Thursday, 30 September 2010

Our generation's Dennis Healey moment?

B Husband predicted back in May that Ed would win.  The growing strength of the Unions as seen in the London local elections in May, with Labour re-gaining control of Southwark and several other inner London boroughs as well as strengthening their grip in places where they had a dismal record in public office such as Doncaster, were all portents of what was to come.  Then Ken Livingstone, (surely Banquo's ghost made flesh) wins the nomination for London and now Ed M wins - well, it's a clean sweep.      

As ever it's in the detail that the real story lies; for instance I had not understood that a Trades Union endorsement such as Ed M received from the Big Three (Unite, Unison & GMB) meant that only he and his team got the membership lists in order to canvas their support.  The other candidates were effectively denied access to a significant part of their constituency but this is perfectly legitimate and is where the real power of the Union bosses lies.  

Of course the Unions and indeed senior Labour figures now say, that individual trade union members vote however they like but if you only receive literature or contact from one candidate...well you can see what that would mean.  Same thing happened with the London nomination, where the Unions backed Ken over Oona King.

But back to The Brothers Miliband - one rather poignant detail which has been widely covered by the media was how upset David's wife was said to be about what has happened.  She, or sources close to her have also let it be known that on those occasions over the past 2 years or so, when he could have mounted a coup against Gordon Brown but didn't, it was Ed pleading with him on Brown's behalf and urging him to maintain party unity that stopped David from taking those opportunities.  Small wonder there is a profound sense of bitterness and betrayal in the David camp.

Given that he was the heir apparent and could have chosen to court the Union bosses, in my view it is to his enormous credit as a man (although perhaps not as a cynical politician) that David chose not to but instead appealed to the wider Labour constituency (and probably the country).

So what are we to make of Ed then?  I suspect that he feels no small sense of achievement in finally bettering his older brother, and emerging certainly with no one in any doubt about his ruthlessness or cynicism as a politician.  Given all of that, personally I thought it patronising in the extreme for him to say in his acceptance speech that he had never in his wildest imaginations, thought he would one day be leader of the Labour Party.    

Beyond that, I'm not entirely sure that he realises what he has done; what sort of Faustian pact the Unions believe has been made - even if he doesn't.  He is said to be keen to moderate his message and people who know him tell me that he is a social democrat but that's clearly not what the Unions think they have got.  How long before they test him ?

And now for something completely different

This blog is not defined by any geographical boundaries and so I give you this beautiful house, outside and in:-

It's called Ship House at no 1, Trafalgar Avenue just off the Old Kent Road and it's for sale.

Malini is happy to give tours and is passionate about the background and history of the house as well as its previous owners and occupants.  Have a look on the site where you will see her contact details.  Sadly it's way out of our (financial) league, but well worth a visit if only to gaze in admiration.
(All photos from


Still here...well, just about anyway.  These things happened over the last 4 days:  Beautiful boy turned 10; following a successful interview on Tuesday, BM is up for 2nd round next week; Ofsted who have been conducting a 'three-way' inspection since Monday afternoon are still in the building but it finishes later today; slept for about 4 hours each night. 

I'm shattered, time for rest and reflection and then will commit thoughts to the blog on these events and others, including this generation's Dennis Healey moment.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Controlling capitalism

Vince Cable will make a speech today at the Lib Dem conference, says the Guardian, setting out clearly what he and the government plan to do to prevent another banking collapse and at the same time, prevent bankers and others in the financial services believing that their remuneration can escalate unchecked.  

It's often said that in the way that democracy is the least worst form of government, so capitalism is the least worst means of achieving relative prosperity for all.   And yet, the issues which are troubling Dr Cable now are not in any sense new.   My admiration (near worship actually) for all things John Lewis is hardly a secret so I think it's worth repeating the words of their founder, John Spedan Lewis reflecting on remuneration:-

"The present state of affairs is really a perversion of the proper working of capitalism. It is all wrong to have millionaires before you have ceased to have slums. Capitalism has done enormous good and suits human nature far too well to be given up as long as human nature remains the same. But the perversion has given us too unstable a society. Differences of reward must be large enough to induce people to do their best but the present differences are far too great.
"If we do not find some way of correcting that perversion of capitalism, our society will break down. We shall find ourselves back in some form of government without the consent of the governed, some form of police state.
"The dividends of some shareholders exceed their own highest hopes, hopes that may have been much too greedy, and the incomes of the more fortunate of the captains of industry are many times as great as would have caused the same persons to work just as hard and for just as many years if, instead of going into business, they had happened to become, say, lawyers or doctors. This is quite wrong."

