Lives of their own to live

I watched a Timeshift documentary on BBC4 called ‘A Day at the Zoo‘. The experts commented lightheartedly on the early days of zoos, when you could hire a stick to prod the animals to make them do something of interest, when they used to feed them rum and buns, and when they used to live out their days behind bars in small concrete enclosures. Gerald Durrell used to procure for these zoos, but he soon noticed that the animals were dying and the zoos considered them replaceable commodities. So he stopped providing for them and instead changed the paradigm with his conservation zoo in Jersey. The punters began to feel uncomfortable with animals behind bars and the safari park was born. It then took a further while for people to cotton onto the fact that animal welfare isn’t all about space, and space can be territory which feels invaded when a bunch of cars drive through it. Andy Hall, the documentary’s director, gave the briefest possible airtime to Liz Tyson, director of the Captive Animals Protection Society. She was the only critic of zoos.

I’ll give her a bit more attention. If you wouldn’t visit a live animal circus, then don’t visit a live animal event this Christmas. And that goes for Ilford which has reindeer and penguins. So pledge not to visit any live animal events this Christmas time.

In today’s Metro was a feature on the loneliness of older people. The older I get the more conscious I become that society is organised around a productive workforce which, if not exactly valorised, is central and provided for first and foremost. The Equalities Act is a triumph of accessibility but it can’t in itself nourish the soul. Alert to animals in the media, I noticed a paragraph about a charity which brings dogs into contact with people with severely limiting conditions who live in care homes – this jumped out:

“She added: ‘The general public often shy away from the unattractive sight of old age and all that it brings. The dogs don’t mind what you look like, what you smell like, if you can speak to them or not, or if your hands don’t work properly.’”

This really confused me. As a surrogate for human contact it would be terribly sad. And I don’t get it – children foul themselves and are incompetent. Dogs themselves smell awful and like rolling in crap. What is going on here? That said, who wouldn’t want to cuddle with any friendly mammal, just for its own sake? But if I were older and alone this Christmas I’d prefer to go to Cafe 104 in Barkingside for Christmas cheer, laid on for me, for free. How generous. And they’ve always been vegan-friendly to me.


This is installment #14 of my ‘daily’ blogpost for World Vegan Month. In search of the winning formula I’ve departed from sections Consumption, Animals in the Media (formerly ‘News’), and Encounters – but how about I just do a quick recap.

Encounters. I was unsurprised that the Hamas has acquired a couple of trophy lion cubs and named them after things that kill Israelis. Pathetic. In other news mice have made a home on my floor, which is quite impressive given that hardly any of the building is in contact with the ground. Half the office is concerned about ‘infestation’ and ‘vermin’ and the other half is making trade unionist quips about their core hours of work and the need to use the bookable space system. I am trying to drop fewer crumbs, to make the place less attractive as a habitat.

Animals in the media. See above.

Consumption. Yesterday at Kings College London I had 6 bourbon creams followed by a lunch of crudites, houmous, pitta and olives in their own herbed oil. Just what I needed. And fruit. For breakfast I’d had a banana from M&S in Chancery Lane for 13p – I’d have paid more for Fairtrade. For dinner a Goodlife nut cutlet, red onion gravy with aforementioned freegan denatured seasoned cooking wine out of a box, carrots, frozen beans, frozen peas and small knobbly potatoes. More of the same for lunch today, packed up. And for breakfast I’m onto a new kilo of Sainsbury’s Fruit & Fibre, mixed with Co-op Maple and Pecan crunch cereal, which has become vegan. Then I accidentally ate a large bag of Co-op salt & vinegar chipsticks so dinner was a quarter of a cabbage, a carrot – both steamed – and a nut cutlet – no potatoes. Then some Green & Black lemon chocolate. I think it’s the cold. Tomorrow will be Vegetarian Choice sausages with more cabbage, carrot and potatoes. No time to chef it up – it’s tasty as it is, anyway.

Hospitals. They don’t always come to you.

The announced closure of A&E at King George by Andrew Lansley’s Independent Reconfiguration Panel reminded me of an eminent Conservative who, if I remember correctly, said something like,

“There was a very good programme the other day that talked about Ilford and the fact there was a hospital in Romford; but many of the sick in Ilford had become static and didn’t know that if they got on a bus for an hour’s journey, they’d be in Romford and could look for the hospital there. My point is we need to recognise that the hospitals don’t always come to you – sometimes you need to go to the hospitals.”

Rousing words – but what do they mean in practice?

A&E attendance last year tended to peak on Mondays in March around lunchtime (yes, after the sustained media bombardment of intoxicated British youth in stiletto platforms falling over and jabbing each other with broken bottles on Friday and Saturday nights, I found that surprising too.)

