Thursday 29 December 2011


It's that weird time of year 'twixt one holiday and another -  a punctuation in the flow of normality that prompts introspection. And not necessarily of the healthy kind. I can't help dwelling on the fact this time last year I had no inkling that I'd lose the mum I'd known for 45 years, or the job I'd known for 23.

Back when I was in work I used to hate the 'festive' season: Parties for clients. Lunches for clients. Drinks with clients. Corporate gifts for the clients. Departmental parties. Company parties. Lunch for the sales team. Lunch for the managers. Secret-sodding-Santa.

But now that's all gone - I can't escape a nagging feeling that I'm  somehow missing  it: Not the people; not the work; not the bullshit from clients; not the doubt and self-loathing I felt when I thought I was becoming part of that bullshit.  Not even the money really. Although I do miss the not-having to worry about money. Mainly I miss the reassurance and security of routine and ritual. Of having an answer when people ask me what I do.

Rationally, I know it's like a released prisoner who craves being inside again.

So enough already  - I will choose to end the old year and start the new one like Papillon in the final scene of the movie, floating to freedom after his last and most desperate escape - "Hey you bastards - I'm still here !"


I'm to be found again over at Dorian Cope's 'On This Deity'. Today is the anniversary of the murder of Rasputin. 

He's probably had far more historical attention than he deserves - but if nothing else his life is a weather-vane pointing the way to the real story of the Russian Revolution.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Portrait of the young man as a sell-out artist

My local MP writes today about the riots at some length in today's Guardian:

Hold the front page: Riots are bad. Communities are good. But life in Tottenham sucks. Cameron and his toffs are out of touch. Big business doesn't care - in fact it makes money from it all.

Lammy's answer ? Labour got it wrong with the nanny state - what we need to do is share the profit - share the power. 

OK - I'll sign up for that I guess. 

But hang on what does Lammy mean ? 

Actually he explains - worker representatives on the boards of big business. And dividends not fat cat bonuses. Just like they do in Europe.

Because of course there's no economic crisis there. Fucking hell. 

Even that near extinct species, an honest social-democrat could find something a bit more progressive to point to in the European model: Maybe  a still-functioning public sector that wasn't constantly portrayed as a parasitic pariah, or trade unions that hadn't been emasculated with generations of restrictive legislation.

Given the usual trajectory of Labour politicians towards the right - fuck knows where Lammy is going to end up. Right now  he seems to be one of Labour's rising stars -  and one of the very few who they think can speak to the inner cities and the yoof.

Saturday 24 December 2011

I predict ...

'Tis the season for looking back to the old year and forward to the new.

I'll leave the celebration of the Arab Spring and the return of class politics in 2011 -  and anticipation of an inspiring year of struggle in 2012 -  to my comrades. 

As the ghost at the feast I'll predict a year of nauseating nationalist flag-waving. We have all the ingredients: 

• The gloom of recession that needs warming with an excuse for a street party
• London hosting the Olympics
• The queen's diamond jubilee or whatever the fuck it is
• The long anticipated death of Thatcher and her funeral
• Ditto the Duke Of Edingburgh

Of course it doesn't have to be this way ...

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Police want even more...

Given that the riots this summer - which started literally in my backyard  - began because the police shot someone, you'd think that the obvious conclusion would be that they shouldn't be so trigger happy. On the contrary though the Inspectorate of Constabulary reports that they weren't trigger happy enough. Apparently the riots could have been nipped in the bud if only they had been more willing to use rubber bullets -  and even live ammunition. Worse still the top coppers private club claims that they don't need any new laws to make this possible - they claim they are already within their rights to shoot 'arsonists'.

Scary stuff.

I'm reminded of a conversation with my dad shortly after the riots: 

Bear in mind he's a lifelong labour-man (with a small l these days) but he's also 84 and lived most of his life in the homogeneous affluent white working class hinterland of London - so you can maybe forgive him if his social attitudes are occasionally a bit conservative ( but always with a small c). Indeed when he spoke about some of the disturbances in his own area he did talk about copycat 'yobs'. But when we spoke about how it had all started here in Tottenham - he was amazingly spot-on: "Stupid police shot someone they didn't need to AGAIN. They bungled dealing with local  people AGAIN. And then  they lied to cover their tracks AGAIN."

And now the same police want more powers and more guns....

Saturday 17 December 2011

Day trip to Chelsea

With time to kill and an eye for free stuff - I took myself down to Chelsea to see the Warhorse exhibition at the National Army Museum. We went with the kids to see the play at the National Theatre and I thought it was great - but the exhibition was a disappointment.

