1 may saw the launch of the london citizens workers' association, a new organisation to support low-wage and migrant workers across london, backed by faith organisations, trade unions and social justice organisations. may 1 was the feast of st joseph the worker and the event began with a procession into the cathedral and a 'mass for workers'. but i didn't bother to get up in time for that
after the mass was a 'living wage rally' outside the cathedral, with speakers including cardinal cormac murphy o'connor (the leader of the catholic church in england & wales), sir iqbal sacranie (secretary general, muslim council of britain), and jack dromey (general secretary of the tgwu) along with representatives of other unions and faiths, and of the new association.
the workers association aims to fight a campaign for a living wage for low paid workers as well as training them to organise and campaign and providing free advice on rights at work and legal support. workers in low paid jobs often also lack decent working conditions and there is little trade union representation. it will also provide english classes.
several large employers who have already taken steps to improve conditions
were awarded 'living wage employers awards' at the rally, but i didn't wait
around for this.
around half of london's tube network seemed to be down for planned engineering works, and getting around was a bit like playing mornington crescent to some very special rules. but the victoria line and thameslink got me to farringdon well before the start of the annual may day parade.
this seemed larger than in previous years, with a few more trade unions ther. there was particularly strong support from the rmt, but many others also took part, including my own (and there were many members covering the event as well.)
as usual, the most colourful aspect of the march was provided by the various turkish communist parties, with strong youth wings. mklp (and its kgo youth), the dhkc, the tikb, the tkp/ml and probably more. there were some powerful reminders of the repression in turkey in the portraits of some of those who have died in terrorist actions or death fasts.
movements in a number of other countries were also represented, including iraq, iran greece and sri lanka as well as the kurds. also taking part was the african liberation support campaign network.
gate gourmet strikers marching behind their banner chanted "tony woodley - out out!" denouncing the attempts of the tgwu to force them to sign the compromise agreement which waives their rights to further work or legal redress. others demanded that remploy factories be kept open. There were protests over the dexion and samuel jones pension outrages, and other causes.
more or less bringing up the rear of the march were around 500-1000 in the autonomous bloc, an anti-capitalist grouping marching against 'precarity', the working environment of late capitalism.
increasingly there is a polarisation of the employment market in our service-based economies, characterised at one end by poor conditions, lack of job security, temporary employment, use of migrant labour at one extreme, and, at the other by increasing encroachment of work into the private lives of more highly paid employees, making them into company property in exchange for their security.
in contrast to the relatively low-profile police presence for the rest of the event, this bloc was flanked on both sides by a line of uniformed police.
many of the marchers in this section wore scarves covering the lower half of their faces, and some carried anarchist flags. leading the block were a number of bicycles, and a pedal powered sound system.
the march continued on its way to trafalgar square, where people stood around mainly looking pretty bored. i didn't catch much of the speeches but if what i heard was typical i could understand why.
when the autonomous bloc arrived, the police barred their entry to the square on the grounds of public order and seized the sound system. more than half those marching left at this point, with the police making little attempt to stop individuals who wandered into the square.
the rest of the bloc stayed on the road, with a few short speeches over a loud hailer, then moved up the side of the square towards the national gallery, where there was another short meeting. this was interrupted by the news that the police tactical support group was on its way, and they soon surrounded the relatively small group who had decided to stay.
i walked through the police line at this point, and they seemed to be making
little attempt to stop anyone leaving, or at least didn't detain them for
more than a few minutes.
while marchers were walking to trafalgar square, i took what was left of the tube to bank and the 'police victory party' organised on their behalf by the space hijackers.
there i watched tony blair and some rather more attractive than usual police (and with pink fluffy hand-cuffs) being watched by some other police. a couple of these walked away when asked if they would mind being photographed, but some others seemed to be rather amused by the proceedings.
of course, the police (both lots) were taking lots of pictures of the events too, and i can imagine some of them causing amusement at section house parties.
there was a 'pin the blame on the anarchist' game, a pinata (ta for the mini mars bar) and some dancing before i had to rush off to make the gig at trafalgar square.
where the politics were perhaps less serious.
just why does it take so many people to drive an elephant when one elephant can do it on its own was the main question that came to me while watching the sultan's elephant in the centre of london.
after that, it did occur to me to ask why the arts council was spending so much of our money on guys who wanted to play with big toys. seems more or less a larger version of model railways to me, or perhaps even more a simplistic version of a computer game fantasy made manifiest - and of any significance as art. more disneyland.
