Tuesday, 23 November 2010


It seems typical of the instrumental thinking on both sides of the divide, this. That students are getting their future stolen; that increasing of tuition fees and the cutting of teaching budgets will consign a huge number of young people to impoverishment. The logic is that increased tuition fees and cuts in money for teaching of the humanities will prevent a whole generation (or more) of graduates from getting the well paid jobs that will enable their children to go to university to get qualified for the the well paid jobs, so that their children will not go to university and get the well paid jobs etc. 

It seems to me that the problem is "well paid jobs". It is not outrageous that not everyone goes to university - it is outrageous that not all jobs pay a living wage. For all the talk of the older generation, who benefited from a free higher education pulling the ladder up after them (which is true), we are missing the  point that there should not be a "ladder" in the first fucking place. It's like talk of the "housing ladder", or "starter homes", implying that it is just a beginning and that one will move onwards and upwards. A human right (shelter) is not a stepping stone. A system that treats it as such will need fodder for the increasingly finely shod foot to step on, to keep it clear of the mire; the grateful backs of those who are touchingly grateful even to be allowed to breathe.

If we accept that the best (the best paying) jobs are only accessible via a degree (and, who knows, an MA or PhD next), then we are accepting that university is simply a training ground for young professionals who, in addition to their qualification, build up an address book of contacts to help them on their way. That is the way that the bourgeoisie have always worked. Then, of course, the university is seen as a panacea for social ills, lack of mobility etc. If, on the other hand, we maintain that all jobs should be decently paid and that decent public housing is a universal right,  then it might be reasonable to frame the debate in terms of education as a good in itself, which I believe it is.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

On question time tonight- it was enlivening to see Caroline Flint slagging the Con-Dem benefit plans...This would be the same Flint that floated these proposals. So being the poster girl for middle England authoritarianism has suddenly worn off. She now says that forcing the unemployed into any sort of work is only acceptable if there is any sort of work available. Something that she didn't care about a couple of years ago.

"Ms Flint said that a family applying for a home could be offered "new opportunities linked to employment and training.

She suggested that a "voluntary contract" would set out the opportunities on offer, "underscoring the commitment of the tenants to self-improvement."

A spokesman from Ms Flint's Department of Communities and Local Government would not confirm whether this meant that tenants who then broke their contracts would face eviction."

This actually never happened but her attempt at "starting a debate" tells you about the nasty mindset of our ruling class. And, naturally, the New Labour obsession with property ownership.

As always, she was ready to demonise, in a thoroughly neo-lib manner the recipients of public housing, but in line with the current therapeutic politics, it would be for the tenant's own good. Like many MPs, I have no doubt that her expenses were entirely within the rules, but it is not too many people who can buy and sell different properties as and when necessary - think about those who are forced out of central London due to caps on benefit/social landlords being able to charge "market rent" who will pay most of their wages simply to get to work, and being thankful. Now that work is now rewarded-at the minimum wage rates, of course.


This site has graphs showing the UK national debt, both in £s and as a percentage of GDP. Note the extremely high levels as % of GDP in the '40's/'50's. Obviously, the result of the war. But what is worth noting that this was the period that the welfare state was being constructed. The governments of that period did not seem to feel that universal benefits, free education or building council housing was an expensive luxury. 

It casts an interesting light on this (watch the video), as well as other pronouncements coming from the government. Clegg claims that the state of the public finances has forced his hand on recanting his stance on tuition fees. We are constantly being told that things are so bad that vicious cuts in public services need to be made. What is not fully explained is why post-war UK governments did not feel that way.

From an interview with Danny Alexander in The Independent:

"...he is strident in defending the Tories from the claim that they see cuts as a route to a smaller state. "I genuinely have not had a sense from anybody that this is an ideological thing. We didn't come into politics to do this but we have an unavoidable problem that we are stepping up to the plate and dealing with.""

Amazing. It looks very much to me like Tories doing what Tories love to do; what they wanted to do in the '80's, but just got as far as laying the groundwork. New Labour continued it. Now they are ready to finsh the job.

