(no subject)

My god the fucking despair of the day before a general election and knowing that people will again be voting in the tories. The other night I was at a screening of the film Pride and one of the former members of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners introduced it. Since then I find myself thinking about the horror people felt in the ‘80s that Thatcher was getting in again. And then I think about the past 1000 of injustice from the English ruling elite that carry on running things with such arrogance in the 21st century. Why do some people feel this stuff so viscerally and others don’t?


Who will rescue the refugees?

Last year I wasn't able to get to Banksy's Dismaland in Weston-Super-Mare, at which one of the participating artists was Jimmy Cauty of the KLF. Cauty has taken his model village exhibition The Aftermath Dislocation Principle on tour to sites around the UK where riots have taken place. A few weeks ago it was in a railway arch gallery near London Bridge and I went along one afternoon. Since starting a new job, I've been taking off occasional afternoons to visit galleries and museums and do some local vegan tourism on a weekday when things are somewhat less fraught in this increasingly crowded city.

The gallery was close enough to London Bridge for one to feel particularly overlooked by The Shard, that malevolent presence Owen Hatherley has called "an expression of class war in glass". The gallery on the other hand misleads the visitor with a playful sign over the entrance advertising a "model village experience" with the sort of sign design one sees at a seafront attraction. Just inside the entrance though, one finds mock danger signs and an unwelcoming ticket booth. Inside the booth at that moment when I arrived was Cauty himself. This is a work in progress and he was overseeing the ongoing creation of tiny people both for the installation and for sale at art gallery prices. I was tempted, but didn't have a spare £250 for some tiny figures in a bell jar.

Then on to the work itself. The room was filled by the 'model village' - a dystopian version of Bedford in tiny miniature set up above waist level. It was all surrounded by a 6-foot fence and construction site black tarpaulin with view holes. There were also a couple of ladders and steps one could use to view from above. I suppose the placement of the entrance at a certain point of the scene was deliberate. It certainly meant I went through a particular journey. The first thing I saw was an Occupy campsite. Or a refugee/homeless camp. Or most likely it's a temporary camp for underpaid workers on the massive Tower of Babel that was also at this end of the piece. The camp was at the base of the construction site but also on the other side of a wall from it. I later came to realise that this was very much a barrier wall keeping people out, and also that the camp had been abandoned, possibly due to a chemical or plague - related disaster as the only people there were in all-body protective suits.

Moving on and away from the tower, we see we are in Bedfordshire in the near future. The scene includes countryside, a tower block estate and a raised motorway some of which has collapsed. near the end of the motorway a press conference is taking place - a government minister or similar is speaking. Here are the only civilians. One comes to realise that all the people, and there seem to be thousands of them across the whole piece, are police officers. Almost all are in the yellow waterproof coats of their outdoor winter duties. There are also their cars and vans - all with their blue lights flashing. So many, and yet almost no other vehicles or civilians. Why are only the police here? What has happened to other people? What are the doing to the civilians they find? Mini mysteries and strange tales are scattered through the scene - officers gazing down at a sinkhole, scores of officers packed into a burger bar and even painting anti-police grafitti. Rarely do the officers seem to be in relation to each other, they are largely self-contained even when standing next to each other. Even when they see another officer in mortal danger.

From early on, a choking-up feeling started coming over me. Mourning for the society we don't have and how alienated and structually violent British society has become, anxiety and hopelessness about a future that seems inevitable. It's done with comedy and hyperbole, but this work seems more satirical portrayal than metaphor. Coming back around for the second half of the journey, one is heading toward the tower under construction. One passes the industrial wastelands of the city - abandoned factories and even an abattoir next to the fast food police canteen. Things are getting so post-industrial they are distant pre-industrial. An abandoned church with a collapsed roof, human sacrifice/execution and a remote trailer in a field. Maybe it's still possible to rewild and find freedom after the collapse? Moving on, we are in the militarised commercial zone that we all should have seen would result from capital accummulation. The tower is, we are told, covered in gold. It is surrounded by a wall, a huge moat, and another wall. A new, huge bridge is being constructed across to it. In the mean time, the police are having comical mishaps. One officer is standing on a police van that has fallen in the water. A small boat is crammed full of officers - I suppose it's a reference to the most famous piece at Dismaland which was the remote control model refugee boat. Very large, cartoonish models of fast food are being carried up the tower, evidently to be displayed with pride at the top. This manages to be ridiculous and horrifying at once. The pharaoh this pyramid is being built for is the police force itself - and yet it is also a display for processed commodified food items - is it an advert or an indication of who has sponsored this fascist building? Maybe indeed who sponsored the whole junta if that's what happened? Did the police state emerge from the catastrophe, or was the cause of the motorway collapse somehow linked to the rise of whatever it was that destroyed society? Terrorism? An uprising? At this point, one has to realise it doesn't matter anymore what brought us here - this is an unbearable time and place. Nothing from the society portrayed should not be overthrown, abandoned, destroyed.