it had the big advantage of closing large parts of the centre to traffic, making it more pleasant to walk in than usual once you got away from the jamboree. though i still bridle at the sight of crowd barriers blocking off trafalgar square (especially when it meant i had to walk a long way round to get to the loo.)
it was a little bit of public spectacle, and doubtless the kind of thing
that attracts tourists, but just not the direction i like seeing arts council
along in leicester square the celebrations of buddha's birthday were going on. on almost every level many ways much more interesting than the sultan and his crew, but fortunately attracting smaller crowds, making it considerably easier to take pictures.
it was also a considerably more colourful event, and one that lifted a
window on one of london's communities. the festival continued over two days,
but i only stayed around an hour, leaving as the procession left to travel
around the area.
may day celebrations were traditionally times (known as beltane) when the new year and spring was celebrated, and young men and women danced together, and a queen of the may was chosen to lead the event. cromwell banned them as sinful pagan events, and although they came back with the restoration in 1660, in most places the traditions slowly died out or were made more formal.
there was a revival of interest in old customs in the victorian era, with various 'merrie england' events being organised. some schools had maypoles and learnt the dances and many sunday schools had their may queens who often took a leading part in whit walks.
last year i photographed the hayes merrie england and london may queen festival, which began in 1913 and is probably the largest as well as the oldest continuing event of its type (brentham had its "gaily dressed maidens" dancing around a maypole in 1906, but it isn't clear if there were festivals in all of the early years. certainly there appear to have been none in 1927-30.)
chislehurst got its first may queen in 1923, when the organisers of the merrie england festival at hayes, which had been going for around 10 years, asked agnes everist to organise a new 'realm' with her daughter olive as the may queen. agnes continued to organise the ceremonies until 1945, when the ceremony was delayed until june to be a part of the world war ii victory celebrations. her grand-daughter and olive's daughter beryl was may queen that year, but sadly agnes died 2 days later.
the everist family continued to organise the festival for some years, but others then took over. any girl five or over who lives or has grandparents who live in chislehurst can join the retinue. they then work their way up the ranks, with the oldest girl of the year of joining having the choice of being queen or prince. several months of twice-weekly rehearsals are required, and as well as the festival they also perform at other events.
the procession is led by a banner bearer, and each of the 'realms' that takes part in the hayes festival is also identified by a distinctive colour. the may queen and prince walk under a hoop garland held by two of the retinue, others hold the queen's train. before the crowning, the retiring queen and prince are at the head of the procession, and the queen and prince elect in the middle, but after the crowning they change their places. also in the procession are three attendants carrying the basket of flowers, the crown on a cushion and the sceptre and scroll. at the rear of the group is a decorated cage or lantern on a pole.
chislehurst is one of the few may queen societies that still dance round the maypole properly, and they performed 4 different dances during the event with surprising precision
at the end of the day the various groups marched off down the road for
tea and cakes in the methodist hall, along with a little more ceremony.
i stayed until they had cut the cake, then had to run to the station to
catch my train home.
as it was almost exactly 61 years since the end of the second world war, it seemed an appropriate day to cycle up the hill above runnemede to the air force memorial there. there is a certain resemblance of its plane to an aeroplane, with the curved wings of the building and a long drive down to the gate (tailplane) where I had locked my brompton. of course i'm not old enough to remember the way, but it was very much a part of my childhood none the less, with sweet rationing still in force, pig bins on the streets, and air raid shelters for kids to play in (strictly forbidden) in the playing fields. we had one in our garden where dad kept his bee stuff. he'd been in the royal flying corps in the first war, which became the raf before he got out and came back home from germany, but in the second he watched for fires and foul brood (apian rather than human) and plastered the cracks made by the luftwaffe.
then on into englefield green with its two listed monuments in the cemetery
for the fitzroy somerset family, past a french chateau and full-speed down
prune hill worrying if my front wheel will take it. at egham a heavy shower
drove me to shelter under a tree in the churchyard.
rainham is at the eastern edge of london, an area of marsh, industry, warehouses, container stacks, dereliction and landfill on the essex (north) bank of the thames, cut across by the elevated a13 trunk road which sweeps across the creek and on over the marshes to purfleet, along with the new channel tunnel rail link.
