Tuesday 30 December 2008

Blogs 2008

In work today with a whole lot of fuck-all going on.

I could blog about Israeli outrages in Gazza but I don't think the inter-web needs another keyboard-jockey freedom fighter at the moment.

So as I did last year it seems like an appropriate time to make my personal blog awards for this year.

1. For bikes – an easy one - it has to be Quad Cam Bastards - dedicated exclusively to the art of back-street customising the Harley Davidson Sportster. Pure motorcycle porn.

2. For martial arts – another easy category because most writing on the subject makes me cringe – so it is a return of Dojorat- the equivalent in its own field to the Quad Cam Bastards – celebrating the cult of the backyard dojo (or kwoon).

3. Politics – a very much harder category because of the excess of Left blogs – most of which do nothing to dispel the image of activists as humourless party automatons . Fearful that I might inadvertently promote one that harbours an incorrect position on Kronstadt (or something) I’ll opt for one that at least makes me chuckle: Daily Quail

4. Life – if you think you’ve had a bad day and work is stressing you out – read Random Acts Of Reality- get things in perspective, this is literally a matter of life and death.

5. And finally for its earnest silliness in celebrating the fine British institution of the greasy spoon café - Egg Bacon Chips & Beans

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Henry Marten: Republican. Freethinker. Libertine.

And now for something utterly unseasonal: Thought I’d share a newly discovered hero – Henry Marten, a sixteenth century revolutionary … and general good ‘ole boy.

I only became aware of him through reading Geoffrey Robertson’s The Tyrannicide Brief, and have just done a quick bit of personal research.

A lawyer from Oxford, Marten was probably the first on the parliament side to come out as an open republican. Whilst those who would later be seen as radicals were talking about wooing the king away from his ‘evil councillors’, Marten made it clear that he thought the institution of monarchy should go altogether. For thinking the then unthinkable he was expelled from parliament in 1643 by Pym and the Presbyterian Party. He returned to the parliament following the ascendancy of Cromwell and the Independents, having in the meantime raised a regiment of horse that was absorbed in to the New Model Army.

Marten’s aligned himself with the Levellers and the army, and signed the Agreement Of The People – which called for the king to be held to account. It was no surprise then that he was one of the most prominent judges at the king’s trial, and a signatory to his death warrant. He opposed Cromwell’s dissolution of the Rump Parliament in 1653 and disappeared from public life (largely because he was in prison for debt) until the parliament was recalled in 1659.

When the monarchy was restored in 1660 Marten made no attempt to escape but surrendered to the authorities and fearlessly defended his actions when tried as a regicide. He was imprisoned for life and died twenty years later in Carisbroke Castle.

All stirring stuff but so far typical of many seventeenth century radicals.

But Marten was far from typical. A self-proclaimed sceptic in matters of religion he spoke out for complete freedom of conscience at a time when almost every political idea, even radical ones, were expressed in terms of religion. To an extent unheard for the times, this toleration even included Catholics and led him to oppose Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland.

Described as ‘a puritan but a man of lose morals’ Marten’s personal life was a far cry from the usual image of the godly radicals. He first offended the king, long before the civil war, when he had Marten removed from the horse races for his offensive and licentious behaviour. Drinking and gambling kept him in debt throughout his life, and he was a notorious womaniser. Following the death of his wife he lived openly with his mistress Mary Ward with whom he had three children, leading Cromwell to denounce him as a’ whoremaster’.

Fantastic stuff – why isn’t there a statue to him somewhere ?

Monday 22 December 2008

Property & the masses

I had hoped that one of the few silver linings to the recession is that we might have seen the demise of the 'reality' property tv genre. But Tory aristo-totty (can't see it myself) Kirstie Allsop was on the radio promoting her latest series.

Apparently this will reflect the present climate by focusing on home improvements rather than on buying and selling property. Kirstie sees this as a kind of public service but was at pains to point out that she still very much 'believes' in the property market.

'Believes' ? - acknowledges its potential for making a fast unearnt buck - well ok - but 'believes' ?

But then, post-Thatcher, the property owning democracy has become a belief.

Once entrepreneurs built engines, railways and cities, the conditions of their workers might have appaling, but they could claim to be progressing the fabric of society: Today's equivalents feel that by re-painting their window frames and sanding the floors, they have made similar a contribution.

It's a lie. Buying a house doesn't make you a captain of industry. (If that's what you want to be). You need a roof over your head and whether you buy or sell at the right or wrong time is pretty much a lottery. And the particular Thatcherite lie (which still has a tight hold) is that this represents some form of popular capitalism where everyone can be an entrepreneur.

That's a bit fucking rich coming from the Honourable Kirstie Allsop, daughter of a baronet and former chairman of Christie's auctioners...

Friday 19 December 2008

Corporate cheek

It's a time of year when traditionally, following six weeks of manic seasonal peak, work is dominated by various company piss-ups and client entertaining. Instead I find myself with my head buried in spreadsheets producing the 'tenders' on which the business nowadays survives.

The problem is that - in business bollock speak - our relationship with our clients is 'asymmetrical'. Or in other words, they're all big businesses and we're a little one so we're always going to get screwed.

And although I'd like to think we're pretty good at what we actually do, we are ill-equipped to go through all the bureaucratic corporate hoops that are required in these formal tenders. The worst aspect we have to contend with though is another bit of bollock-speak - 'transparency'.

In the context of tenders this means the client demanding the right to know exactly what our costs are so that they can see in turn how much profit (if any) we are making on their work.

Fair enough you may think. Except like many small businesses we do not have a particularly sophisticated cost analysis and in truth our business plan is simply to keep the whole thing going for another year. Which is why I am tempted to tick the box on the tender form that says "none of your fucking business".

Or possibly next time I'm in a supermarket I'll tell them that I'm running a beverages procurement tender and require full transparency of their costs of producing a jar of coffee. Just how much do they pay the poor sods who actually grow and pick their beans ? And how exactly can they guarantee year on year reductions for the next three years ?

