BANK is a four-letter word – The Great Sheffield Sell-Off

I don’t watch much commercial television but I’m not a snob. It’s not that I am particularly high-brow but any time I see a tv commercial for a bank, or a payday lender, or a gambling website, I always give them the same verbal tag:

“FUCK OFF!”

The same applies when I walk the streets:

[Sees an advert for Barclays Bank]

“FUCK OFF!”

[Sees an advert for Coral Betting]

“FUCK OFF!”

etc…

Sometimes at home, if I’m frantically checking the likes on my “brilliant” Facebook posts, I might miss one during an ad break but the missus usually fills in for me.

Imagine my reaction when a local business posted a photo (I am sure in good faith, and so shall remain nameless) on Facebook of this gigantic banner on the side of Sheffield central library with the caption “Whoever wrote this, please take a bow…” They have since edited their caption and I didn’t take a screenshot, so my quotation might not be word-perfect, but I shared the post with this caption:

This advert seems to have divided Sheffield with people both loving and hating it, but I cannot understand how anyone could be enthused by such blatant corporate appropriation. I have come across this myopic positivity-cult many times before, people who seem incapable of seeing through a shallow and cynically manipulative charm offensive. The only reason for them to “take a bow” is for how they have managed to successfully massage the egos of the locals.

Let me be clear, all the people and things referred to in the advert are good things, great things (so don’t bother trolling), but let’s not be too hasty in congratulating some twat sitting in a cereal bar in Hoxton, googling “Sheffield” on his fucking MacBook Air, all in service to the most toxic brand on Earth.

All great things but, fuck me, I am sick to death of the whole of Sheffield being boiled (see what I did there?) down to Jarvis, Steel and Henderson’s-fucking-Relish. I am informed that HSBC has vomited up similar wikipedia-based cross-references in other cities. What’s more, it seems I am not the only grumpy bastard that takes exception.
https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/qvyde5/your-city-is-not-a-brand

My response is above.

Half the world seems to oblivious to the creeping ubiquity of advertising and corporate branding. I worked in the Department of Planning in Rotherham 1984-1995 but I’m a long time out of the loop, so I am no longer familiar with town planning legislation or the decision making processes, but it seems that every last piece of public property is up for sale, with “Sponsor this site” appearing on roundabouts, dual-carriageways and green spaces. In 2017, two gigantic advertising screens were built on Park Square roundabout to advertise at drivers. There was a time when something so distracting would not have been allowed on a public highway, but maybe it doesn’t matter any more, traffic in Sheffield is only one milk-float away from total gridlock, and you can’t get up enough speed on the ring road to kill anyone these days, so maybe it’s not so dangerous anymore.

“FUCK OFF!”

Sorry, I was just imagining approaching Park Square roundabout and giving my instinctive greeting to the giant LED screen. Here is my Facebook post the day after I first saw them active.

And another thing…

Advertisements

Theresa May is no Margaret Thatcher (there is no alternative) #SyriaStrikes @theresa_may @Conservatives

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” William Pitt The Younger

It might surprise you to read this, but I’m almost nostalgic for Margaret Thatcher. At least she had the sense to wage war in some shithole in the South Atlantic that no-one had heard of or cared about. What’s more, it didn’t risk escalating into a wider conflict, and only 1,000 dead, most of them Argies.

What’s more, it took six weeks for the warships to get there, allowing ample time for a feeding frenzy of speculation and propaganda to keep the parasites of British media in boozy lunches for a while longer.

Even neoliberal spook Tony Blair achieved more than May, ignoring a public protest against the invasion of Iraq of a million mostly white people, leading to the deaths of a similar number of mostly brown people, and damaging the reputation of socialism by smearing it with the shit stains of “New Labour” and damaging the UK Labour Party’s reputation so much that it will be seen as irrelevant for a generation.

Both top-level gaming.

And then the rot set in with David Cameron. Sure, he was all gung ho for destroying Libya, along with the US (as always) and France, but to what end? Before you know it, the Royal Navy has to start picking up “migrants” in the Mediterranean, desperately trying to “migrate” to Europe. Not because they think Europe is in any way better, but at least it’s not a war zone, and before you know it, they’re “coming over ‘ere, stealing our jobs”.

Fail.

And now Theresa May, with the Margaret Thatcher makeover, and the thousand-yard stare, and the media-trained platitudes. I doubt Maggie would have let Trump hold her hand, never mind suck his cock. But Theresa is no Iron Lady, just a rusty old battle-axe.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/14/theresa-may-britain-air-strikes-syria-chemical-weapons-raf

10 things I learned when I stopped watching BBC News. FYI @BBCNews CC @PeterBoneUK #FuckTheBBC #FuckTheTories

I stopped watching BBC News on or about 8th April 2013 after Margaret Thatcher died and the most critical thing that they said about her was that she was “controversial”. I grew up in South Yorkshire, and on that day I realised that people like me, and the people I grew up with, and pretty much anyone outside the home counties are unrepresented by BBC News.

