Tuesday, 30 August 2011

... stops here!

President Harry S Truman looked around the Oval Office. His eye took in the rich, red drapes, the deep carpet in the same shade, the mahogany of the furniture. He glanced over each shoulder – right, left – to take in the Stars-and-Stripes and his own Presidential Standard, and reflected that the room was still very much to the taste of Roosevelt his predecessor. How could it not be? FDR was such a dominating personality. He asked himself whether he had the courage (or the energy, or the time…) to redecorate.

Perhaps at this moment he doubted himself a little, but Truman was indeed a man of character. He looked down at his desk. Yes, here was the new Truman Presidency, ordered, workmanlike, symmetrical – that’s how he would be. A place for his pen, a place for his presidential blotter, a place for everything, yes everything was in order, so why was he frowning?

“What is missing?” he thought.

His frown deepened when he caught sight of something he had been trying to avoid looking at. A tarpaulin had been laid on the carpet, and on that was the carcass of a freshly-killed white-tailed deer, a fine male with a single bullet hole in its forehead. It was a gift from an eager, young White House aide who had heard that the President liked hunting. In that the aide had miscalculated – Truman shot grouse, not deer.

The President got up and walked round to the front of his desk. The carcass would not go away of its own accord, it had to be dealt with, a decision had to be made and it was the Commander-in-Chief who had to make it. No one else would make it for him.

“What the hell use would there be in a President who knew how to skin a damn deer?” he asked aloud. The walls of the Oval Office echoed his rhetorical question. He looked down at the white-tailed buck, then to the empty space on his desk. His frown melted. An idea formed in his mind and he made a decision. He lifted the Presidential phone and spoke to his secretary Matthew Connelly.

“Matt,” he said. “Get me the Presidential Butcher. And while you’re at it, get me the Presidential Carpenter and the Presidential Signwriter too…”

Saturday, 20 August 2011

John Pilger on the recent riots

I am grateful to blogger Ian Bone for drawing our attention to John Pilger's article in the New Statesman 18th August 2011. John Pilger is a left-wing journalist whose writings are always worth attention even if you find yourself in disagreement with him. In the light of that, if you do follow the link above and read the article don't forget to check out readers' comments too. I was glad to see the comment I reproduce below, because I have noticed that the main thing to emerge from analyses of the riots is the strengthening of the various analysts' prejudices.

"Turns out these riots really are a blank canvas for one's own views to be liberally painted on. On the left? Its the rise of the proleteriat. On the right? Its the breakdown of social order through years of lefty government. Are you a racist? Turns out these riots were the result of them coloured types. Interested in employment issues? Turns out the riots are all about youth unemployment. It's boring and it adds no new insight whatsoever. Can all writers and leaders on all sides of the fence at least make an effort to understand these riots instead of simply using them to legitimise their own ideologies? Is that really too much to ask?"

Friday, 19 August 2011

Diary of a glass-half-empty person 32: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

There was a knock at the flap of the tepee this morning. Consuela (my Tejana maid) being busy in the scullery, scullering, I answered the knock myself. Pulling back the flap I was surprised to see what appeared to be a UPS delivery man, or something very like one. Let me enumerate the differences for you.

Difference the first:- being the scarlet of his uniform, as opposed to the brown of UPS.

Difference the second:- being the rococo, crowned escutcheon bearing an upright cross upon a small Calvary flanked by a wild olive branch and a rapier  embroidered on the left breast of said uniform in place of the UPS logo.

Difference the third:- being the red beanie on his head, somewhat in the likeness of a yarmulke, in place of the UPS cap.

Difference the fourth:- being a heavy silver crucifix on a chain of the same around his neck, this being totally lacking in a UPS uniform.

“Spanish Inquisition,” he announced, holding out one of those hand-held gizmos and a plastic stylus. “Sign here please.”

I choked back the obvious reply to his announcement but did not take the proffered gizmo and stylus. He continued to hold it out, meanwhile looking quizzically at me and shifting his balance from one foot to the other.

“Spanish Inquisition?” I queried.

“Yes. Spanish Inquisition. You are Muzz Marshall, yes?”

“I am.”

“Muzz Marie Marshall, The Teepee, The Sidlaws, by Dundee?”

“Yes indeed, I am she, but I know nothing of any ‘Spanish Inquisition’.”

He retracted and reversed his gizmo and looked at it with some puzzlement. “Yep, that’s what it says here – ‘Muzz Marie Marshall, The Teepee, The Sidlaws, by Dundee; one all-in discount package Spanish Inquisition, including auto-da-fé and execution in effigie’.”

