Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Blogs 2008

In work today with a whole lot of fuck-all going on.

I could blog about Israeli outrages in Gazza but I don't think the inter-web needs another keyboard-jockey freedom fighter at the moment.

So as I did last year it seems like an appropriate time to make my personal blog awards for this year.

1. For bikes – an easy one - it has to be Quad Cam Bastards - dedicated exclusively to the art of back-street customising the Harley Davidson Sportster. Pure motorcycle porn.

2. For martial arts – another easy category because most writing on the subject makes me cringe – so it is a return of Dojorat- the equivalent in its own field to the Quad Cam Bastards – celebrating the cult of the backyard dojo (or kwoon).

3. Politics – a very much harder category because of the excess of Left blogs – most of which do nothing to dispel the image of activists as humourless party automatons . Fearful that I might inadvertently promote one that harbours an incorrect position on Kronstadt (or something) I’ll opt for one that at least makes me chuckle: Daily Quail

4. Life – if you think you’ve had a bad day and work is stressing you out – read Random Acts Of Reality- get things in perspective, this is literally a matter of life and death.

5. And finally for its earnest silliness in celebrating the fine British institution of the greasy spoon café - Egg Bacon Chips & Beans

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Henry Marten: Republican. Freethinker. Libertine.

And now for something utterly unseasonal: Thought I’d share a newly discovered hero – Henry Marten, a sixteenth century revolutionary … and general good ‘ole boy.

I only became aware of him through reading Geoffrey Robertson’s The Tyrannicide Brief, and have just done a quick bit of personal research.

A lawyer from Oxford, Marten was probably the first on the parliament side to come out as an open republican. Whilst those who would later be seen as radicals were talking about wooing the king away from his ‘evil councillors’, Marten made it clear that he thought the institution of monarchy should go altogether. For thinking the then unthinkable he was expelled from parliament in 1643 by Pym and the Presbyterian Party. He returned to the parliament following the ascendancy of Cromwell and the Independents, having in the meantime raised a regiment of horse that was absorbed in to the New Model Army.

Marten’s aligned himself with the Levellers and the army, and signed the Agreement Of The People – which called for the king to be held to account. It was no surprise then that he was one of the most prominent judges at the king’s trial, and a signatory to his death warrant. He opposed Cromwell’s dissolution of the Rump Parliament in 1653 and disappeared from public life (largely because he was in prison for debt) until the parliament was recalled in 1659.

When the monarchy was restored in 1660 Marten made no attempt to escape but surrendered to the authorities and fearlessly defended his actions when tried as a regicide. He was imprisoned for life and died twenty years later in Carisbroke Castle.

All stirring stuff but so far typical of many seventeenth century radicals.

But Marten was far from typical. A self-proclaimed sceptic in matters of religion he spoke out for complete freedom of conscience at a time when almost every political idea, even radical ones, were expressed in terms of religion. To an extent unheard for the times, this toleration even included Catholics and led him to oppose Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland.

Described as ‘a puritan but a man of lose morals’ Marten’s personal life was a far cry from the usual image of the godly radicals. He first offended the king, long before the civil war, when he had Marten removed from the horse races for his offensive and licentious behaviour. Drinking and gambling kept him in debt throughout his life, and he was a notorious womaniser. Following the death of his wife he lived openly with his mistress Mary Ward with whom he had three children, leading Cromwell to denounce him as a’ whoremaster’.

Fantastic stuff – why isn’t there a statue to him somewhere ?

Monday, 22 December 2008

Property & the masses

I had hoped that one of the few silver linings to the recession is that we might have seen the demise of the 'reality' property tv genre. But Tory aristo-totty (can't see it myself) Kirstie Allsop was on the radio promoting her latest series.

Apparently this will reflect the present climate by focusing on home improvements rather than on buying and selling property. Kirstie sees this as a kind of public service but was at pains to point out that she still very much 'believes' in the property market.

'Believes' ? - acknowledges its potential for making a fast unearnt buck - well ok - but 'believes' ?

But then, post-Thatcher, the property owning democracy has become a belief.