I imagine they'd just have me escorted from the store...

Monday 15 December 2008

X-tremely bland and depressing factor

Back in the day you formed a band with your mates. You played in somebody’s Dad’s garage. At least one member was in the band only because he had an amp. If you were lucky you got a gig at the school disco. That was pretty much the apogee of success, long before which most bands had either imploded because of artistic differences, the unavailability of the garage, or a growing self-awareness that they just didn’t have the talent.

A tiny tiny minority went on into adult life maintaining the passion and naivety to keep the flame burning. Such bands graduated to playing pubs. Some soon gave up but others stayed on the circuit for years working for beer money. Or no money at all.

In turn a minority of these maybe got to make a demo tape. And an even tinier minority maybe went on to become proper musicians.The process was called paying your dues. And it was the bed rock of what rock ‘n’ roll was / is about.

On the other hand, fast forward to the more likely modern scenario:

Turn up with a few thousand other wanabees armed with nothing more than a modicum of talent (optional), a burning ambition above all to be famous, and a sob story about how you’re doing this for your family.

For an interminable number of weeks you can then demonstrate the blankness of your canvas and go through the process of being molded by a svengali-like egoist. So long as you can then win the hearts of a number of key demographics – the granny vote, the teeny-bopper vote – the camp ironic kitsch vote - the regional loyalty vote - fame and fortune will be yours.

Thank fuck for YouTube. The virtual-garage of a new generation. Perhaps

Friday 12 December 2008

You'd get less time for murder ...

Bit of a personal milestone for me today and one that's not very usual these days - 20 years with the same company. Fucking hell !!!

I never wanted a career, just a job - more or less. Armed with a degree from a prestigious university which was of no practical use at all as I didn't fancy a 'profession', academia, or an accelerated promotion scheme in big business - I got myself a trade. So I did a vocational course, got the then all-important union card and unintentionally maintained the family tradition of being 'in the print'. And here I am.

I've been lucky I guess - the firm (so far) has survived a couple of 'new technology' revolutions and I've had the chance to do three or four different jobs over the years. We're still a (large-ish) small business, and as tends to happen in such organisations, I slipped into senior management just by sticking around and getting involved.

This hasn't come from any great ambition on my part - basically I'm just a compulsive picture straightener who in any given situation can't help trying to make things 'right'. (Or at least I have enough cockiness to think that's what I'm doing).

Most of the time though I feel like a fraud who is over-paid for doing a job that brings nobody any practical benefit at all. Sometimes that depress me and I think I'm wasting myself. More often though I'm just looking over my shoulder waiting to be found out ...

Thursday 11 December 2008

King Oliver ?

Oh dear. Just as I was singing the praises of 'The Devil's Whore' for putting the Civil War back in the limelight it deserves and for rehabilitating the cause of parliament, it all went horribly wrong last night.

I was happy to overlook the bodice-ripping and swash-bucking, even the usual over simplification of Cromwell's campaigns in Ireland. But the climax last night saw Edward Sexby attempting to assassinate Cromwell on his way to be crowned king. The tolling of the church bells at the end was a dramatic sign that Sexby had failed and Cromwell had finally betrayed the cause.

NOOOOO !!!! Lest there are any viewers out there who might actually believe this, here are the facts:

Cromwell was proclaimed Lord Protector for life on 16th December 1653. There was no 'coronation' - only a simple swearing-in ceremony. And for the rest of his life he turned down any suggestions that he should style himself as monarch. Ultimately his powers as head of state, although far exceeding those that Lilburne or Rainsborough ever dreamed of, were still subject to the vote of the Council Of State.

On the otherhand Edward Sexby, who in real life was a Leveller and did oppose Cromwell's assumption of presidential-like power, also turned to the Spanish and the Cavalier party in-exile for support in overthrowing Cromwell. His involvement with a conspiracy to assassinate Cromwell was discovered in 1657 - four years after Cromwell's proclamation as Lord Protector. Despite his treason he was not executed but sentenced to imprisonment in the Tower Of London.

Does anybody care ? They should because yet again the truth about the struggle for democracy in this country is being misrepresented, and the vital role of the all too short lived Commonwealth is being denied.

Cromwell certainly had his faults - ultimately he did betray the aspirations of the Levellers and other proto-democrats and radicals. But he was a reluctant dictator, and never a king.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

40 Years After Paris '68

It’s not entirely true that we learnt our democracy from the Greeks. In this country we owe at least as much to the tribal systems of the Celts and Anglo Saxons.

But we could learn a thing or two from the Greeks right at the moment.

We have a police state creeping in by stealth under the guise of ‘law and order’ and the ‘war on terror’. But our news media is more concerned with falling house prices.

In Athens a fifteen year old lad is killed by a trigger happy copper for the crime of shouting abuse and throwing a bottle of water at a police car. And the response is not much short of an uprising. Days of rioting by students and young people and now a general strike of 2.5 million workers.

Wonder if Jacqui Smith still wants to arm the police on the streets of our cities with potentially lethal tazer-guns ? Probably…

Tuesday 9 December 2008

For the lads ?

'Lad's mags' work to a winning if cynical formula. Football, gadgets, bloke-lit writing Andy McNab style ... and tits. It's s all a bit crap really but it's the tits that have got them in trouble and now there's a move to have them treated like porn.

Strange really - they are also fixated with horrible ghoulish freak-show images of 'the boy who is turning into a dolphin' or gore-fest images of horrendous injuries. But apparently that's all ok - it's the tits that really seem to upset people.

Much like the page 3 of an earlier generation the women featured are all non-threatening 'girls next door'; reality TV rejects and wannabes, soap cast-offs and the latest phenomena, amateur 'high street honeys'.

In an age when the real thing is only a couple of clicks away it is fairly evident that this isn't porn - its cheap titillation.You might not like it but try legislating about it and you're going to end up looking pretty daft.

