Wednesday, 25 January 2012

it's not a trend

The following are axiomatic, right?

  • Britain is one of a number of 'broken' societies in which civilised life is being rapidly eroded by steadily rising crime.
  • Knife crime is a particularly serious problem and it is fair to talk in terms of an epidemic of these kinds of offences.
  • Central government, local government and the police have combined to wage a 'war' on hard-pressed motorists, reaching for ever more draconian financial penalties in order to raise revenue.

The thing is, none of these statements are true. Last summer, the Office for National Statistics noted that by 2010, levels of crime in England and Wales had fallen to their lowest levels for thirty years. It was further noted, however, that two-thirds of people surveyed believed that crime was in fact becoming an ever more serious problem. The biggest gap between reality and public perception was demonstrated in the area of knife crime. The same study revealed that the murder rate is falling and that gun crime has fallen by 36% since it peaked in 2005-06. The report also showed that fixed penalty fines issued for motoring offences had halved since 2005. Overall, in 2009-10, crime levels in England and Wales were at their lowest since the British Crime survey began in 1981.

This is the Broken Britain you've heard so much about.

There may be a number of reasons for this big gap between the real world and how the public perceives it. Some will be attracted to the theory of oppressive governments seeking expanded powers of arrest, detention and surveillance with the spurious justification of keeping us safe from harm. Others may prefer to lay the blame at the door of our newspapers, seeking to sell copies and flog advertising space off the back of sensationally distorting the mundane truth that this is a fundamentally safe, peaceful and well-ordered country. Both may be at least partly true and there may be any number of additional factors at play. What remains clear, though, is that talk of statistical trends should be treated with a healthy dose of scepticism by anyone interested in not being manipulated.

One notable exponent of spinning a trend out of a few incidents (or even just one incident) seems to be Daily Mail firebrand Melanie Phillips.

Writing this week, Phillips reports on the strange and sad tale of a five-year-old child named Sasha Laxton, whose parents decided to avoid classifying him as either a boy or a girl. She quite rightly points out that however well-intended this was meant to be, the effects are unpredictable and may well be harmful.

So how big a problem is this?

"Sasha's parents," writes Phillips "are by no means a one-off aberration. Last year, a Canadian couple insisted they would also raise their baby, Storm, as a gender-neutral child."

So that's two nutty sets of parents, then. How many more at there? Well, although Phillips contends that "in certain circles, this is becoming a fashion," she declines to cite any more examples. True, she finds what sound like reasonably worrying cases of academics or public bodies making strange-sounding pronouncements about the desirability of talking down differences between the genders. But she offers no further examples of actual families raising actual children according to such principles.

Keeping in mind the falling crime figures and the widespread perception that the opposite is true, you may agree that it is wise to remain healthily sceptical about the evidence of worrying trends even when frightening or unwelcome incidents are reported very regularly. Surely that level of scepticism should be even higher when just two isolated cases of potty parenting are put forward to support Melanie Phillips's argument that "far from ushering in a better world", this approach to children and gender "threatens to stamp out the individual right to know what we are, and to rob us of humanity itself."

The tone here is so shrill that it seems hard not to conclude that Phillips was desperately reaching for some hysterical bullshit with which to fill her column on Sunday and that she came up with a particularly outlandish piece on this occasion. The Mail peddles fear of change and difference. That's what it does. But Phillips runs the risk of trying so hard to deliver the goods that she'll up looking like an especially deluded fantasist. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

get 'em down in camden town

never stop snapping

Why is it a good idea to have a half-decent camera with you all the time? Because photos that become favourites can be about capturing the ephemeral glimpse. Come back a year, a month, a week, a day, an hour or even a minute later. Even the colours and textures of a favourite building may not be around forever:

Monday, 23 January 2012

everything is electrified

today, quite by chance: another stumble into the Collective/Camden Town Unlimited gallery space. this time: a small collection of pictures by London figurative artist Joe Simpson. taking a break from his usual concentration on portraits and scenes with a cinematic quality, Simpson has assembled some works themed around electricity pylons, telegraph poles and grand skies. quotidian poles and pylons are among the taken-for-granted objects closely examined here at/by this is my england. so a little time among these silent structures in the white quiet of the long planky room, exchanging a few words with Simpson himself and then pushing off back to workaday world. again. pleasant interlude. the exhibition continues until 29th Jan. and pieces can be bought at prices between £40 and £650

