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Monday, 8 October 2012

A broken bottle of grief.

Five or so on the clock. Radio off. Leftovers, the sound of car tyres on tarmac, and planes distantly roaring , imperceptible diffusions and sullen confusions of interposed space, contracted time. Distance lends disenchantment. Concealed, revealed, perfect in every detail. Total forgetfulness. The resemblance to the truth. False premises, public property, private eyes, privatise, publicise, hung, drawn and quartered.
Acutely aware, vaguely unsure, ignorance rather than bliss. The numb skull. Always the less, a figure of speech, a figure of fun, a horse on the beach, a kingdom to come.

Immaculately saturated fat of the land with or without sugar and pills, I see the condominiums of futures past : the glass looks out into glass that reflects itself and nothing, repeating itself endlessly, seamlessly, meaninglessly, mirrors of emptiness, mirrors of illusion, conflicting and confusing the sky and abstracting the ground, a contraction of vision, a void made external, a blank presence, a blank present, an eternal neutered now. Between a rock and a ( s ) hard place, in permanent stasis.

This de-structured quasi-terminal conductor/ inductor, an electrode implanted in the brain of the city, a broken bottle of grief, a negative energy accumulator, a hermetic solenoid, sealed stalagmite, an negative pole, vertical incision, glassy missile stuck on launch pad, a threat or target, ground zero hour, no lift-off, a dead shaft, waiting for ignition, with no mission, no control, counter-productive, inverse engineered, an erect hypodermic anaesthetising the atmosphere and piercing the sky. Scattering violated clouds, reflections of delusions, belittling and deflecting, a dividing needle, an instrument of torture, an optical isomer enervating and emanating distorted waves of static, a willful insertion of malign focus and concentrated powers.

The opposite of a radio tower sucking in energy and crystallising distance, confirming and imposing separation, silencing voices, blinding visions.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Spike, Sinclair , London under the masons, Ker-punk ...

The Shard is an impacted fracture, it is a gigantic Spike, an evil last grasp/gasp of the arrogant ‘free market’ statements in glass and steel reflecting in its own vacuity and wilfully ignoring the world disintegrating around its concentration of power : a mad and vicious conceit conjured up by a starchitect ( a Mr. Piano ) given his own head on a platter, that contrives to break up at its pinnacle into aggressive glass edges that try to pierce the clouds and kill the weather.

Its ultimate point is pointless : it has no point.

Why erect another protective gigantic obelisk to contain the gibbering idiot savants glued to their screens showing non-stop fiscal pornography, computing devious zero-sum games of infinite calculated deviations from reality in virtual transactions of non-existent futures and collateralised pain ?
A razor edged beacon emitting spasms of insensate, money pumped electro-gibberish from one gang of mutually masturbatory algorithm junkies to another in a pseudo-monumental mirror glass fortress across the water.

So charming mercantile genial gentleman front the boards like decorative busts on a mantelpiece in a impeccably tasteful and restrained Georgian living room while ‘ the business’ will get done in the newest, faceless shiny beast mirror glassed tower by the hoards of anonymous free-basing brokers that take covert pleasure in breaking the few rules left to joylessly strip, rape and ferociously bugger what has been gifted them by decades of systematic, collusive, concerted and deliberately convoluted frauds.

Mr. Marcus Agius, on the board at the BBC, the BBA and Barclays ( that’s three hefty salaries for being a mute figurehead ) says ’sorry’ and let’s have another commission of enquiry. This mimics exactly the set-up that has allowed the abuse of capital and power or, capital-power as it is one thing now, to take place : a handful of over-rewarded virtually self-appointed ’guardians’ playing musical chairs and who retrospectively interpret and attempt to ’explain’ the actions of others that are lower down the food chain, as if they have been operating in a vacuum, a world without consequences.

So long as the rich stay rich, the poor stay poor and the politicos and attendant mass/turbatory media pander  only to to the 'squeezed middle' (?)  the underlying structure remains the same there can be a hundred committees of investigation which can make a thousand recommendations and nothing will fundamentally change.

What is being investigated ?

Was none of this activity known by anyone involved before ?

It may not have been public knowledge, but for those on the inside, of course it was. That includes the BBC which will happily turn into a comedy a government run by spin doctors, for its own ends to maintain power, referring only to occasional ’focus groups’ representing a specific section of middle class society deemed to be significant, ie the New Labour period the second after it falls but was not prepared to expose or challenge this while it was in office. Its all a closed shop.

