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Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Nick Booth comes to supper

I met Nick Booth in 2000. He approached me about making a documentary for BBC West Midlands about the deliberate blighting of allotments, documenting the malign neglect that so reduced the numbers of tenants on a particular site that a calculative cabal of committee members could claim they had no option but to sell their shared land to a developer and pocket the profit of surrendering growing space for buildings. The case of the Victoria Jubilee Allotments was a central feature of an entertaining, and at times moving, half-hour investigation - Losing the Plot.
We've stayed in close touch as Nick has moved from broadcasting to narrowcasting - in a much richer sense of that term - developing a distinctive talent in the world of social media* evolving a novel grammar of communication as rich with unrecognised possibilities as when the role of steam was to rattle the lid of a boiling kettle. Developing a new technology is complicated. In testing it out, in draft form, on possible users you have to work out what needs to change - the techniques of the user or the design of the new tool; usually a mix of both. Coming to friends' homes; sitting with them as they tinker with what you're offering is as good a way of piloting something as any. With Nick it's fun.
In this case he's got something amazingly useful in mind - a site supporting, via social networking, the kind of investigation that has made Heather Brooke a local, and now, a national hero. It's early days. I find the idea exciting but tricky knowing the fickle attention span of those who try new sites. It needs to work from the moment of launch - in several weeks time. After that the web will spread the word. Richard cooked us supper.
*Wiki's list of social media: Social media can take many different forms, including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures and video. Technologies include: blogs, picture-sharing, vlogs, wall-postings, email, instant messaging, music-sharing, crowdsourcing, and voice over IP, to name a few. Examples of social media applications are Google Groups (reference, social networking), Wikipedia (reference), MySpace (social networking), Facebook (social networking), (product reviews), Youmeo (social network aggregation), (personal music), YouTube (social networking and video sharing), Avatars United (social networking), Second Life (virtual reality), Flickr (photo sharing), Twitter (social networking and microblogging), Open Diary (blogging), and other microblogs such as Jaiku. Many of these social media services can be integrated via social network aggregation platforms like Mybloglog and Plaxo.
Nick is a most unnerdy enthusiast; as familiar as anyone I know with the technology but focused on its use for extending democracy - hence his Grassroots Channel and Podnosh blog. I'm hoping Jonathan and I can make use of his feel for the grassroots politics of Birmingham if our ESRC bid to explore the continuity of hegemony succeeds.
* * *
I skyped Honey in Corfu. As we'd left for the airport last week I realised we'd forgotten to switch off the electricity. "Don't worry" she said "All's done." then she started giggling because we were look so funny through signal distortion. "It's hot and sunny in Corfu!" "Well it isn't here." I took my laptop to the veranda so she could watch our rain 1340 miles away.
* * * I'm aware I face revelations about expenses I've submitted, so I feel that it is only right and proper that admit that on at least three occasions, perhaps a few more, I have, during the last four years, claimed for a cinnamon logo in the centre of the foam on top of several caffè lattes. I offer an unreserved apology for this breach of trust. I do not feel that I've done wrong. At no time was I motivated by anything other than the wish to administrative error for which I take total responsibility, my returns were approved by the expenses office, wasn't the only one...everyone else was...I'm human...predictably irrational. * * * E-mail to an acquaintance in Corfu who asked for an opinion on Libertas.Greece as a player in the EU elections on 7 June '09:
There is a great need for the EU parliament to reform itself; little probability it will. Disillusionment with mainstream parties is bringing out many fringe groups - some with bizarre views. I have worries about the driving force behind Libertas, Declan Ganley (note his bids to revise his Wikipedia entry) and the lack of transparency about how Libertas is funded. Given the history of US involvement in the Republic, deeper investigation of Ganley's Rivada connection will harm the reputation of any Libertas.Greece candidate. Ganley is the populist entrepreneur who drove Ireland's 2008 'No' campaign against the Lisbon Treaty. He enjoys defamatory mud-slinging contests with rivals. Libertas can be found offering policies across Europe tailored to local electors fearful and angry about their local circumstances. On its own website it’s long on promises of freedom and liberty; short on the detail that would allow debate about what reforms it might be able to bring about if elected in sufficient numbers to be part of EU government. I respect your wish to get involved in politics in pursuit of solutions to the problems here, but I'm not convinced Libertas Greece or Libertas Europe or an of the Libertas local parties offer credible or practical answers to your concerns about them. Does Libertas, for instance, have a policy on sustainability that would help sort out the landfill problems at Lefkimi and Temploni? Could Libertas.Gr help revise the proportion of cash that goes to Athens rather than the local infrastructure? I doubt Declan Ganley (who speaks well) or those close to him, care about the problems of Greece, let alone those of Corfu. He wants power in Brussels and Strasbourg even as he complains about the influence of the EU. Without wanting to praise existing EU politicians, Libertas seems to have attracted too many candidates with undemocratic instincts, along with honest men and women who lack experience of government. Be careful before getting into bed with these people.
(context: see video)
Flea and magpie on our backlawn in Handsworth
Though we're close to neighbours, our back garden's just private enough to wander into in pyjamas or nighty, to feel the grass under bare feet, feed the fish and fill the bird feeders. From our balcony the view, especially in summer, is almost all sky and tree landmarked by the tower of St.Mary's Church and its six bells, much restored through six centuries of lapsed and recovered observances, holding the remains of James Watt, William Murdoch and Matthew Bolton, pioneers of the modern age.
Whenever someone opines Handsworth history or its current reputation I ponder the view. Urban pathologists, most famously John Rex, have studied our part of the city. It has been their laboratory; chemistry for the policy of successive national governments. With exceptions (e.g. Vanley Burke's superlative commentary ), this place is described by scholars striving to be objective, yet partial in quantifying injustice. We've benefitted from statistics, gained from theory. When we're in Ano Korakiana in beloved Greece I often think of here; our involvement. Given the choice we've no wish to live anywhere else in Birmingham than Handsworth - for the place and the people who are our neighbours, known and unknown.
A city is composed of different kinds of men; similar people cannot bring a city into existence. Aristotle, The Politics, Part 2


  1. Hello
    Can you send me a link for the Losing the Plot programme please.
    I live in handsworth and have an allotment so i'd love to hear the show.


  2. Rob. It's not on the web. As a participant BBC gave me a copy of the film. Email me your address and I'll mail or drop off a CD/DVD or phone me and pick up a disk at my home. Click on the picture of me on my bicycle top right of my blog for contact details. S


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Simon Baddeley