Have AI (and CND) lost their way?

This year Amnesty International marked its 50th anniversary since it was founded by English lawyer Peter Benenson after an article he had published in The Observer newspaper about some political prisoners in Portugal, then under the Salazar fascist dictatorship.

Despite a mention of AI’s ‘mandate’ in a current Wikipedia article on the organization, this in fact was scrapped some years ago. It was quite specific and narrowed AI’s mission to acting on behalf of prisoners of conscience who had not used or advocated violence, also it campaigned against unfair trials and against the use of torture and the death penalty. In the 1990s it included LGBT people who had been imprisoned because of their sexual orientation. This last part of the mandate took years to be adopted because of opposition from AI sections in many developing countries who said homosexuality was ‘against their culture’.

From my perspective, and I worked for the international headquarters of the organization for many years, these sections in developing countries have been largely responsible for the weakening of AI’s influence and for scrapping its very important mandate which kept it focused on what it could do best: fighting for political prisoners, those imprisoned because of their sexual orientation, because of unfair trials and also fighting for abolition of the death penalty and against the use of torture.

The laughable thing about the scrapping of the mandate is that staff on the front desk where I worked at the time, dealing with visitors and people who called in by phone and email, were not told of the scrapping of the mandate. I found out by accident over a year later after telling many people who phoned in or called that their problem was not covered by AI’s mandate. True the relevant decisions were published in various AI documents, but we on the front desk had little opportunity to browse through pages and pages of these.

If you go on AI’s website you will find this general statement of their aims and mission:

Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 3 million supporters, members and activists in more than 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights.

Our vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

We are independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion and are funded mainly by our membership and public donations.

Now this is very vague and, in my opinion, it has completely destroyed AI’s once unique role of campaigning on behalf of political prisoners and allied issues.

For instance, included in the human rights AI is now supposed to be embracing are those in the economic and social field. This, apparently, was in response to views expressed by some sections in the developing world who argued that until they enjoyed full economic and social rights they could not properly address issues such as political prisoners. In other words, people imprisoned because of their political beliefs were not the number one priority.

My view is that people who felt this way should not be in the organization at all, let alone deciding its policies without much responsibility for implementing them. There are plenty of other organizations able and equipped to deal with these economic and social rights including charities like Oxfam, War on Want, various trade unions and political parties. AI was simply not able to campaign effectively on these issues, nor on a host of other human rights such as universal access to health care in the developing countries through the availability of free or cheap medication, etc. All excellent things to campaign for, but should an organization like AI which, as it name implied, was established for a very specific purpose be getting involved in a wide range of issues like that for which it had neither the expertise nor financial resources to do much about?

The unique effectiveness of AI in its original guise was a letter writing and publicity campaign focusing on political prisoners, including highly publicizing individual prisoners, which greatly embarrassed the governments concerned and often led to release of the prisoners concerned, or at the very least to better treatment.

By adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in full as part of its mission AI set itself an impossible task given its limited resources, and also in my view greatly weakened its effectiveness.

Take economic and social rights, for instance. AI was not in a position to do much in a practical way about this issue. It was not a political party, a trade union nor a charity with the resources to distribute food, medicine, build homes, etc. in the areas where these things were needed. While a government may well be embarrassed by world publicity about individual political prisoners, the use of torture, about unfair trials, etc. and may well be prompted to act accordingly to rectify these injustices, can these same governments really be expected to take any notice of AI when it says people are not getting enough wages, food or shelter and the government ought to do something about it?

For myself and my colleagues on the front desk and switchboard it made our job impossible. If someone rang or came in complaining they were not being paid enough, were we supposed to refer them to the research team of that country to campaign for their wages to be increased? What about the drunk who wandered in one day from Rosebery Avenue, can of beer in hand, and complained to me on Reception that Lord Rosebery had not left him any money in his Will? Was I supposed to take that up as an ‘economic and social right’ he had been denied? Where were we supposed to draw the line?

It was ironic that just as the Soviet bloc with its political prisoners collapsed, AI decided to adopt the Soviet version of human rights itself: the right to a job, to free health care, to financial security, etc. All economic and social rights the Soviet Union and its allies prioritized over political rights such as freedom of speech.

