Thursday, 29 December 2011

Lucky 13 @ Koko...

//The Stool Pigeon// recently heard about a guy who threw a party — quite the success, apparently — to celebrate his 10,000th day on the planet. As contrived birthday celebrations go, 13th isn't quite so pedantic — but is it a good enough reason to bring people out on a Wednesday evening?

Founders of Memphis Industries, brothers Matt and Ollie Jacob, deserve the festivities, don't they? Managing to stay independent for five minutes in the modern music industry is no small feat: still being there after 13 is pretty special, to say the least. And it shows in the bands they’re presenting tonight. It's a paternal line up culled from the label roster, proudly displaying their diverse best.

Even so, there’s that sort of nervous atmosphere you get at the start of parties in Koko tonight, when those that have turned up early are glancing around furtively and asking themselves whether other people will also come. It doesn’t help that Colourmusic are plagued with technical problems, and not enough people are around to see them play their stomping ode to love, ‘Yes!’. All we need now is for two people to turn up in the same dress.

It's no better when clever-clogs poppers Dutch Uncles come on and frontman Duncan Wallis is all awkward dance-angles. The Manchester band also suffer from technical issues and stumble briefly, but come back strong; halfway through the relentless ‘Fester’, the mood changes and we get a first inkling: yes, this will be a successful evening. Koko’s auditorium was about two-thirds empty at the start of their set, but it’s rapidly filling, and the band seemed to grow in stature with the increase in numbers. ‘Face In’ and the title track to their last record //Cadenza// go down well, and the band walk off stage with the final-whistle swagger of a team who’ve just pulled back a win from 2-0 down — drunken dad-dancing forgiven, if not forgotten.

Any residual party jitters are blown away when Field Music come on and, after a couple of tracks, announce: “It’s a real pleasure to be here for a completely contrived reason. It’s been 13 years, and it’s been brilliant.” In comparison with the earlier acts, Field Music are all 1-2-slick change and “we’ve got a new album coming out in February” (Plumb). They’re the indiest of all the acts, but they’re also interesting: guitar-pop with a bright outlook. They finish with a taster from that new record, (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing – chunky west-coast riffs keep everybody happy, and the party momentum moving.

Then The Go! Team bound on stage in a manner entirely befitting a band with an exclamation mark in their name, literally running from the wings and launching straight into ‘T.O.R.N.A.D.O.’. Meteorological metaphors might sound lazy, but we can say they stormed it: for a full hour, lead singer Ninja is all biceps, abs and pink lycra madness. It’s as bubblegum as it is big and beaty but it’s also very exhilarating; the mash of samples, chants, old school hip hop and screaming guitars works because of the sheer force of delivery. Jumping around and imploring ‘everyone should be dancing’ in time to the opening bars of their final song, Ladyflash, is a pointless entreaty: everyone is. And this is surely the best way to say many happy returns to Memphis - week day or no.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

What's this? What's this?

Some time around mid- to late-November, I felt what might once have been described as my ‘festive spirit’ curl up into a ball, splutter, and begin to bed-down for its annual hibernation. But there was a time - there was a time - when I could believe that Christmas made the world a better rather than a worse place (most toy-makers don’t live in Lapland, they live in poverty - fact). A blissful time of innocence and ignorance, which every year I and try to recreate by taking a hit of my seasonal soma: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. This is joy. For 76mins I am able to block out the harsh realities of the holidays, and feel like Jack when he stumbles upon Christmas Town and ‘the monsters are all missing, and the nightmares can’t be found, and in their place there seems to be good feeling all around'. Even Scrooge got a break from his miserliness in the end…

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Annie Mac presents Azealia Banks @ Koko

This is straight-up the rudest - in every sense of the word - thing I've ever heard. Someone played it to me on a phone in a bar one night, and it was like the penis splice scene in Fight Club: I didn't quite catch it all, but I knew something special had happened. When I got home I listened to it around thirty times over - mainly through disbelief. Did she just say…? I've checked, and yes, yes she did. But screw the swearing: on 212 Azealia Banks serves up something seriously slick over a bass line that will beat your ears into submission. That alone makes it worth the admission fee for Annie Mac presents tonight; the fact that she’s going to be everywhere in 2012 makes it a must…

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Los Campesinos! interview...

Los Campesinos! are just lovely.

They're so engaged that I can't tell whether the journo before me is interviewing them or a mate; eventually, though, she says thank you and shakes their hands, so I sidle over. But before we get beyond pleasantries, into it proper, a local homeless guy comes over with a paper cup and announces, "excuse me, sorry to bother you, but I just wondered if anyone can spare…seven hundred and fifty quid?" Laughs all round and, after a bit more chat and a promise that he won't hassle us again ("…for at least another 5 0r 6 hours"), every single Campesino reaches into their pocket, and drops some silver on him.

It's the general aura of loveliness that the band exude (you could totally take them home for Christmas) that also means they're more modest than most in their position, in this thing we call the music business. Three albums in - Hello Sadness being very recently released - they show only the merest hints of being jaded by the industry - grazes at worst - and not a jot of pretension at all (even the accidental admission that they sometimes shop in Waitrose is quickly qualified with: "it's the closest shop to mine and Neil's house, and if you go in after 8pm you can get some real bargains. We follow the girl with the reductions gun around. I got two duck breasts for 59p").

