Covid buttock

Early February 2020, in Covent Garden each evening more and more of the tourists – especially the ones who looked like they were from East Asia – were wearing serious masks. I remember one man on the Central Line wearing a black N95 which looked like a double-D bra cup. Smirking is now regulated.

A former boss recently told me that when she saw me this time last year I was under the weather and wondering aloud if I had Covid. It seems deeply shocking to me now that I carried on as normal, but back then there was no framework to isolate and we were also on strike which made it even harder to stay away on the days we were supposed to work. And that week I had even been summoned to the surgery to queue in close proximity with people older than me for half an hour waiting for a blood pressure check. The norms were strongly to carry on as normal unless you had a fever, a cough or shortness of breath. Months later my borough would become one of those known as the Covid triangle – who knows how many caught it that day. As far as I can tell we’re still on our first wave – it never went away. The only other person at work I know of who lives near me lost his dad.

Between that and working in a massive cosmopolitan organisation with crowds funnelling through corridors on the hour, I’m not surprised I caught it early. On the tube into central London to meet my mum that week I started to feel very ill. Again, I didn’t know what to do – she’s not very mobile and would already be on the train from a town two counties away. The WHO had not yet declared a pandemic (though it turned out they would do so the following day). So I pressed on, breathing shallowly through my nose and touching as little as possible, including my mum whom I put next to me as far as possible away at a large table. I washed carefully and tried not to touch anything. I found it hard to find the energy to cut up the pizza. Fortunately a future study found that Covid is not associated with the Central Line, which though incredibly filthy is also incredibly turbulent.

That night I could barely lift a fork for aches. I crawled up to bed groaning – even took a painkiller – and rose in the morning determined. I only felt slightly ill until evening when the neuralgia struck again. The next morning I felt better, and the aches didn’t return. Then a week later in the shower I ritually raised my cupped hands to my nose to inhale the guilty pleasures of Superdrug B Men charcoal facial scrub (non-recyclable packaging) and smelt… Nothing.

Out of the shower, into bed and onto the net. Only the Daily Express reported the first small German study in which a small sample of Covid convalescents had lost their sense of smell and taste. Today it’s one of the three symptoms recognised by the government, but back then the evidence was embryonic.

This time I took the proper course of action: straight out of bed and into the spare room – that was 18th March 2020. That was the beginning of a long spell of meals being made for me – partly because I was polluted but even weeks later because I couldn’t season anything to taste. Without its aromatics, food became a series of rather unpleasant lumpy, sludgy sensations on the palate. For nights I wept alone with the essential oils you’re supposed to use to train your scent. If you’d asked me would I rather lose my sense of smell or hearing I’d have struggled to decide. My sense of smell is everything to me – and it was Spring for heaven’s sake. Spring is the best it gets. I sent out desperate social media calls hashtagged anosmia.

A rhinologist on Twitter warned me that smell might never come back but must have realised he’d overstepped since he protected his account the next day. He got infected a few weeks later, temporarily lost his smell, but recovered. Back in April 2020 the otorhinolaryngologists were among the first to raise the alarm about Covid-related anosmia, since they were encountering a spike in patients reporting loss of smell and taste, were peering into their throats and consequently were falling sick and dying in higher numbers than other health practitioners. My sense of smell began to return on 25th March, just as I was losing hope.

For this reason I made our reusable face coverings back in April from Matt’s old shirts with a two-layer pattern with a filter pocket and nose wire out of the garage (at this time there were the beginnings of craft supply shortages) even though the evidence supporting community use was and still is thin in contrast with the scale of the plastic waste, which is appalling. Imagine if every person in the UK used one disposable surgical mask each day for a year. It’s over 128,000 tonnes of un-recyclable plastic waste (66,000 tonnes of contaminated waste and 57,000 tonnes of plastic packaging.  It’s unconscionable. Yet that summer the Covid waste was everywhere – on verges, in gutters, in hedges, stuffed between tree roots. The UK government waited until 24th July to make face coverings mandatory inside in public places, and for some reason disposable masks are still widely available at a price that doesn’t reflect the environmental cost at all.

Sleeping alone was upsetting but with a silver lining of peace and uninterrupted sleep at what felt like the most precipitous time in our longish lives. My other half has risk factors and we were afraid. We also had a strong hunch that this particular government would fuck things up, and Brexit was rolling onward and would soon be past. Food security experts were worried, though thanks to the logistics people the country got fed. I’ve always been a stockpiler – for me it’s only prudent, equivalent to saving money in the bank or putting into a pension – it allows you to avoid panic buying and I’m surprised that most don’t seem to agree. By the time panic buying arrived, we were only really short of compost and fresh food. The first big ticket item I bought was a dehydrator – I dried many apples, oranges and, when the time came, soft fruit and tomatoes.

I used to walk in the local woods and grassland hardly anybody used because, back then, most of the borough avoided recreational walking unless there was full sun. That dramatically changed – by summer I had to litter pick gas capsules, cans and wrappers, and by mid-winter when it hardly ever wasn’t raining parts of it looked like the Somme and I stopped going because it was too depressing. Now there are desire lines all through the nesting sites because, as many will now admit, humans have a massive sense of entitlement and consider themselves outside and above nature. I began to hand-feed squirrels at the back door, but stopped when Chris Packham brought me to my senses – humans are dangerous and it is important that wild animals maintain a healthy mistrust of humans in general (he was more diplomatic). Now I feed at a distance. I think there are four individuals – Original Squirrel, Nosey, Angry and Skinny.

I had to go out of my way to get enough exercise. We’d go out alone, together or in groups of up to six, but I had been used to marching extra miles on my commute, climbing every escalator and stair and carrying heavy loads of shopping. Sat in back to back Teams Meetings day after day I didn’t develop a bad neck, shoulders or back – instead I developed one painful buttock. In late summer during surprisingly protracted negotiations for work to purchase me a gel cushion since I didn’t want to buy one of those bulky plastic computer chairs, I diagnosed myself with muscle wastage and started NHS Couch To 5k. I never in my life expected to be able to run non-stop for 30 minutes, but Couch to 5k is a great scheme.  But as the rain started to fall that winter it became clear I couldn’t continue – I couldn’t leave the path and run in the mire, and I couldn’t be breathing heavily in such proximity to the walkers. The second big ticket item I purchased was a rowing machine – a good one from Waterrower, which arrived before the Christmas break. I haven’t run since. I hate both running and rowing but my buttock is cured.

A week on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (Part 1)

An eight-day walk from Poppit Sands in Ceredigion to Broadhaven near St Davids, on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. After around 15 years of long distance walking, this is the first where I phoned ahead to arrange vegan food and found that the majority of places had dedicated vegan menus or were otherwise apprised and prepared. Thanks to Eat Out Vegan Wales for signposting us to those places.

Day 0 23rd July – Poppit Sands

Sunday travel by public transport took us out of our way. We travelled the entire day and after a brief sojourn in Haverfordwest (huge potential, needs some love – like a better riverbank and picnic tables which can’t melt) arrived at YHA Poppit Sands, a clifftop hostel with superb views over the Teifi estuary.

We then quickly walked the two miles to St Dogmaels down along the coast road for dinner at the Ferry Inn, St Dogmael’s, the first of several dedicated vegan menus. We sat in the corner, with this view, and I watched the tide crawl in over the mud. Then we walked the two miles back and watched it some more.

Salt marsh at St Dogmael's, low tide, dusk

Salt marsh at St Dogmaels, dusk

Day 1 24th July – YHA Poppit Sands to Newport (14.5 miles)

YHA Poppit Sands is self-catering only (the kitchen is gorgeous), so we had brought a breakfast of flapjack (plus some bread I saved from dinner).

Beautiful fitted kitchen at YHA Poppit Sands

Well put-together kitchen at YHA Poppit Sands

On the first day the weather was cool and cloudy. Unaccustomed to the gradient, we huffed and puffed our way up through the bracken to Cemaes Head where we turned out of the estuary onto the rolling high cliff promenades of that corner of the country. At Ceibwr Bay we stopped for a break and I walked into the crystal water and skimmed stones. I forget where we ate our Uncle Ben’s rice but I remember the rice. The Mexican one is very good.

Skimming stones at Ceibwr Bay

Four bounces

Newport is one of those places where the beach is the other side of the estuary from the town. We were booked into a spacious, comfortable room in the roof of the friendly Castle Inn and after a shower and a change we went for a walk round the village. There were curlews on the mudflats and a Kiwi hiker in the youth hostel who had knackered his feet. We hadn’t stayed in the Youth Hostel because there were only single sex dorms, and I’m done with dorms until after Brexit when I expect the dorms will come to me.

You can’t tell from the website at the moment but The Castle Inn has a vegan menu too – there’s plenty to choose from and the onion rings are fantastic.

