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

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Jubilympic Jubilation Jaundice.

The great Jubilee weekend is almost upon us and every High Street in the land looks like nothing so much as a 1970's National Front rally. The talk is all of how hard Her Maj works, what a godsend to the tourist industry the Windsors are and how having this weird, dysfunctional, but incredibly wealthy family at the top of our constitutional hierarchy makes us the envy of the world. The Queen may very well work hard for someone her age, I don't take enough interest in her engagements to have a view about that. Regarding the second point, what tourists love is the trappings of monarchy - the whole pseudo historical pomp and regalia that was dreamt  up by the Victorians as a wonderfully clever marketing exercise to impress the lesser races - and yes, we all love a uniform and a band. As for being the envy of the world, I'm not so sure about that. I can't honestly think of a single occasion when someone from another country has even hinted to me that they really were green with envy regarding the royals. Anyway, have a look at this.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Theresa May and The Great Bubble Invasion.

If there is one thing bound to take people's minds off government corruption and ineptitude it's the prospect of a huge disaster looming on the horizon. Better still announce imminent disaster and at the same time reassure punters that thanks to a master stroke of forward planning the government have all but averted said disaster. It's going to be a damned close run thing but we are in safe hands. So it is with Theresa May and The Great Bubble Invasion. Yes that's right, the collapse of the Euro could result in a flood, nay deluge, of Greeks pouring into our Island Home. Pissed rotten on ouzo, smashing plates all over the shop and playing those bouzouki things on every street corner our whole culture and way of life could be under threat - and that's before you even start to think about 'em taking all those jobs happily done at present by our Poles. No, up with this we could not put. Luckily for us our Theresa (Greek name meaning "harvest" BTW) has the matter well in hand. The borders are secure. Our backs are against the wall ( a good position to adopt in the circumstances some will say) but we will prevail and repel the alien horde etc. Theresa May - you could make her up but why the fuck would you want to.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Friday, 25 May 2012

How I rode with Buffalo Bill.

When I was a little kid no publication gave me more pleasure than the Buffalo Bill Annual.  The wonderful  Denis McLoughlin art work, ripping yarns and factual articles all informed my view of the American West; far more than did film or TV.  I realised of course that times had changed, that the world had moved on, but I'm sure that to some extent I was convinced that the Wild West was still to be found by those prepared to saddle up and ride into the sunset.
In 1968 I finally did ride the western plains, but aboard a beat up Oldsmobile rather than a Quarter Horse. As we crossed the Arkansas - Oklahoma state line and headed west on Route 66 I became increasingly quiet, hardly speaking at all to my companions. Now it's true that at the time I was smoking dope on an  almost industrial scale but that was not the reason for my long spells of silence. I was simply totally poleaxed by the vastness of the landscape - and the fact  that somehow, rather like the English schoolboys who travelled through time to ride with Bill Cody in his Annual, I was here, actually in The West. Occasionally we would catch sight of a lone horseman topping a rise. The Indians tended to be manning filling stations rather than hunting buffalo or taking scalps but I never doubted for a moment that they could switch back to the lifestyle of their ancestors at the drop of a stetson.
Of course by this time I was well aware of the reality behind the myth of The West. The genocide that was at the heart of the Indian Wars, the poverty of the reservations, the fact that Hitler was a great admirer of the Manifest Destiny of westward expansion (for Sioux read Slav) and that as I pursued my childhood fantasy in Texas and New Mexico the real conclusion to all of this was being acted out in Vietnam. But like so many other things in life I discovered that the reality behind the myth was far and away more interesting than the myth itself - disturbing at times but interesting none the less. Looking for the image of the Buffalo Bill Annual on the net I found that it's possible to buy copies from the 50's. I wonder if I dare?

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Hitler's Children. A film to make your blood run cold.

