Thursday, December 29, 2005
A holiday update: Christmas was very relaxing, almost comotose. Sadly swiftly followed by myself and the poor scooter Warhorse* breaking down simulataneously. I'm still on the lemsips and Warhorse is still in the scooter doctors waiting for a replacement pump, uphold her in the light and hope with me that it won't cost an absolute fortune and wipe out my Christmas no-train travel savings. I had many lovely presents including a New Yorker Cats diary, which I've actually wanted for two years and which has a lovely birthday planner, meaning that I hope to remember people's birthdays** for the first time since 1992.
2005 is nearly over, a year in which I have travelled around 90,000 miles, give or take a trip to Central Africa. An adventurous year for most, myself included and an exciting one to come. Should I not post again for a few days, Happy New Year!!
* Named Warhorse after a slightly higher than average number of bruises, knocks and scratches. O come back my pretty silver beast & I will not treat you so badly again nor let anyone else knock you over with cars, other bikes or hands, o no
**If, you have a birthday, please remind me of it unless you are Jess or Chloe in which case you come under the 1992 rule.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Otherwise, iFriend and I are getting on famously. Trust nobody who says they wouldn't touch one (Riaz) for they are living their lives in a dark tunnel of PC madness. Tiger gives you Dashboard! Widgets! RSS feed screensavers! A squeezable mouse! Movies and tunes played from the other side of the room with a cool swoosh!!
That's just all I can be bothered to write.Pleasecananyonerecommendawayroundthebloodyspacebar?
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Citizen journalism has been one of the buzzwords of 2005. The Friend, of course, has been a journal for citizen journalists for the Quaker community since 1843. But where exactly should citizen journalists fit into wider news reporting?
A rising problem is that citizen journalism runs the many risks of cheapness. The rise of such projects as Wikinews, where anyone can write the news, leads many, myself included, into thinking that ‘everybody’ can be a journalist. The immediacy we are becoming used to means we might rush to print something, knowing that other ‘truths’ or sides will come in time. This works better on the internet than it does in print. When it comes to tricky stories the need for training, old fashioned investigation, allowing a story to brew quietly and giving all sides the chance to have their say, no matter how clear it might look to start with, is revealed. Wikinews has an excellent synthesis of news, but it is difficult to say when this large group of dedicated volunteers, with huge trust issues, will be able to do original reporting as well as it does rewrites.
Even in a relatively small community like the Society of Friends, truth is multilayered and complex and Friend readers have greater ownership of their magazine than most. They also expect greater professionalism than is necessarily fair. We are a small team reliant mainly on what comes to us from our readers and, moreover, we operate in the same climate of trust that the Society as a whole expects. As someone who just doesn’t have the cynicism to be a ‘proper’ reporter, I find the multitude of entirely conflicting stories very difficult to deal with.
Citizen journalism does not mean free journalism: it cannot replace all the skills that journalists have to gain over many years and neither should paid journalists be shuffled out by cost-cutting editors. However, it does have the power to shift our society in a vital way. The People are now be empowered to share what is going on around them, ask questions of authority, to draw attention to their concerns and be a greater part of the dialogue of society. It can only be a good thing if opinions can be read from a greater variety of sources than the suited individuals in their London towers.
Tragically in the industry as it is now, you can either be unpaid and write what you want, or you can be well paid and write bile. Hopefully the rise of citizen journalism will lead people to have greater expectations of professional journalists, raising standards across the board. Newspaper readerships will continue to drop until editors realise that their nonsense is very quickly exposed online - perhaps. And at The Friend, the readers who are our eyes and ears will report what is going on around them, leaving the journalists we do have to untangle the more difficult issues the Society faces.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Thursday, November 10, 2005
“Let us not be mistaken – this is not a good result for human rights. It is
a sad day when Britain’s three major political parties are publicly
bartering over people’s liberty.
“There has been much talk of numbers today – 90, 60 or 28 – but little talk
“The period that someone can be detained without charge should not be the
subject of political horse-trading. The right to be promptly charged is the
dividing line between liberty and arbitrary detention.”
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Obviously I got sucked into the trail. Blinking hell!! It's a minefield out there! I hadn't quite realised the high state of ideological warfare over in America and the sheer volume of anger and bile unleashed across cyberspace every second. I thought it was just Jess :)
I won't go back there for a while.
Monday, October 24, 2005
Well, apart from dropping it four times, heading the wrong way down a roundabout entry and generally fortgetting all the basic principles of road sense and steering, plus a drenching this morning, I'm pleased to report it's been nothing but plain sailing. I've even made it through pouring rain without skidding and dying. Scooters are brilliant - official.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
I had a shockingly expensive insurance quote today, seemingly for being a journalist. Typical.
I have been wanting to do this for over 15 years, since the needles & knives made vetalisting (er, being a vet) impossible. I edited a newspaper for 100,000 students, but that never really seemed to count because we had no qualifications or much clue. Then I spent more time than any other British citizen being an intern, learning the craft from Harry (ha!). OK, so I didn’t want to be a journalist enough to revise enough for the law exams, but even so, happy was the day when I could fill in my first form with ‘occupation: journalist’ without feeling I was somehow pretending.
After all that, I now find it’s a risky profession.
‘Well, what sort of journalist are you?’ they asked, as I tried to reassure them I wouldn’t be using my scooter to investigate the crack dens of East London. ‘Well, I’m sort of a production journalist’, I said, feeling like I was pretending again. ‘I do layout and sub-editing and, er... I work for a religious magazine. It’s really very innocent. I don’t do any reporting really, except sometimes about Africa and I’m not planning to ride there on my scooter’.
‘Can we call you an administrator?’
‘Well, I suppose so’, I bristled, snobbishly. ‘My actual job title is Production Manager, as it happens’.
They perked up a little at that. But the quote was still nearly £1000, so they put me through to a cheaper competitor, the sort who deals with dangerous types presumably, with the advice ‘perhaps best to say production manager, not journalist.’
