Dont buy the Sun.

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

Monday, 30 June 2008

Dabs, letters and quitting the Stone Age (part Two)

Ask the average person on the street how humans lived before 'civilization' and the answer you would receive would probably be varied. Ask the average, reasonably well informed Scouse Canadian this question six months ago, and the answer might well have been that prior to Uruk in the Fertile Crescent of modern Iraq/Iran, humans were basically divided in to small hunter gatherer communities (think Borneo) or small nomadic bands of goat herds (think Sub Saharan Africa) or possibly small agrarian communities (think perhaps olive growers of the Meditteranean). Other people, might have the perception that over 5000 years ago, our ancestors were uncivilized cave-persons called Ugg.

Recent research indicates that none of these impressions could be farther from the truth. From findings at Catal Hoyuk in Turkey, to unearthing the conurbations of the Mississippian cultures of North America, it seems that civilizations, of one type or another have been a characteristic of human societies for much longer than previously thought, even by anthropologists. Not civilizations in respect of technology and urban living, but civilizations in the sense of ordered communities with cohesive social organization, belief systems, possibly writing of some sort and definitely art.

Indeed, recent anthropological and archaeological discoveries, as outlined in Richard Rudgley's book 'Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age', discoveries and sites that have been investigated using the most recent techniques would seem to indicate that from at least 10,000 years ago to about 5000 years ago, cultures existed across the world where spitting your chewing gum into other people's hair, living with mountains of mouse droppings or imposing inequitable contracts of employment on others was simply beyond the pale. Indeed, the whole trouble with spitting, or living with mice seems to have started round about the time that exploiting your fellows became acceptable.

Nel was in the local supermarket yesterday, quietly queueing for some milk and cookies when she became fascinated by a man in front of her with strange hair. She was trying to figure out whether his hair was an attempt to disguise male pattern balding, or just a bad hair cut, when the man, winking at his companion in the queue, spat his chewing gum into the unfashionable (but enviable) long lustrous hair of another, unrelated male who was next in line. Intolerant of this type of behaviour, the plucky boffin raised a hue and cry, drawing the attention of the store clerks, and other customers to this anti-social behaviour. A small debate ensued, in which the spitter denied all responsibility for the deed, and our heroine, sticking to her guns, maintained her accusations until she started trembling(a sure sign, she reports, that she's just about to start crying). Once the trembling commenced she just stared the offender down until he left the store in disgrace. Interestingly, he threw a parting shot at Nel as he left the store, turneing round and scowling at her before declaring "You're not even English". I told Nel she should be very proud of herself, but equally very careful about confronting wierdo's. The girl, though, can't help herself.

In the Stone Age, ie settlements from before Uruk and Babylon that have been investigated across the world over the last ten years, microscopic analysis of the human areas of habitation reveal an almost complete abscence of mouse droppings in areas of individual huts/houses/communal yurts. This abscence is reported amid a level of analysis that can identify particles as small as individual pollen grains. Humans, it seems, are not 'naturally' disgusting. Equally, and I admit that this next point is a stretch, it would be hard to imagine that in smaller communities, people who regularly piss-off everyone else in a band/community by spitting their natural liquorice or coca into everyone else's hair/face/back would be tolerated.

In work, Carra is about two weeks away from sentencing. Earlier this year, he attacked and beat up, a couple of guys who objected to his urinating at their back door. He is an impressive physical specimen - the type that I might have previously, and erroneously, labelled a Cave Man.

But now I realize that I'm wrong. My reading, and more importantly, other's well researched, scientifically based research into things Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic reveal that to associate the type of behaviour that we regularly label Neanderthal, or CaveMan like with the completely uncivilized, abhorrent behaviour that we have generated today is doing a massive dis-service to those earlier cultures. The Old European Culture of Malta, for example, existed in relative stability for 2000 years from about 4500 to 2500 BCE, while the Jomon culture of JApan probably existed from about 12500 BCE to about 450 BCE. There is every indication that both cultures thrived (NOT subsisted) in stable equilibrium for these periods, and planned their continuity. They did so without money, and without mice, and (again extrapolating, perhaps) without the social instability or anti-social behaviour that has it's root causes in fundamental inequality.