To make matters even worse at the time of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism from Al Quaida and other Islamic extremists, AI had a CEO from an Islamic country who made a statement comparing the US imprisonment facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, housing many political prisoners from the Islamic world, to a Soviet gulag. This immediately discredited AI in the eyes of many Americans, however illegal and unjustified the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay was. This sort of statement should certainly never have been made from someone from an Islamic country. In the days of the Cold War AI made certain that criticisms of Soviet policy were not made by Americans and vice versa. There was also the ‘own country’ rule which restricted members from campaigning on behalf of political prisoners in their own country. These things were to insure impartiality and also, in the case of the ‘own country’ rule, to protect members themselves who otherwise might be in danger of arrest and becoming political prisoners themselves.

AI is now all things to all people, and consequently has, in my view, greatly weakened its effectiveness and the once unique character and mission of the organization has disappeared.

Other organizations have suffered a similar fate. When the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, for example, started to get involved in issues like the Vietnam and subsequent non-nuclear wars, and in campaigning against the peaceful uses of nuclear power, it was diluting its main message and alienating some of its support.  The original mission of CND and its predecessor, the Direct Action Committee for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons Tests, was around the issue of nuclear weapons and in particular British nuclear weapons (because CND was a British organization). It called for unilaterial nuclear disarmament by Britain as an initiative to world nuclear disarmament.

It is true that various wars could have escalated into a nuclear confrontation, and also that the main reason for many nuclear power stations was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, but nevertheless getting side-tracked by these other issues deflected CND from its main objective and it also lost a lot of support because of this. Nowadays CND organizes very few national demonstrations against Britain’s nuclear weapons and contents itself with joining in demonstrations organized by the Stop The War Coalition, mainly about the conventional wars and military intervention going on in Afghanistan and Iraq. These really have nothing to do with nuclear weapons or Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system.

It is, in my view, high time both AI and CND got back to their original missions and left the other issues, however related to the main ones, to organizations more equipped to effectively deal with them. AI is not a trade union or political party, neither is CND. Both are essentially single-issue campaigns, and this was always their main strength, gaining them maximum support on these focused aims. Diluting their aims meant also diluting their support and effectiveness.

Gay Support Networks

I look around at my family and friends and there is a vast difference between the heterosexuals in my family and gay friends, especially as we all get older.

My maternal grandparents were fairly independent living in their rented bungalow until my grandmother had an accident, broke her hip and went downhill rapidly, dying a few months later. My grandfather died the following month. In the last few months of their lives, when they needed daily care, my mother gave up her job to look after them.

My paternal grandparents were looked after in their old age by my father’s sister. Two of my uncles had daughters to look after them in their older years (one is now in a care home, but near his other daughter.) I look after my mother who lives nearby in sheltered accommodation. We have our meals together and I take her out, visiting her nearly every day.

There are only a few of our family who don’t have or didn’t have this family care in their older years. My aunt and uncle on my mother’s side never had children, my mother’s sister died a year or so ago, so my uncle is now entirely on his own relying on the help of neighbors (he lives miles away from his blood relations and his in-laws).

My dad was divorced from my mother and went back to his native Cyprus years before he died. He did, however, have a common-law wife living with him.

My gay cousin is on his own, like me in his 60s.

All my gay friends, except two, are now on their own. One died in a residential home last year (his partner had died five years earlier). The residential home was, of course, full of heterosexuals with whom he had little in common.

Another elderly gay friend is in sheltered accommodation, one was last seen wandering round apparently homeless. He was chucked out of the room where he’d lived for years when Arabs took over the house, was offered a flat but apparently never moved in. I have no idea if he’s dead or alive. Another gay friend lives on his own, though has a non-live-in younger partner who visits regularly. The older of the two did act as carer for an older gay man till he died.

The point I’m trying to make is that many gay people, and childless heterosexuals, have nobody to turn to for support in their older years when they may need a great deal of help. It is a constant worry as I see how helpless my own mother would be without my help. She can’t draw her pension since the banks have made it so difficult for old people not used to pin numbers, cash machines and plastic cards – all way beyond her comprehension. She can’t deal with bills or correspondence, can’t do shopping, can only cook light meals, can’t keep or attend hospital and doctor appointments, etc. without assistance. She is totally reliant on me and her cleaner to function. If I die first or am indisposed I don’t know what will happen to her, she’d probably have to go into a care home. My only brother lives in Yorkshire and is out of the country much of the time.

