Friday, December 08, 2006

Back to Burslem

Last night I went to the second meeting of the steering group which will work on a(nother) 'masterplanning' process for the area around Burslem, Middleport and Etruria Valley, a mysterious area of canal and derelict factories that has only trolls living in it but will one day be transformed into the height of waterside luxury.

It started out pretty bleak, one has to say. Another pottery has gone under, the George has shut, there's not a trader left, let alone a chamber of trade, and Burslem is merely a big road for cars to queue in on their way to late-night shopping in Hanley. Meanwhile people are facing demolition in their homes and are, we were told, still without an idea of where they will go or whether they will be able to afford to go there.

Everyone got pretty depressed and it was observed that the government needed to intervene. What this intervention would involve, I'm not quite sure but I suspect it would involve a big pot of money, some consultants and, hopefully, a community steering group with the ear of everybody. Which is what we have, so more reason to be cheerful, even if there's a nagging feeling that maybe it's Too Late.

Places like Stoke may be experiencing the downsides of globalisation. But this isn't new. The great majority of Stoke's industry was wiped out over the last thirty years, even before that work could be unreliable, dangerous and fairly narrowly focussed. Looking back, we will probably see the closures of the last two years as simply the tail-end of a long collapse, though traumatic for those who managed to hold onto their jobs for this long. The skills of the Potteries need maintenance and  diversification into exclusive, beautiful studio pottery has been shown to be possible, even if its employment prospects are more limited than the big potbanks.

My view is that the population needs to take some responsibility for its fortunes, raise itself out of years of perfectly justifiable disappointment and get creative. Why should a proud set of towns become dependent on state aid, constantly looking for help? As was pointed out at the meeting, we've had thirty yearsof 'intervention', to the extent that the population now pretty much ignores it. We've got used to failure. So any more than what we've got won't help - we need to make the most of what we've got - the Renew process - and make sure that it transforms the city into something sustainable. The state money won't last forever.

The population as a whole has specific responsibility in two areas. We heard about affordable housing. Apart from in managed schemes, housing will only be sold at the market rate. It isn't any government that decides how much a house is worth, it's people willing to pay inflated prices in the hope that someone else will pay them a price even more inflated. If nobody can afford to buy a house, then prices will collapse, but in the meantime people will borrow more and that means everybody has to borrow more. This is clearly in the interest of banks, estate agents and the tax office. Drawing a line between those who are allowed to say that they 'don't want to' take on debt and those who have to go through normal channels to own a house is divisive. I do think it is unfair that buy-to-letters with ready cash can buy up new developments while they are still affordable and would like to see people facing demolition being given preferential access and help, but overall it will be the market that decides price - and at the moment the market is being greedy. We all have choices, even if they're not the choices they once were. Mine was to move out of London, where houses average 300,000 pounds and commute to a place where they are a third as much. I'd rather not see Stoke go down the same road - people should be content to put a little extra value on their houses rather than expecting them to triple every five years. It might be you left at the top of the pyramid when it collapses.

Another aspect is shopping. Burslem is currently trapped in a vicious circle of decline with nothing to buy if you do get there (at least that's what it seems like). There is a lot of support for new businesses. Shops can't open unless there is community support and some research to show what will make a sustainable business. If everybody who lives within walking distance of Burslem chooses to drive to Hanley to shop then nothing will change. I'm not suggesting we make Burslem like Hanley (God forbid). A market, a good coffee shop and a bookshop (oh London, London, how I cry for you) would probably be enough to get me there instead of Tunstall. Maybe not even the market, as Tunstall's is very good and along with Hanley may be all that can be sustained. But the lack of a market (and the big market building that has been closed for years) is a psychological drag on the town. It was a centrepoint to draw people in.

A local shopping base is going to be more stable than the more valuable but less consistent input of tourists and getting this moving is particularly important while Burslem has no hotel and, er, not many potteries. Building the heritage and studio side is important, but tourists will be more likely to shop in a thriving town than one that is empty. Writing this, I've realised that unlike in the majorty of towns, no youths hang around Burslem. I guess you get them in KFC but I couldn't even be sure of that.

What the area around Burslem needs is a substantial exchange of ideas and some commitment. What businesses would local people want to run? What businesses would local people support? What would get teenagers in town instead of burning cars round the greenways? What are people's needs in their local town? Units for small businesses are available as are grants and support. Online training is doubtlessly available to help people sell online as well as in town. Locals who may not have been to Burslem in the day for a long time might respond to a publicity campaign outlining what is already there. If the areas uses the skills it has to create a pleasurable shopping environment that local people commit to walking to and supporting, then other people will start to come, first from other parts of the city and then from further afield as people buying beautiful things on the web want to come and see it being produced. This is deeply rooted in Stoke's heritage as well as having a sustainable and practical base. But it will take local support and locals taking responsibility for where they spend their money.

It is difficult for a city to maintain seven town centres, but each town has a different character and if they develop their own niches, people can revive that old sense of pride in their own town. I'm looking forward to the winter arts & crafts festival tomorrow and hope that it will be full of crowds willing to give Burslem a fresh try.

Friday, December 01, 2006

From Burslem to Brighton

Thursday brought the chance for a super-city day as I embarked on a day-trip to Brighton to see the new Xserve Mac server and a demonstratotion of sleek new Leopard (even if *some of us* have been running it for months). Afterwards, I was hoping to fit in a stop at Birmingham for some evening shopping and was looking forward to finding out just how far a saver return to Brighton might allow for weaving round Britain.

So I caught the early train from Stoke, the train where you fall asleep and risk waking up to find yourself next to someone a bit dodgy from Tamworth 'Low Level'. Popped into the office for a free coffee and to work out where I'd be going in Brighton. Wonder what scale Google maps is and whether Brighton is walkable or a taxi type place. Raid petty cash just in case.

Then down to Victoria, admiring the beautiful girls through Oxford Circus. Grooming takes a leap in W1. At Victoria station, they have sectioned off the departure boards so that you can't easily find the next train to Brighton. Not as simple as Euston, I sniff. The South West trains look crowded and a bit grim when it pulls in, but is not too bad once empty. No plug points, but I had anticipated this limitation of the short distance trains and charged accordingly. The commuters do leave a library of Metros and Argus Metros, but these are swiftly cleared away.

Surprised by the river and Battersea Power station, and then on through the suburbs to Croydon. Croydon East in fact, 'home of Nestle UK'. Much like Stoke, Croydon never can escape slightly unsavoury connotations though it does benefit fromm some beautiful countryside around, much like Stoke.

By 1015 we are in pheasant country! And it is still leafy and autumnal, though the weather was not quite as sunny as I was hoping for a visit to the seaside. We're also, I think, in Quaker country, I recognise a few of station names and wave to some subscribers.

In Brighton, nice station. Shocked that the rather stroppy taxi driver didn't know where I was going, despite the place looking so civilised. But in the end I arrive at Solutions Inc, a temple to Apple, and spend five delightful hours hearing about Xserv Raid and Leopard Server. Between all the incomprehensible sentences, pick up some extremely exciting tips on the dusty corners of my Panther server which have never been poked into before - and then learn that most of them will work best only if I get an upgrade to Tiger at least. Wonder if 3,000 pounds is an inconcievable amount to sneak into next year's IT budget for the joys of iChat and computers that look just the same wherever they are logged into, which would save considerable amounts of confusion for those of us for whom a different Mac spells utter alienation. Decide that it probably is (inconcievable, that is), but that a Leopard upgrade may fit very nicely into our online strategy, what with its inclusive website/wiki/blog server, automated podcast (Talking Friend) creator and many other toys with animal icons.

And enjoy enough free latte to keep me going to the evening.

Back to London, persuading a fellow seminar attender who has moved to Croydon that he'd be just as happy in Stoke with a quarter of the mortgage. Have by now decided that the diversion to Birmingham, while desirable, can be put off. On the tube, the glamorous girls haven't stood up too well to a full day in the office which makes me wonder why they took the time in the first place. Unless they've actually spent the day pacing Regent Street as they appear.

On the 5.05 back to Stoke, bump into Joan Walley, Our MP, while charging through first class. Run through the trials and tribulations of regeneration in Burslem (main hotel - featured in many an Arnold Bennet as the Dragon - shut down, few traders left bereft of customers, but at least there's room for improvement) and plot a trip up for London's youth to see the delights that the Mother Town has to offer. Be warned, London friends. I complain about the local councillors, a new favourite theme which I've only blogged about in passing so far. but, oh, there's so much more to say.

Back at Stoke, the 'revolving ticket barrier' (six uniformed guards) isn't going down too well with those who think they should only be stopped if they are young and/or dark-skinned and I observe the pitfalls of being an MP: recognisable and automatically to blame for everything bad in Stoke (but nothing good). 200 jobs to go at Spode, says the Sent'null, cheerily welcoming us back.

In all, a very enjoyable ramble round Britain, if not the countryside, sorry Arnold. While I regret not adding Birmingham to Burslem and Brighton, a nice day with plenty of familiar faces.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Rambling through the Autumn

Sad to say, I've been struggling to find a meaty bloggable morsel of late. There have been some rambles, but none of them have made it online before the shutdown point that my rather flawed portable computer (or rather my backup system) imposes on me, when roughly every time I think 'better copy that file before the stupid machine wipes itself again', it wipes itself. Again.

