No one ever told us we had to study our lives,
make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history
or music, that we should begin
with the simple exercises first
and slowly go on trying
the hard ones, practicing till strength
and accuracy became one with the daring
to leap into transcendence, take the chance
of breaking down the wild arpeggio
or faulting the full sentence of the fugue.
—And in fact we can’t live like that: we take on
everything at once before we’ve even begun
to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin
in the midst of the hard movement,
the one already sounding as we are born.

— Adrienne Rich


Because my friends now email me all pig related things, I have this call-out from the ‘Pigs are still worth it’ pig farmers’ campaign for a new anthem for the pork industry:

In 2008 the Pigsareworthit! anthem, “Stand By Your Ham” attracted huge amounts of publicity and support for the campaign. We are now looking for a new campaign anthem to help raise awareness of the 2011 Pigsarestillworthit! Campaign. We are looking for pithy and humorous suggestions for a title and lyrics that communicate the following campaign messages:

  • The losses pig farmers are experiencing due to high feed prices
  • The need for a fair price from supermarkets and processors
  • The higher welfare standards of British pig farming

Email your suggestions to info@pigsarestillworthit.co.uk

Here’s the 2008 video of ‘Stand by your ham’ but you have to watch the whole thing before you get to the pigs:

Thanks to Lucy for the heads-up!

NB: I don’t usually bother to note spoilers in this blog as I don’t have a problem with finding out endings before I read things (in fact I will often read the end of a crime novel at the beginning, so that with the tension of finding out whodunit relieved, I can enjoy actually reading the novel). But since I’m writing about thrillers here I think it’s fair to warn you that you shouldn’t read on if you mind being spoiled for part or all of Alan Furst’s Night soldiers, Philip Kerr’s If the dead rise not, or John le Carré’s The spy who came in from the cold.

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From Regret the error.

Count the almonds,
count what was bitter and kept you awake
count me in:

I looked for your eye when you opened it, no one was looking at you,
I spun that secret thread
on which the dew you were thinking
slid down to the jugs
guarded by words that to no one’s heart found their way.

Only there did you wholly enter the name that is yours,
sure-footed stepped into yourself,
freely the hammers swung in the bell frame of your silence,
the listened for reached you,
what is dead put its arm about you also
and the three of you walked through the evening.

Make me bitter.
Count me among the almonds.

— Paul Celan

trans. Michael Hamburger



3. clodhopper, grasshopper, flip-flopper, clip-clopper, eavesdropper, corn popper, sharecropper

There’s even a hint of narrative.

From The poet’s manual and rhyming dictionary by Frances Stillman.

Over two million Jews emigrated from Russia and Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century. Most of them went to America, but a significant number ended up in London, where, like the Huguenots before them and the Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrant communities later, they gravitated towards the East End. The question of what to do about this large, poor and foreign population was one which occupied Parliament as well as the established Jewish bourgeoisie, and a classically Victorian solution was found: philanthropy, but philanthropy with a guaranteed return for the philanthropists. The Four Percent Industrial Dwelling Company, set up by Baron Rothschild, set out to replace the lodging houses of the Whitechapel ‘rookeries’ with ‘model dwellings’ – tenements designed to house large numbers of the urban poor in relative health and comfort, and which would generate a four percent return on the shareholders’ investment.

Jerry White first noticed the Rothschild buildings of Whitechapel’s Flower and Dean Street in the early 1970s, shortly before they were demolished in another slum clearance project. In Rothschild Buildings: life in an East End tenement block 1887-1920 he sets out to discover what life was actually like in these buildings and through a combination of interviews with people who lived there and documentary evidence, he produces a wonderfully lively and detailed account of the community that lived there and the kind of life they lived.

The great majority were Jewish immigrants, primarily from Eastern Europe, but some from Germany and Holland. Interestingly, the people who moved into the Rothschild Buildings were of a slightly different class to the people who had lived in the lodging houses which had stood on the site earlier: where the poorest had previously eked out a precarious living as street sellers and prostitutes (public outcry over the crimes of Jack the Ripper had provided a great impetus for demolition of the ‘rookeries’), those paying rent to the Four Percent Company tended to be the more respectable and skilled working classes. Often Jewish immigrants brought artisanal skills (tailoring, joinery) from their home countries and found work in the furniture and clothes workshops of the East End; White’s description of the way that craftsmen found themselves working in an industrial sweatshop environment, where they moved from being artisans who made whole garments to being specialist cutters or seamers is an interesting reflection of the continuing drive for efficiency in manufacturing and the effect this had on individual workers.