He went on to build into the founding Partnership Trust deed an irrevocable ratio between the earnings of the lowest paid worker and the highest paid so that in his view, together with the co-ownership status of every employee or 'partner', there would remain an incentive to drive the business forward for the benefit of all.

Sadly not many other captains of industry see their duty to society as anything other than to make ever-increasing profit for their shareholders.  Pure unfettered capitalism after all, sees no social imperative.   Which is why I hope the Dr Cable's proposed regulations succeed.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

26 letters

I came across the writer Sara Sheridan via Normblog (see the blogroll on the right), not having read any of her published works so far.  But that's not the point; the point is that in addition to being a bestselling author of historical novels, she is also part of a writer's collective called '26'.  They engage in lots of different writing projects, which in themselves sound wonderful and well worth a visit to their website.  More pertinently, their most recent project is in conjunction with London Design week, called 26Treasures and running at the V&A from 18th September.  Each writer has been allocated a treasure and invited to write 62 words in any style or format, reflecting on that object.

Sara Sheridan has written a poem entitled 'On a Plate' about this beautiful object...

which dates from Southwark 1653 and was made as a marriage gift to...who knows? 

The exhibition runs from 18-26th September.  Somehow, even though time is tight right now, I suspect it will be well worth a visit.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Book, Books, Books

The eagerly anticipated opening of Woolfson & Tay, independent bookshop, gallery & cafe finally took place yesterday and BM was there - alas, sans camera!  However SE1 took theirs and they have a full report, also interestingly a picture of Val Shawcross with the proprietors ( but perhaps that's for another day).

Anyway from what BM observed, this deserves to be a huge success.  Lots of lovely, interesting and diverse books including a children's section.  Also ceramics, paper products and other non-book gifts as well as really tempting cakes, which going by the number of people sitting in the cafe, seemed to be going down rather well. 

Looking forward to a quieter explore during the week.

In praise of...Roald Dahl

The children love him and all of his works.  Me, I confess that prior to motherhood my only encounter with him was watching, not reading, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.  Shameful admission but there it is.  His work just didn't cross my reading radar as a child.  The past 5 years or so have made up for that and I think we have been through the entire canon of children's books.

'Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl' by Donald Sturrock was the book of the week on Radio 4 last week and I urge you to listen again on the iplayer via the link while you can.   Although it had been on in the background, I wasn't really paying attention on Monday or Tuesday but Wednesday's reading stopped me in my tracks.  It's another reminder as if it were needed, that people live very complex lives and even the most outwardly gilded have personal tragedy of the worst kind to bear and in this case, overcome. 

Now, I may have to buy the book!

In which...reality bites

Apologies for the radio silence over the past week; life has caught up with BM a bit and the job search took precedence over pretty much everything else.  Anyway, happy to say that it looks as if it paid off and things might be looking up for the BM exchequer very soon.

These past few months have been a strange mixture of anxious 'in-between jobs' time and re-charging the batteries, after what's been a fairly tumultuous 10 years or so.  Back then BM and BH were both young professionals about town, me expecting a baby, he starting a political career.  Like everything in life maybe, we could have had no idea how those 10 years would pan out.  
Flash forward to 2010, both pushing mid-forties, when even the most clear-headed tend to take stock, and what does the balance sheet look like?   Well I suppose it depends on how you measure these things.  In pure financial terms, it's pretty bad, particularly if you compare us with our contemporaries from 2000 who continued to pursue a legal career.    In non-monetary terms we have packed a lot into those 10 years, met people we would not otherwise have met including the famous and not so famous and experienced another way of living beyond a concentration on the self.  And we have a lovely family, which I treasure above anything else.

The way I see it, I have another 20 years or so of useful working life left ahead of me and (and yes I am aware of just how cliched this sort of mid-life assessment is) so it's important, within the constraints of family finances, to make them count by ensuring that the work is meaningful and life-enhancing, instead of soul destroying.   At the moment that might just be possible.  That's the plan anyway, and I have to have a plan, however flaky. 

But if the last 10 years have taught me anything, it's that things don't always go according to plan - or at least plan A.  I've not worked out a plan B yet but I'll keep you posted.  

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Under the arches

34 Maltby Street, 104 Druid Street and 1 The Ropewalk are the sites of a Saturday morning 'collective' opening, by businesses which usually carry on their wholesale trade out of these arches, to the great retail public and today BM and the children went along for a look.