Finding material to blog about is a bit difficult since I have a few rules in my head about what not to blog about: friends (unless I feel they are part of the blog conversation and regular readers, but that’s more to them rather than about them, otherwise I think there’s something unfair about it), work (except in sweeping terms about Friends, Clare doesn’t want to be sacked), feelings/lovelife (not that sort of blog). I must pay tribute to Ooh Pretty, by my oft-partner in creativity who had a healthy disrespect for blogs but has now landed on the topic of Pretty Things from her collection – a topic that is both easy to maintain and beautifully executed since she has a great eye for Pretty Things.

Until I find something as wonderfully simple, I shall stick with popular favourites like counting fields and ranting in a simultaneously local and international peace and hatred sort of track. So what were some of those fragments, lost forever to the ether, all the less to bore you with? As far as I can remember, there was some horror at my first direct contact with one of my local elected representatives. It's not the first time I've seen them a-rabblerousing and a-scaremongering, no, they do that every Saturday in Tunstall as they fight the elected mayor system (sigh), but the first time I could see the whites of his eyes and feel, perhaps unnecessarily, uncomfortable about the union jack flag pinned to his lapel. It's not a direct relationship I feel with the councillors that represent me locally. More like a group of bubbles that float on their own, never to be pricked by any real contact with the public. Or at least not by the public I know.

A very interesting meeting in the Westminster Arms of London, learning about the separation that exists in Burnley, a Northern mill town with many similar issues to Stoke-on-Trent and also a certain love for the BNP. It emerged that two of the major issues for some communities in these places is lack of education - particularly when only a few people in the community speak English which gives a few people the power to read, write, interpret for the rest - and the spread of rumours. What is so striking about this is that Rwandans cite exactly the same problems in their society. And they see the consequence of these problems as manipulation of youth towards violence. The challenge for both of our societies is to stop it going into the cycle, to break down separation and fear and create connection. Which is what I will be trying to do the next time I peruse Burslem's bars and curry houses. Every little helps.

And an embracing of the joys of living outside the most glamorous places. My city may not have year-round sunshine, tax free living, high rise towers, a film industry, Lindsay Lohan, no, not even a Starbucks. But it is my home, bathed in Autumn colours, a place where I can build my home. It is full of dreams and visions for the future and imaginings of the past. I can be involved in its future, and it doesn't involve a big Olympics plan which if it really goes for it will cost more than the Iraq war (which will at least give us something to say instead of 'but you spent that much on the Iraq war last month'). Fruit that costs no more than a tenner, no matter how much you put into the basket.

Then there's movies, Flickr, Skype and relaxing tilting train journeys to type long muses that will later be lost.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Last weekend we bought a deluxe three-in-one-massive-machine juicer/smoothie maker/er, juicer and can now enjoy the benefits of eating far more fruit and vegetables through the much more tolerable medium of juice.

So far it's all very enjoyable with several frenzied evenings running around the kitchen looking for more things to juice to make the four hour washing up session worth it. I'm a girl of simple tastes, so here are my recommendations for the best juice combinations so far:

Apple - home grown
Apple - green
Green apple, celery and grape
Grape - just whack 'em all in before they go off!
Carrot, yum
Tomato & chilli

Yum, yum. Later on I intend to try some more adventurous combination, coming back from the market with such exotic fare as beetroot, pineapple and peppers - woo!

Does anybody have any suggestions for juices? Ideally no more than 3 ingredients, please...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More long-distance musings

Living in the wealthy West is all about having the luxury to tie yourself into knots about the ethical dilemmas that come your way.

Today I saw the quote that, for me and in a very simplistic way, swung it on the age-old question 'Should Madonna have adopted the little African baby'. Little David's father, who has been branded a simpleton by those who think he shouldn't have signed the child over, said: 'It is a blessing from God. He is so lucky, he will learn many things. I appeal to the self-styled lovers of David to leave my baby alone. Where were they when David didn't have milk when his mother died?' It's a good point, well made, you have to admit.

Later in thelondonpaper (yes, I'm still reading it and mostly happily), we read he of Ryanair, Michael o' Leary's throwaway comments about switching over to Fairtrade coffee, because it's cheaper than what they had before. 'We'd change to a non-Fairtrade brand in the morning if it was cheaper', he said in an open invite to all other bad coffee companies to bake a bid. As he probably intended, he wound up Greenpeace no end, who hate him for his low-cost flights around the world, fair-trade coffee or none.

I'm on a bit of a no-fly time at the moment, partly because I'm trying to use my money for other things (like no longer getting into debt) and partly because increasingly, we can do all our communication without having to fly across the world, even if it's not quite as nice as a hug. My friends drop in on Gmail from exciting places like Canada and Rwanda and I don't even have to leave the desk to find ou what the weather is like where they are. But you think I wouldn't be on that runway at the drop of a hat if someone offered to send me off to Dubai or Kigali tomorrow? I would you know.

Quakers in particular, and the poor deranged 'left' generally, are very good at arranging international conferences and then wringing their hands over the cost to the environment. We've always been a well travelled people (I write 'we' in the sense of someone descended from migratory Quakers) ever since George Fox trotted around Barbados and America to see how his followers were getting on being persecuted in warmer countries. They were on ships, of course, but I'm sure the odd moment was spent wondering whether they should be in their comfortable cabins while all the people being transported and enslaved were stuffed in below. Well, possibly one moment. I don't have a lot of time for such worrying, as whichever way you wring your hands you'll never reach a place where you're free of guilt.

What is clear is that we're lucky to have these choices at all. To be the child chosen by Madonna must seem something like winning the lottery and as with all such pieces of extreme luck, there are always downsides. I reckon little David will be able to afford to visit home and even, lo, move back there, should he so choose.

Ah, but. Later on still is a fine piece of vitriol lifted from the New York Post. Madonna, the monster, it says, is raping Malawi with her 'freakish slave auction' and should be crucified. Not metaphorically, no, *literally* nailed to a cross. Gosh, I obviously wasn't outraged enough. But since when did we think Madonna was responsibility for sorting out world problems? Why the anger at her, rather than all those politicians who actually keep this system of inequality going every year? Madonna wasn't at the Doha rounds last time I looked. Neither were the politicians, since the rich countries had a tantrum and shut it all down. Andrea Peyser's highly speculative article grudgingly says that Madonna has given $3 million to the orphanage that was David's home-before-Marylebone but that this 'may' lead to a Kaballah-based curriculum. Jesus. It's like the missionaries all over again. The money-bearing educating feeding religious bastards. On the other hand, we might get more balance if a few more atheists sauntered over there wielding their money and their belief systems but to be honest, I don't see much of that, unless you count Bill Gates, whose religion as far as I know is IT.

Isn't one of Angelina's pet children from Malawi? Didn't Prince Harry go there to help the little orphans? Or am I being stupid? I don't remember all this feather-spitting about them, whichever country it might have been. Surely people aren't really disappointed in Mad Madonna, having seen her strange sweary Live 8 performance and actually expected better? Honestly?

And on an entirely different note, related only to my train journey...

Breakthrough! Finally one of the new Killers tracks strikes a chord. I knew it would get there in the end. Lovely.

Postscript. So at the end of a slightly delayed journey, Warhorse and I shoot down the newly finished shiny freeway (not really called a freeway in Britain) known as the A500. A wonder of technical achievement, by Stoke standards anyway. On our street, in contrast, they have spent at least two weeks installing one brand new streetlight per person – and only switched one of them on. So we have a pitch-black street, lit only by the silvery reflections of a forest of useless lamp-posts.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Dividing us

Yes, another rant from the pen of the long-distant commuter. Call it bridge-blogging for those of you that feel you need a spotlight on British current culture. Don't call it an obsession. I have other things on my mind, this just seems to be the best use of White Llama's stage at the moment - and some of you have been encouraging me!

In Rwanda they call it divisionism. They blame the media for stirring up the racial tension that led to genocide. Post-genocide, human rights organisations defend journalists from detention when they have reported something that has crossed the line.

In Britain, we call it inciting racial hatred, but the line is far harder to cross. Inconcievable is it that the journalist, much less the sub-editor, should be locked up for writing a controversial headline. Some might say controversy is encouraged, though nobody wants to read a story with a dull headline.

But today we see the Evening Standard, the primary paid-for newspaper in one of the world's most tolerant cities.

- Guide dog banned by Muslim taxi driver -

First of all, imagine why this is designed to infuriate the 'British', in the constructed sense of the world - white and generally English. The British love their dogs, they love their dogs even more when they earn their keep. So dogs that *help the blind* are just about as revered as it gets, top dogs if you like. Secondly, the British hate petty bans. Why wouldn't you let a guide dog, of all creatures, into your taxi? Why? After all, you let vomiting drunks in every weekend, we say, sweepingly. So, on the basis of a general wind-up-the-British-reader scale, a ban of a guide dog, anywhere, scores highly.

Then we come to the word Muslim. On a day when the Muslim veil has been on the majority of front pages (those that were not dominated by a writhing nearly-nude Big Brother girl, that happy symbol of British freedom). Of primary importance here is that under the code of conduct absorb by most journalists during their training, is the rule that you don't mention a person's race unless it is relevant to the story. There is no justification to mentioning the driver's religion. Unless, perhaps, the taxi driver had an objection to the dog because his religion teaches him that dogs are dirty, which may have been the case.