The most fascinating aspect of the book is the way that it enters into the Rothschild Buildings and paints a vivid picture of the life that went on there. White provides a plan of the average flat – two rooms, a small scullery and a toilet; not so different in size and design from the cheaply built urban flats of today, except that the Rothschild buildings flats were usually inhabited by much larger families, with children sharing the parents’ bedroom and young children sleeping three or four to a bed. He talks about the role of the building superintendent and gives a copy of the rules for tenants; he details the shops that were to be found in the neighbourhood  – predominantly small Jewish businesses catering to the needs of the working poor; he even discusses the way that the public baths were used by observant Jewish families for the ritual baths which precede marriage and other religious ceremonies. What he doesn’t do is sentimentalise or romanticise the experience of the urban poor – while he’s fair-minded about the advantages the model dwellings offered over the older slums, he’s also graphic about the difficulty and unpleasantness that tenement life often entailed.

The interviews with former tenants bring the era to life, as they recall preparations for the Sabbath, school nature expeditions to Victoria Park and Epping Forest, the jobs they did on leaving school, the families who kept chickens in the flat and even individual schoolteachers and shopkeepers. If the book has a flaw, it is that the thematic organisation of the chapters (‘Home’; ‘Community’; ‘Growing up’; ‘Work’) sometimes obscures the changes which happened over the period discussed – for example, there must have been a certain amount of Anglicisation between 1887 and 1920 as parents born in Latvia, Poland and the Ukraine were followed by children born within the sound of Bow Bells. Also, as the former residents were interviewed in the 1970s, they are from the younger, London-born generations, which means that the experience of the very early immigrants is not as vividly described.

It’s impossible while reading this not to draw comparisons with the East End as it is today – the kosher grocers and street sellers with their herring barrels have now been replaced by Pakistani shops and Indian restaurants, and the Jewish girls slaving over their sewing machines have been replaced by a new generation of sweatshops. Even the characterisation by the government and the bourgeois press of the Jewish population as foreigners resistant to integration, among whom the seeds of political extremism might easily take root, is reminiscent of today’s racist rhetoric on the newer generations of immigrants.The history of the area is embodied in Brick lane mosque – previously a synagogue and before then a Huguenot church, and now serving the large Muslim population. Plus ça change… but Rothschild Buildings is as fascinating for the uniqueness of the community it describes as it is for the parallels it evokes with today.

Edit – more about the Four Percent Industrial Dwellings Company here, found via this Guardian blog. Hat-tip to Matthew (click through for his brilliant London photos).

This is beautiful, and well worth reading: Death of a pig, by E.B. White.

The scheme of buying a spring pig in blossom time, feeding it through summer and fall, and butchering it when the solid cold weather arrives, is a familiar scheme to me and follows an antique pattern. It is a tragedy enacted on most farms with perfect fidelity to the original script. The murder, being premeditated, is in the first degree but is quick and skillful, and the smoked bacon and ham provide a ceremonial ending whose fitness is seldom questioned.

Once in a while something slips – one of the actors goes up in his lines and the whole performance stumbles and halts. My pig simply failed to show up for a meal. The alarm spread rapidly. The classic outline of the tragedy was lost. I found myself cast suddenly in the role of pig’s friend and physician – a farcical character with an enema bag for a prop. I had a presentiment, the very first afternoon, that the play would never regain its balance and that my sympathies were now wholly with the pig. This was slapstick – the sort of dramatic treatment which instantly appealed to my old dachshund, Fred, who joined the vigil, held the bag, and, when all was over, presided at the interment. When we slid the body into the grave, we both wore shaken to the core. The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig. He had evidently become precious to me, not that he represented a distant nourishment in a hungry time, but that he had suffered in a suffering world.

