Wednesday, 19 December 2012

It's the end of the year in Santa Monica too...but not as you know it

Last year's Nativity display in Santa Monica


News coming from the USA these days focus on the massacre of Newtown and the customary debate that follows whenever atrocious events like the Connecticut shootings shock the nation and the rest of the world. Intense and futile debate revolves around the Second Amendment that enshrines the right to bear arms; I say futile because each time this debate takes place nothing really happens. A powerful lobby and an unshakable belief in the right to access arms amongst many US citizens tie politicians' hands. We'll see if the latest tragedy influences a future reform in the law though I for one very much doubt it.
But I wanted to write about something totally different here, which hasn't been covered as much; this is a federal court ruling that bans the display of the annual Christmas display depicting scenes from the Nativity.
This has been hailed as a victory that upholds the values of the Founding Fathers, which include the separation of state and religion. In the words of one of the campaigners for this ban to be allowed to stand, Damon Vix, this ruling 'rights a wrong'.
Unsurprisingly, the other camp, the Churches that for the last six decades organised the display, expressed their outrage at this decision in what they dubbed the People's Republic of Santa Monica. Another Constitution amendment, in this case the First, is also mentioned in the latest episode confronting freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
As someone who dislikes religious displays in public spaces, this court decision can only be praised and applauded, in the hope that more councils follow suit.




Friday, 14 December 2012

Micah P Hinson and the art of (almost) ruining a concert

Listen to me, folks


If  his last month's concert at Compostela's Capitol is anything to go by, Micah P Hinson has an unquestionable ability to frustrate and anger some people in his concerts, particularly those who struggle with his Texan accent.
With a tour scheduled to promote his newly-published album with the Junior Arts Collective (distributed by music magazine Rock De Lux), this was my first occasion to catch him live so I didn't really know what to expect.
That he is a sort of genius is something most people who appreciate music won't dispute yet I bet many people felt a bit uneasy whenever the little man interspersed his mostly brilliant renditions of a vast and rich repertoire with endless pauses in which he spoke about anything that came to his mind; from some interesting and funny anecdotes to the downright boring and irrelevant.
I always appreciate it when musicians address the audience and give valuable insights about a range of stuff; eloquence and witticism will usually enhance a performance, and that was the case with Micah's musings for the first 40 minutes or so, until it came to a point when the tempo of the concert was gone, no matter how powerful or moving his next song was. I wasn't the only one to feel this way, by the look of it, as some people even dared vent their frustration in an attempt to 'invite' Micah to play more and talk less; he didn't seem to care much and, quite contemptuously, found even time to eat a few pears on stage in between songs.
Yet all this is (partially) forgotten when I think back over the live versions of gems such as Beneath the Rose or The Happening that Micah left us.
What could have been a brilliant gig became a quite special one though  not for the reasons I was hoping for.
Despite all the above, I'd go see him again any time for his talent largely overrides his histrionics.

Micah's new album



Friday, 30 November 2012

No more Page 3,thank you

Campaigners let their opinions be known outside The Sun offices (pic from guardian.co.uk)
Just as the conclusions of  Leveson inquiry are published, a campaign targeting  the British newspaper The Sun and its daily publication of what is infamously known as Page 3  is gathering pace.If you are not acquainted with what Page 3 means, you should know that it is a daily photograph of a topless young female model that has been published since the 70s. In the words of Dominic Mohe, The Sun editor, this is 'an innocuous British institution'.This makes me wonder what is the concept of institution that Mr Mohan has, though  in any case it seems to differ a lot from my own.
Not for the first time, a campaign is trying to get rid of what many people consider a blatant example of sexism in the media; in the past,  former Labour MP Claire Short  had to endure nasty comments coming from the newspaper itself when back in 1986,she raised this issue in the Commons-'fat, jealous Clare' were the words used then by the newspaper. This shows the ethics and class, once again, of the people behind this newspaper: when confronted with criticism their way is to respond with insults.
Many people object to this campaign on freedom of expression grounds and that old and tiring mantra 'if you don't like it, don't buy it'. However, and whilst fully acknowledging the need for freedom of the press, that argument misses the point as campaigners stress that their aim isn't to ban Page 3 but rather to raise awareness amongst newspaper editors -and more particularly The Sun's- to exert their influence and power more responsibly. Page 3, unfortunately, is not what you should expect from a national newspaper; the damaging effects, particularly on its male readers, help perpetuate the image of women as sexual, casual objects.
On top of all that, and  if we consider how women and their achievements are underrepresented on other fronts of the media (almost inexistent in some cases) then we have an explosive cocktail that may help explain  how sexism is still rife in the 21st century.
Perhaps Lord Leveson's proposal calling for statutory regulation of the press may not be a bad idea after all.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Excuse me sir but you're under arrest

'Smart' speaker with blood on his hands
'Tony Blair, I am making a citizen's arrest for your war crimes,' were the words uttered  by Kate O'Sullivan in 2010 at a book signing event in Dublin, before being taken away by security staff. It has become a sort of familiar scene, whenever an individual manages to approach former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and makes an attempt at arresting him on the grounds of international war crimes.Wherever he goes, there will be people following him and remind the world of  what he is responsible of.
This is part of a campaign -Arrest Blair www.arrestblair.org/ - which seeks Blair's arrest for his involvement in  launching a deadly war on Iraq, causing thousands of deaths. The campaign stresses that any attempt to arrest him must be done peacefully and a financial reward is offered to people who successfully manage to perform an attempt.
The campaign acts as reminder of the fact that justice has not been done yet and that  Bush and Blair, both ultimately responsible for the Iraq's war, should be held accountable for what has been a politically and economically-motivated war based on a massive lie.
The people behind this campaign are driven by a desire to restore some sense of justice or, at least, expose  Blair and remind the world that he is still at large, living a very comfortable life full of well-remunerated events in which he is asked to speak (presumably to spread and share his 'wisdom').
 All my respect and admiration goes to these people who so bravely go out of their way and  risk their own safety in order to perform a completely logical act: ask Tony Blair to face justice for crimes against peace.
Bush and Aznar should face the same public exposure.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

New Internationalist: independent and ethical journalism

Worth reading and supporting
Not a day goes by without hearing dreadful news concerning journalism (and journalists): newspapers closing down or drastically reducing their size, journalists working in dire conditions, being victims of either censorship or political and commercial pressure, publicity revenues dropping...the list goes on. It seems clear that this most noble profession is undergoing a painful process with an uncertain ending for now, though it is safe to assume that it somehow will have to reinvent itself.Theories and opinions on the future of journalism are widely available so we won't discuss the matter here.
I am more interested in focusing on positive, inspirational examples that defy the odds in  difficult -some would say almost impossible- times for the publishing industry.
The good news is that there are still professional, interesting, reputable publications out there that are worth reading and supporting. One of them is the monthly magazine New Internationalist (http://www.newint.org)), a workers' co-operative that focuses on 'people, ideas and action for global justice'. Both its print and digital  editions are an excellent way of accessing well-researched,thought-provoking articles and reports that you will rarely find in the mainstream media. Despite being published in the UK, it provides a refreshingly non-Euroccentric viewpoint and approach, tackling issues affecting the Majority World, as they call it. Covering a range of topics (social, environment, political, cultural...), New Internationalist sets an example of how a critical, independent, ethical and radical magazine can compete and find its own public in the 21st century, far from the media circus and the fat cats that control and dictate the mainstream publishing world. Buy it, read it, share it and cherish it.It is a more than recommendable read, it is a necessary one.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

