Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The trouble with EC1

I've been meaning to deal with this for ages, but it's always been easier to focus on something else. Now that I think about it, I'm sure that's an attitude shared by many who currently hold positions of power at Islington council, even though I don't doubt for a second that they're all hardworking people.

My problem concerns the front door of the block of flats in which I live. Quite simply, the lock has been broken for nearly a year, which means that anyone who wants to come in off the street is free to do so. It's a boring, unglamorous problem, and one that the council finds easy to overlook in favour of more exciting (and completely worthy) projects such as recycling and 'community awareness'. But basic security and a sense of safety for the people who live on these estates surely has to rank as a fairly high priority for the council, when it is the council who actually owns the buildings in the first place.

Not so. The key words to notice above are "for nearly a year", and there's no sign of it being fixed any time soon. Why? A quick call to my local TMO revealed that all the repairs money for 2005 has already been spent, and they have no more to pay for a company to carry out the works until "some time next year". And that's the best they can offer, despite the dozens of phone calls and letters of complaint written by residents, despite all the little old ladies who live on their own in my block who are terrified of being mugged, and, worst of all, despite the fact that an armed robbery took place at a neighbouring estate just five minutes' walk down the road from mine last month. We're talking guns here, not slingshots.

As if all this weren't bad enough, we've got EC1 New Deal to contend with. What started out as a seemingly noble programme by Labour to bring much-needed funding and improvements to some of the most deprived council estates in Britain has now fallen prey to the twin perils of meeting targets and making profit. Both are bad news for council tenants.

A blurb on their website says that EC1 New Deal will see approximately 52.9 million pounds invested in the EC1 area between "now" (whenever it was written) and 2011, although it doesn't specify where exactly this money will be coming from. Last year we found out that a significant chunk of it was to come from us, the tenants. Put simply, the plan was to slap a 10,000-pound charge on every council household over the next five years, to help pay for "security and environmental upgrades."

Putting aside for a moment the fact that many on the estate plainly can't afford to shell out an extra 2,000 quid a year for the next five years, isn't the main issue here that these are council estates, and that the council tax we already pay is meant to cover upgrades such as these? Then again, if there isn't enough money to install a new door (apparently just fixing the lock is out of the question - the door's busted so badly they need a whole new one), obviously the money collected from the council tax isn't enough to cover our basic needs. Either that or it's going to the wrong places. Hmmm...

Member of the EC1 New Deal board met several weeks ago to cast a final vote on the controversial £10,000 fee, and by the looks of it, were genuinely surprised that more than six or seven meeting-junkies bothered to show up. There were easily over 100 people there that night, all of them furious. To be fair, the majority of the board were sympathetic to our cause, and they ended up voting to scrap the environmental fee altogether and reducing the security fee to £1,500, meaning a more manageable (but still annoying) £300 per household per year.

It means that I won't have to look for somewhere else to live, which is nice. But I sincerely hope that a portion of the money I do pay them will end up going towards essential repairs that have been neglected for months, such as my front door, rather than installing CCTV cameras all over the place. The buck has to stop somewhere, but with the council pasing on responsibility to the TMO, and the TMO claiming the council budget isn't big enough, and with most repair services contracted out to private firms, it isn't exactly clear where this is.

In the meantime, we wait. And with every loud BANG that rips through our flat and causes the entire block to tremble as someone lets the front door slam shut without thinking, we get more pissed off. I can't help but notice that Turnpike House, a mammoth estate just over on Goswell Road, has been completely shrouded in plastic and scaffolding since the spring, with no visible signs of progress being made. Has the money for that run out as well? I can't help thinking that if someone were to jump out of their 12th-storey flat out of sheer desperation (the construction company has kindly covered up any holes cut out of the plastic sheeting by residents eager to see a bit of sunshine) or if someone in my block was killed or raped by a stranger lurking in the stairwell, the money would be coughed up soon enough.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Pink Press Threat

Well well well. So it turns out that some members of the blogosphere seem to think that my blog template is too pink. Didn't see that one coming, no. What were the reasons behind this dislike, you may ask. From what I could tell, "too girly" and "too gay" were the main bones of contention, to both of which I reply, so what? Too gay, what are we, twelve? Tsk.

Let's have a look at some of the leading British lefty blogs, shall we? Then we'll see who's "gay".

(Also, please note that I am referring to/insulting style and layout only here, not actual content.)

  • Drink-Soaked Trotskyite Popinjays for WAR: Simple, clean design lines here, but above all, notice the holy trinity of a white background, black text and red header. This crops up a lot in lefty blogs.
  • Normblog: Dull as. No interesting header, barely any colour, and disturbingly, is stylistically not a million miles away from the website of the WTO.
  • Gauche: Making the word GAUCHE align left was a clever move, but the words "text-heavy" spring to mind, especially with no delineation between the sidebar and the main posts. Maybe some nice colour down the left-hand side would help space things out. Pink, perhaps? But hey, why end the tyranny of red, white and black?
  • Virtual Stoa: Red white and black, yet again! Still, at least there are photos. Of kittens. And that's not gay at all, is it.
  • Laban Tall: Of all the preset Blogger templates, the one used here has to be the worst. And yet ironically it seems to be one of the most popular. I can only assume it must be some sort of faux-punk DIY ethic, because I can't think of any other reason you'd want your blog to look like the example piece from "Intro to Blogging: Part One".
  • Eric the Unread: I have nothing bad to say about the design of this blog. It looks lovely. Sin é.
  • Harry's Place: *gasp* She can't diss Harry, can she? Be easy, people, Harry's crown remains firmly in place, both in terms of content and style. A splash of colour, a kick-ass (yes, kick-ass) Russian header font, groovy revolution-girl graphic AND smartly delineated links all work together to make HP the benchmark we all aspire to (-that's enough arse-licking. Ed.).

