity, the list of things to worry about seems endless.
 Politically all this has relevance because the more anxious we are the more we turn to strong leaders to look after us. The roots of fascism lie deep in our psyche and I am convinced that the rise of authoritarian government and the levels of anxiety in society are closely related. I am not adding to the levels of anxiety by suggesting that one moment people are wearing face-masks and washing their hands every five minutes and before you know it storm troopers are marching down the High Street, it's just that I think that a bit of collective bucking up and chilling out might not go amiss.

 

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Freedom Pass Anarchist Comes Into Millions.

As readers of this blog will know, I take more than a passing interest in the smoke and mirrors world of such things as escapology, wrestling and cons from find the lady to the kind of "long cons" portrayed in The Sting". Imagine how thrilled I was to receive an invitation to perform the staring role in such a production. Yes, I have just had a letter assuring me that over eight million US dollars is sitting in the HuaXia Bank in China awaiting my collection. All for a 50-50 split with the sender of the letter. You can't con an honest punter, cynics make lousy marks, and the second class postage was a bit of a giveaway.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Will the Vestas occupation politicise the greens?

The handful of workers occupying the Vestas wind turbine plant on the Isle of Wight are hanging on in there in the face of intimidation from both the company and the police. Solidarity seems to be building and we can but wish them well. In the short term of course, the workforce are fighting for some kind of job security in what ought to be an expanding sector of the economy. In the longer term actions like this may herald the return of class consciousness and class confidence as well. Another possible byproduct might even be the awakening of the green movement as they enter blinking into the real world of the logic of the market place. Not before time.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Viva Stuntism!

I have always had a bit of a soft spot for those political actions that are usually dismissed by the po-faced brigade as "stuntism". Of course stunts are in no way a substitute for collective mass action but we all know that. Many stunts require large amounts of bottle and not only the ones that involve being suspended from Tower Bridge by your toes. I once knew a Christian Anarchist (don't ask) who at the height of the Cold War decided to go leafleting in Moscow. He lasted about five minutes before the inevitable arrest and KGB interrogation
I have only recently learned about a stunt from the past that sounds bang on target. A few days before Christmas 1938 about a hundred unemployed men rocked up at The Ritz, sat down and demanded afternoon tea much to the horror of the assembled toffs. So next time you think about looking down your nose at Ian Bone and Chris Knight's latest bout of lunacy, remember, it's all part of a wonderful tradition. Long may it continue.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Blogger at Lords, sort of.

If I am ever asked where I was when England beat the Aussies at Lords I will be able to say, hand on heart,"at Lords". Well, not actually at Lords in the sense of being inside the ground but rather as one of a number of blokes (what woman would be so daft) peering through the railing in the hope of seeing something of the action. With only a couple of wickets left to fall I thought I would find a pub with Sky and watch the closing moments. They don't seem to do pubs in St John's Wood or at least I couldn't find one. Why do the wealthy choose to live in such dreary places?  The visit to Lords was actually part of one of my regular cross town hikes and I had arrived via Paddington Green, Church Street Market and Lisson Grove. The social contrast that you can encounter in a ten minute walk  never ceases to amaze me.  Anyway, well done England.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Sporting drama at Lords and York Hall.

I suppose you would be hard put to find two more dissimilar sporting venues than Lords and Bethnal Green's York Hall yet this weekend both of these venerable establishments have seen sporting drama of the first order. At Lords it remains to be seen if the Aussies will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat or if the English team can break a 75 year jinx at the ground and take the match. Over on the other side of town York Hall saw in both the Jon Thaxton-Tom Glover fight and the McIntosh-Cleverly stand off for the British Light-Heavyweight Title examples of what is best about the sport of professional boxing. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The stats of chicken feed.