I've lost patience with shit vegan design and media

Stuff I've been posting on the VegFest Facebook. Tim Barford's reply was that he thinks their designers are 'excellent'. The team's reply was that they 'disagree' with me.

I've been helping to distribute the posters, brochures and programmes for this year's London Vegfest and of course have been on the website. In fact, I've been going to Bristol, Brighton and London for several years. The time has come for me to speak up about something that Tim et al. need to hear. The Vegfest marketing is extremely poor. I know you have your reasons for working for the media companies you work with, but they are not good enough reasons.

Your print and online marketing has to be effective, both for commercial reasons and for the sake of saving the animals. When I look at the practically impenetrable brochure and the website that isn't even mobile responsive much less attractive, I realise that this stubborn use of certain designers and web developers is a serious barrier to vegan outreach. The animals and the planet urgently need people to convert to veganism in their millions. This requires effort on all fronts using the most effective means. Please Tim, part ways with these media companies immediately. Stop wasting the efforts of your team by advertising them so poorly.

NB. It gives me no pleasure to write this. I'm sure the people in the media companies are very good people and doing their best. I even believe they can become effective at their work if they get some training in up to date knowledge and skills around design, marketing and digital. I hope they stop working until they do.

Ok, I'm going to break down some of the most glaring problems with your marketing into single items. 1. There is zero thought about user journey on any of the Vegfest websites. The fact that you want people to do something (usually buy a ticket) is not remotely clear on the overall Vegfest page or individual festival pages. You have to really seek it out, the phrasing is counter-intuitive and then you have to do two clicks and visit 3 pages to get to the one that actually sells tickets. Every click is losing you participants. And it's shoddy and looks like you don't know what you're doing. This of course is a crap advertisement for veganism.

2. Your websites are not mobile responsive. Have you ever looked at your sites on a phone? Most of your web visitors have - more than 60% of online traffic is now via mobile or tablet. You don't have a mobile site and your digital media team should know that in 2015 this is not acceptable, particularly if you are trying to get people along to your event. Google started downranking non-responsive sites in April. That site you're so proud of is getting harder to find. Again, it's shoddy and looks like you don't know what you're doing. Again, this is a crap advertisement for veganism.

3. Your sites are a cluttered mess. Maybe you like it aesthetically, but it is objectively poor web design, screws up user journeys, looks shoddy etc. You don't just throw everything on the front page and expect people to be able to find what they are looking for. Has your design team never explained this to you? Do they not know this themselves?

4. You have no brand identity. It's good you've stopped changing the event's name every year - but you don't even have a logo (the awful looking 'VEGFESTUK' mirror thing on the website doesn't count as a logo or brand) and even the brochure and little A6 flyer this year had different designs and colours. Shoddy. Don't know what you're doing etc.

5. The printed matter was all terrible this year, but that brochure was unreadable. I don't know where to start with it. There is nothing about the concept, design or layout that is salvageable. Excellart or whoever made it should stop doing design for print immediately. Your team worked so hard to bring together the stuff that's in it and it's being advertised incompetently. It makes me angry for the Vegfest team members.
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BA connection

The most intense memories I associate with my home area of London are from 15 years ago when my friend Maria Florencia first visited me from Buenos Aires. An hour ago, I dropped her off at the station after her 3rd visit to the UK. It is at this same station that we met in person for the first time on 31 December 1999. We had been pen pals and she had sent me a compilation of feminist bands from Latin America. We only exchanged a very few letters before she came to visit. We saw in the year 2000 on a local hill from where we could see fireworks all over London. She was in Europe 3 months and 6 years later I finally visited Argentina.

This trip, Florencia was visiting Buddhist retreat centres in England and Spain. She also planned to meet up with Penny Rimbaud. She and Penny have corresponded for years while Flo translated his book 'Last of the Hippies' into Spanish. I of course asked if I could accompany her to Dial House. We decided to document our pilgrimage with photos.

