Russell Brand or Johnny Rotten: Which Self-styled Countercultural Icon Should We Believe?!

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Lydon: Democracy in the UK

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Brand: Politics is a spectacle

It’s the Russell Brand or Johnny Rotten dilemma.  Which Self-styled Countercultural Icon Should We Believe?  Polly Tonbee opted for John Lydon while Jeremy Paxman seems to have gone for a Brand approach. 

I have always had time for John Lydon. His vitriolic, caustic, Punk-as-fuck attitude and his keen lyrical wit are what makes his musical outings such an irresistible force. On the other hand, I have recently been much impressed by the off-the-wall rantings and giant-slaying kookiness of Russell Brand. They both agree that the political system is messed up, but Lydon says we must vote the current crop of failing politicians out, while Brand insists that voting is for dummies.

Russell Brand is essentially a hippie; he believes that the best way to alter reality is to change yourself. He has long espoused the benefits of transcendental meditation, so it’s no surprise that he believes that change comes from within the individual. In Brand’s world, there is no point in voting because it only encourages politicians. It legitimates their power. If you stop voting, you stop giving them that power.

If Russell Brand is Woodstock, then Johnny Lydon is Paris ’68. He is essentially a Marxist. Or perhaps more accurately, a Democratic Socialist. He believes that politics matters, that the working class need to vote for left-wing parties and through state intervention and good governance, everything will be OK. If only we had the right politics, the right government, the right policies … The way to bring about political change is more politics.

There are obvious flaws in both Brand and Lydon’s arguments. The trouble with Brand’s hippie anarchism is that you would need everybody to not vote. While there are still grannies and middle-Englanders religiously exercising their democratic right to vote, there will be a government. And one which reflects the voters’ interests (or perceived interests), not the interests of the apathetic non-voting youngsters.

The big flaw with John Lydon’s argument is that it assumes that we have somebody to vote for. The main three parties, plus UKIP, are essentially neo-liberal parties. They all want the same thing: Bail out the banks, feed the corporations, encourage austerity. Unless people actually start reading the Green Party Manifesto, which is hardly being encouraged by the media, there is no viable alternative.

The debate between Brand and Lydon is, to my mind, another manifestation of the age-old debate which has been raging in the left for over a hundred years. It began in the Russian Revolution, cropped up in (and indeed scuppered) the Spanish Civil War, was resurrected in the 60s and is now back with a vengeance. The question is whether the left wants Anarchism or Socialism. Unlike in the past, however, the nation state is no longer the unit of power. So this is why I’m going to say Russell Brand is right and John Lydon is hopelessly out of date.

Power lies in the corporations and banks, not national Governments. And banks and corporations are already answerable to us, as we are their customers. Even though their fattest customers are more banks and corporations, somewhere near the bottom is the little guy who has to pay off his debts and shop in Tesco’s. We don’t need to vote in a polling booth. We can vote with our pockets. In that sense, Brand is right: The way to change the world is to choose a better bank, to shop locally, to consume less. As the hippies say, the world is an illusion. If we stop believing in Tesco’s, it will go away. In fact, it’s already happening.

Liked this?  NOW READ: Whatever Happened To The Leisure Society?

Getting Away From It All in Suffolk (Pictures)

The beach huts at Southwold

 

If you’re looking for day trip ideas from London, the Suffolk coast provides a little bit of olde England, just an hour or so by car or train. The charming resorts of Southwold and Aldeburgh transport you back in time to bucket and spade holidays of the 1950s, with their easy-going atmosphere, locally-sourced food and superlative fish and chip cafes. The Suffolk coast makes an up-market and far more peaceful alternative to the likes of Brighton and allows you to really feel like you’ve got away from it all.

Here are some iphone snaps I took on a recent Redpig road trip. A long weekend was ample time to recharge the batteries, sample the local cuisine and seek out a few ‘secret’ beaches.

 

The fishermen return with their catch at Aldeburgh

The fishermen return with their catch at Aldeburgh

The Medieval church becomes a farmhouse at Leiston Abbey

The Medieval church becomes a farmhouse at Leiston Abbey

Leiston Abbey: Used to be a monastery, is now a music school

Leiston Abbey: Used to be a monastery, is now a music school

The 'secret' beach at Covehithe

The ‘secret’ beach at Covehithe

The woods at Covehithe

The woods at Covehithe

Even as a vegetarian, I have to say these pigs look pretty content with their lot

Even as a vegetarian, I have to say these free range pigs look pretty content with their lot!

Southwold pier and us!

Southwold pier and us!

After sunset, the best entertainment is to head to the beach for candle-lit drinks!