one day the thames path will continue past coldharbour point, but for the
moment its a dead end. i eat may sandwiches and then turn back, making my
way up onto the elevated roadway, but the views are disappointing. at the
next roundabout i take a look around and then head north, past disused areas
of the ford site and up through the mardyke estate and south hornchurch.
at elm park the heat of our first hot day - 25 celsius in the shade, but
i've been constantly in sun - gets to me and i give up and take the underground
towards home. the heat has buckled some of the rails and the district line
train has to crawl along, more or less at my cycling speed, but at least
i can just sit and rest.
brian haw lost the appeal by the government over his protest in parliament square, the court deciding that the serious organised crimes and police act did apply to his protest after all, despite it having started around 4 years before the act came into force. it seems to be a decision that reflects more on the ability of the government to apply pressure rather than one that suggests an independent judiciary.
at the moment, brian is still there, his protest now regulated by the police,
but it seems rather likely that at some moment the feel convenient they
will decide to terminate it. on saturday morning i went to have a short
word with him and take some more pictures, particularly of some of the bears
who are with him. his protest from the start has been about the killing
of children, at first by the effects of sanctions, then by the war, and
the teddy bear symbolises this (i think of one of the most poignant images
from the second world war, by cecil beaton, of a child in a hospital bed
with a teddy bear.) i hope to be back to see brian tomorrow, with a few
friends. if he is still there.
for several years there has been a dance festival in westminster in may, with teams of morris dancers from around the country. i caught up with them briefly dancing in front of st margaret's church next to westminster abbey, then a little later in trafalgar square.
although i've never had a great desire to take up morris myself, it certainly is one of our english traditions, going back at least 500 years - the first written record of it is in 1448. it was still alive in many villages in the nineteenth century and a revival started in the early twentieth century particularly through the work of cecil sharp, who collected over 170 different dances around the country and started the english folk dance society in 1911. sharp and mary neal published books of dances, and in the 1920s and 30s, country dancing became a part of most young school children's week. how i hated it in the 1950s!
it is perhaps that enforced participation that led to morris dancing being thought of as something false and lacking in credibility. in a curious anomaly, our arts councils refused to support english ethnic dances while (quite rightly) giving aid to foster dance and related activities among minority ethnic groups. despite this, morris dancing has continued to grow both in the uk and now increasingly abroad, particularly in canada and the usa.
all the teams in trafalgar square were men, although there are also many
women dancers. one of the things that comes out in my pictures is that the
dance is at times a very athletic event. many of the traditional dances
use swords or staves and have a link to martial arts. morris also has a
strong link to another english tradition, the ale house.
may continued for me with another may queen. last year i photographed the oldest continuing may queen event at least in the london area, the merrie england and london may queen fayre at hayes, kent, held continuously since 1913. this year i went instead to brentham, where a may fayre with maypole dancing was held in 1906, and its centenary was held this year.
for this event, the organisers had managed to find and invite along many former may queens, including some from the 1950s. some had come long distances to be there, including one now living in america. brentham was one of the earliest "garden village" estates, built by 'ealing tenants' a co-partnership housing scheme started in 1901 and largely completed by 1915. the road layout was designed by raymond unwin and barry parker, and it was in many ways a model for other and better known garden villages.
the brentham may queen is less formalised that the south london events, with little or no long speeches and ceremonies (unlike hayes it was not set up by a dulwich schoolmaster.) as well as the may queen elect and previous may queens, each with a small group of attendants, there is also a herald who leads the parade (aided today by a brass band) brittania, sailor and soldier, and, leading the large group of around 150 young girls dressed in white with flowers, a jack in the green, covered with leaves, with just bare legs and sandals visible.
after the parade around the area, there was a short ceremony in one of
the fields by the river brent in which last year's may queen crowned the
new queen, and a very short speech. following this were country dances and
dancing round the maypole, but i left before this began.
i've told the story of london's spitalfields many times before, how it was built up in the early to mid-seventeenth century on the edge of the city and was at first home to many non-conformist sects - including the baptists. after the french protestant huguenots fled france in 1685, many of the 40,000 or so who stayed in england ended up there, setting up weaving lofts in the houses there (and it was their taking refuge here that gave us the word refugee.) in 1743 the huguenots built l'eglise neuve on the corner of fournier st and brick lane. in the early 1800s it was briefly used by the london society for promoting christianity among jews (who soon built a new chapel in palestine place bethnal green.) around 1809 it became a methodist chapel (most of the huguenots had either left or assimilated into english life by then, becoming anglicans - or methodists), then with the large jewish migration from eastern european pogroms became spitalfields great synagogue (machzikey hadath or machzikei hadass) in 1897. particularly after the second world war, many of the jewish population moved out into the suburbs, and were replaced by newer immigrants, particularly from bangladesh, and the synagogue became the london jamme masjid or great london mosque in 1976.
