Phil’s swap shop… any takers?

LOOK here, it’s an old character from the Camden Council soap opera, Philip ‘I used to work for the Home Office’ Colligan, talking about how if we all could swap our books then cuts to libraries wouldn’t hurt so bad. The former assistant chief executive at the Town Hall, now with new team NESTA, waxes about helping to set up a book swapping club in Sutton.

It works, it seems, by us all offering to loan out books we’ve bought and read to people living nearby. Note: Anybody in north London who wants to borrow my copy of Perry Groves’s autobiography and series one on DVD of The Press Gang better have some good swapsies ready before we can deal. I at least want sight of the classic Muppets annual 1984.

Maybe Phil’s article for The Guardian has a deceptive headline, a shock tactic which might draw in more readers – it made me look – but give people the wrong idea. ‘COULD WE REPLACE LIBRARIES WITH BOOK SWAPPING CLUBS?’. Easy answer to that: No.

But what PC actually writes is:  “It was designed to augment, not replace, libraries, which do so much more than lend books. As the developer on the project Adrian Short explains: “You can borrow my books but you can’t pitch up in my living room for the afternoon.”

The sentiment inside the piece is all true: people do get upset when local authority brains talk about replacing (we don’t read ‘replace’, we read ‘closing down’) libraries, and rightly so. But if an idea like this can work as a supplement to existing treasured services and is proven to work as a supplement to existing treasured services, it might yet be something even lovers of libraries could learn to love to. We’ll see. Don’t write off the idea just yet.

Seb’s scraps

More words from me on the Olympic ticket farce, which you already knew was a farce, as printed in today’s New Journal:

Seb Coe enjoys table tennis with Boris Johnson

SO, how many of you answered the last call for Seb’s synchronised swimming scraps, apparently the final available crumbs of the Olympic ticket pie? 

I say apparently because every time all events are seemingly sold out another batch of left-overs seems to be magicked up from somewhere. Locog, the organising committee, almost now seem like they are playing a cruel treasure hunt game, with you lot out there – yes, you, reading this – playing the role of their puppets.

You’re being strung along in the desperate idea that you might be able to find some secret cache of diving or dressage tickets hidden by Seb in the hollowed trunk of a mystical internet tree. When he says log on, you log on – and then you get another slap in the face and a kerplunking email saying: Not here, try again next time.

The tickets thing is tiresome and people who excitedly paid extra taxes in London because they were inspired by the idea of the Olympics are getting bored and upset.

The best way to soothe this disappointment for people, I find, is to ask them who from their local area should hold the Olympic torch for two seconds. Watch out, Camden Council, some would rather nominate someone to snuff it out right now.

When the tickets first went up for sale Seb clearly said on the TV – he was probably at a table tennis photo-shoot with Boris Johnson at the time – that people should look at their budgets and look at what they wanted to see and then apply.

Yet in the first round of ticket allocations you essentially had to pledge thousands of pounds to stand a realistic chance in the lottery, a system clearly aiding the wealthy and discriminating against low-income families. It doesn’t seem there’s much Olympic spirit in that.

The response to the aggrieved is that demand was always far greater than supply and, of course, the whole world can’t fit into the swimdome (or whatever these new venues are called). But this argument suggests that every request was from a unique bidder when in reality lots of bids from the same person were successful.

Some people, with the means to bid high, bagged six or seven events, while if you’re budget was £100 or £200, you were left with none. There must have been a fairer way to get more people to the games?

Yet, as long as the demand is high, Locog can keep playing with their puppets and hint at more ticket releases to apparently sold-out events in the future. Organisers must know there is an innate feeling among the majority that once the London 2012 games have been and gone, you need something to tell Vera, Chuck and Dave about being there. “Oh yes, grandchild, I was there, I saw Venezuela beat Poland in a sport I didn’t quite understand. No, grandchild, Seb wasn’t there. He was at the 100 metres final.”

Maya and the Mayor

> PLAY: Maya De Souza, Nash Ali and Abdul Quadir

> MP3:  Maya De Souza, Nash Ali and Abdul Quadir

THERE are split opinions among the ruling Camden Labour group about how far one seat on the council should get you in local politics. The hardliners say lone Green councillor Maya De Souza can’t hold meetings to ransom by demanding a right of reply on every issue.More sympathetic members say to that point of view: Fair enough, but let her speak for a few minutes on the big ones.

