Skip to main content

Tears and Laugher in the Bookshop

I knew I would buy it, of course.  I just didn’t necessarily know I would buy it today.  But I popped into Waterstone’s at lunchtime, and had a look at Margrave of the Marshes, John Peel’s autobiography.  It was posthumously completed by his wife, Sheila (once better known as “The Pig”, fact fans) and their (grown-up) kids.

Even reading the acknowledgements was curiously moving, listing as it did the likes of Billy Bragg, Andy Kershaw and Tom Robinson.  So I read the introduction, which was written by the four kids.  I found myself laughing and my eyes filling with tears just from those three or four pages.  So obviously I had to buy it.

I’m now thoroughly looking forward to tomorrow’s Home Truths, which is a special edition featuring Sheila.

I also seem to have bought Singularity Sky, but I’ve been meaning to get that for ages.

Post-exam comedown

Right then.  It’s been a long time.  But this morning I sat the exam for my latest Open University course, A210, Approaching Literature.  The exam was OK.  Hard questions, but good, you know?  Each section had several questions that I could have a go at answering, but none that immediately leaped out and said, “Do me!”

As to the course itself, well… I’m glad I did it, but in many ways I didn’t really enjoy doing it.  I think I’m coming to the conclusion that, while I love reading the novels and the poetry and the plays, I don’t really enjoy reading the textbooks.  So I felt during much of the course that I only had time — or I only allowed myself time — to study what I needed to write the essays.  Which is all very well, and I did well in the essays; but it isn’t an ideal approach to learning, and I thought it would (and I think it did) leave me wanting when it came to the exam.

Still, we shall see around Christmas time, which is when the results come in.

I had hoped to go and see Serenity afterwards, since I had the day off work; but there was no showing at a time I could get to that would also be compatible with collecting the kids later.  So it’ll have to wait.

What’s slightly annoying is that yesterday UCI Whiteleys had a showing at 1:20, which would have been perfect; but not today.  So instead I went and had beer.  In a pub.  And lunch.  Ihad to try three pubs before I found one that sold proper beer.  Can you believe it?  What’s West London coming to?  And I read Hannu Rajaniemi’s story from Nova Scotia.

Then, since I was in the area, I put The Clash on the MP3 player and went and stood under the Westway.  It was curiously like standing under a big, raised road, surprisingly enough.  Then I thought that standing near a major part of transport infrastruture with backpack on and wires hanging off me might not be very safe these days (can you imagine trying to explain it to some fresh-faced copper: “Honest officer, there used to be this band that lived near here, and they made the… errm… road… famous… Aw look, just stick these in your ears for three minutes: you’ll understand.”) 

So I headed for home.  And now something approaching normal service will be resumed.


I’m afraid I did what the Commissioner told us not to do: I went in to Central London.

See, I live in Hackney, in the East, but work in Wimbledon, in the South-West.  So I was going to have to go into the centre sometime, to get home.  I just left work early.

The trains were running into Waterloo, pretty much as normal (but largely empty).  Of course, once there, there was no way to get across town: the Tube was closed, and no buses were running in Zone 1.  I took to Shanks’ Pony.

Zone 1 is bigger than you think.  I guess I knew it extended as far as Angel, but it goes all the way up Essex Road.  I ended up getting a bus halfway along the Ball’s Pond Road.  It took me about two and a half hours to get home.

Which isn’t bad, all things considered.

Fortunately, the kids were going home from school with a friend’s mum, so they were fine.  I left early mainly so as not to leave them with her too late.  And of course, to avoid the probable madness of the rush hour.

I am, of course, intensely angry at the scumpigs who would do such a thing.  But on a positive note, a lot of people seemed to be doing the same thing as me, and it was strangely pleasing to see so many people walking through London.  We should do more of it.  And for much better reasons, of course.

I feel I should have more to say, but am blank.

Software patents: dead in Europe

In other good news, over on BoingBoing, Cory is telling us that Euro software patents are dead:

The European Parliament voted 648 to 14 to reject the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive.

The bill was reportedly rejected because, politicians said, it pleased no-one in its current form.

Responding to the rejection the European Commission said it would not draw up or submit any more versions of the original proposal.

This is excellent news, though as Cory goes on to say,

Software patents have been staked through the heart before, but they keep rising from the grave. There’s too much monopoly rent waiting to be extracted by anti-competitive companies for them to simply give up and go home. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

A year or so ago the number one or two hit on Google for “software patents” was an article by an old friend of mine, John Gray, who is a Patent Attorney, in favour of them.  With well-reasoned arguments, as I recall.  Sadly the article appears to have gone now, though links to it remain.  Such is one of the weaknesses of the web, unfortunately, when you can’t trust (some) publishers to keep their URLs pointing at something.

Update: asajeffrey found a mailing list post that, if not John’s article that I was thinking of, certainly discusses the same ideas.  Thanks, Alan.  Note that I am not the “Martin” referred to in that post.


So, London gets it.  I was against it, but now I feel strangely pleased.

I think I was for it at first; I really enjoyed watching the Athens Olympics last summer, the kids enjoyed it, and the idea of having one just down the road sounded great.  But then I looked at the plans, and turned against it.  The main reason for my opposition was the effects that I think it will have on the Lower Lea (or Lee) Valley.  As far as I can tell, our beloved wilderness will be turned into bland parkland, with the associated loss of wildlife habitat.

However, it may not be as bad as all that, and there’s no doubt that the potential regeneration here in East London — in particular the transport improvements — could be great.

My other concern is, of course, the cost, and how we taxpayers may be paying for it for decades.