“Well, I’m a little surprised,” I said.

At that he brightened up and held out the gizmo and stylus. “Ah, well, you see, ‘surprise’ is one of the diverse elements amongst our weaponry.”

“Yes I heard that. I also heard that ‘ruthless efficiency’ was another one, but I’m afraid that you’ve rather let the side down in that respect. No Inquisition, Spanish or otherwise, has been ordered at this address.”

His face fell and he looked around.

“Is there another Marshall household in the area?” he asked.

“Not to my knowledge,” I said.

“Another ‘teepee’ perhaps?”

I gestured, and he looked around again at the bare, uninhabited hillside, and at the surrounding and equally bare hills.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You appear to have had a wasted journey.”

“Okay, Madam. Sorry to have troubled you,” he said and walked off back down the faint sentier that winds from the tepee to the nearest track that will accommodate vehicles. He was staring at his gizmo and talking into his Blackberry. A few words drifted back on the nagging, Sidlaw wind.

“Chief? Cardinal Ginger here… yep… yep… nope, you gave me the wrong name and address… I mean, it’s not bloody rocket science, is it...”

I shut the flap of the tepee and settled down on my chaise longue to watch TV again. I hugged my secret, dark, dangerous heresy to my bosom and smiled a smug smile.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Time for a bit of good news

After a decline to near-extinction in the UK, otters can now be found in every county in England. Terry Nutkins (what an ideal name for a wild-animal conservationist) expressed his delight. What makes that last fact so great is that Terry had two of his fingers bitten off by an otter when he was a boy. I kid you not.

I'm delighted too, by the way. I love 'em. My only regret, and that of Consuela (my Tejana maid), is that the teepee is too far from water for us to see them on a regular basis.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

3 Lessons from History and Current Affairs

I am currently looking at three posters and going back in time as I do.

The first one is from one of the many anarchist blogs that I read. The blogger, Ian Bone, posts compulsively and has a long train of followers. His thoughts are explosive and controversial, sometimes questionable (for example I don’t expect him to change his mind about the recent riots in the UK but I do wish he would take a step back and review his assessment of the rioters as a revolutionary force – to my mind that is ascribing motives to them that they did not have, or at best didn’t know they had), but always worth reading.

The poster advertises a forthcoming protest to take place outside Eton College. The illustration demonstrates the scattergun approach of the blog. The poster mentions Eton, the illustration pertains to Oxford.

 It shows the Bullingdon Club of a few years ago. The Bullingdon Club is a socially exclusive dining club for the sons of the rich and influential. In the picture above amongst the formally-dressed, indolent loungers is the young David Cameron (now Prime Minister of Great Britain) and Boris Johnson (now Mayor of London). The behaviour of members of the Bullingdon Club is often mentioned these days in comparison and contrast to the recent inner-city rioters. I shall give some examples. 12th May 1894[1] and 20th February 1927[2] were two occasions when club members, after dinner, smashed almost all the glass of the lights and 468 windows in Peckwater Quad of Christ Church, along with the blinds and doors of the building. Andrew Gimson, biographer of Boris Johnson, reported about the club in the 1980s: "I don't think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash. [...] A night in the cells would be regarded as being par for a Buller man and so would debagging anyone who really attracted the irritation of the Buller men."[3] There is also an unverifiable quote currently circulating on Facebook, attributed to David Cameron: “Things got out of hand & we’d had a few drinks. We smashed the place up and Boris set fire to the toilets.” And yes, this is the same David Cameron who said recently about less-socially-favoured smashers and burners: "The looting and arson last night were criminality, pure and simple. Justice will be done and the people will see the consequences for their crimes”. I know it’s a comparison that has been milked and milked lately so I’ll leave it at that.

The second poster I’m looking at is this one from 1942, which announces the internment of Japanese-Americans in the Presidio of San Francisco CA following the attack on Pearl Harbour. It does not relate directly to the first poster except that it is of historical interest. I came across it whilst researching the photography of Dorothea Lange who documented the 1930s and 40s in America, focusing on the conditions of the then-socially-excluded such as migrant workers, people of Japanese heritage, etc.

The final poster is one of which I can’t find an image. It dates from 1912 and contains the following words: “Soldiers, don’t betray your class. You may soon be ordered to open fire upon Workers. Refuse!” It was the publication of this poster by British syndicalists[4] which resulted in the cause célèbre of the so-called ‘Syndicalist Trials’ of 1912, at which the Incitement To Mutiny Act 1797 was invoked and used to prosecute and silence trade union activists.

