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

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Second homes. Monstrous carbuncles on the rural scene.

Andrew Motion is president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. The poet is a big supporter of the traditional English village if not necessarily traditional English villagers. Motion was raised in a village in Essex but sent away to boarding school at an early age so never developed friendships with the "children from the village". I don't suppose that he was encouraged to hang out with the local kids. Perhaps he never wanted to, and the feeling was probably mutual.  Such was then and remains now, the reality of a class ridden rural England. I sometimes wonder if CPRU has simply OD'd on BBC costume drama and would like to have us all back in the world of Lark Rise to Candleford, but the truth is that as a lover of the countryside myself I agree with much that it says. Motion is certainly dead right about the  200,000 second homes that really are a blot on the landscape. There is a housing shortage and there has been for as long as anyone can remember. We do need to build more homes but if we free up second homes and the thousands of unoccupied buildings first we could save building on valuable agricultural land and help ease the housing shortage. This government are very keen on  freeing up dwelling space by attacking housing benefit claimants who have a spare room. How about all those middle-class bastards who have spare houses? The blight of second homes is an obscenity and another example of of the kind of greed that no amount of Easter hymn singing in village churches will sanctify.

Friday, 29 March 2013

LeftUnity - Good luck but..........

I wish that I could feel more positive about LeftUnity. There are clearly lots of good people getting involved and if what I hear is to be believed, many of them are not the usual political hobbyists but just folk who are fed up to the back teeth with the constant stream of spending cuts.  So I have no quibble with those who have climbed aboard the LeftUnity train so far. I am all in favour of working together with people of differing political persuasions; this is after all what we do every day at work or in our communities. This might involve us playing a part in the smooth(ish) operation of a hospital ward, being involved in a mass strike or simply recognising that them next door are cracking neighbours even if they do vote Tory. So I have no problem with people from separate strands of left politics joining together to work on a particular project. No, my concern is what exactly is that project? Because there are few more demoralising scenarios than the grand founding meeting, the usual suggestions about what the group might do followed by the sad decline into a series of ever more sparsely attended meetings. Am I the only one who thinks that a better option is to have a project in mind and then start looking around for a group of comrades to help you pull it off? Doing things the other way round is a recipe for disillusionment.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Helicopter search and rescue to be privatised.

The trend to privatise and make a profit from every aspect of life continues with the government announcement that helicopter search and rescue is to be handed over to the American based company Bristow. At the moment Maritime SAR is a joint endevour by HM Coastguard who coordinate rescue operations, Royal National Lifeboat Institute who run our fleet of lifeboats, with helicopter rescue being primarily operated by the Navy and RAF. Believe it or not, this unique mix of civil servants, dedicated volunteers plus military air crew provides a search and rescue service that truly is something to be proud of - and not a shareholder in sight. Who knows what the future will hold for SAR once the cold hand of the market gets a grip.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Bursting bubbles in the aspiration nation.

The wealth gap between the South East and the rest of the country is hardly new but the differential in house prices, job opportunities and income is increasing all of the time. But just as it is possible to live in a South East bubble, with only the vaguest idea of what life away from the capital is like, so too is it possible exist in  a bubble within a bubble, with a completely distorted view of  how London and the Home Counties actually work.
There are fears  that Osborne's Help To Buy scheme will result in another huge hike in house prices, especially in the capital. This is being talked about at the moment in terms of how "difficult" or "less difficult" life will be for people "trying to get a foot on the ladder". The jargon somehow makes it all seem like a minor inconvenience rather than a real threat but a further rise in house prices, rents in the private sector increasing yet more and the dwindling stock of social housing could combine to make life in London such that "difficult" would hardly be the word.
Travelling around central London it's very easy to run away with the impression that the whole city is populated by suits. Such has been the drive during the last quarter century to popularise the view that finance and the moving of reports and agenda through cyberspace is the stuff that makes the metropolis work, that this fantasy world has come to replace reality in the minds of many of us. As the cost of keeping a roof over your head  becomes more of a problem the rich will remain unaffected while the lower echelons of the finance and service industries may indeed find life more difficult. But that is not the point. These people do not actually run the city at all. Contrary to what many seem to think, the world does not consist entirely of offices staffed by suits in the daylight hours and night cleaners who come from God knows where to empty the wastepaper bin for the minimum wage (if their lucky). Water, sewage, energy, food distribution, hospitals, transport, construction and repair. This is what makes a city tick and if the thousands of people who work in these industries can no longer afford to live in the city that they run how will the infrastructure not collapse? Difficult? You ain't seen nothing yet.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Pickles pulls it off.

