Friday 28 March 2008

Carla fever

What’s with the national obsession with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy ? Sure she’s easier on the eye than the queen or Camilla, but then let’s face it that’s setting the bar pretty low.

The press seem to be whipping themselves in to a frenzy that she’s the next Lady Di / Jackie Onasis / Queen Of Hearts. But apart from being photogenic, what else is there to say about her ? Well she certainly didn’t let her professed left-wing sympathies get in the way of becoming the missus of a French tory leader (apparently she supported Sarkozy’s socialist rival Segone Royal, and she's been linked with former socialist premier Laurent Fabius).

Coming from one of Italy’s wealthiest families, and having been a top earning supermodel you couldn’t really call her a gold-digger, but from her impressive list of famous ex’s she is some sort of power-digger: Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Kevin Costner and Donald Trump. For all her left-bank chic there's not too many struggling artists or impoverished intellectuals there. One story going around relates to her having seen Sarkozy on TV and saying "I want to have a man who has nuclear power." Nice. Rather more WAG than Simone de Beauvoir.

But the most telling image of the visit is not of Carla in one of her Dior suits – it’s this shot of her feet alongside Sarkozy's. Never trust a short bloke who wears high heels to compensate. Even Napoleon didn’t do that.

Thursday 27 March 2008

Boycott Beijing

The spectacle of the England football team giving the Nazi salute at the 1936 Berlin Olympics sends a shudder of revulsion down our spines today. I wonder what we will think in seventy years time about images of the 2008 forthcoming Beijing Olympics.

Which begs the question: Bearing in mind the suppression of protest in Tibet, the continuing sale of arms to the Sudanese in Darfur, civil engineering projects of unimaginable environmental damage, the suppression of ethnic and religious groups, an appalling criminal justice system and a litany of human rights abuses against dissidents .... why was it considered reasonable to boycott the Moscow Olympics in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan , apartheid South Africa or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, but not China ?

The only reason that I can see for these double standrads is that none of those countries were/are emerging economies on the global stage. Meanwhile China is fast becoming the manufacturing sweat shop of the world, and pissing them off is bad for business.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Wandering in the snow

Braved freak snow flurries to make the annual Spring shakedown run to Southend on Easter Monday. I thought I’d wear the full-face helmet to get a bit of wind protection but hadn’t bargained for it freezing up on the inside as well as the out – with the visor up I’d have been better off wearing the trusty open-face with goggles.

Southend itself never fails to disappoint - so it was a quick once up and down the seafront to check out the bikes (unsurprisingly fewer than previous years); some very second-rate fish’n’chips; a half of Guinness to catch a set from a Rockabilly band and then head for home again.

One particular bike caught me eye; a stunning old Triumph in a Metisse frame although in a street scrambler style rather than the usual café racer, but still with the alloy tank and loads of polished stainless. It was immaculately clean but details like the hand-plaited bright wiring, modern foam grips and Hagon shocks would have all pissed off the classic-bike purists. I was happy that it was clearly ridden and looked-after rather than just restored and polished.

Riding home my mind wandered as it tends to when you have an open road and aren’t in any particular hurry.

The snow made me think of the Battle of Towton, fought in the middle of another freak Easter snowstorm in 1461. Visibility was so bad that the two armies stood toe-to-toe and hacked away at each other for hours. Officially it was the bloodiest battle on British soil – something like 1% of the total population perished in a single day.

How did I get there?: Well I bet a few of them wished they’d had a full-face helmet that day.

Thursday 20 March 2008

Happy Eostra

Everybody's making noises about Easter coming early this year. Few seem to be aware why this is so: It's because, in simple terms, the date of Easter is calculated around the lunar calendar and the first full moon of Spring. It is not you'll notice an anniversary based on Roman records of the date of the crucifixion of a certain Jesus of Nazareth.

Hmmm. Maybe there's a clue there to its origins ?

