Archive for March, 2023

Ford/Visteon, Ethiopian Tyrant, Rioters United!

Friday, March 31st, 2023

On Wednesday 31st March 2010 I reported on three unrelated protests in London.

Ford/Visteon Workers March For Pension Justice

Ford/Visteon, Ethiopian Tyrant, Rioters United!

In 2000 Ford when split of some of its parts factories to Visteon, a company described as ‘An Enterprise of Ford Motor Company’ and initially with the same shareholders, promising the workers their conditions and pensions would remain exactly the same as they had been with Ford. Ford’s assurances were repeated by Visteon.

Ford/Visteon, Ethiopian Tyrant, Rioters United!

But in 2009 Visteon closed down and workers in their factories in Belfast, Enfield, Swansea and Basildon were given just six minutes to leave the sites. In Belfast and Enfield workers refused and occupied the sites for a month, but were let down by their union, Unite who failed to give them support. The occupations eventually forced Visteon/Ford to pay the redundancy pay they were entitled to under their agreements, but pensions were not covered and they only received the lesser amounts covered by Pension Protection Fund compensation.

Ford/Visteon, Ethiopian Tyrant, Rioters United!

Since then their fight for the pensions they were promised has continued. I met around 500 former Visteon workers outside the Unite Offices in Theobalds Road, Holborn, where many wore hats and t-shirts with the Ford logo, but with the name replaced by the word ‘Fraud’, which succinctly expressed their view of the company’s action.

Ford/Visteon, Ethiopian Tyrant, Rioters United!

I marched with them to Downing Street where they had problems in delivering a letter and petition. As I commented then: “it does now seem unnecessarily complicated and difficult to get access to our elected government, hiding away behind their tall gates and high security. Its both an expression of and doubtless fuels their paranoia over terrorism far in excess of the real threat.

The marchers then went on to a rally in Parliament Square.

Their fight for a fair deal over their pensions went on for another four years, when eventually as the case was about to go to the High Court, Ford agreed to top up the Pension Protection Fund compensation so that they would receive the full value of benefits accrued when working for Ford. It didn’t cover the nine years they had worked for Visteon, but Unite recommended acceptance as it would settle the claim without the expense (and possible failure) of a court hearing.

Ford/Visteon March For Pension Justice

Ethiopians Protest Bloodthirsty Tyrant – Downing St

Ethiopians came from across the UK to for a day of demonstration opposite Downing St where Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was co-chairing the UN climate finance group. They demanded the UK stop appeasing the Ethiopian dictator, and calling for the release of opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa and other political prisoners in Ethiopia.

Zenawi who became chair of one of the leading military groups fighting in the Ethiopian Civil War was the leader of a coalition that took power in 1991, becoming President then and was Prime Minister from 1995 until is death in 2012. His control of the military made Ethiopia an effective one-party state.

Although the country formally has democratic organisation and elections, elections have been rigged and oppostion politicians jailed, notably the leader of the main opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party, Mideksa (or Midekssa), a former judge. Many other politicians and journalists have also been jailed and in 2007 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named the country as “the world’s worst backslider on press freedom over the previous five years.”

Human rights violations and corruption are rife in Ethiopia, and food aid, education and jobs all depend on membership of the ruling party. His opponents regard Zenawi as a bloodthirsty tyrant and call for him to be brought to trial at the ICC at The Hague on charges of genocide. Human Rights Watch (HRW) have accused it of war crimes in the Somali regions of Ethiopia and against the Anauk communities in Gambella in 2003-4. Human rights abuses have continued in Ethiopia since Zenawi’s death.

Ethiopia is one of the larger countries in Africa and has received large amounts of development aid and humanitarian support from the USA and the UK.

Ethiopians Protest Bloodthirsty Tyrant

Rioters United! 20 Years Since the Poll Tax Riots – Trafalgar Square,

The largest protest against Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax was in central London on Saturday 31 March 1990, shortly before the tax was due to come into force. Unfortunately I had missed that event, probably deciding it was best to keep out of trouble. Back in 1990 I was photographing relatively few protests, mainly concentrating on urban landscapes and culture.

Around 30 people turned up for a rally to commemorate the occasion when “the London mob who brought Thatcher down … as well as to promise that the mob were still in business and to pronounce sentence on politicians.”

The ‘Carnival of Death‘ they were promising was not of course a literal death threat, but street theatre in which the effigies of George Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Nick Griffin were to be executed at a May Day Party. As Chris Knight reminded the gathering, “the only good politician, the only honest politician is a dead politician.”

Our police often fail to understand the difference between rhetoric and reality, and protests involving anarchist groups such as Class War are often ridiculously over-policed, sometimes with disastrous consequences, but almost always provoking more violence than they prevent. On April 1st 2009 for the G20 – Financial Fools Day they had turned up with squads of riot police psyched up to batter largely innocent and joyful protesters – and one of the police killed a newspaper seller simply walking home through the area.

So in my account of this event in Trafalgar Square I was at pains to tell them that the ‘Carnival Of Death’ was “called a carnival; if you want to take part, come ready to dance.”

Shortly after people began the commemoration, a PCSO came to tell those taking part they were not allowed to hold protests or other events in Trafalgar Square without permission. When he was laughed at, he brought over a Heritage Warden who told us the Square was the property of the GLA (Greater London Authority), and that permission was needed for events.

Fine” said those present. “The GLA is a public body; we own it, this is a public place and we give ourselves permission and intend to continue.” As I pointed out in my account, Trafalgar Square is not just a public place, but one that since its building in the 1830s has been a traditional place for demonstrating radical dissent. It was a tradition that those present were determined to continue.

Fortunately the dozen or so police who arrived shortly after the PCSO had phoned to call for reinforcement simply stood and watched and had enough sense not to try and stop the commemoration, which ended after around 30 minutes when the organisers decided it was time to go down the pub.

At the end of the event, copies of an anti-Election manifesto and a suitably defaced poster showing the leaders of the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and BNP leaders were distributed by the Whitechapel Anarchist Group. They advised us to “Use your cross wisely”, under a picture of the four leaders in the cross-hairs of a gun sight, and attached to the bottom was a ‘Free Gift’ – a safety match, with the message ” Burn Your Ballot”.

As they wrote: “It’s time to end the unjust, corrupt system of terror and build a fair, equal society that will benefit the majority. We all know voting doesn’t change anything and our collective apathy allows this folly to continue. It’s time for REAL change. It’s time for revolution.”

