Saturday, August 22, 2009

All form is impermanent

including this blog................

Just a note to those who check in to this blog periodically that I am planning to make this my last entry unless something truly unexpected happens.

There is so much I could and would have liked to have written on in recent months but my current life of work and family commitments does not seem to leave me the time !

Maybe some other blog will arise in due course. However I think the time has come to close this one. In the last year I have struggled to decide whether it is really a political blog, really an account of my periodic travels or really a personal moan about all I see as wrong in the world !

I still enjoy reading a number of blogs and continue to do so (I hope they know who they are)

I just want to conclude my own blog for now.

I admire all those who juggle schedules more demanding than mine and still manage to produce an interesting blog. I don't know how they do it !

So for now, I wish anyone who lands here all the best.

Nothing in this world lasts forever so make the most of the moment you have !

Best wishes to all who have ever read or commented on this blog.

The great city of London is still here but this Londoner will be devoting his time to other things from here on.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Some corner of a foreign field

We visited Flanders this weekend, staying in Brugge.

Whenever I am in northern France or western Belgium I am always drawn to the many war cemeteries of WWI that are scattered over the countryside.
I visited a few with my own Father and I find them moving yet peaceful at the same time. The peace is in great contrast to the horrific events that occured around them.

This time was no exception and I was delighted for the first time be able to hear the last post played in Ypres (Leper being the Belgian name) at the Menem Gate memorial. This is something that has happened every single day since 1928, as a sign of remembrance for the vast allied casualties suffered in the area.

It is one of life's coincidences that this weekend when we visited Ypres and a couple of nearby cemeteries, saw the passing of the last British survivor of the trenches, Harry Patch. That he and Henry Allingham who died a week before should have lived well past 110 seems like a special gift that in recent years has served to strengthen the memory of what is probably the greatest calamity to be suffered by Britain. With almost a million deaths there is no single event that has caused so many British deaths than WWI.

It is sad that the last of the WWI veterans have now passed on but remarkable that it should be 2009 before the last veteran from a war that ended in 1918 has died.

The many cemeteries in Flanders are worth visiting. This was my first visit with my two year old son and probably one of the reasons why I forgot to take a map. I was looking for the vast cemetery at Passchendale but we ended up at the Polygon Wood and Buttes New British Cemeteries close to Ypres. The photo below was taken yesterday, the day when the last veteran passed away.

Here the remains of a trench can be seen. What was once open battleground is now a mature forest.

WWI in many ways seems the most pointless of wars. The powers fighting each other were in many respects similar. This was no titanic struggle for freedom like WWII. Yet due to the terrible mistakes that have been so widely documented, millions of men died in a tiny area of Europe.

The words of Rupert Brooke capture the feeling that a part of Flanders will be for ever England:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blessed by the suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts a peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Arrested for taking a photo in Chatham High Street

Here is another example of the erosion of liberty.

It is not just the Met Police who seem to have lost sight of what their true role is . Here it occurred in Chatham, a town some 30 miles from London.

The photograher's own account described how he was arrested for taking photographs of an old flyover being demolished and of a fish and chip shop !

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Swine flu in the office

Swine flu seems to have created two tribes. First there is probably a majority of people outwardly blahsay about the whole business, pointing out that normal flu is just as bad if not worse and we should all keep things in perspective. Second there is another group who are actually quite alarmed, refer to history that viruses can mutate and get worse and think we are not out of the woods yesterday.

If anything I am slightly embarrassed to say I sit in the second group. Not that I feel in mortal danger this minute but I remember cases of normal flu that were quite bad enough for my liking. The last time I got the flu was just after Christmas 2007. We visited Bluewater shopping centre on Boxing Day so perhaps I deserved some divine punishment. I remember my legs starting to ache while waiting with my son in his pram outside Boots. After that it was downhill pretty quickly and I was sent into quarantine in the spare room only emerging to visit the bathroom while covering my nose and mouth in an old sock soaked in tee tree oil. Such precautions worked as despite being in the same house my wife and son (then 6 months old) never caught that flu.

I hadn't felt so ill in a long while and remember time passing both very fast and then very slow. I moved from sweats to cold and couldn't keep any food down for a couple of days. Almost delerious, I watched David Dimbleby driving about in a Landrover talking about the history of Britain and multiple episodes of "Who do you think you are ?" including Bill Oddie and Ian Hislop (almost delerious is probably one of the few reasonable excuses for watching such programmes !!!) Anyway I survived and the recovery once it came was quite fast. Nonetheless I remember that normal flu can be a nasty business and I do not dismiss Swine Flu.

Britain is now number 3 in the swine flu charts (behind the US and Mexico) and London is a hot spot within Britain. Therefore I am really in the wrong place. My office now has its first cases of swine flu, although there also seem to be a growing number of "suspected" or "possible" swine flu cases. The real picture is a bit unclear but with a week of sick leave more or less guaranteed I can see some room for abuse.

The alcohol gel dispensers going up around the place are the only real outward sign of something happening.

Meanwhile many Londoners have to travel in packed public transport full of sneezing and coughing fellow passengers. When you sit on a packed train in London you realise that London is really a rather unhealthy place. I cannot imagine that many people permenantly have coughs and colds in the Alps or by the ocean. In packed cities with not enough fresh air we stuggle to avoid the next bug whatever it may be.

This year it is swine flu and the makers of "hand sanitizers" must be making a fortune.....

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Good Old Steve Bell

There's something I thought I would never write !

However I have recently been following a lot of the cartoonists in the mainstream quality newspapers (Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Independent) and have been coming to realise the power of them as a means of expression.

The one below is simply brilliant, not to mention tragic and saddening. Good old Steve Bell- there I go again !

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Neda: A martyr for freedom (everywhere)

A natural reaction to the sad and shocking of Neda Soltani is to try and give her a purpose far bigger than she would have had if she had lived and far bigger than all of us who are currently still living.

That seems to be an attempt to bring a shred of moral justice to a situation that is so wrong, so at least those who have died young and violent deaths can be elevated above the rest of us who live on in this troubled world.

