my london diary index
 

May 2008

Heathrow - No Third Runway
Justice for Darfur
Pagan Pride - Beltane Bash
Journey to Justice - Drop the Debt
Pratts Bottom Village Fete
Photofusion opening - Changing Spaces
Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation
Justice for cleaners demonstrate at AON
Stratford - Bow: Olympic Site
International Conscientious Objectors' Day
Covent Garden May Fayre
Baishakhi Mela Procession
London May Queen
Trafalgar Square
Morris in Westminster
The Slough Arm
Beckenham May Queens
No to the Crook, the Toff, The Fascist or Cop
London Riverside
Just Shares Take On The Bank
Mayfair Mayfayre - Space Hijackers
TUC May Day March

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Heathrow - Make a Noise - No Third Runway

Hatton Cross to Sipson, Middx. Saturday 31 May, 2008

Oh No! The message was still clear even if some got it upside down! A pity I didn't notice at the time.
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It is now obvious to everyone with their head out of the sand is that London Heathrow is in the wong place. It always was, since its creation by subterfuge and lies during the last years of the war, but no government since has had the nerve to challenge the powerful aviation lobby.

At last the tide is beginning to turn, but perhaps not fast enough. Our current government seems likely to give the go-ahead for a third runway to be built, demolishing some of the ancient Middlesex villages between Heathrow and the M4, but it also seems increasingly likely that it may never actually go into service, outflanked as the increase price of oil finally pushes common sense down the throats of the unwilling, and cancelled after great cost. A bitter result that will be the worst of both worlds.

Heathrow can't disappear overnight, but the next real phase in its development may well be a shrinking to a single runway, probably the current southern one, serviced by terminals 4 and 5. Or perhaps even one of the shorter diagonal runways that no longer seem to be counted (though this would be very bad news for me as that flight path is directly over my house, scraping above my rooftop.)

Economically, the case for Heathrow appears to be over - and it is one that has never taken properly into account the alternative uses for those many acres of prime and largely empty space within its boundaries. This is land that London needs to develop and that could breathe new life into West London.

Saturday saw another protest at Heathrow. Perhaps 4000 of us making our way from Hatton Cross to the doomed village of Sipson (from which we started our march against the third runway in 2003), and where today a few under 3000 of us made a giant human 'NO' on the grass of the recreation ground. I was taking pictures - like that above - with one hand and holding up my 'No' towards the cameras on the cherry-picker behind my back with the other. It had been a hot march in the sun, with little shade around the airport and many marchers and most photographers had not quite made it past the welcoming local pubs. There was after all only room for one still photographer on the platform above us.

At the start of the march, near Hatton Cross Station, HACAN spokesman John Stewart welcomed protesters from around the UK as well as small groups from both France and Greece, but stressed that the vast majority of those protesting were people - like myself - who were effected by aircraft noise and pollution, and that there were also many marching who faced losing losing their homes if the development goes ahead.

Politicians of all parties were there. They included the Deputy Mayor of London, Richard Barnes, a very sincere man from Hillingdon and a more than able replacement for his boss, who had at first agreed to come - but after being elected Mayor had decided instead to fly off for a holiday in Turkey. Barnes also spoke at the start of the march, reminded us of the series of lies behind the continuing development of the airport: "when they wanted Terminal Five, they told us there would be no third runway. They have constantly been lying to us ... But we are not going away, this is our home, where we live and we will defend it. I am convinced we are on the verge of a major victory, we have cross party support from all politicians - so let's keep up the pressure", and he pledged the support of the London Mayor.

Archbishop Of Canterbury Rowan Williams had also been expected to attend and give his support; although he was unable to make it he sent a message that was read out on his behalf.

Lib Dem Deputy Leader and Treasury spokesman Vincent Cable, MP for nearby Twickenham was there at the front of the march from Hatton Cross, along with local Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, John McDonnell, who acted as host while the 'Big No' was being assembled and filmed at Sipson Recreation Ground - it was for a few minutes live on BBC News and also filmed by Sky. That there were few Labour MPs present partly reflects few Labour MPs in the area most affected by Heathrow (or perhaps others were there, keeping in hiding because of their shame at their government's failures to deliver on the environment.)

The 'Big No' went on for rather a long time, perhaps why quite a few on the march had opted to stay at the local pubs rather than join in. But they did miss George Monbiot, who spoke as powerfully as he writes about the environmental impact. He was followed by the headmistress of a school under the flight path (I think my father was a pupil from 1905-14, when aircraft noise was hardly a problem, though he did go to watch - and got told off for touching - the aircraft - perhaps even including Bleriot's - who touched down on Hounslow Heath, later London's first commercial airport.) She brought to us the practicalities of of educating children in the area (and two of her pupils) making clear that they loose much of their time in school as they are unable to hear their teachers. Schools are double-glazed, but that is only effective in the colder months of the year when it is possible to keep windows closed. At present, alternate working of the runways brings some little respite, but with continuing expansion this will be lost.

