Sunday, 28 February 2010

Barnet councillors' expenses and the People's Charter of 1838

I think there have been worse crimes perpetrated by our MPs than over-claiming on their expenses - to wit, their crap policies. I also think there is danger in a populist press campaign that undermines people's faith in the parliamentary system - to promote what in its place, exactly?

But, of course, many of the claims have been shocking. One that gained my attention, late in the day, was Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, claiming £1,350 for a table and £795 for a rug. How many of her constituents would think of paying that much for a table or a rug? (Answer: a lot more if they thought someone else was paying.)

Now, I do support the old Chartist demand of payment for MPs - it has allowed the working class to have representatives. In this regard, it is interesting to see Mike Freer and Matthew Offord, Tory PPCs for this area, giving up their day jobs for a few months in order to concentrate on their parliamentary ambitions. How many other people would be in a financial position to do this?

I don't, however, support the idea of politician as a profession - and a lucrative one at that. MPs should earn what, on average, a working class person earns. That would keep their feet on the ground. I also support annual parliaments: people will say that it would be bureaucratic, but I think a more responsive political system would pay massive dividends in the long run - and more people could have a turn.

Here are the six main demands of the People's Charter of 1838. Ignore the obvious sexism and see what you think of it as a set of reforms:

A vote for every man 21 years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.

The [secret] ballot. - To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.

No property qualification for members of Parliament - thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.

Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the Country.

Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones.

Annual parliaments, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelve-month; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.
While on a political probity tip, it is good to see David Miller of Not the Barnet Times getting a reply at last to his request to see Barnet councillors' expenses. They are little league compared to MPs' expenses, but there are still some questions to answer.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Neither easyCouncil nor John Lewis but good public services!

Barnet Unison branch secretary John Burgess and Lambeth Unison branch secretary Jon Rogers have an article in Thursday's Guardian.

It is a reply to recent articles about the choice voters are supposed to make between Barnet council's easyCouncil model and Lambeth council's John Lewis model.

The article poses a third alternative to Tory privatisation and New Labour pseudo-mutualism: good public services, retained in-house!

Please have a read.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Nigel Farage: an ignorant, offensive twat

Nigel Farage, former leader of and an MEP representing UKIP, has launched an offensive tirade against the new president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy. Farage was courting publicity, thinking that it will stand him in good stead with the voters of Buckingham, where he is standing in the general election, to abuse a foreigner.

Times report here. Farage said:

“I don't want to be rude but, really, you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk...

“The question I want to ask is: who are you? I'd never heard of you, nobody in Europe had ever heard of you.

"I can speak on behalf of the majority of British people in saying that we don't know you, we don't want you and the sooner you are put out to grass, the better."
The institutions and ways of working of the EU definitely need reforming, but on the whole I would rather have the capitalist states of Europe cooperating with each other than ripping each other apart in wars, with working class people in the frontline. And, yes, I am still a socialist. Europe's lefties too often think that workers can get some advantage by siding with 'their own' nationalist-minded ruling classes against the 'European superstate'. In fact, they simply lose their political independence and wade into the swamp of xenophobia.

If I ever get around to studying for a PhD I will study left-wing Euroscepticism.

UKIP is a nasty party, and Nigel Farage is an ignorant, offensive twat. I felt it needed saying.

Girls will be girly (grrr)

Last night I met up with a friend to discuss whether there is another way to view the US humanitarian intervention in Haiti other than as part of a dastardly plan to militarily dominate the Caribbean region. As you do. This is in anticipation of a talk I am helping to give tonight for No Sweat.

We talked about lighter topics as well, such as child-rearing. I haven't reared any children (although I do feel recently like I have been delivered of a cuckoo, but that's another story) so my friend, who has two young daughters, talked most.

I quizzed him on the role of nature versus nurture in forming children's gender (how girly or boyish they are), whether he had tried to avoid pushing his girls into being girly. He rolled his eyes and said that at a certain point he just gave up and let the social pressures roll over his family.

We agreed that rampant consumerism does not help in this. When I were a girl we simply didn't have all that much stuff. If I got a doll as a present and a pink garment, it wasn't all that often, perhaps on my birthday, and then I had another 364 days to get over it. There was space for other things besides glitter and princesses and princesses' glittery ponies, etc.

