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

Monday, 30 July 2012

We might as well just enjoy the sport now.

"Londoners say no to games of greed", proclaims the front page of the Morning Star. The article goes on to say that 600 people turned out for an Anti Corporate Olympic demo in East London. The numbers say it all. The truth is that outside of a tiny leftist bubble Londoners are shrugging their shoulders at the corporate greed and civil rights abuses and just enjoying the sport while hoping that they wont be too inconvenienced by the extra people using the tube. The truth is that it is very difficult for activists to mobilise around something like the Olympics without coming over as a bunch of whining lefties out to spoil the fun because they themselves were never any good at sport. There is plenty to complain about of course. Who knows what the much vaunted "legacy" will be, apart from increased profits for a handful of multi-national companies and a nice little windfall for some greedy landlords. Will the games make us a fitter nation? I doubt it. Well, not unless there's some kind of training benefit from watching twelve hours a day of Olympic TV. Give it a year and as the weeds start to grow across the now semi-derelict Olympic Park and the real cost of all this becomes apparent we will all be nodding in agreement at some Channel 4 expose of The Great 2012 Swindle. In the mean time we might as well enjoy what will certainly be some great sporting moments.

Friday, 27 July 2012


Isn't it amazing how things just creep up on you? I mean you know that a certain event is due on such and such date but it all seems like a long way off and then suddenly it's on top of you. THE OLYMPICS START IN LESS THAN TWELVE HOURS! Her Indoors reckons that panic buying will result in shops running out of food and that we must fill every available space with soon to be unobtainable supplies. WE COULD ALL BE IN OLYMPIC LOCKDOWN. We actually will be in lockdown on Saturday due to the CYCLE RACE going down the main drag at the end of our road. BLOODY HELL! We'd better get more food in just in case Bradley Wiggins stops off for a sarni. He looks like he could do with one. Another thing..... is it me or do those rings suspended from Tower Bridge look a bit naff? Too late to change that now. If only Steve Ovett had been in charge rather than that tosser Coe. The troops are being pulled out of Afghanistan in order to form a ring of steel around the Olympic Park. 4FS will take over training the Afghan army. I wouldn't go anywhere near a Job Centre if I were you. THE OLYMPICS START IN LESS THAN TWELVE HOURS. The torch has just passed through the lock where I used to work. It's only five minutes away but I missed it. I've got a lot on. WILL THE NATION STEP UP TO THE PLATE OR BE FOUND WANTING IN THE CRUCIBLE OF OLYMPIC WHATSIT? Our kids are coming over to watch the opening thingy on our TV. I'm not sure why. Perhaps they feel the need for parental comfort and guidance. I don't know what makes them think I'll be any good at that. I hope we will have enough food.  DON'T PANIC!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A Rotherhithe afternoon.

I suppose that these days there are people who visit the Rotherhithe Peninsula and think that  Canada Water and Greenland Dock are water features thoughtfully provided by the architects and developers of the many blocks of luxury apartments that now grace the area. The truth is of course that these now sterile and meaningless bits of water are the last sad reminder of the Surrey Docks. This was the hub of London's timber trade with planks of sawn timber from the Baltic and Canada plus huge logs of tropical  hardwood being unloaded into barges for transhipment to the wharfs of London River and the small ports of the estuary. The Surrey Docks was the whole reason for Rotherhithe. Right into the sixties this area was a hive of activity that supported a host of small industry as well as the docks themselves. But the writing was on the wall. Truth be told "The Surrey" was even then a very cramped and old fashioned  group of docks. This combined with containerisation and the long term plans to move the docks industry downriver and leave the capital itself to the developers and the service sector meant that the Surrey Docks was closed for good in 1969 and not long afterwards the process of filling in the docks was started. Like other dock areas Rotherhithe went into a long period of decline. The closing of the docks devastated  communities and did away with a whole way of life. Only slowly have the various riverside areas found a new role and it has been a change not without problems and certainly has benefited some people more than others.
I don't get down to Rotherhithe much these days but yesterday I spent a very pleasant afternoon drinking in the Angel just a stones throw from the site of the old docks. We sat watching the visiting yachts manoeuvring and my companions remarked about how busy the river was. I thought that it looked dead and soulless and could not begin to describe what the view would have been fifty years ago.  I fell into conversation with a local man and we talked about the river of our youth, politics and how our lives had panned out. One interesting point that this guy made was that although he was only too aware of the downside of gentrification he also felt that at least the area was finally recovering from years of neglect and decay. The tough dockers and lightermen, the tally clerks, riggers, bargemen and tug skippers have all gone and I can but  hope that this new Rotherhithe will treat kindly the grandchildren and great grandchildren of all those long gone workers who so shaped my view of the world.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

