Monthly Archives: August 2011


This sign used to be at the end of the street. It’s probably still there but you can’t see it anymore. They’ve been busy building a care home over three storeys high next door to it.
It’s so next door there’s no space between this old wall and the new one.

I’m glad I took the photograph now.

Lady in a cleft stick

Teignmouth, Devon 2011

Same sky, different gravy



Like many of us, this post has rather lost its way. Better then to say so, than pretend to be anything more than that: a little bit dazed and confused, unhappy but trying to remain positive. Sitting by the shore having a bit of a think, a bit like this.

I have heard a waterscape described as a void, but one that reflects yourself back at you. Can it really be a void then? I don’t think we are surrounded with voids in nature, rather that we perhaps host them inside ourselves. Does a void ask questions, or does it just exist as something to continuously fill up?

Of course, I don’t know, I’m just asking.

Carl Roger’s self-actualisation involves unconditional positive regard for children. I think it’s important. I also think a 14 year old in a court of law is still a child, albeit a damaged one, even in today’s atmosphere of extreme retribution. If only we could swap retribution for reparation.

And then there’s Carl Jung and his theory of individuation, a more metaphysical approach to integrating the parts of ourselves. There’s no time to consider that at the moment beyond this quote.

“Trust that which gives you meaning and accept it as your guide.”

Walk a mile in these shoes?

Dear David Cameron

Instead of holidaying in Tuscany, imagine your children sleeping next to this mould in a flat in inner-city London.

Someone's home: London 2011

Instead of having Michelle Obama round for coffee on the sofa in your kitchen, why not knock on this door and ask for a cuppa and a chat.

Someone's home: London 2011

Just imagine living with this mould in your house everyday. How’s it going to make you feel – happy, healthy, hopeful? I lived with mould like this in a flat once. It made the walls crumble and the windows rot. It made the ceiling black. It turns your freshly laundered clothes mouldy and it infests your baby’s push chair and cot. Think about it for a moment and sing along with Elvis (via songwriter Joe South).

Someone's home: London 2011

If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour, if we could find a way
To get inside each other’s mind
If you could see you through my eyes
Instead your own ego I believe you’d be
I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind

Walk a mile in my shoes
just walk a mile in my shoes
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Then walk a mile in my shoes

Now if we spend the day
Throwin’ stones at one another
‘Cause I don’t think, ’cause I don’t think
Or wear my hair the same way you do
Well, I may be common people
But I’m your brother
And when you strike out
You’re tryin’ to hurt me
It’s hurtin’ you, Lord HAVE mercy

Walk a mile in my shoes
just walk a mile in my shoes
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Then walk a mile in my shoes

Now there are people on reservations
And out in the ghetto
And brother there, but, for the grace of God
Go you and I,
If I only had wings of a little angel
Don’t you know, I’d fly
To the top of a mountain
And then I’d cry, cry, cry

Walk a mile in my shoes
just walk a mile in my shoes
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Then walk a mile in my shoes

What the Torygraph said

This surprising blog by Peter Oborne is well worth a read – MPs in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones…

The Houses of Parliament?

‘A chair is not a chair’

Elodie, aged 9, took this photo last weekend for reasons best known to herself.

I like the light effects (and it reminds me of the Luther Vandross song ‘A House is not a Home’).

Un-brand your heart (and mind?)

Below I reproduce a quote about consumerism as a form of social control from the Wikipedia page about Herbert Marcuse’s book ‘One Dimensional Man’

Herbert Marcuse strongly criticizes consumerism, arguing consumerism is a form of social control. He suggests that the system we live in may claim to be democratic, but it is actually authoritarian in that the few individuals are dictating our perceptions of freedom by only allowing us choices to buy for happiness. It is in this state of “unfreedom” in which consumers act irrationally by working more than they are required to fulfill actual basic needs, ignoring the psychologically destructive effects, ignoring the waste and environmental damage it causes, and also by searching for social connection through material items.

It is even more irrational in the sense that the creation of new products, calling for the disposal of old products, fuels the economy and encourages the increased need to work more to buy more. An individual loses his or her humanity and becomes a tool to the industrial machine and a cog in the consumer machine. Additionally advertising sustains consumerism, which disintegrates societal demeanor, delivered in bulk and informing the masses that happiness can be bought, an idea that is psychologically damaging.

There are other alternatives to counter the consumer lifestyle. Anti-consumerism: a lifestyle that demotes any unnecessary consumption, and with that, demotes unnecessary extra work, extra waste, etc. But even this alternative is complicated with the extreme penetration of advertising and commodification because everything is a commodity, even the things that are actual needs.

What I wonder is this.