Nowadays, girls' toys and clothes are possibly no girlier and boys' stuff possibly no less boyish, there's just a lot more of them. My friend agreed; he and his other half spend quite a lot of time simply sifting through stuff, much of it crap (and most of it made in sweatshops), that people have given their children. He said, for example, that many kids invite the whole class to their birthday parties, so the child whose birthday it is gets 30 presents. As well as that, all the children who attend the party get a goody bag full of more crap.

I probably would have made a very weird parent and it's as well I'm not one. When I were a girl I had a couple of board games, and a multi-species family of soft toys to play with. And that were all, I tell 'e.

Oh, apart from Sindy. But my Sindy made do with a bath and two outfits - which is all any girl needs in order to get on.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Restless residents form new party in Barnet

A group of angry residents based in Cricklewood has set up the Residents' Association of Barnet (RAB) to stand in the council elections in May. Here's a Times series report of their initial meeting.

I suppose this is where we were headed when we launched Barnet Community Campaign. We were active around Future Shape and sheltered housing wardens but the campaign has been marking time, withouting getting as far as discussing candidacies. Anyway, this is the RAB platform as told to the Times:

Among the initial policies drawn up by the groups founders Ms Badrick, Morton Morris and Gina Emannuel, are to call in the Brent Cross Cricklewood plans for a public inquiry.

They have also pledged to stop controversial changes to warden services, which were blocked by the High Court last year, and scrap the Futureshape scheme, dubbed EasyCouncil.
On the face of it, would I support this party? My bottom line is trade unionism: I think that the trade unions are the nearest thing there is to an organised voice for working class people. Political parties, however good their policies look, go adrift (and drift to the right, usually) when they are not anchored to something more substantial in society. I would still, on the whole, support the Labour Party in politics, not because I don't know how awful they are, but because the trade unions have not been able to break from Labour yet (and don't look like doing so soon).

I'll try to get to RAB's meeting on 3 March, and see where they are coming from!

Exposing the far-right

I went to an important meeting last night, the launch of the media workers' campaign Expose. This is backed by branches of the journalists' union NUJ and broadcasting union BECTU. The aim of it is to help people working in the media to improve their coverage of the BNP (and other far-right organisations), especially in the run-up to the elections.

The BNP and the NF have been given a very soft ride by some programmes and journalists recently. (You'll only hear otherwise, of course, with the BNP painting themselves as victims of the establishment.) The campaign will provide research resources on the BNP and promote the journalists' code of conduct on how to conduct searching interviews.

Here is a reminder of just what an unpleasant crowd the BNP are: a report by a Times journalist turfed out of the BNP's recent meeting where they voted to allow black people to join.

Monday, 22 February 2010

First there was CCTV, now there's... Grahame Park TV

Through illness I failed to venture out today to catch the launch of Grahame Park TV (GPTV). This possibly well-meaning venture was advertised on the website, which, as far as I can see, exists mainly to pass on councils' own 'good news' stories.

Grahame Park TV (or GPTV for short) will start broadcasting from a large screen in The Concourse on Monday (February 22), with short films, messages from landlord Barnet Homes and partner organisations, and general information on what’s going on in the area.

It is the first time that a British social landlord has introduced its own dedicated television facility for tenants and leaseholders.

GPTV will give residents on Grahame Park the chance to appear on screen, whether it’s to wish someone happy birthday, tell a joke, show off their musical skills or give their views on the future for Grahame Park.

Meanwhile, throughout the six month campaign key messages will be automatically sent to residents’ mobile phones in The Concourse through Bluetooth technology.

Barnet Homes, which manages around 1,700 properties on the estate, set up the six month project with the aim of raising residents’ awareness of the wide range of support and activities available in the area.

Barnet Homes Chief Executive, Tracey Lees, said: “The way in which our residents are communicating is changing, and it is up to social landlords to embrace that change. In particular, we have to look at new ways of engaging with young people on our estates.

“We know there are a significant number of residents on Grahame Park who are unlikely to read our newsletters or information sent to them in the post. As a result they’re missing out on a whole range of services and activities, and that can sometimes give rise to issues such as unemployment and antisocial behaviour.