I don't know how he, or any of them, can sleep at night. But especially the Lib-Dems.


Quite apart from how despicable Duncan-Smith's proposed "reforms" are, the thing that is sticking in my throat most, and has been for a while, is when did the dole start to be called "welfare"? That's what they call it in the U.S.

Over here it was always called Social Security, which is what it is meant to be. As a claimant over many years, i can remember the names for the actual benefit changing - being variously Supplementary Benefit, Unemployment Benefit (maybe these names containing the word "benefit" were considered to sound to positive) Income Support, then Jobseekers' Allowance...The shift from "Benefit" - a right- to "Support" - assistance- to "Allowance" - something grudgingly given; speaks volumes. 

This present government has gone out of its way to demonise claimants  (contrary to the writer of the linked piece, I would support the workshy and fraudsters myself). They make a conveniently soft target for the ideologically driven cuts. They were never going to get much sympathy from sanctimonious middle-Englanders who seem to see wage slavery as a badge of honor.

But anyway, my issue is also with the word: "Welfare". I do not know when the term became detached from the noun it qualified - "state", in order to denote benefits specifically. The welfare state is (or maybe, more accurately, was) a good thing. I owe my education, my still functioning teeth, my late mother's successful treatment for breast cancer, and other things too numerous to mention, to it. And so do most of those, Lib-Dems, Tories and Labour too, who are now attacking it with such ghoulish relish - but they seem to have forgotten that. An attack on the benefits system is an attack on the welfare state. An attack on universal benefits is an attack on the universalism that was part of the founding of the welfare state. To make benefits that were initially conceived as a right belonging to citizens conditional, is to make citizenship conditional. 

This is typical of the drivel we are subjected to. The approach adopted in Wisconsin that the article lauds sounds repulsive. One has to prove one's bona fides before receiving any assistance. One has to prove oneself worthy. This utterly inverts the idea behind benefits that we had in the UK; a right conferred by citizenship. Citizenship being a universal value and, most importantly, content-neutral. You did not have to prove that you were the right kind of person in order to enjoy your rights.

"One of Wisconsin's biggest successes was diverting people from claiming benefits in the first place. If you try to claim benefits, the first thing they do is offer you a job – rather than start filling in forms to process your application. In fact, you have to demonstrate that you are searching hard for a job for several weeks before you can even start to make a benefits claim. In contrast, our depressing "Job Centres" are really more like benefits offices." (that's because they are benefits offices, you prick.)

The most telling part of the article, which I quote because it illuminates the kind of thinking behind this proposed butchery - it's not just an isolated right wing rant, someone who fancies themselves as a Jeremiah or Ezekiel, howling the unpalatable truth at the desert- are these sentences:

"Perhaps we have come to think that it is normal to have a large part of our population without work, and cut adrift from the rest of society."

People who are in receipt of benefits are somehow not part of society. So membership of society, enjoyment of its benefits, is dependent upon work, and, apparently, work alone.

It is not "Welfare" - they might have that in America (or, rather, they don't), but here it is the benefits system, or the welfare state, and it does what it is meant to do. It seems to me that the use of that word, by politicians and journalists, has imported with it some really unpleasant ideological baggage. It is also sad and pathetic to base a political program and it's rhetoric on the sense of sanctimonious alertness to the idea that someone, somewhere, is having a better time than you, and that you're paying for them to have it!

If this image of the polity as a load of paranoid, grudging curtain-twitchers is the best that we can do, we may as well give up now.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


I will be performing at this event on Saturday, the content is, as yet, unclear to me - but I will have some audio backing, from John Wild and some loops that I am constructing myself.

Further details available here. Come down if you can.

Saturday, 23 October 2010


The twats upstairs who frequently keep my missus awake with random banging (we often speculate about what they're doing up there, I have the theory that, Robert Crumb-like, he rides her around like a prize race horse whilst, from that vantage slamming doors and cupboards like anyone's business) have surpassed themselves tonight. They came in from the pub with some mates - so far so normal- and put on music - again, normal. This would not bother me as I can sleep through anything; but what they chose to play was, I assume, Now That's What I Call Music 2007  - the "indie" version thereof, if such a thing exists.

