Wednesday 27 July 2011

1945 - Labour's missed opportunity

I've got another guest slot over at 'On This Deity' today. 

Another anniversary of a great radical 'alomost might  have been' moment. And a sort of an epitaph for an increasingly extinct species.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

It's the Mail wot done it

One trouble with Murdoch-gate is that it can distract us from just how fucking horrific the rest of our tabloid press is. Whether it is the opiate cocktail  of celebrities and tits - or just downright reactionary lies that fuel racial hatred and division. A special place  is held by  the small minded spitefulness of middle class middle England that is personified by the Mail

Getting wound up by that hateful rag is an exercise in futility.  So I don't usually bother. But the Mail is given out as freebie in quite  a number of places - including my gym. And sitting in the sauna I am something of a captive audience.

So on Saturday morning I sat there relaxing after my workout reading how the horrific attacks in Norway were the work of an Islamo-mentalist group called the 'Friends Of Islamic Jihad'. There were several pages of authoritative commentary from various historians and sociologists about how the overly-liberal multicultural societies of Scandinavia were doomed to tragedy as  deranged immigrants were bound to bite the hand that fed them. And this - it was implied - should serve as a warning to all of us.

Of course roughly by lunchtime it was clear that this was all complete bollocks. 

The perpetrator of this atrocity was not some swarthy incomer, but an extremely Aryan-looking conservative patriot. And a fundamentalist Christian too - who fancied linking up with our own homegrown EDL. 

So against my better judgement, the following morning  I had to look at the Mail On Sunday: I scoured it for a retraction or apology - but found none. Only that Anders Behring Breivik was being reported as a lone nutter with a background that was unfortunately 'arch-conservative'. And no mention of course that his hate-fueled agenda bore more than a passing resemblance to the kind of reactionary shit the Mail has been pumping out for years.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Print's not dead

More and more I seem to find myself an analogue Luddite in an increasingly digital world: I like old-fashioned air cooled v-twin engines - and the smell of ink on paper in the morning.

Sometime ago my alma-mater, The London College of Printing blandly re-branded itself as the London College of Communication. Now I see that one of the industry's newsletters - Design Week - has stopped publishing a print version and is only available online.

This depresses me on a number of levels. Despite wasting a lot of my time reading (and writing) stuff on screen  I really do love the tactile and sensory experience of ink on paper. I celebrate the craftsmanship of understanding the manual processes behind design - and I had some of my happiest times fiddling about with hot-metal setting at college.

But this 'digital' obsession reflects the narrow elitism of a media world that is firmly up its own arse. 98% of the UK population don't own a tablet device let alone an I-Pad, two-thirds of the country don't own a smart-phone and a quarter of households don't even have an internet connection. And that's national - if you look at statistics for impoverished areas  like the North-East you'll find that the digital stats drop alarmingly.

As a kid growing up in the 70's I remember being fed images of the year 2000 where we would all be wearing silver jump suits, commuting to work on our own personal hovercrafts and eating our meals in tablet form. Thankfully that all  proved to be bollocks  - and so I suspect is the predicted death of print. As it first was in the sixteenth century, the printed form stills represents the most universally accessible means of communication. Just ask anyone with any sort of political involvement - what's the first thing we all do  - in almost any circumstance -  produce a leaflet.

And here's another thought: As an I-Book, I-Phone user who works in a graphic studio in Soho I suppose I have to acknowledge that I could be seen as a card-carrying  'meedja-wanka'. But I can't help noticing with some ironic satisfaction that the signature object of desire for so many of my fellow meedja-wankas is that most basic of technologies - the fixed gear bicycle. They wax lyrical about the purity of its unity of form and function - I wish they'd apply the same logic to print.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Are they really all in it together ?

I'm naturally cynical about conspiracy theories. Bizarre and brutal behaviour by the ruling class can just as easily be ascribed to shared greed, mutual self-interest and a degree of bungling as it can to the global machinations of the modern Illuminati.