"I can do you a deal for cash Dave"

When he is not selflessly working on behalf of his Hertfordshire constituents or fulfilling his duties as Exchequer Secretary, David Gauke has a cushy  little number with the well known firm of tax avoidance briefs, Macfarlane. Gauke also claimed ten grand in stamp duty and fees for his second home  so clearly he is a man who knows a bit about tax dodges, bunging it on expenses and what people like him call "the black economy". But such is the sense of entitlement and moral self-righteousness of  the creep that he has no hesitation in lecturing ordinary folk about the rights and wrongs of doing a bit for cash or paying in readys. What I don't understand about people like Gauke, people who's whole financial world is as bent as a nine bob note, is the way that they are so certain that the rest of us are too thick to see through the hypocrisy.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

A right royal urban myth.

The proposed new Royal Yacht, or UK flagship as we call such vessels these days, is reckoned to give the economy a boost by in some way  promoting the inventiveness of British industry, honesty of British banking and so on. That such a hugely extravagant PR exercise could in any way benefit the ordinary walking round the streets members of the population is such nonsense, and such believable nonsense,  that it should be categorised as "urban myth". Most urban myths are harmless. Vanishing hitchhikers, insects that take up residence in a beehive hairdo and bore into your skull and similar Fortean occurrences. Some however are far from harmless and a  particularly nasty one was going the rounds when West Indians first started to make a home in London. The story was that these simple folk from the Caribbean lived on  KitiKat, a brand of cat food popular at the time. It was arrant racist claptrap but you heard it repeated over and over and there was always someone who knew someone who had proof positive that it was all true. But as I say, most urban myths are harmless and some are downright rib splitters. Which brings me back to the Royal Yacht and an urban myth that if not actually true certainly should be. 
The story concerns the Royal Yacht Britannia and a young Queen Elizabeth. A plot was hatched on the lower deck to procure a royal souvenir that would remain a talking point for generations of old salts. I should point out that the tale dates back before ships had holding tanks for sewage and when the contents of  "the heads" just went straight out of a hole in the ships side. Anyway, negotiations were entered into and with the aid of a double tot of rum here and a favour returned there the plotters were able to get the information that they needed. When it had been established at what point in time Her Majesty was likely to be performing a Number Two and, most importantly, out of which shipside orifice the contents of the royal bowels would be ejected, the plot entered it's final phase . From then on it was simply a matter of by means of a series of whistles and hand signals to get a bucket attached to a line lowered over the side and strategically placed at the right time. Piece of piss as you might say. The royal turd was recovered, and if you believe the tale, given several coats of varnish before being mounted on a wooden plaque and displayed in the stokers mess. From such legends national identities are forged.

Friday, 20 July 2012

With philosophers like these...........

I'm all in favour of the tradition of the autodidact, worker-philosophers capable of honest labour one moment, intellectual debate the next and manning the barricades the next. Like much else in life I have failed miserably to live up to this ideal but I continue to try. Organisations such as the WEA and Open University are an inspiration I reckon, and the new movement of Philosophy In Pubs sound pretty tasty as well. No surprise that the latter has a strong base in Liverpool where there is a long and noble tradition of people gobbing off in boozers. When I came across Jules Evans' Philosophy For Life it sounded right up my street and in truth it's not a bad read if perhaps a little too American Self Helpy for my taste; but I'm not so sure about Evans since finding this little philosophical gem on his website. 
"For my money, the great champion of the mass intelligentsia is Jamie Oliver - I'm serious, I think Oliver and Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall have done more to promote learning and shift ethical attitudes in our culture than 99% of academics. Chefs have become the philosophers of our society. Anyway, the latest addition to the Oliver empire is a new drop in cookery school in Notting Hill Gate. Good idea."  Yeah! Fucking ace!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Simon Harwood "not guilty".