Day 2 25th July – Newport to Fishguard (12.5 miles)

From the health food shop in Newport we bought big sausage rolls and tomatoes for our lunch boxes. We walked out of Newport through Parrog in bright warm sun under a sky full of plump little clouds. On Dinas Head we met a older woman whose companion was urging her on – she wasn’t really making progress and told us she had never walked anywhere this rough before. Just as you come off Dinas to the west is Pwllgwaelod Beach and the Jolly Sailor, with this view from the beer garden.



It’s a lovely spot – we drank orange and soda and watched the bathers. The pub had run out of ice, which was disappointing since at that time I had solved my sensitive teeth but not my iron deficiency and was counting on it. Then we carried on for a bit and ate our sausage rolls in a far quieter cwm opening a little further along. London was roasted by record-breaking temperatures that week, but on the Pembs coast refreshing sea breezes disguised our developing sunburn.

By the time we reached lower Fishguard we were tired. It’s a place with fast driving holiday makers and no pavements, followed by a final slog to the upper town and our bed for the night which was Manor Townhouse on Main Street. We explored a little before eating at Jeera as recommended for vegans by the B&B. It was a very good meal, except we forgot that coconut rice from Bangladeshi restaurants is full of jaggery. I ate most of it anyway. The outside of the toilet door was very strangely painted, like a sort of 3D pure white Jackson Pollack.

We moved on to the Royal Oak where a folk band was in full swing, but a bad sinus migraine forced Matt home and I went too. It cleared with painkillers, and I got to sit in the window and look at dusk merging where the sea met the sky.

Fishguard Harbour at dusk

From upper Fishguard

Hundreds of jackdaws live in Fishguard, and they had a lot to say to each other all night.

There’s no fishmonger in Fishguard, or anywhere else nearby. The fish are gone – just farmed ones with lice now, fed on soy beans.

Day 3 26th July – Fishguard to Pwll Deri (10 miles)

The vegan cooked breakfast at the Manor Townhouse was a cut above. We left Fishguard with provisions for two days, since we wouldn’t see anywhere selling food until Trefin. From the Coop we had rolls, avocado and tomato for that day’s lunch, then Uncle Ben’s for dinner, and more for the next day’s lunch. And I think we bought more flapjack for breakfast. Then some smokey tofu from the health food shop. I also indulged myself with ground coffee for the youth hostel mornings.

Next morning the weather was still good, and then suddenly it wasn’t. The path up onto the cliffs and around the bay had a distinctly suburban feel. Fishguard Bay is said to have a rainy microclimate, and so it proved. By the time we dropped down to the harbour it was raining fairly hard. In our coats we sweated up an irritating zig zag wooded path up to the road through Goodwick and onto the cliffs again with no visibility. In the fog we met a small party and idiscovered they were the family of that week’s volunteer managers of our destination, YHA Pwll Deri. This cluster of Youth Hostels is staffed by volunteers, working a week each.

By the time the weather cleared, my Teva’d feet had blisters and the New Skin dressing wouldn’t stay on. I changed into my cursed boots, and walked the final miles with maddeningly hot feet, and hot booted feet are painful feet. I couldn’t enjoy the tumble of Strumble Head and was miserable until I got those boots off at YHA Pwll Deri.

It had only been 10 miles, if rough ones, and we had time to sit around in the hostel with its stunning views from the dining area and terrace outside. It’s remote, with only cliff between it and the sea.  Strumble Head is back to the north and to the south is the strikingly straight edge of land you can see in the picture – not a finger but an upturned edge which we would walk along the next morning. After our dinner of Uncle Ben’s rice and tofu, I talked to a nice art teacher from St Albans and we watched the sun set over the sea.

The view south from the dining area of YHA Pwll Deri

From the dining room at YHA Pwll Deri

Day 4 27th July – Pwll Deri to Trefin

Next morning after flapjack and ground coffee we set out along that pictured edge in strong wind and bright sun lighting up the purple bell heather and yellow gorse. I had expected this from the expressionist crayon sketches the art teacher had shown me, but somehow through scribbling she had really captured its essence. A scramble down the rocks took us to another secluded little cwm opening, accessible only from the coast path, which I think was called Pwllstrodur. We ate our rolls, paddled and watched young cows graze improbably far down the edge of a cliff, while a lone seal watched us in turn from the water. When the one other couple there left, they said the seal is on good terms with their B&B owner, and swims with her and her dogs.

At Abercastle the beach was quite busy, with blowy, dusty sand. We sat on a sort of mini sea wall until a man parked on the beach right in front of our view and drove off in a small motorboat with a couple of kids. Then on to Trefin, where the road to the sea ends at a ruined chapel at the head of a narrow, rocky, wave-lashed opening into the sea. We didn’t particularly enjoy a pint at the Ship, which though empty had a bar tender who couldn’t be bothered. Then through to Torbant Farmhouse where the kind host can’t do enough for you and the place is an elegy to the 1980s. But along the road is the good Square and Compass Inn where the chef is vegan and so consequently is half the menu. Welsh is spoken in that pub, which isn’t so usual in Pembs. A wildly good burger. Later three farmers came in and talked about everything under the sun.

Days 5 to 7 – St David’s, Solva and Broadhaven – coming soon.


The Repair Shop and Money for Nothing – BBC public service broadcasting at its best

Two programmes I really admire are Money for Nothing and The Repair Shop, both on BBC One. I’m not sure how to apportion credit, but Field Kean Films produces Money for Nothing and Ricochet produces The Repair Shop.

Steven Fletcher works on a toy battleship in The Repair Shop

Revealing a transformed armchair

Leanne reveals a transformed armchair to EJ in Money for Nothing

Money for Nothing is a about upcycling as social entrepreneurship. It always begins with Sarah Moore (sometimes Jay Blades or EJ Osborne) waylaying people at the boot of their car, intercepting objects they’re about to dispose of at their municipal tip. They can be lengths of fabric, old filing cabinets, chairs, sewage pipe, old wooden bowling balls – you name it. We find out the object’s story before she takes it away to a specialist artisan in her network, including Zoe Murphy who designs patterns in Margate, Jay Blades who makes furniture and may still be based in Wolverhampton, Bex Simon who’s a Guildford blacksmith, Rob Shaer who works with wood in Walthamstow, Chinelo who designs garments in Canning Town, and Anthony Devine who upholsters in Manchester. After negotiating a budget (materials and labour) for transforming the object into something saleable, she goes away again leaving the artisan with creative licence. Sarah works on one of the objects herself. Arthur Smith narrates satirically.

Each programme follows the decisions and subsequent work on three objects, nicely paced so by the time the last is intercepted at the tip we’re half way through the tranformation of the first. When each is completed, Sarah arrives with her van and there’s a dramatic reveal. She pays the artisan, takes the object away and markets it to vendors with premises or web shops. Then she returns to the original owner with an iPad to show them the transformation and, if the object has sold, she gives them all the profit which I’ve see range from a fiver to £200.

Money for nothing - Jay Blades passes profit to original owner

I find this format absolutely ingenious. All of the money seems to come from and go to the right places. Viewers see a demonstration of entrepreneurship (another word for initiative in one’s livelihood) as Sarah coordinates adding value to what was going to be landfilled or dismembered. While she is presumably paid by the BBC licence fee, the artisans’ work is paid for by people with the income to freely buy valuable bespoke pieces. Viewers watch respect and creative vision shown to junk everyone else had given up on. The original owner is delighted to be doorstepped with money conjured from nothing, and and more often than not a charity is the ultimate beneficiary. By intercepting objects from the tip the programme is saving local authorities (that’s tax payers) money on landfill tax and recycling. Viewers learn that almost nothing needs to go to the tip if you have access to skilled labour. And in a society which increasingly valorises science, technology, engineering and maths and diminishes the arts, viewers learn how inspiring and valuable the livelihoods of artisans can be.

On a similar theme but with a different perspective, The Repair Shop begins with people  bringing broken family treasures to a spacious workshop in the Weald and Downland Living Museum where Jay Blades triages them on a table and interviews their owners about the object’s history – this part is a combination of Antique’s Roadshow and Supervet. Each object is then allocated to one or more specialists for conservation and restoration. Steven Fletcher is a clockmaker, Suzie Fletcher works with leather. Lucia Scalisi conserves paintings, Kirstin Ramsay specialises in ceramics, William Kirk restores heirlooms, and Brenton West is a silversmith. They each work in sight of each other at their own station in the workshop. Like Money for Nothing there are three items, ranging from broken plates with grandparents’ portraits, an old aviator jacket from a relative gunned down in World War II, a battered silver purse owned by a beloved grandmother, a pouffe, and all manner of old clockwork including a copper rain gauge and a barometer that inks the air pressure onto a roll of graph paper. We follow the dilemmas and progress of the artisans as they dunk gunky clockwork in vats of cleaner, stabilise and repair fragile materials, steam clean ceramics, conserve flaking leather, create missing wheatsheafs for porcelain clock cases, and painstakingly match paint. As with Money for Nothing, the objects are staggered so each is at a different stage. Finally the owner returns, sometimes with their kids, and the restored object is unveiled for the next generation to inherit.

