Saturday, 27 June 2015

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The House of Vulgar People

The House of Vulgar People

The following is an extract from my memoir All Aboard The Calaboose, of my days in the Merchant Navy 1959-1966. It deals with one of the most frequented seamen’s bars in the world, Joe Beef’s of Montreal. My first visit there was a real eye-opener. Now read on …

‘He cares not for the Pope, Priest, Parson or King William of the Boyne; All Joe wants is the Coin. He trusts in God in the summer time to keep him from all harm; when he sees the first frost and snow poor old Joe trusts the Almighty Dollar and good maple wood to keep his belly warm. For Churches, chapels, ranters, preachers, beechers and such stuff, Montreal has already got enough.’

Statement printed on a card given out in Montreal
by Charles McKiernan, a.k.a. Joe Beef (1835-1889)

The New York Times was not impressed, however, calling Joe Beef's Canteen "a den of filth" and writing that:

The proprietor is evidently an educated man, and speaks and writes well. But he is a little nearer a devil and his place near what the revised version calls Hades than anything I ever saw.

Beef was known for keeping a menagerie of animals in his tavern, including four black bears, ten monkeys, three wild cats, a porcupine and an alligator. The bears were usually kept in the tavern's cellar and viewed by customers through a trap door in the barroom floor. He sometimes brought a bear up from the basement to restore order in his tavern, to fight with his dogs or play a game of billiards with the proprietor. One of his bears, Tom, had a daily consumption of twenty pints of beer and would sit on his hindquarters and hold a glass between his paws without spilling a drop. On one occasion, McKiernan was mauled by a buffalo on exhibit and was sent to hospital for a number of days. Another time, a Deputy Clerk of the Peace was inspecting the tavern in order to renew the license and was bitten by one of McKiernan's dogs.

He ran his tavern from 1870 until his death from a heart attack in 1889, at the age of 54

Here’s me: Sailing Into Montreal: July 1960.

Montreal. At last the feeling I had anticipated about what lay at this side of the Atlantic was being borne out. This may not have been Manhattan or Brooklyn, but it all felt very, very American, despite the continuing insistence on dual languages. When we were given an early finish the crew all seemed very animated. It was a fine, mild day and everyone went to the Steward for a sub. I asked Bill Smith what was afoot.
   “Joe Beef of Montreal, The friend of the working man.”
   “What does that mean?” I asked.
   “It means we’re all going for some good cheap beer to Joe Beef’s bar. It’s what a sailor does in Montreal.” And so we did. Yes, the beer was cheap, we drank plenty of it, and I was lucky to get into the busy establishment at all with my fresh-faced 17 year old looks. I just tagged along and found somewhere out of sight to sit and let others go to the bar. As I would subsequently discover, there were specialist, boozy destinations like this all around the coastlines of the world where sailors, dockers and working men would congregate, and we were the lucky ones because we were the travelling workers and could experience them all. That said, few if any establishments would possess as colourful a history as Joe Beef’s.
 Later in life, I delved further into the story behind this popular watering hole, and the result was nothing if not inspiring.
     Charles McKiernan, who became known as Joe Beef, was born in Ireland in 1835 but found his way to Montreal as a soldier in the British army. Apparently he was a quartermaster and always on the look-out for stores, and when meat rations were down, he always seemed to find some source of supply, becoming known to the squaddies thus earning the name ‘Joe Beef’. In 1868, he bought his way out of the army and became the champion of Montreal’s working class when he opened the Crown and Sceptre Tavern on St. Claude Street behind Marché Bonsecours. It soon became known as Joe Beef’s canteen where the labouring classes, as well as the unemployed, the destitute and the drifters could get a free lunch, cheap beds, and dubious entertainment between 1868 and 1889.
     Beef had no time for the lofty, church-going powers-that-be who ran Montreal and Quebec province. It was a time before such luxuries as social security when the only charitable help available came from the church.
When St-Claude Street was widened in 1870, he moved to larger quarters, a three-storey building located on Common Street. Joe liked to ruffle the feathers of the upper classes and the law by calling his own establishment the ‘Great house of Vulgar People.’
Social services led by religious groups encouraged those who sought help to sign a pledge to abstain from ‘intoxicating drinks.’ But Joe knew what a down and out working man needed; a drink and a bit of fun. Therefore his booze-fuelled charity was very welcome.

