Tackling Populism: Hope Over Fear


Tackling Populism: Hope Over Fear

I hadn’t been to the London School of Economics since 1969. Then in support of a student sit in  I was arrested, the cry, Free Free the LSE; Smash Smash the Bourgeoisie, has never left my lips. Needless to say my mother paid the  fine, as well she might, sauvignon socialist that she was. However on my visit last week I was surprised to see there was no blue plaque up to commemorate my part in The Struggle. Maybe it had been taken down to be cleaned, Modesty  forbade me asking.

I was there to hear a lecture and debate, Tackling Populism; Hope Over Fear. Organised by various pro European groups. It was in fact the day the day before Bonny Prince Tony raised the Remain flag so disastrously. But if anyone was going to follow that king across the water in  a children’s crusade against Brexit, it was the good and the insignificant who,that evening filled the LSE’s number one lecture theatre.

The speakers Gozi, Kalder, Legrain, Alemann. A kaleidoscope of European accents and names which suggested they could have been the Real Madrid front four.

But no, these were professors, authors, euro crats,citizens of Europe, cadet members of the liberal  elite. So busy that one had to leave early to catch a flight so he could attend another important meeting.  All paraded  their various multiple nationalities and defied the idea that they were citizens of nowhere. They were the post 1989 (fall of the Berlin Wall) generation who enjoyed the freedom and the privileges of a wider more successful Europe. Educationally, professionally, financially, they had done well out of this state of affairs,  their mission was to make sure  more in Europe were aware of this oh, so happy state .

So how would they fight the wave of  cynicism, alienation, disconnect, nostalgia, nativism,and ouch, popular,  populist nationalism which was sweeping Europe.

With a warm, damp cloud of a meaningless slogans, nonsense ideas and self regarding plugs  for their recent or up coming books

Construct a new discourse, save Greece, close the gap between intentions and actions, stop worrying about short term goals and come up with the big  idea, work trans nationally, get involved –on and on it went. Most of those present nodded approval or asked arcane questions which referred to the village politics of their holiday homes in Tuscany or the South of France.

To think all those years ago as I languished in the Bow Street slammer, for not one but three hours-the time it takes Mozart to write a symphony- I did it so these enlightened ones, these children of Erasmus and Copernicus could waffle on and on. I thought this level of debate was only used by husbands talking on the phone to their wives on the train going  home.

The attraction of Brexit is summarised brilliantly by George who says,”The problem is that no one talks to anyone any more, and ,if they do they dont speak English.” I think constructing a new  discourse ,working transnationally and closing the gap between intentions and actions may well miss George.

The speakers and the audience lamented the nostalgia for a past golden age being a major recruiting sergeant for Brexit and “populism” generally, However it was they, who were nostalgic for a  wider still and wider Europe, whose waste and profligacy  were once taken for granted and never questioned. As Keynes said, When the facts change, I change my mind. They haven’t.


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The Real Lassie

The Real Lassie


A few days in Lyme Regis. Great cliff and  hill walks, historic churches, lovely lunches in Sidmouth and Beaminster. Now a middle class resort (more galleries than chip shops) the town was once a bigger port than Liverpool. Lyme  is famous for Jane Austen(Persuasion) John Fowles (French Lieutenants Woman) Monmouth(here the fateful Duke landed) and now I find the original Lassie.

During the Great War when the UK stood once again stood between the EU and domination by the Bosche, the battleship HMS Formidable with a crew of over 700 was going about its lawful business. On New Years Day 1915 with Auld Lang Synge still on the jolly tars lips, a U Boat struck. As this man of war submerged off the South Devon coast, once again the Lyme Regis lifeboat heard the cry and went out  to save those in peril on the seas.

Rough seas hampered the rescue and 500 perished. Bodies alive and dead were brought back to Lyme Regis and laid out in the Pilot pub which still sits at the bottom of Broad Street , opposite the Cobb Arms. Live bodies were placed in one room and the  immortal dead in another.

The Pilot owner had a cross breed  collie, Lassie. This noble beast sniffed around the dead and stopped at one Able Seaman John Cowan. The dog licked the matelot’s face, licked again, there was a stirring of the corpse,he awoke from his coma. The dog stayed with the sailor an hour until the owner looking for him discovered his dog and the barely alive hero.

IN a country which values its pets almost as much as its freedom from foreign interference, the dog that saved the sailor was  a story which caught the imagination. And when the stories which inspired the Film and TV dog, which saved many, came to be written in the late 1930s there could be only one name. Lassie. The Pilot like  most pubs in Lyme is owned by the excellent Palmers brewery who brew in nearby Bridport.

























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History in the Making

History in  the Making


George Rough 94 family moved from their farm in Mitcham to a terrace in East Putney in 1928. The same street,Mexfield Road which coincidentally Vivien I moved to in 1975. The house had no electricity and an outside lavatory. “We had gas for cooking and hot water and we used hurricane lamps for light”says George one of six children. As a left over from the farm the Rough’s kept chickens in their 30 foot garden.