                 Philanthropy at its best  (picture published by praza.com)
I finished reading Robert Tressell's book -The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists- almost at the same time as the outcome of last week's Galician elections was being announced. To be perfectly honest, I'd finished the book a couple of days before but what Tressell's work depicted and so bitterly criticised about Edwardian England was still lingering on my mind as news about another downfall was becoming reality.
Tressell's must-read book is an all too depressingly familiar criticism of  Capitalism as a system that will inevitably ensure wealth and privileges for a selected elite who can only prosper thanks to the systematic abuse, oppression and robbery of the working classes. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is considered to be the first Socialist novel, which largely focuses on the miserable lives of a group of workers in Southern England. The author considers these hungry, exploited poor wretches as the real philanthropists, as it is only thanks to the appalling conditions they live in -not far from slavery- that their 'Masters' can live in obnoxious luxury, whilst pretending to care about the well-being of their 'inferiors'. As the writer says, they are 'loathsome hypocrites'. What the book so well reflects is the way these deprived men and women are willing to maintain this farce, much to the dismay of Owen and Barrington, the only characters who are able to see and fight such injustices.
All these thoughts about the  relationship between the 'Masters' and their serfs  came to me as I was following the results of the aforementioned Galician parliamentary elections, which somehow reinforced Tressell's theories. Once again, those who are really screwed and bear the brunt of a crumbling system voted in support of their masters, perhaps in the hope of obtaining some minor favour or simply because their ignorance and fear is bigger than their sense.The masters' dogs (in the novel represented so well by Hunter-also known as Misery) did everything they could to help perpetuate this vicious situation, as illustrated in the above picture.
The 21st Century's philanthropist don't have their trousers ragged but instead they have a system that is falling apart behind their eyes and they are not even getting the breadcrumbs.A despicable spectacle indeed.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Closed Circle

Things could only get better
With The Closed Circle, Jonathan Coe's last volume of the trilogy started with What a carve up!, the writer send us right back to those years we've left not long ago; those years when it seemed that almost anything was possible, when things were looking up and they 'could only get better'. The story starts off by taking us back to some of the main characters of the trilogy's previous book, The Rotters' Club; instead of the happy and  innocent 70s when they were growing up, we find them now at the turn of the millennium, their lives now very different to what they'd perhaps imagined.The Blair years are in full swing and through the character of Paul, now a Labour MP and self-confessed Blairite, Coe takes aim at those who so well knew how to play the game and used the party's supposedly progressive agenda to gain power and glory.
Somehow predictably, it is also the tale of those golden boys and girls, so talented and with a bright future ahead of them who never fully realised their potential and now wander around quite erratically, stumbling upon failed relationships and forgotten life projects.
In true Coe's fashion, the book's stories are intertwined and connected in a way that sometimes are surprising and sometimes quite easy to predict where the author is leading us to.
All in all, The Closed Circle is an interesting read, particularly because it depicts quite well the arrogance and vanity of the political elite, ultimately only interested in raising their own profile, in the hope of getting their slice of the cake.
If you like the fantastically written and performed sitcom 'The Thick of It', you'll probably enjoy this book.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

There'll be days like this

Born to rant: The Man is back
The man whose voice heals the soul, as someone once famously- and accurately- described Van Morrison's voice, is back with a bang. After years releasing records that lacked the spark and intensity that had become his trademark, Van The Man seems to have found his former self, which means that (possibly) one of the angriest and most unfriendly artists in the business is in top form, if his latest release is anything to go by. It's been four years since his last record and I must confess that I hadn't missed him much, perhaps because I'd grown a bit bored, being fed up and disappointed at both the man's latest efforts and his ever moaning about everything. After a couple of days listening to the new album though, it is now quite clear that you shouldn't underestimate the man; just when I thought that my long-standing relationship with the Lion of Belfast had come to an end, he resurfaces with a collection of gems that takes me straight back to the good old years, when his voice and music would be played endlessly.
Admittedly, there's nothing new here, nothing that will surprise seasoned fans but, really, there is no need for that. Born to Sing: No Plan B (you can guess from the title that we are for a treat) grabs you from the very first note and then there's no way back; that powerful and unmistakable voice, those delicious sax solos, the bluesy touch, a wonderful and impeccable band of six musicians in full swing...it's all there.
Quite interesting, from the lyrics point of view, is the fact that some of the songs included here are a scathing attack on the greed shown by the 'global elite'.He hasn't become a political activist though, as he says that this he is just 'observing the world around him'.I guess taking a political stand would be too much to someone who seems to live in a sort of ivory tower, surrounded by soul records and secretly yearning for that distant Caledonia on a golden autumn day.
There might not be Plan B, according to Van Morrison, but with albums like this, quite frankly, who needs one?

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Joseph Anton comes out of the shadows

All those years in hiding 
I can't quite remember when I first heard the word 'fatwa' yet I distinctively remember that whenever that suddenly familiar word was uttered, it was inevitably associated with the writer Salman Rushdie, who had had the 'temerity' of writing a book that had been labelled as offensive towards Muslims.
In that fateful year of 1989, at a time when the world was still divided in two blocks, that fatwa came to symbolise many things really, and in my eyes at least, Rushdie became a sort of hero, a true artist who defied everything and everyone in the name of creative freedom, an icon of free speech against religious intolerance and narrow-mindedness.Admittedly, this might have been a bit of a romantic idea of  mine but then again I was a quite impressionable teenager in search of references and trying to make sense of what was going on all those years ago.
As it is well-known, that edict so solemnly proclaimed by Ayatollah Khomeini would completely turn upside-down Rushdie's life, who subsequently spent over 10 years of his life as an anonymous citizen, hiding from a more than likely fate that so pointlessly had been bestowed upon him; all that for a book many of the people protested against had never read.
We now know that all those years living in the shadows, Rushdie had become Joseph Anton, in an attempt to keep his potential killers at bay.Thankfully, he managed to do so though I can imagine that the cost of living undercover all those years may have had quite an impact on his life.
I find it quite ironic that in the same week Rushdie's memoir is being published, similar cases concerning freedom of speech and religious sensibilities are still making the news.Once again, there are people claiming to be offended and outraged because their beliefs are mocked (in this case by a film as insultingly bad as Innocence of Muslims); sure, being offended should be a right though threatening and even killing in the name of a religion shouldn't, so it would appear that despite living in a world that has seen Salman Rushdie let Joseph Anton go and has retrieved his own self, we are still a long way from the maturity and self-assurance required to deal with these supposedly insulting artists without making a fuss.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Hillsborough truth revealed