The reason I am drawing these three things together is this. Even in states that pride themselves on their ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ the law can be used as a spiked bludgeon to stifle political dissent. They can be used against whole sections of society bluntly and indiscriminately. I want to sound a warning and to sound it now. I want people to bear in mind that any new laws, any toughening of existing law, any resurrection of archaic law, any hike in sentencing policy, that are now used against the recent rioters in Britain – people for whom there is little public sympathy and against whom there is understandable anger – will be used in the future as a threat against dissent and activism. It is inevitable.


[1] New York Times, 13th May 1894.

[2] J G Sinclair, A Portrait of Oxford, 2007

[3] BBC News: Cameron photo is banned, 2nd March 2007.

[4] Actually I am not sure whether it was ever published as a poster. It was certainly published in the January 1912 issue of The Syndicalist.

Monday, 15 August 2011

I never promised a rose garden

(reproduced verbatim from the blog of an artistic collaborator of mine - Marie Taylor)
I was reading a book the other day – nothing really memorable except the passage I am about to relate. It was a science fictionbook in which the hero finds the ‘ancient artifact’ that gives him a glimpse into his future. Hero is happy to discover he will live to a ripe old age, be admired and respected by others, and died surrounded by his many loved ones. What a great future! I thought to myself – one that I would like to have but doubt I will achieve.
Anyway, this belief in his future gives the hero courage and a sort of trust in life and in himself that he hadn’t had before and he plunges, with a careless grace, into all sorts of adventures. But further on in the story, when confronted by a dangerous adversary, he has to make the choice of two actions. In that crisis he suddenly thought that the future the ancient artifact has presented was not the future that ‘would be’ but the future that ‘could be.’
In an instant his understanding of the vision changed. There was no Guarantee. The future he had seen was not a certainty, only a probability, or perhaps at best, only a possibility. Since his rosy future was not guaranteed, the hero’s courage wavered; fear took up residence in his heart.
Before this revelation, the hero would plunge blithely forward – the Fool, the Innocent – but he now began to analyze situations, to weigh and balance options. Before he made no plans and set no goals because the future was assured; he now began to devise tactics and set strategies to manifest the future he desired. Instead of living in Faith, he began to live in Hope.
How much control do we have over our lives? How much power do we have to influence outcomes, achieve goals, to determine our futures? Is it better to live in Faith or in Hope?
I remember a few years ago when the book “The Secret” was such a sensation. As I understood it, if you just desired hard enough, if you just affirmed strongly enough, if you just believed deeply enough, if you prayed hard enough, you could have anything you wanted. And there was an implied lifestyle to accompany this.
If you set goals, met deadlines, uncovered subconscious assumptions; if you stop eating meat, did yoga and meditated, rode a bicycle and saved energy; if you recycled, championed peace and human rights, you would become spiritually worthy of all good things – and all good things would eventually come to you.
In other words, if you played the spiritual game according to the rules, you would be safe, happy, healthy, loved, etc. The vision of yourself you pictured in your personal ancient artifact would come true. Your ‘could be’ would become a ‘would be.’
But real life doesn’t exist in a world of Newtonian physics. Causality is not the ultimate arbiter of destiny. Goals, deadlines, affirmations, belief systems don’t work with that level of certainty. Just ask the vegetarians who developed cancer, the yoga experts who had a heart attack, the ‘good’ people who suffered economic or emotional devastation. Just ask the Jobs of this world.
This life is not a rose garden and it is naïve to believe playing by the ‘rules’ will get you what you want. Life is not an academic course that comes with a text book and mid term exams; nor does it come with a roadmap with carefully marked rest stops.
Maybe it would be more correct to say it is a Fun House at the carnival, filled with unexpected twists and turns, a bumpy ride with the occasional bogeyman jumping out, a hall of mirrors in which reality has many dimensions. Maybe life is just an adventure to be lived, rather than a lesson to be learned or a trophy to be won. Maybe life is an experience in which hope is not needed, and is, in fact, a place where hope keeps us from experience by placing the emphasis on the destination rather than the journey.
So I say give up hope and deadlines and goals and achievements. If you must have a vision, see yourself in total surrender to what life brings; that way all decisions and stresses and indeterminations are set aside, along with worry and suffering. All is meant to be exactly as it is; we are all doing the very best we can right now; and we are all part of the Great Game that does not keep score.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Juan Guzmán – a remarkable photographer

Whilst researching for striking images I came across the two below by the same photographer. Hans Gutmann was German by birth and upbringing, but came to Spain at the time of the Revolution* and changed his name to Juan Guzmán. He was a war photographer and spent his time with the International Brigades. Apart from that I can find very little about him.

