Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

A quck rant....

If there's one thing worse than the daily commute, it's the commuters. And if there's one thing worse than the commute, Transpennine Express, other commuters, cardigans (and their nightmarish revival as a fashion item in the UK) and the coffee at Hull station it is surely amateur travellers - weekend wanderers.

Unused to the etiquette of the daily commute, they just do'nt travel 'properly'. They do'nt know where to sit, get on trains too slowly, take up valuable room better suited to bicycles, and worse of all, engage in travelling as if it is great big fun adventure, something to be enjoyed. I will write to Transpennine, proposing the idea of 'Business class' on our trains where we can all be miserable together.

More on this, perhaps later, but for now, I'm off on recon. I've relocated Eyrie One, new code name Fox Den. I have also, taking Joey Mac's advice, consulted the cats on their theories and capability for surveillance. The response coud be summed up as "Do it yourself, I'm sleeping".

Friday, 30 May 2008

doughnut threats

Had to pass this one along. Dunkin Doughnuts has just pulled an ad because of complaints that the actress was wearing a black and white scarf that looked like traditional Arab keffiyeh. Bloggers accused the chain of supportiung terrorism, and the ads were removed.
The article was just sad,
but the comment below it was hillarious
"Brilliant! Everything that is wrong with America in a single news story. Neo-Con extremism, the inability to distinguish between 'Arab' and 'terrorist', corporate kow-towing to inarticulate ranting, and huge diabetes-inducing donuts with icing on top."

Thursday, 29 May 2008

.....recon. recon...

Operation Moneypit: Status Report.

Time: Zero plus thirty hours

Location: : Eyrie One

Mission Status : Yellow/incomplete

I'm pretending to suddenly remember something, so I stop in my tracks and make a great show of consulting a piece of paper. The skein in question is actually a badly photocopied plan of a bathroom design that the Red Haired Boffin is keen to install in the smaller bathroom of the still-occupied derelict that is 90 degrees from me across the street, lights blazing from every bedroom. Canadians might label the relation between my current position and the future site of Large Villas as 'kitty corner', but I prefer to say 'opposite'. Risking further eyestrain, I pretend to check items from this mythical shopping list while actually staring sideways at pile, reading aloud from the fantasy list, tapping the paper impatiently as if I've forgotten to include an item and am trying to remember it.

My plan is that if I'm casually observed by a recalcitrant tenant (who will doubtless be on full alert now that they've blatantly ignored the repossession order and are, de facto, squatting in said property and are thus expectant of a visit from Bailiffs accompanied by a crew of Hull's finest), the aforementioned tenant, if they notice me at all, will simply think to themselves "Oh, there's that chap who happens to forget something/tie his shoelace/be interested in our neighbours roof molding every evening at approximately the same time every evening walking down the street again. Still, no bailiffs, so I'll carry on cutting pornography out of this magazine and wallpapering with it."

Events, however, dictate that I may have to amend my Mission Parameters, assuming, that is, that I want to maintain the Mission as a Black OP.

"Still aint moved out have they?"

I'm startled "I'm sorry?"

The addresser is an elderly gentleman wearing very thick spectacles. He emerges from the house immediately adjacent to Eyrie One.

"You buying it then? I do'nt expect they've looked after it much." He nods in the direction of Target Alpha, future site of Large Villas.

"...erm, no, well we were looking at , erm, erm, next door..."

This is my cover story as the house next-door-but-one has been up for sale.

"I just thought you might be from the landlords, they've been trying to get them out for months and you were here last night were'nt thee? They've been using next door's skip."

I'm stunned. Eyrie One, my forward observation post has been compromised.

"Oh, no, just going the shops." I offer weakly, "I must be going. See you."

I proceed to the end of the street, 25 yards, check the pensioner has finished putting out his garbage, then re-trace my steps. Obviously, I'll have to relocate Eyrie One, because I do'nt want an encounter with the residents. Since last weekend, a wiry looking man has arrived on the scene. His face is severely pockmarked, and he dresses in combat fatigues, and is always accompanied by the two chest-beating, teenage youths of the house, lads who obviously go the gym a lot and focus entirely on their biceps during workout. There's lots of testosterone when they're all out on the street together, and loud, harsh shouting.