About to unveil a restored heirloom at The Repair Shop

This programme moves me deeply. Like Money for Nothing it’s a format that rescues objects that appear to be beyond salvage, and lays bare the painstaking work of artisans past and present. The exquisite acts of restoration surface the intense love people have for their deceased family members; their yearning to save these pieces brings a generation-spanning perspective to every episode which is unfailingly moving. Unlike Money for Nothing there is no discussion of the value of these items, because they are destined to be treasured in the family and not be sold. The BBC has funded the restoration so that viewers can learn British history, and how things used to be made, and how they can be made anew. We learn the history of amateur climate science, world wars, and how everyday lives were led. We also learn techniques – that you need to apply shellac with a soft brush, what kind of stitch you need for which fabric, how to mix the right glue for the job, and how to apply it, test it, and what to do when it’s dried. You can see how to clean anything, stabilise anything, and that it’s fine to wear two pairs of spectacles at once.

Badly damaged leather pouffe

Before I finish this, I want to talk about Brexit, a hugely divisive era which threatens to impoverish this society and throw us back on our reserves. Right wing Brexit supporters look forward to this because they believe that younger people today lack grit and initiative. They think they are in need of a salutary dose of adversity to bring out their mettle. Necessity is the mother of invention, they think. I don’t see things that way, but I see these two programmes appeal across the political spectrum for reasons which transcend politics. In Money for Nothing there is no moralising at all, but I see the inheritance of a financial crisis expressed as a sort of providential scavenging (environmentalists bring their own subtexts). In the enormous popular appeal of the The Repair Shop I see another sort of prudence embraced by a society that has become interested, late in the day, in conserving the last relics of the British Empire – its science, the glory it took in its victories, the artefacts it manufactured with its spending power.

I find it poignant that these objects are usually deposited by people whose families had a long enough history in this country to have benefited – if by default – from its extractive capitalism in other lands, and were able to accrue a few treasures to pass on. I can’t help noticing that all the energy in this programme is dedicated to easing their pain. And yet those objects may be restored by an artisan whose forebears could conceivably have experienced the degradations of the Empire.

Money for Nothing deploys vision, skill and graft to convert junk discarded by older people into profit which it then returns to them – which I find symbolic of austerity and perhaps of a gentle education. In the Repair Shop, heirlooms of immense emotional significance become labours of love carried out by sensitive and empathetic strangers. Very deftly and tacitly, these programmes look to me like social cohesion.

Nationalist gamblers lose Scotland to status quo No

As recriminations from disappointed Yes campaigners become louder, I’m acutely relieved about the No. I also recognise that the No was not a socialist democratic No but a status quo No.

As time went on I warmed slightly to the official No campaign with its resolute rejection of nationalist passion, patriotism, empire or jingoism and focus on material issues. State realism facing off against romantic nationalism is never a nice choice. Up to near the end anyway, which is when the heavy passion artillery got wheeled out. I realise part of the reason that paid off for them is that they and their predecessors have incrementally dismantled the state to the point that any destabilisation looks terrifying. Talat Yaqoob was my favourite activist – she fought a sunny, respectful No campaign which rejected the politics of fear. There was the very impressive, very cogent Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, whom I didn’t see put a foot wrong in terms of campaigning. Towards the very end, the Labour-led Better Together campaign dusted off an old labour movement discourse of collectivism, solidarity, public good and shared class interests. This was surprising to some – New Labour abandoned this kind of chat when it jettisoned Clause 4 and the militant. Allan Little is good on how nationalism came to fill this void in Scotland. I am steeling myself for collectivism, solidarity and class to evaporate in the run-up to GE2015. Sometimes it’s hard to keep your chin up.

Whereas there were non-SNP socialist Yes campaigns such as Radical Independence and Common Weal, there was no coordinated socialist or far left No campaign. Greens fell in with the Scottish Green Party which easily plumped for the inevitably petro-fuelled independence (though to be fair the alternative was a petro-fuelled union). They’ve whipped down Green Yes Scotland so you won’t be able to look back on that, but they were voting for their best chance to influence a society which could be a proof of concept for other regions. They yearned to get involved in a brand new constitution for a fresh new country. Then there was the radical left who couldn’t resist the prospect of sticking it to the Tories and/or Westminster politics. I have trouble even contemplating Billy ‘there is power in a union’ Bragg without something like disgust.

One of the most profoundly shocking moments of the campaign realising that for the first time in my life I agreed with virtually everything George Galloway was saying. Towards the end, though, there were socialist and radical left No voices. They weren’t organised but Bob has collected them.

Predictably enough this post-election poll from Lord Ashcroft reveals a stark difference between the youngest and oldest voters, overwhelmingly Yes and No respectively. I’m assuming this is about material insecurity of people with little prospect of earning power. The fact that pensions came into this at all is a travesty of privatisation. I don’t at all care for the way some are spinning this difference as the old dashing the hopes of the young. Also troubling and predictable is the fact that No voters tended to be more rural and better off, and that turnout remained lower in the disadvantaged, urban Yes heartlands. Yes was the preferred option for disadvantaged voters – we know from the English UKIP proble that this has got to be addressed.There’s a gender difference too, to do with risk-taking. When those Yes voters on the telly are haranguing people for being feart, it’s women and older people they’re slagging off.

All the raptures about democratic process need to be taken with a pinch of salt. When the SNP threatened No voters that the NHS was at stake, there seemed to be a lack of awareness that health care is wholly devolved to Scotland and even if rUK were to axe the NHS, this need not affect Scotland. Nevertheless the polling data showed that the NHS was a major factor in the Yes vote, so I’m doubtful there’s much grasp what Scotland controls, what the UK controls, and what the EU controls. Moreover this was a single vote on a single issue and that single issue happened to be the emotive and highly exercising issue of nationalism. Don’t assume this would generalise to wider democratic processes, which demand discipline, subtlety, compromise and sustained hard work.

On the bright side, there doesn’t seem to have been as big a problem of intimidation as some claimed – according to that poll at least 85% were prepared to disclose which way they voted to colleagues, friends and family.

There was a big swing to Yes. I’ve been so tense about the nationalism that I was unable to write anything before the referendum but now as we say goodbye to #indyref there is even more nationalism to come.  The West Lothian question will be settled soon. We expect the Tories to try to appease UKIP-leaning voters in marginalised English towns. There’s talk of an English parliament, votes for English laws. While Scotland claims so much of the same, the logic of this is hard to deny. But it should be denied. There is no money, no economic plan, no jobs, great environmental stress – water, pollution, greenhouse gases – which know no borders and which demand cooperation. They also demand a redistributive approach to wealth. We are very close to being fucked. We need to nationalise things and invite the devolved countries to share a stake. We need cooperative enterprises across borders. We need to join supranational environmental movements. If there is to be devolution to the constituent regions and countries of the UK, then what the left needs to do now is build collective institutions and organisations of shared interest which cross all the borders.

Hands off our movements!

Free Palestine badgeThis is a side issue to the much-needed 999 Call for the NHS march and rally yesterday  (about which more shortly) but when Andy Slaughter casually inserted a reference to Palestine solidarity into his speech about how Imperial NHS Trust are closing services in Hammersmith, I flinched.

My impression is that it’s rarely OK for single issue campaigns to insert themselves into other totally unrelated single issue campaigns. Certainly, Palestine had not been ushered into the NHS demo by the organisers, nor could Palestine activism be said to characterise the rally. But I could sense it hovering nearby, and I want to confront it before moving onto other things.

Left Unity logoFirst of all, the Palestinian flag is red, white, green and black. So is the People’s Assembly logo – and Left Unity is even more overt.


Perhaps so. Most flags in the Arab world have red, white, green and black. And on the left it’s green for environmentalism, red for socialism, black for anarchism, on a white background. If the similarity is incidental, then I wouldn’t want to make too much of it. That said, there’s a certain pointy-ness to the left logos which is reminiscent. And the timbre of the colours. Which is why – and any marketer would understand this – I find it the resemblance unconsciously and now consciously off-putting. Even as somebody who is pro-Palestinian and generally anti-nationalist (or weakly civic nationalist).

people's assemblyBecause the left has tried to make Israel central. This is in no way far fetched. Both Islamists and pan-Arabists have done the same. Israel is a useful diversion from what is actually wrong with an economy / society / body politic. There’s a name for constructing something else, something other, as the culprit. I hoped we’d seen the back of it with the Arab Spring. But then authoritarianism mostly beat pluralism and with it democracy. Really, I can’t stand scapegoating.