(Just to spell it out for the hard of thinking: Eostra was a pagan Germanic fertility goddess. Her name provides the derivation of Oestrogen. Hence the whole Easter egg thing).

Which reminds me of I read a nice story about a child being asked to describe the Easter story: Apparently it's when the Easter bunny hatches out of a chocolate egg and then goes to heaven.

Makes as much sense as some stuff I've heard. Whatever. Enjoy the break ...

Wednesday 19 March 2008

No sense of history..or irony

Here's one of those quirkly stories about obsolete laws that are still on the statute books – stuff like being able to urinate on the back wheels of a hackney carriage or shoot a Scotsman on a Sunday in Carlise. Apparently a whole number of such laws are being repealed at the moment.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw, a man I expect whose sense of humour is matched only by his passion for civil liberties, came out with the following piece of unconscious irony:
"Laws on turnpikes, workhouses, and the Peterloo Massacre are rightly of interest to historians, but there is no need to retain them on the statute book.”

He maybe being a bit hasty there:

• Turnpikes – well we have PFI, privatised railways and toll roads so why not turnpikes?

• Workhouses – with the concept of 'workfare' and social housing reforms to evict those not actively seeking work, workhouses seem like a reasonable option.

• The Peterloo Massacre – a legitimate and peaceful protest brutally dispersed amidst hysteria about revolutionary ‘outrages’. Dare I mention the current anti-terrorism laws or the regular over reaction of the the police whenever there is a public order incident?

I’m just off to piss on the back of a taxi now…

Tuesday 18 March 2008

'Bloody do-gooders'

I was having a discussion with a few colleagues at work about identity cards and asylum seekers, and I got called a ‘do-gooder’.

It’s a strange form of abuse when you think about it . Do-gooder as opposed to what ? A ‘do-bollocks to them all-er’ or a ‘do-don’t give a shit about anyone else-er’ or a ‘do -not in my backyard-er’ ?

Of course I knew what they meant. When I was a bit more doctrinaire I would use ‘liberal’ in the same way – as in petty-bourgeois liberal who fails to understand the correct Marxist perspective.

But after years of dealing with real reactionaries, I’ve woken up to the fact that there are worse things than being a liberal. Things like being a xenophobic racist cunt.

Monday 17 March 2008

A depressing story

This isn’t a story about bringing back capital punishment. Or about ending anonymity for juvenile offenders. Or about stiffer sentences and ‘life meaning life’. Or about holding parents responsible for out of control kids. Or about chavs and hoodies. But it's nonetheless FUCKING DEPRESSING.

The on-going trial of the killers of Sophie Lancaster: Last year she was kicked to death in a park in Lancashire by a gang of kids who also managed to put her boyfriend into a coma which has left him with brain damage. The reason, apparently was that they were Goths and the kids didn’t like the look of them.

Racist attacks and gay-bashing has been around for a long time. Nowadays they’re classified as ‘hate crimes’ - which perhaps is progress of sorts. There’s all kinds of social, economic and psychological reasons for racism and homophobia. Knowing these reasons doesn’t mitigate the crimes - but it just might put things into a political context, where something can be done to address them.

But kicking someone to death because you don’t like their eyeliner – where the fuck does that come from? There’s always been a thing with kids and tribes – as a teenager I got into several fights with ‘casuals’ for having long hair and being a ‘headbanger’. But that was always ritualized and a bit half hearted - this kind of vehement hatred and intolerance is something else. And profoundly bloody depressing.

Thursday 13 March 2008

A week in the life …

I don’t usually blog about work. Not because of any sort of professional discretion but because this blog is meant to be an antidote to work.

But three things this week illustrate what I end up stressing over most of my waking hours. These may or not be typical of people running small/medium sized business (I think SME is the jargon). Actually, they’re probably typical only of Trotskyists who find themselves as company directors, with an under-used education, in a former craft industry that has been decimated by technology, and now continually reinvents itself.

