DAY 160: The judgment

January 30th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

That Day, the people will depart to be shown the result of their deeds. 

So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it,

And whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.

The words of Sura 99 (6-8) came to mind irresistibly as I heard the judgment of McCloskey J in the truly historic case of R (ZAT, IAJ, KAM, AAM, MAT, MAJ and LAM) v. the Secretary of State for » Read the rest of this entry «

DAY 159: The generations

January 20th, 2016 § Comments Off on DAY 159: The generations § permalink

What with about ten lectures, a slew of articles for the comrades, and the demands of the blog, the only honest thing to do seems to be to plagiarize myself. (Plagiarizing someone else would get me into trouble under TRIPS.) » Read the rest of this entry «

DAY 158: The circuit-breaker

January 8th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I was perhaps too hopeful in predicting that global catastrophe was not around the corner. My finance-savvy friend Mona Dohle (pictured), well-known on the London-Calais run, has been 10898302_10205772696020315_7231868337887763225_nexplaining in terms which even I can almost understand why the fact that China has scrapped the ‘circuit-breaker’ (断路器 or Duànlù qì in pinyin) has thrown the markets into a turmoil which will make 2008 look like the South Sea Bubble. Any electrician should have told the celestial bankers that the circuit breaker is there for a reason, and if you scrap it, you’ll blow a fuse. As Chairman Mao put is, ‘A single spark can cause a prairie fire’. I hastily took out my yarrowstalks, threw the I Ching to find what was in store, and came up with hexagram 29, K’an the Abysmal

‘beautiful but scary’ according to one commentator. I offer this to the world’s financial system, but as a diagnosis rather than a solution.

Meanwhile, I myself have spent a rewarding three days in Calais. I cannot recommend this place too much as a destination for brief city breaks (if it’s in order to call Calais a ‘city’). It is, as everyone says, on our doorstep so there’s no excuse for ignoring it. So why not go there? Unlike any similar place I know, you will be welcomed as a volunteer at the warehouse 56 rue Clément Ader. No one asks you about your skills, you need none no references, there are no forms to fill in. I can’t think of the number of voluntary organizations who have turned me away where L’ Auberge welcomed me.  You get a yellow hi-viz jacket (to distinguish you from the administrative grades, who wear orange ones, and will tell you what to do); and set to work sorting shoes,1929582_1503855053243899_2472881700185686298_n-1 or children’s clothes, or teapots into boxes. The company is delightful, naturally free from the usual taint of neoliberalism, let alone racism. And if you are old enough to blench at the thought of sleeping in a tent the Belazur Hotel in the central square of Calais is clean and comfortable; and the staff seem to welcome volunteers from the jungle. Indeed, they apparently speak Arabic. When you tire of sorting clothes, you may find someone who will give you a lift to the jungle – where there are still needs, but different ones.

Of course I wouldn’t dream of living in the jungle in Calais – who would, if they had any choice? It’s damp, cold, and in constant danger of teargas attacks from the police it’s a community, as many of those there agree, but a community under siege and we must work to help the inhabitants to find the freedom which our government denies them. And if this description applies to Calais, conditions are much worse at Dunkirk, let alone the Greek islands. To underline that point, here is Isabella Tomico Ellis’ report (she is posting a series) from Chios:

Update from Chios:

It was a busy night for boats on the island last night, with around 25 arrivals throughout the last 24 hours. It was also my first night patrolling after the bad weather that left it near impossible to cross over from Turkey.

As some of the first boats came in, men, women, children and babies came off in varying states. Many babies were in bad shape – freezing cold and crying for their mothers. The incredible Spanish life guards have to attend to the whole island, since boats arrive at the same time all around. In their treatment van there is only enough room for maybe six or seven children and adults at once. This means that as soon as people who are seriously cold are a little warmer, they must move on to make space for others from the next boat. It feels surreal pushing out children who aren’t ready but you know the next one requires the help more. It’s a mass of emergency blankets, wet clothes, coughing and crying. Volunteers distribute generous donations of clothing but there is always a shortage – so with such a mass of hardship they are necessarily limited.

One very quiet, freezing woman stayed back as others were given clothes. Later, she explained how she had made the journey completely alone from Syria and that her family were still in Iraq; her gratitude and grace was unbelievable.