And the same can be said of their latest: having seven members (now. Keep up) means it's hard to strip back any sound too much, but it is more stripped back than their last, Romance is Boring, or, indeed, anything they've done previously. And they think it's less pretentious for it, says Tom Campesinos!:

"The third record is when you're confident to just do what comes to you instinctively and naturally. We had the confidence to write a lot more simply. There was an element to the last album where we were showing off, and being antagonistic, and trying to make it difficult for people to get something out of it. I think we got that out of our system and now we've just tried to make the best album we could. Right from the start we just wanted to make a really clipped, coherent, good... pop record, really."

The perfect match between pretentious and pop? Although the sound is slightly more sober in places, the lyrics are still pretty legless - they've lost none of their humour, their joviality , their playfulness (sample lyric from a song with an ostensibly melancholic melody: "but here it comes, this is the crux, she vomits down my rental tux"). And sober's certainly not to say they've gone soft: there are still plenty of arms in the air moments, they just come from a deeper place. When I mention I listened to Sticking Fingers again recently, Gareth groans an 'oh no', like I'm his mom threatening to pull out an adolescent photo album; they're a bit older and they've got a bit more life under their belts, thank you very much.

By Your Hand, for example, is a properly powerful way to open an album - especially one that has been re-written just a week before its recording, owing to the untimely demise of songwriter Gareth Campesinos!' long-term relationship. Fate is indeed a cruel mistress: "a couple of weeks before going into the studio, like only a week or two weeks, the relationship that I was in broke up. And, subsequently, the songs that I'd written that were from a happy, relationship perspective, were not songs I wanted to exist anymore. So the ideas for them were scrapped, and I started again."

By Your Hand

See the video for title track Hello Sadness for another tale of regret, revenge and broken relationships, all sorrowfully supported by strings. But be aware also that Los Camps are a band that refuse to be moulded by their press release - to stick to the story - and don't read too much into it. Gareth always writes his lyrics on the hoof: "That wasn't an unusual thing, because previously I'd not really made any effort write songs until we got into the studio - I only really am able to write under pressure. Writing words, when I'm at home in my room, I just can't do it. I'd feel like a dickhead."

That's not because of any lack of self-confidence, oh no - have you seen this man on stage? It's merely a self awareness that they're in a privileged position: "I think we still find it very uncomfortable being the' people in a band'; because we've come from the same, sort of, going to gigs, posting on message boards, hanging out in the same clubs… but we just got in a lucky situation and wrote some songs people liked"

It's all a part of that humility that, in turn, seems to spur them on to serve up something special. Though they may not take themselves too seriously, they take that which they offer very seriously. They're a fan's band: they may hate the f-word, but it seems they feel a sort of duty of care towards theirs. From their blog to their new zine, Heatrash, it's all about giving back, and giving good:

Gareth: "As a band, we've always endeavoured to think outside - quote, unquote - the box a little bit, and by no means is what we've done revolutionary, but this is another way of doing that. I also think that there being seven of us in band, that's a lot of personalities that can't necessarily always get across in the music, so having Heatrash as platform for all our different interests has been really useful. And the volume with which people subscribe to it is testament to that - and it's been fun to do."

Tom: "I think it's something that we'd like as fans, and that's still how we approach things: what we would we like our favourite bands to do?"

Heatrash is largely the result of the addition of, guitarist and graphics guy, Rob 'Sparky Deathcap' Campesinos! And, of course, the changing line up - Harriet and Ollie having left since Romance is Boring - can't help but have changed their sound: "the new additions to the band have bought new things, and have really increased our creativity, and increased the scope for different excesses that we can go to, and different directions that we can take."

But, hey, not so much that you're not going to recognise it. They've still got a monster line up, and their still having a lot of fun with it. Perhaps even more so than it might appear, says Neil: "I we think we probably have more fun amongst ourselves than the music let's on, really. It's been an important part of the band to have been so many of us."

Just as it has always been the harmonies in which team Campesinos! excel, it's the choruses on Hello Sadness, when they're unified in rousing voice - from the haunting relentlessness of Death Rattle to the shouty exuberance of By Your Hand - that are the highlights.

And, of course, they still have that same respect for the 'people who like their music', which appears to be part of a mutually beneficial relationship:

Gareth: "The best thing is, people who like us are rooting for us, and want to hear these new songs - and sort of have faith in us that they'll like them more than the last batch of songs. And that's a really weird and lucky place to be in. But I think we're, well…their faith will be repaid."

International Times editorial meeting...

There was some disagreement about the way forward, particularly around the contentious issue of financing. But the cats dominated and it was decided to seek funds through force of arms:

"What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?"

- Bertholt Brecht

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Cut cut copy shop: the pictures...

Event: Cut cut copy shop - for a new wor(l)d order...

Where: Tent City University, St. Paul's Occupy LSX

What we did: Took an Olivetti 1969 Valentine typewriter to Tent City University. Encouraged people to bring texts connected to the Occupy movement in some way. Asked participants and passers-by to select phrases from the texts and type them out. Rearranged the selections to create a new text.

