Friday 29 April 2011

something in the air

To celebrate the Royal Wedding, we in Bristol have had a ceremonial procession of police riot vans, much waving from the balcony (down at Telepathic Heights), and a fly-past by the helicopter. Well, more of a sustained hover.

So I did get to write a poem on the occasion of the royal marriage. Sort of.

Constabulary helicopter hovering there,
Keeping tabs on protestor and squatter;
Oh, body-armoured bobbies, we don't care
How big or throbbing is your bloody chopper.

(picture was the nearest thing to on-topic in my collection, hey ho)

Thursday 28 April 2011

putting out the bunting

Last time there was a royal wedding, I was in hospital and unable to escape the hoo-ha. "Don't you want to come to the TV room?" a nurse would ask every now and then. I replied in the negative. Though I allowed myself a glass of celebratory sherry, when that came round. One is not a prig, you know.

Yesterday I saw that someone on Twitter was looking for an expert in flags. As she'd had no responses, I put my hand up, explaining that I am a former sailor and know a bit about flags.

Laura Carswell of the Bristol Evening Post explained that there had been reports of flags hung incorrectly all around Bristol, and asked what I thought of it, and what it all means, and how you can tell. So I wrote back

Flying a flag properly is like spelling. If you know how to do it, you can't help but feel a bit superior and relieved that it was someone else who goofed, when you see it done wrong, even though you know it shouldn't really matter.

The best reason not to fly the flag upside down is to avoid some know-it-all coming along and saying “You know that you’re flying that flag upside down, don’t you?” and then going on for the next ten hours about their time in the Army / the Empire / the Isle of Wight.

Hung upside down, it is supposed to be a distress signal. The trouble is, it would be really hard to tell from a distance. It’s easier with an ensign (the flag of the Royal or Merchant Navy, for instance, where the Union flag is in the upper left corner; if this flag were inverted, it would be quite easy to tell).

The correct way to fly a Union flag is with the broader white stripe uppermost in the ‘canton’, which is the upper quarter of the flag which is attached to the staff, pole or halyard. If the flag is hung on a wall, then the canton is always on the left as you look at it.

I do feel ambivalent about the Union flag. It seems to have been appropriated by thugs and right wing politicians. It’s nice to see British ensigns at the back of ships, though; but that happens a bit rarely these.

I don't think it struck a suitably patriotic tone; Laura was evidently too disappointed even to reply. I see that she has now canvassed the opinions of some proper experts, including a spokesperson from the Royal Marines Reserve, who said "The flag is a part of our national heritage. People should be aware of their heritage and should be taught so they know how to fly the flag the right way."

That's the right stuff... nothing like a bit of allonging and marshonging to lift the spirits, eh?

Saturday 23 April 2011

how many petrol bombs?

I missed all the fun down at Stokes Croft, but Mal lives down there, and she spent some time last week holding a banner protesting against the new Tesco, outside the shop. And she got to talk with the security guards and to visit the squat opposite the store that was raided on the evening of the riot.

Her perspective is interesting, because it seems that the story of the 'petrol bombs' originated with the security guards, and the squat itself seemed rather less than a bomb factory, from her description. Which contrasts with the early media coverage of the riot, which claimed that petrol bombs had been thrown at the Tesco shop; and the Daily Mail's report, which reckons that "A hoard of petrol bombs were earlier recovered from a notorious squat opposite known locally as 'Telepathic Heights'