So there you have it: despite being exciting and worthy reads, most of the leading lefty blogs are as dull as dishwater stylistically. I choose to go a different route and make my blog bright and bold, and consequently unforgettable.


Well, mainly because I want to make it clear that it's a woman writing this blog. And while I'm normally the first person to point out that pink doesn't equal girly in every culture, etc, etc, the sad fact of the matter is that ageing left-wing media pundits of the type indicated above tend to be of the male variety and as such, often need fairly basic and unsubtle indicators in order for a point to sink in. Therefore, my blog is pink because I am female. And also, if I'm honest, because I take juvenile pleasure in the thought of said ageing pundits squirming uncomfortably in their seats as they read furtively, hoping no one will see them looking at something so damn gay.

Say it loud: I'm pink and I'm proud.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Look at me! Look at muuueeeeeeee!

I'm wondering if Michael Buerk is the BBC reporter equivalent of A-Ha or Eddie Grant; revered for excellent and compelling work in the 80s, but all too easily forgotten these days. In fact, his plainly attention-seeking sexist outbursts on the upcoming channel Five series Don't Get Me Started are somewhat reminiscent of 'foxy lady' Kath Day's cry of "Look at me! Look at mueeeee!" on Aussie sitcom Kath & Kim. So what better way for Buerk to recapture the glory days of the Ethiopian famine than by, er, shrieking from the rooftops that the world has fallen prey to AN EVIL TAKEOVER BY WOMEN!!!! Yes, women, it seems, have infiltrated everything, from news corporations to the running of our very society.

Well pin an apron on me and call me Harriet.

Anna Ford and a host of other female media pundits have predictably hit back, calling Buerk's comments outdated, chauvinist, etc. But none of them seemed willing to state the bleeding obvious: Buerk has quite clearly gone stark raving mad. Just look at some of what he has to say! Are these not the rantings of a crazed conspiracy theorist with a propensity for carving swastikas into pictures of his dead mother?

Buerk on women:
  • "Life is lived in accordance with women's rules"
  • "They control what is being bought"
  • "These are the people who decide what we see and hear"
Honestly, you'd think he was talking about the New World Order. Loosen up, guy! I can understand how you might be feeling a little threatened, but to say that the reason behind Britain's mines closing down is because the fairer sex don't do heavy lifting is more than slightly insane.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Patriot Games

George Monbiot has an excellent, thought-provoking piece in the Guardian today about patriotism and why it's not the catch-all solution to British Muslims bombing their own country that the tabloids have made it out to be. While obviously all for social unity and national pride, I've always been uneasy with the notion of flagrant patriotism (must be the Canadian in me), so it's good to see there are some other level-headed internationalists out there.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Diplo watch

A quick update here on everyone's favourite excuse for a political magazine. Diplo is still going strong, so it seems, or still going at least. For the past few issues, their advertising content has shot up by 100% - that is, they've now got one advert where the previously had none at all. It's pretty obvious where the money from the two-page Evian spread has gone, too: Diplo has a new size! At almost-A4 (don't ask what the proper technical term is, I've no idea), its pages are significantly bigger than before, although the actual number of pages has stayed the same. So that means.... yet more graphics! If there's one thing Diplo excels at, it's graphics (maybe with the exception of the four pages of what are apparently coloured pencil drawings at the back, Jesus, what's that about?), and the latest issue (the dramatically titled "Africa: Is Anyone Listening?") is certainly no exception. The cover illustration is pretty groovy and pretty much does what the coverline says on the tin. However, the actual contents are as usual a patronising collection of easy-to-understand background history boxes in not-always-scintillating English. And curiously enough, for an issue devoted almost exclusively to Africa and the fallout from the recent G8 Summit at Gleaneagles, it's interesting that their lead interview seems to be with.... Sir Menzies Campbell of the Lib Dems. Right.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Under a rock

God, isn't it amazing how a change in job can mean a complete disengagement from the outside world? I feel like I've been living under a rock for the past few days. I started my new role as a pharmaceutical research analyst last week, and in the process have managed to miss out on such earth-shattering news as:
  • The IRA declaring an end to the use of violence as a means of attaining political goals.
  • The launch of the space shuttle Discovery.
  • King Fahd of Saudi Arabia passing away.
  • And, worst of all, Jude Law cheating on Sienna Miller with the nanny! Shock horror!

However, I was informed about the EU approval of a new paediatric form of the epilepsy drug Keppra, manufactured by Belgian pharmaceutical company UCB. So there. (Also, on a serious note, I did manage to catch the news about the hateful race murder of Liverpool teen Antony Walker and the stabbing to death of Richard Whelan on a London bus, so I've heard enough to know that England's still as full of lowlifes as it ever was.)

It might be tricky for me to update this blog as regularly from now on, now that I've got a job that actually requires a bit of creative thinking beyond where to place commas, but I'm determined to make a go of it. In particular, I've got a major bone to pick with Islington Council and EC1 New Deal over the shitty way they treat tenants who live in the area. People's lives come cheap these days, it seems. So stay tuned for that.