The Liverpool Echo front page in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster 
In 1989 a football match between the Liverpool and Nottingham Forest teams in Sheffield became the deadliest sports disaster in British history as 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death when the stadium's crush barriers broke.To a city that was still healing the wounds caused by another football-related tragedy that had taken place only four years before Hillsborough (Heysel 1985 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heysel_Stadium_disaster) this was, as one can imagine, too much to bear. Liverpool is a city that lives and breathes 'footy'; football is a major passion, a sort of religion and the Pool is actually responsible for my interest in this sport; anyone who has lived or even visited this unique city knows what I'm talking about.So 23 years ago, Liverpool was again going through a nightmare and a collective feeling of despair and grief; however, this time there was something that turned Hillsborough into something else that would unite and bring the city even closer, if that were possible: the treatment received by that infamous newspaper, The Sun,which blatantly lied and insulted Liverpool fans by holding them responsible for this tragedy. Likewise, the South Yorkshire police eluded all responsibility and equally blamed fans .Ever since those fateful days, The Sun became a sort of enemy of the people of Liverpool.Scousers and everyone in Mersyside knew and suffered the humiliation and pain brought by a newspaper specialised in ruining people's lives (another recent example is the phone-hacking scandal). So it was a major step in the process of vindicating and clearing the names of the 96 Hillsborough victims, the findings that yesterday have been made public by an independent panel that lays bare the truth, stating that fans were not to blame and that it was actually the Police who massively failed, not only by not acting properly and professionally on that day but by ensuring that their own members wouldn't be held responsible; in other words, a proper cover-up coming all the way from the cops' hierarchy.
These findings were made even more relevant when David Cameron unreservedly apologised to the families' victims on behalf of the British Government.
Liverpudlians have known and fought for all this for the last 23 years; now the rest of the UK, and the world, knows the actual truth too. Lessons must be learnt and people such as The Scum's-sorry the Sun-editor Kelvin MacKenzie and Police Constable Norman Bettison should face their responsibilities.The 96 Hillsborough victims, their families and Liverpudlians deserve no less.


You'll never walk alone

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

This land is your land (on the centenary of a legend)

Voice of the wretched of the Earth
Better later than never but this post should have been published around the time of Woody Guthrie's centenary on 14 July. He may not be an instantly recognisable figure for most young readers yet his influence amongst those songwriters who went to achieve worldwide success and fame from the sixties onwards (Dylan, anyone?) remains huge.
Born in Oklahoma at the beginning of the century, he witnessed first-hand the harshness that migrant workers from the Dust Bowl had to endure on their way to a better life.Very appropriately, he was known as the 'Dust Bowl Troubadour'; he could have been a character of one of Steinbeck's novels, albeit one with a determination to fight his and other fellow migrants' destiny.His best known  song- 'This Land is Your Land' -belongs to the North American's cultural heritage, and it's still sung in most American schools nowadays.Likewise, it could be the soundtrack to 'The Grapes of Wrath'; I can almost picture the desolated and helpless faces of Tom Joad & Co. whenever I listen to this song.
 Woody Guthrie,with  his guitar famously displaying the slogan 'This machine kills fascists' is undoubtedly a   key figure in the US folk movement, and particularly within the so-called protest song tradition and went to inspire many other musicians.Together with Peter Seeger and Johnny Cash, he is an icon, a legend and a major figure in the finest songwriters tradition.
For those wishing to dig further, I highly recommend the recordings of his songs covered by British artist Billy Bragg and the American band Wilco back in 1998 in the delightful album 'Mermaid Avenue'.Pure fire! Better still, you can find the great man's music available on the internet and judge for yourself.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Twenty years on: the truth about Paolo Borsellino's death


Those who are afraid die every day, those who aren't die  only once
Clarissa Arvizzigno is a young Sicilian student from Palermo currently doing an English course in Eastbourne, England who regularly contributes to the Italian newspaper Corleone Dialogos (http://www.corleonedialogos.it/ ) ; the following is an interesting and insightful article, which she wrote and translated into English, on how the Cosa Nostra operates in her native region. She wishes to raise awareness about what is going on Sicily, so it's over to Clarissa and her views on the matter:

Negotiations and cover-ups: what State does want the truth about the massacres?
When organised crime infiltrates the big machine of the State, obstructing its actions and altering its course, then the Cosa Nostra comes forward to suggest dirty and suspicious revisions, and it is when the negotiations between the State and the Mafia enter the scene. 'They will kill me, but it will not be the Mafia's revenge; it will be perhaps other people', said the judge Paolo Borsellino, victim of a massacre perpetrated by obscure characters that reminds us of the links between the Cosa Nostra and the State. On Wednesday 18 July 2012, Anfimafia Duemila organised the conference 'Negotiations and diversions: what State does want the truth about the massacres?', near the Faculty of Law in Palermo, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Paolo Borsellino's death. The purpose of this conference was certainly to shed light on the reasons regarding the deaths of Borsellino, Falcone, and all the victims of an organisation-the Mafia- at the service of a corrupt State. Guests who attended this conference included: Salvatore Borsellino, the judge's brother, Anonio Ingroia, Antonino Di Matteo, Roberto Scarpinato, Domenico Gozzo, Saverio Lodato, and Giorgio Bongiovanni.
A lot of anomalies and dreadful events can't be answered even when taking into account the famous dealings between Mafia and the State. What was the authorities' hidden reality during those years when crime was widespread? Was there only one State or more than one?', the Caltanissetta's Attorney General wonders. Perhaps it would be right to think about the possibility of a moral reflection on the mafioso's crimes, which may involve not only a small group but all Italian people.
'Archives as open as museums, so that Italian families will be able to read about the remains of the massacres'; this is the initiative suggested by the writer Saverio Lodate. In a country like ours, with a limping democracy, where we can see how the public opinion is manipulated, judges who seek the truth are hanging by a thread, in a labyrinth of secrets, and are labelled as 'crazy' and 'subversive splinters'.Paolo Borsellino tried to find the truth with the help of the law but he was left alone, thus becoming victim of the intricate secret dealings between the State and the Mafia.
Mafia-politicians, Mafia-entrepreneurial activity, Mafia-institutions; how far will the tentacles of the Cosa Nostra spread? On the one hand, the State-Mafia as a criminal state and on the other hand, Paolo Borsellino's just State: two sides of the same coin today, two sides of an uncertain age in continuous development. 'No more symbols of death in D'Amelio street', Salvatore Borsellino demands, in the place that has become the symbol of hope, whose seed was sown by Paolo Borsellino, the judge who had the courage to look beyond the horizon; the man beyond time and everything. 

