Changing Gay World

This blog is written from a British perspective, the history being quite different in other countries.

The modern gay world, Britain included as it has finally caught up with the advanced Western countries, includes civil partnerships, an equal age of consent and completely different ways for gays to meet each other than existed in the past.

When I came on to the gay scene back in 1967 there were few places where gay men could meet each other: basically the few gay bars/clubs in big cities, cottages (public toilets), cinemas and cruising grounds.

This was the year the Sexual Offences Act ostensibly legalized male homosexuality (lesbianism never being illegal). In actual fact it only legalized those already in a steady relationship who had a place of their own with no visitors staying overnight, who were both over 21 and neither of whom were in the armed forces. For all other gay men virtually all ways of meeting each other could be breaking the law, the charge being: ‘importuning for an immoral purpose’. In many places ‘pretty policemen’ set out to make easy arrests by entrapping gay men. They encouraged gay men to make advances, then arrested them.

The gay clubs which existed in big cities were closed to many gay men. You could only gain admittance if introduced and recommended by a member. So isolated gays could not gain entrance, and as there was no gay press or gay guides until some time after the 1967 Act was passed, finding a gay bar was difficult. Even if you found one sometimes there was a straight bar and a gay one and you had to know which was which. Also some were only gay at certain times, Sunday lunchtimes for instance. You also had to be aware of the codes for dress and eye contact. Dress wrongly and miss the eye signals, and you would never meet anybody. Gay bars in London have never been particularly friendly places, and the same is true today from my experience.

Gay bars tend to be where gay friends go together or in groups, sometimes just to drink or to watch some cabaret. Isolated gay men, unless very self assured and able to pick-up easily, will often feel out of place, and with few exceptions anyone over 35 or 40 will certainly feel they don’t belong. I can only think of two gay bars in London where older men are not outnumbered by those in their 20s and 30s.

In those early days I remember of the late 1960s, the 1970s and early 1980s the places to meet were largely cottages, cinemas and cruising grounds – the three ‘Cs’. Nowadays it is a different three ‘Cs’: Clubs, contact ads and cyberspace.

There are very few cottages left, and ‘cottaging’ has become largely a thing of the past. No longer can a gay man find a ‘working’ cottage almost anywhere he goes. Cruising grounds still exist, but have become increasingly dangerous with all the gangs around, many extremely homophobic. Cinemas have disappeared from the gay scene altogether, apart from a couple of ones showing gay porno films.

The cinema scene in the 1960s/1970s was very active in London. The main one was the Biograph in Wilton Road, Victoria. There it was very easy to meet partners, and indeed I met my two live-in boyfriends there, one relationship lasting 21 years till his death. There were other cinemas in London where gay men met such as the Eros cartoon/news theater in Piccadilly Circus and the Tolmer off the Euston Road. None of these cinemas showed gay porno films, but were good places to meet other gay men.

It was only in the 1990s that the kind of gay clubs existing in Amsterdam, New York, San Francisco, Sydney and many other big Western cities were tolerated in big cities in the UK. These kind of clubs, which allowed sex on the premises, were still illegal in Britain until the law was finally changed in the early 21st Century. They then provided safe space for gay men who (before the law was changed legalizing such places) were at risk of homophobic attacks, arrest by the police and of course the random serial killers like David Nielson.

I find it very difficult to adjust to some of the changes. The new-style clubs are fine, though many are now very late night/early morning places. Except for 24-hour gay saunas (not really my scene), most don’t even open till 11pm and don’t get busy till after midnight. The ones which are open earlier have of late got much quieter for some reason, or else they are largely for certain age groups. One in South London, once very mixed, is now almost entirely frequented by men over 50, some well over 50. Another in North London just outside the West End makes anyone over 40 feel ostracized and very unwelcome. Not the staff, but rather the clientele have this ageist attitude it seems.

Cyperspace has largely taken over from contact ads in the gay press as another way of gay men (and women) meeting each other. I have never been attracted to this phenomenum, though it seems to be very popular and killing off a lot of the older ways of gay men meeting each other.

There are so many problems and dangers associated with meeting on the Internet. First, the other person may be on the other side of the world. Secondly, you don’t really know who’s on the other end of the line. They can put any picture up, say they are any age. They could look completely different and be much older. Parents are aware of the dangers of the Internet when their kids hook up with strangers there, who may make out they are the same age as the kids.