For these reasons I wasn’t surprised that the first #march4nhs tweets I saw on the day were from a few accounts with Palestine flags or Palestine-related names. They were very quick out of the blocks before the thing started in earnest. I remembered how much bigger last month’s anti-Israel rally had been than yesterday’s broad and inclusive NHS rally, which has done far more to promote and unify. For example I have never seen such a diversity of age, sex, religion, ethnicity, political leaning, and background on a single platform as I did at the NHS rally. So the fact that so many more turned out the anti-Israel demo, I take to be reflection of priorities on the left. Weggis66 thinks that since people turned up all the way along, this would have led to lower numbers on the day, but I’m not convinced. I don’t think that privatised services is as thrilling as Israelis doing what other countries routinely do – try to destroy their enemies and hurt a lot of people in the process. Remember the LTTE? No, probably not – there was very little fuss from the quarters that evince such horror when Gaza is beaten up.

I’m fully aware that sections of the left, noticing that the issue of Palestine can unify usually-disparate groups in society, have long tried hard to attach it to other left wing causes. For example, I travelled overnight in a coach to the G8 summit in Edinburgh (a decade ago?) to discover that the War On Want debt cancellation demo whose ranks I was swelling often resembled an anti-Israel demo. I remember various trade unions made it a core issue to exclude Israelis and only Israelis, how Avaaz, which never sends out opinion pieces, sent one from Tutu urging a boycott of Israel, how the Israel is the only country, really, targeted for exclusion from our high streets, and how anti-Israel sentiment always hurts Jews (and the activists so often miss – remember the paediatricians?). The list goes on. God, if only the world’s conflicts had as dedicated, concerned, activism. Only, hang on – it isn’t working. It’s wide of the mark.

I still think the loudest Palestine solidarity activism in this country is antisemitic. Perhaps stop reading here, because I’m about to resurrect an old theme.

Typically, pro-Palestine campaigning proposes double standards against Israel. It seeks a single state for a region hostile to Jews (incidentally often voting Yes for Scottish separatism). It usually fronts the Socialist Worker Party with its antisemitic proclivities. It annoints Hamas (will not recognise Israel, very authoritarian) and condemns democratic, progressive, secular Israelis who are, despite the catastrophising, numerous, and who need and deserve the support of the British left. Its identity politics spits ‘Zionist’ as a cuss word (again, while many of the same people coo over Scottish nationalism) when it has always been a simple Jewish liberation / defence movement supported by almost all Jews. It seeks to position the only Jewish state at the centre of the world’s problems the way antisemites held Jews culpable throughout history. It usually scoffs or bristles – or, chillingly, glows with pride – when anybody raises the possibility that it might be antisemitic.

Better Palestine activism would support Palestinian state-building and political transformation. I don’t know where to find Palestinian grassroots civil society organisations to work with (Palestine is not at the centre of my world) but a genuinely dedicated pro-Palestine activist (rather than a centrally anti-Israel one) would be motivated to. I know they exist, and that their government does not grasp that they should be autonomous, that they are destabilised by the conflict and the occupation, and that they have a role in policy i.e. beyond service. I know they get a hell of a lot of aid which is inefficiently spent, and that they risk losing their constituencies. On the joint Israeli and Palestinian side, there is Friends of the Earth Middle East, Children of Peace, OneVoice, and on the Israeli side, BTselem, GishaThe New Israel Fund, these others, and not to mention the small, beset organised political left who, with international networks of concerned supporters, are trying to keep alive the two state prospect because – surely it’s obvious – the respective societies are so split that right now the only alternative to two states is destructive violence, a zero-sum game to the bitter end, after which segregation, ethnic cleansing, possibly genocide. And that part of the world is crazy enough at the moment, thanks.On the Palestinian side, if Palestinian trade unions call for a boycott of stuff produced in the occupied territories, then we can boycott it in good conscience, I’d say. With due care.

There’s plenty more. I have other things to do – neither Israelis nor Palestinians are at the centre of my world. But you can recognise campaigners who are using pro-Palestinian as a mask for anti-Israel because they do not care to investigate.

And meanwhile Palestine solidarity has virtually nothing – nothing – to do with our well-being in the UK. If Palestine solidarity activism unifies an eddying left, that means the left is disorientated and parts of it are rotten. Put Palestine solidarity activism in its place.

South West Coast Path St Ives to Appledore – camping, food, sights

Early in June we took a walk of about 130 miles along the North Cornwall coast and into West Devon.

Our camera packed up after a rainy spell on the coast path last year and hasn’t yet been replaced, so this is a slightly idiosyncratic account intended to jog my memory rather than amuse you.

Though we do have lizards and scientologists, so give it a go.

And sunsets.

Bude at dusk, from the lock gates, early June

Bude at dusk, from the lock gates, early June

Also, I found the Vegan Cornwall blog useful in planning where to eat, although my experience was sometimes different.

Day 1 – St Ives to Hayle

8 miles after the long train journey down – above Carbis Bay and then through the dunes between Porth Kidney Sands and the branch line from St Erth. In the garden of The Badger Inn at Lelant Saltings we watch a seagull finish off an abandoned lunch, even venturing the ketchup. Reach Hayle – Hayle is the old Cornish word for, simply, estuary but confusingly the river itself is also called the Hayle. Then again, Ordnance Survey maps rarely name the brief watercourses which nevertheless manage to open out significant coves and even bays, so no complaints. Hayle’s infrastructure reveals its past as a major port and steam engine producer. Treglisson campsite is a good place less than 2 quiet miles’ walk out of Hayle with outside and covered play spaces for kids, Pirate FM piped into the washrooms, and run by very nice former teacher. Walk back into Hayle, buy breakfast and lunch from the Co-op, then to the Curry Leaf for a very good chana masala and saag bhaji with views over construction work on the estuary, followed by a pint at the Cornish Arms. Local papers full of remarkable misdemeanours (e.g. leisure centre worker poisons colleague’s lunch with chlorine) and nearly-broken record performance of Pirates of Penzance. Letters pages full of UKIP support. Walk back at dusk, head torches off, buzzed by bats.

Day 2 – Hayle to Portreath

Early awakening by extremely loud dawn chorus – a pattern repeated for the week. Sunny, the dewy tent soon dries. Breakfast is half a rhubarb pie, and we put the lunch we bought the previous night into our lunchboxes. We tell ourselves if the campsite owner repeats his offer of a ride down to the coast we will accept. He drops us off north of the holiday parks around 10. Some miles along, a coffee at Godrevy Beach Cafe. They have very nice vegan-looking salads, but we already have lunch which we eat sitting on a sandy bank in a car park above dunes with a gymkhana going on in the background. After that we’re into the  UNESCO World Heritage mining district. Portreath used to be an important port for Cornwall’s metal mining industry whose centres were inland at Camborne and Redruth. We have a drink at the Waterfront Inn with views of the beach. There’s a lot of litter and dog crap around, which I assume was left by the half term week tourists. About two miles down the mineral tramway route from Portreath, Cambrose Touring Park is a very well-kept place run by a former dairy farmer and remarkable for fully adjustable, unlimited showers. Also there, two dutch gents passing the first night of their cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats. Once again the owner offers us a lift into Portreath to find dinner. He recommended Basset Arms – nice place but I didn’t find them very active in the vegan department. I had to have chips and salad. The Bassets were a family of mineral lords – mine owners whose wealth dates back to their arrival during the Norman conquest – Cornish separatists and UKIP voters might like to think about that when they celebrate Cornwall’s former industrial prowess. We have another drink in the Basset sun room listening to a young woman talk about her new job in a shop in Penzance, then back along the tramway at dusk with more bats and dog walkers.