My own life-partner died neary 20 years ago in 1991. I was only 46 then, but am now 66. I have no idea how I’ll cope if I live to my mother’s age (97 next September). There will be no family living near, only distant cousins spread all over the place who I never see from one year to the next. My married brother (no children for them either) is, as I say, up in Yorkshire and I’m lucky if I see him even once a year. There also needs to be practical help for disabled gays of all ages since many in our community don’t have families who can do things like DIY or gardening for us. Many straight older or disabled people can call up a son to come and do something like that for them.

I just feel there should be a support network for older gays, most of whom don’t have children or grandchildren. After all we are all going to get old one day, if we survive that long. I am not aware of any specifically gay organization which provides carers for older gay men and women. There are organizations like THT and CARA for those with HIV who provide some services for those so affected, but not carers that I’m aware of. There are, of course, organizations like Age Concern who provide some services for older people generally, but many council-sponsored carer services seem woefully inadequate from experience I’ve had via friends and my mother.

I did pick up a leaflet today at an older people’s LGBT meeting and the Opening Door Project run by Age Concern for older LGBT people sounds like just the sort of support service I was thinking about, though you will notice not run by gays themselves, though using LGBT volunteers. The one on this leaflet just applies to Central London, i.e. Camden, Islington, Hackney, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster. To qualify you have to live, work or socialize in one of these boroughs. Well I used to work in several before I retired, and I sometimes socialize in several of them.

I don’t feel I need their services at the moment, but in the future I may well need something like this. Among other things they provide increased support for individuals in the LGBT community to remain independent and live at home for longer by recruiting LGBT volunteers to provide befriending to older people and also working in partnership with other local and national agencies.

However this sort of support should not be left to agencies like Age Concern. Surely the gay community is most aware of the needs of the older people in our community and should be providing this support itself through our own organizations. Support so older people can be befriended, live independently in their own homes, be taken out, have sympathetic carer support and if necessary and they so wish, go into residential care with other LGBT people.

I’ve never been one to live in a gay ghetto, and many of my friends and acquaintances are straight, but I can see that many LGBT people like my friend who recently died would have nothing whatsoever in common with other residents in a regular residential care home. He used to stay in his room all day, never conversing with other residents who just would not have understood his background or lifestyle. For those who have mixed in gay circles most of their lives, it must come as a double shock to first have to go into residential care and then mix with mainly straights for the first time in their lives. No wonder many feel totally isolated and alienated living with people with whom they have nothing in common except their age.


Capitalism, totally evil

Just watched a Michael Moore documentary film ‘Capitalism – a love affair’. It was an eye-opener even for a committed Socialist like myself. Did you know that companies in America can take out life insurance policies on their employees for millions of dollars so they are worth more to them dead than alive? They even refer to these as ‘Dead Peasants’ policies, you couldn’t conjure up a more insulting term. When the employee dies or (one has to consider the very real possibility) is murdered by the company, the employer gets rich and the family is left destitute. I hope this law at least is changed by the Barack Obama administration, but even when Moore’s film was made back in 2009 he’d already been got at by the big corporations throwing money at him. Corruption everywhere, that was the message thruout Moore’s film.

Another aspect of the film and capitalism in general was Americans being forced out of their homes by unscrupulous mortgage companies. The film was an eye opener in so many ways. Did you know, for instance, that Franklin D. Roosevelt when President proposed a Bill of Rights which would have guaranteed virtually everything the Soviet Union and the other Socialist countries guaranteed their citizens? The right to employment, a decent wage, to a health service, education, security in old age or in the event of an accident? He conveniently died at the end of World War II and so this Bill of (Socialist) Rights was never enacted.

What this film brought home to me was that unless people rise up and fight for their rights, and then continue to fight and organize, then people will exploit them. Moore featured several cooperatives in America where the workers democratically ran the enterprise and shared in the profits. I’ve always thought cooperatives were the way forward rather than vast State monopolies, and we know from past experience that the capitalist class will, if their system is overthrown, find other ways to try to cling on to their wealth and privilege. What better way than by a new ruling class of State bureaucrats creaming off the best that the State monopolies produce? It does sound remarkably like state capitalism, throwing a few crumbs of comfort to the ‘peasants’.

