Monday, May 26, 2008

Where Do You Buy Your Clothes?

And where are they made?

There's a documentary on tv this weekend exposing the sweatshop conditions people allegedly work under to produce the dirt-cheap clothes that I--among many--have been buying for so long from Primark.

There I am, congratulating myself that I'm not playing the capitalist game because I refuse to spend half of my wages to buy a pair of shoes or a new shirt, and Indian workers are being paid starvation wages by unprincipled bosses to buy me the privilege of non-participation. Who am I helping every time I go into Primark, or similar budget-priced clothes shops? The world? or me?

I think the answer is obvious.

The despairists among us will say--and they have done--that if we didn't buy the clothes the poor Indians wouldn't even get starvation wages. So in a sense we're doing them a kindness by creating work for them.

But what would their monstrous bosses do if we took away their business by refusing to buy clothes that a company couldn't demonstrate had been morally sourced?

I don't have any glib answers to these questions. I've been looking for one ever since a friend first suggested to me that my presumptions about clothes-buying were ludicrously naive (he was right). Maybe, in fact, there are no easy answers and moral action just comes from asking the right questions.

There will be more on this to come.


So here's an interesting development. After posting the latest piece about the Dalai Lama and the predicament of the occupied Tibetan people at MySpace as well as here on Blogger, I find I've been locked out of my own MySpace page. An experience familiar to a few people who've posted politically delicate blog entries there. You share your views--as was once encouraged before capitalism overtook democracy as the guiding principle of Western nations--and the next thing you know your MySpace page is gone. No warning, no explanation; you just can't get onto your own page anymore.

The notice I'm getting at mine says the page is "undergoing routine maintenance". And what sort of maintenance might that be, I wonder?

You could say I'm just paranoid. But I think Charles Bukowski had it right when he said that the paranoid people were the ones with more of the facts (or something like that). Nobody can f*** with the Chinese anymore, because of their emerging status as the leading economic superpower. The immorality of supporting or doing business with such an immoral, murderous and entirely unelected regime means nothing. Just ask Rupert Murdoch. Just ask Gordon Brown. Just ask Richard Branson. Just ask the folks behind the Kelmarsh Buddhist Centre who've been so rudely barracking the only leader of global stature with the courage to stand against the suits of Beijing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


BASHO'S ROAD is a new website by Norbert Blei (author of SECOND NOVEL), dedicated to the short poem. Have a look: it's visually attractive and the poetry is fantastic. Plus you get Norb's commentaries on the poems and the short form; and he's a man all of us can learn from.

Incidentally, if you click on the title of this post it will take you directly to the page.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008



Reliable sources tell me that those allegedly amiable fellows at Kelmarsh Buddhist Centre are planning on protesting against the Dalai Lama at his appearances in the UK.


They may not recognise him as a legitimate spiritual leader. So-called Tibetan Buddhism is a complex and internecine thing with many different schools; the differences between them may not be as great as, say, the difference between a stone and a flower, but the adherents of the various traditions feel their separate identities keenly.

But the Dalai Lama IS accepted by the majority of Tibetans as the true head of State. That is, the head of the oppressed, bullied, beaten, beleaguered, occupied Tibetan State. And by openly challenging the Dalai Lama's legitimacy at a time when, because of the Olympics, the world's media is watching, the good people of Kelmarsh are handing the Chinese occupiers a propaganda coup the Tibetan people can ill afford.

Have a rethink, Kelmarsh, I urge you. The whole world isn't a comfortable, secluded leafy hermitage like your own, protected by a basically decent police force and a democratically accountable government. To paraphrase Bob Geldof, the people the Dalai Lama represents in Tibet are dying NOW.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tim Peeler

He's one of the best poets in the business and he gives away his poems for free at . Make the most of the opportunity while it's there.

Years from now we'll look back on the time when Tim, Carter Monroe, Norb Blei, Ralph Murre and t.k.splake were operating and realise what a golden age it was for poetry. Trust me.

Brown Meets The Dalai Lama

Gordon Brown has to be applauded for taking the uncharacteristically bold and principled step of meeting the Dalai Lama, who has landed in the UK this morning. But it's a shame he had to dilute the symbolic significance of the meeting by announcing that it would be held at Lambeth Palace rather than Downing Street, and declaring that the meeting would be "spiritual". Yet another example of the Labour Government fearing to cause offence to the Chinese because of business.

Perhaps it is the way of the world. Perhaps Gordon Brown and his advisers are realists and I am not. But it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth nonetheless, when a sovereign government like our own, so free to lecture the nations of the Middle East on democracy and morality, won't sneeze without asking the permission of a bunch of crooks and bullies like the people who hold power in Beijing. If our own wealth is to be bought or sustained at the cost of the lives of innocent Tibetans, I'd actually rather not have it, thank you very much.

Saturday, May 17, 2008



I am walking along Kingsthorpe Front in the dusk. There's a chill in the air and a light rain is starting to fall. I'm so involved in my own thoughts I barely notice when somebody screams "Lazy bitch!" out of the window of a passing car.

