Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Boring of London

The Story of London takes place in June as part of the Mayor’s cultural programme of events in the capital.

According to Boris:

“Welcome to the Story of London Festival, a month long celebration of London’s past, present and future. This pan-London jamboree showcases the city’s huge and glorious heritage, highlights many unique facets of its present day cultural offer and takes a sometimes fun, sometimes serious look at its future … yah but no but, what what, piffle, Pimms please …”

The shabbily designed website promises ‘literally’ hundreds of events for all Londoners.

The first thing to say about this series of events is that the vast majority of them were happening anyway.

The second is to point out that a large amount of these events aren’t free – and don’t forget we lost RISE Festival to pay for this garbage.

The third, and perhaps most important, is that no-one under the age of 40 is likely to be in the slightest bit interested in the patriotic celebration of pre-immigration Britain with it’s jolly japes at Hampton Court and eulogies to Henry the fucking eigth.

This festival is not the Story of London, but the story of the ruling class. Dull, pompus and elitist, it features the kind of old tripe that old etonians pretend to like in the hope they might get their end away with that pretty young filly who plays the viola in the next county.

It’s about of much relevance to ordinary Londoners as a monocled glass of Pimms playing croquet on the Earl of Poshcunts front lawn.

The first weekend has a series of walking events. Learn about Mayfair during WW2 (£5), the Best of Belgravia (£6), chin chin or the Bohemians of fucking Bloomsbury (£7.50).

The only nod to real Londoners is a guide to multi-cultural Notting Hill, where for just £7.50 you might be lucky enough to catch a water melon smile or a real life piccaninny.

Over the weekend of 12-14th June we’re promised the BFI Jazz and Film Weekender, which sounds slightly more intersting, but really isn’t.

The BFI is showing a series of films, tickets prices are rarely less than a tenner and besides a few screenings in local libraries (and we mean a few) that’s your lot.

Unless of course you count the BFI’s mediatheque where “there’ll be opportunities to discover over 300 films and TV shows made in and around London for FREE.”

Except as Boriswatch points out this is something you can do everyday of the year anyway.

Seems kinda strange that London’s council tax payers should be funding events which don’t seem to cost any less than any other screenings at the BFI or were available free anyway. Vote Boris, pay twice.

Week three sees an orgy of toffness, with King Henry’s Tudor Joust at Eltham Palace (Tickets £12), Apsley House Waterloo Weekend (£7.50), a Royal Tour of Fulham Palace (£5) and a Tudeor River Pageant Marking the 500th Anniversary of Henry VIII’s Coronation (£17.50 what what, that should keep the riff raff out eh chaps).

The only free event of any significance is a Grand Victorian Fayre at blue-blooded Kenwood House where assorted inbred aristo wannabes can:

“Marvel as lady equestrians riding sidesaddle compete alongside gents in games including polo, pig-sticking and the famous ‘teapot dash’.”

Spiffing!

Finally the so called festival ends with an open house weekend where Londoners can have a look round the theatres that they can’t usually afford to go to, or if really lucky can have a look inside Benjamin Franklin House (that’ll be 7 quid please … sucker).

The handful of music events programmed over the month barely scrape the 20th century with ska, the swinging sixties, brit pop, garage and rave all ignored in favour of a Henry VIII Concert (£15) and Mendelssohn 200 (£6-25).

Boris does have the cheek to add Hampton Court Festival, now in it’s 17th year (tickets £40-120, but at least you might get to hear an electric guitar) and the Celebrating Sanctuary Refugee Festival into the mix, but both these events were running long before the chinless one had his bizarre rise to his level incompetance.

So it leaves us asking what’s the point? Is the Mayor’s cultural strategy to take a load of events which have happened for years, add in a few gigs for his posh chums, and spend a fortune branding the excercise as something which it clearly ain’t.

London is diverse, creative, radical and at it’s best, fun. London has driven culture in the UK and beyond, and that culture has largely come from the places Boris doesn’t really give a flying fuck about. The streets of Brixton, the estates of the East End, grotty Camden boozers and the abandoned warehouses of Hoxton are where London’s culture has flourished – places where life has been messy and exciting, where the working class of London has risen beyond forelock tugging and workhouses to reveal the best of the human spirit.