And so, in classic click-bait stylee, here are the 10 things I have learned in the past five years, after I stopped watching or listening to BBC News, Newsnight, Daily Politics or BBC Radio 4‘s embarrassingly awful Today Programme.

1. London is not the only city in England.
2. England is not the only kingdom in the United Kingdom.
3. The United Kingdom is not the only country in the world.
4. The United Kingdom is not a democracy.
5. The royal family is not an asset to the people of the United Kingdom.
6. The Commonwealth is not a common wealth.
7. “Migrant” is synonymous with “refugee”.
8. Snow is still a headline news story even though it happens every winter in the UK and there are plenty of other news stories.
9. Journalism is dead.
10. Margaret Thatcher was an apologist for fascists and corporate greed, and a protector of paedophiles, necrophiliacs and child murders.

THIS IS IMPORTANT. Crowd-funding in The Public Interest @SheffCityNigel

This is Nigel Slack and he is a man that I trust, at a time when we need them most. Nigel (aka The Public Interest) is crowd-funding to support his continued campaigning & scrutinising of local politics and institutions. He is an independent, non-party political activist, working to represent the people of Sheffield at a time when our faith in the integrity and competence of our institutions is at an all-time low.

Nigel has been working in this capacity on our behalf for five years, in his own time and at his own expense, but we all need to eat. And pay rent. And pay the bills. Here is his appeal and a link to make a contribution.
https://thepublicinterestsheffield.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/appeal-for-your-help.html

As a rule, I don’t contribute to crowd-funded projects, I’m a hard sell when it comes to giving out money because, since 2008, I don’t have any. Not literally none, but nowhere near enough to give it to all the deserving causes that I see on my social media every day, and so I’m very picky.

I am making a small, monthly contribution and I urge you to do the same. Even if it is only a few pounds a month, or just a pound a month, with enough contributors, it all adds up and Nigel can continue to represent us in all those balls-aching meetings that we don’t want to go to.

The Public Interest is on Facebook here:
https://www.facebook.com/The.Public.Interest.Nigel.Slack/
And Nigel is on Twitter here:
@SheffCityNigel

Please contribute, so that rather than scratching a living serving you you Breakfast McMuffin™, or fulfilling your Amazon™ order of Game of Thrones™ box-sets, or cutting down healthy trees, he will be available to attend Council meetings, give advice and be an independent representative for the people of Sheffield.

Park Hill: administrative evil and the scandal that keeps on giving #ParkHill #Sheffield #Milgrams37

A year or two ago, a friend posted a comment on Facebook that she was going to be interviewed on local radio and did anyone have suggested answers to the question “What would you do if you won the Lottery?”. I replied “I’d buy Park Hill and convert it into social housing”. She chose suggestions a bit more warm and fuzzy, but that is what I would have said, had I been asked.
But no-one would ask me that question because no-one wants to hear that answer. I have already been quite outspoken about Sheffield City Council’s and Urban Splash’s failure to complete the redevelopment of Park Hill, its gentrification and also the inappropriateness of the proposed change of use of part of it to artists’ spaces when there are people sleeping in tents and doorways within its own curtilage. You can read my original post here:
https://votepleb.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/everything-of-value-has-been-removed-from-this-property-the-scandal-that-is-park-hill-parkhill-sheffield/

On Saturday 30th September 2017, I attended the opening of an art exhibition in a recently reclaimed car park, overlooked by the Duke Street wing of Park Hill that is earmarked to be converted into artists’ spaces for S1 Artspace.
http://www.s1artspace.org/

I spoke at some length with Mark Latham, the Development Manager for Urban Splash, and he was very polite to me, as I was to him, but I tried to press him on certain issues about the development, including the change-of-use of part of the site, the lack of completion of the housing units and the effective social-cleansing caused by the pricing of the new units.
http://www.urbansplash.co.uk/about-us/people/directors/mark-latham

I am sure he has had a lot of stick over the years and is used to it, and he handled me pretty well, but much of what he said amounted to “we don’t have the money”, “ooh yes, neoliberalism is a bad thing” and “ but what can we do?”. It was like punching bag of feathers and, being an admirer of Gandhi (although I am not strictly a pacifist), that is the only punching I approve of these days.

One question Latham didn’t answer was when I asked him will the rest of the dwelling units really be finished by 2022 (the current predicted finish date, confirmed by him). I’m no developer of property but there looks like a lot to be achieved in only another five years.
However, the failure of this redevelopment is written large across the skyline of Sheffield city centre, and this is an example of what Guy Adams referred to as “administrative evil”. Sound excessive, I know, but Adams, and Philip Zimbardo (the designer of the Harvard Prison Experiment) have written and spoken widely about “technical rationalism”, that is, the retreat from ethical decision-making to rule-based abdication of responsibility.

An early version of Guy Adams’ book is available online as a PDF:
The book is here:
https://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/SearchResults?bsi=0&ds=20&sortby=17&tn=Unmasking+Administrative+Evil&prevpage=2

Also look up Stanley Milgram’s infamous experiment where he found that 37 out of 40 people will continue to follow instructions, even if they believe it to be causing genuine, physical distress to another person.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

There is a lot more to say about this and I will elaborate more on administrative evil in subsequent posts.