From there it was a short walk to a local school with an outdoor stage for entertainment and the final rally as well as stalls, children's activities and an ice-cream van.

Speakers in the closing rally included the Tories John Randall, MP for Uxbridge and Justine Greening, MP for Putney. Susan Kramer from Richmond Park was the only Lib Dem MP to speak (and, as in 2003, she was impressive.) Green MEP for South-East England Caroline Lucas had traveled back from Brussels to speak.

Hillingdon Council leader Ray Puddifoot represented the group of local authorities representing two million of those affected by aircraft noise (but not to their shame Spelthorne Council, who seem determined to cozy up to BA and BAA. Also missing was the Conservative MP for Spelthorne, David Wilsher, one of few local MPs to come out in favour of airport expansion. Wilsher also denies that climate change is caused by human activities and some constituents expect him to announce his membership of the flat earth society any day soon.)

The rally ended with local resident and leader of NoTRAG, Geraldine Nicholson who thanked many of those who had worked so hard for NoTRAG and ended in a duet with John Stewart of HACAN - "No Third Runway!"
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Justice for Darfur - London Protest

Whitehall - Sudanese Embassy. Sunday 25 May, 2008

The protest started opposite Downing Street
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Approaching two hundred protesters, many from the Sudan, gathered opposite Downing Street for a noisy protest before marching to a rally held adjoining the Sudanese Embassy opposite St James's Palace in London.

The 'Justice for Darfur' campaign was launched a month ago, one year after the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against Sudan’s former State Minister of the Interior Ahmad Haroun and Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb (Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman) on 51 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity arising from persecution, rapes and murder of civilians in four West Darfur villages.

The Sudanese government has refused to hand over the men; Haroun has even been promoted to be responsible for humanitarian affairs, and Kushayb, who was being held in jail on other charges at the time the ICC warrants were issued has been released due to "lack of evidence."

Demonstrators also carried placards asking for other Sudanese war criminals to be brought to justice, including Saleh Gosh, head of Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Service, Sudan President Omar Al Bashir, the Minister of the Federation Government Nafi Ali Nafi and former Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman, who were all among the 52 listed for investigation by the UN Commission of Inquiry into war crimes in 2005.

Fresh reports of beatings, detentions and shooting of Darfuri civilians in Khartoum and Omdurman have been received earlier this month, but the situation in Darfur seems now to attract little attention in the mainstream press - who sent no reporters or photographers to Sunday's event.

The Justice for Darfur campaign is supported by around 30 organisations including the Aegis Trust, Amnesty International and Darfur Union UK, who organised Sunday's event along with Aegis Students.
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Pagan Pride - Beltane Bash

Red Lion Square/Russell Square, London. Sun 25 May, 2008

Dancing around the fountain in Russell Square
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Beltane is an ancient Spring festival, to celebrate coming out of winter and the springing of the world into growth. The Beltane Bash is held rather late during the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May and as well as various private activities inside the Conway Hall includes a public procession, Pagan Pride.

Pagans - or rather neo-Pagans - place great importance on nature and the cyclical nature of the seasons. Women play a very important role in most pagan beliefs and Goddesses as well as Gods, all generally linked to nature are often involved in their ceremonies and women play important roles in them.

Nature seemed not to be too kind to them as the rain bucketed down as the participants were supposed to gather, with only a few braver members (and some with umbrellas) coming out of the hall, but fortunately for them and the photographers it soon eased off, finally almost stopping as the parade got under way.

The fountain in Russell Square could have been designed with them in mind, with a strongly phallic character in the water jets, which in normal use rise and fall, but were left to flow at full strength for most of the ceremony. At first the group danced around the fountain in rings with hands joined, but then many of them started to run through the centre, many getting soaked. Even the drummers, who at first stood on the edge providing a rhythm for the dance, eventually ran though the jets, and finally the Green Man also did so.

By the time the parade left the square for its return to Conway Hall I'd had enough, and my feet and legs were soaked. It was time to go and have a cup of tea!
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Journey to Justice - Drop the Debt 10 Years On

Birmingham. Sunday 18 May, 2008

Methodists from Worcester outside the International Conference Centre in Birmingham.
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You can't take photographs without a point of view. Literally and metaphorically so - the rationale for making the picture determines the technical aspects of actually making the exposure. Where you stand isn't just a matter of where you put your feet.

