Brighton MayDay Protest & Party
Brighton, Sussex. Saturday 30 April 2011
One of the eight arrests I saw, some at least of which seemed to be rather
Around two hundred people took part in an early May Day Protest against
the cuts, bankers, tax dodgers and those damaging the environment and the
local community, which was met with confused policing with at least eight
arrests, some at least of those who retaliated against attacks by police who
appeared to lose control of themselves. Another was a young woman who refused
to remove the scarf covering her face; another man was threatened with arrest
for holding up his hands in front of the camera when an officer was photographing
him at close range, but I'm not sure if he was actually arrested.
The meeting point on the promenade near the ruins of the West pier was a
closely guarded secret, posted on Twitter, Facebook and on a mobile number
half an hour before the event was to start. When I arrived there were around
a dozen photographers and a couple of plain clothes police standing and watching
roughly the same number of protesters, with a couple of police on horses around
50 yards along the prom and several police vehicles waiting on the road opposite.
By the time the march was ready to set off, all these numbers had swelled
significantly and there were approaching a couple of hundred protesters. We
were handed out a leaflet including a map of Brighton, marked with 27 suitable
targets for protest, including arms manufacturers EDO MBM/ITT some way out
in Moulscomb and Thales, several branches of Barclays, the UK's largest investor
in the arms trade, an armed forces recruitment centre and Marks & Spencer's
who support Israel by buying goods from illegal Israeli settlements. Other
shops on the list included notable tax dodgers Vodaphone, Boots and the various
Arcadia group brands - Topshop, BHS, Burton, Dorothy Perkins. Accused of damaging
the environment were RBS who invest hugely in the area, Shell, particularly
for their Rossport pipeline in Ireland, BP for their exploitation of tar sands,
E.ON for coal fired power stations and Veolia. Other targets named included
Brighton Town Hall, Tescos, Sainsburys and Starbucks, Fox & Sons involved
in illegal evictions, Beyond Retro who sell fur and also two properties owned
by the notorious Nicholas Van Hoogstraten.
The march started at 12.30 by throwing a giant dice which was used to determine
the first target for the day. It came down as a 4, which meant we were going
to Brighton Town Hall. The march formed up and set off in the right direction,
but it never got there. As it started off, it was surrounded by police, with
horses at front and at back and a row of officers along each side. There were
a lot of arguments with police bringing the march to a halt at various points
and it was hard to understand why. Finally in Duke Street the police kettled
the protest. There were a few scuffles as protesters tried to push their way
around the line of police and a couple of the protesters were arrested. One
young woman was also apparently arrested for refusing to remove her mask for
At one point, police formed a line and prevented shoppers and others from
moving from Ship St into North St, although almost all the protesters were
still in a kettle a hundred yards away in Duke St. One young couple with a
child were a little disturbed, and I asked one of the mounted officers who
was trying to clear the street to talk to the police forming the cordon and
let them and others through as it was obviously a pointless restriction. The
police fairly quickly realised this and began to let people through and out
of the area.
After holding the protest there for 40 minutes, police came to an agreement
with the marchers to allow them to continue, and they came out onto North
street. Police then made them march along the pavement, and there really wasn't
room for the police horses, particularly as some of the shops have overhanging
signs. The march halted at the junction with East St, where several people
used the megaphone to talk about the cuts and about the handouts to bankers
- we were outside two banks including a branch of NatWest (owned by the RBS.)
The marchers then moved up towards the pavilion gardens, with police horses
galloping up past them. As I reached the narrow gates I heard one officer
ask his neighbour "Are we supposed to stop them here?" and get the
answer "I don't know", so they did anyway, although a dozen protesters
had beat them to it, and the same number more vaulted over the locked wooden
gates of the vehicle entrance before more officers formed a barrier in front
of that. The rest of the march was then loosely kettled here again, and there
were a few incidents that appeared to be provoked by police pushing back demonstrators
who they felt were too close to them, and a couple more arrests were made.
After around 20 minutes or so, the officer in charge apparently managed to
come to the decision that there was no reason why the protesters should not
walk through the park, and they were allowed to do so, where they were cheered
by a large crowd sitting on the grass eating and drinking.
For the next couple of hours the marchers ran and walked mainly in circles
around the centre of Brighton, chased by police on foot and on horseback,
who were left behind for some large stretches by sudden changes in direction.
Occasionally their route was blocked by police, who also formed lines in front
of some targets such as Boots and Tesco stores. On Queen's Road there were
a group of football fans standing on the pavement outside the Royal Standard
who jeered at the marchers, who retorted by shouting slogans against the EDL
and the police were quick to make sure the two groups were kept well apart.
Eventually we made our way down to the promenade again and some of the protesters
sat down briefly on the road. For once there was a clear message from the
police and they were told they would be kettled unless they got up. They did,
walking along the promenade for a while before running up the hill again (another
arrest for no very clear reason) before going through Clarence Square and
on to Western Road, then eventually going down Montpelier Road and back to
the seafront. Here the protesters went down the steps and walked across the
playground to the shingle beach. As we walked and ran around the town, most
of the protesters and media had gradually drifted away, and there were only
perhaps 50 of them left as they started to party there, watched from the promenade
by slightly more police. I decided it was time too for me to leave.
I couldn't help feeling that both protesters and police would have benefited
from rather more cooperation by both sides, and both need to make a greater
effort to communicate with each other and with the public, many of whom were
asking me what was going on.
I hope the Brighton police will learn from the event, not least that police
horses are simply not suitable for the close escorting of protesters in narrow
streets or on pavements. There are real health and safety issues here and
mounted police need to be deployed more intelligently.
By the end of the day, officers in charge were clearly saying that it was
their job to enable peaceful protest - and seemed to be acting with this in
mind. But at the start of the protest they seemed to be far more concerned
with controlling and frustrating the protesters.
Royal Wedding in Soho etc
Old Compton St, London. Friday 29 April 2011
Waiting for the party to start
a few more pictures
I just took a few more pictures on my slightly rambling way (thanks to some
street closures) back home. But I didn't want to wait for it really to get
Republic: Not the Royal Wedding Party
Red Lion Square, London. Friday 29 April 2011A
TV presenter from the one show talks to 'the Queen'
Republic is a growing movement of people across the social and political
spectrum who aim to address what they see as "the key flaw in British
democracy" which "results from an unwritten constitution at the
heart of which is the institution of the monarchy and the Crown." As
their name says, they want Britain to become a republic.
The decided to hold an alternative street party on the day of the royal wedding,
a small event for some of "Britain's 10 million republicans" but
met with a great deal of opposition. Eventually they gained permission to
have an event in Holborn's Red Lion Square. They state that their event was
based on traditional street parties held to celebrate royal events, but with
"one key difference - we'll be celebrating democracy and people-power
rather than inherited privilege."
The first thing I noticed on arriving was a large card to congratulate Kate
and William, with the message inside "While we wish you every happiness
in married life, we oppose your right to inherit public office and will do
all we can to ensure that the Queen's successor is chosen by - and accountable
to - the British people.
There was a woman with a mask with the Queen's face, a BBC TV presenter dressed
as a royal (I think it was Alex Jones and hope it was just a bad wig), lots
of TV cameras, Peter Tatchell, and a few rather lost-looking members of the
'Love Police' whose leader had previously been taken into custody. Police
had also prevented what would have been some amusing street theatre by arresting
Chris Knight and a couple of his friends and confiscating their props including
a small and not too convincing guillotine and some royal effigies.
