London elections

Yes, I know there are local elections thruout England and Wales, but as a Londoner I realize we have a fight on our hands to keep Ken Livingstone as Mayor of the capital city.

I don’t usually vote New Labour since they became, in effect, the New Tories under the leadership of Tony ‘Thatcherite’ Blair, and his successor Gordon Brown is a complete disaster. But Ken Livingstone has been a great politician for many years, first as leader of the former GLC, and later as the first Mayor of London.

So I shall be voting for Ken as Mayor again, with gay ex-policeman and Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick as my second choice.

For the two Assembly members I’ve decided to vote Liberal Democrat again, as the left-of-center party most likely to win seats. Note, I no longer regard New Labour as ‘left-of-center’ and haven’t done for years, with a few exceptions such as Ken Livingstone, Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner.

Tomorrow is May Day, when I well remember Labour Party members marching along waving red flags. Till this flag is raised high and proud over Labour Party headquarters, with true Socialists in command again, I will not vote Labour unless there is an outstanding and principled leftwing candidate like Ken Livingstone standing. 

I hope Red Ken gets in again. He deserves to be Mayor when the 2012 Olympics come to London. We need to press ahead with plans to charge gas-guzzlers £25 a day to come into Central London, and we certainly need more police on the streets and more opportunities for youngsters. The Olympics will pump a lot of money into the East End, and provide sports facilities for youngsters all over London.

I certainly don’t want that buffoon Boris Johnson as Mayor, introducing completely impractical Routemasters with conductors back into the capital. They are inaccessible to wheelchairs and people who are disabled or with heavy luggage/shopping, and the conductors reduce standees to just 5. What is the conductor supposed to do anyway, when nearly all fares are now pre-paid, and the young and elderly enjoy free travel?

What is needed are more inspectors to discourage fare dodging and ensure buses run on time, and driving standards, etc. are up to scratch.

Freedom of movement?

Freedom of movement yes, absolute freedom to emigrate/immigrate, no. This is so blindingly obvious, but the two concepts seem to get confused.

All countries have to control immigration and emigration, which was why the DDR (East Germany) built the Berlin Wall, why the USA has erected a huge fence on its Southern border with Mexico, and why all countries have border restrictions.


DDR flag

Mass emigration from any country which has educated and trained people at its own expense, just to have them abandon their homeland, leaving it short of essential labor power, just because they think the grass is greener elsewhere, could be regarded as a form of mass treachery.

The DDR experienced this before the Berlin Wall went up. Many didn’t even bother to emigrate to West Berlin or West Germany. They continued to take advantage of cheap subsidized homes in East Berlin, use the subsidized transport and health services there, looking forward to a heavily subsidized State pension when they retired, going on subsidized FDGB (the DDR equivalent of the TUC) holidays, shopping at subsidized DDR shops in East Berlin, but earning their wages and paying their taxes in West Berlin.

Meanwhile West Berliners were shopping in the Eastern part of the city to take advantage of subsidized foodstuffs, etc.. Of course the Wall had to be erected to stop these scams. But freedom of movement between East and West Berlin in both directions should have been allowed by passing thru official checkpoints and paying compensation to the DDR authorities for any loss of revenue due to the above practices.

The other side of the coin, of course, is when mass immigration swamps certain countries, creating mass unemployment, driving down wages and creating a shortage in housing.


U.S. flag

If everybody could emigrate/immigrate where they liked without restriction the USA would be swamped with billions of Chinese and others, anxious for a slice of the ‘land of plenty’. They couldn’t afford hospital treatment of course, but they’d just have to be very careful not to break their legs, or get old.


Israeli flag

Israel is supposed to have an ‘open door’ policy for all the Jews in the world – quite ridiculous as there would be no room for them in that tiny country stolen from the Palestinians.


EU flag

The EU is supposed to have complete freedom of movement within its borders. This is fine in principle, and means I can travel thru many EU countries on holiday without showing my passport, but in reality there have to be restrictions because of terrorism. Also, because the EU is not yet a federation like the United States, or like the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia were, there are great variations in prices, taxes, wages, etc. between member states. In these conditions, complete freedom of movement is untenable.

Until the EU has similar wages, working conditions, prices and taxes in all member states, emigration/ immigration should be restricted. High wage countries like UK can’t cope with endless economic migrants from the Eastern states driving down our wages, and the former Socialist states can’t flourish when so many of their workers are getting jobs abroad.

The EU needs to get its house in order. There is ultimately only one solution to make the Union work, and that is to make it a federation, with standardized taxes, prices, wages and conditions, and of course a single currency, like the United States for instance. Then we can have complete freedom of movement between member states, and people can live where they like.