So taking the first Monday lunchtime (though in November), what is the journey time from the still- beating heart of Barkingside (Fullwell Cross) to Queen’s in distant Romford?

On the 12.30 bus, Journey Planner tells me it will take the promised mere hour – 58 minutes with a change. That’s 39 minutes to Romford Market on the 247, then another 14 on the next bus, though if you made it to the station you might be able to crawl from there. On the way you’ll have plenty of time to take in the sights of Hainault, passing tantalisingly close to King George before dodging left towards Collier Row. Oh, and there seem to be major engineering works near the station that day – and in fact every day until 2013 – which may or may not cause diversions (Journey Planner acting a little whimsical here).

What if you can afford to take a taxi, or even have a friend wih a car? Google Maps gives a choice of three routes between 6.8 and 7.7 miles and all between 19 and 20 minutes – but we know the traffic is extremely variable. BJ Cars quoted me £13, Cab Mania, £58 for a Monday lunchtime ride – I’d imagine the first quote is too low and the second too high.

King George, incidentally, is anything up to 42 minutes on public transport, and 3.9 miles and 13 minutes from Fullwell Cross in a car.

Anyway, I know – the Conservative-led coalition don’t exactly want residents of Havering, Barking and Dagenham, or most parts of Redbridge to die early – they just don’t care much if we do.

In pictures: Barkingside snowday

I don’t remember snow mounting up so quickly here. Matt and I walked up to Claybury Park to see the sights.

Fullwell Avenue empty in the snow

No cars - they were all stuck at Fullwell Cross

Tropical tree, British hearth, pagan lights, Barkingside

Tropical tree, British hearth, pagan lights, Barkingside


Tailback as buses are defeated on Tomswood Hill

Orchard at the edge of Claybury Park

The orchard at the Tomswood Hill edge of Claybury Park



The little lights of Barkingside from Tomswood Hill, Claybury Park

The little lights of Barkingside from Tomswood Hill, Claybury Park

Then we followed the shrieks of excitement to the top of Pancake Hill and a family whose father’s shoes we retrieved after they flew off at high speed lent us their plastic sheets and I had my first taste of what we’d seen last year. Very exciting.

Christmas lights on Atherton Road

Christmas lights on Atherton Road

Snowman on Fullwell Avenue

Snowman, Fullwell Avenue. One of several giants this year.

Christmas lights on Fullwell Avenue

Christmas lights on Fullwell Avenue

Another giant snowman

Another giant snowman, Fullwell Avenue

Footnotes. A group of malevolent older boys aimed unwanted snowballs at the sledgers from the top of the hill. When we approached they retreated a little and then threw more snowballs at us with intent, and when we got sarcastic with them  one began to scream, until his voice cracked, that Matt was a fat ginger cunt who should take a look at himself and cut his hair. On the way up Fullwell Avenue, a car having trouble turning on the ice evoked pure rage on the part of an oncoming driver who rolled down his window and called the other drive a fucking Paki. Red mist came upon me. I wish such people would go and leave Barkingside to the friendly people who speak other languages and go out as a family to make huge snowballs and huger snowmen.

Petition for a community school in Barkingside

A cross post from Matt on Barkingside21.

As B21 reported in the 9 o’clock news earlier this week there is currently a public competition underway to choose an organisation to run a new school on the site of the current Ilford Jewish Primary school.

The need for additional primary school places in Redbridge is well known and the requirement to conduct a competition originates from the Education Act 2006. This means that any suitable organisation can apply to run and maintain the school. The recent consultation showed a high degree of support, over 99%, for reopening a school on that site. It also showed overwhelming support, nearly 92%, for providing a Voluntary Aided faith based school.

However for a number of reasons we support the opening of a new Community School which would be run by the Local Authority and have set up a petition in support of this principle which can be signed on line here. We are supporting the creation of a new community school because:

1) The school will need to serve all of the diverse communities in Redbridge. We believe this can be best achieved by a school which is under the control of publicly elected and accountable politicians and Local Authority Officers. In this way all members of the community can have equal and transparent access to those who are ultimately responsible for the quality of the education provision and running of the school.

2) The cabinet report from 21 June 2010 sets out the very significant investment required to buy and develop the site. If the Local Authority is to invest circa £3m of tax payers money into this project we believe that it should remain a community asset which serves the whole community equally. We do not believe this is guaranteed if the school is run by a faith based or other organisation with special interests.

As the Local Authority has been granted permission to submit a proposal, the decision about who runs the school will now not be taken locally but by by the Schools Adjudicator. The competition closes on 13th December 2010 and so the petition will be open until then. We would like anyone who supports the establishment of a Community School to sign the petition so that your views can be represented in the decision making process.