Rioters United! celebrate Poll Tax Riots

Mothers Against Fracking, Sindhi Congress, Sexy Soho

Thursday, March 30th, 2023

Sunday 30th March 2014 I was in Westminster for three very different protests, opposite Parliament in Old Palace Yard, on to Downing Street and finally to Soho and Piccadilly Circus. Only the first was related to it being Mother’s Day.

Mothers Against Fracking – Old Palace Yard

Mothers Against Fracking, Sindhi Congress, Sexy Soho

As I pointed out in My London Diary, “fracking is something the world cannot afford. Increasingly we are aware that we need to move away from fossil fuels and the carbon emissions they cause to avoid further dangerous climate change, and fracking has an even higher carbon footprint than normal natural gas. Increasingly we need to keep carbon – and in particular difficult carbon sources such as this and tar sands – in the ground if we hope to save the planet and its population.”

Mothers Against Fracking, Sindhi Congress, Sexy Soho

Mothers Against Fracking had brought together a number of campaigners from around the country for a Mother’s Day rally opposite the Houses of Parliament, particularly from the various camps and protests where drilling had begun. It is an issue that brings together local residents and environmental campaigners and as I commented was “causing mayhem even in the Tory heartlands such as Balcombe in deepest Surrey. “

Mothers Against Fracking, Sindhi Congress, Sexy Soho

I listed and photographed many of those who came and spoke, “including Vanessa Vine of BIFF (Britain & Ireland Frack Free), Tina Louise Rothery of RAFF (Residents Action on Fylde Fracking), Louise Somerville Williams (Frack Free Somerset), Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Eve McNamara of REAF (Ribble Estuary Against Fracking), Julie Wassmer (East Kent Against Fracking). Dr Becky Martin (Mothers Against Fracking) and Tammy Samede from the Barton Moss Camp in Salford.”

Mothers Against Fracking, Sindhi Congress, Sexy Soho

But this relatively small protest attracted rather more interest than most from the press, bringing some photographers I’ve never seen at a protest before because of the presence of Bianca Jagger, who took a leading part in the event as my pictures show, and gave an excellent well-prepared and written speech.

As I also pointed out, her speech “lacked the kind of intense personal involvement of many of the others” who spoke. And I wrote “I admire Bianca for her support of this and other campaigns but wish the media would show more interest in causes rather than personalities.”

Much more on My London Diary at Mothers Against Fracking.

World Sindhi Congress Protest – Downing St

The Sindhi are an ancient culture with their own Sindh language and Sindh is now the third largest province in Pakistan. Many Sindh who were Hindu went over the border to India at partition, while other largely Urdu speaking migrants moved into Sindh, on the Arabian Sea between India and the Indus River. The province contains much of Pakistan’s industry and its largest city and former capital, Karachi.

Until 1988 the area was normally referred to in English simply as Sind. When General Charles Napier conquered it for the British Empire in 1843 he famously sent the Latin one-word telegram “Peccavi” (I have sinned) to the Governor General.

The World Sindhi Congress is a human rights organisation for Sindhi people based in Canada, the UK and the USA which organizes cultural events, rallies, seminars, protests and conferences around the world.

They had come to Downing St to protest against the extra-judicial killings of Sindhi human rights activists by the Pakistani security agencies and called on the UK to press the Pakistani government to stop these violations.

The protest followed the assassination in Sindh of two Sindhi political activists, Maqsood Ahmed Querishi and Salman Wadho, one of the latest in a series of atrocities against Sindhi nationalists allegedly carried out by the Pakistani intelligence agencies. The killing on 21 March was followed by protests and riots in Sindh and the closure of shops, markets and several universities in many cities and a strike on the following day.

Qureshi was the leader of Sindhi separatist movement Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) and was involved in organising a ‘Freedom March’ to be held the Sunday after he was killed (which was Pakistan Freedom Day) in Karachi to inform the international community of the continuing violation of the human and civil rights of the Sindhi people.

Sindh separatists point out that the province has not been given the autonomy it was promised and that despite generating 70% of the country’s revenue and providing 60% of it natural resources it recives only around an eighth of national expenditure. But Wikipedia suggests there is relatively little popular support for separation from Pakistan.

World Sindhi Congress Protest

Keep Soho Sexy – Piccadilly Circus

The event at Piccadilly Circus was something of a hybrid one, part protest and part film set for the latest music video by singer songwriter The Soho Hobo (Tim Arnold.) As I wrote:

This was the only protest I’ve ever attended that came with a clapper board, with its title ‘Picadilly Trot – Soho Hobo’ (sic) and where those taking part had to go back and dance across Piccadilly Circus for another take, and then doing it again without the musicians. I assume they’ll manage to spell the name right on the final edit and I hope it gets the protest more publicity, but I don’t think its a good way to run a protest and I wasn’t amused at having to stay out of shot while taking pictures.

Mainly off the film cameras but very much on mine were protesters with placards from the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) and Queer Strike calling for an end to the raids on flats used by women sex-workers. The protesters are there at the back at some scenes in the finished video, but I doubt if anyone watching could get any idea of who they were or what they were protesting about.

The previous October I photographed a protest outside the Soho Estates offices in Greek Street after a number of women were evicted from their flats in Romilly St. Because these flats are self-contained and housed only a single sex-worker they were not legally brothels, but police and Westminster Council threatened to prosecute the landlord who refused to stand up for his tenants and simply evicted them.

The women involved say that the flats provided a much safer environment and they are much less safe if forced to work on the streets.

Campaigners say that the evictions are a part of a wider threat to the unique character of Soho, which has long been reputed for its cosmopolitan nature and various and often risqué entertainments of various kinds. The ECP say “if sex workers are forced out it will lead the way for other small and unique businesses and bars to be drowned out by major construction, chain stores and corporations.”

The police (and Westminster Council) are widely seen as being agents of the property developers who want to make billions from knocking down Soho and redeveloping parts of it as hotels and luxury flats, destroying the unique atmosphere of the area.

Keep Soho Sexy

Brexit, Fridays For Future & Turkey

Wednesday, March 29th, 2023

I’d not been well for a few days in March 2019 and was still feeling rather weak and tired on Friday 29th March, but decided to go up to London and cover some events happening in and around Parliament Square. But I found I wasn’t really well enough, and had to leave and come home much earlier than I had intended, before things were expected to get rather livelier later in the day when extreme right protesters were expected to march join those already in the square.

Brexiteers protest Betrayal – Parliament Square

Brexit, Fridays For Future & Turkey
‘Clean out the Augean Stables’ was doubtless the kind of snappy slogan that would appeal to Rees-Mogg

Friday 29th March had been the original deadline for the UK to leave the EU established when Theresa May triggered Article 50 and this was approved by the House of Commons, officially notifying the European Council of its intention to leave.