(As background the industry of graphic arts/ pre-press is an odd little world – a mixture of creativity and manufacturing - and because of the type of businesses we sell our services to, we rub alongside the bollock-speak arena of corporate marketing).

But anyway here’s the three things that have dominated my week:

• I had to sack an incompetent member of staff; a horrible process that I have been through (very rarely) before. It was done (I think) fairly and legally but it's still not what I ever imagined myself doing. It’s a difficult process – as it should be - and because I’m something of a reluctant boss it was made more difficult because I let the situation fester longer than I should. In fact until the individual’s colleagues were clamouring for me to take action. But enough already - I’m not going to come out with any ‘this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you’ bullshit. It obviously didn’t, and I’m still here, but only a complete wanker would be unaffected.

• Two of our trainees finished their apprenticeships. In the not so old-days they would have gone through a rite-of-passage ceremony of being ‘banged out’. This involved getting covered in ink and flour and all sorts of other horrible shit and dragged through the streets. Nowadays they just get an NVQ certificate. For about a decade we had no apprentice scheme at all – the result of new technology and union-busting. But I took the decision to introduce the NVQs and bring back an updated version of the old system. It’s one of the few things I can actually take some pride in.

• The rest of the time has been devoted to pulling together a pitch for our most important client who are re-tendering the services we have supplied to them for the past 12 years. There’s a new regime there who are excited about the idea of ‘global sourcing’. In reality it’s got fuck all to do with our services but I have to defend the fact that we don’t off-shore our work and we’re not part of some multinational group with offices in every sweat-shop zone in the world. Oh yes - and also still demonstrate how we can reduce our prices and be more productive. Needless to say, if I can’t convince them, the future doesn’t look too bright …

That’s it – the bad, the good and the increasingly ugly - welcome to my world. I won’t be talking about it again soon.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

We don't need no (monarchist) education

Public displays of patriotism fill me with dread. When they involve children, even more so. It seems like a slippery slope to the worst kind of nationalism – exactly what we don’t want to pass on to new generations.

Which is why I couldn’t believe that Lord Goldsmith (now there’s a name to conjure with for a politician in a supposed democracy) suggested that the oath of allegiance is introduced into schools. It all stems from some twisted New Labour concept of citizenship and civic pride. I’ve covered this before – it’s a complete fabrication – we are subjects not citizens - you’ll only find citizens in a republic.

Ironic isn’t it that in this country you can opt out of acknowledging god but not the monarchy ? For official and legal purposes, atheists can choose to affirm rather than swear. But there’s no such option for republicans, democrats, socialists, anarchists etc. Or anyone else who isn't happy to bend the knee like a medieval vassal. We can't choose to pledge loyalty to the parliament and the constitution rather than the crown (well not since Cromwell’s day).

Thursday 6 March 2008

White tribes ?

It’s a debate that comes round from time to time: ‘who speaks for the white working class ?’.

There’s been a survey of the former mining town of Easington in County Durham which apparently is the whitest place in England, and with the colliery gone and the steelworks gone, life is unsurprisingly fucking grim. And there’s a BBC series coming up – something along the lines of ‘the lost white tribes of Britain’.

I got suspicious when I hear the question asked because it’s usually a rhetorical device for the BNP and other fascists to jump in and answer ‘we do’. Or it’s asked by whinging Little Englanders who sometime way back in the Eighties decided that they weren’t working class anymore and embraced the Thatcherite dream. What they really mean is ‘who speaks for the white bigots ?’ And of course the answer is the BNP again. And Jeremy Clarkson and the Daily Mail.

Undeniably communities like Easington have been disenfranchised. It’s not because they’re white though – it’s because they are working class – the Tories declared war on them and then New Labour deserted them. If they came down to Hackney, Tottenham or Brent, they’d find that life for the Black or Asian working class isn’t too peachy these days either. And all the bollocks about preferential housing etc for ethnic minorities is precisely that: Bollocks.