Regardless of the verdict, if Harwood's previous is anything to go by the death of Ian Tomlinson or someone else, was bound to happen sooner or later. Harwood is clearly a very violent and possibly unbalanced man. But what has gone more or less unnoticed has been the efforts by senior ranks in the Met to psyche up the police prior to the G20 protest. The protest was a peaceful one but such was the nervousness and tension among officers that something unpleasant was inevitable. The top brass had succeeded in working up the officers on the ground into such a state that policing was spiteful and confrontational from the start. A loose cannon like Harwood, a police force worked up into a state of fear and ready for violent confrontation, poor Ian Tomlinson stumbles into a situation and meets a tragic end. This is the force that is supposed to have ultimate responsibility for Olympic security. Heaven help us.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Red Trouser Brigade.

Like this pic?
Wanna see more saucy snaps of terminal bell ends like this?
Go to http://lookatmyfuckingredtrousers.blogspot.co.uk/
Fill yer boots!

Hat tip to Mike Clarke for this.

Monday, 16 July 2012

John Lewis cleaners fight for dignity - and a fair days pay.

The retailer of choice for the respectable, Guardian reading elements of the chattering classes has long been John Lewis/Waitrose. Owned by the workers (coyly referred to as "partners" and having a corporate social responsibility profile of almost saintly proportions, the punters could stock up on Fairtrade coffee and ethically sourced soft furnishings and feel good about themselves at the same time.
The stores are spacious, brightly lit and sparkling clean. Yes, did you ever notice how clean everything is? You might be surprised to learn that this wonderful, ethical organisation sub out the cleaning to ICM of the Compass Group who pay the cleaners in the London stores a derisory £6.08 per hour, well below the London Living Wage. It makes perfect economic sense for companies to sub-contract work and thus absolve themselves of all responsibility for the pay and conditions of the workers involved. Perfect economic sense but it also makes a mockery of John Lewis' loudly proclaimed ethical stance.
It was good to see the lively cleaners picket outside the Oxford Street store on Saturday. More power to their elbow.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Organics. A note of caution.

Over the past year or two a lot of allotment growers have had to deal with the problem of spreading stable or farmyard manure on their land only to find that the muck was contaminated with aminopyralid  herbicide. This herbicide is used by farmers to control weeds in pasture or in fields that are going to be cut for hay or silage. It does no harm to the stock who ingest traces of it in their feed but of course the aminopyralid is passed through the system of the beasts and acts as a growth suppressant when the manure is spread on the unsuspecting allotmenteers plot. The result can be a wasted growing season.
On the face of it this all looks like further evidence that the full organic method of agriculture is the only one that can keep us happy, healthy, safe and sound. If only it were that simple.
The discovery that nitrogen fertiliser could be industrially manufactured was to revolutionise agriculture and lead to a satisfying increase in productivity. Yields increased yet further with the introduction of compound fertilisers and the widespread use of pesticides. Of course everything comes at a price, and the price in this particular case was the environmental damage that is only too well known. But the reality is that while it's perfectly possible to produce food without resorting to "artificial" fertilisers and chemical pesticides (we have been doing it since Neolithic times after all) the yields are considerably reduced. It's also perfectly possible to keep livestock outside all year round; to have cattle tramping about in a sea of mud rather than over-wintered in barns, and some campaigners would like farmers to do just that,  but it's not the most efficient way of doing the job. This is not an argument in favour of the worst practises of agri-business but it has always seemed to me that growing crops and keeping livestock are areas of life where ideology is best left outside the gate and we just take with us a hearty dose of pragmatism.
Ecologists are fond of talking about an ecosystem being able to "support" a given species population. Thus an increase in snowshoe hare numbers will support a larger Canadian lynx population, farmers leaving wide field margins and hedgerows will support a bigger population of songbirds, and so on.
Before we are too dismissive of modern agricultural methods we would do well to ponder what happens to those members of a population that an ecosystem, or an agricultural system, can not support. They simply starve to death.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Sid and Nancy by any other name.

Eva Rausing struggled heroically with  "health problems" for years before being found dead in her Belgravia home. Now the arrest of her multi-millionaire husband has compounded the tragedy. The couple were noted philanthropists as well as being stars of high society and personal friends of Prince Charles. The Rausings were a wonderful couple and quite unlike working class junkies who are of course feckless good for nothing scumbags.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A man of rare talent.

