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

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year!

For my money, one of the most interesting things that happened during 2014 was the Scottish Referendum. Not the result, or for that matter the issue of Independence itself, but the fact that even in these cynical, disillusioned times it is still possible for a population to get politically motivated. Even after extensive research, much perusal of Old Moore's Almanack, casting of turkey bones and the like, I am unable to predict if the coming general election will be of more than passing interest to the British public. We are now witnesses to a level of economic injustice never previously seen in my lifetime. But apart from a tiny handful of activists most of us seem content to sit back, hope for the best, and expect the worst. So with that less that cheerful thought I will simply wish you all a Happy New Year .

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Out and about on Boxing Day.

Yesterday I walked up to the top of Box Hill and then took the footpath down into Dorking and the bus home. Hardly a wilderness experience but it got me out of the house and into the fresh air. There is a very English tradition of recovering from the excesses of Christmas by getting outdoors and active on Boxing Day. After all that sitting around eating and drinking people feel the need to get outside and do something even if it no more active than watching a local football derby or a days racing at Kempton Park. For many of course the day's activity is probably confined to a good tramp in the countryside; or at least the nearest thing to countryside that they can reach from home. Dogs, children, toddlers and elderly relatives ensure that the pace is steady to say the least but, as with presents, it's the thought that counts.
For many people in the countryside Boxing Day is an important date on the fieldsports calender. Unlike most on the left I have never felt strongly opposed to hunting, shooting and fishing. Certainly I prefer the idea of the artisan hunter with terriers and ferrets to the toff riding to hounds and I think that it's easier to justify rough shooting for the pot rather than the ritual slaughter of driven birds bred for the occasion, but all in all I don't have a problem with field sports. I have never found it necessary to oppose everything that the upper class do in order to be an enemy of the class system.
Hunting with hounds might well be the most humane method of fox control but certainly any interaction with animals results in some suffering. Perhaps our responsibility is to keep that suffering to a minimum.  I have never had any part in foxhunting but I think that I can understand why others do it.
Mind you, a sympathetic stance on the hunt can bring a chap some strange bedfellows!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Have a good one!

As you can see from the picture below, I have finally got the decorations up in the hall and given a fair wind and the central heating holding up we are all set for the festivities. So from this old git, Her Indoors and all at Freedom Pass Towers - HAPPY CHRISTMAS.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

New Era. A tale of two very different estates.

It's going to be a Christmas to remember down on Hoxton's New Era Estate. Hard work and gritty determination on the part of tenants resulted in rent-racking landlords Westbrook Holdings deciding to sell up to Dolphin Square Charitable Foundation. Affordable rent now seems a certainty for New Era tenants for at least the next twelve months and I for one just doff my cap to an outstanding victory by ordinary folk against a seemingly powerful adversary.  But nothing is quite what it seems in the London  property market and there is a backstory here that I suspect we will hear more of in the New Year.
Dolphin Square Charitable Foundation has an interesting history.
The Dolphin Square development in Pimlico was built by Costain in the 1930's and after passing through the hands of several owners was eventually acquired in the 60's by Westminster City Council who sub-let the site to Dolphin Square Trust who would manage the development and act as a kind of housing association for the next forty years.
The list of former tenants and sub-tenants at the square reads like Who's Who of twentieth century scandal, show-biz, politics and espionage. Everyone from William (Lord Haw Haw) Joyce to Mandy Rice Davies and Christine Keeler, Bud Flanagan, Oswald Mosley, Harold Wilson; all lived in the square at one time or another. If ongoing Met investigations are anything to go by there was also a very dark side to Dolphin Square with the possibility of a paedophile ring and even the murder of some children taking place there.
In 2005 Westminster City Council and Dolphin Square Trust sold the site and with an endowment  resulting from the sale Dolphin Square Charitable Foundation was set up. Some tenants were less than happy with the new owners but such is life.  Now the foundation seem to have rescued New Era tenants from the rapacious clutches of Westbrook Holdings. And the 2005 purchasers of Dolphin Square?  Er… Westbrook Holdings.
For those who have the stomach for it, the full financial and legal low-down here.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The powerful hate to be laughed at.

From Kim Jong-Un to IDS the one thing that political leaders hate is being made a laughing stock of. They truly don't like it up 'em. That's why political cartoonists are so precious to us and such a pain in the arse to the power elites of the world. "National treasure" might be a phrase banded about far too liberally but it's hard to find a better way of describing our own Martin Rowson and Steve Bell. More power to their elbows. Give yourself a Christmas treat and visit the Cartoon Museum why don't you?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

IDS. The Mr Nasty of a very nasty party.