His generosity was appreciated, and despite spreading around the wealth his bar earned to the less fortunate, his assets were still valued at $80,000 at his death, a vast sum in those days. Joe Beef’s canteen was also a kind of early job centre or labour exchange, and he was always agreeable to lend out the tools necessary to get a day’s work, such as shovelling snow. If you were down and out, with nowhere to rest your head, for 10 cents you could sleep in Joe’s dormitory, be given a meal, (even if you didn’t have the 10c). The only condition was that you would be given a bath, disinfected, and required to sleep naked to keep his sheets clean.
     In Victorian Montreal, public drunkenness which could get you arrested and fined for disorderly conduct, or ‘vagabondism’. Those who were unable to pay a fine of about $1.50-$2.50 could be imprisoned for a period of around 10-15 days. Unable to work while they were imprisoned, their families would often be the ones to suffer most. Above his bar, Joe Beef hung a portrait of the town Recorder with a number of dollar bills tucked into the corner of the frame. With these, he paid the fines of his regular customers. He supported striking miners and canal labourers, sending them bread when they were locked out, yet at the same time, demonstrated his magnanimity  by sending the same supplies to the militias who were controlling the situation.
   But there was more to Joe Joe’s philanthropy than paying his customers’ fines and lending out tools to workers. He raised $500 a year for the Montreal General Hospital, and was prepared to support the hospital by providing a doctor to do house-calls in the working-class areas, but this was an offer turned down by the starchy, sanctimonious higher echelons running Montreal. They wanted nothing to do with a man who peddled alcohol and lewd entertainment.

     50 years ago when our crew breezed in, Joe Beef’s was still, in some ways, the ‘House of Vulgar People’. Yet vulgar people can be fun, and our vulgarity was portable. But boy, did we have some good times in Joe Beef’s bar.

Want to read much more? You can get All Aboard The Calaboose from me - just send me an e-mail and I'll tell you how. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Denying Shakespeare

Treasons, Stratagems and Spoils

The Bludgeoning of  The Bard

Speaking at your daughter’s funeral is a terrible task for a father. So in those harrowing days of grief following our Sarah’s untimely death, aged 46, on December 23, 2012, I struggled with the dilemma of what I might say to the mourners. This also raised a serious question of conscience. As a writer in love with literature, poetry and prose, and being no stranger to public speaking, I felt that those attending at Mansfield’s Crematorium on January 4th 2013 would expect me to speak. Yet I had to somehow separate the possible conceit of a ‘performance’ from the very sad reality of the situation.
    Births, marriages and deaths are those occasions when the ordinary man faces the terror of expected oratory. So in those 12 days, which included the incompatible ‘festive season’ of Christmas and Hogmanay, between Sarah’s departure and her funeral, whilst for me there was no terror to face, there was another mountain to climb; emotion. This wasn’t some poetry slam or a reading at a writer’s club. I was saying goodbye to our first-born.
   There are some poems I have recited where the passion of the words is so visceral that I struggle not to weep; for example, Wait for Me by Konstantin Simonov. Our daughter wasn’t an intellectual. She was a fun-loving music and film fan whose inner compassion was released in her lifelong occupation as a carer and an NHS nurse. Yet I had to find some words which expressed the way I would feel on that awful day. So, even though I knew that Sarah’s reaction would have been “What the bloody hell is he on about!?” there would only be one man to go to for such an event: William Shakespeare.
   Our son, Martin, an English Scholar whose PhD thesis was entitled Tragedy in The Age of Shakespeare gave a poignant and emotional eulogy on the theme of his closeness to his beloved sister. I felt it contained much of the plain, domestic aspects I might have overlooked. Sarah’s husband, our son in law, Ivan, had done something I ought to have been capable of; no terror for him - he had written a poem which reduced us to tears.  Yet despite my misgivings over my choice, I mounted the lectern to speak and commenced with the only words which matched my grief.