I cannot any longer take seriously any argument that begins with "Well, that's human nature..." in relation to justifying/explaining the inequalities we all witness on a daily basis from Burma to Iraq and from Indian Sweatshops to Donald Trumps' hairdo, because I do'nt believe anymore that there is any such thing as (genetically programmed) human nature. If pressed, I would be specific, and declare a belief that states that the current organisation of our society where profit is a God, therefore the 'natural order of things' and 'competitiveness' (in the narrow sense of acheiving higher/better/faster than my neighbour and then profiting from that advantage) is inherent in humans, is a belief only. A dogma, just like any other religious or superstitious belief. I think that as humans we have the capability to CHOOSE the society that we live in, and at some stage, in some societies, we chose to adopt the current model. But every piece of evidence I see suggests this current model will not last, and it will not last even as long as the culture of the builders of Stonehenge lasted. It will never be possible, or desirable, for humans to get 'back to nature', but back to the Stone Age?

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Dabs, letters and quitting the Stone Age(Part One)

Quick round-up because I'm off this afternoon to the pile....

House: After our third break-in, security measures at Large Villas mushroomed. Mr Bush would have been proud of me. Indeed, after the tenants returned again, (this time while Nel was resident, and gave her their full postal address), I considered applying the Bush Doctrine of dealing with threat by visiting them in turn. This plan got hung up on the issue of Proportionate Response. I considered the items that the Estonians have taken:

4 cans Stella Lager
4 Cans Oranjeboom Lager
4 cans John Smiths' Smoothflow Bitter
1 Ordance Survey Map of Market Weighton and area
1 mop head and extendable mop handle
1 pair of I-pod speakers (originally given away with FHM magazine and given to us by Chris in Barcelona)
1 notebook containing a brief outline of several story ideas and some important info (to wit: one sci-fi adventure starring Joey Mac and some talking cats, one contemporary Dickensian novel that ruthlessly exposes the dark underside of a fictional Leeds based custom exhibit company , one "Clan of the CAve Bear-esque" historical novel set in Mesolithic Liverpool, a record of train times (Nov - Dec 2007).

How does one plan a proportionate response to this theft? We reject the nuclear option and decide to ask the British police to issue a stern warning, given that we know the address of the culprits. It is more likely that this family are in need of help than of criminalization, as our continued renovations reveal how life in the previous household was obviously problematic.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Third time's a charm....

We returned to the future site of Large Villas last night to do a final measurement check of our plans, as we had contractors to meet the next day. As soon as we entered the rear room, future site of gossip and parties, we saw that the windows I had attached locks to on Sunday had been forced, and the former denizons of the pile had returned again.

Our good humour on being burgled for the first time has begun to evaporate. Now, the principal thought on my mind is revenge. It may seem that we are quick to assign blame to the previous tenants, but once again, the case against them is solid. I applied a new lock to the front door, window locks on all ground floor windows, and put padlocks on all the internal doors so that movement within the house is impossible.In the case of the back door, I installed two sliding bolts, but I left the original lock intact. My reasoning was that the front door was now impregnable, the windows were screwed shut and the sliding bolts on the rear door made it impossible to open, except from the inside.

Unfortunately, I had not counted on the tenacity, and stupidity, of the tenants. They broke one of the window locks climbed through, mithered around the back room for a minute (because of the internal padlocks they could'nt go anywhere else), they then unbolted the sliding bolts on the back door, unlocked the door and let themselves out, before politely locking the door again.

Once again the police have been called. In perspective, this activity represents no more than minor hooliganism, probably by one of the over muscled teenagers. My concern though, is that if this activity becomes too easy for the lad, he will extend and amplify his operations, and not confine his activities to our derelict. The possibility is that the street we propose moving to, which currently has one of the lowest crime rates in this benighted city, becomes subject to a minor crime wave affecting the whole street.

I improved ground floor security as well as possible this morning, met a very nice contractor, and now am heading off to Leeds, where, once again I will attempt to hand in my notice.

Monday, 23 June 2008

In the interests of clarity....

