Autumn

Outside Hendon Magistrates Court the ornamental Fuschia hedge has grown through the railings in a riot of drooping magenta flowers. Getting ready for an Autumnal return to normal, a young worker with a hedge trimmer is squaring it off as a metaphor for a legal system with a limited imagination. He is wearing ear protectors. Less than a metre away from him, the old lady, young couple and small child lined up by the bus stop, are not. Confused bees waver around the cauterised bristling twigs where the flowers used to be. The young worker sweeps them up from the floor. Tidiness before life.

Beside Chili Masala, the small patch of waste ground has some fitful grass bravely trying to compete with a jumble of liberally discarded plastic bottles and beer cans, like a miniature replica of that field at the Reading Festival left full of single use tents. A sole cabbage White butterfly flutters gamely around it showing what life could be about instead.

Outside our flat, bees are weaving in and out of the flowers in the hedge. One blunders into one of the many webs strung across it with a huge tiger striped spider hanging motionless in the middle. Immediately the spider, twice the size of the bee, is on it and wrapping it up in a silk coffin with busy legs moving quickly up and down like a sewing machine. The bee is quickly reduced to future packed lunch in a silk sarcophagus in about ten seconds, and the spider lowers it down out of sight for later, before climbing back up to wait.

Looking down from the top deck of the 83 from the bridge over the wide stretch of tube lines by Wembley Park. A pair of Jubilee line trains snaking slowly round the curve towards the station, framing a line that dives steeply down to an opaque rectangular maw of a tunnel that looks like a portal to somewhere grim.

At the bottom of the hill, the first crane fly of the season. It half flies, is half blown hither and thither, long spindly legs wavering around and small wings whirring frantically. It seems far more alone than it should do.

Afghanistan – Xinjiang.

The mainstream coverage of the Afghanistan collapse has played down both the direct impact of the US/NATO invasion on Afghans and drawn a veil over where all the money went. Instead, we have had a narrative that resurrects the image of “the West” as the defenders of Afghan women and children, as a cover for maintaining an over the horizon military capacity through drone strikes and an aid and financial freeze that puts their lives even more at risk.

This is not a claim that stands up to much scrutiny. As Tariq Ali noted in New Left Review (1)

As for the status of women, nothing much has changed. There has been little social progress outside the NGO-infested Green Zone. One of the country’s leading feminists in exile remarked that Afghan women had three enemies: the Western occupation, the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. With the departure of the United States, she said, they will have two. (At the time of writing this can perhaps be amended to one, as the Taliban’s advances in the north saw off key factions of the Alliance before Kabul was captured.) Despite repeated requests from journalists and campaigners, no reliable figures have been released on the sex-work industry that grew to service the occupying armies. Nor are there credible rape statistics – although US soldiers frequently used sexual violence against ‘terror suspects’, raped Afghan civilians and green-lighted child abuse by allied militias. During the Yugoslav civil war, prostitution multiplied and the region became a centre for sex trafficking. UN involvement in this profitable business was well-documented. In Afghanistan, the full details are yet to emerge.”

And an article published at www.german-foreign-policy.com points out that,

“US drone attacks…. caused numerous civilian victims. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism…. lists more than 13,000 of these attacks in Afghanistan. The number of victims has been calculated at between 4,100 and over 10,000, the number of proven civilian victims at between 300 and 900. According to research by the online platform The Intercept, this would be an under-estimation. Already in October 2015, the Intercept had reported – citing documents furnished by a whistleblower – that from January 2012 to February 2013, only 35 of the more than 200 victims of the US drone campaign in northeastern Afghanistan had been listed as US targets. In the course of five months, the portion of unintentional drone victims was nearly 90 percent.”