The story of the World Cup being stolen from the Methodist Hall in Westminster on the eve of the 1966 tournament, the ransom demands and the subsequent discovery of the trophy by Pickles the canine hero  has all become the stuff of legend. Today the very wonderful South Norwood Tourist Board launched it's Picklesfest and I was privileged to attend the opening ceremony along with a number of dignitaries from the world of politics and the arts. Marvellous.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

It's a hole in the wall Yannis - but not as we know it.

If the Cyprus government agrees to the conditions of the EU/IMF bailout and goes ahead with the proposed levy on bank deposits the affects will be felt far and wide.  Half of all bank deposits on the island are believed to be those of Russian money launderers. Where will this money go if Cyprus is no longer such a safe option? Well there's always the London property market. No doubt a warm welcome will be extended from those loveable estate agents.
Of course ordinary Cypriots who have managed to put a bit of money to one side will be understandably angry. There is already the start of a run on the banks and as you can see, some efforts to withdraw cash have been more determined than others.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Jock ex-squaddie in pissed punch up shock.

First prize for unfortunate timing this week must go to former army officer, MP and well known bon viveur, Eric Joyce. The disgraced ex Labour member (now independent) was up to his old tricks in a Commons bar again last night, knocking back drinks and knocking down fellow MPs who presumably looked at him funny. This morning, as he sits in his cell nursing the hangover from hell, comes the release of a report suggesting that ex-squaddies are three times more likely to commit violent crime than your average punter. Something for Joyce to contemplate along with his bruised knuckles.
Meanwhile in "Another Place" their  Lordships  are also cutting up rough. Talk of House Of Lords catering budget reductions and the loss of the four course meal for seven and a tanner have forced the noble ones to take drastic action - slash staff wages. Envy of the world mate. Stand on me, envy of the world.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Gorgeous George - A wrestler like no other.

What on earth could George Galloway, Muhammad Ali and the late godfather of soul James Brown have in common? Well all three owe something to a man who was at one time the most famous professional wrestler in the world.  The Respect leader's nickname, the ring persona of "The Greatest" and James Brown's stage act all owe something to Gorgeous George Wagner, and both Brown and Ali have been the first to admit it.
In the early 1930's George Wagner was a fast moving young light-heavyweight wrestler working the Mid-West venues night after night. The long hours of travelling, the hard bumps and uncertain pay made for no easy ride and George was only too well aware that he was never more than a serious injury or a dishonest promoter away from the poverty of his youth. It was to take a full decade as a journeyman wrestler before George and his wife Betty came up with the idea that would change their fortunes and transform wrestling forever.
These days the arrogant, high-camp heel is a stock in trade of the wrestling business but when George started perming his bleached locks and entering the ring in flamboyant gowns it was ground breaking. In a few short years George and Betty had honed the act to perfection and had taken America by storm. Gorgeous George, AKA "The Human Orchid", would strut down the aisle accompanied by his valet who would be called upon to spray the ring with perfume (Chanel No 10,  "Why be half safe?" claimed George) before his master would deign to climb through the ropes. The crowd would be having fits as he carefully folded his robe and went through a long pre-match rigmarole of prancing and preening. When the action finaly started George, schooled in the tough and unforgiving world of the carnival wrestling booths,  would prove to be a fast and skillful grappler as well as the consummate showman.

Victor Hugo would probably have recognised in George's outrageous act  "an idea whose time has come'' because as luck would have it the Human Orchid blossomed just as television was becoming the home entertainment choice of the nation.The new industry was on the lookout for cheap mass appeal programs and wrestling fitted the bill a treat.  When someone remarked that George was made for TV he retorted that in fact TV had been made for him. Whatever. The fact remains that Gorgeous George would become an institution and a major part of American blue-collar post war culture who's name would live on in popular usage long after his ring career was forgotten.  By the late 1950's George's wrestling days were drawing to close. He had earned and spent a fortune, could no longer bounce around as he once had and his lifelong heavy drinking was beginning to take it's toll. By 1963 a flat broke Gorgeous George was dead of liver disease and heart failure. He was forty eight years old, had lived his life to the full and had broken the mould of popular culture in the process.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Oh! Chris. It could have all been so different.

Few things in life provide as much satisfaction as watching the mighty fall. That unlovely couple Vicky Price and Chris Huhne have managed to bring each other down in a spectacular manner and now face that most levelling of experiences, a spell in chokey. A nation smirks. Oh! But don't you feel sorry for the children? No, not really.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Waiting for spring down the plot.

Bloody hell! Will this winter never end? Lulled into a false sense of optimism by last week's couple of warm dry days I set to and sowed a row of parsnips. This vegetable has a dodgy germination rate at the best of times and I doubt if much good will come of my labours in spite of sowing the seed under glass. When spring does arrive it will all be a mad rush and all any allotmenteer can do is make sure that the preparatory work is well in hand so as the days lengthen and the soil warms up we can hit the ground running. In the meantime best settle down on the sofa with a large slug of sloe gin. Nature won't be rushed.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Keeping your hands to yourself.