A few months after they moved in George’s father brought home a box and a car battery. All the kids stood round as the wires were matched and put together. There was a spark and suddenly the sound of dance music filled the room. The family had a radio. “We all went mad shouting and shrieking it was like magic very exciting.” Today George has a forty inch screen, sky tv and a very full box of dvds. He of course moans about change, not so much the disappearance of outside loos and the eradication of polio but the state of modern football and the end of music hall.

The BBC started radio broadcasting in 1922. At first there were so few radios that there were “listening parties”. George remembers that in those early days there wasn’t much more than dance music, comedians and serials came in the 30s. Until 1927 the BBC did not do the news until after 7pm “in order to encourage people to buy newspapers.” Its use as a government propaganda medium during the General Strike of 1926 changed that. The left at the time accused the BBC as being the British Falsehood Corporation.

For years(1950-60) we had a small black and white TV. When ITV came on stream in the mid 1950s my parents were so hostile to its “populist entertainment” and its effect on our homework that we had to go round to our cleaner’s flat to watch the more popular shows like Emergency Ward 10. Later I remember going round to my sisters in 1971 to watch the Cup Final(Arsenal v Liverpool, that Charlie Charlie George goal) because she had one of the first colour TVs.









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The Wire Comes To Fulham

The Wire Comes to Fulham


The Wire was the great  cops n’ drugs series set in the dying rust bowl of Baltimore. Some felt it was as artistically worthy as Shakespeare.  Corrupt, violent and inefficient police fought it out with powerful, violent and manipulative  drug barons. Those in the middle, well, fuck them.

Fulham is a wealthy suburb across the river from Putney. Traditionally in parts a hard manor-The Minder TV show was  set  in the borough-it has moved up in the world. But the big bad  estates still remain. The unemployed, the feckless and the down right criminal ,like insects under a stone thrive in these environments. And last week an instalment of  what could have been a Wire episode was played out in the courts.

Rupert Ross an ex public school boy whose mum runs a boutique in the Kings Road had chosen the gangster life. He loved it,the adrenaline ,the power and the rewards. He and his mate Leon St Aubin ran the drugs on the massive  Clem Atlee estate.(see link) As always in any pyramid selling racket some of the juniors tried to do their own thing. No way hose.

The estate is post war and described as brutalist. There are two 18 story blocks. But the estate is not immune from Fulham’s gentrification. In the last twenty years a flat on the estate has gone from £60K to £400k. But we are talking diverse communities, the low lifes remain. My son Leo once owned a flat 200 metres away, he now lives a mile away on a different planet.

Darcy Austin Brown was not going to be put down by any white boy. He kidnapped Ross and beat him up. In case the message wasn’t clear who was boss, Darcy and a friend did a drive by shooting on Ross and Aubin. War had been declared. Like many , Brown had loyal friends and gang members in prison. One of Ross’s contacts with his contraband phone told Ross when Brown was going  next to visit Wandsworth goal.

Ross and Aubin were ready. They knew if Brown was going on a prison visit he couldn’t carry a gun or wear a bullet proof vest. In the prison car park dressed in lawyers suits the two struck and shot their rival five times. Drug barons  are their own law and create their own order. In a remarkable interview before his arrest, Ross is quoted as saying “its kill or be killed. Death is part of my business…if they get in the way…..he had got out of control.”

The police  had information they also had a witness who saw the two on a motor bike going to the prison. They got thirty years. But good crime stories are not that simple. On the day of Brown’s funeral  Ross’s best friend was gunned down in front of him. He didn’t help the police. No one has been charged.

It goes on. Aubin’s girl friend ,Lynsey Lauro now comes into centre stage. To change the story the  gangsters  need to find the witness and…. Lynsey gets a job with the police at the local Hammersmith station. She seduces an officer who has access to the main computer which has all the information about the identity of witnesses and so on. She passes that info to her man inside. She and her police stooge both get five years.

Meanwhile Ross best friend is dead and not revenged, no doubt new drug barons rule the Clem Atlee estate, a protected witness is now very worried, and it is very difficult to get into the best Fulham prep schools. City life, Yo!















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Bliss It Was

Bliss it was to be alive but to be an artist it was bloody murder


The Russian Art 1917-1932 show at the Royal Academy can make you weep. That glorious dawn when the most oppressed people in Europe threw off their chains   turned into the darkest night for them and the world. From which they and to some extent us have still to completely emerge. If Social Democracy under Kerensky could have  held out… well it didn’t. The last room  at the show is a slide show of some of the millions who perished so that Stalin could triumph.

No group danced wilder  and with more purpose in 1917 than the artists and for a few  glorious years Russian art, design and film can only be compared to the Elizabethan period of playwriting such was its volume, intensity and innovation.

So as Stalin turned  creative hope into totalitarian realism the Peoples Tragedy became the artists deep freeze. The show is a must see, though many of the images, personalities and ideas are familiar ,especially for those who go to the Courtauld.

But one thing did strike me anew. Like many I had never heard of Pavel Filonov and no artist was a more obedient cart horse on Stalin’s farm. Born in 1883 he worked as a house painter and tried four times to get in the Academy of Arts. He was not easy to get on with, few great artists are. There were many times that he was his own worst enemy. When offered a teaching  job he demanded the whole  college changed its methods, result, no job. He worked tirelessly 18 hours a day, the  sparkling detail in his pictures almost miraculous. He believed that pictures should grow organically like flowers, layer after layer, dot after dot.

