A sad story about some shoes

A Greek dramatist (maybe a rather trivial one) would have a word for what follows.

On my recommendation a friend – G from Amsterdam – bought a pair of shoes (Evelyn, blue, £39.99 back then, currently £49.99) from Bourgeois Boheme. Because of the astronomical postage they were delivered to me so that our mutual friend M (from Amsterdam and staying with Matt and me last weekend) could take them back with her.

A couple of weeks ago, I was horrified to see exactly the same pair in the window a shop on Barkingside High St for a seventh of the price – £7. At that time it was night and the shop – Risky – was closed.

Went back to Risky at the first opportunity (that Sunday) . It was closed. I photographed the shoes – they were the same shoes, the manufacturer was Blu and although Bourgeois Boheme had branded theirs, the box clearly said Blu on it. Stroked my chin for some time trying to decide what to do – I felt bad for G, and was having reservations about Bourgeois Boheme and Risky.

I decided not to tell Gloria because I couldn’t get to the shop before this Saturday and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Then I put the final nail in the coffin by emailing BB to tell them that I’m happy to pay extra for my apparel, but only with certain reassurances about veganness, workforce welfare, environment and so on. I got a load of them but no evidence. I don’t trust hardwood suppliers without evidence, so at the current time my confidence in Bourgeois Boheme could be better.

Meanwhile, Bourgeois Boheme won the Vegan Society Ethical Retailer of the Year. But I think it’s a reader vote and I’m not sure how much scrutiny BB has actually been subjected to.

Anyway, M collected the shoes as planned. She took them to work in a bag slung on her bike handlebars, had a tussle with her bike lock and forgot them. By the time she’d remembered they’d been stolen. So we told Gloria about the £7 pair to pre-empt her shelling out another £49. Fingers crossed, I’m going to be able to pick up a pair on Saturday.

Then I got curious. I called the Vegan Society, and found out that they lend their logo on trust. The woman’s best point was that there were not enough resources to do spot checks, and failing that we have to go on trust – and even if I spoke to the manufacturer, they’d only tell me what they told Bourgeois Boheme. The Vegan Society asks for a declaration before it allows the use of its logo. In a state of extreme mistrust I drafted another email to BB. It read:

You seem like a lovely company, and of course you’ve just won the Vegan Society’s Ethical Retailer of the Year. But I understand that the shortlisted companies and their suppliers were not particularly scrutinised – it was a reader vote. What it comes down to is that I have to take BB’s and the Vegan Society’s word for it. And – though I wince as I type this, because of course I want to have complete confidence in the retailers I choose to buy from – experience tells me that I should be less complacent. Vegans, eco-warriors etc – especially “bourgeois” ones – who are able to pay more for a cleaner conscience could easily be taken advantage of – like the people who buy Malaysian hardwood stamped with fake sustainability labels.

I wonder how you satisfy yourself that your suppliers are sufficiently rigorous. How do you identify them and collect your information? Are there any spot-checks on the suppliers? You probably have better things to do than reply to this, but I would be happy to see this kind of information on your Web site.

Then I shook myself. If you can’t trust that Vegan Society logo as an indicator, what can you trust? Not much – only organisations which do spot checks and there aren’t too many of those in the vegan world.

On “self-appointed Jews”

Eve Garrard and Norman Geras carefully examine the enthusisastic and misguided holding-in-authority of Jewish voices critical of Israel, and have a look at what might motivate them. Very convincing, and sad.

Just because you’re Jewish, it doesn’t mean you’re right. 

Abdelkareem Soliman


Which I translated using you-guessed-it-Google’s Arabic to English translator (Beta). Fragmented incoherent English like this:

 “I am here announced explicitly and clearly my rejection and repudiation of any law, any legislation, any regime that does not respect the rights of the individual personal freedom, does not recognize the absolute freedom of the individual to do anything as long as around not affect materially does not recognize the freedom of Alavra d Launched to express their views, no matter how important Tin as long as it has this view merely an opinion or talk by u singled not accompanied by any act of physical harm to others. At the same time, I made it clear that these laws not in any way obligates nor recognized in the presence of Ha and detestable my deepest everyone working on the implementation of all pw silencing to satisfy all of their presence or benefit.”