But ... Jesus Christ. You literally couldn't make this shit up: 

Police commissioners resigning. Newspaper executives arrested. Whistle-blowing journalists dying mysteriously. And a web of entanglements that connects big business, politicians and the forces of the state. Is fresh-faced toff David Cameron a naive victim witlessly implicated in this web of corruption and deceit ? Or is he the evil genius at the very heart of it assisted with his comedy side-kick Boris ? And of course we have the double act of damsel-in-distresss Sienna Miller and  quintessential Englishman Hugh Grant as the crusading hero of the hour to save the day. 

What are  those movie rights worth ?

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Bullshit brand ethics

I have a battered old NGA 'Don't Buy The Times, Sun, News Of The World' mug on a shelf at eye level in my workshop. I'm reminded of the Wapping dispute every time I park up my bikes - and I never have brought one of Murdoch's scabby rags. 

So I want to rejoice over  the hacking-gate saga - the closure of NOW, bent coppers and now the apparent denial of Murdoch's attempt to control the airwaves too - it's the perfect shit-storm. But I'm afraid this isn't some victory of people power - it's a triumph of the bullshit of supposed 'corporate ethics'.

Some of the marketing wankers I have as clients refer without batting an eyelid to their brands' ethical capital. In their strange fucked-up world the perceived morality of their companies is an asset like any other. I'm sure business text books have been written on this but you can quickly get the idea -  fair trade organic coffee = good, oil drilling and refining = bad.  In an indirect way it acknowledges the simple fact that those of us who live under capitalism - 'consumers' - are generally not too happy about having the worst excesses of the system rubbed in our noses. So any business that  can mitigate that is on to a good thing.  And that I'm pretty sure is why Ford started the advertising boycott avalanche that led to the NOW's demise. 

With a record of union-busting, funding and co-operating with dictatorial regimes, and of course the notorious Pinto case when they decided that compensation for fatalities made better economic sense than product recalls - the Ford Motor Company has not historically been on some sort of moral crusade. 

But in positioning itself as the corporation that takes the moral high ground it effectively wrong foots all the others: Which car manufacturer wants to then be branded as the one who isn't sympathetic to the family of a murdered child ?  The positive PR is fantastic - and so much cheaper than taking out those pages of advertising space.

Friday 8 July 2011

An inadequate obituary

After what can only be described as a horrific past three months, my mum slipped away in the small hours of Wednesday morning. Although we've had a long time to get our heads around this, and although the way she finally died was in the circumstances probably the best outcome we could have hoped for - nothing really ever prepares you for your mum dying, or in my dad's case - your partner of almost 50 years.

In the future sometime - once I've worked out what exactly they are -  I'll probably write something about my feelings. But right now the best I can do is to repeat the potted biography that I have had to write up for her funeral. Admittedly it's a pretty inadequate way of summing up someone's life - it doesn't even touch the important things that defined her as a wife, mother and grandmother - her love of life, her sense of fun and her passion for fairness and justice ... or cricket or teddy bears. 

But I still think it's worth saying anyway - the cruelest aspect of dementia is how it  robs a person of their own identity so that even their loved ones can struggle to remember the person who once occupied those same frail flesh and bones:

Jo  was born  in Surrey in 1927 to a family that joked that Thames river water not blood ran through their veins. There are records of the Browns as watermen and lightermen in Richmond-Upon-Thames dating back to the middle of the eighteenth century. By time that she was born,  the river  trade and the family boatyard were struggling so when her father  finished his apprenticeship he broke with tradition but maintained the river connection by becoming a Thames river policeman.  In her childhood Jo moved around various parts of London following her father's postings. By the outbreak of the war he was stationed at Wapping and the family lived in the East End throughout the  nightly bombing of the blitz. Jo left school at 16 and started work as a technician testing optics for the Admiralty at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington.  

After the war she moved with her family to Germany.  Her father  was promoted and posted there to help re-organise the Rhineland Waterways Police as part of post-war de-nazification.  It was there that she helped out at the schools on the British bases, and so sparked her life long passion for education.

Returning to England she studied for her  teaching diploma  at Birmingham University and then went on to  take up her first position in Portsmouth at a boarding school for the children of naval personnel. Returning to London she worked  in Putney at one of the country's first  Comprehensive schools, and started to specialise in the pioneering field of special needs education - or 'remedial teaching' as it was then known.