Joe  Simpson + pylons


according to 'experts' (who?), this little offering on Oval Rd. NW1 ain't a Banksy. still quite nice though, innit?

at it again

the camden sloganeer is at it again,
but these time he's having a pop at beans
not banks



Sunday, 22 January 2012

dealing in disappointment

Imagine living in one of the most affluent countries in the world. You always have more than enough food to keep you alive and in good health. You have constant access to clean drinking water. Your bodily waste is transported efficiently from your home to a sewage treatment plant that you have never visited. Your home is always warm, well-lit and dry. You are gainfully employed and a system of rules and laws ensures that your employer cannot force you to work in dangerous or insanitary conditions. In every week, you have at least two days set aside for leisure and to manage your personal affairs. A number of additional full days can also be set aside for you to take holidays. If you have children, they are provided with an education and are not expected to work for a living before reaching adulthood. Most of your fellow citizens are essentially law-abiding so the streets of your home town are safer and cleaner than in the towns of most of the world's countries. A number of industries exist purely to provide people like you with things and activities to keep you amused - professional sport, publishing, television, movies, video games etc.

But you are dissatisfied. You are dissatisfied because every day you see images of people whose lives appear to be much more comfortable and interesting than yours. They have more money. They appear to have many friends and to be adored not only by those around them but by millions of strangers whom they have never met. They are better dressed than you, wearing more expensive and well-made clothes, which fit them better and which are combined to form more stylish outfits. They have more attractive facial features than yours - better bone structure, no blemishes, straighter and whiter teeth, better behaved hair. They seem to burst with almost excessively good health and move with graceful ease. They wear wristwatches that cost as much as you earn in a half a year. They drive cars that cost as much as you earn in several years. They live in homes that cost more than you will earn in your whole working life. They are routinely congratulated for even their smallest achievements. They constantly receive compliments. When they express opinions, their thoughts are listened to carefully and shared via newspapers and other media. When they consent to be interviewed, it is inconceivable that they should be asked any questions that might cause embarrassment. To ensure this does not happen, contractual arrangements are put in place and carefully enforced.

You press your nose up against these lives. These lives are played out on your TV screen. These lives are described, down to the most banal detail, in magazines that you can buy in the supermarket, at the petrol station or in the ticket hall of a railway station. There exists a subspecies of journalists, employed only to gush enthusiastically about the minutiae of these lives. All the time. Every day. Over and over.

They look down on your from billboards. They smoulder at you during the advert breaks. You would recognise their voices with your eyes closed. You see their faces more often than you see your own mother's face. You see them thousands of times a day. Millions of times a year. As you drive to work, voices on the radio are chattering excitedly about their lives. When you get to the office, colleagues stand around the water cooler discussing these people's exploits.

On the same day, you are asked two questions. You are able to answer the first question much more confidently than the second one.
  1. "Which of the Kardashian sisters is the eldest?"
  2. "Can you explain the difference between the terms 'Great Britain' and 'United Kingdom'?"
The makers of numerous products and services imply that a little of the glamour will rub off on you should you spend your money on their wares. So you buy them. You borrow money to buy them. For a long time, you borrow this money in the belief that the next time you move house, the profit you make on the sale of your home will wipe out the debts you have accumulated buying these things. It's like a miracle. You get a modest pay rise. This allows you to borrow enough to afford a bigger home and pay off your credit card bills and personal loans. 

But then that stops working.

Even when it did work, the clothes, cosmetics and haircare products did not have quite the same effect on you as they seemed to have on the people on the billboards.

(video by Jesse Rosten)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

this is alright

when you look around your four-bedroom house,
or kick a ball with your son,
when you watch your mortgage shrink
and your salary grow,
and consider
the nice holidays,
the business trips,
the taxi rides,
the hotel rooms,
the good dinners:
then you think
it’s not so bad,
this getting older,
this grey stubble in the beard,
these trips to the dentist
to fix the crumbling teeth,
those hours on a treadmill
to fight the bulging gut.