Fatty Rennard's grotesque fumblings are not violence against women no matter how nauseous an experience it was for his victims. Who knows what must have been going through his mind. Perhaps His Lordship had swallowed all that stuff about power being an aphrodisiac and thought it worth a try. It seems probable that some fairly self assured women  were made to feel embarrassed and a bit sick. For something really nasty we might have to look a bit closer to home. Wherever it comes from and whatever the level, it's totally, totally wrong, End of.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Will Self says Wetherspoons are crap.

I have nothing against ex-smack heads. Everyone has to be something and Will Self can be amusing at times even if, as a lifetime member of the privileged metropolitan elite, his opinions need to be treated with some caution. His latest rant is a two pronged attack in The Staggers on the pathetic nature of blokes called Tim and the lack of haute cuisine and St James club ambiance in the local Wetherspoons.
The comments are worth a read.  I don't know where Self usualy drinks these day but I am reminded of the remark that someone made about All Bar One being a good thing as it tended to keep all the wankers in one place.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

National Deer Cull Initiative springs into action.



I sit munching my way through breakfast with one ear cocked to the Today program. More terrible news from Syria, the latest government assault on benefit claimants, Wayne Rooney's fading career prospects and what seems like hours of "business news" (I'm sure that there never was so much time devoted to business). It all forms an aural montage of despair. This morning however a couple of unconnected items caught my attention. First was the latest food/health scare. It's a well known scientific fact that all matter can be divided into two classes, that which cures and that which causes cancer. Today it was the turn of meat. Well, processed meat to be more precise; sausages, pies, bacon, that kind of stuff. Apparently two bacon sarnis a week could do you more harm than sixty fags a day. Straight up. A panel of experts discussed all this in the studio. Eat more veg. Cut back on meat. No pies and sausages. Having separated the prime cuts what should we do with the cheap, less aspiration bits? Grind them down to a pap and feed to the poor? What do you mean, "That's what happens now"? Oh! I see. I sigh and pour another cup of coffee. The Today team move on. Her indoors issues my instructions for the day. What's this they are talking about now? A plague of deer. More experts. Apparently the country is overrun with deer and they are eating all the vegetables that we are supposed to be replacing our pies with. Should there be a national deer cull? Well I would have thought so. Perhaps we should get venison back on the menu. Packed with protein and low in saturated fat, venison combined with the veg that dead deer can't eat, would form the basis of our new austerity diet. They should have me in charge of all this stuff really. "Do you wan't another slice of toast"?

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Chavez as controversial as ever.

The death of Hugo Chavez reaffirms two of life's certainty's, death itself and the inevitability of knee-jerk reactions from both the right and the left when Chavez's time came. Lefties are falling over themselves to heap praise on the man, citing his popularity with the poor and his determined stance against Big Oil and US imperialism. The right on the other hand tend to emphasise the cult of personality, civil rights abuses and Venezuela's perceived lack of political plurality. Both have a point of course, and that actually is the point;  no socialism without freedom - no freedom without socialism. You can go right to the horses mouth and get a Venezuelan anarchist take on Chavez here.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Lifting the irony curtain.

There is no means of knowing how many Romanian and Bulgarian citizens will give life in the UK a try when they are entitled to come here for work next year. Few people, least of all those most concerned about the possibility of another mass movement of people similar to the Polish influx, seem to know anything about Romania and Bulgaria. Estimates of the possible number of new arrivals sometimes exceeds the actual population of the two countries; nineteen and seven million respectively as you ask. If people feel that they can make a better life for themselves over here, the more adventurous  will give it a go. Once this advance guard have got established the more timid and conservative souls will follow. That's how emigration works. Will the social infrastructure, housing, education and health care, be able to cope? Well it will if the tax generated by the incomers is used wisely rather than funding bankers bailouts  and military adventures. Will a new pool of labour drive down wages? Of course. If we allow that to happen. Can anything be done to prevent all these people rocking up on the shores of Albion? Probably not. The "push and pull" dynamic of emigration is well known as is the fact that if the motivation is there people will go through hell and high water to get to a place where life is perceived as being better. Even the most draconian border controls fail to deter people who want to exercise their basic right of movement from one place to another. Even the old Soviet regime was unable to completely stop it's citizens from escaping the delights of a workers paradise. Truly the Iron Curtain has been replaced by a curtain of irony. All those imprisoned East Europeans that the west felt so concerned about can now travel where they like - with the inevitable consequences.
There is a current in British political life that seems to be claiming to have found the answer to this dilemma. Why not manipulate the "pull" factor? Make this country less desirable. Make Britain even more of a two tier society than it has already become. By downgrading health, welfare, working conditions, education and housing it should be possible to turn this land into the kind of shit hole that no one would want to come to. No one that is apart from the rich.