Brexit, Fridays For Future & Turkey

But things had not gone to plan, Parliament had dithered and there had been no real attempt to make the necessary negotiations for our departure – and indeed these have only really been completed with the Windsor Framework more or less agreed a month ago. Boris Johnson won an election on his promise of an ‘oven-ready agreement’ but this turned out as might have been expected to be half-baked.

Brexit, Fridays For Future & Turkey

Even with the agreement over the Irish border – if it proves workable, much still need to be agreed to really sort out our relationship with the EU and get things back to normal, though even that will be rather unsatisfactory compared with EU membership.

Brexiteers came to Parliament Square to protest against this failure to leave by the deadline, holding posters and banners. Later a ‘Leave Means Leave’ march arrived with two Orange marching bands.

There was a lot of noisy shouting and some MPs who walked through the crowd were subjected to angry abuse, while a few who were ardent supporters of Brexit stopped riedly to talk with the protesters.

There were also a few Remain supporters, and while I was present they were largely ignored by the Brexiteers and the atmosphere remained generally calm. Among them was #EUsupergirl Madeleina Kay dressed as Britannia.

But after a couple of hours I was feeling very out of breath and weak and decided I was in no state to continue working, particularly as things were expected to get rather more heated as the extreme right Tommy Robinson and the Democratic Football Lads Alliance were expected to arrive shortly.

Brexiteers protest Betrayal

Fridays for Future climate protest – Parliament Square

Although the Brexiteers were the largest and noisiest group in Parliament Square, others were also protesting and I photographed them too.

The school strike for climate was one of many weekly #FridaysForFuture events taking place in many cities and towns across the world. These protests were inspired by the action of 15-year old Greta Thunberg who instead of going back to school at the end of the Summer break in August broke the law by protesting outside the Swedish Parliament.

Fridays for Future climate protest

Kurds support hunger strikers – Houses of Parliament

On the pavement in front of Parliament as I was getting ready to leave I photographed a group of Kurds who were protesting in solidarity with hunger strikers in Turkey, some of whom had been on hunger strike since November.

The strikes began on November 7th and were against the imprisonment of members of the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) and the Free Women’s Congress, as well as many journalists, socialists and LGBTI+ campaigners. A number of Kurds in the UK have also gone on hunger strike in sympathy, including two of those taking part in this protest.

Leading the hunger strike in Turkey was HDP MP Leyla Güven, on indefinite hunger strike for over 110 days, vowing to continue until death unless the isolation of Kurdish Leader Abudullah Ocalan in prison was ended – and called an end to her hunger strike in May when this happened, having kept alive by consuming only Vitamin B and salty and sugary liquids.

The UK government continues to support Turkey as a fellow member of NATO despite the continuing human rights abuses there. Ocalan and many other Kurds remain in jail and many Kurds have been killed.

Kurds support hunger strikers

Winged Lions, A School, Thameslink, Wine, Buses…

Tuesday, March 28th, 2023

My walk on Saturday 8th April 1989 continued. The first (and previous) part was Kings Cross, St George’s Gardens & More.

Carving, Willing House, Gray's Inn Rd, King's Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-63
Carving, Willing House, Gray’s Inn Rd, King’s Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-63

Close to the north end of Gray’s Inn Road, at 356-364 on the corner with St Chad’s Place, is a remarkable early 20th century building in a style described as French Baroque, Willing House, built in 1909 as offices for Messrs Willing Advertising, architects Alfred Hart and Leslie Waterhouse. It’s Grade II listing is perhaps deserved more for the carvings on its facade by William Aumonier Junior, than its rather quirky style.

On the peak of its roof, not shown in these pictures, though appearing rather small on another not digitised, is Mercury, a sculpture by Arthur Stanley Young. According to Wikipedia, Mercury “is the god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery, and thieves“, most of which seem appropriate for one of London’s major advertising companies.

This bas-relief by Aumonier, one of a pair, shows one man blowing a long trumpet and another more obvious with a horse, though what he is supposedly doing to the poor beast is unclear. Above them is a highly stylized sun.

Doorway, Willing House, Gray's Inn Rd, King's Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-64
Doorway, Willing House, Gray’s Inn Rd, King’s Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-64

This is the ornate main doorway to the building, with giant winged lions on the pilasters at each site. Above them is a frieze with one old man holding a globe and another blowing a trumpet, and Aumonier has thrown in a few cherubs for good measure.

London Details provides a great deal of information about Willing and Co, founded in 1840, and this building. There is also an unusually long description in its Grade II listing.

Winged Lions, Willing House, Gray's Inn Rd, King's Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-65
Winged Lions, Willing House, Gray’s Inn Rd, King’s Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-65

A closer view of one of the two winged lions. In 1989 this building was apparently in use by Camden Council but has since been converted into a hotel. Mercury on the roof has also recently been given a comprehensive makeover, repainted to his original grey and his caduceus regilded.

King's Cross Thameslink, Railway Station, St Chad's Place,  King's Cross, Camden, 1989  89-4d-52
King’s Cross Thameslink, Railway Station, St Chad’s Place, King’s Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-52

The railway runs under part of Willing house and the unfortunate guests may get a room overlooking the lines, which carry Thameslink between Kings Cross and Farringdon. Railway nerds might welcome this but I hope for others the soundproofing is effective.

This site had been opened as King’s Cross Metropolitan in 1863, on London ‘s first underground line, and a second pair of lines added in 1868. The platforms for the Metropolitan, also serving the Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines, were closed and replaced by some a little nearer King’s Cross in 1940, but the station remained in use. It was rebuilt and opened here in 1988 as King’s Cross Thameslink. It closed for good in 2007 and Thameslink trains now stop at new platforms somewhere in the bowels of Kings Cross and St Pancras.

Former Church School, Brittania St, Wicklow St, King's Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-41
Former Church School, Brittania St, Wicklow St, King’s Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-41

This Grade II listed Church School built in 1872, its architect Joseph Peacock who had previously designed St Jude’s Church, the first church to be constructed in London using monies from the Bishop of London’s Fund, which was consecrated in 1863. In June 1936 the parish was united with with Holy Cross, Cromer Street and the church was demolished with many of its memorials being moved to Holy Cross. The school became offices.

Brittania Wine Warehouse, Britannia St, King's Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-43
Brittania Wine Warehouse, Britannia St, King’s Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-43

This building now has a sign in stone I think revealed by the removal of that for the Brittania Wine Warehouse ‘LONDON GENERAL OMNIBUS COMPANY LIMITED’. The company was founded in 1855 and remained the main bus operator in London until 1933. It was originally an Anglo-French company, the Compagnie Generale des Omnibus de Londres, and now we once again have many buses in the capital run by a French company, London United being a part of the French state-owned RATP ( Régie autonome des transports parisiens.)