What, quite apart from their shit taste in music, that really pissed me off however, was their singing along to whatever moronic choruses from the Kaiser Chiefs et al. The exuberant howling was something that even I could not countenance. It reminded me of a pub about 1997, I think, full of rugby shirted morons drooling away, arms around each other, to the whole of "What's the story.." by Oasis. They were engaged in a circlejerk of laddish bonhomie, but also singing at the whole rest of the pub - as if to say "this is it. We're having a great time, look at us; this is what a Friday night is all about".

I have nothing whatsoever against drunkenness. I have nothing whatsoever against singing, inebriated or otherwise...But that kind of thing is so fucking high street. The togetherness of the singalong chorus so designed. Leisure for those who have to grab it roughly, allowing themselves so little...I don't know, this is not well expressed - but they were singing along to Paul Weller for fuck's sake - not The Jam, Paul Weller! Unforgiveable.

So I'm glad that I heard the muffled, angry buzz of their doorbell not so long ago. One of the other neighbours went to complain, and it didn't have to be me.

Friday, 22 October 2010


Today at 4:00pm. Meet outside Hanbury Hall. From there we shall have a look at some bits of Shoreditch and Hoxton, ending up in Shoreditch Park. The original idea was to circumnavigate Hackney's Alcohol Control Zones - but Hackney stole a march on me and have turned the whole borough into a zone, with very little fanfare - well, none at all, I completely missed that one.

So, I have had to re-think things a little. If the whole borough is a zone, but it is clearly not enforced, what is it?

Councillor Alan Laing says in the comments to the Hackney Post article linked above "...this is not a ban on public drinking. This point has been made throughout the process and through the consultation. The council and the local police have expressly stated that it is not a ban on public drinking..." If it is not that, what is it?

It seems to me like Zizek's description of totalitarian regimes as regimes of tolerance. In such a state the law, if stringently applied, would make anyone guilty of something. So the state benevolently does not enforce the whole of the law, or not all the time. They keep it there just in case. Remarkable generosity. it looks like an extension of the de-normalisation strategy that is used in public health campaigns, previously against smoking, now against alcohol use - also latterly against recieving state benefits or living in council housing.

The problem seems to be not so much with alcohol as the people who are percieved to be the users of it. Hence, alcohol control areas frequently contain licensed premises, often with tables outside, as well as benches, walls or whatever other accommodation that street drinkers might find conducive. However, the licensed premises and their clientel are unlikely to receive the attentions of the local constabulary. 

If alcohol is so dangerous and corrosive to manners, health and morals why not ban it altogether? There are already laws that have been on the books for some generations against assault, threatening behaviour and public urination. This measure looks excessive because it is aimed at prevention, a drastically illiberal aim. Despite the advertisements exhorting us to "Drink Responsibly", there is apparently a class of people who cannot be trusted to do so. For their own good, they must be discouraged from drinking at all. Incidentally, I have often wondered about "responsible" drinking - responsible to whom? Purely by coincidence, the irresponsible class against whom pre-emptive measures are to be taken are those who drink on the street because pubs are too expensive. The poor should not be on the street at all, let alone congregating in groups.

Ironically, the designation of an alcohol control zone is DPP, (discussed here in some council minutes) a "Designated Public Place". That these places were public beforehand - streets, parks, benches - is not the point. The were providing a space for the wrong sort of public. The tautological nomenclature is necessary, the capital p "Public" is not the same entity as that negative designation of small p public space ie. not privately owned, open to all without the specifying the characteristics of "all". The "Public" who will use these spaces is brought into being by that designation. The spaces that they will inhabit are already demarcated and shaped by the law, an un-enforced ban. This is a sober, law-abiding, hard-working polity, the "hard working, law-abiding Britons/families" who politicians and columnists never tire of conscripting into whatever illiberal fantasy they are flogging.

