Not me.

February 27, 2015

I have never ridden a unicycle across the Ganges

Or been catapulted out of an aeroplane.

I have never explored the hidden mysteries of Mongolia

Or voyaged boat-wise, round the tropics in monsoon rain.

I have never bridged the Gap of the Isthmus

Or traversed icy crevasse in hail and snow.

I have never battled through encroaching jungle vines,

Blade in hand, to cut and hack and mow.

I have never attempted to climb the Inaccessible Pinaccle

On Skye’s distant Red Cuillin peaks.

I long to do all these things and more.

Yet here I am, on the 22 bus

To Evington and home.

A week is a long time in politics . . .

February 24, 2015

The Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, had an interview today, which was at best, “awkward” on LBC radio. She was unable to spell out the financial details of her party’s plans to build 500,000 council houses. Given that this was supposed to be part of their manifesto launch, the interview did not come across at all well.

http://www.lbc.co.uk/incredibly-awkward-interview-with-natalie-bennett-105384

While it is true that there is a crisis in housing, and that people are being exploited by unregulated private sector landlords, the Greens are unwilling to take the necessary steps to solve the situation.

This would involve taking housing stock back under the democratic control of local people; using the powers of local councils to utilise the thousands of empty properties which are lying vacant to provide social housing; for investment in a mass programme of council house building and renovation to meet demand.

The resources are there in society to provide housing to meet our needs, but the problem is systemic and simply taxing private landlords is not an answer. Here are the Socialist Party’s alternative, to solve the problems of homelessness and unaffordable rents – www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/19759

In other political news, today hasn’t been great for the main parties either, with Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind both being caught out selling their services to reporters. At least Rifkind has had the decency to fall on his sword and resign. Any chance of Jack Straw doing the honourable deed for once?

And finally, a senior member of the Labour Party in Scotland, Robert McNeill, has tweeted this helpful infographic – asking Labour voters to tactically support the Tories or Lib Dems in order to avoid an SNP meltdown for Labour in Scotland.tweet

So what is the alternative to parties of incompetence, greed, corruption, austerity and dishonesty?

Fortunately, there is also TUSC – the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which is standing 100 Parliamentary candidates and is aiming to stand 1000 local council candidates in the upcoming elections. Many TUSC candidates pledge to take the average wage of a worker in their constituency if elected, far less than the £60,000 Rifkind thinks it is “unrealistic” to expect him to scrape by on.

Join the fight to build an alternative for the 99%. http://www.tusc.org.uk

Close Shave

February 18, 2015



In my dad’s dad’s time

A Sheffield steel blade

Would have been honed

Against leather strop.

Cut-throat. Clinical. Clean.

Sans hyperbole.

Cared for, it would endure.


Now, I wield a wondrous

Five-bladed monster.

The latest technology,

Shaped by focus groups,

Sharpened by adverts.

Disposable.


Encased in pointless

Plastic packaging.

All style,

No substance.


Tiny bars to imprison

The cutting edge.

Aloe vera lubricates, protects.

No irritation, guaranteed.



So why am I bloody irritated?

£10 for four measly blades!

My skin may be safe

But I can’t help feeling ripped off.

Overpaid, over-hyped, overblown

Promoted by a prancing primadonna

Waltzing across a field of green.


Enough to make me

Wonder. What went wrong?

Why do we need such waste?

I might as well grow a beard.


little red little green


If you have enjoyed my poetry on this blog, my new collection, “Little Green Poetry” is now available from Lulu – – £4+P&P (paperback) or £2.50 (for e-book readers)

You can still order copies of my first collection, “Little Red Poetry” from http://www.leftbooks.co.uk or http://www.lulu.com – again for £4 (pb) or £2.50 (as a pdf for e-readers).

I hope you enjoy reading my poems, and, as always, all proceeds will go to help build the fightback against corporate political parties, to build a voice for the millions, not the millionaires.

To find out more about my politics, visit the website of the Committee For A Workers’ International, which is engaged in struggle in around 50 countries worldwide.

The Great Swede vs Turnip debate

January 24, 2015

Burns Night celebrations are due, and I was buying some turnips, potatoes and vegetarian haggis:

“Could you get a turnip from over there?”

“Where?”

“Over there by the potatoes”.

“That’s a swede, it says so on the label”.

“No it isn’t, it’s a turnip”.

“Swede”.

“Turnip”.