The mystery is why these people have not just vacated the premises. When I first looked at the house, six months ago, the tenants were 3 months in arrears in rent, and were very unpopular with the landlords and the neighbours. Six months on, they are now nine months in arrears, have ignored, in order, their legal notice to quit form their landlords, a court order to quit, a visit from Large/Nickson, another court order, and are £3000 in debt because of court costs. They appear to have removed all their valuables from the property (thus last weekend optimistci post), but now appear to have barricaded themselves in, possibly (and this is my febrile imagination only) in expectation of a Wacko style confrontation with Bailiffs.

An e-mail. received today, confirms that the landlords have now applied for a Bailiff's notice. In the UK, this means that within days Bailiffs will appear, gain entry to the property, throw any remaining possessions into the street and change the locks. If the tenants are at home at this time, and resist this action, the police will be called and arrests could follow.

Why anyone living in the UK would choose to embark on this course of action (if 'not moving out' can be called action) is a mystery. If, and it is a big if, these people have no income at all, there is in Hull, a supply of public housing, which, while by no means luxury accomodation, is much better than the derelict of Ella Street. The Honda people carrier, the televisions, the fashionable clothes of the teenagers all point to an income, as do the British army fatigues of the wiry man who is a recent addition to the scene. Speculation runs rife in Nickson Towers in respect of the motivation of these guys. We ourselves have been required, when living in Leicester, to move due to a transfer of ownership, and the process was relatively painless. These guys seem to be building up for 'one last stand', perhaps a Custer moment. While modern day England is no workers paradise, there is still a safety net if these guys are in serious need.My own 'read' on the situation (given the overly macho beahiour of the male residents that I have observed) is that they are, for some reason, digging their heels in,and have moved the 'men' of the house in, and have removed the young children. I'm glad that the five and six year olds we met when viewing the place will not be subjected to any unpleasantness, if it comes to that. Daily viewing of their older brother's porn has probably had an effect already.

While all this has been happening, our court case in Canada has been resolved. For me this represents victory , where victory means getting paid a substantial proportion of the amount we were owed. The Red Haired Boffin, I suspect, views things slightly differntly. I suspect that Nel would view victory as the complete annihilation of our adversaries, with their bones ground into powder and salt sewn into the earth beneath them. I hope I never have to evict her.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Recon, recon...

I watch, pretending to fumble with my backpack as old bedding, children's toys, unwanted DVD players and hardcore pornography are piled indiscriminately into a skip. The following evening, at precisely Zero minus twelve hours, the 7 seat people carrier of the impoverished tenants pulls up. I pretend, as I have done countless times for the last six months, to be suddenly fascinated by some architectural details on an adjacent property, I observe, through sideways glancing eyes, a grizzled individual in Army fatigues enter the property, then quickly exit carrying a television, which he loads into the vehicle. From the forward observation post, Eyrie One, it appears as though Operation Moneypit might finally be about to commence.

Tensions have been running high in Nickson Villas recently. Our target,when we arrived on UK soil (as mentioned several times in this blog), was to be thoroughly bored as quickly as possible, and have a completely uninteresting life in as many ways as was possible. In many respects, we have failed spectacularly...erm... In most respects, we have failed completely.

Our plan was simple, as follows:

1. Get job (Martin)
2. Do'nt change careers again (Nel)
2a. Resolve legal issues (Martin)
3. Sell house.
4. Buy House
5. Eschew broken limbs completely(Martin)
6. Refrain from starting revolutionary groups or becoming involved in 'causes' (Nel)
7. Plant herb garden
8. Introduce cats to natural environment. Watch cats play in herb garden on lazy Sunday afternoons, while NOT discussing legal issues, workers rights, feminism, environmental issues.