And of course please pass it on to other contacts! New Community School for Barkingside Petition.


During Refugee Week

Refugee Week has just gone. In the Ilford Recorder (Thursday 17th June, 2010, p10) Rita Chadha of RAMFEL (Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London), Cardinal Heenan Centre, High Road, Ilford, writes:

“The suggestion that Redbridge is home to thousands of illegal immigrants is simply untrue.

It is unfortunate that in trying to promote their service, M. K. Suri appears to have started a discussion that has sadly developed into the usual cliche hysteria about immigration (Recorder, last week).

The government has introduced what it calls a points-based system which means that only those who have the skills that are needed by the UK labour market are let in. Such individuals are not illegal, they are here, they cannot claim benefits or housing, they take nothing.

Even asylum seekers are not housed in Redbridge. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, in many cases they cannot study, and they most definitely cannot claim benefits. So how do they survive?

They are dependent on the handouts of charities like ours, should we really in this day and age be providing in excess of 50 food parcels a week? Paid for out of the generosity of local churches, not by taxpayers.

The government does provide those who have stated they wish to claim asylum a subsistence allowance of £35.52 per week, which is 70 percent below the poverty line. And that is it – no freedom pass, no special treatments, no access to college and no right to work. I defy anyone to live like that for 11 years. It is not illegal to claim asylum.

As the ninth most diverse borough in the country, Redbridge should pride itself on being a place where people feel not only comfotable and wish to settle, but also a place where people can and want to make a positive contribution. Redbridge schools and hospitals are full of people here legally and making the lives of all our communities better.

During Refugee Week, we would ask people to take a moment to look at the reality of the situation, rather than believe the half-truths peddled by a few misinformed individuals.”

I think the middle bit was got at by an editor on glue but I transcribed it faithfully because it’s a good and necessary letter.

Election: the BNP, their supporters and their opposition

Some scattered circumstances, events and situations which seem to have something to do with each other.

I read an academic paper on the BNP (Bowyer, 2008) which addressed the question of support. I hope to read more – good academic papers offer a questioning and dispassionate analysis which I massively value.

Just one of many attacks on Muslim property – Eccles Mosque, April 16th.

My trade union, the University and College Union or UCU, opts to commemorate the Holocaust with a “wall chart” which limits its ambition to a blow-by-blow account of the Holocaust, providing no tools or prompts through which readers are encouraged and enabled to investigate our current circumstances today. The wall chart is a kind of badge, a reaffirmation of credentials, a posturing. It explains nothing.

I live in a short road of English, Africans, Jews, Indians. Not far away is the Hainault estate, where the BNP is particularly active. The paper I read notes that BNP support tends to come from white neighbourhoods within ethnically diverse cities; that kind of thing adds nothing to an election campaign. But it is also well-understood that support for the BNP is associated with socio-economic deprivation and low educational achievement – traditional Labour concerns. Some studies indicate that local housing market conditions and the state of housing stock may be more important than labour market conditions. And yet my Labour candidate, Sonia Klein, does not attend to such matters in her election literature. Sonia Klein mentions Trident, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan on her letterbox literature, and yet omits housing, health, jobs or education. I think darkly about the Stop the War Coalition when she literally cuddles her invited speaker Tony Benn and out of the blue flourishes a middle name, Nabila. Seems she’s looking to mop up the gone-astray left and candidateless Greens. Seems she thinks these voters will be impressed by this kind of talk, and unmoved by plans to address disadvantage. My constituency (Ilford North) is marginal, requiring 1,500 swing to Labour. Since I want to remove our current Conservative MP, my hands are somewhat tied this election – I need to vote for the closest challenger to the left of him and that’s Sonia Klein.

The Staffordshire constituency of Stoke Central is a very possible-looking parliamentary gain for the BNP’s Simon Darby. Labour’s NEC shortlisted celebrity historian and aristocrat Tristram Hunt as a parliamentary candidate without consultation, splitting the local party (and I don’t want to comment on that here, though I sympathise with the sense of disempowerment). Tristram Hunt has local links – his doctoral thesis was on the area. When, in advance of the local party’s vote on the shortlist, Newsnight’s Michael Crick button-holed him and asked (something like) “What can a privately educated boy like you do to stop the BNP?”, Hunt answered (something like) “What you have to say to people who are thinking about voting BNP is this. What teacher will want to come and teach here, what lawyer will want to come and work, what company will want to come and invest?”. What I found revealing about this fragment was that Hunt was thinking about his constituents’ needs rather than badging himself.

