Tag Archives: economic woes

News From Nowhere

Established May Day 1974, News From Nowhere celebrated forty years in business in 2014. Forty years of supplying the people of Liverpool and beyond with books and information, to empower, bring about social justice and to sculpt the world we live in.

Gandhi

Gandhi famously stated,

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Independent, not-for-profit, workers’ co-operatives – like this valuable book store – help people to realise this missive. I have been dipping into the Bold Street premises, and encouraging friends and colleagues to do so, for many years. Here I have been introduced to a diverse cast of authors such as Rumi, Sarah Waters, Edmund White, Ruby Wax and Gerry Potter, to name a few.

ruby wax

It is also an integral gathering place for book launches, debates and activist talks. Last year Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else by James Meek was just one example of the type of informative interview one can expect from this book lovers’ church.

High streets are becoming increasingly a blue print of sameness, with no real differentiator between them. You could be in any UK town or city! The usual suspects take up retail space, the abundance of mobile phone shops, discount pound dealers, loan sharks and – the most deadly of shark – the convenience express stores. Every little doesn’t always help. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that treasures like News From Nowhere are appreciated, not overlooked, but used and used frequently. Once they are gone, they are gone!

Increasingly on a day-to-day basis, small independents face financial struggles. It is a tempestuous economic sea to try to navigate through. Everything from seasonal slumps in trade, competition from the bigger bookstores, chains or supermarkets and rising overhead costs, tries to drown business and wash away the remains before noticed. Even the festive trade and the traditional purchasing of book tokens as gifts is on the decline.

What was interesting this holiday Liverpool, like most city centres, had the European Christmas Markets. False-looking wooden huts selling overpriced craft and novelty gifts were plonked in front of shops in desperate need of trade. If I were an independent trader this would serve to fuel a festive bonfire of bitter, bitter resentment. Increase the competition at the time when local business needs support instead, that makes sense. But I guess it is all about the profit, I wonder how much extra revenue can be gained for the Council? Hopefully they can then start to clear the chewing gum plastered pavements or seagull poop that naturally marbles all the concrete. I do wonder if European visitors have British Christmas Markets, stalls selling watch batteries and traditional British fare like Roast Beef and Spotted Dick. (Of course, not on the same plate.) Eating a German sausage and drinking mulled wine outside the flashing neon blue and white X of Halifax Bank, is not festive, it is actually depressing.

So please, please, please do not forget the local businesses. News From Nowhere needs people to support them and there are a number of ways that you can:

  • DONATIONS – whether financial or as unwanted books that they can sell second hand
  • INTEREST-FREE LOANS – long term or short term
  • CREDIT LOAN – repaid in books and other purchases
  • REGULAR STANDING ORDER – for example £5 or £10, as a donation or a credit loan

In addition, you can search and order more than 1.5 million titles on their website. ORDER FROM THE REAL AMAZONS!

News from Nowehere

The future of small independent stores really lies in all of our hands. We need the sparkling stores of individuality to add a bit of Technicolor in an increasingly charcoal cityscape full of the bland. Loyal support will keep them open. Let’s not lose them!

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The words of the prophets are written on the (Subway) walls

Sometimes a simple statement, a simple phrase, can have maximum impact. Less can indeed be sometimes more. A match when struck and left on a pile of paper can cause an inferno. I find graffiti can have a similar effect on me. Just glancing over a statement can play on my mind for the rest of the day.

To complement the fabulous art galleries in Liverpool like the Fallout Factory, TATE and the Walker – to name but a few – there is another type of canvas on display all around the Pool of Life. Art pieces randomly pop up creating an external gallery populated by the graffiti artist.

Happiness is a journey

As a lover of words it is the notable turns of phrase picked up on the streets that really have a deep impact on me. Like, for example, the ‘Happiness is a journey, not a destination’ painted in bold yellow on Maryland Street. ‘Dream Big, Dare to fail.’ Found etched in gaffer tape in the window of a College. Or the simple ‘Money eats brain.’ I first encountered this simple piece of syntax walking past a disused public toilet by the St. Georges Hall. It made me chuckle and really think about how cash can in fact rot the cranium.

There is also a Banksy in Liverpool. I still to this day mourn the loss of the giant rat that was sadly annihilated by property developers, like so many beautiful things in Liverpool.