Throughout the long night, people were found all over Chios, people who hadn’t managed to be picked up as they had landed ashore. Many of them were soaking and freezing, including older people and very young children. As the boats continued to come, the disturbing reality of what is going on in Europe becomes evermore vivid. As you attend people in desperate need, helping them undress in the most dignified way possible and aiding the children, one after another, you just have to accept the terrible reality. But this is far from acceptable, it’s a humanitarian disaster of grave proportions. What’s even more shocking – is that Europe has more than enough resources to deal with it; but instead, it’s left to volunteers and donators to hand out a change of clothes, socks with plastic bags over them since there are no shoes for many people, rationed baby wipes, juice boxes and bananas.

The people greet you with gratitude and shock but it feels utterly humbling to be thanked by someone for merely providing them with such basic and meagre care. The volunteers here are incredible. Each treating the refugees with huge care and love, but it’s only what they deserve. If we don’t all come together during this terrible time, by continuing to help, such as donating warm jumpers, trousers and socks for these people the effects will be even more catastrophic than they already are. Ultimately, only by pushing governments to change strategy will this international crisis be properly remedied.

At sunrise, as I left a young Syrian girl in the port, a translator explained that the child had asked me not to leave and since she was still wrapped in her foil blanket, we joked together, as I understood nothing and pointed out things in the sky. The only words she knew were ‘I love you’. She was the sweetest girl and one of the many hundreds of thousands facing disgraceful uncertainty at Europe’s closed borders. She asked if we would see each other again, I hope she will find a home in a European city; she practised her alphabet and numbers in English, as she shivered in the early hours of the morning. But she is also one of the lucky ones, the number of deaths from drowning increase every day… it’s impossible to comprehend such a huge loss of life that could so easily be halted.

The only picture that needs to be shown from last night, is not of the refugees who have already suffered such massive dehumanisation, but this one – of foil-blanketed people shocked and grateful for their safety, out of focus and extremely cold.

Good night and please, I beg you, keep supporting our brothers and sisters who desperately need our help. XX

Isabella Tomico Ellis's photo.
I think an appropriate poem is the Anglo-Saxon ‘The Seafarer; I’ve given the first 48 lines only (it does go on rather); and appended a modern translation not the Ezra Pound one.
Mæg ic be me sylfum I can make a true song
soðgied wrecan, about me myself,
siþas secgan, tell my travels,
hu ic geswincdagum how I often endured
earfoðhwile days of struggle,
oft þrowade, troublesome times,
4a bitre breostceare [how I] have suffered
gebiden hæbbe, grim sorrow at heart,
gecunnad in ceole have known in the ship
cearselda fela, many worries [abodes of care],
atol yþa gewealc, the terrible tossing of the waves,
þær mec oft bigeat where the anxious night watch
nearo nihtwaco often took me
æt nacan stefnan, at the ship’s prow,
8a þonne he be clifum cnossað. when it tossed near the cliffs.
Calde geþrungen Fettered by cold
wæron mine fet, were my feet,
forste gebunden bound by frost
caldum clommum, in cold clasps,
þær þa ceare seofedun where then cares seethed
hat ymb heortan; hot about my heart —
hungor innan slat a hunger tears from within
12a merewerges mod. the sea-weary soul.
Þæt se mon ne wat This the man does not know
þe him on foldan for whom on land
fægrost limpeð, it turns out most favourably,
hu ic earmcearig how I, wretched and sorrowful,
iscealdne sæ on the ice-cold sea
winter wunade dwelt for a winter
wræccan lastum, in the paths of exile,
16a winemægum bidroren, bereft of friendly kinsmen,
bihongen hrimgicelum; hung about with icicles;
hægl scurum fleag. hail flew in showers.
þær ic ne gehyrde There I heard nothing
butan hlimman sæ, but the roaring sea,
iscaldne wæg. the ice-cold wave.
Hwilum ylfete song At times the swan’s song
20a dyde ic me to gomene, I took to myself as pleasure,
ganotes hleoþor the gannet’s noise
ond huilpan sweg and the voice of the curlew
fore hleahtor wera, instead of the laughter of men,
mæw singende the singing gull
fore medodrince. instead of the drinking of mead.
Stormas þær stanclifu beotan, Storms there beat the stony cliffs,
þær him stearn oncwæð, where the tern spoke,
24a isigfeþera; icy-feathered;
ful oft þæt earn bigeal, always the eagle cried at it,
urigfeþra; dewy-feathered;
nænig hleomæga no cheerful kinsmen
feasceaftig ferð can comfort
frefran meahte. the poor soul.
Forþon him gelyfeð lyt, Indeed he credits it little,
se þe ah lifes wyn the one who has the joys of life,
28a gebiden in burgum, dwells in the city,
bealosiþa hwon, far from terrible journey,
wlonc ond wingal, proud and wanton with wine,
hu ic werig oft how I, weary, often
in brimlade have had to endure
bidan sceolde. in the sea-paths.
Nap nihtscua, The shadows of night darkened,
norþan sniwde, it snowed from the north,
32a hrim hrusan bond, frost bound the ground,
hægl feol on eorþan, hail fell on the earth,
corna caldast. coldest of grains.
Forþon cnyssað nu Indeed, now they are troubled,
heortan geþohtas the thoughts of my heart,
þæt ic hean streamas, that I myself should strive with
sealtyþa gelac the high streams,
sylf cunnige — the tossing of salt waves —
36a monað modes lust the wish of my heart urges
mæla gehwylce all the time
ferð to feran, my spirit to go forth,
þæt ic feor heonan that I, far from here,
elþeodigra should seek the homeland
eard gesece — of a foreign people —
Forþon nis þæs modwlonc Indeed there is not so proud-spirited
mon ofer eorþan, a man in the world,
40a ne his gifena þæs god, nor so generous of gifts,
ne in geoguþe to þæs hwæt, nor so bold in his youth,
ne in his dædum to þæs deor, nor so brave in his deeds,
ne him his dryhten to þæs hold, nor so dear to his lord,
þæt he a his sæfore that he never in his seafaring
sorge næbbe, has a worry,
to hwon hine Dryhten as to what his Lord
gedon wille. will do to him.
44a Ne biþ him to hearpan hyge Not for him is the sound of the harp
ne to hringþege nor the giving of rings
ne to wife wyn nor pleasure in woman
ne to worulde hyht nor worldly glory —
ne ymbe owiht elles nor anything at all
nefne ymb yða gewealc; unless the tossing of waves;
ac a hafað longunge but he always has a longing,
se þe on lagu fundað. he who strives on the waves.