London’s history takes in the rise of the Notting Hill Carnival, the peasants revolt, the Gordon riots, Cable Street, the Sex Pistols and the blitz of the East End.

That’s not to say that classical music, traditional art and architecture haven’t played a part in the cities history and culture.

And fat bastards like Henry VIII amongst other ruling class scum have inflicted themselves on the Story of London and can’t be fairly edited out.

But to attempt to tell the story of London without any thought to the people who have made this city what it is further reveals that Boris and his tory chums to be what they really are. They have no interest in the story of London except for revelling in their own blood soaked history of undeserved privilege and self-congralatory pageantry.

One story of London the chinless twat might like to remember. Sir Nicholas Brembre was the Mayor of London from 1383 – 1385 and was to become the first man recorded to be hanged at Tyburn for treason.

That’s one story of London’s aristocratic past which we wouldn’t mind seeing re-enacted – innit.

Chris Gray Rest In Peace …

An obituary by comrade and lifelong friend Charlie Radcliffe …

The death of Christopher Gray on May 14 2009 leaves a huge gap in the lives of his many friends and particularly in the lives of his children Maria and  Eliane.

I first met Chris at a London anarchist meeting at the Lamb and Flag in June 1966 soon after returning from a trip to Amsterdam, then, with the provos, seen as the centre of the “worldwide revolution of youth”.  Chris had already seen THE REBEL WORKER 6 (1), a magazine I had produced with the also recently deceased Franklin Rosemont and his wife Penelope.  Chris wanted to buy a copy.

It was the beginning of a disrupted but life-long friendship, perhaps the most important of my life.  We talked at length, excitedly, and swapped addresses.  Our friendship rapidly developed. Tall, neat, dark-haired, skinny, striking-looking, very intelligent, fastidious, softly spoken and serious but with a ready laugh that often collapsed into hopeless giggles, when something really amused him, the name might be Gray, but the sense of humour, like the clothes, was often black.

Then Chris had recently worked with Conrad Rookes on Chappaqua, an early attempt (with an Ornette Coleman soundtrack) to capture drug consciousness through film.  He knew Tangiers and the Paris scene fairly well. Perhaps, most importantly, he had read Situationist International magazines, impressed by both their analysis and their style.  I’d simply read and re-read their classic piece on the Watts riots of 1965, The Decline and Fall of the Spectacular Commodity Economy, becoming ever more taken.  I’d also remembered IS’s strong support of Spies for Peace.  I now rapidly picked up from Chris a much clearer impression of this mysterious group.

Though Chris’s bourgeois background seemed superficially akin to mine our experiences were different.  While I had protested with the Committee of 100 in England, he had travelled extensively.  Hanging out in Tangiers and Paris’ Beat Hotel, Chris had met and knew several of the leading lights of the cultural avant-garde now burgeoning into an élite within the then new ‘counter-culture’.  While my past included a veritable mishmash of ill-digested influences – largely ‘Beat’, anarchist and then surrealist – he was a cultural dissident, led into the ‘new politics’ by an initial interest in the angry young men.  By now, however, he had read Antonin Artaud, had pronounced ideas on the Surrealists and Dada-ists as well as on art and anti-art. He was scathing about all avant-garde art – except Dada and to a more limited extent Surrealism.  He was equally utterly contemptuous of hippie culture – “the latest slave ideology imported from America” he called it  –  fingering Barry Miles in particular!  Chris and I liked each other immediately and we seemed to be in a very similar frame of mind.  Neither of us was interested in ‘old style’ anarchist politics (the only English-speaking libertarian communist groups we respected were THE REBEL WORKER, Solidarity, Resurgence, and later Black Mask).  Our views on the future also seemed to gell.  He was soon a very close friend.