It all falls apart when you try to define and quantify what is and isn't deemed acceptable. From there it's but a short step to counting nipples and formulating bizare formulas that a bare bottom is the equivalent of six topless pictures. And before you know it you've banned McGill's saucy postcards and Carry-On films.

I've blogged about this before. The only safe way through the moral maze is to forget our own tastes and remember that it's just pictures. There's plenty of truly horrible shit in the real world to get worked up about - let's concentrate on that.

Monday 8 December 2008

The new undeserving poor

The fall out from the ‘Baby P’ and Karen Matthews cases continues. I don’t know if the individuals concerned are best described as mad, bad or sad – but I can see a disturbing and predictable reaction brewing.

Arch-wanker Kelvin McKenzie is on the BBC this morning talking about the government’s scheme to force unemployed parents to seek work if their children are a year old. Apparently that's not going far enough. Presumably he would be satisfied if a program of eugenics for the underclass was adopted.

Cameron talks about society being broken. He’s not talking about his ‘society’ though – not Nottinghill and the Bullingdon Club cronies. He’s not talking about the ‘society’ of the Tory’s electoral base either – smug Middle England in the shires and suburbs. He’s talking about another society - of inner city sink estates and families trying to live on benefits.

It’s a society a million miles away from his own world that shocks and scares him - and in a perverse way this gives him a bit of a thrill. It's the combined thrill of moral censure and morbid delight in the very
‘otherness’ of this distant society.

The Victorians had the same relationship with their ‘undeserving poor’. Those incorrigibles who couldn’t be trusted to improve themselves through education or self-help, so had to be coerced into it by workhouses and harangued by evangelists.

But the same Victorian middle class had a salacious desire to walk on the wild side and visit the scary other world. So there was the phenomenon of the toff’s who slummed it visiting ‘the abyss’ of Whitechapel in the 1890’s.

You could dig out any of the popular newspapers of the day and find an echo in what is being said now: The victims of poverty described in the same way as an anthropologist would a newly discovered tribe - and with the same sense of sanctimony tinged with cheap thrills.

Friday 5 December 2008

At the factory gates

Up at 5am this morning to go and leaflet one of the few remaining factories left in the area for the National Shop Stewards' Network. It's an auto-component plant that is affected by the struggle to keep the Ford plant open in Southampton.

It's been a while since I did any activity like this. I am reminded of when I first joined the Socialist Party - or the Militant Tendency as it was back then in the 80's.

In those days, when we were 'underground' in the Labour Party, recruitment was a bit more circumspect than now, and student recruits in particular were treated with suspicion. So for six months I was a 'contact' before I became a full member.

One of the regular activities that I attended was a paper sale at a factory gate - at 6:30am on the other side of town. Week after week myself and one other comrade would brave all weathers, with very little success.

Shortly after I finally became a proper member, the factory sale was quietly dropped from the program of activity - clearly it had been adopted only for my benefit, as some sort of test.

On reflection this may seem mad - but there was some method in playing hard to get. The odd right wing Labour 'mole' did try to infiltrate - and it also detered students who might have frivolously joined out of ideological tourism. As a result, unlike many others on the Left we were insulated from the worst aspects of middle class student-ism. And to this day we remain a predominately working class organisation.

It was still fucking cold and miserable on those paper sales though.

Monday 1 December 2008

It's not Clarkson - it's the Allman brothers !

One of the perks about being the boss is having control of the music in the studio. Most of the time I have to defer to the democratic wishes of the majority which means enduring some dire chart and dance stuff. But I do have the ultimate sanction; a fuck-off speaker set up hooked up under my desk.

It's been a bit of a slow day here today - so I took control of the sounds.
After a few bars of Jessica - I was asked:

Isn't that the theme tune for Top Gear ?

No it fucking isn't! - it's the Allman Brothers !

The guys who had their finest hour long before sodding Jeremy Clarkson and his sycophantic sidekicks came up with the winning bloke-TV formula of fast cars and smug Daily Mail bile.

If you don't know the Allman Brothers - you should - check them here. They pretty much defined the Southern Rock genre - and without draping themselves in a Confederate flag - and at a time when multi-racial rock bands anywhere were a rarity let alone in the South. And they were into their motorcycles - at least two band members lost their lives in bike crashes. OK I know I'm biased but that pretty much seals it for me.

Play Ramblin' Man- if it doesn't make you want to jump on your bike and head off into the sunset in a Southern landscape then I really have nothing left to say to you.

Friday 28 November 2008

Misplaced sentimentality

My first ever pair of trainers were ‘Winfields’ – Woolworths’ own brand – and at primary school I think I was decked out in ‘Ladybird’ clothing. Some of the first LP’s I brought also came from Woolies.

But I do not share the emotional outpourings over the demise of the high street chain this week, just as it was about to approach it’s centenary.

From all the sentimental shit being spoken at the moment you would think we were mourning a cherished institution that had enriched our lives – something along the lines of the NHS. But when FW Woolworth imported his stores to this country from the US he had no more noble a mission than that of selling cheap crap for the masses. Doubtless in the process many independent family corner shops were driven out of business.

Sounds familiar ?

It’s like our grandchildren getting upset about the collapse of Tesco, McDonalds, Starbucks or whatever other corporate empire eventually bites the dust in the future. And one of them inevitably will – such is the capitalist circle of life.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Squeezing the rich ?

Sometimes it’s not what you say – it’s what people think you say – and their reactions.

Back in the 70’s Labour Chancellor Dennis Healy talked about ‘squeezing the rich until the pips bleed”. He didn’t really mean it of course – he might have started life as a Communist but by 1974 he had put all that way behind him – but his words were enough to get the Tories and big business running scared that class war had been declared.

Alistair Darling’s no socialist either. Actually fuck knows what he is – at least Healy was an honest social democrat (sort of). But Darling's pre budget report seems to have pissed off a lot of the right people. All it took was a teeny-weeny attempt to tinker with a regressive tax (VAT) and to introduce a teeny-weeny bit of progressive taxation in the form of a higher income tax band for high earners.