Until then, or at least until all member states have reached a certain minimum standard of living, emigration from the poorer states must be restricted for the good of both those states and the richer ones.

The former Socialist states need a strong trade union movement to fight the capitalist multinationals who are exploiting their labor force by paying very low wages. They no longer have subsidized rents, subsidized public transport, education, health, guaranteed jobs for life and good pensions. All this and more was lost in the foolhardly transition to capitalism.

The new EU states of Eastern/Central Europe now have rocketing prices but low wages, and a depleted workforce because so many have emigrated. In some Polish towns they don’t have enough men to run the fire service, and the women have had to do it.

The EU is a capitalist Union at the moment and for the foreseeable future. The ONLY way to fight capitalism and gain a decent standard of living is to form a strong trade union movement, and fight for it. Not flee your country thinking the grass is greener on the other side.

There was a good reason for the Iron Curtain. It was so the people of the Socialist countries would sort out their own economies, not flee to the West thinking everything is rosy over here.

The people of the former Socialist countries failed to participate fully in Socialist Democracy en masse. They failed to join the Marxist-Leninist and allied political organizations and prevent corrupt careerists and opportunists with no loyalty to Socialism taking control. Post the 1989 upheavals, they failed to protect the considerable gains of the imperfect Socialism they’d lived under for 40 years or more by establishing multi-party contested elections under a reformed Socialist Constitution. The result is the chaos that has ensued since the dismantling of Socialism in Eastern and Central Europe.

We’ve had to fight for our wages and  conditions, and we don’t have all the advantages they enjoyed under Socialism. Now they have adopted capitalism, they too have to fight for decent wages and conditions in their home countries. They failed to make Socialism work properly either before or after the fall of the Berlin Wall; now they have to at least fight for a better standard of living under capitalism.

Fleeing your country can only be the solution for a minority of people, and then not solely for economic reasons.  It means leaving family and friends behind, and adapting to an entirely new culture. For most people, raising living conditions in their own countries is the solution.

Many came here on holidays in the Socialist era, but now they come here to work for peanuts, often living in overcrowded conditions – all things our own people wouldn’t tolerate. The result? Our people out of jobs as they can’t survive on such low wages, and the countries of Eastern/Central Europe suffering from lack of manpower.

The EU should draw up legislation to raise the wages and living standards to a similar level throughout the Union. That would solve the emigration/immigration problem at a single stroke. If they don’t do this, the EU will disintegrate.

Immigration from outside the EU should be restricted to those with skills not readily available in Europe, and asylum for those in real danger of torture, imprisonment or death because of their non-violent beliefs or because of their race or religion.

Local Elections

On May Day, celebrated by workers throughout the world (except USA) as Labor Day, local elections take place in UK. In London there is also an election for Mayor.

Although I can’t bring myself to vote for New Labour usually, because of their appalling record in office under Blair/Brown, and their wholesale adoption of Thatcherite policies, privatization and total rejection of Socialism, I always make an exception for Ken Livingstone, who led the GLC so successfully, and then the GLA both as an independent and now back in the Labour fold.

I shall be voting for Ken again on Thursday, with second preference going to gay Liberal Democrat ex-policeman, Brian Paddick. At all costs we must keep that buffoon Boris Johnson out.

The problem arises for me in how to cast my other two votes for Greater London Assembly members. I still haven’t decided, but the Lib Dems probably stand the best chance of getting elected as a protest vote against Labour, and an alternative to the Tories.

A lot of people in UK will be voting for far-right parties like the BNP. I can understand the reasons for this – the flood of immigrants from Eastern Europe and elsewhere, working for low wages and taking our jobs, and also jumping the waiting lists for social housing.

As members of the EU we can’t stop people moving freely about the Union, but we could impose minimum hourly rates of pay agreed with the trade union movement which would prevent immigrants being exploited and competing unfairly with British workers for jobs.

The government, if it wants to avoid a far-right backlash, should also ensure that the social housing waiting lists are not tampered with. Those who have waited longest should be first in the queue.

For people/families in dire need of social housing, a separate pool of emergency housing should be provided, awarded on a points system based on need. But those born in Britain should always take preference over visitors/immigrants from overseas.

Failure to ensure people born in Britain are not denied jobs/homes in favor of immigrants is essential, or parties like the BNP will lead a right wing backlash at election time.

Labour, and I’m afraid that includes Ken Livingstone, have also failed to deal with crime on our streets, and the problem of largely black gang warfare and knife/gun crime which affects mainly black teenagers. Despite what Ken is saying, many areas still do NOT have a visible police presence on the streets. I can’t remember when I last saw a policeman patrolling in my area, not even one of those useless ‘plastic’ police who just stand and watch people being beaten up and mugged, powereless to intervene.

