Category Archives: London

A little story about waste.

It’s the war cry of the left – our public services are underfunded, undermanned and overstretched. Do try not to giggle on the right… it’s a perpetual and entirely circular argument: the more money they get the more people they get, the more people they get, the less hours they work, the less hours they work the less productive they become, the less productive they become the more they moan, the more the moan the more non-jobs are created to keep them happy and overpaid, which eventually someone has to pay for.

And that someone, is you.

So let me tell you a story about a farce I watched unfold today on the streets of the borough which lends its name to the palace that the people that spend your money fill out their expense forms in.

I was perched by a window today, working hard to pay my bills, wages, taxes and so on, looking out over Wardour Street in Soho in the grandly titled City of Westminster, just below my perch is a public bin, next to said bin at some point earlier in the day someone had deposited three white bin bags and some cardboard, neatly propped up against the bin, not spilling out into the road or obscuring the pavement… overall not particularly pleasant to dump your rubbish on the pavement, but in Soho there’s very few other places you can put it and they’d made the best job of wrapping it up and putting it out.

But this breaks several rules – the first being that it’s not using the Westminster business bin bags, these ludicrously thin bags are available in rolls which cost £50 a go, that works out to about £1 per bag – that’s if you can get the bag out of your premises without it splitting requiring yet another. Second even once you’ve paid for your bags you have to put the rubbish out in certain windows, these last for only 90 minutes and on average most streets get two collections a day to cope with the detritus that this tourist hub creates, and failure to observe said rubbish curfew results in fines of several hundred to several thousand pounds.

To police this policy, the council employ enforcement officers, lord knows how many, but there seem to be one for just about everything, noise, sex shops, rubbish, traffic, parking, street works, you name it, there’s a council employee – clip board in hand – waiting to enforce it.

So it came as no surprise that later in the afternoon a portly looking lady came along, said clipboard grasped firmly, kicked the rubbish a bit, took some photos, made some calls then off she went. I thought, well some poor sods going to get a fine and that rubbish will be gone at the next collection… but oh no, the next collection came and went, leaving said rubbish leaking out onto the street now it had been given a bit of a kick. Then along came the same woman to take more photos of it – presumably to ‘prove’ how long it had been sat on the street for making our environment unpleasant. Surely now someone will remove it? Another collection van scoots by, empties the public bin but leaves the rubbish in the now sodden from a downpour street – then along comes a new man, who looks at the rubbish, cocks his head from side to side , scribbles something and wanders off. Then another: this time bolder, accompanied by the woman, this chap is clearly on the look out for evidence, so in he plunges – no gloves, no awareness of sharps, no health and safety – straight into the bin, rummaging he drags out a discarded office catalogue notes the address it’s been sent to and throws it back on the now totally sodden, disheveled leaking rubbish pile – surely now the bin men will remove it? Someone will pop around any minute with a cage van to get rid of it.

Well.

No.

In fact it was still there when I left at quarter to seven having been there for the all of the afternoon. I counted no less than 4 people  from the council in one form or another who could have arranged for it to be binned: I saw 5 bin lorries pass by collecting rubbish who all ignored it. And there it sits, probably still – leaking into the street, spilling across the pavement, a health and trip hazard for all.

It’s exactly this sort of waste that has to stop: we don’t need hundreds of enforcement officers, with the money you save sacking them you could afford to just pick up the rubbish to make our streets clean.

For gods sake can someone in our Government both national and local have the balls to take a stand and say that ‘we’ the government are going to spend more of your money on the services you need and less on trying to fine you for every infringement of every rule we care to make up to justify employing hundreds of entirely sundry staff.

A goal for 2011.

I’m not a fan of resolutions, they often seem like a reason to just harp on about things you wish you’d do, rather than real goals set with a thought. But it is new year, and this does seem like as good a time as any to do this.

I’m going to live without supermarkets – or at least, I’m going to try. I’m not going to boycott anything, nor am I going to go out of my way to make my life more difficult than it need to be – but i am going to be making an effort to use the shops that are on my doorstep. I’m hoping this will make me think about what I’m eating, cook more often from scratch and to get to know more people in the community I live in rather than the faceless self-check out machines that are increasingly de jour in my local big brand supermarkets.

