Saturday, 30 June 2012


if you hated poetry at school,
if you thought it was for girls or gays or
you thought you were too tough for it,
then I commend to you,
without reservation,
the crazy sage of DeLongpre Avenue, that
dirty old man of San Pedro, that
ten-year drunk, that
back alley fist fighter, that
curmudgeonly horse player, that
ugly guy with the typer,
the ripped shorts,
the acne scars,
the mahler symphony on the radio,
the flop houses and the bad jobs,
the schlitz,
the cats,
the fruit trees,
and the buddhist monks
at green hills memorial park

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Shades of Chloe Smith

Many moons ago I was working for a conference organising company with a reputation for aggressive selling and for various practices that one might describe as being a little on the sharp side. But some of us did what we could to create technology sector conferences that would more than justify the high ticket prices the firm charged. It wasn't always easy to assemble great line-ups of insightful speakers talking about ways in which the companies sending delegates could make or save more money. But often we were quite successful.

One real challenge arose when the firm decided to keep slashing away at the bottom line. This meant hosting the conferences in ever cheaper and shabbier venues. It also meant discontinuing the practice of supplying delegates with copies of the speakers' presentations. So any one attending a second iteration of an annual event would notice that we were delivering less while still charging the same price. Or even charging a bit more. I knew why it was happening. Although our salespeople and people in roles like mine were paid a commission on revenue earned, the company's General Manager was rewarded in line with the firm's performance as measured by profit margin. This meant we were led by someone interested in saving costs, particularly at a time when growing revenue was not without challenge. I understood that, and I didn't really have any philosophical problem with it. That's how the owner chose to run his business. Anyone violently opposed to this approach could have walked away to find a new job at any time. Many of us did, in fact. But for as long as I stayed with the firm, I just thought of it as a fact of life. I also learned that another fact of life was that only the footsoldiers had to attempt to explain or defend the effects of this policy when speaking to unhappy customers. Anyone near General Manager level kept well away from that particular duty, as was their prerogative I suppose. Yes, that is a form of cowardice, but once you realise that such cowardice is part of how the business runs, you just have to deal with it or leave. That said, I did once take the opportunity to seek advice on how to respond to customer disgruntled by what they rightly saw as eroding product quality.

This happened when a new General Manager was hired. He asked to see absolutely everyone in a long series of brief one-to-one meetings. He wanted to hear from the grass roots, learning what was working well and what was not. In my meeting with him, I raised the matter of the poorer quality delegate experience.

"I just ran the third annual version of a conference. I was approached by a number of delegates who had attended last year. I got a lot of complaints that the hotel was shabbier this time and that we've stopped giving out delegate packs with presentation materials."

"Well, you know why we're doing that. We have to keep costs under control."

"Yes, I understand that. But when somebody complains and when they ask me to justify it, what should I say?"

"You're just being negative."

"No, I'm not being negative. I just want to know what the company line is. If someone is really persistent, I can't really tell them nothing. I need to have a response. I don't want just to make one up and then have that bite me on the arse because I've given an explanation that isn't in line with how the firm would want to present it."

"Stop being negative."

"OK, let me put it another way. If you come to my next conference and delegates are making this complaint, what would you say? Imagine you're visibly there as part of our team, wearing one of the company lapel badges we're meant to wear when running an event. Some senior guy from an important company comes and asks you why for the same price as last year he's now getting worse food in a crappy venue and he's not getting any presentation material. What would you say."

"You're just being negative. Let's move on."

When I saw junior Treasury Minister Chloe Smith being torn apart by Paxman last night, I immediately thought of that long-ago conversation with my old GM. Woefully under-prepared and with no coherent Government line to defend, she was sent out to defend  decisions made by her boss. Shame on you, George Osborne. You're a fucking coward. But I guess Chloe Smith knows this and chooses to continue in her current position anyway.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

another florida

To this family, Florida is a long strip of gated communities, shopping malls and waterfront eateries. It's about conch salad, blackened dolphin sandwiches and key lime pie. It's about the little stores and the ice cream parlour in historic downtown Stuart (founded 1914). It's about Steve Weagle, Chief Meteorologist of WPTV News Channel 5. Just beautiful conditions for boaters all along the Treasure Coast, says Steve. It's about easing the rental car along the long, straight, wide roads that join up all the gas stations and Cracker Barrel restaurants. It's about using a Sun Pass on the Turnpike. It's about billboards bearing bouffanted attorneys: 1-800-I-AM-HURT. It's about looking over the golf course: men in wide shorts and crisp polo shirts climbing from their electric carts and choosing their clubs. It's about the cool, barren aisles of Publix and Winn-Dixie. It's about a truckload of Hispanics arriving daily to see that not a single fallen leaf sullies the coarse tropical grass between the $700,000 homes. 