Ten or so years back, when Theresa May suggested that many people thought of the Tories as the Nasty Party, the end result was much earnest, wide eyed proclamations of liberal decency from the party.  Gay marriage? Yes. Hug a tree, or for that matter hug a fucking hoodie?  Bring it on.  But truth be told there really is "something of the night" about not just Micheal Howard but the whole party. The loathsome IDS is just the most public example of a very unpleasant current in politics. We don't need the Guardianistas to explain all this to us but to be fair, Polly Toynbee has a thoughtful and provocative  piece here.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Waste not want not.

I have been known, when feeling particularly grumpy, to dismiss the Green Party as being nothing more than a home for middle-class women who have sublimated their sex drive into recycling. It's an opinion that is not generally well received among my loved ones and has won me few friends. But leaving aside the good people of the Green Party it has to be admitted that recycling has become almost another religion and woe betide the careless individual who deposits an empty bottle in the wrong receptacle. I doubt that the planet needs saving, well not in the foreseeable future anyway, but if it did I doubt that beating ipads into plough shears would help much. Truth be told the best thing to do about waste is have less of it. I'm the last person to propose that we all return to gnawing a raw turnip by candlelight but the rich nations have reached ludicrous levels of consumption and waste. Use less stuff, reuse things and only then consider recycling. Anyway, what do I know about Green issues. Does anyone know how to cook a Great Bustard? I was thinking of getting one for Xmas.
The Waste Hierarchy. 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Some thoughts on torture.

The US Senate's report on CIA torture certainly makes for grim, and at times distressing reading. Of course the Americans don't have a monopoly on the ill treatment, torture and killing of prisoners. The unpleasant truth is that people in positions of power over other human beings frequently behave abominably. It might be comforting to pretend that only people who's religious or political allegiances differ from our own are capable of such barbarity but we know in our hearts that this is not the case. Human beings are capable of great acts of kindness and self-sacrifice but are also prone to acts of unspeakable cruelty. The Standford Prison and Miligram experiments confirmed what even a casual look back at history tells us; there will never be a shortage of torturers.
A free press, an aware and sceptical populace, a strong opposition movement that demands transparency, all these things can help hold in check the thugs of the CIA and ISIS alike. Torture is the logical outcome of power and only constant vigilance can keep us safe. It is frequently claimed that anarchism might sound like a good idea but that human nature will always make it impractical but perhaps it is that very same human nature that makes anarchism so desirable and so necessary.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dirt tracks and dropkicks.

Between 1928 and 1930 two sporting spectaculars, the like of which had never been seen before, arrived in Britain. Neither the dour working class sporting world of mud and fog shrouded football pitches or the Corinthian values of the public schools were any preparation for what was to come. First on the scene was Aussie ex-boxer, circus performer and WW1 flying ace, Digger Pugh who was to be the man to introduce motorcycle speedway to UK. No one had seen anything like it. Teams of riders hurtled around an oval dirt or cinder track at breakneck speeds. "Broadsiding" into the corners one leg trailing along the ground, No Brakes - No Fear was the catchphrase of the speedway rider. Speedway fever gripped the nation, tracks and stadiums opened all across the country and soon every town of any size seemed to have a speedway team.
No sooner had the British sporting public got it's breath back from the excitement of speedway when another sporting entrepreneur arrived on the scene. Henry Irslinger was no stranger to these shores.
The globetrotting wrestler and promoter was born in Vienna but had first made a name for himself on the London music hall stage during the Edwardian wrestling boom. Later he would decamp to America to ply his trade and also made a name for himself in Australia and South Africa.
 By 1930 Islinger was back in London with American wrestler Benny Sherman and together with Sir Athol Oakley and Bill Garnon would launch the next sporting sensation on an unsuspecting public. During the previous decade America had seen the emergence of an entirely new style of professional wrestling. Gone was the old school Greco-Roman that had become so popular in the past. The new "Slam Bang" style that would come to be known as All-In in Britain was something completely different. There seemed to be few rules with the  wrestlers free to hit and kick their opponent at will. It all happened in All-In. Wrestlers hit over the head with buckets and corner stools, unlikely submission holds, blood everywhere, some matches degenerated into full scale riots and certainly no evening was considered to be a real success unless the hapless referee became entangled in the ropes.
The Second World War more or less put paid to speedway and wrestling but both sports would experience a post-war revival. Wrestling was given a brush down and put on it's best behaviour and would eventually experience it's biggest ever boom. By that time Athol Oakley had retired and was running guided tours of the Lorna Doone country of Exmoor and trying to convince holidaymakers that R D Blackmore's novel was based on fact. Compared to convincing punters of the authenticity of wrestling it must have seemed like money for old rope. In the 1950s Digger Pugh would once more take centre stage with his latest brainwave, stockcar racing. You can't keep a good man down. Speedway would go on to survive many ups and downs and is still alive and well albeit on nothing like the scale of years gone by.