“We hope that GPTV will help to bridge this gap. There’ll be clear messages and information both on the television screen itself and sent through to people’s mobile phones. I hope residents will engage with the project, and that it will help us in our efforts to make Grahame Park a place where people feel proud to live.”
Well-meaning, perhaps, but I can't help feeling the money would have been better spent. Plus, it sounds a bit, erm, Big Brother-ish.

Se A Vida E (That's the Way Life is); Or, When one cake shop closes

"Se A Vida E (That's the Way Life is)" is a lovely, breezy song by the Pet Shop Boys, as opposed to one of their more miserable offerings.

I had a good day out in London yesterday, leafleting for No Sweat, but it was bloody cold and I already had the makings of a cold when I left home. My behaviour was the opposite of what the doctor ordered - more like what the doctor expressly forbade.

One feature of yesterday was me and a girlfriend looking for nice coffee and cake shops we used to know - but which are no longer trading. I knew a lovely cake shop in Old Compton Street (Amato - now being turned into a Richoux restaurant) and she knew a lovely cake shop in Covent Garden (couldn't find that one at all - wound up in an overpriced, subterranean Ponti's).

Amato! Beloved! How could it close? I never got to take my mum there and show her the lovely murals. It was where V and I went (I don't think I was the only person he took there... I hope not). V is doing his national service in Greece at the moment. Before he went, I said he should look on it positively as a chance to get fit and eat well at someone else's expense. With Greece's financial difficulties, however, I now have visions of him and his comrades having to catch their own food. How that will grieve him.

What can I say, V? I'm sure Richoux will be OK in the long run, but the Amato brand was discontinued. Oh, life is harsh. To discover that your favourite cafe was just a brand!

It is with some schadenfreude therefore that I read in the Richoux company report for July 2009:

the rebranded Richoux restaurant in Old Compton Street [has] traded below management's expectations due to a combination of the particularly challenging economic climate and inherent problems with the Richoux concept in nonestablished sites.
You mean, unlike you, people have some f***ing loyalty. I also note with total delight:
The challenge facing the Group remains to develop a business to complement those established Richoux restaurants and the Group is hopeful that its new concept "Zippers" which will be opening in Chatham before the end of the year will fulfil that role.
A new concept called Zippers (surely a name more suitable for Old Compton Street). In Chatham! Ha, f***ing ha! V and I know all about Chatham, although he will still maintain that Loughborough is worse.

Well, V, when you are finally released from your patriotic duties, my first treat is a trip out to Chatham Maritime and a slap-up meal in Zippers. After five months of rabbit stew and horta vrasta (Greek boiled vegetables) you'll be falling over yourself with gratitude!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Chinese New Year: be tigerish for human rights!

The Chinese New Year began on 14 February. The main celebrations in London take place tomorrow, there are some details on the Visit London website.

These events are a lot of fun, but I can't enjoy them properly without a bit of politicking! It's my annual custom with some friends from the No Sweat campaign to go along and leaflet to raise awareness of the treatment of trade unionists in China. I say trade unionists, in fact, the official trade unions tend to be adjuncts of the state; No Sweat raises support for those people trying to set up independent unions. People like:

Chen Yuping 陳玉平 - sentenced to one and a half years of re-education through labour, for "disturbing social order". His crime, organising an independent trade union in the Jilin state-owned petroleum corporation.

Li Wangyang 李旺陽 - sentenced to 13 years imprisonment in 1990 for founding the Shaoyang Workers' Autonomous Federation and leading strikes during the May 1989 pro-democracy movement. Released in 2000, in February 2001 he staged a 22-day hunger strike for medical compensation for injuries he had sustained while in prison. Li was again arrested by the police. In September 2001, he was tried in secret on the charge of "incitement to subvert state power" and sentenced to a further 10 years' imprisonment.

Ning Xianhua 寧先華 - a construction worker in Shenyang, Liaoning province, sentenced in September 2004 to 12 years’ imprisonment for “subversion of state power” for organising an independent trade union.
You can read about cases like this on the China Labour Bulletin website, based in Hong Kong.

Our campaign is usually well received; we always make the point as well that the London mayor uses the event to schmooze big business and the Chinese embassy, politely turning a blind eye to the manifold human rights abuses that go on in China.