Along with Malevich and  Mayakorsky he was making waves from 1910 onwards. No one was more passionately for the Revolution when it happened than Filonov. Unlike the others at the forefront of the Russian artistic explosion he made no trips West and so was  unknown.

Eventually his wonderful colourful detailed abstracts paintings were deemed by the totalitarian Stalin as not worthy of the two men a girl and a tractor which social realism demanded. His works were stored unseen for forty years. Even when he was accepted ,being a born again ultra Communist, he refused to sell his pictures and so lived in poverty dying eventually of starvation in the siege of Leningrad in 1941.

His work of  which there are four magnificent pieces  on show at The Royal Academy has been described as “pulsating and breathing crystals,knots and  nets      flowing into each other.” Whatever, brilliant.







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Therapy for All

Therapy for All

20th Century Women is a feel  very good film. A group of fucked up people live together in a big house in Santa Barbara  California. The time 1979. They have lived the California dream which through drugs and  social experiment doesn’t do what it says on the can. They are all derailed either because they have cancer, have parents  who are therapists, lived in communes , are chain smoking divorcees or are children of the above.

The star is the spider mother whose house it is . We know she  is a good guy because she smokes Salems  (not real cigarettes),never does her hair or loses her cool and drives a VW Beetle. Annette Benning should get  an Oscar for her part which is centimetre perfect but this is the year when Black Oscars Matter so a middle aged  honky has no chance. Though she is married in real life to Warren Beatty which should mean she qualifies at least for a bravery award. The boy in the movie, Luke Zuman is the next di Caprio.

Any way punk rock, teenage sex, middle aged dating,the generation gap, feminism,the female orgasm, drugs,motherhood, growing up, what is happiness, what is a man are  all given a run  and frankly its so charmingly and intelligently done that a smile rarely left my lips. I didn’t need the what happened next at the end to make me feel good. Although it sounds like a Guardian check list,and may be it is, this Tory sucked it up happily.

How about “Never have sex with a vagina-you must have sex with the whole woman”. I wish I had been told that at 20 not 70.

Since we are all looking for Why Donald? Answers one clue came in this film. The whole cast are sitting around watching the ill fated President Carter make his wither America speech, the country is at a crossroads, is the US of A giving up fundamental  values for consumerism. Most looked embarrassed and said thats Carter finished, which politically he was. Our heroine was on Jimmy’s side, she knew where it ends.

Therapy lies heavily across this film. They are all fucked up, they know they are, they know the answers and all that does is make them more fucked up. Alternatives have not led to happiness  just more of the same. One line goes like  the more you worry about whether you are happy the more unhappy you get. In this film the longer you sit watching the broader the  smile.






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Pier Hunting-Southend

Pier Hunting- Southend

This is the big one. Longer than The Mall,longer than Priory Lane at  1.3 miles, it claims to be the longest pleasure pier in the world. Well if  crazy golf at one end and penny arcades at the other are your idea of pleasure then the boast is very real. But as Jesus showed walking on water is always a pleasure.

On a cold misty day with the boats going to and from Tilbury in the background there was mulled wine   in the pier head cafe. Apres promenade de jetee I joked with the Filipino behind the counter, she smiled but no happy ending. The pier is so long because when it served the boats it had to clear the endless mud flats which come between Southend and the sea at low tide. This means it has a miniature railway whose engine is named after Sir John Betjeman who did so much to save the pier when the council were all for  giving up.

The heyday of the pier was in the 40s and 50s. That is when my 94 year old pal George and his Wandsworth mates would go down to London Bridge in the morning, load up with crates of pale and special ales and the fun would begin. Get off at Southend have a few more  then back on the boat and home by midnight. Gor Blimey Guv, what a carry on. A right old Knees Up all the way down the Lambeth Walk where no doubt they would Roll out the Barrel. Oh those Cockneys how they danced,more Rabbit *than Sainsburys, a few Pigs Ears* were drunk that day and those that were not Elephant Trunk *were probably on the trip with the Carving Knife*. Though as George says,”The wives they were the worst, drinking like fish they were.” Souhend has always been the East End’s(therefore true Cockney) favourite. It has none of Brighton’s la di la.

So on a day when the Currant Bun* didn’t shine I made the trip. I bought postcards in the pier shop, mulled wine on the pier and liquorice toffees in the sweet shop. Then it was of  to Robins Mash and Poe shop established 80 years ,for a bit of Kidney Punch*. Never had it, OK I’ll have two pies and liquor(a kind of parsley Army and Navy*). The place was quite full and all were conscious that a stranger was tucking into a Cockney delicacy for the first time. Very cheap £5 the plate. Rosy Lea* 80 p extra. I finished and more than one asked, whatayouthink? Bloody marvellous(I lied, cheap mince mash and gravy, filling but not very tasty). One diamond geezer got up and winked “Aint bad  is it”.

*Rhyming slang. Rabbit and pork-talk; beer; drunk; wife; sun; lunch; gravy; tea.




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