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Party alignment had a point 200 years ago, when it was most practical for a few people – preferably rich because they had the ships - to rule the world on behalf of all the rest of us, but now that we have wikis, the whole concept of parties, left and right, group membership of any sort is outdated and pointless.
Group machinery is the root of most of the frustration, disappointment and evil in politics. On the other hand, networks of individuals working together to roughly the same aims are not constrained by the same controls, loyalties and bureaucracy that hamper political progress.
It has always been impossible for me to align myself with any party and I used to think that was because of my loyalty to journalistic neutrality. Now accepting that this isn’t true, I think that it’s more likely to be my discomfort with the shortcomings of groups. I find it unbearable when people tie themselves into knots over whether they should be working with this or that person or group because of a perceived set of beliefs and background. It’s no fun to think that I am lumped in with the same ‘British’ who invaded Iraq and throw chips at waiters in Spain and I see no reason why a friendly Conservative might be incapable of good, even if he is a Conservative. Basically, I think, everyone wants peace, security and opportunity, even if their means of getting it are different. If those aims are the basic principals that guide us, we can hammer out the detail to make sure our own interests aren’t detrimental to the interests of others and conflicts are resolved creatively instead of destructively.
Wikis make it possible for mass participation in decision making and consensus building. The common directive is Be Bold! and people are encouraged to make change instead of engage in tedious stonewalling. The results can be messy but also inspiring. They are a lesson in multiple truths and how different cultures and beliefs can come together if people are willing to work on it. Individuals are empowered to take action, instead of being blocked.
I found a website a couple of weeks ago that seemed to be promoting democracy by wiki, and now I’ve lost it. However, I’m sure I’m not the only one to have thought of this.
Monday, October 10, 2005
for a bizarre timetable to bring itself to pass?
There is good news! Not only am I now the proud owner of Lambretta shoes, I now have the scooter to go with it. Not a Lambretta, I hasten to dampen your excitement, but a fine silver Aprilia which will be delivered to me on Wednesday.
That means - no more buses! Those of you who quail at the idea of my daily journey have no idea of the irritation at the sheer stupidity of flying nearly 200 miles in little over an hour and a half in majestic red livery, followed by the agonising hour long shuffle to get the final 8 miles home. The tree kicking frenzy that sets in as you watch a stray 29 sail past as you wait at the cash machine behind hundreds of poverty stricken students preparing themselves for a night of hard graft in the union. The desperate uncertainty: was that a late 19.05 or - feckitpleaseno - an early 19.20? The daily seething irritation at the lack of thought that didn't go into timing a bus to arrive at a (fairly) major intercity station at the very minute a popular train is scheduled to leave. Integrated transport is but a tragically distant memory from a civilised, Oystery age. It's a form of madness, inflicted on the poor or carless of Stoke. Don't get me wrong, driving a car is pretty bad there too.
But no matter. Expect to see a new Clare, stylishly dressed in Italian tailoring, zooming at a high pitch along the speedy routes home (it'll get up to 75 mph, he said. Are you insane? said I) to the minimised pad in Burslem, where steaming pasta & goats cheese await. La Dolce Vita-on-Trent beckons.
Till it gets robbed, of course.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Yesterday the unthinkable happened and I became 25. Like Jess before
me, I pondered on the significance of passing a decade since what many
of my friends from the time consider our 'awakening'.
This was sharpened by an evening spent with the Undertones, whose
Teenage Kicks Chloe and I bought a while before we were 15 and which
is currently buried amongst the chaos of my belongings. The Undertones
were great and, being possibly twice my age, rounded off a much better
birthday than I anticipated.
The future will be the era of the supercity, the global society and
there's still 70 years of adventure, hopefully, before I even reach
the age of some of my magazine's most enthusiastic readers. Working
for Quakers is a great antidote to ageing.
Friday, September 30, 2005
Kind and lovely White Llama readers: the Never Again fundraising drive
starts tomorrow: if you would like to make a donation please visit
http://www.neveragaininternational.org. We are struggling to manage
all our projects as a network of volunteers, so the money raised will
allow us to have an office and a full time organiser, which in turn
will mean we can get many more wonderful projects off the ground in
Rwanda and globally.
Not trying to spread you too thinly, but I did also want to mention
that the Send a Cow Christmas catalogue is out now and it's as
gorgeous as ever. Give goats this Christmas!
Thursday, September 29, 2005
It's all getting a bit like the 1790s and, as then, the only useful response is to be as offensive as possible and, preferably, to ridicule those in power. This is vital if we are to hold onto our freedoms. Here are some things you could usefully do:
- shout Nonsense! every time you see an MP
- write to your MP, dropping in offensive remarks about their parentage
- create large posters, in the old style, with your favourite politicians photoshopped into pigs and anti-semitic characatures (oh, Labour already did that)
- write offensive letters to right-wing newspapers, subtly worded as Outraged Reader Engulfed and report the editors to the police if they print them
- Mutter offensive words under your breath and then look innocent when people look at you
- Put up posters saying Bullets Not Ballots on Polling Day (but don't let anyone see you, policeman cary guns these days, you know)
- If you have a bit of holiday time you can take, try any of the following to see if you get locked up: say some really offensive things about the poor, justify terrorism for all sorts of trivial reasons, insult kittens, smell very bad, write rude words on political documents
- make a mockery of the entire political system however you can, accepting that whatever you do will have little real impact on the governance of this country for at least the next thirty years or until we all drown.
More suggestions welcome and there's at least one reader of this blog who can really make a mark with some of this, but I wouldn't want her to lose her parliamentary pass...
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Such films make me want to make more effort to look fabulous, to work harder, to make films, to create something that will be as inspiring as a gorgeous love story. Some of which might translate into action. After a fairly dire summer at the cinema, it's good to feel like that after a film again.