Polly Toynbee sees in this a radical departure and an abandonment of the New Labour project in favour of good old-fashioned social-democracy. It's no such thing, it's a half-hearted Keynesian measure to stimulate retail spending. Measures that would actually make a difference to people’s lives – like a cap on fuel bills are conspicuous by their absence.

But what’s significant is not what comes from New Labour but from the Tories.

Cameron’s compassionate conservatism and eco-populism is not worth a toss. Faced with the most nonthreatening of measures, their reflex reaction is to defend the interests of the wealthy and begrudge any meagre concessions to the working class.

Same old Tories. Same old (New) Labour.

Friday 21 November 2008

The Devil's Whore

The English Civil War and 17th Century radicalism are something of an obsession for me. So I had to watch Channel 4’s new mini-series The Devil’s Whore.

Historical Dramas tend to be the stuff of Sunday evening viewing – a bit of Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy with performing costumes filled by familiar faces from soaps providing non-threatening comfort viewing for Middle England. Of course of late there have been a few honourable exceptions:

The Devil’s Whore is certainly not comfort viewing. It has just the amount of bodice-ripping and sword play not to be overly-worthy. But it also goes beyond the familiar image of romantic Cavaliers and kill-joy Roundheads that we are usually fed. It engages with the Big Ideas of the time – and of today - democracy, freedom of expression and the struggle between rich and poor.

And it gets the period details pretty much correct too – visually you can’t really tell the two sides apart – maybe slightly lacier collars for the Royalists and less curls for the Parliament men. No puritan primness either. Both sides are a lot lustier and earthier than the Victorians historians who gave us most of those misconceptions of the era – and probably more so than the usual costume drama audience today.

But most importantly it reclaims this – the most important period in English history – and places it centre stage.

In the US there is a strong tradition of the Western – it has developed from the ‘white hat goodies’ v ‘black hat badies’ of the Gary Cooper era to the gritty revisionism of HBO’s Deadwood. But there is never any question that the mythology of The Western, despite the violence and genocide of the real thing, is a central part of the American story.

On the other hand in this country the equivalent formative part of our history has been airbrushed out. Hearing the ideas of Rainsborough, Lillburne and Saxby in The Devil’s Whore and you can see why – they are still revolutionary today.

It also manages to make Charles 1st look like a bit of a twat. And a complete bastard too. Enjoy.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

BNP - Fascists outed

The propensity of the Far Right to self-destruct is a source of continual amusement and comfort. The news that a hardline member of the BNP, disgruntled at the party’s supposedly moderate / populist turn towards a UKIP audience, has published the entire membership on line is, frankly, fucking hilarious.

As is Nick Griffin’s response that the member will come to regret this as ‘the worst decision of his life’. On the other hand he has bleated on about the infringement of his members’ civil liberties. His response goes to the heart of two old chestnuts about the BNP.

Firstly their respectable façade – Griffin may now be on Radio 4 laughably citing the Human Rights Act, which he so strongly opposed, but his initial reaction was nothing more than a thinly veiled threat of violence to sort out the trouble maker in his midst.

And secondly the question - should the BNP have the same rights as any other political party ?

- This shouldn’t need explaining again, but for the hard of thinking the Fascists (for that is what the BNP really are) are NOT just any other party. They are not simply a misguided bunch of loons. They actively promote racial hatred wherever they go. Their ranks include streetfighters who engage in physical attacks – both racially motivated and against political opponents. Much of this activity is illegal – but even if it wasn’t, it would be grounds not to tolerate their intolerance.

Far from amusing though is how the membership list reveals their penetration of mainstream society; in particular the police, the prison service, the army, teaching and other ‘public’ services.

For those agonising over the justification of the ‘outing’ of the Fascists, here it is: Membership of a racist organisation is simply incompatible with the role of someone who is in a position of care or public trust because they cannot serve the community even-handedly.

I'm not going to post the link here - but you maybe able to follow a trail from here - if steps haven't been taken yet to cover over the traces. If you see anyone you know feel free to get in touch with them to discuss their odious little secret. And if any of the named are working in the public sector – let’s get the fuckers sacked.

Monday 17 November 2008

Royalist tearoom

On the basis of 'shit you just couldn't make up', I had to share this. It was sent to me by a friend who shot it through the window of a tea shop in Brighton. Fantastic - whether it is a bit of post modern ironic royalist kitsch or the work of a genuine monarchist lunatic.

Although naming the top of the range pig-out option after someone who was notoriously bulimic may prove to be a marketing error ...

Friday 14 November 2008

Haringey Child Abuse Scandal

I don’t want to join in the current witch-hunt against social workers.

Let’s face it nobody takes the job for the money or an easy life.

And the same witch-hunters who are making so much noise now were probably last week bemoaning a socialist conspiracy to undermine families by putting children into care. Few seem to have made the obvious connection that the reason social workers in Haringey have twice the average national caseload is because they have twice the social problems here in one of the country’s poorest communities.

But that said - as a ‘citizen’ of Haringey, I wouldn’t trust the council to run a jumble sale. Admittedly I try to keep my contact with them to a minimum – but in the past months, three experiences spring to mind:

• The electoral register - I responded immediately when I received the form through the door, by registering online. Six months later I am still being pursued, by more letters through the door, and people twice coming to the house to check up. I now appear to be locked into some sort of Kafka-esque nightmare; when I try to register again I’m told that I can’t – because I’ve already registered.

• Warning stickers on piles of rubbish – fly tipping is a real problem in the borough. But rather than just clearing it away somebody actually inspects it, puts a sticker on it and then leaves it. About a fortnight later, by which time the pile of crap has become a focus for even more fly tipping, it is finally cleared away.

• Re-development – the high street in Tottenham is dying – typical of many inner city high streets it consists of derelict units, ‘pound’ shops and fried chicken franchises. Except one area where there is a covered market with a thriving community of local independent traders. After consulting with the residents, who all wanted the market left alone, the council is going to pull it down and replace it with a mall of chain retail outlets.
To 'regenerate' the area.