Give me the unions any day over this infinitely disguised, comically defused, self-perpetuating facile grinning sham of a BBC-government endorsed cultural nexus continually setting up ‘opposites’ and ‘analysing ’ them, never reaching anything like a justified conclusion. Professional presentation of anything but social or economic realities, everything mediated, given a gloss, stripped of context and turned into editorialised, digestible segments. BBC Rule Number 1 : The fence is there to be sat on.

Meanwhile these editors of reality sit in Barnes or the Chilterns, or both, and live comfortably on the proceeds of continual re-presenting an illusion.

Even the so-called edgy less establishment friendly commentators are, when one digs a little deeper, still part of the same exclusive warp and weft, only available at Liberty’s. Thus Iain Sinclair, a good writer undoubtedly, is in fact ex-shire public school, not brought up in London, went to a fee-paying private film school and whose contemporaries that fancied it went straight into making films or setting up ‘influential’ art galleries ( Indica ; Dunbar et al ) largely because they had the private means to. That he had a few hands dirty real jobs is made great play of in his semi-autobiographical ramblings, but even his constantly referenced base in Hackney has been in a house purchased back in the 70’s on the proceeds of a uncompleted film for German TV.

Post-match analysis is what he is good at, and glossing up what are often at best interesting curios from the period, the weird lesser known artefacts of the mid 60’s, such as ’The Sorcerers ’ and ‘Witchfinder General’ and even more dubious products such as ’She Beast ’ which, while not  mainstream, are neither particularly admirable creations. He also, more successfully I feel, manages to dress up, or down, hard to say, a slightly halucegenic vision of, mainly, East London. This, when he gets into the meat of the tale in the late 80’s early 90’s is a consistently brilliant crossing of the wires between fiction / reality / politics / imagination that fuses and illuminates that benighted and semi-berserk period in London in concentrated observation of a specific place.

It is highly entertaining but still, in final analysis, a commentary by someone who may have at time stepped sideways outside of his gilded fraternity and stayed living ( at least for some of the time ) in the rotting core of London he describes so vividly, but remains connected to that almost inadvertently influential self selecting group of people that quite deliberately drop the badges of their background of certain public schools and Oxbridge colleges and adopt an ’ urban ’ persona quite carefully composed from a collage of real and imagined city anima, animus and detritus. That remains a fact. It does not matter if he worked in a back lot in Stratford smashing up washing machines
( best never to take anything in his books literally, except the literary stuff ) that in itself does not make you waterproof.

Sometimes I think, in my more paranoid than normal moments, that his writing is just the latest method of diverting eyes and intelligences from the real culprits, the untouchables in the City, the unseen establishment, the Masonic fraternity, those that quietly prosper under any and every government and bring it up short when they decide to, his books are noticeably easy to find in the Barbican Library which, incidentally, refuses to keep Tribune but does provide a dozen semi-pornographic fashion titles. He still errs to pantomime villains like the Krays etc. and tends to paint East London as the third circle of hell, an active malignity rather than a resilient and relatively un-hostile  place that has been dumped upon and abused both in actuality and in print for a very long time. In that he is highly conventional and part of a not particularly admirable tradition.

‘Psycho-geography’ ( his term for how he writes about things ) just might be another way to avoid the obvious : a class or group of largely parasitic and highly privileged people still control, by and large, everything of any importance that happens in London while taking the maximum amount out in terms of money and property and take none of the resulting flack. Is it all just another clever diversion ? His sometimes hyperventilating abhorrence at the expropriation of what was already theirs, the East End docks for example, could be read as almost glorifying this process from an outsider position. Does he protest too much ? It is distinctly apolitical, being concerned only with affects not so much real social effects. In fact he can be quite savage in his easy caricatures of a feckless and disgusting indigenous base section of the society he inhabits or passes through, again not unlike someone like Mayhew, who stigmatised and objectified the working class of London in books like
‘ London Underworld ‘ of 1862 purporting to be a ‘study’ while also, as it happens, being editor of Punch.

It is a delight in the ugly, the sordid, a nostalgia for mud, which is so much a part of English sub-culture and, since that has been subsumed, culture. Punk was a perfect example, being, almost from day one, a stylised and proscribed version of some sort of decadent, urban existence rather than anything that related to the actuality of that time. Its main champions, do not forget, were and still are again the public school educated, aesthetically intrigued chroniclers, Jon Savage, Julian Temple, rather than those that were creatively active participants few of which were from any urban underclass.

Punk, yes, that old chestnut, a spirited but fairly ridiculous ’revolt’ ? It is now weighed down by over significance, partly by fat books written after the event. I tend to feel that again that as it was so quickly adopted by a certain crew for their own nefarious purposes, there were glossy magazines at £2 a throw with Vivienne Westwood clothes and punk ’style’ by 1978, for it ever to be a great deal more than a change of clothes, a fashion ’statement’ rather than a significant cultural power shift. It was in any case an apolitical stance.
The numbers involved were miniscule, and in their own way, quite elitist. If you did not have the right cut of trouser and length of hair forget it.

