Tuesday 30 August 2011

The wrong trousers ?

Much to the amusement of my family I brought myself a new pair of waterproof trousers this weekend. They are the fluorescent green/yellow hi-viz kind issued to workmen - prompting the derisive calls of 'you look like a council  bin-man'.

I have no snobbish qualms about this - being classed as workwear they seem hard wearing and being classed as safety equipment they are VAT free. I've had expensive purpose made motorcycling waterproofs, I've had dirt cheap ones,  and I've had military surplus ones. They all leak at some point and it's more a question of when and not if they will let you down. So I have no embarrassment about how I may look in them.

I remember reading somewhere that hi-viz is the new ubiquitous everyman uniform. Much as the Victorian middle class didn't notice what their servants looked like, and much as  those sepia photos of workers pouring out factory gates reveal a sea of indsitinguishable flat caps and donkey jackets,  so today - ironically - hi-viz has become a guarantee that you won't be noticed. In fact for anyone wanting to perpetrate an armed robbery I would suggest a hi-viz jacket as the perfect get-away costume. Chances are you will be take on the anonymous  persona of 'street funiture'  - and no witness will be able to give up a discription.

My only concern about my overly leary new trousers is that they could be taken as some sort of endorsement of the latest Euro-inspired bollocks to compel motorcyclists to wear hi-viz gear. Another misappropriation of state power for our own good and another insidious shift of responsibility to the rider to make himself seen and away from the car-driver to ensure that he looks where he's fucking going.

So to restore karmic balance to my purchase of these hideous over-trousers I would ask everyone to sign  the e-position here to oppose the latest misguided proposals.

Thursday 25 August 2011

What is being done to our kids ?

It's decision day today for thousands of school-kids who get their GCSE results. And this year my eldest is one of them. 

This comes in the same week that Tony Blair has admitted (kind of) that a generation of kids have been fucked over, and it was announced that the number of "NEETS' has risen to 18%.  'NEETS' being  taken as equating to the index for 'disposable teens' who make up the pool necessary to ensure that a large chunk of the remaining 72% are kept in Mc Jobs. 

And as we are constantly told that GCSEs, A levels, and university entrance are getting progressively easier every year - so the pressure on our kids to excel in order to just get by is becoming ever more intense. 

The two fold effect of this is that at one end of the spectrum there is a joyless approach to education which has little to do with real learning, and at the other, an inevitable sense that if you fall at the first hurdle then you're going to be left on the scrapheap for the rest of your life. Either way it's a recipe for teenage depression or - and this isn't melodramatic - riots on our streets. 

I am so thankful that I grew up in the 80's  when there was still a chance for a smart-arsed slacker like myself to scape through into the hallowed halls of higher education.

I'm also thankful that my daughter did pretty well today - but it does trouble me that she is going to face so many more hurdles to achieve the same. Along the way she is going to face more spoon-feeding, more bullshit, and a greater sense of every little thing mattering than ever I did. But at the same time the actual quality of her education will unquestionably be inferior.

It makes me sad for the kids as individuals, and it makes me angry for society as a whole - every year we are becoming more qualified, and yet also somehow rather less educated.

Monday 22 August 2011

Back to Tottenham

I'm back after two weeks away. It's a surreal experience to watch your own high street go up in flames on foreign television. And then to have your neighbourhood dissected online  by quasi-anthropologists. Or see royalty  visiting the area as if it was some sort of colonial outpost hit by a natural disaster.

It's also infuriating to follow the subsequent debates online - from the 'bring in the army' cries of an almost fascist horrified middle class, to the predictably infantile cries of 'turn riot into revolution' from the usual suspects on the opportunist ultra-Left.

I wasn't there at the time so I'm not going to shine any light on the specific causation of the riot on 5th August. Nor am I going to ride the band wagon of local 'experts' who seem to have created a cottage industry out of sharing their own experience of life in this corner of North London. But I have lived in Tottenham for 23 years and so I think I am entitled to put in my personal two-pennyworth:

I moved here in 1988 when I bought my first flat just outside of the Broadwater Farm estate. You could say that it was a cynical move - at the height of the housing boom and in the wake of the previous riot this was one of the cheapest post codes in London. I have since moved around the area  but I have always stayed in Tottenham  - and  I have come to regard it as home. A place I just don't recognise as the gangsta-ghetto characterised lately in the media. In these 23 years I have seen governments come and go, and with them recessions and booms - but for Tottenham not much seems to have changed. For better or worse we have remained immune from the gentrification that has affected neighbouring areas. It remains what it was when I first got here; a community that defies stereotypes by being well integrated and doing it's best to make its way in some pretty shitty circumstances. 