I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

Fighting back the tears was difficult. I then reminded the gathering that Sarah would have been more than bemused by her Dad’s peculiar choice, and continued my eulogy around what she meant to us and her place in the family. Yet although I knew what Sarah might have thought about my choice of the Bard, (who at least did say it is a wise father that knows his own child), he got me through an emotional public bottleneck where my own creativity might have failed miserably.

Why is Shakespeare Important?
He was naturally learned;
he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature.
He looked inwards, and found her there.

John Dryden (1631–1700) Essay of Dramatic Poesy

Ben Jonson dubbed William Shakespeare ‘Sweet Swan of Avon’, saying ‘He was not of an age, but for all time!’ Most of the world agrees. Laurence Olivier once commented that with Shakespeare we touch "the face of God" If you look at the way Good Will was regarded by the major poets and writers across the literary spectrum, you’ll find no shortage of justified adulation. His greatness only came to me, a rough-hewn hack with three paltry GCE O levels, after years of blundering through reading matter and frequently gasping at some brilliant line, asking ‘Who the hell wrote that!’ only to discover is was that man yet again. Why does his work span the whole globe as the greatest benchmark in drama and verse, translated and performed in just about every language? To me, it is because he speaks of humanity in such a timeless way, and touches every emotion. And so I find an aggravating perversity in the fact that there exists a tight conclave of academics and, sadly, famous Thespians, who stubbornly believe that William Shakespeare was a fraud who wrote next to nothing. Why do they believe this?

