Monday, December 31, 2007

BritBlog Round Up

A pleasure: a long and thoughtful round up of the week's best posts over at Redemption Blues.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

No Honours

The Guardian yesterday has a story about some of the ordinary people caught up in the terrible floods getting gongs this New Year. It is only right that they should be honoured. For many people, the floods have left a terrible legacy of depression, shock, financial struggle and the misery of still being in temporary accommodation. Yet there has been little publicity given to their ongoing suffering, although some stories highlighting their plight at Christmas ran on the BBC and Guardian months after the floods had receded.

The Sunday Times today highlights another anomaly in the New Years Honours lists: despite Gordon Brown saying that “It is right that we look at how our honours system can recognise those in our emergency services and members of the public who showed such bravery and heroism in the face of the recent terrorist attacks,” it transpires that ordinary members of the public who rushed to help victims on 7 July 2005 have by-and-large slipped through the net, indeed, some have been deliberately snubbed, whilst civil servants have been honoured for their work specifically on that day.

The London Assembly Scrutiny Committee when it met to learn lessons from 77, heard from men like Tim, a teacher, who smashed his way into a stricken train, with other passengers and tended the injured and dying at terrible cost to his own health as post-traumatic stress disorder impacted upon him later. Tim is not the only person I know who did extraordinary things; there are dozens of other people whose heroism we owe a debt to. Peter, Ben, John...

...I know many people never thought to be thanked; they just did what they could and if they paid a price for it afterwards, they paid it quietly and never asked for any reward or recognition. Tim himself never pushed himself forward for an award, his wife approached the Cabinet office without telling him, and was rebuffed.

It does look bad, though, because the Government is not being consistent. ( Times) The Cabinet Office told Judy Coulson in a letter that “honours are awarded to people for meritorious service over a sustained period and not specifically for saving someone’s life”.

But various public sector workers were given a range of awards in the new year’s honours list two years ago in direct recognition of their conduct on 7/7. They included CBEs for the heads of Transport for London and the London Underground, OBEs for senior representatives of the police, ambulance service and Salvation Army, and MBEs for those, such as the supervisor at Russell Square Tube station, who helped injured passengers.

The members of London Underground staff, (like Boycey), the emergency services workers, (like Steve the BTP officer), they all deserve their awards. So too do the members of the public who assisted during the flooding disaster.

But there are still people who worked in the emergency services and LU who deserve recognition, who have not yet been publicly thanked, and members of the public who had only basic first aid training, or no training at all, who nonetheless acted heroically.

And it is wrong to snub members of the public who did so much to help on one occasion, whilst giving out awards to members of the public who helped on another occasion. The chaos in the aftermath of the bombs, and the mistakes made leading up to 7/7 might jar embarrassingly with the official picture of 7/7 that the Government likes to put about, but that is not an excuse to sideline those whose actions saved lives and whose heroism continues to exact a toll on their health and family/professional lives, often for years afterwards.

Most people did what I instinctively did, in the shocked aftermath; I only tried to survive and then to get away out of danger, holding tight to others to keep going, calling for calm because that was what we needed to do to survive and avoid further injury. It takes a special kind of courage to walk towards danger, instead of fleeing from it - to look at the unthinkable, and to decide to try to help, no matter what the cost to yourself and your loved ones - then, and afterwards.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

A different kind of Christmas

It was a different sort of Christmas this year: how could it be otherwise, when Mum wasn't there? I remembered her in a hundred different ways in the weeks coming up to Christmas. So did everyone else in my family; every present bought, every plan made, ached a little, because of her absence from this family feast.

J and I spent the weekend before Christmas with Dad and my family in Norfolk. Her presence, reminders of her were everywhere. Mum loved Christmas, really loved it, and there was much remembering about last year; how, after the Christmas Eve midnight service we came back and got into bed and as we fell asleep, heard Mum on the stairs, clip-clopping coconut shells together and making farting noises - pretending to be a reindeer accompanying Father Christmas as he left presents. Stifling her giggles, as the Christmas stockings she loved to prepare were left outside every child's door, though the children she left them for were all grown-up now.

I will keep that tradition; stockings from Father Christmas stuffed with small and silly or useful presents - nutcrackers, face flannels, miniature of whisky, things for the kitchen, a paperback book, a satsuma and a bag of chocolate coins left in the toe.

As children of a vicar, we had a different sort of Christmas to our schoolmates: the family Christmas could not start until lunchtime, when Dad got back from all the Christmas morning church services. The stocking, left at 2am by an exhausted parent back from midnight church on Christmas Eve, and opened in bed on Christmas morning by an excited child was a way to keep us happy, until the real present-unwrapping could begin - after lunch, and after the Queen's speech - a long time to wait when you are small, but now I see a delight in anticipation, a stretching-out of the joy.

