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)
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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' CafĂ© 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)
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Saturday, 29 July 2017


I've had the most frustrating of days in Slough.

We wanted some plastic pots for our herbs but they cost a fortune, so I looked up a new store on the internet - it's only a couple of years old but its all over the country and offers really cheap household stuff. They had what we wanted and off we headed in the rain.

I had lots of pain and the painkillers weren't working. We got there and the store was the size of a superstore. I struggled all the way around - not a single pot. And they were there on the internet today!

I grew up going into Slough as my 'big city'. It never stays the same - buildings get built and then, a few years later they get torn down.

With the exception of the Town Hall, which is protected, everything else is up for grabs.

I've not been getting out much these days, so I may not have driven through the town for about 9 months.

First of all, there's a new building where the old bus station was and that wasn't even started when I was last there. It's really ugly but that isn't unusual for the town. It has loads of nice cladding too!

They knocked down the purpose built bus station a few years ago, so that they could sell off the land. That meant that when they built its new space age replacement, it was a lot further away from the shops and that meant everybody had to walk further. They also filled in the tunnel that protected people from the traffic and kept them out of the rain and dropped them straight into the shopping centre.

Ah well.

Slough used to have a dual carriageway running through the town, split up by roundabouts. The biggest was in the centre of town and it was designed so that pedestrians could walk through underground subways, far from the dangerous cars.

Slough used to be designed so that people walking from the station, the bus station, car park, college and library were all linked by underground walkways like the spokes of a wheel. It kept people safe.

Not any more.

They filled in the big roundabout and now people take their chances with the cars on the dual carriageway. They built a cross roads in its place but, hey......they sold off the extra land.

Today was another real surprise for me - the Library had gone. In the autumn they opened up 'The Curve', another space age design; a library and wedding venue and performance venue in one.

Except we had all of those before; separately and bigger.

The old library was a joy - I spent a lot of time there as did loads of local kids who did their homework there in the warm and quiet. Not any more.....its gone. And there isn't enough room for all those kids in the new one.

Then we drove round to the store in the industrial estate.

Last year we spent a lot of time at 'The Centre', which was a function venue as well as the registry office. It was big but now its gone too.

None of these buildings were really any kind of loss - there's no architecture in Slough worth saving. The new buildings could be knocked down tomorrow and no one would mind either.

In fact, some of the offices have been built, stayed empty for about 10 years and then were demolished and rebuilt without ever having been used. Somebody is making money but I'm not entirely sure how.

Meanwhile the roads get worse, pedestrians suffer, pollution gets worse and worse and the quality of life goes down and down.

And we didn't get any pots and I was in agony.


Neil Harris
(don't stop till you drop production)
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Friday, 28 July 2017

Dulce et Decorum Est.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

This week it's a hundred years since The Third Battle of Ypres or The Battle of Passchendaele. The battle lasted from the 31st July until October and saw the deaths of 500,000 men to win five miles of muddy Flanders Fields.

Only poetry can begin to describe what happened there.

Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori; it is sweet to die for your country.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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Thursday, 27 July 2017

Staring into the Abyss.

I had a dismal day today - lots of pain, we went shopping and then I had to get this;

There are two kinds of people who buy 'Nourishment'.

There are those cool, hip, black guys.

Too busy to cook, too busy for a takeaway meal. Those dudes run to pick up a can of Nourishment from a newsagents, on their way to a great night out. No time to eat.

These are 24 hour party people.

And then there's me.

I'm not eating enough, been losing weight.

So Robyn's put her foot down and now I have to drink this stuff.

It's like staring into the abyss. The next step is buying trousers with elasticated waistbands. Shoes that do up with Velcro flaps.

It's a world of beige and tope.

Definitely not for 24 hour party people.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Molly Sayle.

I suppose I ought to write about some of the people I knew in my life - after all I spent most of my time surrounded by thieves and murderers.

No, really I did.