Boris Johnson thinks that the quarter of a million quid that he receives for his Torygraph column is "chicken feed". Goldman Sachs are set to pay out record bonuses this year and you really don't want to know how much their London HQ office cleaners are being paid. All good material for the traditional end of week pub argument. If you want to actually have some facts to back up your eye popping, six pint rant check out the Office of National Statistics website. Here is a little taster. Median gross annual earnings - £20,801. Now that is what I call chicken feed.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Lobster and The Idler

I called into my local Borders today to pick up the last ever issue of Lobster (it will continue online) and have a browse around. With a circulation of only 1000 I don't suppose that Lobster publisher Robin Ramsay has bought a lot of Tuscan villas on the proceeds but still and all, it is hardly a snip at four quid a throw. Mind you, considerably cheaper than The Idler that has now gone hardback can you believe and has a cover price of an eye watering £18. Clearly aimed at the idle rich rather than us work-shy pensioners.  

Cricket Lovely Cricket.

I have never been able to understand those fans who insist that the only way to make cricket interesting is to turn it into some kind of hybrid baseball. The great thing about test cricket is that it's a bit like a good book: you can dip in and out at will and never really know what the next page will hold. By lunchtime yesterday it looked as though, despite Collingwood's patient and determined stand, that England faced a humiliating defeat. Enter tailenders Anderson and Panesar. Now there must be a thousand club players who are convinced that they can bat better than Monty Panesar but be that as it may, he and James Anderson clung on to salvage a draw in a truly nail biting finish. Lovely stuff. 

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Griffin. The voice of reason.

BNP leader Nick Griffin sounded like the voice of reason and moderation on the Andrew Marr Show this morning. Wot me a racist? No way guv.  We had better all get used to this as Griffin is clearly going to be spending more time on our screens. Just a couple of small points. Griffin has realized that he just can't fail to score points by pointing out that the liberal elite don't want immigrants in Hampstead but that it is working class areas such as Dagenham that have to bear the brunt of newcomers putting further strain on an already overburdened social infrastructure. Well yes, but of course some immigrants do in fact go and live in Hampsead. The wealthy ones. Given the choice few would opt to live in the shadow of Fords rather than on the edge of Hampstead Heath. It's just that the poor, regardless of ethnic or national background, don't have that choice.
Griffin got in a terrible muddle when he started to try and define what it was to be "British" or "English" and got even deeper in the mire when Marr insisted on bringing Kelly Holmes into the equation. Was Holmes British, Black British, Mixes Race English or what? Griffin helpfully pointed out that she wasn't Welsh. Unlike Shirley Bassey I suppose Nick. There are lots of interesting things about Kelly Holmes. Outstanding athlete, able to motivate kids, seems a likeable enough woman. Surely the least interesting thing to do with Kelly Holmes would be to pigion hole her in an ethnic or nationality sense. But what can you expect of a man who admits to reading  Mein Kampf at the age of fourteen?

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Wire

I don't know how accurate a portrayal of the city of Baltimore it is, but The Wire is proving to be one of the best things on the box for a long time and certainly one of the more intelligent American progs. Underneath the brilliant dialogue and fast moving action there is some very neatly observed social comment and of course there are some great characters. For myself I'm just disappointed that Stringer, after a successful career as a gangsta dope dealer, is persuaded to sink to being a property developer. That what "business studies" does to you I suppose. 
Good review of The Wire in Freedom a couple of issues back by the way.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Scientists say .......

As is well known , it is one of the objects of this blog to keep you completely up to date regarding the leading edge of scientific research and once again we are on the case big time. Hard on the heels of the recent findings suggesting that a half decent cup of tea is just as good for re-hydration as water (and in some parts of London, cheaper) comes news that caffeine is the dog's when it comes to preventing Alzheimer's. (Independent Monday 6th, must be true)  Apparently, to have the desired effect you will need to be drinking two strong cups of coffee a day or fourteen cups of tea.
So there you have it. I normally consume two strong cups of coffee and fourteen cups of Rosie a day so whatever the reason for the senile drivel posted here, it's clearly not caffeine deficiency.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Sport and Class.