and you think, my god
to be young again:
the chalk dust on the back of your blazer,
the spitty balls of chewed up paper
pock-marking the walls
of the dark classroom where
you watched, again,
the video about australia’s snowy mountain river project
and learned
precisely nothing,
as grey rain churned the playing fields and turnip fields
into an ocean of mud;
yes, and
the sadistic PE teachers (pick your knees up, you fucking spastic),
the shame of undressing among bodies bigger and hairier,
and more assuredly masculine than yours;
the indifferent and unattainable girls –
the fionas, the kates, the rebeccas, the sallys, the rachels and claires:
not that pretty anyway, when you see old snaps
all this time later,
scanned onto facebook by someone you remember disliking;
the not fitting in,
the not liking the right bands, the
not having the right haircut, or shoes, or trousers
or friends;
the cruel gay crush
that some sly little prick
had for your best mate,
insinuating between you and him,
freezing you out,
fucking you off;
yes, and in safeway,
wearing a clip on bow tie
and a name tag
(on the back:
the customer is always right),
bagging groceries
for every kind of dick and
every flavour of old maggot
the streets of england’s dullest town
could cough up
into your Saturday,
into your three weekday evenings.

and you remember
the chemical dazzle
of little clubs in london,
the chemically adjusted bonhomie,
the camaraderie of the dancefloor,
spreading love
all over the world;
and you remember
the surge of hard breasts
in a mohair sweater
and the fat, firm overlap
of a round arse
spilling from hotpants
onto the smooth expanse
of the backs
of sturdy little thighs;
and you remember something wonderful clicking,
wet and smooth and deep inside you
and deep inside her,
the very first time
that the act of penetration
really felt sublime and not
like a slimy fumble;
and you remember laughing,
laughing more in a day
than you could laugh in a month
in your desirable semi-detached residence,
in your office,
or behind the wheel
of your company car,
and you think
how did this happen
and when did I get middle-aged.

and you head home
from your laptop
from the spreadsheets
and the draft product proposals
and the competitor analysis,
making for the station;
and on the way
you sidestep a gaggle of shrill kids
in their short skirts,
in their ragged denim shorts,
with their blonde hair,
their fresh faces,
their competitive, confident voices,
their empty words,
their effortlessly passed examinations,
their knowledge of almost nothing that happened  in the aeons
before they were born,
with their assumptions of a bright future,
with their sense of entitlement,
with their good natures,
with their tolerance of difference,
with their open hearts;
and you think,
my god
these smiles will fade
when they know, finally,
that the road ahead
is hard
and getting harder,
and you’re glad
to be so much further along that path,
with the worst behind you,
and you’re thankful, really
for all that.

their legs seem trimmer
and their lips look fuller
and their hips more beguiling,
and their tits bigger,
their waists slimmer
and their ways less inhibited
(or more corrupted?)
than the girls
you remember
chasing, wanting
and sometimes getting
after the struggle sputtered
to its usually disappointing end,
and you think
yes, yes
to be young again,
to be young now,
now when the little beauties
ever more closely resemble
the bright human images
on billboards,
in lads’ mags,
and in adverts
for shampoo, tampons
and mobile phones;
yes, yes
to be young now,
with a deluge of free porn
down a wire,
through a pipe,
over the radio waves
and into your head.

as their chatter dies behind you,
the last remark
is a catty one:
they turn a knife
in the back of an absent schoolmate,
and you think
no, no,
maybe not, but still
that one on the end of the chorus line,
she had a tiny scrap of leather
barely covering her behind.

but when the door opens
and the footsteps lead you into the dark bedroom,
your good wife of ten good years
looks up from her briefly disturbed slumber,
and the welcome
is so solid,
and the embrace
is so generous:
then you know,
you really know
that this here and now
is more than just alright.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

a weird world of happy faces

You know those cashpoints that charge the best part of two quid when you just want to get some of your own money out of your own bank account? That's the money which the banks use to invest in things meant to return a profit. That's the account which comes with monster penalty and admin charges if you go very slightly beyond your overdraft limit or if the bank needs to send you a letter. That's the bank that spunked its cash up the wall on junk mortgages sold to penniless Americans. That's the bank you bailed out through your taxes. That's the bank whose executives' noses are back in the bonus trough and who feel they're tired of saying sorry for past errors of judgement.

Those fee-charging cashpoints, then. Have you noticed that the screens often feature the face of an an attractive blonde woman with good teeth? She smiles pleasantly, her gaze fixed over your shoulder and somewhere into the middle distance. Why is she beaming away like that? Well, maybe you'd be inclined to grin if you were getting two pounds every time someone needed to get some money out. Nice work, right? A piece of piss, taken easily.

