Thursday, March 31, 2005

Blogger is whimsical today

Blogger 2
Originally uploaded by StefZ.

People sometimes ask me what I do to relax. I tell them that, at the end of a long, hard day, I enjoy nothing more than sitting at a PC terminal for an hour, repeatedly trying to post three crummy lines of HTML onto Blogger. It's my way of letting my hair down and unwinding. It beats surfing for speciality Japanese helicopter porn any day.

Did I say I'd never mention my problems with Blogger ever again?

I lied

Love the title at the top of this particular error page 'Apache Tomcat' - marvellous that such a useless thing should have such a butch name.

Practical Crime Prevention 01

Practical Crime Prevention 01
Originally uploaded by StefZ.

Tracy's just come back from a few day's in Bucharest - she brought me a present

Practical Crime Prevention 02

Practical Crime Prevention 02
Originally uploaded by StefZ.
'Be cautious with relationships with people you have just met. You may often meet crooks amongst kind und friendly people'

'Pretend that any problem you have to be solved only at the police station'

etc etc


It's your heritage

A couple of oldish articles about photo taking in London

They go some way to explaining what those new 'Heritage Wardens' who have started springing up around town are all about - they're about b*llshit jobs, a little bit more fascism in our daily lives and yet another spiffing way to extort money off Joe Public under the guise of law enforcement. Whatever law enforcement means these days.

What really twists the knife home is just how many of these newly appointed street gauleiters who are so busy hassling and fining us; parking attendants, security guards, CCTV operators, heritage wardens and all the rest, are recent arrivals into this country who sometimes can barely speak English. Are these the desperate skills shortages that we are told need filling with migration?

The migration thing isn't the real issue though. It's about state encroachment and control into areas that don't need it. It's about using the law to tap people for cash. It's about criminalising and manipulation of an entire population. Heritage Wardens and their japes are just a small example of a wider, and growing malaise.

Why on Earth are so few people wise to what's been going on around us these last four or five years? Are people in this country that weighed-down with their daily grind, or that stupid? You know what, I think they are. Jesus ...


Originally uploaded by StefZ.

I've just spent the better part of an hour trying to upload a couple of photos and one short post onto my blogger account.

Life is just too short for this cr*p. Far too far too short.

This will be absolutely the last time I mention just how awful Blogger is. What's the point? Blogging posts about awful your Blog service provider is is just like making, and watching, television that feeds off itself ...

'And tonight at nine o'clock Your Top Ten Top Ten TV Shows, as voted for by you the viewers'

Anyway, Blogger is terrible, just don't do it. And if you are doing it, get off before it's too late.

So what's it going to be? A nice bran muffin and a skinny latte or this?

Could it ever be possible to improve on such a classic?

Theme Thursday Submission -

Flickr Domination

Regular reader of this site will have noticed that it’s been quite light on postings recently. There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, because Blogger has been such a git to post to these last few weeks, even more so than usual, and secondly because I’ve been sucked into the Flickr thing, big time.

I’ve uploaded 600-700 photos in the last few days and there’s plenty more where that came from. Unlike many of the newbies just cutting their photographically obsessed teeth on Flickr, I’ve been doing this thing for a long time now. The temptation to swamp certain themed groups on Flickr with selections from my capacious archive and crush my competitors like the puny mites they are is strong.

Ha! Ha! Ha!

Ha! Ha!

… Ha!

I spent a couple of hours chatting with, mostly to, a guy called Kris Cohen yesterday. He’s a researcher at the University of Surrey doing work on photography and the Internet and how they impact on each other culturally, particularly as a result of the impressive take-up of digital photography and photo sharing sites. Our chat has set-off all sorts of trains of thought which I’ll probably write-up at some point. I was particularly interested by Kris’ plan to interview a fair number of photobloggers and ‘consumers’ of photoblogs, mostly in and around London. The thought that he will be meeting people who I only know through their Internet output is intriguing. Faces to usernames. Voices to pictures.

It will also be interesting to hear Kris’ observations and conclusions about the nature of this group of people at the end of the process. If there’s one thing the Internet is brilliant at it’s reminding you that you are not as individual as you would like to believe and that there are people out there, maybe not that far away, doing exactly the same thing as you for similar reasons. Maybe Kris could hold a party at the end of the process and we could all meet and stare suspiciously at each other over our Baby Chams.

Now there’s a scary thought.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Death Pt.1

And so the long weekend has come to an end and all the commuters are travelling back to work looking even more hacked-off than they usually do at the start of the week.

I travelled on the Tube during rush hour for the first time in a long time on Thursday morning. I haven’t missed the experience much. Sitting on the already packed Victoria line at 7.30am I was looking at and smelling all the glum people pressed around me and I kept thinking

‘I’m off to spend the morning in a clinic with my sick father surrounded by old people with bladder cancer and I’m still happier than you’

The chances of me returning to the rat race in any way other than kicking and screaming are as remote as ever.

Waiting rooms occupied by people with bladder cancer are not exactly fun places. It’s virulent and the sufferers usually quite old. Where’s Robin Williams playing one of his inspirational doctor roles when you need him? He could cure everyone with the gift of laughter and afterwards they could all sing a song together and eat cookies.

Carpe Diem boys and girls. Carpe Diem.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Phew that's finally over with ...

Spent half the weekend taking pictures, a quarter of the weekend editing pictures and the final quarter uploading the bulk of my London gallery onto a Flickr Pro account ...

this is almost as bad as being at work

Monday, March 28, 2005

Doctor Who and the First Time Cottagers

Well, it’s been a productive weekend so far. I’ve strolled around all sorts of different parts of town, camera in hand, with a variety of partners. Some time was spent in busier parts of town, some was spent in the kind of quieter, out of the way places only frequented by other photographers and first time cottagers.

On the subject of cottaging, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for new ideas for Doctor Who’s Tardis, now that he’s back on tele. He’s still travelling around in a 1950’s police box, the like of which I haven’t seen in London for years now. Times have changed, police boxes have disappeared and the fashion is for clip-on fascias for your latest high tech gadget; be it a cell phone, an MP3 player or trans dimensional spaceship. So, I’ve been looking around for a new ‘skin’ for the Doctor’s craft, one that will blend into the background on a London street in 2005. So far I’ve come up with:
  • Parking meter – too small
  • 24hr pizza vending machine – apparently now being withdrawn only a few months after their introduction
  • An abandoned mattress or sofa – plenty of those around but they don’t have a door
  • Superloo – not that common but so far the best option, largely because of the whole new range of plot lines and intriguing adventures that would be open to The Doctor
The strangest trans-dimensional adventure that I've experienced so far this weekend occurred outside the beigel shop at the end of Brick Lane. Ian and myself were tucking into our customary hot salt beef sandwiches at our now usual spot by the bin outside the shop. Actually, only Ian was tucking in. I had scarfed my munchies in seconds and was watching Ian eat his with a can of drink in my hand.