As Wimbledon and Henley approach their respective annual climaxes of champers and strawberries this seems like a good time to ponder that most English of obsessions, sport and class. At first glance it all looks pretty straightforward. Polo for the toffs, tennis for the middle class and football for the proles is surely just a reflection of the expense involved in participating in each of these sports and anyway with more money sloshing around in a single Premier League club than it takes to stable the world population of polo ponies , isn't all this a bit dated?  Professional and amateur, gentlemen and players  seem like concepts as old fashioned as the belief that victory at Waterloo really was assured on playing fields on the outskirts of Slough. Even the class division between  league and union is not what it was. But don't let anyone tell you that class is irrelevant in modern sport. It's just that the distinctions are no longer quite so clear. Anyway, as in so many areas of life, it's in the margins, on the cusp, the interface of this and that, here is where the interesting stuff is to be found.
The truth is that sport has always crossed class boundaries. Two examples where the upper and working class have shared a common love of a sport disapproved of by the middle class are found in boxing and horse racing. Not that this shared love of ring and turf has led to any kind of equal relationship; far from it. In the case of boxing it was in the old time prize ring that the nature of the relationship was at it's most transparent. The aristos did the backing and the workers did, and received, the beating. In the multi-million pound industry of racing one class owns the racehorses while the other cleans the stables for the minimum wage. The stable-lads all hope to make it as jockeys, but of course few do. The two sports come together in the annual stable lads boxing tournament when the young lads perform for the entertainment of owners and trainers. I say "young" lads because the term is used to describe stable hands of any age; much like the colonial and Southern States "boy".
Rowing is usually perceived as a posh sport, and so it is but less well known is the strong working class tradition that has always existed in the sport. This tradition had it's roots in the tough world of Thames Watermen and Lightermen and these men might have been good enough to act as Royal Bargemasters but no way were the toffs going to have them competing at Henley. Just to be on the safe side the Amateur Rowing Association defined as professional anyone who worked at all. This led to the establishment of working class rowing clubs ( the clue is in the names, Putney Town and Thames Tradesmen for example) and a National Rowing Association that ran a parallel world of rowing totally segregated from the one dominated by the public schools and the universities. To give you a flavour of this I will just mention that an old mate of mine who was for a long time captain of one of these clubs once started his annual report in the club newsletter, "Dear Comrades" 
This state of affairs continued until the 1950s when the ARA finally relented and allowed working class rowers to take part in the "official" sport. It was a merger not without incident. The story is still told on the river of the first time that Putney Town competed in the posh Molesey Regatta. The public school types were having fits as the oiks romped home in race after race. Finaly the Putney Towners set off to the committee tent to collect their prizes only to find, as the ultimate snub, the trophies standing on a table in an otherwise deserted tent.
Playing fields of Eton or not, they don't like it up 'em.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

It's ALL a con.

 I had always assumed that one of my favourite films, The Sting, was nothing more than a hugely entertaining but far fetched piece of fiction. Then several years after the film I came across The Big Con by David Maurer and learnt that Maurer had been a consultant on the film and that so called "long cons" as portrayed in The Sting really did happen in the 1920's.  
It is a basic tenet of grifting that you can't con an honest punter. The mark has to be motivated by greed or they just won't play. I was reminded of all this when hearing about Bernard Madoff's 150 year sentence. Now I'm not suggesting for a moment that Madoff is the kind of bloke that you would want to be building the post-revolutionary anarchist society with, and no doubt his victims included some hard working small time savers, but when I hear that one punter lost 12 million dollars I tend feel a distinct lack of sympathy. 
The anarchist movement has a long and honourable tradition of expropriators. Perhaps we need a new generation of political con-persons - screwing the rich for the common good.

Monday, 29 June 2009

British Scientists in Tea Breakthrough.

The bottled water scam is of course well known and I'm sure that by now only the very daft will be paying good money for something that you can get out of the kitchen tap. But where did all this obsessive fear about dehydration come from in the first place? Half the population seem unable to pop down to the shops unless they are clutching a bottle of water. I never drink water (well with my iron constitution I could easily rust) but I do drink gallons of tea and have always maintained that a good cup of builders is just as rehydrating as water. Now my long held opinion is being confirmed by "scientific research" no less and experts are telling us that a good cuppa is not only a rehydrater but is a sure fire answer to every medical problem from blackwater fever to ingrowing toenails. Oh! hang about. I see that this research was funded by the Tea Council. Ah! well, never mind.
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