I understand this is one topic Barnet mayor Brian Coleman and I might agree on. He espouses freedom for Falun Gong and Tibetan independence, but I don't think his dislike of totalitarianism would extend to supporting free trade unions... would it?!

Friday, 19 February 2010

The wages of sin

Id: I had a couple of pints this evening.

Super-ego: Ah, there, you see, that's where you went wrong!

Id: As I was saying, I had a couple of pints this evening.

Super-ego: When will you learn?! A glass of wine, a couple of shorts, but, no, you will insist - occasionally - on drinking whole pints - pints, I ask you! Not one pint, but pints, in the plural!

Id: Of course, on the way home I was desperate for the loo. I got off the tube at Golders Green because I couldn't contain myself any longer.

Super-ego: You were looking for a hedge, I suppose!

Id: I asked the staff at the ticket barrier whether the public loos at Golders Green are still open.

Super-ego: That's hardly realistic, is it?! Since when were public toilets at major transport hubs open... at night!?

Id: The guys shook their heads forlornly and directed me to the KFC around the corner. I got there just as they were closing.

Super-ego: What do you want to be bothering those people for? Haven't they got enough to worry about, earning such low pay, etc, without having to put up with dissolute middle-class egoists like you, bothering them in the middle of the night?

Id: I begged them to let me use their loo, even though they had just cleaned it.

Super-ego: Selfish! Purely selfish!

Id: I must have looked really desperate, perhaps they had been in the same situation themselves once or twice...

Super-ego: How likely?!

Id: I thanked them profusely and scuttled back to the tube station. I slunk home feeling rather chastened.

Super-ego: I should think so!

Id: But I'd do it all again, so I would!

Ego: Why are there so few public toilets open in London? The picture is not that much better in the daytime, when people haven't - sinfully or entirely reasonably - you decide - gone for a drink. This is a rich country. Can't we afford public toilets anymore? Or is it only me that hates travelling around this great city of ours with her knees pressed together?

P.S. Rog T had similar trouble the other night while using Thameslink.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Harro-w-ds? BarNetto? What's wrong with just plain 'council'?

An article in today's Guardian outlines Labour's response to the Barnet easyCouncil idea: Labour-controlled Lambeth will be a "John Lewis council", with rebates (somewhere down the line) for residents who run things themselves, and much more "mutuality" all round. They are presenting this as a softer way to run local services more cheaply, ie, deliver cuts.

I like the comment from Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics, also in the Guardian:

...both Lambeth and Barnet – in common with all councils elsewhere in the country – will face deep real-terms cuts from April 2011 onwards. The offer to run, say, a mutually owned housing estate or leisure centre, may come with an almost immediate responsibility to cut maintenance spending for several years running.
Yes, that's what it's all about, wrapped up in a lot of management speak designed to hoodwink residents and voters into thinking that, whatever crappy deal we get, we chose it.

I'm looking for the political party that says we don't have to "choose" cuts to public services in order to restore the nation's finances. There has to be another way...

(A note on journalism. The Guardian article talks about "Barnet, where the Tories are charging customers for services along the lines of the business model of budget airlines such as easyJet" - well, they're not, not yet. Sometimes journalists are so quick to take what councils and council politicians say about themselves as good coin, that they think an ominous plan is already being implemented.)

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Tories propose workers' coops in private industry, and rights to free trade unions - no, I thought not

The Tories are making proposals for 'workers' cooperatives' in the public sector. In the public sector, please note. They want to fragment yet further state provision in the NHS, education, etc. They want to undermine national pay bargaining. They want to 'empower' public sector workers - to make sure everyone works that bit harder. Workers' coops can keep any 'savings' (if there are any). What will the tax payer have to say about that?!

OK, so David Cameron has shown he can say the word 'worker' without spitting, but if anyone thinks this is some kind of empowerment of workers - as a class - they are deluded.

I have worked in a workers' coop. It's very hard to make a success of them, and they are very likely in the long run to be taken over by bigger boys - from the private sector. That must be Cameron's ultimate hope.

For the sake of public accountability, value for money, and the wellbeing of the whole public sector workforce, the last thing we need is more fragmentation.

Public sector workers innovate all the time. How do people think the services work? Sure, let's empower public sector workers against lousy managers, pointless or harmful targets, and the erosion of public services through cuts. That I would buy, but this latest Cameron proposal is patronising junk, supposedly framed to appeal to disaffected Labour voters. It might just work, dammit.