I also asked Latham if he had seen the recent documentary “Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle” (2017 Velvet Joy Productions & 215 Productions) but he had not heard of it.
https://www.dispossessionfilm.com/
https://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/dispossession-the-great-social-housing-swindle

I was at the screening of this film at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield on 25th July 2017 and, although it is not featured in the film, Park Hill got a mention during the Q&A. I did not get the impression that Latham is a dishonest person, and I’m sure he would have acknowledged the documentary if he had heard of it, but I left feeling deeply unsatisfied with his brushing off and his nothing-we-can-do attitude.

I’m afraid it’s not good enough and it’s not true either.

If Urban Splash wanted to do something about the 600-or-so housing units that have been rendered uninhabitable (in order to prevent them being squatted), they could do something. Maybe they could could temporarily convert 20 or 30 of them into basic living units for nothing more than getting those unsightly rough sleepers out of Primark’s doorway, or those pesky people sleeping in tents and spoiling the hipsters’ view from their bijou flats. If they have no money (which I don’t believe), maybe Latham and the other employees of Urban Splash could take a pay cut to fund it? Or maybe they could borrow money? With the Bank of England’s base rate at 0.25%, surely they could get a pretty cheap loan? But maybe their business is not sound enough to be a good risk, remember what happened last time the banks lent money to the sub-prime sector.

Or maybe the City Council could borrow the money, like they did to build a new office block for HSBC.

Last but not least, maybe Urban Splash could sell one of their assets, rather like our local authorities are required to do, in order to fund the completion of the Park Hill redevelopment? Silly me, in a neoliberal world, as Noam Chomsky put it, profit is privatised and risk socialised, so why should a business that bought an asset for a song, subsidise the undeserving poor? It is easy to forget that private businesses get the benefit of socially-funded infrastructure all the time. Healthy, educated workers are the product of the publicly funded National Health Service, and publicly-funded schools and their goods are transported on publicly-funded roads.

However, in Thatcher’s Britain “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” Or, these days, it might be more accurate to paraphrase – “there is no such thing as society. There are individual shareholders and vice-chancellors, and there are corporations”.

But what can we do? I have asked myself that question over and over for years and the answer became obvious, eventually – do something. However, this immediately leads to a further question – do what?

My income halved in 2008 but I can still find a few pounds a month to donate to Sheffield’s Cathedral Archer Project, a non-religious charity supporting homeless and vulnerable people. I also volunteer for them, and in the past have volunteered for Sheffield HARC (homeless and rootless at Christmas) and contributed to the Sheffield Homeless Shoebox Appeal.

Maybe Urban Splash could volunteer staff for the Archer Project’s breakfast club, where local businesses help cook and serve food for the clients. Maybe they already have and I have no doubt that the staff of Urban Splash, their executives and their shareholders do lots of good things that I am unaware of. But they have still failed to achieve the really important thing that needs achieving.

Tonight, Friday 13th October 2017, I will be sleeping out in the streets of Sheffield as part a fundraising and awareness-raising event for the Cathedral Archer Project, organised by the Academy of Chief Executives. Maybe the chief executive of Urban Splash will be there. Maybe the chief executive of Sheffield City Council. As Mark Latham can tell them, they probably don’t want to sleep next to me.
https://chiefexecutive.com/sheffieldcityregion/
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/overnight-sleep-out-raising-money-for-cathedral-archer-project-tickets-33614510907?aff=ebdsorderfblightbox

But this event is not going to get anyone off the street, is it? Maybe not directly, and neither is the venting of my self-righteous, middle-class spleen, but it is doing something. And if I do a little bit, and another person does a little bit, and lots of other people do a little bit, then it can add up to a lot. But I’m a nobody. I can give a little bit of money and wash up in the Archer Project’s kitchen, but I don’t have enough influence to make a big enough difference, and this is where institutions, corporations and the wealthy need to break out of their apathetic moral torpor, and put their money where the hungry mouths are.

I know it all sounds very melodramatic but I grew up in this area and have been coming to Sheffield my whole life I have never witnessed this widespread homelessness and rough-sleeping in Sheffield until the last few years. Something is very rotten in the state of England and Mark Latham and the other decision makers, executives and shareholders at Urban Splash, along with the councillors and council officers at Sheffield City Council, need to examine their consciences and ask themselves are they one of thirty-seven or one of three?

CHOOSE LIES – @theresa_may @number10gov #B2 #Brexit #1997 #ChooseLies

_90377226_bbc_may
Photo: BBC
Choose lies. Choose three jobs. Choose no career. Choose a divorce. Choose a really, really, really fucking big television, Choose auto-telling machines, coffee salons, artisan beers and self-service checkouts. Choose private healthcare, institutional cancer and dental veneers. Choose variable-rate private rentals. Choose a starter flat. Choose your competitors. Choose leisure wear made by children. Choose a corner suite on a payday loan in a range of fucking highly-flammable fabrics from non-EU countries. Choose PAYE and wondering where the fuck your Council tax went and all those fucking trees. Choose sitting on that Lay-Zee-Boy watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing talent shows, stuffing fucking calorie-counted, emulsified diet food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in an over-priced nursing home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up ministers you voted for to replace your lazy fucking conscience. Choose no future. Choose lies . . . And why would I not do a thing like that? I chose to choose lies: I chose nothing else. And the reason? There is no reason. Who needs reason when “brexit means brexit”?

