Pictures from a not quite gone city: A field  trippers rambling guide to San Francisco

Near Views  from Afar Schoolboys of my generation learnt one thing  that stuck in our minds about San Francisco : earthquakes. The frequent earthquakes which devastated large parts of the city  had something to do with the San Andreas fault and meant  inhabitants  went about in daily dread of the world collapsing about their ears. Later, watching the eponymous  Hollywood  movie featuring  the great 1906  quake  plus Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald  and Spencer Tracy, confirmed this impression of a city living dangerously, on borrowed time, yet with a magical capacity to renew itself : at the end of the film the ruins  dissolve into a modern rebuilt urban landscape. Fast forward to the 1960’s and San Francisco is again the epicentre of an upheaval, only this time a cultural one.  To those of us who grew our hair long, went on CND marches, and hit the road with a copy [Read More…]


Note : This piece of writing, in which real events in my family  history  are interwoven with  those fictions of  self  invention  which Freud called the family romance, is in part a response to  the current  furore in the UK about antisemitism on the Left  and the problematic nature of Jewish identity politics. 1.Genealogy This much I was told: by night you slept soundly, framed between pictures of Lenin and Kropotkin as if guarding still untroubled dreams of Power and Freedom joining hands in  Zion’s promised land. By day you sold blankets  and Socialism  door to door to  miners wives  who bought them both on tick and left you broke but rich in expectations. Your papers  said Place of Birth Vitebsk, by trade a tailor. It was enough   to allow me, years later, to picture you flying like Chagall’s bridegroom ,leap frogging over Tsarist police, making landfall in Glasgow,in time [Read More…]


In the age of Instagram and Facebook, when people are constantly  ‘updating their status’,  and keeping family and friends ‘in the loop’ about the smallest detail of their everyday lives, a Xmas  blog  looking back and reflecting on the year’s events, both personal and political, must seem  either redundant or an act of self indulgence, along with too many mince pies. Yet annual stock taking is still  perhaps too necessary  a business to be left to the professional commentariat  or to  business people with  their overwhelming interest in seeing a return on their  investment of time and energy  in the form of  ‘quick hits’ or ‘results’.  Once we take  financial accountancy out of the moral equation  we discover that ‘benchmarks’, ‘gauges’, ‘ litmus tests’, ‘yard sticks’, ‘barometers’, ’milestones’   and all the other pseudo- material tropes for conjuring  measures of progress  out of  an increasingly de-materialised economy, are  indeed hollow  metaphors [Read More…]

February Blog There goes the neighbourhood

FEBRUARY BLOG :THERE GOES THE NEIGHBOURHOOD – AN URBAN TRIPTYCH   1)  Chic by Growl   I recently moved into a new neighbourhood in Islington. My flat is  in  a large Peabody Estate, off the Essex Road, quite close to the area which Ruth Glass  made the object of her famous study on ‘gentrification’. I am living in one of the earliest ‘ model dwellings’  built in the 1860’s for the ‘industrious working classes’ by  the great Canadian philanthropist and which  became  an inspiration for the  development of social housing in Britain. Today the estate’s inhabitants are a cross section of all those  who cannot  afford to buy or rent in the private housing market, and increasingly this is including middle class professional people  like myself. A recent study of local housing conditions concluded that by 2020  you would have to be either very rich or very poor to remain [Read More…]

Ben Cohen – My Story No Mean City

    Click on the picture to view the slide tribute to Ben Cohen         Also, please check out the interview with Ben entitled  MyStory – No Mean City: Memories of the Gorbals in the twenties

An Unseasonal Triptych

Trump L’Oeil Like most people on what we used to call the Left,  I guess I have been struggling to come to terms with the result of the US Presidential election, not to mention the  UK vote to leave the EU and the gains by the Far Right in Eastern Europe. It is fatally easy to join up the dots and see the emergence of  authoritarian populism and national isolationism as an irresistible force sweeping across the Western world, demolishing what remains of the advances made by Social Democracy and the Labour  movement  following the defeat of Fascism in 1945. We never dreamt, in our worst nightmares,  that anti-globalisation protest  would take this form. Faced with this circumstance, the Liberal Left commentariat have done what they do best and engaged in a frenzied  bout of  breast beating and straw clutching, a difficult manoeuvre at the best of times,  but  which [Read More…]


I  was recently  asked to speak at an  event  in support of Jeremy Corbyn`s bid to retain his leadership of the Labour Party.  The request came from the son of one of my oldest friends, a young man who  has recently discovered politics, along with a great deal of self confidence  after an unusually difficult  and prolonged  period of sturm und drang.  I would normally have  agreed but when  faced with the prospect of being a cheerleader for Jezza I  suddenly balked. Like many I had paid my 20 quid and broken the habit of a lifetime in order to vote him in  a year ago. Up to that point I had always belonged to the Groucho Marxist tendency and never joined a club that would have me as a member. Are we that Poem? The title of my  poem derives from   a debate that took place during the 1930’s [Read More…]

August Blog; From London to Rio,the band plays on

Some reflections on  the Olympic  dream machine ‘As a microcosm of what we hope to achieve,  look at the Olympics and their Legacy….We have set ourselves the goal of ‘convergence’.  The idea is that kids growing up in East London should have the same life chances as anywhere else. There is no reason why the kids of East London should not benefit from, say, rugby, as much as the kids from Richmond. After two hours of hard physical exercise such as scrumming and tackling around the ankles, a 16 year old is less likely to want to get into a gang fight.’ Boris Johnson – 2020 Vision. The Greatest City on Earth: Ambitions for London   The Olympic Games are unique  amongst mega sporting events, not just because of the scale of infrastructure investment and impact on host cities, not even because of the scope of media attention, which provides [Read More…]

Mad Dogs and Englishmen : The EU referendum and its Other Scene

1.Mad Dogs   Like most of you, I have been following the public debate about the EU referendum  with   horrified fascination  and growing anxiety. Listening to the claims and counter-claims of the Remainders and Brexiteers reminded me of that  famous opening verse of Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming’ written in the immediate aftermath of the First World War: Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. What is clearly  falling apart is the managed consensus of  the Westminster political class, with its electoral pre-occupation  of capturing the ideological  centre ground. As for the ceremony of innocence, the widespread disenchantment  with mainstream party politics has opened up a space for  more  authentic and expressive  forms  of civic engagement,  to reclaim [Read More…]

A Poem for all seasons

When  Language is Affordance Enough   It began with a hand clenched experimentally to ear not so much a fist as a makeshift mouthpiece designed to broadcast  miracles speaking in tongues:   ‘habari,kangarooshni ,slapit nego,nego,unulti possum! craaghi ipsit cunnilingo ? es krampit   todo   kwa heri ‘   a polyglot  mother tongue Nordic vowels, Slavic consonants Swahili syntax,Latin verse and just a touch of Lewis Carroll to stitch into proper nonsense   all in the hope  some passers by might stop and listen, become alarmed, and call an ambulance, take me to a  ’place of safety’ where the only voices heard are  in my head.   But all they see is a middle aged gent clutching his smart phone doing   foreign dumb talk to someone just like them in Karachi , Prague or Timbuktu   Once upon a time before we crossed the emoticon I lived in another   country where language [Read More…]