So we've done and seen all that. Over and over for the last few years. Now that the poet of Boynton Beach has decamped to Germany, there is little on offer by way of a change of scene.

So this time we headed down to Key West for a bit of something else. Different eats. Different streets: real ones that you can walk on, the novelty of schlepping about on foot. On the way back, we kept in mind the claim that "fantastic memories are made every day in the natural beauty of the breathtaking South Florida Everglades". This claim is made on the website of the Sawgrass Recreation Park, which is located  on U.S. Highway 27, a little to the west of the affluent Broward County suburb of Weston. When you get there, you might be entitled to decide that the prose on the website is a little overdone. You pull into a dusty parking lot, across which giant electricity pylons stride, carrying their crackling load across the edge of the wilderness. A huddle of weary mobile homes is clustered to the rear of the low concrete structure that houses the shop and ticket office. You buy your tickets for the airboat ride from a young woman who is all piercings and thick eye-liner. Squidgy yellow earplugs are part of the deal, as is admission to a small zoo. Killing time before your boat leaves, you see a selection of cold-blooded specimens and applaud when a beefy dude demonstrates how to handle a huge alligator. He knows his way around its snout and the inside of its mouth.

Before the flat-bottomed boat begins to move, before the roar of the giant fan that propels it, the Captain manages your expectations, telling you that he takes parties of visitors out into the swamp several times a day, every day of the week. He can't promise to deliver the thing you've come for, he warns: sightings of even one 'gator in its natural habitat cannot be guaranteed. More often than not, he informs you, the tourist groups go home disappointed. He is a deeply tanned old geezer, in fancy jeans and immaculate sneakers. Mirror shades make the weather-beaten face seem set in deadpan impassiveness.

But miracle of miracles, after only a little time out on the shallow water, after only a short while feeling the vibrations through the squishy yellow earplugs - there it is. A slow-moving alligator that seems unphased by the close proximity of snapping cameras and appreciative remarks.

But it's obvious flimflam, right? Florida flimflam. This crafty old fellow knew exactly where to find this particular beast. He's done a deal with the docile reptile, presumably coming to this spot periodically to feed it. A knowing Indian guy (as in from India, not a native American) accuses the skipper of exactly that. He just smiles.

Then he gathers a twitter of smallish dark birds around him. They flap up from the grass and the flat water. He offers them Cheezits. Nature's pristine creatures feasting on tertiary butylhydroquinone and soy lecithin.

You know what, though? It doesn't matter if you're conned a little. It's good. It's something different. Makes a change from the attractions of the coast.

So feeling pretty good, we decide to head back to our base via the back roads rather than by reconnecting with the Turnpike. A long stretch of Route 27 takes us up to the impoverished towns arranged around the invisible shore of Lake Okeechobee. The lake is somewhere behind a high levee, along which earth moving equipment is scattered. We never see it. Having taken on gas in a South Bay place where a crowd of immensely fat children gathered around the hot food cabinet, we move through streets on which every person is black. This is in the inland ying to the all-white yang up in the monied part of Martin County where we are staying. The houses are small, cramped and built of insubstantial materials. We pass a correctional facility. Behind the mesh: black men in bright prison garb in a yard. This is poverty. This is another Florida.

Having left behind the small lakeside towns, and before cutting east, we see shacks and trailers where people seem to live. All very rudimentary. Rusty trucks and all that. Then we slide through horse ranches and before too long we are back among the gated havens we call home on our trips to the Florida we have come to know better. You drove through Belle Glade? You're lucky to be alive, our host tells us. He's exaggerating.

Saturday, 23 June 2012


Some media outlets are reporting that the tediously unfunny Jimmy Carr was on the wrong end of a proper tongue lashing last night. Not so. Hosting his first edition of his tediously unfunny panel game show since being caught using a very grubby tax avoidance scheme, Carr was given a remarkably easy time of it by the panellists. They made jokes that failed to put him properly on the spot, allowing him to repeat his insincere non-apology and non-admission of guilt.

At one point, Carr was asked what he had been thinking when agreeing to take advantage of the K2 scheme. He indicated that he hadn't been thinking at all. So you're supposed to think that his agreeing to pay just on per cent tax on over three million quid is some sort of oversight. You're meant to believe that it's only with hindsight that he came to realise he had made what he's now calling an error of judgement. Palpable nonsense. While Carr's stand-up schtick (knob gags, soulless jokes about rape and disabilities) is not very intelligent stuff, he speaks articulately enough to suggest he is not a wholly unintelligent person. It also takes some degree of savvy to make millions of pounds out of a long stream of context-free jokes which cause some to bray with animal laughter but which make no connection with the real world or the people in it. So any suggestion that he did not know what he was getting into with the K2 ruse simply beggars belief. 

