Archive for June, 2007
It’s not my project – it’s the City of Edinburgh Council project and the Scottish government is providing financial support at the request of the Opposition parties in Parliament. John Swinney, SNP Finance Secretary, as quoted in the Evening News.
Maybe, but there’s a more serious question about the SNP’s sudden change of mind over the trams. Does this indicate that central government could be prepared to relinquish more of its power to local authorities? Or, only when it suits them?
Edinburgh has a peculiar relationship with the parliament. Under the old regime, die-hard west coast MSPs were accused of diverting investment from the capital to Glasgow. Under the new regime, the largely rural SNP is now accused of dipping into Edinburgh’s budget to fund a long list of ambitious schemes across the countryside (where is the money coming from to build the new Forth bridge, and widen all those trunk roads?)
Wendy Alexander (Labour’s spokeswoman for finance but soon to be new leader?) describes tram funding as essential investment in the capital’s infrastructure. But with limited powers to raise money (further complicated by SNP and Lib Dem plans to scrap council tax) how can Edinburgh plan and fund the kind of sustainable development needed in a 21st century capital city?
Leaving aside the complexities of local taxation, Edinburgh also suffers from a lack of local leadership. The bold decisisons that shaped Bilbao (see John Herrings Global Gossip) simply could not happen here. Not yet anyway. In an ideal world, a solution to that may lie in an article in Society Guardian this week where Michael Heseltine, an unlikely fan of Ken Livingstone, tells Peter Hetherington about his ambitions for city administrations headed by directly-elected mayors. He suggests that Cabinet Ministers could retire to head up local councils, improving leadership and aspirations of local authorities.
Ah, but that does pose some problems in Scotland which has always tended to export its best political talent south of the border. How about the new Prime Minister sending some of it back to put new life into the Scottish Parliament – and while they are at it, one of them might campaign to become Edinburgh’s first elected mayor. Failing that, there’s always the guy who posed as Borat.
June 28th, 2007
Here’s an appeal from Friends of the Earth asking campaigners for Edinburgh’s tram to pass on a pdf depicting Alex Salmond (biggest fish of the SNP) as Borat. I can’t work out how to upload the pdf so, even better, here’s a photo of someone outside the Scottish Parliament getting across the message that even Kazakhstan has trams.
Obviously not Mr Salmond who is much too big a fish to fit into Borat’s trunks. (Thanks to Friends of the Earth Edinburgh for use of this photograph).
Today’s the day we will find out whether the SNP is really prepared to take part in consensus government, or whether they will simply ignore common sense, the Auditor General’s (generally favourable) review and the overwhelmingly majority cross-party support.
Time then for the final phase of the campaign. Bring out Borat.
I was at the Friends of the Earth meeting in May when the Borat offensive was revealed. It was a small but cheering affair attended by Labour and Lib Dem councillors as well as some friendly activists (still bearing the bruises of the Congestion Charge campaign). A creative plan of action was drawn up to counter the SNP proposal to ditch the tram.
Never mind the no-hopers who frequent the online comments of the Evening News, the tram has not only unusual cross party support from Labour, Tories, LibDems and Greens, but full backing from the business sector too. (At the recent City Region Conference, the Chamber of Commerce pressed the case for the tram with impressive vigour.)
FoE are seasoned campaigners so as you can imagine there was some serious strategic discussion at the campaign meeting. But some laughs too as we debated how to find a volunteer prepared to run through town dressed as Borat. I am impressed to see they actually found someone to do it!
So please pass on on the message. Keep pressing for the tram. And while you are at it, stop off on the way to gather some good ammunition from Transform Scotland and the new website dedicated to myths and truths of trams in Edinburgh.
June 27th, 2007
There were no helicopters to drop stars from the sky. Hendrix arrived in a Vauxhall Velux driven by the lead guitarist of a local band – the promoter had booked them to be sure of a crowd.
A letter from an old friend brings the past flooding back. Not the past as I like to remember it, but the past as it really was – or at least as it was reported in the newspaper we both worked for.
Sheila reminds me this is the 40th anniversary of Barbecue ’67 in the Summer of Love when a bulb auction shed in Spalding, Lincs rocked to some of the best sounds of the sixties. It was also the day I turned down the chance to interview Jimi Hendrix.
I know, it’s crazy. I cannot explain why – especially to my bolder sons – except that even then Hendrix was a legend and I was a very young trainee reporter on the weekly Spalding Guardian. Instead my mates Pat Prentice (one of his other scoops was the three-legged chicken of Gedney Drove End) and John Thorne (now semi-retired from BBC radio) went backstage while I stood at the end of the auction shed, in a home-made pink and purple kaftan, to take note of the behaviour of the crowd.(No voodoo child in this picture.)
We were all expecting more to happen than the music. Spalding had never coped with anything more challenging than the annual tulip parade before. The police sent for the cavalry and the entire staff of the Spalding Guardian and Lincs Free Press were out in force including Hugh the agricultural correspondant. And both photographers.
In some ways it wasn’t any more peculiar to stage a rock spectacle in Spalding than it is to plonk T in the Park in a field near Kinross. Rock festivals haven’t changed that much – not least because some of the old codgers still persist in playing: The Who were headlining T in the Park last year, for goodness sake.
There were screaming fans but the artificial fever of celebrity culture was unknown back in 1967. Jimi Hendrix was put up at the Red Lion pub – just imagine the Arctic Monkeys booking into the Jolly Beggars at Milnathort to be handy for the main stage at Balado. And there were no helicopters to drop stars from the sky. Hendrix arrived in a Vauxhall Velux driven by the lead guitarist of a local band – the promoter had booked them to be sure of a crowd.