Here's the interview that Mal gave on BBC 5 Live

and here is a transcript of what Mal says

I’ve been protesting outside the new Tesco shop since Friday… I was getting increasingly puzzled at the amount of security that were there because we were just peacefully protesting; we weren’t a threat or a danger to Tesco at all.
And because I was there for different long periods, I was chatting to the security people and I discovered that two of the firms were employed by Tesco; one was from Cornwall and one was from London; and another third company were Geordie boys and they were very tough. They said that they weren’t at liberty to disclose – it was a London firm that employed them (edit: they were from Shergroup - see Tweet below - Dru)- but as you got chatting they said that they were specialists in evicting squats along the Thames.
And I thought as the days went past that their professionalism was not what I’d expect, because they kept referring to the people in the area as ‘street scum’ and said that if they lived where they came from they’d be smashed to bits -I’m actually quoting them- and I was a bit worried by this and I said “Smashed to bits by who then?” and one of the chaps said “By normal people” and I said “Who are normal people?” and he said, “Why, me”
“I left… I was the only one there, last night, with my placard, and as I was leaving I was looking at this enormous police presence that was amassing; it was a balmy summer evening, people were sitting outside cafes and bars drinking, and the security -a completely inappropriate amount of security –were focussing on the squat opposite.
. And the chap that had been describing the local people in such a derogatory way said “They’ve got petrol bombs in there” and I said, “I don’t think so!” –‘cause I’d been there over the four days and there were about four people in the building itself, and I hadn’t seen any evidence of any of that” and they reported it to the police who immediately responded with a huge over-the-top reaction, I believe. I don’t think it was about the Tesco protest at all; it’s a volatile area, richly diverse, and I think it was instigated for other reasons”.
postscript: 24 April 1400hrs. In response to tweets questioning the role of the security guards, I've just talked with Mal and asked her to clarify. She says that the security guard said to her "They've got petrol bombs over there!" at roughly 8:30pm; and the police arrived at about 9:00pm. The security guards said nothing about reporting anything to the police. But they were talking about petrol bombs before the police arrived.
Cllr Jon Rogers has tweeted me to say "From my briefings, it was an individual threat and police observation that led to
raid, not Tesco security guard." Given the quality of police statements and press reporting over the events of Thursday night, a sceptical response to such a briefing may be warranted.

Update 25th April 1030hrs further tweets from Cllr Jon Rogers:

"Alleged sighting reported at 16:15. Understand it was police that had spotted, but may have also been Tesco staff. "

"beat police on scene at 16:15, petrol bomb suspected, police plans made, 20:30 raid on squat."

"Police confirm police operation started at 21:15 not 20:30 as I had been briefed. "


What was the nature of the alleged sighting of a petrol bomb? A bottle seen across a street?

If a suspected petrol bomb was seen by the beat police, why did they withdraw rather than take action?

How was it that the Tesco security guards were talking about petrol bombs before the police operation began?

Given the size of the evening's police operation, including fully-equipped riot police from Wales, it seems reasonable to suppose that it had been some time in the planning. And serendipitous that the petrol bomb should have been sighted just before that operation swung into action, using that sighting as justification.

postscript: 10th May it was reported by Chris Chalkley, of PRSC, that he was told by the police that the petrol bomb claim was made by the Tesco security guards.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Earth Stars

From the chronicles of trees
she wants monsters:

baleful Destroying Angels,
stellar brides of hell,
all innocence and virulence
in petticoats and veil,
or troops of gleaming Death Caps,
goose-stepping through leaves,
marshalling for massacre
in copses, killing fields, as if
escape clutched in her hand might gift
illusory control.

In forests damp and warm,
in thickets blanketed by spores,
the Prince with Devil's Fingers
knows their secret, loamy holes.
He can smell them, see them, feel them swelling
opening the ground,
thrusting through the litter
with a hungry, crackling sound.
He finds her Velvet Shanks and Blushers,
puts an Amethyst Deceiver in her hand.

In the sultry, starless dark,
she'll settle for a zodiac
of flesh and pearls and earth.

Deborah Harvey

another collaboration; picture of the Cerne Giant and Stinkhorn by me, poem by Deborah.

Saturday 2 April 2011

I'd luuurvve a Babycham

Heading home from Branscombe the other day, taking the non-motorway route, I noticed that we'd be passing close to Huish Episcopi. "Have you ever been to the pub at Huish Episcopi?" I asked Deborah.

She hadn't.

"The Rose and Crown- Ian Marchant lists it as one of the ten best pubs in England. The last time I was there was, um, twenty eight years ago. I was bimbling round Somerset with my friend Mick Black, in my old Moggy van, and we had two pints of cider and fell asleep. They had to wake us up to throw us out. Really nice pub."

So we had to stop. Deborah knows her Devon and Somerset really well; every town and village we went through, she'd been able to give a potted description of the church interiors. Like the pulpit at Long Sutton, populated by saints brandishing the instruments of their martyrdom. Here, for instance, is St Simon, who was sawn in half.

..but that is another story.