Fashion is the handmaiden of Capitalism, assisting in making what was perfectly good two weeks ago now fit for the rubbish dump and so making it necessary to buy some new stuff. Musically, it was a fairly logical development out of some things that had been coming out of America, well, New York and Ohio, for a few years plus lashings of recent Bowie and earlier Iggy Pop.

Re-reading a book by Iain Sinclair, ‘Dining on Stones’ ,which must have been skimmed on auto-pilot previously, I am struck by how it veers into comedy much of the time. Rather than a tragic vision of the decay of a culture it retains much satire and outright comedic effect. He is almost become the Martin Amis of the East, seen through a mirror, slightly more darkly.

There is a passage, very funny, where he describes his ex-wife obsessive interest in interpreting his dreams, an enthusiasm clearly not mutual. It reminds me of a similar experience with a lover who kept one of Jung’s portentous tomes by the bedside for ready reference. He is, after all,  from the hippie epoch and, as they were, as they say, different times. There are a number of mistakes and illusions about the late 70’s and the temporary aberration known as punk. It may have made a few tabloid headlines and put a handful of people on the map, but the established, if you will, ’alternative’ culture was rooted in the 60’s and could broadly be described as of a hippie nature. People that championed punks were often hippies, Caroline Coon, Geoff Travis etc. The alternative ’structure’ of places to gig, squat, buy drugs were all those that were part of the hippie sub-system. The same people were involved, to a large extent, at the facilitation end. Where it differed was in that famous attitude, the negative stance. And this is where, going back to Mr. Sinclair’s writing, it is so clear that he never had any stake in it. There was a sort of playful aspect to hippiedom, one of the few books that attempted to give a form to what it was about beyond sheer indulgence was called ’Playpower’ by Richard x, one of the founders of Oz. Humour, not taking life and its existing structures or strictures very seriously was an important aspect of the committed hippie. It may have been seen as anti certain things, but that was almost by default from a highly relaxed attitude to life in general. And rather than being oppositional it was more open ended and fraternal, but had a few points to make.

Punk was none of these things, it was a no, to everything, including the relaxed, light touch, light headed, yes of the hippies. In its own sullen way it was serious, expressing a cartoon version of alienation, key song ’No Fun’ by Iggy and the Stooges. It was a petulant refusal to take part, on the infamous Bill Grundy TV show the assembled representatives were mute clothes hangers for the most part having to be prodded and goaded by the presenter into saying anything at all, ( methinks they had nothing they particularly wanted to say )  and eventually mouthing some not particularly convincing and completely run of the mill pub badmouthing.

There was no comic element, no use of satire, no coherent politic to punk, that was fine by me, it made for a very uncompromising and necessary break with certain musical deadweight and, briefly, woke up the hazy late hippie fraternity to another way of doing things. But as a challenge to the status quo it hardly registered. It was selfish, it was unfocused, it was negative, it was aggressive but at the level of self harm or verbal abuse and as soon as possible the leading protagonists immediately got into bed with the major music industry players negating all claims to being an authentic alternative. Instead another packaged rebellious stance was created.  Not to say there were  not some great records that came out of it, but in terms of wider impact always vastly overplayed. You only have to look at the scenario but a few years later in the early 80’s and as Dave Rimmer’s book would have it, it was ‘Like punk never happened.’ Neo-pop, deliberately banal, apolitical and sweet as honey was the new norm, given some stamp of approval by the overly influential writers like Paul Morley at the NME. But hippie, both as a fashion element, and, more importantly, a fledgling loose philosophy, had been effectively undermined. Nothing is more scorned than an ex-hippie at that point, and anyone where it went more than afgan deep was left to fend for themselves.

But hippies were right, as it turns out, about almost everything. And turning on, tuning in and dropping out is still, I suggest a far, far better thing to do than press on with the mess of a shattered illusion that passes for a culture these days. The bonds between and the collusion of interests that exist at the top level of institutional society and its cultural guardians are now so obvious, so exposed for the purpose it serves and the price it exacts and the corruption it feeds that no one in their right mind can deny that changes must happen. And, I fear that they will not unless enough people cease to be hoodwinked and endlessly distracted by the myriad distorting mirrors that are put up around every action and the obsessional concentration by big media on its games and its explosions, its official explanations, its panels of experts, its compartmentalising, its setting up of polar opposites, we will continue to head towards a well documented cultural oblivion. With apologies to Gil Scott Heron, the revolution will be televised, if it ever gets here. But do not watch, take part.  