A truer version of events, surely, is something more like this:

Jimmy Carr knew full well that he would be paying one per cent tax on his earnings. He is clever enough to know that taxes, whether or not you pay them willingly, and whether or not the government of the day spends the money wisely and fairly, are used to build and maintain the vital infrastructure of a civilised and well-ordered country. Given that he once recorded a comedy sketch condemning the deplorable tax arrangements of Barclays Bank, we know that he trades on the idea that tax avoidance is wrong and that companies and individuals should pay their fare share. Assuming there was any sincerity in this, we have since seen that his knowing and deliberate personal tax avoidance suggests he harbours a sociopath's view of himself - as someone above and outside the expectations he would have of everybody else. So when Carr decided to pay almost no tax on the money he makes from telling jokes, he was, surely, saying a silent 'fuck you' to those of us stupid enough to pay our way via PAYE.

Those on the panel on last night's show, then, and those hecklers in the audience at his recent show in Stockport, could have taken a far tougher line:

"Jimmy, be honest. You thought you were above paying income tax and that the rest of us are fucking mugs for paying, right?"

"Jimmy, you know that schools, roads, hospitals, the police, the subsidised railways and just about everything else everyone depends on are paid for out of tax that everyone has to pay and you just thought 'fuck that, I'm not paying', didn't you?"

"Jimmy, you've only made a half-hearted apology 'cos you got caught, right? If you hadn't got caught, you'd still be happily and knowingly paying almost no tax, wouldn't you? You'd still be laughing privately about having got away with a good little wheeze, yeah? With mugging off every decent person in the country. Am I right, Jimmy?"

Oh, and Jimmy, if you or your lawyers read this. IT'S ONLY A JOKE. Anything's fair game for a joke, right?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

sweaty and footsore

simon says cheerio

disappeared: one drawing of a noted thesbian skipping along in a romper suit
last seen: one the backside of a dying phone booth in Camden
replaced by: a red-eyed photo of some chap smoking a reefer & a robot ROSIE THE RIVETER 

snapping snaps

OK, fellow camera fans, lots to see again at this year's London Festival of Photography... 17 free exhibition and a number of free events (gallery tours, talks etc.). visited so far by this is my england =

Minnie Weisz Studio, 123 Pancras Road
pictures of spaces on the brink of change - the buildings of the King's Cross area prior to redevelopment, with images from the streets around them projected onto the walls of their crumbling interiors...

trying to understand the individual lives of unmarried Saudi women living in London, undoing the globally recurring visual trope of the niqab and the idea of the whole body as awrah... 

a street photography exhibition in a very public place (though there are more pieces in the same collection on show in a more conventional gallery space... not seen those yet)... so kind of street photography on the street... it would have been a shame not to snap some shots of the great British public rushing past some shots of the great British public...

Friday, 15 June 2012


that white patch of wall in London's glamorous Camden continues to evolve. the latest addition from this blog's best friend in the world of street art comes in the form of a protest about Facebook's migration towards 'timeline'-style profiles for all users. that man stu bags was so pissed off that he quit the social networking site and spent time creating an installation designed to flag up his misgivings. he used the medium of keys from an unwanted PC keyboard. note the ENTER key with the Facebook logo:
[photo by stu]
that piece went up on stu's favourite spot on Wednesday this week. by the time the this is my england camera was on site and snapping, the Facebook-branded key had disappeared. more concerns for stu, then, around the durability of the things he puts out there on the streets:

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

racists in glass houses

It is with some pride that this is my england considers the list of people who have seen fit to block this blog's incarnation on Twitter. The list includes:

  • Louise Mensch, the ambitious Tory MP who will say literally anything to defend Murdoch and co.
  • Nadine Dorries, the working-class Liverpudlian Tory MP who finds herself the victim of her own party leader's snobbery and scorn, and who is perhaps best known for her contention that girls but not boys should be taught the benefits of sexual abstinence.
  • Guido Fawkes, the online persona of the more prosaically named Paul Staines, a seedy-looking blogger (with an equally dishevelled-looking junior sidekick) known for screaming "fucking cunt" at people who disrupt his zany stunts.
  • Grace Dent, a TV critic who rounded on a fellow Twitter user for making unkind remarks about her without realising that she was a client of the PR firm for which he was working (that's one version of events... there are others).