Day 3 – Portreath to Perranporth

Overcast but tent dries. Breakfast is odd – falafel and cherry tomato purchased the day before yesterday at Hayle Co-op. Rather than walking down the tramway again we pick up the path north of Portreath and soon arrive at Porthtowan where we impulsively buy some jam tarts (odd choices of food indicate restricted vegan offerings before happening upon the beach cafe where I’m briefly lit up by the prospect of veggie bacon – only to discover it’s Quorn, which is owned by a private equity firm and made of a patented fungus held together with egg albumen. Quorn is more for dieters than serious vegetarians but unfortunately it seems to have taken Cornwall by storm. Over my beans on toast I read the cafe copy of a history of Porthtowan. The village was once a busy resort for the people of Redruth. From Porthtowan (‘towan’ is the Cornish word for dune, and ‘porth’ means cove) we head through the mining centre of St Agnes Head, lunching on refined mezze at the Driftwood Spars pub at Trevaunance Cove and eventually reaching Tollgate Farm, a nice campsite accessed via a mile or so of good footpath from Perranporth through the golf course. It is home to many rabbits. After showering we set off back to Perranporth for dinner at the Jaipur and our customary Co-op shop for next day’s breakfast and lunch. Hoping to reach the beach through the golf course we become disorientated among the sand dunes, have to divert away from MOD land and end up back on the coast path, reaching Perranporth beach 3 miles later in light rain. About 15 or 20 wetsuited surfers are in the sea and among the astonishing amount of rubbish on the beach is a jellyfish about a metre in diameter (barrel?). The beach flotsam (and possibly jetsam) is a mixture of plastic stuff that looks as if it has been around the world a few times and packaging dropped by beach users, and it makes the beach look dismal. It’s no surprise that Surfers Against Sewage – co-founded by Porthtowan and St Agnes people, incidentally – have diversified into several campaigns against marine litter including posting identifiable litter back to manufacturers and trying to get people to stop flushing discarded plastics down the toilet. The Jaipur was high quality – another saag bhaji and chana masala. Back to the campsite at dusk with only one wrong turn on the golf course.

Day 4 – Perranporth to Newquay

Breakfast is apple pie and jam tarts – too much even for my sweet tooth but bringing a flare of energy as we paddle the two miles along a largely deserted Perran Sands before scrambling up the dune and onto the cliffs and round a strange razor wire-festooned army base before descending to Holywell Bay and St Piran’s Inn (which has an old fashioned glass water cooler with a brass tap). Then we trudge through the dunes, losing the waymarks, abraded by marram grass which stabilises the dunes, and generally exhausting ourselves.  It is warm but blisters have kept Matt out of his sandals – neither New Skin nor plasters stay in place. We meet a couple of Australian pensioners striding lustily in the other direction who recommend leukotape sports strapping tape over a bit of padding. We walk along The Gannel for a while and since tide is low we cross at the footbridge and stop at the hut on the other side for lemonade lollies. Then through Crantock along the river’s edge and to Trenance Holiday Park whose permanent residents have developed their static caravans with landscaping and boundary walls. Most strikingly, a small conservatory with tiny arches through which a model railway runs in from the yard beyond. We put up our tent within earshot of the school behind. That evening we head to The Fort on Fore Street and watch surfers from a beer garden strung with wire to deter seagulls (though not choughs). We also saw some gigs – gig racing is an internationally growing sport at which Cornwall excels. We’re celebrating tonight and after surveying Newquay for vegan-friendly foods we settle on Pizza Express with its NUS discount (I’m a legit but dubious holder of an NUS card) sea views and new Pianta vegan pizza.

Day 5 – Newquay to Porthcothan

We have a long shopping list at Newquay: sports strapping tape from Boots; Ordnance Survey map from Tourist Information; batteries for Matt’s GPS (which he sets to beep on arrival at various critical places mainly to keep us to time) and a pasty for lunch. Tourist Information tells us we can get a vegan pasty at a certain place but it turns us away – we are served by (we think) Jamie’s Pasty Parlour on Central Square near Fore Street. The woman warns us they will be paler in colour and it occurs to us that perhaps the only reason the vegetable pasties are not vegan is the stupid wasteful cosmetic egg wash. Cafe Irie opens at 10am and we have an enormous cooked breakfast with a vegan option which doesn’t involve just leaving things out. We set off relatively late and it takes a while to reach the edge of Newquay’s suburbs, and a heavy rain shower sent us sheltering under a new apartment complex to put on our coats and pack covers. The shower soon passes and we watch five kitesurfers on Watergate Bay in bright sunlight. We reached Mawgan Porth at lunchtime but our breakfast is still going down so we only had a pint at the Merrymoor. It’s Wednesday in early June and the diners seem to be mostly pensioners who stare intently through the windows as we change back into our waterproofs – trousers this time – on the steps outside. The sky opens up and for two hours we drip our way up and down the cliffs with almost no visibility of the Bedruthan Steps. The sky clears. A couple of walkers coming from the other direction report large hailstones. Slowly drying out, we sit down in a deserted cove at about 3pm to eat our pasties. Behind us is an abandoned car. A spaniel arrives followed by a man who walks laboriously and we exchange a few friendly words. Another car arrives, another old geezer gets out, and to our mystifcation they both get into the abandoned car. We continue, eventually turning into the mouth of the (unnamed) river at Porthcothan. It’s amazing to me how such puny rivers carve out such magnificent passages to the sea – though Matt reminds me that they could be glacial. A new two-storey house on the cliff has eliminated most of the wall on its river-facing side, which has become four large windows. Its prospect is a sandy beach and a trickle backed by a round grassy hill, and it’s almost inconceivable that in 6 hours the tide will have altered the scene beyond recognition. I find these changing views very exciting. Carnevas campsite is a very nice place but there are recklessly fast drivers on the lane. It’s windy when we arrive so we shield our tent with a hedge and an unoccupied motorhome, but suddenly the wind drops at about the time the tide is changing. There is a lot to know about wind and tide but I can’t find anything about tides causing wind changes. Carnevas has a bar and they make chips and salad for me and vegetable lasagne for Matt. I should say that the progress of vegetarianism is very strong in Cornwall, so I tell myself that even though veganism seems to mystify the Cornish hospitality industry there is every hope that in 20 years they will have grasped it. It needn’t be costly of time or money.

Day 6 Porthcothan to Padstow

Breakfast is at the next campsite along, Berryfields. It is run by a nice family from the Midlands (Cornwall and Devon are full of Midland people). Despite their sign, they seem surprised by breakfasters but the dad rises to the occasion and fires up the kitchen while we sit in the sunny pleasantly planted courtyard. Good humouredly anti-vegetarian, Mr Bellisan butters my toast by mistake and ends up with a second breakfast himself. We chat about the problems of large single sex groups of campers, which has led him to specify the easily decoded “Camping for nice people”. Thanks to Tripadvisor, Berrylands is renowned for their cream teas, and he hopes to major on those. One son goes off to the Royal Cornwall Show and the other, an electrician, talks to us for a while about veganism. Father and son debate whether Stein or Chip Ahoy have better fish and chips in Padstow. We set off, reaching the attractive Treyarnon Bay youth hostel in the late morning. I’m not sure why the staff (who reminded me of Bill and Ted) felt unauthorised to divert some houmous from the menu into a packed lunch for me, but there you go. Then up and down the cliffs to Trevone, too late for the beach cafe but I have pasta and sundried tomato sauce with salad at the Well Parc Hotel, a friendly, spacious place with a lot of potential. Matt has a ploughmans with probably 500g of cheese. We reach Trevose Head and the turn along the Camel (a river with a name) very tired and footsore with 4 miles to go. More dunes after gun point, then down along the Camel Trail to Dennis Farm campsite where we become sole occupants of my favourite pitch of the holiday – four spots dedicated to hikers (i.e. people without cars) on a flat spot at the end of the site right next to the Camel surrounded on two sides by dense old woodland. Showers were wet rooms accessed from outside (rather than within a ladies / gents shower block) my favourite kind. The owners refer us to the Golden Lion for vegetarian dinner. On arrival the bartender reacts tersely to the lack of notice of vegan needs, but before we can walk out she has hurried away to see the chef. Out he comes, looking regretful. He tells us that with the lack of notice the best he can manage is a cassoulet of beans and mushrooms. This is charged at the same price as the bean burger Matt has. This delicious, generously portioned meal – with fries included – becomes my favourite meal of the holiday. Clearly the anger and dismay was not directed at me, but is a product of their own high standards. Then we took a look around Padstow – we think this is where we saw an oversized door of the Old Police House next to a tiny door in the adjacent cottage. Back at the campsite there were bats. In the tent we could hear the river lapping the shore below and the moorings and sails of the various craft nearby gently tinkling – slept very well and by morning the river had shrunk and the boats were resting on its exposed sands.