Then I hear my name being called. I look back and this girl is waving at me and blowing kisses from the window of a black car stopped at the traffic lights opposite Waitrose. She's young and cute, with long black hair combed straight down on both sides of her face. I raise my hand and wave but I have no idea at all who she is.

Later I find out it was my friend Sonia.


Does it make a private journal self-conscious and inhibited knowing it will soon be seen by the public? (I dunno, ask Allen Ginsberg.)


What's this prim over-made-up middle-aged woman in a BHS trench coat listening to on her ipod in the seat in front of me?


The children rush home from school to put on cheap sportswear and shuffle around in the rain smoking roll-ups.


It's impossible to walk down a slowing bus with dignity.


Is it possible that karma is morally neutral? that one thing simply follows another without intent or judgement?


Sick with tiredness at 2am, hating a man for wearing pyjamas because it's me who has to iron them.

Get up, come downstairs, turn on the radio, close out the dreadful sound of birds singing as the sun rises.


4.50am. The clock in the conservatory drags the sun over the horizon with every laboured tick.

A cock crowing, coughing, yodelling insistently somewhere nearby.

Made it through another one, boys.

The miracle of morning.

Only night workers feel no optimism at dawn. Their leaden minds and bodies sink towards the grave.


"You don't have to call me sir."
He gets a hard-on relinquishing power he claims never to have had, or wanted.

from the author's journal.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Train rolling into Market Harborough. A mobile phone crowing like a cockerel. Young slick-haired man in business suit answers.

Doubts about self. Fearing I look too raggedy to belong outside of my own town, my streets. "Who is that tramp sitting on our train writing trampy nonsense in a little red notebook?"
The mind is such a persecutor.

When the driver announces a delay due to signalling problems near Kegworth, two-thirds of the passengers in my carriage simultaneously whip out mobile phones and send messages to those who are expecting them in Leicester.

Home of Joe Orton!
Colin Wilson!
Sue Townsend!(?)
(The law of diminishing returns perfectly illustrated.)

I tried to read "Adrian Mole", on Ruth's recommendation--she saw a similarity between Adrian's bohemian pretensions and mine--but I thought it was a dull, unfunny, obvious, middle-brow book.

Fat woman running down the road to catch a bus looks like a blancmange sliding down a table with a short leg.

I go into Help The Aged to look for books and find one I've not seen before by Joe Orton.
When I take it to the counter the old lady at the till looks the book over, front and back, and says:
"Orton? Where do I know that name?"
"He was a famous playwright from Leicester," I say.
"Oh, I wouldn't know," she says. "I wasn't born locally."
"Neither was I," I say, instantly wondering if I sound pettish.
But she doesn't notice. She is lost in an old-lady world that looks rather pleasant. When she gives me my change, she keeps hold of the 50 pence after she has placed it in my palm and looks me in the eyes with a strangely flirtatious grin. (She is about ninety.) It is only when I relent and smile back that she releases the money.

She could be a Beryl Reid character in a Joe Orton play about an innocent youth encountering weird goings-on when he arrives in the big city.

(from the author's journal.)

It Has Started

The Conservatives have announced that after the General Election, if they form the next Government (which is looking like a very small "if" at present), they are going to compel teachers to dress better.

Thank God. The education system is saved.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sywell Country Park, Hottest Day This Year

Sywell Country Park

Swans and ducks out on the water. A hundred sandal-wearing men and women walk their dogs. This is where **** and I used to take her dogs for their walk, usually in winter when it was cold and muddy. But it surprises me how little I mourn the passing of those times. Perhaps "meeting" ***** again cured me of nostalgia.

Plane chugging slowly overhead through clear robin's-egg-blue sky.

Abandon inner dialogue! Only immediate undiluted interaction with your environment gives happiness.

Crows cawing.
Sparrows tweetling.
Planes chugging.
Ducks calling.
Water lapping.
People talking.
Grass growing.
How again exactly
do you feel alone?

Ant investigating the immense green sward of my summer shorts.

A fish rising up out of the water glimpses another universe, then plops down into the familiar.
To a fish there's no Sywell Country Park, or Earls Barton, or New York, or cars. But they are there! Maybe it's the same with us and the heavens and the hells.

I don't blame ****. I don't blame ***** or C. or anyone. Nobody wants to hurt or let down anybody else; nobody starts out to become someone else's bad guy. Buddhism is right: it happens because people cling on to the illusion of a Self--from that basic error comes all the suffering we experience in life.

This kid with cool plastic-rimmed sunglasses and carrying a big stick--he's tromping around in the long grass while his mother watches protectively from a bench. As I approach he holds out a really tiny hand and says, " Man! Man! High five!" I touch his fingers gently with mine and look towards the bench with an apologetic smile. I want to signal to his mother that I mean no harm. She looks at me expressionlessly from behind her own black glasses. I don't know whether I have offended her or not, but her little boy has definitely made my day.

from my journal

Friday, May 09, 2008


The poetry has been a little slow in coming since I finished my chapbook SKID-ROAD BALLADS AND UNION SONGS. (Well, I say "finished", but there's still a little editing to do.)