One thing that is worth noting about her death is she was not a hard core activist but a hesitant participant, little more than an observer who when getting out of a car for fresh air paid the ultimate price that can be paid in the pursuit of freedom.

There is much talk about the harm that meddling can do the cause of freedom in Iran so as someone from a country with a less than perfect past in the region I will not comment this time on the specifics of the election and the key players. At its heart, this crisis is about a people who want freedom that has been denied to them for so long. The regime seems set on retaining power by cheating, lying and ultimately by killing those who appear to pose a threat to them.

Neda was in the wrong place at the wrong time but she is only dead because of the brutality of the regime she lived under.

Without burdening her memory with a host of meanings she would never have intended, let her be remembered for a very long time as someone who paid with their life in the pursuit of freedom. She was someone not very different from most people; not a street fighter but a nervous supporter of freedom.

May she be a symbol of the price that sometimes must be paid for freedom whether in Iran or in any country of the world. Sometimes these struggles end in greater freedom as in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, but sometimes they end in further repression as in China in 1989.

Even in countries that think of themselves as free such as Britain can still experience moments of repression where the innocent get killed at the the hands of rogue elements of the state such as the victims of police brutality in London.

Neda, in her death has transcended the borders of her country and is a face recognised around the world. May she be a symbol of freedom everywhere in the same league as the man who disappeared after standing in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989. More specifically may she advance the cause of freedom in her own country.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran: Old and New media compared



33 minutes ago
Protesters beaten, tear-gassed in streets


Iranian police have used water cannon, batons, tear gas and live rounds to break up protests over the presidential election, witnesses in Tehran say.
A BBC reporter said he saw one man shot and others injured amid running fights.
Defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi repeated calls for the election to be annulled on the grounds it was rigged.
US President Barack Obama urged Iran's government "to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people", saying the "world is watching".

NEW The dreadful reality of repression that is so much more than teargas and water cannon Incredible and disturbing scenes from the streets of Iran.

Tehran Bureau Twitter Feed

Conf'd Iran Fatemiyeh Hospital Tehran: 30-40 dead as of 11pm; 200 injured. Police taking names of incoming injured. #iranelection from HootSuite

Omid07 says Basij base burned by protesters at Navab St. (South Tehran) from web

Omid007 says: Security Forces attacked Khomeini Hospital to arrest injured protesters, it is said at least 30 injured are there... from web

according to same private listserv source, "People from all around Tehran are gathering to march into the city later at night." from web

unloaded massive amounts of guns for more than 500 basijies whom had been sent there several hours earlier to confront the demonstrators. from web

Reports from Tehran, Azadi St., Sanati Sharif University indicate that more that 10 helicopters landed inside the university, from web

Fatemiyeh Hospital Tehran: 30-40 dead as of 11pm; 200 injured. Police taking names of incoming injured. from web

directly from source who spoke to someone at hospital: from web

omid007 reports at least 10 protesters shot By Basij, Bassij opened gunfire on people at Haft Hooz SQ. from web

good source: Hospital close to the scene in Tehran: 30-40 dead thus far as of 11pm and 200 injured. Police taking names of incoming injured. from web

pray for us... u can be a great help to spread the news..." end quote from web

From FB: u aren't here in iran to see what's really happening to us... they are just hitting and killing our people freely... from web

Iran Twazzup page

RT @sissyto4 SO VERY TRUE! RT @ObamaResistance : Obama has been more critical of Fox News than the Iranian govt! #tcot #Iranelection #obama

In short, the new media is proving itself far more adept at covering an unfolding story that the world should know about. It is clear dreadful events are happening on the streets of Iran tonight.

The Demonstration

Most major news outlets are still reporting that a large opposition demonstration will go ahead at 16:00 Tehran time (12.30 London).

There is an air of foreboding about this following the remarks by the Supreme Leader of Iran that:

"The candidates in the election should be very careful what they say and how they behave," he said. "If they want to break the law, they will be responsible for the bloodshed, for the riots taking place and for any form of unrest."

Having had nothing to do with Iran in my life, my interest in this is simply a recognition that a growing number of Iranians want freedom. What passes for democracy in Iran seems anything but and the irony of a state that claims to be based on pious principles is that when an election does not deliver the result it wants, it seems more than willing to fix the result.

We can only hope that the people of Iran in some way prevail against the elite forces that seek to repress them. This may be an Iranian issue to be settled in Iran but it is a cause that all those who value freedom can relate to.

Here is a link to Zahra Rahnavard's facebook page. She is the wife of the opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The history of this man is far from spotless but if he recognises the need for greater freedom he is probably the best hope the people of Iran have.

My hope for today is that the forces of repression do not triumph. It is something that seems far from certain. Whatever happens today it is certain that the seeds of freedom have been sowed in Iran and the internet has taken a significant part in that. What harvest is reaped remains to be seen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Of mice and men

Just for a change, a rather more light hearted look at recent events...........

Picture Credit to

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The real face of the Iranian government

Alleged film this evening of a raid by Basij miliitia on university dormitories:

Twitter's moment ?

Up until now I have always been rather sceptical about the merits of Twitter. Who wants to know what X-celebrity is thinking at this moment or that Y is currently visiting Tescos ?!

However the uprisings in Iran may turn out to be Twitter's moment. Twitter offers the opportunity to distribute information, photos and videos in the most convenient way and people can do it from mobile phones and on the move.

The Iran Unrest Twazzup Twitter page is thoroughly recommended. It includes contributions from Iran and around the world and includes constantly updating advise on which proxy servers to use to evade the censors as well as collaboration on cyber attacks on Iranian government websites.

The outcome of these events is very far for certain but it seems that Twitter is offering a tool to the man in the street in the ongoing fights against big and repressive governments everywhere.

