Saturday, June 30, 2012

No-one else gets this treatment - the past week at work

Monday

Almost all the morning spent in a meeting planning the launch of the new logistics and society initiative.  Kathy W from Media Relations at Head Office came down to attend the meeting.  Kathy agreed with me that the key to getting people to take our proposals seriously is to create a substantial narrative drive.

Afterwards, while we were waiting for the taxi to take her to the station, she told us jokes about Alec Nussbaum.

My trip to Paris is in doubt and Callum Smith may go instead.

Campaign Manager Keith Chandler left today.  At 4.30 there were the usual presents and forced speeches.  And then he was gone.

Tuesday

A quiet day, mainly because the Institute's Director, Vijay Singh, was out.

I sat at my desk and looked out of the window and felt entirely unenthusiastic about doing any work.

At lunchtime I went to a local shopping mall, wandering through the marble halls in a tired sort of daze (I didn't get much sleep last night).  I went into a sports shop where Basshunter was playing far too loud (All I ever wanted, which seemed appropriate music for a retail outlet).  I went into Marks & Spencer to look at the suits and almost bought a grey one and a cream coloured shirt, but stopped myself at the last moment.

Back in the office I discovered that if I ask for a book from the Reading Room downstairs they will bring it to my desk.  No-one else gets this treatment apart from Vijay Singh.  I sent an e-mail requesting some published research and some unpublished reports and they were brought up to me by "librarian" Gary, looking unimpressed with the weight of the load.

Later, as I was going home, the library's manager Stan D darted out of his door and told me I was not allowed to take any of the books home.  I told him I had no intention of removing any of the books.  He looked as if he wanted to search my bag (an old laptop bag I use as a briefcase).

Wednesday

Vijay Singh back in the office so some semblance of work had to be attempted.  I searched through photo libraries for images - good visual communication is almost as important as a convincing text.  An impromptu meeting of all managers to discuss economies we could make.

Thursday

A day off to go to the dentist (I took the day as holiday).

The morning sun so bright and hard that the landscape sparkled.

I telephoned my aunt and she told me she had found a homeless person sleeping in the stairwell of her flat this morning.  She had offered him a cup of tea but he declined and gathered up his stuff and walked off.  I asked her down for a couple of weeks.

Friday

More outbursts in the Admin team, mainly Pat B (brassy blonde hair) arguing with Anglea and Kayla about work that hadn't been done.

A review meeting with the printer we use, discussing reprints of our publications.

Then I wrote my report for the management meeting - I was surprised at how much has been achieved and how I am mostly on top of things.

The management meeting in the afternoon was so poorly attended that my splendid report was wasted.  Afterwards Vijay Singh asked me what was going on in the Admin team (they work near me and I hear everything they say to each other).  I told him Pat B wasn't capable of managing junior staff.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Review Show (BBC2) still bad-mouthing the Diamond Jubilee.

Does the BBC have a death wish?

Even I, briefly, wanted to with-hold the licence fee.

Archway to Highgate 5

At the end of Chester Road you come to a road junction, and just to the left is the entrance to Holly Village.















Above:  the gatehouse is located on the corner and its appearance is completely unexpected (even when you are expecting it).  The small estate was built in 1865 by the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts and consists of nine cottages.  It is a cliche that London is a collection of villages, but this is self-consciously village-like, and according to Gillian Darley modelled on Blaise Village near Bristol.

This is a gated community par excellence.  The gatehouse is a mixture of gothic and Tudor, constructed from yellow stock bricks.  Gothic arches, spiky pinnacles, quasi-ecclesiastical statues, Tudor chimneys, fretted bargeboards, heavy wrought iron gates.

According to one theory (I forget who advanced it) the gothic style is attractive because of an ancestral memory of the sort of environment most prized by our paleolithic forebears - an irregular cliff-face with numerous cave openings, promising shelter and safety.















Above:  beyond the gates is a central lawn with the cottages around.  The style is cottage ornee.  These houses were intended by Baroness Burdett-Coutts as accommodation for her employees.  Restrictions prevented fences or alterations.  The planting schemes are very Victorian - the buildings are enclosed by shrubs, and creepers grow up the walls (but no sign of the monkey-puzzle trees mentioned by Gillian Darley).  The background screen of trees is an inspired touch.

















Above:  the architect of Holly Village was H A Darbishire (who designed Salford Town Hall).  On one level this is a wasteful and extravagent way of providing housing for workers, but it is also undeniable that people will care more about this estate than they will for the nearby Whittington estate.  The experience of living here is also likely to make residents (and also visitors) feel happier.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Barclays colluded with the Brown administration over fixing the Libor rate

Paul Mason on Newsnight has just said that Bob Diamond in a letter indicates that Barclays colluded with the Brown administration over fixing the Libor rate.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Sky Press Preview Iain Dale hinted that prison sentences might be appropriate for the Barclays fraudsters who fixed the Libor rate.

The Barclays Libor scam scandal

Watching Newsnight at the moment discussing the Barclays Libor scam scandal.

Lack of regulation is being identified as the main cause (but as Emily Maitlis pointed out, there was also a lack of morality).

Former City Minister Lord Myners, representing a government which was supposed to have been watching and regulating on our behalf, is spluttering with obviously false indignation.  Yes, senior executives at Barclays should go to gaol, but they should chuck Lord Myners in with them since he was so obviously negligent - that government was asleep on the job.

How much extra interest have mortgage payers had to pay as a result of this scandal?

Will they get refunded?