Fiddling while Rome warms -or – Who needs trees when we have better value & greater choice?) #PostCompetence @sheffcitycouncil @SheffTreeAction @AmeyHallam

untitled-001

If you want to know what I think about the problems and solutions facing our environment, all you need to do is read two things, and they are both children’s stories. The first one is “The Lorax” (1971) by Dr. Seuss, and the other is “The Man Who Planted Trees” (1953) by Jean Giono. If you didn’t read them before your teenage years, you need to read them (or watch them) right now.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lorax
http://www.seussville.com/books/book_detail.php?isbn=9780394823379

http://www.idph.net/conteudos/ebooks/the_man_who_planted_trees.pdf

I am not a professional ecologist but, more recently, it only took the reading of one article to understand the value of trees, hedges and wildlife to protect urban areas from flooding. That article was written by George Monbiot in 2015. He has written about flooding and flood prevention on many more occasions and it turns out it’s not exactly rocket science.
http://www.monbiot.com/2015/12/08/a-storm-of-ignorance/

The issue of trees and the felling thereof is not a trivial matter, but a matter of life and death. Not only do they protect us from damaging winds and devastating floods, trees accommodate wildlife that is not catered for by any number of students flats or prestigious retail developments. That wildlife that I am referring to is the birds and bees. Literally, the birds and bees, and if you do not know about the significance of the interdependence of species then I suppose you must have never gone to school.

And that leads us directly back to Sheffield City Council. If those people in the Council do not acknowledge how dangerous the situation is, they should be removed from office immediately. They have either been financially motivated or they are simply not competent to make decisions that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

It actually made it into the pages of The Guardian that there is a battle raging between Amey, one of the Council’s private contractors, and the people of Sheffield over the cutting down of trees. Amey is cutting down trees that are potentially going to interfere with their road works and hence it is cheaper for them to remove the trees rather than repair any damage.
It even made it onto The One Show on 2nd January 2017.

Facile dummies like Councillor Bryan Lodge and Leader of the Council Julie Dore should be removed from their posts immeditately and prosecuted for gross misconduct. People who are demonstrably unfit for their jobs need to be deprived of them. If either of them were remotely competent, they would have already resigned in protest of the conditions of the PFI contracts.

In reality, Amey is far more responsible for the erosion of Sheffield’s streets than all of our trees put together. Their negligence in repairing our roads has left many of them in such poor condition (the worst I have ever known in my lifetime) that it is necessary to slalom up and down Sheffield’s seven hills in order to protect your vehicle from being battered by the potholes. Recently, I tweeted Amey asking if they would be issuing risk assessments for the roads, having just witnessed a child falling due to stepping in a pothole deep enough to be a trip hazard. That’ll show ‘em.

This is an example of the “better value” and “greater choice” that we were promised by privatisation that was just a lie, all the way back to Margaret-fucking-Thatcher.
It’s a mire of misinformation, but the real issue is not about maintaining house prices, or preserving “a bit of greenery” for kurbside appeal, it is about maintaning a functional ecosystem, without which we, and our children will be dead.

Unfortunately, I suspect Amey employs more accountants than ecologists and I have no doubt that the local authority has either failed to, or been prevented from, providing adequate oversight of their contract. Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts are not subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and as such we don’t know what they are or are not required to do or what they get paid for it.

I believe many people are truly ignorant of environmental issues and the threat that they hold to us and our descendants. I recently attended a demonstration outside Barclays Bank in central Sheffield protesting them to cease funding hydraulic fracture mining (fracking). There weren’t many people there, and I noticed that those giving out leaflets mostly bypassed me. I think it was because I was dressed in all black workwear, rather than the ethically-sourced, rainbow-painted gear adorning most of the others. Don’t take that the wrong way, I have nothing against the hippies, but I think they probably thought I was the official police informer.

Not a very good one, apparently, but it belies a more significant issue. It seems that the majority of the population, including the hippies, see environmental issues as something that only tree-huggers and militant vegans care about, and the lentil-weavers and yummy-mummies don’t think that those of us that are none of those things can still understand the problems.
And they’re right.

Most people do not understand ecological destruction as the existential threat that it is, far more than evil migrants stealing their jobs or bomb-making jihadis in every corner shop. And a lot of them just don’t give a fuck, although they will once they have to buy their drinking water from Nestlé.

I am seriously worried about my own future, and I am only expecting to live another 30 years or so. But anyone younger than me, and especially anyone with children, needs to get their shit together on this. It is a dangerous delusion to think that we can just keep eroding the environment and that technology will save us because it fucking won’t. The precedent is quite the opposite. We already have a shit ton of amazing technology that has done nothing to protect our environment.

