Wednesday, August 03, 2005



Just opposite the Oval tube station you can see a curious and vaguely macabre relic of past wars surrounding a local housing estate. It’s easily missed.

Instead of traditional cast iron metal railings, the borders of the estate are surrounded by metal stretchers left over from the Blitz and the Second World War.

I’m not too sure why the authorities decided to use the stretchers this way. Maybe they thought there would be no more wars, maybe they thought, ‘fuck it, the next one’s going to be nuclear, why bother’ or maybe they thought it was a handy place to store them till the next time they were needed.

I don’t know.

But I do no why the estate needed replacement railings.

The old ones are sitting at the bottom of the Thames.

Back in 1940, all decorative railings were torn down from London buildings to help the war effort. Housewives were also encouraged to donate as many of their pots and pans as possible. They were told that the metal would be melted down and turned into weapons of war to defeat the Hun.

Funnily enough, this was bollocks.

We can’t be too sure about what happened to the pots and pans, aluminium was relatively scarce and had some military uses, but the thought that Britain was making its tanks and battleships out of cast iron is laughable. No one has owned up about what really happened to the iron. Some stories say that the railings were stored in barns in the countryside and scrapped after the War. Some people who worked on the River maintain that thousands of tons were loaded onto barges and discretely dumped into the Thames estuary. The story goes that the iron’s only contribution to the war effort was to serve as a navigational hazard by deflecting ships’ compasses.

The real purpose of all this apparently wasteful stupidity was to convince civilians that they were doing their bit to aid the war effort even when they weren't. This was never explicitly stated, because many of those civilians doing ‘their bit’ might have reacted badly to the knowledge that having to cook entire family meals in a single pot or having nowhere to rest their bicycles for the next five years was a complete waste of time.

Post war railing and cookware replacement was left to the individual citizen to pay for.


But you don’t have to have railings outside your house or live in 1940 to enjoy this kind of fun…

A couple of years ago we flew into the States via Atlanta on September 11th because flights were marginally cheaper. After clearing customs and migration we were all set to pick up our hire car when we were greeted with an entirely separate set of checks and searches. The second security screen was even more rigorous than the one we originally went through boarding the plan in London – luggage x-rays, metal detectors, clothing searches, the works. It took another couple of hours to clear. At one point I was standing in front of a large black woman who looked just like Aretha Franklin, except for the fact that she was wearing a Glock, with my belt held in my hands above my head and my boots passing through an X ray machine. I asked her what she was looking for

‘Prohibited items’

She made it clear that that was her final answer and wasn’t prepared to put up with any further smart Alec questioning. All the other security staff in the airport exuded the same sense of ‘do what you’re fucking told, we’re here to save lives asshole’. Their authority was total. They could have told us to pogo on one leg singing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in the interests of national security and we would have had to play along.

But why was she looking at my shoes in an X-ray machine? What could she possibly expect to find? Why would I fly across the Atlantic with a pair of explosive desert boots and try to smuggle them into America rather than use them on the plane? It’s not as if lethal weapons aren’t freely available in Georgia is it?


Similar nonsense is going on in London right now. There are police and bag searches everywhere.

All this ‘security’ is going to stop no one with lethal intent, particularly if they are willing to give up their life.

But, you could say ‘What’s the harm? It’s better than doing nothing isn’t it?’

Not quite, whilst those police and security staff are fully engaged in bullshit they’re not actually looking for the terrorists. What they are currently doing is:

  • Wasting resources
  • Contributing to a culture of fear and, at the same time, demonstrating our only salvation lies in our benevolent government
  • Cynical arse covering in case something does happen
  • Conditioning us to accept the notion that we are to be subject to ‘security’ measures in all circumstances from now on; partly from the police but, more worryingly, from private security staff as well
  • Jacking up racial tensions

What they’re not doing is making anyone feel safer. All but the most deluded of individuals must sense that this isn’t going to stop any terrorists.

When a government starts confiscating your house fittings to build fighter planes or randomly stopping you on the street in search of bombs you can be sure it’s in a hole. The railing stunt took place in 1940 when Britain was a short hiccup away from total defeat. No one wasted anyone’s time later on in the war when the tide had turned.

Ditto for what’s going on now. Personally, I still have my doubts that there are an unspecified number of lunatic suicide bombers in the UK but, for argument's sake, let’s assume that there are.

Short of turning our country into a police state till the end of time how are we going to stop suicidal terrorists killing people? To be honest, even the police state thing doesn’t work – it certainly didn’t work for Nazi Germany and it certainly isn’t working for the Israelis.

There are alternative answers. The most compelling solution being to carry on exactly as if the bombings hadn’t taken place and also try and figure out and address what it is that makes people so desperate that they’re willing to sacrifice themselves in a terror attack.

Of course we can’t do that can we? Tony Blair has made it clear that terrorism has no connection with any of our actions around the world and that the terrorists are illogical madmen. Our government is blameless in its virginal white purity and it would be a waste of time for any of us to try and figure out terrorists' motivations. They have none.

and I’m a Dutchman


On rereading the last few paragraphs I’ve realised that what I’ve written could be construed as a justification and therefore incitement to terrorism. Now here’s an amusing thought, if the new laws currently under consideration by Tony and Co. get passed I will arguably have just committed a criminal act. Fan-fucking-tastic…


Sparkling said...

I've never been to Oval tube station (seen it on TV). I doubt I would have recognised those barriers where stretchers.
Another interesting not very useful (?) fact to add to my collection about London.

Stef said...

You never know when you might need a stretcher in London these days ...

Postman said...

Don't worry about inciting terror Stef ... You are already marked out as one of the awkward squad.

"Round 'em all up"..said Chirchill when they introduced DORA.

Love the story about the strecthers - I learnt my First Aid in the Boy Scouts using those.