Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The Rolling English Road.

Poems about death are usually not worth reading but this is a real classic, if a little dated these days.

Each verse refers to a notorious suicide spot except for the Goodwin Sands which are a dangerous place for shipwrecks and of course the last, glorious one.

To go to 'Paradise via Kensal Green', refers to the great rambling Victorian cemetery at Kensal Green, where every Londoner has attended a funeral at one time or another.

The Rolling English Road.

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.


G.K. Chesterton.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Monday, 21 August 2017

Pride before a fall.

As Robyn is only too prepared to remind me - I'm too proud.

She is right, I am proud and to me it's a virtue. It's how I've survived this long; as my treatments failed too soon, through pain and despair. I fought on.

This morning (because of my pride) I moved instantly from ecstasy to agony and now I just need to find another empty yoghurt pot.

I have problems with my feet; it just hurts too much when I need to wash them, cut my nails, put on socks and take my socks off. I can't cross my legs any more. It's agony.

The choices are giving up - which is not me. Getting in carers which is expensive and demoralising or getting Robyn to do it all for me which changes our relationship for the worse.

So, I've been struggling on and afterwards spending a couple of hours to get over it all.

Today I had a really great idea - I 'borrowed' one of Robyn's old yoghurt pots which is a bit like a tiny bucket. I set it down on the bathroom floor and put my left foot on it . Suddenly washing my toes was a pleasure, putting on a sock a delight.

With a certain degree of misplaced pride, I patted myself on the back. Then I put my right foot on the upturned pot.

Suddenly there was an ominous cracking sound, a crunch and then the pot collapsed. Then I screamed in pain. My big fat leg broke the pot.

I was back in the world of pain.

Of course, my mistake was that I didn't bother to find the lid of the pot and just used it upside down. I'm guessing that if I put the lid on it, the pressure of the air inside would hold up my leg. That's what I'll try tomorrow.

But, as they say, pride goes before a fall.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Shirley.

I went to Shirley's birthday party - her husband Billy died of my cancer last year, so there's a bit of a bond. I knew Billy to talk to for many years.

Shirley live two houses along from us, so we walked, very slowly. I was in a lot of pain. I stayed for a couple of hours, surrounded by Shirley's family, lots of kids running about and babies gurgling.

It was nice to be around people; noisy, chatty, happy people full of life.

As I said I lasted for a couple of hours and then Robyn walked me home before she went back. Although all I really did was sit in a comfy chair it was very painful. But I did, as they say, make a bit of an effort.

Back home I listened to the football commentary on the radio - Tottenham were losing their game to Chelsea, which was painful in a different kind of way.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Saturday, 19 August 2017

B.O.H.I.C.A.!

Fighting cancer is a bit like being at war, except that you know that in the end you are going to lose.

So I have found I have gained some understanding of soldiers humour, which is generally fairly dark.

No more so than the humour of the U.S. Army in the second world war. After all, it gave us Joseph Heller's 'Catch 22', an extremely funny book.

The U.S. Army is notorious for its fondness for bureaucracy and acronyms (using initials instead of phrases) often to the point of absurdity.

So it should be no surprise that there are any number of slang versions.

S.N.A.F.U must be known by everybody;

Situation Normal All F***** Up.

But that doesn't quite capture the urgency of wartime.

So, how about T.A.R.F.U. ?

Things Are Really F***** Up.

However even that doesn't quite convey the frustration and anguish of dealing with war as well as coping with Officers as;

F.U.B.A.R.

which stands for; F***** Up Beyond All Recognition. 

But my all time favourite (and most relevant to my situation) is B.O.H.I.C.A.

Which says it all.

Bend Over Here It Comes Again.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Friday, 18 August 2017

Robyn's new diet for me.

Robyn's proposed a new diet for me.

I'm not eating very well - I've got lot's of pain which doesn't help. And I'm on chemotherapy which makes me sick. I've been given pills to stop me feeling sick but they bring me out in a horrible rash. I've been given stuff to stop the rash and alternative pills but sometimes you just get fed up of pills, so at the moment I'm winging it.

That means I'm not eating enough and losing weight.....and I'm doing a lot of retching.

The weird thing isn't that I feel sick more often when I'm eating something I don't like. The really weird thing is that I've stopped liking things I used to really like. I can't eat pizza any more. Fish and chips make me ill. It's very cruel.

Anyway, Robyn's big idea is that I should eat an 'Ice cream diet'.....breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I could do that - I really like ice cream and, so far, it hasn't been a problem. And if you'd told me I could only eat ice cream when I was about seven I would have thought I was in heaven.

Nowadays, it just feels like another defeat.

And no, I will still be eating other things.......as well as ice cream.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: hepmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Southern Poverty Law Centre

If you've been reading my Blog over the last few days, you will know that I've been calling out Donald Trump for the fascist that he is.

I've been highlighting the symbolic importance of removing the statues celebrating Confederate figures from public view.

Last night, The City of Baltimore removed four Civil War statues while in Virginia a statue was demolished by an angry crowd.