Now there are certain rules to being a taxi driver: you're not supposed to refuse a passenger when you've got your light on for example. But these rules seem mainly dreamt up in order to rile the London taxi-seeker when a cab sweeps past. Imagine if you will, that you had a certain distaste, perhaps even a terror, of spiders. For whatever reason, your customer wanted to place you in a confined space for some time with his spider. Now, you might try very hard to get over your sense of horror and revulsion for the sake of the person who is disadvantaged and needs his helpful spider (I know, hard to imagine, venomous creepy aliens that they are), but perhaps you just won't be able to do your job properly in its presence. Perhaos you would quietly apologise and suggest that the person find another vendor this time.

Now, I don't know that any of this happened. I'm simply basing my response on that headline, as many other people will. Particularly as nobody's actually reading the Standard anymore.

Yesterday we had a major story that a (Muslim) police officer was the subject of investigation after his bosses had allowed him to object to guarding the Israeli embassy. Now, that's a whole other post that I don't have the energy to write at the moment, but this series of stories about Muslims have a subtext, if you can call it that. Let's just come out and say it.

The awkward Muslims, who are invading our country in huge numbers and wish to turn our state to Sharia law, are refusing to fulfil their basic duties as citizens of our country. They probably want to blow us up, but if they can't do that, they will cetainly do their level best to make life uncomfortable for us, whether that be by wearing their veils, refusing to let us into their taxis or refusing to defend the embassy of a country that is very good friends with us and particularly with our security services. Why can't they just be like us?

What I really don't understand is why this message is being broadcast so loud and clear from nearly every national newspaper when it is so, *so*, SO far from the every day reality of the vast majority of British people. Why a debate about difference and inclusion, which is a perfectly healty thing, is being played out in the totally skewed world of the front pages, with an extremely limited cast of actors, most of whom we don't like and don't trust. I've said it before: these editors are simply trying to save their plummeting circulations, they will say anything they can if they think it will make you think we live in a world so scary, so serious that we need to buy a daily newspaper.

This construction of Britishness is also so outdated as to be farcical. Our everyday lives consist of multiple exchanges with immigrants who live here and work here. If they weren't here, the native British wouldn't be able to an enjoy the existence where every child can aspire to a middle class job, a home of their own and probably one in Spain too. Most of our inner-cities would have collapsed 30 years ago. We may keep ourselves separate, but it has always been thus with divisions more historically based on class than nation of origin. It is a country where every man's home is his castle and we construct walls round each other. Sometimes our suspicions are fuelled, but we are usually cynical enough to discount rumour and political spin. We also love the opportunity to interact, to mix our food, our language, our music and dance. We are a polite people and we like to enjoy ourselves and work hard. Every part of this applies to the people who have come to Britain, because they are a part of us too. My generalisations about Britishness can never only refer to the white population, because where does that leave my non-white friends who have been born and grown up here?

Freedom of religious practice is another British essential, defended instinctively and forcefully throughout the last Milennium. Whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian non-religious - a belief system in itself of course - or whatever else, there will be good and bad things that you do and you might say you're doing it because of what you believe. It's personal. If you don't harm someone else - the major definition of legitimacy - this is your right in Britain. We also laugh at other relgions and our own and perhaps this helps to diffuse the tension that could turn ugly. Itís not always nice, but I would suggest that you normally know from context whether there is malice in the humour or not, context which is completely devoid in a large-print newspaper headline.

What is worse - feeling uncomfortable talking to someone in a veil or feeling uncomfortable talking to someone without a veil? It's a personal struggle, what might be called a clash, but more likely something that two individuals can sort out for themselves; usually by being accomodating and polite enough to recognise each other's feelings. To keep your veil on if you want it on, but to know that you will find support if it is hiding repression and abuse and you want to take it off.

The glare of the press endlessly forces people to justify themselves, to apologise, to condemn. The press have a role to hold institutions to account, to point out wrong-doing and perhaps to vocalise the needs of the powerless. I don't for one moment think there is a public interest in the current obsession for 'Muslim' stories. I believe they are dividing our society and have seen people spouting racist theories that have the formula of newspaper generalisation. They don't deserve their place on every street and I would like to see the spotlight turned a little more firmly towards them.

White Llama will, of course, do its bit...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Scary movies

Last night, after a long weekend baking and digging, we splashed out to go and watch Chlldren of Men at the cinema. Leaving aside the unbelievable price of the popcorn and drink (inexplicably the 'couple's combo' is 1.50 even more than the regular combo, which seems a bit unfair, so we pretended not to be a couple when the time came to pay), the lack of legroom and the teenagers who had paid a small fortune to come and chat out of the rain - it was a very good film.

It visualises the world that the Daily Mail thinks it is gently preparing us for, where all women are infertile and immigrants are being caged and sent to Bexhill for familiar-loooking hoodings and kickings. Set 25 years in the future, what gives the film an edge is its familiarity and realism, where fear has beaten hope and we all live in cages, waiting for the end to come. British film-makers are getting good at this sort of thing, moving from slightly depressing gritty tales to spectacularly violent and still gritty portraits of societies in the throes of destruction. In this sense, Children of Men had many echoes from 28 Days, a great British zombie movie. There's rarely much hope in them, one or two characters might make it to a happy place on the other side, but the rest of the population are dead and you don't really miss them. They'll still have a good dose of British black humour but it is a bit more invigorating than ballet dancers and kestrils.

The other recurring theme in current British drama, of course, is the sinister, controlling government and the complex, mysterious terror threat, in which the government may *well* be complicit. It mkes you wonder if Tony Blair ever ventures into the cinema anymore, what with all these loaded messages being thrown at him like popcorn. Spooks in another good example, it's the best British drama to be made in years and it bashes away at the government to the extent that you think maybe they're not as evil as all that, for surely they would have had Spooks shut down by now.

Meanwhile the editors of the Mail and Express, who don't have much to do with popular culture these days, are doing their best to bring the world of fear into existence. There's a new wave of immigrants being waved through by the EU machine, coming to serve us coffee and clean our offices, the grasping bastards. The front page of the Express last week sometime was all about the dangers to be found in fruit and veg. I haven't bought any since. And our hapless political parties are buying into it, with their strange swings between playing to The Guardian 'hug-a-hoodie' audience and the Mail's 'hang 'em and burn their thieving bodies' (oh or the slightly unbelievable subheading to the story - n the Lite I think but only got a glimpse - about a fare dodger being throttled in the station: 'next time buy a ticket!!').

Some Tories, in their latest round of infighting, have accused their idiot leader David Cameron of pushing voters into the welcoming arms of the BNP by failing to address people's concerns about immigration and crime. The only logical way out of this is to put through the BNP's policies for them, clearly. There's a perception, in the still largely white and middle class world of politics, that people have just come to this on their own. That so many of the Polish bastards serving their teas have pushed them over the edge into rampant racism. Do they truly not, even for a second, think that their constant pandering to the right-wing press actually has a reinforcing effect and that more people are likely to believe the ravings of ten cash-hungry journalists in a leader conference if the government sagely nod at the Express headlines and say 'yes, something should be done' while sending 500 civil servants further along the merry-go-round of plug-filling before water leaks in the next gap. If they simply held up five copies of the Express up side-by-side, one with the fruitloop fruit story and a few of the latest Diana conspiracy theories, then the immigration stories would soon gain some perspective. And possibly we can breathe easier for a while.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I don't usually read spam, but...

this piece really is enjoyable:

Although heis your father I feel it is my duty to warn you to be wary of him.
Hello, said Estelle, Mrs Gudgeon speaking.
Youll never guess it, he piped gleefully.
And you cant frighten me, he declared emphatically. When I do kill him, I shall kill him with my naked hands.
I chewed myfingernails and looked across at Stanley.
How many times have I warned you about jumping over the fence andtrampling the grass?
What a pity you never had a motor-cycle whenyour mother was here, I murmured. And if they dont likeyou, they throw you out.
Chops, fried tomatoes and chipped potatoes, said Stanley. No, he replied, but Ill go straight up to Strathfield now, and getsomething. Easypayment; the savage irony of the term! He set a plate of porridge down before me and I stared at him. Stanley came out of his clinch as the girl looked around.
If theres any more of those damnedsardines and baked beans, I dont want to see them.
I stood to win one hundred and fifty, or flay mythirty pounds worth out of Stanley. I had wondered why you did not write each day giving particulars ofJ.
I decided to avoid Steak for the nonce,and took up a position near the track to watch the race. Come inside and Ill tell you about it, he said. Slowly he turned his head and looked at me.
Oh, all right then, he muttered peevishly.
He made a strange rasping noise conveying contempt. Agatha was straining every nerve todrag my name through the divorce court.
The plaster commenced to fall fromthe ceiling in flakes.
The other two letters were to Stanley, from Agatha andGertrude.
The bigger and oftener the cups, the less necessity for the observanceof trivial conventions. Oh, go on, he moaned in a stricken voice. He scratched his ear slowly with a ten-pound note and eyed mespeculatively.
I hurled Stanley in and threw myself on top of him.
I snatched the menu from him and tore it up.
Idemanded, mopping the gravy off my vest.
Stanley sat down and stared at me grimly. Neither am I, he replied, and bounded softly into the darkness of thelaundry.
Seven pounds, fifteen shillings, Mr Gudgeon.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Battle for London part 2

Hoorah! At last the garish umbrella comes out and I can be entertained (or not) by two free newspapers flung at me on the way to the train, London Lite and thelondonpaper (we'll call that tpl, gosh, it's already getting tedious). So let's see how the two shape up.