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2010/jan/25/neeps-swede-or-turnip – this is quite a funny report . . . my favourite lines are “parsnips reared their pointy heads on more than one occasion” and ‘Like so many things, the idea that the Scottish stomp about shouting for neeps isn’t one that matches reality. I guess the word probably persists in rural areas (or, as my dad puts it, “in Aberdeen”)’ – anyone else have any opinions on this?

Exhibit  A – The Enormous Turnip

Exhibit B – http://www.sainsburys.co.uk/shop/gb/groceries/sainsburys-swede

Anyway – I now have some veggie haggis, neeps, tatties and a bottle of 12yo Co-op Highland Single Malt in for Burns’ night!

From an on-line review: ‘Was tempted to buy this at £20.09 a bottle. I’m not a massive fan of Dalmore 12yo, but it’s a bit of a bargain at 20 quid, & i’m 99% certain that’s what it is. Was researching what it could be in “Black Isle” area . . . tastes & smells exactly like Dalmore 12:- old sherry cask, thick, almost cloying “marmalade” sweetness, slightly nutty finish. Appears to me to be 1/2 price Dalmore 12, only difference from distillery bottling might be that it’s very slightly lighter. I live in Aberdeen, Dalmore 12yo normally £38-40, so this is a serious bargain. Slainte!’

I think that in the North of England and Scotland, ‘turnip’ is used to mean both “turnips” and “swedes” and judging by the name of the author of the children’s book above, ‘Bridie McBeath’, she is surely either a Scottish or Irish writer? – I rest my large, purple, turnip-shaped case!

Wikipedia entry for swede – ‘In Scotland, it is known as turnip, and in Scots as tumshie or neep (from Old English næp, Latin napus)’, whereas my wife was referring to the English definition of the word. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutabaga (although the Guardian article above differs)

Rutabaga – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia The rutabaga, swede (from Swedish turnip),[1]turnip, yellow turnip, or neep (Brassica napobrassica, or…)

And at the bottom of the Wikipedia article, a traditional Irish TURNIP Hallowe’en lantern – creepy.

Andrew Walton's photo.

Either way, it is a very confusing conversation to have in the vegetable aisle!

Vote Scott Jones for Usdaw Executive Council

January 21, 2015

Walton Andrew:

More than ever, with the pressure on supermarkets to make more profits at fever-pitch, we need a fighting leadership for USDAW, the shopworkers’ union. Elect Scott Jones and Amy Murphy to leading positions, to end cosy ‘partnership’ deals with supermarket bosses, fight for a living wage for all supermarket workers and support industrial action.

Originally posted on Rock n' Roll Socialist:

From Monday January 19th ballot papers will be sent to the home of all Usdaw members to vote for the leadership of the union for the next 3 years. Scott Jones, the branch secretary for Llanelli in Wales, is asking for you to put an X by his name to represent South Wales and the South West and also Amy Murphy for President for a fighting union leadership that puts members first.

IF ELECTED SCOTT PLEDGES TO:

Launch a campaign to make the union’s policy of a living wage a reality

Oppose partnership and restore the vote on pay in Tesco

Support members who wish to take industrial action to defend jobs, pay and terms and conditions

Give young workers a voice by fighting to get rid of youth rates in companies that have them, put their priorities on the agenda and supporting students who work in retail

Make…

View original 27 more words

Darker Shade of Blue – the Azure card

January 20, 2015

These are notes from a public meeting hosted by Leicester Civil Rights Movement, which detailed the plight of asylum seekers in the UK, today.

We heard first-hand accounts of what it is like living on an Azure card – the card given to asylum seekers who are under Section 4, awaiting a result on their claim for asylum. The card limits where you can go to for food and other essentials: asylum seekers live on a measly £36.62 a week. They do not have access to other benefits and are not legally allowed to work. The voucher scheme was first used in England in 1999 and is currently frozen – it does not go up in line with inflation.

“Not having cash means that you cannot shop in charity shops or the market, which would be cheaper and preferable to supporting big business. I can only use Tesco, Asda, Morrisons or Sainsbury for food – otherwise I need to exchange the card for cash”.

“I have been an asylum seeker for three years, living in a pub and destitute. When you get the Azure Card, it reminds you of a sunny sky, a symbol of hope. But the reality is not like that. Maybe your nearest supermarket is far away, or you may be old, disabled or sick – you still have to walk to the supermarket and back”.

Azure card

“It makes you feel like a criminal, people in the queue stare at you”.

“I can’t save any money from week to week – if you do not use all the money up within a week, it disappears. It makes you a prisoner – you have no choice about where to shop or what to spend your money on. You cannot save up to give someone a gift, or to celebrate. You need to rely on other people to exchange the card for cash – this makes you vulnerable to exploitation”.