After my (hopefully final) recon I return to Nickson Villas to report my findings to the Red Haired Boffin. I have to interrupt my report several times to wipe my eyes, which are watering considerably, having been severely strained from trying to maintain focus while staring intently sideways, but the message I get across is hopeful: the occupiers of the house we have been trying to buy are giving every appearance of removing themselves from the property in an orderly manner. We may actually be able to cross Number 4 off our list, a check item that has only taken seven months (from offering to purchase the place), two court hearings, an eviction order, two continents (the sellers reside in Florida), a housing market crash (I'll swear to my dying day that we are not responsible for this), three re-applications for mortgage agreement extensions, several arguments with the odious Mr Gold and a nervous breakdown on the part of the seller's agent. Everyone, from our financial advisor to Mr Gold to the seller to us to the tenants has lost money on the deal. By our standards though, it's all gone pretty smoothly.

Unlike our law suit. But that, as they say, is a tale for another night, possibly in the very near future.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Springbank adventures

The Warzone

The youth comes tumbling out of the Fish and Chips shop backwards and lands on the pavement, right in front of the bike, blood smeared across his face, his eyes showing the same surprised, but surprisingly unfocused stare that boxers, pole-axed by a strong uppercut display. A pursuer follows, a girl dragging the open tracksuit top of this person, screaming. As the first kid tries to get up, his pursuer, still dragging the girl, runs towards him and aims a massive kick at the head of the boy on the floor. Illegally riding on the sidewalk, I'm stopped completely, blocked from progressing further. The tracksuit boy is leaning over his adversary, shouting and aiming wild swipes at his head, while the kid on the floor shuffles sideways, trying to kick out in defence. Both kids are teenagers, much smaller than me, so I take advantage of a break in the fight and get between them, positioning the bike right in front of the floored youth.

"Hang on a minute, kid, he's had enough" this is me, gesturing at the bloodied youth on the floor, bleedin from his mouth, now getting to his feet. I'm addressing the tracksuit.

"He took me fuckin..(untranslatable)..fuckin twat...." tracksuit shouts "Fuck off. Who the fuck are you?". Tracksuit is very wound up, pacing quickly in front of the bike, which I am manoeuvering, trying to use it as a kind of mobile crowd-control shield, in between lots of shouting.

"Whatever he's done, he's had enough. Just leave it alone, you'll have the coppers here" I begin to say. The girl hanging onto his tracksuit is screaming the same thing, I think, but these incidents happen very quickly and there's a lot of movement. The tracksuit moves towards me, causing panic on my part. Later, as I rewind the incident, this is the 'Shiver down the spine' moment for me - fear always hits after I've done something stupid or reckless.

Suddenly, the bloodied victim is over my shoulder and behind the bike swinging wildly. More panic : swinging at me? I DUCK. No, not at me. Relief! He's swinging at tracksuit, who immediately begins to give back as good as he gets, both of them trading punches across the frame of the bike, like pathetic neighbours having a fight over the garden fence. I dive out of the way, rescuing myself, and the bike, ignored by both the fighters and a small group of other youths, who are apparently partisans of tracksuit. One little kid, probably about 10 years old (but with much older eyes), does'nt ignore me and dismissively tells me to "Fuck off". Humiliated, and scared, I do so.

The incident, which seems to me to be the future of at least parts of the UK, happened about a year ago, and was instrumental in making me pay attention to Springbank, or rather a particular area of Springbank. Springbank is one of Hull's main thoroughfares into the city, but the half mile of this road just before Hull's town centre is an area we've come to know as the Warzone. It is an area of social housing and dilapidated , but still occupied, hundred year old housing stock. Charities have their local headquarters here, and the area that surrounds is used to place immigrants and refugees. It was already a firmly working class sub-division, with generational unemployment rates of 50%.Over the last ten years, the expansion of the European Union has led to a further influx of Romanians, Polish, Lithuanian and other former Eastern Block immigrants who settle here because of cheap rents. Perhaps because of the cultures that a lot of the immigrants come from, a lot of life is lived on the street here with the consequence that as I walk home from work along this half mile, it's possible to feel the tension between the rival groups of muclebound Turks, Armenians, Kurds and Arabs that hang round their respective restaurant. Curiously, perhaps, another group of musclebounds have their headquarters right in the middle of the Warzone, as The Polar Bear is a favourite midweek gay bar. It seems an incongrous mix as most male activity on the street is so determinedly macho.