But if the principle is good for the public sector, why not the private sector? Let's make all private enterprises into workers' coops as well. Let's make everyone who works in them an equal partner, and do away with shareholders' dividends for people who don't work in them, but have only put up a bit of capital.

If Cameron really wants to empower workers, why doesn't he abolish some of the anti-union laws that make it virtually impossible for people to defend themselves against their employers? No one can reasonably justify, for example, the court injunction that banned the BA cabin crew strike last December. (Some readers might disagree... I invite you to debate!)

It's good to see the BA cabin crew union Unite responding strongly to this latest Cameron nonsense:
'David Cameron is using the language of socialism to mask a break-up of public services. He is mangling the English language to advance his anti-state ideology.'

Monday, 15 February 2010

Welcome to Barnet, the bloggingest borough of them all

Congratulations to David Miller (Not the Barnet Times) and Roger Tichborne (The Barnet Eye) whose blogs have been chosen by the Guardian's Dave Hill (Dave Hill's London Blog) as two of the best in London.

Envious? Me? Not a bit of it! I revel in the success of my fellow Barnet bloggers (natch!) and the fact that Barnet has so far produced a third of London's best blogs: two from the six chosen so far.

Is this mere coincidence? Or is it that we have particularly skilled blogsmiths in Barnet? Or is it, just possibly, that Barnet provides a surprisingly rich seam of scandal and gossip for us to mine? It's probably a bit of all three, but the latter must be very important.

Former Barnet council leader Mike Freer set out to win a reputation for Barnet as a trendsetting, flagship Tory borough. His problem was that once his actual record was placed under the tiniest bit of scrutiny, it was seen to be badly scratched.

Freer and his fellow councillors crave publicity but abhor scrutiny, it's an irritant to them, and they've done what they can to disparage the people who examine what they do. But the lights that Barnet's bloggers are shining on their doings will not dim soon.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Dog tracks and frigidaires

I had a drink tonight with a colleague from Barnet trades council. It turns out he grew up in Burnt Oak in the 1950s and 60s. For me this was like striking gold.

I have been thinking lately that Burnt Oak's past was clearly more illustrious than its present. The clues are there in the grand building on the junction of Stag Lane and the Broadway - once a Co-op department store! A department store, in Burnt Oak, I ask you! And in the fact that Burnt Oak once had a cinema - actually, two, it transpires. I knew this from seeing a picture of one of them on Rog T's blog.

Roger is running a great quiz at the moment about the history of Barnet. In the course of this post I will reveal the answer to one of his questions. That can't be helped really and, to be honest, not that many people read this blog - if you are here, your reward is a head start in Roger's quiz!

Back to my friend. Tonight he painted a moving picture of a hidden, substantially lost, history of Burnt Oak. I will find a way to record it less ephemerally than I can here - an oral history project, or even a guided walk: "Working class Burnt Oak" - no, they won't come flocking, but to me and perhaps to a few other people this story is fascinating.

Just a few details that stood out for me:

My friend's mother had no washing machine. A man came around the houses and rented them a washing machine for a couple of hours. He'd wheel it off his van and into their house and come back and collect it later. If they had an extra 9d (9 old pence) to spare, they could also hire a spinner to dry the clothes. His family had no fridge, they kept perishables in their 'larder' in the back garden - a hole dug in the ground!

Every Saturday and Sunday morning a fleet of 8 or 9 coaches would wait outside the Bald Faced Stag pub to take families to the seaside in Essex or Kent for the day. You bought your ticket at one of the local shops.

There were many factories along the Edgware Road, some related to the aircraft industry, some manufacturing domestic goods - there was, for example, a big Frigidaire factory making, you guessed it, fridges.

Most people did not go to central London often; my friend went there once or twice a year. All their entertainment was local: a trip to one of the innumerable cinemas in the area, or to the Golders Green Hippodrome, or to Hendon dog track. London Undergound's sports ground was next to the tube line, and included several football pitches and a running track. There was even a Burnt Oak Labour Club! Halcyon days, indeed.

There were notorious gangs of local kids, including the Burnt Oak mob, who had rumbles with gangs from other parts of London, eg, Canning Town.