In other words our council appears to be a haven of fuck-witery, jobs-worth-iness with a culture of box ticking underpinned by a condescending implication that we should be grateful that in a place like this that we get any local services at all.

All of which would be funny if it didn’t seem all to familiar when I read about the horrific child abuse of ‘Baby P’ and the incompetence of Haringey social services department.

So round here, shocking though the case is, it is also no great surprise. We deserve better from our local council.

Monday 10 November 2008

Socialism at the weekend

This weekend I was at Socialism 2008 – the annual weekend school of the Socialist Party.

After 25 years (!) of being involved I don’t really need to ‘hear the case for socialism’ but now that I’m not as active as I once was, I make a point of going each year to recharge my batteries a bit. And to get the day-to-day grind of life under this fuck-awful depressing system of capitalism into a bit of perspective.

It’s also a chance to see the Left at its best - and worst.

The best – a bit of inspiration like the guy from a small Trotskyist group inside China, risking so much to fight for democratic socialism in just about the hardest of circumstances.

Or less dramatically, just seeing old friends: Ordinary people with jobs and families who refuse to succumb to the pressures of daily life and continue year after year to do their own unspectacular bit to make the world better.

The worst – dickheads from one of the 57 varieties of loony group-lets who are attracted to these events. Like the bloke who criticised us for not supporting China in Tibet and defending North Korea’s right to nuclear arms. Stuck forever in 1941, he cited as justification for his current idiocy Trotsky’s position of sixty years ago: The Soviet Union as a deformed workers’ state should be defended at all costs from imperialist aggression - although he did forget to mention that this was at the time of the Nazi invasion . He was even trying to look like Trotsky – goatee beard, unruly curls and Russian workers’ cap. Funny - but a fucking liability to have around and confirming the worst Pythonesque stereotypes of the Left.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Remember Remember

Remembrance Day and Fireworks night are always linked in my mind. Not just because they occur at the same time of year.

We didn't have fireworks at home because they brought back memories of my mum's East End childhood in the Blitz.
Even now she still has the same flashbacks.

With good reason; her house was twice damaged by incendiary bombs. Her dad was in the River Police out on duty in the docks during the air raids and her uncle was a firefighter. At the same time the family waited for news of other uncles - one at sea on the Atlantic convoys and the other in the army in the Far East.

Now days we would call it post-traumatic stress and demand counseling - back then it was just a fact of life. So she remembers just the little things; like taking shelter under her school desk during one raid, being sent home for forgetting her gas mask and taking her exams in a shelter.

Evidence of quite how close the war came to home is still all around us: At work there is a gap in the terrace opposite still propped up by wooden supports sixty years after a bomb took out the building. At home, in the park at the end of our street, there is a memorial to 20 people killed in a single direct hit on an air raid shelter.

In the winter of 1940-41 there were eleven continuous weeks of nightly attacks on London by the Luftwaffe - 20,000 civilians in London were killed in those attacks alone and 60,000 in the whole of the war. A quarter of a million Londoners were made homeless and a third of all the city's housing stock was damaged. That's worth a moments reflection at this time of year.

It also makes you wonder who ever thought it would be a good idea to call our local American football team "London Blitz".

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Overdue landslide for Obama

Not a day for cynicism or smart-arse comments.

The extraordinary scenes of euphoria from the US are personified in the tear-stained face of Jesse Jackson; from segregation to a Black president within a generation . Personally I just feel a sense of immense relief.

Whether or not this is the end to the era of Reganite neo-con ascendancy, the end of the USA as the bad guy on the world stage, and even more importantly whether this is real change for ordinary working class Americans - black and white - the jury will be out for a while.

I imagine we will be recalling how McCain labeled Obama - he meant it as a slur - 'a socialist'. And thinking 'we wish'.

Monday 3 November 2008

Regime change imminent

At the weekend I heard on the radio a community activist from Chicago describe Obama as an ‘empty vessel’ - filled with the aspirations of all those who felt themselves denied a political voice. (Or those that Sarah Palin would call not 'real Americans').

That sounds just about spot-on; and it also implies the inevitable disappointment of these aspirations. And I’m sure that disappointment will come later, but at the moment it seems a certainty that the world will have, for the first time for many years, a US president that we can’t ridicule because he is stupid, senile or a serial-shagger. And one that we don’t have to fear either because he is a neo-con and/or ‘mentalist Christian.

Unless that is in the next 24 hours the Republicans somehow manage to produce a secret crack addict Obama relative living on benefits, or evidence of a gay lover who is also an islamo-terrorist, or, if all else fails, dodgy ballot punch card machines to produce some hanging chads. Or even just scare people back into their racist bunkers.

So here’s a thought: Given that these elections will not only elect a US president but also the single most powerful leader on the planet, and given the global nature of the world economy and the increasing unimportance of the nation-state - maybe the rest of us should be allowed a vote too. Possibly not the same as US citizens proper – just a tenth of a vote would do.

Otherwise we’ll just have to cross our fingers …

Thursday 30 October 2008

A bit of perspective please

Yesterday 48 people were killed and 300 injured in explosions in Assam by nationalist / Hindu 'mentalist nutters.

Also yesterday, amidst outrage about a prank phone call that went too far, two over-paid and egotistical shock jocks were sacked for ... being shocking. An outrage that somehow included the prime minister and the leader of the opposition - and of course the lynch parties of Middle England.

What the fuck ?

Monday 27 October 2008

Chaos theory, Zen & dodgy bike wiring

I have to admit that I know bugger all about chaos theory. And I know only slightly more about motorcycle electrics. But I do understand that when a butterfly flaps its wings in the rain-forest, my starter motor refuses to turn over.

I’ve lived with a number of electrical gremlins for a few months. Nothing that has kept me off the road because they have been of the infuriating intermittent kind. The sort that you simply turn your back on for a couple of minutes, have a good swear and then lo–and-behold everything is working perfectly again.