If they are brave enough to take these videos

............ the least we can do is to circulate them

June 15th, 2009Tehran Streetsخرداد ۲۵ ۱۳۸۸تهراننیروهای بسیجی‌ با تیر اندازی به تظاهرات صلح طلبانه ۸ نفر را کشته و صد‌ها رازخمی کردند.Shootings in Tehran streets.Pro-government militia troops reportedly opened fire on a previously peaceful election protest in Tehran, killing at least 8

koshtar havali meidan azadi dar yek padegan basij

Monday, June 15, 2009


As the Iranian authorities seem to be moving to block key internet sites such as Facebook and Twitter as well as jamming some satellite transmissions, I thought I would include links to a few of best blogs and internet sites related to the uprising in Iran. Very powerful collection of protest photographs Updating blog of photos and videos from Tehran Constantly updating twitter feed of information, photos and videos National Iranian American Council translation of Farsi twitter messages into English. Huffington Post - live blogging of the uprising

UPDATE: A Flickr user is compiling a record of photos of the uprising as they are received via Twitter Photos on Daylife site

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A desire for freedom

From a country where barely 30 % turned out to vote in the recent Euro elections, the scenes from Tehran are a reminder of how those without real freedom will take enormous risks to try and gain it.

The Iranian election results are to say the least dubious. I found this clip which looks like it was shot on a mobile phone. The film-maker seems very brave. It is premature to talk of another revolution but 30 years after the Iranian Revolution, it is clear a desire for freedom remains amongst a significant proportion of the Iranian people.

UPDATE: Here a brief clip from the same youtube contributor:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

UKIP's Spanish MEP

One of the main stories of last week's Euro elections that has largely been overlooked by the mainstream media is the fact the UK Independence Party (UKIP) came second in a national election for the first time.

A remarkable detail of UKIP's results is that one of the 13 UKIP MEPs is one Marta Andreasen, former Chief Accountant at the European Commission. When trying to exposure the corruption at the heart of the EU, Marta Andreason was first suspeneded (by Lord Kinnock) and subsequently sacked. The failings she exposed were incredible. With a £100 billion annual budget the EU was not even using proper accounting software but relying on Excel spreadsheets. The EU's accounts have not been signed off for 14 years giving an indication of massive problems in its accounting records. When Marta Andreasen tried to expose this, she paid with her job. Lord (Neil) Kinnock got her suspended on trumped up charges. The main issue was that European taxpayers should not find out how their money was being misused.

Those who have reservations about the EU are often accused of being "little Englanders". This is patently untrue as those who challenge the EU often have an international outlook that extends beyond the confines of European. However Nigel Farrage, the leader of UKIP, is to be congratulated for his imaginative choice of candidate. Having an Argentine-born, Spanish accountant in their ranks does UKIP no harm whatsover. Someone with Marta Andreasen's background will stand more chance than most in exposing all that is wrong at the heart of the EU.

Below Nigel Farrage, Marta Andreasen and Paul Nuttall, all newly elected UKIP MEPs address a press conference.

Flight 447

This story is not yet being covered widely. It is on Sky News but not the BBC or any of the main newspaper sites. There is a good deal of mystery about flight AF447 between Rio and Paris. In the modern world planes do not really fall out of the sky without so much as a mayday message. The authorities may not want to alarm people with talk of terrrorism but if this turns out to be true, it should be known.

In case it disappears I am copying the text from the Sky News website below:
Two passengers with names linked to Islamic terrorism were on the Air France flight which crashed with the loss of 228 lives, it has emerged.

Debris from Air France flight AF 447 has been recovered from the Atlantic

French secret servicemen established the connection while working through the list of those who boarded the doomed Airbus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 31.

Flight AF 447 crashed in the mid-Atlantic en route to Paris during a violent storm.

While it is certain there were computer malfunctions, terrorism has not been ruled out.

Soon after news of the fatal crash broke, agents working for the DGSE (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure), the French equivalent of MI6, were dispatched to Brazil.

It was there that they established that two names on the passenger list are also on highly-classified documents listing the names of radical Muslims considered a threat to the French Republic.

A source working for the French security services told Paris weekly L'Express that the link was "highly significant".

Agents are now trying to establish dates of birth for the two dead passengers, and family connections.

There is a possibility the name similarities are simply a "macabre coincidence", the source added, but the revelation is still being "taken very seriously".

France has received numerous threats from Islamic terrorist groups in recent months, especially since French troops were sent to fight in Afghanistan.

Security chiefs have been particularly worried about airborne suicide attacks similar to the ones on the US on September 11, 2001.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Mishandling the BNP

Ever since the Euro election results were announced on Sunday evening, there has been much hand wringing by the establishment that two of the 72 MEPs came from the BNP.

While this is not a party I support, there is no doubt that they were fairly elected. As has been pointed out by many, including Daniel Hannan, the BNP are incorrectly described as a "far right" party when in actual fact most of their economic policies place them firmly on the left. They do focus a lot on immigration as an issue but taking the whole package they are broadly a left wing party.

The BNP has come along way since the early 1990s when they won their first council seat in Tower Hamlets. Then it was often associated with skin heads and rather grubby East Enders who ferried supporters around in old Transit vans. Under Nick Griffin, who studied Law and History at Cambridge University, the BNP has become a more sophisticated operation.

The establishment seems totally inept at handling them with Labour politicians last week telling people to vote Labour to prevent the BNP getting in. The government seems so out of touch that it fails to realise that such appeals by unpopular MPs will actually boost the BNP vote.

There is also a patronising snobbish view of BNP voters as uneducated "white trash". Again such views if badly expressed may actually increase BNP support. The establishment fails to realise that a BNP vote is not really an aspirant choice but a form of rebellion. The more establishment politicians criticise this, the more attractive it becomes for a certain segment of society.

Today Nick Griffin was attacked with eggs outside parliament by protestors who chanted "nazis" and "fascists" failing to recognise the irony of their actions in physically assaulting a democratically elected politician. Despite being one of the most heavily policed areas in the country, no police intervened. Contrast this to the policing of the G20 protests in April when Met Police used their battons on anything that moved.

I do not suppot the BNP but I feel that scenes like those in the clip below will only lead to them being seen as martyrs and increase their support in future. Far better to let the BNP run their course, much as similar parties have in France and elsewhere. Ultimately such parties normally run out of steam. They are beaten not by egg throwers but by reasoned argument and by their own incompentency once they get into a form of office.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Internet Radio: The future ?

Full credit should go to Iain Dale and his Labour blogger co-host Hopi Sen for an excellent radio programme covering the Euro election results last evening.