And, yes, kids played safely outdoors in the streets at all hours, and everyone knew their neighbours.
I'm really stirred by this picture. It's not that long ago, and it's not some kind of Gothic horror story, where everyone wallows around in Dickensian squalor. But it does seem to me to be a completely lost world.

What has changed? The ethnic make-up of the area has changed, but that doesn't look to me to have been decisive. Most families were white English, but not all. My friend says there were many Irish families living in the area (I knew that already) and some Caribbean families.

As far as I can see, the major change has been the loss of the local jobs, and with them much of the heart of the community. People are more geographically mobile these days, which has its advantages, but it also gives people less stake in their neighbourhood.

Another change that seems to me very important is the level of consumption. I think this is a mixed blessing. It is wonderful that most people today have, almost as a human right, a fridge, a washing machine... But do we all of us need to have a car? And I don't mean does every family need to have a car, I mean does every single member of every family need to have a car?

It's not so much the amount of consumption that is problematic, but the way we consume: at home, in private. The social sphere has lost out badly to private consumption, as public transport has lost out to the car culture. I think we are the worse off for that.

Illustrative of this whole story for me is the fate of the Hendon dog track. Dog racing might seem a pretty lowbrow pursuit, but at least a trip to the dogs was a social event. What replaced Hendon dog track (and several homes, which were compulsorily purchased)?

Brent Cross shopping centre, for heaven's sake! Very exciting in its heyday, the first of its kind, but now the shopping centre is so ubiquitous we don't seem to be able to build a new school without including one in the plans somewhere.

You can argue, I suppose, that people - including my friend's family - needed somewhere to go to buy their new fridges, but I think I would prefer the world we have lost, with its cinemas and dog tracks, sports grounds and weekend coaches to the seaside. Burnt Oak is a sight sorrier for the loss of all this.

Friday, 12 February 2010

I flunked my degree for this guy? Or, Building self-esteem in young people

The confessions just keep coming. When I was a young undergraduate I screwed up my degree. I could probably have got a 2.1 but I got a 2.2 and decided that I was an academic failure. A series of dead-end jobs followed (if I sound like I'm trying to sell a self-help book, in a way, I am). I messed up in my final year because I was mooning around after the guy in this video.

It's not his fault! The fact that he went from being a lefty (actually, we called him "a tankie" - his pin-up was Gorbachev) to an investment banker and then a pimp for private healthcare - that is his fault. But my pointless and ultimately destructive pining after him - that's not his fault. I'm not sure it was mine either, though.

This post is actually about building self-esteem in young people. Search me how you do it, but it needs doing. If I were to glean a few small pearls of wisdom from my reflections on this experience they are:

1. Parents: don't send your kids to single sex schools. They might get better exam results, but they will grow up with next to no common sense about how to handle relationships with members of the opposite sex (yes, this post is heteronormative, for which I apologise). For girls, any boyfriend will be something like a prize to show off to their friends, even if he is a complete plonker and should be shown the door.

2. Parents: help your kids with as much advice as you can give them, or they're willing to listen to, about studying, relationships, etc. If there's an area you don't know about, draft in outside help. And, remember, most young people also need guidance for many years after they have flown the nest.

3. Kids: don't fall in love with the first person you fall in love with, if that makes sense. Keep your options open. Shop around - it doesn't mean use people or (necessarily) sleep around. Just get to know as many people as possible, and don't settle for third or fourth best too quickly - or at all, if you can avoid it.

Of course, the above won't apply if you are polyamorous. Oh, what have I started? Anyway, I hope you get the gist.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

"I've got to get out of my skin" - recalling Judith Jeffers

My best friend when I was young lived with her mum, aunt Judith and grandmother. I spent vast stretches of my teenage years at their house, where the regime was rather more liberal than in mine. The family were American, they came from Zanesville, Ohio. Two-thirds of the adults drank whisky and 100% of them smoked. Like a lot of young people, my friend and I grew up passively addicted to nicotine.

Aunt Judy had a penchant for melancholy, but also a great sense of humour. Just five things I remember her for (with affection!):

1. Making ludicrously hot dhal curries on a Friday night and paying us to eat them, with a water jug at hand. Clearly a form of mild sadism, she would reward us for toiling, weeping, through a plateful. Then she paid us again the next morning to wash up the disgusting plates and pans.

