i expected the 'justice for england' march to be the kind of event where i get abused and threatened by fascists, but the truth was different. this was more a show of force by the more eccentric elements of middle england that celebrated 300 years of union in our country by delivering a letter to gordon brown asking for devolution for england.
they want an english parliament and an end to scots, welsh and irish mps being able to vote on matters that only effect england. this was a kind of gentle backlash against the kind of political correctness that has led to a refusal to celebrate englishness over the years, while at the same time rightly celebrating the cultures both of our national partners and our newer ethnic communities.
i never did find out what the barnett formula they were against was, but i'm sure that these were people in favour of warm beer, cricket and morris dancing as well as good manners. st george didn't look like the type to scare dragons (and the dragon wasn't either scary or easy to photograph.)
but i've never really thought of myself as being very english. like most of the english, most of my family came from somewhere else at some time or other. i only knew one of my four grandparents and i'm not convinced she spoke english, but then she didn't say much either.
apart from my lack of sporting skills i could have qualified for at least
two of our national sides (so perhaps after all i could have played cricket
for wales.) if i ever think of myself know as having any kind of cultural
identity now (and it's a very un-english thought) it would be as a londoner.
londoners of all left wing stripes found themselves with a match at clerkenwell green, tradeunionists along with various political parties from our new communities. without the turkish, kurdish, pakistani and other communist organisations, our may day would be a much duller, almost colorless occasion.
this year may day was not a bank holiday. it should have been a small but important gesture in the first days of the labour government to restore the may bank holiday to may day, but they were determined to do nothing that would make anyone suspect they had any socialist leanings.
so most of the children who were present at last years event were at school this year, and some people were working (as well as photographers.) although numbers were down on last year, it was still an impressive event with a swathe of red flags flying down the streets of the capital to trafalgar square.
some of the old union flags were on show - along with some newer ones. the public and commercial services union was well-represented and its members were also picketing an number of workplaces around the coutnry as the union had called a one day national strike for 1 may in protest against compulsory redundancies and relocations, and demanding an end to out-sourcing without consultation and agreeement, fair and equal national pay, adequate resources and decent working conditions.
the day had an international perspective, with the mlcp (mlkp) calling for a socialist europe and the uk branches of both the worker-communist part of iraq and of iran calling for the support of british trade unionists.
one of harold wilson's saddest actions as prime minister was the illegal removal of the chagos islanders from diego garcia so that the usa could take it over as a naval base. in may 2006 the british high court ruled for the second time that this was illegal - and our present labour government has appealed. the chagos islanders have suffered 40 years of neglect and shabby treatment - yet another stain on our nation that our labour government has failed to acknowledge or correct.
at the front of the march at it left for trafalgar square was the tuc banner
campaigning for workplace justice.
the space hijackers had arranged a party in reuters square at canary wharf to bring a little may day cheer to the office workers there. they turned up in fancy dress - business suits - hoping to blend in.
there were an estimated 500 police on the wharf far outnumbering the party-goers (and at the start they were also outnumbered by photographers, though more emerged later.) the police had taken the trouble to look out some of those millions of snaps their photographers take at every event and unsurprisingly were able to recognise the hijackers.
what was surprising was that they actually talked to them and apparently decided that having a bit of a party wasn't in itself illegal. so far as the police were concerned, as long as they behaved themselves and didn't totally block the highway they could go ahead.
canary wharf is of course a private estate. i'd earlier been warned by a security man that i needed a permit to take pictures, although he was polite and pleasant about it. the police may have been happy, but the head of security was less so, and stepped in as soon as the music started.
again, a little negotiation occured, this time next to where i was standing - and with some reluctance he agreed they could go ahead so long as there was no sound system in use.
so there was a bit a partying, with singing and dancing. at one point a confrontation sprang up with a rather obtrusive police photographer who found himself being chased by partygoers with cameras declaring him the king of the may, worshipping him and taking his picture.
a few minutes later it looked as if the police were about to surround the group, who then danced their way out of the square as a conga line, towards the area in front of the underground station.
at this point one of the hijackers was apparently grabbed by police as a known troublemaker, having apparently refused to move when they told him to. a group of police pushed him along the edge of the square and towards the police van. progress was slow as he was bent over with an armlock behind his back taking his head to waist level while an office walked backwards in front of him appyling a 'pain compliance' hold to the back of his head, using his thumbs to cut down blood supply to the brain.
he was making no apparent resistance, and the police had not bothered to
handcuff him. it seemed a gratutious use of the technique, (which can be
extremely dangerous, particularly for those with weak hearts) beyond the
principle of proportionality that should apply in such circumstances, particularly
when it was continued inside the police van.
thursday i had a meeting with some photographers in the evening, and went
a few hours early to do a few things in southwark. from there i took a walk
through bermondsey to the river, roughly following what was once a familiar
route. i was surprised how much had changed, with so much new building -
even bermondsey square now a building site - and how much the area had 'gone
up' over the years. of course many of the familiar landmarks were still
around, but not much of the old atmosphere.
william morris, one of the great figures of the british socialist movement, was born in walthamstow in 1834, and the house in which he lived as a teenager was opened by clem atlee as a museum in 1950, as the only public museum devoted to the man and his work.
morris's deserved fame for his designs and for those of his friends in the movement he spearheaded often tends to overshadow the political (and ecological) nature of that movement and the great contribution he made to the socialist movement through his 'preaching' to working men around london and his writing.
