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

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

May Day on Clerkenwell Green.

I usually turn out for the annual May Day gathering of the comrades on  Clerkenwell Green and have even been known to go on the march, although I must admit that staying on the green for a few pints with the anarchists is hard to resist. In spite of all my misgivings about the huge Stalin banners usually on display I suppose that such gatherings do serve to remind us that 21st century capitalism is not an inevitable blueprint of how the world will be from now until the cows come home. There is another way. We can do better than this.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Workfare - Day one.

I was going to write something about the crazy new government scheme to get the shirking class back to work - regardless of whether there are any jobs for them or not. But words fail me and anyway Johnny Void does a far better job than I could. As I have mentioned before - IDS, you really could not make him up.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

On Blackheath.

"On Blackheath", the yuppie food and music festival that old time rock entrepreneur Harvey Goldsmith is  supposed to be showcasing on, well, Blackheath actually, is generating outrage in the places that you would expect it to. The outrage is well deserved of course. The heath itself straddles the border between  the boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham both have high levels of deprivation and high demand for food banks so putting on a Food Festival with tickets priced at what some families are budgeting for a months food seems, well, a bit insensitive. I don't know why I don't feel more angry about this. Perhaps I have just grown to expect this kind of shit in a London that has a greater disparity of wealth now then at any time since Queen Victoria. And then there is the whole thing about festivals anyway. When I was young and foolish I thought that Woodstock had something to do with "the revolution". I don't know where I got that idea from. It was of course nothing but another way of creating a profit. There's no denying that many bands do aspire to a radical agenda, try to connect with their fans and all of that good stuff. Harvey Goldsmith has spent his whole working life dealing with such naiveties. "Oh yeah. Right on man. Power To The People. Sign here". I don't doubt for a moment that if the festival goes ahead there will be no shortage of the half-baked who are willing to pay good money for a cross between Glastonbury and the Ideal Home Exhibition. Perhaps it's the totally ludicrous nature of the project, but  my contempt is well on the sniggering side of anger.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Understanding Ukraine.

Is the Ukrainian Republic about to unravel before our very eyes? If so it will almost certainly not be in a good way. Few places can have a more complex history than the Ukraine but in order to have any chance at all of understanding what is happening now it seems essential to try and make some sense of the past. No doubt there are many notable textbooks but I have found Neal Ascherson's Black Sea helpful and also The Red Prince by Timothy Snyder. The period after the First World War was hugely turbulent for Ukraine and anarchists in particular have always been fascinated with the exploits of Nestor Makhno. There is an interesting overview of Makhno on the Warfare Historian site.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Bung it on expenses. Again.

When the MP's expenses scandal broke five years ago most ordinary people were justifiably outraged. All those second home scams and everything from thatched duck houses to Remembrance Day wreaths being bunged on expenses. Nice work if you can get it. Truth is of course, we should never expect the people at the top of the greasy pole to be anything other than corrupt. There will be honourable exceptions but by and large the people at the top are lining their own pockets. Otherwise, what would be the point? From the Mafia to the Supreme Soviet to the British Establishment, it's always the same old same old - snouts in the trough. But recent criticism of Nigel Farage's MEP allowances has drawn attention to the kind of dosh that is swilling around Brussels and we can expect anti-EU activists to mount a serious attack on Brussels corruption over the next few months. They will not be short of ammunition.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Rubin Carter.

Despite what Bob Dylan said to the contrary, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter who died yesterday, probably would not have been World Middleweight Champion. He was however a tough and intimidating fighter who thoroughly deserved his ranking as one of the leading contenders for the title. But the man was much more than that. After being wrongfully convicted of murder and spending two decades in prison, much of it in solitary, Rubin never gave up hope and refused to give in to the system. He remained strong and dedicated his life to helping the wrongfully convicted. Rubin Carter was a product of a racist society but never a victim of that society. He was way too strong for that.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Please. Please. No more advice.