Blonde cashpoint lady is not the only example of a smiley face incongruously adorning what could just as easily be a plain surface. Wander around a supermarket. You will see walls and windows adorned with happy faces. Why? To tell you that this shop is for people? To tell you that people drink drinks and eat food? That being in the shop and buying things will make you smile like the faces on the in-store graphics? Does anyone go along with that? Do these faces induce punters to feel better and buy more? Does it work? It's horrible to think that we might be so easily swayed by the presence of a blandly inoffensive face above the checkouts or between the aisles.

This stuff is everywhere. Remember when post offices were stern and ornate Victorian palaces? Before they got converted into bland lifestyle pubs or branches of boring restaurants chains? Now they are styled as retail outlets like any other. So they conform to the branding rules of that sector, right down to the seemingly pointless use of smiling faces on the window panels.

What do these faces tell you? That children are welcome? That standing in line to post a parcel will have you grinning your head off? That post offices are intended for the use of humans? That the buyers of stock photographs don't care that some of the images very obviously originate in North America? Fuck knows. It's a strange sort of visual pollution. The eye may not rest on an unadorned surface. Your gaze must always settle on some stranger's unnatural smile.

Think for a moment. If any of your friends or relatives passed away several decades ago and somehow came back to life in 2012, what would they make of the visual environment that you probably take for granted? It seems a fair guess that they would find it pretty freaky. When did all those smiling faces appear? Why are they all around us, unnoticed, never remarked upon? Smiling, smiling, smiling. Weird, innit?

exit uncle Roman?

Russia's dictator democratically elected Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is not a man to be trifled with. Oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky dared to challenge the authority of Putin, who was President at the time. Result? Banged up in jail in 2003 on charges of embezzlement. Former security officer Alexander Litvinenko, a fierce critic of Russia's Government? Famously poisoned in London. Andrei Lugovoi, the man wanted by British police in connection with Litvinenko's murder? He will never be handed over, David Cameron was told last year by current Russian puppet President Dmitry Medvedev. Badri Patarkatsishvili, the Georgian tycoon and friend of Putin critic Boris Berezovsky? Died in mysterious circumstances in his Surrey home shortly after worrying aloud about the threat of assassination. A film about Khodorkovsky scheduled to be shown in Moscow cinemas last year? The screenings were cancelled, apparently following calls from the Moscow Cultural Affairs Committee. Russian journalists? Murdered in alarming numbers, with resulting prosecutions virtually unknown.

To put it mildly, then, anyone with big money tied up in Russia would not want to incur the wrath of the gangsters men running the country. Alarm bells, therefore, may be ringing for some of the national asset thieves businessmen currently enjoying the fruits of their plundering labour by spending lavishly on expensively acquired sports teams around the world. A recent pronouncement by Putin might give them cause to worry.

Was it AS Monaco F.C. owner Dmitry Rybolovlev that Putin had in mind when saying that the reputation of Russian private enterprise suffers "when people see that after that unfair privatisation millions and billions are being spent on sports clubs overseas instead of investing this money into Russian sports"? Or perhaps the remark was aimed at Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the NBA's New Jersey Nets franchise. Prokhorov, after all, has had the temerity to announce that he will oppose Putin in the upcoming Presidential election. Or, just maybe, the godfather of SW London football is among the intended targets of Putin's barbed comment.

Were that the case, which would Roman Abramovich care about more? Continuing to subsidise his pet football team? Or ensuring that he stays on the right side of a man whose enemies, even the very rich and powerful ones, have a funny way of ending up dead or in jail?

pussies who didn't love their children enough

It is axiomatic that becoming separated from reality is a fate suffered by many of those who become rich and famous for singing songs, playing games or pretending to be somebody else. You do something essentially quite simple, albeit fairly well, perhaps. People tell you that you're wonderful. Over and over again. You don't have to choose your own clothes, do your own shopping, pay your own bills or wipe your own backside. You get paid to wear a watch. You get paid to drive a car smaller and less ostentatious than anything you'd actually keep in your own garage. So you morph into a creature made up of hubris and delusions of meaningful importance.

All of this is well understood. So when a 'celebrity' says something crass, insensitive and remarkably stupid, little surprise is felt.

