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

Friday, 27 August 2010

Test cricket at it's best.

With Broad and Trott just two runs short of an all time England record for the eighth wicket and Mohammed Amir taking four wickets for no runs and becoming the youngest player to take fifty test wickets, today at Lords really was test cricket at it's best.
20 x 20? You can keep it.

Get cheered up. Get New Humanist.

What with faith schools, papal visits and fundermentals of every pursuasion grabbing the headlines every day it's easy to end up feeling that us supposedly rationalist athiest types are being increasingly forced on to the back foot. At times like this the satisfying thump as New Humanist lands on the doormat is always a cause for celebration and the latest issue is no exeption. What I like about New Humanist is that it goes far beyond being a vehicle for humanist polemic and is just a good, frequently challenging, but always amusing and entertaining read. If you haven't read this magazine for godless people why not check it out. Take advantage of their free trial copy offer why don't yer.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

There's No Business Like Spy Business.

In the early days of cinema the line between fact and fiction, between art and reality, was often blurred. The actors in the first westerns were actual cowboys who were just continuing the tradition, started in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, of riding around and doing the things that the public expected cowboys to do; only this time for the camera. Before the film industry decamped for California the business was centred in New York. Such was the cost of film stock in those days that it was the norm for a film to be shown at one movie theatre before being transported across town to be shown at the next venue a couple of hours later. It was inevitable that rival cinema owners would hire gangsters to hijack the films and equally inevitable that other gangs would be hired to protect the stock. From here it was a small step to hiring the gangsters to chase each other across rooftops firing blanks at each other and generally hamming it up. Thus a whole new film genre was born. The thing came full circle when a new generation of real life cowboys and gangsters based their persona's on their celluloid heroes. For years the fans found it difficult to separate the life of movie stars from the roles that their idols played on screen and it was a confusion that the studios encouraged. Sometimes their continued to be an element of truth in all of this. Burt Lancaster looks so good in Trapeze because he really had been a circus performer. Most of the time however all but the most unsophisticated of fans learned to differentiate between illusion and reality and were not entirely surprised when dead hard Rocky/Rambo Stallone was afraid to travel abroad for fear of being blown up by terrorists or nice clean cut romantic comedy star Hugh Grant got given a blowjob by a working girl in the back of a taxi. We just thought, "that's movies". Now comes news that this new found sophistication came late to the Security Service and that MI5 suspected James Bond scriptwriter Wolf Mankowitze of being in the pay of SMERSH. Mind you, at the time MI5 suspected just about everyone from Harold Wilson to Mister Pastry of being a Soviet spy. In the hall of mirrors that was MI5 and MI6 during the Cold War there seems to have been a grip on reality that would have put any old time film fan to shame.

Monday, 23 August 2010

CIA chemical warfare cover up exposed.

On the Today programme this morning there was an item about a case of "mass hysteria" in a French village during the 50s. Five people died and others were taken to mental hospitals in straight jackets. At the time it was thought that the incident was caused by ergot contaminated flour at the local bakers but now it is being suggested that the villagers were victims of a CIA experiment in chemical warfare using LSD. Funny that. I mean you never hear about a CIA LSD experiment where a village just sit around smoking and listening to the Beatles White Album, go down the pub later muttering about what brilliant acid that was and not bother going into work the next day.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Saturday Night Stomp. Not.

No doubt most of the people who read this blog are just warming up for a full on, very large Saturday night. I hope so. For myself it was a couple of pints in one of the few local pubs that have not been turned into a restaurant, followed by having an old mate round for one of her indoors' outstanding fish pies. Put the dishes in the sink and feet up for Test Match highlights and the Dads Army episode that features the Spanish Anarchist guerrilla warfare instructor. Bliss!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Nothing progressive about cutting middle class benefits..