In many cities with diverse immigrant communities, areas like these become attractive to rich middle class types like us - foodies and cultural liberals anxious to experience some authentic ethnic dining experience. I can't see this happening in the Warzone - the tensions are too real, the restaurants are too ethnic and the people need too much from us.

Immigration in the UK is a complex issue, and like most people, I am confused about how I feel about the country's immigration policy. A population of 60 million+ in a place as small as England (it is mostly England, Scotland's population is only about 3 million) is too many people. Additionally, some immigration over recent years has had an obvious effect on my own standards of living. For example, 10 years ago, working as a freelance carpenter in the UK, I could easily charge an hourly rate of £15.00 per hour or more. Today's freelancers consider £13.00 an hour a very good wage, and the obvious reason is that in the Construction trades (particularly Polish) immigrants will work for much less than their English counterparts. There are, though, hidden forces at work behind this statistic, most notably in the case of tradesman, specifically the evaporation of Trade Unions from the working-class landscape. Trade Unions still exist of course, but their power is negligable, and their ability to protect the wages and conditions of workers is gone. The long term effects of this could be disastrous for Building Firms - as the Trades have become less attractive to UK born people, immigrants have filled the gap, but due to increased mobility and ease of travel across Europe, an increasing number of Eastern Europeans do not settle permanently. Many choose to work until they can afford a good house 'back home', then return. The Polish economy is showing sustained signs of benefitting from this influx of currency. Meanwhile there are fewer and fewer UK born tradesmen and women.

Other effects of immigration make for uncomfortable reading as well, namely the moves by some Islamic clerics to have Sharia courts recognized in adjudicating the Islamic community. This, I find unacceptable, even if I understand why these proposals are mooted, because although the British legal system is not perfect, it is still probably one of the most desirable systems. In the past, European Governments have solved problems like this by simply banning certain religious groups, but in 2008, this is not a solution that anyone seriously suggests. Nevertheless, the Islamic marginalization, real or imagined IS a continuing problem. If there are any doubts that the effects of a small group of active fanatics can have, look no further than Northern Ireland.

There is a need for perspective in all of this. The Warzone is a relatively tiny area of Hull, and the immigrant population of the UK is correspondingly small. Areas like Springbank are though, disproportionately poor. Perhaps if attention was paid to the economic and social effects of creating and maintaining these ghettoes, namely planning where these people are going to instead of concentrating on where they've come from, then the 'problems' of immigration might become the benefits of revitalization. It's either that, or stop immigration entirely. But if we did that, who would build or houses?

Sunday, 18 May 2008


anyone watching the Canada/Russia game gold medal game? if this keeps up its going to be like a 60 minute shoot-out.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Free electives

As a successful applicant to Hull University's Educational Studies (with Urban Learning) Department, the time is fast approaching when I have to make some choices. DO I live at home, or move into Halls of Residence? Is there a numerical limit on the number of Clubs, and Societies I can join? Indeed, as a massive fan of all things Canadian, is there a Frat House I should be applying to? What do I wear, Hilfiger or Nike?

Regrettably, there are also the mundane questions of academic achievement to consider, and one of the choices I have to make before September is to choose a Free Elective. At Hull, many degrees feature Free Electives, a 20 credit course taken each academic year, which is designed to broaden the scope of the ingenue. Having had a 23 year long Gap Year, I feel my scope is quite broad already, besides which, I have already resolved to take two additional course outside University, courses which are directly targeted at my career goal. These courses, which I will be taking at night are further qualifications in Adult Education, and will qualify me, hopefully within the first year, to be able to start teaching basic skills at night school.

