Archive | December, 2011

Punch up in Church!

28 Dec

Worth a look and a laugh. Its not the first time these fine religious chaps have got stuck into each other. Its the place where Jesus is said to have been born and he’s so special to the three different outfits that “share”this space that on a yearly basis they launch into each other. A bit like Bedford High St at certain times of year. Saturdays!


It’s uphill from now on!

28 Dec

Not one to been supporting religious mumbo jumbo here’s a nice pic from the winter solstice festival at Stonehenge from earlier this week!

Go around many cities, towns and villages in the Netherlands and you’ll see “Christmas” lights and wreaths still adorning doors long after we’ve put them up in the loft. Reason being its got sod all to do with Jesus, its an ancient way of either celebrating or revering the darkest part of the year, looking forward to it slowly getting lighter each day and the coming of the crop cycle. I said cycle not circle.

Anyway back to the Druids at Stonehenge. As much as the current festive season has been hijacked by christianity, Stonehenge has been hijacked by people in white sheets and as much as the powers that be like to see them parading round the stones on the shortest and longest day of the year its all baloney. That said I’m quite pleased to see that they’ve been allowed inside the wire fence and I hope that its not exclusive to the bed sheet brigade. Not been there for a good eight years or so and I’m enjoying “Hengeworld” by Mike Pitts very much!

Stonehenge was built to answer questions, to probe our relationship with the wilderness of the skies and to be a place of celebration in whatever style is current, not so much of that these days but as far as dark nights go its uphill from here!

Minimum Security

22 Dec

Things don’t really come much cleverer and witty than Minimum Security and sister cartoon strip Code Green by Stephanie McMillan. As a comment on her website says, calling Stephanie a cartoonist is like calling Paul McCartney a musician, its correct but vastly understated. There’s serious humour in her cartoons but there’s far more and a wide understanding of the environment, its manipulation by corrupt governments, state repression of anyone who objects and…well have a look!

The People of the Abyss

21 Dec

You may, like me, have been brought up on books by Jack London and titles like Call of The Wild and White Fang. All “boys own” stuff. His most complete book differs in being social documentary and based on his stay in the East End of London in 1902. Called “The People of The Abyss” it’s 110 years old and the final paragraph is reproduced here:

There can be no mistake. Civilisation has increased man’s producing power a hundred fold, and through mismanagement the men of civilisation live worse than the beasts and have less to eat and wear and protect them from the elements than the savage Innuit in a frigid climate who lives today as he lived in the stone age ten thousand years ago.

“Every bench was filled with sleeeping occupants”

Its a devastating account of life for the inner city poor at the time, when starvation on the street, particulularly the disabled and mentally ill was the norm. Once people’s ability to contribute to the industrial process and be good little productive units had expired, brute Darwinian theory kicked in, those unable to face the fight to get into the night shelters were left out and corpses were regularly removed from the streets to Paupers Burial Grounds. Engels wrote pretty much along the same lines in the 1840s using Manchester as his stage!

A report has been issued today (Dec 21st) which shows that albeit with a bit of tinkering the same situation still exists and those living on the streets and the margins as we head to 2012 can expect to die on average 30 years before the majority mean number.

To boost their popularity, the Government have announced tuppence extra to help at this special time of year and I’m not going to state what it is as its not worth bothering about. By the time you divide it amongst affected authorities and bodies, its worth jack shit more so when you see what David Cameron has been spending from public money so his kitchen looks good.

The Bedford connection is both tenuous and very clear?!”? Half way down Pre-Bend St is an anonymous looking entry into BECHAR a centre for the homeless and rootless of the town that we should all be aware and supportive of. Its a lifeline to those that pass through its doors and if we differ at all from the images that Jack London described, there is a well established safety net in place offering support but its always conditional and these places exist hand to mouth and uncertain if their funding will be there next year.

Many people are just three months from the threat of being homeless and when you find yourself out of work and unable to pay the bill mental health issues follow for some and its these that escape the net and succumb to health issues like undiagnosed diabetes, bronchial infections and more. Best summed up by the ska group Madness and their song Johnny The Horse from 1999 about a homless man with mental health issues kicked to death on the streets.

I’ve attached links to the BBC News site which makes stark reading and I’ve also attached the link to BECHAR in Bedford.

A Grand Day Out!

20 Dec

If you really must know what we got up to yesterday then Debbs has surprised us all by hammering out a spelling mistake laden review as we wandered round Oxford St and the East End. It can be found on the rather sparse and much neglected Things to Do page. The Savage Messiah exhibit was on my list and given that one of our number has one of them I Phone gizmo things scrolling down to the bit that said “closed Monday” might have saved us some time. And I never got Nash the Slash!