Also homophobes and psychopaths could pose as gay men and lure their victims on the Internet. For this reason I would not even consider a webcam, the method by which many gay men meet each other on the Internet and at least know what the person the other end looks like. This is extremely dangerous, since any homophobe or psychopath can pose as a gay man when really they are just looking for victims to queerbash or murder. Once your face is known you are very vulnerable.

So I have mixed feelings about the changes which have taken place over the past almost 44 years since I first discovered the gay scene (before that, in my teens and early 20s, I didn’t discover it because it was entirely underground, secret and also totally illegal).  I do miss the old three ‘C’s, but welcome the safe-space and legality of the newer gay clubs.

The biggest change is that in the past it was possible to meet gay partners during the daytime, now it usually involves setting out just before midnight and being prepared to be up most of the night.

As for civil partnerships, these could well change the whole gay scene entirely. For the first time there is legal recognition of gay relationships and therefore some incentive to stay together. Previously society was constructed to discourage such relationships and all the pressures were against long-term gay relationships. Now civil partnerships offer gay men and women most if not all of the legal rights enjoyed by married heterosexuals.

This is really a dramatic change from the days when male homosexuality was entirely illegal in Britain (before 1967), and two men living together as partners were liable to eviction and/or arrest and imprisonment. Is it any wonder, in those circumstances, that the practice of quick, furtive encounters with strangers in cottages, cinemas or cruising grounds and one-night stands became part of gay men’s culture? It was usually much safer than risking setting up home with another gay man and thereby drawing attention to your sexuality. Landlords would throw gay men out on the street for breaking the law, and the police and courts were always a threat.

Even after 1967, if a relative or friend was staying overnight gay men were technically breaking the law if they slept together in a completely separate room. My mother was justly worried she’d lose her council tenancy because my life-partner and I shared a bedroom in her council flat. This extremely narrow definition of  ‘privacy’ applied to gay men only, and was in legal force until the early 21st Century. This is what made all gay saunas and sex clubs entirely illegal in UK until that date, whereas they existed in big cities in most other Western countries.

So a lot of changes for the better. Some difficult for us older gays to get used to. Some have just come too late for us to enjoy the full benefits. I’d have welcomed a civil partnership with my life-partner of 21 years for many reasons, but they simply didn’t exist at the time. My relationship with him, therefore, remains entirely unrecognized officially, and my status as his ‘widower’ also unrecognized.

I would, of course, be able to have a civil partnership with someone else were I to meet them, but at 66 this seems increasingly unlikely, and anyway since my life-partner died I have not felt the inclination to share my life and home with anyone else, with possibly one exception and he was already in a relationship, unsatisfactory as it may have been. He also had fully not come to terms with his dual sexuality, so a civil partnership would probably have been out of the question.

The Royal Wedding, Marriage, Civil Partnerships and The Monarchy

As a so-called ‘Diana Disciple’ (follower of Diana Speaks website  and her voice channel, Christian) you might be expected to think I was excited about the forthcoming royal wedding between William, Diana’s eldest son, and Katherine. Certainly Christian, who was staying with me when the engagement and then wedding was announced, expected me to show some interest at least. I’m afraid this isn’t the case. I wish the couple the best of luck, and marrying into that family Katherine will certainly need it, and I can understand that Diana would be very excited about William getting married.

I have never taken any interest in royal weddings, and I don’t see why this one should be any different. From what little I know Katherine seems a well-balanced woman and William seems to be a very sensible guy, and the couple genuinely in love. The trial marriage in Anglesey was a very modern idea, all of which bodes well for the actual marriage lasting, which is more than can be said for many of the royal marriages.

Marriage generally does not particularly interest me since it often seems to be the first stage to divorce. If that seems cynical it may be a view shared by many who prefer to co-habit rather than make a commitment they cannot keep. I’ve heard of couples who lived together quite happily for years, got married and then split within a few months.

Having said that, I’d have welcomed the opportunity to have a civil partnership with the man I lived with for 21 years till his death. As he died 20 years ago, this was not possible; civil partnerships were not invented then. I don’t know exactly what the civil partnership ceremony involves except it puts things on a legal footing, and demonstrates publicly the love and commitment of two people of the same sex to each other. 