At first glance it seems like such an obvious way of saving money without penalising the less well off. Surely the comfortable middle class have no need of winter fuel payments, child allowance and similar benefits? We can all relate tales of unpleasantly wealthy multiple property owners who can't wait to get their hands on the state pension, Freedom Pass and the rest of it and the erosion of middle class benefits is likely to have very few lefties crying into their beer and many will be rubbing their hands and chortling with glee. Well I think that they are making a big mistake. When benefits are means tested they are immediately reduced to the level of hand-outs to the poor. This has become the trend with both state education and the NHS with both these "benefits" increasingly being seen as second class services for those who can't afford the private option. This is a backward step that takes us yet further away from the inclusiveness that is at the heart of socialism. Far from cutting the benefits of the middle class we need to actually increase them. I am in favour of a social wage, paid to rich and poor alike, and a health and education system so good that the private sector would become irrelevant. How would all this be paid for? By taxing the better off of course. This would lead to something else that is supposed to be at the heart of socialism - the redistribution of wealth.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Pope? Nope.

The state visit of that incorrigible old nazi "Ratzinger The First", looks set to be a bit of a show stopper. As each day brings fresh talk of cuts and savings that need to be made, the news that the pope's retinue of cardinals and other hangers on will be accommodated at a luxury West End hotel at taxpayers expense is likely to go down like a rat sandwich. There could well be a massive turnout for the Protest The Pope march on Saturday 18th September. Apparently some hot-heads are calling for direct action to keep Ratzinger away from three and a half thousand kids the previous day.
I couldn't possibly comment.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Chertsey Show.

We have just got home from a really classic day at the Chertsey Show, the only traditional agricultural show held inside the M25. Unlike most "country shows" Chertsey is not all cut glass accents and cavalry twills and has none of that air of being the Tory Party at play. Set against a backdrop of pylons and power lines, and held on a site that is surrounded by mobile home parks and what looks like a graveyard for funfair vehicles, Chertsey Show could never be anything but unpretentious. The show is a gathering of ordinary folk, some of whom make their living from the land, but who all have an interest in livestock and agriculture. Horses,cattle.sheep,pigs goats and poultry are all here to be admired along with giant vegetables, old tractors and vast numbers of dodgy looking lurchers. And there was jousting. And a decent beer tent. A cracking day out.

Friday, 13 August 2010

George Foulser remembered.

Yesterday I was delighted to receive an email from George Foulser's niece. She has been researching her late uncle and had heard on the grapevine that I had some copies of George's disgraceful organ The East London Speed Freak and wondered if I could help. It will be a pleasure. George Foulser was an anarchist militant of the old school, hated almost as much by the National Union of Seamen as he was by the shipowners. Author of Seaman's Voice one of the most realistic books about the sea ever written, George was a big, tough warm hearted man. He was almost a throwback to a lost age and I was proud to have met him.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Great philosophical thoughts No 1 ........ You can't stop progress can you?

One of the truest "truisms" about society concerns the accelerating rate of change that people now experience. Think about it for a moment. We were hunter gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years and a mere ten thousand years ago started the transition to agriculture. Centuries of agricultural society gave way to the industrial mode of production a couple of hundred years back and the pace of change started to pick up speed. Even so I don't suppose that a time traveller from say the 1780's would have felt all that out of place in 1880 London. In my 68 years the capital has changed beyond recognition and I'm not talking about multiculturalism here. No, I'm thinking of the really important things, like pubs. Time was when you would be lucky to get a pickled egg and a packet of crisps in most pubs with some establishments admittedly having a separate dining room upstairs. Now it's almost impossible to have a quite pint without being surrounded by people having their dinner. The truth is that more and more pubs have become restaurants in all but name. Is this pace of change just too much for the human psyche? I fear that it may be.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Another tragic waste of life.

Afghanistan has witnessed a terrible waste of life and waste of human potential. The death of Dr Karen Woo is just another statistic in this long catalogue of misery but sometimes a single death can epitomise the sheer tragic pointlessness of it all. Karen Woo had been a dancer, model and stunt girl before turning to medicine at the late age of 22. She sounds like a good person, kind,clever, determined and fun to be around. What a waste. What a pointless fucking waste.

Friday, 6 August 2010

A walk on the mild side.