Thursday, 31 May 2012


A Mr. T S Eliot once said :
‘Where is the wisdom that was lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge that was lost in information ?

Indeed, and that was well before the ‘www’ came along.

Just the word ‘reflections’ seems to clash with the term internet. But this is an attempt to reflect on this ever growing and all consuming internet thing. Despite carefully avoiding its use for a considerable time, only being hooked up in 2005, once having got it on tap it certainly changes things. My use of the internet has never been consistent and remains something that I try and keep under continual critical review.

There is no question that it has its uses and advantages. However there is a definite downside and its hard to put ones finger on it, but its to do with the way it tends to render all other forms of communication diminished and demands almost continual attention. I have a particular dislike, (perhaps more to do with the nature of computers), of the way in which everything that is  accessed through the internet and equally material that is not but comes from the real world but has been turned into a digital form, is undifferentiated and becomes part of a huge, homogonous digital soup.

To clarify, there is a line that someone came up with to define surrealism. It goes like this : ‘ it is the chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table.’ Noting the fact that the use of a sewing machine as an example sounds curiously dated now, the point is that the surrealists were deliberately trying to subvert normally understood relations between objects by bringing together items that would not usually be found in conjunction. I find with using the internet and a computer to store facsimiles of things that it is almost continually creating just such ’surreal’ relations and it is only with prior knowledge of what exists in the real world and a conscious application of distinctions that the values and meaning of things is retained.

In the same way that TV could be said to kill the life outside it, so the internet could be said to be doing something similar to creative thought. It is unavoidable that completely unrelated pieces of information are brought into proximity by virtue of this black hole called the internet that is sucking in everything : and thus much completely meaningless and possibly damaging material is mixed up with unconnected but meaningful thoughts and images to no definable purpose.

This term ‘information’ itself I have a problem with as there is clearly a qualitative difference between a train timetable, which is information, in any form, and a work of art, which is not, yet they are both ’pieces of information’ once digitalised.

It is noted that one of the biggest internet archival projects is based around recordings of the Grateful Dead, that is any and every recording they can find, no mater of what quality or interest. This is documentation for its own sake. And ultimately all archived material is dead material whether stored digitally or in its original form.  

I do not know quite why but when an anti-virus programme is put next to a photograph taken some years ago that is both familiar and has retained a meaning and then this is put next to something downloaded for a specific purpose, say an image of a recent event, as if they all are part of a sequence, which is all they are for the computer, it makes me uneasy. Perhaps it is my lack of prowess but it would seem to me that even a computer could distinguish between such things and put them in different boxes immediately.

Now this purely time based version of any input is applied to all social media, as far as I am aware, a strictly linear version of ‘events.’ Yet posting a YouTube recording of a song that one happens to listen to and decides to ’share’ is not an event, in my book. Sometimes I think it would be far better if all such actions, which are more like photographs of fleeting thoughts much of the time, were not kept on the record, as it were, but disappeared after say, twenty minutes. Again it is the inability of the device to distinguish between a pop song that you happen to like and the announcement of World War 3 that is disconcerting. And the reduction of it all to a chronological timeframe, that only actually exists in this neat ordered form on ones computer.

There is a strange intimacy, a false intimacy of course, between computer user and computer. The continual requests for reaction that the computer requires, like an infant seeking attention, the stream of messages and suggestions that appear unbidden. It is promiscuous by nature, or rather, by science.

Various devices like Twitter and so on mimic conversation, but in a superficial way, who is one actually speaking to and why ? Is it all perhaps just the flip side of a society which is both highly individualistic, self-interested and privatised in all practical senses but then when 'on line' and behind the safety of a screen one can be ‘open’ and ‘communal.’

The number of times I have gone into a local pub and seen half or more of the people studying their mobile phones and thus partly insulated from communication even by gesture let alone by conversation as they are involved with some remote activity.

One thing that is very much apparent is that use is different in private or public settings. I can only speak of my own use, but would imagine some sort of difference obtains for most. First, there is something that just feels completely different using the intetnet in public. It alienates you from your surroundings, and, as with mobile phone calls, it is conducting what is usually a personal matter in public. This is most apparent if the computer malfunctions. In such a circumstance just being sat next to a complete stranger staring at this uncooperative machine trying to do something that used to be done by more straightforward methods not involving a vast and complicated telecommunications and computerised information system seems close to absurd. The time factor enters in, the clock ticking against you, in a public facility, the sense of being ’cut-off’ if the machine is slow or inoperative. Outside it is either raining or it is not, whatever is indicated on the screen. There may be an irritating person next to you surfing aimlessly, the virtual has impinged upon the actual.