Elderflower harvest




















We are in the middle of the elderflower harvest at the moment (Sambucus nigra flos).

Not just used to flavour yoghurts or make cordials, the flowers of the elder tree have many unique properties.

Terpenes, glucosides, rutin, quercitrin, alkaloids, tannins, vitamin C, mucilage, anthocyanins - the volatile oil defies analysis.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I thought Treasury minister Chloe Smith did well on Newsnight this evening.

She was calm and polite and refused to allow herself to become needled.

Only once, with a slightly sarcastic edge to the word "good", did I think she was becoming annoyed.

Reform of the welfare system




















I've had a look through the Prime Minister's discussion points on reform of the welfare system.

I am not in favour of limiting housing benefits by age or any other factor as I think universal benefits need to be universal otherwise social cohesion becomes impossible. 

The upper earnings limit on living in a council house is not a real issue - council house tenants on more than £60,000 are ridiculous, but presumably they know they are ridiculous, and trade union officials on fat cat salaries but still living in social housing should be ashamed of themselves.

Time limiting benefits is not really acceptable - claimants either qualify for benefits or they do not.

Equally restricting income support to families with less than three children does not really make sense.

The various proposed measures surrounding benefits for unemployed people are individually fairly innocuous, but generally I am not in favour of making people jump through hoops before they qualify for benefits, and I have heard many reports of petty officials bullying claimants by using similar tactics.

Absolutely in favour of the proposed changes to council waiting list allocations - only local people should qualify, and no-one born outside the United Kingdom should be given social housing.

No benefits should be paid to people living abroad - and that includes WOOPie pensioners retiring to the sun belt.

Not really in favour of welfare benefits in kind - it is too much like charity.

Regional benefit levels only make sense if welfare policy is devolved down to county councils - if it is a national benefit it must have a national standard.

And although I appreciate the need to save money, and absolutely condemn the way Gordon Brown gerrymandered the tax and benefit system, I think there may be a case in these exceptional times for raising income tax.  It seems to be a taboo subject across all parties.  It would be the fairest and most straight-forward way of dealing with the financial shortfall, and would wrong-foot the Labour party.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Archway to Highgate 4 - the Whittington Estate
















Above:  after leaving the Girdleston Estate you come to the Whittington Estate.  Put up in the late 1970s to a design by Paul Tabori and K Adie (Camden Architects' Department).  The estate was refurbished 2005-08 but residents subsequently complained of leaks, flooded drains and peeling paintwork.
















Above:  along Raydon Street you see a linear concrete terrace broken by stylised "buttresses".  Perhaps in Salazar's Portugal this sort of collective housing for the workers might be tolerable - bathed in brilliant sunshine and with myrtles and oleanders splashing the white facades with colour.  In the grey light of a damp London afternoon it seemed a bit grim.

















Above:  there was something about the design of the estate that reminded me of a multi-story car park.  Note the tiny Union Jack, presumably put up to mark the Diamond Jubilee.  In a society where identity through possession of consumer goods is the norm ("we are what we buy") socio-economic groups excluded from conspicuous consumption tend to get their identity from communal social "assets" such as the Royal Family - which is why the working classes are among the most pro-royalist sections of society.















Above:  at the back of the terrace was this long elevated walkway.  No defensive space here at all and returning to the estate at night you would be at the mercy of anyone waiting here (especially as the walkway cannot be seen from the road).  This vista had echoes of the Prora resort by Erich Putlitz (I hope that is not too unfair).



Above: the staircases from the road up to the walkway are claustrophobic, steep and intimidating. Why do architects do this sort of thing? Perhaps they should be made to live in their own designs.



Above: one last point to mention is that the estate backs onto Highgate cemetery. Obviously this provides a view of green space and close proximity to nature (although you would not want your children to go playing in that jungle). But did Camden Architects Department not stop to consider the psychological impact of living above a giant graveyard?

Was there a deal in place?















On the front page of yesterday's Independent On Sunday with the revelation that Tony Blair misled the Cabinet over the reasons for going into the Iraq war, specifically that it was legal ("lies upon lies upon lies" I can hear you say).

In this article published by the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/25/business/media/25murdoch.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

we learn that during the run-up to the Iraq war Rupert Murdoch and News International were seeking to extend ownership of media in the USA and were encountering difficulties in the American Congress. 

Rupert Murdoch received the backing of the Bush administration in finessing a deal with Congress.

Why?

Was there a deal in place?  News International delivers Tony Blair's support for the Iraq war in return for the Bush adminstration's support for News International's expansion in America; News International backs Labour in the British 2005 general election in return for British participation in Iraq.  179 British personnel died in Iraq, so these questions cannot be brushed to one side.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Archway and Highgate 3 - the Girdlestone Estate

On my walk from Archway to Highgate I looked at social housing.
















Above:  the Girdlestone Estate was opened in 1971.  No idea who the architect was (Archway library was shut so I couldn't check).  The design of the estate follows the curve of the hill.

Presumably the estate was named after Girdlestone Walk, but where did the path get its name?  "Girdlestone" implies a road that encircles a stone.  Which suggests there was a stone of significance on the hilltop (perhaps put there in paleolithic times?).















Above:  there are several ways into the estate, including via Magdala Avenue.  Magdala commemorates the British invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1868.  Far from being "hidden away" (as some commentators maintain) the British imperial record is in full view here.















Above:  for late-1960s architecture the Girdlestone Estate is attractive.  Use of brick rather than concrete, a cascading design, trees and foliage that give a "hanging gardens" ambiance.  Most important is the "defensive space" elements - the walls and railings that give the residents psychological protection.