Many of the pieces I write about the various events I photograph make my position clear - as I hope do my pictures. Often it is implied rather than stated, but for once I think I should make clear that I went to the 'Journey to Justice' event as a demonstrator rather than a photographer - although that didn't stop me taking quite a few pictures.

Although Birmingham isn't London, I went with a coach load of others from West London, so at least the first two pictures in my account are in London.

Ten years ago I linked arms with 70,000 others in a human chain around centre of Birmingham and the conference centre in which the G8 leaders were meeting. We made so much noise (literally too) that the Prime Ministers adjourned their meeting to come out and listen, and that event put debt relief decisively on the world agenda.

Ten years later, a rather smaller number of us made the 'Journey to Justice' back to Birmingham. Our actions in May 1998 had set the ball rolling, but as yet it has only gone one fifth of the way, and 80% of debts remain. All governments, including our own, have been guilty of making many promises that they have not kept on debt relief and aid.

Over those last ten years there has also been a growing recognition that much aid, including that which incurred much of the debt was in fact not aid at all, but its reverse. This unjust aid was often used to support of corrupt regimes (and bolster the overseas bank accounts of ruling elites through bribes) at the same time delivering most of the 'aid' as subsidies to companies in the donor countries who were providing projects at best irrelevant to the problems of the countries receiving them, and often worsening the conditions and expectations of the majority population, and environmentally disastrous.

Over the history of colonization and continued post-colonial exploitation of physical resources and people, the real debt - in moral, social, economic and ecological terms - is owed by the wealthy nations to the majority world. We used their labour to dig up their minerals, set up plantations to grow our crops on their lands, imported their people as cheap labour and continue to cream off many of their most talented people to work for us. Put simply, we built and continue to have the wealth we enjoy on their backs.

As well as a slickly organised rally inside the ICC - where the G8 had been ten years ago - with a number of videos - including contributions from Gordon Brown, The Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Archbishop Desmond Tutu as well as many eminent guests in person (see the pictures) there were also musical and other performances in Centenary Square outside.


The Dhol Blasters in Centenary Square. Birmingham was granted city status by Queen Victoria in 1889.

At the end of the rally, the final speaker, Kumi Naidoo of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, accompanied by the Dhol Blasters, Birmingham's world-acclaimed Punjabi musicians and dancers, led the crowd out into the square, where the music continued while an attempt was made to form and photograph the world's largest human pie chart.

A circle had been marked out on the ground, with a slice shown indicating the 20% of debt already dropped. People in this sector were asked to kneel, to make it stand out, and paper chains made by those present signing small strips showing their support were draped liberally around, along with people holding up a set of large capital letters spelling out 'DROP THE DEBT'.

I've yet to see the official photo, taken by a man on top of a ladder, but from my position a just few feet lower, it seemed doomed to fail visually - as do most such clever ideas thought up by publicists. It also smacks far too much of North Korea to me, though they would carry it out so much better!


A low camera angle loses the sense of a circle and hides many of those present - probably over a thousand

One major problem was that the camera position was too close and too low. To take in the whole circle I had to use a 10.5mm fisheye, and the position meant that those at the front of the 20% slice dominated the picture, so that visually the 20% (in so far as you could make it out at all) looks more like 60%. But it was probably an astute choice in terms of getting interest so far as editors are concerned, where idea generally trumps image.
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Pratts Bottom Village Fete

Pratts Bottom, L B Bromley. Saturday 17 May, 2008

Attendants to the Pratts Bottom May Queen
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I'd never been to Pratts Bottom before despite the enticing name, so the traditional English Village Fete seemed worth attending, particularly since it includes a procession with several May Queens, including those from Orpington, Green St Green and Petts Wood, along with Pratts Bottom's own May Queen.

Pratts Bottom, despite being in the London borough of Bromley is very much out in the country, beyond the leafy suburbs. Unfortunately, thanks to a confusion over times (and only an hourly train service) I arrived just as the procession reached the village green. And unfortunately for all of us it was raining.

As well as the May queens, and a childrens' fancy dress contest, there were a full range of stalls along the village green and some other activities in the village hall, not to mention the Bulls Head, where I was not surprised to find the Morris men.

I waited to see the Morris dancing, then rushed off down the hill to catch a train home. A fine but steady rain was still falling, and the heavy damp air was filled with the heady scent of hawthorn and cow parsley. It seems odd that this area is included in London while highly built-up areas such as Spelthorne are excluded.
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Photofusion opening - Changing Spaces

Photofusion, Brixton, London. Thursday 15 May, 2008

Picture by Simon Rowe and young woman from Pepys estate at Photofusion opening
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On my way from the US Embassy to Photofusion I walked past Brown Hart Gardens in Duke Street, Mayfair and to my surprise they were open, so I strolled up the steps and quickly took a few pictures. It seemed to me to be a good example of an unusual and a changing space in the city. When the surrounding model flats were built in the late 1880s, this was a communal garden for the working classes who lived in them. When the space was needed for an electricity sub-station in 1903, C. Stanley Peach designed this neo-baroque architectural Italian Garden to go on top of it, and it was built in 1907. I took pictures of it in the 1980s, but since then it has been closed to the public but apparently reopened last year. I was surprised to see it still open at 6pm - and very nearly got locked in, catching the man just as he was locking up at the exit.