This was the horse bus depot of the LGOC, and later their motor bus depot, and their last late horse-drawn bus ran in 1911.

Derby Lodge, Britannia St, King's Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-45
Derby Lodge, Britannia St, King’s Cross, Camden, 1989 89-4d-45

Derby Lodge, Grade II listed philanthropic flats from erected around 1865 for Sydney Waterlow’s Improved Industrial Dwellings Company with the help of builder Matthew Allen. Grade II listed. Listed in the 1990s and since refurbished.

Like other similar flats of the era their design was based on the model cottages erected for Prince Albert as a part of the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park and later re-erected in their current location in Kennington Park where they still are.

Kings Cross, St George’s Gardens & More

Monday, March 27th, 2023

The day after my short trip to Canning Town the weather was again looking good and so on Saturday 8th April 1989 I was out again walking and taking pictures. This time my starting point was King’s Cross St Pancras Underground Station (not then International.)

Kings Cross, Lighthouse, Pentonville Rd, Gray's Inn Rd, Islington, Camden, 1989 89-4c-41
Kings Cross, Lighthouse, Pentonville Rd, Gray’s Inn Rd, Islington, Camden, 1989 89-4c-41

Immediately on coming out of the station I crossed the Euston Road and took a photograph looking across the busy junction between Pentonville Road and Grays Inn Road. Later this was to be transformed into the death trap for cyclists it now is, after the road engineers were told to ignore cyclists in planning the junction, and I’ve photographed a number of protests there. In the past ten years at least three cyclists have been killed and 15 seriously injured here.

Back in 1989 before the redesign it was almost certainly safer, as traffic here was usually moving rather more slowly – and in my picture I think is at a complete standstill.

The building at the centre of the image is the famous “lighthouse” whose presence has invited a litany of stories, almost all empty fabrication and speculation. But it seems that it was built between 1875 and 1885 to promote Netten’s Oyster Bar then doing a roaring fast food service at street level. Later the block became home to one of London’s best known jazz record stores, Mole Jazz, which opened at 374 Gray’s Inn Road in July 1978 – and I became one of its early customers, though I had given up buying records long before it closed in 2004.

The lighthouse seems in decent condition in my picture, but more recently deteriorated and became covered in graffiti. The building has recently been refurbished as the Lighthouse King’s Cross office space, with a top floor bar and roof terrace around the lighthouse itself.

Kings Cross Station, Euston Ed, Camden, 1989 89-4c-42
Kings Cross Station, Euston Ed, Camden, 1989 89-4c-42

I turned around and took another picture, looking back at Kings Cross Station across Euston Road. The view here remained much the same until around 2021 when the more recent buildings in front of the 1851-2 station building, designed by Lewis Cubitt, the younger brother of both Thomas Cubitt responsible for much of London’s nineteenth century housing and William Cubitt, another important developer, who gave his name to Cubitt Town on the Isle of Dogs and later served two consecutive terms as Lord Mayor of London.

The station building is Grade I listed, and the recent changes have I think greatly improved it.

St George's Gardens, Sidmouth St, Camden, 1989 89-4c-32
St George’s Gardens, Sidmouth St, Camden, 1989 89-4c-32

There are many parts of London which it is hard to assign a name to, and the one I was walking around on this Saturday was one of them. My street atlas calls it ‘St Pancras’, I think it is part of Camden’s King’s Cross Ward, and when I’ve often walked across it from Tavistock Square I’ve always thought of it as Bloomsbury. Wikipedia has a rather lengthy discussion which says in part “Bloomsbury no longer has official boundaries and is subject to varying informal definitions, based for convenience“.

St George’s Gardens began in 1713-4 as a joint burial ground for St George-the-Martyr, Holborn (in Queen’s Square, now known as St George’s Holborn) and St George’s Bloomsbury and still has a line of stones marking the division of the area between the two churches, both of which had run out of space for burial in their churchyards. It was one of the earliest London burial sites situated away from the churches it served.

St George's Gardens, Sidmouth St, Camden, 1989 89-4c-34
St George’s Gardens, Sidmouth St, Camden, 1989 89-4c-34

But people kept on dying, and where buried here, mainly in unmarked graves. By 1885 there was no more room, and it was closed for burials. As a consecrated burial ground it could not be built on and burial grounds such as this were fast becoming the only open spaces in central London. “Campaigners including Miranda Hill and the Kyrle Society and Octavia Hill fought to create ‘outdoor sitting rooms’ to ‘bring beauty home to the poor’. St George’s Gardens were opened in 1884.”

St George's Gardens, Sidmouth St, Camden, 1989 89-4c-33
St George’s Gardens, Sidmouth St, Camden, 1989 89-4c-33

I made ten pictures here, of which three are online. The Friends of St George’s Gardens say that by 1997 the gardens were very run down, though I don’t think this is apparent in my pictures which show neatly cut grass and generally well-tended areas. The Friends were formed in 1994 when they say there had been a “prolonged period of neglect” and the gardens have been restored since then, with a lottery grant in 2001 and other and continuing work by the Friends.

Houses, Frederick St, Camden, 1989 89-4c-12
Houses, Frederick St, Camden, 1989 89-4c-12

Frederick Street was one of those developed by Thomas Cubitt and Numbers 48-52 date from 1815-1821, a few years earlier than some of the other Grade II listed houses on the street. Before making this picture I’d also photographed (not online) on of his terraces in Ampton Street, parallel and a few yards to the south. Both run east from Greys Inn Road, where in later years I often visited the NUJ offices on the corner with Acton Street.

Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital Swinton St, Camden, 1989 89-4c-16
Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital Swinton St, Camden, 1989

Walking north up Greys Inn Road past the NUJ offices (now at ground floor Bread&Roses @ The Chapel Bar) the next corner a few yards on is Swinton Street, and a few yards down there is this five floor frontage of the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital towering above the fairly narrow street.

This hospital remained in use until March 2020, when it was closed a few months earlier than planned due to Covid-19. Until then it was still offering inpatients ear, nose and throat (ENT) and oral surgery, sleep diagnostics and allergy day case services.

The hospital had been set up in 1874 as the Central London Throat and Ear Hospital by two doctors who had previously worked at the first specialist throat hospital in the country, the Hospital for Diseases of the Throat in Golden Square.