Above:  a sequence of elevated piazzas provide a sense of privacy and seclusion.  As I took this photo two young women with a pushchairs came out of one the units and said hello.  They asked why I was taking photos (in a friendly way, they were not the usual busybodies who think all public photography should be banned).  I asked them about the estate and they said it was a nice place to live, there were community parties sometimes (in this very piazza), the bus station made too much noise.

Apologies for all the white skies - I only have a cheap camera.















Above:  I walked with them down to the bus station.  I suppose in terms of socialist planning it makes sense to have a transport hub at the centre of a housing estate (instead of the bourgeois opiate of a church) but there was no denying the noise and fuggy polluted air.  Not sure what sort of buses these are - perhaps Boris buses?















Above:  these undercrofts are not too appealing - not sure I would like to go down there at night.  The 1960s were a generally safer period in terms of crime (most adult men had been through the Second World War or National Service and so would have received ideas about discipline and order, and would not have been afraid to physically enforce their will on young people).  Notice the lichen on the brickwork; the estate is ageing in an attractive way.















Above:  not exactly sure what these are - waste disposal chutes perhaps?  They have a French look to them.  As if they came off the SS Mauritania.
I am bloggin early for a Sunday as I will be watching the football later.

I went 4 - 0 to England in the office sweepstake.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I am just a pawn in all this - the past week at work

Monday

During the morning I wrote a press release, then edited copy for a new publication the Institute is to release.  We have a a general series of 20-page pamphlets (there's nearly eighty of these), plus our publications list, plus once or twice a year we produce a big study.  All these publications need to be kept up to date and in stock - they are stored in the library on the ground floor (which irritates Stan D who is always moaning that I am turning his reading room into a warehouse).

In the afternoon I replied to e-mails.

This work diary is so dull I am considering ending it.

Tuesday

A meeting with the Institute's Director Vijay Singh to update him on communications projects.  Increasingly he is under a lot of pressure from "head office" to get results.  We discussed changing our strategy from mailshots to digital campaigns.

Wednesday

The morning was taken up with a briefing session for Vijay Singh, the two campaign managers (Callum Smith and Keith Chandler) and myself.  The briefing was held in Vijay Singh's big office, and was delivered by Peter Whitgift from the Institute's Birmingham office.  He went through various green papers coming up and asked whether the Institute wanted to make any contribution.

It was a lively and interesting discussion.

Half an hour for lunch, entirely taken up with a visit to the dry cleaners.

In the afternoon Peter Whitgift's briefing continued, but this session was more tedious and I found myself becoming bored and tired.  It was a relief when it finally ended.  In the hour that remained of the working day I tried to get everything up to date.

Thursday

I worked on case studies, which is an area of the Institute's work I am responsible for.  I need to keep a wide portfolio of "evidence" as I can be asked for a case study on almost any topic the Institute has a view on.  Vijay Singh has banned using any of the case studies held at head office as he suspects many of them are made up.

Even so, I did a lot of liaising with Kathy W in the PR department at head office - by 'phone and by e-mail.  As one cannot predict who will win the tussle between Vijay Singh and Alec Nussbaum it seems wise to build contacts with the head office team.  Kathy W is in her early twenties, and does not appear to play office politics, which is a relief.

Friday

Fierce wind and a startlingly bright morning, the sky vivid blue between the moving clouds.

Campaign Manager Keith Chandler left the Institute today - he is going to work for a government department.  I asked for his Newcastle FC calendar and to my surprise he gave it to me.  I also got his filing cabinet.

In the afternoon two hostile e-mails sent to me by people at head office.  I retaliated as aggressively as I dared without risking an incident.  I realise I am just a pawn in all this, and that the real target is Vijay Singh.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ed Miliband on the key subject of immigration














Very courageous speech and tentative policy development by Labour Leader Ed Miliband on the key subject of immigration.  It has already generated an editorial in the Guardian (above).  The speech was courageous because immigration is such an important national issue.

Labour party narrative (both the external narrative it tells the country and the internal narrative it tells itself) has for over forty years been the message that British society is both racist and discriminatory and that only the Labour party can protect immigrants from "unfairness" (or in stronger but less publicly expressed terms "oppression").  Anyone who opposes this view must be a "racist".  There must be no toleration of, or platform for, racists.

This narrative story also appealed to the romantic view Labour had of itself - internationalist, caring for the dispossessed, anti-racist (and to be anti-racist you need to create "racists" to be anti against).

Until the turn of the century this narrative worked.  Post war immigrants, who tended to be Black or Asian, overwhelmingly saw Labour as their natural home (even now very few BME people vote Conservative, and the Liberal Democrat party is probably the whitest mainstream party in the western world).  The accusation "racist" immediately silenced anyone to tried to discuss immigration.

This Labour narrative has become entirely out of date following the arrival of millions of white eastern Europeans over the last ten years.  Because this latest wave of immigrants has been white is has been possible to discuss immigration without being called a racist, or if the racist accusation is made it just looks silly.  Only within the Labour party itself does the "racist" accusation have the power to silence debate (most famously with Lord Glasman although there are many other examples - even Phil Woolas had the condemnation flung at him).

Labour now finds that its previous unassailable position of defender of the immigrant communities has become a liability, alienating the working class communities opposed to immigration (and who are now able to express their opposition without fear of being called "bigot").