Once entrepreneurs built engines, railways and cities, the conditions of their workers might have appaling, but they could claim to be progressing the fabric of society: Today's equivalents feel that by re-painting their window frames and sanding the floors, they have made similar a contribution.

It's a lie. Buying a house doesn't make you a captain of industry. (If that's what you want to be). You need a roof over your head and whether you buy or sell at the right or wrong time is pretty much a lottery. And the particular Thatcherite lie (which still has a tight hold) is that this represents some form of popular capitalism where everyone can be an entrepreneur.

That's a bit fucking rich coming from the Honourable Kirstie Allsop, daughter of a baronet and former chairman of Christie's auctioners...

Friday, 19 December 2008

Corporate cheek

It's a time of year when traditionally, following six weeks of manic seasonal peak, work is dominated by various company piss-ups and client entertaining. Instead I find myself with my head buried in spreadsheets producing the 'tenders' on which the business nowadays survives.

The problem is that - in business bollock speak - our relationship with our clients is 'asymmetrical'. Or in other words, they're all big businesses and we're a little one so we're always going to get screwed.

And although I'd like to think we're pretty good at what we actually do, we are ill-equipped to go through all the bureaucratic corporate hoops that are required in these formal tenders. The worst aspect we have to contend with though is another bit of bollock-speak - 'transparency'.

In the context of tenders this means the client demanding the right to know exactly what our costs are so that they can see in turn how much profit (if any) we are making on their work.

Fair enough you may think. Except like many small businesses we do not have a particularly sophisticated cost analysis and in truth our business plan is simply to keep the whole thing going for another year. Which is why I am tempted to tick the box on the tender form that says "none of your fucking business".

Or possibly next time I'm in a supermarket I'll tell them that I'm running a beverages procurement tender and require full transparency of their costs of producing a jar of coffee. Just how much do they pay the poor sods who actually grow and pick their beans ? And how exactly can they guarantee year on year reductions for the next three years ?

I imagine they'd just have me escorted from the store...

Monday, 15 December 2008

X-tremely bland and depressing factor

Back in the day you formed a band with your mates. You played in somebody’s Dad’s garage. At least one member was in the band only because he had an amp. If you were lucky you got a gig at the school disco. That was pretty much the apogee of success, long before which most bands had either imploded because of artistic differences, the unavailability of the garage, or a growing self-awareness that they just didn’t have the talent.

A tiny tiny minority went on into adult life maintaining the passion and naivety to keep the flame burning. Such bands graduated to playing pubs. Some soon gave up but others stayed on the circuit for years working for beer money. Or no money at all.

In turn a minority of these maybe got to make a demo tape. And an even tinier minority maybe went on to become proper musicians.The process was called paying your dues. And it was the bed rock of what rock ‘n’ roll was / is about.

On the other hand, fast forward to the more likely modern scenario:

Turn up with a few thousand other wanabees armed with nothing more than a modicum of talent (optional), a burning ambition above all to be famous, and a sob story about how you’re doing this for your family.

For an interminable number of weeks you can then demonstrate the blankness of your canvas and go through the process of being molded by a svengali-like egoist. So long as you can then win the hearts of a number of key demographics – the granny vote, the teeny-bopper vote – the camp ironic kitsch vote - the regional loyalty vote - fame and fortune will be yours.

Thank fuck for YouTube. The virtual-garage of a new generation. Perhaps

Friday, 12 December 2008

You'd get less time for murder ...

Bit of a personal milestone for me today and one that's not very usual these days - 20 years with the same company. Fucking hell !!!

I never wanted a career, just a job - more or less. Armed with a degree from a prestigious university which was of no practical use at all as I didn't fancy a 'profession', academia, or an accelerated promotion scheme in big business - I got myself a trade. So I did a vocational course, got the then all-important union card and unintentionally maintained the family tradition of being 'in the print'. And here I am.

I've been lucky I guess - the firm (so far) has survived a couple of 'new technology' revolutions and I've had the chance to do three or four different jobs over the years. We're still a (large-ish) small business, and as tends to happen in such organisations, I slipped into senior management just by sticking around and getting involved.

