29 March, 2010


Charlie Gillett

I "discovered" Charlie Gillett only a few years ago. During a bout of insomnia, I decided to get up for a while and listen to the wireless. Out of laziness more than anything else, my wireless is tuned more or less permanently to Radio 4. During the wee small hours after Kathy Clugston goes to bed, the frequency carries the World Service, and it was there that I stumbled across his World of Music programme. Charlie specialized, though not exclusively, in "world music", that strange non-genre comprising popular music from countries you've almost but not quite heard of and which does fit into any of the standard record-shop categories. Everything from Bulgarian nose-thrampling dirges to Cape Verdean thrash fado. He was instrumental in bringing the likes of Youssou N'Dour and Salif Keita to a world audience.

Charlie died a couple of weeks ago at what these days seems a relatively young age. It is sobering to think that Charlie, just turned 68, was only a gnat's eyebrow over six years older than me. I shall miss his understated style and his catholic musical taste.

I was awake in the wee small hours again last night and turned on the wireless, only to hear Charlie in full flow, presenting World of Music as if nothing had changed. Presumably a show "in the can" from before his death. Or perhaps an old recording while the BBC figures out how to fill the slot. Whichever, it was altogether too creepy by half and I had to switch it off.

So long, mate, and thanks for all the music.

27 March, 2010


The semi-detached mind goes shopping

On the doors of the Great Marlborough Street entrance of the Pantheon, the "flagship" Marks and Spencer branch near Oxford Circus, there is a sticker advertising

Cash Machine in Womenswear

Why do I suddenly find myself imagining one of those freestanding ATMs — you know, the ones that you find in pubs and similar establishments, the ones that charge like a wounded rhino — one of them there freestanding ATMs, tastefully attired in a skirt and a cardy?

18 March, 2010


What is the world coming to?

Is nothing sacred?

Harrods bars Hampshire scouts wearing woggles

What's Harriet Harperson going to do about that then, eh? Eh? Eh?

15 March, 2010


Sun and NotW subs, eat your hearts out!

Take a look at the graphic link at the right-hand side of today's Liberal Conspiracy homepage,

"TOP STORY: Asylum Seekers Tortured in UK", the caption proclaims. That's pretty shocking stuff, isn't it? What images does it summon up for you? Waterboarding of traumatized Third World refugees by evil Serco goons? Sleep deprivation? Beatings? Electrodes applied to the genitals in secret dungeons at Yarl's Wood? Finger- and toenails yanked out with pincers by laughing fascist thugs at Colnbrook?

Click through to the linked Observer piece, which begins
Torture survivors seeking sanctuary in Britain are being wrongly held in government detention centres, despite independent medical evidence supporting claims of brutal violence against them in their home countries.
In fact the piece is about disagreement between UKBA and non-Governmental assessors and pressure groups over individual assessments of claimed torture in the countries from which the asylum seekers are fleeing.

Further down the Observer piece a detained Zimbabwean asylum seeker is quoted as saying
"The officers are racist and are not sympathetic. We have suffered and don't want to be tortured here, but inside here it is a form of torture but nobody can see us locked up."

Hardly amounts to "Asylum Seekers Tortured in UK", does it?

10 March, 2010


It's all there in black and white

You thought the brouhaha over the BNP's "racist" membership rules was all over. Not quite. The BNP returns to court this week to learn whether the constitutional changes it has put in place are sufficient to satisfy the court's requirements. The current outbreak of meeja-driven entryist stunts by token "effnicks" may be not unconnected with this pending decision.

(Though they do need to raise their game a little. Even the semiliterate commenters at Lancaster Unity were less than impressed by the efforts of Mo Chaudry, who was shocked to find his application to join the BNP turned down after he had publicly announced his intention to join the BNP "to fight them from the inside".)

In defending its restrictive membership criteria, the BNP and its supporters have argued that other organizations have equally restrictive racial membership criteria, and that either all should be acted against or all should be left in peace. It argues that it is being singled out. Their main chosen example has been the National Black Police Association.

The counter argument has been that
  1. A political party, which seeks to govern the country as a whole, is substantively different from a sectional pressure or interest group like the NBPA. The former must be inclusive in its policies and its membership, while the latter is under no such obligation.

  2. The NBPA does not in any case racially limit its membership. It is freely open to all.
If the universal constituency argument holds good, then it holds good for the Black Police Association too. That body seeks to further the interests of Black police officers and police workers, according to its own particular definition of Black, working to redress their perceived grievances and disadvantages. This activity may impact negatively on White officers, for example through the pursuit of quotas and "positive discrimination" campaigns. To that extent, excluding White officers and workers from membership of or representation in the Association would be unfair.

The universal consituency argument is not substantively different for political parties seeking to govern the nation as a whole. It is in my not particularly humble opinion a matter of scale rather than substance.

What next? Accusations that the Labour Party has too few CEOs, Masters of Hounds and generic public-school toffs in its membership and cannot therefore be said to be representative of the nation it seeks to govern?

The other riposte to the BNP's position is that the NBPA membership criteria are not in fact restrictive; that it is open to police employees of all races. This assertion bears closer scrutiny.

I recall visiting various BPA sites long before the EHRC's politically-motivated assault on the BNP brought the BPA's practices into public focus. I was struck by their membership criteria, mainly because of the tortuously careful "We're not racist but..." language used in defining the term "Black". Essentially, it all boiled down to "If you're a vaguely swarthy cove or even if you've just got a healthy tan, and you have convinced yourself that your failure to advance in the job is entirely due to the fact that you don't match the required blond blue-eyed archetype, then you're in." I read somewhere that the MetBPA had members of South European heritage, wops and dagoes in vulgar parlance, who qualified under the "If you think you're dark enough, you're one of us" rule. That may be an urban myth.