You don’t expect a sociological study to grip you like a novel, or make you laugh, but this book does both those things. Family and kinship in east London is a classic study, first published in 1957, and reprinted a couple of years ago as a Penguin Modern Classic. It’s based on three years of field work done in Bethnal Green in the early fifties, interviewing the residents about their family and social lives. Young and Willmott examine a community that was in the early stages of radical change as the London County Council began their project of postwar slum clearance, moving families from the old-fashioned terrace streets of east and south-east London to newly built suburban housing estates in Essex and Kent.

The study is split into two sections: the first describes the family and community structures that exist for the working class communities in Bethnal Green, looking mostly at young married couples. The authors find that the pivotal relationship here is between the adult woman and her mother, a relationship which sets the tone for other family relationships and which is the basis of the family’s engagement with the wider community. Social life with the family takes place at ‘Mum’s’; sons-in-law are integrated into their wives’ families, not the other way round. Daughters experiencing pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare naturally turn to their mothers for advice, sometimes over and above the advice of midwives and health visitors. A lot of the material is given as quotes from the interviews done, which means that it’s often very funny about the family relationships described.

The second part of the book looks at some of the east Londoners who have been rehoused in Debden (which the authors rename Greenleigh). The conclusion they draw is that the way that people have been rehoused into the suburban planning estates means that the ties with the community are fractured; as individual young families move out without the mother-in-law and the network which radiates out from her, they may experience a material improvement in their quality of life, but they lose the connection to a closely knit community in which they are used to knowing everyone around them. This argument gets away from the condemnation of post-war housing estates as being architecturally unwelcoming and instead criticises the way in which rehousing was carried out. I’m not certain, however, that there isn’t a certain romanticisation of the Bethnal Green community- warm, tightly-knit, everyone knows your name – which obscures the material discomfort of living in cramped inner-city terraces with poor ventilation and plumbing.

A few things really stood out for me when reading this. The attitude to the welfare state shown is interesting: in the post-Thatcher age, I’m so used to the right-wing positioning of the social state as something which is more or less in conflict with individuals and their families. The fundamental acceptance, not just that the welfare state is a force for good, but that the welfare state actively eases the relationships between family members, seems surprising to me today (although it shouldn’t). Of course, it stands to reason that (for example) the difficulties caused in poor families by the need to support penurious elderly parents are relieved by reasonable state pensions. But thirty years of small-state propaganda has made this a position which has constantly to be defended; the complete acceptance of the benevolent social state is dated but refreshing.

Willmott and Young suggest that the family is the connection between the individual and the wider community (there is a passage in which the authors follow a Mrs Landon on her shopping trip, during which she recognises fourteen different people, often knowing them through her siblings or her parents -‘My mum knew her mum’; ‘He’s a brother of my sister’s husband’). So the individual connects with the wider community through the family; but the state in return can ease the family relationship by relieving family members of the need to depend on each other.

I said earlier that the community examined was in the first stages of radical change, and this was not just in relation to the housing situation. Willmott and Young discuss the jobs done by the Bethnal Green working classes and touch on the ways in which work is beginning to change: the old furniture and clothes manufacturing workshops of the East End are being replaced by larger factories, often out of town. The jobs described are manual ones, predominantly unskilled: men work as porters in the markets of Bilingsgate and Spitalfields and as dockers; these jobs are passed down through families, from fathers to sons.

[Picture from urban75]

Three years after Family and Kinship was published, the postwar resurgence of the London docks would come to a halt as the containerisation of shipping meant that the shallow London docks were no longer suitable for international trade. All the London docks closed in the next twenty years, leaving a vacuum in the heart of East London which is still perceptible. The manufacturing trades were lost, first from London, then from the UK; Spitalfields market is now  a bourgeois playground. The study may romanticise the working class, but it also depicts a confident working class who imagined that full employment in steady work was something they could rely upon. The authors call for caution in housing policy in order to preserve what they saw as a close-knit and strong community. In the end, however, it wasn’t housing policy which fractured that community; the damage was done by deindustralisation, rising unemployment and the casualisation of working class work.

Eine graue Sau in einem Winkel. Nachdem wir lange gegangen sind, mit schmützigen Schuhen, nach einer schon endlosen Fahrt in Vorortzug, frierend, in einem Winkel des Hofs, am Ende der Welt, zeig uns doch deine Tiere, Karl, steht sie im fahlen Licht, linst über das Gitter aus Knüppeln, eine graue Sau, ungeben vom niedrigen Stall am Ende der Welt.

— Elke Erb

Grimm’s Fairytales

A grey sow in a corner. After a long walk in muddy shoes, after an already endless ride in the local train, freezing, in a corner of the yard, at the end of the world, why don’t you show us your animals, Karl, there she stands in the pale light, peers over the fence posts, a grey sow, in a low pen, at the end of the world.

— Elke Erb
trans. Rosmarie Waldrop

Via the Guardian, pigs in an organic farm in Germany.

On thinking about hell, I gather
My brother Shelley found it was a place
Much like the city of London. I
Who live in Los Angeles and not in London
Find, on thinking about Hell, that it must be
Still more like Los Angeles.

In Hell too
There are, no doubt, these luxuriant gardens
With flowers as big as trees, which of course wither
Unhesitantly if not nourished with very expensive water. And fruit markets
With great heaps of fruit, albeit having
Neither smell or taste. And endless processions of cars
Lighter than their own shadows, faster than
Mad thoughts, gleaming vehicles in which
Jolly-looking people come from nowhere and are nowhere bound.
And houses, built for happy people, therefore standing empty
Even when lived in.

The houses in Hell, too, are not at all ugly.
But the fear of being thrown on the street
Wears down the inhabitants of the villas no less than
The inhabitants of the shanty towns.

— Bertolt Brecht
(trans. Nicholas Jacobs)



Following the student demos on the 24th November, when my sister was kettled for eight hours, I made a complaint to the Metropolitan Police about their tactics and I’ve now received a reply (pdf, below). Superintendent Roger Gomm defends the use of ‘containment’ (he says: “‘Kettling’, as it is referred to in the media, is not a term used by the police”) on the following grounds:

On [the 24th], two marches met up in Trafalgar Square and about 3,000 demonstrators proceeded down Whitehall. Limited police intelligence* suggested that some of the protestors were intent on getting to the Liberal Democrat headquarters in Cowley Street. Police cordons were in place to prevent that and to prevent the march from getting in to Parliament Square. Skirmishes broke out with demonstrators attacking police line and destroying hoarding around road works. This resulted in a containment being authorised. During the period of containment, a police carrier within the crowd area was attacked and amaged. damage was also caused to telephone boxes, bus stops, the Old War Office and the Treasury. Attempted incursions into premises in Whitehall by protestors were prevented. During the day a number of police officers and members of the public were injured and a large number of arrests were made for public order offences and criminal damage, both on the day and subsequently.

You can see the full letters here. The second one is an explanation of why my complaint is being treated as a concern and not a complaint against a police officer.

Response to police complaint 1

Response to police complaint 2

This is a fairly standard defence of kettling; the Met were saying the same sort of thing the day after the protests. But by their own account most incidents of public disorder and vandalism happened after containment began. I also question the ‘large number’ of arrests – in actual fact the Guardian reported that only 32 people had been arrested, and 17 injured, with 13 needing hospital treatment. One of the arrests was for stroking a horse.

The assertion that water and toilet facilities were provided “where possible” is, of course, simply untrue. The statement that “the consideration of a release plan to allow vulnerable persons […] a means to leave the containment was treated as a top priority” is either a lie, or was not apparent to sick friends who asked to be treated by police medics when they became ill inside the kettle.

Yopu can also read my other sister’s report of Saturday’s demonstration in Manchester here – well worth a read.

* Ha ha ha.

Photo from the Guardian’s coverage of protests in Athens. (Although, where is protest dog?)

Via Metro. The pigs have been brought in to a school in Rochdale to be a calming influence on children.

Headteacher Lynne Coxell says the pigs have settled in quickly: ‘They have settled in beautifully. The children get on with whatever they’re doing.’

‘You’d expect them to go wild but they have got used to them being there and the pigs have got used to the noise – if they are tired they’ll lie down and go to sleep. The pigs are learning lots!’

Thanks very much to Sorcha for this week’s exceptionally delightful POTW.

Pigs in high-end jewellery in Russian Vogue, via Fashionologie

This is actually quite a sad book about the collapse of the CPGB in the 1950s, Krushchev’s secret speech, Hungary, etc. But this bit made me laugh. It’s by the television critic of the Daily Worker:

Once I found fault with Wilfred Pickles, for inviting on to his programme a man with a performing dog.

I referred to the dog’s look of misery, as it slowly went through its pointless tricks. Little did I know that this was a Marxist dog. ‘Let me tell you the dog Mij is highly respected up here in the north,’ wrote a reader from Durham. ‘You will be surprised to know this same dog has earned some good money for the Daily Worker at socials etc., and its master is a Party member, so I’m afraid you owe some apology.’

Among the other letters was one enclosing a picture of the dog about to do the trick which always brought the house down at Daily Worker bazaars. It was presented with an array of newspapers, and unerringly put its paw on the Daily Worker. ‘A trick which, I think you will agree, has some point.’

from The death of Uncle Joe by Alison Macleod


(For Antoinette)

The stars still marching in extended order
move out of nowhere into nowhere. Look, they are halted
on a vast field tonight, true no man’s land.
Far down the sky with sword and belt must stand
Orion. For commissariat of this exalted
war-company, the Wain. No fabulous border

could swallow all this bravery, no band
will ever face them: nothing but discipline
has mobilized and still maintains them. So
Time and his ancestors have seen them. So
always to fight disorder is their business,
and victory continues in their hand.

From under the old hills to overhead,
and down there marching on the hills again
their camp extends. There go the messengers,
Comets, with greetings of ethereal officers
from tent to tent. Yes, we look up with pain
at distant comrades and plains we cannot tread.

— Keith Douglas

The current German elites are enjoying the return to normality as a nation-state. Having reached the end of a “long path to the West,” they are certified democrats and can once again be “just like the others.” What has disappeared is the anxiousness of a people, who were also defeated morally and were compelled to engage in self-criticism, to find their bearings more rapidly in the postnational constellation. In a globalized world everyone has to learn to incorporate the perspectives of others into his or her own instead of withdrawing into an egocentric blend of aestheticization and utility-maximization.

After 9/11, I was shocked by the fact that there was public mourning for many of the people who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center, less public mourning for those who died in the attack on the Pentagon, no public mourning for the illegal workers of the WTC, and, for a very long time, no public acknowledgment of the gay and lesbian families and relationships that had been destroyed by the loss of one of the partners in the bombings. Then we went to war very quickly, Bush having decided that the time for grieving is over. I think he said that after ten days, that the time for grieving is over and now is time for action. At which point we started killing populations abroad with no clear rationale. And the populations we targeted for violence were ones that never appeared to us in pictures. We never got little obituaries for them. We never heard anything about what lives had been destroyed. And we still don’t.

…there is a malign dialectic at work here. I buy things in order to try and reassert my identity, but as the marketplace grows I am offered an increasing variety of goods and services, and associated ways of living, from which to choose. Now my identity is even more in question, because it is something that I myself have to select and realize. The impact is heightened as the material prosperity of society increases – even something as basic as food becomes no longer a matter of survival and physical well-being, but a decision about life-style.

These days, IoI bods look like delegates at a Unison conference, or the seekers who gather at Landmark seminars and the Alpha Course. The ones who make the speeches are mostly white and in their thirties and forties (the volunteers on the cameras and boom-mikes are younger and more diverse). They’re more relaxed than they used to be, less aggressive and overtly controlling, but they still have a habit of sitting on panels together, pretending they don’t already know each other, and they still dominate meetings with tedious, well-rehearsed spontaneous interventions.

Why, in any case, go to the trouble of recruiting people completely new to politics when there are about 600 people leaving the Socialist Workers Party each year and a proportionate number from the smaller groups. Concentrate on such people, but avoid ex-members of Militant, whose limited conceptual abilities cripple them once they cut loose from their organisation’s guidance.