But a rejection of religion in public life and a will to speak freely come out in defiance of his arse on the line and for that reason I salute him.

Fleet Street pub crawl, Sutton House, a wedding, and Rasa N16,

Friday evening was a planned pub crawl (which as ever was downscaled to just 3 pubs) round Fleet St, because the Canadians were visiting. The pubs were earmarked and reviewed at the new Google maps mashup on http://www.fancyapint.com/. In order to create a map with pubs and reviews, I had to capture my own Google map of the area with the pubs shown as Destinations, and the reviews round the side in (sorry to say) MS Word text boxes with arrows. From me to you – the Fleet Street pub crawl map with route and reviews in .doc format (sorry). Everyone liked the map – I might do a few more to have to hand. Mayfair would be good.

We started in the George (something like 231 The Strand) because it was easy to find. Then moved to the Deveraux in Deveraux Court round the corner, finishing at the Edgar Wallace on Essex St. All those pubs are said to be a shadow of their former selves and EJ was taking the piss out of them all looking the same (she’s right though). Good to see EJ and JR (they’re selling EJ’s Peckham flat and have put an offer in on the house of a friend in Upper Walthamstow). The Canadians brought a nice friend with them who does lighting for art exhibitions (including the Tate) and kind of changed my perspective on some things.

Saturday was an early start and an easy nip on the silverlink metro to Sutton House and F&M’s wedding. It was a truly lovely, relaxing day. We had the run of Sutton House during the reception, with harpsichord music drifting down into the cellar where we played with bricks. Then taxis to Frocks on Lauriston Rd who were good to the vegan. Divine mushroom soup followed by an unusually spiced mushroom pilaf with choi sum and mange tout. The cinnamon poached conference pear. Lots to drink and good company. Such a down-to-earth, unpretentious, thoughtful wedding. Then we met the Canadians in Stoke Newington, failed to avoid Ireland beating England in the rugby and ate wonderful Keralan food at Rasa (N16) to which I can hardly do justice, but I’ll try.

For starter we had pickles and chutneys (£2 for 6: garlic, mango, lemon, and mixed veg, pickles and coconut and coriander chutneys) with starter dishes (all £2.75) with:

Banana boli

Plantains, like coconut and spices, are an integral part of Kerala cooking. Plantain slices are dipped in a batter of rice and chickpea flour seasoned with black sesame seeds, then crisply fried. Served with our specially prepared peanut and ginger sauce. Perfect for children and people who prefer non-spicy starters

Mysore bonda

The tea time snack in Kerala, but delicious at any time. Potato balls laced with fresh ginger, curry leaves, coriander and black mustard seeds, dipped and fried in chickpea flour batter and crisply fried. Served with a moist, creamy coconut chutney.

Masala vadai

Vadias are South India’s great treats, crunchy, deep-fried patties made of mixed lentil batter laced with fresh curry leaves, ginger and green chillies, served with coconut chutney. A favourite tea time snack in the family home.

And Bhel mix

Famous Bombay roadside snack made of fresh crispy chickpeas, bhel, sev, peanuts, onions blended in spicy tamarind juice and freshly chopped coriander leaves.

Then mains (see the menu at http://www.rasarestaurants.com/UserPages/menu_resraurants/restaurant_n16.htm for these – I’m getting bored of clipboard functions):

Two rice: tamarind and lemon

Two breads: Paratha andUzhunnapam

Curries and dhosa – Nadan Paripu, Moru Kachiathu Chilli Onion Rava Dhosa and one other curry – I forget.