The other striking thing is his indirectness about the BNP – from what I can gather, he is not damning their racism, nor seeking to lace his campaign with multi-cultural role models. I don’t know why this is, but it is distinctively indirect.

Indirectness is a very current idea at the moment. I caught a member of my work-place’s senior management reading Thaler’s and Sunstein’s important book Nudge on the train platform. Sometimes called ‘libertarian paternalism’, this ‘nudging’ is an alternative to ordering or forcing people to do this or do that. Nudging entails organising systems in such a way as it makes it easier for people who exist within that system to do the right thing by default – i.e. if they don’t give it any thought – while maintaining the possibility to opt for the wrong thing, which is also the more inconvenient option. Examples include systems around paying your TV licence. Opting out, rather than into, a savings scheme or organ donation. Designing new housing complexes to promote neighbourliness. Creepy problems arise with this when the nature ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are left unexplained and the populace is subject to manipulation. Designing privacy out of Soviet public spaces, for example. I often use the principles of nudge. Nudge is not a huge threat when it comes to painting a little fly onto the bowl of a urinal in the knowledge that men will aim at it – but for more principled decisions you might convincingly argue that true liberty and a truly ethical society entails consciousness. Another book on indirectness (by another economist – this is a mushrooming discipline) is John Kay’s Obliquity. Its thesis is that our goals are best achieved indirectly, rather than narrowing down to stated objectives and approaching them in a straight line with a literal mindset. I’d say: sometimes. I haven’t finished that one yet. Again though it challenges reflectiveness, which in my professional circles is always assumed to be social good, and I’ve enjoyed reading that.

There’s certainly consensus that creating a stable and prosperous society will undermine most support for the extreme right. But could it be that Tristram Hunt thinks positive imagery of the kinds of social groups the BNP want to see the back of is futile? Explaining why racism is wrong – futile? What earns a parliamentary their opportunity to talk to their BNP-leaning electorate about racism – or does the significant presence of a BNP-leaning electorate forestall this conversation? This is a critical question to which I don’t have the answer. But my hunch is that the racism of BNP supporters is indirect – a consequence of certain needs in the presence of certain beliefs about a national pie.

It’s not good for BNP supporters to feel goaded, because – based on what I know of many of them, and in the absence of prospects for easing their competition for scarce material resources – any shame will backfire into contempt and defiance. I get the impression that the authors of a lot of the pieces I have read on the BNP don’t have any friends or associates who would vote BNP, and have never had to fight for the soul of anybody they care about. High-minded ridicule of candidates can cement support if the ridiculed qualities are part of the identity of the supporter – observers of Sarah Palin’s detractors noted this when Newsnight Review took a look at her autobiography. Seeking to marginalise or exclude the BNP, as Unite Against Fascism are currently doing, is liable to simply be understood by many BNP supporters as a continuation of the marginalisation and exclusion that they already perceive as their experience. Similarly, the “just turn out and vote for anybody except the BNP” approach talks past the BNP voters, rather than to them. I don’t think it is wrong to talk past the BNP supporters – to improve turn-out for example – as long as you also talk to them. Given that the extreme right is more successful than it has ever been before, surpassing Mosley’s and Powell’s times, I think we had better have plans ready to dampen the resonance of its messages.

Plans about what used to be Labour’s concern: equitability.

Bowyer, B, 2008. Local context and extreme right support in England: The British National Party in the 2002 and 2003 local elections. Electoral Studies (27) 611-620.

While Rome burns

Work is so intense at the moment that spare time is spent with friends or the seductive cocktail of Matt and the idiot lantern. What with the coming election, the marginal status of my constituency and the activities of the BNP in Hainault, this rampant hedonism must surely stop. But for now, specially for Barkingside 21, here is something lovely from last weekend when we showed some visitors, old friends from Barnsley-way, a good time in Claybury Park with a solar airship from the Science Museum.


Barkingside is a place for all seasons. Here’s what’s going on in Claybury Park today. When you think of Essex you don’t think of hills  but this one (Hospital Hill, I think it’s called but B21 may correct me) gives views across the West End, City, Docklands and even to the Dartford Crossing. Oh, and you can also see all the slummy bits of board and plastic discarded by badly-reared children.

Despite the bloodcurdling screeches and near-collision with me at the end, nobody was hurt in the making of this video.

To my sorrow, I have never tobogganed – or even bumboarded.

Am I a doppelganger?

Recently, somebody told me they’d seen me at climate camp. Another colleague followed a woman down the road for quite a way last week because he thought it was me.

And now a vegan feminist blogging woman resident of Barkingside has made contact. Perhaps it’s because she feels obliged to extinguish me, which is what you’re supposed to do with doppelgangers, I’ve been told. So if I stop blogging, it’s because I was a doppelganger.