I cover the waterfront

DAY 157: The science of prediction.

January 1st, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Those of my readers who have read my sneery remarks about chaos theory – and, if you’ve read my book, I don’t know how you can have missed them – will know how much value I put on forecasting. (Hint: Not much.) It was therefore with some surprise that I found that my main predictions for 2015 had been fulfilled, namely:

1) The Tories, contrary to expectation, would win the General Election;

2) Jeremy Corbyn would be the convincing winner of the ensuing election for Labour Party leader;

3) On the day that his election was announced, 100,000 people would march through central London demanding an end to borders.

Unfortunately at the time (January 1st or thereabouts) I was unable to find a bookiebookie who was prepared to give me the (certainly astronomical) odds against these predictions being fulfilled. If I had, either I would have been a millionaire or the bookie would have been ruined, or both. Some reference to the ‘butterfly effect’ which was probably responsible for all these events may be called for; I think the best candidate for butterfly is Ros Erera, referred to much earlier, who at the beginning of September wondered why no one was organizing a march about refugees and decided to do it.

These thoughts were prompted predictably (get it?) by the approach of the New Year when we all make a stab at guessing what lies ahead. But then, prediction is notoriously a mug’s game. James Lovelock, who has a track record in it, is saying that in 20 years time, ‘nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics’. It doesn’t bother me much, as I have slim chances of still being around. But I suppose I should worry for my children, and indeed my young friends,

hollymany of whom astonishingly write down their age as ’21’ on the coach from Dover to Calais. I hope they will still be around, ripping their jeans and downing their vino, when the planet is too hot  and Britain is sinking underwater.

A week or so ago, I ventured what wasn’t quite a prediction; but an observation that the world had bloody well better deal with two of its problems this year: 1) The Syria war; 2) The ongoing European refugee crisis. I added that – whatever my views might be – nothing that I, ageing  unskilled Londoner, could do would make a gnat’s-breath of difference to the Syrian situation, so I would leave it to the Syrian people and their various friends, oppressors, and enemies to sort out. I can only hope for the best.

On the other hand, the refugees – as readers of these pages will have constantly dinned into them – are another matter. Back from another visit to the Calais complex, I was confronted by a report from the brave and talented Isabella Tomico Ellis in Chios:

Yesterday at 21:15 ·

When you see the great expanse of the Aegean sea from a plane you can only be grateful to be above it, yet with pain you know that many refugees have struggled to reach safety through its treachery. As you begin to see the shore, a mass of orange jackets are strewn everywhere – the headlines appear before your eyes, the horrifying reality of the dark and unacceptable situation of hundreds of thousands of people’s lives. Some make it and some do not, it’s a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.

The Greek Islands are being pounded by snow, high winds and heavy rain – crossing from Turkey is a near impossible task right now, those that do make it are going to be freezing. Four boats from Turkey are missing from last night. 1463438_10153367693328481_128498733729305281_nThat’s near the same number of people that were onboard the Malaysian airlines flight that gripped the news for months – this won’t even manage a days coverage. These lives are just as valuable, they are men, women and children desperate for a chance of a life, with the basic rights and safeties we enjoy.

Even patrolling the shore, hearing the news, its hard to process the thought of four missing boats so it’s unsurprising that people far removed from the situation cannot. But we must, we have to accept the cold reality of what is going on just metres from European shores and we have to act.

Volunteers are here wrapped in all the clothing they have and we are dry and safe, these poor people will be hungry, tired and wet – none of us can imagine. As you go safely into the new year please keep the people fighting for life in your minds and act. They have just as much right as us to be safe, to be warm and happy.


An increasing number of volunteers are going to Chios; and Calais as I have been finding, contains a whole city

Screen shot 2016-01-01 at 20.15.29Warehouse of L’Auberge des Migrants

of volunteers who live a kind of counter-culture to the rules, the norms, the police which define refugees’ lives. (It must be said that L’Auberge des Migrants, which ensures the smooth running of all this effort, this distribution of goods to the needy, is run in a sort of anarchically structured way which is only partly counter-cultural. Don’t be fooled by the fact that everyone kisses you and says that you’re a star – the Cultural Revolution is lurking under the surface.) To a feeble-minded old idealist like myself, both the society of the volunteers and that of the refugees form a kind if utopian vision of a future society – ‘a city built on hope’ said one volunteer. And the refugees themselves, let’s not forget it, will in the end form part of the solution. However the rulers of Europe dislike it, they are not going to go away. As we are constantly saying, it’s better to bring them in with welcome than to hold out against the inevitable.

[A salutary reality test of this kind of idealistic talk is provided by Theo Cokey’s gritty blog posting on life in the jungle – whose realities he knows from the inside. To be with the refugees, to stand with them, it helps to know them.]


This, by Olivier Vanderaa, was shared by Virginie Tiberghien,
Screen shot 2016-01-01 at 21.08.31

devoted teacher of the ‘Ecole Laique du Chemin des Dunes’ in he camp:

nous sommes les chats migrants
pas besoin de papiers
nous ne connaissons pas les frontières
nos moustaches nous guident en terre de sagesse
nous n’avons que faire de ceux qui nous rejettent,
ceux qui nous appellent impurs,
qui nous prennent pour des bêtes.

nos antennes cosmiques vous enseignent:
contre la guerre, le mélange,
le plein sur une terre franche!
vos limites humaines vous empêchent de voyager
vous êtes tout au plus des exfiltrés inconscients
en cas de tempête, de guerre
vous êtes tout étonnés d’être jetés sur les routes
des années après, vous êtes incapables de vous en souvenir
nous avons fait le grand voyage
nous savons
nous sommes égaux face à la migration
quand vous cherchez à nous diviser pour nous contingenter,
nos larmes, lorsqu’elles coulent,
vous collent à vos contradictions
& nous purifient la vision.
nous sommes matous à tout crin
chaque recoin de monde est pour nous
les frontières ne sont
que des accidents naturels
depuis la nuit des temps
cette nuit dans laquelle vous errez encore
dans vos clivages religieux
soumis à la pompe à fric
esclaves du pétrole lampant
énergie d’un autre temps
esclaves de préceptes torves, glaciaux & rampants
du trop d’argent
vous êtes seuls ensemble
Nous, nous sommes simplement solidaires
& fondus dans l’univers

© Olivier Vanderaa 2015
Calais dans la Jungle


For my Afghan readers, I’ve found a song which claims to be both in Pashto and in Farsi. I have no way of checking this, or whether I agree with the politics – supposing it has any – but here it is anyway.

Where am I?

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