the first big baishakihi mela (bengali new year festival) in brick lane
was held eight years ago, and it is now billed as the largest asian gathering
in europe, with an expected attendance or 100,000 to celebrate the coming
of 1413. fortunately not too many of them had arrived in time for the starting
procession, which was surprisingly small but colourful.
i went with it as it slowly walked down brick lane, but then rushed on ahead to get the tube to westminster and parliament square to see brian haw again. some of his supporters had decided to turn up and show their support with a short demonstration.
the first thing i noticed on arriving in parliament square was the almost
total lack of police, with just a handful on duty at the gates of the houses
of parliament as always. of course the whole area is live on tv at scotland
yard, and our every move was doubtless monitored real-time and recorded
for possible later use. probably their parabolic microphones also picked
up some of my mutterings about the idiot photographers who kept wanting
the rest of us to get further back. capa's "if your pictures aren't
good enough, you're not close enough" is generally my motto, although
here it was more about being in the right place to get the background that
since the victory of hamas in the palestinian elections, conditions in palestine have deteriorated with the impostion of an economic blocade by israel and the removal of support from the usa and the eu. more than two-thirds of the people are below the poverty linel, lacking basic necessities such as sugar, oil, milk, and even bread is rationed. hundreds will die soon if vital medecines are not allowed in.
around twenty thousand demonstrators marched throught the streets of london to a rally at trafalgar square where the main banner read "stop starving palestinians, end israel's occupation and recognise palestinian democracy. organised by the palestine solidarity campaign, it was supported by many other organisations including peace groups, the muslim association of britain and leading trade unions.
among those marching and speaking were green party mep caroline lucas, labour mp jeremy corbyn, baroness jenny tonge of the lib dem party and Manuel Hassassian, the palestine liberation organisation representative to the uk (and appointed by the palestinian president as ambassador but not recognised by the uk.)
the neturei karta orthodox jews had walked from stamford hill on the sabbath
to attest to their support for palestinians and their opposition to zionism.
their stand has on occassion led to attacks and threats by zionists, one
of which i witnessed at an earlier event in trafalgar square.
i left as the rally started to go to "bush in wonderland, a mad emitters tea party" held outside the heavily barricaded front of the us embassy in grosvenor square. the party was a part of an ongoing series of protests including a weekly climate vigil outside the embassy ongoing since the breakdown of the hague climate talks in november 2000.
there was a picnic table with sandwiches, cakes and tea, music from the eco warriors and guests with some appropriate lyrics, as well as samba from rhythms of resistance, and fancy dress. balloons, banners and a short speech by a white rabbit called phil reminded us of the need for protests like these. the usa continues not only to pollute on a massive scale, but increasingly acts to sabotage international efforts to take any effective action on climate change.
the threat of a party there had led the police to close the gardens in grosvenor square, though it was hard to understand what mayhem they imagined rampant rabbits might cause.
it was a miserable and damp afternoon, cool despite global warming, and some people didn't stay long, but others were still arriving when I left, having come from the palestine rally in trafalgar square.
the campaing against climate change who organised this tea party (and a
whole series of weekly vigils and larger protests since 2001) is organising
a free climate conference at the london school of economics with a wide
range of speakers and workshops on saturday june 3, 2006. they also have
a march in london on saturday 4 nov, part of the international day of climate
protest before the nairobi un climate talks.
protestors demonstrated and handed out leaflets outside bp's st james square london hq to mark the departure of the first tanker from the ceyhan terminal on friday, may 26, 2006.
the btc pipeline has caused pollution along its route and an increase in repression, disrupting many communities living around it. it has helped to prop up authoritarianism in azerbaijan. as always it brings wealth to some of those who are already rich, while it's the poor who suffer.
as well as the increase in oil pollution, the pipeline is part of the oil companies strategy to increase oil consumption and their profits, creating greater carbon dioxide emissions and accelerating global warming.