You can read some of my thoughts on the 'Changing Places' show at Photofusion on >Re:PHOTO. The picture above wasn't posed - I just walked up to look at the picture by Simon Rowe and saw the young woman standing there with her head at a very similar angle to that in his picture and immediately shot 3 frames by available light (rather low - 1/13s f3.8 ISO 400; 33mm equiv on Nikon D300) without stopping to check or alter camera settings.
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Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation

US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London. Thursday 15 May, 2008
In Grosvenor Square
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Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation and the Stop the War Coalition demonstrated outside the US Embassy in London on Thursday evening, 15 May 2008 calling for an end of actions against the Iraqi people and the withdrawal of US forces.

They handed in a letter to the Ambassador explaining that they were protesting "against your continuing occupation of Iraq which has brought unimaginable level of death and destruction to the people and country in the past five years."

In particular they condemned the operation and siege against Sadr city in Baghdad over the past weeks, in which hundreds of people have been killed and hospitals, popular markets and other vital infrastructure has been destroyed. The action followed similar operations in Basra and that still continuing in Mosul.

The letter noted the similarities between the US actions and the Israeli repression, with the building of concrete walls to divide Baghdad into what Pentagon sources have described as "30 killing zones" and crush the resistance of the Iraqi people to the occupation.
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Justice for cleaners demonstrate at AON

Devonshire Square, London. Thursday 15 May, 2008
London cleaners call for a living wage
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Justice for Cleaners is campaign is part of an international alliance of unions representing mainly migrant workers, backed by unions including the TGWU and Unite. Their key demands are:

This week they had a day of action aimed at cleaning contractors for London offices who still don't pay a living wage, including Pall Mall and  Lancaster, the company who in 2006 coached its employees from Merrill Lynch off to be taken to government detention centres.

When I arrived at RBS's large newish offices in Bishopsgate I found that their protests against Pall Mall there had met with some success (though at least one issue still remained to be agreed) and Thursday afternoon's demonstration had been switched to AON in Devonshire Square, EC2, a short walk away.

AON, based in Chicago, is one of the world's leading companies in insurance, with a first quarter net income for 2008 recently announced as $218 million. The cleaners at its City of London offices take home less than it takes to live on in London.

The AON offices in Devonshire Square are on private property (I've previously been stopped from photographing there by security) and the demonstrators formed a line on the street in front of the entrance, watched by security men inside the gates and a few City of London police. Quite a few people working in the square walked in and out past the demonstrators and others inside must surely have heard the very noisy protest, with a great deal of whistle-blowing as well as shouting and chanting. I was pleased I had brought some ear-plugs and soon put them in place.
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Stratford - Bow: Olympic Site

London. Thursday 15 May, 2008

The Bow Back rivers are now closed to traffic
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Although the Olympic site was closed to the public last June when the tall blue fences were erected, for some months it was apparently still possible to view parts of the site from the Bow Back rivers, with a navigable loop from the lea navigation along st thomas's creek, city mill river and the old river lea back into the navigation just below Old Ford lock.

The red sign states:

Olympic Park Construction Site

British Waterways canal closed
Authorised traffic only
No Entry beyond this point

These passageways are under C.C.T.V surveillance

Following recent rain, you could float a boat over quite a lot of the Olympic site!

Work also now looks pretty well advanced on the barrier across the Three Mills Wall River, part of the work associated with the new lock on the Prescott Channel which will make building expensive flats along much the upstream channels of the River Lea considerably more desirable.
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International Conscientious Objector’s Day

Tavistock Square, London. Thursday 15 May, 2008

White carnations, a symbol of peace, in memory of Conscientious Objectors worldwide
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Thursday, May 15, was International Conscientious Objectors' Day. A short act commemorating Conscientious objectors around the world was held at Tavistock Square in London at noon. It was cool for May, and dull and light rain was falling on the 60 or more people present.

International Conscientious Objectors' Day started in the early 1980s and in 1987 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights recognised "the right of everyone to have conscientious objection to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right of freedom, thought, and religion". However in many countries around the world this right is still denied.

The annual London event (more pictures from 2005) is held at the north end of the gardens in Tavistock Square, around the large grey rough-hewn boulder of Cumbrian slate unveiled in 1994 as a memorial to conscientious objectors by composer Sir Michael Tippett, himself a conscientious objector.