The very fact that programmes appear unbidden which allow almost infinite manipulation of images, and others that allow similar manipulation of sound is somehow worrying. It means that nothing is ever free from being changed, for better or worse. The only way it can be free of this is by remaining outside of the digital maelstrom. Maybe this is the requirement of any truly new proposal, that it shall not or rather cannot be digitalised. It is, after all, only a mechanism, and as with all mechanisms it will have a period when it seems to be sweeping all before it and becoming the only way to do things, but limits will be reached, defects and undesirable side effects will become evident. I was always suspicious, and yet have come to some accommodation but remain unconvinced that there is essential or special value and absolute necessity in this thing called the internet, no matter how much it has wormed its way into our society.

And always remember : Garbage in, garbage out.

Images : top : Portrait of T S Eliot by Wyndham Lewis 

Painting and Price

The recent sale of a painting by Mark Rothko for a large sum of money led to a flurry of articles about the prices of abstract expressionist and pop art from the period most associated, the 1960’s. I do not want to talk about these admittedly huge prices. The works stand or fall on their merit as art not their price. Rothko’s painting has always had a strong effect and still seems to stand out from much of the work of contemporaries. I saw an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1972 at about sixteen and it made a strong impression. A poster reproduction of one of series in the Tate was bought around the same time and a constant feature on the wall through the coming years. 

Having said that abstract expressionism is associated with the 1960’s I note that Rothko was actually painting his early abstracts in the late Forties and most seem to date from the 50’s and early 60‘s. It was only in the 60’s when the work started to sell that he and other abstract expressionists begun to get a good deal of public attention, much of it negative. 

He was born in 1903 so the attention and material success came late. Given that he was painting abstracts in the late forties it was clearly not a matter of taking up a current style but a long process of gestation and refinement. Integrity and honesty suffuses the paintings which have a quiet power that has absolutely nothing to do with the deliberate breaking of conventions and does not rely on some intellectual concept : they just work as paintings, pure and simple but at the same time involving, concentrated and above all human. There is also considerable technique which is almost invisible due to being so well integrated into the work. Colour use is superb and works on the senses in a way that is close to the subtlety of great music. 

Yet it is always the price paid at auction that gains the headlines for modern art, although remember that much of this work is now more than 60 years old, it might be more fruitful to ignore the prices and simply look at such as Rothko’s paintings because they are simply very good and reward attention in ways that sadly much that has been produced and hyped up in the market in the last twenty years does not.

Friday, 13 April 2012


The interruption of the boat race and subsequent statement by the protagonist prompted this reflection on the area which it arcs around, Barnes. Many walks have been taken along this curvature of the river. It is remarkably free of buildings for the most part and encloses the mysterious other world of Barnes. Although just across the river from the busy and undoubtedly urban Hammersmith, in a curious reversal of what was until relatively recently the far more industrialised south bank of the Thames, Barnes is determinedly suburban and almost rural, with large areas given over to a Common. But as so often in this city and this country all is not as it seems. 

I do not claim to know a great deal about the area, but know it well enough from attempts to traverse it that it is a very curious mixture of private and public spaces, and a bastion of the establishment, albeit in a most discrete and understated manner. This is in fact a hallmark of the way the status quo is maintained and made to appear perfectly ’natural’ in this country, as if it were simply a given, like a part of the landscape. It is a fallacy. It is very rigidly controlled and maintains and duplicates itself by the most apparently harmless but in fact in highly proscribed and exclusive system of ownerships and concessions.

In and close to Barnes are numerous extensive areas that have been annexed as sports grounds. Barn Elms is one, a large fenced off area, a former polo ground, that is now private playing fields with a couple of rugby clubs. 

Cross the Barnes railway bridge to where the Oxford and Cambridge boathouse are located are yet more strangely empty acres of  ‘sports grounds’ Duke’s Meadow, formerly the Ibis Sports Ground, and the Bank of England’s very own playing fields. Most of these areas are inaccessible to the public, despite being large open green spaces that front the river. I have just found another tucked in behind the road which follows the curve of the river but is set back from it which appears to have been the Harrodian Club sports ground. Golf courses are another excellent wheeze to keep the public off of land and indeed there was one in Barnes, alongside the small tributary Beverly Brook which, although now public, retains a semi-private inaccessibility, as does the whole of this small river. The footpaths end abruptly and places to cross this small stream are hard to find. Then there is the dominant presence of St. Paul’s public school and the many acres of playing fields that it owns.