We need thousands more police on our streets, armed where necessary, to break up the gang gun and knife culture, and the Army should be brought back from Iraq/Afghanistan to do the job if the police can’t. We cannot tolerate anarchy and no-go areas on our streets/housing estates.

Nor will British people tolerate immigrants from Eastern Europe or elsewhere undercutting our wages, stealing our jobs and jumping social housing queues.

A big vote for the BNP and other rightwing parties on Thursday is now inevitable, and the only way to reverse this trend is for the three main political parties, particularly the one in office, to take note and deal with these problems.

When democracy fails to serve the people, fascism takes over. I fear Thursday May 1st 2008 will be a dreadful warning to the mainstream political parties, like Le Pen’s successes in the French elections some years ago.

London buses – and trams!


London bendy-bus (click on picture to enlarge.) 

Tory London Mayor candidate Boris Johnson wants to design and bring back a new Routemaster, with conductors.

Totally impractical! It was a great bus in its day, but dangerous because of its hop on/hop off open platform, and quite unsuitable for rush hours (it could only take 5 standing passengers), for those with shopping trolleys, pushchairs or wheelchairs.

The new fleet of buses are excellent, they just need the right staff to operate them. Drivers who know how to pull up right beside the kerb, so full use is made of the low-level entrances and exits for instance. And the ‘bendy-buses’ which Boris hates so much are very good, and operate in many cities around the world successfully. All you need here is more inspectors who would regularly jump on and make sure everybody has a valid ticket for their journey, thus stopping its reputation among some as ‘the free bus’.

Trams were reintroduced in the London Borough of Croydon, very successfully. The network should be expanded to cover the rest of London. They move freely without being hampered by other traffic, since they have their own dedicated track and right of way. And they don’t operate on expensive, polluting fossil fuel. Together with renewable energy, such as electricity generated by tidal power, wind power, solar power and hydro-electrics, the capital could become much greener, especially if private cars were banned from Inner London altogether – they are not necessary, except for doctors and a few other professions. All they do is clog up the streets – most of them are parked all week and hardly ever used.

Inner London (roughly the old LCC area) should become a car-free zone, with trams and buses running freely thru uncongested streets.


Croydon tram (click to enlarge)

Get on the plane!

The last program in the Channel 4 Dispatches series ‘Immigration, the inconvenient truth’ was very insulting to born-and-bred British people. Rageh Omar, after interviewing Norman ‘get on your bike’ Tebbit, concluded the solution to immigrants undercutting our hard-fought for wages and stealing our jobs, was to ‘get on a plane’ and find jobs overseas.

This is all well and fine if Britons want to emigrate. For instance, in the 1950s many took advantage of the £10 one-way fare to Australia, which was crying out for British immigrants, and they uprooted their entire families and made a new life in Australia. Others went to Canada and other Commonwealth countries.

Norman Tebbitt’s ‘on your bike’ advice of several decades ago was also very sensible – you cannot always expect to find the job you seek unless you are prepared to commute, or possibly move to another town where the jobs are.

Norman Tebbitt/Rageh Omar’s latest advice to ‘hop on a plane’ was quite different. If one has no desire to emigrate and leave the country where you have roots, friends, a culture you enjoy, TV programs you like, relatives, maybe elderly ones to look after, children who are at school, etc. why should you be forced to just because immigrants from Eastern Europe and elsewhere are stealing our jobs, creating 1.6 million unemployed and driving down wages our trade union movement fought hard for over the years?

It is pretty rich coming from Rageh Omar, who is an ethnic Somali.

As for the East Europeans who were so keen to dismantle, rather than reform, Socialism in their own countries, why can’t they go back to these countries which are crying out for their labor power, form a trade union movement like we did in Britain and America, and fight for better wages and conditions?

Here at home, trade union rates should apply to every job, and nobody should be allowed to undercut them. We fought long and hard for decent wages, why should immigrants too lazy to make Socialism work, and now too lazy to form a trade union movement and fight for decent wages under capitalism, come here and steal our jobs?

I sometimes feel it was a great pity the Iron Curtain was ever dismantled. They should go home and sort their own countries out. As it is they are not only stealing our jobs, driving down wages but are also stealing accommodation meant for our own people, often jumping waiting lists.

Now we are quite rightly in the EU, the ONLY way to stop this mass immigration from Eastern Europe undercutting our wages is for the government here to impose union rates and conditions in all jobs, and weed out all people working illegally below the union rates and minimum wage!

The British Invasion of the 1960s

 (Click on the pictures below to enlarge them.)