But they weren't the really interesting ones. Actually, with a couple of exceptions (like the serial killer) they weren't so bad as all that. The really bad people I knew were the ones I worked for. The suit-wearing respectable ones who ripped everybody off, including me.

No the really, really interesting people weren't rich or powerful. They were determined, courageous, idealistic people and they don't deserve to be forgotten. So I'll write about a few of them.

Exactly thirty years ago at the end of this August,  I went off for my first ever holiday abroad. I'd reached the grand old age of 28 and I was due to start a new job in the middle of September, although it was only guaranteed for a couple of months.

I spent the last of my money (pretty much down to the last tenner) on a coach holiday to Italy.

I went on the much lamented 'Yorkshire Tours', about which I could write a book in itself. Run by two retired pharmacists from Yorkshire, they started in the 'business' when they bought two minivans to ferry Arthur Scargill's 'Flying Pickets' around the country in the Miners strikes of 1972 and 1974.

They soon branched out into organising very cheap and very adventurous holidays to destinations as bizarre as Beijing and Ulan Batur, Moscow and Libya to raise money for left wing causes. Every trip involving long, long overnight coach travel (to save on hotels) and a degree of chaos and confusion which made it all the more exciting.

Not surprisingly, the people on the holidays had a few things in common; we were all very left wing, adventurous and flat broke.

I caught my first coach abroad from an archway by the side of the British Museum and I had the time of my life in Northern Italy.

This was 1987 and they still remembered the war, vividly.

Everywhere you went the little villages had bullet holes in the buildings around their squares and plaques commemorating the Communist Partizans who died there fighting the Nazis.

We stayed in a little village high above Lake Garda, surrounded by holidaying Germans flashing great wads of Lire and demanding service which never seemed to come.

We would sit at our tables counting out little piles of lire coins (which never added up to much in money terms) trying to eke out enough to get a cappuccino or a grappa.

Strangely, our orders turned up instantly, sometimes they seemed to give us more than we could afford. The proprietor would come out and flamboyantly offer us (and just us) fresh figs from a basket full he'd just picked from his own tree.

They knew who we were and who ran Yorkshire Tours.

Of course nowadays the little villages are all holiday homes owned by Germans and the effect of Thatcher and Berlusconi has been to destroy the little communities of the mountains.

Anyway, back then a number of us became friends and met up for a few years after we came back.

One of the people I met was Molly Sayle, mother of the comedian Alexei Sayle. You couldn't help liking Molly - she was as round as a ball and five foot nothing of feisty Liverpudlian, although by way of being a Jewish refugee from Lithuania.

Molly's husband was a railwayman while she worked as a seamstress and then as a clerk for a football pools company. I never got round to asking her what happened to my winnings, but I can guess.

When I knew her she was working as a Lollypop lady, helping school children to cross the road.

The couple were fighting Communists and well known in the Liverpool Labour movement - anywhere in the country if you met someone from the left in Liverpool and mentioned Molly, their eyes would light up.

Like me, Molly had faced off a few charges by police on horseback in her time but she was of a generation who would spit out the word 'Cossacks', as she did so.

She was also the funniest person I ever knew - I never stopped laughing for the whole ten days. She had a way of being completely deadpan when she said something and we would just crack up. She was a lot funnier than her son.

My best memory is of the coach taking us up and down the long, narrow, winding road from the village down to the lake and beyond each day.

One day, Italian workmen were repainting the white lines on the road but we came down before the paint had dried. Our coach swung dramatically from left to right as it made the perilous and winding journey from our cheap hotel at the top of the mountains down to the lake below.

As it did so it took the white line and turned it into three or four white lines, waving across the full width of the road. Me and Molly were splitting our sides with laughter, which only got worse as we looked out of the back of the coach at the workmen who were actually jumping up and down with rage at what the coach had done.