So, nine out of ten victims were collateral damage. This pattern has continued with the drone attack last week supposedly targeting a “suicide bomber” managed to kill 10 civilians including 6 children. The chilling effect of the drone threat extends beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Zubair Rehman, a 13 year old student from the Pakistan borders said in 2013

“Now I prefer cloudy days when the drones don’t fly. When the sky brightens and becomes blue, the drones return and so does the fear. Children don’t play so often now, and have stopped going to school. Education isn’t possible as long as the drones circle overhead.” (2)

This assessment from the Socialist Economic bulletin reveals that

  1. Afghan GDP has plateaued since 2011.
  2. GDP per head has barely risen since the invasion in 2001, and is running well below that of Pakistan and Nepal.
  3. Unemployment has remained at just under 12% throughout the period of the invasion, three times the level in Pakistan and Nepal.
  4. The actual level of schooling for Afghan girls is just 1.9 years, compared with 6 years for boys and around four years in Pakistan and Nepal.
  5. So, where did the money go? “If highly regarded economists place the cost of the war in the trillions of US Dollars, and yet…the Afghan economy has been shrinking to a level below $20 billion annually, then funding must have left the country. In effect, the taxpayers of the US and elsewhere were not funding nation building in Afghanistan, they were funding US defence contractors, the Pentagon war machine, and a whole raft of ancillary suppliers, of everything from ‘security personnel’ to beer and burgers. That is where the huge bonanza of public money went”. 

Its very strange how the currents – on the right and the left – that are most vocal about the Western defeat at the hands of the Taliban (and often support Islamophobic Laïcité in France) are also the currents that give most credence to Jihadist separatists in Xinjiang.

The standard trope in the Western media is to present the Western intervention in Afghanistan as developmentally positive – while the picture painted of Xinjiang is done in the bleakest hues. The claims of Western Intelligence assets and jihadist separatists about Xinjiang that are taken as such an article of faith in the UK, from the Alliance for Workers Liberty, through the Labour front bench all the way to Ian Duncan Smith and beyond, also don’t stand up to much scrutiny; which is why they are never given any in the mainstream press. This measured assessment by UK Academics provides a more balanced view and is worth a thoughtful read.

A comparison with Afghanistan after 20 years of Western intervention and tutelage is also something of a corrective to the notion that a “genocide” is taking place.

Xinjiang is one of China’s poorest regions. Along with Tibet, it was only in the last year that extreme poverty has been overcome for all citizens. Nevertheless, although life expectancy in Xinjiang has not yet caught up with the Chinese average of 77 years; at 72 it is a full 7 years more than in Afghanistan. It should be noted also that Afghanistan has suffered 7,101 deaths from Covid. The total figure for Xinjiang is 3 (out of a total population of over 25 million). A comparable death rate for the UK would be less than 10, rather than than the 150,000 plus we have actually suffered under our definitely non genocidal government.

When it comes to girls education, boys and girls in Xinjiang have equal access; and almost twice as many years in school as Afghan boys, and more than five times as long as Afghan girls. (3)

Large families in developing countries tend to be a marker of poverty and underdevelopment. Keeping birth rates low has been an aspect of China’s poverty reduction policies for years, with the one child policy only recently reversed. It should be noted that ethnic minorities were exempt from that policy and until the wider availability of contraception in the last decade, families in Xinjiang tended to be large, which kept women in the home and out of employment. The number of children per woman in Xinjiang is now low (at 1.3 children) but not quite as low as the Chinese average (1.2).

Similarly, accusations that China is committing “genocide” against the Uighurs sit oddly with figures for child mortality which are not only significantly lower than those for Afghanistan, but half that of India (29/thousand).

Average income in Xinjiang is almost twice that of Afghanistan and the trend is for an ongoing rapid increase, with an annual average growth of over 8% between 2014 and 2019. (4)

If the strategy of the West is to squeeze Afghanistan economically – as a punishment for defeat – the only prospect for Afghan development is through integration into the Belt and Road initiative via Pakistan. The impact of such development on Afghan society – if this course is followed – can’t help but be more positive than the last twenty years of intervention and war.