Arnold Bennett (whose diary I'm still reading) felt similar about Charles Wyndham, who made him 'insanely inspired' every time he was in a play. Arnold was always considering taking on the life of people he admired.
Chloe is going to see it tonight, but she's nervous about Keira Knightley. Personally I like her, but any of her failings are more than made up for by Matthew MacFadyen and the set, which includes an appearance by the Peak District, where I have been, but it didn't look as nice as it does here. Perhaps she will tell us what she thought of it afterwards?
Thursday, September 22, 2005
First of all, the countryside is very beautiful. Second, there are lots of empty fields.
But, Britain has many conflicting features.
1. The British are, relatively, very rich.
2. We work too hard and moan too much about our minor problems
3. We don't have enough houses so those who have them are rich without really deserving it and this doesn't stop them working incredibly long hours alongside everyone else.
4. Our farmers are (a) taking all the EU cash, (b) dumping their surplus on people who don't want it, (c) killing the rainforest by growing vast amounts of soya to feed cows and (d) moaning all the time, rather like the wealthy homeowners
5. We don't eat very well
My solution to all this lies in one little animal: the chicken.
It is my proposal to fill Britain with vast amounts of free range chickens, which would feed the nation and alleviate our dependence on beef. Chickens can live in most types of land, eat anything and even live amongst cows, if you must.
When we have enough chickens, we start giving some of the fields over to houses. I'm all for the countryside, but Britain has plenty of room for more pretty, well designed little village type estates with greens and, for good measure (this is my vision) a fabulous local train network connecting them all. The farmers get the money for their land and then they'll just have to get on with it on their own, for the first time.
Other land would be given over to the continuing projects to revive our forests and wetlands, leading to part three of my cunning plan: to free the British worker from his slavery and get him out being a tourist. Walking in the fields (for nobody is scared of a chicken), trailing through the forests, spending money in the bars, teashops and patisseries of New Britain. Still, I expect, heading for their clone towns on a regular basis but I’ve lived without a Starbucks for long enough, I miss Clonetown! Flying around the world, spending their riches and earning money through happier pursuits such as running teashops, herding chickens and providing local services and trains. Hard office graft will still continue - though most of it will have gone to India, that's just the way things are - but employers will enforce proper hours, holidays and a more productive working ethos with more people employed, instead of less people overworked, and more imagination being released with regular time out of the office helping with conservation of the forests and wetlands.
Oh, and children will be bought up on free range chicken and they will be healthier. Sorted.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Moving into our first house, we have been completely deluged by Stuff.
I was using my parent’s house as a store, but having been gently
reminded that they want their house back (and after nearly 25 years, who can
blame them?), we've really started taking the hit.
I in no way want to sound ungrateful for any of it because I really do appreciate it. That’s the problem: it’s not in my nature to say no to free Stuff. I share the collective memory of first house-buying meaning no money and no possessions, of building large storage structures from teacrates and making do with a couple of battered cups.
It now seems that this memory is packed away and passed onto the next first-homers. Modern kids, however, are never short of possessions and now we have a house full of boxes with few places to put the contents and therefore no real way of using them. It is very kind, but the time will soon come when I will need to talk about the wonders of Ebay in a more pointed way. Don’t pass on, profit!
The only solution I can see is to wrap everything up and send it all on to the next needy person. I wonder if Jess needs any teacups for her new condo?
Monday, September 19, 2005
Spurred on by an article in the FT about how fashionable men's clothes are for women, I summoned up my post-feminist courage into my hands and tried on some very fetching Lambretta shoes. Now they are mine. I love them.
I might become a shoe fan yet.
Arnold, for those who don't know, is the man who made my adopted town, Burslem, world famous for a few decades at the beginning of last century. Looking at Burslem under his influence brings very mixed emotions. It still doesn't take much to imagine a unique place, filled with bottle ovens and covered with black smoke, producing from this soup some of the most sought after pottery in the world. You imagine a place of purpose, creativity and convivial drinking. Now only the latter remains.
An ambitious plan to pedestrianise was, when I went to a consultation on Friday, being torn to shreds with a variety of bizarre objections, including the assumption that it would lead to child snatching. This was even before those that are used to having Burslem as a main road had got their 4x4 paws on it.
The parks may be looking better than ever, the monstrosity Unity House - Stoke's only skyscraper which was abandoned for thirty years - may at last be coming down, but a pervasive sense of suspicion and division is keeping the city stuck in an ugly depression. I just hope the people patiently trying to improve it keep going.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
This is a Blog as Therapy post, please forgive me for adding to the deluge (you can skip to another blog using the button above)
The day after the bombings when I walked through a quiet central London, across the river and past the exploded bus, to work, a phrase started ringing round my head, I can't remember where it came from. All responses are normal. This has helped me get through emotions that I didn't necessarily expect to feel and from judging others whose feelings I may not have agreed with. Now I want to lay all the feelings, all the thoughts, down.
I spent the day itself with a strange split sense of reality and a real sense of the almost euphoric defiance which was so widely reported as typical of stoic London. Despite reporting many of the events as I heard about them to a fellow Wikinewsie who was reporting live, I don't think I actually believed them. The deaths, the carnage, was somehow kept at a distance in my mind and it remained a story as well as an unusual opportunity to speak to people. It has only been in the days since that the reality has increasingly played on my mind. Talking about it has helped, I don't think the incessant media coverage has though I accept that I can limit my exposure to this.
Since Monday, when London were reported as returning to 'normality' but helicopters and sirens made a constant barrage of noise in our office, to this morning when I was approached by a policewoman and asked if I had seen anything 'unusual' last week, I have been in a state of stressed paralysis at work, unable to stop checking the news instead of getting on with work. Not that this is very unusual, but normally I can escape my addictions bywalking away from the computer and walking around the streets. This doesn't work if you fear major roads, people with backpacks and stalling trains, no matter how much you try not to.