That the whole area that the boatrace imposes itself upon is largely the preserve of the elite who have been to schools like St. Paul’s is just what was wilfully avoided and not addressed by the reactions in mainstream media to what I believe the swimmer was trying to highlight, not just the boatrace itself. Why does the BBC ritually broadcast every detail in a technically difficult and no doubt expensive live programme which now includes hours of irrelevant and fatuous fawning over the crews, mostly extremely dull Americans on well paid athletic scolarships ? Because it confirms the dominant classes position as unquestionable, just be content as viewers of this spectacle with being able to watch their meaningless contest as to yearly bragging rights. As for the river being plastered with advertisements and the protagonists who willingly chose to take part being feted as courageous heroes, that’s ugly and ridiculous, respectively. 

The anodyne ‘debate’ on the supposedly satirical programme ‘The 10 O Clock Show’ completely failed to grasp or critique the public school system and the point that was made about all our leading politicians coming from this background linked directly to the Oxford and Cambridge nexus / mafia. The boatrace is just one small example of how  extensive and entrenched the ownership of much of this part of London and its river is with a very small elite sub-section of society. 

Just to set the record straight the wilfully misnamed ‘public’ schools are private schools and run as businesses. In their early days there may have been some excuse for them being titled ‘public’ as there were no other schools at all. They have been for centuries been fee charging and thus exclusively the domain of the relatively rich. They own much land, not only their sites but also own estates in inner London, much of Maida Vale is owned by Eton for one example, and elsewhere. That they remain as charities and thus exempt of tax is an obvious absurdity and that clear lie can only be sustained by the influence they have consistently held in government. This comes about through the circle that still exists whereby the children of the well off middle or upper class are sent to schools such as St. Paul’s, Eton and so on, by parents that often also went to the same place, and then get choices and assistance to enter into the self-contained and interconnected world of academic, business or indeed sporting elites. Once entered into this world, one predicated on having sufficient funds above all, there is a fast inside track that is very well laid and established for going onto the best universities ( best in terms of the perceived value of their degrees, self justified by repetition and accepted as a given that Oxford and Cambridge are the best by those that went there ) being introduced to others from the same background in one’s field of interest, be that politics, business or even if you are one of those odd ones who prefers something in the arts. 

Thus despite some protestations to the contrary and some obvious examples of those that do not hail from this system, deliberately highlighted to deflect attention eg Alan Sugar, the great majority of those that are in positions of power in almost every area of life in this country are a product of this closed cycle. That is not to say they are all exactly the same nor that they cannot ‘do a good job.’ This is to say that as a self justifying and self selecting elitist system it remains fundamentally unchanged and as firmly established as it ever was. In fact I suggest it is less challenged than in the past. Incredibly it seems almost more fully accepted or perhaps more expertly obscured than ever. 

Back to Barnes. It has a relaxed atmosphere that in this country is almost  always a sign of there being no shortage of money about. It has ‘village’ pond and High Street with small local shops for local people. There is a butchers, a bakers, a cheese shop etc. Again these are becoming signs of high affluence rather than a normal shopping street these days. There are vast areas given over to rugby pitches, quite who owns this land is not clear. Some must belong to the school, some may be the Local Authority. What is particularly striking is that in any other part of London it would have been built on. 

At the risk of sounding like an estate agent there are excellent public transport facilities with two train stations going into the centre of London. The housing is almost entirely two storey dwellings with front and back gardens, the most land usage with the lowest density of occupation. The overall quality of the environment with the one exception of a degree of plane noise, is just about the very best that can be had while living in London. 

And who are the people that live here ? Its safe to assume that a large percentage are from exactly that circle described earlier, it is one of their homing grounds, like the ducks and geese that are so well provided for at the Wetlands Centre. This extraordinary thing is slap bang in the middle of the area, again neatly preventing any further building, on the site of former reservoirs, and is now completely fenced off and charges a considerable sum to go in and look at the birds. Again I cannot imagine this happening in any other part of London with the pressures on space and land values. It is not necessarily a bad idea, but it is simply not operating in the same world that I have to live in. How is it that the burgers of Barnes can hold off the forces of development that prevail in 99% of the rest of the city and retain their precious peace and excess of amenity ? It cannot be by chance. No, of course not, it is by influence. It is the physical manifestation of the invisible links between the elite that have been natured here and occupy the corridors of power in government, the boardrooms in the city and the offices of the Crown. 

There is even the jazz venue, since jazz became a predilection of certain Oxbridge undergraduates in the 1950’s it sneaked into unlikely places such as Barnes, not exactly an obviously Bohemian location, and the august portals of BBC Radio 3 which remains immune to pretty much any other music of the Twentieth century without classical credentials. 

I am glad that it is a relative oasis set in the otherwise heavily congested and unrelentingly built up area of south west London, there are no actual gates to prevent access, but it is a product and a domain that has been created by and is largely peopled by a privileged few. 