When she wasn’t called by Mayor Abdul Quadir at Monday’s full council meeting, a bit of a stand-off developed – as the audio and linked here above shows. It was a clash between a new mayor understandably looking to assert himself on notorious squabblers at his first meeting in charge and a Green councillor frustrated at her lack of opportunities. Listening to it back, council leader Nash Ali plays an honourable job as peacemaker. It didn’t stop Maya leaving the room and heading home earlier.

You can watch the whole of Camden Council’s recording of the meeting, pictures and sound (it goes on for three hours), here..

Sunday Review #3: Getting hot; Cowley’s campaign; Ed’s choice

* THIS bulletin is a little late this week because we’ve all been watching Glastonbury and Wimbledon. Plus it was Camden’s full council last night, where for the first time I learned that no matter how hot it gets, chief male civil servants are ordered by the convention of council dress code rules to keep their suit jackets and ties on throughout the proceedings. What a sweat that is. Poor old borough solicitor Andrew Maughan prowled the room for a stand-up whirly fan as the temperature refused to drop during yesterday’s mini heatwave. Flick Rea promised a ‘humanitarian’ campaign to allow Mr Maughan and colleagues to take their suit jackets off if faced with another full council sauna.

* Conservative councillor Chris Knight is more worried about spending on council newsletter, Your Camden, which he calculates at a £150,000 a year outlay for Camden Council. Chris told the council that he is particularly annoyed that his ward has been renamed Hampstead Green by the four times a year magazine. The lament about the quality and cost of the council magazines is understandable – Knight called it ‘useless propaganda’ – but doesn’t the opposition always call for these newsletters to be closed? It’s usually a different story once you take office. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the Conservatives held a stake in the administration which ran Camden – and, yes, they kept the printing presses alive too.

* In terms of Wimbledon, it may be time to start worrying about Evening Standard columnist Jason Cowley. A good egg, Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, is especially perceptive about things that happen at his beloved Arsenal. But when it comes to the tennis, he seems to have only one chief point to make: Andy Murray needs to lighten up.

During the Australian Open, Cowley wrote a full pager column for the Standard (Jan 31) with the title: ‘Murray needs to lighten up…’ Yesterday, with Wimbledon in full swing, Cowley wrote a full pager column for the Standard (June 27) with the title ‘Come on, Andy Murray, lighten up‘. He also wrote a small piece (Jan 24) for the same paper earlier this year titled ‘Miserable Murray will never win over the fans‘, which essentially said: Andy Murray needs to lighten up. It must be a tougher  job than it looks coming up with new ideas for sports columns. Here’s a few bits from Jason’s ‘Lighten Up Andy’ campaign

Jan 24: The reason Murray is not more popular is that, for all his excellence at tennis, he seems a joyless fellow, especially when compared to his charming and charismatic rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Jan 31: At present, Murray plays without a smile and without evident joy…Perhaps he should start playing Davis Cup again.

June 27: The trouble with Murray is Murray himself: his apparent joylessness, his lack of charm and humour, his ­unsmiling reluctance to represent ­Britain at Davis Cup… Murray is especially unfortunate because his three main rivals – Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic – have attractive personalities.

You get the idea with that…

* Finally, we can’t let last week disappear from memory without checking in on the Labour debate over whether shadow cabinet positions should be decided by election or not. Ed Miliband wants to pick his own people for the top jobs (kinda suggesting in the process that he isn’t so happy with the people he’s been left working with by the current process). How many local members must have a view on this? The bloody events locally of last month’s Camden cabinet switcharoo has left people thinking (no swearing on the comments please) that there must be a better way of assembling a team, one that is democratic without scarring so badly. But how? Allowing the leader so much power to lock in a cabinet team and lock out others has never been a convincing method to all in the local vocal Labour group.


Somedays you are the tree, somedays you are the pissing Islington man

I’M tellin’.. EMILY Thornberry, you said ‘piss’ in the House of Commons.

She was quoting a councillor in Islington, but she still said ‘piss’ in questions to Transport Minister Theresa Villiers yesterday. Because in Islington, the House was told, men ‘piss’ against everything. It’s recorded in Hansard forever more.

THORNBERRY: Crossrail is currently building a huge new station at Farringdon, which we welcome. However, will the Minister join me in urging Crossrail to build some toilets at Farringdon station? As Councillor Charalambous so eloquently put it:“They are causing years of inconvenience to local residents and businesses—this is the least they can do. At the end of the day, men piss against everything around here — inevitably they’ll be pissing in their stations and they won’t like it.”