The similarity in tone and slipperiness to the language used by the BNP to define who it included under the umbrella of Whiteness was very striking. The BNP language majors on terms like Anglo-Celtic and bizarrely infelicitous Nazi-derived calques like "folkish", but it too boils down to "We know who we mean; you know who we mean; but we're not going to say so too explicitly otherwise that Trevor Phillips bastard will have his goons on us like a ton of bricks".

Unfortunately I never made a screenshot of the old NBPA and MetBPA sites, and their language has now moved on, just as the BNP's infamous "British Asians don't exist" document has been redrafted to rebury the bodies out of sight.

But we can look at the current Black Police sites. Here's the National Black Police Association site. (All screenshots taken today.)

The NBPA is open to all in policing on application
and there is no bar to membership based on colour

it proclaims on its homepage. Well that's pretty categorical, isn't it? A bit too categorical if you ask me. It seems a minor point to highlight so prominently on an otherwise sparse and rather well laid-out home page. It jars. The disclaimer, for that is what it is, smacks of reactive afterthought. But let's not dwell on that, lest someone come along and accuse me of projection.

Because I'm not sure it's all that relevant. If I understand the situation correctly, people do not generally join the NBPA directly. The NBPA is a national umbrella organization. Instead, eligible people join the branch organization which represents their own force. So let's look at the membership criteria of the biggest force in the country.


Membership to the Association is available to all black staff employed by the Metropolitan Police Service. There are three categories of membership available:

Full Membership

Full membership is open to all serving police officers and police staff directly employed by the MPS or the Metropolitan Police Authority who meets the criteria set out in the constitution of the Association.

Associate Membership

Associate membership is open to all serving police officers and police staff directly employed by a constabulary or police authority within the UK, who are not part of the Metropolitan Police Service, and police staff employed by outsourced contractors whose main role is to support the Metropolitan Police Service.

Friends Membership

Support from the community is critical to our success and therefore we welcome supporter as friends under a special Friends membership. For further details, please email friends@metbpa.com

There is only one way of reading this statement. The first paragraph identifies the people who are in scope as potential members, namely "black staff employed by the MPS". The following three paragraphs refine this definition. The references to "all serving police officers and police staff" in the second and third paragraphs can only be reasonably interpreted as subsets of the "black staff" referred to in the first paragraph. To read the second and third paragraphs independently renders the first paragraph nugatory. That interpretation makes no sense.

The current, much simplified, definition of black is here (scroll down the iframe).

Definition of Black

The term black does not relate to skin colour but is used to describe all people of African, African Caribbean or Asian origin.

I think it is reasonable to conclude that the MetBPA and by implication the National BPA operate racially exclusive membership criteria. Why has this not been challenged by the EHRC? Surely not because the NBPA and its affiliates do not pose an electoral threat to the regime. Heaven forfend such a thought.

04 March, 2010


Riding the Multiculture

I took my first ride on a 3-car DLR train yesterday. Don't I lead an exciting life, then? Originally intended for operation using single articulated railcars, each about the size and capacity of a London bendy bus, this unexpected success story is currently being upgraded to run 3-car train sets throughout, replacing the existing overcrowded 2-car sets. Three-car sets are in the process of being brought into service on the Bank-Lewisham route and currently there is a mixture of 2- and 3-car trains running.

As the train approached Cutty Sark, an announcement could be heard above the rushing din of the tunnel. At first I thought it was in Tamil or some similar South Indian language. By paying close attention, however, I was able to identify the occasional phrase in what appeared to be a poor approximation to English. These constituted between 10 and 20 percent of the announcement. In the event I was able to work out what the guy was on about, but only because of external knowledge — because in effect I didn't actually need to hear the announcement.

Let me explain. To run 3-car trains the DLR, as you might expect, has had to extend most of its platforms. In some cases, fitting in the extra car-length has proved challenging due to conflicts with nearby existing structures. In the case of Cutty Sark, they gave up. Cutty Sark station is underground and its platforms lead directly into bored tunnel at either end. To enlarge these tunnels would have been very expensive and would, so they claim, have risked undermining adjacent "historic" buildings — I assume they refer to St Alfege's. Instead, the DLR has adopted a confusing workaround known in the trade as SDO. Under this arrangement, the 3-car train stops at the existing 2-car platform with the leading half of the first car and the trailing half of the third car overhanging the ends of the platform. The foremost and hindmost passenger doors remain locked during the stop.

As it happens, I have been following the progress of the 3-car upgrade out of curiosity, so I am up to speed on all this, but many passengers, particularly tourists and others unfamiliar with the DLR, need to have the arrangement pointed out to them. I wonder how many cases of involuntary overriding there will be in the next few weeks as confused, trapped and fuming passengers find themselves having to get off at Greenwich or Island Gardens and make their way back.

I suspect most people will have no difficulty in understanding how all this works once they've been notified of it. At least I assume so; I have a visually-oriented mind so I tend to visualize it as a aerial view of a long train attempting to stand at a short platform. But putting it into non-technical words in a ten-second announcement is another matter. Getting the information across concisely and effectively as the train approaches the station in the noisy environment of a tunnel requires a well-crafted script delivered in clear English.

This manifestly did not happen on this occasion. I have made this point before and will doubtless do so again. The duties of a PSA (DLR-speak for train conductor) include communicating with passengers, both one on one and via announcements. This man's English was so poor that he could not do this, potentially to the significant inconvenience of his passengers. He was not qualified to work as a PSA and should not have been so employed.

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