I re-read last night's blog, and feel I should clarify something. I have frequently given reference to the question we are most frequently asked, which can be summed up as "Why did you move back to England from Canada?". In truth, the first few months were difficult, but even then, the reality, is that, despite the continual question, we both knew, and know, why we moved back. In fact now, 18 months after returning here, we are having a ball.

I say this with as little soppiness as I can muster, but while I think that Canada undoubtedly offers a better quality of life for the majority of it's population than the UK, and is consequently a much happier place to live for relatively more of its people than the UK, Nel and I are priviliged to be both relatively secure and, more importantly, completely barking mad. The security means that it does'nt really matter where we live and the barking madness means that we are adaptable enough to take our cats for walks wherever we happen to be geographically. The result is that we meet good people, and consequently enjoy life wherever we are. By applying a 'life philosophy' of "If it ain't broke, then change it" ensures a variability of life that has helped keep us interested.

Additionally, since we have been in England, it has been great to meet up with old friends again, as well as meet some new ones, especially the Humberside Police with whom we now have a special relationship. I write this because I re-read my last sentence of previous entry and realized I sounded a bit anti-UK. I apologize unreservedly to the UK for this. I except from this apology the following people:

1. Alex Ferguson - Manager of Manchester United Football Club.
2. The person that knocked me off my bike.
3. The preious tenants of Large Villas.
4. The staff of Jobcentre Plus.
5. Newspaper editors.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Estonian Concerns

Unfortunately, I did not fit new locks quite quickly enough. As last night's rather bland report was being written at Nickson Towers, events were, as they say, afoot over at the future site of Large Villas.

We left Nickson Towers just after tea last night, took a leisurely, good humoured walk over to Large Villas, looking forward to having a few of the cooling beers that we'd left in the rear room of the new place before heading out to a bar with a couple of Red HB's work cronies. We entered the wreck, walked 8into the back room, and much to my surprise, in the scant hour and a half that we'd been absent, the beer had gone. Disappeared. Stolen.

There was no sign of forced entry, so the mystery before us appeared to deepen. What criminal mastermind would be so brilliant as to be able to enter a locked building, without damaging any exterior doors, or windows, and with no apparent signs of tunnelling, effect a heinous act, and exeunt pronto, all within an hour, disappearing into the night, like a stealthy person who's gone to Stealth School and graduated top of "Stealthiness". We puzzled the crime for a full microsecond.

"Cheeky bastards" I said.

"THE BEER??? THE BEEER???They've stolen the beer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" cried Red HB, full of anguish, and giving every appearance of someone who is just about to rend her garment.

Red HB, always the more resilient of our partnership, recovered first, and got to the point quickly: "Who's going to get more beer? Matt and Will are coming round."

The vote fell with Red, as I'm soon to be an impoverished student, and am trying to get into student habits (never buy beer if you can scrounge it, never carry cash, always be just about to do something when expenditure threatens). As she was leaving, next door neighbour popped his head out of his door.

"The tenants were back", he told us, "They walked out with a large cabinet, a rug, a saw and some beer."

We are stunned. Firstly, because if they'd wanted any of the junk that we'd spent the day piling up in the back yard, they only had to ask, but secondly, because surely in any language, in any culture, in any strata of society, regardless of language ability, regardless of immigration status, regardless of rich and poor, what they have just done is Stupid Theft, and (this is the point of our surprise) they have done the deed while being viewed by about half a dozen people, who know who they are and where they have moved to. (They also took my saw, a couple of our I-pod speakers and possibly some small hand tools). The stupidity amazes both of us, but it does fit with what we know of these people - the unsanitary conditions of the property are revealed to be on a massive scale as today's work has progressed.

The police arrive the next day, and take the situation very seriously, because as I arrive today, the back door is open - the tenants have been back for further pickings. We are treated to two constables, a forensics team, and over the phone, a Community Liason Officer. The officers we meet are impressive - intelligent, helpful, professional, and they explain that to them, the size of the theft is not important, the act is. They also ask the question that every new person we've met since we came to England asks "Why did you come back?".