Banksy rat

We also have our own spray can legend, TOMO.

While the student club BUMPER always offers advice outside on its billboard. Just before term erupted last September there was the warning:

HIDE THE NOODLES, THE STUDENTS ARE COMING

and recently in the aftermath of the Christmas selfie avalanche that bamboozled the internet:

Ann Summers has been selling selfie sticks for years.

I am aware the influence pointing out graffiti art has had on my ten year-old niece, as we bomb around the city together on a Saturday.

banksy_liverpool_love-heart-loop-plane_lonely-villein_unurth_dec12_2_1000-460x345

The ginger minx presented me with a drawing of her own.

heartair balloon

Shame the kid wants to be an accountant. Apologies to people who work in finance and the world of filthy lucre, but let’s just get one thing straight, all the worlds’ top economists and financial experts did not predict or see the triple dip recession coming at all. An equation that for me simply does not add up!

Please keep your eyes on the hunt for any interesting pieces of street art and let ten minutes hate know. And you will soon see that sometimes the City’s best galleries can be outside on the very streets.

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Votes for the people, by the people

On the 27th January 2015 as I began to organise my thoughts for this piece, it was 100 days until the election. Already the bun fight has begun, cakes and pastries layered with shale gas, tuition fees, immigration and other issues. The word that seems to be repeatedly being used, issues, issues, issues. I often think it is like a schoolyard scrap, ‘My plans for the NHS are better than yours’, yada, yada, yada.

What appears to be lacking in this debate is a vital ingredient to credibility and that is authenticity. I do wish some of our politicians would take heed from the ancient poet Rumi,

If only people raised their words, instead of voice, it is rain that grows flowers not thunder.

Who to vote for at this stage is a decision of extreme difficulty. I am somewhat apathetic as I look at the parties and what they have to offer. Although I do know for certain one I am not and that is UKIP. I have no desire to be transported back to 1957.

image

As I drove across Yorkshire before Xmas, I was startled by the abundance of posters and paraphernalia associated with UKIP that I saw, a surreptitious malignancy that is growing. My friend drove me past rural picturesque scenes, I was immediately reminded of the scene in the magnificent film CABARET, where a young Aryan school boy in Nazi youth attire breaks out into song at a propaganda rally, Tomorrow Belongs to me.

Recently, I found myself in the jewel in the crown of Liverpool’s Bold Street, News From Nowhere. I can always guarantee finding a book that will stimulate my mind, feed my soul and challenge my way of thinking.

On this occasion, I found myself mulling over the political spectrum and how it is exceptionally difficult to see between the different policies, many of the parties seem to converge, with the deviations being unseen by the untrained naked eye. It used to be a simple battle of red versus blue, but now it is not so straightforward.

Yet people are hungry for change, for something more. I do not in any way want to start to sound like Russell Brand. I have always thought of that man as a ‘Brand’. Brand by name and Brand by nature. I still have not forgiven him for recreating the fabulous role of Arthur in the same titled film, ingeniously played by Dudley Moore, in the same way I will never forgive Nicholas Cage for remaking The Wicker Man.

So, on this charcoal grey January day, I stumbled upon a little book of wit that was published in 2010 by Mark Thomas, The People’s Manifesto. The author toured the country to find out what people really wanted out of their elected government in 2009. The book evolved from a live show and I think it is worth reading to stimulate the current political debate. Re-awaken your voting animal!

If we can just cast our minds back to 2009, the world was in the middle of an economic crisis. Banks and countries collapsed, only to then be rewarded generously for the mess of their own making. Thomas asked audiences from all over the country to voice their ideas for policies. He was working on the basis that most people often proclaim that they could run the country. The eclectic mixed bag of written forms were sifted through and then the audiences would vote on the ones that they would like to see put down into the manifesto. The result is this witty, satirical – and often surreal – call to arms.

Some of the policies are exceptionally practical. I particularly liked the proposal to cure the world from the rise of body dysmorphic disorder:

MODELS SHOULD BE CHOSEN AT RANDOM FROM THE ELECTORAL ROLL. THIS OF COURSE WOULD RESULT IN A MORE REALISITIC PORTRAY OF REALITY IN ADVERTISEMENTS.

I was pleased to see that one law has actually been executed, IT SHOULD BE LEGAL FOR GAY COUPLES TO GET MARRIED. After all homosexual couples should suffer the same as married heterosexual couples, it is only just!