Fiddling while we get burnt!

20 Dec

The good old British Parliament released a damning report on dodgy corporate tax deals earlier today and the media is filled with comment!
Protect group UK Uncut were the first to reveal the details of the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) scandalou report which hit the headline earlier today (Tuesday 20th Dec). UK Uncut hid the headlines earlier this year when they staged a mass peaceful sit down demonstration in Fortnum and Masons during what would otherwise have been a fairly dull wander round London in March. The report which was subjected to some quite fine dissection by the Radio 4 Today team describes systematic failures and fundamental concerns at the way HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) operates regarding its handling of billions of pounds worth of tax disputes. In short, big companies are allowed to decide how much tax they want to pay. They employ tax super experts (or at least people with more knowledge than Her Madges Revenue staff) who then run rings round the state. The state then agrees with them and they cream off millions. What happens next is that we get asked to make up the shortfall which we seem to do obligingly so long as it doesn’t interfere with the latest talent show on the TV

This report is an important reflection of fourteen months of UK Uncut campaigning by people up and down the country.

Here’s a summary of the key points from the PAC report:

HMRC is currently sitting on £25bn worth of tax disputes from 2,700 companies.

There is an unfair disparity between the way some large corporations and ordinary tax payers are treated by the tax office. Companies have millions wiped off their tax bills, or they are given ten years to pay their liabilities without interest. Small business owners or individuals do not receive this favorable treatment.

HMRC is unaccountable and secretive. Neither parliament, nor the general public, have any oversight. The Parliamentary Accounts Committee finds it farcical that HMRC keeps details about high value corporate tax deals that involve billions of pounds secret although at the same time The ConDem junta are trying to prevent Freedom of Information legislation from applying to cabinet meetings. They argue that there is less justification for keeping tax information about big companies confidential than for information about individuals.

That when called into Parliament to answer important questions about controversial tax details that have lost the public billions of pounds, Dave Hartnett – the chief tax man – gave “imprecise, inconsistent, and potentially misleading” information. Senior officials are seriously failing to be open and accountable.

That HMRC routinely ignores its own governance procedures and that we have a ludicrous situation where those negotiating tax deals can also ‘sign off’ on these deals, sometimes even without third party legal oversight. This means that some of these tax deals could not only be outrageous, but also unlawful.

There is a complete failure by tax officials to take any responsibility for HMRC’s failings.

The end result of the March occupation of Fortnum, and Mason, a fairly peaceful and jovial affair even (which we didn’t see as we were over near Hyde Park Corner) was mass arrests and subsequent failed legal action again at public costs.

Yoda my name is! (or fun with Freedom of Information)

18 Dec

There’s two very valuable pieces of legislation out there that are essential tools if you value openness namely the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and the lesser known Environmental Information Regulations. With FOI it helps if you know the type of answer you are expecting and if you know the answer before you start you are on the right road.
There are all manner of trips and excuses that public bodies i.e. local councils and Police Forces can use to fox you so the whole thing is like playing chess only as a member of the public you only have a certain amount of moves and I’ve long since worked out that the counter strategy is to hope that you’ll become so exasperated with what you get you’ll sod off.
I’ve received a response to a series of questions placed to Bedfordshire Police as to their use of the drugs team and sniffer dogs at a public facility last year with no results and a cover up afterwards to stop this non event becoming public knowledge. Now I know the answers to most of the questions already but the reply really is gibberish masquarading as masterful use of polite words! Confusion and a predetermined move to simply refuse to provide the correct answers.It’s on a par with Yoda from Star Wars or the plot of the BBC Sherlock Holmes show, just waffle, no answers. I’ve asked them where the “tip off” about the non existant drugs came from (it was made after a very ill thought out spying exercise by a company called Viridor) but the reply harps on about trust between the police and public. I’ve had similar replies from Bedfordshire Plod before, equally evasive and I didn’t expect anything else this time round! I have recourse to the complaints system however I’m keeping my powder dry for another time!
In the meantime FOI is highly valuable providing you use it right. This is why many councils and similar have invested in staff not to provide the answers but to to tie you up in knots if you ask “those sort” of questions. Most people are in the dark about the FOI Act and likewise the process for challenging reluctance is equally like a David Lynch film (try Inland Empire) and the national angle to this is moves to make the goings on in the ConDem Cabinet exempt from FOI. So think about it. Government ministers meet, decide stuff of national importance and us gormless gits have no right to know what’s going on!
There’s a particular good book by Heather Brooke called “The Right to Know” which is a easily digested guide to the law and how to use it. The recipient of the Private Eye / Guardian Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism, Heather Brooke hosts a darned good website as well. Together with the Campaign for Freedom of Information you have the basic tools to et on with the job although you have to deal with people that are equally determind to keep you in the dark and content with the latest talent show!