In contrast to "state media" (the Beeb and to some extent Sky) they actually proved very efficient at getting results out as quickly and in as much relevant detail as possible. Operating on a shoe string via PlayRadioUK, they managed a good mix of informative commentary, opinion, real time results and interviews with politicians and members of the public alike. Compared to the clunky BBC with Dimblebore et al lining up a group of overpaid and predictable talking heads, Iain Dale proved light footed and agile in his approach.

There were gently amateurish moments such as when Tommy Boyd (of Children's TV fame when I was a boy !), the owner of PlayRadioUK offered everyone a coffee. There was also the odd minor technical glitch.

However overall these only added to the charm of an otherwise professional operation where the knowledge of and interest in politics put the overpaid BBC to shame.

This was a real eye opener to me. I had rather dismissed the idea of internet radio programmes by individual bloggers or activists before. However I think Iain Dale's coverage goes to show that the technology now exists to effectively broadcast to people over the internet. Clearly the content has to be there and people have to want to listen. However for someone with an established following like Iain Dale, there is a great opportunity there. He seemed to attract a number of listeners from around the world from Australia to Costa Rica. It would be interesting to get some figures on listenership. Iain Dale said between 1,000 and 2,000 but I feel for an event like the Euro Elections that is probably a modest estimate. If the quality of last night's programme is repeated numbers of listeners can only rise.

Well done Iain for a wonderful show. I particularly liked the phone in by the Hamiltons !

When will Gordon go ?

Despite Labour winning barely 15% of the popular vote in the nationwide Euro elections, still Gordon Brown seems to want to cling to power.

Labour has faced its worst results since its establishment as a national party in the 1920s. The election results are a triumph for right of centre and Euro sceptic parties. Here is the inimitable Daniel Hannan calling for Gordon Brown to go in the early hours of this morning in Southampton as he resecured his seat as an MEP in the South East of England.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

UKIP's night

That seems to be the theme of the European Election results coming in so far (as at 11pm).

The Conservatives have come top which is as expected. However UKIP look as if they may come second which is extraordinary in a national poll.

Labour, as the governing party, is doing disastorously and may come fourth across the country as a whole. In Cornwall they were beaten into sixth place behind Mebyon Kernow, the Cornish nationalists !

However the most startling result is the strength of UKIP which goes to show how unpopular Britain's membership of the EU is (in its current state).

As well as a change in Prime Minister, the people of Britain seem to be sending a message that they have strong reservations about the EU.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Remembering D- Day

Today is the 65th anniversary of D-Day.

The preparations for this year's commemoration turned into something of a diplomatic shambles after it was initially planned to be a "Franco-American affair" with no offical presence from Britain or any other countries despite the fact that Britain and other countries played a significant part in D-Day. Without dwelling on the lack of historical knowledge, Prince Charles was invited at the last minute to represent Britain today so the issue can be seen as closed.

I visited some of the Normandy beaches a few years ago and struggled to imagine the possibility of landing on vast open beaches under machine gun fire. Nonetheless a near impossible task was achieved that was essential for the liberation of Europe. Without D-Day, western Europe would have faced two grim possibilities:

- continued Nazi occupation or
- eventual absorbtion into the Soviet bloc.

D-Day meant that France and western Europe enjoyed their freedom once again, a privilege that many parts of Eastern Europe had to wait over 40 years for. D-Day was only possible through the sacrifice of thousands of men who never made it off the beaches. We remember them today.

The clip below was posted by Iain Dale on his website this morning. It is the words of a gracious man who honoured the fallen of his country as well as honouring the contribution of all those nations who took part in events on D-Day. There was no "diplomatic shambles" at this D-Day commemoration, 25 years ago. It is difficult to imagine a more crafted and inclusive speech honouring all the allies who took part.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Kate Adie Returns to Tiananmen Square

If anyone has a spare hour and an interest in contemporary China, this progamme comes highly recommended.

Katie Adie reports from Beijing where 20 years ago she reported live from the massacre perpetrated by the Chinese People's Army in Tiananmen Square.

It is available on this site until 10th June.

Programme description:

Kate Adie returns to the scene of one of her most memorable assignments: reporting the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Beijing on the 3rd and 4th June, 1989. She was one of the few Western reporters out on the streets then, and witnessed the killings at close quarters. Now she has to travel undercover to meet other eyewitnesses and victims' families to hear their moving and shocking testimonies.

Broadcast on:
BBC Two, 9:00pm Wednesday 3rd June 2009
60 minutes
Available until: 9:59pm Wednesday 10th June 2009

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

God shall wipe away all tears

Despite the horror of the act of suicide and the pain it causes those left behind, it is difficult not to feel sympathy with Neil and Kazumi Puttick, the couple who flung themselves off the vast cliffs at Beachy Head with the dead body of their son Sam.

Sam had died of meningitis after spending most of his 5 year life disabled by a car crash. The website maintained by his parents is a testament to their love and a clue as to why they felt they couldn't live without him.

Although suicide is regarded as a sin and for the pain it causes, with good reason so, it is difficult to view this family as other than tragic victims. For those who believe in a forgiving God, the following words from the Book of Revelation seem quite fitting:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Revelation 21: 4

Of course there are other routes that Neil and Kazumi Puttick might have taken but the path they chose leads to no other feeling than sympathy. May this family all rest in peace together.

Tiananmen Square 20 years on

Aside from the elections, tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

China is reported to be shutting down hotmail, Flickr and twitter to prevent any attempt to commemerate the event.

I visited mainland China for the first time in March and have a slightly different but fundementally unchanged perspective as a result.

What I had not really understood before is that most comtemporary Chinese don't appear to want to remember Tiananmen Square. In a dreadful way, for now at least, the Chinese government has succeeded. They have convinced people that their destiny is to work hard, gain some material luxuries and the government will take care of the rest.

China is keen to present itself, as it broadly managed during the Olympics, as a modern dynamic country. When I first arrived at the airport in Shanghai in March I was presented with the sight of a vast and spotless airport. Most memorably all the immigration officers were smiling. It was slightly eerie as they smiled on taking each passport, carried out their checks (still smiling) and then handed the passport back with another smile. At the immigration counter there were 4 buttons giving the option to grade the immigration officer on a scale of "very effective" to "very ineffective". I, like I think most of my fellow travellers, gave the immigration officer the highest rating for their smile fearing the kind of trouble they would get into if they were graded lower.