although some individual police officers were polite and helpful, those
in charge seemed determined to be awkward, both to demonstrators and press,
making it hard for the demonstrators to leaflet those leaving the building.
at one point i was asked to move from an almost empty wide pavement where
i was taking pictures into the road, which carries intermittent bursts of
often fast-moving traffic on the ridiculous assertion that i was causing
i'm expecting a knock on my door at 3am any day now, because some of the pictures on my web site are apparently a grave risk to national security. yes, it's brian haw's bears, part of the material that was removed on security grounds from parliament square by around 50 police officers in their raid early on tuesday morning.
also taken were the pictures of the children, demonstrating the literally monstrous effects of the use of depleted uranium weaponry, and much more of the posters and signs shown here and from other occasions.
i'm actually very concerned about out national security and its failures. our security services completely failed to spot the july 7 threat. why? largely because they had their eyes on the wrong balls, for example giving serious credence to false information extracted from suspects undergoing torture in libya and elsewhere, rather than actually finding out what was really happening in the uk.
i'm worried now, in case they really think that brian haw's material on display was a secuity threat. of course it wasn't, and everyone knows it wasn't. it was removed because it was an embarrasment to our government and our prime minister in particular. by concentrating their attention on such embarrasments - rather than putting their resources into the real threats, it is our security services that are putting national security at risk. again they have their eyes on the wrong balls. lying with blair doesn't make anyone safer.
perhaps travelling by tube isn't such a good idea any more. critical mass do it on bikes, and it was heartening to see a good turnout at the end of may. the mass rode down to parliament square to give its (belated) support to brian, who wasn't too amused. "where were you", he asked, "when i needed you?"
it was perhaps a little unfair, because some of us had been there, if not when we were actually needed, at least at times when we might have been needed. and when the day came, by the time most of us heard the news it was too late to get on our bikes.
at least brian is still there for the moment and his protest continues.
i hope it will continue to get our support, and critical mass was there
today to support him. it will help if more people go and visit whenever
they can - perhaps on their way to or from work, or on sundays at noon.
saturday I was defeated by the weather. It started bright, and I had a usual list of events and places to visit. brentford is on my way into london, so I stopped off there for a quick visit to the waterside festival there. i find it depressing, with so many flats having been built in what was, even in the days when the canal was busy, a relatively empty area. and the simplicity of the sheds has been replaced by busy, fussy buildings.
at least it was good to be able to walk across over the lock bridge, always
out of bounds to the public. you can walk around the island too. there was
a small history exhibition in the toll house at the lock, and free boat
trips i couldn't be bothered to queue for, but most of the festival could
have been anywhere. i was soon ready to leave, wandering back to the station
through the butts, still a surprisingly quiet and elegant street.
my next stop was canary wharf, but by the time i got there it was raining steadily. much of it was taken over by car companies who had scattered vehicles - mostly expensive and ecological disasters - around the place. there was a silly course you could drive a land rover around too.
i walked around a bit in the rain, then decided it was time to abandon
ship and go home.
the pagan pride parade in holborn is now a regular annual event, a part of the beltane bash that takes place in the conway hall in red lion square. mostly it was the same people as last year, but i found it hard to get into the mood to take pictures.
as usual the parade was led by jack in the green - a dancing bush - the green lady and the bogies. the giants included the morrigan (in green and flowers to welcome summer) with black ravens, old man thunder and old dame holder, along with the rest of it.
dancing round the fountains was energetic, but somehow for me the event
didn't really get going, and lacked any real climax, people just slowly
began to fade away.
i went on to east ham, hoping to see the end of the chariot procession,
but i was really too late. i should have gone out earlier so i could photograph
this first. i took a few pictures of the chariots, then went to walk along
by the river roding and to photograph a new development by the railway in
barking. tanner street does look quite interesting.
living on the outskirts it is easy not to realise how much bus services in london have improved. taking the train to feltham and then two buses we got to uxbridge in just over an hour. of course, cycling would have been quicker. but from uxbridge we were walking the london loop, an almost unsigned footpath route.
most of it was pretty boring, far too much green. the book giving the route
is pretty hopeless in places too, which is perhaps why there were parts
of it that very few people seem to have found, with badly overgrown paths.
we ended up at moor park, which seems to be one of the most depressing parts
of london, large (and very expensive) bad houses, mainly from the 1950s
and later in the part we came through. taste and money don't seem to go
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