There is a long way to go - there are over 1500 Civil War monuments in the U.S. and they represent intimidation in defence of inequality. Of these monuments, astonishingly, are 39 public schools named after Confederate figures and built since the passing of The Civil Rights Act.

The majority of these schools have a majority of Black students.

So you won't be surprised to hear that I am a supporter of the 'Blow 'em up and Pull 'em down school of thought.

There are, however, other ways to deal with the problem.

You could support The Southern Poverty Rights Centre of Montgomery, Alabama. Established as a civil rights law firm in 1971 by Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin Junior, the firm has faced numerous bomb attacks, arson attempts (one succeeded) assassination plots and petty harassment. Over 30 fascists have been jailed for trying to put the firm out of business.

They have had a huge success rate in fighting Civil Rights cases but most spectacularly they have been actively suing organisations like the Ku Klux Klan on behalf of its victims.

They rarely fail and when they win damages they enforce it by seizing Klan assets and then bankrupting the organisations themselves.

You can link into the centre here,

https://www.splcenter.org/

They are non profit and need money to continue fighting the Klan and other right wing hate groups through the courts and through education programmes.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Trump is a cowardly Fascist.

After the events of the weekend in Charlottesville, where a far right demonstration in support of a Civil War Statue ended up with many injuries and one death amongst counter demonstrators, there was a reasonable expectation that the President of the United States of America would condemn this violent attack on democracy and equality.

Instead, Donald Trump has exposed himself for what he really is - a fascist and a cowardly one at that..

Up until now we knew that his father was arrested (but then released uncharged) taking part in a Ku Klux Klan demonstration in New York.

Both Trump and his father made their money developing apartments, especially in New York. Both father and son were prosecuted by the city for failing to let a sufficient proportion of their apartments to people from ethnic minorities.

But didn't Trump make a statement condemning the far right?

No, he read a statement from the autocue like an automaton.

The next day he repeated his off the cuff statements blaming anti- racist demonstrators as much as the right.

This was no accident - no President or Presidential candidate can afford to endorse racism. But Trump can give a nod and a wink to the Grand Wizards of the KKK, the shouty writers of Breitbart and the embittered and isolated people who describe themselves as 'Alt-Right'.

Even in America (where racism and fascism are protected under the constitution as some kind of 'Free Speech') very few people want to come out as openly racist.

The number of people in the Southern States who want to celebrate the supporters of slavery in the civil war is very small. Most people want the statues gone, the roads and parks renamed.

But the supporters of the Klan and the right in the South represent a feudal establishment which is still very powerful.

The number of white people who are prepared to go along with these landowners, their political apologists and their murderous underlings is much larger; white people can be scared, frightened of making a stand.

So when a President equates a racist lynch mob with the people who came out to demonstrate against them this moves the line of acceptability in the direction of the right. By a nod and a wink he is saying "I'm with you.....really I am but my hands are tied".

And that's good enough to move the centre of fear in favour of the right.

It says it's alright to invent obstacles that prevent black people from registering to vote.

It means it's alright to open far too few voting centres in black areas so that it takes people there hours longer to vote. It's quite OK that the vote shuts down too early for working people to have a chance to vote after work.

Southern states now know it's OK to force people to pay for expensive photo I/D which they wouldn't normally have.

All the lessons we learnt over the last forty years of antifascism are that fascism needs to be stopped in its tracks. It's demonstrations need to be countered, it's ideology needs to be challenged.

We need to move the line of fear away from our people, we need to put the right back into the position where it is too frightened to make a stand.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home; helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

"Hallo Newman!"

I needed some help from Robyn with this Blog - a memory from a year or so ago when I was a lot less ill. I was a regular at Café Nero in Egham - when I was caring from my Mother it was a much needed place to escape to for awhile.

Later, me and Robyn used to sit at one of the pavement tables and watch the world go by.

I haven't been there for ages but we had a lot of laughs there, once.

All kinds of people do all kinds of things in Café Nero. I used to gorge on free WiFi. I've overheard people doing business deals, landlords evicting tenants, job interviews.....you name it, it all happens there.

There's a University up on the hill, so you get lots of students and a few lecturers too.

One day we were inside (must have been cold) and we were both immediately struck by someone sat at a table who was the absolute likeness of 'Newman' from Seinfeld.


Newman is a slightly sinister presence, a catalyst for bad things to happen, things always go wrong around him. In Jurassic Park, the actor plays a similar character whose efforts to steal embryo dinosaurs bring down the whole park.

Anyway, our 'Newman' was sat at one table with a friend from University sat at the next table. Both had their laptops on and were trying to do some work, without any success.

Thanks to Robyn here are 'Newman's' exact words about his University work;

"It's taken me 15 minutes to figure out I need 20 minutes to solve this problem. But now I only have 15 minutes left to solve the problem."

Which left us in hysterics and still does.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com 

Monday, 14 August 2017

Final Curve

When you turn the cornerAnd you run into yourself
Then you know that you have turned
All the corners that are left


Langston Hughes


Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Charlottesville, V.A.