Inspiration: Delaina had been talking to Simon Morris who, with his imprint Information as Material, is the Whitechapel gallery’s writer in residence. He had put her hot on the trail of a new writing movement: conceptual writing.

I'd done some writing events at Really Free School earlier this year, in which a collaborative text was created using the Olivetti. I was asked to do something similar at Tent City University, so I got in touch with Delaina and said I was thinking of combining two old tricks to make a new(ish) one. We made it conceptual and agreed that 'collaboration is joy'...

Why: We don’t really know, it was an experiment.

Result: We had a lot of fun and talked to many people up for giving conceptual writing a go and trying to create a better wor(l)d while they were at it. It was often a challenge to get across the importance of copying text: many wished to write their own. Our favourite contributors were the children who wanted to type out lines from Goldilocks and The Three Bears. We thought about it for a moment, then realised how perfect that was.


Photos: Delaina Haslam

Cut cut copy shop: the result...

And the words went:

"Who’s been eating my porridge?
There’s been a bit of “He said--She said” going on
But he warned against “proposing specific answers to complex economic problems”
Others want to speak
As Owen thought of his child’s future there sprung up within him a feeling of hatred and fury against the majority of his fellow workers
Napoleon is always right. I will work harder.
4. Discussion: Why are we here?
Vivent les riches, and to hell with the poor
We are all equal but some are more equal than others
Part of the reason why Christianity is so suspicious of money is that the power and glamour of money can easily corral us into a narrower sense of what it is to be human
Scrolls or bones extracted by you from the land in question will also be subject to a tax on confiscation
Yields on 10-year Italian bonds climbed by 21 basis points to a new Europe-era high of 6.4 percent and shares in the country’s banks, among the biggest buyers of debt, fell heavily
She don’t lose on her losses, but she wins on ours
Who’s been sleeping in my bed?
the manifest powerlessness of any genuinely emancipatory programme within the electoral system
Scuffles broke out after police formed a line
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
If I am wrong, and if some other religion or social system would be better and more acceptable to Thee, I prey Thee in Thy goodness to let me know it, for I am ready to follow wherever Thou shalt lead me
the thing that he is concerned about is making sure that there isn’t something for nothing culture that operates at the top of society, nor at the bottom
Real leisure, not just time spent buying things
Right now, she’s got the fog machine switched on, and it’s rolling in so fast I can’t see a thing but her face, rolling in thicker and thicker and I feel hopeless and dead as I felt happy a minute ago, when she gave that little jerk -- even more hopeless than ever before on account of I know now there is no real help against her and her Combine
committed to radical new manifestations of co-operative principles
Let the ruling classes tremble at Communistic revolution. The proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
this ‘fear of the fear’ is a secondary derivative emotion, whose content -- beyond the sentiment itself -- is barely detectable..."

Friday, 18 November 2011

Absolutely Nothing in Moderation: The Rum Diary...

‘When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,' as the good doctor famously said. The going is certainly weird, and the world’s fairly climbing the walls for another hit of Hunter S. Easy to be worried, though, that a cinematic version of The Rum Diary will disappoint, particularly if you’re a follower of the cult of Gonzo. But, fear not, it's in good hands: no more professional than Bruce Robinson, director of Withnail, in the arena of desperate, derelict, hundred mile an hour hedonism. Speaking of all that, the ever-lovely Lexi are putting on a HST double bill, with rum and other assorted liquors on offer. They’re even inviting punters to sneak in other ‘toxic inspiration’ themselves, laying down the gauntlet of the film’s tag line: ‘absolutely nothing in moderation’. Let the bad craziness commence…

Thursday, 10 November 2011

St Paul’s: product placement and the pro-capitalists…

On last week’s Question Time, Theresa May scoffed that the ‘anti-capitalist protesters’ at St. Paul’s somehow lack authenticity because they had the occasional cup of Starbucks, or write up their communiqu├ęs on Apple Macs. Amy Jones, going undercover for The Sun, italicised this phrase in Saturday’s edition, so that even children may understand she’s making An Important Point:

“Earnest looking youngsters discuss the evils of capitalism while sipping lattes and tapping away on their macbooks”

Quite apart from the fact that many at St. Paul’s are more anti-greed than they are avowedly anti-capitalist, products are not the point: their means of production are. Furthermore, it’s the average pro-capitalist that obsesses over the products, over the object itself, which they point at with awe and admiration: “Look, look: isn’t capitalism clever? It’s made a Macbook”.

But capitalism isn’t clever: human ingenuity and creativity are. Different economic and political systems probably would have created the same products; we will always find ways of fulfilling our needs, whatever we perceive these to be.

No, capitalism didn’t create your macbook: someone in a Far-East ‘free trade zone’ did - possibly a child, and almost certainly someone who’s overworked and underpaid. Capitalism just made the capitalist who exploited that person’s labour very rich indeed. It’s obviously absurd to blame either lattes or laptops: the system that presides over rampant, often lethal, inequality is at fault. Do we really lack the imagination to think of something better than our world of want? Are we so resistant to change that we can’t embrace the alternatives that are already available?

Of course, the opposite of an anti-capitalist is not a capitalist. There are only two classes of people: those who control enough capital to employ workers - the capitalists - and those who do not - the workers. Everything else is ego and imagination. Workers and pro-capitalists like Amy are presumably hooked on the idea that, no matter how unlikely, that they too will one day attain the lofty label of capitalist.

