Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A Horsey Story that's a Racing Cert to Run and Run

Anybody following the local community news forum at could not have helped but notice the big story that has come out of Isleworth over the past few weeks or so, that of the horses which currently graze in the idyllic rural setting of Northcote Avenue, on the Worple housing estate.

The land on which they roam was, before they arrived, open land available for use by the entire community, from the estate and beyond. It was particularly popular with dog walkers. Not no more.

Now ordinarily I would painstakingly relate the whole saga of how a public park became overnight a private facility for the exclusive use of two equines and their owner, particularly in respect of the total lack of engagement with residents and park users. But I understand that this highly entertaining episode will be related in very great detail elsewhere in the near future, so I counsel patience. Suffice it to say that much consideration has been given to whether this rather unconventional annexation of a public facility without a by your leave, far less a proper consultation, was brought about by officers behind the backs of councillors or actually at the councillors' behest.

Ever since the scandal blew up councillors have been (convincingly) acting dumb about the whole thing, although one of them was subsequently discovered to have been the person who actually signed off the authorisation for officers to do the dirty deed!

Like I say there will be much, much more on all of this very soon. But in the meantime let us leave the last word to the Council Leader, whose choice of friends may very well come galloping back to haunt him before his tenure is through:

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

How to Use My Feed on Your Website or Blog

If you'd like to display a list of my latest articles on your blog or website, please just follow the simple instructions below:

On any Blogger platform (like this one), click "Design" and choose the "Layout" option on the left hand column. From there scroll down to "Add a Gadget", select the "Feed" gadget, open it and insert the following URL: Give it a name and drag and drop it to wherever you want it on your site.

For websites, download any free widget provider such as Surfing Waves and again insert the URL Then just follow the instructions to upload the widget to your site. Simples.

If you'd prefer to place a feed list on the toolbar of your browser just hit one of the "Subscribe" buttons on the right hand column beside this article and again follow the directions given. Then just bookmark the Feed URL to your toolbar. This way you don't need to visit and scroll through the blog to see what is new - all the article titles are there for you.

Why add my feed to your site? Well, for a start if you do it and let me know you will get a backlink from here (I'm PR2 at the moment and hoping to bounce back to PR3 at the next time of asking). Plus of course you get added content. Every one's a winner.

The whole thing is fairly straightforward but please e-mail me if you have any difficulties and I'll be happy to talk you through it. Thanks.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Isleworth Grammar School Class of '72 Reunion

My two recent articles about the Worple Road Primary School reunion held last November (see here and here.) both exhausted and frustrated me. Exhausted because of the feeling of exhilaration the whole occasion brought to me, and frustrated because I lacked the words to truly do it justice.

Last Saturday's reunion of my old classmates and schoolmates from Isleworth Grammar School (which went on to merge with Syon to form today's Isleworth and Syon School) at the Old Isleworthians' Club was similar but different in equal measure.


I suppose I must have been a clever pupil at one point, otherwise I guess I would never have ended up at IGS, a selective state school, in the first place. All the same no sooner had I breached its varnished wooden portals than I resolved of an instant to clown around and to get as little schoolwork done as I could get away with, the result being the rescheduling of earlier aspirations to Oxbridge into scraping an entry to Manchester Polytechnic and thereafter flunking my first-year exams on account of the fact that I had barely set foot in the building, let alone opened a book, in all the time I was there.

So when tales were exchanged amongst the curious little circles that formed, broke up and then regrouped with an altered line-up, of the things we had achieved
in our respective careers since all going our separate ways back in 1979, this humble postman had somehow to hold face amongst the doctors, lawyers, property developers and musicians in whose company he stood.

And it wasn't too daunting, to be honest. In truth I'd been a councillor the last time most of us were gathered, back in 2002, which although not a career as such was as good a talking point as any. So rather than having started at the bottom and worked my way up, like so many of them, I could feasibly say I had started somewhere in the middle and worked my way down.


What struck me was the warmth, the charisma and the generosity of spirit that each and every one of my old school friends exuded. Perhaps the often clumsy approach to character building on the part of our old masters at which we had for so long scoffed had had something about it after all? It was throughout the whole of the evening a wonderful experience, and truly surreal.