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Rotters' Club

Growing in 70s Britain

The Rotters' Club is Jonathan Coe's second book of a trilogy that looks at England's recent history.As previously reviewed, What a carve up! was about corruption, wealth and power by a few aristocratic members of a family with very good connections running the show. This time, we are transported to the world of a group of teenagers and their stranded families in the 70s in Birmingham; a convulsed time, particularly for the offspring of the Brummie working-class, in search of a better future.Though with a slightly different angle, the book reminded me of a film, Made in Dagenham, that also portrays British working class' struggles and aspirations.
Intertwining different stories and plots, something recurrent in Coe's novels, the book slowly unfolds a number of scenarios that defined the lives of its young characters; college students on their way to university and all the opportunities that are awaiting them, once they leave school and join the ranks of the Oxbridge new breed.
Coe describes with rich detail, originality  and ingenious the life in school as well as the different intrigues, passions and romance that inevitably arise as the story plods on.
Overall, and despite the personal interest I have in this particular time of British history, the book failed to impress me as the story somehow looses spark in various moments. It doesn't offer the intrigue and twists that What a carve up! had and it is, in many an occasion, blighted by clichés, particularly when tackling topics   concerning school life.
Despite this, I'm still looking forward to getting hold of the third instalment of the trilogy, The Closed Circle, which will bring us to the Blair years and the changes the country went through those years. A post on this book will published in due course.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

A Soundtrack for a Revolution

 Ain't let nobody turn me around
'We were ordinary people doing extraordinary things' says civil rights activist Julian Bond and it somehow perfectly sums up the spirit of this fantastic documentary that retraces the story of the U.S.Civil Rights Movement.Through the testimonies of the some of the Movement's main voices and participants, this heartfelt and moving documentary takes us back to an era that is hard, if not impossible, to imagine;such was the level of discrimination for African-Americans at that time.Thankfully, the uncompromising fight for freedom and equality showed by people who were not prepared to put up any longer with such barbarism and brutality inflicted by White supremacists serves -or should serve- as inspiration for present and future generations.
To my delight, and to that of music lovers in general, the documentary is greatly enhanced by absolutely cracking performances by artists such as The Roots, The Blind Boys of Alabama and John Legend whose cover versions of some of the most powerful and symbolic songs associated to the Movement provide unforgettable moments of pride and passion for a cause that shaped the United States' recent history.
Among the wealth of information and worthwhile projects we read about daily, I can't quite remember how I found out abut this brilliant documentary but I'm glad I did and that I dug further and managed to get a copy, one that I will cherish for years to come.Which side are you on?


Friday, 6 July 2012

In prison my whole life


No happy birthdays in death row

A few years ago I published this review (http://www.catalystmedia.org.uk/issues/misc/reviews/in_prison.php) about a documentary that deserves to be known and discussed as widely as possible.I believe that is still as relevant as it was in 2007, so here it goes:

This is Mumia Abu Jamal… from Death Row; this short yet startling introduction serves, in case we had forgotten, as a reminder of the situation Mumia is and has been for the last 27 years.Mumia Abu Jamal was a journalist and Black Panther militant in Philadelphia, US, at the time of his arrest for the murder of a police officer.

Thanks largely to his regular broadcasts from death row, his books and the high-profile campaigns run on his behalf throughout the world, Abu Jammal remains the best known death row prisoner in the U.S. 
On the other hand,Marc Evans is, in his own words,your typical white middle class young American.

So not much in common between these two men then, you may think, except for the fact that, as it happens, Mumia was arrested on the very same day Marc was born, 9 December 1981.So Marc, who since his early childhood has been reminded of this fact by his mum (also featured in the film),sets out to find out by himself what’s behind what for many people is a flagrant example of injustice and racism.

Mumia was accused of murdering a police officer, Daniel Faulkner, on that fateful day and swiftly condemned to death; as the film evidences, the racial tensions in Philadelphia since the 60’s had been very present and racism was widespread. An unfair trial based on racial prejudice and confusing evidence is the basis for Mumia’s lawyers demands for a re-trail; as the documentary uncovers, there is fresh evidence that supports Mumia’s legal representatives and worldwide human rights activists call for a new hearing.The documentary features familiar faces such as Noam Chomsky and Alice Walker, whose quiet yet powerful denunciation of a racist system that condemned Mumia and many others, produces one of the highlights of the film.

There is plenty of evidence in the film that clearly, at the very least, should convince any un-biased mind of the difficulties and irregularities of the case presented against Mumia, not least because for the first time and after many years in fearful silence, Mumia’s brother, also present in the scene that day, is prepared to give evidence.Clearly, Evans’ pursuit has an objective: to demonstrate all of the above and help gather support for what he (and many more people) believes is a legitimate and urgent cause.

His no-nonsensical approach serves, ultimately, to this purpose.
Everyone who believes and fights for human rights should be grateful to Marc Evans for enlightening us and for giving us this rare example of cinema and compromise without being lectured.
However, and despite all the efforts, we must not forget that Mumia’s life still hangs on the balance as his legal struggle remains uncertain.
For more information on Mumia’s case and legal updates please visit:http://www.freemumia.com/ 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Tell me no lies

Jon Snow:Speaking out
Tell me no lies is a book edited by Australian-born journalist John Pilger,who is a tireless campaigner and writer in search of global justice who pulls no punches when it comes to denounce abuse of power, corruption and so on. The book is thoroughly recommended to anyone who is interested in real, hard-hitting stories written by first-class journalists throughout the world covering a range of topics that shaped our world. All this came to mind when I read a report today on the Leveson Inquiry, which is currently taking place in the UK; well-known and respected Channel 4's anchorman Jon Snow used the adjectives 'insidious' and 'mendacious', among others, to describe not the News International conglomerate owned by the Murdoch but on another publisher: the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.It is refreshing to hear a public figure speaking out on a topic that for so long has got on my nerves: the filth and lack of ethics that these so-called newspapers spit out day in, day out, ruining people's private lives while earning handsome sums of money in the process.So kudos to Mr Snow and all the public figures who have had enough of this ridiculous show that for so long has tarnished journalism.  