I was met by a smart taxi. There was an option of a super-fast magnetic train but as corruption had meant that the terminal for this was several miles out of the the centre of Shanghai, it was not a particularly useful option.

I arrived in my hotel and went for an evening stroll hoping to see the Bund, the colonial heart of old Shanghai. The Bund was actually in the middle of redevelopment so I had a walk around scaffolding, roadworks and back down some rather quiet streets. Three times I was offered "sexy massages" from "beautiful women". The offers were made by dark suited men who scrurried in and out of the shadows. I moved away from them quickly as they tried to show me photos. I saw a man without legs sitting on a low trolley with wheels as he begged. Across the water, from what what I could see over the road works rose the now famous skyline of modern Shanghai. 100 storey buildings sprouted from what had been paddy fields 10 or 15 years ago.

In the office I visited, the local Chinese were proud of Shanghai and its development. They were welcoming to me as a foreigner but their outlook seemed a little shallow. All the talk was of careers, of new apartments and of material wealth. Maybe this is not much different to Britain but their was something pre-prepared about their conversation as if they were talking from a script. They wanted to impress with tales of wealth because they thought that is what they should want rather than necessarily actually wanting it themselves.

In a country with a young population, 20 years is a very long time. For those who know anything about Tiananmen Square, it is generally a bad memory best forgotten. Those who fell, so the thinking goes, probably deserved it or were misguided. Either way, things have moved on and people just don't talk about it.

To raise the subject is to criticise China and to criticise China is seen as insulting for a foreigner and downright dangerous for a Chinese.

Therefore I am now no longer sure how many people in China will be remembering the anniverary tomorrow. I am not sure many will even know and those that do will be keeping their heads down. Twenty years have passed but from what I have now seen as China, the years of propoganda have worked. A lot of people don't actively want freedom. They want the status quo and as long as the economy keeps growing this will not change.

Nonetheless I am certain that one day those who fell in Tiananmen Square on June 4th 1989 will be honoured in China. Their cause was noble, in search of freedom. They deserve to be honoured and maybe in another 20 years this will be possible in China too.

UKIP, the Greens, the BNP and "Others"

Tomorrow is the European elections and although in many ways they do not really matter (the government remains the same whatever) they will be real test of the country's political leanings.

These have been extraordinary times. Not only is a tired discredited government clinging onto power and almost certainly in its dying moments. but the expenses scandal has meant that Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians are all widely mistrusted.

The real contest tomorrow seems to be between UKIP, the Greens and the BNP. The traditional three parties will be aiming to hang onto as many of their supporters as possible but they all seem likely to lose some ground. The Conservatives will be doing badly if they are not the party with the most votes.

As for the three newcomers:

UKIP- an eccentric but broadly harmless party with strong reservations about the EU. Their expense claims in Brussels look far from angelic but do you begrudge them the money more than some other politician who would have done the same ? They seem likely to do well from a protest vote although they lack the structure and discipline to be a serious political force in national politics.

The Greens- Green supporters always seem a little too pleased with themselves for my liking. However for the Euro elections a vote for them may be relatively harmless. They are relatively "nice" people and as long as they don't get too much power it doesn't hurt to have a few of them as MEPs. Likely to do well amongst Waitrose shoppers and other slightly smug characters.

The BNP- less savoury but potentially a force to be reckoned with. They are far more visible than at any time I can remember. Certainly in our part of London you are just as likely to bump into a BNP stand as a Salvation Army band on a Saturday morning in the High Street. Unlikely to score as highly as the above two but may win their first MEPs. Increasingly popular with white working class voters who are fed up with the educated middle classes telling them what to think. That is not a reason to vote for them but for put upon people they do represent the ultimate two fingered response.

The overall winner is likely to be the Conservatives but the result will show they cannot take people for granted. I very much hope to see independent Conservative voices like Daniel Hannan re-elected.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The vastness of the deep blue sea

The disappearance of flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris has a peculiarly haunting feel.

Not only is there a sudden loss of 228 souls and the pain of their families who were waiting for them in various countries of the world. There is also the realisation that in 2009 when the earth often seems very small and it seems possible to see everything with a satellite; that it is still possible for a plane to simply "disappear" with no radar trace, no message and no explanation. When I fly with work or on holiday I often keep an eye on the journey maps that show the route of the flight. When crossing an ocean these are largely useless as there is simply the sea beneath. It is only over land that you can feel like you are charting the progress of the journey. The sea covers the majority of the planet and is vast. The loss of a whole airliner is a reminder of how vast.

Wreckage is now reported to have been sighted hundreds of miles off the Brazilian coast. The seas is said to be as deep as 12,000 feet in places. In such circumstances mankind remains helpless and it is a reminder that the feeling of control we have is often nothing but a veneer. The forces of nature remain vast and our lives are uncertain.

I remember those who perished over the mid-Atlantic and who now rest at the bottom of a vast sea.

Ian Tomlinson: Not (totally) forgotten

Every day as I walk to my office on route from the station, I pass by the Bank of England.

I find myself wondering what is happening about the various enquiries into the death of Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper seller beaten to the ground by the police during the G20 protests in April.

For those who remember the details, he was minding his own business and a video showed him as a rather vulnerable figure posing no threat to anyone. He was attacked from behind by the Police and died a few minutes later of unproven causes.

The whole incident and the aggressive approach of the Police that day shook my faith in an institution that I had been brought up to trust. Many investigations were promised but everything seems to have gone very quiet.

Ian Tomlinson did not come from a wealthy or well educated family and it seems that less is now being heard of the investigation than if a stockbroker or banker had been killed that day.

A quick "google" shows it is only the New York Times that has written anything about the case in the last few weeks. What a pity that the domestic media has proved so fickle and has moved onto the obsession into MPs expenses.