There was food on sale, music, 'I'm not a Royal Wedding Mug' mugs and a bear
who wants to be president when he grows up, and a stall was selling 'not royal'
honours at cut prices; I turned down an offer to be a Duke, but I did get
a blessing from the 'cardinal' as the Archbishop of Canterbury was otherwise
engaged. There was even a man giving a short lecture to anyone who would listen
about an alternative to the Union Flag, a tricolour of green, pale lilac and
red which seems unlikely to catch on.
People were still arriving as I left, and slowly there did seem to be a festive
Parliament Square Protests Continue
Parliament Square, London. Thursday 28 April 2011
Maria of the Peace Strike in Gitmo costume on one of her boxes (later covered
up for the wedding.)
The resident protesters including Brian Haw's Peace Campaign and the Peace
Strike are still in Parliament Square, enjoying the extra attention from crowds
coming for tomorrow's royal wedding.
Maria Gallastegui was standing on top of her police box, wearing orange Guantanamo
fatigues and a black hood, a reminder that their is still one Londoner, Shaker
Aamer, a Muslim relief worker whose family are still living in Battersea,
imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, and that another man who spent his teenage years
in Britain, Bradley Manning, is also in military detention in the US, accused
as the Wikileaks whistle-blower.
Next door Brian Haw's Peace Campaign was still protesting, almost ten years
after he started in June 2001, and his display seemed to have been smartened
up a little for tomorrow's event. Although Brian is still in hospital in Germany,
his colleague Barbara Tucker was there, telling inquiring members of the press
that tomorrow was just another ordinary day so far as their protest was concerned.
Ms Tucker was in the High Court again yesterday, "turning herself in"
for breaking a High Court injunction preventing her entering the currently
fenced off public space of Parliament Square. She complains that the Mayor
and police have set a new precedent by getting a High Court injunction to
imprison people for peacefully challenging government policies in a public
Others making a protest there include Solomon Kumar Guntupalli, who has been
on hunger strike there since 24 March, taking only plain water. He was arrested
on 7 Oct 2004 and after 16 months on remand convicted and given an 8 year
6 months sentence for possession and conspiracy to supply cocaine.
He claims that he was tried without being able to see the evidence against
him or to summon witnesses or cross examine prosecution witnesses, did not
receive any hones or professional legal advice or representation and that
there was conclusive evidence, including from CCTV that he was innocent. His
hunger strike is for a full and thorough investigation into his wrongful arrest,
conviction and sentence, and he has made a declaration that he intends to
carry on his protest "Till Truth or Death".
While I talked to him this afternoon he was putting the finishing touches
to a new poster for his display on the Parliament Square fence, especially
for tomorrow, with Cupid's arrow through a heart giving the message 'Young
Love is Beautiful Will -Kate.'
International Workers Memorial Day
DWP, Caxton House, Westminster, London. Thursday 18 April 2011
Justice for the Shrewsbury Pickets banner and Hazards Campaign speaker
Events were held around the world today for International Workers Memorial
Day, remembering those who have died in the workplace, with the slogan 'Remember
the dead - fight for the living' including a protest outside the DWP against
cuts in the Health& Safety Executive.
International Workers Memorial Day was established in Canada in 1984 and
came to the UK in 1992, being recognised by the Scottish TUC in 1993, the
TUC in 1999, and by both the Health and Safety Commission and the Heath and
Safety Executive in 2000. The International Labour Organisation, part of the
UN, recognised it in 2001, and today there were events in more than 50 countries
in North America, Asia and Africa as well as Europe.
The TUC had organised a number of events, including a minutes silence in
many workplaces at noon as well as protests, rallies and services. Among several
events organised in London today was a lunchtime protest outside the offices
of the Department of Work and Pensions at Caxton House in Westminster, which
was particularly aimed at the drastic cuts being made by the coalition government
in the UK Health & Safety Executive and Environmental Health Departments.
The protest was organised by the Construction Safety Campaign, which had
also organised a wreath-laying at the statue of the unknown worker at Tower
Hill earlier in the day. The construction industry is one of the most hazardous
to workers, and deaths last year are thought to be up by 15%. Tony O'Brien,
National Secretary of the Construction Safety Campaign, was in charge of the
rally and was speaking when I arrived.
The government is cutting the Health & Safety Executive, already struggling
to maintain a proper service, by 35%, and Minister Chris Grayling has recently
announced that there will be an end to unannounced visits by HSE inspectors
to a huge number of sites - including the whole of the public sector including
health, education, local government, prisons and emergency services; public
transport including buses and airports; the post office and parcels delivery;
quarries; agriculture; manufacturing industries including light engineering,
plastics, rubber, furniture, printing and paper.
The HSE figures for 2009-10 state that 152 workers died at work in the year,
although as well as these, thousands of others died of work-related diseases
including asbestos linked cancers. One of the speakers at the event, the Prospect
union representative for London’s HSE inspectors, Simon Hester, told
the rally that during one of his inspections the previous week he had found
workers being exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos dust, a hazard not just
to them, but when taken home on their clothes to their wives and children.
With the decision by Grayling to stop such inspections, cases such as this
will continue undetected in the future.
Minister Chris Grayling came out of Caxton House while the protest was taking
place and was confronted by then protesters. He took one of the leaflets and
said that he was always ready to meet officially with the unions, but refused
to answer any of the questions he was asked when challenged by Tony O'Brien
or Simon Hester, running off down the road. Grayling is Hester's boss, and
the exchange is unlikely to further his job prospects.
Among the banners at the protest was one calling for justice for the Shrewsbury
pickets, jailed for their trade union activities in the 1972 Building Worker's
National Strike. The prosecution is viewed by many as a clear example of the
undue influence that large construction companies - particularly in this case
the McAlpine family - have over both government and judiciary, and there are
also questions about the involvement of MI5 in the political conspiracy against
Several of the speakers also mentioned the continuing illegal black-listing
of workers in the building industry for their trade union activities, and
in particular of workers who raise safety issues in their union roles. Union
safety reps have a critical role to play in making workplaces safe, but if
they try to take it seriously run the risk of being blacklisted and unable
to find employment anywhere in the country in the building industry.
Waiting For Will & Kate
Broad Sanctuary, Westminster, London. Thursday 28 April 2011
for the wedding tomorrow
Hundreds of people are camping on the side of the street opposite Westminster
Abbey, waiting to watch the arrivals and departure from tomorrows ceremony.
There is now a 'tent city' along the pavement of Broad Sanctuary opposite
the Abbey, with many of those waiting sitting on folding chairs or the pavement.
Most of them are dressed in some way for the occasion, with union flags and
Kate and William souvenirs, and some had placards wishing the couple well.
Some waved other flags, including US, Canadian and a lone Ulster flag, and
many had traveled a very long way to be here. Crowds of tourists and the media
were filing past to watch and photograph them, and the police were bringing
in new barriers to keep the people safe from the traffic still going past.
One or two commercial organisations were getting in on the act, with Ladbrookes
offering odds on the colour of the Queen's hat and the name of the first dance.
24 hours before the event, the pavement was already getting full, and smaller
groups were gathering elsewhere on the route.
More Thames Path
Charlton to Belvedere, London. Monday 25 April 2011
The view upriver from Charlton with the Thames barrier, Dome and Canary Wharf
This was a kind of walk, as I was with Linda & Sam who were walking,
but I was on my Brompton, as my foot is still not entirely recovered and I
can't walk as far (or as fast) as them and I wanted to come back earlier.
But I did do a few extra bits, cycling down side streets and odd paths. Having
the bike also saved me from having to keep running to catch up with them when
I've stopped to take pictures, as they usually like to forge ahead.
We started at Charlton Station and joined the Thames path extension, walking
to Woolwich, where we made a trip across on the ferry and after a very short
visit to North Woolwich returned. I'd hoped to come back through the tunnel,
but it is still closed.