With New Cross pride we took a photo of the latest animal rights graffiti on the high street. This billboard has had a series of AR bombs.

Mishaps often occur when Flo and I are out adventuring together. This time, after 20 years of living in London I had my first experience of being separated from my travel companion by the untimely closing of a tube train door. Here is the empty seat on the Central Line.

We were reunited at the end of the Central Line.

Outside the station was an antique bus. Even the conductor had on a 1940s uniform. It is a special service that goes to the heritage local steam train line. An unexpected treat.

We then had a walk down a long country lane with blackberry hedges and the sight and sound of the steam train going parallel to our path.

At the end of the lane was a farm with cows, goats and a pig. Off to the side was the little piece of paradise that is Dial House, aka the Crass House, aka the home since 1964 of Gee Vaucher and Penny Rimbaud. Beautiful old house, a 30 year old organic garden and a wilderness of invertebrates and birds having a good life.

For the first time in her life, Flo was speechless meeting Penny.

We met the lovely Dial House chicken Maude who followed us around like a friendly pet and made cooing sounds that Penny told us meant she was enjoying the human company. I wish Gee and Penny were my parents. When I look at this photo I see it as I would have if it had traveled back in time to my 17 year old self.

The garden was my dream garden. Such a variety of plants. I saw pollinators I'd never seen before. Graham Burnett of vegan permaculture fame does workshops there and retreats are planned in the future that I'm planning to get along to. Thanks so much for being lovely folks and lovely hosts and thanks to the Argie Bargie for bringing me along.


I see I haven't posted since moving here last April. Being back in my old stamping ground of New Cross has been a blessing. The dogs are happy - they have their own comfy den in the flat and lots of other places to hang out as well as a good sized patio where I've made them a gravel toilet corner. There are plenty of fun green spaces around as well though the nearest park and the area generally is covered in chicken bones from people who eat filth and don't know how to use bins. We're really spoiled with transport connections as well. I can get pretty much anywhere in London or the Southeast with just one or two changes. Yesterday we went down to Seaford in Sussex to walk the Seven Sisters with the dogs. I got a sunburn and everything - a decent English summer day for a change.

If I want to stay nearby, there's loads to do in the neighbourhood anyway. We have veggie cafes, London's best market in Deptford, Greenwich and the river nearby, lots of punks and gigs and most excitingly at the moment is the new DIY Space for London about to open just 10 minutes away. Finally the punks have our own venue - 15 years after I joined several others tried the same with the Emmaz project. I'm thrilled it's ended up being local and not in North London.

London has been my first love for over 20 years. It's feeling less like my city though. The 1% are using our neighbourhoods and the city generally as a reserve currency and the spirit of the place is noticeably dying off and being replaced by large glass structures and chain stores. It does mean I have to put my faith in people and not in the fabric of or a general idea of this city. My attachment wasn't particularly healthy anyway.

So I'm doing more local activism. Now that I have roots at last, I have been making commitments to some local groups and getting more involved in others. Some really good folks live around here.

After 2.5 years in a job I was increasingly hating, I finally left last month. I got offered a very different type of work though still linked to the charity sector. It's working in digital/tech stuff so the workplace is more fun and less regimented. At last, a 21st century working culture. There is even properly good music played in the office. I'm still the only vegan though.

Also last month, I met up with two of my best friends from school - one I hadn't seen in 25 years and another in about 10. We got on so well and so easily. It was just a weird coincidence they both now live in the same part of the US I was visiting. I didn't get to catch up with John, who has been my closest and longest-lasting friend continuously since we were 15.