The first photograph is of the Catholic priest Martin Martinez Pascual.

The photograph was supposedly taken immediately before his execution on 18th August 1936. He is counted as a martyr amongst some Catholics and is supposed to have called out “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King”) before he was killed. I can’t substantiate the claims about when this photo was taken nor about his last words; however, if there is any truth in that it is indeed a remarkable photo. The subject is relaxed, hands on hips, looking directly at the camera, and there is even a smile on his face. It’s a picture of courage. The Catholic apologist on whose blog I found the photo said of Guzmán, “We may assume that he was a communist”. Fair bet, although I can find no record of his having been a combatant.

The second picture is of the Miliciana Maria Jinesta.

Maria was a member of the Socialist Militia associated with the UGT** and she is pictured here on a high spot in Barcelona, again in 1936. Again the subject is smiling and looking directly at the camera. It is almost as though Guzmán’s technique is to get his subjects to look directly at the camera, saying “Show us who you really are, show us your truth”. How much his photographs are contrived or staged, beyond this liking for the full face, I couldn’t say.

As I say, very little seems to be known about Gutmann/Guzmán. His work is virtually unknown in his native Germany. He survived his time in Spain and WW2 and his death date was possibly 1982 (which would put these images outside public domain) but again I can’t confirm that. The latest photo of his that I have seen was of Frida Kahlo in 1951. Anyhow, I want to mark his work here, and that’s that.

Juan Guzmán


* Better known as the Civil War, but it was in fact a revolutionary situation first and foremost.

** Unión General de Trabajadores (General Union of Workers)

Smurf porn: ‘Legally Lesbian Smurfs’

‘Law Offices of Strappitt, van Smurfen, and Fuchs’ is how the brass plaque by the door read. I straightened my seams, pulled my skirt down a little, cursing under my breath at my decision to wear such a short one, and went in.

I had the impression of wood, deep leather, and fittings of burnished brass everywhere. Class. There was even a touch of class about the receptionist who greeted me – at least there was a hint of a raised eyebrow, a suggestion of a smirk, and when she asked “May I help you?” a soupçon of superiority. I almost beat a retreat, but I straightened my back and announced myself.

“Lisa McBlue,” I said. “To see Ms van Smurfen.”

“Take a seat,” said the receptionist, her fingers clicking on the computer screen. I sat in one of the leather fauteuils, sinking deep into it, my heels leaving the floor, my skirt riding up. I picked up a copy of Harvard Law Today from the low table and pretended to read it.

“Ms van Smurfen, I have a Miss McBlue to see you… mhm… mhm… yes, I’d say she is, very. Certainly Ms van Smurfen, right away.” A single click on the computer keyboard, and the receptionist look up. “Miss McBlue, Ms van Smurfen will see you now. Second door on the right. Just knock and go straight in.”

“Thank you,” I said, getting up and straightening my skirt and stockings once again, this time under the appraising eye of the receptionist. I didn’t care now and I didn’t care that I could feel her eyes on me as I walked down the corridor.

“Watch my ass if you must!” I thought, and gave it a bit of a wiggle as I walked.

When I reached the office door. The sign on it said ‘Meryl van Smurfen, Senior Partner’. I knocked but somehow I didn’t care to walk straight in, maybe it was the intimidation of the sign on the door. Instead I hesitated. There was a pause.

“Come!” called a voice from inside the office. I pushed the door and walked in.

I don’t know what I had expected my prospective boss to be like, but I got a surprise as I walked through the doorway. Across an expanse of rich, burgundy carpet, behind a leather-topped desk, was a beautiful woman. As she rose to greet me, coming round the side of the desk with her hand extended, I took her in. Hair the color of summer sunshine topped by a white Phrygian cap set at a racy angle, charcoal business suit over a crisp, white blouse, high heels holding a perfect figure in an impossible balance. She had a baby-face with cupid-bow lips, but her eyes were shrewd, knowing, her whole face sensual, sapphire blue…

“I’m Meryl van Smurfen,” she said, taking my hand and shaking it with gentle firmness. “You must be Miss McBlue – Lisa isn’t it? Take a seat Lisa.”

As she dropped the handshake her fingertips briefly traced a curve on my palm. I felt slightly prickly under my arms, slightly damp… elsewhere. I looked at the only chair this side of the desk. It was set far back across the room. Ah, this was part of the interview, I was being tested. Instead of sitting down on it, I moved it closer to the desk – not too close. Ms van Smurfen watched and smiled.