I do however live in the real world, I’m not expecting this to be a 100% successful experiment initially, but I am going to be making a real effort, and hopefully saving some money along the way to – indeed I hope to save so much money that on the nights when traditionally a splurge of expensive ‘luxury’ ready meals might have been the order of the day that I instead use that money to wander down to a cafe or restaurant instead – once again, doing my bit for the community that I live in.

Well that was 2010

2010, what a year – highs and lows of amazing and awful proportion. On balance it’s a year I think I’m going to want to forget – not however that I’m going to want to forget the lessons from…

I don’t believe in resolutions, but I do have goals that I review weekly, monthly and annually – most of them are horribly mundane: my way of making sure the tasks of the day whether work or domestic get done – others are less so.

So in this coming year I want to

  • Settle down into a house that we intend to stay in for some time and looking at renting a place in Germany that we can consider a second home
  • I want to travel more, this means putting the car on the road and ensuring there’s a ready pot of ferry, petrol, hotel and food money stashed away for last minute urges to be on the continent.
  • I want to re-evaluate how and where I work, if there are new challenges now is the time to take them.
  • I want to make as much money as I did in 2008/9 – I know what I need to do this, so I just need to get on and do it.
  • I want to eat better stuff: I’ve had it with being a slave to the supermarket, from now on I’m going to buy local and regularly rather than in a warehouse weekly.
  • I want to digitise my whole audio collection – I’ve got tonnes of music on CDs, Tapes, Reels, Records and MiniDiscs, I want them all at the click of a button on my Mac.
  • I want to write a book – I’ve been thinking about it for ages, I know what I want to write about, christ I’m an expert in it! So I need to dedicate some time to making it happen.
  • I want to DJ more too – you’ll see a broadcaster page appearing soon with a showreel and links to programmes and shows I’m presenting or producing.

This isn’t a list of resolutions, and it’s not really a blog post, more a note to myself in a place I know I’m going to have to look at.

Congestion Charging

I’m not a believer in congestion charging, not through some Clarksonesq desire to have speed and powah in our city centres, nor through some malcontent desire to screw authority – no, no. I just don’t think it works. When it was introduced in 2003 it worked for about a month after which congestion slowly crept back to just where it was before; some might argue even that it’s worse now than it was then. Every attempt to curb this failure, whether it be draconian spy cars, above inflation price increases, heavy handed debt recovery firms or unwarranted extensions to the central zone have all failed, miserably.

Which brings me neatly to my point. Presently the Greater London Authority is locked in a series of expensive legal battles with embassies from some of the world’s largest economies: America, Russia and others aren’t paying the Congestion Charge and in the process they’re racking up hundreds of thousands of pounds of fines and the GLA is allegedly losing hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue because diplomatic cars are dodging the zone charge.

The embassies claim that they’re immune from Congestion Charging, it is after all an environmental and infrastructure tax – which under international agreements they’re exempt from paying. Except that the GLA are claiming it’s a service charge and not a tax: which raises an interesting point for anyone that pays the charge. Can you ask for a refund if you encounter congestion during the day? Clearly if it’s a service being provided then it should have some form of service level agreement? And if it’s a service, then that means that we’re customers – so surely if the service fails to meet the customers expectations then we, as empowered customers – and just look at the number of trading rules that customers can call upon in for protection – should be able to ask for a refund? Sue for breach of contract, or bring the GLA kicking and screaming in front of trading standards for failing to advertising the service honestly?

Think about it – they can’t change their tune now: they’ve wasted too much of our money  trying to recoup money from foreign governments claiming it’s a service charge, so let’s start treating it as such.

Terror Threat

The terror threat is palpable in central london at the moment: I think every day for the last week has seen at least one major road closure to examine suspicious bags or cars – the security services are certainly on edge, it’s not just London, Paris too is on high alert with regular evacuations of tourist sites, something almost unheard of in our laissez-faire republican cousin.

It’s an odd state of affairs – Be Aware! we’re told, but the question most people ask is of what? Odd looking cars, people with turbans, odd beards, shamrocks, the germans, smurfs – what? Most people on the street wouldn’t know where to start without some guidance, and so far there’s been no guidance. The result? Fear – precisely what the terrorists want, we change our lifestyles because of them, and they win.