Introduced by Bob Russell of Christian CND, the event included anti-war songs 'The Ones Who Said No' and 'We Are For Peace' written by Sue Gilmurray, who also conducted the socialist choir.

Norman Kember, a CO and long-term peace campaigner gave the main address to the meeting. A retired professor of biophysics, he became well known in 2005 when he and three fellow volunteers with Christian Peacemaker Teams were kidnapped by the 'Swords of Righteousness Brigade' in Iraq. American Tom Fox was later killed by the kidnappers, but the others were finally freed after 118 days when a deal allowed their captors to withdraw and gave British Special Forces their location.

Another CO read from the writings of a CO, and then Bill Hetherington of the Peace Pledge Union read out the names and gave brief details of individual COs, past and present, from over 80 countries around the world, as a small representation of those who, as the words engraved on the memorial read, "...have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill." As the names were read, those taking part brought up white carnations - a symbol of the peace movement - and laid them on the stone. Each had on it a label with the country and name of a CO. The inscription on the stone continues: "Their foresight and courage give us hope."

After a short silence to remember those who have died for the right not to kill, the event ended with another song, and some stayed to share a picnic in the rather damp gardens.

In the centre of the garden at Tavistock Square is a statue of Mahatma Ghandi given to the city of London in 1967 by the Indian High Commissioner, and close to the CO memorial is a cherry tree planted in 1967 to commemorate the victims of the Hiroshima bombing, as well as a memorial to the holocaust. On the railings of the square is a memorial plaque to those killed in the bus destroyed in the square by the London suicide bombing of 7 July, 2005 (and there is a memorial sundial in the BMA courtyard at the east of the square) but the planned memorial garden was established at Hyde Park rather than here at the request of relatives of those who died.

Also in the gardens are a stone bench commemorating early woman surgeon Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake and a bust of Virginia Woolf who moved to the square from Richmond in 1924, unveiled by the Virginia Woolf Society in June 2005.
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Covent Garden May Fayre and Puppetry Festival

St Paul's Covent Garden, London. 11th May 2008
Donna Maria's Maypole: "An explosion of colour, beauty, vitality and fun - the essence of Spring"
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I arrived at Covent Garden while the Superior Brass Band were in full swing, making an impressive New Orleans sound, and was pleased to find the Elvises who I've photographed often before dancing to the sound. The next act was rather less to my taste (and once you've seen a rather fat man fitting his stomach into a bowl you probably don't want to see it again, though I must admit he is quite funny.)

It did give me time to take a look around all the stalls and to admire the various Punch and Judy booths set up in half the garden. But the main attraction for me was to follow, Donna Maria's Maypole.

Donna Maria works with children from South London, offering them free training in dancing and performance to take part in her various shows, including the Maypole and the Christmas Children. The Children’s Theatre Company of London is a charity staffed entirely by unpaid volunteers, and she has received various awards for her 35 years of unpaid work with disadvantaged children.

When I mentioned the London May Queen to her a couple of years ago, she told me that she had been a London May Queen and had learnt maypole dancing then as a child - with her mother was also a maypole dancer. In 2004 she set up Mayfayresday events around the country with herself as Maypole Consultant for England and she has traveled widely with her maypole dancers keeping the tradition alive and raising money for charity. Among the charity events has been a 30 hour non-stop world record maypole dance.


Everyone is invited to have a go at Maypole dancing
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Baishakhi Mela Procession

Brick Lane, Spitalfields, London. Sunday 11 May, 2008
Mela procession in Brick Lane
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There had been some doubt about whether this years Baishakhi Mela celebrating the Bangladeshi New Year would take place. Apparently in March, Tower Hamlets Council had banned the event from using their parks because of the safety risks involved. Eventually the Mela was allowed to go ahead, using Weavers Fields for the main stage, and with a procession as before going down Brick Lane. Perhaps because of the late start to preparations this seemed to be rather smaller than in previous years.
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London May Queen

Hayes, Kent (London Borough of Bromley.) Sat 10 May, 2008

This year's London May Queen is crowned by the Prince of Merrie England at Hayes Common
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The 96th London May Queen was crowned by the Prince of Merrie England at the Merrie England and London May Queen Festival on Hayes Common, Kent on Saturday.

Groups from the 22 realms - Beckenham, Beddington, Bletchingly, Bromley Common, Butterhil, Caterham-on-the-Hill, Chislehurst, Coney Hall, Downe, Eden Park, Elmers End, Greet St Green, Hayes, Hayes Common, Hayes Village, Orpington, Petts Wood, Shortlands, Sutton, Wallington, Warlingham and West Wickham, each with their own Queen and her attendants, lined up in alphabetical order for the procession from the common to the village church in Hayes.