After sunset, the best entertainment is to head to the beach for candle-lit drinks!

Overheard in Dalston: “I Lived East Before It Was Cool”

Doing stuff ‘before it was cool’ is – generally speaking – a sound principle. Being that it might include such coups as seeing Blondie at CBGBs, or, I dunno, buying that JK Galbraith book before everyone knew it was JK Rowling, that sort of thing. But living in East London ten years ago? Please. This is not something to be proud of. It was flippin’ awful.

 

Spitalfields back in the day

Nathan Barley, circa 1992

 

There was nothing trendy about living amongst dirty chicken emporiums, crackpot evangelical churches, unlit streets of bleak empty warehousing, derelict bombed-out wasteground (and some council estates you wished the Luftwaffe would return for), Pat Butcher lookalikes, Eels, liqour sauce, stabby pubs, handy shops where you could buy wigs and transfer money abroad all in one place, prozzies, squatters with rotweillers, Mitchell Brothers lookalikes and an overground train service that ran every other Tuesday, weather permitting.

 

Those were the days. The good old days before the overground when you had to spend three hours getting to Clissold Park only to find you were 10 years too early and were then unceremoniously lynched by 13 year-olds in Kappa.

 

“Oh, but what about gentrification? I was a ‘real’ person who had no money and had to live here. I’m not gamourising it. I’m legit”. Oh, congratulations. Here – have a medal. It’s from the people of Glasgow congratulating you on your working class credentials. I hear there’s a plaque with your name on it in the Miner’s Welfare in Merthyr Tydfil now, too.

 

Let’s not forget: You weren’t born East. If you’d have been born there, you’d be now residing in Chingford, topping up your perma-tan, glad to be finally rid of the life-sucking hell-hole once and for all instead of cycling round Stokey complaining about peak beard.

 

 

Photos From The Real Royston Vasey

On a recent trip to the Peak District, I stopped by Hadfield, the location for Royston Vasey in the TV series The League of Gentlemen.  I didn’t see Tubbs and Edward, unfortunately, but I did see a Daily Mail branded newsagents wishing us Merry Christmas and a surprisingly sexy pie advert.  Also good to know British Rail still run there, as I could have sworn it was privatised in 1993.

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European Roadtrip #3: Travels in a Red Pig

Chianti, formaggio and focaccia in Tuscany.  Basically, heaven.

In March this year, my husband and I drove down to Italy in our camper van (the van is affectionately known as The Red Pig).  We saw bits of France and Belgium on the way there and back.  As you can see, the weather was pleasant most of the time, and lots of places were completely deserted.

Going out of season was great, as it cut out queues at nearly all the museums.  It also allowed us to pull up and snooze in the van more or less wherever we liked.  Below are some iPhone snaps I took en route.

 

The city walls at Boulogne Sur Mer

The city walls at Boulogne Sur Mer

Tournus, Burgundy

Tournus, Burgundy

The banks of the Saone, Burgundy at sunrise

The banks of the Saone, Burgundy at sunrise

The Ardeche gorge, central France

The Ardeche gorge, central France

The picturesque Provencale village of  Gordes

The picturesque Provencale village of Gordes

Lavender fields in Provence

Lavender fields in Provence

The Verdon Gorge

The Verdon Gorge

Lac de Saine Croix, Verdon Gorge, France

Lac de Saine Croix, Verdon Gorge, France

A bit of the old vin rouge

A bit of the old vin rouge

The Verdon Gorge

The Verdon Gorge

It was a bit chilly at that altitude

It was a bit chilly at that altitude

Alpine villages in the Alpes Maritimes

Alpine villages in the Alpes Maritimes

Overlooking Antibes in the French Riviera

Overlooking Antibes in the French Riviera

If you can't afford a yacht, you can always walk around the port in a stripy jumper instead!

If you can’t afford a yacht, you can always walk around the port in a stripy jumper instead!

Villefranche Sur Mer from above

Villefranche Sur Mer from above

 

 

The aptly named Beaulieu (trans = beautiful place)

The aptly named Beaulieu (trans = beautiful place)

Dolceacqua, Liguria

Dolceacqua, Liguria

The benefits of travelling out of season - Beachside sleeping spot in Cinque Terra

The benefits of travelling out of season – Beachside sleeping spot in Cinque Terra

One of the ports of the Cinque Terra, Italy

One of the ports of the Cinque Terra, Italy

The pretty streets of Cinque Terra

The pretty streets of Cinque Terra

Some flowers and me!

Some flowers and me!