The night before Christmas Eve this year, Dad had a drinks party for friends and neighbours and parishioners, and so we decorated the house that afternoon, unpacking boxes of wreathes and cribs and baubles carefully labelled in Mum's clear writing. J put up the tree, my sister hung it with the trinkets accrued by the family over forty years. Dad mulled wine, and I heated up canapes and we handed them round. And afterwards, when the dozens of people had gone, had admired the house, drunk and eaten their fill and wished us a merry Christmas, we said to each other 'Mum would have approved'. We had kept the show on the road. We had thrown open the doors and shown the world that we were coping, that the house was still full of light and music and good cheer. We were all right. Don't worry about us, we are doing fine.

But it was too much to try to recreate Christmas Day without her at the family table. J and I went back to London, to have our first married Christmas alone together and the rest of the family went to the Lake District to have Christmas away from home.

I am still feeling my way: making my own Christmas traditions, thinking about what I will do for my own children, if I am lucky enough to have them, holding the thread that connects me with my mother, and her mother before her. I know that Mum, and her mother used to listen to King's College carols whilst wrapping presents on Christmas Eve, and so I did that this year, as I have done for the last twenty years, even when I was in another country and listening on the BBC World Service. That solo chorister's voice singing the first verse of 'Once in Royal David's City' still makes my skin goosebump, still makes my eyes well up, still means that Christmas is almost here.

Now Christmas is gone, and the ache of missing my mother is still here. I wanted to tell her about the Christmas lunch I prepared, ask her advice on whether to mix sausage meat into the stuffing, whether to cook it inside the bird or on a tray. I wanted to call her all the way through Strictly Come Dancing final and Christmas special; we used to watch it and call each other to discuss each dancer when the series started this year. I miss her. We all do, her brother, who moved from the Lake District to Norfolk to be with her in his retirement, her other children, my brother and sister, my sister-in-law. But it is so much worse for Dad. He and Mum were always together, day and night, for thirty nine years. Whatever my own grief is like, it cannot match the visceral pain of his physical separation from her.

Sometimes grief is a thump in the gut, a tear at the heart, sometimes my eyes well up without warning and my throat aches. Often I am angry. Sometimes it comes in the middle of the night, when I can't sleep, or when a nightmare wakes me, but usually it is when I do something, see something, think of something and want to share it with her, and realise that I can't, and I never can, never will again. I want to cry for her; I want to cry for my whole family. I want to cry for all of us, but mostly I can't cry at all. There have been too many times in the past when I would not allow myself to cry, and now that I need to, I can't.

She used to read this blog, every word, every comment, which is one reason why I haven't felt like writing it much these last few months.

Friday, December 21, 2007


On the virtual sofa with Norm.
More interesting people here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas amusements

There was an amusing quiz here, about how many five year olds you could beat in a fight, but it has been hijacked by a dating site and has therefore been removed, sorry about that. Here is some alternative amusement instead:

Elf Yourself
Santa Game
Snowflake information
Christmas Quiz
still bored?
Have a little rave for yourself
( thanks to urban 75)

Happy Christmas!

(And Happy Solstice)


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Britblog round up

...can be found here


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Anti-Christmas Carols 20th December

Public Carol Service
Click here for more information.

For the last few years we have seditiously gathered in Parliament Square in a wholly illegal demonstration of Christmas cheer, festive joy and religious tolerance, at unlawful carol services organised by blogging activist Tim Ireland over at Bloggerheads. It was so much fun that I wrote about it in my book. All sorts of people from across the political spectrum gathered, stamping their feet and shivering and passing hipflasks, in defiance of the totally stupid Serious Organised Crime and Police Act ( SOCPA) laws which make it unlawful to demonstrate outside the seat of our democracy without a special permit from the police which you have to get a week in advance ( see Mark Thomas' ace Lone Mass demonstrations which saw protesters dutifully trooping down to the police station to apply to demonstrate about a wide variety of causes, from Goth Pride to Send Forth the Gunboats to Down With this Sort of Thing. Pics here)

Anyway, this year we have a twist on proceedings and Tim is hosting an Anti Christmas demonstration. Tim explains ''...this year we will NOT be demonstrating in favour of Christmas without seeking police permission. We will instead be demonstrating against Christmas with police permission... just to be difficult.''

I was a bit sad when I heard about the new plans because I am a big fan of Christmas and I wanted to sing proper carols in defiance of the silly laws without permission, instead of seditious carols with permission. However, I did have a carol singing session the other week in Trafalgar Square with Henry North London and Taking Liberties film director Chris Atkins ( if you haven't got your Taking Liberties book or DVD yet, then they make excellent stocking fillers and can be bought here ( book) and here ( film) from Amazon). I shall do my best to make it, (although it clashes with the pole dancing students Christmas knees up).

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The mouse mystery solved?

I knew that fearless mouse we had in the house (RIP) was special, and now I think I know why. Surely it was a genetic supermouse, bred to feel no fear which had escaped from the lab and living wild and free in North London?

It still doesn't explain why Miff is so rubbish though.