Front page: to be fair, neither could avoid looking a bit like the Daily Sport, though the Lite achieves this more with 'Croc Hunter killed by a fish'. Harsh, Lite, harsh - it was a stingray for goodness sake, not a goldfish. But even the front page of the Standard - making an honorory appearance here for you couldn't help but glimpse the 5000 copies piled up around its depressed seller - managed to be even more absurd with the headline 'killed for being British'. Well, Standy, I hate to state the obvious, but that's what war's all about. If he'd been killed just for being Pete Smith (apologies for sounding insensitive, but I don't know the specifics of this particular story), that would have been murder, as it is it's yet another victim of a war of the British government. It's no nicer to be shot for being brown and I don't remember you showing much sympathy for 'BOMBER' Menezes. It's not very nice is it? Heck, why don't we just stop the war?

And on. Oh, so tlp wins there, just for having a nicer headline font and looking less like the Daily Mail (naturally Lite had a disadvantage there). It loses credit a little bit on page 3, traditionally the fun page, by just crossing over the line of taste and fair jokes with a feature on the hilarious perils of being a naturalist in the spirit of 'That Irwin, if he would keep prodding those fish'. Now, if our frenzied double-working reporter had only checked the BBC website comment board, she would have been reminded of the fact that people at home are always genuinely upset about the death of someone they see on TV regularly. It's a tricky line but the Lite manages it better.

But Lite blows it again on page 4 by abandoning the news and banging on * again * about how they're the paper which wont get ink all over your hands. Seriously, if you take a page every day to persuade me to read your magazine even though it's * free * I'll start to think you;'re wasting my time. And vox pops? You think I care what other Londoners think? No. Being free from such burdensome knowledge is what makes London so special.

Pause for a moment to wonder why claims that the government of Sudan is still bombing civilians in Darfur is two thirds down 'world at a glance'. Er, underneath '100 ducks die in Vietnam'.

Skip through science/foetus nonsense and terror to David Cameron's extension. Give up and go back to tlp, which is still more pleasing to the eye. And it has a picture of a lazy black bear. Has Metro got a gentleman's agreement to have the animal pictures instead of Lite? 4-0 to the lower case Sun.

Finally Lite pick up a point for trailing a story about Goji berries on the front page with a picture of Mischa Barton, while tfn, er tfl, oh hell, tlp stick it in a corner next to the non-news that dinner ladies are to be taught cooking. You think we can even raise a sigh at that sort of thing anymore? Pah. No Goji berries - that's exciting! They've stripped the Himalyan mountains bare to bring them to London where their effects include increasing sex drive, decreasing cellulite and making you as fabulous as Mischa. I'm sold - can I find them at Tunstall market?

tlp loses another point (that's 4-2) and is lucky not to lose two by waking up far too late to the campaign to save the Astoria, which Sun journalists would only have known as 'that place that's GAY, yack' before they realised that thousands of their new readers have signed a petition to save the iconic venue. Followed by a convoluted story about David Cameron, who as well as tearing his house apart and upsetting Daily Mail readers, has been encouraging thousands of hoodies to his, er, hood, all looking for a hug and beating up local shopowners. 'They've got no respect', whined a local spin doctor as he pushed the story Rebekah Wade's way.

Finally, tpl gets something right by showing London transport junkies (that's every Londoner) what the tube map will look like in 2012. Pore over and see if your house price is likely to rise, or equally your rent. West London, we note with a snigger, will have no improvements whatsoever and is to be abandoned to the hoodies and the tories permanently.

And it sprints ahead with an entertaining interview with Ken, who speculates on the idea of Jeremy Clarkson standing against him as Mayor. Chuckle and imagine. Ken is obviously in charming mood for this interview, which you can only assume is his contribution to the slow battering to death of his enemies at Associated.

Oh goodness, we must be onto the features and tlp reminds us it's from Wapping with a full page on 'what women want'. Money. Men with money. That's all. Bloody women. Then it falls into the vox pops and whether Londoners think a baby can save Madonna and Guy's marriage. Didn't we discuss that above? Still don't care about what they think, OK?

Oh, how lovely. We get to meet tlp's editor, Stefano. He looks like the sort of man labelled 'hot' in the previous page. Still, they do a good job of selling the magazine (no nonsense about ink on your fingers here) and Stefano is partnered with a Polish columnist. Slick thinking! I'm a little disappointed that they put the man's job out to text vote and resist texting 'more!' hoping that the Poles will do their bit for their countryman.

Tpl romps home with a double page of the beautiful people with their thin legs in the sunshine (scoffing delicious Goji berries no doubt) and cram in two features which you hope they won't get mixed up: pet of the day and fast supper. Harry may be an unstarry choice for the former, but any picture of a cat gives them another point.

I expected it to be a close run thing with both publications vying, whorishly, for my attention with various new media tricks, but tfl has done ever so well, even if its features on women raise my rarely-sensitive hackles. A feature on coffee (especially one encouraging my preferred choice of instant) always has the same effect on me as a picture of a cat. Even for the purposes of this scientific survey, I can't face going back to the Lite, which as i recall only got one point on its own merit. Sod it, I'll plump for thelondonthing, or whatever it's called. Well done, chaps.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The battle for London

I gather, from the nice man handing me a free paper this evening, that there's a newspaper war going on in London.

Rumours of a new free paper from the Express Group have been around for as long as I can remember and now the Sun is supposed to be joining the fray, though I have yet to see either. So the group that brings you the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard and the Metro have hit back at this spectre with London Lite. It seems to be a bid to rescue the thisislondon group of websites before the freebie papers destroy its sister Standard, but entertainingly, as there is no sign of the other papers yet, they are doing a good job of this by themselves. The usual Standard sellers at Euston are looking a little glum, since all the people who wanted a Standard have been given this Lite version instead. I also like the way that it sells itself with the news that Londoners don't have time to read (ie the long, boring features in the Standard) so they'll keep their content nice and snappy. Much like the Metro, which is now reprinting most of the Lite's stories the next morning, while the Mail takes the remaining ones. So if you do pick up the Lite each evening, Metro will only be worth reading for the implausible animal stories. I wonder how long it'll be before Lite steals them as well.

I'm quite happy for newspaper groups I don't like to regale me with free reading material, even if it is very boring. I can't criticise all their interactivity and links to YOUR website, because I've been pushing exactly the same strategy at The Friend for the last 18 months, even if we resist the urge to SHOUT. I feel rather sorry for whoever it is who is having to rehash articles for at least 3 different puiblications in snappy, scaremongering or straight style as demanded, but that's just a perk of working for Associated Newspapers, along with the guilt and fear and, i gather, quite good pay for your 24-hour workday.

If the Express and Sun groups take the same path, printing like fiends until they can no longer afford to exist, you won't find me trying to stop them. This desperate grasping for the last dregs of our attention (and more importantly that of the advertisers) will only last so long before we finally say farewell to the twitching remains of the paid-for British newspaper industry and its utterly outdated treatment of the people formerly known as the audience. That's not my phrase by the way, I stole it off some other website and will do so again, given half the chance.

Interestingly, if indeed you are, I suspect the Metro will probably live on because unlike the Lite (which is really quite unreadable, I found while writing this post), it has actually cracked the secrets of creating community and presenting news neutrally (it essentially lifts stories from the Press Association). It has years on these new freebies and, most importantly, it has animal stories.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Hooray for the new web

Now, I don't like to use the words Web 2.0 very often, but many loyal readers know that I am something of an enthusiast - some might say a hopeless addict - of the new toys the web has to offer.

There are many worthy reasons to be using the internet, but what is really fuelling its development is fun. People spending an enormous amount of time, beavering away for their own entertainment and possibly the attention of others. Some of them do it for reward but many don't. Some of the most popular sites on the web are the likes of Youtube and Google Video. Links to funny, short videos - as well as more graphic ones - are being circulated in masive numbers across the workplaces and schools of Britain. Meanwhile social networking sites are now being credited for breaking new music acts and sucking away the time of schoollchildren.

Web 2.0 is all about the reshaping of the internet to support people-based connections and creativity. It isn't top-down, which is why many of the efforts of newspapers to get involved look so out-of-place. Many people are getting online simply because they feel they should, without realising that there is a need to commit real people to take time and possibly waste time in order to - possibly - deliver their goals. The masses don't need to be told what to look at or buy any more, they can make their own decisions, based on their own whims and the influences of those they trust.

This genuine plurality of voices on the web is down to a simple factor. For the first time - and it might not last - it is possible to do share just about anything you like on the web for free. We have the freedom to be adventurous, to decide what we want to do and then find out how to do it. Want to be a photographer, a famous band, build your very own peaceloving commune, video yourself on the phone you got for free dancing madly in motorbike gear? It's all there to do and you don't have to pay hosts or website builders anymore. Nearly all the free tools have the addition of community. Flickr is the perfect example. Ostensibly a site where you can get your photos online for free, you can also link up to your friends there, you can leave comments on other people's photos and display your photos in multiple sexy ways without any technical skills whatsoever.

