Friday, 28 October 2011

Go to gaol at the Southbank

I went to the Southbank the other day to see Steve Earle - as mentioned here before I'm a bit of an obsessive fan and have to catch him every time he tours. It was a great night -  and I thought one of the best performances I'd seen from him for several years. 

But enough of that: Whilst waiting for the show to start I looked around the free exhibitions in the foyers. Since I've slipped from the ranks of the frankly over-paid to those of the unemployed I've developed a particular appreciation for that kind of thing.

First up there was an exhibition of prisoners' art. In terms of quality I suppose you could say  it was mixed. Some of it looked like school room stuff - although the best of it could have sat in any 'proper' gallery. But all of it was moving and real. -  And in other circumstances if I read something like that in connection with looking at pictures I'd be the first to consign the author to pseud's corner.

I also saw the GoToJail installation. A reconstruction of a cell - complete with a couple of ex-prisoners you can enter the cell and talk to. 

I've never been inside a cell - other than a short spell in a police station after being nicked at a demo. But the thought of being in prison - usually in some kind of Kafka-esque unexplained way - is a recurring nightmare. Now I know that this is no irrational night terror. 

The installation is a recreation of a modern cell  - so presumably it is  a bit more bearable than the Victorian cells in many UK prisons. It may be plastic and clean, but it is an unimaginably  tiny space for two adult men to share with no privacy and no personal space. In fact I was reminded of the cabin of a cross-channel ferry - without the en-suite shower/toilet obviously - you'd  have to co-ordinate your every movement with your cell mate because there's not enough room for you to both stand up and move around at the same time.

And everyone of those Daily Mail prison's like a holiday camp fuckers should be forced to spend 24 hours in it.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

One strike worth a dozen protests. But good luck anyway.

Of all the reasons to have a go at the anti-capitalists camped out at St Paul's - the most spurious are that they are disrupting the life and community of the church. St Paul's isn't a parish church in some sleepy corner of middle England that serves as the hub of a local community. People who choose to get married or Christened there are toffs or people with some tenuous connection to the great and good of the City. Or in other words - 'fair game'. And let's be honest it's not exactly a quiet spiritual haven amongst the hurly -burly of city life -  its a  sodding tourist theme park. They even charge admission.

Some Christians of a liberal bent have welcomed the protests - citing the medieval tradition of the church giving sanctuary to the people in their battles with the secular power. OK - but let's be honest, whilst the medieval peasant might well seek sanctuary from the church against the local landowning nobles, often the church itself was the landowner. Then they'd likely as not seek the patronage against church and nobles alike from the monarch. And that's exactly what happened in the 1381 peasant's revolt. It didn't get them very far and their leader Wat Tyler ended up being - both figuratively and literally - stabbed in the back for his illusions.

What's the point of this medieval detour ? Well Engels pointed out that the problem with such peasant's revolts was that they would only ever be protests - they were incapable of challenging for power because they appealed to someone else to champion their cause. And with respect I think the same goes for the anti-capitalist movement. However much I admire the camp's commitment and emotion, I can't help but think that essentially the sentiment is the same as the peasants of Olde Englande: 'this is unfair - something needs to be  done and someone needs to do something about it'.

Fair enough if the camp raises consciousness and makes people who wouldn't otherwise do so ask questions - but as far as challenging capitalism - or even trying to knock off some of its sharpest edges - then I'd have to argue that implicit in almost any strike is something  far more revolutionary; people becoming aware of and learning to flex own power.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Time to change ?

Apologies for the introspection - I'm  now one week into redundancy. More will doubtless follow but I've not forgotten that there's a whole world in crisis and injustice either.

Pop-psychology would have it that being made redundant is something like being bereaved. Having been through that too recently I have to say 'it was only a job - only a job'.

It is hard to shake off being defined by your job so when you take the definition away you can't help but feel empty. But then again, I always cut a pretty unlikely - if not downright bizzarre -  figure in my old job and felt like an imposter as a 'senior manager'.

And my life - I hope - always had more dimensions - as  my profile description  says; 'biker. socialist. martial artist - in no particular order. It's probably no accident that I didn't include what I did to pay the bills.

And on that subject -  I'm really not sure whether I want to go on doing the same thing: When I went to my mum's funeral I was struck by how people I didn't know came along - they  had been her pupils over the years and were now  adults. And in her lifetime there must have been literally  thousands of others like them. But  I'm damned sure none of my clients from work would come to my funeral. And my lasting legacy would be mountains of now-discarded print.

Easy to say whilst I still have a bit of my  pay-off to live off of. And I don't know if I could hack it as a teacher. But it makes you think.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Capitalism. This time it's personal.

I got made redundant yesterday. 

I thought I'd created a funky little haven at  work - I tried to be a 'decent' boss and was a big fish in a small pond. Until that is the absentee owner decided to pull the plug.

23 years in the same firm is pretty unusual these days. As is the slightly  paternalistic old-fashioned ethos we tried to maintain. At one point we even had three sets of brothers working in the studio. I was quite proud of that. If we hadn't had that ethos I would have  been less inhibited in parring the workforce down when we hit the recession with a vengeance back in the Spring. Who knows it might even have got me a stay of execution this week - but at least I can look everyone in the eye and say I tried to do the best for them.

It was also some comfort on a spectacularly shit and emotional day to have a number of people with tears in their eyes thanking me and saying goodbye.  And I'm not ashamed to say that I struggled to keep it together too. 

But I'm not kidding myself - tomorrow I'll be at home but their work will continue without me. Everyone will work progressively harder for progressively less - until the next bump is hit when they are undercut by a bigger company with more automation or more off-shoring.