Thanks to Justin and Jim for sending this video ( click)

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Monday, December 17, 2007


An amazed thank you to the always-inspiring Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty for the nomination in the New Statesman Person of the Year awards - thank you to Indigo Jo without whose blog link I would never have known about it - and thank you to the readers of the New Statesman. And a massive well done to the worthy winner

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty UK, nominates Anas el-Banna
Anas el-Banna is the 11-year-old son of the Guantanamo prisoner and UK resident Jamil el-Banna. Jamil is one of more than 300 people still held without charge or trial at the notorious prison camp. Anas has led his family's struggle for justice for his father. At Amnesty we've been incredibly impressed as Anas has written to prime ministers, picketed No 10 and appeared on live television. He deserves recognition for his courage and determination.

On that pre-charge detention matter...

This is such good news. I wrote about giving evidence at the Committee here, and as background, see here and here and here in my last Sunday Times piece). I said at the time that I didn't think the Home Affairs Committee was buying the Government's argument. They weren't.

The BBC confirms it

The home affairs committee said there was no evidence to support extending it and suggested other changes such as allowing phone-tap evidence in court.

Ministers have proposed extending the current 28-day limit to 42 days.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said the committee's report "decimated" the argument for doing so.

The Home Affairs Committee report is here ( PDF)


A day after an MPs' committee ruled there was no evidence to support an extension from 28 to 42 days, a joint committee of MPs and peers has agreed.

The joint committee on human rights (JCHR) also said proposed safeguards in the plan would be "virtually useless"

Fingers crossed...


The Real Spooks

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera looks into the shadowy world of Britain's security services, forced into radical change after 9/11.
Was the service ready for the events of 7/7 and what is it doing to prevent another terrorist attack?
You can listen to the programme on 7/7 here using the BBC 'Listen again' service

Regular readers will know I have campaigned for an independent inquiry into 7/7 for over two years now with other survivors and families. At present, I can't say much about what is going on as the matter is sub judice.

This programme has been signed off by the security services, and as someone who used to work on advertorials I am sitting here listening, thinking how I recognise the form. That isn't being over-cynical, I think. There are some key quotes which bear further analysis because they are very telling and when I have time, I will go into it again and write more. But it is hard, because I can't say much at the moment, for legal reasons, ( because we are in a litigation position with the Government regarding a Judicial Review about the matter of a 7/7 inquiry) and also because I haven't got much time to blog right now with one thing and another. I'm going to rattle off some overdue posts now and beg your understanding for being so tardy with emails and call-backs and Christmas cards - I've been out of the office and have a backlogged in-tray which I hope to get through in the next few days before the Christmas break.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Christmas Carols 6/12 Trafalgar Square

Oooh....just seen this.
Thursday 6 December at 6.30pm: Lighting of the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square
From 6pm come and join the Choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields to sing carols around the tree, the gift to London from the Norwegian people.

Anyone fancy it?

Drop me an email or leave a comment if you feel like a righteous night out. In previous years we have had great fun holding illegal carol services in Parliament Square to protest against the daft SOCPA laws; this year, in the absence of organised sedition I will be under the big tree shouting my head off instead. Entirely legally.

(If anyone wants to organise an illegal SOCPA-busting effort again, then shout, and I'll bowl up to that as well. )


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Better to travel hopefully

I've had an interesting week meeting various politicians and travelling to Brussels on the new Eurostar route for a book launch and to stay with dear friends. Meanwhile poor J has been working day and night and coming home to sleep at odd hours before rushing back to the madness at the office. Both of us are yearning for Christmas when we get three weeks off and can stay at home and see more of each other.

Kings Cross St Pancras International is a huge soaring cathedral of a space, only slightly marred by the huge tacky statue of about-to-snog commuters which looks like a Jeff Koons installation. Though it was raining heavily, light poured in as crowds of smartly-dressed people made a beeline for the chic champagne bar: what struck me was how cheerful and relaxed everyone looked as they prepared to start their journeys, or waited to meet people off arriving trains.

St. Pancras' refurbishment is a deliberate hark-back to the romantic days of steam railway travel, an age we now imbue with a golden glamour even though early rail travel was dirty and dangerous and there were many terrible accidents which killed and injured far more people than recent terrorist attacks. This week, travelling by train to the continent felt a very different experience to my usual route abroad: Heathrow's purgatorial delays and teeth-grinding hours shuffling through international crowds dressed in identikit jeans and sportswear. Nowadays it seems a price is extorted from every single airport traveller in mind-numbing boredom and irritated resentment - and all for a nebulous idea of security in a misnamed 'war' against an abstract noun. And now the Government want even more checkpoints and security measures at transport hubs. It's hopeless and pointless. If I was a terrorist with a rucksack bomb and I knew Kings Cross was heaving with armed coppers and CCTV and sniffer dogs, I'd just get on at Arsenal instead.

There is a good article in today's Guardian Weekend magazine by Oliver Burkeman about airport security. Meanwhile, I'm reading a brilliant book about terrorism - What Terrorists Want by Louise Richardson. It crystallises stuff I've been working on and thinking about for the last 2 years. I'll post a review of it up when I've finished.

I'm off out again, more trains, en route to a gathering of the inlaws . Have a good weekend.