Molly Sayle had organised support for the striking Miners in 1984, she'd served her time in Anti Apartheid and Solidarity for Palestine. She fought for a united Ireland, she'd hounded more than a few fascists in her time and if there was a dispute in Liverpool, she'd be there on the picket line.

I miss her enormously.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Pain conference.

The weirdness continues. Robyn was going up to London to spend some time with a friend. I was quite ill today, so I stayed in but I was due to have my 'pain conference' at ten past nine in the morning.

I've been in a lot of pain for the last five months. Some of that there's no cure for; my spine was collapsing again and that hurts like hell. Move just a little the wrong way, sneeze or cough, try and stand up and I was screaming. Try and lie down.....screaming. Driving the car over a bump in the road....screaming.

It's so bad there's no cure for it - in 2015 when it happened the first time I was in Wexham Park hospital for a week, where they didn't know what they were doing. I was having intravenous morphine and I was still.......screaming.

Now I've finally got the OK for infusions to pull back calcium onto the collapsed vertebrae and I'm ok again. I'm even back in bed.

But I've also got bad pains in my hips and pelvis, my right knee and shin. It's just plain miserable and every so often I'm in agony. I'm not sure whether it's the tumours or a side effect of the chemo but that doesn't really matter a lot. It hurts to walk.

Every body is telling me I need to take more painkillers and they may well be right. But I don't see it that way - I need to know how I am, I need to be able to think for as long as possible, I need to be awake to be alive.

Anyway I got a letter from the G.P.'s to make an appointment for a 'pain conference'. I phoned up a month ago and was told I'd have a telephone conference - I'd get a phone call.

Except this morning I got a reminder text which I immediately recognised meant I was supposed to be at the surgery.

Someone messed up.

I phoned early in the morning but it was too late to do anything but cancel.

So I asked to make another appointment - they aren't making any non urgent all.

Not never.

They are that busy.

I was a bit depressed about all this - I may want to keep control of the painkillers I take but I could have done with a bit of advise. And I have a good relationship with my G.P. and the last thing I wanted to do was miss an appointment.

So I spent the day indoors, feeling ill and hurting and feeling very sorry for myself.

Meanwhile someone feeling even more sorry for themselves jumped onto the railway line, cutting all the trains that Robyn needed to catch to get home.

It got so bad that Sydney the Grumpy cat (who hates me) actually came into my room twice to ask; "Actually who is going to get my dinner?"

Then she left.

Robyn got back home eventually and then at about 8 pm my poor doctor rang me, which was really kind of her.

Except by then I'd forgotten everything I'd wanted to ask. The doc actually told me I should take exactly the meds I wanted to.

Like anyone is ever going to believe that.

How can I explain?

I've been watching the Tour de France, which I've done since I was a kid.

Mark Cavendish is a very courageous sprinter - it's a specialist discipline which involves a select band of cyclists who spend the entire days racing edging themselves to the front at the end of a very long stage. Then they race each other over a relatively short sprint for the line at very high speed.

This year, Cavendish got pushed into the barriers by a rival sprinter who was disqualified as a result. 'Cav', however, had a really bad crash at high speed, breaking his shoulder amongst a number of other injuries.

I listened to an interview with him, where he described how he was back on an exercise bike within two days.

With a broken shoulder!

He described how professional cyclists stop the painkillers almost immediately, so they can train again straight away to stay fit. They stop the painkillers to know exactly what they can and can't do. The pain tells them.

Which is exactly how I feel about it.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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Monday, 24 July 2017

O Fortuna!

I went out today, coming back tired out and hurting. I played the 'Carmina Buruna' by Carl Orff to myself while I recovered.

This opera was written in the 1930's, based on 12th Century manuscripts discovered in a German Monastery where they had lain unnoticed for seven centuries.

The illuminated manuscripts were controversial when they were found. They didn't conform to the 1930's view of medieval life or monasteries. The manuscripts included scenes set in a pub, descriptions of sex and wild behaviour. They were an earthy and unexpectedly explicit description of life in the early middle ages.