Day 7 Padstow to Port Isaac

Search Padstow in vain for vegan breakfast and vegan lunch of any quality. For breakfast I have a mass-produced caramel flapjack which contains some milk – if I’m going to break with vegan, I won’t give the gourmets any cash. None of the pasty shops are open early and when they do open they have nothing vegan. The famed Chough Bakery say they cannot help, so it’s rolls, houmous and tomatoes from The Spar. Don’t tell me Padstow is a foody place – it’s basically unsustainable. We walk back along the dunes of the Camel estuary’s northern shore, past Polzeath. I love the seaward view from Padstow, the bulks of Trevose Head and Pentire Point protecting the river from the open Atlantic beyond. We sit down on a high cliff to find out why Matt’s hydration system isn’t working. It turns out that it is empty – we inadvertently squeezed out the water while trying to jam the tent into his backpack. Sharing one person’s water is a problem for us since today the cliffs have become steep and high, with a combined ascent of over 850 metres (to get things in perspective, Snowden is 1085m). It’s a very hot day and there is nowhere between Polzeath and Port Isaac to buy refreshment. We eat lunch in a secluded cove. Three young men start a disposable barbeque before swimming to the mouth of the cove to jump of rocks. Driven on by the need for a drink we march up and down the made steps (to prevent erosion rather than make things easier). After the now defunct but still hauntingly beautiful little pilchard port of Port Quin we meet more presumably-retired groups who also seem weary of the lack of any flat places to walk. At Port Isaac we go straight to The Mote on the harbour and have a pint of water and a pint of orange and soda. They can veganise their veggie burger so we book a table there at 8.30. There is no campsite near enough and we don’t like to wild camp (no drinking water, nowhere to wash and nowhere to crap) so we spent our first night in a bed at a vegetarian-friendly Trewetha Farm about a mile inland, with sea views, and although we used an overgrown footpath from Port Gaverne, the lane to Port Isaac is broad and has pavement for most of the way. The owners were active in the RNLI which provides lifeboat and lifeguard protection along the British coast. Their son Damien Bolton had helmed a tremendously difficult rescue in the spring of 2012 when anglers Paul and Peter Sleeman were swept into the sea between Port Isaac and Tintagel, documented in this video. In understand that Peter’s widow is now active on the local RNLI committee, which is amazing of her. There are plenty of donation boxes along the path, but the thing about the RNLI is that it is mostly staffed by volunteers. Dinner was very nice – over 30 covers in the upstairs room, armies of waiting staff running up and down the stairs to and from the kitchen, and a band (The Fisherman’s Friends?) was singing sea shanties outside in the harbour. Then a group of local farmers arrived in the pub and things became so noisy that we didn’t hear the stupendous thunderstorm which everybody mentioned the following day. By the time we got out to wander the steep lanes and alleys the night was warm and clear again. We were beginning to wonder if our luck with the weather was about to run out.

Day 8 – Port Isaac to Tintagel

The Trewetha breakfast was good, including Linda McCartney sausages. The next stretch of coast had so many long, steep ups and downs I hardly remember it (you have to look where you’re putting your feet). Some hours later coming into Trebarwith we encountered a series of couples and groups, including one with a baby, dog and no water, who seemed to be out for a jaunt. The trouble is, you can see Port Isaac quite clearly and although it is 5 hours’ walk along a steep and jagged coast, it looks as if you could reach it in 45 minutes. We had thai green curry for lunch at the Trebarwith Hotel. 10 miles took us to Tintagel where Matt worked out it was sensible to stop. Pengenna Pasties‘ vegetable pasty is peerless and vegan by default – we bought two of those for next day’s lunch, flapjacks for breakfast and camped at The Headland campsite. Passing Camelot (1930s fake castle on the headland, now a hotel) we decided to go in for a beer, and ordered dinner before we realised what a strange place it was, with its self-published tabloid newspaper and books of the co-owner’s trippy, mystical artwork. It turns out that the three owners – who also reside there – are proselytising scientologists who seem to be enormously wealthy. I was served half a butternut squash with yoghurt sauce and a small amount of stuff on the side. I returned it and they got rid of the yoghurt sauce. They then tried to charge me nearly £18 pounds, which I successfully contested since it had been offered as a subsitute for the veganless bar menu. The staff are friendly and helpful, the setting is truly lovely, and the bar menu is down to earth prices. But the newspaper full of pictures of (sometimes with) minor celebrities and congratulations to various dignitaries of Kazakhstan and other former soviet satellites, the art books and the life changing promise of ‘the light box’ were unfathomable to us. Paternalistic largesse, mysticism, a bit of faith healing – all very pampered and individualistic, completely lacking in social justice. The owners are very rich and broadcast their disorientated principles with great confidence. We felt uncomfortable there and finished our evening in The Cornishman. Trip Advisor has a number of favourable and unfavourable reviews and a local woman told us that some of the rooms have been renovated while others are languishing.

Day 9 Crackington Haven to Bude

Missing out a very beautiful stretch from Tintagel to Boscastle, We catch the 9.30 bus from Tintagel to Crackington Haven and begin from there. The fare for two is £9 and the bus does some unfeasible hill starts in the lanes. Upper Lynstone Caravan & Camping Park is a tidysouth of Bude with less than a mile of footpath into the town centre. Just one slight grumble – is 8 seconds really enough for a push on a push-button shower? 20 seconds minimum, surely!? Bude is a good little town with beautiful rocks and a tidal pool. We had a modest dinner at Tiandi, a superior but correspondingly-priced far eastern restaurant.

Near Hartland Quay, early June

Day 10 Bude to Hartland Quay

Arriving in Bude for 8.45 to shop for food before getting on the bus to Morwenstow, once again rebuffed by a pasty shop that doesn’t offer pasties before a sluggish mid-morning. I looked after the bags while Matt sortied around Bude picking up our breakfast and lunch. A woman in (a guess) her mid or late 50s who had been walking stretches of path queried whether the bus goes to Morwenstow on any other day than Wednesday. She’s half-right – we can get to Morwenstow if we stay on the bus for an hour and a half and alight on its return journey. Instead we reluctantly get in a minicab which costs something like £14. The woman, incidentally, walked the entire stretch on her own, starting at 6am. She said that when she got tired she’d stop and read her book. This is where the weather could make a huge difference. Morwenstow is a magical little place. The next encounter is an ancient, lonely, slightly dilapidated stone house in a cove. It’s for holiday rent. Then come the legendary ups and downs of that stretch, but the weather is lovely and we’ve halved the walk so I am happy. After several rather arduous drops and climbs we see a sign on a tiny building saying something like Ronald Duncan’s Hut is open – come on in. The book has led us to expect no respite and no shelter or succour for 16 miles, so this is welcome and we go and sit down inside.There is water and some glasses – how kind of his family. A couple pass us – when we pass them later we realise we met them in the campsite in Tintagel. We’ll see them again the following day, for the last time.


I’m now writing this 3 months later and I can’t remember much until close to the end. We can see Lundy. Then more ups and downs. It is warm and we struggle but prevail. Lunch is on a high bench. Along a field, we see a huge solitary human approach with a pack. She is a German woman of around 60 or perhaps older. It’s around 3pm and she’s aiming for Bude. We think she is late and will be walking  As we approach Hartland the terrain becomes magnificent. Massive grassy hills rear abruptly from flat, dry-stone-wall-ringed pasture. As you round them, you realise with a shock that they are half-hills only, eaten away on the ocean side. The rock of the cliffs is contorted into tight folds. Long fingers poke out into the sea. We are at Hartland but the pub, briefly glimpsed, eludes us. We take a wrong turn and edge along a narrow shelf of cliff above a jaggedly beautiful cove. And then retrace our steps. There is no campsite so we stay at the Hartland Quay Hotel. There is no quay either – the sea had it. We eat an alright bar meal in the Wreckers Retreat Bar, wander around outside looking at the rocks, and fall asleep in the sitting room.

Near Hartland Quay, early June

Near Hartland Quay, early June

Day 11 Hartland Quay to Clovelly

Another strenuous day. We followed a solitary figure for a few miles and passed her when she stopped to change into her wet weather gear. Then she passed us as we huddled and fumbled in very heavy rain trying to change into ours. We caught her up at an open air cafe near Hartland Point. It wasn’t open air cafe weather. She was trying to contact her sister in law, whom she was supposed to be meeting there in two hour’s time, to tell her to go straight to Clovelly. We left her there. She caught us up some miles later and we walked together for a bit until she (Caroline, by this time) left us when we stopped for a snack. Then all I remember was relentless rain until the parkland west of the Clovelly estate. The paths had become torrents. We couldn’t have been wetter or tireder. We got to the top of the estate and limped down the Up-Along / Down-Along with its upended cobblestones. We checked in at the New Inn, where we had one of the top rooms and a shared bathroom. Caroline’s sister-in-law Sarah was already there, while Caroline had just arrived having been hoodwinked by paths which looked like rivers and taken a 2-mile detour. In order to dry our stuff we had to rinse off the mud and debris, and then festoon it round the small double room. By then it had brightened up and we walked down to the harbour – the only safe harbour for many miles either side. The village is distinguished by being wholly owned by the local aristocrat, who rents to residents handpicked by interview. Consequently there aren’t any second homes or holiday lets, everybody is resident, and the people are friendly. There are no cars in Clovelly, and heavy stuff is moved by noisy wooden-runnered sleds, these days dragged by men. Had a beanburger at the New Inn – the other pub on the harbour was also lovely and offered finer dining too. Drank a lot of cider and spoke to one of the residents from Peckham. Don’t really remember going to bed.