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Roads against hatred and intolerance


Still  from the short film 'Dark Angel' about Sophie' death
Sophie Lancaster was a young woman who got murdered by a gang of teenage males while she was walking through a park in Rossendale, Lancashire, in  2007. The simply reason for this atrocious and unspeakable act was the way Sophie and her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, dressed and looked.Sophie and Robert chose to dress differently, to express their creativity and interests in a way that was different to the majority; they were part of the goth subculture.That someone's life can be so cruel and cowardly brought to an end is a sad indictment of our 21st century.Prejudice and hatred are still rife, especially towards those who are and/or look different.
At Tea & Sympathy we are proud to report that Sophie's mum, Sylvia, gathered the courage and strenght to work towards ensuring that Sophie's dead is not in vain, something she and other equally committed people do through the Sophie Lancaster Foundation,which was created as an educational tool to 'stamp out prejudice and promote respect and understanding amongst subcultures'.The foundation's work is key to try to raise awareness about issues like this one, and it should be a priority for any government in conjunction with educational organisations and communities.
The above mentioned short film Dark Angel, made by French director Fursy Teyssier with the soundtrack provided by Portishead is a heartbreaking  and poignant piece that illustrates Sophie's fate on the day she was attacked; it is a wonderful and somehow uplifting tribute to a young person who saved her boyfriend's life with her death.As the marvellous voice of Beth Gibbons remind us in this great song (Roads):' how can it feel this wrong?'

Please click on this link to watch the whole short film and help spread the work of Sophie Lancaster Foundation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW2ve6_BkRA

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Of Mice and Men

Of Hopes and Frustrations
Those who regularly follow this blog may remember that a few months back I wrote about how much I had enjoyed Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath; so I guess that this post will not come as a surprise as it was bound to happen sooner or later. An Easter trip to London was the chance I had to grab this second-hand (or maybe third or fourth-hand, given the book's condition) in a very interesting and recommended anarchist bookshop and publishers based in East London (Whitechapel).
Once again, Steinbeck's prose and elegant style didn't let me down and the adventures of Lennie and George kept me glued from the very first page.These two characters bear some resemblance to those who appear in the Grapes of Wrath, they all are the migrant workers, the dispossessed who wander off in search of a better life. The author shows again his ability to reflect common people's frustrations but also their hopes and dreams and he does so with an impeccable prose so detailed that the reader immediately connects with Lennie, George and the rest. Its lenght-quite short in comparison to the Grapes - makes the book even more impressive as Steinbeck manages to convey so much in  so few pages.
Of Mice and Men was by the way the Tea & Sympathy's Book Club choice for this month and I am glad to report that it was very appreciated by the club's participants.
If you are wondering what to read next, this may well be your choice, you won't go wrong!

Friday, 1 June 2012

God save the Queeen ('cause tourists are money')

The Sex Pistols en route for their 1977 jubilee celebrations
This weekend's Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations are a good excuse to remind us that not everyone in Britain cares or is proud of the royal family and what they symbolise. In 1977, the punk group Sex Pistols organised their very own 'boat trip' down the river Thames, which was a way of  mocking the official one the Queen and her troupe had planned for a couple of days later. As you can imagine, that trip ended in chaos when the police intervened but the Pistols' song God Save the Queen became a major hit, outselling more 'respectable' and 'serious' artists.This is all the more interesting since it is important to remember that this song became the most heavily censored record in British history, according to music critic Alex Petridis. Predictably enough, the BBC and most independent radios refused to air the song.
People may or may not like the Sex Pistols (and I'm not a huge fan either, specially considering some of the group's members latest media antics) but it is undeniable that the sight of a punk group playing Anarchy in the UK outside the Houses of Parliament  and openly criticising monarchy is a refreshing one, which takes an even bigger significance now that the whole establishment (from bankers to politicians and other vampires) has been exposed over and over again as rotten to the core.It certainly takes guts and determination to expose the monarchy, and everything they represent, on a boat trip bound to incense and infuriate the elites and their acolytes.
No doubt, this weekend the 'real' national anthem will be played a few times, the Queen will be politely praised and thanked for her services to the nation and all that boring ritual that follows but an ever-growing number of  people will also look back to 1977 and wonder once again what is the point of such an outdated and elitist institution.

Friday, 25 May 2012

We are all Misfits

The Fab Five
There seems to be a consensus around the idea that when it comes to mainstream audiovisual creativity, TV is nowadays far more avant-garde, relevant and daring than cinema.A flock of talented writers, directors and producers seem to have deserted the Hollywood headquarters and favour now other media,enabling them to craft series that have conquered loyal audiences all over and who thanks to the joys of the Internet are able to watch them as soon as they are released.Gone are the days when people would impatiently have to wait for a channel to buy their favourite series broadcasting rights and then screen them. As a result, I keep coming across people who have made a habit of devouring series after series, most of them of  remarkable quality. I tend to be quite slow when it comes to jumping to new trends so I'm rarely in a position to follow friends' conversations about the seemingly unending TV series output, which is why I was (still am) very excited to stumble on the much-lauded and critically-acclaimed series Misfits.It was a couple of years ago when I first heard about the adventures of this group of 5 youngsters who- while serving community service- develop superpowers after a thunderstorm; since I'm not a fan of superhero stuff, I ignored it until now. I realised how wrong I was because Misfits is a gem.A brilliant and original script, combined with clever direction, five unique and distinctive characters make of Misfits a thoroughly enjoyable production and a must-see for those who love series and are now wondering what to watch next. It took me  almost three years to discover it but believe me, the wait has paid off. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

What a carve up!

A satire on the corrupted ruling elites

Thanks to an unexpected gift, I found recently myself reading-and enjoying- Jonathan Coe's brilliantly named book What a carve up!. Despite being one of Britain's most read and established writers, I had only managed to read one of his books, The Rain Before It Falls, which I'd found interesting and entertaining but didn't feel compelled to delve further into his successful and acclaimed works.It was, however, with a sense of expectation that I approached this one, perhaps because the blurb on the back had given me a few hints on what to expect.
Using Pat Jackson's homonymous film as a starting point, the novel tells the story of a Yorkshire upper-class family, the Winshaws, who have literally a finger in every single part of the British establishment; from the (gutter) press to government, without ignoring the art world, farming, the powerful arms industry and of course banking.Being possessors of, it would seem,an inherited and unforgiving moral bankruptcy, the Winshaws rule a country in which its elites have no moral qualms whatsoever about how to achieve power and glory. While this despicable family go on about their senseless business, only one character is aware of how much harm his family is causing.Mortimer Winshaw will change the course of history by changing the family's story. The family's farcical attempts to control everything are complemented by the story of a soul-searching and lonely writer,Michael, who has been commissioned to write the infamous family's biography.
What a carve up! is a parody of the British running elites and an indictment of how the Thatcher's years transformed a country, bringing a new political and economical approach in which greed and low moral standards became the norm.
This book is the first one of a trilogy that depicts Britain's recent history so I hope to write here soon on the remaining two books.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Educating for change


Nothing is wasted at CAT
What is now regarded as Europe's leading eco-building is situated where a slate quarry used to be, near the market town of Machynlleth,in Mid Wales.CAT (Centre for Alternative Energy or Canolfan y Dechnoleg Amgen in its Welsh version) is an extraordinary place to visit and find out about a wide range of initiatives and projects that cover topics such as sustainability,renewable energy and organic agriculture.Its visitor centre is both entertaining and informative and children won't be bored,far from it actually,as the centre has a hands-on approach,as you would expect given the nature of the centre, which has a strong focus on environmental education.It is an amazing achievement that this centre has been going on for so long; its origins can be traced to 1973, at a time when such concerns were dismissed by mainstream society and would only interest very few committed mavericks.Nowadays, and despite what the oil industry wants us to believe,more and more people throughout the world are aware of the fact that a different lifestyle and approach is needed;different ideas and initiatives trying to offer an alternative view and mindset, include the ever-growing Transition Towns movement (this will be further detailed in a future post here).Much of this awareness owes a lot to projects such as this one, a centre that has been leading the way on practical solutions to environmental issues for over three decades now.It is a more than recommended place to visit if you have the opportunity.A day spent at CAT is definitely a well spent one, an invigorating visit that should inspire anyone with an interest in an alternative way of doing things.On top of all that, a trip to this great project is the perfect excuse to visit Wales.


