Hogging the Limelight
As one of the curmudgeons who viewed London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympics with as much enthusiasm as a plague of locusts, it gives me nothing but pleasure to report that builders working on the site of the Games in East London are facing a similar infestation. The Lower Lea Valley is – as any keen London walker could’ve told them – home to large areas of Caucasian Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed.
The Knotweed is a bizarre plant which reproduces by cloning itself – not unlike International Olympic Association bureaucrats – and getting it out of soil is an exhausting business. It can cost ££50,000 to clear an area the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Giant Hogweed, by contrast, is a 20-foot-high relative of cow parsley, the hairy stems of which impregnate human skin with a photo-active chemical, so that when its victims are exposed to sunlight they suffer terrible burns. Rather poetically, Giant Hogweed is thus a kind of anti-celebrity triffid – reminding athletes of the perils of over exposure. That these, two alien invaders should have to be grubbed-up to make way for many thousands of others is yet another example of Olympian folly.
Crack Down on Fashion
I’m wholeheartedly in favour of Sir Ian Blair’s move to crack down on middle class drug users – but what about middle class fashion users? As any right thinking person knows, fashion is a dangerously addictive drug which drives both women and men alike to spend thousands of pounds on fleeting highs. The fashion habit gets going early; boys and girls begin with an occasional, social designer label or pair of flash trainers, but before long they’re desperate for pret a porter. Sadly, many will graduate to becoming full-scale haute couture users. As Sir Ian would doubtless observe, how can we send a robust anti-fashion message to the Tommy Hilfiger-sporting youths on council estates while permitting the middle classes to shamelessly parade in Prada?
Now we have London Fashion Week, and the disgusting spectacle of girls – some as young as sixteen – whose only crime is taking a little cocaine, and yet who are forced to march up and down draped with expensive clothing, in order to gratify the depraved tastes of fashionistas. As I write, all over Chelsea prefab booths are being erected within which these sordid “shows” take place – will no one put a stop to it?
Take Me to the River
It was the normal Sunday afternoon toddle down to the South Bank for the Self Family. But lo! What was this? For in among the stony hulks of culture, where the superannuated Marxists talk of video installations and the yoof skateboard, there was a mighty press of people. There were stalls selling all manner of nibbles: chicken a-jerking, pork a-noodling, veggies a-currying. There were Czechs strumming triangular guitars and ugly Hispanics doing the flamenco (why are all flamenco dancers ugly when you get up close?). In geodesic domes there were Indy guitar bands a-flicking of their greasy locks, while out front politically-correct children tried to slap Asbos on Punch, Judy and the Baby.
Yes, it was the Mayor’s “Festival of the Thames”, another of those bizarre attempts Ken makes to introduce new-old folkways to the London masses. He’s been at it since he was in County Hall in the mid-1980s, and while I don’t have a principled objection, the whole bang-shoot mostly seems like an excuse for stall holders to make a 200% profit on cans of coke. There’s that, and there’s also the poor old River itself, which on a gloomy afternoon presented the same miserable, face to the world. There was no trace of festivity on its grey waters – only the usual rusty rubbish barges lying at anchor. Get real Ken – next year call it the “Festival of the Thames Bank”.
Tessa Cohen That You Should be With Us Now!
Will nothing stop the remorseless expansion of Tesco which now has 30% of the supermarket sector in its grasp? Can no one prevent it’s gobbling up of old buildings – the Clapham Women’s Hospital was this week’s casualty – followed by their voiding in the form of yet another corporate barn full of clever merchandising? The short answer is no, because in the real world of consumer choice the sweeties are always – and I mean always – positioned right by the till.
Which came first, supermarkets or the global trade in foodstuffs which enables them to pile high and sell very cheap? The answer is that both arose at the same time, in a positive feedback process of the kind engineers term “autocatalytic”. Which came first, the stranglehold the big supermarket chains have on food distribution – and increasingly food production – or the government compliance in their relentless expansion? The answer is both, because governments are only weary parents, pushing the trolley of fiscal policy down the aisles of history, and desperate to quieten the fractious tax payers with yet more sweeties.
No, there’s no way back now – because to make the kind of choices that will keep small, local shops open, and favour low-intensive, organic farming methods, costs shoppers a great deal of money and time. If you take the long view, the move to supermarket shopping is analogous to the adoption of sedentary food production by hunter-gatherers 12,000 years ago. I’m serious, because all the evidence suggests that the hunter-gatherers had more free time and were better fed, and yet they ended up as overworked, malnourished farmers oppressed by god-kings and despotic bureaucracies.
Why was this? It was because the poor hunter-gatherers didn’t know what farming societies would be like – they had no experience of them. They adopted farming piecemeal, in much the same way that time-pressured consumers, with limited disposable income, start off shopping at supermarkets for a few convenience items and end up completely hooked on internet-ordered deliveries. The individual shopper doesn’t understand that she’s going to end up in a hideous Tesco nation – anymore than the hunter-gatherer saw Babylon on the horizon.
No, it’s all over bar the name change. Personally I think “Tesco” is a perfectly good name for Britain, reflecting our commitment to modernity and an economy dependent on ever increasing consumer demand. And I think Sir Terry Leahy, will make a just as good a head of state as he does a chief executive. After all, he understands the long view, when asked about Tesco’s current supremacy he said: “I remember when I started at the Co-op in 1979 – it had a 25% market share.” Yes, empires may rise and fall, but civilisation always progresses.