John came out when we were 17, and his evangelical Christian mother bullied him horribly. When he turned 18 he moved in with me and my family. He set off on his own for University but didn't last a year. Clubs, drinking, speed and generally enjoying being a free gay teenage boy became a big part of his life for a long time. 15 years ago he met his life partner, but the substance abuse continued. He destroyed his liver by the time he was 41. 2 weeks ago he was on a waiting list for a transplant but his body wasn't going to wait anymore and started to shut down. He died 8 days ago. My best friend John. One day we didn't tell our families that school was out and he drove us to the nearest big city where we spent all our money on Kate Bush records. Then the car broke down and we took them all back to the shop so we could pay to have the car fixed. The fix didn't work and finally we had to ring his parents to come pick us up. He wasn't allowed to be friends with me because his mother thought I was a satanist (as a result of seeing me wearing Dr. Martens). Consequently, he was in all kinds of trouble. Still, his parents didn't find out for months about him sneaking out once or twice a week to go clubbing. He pushed his car down the drive at midnight so they wouldn't hear him start the engine. On Saturdays, he'd pick me up - I had my own door outside from my bedroom. We went to a terrific bar - the only gay bar in town. The Metro played industrial (this was 1991) and had a separate room with drag shows. The compere was a black drag queen called Sirocco who was impressively professional for such a little venue. Seeing her was such a treat. John and I shared a sense of humour, some of the same music, some of the same politics and a whole lifetime for those 3 years we were in school together. I was so pleased he found someone to settle down with and love. He had a lot of tragedy in his life and needed that consistency, partnership and reciprocal love. I was surprised that he found it in himself to make peace with his mother and step-father, and even more surprised that they did the same. John and Brian spend Christmases with John's family. His mother was with Brian when John died. I wish I could have helped John stay off the alcohol. He had spent weeks in hospital to dry out more than once. It took me a long time to even notice that he was drunk during some of our phone and skype calls. Once I did, the best I could think of to do was tell him to ring me when he was sober. He was sober the last time he came to stay with me. He was trying very hard - he wouldn't even go into a pub to use the toilet. He loved my dog Coco and was so impressed that she would fetch her squeaky toy and bring it to him. More than once I was woken up in the morning with him screeching the command 'dolly!!' at her. She loved him too. Goodbye John.

Marching on

I've moved house 3 times since August. Next month I'm at long last moving into something of a permanent home, at least for a couple of years. It'll be my first mortgage and so my first chance to really put down roots. I don't think of it as a long-term home though - I'm hoping to get something with a proper garden eventually. And so I find I've internalised the disgusting English disease of treating property as an investment rather than a home. In choosing stuff for my builder to install (the flat needed gutting and refurbishment), I've had to think more about what will make it salable than what will make it feel like my home. God it's insidious. I didn't really realise this was happening until this moment; or not to this extent. The fact that it's my partner's money rather than my own has probably been the main influence in all this. It's not as if I'd have made different choices for the flooring or whatever - I probably wouldn't. I think I'll take awhile to settle in though because I'm going to feel at first at least as if it's not mine to live in but a future potential buyer's to scrutinise. And I badly need a home where I can put down roots. I've been moving since I was less than two years old and that's been a curse at least as much as a blessing. It's not a way of life that makes me comfortable much less helps me thrive.

A couple of weeks ago I introduced the dogs to the new flat for the first time. Thank goodness they liked it. They were very happy actually - Coco being very tail waggy and Rolo licking my leg. I so hope we'll all be happy there. I chose the flat more for them than for myself - it's on the ground floor with a big patio and is close to green spaces. If I can find a way to work less or closer to home or from home so I can spend more time with them, it'll make a huge difference to my quality of life.

Citalopram is my friend

Friday: I have taken the day off work to take the dogs to Hastings. We buy tickets and are on our way when at Orpington we find out all trains to Hastings are cancelled. I've used a day of annual leave for this. It's the second abortive attempt to get to Hastings in 2 weeks.

Saturday: Go see 3 horrible flats that the estate agent I'm buying a flat from has found as temporary stopgaps while we wait for the sale to go through.

Sunday: A friend tells me about a much nicer flat in his building. It's small and has no garden and we'll have to carry out bikes up and down stairs. My partner feels pretty stressed about it all.

Monday: The surveyor rang. The flat I want to buy has serious damp problems and he may tell Halifax not to give us a mortgage for it. It looks like I'll have to start shopping for flats again. Since I put the bid on this 2 months ago, prices in the area have shot up. I have to move house in 1 week's time to a flat I had thought would be a stopgap while waiting for the sale to finish. I do some packing. I realise my headphones are broken.

Tuesday: I do some packing. I break my other headphones. Realised that my furniture, which I had intended to bring to my new flat, won't fit into the stopgap flat which is furnished. Put it on Freecycle. If I later move somewhere unfurnished, I'll be back to square one. I do some packing.

Wednesday: I do some packing. Realised just how much of my monthly wage will go to paying rent, council tax, and utilities. I do some packing.

Thursday: The Freecycle folks were all late. My dogs were upset by the strangers in the house and lots of barking and upset ensued. I do some packing.

