Tuesday, 9 August 2011

In a place far far away...

After the misery comes humour
Strife. Strewth. Getting jugged by spouse, daughter, son-in-law, mum's carer, for saying though looting is double plus depressingly stupid, there might be a link between contagious urban pillage and the most severe cutbacks in public services since WW2 beside global recession. They believe I condoned this, caused it and would like to take part. There's no arguing with these mindless thugs - I mean - beloved family and friends (:)) Simon in Scotland - not planning to torch the village shop!
"A cautious thumbs up for the Big Society?"
Just after midnight GMT from Connecticut:
Dear Simon. I heard tonight on the BBC television news that the rioting in UK has spread to Birmingham.  Are you and Lin OK?  Aside from the shooting by police last Saturday (I thought the London police didn't carry guns unlike the US police) which seems a trigger not enough to account for this extraordinary outburst except that the Conservative austerity plan is finally driving people to the breaking point.  I can't make out the cause from the BBC whose coverage seems poor for once. But most important are you OK? ...anxiously, Tony & Helen
Dear Tony & Helen. I’ve been sat at my laptop in the Highlands of Scotland – 10 miles from the town – with my daughter Amy (in the West Midlands Police) and her husband Guy as they watch events on BBC 24 Hours rolling news on the widescreen TV, she on her mobile, and he on his laptop, discussing events as they emerge - Tolystoyan style - across the country and from different parts of London and Birmingham, from whence come messages – questions, observations, exclamations - by email, twitter and facebook from strangers and relatives and friends. Now you’ve just  emailed to ask after us and I’ve just come off the phone to Linda at home in in Handsworth who’s also on her computer and watching the TV, while my son, Richard, in the house with her has just come back from taking photographs in Soho Road a mile away. 
I know this place...
and this...
...too
We are getting sounds, images, film and interconnection on various channels with the rest of the world including you. It’s sweet of you to be concerned. I appreciate it. We’ve been through a succession of urban riots here over the years each bringing months if not years of post-mortems, analyses, enquiries and ever contested narratives. Have a glance at some of the links in the second paragraph of yesterday's blog entry. I’ve also been having a lively socio-political debate on-line about cause and effect with a couple of academic friends in other parts of the the country, agreeing, disagreeing.... Here the weather by the seaside has been sublime with brisk winds blowing a short surf onto an iron grey sea skirting the long shallow pebble and sand beaches of the Moray Firth as we stroll with the world to ourselves, dogs romping joyfully around us. Love Simon
In the Highlands ~ Amy and her grandma with dogs
From America:
Whisked through the link you sent me. Seems much like the Arab Spring. See Casey Rain's entry (and here). Hopeless youth. Having been through a period of unemployment myself I know that there is nothing more emasculating than being unemployed even if one's food is not is question. This is the best explanation I have seen of the cause of the rioting. Still inexcusable - on both sides - and no solution either. Cameron's austerity program will lead to more of this. It will happen here too if the #'s get larger enough or if it goes on long enough while the fat cats are siphoning Midas's gold through the tax system and bailouts. But wasn't there some moral about Midas where the gold turned molten when he tried to eat it and he was killed by his avarice? fill me in. Perhaps an apt metaphor for our times. Regardless of the lessons, so glad to hear you both are ok. Tony
Quotes from one line of chat -
Sarah Jane West · Wallington High School for Girls: Mike, I'm sorry, but I live in Croydon, I live with these people, have worked with these people.We had riots in our town centre last night. I promise you, the kids taking part in this are not engaged with the things you are talking about, they don't read papers, they don't watch the news and they won't read this. They tweet each other about where the next riot is taking place, dress up in their "costumes" and bus themselves over to where the looting is going on. They won't have heard of Mark Duggan, they won't have heard of Rupert Murdoch and they don't care about student loans because they won't be going to college.They just like wrecking stuff.
Susie Brain · Manchester, United Kingdom: The kind of rights they clearly feel have been taken away from them or have never been given. A small handful may understand the reason behind it, but most of them have just jumped in to get some easily acquired freebies - the way they already probably spend most of their life anyway. They're not worth even spending any time thinking about. In fact I don't even want to spend any more time on a reply about why they may be doing it. They 'simply' shouldn't be doing it and that's that.
Steven Keyser · Owner at PC Fix-IT Shop: Burning of buildings and cars is a sign of ignorance. If your protest is with the police why destroy your neighbors lives. I suspect the people who burned and looted had no idea why the original protest started. I understand the events in photo's like 4, 5 and 11. But, 9, 13 and 23
Me: ‘Depravity in the oppressed is no apology for the oppressor; but rather an additional stigma to him, as being in large degree, the effect, and not the cause and justification of oppression’ Herman Melville, Chap 14 White Jacket
...and (back to the future - 23 Oct '11 - on BBC R4  Today Programme's organised public debate on the riots in Birmingham Town Hall, hearing Martin Nairy, ex-Prison Service and Barnados, during the last hour rough quote (at 05.41) the vexed shepherd's words from Scene 3 of Winter's Tale:
I would there were no age between sixteen and
three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the
rest; for there is nothing in the between but
getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry,
stealing, fighting...
In Ovid's Metamorphoses XI Dionysus found his old schoolmaster, the satyr Silenus, missing. Silenus had wandered away drunk. Found by some Phrygian peasants, he was brought to Midas, Μίδας, their king. The king's guest for ten days and nights, Silenus entertained Midas and his court with stories and songs. On the eleventh day, Midas brought Silenus back to Dionysius. In gratitude Dionysius offered Midas whatever he wished. Midas asked that whatever he touched be turned to gold. His wish granted, he turned a holm-oak twig and a stone to gold. Utterly delighted he ordered his servants to prepare a feast. Everything he touched became gold; but when on trying to eat he found his food grow rigid and his drink harden into molten gold. By mistake he touched his daughter, transforming her into a golden statue.