It never ceases to surprise me that the chattering classes will happily fork out shed loads of dosh for a walking holiday in Appalachia or The Dolomites but remain totally ignorant of the walking potential right on their doorstep. Regular readers of this blog will know (groan) that I am a great one for mooching about and indeed am one of that elite band of pedestrians who have walked the Capital Ring. Sometimes I set out on these expeditions alone but frequently I am accompanied by her indoors who likes to give directions and criticise the sandwiches. A couple of day back we girded our loins and set off on the Thames-Down Link, a 15 mile tramp from Kingston to the North Downs. A steady yomp through the suburban footpaths of Kingston, Old Malden and Chessington brought us out at Horton Country Park, Epsom Common, Ashstead and the gentle rise to the North Downs. We pretended to be legionaries as we marched along the Roman Road of Stanes Street before making the decent to the village of Mickleham and a well deserved pint in the Running Horse. And no, I didn't fall asleep on the bus home.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

No gods -No masters.

Things are beginning to warm up a bit for the pope's visit and while I can't see much likelihood of the citizens arrest coming off I hope that we can get enough people out on the street to send a clear message to the Catholic Church i.e. You want Ratzinger - you pay for him. Details at www,protest-the-pope.org.uk

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Pakistan faces huge catastrophe as Zardari consolidates a dynasty.

As the full enormity of the floods in Pakistan becomes apparent it's difficult to get your head round the terrible fact that this may be but the start of an disaster that truly could be of Biblical proportions. The monsoon rains will continue for some time yet and the country faces the possibility of dams bursting, flooding on an even greater scale and even the destruction of the national irrigation system. All this takes place against a background of rising food prices due in part to the heatwave in Northern Europe and Russia but also to hedge fund gambling on expected shortages. Grain rose in price by 50% in the last month alone. Meanwhile Pakistan's President Zardari is visiting us, partly to assist Cameron in brushing up his diplomatic skills but also to attend the launch of his son Bilawal's career in politics; an event that for reasons far beyond my ken is taking place in Birmingham.

Monday, 2 August 2010

A poaching we will go.

When hunt saboteurs and animal rightists talk about the class nature of field sports they have a point. Hunting with hounds, game shooting and fly fishing have all tended to be the preserve of the wealthy. One obvious reason for this is the cost involved but the ownership of land was and is a far more important factor in keeping the hunting of game very much an upper class pursuit. However the thrill of the hunt is universal and wherever the ruling elite have sought to restrict hunting for themselves, frequently on pain of death, there has existed that curse of the toffs and their lickspittle gamekeepers, the poacher. There is nothing very romantic about having to risk your life in order to put food on the table but the poacher has always been driven, not only by necessity, but also by a desire to cock a snook at authority and do what they shouldn't oughta. There has long existed a tradition of working class blokes mooching about the lanes and byways of the countryside with terriers and lurchers and generally getting up to no good. Long may that tradition continue. You can take it from me that the pheasant knocked of it's perch with a stick in a moonlit wood where you have no right to be tastes every bit as good as the one driven to the Purdeys by beaters.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Depression Cure.

If there is one branch of literature that I avoid more than Jeffery Archer's novels it's American self help manuals. The latest one to hit the bookstores and receive some media attention is The Depression Cure by Steve IIardi. There is a good overview of Ilardi's ideas here but in essence what he is saying is that depression is almost unheard of in hunter-gatherer societies and that as a step toward reducing the epidemic of depression in our own post-industrial world we should look toward introducing some of the elements of hunter-gatherer culture into our own lives. Tribal societies have always interested me and it was this emphasis on our hunter gatherer ancestors that caught my attention.
Much of what Ilardi is proposing makes sense. Plenty of fresh air, exercise and sunlight are good for us all and social interaction must surely be better for depression than isolation.I'm less sure about the fish oil supplements; didn't Ben Goldacre expose the paucity of real evidence for the benefits of fish oil not long ago?
What concerns me about self-help books is not so much that they urge us to take control of our own lives, I'm all in favour of that, but rather the implication that it is all down to us. The role of society never gets a look in. Many people are depressed, not because of a lack of exercise and Omega 3 but due to the feelings of utter helplessness regarding their situation. The hunter-gatherer world was a fascinating one but it might be as well to consider the truly appalling levels of alcoholism, depression and suicide found in the people who most recently lived in hunter-gatherer societies; Native Americans, Aborigines and Bushmen. For all my misgivings Ilardi may be on to something here. It's just that it seems to me that to talk of mental health in terms of simple quick fixes of any description and without reference to society as a whole, is to do a disservice to the millions who suffer debilitating mental illness.