You always feel a bit deflated when you wind a project up. And I have become really chickenshit about sending work out, too, so I prevaricate about that until even I have lost interest in trying to sell the poem or book in question.

Why have I become chickenshit? I don't know. Rejection is an occupational hazard for the poet. Fearing it is a bit like being a boxer and objecting to being punched. But I do fear it. If I get three or four rejections in a row it can stop me writing for six months.

And yet it bugs me watching all these other poets--some better than me, some nowhere near as good--advancing in their careers (for the want of a better word), getting books and readings when I couldn't even start a fight in a petrol station.

I need to toughen up again. Start pushing this shit of mine into other people's hands and insisting they read it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

David Carradine And Me

Childhood heroes. They help form the people we are and their influence on our lives never goes away, because we walk in their steps.

I saw one of mine yesterday in the little known Eighties movie version of his immortal Seventies tv series "Kung Fu". David Carradine. As the half-Chinese half-American Shaolin priest Kwai Chang Caine. Just holding the dvd in my hand as I came out of Zavvi in Northampton after buying it yesterday was thrilling.

I don't think I can even begin to explain to you why. But there he was when I was a boy, once a week on tv, a peaceful, considered hero who was yet quite capable of kicking the shit out of his enemies. A long-haired, barefoot, flute playing hero with the deadly mark of a dragon burned into both his wrists.

"I wish I could walk around barefoot everywhere," I said to my mother one night at the end of a particularly inspiring episode of the show.

"Why can't you?" she challenged me.

It was like a brilliant light being shone on the road ahead.Why can't you? Be who you want, Hodder. Follow the call of your own spirit, however they mock you.

I took my socks off immediately and have rarely put them back on since, other than in situations where I would catch a cold, be arrested or lose my job. I also declared myself a Buddhist pretty soon after "Kung Fu" finished and that's another peculiar habit I still hold onto.

With my long hair.

And my flute.

And my liberal pussy nature which wants every human being and every animal to have as nice a time as they can in this life and any other they might have.

Whose spirit is it I've been following the call of exactly, for all this time?

No matter. Kwai Chang Caine is my Master Po, the beloved teacher who talks to me every day. Who else have you got who laid out such an admirable path, other than maybe Buddha? Or the Dalai Lama? Or Han Shan?

The movie, by the way, was fantastic.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

No 10 Writes On The Tibet Issue

I had a letter from my pal Gordon Brown this morning. Well, not Gordon directly. It was from a fellow (or a woman) in the Direct Communications Unit at Downing Street who signed his (or her) name "G. Edwards". Steady with the over-familiarity, G.

Some time ago I wrote a letter to Gordon suggesting that he should bring whatever influence he had to bear over his chums in the Chinese Government--turning a blind eye to their infamy while trampling all over Iraq because of Saddam's must have earned him some (ahem) Brownie points--and see if he couldn't persuade those vicious, murdering swine to leave Tibet out of the vainglorious journey of the Olympic Torch (which, it's worth noting, was started by the Nazis and has nothing to do with the original Olympic ideal).

Well, Gordon's obviously too busy doing his reverse Robin Hood act--robbing the poor to feed the rich--to give little old me his full attention. But according to G. Edwards my views "have been carefully noted". And shredded with all the other communication from the "unhelpful" element among Labour's erstwhile supporters, no doubt.

And in the meantime China goes on oppressing and executing, while Gordon hunkers down in the bunker at Downing Street drinking himself into a stupor every night, cursing the electorate and making crazed anonymous abusive calls to Tony Blair, whom he still blames for everything that's gone wrong.

All right, I made the last part up.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


In the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson, the bats are coming home to roost for Labour. Their poll showing on Thursday was the worst it's been for forty years. That's forty years. So Labour are less popular now than they were during Margaret Thatcher's first term, when Michael Foot was leader. And then, if you remember--no doubt because of his intelligence, his honesty and his integrity--Michael was the most maligned person in Britain.

How the hell, I find myself wondering, did it come to this? A year or so ago Labour were riding high in most of the polls and David Cameron was being mocked as a pudgy Tony Blair impersonator who wouldn't convince even his own mother of his sincerity. But then we had the humiliation of the election that never was and it all seems to have plummeted downhill from there. It's a tragedy. And not least because the Conservative Party, when they take office after the General Election, will take the country right back to where it was before Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997.

You think they've changed? Call me later, I have a refrigerator you might want to buy. George Osborne is already saying there need to be tighter controls on trade union activity. Consider it: tighter than those imposed by Margaret Thatcher, who castrated the unions,and upheld by Tony Blair, who had no more love of the principles of collective action by working men and women than she did.

The Conservatives portray themselves as congenial and liberal because they have learned well from Blair that this is the way to appeal to the middle Englanders who stabbed Gordon Brown in the back in London on Thursday: reflect their conceited and pretty much completely inaccurate view of themselves back at them. But like the middle Englanders, they are not who they seem to be. The Conservatives continue to be the mainstream home of everything that is unworthy, shallow, selfish, materialistic and generally crappy in human nature. As the old saying goes, be wary of wolves who have their hair on the inside.

You have been warned.

Now come back after four years of David Cameron and tell me I'm wrong.