Returning to normality takes effort. Perhaps we in London were too complacent in our resilience: I don't think London can genuinely heal while we are so besieged, not just by the police and the security announcements, but by the stream of headlines and pages upon pages of coverage. Security we may need, but I am angry with the press, whose need for daily stories formed the 'missing' culture, interviews with friends and family spread over special editions with a melodramatic sense of tragedy hanging over every 'not seen since getting on the Picadilly Line at 850'. I simply don't believe that this helped relatives of the victims, many of whom were in fact told in private but asked for the information not to be made public until the inquests were begun. Of course the pain of relatives waiting for news shouldn't be underestimated and maybe questions do need to be asked about the speed of identification, but the speed of doorstepping reporters also raises serious questions.
Today we spent two minutes thinking about the victims. In another show of unity and 'we're not scared', thousands of us went out onto the streets and reflected on the tragedy that had happened so close, to people who were so much like us.
We all did that in our own, normal ways and now it is time, for me at least, to really move on.
My heart goes out to all the families and friends of those who died: may you be allowed to grieve in your own way and know that the sympathy of the world is with you. Also to the families of the bombers whose world has been turned upside down and who did not kill anyone, let nobody blame them.
I want to be able to positively contribute to a world where dialogue is possible, where we seek to understand and prevent violence and accept that our view is just one of millions in the tapestry of humanity. We cannot do that from a position of fear but only from love of life. An appreciation of having survived this far, while keeping alive the memory of those who have not. And if we don't make it, at least we will have loved, and been loved in return. As someone else once said.
Thanks for listening :)
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Friday, June 24, 2005
We went to the hotel, Milles Collines, where both Hotel Rwanda is set and A Sunday by the Pool in Kigali was written about (as in, real things happened there too). To add to the authenticity, they are now filming A Sunday there and we think that the writer was there, eleven years on still sitting by the pool writing and smoking. Apparently in recent weeks people have come for a swim to find period UN trucks and refugees pouring in, which must be disconcerting for some - this is why much of Hotel Rwanda was in fact filmed in South Africa.*
So from relaxing by the pool we went to see AVEGA who, as everyone I have baskets to in recent months knows is the widows and orphans association and the people who make the baskets!! We gave them the money raised from sale in Britain and discussed a business plan for their future. We were told that since November everyone in Rwanda now has access to retroviral drugs, though this seems to be uncertain and is not the message we got in Britain [and it is not the message we have had since but that is another story]. The money also pays for trauma counselling and help with transport as many of the widows are now giving testimony to the Gacaca courts. The process involves all involved going to the scene and establishing the truth about what happened.
We were then taken to see the house of a woman who makes th baskets. It was out side town and like mose of the houses here, her house was one of a few overlooking a courtyard. Inside a boy was looking after the strangest looking ducks. The woman's house was two rooms, very sparse but prettily furnished and with pictures from magazines on the walls. She looks after her own children as well as some orphans, the oldest of whom was the football fan, a very striking tall boy. We were told that he was too traumatised to play football.
We were able to watch a basket being made and hear how they are dyed with paint. Hearing the translation third hand through French, I couldn't quite establish how long each basket takes to make, it might have been five days and she gets three pounds for each basket. She said that she couldn't always sell as many as she could make as there was no longer a trade in the local market and we tried to tell her that the British market was about to grow. It was difficult to communicate but I would have liked her to know how enthusiastic people were about the baskets. Plans are afoot to import far more of the baskets and I hope this will finally give her a steady income.
After meeting this warm family, back through dirt roads and past waving primary schoolchildren straight to the uncomfortable luxury of the Intercontinental Hotel, Rwanda's most exclusive. Not a happy contrast.
* Postscript: a few days later still we went to find the pool drained, its bottom covered in rubbish. They were filming one of the final moments of the book, when the refugees at the hotel had drunk all the water and eaten the birds from the aviary. I was rather moved by the moment but no-one else found it very believable.
Yesterday we went to Butare, the home of the university and the site of a recent exodus by between
two and eight thousand refugees (depending on whose figures you believe) frightened of the Gacaca process. It was a lesson in media perspectives. The world's media had picked up on the condemnation of the UNCHR ofthe treatment by Rwanda of refugees, who were being repatriated by force with the agreement of the Congolese government. There seems no doubt that due process in the cases of them as asylum seekers had not been followed, but also very difficult to hear of any evidence that they were doing anything other than evading justice.
The Gacaca process has been criticised internationally, though it is largely accepted as the only solution to a huge prison population, which would take 100,000 years to try in the formal way. My Rwandan friend said that the Gacaca process was being criticised because the West could not accept that Africa could implement a system of their own. The system is also largely free of the vast legal beauracracy that could accompany this process and which would create another reason for international NGOs to be in Rwanda. Cynicism aside, it does seem, from talking to students in Butare, that they have a high level of faith in the process and a very calm, brave view of what they arew going to see this summer. The Gacacas now happen each Wednesday afternoon in Butare, with everyone invited. Alongside the formal investigations, witnesses testify and there is an effort to establish the truth of what happens. The third stage (after investigation and trial) will see the community decide on guilt and punishment.
For a country to be reliving its past in such a vivid way is bound to cause problems but I was told in two separate cases that security has been put into place in villages to prevent reprisals against the tried or the witnesses. Given the general level of security on the streets, this sounds plausible. They do not believe that these groups are in danger because, I was told, 'they know who is a survivor and who isn't. If anything happened they would know who did it'. There is a view is that the ongoing investigations mean that people know that they are going to be found out and that is why they are now fleeing. A journalism student who has been talking to the refugees say that they often refer to 'rumours' of violence, which may have been spread by former leaders of the genocide or they may be an excuse by people evading Gacaca: he wasn't sure about the truth. [there is a follow-up to this section which I will post another time]
The UNHCR undoubtedly has an authoritative perspective on the conditions of refugees and I don't agree with one view, suggested by the government as well as a friend here, that they are deliberately stirring things up to create work for themselves. However, I do think the West is, in its determinaton that its own processes are right, denying the Rwandan people the justice that they would demand for themselves. The risk is that the UNHCR start to be seen as harbouring genocidaire when perhaps it should be working as quickly as possible to ensure that the refugees do not languish for yeas in another jail, that of the overcrowded camp, rather than seeing Gacaca through and moving on with the rest of society.