This is what we found...

As always, the coffee from Monmouth was delicious and now no need to hoof up to Borough Market and queue with the tourists - hurrah!  Also tempting pastries on sale and next door, cheeses from Neal's Yard as well as cream, ice-cream and other tantalising dairy things.

Staying with the pavement, despite there being a building site adjacent, we followed the arches along, past the Lassco premises to The Ropewalk, where the 'Kernel' micro-brewery is based as well as 'The Ham & Cheese Company'.   The children thought it was quite an adventure with the trains rumbling past overhead and the industrial feel of the area.  A  little further along, we found Fern Verrow Vegetables and bought some lovely tomatoes and apples.

I understand that the Saturday opening from 9-2pm has been going for at least a couple of months and I wish them well.  What with the Farmer's Market in B Square, we are a little spoiled for choice I suppose.  For what it's worth, BM will be supporting this little project, simply because these people have (literally) invested in the local area, creating jobs and revitalising an otherwise quiet/dead area, certainly at weekends.

Threading our way back along to Monmouth, it was beginning to get quite busy.  The setting is on a different scale but the exercise reminded me of how Borough Market used to feel before it turned into a tourist, gourmet-fast-food destination.   

 (All photos by the junior newshound).

Friday, 3 September 2010

Lionel stirs things up a bit...again

Lionel Shriver (did I mention she is virtually my next-door neighbour?) has a piece in today's Guardian about the relative lack of prominence and praise afforded to women writers of literary fiction, as compared to that enjoyed by men.  In particular she is irritated by the level of praise lavished - really not too strong a word in this case - on Jonathan Franzen for his new book, 'Freedom'.  The praise may well be deserved but it's fascinating that he is lauded for writing a book essentially about a family which as LS relays,  the NY Times Book Review described in breathless prose as "family as microcosm or micro-history". 

Perhaps the flaw in Lionel's (did you notice that, first name terms?) piece today is that (other than a slight reference to Annie Proulz) she fails to list any women writers who deserve equal if not greater praise for a body of work just as literary as that of Jonathan Franzen's.  

Let me fill in that gaping glaring hole with Anne Tyler.  She has devoted her career to writing about the everyday lives of ordinary people in an extraordinary way.  Although she is admired, she is not feted perhaps in the way some male writers are - I'm thinking of the near reverence afforded to Don DeLillo,  Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth. 

I'm not the only one who feels that Anne Tyler is underrated - this is a link to Norm's archive piece on her writing which is much more succinct than I could ever be and for what it's worth I agree with his assessment of her work to date.   Enjoy!

Making the most of the final few days of school holiday

At last, the weather has picked up!  For BM and crew this means daily trips to parks near and far to get lots of exercise, catch up with friends before school starts again and generally enjoy the sunshine as much as possible.

First up (and this will convince anyone not living in London how poor weather conditions really were) I give you this...

A giant plane tree felled by the wind in Spa Gardens over the weekend!  Photo taken by junior newshouund who is already thinking of stories for his Autumn school newsletter and plans to pursue this one further by interviewing the manager of the play centre.

There was no evidence of damage to any of the lovely trees in Dulwich park which we visited on Tuesday; in fact it turned out to be much warmer than anticipated and friends re-united, the children hired bikes from here

(photo via  -  I promise you it was not raining!)

Wednesday we were back in familiar territory in Southwark Park and running all the usual pre-school errands. 

Thursday to a Bloomsbury private garden square to play tennis with Granny and today, a visit to Broadstairs, one of BM's favourite seaside places.  The signs were not good as we arrived...greeted by grey skies and spots of rain but it brightened up and so did we.  It's got such a lovely Victorian feel to it,

There are of course beach huts but I especially like the built-in changing cubicles, accessed via central and side stone stairways (which look like 1930s additions) from the promenade or...the lift!  Isn't this just gorgeous?  I didn't find out whether it is still in use.

Lovely sandy horseshoe-shaped beach and up on the promenade the most charming houses with regency-style (I think) railings and balconies

Dickens called Broadstairs his favourite watering hole in Kent and you can see why on a sunny day at least.

Didn't take a photo of the wonderful well known ice-cream shop - noticed the name had changed again though and it seemed to me that the range of flavours was less than I remembered.  Had to leave by 3 so that B husband could make it back for the England game at Wembley but no complaints from the children who slept all the way home!