Horrified, grief stricken he prayed to Dionysus.
"Father Dionysus (Ovid called him Bacchus), forgive me! I have sinned. But have pity on me, I beg you, and save me from this costly evil!"
Bacchus restored him, kindly taking back what he had granted.
"So you do not remain coated with the gold you wished for so foolishly go to the river by great Sardis, make your way up the bright ridge against the falling waters, till you come to the source of the stream, and plunge your head and body at the same moment into the foaming fountain, where it gushes out, and at the same time wash away your sin."
The king did as he was told. His hated gift flowed into the river and its sands turned to gold, which explains why the river Pactolus is still so rich in gold. Midas was freed, his daughter restored. Hating wealth and splendour, he moved to the country and became a worshipper of Pan, the god of the fields - my favourite god.
***** **** *****
A Facebook exchange with my friend Jonathan Davies last night and next morning:


Jonathan Stephen Davies According to Nina Power, the only things getting smashed up on Walworth Road are 'bastions of economic misery - loan shops, bookies and banks'. But, inchoate rage is by definition unfocused, so inevitably people who should not get caught up in it. That is regrettable and sometimes has tragic consequences. But, that just makes naming the enemy and providing grounds for hope - politicization - so much more important.
    • John Moore The Gordon Rioters had the Bank of England at their mercy but decided to prioritise the release of the prisoners at Newgate. Having burnt down Newgate they returned to the Bank of England only to find troops defending it. Random targets?
    • Simon Baddeley The Gordon Rioters like Enoch Powell's dockers had a nasty agenda.
    • Jonathan Stephen Davies Enoch's dockers became Heath's nemesis four years later.
    • Simon Baddeley Because he was one nation where Thatcher wasn't
    • John Moore Gordon, the marchers and the petition had a very nasty agenda but the subsequent rioters had were far more than a tool for the protestant associations and had a number of their own agendas.
    • Jonathan Stephen Davies In other words, there can be many outcomes to tinderbox situations like this and movements that start with reactionary agendas, like the Powellite dockers, sometimes develop authentically emancipatory ideas.
    • Simon Baddeley If Heath had been prepared to use the police as Thatcher did he might not have been replaced by her. He'd a vein of common decency that comes from being in war.
    • Jonathan Stephen Davies @Simon - they did use Thatcherite tactics and Heath considered worse (he showed no decency in Ireland). Remember Saltley Gates? The police were actually defeated by force of numbers and the very real threat of a general strike in 1972, th...
    • Simon Baddeley The history of those times is as contested as the present. It teaches me that in the last resort Heath blinked - and some saw that as weakness other's as decency. At what point to maintain the Queen's Peace do you call on water cannon, plas...
    • Jonathan Stephen Davies Absolutely - but he may also have blinked because he thought he would lose. As we're seeing in various parts of the world right now, sending in the army does not translate into automatic victory for the state. It is not the bottom line and...
    • Simon Baddeley 
      We are in conjecture land. Tolstoy was so right about how events that are later called history unfold. I think you are right about Cameron's direction but recall that it was Willie Whitelaw who challenged Thatcher's view that 1985 in Handsworth was just criminal. i was at one of the many meetings where one of the brightest civil servants I've met came up to listen to small groups of Handsworth people saying they deplored the riots but that the rioters were not criminals. There was, whatever you think, some listening. More optimistically I think there will be a great pulling together of the Handsworth community - in fact even in Scotland where I am, I'm engaged in the rebuild - material and psychological.
Linda to me: People with your condescending, 'it's not their fault, we need to do something for them, laisser-faire attitude' are the reason for things like this. It is their fault, they should be getting off their butts and doing something for themselves and they shouldn't be able to do as they please! I'm fed up with people thinking they're 'entitled' and can just do as they please. You're seeing the results of not practising 'tough love' in a big way!
But my friend Susan Green, long term Handsworth resident,living up Antrobus Road defends me: Of course their is a link. Kids in places like Chipping Norton aren't out looting. Poverty in all it's manifestations provides a rich breeding ground for resentment, envy and frustration. So many young people around here are boxed in by lack of options that when a bunch of criminals decide to go on the rampage they drag along a lot of disaffected youth. In fact I think last night they counted on it in order to ensure there was enough diversionary activity allowing them to concentrate on high end stuff like the jewellery shop. My local shop keepers are really upset and afraid as are local residents I've spoken to this morning.
*** ***
I just streamed another of Jack's films. The Falcon pipe he lays down - still smoking - on the table beside him stands on a shelf in our kitchen with another he never used. The bowl of the Falcon still has a whiff of that Gallagher's Rich Dark Honeydew I remember from childhood and all the later years.