Every now and then, however, one of the beautiful people really goes the extra mile when it comes to producing an arrogant remark of truly depressing idiocy.

Step forward, Mr. Mark Wahlberg. Known for awful topless rapping, modelling pants, playing the part of a deluded thicko in a fairly good movie, and carrying out racially aggravated assaults on Vietnamese men when he was in his teens, Wahlberg has now decided to berate victims of the 9-11 attacks for lacking his own brand of heroism.

Interviewed in the February issue of the preeners' style guide Men's Health, the pretend movie hard man, who was apparently scheduled to be aboard one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center in September 2001, says:
"If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn't have went down like it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, 'OK, we're going to land somewhere safely, don’t worry.'" 
The poor sods on those flights had no idea that the planes were going to be smashed into tall buildings at high speed. Anyone with the average layman's background knowledge of previous aircraft hijackings was doubtless expecting to end up enduring a few tense hours or days on the runway of some airport somewhere, perhaps with a minority of passengers getting injured or killed. It's understandable, then, that no resistance was offered. Contrast this response to that of some of the passengers of United flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Via mobile phones, some passengers learned of the earlier incidents in New York City, reasoned that they were facing the same fate and decided to fight back.

Former underwear model and teenage tearaway Wahlberg, however, would have been the only man swinging fists and raising hell on one of the New York flights.

For him, the people who died as their planes smashed into the twin towers were weak little pussies who did not love their kids enough to put up a fight. The folks on Flight 93? Incompetent fools lacking the badass skills of a trained movie actor.

What a fucking tool.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

scruples about Scruples

Do you remember the game Scruples? For a while, back in the 1980s, the board game based around ethical dilemmas was pretty popular and heavily advertised. Even if you never played the game, you may recall the TV commercials. This is the US version, but the UK one (which does not seem to be available on YouTube) was pretty similar:

By the late 1980s, a short-lived BBC1 Scruples TV game show was on the air, hosted by Simon Mayo, then at the peak of his popularity as the presenter of Radio 1's Breakfast Show. The game had also been adapted for the hot home computer formats of the time:

What you may not know about this once-popular game is that it was invented by a strange and unpleasant person by the name of Henry Makow.

Makow, a Swiss-born Canadian, is an avowed opponent of feminism. So much so that in 2002 he alleged that Gloria Steinem was recruited by the CIA in the late 1950s and employed as part of a plot to use feminism to destabilise society. For Makow, the CIA is just one tool of an international cabal seeking to weaken America and integrate it into a global state directed by the United Nations. Makow puts the banking and oil dynasties of Rothschild, Rockefeller and Morgan at the heart of this conspiracy and contends that feminism was not the only great social movement directed by the CIA. He asserts that "the 60s drug counter culture, the civil rights movement, and the anti-war movement" were all catalysed by the US Government intelligence agency.

By the age of forty-eight, Makow had decided that marriage to a woman from his home country would not work due to his female compatriots having been, in his view, brainwashed by feminism, thereby destroying the viability of the kind of relationship he wanted. So, in an adventure recounted in his slim 2001 work A Long Way to Go for a Date, Makow set off on what the book's jacket blurb describes as "a quest for masculine identity". This quest took him to the Philippines, in search of the kind of compliant creature unavailable to him in North America. She was thirty years his junior - a teenage Filipina named Cecilia. It didn't work out. 

Makow is still a very active writer. He has published two books on the idea that a "depraved satanic cult called the Illuminati is waging a covert war against humanity", following a plan outlined in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Unless Makow intends his works on the Illuminati to be read as fiction, it says something about his research methods that he cites an anti-Semitic document which had already been exposed as fraudulent by the time Germany's Nazis were distributing it in schools and having its contents taught as fact. When you drive your Focus, your Galaxy or your Fiesta, you may prefer not to reflect on the fact that a certain Henry Ford funded the printing of half a million copies in the USA in the 1920s.

Still blogging prolifically, Makow wrote only only yesterday to complain about occasions when white Christians have been assaulted in America and this has not been dealt with a hate crime. The term hate crime, asserts Makow, pertains only "to crimes against Illuminati-sponsored minorities. They are used to advance the Illuminati's satanic, homosexual and "multicultural" agenda."