Welcome Back!

16 Dec

Been a quiet week, Gill’s lovely rescue Great Dane called with imagination Jack, died on Wednesday so we are a bit sad but glad he had a caring home for three years!

I met up with several of the Borough bin men last night, mostly agency and we have made this a recurring theme at BedfordBypass namely there are numerous underemployed tossers at the Town Hall while the people that do the donkey work in shit weather are mostly agency. The Chief Exec Phil Simpkins states that having a second class work force makes for good value!!ӣ$%!!

Anyway I’ve promised the agency chaps that I will mention the fact that another well paid lump of lard is returning to the Borough Council after leaving last year for a better job in the private sector. Says it all really and the amusing thing is she was only there first time round for 18 months!

This person joined Bedford in 2008 openly stating that the use of agency staff for over 10, 12 plus years was wrong wrong wrong however she became management very quickly and was soon saying that it was good value and stops the buggers phoning in sick unless they are really ill. or at least unable to move with flu!

So the picture is a well paid manager castigating the workers while she slopes off to buy a pet rabbit which then gets taken on a tour of the offices, regularly vanishing to the dry cleaners to pick up her sons clothes, getting her daughter a part time job to add to her full time one and all sorts of daftness. Meanwhile the bin men and street cleaners carry on picking up the crap, needles and so on because, well, its cheaper and better all round! Anyway if this sound trivial the people that empty the bins round Bedford don’t think it is so this last few paragraphs is for them!

We also say a fond farewell to George Whitman of the Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Co who died aged 98 on Wednesday! I bought a copy of Anarchism by Daniel Guerin there about 8 years back, George served me and stamped the book with the shop logo! I enjoy wandering about Paris when the overdraft is low enough to allow and I’d always call in, buy something which wasn’t hard given the huge stock and see how he was! Nice little shop and a gem for those who like a bookshop mooch!

Freedom latest edition

9 Dec

The latest issue of the monthly Freedom magazine arrived last week, as ever with brilliant timing there’s a column detailing the history of Unison just as I needed facts about said organisation!

How do get it, well if you google Freedom Press you’ll come across the site for both the magazine and Freedom Books down in Whitechapel tucked away down Angel Alley and not far from Brick Lane.

Well worth it and arguably amongst the best anarchist reads about!

More Camera Action

8 Dec

Good to know  Bedford Borough Council has clear priorities. I gather a second mobile traffic enforcement van has been bought! Costing £37,000 to set up the good news about this is that it’s described as a “spend to save” initiative so in three years according to the blurb the dosh from fines will be rolling in! Now in context this is coming at a time when the Borough is facing massive cut backs affecting frontline services, staff posts and vulnerable members of the community. The Borough’s track record at “spend to save” is tarnished with them putting £120,000 into one such scheme, failing to meet the expected result and them keeping rather quiet publicly!

There’s a Councillor called Charles Royden who seems to relish this approach of increasing revenue through fines. I’ve pointed out before that the whole reasoning in their own words is to make the scheme pay for itself by racking up income from fines. They need people to transgress for the scheme to continue. Public safety is used as the pretext and in a case of “manufactured consent” there’s some clap trap about the Borough meeting peoples demands for enforcement outside schools, Bedford demands it! Then at the same time there’s growing anger from shopkeepers as the same van is used at weekends to snap vans loading and undloading, in other words going about their business. Then you have private service vehicles in one case pest control being snapped twice in on day. Nasty nasty people!

Back to Cllr Royden. He’s actually a  very pleasant enough bloke but one or two council officers hold a different view. He’s one of those type very eager to have his picture taken in front of the latest gizmo in this case the new enforcement vehicle. He’s an ex policeman and was on plod lines during the Liverpool riots 30 years back. I was somewhere else! Charles is now a Vicar and manages to combine being head Cllr for the Environment (with £20,000 minimum from the public purse) with telling us how to live life to the full on a Sunday. He officiated at the funeral of a close friend and he was very good although he seems for all the world to still hanker after his old job!

 Bedford Borough along with no end of other councils have found a way of mining a rich seem by fining people left right and centre and using flimsy justification rather than being honest and saying it makes money. The term “manufactured conent” is used when we are forced to accept something without being able to check on facts or challenge decisions. Emporers New Clothes, if you question it you feel like your letting the side down.  Hence the dressing up of this with “community safety” people begging the council for acion and other such tripe! Apparently the Police are very supportive of the trend for more and more surveillane and fines. At the same time I hear of an 83 years old women being burgled twice in a week.  Something’s not quite right!