It’s not fashionable to say so, but class is more important than race as far as ‘life chances’ go. The fascists don’t want to hear that and neither do the small and very much exaggerated Black or Asian middle class.

And whilst we're at it; being abandoned and disenfranchised is one thing, but building an isolated ghetto of ignorance and small mindedness is another. Every society has it's rednecks - and it's possible to choose not to be one.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Binge drinking Britain: a history

Hysteria about 24-hour drinking everywhere at the moment. (Strange I must have missed the decree that we had to drink for 24 hours. Much as I haven’t yet found anywhere that actually does serve alcohol round the clock).

What we are talking about is really just a slightly more relaxed attitude to bar opening times (as opposed to the draconian restrictions put into place in the First World War to keep munitions workers sober and in the factory). It’s said that the liberalisation brings us into line with the rest of Europe – although I haven’t yet found anywhere where we can get a breakfast beer, as you can in Germany and the Netherlands.

The disapproving hysteria about the new laws opening the floodgates to binge drinking is just sanctimonious bollocks.

Maybe it’s the climate, something genetic or our cultural history but, for better or worse the British are, and always have been, a nation (or nations) of drinkers.

The Romans exploited the fact that the Ancient Britons would pretty much sell their own grannies for an amphora of Mediterranean wine and used it as a tool of colonial oppression, much as Europeans did to Native Americans.

For the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, social life centred on the mead-hall. The ability to hold your drink was one of the warrior virtues. It was even embodied in religion – an average day in Valhalla consisted of fighting all day, being revived by the Valkeyires and then embarking on an all night orgy and piss up in the mead-hall.

In the middle ages, the yeoman English longbowmen were feared throughout Europe not just for their prowess as mercenary archers that threatened to destabilise the knightly class, but also for their propensity for drunkenness, looting and brawling.

In the eighteenth century, as the working class took to the urban centres, binge drinking reached an epidemic much as heroin has blighted many inner city estates today. Hogarth exposed and satirised it as ‘gin alley’.

Poe-faced Victorian middle class reformers used alcohol as the dividing line between the deserving and un-deserving poor, seeing it as the curse of the working class and led ‘temperance’ crusades.

And that is exactly the point of the current hysteria, behind the sanctimony there is a common thread of the ruling and middle class disapproving of the antics of their inferiors:

Yes ‘binge drinking’ can fuck up both individual lives and city centres. Yes we should have a more mature attitude to alcohol – and develop better tastes than chemically lagers and alco-pops.

But the fact remains that if you knock back eight pints of Stella in Middlesbrough you are a disgraceful yob - have a couple of bottles of Pinot Grigiot at a dinner party in Islington and you’re just being bohemian.

Monday 3 March 2008

Harry the hero

Unsurprisingly, I’ve managed to resist the Harry fever that’s sweeping the country.

Fair play, on a personal basis as rugger-bugger toffs go, Harry doesn’t come across too badly. At least he had the balls to go on the front-line. Unlike George Dubya he didn’t elect an easy form of service. Like defending Texan air-space with the National Guard from incursions by the Viet Cong. (I guess the equivalent would be defending Boujis with the territorial army from Taliban attack ).

But amidst the euphoria of Harry’s return the larger issues have been lost.

Channel 4’s Jon Snow has been crucified by the press for daring to criticize the media embargo. But it’s a fair question – just why did the Western media agree to keep silent ? Surely it is not their role to be conscripted into the war effort. Therein lies a very slippery slope.

Of course it’s naïve to imagine that there is no censorship in war - but Harry’s presence in the theatre wasn’t an operational secret. And can we rationally argue that his life is any more precious than that of any other young squaddie?

As it stands though Harry has become the poster boy for the war. Army recruitment will doubtless get a boost. And fresh life has been breathed into an increasingly irrelevant and unpopular monarchy. PR mission accomplished.