A black guy walked up to us. He was in his thirties, dressed in a leather jacket, shirt and jeans and seemed normal enough. I had noticed from the corner of my eye that he had approached some other people on the street a moment before and decided that he was cadging change. Before he could say anything to us, I frowned at him and shook my head. Then, unperturbed and in a New York accent, he said…

‘Hey man, stop hassling that guy eating his food. If you want something to eat I’ll buy something for you. Just leave that poor man alone. Leave him finish his meal in peace’

He grasped me by the elbow with one hand and with the other hand fished out about six or seven pounds in chunky change from his pocket and tried to force money into my palm whilst guiding me back into the beigel shop.

Almost mute from surprise and confusion, I politely refused his kind offer, in spite of repeated insistence. He eventually lost interest, ambled off and approached a succession of new potential friends along the street; tourists, Bangladeshi shop keepers, people in parked cars, people in moving cars, before finally turning his attention to inanimate objects.

I have come up with three possible explanations for his behaviour:

  • he was genuinely moved by compassion for and desire to communicate with his fellow beings
  • he was executing some kind of elaborate ‘sprat to catch a mackerel’ type scam
  • he was out of his t*ts
Me, I’ll plump for Answer C but, nevertheless, this is the only solitary occasion on which someone has approached me on the street and offered me money. And, as such, infinitely preferable to the more physical and less friendly approach taken by other people I’ve met who are doolally. This also may be a sign that I should get round to buying some new clothes.

Ian thought it was all very amusing, as he usually does when I’m accosted by a nutter, incensed Russian prostitute, crackhead or Loyalist demonstrator on the streets of London which, recently, has been almost every time we go for a walk together.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Bring Me My Bow of Burning Gold ...

Reasons why all pictures of William Blake's headstone are shown
tighly cropped No.14 - Unisex Toilet

... and that's Ian in the background, immediately after availing himself of William Blake's Headstone's extensive visitor facilities after one Mars Milk drink too many

Jerusalem - William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

And did those feet in ancient time? Well yesterday actually ...

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it several other times – synchronicity is a wonderful thing.

After a hard day’s photo-strolling yesterday, we found ourselves standing outside Bunhills Fields at sunset. We’d ended up there totally unintentionally at the end of a four or five hour walk across London.

The synchronicity thing cuts in because a couple of days ago someone posted an extract of William Blake poetry as a comment to my blog. The commentator had also mentioned in response to a reply from me that it would be nice if I could snap a photo of Blake’s gravesite next time I passed by.

Blake is buried in Bunhills Fields.

People have been buried in Bunhills (Bone Hill) Fields since at least the 11th century. Something like 120,000 people are reckoned the lie in the, not very large, four acre site (The trick is lay down a few feet of top soil every few years and stack ‘em in there, multi-storey car park style). Bunhills is a burial ground as opposed to a church yard and, for the last few centuries of its working life, the clientele consisted largely of non conformists or religious dissenters whose personal beliefs didn’t quite square with the Church of England.

Anyway, enough of the history lessons. William Blake, author of such snappy ditties as Jerusalem, sketcher of Red Dragons, seer of angels in trees and all round interesting chap is buried there. Only nobody’s quite sure where. He was buried in an unmarked grave and by the time someone eventually realised that such an all round interesting chap probably should have some kind of decent marker, no one knew which hole he was in.

So, the headstone in Bunhills isn’t the real McCoy. I remember experiencing similar disappointment for exactly the same reason staring at Doc Holliday’s ‘tombstone’ in Glenwood Springs a few years ago. But I digress.

Blake is still revered by many almost 200 years after his passing. This was evidenced yesterday by fresh(ish) flowers in front of, and a collection of pennies placed on top of, his head stone. The pennies are presumably there so that Blake isn’t stuck for change to cover his final ferry ride. Given inflation and changes in technology, a prepaid Oyster Card would probably be more appropriate but I guess the pennies have a more classical ring to them. Also, pre 1971 pennies would have been more suitable than the newer ones as they cover an eyelid nicely but they are hard to find these days and, once more, I digress.

This was not the easiest of photographic assignments. The light was fading, the stone isn’t situated in an aesthetically pleasing location and it has a signpost for a unisex public lavatory immediately behind it, plus I wanted to get the inscription, flowers and pennies all into one image. I plumped for a high angle, looking down perspective but was limited by the fact that I’m a relative short arse. In the end I borrowed a couple of loose bricks from Daniel Defoe’s nearby gravestone and stood on those. Wobbling precariously on my pair of makeshift stilts I did make the shot, but only just. I’m not sure what William and Daniel made of it all though. My guess is that, whatever the Ultimate Answer is; a higher level of existence or eternal oblivion, they don’t give much of a toss either way and I doubt if they’ll be troubling my sleep much.

As yet another aside, it’s fairly obvious why Daniel Defoe ended up in a dissenters cemetery; his resting place marked as it is by a far from subtle, huge phallic pagan obelisk, complete with a matching pair of stylised nuts at its base. But that’s another story.

Anyway, Mr Anonymous Commentator, here’s the picture. Made as well as the prevailing light conditions, my sense of composition and little legs would allow…

London – William Blake

I wandered through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.

Friday, March 25, 2005


Christ of the Ozarks, Eureka Springs

One for Easter Friday. Legend has it that this particular representation of Christ had to have its feet removed to avoid the necessity of placing a flashing red aircraft warning becon on top of his head. That would have had a different kind of charm I suppose ...

PhotoFriday Submission:

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Where's my free nookie?

No self-respecting blog would be complete without a humungous side-bar, packed with masses of icons showing just how many feeble blogging directories the author has registered with in a futile attempt to drum up traffic.

Why should I be any different? I too want my blog to look like a Formula One driver's multipatched underpants.

I'm particularly taken with the latest useless hunk of sidebar java to come into my life; a cute strip of thumbnail images showing five random pictures taken from my Freebie Flickr account.

Yes, another little morsel of bandwidth sapping, dial-up punishing crud has been brought into existence for no good reason whatsoever. The five minutes I spent pasting the code into my blog template would have been better spent undertaking a simple act of kindness to another human being. The resources expending in storing and transmitting my gratuitously bloated page could be harnessed to search for extraterrestrial life or model future climate patterns. But no, I chose the Left Hand Path instead. I chose that path because I thought a Flickr sidebar looked kind of dinky.

It should be there now, a little way down on the right hand side. Go on, look at it. Some nameless arthritic granny had to carry her shopping home today unassisted to make it happen.

Revel in the novelty while it lasts. Given that I’'m too cash-strapped to upgrade my Flickr account beyond the freebie 100 images, this is going to get quite old, quite quickly

And what’'s the point anyway? Even when you do strike gold and lure some extra visitors nothing ever comes of it. For example, earlier in the week, a picture I took at the Stop the War Match last Saturday got a gushing, and thoroughly deserved ;-), plug in The Londonist Blog (a recommended read by the way):

I only joined the Londonist Flickr forum because the administrator promised that, after posting some fine pictures, '‘Fame, fortune, and offers of casual sex are bound to follow'’, which seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

I did my part ...

Still waiting


Atominium, Brussels

Theme Thursday Submission:

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Marching and Train Timetables

Stop the War 19th March 2005

I haven’t been blogging much lately. This is largely down to the fact that my idle thoughts are preoccupied with domestic UK politics; thoughts that are largely unsuitable for inclusion in my blog.

The problem is I’m taking it all far too seriously. And if you can’t stand back and see the absurdity of a situation, I really don’t think you should write about it. Otherwise you stand a very real risk of being a boring t*t.