At the church there was a short ceremony outside the church door, 'Little Sanctum', where the London May Queen and the Joy Bells of Merrie England representing Flowers, Light, Beauty, Company, Music and Life read the verses written by Joseph Deedy when he started the Merrie England Society in 1911. A couple of excerpts:

Little Sanctum

LMQ
At my little alter shrine, is the angels sanctum fair
I will these hands of mine, and lowly bend my knees in prayer,
"Blessed be God for Sanctuaries" where the highest is my host,
and I am there the little guest.

FLOWERS
Blessed be God for Flowers
For the bright and gentle holy thoughts
That breathe from their oderous beauty
Like a wreath of sunshine on life's hours

......

MUSIC
Blessed be God for Music
For the sounds which gladden us
And sometimes make us sad
With the sweet sadness of mystery

LIFE
Blessed be God for Life
It is the best gift
And every good gift
And every perfect gift
Is from above
And cometh down from the Father of Lights.

Hardly great poetry, very much reflecting the time in which it was written (and apologies for any errors in transcription.)

The procession then carried on around Hayes, past the station and up the hill back to the common, where the May Queen was crowned in a ceremony devised by Deedy including the Month of May, Woodland Call and contributions from the Fairy Queen, Bo-Peep, Robin Hood (who issued a challenge, throwing down her gauntlet) before the crowning and the Royal Speech.

Each of the Realm Queens then came up in turn to meet the newly-crowned London May Queen, and then a group photo was set up of all the Queens (rather fewer than when Tony Ray-Jones photographed the event 40 years ago.) After this, Bo-Peep read an invitation, and the London Queen in her role as Flora, (goddess of flowers and of spring, not the oily spread) along with her attendants walked around the area scattering flowers.

Maypole dancing followed, first with an exhibition of three maypole dances by the Chislehurst May Queen group, who had brought their own maypole for the event, and then in a rather less formal manner by the London Queen and most of the children present (along with a few siblings and parents. Then it was time for tea.
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Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square, Westminster, London. 10 May 2008

Falun Dafa, celebrating 16 years, shared the square with Morris dancers and a protest against seal slaughter.
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Morris in Westminster

Embankment & Victoria Gdns, Westminster, London. 10 May 2008
The Morris dancers started at four venues in Westminster including Embankment steps.
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Morris dancing dates back more than 500 years in England (perhaps much more) but had almost died out when the traditions were discovered and preserved by enthusiasts such as Cecil Sharp in the 1890s and early 20th century.

Now they are thriving, although receiving little if any support or encouragement by official arts bodies.
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The Slough Arm

Slough to West Drayton, London. Monday 5 May, 2008

There are some industrial sites still apparently working in Slough
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The Slough branch of the Grand Union Canal was the last ordinary canal to open in England, built from 1880 to 1882. The main traffic it carried was bricks, taking them from the brickworks at Slough to London and elsewhere, along with sand and gravel from the gravel workings - now lakes - that still border it in the Colne valley. The arm is five miles long, joining the main line of the canal at Cowley Peachey junction.

After commercial traffic ended in 1960 the canal decayed for some years, narrowly escaping being filled in after public protests. The first Slough canal festival was held in 1974, and became a popular annual event, and the following year the canal was recognised as a navigable cruising waterway, although few boats venture past the moorings a couple of miles from its end at Langley.

On our walk we only saw one boat moving on the canal, although plenty of people were walking beside parts of it and some fishing. Although bordering some industrial sites, much of the canal seems remarkably rural, especially when it reaches the Colne valley where it goes in aqueducts over the River Colne and the Colne Brook.
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Beckenham May Queens

Beckenham, Bromley, London. Saturday 3 May, 2008

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Saturday saw me continuing my work on one of the more fascinating aspects of London's suburban culture, the annual May Queen festivals. (A search in the box at top right using the term 'May Queen' should locate a number of other pieces on the subject, including this year's events at Hayes and Bromley, as well as those in previous years that have some more information about these events.)

Beckenham seems to be one of London's more pleasant suburbs, perhaps not as leafy as some, but certainly at a great distance from the busy urban streets of Brixton I'd strolled through to catch the train there just a few minutes earlier.