The on along the Thames path past the former Woolwich Arsenal site and Thamesmead
(which I didn't detour to photograph) and then on to Crossness, before I had
to catch the train back from Belvedere, leaving them to go on to Erith and
then around by the Darent to Slade Green.
Staines Moor, Staines, Middx. Sunday 24 April 2011
The River Colne on Staines Moor
This Easter Sunday I didn't leap out of bed to go to the early morning service
by the riverside, not quite at dawn, but at 7.30am, and I just turned over
and went back to sleep. But later in the day I was persuaded to go out for
a walk on Staines Moor, ancient common land a short walk from where I live.
I'm not a commoner, partly because the closest part of common land to my
house did not get registered - and I don't think whosoever was living in this
house at the right time could have claimed commoners rights. More recently
the part opposite the end of my garden has been built on by the council. But
in any case I wouldn't find the right to graze a horse and a cow for part
of the year a great deal of use. Most of the commoners apparently felt the
same and sold their rights to local farmers, who still make use of them, as
people have done for a thousand years or so. Long enough to make this flat
land around the River Colne a site of special scientific interest, although
much of it has been disturbed after flooding a few years ago. It's now one
of the few large areas of open ground in the area that has not been dug for
gravel - though it is owned by a gravel company who have dug the area to the
north - most of which, originally as dead flat as the moor, has been made
into artificial hills of landfill.
We took the footpath up through the Moormede estate - built partly on the
old lino factory sports field and past the small sluice that takes a little
of the River Colne and makes it the River Ash, then through the tunnel under
the bypass on to the path which runs close to the east bank of Bonehead Ditch.
There is a thin, mainly wooded area here between the ditch - a small side-stream
of the Colne and the western Staines reservoir that I spent a lot of time
photographing when my children were very small.
The proper bridge over Bonehead Ditch is a mile or so to the north, but a
couple of handily fallen (perhaps with a little help) trees make a bridges,
and we gingerly make our way across them to the moor. We've had little rain
for a while, and the moor is pretty dry and we are able to walk where we like
rather than keeping to the various causeways, inches higher than the rest
of the ground.
There is a circle of trees not far from the ditch, and we wonder why it was
here, and clearly there were the remains of some fences around some of the
trees. I photographed these years ago when the moor was frozen, its mud turned
to solid ice and covered with snow, branches black against the white, and
the fallen trees looking like some prehistoric monsters, but today it is all
green and sunny and more a place for finding fairies.
We strike off across the moor in a straight line for the bridge across the
Colne to make our way back into town, past a small herd of horses and cows,
and, on the other side of the bridge, a few young bullocks. Despite the row
of pylons and their cables above us, and the constant stream of planes to
the north coming in to land at Heathrow, it is still a good place to walk.
Congolese Protest in London
Great Portland St to Downing St, Saturday 23 April 2011
The marchers were singing and dancing while carrying
large, clear placards.
The International Congolese Rights organisation marched from the
Congolese Embassy in Great Portland Street to Downing St calling attention
to human rights violation in the DRC and asking the UK Government to put pressure
on President Kabila to hold elections or resign. London,UK 23/04/2011
International Congolese Rights (ICR) was formed in 2004 to defend the rights
of Congolese citizens living in the UK, and has developed into a radical opposition
to the current government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and President
Joseph Kabila. It has held a number of demonstrations aimed at exposing the
systematic violation of human rights in the DRC aimed at getting the UK and
the international community to take action.
The DRC (formerly known as Zaire and earlier as Belgian Congo) has been at
the centre of African wars since the end of the era of direct colonial rule.
The so-called African World War or Second Congo War was formally ended in
2003 but has continued in the east of the country.
The DRC has vast mineral resources, perhaps the the richest of any country
in the world, including 80% of the world's cobalt reserves, and between 65-80%
of coltan, the mineral from which tantalum capacitors, vital for mobile phones,
games consoles, computers and other electronic devices. Coltan is generally
considered to be the major factor behind the African conflicts.
Despite the huge wealth of natural resources, the people of the DRC remain
some of the poorest in the world, while the country is judged to be amongst
the most corrupt in the world. There have apparently been problems in previous
years with visitors traveling to the country from the UK being refused entry
as staff at the London embassy are alleged to have provided them with fake
visas while selling off the genuine items on the black market
The protesters met outside the embassy of the DRC, now in Great Portland
St, its metal shutters firmly rolled down, and their petition to the Prime
Minister began with the demand that he order the embassy to be relocated as
it is disrupting businesses in that area as it has no reception facilities
They also appealed to the government "to bring pressure to bear
on President Joseph Kabila to respect the constitutional obligations to hold
the general election, otherwise to step down for a new political order."
The petition was signed by the Chairman of the ICR, Albert Mukendi.
The protesters were a lively group of more than 50, but seemed rather more
as they chanted, danced and sang on their way through the streets, behind
a main banner reading 'David Cameron - Why Are So Quiet On 8 Million Deaths
in D. R. Congo?' and the real message of the protest came from the many
large placards they held, including several about resources:
- Your Mobile Phones Have Blood Of Innocent Congolese People
- We are suffering because of our Diamond and Coltan
But the majority of them were about the widespread use of rape as a military
and political tactic:
- Congo Is Voted The World Capital For Women Rape
- Every 3 Minutes A Woman Is Being Raped In East Of Congo, We
Want This To Stop.
- Children Young As 3 Months Old Are Being Raped In East Of
Congo, We Want This To Stop.
- Women In East Of Congo Are Treated As Pieces Of Meat, We
Want This To Stop.
- We Will Keep Fighting To Bring Justice For Those Women Raped In
East Of Congo
As well as these about conditions in the Congo, there was also an expression
of sympathy for the people of Japan, but the overall message was about the
corrupt Kabila regime, and again the placards made this clear:
- The Congolese embassy is closed for business until Kabila
steps down from the office.
- For The Sake Of Democracy In Congo Kabila Must Be Sent To International
Recognise The Armenian Genocide
Oxford St to Downing St, Westminster. Saturday 23 April 2011
The Armenians had Superman on their team
More than a thousand members of the Armenian community in the UK marched
through London to Downing St, calling on the UK government to recognise the
Turkish Genocide of Armenians in 1915.
On 24 April 1915 the Turkish authorities arrested around a thousand leading members of the Armenian community in the capital city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) and murdered them. They went on to disarm and kill around 300,000 Armenian men who had been conscripted into the Turkish Army. The next stage in the attempt to eliminate the Armenian people included, in the words of the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide, "mass killings, deportations and death marches of women, children and elderly men into the Syrian Desert. During those marches, many of the weak or exhausted were killed or died. Women were raped. The deportees were deprived of food and water. Starvation and dehydration became commonplace."
Roughly 70% of the Armenian population - about 1.5 million were killed, mostly in 1915, although the massacres and deportations continued in 1916 and on a smaller scale until 1923.
The Armenians were in the way of the Turkish policy of creating a single homogeneous Turkish nation, having a strong national identity with their Christian heritage at its centre. The Turks, angered by the Armenian desire for independence, decided that the only solution was to get rid of them from the Turkish empire. The Turkish government still refuse to accept that their country had a policy of genocide, explaining the deaths as the result of a civil war. But the Armenians had no weapons or organisation to carry out any war.
When the UN was set up after the Second World War, one of its early resolutions was one on 'The Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide' and it was proposed by Raphael Lemkin who had coined the term genocide, describing it as "The sort of thing Hitler did to the Jews and the Turks did to the Armenians."