Should you be in any doubt about Henry Makow's world-view, consider the titles of some of the articles written by others to which his blog provides links: "Obama's Gay Bathhouse", "Mossad and 9-11", "Marilyn Munroe (sic) and Jewish Hollywood". A man shall be known by the company he keeps...

Turn all that over the next time you feel like a nostalgic game of Scruples... 

Saturday, 14 January 2012

a thick finger

a bright morning, so nippy
that to read the Overground timetable
or to navigate the Underground map,
a thick finger is needed
to swipe clear the frost
from each

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

being Józek

of the three hilarious witches of Kraków,
she was the wildest
and the smallest,
by her taller
and supposedly hotter friends,
tottering the cobbles
of Stare Miasto
on their long, long legs
and vertiginous black heels,
sly smiling,
pigeon kicking,
private laughing,
endless lying,
under low cloud,
among fallen leaves
and in the shouty, smoky fug
of hard-drinking cellars.

come back to my place, Józek,
she said.
it's empty and my heart gets cold.
I'm frightened of the ghost
of my uncle.
he was in the fucking
Służba Bezpieczeństwa.
you know what that is, Józek?
he was a spy, Józek,
a torturer.
the neighbours all hated him.
so they hate me.
cooking their fucking cabbage,
reading their fucking bibles,
smelling of cabbage,
smelling of bibles.
he hanged himself
in there
where I'm living,
supposedly with my brother,
but he's never home, he's
fucking some stupid girl,
some villager.
I loathe her, Józek.

so you want me to come back with you?
to stay the night?
in your room?
yes, in my room,
and tomorrow
we'll go the cinema,
we'll walk somewhere,
we'll get drunk again.
and tonight, in your room? tonight, in your bed?
tonight, Józek, we'll see. we will see.

Monday, 9 January 2012

the ends of some eras

While clearly struggling of late, QPR are in the Premier League and playing their home matches in the familiar surroundings of a ground that the club has called home for all but three of the last ninety-five football seasons. Flux has been the norm for the Rangers over the years, as demonstrated in the last few hours by the departure of manager Neil Warnock after just twenty-two eventful months in charge. But, for now at least, the players run around on the same scrap of land used by their predecessors for generations. A man well into his retirement can park his backside on a blue or white plastic seat in pretty much the same spot where he stood or sat to watch the heroes of his youth lumbering about in thick cotton jerseys and kicking a pudding-like ball across a sea of mud.

None of this can be said of the opponents QPR faced for Saturday's third round FA Cup tie. The trip made by over 5000 of the Rangers travelling faithful was to England's strangest town, now home to the football club stolen from its original supporters in the London Borough of Merton, almost sixty miles away.

It seems fitting that a club created in such unusual circumstances should offer such a strange match day experience. Given the grandness of the vision first outlined more than  a decade ago by Milton Keynes Dons supremo Pete Winkelman, visiting supporters might expect a slick, professionally presented football product, albeit one whose newness and strangeness might not be to everyone's taste. But that isn't the case. Instead, it's about traipsing through a supermarket car park to get to a ground that looks as though it was abandoned by the builders when still under construction. It's about catering that's every bit as woeful as what's on offer at lower league grounds up and down the country.

At the start of the twenty-first century, Winkelman was Managing Director of a property consortium supported by retail giants Asda and IKEA. The consortium was looking to launch a large development in the Denbigh area of Milton Keynes, including a retail park, a hotel and conference centre and, the crowing glory, a 30,000-seater football stadium. The version of events described by an independent group of Wimbledon supporters contends that although the consortium described an Asda superstore as an enabling development to finance the building of the stadium, the opposite was in fact the case. The Wimbledon fans' contention was that planning permission for the retail stores could not go ahead without the stadium and that the stadium could not be justified if were to be home to any of the town's lowly non-league teams. So, rather than build from the ground up by guiding an existing outfit up through the non-league pyramid, Winkelman and co. decided to prey on a Football League club with a parlous financial situation. All of this to get a big branch of Asda built? That's how the Wimbledon supporters' group would have it - their venerable and remarkable little club taken from them so that Milton Keynes could have another supermarket.

The Milton Keynes consortium were not choosy. Wimbledon F.C. were the eventual victims of the Winkelman-Asda-IKEA plot, but along the way several other clubs were targeted - Luton Town, Barnet, Crystal Palace and QPR.