“The Home Office want to send me to Nottingham – I don’t know the city, where the shops are – how can I use the card?”

“The card can only be used in the big supermarkets, Mothercare and Boots. I am only allowed to buy food and toiletries – nothing else. I can’t get a phone card, or use a bus. I need to transfer money into a bank account in order to get a phone contract or top up a phone. I can’t do that with an Azure card”.

We heard that it is Home Office policy not to believe applicants when they first apply, so that the vast majority of asylum seekers need to produce additional evidence so that their case can be reconsidered. They are then given an Azure Card, which they could remain on for years.

Asylum seekers have to report to a centre every month – they should be given a bus pass to enable them to do this – but many do not have the confidence to challenge a shop assistant or bus driver if they are refused, the knowledge to whom they should apply, or the English language skills to fill in a form correctly. In addition, many suffer from mental health issues due to the traumatic experiences from which they are fleeing. This adds to the alienation, contributes to stress and makes their situation even worse.

This affects thousands of people, in every major city in the UK.

Asylum seekers cannot travel to visit friends or a solicitor – they cannot travel by coach or train. They have a right to live as well as merely survive. They don’t have access to money, clothes, etc. Women have been denied sanitary pads. Most asylum seekers have had their Azure card refused as they have tried to use it, even in supermarkets which are part of the scheme. Often, because of trauma, they do not have the confidence to argue their rights with a cashier – they may just walk away and their journey to the shop is wasted. If they create a fuss in the shop, generally their card would be accepted – but this draws attention to themselves. Pregnant women have been denied use of the Azure card in Asda – “We can’t take these”.

Why do the government do this?

They want people to leave and become fed up with living in Britain. The official line is that asylum seekers can go to a supermarket and buy food and essentials – what more do they need? There is no account given to people’s basic human rights.

Charities like the City of Sanctuary link people up with asylum seekers, to exchange cards for cash. This helps to some extent, but increases the vulnerability of asylum seekers and affects what little independence they have.

Obviously, we need to get rid of the card, but it is just part of the whole corrupt and rotten detention system. The big four supermarkets make millions out of asylum seekers’ plight – http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/supermarkets-rake-44million-governments-asylum-4635562

We heard from a volunteer with Refugee Action, a charity which offers support to asylum seekers and those with Section 4 support.

He reported that Iain Duncan Smith was considering extending the use of the Azure card to people with gambling, drug or alcohol problems, so that they can only spend money on essentials. This stigmatises people with drug and alcohol problems even more than they are already. There is a real risk that while the scheme may begin with people who have drug / alcohol problems, it could eventually cover everyone on benefits.

Asylum seekers cannot unify as a community – Home Office seeks to chop-up their means of support, by scattering them across the country – so they are disenfranchised. The message is that you are not welcome here. Much of the mainstream media constantly spreads propaganda that asylum seekers and immigrants are to blame for the country’s problems, responsible for failings of services. Thus, the government seeks scapegoats, excuses to carry out its austerity and cuts programme.

“People with dependency issues and drink / drug problems could unite with asylum seekers to stop this campaign of stigmatisation. People with problems often self-medicate – I knew a woman who lost both her children, but ended up using heroin. People can be labelled as “criminals”, “CHAVs”, “uneducated”, but I have experienced peer-led communities, who helped me overcome my drinking. This was as a result of a social phobia – used as a coping mechanism”.

“There is a connection, sympathy and similarity between members of these communities, both are alienated and disenfranchised. Whereas, if you have plenty of money, you are welcomed into the country on what is called an “entrepreneurial visa”, yet vulnerable people, who have gone through horrific experiences, are being targeted”.

“We need to defend high quality, publicly provided drug and alcohol services. We need to empower a disenfranchised working class and connect up community organisations with each other”.

It was felt that getting rid of the Azure card is fixing a small cog in a big wheel – but it would be an important start and give people confidence that they can win victories. If people are not getting served in a supermarket, we could target each supermarket individually. Pickets could support people, there could be a photo-op with giant Azure cards. We need to give people the confidence to approach management if they are refused.

The findings of the meeting correspond with a large-scale report carried out by the Red Cross, drawn from first-hand experience with working with asylum seekers across the country. They recommend withdrawal of the scheme completely and abolition of the law which does not allow Section 4 asylum seekers to receive any cash – http://www.scribd.com/doc/234776188/Azure-Card-Report-2014 – It found that the scheme affects the mental health of the vast majority of asylum seekers, most of them do not understand it or their rights, the vast majority have been refused use of the card and they feel embarrassed and stigmatised as a result of using it.