Today, 13th August 1977, 40 years ago was what became know as 'The Battle of Lewisham'.

The 'National front', a racist political party which hid behind a façade of respectability, had a policy of organising provocative and intimidating marches in areas with a large ethnic minority population. They did so from behind a strong wall of protective police officers.

When they announced a march through Lewisham, the local community mobilised to prevent them; the 500 or so fascists were confronted by about 4000 local people from all ethnic groups, determined to stop them from marching.

Despite the efforts of the Police, the march did not take place. The civil disturbances were to continue into the night.

It was the first time since 'The Battle of Cable Street' in 1936, that a march like this had been stopped. It was a great victory, although similar marches were to continue for over 15 years afterwards.

What was clear was that where a community is united and prepared to meet force with force, fascists could be stopped in their tracks. From that time on, marches like Lewisham never took place without firm antifascist opposition.

Yesterday in Charlottesville, a fascist demonstration took place accompanied with great violence, which resulted in the death of one of the counter demonstrators.

These things are always very symbolic; it followed a decision by the authorities to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, rename a park and a number of streets, all of which celebrated The Confederacy and the cause of slavery in the American Civil War.

Just as in Lewisham, what is clear is that where a community is united and prepared to stand up against Racism, it is possible to bring about change. It isn't a quick process, it isn't easy, but it is the only way.

Charlottesville is the first step in a long journey to remove the symbols of oppression from the South and to end the control that a tiny group of racists have over a whole community in certain southern states.

We must stand shoulder to shoulder with all of those prepared to make a stand against these dangerous forces.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Not tonight.

I had a fairly sad day - a really bad night with hardly any sleep at all.

This evening, Robyn's friend Bronagh, was over from Belfast.

I gave Robyn a lift to their barbecue and it was hard going. I wasn't going to go in myself, wasn't feeling up to it. In the end I did go although I did regret it. There were some very excited kids, some quite excited adults and one very friendly slobbery dog all of whom seemed to circle around me as I slumped on the settee. I wasn't sure how I was going to manage to get up. For that matter I don't know how I managed to get over the front doorsteps, which were a bit of a challenge. It was all just a bit too much.

I was glad when we left but I was glad we made it too - Robyn hasn't seen her friend for three years.

Back at home it got sadder; tonight was the peak night of the Perseids meteorite shower. I've watched it all my life. Three years ago me and Robyn took a couple of chairs and some lager and sat down to watch the firework display late into the night. it meant a lot.

Not tonight, I'm afraid.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Friday, 11 August 2017

Hip Hop.

An interesting day - all because of a 'Google Doodle' commemorating 40 years of Hip-Hop.

It came as a real surprise to me, although it shouldn't have. It took quite a while for the music to make it over the water to Britain. To start with the first we knew of it was The Sugarhill Gang's 'Rappers Delight' which came out in 1979 and Blondie's single 'Rapture', which borrowed from Rap - that only came out in 1981.

So I'm not really apologising for my ignorance, as I said, it took a while for the music to make it here.

What I spent the day thinking about was something that had been in my mind for a while. I'd noticed the obvious link between Punk and British Reggae, which both started up in the mid 1970's, a long time ago.

I know that Reggae (in the form of a feel good/goodtime kind of music) had been around since the mid 1960's, but something changed in the mid seventies; Reggae became more angry, more political. This was especially so in the UK where a new generation of bands came along that were all about the inequality, prejudice and Police brutality that black youngsters faced at that time.

Punk started up in the mid 1970's too - an angry scream from a generation of white young people who had realised that the good times that the previous generations had enjoyed weren't coming their way. Instead, unemployment and lack of opportunity were all that generation had to look forward to.

It's no surprise that Punk and Reggae came together in Britain; they may have been two very different kinds of music but both were a response to similar problems.

And now it looks like Hip Hip (the angriest music ever) came about at around the same time and for similar reasons.

It's interesting because Punk died very quickly, failing in a series of defeats and worsening economic news. British Reggae also died a premature death with it's replacement by 'Lover's Rock'. That threatened no one.

More interestingly, Hip Hip didn't die. Instead it became the main form of music for young black American youngsters for the next forty years.

There are a number of possibilities.

First, the angry punks and reggae fans got less angry as life improved. I don't think this is right - I'm as angry as I ever was and mainly about the same things. So are many of the people my age. 

But there may be something in this; public opinion surveys all show that there is a gulf between those in the UK who are over forty (angry and frustrated) and those under forty who are more accepting of the changes that Thatcher brought in. But that implies a twenty year delay, which just didn't happen.

Maybe black Americans have a lot more to be dissatisfied about and this is reflected in musical terms.

Maybe Hip Hop just had much broader roots. After all, it wasn't just the music - it was a blend of graffiti, breakdance, D.J.'ing and Rap.

But forty years is quite amazing.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com
  

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Grinding on.

The last week has been a real grind - an outrageous amount of pain, which can't be good whichever way you look at it.