In the meantime, repatriation is happening and international observers, if too quick to condemn the process, may find themselves shut out.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Hopefully elements of the trip will be reported in full at http://en.wikinews.org and I also hope that I might be able to blog by email. On the other hand, I might spend my time just looking at the lions and tigers, who knows...
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
It isn't that I haven't tried: several draft posts wait in the ether. But I've been busy, as you may be able to judge if you have received one of my stream of consciousness emails recently (or, more likely, have not, since I usually judge them unreadable and add them to the drafts folder to finish 'later').
My busyness neatly breaks down into three categories. Though perhaps the garden deserves a fourth category, since it becomes wilder by the day. The sparrows, the bees and the grass are taking over and it seems there's nothing I can do about it except feed the sparrows more, which at least stops them tapping incessantly at the bedroom window. A fine raised rocket patch has been my greatest achievement thus far, an achievement which may pale when the slugs discover where it is.
Then there is the countdown to Rwanda. Immunised against yellow fever I am, booked or organised I am not. Not at all. Three weeks, I am told, with an urgency that concerns me.
Some readers, until recently colleagues of mine, may also like to know that work is wildly busy still, but fun. The inexorable campaign to please each Quaker individually with charming cover photos continues: how many magazines can include, along with a pretty girl cover star, a selection of fish that You Can Eat, a Trident trigger, a child labourer with an oversized hammer, Jesus Christ himself and two chess pieces giving birth to a pawn? Not The Economist, I can tell you.
And the third? The House of course! The giant project continues, there is still sadly not enough floor space for the housewarming party to take place in the very near future (though daytrippers are always welcome: we're just off the M6 - that's not an open invitation, no) but there is a little more furniture and slow progress happens.
The 320 mile a day (by my bad addition) commute is on the whole very pleasant, nothing strange has happened to my molecules yet as I am aware. I can report I am not missing the tube a bit. Having a very pleasant housemate helps, of course.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Yes readers, I have an important announcement to make: they sell Hot Apple Cider in AMT at Euston. Not your English hot alcoholic dizzying halucenegenic sort of hot cider, but good old fashioned American hot apple cider, as served in every Starbucks in New York and sought by me ever since my visit there. Oh joy, oh joy, oh JOYOUS JOY.
OK, so they may have called it ‘Spiced apple – hot drink’ and it is plainly the sachet variety and not brewed from fresh apples with a wide variety of spices, but This Is Progress. Shout it from the rooftops, this, y’all, will be the new Latte – mark my words.
Hot apple cider: buy it from AMT (£1.20 a cup) and keep London American.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Immigration is not one of my top priorities in the forthcoming election.
It's fair to say that I couldn't care less about the swarms and whether or not they're coming into the UK.
To be honest, I can't, on the whole, tell the difference between immigrants and British citizens.
I feel lucky to be amongst a population that can choose to go and live in just about any country that it might wish. I feel excited to live in a period that is seeing the biggest shift in peoples around the world ever. I feel proud of a country which, whether through good or bad means, built up such friendly relations with people across the world that they now want to come and live in a place probably much wetter and cloudier than their own.
The current limits on immigration are adequate, whereas hysterical debate on immigration is bringing cruelty and inhumanity into our asylum system. Security is an entirely different issue to immigration.
My vote will not depend on your pathetic attempts to appeal to 'the masses': British people who are tolerant and inclusive until the media and politicians frighten them into fear of 'them'.
You'll have to do better.
Monday, April 11, 2005
Well, thought your White Llama writer, that letter writer might be onto something! Londoners will, sooner or later, have to decamp to somewhere inland. At least, that's the theory: I can't help suspecting that more money will be sent retaining London than even invading Iraq. But should the worst happen and Londoners face the move, where better than Stoke? As one leading the exodus, I think I speak with some authority on this topic and expect my appointment as Advisor to come soon: thus I submit the following brief:
Stoke has everything London needs. Let's not hide anything and start with the bad. Like London, Stoke has its rough parts. Take Middleport: the place where those cursed with pre-pay gas and electricity cards must reluctanctly buy their power and where walking around involves dodging alcoholics and trying not to be mistaken for a Lady of the Night. Or Day, in Middleport. But how dissimilar is that to Kings Cross? If we imagine Stoke to be a sort of Bethnal Green, then it takes no small leap of the imagination to imagine it become 'gritty' and 'urban', at least in the numerous streets of terraces.
The nicer parts of London are not be matched by anywhere in Stoke but perhaps that is its strength. You go breezily informing Manchester or Birmingham 'oh, we're transplanting the Houses of Parliament into your backyard' and they're likely to get a bit shirty. Manchester and Birmingham have personalities of their own already. They have landmarks and fine squares. Stoke has neither such attraction. Nobody, but nobody, would miss Hanley if it was knocked down to become the new Westminster. Stoke's charming remnants of its heritage could be restored into warehouse apartments like they do in proper cities, instead of being left to rot, which seems to be the current policy of its council. The people might have something to say (duck) but Londoners wouldn't have to actually live in New London: the capital from their houses (presumably the government will have to give them some cash for having failed to do very much about global warming) will buy them all castles in the Staffordshire countryside and new trainlines can replace the slow old tube: commuting might even become a bit faster.