Sodexho run the Azure card system. The Mirror ran a story showing the money made from asylum seekers by the “big four” supermarkets – Tesco £20.6m, Asda £11.3m, Sainsbury £5.9m, Morrisons £2.4m. “Often people are asked for their signature to buy something. Shops are inconsistent – they may take a card one week and not the next”.

“If you ring the Home Office, they say that all shops are aware of the scheme and they would chase up any shops not complying with it – however, how many asylum seekers would know who to contact, how could they without a phone card?”

I would add that this stigmatisation of marginalised groups is part of capitalism. It is a deliberate strategy, to isolate and atomise working-class and poor people. Mainstream politicians, of all parties, argue that cuts are inevitable and we have no choice but to accept austerity.

Yet the people of Greece and Ireland have shown that there is an alternative to division and scapegoating, by rising up en masse against debts and water charges. We need to do the same here, and also build a political voice for those who have no party to speak for them. I support TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – which is an attempt to build a new political voice for the oppressed.

Write on.

January 13, 2015

Carbon-powered, a pocket-sized tree.

To inspire, educate, agitate, satirise.

Pricks pompous, powerful politicians.

Graphite forges words, coal-black and

As hard as diamond, but glides softly.

We need to fight to defend this wonder.

No to scapegoating, violence, or racism.

For free expression, protect human rights.

As censors rub out our freedom of speech.

And cartoon characters laugh at violence,

An indestructible force of human nature.

Powerful weapons, in the right hands

Can begin to change the world.

Shattered, broken they lie.

Pencils write, develop

our consciousness.

Spirit lives on.

Fight back.

Unity to

Win.

little red little green

If you have enjoyed my poetry on this blog, my new collection, “Little Green Poetry” is now available from Lulu – – £4+P&P (paperback) or £2.50 (for e-book readers)

You can still order copies of my first collection, “Little Red Poetry” from http://www.leftbooks.co.uk or http://www.lulu.com – again for £4 (pb) or £2.50 (as a pdf for e-readers).

I hope you enjoy reading my poems, and, as always, all proceeds will go to help build the fightback against corporate political parties, to build a voice for the millions, not the millionaires.

To find out more about my politics, visit the website of the Committee For A Workers’ International, which is engaged in struggle in around 50 countries worldwide.

A review of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’

December 30, 2014

I first read Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was about 14 and have re-read it about three times since then. Trying to give a short review, which will still do justice to this wonderful book isn’t easy.

It was a massive struggle for the author to get the book published. After receiving dozens and dozens of rejection slips, he eventually found a publisher. The publisher in question said that the book forced him to reconsider why he went into publishing in the first place – is it to make money or to produce great literature? A book about philosophy – initially the expectation was that it would sell only a few thousand copies, yet it has sold in its millions.

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a story of Robert Pirsig, the author, and his son as they journey across America on an old motorbike. It is also a story of a clash of values – whether we should be obsessed with the image of things, or whether we should be purely utilitarian about our possessions. Does it matter what they are called, or what they look like, as long as they perform their function well? Pirsig calls these outlooks “romantic” and “classical”, and then goes further in trying to unite these two opposing outlooks in terms of “Quality”.

I suppose the romantic / classical dichotomy in the book also applies to religion / science, or to a need to understand the meaning behind things and why they work (classical), or the opposite point of view which would be simply to appreciate their beauty (romantic).

A parallel narrative in the book is that of the fictional Phaedrus, who goes on a voyage of self-discovery, just as the author and his son are travelling across country. He attempts to reconcile Western and Oriental, scientific and religious, classical and romantic attitudes towards life, again through the notion of Quality.

Following the philosopher Immanuel Kant, Pirsig believes that our concepts of the world are built out of what we experience. These aspects of reality that we cannot sense directly, Kant calls a priori experience.

According to Pirsig, at the cutting edge of experience is Quality – an analogy would be of surfing a wave, or riding a motorcycle – the shifting experience we have of the natural world, transmitted through the filter of our senses.

When we become stuck with a problem, we may be forced to re-evaluate our entire perceptions:
“Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding.” Pirsig talks about a screw which has become sheared so that you cannot remove it when you are trying to fix your bike. “Normally screws are so cheap and small and simple you think of them as unimportant. But now, as your Quality awareness becomes stronger, you realise that the screw actually has the same value as the whole motorcycle.”