It was better than I remember it, even, and the staff were careful to point out that I couldn’t have the moru kachiathu or the paratha (unvegan). H&M loved it. And the dears paid. I just hope they were comfortable on the sofabed in the stripped down dining room…

Unremitting antisemitism

I’m doing a little presentation on the history of weblogs. The term “weblog” was coined by somebody called Jorn Barger, says Stephen Downes. I eagerly visit his site to collect the wisdom (robotwisdom). This is the first thing I encounter, top of the page:

“judaism is racism is incompatible with democracy”

I can’t get away from antisemitism – even if I try, it’s popping up everywhere I look. I notice it, but for a lot of other people it must just be in the background, insidiously scene-setting.

Nazis don’t like Tesco

Spiked is a very weird organisation. There’ll be some national event which causes outpouring and handwringing and it’s a foregone conclusion that somebody from Spiked will chime in a few days later with affected nonchalance, reprimand the rest of us for making a fuss about it,  remind us that it only happens once in a blue moon and tell us that if we’re worried about it then it’s only because we’re being too (the most scathing of all possible epithets) middle class about things. For Spiked you’d think the worst thing that could happen in the world is not bombs, not global warming, not famine, not paedophiles, not war – but moral posturing which eclipses them all. Moral posturing and the petit bourgeoisie are Spiked’s obsession. It’s where their anarchy meets their communism (I think). It’s getting so I can predict just about everything they say about any given event and that’s just dull.

Which is why I need to mention a strange piece from Neil Davenport. He was unable to resist including the following unexpected paragraph in his piece on why we have nothing to fear from the leviathan that is Tesco:

“Back in the 1930s, one political party did rise to power promising to rein in the ‘excesses’ of chainstores. In Germany, the Nazi Party passed The Protection of Individual Trade Act on 12 May 1933. From then on, chain stores were forbidden to expand or open new branches. They were also forbidden from offering a discount of more than three per cent on prices. Essentially, small shopkeepers in Germany, together with their middle-class supporters, wanted the state to claw-back some prestige and status lost through the expansion of industrial society. It’s not too fanciful to suggest that the Nazi Party wouldn’t have looked favourably on Tesco, either.”


He goes on to point out that “Tesco’s critics are not anywhere near to being Nazis” but the paragaph was so disconcerting in the first place that for me the association is now quite fixed …

Last weekend

MD and I went to Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum. I went along early to get tickets (the advance booking is only up to 48 hours in advance) and wandered round the Human Biology exhibition, culminating in enormous (and solitary) mirth at a video in which a researcher hid toys under towels and the young babies whose toys they were thought the toy had ceased to exist.

WPotY was pretty good though very congested in the corners. But we had to queue to get into the building, queue to check in our bags and coats (in case we were anti-Shell paint-chuckers) and queue to get them back.

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/temporary-exhibitions/wpy/OnlineGallery/. I loved  Jean-Pierre Zwaenepoel’s Sunlit Langur,  Solvin Zankl’s Rockhopper Rush-Hour, Pete Oxford’s Golden-Crowned Sifaka, and Andy Rouse’s Rival Kings.

Then we went to get M’s coat so I got to see inside Crown Estate on Regent St. Then Islington and a meal with Matt in the Afghan Kitchen (35 Islington Green, Islington, London, N1 8DU, Telephone: 0871 3328027 ) and went to see The Science of Sleep which was quite lovely if over-long and ultimately meaningless.

Sunday we cleaned like drudges (scrubbed the floor of the dining room, washed the sofa covers, hoovered the kitchen drawers, took stuff to the dump/recycling depot, descaled the kettle – that kind of thing).

More on twinning and tripletting where I work

Further to this post: https://fleshisgrass.wordpress.com/2007/01/24/my-student-union-is-anxious-to-twin-with-nablus/

I’ve been trying to keep an open mind about the Palestinian twinning initiatives – they seem to be used to exclude Israel, but then again if they can help to normalise Palestinian academic life, then that’s got to be a good thing. A motion to twin with a Palestinian institution was passed here last term.
This morning a friend who is also a student here forwarded me a notice which appears to be from the Student Union Campaigns Offier urging students to attend a meeting tomorrow so that they can vote against what the notice terms a ‘counter-motion’.

