Category Archives: UK

Feliç Sant Jordi!

A rose for the lady

Today’s Saint George’s (or Sant Jordi’s) day. I’m not the biggest fan of celebrating saints’ days, but as George most likely didn’t exist, I generally go along with this one. The fact that George is the patron saint of my former home and my adopted home makes it easy to remember.

As you may well know, there is no tradition in England for celebrating St. George, at least nothing more than having an extra pint of Stella at the Rose and Crown. Some English nationalist parties (the BNP, the English Democrats) bemoan the fact that the English celebrate numerous other festivals (St. Patrick’s day, Eid) but not the day of their own patron saint. The truth is that the English seem to have lost touch with their ‘national’ traditions around the 18th century… which coincides with the time we started conquering new lands and discovering new cultures*.

Interestingly, I received a text message from Vodafone two days ago which suggested that ‘On the national day of the UK, sign up for our My Country service and save on calls home’. Huh. At first I thought that Vodafone were talking about St. George’s day, which is in no way ‘the national day of the UK’, though I don’t doubt that the BNP would make it so. Actually, April 21st is the Queen’s birthday… so maybe that’s what they were getting at. Not her official birthday, mind, her real one.

In Catalonia, Sant Jordi is celebrated with a rather sweet version of the English St. Valentine’s traditions. Called ‘the day of the rose’ and ‘the day of the book’, Catalan men traditionally give their sweetheart a rose, while Catalan women are supposed to give their fella a book. The tradition has now become more egalitarian (and profitable, mark you), as both genders now expect to receive a book and a rose. So those of you with Catalan girlfriends or wives: don’t forget to buy them a nice cookery book, or even better a book about roses – kill two birds with one stone. You, meanwhile, should expect a manly tome on Catalan history, tax law or Barça.

Speaking of which, the footage of large, pale men beating the shit out of eachother on Les Rambles can mean only one thing: English football fans are in town again. Yes, the savages from the north are hear to support their team of nobodies ‘Manchester Foot Ball United’ or something. They’re playing Barça in the first leg of the semi-final of the Champions’ League. Given that Manchester will probably win, Catalan women should prepare themselves for a miserable supper starting at about half-past ten tonight.

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*By ‘discovering new cultures’, I of course mean ‘eradicating newly discovered cultures’.

Please don’t tell me where or when I may protest

The Olympic torch made a pretty pathetic tour through London today, beset at first by snow and wind, and later by numerous pro-Tibet campaigners intent on bringing their independentist protest to the fore again.

I was hoping that the torch would be fucked with at some point, because the relay is just another side of Britain’s craven pursuit of China’s acceptance. Because of 2012 the torch had to visit London, but at no point has the UK government spoken out about the violent crackdown taking place in what should be a free Tibet.

The most striking quote of the day for me came from the Chinese Olympic Committee representative, who said something along the lines of “It’s sad that people have to hijack the Olympics as a legitimate space for protest”. He went on to explain that while protest should be allowed (yeah, right!), the Olympics are a sporting event, not a political one.

Sorry but that just doesn’t wash. If there is any ‘non-political’ event as political as the Olympic Games, I’d like to know. I’m sick of committee organisers, politicians and police ‘advising’ on the best way to protest. Their suggestions inevitably involve meeting in some park, well away from TV cameras. Yeah, perhaps we could just do it in a labour camp. Actually, the torch relay is about the most suitable target for protest that I can think about at the moment.

Despite all the talk about Islamist terrorism, I’m still convinced that the number one threat that worries governments everywhere is organisation of labour and mass protest. We should continue our protests, illegal if need be, so that governments can’t sit pretty and pretend there is no opposition.

“Strong men also cry”

Some choice stories which I have failed to comment on over recent days:

Tomas Delgado – this is the man who killed a 17 year-old cyclist by running him over, and then attempted to sue the dead boy’s family for €20,000 in order to pay for repairs to his car. Hundreds of people descended on the court in Haro, northern Spain, to show their utter contempt for this heartless bastard. He then withdrew the lawsuit, but not because he felt guilty or had had some sort of ‘Road to Damascus’ moment. No, he was just pissed off with the negative attention his family were receiving from the press. I have the feeling that if Ron Paul ever got anywhere near power, he’d probably pass a law approving such damages. Perhaps even kick the parents out of their home. I mean, it’s an Audi.

Rudy Giuliani – this is the man who was incapable of opening his mouth without reminding people about September 11th, 2001. He has just retired from the race to become Republican nominee for US president after what might have been the most spectacularly poorly thought-out campaign in electoral history. At his last few speeches, he barely got 100 supporters showing up and you could almost feel sorry for him if he didn’t constantly debase himself and his country by doing everything he could to cash in on the deaths of the victims in the Twin Towers.