You won’t hear about it on the BBC but Fukushima has been dumping hundreds of tons of radioactive-contaminated water into the pacific ocean for years and there is currently no solution to the problem. In another 10 or 20 years, there will be nothing left alive between Japan and the US.

Apart from Godzilla, of course.

I do not wish it, but maybe if London is badly flooded, or some of the plutocrats actually lose money, or Theresa May’s leather trousers get water-damaged, then maybe we will get some meaningful action. In the meantime, get angry, get active and do not take “but what can I do?” for a fucking answer from your local representatives

Never mind post-truth, this is the age of post-competence #TheresaMay #Brexit

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-20-59-12

Poor cow, I almost feel sorry for Theresa May. So desperate was she to get the premiership that she grabbed the most poisoned chalice since the Poll Tax, and betrayed all her barely discernible principles in the process. We should coin a phrase for this kind of infantile hubris; instead of “selling out” we should refer to it as “Clegging Up”.

Brexit is the most bone-headed act of mutual self-destruction since the appeasement of Hitler. I understand there are very strong emotions on both sides, but it must be clear to anyone with a brain larger than a walnut that we’re already getting fucked and it’s only going to get worse, and no-one knows what to do about it.

Except just stop it, that is, seeing as Article 50 has not been triggered and the referendum is not legally binding and it should be debated by parliament and blah, blah, blah (just add any of the other stuff us liberal-elite, unpatriotic remoaners keep banging on about).

It’s perfectly clear that there is not one person in our entire government who is remotely qualified, experienced or capable of managing such an unimagined contingency. What’s more, our government and parliament is largely (not completely) comprised of uneducated imbeciles. Sounds like a cheap, ad-hominem insult, I know, but in which other profession could a middle-aged person, with any degree of professional confidence or ethical credibility, move from a senior job in finance to a similarly pivotal role in the health sector? Or education, or defence, or social welfare? Quite a common occurrence among ministers in British government.

The British parliamentary system not only celebrates delusional, aspirational folly but also handsomely rewards any amount of corruption, misconduct and incompetence.

We now have a Prime Minister who actually said “brexit means brexit.”

In public. To the press. No, really, and we think Trump is an idiot.

Imagine if I went to work and a client asked me what audio-visual (AV) tech I was going to provide to achieve the required results, and I said “AV is as AV does.” I would be dismissed on the spot, but the British parliamentary system requires no such competence, actual or perceived.

When I was of school age, we used to tease each other by pretending we knew an embarrassing secret about another child but refusing to say what it was. Another technique was to start telling some tale and then abruptly stop and say “never mind, you wouldn’t believe me”. Both childish ruses, of course, to pretend some superior knowledge or advantage, and founded on nothing.

Rather like the government’s refusal to give details about its brexit negotiations. Most of us left that sort of behaviour in the playground but Theresa May is so immured in her Thatcher-a-like folly, she can neither recognise nor accept her own impotence. In a move reminiscent of the so-called Darwin Awards, which awards trophies to those whose acts of stupidity remove them from the gene pool, a woman that could countenance the appointment of Boris Johnson to Foreign Secretary has already selected herself for political extinction.

nazti-party-graphics-018
A bunch of Johnny Foreigners ignoring Spooky May.

I must admit, I had lost my mojo a bit over the weekend and failed to come up with a satisfactory Playbolam™ for the 18th, although I did have a few ideas, and failed to get it published on time. However, I was saved by the doorbell and the arrival, the following day,  of a few carefully chosen bits and bobs direct from Playmobil themselves.
http://playbolam.wordpress.com/
http://playmobil.co.uk/

Under the section of their online shop listed as “Last chance to buy”, I couldn’t resist the price reduced pink unicorn at £1.75, although I was not sure what use I would have for it. But as soon as I unpacked it, I could see Spooky May riding it as a symbol of Brexit, accompanied by a few kippers.

nazti-party-graphics-019
Agent “Spooky” May, the licensed snooper, now leader of the Nazti Party.

Seems so obvious now.

My own inaction was partly inspired by the sheer tyranny of choice, with so many easy targets for anger, frustration and downright incredulity at the sprawling omnishambles that is the British parliamentary system.

I see no future for Britain whilst such incompetence is tolerated. All MPs should be dismissed and re-elected, but employed on proper contracts of employment and overseen by an independent standards body that has the power to remove them from office and, if need be, prosecute them.

Until genuine oversight is applied to those in public office whose decisions affects the lives of others, there is no future but fascism, and we are destined to be lead by the very least among us.

Great Exhibition of (What’s Left of) The North – or – Fuck you, I won’t like what you tell me #GXN #GEN #GreatExhibitionOfTheNorth

the_end5600pix
No credit given, but I found it here: http://www.wepsite.de/the_end5600pix.jpg

In April last year, I attended an evening event entitled “Everything’s Better in the North” where we endured a series of presentations by residents of Sheffield telling other residents of Sheffield about how good Sheffield is. All good people, and if you were one of those presenters (and you know who you are) please do not be offended. But I don’t need to spend two hours of my life being told that everything is going to be alright when it’s abundantly clear that it’s not.