However, the Free Elective still looms. It is not so free that I can opt NOT to do one, so while waiting the (delayed) 18.38 tonight, I reluctantly flicked through the pages which detailed the course on offer.The History department offers "From Bannockburn to Stalingrad: The Anatomy of MIlitary Disaster" and this appealed to my English side - failure, heroism and a good laugh at foreigners; Physics promised "Laser Applications: Surface and Thin Film Technology" which appears cutting edge but stuck me as very dull,Sociology, of course, did not disappoint with "Learning to Care, a Move to Inclusion" and the Psychology Department advertise "Introduction to Psychology" but I reject that on the grounds that the Red Haired Boffin teaches it, and I could'nt stand being marked down for not doing the dishes last Wednesday. I'm discouraged at the thought of spending extra time in school doing a course that does not relate to my ambition, when I spot the offering from the Department of Biological Sciences.

The pre-requisites for the course which will surely be the most oversubscribed course on campus are:

A Level in Biology ....................Check
Good health.............................Check (not counting broken appendages)
Suitable for those who anticipate the need for these skills in a future career...Check(ish)

I compose and send my e-mail as soon as I get home. The world of academia is surely about expanding one's boundaries, and delivering complex arguments. If I can deliver an argument complex enough to justify how "Dive Training (Level 4)" can reconcile with Educational Studies (with Urban Learning),and have any possible relevance to my future career, I'll consider the degree a done thing.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

I fought the claw, and the claw won...

We have been in the midst of an escalating cold war for about 6 months now. Toulouse, once the terror of the neighbourhood, has been restricted to the small patio-like backyard since his run in with something much larger than he was. Toulouse strongly objects to this imprisonment, of course, and has found very creative ways to get back out to his turf. We have bricked, taped, stapled, and nailed nearly every part of the fence till we thought we had finally succeeded.
A few weeks ago, he raised the bar (literally) by deciding to show us exactly what he was capable of. .

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Hola, Madrid

Reservations have been made and I'm off to Madrid on June 6th for two nights. Hopefully, I'll meet up with Davy Jones, ace photographer. Also hopefully, K-Lo, top entrepreneur and marketing wizzard for Krips, a new type of snack, will be sneaking in from Paris for the beano.Should be a blast.

On the other may result in a solo trip, featuring yours truly. This is because, being males, we only loosely agreed to meet up in this Spanish town, at an approximate time (..."June-ish..") and have only sporadically discussed the issue since. And certainly not in any great depth. Thus the detailed planning that Red Haired Boffins and Grasshoppers plough into any trip, even to the supermarket, has not made itself apparent. This is a boys expedition, a bit like Scott's treck to the Pole. For example, I have no idea why I am going to Madrid, other than that it seemed like a good idea after a few pints. I have not conducted any research into any sights of interest, not planned any detailed (or wildly speculative) budget, do'nt know what the weather might be like, and am clueless as to whether there may be any major festivals enacting in the city at the time of my arrival. I have no suitable apparel, a weak smattering of Spanish, and have'nt even applied for the time off from work yet. I only just found out that my passport expires the day after I get back. In reality, the only planning I have done for the trip is book the flight, and I intend it to stay that way.

It could be Heaven or it could be Hell. But that, sometimes, is the point, and the pleasure, of travelling. This is what I dreamed of when I read "In Patagonia".

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Full Steam Ahead

Nickson Developments : Property (NDP) has now kicked into full steam ahead mode once more given that there is a potential that, like an election, we could be in possession of our slum within weeeks. Today, we've been working on the outside of the house, using Google Sketchup, a programme I discovered in the Google Labs.

We came up with the following design today - a design that incorporates a living roof on a walk out terrace from the first storey window. We are almost totally united in our design concept, the only point of disagrrement being whether we should nominate the walk out terrace as 'first story' (English style) or 'second story' (Canadian).

The extension shown does not yet exist, it is something we're going to get built. I have to tell the absolute truth and report that at least 45 minutes of this afternoon's conversation about the design was dedicated to whether the cats would approve of the design or not.