Are the street gangs, that amply demonstrated their apparent freedom this week to help themselves to the symbols of consumerist society, more or less trapped in the machine than those of us who work long hours to pay for things we don’t need?

I’ve read of the people who looted shops described as the canary in the coalmine for our society, subject to the effects of toxic gas before it gets to the miners. Doubtless, it’s a provocative metaphor, but it’s an interesting one.

There’s been so much talk about right and wrong this week, but the canary down the mine has no concept of this, it simply croaks it. That’s because concepts of right and wrong are no use to a canary. For humans right and wrong are not just moral concepts we pass on uncritically; they do require, on some level, a personal cognitive process with reflective qualities. If moral values were as fixed as some of the government would like you to believe, all those before the courts today would be hung, or transported to Australia.

Working in education, my own interest is particularly in learners’ feelings, the affect, our emotions and how they can drive us. The trillions that companies spend every year on building brands are appealing primarily to our emotions. Many of us can talk ourselves out of a purchase on the basis we don’t really need it, but it requires that robust cognitive input. We affect how we feel by being a consumer and how we feel drives our consumption.

The reason I mention it is because it seems to me that although the people who looted shops may have exercised some cognitive processes (I might get caught, I might go to prison, do I actually care?), the frenzy of illegal consumption was probably initially driven by emotional states.

In which case, as the intellectualising of the phenomenon begins in an attempt to structure the future, should we do what must be the unthinkable if you are The Man driving The Machine.

Ask the canary how he feels about it?

The New Moral Army (and Colonel Clegg)

I have nicked the title for today’s outburst from Daftbugger’s comment yesterday.

He makes the point that it is all Labour’s fault and it’s true that in just a year in charge not even David Cameron and George Osborne can be blamed for everything that’s gone on: Hackgate, England riots and the state of the weather. The world we live in has been changed by the government, but so far it is more in the order of a vicious pruning of the shrubbery than a total re-landscaping of the back garden. And of course it is true to say that people that smash shop windows and nick tvs are probably not overly-concerned with the finer detail of what the government cuts mean.

That’s not to say the wind has not blown cold and hard through society though since Cameron moved in. I think things have changed and even without a grasp of the finer detail of the political backdrop you can sense the change in mood on the street. Morals are tough taskmasters; I wonder what happened Cameron’s pre-election plea to ‘hug a hoodie’…

Yesterday Cameron continued with the rhetoric wherein we were assured that he knew what he was about: fighting back against those people, the immoral, protecting us ordinary people from the sick people in society. ‘Sick’ was an interesting phrase. For a start young people use it to mean good, better than good. Secondly, there is the mental health connotation. Thirdly, don’t sick people need treatment?

In trying to impress meaning and his own values on what appears to be a largely meaningless, inner-city existence, Cameron has shown that he cannot start a dialogue with those that should demand it but don’t know how, and has nothing useful to add beyond the reactionary: more police, swift justice, 24 hour court sessions, send them to jail. It’s a short trip from Hug a Hoodie to Off with their Heads.

Everything David Cameron says gets on my nerves. Of course his role is one of authority, so how can he not sound authoritarian when he is talking about the need to deal with sections of the community who are clearly damaging property and lives and, in some horrific cases, killing people. But the broad brush approach of lumping everybody in to the ‘sick’ category shows a real lack of understanding of what it is to exist as, say, a young person on an estate like the Pembury in Hackney.

I lived in Hackney for 15 years. I lived in 7 flats, 3 of them were council estates and one of those was a squat on the 15th floor. I had removed to the squat with the then boyfriend because there was an ongoing situation with the neighbour that defied logic, reason or resolution, despite there being injunctions issued against the neighbours to protect life, limb and property. This didn’t stop my car having its front and rear windscreens stoved in, myself being confronted and attacked in the stairwell (the lift never worked), and the front door being defaced and kicked on a weekly basis.

My boyfriend was on the transfer list because of the neighbour. He was offered a flat in the Pembury Estate, Hackney Downs. We visited it, it was in a 1930s block, freshly decorated and clean and on the ground floor. He turned it down.

‘It’s on the Pembury innit’.

The Pembury - abandon hope... etc?

No-one, not even someone driven away from their own flat by violence and assault on property wanted to live on the Pembury. That was nearly 20 years ago. But some people do live on the Pembury, they have no choice. And there are worse places to live in London. These flats, that the councils now say they may evict troublemakers from, are not fit for human dwelling sometimes. Many of them are badly designed with flat roofs and pernicious mould (not just a bit of damp) is endemic. The contractors who work in these flats, nominally as decorators, are in fact now reduced to mould operatives who have to return time and time again to re-treat areas of mould.

One mother’s flat was visited to treat mould about two years ago, her flat was full of mould. There was an empty cot: her baby had just died from asthma-related complications. The operative returned this year: new baby, same cot, new mould.