I sat down, my legs together, trying to look alert but relaxed. Ms van Smurfen opened a file on her desk.

“I have your CV here, Lisa. It’s pretty impressive. I think you are just what we are looking for in an intern at this law firm,” she said.

“Thank you.”

“I think we can dispense with much of the usual interview nonsense and cut to the chase. If you are to work with us here you will have to buy in to the culture… get used to our way of doing things, not just in the way we work but the way we play.”

I said nothing. I didn’t know what to make of what Ms van Smurfen had just said, so I didn’t reply. She got up from her seat and came round the side of the desk again, seating herself on the desk-top. There was a whisper of nylon-on-nylon as she crossed her legs. The top of a stocking appeared at her hemline – I couldn’t help looking, her legs were so shapely – and there was a whiff of Poivre by Caron of Paris. I was embarrassed to catch a different scent also, one of arousal. Was that me?

“You know what I mean, I’m sure, don’t you Lisa,” she said, lowering her voice.

“I… I… don’t know, Ms van Smurfen.”

She leant forward, her sky-blue cleavage right at my eye-level, put two azure fingers under my chin, and lifted my face so that our eyes met.

“Oh I’m sure you do know,” she said. “And it’s Meryl, call me Meryl. I insist.”

“Meryl,” I breathed as she leant forward and touched her lips lightly to mine. She drew back slightly, again looking into my eyes to see if there was any reluctance there. There was a little surprise and some timidity but – oh! – I can tell you there was no reluctance! Her eyes closed and she brought her face to mine again, capturing my lips again in a soft yet insistent kiss. My eyes closed too as she held the kiss. I felt my cheeks flush, my heartbeat quicken. When I opened my eyes again she had deftly shed not only the jacket of her suit but also her blouse, and her round, enticing, cerulean breasts were cradled in a white halter-bra.

I scarcely noticed that while she was kissing me her fingertips had strayed from my chin to my neck, and from there to the neckline of my blouse. I scarcely noticed that she had unfastened two buttons. All I knew was that her nails were tracing a line along my bra-strap and the top of the cup. A thrill ran through me as her fingers dived inside and glided over my [continued on page 94]


pic Tim Hodge

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

North London Solfed's response the the riots

Reproduced from the web site of Freedom Press, this is one of the most balanced statements yet from an anarchist source, and I would go along with much of it. Dated 9th August.

With media sources blaming “anarchy” for the unfolding violence in London and across England, the North London Solidarity Federation felt a response from an anarchist organisation active in the capital would be appropriate.

Over the last few days, riots have caused significant damage to parts of London, to shop-fronts, homes and cars. On the left, we hear the ever-present cry that poverty has caused this. On the right, that gangsters and anti-social elements are taking advantage of tragedy. Both are true. The looting and riots seen over the past number of days are a complex phenomenon and contain many currents.

It is no accident that the riots are happening now, as the support nets for Britain’s disenfranchised are dragged away and people are left to fall into the abyss, beaten as they fall by the batons of the Metropolitan Police. But there should be no excuses for the burning of homes, the terrorising of working people. Whoever did such things has no cause for support.

The fury of the estates is what it is, ugly and uncontrolled. But not unpredictable. Britain has hidden away its social problems for decades, corralled them with a brutal picket of armed men. Growing up in the estates often means never leaving them, unless it’s in the back of a police van. In the 1980s, these same problems led to Toxteth. In the ’90s, contributed to the Poll Tax riots. And now we have them again – because the problems are not only still there, they’re getting worse.

Police harassment and brutality are part of everyday life in estates all around the UK. Barely-liveable benefits systems have decayed and been withdrawn. In Hackney, the street-level support workers who came from the estates and knew the kids, could work with them in their troubles have been told they will no longer be paid. Rent is rising and state-sponsored jobs which used to bring money into the area are being cut back in the name of a shift to unpaid “big society” roles. People who always had very little now have nothing. Nothing to lose.

And the media’s own role in all of this should not be discounted. For all the talk of the “peaceful protest” that preceded events in Tottenham, the media wouldn’t have touched the story if all that happened was a vigil outside a police station. Police violence and protests against it happen all the time. It’s only when the other side responds with violence (on legitimate targets or not) that the media feels the need to give it any sort of coverage.

So there should be no shock that people living lives of poverty and violence have at last gone to war. It should be no shock that people are looting plasma screen TVs that will pay for a couple of months’ rent and leaving books they can’t sell on the shelves. For many, this is the only form of economic redistribution they will see in the coming years as they continue a fruitless search for jobs.