This title refers to pop or rock music of course. To understand what happened in the mid-1960s we need to look at Britain, because this is where the wave of groups starting with The Beatles emanated from, quickly captivating America in what became known as ‘the British invasion’ and indeed spread around the world.

Look at any of the surviving British TV or film clips dealing with British pop music in the late 1950s/early 1960s, and one thing will strike you above all else – it was very ‘American’. In this era almost every hit song came to the UK from America, was covered by several British singers, and then entered our Hit Parade, as it was then called.

If you study the singers of that period, they too were very Americanized. We had Cliff Richard and many others modeling themselves on Elvis Presley, and all trying to sound American.


Take some specific instances: Tommy Steele recorded a song entitled ‘Elevator Rock’, Lonnie Donegan, King of Skiffle, took American folk and Country music and adapted it in his own unique style for a British audience. It remained very American, with songs like ‘Battle of New Orleans’ recorded by American Country singer Johnny Horton, and containing lines about defeating the ‘bloody British’ in the American War of Independence. Another of Lonnie’s famous recordings was Woodie Guthrie’s ‘Grand Coolie Dam’, again purely American. ‘Rock Island Line’ was yet another Donegan example, which even required the British singer to pronounce the letter ‘z’ as ‘zee’ rather than ‘zed’.


In surviving clips from Jack Good’s British ‘Oh Boy!’ TV show from this era, we see Marty Wilde putting on an American Southern drawl to recite ‘All American Boy’, also recorded by American Country singer Grandpa Jones. Nearly all the songs were American in origin, and used American terminology, so we see Marty Wilde, Cliff Richard and Dickie Pride singing about ‘Three Cool Cats’ ogling three cool chics. Dickie Pride sings his great version of Little Richard’s ‘Slippin’ ‘n’ Slidin”.

The accents sounded American, the pronunciation was American, the words were American. It could be described as ‘the American Invasion’.


British groups such as The Beatles were heavily influenced by this American invasion. Paul McCartney started out in the British skiffle group The Quarrymen, and early Beatles’ recordings included covers of American rock’n’roll/rockabilly numbers such as Long Tall Sally, Dizzy Miss Lizzy and Honey Don’t. The Rolling Stones, The Animals and many other British groups were also very heavily influenced by American blues and R&B, covering some of these numbers.

Then, around 1962/1963, things began to change, and British groups began writing their own numbers in their own style, not trying to imitate the sounds and culture of the American Deep South. Suddenly it was OK for British pop singers to have Liverpudlian or Cockney accents, whereas before they had to sing as though they were born and raised in Tennessee.

Whether you liked the new British pop music or not (I didn’t at the time, and still prefer the original American rock’n’roll) it has to be admitted it had some originality, rather than just being carbon copies of American music.


It is true that some British singers before The Beatles recorded original songs aimed at a British audience, such as Wee Willie Harris’s ‘Rockin’ At the 2is’ about the Soho coffee bar where so many British singers of the era started out. Cliff Richard’s first hit was ‘Move It’, another British original. But all were in the American style.

Perhaps Lonnie Donegan was the most innovative of this era, when he adapted the skiffle style to self-penned British songs like ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’, which used entirely British terminology and Cockney riming slang. But other original songs like ‘Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor/Flavour (On The Bedpost Overnight?)’ again contained American references to ‘the White House’ and ‘the President’.

For many of us, the truly interesting music of the 20th century came out of that rich multi-racial hodge podge emanating from the Southern States of the USA. Jazz, Boogie Woogie, Swing, the Blues, Country and Western, Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, Rockabilly and Rock’n’Roll all originated from this area and swept around the world, influencing singers and musicians from Britain and other countries – Johnny Halliday in France for instance. The fusion of black and white culture in early American rock’n’roll was unique, but had been pioneered by Country singers like Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams who first recorded the black music known as ‘the Blues’ for white audiences. White singers like Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, etc. later took their fusion of black and white music, christened ‘rock’n’roll’ by American DJ Alan Freed, into the pop charts and to a worldwide audience.

So the history of modern pop/rock music started in the Deep South of the United States, swept around the world, but by the mid 1960s the new wave of British groups had largely taken over from solo British pop singers trying to look and sound like white American Southerners. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc. looked and sounded quite different to anything which came before, even though they were influenced by American music.


Of all the American originals, for instance, only Jerry Lee Lewis wore his hair long enough to hang down round his ears, and that was only when he got really wild on stage. A couple of years after The Beatles and Rolling Stones came along, Jerry had his hair cut shorter since long hair was no longer original in rock singers.

It is now 2008. Where are The Beatles, The Animals and some of these other British groups of the early 1960s and later decades? Many of them have split up, some of their members have died. Others continue – The Searchers, The Ivy League, etc. But amazingly three of the greatest, original American rock’n’roll artists of all time, in fact my three favorites, are still alive, still touring, still performing – Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry.