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Klingons on the Starboard Bow

Well, Friday came and went, and the Global Economy did not collapse, so on Friday evening Red and I went to our new pile. No additional damage has been done by the tenants so we brace ourselves for Saturdays's labours. As described in our Project Plan

Saturday's work involved removing all the detritus left by various tenants and the previous owner, the odious Mr Gold. We knew coming into this project that it would be tough, but today's work has to rank among the most difficult first day's start to a project I have had. Friday's visit highlight's the nature of the project, so Red HB stays at home base, drawing up accurate plans, while I set to clearing out the first few rooms. Mouse droppings everywhere, dirty mattresses and bedding, old clothes, several dead mice. It is disgusting, and I write this as one who recently cleared out an Airstream trailer, and has had previous experience, in Ontario, cleaning up houses after drug addicts have overdosed.

An album will be published but for today one photo sums up the visual experience, although not the olfactory one. The room pictured is as slept in by the previous occupants. The mixture of aromas is "interesting". By the end of the day, though, we have magnificently cleared out the following:

6 mattresses and beds
5 large wardrobes
3 couches
2 fridges
4 televisions
10 bags of assorted clothes and unidentifiable stuff
torn up and removed all the carpet in the place (apart from one room)
bleached and swept the place
begun partial demolition of one wall

One incident occurred during the day which was surprising. I was dragging the third great big wardrobe down the stairs, when the front door opens and a youth enters. I look at him, and ask what he wants. He says calmly "Any mail?".

I reply in the negative and he walks out. It occurs to me immediately that he is one of the previous tenants. I had noticed a lack of mail when I entered the house that morning, and I now realize that the tenants are still visiting regularly, and letting themselves in with keys. Fitting new locks asap goes to the top of the task list.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

In Bed with Sharon

Even though, technically, the fat lady has not yet sung, the chickens have not actually hatched, and Bill's bespoke stumbling block has not yet been removed from the floor, in respect of the putative purchase of our slum, operatic voices have been tuned, chickens are pecking at the inside of their shells and the linseed oil has been brought up to room temperature ready to give the old block a good polish before returning it to storage.

In short, the tenants of the future location of Large Mansions have gone, vacated, exited stage left, done a bunk and cleared out, leaving a selection of disgusting old mattresses, chipboard cabinets, sundry electronica and an old tyre behind. However, they have not done any damage to the property, which was a great fear of mine, and have presumably been relocated in safe, affordable public housing.

I know this because tonight, the Boffin and I went round for an inspection. This visit was sans false moustaches, over-sized trench-coats and any other disguises that we may have considered in previous visits. We met the agent of the odious Mr Gold. The agent was an affable enough man, hollow-eyed and desperate, who immediately began attempting to sell me the property, stating that I just "had to see past the grime". I pointed out to him that I had indeed seen past the grime and we were just inspecting it to ensure no new damage had occurred, BUT that when 'my partner' showed up , she would freak out about all the stuff the tenants had left, as our agreement was for 'free and clear' possession.

Red Head showed up, had a minor freak, and probably (after six months of trying to sell the place and thousands of pounds in court costs) gave the agent a minor heart attack, as she gave every impression of being about to make an issue, and withdraw from the sale, over this latest breach of agreement by the seller. However, in this case, the man got lucky, because we now have a limited time in which to complete our renovations(actually for renovations, read 'complete rebuild'), and Red, I think, decided pretty quickly that right now, every day counts and more delays are not in our favour. He looked distinctly relieved; Boffin's reputation has probably spread around the offices of Gold and Son Ltd, and this house has already caused one agent a nervous breakdown .

So provided there's not a global financial meltdown before Friday, we should have the keys to the pile on Friday afternoon. Obvioulsy reports will be published on this blog, but to make matters more fun, I've decided to publish our weekly task lists. These can be found at :

If you're interested bookmark the link and check it out. It will be updated every week or so.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Market Weighton To Beverley

9.05 am sees the Boffin and I aboard the X47 bus headed for Market Weighton to check out the bike route that runs from there to Beverley. The bike track is along the former route of a local railway line, but we're checking it out by foot. We've hiked with the local Rambler's Group since we joined, but, while they are very nice people, they do ramble, in every sense of the word, drifting along paths in the most genteel fashion, and stopping, so it seems, every fifteen minutes or so, for "rest breaks". The first such break we had came with the announcement by the expedition leader

"Ahem, Ladies and Gentlemen. May I have your attention. Perhaps this may be an appropriate time for the ladies to take a small, erm, rest",

(this sentence delivered in 1940's English, straight from a war-time propoganda film where 'house' is pronounced 'hice'). The men of the hike then plunged onwards into an interesting-looking willow plantation, that formed a miniature forest amid a plain of flat rapeseed fields. A narrow tunnel formed by the willows on either side, darkened rapidly along its twisting length. The tunnel looked mysterious. It was this that the 'men', and only the men, had entered.