Much has been made of the fact that the rioters were attacking “their own communities.” But riots don’t occur within a social vacuum. Riots in the eighties tended to be directed in a more targeted way; avoiding innocents and focusing on targets more representative of class and race oppression: police, police stations, and shops. What’s happened since the eighties? Consecutive governments have gone to great lengths to destroy any sort of notion of working class solidarity and identity. Is it any surprise, then, that these rioters turn on other members of our class?

The Solidarity Federation is based in resistance through workplace struggle. We are not involved in the looting and unlike the knee-jerk right or even the sympathetic-but-condemnatory commentators from the left, we will not condemn or condone those we don’t know for taking back some of the wealth they have been denied all their lives.

But as revolutionaries, we cannot condone attacks on working people, on the innocent. Burning out shops with homes above them, people’s transport to work, muggings and the like are an attack on our own and should be resisted as strongly as any other measure from government “austerity” politics, to price-gouging landlords, to bosses intent on stealing our labour. Tonight and for as long as it takes, people should band together to defend themselves when such violence threatens homes and communities.

We believe that the legitimate anger of the rioters can be far more powerful if it is directed in a collective, democratic way and seeks not to victimise other workers, but to create a world free of the exploitation and inequality inherent
to capitalism.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Smurf porn! Smurf porn! Smurf porn!

Yes, Smurf porn appears to be the flavour of the month. So let me shout it from the rooftops – SMURF PORN!

The thing is, the last time I mentioned Smurf porn (there, I’ve said it again!) in this blog the number of hits rose steeply to 194 in a day. It was drawn to my attention that if you Google ‘Smurf porn’ my previous blog entry appears on the first page of results. So basically I have been attracting people who have been surfing specifically for… well… Smurf porn. Here’s a tip, folks – if you Google ‘Marie Marshall poet’ you get most of my other web presence, but you also get a link to the site where I used to post erotic stories!

Alternatively you could stay with this blog, delve into the archive, find the humour, like my tale of the sea, my additions to Flann O’Brien’s Keats and Chapman canon, and my continuing diary from my teepee on the Sidlaw Hills where I live with Consuela (my Tejana maid). Then there are my anarchist rants you could sample. If that doesn’t do it for you, how about my continuing obsession with English folklore?

Still not convinced? Okay then here’s a promise: I will write some SMURF PORN for you! Yes, SMURF PORN!

You have to keep checking this blog though. Why not subscribe?

Monday, 8 August 2011

Observations about the Tottenham Riots

I am beginning to fear writing about anything in this blog for the simple reason that things tend to come true in unexpected ways. Maybe if I write about my first novel winning the Booker Prize that will happen! The other day I wrote very briefly about riots, and two days ago riots occurred in Tottenham (North London).

Reactions were, by and large, predictable and understandable. I would like to pick out a few and talk about them before going on to make some general observations.

The TV news footage showed foreshortened views from behind riot police lines and CCTV shots of youths in hoods and bandanas wrecking a police car. Nothing surprising there. When civil disturbances are shown on TV the view from behind a stationary line of police with helmets and shields is almost standard. It’s a safe place for TV units to stand, for a start. The stationary line always gives the impression of patience; it’s much simpler than that, as the police are trained to respond to orders to advance, withdraw, or stand. The CCTV images are chosen because of their dramatic effect rather than their use as actualité.

The reaction of politicians could have been stored on a sequencer: “Peaceful protest is acceptable… the behaviour of those who indulged in looting and arson is utterly unacceptable.” It seems a little petty to point out that there are no degrees of unacceptability, that something is either acceptable or it is not. There is nothing intrinsically ‘wrong’ with the statement, of course, given the point of view of the politicians concerned; if you set up some kind of mental linear scale and set at one end a person whose presence throughout an event remains to protest about something by her or his peaceful presence, and at the other end a person who hears there is a riot going on and takes their van out to load up with goods stolen from shops, then you can make such a distinction. However as an analysis of a riot situation it is simplistic. In a riot there is a complex range of psychologies and behaviours; a single person’s object may change, as may his or her emotions, as may his or her behaviour, in reaction to the various stimuli of the situation. The police (the disciplined ones) are watching for a line to be crossed; of course their entrenched position, understandably, is that behaviours A and B are within the law and behaviours C and D are not. The media will make a good story of it, the politicians will make political capital, but the situation itself will be complex.