VILLIERS: I am sure the hon. Lady will be aware that the redevelopment of Farringdon station involves Crossrail and Thameslink. It is going to be an exceptionally busy and important station after that and there will be toilet facilities. It is intended that those facilities will be provided in the London underground aspect as part of the Thameslink upgrade, so Crossrail passengers

Baroness Jackson?

Chris Philp and Glenda Jackson

ALTHOUGH it would have been a bigger story if the headine read: ‘Glenda: I’m standing for Parliament again – aged 80’, the front page of this week’s Ham & High nicely stokes the debate over what happens next. Nobody is blind to the fact that boundary changes could significantly change the game in what is now Glenda Jackson’s Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. The guessing game is over how the electoral map will be speared.

We all know Glenda won’t be part of the contest herself, she has for a long time now made no secret of the fact she’s on her final term at the Commons and will retire undefeated at the ballot box. But there are twists and turns ahead, as all of the parties decide who will queue up on the starting line when we all vote next. The Telegraph muses wickedly about Fiona Millar standing for Labour here– a common pub discussion over the last year. If Fiona thinks she’s too old, as the Tel suggests, what must she think of Glenda soldiering on for 18 years?

But there are questions too about the identity of the Conservative and Lib Dem candidates for Hampstead and [Kilburn, St John’s Wood, Westminster North, Barnet, who knows?] and the strength of their campaigns. I have a stock question for Chris Philp whenever I see him: will you stand again? He always replies that he’d love to – he loves Hampstead – but he wants to see the map of the constituency before making any commitments. After all, he is due a winnable seat from Tory HQ. The Lib Dems must also think about how they can repeat the gung ho challenge they put up. Ed Fordham’s third place belied how close he was, but it will surely be tougher next time out?

The Ham & High ponders what Glenda might do next: she suggests travel and hobbies. But I’m more interested in the newspaper’s leader’s column which comes up with a new suggestion:

One thing does seem clear. Mr [Frank] Dobson will not be standing again, having signalled even before the 2010 election was over that should he retain the seat, it would be his Parliamentary swansong. Predictably, another of our MPs, Glenda Jackson, has confirmed her intention not to stand again. Between them, they will have served their constituents for almost 60 years by the time they retire. Seats in the upper house surely beckon.

Baroness Jackson? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. She’s always given off the impression to me that she’s scournful of the unelected nature of the upper house. In fact, she has voted for reform and against hereditary peers taking their places. If she did move to the Lords, she would have to go there chiming that groaning, less than impressive argument: I’m going to change it from within. I’m not sure Glenda would feel comfortable with that old chestnut. We’ll see.

A headteacher’s letter

THERE was the most dignified and thoughtful of short responses from Jenny Stephen, headteacher at South Hampstead School, in response to press coverage in The Sunday Times about one of her students. I think people connected with the school are still wondering why a tragedy so raw featured in a Sunday columnist’s piece about parenting:. The head obviously felt the following point needed to be made.

India Knight’s article in last week’s edition of The Sunday Times saw fit to name a 14 year-old who committed suicide at the school of which I am proud to be headmistress, and appeared to use that tragic episode as a justification for her own style of parenting. It is difficult to convey the anger and distress this article caused among girls, staff, parents and all those who know this school, and those who know the truth about the truly lovely and superbly parented girl in question. Jenny Stephen.

You look like a man

From today’s New Journal

Schiavone has won the French Open... but Twitter says there something more important about her

AS a country, we only have two jokes about sport. All Manchester United fans live in Surrey, and Andy Murray is British in victory but Scottish in defeat. 

Every year these jokes are repeated again and again and again. Are you not bored?

I say, I say, I say, those Manchester United fans didn’t have too far to go home when they lost the Champions League at Wembley. Back to Surrey. 

Sometimes the joke is varied in the words used to tell it, but the essence of the joke is the same.

See that Olympic stadium, they should have given it to the team who has the most fans living nearby. Yeah, Manchester United. Ha, yeah, put that on a sketch show on BBC Three.

This exploration of boredom is, however, harmless compared with the attempts at humour that have infected the joke forum that is Twitter since Wimbledon served off on Monday. 

Scratch the word joke there.

As each female tennis player who isn’t perfectly bronzed and blonde has hit the court, tweeters have ruled with prolific regularity: You look like a man.