Yes, QPR fans. Perhaps not all of you who made it up to Buckinghamshire this weekend realise that it could have been our club torn from its roots and replanted in the strange suburban landscape of Milton Keynes. Perhaps we would have had to build a new club from nothing. Perhaps we'd all be following a reborn AFC QPR and muttering with disgust about the hated Milton Keynes Rangers. Perhaps if this was more widely understood, more QPR fans would have racked their brains to construct hostile songs for Saturday's game. Instead, elements of the largely subdued Rangers contingent chose to sing "Premiership, we're having a laugh" when the frustrating and difficult tie took a turn for the worse and the home side got the first of two goals in what turned out to be a stalemate.

A little more impressive in its own way, was the fact that some supporters of the fledgling Milton Keynes club have adopted a philosophical and defiant stance in response to the low esteem in which their outfit is held by fans of other clubs. The Millwallesque "no one likes us, we don't care" could be heard at times.

Probably not very many QPR fans ever had much affection for Wimbledon F.C. Memories of their muscular and direct style of play and the fairly unsavoury characters on whom they often relied to grind out much-needed victories. But no one deserves to have their club taken away just so that Asda can build another store in a particularly soulless location.

Soulless, too, is the stadium whose construction could only be justified by the theft of an established but vulnerable club. Perhaps some redeeming elements of this sorry tale could be found if the new Milton Keynes ground was a state-of-the-art palace of sport. But it isn't. Sure, the seats are fairly comfortable and the views of the pitch appear to be good from all angles. But from the outside, the stadium presents a bizarre and somewhat shabby appearance. Apparently, if the need ever arises, it would be possible to boost the ground's capacity all the way up to 45,000 seats. Perhaps then the currently exposed girders would be covered. In the meantime, the stadium looks unfinished. 

This theme continues inside. An upper tier is devoid of seating. The large screen used as a scoreboard is connected to the mains by wiring that trails untidily across bare concrete and which rests on makeshift scaffolding. There are also signs of wear and tear. Although the stadium is barely four years old, large cracks can be seen on the concourse.

None of this should really detract from the matchday experience, though. Football supporters are used to less than imposing surroundings. What did matter, though, was the surprising discovery that such a new stadium had highly inadequate catering arrangements. Getting a bite to eat at half-time involved waiting for the duration of the break and missing almost ten minutes of the second half of the match. Yes, MK Dons recorded their highest-ever attendance figure on Saturday, but the size of the expected crowd had been known for days. The catering outlets just did not cope. 

The match? Pretty awful. The sight of midfield stalwart Alejandro Faurlin being stretchered off with a season-ending injury? A real sickener. Getting away from the industrial estate on which a number of fellow QPR fans had parked? A slow and frustrating business. 

So it was, then, that the short Neil Warnock era sputtered to a disappointing finish - in a half-built stadium in an Asda car park on the fringes of an unlovely town made up of shopping malls and oddly un-English housing developments. 

What next? Mark Hughes is the name being touted. Has something happened since we walked away from our neighbours Fulham, claiming that club was not ambitious enough for his liking. Is that an exciting prospect?  Let's see.


Friday, 6 January 2012

with friends like these...

No article at this blog has ever generated as many comments as the latest in a short series of reflections on the case of Emma West, the Croydon woman now set to stand trial for criminal offences she is alleged to have committed during an aggressive outburst caught on camera, shared on YouTube in November and then subsequently seen by over eleven million people worldwide. The altercation occurred on a south London tram. The nature of the remarks Ms. West made as part of what quickly became known at the My Tram Experience incident have led to her being charged with a racially aggravated public order offence. According to a BBC report, it now seems that a further charge to be levelled at Ms. West is one of "intent to cause fear or provocation of violence".

It was noted here in mid-December that the plight of Ms. West had been adopted as a cause célèbre by a varied collection of avowed racists, 'racialists', 'nationalists' and 'patriots' all seeking to position the south London woman as a spokesperson for a coherent ideology built around opposition to immigration and ethnic diversity. Some scepticism about the validity of representing her in this way was expressed, given that nothing in the public domain seems to suggest that any of the people seeking to claim Ms. West as an ideological fellow traveller have actually ever spoken with her. This might be only moderately problematic were she not facing criminal charges. As it stands, however, some of those purporting to be concerned about the welfare of Emma West and her family might pause to consider whether her case will be helped or harmed by associating her, apparently without her consent, with what many might see as highly unpalatable views and causes. Of course, if their concern is not genuine and the case of Ms. West is simply being used in some ongoing ideological struggle, then some of her putative supporters might actually stand to gain more from a successful conviction than an acquittal. Consider, for example, the possible attitude of anyone keen to allege that Ms. West is the victim of a political elite that seeks to intimidate into silence anyone who opposes a notional 'genocide by assimilation' supposedly deliberately planned as part of a drive to destroy current national identities and white European homogeneity. Anyone passionately committed to such a position might conceivably welcome Ms. West's conviction as proof of their argument.