There is a tendency in the anarchist blogs and web sites that I read to spin the story into one of action against authority. I wish that they would watch such a tendency and subject it to critical review. It’s wishful thinking. Not every example of civil disorder is necessarily revolutionary in itself. Anarchists have a duty to be truthful and open in the face of a society that is secretive and devious.

The story that I heard from an eyewitness is as follows (and I stress that it is only one story):

By way of preamble, on Saturday several hundred people had gathered outside a police station to protest about an incident on Thursday in which a 29-year-old man was shot by armed police. That very fact is unusual in a British context as police in the UK very rarely carry arms. The eyewitness says he saw a woman approach the small police cordon which was in front of the police station and begin shouting at them. She was pushed, and the general disorder escalated from that moment.

The escalation included the looting and burning of shops and, consequently, the loss of several people’s homes, residents of flats above shops and so on. Since Saturday the disturbances have spread to the districts of Walthamstow (which is quite close to Tottenham) and Brixton (which is right over the other side of the city).

I am not going to go into great depths about this subject. If any of you are wondering why I do not adopt any particular moral tone about these incidents it is because I am trying to be objective.

I will finish off with an excerpt from Freedom, the anarchist newspaper. It is simply another eyewitness account, and I reproduce it without comment and purely fwiw:

It was about 10 PM last night when I arrived at a police barricade, just south of Tottenham police station. At that point there was a crowd of around 500, men and women of all ages. Most were there in anger, some were onlookers, and others were just trying to get home.

A couple of girls draped in Ghana flags needed to get up the high road. “Do you think if we ask the police they’ll let us through” asked one. “If we go up there”, her friend responded “they’ll beat us down”. Indeed, one thing that struck me was the way in which black youth reacted to the presence of the police. Perhaps understandably, many were far more frightened of the cops than most students whom I have marched with. A small movement forward by police lines would send people running back in fear.

For the next hour, not much was happening on our side of the police lines, but things were pretty tense. Meanwhile on the other side smoke started billowing. Soon a couple of huge fires appeared behind the police lines – a post office and a double decker bus were burning.

I was joined by some friends and we walked down some side streets towards the other side of the police lines. At the corner of Bruce Grove and Tottenham High Road the rioters were absolutely in control. Police lines, now to the south of us, were being repeatedly pelted, and the air was full of smoke. As the police moved forward, some young people lined up wheelie bins and built a burning barricade, cutting them off from Bruce Grove. “Just don’t go to The Farm” one man said, referring to the Broadwater Farm estate where similar events happened in the early 1980s. Meanwhile a William Hill betting shop was smashed in.

The crowd was still a mixture, now mainly young men and young women, some who were there to fight the police, some who were there to show there support and numerous onlookers and local residents who wanted to see what was happening. A couple of blocks up, the High Road was completely split in half by a huge barricade. Attacks on police were intense, and the fires were now getting enormous.

We spoke to group of women outside their home. They felt it was out of order to be setting the small businesses on fire because those “people work very hard”, but they felt that the police were getting what they deserved, and were “proud” of the middle aged woman they had seen looting a huge chicken from Aldi. Indeed throughout the night, I heard no outright condemnation of the riots by residents or onlookers.

(Article reproduced from Freedom and from The Third Estate. Here is an article from Today's Guardian web-site; The Guardian is a relatively liberal British daily newspaper.)

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Lord Voldemort

"I say, I say, I say! Lord Voldemort has no nose."

     "How does he smell?"


(Seriously I have forgotten what I really wanted to say today!)

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Would you believe that...

... in 2006 J K Rowling* was awarded the Légion d'Honneur? Incredible! She was recently quoted in the Radio Times as saying "I'm struck by how many single mothers I'm descended from". An observation I have often made about her myself.


* For the benefit of newcomers to this blog, my constant war with 'She-who-must-not-be-named' is one of the running features here. No apologies!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Ratty had been emailing me faster than I could reply, not that I’m all that savvy with electronic communications. Actually I spend most of my time down my hole engrossed in World of Warcraft, deep in the wizard-world of Azeroth – I’m a Night Elf from Outland – currently operating at the fourth level of Cataclysm and on the run from Hakkar the Soulflayer… not relevant, not relevant… but on the other hand not much need for emails either.

Ratty’s emails, they went along these lines… hang on, let me open one up and cut-and-paste it for you, here we go…

“Hey Mole, I’m due to fly out to Cyprus today and go on board the Wildwood Warrior. We’re going to sail for the Gaza strip in a couple of days time with a cargo of humanitarian aid to see if we can get past the blockade. There is still nothing, Moley, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats! LOL. Follow me on twitter @riverbankratty.”