"I have no doubt that in about 200 years time the people who occupy my patch will find one of these - one of my pipes lying around the place and no doubt they'll take it to the local museum and ask them what it is.'"
An episode - or rather half an episode - of one my stepfather's 30 minute 'Old Country' broadcasts made in the early 1980s. Many thanks as usual to the viewer who recorded this at the time and took the trouble to find me so I could stream it on YouTube. As usual off-air copies on '80s video recorders are seldom of the best quality, so apologies for fuzziness.
*** ***
In the late afternoon Amy and I walked the dogs along the heathered esker above the house. Two buzzards, their territory invaded circled mewing. "Sending them to prison won't do any good. What will they learn there? We need some restorative justice despite the popularity of harsh retributive justice" "Make parents account for their children?" "Confiscate goods that were stolen" "Get rioters to clear up the mess." So we chatted over the esker laid down before men walked here when ice stood five miles above the ground. You can't steal a walk I thought but then I thought of those respectable men who steal landscapes.

Dammit! There was a S106 Agreement -  the same that after four year's delay brought us the hard won Victoria Jubilee Allotments, but which has still not brought us the cricket pitch and two playing fields and sports pavilion that were part of the same agreement. When we got back to Brin Croft we had supper, after which wrote to our new councillor, Waseem Zaffar:
Dear Cllr Zaffar 
I may be 400 miles away for a few more days but Handsworth is in my mind every moment. In Oct 2009 as part of lobbying over more than a decade we were getting closer to having the 80 allotments many people now enjoy next to Handsworth Park as part of a S106A deal with Persimmon Homes. But there was meant to be more to come. Instead there has been a continued delay in providing sporting facilities next to the allotments. The significance of that delay in the light of current events you will immediately grasp.
For context, this was my letter to Cllr Martin Mullaney after Basil Hylton, many years Secretary of the cricket club in Handsworth Park and the promoter of sports for local young people in our area, had again asked me if I knew anything about the delay in the implementation of the S106A on application N/01514/03/FUL:
Dear Martin. I’ve been pushing the allotments, but as background to Basil’s enquiry, the S106A of May 2004 included the following:D. Planning Application No. N/01514/03/FUL – Victoria Jubilee Allotments ... approved under a Section 106 agreement to provide the following:• Eighty new municipal allotments plus an index linked payment of £21,000 towards their maintenance.• An index linked sum of £27,000 towards the maintenance of a play area and £25,000 in lieu of a second play area.• An index linked sum of £15,000 towards the regeneration of neighbouring Handsworth Park.Two playing pitches and a cricket square plus a pavilion and car parking to the Council design.• The inclusion of twenty four affordable homes.Yours sincerely. Simon
Can I suggest you try your hand at accelerating the play area and most especially the two playing pitches and cricket square plus pavilion and car parking? At present all we see from the allotments is a vast and inviting flat green space on which hundreds of young people should be involved in sport.
There appear to be three reasons for the delay which may well make the problem seem to you intractable, though the log jam might be loosened by current events.
1. Local residents on the new Parklands estate (Secretary: Marcellus Lindsay have objected to the planned locations of the play areas included in the S106A. Marcellus is a sensible and intelligent man and very ready to discuss this matter and share residents' concerns. marcellus@catalystsforcommunity.com

2. The developer Persimmon Homes, project manager Cliff Nixon at last report, claim the recession affects their ability to pay for the work which, when completed, like the allotments, are supposed to be transferred to Birmingham City Council and indeed should have been transferred 4 years ago. Planning officer Alan Orr, presuming he is still our constituency planning officer, (or his successor) is the best informed on the status of the S106A. alan.orr@birmingham.gov.uk (Note: in fact it's now: Stuart.Morgans@birmingham.gov.uk, Stuart Morgans, 
 Principal Planning Officer)

3. Unlike the allotments on which the plot holders themselves have been dealing pretty well with debris strewn top-soil spread by the developer (we said to city allotments officer Adrian Stagg "Let's just get gardening" despite his dissatisfaction with the preparatory work of the developer, so the site was opened in June 2010), the City Education department which has taken responsibility for implementing schools use of the playing fields is unwilling to receive the site until it is in a fit state to be played on, fearing, very understandably, the possibility of having to spend city money rather than the developer's money, to get the ground fit for soccer and cricket.

Whenever I raised this matter at Ward Committee - many times over the last 4 years - I said officers could do nothing without robust political action by elected members. The problem was constantly referred back to officers by ward councillors. My point that they might need to lobby politically to get movement on the delay in getting those playing fields was not grasped. Local people campaigned for over ten years for that S106A with crowded public meetings, petitions, letters and regular stories in the media. We thought that the conclusion of the S106A marked the end of the need to campaign.

I really hope you may be able to achieve progress where we have failed.

Kindest regards

Simon Baddeley
Handsworth Allotments Information Group (HAIG)
mobile 07548 820658

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