Monday, 30 April 2012

Old Pirates Yes They Rob I

I returned from Kevin McDonald's new Bob Marley reggumentary this afternoon with the words to "Redemption Song" echoing through my head. Its lyrics - calling for people who were once enslaved to "free their minds" and take charge of their destiny - made me think about the current boom in modern-day slavery.
I know in the olden times young people with nothing to lose would set out to sea as unpaid cabin boys, hoping to cadge a ship's biscuit and some ale for skivvying below decks for months, even years on end.
But surely the age of the unpaid deck-hand is over? No. It is clearly alive and well on the high seas, where the usual laws of employers' decency seem to have been washed away by a freak wave. It's brought the TUC's Brendan Barber out in a pay and conditions rash. I can feel my own skin itching at the injustice as I type.
So we learn the poor waiters on P&O cruises are earning a paltry £250 a month for a 77 hour week, and they can push that up to £400 with tips. Except now, they won't get the pooled tips unless the crew reach their "performance targets". And all this for serving poshed up foods to pensioners hoping to get through the trip without falling overboard or contracting a fatal Norovirus. Or sinking a la Costa Concordia. Blistering Barnacles, as Captain Haddock might say.
The company claims withholding the tips will protect workers from passengers under-tipping during the recession. This way, all the slavery-wage workers will have a slice of the ever-decreasing pie - but only if they bend and scrape to the appropriate level.
But do people who book into £2,000 cruises really hope to make recessionary savings by tipping a bit less? Wouldn't they have saved more by simply staying at home. I would have thought once you'd spent that much, a bit extra for the crew would be (pardon the pun) a drop in the ocean. You might expect that holiday feeling to put people in a tipping mood. Perhaps the Indian and Filipino crew are so oppressed and miss their families so much, they're not smiling enough to earn the extra cash.
But it sounds to me as if P&O and owners Carnival are looking to push their profit margins even further, at the expense of the willing Asian workers who apparently "queue up" to work for them.
Ok, so working on Western cruise ships might be better than shovelling cow dung in the slums of Mumbai, but does that give multi-nationals the right to treat them like indentured workers on sugar-plantations?
Never before has the lyric "Old pirates, yes, they rob I, sold I to the merchant ships" felt more apt...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Interlude Poetique Politique

Cuban heels Sarkozy,
Getting cozy with Bruni
As the final votes are counted
Enjoy your final days
Feasting at the Elysee Palace.

Francois Hollande, the flan,
Quintessentially French
But suspiciously Dutch
The people vote for the man
But don't expect much

Smiling Marine Le Pen
Hurlez Votre Haine
Papa Jean-Marie
Clapping in the crowd
As her daughter Marion
Spreads far right views
Across the South.

Liberte, egalite, intolerance raciale
I'd rather live in England
Any day.

Monday, 16 April 2012

La Isla Benita



Ok, I'll admit it, I've gone off Ken Livingstone. Until now, I've been a lifetime supporter of his Royal Redness. At aged 14 I even played the role of Ken in a "balloon debate," arguing for his life to be preserved for the good of the country.  I can't remember if he ended up getting pushed overboard.
My socialist grandpa, a lifelong London resident, was a big supporter too and played a lead role in casting Ken as an uncle figure to us all.
I loved the free Rise festival in Finsbury Park, so miserably cancelled by Boris, just because it had the worthy and irrelevant "Anti-Racism" tag.
But his time has run out. First it was the baby with the younger woman - not a criminal act, but I'm always suspicious of 60-year-old men having kids. You know who you are.
Then there was the bizarre bus oil deal with Chavez. Do we really have to get involved with dictatorships to run the transport system? Is he really planning to get involved in Venezuela again?
Ken's done great things for the capital over the years. But three weeks ago I saw him campaigning on Walthamstow High Street looking as tanned as a chestnut and as smug as a man just returned from the tropics/tanning booth.
I don't really trust white men with deep tans. I'm not racist, but the tan and the toupe suggest a dodgy moral fibre and an unbecoming vanity.
I'm not terribly worried about Ken's tax affairs or his "gaffes" with Jewish journalists, but the picture of him putting out his rubbish in nothing but trousers and braces was the final straw.
I've warmed to Boris since his election. He watched me swim a length of breast stroke at the local swimming pool last year as he launched some sports initiative or another. I felt we connected over this, but was unsurprised to see that the Olympics would not mean the municipal leisure facilities would invest in functioning showers.
So, although Blondy Boz has melted my heart with his charming cable car project and Routemasters and disgraceful extra-marital affairs, he is yet to penetrate my rational mind. I simply can't vote for him.
On the high-profile men front, the only figure left is Brian Paddick. A nice manifesto but a more pathetically publicity seeking individual I am yet to encounter. He's been dining out on his old job with the Met Police for too long. He fell out of favour when I saw him "commentating" on the August riots for the BBC. It was about 5am, and there he was in the studio, lapping up his "policing expert" status.
He needs to do more than go on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here to get my vote.
So that leaves me with the independent Siobhan Benita. She says she doesn't want people to vote for her because she's a woman, but that's precisely why I will be voting for her. London's women deserve one of their own leading the way - not just on tedious "women's issues" (toilets on buses anyone?) but everything. Let's give her a chance. She can't do any worse than Boris.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Power and the Glory?

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” From the age of about eight to 15, I always thought this excessively sibilant phrase was vaguely to do with not playing on building sites or wandering onto our neighbour’s lawn.
We learnt the Lord’s prayer as a song at primary school. It was a pleasant, relaxing tune, featuring bread (nice), heaven (obviously nice) and “ Lord”, an unknown quantity but seemed to feature in a lot of jolly good songs.
I didn’t know what it was all about, and although my dad said God was all made up, I didn’t ask too many questions. I didn’t go to church and I always preferred “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” anyway.
According to a new survey, I am among a dying breed of people who know the words to the Lord’s prayer. Archbishop Rowan Williams said it is a vital part of culture, and that young people should know it to understand references to it in life beyond the church. The culture he would very much like to remain “predominantly Christian”.
But I would say tosh. It’s just a prayer that someone else wrote with social control in mind. Surely the real God would rather hear our own freestyle prayers than hear the same old off-the-peg thing again and again? "Word up, God mate - chill out about all my bad shit and make everything tickety-boo. Amen." That sort of thing.
The same survey also said that a higher proportion of children say religion is important to them than 40 years ago. Is it the recession? Immigration? Liberation from indoctrination?
Anyway, let us not fret over our children’s moral fibre falling away because they don’t know the Lord’s prayer (or the national anthem for that matter). We have much bigger things to worry about. Like teaching them to write and think for themselves.