So we go back to that old question: where does it leave the creative industries? Many of our jobs involve choosing what people should listen to, read, see and think. We've been the builders of culture and suddenly the bricks have been taken off us. There are all sorts of delightful things we can do on the web, but can they make us a living? My sense is that the money will come. This post has been primarily about Britain which not only has relatively very high levels of wealth but also deflation, as the people still selling real stuff put their prices down to compete in the new economy and sell to a population that might be willing to spend and borrow money for things that might be called non-essentials (or useless, like ringtones) but has the time to shop around and wants things cheap. Offers are everywhere: we now have a situation where it is difficult to even switch mobile phones without being forced to bring another new phone into the world, with its attached camera, video, music player, recorder, flip-top, conflict-fuelling cobalt, funky wallpapers and flashy lights. A flick onto Bluetooth and ubiquitous broadband later and we're all publishers. I for one am enjoying the opportunity to extend White Llama's tedious musings of consciousness into the dimension of rather fuzzy and dull photostreams.

What about the rest of the world? I estimate it took about 3 years for the UK web and our computers to go from being sticky and slow to fast and simply helpful. As web infrastructure moves further into the world and people in more countries develop economic power, these tools will extend too. Perhaps other countryfolk won't take quite so much time buggering about sending each other photos of their topless girlfriends, but I'm probably wrong.

As Justin Timberlake said, it's important to breathe. Practice a little discernment, think about what you want to do and why, but then know that you can do it. Be adventurous. Enjoy breaking down walls and making connections, searching for our place in a new world.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

May the Daily Mail be minced, slowly

I managed to catch a bit of the event by Alertnet (linked right), whose Media Player stream was inaccessible until someone in Caifornia helpfully supplied a stream which was usable across platforms.

As we at Never Again in London are hoping to host a seminar which looks at many of the same issues, I was interested to see how they approached the topic and honestly, whether it was worth putting ours on at all.

They had a catchy hook for the event - on reporting about children in the most dangerous places, but this seemed to lead to disappointment from many of the bloggers listening when the debate turned mainly on the operations of NGOs and the press rather than child voices. The section I heard most clearly involved a journalist criticising the luxurious conditions in which NGOs operate in. And everyone laughed. The other clear message, from the Daily Mail at least, was that 'our readers' aren't interested in local voices. They want to know what their familiar white commentators have to say on an issue, they want to see people just like them, caught in a crisis.

The newspapers often convey this clear impression of their readers desires but I've rarely seen them test it. Their readers are generally portrayed as being as callous as they are in the newsroom or otherwise fleeing, 'switching off' from the hopeless and the bad. And yet that doesn't stop them flogging lame Labour government stories at us every day.

I read Global Voices most days and would be amazed if there wasn't a huge audience for this well edited, interesting content that synthesises points of views and colours news with experience. The bleak every day reality of daily bombings is rarely hopeless if you take with it the humour and good nature of real people who, I barely need remind you, live with this reality every day. From Israel to Rwanda, it is the countries with the greatest turmoil that show those of us in the fat west that life is to be lived.

Journalists don't give their readers the chance to be interested in humanitarian crises because they're all lazy. The woman from the Mail, I shall call her simply *that woman*, proved it as she mentioned that blogs are "notoriously unreliable". Which in a world of *millions* of blogs is even more ridiculous than calling all journalists lazy. You might as well call all people liars, unless they work for the Daily Mail. Many blogs are unreliable, as White Llama fans well know, but many just tell the truth as they see it. Not unlike journalists.

A rather angry blogosphere was much diminished by the end of the seminar, when the IRC representative suddenly fired a shot across the room which, I hope, will bring a slight chill to mainstream newsrooms across the country. As the seminar had been going on, a series of bombs across India - as large in their scale as the London bombs which still dominate the British press - were being reported and depicted on the web, eyewitnesses were Skypecasting and Flickring, bloggers were beng heard, more bloggers were synthesising, hours before the newspapers will hit the stands. Not for the web the inanity of repetitive, mawkish rolling coverage, the voices and images of that news will be heard on the web. The room erupted into applause, proving that the passion is in the blogosphere and the press is being trodden underfoot; chip paper today.

So what, you undoubtedly wanted to know paragraphs ago, does all this mean for our seminar to discuss media and the Responsibility to Report? Almost certainly that it's like trying to stuff ten cats into a sack (forgive the simile, it's not real). Possibly that it's time for the mainstream media to seriously start engaging in the conversation before they find that all their readers have gone.

Now, I'm riddled with hostility towards the British newspaper industry. I hate hate hate it and the likes of that woman. This isn't good. I accept a pressing need for work on the conflict inside myself. After all, mainstream news organisations provides the money for journalism and I'm in absolutely no doubt that we need journalists. A democracy means paying the people who ask the questions as much as we pay the people who make the decisions. Journalism is a lot more than simply a collection of what people want to write, it is often about exposing what nobody wants to read. Like many spheres, it isn't the people who are evil, but the structures that lead people to decide that genocide isn't news until the victims look more like 'us'. That's the dilemma I hope we will be able to make progress on.

Oh and as for the children? Give them all blogs. Record their stories, their views. The Daily Mail ain't interested in you, little ducks, but plenty of others will be.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Having initally dithered over whether to go into London, I was quite upset to find all the trains in and out of Euston cancelled this morning and the announcer on the train telling people only to go to Euston if they 'had urgent appointments'. Just like last year. There was very mixed information at the station, whose staff didn't seem to have been told anything and so could only increase uncertainty.

With the patrols back and many sniffer dogs - though not guns - I thought this would be a quiet but calm day in London. It probably is. I'd rather be with a crowd of Londoners than in Stoke today.

Anyway, it could be worse. My thoughts are with the survivors and relatives today.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Virgin: be nice

My evangelism for long-distance commuting took a bit of a dent this week when Virgin Trains suddenly withdrew the ticket option I had been buying, effectively putting the price up by £10 a day. This is because of the increasing popularity of many of the peak-time services.

Now, I will admit I was getting quite a good deal, paying just over £20 return most days to get to London and back. This is undoubtedly good value for the distance, as is £31 for a day-trip. It's a great service and very reliable. But for the commuter option, I had budgeted this year to pay around $4000, while the season ticket or daily return option is about £7000. My sense of what is reasonable to pay in travel or living has gradually been adjusting from my student days, when I spent about £5000 in rent with an income of £4,500, plus what I could get out of overdrafts, credit cards or temping in the summer. When I moved to Stoke from London, mortgage for a plus train travel was an equitable swap for renting a one bedroom flat with a nice dock.

So my perspectives on money are a bit different from people who spend their money on such things as clothes and CDs, though i have been gradually moving towards a position I would call a bit more normal. I spend about a third of my income now (after tax) on travel. On this basis, a season ticket will only become viable one I hit the over-£30,000 bracket, which isn't a sum quickly attained in my sectors. I'll remind you, in case you were just tempted to say 'move back to London' that the current average house price there is £270,000.

I gather fares to Birmingham and Manchester are subsidised to make it a shopping destination. The fact is, Stoke-on-Trent has next to no jobs in the professional sector as yet. Manchester and Birmingham have more, but for anything in journalism or NGOs, London is still the place to be. If Stoke is ever going to be viable as a place for professionals to move to - as is apparently the aim of the large sexy new developments - it needs to capitalise on its position as *the* place to easily escape from. A far nicer commute than Croyden, with house prices that are actually within reach of anybody under 35.

Stoke has a great quality of life: value for money, beautiful countryside and atmospheric heritage, good pubs, restaurants and theatres. It ain't a work destination yet. So my point, shot out to cyberspace where it can be ignored all the more publicly, is: lower the season ticket prices - £4000 is enough for a train company to make in a year, is it not?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Grafting research

British blogs are boring. And this one is no exception.

Today, from the joy of being able to type again (more on that later) but being too tired to actually think, I did a field audit. Sometimes the BNP and others say 'Britain is full'. Well, I'd like to challenge that. From my viewpoint on the train, there are times when there are no houses at all. You frequently go past vast stretches, filled with nothing but one rabbit, or a pheasant. Britain, I can assure you, is not full. So that was my hypothesis and here are my results. I think this is an audit, but it might be something else. A tedium, perhaps.

The White Llama field audit I
(yes, I might do this again, it was such fun)

The count was carried out this morning, June 2, a Friday. I travelled southwards from Stoke-on-Trent and looked Eastwards (right) from a fabulous tilting Virgin Pendolino.

I tried to count each field. A ‘-‘ means the field was empty. Each dash represents often a big field, so bear with my joy upon seeing a sheep after many, many empty fields. I'm not a numbers person, so my estimates are a little like the tribes whose words for numbers are 'one, two, several'. I recorded everything I noticed, but my perspectives are quite narrow. I didn't record every tree or house, that would have been pointless! Places are in brackets. I drifted off somewhere after Rugby.