As mentioned, some of the laws declared are downright surreal: I do not own a dog and although doggy poop or doggy caramel as I often call it, (to try to detract from the harsh reality of canine roughage) on pavements does anger me, I feel this particular point is somewhat sadistic.

PEOPLE WHO ALLOW THEIR DOGS TO S##T ON THE PAVEMENT WITHOUT CLEANING IT UP SHOULD BE FORCED TO WEAR IT AS A MOUSTACHE.

After seeing too, too many pictures in the newspapers of the elderly battered and bruised by muggers, perhaps this next rule is one that may act as a deterrent:

TO RANDOMLY ARM OAPs

That would cause some surprise to hapless crooks.

There is lots of press at the moment about the minimum wage and zero hours contracts, so I do think that to state THERE SHOULD BE A MAXIMUM WAGE seems fair. Certain points make perfect sense, EVERYONE SHOULD BE GIVEN THE DAY OFF ON THEIR BIRTHDAY. If you think about it even an atheist is given the day of for Jesus’ supposed birthday, one for his death and one for the David Blaine-like trick of coming back from the dead.

My particular favourites in the manifesto are those that the author quite rightly highlights,

…are they really suggesting that managing a banking crisis, a recession, mass unemployment and a massive national debt of around 200 billion doesn’t require their full attention.

And then there is another,

POLITICIANS SHOULD HAVE TO WEAR TABARDS DISPLAYING THE NAMES AND LOGOS OF THE COMPANIES WITH WHOM THEY HAVE A FINANCIAL RELATIONSHIP LIKE A RACING DRIVER.

I have had an innate disliking for the newspaper the Daily Fail for a long time so it was refreshing to discover my gut instinct was right. One of the papers original founders was an anti-Semite who visited Herr Hitler on several occasions and thought the little ball of fury was misunderstood! Lord Rothermere excused the stories of Nazi violence as exaggerated. Therefore, it seems only correct that:

THE DAILY MAIL SHOULD BE FORCED TO PRINT THE WORDS, ‘THE PAPER THAT SUPPORTED HITLER’, ON ITS MASTHEAD.

Whilst on the subject of fascists, I liked the suggestion that ANYONE FOUND GUILTY OF A HOMOPHOBIC HATE CRIME SHALL SERVE THEIR SENTENCE IN DRAG.

I think Putin would look fabulous with a Dame Edna-esque purple rinse and a Gucci dress, being forced to sing From Russia With Love.

image

This Manifesto is required reading and works well with a good dosage of the only newspaper worth looking at, Private Eye. I find this satirical rag is also a great way to get a handle on a political story.

Mark Thomas’ The People’s Manifesto is an antidote to the acidic political debate that we are going to see more of until Election Day.

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A sense of belonging

In the coming year, I really want someone to stand up – and I really hope it will be Ed Miliband – to say something along the lines of: I’m a migrant, you’re a migrant, some of my best friends are migrants. Some came as children, some fleeing, others as students. They have brought things to us and have adapted to the ways in which we do things, strange though we have sometimes found each other.

Some of them came further back in the past, to fight alongside us when things were dark. They fought against an ideology that said that some people were made superior by blood and biology and that put millions to death to preserve this nonsensical pseudo-scientific theory of racial purity.

We, the descendents of those that fought together against it, refute that ideology completely. We know that although we are an island, we have never been insular. Rather, our influence has always extended beyond our shores. Our language has travelled around the globe and, despite the fact that our influence has not always been benign, our hope is that our words can become something of a unifier.

What would Britain be without immigration? Perhaps our roads would be muddier and wonkier, our castles made of wood, not stone, and large swathes of it might be forest, not farmland. More recent arrivals have brought food, music and literature: the joys of life. Migrants, their children and grandchildren, have nursed us through sickness, taught our children and built our houses. They serve as magistrates, stand as MPs, read the nightly news. They are as bound into the fabric of our country as a plant from the Americas is to our soil and our diets.

Anybody with any sense can see that strength comes from this, not some outdated, horrendous notion of ‘purity’ or ‘separateness’, but a blending and mixing of backgrounds, experiences and histories that creates a patchwork, linking us to Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. We are joined via great-grandparents who perhaps had to leave or perhaps chose to, and decided to come – perhaps a little reluctantly – to the industrial powerhouse that we were, leaving behind more pleasing scenes that would never entirely leave their hearts.