In the case of Jerry Lee Lewis, he released his biggest selling album ever in 2006, ‘Last Man Standing’, duetting with many other super-stars including Ringo Starr from The Beatles, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood from The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Page plus many Americans, then followed this up with a DVD, part of which was broadcast across North America and in other countries on TV. ‘Last Man Standing “Live”‘ also featured people like Tom Jones, Norah Jones and other American greats like Solomon Burke, Buddy Guy, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and John Fogerty.

American ‘Roots Music’, as the name implies, is the basis for most modern pop/rock music, along with other influences from places such as Jamaica.

But what happened in the mid-1960s with the new wave of British groups was that we stopped putting into our pop charts British artists who were trying to look/sound like they were American Southerners, covering mainly American songs. Instead the Mods were buying more original recordings from the new British groups, and Rockers like myself turned our attention more closely to the American originals who first inspired two generations of British rock/pop singers.

It was in the 1960s that many of the original American rock’n’roll artists began touring UK and Europe in earnest – Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, etc. Indeed many of these were put on at London’s Saville Theater in the late 1960s by The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein.

It all culminated a few years later in the London Rock’n’Roll Show at the old Wembley Stadium in the summer of 1972. The biggest festival of original rock’n’roll to be held in London, starring all the American originals mentioned in the last paragraph except for Fats Domino and Gene Vincent, plus some British acts including Screamin’ Lord Sutch.

So like ’em or hate ’em, at least the British groups of the 1960s stopped all British pop singers trying to look and sound like pale imitations of the American originals, giving us the opportunity to focus our attention on these original American rock’n’roll pioneers.

Whatever happened to Cuddly Duddley, Don Lang and his Frantic Five and Lord Rockingham’s XI? Bless ’em, they tried. And Lord Rockingham did insert some home-grown originality with recordings like ‘Hoots Mon’ and ‘Wee Tam’ – rock’n’roll with a Scottish dialect. ‘Wee Tam and a wee broon coo, Tam said “who” and the coo said “moo”‘. Now The Beatles never came up with lines like that did they? 


Unequal Opportunities in the Past

How lucky young people are today in the UK. Most of them no longer suffer the totally unfair agony of the 11+, an examination which marked us out for life as ‘successful’ or ‘failures’. They go to comprehensives, where they have considerable choice as which subjects they study, they then have the opportunity to take GCSE ‘O’ and then ‘A’ levels in a variety of subjects, and then go on to University if they wish, with the aid of student loans.

By contrast, we had none of these advantages. Just take three examples – myself, my deceased partner, and my mother, who’s now 93.

My mother was born in 1914. At the age of 14 she was forced to leave school without any qualifications and go into domestic service. My mother is an intelligent woman, and like many in our family, an excellent writer. She had the story of one of her first domestic servant jobs published in a magazine many years ago. But she was never given a chance to gain any qualifications, or go into a career that utilized her literary skills.

Then there was my partner, George Miller. Born in 1943 in Glasgow, his parents died when he was young, and he too left school with no qualifications. He was also a brilliant writer, and extremely intelligent. Given the chance he could easily have obtained degrees at university. Towards the end of his life he wanted to enter the field of librarianship, but without a university degree he stood no chance, even though he knew more about literature and the arts in general than many qualified librarians.

Then take my own case. Born in 1945 in London, I failed my 11+ and went to a secondary modern school, where I then blossomed. Never any good at mathematics, but quite brilliant at English Language with excellent spelling (I can spell in English and American, but use a combination of both) and writing skills, in my second year in this secondary modern school I had a teacher, Mr Drew, who made me really interested in mathematics – especially Algebra and Geometry. I was becoming very proficient in both, but there were two main drawbacks to this school back in 1958.

First, you could not take GCEs as they were then known – the General Certificate of Education (now GCSEs, the General Certificate of Secondary Education.) Secondly, all subjects studied at the school were compulsory and sexist. Girls had to do domestic science (cookery and housework basically), and boys had to do woodwork, Technical Drawing and, later, metalwork.

Whilst I was very good at English Language, and was becoming one of the top of my A level stream in mathematics, I was absolutely hopeless at anything like woodwork or Technical Drawing. I had difficulty drawing straight lines even with the aid of a ruler, and as for woodwork, I couldn’t plane a piece of wood straight no matter how I tried. I’d spend hours and hours, lesson after lesson, trying to plane a piece of wood till there wasn’t much left of it. My woodwork teacher was almost driven to tears: ‘This was a lovely piece of wood till you got hold of it,’ he’d say, his eyes misting up. ‘For years it grew as a tree, now look at the mess you’ve made of it.’. Consequently when other boys in my class were making kitchen cabinets I was still on wonky matchbox and photo stands which the teacher had to finish off for me to make them look even half presentable.