My nights have been really tough - I take painkillers at midnight so that they kick in about half an hour later when I go to bed.

They used to last three hours before I woke up. This last week I've been waking up 20 minutes earlier every night. Now I'm getting about two and a half hours sleep. Then I'm squirming about in pain until about four am when I take another pill and usually get about an hours sleep as a reward.

I get up at about five or so and go to my armchair, put some music on and then get another hours sleep, or so.

It's really tough and we haven't done much as a result.

This morning wasn't so bad and I was able to get to Tesco's for the shopping.

The weather wasn't so bad either today and I don't think it has helped that this has been such a lousy summer - wet and (for me) cold.

I'm struggling on but it is now a struggle. I'm resisting upping the dose of the painkillers for as long as I can, but that will come too.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

We're very, very low.

This is a classic poem, turned into a once famous song.

It was written by Ernest Jones, a revolutionary Chartist, who fought for universal suffrage and working class parliaments in the 19th century.

I used to sing this song a lot - with The Workers Music Association Choir and it always went down well on the picket lines.

SONG OF THE LOWER CLASSES(Ernest Jones; tune: My old friend John)

We plough and sow, we're so very, very low
that we delve in the dirty clay
till we bless the plain with the golden grain
and the vale with the fragrant hay.
Our place we know, we're so very, very low,
'tis down at the landlord's feet.
We're not too low the grain to grow,
but too low the bread to eat.

Down, down we go, we're so very, very low
to the hell of the deep sunk mines,
but we gather the proudest gems that glow
when the crown of the despot shines.
And when e'er he lacks upon our backs
fresh loads he deigns to lay.
We're far too low to vote the tax,
but not too low to pay.

We're low, we're low, we're very, very low
and yet from our fingers glide
the silken flow and the robes they glow
round the limbs of the sons of pride.
And what we get and what we give
we know and we know our share.
We're not too low the cloth to weave,
but too low the cloth to wear.

We're low, we're low, we're very, very low
and yet when the trumpets ring
the thrust of a poor man's arm will go
through the heart of the proudest king.
We're low, we're low, mere rabble we know,
we're only the rank and file.
We're not too low to kill the foe,
but too low to share the spoil.


Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

In a fine pickle.

It's funny how things come back to you.

Today I remembered a plaque I saw many years ago, high up on the wall of a church in Bampton, in Devon.

This is what it says;

                          Bless my iiiiiiiii's,
                          Here he lies,
                          In a fine pickle,
                          Killed by icicle.

Make of that what you will.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home; helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Monday, 7 August 2017

Captain Swing.

The 19th century was a time of acute  poverty and class struggle, not least in rural areas.

In the 1830's, a mysterious figure appeared in the countryside in response to the introduction of threshing machines which threw thousands out of work.

'Captain Swing' sent letters to farmers who introduced the machines, Magistrates who authorised the use of extreme force against the labourers, Parish Guardians who refused to make payments to the unemployed rural poor and priests who called for order.

Those who changed their ways were spared. Those who continued to exploit the poor might expect a visit from 'The Captain' and his followers.

This is a famous example of one of Captain Swing's letters;

Sir, Your name is down amongst the Black hearts in the Black Book and this is to advise you and the like of you, who are Parson Justasses, to make your wills. Ye have been the Blackguard Enemies of the People on all occasions, Ye have not yet done as ye ought,.... Swing


Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Nice Sydney?

Sydney the Grumpy Cat is now fully recovered. She was ill for about three days - being sick around the house and behaving very strangely.

She was quite nice to me, which is just not like her. She spent one night on our bed and slept on my poor legs for several hours.

For a couple of days she was better. She was eating again and more independent.

As she got better she took up position on the chair we borrowed from a neighbour. I have problems with my back and legs and really need a proper upright chair. We were offered an old chair and I tried it out - unfortunately after a couple of hours it my back and I couldn't use it.

Since when, Sydney has taken it over and spends all day on the chair. I think she assumed that we got it for her because she was ill. Robyn has had to hide it till we can take it back.

Yesterday morning I knew for certain she was alright again because I foolishly held a mouse out on a length of string for her to play with.

She quite clearly looked at my hand and very deliberately scratched my little finger so that she drew blood.

I'm very pleased she's well again but in my heart I miss the nice Sydney who briefly joined us.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Betty Papworth.

One of the people I miss most of all is Betty Papworth, who died a few years ago at the age of 94. I can't now remember whether we first met in London or Moscow - it doesn't really matter. For Betty the whole world was her battlefield.

There was one problem with Betty, she had a knack of finding jobs for you to do and it was impossible to say no.

When I first met her she once persuaded me to help out at the Hampstead Morning Star Bazaar, which meant I ended up spending four Sundays a year humping around boxes of second hand books. This lasted for years, but I wouldn't have missed the people I met there, the bagels I ate, the conversations I had, for anything.