Pensioners are among that declining section of society who bother voting so between now and the General Election we can expect to be given a lot more attention than usual. It started with Osborn's budget announcement that he thought us all grown up enough to decide whether to wisely invest our 'pension pot' so as to secure an income for life or blow the fucking lot on fast cars, fine wines and wild sex. Now the government have gone a step further and will provide a life expectancy forecast to help us make the decision. One factor in the calculations that I have not heard mentioned yet is the simple fact that the richer you are the longer your life expectancy. One of the few advantages of being very poor is knowing that you won't have to make your tiny or none existent pension pot last too long. When you say it like that this whole thing is beginning to look less of a vote winner after all. I suspect that we will be deluged with lifestyle advice over the next few months. Had I known that I was going to live this long I would certainly have looked after myself better but I am reminded of the story of the famous baseball player who, still fit as a fiddle in his eighties, was being interviewed by a journalist. "To what do you attribute your longevity?" enquired the journo. The old timer looked puzzled, "How's that?" The journalist tried again, "How come you have lived so long?"  "Oh! I put that down to my diet." The hack licked his pencil in anticipation. "Yes, I eat nothing but strictly fried food."

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Big Allotment Challenge my arse.

Even by the abysmal standards of reality TV the first episode of The Big Allotment Challenge was bad, very bad. How naive of me to think that there would be space for any kind of look at what allotments have meant as part of our collective social history. I'm sure that away from the ludicrously pristine TV set 'allotments' and back on their own plots, the contestants are happy pottering about, producing a small part of their food, getting to know people they might not otherwise have met, feeling a bit closer to nature and doing all of that stuff that it's so easy to be clever and flippant about but is important to us none the less. Unfortunately none of this was revealed in the program. What can I say about the presenters/judges? Jam Woman. The simpering flower arranger. The only one who was remotely interesting was the retired Royal Head Gardener and I suspect that we may yet find that a little of him goes a long way. The biggest challenge was staying awake.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Strictly Come Digging.

From what I can make of it, BBC2's new series, The Big Allotment Challenge which starts tonight, will be a kind of 'Strictly Come Digging' or 'Britain's Got Club Root'.  Sounds like an unlikely format for a hit TV show but what do I know? I hope that some of the history of the allotment movement will come out during the series. Good article in today's Independent but a shame that David Crouch and Colin Ward's definitive history of the allotment failed to get a mention.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Fuck 'em Debs. Stand for Class War.

Deborah Hopkins, Labour Party parliamentary candidate for St Austell and Newquay, has apparently been suspended by the party for 'conduct unbecoming'. The story goes that Debs used a social media site to suggest of a Tory opponent (not local boy Steve Double surely?)  'I would call you a cunt but you lack the depth and the warmth'. I am unable to confirm the rumour that Millibean had to have the comment explained to him but one thing is for sure; this is just the kind of earthy humour that will not be tolerated in the modern Labour Party.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Is UKIP's leader a flash in the pan?

 Fringe political parties are on a hiding to nothing when it comes to getting a sniff of power. The British electoral system sees to that. For the press, the political fringe has a novelty value when not much else is happening but the main focus is always on personalities rather than policies. The press want fringe leaders who they can get a bit of copy out of. Worthy but dull won't cut it with the hacks. And to be honest, in these days of the political leaders of the major parties seemingly produced by the yard and cut off as required, we could all do with, well, a Nigel Farage I suppose. Lighting up one fag after another, pints of Scruddocks Old Dirigible are consumed with relish and not just purchased as part of a "common man" photo opportunity and left on the bar after a sip. The UKIP leader has always just got time for one more before setting off to tell Brussels what's what. In the imagination of some people the real defence of this country, the true front line, is the almost unbroken line of bungalows that face out to sea along the South Coast. Union Jacks flutter in the fresh onshore wind. UKIP posters are everywhere. They love Farage here. Think that he's a proper gent who talks good sense. We hear a lot about city spivs but only rarely is one identified for us. Well Farage is, or at least was, the real deal. A genuine city spiv. He might talk posh but he need only grow a pencil moustache and he could be a dead ringer for Arthur English or Private Walker from Dads Army. The hacks ignored him for years but they can't get enough of him now. The policies might be rubbish and, like those iffy nylons, will fall to pieces first time that they are worn, but the patter is good. It won't last of course. Farage may very well end up as MP for Basingstoke and provide hours of amusement but sooner or later the shoddy goods will have to be scooped back into the battered suitcase and Dodgy Nigel will be forced to scarper before he gets his velvet collar felt.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Coming Up For Air.