I'm grateful to the good comrade Gitane for reminding me about Joseph Pujol "Le Petomane", a man of rare talent. Pujol was that most unusual of acts, a professional fartist. Attired  in  suitably adapted evening dress he performed such wonders as playing a number of tunes, sucking up and projecting a stream of water and blowing out a candle. It must have been in the late sixties that I stumbled across a book about this man with the unusual anus and some years later Leonard Rossiter would star in a film  about him. I remember trying to convince people that it was a true story. Pujol became a star of the Moulin Rouge but I don't think that he ever worked the English halls and if he had I'm not sure how English audiences would have responded. Roy Hudd has collected a huge number of stories and anecdotes about the music halls and one of my favourites concerns an old trouper who peering out past the footlights at the audience discerned a lady in the front row - unconcernedly shelling peas!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Anyone for tennis?

If the government has any bad news about banking, the NHS, our economic future or the meaning of life, today would be the time to put it out. The whole nation is gripped in Murray mania. Dunkirk Spirit,,,,,, backs to the wall..... not since Boudica etc. etc. Us Brits love nothing more than a noble loser. Well, apart from a noble winner that is. You can bet a pound to a pinch of shit that this most dull and cheerless sportsman will now be voted Sports Personality Of The Year. A contradiction in terms rather akin to "military intelligence" and "corporate social responsibility" you might think.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

When Maxick topped the bill.

The Victorian and Edwardian music hall provided the backdrop for a great many larger than life characters but few would capture the imagination of the public quite like the contingent of Japanese jujitsu exponents and continental wrestlers and strongmen who sought fame and fortune on the British music hall stage. Some of these strength athletes were far from being one dimensional figures. Yukio Tani was a tiny little man who would take on and defeat all comers as part of his act. When he retired he devoted his life to the establishment of judo as an integral part of what he saw as the development of a rounded human being. Eugene Sandow was in his day probably the most famous man in the world. Weightlifter,  wrestler and  physique star, Sandow was a household name. He rubbed shoulders with the movers and shakers of the age but he used his fame to highlight a tireless campaign for social reform that included establishing a Ministry of Health, sanitary inspectors, free school meals, family allowances, physical education in schools and pre-natal exercise clinics. The mighty Russian Lion, Georges Hackenschmidt was the most famous wrestler of his time and caused London's first ever traffic jam when he fought Madrali the Terrible Turk at Olympia in 1904. When Hack finally retired from the mat game he went on to write a number of books on philosophy. The era of music hall strength athletes was beginning to draw to a close when a Bavarian "pocket Hercules" who went by the name of Max Sick stepped ashore to seek his fortune. You did not need to be the sharpest show-biz entrepreneur to grasp that the newcomer was in need of a name change if only to spare him the worst excesses of the rowdier elements in the cheap seats. Farewell Max Sick and enter Maxick. The little man was an outstanding weightlifter but the most spectacular part of his act was his mastery of muscle control. He could isolate and control individual muscles in a way that had never been seen before and it went down a storm with the hard to please music hall audiences. Not long after he made his London debut Maxick teamed up with fellow strength artist Monte Saldo and together they produced and marketed a postal muscle building course that they modestly named "Maxalding". Amazingly enough Saldo's son continued to sell the course, complete with sepia photos of the founders, right up until the 1970s. A free online treasure trove of Maxalding books, courses and memorabilia can be found here. Many of these old time strongmen were very influenced by the new science of psychology and none more so than Maxick who placed great emphasis on the correlation between mind and muscle; commonplace in today's world of sports psychology but innovative at the time.
When the First World War broke out Maxick was interned, not that he had any intention of returning to fight for those he described as "Prussian bullies". Upon his release from internment he sold his share of the business to Monte Saldo and set off to explore the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. Maxick was approaching eighty and living in Buenos Aires when he passed away. After an afternoon spent arm wrestling in a local bar the old strength athlete cycled home and knowing his body so well, realised that the end was near. The farewell note that he left concluded with the words,"Remember that the infinite is our inner freedom manifested through the consciousness." An epitaph that I hope will mean more to some readers of this blog than it does to me.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Dairy farmers threaten direct action.