We became friends because I introduced her to the secret and seductive delights of The Oriental Tea Room at The National Hotel in Moscow. We ended up on the same cheap holidays to the old Soviet Union more than once - staying in Trades Union Hotels meant for Russians. It was all a bit basic but neither of us had much money.

But I had discovered that if you had a hotel I/D card it got you access to all the hotels - including the really expensive ones like The National, which was aimed at wealthy American tourists. It didn't seem to matter that you were staying in a dive on the edge of town. Unfortunately the prices inside were normally a little out of our range.

Except that at The National, there was an anachronism from the old days. The Oriental Tearoom was just that - a room with carpets up the walls, brass lamps over the tables hidden in intimate booths where smartly dressed waiters brought you copper teapots full of steaming hot 'Chai', which were put in dishes of sand to keep them hot. For some reason this cost just a couple of roubles - pence only.

Whenever we were there Betty and me would meet up in The Oriental Tearoom and drink Chai, either before or sometimes after a night out on the town.

Betty had been involved in every struggle worth fighting in the twentieth century. She was Jewish and born in Stepney where, as a young girl, she built barricades on Cable Street and fought the Police to stop Mosely and his Blackshirts marching through The East End.

She raised large amounts of money for Republican Spain.

She not only knew Paul Robeson but when he was in London he stayed at her house. Then again, most of the major figures in the National Liberation Movements of the 1950's stayed with her, many of whom ended up Presidents or Prime Ministers.

When the war broke out she was one of a number of Communists who took 'Afternoon Tea' at The Savoy Hotel on The Strand.

Except that on a signal they stormed the air raid shelter in the basement to highlight the fact that a handful of rich people in the West End had a shelter against the bombs while millions of people in The East End didn't. When the Police dragged them out, the Press were there to take the pictures - including one of a smartly dressed Betty.

Later, Betty was one of a number of people who took bolt cutters to the padlocks on the Tube station gates in The East End - to open the deep stations up as bomb shelters.

Betty's husband, Bert, was leader of the London Busmen and a nationally known figure.

After the war, Betty herself was a leader of The Squatters Movement, a communist inspired campaign to open up empty houses in The West End so that returning soldiers and their families could have somewhere to live. She would be scurrying around with her bolt cutters once again or organising food supplies for the Squatters.

When I became friends with her, she was in her 80's and living in a tiny flat just off The Chalk Farm Road, which was Camden pretending to be Belsize Park.

She loved the Opera and the Ballet but lacked the money to enjoy them - she found numerous scams and subterfuges to obtain cheap tickets.

In those pre internet days Betty had also discovered a novel way of living beyond her means - she hooked up with an organisation which linked together students from rich countries like America or Japan with people like Betty looking to raise some income by letting out a room.

Whenever you visited her you would meet a suitably bemused or frightened American WASP Trustafarian, trying to work out how they had ended up living in the flat of an elderly revolutionary and just a bit worried about where it was all going to end.

The highlight of knowing Betty was to get an invite to her Christmas Dinner - which, of course, took place every year at the end of January. I always suspected that Betty lurked around the shops on Boxing day looking for bargains.

Amazing people would be there - I met Bernard Vorhaus, the blacklisted American Film Director once. You could be sat next to a Trades Union leader, an actor, a spy or a revolutionary on the run.

You never knew who Betty knew or how she would have met them.

In 2004 Morechai Vanunu was due to be released from prison in Israel after serving 18 years, 11 of them in solitary confinement. Vanunu had revealed to The Sunday Times the full extent of Israel's illegal nuclear weapons programme. He was lured to Rome where he was kidnapped by The Mossad.

Betty, a committed anti Zionist, travelled to Israel with Jeremy Corbyn to provide a welcome for him on his release. Corbyn has described how Betty stood there waiving her umbrella at a huge and very hostile crowd of right wing Zionists throwing missiles at them, before they were both manhandled away by The Israeli Defence Forces.

Betty was 90 years old at the time but nothing was going to stop her. 

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Friday, 4 August 2017

Ripped jeans.

The other day I found myself faced with a philosophical question about ripped jeans  - I was posing myself a question I couldn't answer.

But first I needed to find out how much it cost to make a pair of cheap jeans and I was lucky enough to find the answer in an article in 'The Guardian' last year, which looked into how Lidl's could sell 'Jeggings' priced at £5-99p and a pair of 'Boyfriend' Jeans priced at £7-99.

Here's what they found out - it's relying on a 2013 study but it's unlikely the prices have gone up much;

"The Boyfriend Jeans, at £7.99, appear to be the real thing: four pockets plus that baffling little one inside the front pocket on the right of the body (it is a watch pocket, apparently). There are six belt loops, five rivets, three buttons and a YKK zip. And they are made from 100% cotton, the material being the most expensive element of the production process: in the range of £2.30 to £2.50.

There is thread to pay for too, for the stitching, which might be as much as 19p, and the finished pair will need to be washed, so if we are going to try to put a price on the materials we are probably looking around the £3.90 mark.

Now we need to assemble those materials. Luckily – for the buyer – that is not nearly as expensive.

