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

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Have you heard, it's in the stars……….

In these difficult times with the NHS groaning under the strain of budget cuts, an ageing population and  every kind of neo-con privatisation project under the sun, it's good to hear of at least one politician who is not short of a helpful idea or two. Old Etonian Tory MP David Tredinnick is a hard act to follow and no mistake. Treddinick reckons that in some way that is clearly beyond my ken,  astrology could shave millions of pounds from NHS expenditure. You might wonder what someone who has previously come out strongly in support of reflexology, astral projection, cranial osteopathy, aromatherapy  and homoeopathy is doing sitting on both the Health Committee and the Science and Technology Committee but such are the wonders of the Westminster Village.
………….next July we collide with Mars. Well did you ever! What swell party this is.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

California Dreaming

When I visited California in 1968 I don't think that I knew another English person who had been there and I considered it to be a huge adventure. My head was full of Hollywood, Hippies, Giant Redwoods, Black Panthers and John Steinbeck.   Arriving in New York I made my way by bus to Connecticut to meet up with some people who were driving west in what would now be a vintage classic Oldsmobile. After visiting the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas we headed west on Route 66 eventually arriving in San Fransisco where, amongst other things, I dropped my first tab of acid.
Two things got me thinking about my trip to the Sunset State. One was watching Rich Hall's California Stars, and the other event was my daughter and her boyfriend setting off for a wedding in California as nonchalantly as previous generations might have had a week in Bournemouth.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Riff-raff round the back.

Segregated entrances to buildings sounds like something from the Jim Crow days of the Deep South or apartheid South Africa but in London today segregation is all about the colour of money. New luxury developments that have had to provide a few so called affordable housing units in order to get planning permission, are making sure that wealthy apartment owners never have to share a lift with the "affordables". Rich city types have no desire to mingle with the riff-raff so architects have created separate entrances, known as "poor doors" in the trade, so that the coke fuelled Armani set never have to suffer shellsuited oiks cluttering up the vestibule eating whelk sandwiches and saveloy and chips out of a newspaper.
Truly society is like a stew. It need a good stir from time to time or a scum forms on the top.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Justifying budgets down the nick.

The families of Jean Charles de Menezes, Ricky Reel, Stephen Lawrence and Cherry Groce are among those who were spied on by undercover cops. All the families were involved in campaigns to get some form of justice and all were seen as potential sources of embarrassment to the Met. The official police line is that covert operations were necessary, not to discredit family campaigns but to keep tabs on "violent extremists" who had infiltrated the campaigns. There is a long, and not always dishonourable history of revolutionary left groups getting involved in justice campaigns. Sometimes the motivation is just genuinely wanting to help, at others it is to satisfy a need for some form of "activity". Frequently, it has to be admitted, the motivation is more manipulative and may revolve around recruiting new members and selling more newspapers. Rarely is anything very dark going on and certainly nothing that might threaten public safety as the police love to claim. So why do the cops go to such lengths to mount these undercover operations? Partly of course there is a desire to find something with which to discredit the campaigners thus tainting any evidence that they might have against the police. But there is another motive. Particular departments in the police, like those in any other large bureaucratic organisation, have an overriding need to justify budgets. If you can't justify your budget your days are numbered and of course the greater your budget the more your power within the organisation. It is for this that grieving families have been infiltrated and spied on.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

It's only a game but……...

When asked about the pressure of playing cricket, Australian all-rounder and former wartime pilot Keith Miller was dismissive, "Pressure is having a Messerschmidt up your arse. This is just a bloody game".  That might be  the kind of gung-ho attitude that we demand of our sports stars but the truth is that no sport has such a shocking record of mental illness than does first class cricket. In last night's post Test defeat interview Alastair Cook did not look or sound like a well man. We wish him well of course but perhaps it's time for a first-class cricketer to come out and stand up for the victims of all employment centred stress related illness.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Think before you spray.