Although the UN Commission on Human Rights has described it as genocide and many countries around the world have recognised it in their parliaments, the UK has still to make such a declaration, and the main aim of this annual march is to persuade our government to officially recognise the Armenian genocide.
Armenians state that the "request for recognition is a moral issue that would restore truth and justice and lead toward reconciliation."
The marchers formed up on Oxford Street for the march to Downing St, led by male and female members of the Armenian scouts carrying an Armenian flag and a Union Jack and then a group of them carrying wreaths. Behind them were leaders of the Armenian community followed by a thousand or more people, some wearing or carrying Armenian flags, along with placards and banners.
The Armenians insist that Turkish recognition of the genocide should be
a pre-condition for Turkey to join the EU. Other placards called for the Armenian
genocide to be taught in the National Curriculum, and some had a picture of
Hrant Dink (1954-2007) 'The 1,500,001st Victim of The Armenian
Genocide', former editor of the Istanbul Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos,
who was prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code which makes
it a crime to publicly denigrate the Turkish government, republic or nation.
After having received many death threats he was assassinated by a 17 year
old Turkish Nationalist in January 2007.
St George's Day in London
Westminster, London. Saturday 23 April 2011
Celebrating St George in Trafalgar Square
St George's Day was rather muted this year, displaced by the forthcoming
royal wedding, with some St George's events actually having been rescheduled
to take place after this. One that did go ahead on the actual date, and I
watched just a little of it, was Cadet150, a parade by air, army
and sea cadets from London which celebrated both St Georges Day and the 150
anniversary of these military youth organisations - though presumably the
air cadets have not been going for quite as long, since the Royal Flying Corps
was only founded in 1912 (and a few years later my father was keeping them
flying when they became the RAF.) It wasn't an event that held my attention
Later I went to Trafalgar Square, where there were official celebrations
of St George's Day organised by London Mayor Boris Johnson. Like most official
London events in the square I've been to in the past few years it seemed pretty
hopeless, half-hearted with rather less talent on display than the average
village fete and none of the participation that makes those events considerably
more interesting. The steps at the back of the square were fairly full with
people sitting and eating and drinking but most people seemed to be ignoring
the performance on the stage (relayed to them on a couple of large screens.)
There were a small handful who had dressed up and were having fun, including
what appeared to be a number of football supporters.
Good Friday Procession in Staines
Staines, Middx. Friday 22 April 2011
A sermon in the shopping centre
Along with other Christians around the world, those from churches in the
outer London suburb of Staines made a procession of witness through their
town, holding a service in the shopping centre. Christians around the world
are celebrating Easter this weekend, with the Western and Eastern Orthodox
Easter, as occasionally happens despite their using different calendars, falling
on the same date. So today was Good Friday or Holy Friday for both traditions.
In many villages, towns and cities across the world the day is marked by
religious processions, usually led by a person carrying a cross in which Christians
bear witness to their faith, and include a public act of religious worship.
Staines, on the western edge of London close to Heathrow airport has for
some years had its own procession, an ecumenical event involving most of the
local churches, and organised through the local council of churches. What
happened here is probably fairly typical of the events in many towns and suburbs
across the UK.
This is very much a local event, fairly typical of those that take place
throughout this country. A largish crowd assembled outside the Methodist church
near the Thames in the town centre and at around 11am. When the Salvation
Army band arrived they formed into a procession behind it, with a few ministers
and church leaders at its front, and led by two people carrying a wooden cross.
This then set off across the one-way system and along the fairly wide pavement
to the pedestrianised High Street. Here there was a special market day (usually
it is only Wednesdays and Saturdays) and the band had been worried about whether
they would be able to march through, but there was no problem, with shoppers
standing to one side to watch as the procession came through.
From the High Street it turned up into the Two Rivers shopping centre, a
large open area mainly filled with a car park and large shops on three sides
around it. At its entrance, next to a large area of outdoor tables with people
drinking morning coffee, is a small circular artificial mound with a statue
of two dancers, and here the procession ended with an hour long service, enlivened
by some fine playing by the band, as well as some great singing by a young
woman from one of the churches, aided on her second song by two others with
strong voices and a guitar. These performances certainly made many of those
passing stop and listen.
There were also bible readings and prayers and some short comments from various
clergy as well as a clear and rousing sermon about Christ's crucifixion and
that his promise of a more fulfilled life was still open to those prepared
to accept it - just as it was to the robber being crucified alongside Jesus,
who said to him "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom"
and received the reply: "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be
with me in paradise.."
During the event, many of those passing by took free hot cross buns and leaflets
being handed out by some of those taking part - and there were no buns left
after the event, when everyone was invited to free tea or coffee back in the
Methodist church, although there were still plenty of biscuits.
Staines is a place where very little happens - other than shopping - and
there is a real dearth of public events of any kind - and the local authority
seems to try to discourage any public life.
Climate Rush Tate Britain Oil Spill Picnic
Tate Britain, London. Wednesday 20 April 2011
Art show from the Gulf along with a new Turner with flaming oil rig on show
at Tate Britain
On the first anniversary of BP's Deepwater Horizon Oil disaster, Climate
Rush held a party and art show protest outside Tate Britain where BP tries
to clean up or 'greenwash' its image by art sponsorship. London, UK. 20/04/2011
A year ago, BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico began to gush
oil at a huge rate from the deep sea bed into the Gulf of Mexico, contaminating
a huge area of the ocean, ocean floor and coastline. 80% of that oil is still
there, and BP's efforts to clean up the spill using gallon upon gallon of
toxic dispersant (Corexit, banned in the UK) made matters worse. While reducing
the largely cosmetic damage of oil floating on the surface of the sea, the
dispersant breaks down the oil into small droplets which are then ingested
by fish, shellfish and other species, greatly increasing the toxic effect
of the spill.
Drilling had been allowed at great depth, where the hazards are not well
understood and as was shown, the oil companies have great problems in dealing
with them. What would have been relatively minor incident on land proved almost
impossible to fix. Giant oil companies succeed in pushing through weak regulation
which allows them to exploit unsafe areas thanks to their huge financial resources
paying for high-powered lobbying.
As the Climate Rush protesters point out, disasters such as this oil spill
are only a part of the environmental damage BP is causing to the planet. They
are pressing ahead with their highly damaging and polluting extraction of
oil from the Canadian Tar Sands, endangering the fragile Arctic environment
- where disasters may have a dramatic impact on global warming - through drilling,
and even plan to resume deep water operations in the Gulf of Mexico in a couple
of months time. Of course BP is not the only environmental villain, with other
oil companies also seriously threatening our future.
To rub salt into the Gulf coast wounds, the executives of Transocean Ltd,
the company who were actually operating the Deepwater Horizon rig for BP,
awarded themselves millions of dollars in bonuses last year to reward "the
best year in safety performance in our company's history."
BP uses art and cultural sponsorship as a way of cleaning up its image and
enhancing its reputation, so that people think of them as the people who sponsor
great exhibitions and fine concerts rather than those responsible for huge
damage to the environment. Until recently, the tobacco companies, selling
products that killed millions who became addicted to them,used the same technique
to gain respectability. They were kicked out of public institutions some years
ago and the protesters say its time the same happened to the oil companies.
And of course we are as a nation addicted to oil, and it is very much an addiction
that is proving toxic for the world.
The Climate Rush protesters came to Tate Britain dressed in black to mourn
those lost in the gulf oil disaster as well as the damage to the environment.
They wore their normal red sashes, some with the suffragette 'Deeds Not Words'
motto, and some too were in period dress recalling that heritage.