Most of the workers in Bangladeshi garment factories are women and most are paid at the minimum legal wage of 5,300 takas a month (about £48). That is 23p an hour on an eight-hour, six-day, week. It is a fifth of the £230 a month estimated by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance to be the minimum required for a living wage back in 2013.

To accurately work out the labour cost, you need to know how many pairs of jeans the factory turns out a day. The available figures cover quite a broad range: research in India found workers in one factory averaging 20 pairs a day, while a different study in Tunisia found 33 pairs a day. It all depends on the quality and complexity of the design. In 2010 the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights looked at Bangladesh and found a team of 25 workers turning out 250 pairs of jeans an hour – 10 per worker, or 80 per worker per day.

That means a minimum wage worker would be paid somewhere in a range between 2p and 9p for each pair of jeans they make, which is broadly in line with a 2011 study of Bangladeshi garment manufacture by the US consultancy O’Rourke Group Partners, which priced the labour costs for a polo shirt at 8p.

O’Rourke put the total factory costs per shirt at 41p: Bloomberg calculated its Bangladeshi jeans cost the factory 56p to make, and the factory added on 16p in profit.
Splitting the difference, we are now up to about £4.50. But we still need to ship the jeans, and there are warehouse charges and port fees, so we can stick on another 30p, taking us up to £4.80. And we still need to get them from the port to the store, so that’s another 50p. That gives us £5.30, but there is still VAT to go on top.
The grand total of £6.36 would bust the budget for the jeggings, but they use a little less material, and we have saved a few pennies on the buttons and rivets. That will make them quicker to turn out, so that is a bit off the labour costs. It might just about be possible to bring them in at £5.99 or they may be a loss leader: that happens. The jeans, meanwhile, are showing a profit of £1.63."

                           -----------//-----------

So I'm trying to get my head around the fact that there are these thousands of women employed in the Bangladeshi clothing industry and they are being paid 23p an hour to do it if they are lucky and the factory pays minimum wage.

That's not the philosophical question I was thinking about although it would do to start with.

No, I was in the supermarket the other day, sitting in my disabled buggy waiting for Robyn to meet me and I was marvelling at how many women were wearing ripped jeans.

I should say I was a punk once and we started all that a very long time ago. I was actually marvelling at how long a life ripping your jeans has had as a fashion statement.

Except that punks ripped their own rather elderly jeans to show their anger and fury at the world.

My problem is that all these women, comfortably walking around the supermarket doing their shopping, were wearing jeans that had been bought 'ready ripped', as it were.

Even that isn't the philosophical question although, now I think about it, that would do as well.

My philosophical question was what would a Bangladeshi woman, being paid 23p per hour to make jeans, which is just not enough to keep herself and her family properly fed.......be thinking when the boss comes over and tells her to take the nice new pair of jeans that she could not begin to afford to buy on her wages and to rip the material apart.

I was just wondering.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com



Thursday, 3 August 2017

Over it now.

I'm starting to get used to disappointment but it's not easy.

Last year I spent a happy afternoon in the sun watching our local village cricket team playing the M.C.C. team. M.C.C. are the oldest cricket club and these days they send out teams to play local teams of all levels to create a bit of a buzz and to raise standards.

It worked last year - a close and classic game, played on a beautiful village green in the summer sun.

Today it was due to happen again and I'd been looking forward to it for a couple of months. Except this morning I was up at hospital and it all took ages. I had to do an interview with a medical  student to help with her studies. I was then late for my infusion and there wasn't space for us for a while. Then I didn't had a vein and there was a lot of 'stabbing about'. Then we had to wait for my meds.

Then we had to do things on the way back and by the time I got home I was tired out and hurting like mad. The sun went away and soon it was grey and miserable.......like me.

In the end I didn't go and I was very sad about that, but I'm over it now - it would have hurt too much.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

House of Pain.

Poor Robyn, she's running a house of pain. Sydney the Grumpy Cat is sick - she really was sick for a couple of days, now she's just ill and not eating. She's very sorry for herself.

So am I. We went shopping a day early because I'm up at hospital tomorrow when we normally go. I was in agony, in spite of painkillers.

When I got there, there were no disabled buggies, so I had to go out into the car park again to collect one that someone took to their car. It was just a bit too much for me.

I made it round and then when we left it was pouring with rain. I forgot where I'd parked and walked back to where I'd picked up the buggy by mistake. It was too much all over again.

The rest of the day I was in a lot of pain and in the evening was nauseous myself.

Sydney now hides underneath my chair, which is either because she wants to be with someone who is ill or because it's the one place where I can't stroke her.

As I said, house of pain.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwith[romisestokeep@gmail.com

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Billy Fairburn's memorial.

We went out this afternoon which is unusual for me these days - it's 'Cricket Week' at the village club. That means there's a game everyday.

On Thursday, the M.C.C. send a team and that's a big day. Unfortunately, I've got a hospital appointment that day which means a long wait for some meds and an infusion. So who knows what time I'll get back.

