Friday, 28 November 2008

Homelessness in London.

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Homelessness  in  London.

There  is  a  little  old  lady  who  is  often  to  be  seen  in  the  Camden/Kentish  Town  area.No  matter  what  the  weather  is,  she  roams  around  in  several  layers  of  clothing,  including  a  tatty  overcoat.  She  pushes  around  a  supermarket  trolley  which  is  overladen  with  all  her  worldly  belongings.  These  seem  to  consist  of  piles  of  old  newspapers  and  bits  of  cardboard,  in  addition  to  a  few  tattered  clothes  in  plastic  bags.  Judging  from  her  behaviour,  one  can  surmise  that  she  suffers  from  some  form  of  mental  problem.

     Like  Sisyphus  of  old,  she  seems  destined  to  keep  pushing  a  load  which  never  gets    any  lighter...

    This  is  one  of  the  many  faces  of  homelessness  in  London—the  richest  city  in  the  world's  fourth  or  fifth  biggest  economy...

     At  around  midnight,  near  Trafalgar  Square,  you  can  always  see  a  long  queue  of  homeless  people  waiting  to  receive  a  cup  of  warm    soup  and  a  sandwich  from  some  of  the  charities  which   try  to  make  them  as  comfortable  as  possible.  The  queue  opposite  Charing  Cross  Station  is  sometimes  a  long  one...

    Although  there  are  hostels  for  the  homeless  available  in  many  parts  of  London,    some  people  detest  them  because  of  the  tension  and  frustration  which  they  often  encounter  there.  Some  of  the   older  people  who  have  been  living  on  the  streets  for  a  long  time  become  fatalistic,  and  see  no  way  out  of  their  situation.  Often,  when  they  try  to  get  jobs  they  are  rejected  outright,  either  because  of  their   appearance,  or  because  they  do  not  have  a  fixed  address  or  bank  account....Very  often,  they  can  not  obtain  either  of  those  without  a  steady  job...

       Others  try  to  obtain    casual  jobs  in  the  catering  industry,  but  they  find  that  their  labour  is  only  required  for  one  or  two  days,  or  even  only  for  a few  hours.   After  that,  they  are  back  where  they  began...

    The  problem  stems  largely  from  the  lack  of  affordable  municipal  housing. When  Mrs. Thatcher  decided  to  force  the  local  councils    to  sell  off  a  large  portion  of  their    housing  stock,  she  stipulated  that  the  resulting    receipts  were  to  be  “frozen”,  and  not  to  be  used  to  build    more  publicly-  owned  houses.   The  theory  was  that  “private”  was  good,  and  “public”  housing  was  “Socialist”,  therefore   bad.   The  result,  even  two  decades  later,  is  a  dire  shortage  of  housing    in  a  crowded  capital.

      Anyone  who  goes  out  in  Central  London  at  night  will  encounter  the  homeless,  many  of  whom  will  be  pleading  for    spare  change.  My    policy  is  never  to  give  to  those  who  look  as  if    they  are  drunk----you  will  just  be  feeding  their  alcoholism,  thereby  aggravating  their  situation.

    It  is  far  better  to  buy  a   copy  of  “The  Big  Issue”,  a  paper  which  is  devoted  entirely  to  helping  the  homeless.  It  is  sold  by  homeless  people,  and  they  receive  around  half  the  sale  price.  This  gives  them  a  sense  of  self-worth,  and,  incidentally,  it  is  a  good  read.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Disappearing Phone Booths and The Rise Of The Mobile Phone.

Disappearing Phone Booths and The Rise Of The Mobile . Red Phone Box   
The speed with which Lononers (and Britons in general) have taken to the mobile phone has been truly astonishing. Barely ten years ago, the whole of London was covered with telephone booths. Every High Street had some, and there was one available within walking distance in every residential area.
However, the arrival of the mobile phone (or "cellphone" as the Americans call it) soon meant that the many of the telephone booths rapidly fell into disuse. Whereas the then- Conservative (and recent Labour ) governments'
obsession with the wholesale privatisation of long-established public utilities had spawned a host of competing telecoms companies,each with its own phone booths, the mobile phone's arrival meant that there was soon a glut of empty, desolate boxes littering the streets.
It now seems that the long-established red phone boxes may disappear altogether---probably to be sold off one by one for those who want to decorate their gardens!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Two Cheers For America.