Anyway, time is getting away from me, I have to leave very soon. Suffice it to say that I have re-thought the walk as a whole in light of this development and have moved from physical to psycho-geography as an approach. This seems to make sense as we are looking at something without edges, an undefined space - the space of the ban. Because it is not necessarily enforced it has no specific content, so everything exists under the ban. What can be done is to look at some tropes that cut across this contentless authoritarianism.

So, I have come up with, liquids, sewers - the possible derivation of Shoreditch, "sewer-ditch" - and holy wells, Holywell street. Liquids flow, they reflect, and constantly leak from wherever they are meant to be. The other two sites are the Curtain Theatre and specifically the character of Falstaff, and John Frankland's boulder sculpture in Shoreditch Park. Anyway, will post more on this later.


Tuesday, 21 September 2010


Was a very fun night. McGowan and I attempted to foment a riot in the audience, and the Psychick Self Defenders did their Velvet Underground/Drunk and nasty Hawkwind thing. There was a bear as well. The whole thing was deliberately ritualistic confrontational; McGowan's attempt to split the audience in two and get them to fight each other, and the band, then me, screaming threats and imprecations over a background that throbbed and droned like "Sister Ray." A good night for all. I have posted a video of the performance here, I appear somewhere towards the middle.

Sunday, 19 September 2010


Tonight I perform at the Anti-Design Festival with Mark McGowan and Rex Nemo and the Psychic Self-Defenders. As is usual, but perhaps more so than usual, I have no clue what I will be talking about. There will be some sort of reference to football hooliganism - or at least that's what Mark's piece will be. I think that I will be touching on this, largely due to the EDL's chant, borrowed from the terraces: "You're not English any more". The "any more" part is telling; you were English, but now you're not. However, you are still included in the category English, as "Un-English"; an entirely different matter from "You're not English". It is a clear example of the state of exception in spatial practice.

McGowan's recent video plays with a similar disjunction, Irish music accompanying scenes of what one assumes are English (possibly nationalist) hooligans disporting themselves.

The festival itself is a manifestation of a clapped out aesthetic, full of "punk" references and "interactive", if not "relational" elements that needs a design context to look subversive rather than simply tired.

I'm intrigued by the statement on the website that claims that the festival is "a response to 25 years of cultural deep-freeze". I can't work out where the twenty five years comes from - why not 13? Election of New Labour, or 31 - the Tories? Or, in my personal opinion -21 - fall of the Berlin Wall? I suspect that twenty five would be about the average age for someone graduating from an art or design M.A at this time, and roughly half the age of a good few of the participants, but I don't know what this might mean.

Thursday, 16 September 2010


I liked Shane Meadow's film largely for its performances - the kid was especially good - but was less convinced by the "period detail" (music, dad killed in Falklands) that quite a lot of the critics enthused about. I'm also more than a little ambivalent about skinheads, anyway; I know there were anti-racist skins around, but there weren't any where I grew up. What seemed to get a lot of people excited when the film came out was its apparently shocking premise that the working class were not all knuckle dragging xenophobes.

Anyway, to the series - which follows the characters from the film a few years on. I haven't yet watched the second part, so maybe what I'm going to say will be proved redundant. Brendan O'Neill in Spiked has already pointed out what is probably the most telling sequence of part one:

"One of the most striking things about the first episode is how people-free the settings were. This was most clear in the scenes in the hospital...Utterly bereft of other patients, doctors and nurses, the hospital becomes a playground for the good skins to muck about in...having a wheelchair race...or to resolve their personal differences in..."

There are no other people. The whole point about youth subcultures is that they were oppositional, you defined yourself by your tribe and your tribe was defined against not just other tribes but society in general. Meadow's skins exist in a bubble, they are not in opposition to anything. In this, it is absolutely unfaithful to the 1980's in particular and to the meaning of youth cults in general. However, in this it is faithful to the 21st century.