That was last week. I can’t look at his tweets, I fear for the dear fellow. The world out there is a big place and a dangerous place. ‘Messing about in boats’ is one thing, messing about in big boats in a sea full of bigger boats bristling with guns is another thing altogether. Oh well, at least he can swim, and he always was an adrenalin-junkie, Pan knows! Like I said, I get my adrenalin rush from virtual wargaming.

Talking of which I bumped into Badger the other day coming out of the Red Lion. Bumped literally. He had his head down and his nose in his MacBook, which was open. As we collided he let it slip and it would have shattered into a thousand very expensive pieces on the cobbles of the pub courtyard if I hadn’t fielded it like Kevin Pietersen taking a slip catch. Of course I couldn’t help noticing what was on his screen – World of Warcraft! It was an irritated ol’ Badger who snatched the lappie out of my hands.

“Hey Badgie,” I said. “Didn’t realise you were into ‘the Craft’.”

“You make it sound like the confounded Freemasons,” he said with a frown. “Yes I do the odd bit of gaming.”

“Well maybe we have crossed swords at some stage,” I said. “I’m Dalforstin the Night-Elf. Who are you?”

He mumbled something I didn’t catch.

“What was that?”

“I said I’m Kolkhatana, Warrior Princess of the Dwarves. Satisfied?” he snapped, and stalked off in moderately high dudgeon. I was silent – gobsmacked actually – as his hunched figure hurried away. He was cutting quickly round the hedge at the end of the lane when a sudden thought struck me.

“Kolkhatana? Hey, didn’t we…” I called. But he had gone.

I decided it was time to drop in on Toad Hall. Things had been quiet there for some time. I did know that the upkeep was rather steepish these days and that Toad, bless his silly heart, had been threatening to give it to the National Trust and move into the gamekeeper’s cottage. Presumably that would mean  that the gamekeeper would have to move out – Toad wouldn’t have thought of that, of course. Anyhow, I ambled along what had once been a leafy lane… well it was still a leafy lane for most of its length but the here at the village end of it there was a tightly-packed knot of new houses – Toadfields. His Toadfulness had sold a patch of the old estate off to a developer in order to settle a tax bill. So anyhow, like I said, there I was ambling along the lane which led eventually to Toad Hall, when I realised I wasn’t on my own. Stoats and Weasels, rucks of ‘em, were popping out of the trees and hurrying excitedly down the lane. I could see the increasing crowd three hundred yards away funnelling through the lodge-gates and on to Toad’s gravelled driveway*.

Momentarily I paused. I wondered whether it was another invasion such as the one we four – me, Ratty, Badgie, and Toady – had fought off back in the day. But these stoats and weasels seemed in good spirits, not belligerent, as though setting off to have a good time. They were all relatively young ‘uns too.

I accosted a ferret in a cap and shades (incongruous those, because the sun was about to set) and asked him what was afoot.

“Hey bruv,” he said. “It’s ‘im, innit. It’s da beats, bruv, da beats. It’s totally sick, sick as aids, bruv!”

I resisted the temptation to say “No hablo Chav” and let him go on his way. Still I stood and wondered what in Pan’s name my ol’ pal Bufo Bufo was up to this time. We’d been through the camp site, the theme park, the WW2 vehicle museum, the health spa… none of those had attracted a surge of young mustelidae like this and, crucially, none of them had made any money either. I straggled behind the crowd as evening fell.

Toad hall was in darkness, but by the light of the hundreds of glo-sticks the stoats and weasels were carrying, I could make out some sort of bulky structure in front of it – a stage? A dais?

Suddenly a siren sounded and a great cheer went up from the crowd. Then the cheering itself was drowned by a deafening swell of electronic music at (I guess) one-hundred-and-thirty beats per second – the unmistakeable sound of Euro-Trance. Then fireworks exploded, lasers and strobe lights flashed, the stage was lit up by spotlights and there… there… there behind what could only be a set of decks bristling with controls, screens, sequencer keyboards, all the gubbins of Electro… there in a brilliant white T-shirt, cycling shades, and headphones was Toad! Toad grinning from ear to ear. Toad punching the air in time to the music, while the stoats and weasels danced and bounced and punched the air in response.

“TOADMEISTER! TOADMEISTER!” they yelled in unison.

You could have knocked me down with a wet piece of hedge-sorrel. But as I became swept up in the euphoria, began to bounce, began to dance, began to punch the air, I realised that at last, at last, Toad had got what he had always wanted.



* I would be grateful to know, by the way, why Americans park on a driveway and drive on a parkway.