The way that part of the river is co-opted by rowers, not just on boatrace day, but all the year round by the many public schools which have their boathouses along Putney Embankment and often spoil a peaceful stroll along the tow path by driving their charges along by bellowing into a loudhailer from a motorised dinghy, is a clear indication of who really ’naturally’ belongs here and who will use it as they wish, not for the broadest benefit. The embankment where the boathouses cluster is compromised by their slipways which cause the road to flood at any particularly high tide. However the houses along there are set high and are well enough back for this not to be a problem, for them. It is if you happen to want to walk along the road ( there is no defined footway ) on such an occasion, as are the boats and their racks and stands which get set up on and are traversed across the road by crews of future cabinet members and ‘captains of industry’ with impunity. Try doing that on any other stretch of public, sorry, Queen’s highway in London and see what happens. Even the embankment railings are painted in light and dark blue.  

The conservatories attached to some of these enormous houses are bigger than many a typical London house. Of course the people that live in them are not the sort that throw stones. Others that may see a minor disruption to a boatrace which is undoubtedly symbolically elitist by a lone swimmer as too much like performance art could be of a different mind, given the way things are panning out.

Painting :   Hammersmith Bridge on boat race day by Walter Greaves @1860

Friday, 6 April 2012


So, the police are to take over three areas in Vauxhall / Nine Elms, which is rapidly developing into a security / spooks closed zone centred on the ridiculous, ugly and pompous piece of oppressive gigantism, the MI6 building, Spook Castle, for mustering, storing their vehicles and ‘logistical’ activities relating to the Olympic occupation of London. These are in and underneath the Flower Market building and next to the Battersea Power Station. No doubt you will have seen the little watch towers in Piccadilly Circus. These are just the latest additions to the massed ranks of the Army, Police and private security services which are to be deployed all over London like an occupying force with battleships in the Thames and missiles on standby. Thunderbirds are go !

The DLR, which will be crucial in shuttling spectators around the area, is already run by Serco, a security firm better known for dealing with prisoner transport. TfL now has a fleet of vehicles that can use sirens like police cars. They are unmarked. This means a bag stuck in a door on the tube will cause yet another screaming speeding vehicle rushing across London adding to the sense of tension and imminent threat. Its going to be like a Police state. Its bingo time for G4S and all the other private security firms that are contracted to dictate and direct who and how we, the public, will be able to interact, or not, with this all excluding piece of social engineering. I greatly fear that anyone without a laminated pass of some sort will be immediately suspect and subject to checks and interference almost anywhere in London for the duration. And, given that at least one of these additional police facilities is to be in place until the end of September it is not just going to apply for the length of games themselves. I certainly will not be going for a casual stroll around the Stratford or Bow Back Rivers area for these coming months, despite Stratford being where I was born, as a matter of fact.

No doubt there will be additional surveillance using even more cameras than already monitor almost every square inch of the capital. I have noticed how empty buildings now have these CCTV cameras erected at their perimeter as soon as they are vacated, even if fenced off and sealed. Emptiness monitored. When it comes to security money suddenly seems no object. As Iain Sinclair noted ‘surveillance abuses the past while fragmenting the present. The subject is split, divided from itself.’ I don’t know if there are any drones on standby, but would not be at all surprised. It is a self fulfilling prophesy and the further it goes the more invasive and objectionable it becomes.

A whole list of prohibitions were brought in early this year regarding what you cannot now do in Trafalgar Square. These included taking photos or videos and were imposed by the GLA Mayor without any consultation and clearly in response to the Occupy movement. No doubt they will remain in place throughout the Olympics and who knows for how long subsequently.  

Athletics participants are just about the most boring sports people on earth, and sports people are rarely of great interest once they have done their bit on the field or wherever it is they perform. Take Steve Redgrave for an example. Very good at rowing, he never did anything else but row for his entire adult life, seems like a decent bloke, but, not surprisingly, rarely has anything of interest to say. In particular runners seem to be just about the least interesting of the lot. The very nature of running in athletics is pretty dull and simply about finishing first. That’s it. Like a horse race but without the character or unpredictability. Those that take part are necessarily single minded and self interested. What it has to do with national self esteem I am at a loss to understand. If they win it’s a quick wrap in a flag for the cameras, other than that it is one against one, like all such sports, tennis, golf etc. They are like weird perversions of communal activity, drawing a crowd but without true communality and creating the spectator and star scenario so beloved of the powers that be and the all important advertisers that are parasitic upon the massed eyeballs.