They brought with them an exhibition of paintings from the Facing The Gulf
- Portraits of Oil project, produced in a 5 week project in in Grand Isle,
Louisiana, a small community badly affected by the disaster, where UK artist
Nick Viney spent 5 weeks teaching ordinary residents portrait painting. These
portraits were then submitted for one of BP's largest 'greenwash' events,
the BP portrait awards at the National Portrait Gallery, but were all rejected.
They are now to be used to hold an alternative Portrait Award Ceremony outside
the NPG on the night of the awards and then as a shadow exhibition following
the pictures from the award when they go on tour.
These pictures were then held up by the Climate Rushers on the steps to the
Tate Gallery, along with a 'newly discovered work by JMW Turner', his "Fishing
upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide Setting with flaming Oil Rig', a smaller sketch
of one of his images from 1809 currently on show at Tate Britain, and which
the protesters intended to donate to the Tate Gallery and the nation at the
end of their picnic. Fittingly Turner painted the original more or less at
the site of BP's giant Coryton oil refinery on the Thames estuary, sold to
Petroplus in 2007.
While some of the protesters stood holding these invaluable art works on
the steps of the gallery, others handed out leaflets to those entering and
leaving it, explaining why Tate Britain and other public institutions should
not accept sponsorship from BP and the other oil companies.
The Climate Rushers went on to hold a picnic on the lawn outside the gallery,
handing out leaflets and sandwiches to those enjoying the warm sunshine there
- a very popular form of demonstration, although I don't think anyone really
ate the sandwiches which were garnished with 'crude oil' poured from a teapot
Then one of the protesters climbed up and put the Turner briefly on display
in one of the large niches along the front of the building, which brought
over the security who until now had watched benignly from a distance, and
the protesters promised not to do it again. The protest continued at ground
level with the exhibition, leafleting, sandwiches and cake.
Still In Parliament Square
Parliament Square, London. Tuesday 19 April 2011
Maria Gallastegui talks to a visitor to her Parliament Square protest
Despite statements made by David Cameron, Boris Johnson and others, the permanent
protests are still in Parliament Square ten days before the royal wedding.
Maria Gallastegui has offered to cover up at least some of her display for
the event and has also been trying to get as many as possible art works in
her area, hoping at some point to auction these off to raise money for a children's
charity in Iraq.
Further along the pavement, past the 'Police Camp/Peace Camp' notice, Brian
Haw's protest, started nearly 10 years ago on 2 June 2001, continues, although
he is still in hospital in Germany and Barbara Tucker along with another protester
was arrested a few days earlier on a charge of criminal damage for cutting
the fence (she was later bailed) and his display is unchanged. There are several
other protests along the pavement too. Everyone remembers the illegal removal
of Brian's display by police back in May 2006 and some have wondered if something
similar may be planned in the next few days.
Stop Bombing Libya. Or Don't?
Downing St, Whitehall, London. Tuesday 19 April 2011
A Libyan woman argues with Stop the War supporters, asking why they are supporting
Stop the War held a protest at Downing St calling for the bombing of
Libya to stop now. They were opposed by a small group of the Libyan opposition.
Around a hundred Stop the War supporter, including some Libyans, turned up
for the protest which was organised following last week's joint statement
by Cameron, Obama and Sarkozy which they say made
it clear that the aim of the NATO led bombing is now regime-change. They point
out this is neither sanctioned by the UN resolution nor legal under international
After the protest had been going for around half an hour, a small group of
the Libyan opposition turned up and set up a counter-protest around 50 yards
along the road. They then started calling on Stop the War to join them in
opposing Gaddafi and calling for an end to his regime, saying the the left
in general and Stop the War in particular were supporting the wrong side in
Libya by calling for an end to the NATO bombing.
One Libyan woman said that she had been in Benghazi when it seemed certain
that it would fall to Gaddafi's forces, and that without the air attacks,
she along with many thousands of others in that city would have been massacred
as Gaddafi carried out his promise to deal with the 'rebels' street by street,
alley by alley and house by house.
Neither group wants Libya to become another Iraq or Afghanistan, and would
oppose anything that led to that kind of involvement by British and other
foreign troops. But the Libyan opposition recognises their essential need
for outside support in their fight against Gaddafi. They were enraged by seeing
a couple of men in the Stop the War protest waving Gadaffi's monochrome green
Libyan flag, and called on the Stop the War protesters to join them in calling
for an end to the Gadaffi regime - but got no response.
Several people walked across at intervals from the Stop the War protest to
discuss issues with the Libyans, but although these discussions were being
conducted in a civil manner, each time after a short interval police came
and insisted that the people return to their own area. It seemed an unnecessary
restriction on a dialogue that seemed to be welcomed by both sides.
Although there obviously are great dangers in the escalation of the attacks
on Libya, and the Security Council Resolution 1973 clearly goes beyond the
original provisions of the UN Charter (which precluded the use of armed force
by the UN) there does seem to be an overriding fact that the UN recognised
and we were all reminded of by a giant banner, some 20 ft by 8 ft, brought
by the Libyan opposition. In crude lettering it stated 'Libyans Need Protection.'
Orange Parade in London
Westminster, London. 16 April 2011
Orange marchers wait on Parliament St
The City of London District Loyal Orange Lodge (L.O.L.) led their annual
parade through London with lodges and bands from around the country taking
The Orange Order was founded in 1796 to uphold the Protestant religion, taking
its name from King William III of Orange who ended the attempt by the Catholic
James II to reclaim the British monarchy at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
It was revived in the early twentieth century to oppose Home Rule for Ireland,
and still plays a powerful role in Northern Ireland politics and government,
embedded in Unionist politics.
As well as being firmly Protestant and upholding strongly traditional religious
views, the structure of the organisation is very much along masonic lines,
with Loyal Orange Lodges wherever there are significant Irish protestant communities.
Parades in Northern Ireland - there are roughly ten times as many Protestant
parades as Catholic - are controversial, and have in the past often led to
violent confrontations. Many Catholics see the parades as deliberately provocative,
while many Orangemen regard the Parades Commission, set up to regulate these
events as discriminating against them.
In London, the parades have little political significance and are a colourful
celebration of the Irish Protestant tradition - membership of the lodges is
restricted to Protestants. Many tourists stopped to watch and take photographs,
though from the comments I heard some at least had little idea what the parade
The parade formed up close to Tate Britain and marched up Millbank with the
bands playing, going around Parliament Square and on to the Cenotaph, where
it halted. Four wreaths were laid there, in memory of the fallen and former
comrades, by the CIty of London Lodge, along with two lodges from Glasgow
and the Maine Flute Band from Ballymena.
A group from the march then went into Downing Street to deliver a letter
for the Prime Minister, and the rest of the marchers stood waiting for them.
I left before they moved off to complete their parade by the statue of the
Duke of York in Waterloo Place, where they were to lay further wreaths.
Who Killed Smiley Culture?
Vauxhall to New Scotland Yard, London. Saturday 16 April 2011
At the start of the march on Wandsworth Road
Several thousand people, mostly black, marched through the streets of south
London to a rally at New Scotland Yard in protest at the death during a police
raid at his home on 15 March 2011 of reggae star Smiley Culture.
Four Metropolitan Police officers had called at his Surrey house around 7am
and had searched the place and arrested him, apparently in relation to a drugs
charge on which he was due to appear in court shortly. An hour and a half
after their arrival, he is alleged to have been allowed to go into his kitchen
alone to make a cup of tea, and to have killed himself with a single stab
to the heart.
It sounds a most unlikely story - police would surely not have allowed a
man they had arrested to go alone into his own kitchen, where apart from the
possibility of escape they would also know there would be dangerous weapons.
And killing oneself with a single stab wound to the heart is not an easy task.
His family and friends are sure there was no reason why he should have wanted
to commit suicide.