I have fucked about chasing the symptoms on and off: testing voltage and circuits, spraying dielectric grease everywhere, nursing the battery on a charger. At times I’ve kidded myself that I’ve fixed it.

This weekend I shut myself in the garage with the rain beating on the metal roof - determined not to come out until I had sorted the problem. First thing I did was to take the battery out. As I disconnected it, the main positive cable came away in my hand. It had rotted through and judging by the amount of rust on the frayed ends; had been like this for some time. It had obviously just been resting on the terminal at the starter motor. It was actually a miracle that there had been any connection at all – and whenever I hit a bump the circuit must have arced across the gap.

I fixed it with a new cable from Halfords for £5. Almost certainly cheaper than the stock Harley part and a critical few inches longer (the standard length means that it is pulled taut, and given the vibration that goes with the HD turf, is in constant danger of being pulled apart).

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is - maybe something along the lines of what Robert Pirsig described as 'contemplating each component as a universe in itself'. Or more honestly; just rejoicing in a bit of good luck.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Atheist buses

I hate proselytizing religious nutters.

I despise the fact that they target the psychologically vulnerable with posters on the tube asking if there 'is something missing in your life - do you feel depressed or lonely ?' These people need help and support not an imaginary supernatural friend.

I resent them knocking on my door and asking me if I make time for Jesus in my life and that I should be grateful that he died for my sins. I'll take responsibility for my own mistakes thanks very much.

I'm outraged when they preach to me on street corners telling me that I am damned to eternal torment because I don't share their particular brand of make-believe. In any other context their bigotry would be considered an incitement to hatred, or at least a breach of the peace and the police would move them on.

I can't stand that they are allowed to insidiously leave bibles in hotel rooms for the benefit of the bored and lonely business travelers. It would be less damaging to society if these people stuck to the mini-bar and the pay per view porn channels.

So, to redress the balance I am supporting the campaign to take some advertising space on bus sides to present the alternative version. I urge you to do the same and donate to the campaign here:

"There's probably no god. Now stop worrying. Enjoy your life"

Monday 20 October 2008

Pointless parasites

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide Galaxy, Douglas Adams describes a planet to which all the useless people are exiled. I remember that he includes telephone hygienists, hairdressers and marketing executives – I’m not sure if he also included estate agents. But if he didn’t; he should have.

In many countries the role of estate agent is a profession and has some sort of para-legal function, - a form of public notary. But not in this country.

Here you don’t need to study or sit any exams. All you need to be a estate agent is a bucket of hair gel, a flash company car, a loud tie and an ability to jabber bollocks on your mobile phone. And of course to lie pathologically - much to the frustration and enragement of both vendor and buyer alike.

Apparently an indicator of our current economic crisis is that many estate agents’ offices are down to one house sale per week.

I doubt very much that they have dropped their commission or improved their service in response. So if this recession has any silver lining, it might just be that many of this particularly parasitic and obnoxious post-Thatcherite species could be challenged with extinction.

Friday 17 October 2008

Tory Greens ?

Before the current Tory twat came in, the London Mayor’s office was committed to reducing the amount of cars in the capital.

With the congestion charge, Ken stuck his neck out: it’s not perfect but it did actually encourage just about any form of transport other than a car – buses, trains, tubes, bicycles and even motorbikes. A brave move and a rare one when ‘green’ issues are usually just platitudes and gestures.

The Tories in particular are trying to portray themselves as having green credentials, but it just doesn't wash: 'Bicycling Boris’ is actually trying to protect the Chelsea tractors of Knightsbridge from an extension of the congestion zone.

Now it seems Westminster Council are actively trying to undermine what little progress the congestion charge has made.

They phoned me up yesterday:

We’re trying to help local businesses with the problems of their staff commuting.

Excellent - what have you got in mind ?

Well how many of your staff drive to work ?

None of them.

None ?

Well a few of us ride motorcycles or scooters. Some ride push bikes. Everyone else uses public transport.

So you don’t have any vehicles for business use ?

We have two cycle couriers and one motorcycle courier

No company cars ?

No we haven’t given out company cars for years it’s irresponsible and there’s no valid business need. If we need to travel we use public transport or maybe hire a car.

I see. So I take it you wouldn’t be interested in our scheme to provide discounts to local businesses in Westminster Council car parks ?

No - but you might want to think about abolishing the parking charges for motorcycles and scooters that you only introduced this Summer.

(They couldn’t get off the phone quick enough).

No surprise though from a Tory council – this is them showing their true colours and defending the right of every yuppie wanker to drive his company car and bollocks to the consequences. Remember when Thatcher said “a man who finds himself on a bus at the age of 26 can consider himself a failure”?

Monday 13 October 2008

Jorg Haider

Here's a tale of a man who thought he was destined to be a 21st Century fuhrer.

Daddy was an early member of the Austrian Nazi Party, and of the SA, Mummy was a leader in the Hitler Youth. Both suffered from the post-war de-nazification policy. He became very wealthy by inheriting the estate of an uncle who had gained it by a forced purchase from a Jewish family in 1941.

He tried to distance himself from this Nazi inheritance and developed a kind of yuppie fascist populism. By doing so in 1999, his Freedom Party managed to get 29% of the vote.

But he couldn’t help himself and made a number of Nazi gaffs: Like denying the holocaust and opposing compensation being paid to its victims. Or calling for the rehabilitation of Waffen SS veterans. Or saying that if the Freedom Party had stood on the programme of the old Nazi Party it would have achieved an overwhelming majority.

In the best traditions of the Far Right, the Freedom Party split. Partly over policy as to how accommodating they should be to the conservative mainstream, and partly over personalities – amidst rumours of the leader's closet homosexuality.

Depressingly though the Far Right continued to maintain its success, with one part of the split entering into government coalition. But there's a happy ending : On Saturday Jorg Haider lost control of his car and was killed.

There’s already talk amongst the conspiro-loons that this was sabotage by rival Nazis or Mossad. Who cares ? Let’s just savour the moment of one less arsehole in the world.