(Britannia Stadium), one crow, - - - - - - - more than 50 sheep! More that 30 sheep, - (Stone)
.- - houses, houses, - one cow, 7 cows, - 1 walker, - 10 cows, trees, several sheep, - - 100s of sheep, forest, - 12 cows, - - - - - 1 pigeon, - - - - - 9 sheep and 1 crow, - - 1 ornamental cow, 3 horses, 4 horses, 1 horse, some shetland ponies, 1 horse, a village, cliffs, - - 1 blackbird, some bright roses, - houses, (Colwich), - sheep and cows, - - many cows, 5 sheep, lake, - - - - - settlement, - - - a cluster of sheep, full of sheep and geese, houses, - - - - - diggers, - cluster of cows, 5 horses, 100 sheep, - lakes, - - - - - - - - 12 cows, - 2 horses, - - - - - - - - many cows, - sewage farm, diggers, houses, man with dog, rugby goalposts, more houses, curious junction of trains, - - 3 crows, - - geese (Canadian), lake, cows, lake, - lots of cows, - - - - proper growing fields, - - - - TNT big depot, sign 102 miles to London, town... - 2 crows, clustre o traffic cones, 5 horses, strange processing plant, - bird of prey! - 5 horses, - - farm, - - rugby post, (Nuneaton), allotments, still Nuneaton... - - - 2 horses, 3 horses - sprawling suburbs, - - - - a balloon?, - 4 horses, - - - - - - 1 crow, - - - many sheep, a few horses, - - - - 7 sheep, - - - - many black birds, lots of cows, sheep, more cows, - 2 pigeons, - - houses, a row of cows, water place (Severn Trent), RUGBY! Rail stuff, - - the first church noticed, forest of aerials and spying equipment, horses, cows (many), several cows, BIG cows, - - - - - M1, - at this point I became concerned about whether this was fruitful exercise, marina, - - and sleep.

Next week, if you’re very lucky, you might get the post Rugby stretch.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Happy Friday

"Doing it all for the wonderful Clare White, every Friday."
- The Friday Thing

Of course, other Clare Whites are available, so I don't *know* that this is for me, but it's cheered me up no end anyway.

I've been meaning to give The Friday Thing a plug for a while, it pops into the inbox each Friday and is brilliant. I have to do something complicated to the formatting now to print it out since saying (sigh) farewell to Treo, otherwise it comes to 36 printed pages. It provides constant entertainment well beyond Rugby (one for their quotes column there). It also tells you a lot you no longer get round to reading in the newspapers because they're such nonsense. I have in common with them the preference for emphatic stars and wonder if they too have the irritation of having to say no, I *really* mean stars, when clever email programmes do their own formatting. I have generally been inspired by them every week in various ways, many plagiarous (sp? real word?).

It is one of the very few things I subscribed to, paying some forgotten amount of money ages ago for some magazine. I had concluded that I would pay for it again if their subscription system was up to asking me but this week they announced that I don't have to. TFT is going free. As some readers know, I have a bit of a belief in subscription-based fine writing, so I'm hoping they have an alternative model that is based on them selling enugh words to pay their writers. They probably do, the lovely chaps.

Anyway, enough gushing or I'll become a target for mockery. Fickle, fickle TFT.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Basic beliefs

I know I’m not the only one who feels they should be more proactive about getting their point of view across to decision-makers about the issues we care about. I have a rolling list of things to write to my MP about and am thus put off by the fact that it is too long.

But I also slightly resent the fact that it is these expressions of public interest that are deemed to be the most effective in Getting Things Done. In most cases, it seems a bit silly to be writing to my MP with sentiments like ‘I feel very strongly that the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Darfur should be stopped’ so that some parliamentary assistant can put it in the pile marked ‘against genocide’, stacked up against the Friends of Khartoum amongst Stoke’s populus.

Couldn’t the UN organise a massive survey to once and for all ascertain everyone’s views on certain key issues? They could then use this to spur governments into action at appropriate moments. It could go something like this:
* Should carpet/suicide-bombing, murder, rape or torture be allowed, ever? When answering this, bear in mind that the victim could be you next.
* Should people be locked up without trial, or should we find out if they’re guilty, just to be absolutely clear in our own minds?
* Should the trafficking of human beings for sexual or other forms of labour be tolerated in a free market global society, or should we come down on it like a ton of bricks?
* Should we allow countries to run their own countries in a way that has the consent of the people (with the option of peacefully protesting to show opposition if they wish), or should we use the supply of food aid as a gentle incentive to push out the democratically elected leaders we don’t like?
* How many deaths, by whatever means but lets start with starvation and civilian killings, are acceptable, before action is taken to stop the deaths?
a) More than 2 b) More than 500 c) More than 5,0000 d) More than 500,000 e) It depends on the country

Finally, one from the Sun
* Should the Human Rights Act be scrapped?
You can probably still vote on the Sun’s website, unless they’ve taken it down now - the vote when I looked was 81 per cent saying "er, *no*", which didn’t seem to be the answer they were looking for.

Answers to be returned to the UN, New York.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Cold Turkey

So, some of you know that my lova affair with the Treo 600 turned a bit sour, due to a combination of lost cables, stints in snow (my fault) and crashes, mangled emails and a huge bill ('their' fault). I was finally seduced by a good offer and a 100 song MP3 player to switch across.

On Monday, the Treo was Switched Off.

Suddenly I realised what a life without Treo meant. From frustrating emails to no emails, limited notepad space to *no* notepad space. And predictive bloody texting, didn't it all seem so clever once, before they actually managed to fit a keyboard onto a mobile phone. Oh, what a drag.

In theory, I can access the internet with my Motorola ROKR and BBC news works quite well on it, but I've yet to crack Gmail and am only even trying during the free offer period, after which data downloads become stupidly expensive. There are no downloadable applications, according to the official website, unless they involve pictures or ringtones. So no decent memo pad. The buttons are in really silly places.

Most of all, my email link on the train is Gone. I try to accept that email is an addiction. That, just like all the people who have their Blackberry by their right hand all the time, I want to feel that somebody has emailed me, that I am important enough to *need* to check my emails every hour, if not every five minutes, just to on the safe side. That email is a delightful distraction which can be dealt with just as adequately, if not more efficiently, in alotted periods of time, rather than every time my mind wanders and I want the buzz of the new message, even if it is only a notification that Blockbuster have received my DVD safely.

I can break the cycle, I can fill my ears with educational and entertaining podcasts while another part of my brain scribbles inspired ideas into a notebook. I can live without it. Money saved, addiction challenged, all for the good.

Today I missed my Treo.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Oh, heck

Nice one. Vote BNP, she says, below. Bugger it, they're not listening. And they do. Not exactly droves of them, but 5 elected in Stoke. Nick Griffin picks Stoke to come and celebrate. Nice one, voters (bless you for at least bothering).

Still, the nice thing is our council overall looks pretty multicultural to me. Lots of Asian names, no Labour control and a new leader. Should be a good learning experience for our new BNP leaders.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A sad state of affairs

As we approach local elections, there is a lot of talk about how the BNP are going to do ever so well and we'd better make sure we all turn out and vote for a safer pair of hands. Although one of the scare-surveys comes from a respoctable source (JRCT), I can't help feeling its being used as the latest distraction from Westminster. The one about how I didn't support the war so vote for me, not the party, was failing to fool the punters yet again, so they're trying Vote for me or the fascists will come for you and your kids. Even the Tories are getting in on the line, but then they seem to be sharing them these days - there must be a shortage.

How likely is it that either of these parties are actually listening to the concerns on the doorstep? The failure of the mainstream parties to listen - ever - has disenfranchised people so much that they're reverting to their own shock tactics in the hope of penetrating the brick wall of spin and nonsense.

I hate the BNP as much as the next 76 per cent, but if we wake up on May 5 with our councils run by a bunch of racists whose idea of good society involves having us all goose-stepping round our local squares every Sunday, I don't think we'll see much difference. It'll still be the inmates of Westminster with all the power and today's Baghdad-bombing-jail-without-jury-Charles-Clarke-the-lunatic reality will remain as scary as it is today.

As strong messages to the government go, I'm sure we can do better than voting for the BNP. In his references to cockroaches that haven't quite got him locked up as yet, Nick Griffin was using the same ideology that helped prompt nearly a million Rwandan deaths 12 years ago. I still don't believe the majority of the British people would have anything to do with him.

But if voters are using the same scare tactics as the government to try and get noticed, then it's pretty clever. I would join the 90 per cent of voters who told Margaret Hodge they'd be voting BNP. Like a shot. I'd tell her anything if it would wipe the smug expression from her face for just a moment (ah, the old hatred still runs deep!). But what does it say about the state of our politics?

Has anybody organised the revolution yet?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

City scenes

Like most weekends since Christmas, Warhorse the Scooter had to go in to have repairs done on her wheels. I go to Foley's in Fenton, where my father and all our biking forefathers before him have gone, since the beginning of time.

She was going to take a while, so I set off with time to waste. On the bus up to Hanley, vast swathes of old terraces have been demolished, leaving behind toothy stubs of people's memories and exposed Victorian back yards. The big signs (by developers who have finally managed to spell Wedgwood correctly) say the land will be turned into deluxe canalside apartments, but these plans have been around for ages and nobody's quite sure that it will happen or whether anyone wants to live in them anyway.

"Can you ring in about half an hour duck, the lads have just gone off for some snappin''". So I carried on walking. This phrase reminded me of the terrapins that live in Hanley Forest Park lake. They must have been liberated in the post Mutant Hero Turtle era and seem to have survived several winters quite happily, eating ducklings and whatever else they can. Small boys in the area call them "terrypeens" and they are a famous attraction, though hated by the fishermen.