It’s interesting to watch the various media outlets explain the terror threat, the BBC have made a huge thing out of it – it’s been the lead or top three story all week, ABC news and FOX are the same, some French outlets – most notably Canal+  are following our lead – whilst the German’s are remaining remarkably stoic, the conservative Erste network and the rather lowbrow commercially guided ZDF and ProSieben channels are treating this as an ‘and in other news’ feature. Not once has the terror threat come above story 3 – why? Because there’s very little one can actually say about it without resorting to hyperbole and conjecture, and that’s not news.

When I grew up it was exposed on an obvious Military installation at the height of the terrorist activities of the Irish Republicans. Cars were bombed, people were shot – but through all of this, guidance was always given, you knew that you have to check your car before you got in it, you knew you had to report certain people, numberplates or activities, and you knew most of all that the chances of you actually being involved were ludicrously low; but for the sake of everyone in your community you should be vigilent anyway. Some commentators have been screaming for exact facts, but that’s clearly not intelligent or practical, but if the state, both ours and abroad, want us to be more aware; they must start giving the public more useful information about what they need to be vigilant for, rather than simply scaring people about an unknown, unsized, unpredictable threat.

The City maketh the Culture.

Gilbert & GeorgeThis is reproduced from an article I wrote on the Vivid London blog – if you’re interested in design, pr or marketing it’s well worth bookmarking.

If you’re very blunt cities are just a collection of buildings, roads and infrastructure where people happen to live and work; they’re essentially just a theatrical backdrop to the daily dramas of each individual’s life – but i like to think they’re more than that.

Cities aren’t just backdrops, they define cultures and movement, some much more so than others. For years certain cities have grabbed their denizens shown them the lights, whether it be London, Berlin, Köln, New York, Paris or Florence the greatest artistic, political and cultural movements have sprung forth from the cities that spin their inhabitants like whirling dervishes into creative thought and action.

Take the naturalistic beauty of that Florence that inspired generations of not just artists, but real masters, you think of Florence and you think of the whole Florentine School cabal which amongst others gave us Donatello, Botticelli, Masaccio and Michelangelo. And to this day artists flock to Florence to be inspired, to take in the winsome tuscan countryside, the exquisite architecture and the delicate palette of colours, smells and tastes that float through every Florentine street and piazza.

Or consider the roaring seething orgy that still is Berlin – through generations this city has inspired biting satire, political activism and an art scene that could only be described as brutally honest portrayals of the world around them. Politically this is the city that saw the rise of Communism and National Socialism in the 30s, during the cold war it saw political activism like nowhere else with a plethora of strong protest groups and even today ferments real dissent and anti-government feeling with activists still keeping Angela Merkel’s coalition quite firmly on it’s toes. Artistically, this political melting pot drives the art scene, from the vicious social commentary of George Grosz or Kathe Kollwitz to the glorious revelry in the debauchery of the cocaine fuelled metrosexual nightclubs as portrayed by Otto Dix and more recently the free-wheeling poor but sexy Berlin as captured so marvellously in my opinion in the joyous canvases of Ann-Kristin Hamm.

London again twists it’s inhabitants, the driving ever-changing scene in London opens new doors every day; one person’s crap is another person’s treasure, from the decaying East End of the 1980   that inspired the mega-canvases of multi-cultural faces in Gilbert & Georges seminal work ‘Are you angry, or are you bored’ to the gawking polemic on Britain’s celebrity obsessed culture embodied so well in Damien Hirst’s ‘For the love of God’ (better known as the diamond encrusted skull). Over and over again London like Berlin or New York has allowed a level of expression that no other city in it’s shadow could foster. It’s taken in the waifs and strays and given them a canvas to play with: and that – that – is why we love our cities.

Vivid London – it’s not just a name: it defines us, the city we’re based in hones our approach. Life should be Vivid, and London inspires us. It truly is a vivid city, the cultures, languages, art, theatre, cinema, architecture, the whole simmering mass is exciting to be in, and because of that creative thought thrives.

Biting hard at our local businesses.

It’s the end of June – already, doesn’t seem like two minutes since we were knee deep in Snow. It’s been a busy few weeks at work, and correspondingly it’s been a quiet few weeks on the blog: and the busyness couldn’t be more welcome – it’s been a quiet few months with work with the recession clearly having an impact not just on our business, but on many around us. Many commentators are trying to make out that the recession is a technical term, that it’s only having an impact on certain sectors – but I think that’s increasingly being shown to be untrue – recession’s take time to bite: they don’t suddenly arrive, instead they filter down, slowly using up reserves, making life more critical and making business ever more difficult for those that don’t quickly adapt to the conditions of the day.