Friday 10 October 2008

Crisis & the real world

A week preoccupied by work. I never signed up to be a salesman but I seem to spend more and more time trying to drum up business. I'm resigned to doing it now as a necessary evil that comes with the responsibility of keeping the company going. Funnily enough I find the bullshit of presenting fairly easy - and I can even manage the negotiation bit. It's just the networking and faking an interest in the clients that defeats me.

Then at the end of a particularly depressing and crappy week this came along:

We had been approached by a couple of semi-plausible characters who claimed mysteriously to be acting for a business that was interested in talking to us. A bit like one of those letters that says 'you will discover something to your advantage'.

When we finally met up it turns out that they were acting for an Indian organisation that wanted to buy our company so that they could 'strip out cost' - that's a euphemism for getting rid of the workforce - and then outsource the jobs to India. The company could then be used as a 'vehicle' for attracting business from UK clients who might feel uneasy about dealing directly with an Indian company.

They were genuinely taken aback when we told them to fuck off.

They could not comprehend that there were turkeys who were not over the moon about Christmas. Or that a business might have some concern for their workers. Or for the fate of the industry as a whole.

Their parting shot was that they were sure some of our competitors would be happy to take them up on their offer. They might be right - we are fortunate to have a blue chip client base who don't just buy simply on price, and we are not dependent on heavy borrowing. For a small to medium size business that puts us in a fairly rare and privileged position. If we can maintain that we might just survive this recession.

There used to be a saying that the personal was political and vice-versa. I thought that was just an excuse for substituting navel contemplation for activism. But now I get it. And it fucking hurts. More than the still unreal news of banks going busts or stock markets crashing.

Monday 6 October 2008

On getting tattooed

Got some more ink at the weekend: An iron age chieftan’s head – based on something from Courtney Davis who adapts his designs from original sources. The tattoo was done by Gemma at Original Skin. Thanks to you both. As this is now my 10th tattoo I think I’m maybe now qualified to offer some advice on the subject . The following “dos and don’ts” are all based on stuff I’ve witnessed / experienced first hand.

1. Do pick a studio that has a good reputation and has all the necessary health & safety accreditation. That’s obvious isn’t it ? You wouldn’t just take your car into the first garage you happened to see.

2. Don’t go into a tattoo studio without a fucking clue what you want done and then browse randomly through the flash books wasting everyone’s time whilst you ask how much each one costs.

3. Do take time to do some research and come up with something that you really want. It doesn’t have to be unique and original but if you expect the tattooist to take some care over what they are doing then so should you.

4. Don’t haggle over the price you are given. Even worse don’t try to horse-trade over the design – ie ‘how much
less would it be if you didn’t do a tail on this dragon ?’

5. Do listen to the advice you are given at the tattoo shop. If you are told that the design won’t work at that size or is going to look distorted on that part of your body - pay attention these people do this for a living.

6. Do have something to eat and a sugary drink before the tattoo. Passing out and/or throwing up is uncool and unpleasant for everyone.

7. Don’t make a big deal about the pain. Of course it’s going to hurt a bit – you’re having needles in your skin for fuck sake. But it’s definitely no worse than going to the dentist and that doesn’t put you off having your teeth looked at. If you have chosen a placement that’s especially painful the tattooist will tell you and prepare you for it.

8. Do be nice to your tattooist. Take your lead from them – make conversation when they do – and alternatively shut up if they’re trying to concentrate on a tricky bit.

9. Don’t get pissed the night before – the alcohol will make you bleed more than usual. And definitely don’t turn up pissed expecting to get tattooed – that’s just rude.

10. Don’t fuck about with the tattoo once it’s done. Listen to the aftercare advice but just keep it clean and put a little bit of unscented lotion on it - otherwise leave it alone - it will heal itself in a couple of weeks.

… 11. Do go back for another one.

Friday 3 October 2008

Fascists just up the road

Last night something I never imagined I’d see in North London – a protest meeting against the BNP standing in a council ward by-election.

Like Caesar’s Gaul, the London Borough of Haringey is divided into three parts. Those of us in the east of the borough, in Tottenham and Wood Green,live in officially the most ethnically diverse part of the country. And also one of the most impoverished. On the other hand, at the western tip of the borough, Highgate is one of the most affluent parts of London. In between the two, the areas of Hornsey, Crouch End and Muswell Hill have been gentrified to varying degrees, with bohemian liberal types.

Which makes Muswell Hill one of the least likely areas for the BNP to target. But apparently they have a policy of contesting as many council seats as they possibly can before the European elections. And with a single by-election they can bring in their resources from far and wide to concentrate in a small area and get some publicity even when they have no hope of winning. (I am confident that with or without a campaign they will get no more than a handful of votes).

The last time I went to a similar meeting was in an asian community centre on the Isle of Dogs in the early 90’s. The organisers had received death threats and hate mail from the BNP and asked us to provide security. So I found myself on the door with a baseball bat stashed out of site but on hand. Fortunately in the end we were not needed, but the atmosphere from the local community was a combination of very real fear and intense anger.

In contrast, at the meeting last night the mood was of offended outrage – the middle class shocked that these odious fascist types had the cheek to turn up on their respectable doorsteps. There was an element of farce too as one elderly speaker carefully explained to us the scientific fallacy of racism in terms of the ‘out of Africa’ evolution of homo-sapiens. You wouldn’t have got that on the Isle of Dogs.

But there was something touching about the meeting though – here was a genuinely united community, albeit a pretty smug and complacent one, standing together against the Fascists. Still I couldn’t help thinking how the fuck had it ever got this far that we were sat in a church hall in Muswell Hill discussing the BNP ?

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Foodies & the class struggle

Watched Jamie Oliver's new 'Ministry of Food' series last night. The lisping mockney-boy who has become the darling of the chattering-and-dining classes is an easy target to have a pop at. But as with his previous campaigning series on school dinners, it's impossible not to warm to him.