Perhaps those migrants came because they believed us when we spoke of our love of fair play and justice, of ‘live and let live’. They might have come because we never surrendered, never gave in to the jack-boots, because we fought on the beaches. That makes it even more ridiculous to me that today, the political descendents of those who did take money from fascist dictators, who donned their black shirts and silver flashes, who shouted ‘Death to Jews’ or trumpeted ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’, now seek to convince us that they hold the key to what Britishness is and that they are the keepers of the flame. It is rubbish.

Not our Briton of the Year

Not our Briton of the Year

It doesn’t matter if you drive a white van or a vintage Jag, if you believe that there is a ‘THEY’, who can be ‘SENT BACK’ to some imaginary ‘OVER THERE’ and all problems will be magicked away with them, you are being sold a pup. The problems that afflict our society don’t stem from Europe or the Middle East, or anywhere else. They don’t come from people of a different colour, or religion, speaking a different language to you. They have been caused by mostly old, mostly white, mostly men – certainly greedy – taking more than they are entitled to and leaving the rest of us to fight over the scraps. Migrants didn’t crash the banks, vote to sell off the NHS to healthcare companies they own shares in or spend your money on duck homes or moat cleaning.

We can continue down this road to the end, refuse every visa to every scientist researching medical cures, every student attracted to our universities, break apart more families, close the doors and say no more. Our country would be no richer and certainly far poorer. Or we can draw a line, say no more ground will be given to the racists and nationalists. Of course we need to set criteria, but they will be fairly applied. Of course we need to verify information, but you will be treated with dignity while we do. If you are looking for a base for study, for innovation, for entrepreneurship, to love who you want to, to raise a family in peace and freedom, as so many have done before you, join us. Welcome. We come from many places, but we all belong here.

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Changing Times, Changing Lives

The Citizens Advice Bureau celebrated 75 years of giving assistance this September. Not bad for an agency that was originally only established as a temporary measure. This Ministry of Information film from the IWM archive shows how the CAB evolved from its wartime beginnings:

CAB is a charity for the community. Their manifesto is to provide the advice people need for the problems they face and to improve the policies and practices that affect people’s lives. Free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone on their rights and responsibilities.

On 8th July 2014 a report detailed that 9 out of 10 CAB’s (92%) are finding it difficult to refer people to the specialist legal advice they need, since cuts to legal aid came into effect last year. In some cases legal aid is now not available for help with getting employers to pay outstanding wages or challenging unfair benefit decisions.

ten minutes hate caught up with Kristian Khan, Deputy Manager of Liverpool Central Citizens Advice Bureau, to discuss his work at the charity, particularly in light of the recent severe cuts to funding that are having a significant impact.

Kristian Khan
10mh: How does he find working in the busy Central office?

Challenging, rewarding, exhausting, satisfying and exhilarating.

The CAB is currently facing particular re-occurring issues such as:
• Impact of the Welfare Reform Act and the changes to welfare benefits.
• Priority and Non Priority debts – last year Liverpool Central CAB alone helped clients deal with £12.8 million worth of debt.
• Payday lending.
• Housing possessions and evictions.
• All aspects of consumer matters.
• Immigration and Asylum queries.

The CAB provides the nation with an invaluable service, as Khan details,

• We provide advice to approximately 2.1 million people nationally every year to help them solve 6.6 million problems.
• We give 22,000 people the chance to volunteer in their local communities and they provide £109 million worth of hours a year between them.
• We campaign on the big issues that are affecting our clients and last year an estimated 8.2 million people benefited positively from our policy work.
• We make people happier and healthier; forty-six per cent of people felt less anxious, less stressed, or had fewer health problems after receiving help from a CAB.
• We take the strain off other local services in many ways, for example by preventing homelessness, avoiding legal action and helping people to fill in official forms correctly
• We contribute to the local economy by helping clients to manage their debts and maximise their incomes.

The general public can help the CAB to continue its invaluable work
by donating what they can – time, money or other resources – and by raising awareness of the fact that they are a registered charity. The CAB is also seeking volunteers,

Don’t worry about your level of formal qualifications – real life experience is also essential for this work. You will get out what you put into it. Your experience here may not change your life but it will certainly give you a unique insight into people and their problems.