Today was different, we had an invite to the club for a social because our friend and neighbour, Shirley, was sponsoring the day in memory of her Husband Billy Fairburn who died of cancer last year. I knew him for many years so I had to go even though I didn't really feel like it.

It was very nice - a quiet memorial. Good food and some happy conversations. A bit of music,

Unfortunately for me I took one look at the stairs and knew I couldn't make it - so I sat on one of the benches outside. I got well and truly rained on and couldn't get inside to avoid it. It was, of course a Cricket match in the middle of an English summer, so I was always going to get rained on. After that Robyn left me an umbrella.

Eventually the clouds blew over and the game started. It was very close. We were stopping them from scoring, they were proving very hard to get out.

I had lots of memories of Billy Fairburn and was thinking about how (if I'd had a long and happy retirement) I would have done all kinds of things I never had time to do; go travelling, watch more Cricket, do a bit of fishing.

Lots of things.  

I basked in the sun - this summer I've been cold all the time, often sitting under a woollen blanket it was so bad.

I've turned into a cold blooded reptile.

It was really, really painful. I think sitting on benches is not really my thing any more.

But it was a nice afternoon.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Monday, 31 July 2017

Official food taster.


I'm feeling guilty about Sydney the Cat.

I should explain that Robyn thinks I should be taking more painkillers and I don't agree. She accuses me of whinging, which is a bit unfair. It's true that I do a fair bit of sighing and even a bit of groaning now and then.

But I only get about three hours sleep a night.

She's threatened to lace my food with pills. She's even told me she was going to put morphine in my tea. She may be American and not understand the fundamental cultural importance of ' Nice Cup of Tea', but that's the final straw.

I decided to employ Sydney the Grumpy Cat as my official food taster. We don't have much of a relationship, so becoming employer/employee isn't really destroying anything important.

And Sydney would do anything for Valarian root.

Anyway today Sydney has been sick all over the house. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Tom Durkin; For the millions not the millionaires.

This part of a series about some of the amazing people I met in my life.

You couldn't find anyone more different to Dolly Sayle than Tom Durkin; six foot plus tall, built like a brick 'outbuilding', fists like flat irons, a great mane of white hair and a voice that never needed a megaphone to address a mass meeting.

I didn't know Durkin although I saw him speak many times and spent a fascinating afternoon chatting with him and the equally remarkable Mrs Jayaben Desai at Brent Town Hall in 1987.

Back in 1977 I went to University during the middle of one of the most important industrial disputes of the time.

Grunwick was a company which developed peoples photographs before digital - you would post in your film with the money and a couple of days later they posted back the pictures. For the time it seemed very modern except that this hid a Dickensian factory that only employed vulnerable women from ethnic minorities at very low wages. At a time when the average weekly wage was £78, Grunwick workers earned an average of £28, including compulsory, unpaid overtime.

Mrs Desai courageously organised the majority of workers in the factory and took them out on strike. Famously, she said during the dispute;

"In a zoo there are many types of animal. Some are monkeys who dance to your tune; others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr Manager."



For the first time, the white Labour movement supported a dispute involving predominantly black workers. This was in no small part due to the organising ability of Tom Durkin who led the Brent Trades Council at the time and fought tirelessly to bring about the solidarity which could have won the dispute.

Most importantly, the Cricklewood Postal Workers refused to handle Grunwicks mail, which paralysed the factory.



At this point the full weight of the right wing of the Conservative party and the State stepped in to save George Ward, the owner of the company. A series of lawsuits were launched and specially selected right wing judges ruled against the workers every time.

Every day, 6000 Metropolitan Police officers were mobilised to keep the factory open and, for the first time, the Special Patrol Group (a specialist riot squad) were used to defeat the strikers.

I'm in there, somewhere - just one more push;


Getting there was a nightmare, struggling from Clapham where I lived to Dollis Hill. I needed a very early start with no breakfast. It made a big impression on me to see the right wing leaders of the Trades Union movement and prominent Labour M.P.'s, who'd felt obliged to be there, sitting in a 'greasy spoon' Café eating a full English Breakfast, while the rest of us were outside mixing it with the Police.

It was those right wing leaders and the Trades Union Congress who were to sell out the workers, and a Labour Government which was supposed to be in control of the Police who did nothing.

The truth is that in the usual pushing and shoving, we were at a big disadvantage, except on the days when Arthur Scargill and his 'Flying Pickets' came down from South Yorkshire.

The Miners made all the difference, something I was never to forget.

In 1987 I made the journey back to Brent, to the Art Deco grandness of the old Town Hall, for the 10th anniversary of the strike. Tom Durkin and Mrs Desai spoke, but in truth, there were very few people there. I didn't grumble, it made for an extremely interesting afternoon talking about the dispute with the main people behind it, now that the attention seekers and careerists had moved on.

There was clearly some wistfulness in Durkin - I think he always harboured dreams of leading a large revolutionary crowd to storm Brent Town Hall and I understood where he was coming from. 