My own view is that marriages often fail because of the completely monogamous nature of the institution. Whether this also applies to civil partnerships I don’t know. I do know that many gay men, and it seems many heterosexual couples, have some sort of open relationship. Monogamy is fine for those who can promise it and keep to it for a lifetime. For others, the sexual side of the relationship tends to fade after time as the affection and love for each other grows. Speaking for my own partnership, we became soul-mates, deeply caring for each other and doing things together, but the sexual side of our relationship faded away altogether.

This is also true of nearly all the other gay couples I know, and also some of the heterosexual ones. Separate bedrooms are not uncommon, though my partner and I shared a bed and cuddled up a lot right to the end. It was close companionship which was important for us.

Personally I see no harm in couples in a relationship having some casual encounters outside it, maybe seeing escorts for role play for instance which hold no danger of emotional complications. Indeed escorts or prostitutes have probably saved a lot of marriages, and prevented a lot of rapes and other sex crimes. In my view prostitution should be legalized and controlled in licensed brothels with regular health checks and full union rights for sex workers.

But I digress from the original theme of this blog, the royal wedding. As far as I am aware no street parties are planned for this estate, which does not surprise me. Many residents are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, so why should they be interested in a royal wedding? I’m a republican, so it doesn’t really interest me either.  Would I be interested if the grandson of the Prime Minister or a President was getting married? Not in the least.

I suppose the difference is that William and Katherine might well be King and Queen one day, if the Monarchy survives that long and barring any mishaps along the way. Charles and Diana no doubt thought the same, but it was not to be long before the events in Paris in 1997. Camilla was a shadow hanging over that marriage from the start; there is no such shadow hanging over the marriage of William to Katherine, and he is also very much aware of the pressures his mother was under to fit into that family and all the protocol, publicity, etc. so has and will continue to try to protect and help Katherine in this respect.

For a republican to show interest in a royal wedding would be to give some sort of authority to the institution of Monarchy, and I will not do that. I can, however, comment on it and on the prospects of succession. I very much doubt Charles and Camilla would be acceptable as King and Queen or even King and Princess Consort, even if their marriage lasts which seems doubtful according to some press reports. This is because of past precedent when Edward VIII was forced to abdicate because he married a divorced woman, and even Princess Margaret was pressured to give up Peter Townsend.

The Monarch is also head of the Church of England which does not endorse divorce, and both Charles and Camilla are divorcees. Whether the Church of England should be connected with the Monarch is another issue, and I am all in favor of disestablishment, kicking the bishops out of the House of Lords and creating a secular republic where those of all religions and none are treated as equals.

It is, therefore, very likely that when the present incumbant dies or abdicates the next in line will prove to be unpopular and unsuitable and William will be crowned King, that is if he is willing and if the institution survives the present Monarch, which is also in doubt. Diana, on her site, has made her own views plain – she does not want William to be King. If he suspects the institution was responsible for the death (murder) of his mother in Paris, will he be willing to continue the farce?

And it is a farce, let’s face it. They are only puppets of  The Establishment, and there are so many sham marriages. Charles’ marriage to Diana was a sham – he was forced into it when he really was in love with Camilla, deemed unsuitable at the time (even more so now, surely?) It is reported that the marriage of the present incumbant and many past ones are largely for public view, and that certainly the male partners are not sexually faithful and have mistresses.

Then there is the question of gay members of the royal family. How many of them have been forced into sham marriages? I mention no names here, but we can probably all think of at least one, probably more. Certainly no heir to the Throne would be allowed to have a civil partnership, and declare his/her same sex partner King, Queen, Prince or Princess Consort. An institution as outdated as that quite obviously has to go!

I accept that this forthcoming marriage is not a sham, it is a real desire of two people to share their future lives, whatever that may be. I do not see William and Katherine as a future King and Queen – for all I know they may declare a republic, sick of the institution which at the very least caused so much emotional damage to Diana. Or the Establishment may find some more minor royal to take on the task, in which case the Monarchy will become even more Disneyesque than it is at the moment, a mere tourist attraction. In which case dispatching and confining them to a newly created mini-kingdom around Windsor may be the best solution. They can parade for the tourists round Windsor and its Castle to their hearts content, while the rest of Britain becomes part of a European Republic.