It was very quiet in Eli's, but the young chap in the bar (a walk-in room where the drinks are served) assured us he'd be happy to serve us if we didn't mind sitting outside, as he had to get on with something. We didn't mind. Deborah had some Burrow Hill cider. I was playing it safe after the last time, so had a half of bitter. It seemed not quite right, in the heart of cider country.

Actually, where is the heart of cider country? I guess it's a different place for different people. James Russell, author of The Naked Guide to Cider, knows a thing or two about it, and has seen the inside of more cider houses than most people. I just watch from afar, an interested observer and enthusiastic consumer. The most involved I got was when I was working on a farm in South Devon. It was being renovated, and I did the odd jobs that needed doing, including tidying up the orchard.

But the apple crop and the cider making were looked after by Edward Camp, the octogenarian father of the former tenant of the farm. He would be at work in the orchard from first light, rumbling down the lane from his bungalow in the village on his Ferguson tractor- it was easy to spot his home in the row of otherwise similar homes, with their saloon cars parked outside.

One particularly cold and frosty morning I offered him a cup of tea.

"Tea? That's pi-son," he said. I took that as a no.

Somewhere in his extremely large mackintosh he kept an extremely large bottle of cider, which kept him going rather better than many men half his age. He bagged up the apples, and thwacked the last stubborn ones off with a big stick, then trundled off with them to Ivybridge, at a stately 5 MPH. There, they were put through the press by Cyril the cider man, a former Spitfire pilot, who retained his dapper Fighter Command moustache, waxed into upcurled spikes, and ran an equally ordered farm, with apple trees laid out in well-pruned rows, and a very effective hydraulic press.

Back on the farm, the juice was run down into barrels in the cellar, and spent the next couple of weeks fermenting furiously, with foam spuming out from the unplugged bungholes in the top, and a great drowsy fug of apple fumes filling the building. As the fermentation abated, we topped up the barrels with more juice, and then bunged them. And, in the fullness of time, we got to try the results. Which were very good. But made even nicer by the making and doing, and the genius loci.

So that, for me, is the heart of cider country.

Bristol's pretty cidery, though. Though there are various ways of being cidery.

I was in the supermarket the other day, with young Katie in tow, getting stuff for dinner. And I quite fancied getting some cider. In the alcohol aisle, some students were also looking for cider. Rather than Magners, the cider of choice for students, they got some South African stuff. Odd, I thought, never knew they made cider in South Africa. I got a big bottle of Westons still cider. And then saw a bottle of Babycham. It was in a champagne style bottle with gold foil round the cap. But it was still Babycham. "Hey, I'd luuuuurve a Babycham", I said to Katie, in a Theophilus P Wildebeest voice. This was a reference to a television ad that was on TV before she was even born.

"Don't ever do that voice again. Ever," she replied.

So I had to get it.

At the self service till, when we got to the drinks the machine said, in that irritatingly breezy and officious voice that self service tills have, "Approval needed!"

I waved for the assistant.

She came over.

She looked at the bottles.

"Do you both have ID?" she asked.

"I'm over 18," I said, "The alcohol is for me. This is my daughter. She is 14."

"You both need ID," she said. "It's the law. I'm sorry, but we'd get into trouble with the police if I let you have them".

She carried the bottles away. We went to the car and deposited the groceries there, then I went back in on my own and bought the damn alcohol.

A couple of days later, I got an e-mail from ASDA customer services in response to my query

On this occasion the colleague may have felt unable to serve you alcohol as a member of your party was under the legally permitted age. I agree that it is the person buying the alcohol who must of over 18 however if the colleague feels that the alcohol may be being bought for a minor then the sale can be refused. As legally the colleague can also be personally responsible as well as the company it is not our policy to over-rule their decision.

This is down to the colleagues own discretion and must be left for the colleague to decide. If someone approaches the till with a young child then it would still fall on the colleagues shoulders to make a judgement based on who they felt would be receiving the alcohol when purchased. Hopefully common sense would prevail.

I realise that your must have been very frustrated at this refusal. For this reason I have noted all the details of your complaint and discussed them with the store's Senior Management Team. They will be addressing those in future training sessions.

It was the Babycham, wasn't it? Students buy Magners, old crocks people of mature years buy gert-lush, proper-job Westons cider, and teenagers (apparently) try to buy Babycham.

The Babycham tasted a bit like those sweet flying saucers, the ones with sherbet in.

Katie drank Coca Cola. Drink of choice for that particular adolescent.