Stoke's canals could be extended into proper and I would expect to see Stoke (the town that is, see post below) turned into an exact replica of the Docklands in time for the mass evacuation on tilting Virgin Trains sometime in 2016 (for the floods won't come before the Olympics, mark my words). Yes, there is space aplenty for the new London in Stoke. Just put me in charge of the planning budget. I can't do any worse then these idiots.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Throughout my association with Euston [Euston station being the main portal to the North-West of Britain] I have always noticed the schoolgirls who mill about in quite an old fashioned blue uniform. Mainly because, ever since Velvet Goldmine, I have had a desire to be a London schoolgirl (in the same slightly pointless way I wish I were a Victorian gay man, but that's another post) as I hold the belief that my mid-teenage years would have been much more exciting had I been allowed to spend them in Camden. For a start, I think I would have appreciated Camden far more as a young teenager when such things as crowds and late nights bothered me less than they did when I eventually made it there as a student. Recently, I have revised this view slightly, imagining that having London at your feet as a youngster might make you a bit blase about it, deprived as you would be of the yearning for excitement that comes from growing up in a provincial place.
If I had thought about it at all, I had assumed that these girls came to Euston in order to take a train somewhere a bit further out such as Watford. But today I was there at lunchtime and many of the girls were there, in their little gangs trying to look as cool as they could in calf-length checked skirts. It dawned on me that they couldn't be going as far as Watford if they still had the chance to be at Euston for a lunchtime cornish pasty. Unless, that is, there was something magical about their route to school. They always seem to be heading for some dark recess of Euston. What if one of the platforms really is thirteen and a half and these girls are, in fact, going through some sort of warp to get to their school of Magic? It would explain the uniforms. It wouldn't be entirely far fetched: I discoverd an AMT coffee next to Platform 15 recently, a whole coffee bar full of smoke and mirrors which had probably been there for years without me spotting. Euston is full of secrets and these magic youngsters could be one of them. To us, just normal teenagers but there they are, wielding their spells and learning to manipulate feathers in some vortex behind platform thirteen and a half.
So spill the beans, JK Rowling. Did you follow these girls and make your billions writing about them? Did you merely introduce boys to bring a little frisson to the plot? If you are reading this, perhaps you could enlighten me.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Anyway, Jess's blog has kept me back in touch with her, it's a lot easier to keep updated via someone's blog than to demand they write you long updates of their lives. The coming [actually, going now, this was written last week] of the South by South West Festival in Austin, Texas, reminds me of the time when Jess had disappeared and all we knew was that she had met someone from Texas (prompting thoughts of chainsaws), got married and moved away.
We were concerned, it's fair to say. Texas? We cried! But that, surely, is the American equivalent to Stoke (we said heartily, for we were still young and little realised the eventual pull that would bring many of us back). We knew nothing more than she was in Texas and developed plans to go there and make a film about finding our old English friend. We didn't think there could be many English chappies in Texas and the process of finding her would be an adventure in itself, we thought. Texas, it may be helpful to know, has an enduring fascination for the English, who see it as the very centre of barbarous America. There are frequently Texas seasons on channel four, normally involving statistics on executions and evangelicalism. Anyway, this was before Radio 2, for which as I matured I began to develop the greatest respect, started talking of Austin Texas as "the coolest place in the world". How so? Said I. The South by Southwest Festival, came the reply, by return through the airwaves. And so it came to pass. Texas was the coolest place in the world and there was Jess in the hub of it.
This year, all the old dreams came back. Radio 2 and Radio 1 (for whom I have recently regained respect) are both at the festival this week, picking up new talent as a kitten might pick up tiny fish in a packed shallow stream. I imagined Jess's husband to be on the bill of one of the bars that crowd Austin’s streets, bursting with undiscovered talent. I saw Heath being discovered and launched into stardom by an awed British radio station and Jess becoming the Patsy (surely not? Who do I mean?) to Bowie's David.
Imagine how my hopes were dashed when, in a short Moo exchange, Jess told me: 'we don't go to that, I don't know why'. Heath the Cruel, you have hurt my daytime musing.
The roundabout point I was trying to make (was it? I can't remember now) as I tried to produce a post that was not about Death, was that if Texas can become the coolest place in the world, anywhere can. I have seen many places called 'cool' in recent months, even Kigali in Rwanda. Even if ‘cool’ is probably not actually the label I’m aiming at, there’s hope for everywhere these days.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
How ironic, the papers would unimaginitively say, when, after being blown up on the Pendolino into Euston, the hacks unimaginitely looked up me up on Google to find White Llama here as the cyber-memorial to a life often wasted online. 'Look', they will sneer. 'There she was defending the rights of terrorists on the interweb and then one of the bastards slipped his electronic noose and blew her up. I bet she won't be defending them now!' The hacks will chortle, inwardly making a mental note not to let Melanie Philips actually put that in her column this week.
Well, my morbid little mind thought I should put up a response in advance. Should my blase indifference to the terrorist threat lead almost directly to my explosion, don't be using my name to justify your next sweep of draconian legislation. You're probably much more likely to use the name of a tragic child, but should you be scraping the barrel on photogenic victims and feel the picture that the hacks will inevitably use from the BBC website successfully sums up Wasted Youth, well don't. Dedicate me to peace or ending world poverty or something instead.
Anyway, enough to feed fate with. That's two posts touching on death in a row [actually, the other one's in draft and is probably too self indulgent to go up - yes, there are quality controls!] Bring on Spring, for goodness sake.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Dear Joan Walley
I know that it has been a busy time but further to my emails of Friday I would be glad if you could send me an explanation, as my representative, why you voted with the government on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. Anything that can help my understanding as to why we have to suspend our basic civil liberties, even temporarily though that was fought, would be useful. I simply do not believe that we are under a sufficient level of threat to justify the measures you are trying to impose.