The Anti-Stratfordians.
Mark Rylance

Al Pacino once said that actor Mark Rylance played the Bard "like Shakespeare wrote it for him the night before". Yet Rylance, who surely owes a great percentage of his fame to Shakespeare, leads the pack of hounds who refuse to believe that the Swan of Avon was anything more than his chief American detractor, Delia Bacon (1811-1859) said was ‘no more than a 'vulgar, illiterate...deer poacher' and 'Lord Leicester's stable boy.'  Shockingly, Rylance is joined in his thoughts by such other beneficiaries of Will’s talent as Sir Derek Jacobi, and even Vanessa Redgrave. Further back, giants such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a writer named Herbert Lawrence, (who was a close friend of another Shakespearian Thespian, David Garrick), Benjamin Disraeli and the great Mark Twain all clambered on board the ‘Shakespeare was an illiterate nobody’ band wagon.
Pacino as Shylock
The festering root of this calumny has to be the peculiar hate-filled obsession of  America’s Delia Bacon, who spent three years in England in the mid-19th century  locked in a cold, damp room attempting to ‘prove’ Shakespeare’s talent was the combined outpourings of Walter Raleigh, Edmund Spenser and Francis Bacon, all members of a secret Elizabethan society which also included Sir Philip Sidney, Lord Buckhurst, the Earl of Oxford, and Lord Paget. She referred to Shakespeare starkly as ‘that wretched player’. This gathering of Elizabethan toffs, according to the erratic
Over grilled, over-cooked, and
unfortunately, over here.
and ill-informed ramblings of dotty Delia, saw the plays as a way to  promote their  radical political philosophies, and not seeking to be recognised for their ‘beliefs’ used Will’s name as a convenient umbrella. Yet she stubbornly refused to examine primary sources, avoided the reading room at the British Museum, and relied totally on her own in-built Transatlantic prejudice, writing to Nathaniel Hawthorne that “There was no man dead or alive, that really on the whole gave me so much cause of offense with his contradictions. He appeared to be such a standing disgrace to genius and learning, that I had not the heart to ask anybody to study anything." Her subsequent 600 page book The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded was roundly trashed by the critics as the uninformed junk it undoubtedly was, but like all subsequent conspiracy theories, from Apollo 11, 9/11 to aliens crashing at Roswell, she had set a dirty snowball rolling down history’s muddy hill. How bizarre, therefore, that it would attract the rapt attention of seemingly intelligent people like Rylance, Jacobi and Redgrave.
Mr. Looney ...
if the name fits ...
Years later, the mission to destroy Shakespeare had a new controller. The suitably named John Thomas Looney (1870 –1944) an English Tyneside school teacher who kick-started the ‘Oxfordian’ theory, that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550–1604) was the true author of Shakespeare's plays. Looney began his philosophical life as a Methodist, later becoming an adept of something called the Religion of Humanity. It wasn’t enough for Looney to suggest that de Vere was the author of most of Shakespeare’s poems and plays. He went on to claim that de Vere had also written works published under the names of other poets. Looney, like Delia Bacon, might have been forgotten by now but they have remained as grubby compass points for Bard deniers everywhere.
   Inevitably, in this writer’s lowly, blue-collar proletarian opinion, this is a question of class consciousness. A Stratford dullard? The agrarian son of a country glove maker? A lower middle class lad with scant education? How on earth could he compete with classically educated Earls, Lords and Princes? No, it wasn't possible. Where did he get his vocabulary from? Did he steal it? Did a humble gypsy like Django Reinhardt, even with a missing finger, become the greatest jazz guitarist because he mixed with European aristocrats? Then again, as Oscar Wilde said, “Really, if the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?” One thing’s for sure, though, and that is much of art has, in the past 200 years, become the domain (and in many cases the property) of the higher echelon of society. Go to any gallery opening, opera, literary fiction event, and you won’t see many plumbers, bricklayers or even glove makers. Yet Shakespeare’s words slice through everything. However, this sad story is about denial; a refusal to accept that a man from ‘the lower orders’ could, simply by living, listening and reading, eventually leave behind for humanity a semantic treasure chest of such value, passion and human understanding.
   So I’m sorry, Messrs. Rylance, Jacobi and Redgrave (herself a so-called champion of ‘the Working Class’) until you absolutely prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bacon, the Earl of Oxford or any other of the ‘noble’ notables propping up your beliefs produced Good Will’s fine work, I’m having none of it.
   The deniers, however, have their opponents among those with as much experience with the Bard as they do. For a number of years Trevor Nunn, directed the Royal Shakespeare Company. He said "To accept that someone from the lower orders, not formally educated at Oxford or Cambridge, could be a genius is very hard for us." Similar sentiments are expressed by Peter Hall, who founded and directed the RSC from 1960 to 1968.
So Shakespeare’s words darted between the tears to send my dear departed daughter to the heaven she deserved. Maybe I should say that whoever wrote the plays and sonnets, we should still praise the Lord they exist. But I shall always have the Great Man’s visage in my thoughts. In any case, as the poet said: 

Scorn not the Sonnet: Critic, you have frowned, 
Mindless of its just honours; with this key 
Shakespeare unlocked his heart.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Miscellaneous Sonnets

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Friendship's Timepiece


Should we be poetic and sentimental over material things? Wordsworth went for the organic, nature, with his daffodils. Can you wax lyrical over a wristwatch? No? If that’s the answer, I stand in defiance.


Your black face, your red star,
Your inaudible tick-tock,
Your rugged brassy metal,
I have stared at you upon my wrist
For almost half a life.

Nightly, sitting tired and aging
Upon the mattress edge,
I wind you up again,
And through your scratched glass
The symbol of a struggle flickers.

Who made you, sturdy tovarich?
Who put that symbol of defiance,
That T34 upon your face?
Who sat at a Christopol bench,
Assembling meticulous movement?

Comrade Vostok, snug upon my wrist,
You have marked the times,
Red second hand sweeping
Chronometer marking,
Moments of love and of grief.