I say free but I  picked up TWO parking tickets with a face value of £260 - apparently in Chelsea you need a permit to park a motorcycle in a motorcycle bay. The two tickets I hope are an error as they were issued within two minutes of each other- but who knows. So possibly my verdict of the exhibition is retrospectively prejudiced, but then again I was already pissed off after riding around the ridiculously  smug moneyed  backstreets of Chelsea. If we could spare Warrs Harley Davidson off the Kings Road, there would be a strong case for nuking the whole fucking borough and all the hoorays who live there.

But I digress: The exhibition managed to be  both a not-quite-the-history of the British cavalry - and an attempt to convey the horrors of the Great War by anthropomorphising a horse and its sufferings. I wasn't too comfortable about this -  I can well imagine that many of the officer class 1914-18  being more upset at the loss of their favourite hunter than a few working class oiks...

Actually the exhibition came across primarily as a lure to bring kids into the National Army Museum - much like the exhibition of the history of Commando war comics going on at the same time on the upper floor.  

The museum itself is a strange one: full of the traditional glass cases of uniforms, weapons, dioramas and the history of military campaigns - which I have to confess I'm a sucker for - but also an underlying  message of 'join the army-it's great'. A message told with a poorly concealed subliminal attempt to be inclusive and politically correct.

So we have mannequins portraying a soldier at Waterloo from the West Indies (factual but hardly representative) and a lot of coverage of empire troops in the Second World War. But no explanation of why the British army was fighting a succession of campaigns in Africa, India, Burma etc - although these are grouped in a gallery titled with unconscious irony 'Changing The  World'. We are also treated to another gallery singing the praises of post-war national service which seems to have been a bit like a lads' holiday with camping and paint-balling thrown in. And  another gallery about life in the modern British Army - apparently it's all about 'the army family'.

There's a gift shop on the way out with a mixture of fairly esoteric military history books and a range of kid's versions of modern camo-clothing and equipment. The eleven year old me would have signed up on the spot and I didn't even visit the 'kids zone in the basement' ....

Saturday 10 December 2011

Unilever strike

Eclipsed in the news by Lord Snooty's Churchillian 'we'll stand alone and fight them on the trading floors and in the city wine bars' moment - there's a breaking story that is a telling slice of real life in contemporary fucked-up Britain:

At Unilver's Gloucester plant 2,500 workers went on strike yesterday over their pensions. These weren't the 'pampered' public sector scroungers who we are told are now the enemy within. These are workers in that paragon of all Tory values - a profitable private business. Profitable to the extent that unlike many well known brands these days, business is actually booming for the nation's leading supplier of grocery products with profits last year of £6.5 billion. No wonder the chief exec trousered a package of over £3million.

So just why are Unilever trying now to get rid of their final salary pension scheme ? The only answer is because they think they can. Capitalism is a rapacious beast at the best of times - and in the midst of a depression it is savage. And the supposed Quaker antecedents of the firm and its heritage of ethical business is  whimsical bollocks. Just as it was at Cadburys a couple of years ago.

Sunday 4 December 2011


It shouldn't have taken 'The One Show-gate' to confirm that Jeremy Clarkson is a smug, mean-spirited Little Englander Tory-tosser.  

Regardless of taking his comments in or out of context  -  I'm troubled by   the backlash over his comments about having public sector strikers taken out and shot.

Asking for an apology - whatever that means - tends to cast the injured parties as humourless and self-righteous, something the Left hardly needs more of. And equating him with General Pinochet - who of course really did shoot trade unionists - is on a par with calling parking attendants Nazis; it's simply disproportionate, historically inaccurate and offensive to the memory of genuine victims.

There are plenty of genuine villains really worthy of our rage  from the strike last week - the entire Tory Party, the vast majority of the Labour Party and fat-cat fuckers like Philip Green who lecture the rest of us about tightening our belts. A b-lister with a dodgy perm who has built a career out of having his mid-life crisis in public,  comes some way down the pecking order.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Historic ?

Any socialist who has been around for a few years will have heard  the word 'historic' much used to describe things that almost certainly aren't.

Yesterday was one of those rare occasions when its use was actually justified. The biggest strike since the General Strike of 1926 - and perhaps most importantly the biggest strike since the Thatcher watershed. Having spent the day from  the early morning riding around visiting pickets in my borough, going on the central London demo and finishing  up with a shop stewards meeting in a pub in Whitehall - I'll happily confess that I was caught up in the euphoria of the day. And why not - there  is something qualitatively different about a demonstration of striking trade unionists - it means so much more than the usual suspects on a day out.

But the morning after is possibly the time for a bit of sober reflection: General strikes are a very big deal in this country: Rightly so when  2milllion plus workers are involved. And the idea of 'general strike' will forever be associated with that oh so un-typically 'British' moment when the country came close to revolution. But 24hour general strikes occur quite regularly in much of Europe. They are treated as ritualistic  fete-days for the labour movement. And we shouldn't be under any illusions that the TUC would happily adopt this European custom.