The Labour party has a number of choices:

  • Continue to position itself as the natural champion of immigrants and immigration and risk continued erosion of the white working class vote (which has reached acute levels).
  • Change direction and policy on immigration and risk desertion of the BME votes (as happened in the Bradford by-election) as well as anguish among Labour activists who will see their core self-identity as "anti-racist" evaporating, with the consequent development of an internal party-wide identity-crisis.
  • Attempt to change policy on immigration while keeping the immigrant communities on-side as natural Labour voters - with the risk that these two objectives are irreconcilable and the Labour party will appear ineffectual.
On the whole I think Ed Miliband has no option but to follow the course he has.

Whatever the arguments in favour of immigration, the ordinary people do not want it.

Text of the speech (not sure if it is complete - it seems to end very abruptly:  http://www.politicshome.com/uk/article/56155/ed_milibands_speech_on_immigration.html

Update












In a piece on the Independent website columnist Owen Jones gives a critique of Ed Miliband's speech.

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/06/22/ed-miliband-and-britains-anti-immigrant-backlash/

Although he is absolutely right to call for a German-style re-industrialisation policy (preferably based on exports), and morally right to want more social housing (although there is no chance of that happening without taxpayer support), he misses the wider and more profound point that probably the era of immigration without consent is coming to an end or has already come to an end. 

Therefore the Labour party cannot look for an ever-expanding rainbow coalition of migrants to top up votes lost as a result of the breakup of traditional working class communities (due to a variety of causes including upward social mobility, emigration of blue collar workers overseas, or simply the "old" Labour party members getting elderly and dying - Marks & Spencer faltered due to their traditional customer base simply getting old and dying; the Conservative party almost collapsed because so many of their traditional supporters got old and died; it is possible Labour is now facing the same prospect).

What is to be done? (to quote Lenin).

The Labour party must either acknowledge popular opposition to immigration and offer polices designed to bring it to an end.  Or the Labour party must actively sell the benefits of immigration to the electorate (and good luck to the politician who tries to do that!).  Or ignore the issue and hope that on Election day in 2015 the voters have other things to worry about and if they get back in things can go on the same.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Next week's Question Time will be in Luton!

One to watch.

I wonder if I will recognise anyone.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Culture Show came on, with an interview with Martin Amis

Earlier this evening I watched The Secret History of Our Streets on BBC2 and left the television running while I waited for NewsnightThe Culture Show came on, with an interview with Martin Amis talking about his new novel Lionel Asbo.  Dessicated in appearance, the author said dry spiteful things like "I don't think intellectual snobbery is too reprehensible" at the same time as boasting about his skill at writing tabloidese (as a spoof).  An actor performing a scene from his novel used the words "chav chic", a phrase I have never heard before.

In a short critique of Martin Amis the Independent columnist Owen Jones said the characters in Lionel Asbo were cardboard cutouts.  He then placed Martin Amis in a tradition of snooty intellectuals who abuse the working classes and reeled off a list of authors (Virginia Woolf, HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw) who were guilty of this chav hate (I know I am using the description anachronistically).  He failed to mention that all three examples he quoted were socialists.

You can see the programme:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01k78vz

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Talk sense about “Europe"





















At last a leading politician is beginning to talk sense about “Europe” and how our entanglements with that undemocratic charybdis have brought us to the brink of economic disaster.

There is no mention from the pro-EU apologists about how their policies have almost sucked the United Kingdom into economic catastrophe.  They go on and on about how half of Britain’s trade is with the EU – of course trade has been skewed towards the EU when you stop to consider the Aurelian wall of tariffs, directives and restrictions that surround the bloc and compel EU member states to trade with each other no matter how crazy and expensive the resulting trade patterns become.  Has any study been done on how food prices would fall if we were able to buy food freely from around the world?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rupert Murdoch was urging Tony Blair to join in the invasion of Iraq

The Leveson Inquiry trundles on, and seems to be bogged down in party politics.

Who cares who rode a horse in the company of Rebecca Brookes and whether Jeremy Hunt might have done something bad if he could have gotten away with it.

Given the venal and corrupt nature of ninety per cent of the House of Commons, hundreds and hundreds of MPs would do bad things if they thought no-one was watching (as they proved with the Expenses Scandal).

The important issue is to bring to account politicians who HAVE done bad things.




















Bearing in mind that Alastair Campbell is a prince of lies, we can disregard his gloss and look at the simple fact that even an arch-dissimulator such as Mr Campbell is unable to obscure: Rupert Murdoch was urging Tony Blair to join in the invasion of Iraq.

Why?

Was it because Rupert Murdoch genuinely believed in the right to democracy of the Iraqi people?

Or was it because there was a deal in place - Rupert Murdoch gets concessions from the Bush administration in return for delivering British participation in the Iraq war while Tony Blair gets News International support in return for joining in the invasion?

Sorry if this seems suspicious.

But there are too many unexplained questions about the Iraq war to get diverted over party politics, however tempting that might be.

A defence of the established order











Poet Simon Armitage sneers at Education Secretary Michael Gove's suggestion that the established canon of English poets should be taught in schools, identifying Tennyson for especial ridicule.

In last Thursday's Question Time, in a discussion on Michael Gove's proposals (a discussion in which Tennyson was mentioned by Peter Hitchens) a teacher in the audience said her class would be bored to tears if they had to read traditional poets and she would much rather they wrote poetry of their own (which presumably she would award top marks for, whatever the quality, and everyone would feel good and no-one would have to do any real work least of all the teachers).