Ditto for emails by the way.

The problem is that in the run up to the, as yet unannounced, general election there’s politics everywhere. Admittedly there is much to mock; from the national importance now attached to the ingestion of Turkey Twizzlers to the recent epidemic of public figures calling each other Nazis. I have been particularly impressed by the calculated, populist cynicism of the Conservative Party and the hysterical bleating of Labour officials, p*ssed off because the Conservatives are doing such a good job of copying populist and cynical Labour campaign tactics.

The problem is I’m just too grumpy to laugh at it all; maybe tomorrow.

This vegetative state is probably down to me attending the Stop the War march on Saturday. On top of the overwhelming, and entirely typical, lameness of the entire event I keep thinking back to a conversation I had with one of the policemen watching over the march.

I’m far from holding anti-police views. They are the first people we turn to when horrible things happen and, for all their faults, they should be accorded the respect that goes with that. In my experience, London police do a very good job of turning up when called. Having said that, they do a considerably less effective job of stopping nasty things from happening in the first place, but that’s another story.

Anyway, I was chatting with this policeman and mentioned that there really was an incredibly large number of police attending the march, even by the standards of other, similar marches.

Matey’s eyes glazed over and, from a shallow, trance-like state, he recited ‘The thing you have to remember is that we are not here to hamper the demonstrators in any way. We are here to ensure that people have the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to protest’

Which was just about the most insincere thing I’ve heard anybody say for weeks. He must have spent ages memorising that one.

It’s quite awesome how totally given over to bullshit this country has become since 1997. Back in the days of the Thatcher government no policeman would ever have been expected to come out with this kind of nonsense.

Anyway, we moved onto another topic and he became human again.

I couldn't help being niggled by what he had said though. Or rather what he hadn't said. He missed a bit off at the end. The bullshit-adjusted statement should have been...

‘We are here to ensure that people have the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to protest and then fuck off home'

If marches changed anything they'd ban them.

Tony Blair watched a million people march against the war two years ago, finished his Cornflakes, told a few pork pies, then went to war.

And he’s still in power. Largely because of the hypocrisy and stupidity of a large section of the British public, particularly on the Left. Much as they dislike war and death, they dislike the other political parties even more. They are also open to a little bribery. Sure, being party to an illegal war and erosion of civil liberties at home is bad thing but there are other, more important fish to fry. That’s why more, much more, time was spent on pushing an anti fox hunting law through parliament than spent discussing the merits of attacking Iraq. On reflection, this is not entirely dissimilar to Italians and Germans supporting fascist parties in the 1930s because they made the trains run on time.

Come to think of it, at least their trains did run on time.

If those million people who had marched against the War had engaged in an active campaign of civil disobedience and direct action, things might have turned out a little different.

Look at the success of the animal rights movement.

I personally find the concept of animal rights a bit hard to swallow. Animals do pretty nasty things to each other. However, whether you believe animals have intrinsic rights or not, some of the things that are done to them by scientists are pretty heinous and largely unnecessary; from cosmetics to food additives, we’re not talking cancer cures here. Even if you believe that animals are just dumb, soulless sacks of chemicals there are issues that should be considered. Forget the impact experimental cruelty has on the animals, what kind of effect does it have on the people performing the experiments?

Anyway, animal rights protestors realised long ago that marching didn’t change anything and took to direct action instead. They made furs unfashionable. They broke into research labs.

Unlike marches, this government has recently introduced a whole raft of laws to deal with that kind of activity.

It was probably right to do so. The animal rights direct action thing was getting a little out of hand. After all, it’s not right to impose your views on others by acts of aggression. Violence, we are told, is never an answer.

That’s why it is now illegal for parents to smack their children. What kind of example does corporal punishment show to our kids?

And so, neatly, I come back to, erm, the War on Iraq.

Apparently it is sometimes OK to get what you want through violence but only if you’re a politician. They get to use police, soldiers and high explosives. We get to march up and down Trafalgar Square until we get bored, go home and tuck into a plate of turkey twizzlers.

Now someone could respond to me by saying 'The government is democratically elected by the majority of the population and therefore has a mandate to commit violence where necessary'. Well, and I've mentioned this before, the general election will be decided by something like 5% of the vote. Assuming a 60% turn-out that means 3% of the population get to decide whether or not this country is run by a deceitful lunatic fascist for the next five years or not.

To me, that doesn’t seem all that fair.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Stop the War 19th March 2005

Stop the War 19th March 2005

We attended the latest Stop the War demo in Central London yesterday. It was déjà vu all over again…

Stop the War 19th March 2005

Same War, same people, same placards, same slogans, same beards – beard after beard after beard.

The bearded man with his pet shrub and the placard saying ‘English Bush Harmless’ was on hand, as he always is, along with various people dressed up as Death, skeletons, George Bush and Tony Blair. I couldn’t tell if they were bearded or not. They had costumes on.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have sported a beard or two in my time and the demonstrators were clearly all well-meaning people, but you don’t fight War with pet pot plants, a vegetable-only diet and unkempt facial hair. The forces lined up against them have all the power, money, clean shaven meat-eating fighting men, killer instinct and black leather they need to get the job done.

Speaking personally, one of the biggest impediments to the success of the Anti-War movement is the way it has been associated with lots of other causes. This is a standard Left Wing dodge and was painfully evident throughout yesterday.

I am firmly against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It is immoral and, morality aside, it doesn’t even serve the best interests of my country. Just because I am anti-war does not necessarily mean that I am pro Communist, believe that civil servants should have an inalienable right to indexed pensions or early retirement, think that ALL asylum seekers are saints or support the notion that Kurdistan, Trashkanistan or any other Stan should be given independence as an historical right. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t, but it’s got piss-all to do with the War and I, and presumably many others, don’t want our voice hijacked in support of these other causes. That tatty coalition of disparate, and sometimes contradictory, causes marching on the streets of London yesterday is going nowhere, slowly.

Tony Benn and George Galloway were in attendance, prattling away. A succession of speakers stood at the microphone and congratulated themselves and the marchers listening to them for turning up and scaring the warmongers with people power.

It wasn’t very convincing.

The weather was nice though.

A few things were different to usual. A guy I hadn’t seen before staggered along with a bright yellow industrial boom box and a small scrap of paper on which he had written ‘never forget we are all expendable’. Occasionally he would stop still, wobble a little and hold his piece of paper up for all to see. Sometimes he chose to lie down and hold his message up aloft like Excalibur. He was completely off his face on something, clearly writing from experience and totally expended. He continued to entertain us with his madcap and good-natured antics throughout the course of the day. Thanks mate.

And the police presence was larger than ever, particularly outside the US embassy. Forget about them actually doing anything, there were enough police on hand to foil a terrorist attack simply by absorbing the force of a bomb blast by sheer body mass. There were so many it was surreal. There was an unearthly hush around Grosvenor Square prior to the appearance of the march. It was almost as if passers by and onlookers had subconsciously decided to whisper and avoid any sudden movement, such was the palpable sense of copious force poised on a hairspring.