Beyond the lake, the new skating park is packed. Arguably the only good thing the local authority has ever done for the city, everyone under 18 in Stoke is now a skater. Next to it, a half finished adventure playground has been invaded by a family. The parents sit quite happily on a bench watching their tiny charges frolic on equipment still coated in plastic. Towering all around them is a site fence, a segment of which they or someone else has knocked down, with yellow signs saying 'Danger: do not enter'. The skaters have obviously given people a taste for risk. Hopefully they won't sue the council if the youngsters drop onto the gravel on their heads.

I hang around Hanley, managing to get two good lattes on chocolate brown comfy sofas. Five years ago this would have been impossible. For the first one I read the Sun and get very alarmed by its horrifying view of Britain and pornographic descriptions of child pornography. For the second I escape to Baghdad, with Chikitita's moving blog. She could teach the Sun journalists a thing or two about, well, everything.

Checking in at Foley's, Warhorse isn't going to be ready until Monday. Doesn't matter how long I hang around waiting, it isn't to be. I set off home, not able to face another bus. Between towns, I realise that nobody else is walking other than teenagers and ethnic minorities. Groups of women in veils and pairs of men who everyone assumes are asylum seekers but may well be bussed off to various low paid jobs in the early mornings of the week. The rest of Stoke drives cars, it's a kind of segregation. Buses are for old people and those who are trying to navigate a distance too far to walk. So if you can't afford to run a car or pay multiple fares to get across the towns, you're stuck in whatever part of the city you happen to have landed in.

Reaching Burslem, there are shops with flats above that look far too small for human habitation. The only reason they haven't been cleared yet is that nobody has ever got round to it, but I hope they won't. They are relics from a town in which rich and poor lived side by side, or the very rich lived as far as Cobridge or up the hill in Newcastle, and they came together to produce pottery and go to church.

Cars being the first ambition of everyone in Stoke, the second is bigger cars. Most people own their houses, which don't go up in value very much, so you might as well buy a better car. Since, by my measurements, the terraces I pass are as wide as a Metro, this means many people own cars which are longer than their houses are wide. They must be very proud.

Friday, April 07, 2006

There's not enough time to vent irritation in full - here's a start

Most of us can just watch while our leaders do nothing, some are lucky enough to be able to use their position of influence to encourage failure to protect.

In focusing on the wars being played out, Paul "Khartoum have a point" Moorcroft avoids referring to the massive humanitarian crisis in Darfur and now Chad. Help is unable to get to people because it is too insecure and too big an area for the current troops to provide protection.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, raped and displaced. These are people who play no part in any conflict.

The whole point of intervention is not to bring a third party to the fighting, but to protect civilians. Only a large force of international peacekeepers can adequately achieve this. Fiddling around with racial or tribal definitions to say it isn't genocide is as stupid as the racism endemic in Sudanese society itself, but Moorcroft misses the point again. Hutus and Tutsis are all black, they all *look the same*. Western Jews don't look terribly different from the rest of us, unless you feel like emphasising difference to incite militias to kill and rape large amounts of people. Since September, genocide stopped being the point - the international community took on a responsibility to protect civilians if their own government could not.

This parallel with Iraq is deliberately unhelpful. Bush and Blair were wrong in that adventure, but you imply they are the only ones to want action. Millions of people around the world want to see protection for the people of Darfur. Of course a 'white, western force' would be innapropriate, but they would be joining the current AU force, which has included many Rwandans. Bush shouldn't be making the decision, it should be the UN, but force needs to come from countries who have the expertise and equipment to boost what the AU are already providing.

The world commuity have a responsibility to protect the people of Darfur immediately. Immediately, as in 2003. The International Crisis Group has made sensible recommendations about what should be done.

Simply, it should be 'whatever it takes' to protect, feed and heal people. Toppling the Sudan government does not need to be on the agenda here. But they should be held responsible if their continuing refusal to allow humanitarian oversight allows more people to die, whether by airstrike or starvation. Civil war is still used to distract and deny the genocide in Rwanda and this and other prevarications allow Moorcroft to support Khartoum's arguments to keep out.

After telling people all the reasons why 'we' shouldn't be involved, he quite rightly says that AU and Islamic troops should be strengthened. At least we can agree on this, but conveniently enough it will save us a lot of money and once again the West will be seen to do nothing while Africa and the Muslim world try harder. Given the strength of feeling in the West, this differentiation is ridiculous. This needs to be a cooperative effort.

With most of your arguments, you've probably convinced a whole lot of readers and policy-makers that we should sit this one out till its bitter end. May you be judged for it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Spring comes to England!

A pastoral post

It is light enough for my commute through 188 miles of England and back to be very enjoyable. An Observer report I just read claimed that 20 per cent of start or finish in the UK, an amazing statistic considering our size (the report wasn't clear on the source of this figure or whether it was a projection) that if true shows how wealthy many Britons are, relatively speaking. We are colonising the world, though more quietly than we used to.

The English tend to forget the extent of beauty in their own country. I blame cars, for I've never appreciated our countryside as much until I could see it more clearly from train and scooter.

The break from Watford into open country is sudden and spectacular. From the train, the sky looks huge with miles of open fields where lambs are starting to roam and even gambol. The train regularly slows down and the countryside is broken up by towns, skyscrapers, a power station next to a golf course, farmhouses and chicken homes.

The canal frequently stretches alongside the railway along with old industrial buildings. A reminder of the visionaries who, in earlier centuries, carved Britain into a centre of industry with efficient transport lines to take pottery and people from the North to London in a flash.

Arnold Bennett saved his newspaper for the boring, ugly section after Rugby, but for me its extent of tracks represent the point when, if I have a table to myself and room to stretch, I can shake off the stress of the day and watch the sun go down.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Huntin' for a tool

Ask and you will receive, that’s usually the case. For once, Google isn’t giving me what I want, so I’ll need to resort to the blog, in the hope this gets picked up by someone who has already done it. Hopefully someone who doesn’t make their explanation too technical or expect me to download anything.

There is a lot around at the moment about how our electronic content is gradually replacing physical content and the various advantages and disadvantages that brings. One of the disadvantages is that you there is a need to hold more in your memory, to remember what you need to remember. One of the reasons so many people (that means you, most of my readers) horde books is that they serve as a memory-bank for us, we can idly scan over the bookshelves and they will remind us of something we once read that was useful, inspiring or just funny. The computer, though wildly rich in scope, is always looked at through a single window and I find lists difficult to scroll through. Search makes it easier and I am now fully converted to the ‘search don’t sort’ principle, especially as Google is generally intuitive enough to understand what you mean once you have conversed with it enough to understand the kind of fragments it understands.

But all of these methods really require the necessity to have at least a kernel in your head or a reminder set up. For me, cursed with a frequently blank memory, tagging helps to create an archive of my trawls through cyberspace. The tags mean you can also look through lists of what you think you might have come across in different groups. But despite my forays into some spectacular things (see right) I haven’t found quite the tool I want.

Which is:
Something that will make all my links look like bookspines, arranged on a bookshelf. Each different tag could have a colour and links with several tags can have several colours, of course. They could be arranged by order, colour or size, the size of the spine being dictated by how much text there is in the title - I feel this touch would give the variety I need when looking over the ‘shelf’, otherwise it will just be lots of similar looking blocks. Perhaps the size could also relate to the size of the page referred to, but I feel the former option is more feasible. Looking at soup and spacenav, I’m sure some exciting things could be done to create shelves that move around based on their relationships and even moving out into other people’s libraries a la LibraryThing and their books. Oh, but apart from all the fancy stuff I want to be able to put the shelves into a PDF so if I like I can print them to put on the wall or in a folder.   

It’s no big departure from the way works anyway, but this exact visualisation would really make me happy. Can anyone point me to where it’s already been built?

Friday, March 03, 2006

I - am - so - hard

Oh yes, and I still got to work on time (with the help of strong boys who picked up Warhorse and pulled me from under her). Making a fuss over snow? Yer pansies.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Small, but significant, question

I listen to a lot of pop now, but rarely see the videos. Does Pink's video for Stupid Girl do what I expect and feature lots of sexy girls wiggling and thrusting? Thereby allowing her to have a video that appeals visually to the audience and yet still making her point. I would expect that from the funkiness of her track and the prompts it has for Beyonce-like shimmying.

The more subtle alternative would be to have Pink in a black coat, no make-up and merely fill the video with funky dancing plantpots and perhaps some tiny dogs, if you must.

Please can someone tell me which she chose?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Adolescent anarchist dabblings

The 'peace through superior firepower' link to the right reminds me that through most of my teenage years (and maybe still now) I had a small poster on my wall saying "Bullets, not ballots. Put the bastards in the cemetary". For some reason this sort of thing has always made me giggle. Like many other sub-editors, I always have to resist the urge to write entirely inappropriate headlines or sell-lines, even as a filler (as they always get left there by accident and then Bad Things Happen). My sense of humour doesn't tend to appeal to the serious pacifist, religious types, as I learn every time I forget myself and write something in The Friend.