The hospital’s original building was begun on the Grays Inn Road in 1875, and various other buildings and wards were later added, with the hospital eventually covering a large site between here and Wicklow St. This rather odd building on Swinton Street was the Nurses’ Home, built in the 1930s.

More about my walk in later posts.

Murdoch, Tower Bridge and Poor Doors

Sunday, March 26th, 2023

I came up to London on the afternoon of Thursday 26th March 2015 and began my work by going to News International opposite the main entrance to London Bridge Station where te week of Occupy Rupert Murdoch was on its fourth day. Not much was happening there, so after taking a few pictures I went for a short walk to Tower Bridge and back. Things were only just beginning to start for an evening of events there when I needed to leave and cross the river for another weekly protest by Class War at One Commercial Street.

Occupy Rupert Murdoch – News International, London Bridge

Thursday 26th March 2015

I’d been at News International three days earlier on Monday 23 March 2015 when campaigners against the scandal of the UK’s media monopoly, with 5 billionaires owning 80% of the media, had marched there the short distance from London Bridge to present an arrest warrant for Rupert Murdoch, charging him with for war crimes, phone hacking, political blackmail, tax avoidance and environmental destruction.

Thursday 26th March 2015

Someone from News International had come and taken the warrant, and the campaigners had then set up camp on the pavement outside for a week of activities, Occupy Rupert Murdoch Week. I’d been busy for a few days and this was my first opportunity to return and see what was happening.

Thursday 26th March 2015

The answer when I arrived late on Thursday afternoon was not very much, though the camp and some of its supporters were still there, and still putting up posters and telling people going into London Bridge Station opposite the camp why they were protesting.

Thursday 26th March 2015

I went for a short walk along the riverside to Tower Bridge and came back later when more people were beginning to arrive for the evening session. But unfortunately I needed to leave to walk across the river and join Class War in Aldgate before things really got going.

Occupy Rupert Murdoch

Around Tower Bridge

I’d thought that Tower Bridge was probably the most photographed building in London but a survey of Instagram tags in 2022 showed that Big Ben had inched ahead with 3.2 million posts to Tower Bridge’s 2.6 million.

I don’t often feel a great need to add to the number of pictures of London’s most famous bridge, which I think I first photographed 50 years ago, though I’d gone under it on a school trip almost 20 years earlier, back before primary children had cameras. Most of the pictures which I’ve taken including it in the last 25 or so years have a group of protesters outside nearby City Hall in the foreground.

London’s City Hall is now no longer within sight of Tower Bridge, hidden out beside the ROyal Victoria Dock in Canning Town, though it was still in its rented home, bought back by the Kuwaiti state a couple of years earlier. Tower Bridge is still owned by Bridge House Estates, a charity set up in 1282, its only trustee THE MAYOR AND COMMONALTY AND CITIZENS OF THE CITY OF LONDON.

But mostly my attention was on the north bank of the river now rather dominated by a cluster of ugly and idiosyncratic towers in the centre of the City of London, until close to Tower Bridge where the Tower of London, actually outside the City in Tower Hamlets, still stands out despite its relatively low height.

Around Tower Bridge

A Quiet Night at Poor Doors – One Commercial St, Aldgate.

Eight months earlier in July 2014 Class War had started a series of weekly protest outside the massive largely residential block of One Commercial Street on the corner of that street and Whitechapel High St. The block includes flats for both private owners and a smaller number of socially rented flats, with the two groups having separate entrances.

The ‘rich door’ is on the main road, next to the Underground station entrance, while the ‘poor door’ is down a side alley. When the protests began the alley was dark, with dumped rubbish and a strong and persistent smell of urine, but one positive result of the protests has been that the alley has been cleaned up and new lighting installed.

As the protesters were getting ready at the rich door, I went after Ian Bone of Class down the alley to look at the poor door. We returned to the front of the building and the rich door, followed by two police officers who had come to watch us.

It was good to see again among the banners the ‘Epiphany’ banner based on the Fifth Monarchists who led a short-lived rebellion in London which began on 6th January 1660. Class War had taken part in the filming of a re-enactment of this event in 2013.

It began as a fairly quiet protest with speeches and some chanting, and at some point a yellow smoke flare rolled across the pavement.

There was a small confrontation when one resident entering the rich door pushed rather roughly past the protesters, but very few came in or out of the rich door. The ground floor also includes shops and a hotel, and I think residents could probably use the hotel entrance. We had also found that they were able to exit via the ‘poor door’.

At the end of the protest some of the protesters who had brought a Hello! magazine Queen’s Diamond Jubilee flag attempted to burn it. But this turned out to be difficult and it melted a bit but didn’t catch fire. Some then when down the alley to look at the poor door before everyone left.

More pictures on My London Diary at Quiet Night at Poor Doors.

Canada Water, Southwark Homes & Cody Dock

Saturday, March 25th, 2023

Canada Water, Southwark Homes & Cody Dock: Events and pictures from Saturday 25th March 2017

Canada Water, Southwark.

Canada Water, Southwark Homes & Cody Dock

The Surrey Commercial Docks were the largest area of London’s Docklands and the only large docks on the south bank of the River Thames, built on a large marshy area at Rotherhithe, a little closer to London than the Royal Navy dockyard at Deptford.

Canada Water, Southwark Homes & Cody Dock

The first dock here was dug out in 1696 and was the largest dock of that age, and could take 120 sailing ships. Later the dock became Greenland Dock, a base for the Arctic whaling trade, but in the 19th century there was a huge increase in trade with Scandanavia and the Baltic, and other docks were dug, as well as huge timber ponds which soon became its major trade.

Canada Water, Southwark Homes & Cody Dock
Deal Porters sculpture by Philip Bews

Surrey Docks was in full swing the in the Victorian age, with nine docks, six timber ponds and the Grand Surrey Canal. Badly damaged by bombing in the Second World War, the docks never fully recovered and were then hit by containerisation. The docks were too small to handle container ships and closed in 1970. Most of the docks were filled in and the whole area was redeveloped.

Canada Water, Southwark Homes & Cody Dock

By the time the London Docklands Development Corporation was set up by the Tories in 1980 the redevelopment initially led by Southwark Council was well under way and the area was set to have a rather different character from the redevelopments on the north bank.

But the LDDC appeared as the principal objector, to the council’s statutory development plan and was backed by the Department of the Environment. Southwarks plan for the whole of the south riverside from London Bridge to Deptford was rejected for showing ‘unrealistic commitment to public housing‘ and for its ‘opposition to office and other private development’. The LDDC went ahead with selling land and buildings for speculative development.