This hasn't come from any great ambition on my part - basically I'm just a compulsive picture straightener who in any given situation can't help trying to make things 'right'. (Or at least I have enough cockiness to think that's what I'm doing).

Most of the time though I feel like a fraud who is over-paid for doing a job that brings nobody any practical benefit at all. Sometimes that depress me and I think I'm wasting myself. More often though I'm just looking over my shoulder waiting to be found out ...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

King Oliver ?

Oh dear. Just as I was singing the praises of 'The Devil's Whore' for putting the Civil War back in the limelight it deserves and for rehabilitating the cause of parliament, it all went horribly wrong last night.

I was happy to overlook the bodice-ripping and swash-bucking, even the usual over simplification of Cromwell's campaigns in Ireland. But the climax last night saw Edward Sexby attempting to assassinate Cromwell on his way to be crowned king. The tolling of the church bells at the end was a dramatic sign that Sexby had failed and Cromwell had finally betrayed the cause.

NOOOOO !!!! Lest there are any viewers out there who might actually believe this, here are the facts:

Cromwell was proclaimed Lord Protector for life on 16th December 1653. There was no 'coronation' - only a simple swearing-in ceremony. And for the rest of his life he turned down any suggestions that he should style himself as monarch. Ultimately his powers as head of state, although far exceeding those that Lilburne or Rainsborough ever dreamed of, were still subject to the vote of the Council Of State.

On the otherhand Edward Sexby, who in real life was a Leveller and did oppose Cromwell's assumption of presidential-like power, also turned to the Spanish and the Cavalier party in-exile for support in overthrowing Cromwell. His involvement with a conspiracy to assassinate Cromwell was discovered in 1657 - four years after Cromwell's proclamation as Lord Protector. Despite his treason he was not executed but sentenced to imprisonment in the Tower Of London.

Does anybody care ? They should because yet again the truth about the struggle for democracy in this country is being misrepresented, and the vital role of the all too short lived Commonwealth is being denied.

Cromwell certainly had his faults - ultimately he did betray the aspirations of the Levellers and other proto-democrats and radicals. But he was a reluctant dictator, and never a king.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

40 Years After Paris '68

It’s not entirely true that we learnt our democracy from the Greeks. In this country we owe at least as much to the tribal systems of the Celts and Anglo Saxons.

But we could learn a thing or two from the Greeks right at the moment.

We have a police state creeping in by stealth under the guise of ‘law and order’ and the ‘war on terror’. But our news media is more concerned with falling house prices.

In Athens a fifteen year old lad is killed by a trigger happy copper for the crime of shouting abuse and throwing a bottle of water at a police car. And the response is not much short of an uprising. Days of rioting by students and young people and now a general strike of 2.5 million workers.

Wonder if Jacqui Smith still wants to arm the police on the streets of our cities with potentially lethal tazer-guns ? Probably…

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

For the lads ?

'Lad's mags' work to a winning if cynical formula. Football, gadgets, bloke-lit writing Andy McNab style ... and tits. It's s all a bit crap really but it's the tits that have got them in trouble and now there's a move to have them treated like porn.

Strange really - they are also fixated with horrible ghoulish freak-show images of 'the boy who is turning into a dolphin' or gore-fest images of horrendous injuries. But apparently that's all ok - it's the tits that really seem to upset people.

Much like the page 3 of an earlier generation the women featured are all non-threatening 'girls next door'; reality TV rejects and wannabes, soap cast-offs and the latest phenomena, amateur 'high street honeys'.

In an age when the real thing is only a couple of clicks away it is fairly evident that this isn't porn - its cheap titillation.You might not like it but try legislating about it and you're going to end up looking pretty daft.

It all falls apart when you try to define and quantify what is and isn't deemed acceptable. From there it's but a short step to counting nipples and formulating bizare formulas that a bare bottom is the equivalent of six topless pictures. And before you know it you've banned McGill's saucy postcards and Carry-On films.