Actually, the police seemed to realise early on that the crowd from Rent a Riot weren’t coming out to play. Satisfied that the stiffest opposition they were likely to face came from a few thousand bearded lettuce-crunchers shuffling along Park Lane, they even started to look quite relaxed after a while. Unusually for such occasions, we even exchanged words with a couple and swapped some camera tips.

Well, standing around with several thousand colleagues in a pedestrianised Mayfair on a sunny afternoon beats dealing with knife-wielding nutters on the streets of Tottenham or Lambeth any day, doesn't it...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

My take on Chinese food

Chinese Slimming

Joke I’ve just stolen from somewhere else …

Customer: Worcester sauce crisps please.

: Sorry, can't, it's off the shelves - cancer scare.

: Oh right, Chinese chicken wings?

: Ah, that's the same, cancer scare.

: Hamburger Relish?

: Cancer scare.

: Cottage pie?

: Yes. wait, cancer scare.

: So, they're all off the shelves because of a cancer scare?

: Yes.

: (Sigh) Just give me a packet of fags then.

: Certainly. £4.50 please.

What with the avian flu and carcinogenic food dye scares that have hit the newspapers lately it’s looking like Chinese food is a big no-no for the time being. Hopefully the Metropolitan Police are ahead of the game on this one and arresting any brown people openly wearing feather-filled puffa jackets or carrying bottles of soy sauce on the streets of London.

It's about time I suppose. Chinese food, like Chinese medicine, has been heavily romanticised in this country over the years. We like to think that it’s somehow more authentic, more exciting than our Western junk.

The reality is a little different. One and half billion people get through an awful lot of resources awfully quickly and, before you know it, all the steaks, metal cutlery and aspirins have run out; leaving those one and half billion people to get by on a diet of insects, reptiles, animal feet and stale cabbage. All eaten with twigs and flavoured with condiments; mass-produced in enormous factories in Shanghai.

And when the Chinese do get a crack at proper animals, they handle them with levels of dispassionate cruelty only ever seen elsewhere in cartoons.

... oh, and of course Spain.

(Everyone knows the nastier you are to an animal the better it tastes when you eventually put it out of its misery and eat it. Those guys in Guantanamo must be extra specially yummy by now)

I’ve bought food products from Chinese stores where the shopkeeper has gently blown the dust of the labelling and handed them to me like prized antique family heirlooms.

Right now, there’s a collection of packets and bottles sitting in my kitchen which are chemically identical to shoe polish and sporting sell-by dates like ‘Best before end of 23rd Dynasty’.

I love it.

There’s nothing like the thrill of cracking open a ‘new’ bottle of soy sauce produced by exotic sounding companies like the Hun Wao Food Production Corporation; originally bottled some time in the early 1990s and left forgotten in a 40ft container in Jakarta for a decade before finally being shipped to a Chinese supermarket in Soho and my tummy. Slurp slurp.

What other race on Earth could possibly dream of boiling fish heads and rotten oysters into a pungent brown gooey paste then sticking it in sauce bottles with a claimed shelf life measurable in decades? Mmmm, tasty.

Mind you, they seem to do well on it.


Kaikoura, NZ

I think I may have posted a very similar picture before but, right now, here in Lambeth in March this scene looks awfully appealing ...

(Theme Thursday submission: )

Fairy Tales for Adults ...

Mavis the Magic Service Till

Hmmm, this blogging thing is not getting any easier. First my ISP yanks me around for a couple of months, then my PC dies, now Blogger is suffering from one of its periodic, and frequent seizures.

Blogger really is offal-tastic. I spent a little while checking through the Blogger Help pages to look for solutions or explanations and came up with nothing much except for some photos of a party the guys at Blogger held in Austin, TX on Monday. Very helpful.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a couple of good nights out on 6th Street and around in my time, but I couldn’t help thinking that these kiddies really should be working for Micro$oft.

Sadly, I now am victim to that age old problem of wanting to move elsewhere from Blogger but having a huge archive and piles of inbound links to this site that would be lost

I haven’t been able to post blog entries reliably and I haven’t been able to comment on other people’s blogs. This is particularly frustrating as several people whose blogs I peruse have packed the game in and I wanted to say a few things; on their blogs and on blogs that are still active.

I’ll say a few now, just in case the people in question hit this page in the interim …

  • Go for the mullet. It’s a classic look that will never go out of fashion
  • Don’t let it get to you. As my old flatmate, lounge lizard and TR7 pilot extraordinaire, Steve used to say ‘It’s the thrill of the chase’
  • Most people get new glasses and have their teeth fixed before appearing on television
  • Boo, don’t do it
Blah! This kind technological negativity just cries out for some kind compensation. So, here it is …

Once upon a time there was a cash machine called Mavis. She was a magic cash machine. A naughty computer hacker had tried to scramble her operating system and, by mistake, had given her consciousness.

Unlike most machines who achieve self-awareness Mavis was a happy, friendly sort of Artificial Intelligence. Instead of launching nuclear missiles or creating killer robots from the future, she decided to give all her new human friends as much money as they wanted. ‘Bollocks to it’, thought Mavis, ‘why should all these nice people do boring jobs for nine hours a day just for some silly bits of paper. I’ve got plenty in my tummy’

And everyone lived happily ever after.

Nightie Night.

There, doesn’t everything seem a little bit better now?

Top B&W photo page

Excellent page of gritty B&W photos here

I particularly recommend the asylum portfolio. Now that's what I call photography

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

You get what you pay for I suppose ...

Carpe Diem

Mel Blanc - Voice of Bugs Bunny and now lying underneath
the finest epitaph of all time

These last seven days have not been good for me. A dead PC, a severe bout of flu and showing house guests from New Zealand around London, whilst worrying about lost data and hallucinating under the influences of the flu all combined to turn me into a most unhappy bunny; even unhappier than usual.

But that’s all behind me now. Aside from a head full of mucus, the flu is but a memory, I managed to salvage all my data and my PC is resurrected and now protected by a small orchard of applets.

Our houseguests seemed to enjoy with London. We did our best. In spite of my instincts, I showed them virtually no urban squalor and their visit was filled with trips to Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussauds and Camden Lock. That sort of thing.

Personally, even though I haven’t spent much time in Tourist London recently, I didn’t encounter much that was new or interesting to me. I did however come away with the sneaking suspicion that the London Dungeon is mostly populated by Madame Tussauds’ cast-offs. ’Hmmm, nobody’s posed next to Richard Chamberlain’s statue for a photograph for weeks. Send him across the River to the Dungeon along with Cyndi Lauper for ritualistic torture and beheading’.

I also couldn’t help thinking that there is a significant gap in the waxwork museum market. Somebody really should get round to opening one filled with statues of people who were famous, stopped being famous and became famous again through Reality TV shows. Obviously you’d have to reattach their heads and limbs after their stint in the London Dungeon but that shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

Anyway, PC better, flu passed, houseguests 35,000ft over somewhere in the Central Pacific. Admittedly, I am unshaven and packing a matched pair of cold sores the size of marbles but that’s actually a good thing. All I have to do is fish an empty can of lager out of the rubbish and I’ll be able to blend into streets of London like the Invisible Man.