Last night's BBC 2 documentary Hitlers Children was a chilling reminder that even the most terrible mass murderer is somebody's father or son or sibling. It was also one of the most moving films that I have seen for some time. At one level it was an investigation into how the children and grandchildren of Nazi war criminals coped with their dreadful legacy but it also opened a whole can of worms about national guilt, family loyalties and the real nature of evil. It was also an affirmation of the potential for human decency in the worst of times. Gripping stuff and as the first hints of a European unravelling emerge, subjects that we should all think long and hard about.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Social mobility - or masters without slaves?

We seem to be hearing a great deal about social mobility, or rather the lack of it, these days. The New Labour elite are a bit unsure about the whole concept and claim  to be in favour of old fashioned class pride and solidarity. Bit late for that you might think. Little Clegg thinks that it's a jolly splendid idea and that we could all do with a lot more of it. I imagine that David Cameron thinks that social mobility is a bit like time travel and just about as realistic. Meanwhile the Pol Pot school of thought on the subject is gaining ground in some quarters. Spiked's Brendan O' Neill thoughts are worth a look but as my own  small contribution to the debate can I just ask why it is that in post-Blair Britain an aspirational working class person is always assumed to be incapable of aspiring to anything beyond lining their own pockets?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Map reading for beginners.

Maps do not of course come value free. That is to say that they are social products and as such are not only representations of the world but reflections of the ideas and aspirations of the map maker as well. I suppose that maps have played a far more important role in my life than they do for most people. Marine charts were a tool of the trade for much of my working life but even a day out is not complete for me without a map and at least some understanding of the local topography. But even for someone pretty clued up about maps and map making it's easy to fall into the trap of accepting the map as in some way "true". Cartographers have to make a huge number of decisions about what to include and what to leave out of a map as well as where to centre it and what projection to use and these decisions both reflect the map makers world view - and go toward shaping our own as well. If you doubt this just think back to the school atlas hanging on the classroom wall. The distortions of the classic Mercator projection give the impression that Europe and our tiny island are huge in comparison with equatorial countries and this combined with centring the map on the Greenwich Meridian ensured Britain's central position in the world for generations of schoolkids. On such assumptions an empire was consolidated.
In an effort to encourage Londoners to walk to work during the Olympics and ease the pressure on what will be a hopelessly overburdened transport system, TfL and Mayor for London have published a map displaying the walking times from Fenchurch Street Station.  Concentric circles radiate out from Fenchurch Street so we can see for example that both Bank and Liverpool Street are within the ten minute  radius, Tate Modern is within the fifteen to twenty minute zone and that Colombia Road Flower Market is way out on the twenty five minute line. It's a practical map and pleasing to the eye as well; but take a closer look. The map is not actually centred on Fenchurch Street but somewhere near Guildhall and this means that the distance rings come to an abrupt halt on the southern and eastern edges of the sheet. By situating places like Stepney and Walworth  beyond the pale, in some kind of City Hall terra incognita, we are given a distorted view of London and an insight into the thinking of those who run the capital as well. You can learn a lot from maps - and sometimes find more than just your way from A to B.

Friday, 18 May 2012

First cast the sarni from thy own bag.

Armed with a flask of tea and a bite to eat I set off this morning for a days work down the allotment. The bus was a bit crowded but I managed to find a seat and plonked myself down next to another passenger. The bus had hardly pulled away when I thought, "Bloody stroll on! What's that smell?"  Only later did I discover that the smell in question was actually coming from the Camembert sandwich in my bag. How easy it is to misjudge others.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

A man of principle.

The tangled web that is the Murdoch/Cameron/Brooks cabal continues to titillate us but such is the level of greed and corruption in 21st century Britain that only the most unworldly would be surprised at the daily revelations. The media, the political elite and the business class seem only too happy to feather their nests. It's safe in those nests - a bit smelly but safe. Years ago Jamie Reid told me that one of the things that he was most proud of was not the stuff we did in Wicked Messengers, his efforts in Suburban Press or even his iconic Sex Pistols art work. No, what Jamie was most proud of was his Dad who as City Editor at the old Daily Sketch had stuck to his socialist principles and refused to make a penny out of his inside knowledge of the markets. I fear that these days John Reid would be a laughing stock. I suppose things will get worse before they get better.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Bauhaus at the Barbican.