I was persuaded to leave this school at 13 when I had the opportunity to take the 13+, more properly an entrance examination into a technical college. I did this mainly because the following year in addition to woodwork and Technical Drawing, boys had to spend a whole afternoon doing metalwork, which I knew I’d also be hopeless at. This meant nearly half my week at school would have been doing totally useless subjects for me, which I’d never be any good at in 1,000 years – woodwork, metalwork and Technical Drawing.

On top of that, I couldn’t obtain ‘O’ or ‘A’ levels in English Language, the various branches of Mathematics, Geography, or the other subjects I was interested in and good at if I remained in the secondary modern school.

So I took the entrance exam to technical college and passed, going into a commercial course designed, as we found out later, mainly for girls who wanted to become shorthand typists.  There were very few boys in the class, and indeed they stopped taking boys for this course the next year. The other boys were all studying to become Chartered Accountants, and took no interest whatsoever in the typing and shorthand classes.

I, on the other hand, had no interest in becoming a Chartered Accountant, and although my Pitman’s shorthand skills were abysmal I excelled in Typewriting, reaching very high speeds. At least at college I didn’t have to struggle with subjects like woodwork, metalwork and Technical Drawing, and I had the opportunity, so I thought, to take my GCEs.

However, when I elected to stay on after the statutory school leaving age, which then was 15, in order to take my ‘O’ levels, I discovered that Mathematics as a subject for GCE was not available on my Commercial Course. Meanwhile, at my old secondary modern school, GCEs had been introduced which I could have taken in all subjects.

So I took my ‘O’ levels in English Language, English Literature, Commerce and Principles of Accounts, passing in all but English Literature. I also took RSA (Royal Society of Arts) Stage II examinations in these subjects plus Typewriting, passing in all but English Literature. However I discovered these passes were absolutely useless without Mathematics. Not once in my entire working career were these qualifications useful in obtaining a job, because I didn’t have the opportunity to take ‘O’ or ‘A’ levels in Mathematics.

When I left college in 1961, at the age of 16, unlike others who left along with me, I didn’t get any career advice whatsoever. We had the extreme misfortune to move a few months before I left college from Wood Green, in North London, to Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire. For these last few months I commuted to college in order to take my useless examinations.

When it came to the day when career advisors were visiting the school, everybody else who was leaving got the advice based on their college work and what they were good at. When it came to my turn, they asked my address. The college, Tottenham Technical, was in North London, but came under the Middlesex County Council Education Authority. Since I had moved out of Middlesex into the neighboring county of Hertfordshire, they refused to give me any career advice, saying I’d have to consult their colleagues in Welwyn Garden City where I now lived.

Disappointed, I went along to the Welwyn Garden City employment office, where they said they couldn’t give me any career advice nor refer me to any department which could, since this was only for students who’d studied in Hertfordshire. They had no information on what my college and school work was like. So they offered me a dead-end job as a clerk in the Danish Bacon factory locally, which I refused. They then offered me an equally unsuitable job as a Work-Study Clerk at the Alcuin Press, a local printers office. These jobs offered to me didn’t use any of the skills I’d acquired at school or college.

I now realize, had I been given career advice, I could have made an excellent journalist, starting off on a local newspaper and ending up goodness knows where. As it was it took me 7 years after leaving college to find a job which eventually utilized my typing skills – Overseas Telegraph Operator, and even then I had to re-learn typing, since they ignored the fact I was already an efficient touch-typist with high speeds and qualifications. In actual fact I didn’t re-learn it, since the Post Office taught a different system using different fingers, so I just sat in with the others on the course typing away proficiently whilst they struggled.

I never did utilize my English Language and writing skills in my career, although I had many letters and articles published in various newspapers and periodicals, only ever being paid for them on one occasion so far.

Students today have opportunities we never even dreamed of, to go to university and get degrees in any subject they wish. My brother, four years younger than me, never had to take the dreaded 11+ since Hertfordshire had abolished it by 1961, he went to school there and then to college and university and eventually got a degree and a very good career. He also, incidentally, made friends his own age at school. I never had any friends my own age throughout my teenage because I didn’t go to school or college in Hertfordshire, so didn’t know anybody my own age.

Fed up with the dead-end job as a so-called ‘Work Study Clerk’ and getting complaints from women who didn’t get any bonuses when they had no printing work to do and were sitting there knitting for hours on end, I got a job as office boy/duplicator operator at the head office of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in London. I commuted there for the next 6 years from Hertfordshire, so still never made any friends my own age in the town where I lived since I was hardly ever there.