Fortune favours the Brave

I was quite prepared to broadcast to all and sundry that it was Nel's fault that our putative purchase of a ramshackle manor in Hull had collapsed leaving us, and cats, doomed to continue our existence in Francis' only slghtly less ramshackle apartment buildings. However, I would not exist on Facebook with a total of 3,454,456 intimate friends if I were not a man of honour, so, mindful of my reputation for honourably admitting when I have been mistaken, I have to report that Nel's audacious, but in my opinion late, bid to shave money from the house in Ella Street has been a resounding success, and that she survived an encounter with the odious seller's agent.

So, without qualification, I should say "Well done Nel."

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

April (snow) showers .............

I'm still in catch up mode as far as updating my entries goes and as far as answering the Great Question 'Civilization-Why?' . There are a few reasons for this as follows:

1. The Great Airstream Trailer Debacle (ATD) has quickly been followed by the Burgeoning Gatorade Trailer Disaster (BGTD)resulting in MORE unpaid weekends, more tiredness and therefore less time to write.

2. The untimely exit, from the European Cup, in a tense Semi-Final, of The Most Successful Club in The History Of English Football (TMSCITHOEF)last week has left me emotionally drained, bereft of the creative urge, and disconsolate. That the title may yet go to our greatest rivals, Manchester United (AKA The Team Who's Name Dare NOt Be Spoke {at least in my house}) makes this senseless turn of events even more tragic. Let's just say recovery is a process, not an event. And certainly NOT an event in Moscow.

3. Our domestic affairs, particularly our Canadian related domestic affairs, seem to be at the closest to resolution for a long time: I cannot speak about the lawsuit which may or may not have borne completely co-incidental similarities to the entirely fictional events described in the blog entries " The Adventures of Mazzer and Little Bunny Foo Foo" et seq., but if I were to speak about this lawsuit, I might be inclined to say that the bastards we are sueing have finally been made to see sense due to the immediacy of court dates, and not wanting to look like the unscrupulous, vindictive, in-bred family of gutter rats that they undoubtedly are, they have made a semi-realistic offer. Of course, I would'nt say that, even if I thought it was true. Which, clearly, I do'nt.

4. The house that we have been buying since, oh, I do'nt know, 1967 or thereabouts, is finally subject to a repossession order. This means the tenants, who have now enjoyed the luxury of rent-free accomodation for six months or so, have now until the 29th of this month to vacate. Or else. Actually, the 'or else' is that the current landlords will have to apply to obtain another court order this time for permission to use bailiffs to evict the tenants, which may take a further month. In light of this imminent possession of the property, we've take the entirely considered line that we're going to jeopardise the whole deal by attempting to re-negotiate the price that we agreed upon six months ago, on the basis that there is another house two doors down (that costs £30,000 more) that we also quite like. It is a high risk strategy - we could loose out on either house, but in the current financial climate if we succeed it will be worth it.

5. I'm costantly vacillating as to the timing of issuing my resignation form work, now that I've been (conditionally) accepted as the oldest member of the Debating Society at Hull University. Dislike of my employers makes me want to write my notice out today, but the Principals of Enlightened Self Interest demand that I reserve drafting my notice until I can write it without feeling compelled to include the word "despicable", as I may have to refer to them for summer work in the future.

In light of the above, I thought I'd post a few pictures of the first proper snowfall of the year, which was exactly a month ago. This snowfall was a beautiful thing to behold, brief though it was, but climate events in Hull of any description that cannot be described by the words "Cloudy, overcast, light rain" are to be celebrated.

April snow 08

Monday, 5 May 2008

Sledmere House

Big Sis and Neil came to visit the weekend after I finished the Airstream trailer. We went for a brilliant Malaysian meal on Saturday evening then visited Sledmere House the next day. One of many stately homes dotted around the Uk, Sledmere is impressive - the grounds were designed by Capability Brown and the craftsmanship in the architecture was fantastic.

Sledmere House

I'm still recovering from the Airstream trailer, so I'm too tired to comment that despite all the brilliant architecture and craftsmanship on display, I could'nt help but reflect that all of this extravagant wealth was achieved on the backs of ordinary working people and the slave trade, a situation that has not really changed much today.