The procession formed up on a path close to St George's Church and then led down through the High Street to the Croydon Road recreation ground, where there was a small platform in a roped-off arena. Here the May Queens from the local realms, Beckenham, Eden Park, Elmers End, West Wickham and Coney Hall were crowned by this year's London May Queen. After the crownings and a pause for photographs, the procession carried on down Croydon Road to the Azelia Hall for tea, where the Queens each cut their cake (one was decorated with a maypole) and the London May Queen made a short speech.
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No to the Crook, the Toff, The Fascist or Cop

City Hall, Southwark, London. Friday 2 May, 2008

Anarchists raise the anti-fascist banner at City Hall
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I know I have a few regular readers among the Met, though I'm not entirely sure whether officers come here out of interest or duty. But perhaps they could point out to their photographic colleagues that the book I was reading while sitting on the wall near City Hall waiting for the mayoral declaration, was not the evidence of subversive intention that would have justified them in taking my photograph. 'Terrorist' is not a training manual, but a novel by one of America's leading novelists, John Updike. They might even find it more useful to read it than to continue their silly pursuit of taking pictures of photographers - and they can call off the dawn raid.

Not that I have any objection to having my photo taken, unlike the man in a cap who I photographed a few minutes later. If you don't want to be photographed, don't come to protests, or, better still, don't go out on in public at all. Unlike it seems him, I'm a devout believer in freedom and in freedom of expression.

So I was pleased that people from various anarchist groups had joined together to protest at the result of the London Mayoral elections, even though I would have been considerably more pleased if they (and another 140,000) had voted for Ken. For all his faults, London would have had a better prognosis had he won. There had also been rumours that BNP supporters would be present (unfortunately they had more reason to cheer than most of us), but by the time I left, over an hour after the results had been expected, but several hours before they were actually announced, none were making themselves visible.

Other than a little of the normal photographic hounding (and the police could hardly get a look in given the hordes of press, passing tourists and sympathisers), the hundred or so anarchists, including those who Ian Bone refers to as the 'CLASS WAR YOUTH DEATH BRIGADE' were allowed to demonstrate outside City Hall undisturbed for around 35 minutes. Then Fitwatch went into action to frustrate the FIT teams (who could really use a little more intelligence) enclosing one of them by the barriers around City Hall. At this point officers seemed to be rather worried and called for support.

Four minutes after Fitwatch went into action, the TSG arrived in force and began to push the demonstrators, along with some bystanders, mainly tourists, towards the pen waiting just past the Scoop. One French woman was bemused. "But why are they just letting themselves be pushed" she asked me as I took photographs. "Because this is England and not France" I replied.

One man leaning on the river wall (he may or may not have been taking part in the demonstration - but he did have a fine beard) refused to move when asked. He asked police he should move and was told he was obstructing the highway, clearly a ludicrous charge given the width of the walkway at this point (though it was being obstructed by police!) They started dragging him from the wall, claimed he was struggling, handcuffed him and led him away, I imagine to one of the over 40 police vans parked nearby. Other than this I saw little evidence of loss of temper or inappropriate behaviour by police, some of whom joked with the protesters as they pushed them back. And on showing my press card I was allowed through the police line without any problems.

Cannier protesters had moved away faster, and were able to display their banner on the balcony above the pen for a couple of minutes. As I got there to take pictures of the scene below they saw the police coming and made a run for it and the pub. The police obviously couldn't be bothered to chase them, and contented themselves with moving the innocent public away from the balcony, and after a short time, also moving the press.
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London Riverside

South Bank and Southwark, London. Friday 2 May, 2008

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I had a few hours before the next event, and started by going to see an exhibition of posters from May 68 in Paris at the Hayward. We had our own events in Manchester in 1968, but I think produced little in the way of memorable posters and certainly achieved little media coverage, despite some interesting demonstrations, occupations and all the rest.
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Just Shares Take On The Bank

Royal Exchange, Bank, London. Friday 2 May, 2008

Listening to Ann Pettifor speaking at Royal Exchange. Larry Elliott at right.
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The most radical of events I attended at the start of the May was that organised by 'Just Share', which describes itself as "a coalition of churches and development agencies seeking to engage with the City of London on issues of global economic injustice" and to "address the widening gap between rich and poor in the global economy."

Just Share are based at St Mary-le-Bow church in Cheapside, and the event took place just down the road in the heart of London's square mile, in front of the Royal Exchange, flanked by the Bank of England. We were treated to some very listenable jazz and an opportunity to find out more about the work of various groups including Operation Noah (a Christian-based charity campaigning about the environment) and Muslim Aid, before speeches by Ann Pettifor (Advocacy International and Operation Noah, previously Jubilee 2000) and Larry Elliott (The Guardian.)

Ann expanded her argument about the false basis of our current economic system, which is the subject of her book 'The Coming First World Debt Crisis' in a seminar after the event held in St Mary Woolnoth - one of Hawksmoor's finest buildings, and where former slave captain John Newton, who wrote 'Amazing Grace', preached his last 28 years - a few yards away. She argues that current global debt-based financial systems are unsustainable and that structural change is necessary which gives proper regard to actual production, and the rediscovery of the insights of earlier Christian (and of course Muslim) traditions.