Building on this success, this is my england has joined the shit list of one more public figure in the last couple of days - none other than Nick Griffin, the buffoon presiding over the modernisation of far right British National Party. Modernisation in this case means leading into oblivion.

any slur will do
Looking around for a tawdry populist cause, Griffin's dwindling mob have decided to exploit the public concern around the organised sexual abuse of vulnerable and troubled young white girls badly let down by a system of care homes and social workers. Don't imagine for one moment that the BNP would be interested in these unfortunate children if their abusers had also been white. But because the nine men convicted for offences committed in the Rochdale area were all Asian and all, nominally, Muslims, Griffin's people are buzzing around the bad smell of this sorry affair like flies circling a dustbin.

This, then, is the context of a tweet which Griffin wrote over the weekend: 

pogrom wannabes
Note the first word. Paedostani. A portmanteau term originally coined either by Griffin himself or by one of his ideological fellow travellers. Paedophile + Pakistani. Geddit?

Racist bloggers love this word and use it at every opportunity. Such is their desire to remove from these shores not only Pakistan-born people but also British-born UK citizens of Pakistani origin, that they are prepared to peddle an obviously deceitful notion. They want you to conflate the notions of paedophilia and Pakistani culture to the point where you see them as seamless, as one being synonymous with the other. They want you to believe that every Pakistani man or British Pakistani man is looking for an opportunity to get away with the sexual abuse of white children. They want you to view with suspicion the perfectly respectable guy driving the mini-cab that took you home from a night out. They want you to hate and fear the hard-working bloke who runs your local convenience store. They want you to loathe the GP who's been serving your community for decades. They want you to despise England cricketers such as Sajid Mahmood and Ajmal Shahzad. They'd like you to detest Amir Khan, the youngest ever British boxing Olympic medallist. They want you to hate former QPR and Fulham defender Zesh Rehman. They don't really mind how they get you feeling antipathetic towards your countrymen who happen to have Pakistani roots. Any story will do. Right now it's about organised child abuse. Next year it could be something else.

This is reminiscent of the blood libel, a false claim made against Jews in Europe from around the 12th century onwards. This concerns the idea that Jews murder Christian children and use their blood in certain aspects of their religious observance such as the baking of matzos for Passover. As recently as 1946, the promotion of this poisonous idea led to the murder of around forty Jews in the Polish city of Kielce.

why Griffin & co. can't win
It is doubtful that Griffin's goons will manage to whip up a full-blown pogrom in Rochdale or some other place where child abusers of Pakistani origin are identified. Sure, the economy is in poor shape and perhaps a growing percentage of the population is receptive to ideas around immigration and multiculturalism being very serious problems for this country. But we are in nothing like as dark a state as Poland was immediately after the Second World War. 'Liberated' from Hitler only to be tossed into the jaws of Stalin, the central European country was traumatised. With regard to the Kielce pogrom, there is now general agreement among historians that the massacre was instigated by Soviet-sponsored security forces, quite possibly for propaganda purposes, namely to discredit the Polish people and thereby justify totalitarian control over their unfortunate country. This is not to rubbish the idea that there could have been a sufficient store of existing anti-semitic feeling among the townspeople of Kielce to keep the fire blazing once ignited by communist agents provocateurs. Conditions at the time were hardly conducive to sustaining an atmosphere of tolerance. The United Kingdom in the year 2012 looks a much sunnier place in comparison. 

But just because Griffin and his ilk will not succeed in provoking actual massacres on our streets, this does not mean that they would not relish such an outcome were they to have any realistic prospect of making it come to pass. So keep this in mind when tempted to dismiss the BNP's nastiness as small beer. Given half a chance, this lot would delight in whipping up their own version of Kristallnacht or worse.

getting blocked by Griffin
Back to Griffin's tweet. It's not obvious whether the shop he refers to is one owned by someone actually suspected of being a child abuser, accused of being a child abuser or proven to be a child abuser. Maybe so. If not, his use of the term Paedostani is particularly egregious. Because if he is simply referring to a shop owned by a Pakistani person about whom no such allegations have been made, he is stating very plainly a belief that ALL Pakistani men are paedophiles. Consider this possibility the next time that a BNP spokesman attempts to position the party's beliefs as somehow not being extremist or offensive.

This question, though, about the identity of the shopkeeper mentioned by Griffin is not one that can be pursued by this is my england. Not now the BNP leader has blocked this blog's Twitter account.

So what made Griffin block our account? What could we possibly have said to get through the thick skin of the veteran controversialist? Well, this is the tweet that seems to be to blame:

Who are the gents mentioned here?