I looked at the Boffin, and our hiking companion, Annabel, and our consensus, without a word being spoken, was that whatever the men were doing was too interesting to miss, so our small caucus plunged on also, into the tunnel. It was only the muted cries of dismay, the hastily zipped trouser, and the sight of hundreds of retired pharmacists quickly emerging from the willow stands on either side of us that we realized what the leader's polite sentence actually meant. Having lived in Canada for so long, we should have recognised euphemism when we heard it.
A herd of retired Pharmacists, plus some ladies.

Today's adventure was just self and Boffin, so was completely euphemism free. The map gives an idea of the route, which was straight as an arrow over the gentle rolls of the Yorkshire Wolds. It was also virtually empty, but this was no surprise, as over time we've developed a strategy for identifying walks in close-to-urban areas that are relatively peaceful. The strategy dependsClear Path to Beverley

largely on completely avoiding the recommendations of local tourist advice centres and steering well clear of anywhere identified on a map with a large 'P'. 'P' means Parking Lot, and Parking Lot, at least in the UK, means ice-cream van, and ice cream van, again uniquely in the UK, means lots of people. Ice Cream Vans are as British as Buckingham Palace - an eternal cultural symbol. They are, to those Colonials who may not know, a van, painted in garish colours equipped with a serving hatch and several refrigerators. Our avoidance strategy works regardless of the weather, as the British love their ice-cream as much as Canadians love coffee. In fact the British will drive to a local 'beauty spot', fill the car park full of cars and sit in their cars eating ice-cream, no matter the weather. And it's no use asking "What if there's no Ice Cream Van on-site?" because there will be. Statue of another claimant to the title 'Britain's tallest man' . Market Weighton.Ice-Cream Free Zone.

So free of Ice-Cream, uncontrolled (and apparently uncontrollable) children, teenage girls in high-heels and over-excited, badly trained dogs, we land in Market Weighton, get slightly lost finding the start of our path, and set out on the twelve mile yomp back towards Beverley. Doubts about our fitness soon evaporate as we manage to maintain several conversations along the route. It is a well known fact that talking ceaselessly while hiking twelve miles at a very good pace is a reputable measure of fitness, so we're both pleased that we manage to cover several subjects during our excursion, gossiping about most (ok, I admit it, ALL) of our friends, reaching agreement on the necessity for radical reform of the global economy, discussing plans for our forthcoming trip to Liverpool and whether it would be feasible to accomplish this without telling my family, debating the merits of several recent movies we've seen, and crucially, my explanation to Nel of why every time we leave a grocery store, the joke "Well, that's shallot, then" is a timeless classic.
Lunch here. Excitingly, the small mound that runs just to the left of the road are 'tumuli' or ancient burial sites. Nel was very excited by the sight of these.

We reach Beverley in three hours(not including lunch), averaging about 4.0mph, a very good pace under the conditions, walk past the ice-cream vans littering the High Street and get a train home. There is absolutely no point to hiking, but it has been a great day.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Photos from Madrid

THe whole point of going to Madrid was to support Dave as he had been awarded a place among the finalists for Documentary Photography in Europe. I saw the exhibition, and ironicaly was'nt allowed to take pictures but the standard was very high, with some great work. I was reluctant to get my camera out in the company of professionals, so most of the images are taken during my solo wanderings, but there are some shots of the morning after the night before, which was, in reality, about four hours after we got in from our night out.