The case is under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission,
but the family complain that they have not been given any clear statement
by police of what happened, and have made it clear that they will not rest
until the full facts are known, and that justice has been done.
Deaths in police custody are unfortunately not rare, and according to Inquest,
in the twenty one years since 1990 there have been a total of 930, with 247
of these in the Met area. Alongside these there have been 308 deaths occurring
while suspects are being pursued, 109 in other road traffic incidents and
Although a few high-profile cases hit the headlines - such as the shooting
of Jean Charles Menezes and Harry Stanley, most others seldom make the national
papers or even more than a short paragraph in the local press. Those that
get most coverage have taken place in public, witnessed and sometimes filmed
by members of the public, but most of them take place in the secrecy of the
police station or other premises with police officers as the only witnesses.
Of course where there is a death there has to be an inquest, but too often
these appear to be places where the truth is hidden rather than brought into
the open. Police often fail to give evidence, or collude with each other to
tell a false story. Of course not every one of those 930 deaths was suspicious,
although a great many were, but we have yet to see even a single officer convicted
of any offence concerning them - with the sole exception of the death of David
Oluwale in 1969. It is more than hard to believe that justice is being done.
And as the protesters chanted on the march, 'No Justice, No Peace.'
Other families whose sons and brothers had been killed by police were also
taking part in the march, many wearing t-shirts with their dead relative's
picture on them. Among the banners were those for Sean Rigg, killed by police
in Brixton police station in August 2008, Julian Webster from Birmingham,
killed by the bouncers on the door of a Manchester club in 2009, Kingsley
Burrell, a man with no mental health issues who died last month in Birmingham
after being sectioned and arrested under the Mental Health Act and Habib 'Paps'
Ullah, who died during a stop and search in High Wycombe in 2008.
The march was held on the anniversary of the death of David Oluwale, killed
in the first known incident of racist policing in 1969; his death remains
the only case in British history that police officers have been found guilty
of criminal offences leading to the death of a suspect, although they were
found guilty only of assaults, the judge ordering the charge of manslaughter
to be dropped.
Most of these suspicious cases of deaths involve healthy young black men
- Smiley Culture at 48 was twice the age of most of them. There are white
and Asian men who have died, and of course some women, but the great majority
are men of African or Afro-Caribbean origin. But as speakers pointed out,
this isn't an issue of racism but one simply of justice. Many years after
the Stephen Lawrence case in 1993 led to the conclusion that the Met were
institutionally racist, and action was promised to deal with this, the statistics
still argue this is so, not just on deaths but in particular for stop and
search, used so disproportionately against young black men that in some areas
they regard it as a normal part of any night out.
The march, led by a lorry playing very loud reggae music started from the
Wandsworth Road at 1pm and made its way slowly up through Vauxhall Cross and
over Lambeth Bridge before going past the Houses of Parliament and on to New
Scotland Yard for a rally in the street outside. Leading the march was Lee
Jasper of BARAC along with members of the families of Smiley Culture, Julian
Webster and the others who have died.
The crowd on the march - hundreds according to some reports, but actually
around two thousand or more - were in no doubt about who did it. To a shout
of "Who killed Smiley Culture?" the reply came back loud
and clear in unison from those several thousand throats "Police killed
Westminster Council Be Ashamed
Westminster City Hall, Victoria St, London, UK. 14/04/2011
Giving food away like this will be an offence in Westminster
Westminster Council intend to make it illegal to sleep on the streets of
their city or to hand out free food to anyone, both punishable by fines of
up to £500. They have also welcomed the proposed changes in housing
benefit which will make many current Westminster residents homeless. For years
the council have been carrying out a policy of economic cleansing aimed at
getting rid of the less well off from their borough, exporting them to outer
London (including some to close to where I live.)
As a part of the third National Day of Protest Against Benefit Cuts, claimants
groups organised a protest including giving away of free food at Westminster
City Hall. Unfortunately although the protest was intended to be from 5-7pm,
the group which was going to come with the supply of hot food it regularly
supplies for rough sleepers in the area was not expected to arrive until 8pm,
and I had gone by then.
Some charities which support the homeless also oppose the "soup runs",
but most of them also feel that Westminster should be doing more to support
the homeless rather than simply enacting penal measures such as these.
Libyans Keep Up Their Protests
Downing St, London, UK. 14/04/2011
Women beat a picture of Gadafi with the Libyan revolutionary flag.
Libyan women and children came to demonstrate opposite Downing Street calling
for more action to save the people of Libya from the attacks by Gaddafi's
Unfortunately I had been told that the protest would start at 4pm when in
fact it finished at that time, so I was only able to photograph it for a few
minutes, after which everyone packed up and left. Many of them were walking
to continue their protest with the small group of protesters already opposite
the Libyan embassy. Protests are continuing there every day, although numbers
are greater on Sundays than during the week.
Claimants tell Daily Mail "Stop the lies!"
Kensington, London, UK. 14/04/2011
The Autistic Rights Movement and Right to Work were
among those supporting the protest
Disabled people, single parents, unemployed, carers, those on low wages and
others joined in a protest at the Daily Mail offices, outraged at the stream
of lies and defamation against them that are printed by this newspaper.
The protest was called by networks of claimants' groups including Disabled
People Against Cuts and is the third day of coordinated actions around the
UK, with protests taking place today in 12 cities, as well as an online action
by the "Armchair Army" of those unable to travel.
The main cause of these protests is the increasing drive to move claimants
off of incapacity benefit by paying private companies such as Atos international
to carry out quasi-medical tests - condemned by the CAB as "not fit for
purpose" and heavily criticised in a report commissioned by the government.
These tests are poorly administered, often by people with inadequate training
and insufficient time to carry them out, and many have been shown to incorrectly
report the claimants responses to the questions and to use answers given by
them in an inappropriate way. One in four of these assessments are appealed,
and over 70% of these appeals are upheld. But even those who are successful
on appeal have found similar mistakes being made in their next assessment.
These people, the most in need in our society, have been targeted by the
government as an easy option, with a climate of public opinion against "benefit
scroungers" being whipped up by lazy and inaccurate and misleading reporting,
particularly by the Daily Mail, which also angers many other journalists as
bringing the press into disrepute.
Linda Burnip from Disabled People Against Cuts said:
"The lies and half truths that the Daily Mail has published have
resulted in an increase in hate crime attacks against disable people. We
are not prepared to sit back and allow them to continue to peddle their
disgusting disablist propaganda unchallenged."
Martin Campbell from the London Coalition Against Poverty stated:
"The Daily Mail needs to know the disgust and anger its fear-mongering
lies provoke. All those who experience the stress, insecurity, illness and
sometimes destitution that result from Atos Origins's disastrous computerised
"medical assessment" have a clear message for the Mail: Stop the
lies! Stop the Defamation!"
NUJ/Al Jazeera Demand Release of Journalists in Libya
Libyan Embassy, Knightsbridge, London, UK. 14/04/2011
NUJ photographer, General Secretary elect Michelle Stanistreet and General
Secretary Jeremy Dear
The NUJ and Al Jazeera held a protest opposite the Libyan Embassy calling
for the immediate release of the two Al Jazeera journalists arrested in Libya
last month and still held by the Gaddafi regime.
Both the outgoing NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear and Michelle Stanistreet
who replaces him on July 1 were in the demonstration, along with other journalists
including those from Al Jazeera, of whom at least who has recently been photographing
They called for the release of the two cameramen Ammar Al-Hamdan and Kamel
Al Tallou who were in a group of four Al Jazeera journalists arrested near
Zintan in northwest Libya last month. The four were apparently released in
Tripoli and then immediately rearrested on March 31, and two have since been
Ammar Al-Hamdan is a Norwegian of Palestinian origin who was born and grew
up in Baghdad. Married to a Norwegian journalist, since 2006 he has worked
for Al Jazeera in Oslo since 2006.
