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Steven Messham: don’t believe the establishment’s lies

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Reblogged from Pride’s Purge

Pride's Purge

(not satire – surreal yes – but all true)

There is a war going on.

It’s a war played out in the media, on our televisions and on the internet – a war between information and disinformation, between truth and lies, between powerful establishment ‘fixers’ and ordinary citizens – but the casualties are real.

People have been hurt, people have even died, but some – bruised, tortured, battered to an unbelievable degree – have amazingly managed to survive.

Child abuse victim, Steven Messham is one of those who is still standing.

Just.

Because, as part of this war, last week, the Mail on Sunday did a hatchet job on Steven in an attempt to discredit him as a witness.

The article was almost entirely made up of spin, half-truths and downright lies. It was also written by a well-known establishment ‘fixer’ – David Rose – who was so confident that…

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Libraries Gave Us Power pt 2

November 3, 2012 2 comments

I’m currently reading The Library Book, a collection of writing by, erm, writers on just how bloody brilliant public libraries are.

I’ve always loved libraries and, indeed, now find myself working in one, so it is perhaps to be expected that I really, really like this book. Really. There are some excellent pieces in there but the one that has most struck me most so far is Alan Bennett’s contribution, Baffled by a Bookcase, originally an extended essay in the LRB, which can be found here. Written in July 2011 Bennett waxes lyrical about the way in which the public library shaped him but also, at the end of the piece, makes salient points about the threat to libraries and the politics around that threat:

I have been discussing libraries as places and in the current struggle to preserve public libraries not enough stress has been laid on the library as a place not just a facility.To a child living in high flats, say, where space is at a premium and peace and quiet not always easy to find, a library is a haven.

There is much truth in this and as Bennett goes on to state councils closing branch libraries and then trumpeting about the wonderful new ‘central’ facility they have are somewhat missing the point:

For a child a library needs to be around the corner. And if we lose local libraries it is children who suffer.

Bennett approaches this from his own experiences as a child and his use of the local library, and it is a true statement; but the loss of local libraries, as with all local services, can impact on the community as a whole. Older people use libraries a great deal and rely on being able to access one local to them – even if it is a smaller branch which doesn’t hold what they need, they can request that a copy be sent there for them to pick up. And libraries aren’t just about books anymore; at my library, in one of the ‘better’ areas of the borough, a large proportion of our footfall is accounted for by people studying and using our IT services for job searches or printing CVs. In the ‘poorer’ areas of the borough other libraries provide homework and job clubs where IT resources are more scarce in the home. The library I work in is one of the ‘super libraries’ Bennett alludes to but it doesn’t exist at the expense of the smaller branches; in fact, in the last few years several new branches have opened and we were told earlier this year that libraries are ‘safe’ until at least 2014, a forward thinking statement in these times of government inspired and enforced austerity, something that Bennett also comments on:

The business of closing libraries isn’t a straightforward political fight. The local authorities shelter behind the demands of central government which in turn pretends that local councils have a choice. It’s shaming that, regardless of the party’s proud tradition of popular education, Labour municipalities are not making more of a stand… It’s hard not to think that like other Tory policies privatising the libraries has been lying dormant for 15 years, just waiting for a convenient crisis to smuggle it through.

I would go further than that and say that the Tory/neoliberal plan to create a ‘smaller state’ has been in place for the last 30 years, hardly dented by the ineffective period of Blairite Labour rule.

The Library Book is published in aid of The Reading Agency and all royalties go towards its excellent work in encouraging people to read. One of their initiatives is the Summer Reading Challenge for children; in my library alone over 500 children took part this year with more than half completing the challenge, an increase of nearly 40% on 2011. Amid the proliferation of ‘serial’ books about monsters and fairies, it’s wonderful to see that authors like Michael Rosen, Roald Dahl and Jacqueline Wilson are very popular. The Reading Agency also runs the Six Book Challenge which encourages adults to read more. As well as Bennett the book contains pieces by Stephen Fry, China Mieville, Lionel Shriver, Nicky Wire and many others. It is a good and worthy (in the best sense of that word) investment, both financially and emotionally. Libraries are a vital part of our communities and there is valuable work being done by organisations such as Voices for the Library and The Library Campaign. I and countless others have gained immeasurable joy and knowledge from public libraries and they have shaped part of what I am today; we cannot simply stand back and let these opportunities be taken away from future generations.

PPI claims

November 3, 2012 5 comments

A short post here to encourage folk to claim back the PPI payments taken by the thieving banks over the last decade or so. In late August, after endless nagging from an excellent friend, I finally took steps to make a claim on the PPI that my naive (stupid) self had been coerced into taking on a Black Horse Finance loan back in the mists of time. All I knew was that I’d paid it off several years previously – I didn’t have any paperwork or even know when I’d taken the loan.