morris was a friend of engels and eleanor marx, and a political campaigner. in 1884, together with his supporters he broke away from the social democratic foundation to form the socialist league, later leaving to form the hammersmith socialist society.
waltham forest council clearly don't know much about their most famous son (the chief executive dismissed him as "just a white imperialist", when it was an anti-imperialist stance that first brough him into politics.) their funding cuts to the museums in walthamstow, effective from last month, are very much the beginning of the end of this internationally renowned museum and centre for research into morris, removing the curator and limiting its opening to weekends.
so i was very much with speaker after speaker who condemed the cuts at
the rally outside the vestry house museum (also cut) although unfortunately
had to rush away before the protest march to the centre of the town.
i didn't want to miss the start of the chislehurst may queen festival, one of the realms that make up the london may queen. pictures coming soon
over the past years, many people without british passports have come to live in our country. some of course have the right to do so as eu nationals. many have claimed asylum, often refused for trivial reasons of paperwork or formalities even when people were clearly endangered in their home countries. some claims drag on for years before a decision is made. others have simply stayed on after studies or holidays, or entered the country without any permission.
almost all of these people have one thing in common. they want to work and earn a living. their work - often for very low wages at or below the national minimum - has helped to keep our economy bouyant, although in many cases they do not have the correct papers to work legally. they are thus open to exploitation and often unable to access medical services or even open bank accounts. 1 in 100 of those living in britain is currently in this kind of limbo.
many have lived here for years, paid their taxes and contributed to society in various ways - helping to run the parent teacher associations at their children's schools, supporting local churches and mosques, volunteering for charities - as well as their work. most of them will remain here - as the government admits there are just too many for them to be removed in any remotely civilised manner.
not that it is civilised for the unfortunate few picked out by the authorities for a 4.30am raid. not given the opportunity to properly pack their belongings or say goodbye to friends and neighbours, taken to the airport and put on a plane back to a country where they may well face persecution for their political or religious beliefs.
this is a problem that needs a sensible, humane and pragmatic solution. strangers into citizens have proposed one. those irregular migrants who have lived here for more than 4 years should be given a 2 year work permit. at the end of this, provided they get suitable employer and character references, they would be given leave to remain indefinitely.
although a great advance on the current treatment of these people it seems to me not to go far enough. too many would still be left out in the cold. it's also a a one-off measure, and needs (as strangers into citizens propose) to be a part of a wider package of fair treatment for those applying for asylum or immigration.
i couldn't have pointed to walton-on-the-hill on a map until last week, but it is just on the southern edge of london. a travelcard took me to tadworth station, from where it was a short walk through the woods. despite being so close to the city it seems to have a real country village feel, although with rather more shops than most villages can muster.
the walton-on-the-hill may pageant was revived in 1969 and includes the spirit of may as well as a may queen, who is accompanied by six girl attendants and two boys, the chimney sweep to sweep away the gloom of winter and jack of the green who carries the crown. the crowning is by the previous may queen.
maypole dancing was by the walton brownies and there were various other local acts. the large procession included groups of all ages representing this year's them of 'my favourite book'. horses featured strongly, with children dressed up on ponies and a brewer's dray and a carriage for the may queen. the vicar and church choir sat on hay bales on a trailer hitched behind a tractor.
the fair included stalls from various groups, and included wolves, ferrets
and a wild-west show, with refreshments available from many stalls including
one by a local pub.
sunday i kept linda company as she did a sponsored walk around some of
the city's many churches. we didn't get to go in all of them, but it always
makes an interesting experience.
monday i was at the tate britain opening of 'how we are: photographing
britain' and afterwards took a few pictures of photographers, critics etc
in the nearby pub.
thursday i bought an expensive ticket - just up from £6.60 to £7.90 - for a one-day railcard for london from staines, and put my folding bike aboard the train, changing to reach rainham, essex, (l b havering) on the furthest edge of london from where i live.
don't let anyone tell you essex is flat. or boring. over a few hundred
yards you can move from idyllic thatched cottages to post-industrial dereliction;
from dramatic man-made scenery with lakes and chalk gorges to densely packed
modern housing estates. from farms owned by city millionaires to council
most of my winding route took me through thurrock, one of the major growth sites of the thames gateway area.
on saturday i accompanied linda and sam on a walk along some of london's canals, from mile end on the regents canal and along that to join the grand union paddington branch at 'little venice', and west on that to willesden junction.
when i first walked along the regents canal i had to climb over gates and fences to access most of it. the towpath was closed to install high voltage lines below it, but even the parts that were still theoretically open were often hard to find and gates were often locked. the public were perhaps tolerated, but not encouraged to walk along them.
now everybody walks along them and there are those heritage direction posts and information boards that i've rather come to hate. and from this weekend, you no longer even theoretically need a licence to cycle the paths - though mine is still in my wallet, several years since i was asked to show it.
now, as walkers, the constant cycle traffic on some sections has become a nuisance. and although most cyclists obey the rules, riding carefully, ringing bells and where necessary giving way, we did have to jump for safety as one group chased madly after each other, racing with total disregard for safety.
but for the rain - the occasional shower at first, later settling in to
a dense fine constant downpour, it would have been a pleasant walk.
some of my work gets put into nice organised websites.
this isn't meant to be like that, but you can see some of the rest at
and you can read what I think about photography at