Monday, 30 April 2012

A radio legend

This is radio Peel 
A few weeks ago this blog dedicated one of its entries to Mandela's archive, which has been recently made available to the public through an ambitious online project; today, we are told of a project of a similar nature about another legendary person whose legacy will be, as of tomorrow 1st May, made also accessible online. I'm talking about the Liverpool-born radio DJ John Peel, whose 40 year-career on BBC Radio came to an end with his dead in 2004. It is difficult to think of any other music broadcaster that commands, even today 8 years after his sudden and sad departure, the same respect and admiration as Peel does. His legendary John Peel Sessions on Radio 1 were a sort of rite of passage for upcoming artists, championing and supporting  independent artists from far and wide.
I guess that for any musician,being in one of his shows was a major achievement and a passport to recognition.Peel's influence and shadow is so important that a centre has been created to honour his career while providing a creative platform for artists(www.johnpeelcentreforcreativearts.co.uk). So the fact that his record collection -which is, as you can imagine, huge- will be uploaded online can only be fantastic news for fans throughout the world, who from tomorrow will be able to start finding out information about Peel's records, including- in all likelihood- interesting insights about the stuff  he so passionately broadcast and promoted.A good time then to (re)discover John Peel's voice and commitment to what he so much cherished.

Friday, 20 April 2012

No Music No Life

Good old spinning vinyl: fashionable again?

It happened many years ago but I vividly remember that image (though not the city- was it Dublin perhaps?) of an old street musician playing the accordion with that cardboard sign in front of him bearing the'No Music No Life' message.I remember it because it struck me as short yet very powerful statement.As a music lover,I found it irresistible and it has been in my mind ever since,especially whenever I'm reminded of how much music can improve people's lives, making them so much bearable and enjoyable.I mention all this because this Saturday 21 April is Record Store Day;if you haven't heard of this event,which was created in 2007,you should know that it first started in the USA when over 700 record shops got together with the aim of celebrating their uniqueness at a time when independent shops were fast disappearing.Then other countries joined in and now every year is getting bigger and hundreds, if not thousands, of events will take place on Saturday. 
At a time when record sales are dwindling and consequently forcing shops to shut down (how many independent shops are there in your neighbourhood?),this day is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate passionate and dedicated people who,against the odds,  manage to keep open their shops and offer the invaluable experience of browsing CDs and vinyls,asking questions to their knowledgeable staff and discovering exciting new bands in the digital era.
I firmly believe that digital natives should be taught all these skills!
Independent bands and musicians also do their bit to make this day special by releasing new stuff, meeting fans or performing in shops...
If you are lucky enough to live close to a good independent record shop, pay them a visit, browse and buy a record; make this a habit, support up-and-coming artists,crowfund them, nurture them...it pays off because if there is no (good) music, there is no life.
Getting ready for Record Store Day?



Friday, 13 April 2012

And now for the good news

News worth reading
Unlikely as it may seem, it's not all doom and gloom out there.It is very tempting,and at times hardly difficult to avoid the idea that we are forever swamped and buried under layers of negative news;switch your radio/TV/PC on and you are likely to be fed a torrent of by now depressingly familiar and repetitive news that can only confirm, yet again, the stupidity and greediness of a ruling elite that continues to fiddle while a system they helped create (and benefit from) crumbles.
Which is why is all the more refreshing and exciting when one finds out about projects such as Positive News (positivenews.org.uk); with the motto'Inspiration for a change', this is a newspaper aiming at doing what it says on the tin.Focusing on solutions and projects that bring sustainability and contribute towards a fairer world, Positive News is a timely reminder of the wealth of very interesting, creative and proactive communities that don't necessarily find their voices heard in the mainstream media.
Flicking through the pages of the latest print issue(Spring 2012)found in a North London organic restaurant, I learnt about, for example,how more and more people are choosing to break their ties with traditional banking and shift their money to ethical banks, thanks to the success of the Move Your Money UK campaign;also, it was nice to read how the online campaigning organisation Avaaz is giving voice to millions of activists on a range of issues;and have you ever heard of initiatives such as Cidades Sem Fome,which work in the Sao Paolo shanty towns, reducing hunger and joblessness through different actions linked to urban agriculture.
So in a matter of a few minutes I was reminded of the power of staying positive and how through organised and conscious action,communities can develop social and environmentally responsible projects.I also realised about the importance of spreading the word, a word that will ultimately inspire others to achieve this change.Beat the gloom,Roll on the positive news!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Off the shelf:Penguin books

Penguin 1958's classified list
One of Penguin's most famous and well-known  illustrators, John Griffiths,has recently passed away.As someone who enjoys and cherish this most-loved and respected publishing house,I would like to somehow pay homage to and celebrate Griffiths' work, who was responsible for producing some striking book covers in the late 1950s and 60s.Penguin Books was the brainchild of Allan Lane, who founded the company with the aim of offering affordable and well-designed classic books,thus changing the reading habits of vast numbers of people who wouldn't otherwise be able to get these tittles;the first Penguin Classic was the translation of The Odyssey,which was published in 1946 and sold three million copies.The era of the paperback was born.In this context, Griffiths's illustrations gave Penguin books an extra value and force,making the reading experience more enjoyable as the books' covers gained interest and became artworks in their own right.With Griffiths and other equally talented illustrators,Penguin revolutionised the publishing world and brought affordable books to everybody.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Is this the best band on earth?