It’s been a very sad few weeks on Berwick Street, admittedly it’s never going to win awards for being London’s most glitziest street, but over the years it’s developed a collection of great shops, cafés and restaurants that were always well patronised by anyone that considers themselves a local. Over the last few weeks we’ve lost a great indie fashion label, a record store that’s been on the street for as long as I can remember, a coffee shop that was always busy and the brilliant pie and mash shop, Pastry Pilgrim, all seemingly there one day, gone the next.

Businesses are like that – speaking from very personal experience, you always know things are going wrong, but the catastrophic end always sneaks up – you go from being a fighting chance to over in minutes: and it’s heart-wrenching. Often when you see coverage of ‘the recession’ you hear about job losses, but you don’t often see the individual tragedies, the small businesses, ignored by their banks, run on a pittance and run with heart, soul and endless back-breaking hours of toil: and as tragic as hundreds of people being laid off from a national chain might be, the death of a small business should be given equal billing – as it’s our small businesses that lead the recovery, they’re the major tax-payers, they’re the future – and that should never be forgotten.

So the next time you pass a closed up shop with a bailiff’s bolt through the front door, think long and hard about patronising your local businesses more – right now they need your business more than ever before. The bland, faceless chains will survive, but the businesses that enhance an area and offer you something unique won’t if you don’t spend your money with them. It’s not a good time to be in business right now – getting even a basic business overdraft is almost impossible, banks are raking through past failures and history to find any reason to turn people down. Landlords are getting jumpy about rents being paid, invoices are being paid later and later and some not at all, while all the big chains are more likely to be pushing out bargains to entice customers in to replace high value sales with volume sales that the small business simply can’t compete against.

This country needs entrepreneurs, it needs people to generate new products, new jobs and new markets. So never forget that our small businesses represent the grass roots of all business: because after all, every business has to start somewhere, and that start is almost always small.

Parliament, re-opened

Yes, we’ve all read it before in the newspaper, but today the Queen re-opened Parliament with a speech which sounded rather different to what we’ve become used to, no huge focus on terrorism and no awful news-speak about helping families (with yet more benefits that keep the poor dependant). Instead we got something altogether different: the word de jour is freedom: Scrapping of draconian ID cards and ID databases, Measures to help bolster civil liberties, Powers to set up new schools and open more academies (which are in effect just grant maintained?), Fixed-term Parliaments are now properly on the agenda and a couple of referendums, first on the voting system (a/v) which seems to be linked to a promise of reform for the new rotten boroughs so we equal out the size of constituencies, and if anything happens in Europe now we’ve got a guarantee of referendum on future EU treaties or major changes of power-balance from the UK to the EU (and one would presume vice versa?).

In other news there’s going to be changes to financial regulation but no detail, changes to the police with elected police officials (good news) as well as restoring the pensions link to earnings, and the rather vague promise of more power for the Scottish Parliament: whether the coalition is feeling brave enough to properly tackle the West Lothian question has yet to be seen.

It was nice to see a speech that for the first time in a long time didn’t feel like it’d make us worse of democratically: I still think with the cuts and the world-economic problems coming up, but I do feel like the power of the people has been dramatically realigned. Now the coalition has to stick together to get these things through.

Oddest scene in Soho

Very strange scene in Soho this evening – chaos as the one way system got completed snarled because it looked like the lift had made an escape attempt from this building on Broadwick Street, smashed glass and firemen everywhere…

Great Britain PLC is Closed

We have ‘Extreme’ Weather today, which for the uninitiated in Britain is a couple of cm of snow, and yes, once again it’s chaos, no buses, no tubes, no trains, motorways and a-roads closed and people being told to stay at home or risk freezing to death after they break down. We really are pathetic, yes we don’t get it often, but it’s not like we never get snow – people should at least be half prepared for it; and let’s face it – with climate change making it’s mark on the world, Britain’s not going to get warmer, we’re going to get colder as the gulf stream slows down, so now’s a better time than ever to learn how to deal with it.

Snow closes London

Of course what’s most interesting about Today’s snow is the complete closure of the London bus network – I can’t remember the last time it was entirely closed, even with industrial action, it’s quite spooky looking at roads devoid of the familiar red bus.