The Band Perry had a quadruple-platinum US and UK sales of their 2010 single If I Die Young.  In the video for the single Kimberly Perry is seen reading the poetry of Tennyson and dreaming about The Lady of Shallot.  Quadruple-platinum sales means four million teenagers, and presumably they had no problem connecting to Tennyson.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NJqUN9TClM














Is it possible that Simon Armitage and the Tennyson nay-sayers in the teaching profession are the ones who have got things wrong? 

Simon Armitage started his career as anti-establishment, then became new establishment, and is now just part of the establishment.  There's nothing wrong with being establishment.  But we need to see this for what it is - a defence of the established order.

From that perspective it is Michael Gove that looks revolutionary.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Archway and Highgate 2















Above:  on my walk from Archway into Highgate I went into Highgate cemetery.  There are in fact two cemeteries - the West one, which I went into; and the East one which I will have to return to see.  Actually I will have to return to see the West cemetery more thoroughly as all I had time for was a walk around the circuit path.

Highgate was one of the great Victorian cemeteries of London and contains a huge number of graves - ordinary Victorians, famous Victorians, Victorians who used to be famous but are now forgotten ("long in Kensal Green and Highgate silent under soot and stone" if you will forgive a Govean lapse into poetry learned by heart).  And not just Victorians.  The West cemetery is still in use, although you get the impression that people are being squeezed into gaps and soon the elysian field will be complete.















Above:  the circuit path is about a mile in circumference (I am guessing) and is well kept.  Away from the path the graves are jumbled and overgrown.  Some of the monuments are fabulous, although not to be compared with those in the East cemetery.

I have always had a tendency to melancholia, and walking alone around the circuit path made me feel very philosophical about my life, how little I have achieved, how brief our lives are compared to the eternity of the grave.

















Above:  as a dog-lover I was cheered by this monument to "Emperor".  Fidelity even unto death.  Often I wonder if dogs have souls and whether I will see my long-gone dogs again.


















Above:  Anna Mahler's grave.  Who would have thought that London would have a connection to the great composer?  His daughter fled to England in 1939.















Above:  on a corner you suddenly come across Karl Marx.  Obviously I knew he was in Highgate, but I was expecting more of a setting than just a roadside grave.  There was something about this squat monument that seemed to suggest all the dead historical weight of communism.

One thing that surprised me was how many "lefties" have been buried around Karl Marx in a sort of marxist valhalla.  Presumably these people are all atheists, so why would they be concerned about the final location of their remains rather than having them tipped into a utilitarian socialist compost heap?  Do they expect to follow their philosopher into some kind of utopian communist after-life?

I continued walking and was approached by four young men in jeans and t-shirts, dark Mediterranean appearance (or were they South Americans?).  They asked me where Karl Marx was, and after I had given them directions I asked on impulse whether they were communists.  "No, we are humans" one of them replied.
















Above:  one of the last mausoleums before I left the West cemetery, pink granite and classical.  Eventually we will all have to pass through our own equivalent of those verdigris bronze doors.  Who knows what will await us ("We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come").

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I stayed out of it - the past week at work

Monday 

Dull morning spent dealing with e-mails.  As soon as I respond to someone, thinking "that's done", they reply with yet more work to do.  Alec Nussbaum is a master of this.

Dull afternoon writing brochure copy.

There is an infection going through the offices and I am concerned I do not get this (a persistent cough).

Tuesday

So cold in the office I asked for the heating to be turned back on.

I finished the brochure copy and spent the rest of the morning choosing illustrations.

In the afternoon the Institute's Director, Vijay Singh, called a management meeting to discuss finances.  We are dependent for our funding on our "sister organisation" and this funding is controlled by Alec Nussbaum (a senior Director at "head office").  Vijay Singh wants us to have other sponsors so we can develop a more independent line.  We talked about various options.  Accounts Manager (and Acting Deputy Director) Marcia Walsh was tasked with approaching a professional fund-raiser who is to be offered a percentage of all money raised.   This intitative is to be kept secret from Alec Nussbaum.

Wednesday

Finance and Admin clashed this morning, with heated words shouted across the general office.  I stayed out of it and just got on with my work.  Vijay Singh was out when it happened, otherwise he would have intervened.

E-mails to deal with, including one from Membership at head office, attacking me ("what have I ever done to them?" I thought).

I planned a new publication and researched a suitable database.

My lunchbreak curtailed because of a meeting that started at 1.30.  Attendees were myself, Vijay Singh, Peter Whitgift from the tiny Birmingham office, Campaign Manager Callum Smith, and Carol Reynolds from head office representing Alec Nussbaum.  It was a good meeting from my point of view, mainly because I was so well prepared and my ideas were positively received.
 
Thursday

It was extremely quiet in the offices, and I was inclined to be idle.

A long telephone call from Carol Reynolds about yesterday's meeting and some literature she wants written and produced.

Friday

Another visit to Head Office in London. 

The meeting only lasted an hour and did not really require my presence.  I had taken the afternoon as holiday, so emerging from the building I had the rest of the day to myself.  The weather still very bad for June.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A debate on Newsnight this evening on whether the Conservative Party can retain support in working class segments of the electorate.

It was an interesting discussion, and certainly the Conservative Party needs to recruit more members.

However there are three flaws in Owen Jones's argument:

Working class people do not tend to vote according to class interests - other factors are often more important.

Genuinely disadvantaged groups do not tend to vote.

In a two-party system if you do not want to vote Labour the only alternative is the Conservatives (the Liberal Democrats are now seen as Tory-lite).