I appreciate that in the event of a terrorist attack you will need to be able to say you did everything you could but would like to to know what you will say if a terrorist attack occurs despite the suspension of our basic liberties? Will you give them back if it is shown not ‘to work’? You should be willing to acknowledge the relative level of risk to the population from a terrorist outrage in this country, which compared to my everyday risk of death through traffic accidents or crime is, I believe, small. I say this despite regular contact with potential terrorist targets including the tube and mainline trains.
The international work that the government is doing with its other, non-authoritarian, face will do far more to reduce the level of terrorist attacks and I think you could be a lot braver about giving it publicity rather than pandering to reactionary newspapers.
On another matter, I would be grateful if you could send me details of the solid actions the government intends to take in response to the Commission for Africa’s report, which I thought was very good. Will the different departments of the government be taking a coordinated approach to their action?
Friday, March 11, 2005
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Anyway: I digress. As I passed the Actor in the vestibule (that's a technical word for the bit between the trains, the place where they shoot you if you try to smoke out of the window), I had the strange feeling that I've also experienced in the presence of Harry Enfield. As it happened, I had seen Harry Enfield twice in quite a close time range (I must have been in Soho a lot at that time) and so said Hello to him without thinking about it. Now, I was much younger and less self conscious in those days and so now I felt a lot more awkward. You obviously have to look at the Actor you see, to check he really is who he claims to be, but really when you've seen someone on TV quite often there's rarely any doubt. And he was talking on the phone, in that voice we know so well from such programmes as that spooky scottish drama and that other detective one.
So anyway, when you look at the poor actor, you immediately feel a bit bad, because it must feel a little odd when people look at you in that familiar way all the time like they know you, even on Virgin Trains, where the punters are much friendlier on the whole than other commuters. Then you feel awkward, and hence the odd sensation of bumping into someone you knew years ago but who you no longer really know well enough to talk to.
The Actor is sitting in my carriage and not in first class, so let's hope he feels more comfortable amongst the poor commuters than the first class, where people think nothing of asking you personal questions because they've paid far more for their ticket and think you're the special guest celeb. He probably knows that people will automatically think better of him for not sitting in first class, apparently not something that occurs to MPs.
Let's hope he's not thinking about all the people writing draftposts for their blogs, texting their mums and sneakily taking pictures on their phones. For my part, I will only be doing one of those things.
Coincidentally, at the moment I am reading a book called the Long Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan, who wrote for the New Yorker in the fifties and sixties. The Claire with an I lent it to me and it is very good. Very bloggy actually, and a good book to read if you're spending quite a lot of time alone, for example on trains as it makes you Observe more. You have to be a very good writer to really pull it off, which is doubtless why I will remain in the realms of blogging and not have a collected works in 50 years time. It is also a good book for anyone who misses New York, for it constantly reminds you of names and places and makes them seem rather more glamorous than they really were. She spotted many celebrities round New York, such as Greta Garbo, and she writes that it is acceptable to stare at them because you recognise them and therefore know them. And also that they are so used to people staring at them that you, the starer, becomes invisible. Which is, in a way, true. And not entirely undesirable.
Monday, March 07, 2005
So, anyway. I don't have a TV at the moment and I've started to mull over what I might be missing. The OC is on tape, as I really can't live without some californian glamour, but what about ER? Did anyone in Brat Camp ever escape, only to die of thirst in the desert? Is Nip/Tuck back to tell us who the father of that strange looking boy is? Have they really started torturing people before the commercial breaks on Channel Four and what did John Snow look like without glasses? Popworld, Popworld, which American songstress have you laughed at recently?
Although I am missing TV, its absence has made me feel like there is more time in my house and the major advantage is that I have rediscovered pop music. Every now and again I go into a retreat to another decade - it is usually the fifties - but there is a very enjoyable bout of modern music going on and my enthusiasm is even stretching to learning the names of some new bands. The Stereophonics have released a good song, which I don't think anyone expected. And I find myself enthusing about the McFly song which probably isn't cool, but gosh, it is fabulous. This means TV can wait, but is there anything I should really be trying to watch at the moment? Readers, tell me - and try not to be too political or irrelevant (Alex, from you a cutting political interlude is allowed, so don't be put off) - what should I be trying to watch?
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
The papers reveal that, unlike the rest of the country which thought that a dictionary would be a good idea in the mid 18th century, Stoke seems not to have adopted standardised spelling. Without wishing to disclose too much about where I live on the world-wide-stalker-web, our street is spelt with or without an E seemingly at random. We had noticed this during the buying process: the land registry says E while the local authorities have blithely abandoned it.
Although I am considering starting a lengthy and irritating (for them) correspondence with the council to try and restore the E to our street sign, as I think it is the original and rather more charming form, it is probably better to leave it ambiguous. After all, I sense that I have enough annoying and lengthy correspondences to deal with in regards to a certain utility company, about which expect a lengthy and VERY ANGRY post as soon as they are out of my hair. I have lived with the curse of Clare my whole life, even occasionally spelling my own name with an I, so I think I shall leave the missing E to reside in our deeds and my imagination.
It doesn’t come as a surprise. The place is full of confusion. The city of Stoke-on-Trent is not actually the same place as you arrive at on the train, which is Stoke-upon-Trent. It is more of an imaginary construct somewhere north of Birmingham but south of Manchester. The city centre, reasonably enough, is called Hanley. The Potteries – as the city is also known - is supposed to be made up of six towns altogether, but the only author of any note dropped the one where his mother in law lived (so the story goes) and therefore the vast majority of pub-quizzers would, quite naturally, imagine it to have five towns.