Two Cheers For America.

The past few days have been spent watching an inordinate (by my standards) amount of television, in addition

to the usual time I spend in front of The Web. The cause of this is, of course, the recent elections in the

Everwhere you go, all the talk has been of Obama and his Republican opponents...The impression I got from

reading the newspapers over here is an overwhelmingly- positive view of the new President. Even though the

British press tend to be predominantly right-wing , most papers which I've come across have tended to favour

the election of Obama as President.
On Wednesday, as I watched the television coverage of the scenes of unbridled joy from America, I felt a

trickle of involuntary tears running down my cheeks. The sense of euphoria was palpable---even thousands of

miles from the scene of the action. There was a sense of renewed hope--a feeling of warmth and brotherliness

towards the people of America, a sigh of relief at finally looking forward to seeing the back of Bush,

Cheney, and co...I raised two cheers for America, but only two...

Posters For All Tastes.

The cynic in me raised his head when I cast my mind back to 1997. The scenes we witnessed on televison

from America were reminiscent of what we saw over here in London when Tony Blair became Prime

Minister. Back then, we saw the same feeling of relief, the same expectation of change...I then thought back

to the 2-million -person march which I participated in from Euston to Hyde Park, via Piccadilly. So many

diverse groups and individuals had decided that the imminent invasion of Iraq was a totally foolhardy venture

of which this country should have no part. Tony Blair decided to answer us with disdain, having made up

his mind the previous spring to join George W. Bush in his new adventure. We all know what the

consequences of this escapade are...
How powerful will be the forces of reaction who will try their best to influence events? How much can the

suffering people of the Third World expect from the new President, especially as his own country faces tough

times? Will he still maintain subsidies on agricultural produce which the Wretched of the Earth rely on for

trade? What about the promise of an undivided Jerusalem only fit for Jews?
Sure, change has come to America, through free and fair elections,and African-Americans can now begin to

feel that they too belong ( there won't be floating corpses in a flooded New Orleans while the

Commander-in-Chief plays golf), but what will the new Administration be able to change?
For the sake of the whole planet, I hope that whatever Obama manages to achieve, it will help to make

this world a more clean, safe and just place. All our futures depend on it.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

London's Disappearing Toilets
Questions have recentlly been raised in Parliament regarding the lack of provision of Public Lavatories .This is not a new phenomenon, but part of a trend of disappearing public facilities throughout the country.
It is in London, the capital of the country, and the city with the greatest concentration of tourists, where this is most acutely felt. For years, ever since the privatisation boom of the Eighties, Londoners have seen a fast shrinking of the number of publicly-run toilets.
Even in a busy tourist hotspot like Camden Town there is very little provision of public lavatories. Every weekend around two million visitors descend on this part of North London , principally in order to shop in one of the colourful markets which are based there. There are free public toilets near the Underground Station, but these close at around six o'clock. In the evening, thousands more people flock there to visit pubs, nightclubs, and restaurants. As the toilets are closed by the time these establishments close, it is not uncommon to see people urinating in doorways of shops and alleyways. Such a state of affairs is clearly unsatisfactory. Further up the road, other public toilets have been sold off altogether.
In many parts of London, the premises which once housed toilets are now haidressers' salons, estate agents' offices, or other commercial premises---but none of them are in use as lavatories. Some of the French-made unmanned slot-machine operated 24-hour toilets have made an appearance in a few spots, but they are not universally liked...Horror stories abound of their doors opening while still occupied, and there are some which seem to be frequently out of order.
In many cases, the only course of action left to someone who is on the lookout for a lavatory is to go into a pub, and use the facilities in there ; the only problem is that most pubs will not allow you to use their toilets unless you are a paying customer...This means that you are first obliged to buy a drink (thereby consuming more liquid), and then use the toilet---thereby compounding the problem ....