I think many of the Socialist countries managed a little better than that, but neverthless it is true that they were corrupt at the top and were not true democracies, and their Socialism was badly distorted by a ruling class of privileged bureaucrats who creamed off the best for themselves.

Moore even consulted priests, and they said capitalism was totally evil and against everything Jesus, the Bible and other religions preached about. Granted he could have talked to other priests and evangelists who would have said the opposite, but we can judge for ourselves. No religion says that gathering extreme wealth at the expense of others is a good or desirable thing; all say that material wealth is not the key to happiness or eternal life and that the rich should help the poor.

Of course the ruling classes have twisted this message to keep the ‘peasants’ in their place by saying it is good to be poor and they’ll get their reward in heaven. This is why many of the founders of Communism were atheists and why Karl Marx said that religion was the opiate of the people. We know from experience, however, that an avowedly atheist Communist State can also become very twisted and warped. We have only to look at extreme examples like the Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea/Cambodia, or Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union. Or listen to people like my friend’s mother who said she joined the ruling Hungarian Workers’ Party not  because she was a worker, a Communist or wanted to help the working masses, but to further her career and get perks for herself and her family.

All this tells me that the ordinary people can’t trust anybody, politicians of any description. This is why it is such a tragedy that when Soviet power was handed to people on a platter after the Great October Socialist Revolution they allowed it to slip away from them. In no Socialist country did the people join and become active in the ruling political organizations in sufficient numbers to defeat the careerists and opportunists, and so a new ruling bureaucratic class arose.

The big question is how you get ordinary people to take control of society. Communists believe that the people must govern themselves, that the State must wither away eventually so society becomes fully democratic and self-governing. In order for this to happen people must get used to doing things for themselves and not relyng on others to do it for them.

It seems to me this is yet another argument for a system of cooperatives, such as existed in former Yugoslavia. This not only promotes healthy competition in a Socialist market place, but it means people are organizing for themselves and reaping the benefits.

If they do this in their workplace in a worker cooperative, then they can also do so in their local community thru a soviet or local council, and upward to national and international level.

It is far too dangerous to have a one-party system as I have said many times before because there is then no way of getting rid of this party or coalition without a revolution of some sort. So any future Socialist society must have a multitude of political parties, but the important thing is that people join them and become active in the organization of their choice. You cannot just delegate responsibility to others because power corrupts, and not only that, opportunists will join the political organizations in order to further their own careers and feather their own nests. Relax for one minute, and some bugger will shaft you.

Another lesson from the Moore film. Time and time again workers in America (and other countries of course) had to band together and occupy workplaces, go on strike, support the strikers, etc. to win basic rights. The exploited workers in the developing countries do not do this. The ruthless multinationals paying starvation wages in sweatshop factories, often employing child labor, pick off rebellious workers one by one. Charities whine that these people can’t unionize themselves because the employers will victimize them. What nonsense! That is a cop out – they MUST stick together and organize!

The workers everywhere must stick together and act as one. United we are invincible, but of course if it is left to individuals they will pick us off one by one. We learnt that in the West years ago, but that lesson is being forgotten as the unions get weaker or taken over by bureaucrats themselves.

Again and again the lesson is, trust nobody. You have to take action yourself, you cannot even leave it to union bosses. It is hard for people in the developing countries, but ultimately the answer is to unionize themselves and demand decent wages and working conditions like we in the West did.

The lure of endless credit, also featured in Moore’s documentary, has weakened workers’ resolve to unionize themselves and band together, and also of course got them into terrible debt hence the loss of their homes as in Moore’s film. Credit is no answer as it is unearned income and eventually it will come home to roost, hence the banking crisis. Paper money chasing too few goods and services will eventually prove to be worthless. Short-term profit or wealth is illusory. The whole capitalist system is not only totally evil, it is built on sand and is totally unstable, always on the verge of collapse.

Yet by dangling the carrot of ‘you too could get rich’ Americans in particular have been led to believe that capitalism and the free enterprise system is the best one, the goal to the American dream. In reality it is as false as the pyramid share schemes sold to people in some of the former Socialist countries after they collapsed. There is only one way to create real wealth, and that is by hard work. Karl Marx saw that only labor creates true value and  true wealth, and it also creates surplus value, that is wealth over and above what the laborer needs for their own subsistence.