Although naive (stupid), I knew not to entrust my claim to the shysters that text, email and shout at us during ad breaks on the telly/radio. Instead I trotted off to Money Savings Expert, read their guidelines and downloaded their claim form template. Little more than an hour later I printed off the completed form and sent it by recorded delivery to Black Horse’s claims dept.

After a week or two they wrote to me stating that they were investigating the claim; companies have eight weeks to do so before you can take it to the financial ombudsman. A couple of weeks ago they wrote again with an offer to settle which I accepted, and yesterday I banked a four figure cheque worth more than two months’ of my salary. It was that easy.

The main thing is to emphasise that you were sold PPI under duress. In my case I remembered the loan forms coming with the PPI included and when I questioned it the loan officer failing to explain what it was but merely stating that “You really should take it” – I believe it was/is pushed using the implicit threat that without taking it you may not qualify for the product. It may also have helped that I could state in the form that the benefits from my job at the time would cover me well enough without resorting to PPI. But the main point is that PPI was and is an option and as such should be explained clearly and objectively without any hint that refusal to take would influence any outcome. This is where the banks are vulnerable as they know, but won’t outright admit, that PPI was missold by their operatives and after after the High Court ruling on FSA guidelines last year want to avoid thousands of claims going to court. It may have also helped me that my claim was with Black Horse, which is part of Lloyds TSB, as of the nigh on £11bn that banks have set aside to settle claims, Lloyds TSB alone account for half of that figure and clearly have a reputation. The second biggest ‘culprit’ is the RSB, the one we bailed out.

Remember, avoid the companies that offer to make your claim for you – if I’d used one of them I would have given up a third of my ‘win’ to them. Claiming yourself is as straightforward as I have written, just go to to:

Money Savings Expert – PPI claims

Good luck!

Don’t get caught… (or A Political Awakening Through Literature)

November 3, 2012 1 comment

Ageing folky popster, Crouch End resident and sometime actor Bob Dylan once said “to live outside the law you must be honest” or somesuch – he then strummed at a passing electric guitar and thousands of his fans exploded.

Leaving behind the question of his nasal singing and unfortunate hair, it can be conceded that with those words the Bobmeister struck a chord of truth; a C diminished 5th of verisimilitude; an annoying whine of exactitude; for as we have seen through the ages from the Tolpuddle Martyrs to UK Uncut, to partake in actions such as civil disobedience, going off the grid, or distributing seditious underground pamphlets in school usually requires a certain amount of fortitude and integrity.

This brings me to the Borribles.

Imagine a younger me, early teens, happily clutching his beloved library tickets and browsing the shelves for something to excite and inform. What’s this? A book with a cover design of a red brick wall, a pair of fleeing bovver boots, and written on the wall in a facsimile of dripping graffiti the title of the book: “The Borribles“. Yup, that’ll do nicely, the young me says, books it out, and toddles off to play conkers and listen to The Specials.

One week later…

Mind blown. Senses awakened. Vocabulary of rude words enhanced. Life changed?

The Borribles was written in 1976 by South London resident and sadly/wrongly little known author Michael de Larrabeiti. It’s set in the streets that he knew well and can perhaps best be categorised, if needs must, as a work of urban magic realism. It is possibly the best ‘children’s’ book ever. It knocks Harry Potter into a cocked hat and pisses on him.

Borribles are children, or, rather, were children. A disparate group of runaways who have disappeared from society, they live in all the cities of the world. Once a child becomes ‘borribled’, signified by their ears becoming pointed, they cease to physically grow but continue to age in terms of knowledge, wisdom and, most importantly, cunning – some are said to be more than 100 years old. The cunning is needed as Borribles are targeted by the authorities for being a threat to social order that must be eradicated. The worst fate for a Borrible is to be caught by the police (the ‘woolies’) and have his ears literally clipped – he will then begin to age normally and have to live in the adult world so vehemently eschewed in Borrible lore: this is a fate worse than death as illustrated by the Borrible proverb (of which there are many) “It is better to die young than to be caught”. In keeping with the desire to live a life out of the ordinary, to gain your Borrible name you must go on an adventure – your name is a matter of pride and those that have more than one are looked up to.

Borribles live by stealing and scavenging what they need, often haunting street markets and taking what’s left at the end of the day (“Fruit of the barrow is enough for a Borrible”). They have no use for money, in fact they despise it as a symbol of the adult world left behind, and, through choice, have very few possessions. In London they are organised into ‘tribes’ by dint of the boroughs they live in, and have a healthy suspicion of other tribes (“The Borrible who ain’t suspicious long ain’t long a Borrible”): while the fundamental lore is universal, each tribe will have its own characteristics and a great sense of self and place. Well organised, the communities have ‘specialists’ in all areas and work together to live as comfortable a life as they can.

