Thursday 31 May 2012

Not so beautiful game

So I am enjoying an economy lunch of egg and chips in my local Morrisons. At the  next table behind me  are a small group of England's finest. Probably my own age but looking considerably older - bald or shaved heads, really shit tribal ink,  and football shirts or Hackett polos featuring big St George's crosses - all straining against their beer guts.

In the short time it takes me to demolish my double egg and chips I hear wafting over from their corner offensive conversational snippets of casual racism: 'Lazy coons' ...'theiving Eastern Europeans' ... and 'fucking Muslims' ... All this in London N22 where the fact that the chances are they will be surrounded by the very groups they are abusing doesn't seem to bother them. Just as I am weighing up whether I should get involved - all three are big old lumps but they don't look in the best of condition - they get up and walk out. 

On the back of one's Arsenal shirt is a number and a player's name -  and I don't know whether to laugh or cry - the name is  Adebayor.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Workers of all lands ...

Who the fuck is Christine Lagarde ? 

Ok it's a rhetorical question - she's the IMF boss who slapped Cameron's wrist for pushing austerity a bit too far but most recently has told Greeks that they've had their fun with profligate public spending and now they just have to suck up the debt and suffer the consequences of austerity. 

Until now I haven't paid much attention to her. She's was a corporate lawyer, a French Tory and a mate of Sarkozy. Her appointment seemed like a smart  PR move at the time after the scandals of  sex-pest Dominique Strauss-Kahn. But in every respect she seems like the kind of backroom political bureaucratic that is fairly ignorable. And right now she could arguably be the most powerful woman in the world -  we would do well to pay careful attention to everything she says because in reality this is real power speaking not the empty rhetoric of posing politicians.

Listening to the news - we seem to be gearing up for a European economic war of sorts, and a familiar language of nationalism is on the return. Throw in the nonsense of our own '2012 Jubilympics', and its all to easy too let some of this reactionary bollocks slide.  

We shouldn't: When I hear things like 'the Greeks' I'm reminded of a scene in 'All Quiet On The Western Front' when they are in the trenches discussing the causes of the war. One naive young soldier suggests that one country has insulted another. An older wiser head asks if this means that a river in France has insulted a mountain in Germany - because he's met very few Frenchmen but from what he's seen they seem very similar to him and he has no quarrel with them.

And right now, when the chips are down and we are being set against each other we need to say again workers have no country. It's not 'the lazy profligate Greeks' - it's ordinary Greek people trying to hold their lives and  families together and it's not the 'industrious canny Germans' - it's German people  doing exactly the same.  And neither have anything in common with  the privileged apparatchiks of the international political class like Ms Lagarde who are attempting to call the shots that will decimate the lives of ordinary people everywhere. 

Apologies for preaching to the choir - but sometimes it is necessary to remember  the bleeding obvious. That is all.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Downhills School - and community

Very appropriately  on the day before I (kind of) officially start my new life with the welcome day tomorrow at the university where I will be doing my teacher training - I went along for the picket line at Downhills School  followed by the family fun day in the nearby park.

Downhills is my local primary school and the strike is against its 'forced academisation'. (For those who haven't followed the case, Michael Grove has introduced this new verb into the language to signify the taking over of a community school be a private  management company against the wishes of it Governors. And its teaching staff. And its support staff. And its parents).

The campaign puts a lot of emphasis on the idea of 'community'. And today at the family fun day  - listening to the wonderful  Michael Rosen giving a very simple but powerful speech about what the right to the best possible education for all actually means, eating a free picnic of Caribbean food donated by supporters, and crawling around pretending to be a cat as a part of a kids' poetry workshop - I get what they mean by 'community'.

It's something that only truly dawned on me once I had started volunteering in local schools: Schools are in every sense the heart and soul of a local area. They reflect every bit of its character - its strengths and its problems. Many people, particularly in London don't get the chance to appreciate this. I didn't, when I spent most of my waking hours working in a completely different 'community' - only six miles away but very far removed from where I live. In fact for the past  ten years I probably identified more with the 'creative industries' ghetto of Soho than I did with the area where I have lived for 25 years.

So - it is only since I was made redundant, and since I've been around schools  that I really  get this 'community' thing. It's an over-used concept by most politicians - but despite the spin it does actually exist. And hopefully the Tories will find that they fuck with it at their peril.

Sunday 20 May 2012


Today my home town of Staines officially becomes Staines-upon-Thames. And thoroughly depressing it is too.

Is this to distinguish the town  from Staines-upon-somewhere else ? Er no - Staines is unique as a place name in this country. This name change is nothing to do with clarity - and everything to do with an snobbery and a social inferiority complex.

Unlike Kingston-upon-Thames, Richmond-upon-Thames or Walton-upon-Thames - plain old Staines  used to be a proper town and not just a dormitory suburb for London's middle classes. It had a famous - and pungent -  Lino factory and an Hawker-Sidley engineering factory that our house backed onto it. 

Staines was a prosperous working class town that only ended up in Surrey by an administrative quirk when Middlesex was broken up. It actually used to have more in common with the new towns on the opposite edge of London - in Essex. Which is no accident - because like many new towns to the East of the city  - bombed-out Eastenders were relocated to Staines after the war to take up work in the new light industries there.

Not any more. Staines' main claim to fame is now two shopping centres - full of the same  homogenised retail outlets that can be found just about anywhere in the UK. So maybe the whole Staines-upon-Thames  thing acknowledge this by  relocating the town in Middle England.