Five in the morning found me and Dave wandering out of the city of Madrid, south on Toledo Drive, happy and completely lost.The map would just not turn the right way, no matter how many times we referenced ourselves, very carefully against street signs. The local police found us, and upon enquiring where we were going, advised us to execute a 'volte face' and head back into town. We acted on their advice, headed back towards town and were immediately lost. Eventually we got a taxi. As we were both kicked out of our respective hotels at 10.00am, not much sleep was had, by anyone. I do remember being in a Flamenco bar full of impassioned Madridians, with only us three Scousecateers, two brave Dutch photographers and a 'photographer groupie' who we just could'nt shake off, and remember telling some beautiful Spanish girls that I could do Latin dancing, but fortunately, I do not know if I actually gave an exhibition of this unpractised skill or not. Dave says I did.


Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Picasso on my mind

Picasso's Guernica is an enormous, emotional, detailed, disturbing masterpiece. But, its definitely NOT in the Prado in Madrid. The Prado is however, home to masterpieces by the Spanish masters, Velasquez, Benitez, Torres, Reina, Alonso. I realize my mistake just after handing over admission fee. Most people cruise serenly through museums and art galleries, contemplating each picture, deliberating over the technique, the meaning and the context of each work. Nickson's approach is less educated. I walk briskly past the 15 masterpieces by El Greco, Titian, Rubeuns and Bosch barely glancing at the 800 year old works of genius, scanning the wall for the massive signage that has to be there directing me towards Picasso and the Cubists. When no signs are obvious, I ask a Museum guide:

"Donde esta Picassa? Guernica? Esta importante que mi vio La Guernica. Ahora."

The assistant gives me a cool glance. "Reina Sofia"

"Nice to meet you" I reply "Donde esta la murales du Picasso et la Cubismizimo. Ists?"

"You are English?" the guide asks.

I am but, I am also stuck in my crap version of Spanish, and the search for Picasso is important.

"Oui. Anglais. Je would very like a vie Guernica. Esta aqui?"

"Guernica is not in this museum. It is in the Reina Sophia Museum, just 5 minutes walk away."

"Ah, yes, of course. Thank you. Gracias", I mumble, and walk away, studying the nearby Titian and trying to give the impression that I was a knowledgeable visitor, who knew all along where Guernica is displayed, but has suddenly been struck by some confluence of historical reference and tradition (while studying the old masters) to inquire into the wellbeing of a modern painting. As soon as my guide, whose name is not Reina Sofia, has disappeared behind an enormous Greco, I skewdaddle.

'Trying not to look gay' is another guise I've been forced to adopt in Madrid,(caused by the location of my hostal and the friendly, but unwanted advances recieved while staggering home last night) so I walk briskly, swinging my arms in as masculine fashion as it is possible to do while wearing a very tight tee-shirt, flipflops and a 'man-bag' stuffed with books about Fine Art. I quickly reach the real Reina Sofia.

Guise, and pretence, disappear when I finally view the work. One of my father's closest friends, Alf Froom, fought for the International Brigades in Spain against the Nazi-supported Fascists of General Franco. My dad knew Alf because of their involvement in the English Trades Union movement,specifically the AEUW (AMalgamated Union Of Engineering Workers). Committee Meetings of the AEUW were held in our house on a monthly basis and after official business was done, the 'kids' (ie me and my brothers and sister) were called upon to bring tea and biscuits to the committee members. Alf was a lifelong Communist, but more, he was a masterly storyteller. I would sit on Alf's knee while he told tales of hiding from Nazi Stukkas under donkey's corpses. Another of dad's friend's, Dave Wilkie, would play DJ, bringing his rare collection of Cuban Jazz and salsa. Dave knew Fidel, it was rumoured, and although he never talked about his time in Cuba, he would admit to having been there in 1953.

All the men had fought Sir (a title that was never taken away from him) Oswald Moseley's British Union of Fascists during the Thirties and recalled the single occasion that Moseley spoke in Liverpool with some relish. According to their legend, the Blackshirts had been chased down Liverpool's Edge Lane by a mixed crowd of Socialists, Communists, Anarchist and even the Irish (who had apparently just turned up for the fight). My father, who was only ten at the time, had followed his elder brother (another prominent Trade Unionist) to this 'demonstration' and had spent a happy afternoon throwing bricks at the Blackshirts. When my grand father found out where he'd been he gave him "the hiding of my life".