I grew up here. Not in Sheffield itself, but in this area, and I have been coming into the city regularly for my whole life. I didn’t move to live here until 2003 but I have spent almost all of my adult life living and working in the Sheffield city region.

The speaker from Sheffield City Council did the usual thing of claiming Sheffield is well placed, amongst other things, by being next door to the Peak District, and I grew up believing that the Peak District was a special place, but I was wrong.

The Peak District is an artificially-maintained, ruined landscape. Before the Middle Ages, the whole area was forest. In fact, pretty much all of Britain was forest until it was cleared for the purposes of farming, burning, or to build ships for war and colonisation. That might seem like a long time ago but in geological terms, a few hundred years is not even the blink of an eye. In ecological terms, however, it is plenty of time to fuck up our environment.

IMG_9204
Name those dystopias.

Moorland is a stunted wilderness, maintained barren by what George Monbiot refers to as the great white plague. That is, sheep. There is nothing natural nor beautiful about grouse moors. They are a barren wasteland, maintained as such as a playground for the undeserving rich and we should not be celebrating that fact.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/16/grouse-shooters-kill-first-casualty-is-truth-astroturfing-botham-rspb-packham

I, too, love living in Sheffield, but where I fall out of line with many of the people who are active in the creative, business and marketing sectors is that I do not subscribe to what I would characterise as an destructively uncritical positivity-cult.

Somehow, it has become understood that to be critical is to be negative, and anything other than unfettered enthusiasm is disloyal to our home city. But someone needs to talk about the uncomfortable truths and, in the absence of any other willing soul, that someone is me.

These days, Sheffield is a shit-hole. It’s sacrilege to say so, I know, and it’s getting worse. Not all of it, of course, and there is plenty to be proud of, but also there is plenty here that we should objecting to, rather than celebrating.

Our roads are in the worst state of repair as at any point in my lifetime, homelessness is now as commonplace in Sheffield as it used to be as a cliché in London, public services are being eroded at the same time as banks and corporations are making record profits, wages are falling and employment opportunities are reducing. Publicly owned land is being sold off to corporations, and town planning control has been eviscerated to the point where we are witnessing the most poorly planned and brutal urban redevelopment since the 1960s.

IMG_9294
The Moor Market.
IMG_9295
PRIMARK!
IMG_9299
The Moor Market.
IMG_9297
Fitzalan Square, the heart of Sheffield’s vibrant financial sector.

Interesting times, and unless we do something about it, there is worse to come.

But now the Conservative government has offered the carrot of funding for The Great Exhibition of the North. The stick, of course, is not critcising the most corrupt and incompetent government in British history.

Having watched the promotional video, representing Sheffield’s bid and featuring University of Sheffield’s Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Chair of Museums Sheffield, Kim Streets and director of Sheffield Theatres Daniel Evans, I understand their dilemma and I sympathise. Although that is no compensation for their vacuous complicity.

Kim Streets enthuses about the “great spaces” available for the exhibition whilst standing in the Millennium Gallery, but fails to mention how many staff have been laid off by Museums Sheffield in the past few years due to austerity-led funding cuts, or the shortened opening hours of these great spaces. Professor Vanessa even has the disingenuous hubris to use the term “Northern Powerhouse”, having fully absorbed and regurgitated the Tory propaganda. She’s a highly-qualified academic and social historian and should know better.

Five million pounds sounds like a lot of money and like it would do the region some good, but it’s not. Not only is it a tiny amount, given the size of “The North”, but if the aim of the exhibition is to celebrate what we have, or what we achieved in the past, it belies the elephant in the region.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/competition-opens-to-host-great-exhibition-of-the-north

That is, what we have lost.

Arts and cultural activities are, mostly, the indulgences of the middle classes, and a large proportion of the population (the same people who regularly receive nothing from arts and cultural funding) will receive nothing of value from money spent on exhibitions, craft classes, seminars and walking tours.

The disenfranchised of Sheffield and “The North” will not be re-enfranchised by the enthusiasms of academics, administrators and curators. Nor will they benefit from the fees paid to accountants, solicitors and technicians, employed to enable such a celebration.

And the so-called “legacy fund” of £15 million for the whole of “The North” is little more than the retirement package of now-retired Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) chief Fred Goodwin (real name, honest).
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/feb/12/uk-banks-expected-to-pay-out-5bn-pounds-in-bonuses

Maybe some of that money could be used to repair the roads in “The North”, or maybe the PFI corporations charged with the task are restoring them back to their pre-tarmac days by uncovering all the cobbles and setts of yesteryear.

IMG_9300
A61, the main southbound A road in Sheffield.
IMG_9301
Gleedless Road. Last week, I saw a toddler fall in this pothole, it is so deep.

The problem I see with this kind of festival (and I have worked on, and been to, many of them) is that it will be primarily comprised of activities of consumption and distraction, created by middle-class people, for middle-class people and selected & funded by middle-class people. Artisan bread and carbon-neutral circuses.

But we could say no.