Low:The Great Destroyers
Agreed:pointless question, by all means.A rhetorical question that may serve us well as a starter when it comes to talk about the Duluth-based (Minnesota) trio Low,which have recently honoured us with an unforgettable live performance at Sala Capitol.With a musical career that stretches back to the early 90s, Low have a solid and faithful audience base that continues to grow as they keep churning out album after album of a delicately-crafted music that captivates new listeners who inevitably fall for the charms of this most peculiar band.That their albums are brilliant is a fact few people would disagree with;a careful listen to their latests effort (C'mon) confirms that they have reached a highly creative moment,one of a quiet and unassuming maturity.What I didn't know was how good they could be live.Very rarely a band achieves such level of perfection as Low did last Thursday;a mesmerising show, much to the delight of an almost full venue of loyal and devoted followers.Haunting music that flows naturally and almost effortlessly, filling the room with an air of expectation and restrained tension from the very first note.A pristine sound underpinned a perfect delivery that reached its climax, in my opinion, with the last song before the encore; a majestic version of Murderer from their 2007 album Drums and Guns, whose biblical resonances ('I've seen you pound your fist into the earth/and I've read your book/You may need a murderer/Someone to do your dirty work') made it even eerier and a fitting finale to a flawless performance.Equally fitting was the fact that my friend chose this so intense moment to go to the loo,just as Alan Sparhawk was singing 'You must have more important things to do'; clearly, he had.
They may or may not be the best band on earth (who am I to judge? and who cares anyway?) but Low are arguably one of the best acts around, at the very top of their game.Blessed are those who already know it.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Long Walk To Freedom

Exciting news today for anyone interested in the figure of Nelson Mandela; a digital archive (http://archives.nelsonmandela.org ) containing a wealth of documents (photos, letters, notes...) related to the figure of the former South Africa president has just been launched.This means that these documents have been digitalised and are now available to anyone free of charge.This initiative is another step towards recognising a major contemporary figure that meant, and still means, so much for generations of people who see Mandela as the key figure in leading South Africa towards democracy and leaving behind the cruel and extremely unfair system devised by the white ruling elites in that country under the infamous name of apartheid.
Mandela's legacy and influence will be now, thanks to this project (funded by Google),be more accessible and immediate, thus contributing to keep alive Madiba's spirit and attitude to life. It may sound as a cliché but in these convulse and often bleak times,a towering figure like Mandela becomes even more inspiring and necessary, especially for those who are on their walk to freedom.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Rock 'n Riots

For those living in the Northern Hemisphere,21 March means the official arrival of spring. Since 1999 it is also- I gather- World Poetry Day, so for those of you fond of poetry this is also an interesting day and another reason to celebrate. On top of that, every 21 March is specially celebrated by Kurdish, Iranian and other Central Asian communities as it marks the arrival of their New Year. I always thought that this was a pretty wise and exciting  way of starting a new year; celebrating the arrival of spring rather than winter seems to me much better and great fun too. 'Biji Newroz' to my Kurdish friends, if they are reading this. Plenty of things to write about but as this blog focuses on English-related stuff,  today T&S wants to write about one of those days where we look back and find that, on such a day sixty years ago, history was being made.Musical history,more precisely. In effect, the first ever official rock concert was staged on 21 March 1952 in Cleveland, Ohio, and it ended in chaos. A white radio DJ, Alain Freed and Leo Mintz, an African-American community leader, organised this pioneering event that attracted thousands of people, many of them without a ticket due to a printing mistake. 20,000 people for a venue that could hold half that number was a recipe for disaster. After a few songs, the event had to be cancelled but Rock 'n Roll  was already an unstoppable force.This revolutionary and sassy style was gathering pace and supporters at great speed. Rock 'n Roll was about to leave the fringes and become a social phenomenon soon.
For younger generations, it may hard to believe that at the time of the Red Scare in the US, Rock n' Roll was considered  blasphemous and undesirable by the authorities.
21 March 1952 laid the foundations for what we now take for granted: gigs, festivals,stardom, merchandising and everything that goes with the world of rock music. A far cry from what happened all those years ago in that event named Moondog Coronation Ball.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Out of print

Recent news about the Encyclopedia Britannica president's announcement of the company's decision to stop publishing the paper version may have come as a surprise to many but mostly because of how long it took them to conclude that time had arrived.Granted, ditching a centuries old paper-based encyclopedia is not a decision to take lightly but it'd become obvious that publishing something of this calibre (in size and cost, I mean) had to be, at the very least, reconsidered.
The Britannica, which was first published in the late 18th century, acquired over time the authority and respect that made it a solid reference within, and beyond, the English-speaking world. Those heavy and glossy books contained everything that was worthwhile knowing.A source of information for generations. But 32 books graciously bound and edited don't come cheap. Luckily, children whose families couldn't afford buying this printed mammoth would be able to quench their thirst of knowledge in schools and public libraries.
It remained an invaluable educational tool whose authority was rarely- if ever- questioned, being quoted and cited in countless occasions; a purveyor of knowledge and a gate to a wealth of information. But that was then and things started to quickly change with the arrival of the Internet; suddenly, information could be obtained with the click of a mouse and people, understandably, started to ponder whether it would be sensible  to continue paying large sums of money when they could get up-to-date information on their computer/tablet/smartphone screens. The Britannica was slow to grasp this and a couple of young entrepreneurs beat them at their own game by creating a free and collaborative online encyclopedia (yes, that one)...and the rest is history. The Britannica website ( http://www.britannica.co.uk) is now a very good resource with both a free and a paying version; it is accessible and easy to navigate, with interesting features (eg videos) that improve your search.There will be people who no doubt will miss the printed version but this seems to be a sound and practical move.

Monday, 12 March 2012

TED:food for thought

Amid the flurry of depressing news we are fed every day (corruption, incompetence and abuse of power- courtesy of the political and economic elites- unemployment, spending cuts, the ever-growing class gap, wars, drought...) it is almost- or at least it should be- compulsory to find a 'breathing space' against this confusing and terrifying spiral;more than ever, I think that we are desperately in need of reasons to be cheerful and try to keep an optimistic outlook on the world.I often find my share whenever I come across passionate people oozing talent and that 'can-do' attitude; they are the people who make the world go round, to paraphrase The Stylistics.
I was reminded of all that last weekend thanks to the TEDx event organised in London by the UK's oldest Sunday paper, The Observer.
If you haven't heard about TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, it is definitely worth checking their website (www.ted.com);dating back to the mid-eighties, this not-for-profit project aims to spread ideas that are worth...spreading. Hundreds of videos covering an amazingly wide range of topics are available on the project's website so I'll leave it to you to visit it and discover it and hopefully be inspired by any of these videos. A warning though, it may cause addiction...
TEDx organise events throughout the world;one of them took place, as mentioned, in London at the Saddler's Wells theatre (this event could be followed live at the venue, on screens or as I did, online). It was a day packed with presentations and performances by people who coming from different backgrounds presented an array of initiatives and ideas that can only be classed as inspiring, brave and  forward-looking.Speakers and performers included, among others, singer-songwriter Plan B who presented his forthcoming documentary iLL Manors on the grim reality of gun culture, Hackney's community worker and 'heroine' from last summer's riots Pauline Pearce as well as Peter Lovatt and Alvaro Restrepo's work in Bogota's neighbourhoods in which dance is used as a creative tool to build self-esteem and fight exclusion.
In short, this was a day to feel optimistic and enthusiastic;a day where food for thought was indeed served and hopefully digested by the audience.Inspiration met action.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Emmeline Pankhurst: 'deeds not words'