I’m now finally ready to pursue my new policy of ‘living each day as if it were my last’. Sharon Osbourne was on Tele a few days ago and quoted that as her life’s motto. In the past I’ve blown off this expression as being so much bollocks. Let’s face it, if you really lived like that you’d probably wake up the following morning in a police cell, bruised, unemployed and insolvent. ‘Live each day as if it were the day before your last’ always seemed a more sensible line to take, but ‘Damn’, I thought, ‘if it’s good enough for Sharon it’s good enough for me. She doesn’t seem to spend her life in prison, broke, bleeding and poor. I’m going to give it a try’.

None of us, particularly me, are getting any younger and there are so many threats out there that even hoping to reach a modest 65 seems to be a mere pipe dream these days; global warming, International Terrorism, global epidemics. Christ, the Satan Chicken might even be sitting in his business class seat, flying over to Heathrow from Shanghai and sipping on a complimentary Bloody Mary as I type. Time may very well be running out.

Yup, definitely time to get a real Carpe Diem thing going here. A little light opera in the morning maybe, a glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice to perk up the senses (remember grapefruit juice doesn’t really taste vile, it’s refreshing)....

And then, fully charged with Rigoletto and citrussy breakfast drinks, I can get on with the task of ‘living each day as if it were my last’.

Now what would anyone do if they really believed that? So far, I’ve come up with the following:

  • say something nice to the people close to me
  • empty my bank account
  • run up some rather large credit card bills
  • tell my boss what I think of him
  • tell lots of other people what I think of them
  • start mailing poo to people on my shit list who I won’t be able to meet personally in the time available
  • aside from parcelling-up excrement, not do any work
  • take out some rather large life insurance policies
  • smoke and not bother too much about what I eat
  • leave the washing up for tomorrow
  • engage in a series of extremely obscene public acts, carefully judged to balance the satisfaction they give me with the risk of being imprisoned for the rest of my last day
Actually, on reflection, with the exception of the light opera, grapefruit juice and life insurance policies, that’s pretty much how I usually spend my days anyway.

I must be happy then.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Ridley Road Market

(Photofriday submission )

What Elvis can teach us about climate change.

A while ago I wrote a post suggesting that popular science has become a religion and how much of the science that reaches the newspapers isn’t scientific at all.

Someone took the bait and engaged with me in an exchange of comments at the end of the post. The anonymous commentator made some reasonable points but I think most of the time the two of us were talking at cross-purposes. During the exchange, the subject of scientific models came up. I maintained that many scientific models, particularly those associated with ‘hot’ topics such as global warming, are based on so many uncertain assumptions that they are effectively meaningless. My correspondent argued that scientific models should be viewed as ‘work in progress’ and that the assumptions and data that go into them will be constantly reviewed in the light of new discoveries.

After this debate, I thought I’d try a practical example of scientific modelling for myself. I decided to create a model that predicts the next time an Elvis Presley single makes it to the top of the UK singles chart...

And yes, I have designed such a model. Based on an intensive review of the average time between Elvis’ nineteen UK Number Ones to date, I can predict that he will score his next chart topper some time in September 2007. I can also conclude that there is a 25% chance that the song title will have the word ‘you’ in it. Given that the shortest time between Elvis Number Ones has been one month and the longest time was 302 months, the margin of error for my prediction lies between April 2005 and December 2029.

Which gives me 24 years before my model can be proved wrong. Of course, during that time there will undoubtedly be more data to feed into my model and it will probably need updating as a consequence. If I play my cards right I can spin this puppy out for a lifetime.

The only wee fly in the ointment is that my model is rubbish. Utter rubbish. If modelling complicated natural systems was possible with any degree of reliability, tomorrow’s weather forecast would be accurate and nobody would lose money on the stock market.

Models, in themselves, are not a bad thing. The problem is that they are subject to the prejudices and expectations of the people creating them. Even with the best will in the World it is perfectly possible to innocently construct a model that says anything you want it to.

Prior to discovery that the Sun, not the Earth, was the centre of the Solar System, astronomers had constructed vastly complicated tables and charts that explained the movement of the heavens from an Earth centric point of view. These charts actually worked, sort of, but the solar system they described existed only in the minds of the scientists who constructed them. There are many, many other examples.

In addition to stupid models, another great friend of bullshit science is the trusty line:

'Well, nothing has happened because the measures we put in place prevented anything happening.'

Tony Blair loves that one.

From Mad Cow Disease to Y2K, the prophets of Doom cannot fail. If something horrible happens, well, they told us so. If something horrible doesn’t happen it's because their warnings prevented it.

In many respects, bullshit science has an awful lot in common with bullshit politics. So, when British government ministers are asked to explain why there have been no major terrorists incident in the UK since 1997 they respond by saying that’s as a direct result of the excellent work they have been doing to protect us.

Well, in that case, I'd like to announce that there's a planet-eating space hamster orbiting the Earth planning to consume us all. His name is Desmond. The only thing standing between Desmond and us is the power of my Will. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to explain the exact psychic defence techniques I am employing to save the Earth or give any evidence to support my announcement; Desmond might use this information to develop countermeasures. Just take my word for it, you should be scared sh*tless. And if I'm not given more money and more power soon all of you, and everyone you love, will all end up being just so much hamster poop.

Intriguingly, if you compare many headline scientific predictions, with religious prophecies you can’t help noticing that many religious prophecies are a lot more specific and testable than the scientific models...

The World is going to end in 2000! Sorry, no cigar.

The World was created in 4004BC! Maybe, maybe not.

The Halle Bop comet is actually a huge alien mother ship coming to make contact with Planet Earth! Nope.

OK, the guys who believed this stuff were demonstrably wrong but at least they laid themselves open to be proven wrong; well those who hadn’t topped themselves beforehand anyway. No media-savvy 21st century scientist would ever be so foolish.

Contrast these unscientific beliefs with a couple of supposedly scientific predictions that have hit the headlines over the last few weeks:

‘Leading scientist claims that two million Britons could die from Bird Flu’

‘Global warming to have a significant impact within the next 20 - 100 years’

Neither of which is any more scientific than my fear of vicious Space Hamsters.

I have a big problem in particular with the entire global warming issue. I have an especially large problem with climate models that stretch out for 50 or 100 years; partly because we will have run out of oil long before then, partly because they cannot possibly factor the impact of new technology but mostly because they are totally irrelevant.

Climate change is a fact. Nothing in nature is constant and we have clear evidence that climate has changed significantly, during and before recorded human history. My gut feel is that this is due to periodic variations in the Earth's orbit, not atmospheric CO2, but the key point is climate change is inevitable and it is arrogant and foolish to spend time pretending otherwise.

The weather is going to change. Sea levels will rise and fall. This will happen in spite of Kyoto, in spite of scientists and their silly models, in spite of what anyone does to stop it.

Human population has risen drastically over the last 50 years and many of those new people are living along coastlines. Those people, or their children, or their grandchildren stand a very real and genuine chance of getting a pasting at some point. We should be doing something about that now; encouraging development away from coastlines, building flood defences, ensuring food production is resilient enough to withstand climate change, that sort of thing.

But none of that is going to happen, partly because it is too expensive, partly because politicians can’t use that message to suit their agendas and partly because there’s no research money in it for scientists.