Another criticism the pro-capitalists lay at the door of St. Paul’s - both Theresa and Amy did - is that the protesters are only anti, and have no for. How many pro-capitalists have such a clearly defined idea of what capitalism is that they can properly articulate exactly what they’re for? Just the mom and pop, freedom and democracy variety? Or also the kind that creates war for resource control? It's presumably a tiny percentage of pro-capitalists that would be willing to stand on St. Paul’s steps and give an impassioned defence of the arms industry.

The question is: do the pro-capitalists, like Nietzsche’s flies, sting in all innocence? Are they simply ignorant or are they knowingly protecting their positions of power and privilege? Perhaps it’s some mixture of the two, the subconscious firing out defensive salvos to assuage the guilt of being part of a system that watches half the world go to sleep hungry every night.

Whatever it is, in the words of Robert Tressell: “we must conclude that they do not understand socialism…"

This article also appears here, on Though, for their own reasons, they removed any notion that not everyone at St. Paul's is an anti-capitalist.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Haircut Before the Party...

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever..."

...or at least until it grows out. The Haircut Before the Party is indeed a thing of beauty, and although the ideas behind it, its ethos, will live on, it closes its doors for free haircuts next week.

That ethos is a sort of 'the best things in life are free' type vibe. Its totally talented hair-tailors, Richard and Lewis, started out cutting hair for their mates; as he's cutting and crafting my hair back from simply shabby to shabby-mohawk, Richard tells me that it started as a self-sufficiency thing. Not wanting to hand over his hard earned to a hairdresser, who was invariably unwilling or unable to recreate exactly what he wanted anyway, he did it himself. Then a few brave friends ("they were very brave") friends stepped-up and sat down in what was to become his salon chair

That salon chair is now a fully fledged project funded by Arts Admin who pay the rent on their Toynbee St chop-shop-come-art-space. But it retains the ideals of freedom and friendship: in return for having your barnet beautified (and the results really are beautiful), the cuttee is encouraged to engage in an exchange of ideas. Y'know, conversation, chit-chat, that kinda thing

Cuts are offered for free to explore other potential values within the exchange and the salon environment when financial transactions are removed. The hair is cut as a gesture of friendship, in a similar way to how people have their hair cut by friends or family at home.

But before they down hair tools, the boys are putting on a series of events to say thank you and goodnight to their little palace of gratis. And, of course, after six-months of haircuts, they're due a bit of aparty themselves...

You've still got time to book an appointment: fill out an appointment form or try emailing them at (their phone got nicked recently by 'some cheeky kids')

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The boat freaks: Mark Walton & Balthamos...

Vyvian Raoul bids farewell to the series by meeting the man behind the fight-back against British Waterways’ threats to continuous cruising
British Waterways’ threats to continuous cruising

Every time we met a boater during this series, they suggested three or four more boaters we ‘must speak to’. The semi-nomadic continuous cruisers are the slightly curdled cream of London’s boating breed, and each of them has many, many stories to tell.

It’s apt that we finish with the man leading the boaters’ fight-back against British Waterways. Mark Walton is co-founder of the Waterways Project: the Castro of the canals, a reluctant, river-borne revolutionary.

We went aboard Balthamos under the bridge at the bottom of Broadway Market to bid the boaters a fond farewell…

Mark Walton
Age: 42
Director, Community Development Foundation and Co-founder of the Waterways Project

Balthamos (“He’s a minor character in the Philip Pullman trilogy, His Dark Materials. It was called Dawn Chorus when I bought it”)
Age: 30
Make: Albert Watson Boats
Length: 56′
Top speed: “Erm, it goes generally a bit faster than the people walking along the canal?”

How did you come to live on a boat?
I moved to London four and a half years ago for work, but never wanted to live here, really. I’m a bit of a country boy, and I knew I needed to have green space to stay sane, and I knew I didn’t want a long commute (I used to see the faces of people commuting, and thought: I don’t want to look like that). And I work for a charity so I don’t earn huge amounts of money. So, how do you have green space and a short commute in London? Live on a boat!

What are your boating bounds?
My general range is from Tottenham and Stonebridge, down through east London. And then in west London, generally about as far as Kensal Green. Occasionally further west than that; we just got back from Uxbridge because there’s a boat yard out there.

What does the term ‘continuous cruisers’ mean to you?
According to the 1995 Waterways Act, you can have a boat license if you have a home mooring for your boat or, if you don’t have a home mooring, on the condition that you move your boat every 14 days. British Waterways define boaters without a home mooring as ‘continuous cruisers’ and state that in order to be a continuous cruiser you have to be undertaking a bona fide navigation. The law is clear: you have to move every 14 days. But the term ‘continuous cruiser’ is only defined by British Waterways.

So what’s British Waterways’ beef?
The intention for British Waterways, I suppose, and some other waterways users, is that the canal is only for people who are retired/leisured and moving over large parts of the system. In the initial drafting, by British Waterways, of the 1995 Waterways Act they sought to make it illegal to have a boat without a home mooring. But there’ve always been people living on canals. It seems their intention was to have the canals for leisure use and for people who have moorings or live in marinas. But parliament actually refused to allow that, and said, no, there has to be a right for people to live and move around on the system.