John Edwards – this is the man who was never really going to make it. Nice but a bit dull, he could probably have been a decent president. As someone else put it, he failed because his two rivals have stories which are much easier packaged. Ah well, it’ll probably make little difference anyway.

Martin Amis – this is the man who appeared on Start The Week on Monday criticising multiculturalism. He didn’t really say much except that Muslims are inherently backward and that he “invented” multiculturalism. Actually, it’s interesting that those who have abandoned the left to become neo-conservatives are now becoming quite fierce proponents of ethic nationalism (which is the only logical alternative to multiculturalism). It’s really not that surprising, though, as these fellows all refer to ‘the Enlightenment’ (which created, among other things, nationalism) as the high point of human reason. They’re all cribbing from the (interestingly named) Paul Cliteur anyway.

BNP ‘in meltdown’ as numerous officials are purged

Those of us on the left who’ve ever had any interest in party organisation will be all too aware how often splits can occur. The recent wrecking behaviour of Galloway supporters in Respect is a classic example. So it is great to see that a potentially much more serious split is taking place in Britain’s main fascist party, the BNP.

Two key activists in the party,  Kenny Smith and  Sadie Graham were purged from the party after they attempted to maneuver against Mark Collett, the party’s publicity officer. Collett seems quite unpopular and general opinion among many activists appears to be that he is being protected by leader Nick Griffin. I remember Collett’s appearance in a couple of TV documentaries which showed him to be a particularly unpleasant neo-Nazi.

Now, many organisers and party officials seem to be resigning in protest at Griffin’s betrayal of the party for personal reasons. This is great news, of course, because a party in disarray is an unsuccessful party. Griffin’s authority is now being directly challenged and it looks like he’ll either have to get rid of his chum Collett or face more resignations. It all stems from various dark accusations of nefarious acts connected with Collett, as well as a claim that the BNP’s ‘intelligence team’ have hacked into blog sites and deleted posts.

Read the Lancaster Unite Against Fascism post for a more coherent explanation of what has gone down, and how grave the BNP’s problems appear to be. I’m going to have a celebratory cigarette.

‘Catastrophic’ incident at Revenue & Customs

The UK Chancellor has this afternoon announced that HM Revenue and Customs ‘lost’ personal information on 25 million individuals.

Apparently, every single child in Britain had their data lost on two password-protected (but not encrypted) CD-ROMs which were sent to the National Accounting Office but never turned up. After the Northern Rock incident, Alistair Darling should now resign. He probably won’t yet, but I bet he’ll be gone soon.

The Tories have suggested that this is proof enough that the National ID Card project is a risk to far, and dead in the water. They’re probably right about that too.

Does it suddenly turn into Tolstoy?

LITTLEJOHN: But you haven’t read the book in its totality and you have to read the book in its totality.

SELF: Why?

LITTLEJOHN: In order to understand it.

SELF: Does it turn into Tolstoy at page 205?

LITTLEJOHN: No it doesn’t turn into Tolstoy. I don’t set out to be Tolstoy. It is a much more complex book than that.

SELF: Than Tolstoy?

OK, so it’s from a few years back, but I still find this ‘clash’ between pernicious right-wing cock, Dick Littlejohn, and actual writer, Will Self, makes for genuinely uplifting reading. Littlejohn is so markedly out of his depth when met with a truly intelligent man that he looks utterly absurd.

Also, have a look at the reviews for his books on Amazon. Some of them (particularly the one comparing Dick to Plato) are more than a little tongue-in-cheek.

But what about Azelle?

The Metropolitan Police was recently found guilty on health and safety charges after the unlawful killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. This would be a welcome verdict if it had sent to jail those responsible for killing an innocent man. But I’m not surprised: the Met has a record for getting away scot free after killing innocent men. That such a high-profile police killing should end up being investigated by just the Health & Safety Executive says a lot about the current state of governance in England.

I’ve written before about Azelle Rodney, the innocent man shot dead by the Met in 2005. But sadly, the campaign to restore his name seems to have foundered. Azelle is now forgotten by pretty much everyone but his family. No protest marches for him anymore. But his family are still fighting for his name. A release of ‘secret’ intelligence could finally allow an inquest in to his death to take place.

Ian Blair was Met Commissioner when Azelle was shot, too. What will it take to make this man resign?