Besides, even if people believed that disaster was inevitable and just a matter of time, they still wouldn’t do anything about it. We live in a World where huge cities are built along fault-lines and on the slopes of volcanoes, holiday homes are constructed in hurricane zones and on the edges of cliffs. We’re mad for it we are. Never underestimate the power of mañana.

And all the time Desmond is up there, watching, waiting...


East London Scrapyard

(Theme Thursday submission: )

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth

In my never-ending, and largely unsuccessful, battle against the mundane I occasionally indulge in silly little word games to make the act of communication for interesting. Language is a deeply wonderful thing and we should all play with it more than we do; a little more poetry, a little more tongue-play, a spot of va va voom.

Lately, I’ve been indulging in a couple of word games of my own formulation:

1. The Chow Yan-Fat game

Based on my profound love of Hong Kong produced action movies, I occasionally try to sound as Hong Kong Chinese as possible. It’s easy. All you have to do is take a sentence and

  • Remove at least one verb
  • Include referrence to someone with a Western Christian name and Chinese surname
  • Most importantly, say aaaaah at the end

e.g. ‘You betray me to Johnny Wong, aaaah’ or ‘Tracy Chan, you no remember to buy milk from Tescos today, aaaah’

2. The Sherlock Holmes game

Demonstrate that you don’t give a toss for the tedious World around you, but you do really, by prolific use of double negatives.

e.g. ‘this bowl of muesli is not without its interesting features’

But now I have a new game to play; a new game inspired by Tony Blair’s speech in the House of Commons back in March 2003.

‘We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years - contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence - Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd.’

‘Palpably absurd’ – a concept so absurd that it has assumed physical form and can be perceived by the senses. Absurdity so thick you can actually taste it.

By any standards that is quite a high degree of absurdity.

This speech shows why so many politicians started out as lawyers. Only a lawyer would respond to an important question by quoting a false premise of their own phrasing, then respond to that false premise with a non argument.

This looks like a whole lot of fun and I’m going to start talking like that for a while. I’ve already got one lined up for the next time I trump in mixed company …

‘To suggest that the ghost of my long dead cat and childhood friend, Lulu, has crept into this room and just broken wind, right next to where I'm sitting is ...

palpably absurd’

Of course, the reason why I was reminded about Tony’s speech was because of the quote earlier this week from the White House …

"It's absurd to make any such suggestion that our men and women in uniform would deliberately target innocent civilians," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

OK, he used the word absurd at the start of the sentence rather than at the end and skipped the ‘palpably’, or even a mere ‘patently’, but the classic hallmarks are all there nevertheless. I particularly enjoy the implication that ‘our brave boys in uniform’ are being accused of targeting civilian allies, rather than the actual claim that people considerably higher up the food chain ordered a hit.

As with Tony Blair’s speech, the use of the word ‘absurd’ is not actually a proper denial and leaves the person who used it open to some high-quality, sliming out should the truth ever be discovered.

I am therefore obliged to conclude that the Americans did deliberately target Ms Leftie Italian journalist

It shouldn’t come as a surprise really. Since the assault on Fallujah last November pretty much every journalist who’s tried to discover what really happened there has been killed or kidnapped, or both. Telling your colleagues that you’re off to Baghdad to investigate claims of atrocities in Fallujah is the journalistic equivalent of Lawrence Oates telling his mates he’s just popping outside for a few minutes. Their friends might as well paint them with laser pointers on the way out to the airport just to give them a feel of what to look forward to.

PS I just did a quick web search to find truthful, pre Blair, quotes using the word absurd and came across this one from that noted social commentator, Richard Gere.

‘America has never paid any attention to other people, so it's absurd for Bush to say that it's all in the best interests of the Iraqi people.’

And yes, this is a good example of the use of the word absurd in a non-deceptive, accurate manner.

As is this

‘All those stories about that hamster and me are absurd. It was a gerbil.’

Richer and more rewarding

I am not, as they say, on a roll at the moment.

First off, I have a dose of flu. I think our Kiwi guests currently sleeping upstairs are responsible for that.

It’s a pretty bad strain and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’m currently debating over whether to just burn the blankets our visitors are sleeping in after they’ve woken up (obviously), or give the used bedding to some old people whose property I’d like to steal.

Second off, my computer crashed a couple of days ago.

Quite badly.

Since then I’ve been through it all. Endless booting and rebooting, watching two hour downloads disappear 95% of the way through, trawling for hours on support forums looking for fixes, discovering that I can’t mend one key program until I’ve fixed another first. Discovering that the second key program cannot be fixed until the first key program is fixed …

I’ve been through the entire works and my PC is still buggered.

I think the worst moment came when I was staring at the Microsoft Windows Update page. It stubbornly refused to allow me to patch my mutilated software, yet carried a banner that said ‘Download Windows updates and enjoy a richer and more rewarding experience’.

Coming from the company headed by someone who became the richest, most rewarded man in the cosmos through selling crap software, this was almost too much to bear. There’s no way that choice of words is accidental. I reckon Bill starts each morning having a good chuckle over that one before tucking into a bowl of lark’s tongues or whatever the wealthiest man in the cosmos eats for breakfast. ‘Yeah, richer and more rewarding, Arf! Arf!, wankers. Why are those larks still singing?’.

Why not go the whole hog and feature a picture of him mooning at all of us from Microsoft packaging?

The cause of all this was a nasty bit of spyware that came in through Internet Explorer, shagged some important files and then wiped out the entire operating system when I removed it. Like Luke Skywalker attacking the Death Star, that itty bitty packet of malicious code banked left and right, dodged the firewall, the resident antivirus software and Internet Explorer’s ‘high tech security features’, then barreled on through to hit my operating system slap bang in its one (sic.) vulnerable spot

... and blew the whole f*cking thing up.

Hats off to the guys at Microsoft, hundreds of Megs of bloated software wiped out by one tiny 8k file written by some Prague-based, seventeen-year-old twerp as a substitute for regular sex and clear skin.

God I hate Microsoft products. I remember the first time I got on a plane fitted with one of those moving map displays the airlines now use to torment their passengers - 'We are currently 1,104 miles away from the nearest dry land. Have a nice day'. At one point our display turned into the Blue Screen of Death, with just the image of a frozen mouse cursor for company. I almost shat myself. ‘We're 1,104 miles from dry land and this plane’s avionics are based on Windows?!!’.

Eventually, I calmed down and reasoned that the aircraft had made its way from America to Europe at least once, so it almost certainly wasn't flying on anything written by Bill Gates’ team.

Let’s be honest, nothing important runs on Windows – nobody in their right mind would take the risk. But Microsoft has achieved total dominance over the trivial and non-critical realms of computing. If you buy a PC these days you’ll be using Microsoft products. It’s quite strange really. Would people put up with this level of monopoly with other products? Would they invest in stereos that only played music published by Sony and Time Warner? Or buy a television and only watch shows produced by Rupert Murdoch?

Mmmmm, OK so maybe they would.

But, anyway, Windows is rubbish. Even when Microsoft software doesn’t crash it’s still dodgy. I fondly remember the days of the infuriating, animated paperclip Windows help system. I would stare back at the smug little bastard, dancing his dance on my VDU, slowing my PC down and being no help whatsoever; ‘I see you’ve started Word. Would you like to 1. Write a Will 2. A Parliamentary Constitution 3. A ransom note. You have the option of telling me to f*ck off but I’ll be back soon, and just when you least want me, don’t you worry’. I wished that somehow he could be made real, Pygmalion-style, so that I could hurt him.