Although it will continue to be the position of this blog that, in this fundamentally decent and civilised country, public outbursts like Ms. West's are mercifully rare, the only thing that makes her case at all remarkable is that online social media raised its profile with such speed. That aside, this is otherwise just a case of a rowdy person behaving unpleasantly and intimidating bystanders to the degree that the police and courts have become involved. So surely it is pure conjecture to imagine a queue of people keen to portray the incident and its consequences as part of some sinister 'white genocide' plot.

Such people do exist, though, and the numerous comments made here all came from people who adopt broadly that position. 

Take Julian Curtis Lee, for example. Lee, the US-based creator of a "white identity web portal for all white European people", has created a very odd set of tributes to Ms. West. On his website, Lee has also created a collage of screen captures from the notorious YouTube clip and added the captions "mother of England" and "mother of Britain" to her name. Sure, she's a mother. Yes, she's from England/Britain. But Lee seems to be positioning Ms. West as some kind of figurehead of British motherhood. One wonders how many British mothers would be inspired by a figurehead whose parenting skills include swearing and shouting aggressively in the company of her young child. Lee has also created a rather strange video of his own, in which he mixed My Tram Incident footage with shots of himself looking at a statue, shots of people boarding a tram in his home town of Portland, Oregon and photographs of children.

Lee's website gives ample evidence of his various beliefs. It is also instructive to notice the URLs he adds to some of the videos he makes. In addition the well-known British National Party and English Defence League, Lee promotes an organisation called the British People's Party, which describes one Colin Jordan  as its "spiritual leader". Jordan, a leading figure in British post-war neo-Nazism until his death in 2009, was one of the authors of the 1962 Cotswold Declaration, an agreement between far right movements from a number of countries. One of the stated principals of the declaration is that "Adolf Hitler was the gift of an inscrutable Providence to a world on the brink of the Zionist-Bolshevik catastrophe, and that only the blazing spirit of this heroic man can give... the strength and inspiration to rise, like the early Christians, from the depths of persecution and hatred, to bring the world a new birth of radiant idealism, realistic peace, international order, and social justice for all men."

Julian Lee, apparently an admirer of Hitler, would appear to part company with some of the others leaving comments on this blog's several Emma West articles when it comes to some of his other sources of inspiration. That he promotes the websites of the BNP and the EDL would not meet with the approval of CanSpeccy (Canadian Spectator), for example. One of CanSpeccy's numerous comments here includes the the assertion that the BNP and EDL are quite possibly "agents of the state (not necessarily the British state), serving to discredit anyone who opposes mass immigration". CanSpeccy, then, must presumably be quite suspicious about the BNP's vocal 'support' of Ms. West and quite pleased about the fact that she and her family apparently asked the fringe political party led by Nick Griffin not to hold a demonstration outside the court where she recently had to appear. While the BNP has agreed, with some reluctance it seems, "to take into account the wishes of Emma and her family", the party believes that the request not to stage a demo is  "wrong both for Emma and for the wider Cause".  No need to worry then, folks. Should you become caught up in a legal case that the BNP decides to exploit for its own ends, you can rest assured that any requests for them to back off will be respected, even if your family's wishes are then described as "wrong" when the party conflates your difficulties with their "Cause". Comforting, huh?

So it seems that Emma West's family have sensed that her own cause may not be best served by appearing to be aligned with nice folks like the BNP who at least conceal their admiration of Hitler, much less with fellows like Julian Lee whose veneration of old Adolf is open and unabashed. Let's see if the family's further wishes  in this area are respected or dismissed by the likes of Julian Lee, CanSpeccy and others.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

warhol in my heart

new year:
back to life,
back to reality,
back to an empty space
where the dayglo sticker
used to offer you some CA$H