What he is discussing is how the precepts of Zen Buddhism can break us out of normal ways of thought and force us to come up with new ideas. We need to re-think things because the world is in a continual state of flux – Quality. We need to look deeper than merely on the surface of things and think about what they are really worth.

The philosophy comes, thankfully, in small, bite-size chunks, interspersed with Pirsig telling the story of his journey across America on motorbike. It has to be written like this, otherwise it would be unreadably dense. However, there are shafts of insight between the two tales which clarify each other. Pirsig calls this journey a Chautauqua – an Indian word for an oral story. Again he employs the deliberate juxtaposition of Western / Indian, classical / romantic ideas. Reading it, however, is still an intellectual challenge. This is a book which demands to be re-read repeatedly and thought about.

There is also a sequel, Lila, which explores similar themes and develops Pirsig’s ideas further. (But that story is for another review).

I would highly recommend Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to anyone who wants a stimulating and thought-provoking read. It will stay with you for life, such is the power of Pirsig’s crystal-clear prose. This is a wonderful book.

Boxing Day Blues

December 30, 2014

Boxing Day again – too much turkey, pies and beer
Goodwill to all men, and lots of Christmas cheer.
Farage dons green wellies and joins the Surrey Hunt
Cigar in hand, spots a camera, pushes to the front.
Irresistible lure of publicity stunt.

Toady in his element, on turret of trundling tank
City spiv turned country toff, get back to your bank.
While Nigel farages round the fox-hole,
City Link workers are flung on the dole.

I hope he chokes on his Brussels sprouts
With his UKIP chums and their upturned snouts
To a din of grunts and scoffs, they spout
Tales of bestial gay donkeys, to which they gave a clout.

Captain of the “People’s Army”, he leads from the rear
Let’s get him a phone app, thoughtful gift, this time of year.
UKIK is its name – you give immigrants a great punt
Off the cliffs of Dover, while prize porkers grunt in clover.

On Question Time yet again, no-one to speak up for us.
Foreigners they take the blame, but we all get the brunt
Tory cuts, stretched services, a privatised NHS.
Don’t blame the poor for Britain’s problems – it is not their mess.

It’s not the fault of immigrants, you can find the real culprits
Wealthy, hypocritical, racist UKIP shits
Wearing Barbour, green wellies, puffing on cigars
Tearing up the countryside in oversized four-wheel-drive cars.

 

If you have enjoyed my poetry on this blog, my new collection, “Little Green Poetry” is now available from Lulu – – £4+P&P (paperback) or £2.50 (for e-book readers)

You can still order copies of my first collection, “Little Red Poetry” from http://www.leftbooks.co.uk or http://www.lulu.com – again for £4 (pb) or £2.50 (as a pdf for e-readers).

I hope you enjoy reading my poems, and, as always, all proceeds will go to help build the fightback against corporate political parties, to build a voice for the millions, not the millionaires.

To find out more about my politics, visit the website of the Committee For A Workers’ International, which is engaged in struggle in around 50 countries worldwide.

New Year’s Eve, St George Square

December 8, 2014

Haud yer wheesht a wee minute, I canny hear mysel’ speak.

 

[Spoken by a slightly drunk woman, as she clambers unsteadily onto the statue,

Wellington motionless behind her, crowned by traffic cone.

Sporadic volleys of fireworks cascade into the sky.

On the distant Clyde, the last heavy crane, now museum-piece, stands alone.

The flicker of a silhouette against neon-orange.

The noise of revellers dies slowly away.]

 

2014 – here’s to ye. Now that wiz a year an’ a hauf.

 

The optimism, the Saltires, so nearly defeated

Cameron, Milliband and that other yellow wotsisname.

Too close tae call, the papers said.

An they a’ came streamin’ North. ‘Better Together’.

 

But the last laugh was oors. Devo Max.

Dae the ba’-heids think that’ll shut us up?

Nae chance. We have got tae fight on.

 

Away wi’ yer cuts and austerity,

Away wi’ yer tripe aboot a’ in this taegether.

Now Sheridan, he’s no numpty.

He’s one of us, knows how tae fight.

 

He wiz on aboot revolt –

Red Clydeside, tanks in the square.

A long time ago mebbe, but we’ll get there again.

Solidarity.

 

We defeated poll tax, prison, Murdoch, the lot.

The likes of Cameron, dolled up tae the nines,

Bedroom tax for us, while they swap their hooses.

 

They’re never goin’ tae get us doon.

Here’s tae 2015, an’ a new dawn.


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