While the Grunwick dispute may have been lost, it was the most glorious achievement to have fought the battle. There were lessons to be learned.

For the Tories it was the blueprint for how they were to destroy the Trades Union movement.

For the right of the Labour Party and the Trades Unions, it became clear to them that they had a choice; to fight with the workers or to sell them out. They sold out.

 The fact is, everyone involved with the dispute knew how important it was at the time. I certainly did and I learnt some valuable lessons from it.  

The moral is that you have to fight to win.

Durkin was everywhere; in the 1980's a friend of mine was active at The Greenham Common Womens Peace Camp, protesting against the siting of American Cruise missiles at the airbase.

Every so often, Tom Durkin would appear with a big lorry he had somehow 'borrowed'. He travelled around the building sites of West London, picking up wood for the women's camp fires.

This is the Eulogy issued by Brent Trades Council when Tom Durkin died - from those who really knew him.


Tom Durkin, A life of Struggle.

 

Tom Durkin, for years President of Brent Trades Council - Brent’s local TUC - died just before Christmas aged 87.

Many will remember him as the giant with the snow-white hair and booming voice. The great orator who never needed a mega-phone, who supported all workers in struggle, whatever the weather or time of day...
 
Born in Ireland to a large, poor family, like many he came to England in the 30’s looking for work. He tramped from Liverpool to London, sleeping under hedges and begging crusts of bread, finally finding work in the building trade. The work was poorly paid and insecure, and there was many a death or serious injury caused by poor safety. When he demanded safer conditions he would be given his cards, and be back to the dole queue. As he struggled for work to stave off starvation, he watched with growing disgust those whose wealth was gained at the workers expense. His vision grew for a world of social justice, of peace and racial harmony, free from exploitation by ‘the bosses’ He became a communist and from then his life was committed to a struggle for a better world -‘for the millions and not the millionaires’. And poor though he always was, Tom would never turn away someone begging food, sharing whatever he could. ‘I can never forget what it felt like to be hungry’ he said.
 
He became a leading member of UCATT, campaigning for union recognition to improve safety on building sites and for proper contracts of employment, and assisted the organisation of the 1972 National Building Workers Strike. He was elected to the Greater London Association of Trades Councils and the South East Region of the TUC, and was well known as one of their most colourful figures. He was an organiser of the Peoples March for Jobs in 1982, reminiscent of the Jarrow Marches of the 30’s, where thousands joined against Thatcher’s unemployment policies.
 
There was hardly an industrial dispute in which Tom was not involved, from supporting the women at Trico’s fighting for equal pay, to campaigning against factory closures in the borough.
 
Many will have heard him speak - outside factory gates, or on the steps of Brent Town Hall. And his speeches were brilliant, eloquent and carefully argued. Largely self-educated (he left school at 13) his intellect and knowledge of history, literature and philosophy exceeded many a graduate - Shakespeare, Burns, Byron, Shelley, the Bible, Marx and Engels - he had read and knew them all, and would refer to them often, bringing their ideas to life.
 
Tom welcomed the growing ethnic diversity of the borough and did much to influence the Trades Union Movement in taking up fights against race discrimination. He helped set up the Willesden International Friendship Club, forerunner to the Brent Community Relations Council. He was always proud that Nelson Mandela had addressed a packed meeting of Brent Trades Council in the ‘60s before he was incarcerated and he gave consistent support to the anti-apartheid movement. Years later he was to welcome the young women from Dunns supermarket, who were sacked for refusing to sell apartheid’s goods.
 
When 137 Asian workers walked out at the Grunwick film processing plant in Chapter Road demanding Union recognition, Tom was there to take up their cause. Every morning without fail he was on the picket line, and organised trade unionists from across the country to support their fight.
 
During the 1984 Miners Strike he welcomed Kent Miners to Brent and raised thousands of pounds for their hardship fund. Later the Trades Council was invited to go down the Betteshanger mine and after feeling the cold, the heat, the dark and the dust, we were entertained with a good old sing-song in the social club. And there was nothing Tom liked better.
 
Tom’s activities were not restricted to the Trade Union movement. He was a founder member of the Brent Community Law Centre, the Local Economy Resource Unit and the Unemployed Workers Centre. He spoke out for the homeless, the NHS, Schools, and for Peace.
 
Besides public speaking, he had other skills. He was a poet, a lover of music and a craftsman. Memorable too were the ‘hi-fis’ he built out of old junk to take on demonstrations, mount on cars etc. (elections in the borough have been much quieter and less colourful since his decline). His archives of the Labour movement, his hatred of throwing anything away that he could recycle . . . his legacy lives on in the Trades and Labour Hall!
 
He could have used his considerable talents for self-advancement and, no doubt, have lead a comfortable life. A mighty voice for ordinary people, you only had to see him with small children or with his beloved cat (who could do no wrong) to witness the soft side of this fierce but gentle giant.
He will be greatly missed. He leaves a widow, 3 children and a number of grandchildren and great grandchildren.
.
Kate McLean on behalf of Brent Trades Council


Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com