Arnold Bennett (not to be confused with Alan Bennett) also renamed all the towns for the popular imagination, so Burslem, my new town, might as well be renamed Bursley if they’re ever going to make a success of it as a tourist destination. Though that won’t stop the locals calling it Boslem. My favourite renaming of his is Swan Bank to Duck Bank, which is far more appropriate to the local idiom. Confused? Try driving around there.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
This isn’t just a trip down memory lane for me: the sight of baying NUS hacks in my old bar actually sent my blood cold. There’s no need to beat around the bush: these people are the enemy of democracy. Oh, they may be fluent in the language of diversity, they may talk of equality and opportunity, but the inflated powers given to student union officers creates a system where decisions are made entirely without accountability and the student electorate is kept, through structural exclusivity, as far out of the bubble as possible. An example of this was in one of my favourite meetings in which we were told by an elected officer that students were known to come in and attack luminaries like herself and so security locks would be much more appropriate than any form of drop-in reception. A rare beast was the student newspaper editor who had not experienced any attempt to censor them by the union that funded them to provide what was supposed to be a free press for students to learn in.
There is a simple way of showing how this translates into the world: Charles Clarke. The ex-NUS president who, in the interests of our security, wants the freedom to imprison us in our own home without recourse to trial, with or without a jury. A true man of the people there.
As we lead up to the next general election, we find ourselves in a political landscape that has been paralysed by ‘spin’ (a meaningless word in itself). The media and politicians are all trying to shout loudest about issues that do not in any way address the real problems of people but merely distract them. Like students and their unions, the public have not yet found the voice to challenge this established system. The signs of rebellion are there: dropping newspaper sales as well as dropping voting figures: but what will the alternative be? The internet might lead the way forward, as might small community-based action groups: people are showing engagement even if they are not being heard by the ‘powers’. It may not be long until the ‘powers’ prove themselves to be as irrelevant as all those chirping NUS barflies.
There are a few other reasons for the change too. I find myself engaged in a form of social experiment. Having read one too many sets of statistics showing that the average house in London costs roughly ten times the average salary, I headed North of London. To a place called Stoke-on-Trent-home-of-pottery, to be precise, from where I am now commuting a few hundred miles a day. So here will doubtless be more on the success or otherwise of this experiment. Having moved North of London, I am aware that many of my London friends think I'm dead. In the modern age, what better way than the blog is there to show anyone that you are, in fact, alive? In other news, the first of March is seeing me start a new job, the consequence of which is that I need no longer produce a worthy blog in the hope that I will one day be 'discovered' and paid for my words. Thanks to the kind Quakers, who are now employing me full time, my words can become freely available (unless they are Quaker related, in which case they are available for the very reasonable sum of £60 a year, see http://www.thefriend.org. Its my job to say that now).
So meet White Llama, the long distance commuter, in which you will find the firstperson, news on my adventures, possible OC comment and almost certainly still the odd rant on the appalling state of politics, the media.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Over 1.6 million people have been displaced in the 18 year dispute between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government. Twenty thousand children are believed to have been kidnapped in order to stock the LRA with fighters, porters and sex slaves.
The Ugandan army claimed to have intercepted a radio order by the LRA's leader ordering attacks on refugee camps. The collapse of negotiations, for reasons that have not been disclosed by mediators, led to the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveri ordering the resumption of military action against the rebels.
Amma Naylor of Oxfam told the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks 'After 18 years of fighting, we have to face the fact that the so-called military solution is a pipe dream. But even if it were possible, we must never forget that the overwhelming majority of LRA fighters are abducted children. A military solution means killing these children.
'The attention of the international community needs to be given to Uganda. If not, then we will return to full-scale war in northern Uganda.'
The Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda are calling for the talks to be given more time. Their statement said:'It has been a decade since the last real peace talks were held. The people of northern Uganda cannot live with another 10 years of appalling suffering. We must make this peace process work'
QPSW has maintained a presence in Northern Uganda throughout the conflict. A factsheet on its work and more on the situation is available at:http://www.quaker.org.uk/peace/build.html
First published in The Friend, 14 January 2005
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is to reopen Afghanistan's only sugar factory, which closed in the 1970s forcing the country to import 300,000 tons each year.
'The revival of the sugar industry could offer an alternative to poppy production and could help to boost incomes of family farmers by introducing a profitable cash crop,' Serge Verniau, FAO representative in Kabul, the Afghan capital, said.
Afghanistan's opium production has increased massively since the start of the 'war on terror' and the UNOffice on drugs and crime recently revealed that the country had 131,000 hectares of land dedicated to opium production last year, a record in its own history as well as making the country the biggest producer in the world.
The report called on the international community to do more in the country's battle against the illegal drug trade.
This initiative is being funded by Germany, who are also setting up projects for animal health and livestock production.
The factory is located 250 kilometres northwest of Kabul, an area which is considered to be the most suitable for sugar beet production. FAO will help to identify farmers to cultivate exclusively sugar beet under contract. Around 2000 growers will be selected and organized into groups.
News was doing a service, which is as it should be. It was only as the news became increasingly mawkish that the press was exposed again as the lazy, profit-driven sensation-mongers that has switched thousands of people off newspapers in the past few years.
The media could pick up on two startling revalations: people can grasp a news story quickly if it is presented simply (a wave, a war, whatever) and that British people are perfectly willing to respond to death and destruction beyond the reach of their own holiday resorts. They aren’t just interested, but want to actively help and, given a coordinated approach that overcomes deep cynicism about charity beareaucracy, will donate in their hundreds of millions of pounds.
So can we expect to hear more about disasters taking place all over the world right now? Wars and diseases that are killing hundreds by the day? Perhaps the international bodies that work hard to solve these problems? Unlikely: as tsunami coverage begins to recede, it seems that the messy debris of Blair and Brown’s relationship is the only news worth printing.
For every column inch eaten up by idle fluff, spend a moment wondering what happened today in the world, even in our own country. Remind yourself that Israel is not the only long-standing conflict that you are capable of forming an interest in and that your parliamentarians are doing rather more than just gossiping about the prime minister and his vengeful ex.
Most importantly, remember that we don’t have to rely on mainstream news for a moment longer. As Thhomas Paine might have said, huzah for the internet.
First published in The Friend, 14 January 2005