Archway and Highgate 1

Inspired by the Secret History of Our Streets I have decided to resume my wanderings around the less fashionable suburbs of London.  This is the first of three posts about my Friday afternoon walk from Archway tube across parts of Highgate.  I had a vague idea of walking as far as Kentish Town, but that was too ambitious.




















Above:  the area round Archway tube station seems at first glance to be a nothing sort of place.  Archway is dominated by the Archway Tower, a nondescript structure in the modernist style, notable only for the glowering way it intimidates and dominates the surrounding buildings.  There is currently a debate on whether to demolish or refurbish the tower.

Archway Library is in a grim sort of undercroft area, right underneath the Archway Tower - as if it is being crushed by the concrete slab overhead.  The library is not open on Friday afternoons, so I was not able to call in there to research the area (I am assuming it has a local history section).  Too much traffic gives the immediate surroundings a hectic atmosphere.




















Above:  opposite the Archway Tower is the Archway Tavern pub.  I don't have a Pevsner for this area of London, and the public library was closed, but I would guess this is an 1870s building.  Fine mansard tower.

An album cover for The Kinks was photographed in the main bar of the Archway Tavern.
















Above:  less architecturally distinguished than the Archway Tavern is the nearby Whittington Stone pub.  The legend of Dick Whittington and his cat is probably just a picturesque story, but it may overlay a more ancient tradition.  Stones at crossroads, especially in elevated situations, often marked ancient meeting places where leaders were chosen (witenagemots - perhaps the origin of the "whitting stone").















Above:  I think this was once a hospital (if the Archway library had been open I could have checked).  Impressive building, looming over the busy road.  Archway tower, the tower on the Archway Tavern, and this tower - there seems to be a theme here.















Above:  Waterlow Park, one of several parks in the Archway and Highgate area.  Pleasant and well kept.  Given to the public by a wealthy Victorian philanthropist as a "garden for the gardenless".

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Martin Amis - Lionel Asbo

Martin Amis appeared on the Today programme yesterday morning and Newsnight yesterday evening promoting his new novel Lionel Asbo. Supposedly a creative and inventive thinker, the author used the same lines in each of the two interviews, which were more or less the same (“when you get to the age of sixty you realise this is not going to end well” etc). Not for the first time I thought the man was a fraud.


I have not read Lionel Asbo, but I have read Dead Babies which was so unpleasant it decided me against reading any more Martin Amis novels (Dead Babies also undermines his claim that he has not written any novels about the middle classes).

Normally with an author I have stopped reading, and a body of work I do not care about, no further comment would be necessary.

However Lionel Asbo has so intruded itself into the media that it is difficult to ignore. Especially as the subject matter seems to be an exercise in chav-hate (chav-hate as satire; chav-hate as sophisticated literary metaphor; chav-hate as hate – these impressions gained via the media). In that respect I feel I need to record my objection to this novel, insofar as I am allowed to object to a book I have not read and do not intend to read.

Part of the problem seems to be the unthinking way in which Martin Amis is accorded a high status by critics and commentators.

Is it unreasonable of me to suggest that Martin Amis only gets attention because his father was Kingsley Amis? Is it possible that without a famous literary father his books would sink without trace and the chav-hating novel Lionel Asbo would never have appeared in print? He condemns people who are “famous for being famous” but is this not the exact same category in which we need to place Martin Amis himself?

Isn’t Martin Amis just another over-privileged person from comfortable family wealth and an Oxbridge education whose mediocre output is taken seriously because of his father’s (deserved) literary reputation?

And is it not possible that Martin Amis realises he is an over-hyped over-privileged Oxbridge waster? That he hates himself for being an over-hyped over-privileged Oxbridge waster? And that he has sublimated his self-hate into hatred of the defenceless “chavs” (possibly suspecting that many of the “asbo” class he satirises would out-class him were they given the right educational opportunities and chances in life)?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Secret History of Our Streets on BBC2
















I watched Secret History of Our Streets on BBC2 last night - part of a documentary series looking at the history of London from a micro level (streets, families, houses).


Last night's programme looked at Deptford.

It was a revelation.

I had always previously accepted the line that after the war bomb damage and “slum” clearance was the catalyst for the rebuilding of inner suburbs and the decanting of populations into “modernist” forms of housing (concrete canyons, tower blocks, “Noddy-land” houses in planned communities etc).

Unfortunate perhaps, but necessary.

The Deptford case study examined last night demonstrated that much of this redevelopment and decanting was not necessary at all, but was effectively an ideologically-inspired attempt at collectivisation of the working class.

The way people were treated was appalling.

Was this arrogant incompetence by essentially well-meaning but stupid people? Or was it a deliberate attempt to destroy local identity, destroy the institution of the family, and “rebuild” the working class according to a socialist ideal? Remember that in the post-war period (until 1979) both major parties were socialist – the Conservatives were “slow socialists”, Labour were “urgent socialists” (the reverse of the current position where Labour are “slow Tories” and the Conservatives are “urgent Tories”).

You should watch the programme while you can.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01jt9bv/The_Secret_History_of_Our_Streets_Deptford_High_Street/

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The report on Newsnight yesterday about the Red Road estate in Glasgow was fascinating - but far too short.

Monday, June 11, 2012

One of them has committed perjury

Watching Newsnight, at the Leveson enquiry Rupert Murdoch and Gordon Brown have both made statements on oath that contradict each other.

One of them has committed perjury and deserves to go to gaol for ten years (the average sentence for this crime).

A court should now summon them both to stand trial together and the court then decide which of them is telling the truth.

This must happen.