Nigel Hesmondlalgh is an Accrington-based BNP supporter who started a nine-month prison sentence in January this year for possessing child pornography. Darren Francis is a Northampton-based BNP activist and convicted paedophile, jailed for preying on a girl of thirteen. Ian Hindle and Andrew Wells are the Blackburn BNP members jailed in 2008 for sexual activity with fourteen-year old girls. It seems that Nick Griffin did not enjoy being reminded about these chaps. But we could have gone further...

Tweets, as you doubtless know, have to be kept short. So there was no space to mention Mark Walker, the County Durham teacher and BNP member who seems to have lost his job partly because of inappropriate contact with a teenage former pupil. It was also impossible to name check Roderick Rowley, the former BNP candidate in Coventry who was convicted of producing and distributing obscene images of children.

paedostanis vs. BNPaedophiles
In the wake of the child abuse case in Rochdale, there has been some debate about whether the perpetrators' ethnic and religious background was a factor. Further, there has even been discussion around whether it is acceptable to raise this question. One suggestion is that a squeamishness about this point - i.e. a fear on the part of police of being accused of racism - meant that these offences went on unpunished for as much as ten years. This clearly needs to be investigated properly, and we must be alive to the possibility that this particular form of organised abuse is more prevalent in Pakistani communities than across the wider population. Surely this must be properly understood if future occurrences of this type are to be prevented.

This is sure to be an uncomfortable line of enquiry. But whatever the findings, we can be sure of one thing. There will be no evidence to support the clearly ludicrous notion that ALL Pakistani men are predisposed to the sexual abuse of children, be they vulnerable white children or children from within their own community. So the vile neologism Paedostani will never be a word used in legitimate debate about this issue.

To anyone who wants to use this word, however, let's offer the following rough statistical analysis. If, on the basis of the number of child abuse cases involving people of Pakistani origin, of which there are around 800,000 in the UK, you feel that Paedostani is a legitimate term to use, you must also accept the legitimacy of a new word we'll coin here today: BNPaedophile. You will accept the use of this term because of how easy it has been to find online six documented cases of BNP members who are child abusers. After all, the BNP only has around 4,000 members so it would appear to be the case that paedophilia is more prevalent among the party's membership than it is in the general population.

Racists in glass houses, it seems, are throwing stones when seeking to conflate Pakistani ethnicity with a predilection for abusing children.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Barton and Bhatia: all sweetness and light?

The this is my england round-up of the QPR 2011-12 season remains under wraps. It'll come. Give it time. Not that you've been waiting with bated breath.

In the meantime, consider this scenario:

You're the co-owner and vice-chairman of a company that operates in a high profile industry. This industry is heavily regulated. In fact, your employees are subject to its rules and regulations and can be suspended from their duties by the organisation which works as the regulatory agency. This fate has befallen one of your highest-paid and most well known employees. This is entirely justified because he has behaved appallingly and violently in a very public setting. Shortly after his act of madness, he used Twitter to engage in slanging matches with other well-known people who had expressed their disapproval of his conduct. As well as getting him suspended, his behaviour has drawn universal condemnation across the media. 

Your company has publicly declared that it is investigating the man's conduct, the implication being that the firm may impose some additional punishment. Many people are wondering whether your firm might want to dismiss him for gross misconduct. Then, with all this still simmering, the man concerned finds himself involved in some sort of altercation outside a nightclub at 5 o'clock in the morning. He is arrested and bailed for his part in the fracas. 

In this context, while the press and the general public continue to speculate about the outcome of your company's investigation, would you exchange pleasantries with the guy via Twitter? 

Probably not, right? Because people might infer that the person concerned is not in your bad books. Because your friendly association with him might in some way prejudice any disciplinary or legal action that's in the offing. Because it just looks unwise and unprofessional. Right?

So why is Amit Bhatia, the justifiably popular Vice-Chairman of QPR, chatting with the club's disgraced captain about Euro 2012? 

Should we infer that Barton is off the hook?

Monday, 4 June 2012

Saturday, 2 June 2012


buggering off to buy, belatedly, buk books for baz


why would someone take the time to create a cartoon image of Simon Callow dressed in a romper suit decorated with the word DANCE®? mincing along, an insensitive reference, one assumes, to the noted actor's sexuality? on the blank backside of that decrepit phone box that you walk past almost every day? weird, innit?

Friday, 1 June 2012


that man stu bags was on the bus yesterday, sitting next to one of those people who forget that a mobile phone contains a MICROPHONE and a SPEAKER, the two components combining to ensure that when making a call you usually DON'T NEED TO SHOUT. as stu says, "it's not a couple of cans and a length of string". inspired by the incident, stu got busy:

(photos by stu this time)