I'm not that much of a re-reader only rarely returning to a book no matter how much I have enjoyed it the first time around. There always seems to be so much other stuff to read. One exception to this, and a book that I have read many times, is George Orwell's Coming Up For Air.  The narrator and central character George Bowling is a fat forty-five year old insurance salesman living with his wife and two kids in a typical suburban semi. Mortgaged up to the hilt, trapped in the rat-race and with the constant fear of war and Fascism at the back of his mind George is not a happy man. A chance flashback sets him to reminiscing about his pre-First World War boyhood in the small Thames Valley market town of Lower Binfield. In his description of Edwardian small town England, of George's growing up and his obsession with fishing, the secret pool inhabited with giant carp, in all of this Orwell surpasses himself.
In the final third of the book George decides to take a few days off and re-discover his old home town after an absence of over twenty years. It will be like "coming up for air" he reckons. In what is I suspect   everyone's favourite part of the the book, George is driving toward Lower Binfield, approaching the crest of a hill from where he will be able to see the old town. The anticipation is palpable. He crests the hill only to find that Lower Binfield has gone, been subsumed by a vast industrial town, another Slough or Dagenham. George perseveres with his visit. Stays a few days. Drinks too much. The final straw is when he discoverers that the secret pool with the carp had been drained and used as a rubbish tip for a back to nature woodland garden development. And all the time there is the incessant backbeat of the coming war. The jackboots, the bombers overhead, rubber truncheons in the face.
George slinks back to his wife in the suburbs. He is not the most sympathetic of characters and in many ways the book is quite misogynistic but something about the wonderful descriptions of simple things draws me back again and again. Perhaps there is another, darker reason why I continue to return to Coming Up For Air. These days it's easy, listening to the chatter going on around you, all that stuff about house prices, all that personal aspiration, Waitrose, "lifestyle", it's easy to feel like you have been shipwrecked on an alien shore. I feel like that myself sometimes. In a strange way I find the fictional George Bowling somehow reassuring. He would understand. George reaches out from the pages and pats me on the arm just as he might if we were sitting together in the saloon bar. "Fuck it Old Chap". "Fuck it all". He rises to his feet. "Same again?"

Thursday, 3 April 2014

An African Hero.

Time and again the history of post-colonial Africa records atrocities committed by the armed forces of the various African states. We have grown used to images of the African soldier swaggering through yet another scene of rape and carnage as misery is heaped upon misery for the ordinary folk who long for nothing but some peace. It is now twenty years since the Rwandan genocide and it's good that one man in particular is being remembered. Mbaye Diagne was a young Senegalese Army officer posted to Rwanda as a UN observer. But observing was never going to be enough for Mbaye who time after time put his life on the line to save defenceless civilians. He charmed his way through roadblocks with a winning smile and perhaps a bottle of whisky until that final roadblock where he was killed by a stray mortar round. He was due to return home in just a couple of weeks. Capt. Mbaye Diagne could be a role model for the armies of Africa and the world. The soldier as a humanitarian. Diagne is remembered on Newsnight tonight and you can find Mark Doyle's moving tribute to the man here.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

MH 370. A field day for conspiracy theorists.

Despite a determined hi-tec SAR operation it seems increasingly unlikely that the wreckage of missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 will now be located, much less recovered. Of course the friends and relatives of the two hundred and thirty nine persons on board the missing aircraft want some concrete information about the fate of their loved ones, some closure. But the world is an uncertain place and many are the thousands who are "missing in action" or "missing presumed dead". It would be a kindness to help the bereaved come to terms with this possibility rather than feeding them false hope. The historical Chinese/Malay antipathy is not helping but far more malign are the combined forces of the world conspiracy theorist and pseudo-scientists who are waiting in the background to peddle their nonsense to the grieving. You mark my words. It's only a matter of time before we get the first talk of 370 and it's passengers being held in a North Korean/Freemason/Lizard detention camp deep in the Indo-China jungle.