Paloma Faith's "chav" accent















Above:  complaints about the BBC's coverage of the Diamond Jubilee event last Sunday are reported to be influencing the choice of the next Director General of the media organisation.  Different parts of the BBC are reported to be briefing against each other.  It is possible that the political outlook of the future Director General (whether left-leaning or right-leaning) will depend on his/her attitude to spoof "sick bags".
















Above:  the main focus of the complaints seems to have been the Ferne Cotton interview of singer Paloma Faith.  Ferne Cotton and Paloma Faith are seen examining various odd-ball items of kitsch, including what appear to be some stuff-the-Jubilee "sick bags".  It is a relatively harmless piece, especially as demonstrators against the Jubilee only amounted to "dozens" (report in the left-wing Guardian newspaper) and the anti-Jubilee satire in this little sequence is extremely mild.

It seems particularly unfair on Paloma Faith as presumably she is a royalist and appears to have dressed-up to feature as a guest on the BBC's Diamond Jubilee broadcast.  Is it possible that prejudice against the "sick-bag" item is in part generated by hatred of Paloma Faith's "chav" Hackney accent (this is not to denigrate the accent - I spoke with a Kentish Town accent myself until I went to university and realised I would get nowhere in life until I changed).  Criticism of the BBC's Diamond Jubilee coverage has been led by fruity-voiced Oxbridge-educated inverted snob Stephen Fry (there is nothing lefties hate so much as working-class support for the monarchy).

You can see the sick-bag interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImoDL5DkAWM















Above:  you might ask who is Paloma Faith?  Although she has had modest success since her debut in 2009 she has only really begun to have an impact on popular consciousness since the release of her single Picking Up the Pieces on 18th May (last month).  The video for the song was directed by Emil Nava and is already regarded as a significant art work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ijel4Vcqd9g














Above:  the video, which was filmed at West Wycombe Park, is wonderfully subtle and crammed with references, influences and counter-points (Twin Peaks, 2046, The Shining, David Lynch etc).  These two maids for instance.  They could have come out of the 1968 BBC ghost drama Whistle and I'll Come to You or the photography of Bill Brandt.


















Above:  Whistle and I'll Come to You is an adaption of a MR James ghost story.  The film is notable for the sense of menace conveyed through the tiny details and routines of an old-fashioned hotel in the country.  Although nothing is ever portrayed explicitly, the terror is both real and convincing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyMAqI5qyi0




















Above:  the photography of Bill Brandt is internationally acclaimed, and although born in Germany he is perhaps the most accomplished British photographer of the 20th century.  His status as an outsider probably allowed him to see British society in ways not ordinarily perceived.  His social realist images are remarkable.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

A "renting way of life"




















Front page article in today's Observer by Toby Helm and Tegan Rogers examining a report on housing carried out by Cambridge University for the Resolution Foundation.  The mildly sensational way in which the newspaper reports the study presumably indicates that they think a "renting way of life" a deleterious development and that they would prefer a property-owning democracy.  I thought we had too much national capital tied up in property ownership?

The article's emphasis upon exploitative landlords is also sensationalist and belies the truth.  Obviously there are bad landlords who need to be legally admonished, but they are a minority (as are bad tenants).  The vast majority of landlords want stable long-term lettings and are prepared to invest in rental properties to achieve that - no normal landlord would want the hassle of evictions and finding new tenants.

However I think there should be more regulation of lettings agents, and also perhaps a legal requirement for properties to be only available via regulated lettings agents.






Commenting on the article Owen Jones (a writer for the Independent, although this was on his Twitter account) called for more social housing.  This is not practical while "emergency cases" can leap-frog the social housing waiting lists.  The construction of social housing can only resume when taxpayers support the concept of council housing - and this will only be when most taxpayers see the benefits applied to their extended families and acquaintances rather than a class of social tenants chosen on the highly-politicised basis of "need".

Owen Jones as a single person without children would probably have to wait his entire life on a council waiting list without being allocated social housing, and even if by some fluke a property did get offered to him it would not be the "high quality" accommodation he is calling for.

Zoffany exhibition at the Royal Academy















Friday afternoon I went to see the Zoffany exhibition at the Royal Academy.  The show closes today, so I only just managed to see it.  Previously to the Royal Academy the exhibition had been at the Yale Center (Centre) of British Art in America.

It was a fabulous show, not just for the number and quality of the paintings but also for the insights Zoffany gives you on how to look at the world.  Great art is all about noticing the details that illuminate the central narrative.  Society Observed not only told you how Zoffany looked at 18th century society, it also gave you a template on how to look at society today.

Excellent 300-page guidebook.

Paintings I particularly liked (from notes I made as I went round):

David and Goliath - the severed head of Goliath looks alive, a baleful eye watching the exhibition-goers.


Venus Marina - in the middle of all the knowing titillation is the erotic delicacy of a red twig of coral.


Allegory of Time Clipping the Wings of Love.

Mr and Mrs Garrick by the Shakespeare Temple at Hampton - serene and lovely Thames with a boatload of hay.

A porter with a hare - the hare is magnificent.


The Dutton family - I could look at this painting for hours, there is so much truth and life in the characters, the expressions are so compelling.

The Tribuna of the Uffizi - you might think an over-familiar work like this would seem banal, but the impact of the original artwork is tremendous, especially his depiction of Raphael's St John the Baptist.


Archduke Francis - the pale blue eyes are both fascinating and unsettling.

The Impey Family - indifferent to the Indian exoticism around them.