Looking at the eating habits of kids in a single parent family living on benefits in Rotherham he said that he's seen AIDs orphans in Soweto with better diets. Worn down by the failure of his 'pass it forward' approach to teaching the family and their friends to cook - he raged that he was angry but he didn't know with what or with who.

This was a modern form of poverty. There wasn't the industrial grime of previous generations, but living on £80 benefit a week, the mum spent £70 on junk food. There was a nice looking house with a big TV and a modern kitchen, but they were heavily in debt and often had to resort to the pawn shop to get through the week. And it is the modern expression of the class divide. 70 years after Orwell wrote the Road To Wigan Pier, and almost 170 years after Engels wrote The Condition Of The English Working Class - class is still the most important influence on our health and life expectancy.

By some genius stroke of scheduling Jamie was preceeded by Nigella Express. The lovely Nigella licked her lips and pouted her way through half an hour hopping on and off red buses and popping in and out of delis on the Kings Road to pick up essential ingredients for her dinner party.

I can honestly say that I have never been to dinner party. But by the end of the evening, the only thing I wanted to bring along wasn't a bottle of Pinot Grigiot but a fucking machine gun.

Monday 29 September 2008

London Tattoo Convention

Last time I spent much time around Wapping it involved going there on Friday nights for the pickets of Murdoch’s News International plant. I got familiar with the back streets having regularly dodged tooled-up coppers hell bent on denying my legitimate right to protest. But enough of that. In happier circumstances this weekend I was back to Tobacco Dock for the London International Tattoo Convention.

The venue is in so many ways a bizarre monument to the Tory years. It is just behind the News International plant - itself ironically redundant now production has moved outside London. In the 80’s the long-derelict docks were property developed into a labyrinth of luxury apartments, a shopping centre and waterside leisure area. Except it never took off - wrong place (piss-poor public transport) and wrong time (the last recession). Today it stands finished but unoccupied since the 90's - trapped in time as a spooky memorial to the era of red braces, Filofaxes and brick-like mobile phones.

I sat outside for a while in the sunshine on the quayside watching the world go by: Viking-ish bikers - 50’s burlesque girls – old skool greaser petrol heads - punks with full Japanese body suits - Polynesian warriors – BDSM types … and just about everything else in-between.

Here was poetic justice: it looked like the freaks had finally triumphed over the yuppies.
At least for a weekend.

Friday 26 September 2008

Royal reform

A modern monarchy is an oxymoron.

But I suppose New Labour's constitutional reforms which would allow someone who isn't an Anglican or wasn't born with a Y chromosome to ascend to the throne is a tiny step in the right direction.

Although it's hardly the proclamation of a republic, the disestablishment of the Church Of England, the abolition of the House of Lords or any of that stuff that any reasonable 17th Century radical would otherwise take for granted.

Still on the upside it does mean that if the present bunch of German royals who pass themselves off as the House of Windsor should become any dafter or madder, we can now bring in some fresh talent from the gene pool of unemployed European royals and aristos. Bloody hell.

Thursday 25 September 2008

Strange times

There was a time long ago when I got excited about Labour Conferences. I even went to a few and braved crappy Blackpool B&B's, caucuses and compositing meetings (don't ask). Based on the woeful event this week, I know that seems difficult to believe but it's true.

We now live in strange times. We are hovering on the brink of recession (or perhaps more accurately have tottered over the brink and are now plummeting). But the Labour leader uses the conference to reassure the City that 'we are a pro market party'. Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury, who obviously reads this blog, says 'Karl Marx was right'.

Monday 22 September 2008

Sometimes it's the little things

Two weeks ago I popped into my local Harley dealership to pick up some odds and ends. A couple of replacement indicator lenses – they have a habit of vibrating themselves loose and they’re only a push fit.

It was lashing down with rain at the time. Mine was the only bike in the customer parking. The dealership was however packed with customers. That should have been a sign and reminded me why I try to avoid going here for parts generally. But I persisted:

Me: I’d like a couple of indicator lenses for a 2002 Sportster please.

Them: What model is that?

Me: I'm pretty sure it doesn’t matter the 02 Sportsters are all the same.

Them: We still need to know the model.

Me: OK – it was originally an 883R.

Them: Are they for the front or back?

Me: They’re exactly the same at the front and the back.

Them: We need to know to check the part number.

Me: OK then – let’s say they are for the front.

(After a bit of clicking on a keyboard)

Them: We don’t have them in stock. I can order them for you though.

Me: Can you just check that you haven’t go any for the back in stock ?

Them: No they’re the same as the front.

Aaargh !!!

(And two weeks later the parts still haven't arrived)

Friday 19 September 2008

Time to dig out Kapital

At university my supervisor for the history of political thought was an eminent Marxist academic. He still is as far as I know – eminent that is, I doubt very much that he’s still Marxist.

Discussing Kapital one day he came out with the classic “let’s face it nobody actually reads Kapital” My supervision partner (a mate, fellow smart-arse and socialist) knowing full well that I had, turned to me and asked “ Actually I think you have haven’t you ?”.

Cocky students – 1
Academic poseur twat – nil.

This week, with the worst financial crash since 1929, it looks like we should all be dusting off those neglected copies of Marx's Kapital. Out of favour for years, even (or especially) amongst those who wore the Marxist label as a fashion statement, it still remains the best explanation of the state we're in.

We've suffered two decades of triumphal capitalist propaganda telling us that history is over and that markets are everything . Now the same free market evangelists squirm and talk about ‘imperfect markets’ and the need for the state to prop up the banks (privatise the gain but nationalise the pain). It's too much to resist saying "I told you so".

It is difficult not to savour the financial crisis: I take no pleasure in banking employees losing their jobs – the majority will be low grade white collar types, cleaners and security guards. Or people losing their homes or savings. But for all those fund managers and other assorted parasitic scum whose speculation has ruined many other business and lives – good fucking riddance, your time has come. And if they had done their homework the present crisis wouldn't have come as any surprise.