This is why it is necessary to organize society in such a way that the wealth is shared fairly and cooperatives pay a big role in this form of society. They maintain the competitive element of capitalism, without the exploitation. The fairness of common ownership of the means of production, without the inefficiency of State monopolies and the exploitation by the bureacrats who run them.

By sticking together and organizing ourselves, whether it be in a privately owned work place, a cooperative, a political organization, or in running society itself,  we can guarantee that decent wages and working conditions are obtained, and eventually, that society as a whole becomes much fairer.

America was described by the Citibank organization in Moore’s film as not a democracy but a plutocracy, in which the 1% owning 95% of the wealth in effect ran the country. Even when Congress voted not to bail out the banks due to public pressure, Wall Street had Congress in their pockets and reversed this decision. It makes you think that the rumors about secret societies like the Illuminati actually  running the United States might actually have some basis in fact, and who knows, this could apply to the old Soviet Union and other countries as well. So that whatever system was in place anywhere in the world, they looked after their own.

Whatever the truth, it seems we cannot trust employers or politicians and need to get actively involved ourselves in order to protect rights already won and certainly to create a fairer society worldwide and a more equal share of the world’s wealth.

It is also true that the position of wealth and privilege of the few will not be given up without a fight, but on the other hand bloody revolution usually leads to bloody repression which is then turned against the people themselves. Apparently, according to an article in the Weekly Worker (organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain), even Lenin and Trotsky contemplated shooting one in ten of every idle workers, and other repressive measures were used such as massacres of whole families of those who supported the White armies. Then Stalin came along and killed millions, many of them loyal Communists and Socialists, and Pol Pot of course is yet another genocidal maniac hiding behind the banner of Communism.

When faced with those who hold wealth, power and privilege who refuse to give it up the only answer is for total solidarity by the ordinary people they exploit. Wherever and whenever they must stick together and by sheer weight of numbers they will win. Only in the very last resort when absolutely necessary should violence be used, such as if striking workers are faced with being shot for instance, then of course the necessary action must be taken to prevent such atrocities taking place.

But all over the world many victories have been won without resorting to such extremes just by workers coming together and organizing, and no  better example is there than the cooperative venture which can exist in a capitalist society or a Socialist one. Indeed by organizing ourselves into cooperatives we could have a form of creeping Socialism or Communism which comes about via the back door.

Exploited workers in the developing countries should take note. If unions are too difficult to organize because of ruthless employers, then they should consider forming worker cooperatives and use their skills to obtain a fair renumeration for their labor.

Unions, cooperatives, political organizations – we must be active in all of these constantly if we are to make this world a fairer and better place and rid the world both of capitalism and the corrupt, distorted form of Socialism which has existed previously.

Strange country, weird practices.

I’m referring to the USA, and often Canada as well since it is so close geographically and culturally to its southern neighbor.

They have practices which are totally unknown anywhere else, but seem to be completely oblivious of the fact that the rest of the world knows nothing about things they take for granted. Perhaps this is true of all cultures, but then the rest of the world, by and large, don’t export their culture abroad so much as Americans.

Many of the practices and strange expressions center around their schools and universities. Thus we have songs about ‘class rings’ which apparently are exchanged by pupils of the opposite sex (maybe the same sex too nowadays) who ‘date’. Dating is also unknown in most schools outside the United States, as are Proms where students apparently dress up to the nines and ‘date’ each other. At my college the nearest we got to this were end of term dances where the girls all danced with the teachers to records, the boys all sat round the school hall bored to tears. None of the boys in my class ‘dated’.

As to ‘class rings’ I imagined this must refer to a ring of drug-pushers in the American schools, but apparently it’s some piece of cheap jewelry (or bling in modern British parlance) students get on graduation. In British high schools we never graduated either, so there was no graduation day.

Then there are Frats or Fraternities in American universities, with dubious ‘hazing’ practices, often with heavy enforced gay initiation rites, also unknown outside North America. Not to mention strange words like ‘sophomore’ to describe first year students I believe.