The Auriol and Dashwood Families - this tells you everything you need to know about the English abroad.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Many people away - the past week at work

Monday

Jubilee holiday - big family dinner (roast lamb); several bottles of Gigondas 2001 and two Sauternes 1996; the afternoon passed in an alcoholic haze.

Tuesday

Jubilee holiday - in the evening there was live music and a sing-song on the village playing field (half a mile away but I could see and hear it perfectly from the house).  I went over for the lighting of the beacon.  Everyone very happy and inebriated.

Wednesday

Arriving at the office I sent briefings by e-mail to the Admin team although they sit only a few feet away (if I just ask them to do things they often forget).

Many people away this week, so that the offices were quiet.

Printing a new briefing paper has gone wrong and I requested a meeting with the printer.  They asked me to their premises to show me the state of the documents already printed, and when I got there I found they had arranged a lunch for me - sandwiches and orange juice.  They were very apologetic and anxious to try to rebuild their reputation (I was polite to them but also cool, and not at all keen to give them any more work).

Thursday

All I really did today was reply to e-mails.

Friday

At the station this morning I met Tim Watts (who is Development Manager for the Institute) and we caught a train to London.  Tim Watts is in his late twenties, orange hair, face covered in pale freckles.  All he seems to want to talk about are his young children (both toddlers) so it was a boring hour and a half.

We arrived in London and made our way to Head Office.  Everyone warns that the place is a nest of vipers, even people who work there.  Institute Director Vijay Singh had told Tim and myself to be very careful about who we talked to and what we revealed about the Institute's work.

Having been to Head Office several times I am beginning to appreciate the culture of the place, in particular the ritualistic kafkaesque way in which nothing is ever done.

We were taken to a meeting room in the basement, a bare room with utilitarian tables and chairs and on one wall two large oil paintings in elaborate gilt frames - former panjandrums in the organisation, presumably relegated to this room because their ideas have fallen from favour.

Kevin B and James T met us.  They are researchers who work for Alec Nussbaum (who is supposedly scheming to take over the Institute and eject Vijay Singh - just as Vijay Singh is supposed to be scheming to take over the Nussbaum empire at Head Office).  They were both vapid and ineffectual.

The meeting ended with no definite decisions being made and no real outcomes being decided upon.

I took the afternoon as holiday and stayed in London while Tim W returned to the office.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The subject deserves more serious analysis

Yesterday's Newsnight also had one of Steve Smith's quirky-humourous items.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.  Last night he was looking at how the Diamond Jubilee has been reported around the world, concentrating on satirical coverage rather than the ubiquitous adulation (the satire was a bit thin, and he was reduced to quoting Russian state propaganda from the RT channel - also known as SMERSH TV).

The subject deserves more serious analysis than a Steve Smith slot.

The reaction of people throughout the world to the Diamond Jubilee was more than just unthinking patriotism, royalist enthusiasm, or clever PR by an office in the Royal Household.  Even Barak Obama felt obliged to make an effusive video tribute and post it (perhaps a little belatedly) on the White House website - and he is not someone who would fall for PR spin or feel any affinity with "Britishness".  So what can politicians learn from the four-day Jubilee event?

I think the main message to emerge from the statements of ordinary people is the importance of longevity and permanence.  The near-universal exaltation (I could almost write adoration) of the British monarch and the institution of the British monarchy represents a subconscious longing for stability.  People are tired of uncontrolable economic turmoil, continuous "reform" of state provisions (including Blair's fatuous constitutional reforms), endless "globalised" lecturing about becoming more competitive, unstoppable expansion and rebuilding of towns and cities, incessant flows of migrants, eternal Orwellian wars etc.

You might dismiss this as just backward-looking conservativism (small "c").

But I think the message is plain for those willing to see it.

People want institutions that don't change from decade to decade, represent qualities of high-minded service and duty, do not contain corrupt individuals, do not become partisan, are not monetised, have a very long-term outlook.

So misleading as to count as an untruth

On Newsnight yesterday Menzies Campbell MP said that the European Union had been the basis of "stability" in Europe since the Second World War.

This is a misleading statement - so misleading as to count as an untruth.

NATO has been the basis of stability in Europe.

When peace in Europe was challenged by the breakup of Yugoslavia the European Union failed lamentably to do anything other than dithering and hand-wringing of the most negligent kind.

It was NATO that had to sort the mess out.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The vox populi may have been contrived

There is a collection of vox populi assembled by Owen Jones and published on the Independent website:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/view-from-n17-i-do-respect-the-queen-but-what-has-she-really-done-for-the-people-7818044.html

The impression given by these quotes is that the young people of Tottenham are either indifferent or hostile to the monarchy.

There is no mention on the Independent webpage that the vox populi may have been contrived.

However on the Owen Jones Twitter page is the tweet:






This suggests that the people interviewed were not a random selection of passers-by.

Was there any need for Owen Jones to have gone to McDonalds in Tottenham if all he wanted was a few of his Twitter followers who agreed with him?

Obviously this sort of skewed "survey" goes on all the time. 

But seldom is it so blatant.

And I thought the Independent was a reasonably reputable organisation.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Anti-royalist Owen Jones has just appeared on Channel 4 News

Independent columnist and anti-royalist Owen Jones has just appeared on Channel 4 News in a badly managed (several times everyone talking at once) discussion on the validity of the monarchy.

Given the large number of royalty-themed advertisements carried in the Independent this week presumably he will experience a crisis of conscience about whether he can accept his Independent salary for this month?




















Above: - ad on page 28 of the Independent - many other examples in the Independent, Observer and Guardian over the last few days.