I asked the Deputy Manager what has been his proudest moment to date during his career?

Stepping into the role of Acting Chief Executive where I was ultimately responsible for all aspects of the bureau and ensuring that our clients’ experience of us was a positive one – 14 years of CAB experience had brought me to that point.

I wonder what the CAB will be like in another 75 years? Khan has an idea,

I think we will be a more streamlined agency with a greater number of ‘districts’ rather than individual bureau. We will be at the forefront of instant access to advice for clients through a number of channels and we will continue to campaign on the big issues that are affecting citizens.  We will still use volunteers as this is integral to all that we do.

To mark the anniversary, the CAB have released a film called ‘Changing Lives’, showing more of their work:

 

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Give Me Some Truth

I discovered a collection of essays by George Orwell on Project Gutenberg Australia this morning, some familiar and some new to me, so everything else I was planning to do today has pretty much gone out of the window.

Not for the first time, I find myself wondering what he would make of recent events, when the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee is being called out on a speech which contain more lies than facts, and the same campaign’s pollster can espouse a breezy disregard for those who seek some kind of factual basis for the claims made in political advertisements.

It looks like the era of ‘spin’ is finally over, not with a return to honesty, but because politicians have realised that they don’t have to give much more than a slight appearance of sincerity. Lie with a knowing wink, the loyal base believes whatever matches their own set of values and prejudices, the other side howls and the partisan bun-fight continues for another news cycle.

Forty years go by and you realise how little has changed:

Truth has now become such a debased currency, relative to who is making the claim and who to, that I almost hesitate to recommend an article which takes as its headline ‘The Truth About Mitt Romney and Bain Capital‘. Yet Taibbi’s writing about the antics of Wall Street – before and since what he calls The Great Recession – has been consistent, long after other commentators have ducked out of an examination of what went wrong.

In this latest article, he shows how Wall Street darlings such as Bain Capital operated – with a ruthless sensibility – closing previously healthy businesses, paying huge bonuses despite looming bankruptcy and never being unafraid to take a government bail-out:

A takeover artist all his life, Romney is now trying to take over America itself. And if his own history is any guide, we’ll all end up paying for the acquisition.

It is the exact opposite to the image the candidate projects and one I doubt many avowed Republicans will be able to stomach, instead preferring to attack the bias of the writer, as evidenced by the comments section below the article. We all hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest, as Paul Simon sang. So it looks as if the short-haired, yellow-bellied sons of Tricky Dicky will be with us for some time to come.

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I’m wicked and I’m lazy

Recently returned from a deliciously lazy holiday, during which I swapped the noise of Tokyo for a room with a tinkling river running past, where everything as far as the eye could see was green and the most pressing decision was which restaurant to head to for dinner. The weather co-operated – or didn’t, depending on your point of view – so the torrential downpour which lasted about 20 hours from my arrival meant that there was little else to do other than get wrapped up in the cotton yukata provided and read, nap, write, nap, drink tea and… nap.

I have a gift for idleness, which often gets overlooked in this fastest of all the fast-paced cities. Forget New York, Tokyo is the city that really doesn’t sleep, unless it is catching a few winks of shuteye on the train, in the coffee shop or slumped on a bench. The first six months of this year have whipped by in a blur of writing, volunteering, working and socialising – all essential and mostly enjoyable – but it was equally as rewarding to drop out from the world for three days and indulge my gift completely.

So I was heartened to read this NY Times opinion piece, in which the writer laments our furiously busy lives and the diminished returns we suffer from living life at such a pace. This quote is of particular interest:

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body…

Especially in light of this nonsense from British Foreign Secretary William Hague, exhorting business leaders to ‘stop moaning and work harder’ to restart the country’s flat-lining economy. Running ourselves into the ground in the name of increased productivity, more of the same as went before this latest economic crisis, seems only doomed to bring about the same effect a little later on down the line.

Instead, I call for more laziness, more time spent musing, reflecting, pondering. Less time rushing means more time to spend with those we care about, or nose deep in a book, or sitting idly watching the rest of the world race by. It will continue without us, for a time, and those insurmountable problems should seem easier to contend with when using a refreshed and recharged mind.

Start this weekend by indulging your lazy and wicked side.

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