Kommandirskie, you are as tough
As the people who made you
As victorious as your tanks
My biology is transient
Your horology lives on.

The story of how I got my watch always reminds me of a better side of humanity and friendship. In 1986, I was working as a sales representative for a typesetting company in Grimsby. I was driving 1,000 miles per week throughout the UK. Our speciality was setting complicated timetables for bus companies and airlines. One such customer was Midland Red Buses in Rugby. One Monday, I received a phone call in our Grimsby office from Midland Red, where I was due to visit the following day.
    “Roy. Could you do us a favour? We’ve got a young Russian student here from Leningrad. He came over to study computer-assisted shipbuilding at Wallsend, but somehow ended up in Walsall. As his funds have run out, he’s ended up studying our transport system instead, but we’ve had the poor lad in the office for the past few days and don’t know what to do with him. He speaks good English. We’ve clubbed together and bought him some trainers, but if he’s studying business he’ll need to report back in the USSR about more than just our bus fleet. Any chance you could take him on the road with you for a couple of days to show him what a UK salesman does?”
I said I’d have to run it past my boss. He was a tight-fisted, awkward commercial pedant and I had to use all my guile to convince him that we’d simply be fostering good Anglo-Soviet relationships. He sneeringly agreed, adding
   “But we’re not paying for any of his meals or drinks or accommodation, and he travels in the company car at his own risk, and don’t let his presence interfere with your work, and get rid of him as soon as you can.” Such corporate humanity was underwhelming.
    So the next day in Derby, I picked up my young guest, the handsome, 18 year old Edward Emdin, and never have I experienced such delighted company. I was driving a new 2 litre Granada Ghia and to Edward it seemed as if he was on Sunset Strip in a Cadillac. We were bound for London for 2 days. He asked many questions. Being an incorrigible leftie and an admirer of early Soviet history, I became slightly bemused by his own less than enthusiastic take on the subject. I arranged for us to stay over that night with a good friend, another unrepentant Bolshevik, Bill Brewster. We decided that night to go for a meal and a few pints at the Slug and Lettuce in Islington. As we ambled along the streets en route to the pub, Edward stopped several times when he saw fly-posters on walls put there by organisations such as the Socialist Workers’ Party.
    “Roy! Bill!” he cried, “What is this? I see pictures of Lenin and Trotsky on your streets? How is this permitted in London? Why are they here?”
We explained the awkward concept of our freedom of political expression. But we could see that, Russian or not, young Edward’s passion for Soviet Icons hardly matched ours. We bought him a meal, I think it was either pasta or a pizza, and in the pub told him he could have anything he wanted. We drank plenty of beer, with Edward settling on Guinness as his favourite. Having little or no money, he frequently expressed his gratitude for our generosity. He was a young man of impeccable manners, and both Bill and I liked him a lot.
   The following day I let Edward accompany me on several calls to London bus companies, explaining to their marketing managers that his presence was part of some Anglo-Soviet education project. I think in those Reagan/Thatcher months of ‘the Evil Empire’ some of my customers thought I’d lost my marbles.
But Edward was diligent, took note of everything, and expressed his deep appreciation for 48 unexpected hours in the company of a stranger. I dropped him off in Walsall and we exchanged addresses. He later wrote to me from Leningrad and we kept in touch.
    Months later, I received another call in our Grimsby office. It was Edward. He was back in the UK, this time in Coventry. We met up and had lunch, and as we parted that day, he handed me a small parcel, telling me it was a gift in appreciation of our friendship. Thus I received my Vostok Kommandirskie T34 Tank officer’s watch. For almost three decades this rugged timepiece with its butch black leather strap has graced my aging wrist and kept accurate time. At midnight I wind it up, and as I gaze at the little image of the T34 tank and the red star above it, I think of Edward.
   Yet that meeting in Coventry would not be our last.
In 1997 I finally succumbed to my raging muse and took the risk of writing full time for a living. As the new millennium kicked in, my first major commission was for Honoured By Strangers, a biography of a forgotten WW1 naval hero, Captain Francis Cromie CB DSO RN (1882-1918) Cromie had commanded the Royal Navy’s Baltic submarine flotilla in 1915, fighting alongside the Tsar’s navy against the Germans. But when the revolution broke, Trotsky pulled Russia out of the war. Cromie scuppered his subs, sent his 200 men home via Murmansk, and stayed behind as Naval Attaché in the British Embassy in Petrograd, simultaneously conducting an adulterous liaison with a beautiful socialite, Sonya Gagarin. Defending the British Embassy against invading Red Guards on August 31 1918, he was shot dead and is buried in what is now St. Petersburg.
   It was a sheer delight being sent to St. Petersburg by Saga magazine, accompanied by my good friend the photographer Graham Harrison, to write up Cromie’s story as a 2-part feature which helped to promote the ensuing book. Whilst there, a planned trip to Tallin went badly wrong when, at the Estonian border I discovered that my visa was inadequate, and I had to leave the train in the middle of the night. I was banged up by border guards in a station called Kingisett on the Russian border. In the morning I was bundled back onto a train bound for St. Petersburg, where I had no accommodation booked. Graham Harrison had stayed behind in St.P to take pictures, but I was alone with nowhere to stay until we would both meet up again three days later. I had Edward Emdin’s phone number. Would it work after all this time? From a booth at the Warsaw Station I called, and the minute I said ‘Edward?’ the reply came back; “Roy?” Within an hour he had collected me from the station and taken me to his apartment, where I would stay for the next three nights.