The first section (and the last) is based on 'The Wheel of Fortune' manuscript;

O Fortune.
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing
and waning;
hateful life
first oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
and power
it melts them like ice.
Fate - monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.

Fate is against me
in health
and virtue,
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate
strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!

                      I bemoan the wounds of Fortune

                         I bemoan the wounds of Fortune
with weeping eyes,
for the gifts she made me
she perversely takes away.
It is written in truth,
that she has a fine head of hair,
but, when it comes to seizing an opportunity
she is bald.
On Fortune's throne
I used to sit raised up,
crowned with
the many-coloured flowers of prosperity;
though I may have flourished
happy and blessed,
now I fall from the peak
deprived of glory.
The wheel of Fortune turns;
I go down, demeaned;
another is raised up;
far too high up
sits the King at the summit -
let him fear ruin!
for under the axis is written
Queen Hecuba.

It's very funny - fortune comes along with a full head of hair and then, darn it, leaves bald.

It's also quite threatening - let the King fear ruin!

And always the reminder that what goes up has a tendency to come right back down with the turn of the wheel of fortune. 

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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Sunday, 23 July 2017

I choose the Mountain.

I lost another day - no sleep and then a wasted day while I was just......wasted.

I was cold all day (in July!) and then hot in the evening when it got cold.

I felt sick even though I've stopped the chemo. And everything was hurting when it shouldn't be.

I like this poem by Howard Simon, it sort of sums up where I was coming from.

The low lands callI am tempted to answer
They are offering me a free dwelling
Without having to conquer

The massive mountain makes its move
Beckoning me to ascend
A much more difficult path
To get up the slippery bend

I cannot choose both
I have a choice to make
I must be wise
This will determine my fate

I choose, I choose the mountain
With all its stress and strain
Because only by climbing
Can I rise above the plain

I choose the mountain
And I will never stop climbing
I choose the mountain
And I shall forever be ascending
I choose the mountain                         

By Howard Simon.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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Saturday, 22 July 2017

But the Banks are made of Marble.

I felt the need to cheer myself up after a tough week - I listened to a famous old 'Wobbly' song - The Banks are made of Marble'.

The 'Wobblies' were a militant American Trades Union that was founded by the legendary 'Big' Bill Haywood amongst others in 1904.

Haywood was also a legend of the old wild west; born in Salt Lake City, his father was a Pony Express Rider and Haywood himself took part in one of the last ever wagon trains. He also ended up working in the Colorado copper mines at a period of violent Labour disputes.

He became a trades unionist and at well over six feet tall he was soon in demand on the picket lines.

In 1905 Haywood spoke at the founding Congress of the Industrial Workers of the World, sharing a platform with Eugene Debs of The Socialist Party and 'Mother Jones' of The United Mineworkers Union of America.

The I.W.W. was to be a 'new' union; fighting for a new society by organising all workers into 'One Big Union'. This was at a time when most unions limited their members to white craft workers and excluded any unskilled workers or anyone from ethnic minorities.

The I.W.W. made a point of recruiting ethnic minorities and treating them equally. They organised the Pullman workers.

It was particularly successful in winning members of the Chinese community although many of them were unable to pronounce 'Industrial Workers of the World'. When they started calling the union the 'Wobblies', it caught on.

The Wobblies were followers of Syndicalism which had developed in France and Italy. It travelled as far as Britain where The National Union of Railwaymen were won over and their constitution long had a clause committing the Union to the establishment of socialism and winning it through the General Strike.

The Wobblies were militantly anti capitalist and pioneered riding railway freightcars as a means of getting free transport. This way their organisers moved up and down the country. They had a rich culture of songs and poems too.

The Wobblies didn't stand by when the Coal Bosses or the Copper Barons used violence against strikers either. When the bosses hired Pinkerton agents to shoot down strikers, the Union shot back.

They weren't pacifists - they stood proudly in the tradition of 'The Molly Maguires'.