As I took more and more time off work, Chris and I spent more and more time together, writing, talking, laughing, walking.  I suppose each of us cultivated a rebel posture.  Chris, wearing black, and looking like an intellectual, very cool, Thom Gunn-type biker, probably more exactly reflected our imagined Dark Host collective image.  I was now stuck somewhere in a sartorial Bermuda triangle between mod, Beat and Dylan. We both saw ourselves as rather politicised delinquents; beat-ified blousons with attitude, vandals ready to camp out in the squares of the falling empire, to help it’s collapse with firmly pushing hands and cackling, nihilist merriment.  Finding such a sympathetic comrade so soon after the Rosemonts’ departure was a real stroke of fortune: the elation of THE REBEL WORKER 6 days was combusting enthusiastically in new directions.

ACID DROPS! WORK STOPS!

Sometime in July 1966 Chris, his girlfriend Stella, my girlfriend Di and I set off for Berkshire and the enormous grounds of my old school, Wellington College, in Chris’s very old, very battered, somewhat green, Bedford Dormobile van, untaxed, uninsured and unfit for the road.

Finally I was about to take LSD, the infamous acid, soon to be banned as a scourge of youth.  Back then I knew very little about LSD25, other than that it had been discovered by a Sandoz research chemist. By then Mr Cube, whose Nebbish make-over of the Daily Express’s crusader logo adorned the paper packaging of British sugar cubes, was already becoming a minor psychedelic celebrity since sugar cubes were reckoned an ideal medium for carrying doses of LSD.  Lysergic acid diethylamide 25 had been synthesised from the ergot fungus (Claviceps purpurea) by the late Dr Albert Hofmann, a Swiss pharmacologist, in 1938.

Outbreaks of ergot poisoning or St Anthony’s Fire, usually from rye bread – ergot is predisposed to rye – had been common throughout Europe up to the early twentieth century. Hofmann’s research into this had initially seemed a dead end, but, a few years later in 1943, Hofmann seemed to hear his rejected potion calling to him, he famously observed that he didn’t discover LSD, it discovered him.  As a speaker commented – to enthusiastic applause – at a January 2006 symposium in Basel, Switzerland, to honour Dr Hofmann on his 100th birthday, which I attended with Chris –  LSD certainly knew what it was doing!  Dr Hofmann duly re-synthesised the drug contained in the ergot.  This time LSD took no chances: the ‘accidental absorption’ of a minute quantity of his discovery was enough to propel Dr Hofmann into the first ever acid trip.

Acid’s discovery and first use ran more or less parallel to the Manhattan Project’s development and the Allies’ use of the atom bomb: many acid users considered acid the quintessential antidote to the bomb. Chris had taken acid but I hadn’t found his somewhat dismissive approach (something along the lines of “a total experience leading nowhere and saying nothing” as I recall) either particularly re-assuring or particularly persuasive.  I’d read Huxley (though it took far longer to appreciate fully The Doors of Perception’s elegance, wisdom, wit and intelligibility as an introduction to consciousness-expanding drugs), and a few articles about acid.  It was already widely used in San Francisco and Amsterdam, not least around the Provo scene, and increasingly in London.

It was a beautiful summer day and the trip was a total revelation. Acid certainly seemed to be the great antidote, not only to the bomb, providing a way of seeing the absolute reality beyond assumed reality, a step outside samsara, dissolving all the barriers, turning the world immediately upside down, but also of understanding it, in ways deeper and more complete than could be achieved by thought alone.  It wasn’t an escape from thought but an exploration into soul or spirit, into what it truly meant to be denizen of the planet.  It was still hard to verbalise adequately the insights from that first trip, which slowly took form over the following weeks (and months and years). I had no idea then how far-reaching the effects might be.

Chris remained sceptical of acid for many years but by the time I caught up with him again in the new millennium he had changed his views completely, which is why I have dwelt on that first trip. The Acid, published under the pseudonym of Sam  by Vision Press this year, is as much a contribution to the politics of the new millennium as it is to psychedelic exploration and may eventually be recognised as being of more single importance than even his seminal situationist assessment of the politics of the 60s, Leaving The Twentieth Century, which will, for many, be his best remembered work.