I have nothing against William and Katherine, and as I say wish them the best, but I will not be watching the ceremony on TV, certainly will not be going anywhere near the West End on Friday next. We do at least live in a democracy – were I living in North Korea I’d no doubt feel obliged to come out to cheer any marriage of a descendent of the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il who was likely to take over the leadership of the Party and country after his death. Does Britain really want to be in the same category as North Korea, or the Caucescu nepotism in Communist Romania?

No flags and bunting in our street, thank goodness. May William and Katherine have a long and happy marriage, and may Britain release them and further descendents from having to perform like puppets of The Establishment by adopting the constitution of a democratic republic which elects its Head of State at regular intervals.

Whether this is called a republic, an elected monarchy or whatever I don’t really care. Just so long as the Head of State can freely choose to stand and we can freely choose to accept or reject him or her. It may seem a strange idea to the British, but it works perfectly well in many other countries. It’s called democracy.

The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall

These two phrases refer to the closed borders between the Socialist countries and capitalist West. In the case of the Berlin Wall it actually encircled West Berlin, closing it off from the surrounding territory of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). This was because Berlin was about 100 miles east of the West/East German border. West Berlin was a capitalist enclave deep inside the GDR, often described as ‘the thorn in the flesh of the GDR’.

The origin of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall was, of course, the Second World War and the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Once the War was over,  the USSR was determined it would not be invaded again by Germany.

In agreement with its Western allies, Europe was carved up between Soviet and Western spheres of influence. Most of the countries liberated from fascism and Nazi occupation by the Soviet Red Army were to fall in the Soviet sphere, but Berlin being the capital of Germany at the time, was divided between Soviet, American, British and French sectors.

There were several anomalies. Yugoslavia and Albania, freed from Nazism by their own Communist partisans, went their own way with their own brands of Socialism, two very different extremes, one Stalinist (Albania) and the other a liberal Market Socialism. Yugoslavia had open borders, so the idea that the whole Communist world was a vast prison camp is inaccurate.

Many other Socialist countries had open borders at different periods, and nowhere was the border more dramatic than in Berlin. This was inevitable because it was a city, and walls in cities are always both dramatic and traumatic. For years Nicosia in Cyprus had a similar wall dividing two communities. Berlin had open borders for 16 years, but this caused such problems for the GDR the border had to be closed with a permanent barrier.

Before the Wall was erected it was possible to live in a subsidized flat in East Berlin, buy subsidized foodstuffs in East Berlin shops, benefit from the GDR health service, a GDR education and yet get a high paid job in West Berlin, paid in West German marks which could buy things not available in ordinary GDR shops, only in their hard currency Intershops or of course in West Berlin. Also West Berliners could strip East Berlin shops of subsidized goods meant for GDR citizens – the situation became impossible.

To say East Berlin became a prison camp when the Wall was erected is quite inaccurate. For a start, East Berliners had 16 years with open borders yet, for whatever reasons, chose to remain in the GDR and not move to West Berlin. Secondly, they could travel freely anywhere in the GDR and to other Socialist countries, and with permission and the necessary visas, to the West. GDR citizens of pensionable age could also travel to the West.

The whole border became not just a symbol of the Cold War between East and West and between Communism and Capitalism, but it was used as a weapon by both sides. Of course West Berlin was made into a capitalist showpiece to entice East Berliners across, prostitutes even enticed GDR border guards to cross after the Wall was built by flashing their breasts at them. Springer built his lavish headquarters right up against the Wall, the GDR responded with the TV tower, now a symbol of a united Berlin. East Berlin was also made a showpiece of Socialism and the GDR, it was all propaganda.

Looking at the Iron Curtain as a whole, it had many holes (excuse the pun). Apart from Yugoslavia, at various times countries like Hungary and Czechoslovakia had fairly open borders to the West, and never were they as solid and dramatic as that surrounding West Berlin and between the two Germanies, with death strips, minefields, etc. Sometimes it was just a double barbed wire fence, some watchtowers and border guards. Many Czechoslovaks and Hungarians traveled freely to the West, only relatively few emigrated there.

The problem in Germany was that it was a divided country, because of the Second World War and the Nazi period (divided by the Allies). The USSR wanted to keep the areas it had liberated from fascism in its sphere of influence, not just as a ‘buffer’ against any future West German attempt to reclaim their so-called ‘lost territories’, which included all of the GDR and parts of Czechoslovakia, much of present day Poland and part of the Soviet Union as well, but also against any Western invasion of the Soviet Union. It also, quite naturally, wanted the countries it liberated to follow its own economic and political model or something closely allied to it.