The Borribles is concerned with the historical enmity between all Borribles and the Rumbles of Rumbledon. Living in well appointed and luxurious burrows underneath Wimbledon Common, the Rumbles are the upper class of this fantasy world – they live in a strict social order, are pompous and arrogant, and extremely materialistic. When Rumbles are seen digging burrows in Battersea Park it becomes clear that they intend to mount a takeover of the area. The Battersea Borribles call a meeting and in order to stop this potential colonisation it is decided that an attack to should be made on the Rumble high command thereby leaving them in disarray. Eight Borribles are chosen from different boroughs, their mission each to kill one of the eight most senior Rumbles and take their name. The adventure begins…

The second and third books in the trilogy (The Borribles Go For Broke; Across The Dark Metropolis) move away from the battle with the Rumbles and focus more on the constant threat from the authorities, the Met having set up the Special Borrible Group (SBG), and other elements of the adult world. We also see that unwelcome elements of adult society have crept into Borrible life, and the pernicious effect this has.

As a teenager reading the books I revelled in the vividly drawn picture of an alternative London (to this day I enjoy tales of ‘other’ London such as by China Mieville or Christopher Fowler), one where ‘children’ lived exciting lives away from the humdrum mundaneness of school, exams, and getting a job. The Borribles themselves were well characterised and leapt from the page, each with their own idiosyncrasies and flaws, but united in a common cause for the greater good. Above all the writing was crisp and sharp, the pacing spot on, and the stories exciting and appealing. However, looking back on it now I begin to see that the books may also have had a more profound effect, that of my nascent politicisation.

The overriding theme of the trilogy is one of being anti-establishment, of looking at the world and its systems and deciding that they are not for you. The adult world is seen as being drab, regulated and consumerist with its enforcers ruthless and merciless in their quest to maintain order at the behest of those at the top. The Rumbles are a microcosm of this with their strict hierarchy and focus on material wealth, and their incursion into the Borribles’ world signals a threat to a way of life in the name of order and progress, or progress at least for Rumbles. This can perhaps be seen as a prescient comment by the author on gentrification and the ‘easing out’ of established communities as an area becomes subject to rising house prices and a more ordered, establishment based existence. The Rumbles themselves are a thinly veiled parody of The Wombles, a particular bete noire of the author.

Another strong theme is that of anti-consumerism. Money is despised and possessions unwanted: as long as you have what you need to be comfortable, why want for anything else? With the emphasis in the Borrible communities of each contributing what they can, there is almost a direct reflection of Marx’s “From each according to their means, to each according to their needs”. The proxy governance of Borrible life is from the Borrible Book of Rules, but beyond that they live what can be seen as an anarchistic lifestyle, with loose groups living together under a functionary ‘house steward’ who sees to the needs of the community in an organisational sense: decisions are taken at meetings with all having an equal say.

In sociological terms Borribles are a diverse entity. The group we follow through the trilogy are multi-ethnic and gendered, although there are some small cliches to be found in their representation. They are extremely territorial, but beyond that there is a fierce group loyalty among the protagonists and Borrible society as a whole. This is only threatened when notions of adult society such as leadership and materialism creep in, possibly even greater threats than the Rumbles. The origins of becoming a Borrible are described thus:

Normal kids are turned into Borribles very slowly, almost without being aware of it; but one day they wake up and there it is. It doesn’t matter where they come from as long as they have had what is called a ‘bad start’. A child disappears from a school and the word goes round that he was ‘unmanageable’; the chances are he’s off managing by himself.

Within this paragraph we see an implicit criticism of the way in which children are failed by the ‘system’, and more worryingly acknowledgement of abuse within the phrase “a ‘bad start'”. Society has failed these children, so they choose to make one of their own.

There are direct parallels to be made with outsider groups in our own society. The scavenging for leftover fruit and food is a form of freeganism, a term that wouldn’t be coined until three decades after the first book was written. The Borrible way of life itself can be seen as a form of anarchy, and the idea of diverse groups of people coming together and building something through their joint efforts is happening all over the world now with the Occupy movement. Even the infighting between different Borrible tribes has a resonance within the left wing/anti establishment milieu! As regards the establishment, the formation of the SBG to eradicate Borriblism can be seen as a direct pastiche of the notorious Special Patrol Group (SPG) of the time, and we now have the Territorial Support Group (TSG) keeping an eye on ‘disorder’.

The books themselves received much critical acclaim but were treated with disdain by the establishment, both perhaps for the fact that they were genre literature, but also due to their grittiness, language, and, despite the fantasy element, depiction of a reality ignored by the elite.

So there you have it, a trio of exciting and brilliantly written adventure stories, but also a socio-political commentary of the times which can be seen as being just as relevant today. It is a sad thing that these books have been somewhat marginalised and I would urge you beg, steal or borrow them. Just remember, as a Borrible would say, don’t get caught.