This ‘counter-motion’ is in favour of a tripletting and proposes “To twin [my institution] jointly with a Palestinian and an Israeli university which run such shared initiatives ” (i.e. existing Palestinian-Israeli relationships). In this respect it doesn’t appear to be a counter motion at all, but a more inclusive extension of the original motion. However, the proposer of the original motion prefers to present it as such, and responds in the notice that “‘twinning’ is a way of expressing solidarity with people suffering an injustice … no Israeli university is subject to the kind of collective punishment being inflicted on all the occupants of the occupied territories.”

For this person supporting Palestinians is to be expressed in terms of excluding Israel. The strongest message from the notice (besides the one that it’s OK for a Student Union Officer to tell members how to vote) is that twinning only works if somebody is left out, and as such solidarity with an Israeli institution would entirely undermine the idea of solidarity with a Palestinian one – in fact the person considers the two actions mutually exclusive. But for them to be mutually exclusive would mean that the Palestinian twinning were nothing more than a gesture of solidarity with Palestinians which depends on a gesture of rejection of Israel. And that would be something I couldn’t go along with, because it’s entirely divisive and contradicts the inclusiveness and trust-building I’m trying to support. If I’m wrong and there’s a proposal to offer our Palestinian twins something more substantial and constructive than remote goodwill, and if I’m called upon to be involved (still more unlikely), I dare say I’ll help. But as it stands, I can’t get behind this twinning and the way that notice is worded inclines me to oppose it. If I were a student I’d be voting in favour of the second (tripletting) motion.

I passed this on to staff round here who like to know about these things. Worrying that the proposer of the second motion was going to get a lot of hostility, one of us emailed him offering the only support that we as staff can offer – somebody to talk to.

Making decisions about booking trains

I spend too much time doing this (which obviously adds to the cost of the travel – for my institution).

Anyway, the journey is a day return, London to Oxford and I’m looking online. Although my meeting is right next to the station I had a look at the Oxford Tube first – it was going to cost £14 return and take more than 100 minutes (rush hour). Then I had a look at First Great Western. I like to have a forward-facing window-seat with table in the quiet carriage, so I usually check the times and then while I have a session open but without making a transaction I call and do the booking over the phone. Anyway, the online booking got all buggered up and I was going to have to pay £17.50 rather than the 2 singles at £6 and £8 I’d found first but which reported being unavailable after all. But when I phoned to buy the ticket I was told by the advisor that the cheap tickets were all booked up and I was going to have to pay loads more. The unsettling thing is (and this happens to me often), when I argued that the cheap tickets couldn’t be booked up because I was in the middle of a transaction to buy one and was only calling him to arrange my quiet carriage, window and table (you can sort out front-facing online), he said “One moment please” and came up with not the £17.50 cheap day return but my original two singles – £14.00.

Which brings me to the point of this tale, which is never rely on just the call centre people or just the online booking system to find you the cheapest fare – I don’t know what the problem is but a problem there is. Unless of course you’re much better paid than I am and the costliest thing you could do is spend time looking for good travel deals.

Back in time with AJET

I’ve been researching developers’ and teachers’ aspirations for VLEs in the ’80s and ’90swhen they first began to emerge as we know them.

The Australian Journal of Educational Technology – http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet has free full text of every issue from the beginning and is an excellent record of the changes in the last 20 years. Mindboggling.

Of on a tangent a bit, I enjoyed this one in particular:

John G Hedberg and Neil R Perry (1985) Australian Journal of Educational Technology;1(1):12-20

because it contains a referenced summary of HCI guidelines which includes everything I try to get teachers  to do. The problem is this stuff isn’t high on the research agenda any more, and I’ve internalised it to the extent that it’s sometimes difficult for me to freshen it up and make it seem important to new people.