The Etruscan tombs of Tarquinia

The Etruscan tombs of Tarquinia

Rome

Rome

The Vatican

The Vatican

The Pantheon - Europe's oldest church

The Pantheon – Europe’s oldest church

Beautiful Piazza Navona

Beautiful Piazza Navona

Inside the Vatican

Inside the Vatican

Inside the Vatican again

Inside the Vatican again

Monte Cassino - another WW2 battlefield

Monte Cassino – another WW2 battlefield

The view from Monte Cassino

The view from Monte Cassino

The deserted beaches around Baia Domizia, near Naples

The deserted beaches around Baia Domizia, near Naples

The Redpig sees Capri, but mercifully doesn't die

The Redpig sees Capri, but mercifully doesn’t die

The Amalfi coast

The Amalfi coast

The Ancient Greek colony of Paestum, Campania

The Ancient Greek colony of Paestum, Campania

The beaches at Salerno.  WW2  happened here, apparently

The beaches at Salerno. WW2 happened here, apparently

The Redpig chillin on the beach

The Redpig chillin on the beach

Yet more deserted beaches.  Italians don't favour beaches in winter, it seems

Yet more deserted beaches. Italians don’t favour beaches in winter, it seems

Yet more beautiful deserted beaches

Yet more beautiful deserted beaches

Assisi, home to St Francis and St Clare

Assisi, home to St Francis and St Clare

The view from Assisi

The view from Assisi

Kids play football in the square outside the church of Santa Chiara, Assisi

Kids play football in the square outside the church of Santa Chiara, Assisi

Chasing the route of Hannibal's  Elephants at Lake Trasimeno

Chasing the route of Hannibal’s Elephants at Lake Trasimeno

 

Chianti, formaggio and focaccia in Tuscany.  Basically, heaven.

Chianti, formaggio and focaccia in Tuscany. Basically, heaven.

 

Florence by night

Florence by night

 

...and day

…and day

 

Lake Annecy.  When I retire, just drop me here, please

Lake Annecy. When I retire, just drop me here, please

 

The town of Annecy.  Check out how clear the water is

The town of Annecy. Check out how clear the water is

 

The fort at Verdun, a site of WW1 stuff

The fort at Verdun, a site of WW1 stuff

 

Trenches at Vimy Ridge

Trenches at Vimy Ridge

 

Beautiful Bergues

Beautiful Bergues

 

If you've seen the film, Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis, you'll know why this is pure comedy gold.

If you’ve seen the film, Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis, you’ll know why this is pure comedy gold.

 

Yet more proof that Nord Pas De Calais has at least some refinement

Yet more proof that Nord Pas De Calais has at least some refinement


Whatever Happened To The Leisure Society?

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Why are we drowning in paperwork in the digital age?

 

In the early 70s, perhaps catalyzed by LSD or Marxism (or possibly both), academics in the humanities very briefly experienced a mini enlightenment. Social Science articles from the 70s are mostly awesome and way more fun that all the neoliberal crap we are force-fed these days in my humble opinion. One of the most enlightening articles from this era, which I would recommend anyone read – if only the first couple of paragraphs – is Marshal Sahlin’s The Original Affluent Society.

 

In The Original Affluent Society, Sahlins explains that contemporary (ie-1966) hunter-gatherers like the Kalahari Bushmen or Inuits spend on average three hours a day working. Yet they live in some of the most inhospitable places on earth. Imagine how easy it must have been for stone-age hunter-gatherers living in temperate parts of Europe or America to survive. Their surroundings were so abundant they could procure everything completely for free from nature’s larder within minutes of their doorsteps – if they indeed had doors. They also had the knowledge to just go out and make anything they wanted – again completely free and gratis, using their extensive knowledge of the environment. This is why it’s a good idea to remain skeptical about the development agenda. If a person is “surviving on $1 a day in Africa”, it might actually mean they are actually rather well-off. Introducing waged labour and that economists’ pet obsession, property rights, to these communities turns them from being the most affluent people on earth into the poorest overnight. Way to go economists.

 

So, what does this have to do with us? Well, if you’re like me, you’ll have noticed: hold on a minute – three hours a day? In the arctic? WTF are we doing here in the West? We have the mechanisation of agriculture, digitisation of just about everything and roboticisation. Yet we humans are working more and more hours. We work 40 hours a week – probably around 4 times the amount of our paleolithic forebears. Something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong. We should be living in some kind of utopia where everybody is drinking drinks with umbrellas while robot slaves do our housework. What happened? Why do we live in such an inefficient society? Especially when capitalism claims to be so big on efficiency?