But Americans are a strange bunch altogether. They celebrate Labor Day in September, when everyone else in the world celebrates it on May 1st. Americans celebrate Mothers’ Day in May when it is actually, of course, Mothering Sunday a few weeks before Easter. They even celebrate Christmas in November, or at least something very similar with turkey, etc. – they call it Thanksgiving.

Latest thing I discovered on the Internet about USA are adult video arcades. I’ve visited that country many times, but never had occasion to visit these places apparently attached to sex shops over there. Adult video arcades are also uniquely North American showing mainly straight porn, apparently, but frequented by gays, bisexuals and heterosexuals who often participate in sexual activities in these places. If you want to know more look it up on Wikipedia (adult video arcade),  it’s quite fascinating and seems to take the place of what was known as ‘cottaging’ in Britain, a practice which has largely died out along with the prevalence of many public conveniences.

The 1950s culture coming out of America epitomized their strange teenage culture of exchanging class rings, driving automobiles, dating and attending drive-in movies. All activities virtually unknown to British teenagers at the time. Very few teenagers drove cars, and indeed a family would be quite well-off to own a car.

Most strange of all, perhaps, is the amount of food Americans consume. Go to any American restaurant or self-service establishment and you’ll be amazed at what they serve up. I have vivid recollections of a coach tour in 1979 when we stopped at a restaurant in New England, ordered roast beef and a joint turned up on each of our plates big enough to feed a family of four for several days. When we pointed this out to the waitress her attitude was that we poor Brits must be starving! On a trip to Memphis in the 1990s when I ordered steak no less than seven turned up on the plate. As for sandwiches, well ask in a New York Deli for a beef sandwich and after going thru a list of about 50 different types of bread to choose from, an enormous sandwich will turn up with half a joint of beef sliced up inside it.

Not content with guzzling about 10 times their share of food, hence the enormous size of some Americans, they are fast depleting the world’s oil supplies by totally relying on motor vehicles in most places outside the big cities like Chicago and New York. I’m sorry to say this practice has been adopted in Britain as well, with many families having several cars. The ‘school run’ has become one thing deemed essential to have a car for, when we had to walk to school and it did us no harm.

There are many things I like about America, but there is no doubt it is a unique culture, and one which is exported thru films, TV programs, etc. thruout the world.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why I use what is considered American spelling there’s a blog on this – just search under ‘Spelling’ if you’re interested. I actually choose how to spell from the many variations listed in the Scrabble and other dictionaries. I use British spellings for some words.

Wrong type of market?

Recently our local traditional Saturday market has been invaded by some expensive yuppy newcomers selling trendy foodstuffs at greatly inflated prices.

OK, it has enlivened the depleted Battersea High Street market, which used to have many stalls and operated on Fridays as well as Saturdays. But are the newcomers the right kind of market for this street?

We’ve all heard of the wrong kind of leaves, snow and now sun which stops trains running on time at various times of the year, but now I’m worried that the wrong kind of market stalls in Battersea High Street will drive out the working-class traders on whom many of us rely for our fresh produce and cheap groceries/household products.

The regular stalls include a fruit and veg stall, a butcher’s van, a stall selling groceries and household products, plus the odd plant, CD and clothes stall. All very reasonable, even cheap.

The newcomers sell trendy yuppy-type foodstuffs at greatly inflated prices, of little interest to the working-class shoppers who use the other stalls.

Of course Battersea is now a very mixed area, with the white-dominated millionaires’ row along the River, the largely ethnic council estates where I live, and the oases of ex-council estates sold off to yuppies in order to obtain a permanent Tory majority in the borough.

Trendy wine bars and restaurants have already closed down traditional pie and mash shops, working-class cafes, barbers, etc. Trendy high-priced yuppy stalls have also ruined nearby Northcote Road market, where one used to be able to buy cheap fruit and veg and fish, etc.

If I wanted to pay £3+ for a loaf of bread or a tiny pie filled with yuppy muck and squalor instead of the working class steak, kidney and gravy then I’d go to Harrods or somewhere similar.

Battersea High Street (a misnomer for a narrow street with hardly any shops) is the last traditional, working-class market in the immediate area, and I just hope it isn’t driven out by the yuppy newcomers. Long gone are the costermongers who made up bargain lots and drew large crowds by shouting out as they did so.

I do hope I’m not reduced to buying all my fruit, veg and meat from the big supermarkets. Shopping in my local market every Saturday for these things not only saves me money, but is a traditional experience I’d be reluctant to forego.