Conditions here in “The North” are now worse than at any other point in my lifetime and pretending that everything is going to be alright is a deluded fantasy. Rather than singing “God save the Queen”, we should be singing “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”.

That might seem angry but this is what I grew up on:

For many years, a regular sight in Sheffield city centre was a man carrying a banner, claiming “The End Is Nigh”. He always seemed a little out of place, wielding his melodramatic warning amid the thronging shoppers of Fargate.

But just the other day, walking along The Moor, Pinstone Street and Fargate was like one of the continuous follow-shots from Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” (2007), the streets lined with religious zealots, worn-out beggars and passive-aggressive chuggers, every one of them hussling for money and salvation.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_of_Men

The end was nigh, after all, although I didn’t know how nigh, and now I do know, the end is even nigher.

I never expected to be the angriest voice in the village during my own middle ages. But where is the protest? I was a young adult at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s but I do not see any of the anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian rebelliousness in young people today, just when we need it most. They seem to be too busy watching “Game of Thrones”, or playing Minecraft, or else whacked on energy drinks, too distracted to recognise what a sterile, debt-ridden dystopia they are growing up in.

There’s plenty of money about. Not in Sheffield, of course, but ask Google, ask Apple, ask Barclays or maybe even ask the Bank of England who conjured £375 billion of funny money in 2009 to support a group of businesses, supposedly too big to fail, whose operational practices are indistinguishable from organised crime.

And they did it again, only a few weeks ago. And it’s not working. Again.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/brexit-bank-of-england-qe-bonds-gilts-pensions-mark-carney-interest-rates-vat-a7182256.html

Lloyds Bank who have doubled their profits in the last year but are now laying off 3,000 staff and closing branches. No doubt a few in Sheffield and lots in “The North”.
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jul/28/lloyds-bank-to-axe-3000-jobs-and-close-200-branches

“Every day, we’re busy helping our millions of customers get to where they want to go in life. Lloyds TSB, for the journey.” Yeah, the journey to the local Job Centre Plus. God bless their crooked hearts.

We now live in a world of post-factual journalism, post-responsibility politics and post-competence institutions.

And this brings me back to the Great Exhibition of the North. The very name betrays a divisive cynicism only conceivable within the distorted mind of a Westminster-based “special adviser” to the most corrupt and destructive government in British history.

I genuinely apologise to anyone in Sheffield that I might have offended by suggesting that their endeavors are futile but, if it’s any consolation, I include my own. Especially in the creative & arts sectors, we have lied to ourselves for years that everything will be alright, and if we do this project or that job, or another exhibition for nothing or very little, it will lead to some sort of deferred future “success”.

But it didn’t, and there is no precedent to think it ever will.

The promised funding is nothing more than a bribe to keep “The North” quiet and those people who have contributed to the application should be ashamed of their complicity in such shallow and cynical manipulation.

And maybe the proposed date of the Great Exhibition of the North, summer 2018, is coincident with the proposed start of fracking operations in “The North”. Theresa May has just announced personal bribes for local residents affected by fracking.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/06/fracking-local-people-payments-theresa-may

I hardly think that such politically-savvy professionals will have missed the significance of the timing. I wonder if the Great Exhibition of the North will include an exhibit about unconventional gas extraction? Or the increase in homelessness? Or banking fraud? Or the 45% loss of invertebrate species in the past 35 years.
http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/vital-invertebrates-decline-by-45-per-cent-study-finds-9626745.html

I doubt it.

But an exhibition celebrating all the good things about “Not London” will seem pretty sick when your water has been poisoned and your house condemned due to earthquake-induced subsidence.

If Sheffield wins the bid, I’m sure The Great Exhibition of the North will be about much more than stainless steel, Park Hill and Henderson’s Relish (like most exhibitions in Sheffield are), but I hope the people involved will look beyond the end of their own suburban gardens and consider how to include those in our city and region that are unrepresented by middle-class professionals: those without homes, those without status and those without disposable income.

And in the meantime, I say fuck you, I won’t like what you tell me.

Rebooting Eden (build it and they will come) #Sheffield #Rooftop #Garden

Rebooting Eden graphics v1.001

I used to think that technology would set us free. But it didn’t. It simply served to enslave us to a treadmill of empty promises and planned obsolescence.

I used to think that if I worked hard, then I would be rewarded in proportion to that effort. But I was not. I worked harder and harder, and each time being offered less.

I used to think that art would save the world, but it hasn’t done so far and I’ve made a lot of art.

That’s why I took up gardening.

Have you noticed that they are no birds? Not literally zero, but when I was growing up, our suburban gardens were alive with sparrows, robins, blackbrids, great tits, blue tits, bullfinches, chaffinches and crows. But no more. When was the last time you saw a wild chaffinch? The only birds I see regularly in Heeley, Sheffield are magpies, and in the city centre; pigeons and occasionally starlings. And what do magpies, starlings and pigeons have in common?

They are all scavengers. They can live on human waste.

And why are there no birds? Because there are no insects. And why are there no insects? Because we humans have made our environment so sterile, so hostile to living things that not even common houseflies can survive.