Since the Socialist system in these countries, and particularly in the GDR, had been imposed rather than coming about by popular vote or revolution (though in Czechoslovakia the Communists did originally have a lot of popular support), border installations were necessary. The GDR had been the hub of Nazism, Hungary had also been an ally of Nazi Germany. Naturally there would be a lot of opposition to Socialism and the Communists within those countries, at least until these people had been re-educated.

The real problem was where countries which spoke the same language were divided by two different political systems as in East/West Germany, North/South Korea and North/South Vietnam. In fact Vietnam is virtually a mirror image of East/West Germany and divided Berlin. While the Soviet Union encouraged the building of physical barriers to prevent East Germans joining their fellow-country men and women in West Germany and West Berlin, the United States napalmed the Vietnamese just because they wanted to reunify the country under the Communist Ho Chi-Minh. The Americans canceled free elections because they knew Ho Chi-Minh would win, and then installed a puppet dictatorship in South Vietnam and napalmed whole villages to try to stop them becoming part of Communist North Vietnam.

East Germans fleeing over the Wall was the image the West were keen to focus on, rather than the thousands of Vietnamese joining the National Liberation Front (Vietcong) to reunify their country under Ho Chi-Minh.

Napalm and the Berlin Wall were both symbols of the Cold War and they both had the same purpose – to keep a divided country and city from reuniting under the political system allied to one or other of the two super powers.

This wasn’t the case where the East/West border ran between two different countries with different languages. True Austria-Hungary was once part of one Empire, but the Hungarians and Austrians spoke different languages. The Czechoslovaks and Germans spoke different languages, and Czechoslovakia had been invaded by Germany. Relatively few Hungarians or Czechoslovaks would seek to emigrate to Austria or West Germany, and USA wasn’t handing out residency visas willy nilly, nor was Britain or any other Western country.

The GDR was unique in that West Germany offered citizenship to any GDR citizen who managed to cross the border, it was all part of the Cold War propaganda. A TV program about the Fall of the Wall shows how this was brought about by Western scheming and bribes to Hungary to open its borders to East Germans.

The solution for the GDR would have been to allow any of its citizens to visit the West on payment of a deposit, forfeited if they failed to return. This would have to be set fairly high, but could easily be raised by collective effort. GDR citizens could have set up funds to sponsor people for visits to the West to visit family and friends or for holidays, and those that failed to return would know they had renegaded on their friends and neighbors who had sponsored them, and who needed this sponsorship money to be returned so they too could visit the West. It would have been a much better and more humane solution than mining the border or shooting people trying to escape.

This situation didn’t occur elsewhere along the Iron Curtain as there was no automatic right of citizenship for Poles, Hungarians, Czechoslovaks, Romanians, Russians, etc. who reached the West. Some did emigrate of course, but not in such numbers as to cripple the economy of those countries. This was what was threatened when the Berlin Wall went up, so many skilled and professional people, trained at GDR expense, were being enticed to West Berlin and West Germany the flow had to be stopped.

So ugly as the Berlin Wall minefields and border guards with their guns may have looked, remember the napalming of Vietnamese women and children by the Americans. Both sides in the Cold War are guilty of killing innocent people just because they wanted a different political system or leader to the one favored by one or other of the super powers.

The tragedy of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain is not that the border installations have gone, but that all the positive achievements of Socialism have gone as well, and much of the corruption remains. East Germans and others have found that everything in the capitalist West isn’t so rosy. There is no guaranteed full employment or guaranteed pension in old age as there was under Socialism, nor many of the excellent social and public services which were provided by the various Socialist states, imperfect as they were.

This is the irony of it all: Had the GDR adopted a policy such as I describe above it would not have been just the lost deposit which would have brought its citizens back home, but nostalgia for the security of a State which looked after its citizens from cradle to grave. A few months or years of unemployment in the West with no pension to look forward to and high rents to pay would have enticed many back to the low rents, full employment  and other benefits of the Socialist states. The grass always LOOKS greener on the other side, many have found that in fact it isn’t.

Ginger’s 60th

Me at Ginger’s 60th birthday bash, on the hard stuff (Coke!)