In some ways sports teams actually entrench and exaggerate differences between social groups by location or association. The hyperbole, nationalism and the paramount and obvious commercial interests at work in the Olympics make a particularly unsavoury and hollow feast of individual vanity, the glorification of the physical and a worship of success in its crudest manifestation : he / she can throw / jump / run / swim faster than a bunch of others. If that is what you want to do, fair enough, but do not pretend that it has some implicit significant broader social value, what happened after the first revival in 1936 ? Germany went to war and invaded its immediate neighbour Poland starting a vicious and horrific period of conflict in Europe. 

The absurd spectacle of beach volleyball on Horseguards Parade which will require the delivery of vast quantities of sand and the closure of the Mall for weeks was presumably dreamt up by some marketing guru as a publicity wheeze. That the space is surrounded by war memorials and the Admiralty just adds to the sense of it being a stupid prank, or a schoolboy fantasy.

Archery at Lords, various music stars such as Madonna in Hyde Park, everything costing big money to attend. Are there any free events at all ? It does not appear so. The fact that volunteers carrying the torch will have to buy it is symptomatic of the whole business. This was an idea dreamt up by the Nazis in 1936, not an ancient tradition, as was the whole revival in its current form along with the media coverage as a propaganda exercise for the host nation.

Just heard an interview with the first person to cross the line at the Olympic Stadium. Asked what he would do with his medal he said ‘I will probably hang it on the wardrobe or something.’ Fascinating stuff. You read it here first.

Link : 1936 revival of the Olympic Games in nazi Germany

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


So, the BBC is finally putting out a drama set in the moderately recent past, not in the 19th Century and not set entirely in a definitively middle class nor conscribed working class compartment. I am referring to ’White Heat’ which has not yet completed but already stands out amongst all the hours of dross about cooking, food and ’nature’ programmes that manage to completely avoid anything that could be construed as political content.

 It is ‘well produced’ it is not a comedy, thank God, and it touches upon some significant matters over a period that is still not properly documented or understood, especially by those that did not live through it. These are all points in its favour. Yet from the very outset it smacks of being written by committee. There is the frankly unbelievably contrived set up, a shared house with exactly one ’ordinary bloke’, one art student, one nice, intelligent middle class girl, one gay bloke, one black bloke, one Irish Catholic and the one very left wing one. This is all very well, but it is just too much to concede that such a perfect cross-section would exist. The minority report. Let it pass.

The look and feel of it is well neigh perfect, rather too perfect, the clothes all change at each calendar year and each character changes at the same time and never goes ahead or lags behind the fashions. This too is not a big problem, but manages to impart a certain fastidious detail which gives a visual authenticity which does not necessarily translate into social or economic veracity. The nice, intelligent girl works for the BBC, surprise, surprise, and in a significant move, the very left wing one has a rich Dad with a mansion and a private income. He is also ‘not very nice.’ Thus his politics are contrasted with his personal behaviour and the suggestion that Margaret Thatcher and her cronies may have been up to no good rendered a suspect judgement. The black character is almost too good to be true and arrested every time he goes out of the house, despite dressing in a suit and tie. He does not smoke and drinks responsibly. The Irish girl is na├»ve and acts as a sort of mother to the rest. In a particularly extreme attempt to pack a bit of everything in her younger brother appears briefly and is then killed by the IRA.

Another of the housemates, the pretty art student, is injured in an IRA blast in London, and falls into the arms of ’ordinary bloke.’ I should think the odds of this all happening to a small group of people living together in London in the Seventies is astronomically high, and it adds to a sense that in a veiled way, this is attempting to present a version of events rather than a coherent story. It is both trying to cram too much ‘fact’ in and then becoming rather unconvincing. Historical narrative or hysterical narrative ?

As is usual in these things no one is ever really short of money, there is always enough to go to the pub and most seem to have cars. In my memory almost no one who was a student from an ‘ordinary’ background had a car in those days. Even a phone was not always available in a typical shared house or flat. I never had a phone until 1980. And another thing, they are almost always talking about politics. Granted this was more widely the case in that period among the educated young, but not at the expense of anything else. There is a curious lack of day to day talk, what about music, football, films, the stuff people talk about when not making a statement ? 

I could have done without all the mooning about by the older versions of the characters in the present which adds little if nothing. Never mind, it is a half-way decent and overdue attempt to make a piece of intelligent drama set in the 70’s - 80’s, but do not confuse it with anything even close to the truth. I accept there can be no definitive version of a period and that as a character based traditional drama it neatly avoids any attempt to be a fuller or more incisive record of events. So as far as it goes it is fairly good, my worries are that it still smacks of being written by a committee, manages to avoid too much contention and wants too hard to cover all so-called minority interests while not upsetting anyone. And one glaring factual omission : I did not see a single pair of flares.