And they live on shit.

Only a few weeks ago, I was at an outdoor festival in rural farmland, just outside Sheffield. I watched people spraying themselves with insect repellent. I didn’t bother, no need. There weren’t any any insects to repel.

I learned about the inter-dependency of species at junior school, before I was eleven. My parents took me to the Centre for Alternative Energy in Machynlleth, Wales when I was a pre-teen and I grew up under the misapprehension that everyone new about global warming and peak-oil (although I don’t remember that term from the 1970s), and I am ashamed to say that I just always thought that “we” would take care of it because “we” already knew about climate change, approaching resource scarcity and potential ecosystem collapse.
http://www.cat.org.uk/index.html

I was wrong, and now we are witnessing the greatest die-off of species since the dinosaurs looked up and said “What was that loud bang?”.

And it’s my fault as much as anyone else’s.

My parents still live nearby, in a dormitory village where I grew up, mostly populated by middle-class control-freaks. My mother told me about the recent chafer beetle saga scandalising their neighbours and how many of them have had their lawns pumped full of insecticide to combat the creeping terror that anything less than the green, green grass of home should exist outside their picture-windows.
https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=487

Sure enough, chafer beetles are a bit of a pest if you desire a perfectly manicured lawn, but they used to feed the swifts that nested in the eaves of my parents’ bungalow. But no longer.
A reported 80% die-off of bees is what either a professional ecologist or even a junior school student might characterise as A VERY BAD THING.

I’m sorry to confuse you with technical terms but this shit just got real.

Build it and they will come, so they say. Well, that is a paraphrase from the film “Field of Dreams” (1989 Philip Alden Robinson) in which a farm owner razes his crops to build a baseball diamond. Unfortunately, aspirational optimism, unlimited urban development and competitive sport are yet to save our ecosystem from its imminent collapse.

But I’m sure your get the point. Sure, build it and they will come, just make sure you build the right thing.

And here is the hope. Two years ago, we dug up our own lawn and planted vegetables. We didn’t have much of an agenda except a policy of growing food with no chemical fertilisers and no pesticides. That same year, we had wolf spiders mating in the insect garden I built, and bees in the neighbour’s tree.

I haven’t done a survey, but this year we have at least five different species of spider, four species of bee, along with weevils, mites, ants, butterflies and moths that were not present only two years ago. And that is in a cultivated garden.

Build it and they will come. And sure enough they did. All we had to do was not kill every living thing that moves on the earth.

And this is where I get to the point. I have volunteered to be the lead in a rooftop garden project at DINA Venue in Sheffield city centre. The idea is not my own, but I have put myself forward to be the hands and feet to make it happen.
http://dinavenue.com/

DINA is the old Cutler pub & Stardust bar on Cambridge Street (behind John Lewis). Friends of mine, Deborah and Malcolm, have negotiated use of the building on an indefinite basis until it is demolished, as part of the much-delayed retail redevelopment of Sheffield city centre. They (with the help of many volunteers) have reclaimed the building from the squatted squalor it was left in and made it into a usable venue again. On the second floor, there is a large, flat roof. It’s a sterile space, but is sheltered on all sides and has abundant light and pitched roofs on three sides for rain collection.

IMG_9214

The garden might be a one-year project or it might go on for several years. Whatever the timescale, we will be building an insect-friendly, zero-pesticide rooftop garden to foster wildlife and grow vegetables and flowers, and when it ends, the plants and resources will either be moved to a new location, or distributed to other gardens.

And this is where you come in. We have no money, and because there is no practical access for the general public, we are not likely to be eligible for any funding. So we need to beg, steal or borrow, well, everything. We need planters, water butts, garden tools, compost, seeds and soil to turn this nadir into a zenith.

Please get in touch if you have anything to contribute, no matter how modest. We will be gathering equipment and resources from now on, with a view to starting planting in February next year and a full growing season spring to autumn 2017. I’m a novice gardener and only in year two of my experience, but I’m taking advice from landscape professionals and experienced gardeners, and I am the go-to grunt on the job.

We hope that this project (and there are no doubt others) will be an awareness-raising focus for bio-diversity, sustainability and food quality, and will make a tangible contribution to fostering inner-city wildlife.

IMG_9217

There are those who believe in the “magic bullet” of some unspecified innovation that will happen at some unspecified point in the future that will solve all our problems. It hasn’t happened so far and there is no precedent to believe that it ever will. Innovation has brought us glyphosate, GMOs and factory farming. And now we have tasteless food, infertile crops and the decimation of our ecosystem.

I used to think that all the answers were in the future, but now I realise that they were already in the past.

Advanced technologies, ideological politics, complex financial instruments and even participatory art have, so far, proved worthless in avoiding our imminent demise, so let’s go old-school. We already have all the technologies and techniques needed to establish and maintain a sustainable environment that can feed and shelter everything and everyone. We just need to stop destroying and start rebuilding.

Build it and they will come. But make sure what you build is not a Primark the size of a castle, or a 20-storey ghetto for Chinese students, or a car park over a casino.

Build [a garden] and they will come [back].