These men were my own childhood heroes. Their era had been defined by historical events that because of the communications systems of the day, made politics very clear cut. Alf Froom and Dave Wilkie were idealists, possibly in a less sophisticated age, and probably wrong about many of the views they held. They were though, to the limits of their ability and resources, educated, knowledgeable, informed, polite gentlemen. I compare the attitudes, (self) education, aspirations and pride of these tradesmen with their modern counterparts, and I'm left wondering, not for the first time, what has happened to the working class, who only a few generations ago stood up to the threat of Fascism in Europe, fought for universal public health care and education, and who organized for better wages and conditions. These days they want to see their kids win reality shows, buy into National Lotteries and just dream of being rich, it seems.

I'm talking to Dave about this later that night when we meet up. He reminds me of another strand, namely that the same committee that used to meet in our parlour, were instrumental in returning his father's body to England for burial after he had died at sea. Dave's dad had been a Marine Engineer and died, when Dave was twelve years old, in disputed waters, somewhere near the Suez Canal. Local and international politics resulted in the body being held 'hostage' for a time, and it was only returned to the UK for burial (Dave's mum is a fervent Catholic: some Catholics have religious objections to burial at sea) after pressure from the AEUW on the Prime Minister of the time, who subsequently intervened. Dave reminds me that event, over thirty years ago, was the start of our friendship.

Postcript: Sir Oswald Moseley's son, Max Moseley is the current President of FIA, the organisation that administers Formula One Racing Worldwide. He has never publically condemned his father's political views. Recently he has survived a scandal caused by his alleged involvement in a Nazi themed orgy ,and retains his post. Moseley's family connections include the Irish Brewers Guinness and he retains his connections with British (and European) aristocracy.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Hemingway we are not.

Having inadvertantly booked myself into the gay quarter of MAdrid, Saturday seees me rise early, on the hunt for breakfast. But Madridians dont rise early, especially it seems, gay ones, so I wander towards the Prado, a museum which I´m hopefully going to see Picasso´s Guernica. Of course, in keeping with the spirit of this adventure, I have no idea if Guernica is actually in the Prado or not. I just assume that it is because I know Guernica is in Madrid and I know that the Prado is a big museum. It must be there.

Landing again in a new city rekindled the emotions of landing in Halifax, knowing no-one. The world becomes massive, full of possibilities. There´s people to meet so I throw my passport into the safe at my hostal and hit the streets. At O´Donnell´s Irish bar, I meet a waitress. As soon as I see her name badge, I know;

"Where abouts in Canada are you from , Shana?"

"Hi, well how the heck did you know I was Canadian, eh?"

She´s struggling to speak over the noise of the big screen tv which is showing the Stanley Cup final between Detroit and Pittsburg, a game she can hardly keep her eyes off. Shana´s about twenty three or four and has that disgustlingly healthy natural appearance that only sporty young Canadians and Aussies have, but the hockey fixation, I tell her, together with the Canadian inflection that manages to insert several "R"´s into "buenos dias" is the giveaway.

Shana´s from St Catherine´s and like so many people in MAdrid, came here backpacking over a year ago. We chat for a bit, but soon I get restless. There´s hockey on one screen, Liverpool Football Club´s Spanish striker Fernando Torres on another screen, and I´m in an irish bar talking to a Canadian. Time to go, this is all too familiar - the whole idea here was to immerse in the unknown. I head off into the night, although not completely solo, as I´m in constant contact with Dave, photographer friend, via text messages.

Our party, Dave, myself, Dave´s friend PAul meet up later, and get drunk. We agree to go to a bullfight the next day, it´s "only fifty euros" we tell eachother. I make a point

"Can´t tell Nel though, Dave´, she´d freak"

Dave agrees

"Yeah, Megan would freak as well"

Paul agrees

"Yeah, Eve would freak as well"

There´s a short silence.

"Perhaps we could just watch a footy match"

Agreement all round, with a palpable sense of relief. Hemmingway we are not.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

The Dangers of Being Holier THan Thou. Or How to Build a Kitchen Without Sharon Stone. A Musing by P.Ontification.