When I got the poster I was, with a few other readers of this blog, a member of the Potteries Defiance Alliance. We fought the tyranny of the Conservative government and the Criminal Justice Act which (I think still) makes it technically illegal for more than two people to gather without permission, especially if they are broadcasting 'repetitive beats'. We, aged 14 and too old for youth club, too young for nightclubs (just), spent a happy afternoon in the front garden of the local Conservative Club dancing to the subversive beats of Beethoven while the Staffs and Keele students with us drank beer and baited the Tories therein.

I don't think we ever actually achieved anything - except a lie-down protest to demand speed-humps in Chesterton did work, if my poor memory serves me right - but it was good fun. We took to the streets of Stoke each week, sometimes sitting-in at the police station or the MP's surgery, handing out flyers with striking communist symbols to passing shoppers for them to place in the nearest bin. I used to make a fiver a go by venting my rage in the Sent'null's Startwrite page once I realised that they would instantly put anything in that was anything a bit more well-written than "There is lots of litter in my road". Now I come to think of it, it was probably that profitable sideline of the protest movement that halted my development into a fully fledged communist.

Just stop it

The official line in our uninvited war against terror is to hike up the dehumanisation process, including anyone in the right place in the 'other side'.

Two examples: an American general on UK TV last weekend claiming that Al Quaida didn't sign the Geneva Convention so international law doesn't apply to them. Coincidentally, John Reid, the UK defence secretary, quoted in the Observer on the same day, said: "Please be very quick to condemn, and very quick to defend and praise our soldiers, because they work in the most extremely difficult circumstances [poor lambs] against an enemy who is completely unconstrained by any morality, any legal conventions, any human-rights standards and any scrutiny and that makes it difficult for the men and women who serve this country".

This was, need I add, in the context of a barbaric video in which soldiers beat up teenagers, cheered on by the film maker. In lumping together several groups of people: the suicide bombers with the ordinary Iraqis and the conscientious soldiers with the sadistic bastards, our governments dehumanise us all. How can we be surprised if Muslims see the West as one entity, blacks see whites as one entity, if our leaders fail to differentiate and treat any of us to intelligent statements? Extremism is being fuelled at the moment from all sides by blind statements, free speech and offense being bandied around from all sides.

Our governments are using the new war as an excuse to erode human rights standards signed up to after the most terrible world wars. Wars may not between countries any more but they are still between human beings. More to the point, people caught in places of war must always have the basic standards of justice, the right to a trial and the right not to be tortured.

They are committing a grave crime against all of us, overall worse than individual crimes of murder or torture because they are inciting hatred against groups of people. This war has got to stop before friendship across cultures are stubbed out completely. I am so sick of this regime that spends a fortune in our name on sheer wrong-doing, eroding our human rights step by step. I see this world of connections and essential goodness, basic, simple rights that were built up for centuries, against all the odds, now being neglected by a generation that grew up in the peaceful world of the safety net, people who will sacrifice any faraway people for our own expensive, flawed security. This war is going on without any oversight and it doesn't have my consent anymore. Something tells me I'm not the only one.

Revolution, anyone?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Thoughts from the train

What's worse, no reading or Media Guardian, I ask myself as I plough
through it out of some long-ingrained sense of duty, sickened by the tired
tiny circle of Hammersmith blondes puffing up each others egos, uplifted
for a moment by the newspaper sales falls, enjoying at least Office Hours
which always makes secretarial careers very tempting. Is there anything more
horrific, for this ex-wannabe hack*, than seeing a once-honourable industry
in its death throes, comment writers clutching desperately at blog-sticks as
they are engulfed in the waves of voices of people for whom opinions are not
hawked on the streets with glossy headers but simply shared and genuinely
felt. Enough of this reading that makes me irritated, there's enough to
plough through in this short life.

* Note: During these rants, do keep at the back of your mind that the mainstream media never did give me a job

Saturday, February 11, 2006

British beats

Radio 1 are only playing British music over the next few days for the Brit awards. It's a nice excuse to pull out the Smiths and the Cure and all that, and how nice that Little Fluffy Clouds is British, all about Arizona.

If you haven't listened to Radio 1 for a few years, it's well worth giving it another go (from anywhere). They're riding the waves of the fact that pop music is Ace again and they've done a great job of cross promoting their programmes and drawing you into new music. Even the evening shows that used to be too cool to bother with now create a nice balance of involving people without becoming too local radio, so even Wayne from Cheltenham finds himself dancing away in his living room and texting in to Nihal & Bobby Friction.

This is the sort of British-celebrating that is good. You realise how much variety there is here, the country where a blonde teenager from Devon can win awards for Urban music. But I'm missing the American stuff, it has to be said. Less bumpin' n grindin' for a few days, except of course to the Arctic Monkeys.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Can't we all just get along?

I've been thinking a lot about identity and belonging recently, amongst other deep things prompted by the Never Again virtual retreat experiment I've been working on in the last week. And of course by That Cartoon Row.

Probably because I'm an only child, I've never been at all good at belonging to organised groups and can't say I like them much. Watching the Quakers regularly tear each other apart over what they should and shouldn't believe is rather sad. If they weren't always trying to keep it together as a coherent group (there is a popular saying that organising Quakers is like herding cats) they could get on with things they have real talent at, like abolishing slavery and reforming prisons. I've always felt their view of 'that of God' is perfectly compatible with the whole spectrum of spiritual beliefs, it seems to be the 'that' which is the most important element there, denoting a shared experience of something that binds us together as humans and the external mysteries that are forces for good (or bad). But people normally get cross when I make theological statements.

The only group I've really claimed membership to is Londoners and now that my London generally extends only from one side of Euston Road to t'other, I really miss being a Londoner. Londoners have really managed to crack the one problem that many other communities struggle with: including people and genuinely enjoying their diversity. My happiest London memories are of events like Respect at the Millennium Dome, dancing to Indian-inspired pop, or the riverside crowds milling around different ethnic food stalls. In Stoke there is a pervasive sense of natives vs everyone else and, despite its famed friendliness, in times of trouble the natives snap into fear and defensiveness. Whereas in London, ethnic areas tend to be adopted by the trendy young (partly because they are the cheapest for students but also because they like them, despite the dangers in some), in Stoke they are seen as ghettos and you are told you 'wont' be welcome' to areas like Cobridge. London was secure enough that even the bombs couldn't divide us: they probably had a greater effect on community relations and racism in the North than Bloomsbury, where people were actually killed.

So where does it leave me, left out? I hope it isn't too twee to say I feel part of humanity, the global community. Never Again, as an organisation in its very early stages, has given me a real sense of being able to act as an individual as part of a wider picture. I've learnt an emormous amount from people with totally different backgrounds from all over the world. I now see my own views as valid, but part of a greater tapestry of views and enjoy the challenge of engaging with perspectives that are totally different. I want to be part of a community that has one thing in common - its own humanity - and works to accept, even enjoy, different views and beliefs. Actions that infringe on others' human rights are indefensible but beyond that our different global systems are completely compatible if we accept that we don't have to be the same, we don't have to agree with each other and constructive conflict is natural, even healthy. Conflict, if partnered with dialogue, leads us to creative ideas that may never have been thought of in our own unchallenged worlds.

So that's my community, one that the internet makes more possible than ever before.

And finally a post that gets my hair off the top of the blog!

Monday, January 09, 2006

New hair!

(note to anyone coming because they've read a certain review that has this categorised as News and Current Affairs, sorry, it's probably not what you're looking for. Note to self: recategorise White Llama on blogger site as Messages to Friends)

So I had a haircut last week! And it is shorter than it has been since I was about seven. I may take a picture on my iFriend.

Most responses so far have been kind, but notable ones (all from men, which may be significant) have included:
"So why did you decide to cut your hair?"
"Aegh! You look different!"
"Grow some hair!"

After a few days of deep concern after the hairdresser made me look a bit like a Blair-babe ("You look very, I don't know, managerial") it has settled back into its impish wavy sort of look ("That reminds me, I was going to lend you some straighteners") in which I try hard not to look like Wednesday Addams.

It must have done some good as I got ID'd again on Saturday. Hehe.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Further adventures of Warhorse

It hasn't been a happy year for my scooter so far. Not content with a visit from the RAC and subsequent trip to the garage, she managed to get stolen on New Years Day. A good kicking and abandonment in a carpark followed before she was rescued and yet again limped home worse for wear. Now sadly skinned at the front and sans her useful right-hand mirror, she is bravely showing off the resilience of Italian engineering and ran quite happily to the station this morning despite her exposed breast.

As a consequence of this, I had new encounters with my neighbours, whose pluck (if you should use such a word for Stoke teenagers) in standing up to the gang in question and willingness to go after a scooter belonging to someone they barely know outweighed the distress about poor Warhorse's near miss from being blown up round the back of the local health club.

The police, despite having the best intelligence in the world in a population nearly as close knit as certain small central African nations, were not very optimistic about a prosecution for criminal damage. Neither did they seem to keen to boost my hopes that (a) the young criminals would pay for the damage and (b) that they might be given a nice skate park to keep them occupied, but they have been quite good. Still, we've learnt a lesson from this, I think. Mine: it really is true what they say, don't leave your possessions unlocked, even for a minute. The little beasts will be awaiting to swoop like magpies. I don't know what Warhorse has learnt, hopefully not to go off with strangers again.