I feel there is little I can do personally on this but everytime I walk past the Bank of England I remember Ian Tomlinson and realise his death has not been adequately explained and he has not yet had justice.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Back from Ukraine

I have recently returned from visiting my wife's family in Ukraine. My wife and son are staying a little while longer.

This was a trip planned a few months ago but the timing has turned out to be rather appropriate, if sad.

My wife's father passed away two weeks ago so the first day we arrived via Kiev, coincided with his funeral. He had been ill for some time so his passing was not a complete surprise although remained a shock as much as the ending of any life of a family member is. I did not attend as I sat with our son, who is just over a month away from his second birthday. Ukrainian funerals, in common with much of the region, seem to be open casket affairs in contrast to the more shielded practices in Britain. It did not seem right to bring a little boy into such proceedings.

We did however all attend the meal afterwards and the numerous older female faces in comparison to a mere handful of older males bore testimony to the appalling male life expectancy in Ukraine (somewhere around 60 compared to 74 for women) . It really was quite sobering to see the reality of this statistic in a cross section of the population attending a funeral of a friend and neighbour who had died in his mid-sixties.

Despite the start to this trip it has not been too sad. Having a toddler in the party doesn't allow too much time for gloom and doom. There is always a cupboard to refill after it has been carefully emptied all over the floor !

The trip has also been a revelation into the world of Ukrainian healthcare. For some while I have suffered from migraine headaches, as far as such things can ever be clearly diagnosed.

Probably with the relative fragility of male life (real or imagined) in their mind my Mother-in-law and her sister persuaded me to to see a specialist doctor on the subject.

I visited a hospital that was as green as a London park. Trees and grass were between each of the twenty or so buildings. The hospital gave off an aura of gentle decay. When we arrived to see the doctor (neurologist or equivalent) it turned out she spoke good English. Her view was that I had a classical migraine but I was "welcome" to a MRI scan. I was luke warm on the prospect but the conversation switched to Russian and the following day I was heading off for the scan.

After a long wait, some confusion and a very modest (by UK standards at least) fee, I was heading into the scan room. My wife had departed to get our son to bed and I was left with my wife's non-English speaking Aunt to explain what type of scan I needed. Somehow the scribbled note from the doctor had gone missing. I was promised a "panic button" for my time in the narrow confines of the MRI tube.

When I did make it into the scan room, concentrating on Russian instructions I only realised I had no panic button once firmly in the tube. Lying flat the plastic roof looked barely an inch or two from my eyes. I closed them and tried to think positive thoughts. That is easier said than done in such circumstances and it gives a brief insight into the possibilities from torture.

The noises of the scan were many from buzzes, beeps, a low hum that got louder to tapping. Sometimes I got the sensation of floating or spinning backwards. I tried to imagine sitting beside a stream or a river before abandoning that route as I then thought about being stuck in the tube with water coming in ! Although completely painless, lying in a confined space with a machine scanning your brain makes you realise how fragile life is. After what felt like an age, but was in fact just 20 minutes, the noises finally stopped and I heard the welcome sound of the door opening. Next I was sliding out and being told to get off the place I had been lying.

It was all over. The scan result was broadly postive. No horrors were found but I do have some modest restriction in blood flow to one part of my brain. It is manageable with drugs but could be the cause of the migraines. The terminology used in the explanation of the scan is highly technical so difficult to translate from the Ukrainian it was written in. I will probably have to end up going to a doctor in the UK but I am not relishing the prospect of another scan !

The next day our young son was found to have a tick in the top of his leg. I have never seen such things, let alone experienced them but they are apparently not so rare in Ukraine. A visit to the hospital where I had been scanned lead to the conclusion that the tick's head had come off so the body would need to be got out by an appropriately skilled doctor. A night time taxi ride to a children's hospital followed. We arrived and the grounds were shrouded in darkness in contrast to the permenantly lit hospitals of Britain. The surgeon was located and after we had pursaded him to at least let my wife stay with our son (he had wanted us both to leave, also in contrast to the UK). Agreement reached, the tick was removed in barely a couple of minutes and we returned back in the same taxi. Our son seemed considerably braver than I had been in all this !

Each interaction with doctors was pleasing although some kind of payment was expected as doctors in Ukraine do not really earn enough to live on.

Most things can be arranged in Ukraine but nearly everything has a price.

That said, Ukraine in the summer is a green and vibrant land with inexpensive and comfortable trains to travel accross it. It's vast farm lands come to life after the bleak winter and the cycle of life rolls on.

Monday, May 11, 2009

East of Westminster

Enough has been written on the subject of MPs expenses to last a life time. I won't add to the tales of taxpayer money spent on plasma screen tv's, multiple lavatory seats, mole catchers and horse manure.

As every party seems culpable to a great extent it is difficult to know what to say. Are they all really as bad as each other ?

What seems certain is that the public in general are all largely despairing of politicians. That can only lead to low turnout in elections and this will favour the small and extreme parties.

The BNP has become a regular Saturday morning fixture outside our local shopping centre and such parties can only benefit as the public shun the mainstream parties. How far this will go remains to be seen. Next month's European elections will give an indication.

However it does have an end of an era feel. It seems likely that hundreds of MPs will either step down or lose their seats at the next General Election. Talk of the death of parliament is probably premature but it is certainly a sobering lesson that democracy can be broken by the corruption of those who are supposed to champion it.

The optimist in me still hopes for better things. However this will only be possible if many MPs leave the House of Commons. Numerous MPs should be expelled to the land east of Westminster. Let us hope a parliament remains at Westminster when all this is finished.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Meanwhile, outside of London.....

.....the English summer is developing slowly. This was the scene in Cambridge yesterday.
It is refreshing to leave London sometimes....

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More Met Madness

The Metropolitan Police have now told some Austrian tourists to delete photos of buses "to prevent terrorism.

See here for full story. The Austrian father and son had their passport and hotel details recorded.

These days the Met seems to be going out of its way to offend as many people as possible.