This is not an excuse for bad behaviour, one hardly imagine that mother was out on the streets of Hackney looting on Monday night, but you can get a picture of the general hopelessness of some people’s existences on some of these estates. Imagine growing up there?

I’ve nearly forgotten to mention Nick Clegg. He was on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning. His conversation with the presenter, in sharp contrast to Cameron’s haughty rhetoric, was more measured. His words offered hope for a dialogue, albeit a future one, about the why of it all.

I have my own ideas about what’s needed, and it’s not a political position borne out of a rant about cuts. That being so, it will have to keep until another day.

The strange case of Cameron

When David finally managed to get his head round the gravity of the situation and tear himself away from his second summer holiday in Tuscany he called a meeting of the Cobra committee yesterday (another this morning too) at 9 a.m.

The first thing I thought was: why so late? What’s wrong with 8 a.m. surely a bit of alacrity won’t go amiss after all the heel-dragging that’s gone on. Then I thought something along the lines of: well he’ll want time for his kedgeree and toast and a fresh orange juice before going next-door for his important meeting.

And that’s the problem you see, Cameron acts like what he is. A bit of a nob. But then I thought, let’s give the guy the benefit of the doubt, let’s see what he’s got to say about it all when he’s had his 9 a.m. meeting. After all he’s probably a bit tired what with all the rushing back from Italy on Ryanair or whatever…

This is what he said in full. Apparently he looked a bit cross whilst he said it and I can read in the content of his speech plenty of the old Tory wall-to-wall finger-wagging we’ve been deluged with in the last few days. But what interested me most was this bit:

I am determined, the government is determined that justice will be done and these people will see the consequences of their actions.

And I have this very clear message to those people who are responsible for this wrongdoing and criminality: you will feel the full force of the law, and if you are old enough to commit these crimes you are old enough to face the punishment.

And to these people I would say this: you are not only wrecking the lives of others, you’re not only wrecking your own communities – you are potentially wrecking your own life, too.

These people? What you would say?

When the Prime Minister of a country in extremis cannot communicate directly with all sections of the community we are in very great danger indeed. When budgets for community cohesion are derided and cut and replaced with abstract concepts like the Big Society (not sure where these people fit into that) we are in massive trouble. When the Prime Minister makes a statement like that and turns on his heel in apparent high dudgeon back to his gilded office to get on with his ‘important work’ we should all put our heads in hands…

A Mirror

Capitalist Consumerism meets Existentialism: what happens this evening?

We are all hoping London will be quiet tonight, but shops in Hackney, Mare Street have been closing early and battening down the hatches just in case. I am sure there will be many more elsewhere.

My particular interest is that my daughters are staying in Hackney with relatives, last night elsewhere near Leyton. My maternal alarm bells have been ringing for 24 hours now, but common sense says if they stay in the house they will be fine. Perhaps it will be no more noisy than a usual summer’s evening in Hackney…

I was noting how many times the word ‘unacceptable’ is being used by the authorities in relation to the London riots; I have now lost count. Their whole tone is too obvious, insulting to the rest of us who can work out the criminality and chaos on our own. We don’t want words, we want to see some action. Balls to the rewarding the criminals line you’ve been peddling Mr Mayor’s Office – your job is to be seen on the streets you are in charge of, with something more creative to say than lofty rhetoric.

There is a line in a book I have been reading by John Macquarrie – it is discussing the human need to have a basic minimum of things for an existence and then from that foundation a human might begin to realise the uniquely human challenge of self-determination, or indeed simply the self. Without the bare minimum humans are put in a constant state of need. Inversely with too much a human being no longer just has things, rather the things have them.

Too much, too little, they both can amount to the same stunting of humanity, most particularly when one is juxtaposed closely with the other. This is not an excuse for what has gone on on the streets of London, but it is a potent ingredient to throw into the bubbling pot of disenfranchised youth who hitherto no-one much cared about as long as they stuck to maiming and killing each other.

Tradescant House, Hackney - I used to live on the 8th floor, far left

Update @ 18.30

Watching the unrest in Hackney on the television now it strikes me that the groups at the north and south end of Mare Street are in different gang territories: the Pembury and the London Fields. A young man I know told me this morning that his old ‘crew’ from Enfield had been touch yesterday telling to come to the hood and do some shopping. The other areas in London that have been affected will have similar gang problems. No-one is mentioning the gang word yet – too loaded and scary for a nice Tory government to address in the middle of the summer holidays. They need to wake up and admit to what is going on: the heart of London communities are being torn out by gangs and gangs step in to fill voids in society. I started the day with my head in hands, I’m going to end it that way.