Continuously cursing the canals is more popular than it’s ever been, isn’t it?
It’s become a much more popular way of living, for a whole variety of reasons even in the four years I’ve been on the boat. But I’ve never had a problem finding somewhere to moor. Recently, some leisure boaters have told me they find continuous cruisers intimidating and that they therefore won’t moor up next to us. They then complain that there is not enough space.

What has been your response?
In March, British Waterways issued a consultation on proposals for new mooring rules on the River Lee and the London canals. The new rules would have made it almost impossible to live on a boat in London and hold down a job or maintain a family life. Two boaters’ groups, London Boaters and the Upper Lee and Stort Boaters Association, responded by lobbying, campaigning and undertaking our own research to show that the changes would drive boaters out of London, make the canals less safe and damage the environment and the infrastructure of the canals and rivers themselves. Our message was that these are our homes and that we have the right to maintain a way of life that contributes to the creation of safe, vibrant canal-side communities. Forcing us off the water would result in many people losing their homes and having to leave their jobs, schools, claim benefits, join housing waiting lists, etc.

We submitted two substantial reports and generated over 750 responses to the consultation. As a result, British Waterways have withdrawn their proposals and are talking to us about how we can work together to develop and manage more moorings in the London area. This may include setting up some form of ‘floating housing association’.

There is currently no legal protection for boat dwellers without a home mooring and no sign that the new waterways charity that will take over from British Waterways next year will have any duty to recognise our human rights to maintain a home and family life.

Photo: Tom Medwell

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Cut cut copy shop @ Occupy LSX

Cut cut copy shop - for a new wor(l)d order...

Sunday 6 November @ Tent City University, St Paul's

Delaina Haslam and Vyvian Raoul encourage word fans to come down and take part in this conceptual writing experiment, in the inspirational environs of Tent City University, St Paul's.

Conceptual writing is the art of taking that which has been written before - whether a paragraph, a sentence or a word - and, out of it, creating something new. We're swiping sections from various tracts that have hitherto tried to describe or determine society - from Dawkins to Deuteronomy, Marx to Milton Friedman. Nothing is sacred, everything is up for grabs.

When a choice passage is spotted, it will be typed up on the Olivetti, cut out and added to the drawing board. Here we'll rearrange, reconfigure and reframe; collectively create a new tract, which will be our story of society.

Collaboration is joy; better wor(l)ds are possible…

Conceptual writing definition

Kenneth Goldsmith interview

Time: 12pm-6pm

Place: Tent City University, St Paul's.

Bring: a text of your choice connected in some way to OccupyLSX or the larger occupy movement.

Words wishlist:

Milton Friedman's 1969 nobel prize for economics lecture

The Road to Serfdom, FA Hayek

Various Marx

Any Orwell

Religious texts and philosophy

A hymn sheet from St Paul's

FTSE 500 company literature (e.g. Goldman Sachs' corporate responsibility report)

Newspaper reports, of all political persuasions, about Occupy LSX

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Student solidarity with squatters...

Student solidarity with squatters, in the face of Conservative plans to outlaw occupations, featuring:

Shiv Malik - Guardian journalist and author of Jilted Generation: How Britain has Bankrupted its Youth

Reuben Taylor - SQUASH campaigner and squat-activist

Michael Chessum - NUS National Executive Council

And you! Hear the arguments, take part in the debate and, importantly, find out what you can do to help.

"Conservative plans to criminalise trespass have wider repercussions than outlawing squatting. Whether it’s an unintended side-effect or a deliberate fringe benefit, imagine the future of student protest without occupations..."

See for more info, or get in touch with

Sunday, 23 October 2011

We must conclude that they do not understand Socialism...

"Owen saw that in the world a small class of people were possessed of great abundance and superfluity of the things produced by work. He saw also that a very great number - in fact, the majority of the people - lived on the verge of want; and that a smaller but still very large number lived lives of semi-starvation from the cradle to the grave; while a yet smaller but still very great number actually died of hunger, or, maddened by hunger and privation, killed themselves and their children in order to put a period to their misery. And strangest of all - in his opinion - he saw that the people who enjoyed abundance of the things that are made by work, were the people who did Nothing: and that the others, who lived in want or died of hunger, were the people who had worked. And seeing all this he thought that it was wrong, that the system that had produced such results was rotten and should be altered."

"Not only are the majority of people opposed to Socialism, but a very brief conversation with an average anti-socialist is sufficient to show that he does not know what Socialism means. The same is true of all the anti-socialist writers and the 'great statesmen' who make anti-socialist speeches: unless we believe that they are all deliberate liars and impostors, who to service their own interests labour to mislead other people, we must conclude that they do not understand Socialism. There is no other possible explanation of the extraordinary things they write and say. The thing they cry out against is not Socialism but phantom of their own imaginings..."

Robert Tressell - The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Monday, 17 October 2011

First 24hours at St. Paul's: even the priests give their blessing…

Not being allowed into Paternoster Square, home of the London Stock Exchange, was no less disappointing for it's being predictable. But the iconic symbol of blitz spirit is once again uniting the people, as protesters bedded down for the peaceful occupation of St. Paul's...

By the time I stepped off the tube at St. Paul's, Paternoster Square had long been barricaded by the police, and the occupation moved to the closest open space big enough for a few thousand protesters: St. Paul's cathedral and the square in front of it.

Police also surrounded the occupiers in the square but were letting people in, one by one, at various points, with a warning that they would not be allowed to leave again; not leaving being largely the point meant the crowd swelled to between 4000 and 5000 at its peak.

The day was spent debating the various merits and demerits of consensus decision making - to jazz hand or not - and the people's microphone, and putting them to use in various assemblies and working groups. Julian Assange received a mixed welcome, some protesters bemoaning celebrity activists speaking on their behalf. But the gathered crowd was united when he cracked the old Life of Brian joke, through the people's mic, and had a couple of thousand people shout back at him: "we are all individuals!" It's a cliche to describe an atmosphere as festival-like, but between the tents, the toilets and a sense of a moment to be remembered, it did feel that way.

The police that encircled the square had been creeping forward by increments, and by late afternoon were beyond the statue of Queen Anne to the right and had cut off the last open coffee shop to the left (and with it the last open toilets). As the left flank advanced, I witnessed Jody McIntyre put on the brakes of his wheelchair in front of it, only to be hoiked out of it by three surly cops. I asked an officer whether he didn't remember the reports from earlier this year, when they did exactly the same thing. His response was, 'he's not even disabled' - so I guess not.

Black and red flags were notable by their absence, and the only other bit of nastiness came when a line of tactical support group officers advanced, unannounced, through the crowd. Lots of people had been sitting down in front of them, linking arms, but many that were in their way (myself included) received boots, knees and back hands about the head (after I remonstrated with one officer, who was kicking my leg, he snarled and said: "dry your eyes, mate.")

Once they'd got through the crowd and formed a line across the top of St. Paul's, they let it be known that they were acting under orders to protect the cathedral, its pillars and doors, from the potential for criminal damage. It seemed spurious: there was no appetite for attacking anything at all, and especially not a place of worship. The attitude of the protesters to the intrusion was best summed up by this exchange between an activist with a loudhailer and the crowd: Is anyone here to damage the church? No! Is anyone here to stop people worshipping? No! Is anyone here to have a peaceful protest? Yes!!

Everyone calmed down, and the rest of the night passed without incident. The cordon was opened and police and protesters gathered supplies from local shops; numbers dwindled into the night on both sides, and the hardcore that was left chatted happily under the floodlights for most, if not all, in some cases, of the night.

I awoke to the peeling bells of St. Paul's and bright sunshine. The camp seemed to have grown; the kitchen, established the previous evening, was about three times the size. There was a buzz in the air, tired smiles on peoples faces - the news on everyone's lips of the priests not only giving us their blessing but also assuring the police that their attendance would no longer be necessary. As a sign of a gratitude, the decision was made - collectively, of course- to create a giant thank you card, which everyone could sign.

We spent today in various working groups and general assemblies; the question that everything came back to seemed to be: why are we here? There was a unanimous consensus that we supported the message coming from New York, as well as Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein an various other occupations around the world. As for Occupy LSX, when I left on Sunday afternoon, I'd heard reasons for attendance as varied as 98 of the FTSE 100 companies - listed on the London Stock Exchange - paying no tax in the UK and 'I'm on the road to happiness'.

But far from the usual perception of the movement lacking a voice, merely being anti and having no for, the protesters occupying London are constantly and vociferously articulating what they want. Everyone will have their own reasons for being there, and it may take a long time - because real democracy isn't afraid to take its time - for the group to articulate its demands. But, that what they want is myriad merely shows how much is needed the one thing everyone agreed there must be: change, and lots of it…

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Tariq Ali & The Obama Syndrome

The front cover of Tariq Ali's new book, The Obama Syndrome (Surrender at Home, Defeat Abroad) has four passport-style photos of Barack Obama. His face is gradually scratched off before the last reveals - holy shit - it's George Bush underneath. Which may actually be unfair to Dubya: he was only mired in a brace of middle eastern misadventures; with Libya, Obama's got his hat-trick. In conversation with playwright and novelist Bonnie Greer at the Bishopgate Institute, Tariq will likely explore such questions as: why did a bloodier leader than Bush get awarded the Nobel peace prize? When are you closing Guantanamo Bay, again? And, most importantly: how did 'yes we can' become 'no we can't'?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Dial 999 for stupidity...

I spent Sunday with Simon on the Bridge.

After four and a half hours of bridge blocking, most people had gone home; we got on our bicycles and shouted farewell at each other's backs as we rode off in opposite directions. Once we'd parted, though, I thought better of going home, and returned to the bridge; I had my polaroid camera with me but hadn't taken any pictures all day.

As the police advanced in a line towards the 20 or so people who were still 'dying' on Westminster bridge, I took a shot of one of them with the clock in the background, and handed it to him with the words: "This is so you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day the NHS died. Don't forgot it when you can't afford to take your kids to hospital anymore."

That would have been a nice moment, but sadly my polaroid camera is so old and has been kept in such weird, damp places over the past couple of years that the image didn't develop properly. The officer laughed at me and said, 'your camera's broken, mate, it doesn't work'. I told him this was not a day for laughter, but a day for sadness. He didn't seem to understand...

Why would you say something like that?

News needs to be two things: new and true. In terms of the latter, most of what gets reported about squatting misses the mark somewhat. And, to an extent, it’s understandable: squatters aren’t exactly queuing up to give interviews to the mainstream media, so misconceptions and murkiness, stereotype and sensationalism, abound.

But no other area of investigative journalism would tolerate such a slap dash approach to fact gathering: we get more reports from inside Burma than from inside squats. The question is: how much of the myth is carried on deliberately?

The most shocking squat case to be splashed across the pages of our daily newspapers recently was the invasion of a property owned by Dr Cockerell and his pregnant wife; the Standard ran with the headline: ‘you're putting my unborn baby at risk, mother-to-be tells squatters’. But although the good doctor was indeed a homeowner, this was not yet his home: it was only the third to last paragraph that made mention of the fact that they had not yet moved in. The implication up until that point being: if the average homeowner leaves the house to go to the shops, squatters will be in before you can say, ‘pint of semi-skimmed, please’.

Indeed, our more sensationalist media outlets constantly conflate the words house, home and homeowner. It creates a climate of fear, which makes it easier to push through legislation that protects the propertied and demonises the impoverished. Never is mentioned that the Criminal Law Act 1977provides ample protection for a residential occupier, and squatting other people's homes is a criminal offence. Or that a protected intended occupier (PIO) or displaced residential occupier (DRO) has recourse to an interim possession order (IPO) - a fast track eviction process that means squatters must leave within 24hours or be arrested.

When invoking accidental usurpers like these to paint a picture of the squat community, they knowingly take an isolated case and conflate it with the common place. Why would anyone occupy an already occupied building, only for the newly tanned owners to return from holiday - all straw donkeys and sombreros - to make them homeless again? It’s the situation squatters will do anything to avoid. And it defies sense, particularly when there are approaching three quarters of a million genuine empties in the UK currently.

It’s not just our press: our politicians also blunder on, willingly blinkered. 160 property lawyers signed a letter in the Guardian recently, accusing Grant Shapps MP of deliberately misleading the public. He knows perfectly well, they said, that the law is more than adequate to protect homeowners in those rare cases where someone is stupid, finkish or unlucky enough to attempt to squat a house that's already occupied. If he doesn't know that these cases are not squatting at all but areas already covered by criminal legislation, then he really has no business being a minister - much less the housing minister.

You may have seen Mr. Shapps on Question Time recently, being quizzed on the woeful lack of social housing. No one thought to ask him about the criminalisation of trespass, but some apt questions might have included: how does criminalising squatting help with a housing crisis? Why do you refuse to make the rules for landlords more rigorous despite 86, 628 complaints against rogue rent collectors last year? Can't we do better than a situation where 1.7million families are on council housing waiting lists, when homelessness is up 17%, while 737, 491 properties lie empty and abandoned? Until these questions are answered, there can be no honest debate.

Mike Weatherly, another conservative member of parliament pointlessly championing the rights of homeowners, rushed to Grant's defence in a response letter, which was also printed in the Guardian. In it he pointed out that lawyers have a vested interest in property disputes remaining a civil matter: it puts food on their table, Porsches in their garages. But while it's completely fair to say that they have a vested interest in the status quo, who wants to maintain the status quo?

Criminalising squatting misses the point entirely: why not criminalise the act of abandoning property? In fact, the law is set up to make it more appealing to own second homes and leave them empty. Yet, if it was illegal to waste property in this way, it would a, have exactly the same effect as criminalising squatting (contrary to popular belief, no empty properties pretty much equals no squatters) and b, may go some way to alleviate the twin evils of economic inequality and rampant homelessness we’re now facing.

This seems a reasonable course of action, which almost everyone - squatters and squires alike - could support; I doubt, somehow, that this solution would be acceptable to the uber-rich, who take up ‘the quiet enjoyment of property’ from the south of France and various other tax havens, leaving the British public to deal with the consequences.

If we're discussing vested interests, it’s probably fair to ask if Mike Weatherly represents merely the views of the propertied people of his constituency – those that are likely to vote for him – or whether he also represents the best interests of the homeless and disenfranchised of his ward…

Soho, hobo or boho?

"Any good mixer of convivial habits considers he has a right to be called a Bohemian. But that is not a valid claim. There are two elements, at least, that are essential to Bohemianism. The first is devotion or addiction to one or more of the Seven Arts; the other is poverty. Other factors suggest themselves: for instance, I like to think of my Bohemians as young, as radical in their outlook on art and life; as unconventional, and, though this is debatable, as dwellers in a city large enough to have the somewhat cruel atmosphere of all great cities..."

George Sterling – 1904

Friday, 7 October 2011

Student solidarity with…squatters?

Conservative plans to criminalise trespass have wider repercussions than outlawing squatting. Whether it's an unintended side-effect or a deliberate fringe benefit, imagine the future of protest without occupations…

By now, you may have seen the Conservative housing minister, Grant Shapps MP, on Question Time, talking about social housing. No-one asked him for his thoughts on trespass, but some apt questions might have included: how does criminalising squatting help with a housing crisis? Are the 160 property lawyers who signed a letter accusing you of deliberately misleading the public telling fibs, or are you? Can't we do better than a situation where 1.7million families are on council housing waiting lists, when homelessness is up 17%, while 737, 491 properties lie empty and abandoned?

What you may not have heard about are some of the more pernicious effects that the criminalisation of trespass will have; unless you've been looking closely, you may not have seen mention of the t-word at all. Headlines about squatters - unwashed, beer-swilling cuckoos in the nest - invading the homes of the Hampstead good and great abound. But, regardless of whether these salacious, home-invasion horror-stories hold any weight, it's not squatting per se that's being outlawed: it's the act of occupation.

Historically, occupations have been the cornerstone of student activism, and over the past 12 months there has been a huge, resurgent wave against the cuts to education funding and the rise in fees. If the government succeeds in criminalising trespass, the act of occupying would become an illegal one. Rather than a civil matter, to be dealt with by the university and the courts, the police could be given powers to enter an occupation and arrest the newly criminalised protesters. Indeed, if occupations were criminalised, they'd be compelled to.

It was one of those rare moments where the mask slips and we get a glance at what’s really going on underneath when Conservative councilor for Hammersmith and Fulham, Harry Phibbs, appeared on a Guardian podcast to discuss the issues. While the presenter talking with another guest about the lack of thought being put into the proposed changes to the law, and what appears to be an almost accidental criminalisation of student occupations, he broke in - all bluff and bluster - with this:

“It sounds to me like a thoroughly, thoroughly, good idea…the idea that students should be allowed to occupy buildings and cause disruption of that kind, using property that doesn’t belong to them, is completely unreasonable.”

Presumably Mr. Phibbs is perfectly happy with sending in the TSG, cracking heads and breaking up occupations. The question is: are you?

Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) is leading the fight-back against the government's plans, and will be hosting a meeting at ULU in the coming weeks to mobilise London's students. If you’re a student outside of London, get in touch with SQUASH at to find out what can be done in your area.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The boat freaks: Fran and Roelofje....

Vyvian Raoul chats to aerial-performing boater Fran Hyde of Collectif and then…, who can frequently be seen leaping through the air above her home and performance space

Fran Hyde and Roelofje are the penultimate boat-boater combination in our series; every boater we’ve interviewed so far has asked us: ‘Have you spoken to the aerial performers, yet?’. Well, now we have — one of them at least: Fran is the boat owner and her performance partner Lucie N’Duhirahe joins her in the air for shows.

Fran’s boat allows her the freedom to perform wherever she stops on the canal — Roelofje is a highly mobile, to say nothing of highly unique, stage. It also allows her freedom from the constant bombardment of exhortations to buy that confront the average capital commuter — a little mental breathing space.

We caught up with her — hungover and out of gas, but happy — outside of the Constitution in Camden…

Name: Fran Hyde
Age: 27
Place of birth: Blackpool
Occupation: Aerial performer

Name: Roelofje (pro. roo-le-fi)
Age: 108 (started life transporting sand around Holland in 1903)
Length: 13m (42.65ft)
Place of birth: Holland
Top speed: “Don’t be silly…”

Lots of people have considered living on a boat: what sets you apart from lots of people?It’s a real romantic idea. But I think people realise that the reality of it is that it’s not as easy as living in a house. You don’t have a washing machine, and you’ve got to light a fire, and sometimes you run out of gas when it’s cold. And it just depends if you care about that or not, or what your priorities are. Also, lots of people talk and don’t do anything.

What are your boating bounds?Every spot has its good points and bad points, I tend to fall in love with every place once I’m there. It’s really nice outside the Constitution, but generally I prefer east London. I roam between Kensal Rise and Tottenham Hale, usually

What does your act look like and where can we see it?We’ve got a rig set up on the boat: two ropes hanging in a U-shape and two people. Lucie is usually the catcher and I am usually the flyer, though sometimes we swop roles. Playing on the towpath is amazing because people don’t expect it and are generally already in a good mood. I love doing street shows and passing the hat. People can be quite generous and it’s great to meet them after the show and see people’s initial reactions.

What do you make of British Waterways proposed plans to put a curb on cruising in its current form?British Waterways are wrong to say that it was never the intent that cruisers should have jobs and families. People have lived on the canals for over 100 years. In Defra’s report on the future of the waterways, people living on the waterways were not mentioned once. There’s got to be something wrong about that.

Is there a difference between continuous cruisers and those that moor?The sense of community between cruisers is stronger; people always need help, life can be hard and there’s a mutual understanding. Although living on a mooring is more comfortable, it’s less community-focused. I lived on a mooring when I first got a boat and it was a bit like living in a car park. Plus cruisers get to move our boats all the time, which is loads of fun!

Why is living on water in London so attractive?It’s an escape, like a piece of countryside in the city. The amount of advertising we have in cities is dangerous and affects us so deeply without us ever really realising how much of it we face every day. It’s so good to have a free space, a space to breathe, and I hope that doesn’t change. I heard rumours of Barclays ‘sponsoring the canal’. I hope this doesn’t provide advertising opportunities for them — although, I can’t see why else they would do it?

Have a look at Fran and Lucie’s truly amazing aquatic aerial show...