 

Unfortunately, the answer to this has been known for over ages. Herbert Marcuse predicted in 1956:

“the closer the real possibility of liberating the individual from the constraints once justified by scarcity and immaturity, the greater the need for maintaining and streamlining these constraints lest the established order of domination dissolve. Civilisation has to defend itself against the specter of a world which could be free. If society cannot use its growing productivity for reducing repression (because such usage would upset the hierarchy of the status quo), productivity must be turned against the individuals, it becomes itself an instrument of universal control.”

Marcuse, Eros and Civilization

 

Which, in a nutshell means: Capitalism wants to keep people busy. People must keep working to live and living to work, otherwise society will start – gulp – thinking for itself.

 

Those of you long enough in the tooth to remember the 70s might remember that Marcuse’s predictions about productivity had started to become a reality. Human labour capacity was outstripping demand and a “leisure society” was inevitable. There was talk of a three day working week and the question was posed: what are we going to do with all our free time? Freed from the shackles of employment, humanity would reach a new era of unprecedented creativity. People could live in tipis in Wales while robots and computers did all the human work. It was going to be like Woodstock every day. But with robots. Of course, all western governments realised this was terrible news for them. How can a Labour party survive with no workers? And how can right-wingers and Liberals survive with no consumers? Luckily for them, they had a solution: Bureaucracy.

 

Keep people busy at all costs. Introduce audits and targets and league tables and managers at all levels in the nationalised industries. Make them feel indispensable. Devise outreach schemes and health and safety drives and equal opportunity commissions; make sure that these new jobs are promoting equality and diversity, then any left-leaning person will be unable to question them. Make the public sector one huge, teetering bureaucracy where everybody feels they are helping society. Even though all society really needs is a few nurses, teachers and possibly policemen. If this bureaucracy idea is implemented, we can ensure that all people will be kept:

a. Too busy to change the status quo

b. Dependent on the state

 

Which is what happened. Ask any teacher, nurse, doctor, policeman, lecturer or social worker about their job and they will all, without exception, tell you that is blighted by inordinate amounts of pointless paperwork. The drop-out rate of new teachers is approaching 50%. A large proportion of them cite overwork as the cause. They are even talking of scrapping the long summer holidays, so it must be bad. Tenured university lecturers in the UK have to spend over half their working week on paperwork instead of doing new research or teaching students. Nurses and doctors spend as much time reporting on what they have just done as doing it.

 

The Protestant work ethic is so embedded in Anglo-American society that everyone from the unemployed demanding the “right to work” to the super-rich who do internships instead of just whatever the fuck they like all day are all in it together. The drudgery of wage slavery is the only way to feel fulfilled in our society. The long-term unemployed become suicidal. We are urged to detest those on Benefits Street because they are refusing to play along with the game.

 

The fact of the matter is that our society only really needs a two or three day working week. The other two and a half days create the surplus value which feeds capitalism by creating the consumer society. If people had those extra two and a half days, they might start their own businesses and compete with large scale capitalism by owning the means of production. ‘Owning the means of production’… of course, all this Marxist language sounds hideously old-fashioned to us now. It may be outdated, boring, passé, but let’s face it: It’s bang on the money, right?

 

The Best Time To Visit Europe

September and May have always been my favourite time to visit the Mediterranean, as scrambling over Roman ruins, drinking red wine, sunbathing – all the good stuff – are clearly best done without fear of heatstroke.  It’s also well-known that August is the worst time to visit Europe, as many cities such as Paris and Madrid effectively close down.  On top of that, you have the school summer holidays calendar which means just about everywhere with a patch of grass from St Petersburg to Dublin will be mobbed by screaming kids.  Don’t even think about visiting an open-air swimming pool in late July.

Of course, the ski season lasts from mid-December to Late March, but the winter is otherwise a pretty miserable time to visit Europe, where winter means either -40 in the North or grey skies and inadequate central heating in the South.

I’ve just got back from an epic three-week trip down to southern Italy and back in the camper van and I have to say that mid-March is in some ways an ideal time to ‘do Europe’ if you are interested in culture rather than beaches. There were no queues for museums, no reservations necessary at restaurants, easy parking and sleeping wherever we liked in the van.  The coast roads were traffic-free, which is also a huge bonus in places like the French Riviera and the Italy’s Amalfi coast, where there is enough local traffic to cause headaches at the best of times.

The weather was extremely varied, ranging from bright sunshine in Lyon to freezing hail in Naples, to snow in the Alps and April Showers in Belgium.  It really felt like we got a unique insight into a side of Europe we hadn’t seen before.

Most importantly, of course, there were none of those insufferable other tourists ruining our tourism by doing touristy things and being all touristy.  Which was great!

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