In 1907 Big Bill Haywood successfully fought off a false murder charge with the help of the famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow.

The Wobblies soon had millions of members and supporters.

That was to change with the arrival of the First World War and the creation of the FBI to destroy them. Haywood was to be convicted of trumped up charges under the Espionage Act and with failing health he skipped bail and went on the run.

Haywood ended up in the Soviet Union where he died. Half his ashes are buried in the Kremlin Wall, the other half near the Chicago Haymarket Martyrs Monument.

Anyway, this is 'The Banks are made of Marble', one of the most famous Wobbly songs and as relevant today as it was when it was written;

I've travelled round this country
From shore to shining shore.
It really made me wonder
The things I heard and saw.

I saw the weary farmer,
Plowing sod and loam;
I heard the auction hammer
A knocking down his home.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the farmer sweated for.

I saw the seaman standing
Idly by the shore.
I heard the bosses saying,
Got no work for you no more.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the seaman sweated for.

I saw the weary miner,
Scrubbing coal dust from his back,
I heard his children cryin',
Got no coal to heat the shack.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the miner sweated for.

I've seen my brothers working
Throughout this mighty land;
I prayed we'd get together,
And together make a stand.

[Final Chorus:]
Then we'd own those banks of marble,
With a guard at every door;
And we'd share those vaults of silver,
That we have sweated for.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Contact me:

Friday, 21 July 2017

Enough Bite!

I finished my dose of chemo;

It's 14 days on and 14 days off.

I have mixed feelings about it. It gives me a lot of pain, I feel sick and stopped eating.

But it gave me five months more and it pulled things back a bit - if too little and too slowly.

I should be more grateful - the first three chemo's didn't work too well and I always grumbled that the doses were too low.

Not enough bite!

This one has plenty of bite. It's so poisonous that if I was sick it's too poisonous for Robyn to clear it up without wearing rubber gloves.

It's a 'cytotoxin' and that's not good.

Anyway I'm starting on my two weeks recovery although these days I still feel sick.

And it still hurts.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

Thursday, 20 July 2017


If you read my blog yesterday you will know that Sydney the Grumpy Cat has discovered the forbidden joys of Valerian Root, which to some cats acts like a drug.

Sydney loves it.....she can't get enough of it.

The only problem is that there are various social problems that come along with it too.

Sydney used to sleep for 23 and a half hours a day, just getting up to eat. Now she has taken to prowling around the house at all hours of the day and night, growling aggressively;

"I need Valerian now..... get me some 'V'!"

In fact she's started to let herself go - she's very untidy.

She's stopped eating. She doesn't groom herself anymore.

All she ever wants is 'V'.

She stands at the front door trying to sell her all her mouse toys to any passing cat in return for 'V'.

She's taken over the toilet and pulls up all the house plants so that she can soak the roots.......for 'V'.

She's taken to wearing a sinister 'Pork Pie Hat' and brews up something called 'Blue V' which she tries to sell to all the alley cats around here.

Occasionally I hear her doing a very bad Amy Winehouse impersonation, singing Mark Ronson's version of 'Valerian'.


Well sometimes I go out by myself
And I look across the water
And I think of all the things, what you're doing
And in my head I paint a picture

Since I've come on home,
Well my body's been a mess
And I've missed your ginger hair
And the way you like to dress
Won't you come on over
Stop making a fool out of me
Why don't you come on over, Valerian?


Did you have to go to jail,
Put your house on up for sale, did you get a good lawyer?
I hope you didn't catch a tan,
I hope you find the right man who'll fix it for ya
Are you shopping anywhere,
Changed the color of your hair, are you busy?
And did you have to pay that fine
That you were dodging all the time, are you still dizzy?

Since I've come on home,
Well my body's been a mess
And I've missed your ginger hair
And the way you like to dress
Won't you come on over?
Stop making a fool out of me
Why don't you come on over, Valerian?


Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Contact me: