New store, more zero hours

A new Morrisons on Whitstable High Street

As you may know by now, Morrisons is due to move onto Whitstable High Street in the near future, having taken over the premises currently occupied by Cain’s Amusements.

At present the opening date is unclear. However staff training starts on the 25th August, so we can expect the shop to open soon after that, possibly in early September.

Recruitment is currently taking place, with potential staff being referred there by the Job Centre.

This is sad news for the independent retailers of Whitstable who will certainly be threatened by the existence of yet another chain on our High Street.

It is also dire news for the unemployed as the much hyped jobs on offer will be at the minimum wage.

What’s worse, most of the jobs appear to be a variation on the zero hours contract, where people have to sit at home waiting for a phone call to see if there is work for them or not.

In the case of Morrisons, staff will be part time but exclusive: that is, they are only being offered 8 hours a week over two shifts, but on contracts containing an exclusivity clause, meaning that they won’t be allowed to work for anyone else for at least 12 months.

The rest of the time they will be sitting at home, like zero hours workers, waiting for that phone call.

The trick is that, while compliant staff will almost certainly get more hours – who can possibly survive on £52 a week before stoppages? – holiday pay will only be for the 8 hours contracted, and Morrisons won’t have to pay National Insurance contributions.

People on Job Seekers Allowance are being threatened that, if they refuse to take the post, the Job Centre will be informed, and sanctions will follow.

Such is the nature of work in 21st century Britain. The expression “slave labour” springs to mind.

So the next time you hear politicians talking about “the Recovery” and the number of jobs being created, remember this: What they are referring to is the recovery of profits, not income, and the jobs on offer are trash.

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A form of squatting by any other name

Yorkley Court Community Farm

I’ve just come back from visiting a community farm in the Forest of Dean.

What’s a “community farm” you ask?

In this case it’s a squatted farm on disputed land in which the residents – mainly young people from the nearby cities – are learning the art of sustainable living.

Well I say “squatted” and that gives you a particular impression of the status of the people living there

The word implies people occupying property to which they are not legally entitled. And that’s true, of course.

Except that if you look at the history of land, all land was originally squatted, and all current legal entitlements have only come about because historic squatting has given way to customary ownership over the generations.

70% of the land in the UK is owned by less than 1% of the population. Britain has the second most unequal distribution of land in the world. Most of that land was acquired by conquest; which is to say that it was squatted, but that the squatters were wielding swords at the time.

History is written by the victors. Then again, so are the laws.

So the legal system was built to protect the property rights of those who had originally taken the land by force of arms.

One of the squatters told me an interesting story. He said that in 2008 he had been working in the City of London. Before the financial crisis he had spent his time trying to make a profit for his bosses and an income for himself. After the collapse his job shifted, and more and more he found himself repossessing houses from people unable to pay their mortgage.

That was when the penny dropped. The people who had created the financial crisis were profiting, and the people who were paying for it were the victims.

There’s much talk of the recovery at the moment, but the fact is the bulk of the wealth since 2008 has gone to the top 1%.

Banks are sitting on heaps of property acquired from exploiting other people’s misery.

Which is just a form of squatting by another means.

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We Are Wiser Than The Angels

Mary Stone 1930-2013 RIP

Mary Stone 1930-2013 RIP

Mums are everywhere. They are the universal experience of all creatures upon this earth, the first and the last. She is the being who maintains us in our solitude, when we float in blissful meditation in the womb, unaware of anything but ourselves. She is the heartbeat that surrounds us and which we take as our own. When she moves, we move. We’ve been moved by her ever since.

Read more here.

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Stonehenge at sunrise – still as exciting as ever

Several thousand at least

I was at Stonehenge for the solstice morning sunrise again this year.

You may know that I co-wrote a book a couple of years ago with the mad biker druid, King Arthur Pendragon, about the campaign to free Stonehenge for public access.

Viewers may have seen Arthur on BBC2 on Saturday evening in a Culture Show special presented by Alistair Sooke. Arthur was the one wearing chain mail.

He was also featured in an article by Will Self in the Guardian, in which he is described as follows: “It might be easy to dismiss Arthur Pendragon as an endearing eccentric had he not been quite so successful.”

I can attest to this, having spent a lot of time in his company over the years. He’s surprisingly down to earth and very astute politically. We can lay the blame for the current regime directly at Arthur’s feet, who ran a 14 year long campaign for free and open access culminating in taking the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights in 1998.

After that the government backed down and people have been meeting in the Stones for the solstices and the equinoxes ever since.

The summer solstice night is the maddest of them all. This year an estimated 37,000 people turned up, and all of them trying to get into the centre of the stones.

It’s surprising how many people can fit in there. It feels like several thousand at least.

The Druids try to squeeze themselves in amongst this vast crowd and do their best to hold a ceremony, but are generally drowned out with the sounds of whooping, cheering, drumming and chanting.

This goes on all night. The closer it gets to sunrise the more excited people get, until, as the first rays break over the horizon, the crowd goes wild.

I find this remarkable. Most of the people are in their teens or their twenties. They’ve been brought up on a diet of Hollywood movies and video games, and yet, here they are, in a field in the middle of nowhere, getting all excited at the prospect of a sunrise.

Somehow that gives me great hope for the future.

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The Battle of the Beanfield

That’s someone’s home burning in the background.

1st June 1985. A date that signifies horror and disillusionment to anyone who knows of it. A date which reveals the poisonous worm at the heart of the British Establishment. The day that the dreams of a generation died.

An extract from my book Fierce Dancing: adventures in the Underground. Remembering the anniversary of an infamous day in British history.

Read more here.

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Threat to our sovereignty is from big corporations

As always I went to exercise my democratic right last Thursday, casting my vote at the polling station in Windsor House.

There was a long wait in the queue, after which I enjoyed my half a second’s worth of democracy, before being shovelled back into the political wilderness again.

The voting paper was extraordinarily long, with a bewildering number of parties, many of which I’ve never heard of before.

A lot of them were anti-EU parties, which I agree with. The trouble is most of the anti-EU protest votes went to UKIP, who have made a lot of gains, both in the European and in the local elections.

This is very odd, because although UKIP make a big thing about protecting UK sovereignty from the Europeans, they don’t seem to mind giving UK sovereignty away to the Corporations.

So far we’ve heard no words from UKIP about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a trade agreement between the European Union and the United States – even now being negotiated in secret – which threatens to take away our national sovereignty in a number of areas: not least the right to protect our environment from greedy energy companies, or the right to protect our National Health Service from profiteering private health companies.

The trick is in a mechanism called the investor state dispute settlement, which will basically allow the corporations to sue national governments if their profits are threatened.

Tribunal meetings will be held behind closed doors. Judgements will be made by corporate lawyers. Citizens will have no right of appeal.

This is how one of the judges describes the tribunals: “Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”

Or as the US-based Democracy Centre described it: “a privatised justice system for global corporations.”

UKIP is very vocal about the protection of British Sovereignty when it comes to social legislation emanating from Europe, but it remains strangely silent when the threat to our sovereignty comes from the Corporations.

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CJ Stone’s Columns: The Home Front

Accommodationally challenged after a disastrous foreign trip in 2007, CJ Stone was forced to take refuge with his parents. It was the first time he’d lived with them since his teens, and he was surprised to find himself in a war zone. Following are CJ’s bulletins from the front line in the eternal war of age and sex.

1. Bangers ‘n’ Mash

It was bangers’n’mash night

It was bangers ‘n mash night. Bangers ‘n’ mash and the six o’clock news. Mum said, “What did you used to do before there was telly?”

“Are you getting at me again?” Dad squeaked in an offended tone, almost banging his knife and fork on the table. “I used to read and listen to the radio if you’d like to know.”

“Well I’m fed up with looking down your ear’ole,” she said.

There’s three of us at the kitchen table: Mum on one side, with her back to the telly, Dad on the other – even now craning his head around again to catch some local news item about a mother-of-two who’s won a modeling competition, giving Mum a glorious view down the hairy funnel into his inner ear – and me, opposite, trying not to laugh.

“So what did YOU do before there was telly Mum?” I asked. “You’re always watching the telly too.”

“I used to talk,” she said. “He never had anything to say even back then. Always just sitting there like a great big fat lump.”

Well it’s true… or partly true. Dad watches a lot of TV. He’d turned it on in the kitchen even as his dinner was being laid on the table. He does the same thing every night, making a great to-do about the process, turning it on, picking the channel, adjusting the volume, even as Mum and I are tucking into ours. Until then he’d been watching a program in the other room. Mum said, loud enough for him to hear, “He hangs around like a schoolboy waiting for me to call him in for his dinner.”

He doesn’t like silence our Dad. He always likes to fill the empty spaces with something glaring and noisy. Generally that thing is the TV. If he’s not catching the news, or watching an afternoon movie on Channel 5, then he’s playing something he recorded last night or the night before or something he recorded while he was watching something else. But then, what else is he supposed to do? Sometimes he just looks very tired. Tired to his bones.

They are both in their late seventies now. Still squabbling after all of these years. It’s the squabbling that keeps them alive. But it’s the rule of the house: Mum is always right.

She has a certain tone. A certain way of looking at the world. For years I used to think it was me. I’d lived in fear of that withering look, that note of scorn. Even when I was a grown-up that look would have me quaking like a schoolboy before the headmistress’ office. It’s only in the last couple of months that it’s struck me. She can’t help it. It’s just the way she was made.

I’m a 55-year-old-man living at home with his parents.

I’m thinking of joining one of those on-line dating websites. I’d put it up as my personal ad: “55-year-old-bachelor living at home with his Mum.”

The women will be queuing up in anticipation.

She even does my washing for me. I try to stop her but she’s always rifling through my drawers when I‘m out, fiddling with my underwear.

If you ask me she has an unhealthy interest in the state of my underwear.

She’s also always asking me if I’ve got a woman in my life yet. Once she asked me it in Tesco in a very loud voice. Everybody turned round to look. I must have flushed a healthy state of scarlet, shushing her as I did.

“Please, Mum, not here.”

I’ve refused to go to Tesco with her since.

I say, “No Mum, there’s no woman as yet. Who would want me? You’d be standing outside the bedroom listening in.”

“Well I have to know what’s going on in your life. It’s my duty.”

You’re probably wondering how I got here. I won’t go into all that now. Life has so many twists and turns, so many ups and downs, it’s like a roller-coaster ride at times. The roller-coaster of mundane middle-age. Even six months ago I had no idea that this is where I would end up: that very soon I would be living back at home with my Mum and Dad.

I also had no idea that it was a war-zone. So I’m a war-correspondent now. These are my domestic bulletins from the home front.

It’s a kind of trench warfare rather than an all-out attack. Dad is usually sniping from a fox-hole. The big guns are all on her side. He keeps his head down mainly, defending himself with hobbies and with routine. He has a lot of hobbies and a lot of routines.

Turning the TV on as he’s sitting down to dinner is one of them. Is it a hobby or is it a routine? It’s hard to tell with our Dad. Both have the same quality about them, a kind of dogged persistence, a head-down, measured, unswerving sense of purpose, an unwillingness to adapt to change. Everything he does he always does it in the same way, at the same time, in the same order.

After dinner is over Mum gets up and starts putting the dishes away. Dad says, “You go and sit down love, I’ll do this,” but she carries on anyway, just long enough to annoy him. This is also part of the daily ritual.

Dad likes to have control over the washing up machine. So Mum sticks a few plates and cups in, rattling them about, and then he very pointedly takes them out again, one by one, unloading it completely before reloading it again. There are certain places for certain dishes and no one else knows where they’re supposed to go. Only him. This is his territory.

So Mum gives up and goes into the living room and I make her a cup of tea while Dad fills the washing up machine. The cup of tea is my contribution to the routine.

After that I go upstairs to play with my computer.

Can you see how undignified all of this is? Not only am I living at home with my Mum and Dad, but I’m turning into a bored teenager at the same time.

Read more here.

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King Arthur Pendragon at Stonehenge

Biker Arthur

It was back in 1986, before the name change. He was still plain old Johnny Rothwell then, a crazy-arsed barbarian from the Farnborough and Aldershot area, head of a gang of outlaw bikers, a death-defying trouble-maker, a rebel and a fighter, known as “King John” at the time, not because he had any aspirations to royalty, but because he was famed for throwing full-moon parties at nearby Odiham Castle, also known as King John’s Castle.

He’d had this weird revelation about his true identity – about his once, true and former name, as he describes it – in a run-down squat in Farnborough while sitting with another member of the gang called the Whippet. It was a year or two after his parents had died, both of them in the space of two weeks, and he’d had been on a bender ever since. But he was bored with life. He’d started doodling on a white laminated board in black marker pen. He’d put “King John” in the middle, with a three pointed crown above the K – which is how he always signed himself – and then around that a circle of names: Bacardi, Viet, Johnny Reb, Mad Dog, Ace, his social security number, his army number, a whole host of names and identities that he had adopted over the years.

“I’m bored,” he said, and handed the Whippet the board.

The Whippet had been reading occult books at the time. Something must have been going on in his head. He said, “no you’re not King John, you’re King Arthur.”

And that was how it started. Somehow those insane words buried themselves in his skull and set light to his imagination. He and the Whippet got into an intense debate lasting into the small hours, at the end of which he decided that it was all true, that he really was King Arthur. That was the revelation.

He said, “you know if I go for it, I go for it all the way? No turning back.”

And the Whippet said, “I know.

Read more here.

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No need to travel to Canterbury to pick up undelivered mail

scan0001As you will know by now, the Royal Mail Enquiry office on Cromwell Road, Whitstable, has finally closed.

This means that many of you will be travelling to Canterbury to pick up your undelivered packages.

However, there are a number of other options available, and you should have received a letter from the Royal Mail outlining these.

As it says, you can have the item redelivered on a day of your choice, you can have it delivered to a local Post Office, subject to a small charge, or you can have it delivered to a neighbour.

However, there is one option which is not mentioned in the letter but which you will see on the “Something for you” card left by your postman.  This is that the item could be left in your official “Safeplace”.

What’s a “Safeplace” you ask? The card doesn’t tell you. If you look it up on the Royal Mail website, however, you’ll see that the word “Safeplace” is trademarked and that the service is available for Tracked items only.

Tracked items are bar coded and electronically tracked as they go through the system. All postal workers carry a device these days which reads a bar code and which then sends a wireless signal to a central computer once the item has been delivered.

If you order an item by Tracked mail you can opt to designate a safe place for your purchase.

The safe place is then specified on the package. It might say “leave in porch”, or “leave in shed”, or any of a number of possible locations.

There is an extra charge for this service, as you pay a premium for Tracked mail, but there is nothing to stop you talking to your postie and achieving the same result free of charge. All you have to do is to agree between you on what the safe place will be, and to ask your postie to leave any packages there in future.

This could be your unlocked porch, or a closed box in the back garden, or anywhere you choose out of sight of the road.

That way you save the bother of redelivery or the expense of travelling to Canterbury.

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Engaged Spirituality

Russell Brand guest edited the New Statesman last year

Russell Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight was one of the most watched YouTube clips in the UK last year.

It’s not surprising. Brand is always entertaining, and to see him go head to head with one of the UK’s heavyweight political pundits had something of the air of an intellectual sparring match about it.

Indeed it was billed that way. The BBC’s own YouTube channel calls the interview “Paxman vs. Brand”.

So it was the old guard vs. the new, political commentary vs. anarchic comedy, seriousness vs. facetiousness, democracy vs. revolution, politics vs. spirituality.

The politics of spirituality: from  Kindred Spirit magazine.

Read more here.

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