As has been noted elsewhere, there is more than enough material on "Google Street view" to plan a terrorist attack anywhere in London. There is no need to go out and draw attention to yourself by taking photos. What is more, if past form is anything to go by the next terrorist attack will come from British born terrorists or failing that Pakistanis. Austrians are one of the least likely terrorist groupings.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ian Tomlinson Memorial March

This Saturday I attended a protest march from Bethnal Green Police Station to the Bank of England. The aim of the march was both to remember Ian Tomlinson who died after being pushed over and apparently hit by police during the G20 protests last week and to protest against the tactics of the Police that increasingly undermine Britain's status as a democracy that values the right of protest and free speech.

While it is safe to say that many of those on the march today were not my natural bedfellows, I found it a peaceful, dignified and rather moving event. The Police, to their credit, were low key and respectful and there was absolutely no trouble. Maybe something good can yet come out of these tragic events.

However the message from today was that a protestor is not a criminal and the right to peacefully protest in an unhindered manner is under threat in Britain. If this erosion of liberty goes unchallenged all Britons are on the road to living in a more repressive country. It may not be "your issue" to protest on today but in a country, and in fact a world, where decisions are increasingly made by executive order, it will probably not be long before each and everyone of us have an issue on which we want to protest on. While street protest is not everyone's style the increasing limitations of democracy (heavily controlled parliaments and legislatures that do not want to rock the boat) means that often it is only after a significant protest that the government actually sits up and listens.

May the right to peaceful protest and free speech once again be respected and better valued in this country.


One of the "dreaded" Police medics made infamous by this Flickr photo which yesterday made it to a national newspapers.

Press pack and amateurs stand outside Bethnal Green tube station as the protestors set off. The "citizen photographer" has lead the way on the whole issue of Police conduct and the attack on Ian Tomlinson. Without the widespread proliferation of mobile phone cameras and affordable digital cameras, the whole incident could have been swept under the carpet. These days a photo can be taken by a private individual and made freely available on the internet within minutes. When Ian Tomlinson died, the official version was he had collapsed and died of a heart attack but had had no contact with Police whatsoever. Alarmingly all mainstream media outlets (newspapers and TV) accepted this without challenge. Only when photos, written accounts and ultimately video emerged from private citizens did the mainstream media bother to investigate.

Market traders and locals await the protestors on Bethnal Green road. This is the heart of the East End and one of the most ethnically mixed areas in London.

Professor Chris Knight, one of the organisers of the original G-20 meltdown protests head the march. He strikes a slightly theatrical pose wearing a black top hat. The flowers are to lay at the spot Ian Tomlinson died.

The junction of Royal Exchange Passage and Cornhill where Ian Tomlinson was pushed to the ground by Police on 1st April.

Protestors in Cornill mingling near the spot Ian Tomlinson died.

The Police kept a respectful distance most of the time.

One strained moment occured when a two minutes silence was held. Officer CW 2553 (pictured) had a rather noisy Police radio and the chap in the football wooly hat told him to turn it down. Officer CW 2553 didn't like this and a tense exchange followed to be calmed by fellow protestors and police.

This sign on Cornhill, in the heart of the City of London, is just above the spot where Ian Tomlinson died.

Officers stand on Cornhill in front of Royal Exchange Passage. Their respectful calm behaviour is in great contrast to the riot gear wearing bullies who had walked down this passage with dogs just over a week before.

Where it all started last week, the Bank of England.

Police vans line up outside the RBS branch briefly attacked by anarchists on 1st April. The banking crisis is the underlying background to all this. People at large feel frustrated that there is no effective way to make their voices heard. The bail out is a fait accompli with no democratic vote on it. Taxpayers in Britain and the world over are funding the failures of bankers. There is a palpable sense of anger when people whose jobs and homes are at risk see bank bonuses and vast pensions subsidised by their taxes. No other bank has come to symbolise this injustice more than RBS, once a greatly respected Scottish institution.

Police motorcyclists on Threadneedle Street.

Protestors on Bishopsgate. "Socialist Worker" seems to have a monopoly on the banners supplied. I think it is a shame that no one other than an extreme left group can distribute good quality printed banners. After all, liberty is an issue that should attract the support of those on "the right" as well.

Protestors enter the City of London. The contrast between Bethnal Green and the City is immense. However they are really just neighbours and one stop on the underground.

Into the City.

Professor Chris Knight on the steps of Bethnal Green Police station where many of those arrested during the G20 summit were taken. This was not a part of London that Messrs. Obama, Sarkozy and co included on their itinerary !

Police Behaviour: Protest Today at Bethnal Green Police Station

In case anyone is looking for it, a protest is being held at Bethnal Green Police Station followed by a procession to the Bank of England to commemerate the death of Ian Tomlinson.

I feel it is important that people who disagree with the recent Police tactics and behaviour do make their voices known. After all, even those amongst us who are not "climate campers" and "anti-capitalists", will probably one day have things to protest about.

If every protest is to be "kettled" into an enclosed area surrounded by batton wielding riot police who beat anyone trying to get out, I would have to conclude that we no longer really live in a democracy that supports free speech and the right to protest.

Bethnal Green Police station can be found at the following address:

12 Victoria Park Square Tower Hamlets London E2 9NZ
Getting there: Tube station: Bethnal Green (Central)Main line : Cambridge Heath Railway

The protest is assembling at 11.30am following by a procession to the Bank of England at 12 noon. The procession is expected to take around an hour.

Further details can be found at:

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Police State ?

More evidence that the Metropolitan Police approach last week was far from cricket. The advise given to businesses in the City last week was the "Climate Camp" had permission to stay overnight. Obviously the Metropolitan Police had other ideas and in the clip below launch into a mixed crowd of men and women expecting to camp overnight. The police have battons and riot shields. The prospective campers do not:

"I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it"


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Metropolitan Police running riot

The death of Ian Tomlinson outside the Bank of England during the G20 protests has taken on a significantly darker feel this evening.

A film taken by a visitor from New York shows Mr. Tomlinson in a rather unsteady, even pathetic state, being beaten from behind by a riot policeman. He falls to the ground and is apparently dazed. A short while later he died.

The policeman who attacked Mr. Tomlinson was part of a larger group of police with dogs, shields and battons. The police in no way seem threatened and the attack on man from behind seems completely unjustified.

Were a member of the public to attack someone from behind, that person to fall and hit their head and subsequently die, the attacker would face a murder charge. With a good lawyer and fair wind he might be lucky to get off with manslaughter.