Just got back from the Bauhaus exhibition at the Barbican. This hugely influential school of art and design, like so much else that was progressive, challenging and fun during the Weimar years, would eventually succumb to the nazi jackboots. The simpletons of national socialism found Bauhaus too foreign, too modern and perhaps too Jewish. The legacy of the Nazi Party would be carnage on an unprecedented scale while that of Bauhaus was some beautiful ideas - and the nesting tables.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Green Party leadership up for grabs.

So Caroline Lucas is to stand down as leader of the Green Party. Apparently this is all about letting other top Greens have a go at leadership and who am I to doubt this. Leaders are  still something of a novelty in the Green Party so it stands to reason that lots of members, keen to spend less time with their families, will  fancy giving it a try. All very laudable and democratic but some more cynical political observers, unused to such altruism, will be sniffing around the undergrowth in search of scandal. What could be the guilty secret that has forced Caroline to step down before the organic matter hits the wind turbine?  Does the Brighton MP drive a Hummer or perhaps host wild parties where the guests sit naked under patio heaters eating tropical fruits torn from the mouths of starving children and flown half way round the world at vast expense? Just asking.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Marriage counselling - but not as we know it.

Marriage has never seemed to me to be the most important thing about a relationship and I suppose that to some extent I retain my old anarchist disdain for the need to have our cohabitation endorsed by state or church. Of course here in the real world marriage has practical legal benefits involving children, inheritance and property and it makes sense that those benefits should be available to all couples regardless of sexual preferences. The trouble is that a whole tranche of folk including Muslims, Tory Backwoodsmen, Roman Candles, all the usual suspects, don't want to share the sanctity of marriage with a bunch of damned shirtlifters. Hence the "gay marriage" problem. What to do? Well, if the state opted out of the marriage business altogether and offered Civil Partnership to all consenting adults this would leave marriage safely in the hands of the religions to do what they wanted with. Only the Civil Partnership would be recognised in law and this would of course be available to religious couples before or after their purely ceremonial "marriage".  Divesting marriage of any legal validity but making Civil Partnership available to all might go some way toward abolishing the abusive horror of forced marriage and get such worthies as David Cameron and Barack Obama off the hook at the same time. Job done!
....... and while I'm on the subject, can anyone  tell me why it's considered wrong to go through a marriage cermony in order to stay in this country but OK to marry to increase your wealth and social standing?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Landlord scum clean up on the Olympics.

Some people are lucky enough to end up in a satisfying and rewarding job that they really enjoy but for others wage labour is a grind;  a daily misery that has to be endured. For such people the prospect of self employment  has the appeal of making you "your own boss" and offering some (albeit limited and largely illusionary) freedom. But going into business, which is what becoming self employed involves, comes at a price. Hard decisions will have to be made regarding ones relationships with other members of society and it's not easy to be an entrepreneur and a nice guy. Another alternative is to get enough money together to buy your way into the landlord class, and the same tough decisions will have to be made. Of course not all business types and landlords are complete scum. Indeed many do their best to follow their chosen path in life and at the same try to give everyone a fair crack of the whip; there is after all such a thing as a good landlord. Clearly not in that category are the greedy, heartless swine who have decided to make a fast buck by evicting tenents in order to re-let the property (at hugely inflated rents) to Olympic tourists.
For some unfortunates the Olympic legacy will involve a spell of homelessness. While for some landlords it's all just a nice little earner and fuck the consequences. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest their armpits!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The joy of Brick Hill.