The day after the protest news has came from Al Jazeeera that Kamel Al Tallou,
a UK citizen who worked as a doctor in England before becoming a journalist
has now been released.
Freedom Umbrella Kurds March Through London
Old Marylebone Rd - Downing St, London. Sat 9 April 2011
Speaking opposite Downing St
Several hundred Kurdish activists marched through London to a rally at
Downing St calling for support of the people's uprising for freedom and social
justice in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Freedom Umbrella (Chatri Azadi) is a coalition of British-based
Kurdish organisations and supporters and it organised a demonstration in front
of the offices of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Old Marylebone Road
followed by a march to a rally opposite Downing St.
Little has been heard in UK media about the people's uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan,
which started on 17 February in Sulaymania and has since spread to other towns
and cities in the area, except for Gerbil and Duhok, where President Massoud
Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) can use his security
police to exercise strict control and prevent any protests.
Iraqi Kurdistan is dominated by two political groups, the KDP and Jalal Talabani's
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), each with its own army, and both essentially
the private militia of their ruling family. These militia were supported by
the US as a part of the fight against Saddam Hussein - and their continuing
corrupt and despotic rule is the legacy of the first 'no-fly' zone imposed
by the US, UK and France over northern Iraq in 1992.
Both the PUK and the KDP have abused human rights, with thousands of people
being killed or disappeared, and have imprisoned political opponents and intellectual,
and targeted independent journalists and publications. Both too have amassed
fortunes for their ruling families through force and corruption, while few
Iraqi Kurds even have access to clean water and electricity - and health,
education and welfare services are virtually non-existent.
As in many other countries in the Middle East, the people of Kurdish Iraq
have been protesting on the streets for freedom and justice, but their protests
and the brutal repression of them by the Kurdish Regional Government have
received relatively little attention in the western press. The KDP and PUK
militias have opened fire on peaceful protests, arrested, kidnapped and killed
demonstrators. There have been at least nine deaths, including those of 12
and 14 year-olds, and more than 200 people with serious injuries.
The protesters wanted to make the British public aware of what is happening
to the Kurdish people in Iraq and to show international solidarity with them,
They also called for the UK government to end its support for the Kurdish
militias in Iraq.
Ugandans Demand Democracy
Uganda House, Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 9 April 2011
Although the protest was called about the elections, most of the placards
were about the Rwanda Genocide
Ugandans living in the UK protested outside Uganda House in Trafalgar Square,
calling for new free and fair elections after the rigged Parliamentary and
Presidential elections in February.
Uganda held a General election on 18 Feb, which resulted in the sitting president,
ex-guerilla commander Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance
Movement who has held the office for 25 years being elected for another term
with 68% of the votes in an election in which around 59% of the 14 million
eligible voters took part.
His nearest rival, Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democractic change polled
26% of the vote with no other candidate getting more than 2%.
A 120 member EU Election Observation Mission had been in Uganda for a month
before the vote, along with a four person delegation from the European Parliament,
and they issued a preliminary report shortly after the election, with a final
report to be made in May.
Their preliminary report stated that the election "was marred by
avoidable administrative and logistical failures which led to an unacceptable
number of Ugandan citizens being disenfranchised" and they also
said that Museveni had exercised his powers as president to "such
an extent as to compromise severely the level playing filed between the competing
candidates and political parties."
In particular they note that the state owned Uganda Broadcasting Corporation
(UBC), failed to comply with its legal obligations to treat each presidential
and parliamentary candidate equally, with its television channel giving the
incumbent president and the ruling NRM party substantially more coverage than
their nearest rivals.
Amnesty International published a detailed report on the Human Rights abuses
in Uganda in the period leading up to the election, including a failure by
the police to take action against groups attacking opposition political meetings,
intimidation and assaults on journalists and the cancellation of broadcasts.
A small group of protesters with placards filled the frontage of Uganda House
in the south-west corner of Trafalgar Square, nosily shouting their demands.
They want a free and fair re-run of the elections without the massive vote-rigging
they allege occurred, the appointment of a new non-partisan and independent
Electoral Commission, a new 'clean' voters register and new voters cards.
They also called for an end to the use of the Armed Forces rather than the
police to provide security, for equal opportunity to be give to all candidates
and for the education of voters.
Vaisakhi Celebrations in Woolwich
Ramgarhia Association Gurdwara, Woolwich. Sat 9 April 2011
People throw flower petals as the Guru Granth Sahib
is carried out for the procession
Sikhs from Woolwich's two Gurdwaras took part in a Vaisakhi procession
through the centre of the town, celebrating the creation of the Khalsa in
Sikhs around the world celebrate Vaisakhi on the 14th April, but events marking
it are held throughout the month in various towns and cities. The celebrations
in many places include a religious procession (Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan) through
The two Woolwich Sikh temples take turns to be the starting point of the
procession, and this year it was starting from the Ramgarhia Association Gurdwara
in Mason's Hill to the east of the town centre and making its way to the Gurdwara
Sahib Woolwich in Calderwood Street in the middle of the town. The Ramgarhia
Sikh community had its origins close to Amritsar in the Punjab, and were renowned
for their military prowess and the victories of the armies.
The Vaisakhi festival, which takes place on April 14 each year marks the
formation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, in 1699.
Sword in hand he called upon the assembly of Sikhs, asking who was willing
to give his head for the sake of his faith. One brave man stood up and went
with him into a nearby tent; shortly the guru returned, his sword now dripping
blood and repeated the call. Again a man stepped forward, and three more times
the guru made the call before he finally returned to the crowd - but this
time he was is time hand in hand with the five "beloved ones" who
had been willing to die for their faith and who the crowd had thought dead
- still alive and dressed in saffron robes and turbans. These "Panj Piare"
were the first Khalsa - baptised Sikhs - and their baptism was marked by drinking
Amrit, sugar stirred with water in an iron bowl with a khanda (double-edged
sword) by the Guru as he recited sacred verses.
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, was the last living guru, and gave Sikhism
its modern form. He established the five Sikh symbols - the five K's - of
Kesh (unshorn hair), Kangha (wooden comb), Kara (iron bracelet), Kirpan (dagger)
and Kachera (underwear) and gave all male Sikhs the name Singh (Lion) and
females the name Kaur (Princess.) But most radically he declared that his
successor as guru was to be the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs
and now their eternal guru.
I arrived early for the procession, and after having been welcomed was given
a Sikh headscarf to wear and taken to the community eating hall or langar,
where I enjoyed some of the free vegetarian food on offer to all, prepared
and served by members of the congregation who volunteer their services as
a part of their religious practice. Unlike some other gurdwaras, most of those
eating here sat on chairs at tables to eat, rather than on the floor, although
there was a carpet along the far end for those who preferred that more traditional
practice. After eating I was able to talk to some of the people there before
wandering around the gurdwara taking photographs.
The Ramgarhia Association converted an existing landmark into a Sikh temple
in 1970, and it is flourishing - they have great plans to expand on show on
the langar wall. Built as the Freemason's Hall around a hundred years before
they acquired it, is actually a few yards east of the Woolwich boundary in
Plumstead. The name of the road it is in, Mason's Hill, gives a clue to its
former use, although this street was formerly known as Mount Pleasant. The
building, which is now considerably more colourful and has a tall Nishan Sahib
(a saffron fabric covered flagpole with a Sikh symbol at its peak) at one
corner occupies a little-known but important place in the history of football,
as it was here that the Royal Arsenal Football Club held its annual meetings
and dinners - and on 16 May 1891 that the Annual General Meeting of the Royal
Arsenal Football Club was informed of the committee's decision two weeks earlier
to turn professional - and on which account it had resigned from the amateur
Kent and London Associations in which it had previously played. Still on its
outside wall, although now largely unreadable is a ''Roll of Honour' for members
of the Woolwich social club from here who fought in the First World War.