An old chap down the allotments was being complemented on his clean and weed free plot. "Do you use some kind of special weedkiller," he was asked. Yes he did, replied the old devil, "It's called a hoe". There are many human problems that can be solved by sharp tools and a bit of elbow grease and weeds are one of them. But if hoeing and hand weeding can be the answer for annual weeds there are tough perennials such as bindweed that will simply multiply from broken pieces of root and although much can be achieved by deep digging many amateur growers and most farmers turn to a spray of Round-Up. But Monsanto don't spend millions developing herbicides so that the products can be used sparingly and only when needs must. The more of the stuff used the better for Monsanto and much GM research is focused on developing plant strains that are Round-Up tolerant so that weeds growing in amongst a young crop can be targeted. Round-Up has been a boon to farmers but nothing come for nothing and there are considerable health concerns about the use of this and other agro-chemicals. Sri Lanka and El Salvador have already banned Round-Up and it can only be a matter of time before it's proscribed by the EU. I dislike ideologically driven agriculture and don't claim to be an organic gardener, but I would not trust Monsanto as far as I can throw them.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

You can't do that there 'ere. Oh yes we can.

"You can't just take people's property away from them", is the stock answer to any suggestion that London's housing shortage could, in part at least, be solved by the expropriation of all of the empty "investment properties" that are a blight on the capital. But of course it is perfectly possible for property to be requisitioned in times of greater need. During the war when the toffs fled to their country retreats to escape the bombing they found that bombed out Londoners were being housed in their empty town houses and there was not a thing that they could do about it. Nor were the stately homes of England safe from requisition and many were taken over for military use. No doubt many of the owners saw it as their patriotic duty to comply, others will have squealed like stuck pigs but it made no difference. Selfishness had become, if only superficially and for a short time, unfashionable.
It's a common misconception that the European upper class disliked Bolshevism due to fears about the loss of individual liberty and freedom of speech. Nothing could be further from the truth. They were perfectly happy with putting a stop to all this free speech nonsense, what was really putting the shits up them was the prospect of loosing all their vast estates and accumulated wealth. Such fears would prove to be well founded. But as the case of wartime requisitioning in good old liberal democratic Britain shows, you don't need a revolutionary situation to expropriate private property. Just the political will and a modicum of gumption.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Past splendours in Whitley Bay.

Visiting a long lost relative meant spending a couple of days in the Tyneside resort of Whitley Bay. There is something about decaying seaside resorts that I find strangely fascinating. All that crumbling splendour. The memories of past glory, childhood thrills and countless holiday romances are locked into every inch of the broken, windswept promenades. Whitley Bay was once the holiday destination of choice for generations of Geordies but, although I'm told that the town is still busy at weekends, the Mediterranean package holiday boom put paid to that as it did in so many other resorts. The place has clearly seen better days but in a way I think that the local council have made the right decision in forgoing vanity projects on the sea front and investing instead in a new theatre and library. Sometimes we need to just let the past go and I hope that this friendly old place eventually finds a new future for itself.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Famous Five and the chest expander.

A national movement for physical fitness is, along with vegetarianism, love of dogs and an interest in a United Europe, one of a number of things that Hitler gave a bad name. But some would have it that there has never been a greater need to get people moving and that a national drive toward physical activity is the only thing that can save us from a plague of obesity. This week we had the news that the NHS is to offer gastric bands to thousands of type 2 diabetes sufferers in an effort to get them to lose weight. At the same time a report from the National Trust suggests that today's kids are spending much less time playing outdoors than their parents and grandparents did with a 1/4 of those surveyed spending less than half an hour a day playing outdoors and more than half spending less than an hour outside. You only have to look around you to see that obesity is a problem for very many people and you don't need to be a genius to work out that processed food and lack of exercise are the cause. It is also hard to argue about the benefits to kids of unstructured outdoor play and that far too many parents are over protective of their children. On the other hand I see armies of lads purposefully heading off somewhere clutching their skateboards and the number of people cycling is at an all time high. I'm an active person myself and love exercise but some of the most interesting and fun to be around people I have ever met have been committed couch potatoes. Lifestyle choices are just that, lifestyle choices not moral imperatives. There is probably no need for a revival of the long forgotten Health and Strength League, wonderful though the enamel badges were, and the fictional middle class world of the Famous Five was only fiction after all, but providing sports facilities (rather than vanity projects) and giving kids the right to roam can do no harm at all.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Why no TU banners at the Tate?

Have you ever seen one of those front gardens were people have started with a few garden gnomes, cemented in some sea shells and gone on to create unbelievable, and some would say unbelievably naff, fantasy grottoes? This is the kind of unsung masterpiece celebrated at Tate Britain's exhibition of British Folk Art that brings together old shop signs, pieces of sculpture fashioned from discarded chicken bones, ships figureheads, tapestry and all sorts of odds and ends produced by the untrained and unknown. One glaring omission was the complete absence of any mention of what I have always considered to be the epitome of British "folk art", the trade union banner.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

More Tory sleaze about to hit the light of day.

Andrea (Loathsome) Leadsom is Financial Services Minister. Her sister is married to Jersey based offshore spiv Peter de Putron, a principal donor to the Tory Party and various right wing think tanks. It is illegal for Jersey companies to make donations to British political parties but the loopholes are many.
Top work by the Guardian here. Leadsom claims she knows nothing about her brother in law's political donations. Before taking up her government post Andrea Leadsom was Managing Director of De Putron Fund Management. Some say that the family have bought their way into positions of power. No, surely not! And these are the people who worry about the lack of democracy in union strike ballots.

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Farm and The Valley.

Richard Benson was brought up on a small farm in the Yorkshire Wolds but turned his back on the rural life to become a journalist and eventually editor of The Face. When his parents were forced to sell up Richard returned to help with the farm sale and went on to write a best selling book about the trauma of the decline of both a small family business and a way of life. The Farm should be compulsory reading for all those townies who think that the countryside is populated mainly by premier league footballers, rock stars,  hedgefund managers and second homers, or for that matter that most British farmers are foxhunting barley barons. In the The Farm,  Benson gives an amusing but moving account of one family, one farming community and how the global food and financial markets impact on them. The author's father came from farming stock but his mother's family were miners and  now in The Valley the failed farm boy turned London trendy is taking a long hard look at that side of his family history. If he writes about the final days of mining as convincingly as he did about the decline of the English smallholding it should be well worth a read.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

At last a star of the past without a hint of scandal.

I bloody told yer! This blog broke the story of a planned comeback for one of the nations favourite characters months ago and now it's confirmed. At last a light entertainment star from the past who never sucked up to the Royals and not a hint of scandal has ever been attached to. Never mentioned in the honours list and not a whiff of touchy gropey creepiness. Cometh the hour-cometh the man. Morph is back.
                                                            Well, we won this one.

BBC to be crank free zone.

I have never been that big a fan of the "no platform" view of opinions that differ from my own. It's not that I am concerned about the freedom of speech of the nastier fringes of the far right but rather that exposing their cretinous ideas to the light of day seems the best way of ensuring that they are seen for what they are. Opposing neo-nazis on the streets when they try to intimidate communities is one thing. Trying to airbrush their odious ideas from the media is quit another. Worst thing that happened to the British National Party was getting Nick Griffin on Question Time. Give 'em enough rope etc.
Of course not all cranks are evil as well as potty and, irritating though many of them may be, I can't think of a single  religious, political or pseudo-science screw job that I want to have silenced. Bring it on I say. It seems however that the BBC now have a different take on things and are aiming to keep cranks of the airways and make telly a fringe free zone. BBC managers are to be given a no nonsense induction course in the merits of a no platform for weirdos policy. All power to the mainstream is to be the new credo. Well I reckon it's all wrong. If we can't hear the opinions of Islamo-mentalists, vegetarian bunny huggers, climate change deniers and cracked racial theorists of every hue how can we ever develop the critical faculties necessary to deal with them?