2. Spoiling us with cash to go around the corner to Tony's cafe. Tony was a camp old man who struggled to be nice to his customers, but at least he did try. In those days (late 70s/early 80s) camp was quite exciting. I remember hearing "Glad to be gay" on Dial-a-disc and thinking that there had been a revolution. At Tony's we had 'milk shakes' made of milk and flavoured syrup.

3. As a special treat, allowing us to peruse her collection of Oz magazines. ("I've got to get out of my skin" was the caption to a very disturbing cartoon in one issue.)

4. Taking us to see "2001: A Space Odyssey". The cinema manager came over and warned us that we must all behave ourselves. Although she was well into her 30s, Judy could pass for a teenage boy. She gave the manager short shrift on this occasion, however.

5. Advising us never to consent to anal sex.
Now, some of this is quite shocking, but I think it was because all the basics were there - school, just about enough sleep, reasonable diet, lots of love - that it probably did us good to be exposed to some heavy stuff, and given a chance to think about it before it was seriously laid before us in real life. For example, Judy must have chuckled to herself as my friend and I solemnly worked out, a few years ahead of time, how many days it was until we could legally have sex, and began to count off the days.

Sadly, Judy died early, in her 40s, of cancer. My best friend and I had drifted apart by then (not uncommon, I think), but I found out about Judith's death from her sister. I have been looking up some of the songs I associate with her on YouTube (isn't it a wonderful thing?!). After many years I can hear again these great, sometimes melancholy tunes that make me think of Judith Jeffers.

1. "Mere Mehboob Tujhe" - romantic music from an Indian film "Mere Mehboob", made in 1963 (year before my friend and I were born), which Judith had seen and bought the soundtrack of.

2. "You are my heart's delight" from Lehar's operetta "Land of Smiles", sung by Richard Tauber.
3. Theme tune to the film "High Noon", starring Judy's (inexplicably) beloved Gary Cooper.
4. "What is life?" from Gluck's "Orpheus and Eurydice", sung by Kathleen Ferrier.
5. "O for the wings of a dove", a fair way into this recording from 1970, but it's all nice.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

It's an ill wind... it certainly is!

A very interesting (not necessarily good) article in the Guardian about a conference to discuss the challenge to local government finances, and the opportunity it provides to innovate, transform service delivery, personalise services, yadda yadda yadda. I can only concur with the first comment on the website:
Cynical old me sees a brand of disaster capitalism there. Excited by the recession? Maybe with an eye to your business, but's having an appalling effect on the lives of the public and service users of all hues.
Your favourite and mine, ex-Barnet council leader Mike Freer tries his tired joke about the joys of personalisation on an audience of "senior council officials, civil servants, policemen [sic], charity leaders, new media experts, directors of private sector outsourcing companies and consultants, and other delegates from a variety of fields":
Building on the experience of personal budgets, which had led older residents to choose to pay for trips to the seaside and dance classes, rather than day centre services, he suggested that residents should decide – sometimes street by street – on the level of provision they required.
I can tell you now, Mike, that we all require a good level of service provision, but only some of us are going to be able to afford to pay for it (and those that can might well resent having to do so, when they are already paying council tax).

With the local papers full of stories about what a mess Burnt Oak is, for example, we have to wonder how it is going to get cleaner - we'll have a whipround shall we? If we can't afford to, it isn't, necessarily, because we don't require or value a pleasant environment.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Good evening, from Burnt Toast

Stuck on a tube train in a tunnel for a while today, in front of me was a 118 118 advert for their find-a-London-restaurant service (this is not product placement, by the way, however much it looks like it). They have done a mock tube map, with the names of some stations replaced by food related names, eg, Chutney Bridge.

I had a go at making up some names from the Northern Line map. Here's what I came up with, in the order: Eggware branch, High Barley branch, Charcroute branch, Banquet branch, then all stations to Mortadella. It was hard, there are big gaps (shown red), and I was very relieved when the train started moving again and I could leave it at Juiceton station.