At one time it must have appeared to the government that the Olympics, apart from such minor considerations as being a possible magnet for jihadist mentals and a certain magnet for the world community of dips, grifters and find the lady artists, apart from that the Olympics would be a win win scenario and an ideal way to take the minds of common people off the banking scam. Trouble is that the more the government bang on about all the wealth that the games will generate the more various groups will tend to think, "Great, where's our share? Let's use this as leverage to get a bit more in our pockets".   Now dairy farmers, fed up with being paid less for a litre of milk than it costs to produce, are threatening direct action during the games. I foresee slow moving tractors clogging up the VIP lanes and herds of Holstein cattle trampling all over Danny Boyle's rustic tableaux. For the first time I'm starting to look forward to the Olympics.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Land.

The internet has it's uses and as a source of quickly available, and sometimes accurate, information it takes some beating but when it comes to reading for pleasure the net just does not compare to the real world wide web of books, papers and magazines. I am especially fond of the tradition that we have in this country of independently produced magazines and journals. One of my favourites is the twice yearly publication devoted to land rights and small scale agriculture, The Land. The current issue of this  cracking little mag, if you can call seventy four A4 pages little, is chock full of good things but one article in particular caught my eye. In Growing Up Dystechnic Simon Fairlie laments the fact that an increasing number of youngsters are entering adulthood without such basic life skills as being able to use hand tools, dig, tie a few knots or even write without the aid of a keyboard. The innate snobbishness of the English class system has always undervalued practical skills and we seem to have ended up with a situation where half the population have an encyclopedic knowledge of mobile phones and online social networking systems (and there's nothing wrong with that ) yet struggle to tie their own shoelaces unaided. In an uncertain world the basic skills of old may yet stand us in good stead.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

A diamond geezer spills the beans.

I have no idea what Bob Diamond is going to come out with when he appears before the Treasury Select Committee today but the pundits are talking about this being the possible beginning of the end for London as a major financial market. Back in the late eighties, when financial services was seen as the golden future for this country, I was apt to point out that a nations wealth was it's agriculture, industry, fishing, and such like. We turned our backs on such real endeavours at our peril. What did a thick ex-bargeman like me know?  Chickens coming home to roost babe. Chickens coming home to roost.

Tribute to a self made man. Caledonian Road slum landlord Panayi.

The problem with harping on about inherited wealth and the silver spoon entitlement of the toffs is that it tends to let off the hook the "self-made" toerags  who have made it to the top by sheer force of naked greed and ruthless disregard for others. Such people are sometimes excused on the grounds that they started out with nothing and acquired their wealth by their own effort. If immigrants they are frequently praised for having,  "come over here with nothing".  The star of the Cally Road episode of  A Secret History Of Our Streets was slum landlord Andrew "if the cow milks-milk it" Panayi who has simply ignored Islington Council planning department and built a huge underground mini-city of tiny dwellings that he lets out for exorbitant rents. Now local residents are fighting back with a leaflet campaign denouncing Andrew Panayi as a sociopath. Top work that might even motivate the spineless bureaucrats on the council.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Today Prog call for Eton to be turned into children's home.

Deputy Children's Commissioner Sue Berelowitz was interviewed on the Today program this morning on the subject of the shocking vulnerability of kids in the privately run children's homes that local authorities use to house youngsters in. The interview covered the kind of ground that you might expect. Why are there over 40 of these homes in Rochdale but none in Kensington? Was it all about the pursuit of profit and was this yet another area of society ripe for a full scale investigation and a lengthy report that few will read? So far, so predictable,  and then whoever was conducting the interview dropped a bombshell. Was there not already in place a lot of privately run children's homes with charitable status and all the tax breaks that go with it and located in some of the nicest locations in the land? There was not quite a call for Public Schools to be used to house the vulnerable and disadvantaged - but it was pretty close.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Cable tells it like it (almost) is.

Vince Cable is my local MP and although we probably have very little in common politically, I can't help having a grudging respect for the man. Say what you like about our Vince but there is an air of decency and honesty about the Business Secretary that makes you wonder how on earth he manages to survive amongst his fellow cabinet members. In his evaluation of the banking scandal Cable is talking more sense than we have been used to from politicians of late and he is right to point out that the last thing we need is an "inquiry" into banking - we know what's wrong but lack the will to do something about it. What Cable is not able to do is bring himself to admit that the whole rotten structure of modern capitalism is the problem. When the engine room of the system is powered by naked greed we should hardly expect the engineers to behave in a way that serves the best interests of anyone but themselves.
Vince Cable is a decent man but like so many people he finds it easier to contemplate the collapse of an ecosystem than the demise of capitalism. So near and yet so very far.