It is a thoroughly post-Blairite bit of re-branding. Proof that whilst you may not be able to polish a turd you can at least give it a new name...

Sunday 13 May 2012

Creeping commodification

I had some more ink on Saturday - my version of pampering therapy I suppose. I always enjoy the experience. In terms of describing the kick out of being tattooed ,  I'm afraid it is just one of those classic 'if I have to explain you won't understand' things.But in addition to that, I always enjoy the inevitable chat whilst captive in the chair. 

To those burdened with the usual prejudices about people with tattoos - it would may be come as quite a shock to hear the subject mater we managed to cover:  Amongst other things - academic Mary Beard, the despicable role of the Catholic church in repressing women for two thousand years, the demise of progressive ideas about education, and gentrification and inner city renewal. It had been a while since I'd visited the tattoo shop so a certain amount of time was also spent on catching up on personal news - in particular the end of my time in the graphic world and my switch to teaching. In return I was told  that times are tough in the world of tattooing too. So much so that my much-loved tattoo shop - where all my work so far has been done - is now struggling to keep going.

The parallels with my former trade are all too strong. Tattooing may not be about to be off-shored to India but time-served craftspeople are being undercut by those who've watched a few episodes of LA Ink, have a rudimentary grasp of Adobe Creative Suite and can grab some basic inking equipment on Ebay.

'Scratchers' are of course nothing new. But the depressing recent phenomenon is that everything is apparently being reduced to price and instant gratification. People shop around for the cheapest quote not for the best tattooist. They haggle over the cost. And apparently the latest development amongst the hipsters is to ask for their tattoos to be 'aged' and weathered to provide that authentic old-skool look -  immediately. Fucking hell.

I shouldn't be surprised. As the great man said, all relations under capitalism are doomed to to reduced to 'the cash nexus'. But it is particularly sad to hear that it has crept into a funky little word which I had hoped was somehow immune from all that shit.

Monday 7 May 2012

A walk in the bank holiday drizzle

On a quintessentially English rainy and miserable May bank holiday what could be more appropriate than a stroll in the drizzle through Highgate cemetery ?

Only a couple of miles by car but about a million miles in social terms from the bit of North London where I live - Highgate village is a glimpse of how city living could be: It's all nice pubs, unspoilt historic buildings - and independent book shops. If only there was some sort of Neutron bomb device to ethnically cleanse the area of its LibDem-voting, smug  chattering class residents ...

The cemetery is rather wonderful though - and walking around it with rain dripping from the overgrown vegetation that is gradually swallowing up the Victorian Gothic monuments all adds to the atmosphere.

Of course I had to pay my respects at Marx's tomb. It's undeniably impressive, although I like to think the great man would have had  little time for its over-blown pomposity.

In fact the original tomb was  a much simpler affair - more in line with the modest funeral that only drew a dozen or so mourners.  Apparently the original monument is still somewhere in the cemetery - but I couldn't find its location advertised. The present globally-recognised monument only dates back to 1954 when it was installed by the Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain. It's upkeep is now allegedly  paid for by the Chinese Embassy. 

I'm pretty sure that Karl - who had a healthy disrespect for authority and pomposity  in all its forms - would be spinning in his tomb at the thought of that ...

Saturday 5 May 2012

Maybe it's becasue I'm a Londoner ..

I am profoundly depressed at the prospect of  Boris once again waving the flag in front of the world's cameras in August purporting to represent my home city. How can this wonderful city with all its diversity, all its problems and all its glorious grime be represented by a Tory cunt. 

He may sometimes be a funny cunt, he may occasionally be a disarmingly honest  (for a politician) cunt -  but he let's never forget that he is  always a Tory cunt. Of the very very worse kind -  the naked face of unapologetic class privilege.

I am also at a loss to explain the appallingly result for TUSC in London - something below 1%. There are parts of the country where TUSC polled a credible 30% or more - and there are some genuine grounds for hope .  But not in London. 

We can talk about the appallingly low turn-out. Or the fact that nobody seems to know what the London Assembly actually does.  Or the enormous constituencies. Or the low-voter registration that has created an invisible layer of the most disadvantaged. Or the 'doughnut effect' where the middle class suburbs vote and the working class inner city boroughs don't. 

But there  remains an undeniable gap between the radicalised return to class politics seen in the  recent public sector strikes -  and finding a political voice to express it. 

At least there is in my city at the moment.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Radical rituals ?

For the first time for many years I found myself on the May Day demonstration from Clerkenwell to Trafalgar Square. I know it's a great slice of radical heritage - but I can't help thinking that essentially it has become something of a hollow ritual.

Setting aside the always impressive contingents from Latin American, Turkish and Kurdish Left organisations for whom the May Day tradition is still very much alive - if you based it in the rest of the contingents, you'd come away with a fairly depressing picture of the a picture of the British Left. 

Old Stalinsists, a rainbow of ever more obscure Trotskyist and Maoist sects and a smattering of a younger demographic Occupy types. 

The elephant in the corner notable by its absence was the working class.

Of course you could say the same of many Labour movement events. But the particularly grating aspect of May Day is the sight of trade union leaders' making a succession of stirring speeches calling for the overthrow of capitalism utterly out of sync with what they do or so for the other 364 days of the year. I'm thinking in particular of the leader of my own union (not for much longer though) Len McCluskey.  The great hope of the Left in the unions that never quite

It puts me in mind of some Church Of England clergymen who  are otherwise essentially agnostic playing along with the rituals of belief for the sake of appearances.

I have a hearty respect for radical tradition - probably more than most - but I have to ask if these rituals still help the cause ?