  1. NLR Sidecar. Debacle in Afghanistan.
  2. Cited in Like ordering Pizza. Thomas Meany on the war in Afghanistan London Review of Books 9/9/21
  3. http://toronto.chineseconsulate.org/eng/news/t1884310.htm
  4. https://disputedline.com/employment-labour-rights-xinjiang-2017/

Street Wedding Music

At closing time outside the NatWest Bank by Kingsbury Circle, a line of young men lean against the wall, whip smart in black suits and bow ties; like a team of rather slender bouncers, or a small gathering of the Nation of Islam waiting for Malcolm X to speak on a street corner in Harlem in 1961. Either the Nat West has suddenly enforced a seriously enhanced dress code and all its male staff are lining up as a public display of it, or there’s a wedding in prospect. The latter possibility is confirmed by the presence of one young man in a bright gold Shalwar standing slightly in front of the others like a commanding officer.

Soon enough, they all climb into a jostling queue of cars sounding their horns. One guy in the lead car stands up so he is out through the sun roof filming backwards. Two others – in a display of insouciant bravado -sit sideways out of passenger seat windows as the cars, all of them shiny, some of them seriously sleek and expensive, head off towards Northwick Park and points West in a convoy of overpowered metal. The horn blasts are loud, but somehow harmless, happy and harmonic; like a piece of minimalist music. Sonata for car horn and car horn. Even the people complaining and holding their hands over their ears at the bus stop are laughing.

A builders van parked opposite advertises the prospect of work on basements, decoration and refurbishment, with a company name that is hopefully not an onomatopoeic prediction of what happens to their work; KRK.

Intimations of Mortality

We seem to have a new sort of spider web this year. A sort of formless gauzy mist that drifts across corners and appears overnight. No tightly defined geometric structures. As though the spiders know that God is dead and isn’t checking on the quality of their work.

After the brains, two slugs the size of battlecrusiers ooze inexorably from one hedgerow on the path outside our flat to the happier hunting grounds under the other.

We have a strange intrusive ticking, that sounds both mechanical and urgent, coming from inaccessible places in our water pipes at times. It feels like a countdown.

The intense playful and urgent quality of the playing in this year’s Proms exudes a sense that live music cannot be taken for granted forever; that each performance is precious and has to be fully savoured. Live music in more ways than one.

The government has decided to “live with” the virus. Which means that they are content that people should continue to die from it. Forever and ever. Amen.

Economic Nationalism and Nuclear Energy

The problem with drinking patriotic Kool Aid is that it can’t help but lead to hallucinations. And it doesn’t matter if the beverage concerned is traditional true blue vintage or a home brew knock off tribute version.

Surreal is not usually a word I would associate with the General, Municipal and Boilermakers Union, but their comment on the government decision to try to cut out Chinese involvement in UK Nuclear power plant construction – that this is a huge opportunity to regain the UK’s position as the world leader in new nuclear (1) – is bizarre for a number of reasons.

  • The UK has not been a world leader in new nuclear since about 1957.
  • In 2019 the countries installing the most new nuclear power plants were China and Russia. (2)
  • Since 1990, Japan and France have dominated global nuclear R&D, with 64% of expenditure between them. (3)

The UKs proposed £250 million investment in developing Small Modular Reactors as part of the government’s 10 point Plan is such a tiny fraction of this that it might be more accurately categorised as a token gesture.

Nevertheless, SMR plants, based on a souped up version of Rolls Royce’s nuclear motors for submarines – will – if they go ahead – produce electricity that is a third more expensive even than that produced by large reactors at the moment; in a context in which the costs of renewables are constantly falling. Why the industry projects that these expensive baby white elephants would create a viable export industry is a mystery – especially after somewhat larger funding to kick start a similar project in the USA was pulled in 2017 (4).

Promises of a nuclear new dawn larded down with bunting are hardy perennials. In 2015, George Osborne promised that that at least £250m would be spent by 2020 on an “ambitious” programme to “position the UK as a global leader in innovative nuclear technologies”.(5) Same old figure. Same old patriotic bluster. Welcome to the new announcement. Same as the old announcement.

Plans for 6 new large power stations have now been cut to 3. Cost overruns and delays are built in, as is a high price for the electricity eventually generated. The price for electricity generated by Hinckley C is £92.50 per megawatt hour; twice the wholesale price. This plant, being constructed by EDF, was supposed to be built by 2017, but is now not expected until 2026. It will cost £23bn, not the original £16bn in the contract. Sizewell C is projected to cost another £20 billion, with the costs falling on bill payers even before its up and running.

There are many reasons not to go down the nuclear route. Chinese involvement is not one of them.

Workers at Fukushima showing how safe nuclear power is.  IAEA Imagebank is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The argument to break the contract with China’s “state owned nuclear energy company”, as the GMB puts it, is on “security” grounds. This is only an issue if the government is projecting a future of increasing hostility. This is not something being generated by the Chinese. We are sending an aircraft carrier to their backyard. They are not sending one to ours. The whole labour movement should see this new Cold War atmosphere as a threat, not dress it up as an opportunity.

  1. Chinese nuclear block ‘staggering U-turn’ from Conservatives | GMB

2. Nuclear Power – Analysis – IEA

3. Energy Subsidies – World Nuclear Association (world-nuclear.org)

4. UK: Power from SMRs 30% more expensive than large reactors | Wise International

5. UK government to release funding for mini nuclear power stations | Energy industry | The Guardian

If you want to point a finger, make sure you have a leg to stand on.

A narrative in the media today that seeks to pre-emptively point the finger of blame at four of the G20 countries – Brazil, China, Russia and Australia – for a global failure to meet carbon reduction targets is coming from countries that have no leg to stand on.

While all countries need to sharply increase their commitments, and actions, they are not all starting from the same place.

People in China and Brazil might feel aggrieved to be lectured by the UK, which has a worse per capita emissions figure than them; and even the Australians might feel a bit piqued if criticised by the USA.

It should be noted that these are carbon emissions by domestic production. Countries like the UK which have offshored a significant slice of manufacturing have a significantly higher global impact. In 2016, only 54% of the UK’s carbon footprint was domestically sourced with the remaining 46% coming from emissions released overseas to satisfy UK consumption. Ministers tend to be very quiet about that. While China, which has a lot of manufacturing, has a lower footprint through consumption.

Traffic, thank you hats and Mussolini on a lamp post.

At the bottom of Buck Lane, as the steep slope inclines ever steeper, one of the many motoring dickheads who express their social distancing frustrations by driving too fast and revving their engines, making a lot of noise and not caring who hears it, explodes up the hill in a cacophony of straining motor without a backward look, leaving a dense blueish cloud of exhaust behind for a heavily built and wheezing mother to laboriously wheel her heavily laden push chair through. The small child in front in the seat sits bolt upright and looks offended; as well he might.

Down by the shops, the traffic has built up in recent weeks, and a driver honks his horn in frustration at the car in front, which has stopped, waiting for another driver to vacate a parking space and causing an instant tail back. The horn, meant to be used in emergencies not as a sign of minor irritation, is loud and nerve jangling, obliterating all other sounds while it blasts and putting everyone else almost as on edge as the driver. Sharing is caring. A hefty sort of guy walking in front of me stares across at the driver, whose window is open, makes eye contact and calls “calm down”. In doing that, he is speaking for many of us, but gets the inevitable reaction of someone who is already angry and has just made a status gesture in front of his family – all gathered around and overheated in his car – and can’t afford to take a rebuke without losing face; so he escalates, leans out of his window all red faced and shouts back, honking his horn again. This is repeated ritualistically – and slightly comically now we are used to it -as the traffic queue slowly edges forward again, roughly at walking pace; so the argument keeps pace all the way down to the station.

In some ways I’m sorry for drivers. On the way down to the shops I get to walk through the Park. Nothing like walking to get your thoughts in order. And this time of year we have the wildflowers that the council has put in to encourage the bees. Right now there is an exhilarating flash of scarlet poppies. Its like an Impressionist painting but better, because its what would have inspired an impressionist painting. Manet live. Or, like stodgy old Wordsworth, your heart can’t help but “leap up”. People driving past miss all that. How much do you lose with the freedom of the not so open road? Invest in a shopping trolley and you get a walk in the Park, time to think and a bit of exercise too.

In the deep shade of a spreading Oak tree, the Roe Green Park Moot is meeting. A dozen or so elderly Gujerati guys – who now seem to be in permanent session -sitting in a circle, several on little camp stools brought for the occasion, two propping up black iron bicycles like props from a Satyajit Ray film, several of them talking at once and waving their hands. Further on, the open air exercise class is back. Mostly legs in the air like they are practicing for the synchronised swimming at the Olympics.

A little bit of implied violence from the sort of people who think that a high level of COVID infections is the same thing as being “free”. All the council posters urging people to have vaccines and take care have had pots of paint thrown at them.

By contrast, down in Grays at the weekend, someone has crocheted a thank you hat for the NHS to put on top of the post box outside the library.

As the NHS comes under pressure from the rise in cases, it is perhaps appropriate that some of these figures show they have been pushed a bit beyond their limits.

On the way up Cromwell road, just opposite Mumford and Sons (the former fish and chip shop and Covid victim now being gutted, windows black and gaping like a corpse whose eyes have been eaten by crows) two youths walking past me. The smaller, meaner looking one tweaks the chest of the taller – who looks a bit like a browner version of Sideshow Bob – saying “I’ll flick your nipples if you keep chatting shit”. On the way back down in search of chips – having developed a habit of smiling at passers by during the pandemic as a sort of mutual affirmation (we’re still here then) – I pass a couple sweating their way up the hill and smile at them. A few steps on and behind my back I hear the bloke mutter “Fucking smiling! Ooo’s e fink he’s fucking smiling at?” and I realise that I’d almost forgotten that old reflex of keeping safe by keeping neutral. Like the safety advice on the New York Subway. “Avoid eye contact with anyone over three years old”. The motto of every Council in South Essex should probably be Qui tibi vultus (oo, you lookin at?)

One of the butchers in Orsett Road is now Halal and offers “real goat”. Makes you wonder what the unreal goat is and who sells it.

When I hang out my laundry on the whirly drier in the backyard, the sight of my trousers hanging upside down to dry is reminiscent of Mussolini suspended from that lamp post by the Partisans after they shot him in Mezzagra in 1945.

Out of the window

  • a young guy on an electric scooter swishes past; like the ghost of a future that we might already be too late to build. You can’t help noting that the police in London have confiscated 500 of these in the last couple of months – pending the Highway Code updating itself to cope with them – while the gas guzzlers that poison our air and are helping overheat our planet rev happily along with complete impunity.
  • a sound of hooves and a glass carriage pulled by two horses with huge pink plumes driven by men in top hats and full of tiny Asian girls in fluffy pink dresses appropriate for princesses but looking a bit bored and apprehensive trots by up past the castle flats; their parents driving behind in a nervous convoy, leaning forward over their steering wheels.

1966 and all that.

The open rift between the England Football team and 10 Downing Street, with the team refusing to allow the Prime Minister to cash in on their popularity after his failure to condemn the “fans” who booed them when they took the knee, is a challenge to the government’s monopoly hold on notions of “Englishness”. A diverse team full of people whose families come from all over the world, and often from poverty, whose members have campaigned for free school meals, and who collectively turn the previously one dimensionally retro patriotic pre match ceremonials (national anthems) into a challenge to racism as well; have refused to be used as window dressing by the most reactionary government of my lifetime.

Suddenly, there’s a price to be paid for blowing racist dog whistles, especially if you do it on trombones. When even the Sun prints photos of the three black players who were abused with the slogan, “we got your back”, the same slogan used by Stand up to Racism, you know where the popular sentiment lies. People look at the team, then they look at the government, and think who is more like they are. Boris Johnson has 1.4 million Twitter followers. Marcus Rashford has 11.4 million. This is not a competition thats going to penalties.

Like the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, a Conservative government finds itself a bit beyond the right wing fringe of popular sensibility about what’s good about the country they are trying to lead. As do the tiny minority of bitter and twisted racist fans who did the booing, abused fans from other countries, including children, and sent the racist tweets. The PM was slim enough to formally condemn this once he realised how strongly the wind was blowing- rather than saying they were “very fine people” – but this was too little, too late. People are starting to know who he is and what he’s about. The Teflon is looking scraped.

This is also challenge to the worst aspects of football fan culture for the last half century or so.

If you look up at the statue of Bobby Moore standing in splendid isolation outside Wembley stadium – in memory of a time when men were men and balls were made of leather in more ways than one – the epic treatment of it shows that there is something going on that’s not just about football. The heroic but modest man of destiny posture, half Roy of the Rovers, half Alexander the Great, head slightly bowed by the weight of responsibility, the ball under his foot not going anywhere without his say so.

“Community Shield 64 – Sir Bobby Moore statue” by Ronnie Macdonald is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The only time England ever won the World Cup – at home at Wem-ber-lee – was in 1966, at a point of turmoil and ferment in which all that had previously seemed solid was melting into air.

The preceding 20 years saw the British Empire shrink from direct rule over a quarter of the world to a residual global archipelago of tax havens and military bases – the Falklands, Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands and so on – with a series of brutal late colonial anti insurgency campaigns in Kenya, Malaya and Aden to add a bitter late coda to its passing. These would also be “coming home” to the North of Ireland – the weakest link of the UK’s ramshackle constitution- soon enough.

A sense of bewildered loss of status – along with a nervous sense that the countries that had lost the Second World War were – terribly unfairly – doing rather better economically than Britain was – was widespread. Morris and Austin were losing out to Volkswagen, and BSA was going under because Honda made better motor bikes. The last of the big ships were being launched and the slipways would lie empty within ten years. The obsessive concern with “the balance of payments” was not so much an economic consideration as one of standing and prestige. The phrase “who won the bloody war anyway?” was quite common, and carried with it the presumption that having done that, other countries should know their place. After all we did for them too.

At the time, this went along with a mockery for the upper class, and the old, who had lost all our places in the sun and could therefore no longer be respected, and a desire for modernity; to simultaneously erase the loss of past status while maintaining the benefits of it. The Satire wave lampooned old and feeble politicians, while films like Oh What a Lovely War and Charge of the Light Brigade sent up the ruling class as useless, incompetent, carelessly murderous, rather dense and possibly inbred chinless wonders; certain of the little they knew and oblivious to all else in a world that had moved beyond them and out of their time. This was double edged. A negation of the negative, but was not able to look much beyond it.

Winning the World Cup in the middle of all this came as a sort of compensation for it – still top of the world in something – which gave it a weight and significance that it could hardly bear. The world was no longer under our boot, but a ball was. The losses ever since confirm that even this is out of reach, but this has, if anything, deepened its hold in a manner that is almost masochistic. “We’re shit…and we know we are!”

When you look at the newspaper headlines, the phrase “55 years of hurt” from Skinner and Baddiel’s “Three Lions” song, is featured again and again. There is something so self pitying about this phrase that it is faintly nauseating. The “hurt” comes from not winning. That is the common experience of every team in every competition bar one. The notion that not being that one team is particularly hurtful implies a view of national standing that assumes that “we” are somehow better by birth. It also underlies the rather previous habit of the Newspapers of running headlines and graphics on the day of the big match that simply presume a win. The montage of the current teams heads on the photo of Moore and his team mates holding the World Cup – “Jules Rimet’s still gleaming” -is a classic in its way.

The blending with World War Two themes – “Two World Wars and One World Cup – do-da do-da” – is a mixture that is toxic for those that take it too seriously; as it locks them into a frozen narrative of who they are capable of being and a state of suspended childhood. “Achtung! Surrender!” a headline from Euro 96 was obviously written by editors who had read too many copies of the Victor and Valiant at an impressionable age. But this reflects the overall national mythology that World War 2 – with its themes of fighting Nazism and being the good guys – was our defining historical experience. This is the dominant view here. The Washington Post pointed out a couple of years ago that no other country has that impression. The view in every other country in the world is that the defining experience of British History was the Empire. Not the good guys. Hard to think that we’re the only ones in step. Britain is, after all, the country that forced a war on China so that our merchants could sell their people Opium. The promise of what Billy Bragg called a “New England” can only be realised by coming to terms with all that and rejecting it – which means internationalism, recompense, reparations and repair; and treating football as a game not a metaphor for national triumphalism. It will probably be more enjoyable that way.

On Monday morning my neighbour, who was still wearing his face paint from the night before – called out from the steps outside his flat about how well they’d done and how much they were in with a shout at the World Cup next year. Hope springs eternal. Maybe Bobby Moore will get some company. Maybe it’ll be Marcus Rashford. It won’t be Boris Johnson.

Two points on terminology. The confusion between “Britain” and “England” – reflecting the dominance of the latter within the UK -was common enough for England fans to wave Union Jacks at international football matches until Euro 96. The self conscious wallowing in WW2 themes is peculiar to England fans. The Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish fans don’t spend a lot of time singing “10 German bombers”.

When I write “we” this does not imply equal culpability for historic imperial crimes. The ruling class were – and are – in charge and are therefore directly responsible. The guilt or otherwise of subordinate classes reflects the extent to which they challenged or colluded.

Tales from the Edgware Road

Down by the Edgware Road, on a tiny oasis of unmown grass about a metre square, amid a desert of concrete and asphalt, bright wild flowers play host to a bee and a butterfly as the traffic grinds past. It looks like a tiny sliver of hope.


The rewilding of our back lot, and that of many others along here, where the grass is now as high as a doberman’s eye, has led to a local insect revival. A few years ago I’d have cursed the miasma of aphids tickling my face, but now `I see it as a blessing. 


Outside Asda, a newly erected sign points Westwards to “The Nordic Quarter”. This is vaguely in the direction of Queensbury which, last time I looked, was completely bereft of Vikings. 


As a result of one of our downstairs neighbours moving out, the front hedges, handsome beech ones, well over head height, have began to grow across the front path, narrowing the way in and out and I find myself thinking that I wouldn’t mond too much if it just kept going and sealed us off from the main road, with the only way in and out via the overgorwn alleyway at the back. 


Down by Sainsbury’s a pimped up Ford Focus, Kermit the frog green with red hub caps, low slung body and tinted windows, speeds towards the turn in towards Halfords and blasts its horn at a guy already half way across it – hoping he would jump back or forward, or at any rate get out of its way. He does neither. Instead, he just stands stock still and looks witheringly at the car; holding his ground and forcing it to slow and go round him. It revs up and speeds through the car park, farting a backfire of annoyance as it does.


Just as I am sitting on the bus thinking that the rapidly accelerating gentrification of West Hendon -old tutti putti social housing cleared for solid expensive flats built like fortresses, a smattering of cleaner neater shops and restaurents weeding out the old dusty jumble of plumbers, old fashioned looking hairdressers, boarded up supermarkets, grocery places with tired looking veg and filthy signage – will have done for the Martens that have roosted in the eaves of the above shop flats on the North side, they come screaming gloriously into view and your heart can’t help but leap and soar with them. 


Along Roe Green there is now an electronic sign that monitors traffic speed. The limit is 20mph. As vehicles approach their speed is flashed back at them. Those within the limit are shown their speed in green and given a “Thank You”. Those going above 20, get it in red. Above 25mph and they get a “Slow Down” message. There is no enforcement, just a nudge to doing the right thing. What I’ve noticed is that cars tend to follow the example of the car in front. To some extent this is a physical as much as a psychological thing. If a car in front of you is doing 18mph, you can’t really go faster without crashing into it or overtaking. So, you get a string of vehicles all doing the right thing and all getting a thank you. Then you get one that zaps past at 22mph, gets flashed red and ignores it. Cars behind tend to follow on, red, red, red. Some particulary cussed souls actually accelerate, just because they can; and doubtless congratulate themselves on how free and rebelious they are being. 


In the Park, as an acknowledgement of the heating climate, people now go out and shade bathe.


I’m not sure how spooked to be that the neatly arranged van parked up by the builders working on the house vacated by our local Kippers, who have presumably moved on to a whiter place and taken their spray cans and flags with them, has an upright fire extinguisher between the seats in the cab, topped be a decapitated dolls head. It looks like it is pretending not to be alive.