As the world marks today International Women's Day, here at T&s we will also have our own small event with the screening of a fabulous film (Made in Dagenham) that highlights the struggle of a group of women who were working at a factory and fought for equal pay in the 60s. Long before that fight, there were many other ones throughout the world; this post wants to celebrate the figure of a woman whose legacy is today acknowledged as helping to raise awareness about society's injustices towards women. Emmeline Pankhurst was a British political activist and suffragette who created and led the Women's Social and Political Union, a movement that defended and carried out civil disobedience acts; she took part in different hunger strikes and travelled widely, campaigning for women's equality and of course the right to vote. For some, Pankhurst remains a controversial figure not only because of her tactics but also her late defence of the British Empire and its values. That aside, it seems clear that Pankhurst was a pivotal figure whose influence towards the creation of a feminist movement and conscious has to be recognised and praised.
So let's raise our mug (or cup) and toast to all the women who have and are doing their bit towards a fairer society.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Chuggers of the world unite


...And hand over your badges. 
This is a good one for a rant as I'm pretty sure most people will agree.An article published recently in The Guardian prompted me to write about one of those modern trends that everyone seems to hate and yet, after some years now, is still there, much to city-centre visitors and retailers' annoyance. I'm talking about(you may have guessed) the almost universally despised 'chugger'; this word is a neologism that has recently entered the dictionaries and it is used -mostly derogatorily- to describe or refer to charity street fundraisers. The word itself is a blend of the words charity and mugger.
Chuggers are easy to spot: they are mostly smiley and loud young people, wearing badges and colourful charity polyester jackets who will go after their targets by all possible means (I've seen chuggers following passers-by down a busy street shouting and gesturing in quite intimidating ways).
Coincidentally, on the same day I read the mentioned article I- once again - was approached by one of them, thus forcing me to-once again - put in place my now well-learnt and rehearsed strategy to smartly deal with chuggers: make eye contact and with half a smile, simply but firmly say 'sorry, I'm running late to a meeting'. Amazingly, this seems to work and normally the chugger will leave me alone and even wish me a nice day.
Other people, fed up with being disturbed so often in rather rude ways,have taken a more aggressive approach and I don't blame them.
What I fail to understand though, is how any charity can see this as a way of promoting and raising awareness about whatever cause they defend. Most people dislike being patronised and treated the way some charity 'volunteers' act and a quick visit to forums and sites where the topic is discussed confirmed this perception.People don't seem to appreciate their presence and attitude, if those forums and articles are to be believed. 
Some charities argue that street fundraising is a way of reaching a public they wouldn't otherwise. That is fair enough but I wonder if a few new sign-ups offset the hugely negative publicity that this 'in your face' strategy is giving them. 
Some UK city councils (Burnley, Rugby and Gloucester among others) have already or are considering taking steps to either reduce or regulate the presence of charity workers on their streets.
So, will we see one day all the chuggers of the world handing their badges over?
Would it be worth trying other strategies? I suggest they set up a small stall and offer a  nice cup of tea and a bit of sympathy instead...that would surely be a better approach, don't you think?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Go west, young man...



It is not very often that a book grabs my interest in such a way as John Steinbeck's  The Grapes of Wrath did when I read it a few months back. So much has been said and written about this masterpiece that any attempt at giving any thoughtful insight is bound to either sound pretentious, clichéd or both.
But what really struck me about  this great book was the fact that, though published in 1939, it felt as though it were depicting a very contemporary story. The Joads' hardships and their odyssey in search of El Dorado could be (and it has been) retold in countless occasions and circumstances, whenever a migrant community falls victim to rapacious and benefit-led people; by following the adventures of the Joads, you will find yourself with a story that is depressingly similar to what we daily read and witness in many parts throughout the world.
Perhaps unsurprisingly- giving the fact that the book is a direct denunciation of the consequences of unregulated and wild capitalism- The Grapes of Wrath was criticised by some people when it was first published; it was accused of having socialist leanings*  and a smear campaign was orchestrated by politicians and the media. Again, this sounds all too familiar and similar cases happen every so often, whenever an inconvenient truth is aired.
Today, individuals and families find themselves in similar situations; the current financial meltdown offers no perspective and migration is the only option left again for many people in these bleak times. A new generation is on the move and, almost a century later, things are not much different to what the Joads went through. Remember the 'we are the 99% campaign'?
John Ford's film based on the book has contributed to further the book's popularity, thus giving faces to the different family members we get to know so well. Bruce Springsteen also wrote a song with his own lyrics inspired by this universal story for his 1995 album The Ghost of Tom Joad ('I'm sitting down here in the campfire light/ Waitin' on the ghost of Tom Joad').
It is not an easy read and it won't have you laughing out loud  but it is as relevant, haunting and poignant as it was in 1939. To me, that is the true sign of a major piece of art. A must-read, if you ask me.
*Source: Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism ©2003 Gale Cengage

Friday, 2 March 2012

Make us a brew, Mr Scruff!

Credit where is due. If we are going to be serious and consistent about this tea-drinking business, I think it is only fair to acknowledge and thank those who have been on the front line, relentlessly promoting and defending a culture and way of life ('life tastes better with a nice cup of tea' is one of my mottos) that, it would appear, has found a new and unexpected travelling companion in the form of those atrocious café chains that have sprung up like mushrooms over the last decade or so;if you have found yourself in any UK's high street, surrounded by smart and busy people drinking coffee out of large mugs with sophisticaded Italian names, you'll know what I mean.
Don't get me wrong, I love coffee as much as the next person and I think that drinking coffee and tea are absolutely compatible habits but... I am quite wary of this new trend that all of sudden has made drinking coffee in those unbelievably impersonal cafés an enjoyable experience.
Thanks to people like Mr. Scruff, I have the feeling that drinking tea is not only 'cool' or fashionable or whatever...it's actually the right thing to do!
So credit to this Manchester-born Dj, cartoonist and self-confessed tea drinker who has been spreading the 'gospel' for over a decade now; you may or may not like his music (a sort of electronic base with loads of other styles added to the brew) but there is something that makes  his shows irresistible and that is because of the visuals projected, adding a plus of originality and quirkiness that has won him over loyal audiences accross the UK and beyond.  I mean,what can be more charming that the sight of a DJ duly crafting his set with a nice cup of tea next to him?
To make things even better (or should I say tastier), whenever he plays at a festival, he sets up a tent where people can buy stuff such as tea (organically produced), t-shirts, mugs, tea towels...so you can become a proud member of the 'make us a brew' gang! If you can't catch him live, you  can (you must!) visit his online shop (makeusabrew.com).
But now that the the weekend is knocking on the door, I should stop rambling, grab a cuppa, turn up the volume and play 'Get a move on'  and go wherever my feet may take me. I humbly but firmly advise you to do the same. 'You better keep moving or you'll be left behind'.