But what the hell: my kids will be 15 and 11 in 2012, so it  should be fantastic for them.

The afternoon after the morning after the night before

Well. I did it: I went to the polling place and I put my cross in the box… for the LibDem candidate.  It’s a very odd feeling, you know, not to vote Labour.  The only time I’ve done it before, I think, was in the first London Mayoral election, when Ken Livingsone was an independent.

I think I might actually have given my first vote to the Greens then, and only my second to Ken (knowing that the first vote would be discarded after the first count, of course).  And I think I also distributed my London Assembly votes between Green and Labour.

Some of the above suggests that I shouldn’t really describe myself as ‘a lifelong Labour voter’, which I tend to; but it’s always been Labour at general elections — until yesterday.  And of course, as I expected, the Labour candidate won.  I’m quite pleased with the overall result, though.  It’s a pity the Tories weren’t squashed like bugs, and the LibDems didn’t do as well as we might have hoped; but at least with Blair’s reduced majority, we might see some reigning in of their madder civil liberties attacks.

And I have Meg Hillier’s email address now, which might come in handy.

The polling place was my daughter’s nursery class — four years ago it was my son’s.  I took them both along with me yesterday evening.  I usually like to vote first thing in the morning, but I had an early start yesterday, because I was collecting the kids in the evening.

They, of course, had a great time being at school out of hours.  I had to wait for ages after voting while they climbed trees.

Then we sat up and watched the results.  Well, fell asleep on the sofa from about 12:30 to 3:00, and then watched until 5:00 or so.  It’s been a long time since I went to bed while it was getting light.  And on a school night, too.

Update: Jonathan Freedland’s Guardian blog entry on the ritual of voting says it all for me.

Things can only get… different

It seems that my erstwhile MP is more famous since he stepped down than he ever was in action.  Unfortunately, his jumping ship to the LibDems doesn’t help me with my “Now who do I vote for?” dilemma.  If Mr Sedgmore was still standing in Hackney South and Shoreditch — for either party — I would happily vote for him.  As it is I have the choice between Meg Hillier for Labour and Gavin Baylis for the LibDems.

I emailed Meg Hillier via her website the other day, and yesterday she actually responded, I’m pleased to say.  You won’t be surprised to hear that I asked about her view on ID cards.  Her answer, unfortunately, was, “I’m toeing the party line.”

Not in so many words, of course; here’s what she actually wrote (in an attached MS Word document, rather than in the body of the email, for some weird reason):

This is now part of the Labour Party manifesto. I am a Labour candidate standing on a Labour Party manifesto. Had I drafted the manifesto it would have had a different focus on this issue.

Hmm.  So are you against it, or not?  She goes on to say:

There is a long way before current proposals become law, no doubt there will be an opportunity to influence change as the bill progresses through Parliament.

Fair point, but does that mean you’ll vote against it? And whether it does or not, can we afford to take the risk that such an attack on civil liberties could be passed in any form? To some extent I don’t fear ID cards and the database state under a Labour government — even New Labour — so much as I do under a possible future Tory government. Imagine for a moment if Britain had had such a setup during Thatcherism, when so many of us were campaigning against nuclear weapons or for the miners, and were generally actively against the government. Or how would MI5 have made use of tools like those, when they were undermining the Wilson and Callaghan governments?

Meg has more modern concerns, though:

I have been told that tackling identity theft and child protection would be better served with some form of ID card – I will be looking into this more.

I have been told that when we die we all go to a big palace in the clouds and have wings, but the baddies are still going to be able to forge or steal the cards.  In fact, I think it could make identity theft easier.  People — or at least, institutions — may come to have such faith in database-backed ID cards that the idea of one being in any way wrong will be quite literally unbelievable. The end result will be that, in order to steal someone’s identity, all you need to steal or fake is one card.  They introduce a single point of failure.

The next MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch concludes:

I have no problem with voluntary ID cards.

But it’s only short steps from “voluntary” to “voluntary but required if you want to use a bank account or leave the country” to “compulsory”, it seems to me.

I’m pleased to see that Gavin Baylis is a member of the London Cycling Campaign. Time for an email to him, I think. Followed in a week’s time by a cross in his box.

Digital death masks

Politics not getting anybody interested, then? OK, we’ll try religion.

I was brought up a Catholic.  I grew out of it, of course; saw sense, kicked over the traces.  But even when I was a devout Catholic, I think I would have found it very strange, to the point of macabre, to queue for hours to see a recently-dead body; and then to take photographs of it.

Indeed, I’m fairly sure that the Catholicism I grew up with would have frowned on it.  That empty shell is not John Paul II, after all: he has gone on, you know?  Been “called home”, in the words of President Bush (pity it wasn’t him.  But I digress).

Not that I believe in any of that.  I strongly suspect that old Karol has discovered that in the afterlife there is nothing but a purple glow and a humming sound; and that even he isn’t there.  If I remember my Vonnegut aright.  So it goes.

When my Dad died I went to see his body.  At the undertaker’s; in private, with just the family there.  It seemed a normal, natural thing to do.  Sad, obviously, but a part of saying goodbye, of coming to terms with his death.  So I suppose the devout Catholics who are queueing for hours to see the Pope’s body are going through a similar thing; and since he was a public figure, it all happens under the camera’s glare.

But really: they didn’t know him.  He wasn’t family, or a close friend, however important he might be to their faith.  So I can’t help thinking it smacks of thanatophilia; almost idolatry; and I’m sure the church I grew up in wouldn’t have approved.