For Chris there was precious little contradiction between the one and the other and he saw The Acid as a rational and entirely logical development of his 60s and 70s political agenda.  He wrote to me in 2003: ‘The issues are so vast and complex – and highly personal… I remember Raoul (Vaneigem) saying somewhere in Banalités de base (The Totality for Kids) [2] “Sooner or later the IS must define itself as a therapy…” (which probably in the circumstances promptly sealed his fate) but that still seems to me a more ‘positive’ approach to the whole mess of revolutionary psychology.  I don’t mean just Guy (Debord), look at the competitiveness, the casual vindictiveness, the wallowing in unworked-through anger so characteristic of the Left.  No one, apart from Reich maybe, has made the slightest effort to address this. For me one of the main issues the whole débâcle of l’Internationale situationniste highlights is this need for some clear therapeutic experimentation right at the heart of any future revolutionary upsurge.  It’s not peripheral, not a luxury, but the very essence of the matter…’ it’s rather hard to argue otherwise! As the famous acid chemist Nick Sand advises “Read this book”.

Chris helped me produce the first issue of HEATWAVE and was fully involved, as co-editor, with HEATWAVE 2, the magazine that effectively became the open sesame to L’Internationale situationniste. Chris was the effective leader of the English section which later became King Mob after its expulsion by the French.  By then I had gradually become less and less political, eventually to be seduced by the lure of dope dealing, but Chris continued his political life through the late 60s, before moving to India in 1969 to join Osho. Chris’ interesting account of this period of his life is in Osho (also by Sam!) His ‘retreat’ to India earned him the opprobrium of the ‘politically committed’ but a close reading of the book is enough to indicate that Chris never turned his back on his political convictions.

I met up with him again at the beginning of the new millennium and we immediately found coincidences in our lives and once again he became a hugely important influence in mine. Highly intelligent as he was, Chris might have appeared somewhat austere to slighter acquaintances but to his friends he was a warm and loving companion, never frightened to offer an opinion but open minded, tolerant,  wise, and, whenever the giggles didn’t submerge it, extremely articulate.

The future will be a little more uncertain. The sun will perhaps shine a little less. And I shall sorely miss his wisdom and insight, and above all his forgiving warmth. He was my best friend and I love him.

(1) LEAVING THE TWENTIETH CENTURY Free Fall, London, 1974, most recently republished by Rebel Press, London, 1998, and still probably the best (and undoubtedly the most famous and influential) brief introduction in English to Situationist ideas and history.)


(2) ’L’IS devra se définir tôt ou tard comme thérapeutique: nous sommes prêts a protéger la poésie faite par tous contre la fausse poésie agencée par le pouvoir seul (conditionnemente).’

(Raoul Vaneigem, Banalités de Base, Part Two (p. 39, section 17) L’Internationale situationniste 8, Paris,  January 1963.)

kingmobyellow

Talking About Cannabis LOL!!!

“I am now no longer working with the registered charity Talking About Cannabis, whose name is now changing to differentiate it from the non-profit company that I still run.”

Debra Bell – http://www.talkingaboutcannabis.com/

Well, we’ve left ‘em alone for a while, a tactical retreat based on the fact we reckoned the bastards didn’t deserve the publicity.

And it seems they have finally imploded with mad mum Debra Bell presumably sacked retired to sponge off her husband’s salary once more.

So what’s to become of the charity Talking About Cannabis, who appear to have changed there name to Talking About Cannabis Ltd and are now a mouthpiece for schoolteacher Mary Brett to continue lying about cannabis to the kids.

As Debra Bell sinks back into well deserved obscurity we’ll be keeping an eye on Brett and co and finding out what they actually do.  The 24 hour helpline they boasted of running appears to have lasted about a month, and without a website to call their own we wonder how exactly they are advancing their noble mission: 

“TO RELIEVE THE SUFFERING CAUSED BY CANNABIS USE BY PROVIDING SUPPORT AND ADVICE TO USERS AND
THEIR FAMILIES.

Having only registered in August of last year they are not yet required to have filed an annual statement to the Charity Commission explaining what they do and how they pay for it – but as soon as they do we’ll be bringing you all the details.

In the meantime, we’d like to say so long and thanks for all the giggles to mad old bat Debra Bell.

We’re off to skin up.