Sunday, 25 March 2012

Homage to Homage to Catalonia...

Up here in Aragon one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working-class origin, all living the same level and mingling on terms of equality.

In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a fore-taste of Socialism, by which I mean the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of life - snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. - had simply ceased to exist. The ordinary class division in society had disappeared to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money-tainted air of England; there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves, and no-one owned anyone else as his master.

Of course such a state of affairs could not last. It was simply a temporary and local phase in an enormous game that is being played over the whole surface of the earth. But it lasted long enough to have its effect on anyone who experienced it. However much one cursed at the time, one realised afterwards that one had been in contact with something strange and valuable. One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word 'comrade' stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality.

I am well aware that it is now the fashion to deny that Socialism has anything to do with equality. In every country in the world a huge tribe of party hacks and sleek little professors are busy 'proving' Socialism means no more than a planned state-capitalism with the grab motive left intact.

But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this. The thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the 'mystique' of Socialism, is the idea of equality; to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all...

Options for dealing with squatting...

We're now at the most critical stage of the campaign, our very last chance to stop the criminalisation of squatting. Next Tuesday 20 March, Clause 136 of the Legal-Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) bill will be debated and voted on in the House of Lords. If it's passed, it would sanction a £5000 fine or up to a year in prison for those squatting in residential buildings.

Lobby a Lord

It's more important than ever that you take five minutes to help with the lobbying effort - it could make all the difference.

Find out how to lobby a lord.

Online activism: a twobby

From now right up until the vote next Tuesday we'll be conducting an online twitter-lobby. Why not ask Grant Shapps MP, the Conservative Housing Minister, how he thinks criminalising squatting will help with a housing crisis, or find out why the Law Society oppose criminalisation. Don't forget the hashtag:  #stopclause136.


The amendments

We've tabled four amendments to Clause 136. The first would see the clause set aside altogether (stand part in Lords-speak) and stop the criminalisation of squatting; amendment 3 asks that the cost impacts be properly looked at by the government before the Clause comes into force; and the others would mitigate the effects if it is criminalised.

Next Tuesday, the Lords will have the opportunity to debate these amendments in the House and then vote on them. Here's what we want them to vote on:

Amendment 1 - Clause Stand Part

Clause 136 is unnecessary and this is a central reason for opposing its inclusion in the Bill. Despite media scaremongering, people displaced from their homes by squatters are already fully protected by existing laws.

Amendment 2 – Properties left empty for twelve months or more to be exempt from the new law

Whilst homelessness is rising rapidly, there are almost 1 million buildings lying empty in the UK (Empty Homes Agency).

Amendment 3 - Clause 136 is not commenced until the Secretary of State reports to Parliament with an assessment of its full costs to the public purse 

Using government data and a methodology endorsed by a range of academics and legal practitioners, SQUASH have calculated that Clause 136 could cost £790 million over the next 5 years to the taxpayer.

Amendment 4 - Retrospective criminalisation

Section 7 of Clause 136 will criminalise those whose trespass occurred before the legislation was enacted. This sits uneasily with Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits retrospective criminalisation.

Amendment 5 - Defining residential

There is imprecision with regards to the definition of “residential”. To accord with the intention of legislators - the protection of homeowners - this definition should be clarified and restricted to use classes C3 (dwellings, houses, flats, apartments) or C4 (houses of multiple occupation).

See the amendments in full



Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Shins @ Kentish Town Forum

It’s a dreamy start in the Kentish Town Forum. The Shins open their first London set in five years with a stripped-back version of Chutes Too Narrow favourite ‘Kissing The Lipless’, all plinky-plonky xylophone sounds, spotlights and strained vocals. And though it starts deliberately softly, the crowd are right there in full voice by about the third line; there’s a lot of love in the room tonight.

In the last half-decade, lead singer and guitarist James Mercer has been busy with other projects (Broken Bells and, erm, his family). He’s replaced the entire line-up of his band since Wincing The Night Away and signed the new recruits up to his own record label, Aural Apothecary. It’s a harsh-sounding turn of events on paper, but then again, Mercer’s always been the axis round which The Shins revolved, and anyway the unfamiliar cast is very well received indeed. ‘So Says I’ is second up and receives the kind of applause most would be happy with for their second-to-last song. In this opening section there are a few mistakes, a few missed beats and half-forgotten lines, granted, but nobody seems to care. Certainly not The Shins, who strum straight through it in their stride.

‘Australia’ is an obvious crowd-pleaser and completes a trio of classics before introducing material from new album Port Of Morrow. This is the real test of the new line up, and they pass with aplomb: the big riffs of ‘Simple Song’ stand up well next to their back catalogue, and sound instantly anthemic. Later, the synth-heavy ‘Rifle’s Spiral’ is pleasingly moody-indie, also sitting seamlessly in the set.

They really get into gear in the middle section, though, and there are no more missed changes. The already revved-up crowd responds accordingly: James looks momentarily taken aback when the crowd jumps all over the la-la-las of ‘Saint Simon’ — and then lets them get on with it. The same thing happens during ‘New Slang’, when the oohs of the crowd drown out those coming from the stage.

Mercer’s been understated all evening, but when the band walks back out for that rarest of things, the well-earned encore, he takes some time to talk — it seems he’s missed us, too. They end that encore with the enormous ‘Sleeping Lessons’, and people are calling their loved ones and holding their phones up to the stage; it’s that sort of gig. Ultimately the change of personnel hardly seems to matter, James Mercer and his replacement Shins seem to have grasped the importance of this long-awaited moment — and that’s all you can really ask from any live performance...


Friday, 23 March 2012

Be my Valentine?

I think I'm in love...

London, by London...

le cool is joining the Guardian at its Open Weekend. We’re writing the story of London; and we have lovely prizes to offer in return for your help

As you’ve probably noticed the Guardian is throwing open the doors of its rather swanky London HQ this Saturday for the Open Weekend, a festival-cum-open day featuring the likes of Steve Coogan, David Miliband and Charlie Brooker.

It’s also going to be home to a team of le cool writers — we’ve teamed up with the Guardian travel team and its expert sub-editors to run a collective writing experiment called London, by London. We invite the public to trawl the vast world of words that’s been written about the capital in search of choice sentences. We’ll take these sentences and chop, rearrange and reframe them to create a new story: the story of London, by London.

So far so conceptual. What are you actually doing?We’re going to be at the Guardian HQ, on a barge, with a typewriter and lots of books, typing out sentences about London copied from elsewhere then mixing them all up to create a new story.

That’s cleared that up then. Sorry, did you mention a barge?Yes, we like boats, and the Guardian’s Kings Place offices back on to Regent’s Canal, so it seemed a natural progression to do our event on a boat. This boat, to be precise.

How will you collect the typed sentences to create the story? Once typed, they’ll be handed to a Guardian travel sub-editor to mix up and create our story.

What’s in it for me? le cool and the Guardian will choose our favourite sentence of those submitted. If this is your sentence, you win 12 classic world-changing books redesigned and re-issued to celebrate Picador’s 40th anniversary; a printed poster of the final story we create; plus le cool’s Weird and Wonderful Guide to London. Ten runners up will get a printed poster of the story and the Weird and Wonderful Guide.

I haven’t got a ticket to the Guardian Open Weekend – does this mean I can’t collaborate? You can! We’re also collecting sentences submitted via our @lecool_london Twitter account. Hashtag: #LdnByLdn. Start searching and tweeting your sentences now. You’ll enter the competition for a copy of London Unfurled by doing so.

Bring on the word-copying, chopping, mixing, boat-based London, by London fun…

To get involved: Tweet sentences about London using #LdnByLdn. Guardian Open Weekend pass-holders — come and find our barge this weekend. Either bring a sentence with you or select one from the texts we’ll have available.

The rules: Submit as many sentences as you like but they must be singular sentences (use two tweets if necessary) and they must have been written before. Our story will be highly original; its parts must be properly plagiarised.

Suggested texts: Everything from the Doomsday Book to newspaper reports on the London riots. Down and Out in Paris in London, Dickens, Pepys diaries, sentences from news broadcasts, websites, blogs, twitter…

Thursday, 22 March 2012

London, by London @ Guardian Open Weekend Festival

Here at le cool we write and re-write the story of our city each and every week, and deliver our London love-story straight to your inbox. This weekend is your chance to help us write that story: we’ve teamed up with the Guardian and, as part of their Open Weekend Festival, we’ll be creating a new narrative - London, by London. It’s a collaborative conceptual writing experiment in which we’ll collectively choose our all time favourite sentences scribed about this town and put them back together again to make our own story. As well as coming down to Guardian HQ, you can follow the process and take part online, on our blog and on twitter. The Guardian’s travel subs will be helping us shape the text as well as selecting their favourite sentences for some fabulous literary prizes. Don’t just consume London: create London - or recreate it, at least…

Photo credit: Donovan Beeson

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Fully referenced...

The house we lived in on Manor Avenue had been left empty for four years. The property manager eventually relented to our being in occupation; we kept the house in a decent, lived-in state, allowed access, and would vacate on request.

When the couple that ultimately bought the house came to view it the estate agent was late, so we made them a cup of tea and showed them around. When they gave us notice that they'd like to move their family in, we moved out.

Mike Weatherley MP, a self-proclaimed leader of the fight to criminalise squatting, has said that the idea that 'squatters run around with a hoover before they leave is absurd' - this is exactly what we did when we left Manor Avenue. We left the place spotless, and ran our stuff across town in a Streetvan to an old technical school that had been empty for six years.

In case we ran into less understanding owners in future, our former property's new owner wrote us a reference:

"I am in the process of purchasing a house in Manor Avenue in Brockley which until last week was squatted in by Vyvian and a number of others.

During the purchase process I have visited the house a number of times to get trade quotes and take measurements.

I can confirm that the group living in the house were always polite and welcoming. There was never any problem with access. They took care of the property during their stay and did not cause damage or, as far as I am aware, any noise or nuisance to neighbours. In fact the immediate neighbours were on good terms with them. I understand from the current owner that they also paid all electricity bills during their stay.

When we asked the group to leave before the start of building work they vacated the property promptly and left it in a clean and tidy state."

Sadly he couldn't make our leaving party, because he couldn't get a babysitter. But lots of our other neighbours did, including the couple from next door, and another couple whose little kids played with Eva's doggies...

Someone else came to the party, and took lots of pictures. You can have a look around our house at this very clever website: Portrait of a Squat.

The Last Days of Mubarak

The world keeps on spinning, but revolutions are few and far between. Most generations only hear about them in history books, or from their well-meaning Marxist friends, who await theirs with baited breath like ultra-orthodox Christians awaiting The Rapture: any day now, any day. But, hold the phone, almost exactly a year ago the world witnessed a genuine, bone-fide coup d'etat: the Egyptian people rose up, occupied Tahrir Square and fully refused to go home until the Western-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak, took a long-awaited leave of absence. But you weren't there, and neither was I, which is why we should go and see Guy Martin and Ivor Picket's exhibition at Foto8. Vive la revolution!

Marx Reloaded @ ICA

It may seem a wrong thing to say, but Marx is in urgent need of a re-brand. Stalin hijacking your theories for his own totalitarian ends? Talk about your pr-nightmares. Karl couldn’t half use a Max Clifford style guru to bat back some of the bad press of the McCarthy era. And how can a battered old Penguin classic copy of the communist manifesto possibly compete with the slick advertising campaigns of capitalism? Marx Reloaded is an attempt to re-relate to the public: a mixture of animation and interviews, with appearances from the likes of Slavoj Žižek and Antonio Negri. It takes some of the central ideas of the 19th century German socialist and philosopher and applies them to our modern monetary madness. So take the red pill, and see how deep the rabbit hole goes…

Speech Debelle @ Koko

Not only does this evening launch Speech Debelle's second album, Studio Backpack Rap, it launches her European tour - presenting both record and live show to the world. The first was ridiculously well received, coming seemingly out-of-nowhere, snatching the Mercury Music prize from under everyone's noses, and totally deserving it. It seemed to give Speech massive confidence, if the performances that followed that are anything to go by. And that confidence has carried through into this latest set of songs, which are more mature, but whose delivery retains the punch of the under dog. It's a big night for her, which means it's a big night for those watching...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

'Landlords are bitches...'

A man who lived on a boat that he'd recently bought told me that.

"Whether it can be altered or not, whether it is right or wrong, landlordism is one of the causes of poverty"

Robert Tressell, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.