Clovelly harbour

Clovelly harbour

Day 12 Clovelly to Westward Ho!

This was a very hard day, in lovely weather. It started off in parkland, progressed to woodland, and finally some sea views from clifftop and scrub before the turn along the esplanade into the Victorian town of Westward Ho! The ups and downs were quite arduous, particularly one late one where we dropped about 80 meters to the beach for about 20 steps on boulders before climbing back up higher than we had been. The YHA bunkhouse was unstaffed despite it being after 5. We were exhausted and sweaty so were fairly unsympathetic when the bloke running it sauntered in. After our shower we went out and ended up in The Village Inn, a nice pub where we had dinner (also with Caroline and Sarah). Then Matt and I went for a walk. It’s a very nice place. On the beach at dusk we thought the tide might come in quite fast across the flat beach, but a leaf-shaped formation of posts caught our eye protruding from the sand. Next morning a coastguard told us it was the remains of a ship wreck. Back to the hostel and slept well.

Wrecked boat on Westward Ho! beach, low tide

Wrecked boat on Westward Ho! beach, low tide

Day 13 Westward Ho! to Appledore

We had a picnic breakfast and then walked to Appledore along the Westward Ho! beach – tide out, bare feet. Had fun with the blue clay on the beach exposed by the storms, trying to leave footprints to be found by humans in the far future who would analyse them and think we were very fat for our size. Saw a little crab rushing along looking for somewhere to dig, and even a blenny in one of the rockpools. An RNLI lifeguard told us that the oval of wooden stumps at WH!!! was a wreck, again exposed by storms. A woman in Appledore told us they lose sand in winter and gain it back in summer but this year they hadn’t gained what they lost. Funny to live in such a shifting landscape. 
Had a good lunch on the terrace of The Beaver Inn. We liked Appledore. From the bus to Barnstaple we could see its massive shipyard – Babcock, on boat #3 for Irish navy.

Then home.

A march – 999 Call for the NHS

Reposted and lightly amended with permission from Barkingside21.

People's March for the NHSStarting off from Jarrow early today, a group of local mums from Darlington known as the #Darlomums are beginning the 999 March for the NHS. They’ll make their way 300 miles to London entirely on foot.

They’re trying to draw attention to the critical condition of the NHS as it is gradually eroded by privatisation. Following the route of the Jarrow hunger march, they’ll pass through 23 towns and cities over 21 days. On each stretch they’ll be joined by NHS workers, NHS users, and other supporters of all stripes. It looks like it’s going to be big and bold. After all, there’s so much at stake.

They’ll be in this neck of the woods on Saturday 6th September leaving Edmonton at 10am and arriving in Westminster at 3pm for a rally which is likely to be a landmark event in the campaign to keep the NHS public.

They want us to join them. Here is a day-by-day route and a place to let them know you’re coming. Being volunteers with a lot to organise, they need funds too – you can help by buying a T-Shirt and/or donating. If you use Twitter, big up @999CallforNHS with the hashtag #march4nhs . If you use Facebook, they’re here.

Here is why:

Tricycle Theatre and the UKJFF – no quiet for quiet

Even from this one article I can think of several possible angles to take on the decision by the board of Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre not to host the UK Jewish Film Festival unless the organisers refused funding from the Israeli Embassy cultural department and accepted instead an equivalent amount from the theatre itself.

 The first is that the Tricycle acted very late. It had come under pressure last year, from a group which openly seeks an end to Israel’s existence, and you get the impression it craved a quiet life. Although the films of the UKJFF are famously open minded about Israel’s conflicts, Israel’s boycotters, seemingly always short of creative ideas or recreational outlets, have taken to wrecking anything that could conceivably be linked to Israel. So I’m guessing the Tricycle decided to jettison Israeli Embassy funding, create a bit of distance, buy itself some quiet. It doesn’t seem to have much zeal for boycotting Israel, but it did so anyway. If this speculation is right, then that is a milestone in the boycott campaign.

The second is that if the Tricycle were set on excluding Jews, I don’t think it would have offered to shell out from its own pocket. Linda Grant says “I’m happy to press war crimes charges against politicians and generals, but not punish ballerinas and actors because you can’t get at the powerful”. The Tricycle is not punishing Israeli film makers with exclusion – it is attempting to substitute for an Israeli Embassy funder. So I can’t see that there’s any antisemitic intent here. As for antisemitic effects, that’s another matter (update: Nick Cohen on the racist nature of discriminatory double standards). But it doesn’t have to be antisemitic to be plain wrong.

The third is that refusing Israeli funding is indeed a measure towards ‘neutrality’. But, reading the statement, the neutrality they seem to be referring to is between opposing British partisans, not between Israel and Hamas. Because if the Tricycle were to accept Israeli funds, there would be a tornado of rage from British anti-Israel activists which would bring a response in kind from the supporters of Israel, and there would be an almightly fight all over the festival, driving away the tender punters and draining the energies of the director and board.

Another is that the Tricycle cannot be neutral in the actual conflict by refusing to take Israeli Embassy money when Hamas has no intention of giving it money. The Israeli Embassy is not even in the same league as Hamas. We clearly need to revisit who Hamas are – even if you think that Israel’s strategy is ill-fated, Hamas are a self-declaredly implacable and legitimate enemy. Who will actually cheer the Tricycle’s decision? My prediction is Israel-eliminationists, pro-Hamas activists, Islamists, Arab nationalists and those who are combinations of each. You can judge a controversial action by what the people who like it stand for.

Another is that the ‘plague on both their houses’ approach of not “accepting funding from any party to the conflict” makes me ache for a Hamas that did actually want to fund the kind of arts which theatres like the Tricycle host. What a genuine bridge to understanding that could be. Then the Tricycle could fund both, and the supporters of each would flock to watch. As militant Islamists, I doubt Hamas likes artists because artists tend to be resolutely independent-minded. Israel, on the other hand, is a hothouse for critical films about Israel.

Another is that it’s a big development for boycotting Israel to be considered ‘neutrality’ when it has always been the acceptable front of a longstanding campaign to end Israel’s actual existence. Is the Tricycle’s decision a sign that the boycott is changing its identity to something more constructive? Perhaps but I am a long way from being convinced.

Another is that there is something penetrating about the equal treatment of Israel and Hamas, because it is a neat way to expose differences and inequalities. So when the BBC reports equally, it throws into relief the discrepancies between Gaza and Israel – the number of deaths, the affluence, or the amount of firepower, or the protections available to ordinary residents. When the Tricycle boycotts both Israel and Hamas, you realise that Hamas doesn’t like the arts at all although – as we now know – it has plenty of spare cash.

Another is that the Tricycle caused a self-boycott on the part of UKJFF, because its quest for a quiet life on the home front was interpreted by the Jewish organisers as a wedge to part Jews from the world’s only Jewish state. A few things about this. Though my knowledge about UK Jewry is slim, I know that it is normal for most Jews to have family ties to Israel – that’s the way the cookie crumbled for European Jews after the Holocaust. I also know that in countries where antisemitism is waxing – France, for example – Jews are more susceptible to come-hithers from Israel. I haven’t mentioned the (more positive) spiritual and emotional connection between Jews and Israel, but I understand it’s pretty strong. Under the circumstances, I doubt that attempts to pry apart Jews and Israel will have much success – although without these pressures I’m certain that Israel would come to feel more and more distinct. It is after all, its own place, and it has never given much support to Jews who live outside Israel. And for the moment it has an awful government. But for now, for many Jews, if even at the back of their mind, Israel is their insurance against a resurgence of expulsions, statelessness and physical attacks.

Another is that I hope I’ve exposed as a black joke Nicholas Hytner’s comment that it’s the UKJFF who, though they have always been funded by the Israeli Embassy “have unwisely politicised a celebration of Jewish culture”.

The UK Jewish Film Festival will take place, but keep an eye out for the new venues.

Update 9th August

It’s looking worse and worse for the Tricycle. Adam Wagner of 1 Crown Office Row barristers’ chambers examines has a UK Human Rights blogpost examining whether the Tricycle Theatre has broken the law. He draws attention to the Tricycle’s self-description as an organisation that “views the world through a variety of lenses, bringing unheard voices into the mainstream” (ringing hollow right now). he also sheds light on the tiny amount (should have realised it would be tiny if the Tricycle were offering to cover it) which was probably also a tiny proportion of the overall funding. Nick Cohen points out that the Israeli Embassy did not impose any conditions on the donation. He also points out that the money the Tricycle proposed to substitute for the Israeli money comes from the UK state, which has gone to war in Iraq with drastic loss of human life. The double standards on Israel are unjustifiable. We need to get to the bottom of why only Israel? It is not far-fetched to suppose that at the heart of this is latent unintentional bias against Jews.