Svetlana and Edward Emdin outside the Baron Steiglitz Museum

    Buses or shipbuilding had not had any influence on his post-Soviet career. He was married to a delightful lady called Svetlana, and they had an intelligent boy, Robert. To my surprise, I discovered Edward was now an international art dealer with his own impressive gallery, Solart, based in St. Petersburg’s ornate Baron Steiglitz Museum. Staying with the generous, warm-hearted Emdins was a delight.
When Graham Harrison and I returned to St. Petersburg in 2004 for our research trip on my book A Brief History of 1917: Russia’s Year of Revolution (Constable & Robinson, London). On that trip
both Graham and I stayed at Edward’s apartment . Whatever I did for this young man in 1986 has been re-paid tenfold, and somehow, I hope Graham and I get to see him again in that magnificent city before I die, Putin, Obama and international tensions allowing.

    And so I look at my wonderful Soviet watch every night and think of the happy, successful Emdins. I once asked Edward what he disliked most about his school days in the old USSR. He said it was ‘Kalashnikov practice’. Every day pupils had to break down and re-assemble the gun at ever faster speeds. My out-dated sense of romance for the revolution and the 1941-45 Great Patriotic War which included the horrendous 900 day Nazi siege of Leningrad probably has no resonance with the happy, 21st century staff in the Solart gallery. But we are differentiated and oddly united in an understanding that those who  have lived a history have a much different view than those, like me, who have simply read about it.

And the Soviet T34 tank on my watch? It deserves a mention. It was first  encountered by the Nazis in 1941. German tank general von Kleist called it "the finest tank in the world" and Nazi tank ace Heinz Guderian confirmed the T-34's "vast superiority" over German armour and found it "very worrying."  The T-34 was the mainstay of Soviet armoured forces throughout World War II. It was the second most-produced tank of all time after its successor, the T-54/55 series.
The Russians are a great, brave and generous people. They have been through more suffering and privation over the past century than most of us can imagine. And so my accurate, reliable, somewhat battered old watch will continue to remind me, day after day, of those good Russians who have added such pleasure to my life. Thank you, Edward and Svetlana. You have kept my time and my faith in humanity ticking over for 30 good years.
Robert, now all grown up, with his dad, Edward.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Any Spare Change, Guv?


Anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with a town called Mansfield in the East Midlands may well find little in this broadside to concern them. Then again, if you live in Milton Keynes, Derby or Norwich, or any number of towns or cities labouring under the fluctuating mirage of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, you may still find points of empathy.
It’s here, in the austerity-hit, socially run-down East Midlands that you’ll find ordinary ‘hard working’ people (does it always have to be ‘hard’ - can’t we just ‘work’?) hanging on to the fraying strands of something called community spirit by engaging in projects such as the much-praised children’s homework club on Mansfield’s Bellamy Road Estate. The Bellamy estate is one of the most severely deprived wards in a town at the centre of  one of the most economically and socially deprived areas in the country in terms of educational performance, health and crime.   In such a needy area, this club is an invaluable service for local families and the community. But not for long. Because its sponsor, the YMCA, has suffered funding cuts, the club, and the Y5 Internet Café which hosts it, are to shut on June 24th. The effect on the morale of the 750 households on the estate will be terrible. There are charities which may take an interest, but the local residents are weary of the long drawn out, Byzantine processes of funding applications. And even if a charity steps in, by the time a decision is made, the Club and the Café will be long gone.

This club is about more than homework. It also provides a secure, supportive, hopeful and practical alternative to the less positive surrounding influences. By supporting the children to study, Hooray for Homework Club gives the local children a better chance of social mobility. The club’s safe, learning environment is assuring to local parents. Says one parent: “The kids love going and I am very pleased with the staff. It is the best thing we have ever had for the kids on this estate.”
Jayne has worked on the project since it began three years ago. After initial wariness from local families, she has seen the community embrace and welcome the project. She also observed its impact, particularly on the youngsters, such as Aisha.  A visitor to the club since she was five, Aisha was always getting into trouble. Hooray for Homework Club noticed her creativity and channelled it, and Aisha’s behaviour has improved vastly. Her behaviour at home has improved too because she doesn’t want to miss a night at the club, where she produces some brilliant artwork. Some former members of the club, now at secondary school, return to it as volunteers. Jayne believes that “without the support and influence the homework club gave the children, they would not be at secondary school now and would be doing something much more negative with their lives.”
As Messrs Osborne and Cameron search for new ways to punish the poor and remove benefits, we’re looking back a century to see if the old, Dickensian style of benevolence might be resurrected. Maybe there’s a new Andrew Carnegie out there, wondering if he can offer a kind gesture with his spare millions.  It’s worth a try.
On January 1st this year the Financial Times revealed that the top five banks - Goldman, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase Citigroup and Bank of America Merrill Lynch - paid out a whopping £1.3bn in wages and bonuses between them. Banking’s lucrative enough, but Advertising agency WPP’s chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell was paid almost £43m last year, so he’s the best paid boss of a British public company. His salary was £1.15m, increased by a long term £36m bonus and a £3.6m short-term bonus. Including pension payments and other items, according to WPP’s annual report, Sorrell received a total of £42.98m. That’s an hourly rate, if he works a 40 hour week, of about £20k per hour. His pay was more than twice that of the second-best paid FTSE 100 chief executive, Ben van Beurden at Royal Dutch Shell, who received €24.2m (£17.5m). A less well-remunerated Goldman Sachs banker, Michael Sherwood, only earns a measly £6,250 per hour. Hard times indeed. Let’s hope he doesn’t have a spare bedroom.
So our message from Bellamy Road to the 20% of the UK population who now own 60% of the nation’s wealth is this; forget the so-called ‘politics of envy’. You’re rich, we’re poor, plus ça change, fair enough. On May 7 the nation gave you carte blanche to become even richer over the next decade. Your greatest desire, a corporate-friendly, City-centric government is now yours. The people of Bellamy Road don’t want Ferraris or swimming pools; but they would love to see their kids still able to go to the Homework Club on the way home from school. And what would it cost to keep it going for a few more months until we find more charity? A mere £10k plus. Just think of the kudos you’d get from such an act of generosity. And maybe even a tax break. But are there any pillars of public benevolence and compassion in this new unequal social landscape? We doubt it - but go on - prove us wrong.
We have yet to find out. And we’ve got just 21 days to find some money.