All this detail comes from the souvenir issue of the paper Sheila sent me. To be honest, I don’t remember much beyond the sweaty excitement and the overwhelming sound. But it is one of those ‘I was there’ experiences that have become family legend and I like to picture myself as the cool (if timid) commentator on social trends. So what did this perceptive ‘Young Idea’ columnist have to say about the great rock event of the decade? She thought (and I quote):
“From the music angle, Barbecue ’67 was a mixed success. Geno has a football match effect. Jimi Hendrix (chief crowd puller) fits music to sensationalism; the Cream are good, to see the Move is to forget, to see Zoot Money is to see everything and to see Pink Floyd is to laugh.”
Dougal is incredulous when I show my cutting to him. ‘What were you dissing all these great bands for?’ After all, the only band he hasn’t heard of is Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band (a soul band who used to fill the Starlight Room at the Gliderdrome Boston of a Saturday night – and apparently reformed for the special 40th anniversary gig). Sheila and John turned in beautiful descriptive pieces; I guess I was determined not to be too impressed, way back there at the end of the hall.
But I wasn’t the only one who missed a trick. At the end of his set Jimi Hendrix set fire to his guitar and left it to fizzle out on the stage. From there (according to Colin Ward, the driver of the Vauxhall Velux) it was picked up with the rubbish and thrown into the council dump.
Or did someone save it for eBay?
[pssst: thanks for dropping in, readers who got this far might also enjoy Hendrix at Barbecue 67 and an exciting new installment How I missed Hendrix and Benjamin Zephaniah will follow as soon as I have caught up with the day job! xx Ed]
June 21st, 2007
Here’s to active citizenship. I was walking home, drenched to the skin, after a downpour that brought small floods to cobbled streets, when I met a hardy soul in wellies and raincoat trying to clear a blocked drain in one of the more expensive streets of Edinburgh’s New Town.
Holy smoke: just a small slick of the rubbish left behind by smokers in one of the posher parts of Edinburgh. A good neighbour has stopped flooding by scraping away the grot that chokes the drains.
I stop to chat and discover the man is doing a good deed on behalf of two neighbours who live in a basement flat which floods after heavy rain because drains clog up with rubbish. It’s the usual grot. Poly bags and plastic bottles act like plugs but the biggest problem is the cigarette butts – a great disgusting tidal wave of them – thrown away by the smokers employed at the bank across the road.
The good neighbour is soon joined by the women who live in the basement flat and rather touchingly pose for my mobile phone picture (I think they are just pleased someone, anyone, is taking notice). This isn’t the usual rant against the council who send out bin lorries and road sweepers paid by our council tax. It isn’t altogether the bank’s responsibility either (which is why I decided not to say which bank it is, but it is of course a big and profitable one) though apparently the residents’ association has written to the bank asking them to put up a bin for the smokers.
But doesn’t the blame rest with the smokers? In the absence of a bin, why on earth do they think it is ok to chuck their fag ends on the ground? They should be the ones out in the street with brooms and buckets.
June 12th, 2007
How on earth did they get up there? On our last night in Berlin, as it happens the hottest May night on record, we take a boat up the river Spree to see just how much the city has changed since the wall came down. Perched on the ruin of one of the many bridges destroyed by Hitler – his parting gift to the city – we see an extraordinary sight which seems to sum up the spirit of the new Berlin: a sofa sits high up on top of a crumbling concrete column several metres from the bank and on it three young people wave, lifting their glasses as we glide by. We wave and lift our glasses in return and spend the next few minutes wondering how the hell they got themselves and the sofa up there.
I didn’t manage to get a picture of the young people on the sofa but M.Kuhn’s photograph of Molecule Man on the River Spree has a similar spirit (downloaded from Flickr) and we saw that on our boat trip too.
From east to west there are glittering monuments to the triumph of capitalism, glowing pleasantly red in the light of the setting sun. But even more interesting is the space between. Berlin’s derelict buildings are buzzing with creative life. Beach bars and clubs vibrate on both sides of the river; it’s amazing what you can do with a few tons of sand and assorted deck chairs.
Berlin is changing so fast the guide books can’t keep up. “Are you sure about this jazz club?” asks George leading us to an East Berlin address Ray plucked out of the guide book, “when was your guide book published? If it was more than a year ago it will be out of date.” George is a German academic who knows Berlin well. Fifteen years ago, he remembers, these streets came alive – there were no bars, no cafes, no lights, no licensed premises at all, but people brought out their tables and chairs and any booze they had in the house (‘warm beer, they didn’t have fridges’) to sell to anyone who wanted to join them on the pavement. They lit hundreds of candles and they made music in a spontaneous burst of creative anarchy. A real cafe culture made by real people.
Already of course business is moving in on the act to make money from these streets but the bohemian spirit seems untamed. The great thing about a derelict building is that it can fire the imagination (in that sense Glasgow has more in common with Berlin than Edinburgh). Despite the building frenzy (attracting every star in the architectural firmament), the underpopulated Berlin still has plenty of undeveloped spaces. Although a huge Sony complex dominates the former wasteland of Potsdammer Platz, there are still lots of old warehouses in East Berlin to provide affordable studios for designers, artists, musicians and creative souls of all sorts.
By the way, the jazz club is very much there, full of young people (George, Ray and I raise the average age considerably when we slip in to a table at the side) though now the beer comes chilled.
June 5th, 2007