The LDDC rubbed its hands in glee at the thought of selling riverside sites which Southwark had planned for low cost rented housing to developers of large blocks of luxury flats, and rushed to clear aging council estates and replace them with privately owned properties, policies which were strongly opposed by Southwark Council.

But times have changed, and I had come to Canada Water for a march where local people had come to protest against very similar policies by Southwark’s Labour council, working for and with developers to demolish estates such as the Heygate and Aylesbury, with the replacements including only a very small percentage of social housing. I’d arrived early on purpose to give me time for a short walk around before the protest began.

More at Canada Water.

Southwark march for homes & businesses

Southwark campaigners marched from Canada Water to protest at Thurlow Lodge Community Hall on the Aylesbury Estate, calling on Labour-run Southwark Council to save homes and jobs in the borough.

Marchers and speakers at the rally before the march included those from tenants and residents organisations, local business networks and others. They had come to oppose Southwark Council demolishing council estates for luxury home building, selling off public land to private developers and profit-oriented housing associations and forcing out small businesses through policies they say are solely concerned with realising asset values and trample on the rights and needs of local residents.

On My London Diary there is a long list of some of the groups involved, but there were others too.

One of the bigger battles, still continuing, is over the future of the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, just south of the Heygate Estate at the Elephant and Castle, where the council lost a great deal of public money in providing a huge site with great transport links to allow a private developer to make huge profits, losing around 2000 social rent homes. Many of the new flats are empty boxes, investments for wealthy foreigner profiting from rapid increases in London property prices.

Piers Corbyn with others sitting down on Albany Road at the end of the march

Much of the Aylesbury estate has now been emptied, and some demolished. The council was found to have acted acting unfairly towards leaseholders who were being offered derisory compensation – usually less than half the market value of comparable properties in the area. Those who took the court case got improved offers, but there is little evidence of it changing its ways and trying to cheat others. Among those involved in fighting to save the Aylesbury on this march was Piers Corbyn, Jeremy’s older brother, in the news more recently over arguably less worthwhile causes, particularly in opposition to Covid restrictions.

The Aylesbury Estate had been at the centre of the Labour Party’s plans for the regeneration of council estates, the site of Tony Blair’s first big press event. But Labour’s policy was more about grabbing headlines than providing the good low-cost housing that a proper social housing policy requires. Councils such as Southwark have used it to demonise and run-down their large estates, spending large sums with PR companies to do so and working with major developers, rather than properly consulting with residents and putting the necessary cash into estate maintenance, running them down on purpose.

It was a long march to the Aylesbury Estate, detouring to pass several housing estates and business areas threatened by the council, and a tiring one on a warm and sunny March Day, and we were all tired by the time it ended outside Thurlow Lodge Community Hall. This had been saved earlier this year by a community occupation after Southwark Council had wanted to evict the occupants, Divine Rescue, a body with a soup kitchen offering support, training and meals to around a hundred homeless people, and runs a a food bank. Southwark wanted to sell or let the community hall to make more money.

The march organisers had planned to end the march here with Divine Rescue providing hot drinks and toilet facilities after the long walk, but Southwark Council had warned Divined Rescue that there lease would again be threatened if they had anything to do with the protest, forcing them to withdraw their offer. The hall was locked and shuttered, guarded by Southwark Council security when we arrived. It seemed a very petty piece of bullying by the council.

The protesters sat down on Albany Road blocking traffic for around 10 minutes in protest at this, then moved to the area in front of the community hall for a final rally.

Many more pictures from the march and the rallies before and afterwards on My London Diary at Southwark march for homes & businesses.

More From Cody Dock

From the Aylesbury Estate I made my way to Cody Dock for the opening of my show there, ‘All Along the Lea‘, black and white photographs from the 1980s and 90s, arriving an hour or two early.

This gave me time to take a few more pictures, but also to have some food and a beer and listen to some live music and just to enjoy being there.

It was a pleasant opening with a decent crowd, with plenty of people coming to look at the pictures and talk, including the local MP. As I said and wrote, “When I took these pictures many people wondered why I was wasting time and film on such scenes, so I’m really pleased to have them appreciated now. “

I hadn’t chosen the title for the show, and it wasn’t accurate fro the pictures that were on the wall, almost all from Bow Creek. But I had photographed ‘All Along the Lea’ and my web site and the book ‘Before the Olympics‘ have pictures from the source at Leagrave to the outlets into the Thames both at Bow Creek, and, via the Limehouse Cut, at Limehouse Dock.

Wandsworth Panoramas – March 2014

Friday, March 24th, 2023

As a photographer I’ve long been interested in the difference between how we experience the world around us and how the camera records it. Some of those differences are obvious but others less so, and some we are seldom aware of.

Wandsworth Panoramas - March 2014

The camera records an image produced by its lens which follows strict optical rules which I learnt about long ago in my physics lessons, though real lenses deviate slightly from those ideal and perfect specimens in those science texts.

Wandsworth Panoramas - March 2014

The camera holds a film or sensor to record that image – and again does so following strict physical (and chemical for film) processes which may fail to record significant features and distort others to produce an essentially flat two-dimensional image. It may not even record colours but if it does they always to some extent arbitrary, as too are the tones.

Wandsworth Panoramas - March 2014

Those of us who grew up on film are perhaps more aware of this than the digital generations. We had to be aware of the differences in recording of, for example Ilford’s Pan F and Kodak’s Tri-X, and how these were affected by processing and printing, and of the rather unreal but different colour renditions of Kodachrome, Kodacolor, Ektachrome, Agfa, Ferraniacolor and the other colour film films, each with its own qualities. Though perhaps if we ever used Orwo film quality was not the right word for its purplish nature.

Wandsworth Panoramas - March 2014

Of course there are differences in the way digital cameras record colour, but these are rather smaller, and we can make use of software to make them match more closely or exaggerate the difference. Lightroom and Photoshop can make my Fuji files look very similar in terms of colour rendition to those from Nikon.

But our experience of a scene is very different, combining inputs from all of our senses, and it would be impossible to over-emphasise the subjective aspects. But even just visually it is still very different. While the lens cuts out all but a small rectangle in front of us, our eyes send information to the brain from a much wider field, much of it except from a small central section lacking in sharpness. Most of us have binocular vision, gathering this data from two eyes a short but significant distance apart, enabling us to see in depth. And our view is always dynamic, our eyes moving around, and as we swing our head around or up and down we have the sensation of moving through a static universe. Doing the same with a camera has a very different effect.