You can read all that stuff about the inherent contradictions of capitalism and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. But it's another thing altogether when it gets up and bites you on the arse.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A measure of civilisation ?

Until recently I had always thought that funerals were nonsense. Having no religious belief I felt that my corpse could just as meaningfully be quietly disposed of at the nearest council incinerator or land-fill. But then when my mum died this summer I found her funeral very important. Although a painful day by the end of it I had got some sort of - and I apologise for the hideous use of psycho-babble - 'closure'.

My archaelogoical studies tell me that funerary practices are often the defining part of a culture - such as the beaker people. Of course sometimes that's just lazy-thinking because graves and grave goods are  the only tangible evidence left behid to speculate over. But attitudes to death and its rituals are a pretty good indicator of the underlying nature of a society. Think of the transition around the European Neolithic period from the communal 'houses of the dead' to the individual graves and how this mirrors the transition to a 'land-owning' economy with hierachies and elites.

All of which is a long-winded preamble to my depression at the news that 'pauper's  funerals' are on an alarming increase.  This Victorian concept applies to people who die without even the assets to cover their funeral expenses - and therefore have them provided by the local authority. It's often said that an indicator of civilisation is how a society treats its young and old -  and you might as now well add how it treat its dead. It makes me wonder how future archaeologist's will characterize our society.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Capitalism in a turtle-neck.

In my little bubble of the graphics / media world the death of Apple's Steve Jobs seems to being treated as somewhere up there with the loss of JFK and Martin Luther King. 

So this is a plea for a bit of fucking perspective: He wasn't the messiah -although he was undeniably a design visionary. I'll readily admit I've become one of those medja-wanka fashion victims who thinks that macs are for cool people and PC's er ... aren't. And I defy anyone who has used both not to come to the same conclusion.

Jobs was a vegetarian Buddhist and may well have been a very nice man. I'm sure he was a much nicer man than Rupert Murdoch, Philip Green or that knob-head trader who had his 15 minutes of  fame when he told the BBC that capitalists can benefit from recessions. He also made his millions by designing stuff that was  genuinely new and marketing it brilliantly - rather than on the roulette tables of the world's markets. So in a very limited sense he represented a rather less morally bankrupt version of capitalism.

But one of the turning points in Apple's history was the closing down of their manufacturing in the USA along with the 'downsizing' of about half the workforce and their replacement by cheap off-shored labour in China. Where there have since been repeated reports of appalling working conditions and abuses. 

And possibly more than any other compnay, Apple is the personification of the age of 'the brand' - where consumers are manipulated to have relationships with brands to fill the aspirational spaces which were once filled by ideology, belief and community. To the point where so long as you prefixed it with a lower case 'i' and put it in a frosted white box with a minimalist logo - you could literally package and sell a dog-turd.

In other words capitalism is still capitalism - even when it's funky.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Martial brotherhood

I'm not a natural joiner of things. Although my politics leads me to be a member of a fairly orthodox left party, I've never been entirely on message and I'm certainly not comfortable with 'party patriotism'. I'm also a member of a bike club - and although I'm happy to talk bikes until the cows come home with anyone who will listen,  I don't actually involve myself in the social life of the club at all - and the thought of riding around in a group seems to negate one of the major attractions of biking - the solitude.

Martial arts is essentially an individual pursuit, certainly in comparison to most sports, and in some respects it can be positively lonely. But I find a genuine camaraderie with my kung-fu brothers like nothing else I have experienced in any other area of my life. I'm sure I'm not unique in this but it's not something I have heard many people acknowledge.

I'm just back from a fantastic weekend seminar in Ibiza: My teacher lives there nowadays so I go back periodically - but also to catch up with other guys scattered all over Europe. It's as much about the eating, drinking and chilling as it is about the training. We must come across as a pretty odd bunch - a diverse mixture of races, nationalities, ages and individual styles. Particularly so  on that island which is  party-central for the white tribes of England with its twenty four hour full fried breakfasts and football-pubs  along the horrific 'west end strip' in  San Antonio.

One night at a restaurant we were asked what had brought us together and what the occasion was. Preferring to keep a low profile on the martial arts aspect which can often provoke some stupid, embarrassing and potentially even dangerous interest - we said that we were a family having a reunion.

And at the risk of being overly sentimental I think that's a pretty apt description. My teacher talks about how martial arts are best practiced with intensity  between friends because accidents so easily happen, misunderstandings occur and ugliness results. Very true. But I've  found more kindred spirits in my training than anywhere else. Perhaps its because we require a degree of mutual trust when we place our safety in each other's hands. Maybe by - literally - sharing blood, sweat and tears we inevitably forge closer bonds over the years than by sitting around in committee meetings.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

American girl

I haven't followed the circus around Mereditch Kurcher/Amanda Knox/the Italian bloke that nobody can remember/and of course the fall guy black guy in prison that is now no more than a foot-note.

I don't know the facts but that shouldn't make me feel any more inhibited than any of the others who are jumping in with their opinions. In the US corner we have the rescue of an all-American damsel in distress from the clutches of the  bungling and corrupt Italian courts and police. And in the Italian corner we have a well-financed PR machine disrupting the sovereign operations of their justice system much as Uncle Sam bullies and buys his way around the world to protect his own .

As I say, I don't know and can't say if justice has been served. Maybe I'll wait until the movie comes out. But here's a parting thought: If the crime had happened in many parts of the USA - the accused would probably have been either executed or languishing on death row by now. And if Amanda Knox had not been a photogenic white-bread  girl from a middle class family but a young black man dependant upon the public defender system - there is no probable about it.