The Mayor of Greenwich, Cllr Barbara Barwick, arrived around 1pm, and I followed
her into the worship hall, having taken off my shoes, and there we listened
to the three musicians playing while people came in to show respect to the
Guru Granth Sahib which was on an elaborate palki (throne) at the front of
Twelve Khalsa dressed in saffron robes and turbans then entered, and having
bowed to the Guru sat cross-legged on the floor with the rest of the congregation,
and there was some recitation and standing prayers. They were then presented
with garlands of flowers and saffon sashes, and five were given swords as
the Panj Piare, and another five were given Sikh flags to carry.
A small procession then came down from the upper worship room, including
the remaining two Khalsa, one carrying the Guru Granth Sahib on a cushion
on top of his head, and the other following behind it with a sacred whisk,
and joined behind the Panj Piare as led by the standard bearers and followed
by a small group of musicians they made their way out of the Gurdwara to the
float that had been prepared outside to carry the Guru Granth Sahib in the
Waiting outside the Gurdwara were a large crowd of worshippers who threw
handfuls of flower petals over the Khalsa and the Guru as they made their
way to the float that would carry the Guru in the procession. Also waiting
were several open lorries in which the older women were taking part as well
as the huge war drum (Nagara) mounted on top of a vehicle that would lead
Unfortunately there had been one or two holdups, and things were running
more than half an hour late and I had to run to catch a train before the actual
start of the colourful procession, with its joyful singing of Sikh hymns,
martial arts demonstrations and Dhol drumming through the town, expected to
take several hours.
Englefield Green & Runnemede Walk
Surrey, Monday 4 April 2011
The American Bar tribute to Magna Carta at Runnemede
It took almost half an hour on the bus to get to Englefield Green, held up
by the two level crossings on the route. If the Airtrack proposals for a rail
service from the west into Heathrow go ahead as proposed without replacing
these with bridges it would virtually close down the road system in this area.
I think it could even lead to direct action to block the lines, even in this
deeply conservative area.
This was a pub walk, but we started at the former Methodist church, now open
as a Chistian centre with a café in the centre of the village, which
was convenient and cheap and the coffee wasn't bad. A short walk along road
and footpath took us to Coopers Hill, and we walked down on the path through
the nature reserve to Runnemede, where we went in to the Magna Carta Memorial
and then along and up the hill to America, the one acre given to the United
States in memory of John F Kennedy. So perhaps it qualifies as the 51st state?
It wasn't far to the pub, which turned out to be a disappointment. Although
the Barley Mow looks the part and looks out on a large village green, neither
the beer nor the food impressed me. The food was average pub standard but
pricier and smaller portions, and the beer wasn't well kept. I'd been told
there was a good range of beers but again found it disappointing. Friendly
staff aren't enough to make me want to go there again.
The last fatal duel to be fought in England happened on the green here, and
the loser was brought into the pub and died. The unkind would say it was probably
waiting to be served.
Shortwood Common & the River Ash
Staines, Middx. Sunday 3 April 2011
It was a fine day on Sunday and I went out for a short walk after having
been stuck in front of a computer most of the day. Staines isn't the most
scenic of places, but it is mostly surrounded by water, rivers including the
Thames, Colne (and several minor streams which connect or once connected to
the Colne) and a number of fairly massive reservoirs, along with the odd unfilled
gravel pit. Much of the remaining land that hasn't yet been built on is common
land, with the largest area to the north of the town being Staines Moor. To
the east is the remains of Shortwood Common, cut to pieces by the railway
in the nineteenth century and the first section of the bypass, Staines Road
West. Through it too runs an aqueduct linking some of the reservoirs, as well
as the River Ash, and there are allotments, and on its edge is now a women's
Usually we just walk across one remaining part of the common to get to a
larger area over the railway and under the bypass, but this time we decided
to wander around it, making our way to the outskirts of Ashford before turning
The River Ash is not a huge stream, although it has appeared in some major
films, standing in for rather larger rivers, as a mile or two further on it
flows through the grounds of Shepperton Studios. I don't know its history,
but guess it is probably a medeival construct built to power a mill or mills,
taking water from the River Colne just above Staines (a small sluice next
to the later part of the bypass), and running around the east of Staines -
it might like another small Staines waterway, Sweeps Ditch which runs along
the bottom of my garden have been a boundary ditch - and running along the
western edge of this part of the common.
When the built the reservoirs aqueduct, the Ash presented a small problem
as it crosses its path on the Ashford boundary. The Ash disappears into a
grid, from which it dives down under the aqueduct and then comes up on the
We made our way back past the remains of one of Staines last farms, next
to a house which appears to be left deliberately derelict. It's a fairly grand
house for the area, and has been empty since its last owner, who owned a shop
on the High St, died. The site it is on includes the old farmyard and would
be worth considerably more if planning permission could be obtained for the
whole site - and perhaps some extreme vandalism might help. Opposite is one
of Staines's more ugly recent developments, a block of flats where we used
to take our boys to look at the chickens running free in the orchard.
Feathers Fly in Trafalgar Square Pillow Fight
Trafalgar Square, London. Saturday 2 April 2011
part in a pillow fight in Trafalgar Square
Several hundred people took part in a half hour pillow fight in Trafalgar
Square, part of the urban playground movement and one of 150 pillow fights
in cities around the world today in some kind of world record attempt.
The urban playground movement which coordinated the event is the fun end
of a wider public space movement, which aims to consciously celebrate public
space in cities and to get the public participating in events in them. They
hope to partially replace "passive, non-social consumption experiences
like watching television" with social and communal activities in our
"urban living rooms."
It was interesting to see this taking place in Trafalgar Square, which the
Mayor of London treats as a private place, with "Heritage Wardens"
preventing many activities - such as unapproved demonstrations and at times
photography - there. Many of us are greatly concerned at the increased privatisation
of public space in our cities.
Presumably the organisers of the pillow fight had obtained permission to
use this particular "living room" today, as the heritage wardens
stood watching and smiling.
Pillows were being sold to people who had not brought their own, with all
takings going to the Japan Tsunami Appeal. There was also an after-party as
a part of the event with proceeds going to the same charity.
The event had a number of sensible rules, although some were not entirely
followed by everyone - such as not bringing feather pillows - much to the
delight of photographers. And although I did get hit quite frequently, at
least most of those who broke that particular rule did so by accident and
apologised. But it does mean I can confirm that everyone seemed to follow
the injunction to use soft pillows.
The event started with a signal at 3pm when people converged into a heaving
group in the centre of the centre of the square and began swinging their pillows
with abandon. Perhaps the rule most often broken was to swing lightly, as
at times things got fairly hectic.
It was however an incredibly good-natured fun event, although by the end
of the half hour, many were exhausted and laid down on the square with their
heads on their pillows.
Queens Terrace Café
Queens Terrace, Swiss Cottage. Saturday 2 April 2011
The café counter with some of the fine fresh
food the cafe specialises in.
more pictures on >Re:PHOTO
It isn't every day one of my friends opens a café, and this one in
Swiss Cottage is no ordinary café but a cultural café. At top
left on the shelves is book by Mireille Galinou whose café this is,
a study of St John's Wood showing it as an early example of a garden village
which was published last year by the Yale University Press. More on this café,
together with more pictures on
top of page
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