For a while she took a break from this demanding work when  when she became one of the first woman instructors for IBM.  At around this  time she met her husband  - John. They were married in 1963 and settled in Staines, where two years later  I was born. When I  was old enough Jo returned to work and taught in a number of schools in the  area.  It was at this time that her concern for  education  led to her becoming actively involved in the National Union Of Teachers and the Labour Party. 

This activism  continued after she and John moved to Kent in 1991 following the relocation of his work there,  and Jo continued teaching well into her sixties as a supply teacher at several local primary schools.  Following her eventual retirement she continued to be very active in the community as a school governor and town councillor in Greenhithe and Swanscombe -  often working as a double act alongside John. She continued in these roles until chronic arthritis made it impossible for her to carry on. After two years of being house-bound, three months ago she suffered a very rapid mental decline - from both depression and dementia. Two weeks ago it was clear that she had literally given up the will to live and slowly slipped away from us...

Monday 4 July 2011

Good riddance to Haye

I like boxing but I'm not a boxing fan. Partly this is because I still baulk at the idea of giving any money to Rupert Murdoch so I won't ever have the facility to 'pay for view'. And  Mrs Journeyman, whilst quite happy for me to return from my own training with fat lips and black eyes, finds something ethiclly questionable about me watching other people suffering the same.

But even so I appreciate boxing and boxers. I have to admit to buying into the romantic notion of the sport as possibly the purest expression of athleticism and competition, and hanker after a (probably illusory) idea of an inherent dignity to the sport. And if anyone doubts this as pretentious twaddle, I suggest they first read 'The Sweet Science and 'The Gloves'.

I also think that all boxers - almost irrespective of their ability level - are worthy of some respect for having the guts both physical and psychological to put themselves to the test in the ring.  But my big problem with many pro's is that with with their trash-talking and arrogant self-promotion they come across as ignorant cringe-worthy knobs who bring discredit to the sport.  

And no more so than David Haye - with his  notorious gang-rape pre-fight analogy and now his pathetic post-fight broken toe excuses. Maybe he's  misled by his management and entourage, but I have to say that the right man - someone who brings some much needed dignity and intelligence  - won on Saturday night.

Friday 1 July 2011

J30 - brief impressions

I took the opportunity to take a day's 'solidarity holiday' with the strikers. 

My day began with a visit to the teacher's picket line at my daughter's school. The  NUT / ATL had sent out a letter to parents asking for their support and it seemed only right to respond. The 'picket line' was very good-natured with only a few managers and support staff going in - the latter rather embarrassedly because of their own union's -  UNISON - cravenness in not joining the strike. They atoned with sympathy, donations to the strike fund, and tea and biscuits. I've never seen or been on a teacher's picket line before - and I was struck by how genteel this was in comparison to any others I've seen. I was also struck at how young they all seemed - maybe I'm just getting old - and how politically raw they were. Many were joking that they'd never been on a demonstration before let alone been on strike.

After a local rally at the FE College I headed into town for the main demo at Lincoln's Inn Fields. The same atmosphere prevailed - but most of all this was very much more than just the usual suspects. It certainly wasn't the Greek-style insurrection that some have been talking about - nor was it really even a one-day general strike. But  - and this isn't based on the usual rhetoric of the leaderships because I never actually got into the hall to hear it - there was a genuine sense that it was the start of something new.

On the negative side I have to say that the private/public sector divide and rule game has had an effect. My colleagues - who have never known anything other than private pension schemes - simply can’t understand why I was supporting the strike. I fear that they are representative of many in industries who have been squeezed repeatedly since the Thatcher years - and it will take a lot of explaining to counter the politics of envy arising from the race to the bottom. But this explaining has to be done: We can huff and puff about general strikes as much as we like, but at the end of the day capitalism is a cold-hearted beast that rates profit over public opinion:  Schools, colleges and job centres shutting might piss the system off - but walk-outs at commercial businesses hit it where it actually hurts.