Perhaps there’s room for both types of market in Battersea High Street, but I just hope the prices for a pitch are not raised so high they drive out the bargain stalls like they did in Northcote Road.

Anyone for a slice of spinach and ricotta quiche at £3.50 or so? No thanks, you can keep your posh tarts at your posh prices. Oh for an old-fashioned British meat pie with the gravy running down yer chin!

Wildest Cats In Town Weekender

Just back from a another great rock’n’roll Weekender at Pontins, Pakefield.

Dave Savage (Great Balls of Fire)

Friday nite Dave Savage and The Savages did a great tribute act to Screamin’ Lord Sutch, but it was much more than that. It included rock-horror and spectacular magic/illusionist tricks such as sawing thru a woman’s arm, spectacular fire effects during ‘Great Balls of Fire’ which set the fire alarms off and three fire engines heading our way, and a mock execution of  ‘Jack The Ripper’ by guillotine. There was fake blood and severed heads and writhing severed hands, and songs included Murder In The Graveyard, Jack The Ripper, I’m a Hog For You Baby (all songs his screamin’ Lordship sung) but also the great Alligator Wine by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Dave has a good voice, and the only sad note was after the show at his stall where he said he doesn’t usually do this act any more as it takes such a lot of setting up and clearing away afterwards. If he’s invited back to Pakefield or other Weekenders, I hope he does do this whole act, including being carried on stage in a casket like Sutch and Hawkins used to do.

Robert Gordon was the American headliner Friday nite, and I have to admit he has a good, strong voice, but he’s never been my favorite, though he got a good reception and others really liked him. The evening was closed by Furious, the young Teddy Boy band, with a new drummer (the previous one, very good, is now in CorrupTED, also playing this weekender).


There were other bands on earlier, but we didn’t arrive till late, and some were in the other hall. Saturday was the Beach Party, and the weather was great all weekend. Jiving and bopping on the beach to the Two Hound Dogs’ record hop.

Johnny Farina

I caught Johnny Farina on his steel guitar later that afternoon, backed by the Di Maggio Connection. Great sounds including ‘Sleepwalk’. Rudy Grayzell was the American headliner that evening, a manic little guy who has plenty of energy for a man his age. ‘Don’t Mess With My Ducktails’ being one of the songs, many others had nonsense lyrics in the style of good old fashioned rock’n’roll.

Rudy Grayzell

Lou Cifer and the Hellions from Germany next, a Teddyboy style group, then the smooth Si Cranstoun, who is playing all the main Weekenders this year it seems. His ‘Dynamo’ is very popular, and he went thru a number of other self-penned numbers and towards the end of his very popular set included a great rendition of Jackie Wilson’s ‘Reet Petite’ very close to the original, also ‘I Got A Woman’ and ‘Twistin’ The Nite Away’.

The evening finished well after midnite with my favorite British group, Crazy Cavan and The Rhythm Rockers who I’ve been following for about 40 years now. Nice to see Mike Coffey back on drums (I believe he sometimes lives in Canada). This Welsh group never fail to excite, and there was the usual stage invasion with Dixie flags waving. As soon as they start playing,  it’s impossible to keep still.

Travis Le Doyt and Ritchie Gee

Sunday was the classic car cruise to Lowestoft to greet Travis Le Doyt, the American headliner that evening. Travis looks and sounds remarkably like a young Elvis Presley, and on Lowestoft seafront we also had Danny & The Seniors playing live, the Two Hound Dogs record hop and jiving from the jive champions, among others.

Travis Le Doyt

Sandy Ford (Flyin’ Saucers)

Back to Pontins to catch Flyin’ Saucers, another of my favorite British groups which I’ve also been following since the 1970s. Sandy Ford, lead singer, doesn’t look a day older and they perform as well as they ever did even with their slimmed-down line-up since the 70s. His wife Yvonne on slap-bass and electric bass.

Yvonne (Flyin’ Saucers)

In the evening I caught a bit of the Fireballs, dad and two teenage sons on guitars, both very competent – one 18 one just turned 15.