Update 16th August

Despite 500 artistic signatories to a letter defending The Tricycle against allegations of antisemitism, the theatre decided to revoke the conditions on the UK Jewish Film Festival. This was a happy outcome, but one which for me was marred by worry that it didn’t represent any change of heart on the part of the Trike. On Twitter the campaign to boycott the theatre – including @TalOfer and @BoycottTricycle – was elated. They should be proud of a well-organised campaign, but they seemed to care more about touting the decision as their victory than celebrating it as an victory of anti-discrimination activism. Maybe they were right – other funders had begun to pull out of the Trike, so maybe it had no choice. In which case, the new decision is not enlightened but forced. Better forced than nothing, but I’m left with a feeling of disquiet and questions about the Trike’s motives. Could they have been persuaded, or was money and the most strident voices the only thing that talked? Are they still susceptible to this antisemitic variety of anti-Zionism which singles out Israel alone for special penalties? The anti-Zionists are livid and mystified, and determined to be the loudest voices and the biggest sticks. For its part the Tricycle’s and UKJFF’s joint statement did nothing to illuminate the situation, or really explain its take on reconciliation. It needed to be clearer about its principles in order for the decision not to be seen by the increasing number of people with antisemitic instincts as a capitulation to Jewish power. As Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles remarked on Twitter, “The Jewish film festival ban/un-ban by Tricycle Theatre” has been a disaster from beginning to end. I wonder if there is still space for reason, persuasion, empathy, and compassion.

Is it pro-Palestinian?

Not in my name

For example Laurie Penny says that although Jews aren’t responsible for Palestinian deaths, their opinions carry extra weight and could “make a difference” when raised in opposition to Israel. “It is not anti-Semitic to say “not in my name””.

Picking through that, she’s obviously not expecting to make a difference with the Israeli government since they’re not even taking a steer from the US government at the moment. And she’s not addressing Palestinians (who may by now understand the limits of moral support – very nice thanks but here we still are, cooped up and dying). She’s definitely exhibiting her own political credentials, which matter only within her political bubble. And she may be hoping to inoculate herself against the now prevalent antisemitic view that all Jews should be assumed to support child-killing unless they say otherwise. Isn’t that a bit like urging Muslims to speak up against ISIS massacres? Don’t Jews held to political tests deserve solidarity?

Conclusion: self-centred cop-out.

Palestinian flags

For example, the “gesture of solidarity” from Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman is a stunt which exceeds his office and misuses a local government institution. How can a Palestinian flag have any impact as a symbol of peace when the Israeli flag is absent? It’s a partisan nationalistic symbol.

Conclusion: competitive, vicarious nationalism.

Writing a letter, as a Jew

Plenty of letters have been written by people and groups who wish to ostentatiously set themselves apart from the Jewish establishment.

I don’t get it. If you have a Jewish background but you’re not part of a Jewish communal organisation then you don’t get to send a representative to the Jewish Board of Deputies, the organisation which was formed to allow UK Jewry to make official, democratically negotiated representation to UK government, or its equivalent for your country. That’s understandable – so go and publish your own letter, as long as you don’t make out that your local group of elected Jewish representatives is invalid (I realise this needs more examples, but it’s late…). It probably has its tribulations and gets through them OK. Or if your Jewish communal organisation decides not to send a representative to the BOD but prefers to use the BOD as a counterfoil, then you’re in an anti-establishment clique which represents a cliquey, niche kind of Jewishness. But well done you for being so fresh and diverse. You’ll stand out really nicely against the silent, confused, hurting majority of Jews who feel unable to speak up for Gazans if it’s anti-Zionists and Jew-baiters trying to make them, and who understand enough to hate what Hamas stand for as much as they hate the sight of smashed up Palestinians.

Conclusion: loathsome identity politics from the dullest radicals.

Calling it a Holocaust

Telling Jews that they of all people should have learned from the Holocaust not to treat other people like the Nazis treated them is vindictively stupid. If I think of them as ignorant,  and beside themselves with grief, fear or rage, I can just about bring myself to explain Palestinian men drawing Hitler moustaches and swastikas on pictures Netanyahu and burning them, but when this is picked up by social media with such evident enthusiasm, Bob From Brockley explains the significance.

Conclusion: casual antisemitism of moralising simpletons influenced (maybe unwittingly) by Hamas &tc media strategists.

Fake pictures and other exaggerations

So many fake or misunderstood pictures and so much misinformation that people begin to doubt any of the reportage. On that, read this. Passing off artistic interpretations of a terrible situation as documentary evidence only sends the message that the truth isn’t actually very impressive and we can all relax.

Conclusion: lying and careless retweeting betrays any cause.

Boycotting Israel

The call is to boycott Israel in its entirety until it fulfills a list of requirements. The poorly hidden agenda is to wipe Israel off the map. “Colonization”? By whom? Nobody. “All Arab lands”? If they meant end the occupation they’d say it. “Dismantle the wall”? Not so fast – remember all those suicide bombers and all that Israeli civilian blood? “the right of Palestinian refugees to return”? That’s 12 or so million people who are designated refugees only because the countries where they live (many of whom made life unbearable for local Jews) refused to give them citizenship to keep up pressure on Israel. Imagine any politician even attempting to pull off that scale of immigration at home.

Conclusion: simple partisanship – Palestinian nationalism good, Israeli nationalism evil.

Blaming Israel for antisemitic attacks on Jews in the name of Palestinians

A seriously depressing and disturbing form of Palestine activism – particularly since so many on the Israeli left find it convenient to instrumentalise these attacks on Jews outside Israel as evidence that the Israeli strategy of confinement and bouts of force is failing.

I’m missing it out cos I’m going to bed.

Anything positive, whatsoever?

For those who are genuinely interested, plenty – but I can’t see any low hanging fruit. The easiest is reversing the empathy deficit – so hard to do in Israel or the occupied territories. Also easy, trying to understand, giving consideration to all sides from the religious Israeli settlers to the genocidal jihadis. Refusing to be in a bubble. Paying attention to honest reportage from brave journalists, and commentary from experts who are interested in peace rather than winning. Insisting that humans at risk of harm are at the centre of all conflict considerations. Insisting that every death is investigated, amplifying alternative plans for ending the conflict. Finding ways to drive a wedge between Israel and the expanding settlements, which might include selective boycott. Not leaving it to pro-Israel partisans to hold Hamas to account. Not leaving it to pro-Palestine partisans to hold Israel to account. Refusing to import the conflict. Rejecting zero-sum game politics. Pursuing a vision of peace which doesn’t involve punishing and demeaning one or other of the parties in the conflict. Being careful not to damage the credibility of Palestinian or Israeli politicians by folding them into your own agenda.


In need of co-operative

“At a very early period in the movement, co-operation set before itself the task of becoming mentally independent as being quite as important as that of becoming independent in its groceries.”

Our local high street Co-operative Food is about to turn into a Quidsaver. Meanwhile Barkingside (not somewhere most people are too poor and ground down to spend an extra few pence making sure the producers and workers get paid OK) apparently finds it “too dear” and prefers to drive to Tesco and Lidl as if the world owes it cheap food and owes the producers a slow asphyxiation. And if it’s hard for us (and for most of us round here I seriously doubt it) imagine how hard it is for them. Quidsaver, like Tesco, probably depends on slave labour somewhere down its murky supply chain.

Since Barkingside consumers are not so poor as ignorant, I read this history of co-operative education by Keri Facer and try not to indulge my futile neighbourhood fury.

From it:

“… a ‘learnt associational identity’ (2011) was expected to grow out of the experience of mutual support and participation in democratic practices. Co-operative education was understood not only to be education about co-operation, but education through participation in the co-operative movement. Education was not a professionalised theoretical activity, rather ‘education and co-operation were at times coterminous, woven into interconnected webs of working class activity’”


“The first tension is a product of a commitment to co-operative values. The commitment to self-reliance and self-responsibility, and the flourishing of a highly divergent co-operative movement, means that there was resistance to a universal centrally dictated model of education. Instead, there were tensions between the need to maintain local autonomy and the desire to build a wider movement, between the growth of common feelings and solidarity through locally determined societies and the efficiencies to be gained from formality and national organisation. The principle of local autonomy tended to prevail, and as a consequence, there was often scant local formal education provision.”

And now, again,

“As of 2011, and the publication of the new Public Services Bill which paves the way for co-operative and mutual models of public services delivery, the Co-operative College is also exploring how to support the development of co-operative models of children’s services provision, music services, early years and youth provision.”

Read on for how that’s going (promisingly).