Doesn’t time fly? I remember when he had his 40th birthday party at the 59 Club. Don’t remember much about it, so I guess it was good. Anyway he had his 60th party down at Salfords, on the outskirts of Redhill in Surrey where he now lives with his partner, Angie.

It was a good do with Flying Saucers (one of my favorite British rock’n’roll bands) playing, and lashings of delicious food. Saw many faces I hadn’t seen around for ages. Only trouble was finding the venue, not in Honeycrock Lane as stated on invitations but in a road leading off it. Walked up and down Honeycrock with Angie’s son Gene for ages till her daughter Joanne and partner came to find us after Gene rang her. The venue couldn’t have been nearer Salfords station where I arrived, if only I’d turned right on the footbridge instead of left I’d have been there in less than 5 minutes!

Anyway I know where the venue is now, so will be prepared for Ginger’s 65th or whatever the next party is there.

Of course this makes up for Angie and Ginger missing my 65th birthday party last year. They were so near the venue (Inn On The Green, Ladbroke Grove) but couldn’t find the pub, which is not the easiest place to find. It is also in a semi-pedestrian street, so riding round on their motorbike they couldn’t even find the street.

Anyway a great evening. Don’t get to a lot of rock’n’roll gigs/parties nowadays, a few Weekenders. Pavilion pub near me in Battersea has regular rock’n’roll, but it is almost impossible to find out what’s on unless you visit the pub and look on their notice board. Not listed in rock’n’roll gig guide anymore, they don’t appear to have a website, and often don’t answer the phone or even answer messages left. That’s how I missed their New Year’s Eve party where many of my friends were attending. I rang pub but couldn’t find out if they had a New Year’s Eve party, so assumed the pub no longer had rock’n’roll bands on there at all since they didn’t bother to answer the message I left. I’ll only attend gigs if I know which band is playing in advance, I’m a bit selective.

Angie sent me some nice photos from the party on Facebook. Two of them on this blog.

Gene (Angie’s son) and me at Ginger’s 60th birthday bash

More Council Moans, and Apologies

Since the blog below was published and a link sent to Islington Council they have apologized, and the weeds have now been cut back. This is the latest email from the Council:

‘The weeds were removed from around the plaque yesterday and the shrub behind the tree was also pruned back. It does look a bit bare at the moment but will improve through the growing season.

Once again please accept my apologies for any distress caused by this.’

For the record, this is how the original tree looked in 1994:

And this is how it looked in 2008 (tree in blossom in background) 

 Original blog follows:

This time it’s Islington council where my partner’s memorial tree is planted in New River Walk. Originally it was in a section of neatly mowed lawn with flower beds in front and behind it. Over the years this bank of the New River has been left to grow wild, and the tree is now half enclosed in shrubs, the memorial plaque obscured by weeds.The gardeners are rarely to be seen, but they have a hut near the tree on the opposite bank and last year I pushed a note thru asking them to please keep the plaque clear of weeds.

I took my mother up to New River Walk yesterday as the blossom on many trees is out a month early due to the warm weather in early April. The plaque by the tree, which was visible in March, was now completely obscured by weeds again.

The far bank of the New River where the tree is planted is supposed to be off-limits to the public, and is accessed by a locked gate by the gardeners. I had to climb round the fence hanging over the River in order to clear the weeds from the tree. Of course I should have been given a key to this gate as I have every right to look after my tree and the plaque, and on anniversaries I’d like to place flowers next to it. So I shall continue to climb round the fence to tend to these things when the gate is locked.

As the weeds keep growing and the gardeners clearly have no respect for my memorial tree and couldn’t care less, I intend to dig up the roots of the weeds next time I go up there and plant some flowers by the plaque.

The other option, which only the council could do, would be to move the plaque a few feet forward to the bank of the river, where it would be clear of weeds and could be read clearly (it is too far back to be read properly where it is from the public bank of the river).

This is the third memorial tree planted there, as the first was vandalized and the second one died. A memorial bench was also vandalized, and is now replaced by another bench. Islington council ignored my original instructions for a bench with the memorial legend engraved in the wood, and instead just put a metal plate on the bench with screws. Of course this lasted about a week before kids unscrewed it, as the screws hadn’t even been soldered. The present bench is not a memorial bench.