Then in the main hall the Capitols doing a tribute to the early Gene Vincent, complete with caps. Then Travis Le Doyt running thru early Presley numbers and taking a roving microphone to sing amongst the crowd twice. He’s far superior to many of the Elvis impersonators, and sticks to the 1950s songs and image before the flab and jumpsuit era.



The weekend closed with the fantastic Lennerockers from Germany with their great stage acrobatics, self-penned and standard numbers, all sung and played excellently.


It was 1 am when Graham Fenton’s Matchbox took the stage, and he also included a Gene Vincent tribute, this time the later version in his black leather period (my favorite Vincent era) with three of my favorite Vincent songs ‘Baby Blue’, ‘Be-bop-a-lula’ and ‘Over The Rainbow’ (OK, a Judy Garland song originally, but Vincent’s version was the best in my opinion). During a series of encores the stage was one big party, Dixie flags and cats dancing. I’d restrained myself for Furious and Cavan during the stage invasions, but couldn’t hold back this time, and joined the others on stage. What an end to a fantastic weekend!

Graham Fenton’s Matchbox

Only drawback was the Queen Vic self-service restaurant which had plenty of forks but a lack of knives for some strange reason, and also they were slow replenishing some of the vegetables. This has never happened before, so perhaps staff shortages were to blame. I also noticed two Bluecoats, not usually seen during Weekenders, helping out the bar staff in the main hall.

Some video clips of the Weekender which I took can be found on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxXovvm2SHU

 I’ve already booked with two friends for next July (all three of us in our chalet) when The Collins Kids, Wanda Jackson and Sleepy La Beef are the headliners.

Before that I’ve got the Mistletoe & Wine mid-week break (Mon-Fri) in November immediately followed by the Wildest Cats In Town Xmas Party. I’m taking my mother, who’ll then be 97, to this double Pontins break.

And I’m also going to the Rhythm Riot! at Pontins, Camber Sands in November. MaryJean, Jerry Lee’s niece, will be performing there with her band, and at next July’s Wildest Cats. She attends every year with her partner Gary, and it was so nice to meet up with them again this year.


Inter-generational and Inter-racial meetings

At  the venue where we have a senior citizens’ drama group and a pensioners’ lunch club we had a project meeting there weekly last month which involved senior citizens and adolescents from a local school playing games, telling stories, etc.( I believe prisoners from Wandsworth were also involved in this project, but of course they weren’t allowed out to join in this interaction! They were the third group in this project.)

For myself and my mother it was a very new experience since we have no contact whatsoever with this younger generation. Since I retired I rarely meet with anyone under 50. My mother is also totally isolated from younger generations. Neither I nor my brother have any children or grandchildren, and nephews/nieces of my mother and their offspring are hardly ever seen from one year to the next. Most of these offspring we’ve never even met.

So meeting with teenagers and interacting with them was truly an eye-opening experience. You see them on the streets and tend to imagine they all go around in gangs armed with knives and guns, well that’s the impression you get from the newspapers. These teenagers we met were affected by such things, a 20 or 21 year old cousin of two of them and friend of another was stabbed to death on a nearby council estate just last week, and one boy read a story he’d written about it, questioning what sort of world we were living in. It was very moving, and overall the whole month was a really worthwhile experience.

There’s another event in this project at their school on July 18th, which we’ll attend, but after that goodness knows when we’ll get the opportunity to meet with the younger generation again. I’m sure it was mutually rewarding, and evidence of this was yesterday’s final meet-up. School teachers, among others, were on strike, yet most of the pupils turned up for the meeting with us older people of their own accord. They had a day off school, yet still made the effort to give up their spare time to talk with senior citizens, I found that very impressive indeed. When I was at school and had a day off I doubt if I’d have done the same, but I’ve certainly have attended if it meant missing some school lessons!

It was not just intergenerational, but inter-racial as well. It is very noticeable that at the center where we have our lunch club and drama group the majority in both these groups are of British or European ethnic origin. The lunch club has one member of Afro-Caribbean ethnic origin, and the senior citizens’ drama group two. The nursery and the younger peoples’ groups who meet at the same center, however, are overwhelmingly of ethnic origin, as are all the State schools in the area. The demographics and ethnic mix between generations in this area, and all inner city areas, has changed so dramatically.

So to meet young people from a different ethnic background, some of them Muslims, was also a really novel and rewarding experience. There should be more of these sort of projects.