I've blogged about this before. The only safe way through the moral maze is to forget our own tastes and remember that it's just pictures. There's plenty of truly horrible shit in the real world to get worked up about - let's concentrate on that.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The new undeserving poor

The fall out from the ‘Baby P’ and Karen Matthews cases continues. I don’t know if the individuals concerned are best described as mad, bad or sad – but I can see a disturbing and predictable reaction brewing.

Arch-wanker Kelvin McKenzie is on the BBC this morning talking about the government’s scheme to force unemployed parents to seek work if their children are a year old. Apparently that's not going far enough. Presumably he would be satisfied if a program of eugenics for the underclass was adopted.

Cameron talks about society being broken. He’s not talking about his ‘society’ though – not Nottinghill and the Bullingdon Club cronies. He’s not talking about the ‘society’ of the Tory’s electoral base either – smug Middle England in the shires and suburbs. He’s talking about another society - of inner city sink estates and families trying to live on benefits.

It’s a society a million miles away from his own world that shocks and scares him - and in a perverse way this gives him a bit of a thrill. It's the combined thrill of moral censure and morbid delight in the very
‘otherness’ of this distant society.

The Victorians had the same relationship with their ‘undeserving poor’. Those incorrigibles who couldn’t be trusted to improve themselves through education or self-help, so had to be coerced into it by workhouses and harangued by evangelists.

But the same Victorian middle class had a salacious desire to walk on the wild side and visit the scary other world. So there was the phenomenon of the toff’s who slummed it visiting ‘the abyss’ of Whitechapel in the 1890’s.

You could dig out any of the popular newspapers of the day and find an echo in what is being said now: The victims of poverty described in the same way as an anthropologist would a newly discovered tribe - and with the same sense of sanctimony tinged with cheap thrills.

Friday, 5 December 2008

At the factory gates

Up at 5am this morning to go and leaflet one of the few remaining factories left in the area for the National Shop Stewards' Network. It's an auto-component plant that is affected by the struggle to keep the Ford plant open in Southampton.

It's been a while since I did any activity like this. I am reminded of when I first joined the Socialist Party - or the Militant Tendency as it was back then in the 80's.

In those days, when we were 'underground' in the Labour Party, recruitment was a bit more circumspect than now, and student recruits in particular were treated with suspicion. So for six months I was a 'contact' before I became a full member.

One of the regular activities that I attended was a paper sale at a factory gate - at 6:30am on the other side of town. Week after week myself and one other comrade would brave all weathers, with very little success.

Shortly after I finally became a proper member, the factory sale was quietly dropped from the program of activity - clearly it had been adopted only for my benefit, as some sort of test.

On reflection this may seem mad - but there was some method in playing hard to get. The odd right wing Labour 'mole' did try to infiltrate - and it also detered students who might have frivolously joined out of ideological tourism. As a result, unlike many others on the Left we were insulated from the worst aspects of middle class student-ism. And to this day we remain a predominately working class organisation.

It was still fucking cold and miserable on those paper sales though.

Monday, 1 December 2008

It's not Clarkson - it's the Allman brothers !

One of the perks about being the boss is having control of the music in the studio. Most of the time I have to defer to the democratic wishes of the majority which means enduring some dire chart and dance stuff. But I do have the ultimate sanction; a fuck-off speaker set up hooked up under my desk.

It's been a bit of a slow day here today - so I took control of the sounds.
After a few bars of Jessica - I was asked:

Isn't that the theme tune for Top Gear ?

No it fucking isn't! - it's the Allman Brothers !

The guys who had their finest hour long before sodding Jeremy Clarkson and his sycophantic sidekicks came up with the winning bloke-TV formula of fast cars and smug Daily Mail bile.

If you don't know the Allman Brothers - you should - check them here. They pretty much defined the Southern Rock genre - and without draping themselves in a Confederate flag - and at a time when multi-racial rock bands anywhere were a rarity let alone in the South. And they were into their motorcycles - at least two band members lost their lives in bike crashes. OK I know I'm biased but that pretty much seals it for me.

Play Ramblin' Man- if it doesn't make you want to jump on your bike and head off into the sunset in a Southern landscape then I really have nothing left to say to you.