Modbury, rain and seeds and stems

We’ve got yet another low-pressure system overhead now, so after a week or so of good weather, it’s back do murky drizzle. By accident of birth, this weather isn’t too depressing for me. Having grown up in south Devon (in England), drizzle and overcast skies act as a fond reminder of my halcyon days (which were mainly spent strolling through woods and fields, smoking cheap hashish and listening to John Peel’s radio show, taped from last week). My town, by good fortune, was featured in an article in yesterday’s Guardian. It’s to become the first plastic bag-free town in Europe! Go Modbury!

I’ve never written much about Modbury because I’ve not lived there in a long time. Gemma and I try to have every other Christmas out there and we’re going over for a friend’s wedding in July. Modbury’s a lovely place: built around two steep streets and a handful of pubs and farms, it’s an up-market holiday spot for media types and city traders. The countryside around it (particularly the private Flete estate) is sublime and at times, Modbury feels like it might be the best place in the world. When you’re fifteen, however, it can be a bit boring.

Idle hands do the Devil’s work. Perhaps all fifteen year-olds are permanently bored or listening to rock music? Just like most teenagers, we invested quite a lot of time and effort into getting stoned. Unlike today’s lucky youths who are generally able to lay their hands on hydroponically-farmed, acutely psychoactive sticky bud, in Modbury we seemed to be mostly confined to ‘soap bar’, the crappiest, least pure hash produced anywhere in the world. In many ways, it’s remarkable that we stuck at it. Sometimes, we walked for miles to buy a ‘teenth’ (1/16 of an ounce) – but then we had nothing better to do, so probably we would have been walking around aimlessly anyhow. Still, I guess that even though we didn’t realise it at the time, we were extremely lucky with where we grew up.

I am also very lucky to be living here in the suburbs of Barcelona. We’re very close to the Collserola park (a protected, forested bit of rocky parkland behind Barcelona), have a lovely terrace with plenty of afternoon sun, and Cerdanyola seems to be on the up and up at the moment. If you’re looking for a flat in Spain, make sure it’s got a terrace. This multi-functional extra wing of the house acts as a scullery, garden, dining room, sun deck and marijuana production facility (among many other things). There are few better things to do in April than spend a weekend in Amsterdam, fly back with some 100% feminised ‘White Rhino’ and ‘Great White Shark’ seeds and plant them. We have high hopes for this year’s crop (mainly because of the price of the seeds).

There is, however, one major problem with growing weed on your terrace (and I’m not talking about the… slightly shady legality of the enterprise). The biggest issue we’ve encountered so far (and it has become worse every year) is caterpillar infestation. This little bichos seem to love prime buds more than anything else in life. A brisk shake of the plant will get most of them off but it can also damage the plant’s stems and reduce the number of precious crystals on your crop. Insecticides should never be used on your weed, and particularly not during the flowering and fruiting stage. So this year, I’m going to employ biological weapons. It’s possible to by ladybirds and other voracious predators via mail order. I haven’t tried it before and I’m a little worried about my ladybirds flying away, just like my parrot did. But it’s worth a try. If you’ve got any other anti-caterpillar advice, I’m all ears.

In praise of reason

We live in confusing times… I remember only a few years ago watching the famous BBC documentaries about the Taleban’s insane regime in Afghanistan – their destruction of Buddhist monuments, their repression of women, their official homophobia. The era of the Taleban was as absurd as a Monty Python sketch, with its beard laws and its choice of executions (stoning or have a wall pushed over on you). We marvelled, I remember, at the way these twisted individuals had managed to overrun a whole country with their crazy beliefs.

The Catholic Church in England has little in common with the Taleban. While they are the representatives of a foreign theocracy, they are never to be seen toting AK-47s at airports, as the Taleban were wont to do. But they are, in their own little way, attempting to subvert the UK’s comittment to equality of rights and opportunities by attempting to derail legislation which would force them to allow same-sex couples to adopt children from Catholic adoption agencies with the same rights as hetrosexual couples.

Their argument, unconvincing as it is, is that the new legislation will interfere with the rights of Catholics to ‘make a moral judgement’, and thus denies them their human rights. A BBC presenter referred to this as ‘a clash of rights’ today on 5Live, as if we were dealing with two sets of faith-based beliefs which were in opposition. That is not the case. What we’re dealing with is the clash of basic human rights of equality against the traditional right of religious folks to exercie their prejudice as they like.

There’s no doubt that the Catholic adoption agencies have helped a lot of children and a lot of couples over the years. But it would be wrong for the government to cave in to demands by a religious group to legalise their dislike for gay partnerships. Modern society should not have to make allowances for the superstitions and prejudices of pressure groups.

On a different tack, I once again offer the marvellous badscience.net as a vanguard against those who would challenge reason and scientific practice in the quest for a cheap buck. More of this, please.