It may not be revolution as some of us see it - although socialism very much grew out of some of these traditions also (and many early church communities held all things in common.)
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Space Hijackers Mayfair Mayfayre

Green Park & Shepherds Market, Mayfair, London. 1 May, 2008

Pelting Camilla with wet sponges in Shepherd Market

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Traditionally, May Day was an occasion to celebrate the end of winter, with singing, dancing, drinking and generally making merry. Maypoles were danced around, May Queens were crowned, celebrations often got out of hand. So much so that in Mayfair itself, the 15 day fair (originally in Haymarket but moved to the Shepherd Market / Curzon Street area in 1686) was banned in 1708 because of its boisterous disorder, and the streets we now see there developed by Mr Shepherd (though much rebuilt in Victorian times.)

The Space Hijackers seized upon Police Commander Bob Broadhurst's justification (quoted in the Daily Telegraph) for the selective policing of the Olympic Torch debacle, stating that pro-Tibet groups were penned in because they were demonstrating, while pro-China supporters were not restricted because they were celebrating.

"We only uphold the law," he said. "The law says that if you want to come out to demonstrate, to protest, you have to abide by the Public Order Act. We don't stop people celebrating, otherwise we would be stopping football supporters celebrating."

As their various events over the years have shown, the Space Hijackers do a rather ace job of celebrating, although they haven't always had the same cooperation from the police as those upholding human rights abuse by China - or even football supporters. For this year's May Fayre, police even supplied a comprehensive photographic service, although the price (I believe £10) of obtaining your pictures from them by a Freedom of Information request seems rather high, especially considering the poor quality of results I've seen. As I think my pictures demonstrate, it's often better to use a wide-angle rather than the extreme telephoto "peeping toms" favoured by police photographers.

They were also seen searching a few people, possibly to enforce the fancy dress code, but otherwise just seemed to be standing around the area - particularly across the access roads - and carrying out a useful role in preventing traffic from disrupting the festivities while letting those on foot walk in and out as they wished. Many actually seemed to be enjoying the afternoon, watching the singing, dancing and play-acting that was going on, and as I left, a largish group were actually entering one of the several pubs around the area.
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Long Live May Day - TUC March

Clerkenwell Green, London. Thursday 1 May, 2008

Young Turkish marchers

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May Day started for me with police taking my photograph as I joined the group at Clerkenwell Green. It's hard to see any real point in this other than a kind of mild intimidation of journalists and difficult not to regard it as an attack on free speech and the freedom of the press. Definitely a distortion of the role of the police in a free society, it is also one that distracts them from the vital tasks they have at the present time.

Other than press photographers, their major target was definitely the small largely white group protesters which, had it been rather larger might have constituted an autonomous block. Actually - though for rather different reasons - I would be fairly confident that they were wasting police time and our taxes there too. But at least it takes a bit of heat off the groups who might otherwise be harassed because of their ethnic background.

The march was perhaps rather smaller than in recent years, with noticeably less union involvement, almost certainly because it was also the day of the London elections - and many of the unions had been in favour of its cancellation. However I imagine that groups representing Turkish and Kurdish and other London ethnic communities would have insisted on celebrating May Day whatever.

The international celebration of May Day as International Workers' Day began in America. On May 3, 1886, police fired into a crowd of strikers in Chicago, demonstration for an 8 hour day as a part of a general strike, killing 4 men and wounding others. A mass protest was held the following day in Haymarket, and as the meeting ended, police ordered the remaining strikers to disperse. A bomb was thrown and at least one policeman was killed and 70 injured. Police - including the notorious Pinkerton agents - again fired into the crowd, killing between 12 and 50 workers and probably another six police ('friendly fire' has a long American tradition.)

Eight men were arrested and tried for the bombing, and found guilty although seven had not been present at Haymarket and the eighth was a speaker on the platform and had certainly no connection with the bomb. All were sentenced to death, 4 actually hanged in 1887, one committed suicide and the remaining 3 pardoned in 1893.

The Second International called for a commemoration of the Haymarket Martyrs as an international workers day, and it has been observed as such around the world since 1890. American fears that there might be riots led to government support for an alternative 'Labor Day' in September, and cold war paranoia led in 1958 to May 1 being designated 'Loyalty Day' in the USA.

For Turkish groups, the day also commemorates the 1977 Taksim Square massacre, when around 40 people in a crowd of around half a million celebrating May Day were killed and around 200 injured by firing from the Hotel International. None of those responsible has been brought to justice but both Turkish secret police and CIA have been implicated. At least at the moment our own police are only using cameras.
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