Burnt Toast
Hendon Central (don't have to do anything with that)
Baked Crust
Golders Greens
Belsize Pak choi
Pork Farm
Camden Tofu
High Barley
Tot o' Whisky
Wood pigeon Pie
Mill Hill Yeast
West Finger buffet
Finger buffet Central
East Finger buffet
Toffee Park
Kettle Town
Mornington Croissant (copied 118 118's Charing Croissant)
Warren Sweet
Goujon Street
Tottenham Kourtaki (in honour of Dionysus and Gigs Greek restaurants)
Red Leicester Square
Water jug
King Prawn curry
Oil Street
London Bridge roll
Elephant and Newcastle brown ale
Kenningtonic (again)
Stock cube
Clam North
Clam Common
Clam South
Balsam (as in balsamic vinegar)
Tutti Frutti Bec
Tutti Frutti Broadway
Caulis Wood
South Wimbledonut

Postscript: I finished the list last night while lying in bed. Most of the names reflect in some way what I think of the place in question. It's been a lot of fun. Can I have my brain back now?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Freer never fails to offend

Well, he offends me at least in this interview in the Guardian where he 'explains' his easyCouncil plans and manages to call Barnet's Labour councillors 'Stalinists' - which I wouldn't lightly call anyone: does he know what it means?

He also says the council will not bring in fast-tracking of planning applications - 'it's illegal' he insists. Yes, that's right, Freer, but that's what we had to tell you! Don't pretend now that you had nothing to do with the plan - when you were council leader it was your one concrete idea for what easyCouncil would look like!

There is a lot more crap in there, but I'm at work and can't comment more now. Have a read and see what you think. Unfortunately, since Finchley and Golders Green is the most marginal seat in the country, and the incumbent and retiring Labour MP Rudi Vis has not covered himself in glory, Freer is likely to be the next MP and will be hanging around like a bad smell for a lot longer, getting up our noses.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Latest Cameron poster

The Tory Party has paid for this poster to appear on the Coleman's Got to Go blog. They'll say almost anything to get our votes.

Dear Time Out diary

When you write a blogpost it has to be for something; this is not my personal diary, after all. My worst posts are when I write: 'I went there, I did this, and I ate that.' Usually it involves me name-checking something, like when I dined in a certain restaurant in Whetstone on my birthday. That was fair enough, I think, but one has to be careful.

Yesterday I was going to write 'I went to Fenwick's today and bought some fantastic tea towels. You can find almost anything you want there!' All this is true, but as a blogpost it sucks:
1. It's boring!
2. This is not a showcase to advertise products/shops/brands, etc.

With blog hosts such as Blogger one has the option of allowing advertising - it brings in a bit of money, and probably does no harm. I'm not going down this route, however, because this blog looks cluttered already, because I don't want to think that I can't control what random message might pop up, and because I don't want people wondering what's me and what's advertising.

This laboriously brings me onto the subject of product placement on television. There was a small furore in January at the news that the government was consulting on whether to overturn the existing ban on product placement. In fact the consultation had been going on since November: the wider public found out about it as the consultation period closed. You can see details on the website of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

I detest advertising, but commercial television runs on it. So let's keep it the way it is now, wedged between chunks of programme, so we can switch the sound off or turn over when it comes on.

If product placement is allowed in television programmes they will end up being as dull as that blogpost I nearly inflicted on you yesterday, spending far too many lingering moments showing us completely mundane and pointless details such as where Peggy Mitchell gets her suits dry-cleaned. Of course, it's too late to tell the government what you think.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Smooth operator... or perhaps not

Enjoying the spoof David Cameron posters at Two faves below (until they tell me to take them down and write my own jokes).

By the way, have you received your 'A World Class NHS' letter from David Cameron in the post yet? I don't know whether they are sending these out around the country, or just in marginals, but it's probably on its way. The letter's not bad, actually, but the leaflet it accompanies has too many cheesy photos of Cameron with his tie bizarrely tucked into his shirt, getting down with some female NHS patients and staff.

There aren't any black staff or patients in the photos, which simply doesn't reflect reality anywhere in the country, but especially in London. This is a bit of a problem.

I'm guessing the Conservatives are touting for the votes of white, middle-aged and elderly women with this publicity. Whilst I do fall into this demographic, I also fall into the "would never vote Conservative except, possibly, with a gun pointed at her head" category, so I'm afraid I can't tell you whether this advertising strategy is successful or not.