O'Neill makes the comparison to "Friends", which I think is pretty accurate. That enormously successful sitcom was a quintissential product of the "Happy '90's", its protagonists occupied a de-politicised (one assumed that they were vaguely liberal/left)and largely depopulated void. Their semi-incestuous inter-relationships were posited not just as a defense against the world, they were the world.


This in the Guardian.

Sunday, 2 May 2010


There is a street - I see a street - a long street; lined with sick beds. People visit, murmuring good wishes, delivering flowers and fruit. But the patients are swapped around during the night, every night. The friends and relatives deliver their food and solicitude to a different person each day. No one seems to mind, or notice.

Uniformed nurses parade along the street several times a day, dispensing drugs and taking temperatures in no particular order.

Patient's notes are clipped to the end of each bed; but, of course, the notes do not often correspond to the occupant. Details of each condition, medication and treatment are considered interchangeable. The patients do not mind this- winks of complicity are frequently exchanged between adjacent beds - because they all consider themselves incurable; therefore, they are. It makes logical sense that the treatment for another's malady has as much chance of success as their own. Their nightly shuffling from bed to bed, executed by silent, masked orderlies facilitates this process.

The doctors make their rounds weekly. They look at the patients' notes and ask a few questions. To the question "And how are you feeling now?" the patients invariably reply "Quite poorly, today." The doctors ask "- and your symptoms?" To which the only reply is a shrug; neither party knows what these symptoms are, the occupant of the bed because the notes clipped thereon are not theirs, and the doctors because they have only given the notes a cursory glance.

It is not unknown for a nurse or an orderly to find themselves occupying a bed as a patient. This might happen to the doctors, too, but they are taken elsewhere; perhaps to a special street reserved just for them. In the case of nurses and orderlies, a particular protocol is observed. Both parties - new patient and their ex-colleagues - will pretend that they never knew each other. In response to the mechanical questions, they will reply "quite poorly, today". After being swapped from bed to bed a few times as is customary, patient and staff have forgotten that they ever knew each other.

Sunday, 24 January 2010


in keeping with the anamorphic spirit of things here, I've found an online cut-up generator for texts. I'm assuming that there are many more of these available but this is the first one I've found. In the same way that the dog/trouser/top conundrum cannot be resolved or reconciled, neither can lumps of pre-existing verbiage that have been impacted one into another. Maybe. There will be variations on the dog/trouser text posted in the next few days.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


We came back from the pub by a different route that took us through the estate. The blocks looked unfamiliar from that vantage, as if the geometry was somehow wrong. Buildings that I'd gazed at from the oblique angle of the window where I smoke were raised in front of me. The space felt far bigger from down there - the view had suddenly developed depth. Two perceptions were abutting - the flattened window view of the disembodied eye and the somatic experience of being and moving in that space.

From that angle the dog trousers looked nothing like either dog or trousers. What I had taken to be a tangled set of legs or alternatively a tense, arched back were, in fact, sleeves. It was an apparently nearly new Nike hoodie, dark with three days' rain, appearing blackbrown under the sodium light. I picked it up, it was sodden and heavy, weighing about the same, I imagined, as the corpse of a small dog. We left it there, hung on some railings, somehow feeling it was ill omened - though in all probability it was simply accidentally dropped from a bag of stuff by someone moving out.

Later, I looked at it hanging there from the window, looking something like a shed skin. I still can't help thinking about it as dog skin. Still later, I went down to get it. I brought it indoors bundled into a plastic bag, and we washed it. It's a couple of sizes too big for either of us but we've kept it. it's cosy. But it's still not a top, it's various transformations have clung to it, for me. Dog-trousers-top. Dogskin.

Saturday, 16 January 2010


There's a pair of trousers lying abandoned on the grass outside the window, sprawled and twisted. Whenever I stick my head out there to smoke, I see them as a small black dog squatting to shit, it's tail waving like a cheerful flag; then it resolves itself back into lost trousers. Like the famed duck/rabbit of Wittgenstein, Gombrich et al, I can see either trousers/shitting dog - but not both at the same time.