So the combination of the 11+, the lack of a proper choice of GCE subjects at college, and my family moving from London to Hertfordshire early in 1961, prevented me from getting the qualifications and career advice necessary for me to pursue a successful career in, say, journalism. I had no idea at the age of 16 what I wanted to do – I badly needed this career advice. By the time I realized I should have gone into journalism, it was far too late – I was in my 50s I think by then.

So to the youngsters today who complain about getting into debt with student loans for university fees, I repeat what the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan back in 1961 said to the nation: ‘You’ve never had it so good!’ You get the opportunity to go to university, get degrees, then get a high-paid career, with which you can well afford to pay back your student loan, provided of course you have chosen to get your degrees in subjects which will be useful in a career.

If you choose to study subjects not useful in any career, then of course you must make your own arrangements to pay back your student loans. Long gone are the days when hard-working taxpayers like myself were expected to just hand out endless student grants to middle-class students to study endless useless subjects because they were having too much fun at ‘uni’ to even think of going out to work and earning a living. One such student I knew was at ‘uni’ living off grants at the expense of the taxpayers and studying useless subjects from her teenage until her mid-40s.

Meanwhile my mother, my life-partner and myself never even got the chance to go to ‘uni’ at all.

Cooperative Loyalty Card? What’s that all about?

Today I got a phone call from the Cooperative Bank, I believe it was, asking if I want a Cooperative Loyalty card. Since they shut down all our local Cooperative stores about 30 or more years ago, I told them there was no point.

Then I asked ‘Why is the Coop introducing Loyalty cards? Surely that defeats the whole purpose of the Cooperative Movement?’ The woman didn’t know what to say, so I told her that the Coop was a form of public ownership, and that it was something called Socialism which most people today had never heard of. I then hung up.

Why should I have to educate people who work for the Coop as to what their movement is all about? Loyalty cards in the Coop just don’t make sense at all. The ‘loyalty card’ is Coop membership. You pay a pound and become a member, a joint owner of the Coop. You then share in the profits. If you start giving out ‘Loyalty cards’ and discounts to non-members it is defeating the whole object, which is to sign up all customers as Coop members so the stores and services are owned and run by their customers and workers.

In any case I have Loyalty cards for other supermarkets/organizations and never bother to cash in the points. Some supermarkets, like Tesco, keep asking if I have a Loyalty card or want one, and I tell them I don’t. I just can’t be bothered with these gimmicks. I’d rather they reduce the prices for all customers.

But cooperatives are a form of public ownership so are rather different. You show your loyalty by joining and becoming a part-owner, then you enjoy the full benefits. It is totally different from becoming a shareholder in a private or public limited liability company. For a start, you are only allowed a single one pound share in the Coop, this is so everybody has an equal share. Second, you don’t share in any dividends/profits unless you shop at the Coop or use its services.

Capitalist shareholders in private firms and public limited liability companies, on the other hand, have no limit to how many shares they may hold, and have little connexion with the companies they buy shares in. Indeed many never attend a shareholders’ meeting, they just buy and sell shares thru the Stock Exchange as a form of gambling. Cooperative shares cannot be bought and sold in this way. You join, and you’re a member for life.

It comes to something when you have to educate the Cooperative movement itself as to why it was set up and what it is all about. But this is not the first time I’ve had to do this. I’ve had the Cooperative Bank offering me loans, and asking me about high-interest investment accounts. I’ve had to tell them that as a Socialist movement they shouldn’t be encouraging people to take out loans and charging them interest, and that all interest over and above the rate of inflation is stolen from the wage packets of exploited workers the world over.

They should read their Karl Marx. Profits (and that includes interest payments) don’t grow on trees, they are produced by the surplus value of labor, so should be returned to those who produced them, i.e. the workers and the customers. That’s why the Cooperative Movement was established, as the first and most successful form of common ownership.

All industry and services need to be owned and controlled by the State or by the people who work in them and their customers, and nobody else should share in any profits left over after some has been plowed back into the industry or service to improve it or lower prices.

Cooperative Loyalty Card? Jeez, what next for Heaven’s sake?  Cooperative shares being bought and sold in bulk on the Stock Exchange? If that ever happens I shall cash in my Cooperative membership immediately.

What’s cooking?


Roast beef properly cooked (click to enlarge picture)

What’s cooking? Overdone beef and under-cooked vegetables is the short answer. 

Unless you go to a very expensive hotel, restaurant or pub with a Carvery, you’ll find most places have no idea how to serve roast beef, or indeed roast lamb. The same applies to most domestic households. The traditional British Sunday roast, yet few people know how to cook it, only how to ruin it by overcooking it.