This is not the end of the incompetence as there are other things Islington Council neglected to do regarding the three trees, the two memorial plaques (the first was vandalized) and the memorial bench which would have been in their interests rather than mine.

My tree was the first memorial tree in that little park to my knowledge. There are now several memorial trees and benches, the rest being on the public side of the river. One was on the far side, but that has now gone.

I didn’t mind the tree being on the far side of the river as it should have been safer from vandals, but the plaque really should have been right on the river bank so it could be read (you’d need binoculars to read the inscription even when it isn’t covered with weeds).  Also I should have access to the tree and the plaque so I can clean the plaque when necessary, keep the weeds away and put flowers there on anniversaries.

The photos of the tree when first planted are very picturesque with the neat lawn and flowebeds, now it is all wild and overgrown. I don’t mind this too much, but do insist that the plaque be kept clear of weeds and if it isn’t I shall continue to take direct action whenever I’m up there

How Councils Waste Our Money….

This really does take the biscuit, but it’s a long saga which I’ll numerate below:

1. Wandsworth Council decided to replace the central heating system on all their properties on my Estate. This was certainly in the case of my flat quite unnecessary expenditure, the heating system was working perfectly well.

2. My boiler had been replaced two or three years previously with a brand new one, a combination boiler, and the old water tanks removed. New pipework was installed in the kitchen behind the units.

3. The council contractors insisted on ripping out the virtually new boiler, worth an estimated £1000, and the recently installed pipework in the kitchen and replacing the boiler with an almost identical model and also replacing the pipework, causing a leak in the process by not replacing a rubber seal. The water leaked into the flat below for the next 6 months or so till discovered. The council refused to fix the leak they had caused, and my neighbor whose flat was affected manage to fix it for me.

4. The contractors not only caused a leak, but they broke off the door of one of my kitchen units, and took out a shelf from another kitchen unit and lost it. When I complained the contractors put the door back on with one hinge, but the other was broken and they said they couldn’t replace it. Nor could they replace the shelf they’d thrown away.

5. The Estate Manager visited my property twice to inspect the damaged cupboards, and said the hinge and shelf could not be replaced, I’d have to have two new kitchen units.

6. A council contractor called this morning and said he couldn’t fix two new kitchen units as they were higher than the old ones. I’d have to have an entirely new kitchen, since the work surfaces would be higher, the sink unit would have to be replaced, and the upper units would all be a lot smaller. The kitchen, recently re-decorated with a friend’s help, would then need redecorating again to cover up the gaps left by the bigger kitchen units which had been removed. The contractor said the council would re-decorate. I doubt it. when they ripped out the old boiler they just left a mess which I had to cover up with picture postcards.

I don’t want a new kitchen, I’m perfectly happy with the one I’ve got. My mother had her kitchen replaced in her housing association flat a few years ago, and we have regretted it ever since. The old kitchen was much better. I’m not taking that chance, and I don’t want the hassle of having to redecorate either.

So the council or their contractors, having done entirely unnecessary work in my kitchen, caused three areas of damage: the leak, affecting the flat below; the shelf they removed and lost; the cupboard door hinge which they carelessly broke which they then refused to make good. Instead they told me it was my responsibility to fix the leak they had caused, and that instead of a new hinge and a new shelf they’d have to install a complete new kitchen, which would then presumably be left to me to redecorate.

All this would have cost the council thousands of pounds, all quite unnecessary since the boiler, pipework and cupboards didn’t need to be touched at all – the work was all done two or three years previously. And having caused the damage, the price of a hinge, a rubber seal and a piece of wood would have fixed the problems – a new kitchen was quite unnecessary.

This from the council with some of the highest council rents in the country and the lowest Council Tax. They, like other councils, are cutting back on all sorts of local amenities yet they waste money like this.

I now have to get a friend who has the necessary tools and expertise to fix me a new hinge for my cupboard door (it is not just a regular hinge). I guess the other cupboard will have to remain without it’s shelf, all because of cowboy contractors badly doing work which was entirely unnecessary in the first place!

Finished at Fifty – Panorama program

This concentrated on four professional people who had turned 50 and who had virtually no hope of ever finding another job. I know the situation as 20 years ago my partner, only 48 when he died, faced exactly the same problem. He wrote off after job after job for 18 months and got one unsuccessful interview. In the program a professional ex-manager wrote off nearly 500 applications in 12 months and got just 8 interviews. That shows how older people are rejected before even the interview stage is reached.