Venus Williams. Man. Her sister. Man. The one that Venus played in the first round. Man. The one Serena played in the first round. Not a man – she got nice hair, she gorgeous, she nice, look at her, she nice.

Take Francesca Schiavone.

Not the world’s greatest player, albeit a French Open winner, but her matches are generally lit up by her imaginative point-building, leaps across the court and impossible slice shots. None of that matters to Twitter – ie you flawlessly beautiful people watching at home. No, to you: Schiavone – looks like a man.

Here’s a sample of this cruel train of messages:

• ”It’s true that Schiavone looks like a man, but at least that man is Scott Baio.”

• “Schiavone looks like Samir Nasri.”

• “I just wanna watch Murray – and Schiavone looks like a man.”

• “She looks like a man and is actually quite hideous to look at.”

You wonder if the people on the keyboards and the phones are actually quite hideous to look at. It’s doubtful whether Schiavone or any of the others will shed tears. She’s got a big, fast car which she drives around Italy, feeling good. The twitterers, in contrast, have an iPhone with a cracked screen. But that’s not the point. Over a half decade, it’s almost become acceptable to wheel out the “you look like a man” joke as often as Man United fans come from Surrey.

Once we accept that such meanness is ok, just a laugh, it infects life beyond sport and computer messages. Next week the girl in the park just trying to hit a few shots across the net, well, she’ll look like a man too.

Twitter: you look like a man, a big ugly man.

A toffee tribute to our Beryl?

IS this an internet wind-up, is somebody hokey-cokeying up the Everton Football Club online shop… or has the free-school sponsoring team really named its new range of training tops after famous scousers? See the online catalogue as it appears on screen: you can buy an Arthur Askey cotton mix training t-shirt and a Leonard Rossiter 1/4 zip pre-match warm-up sweatshirt. You can also buy a sexy Cattrall (Kim) sleeveless training top. And there’s also apparently a nod to a writer who seemed to love her adopted home in Camden Town more than the place of her birth, Dame Beryl Bainbridge. She was honoured by the Booker Prize foundation posthumously – why not by the Toffees too?

Sunday review #2: Frank’s council flat.. again; Corbett woz ere

Sunday June 19, 2011

*CLICK click click.. the news cycle officially clicked around another full circle this week as we were back with ‘Frank Dobson lives in a council flat’ this week. Every couple of years this has come up since the council bought up Dobson’s home in the late 1970s. This week, the Daily Mail and others pointed out private rental places he could live in with his family wage. Labour supporters in Camden say he doesn’t help himself, and we can all think of people desperate for help on the waiting list for social housing. I’m sure Frank would remind his critics that he has been a friend to council tenants over the years, opposing his own party’s policies sometimes to stand with the Defend Councill Housing campaign group. If he was going to move flats, he would have done so by now. And more interestingly if he was going to be evicted, wasn’t the best chance when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were in charge of Camden? After all, Dobson has a second home in Yorkshire (you don’t think that accent comes from West Ham, do you?) and this would have put him in line for a proposed ‘two homes and your out’  policy. There were sharp words from Chris Naylor, the then Lib Dem housing chief, but did that administration lose its nerve in the end? It was fun to call Dobson “two pads Dobbo”, but nothing changed.

* Josie Hinton’s exclusive investigation into two men who were mistakenly buriedin a municipal grave, the plots known as ‘pauper’s graves’ used for people leaving no next of kin or funds to pay for a funeral, was important but disturbing reading. It is hard to be believe that such mistakes can be made, it is hard to imagine what it must be like to be told your relative has been buried without you knowing – even though you only live around the corner. At the time, these mistakes were discovered Barry Sullivan, a community volunteer at the Camden Town Neighbourhood Advice Centre, had to give consent for his friend, Fred Newman, to be exhumed as well. Mr Newman was at the top of the grave, which contained six coffins. I remember his distress. He had promised ‘Freddie’, who didn’t have anybody else to help, he would do all he could for him and felt in an impossible position. He just wanted Freddie to rest in peace. No longer with us, Barry shouldn’t have had to go through that.

* As the argument over whether or not it’s hypocritcal to protect Bansky’s grafitti while prosecuting famous taggers goes on (for almost as long as Frank Dobson’s council house thing), here’s something from @heardinLondon on Twitter. Frame it or find the vandals, the Two Ronnies woz ere.