Beef and lamb should be served underdone, pink. Especially beef. Once it has lost it’s pink color, it has lost 90% of its flavor and tastes like old leather or rag. Beef steaks too are best served blue, rare or medium-rare.

I know this is a matter of taste, but with roast beef you are not given the choice. All but the best chefs serve it well done, and this is wrong. 15 minutes to the lb and 15 minutes over is sufficient for beef, or 20 minutes at the very most. Those who like it well-done can always have the outside, or pop it in the oven/microwave for an extra minute.

On the other hand, in the staff canteen at Electra House, head office of Post Office Overseas Telegrams decades ago, I was asked if I wanted my pork chop well done, medium or rare! Of course pork, chicken, turkey, etc. should always be well done.

People tend to overcook eggs and bacon as well. Bacon only needs a few seconds each side to cook. Once it gets crisp and shriveled up, it is burnt. Fried eggs should be runny, not hard. Those who like overdone beef and lamb, hard eggs and crisp bacon like their food overcooked. But this is how many cheaper eating establishments, and many households, serve up food.

Vegetables, on the other hand, need to be boiled or steamed for 20 minutes till they are soft. The modern fashion is to serve them half-raw.

My mother today left all the beef we were served up at our lunch club because it was overcooked. A complete waste of a joint as far as we are concerned. If vegetables turn up on the plate crisp instead of soft because they are half-cooked, she leaves them too.

Yet in New York I don’t think I ever got served beef or a Deli Beef sandwich which was overcooked.

Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding is a tradition for Sunday lunch in Britain, yet most households and cafes, etc. have no idea how to serve it. Overdone beef and half-raw vegetables mean the meal is completey ruined for those of us who know anything about how good food should be prepared.


Inedible, overcooked ‘roast beef’ lunch (click to enlarge picture)

Olympics and political protest

Watching on TV the Olympic Torch being carried across London yesterday, and the protests over Chinese repression in Tibet and elsewhere, makes me think whether there have been many Olympics when there has not been some political issue involved?

There were games in Moscow during the days of the Soviet Union, with protests and boycotts, and indeed almost every country hosting the Games could attract criticism of some kind. In 2012 the Olympic Games come to London, so should we attract protests and boycotts because of our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.?

Whilst people have the right to protest in a free country, I think it is a shame when they try to stop the progress of the Olympic torch, or disrupt the Games themselves. They are an international event which brings countries together. Just holding the Games brings attention on the host country, and hopefully having them in Beijing this year might lead to an improvement in human rights in Tibet and China generally.

The best way forward on the issue of Tibet would be if the Chinese would hold talks with the Dalai Lama, who does not seek independence but rather autonomy and more freedom for Tibet.

To tell the truth I’m fed up with all the countries demanding independence, many of which have achieved it after bloody wars but seem little better off. Eritrea gained indepedence from Ethiopia, East Timor from Indonesia,  Czechoslovakia split into two separate states, the Yugoslav federation has now split into seven separate states, and the Soviet Union into 15, with many of those states having independence movements, e.g. Chechnia in Russia, South Ossetia in Georgia. There is really no end to this possible division of the world into smaller and smaller ‘independent’ states, which is completely opposite to the direction we should be heading in my opinion, the coming together of nations in federations and looser confederations.

At a time when we are hoping to re-unite divided countries like Ireland, Cyprus and eventually Korea, and when European nations are coming together voluntarily in the European Union, which I believe will inevitably become a sort of United States of Europe with a federal constitution one day, autonomy seems to me a better goal to strive for than complete independence.

In Britain we now have devolved parliaments/assemblies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I would like to see this developed further so Britain becomes a federal state, which would also involve a separate parliament or assembly for England itself. Indeed, let’s have separate parliaments/assemblies for Cornwall and the Isle of Wight if they want to become autonomous nations. Britain itself may one day become a member state of a federal EU.

The Olympic Games should be the time when we look at nations coming together in friendly competition, and perhaps look forward to a time when they can permanently come together in some sort of worldwide UN confederation with a single global security force to maintain world peace and order on a permanent basis.

Pressing for human rights and autonomy for repressed nations is one thing, but disrupting international events like the Olympics might eventually destroy such multi-national get togethers. It has already been suggested that the London bombings of July 2005 and attempted bombings a few weeks later could have been triggered by the announcement that London was to host the 2012 Olympic Games. There was the massacre in 1972 of Israeli Olympic athletes. Once political protests start disrupting events like the Olympic Games, we are on a dangerous downward spiral.

Keep any protests peaceful, and non-disruptive of the Games themselves.