Speedway and wrestling were the brainchild of sporting showmen and had histories deep in the tradition of the music halls and the wonderful smoke and mirrors world of the circus, wall of death and fairground sideshows. A not quite respectable, not quite the done thing world that introduced a touch of danger and excitement to the hum-drum lives of the many.  

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The worst is yet to come.

Regardless of what the leaders of the main political parties might claim to the contrary, when it come to austerity and cuts in public spending, the worst is yet to come. UK, and the South East in particular, will continue to be a magnet for every money launderer and property speculating wide-boy from Moscow to Kuala Lumpur but increased poverty and homelessness will be the counterpoint to obscene levels of wealth. The gap between rich and poor will widen, as will the holes in the welfare safety net. Politicians can be divided between those who genuinely care but don't have a clue about what to actually do and those who understand the problems only too well but  are concerned only about keeping a lid on dissent. Not that there is really much dissent to keep a lid on. People make choices. They can get out on the streets or keep their heads down, retreat into the family and hope for the best. For the moment we seem to have chosen the second option and our leaders can sleep sound in their beds. Now where did I put that Old Moore's Almanack?

Thursday, 4 December 2014

First cast the beam etc.

Political Scrapbook quite rightly outed today's Sun for hypocrisy in it's dealings with Russell Brand. Whether you consider Brand to be our hope for the future or a terminal bell end of the first water is beside the point. The bloke can hardly be blamed for the tax avoidance of his landlord. The Sun thinks otherwise apparently, despite being tenants of an even bigger bunch of offshore scumbags themselves.
You wouldn't get this kind of thing over at The Grauniad. They lead the fight against corruption and tax avoidance. Oh hang on! What's this on page 49 of today's issue of the left-wing chattering class's favoured organ? "Guardian Investing is offering an exciting opportunity to visit the Guardian offices in London for a complimentary investment event." Subjects covered will include, "Inheritance Tax Planning". Or in plain English - how to avoid inheritance tax.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A short walk in the West End.

There are only a few days left of the Ansel Kiefer exhibition at the RA so I had a look at it this morning. You certainly can't fault the artist when it comes to scale, some of the works are the size of a small house. True much of the exhibition does resemble the contents of a skip but I found some of the huge canvases strangely moving and walked out feeling in need of a quick straightener in The Red Lion.
From this cracking little boozer I set off toward the Drury Tea Company in New Row in order to replenish supplies of their wonderful London Blend. Cutting through Panton Street I was shocked to see that The Stockpot restaurant has closed. Apart from running a huge number of excellent cafes, Italian immigrants also opened many cheap restaurants serving good honest lunches and dinners at a price that most could afford. Now both the cafes and the cheap restaurants are disappearing. There is still a Stockpot in Old Compton Street in Soho and another in the Kings Road but the Chelsea Kitchen, also in the Kings Road, closed a few years back and the New World Order of coffee and panini outlets marches ever onward. Resisting the temptation of a quick one in the Tom Crib, I also marched onward, picking up the tea and crossing the river to Waterloo and the train home. Mission accomplished.

Monday, 1 December 2014

The road to nowhere? New Stonehenge plans unveiled.

The most eye catching item in the road improvement announcement this morning is of course the proposal for a, wait for it, wait for it, A TUNNEL UNDER STONEHENGE. What an amazing idea. I'm just surprised that no one has thought of it before! For generations of kids (and adults) the first and usually their only view of Stonehenge is from a traffic jam on the A303; preferably in an overheating Ford Cortina. It was a rite of passage and certainly no proper family holiday to the West Country could be complete without it. Now the Tories want to deprive us of all this by digging a tunnel under a national treasure that is almost in the same league as Barbara Windsor and Bruce Forsyth. May the fleas of a thousand Sid Rawles infest their armpits. Mind you, The Stonehenge Alliance are in favour of a longer tunnel - say from Sunbury Cross to Penzance.