Circumstances where - to use the post-Blairite lingo -  'life chances' only seem to get worse. Which is why -  putting aside the specifics of whatever catalysts triggered the events of 5th August - anyone who cannot see the causal link between social deprivation and riots must have their heads so far up their middle-England arses that they cannot see the wood for trees. Or maybe it was just because I was out of the country that I missed the coverage of the riots in Cheltenham and Tunbridge Wells. 

One parting thought though - and a disturbing one for a socialist parent: Back in the 80's the riots were about social deprivation viewed through the lens of race. This time around it seems to be through the lens of a generation gap. That's not to say that the police have stopped being racist  - but in particular now there is a generation under 25 who see no place for themselves in our community. I think a 'disconnect' is the correct pop-sociology expression.  A generation that is  spoon-fed a dose of spurious education to arm them with bullshit vocational qualifications for jobs that don't exist, or if they do are over-subscribed at a rate of 50 to 1. And most of these are future-less low grade / low pay service and retail opportunities. For a minority an academic route  out might be possible. But if successful that will generally  mean either working or living away from the community. No more EMA and ever-rising tuition fees mean that the odds for that option are rapidly reducing too. 

However I promise that any resemblance to anything Tony Blair said this weekend is purely superficial ...

Thursday 4 August 2011

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Nostalgia through rose-tinted Mark 8 goggles

I'm aware that it's the ultimate hipster cliche - 'of course I like the early stuff before they went all mainstream': On a whim one bored afternoon at work I brought a couple of things on ebay -  a book of the late  Jim Fogg's biking short stories "Fogg On the Road' - and an old 1984 issue of Back Street Heroes. And reading them I was instantly transported to another more innocent and more authentic age.

Flicking through the magazine I see an editorial bemoaning the right-wing pro-business bias of Fleet Street and defending Ken Livingston and Tony Benn. (Imagine finding that in a custom bike magazine these days). A regular column  by the much-missed Maz Harris taking the piss out of  Harley-hobbyists and vintage-obsessives. The featured bikes are mainly  Jap big in-line fours and old British twins rather than American Vs. A Blues Brothers mural on the tank. There's no visible attempt to be self consciously 'old skool' or retro. Not a single  bloated OCC style cash-magnet creation in sight. And some quite decent short fiction that doesn't feature mythical celtic warriors or bad-ass outlaw MC's. It just feels so such much more 'real' and more like the village newsletter of a community than anything you're going to see nowadays.

I suppose it's inevitable that every sub-culture will either die or eat itself as it enters the commercial mainstream. And perhaps the 'cool' of our own youth is always going to be way cooler than the cool of today.  Even so I can't help but get misty eyed about the era when I first discovered BSH (about 1986) or when I first went to the  HAMC's Kent Custom Show in 1988. I think there were about 20,000 people at that event on Romney Marsh - and it felt as if every biker in the country was gathered in one place. But that unique  annual gathering of the tribes is now long gone;  four years ago twice that number attended the Bulldog Bash - and that was just one of several similar events.

I'm off with my slippers and coca now ...

Monday 1 August 2011

What do they know of cricket who only cricket know ?

Proof if ever there was that there are some on the Left who could start a fight in a broom-cupboard: Have a look at the comments on Socialist Unity arguing over ...cricket.

Somewhere along the line the 'my dad's more working class than your's ' card is played - and now  I'm just waiting for the accusation that 20/20 cricket is a form of petit-bourgeois revisionism.

I grew up in a house where cricket was treated with almost religious reverence - interminable test matches watched on telly with the sound off and the radio on. Unsurprisingly, and notwithstanding CLR James'  inspirational marrying of cricket with libertarian-marxism - I grew up loathing the sport.

In fact I developed a rule of thumb that if it doesn't involve blood or sweat (or better still both) then it probably isn't a sport at all. So that rules out curling, darts and synchronised swimming. And before anyone jumps down my throat with a worthy exception to prove the rule I'll concede that it's just a working hypothesis. BUT STILL: I'm quite prepared to acknowledge that the generous  behaviour of the Indian team in the second test this weekend was something really rather wonderful.

Now can we just leave it ?