The whole episode of Mr. Tomlinson's death has been covered up and distorted from the start. Initially he was said to have no contact with the police and police who tried to revive him after his collapse had come under attack from demonstrators. None of this now seems to have been true. It has taken a foreign visitor in the right place at the right time to take a video showing the truth.

It is sad that in an age intolerant of free speech and protest that the worst violence last week came not from hippies, not from students, not even from anarchists. The police are seen using violence on a vulnerable individual and it was this violence that lead to the only death on the day.

Please watch this video to form your own opinion.

Here is a photo of a "police-medic" at last week's protests. A future Dr. Shipman possibly !

Monday, April 06, 2009

"Kettling": Another step on road to ending free speech

The BBC and other news channels are now reporting that the man who died during last week's protests during the G20 summit had "contact" with the police before he died close to the Bank of England.

This had previously been denied. It was claimed that he had just got caught up in the protest and then died of an unrelated heart attack.

Whatever is ultimately proved (or for that matter denied) the death of Ian Tomlinson highlights the recent police practice during large scale demonstrations of "kettling". "Kettling" is the term applied to the practice of blocking all protestors into an enclosed area so that they become exhausted. During their time in the "kettle" they have no opportunity to eat, drink, go to the lavatory or anything else that anyone would normally expect to be free to do.

Kettling can go on for many hours and last Wednesday protestors were kettled for at least 8 or 9 hours.

The aim of kettling is superficially understandable. It is used when the Police expect crowd disorder and is seen as more desirable than having potentially violent protestors running free in a city or built up area.

The trouble with kettling is it is being increasingly used for all large scale demonstrations and many people just wanting to make their voice heard get trapped for hours on end.

While I have little common cause with many of the protestors who turned out last week, they were in most cases relatively harmless. From what I saw they were generally either students or hippies. The anarchist "black bloc" who threatened violence were tiny in number.

Ironically the only serious piece of violence, the attack on the Royal Bank of Scotland branch, happened inside the kettle when Police couldn't reach those breaking windows at the Bank due to the fact there were so many trapped peaceful protestors between them and the handful of window breakers.

The Police increasingly seem to see large scale protests as a nuisance to be contained and thwarted wherever possible. There seems little appreciation that the right to protest, to speak out on an issue you feel strongly about is a democratic right.

In fact many of the wider population, also seem to look with a mixture of bemusement and contempt at protestors. They are written off as "work shy" or "troublemakers". This vast over-generalisation misses the point that most real political change (whether for better or worse) has come about only after campaigns that have involved a degree of public protest.

For protest to be increasingly limited on grounds of "public order" is a dangerous step on the road to a police state. The use of the "kettle" as a standard police response to any major public protest is a gross assault on liberty and the right to protest and speak out.

It can only be hoped that the death of an innocent man causes the Police to pause for thought the next time they kettle a large crowd into a confined space for hours on end, beating those who attempt to get out.

The widescale use of riot gear at last week's protests also highlights a hardening in the police approach. The protestors are seen as a threat to be controlled, beaten and frustrated wherever possible. While the minority bent on violence should be controlled and stopped, the great majority of peaceful protestors of whatever views should be respected when exercising their democratic right to protest.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

G20 Day in the City of London

A Bank of England "heavy" stands at the steps to an entrance on Threadneedle Street.
Four female protestors discuss the day's events.

A statue boarded up had become an unofficial shrine to a man who died outside the Bank of England on Wednesday night. His cause of death remains unclear but many have questioned the controversial Metropolitan Police practice of "kettling" where protestors are herded into an enclosed placed for hours on end in order to exhaust them in a situation where they have no access to food, water, lavatories etc.

The Bank of England in the closing stages of the two days of protests. A few miles away in Docklands, the G20 leaders had just agreed a $ 1 Trillion stimulus package (I don't think I have ever needed to write "trillion" before)

The Duke of Wellington's statue with the addition of a a red flag. It is unclear what we can (yes) do !

Thoughtful graffiti on the Bank of England. Although not always true the statements are difficult to reject out of hand. Do the rich laugh though ?

City of London Police take a breather at the front of the Royal Exchange. They have been racking up the overtime this week.

Protestors and Police winding down.

The scene at the front of the Bank of England, Thurday April 2nd.

Winding down Police

Traffic had started flowing past the Bank of England by Thursday afternoon.

Shielded and helmeted riot police prepare to get a few teenagers out of an empty building near the City of London.
"Move along there. There's nothing to see !" Police block the road while their highly protected colleagues gather a few teenagers up.
"Older Bill"

The dark blue vehicle behind the police is more Amoured Personnel Carrier than Police Car. Who thought these would be necessary in London ? After all their effort the police have finally located a rather bemused looking teenager in a squat in Earl Street, EC2.

Commuters pass graffiti on the Bank of England on their way to work.

Pictures of April 1st City of London

Below is a selection of photos from the protests in the City of London yesterday. As I was at work during most of the day, these were taken in the evening. The low quality is due to the fact they were taken on a mobile phone camera. Nonetheless I think they give a flavour of the scenes around the City yesteray.

Protestors gather in Poultry, City of London

Crowded scene outside the Bank of England, 5.30pm Wednesday 1st April. Two hours later a man died in this area.

"Castle Greyskull" aka RBS HQ in Bishopsgate, City of London.

Anarchists and Police face each other in the approach to the Bank of England.

Police "centurion" overlooks the crowd near the Bank of England.

"Climate Campers" underneath Tower 42 (formerly the Natwest Tower).

A line of riot police. Anarchists wanted !

Chit chat. The lady on the left is dressed identically to her male colleague.

Not so much "bobbies on the beat" as "bobbies ready to beat". The uniform is both intimidating and dehumanising. British Police increasingly "don riotgear" when so much as a papercup gets thrown. While it can save lives, the use of riot gear should be proportionate to prevent ordinary people becoming alienated.

THe much reviled RBS is protected by a line of police. This very branch had been attacked round the corner by anarchists a few hours earlier.

A crowd is "kettled" (blocked in) outside the Bank of England.