A standard lens – around 40 to 50mm on a full frame digital or 35mm film camera gives a similar idea of depth in its flat images to that we normally experience. With longer lens the effect of depth is reduced and by the time we get to really long lenses the images become flat patterns rather than appearing to represent a three dimensional scene. But what interested me more was what happened when the camera tried to represent a much wider angle of view than the standard, when the rectilinear rendering of normal lenses becomes impossible.

On Monday 14th of March I went for a walk with a painter friend who had brought her sketch book to introduce her to an area I thought she might find interesting. And I wanted to further explore some of the different ways of rendering very wide angles of view with digital cameras. I’d brought two Nikons with me, one fitted with a conventional wide-angle zoom which I used mainly at 16mm, close to the limit for such lenses (and I do have a wider lens which demonstrates this) and the other with a 16mm full-frame fisheye which fills the frame with an image which is 180 degrees across the diagonal.

While my friend stopped to make sketches I had time to make a series of images from similar locations. I kept warmer as I was moving around, but she fairly soon got cold, which was a good excuse to visit the pub which appears in some of these pictures, after which I took her back to the station where we had met and went back to take some more pictures on my own.

Back home I uploaded the images. Those from the conventional wide-angle zoom I’ve use as they were taken, with just the normal adjustments in Lightroom. But the fish-eye images I worked on with my panorama stitching software, PtGui, not to join images but to take the raw image data and process it it various different ways to produce cylindrical projections. If the camera was upright when the picture was taken, this will produce straight vertical lines for all upright elements. There are many different approaches to this which produce visually different results, some of which are common in mapping, such as Mercator.

Those I’ve found most useful are the equirectangular, Vedutismo and Transverse Vedutismo projections used in these examples.

More panoramic images from my walk on My London Diary at Wandsworth Panoramas.

More From Bow Creek, April 1989

Thursday, March 23rd, 2023

The second part of a short walk by Bow Creek on Friday 7th April 1989. The first part is at Bow Creek, East India Dock Way, April 1989.

London Sawmills, Bow Creek, East India Dock Rd, Canning Town, Newham, 1989 89-4b-15
London Sawmills, Bow Creek, East India Dock Rd, Canning Town, Newham, 1989 89-4b-15

I walked back a few yards to the west along the East India Dock Road and made this picture looking south down Bow Creek, again showing the stacked timber on the wharf. The closer of the two bridges visible was I think just a pipe bridge, probably to carry gas from the nearby gasworks from Poplar to Canning Town, and has since been removed.

The second bridge is a Dock Road Foot Bridge, more commonly called the Blue Bridge (a name it shares with several others in London), though it also carries pipes and is still in place. I think it was intended to provide a route for people living in South Bromley to Canning Town station, and it leads to a bridge taking the footpath over the DLR, but unfortunately this has been almost permanently locked. It has been at least partly rebuilt since I made this picture

Hidden by this bridge a few yards further downstream and fenced off is another bridge, Canning Town Old Railway Bridge, long disused which was built to carry a single rail track over the river.

Pipe Bridge, Bow Creek, Tower Hamlets, Newham, 1989 89-4c-61
Pipe Bridge, Bow Creek, Tower Hamlets, Newham, 1989 89-4c-61

I walked on across Bow Creek and took this picture of the pipe bridge. As you can see it was well fenced off and although there were steps up and a footway across I could not access this.

All this brickwork on the Middlesex side of the river has gone, I think when the road bridge here was widened and a link road provided to the Limehouse Link tunnel but the brick abutment remains on the Essex side. The bridge was built to give sufficient clearance for navigation.

Pipe Bridge, Bow Creek, Tower Hamlets, Newham, 1989  89-4c-63
Pipe Bridge, Bow Creek, Tower Hamlets, Newham, 1989 89-4c-63

At the centre of the river I had crossed from Newham into Tower Hamlets. My street atlas names this area as South Bromley, but I don’t think anyone now knows where that is, as there is no station of that name, the DLR having decided on East India instead.

A few yards on along waste ground I made another picture showing the pipe bridge and the river, before turning back to the East India Dock Road. I made two exposures and I wonder if I may have chosen the wrong one to digitise as it is just slightly unsharp.

London Sawmills, Bow Creek, East India Dock Rd, Canning Town, Newham, 1989 89-4c-65
London Sawmills, Bow Creek, East India Dock Rd, Canning Town, Tower Hamlets, 1989 89-4c-65

Across the water you can see much of the planks produced by the sawmill on the wharf, as well as stacks on a further wharf downriver between the building around 50 yards away on land but half a mile downstream round what is now the Bow Creek Ecology Park. Behind the cut timber you can see part of the Pura Foods edible oils factory on the opposite bank of the invisible river, and above that the top of the flood barrier across the river on the other side of the factory.

Timber was for many years a major industry on Bow Creek and along the Lea Navigation, as the Surrey Docks just across the Thames was mainly a timber dock, with large timber ponds. Boats and barges would have brought huge trunks to sawmills such as this, and the cut timber was also mainly transported further on by barge.

Pura Foods, Bow Creek, Tower Hamlets, 1989  89-4c-52
Pura Foods, Bow Creek, Tower Hamlets, 1989 89-4c-52

I walked further east and used a short telephoto lens to make this image of Pura Foods. Their factory processing vegetable oils here at Orchard Place had grown considerably over the years, as had the smells from it, and many locals were pleased when the factory moved out in 2006.

Almost all of my pictures at this time were taken with a 35mm lens, giving a moderate wide angle view. The Olympus Zuiko lens I used was unusual in being a shift lens, allow me to move the optical elements relative to the film to give additional control over the perspective. It made it possible for example to photograph taller buildings without tilting the camera which would have resulted in verticals that converged.

Lens design has improved considerably since, and so have our expectations of lenses. Many of my pictures made then have a lack of critical sharpness at the corners which we would now find unacceptable. Digital imaging in particular means we now routinely look at images on a much larger scale on screen than the prints we used to make.

West Ham Power Station, Bow Creek, East India Dock Rd, Newham, 1989 89-4c-55
West Ham Power Station, Bow Creek, East India Dock Rd, Newham, 1989 89-4c-55

I crossed to the other side of the busy East India Dock Road, going along Wharfside Road under it, and made this view looking north up Bow Creek. As you can see the West Ham Power Station was then being demolished. This was the last in a number of power stations on the site since 1904, when West Ham Council built one here to power its trams. This was West Ham B, built in 1951 and it used coal brought up Bow Creek as well as coke from the neighbouring Bromley Gas Works.

Power production at the station dropped off from the late 1960s and it closed in 1983. By 1989 its two 300ft cooling towers had already been demolished and the rest of the station was following.