Drivers heading west out of London on the M3 and just a couple of miles outside the orbit of the M25, may catch a glimpse of what appears to be a wilderness of heather, gorse, pine and silver birch. This is Chobham Common, home to such rare creatures as the Dartford Warbler, Red Barbed Ant and, some would have it, the elusive Surrey Black Panther. There is no way of accessing the common from the M3 that bisects it but come off the M25 at junction 11 and with a bit of determined map-work you can enter one of the best preserved heathlands in the country. But it's not just the wildlife and landscape that are so interesting because poke about a bit on the fringes of this nature reserve and you come across all kinds of interesting stuff. This remember is probably one of the poshest bits of the Surrey/Berkshire border. Just to the north of the common lies Sunningdale with it's notoriously snooty golf club. To the south west is Chobham Place now  renamed  Wentworth Place for some reason. This huge pile was one of the dwellings considered for Fergie when she split from Prince Andrew. It sold for a reputed £12m a few years back. I have no idea who owns it but with it's gleaming white exterior and formal garden it has an air of naff opulence that screams "Dubai". Also on the fringes of the common you can find Dads Army locations, a mysterious military establishment and best of all the peculiar little settlement of Brick Hill. The place gets it's name from the brick works once located there and consists of perhaps a dozen houses, some Victorian and no doubt connected to the old brick works, plus an assortment of bungalows. With it's  abandoned vehicles and half completed  "good life" projects  the place has a marginal, plotland feel to it that is quite wonderful. For some reason that neither of us can put our finger on, Brick Hill has become one of our favourite places.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

London refuses to listen.

Sack Boris campaigners
I've tried, God knows I've tried. But despite having read all of the right books, endorsing the abolition of the separation of politics from daily life and denouncing the charade of party politics and representative democracy, despite all of that and even despite having spent half a lifetime slagging off knee jerk lefties at every opportunity and despite a thousand other things - I can't help feeling really sorry that Londoners (or at least the few that bothered voting) have again opted to elect as Mayor a right wing free market Tory of the worst kind. Ken Livingston has his faults all right but he at least has an understanding of London and working class Londoners that would be quite beyond Boris. All across town the business class will be rubbing their hands - the rest of us can repent at our leisure

Thursday, 3 May 2012

2012. All circuses and no bread.

I don't know if David Cameron wakes up in the early hours, stares at the ceiling and wonders how it ever came to this. I suspect that the old public school conditioned feelings of entitlement and worth keep him immune from such moments of self-doubt. For the rest of us it's obvious that the posh boys are presiding over a bugger's muddle of the first water. The whole double dip pasty taxing Murdoch fuelled fiasco can only run on if the LibDems hold their nerve, and who knows for how much longer the lead in their pencil will endure. Bread and circuses are the order of the day but with the cuts meaning a continuing erosion of living standards it looks as though it could be down to circuses alone. Just how effective will those circuses be in placating the mob?  During my lifetime I have endured every kind of royal occasion from the coronation to endless weddings and a few funerals;  and they all seem to get the national juices flowing in a very undignified way. I can see no reason why the jubilee will prove to be any different. How much of a diversion the Olympics can create will be largely down to our medal haul. The travel chaos and the security clamp down could all be forgiven if British athletes do well. If on the other hand the games turn out to be another monumental cock-up and if the LibDems bottle it we could be due for yet another circus - the 2012 General Election.  But cometh the hour cometh the man. Enter Roy Hodgson stage right.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Anish Kapoor instalation on Bow Quarter - You know it makes sense.

As a Jubilympics Local Leader (see post of 18th April) my duties obviously include liaising between the security forces and the local community - requisition of property for the garrison of troops, smoothing the way for the location of surface to air missiles in care homes, that kind of thing. With the right kind of Local Leader none of this need present a problem. I don't know what's going on over at posh Bow Quarter but clearly the Local Leader needs to get a grip. The well heeled residents of the former Bryant and May factory are kicking up about having weapons of mass destruction on the roof. Unpatriotic or what? Her indoors reckons that the yuppies should have been told that the hardware on top of the water tower was an Anish Kapoor installation; they would have loved it. That's the kind of going foreword lateral thinking that we should expect from all Local Leaders.