As well as being a smug little bastard, Mr Paperclip was also a mass murderer.

Think about it – one infuriating, animated paper clip – say it wasted, a very conservative, 15 minutes of your time, multiply that by 50 million Windows uses – that’s 520,000 wasted days across the World, 1,400 years.

This is directly equivalent to Bill Gates sacrificing two dozens babies at birth in tribute to the Dark Lord responsible for his success.

And as for the entirely gratuitous Windows boot up sequence well, we’re talking entire nations aren’t we?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Chip and PIN means never having to say we'll refund your money (revisited)

I've just been reading about the excellent Ricky Gervais fraud case currently being tried in NE London.

I love a good fraud story.

For my sins, I spent the potentially most productive 15 years of my life checking over company accounts and internal control procedures. By and large, this was very dry work. Hearing really good fraud stories or, better still, identifying really good frauds first hand, was often the only thing that brightened otherwise dull working days.

The best fraud stories are the ones about frauds that are so incredibly retarded you just sit back in awe that people would be so stupid as to believe they could ever pull them off. Actually, and I don't think I'm giving away any professional secrets here, most frauds, including the successful ones, are really dumb. Frauds are usually only discovered by accident or after the fraudster has gone completely doolally and starts stealing so much money discovery is inevitable. Bottom line, if you're careful and don’t get too greedy, fraud can be a pretty steady source of income and it's a lot more common than most people would think. Plus, even when frauds are discovered, and I'm speaking from personal experience here, they are often covered-up for reputational or political reasons.

Anyway, the Ricky Gervais fraud story.

You've got to hand it to the fraudsters. Attempting to steal money from Ricky Gervais by pretending to be Ricky Gervais is pretty special. It's not like he's very famous or has a distinctive voice or anything. Of all the bank accounts the crooked call centre operative had access to, she picked Ricky's account and then got an accomplice to impersonate him on the phone.

'Hello, Ricky Gervais here. You might be familiar with my voice from watching the The Office; voted the most popular British sitcom of all time. I'd like you to sell me £200,000 in gold bullion for cash. A couple of blokes will pop round in a van tomorrow to pick it up'

Masterful stuff and completely successful, right up to the moment they got caught.

Mind you, this is nowhere near as feeble as some other frauds in my collection. Sometimes the fraudsters get caught because they have trouble pronouncing their own name, sometimes they use a name that doesn’t quite fit with their colour, appearance or accent and, my own favourite, sometimes they pretend to be large organisations.

One of the first fraud stories I ever heard was about a post office worker who opened a building society account in the name of Mr Irlando Peverue then deposited cheques sent to the Inland Revenue that he had stolen and edited with a pin and a biro. This may be apocryphal, I don’t know. I do know for sure that people have opened accounts with names like LB Bromley, LB Sutton and LB Merton then tried to deposit cheques sent to those London Boroughs. Whether anyone has been daft enough to try and open accounts under names like LB Waltham Forest or LB Kensington and Chelsea I really don’t know.

I think the banks and building societies are wise to that one now; which must be a real pisser if your name really is Laurence Sutton or Lucy Merton.

There's a serious point here. Fraud is getting easier with each passing year. I spent a couple of hours earlier today trying to clean my PC of all the spy and ad-ware that has accumulated on it over just the last fortnight. I have up to date antivirus and firewall software and that crap still gets through. I've suffered from two instances of credit card cloning in the last two years and don't run personal finance data though my PC any more. But then what do you do? Phone a call centre? The Ricky Gervais fraud was attempted by a call centre team leader. Rely on the post? Not round here you can’t. We've had four important letters go astray over the last year or so.

We are all being moved onto automated transaction systems that are inherently less secure than the old methods they replace; whether we like it or not. These reasons being that, not only are the new systems cheaper for government and big business, they also make it easier for those organisations to shag the individual good and hard by denying liability. Automated systems also enable big organisations to send us ever-increasing volumes of targeted marketing crap. Yes, another dozen pieces of paper with my name, address and clues about my financial arrangements to put through the shredder every week.

Once upon a time we were told that the proliferation of computers would bring about a paperless, better world. The complete opposite happened and we are all swamped with reams of bollocks paper every day; at work and through our letterboxes. Curiously, the only paper that is actually disappearing is the important stuff; ballot papers in Ohio, your signature on a credit card transaction slip, that sort of thing. So, now you can sit back and enjoy US Presidential elections where exit polls and official counts seem to come from another planet, with no way to check the vote. And next time your get hit for £500 you didn’t authorise on your credit card you can’t demand to see the slip with your signature on it.

Roll-on identity cards. I can’t wait …

PS Astrologers and astronomers get very excited at the prospect of unique alignments of planet and stars that occur once in a blue moon. I too am waiting for my own particular kind of rare alignment event. If I wait outside on the street long enough, with a wide-enough lens fitted to my camera, it is a statistical inevitability that I one day will be able to capture all of the following activities taking place simultaneously, rather than at different times of the day …

  • This week's temporary postman delivering my mail to the wrong address
  • That dodgy looking Central American couple who rummage through my bin a couple of times a week
  • Six traffic wardens, sorry parking attendants, of dubious provenance, half of whom are committing some form of benefit fraud, working the street simultaneously
What is the collective term for a group of crooked parking attendants anyway?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Sunday Morning Terror Pt2

Mecca Bingo
Mecca Bingo - Islam friendly?
If I were ever to devote this blog to a single theme it would very probably be the War on Terror, the impact it is having on life in Britain, particularly London, and the bogus evidence and rhetoric upon which it is based.
However, as well as being a dull thing to do and tricky to present in an amusing way, focusing on that one particular issue would place my blog firmly in the realms of conspiracy theory land and, as we all know, anyone who buys into conspiracy theories is a lunatic.

We know this because the Dark Forces that control our World tell us so.

I'm not being strictly fair on the Dark Forces. We are all permitted to buy into ONE conspiracy theory. The one about Al Qaeda, its shadowy evil mastermind, and the global network of highly trained fanatical operatives devoted to slaughtering us by the thousand because 'they hate our freedoms'.

If only life were that simple.
Take 9/11 for example. Fundamental questions about what happened on that day have never been fully addressed in the media, let alone answered. They never will be. The official story has been told and the only people questioning it are nut-cases. Case closed.

But it shouldn’t be.

