Wednesday 30 July 2008

The right to be deluded

A Sikh schoolgirl has gone to court to win the right to wear a silver bangle or kara. Doing so is against the uniform policy of her school and so they excluded her for nine weeks. The court has found this constitutes religious discrimination.

Personally, the thought that an omnipotent God gives a toss whether you wear a bracelet or not is obviously bonkers. Admittedly it is not actually offensive; such as the idea that women should be veiled. But nonetheless I support the religious loons against the school every time.

As the parent of any teenager knows – or should know - banning your kids from dyeing their hair green or getting their nose pierced is a surefire way to transform a vague inclination on the kids’ part into a burning mission.

And the same logic that applies to teenagers applies to society as a whole. Banning religious groups from expressing their various superstitions is only going to marginalize them and provoke fanaticism.

The urge to suppress sadly seems to run deep. I’ve just had the uniform list from my youngest daughters’ secondary school. Skirts must be below the knee. Trousers must be black but not jeans or in a jeans-style cut. White shirts must have a collar but not be polo shirts. Blah-fucking-blah. All guaranteed to transform a happy-go-lucky child into a pissed off teenager. Genius.

Some petty-minded tyrant who didn’t get enough attention as child must have dreamt this shit up. Seems that these kind of people are drawn disproportionately to education. And government.

Friday 25 July 2008

This is England

On the train to Newcastle for a ‘business trip’.

Everybody is wearing the ‘smart casual’ universal corporate uniform. They’ve all got laptop cases and tap away at various gadgets. Then they read WhatCar to relax, or maybe for the racier ones; FHM. They have loud conversations about office politics. But I can’t work out from any of it what they or their businesses actually do.

I go to the dining car. I’m ignored for fifteen minutes by the waitress. When I manage eye contact she asks me if I know that this is the dining car. I mentally count to ten and tell her that I do realise, and actually I would like a menu.

Out of the city centre to a 'business park' I get to the company I’m visiting. It’s locked in the 1980’s. In reception there’s a faded photograph of Princess Di opening the place. She’s wearing a sloaney get-up with a collar like a cake doily. There are a host of faded certificates showing accreditation to various industry bodies . Many of these are time-expired. With a lot of fuss I am offered a cup of (something like) coffee from an ancient vending machine.

Waiting for my train home - in Newcastle I walk around the city centre to kill time. Something is a bit odd but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Then it dawns on me – I haven’t seen a non-white face or heard a foreign accent. And the shops are all ‘English’.

Coming home I look through the window. It comes to me that still most of the country we travel through is actually empty countryside and small towns.

I realise that this is England.
'Proper' England - not London or some other 'metro-sophisticated' city. Where you take it for granted that you can wear jeans and a t-shirt and show off your tattoos and still be taken seriously. Or where there is a whole diverse world on your doorstep. Or where coffee comes in a million different over-priced varieties. And I'm not sure how I feel about all this.

Monday 21 July 2008

Wedding crasher.

Went to a wedding at the weekend. I usually avoid weddings - I just don’t really get them.

Having being raised a Catholic we were taught that marriage was one of the seven sacraments and a wedding was a religious ceremony. So once I’d managed to free my mind from that indoctrination I pretty much lumped weddings in with all the other mumbo-jumbo ritual.

Of course believing in marriage doesn’t require you to believe in God. But without the religious angle it seems pretty much like nothing more than a legal thing. And a legal thing rooted in our feudal past when establishing property rights and inheritance was all-important.

And I know it is possible to be secular, and not wish to establish property rights, and still believe in marriage. Something 'romantic' along the lines of proclaiming your love for the world to see. But I’m dubious about that too.

One of my favourite Shakespearean
characters, Brutus, sums it up when he says that honest men don’t need to take oaths. Or as Bob Dylan puts it - to live outside the law you have to be honest.

Then there is the actual horrific spectacle that is the wedding itself. Disparate groups of people with nothing in common thrown awkwardly together for an afternoon. The elderly relatives, the obscure relatives there only because of familial lobbying, the kids sipping their parents’ booze, the people from work, the old school friends – and all their reluctant partners dragged along out of politeness.

All encapsulated perfectly this weekend as the
unlikely be-suited ensemble took to the dance floor for Motorhead. I made my excuses and left…

Friday 18 July 2008

Beneath every uniform ...

I was walking down a street near my work place in Soho when an armed motorcycle cop pulled up sharply and ordered a bloke who had parked up to make a delivery at a café to move on.

The guy was understandably a bit taken aback and looked non-plussed for a few seconds. The copper shouted at him again to move. The bloke dithered about for a few more seconds and mumbled something about finishing his delivery.

So this time the copper screamed at him - and the terrified driver who must have just registered the gun - jumped in and drove off. (Leaving his palette of deliveries behind on the pavement).

A couple of seconds later, two black Range Rovers screeched to an emergency stop and then a couple of plain-clothes heavies emerged and whisked Gordon Brown into a nearby restaurant.

At best a PR home-goal from the forces of the state. But at worst a confirmation that beneath every uniform, particularly one that carries a gun and has a bit of authority, there lies a fascist prick.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Knife crime

It’s difficult to avoid the knife-crime frenzy. It’s literally close to home – the four killings in a single day last week were within a five mile radius of where we live.

Knives scare me. I’ve been doing martial arts for just over 20 years and I can say in all honesty that I have very little to help me deal with a skinny fifteen year old armed with a kitchen knife. Some self-defence experts will demonstrate swift and neat disarms when faced with an armed attacker. This is pure bullshit – try it with an unco-operative opponent with the added bonus of surprise and concealment on their side. I’ve talked about this before - we did it once - in controlled circumstances. It was pretty sobering and it demonstrated to me that you don’t tackle a knife unless your life depends on it, and then be prepared to be hurt.

So what is to be done ? Stiffer sentencing ?

Maybe deterrents can work with pre-meditated street robberies. But these much publicised killings aren’t muggings gone wrong. They’re about a fucked-up culture of ‘respect’ and machismo. I doubt deterrents come into it much – in fact they might even add to the kudos of being a bad boy .

You don’t have to be a sociologist or psychologist to see that the less you have going for you – materially or educationally – the more important things like ‘face’ and status are. I doubt anyone has been stabbed because they ‘dissed’ a homeboy in Henley Upon Thames. Gangsta culture doesn’t help when the Ali G factor spreads it from the inner city to the suburbs but to hold hip-hop or dodgy computer games responsible is to mistake the effect for the cause. Nobody can seriously argue that the root cause isn't poverty or lack of opportunity.

I don’t have any simple answers to knife crime, but there is one thought which might seem a bit old-fashioned: Young males will always fight – it’s a side effect of testosterone – so why not teach martial arts, including boxing in every school? I’ve always found that the more you study the mechanics of violence the less likely you are to resort to it.

Monday 14 July 2008


Words of wisdom from an unlikely source (actually National Lampoon’s Animal House): sometimes the only solution is A ROADTRIP. So I headed off on my bike for a long weekend to the nearest we have in this country to the Great Plains – the Fenlands of East Anglia.

I’ve been meaning to visit Flag Fen for a long time – the Bronze Age site that’s really as big a mystery as Stonehenge: A half-mile long causeway of wooden stakes with a large platform. It goes from nowhere in particular to ... nowhere in particular. There don't seem to be any settlements there so the conclusion is that it must have been of ‘ritual’ significance. Of course we don’t really know what that means - but our ancestors did have something about the gods living in water and offered up their treasures by throwing them into the water. (Ever thrown coins in a fountain ? - the collective memory must run deep).

The site is the work of archaeologist Francis Pryor * – I’m a big fan of his books - they destroy much of our misconceptions about our early history. A lot of which comes from the Victorians and their views on the role of empire and ‘superior’ races as the forces of progress.

* His view is that the Bronze and Iron Age inhabitants of this country were doing quite nicely before the Romans came along and didn’t need civillising. These ‘Ancient Britons’ weren’t a distinct race of ‘Celts’ – that’s just new-age mumbo-jumbo and/or romantic nationalist wishful thinking. Once the Romans went, Britain didn’t descend into a Dark Age – life just carried on much as before, only with Christianity, wine and a few more villas. And when the Anglo-Saxons eventually came along they didn’t drive out and replace the Britons - they just emerged as the dominant group in a multi-cultural society.

I needed somewhere to camp so I’d put a message out on the Harley Riders' Club website to see if any locals could recommend a bike-friendly campsite. I didn’t fancy turning up in the middle of nowhere only to be turned away by the respectable caravan-types. That really does a happen; I think they’re afraid us bikers are going to bring our own version of the dark ages to their Middle-England on wheels. Not only was I put in touch with a pub with a campsite but I was told that the local branch of the club would be having their monthly meeting there that night and I was welcome to come along. So I did, and was greeted like an honoured guest. I don’t think there are many other sub-cultures where people are so unfailingly open and generous. And who would have thought that out of a dozen or so people there I would find two others who shared my slightly geeky interests and wanted to know about Flag Fen ?

The next day took me to the heart of the Fens where some friends of mine have moved from London. It’s a brave move – they’ve not only re-located their bike building business, they’re on their way to becoming self-sufficient and have turned their place into part workshop, part small-holding. Some of it might seem a bit eccentric to a townie like me – bartering with the locals for food and cooking up road-kill. But they’re pretty much debt-free and it looks like they’re not dependent upon anyone. They also know their neighbours much better than I do mine in London - despite theirs’ being a quarter of a mile away. And they can’t remember the last time they heard a police siren. Seems like they've got something right.

I took a long ride home on the B-Roads and got only slightly soaked. But happy. It’s true - sometimes the answer is a Roadtrip.

Thursday 10 July 2008

Max Mosley's privacy

The News Of The World is a disgusting reactionary rag. It manages in a peculiarly English way to mix puritanism alongside the sensational reporting of sexual scandal. Small-minded and self-righteous editorials - alongside ‘saucy’ images of glamour girls.

So having now got that out of the way:

In most circumstances I would side with anyone who fell victim to a NOW’s puerile exposé. I have the predictably liberal view that behind closed doors and consenting adults - who gives a fuck ? But when it comes to F1 boss Max Mosley I’m afraid all my usual tolerant views are suspended.

Here’s why my attitude to the current scandle is in the category of hilarious - you just couldn’t make it up.

• He’s part of the country’s leading aristocratic Fascist dynasty. Dad was founder of the British Union of Fascists, Mum was some sort of Hitler groupie in the 30’s.

• It’s not just his inheritance – he’s a Fascist in his own right too. He was an election agent for them, he stood as a Fascist candidate, he was charged with threatening behaviour after a clash with anti-fascists, and he tried to go mainstream and stand for the Tories and got rejected.

• He has a taste for S&M and Nazi uniforms. And speaking German in moments of passion.

• One of the dominatrix’s he was filmed with is is the wife of an MI5 officer (who has now resigned).

So yes I’m guilty of double standards – a right to privacy for the rest of us, but as far as wealthy Fascist ex- public schoolboys are concerned - fair game. Bring it on.

Wednesday 9 July 2008


Probably not surprising to hear that I watched the BBC’s new archaeology drama series Bonekickers last night.

It’s definitely more Indianna Jones that Time Team: Photogenic female archaeologist action-babes rather than fat blokes with beards and jumpers who like real ale.

The plot - ludicrous – fragments of the ‘true cross’ found and a post-Dan Brown bit of neo-Templar conspiracy, with an all-action dénoument and their secret underground lair going up in flames.

The characters - clumsy – the gutsy female leader haunted by a past which we will no doubt discover in due course and a unsympathetic and demanding boss. Any minute I expected her to say ‘just give me another 24 hours to close this case’. Then there’s the innocent newbie who unwittingly saves the day. And the grouchy old misogynist who will doubtless turn out to have a heart of pure gold.

I’ve never been a field archaeologist but I’m pretty sure that, rather than scrapping about in the mud for hours, you don’t usually get to dig for an afternoon, take the finds back to the CSI-style forensic lab, solve the case and then spend the rest of the week chasing the villains.

Bonekickers is complete tosh. I’m sure I’ll be back for more next week.

Monday 7 July 2008

Waste not - err want not.

Every child who has ever been told to finish the food on their plate and think of the starving children in Africa knows that the reasoning behind that argument is essentially bollocks.

Gordon Brown’s response at the G8 to the food crisis that faces much of the developing world is pretty much on the same level: We in the UK should stop wasting food at home - we’ll save the planet, and apparently save £400 a year at home as well.

Odd that the supposed former chancellor and supposed economic genius has adopted the macro-economic policies of the kindagarten.

But hey - it’s easier to lecture us like naughty children than talk about cancelling the debt of developing countries, or adopting fair-trade practices or stopping the environmental pillage of arable land to produce exported meat for fast food.

Another PR home goal if he was trying to shake off the gloomy Presbyterian bank manager persona. And by the way a look in the mirror should tell him that he could probably afford to lay off the pies a bit himself.

Friday 4 July 2008

Born on the 4th of July

There's all sorts of irresponsible scary subversive shit out there on the internet. Some of it could easily fall into the wrong hands - the kind of people who might use it to justify revolutionary activities. Some of these people might not even be White. Or Christian.

Here's one example I stumbled across this morning (sorry it's a bit old-fashioned and it does go on a bit) but I think you'll get the message:
When in the course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is in the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.
Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the Necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The History of the Present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let the Facts be submitted to a candid World. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large Districts of People; unless those People would relinquish the Right of Representation in the Legislature, a Right inestimable to them, and formidable to Tyrants only. He has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures. He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly Firmness his Invasions on the Rights of the People. He has refused for a long Time, after such Dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without, and Convulsions within. He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers. He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices, and Amount and Payment of their Salaries. He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their Substance. He has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our Legislature. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power. He has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: For cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the World: For imposing taxes on us without our Consent: For depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond the Seas to be tried for pretended Offences: For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary Government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an Example and fit Instrument for introducing the same absolute Rule in these Colonies: For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments: For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Powers to legislate for us in all Cases whatsoever. He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People. He is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation. He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the Executioners of their Friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. He has excited domestic Insurrections among us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble Terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People. Nor have we been wanting in Attentions to our British Brethren. We have warned them from Time to Time of Attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable Jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the Circumstances of our Emigration and Settlement here. We have appealed to their native Justice and Magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the Ties of our common Kindred to disavow these Usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our Connections and Correspondence. They too have been deaf to the Voice of Justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the Necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of Mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace, Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of the divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
(Approved by the assembled continental congress of the 13 states of the united states of America - 4th July 1776).

Thursday 3 July 2008

'I can't belive it's not torture'

Christopher Hitchens gives me problems.

I really want to like the man who gave us “God Is Not Great’. And the man whose heroes include Oliver Cromwell and Tom Paine. Who has exposed Zionist atrocities in Palestine and Serb atrocities in the Balkans.

But I’m stuck with the guy who thinks that George Dubya was the lesser of two evils and that invading Iraq was somehow progressive. The ex-Marxist who articulated the idea of ‘Islamo-fascism’. The guy who dismissed the idea that atrocities were being committed by the allies in Iraq in the name of ‘regime change’. And who down-played water-boarding* as ‘aggressive interrogation’ and emphatically not torture.

I now want to like the man who had the balls to allow himself to be water-boarded. And who has the good grace to admit he was wrong and that the practice is in fact torture.

But instead I am stuck with the fact that he is supposedly number 5 in the world’s ranking of intellectuals (whatever that means) and yet apparently needed to personally experience torture in order to recognise it. Or more importantly, still can’t extrapolate from the experience that possibly the rest of the allies claims to be the good guys in the Middle East are also bullshit.

• Note: this is not a sport allied to snow-boarding it is, and always has been, a newspeak term to describe the horrific practice of TORTURE by controlled drowning.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Progress ?

Back from a few days looking after my parents. They’re in their 80’s now and recently old age seems to have suddenly caught up with them. Mum is pretty much confined to a wheel chair and Dad, who looks after her, had to have a cataract operation which took him out of commission for a few days - so I had to step in to the role of carer.

On the upside I got to spend more time with them than I had for years and we got on well. On the downside there’s no getting away from the fact that it is humiliating for them and embarrassing for me to have reached the stage when a parent is being looked after by their offspring.

Whilst I’m with them the TV is full of the 60th birthday of the National Health Service. My Dad in particular regards the '45 Labour Government as this country’s finest hour and the NHS as the jewel in the crown with Nye Bevan as the hero of his generation.

He’s guilty and ashamed to have gone private to have his cataract operation - but he just can’t afford to wait the time required by the health service. And meanwhile my Mum is still waiting to get an appointment for the pain management clinic…

This is where the Old / New Labour divide really makes itself felt:

My parents are long standing Labour members, ex-local councillors – their idea of 'socialism' means trying to make things fairer and better. For most of their lifetimes this seemed to be pretty much the direction that things were moving. They grew up in wartime and the achievements of the 45 Labour government seemed like the logical conclusion to the ‘People’s War’ - you could call it progress.

Instead as they are getting older it now seems that these achievements are being unpicked and that the clock is being turned back.
We spoke about this - they felt that they should apologise to future generations for ever allowing themselves to be hood-winked into going along with the Blair project. And letting New Labour un-do everything that their generation had built. At this point I should have had something reassuring to say to them - but I came up empty.