In my youth, I appeared with some regularity on Radio Merseyside's alternative music programme "Streetlife", as an ill-informed, but completely opinionated, utterly biased political commentator. This was the heady days before t'Internet, so information was obtained, and reported on, traditionally - telephoning people to interview them, then re-writing their opinions/observations/comments to support whatever angle I had on each issue. One regular source of information, a source I later discovered to be consistently factually accurate was the writer/editor of a fanzine called "Dirty Fingers In Dirty Pies". DFIDP's editor was obsessed with untangling and illuminating the tangled web of global connections that dominate the world. Given that this was 1983 and globalization as a phrase had seldom been heard, Steve, the editor, was way ahead of his time. He was also a member of the Leeds based anarcho-syndicalist collective "ChumbaWumba" who at the time were busy putting out self-funded records with titles like "How does it feel to be the Mother of a Thousand Dead" (a polemical record aimed at Thatcher in the aftermath of the Falkland's War. Later on in their career, ChumbaWumba went on to sign for the global record label EMI, a label that their fanzine "Dirty Fingers in Dirty Pies" had correctly identified as being a member of the Thorn group of companies. Thorn are(or were) a British conglomerate which had massive defence contracts involving providing electronic hardware and software for use in missile systems to anyone who would pay them, including both sides in the Falkland's conflict. Chumbawumba had a massive global hit with 'Tubthumping' while on EMI. The preceeding is in now way intended as a critisizm of Chumbawumba, indeed I signed a very small licensing deal with Sony Records without once Googling "Sony Records environmental policy".

How does all of this relate to Nepal and Sharon Stone, I hear you ask. Well, read on. Last week, two news stories emerged out of Nepal - one was that the ruling monarchy have been given their marching orders after almost four hundreds years and the place has been declared a People's Democratic Republic. The other Nepal-based story recounted the heroic efforts of various Russian, Kazakh, Canadian, Nepalese, Tibetans and Chinese to rescue the Spanish climber Ochoa from the slopes above 8000 metres on Annapurna. The attempts failed, but the individual heroism and bravery of most of those involved was extraordinary. Humans at their best - co-operating selflessly, without political motivation to help a fellow.

Meanwhile, in Cannes, after just having eaten some endangered Atlantic halibut, Sharon Stone, the Buddist, environmentalist and Mensa member has delivered her infamous "Maybe the Earthquake in China is karma for what China is doing in Tibet" remark. Obviously, she has since had to apologize profusely. What she has not apologised for is her movies. One of MS Stone's movies is The One Where She Wears No Knickers, a movie that was distributed in Asia by Panasia, a distribution company owned by Golden Harvest Production Company. Golden Harvest have very close ties to EMI.

The past few weeks at Nickson Towers have been spent planning how we can convert the derelict at the future site of Large Villas into an environmentally-sound building, and furthermore, how we can do this ethically, but this afternoon's work has all focused on Ms Stone. At least some of her millions have doubtless originated from film receipts originating in China, funnelled to her via Golden Harvest and EMI, a frequent sponsor of mountaineering expeditions. But it is not all one way traffic, as the attributes possessed by Sharon Stone have doubtless been as much help to EMI et al, as their company's resources have helped her.

And now, we want to make a kitchen, preferably using ethically sourced materials. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way of doing this without involving Sharon Stone. The reason for this is that EMI are owned by Terra Firma Holdings Limited, based in the UK, but these are owned (ultimately) by Nomura Holdings, a global Japanese company. Nomura, through a convoluted series of holding companies own majority shares in most of the plywood manufacturers in the Uk and Far East. Therefore, unless we grow our own trees, using seeds that we have found on the floor, then make our own manufacturing facility from scratch (including smelting the iron and steel and in paying people we employ only in fruit that we've grown ourselves, thereby not involving ourselves in banks at all), we will certainly be contributing to Sharon Stone's continued ability to say stupid things, AND to ChumbaWumba's royalties.

I suppose the point, if there is one, is perhaps unoriginal, namely that we do live in a very connected world, perhaps more so than ever before. We will still source our materials for our house as ethically as we possible can. The trick is just to accept that Sharon's along for the ride, and not get too hung up about it.