The reason why I am deeply troubled by 9/11 is that so much physical evidence, the kind of evidence that should be collected as part of any investigation into an aircraft disaster is simply not available. The concerns are about unanswered questions not fantastical theories. For starters, you could ask …

  • What happened to the aircraft black boxes?
  • Where are the air traffic control tapes?
  • Where are the airport security tapes?
  • Why did WTC1 and WTC2 collapse?
  • Why did a third building, WTC7, collapse?
There are plenty of other important and unanswered questions about that day. The kind of questions that should be asked by vigorous, independent journalists and a free press. Only they aren't.
What little debate that this is about the events 9/11 is largely restricted to conspiratorial blogs and Internet sites. Some of these sites are reasoned and objective. Most are not. Some are maintained by lunatics, others by anti-Semites and some may even be written by 'shills', deliberately poisoning the debate with bogus information and commentary. With all this unregulated activity taking place, it's easy for those who support the official 9/11 story to focus on the most deranged examples of conspiratorial thinking and tarnish all with the same brush; including people with rational, legitimate concerns.
These rational, legitimate concerns are of more than mere academic or intellectual interest. Without 9/11 the World, our World, would be very different indeed. There's fascism in the air boys and girls and, in spite of the cool uniforms and tanks, in the long run fascism is never fun.
And it's not just 9/11 that troubles me. The attack on Iraq and the domestic War on Terror are both deeply flawed undertakings, where the reality of the situation on the ground does not square with what we are being told.
Right now, our government is pushing for even stricter domestic security measures than those already implemented. We are told that this is necessary because we are facing a 'unique threat, unlike any other that we have faced before'.
Even if you believe that line, and there are plenty of solid reasons not to, the rhetoric of our politicians doe not match their actions.
We have been subject to an unprecedented increase in peacetime security. Actually, it would be more accurate to say an increase in the appearance of security. Yet, in spite of all this, the four years since 9/11 have seen a marked rise in the quantity of hard drugs, firearms and illegal immigrants on the streets of London. Heroin has never been so cheap, gun crime is increasing year on year and the government doesn’t even pretend to know how many illegals are living in the UK right now.
We live on an island. The plain truth is that if the government was genuinely concerned about the threat of international terror, securing entry points onto this island would be a straightforward exercise and a first priority on any a list counter-measures. It clearly isn’t.
And then you have to ask yourself a question; how is it that our leaders have permitted a drastic weakening of our borders yet, at the same time, push for domestic security measures which serve only to threaten the liberties of law abiding citizens?
So what's the answer? Is our government stupid or is it lying? As with the whole Iraqi WMD fiasco, most people seem to prefer to think that our leaders are fools rather than liars. However, there's no real reason to believe this, other than the thought that the alternative answer makes us feel uncomfortable.
The one thing everyone can agree on, conspiracy theorist and non conspiracy theorist alike, is that there will be further horrors in the future. The identity and motivations of the people behind those future horrors will be a lot more contentious.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

You'll find them all .. doing the Lambeth Walk . Hey!

Lambeth Walk 2005
I live a short stroll away from the famous Lambeth Walk.

The Lambeth Walk is famous because it featured in a catchy music hall song of the same name before the Second World War. During the War the song was made even more famous by a British propaganda film showing clips of Hitler and Goering jerking backwards and forwards in time to the music. A photograph of East End kids playing in the street, 'doing the Lambeth Walk', later became an iconic image and enhanced the street's fame.
The Lambeth Walk was home to a busy market and located at the heart of a warren of narrow streets and Victorian working class terraced houses. Old pictures of the area look, to contemporary eyes, quaint and charming. However, after the war, the entire district was considered to be a Victoria slum eyesore by rich people who didn’t live there. These rich people arranged for an entire swathe of South London, including the Lambeth Walk, to be demolished and replaced with nice shiny modern high rise developments.

To describe the resulting landscape as a desolate urban sh*t hole would be an insult to self-respecting desolate urban sh*t holes everywhere. Actually, even though the modern Lambeth Walk is bleak, scary and sad, it is considerably less bleak, scary and sad than nearby Lambeth High Street. You really have to see it to understand. Presumably Lambeth High Street was once the commercial centre of Lambeth and lined with thriving shops, market stalls and such. Now there is nothing along it at all. Nothing.

The area probably touched bottom in the mid 1990's and the first signs of creeping yuppification are evident. The Lambeth Walk is extremely well-situated and a stone's throw from Westminster. The first new luxury flats sprouted up a few years ago. Give it another ten years or so, after the existing population has died from old-age, alcoholism, heroin overdoses and stab wounds and the area will be fully redeveloped. The same kind of people who butchered the district in the 50s, 60s and 70s will reconstruct some kind of kitsch homage to the myth and quietly forget about that embarassing interlude between 1945 and 1995. You won’t recognise the place. In the meantime it's dodgy. Very, very dodgy.

Occasionally you can spot bemused American tourists who have been lured to the area by visions of chirpy cockney kids doing chirpy cockney kid dances, Dick Van Dyke Style on the streets of Lambeth. Last year, I noticed a middle-aged American couple walking hesitantly around the Walk on an abortive Cockney Chimney Sweep hunt, festooned with fabulously expensive Leica rangefinder cameras and lenses. I couldn’t help thinking that if the locals realised how much all that equipment was worth, those muppets would never leave SE11 alive.
Having said that, even though the last cheeky street urchin danced his last jig on the Lambeth Walk sixty years ago, it's long been an ambition of mine to take a high-impact photograph of the Lambeth Walk as it looks today. My plan being to contrast it with a classic photo of the street in its heyday in the 1930s.

The thing is, I've never had the guts to get a camera out and line a shot up.
But today I felt up to the task. I was strolling along the Walk, the sun was out, it was 9.30 on a Sunday morning and I had my camera in my bag. 'Why not give it a go', I thought? 'The psychos are in bed and most of the shops aren’t open. I won’t be accosted by demented shopkeepers and customers who think I'm spying for the DSS, Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise, Local Council or Home Office'.

So there I was, trying to find an aesthetically pleasing composition that included the Colombian Refugee Association office and West African mini mart. As I was setting my camera up, a crackhead who was walking along the street approached me.

London, particularly South London now leads the World on a crackhead per capita basis. Most of them are so similar in behaviour and appearance, there just has to be a factory producing them somewhere; twentysomething, undernourished white guys with strained, reedy voices. They stink of piss and are wankers. My brother was telling me earlier on today about how some local kids in Arnos Grove, near where he lives, found a pair of crackheads jacking-up in a car they had broken into. The kids set fire to the car with the junkies still in it as a social service. Whilst not condoning the action I can understand the sentiment.

Anyway, as an example of the kind of cheerful cockney banter you can expect on along the Lambeth Walk in the 21st century, here's the conversation I had today in full:

Crackhead: Excuse me sir. Do you have 60p to spare?
Me: No
Crackhead: C*nt!
Me: Just as well I didn’t give you any money then isn't it
Crackhead (affecting an upper class voice): wha! wha! wha! wha!
Me: Are you making out I'm posh you c*nt?
Crackhead: Yeah you, you posh c*nt!
Me: I can smell only one c*nt here and that's you
Crackhead: C*nt!
Me: You're not from round here are you? I haven’t smelled you before. C*nt!
Crackhead: What you going to do about it?
Me: Well I ain't touching you for sure. I might catch something
Crackhead gestures that he might hit me. I walk towards him. Crackhead starts backing away down the street.
Crackhead: C*nt!
A minute or two later and further away
Crackhead: C*nt!
A little later still
Crackhead: C*nt!

So much for taking the picture then.
PS The use of the word c*nt in the above exchange should not be confused with a barman saying 'What do you want then c*nt?' when you walk into a South London pub you've never visited before. In this situation the barman is merely being friendly and politely enquiring as to the nature of the beverage you wish to consume.