West Ham Power Station, Bow Creek, East India Dock Rd, Newham, 1989 89-4c-56
West Ham Power Station, Bow Creek, East India Dock Rd, Newham, 1989 89-4c-56

A second view shows more of the Newham (or Essex) bank south of the main power station building and the closer parts are again full of stacked timber.

Newham Council together with Tower Hamlets has plans for a number of new bridges in the area providing links across Bow Creek, at Lochnagar St, Poplar Reach near to Cody Dock and Mayer Parry connecting the Leven Road former gasworks site to roughly where the old power station was, now the SEGRO industrial park.

It had been a short and interesting walk and I made my way to Canning Town station for the slow journey home. Canning Town is much easier to get to since the Jubilee Line opened at the end of 1999.

Bikes Not Bombs, Tibet, Deportation & Pillow Fight

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023

Back on Saturday 22nd March 2008 I had a rather varied day in London, meeting protesters cycling to Aldermaston on my way to photograph a march for freedom in Tibet, then going to a protest against the deportation of a gay man to Iran and finally to a pillow fight.

Bikes Not Bombs: London – Aldermaston

Bikes Not Bombs, Tibet, Deportation & Pillow Fight

I was on foot and had just come out of Oxford Circus station when I saw the CND Bikes Not Bombs group of cyclists who had begun their ride in Trafalgar Square earlier and were on their way to ride to Aldermaston. Though when I took a few photographs as you can see from the bus they were cycling in exactly the wrong direction, east towards Ilford. Of course they weren’t lost, just trying to attract some attention to the protest, riding with a sound system along London’s busiest shopping street.

Bikes Not Bombs, Tibet, Deportation & Pillow Fight

I’d thought briefly about taking part myself in the event, as I’d used a bike to get around since I was six, having graduated then from a first a pedal car and then a tricycle. I did own a car briefly when I was around 21, but soon realised it was impractical in cities, expensive, polluting and environmentally unsound and never made the same mistake again.

But for the reasons I listed on My London Diary – sloth, other events, lousy weather and a dislike of early rising – I didn’t join this official ride, though I did cycle on my own from Reading to Aldermaston and back on the following Monday to join the protesters there.

Bikes Not Bombs: London – Aldermaston

Support Tibet March

Bikes Not Bombs, Tibet, Deportation & Pillow Fight

I was on my way to Park Crescent, a short walk north of the Chinese Embassy where Tibetans and supporters of freedom in Tibet were meeting to march through London on the 49th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising.

Bikes Not Bombs, Tibet, Deportation & Pillow Fight

Tibet came under effective control of the Chinese government in 1951, when an agreement had been come to the status of Tibet within the recently established People’s Republic of China. In 1949 Tibetan protesters feared the Chinese were about to arrest the 14th Dalai Lama. Protests were at first peaceful but were brutally repressed by the People’s Liberation Army and there was heavy fighting which also involved Tibetan separatists who had been carrying out guerrilla warfare against Chinese forces.

The Dalai Lama fled the country and set up an independent Tibetan government in India, where he still lives – and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The Tibetan uprising had begun on 10th March 1959 and this day is celebrated each year as Tibetan Uprising Day and Women’s Uprising Day. Since 2009, following protests on 10th March 2008 in Lhasa, the Chinese-controlled authority in Tibet have celebrated the day they fully regained control, 28th March as the national anniversary of Serfs Emancipation Day.

The Tibetan Independence Movement who organise annual protests calling for freedom for Tibet was originally funded and trained by the CIA, but this was withdrawn following Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. And the Dalai Lama who had originally backed it, and who appears as a large photograph carried reverently in the marches, also withdrew support for the independence movement in the 1970s.

It is clear from reports by Amnesty International and others is that there are considerable human rights abuses in Tibet. The 2021 US State Department report listing includes “unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment by the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom including site blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom….”

Support Tibet March

Defend Mehdi Kazemi – Downing St

But of course human rights are not always respected in this country, and we currently have a government which is proposing to withdraw from some international human rights conventions and proposing racist anti-immigrant policies which are deliberately in breach of them.

Back in 2008, the Labour government was also riding roughshod over the human rights of some immigrants, setting up a system of large-scale detention of asylum seekers and treating individuals unfairly in a bid to outflank the Tories on cutting immigration through blatantly right-wing policies.

Mehdi Kazemi had come to the UK to study after having been involved in a consensual homosexual relationship in Iran. After his boyfriend was executed for this he became a wanted man in Iran and he went to the Netherlands to apply for political asylum.

This was refused as he had come from the UK and so was not allowed under the 2003 Dublin Agreement. The Uk had refused him permission to stay in Britain and were proposing to deport him to Iran where he would be tried and executed.

His case was just one of many where the Home Office were failing to recognise the need for refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of persecution because of their sexual orientation, and for failing to have accurate and up-to-date information on homophobic persecution in countries to which LGBT asylum seekers might be deported.

Support for Kazemi at this protest and by a number of MPs, MEPs and human rights activists did eventually result in the Home Office agreeing to review his case and he was given leave to remain here in May 2008.

Defend Mehdi Kazemi

Flash Mob Global Pillow Fight – Leicester Square

My day ended in very much lighter mood with a pillow fight in Leicester Square, one of many organised in capitals around the world due to kick off at 15.03PM.

I commented: “Of course its a trivial, silly event, but the idea and the kind of organisation involved I think represents something new and exciting, a kind of ‘Demo 2.0’ which we will surely see more of in the future.”

Perhaps this hasn’t had as much impact here in the UK as I had hoped, but I think may have been more important elsewhere in the world. To some extent it has been outgrown as Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps have become more important and even protests organised months and years in advance make use of them.

But it was interesting if rather tricky to photograph, and I got stuck in without a pillow and at some danger to my health, main not “from impact but suffocation when some pillows split open to fill the air with clouds of feathers and feather-dust. At times I wished I was wearing a mask to protect my lungs; keeping my mouth firmly closed and breathing though my nose only stopped the larger particles.

And I also found the the autofocus on my DSLR was too efficient at focusing on feathers in the air, and until I turned it off and went manual many of my pictures failed to be sharp for the people and pillows behind the screen of feathers.

Later as the pixel count on DSLRs increased and full-frame cameras appeared I found it very useful to work in many situations using just the central ‘DX’ half-frame area of the viewfinder – which would have been very useful to let me see the people and pillows coming for me, but on this occasion I found “chaos really rules taking pictures becomes a press and hope situation. I think some of them do give an idea of what it was like to be there.

Flash Mob Global Pillow Fight