If you’re the one to help, contact Roy Bainton, editor of THE BELLAMY BUGLE, the newsletter of the Bellamy Road Estate.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Anger is an Energy


But 'Anger is an Energy' - John Lydon.

Getting over May 7th I feel like some drunk in a pub who's looking for a punch-up over an insult to my wife whilst she pulls at my sleeve yelling 'Leave it, love, he ain't worth it!'.  Like a coward I walked away under the heavy burden of defeat and disappointment, wondering why I'd wasted most of my life kicking against the ever-growing concrete wall of apathy which has imprisoned British common sense. Politics for some of us is like smoking and drinking. I've given up neither, so if there's a triumvirate of self-abusing occupations, then the third, political expression, has been missing. In short, I can't shut up. 
I know that what I write here, unless it's something to do with unexplained phenomena, will only be read by, if I'm lucky, abut 20 people. I know who you are. Friends and acquaintances, fellow travelers,  people in the main of like mind. Fair enough. If those 20 people can radiate the outrage I feel among another 20 people, then perhaps the brief candle of  sanity might flicker on a little longer than the new Junta hopes. Yet I doubt it.

Liz Kendall poses outside number 10 with the regulation Blairsuit
she would wear in the unlikely event of her ever getting through the door.
The Death of the Labour Party

Amazing when we pause to think that the party born of such painful struggles and the sacrifices of men like Keir Hardie and Aneurin Bevan, the party which gave us new hope, the Welfare State and the NHS in 1945, should end up with only one clarion call to its name; 'Aspiration'. With this as their banner, they are already planning for their final cataclysmic defeat in 2020.
But why should I be bothered? I'll be 77 in May 2020. Since 1979, in any event, everything I believed in and campaigned for has been trashed. There are those who tell me "Just calm down, enjoy your dotage, chill out and forget the world. You're just a cantankerous old pensioner. Forget politics. It's over."
I know they're right. But like a gambler, I can't leave the table; I always imagine thet the next hand being dealt might be the winner. Stupid, yes, but until someone muzzles me I'll remain a rabid old dog.

Having already ditched the vaguest vestiges of that archaic idea 'socialism', having rebranded the franchise several times from 'New' Labour to the most recent, 'Tory Lite', by allowing its front line to be overtaken by over-educated metro-centric 'suits', Labour has backed itself into a political cul de sac  and there's no way out other than to call it a day. Even their title is an oxymoron. 'Labour'? When did Chukka Ummuna or Andy Burnham ever get their hands dirty? Which factory production line or supermarket checkout did the corporate-loving Liz Kendall ever work on? Yet now, as I write, she's front runner to replace the hapless, vanished and banished Ed Miliband. 

Facing Reality:
The Flat Earth Society = Socialist Beliefs.
So, as Joe Public has realised, why vote 'Labour' when 'Call me Dave' has offered something called 'Blue Collar Conservatism'? Why vote Labour, when a much more left-wing outfit called the Liberal Democrats have been sand-blasted away from the face of British politics? Any belief in Labour possessing any faint, dim embers of socialist thought equates to a belief in the Flat Earth theory, or a cream cheese moon.
No, let's get real: who needs the NHS? Not Britain, it seems. You can always pay for your operation with a Wonga loan, surely? Libraries? Let's turn them all into Starbucks and Costa Coffee shops. Let's have many more Mickey Mouse train companies and ever increasing fares. Give the bankers bigger bonuses for better criminality.  What's all this crap about a Human Rights Act? Who needs that - let the dullards eat zero hours and be happy on their shuffle to the food bank. The disabled? Tax the scrounging buggers! A spare room in your house? How dare you have one! 
Jesus wept, why are some of us still festering in volcanic anger? Because the lemmings have chosen the cliffs and a few if us are still hanging on by our blunt little claws.
Despair? thy name is Britain.