We were a bit light on numbers considering that most of us as I write remain on this side of the mortal divide, and we were grateful for the presence of several of the old girls (that is old in the sense of having been "former") from the Green School, with whom those with an inclination to drama or to sport had spent much of their sixth form, although I didn't really know them other than latterly as contributors to the various
old school Facebook threads. It was a goodly gathering enhanced by friendly staff and a well-stocked bar.


We dispersed amid a fond discussion about when we might do it again. Another thirteen years seems far too long as time and age power relentlessly on. Living in Isleworth an annual event would seem ideal to me. To those who had travelled further for the gig, one of them from California, probably less so.

More than ever before I feel the need to be firmly rooted in my roots. One of my old classmates admitted to me that at school he used to consider me obnoxious. I told him he had probably been a sound judge.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed senior school much more had I not played the fool, but I always enjoyed the company of those around me. What a fantastic evening last Saturday was. Special thanks to Richard Andrews (no relation) for laying it on once again.

Photos courtesy of Malc Shaw

Monday, 2 February 2015

Is Do-Goodism Poised to Surmount the Final Frontier?

Forget the celebrity deaths, politicians arguing about who should and shouldn't be on the telly, FA Cup shock exits and uppity Greek voters, the real news in recent days has been the shock announcement that the institution that was and currently is still the 500ml 9.0% ABV can of Carlsberg Special Brew may very soon be a thing of the past.

First brewed by the Danes in 1950 in honour of Winston Churchill - ironically himself in the news this last week as a result of him having not been with us for a full half-century - this true King of Beers (and let's be honest, by comparison Budweiser is but a clown prince) has fallen foul, it would appear, of the government's new "responsibility deal" which pledges to stop selling any carbonated beverage containing more than four units of alcohol in one self-contained container.

A can of Carlsberg Special, in its present 500ml incarnation, boasts something between four and five units.

Assuming that decarbonating is not an option, this leaves Carlsberg, which is determined to play by the rules, with essentially two options. The first is that it could reduce the size of its can. The second option - and forgive me Lord for I know not what I say - would be to diminish the ABV of the product until it is compliant.

Sad though it undoubtedly is, Carlsberg SB has a special (npi) place in my heart. As a young man of, well, a certain age (and I'll not incriminate myself further), I developed a fondness for the "tinny" which, as befits my character, naturally led me to embrace the strongest, meanest and kick-assest beer on the planet. I gravitated to Carlsberg Special Brew like a bluebottle to flypaper. Conveniently after imbibing a couple of tinnies over the Old Deer Park the empty can, suitably crushed, doubled as a football, and by that time probably looked like one too. Many a great time was had by me and my mates courtesy of the 500ml, 9.0% deity in a tin.

Progress, of course, is not always to be frowned upon. Whether the park bench topers and folk who shout at passing buses will lack the wit or the determination to open an extra can or two to negate the impact of the government's benign wickedness remains to be seen. Turpentine remains a valid alternative - and a perfectly legal and respectable one too, uncarbonated as it is.

Me, I will mourn the passing of the half-litre tinny like a much loved aunt. It is a sign of our times that they could dare to interfere with something so fundamental to our society, our memories and everything we are.

Salut, fine friend. Sir Winston would never have approved.

Follow Your Convictions – This Could Be the End of the Politics of Fear

Syriza, Podemos, the SNP: the neoliberal consensus is collapsing. Forget tactical considerations in May and vote Green for a genuine alternative

By George Monbiot

Here is the first rule of politics: if you never vote for what you want, you never get it. We are told at every election to hold our noses, forget the deficiencies and betrayals and vote Labour yet again, for fear of something worse. And there will, of course, always be something worse. So at what point should we vote for what we want rather than keep choosing between two versions of market fundamentalism? Sometime this century? Or in the next? Follow the advice of the noseholders and we will be lost forever in Labour’s Bermuda triangulation.

Perhaps there was a time when this counsel of despair made sense. No longer. The lamps are coming on all over Europe. As in South America, political shifts that seemed impossible a few years earlier are now shaking the continent. We knew that another world was possible. Now, it seems, another world is here: the sudden death of the neoliberal consensus. Any party that claims to belong to the left but does not grasp this is finished.

Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Féin, the SNP; now a bright light is shining in England too, as the Green party stokes the radical flame that Labour left to gutter. On Tuesday morning, its membership in England and Wales passed 50,000; a year ago it was fewer than 15,000.

A survey by the website reports that in blind tests (the 500,000 people it has polled were unaware of which positions belong to which parties), the Green party’s policies are more popular than those of any other. If people voted for what they wanted, the Greens would be the party of government.


There are many reasons for this surge, but one of them must be a sense of popular ownership. Green party policies are determined democratically. Emerging from debates led mostly by younger members, they feel made for their time, while those of the major parties appear trapped in the 1980s.

Let me give you a flavour of the political transformation the Green party seeks. There would be no prime minister of the kind we have today, no secretaries of state. Instead, parliament would elect policy committees which in turn would appoint convenors. It would also elect a first minister, to chair the convenors’ committee. Parliament, in other words, would be sovereign rather than subject to the royal prerogative that prime ministers abuse. Leaders would be elected by the whole parliament, and its various political parties would be obliged to work together rather than engage in perennial willy-waving.

Local authorities would set the taxes they chose. Local currencies, which have proved elsewhere to have transformative effects in depressed areas (see Bernard Lietaer’s book The Future of Money), would become legal tender. Private banks would no longer be permitted to create money (at the moment they issue 97% of our money supply, in the form of debt). Workers in limited companies would have the legal right, after a successful ballot, to buy them out and create cooperatives, with help from a national investment bank.

The hideously unfair council tax system would be replaced by land value taxation, through which everyone would benefit from the speculative gains now monopolised by a few. All citizens would receive, unconditionally, a basic income, putting an end to insecurity and fear and to the punitive conditions attached to benefits, which have reduced recipients almost to the status of slaves.


Compare this vision of hope with Labour’s politics of fear. Compare it with a party so mesmerised by the City and the Daily Mail that it has promised to sustain the Tory cuts for “decades ahead” and to “finish that task on which [the chancellor] has failed”: eradicating the deficit.

Far too late a former Labour minister, Peter Hain, now recognises that, inasmuch as the books need balancing, it can be done through measures such as a financial transaction tax and a reform of national insurance rather than through endless cuts. These opportunities have been dangling in front of Labour’s nose since 2008, but because appeasing the banks and the corporate press was deemed more important than preventing pain and suffering for millions, they have not been taken. Hain appears belatedly to have realised that austerity is a con, a deliberate rewriting of the social contract to divert our common wealth to the elite. There’s no evidence the frontbench is listening.

Whether it wins or loses the general election, Labour is probably finished. It would take a generation to replace the sycophants who let Tony Blair and Gordon Brown rip their party’s values to shreds. By then it will be history. If Labour wins in May, it is likely to destroy itself faster and more surely than if it loses, through the continued implementation of austerity. That is the lesson from Europe.

Fearful voting shifts the whole polity to the right. Blair’s obeisance to corporate power enabled the vicious and destructive policies the coalition now pursues. The same legacy silences Labour in opposition, as it pioneered most of the policies it should oppose. It is because we held our noses that there is a greater stink today. So do we keep voting for a diluted version of Tory politics, for fear of the concentrate? Or do we start to vote for what we want? Had the people of this nation heeded the noseholders a century ago, we would still be waiting for the Liberal party to deliver universal healthcare and the welfare state.


Society moves from the margins, not the centre. Those who wish for change must think of themselves as the sacrificial margin: the pioneering movement that might not succeed immediately but which will eventually deliver sweeping change. We cannot create a successful alternative to the parties that have betrayed us until we start voting for it. Do we start walking or just keep talking about the journey we might one day take?

Power at the moment is lethal. Whichever major party wins this election, it is likely to destroy itself through the pursuit of policies almost no one wants. Yes, that might mean five more years of pain, though I suspect in these fissiparous times it won’t last so long. And then it all opens up. This is what we must strive for; this is the process that begins in May by voting, regardless of tactical considerations, for parties offering a genuine alternative. Change arises from conviction. Stop voting in fear. Start voting for hope.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Guardian.