Friday: I got an offer of an unfurnished stopgap, just 10 hours too late. I injured my knee a year ago and today I had an appointment at hospital for the results of my xray and MRI scan. The scan had been done by some company who had a mobile unit in the hospital car park. It turns out the company hadn't managed to send anyone's results to the hospital. A wasted trip.
It had been a long week at work and I'd been longing for it to end since Tuesday. Actually it's not over because I have to work tomorrow. I get new headphones and feel rather better for having working ones. On the way home, the dog groom rings and says she cut Coco's leg and she'll need stitches. I go meet them and we all go to the vet, where there is a queue of emergency cases. We get home 2 hours later and within 5 minutes I notice that the stitches are gone - Coco has eaten them. The vet is closed. The emergency vet is miles away and I have no car. I consider my options and eventually settle to go to the vet around the corner when it opens in the morning. I ring tomorrow's dogsitter to explain the situation and ask if she can pick Coco up from the vet. I feel sick from looking at Coco getting stitches. I do some packing. I realise I'm exhausted and a bit in shock. Up until this point, I'd felt pretty serene all week. I have no other explanation than the Citalopram I started taking about 2 months ago for depression and anxiety. Thank goodness I did or I'd be absolutely incapable of coping with this shit.

Summer 2013 dogwalking playlist

Here's what I've got on when taking Coco & Rolo through Sydenham Hill Woods:

Solsbury Hill - Peter Gabriel
Rook - XTC
Tramp the Dirt Down - Elvis Costello
When I Was a T.O.Y. - T.O.Y.S.
Sacrificial Bonfire - XTC
Summer's Cauldron - XTC
Scarecrow People - XTC
Come Back To Camden - Morrissey
Seasick, Yet S till Docked - Morrissey
Silver Shorts - The Wedding Present
Prelude - Charles Williams
Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect - Patti Smith
The Trees They Grow So High - Robert Tear
Seeds Of Love - Jim Moray
A Week Before Easter - Jim Moray
Willie The Waterboy - Brass Monkey
The Cruel Ship's Captain - Dead Rat Orchestra
Title and Registration - Death Cab for Cutie
Long Long Long - Low
When You Were Mine - Blue Rubies

Ding dong

Here's my take on the ding dong discourse about whether it's offensive to associate Thatcher with the word 'witch'.

A couple of years ago, I happened across the divine Ella Fitzgerald's version of 'Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead' from the film The Wizard of Oz. I decided then that when Margaret Thatcher died, I would share the rather splendid song online as a cheeky celebration. Of course I knew that celebrating the death was something long planned. Yesterday I read that in 1990 poll tax rioters in Trafalgar Square vowed to return there to celebrate her eventual death, which is why the party took place there last night.

I can see the arguments on the various sides of the debate about whether to celebrate her death or not. Personally I go in pretty uncritically for the having fun with it approach. I couldn't say whether that's because I personally find it therapeutic, or a cathartic release of fury, or just because I like a laugh or all those in whatever combination. Incidentally, b3ta.com has had lots of fun with it.

A couple of days into the celebrations, when downloads of Ding Dong The Witch is dead was heading for number one in the charts, I started to see critiques from the left of using the word 'witch' against Thatcher. The claim, with good reason, is that the word historically has been used to condemn uppity women. I actually believe that doesn't apply strongly in this case.

Take exhibit A, which I found when looking up the Ella version of Ding Dong online - someone posted it to refer to Hosni Mubarak two years ago. Mubarak was not a woman, uppity or otherwise. This song has a track record of association with hated public figures.

Exhibit B is the original context of the song. In The Wizard of Oz, there are 'Good Witches' and 'Bad Witches'. Witches are a well known supernatural being in Oz. One in particular was killed by a house, and as is made clear in the song, she was a 'wicked witch'.

Exhibit C is, to me, the most important. The Munchkins celebrated the death not because she was a witch, but because they were vulnerable people who had been freed from a reign of terror. The point of the song is the people celebrating - it's the beginning of the end of Thatcher's evil ideology. We are associating ourselves with the liberation of the oppressed masses, not just associating Thatcher with the Wicked Witch of the East.

Exhibit D - there are just too many songs about Thatcher, so Ding Dong was arguably the most universal simply as a process of elimination. Just a selection can be heard in last week's episodes of a couple of radio programmes I listen to:
Under The Pavement
Abject Bloc

And finally, here's Barbra Streisand's version, because I love her.