Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Housing: – A Quiet Social Catastrophe

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2011 at 11:31 am

Wigan 1939, two years after Orwell's seminal Wigan Pier 'exposé' of Britain at the height of its Industrial-Might but at the low of its social policy. Then it left the workers who fueled the Empire to abject squalor and today we refuse decent living space despite our staggering wealth. We've moved people from squalor on the ground to squalor in the high-rise. Credit:

Three things hit home from chatting to family and friends this week:

!) The home is precious and becoming a luxury few can afford

!) Lack of housing stock is a Social Catastrophe not being addressed

!) Inequality is now demarked by ‘living space’

Growing up by the sea I love space, endless horizons, being at the edge of the world; but all people need space, elbow room and air to breathe. But this country is compact and not bijou. Its attitude to ‘a country fit for heroes’ has slipped to pile-’em-high and watch-’em-fight-it-out.

Buying our first flat in Sussex in the late 80s Thatcher’s Free Market Revolution was up-and-running and going to change our lives forever. It did. It meant if you had bought your home in the 70s you could pay your mortgage and save on an average salary. A house was less than three times that salary. After Thatcher’s Big Bang property prices became an insanity many have enriched themselves on. But at a price that will be paid by our children. This really is a Brave New World.

An average salary won’t buy you a house any more; you are at home with parents wondering what the future holds. Your degree will leave you indebted and facing the remote prospect of buying a very modest flat or house that will now be 10 times your salary leaving you with no disposable income. A 40-fold increase in property prices was never sustainable but we watched voyeuristically and unquestioningly.

We have let Free Market mantras run riot and we have a neo-con government that is as blue-rinsed about letting the gap between winning and losing widen, as did its predecessors. But, there has never been a Free Market. As Chomsky says, Free Markets are for others. The Free Marketeers are as protectionist, corporatist and as interventionist as the Socialista. The free marketeers won’t build. It doesn’t get more restrictive.

Oh, by the way we in the UK owe £1.4tn also! But that aside it is living space that we took for granted and is now the precious need for children to develop their full potential. UK living space is the worst in Europe. We are a small island you say, but only 11% of our land mass is built upon. Successive governments spit in the wind about building programmes. But one way to generate new heat in the economy is to build sustainably (not like the Irish banks!).

If we don’t we will face a long slow decline. We will have good waistlines, rosy cheeks but emaciated communities. 3.5m children live below the poverty line in this country and many are in high-rise damp ridden hovels. We may not be able to address the parenting that deprives of emotional bliss but we can knock these shacks down and build decent spaces on green field sites that are better placed for human beings than keeping land-owners’ bank balances secured.

It took two world wars to move the British government to demolish this country’s slum dwellings. What will it take for this current government, a government who are probably the most existentially secure group of individuals in the history of so-called democracy, to recognise the slow car crash of no-home-owning for the indebted generations. Again, the answer is to build, build and build. But that will require not just a change of government but a change belief, values and action.

Time skating on ice

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2011 at 11:54 am

The appeal of stream of consciousness writers like Faulkner, Joyce and then Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway appears to be that they removed us from the tyranny of clock time.

“Clocks slay time. Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”  The Sound and the Fury.

In other words remove clocks and there is no time, it’s a social construct. Only the Eternal Now. Faulkner also slayed grammar and convention; writing in idiom and free from snobby rules that infect forms of expression. The import is that we are governed as slaves to external conventions; in the West we worship at the altar of Time, served by Progress, served by Convention. Hit these hard and all is good; we are Good…. some disembodied voice says. Watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror reverses the exchange process; its stream of consciousness leaving chronology in the bin. YOU end up working hard to establish meaning rather than meaning being served up like sugar on a donut Hollywood-style.

Here’s a new twist from Derrida’s angle on time, from that newspaper’s Book Blog: “…Meanwhile, new technologies are dislocating more traditional notions of time and place. Smartphones, for instance, encourage us never to fully commit to the here and now, fostering a ghostly presence-absence. Internet time (which is increasingly replacing clock time) results in a kind of “non-time” that goes hand in hand with Marc Augé’s non-places. Perhaps even more crucially, the web has brought about a “crisis of overavailability” that, in effect, signifies the “loss of loss itself”: nothing dies any more, everything “comes back on YouTube or as a box set retrospective” like the looping, repetitive time of trauma (Fisher). This is why “retromania” has reached fever pitch in recent years, as Simon Reynolds demonstrates in his new book – a methodical dissection of “pop culture’s addiction to its own past”.”

Pop culture feeding on itself. TV analysing TV.  Suggestion is no-one is expressing the new as the trite and pulp-nostalgia is too available. Walter Benjamin’s striking observation 75 years ago that modern people cannot exchange experiences might re-apply as a modern people who prefer the regurgitation of past experience than embracing the new. Something here about new forms of expression being long-structures-of-thought as in autoethnographies; novels; essays. Essay writing reminds me of school. I never quite knew what an essay was but we always had  to write a lot of them. Do children still write these? Should they? The long-structures of writing slay clock time in a better fashion than listening to Madness and thinking of 1979 maybe?

Virtual and real

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Sitting in Pitlochry’s Festival Theatre today (after seeing My Fair Lady last night) having coffee with Luke and reading The Scotsman; was treated to a sparkling interview with John Berger in the centre supplement.  Berger is like Michael Polanyi. One of those hugely influential writers to a generation of readers but who, for some reason, doesn’t leap to the next generation without a helping hand. A re-presentation is needed. Berger, an artist and art critic first, offers this:

“”Too many of today’s problems result from not seeing clearly”, Berger says. He talks about the “new financial order” which he describes as “economic fascism … where the virtual is more important than the real and the productive. It produces a growing opposition between the rich and the poor, and in all the thinking and the reasoning that goes on, the sense of what exists at ground level is absent.”

“He thumps the table quietly with both hands, as if to demonstrate its concreteness.

“”The situation with Dominique Strauss-Khan (the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, charged with sexually assaulting a chambermaid in a high-class New York hotel), whatever else it’s about, it’s about not seeing, it’s losing that connection with the real. I don’t know exactly what happened, but what’s absolutely clear is that it was incredibly stupid of him. I mean – ach!” He almost spits with contempt. “It’s as though that kind of suite which costs £3,000 for 24 hours that he hired, that blinds the occupant to any real sense of what is on the ground.””