My partner, however,  was not a professional, his line of work was obsolete – telex having been superceded by fax and email.  The various government agencies supposed to help people get back into work offered him no training whatsoever. He was very intelligent and wanted to get a degree in librarianship, since he knew a lot about literature. He was  offered no help or encouragement whatsoever. People long term unemployed for several months, especially older ones, have little hope of ever finding another job or even getting to university as a mature student, or receiving re-training.

My partner sunk into depression. He did, as advised to people in the program above, work in the voluntary sector, but this didn’t of course bring in any wages. It does, however, show there’s work to be done, and that older people are capable of doing it.

Society today in the post-Thatcher era does not look at the overall picture. Everything is geared to the small-scale and short-term interests. So individual private companies seek to maximise profits, hospital trusts try to cut costs, the government Department of Works and Pensions seeks to save money, etc. None of these organizations even consider the overall effect of their penny-pinching and staff redundancies to society as a whole.

My hospital claim to save money by getting medication delivered by a private company via courier. A most expensive way of delivering medication, it is much, much cheaper and more efficient for the patient to collect it from the hospital pharmacy when seeing the doctor. They are actually pushing the price of delivering medication up sky-high, but shifting the burden on to another agency. This goes on all the time. Private employers make people redundant, and shift the burden for their support on to the taxpayer.

The DWP and government are trying to raise the State pension age beyond 65 towards 70 – how ridiculous is that when employers don’t even want to employ people aged about 50? The government sees only the saving in pensions. They do not even consider how, by reducing the jobs available by making people work longer, they are vastly raising the amount of money in benefits paid to younger people with families who are out of work. It is cheaper to pay a State pension at 65 than pay benefits to a man of 25 with a family of 4 to support. Also, the 65 year old will be being paid a higher salary than a 25 year old, and will get less efficient as he gets older. Retiring at a flexible age between 60 and 70, left to the individual to decide, is reasonable. Making people permanently redundant at 45 or over is not, it is extremely wasteful, expensive and foolhardy.

The fact is that every able-bodied person should be guaranteed a job for life, meaning 45-50 years less time off to bring up young families. This is what happened in the Socialist countries, and there’s no reason why it can’t happen now. Abolish unemployment benefit and guarantee everyone a job. It is the government’s responsibility to do this, and believe me there are plenty of jobs needing to be done. Instead of paying people to do nothing, pay them a decent wage to work in charities, in hospitals, looking after the elderly, various other community projects, as well as in manufacturing and the service industries.

The more people who are productive, the more the economy will be boosted as more money, goods and services go into circulation. The problems arise when more and more people are getting unearned income in the form of profits, interest on investments, big unjustified directors’  bonuses, State benefits and also loans/living on credit. All this is inflationary as it amounts to too much money chasing too few goods and services. The basic law of supply and demand in fact.

How do we pay for full employment? First, by taxation. Yes, taxes have to be set at a level so the State can guarantee lifetime employment for every able-bodied person of working age. Also, by taking control of all the big non-mutual and non-cooperative financial institutions like banks and insurance companies, the State would have a vast pool of financial resources at its disposal so could keep taxes at a reasonable level.

What is certain, as hundreds of thousands more over-50s and others are made redundant, is that the older ones in our present society will not, for the most part, ever find work again, and the State benefit system will not be able to cope. Society will collapse unless the system is changed to one of full employment. There are only three ways to do this: go over to a Socialist system of full employment, create another big war and a huge armaments industry to achieve the same result (and kill off some of the surplus population), or create a Fascist state which would have much the same result as a big war.

There really is no alternative, which is why the capitalist system based on markets and private profits is doomed. Only some form of world-wide Socialism can guarantee full-employment and a booming economy. And it has to be real and efficient Socialism, not a bureaucratic one of inefficient State monopolies with a class of fat cats creaming off the best for themselves.

Combining the competitiveness of the capitalist market place with the fairness of Socialism was achieved in former Yugoslavia with its system of worker/consumer cooperatives and smaller-scale publicly owned enterprises all competing in a friendly Socialist market place.

This is probably the ONLY way forward if the world wants to avoid food riots, endless wars and the looming prospect of more fascist dictatorships.