Jan 292014
Ground Zero, Santiago Presidential Palace, 11th Sept 1973

They say it is for your own good.

The cut backs (“The Cuts”). Is it possible to cut too far? Cut far beyond last year’s growing point. Back to the main stems. General wisdom says, the most the pruning saw cuts should be to above the first major stem divide. Hoping for new sprouts the next spring, which will form new fruiting branches in future years.

But it is most important not to cut all the stems of the apple tree at once. Leave at least one or two main stems with live branches. However high and tangled they are. Don’t cut too deep. Or you overstress the tree. In order not to kill it, some fruiting branches need to be left growing off one of the main stem.

In the long conversation on the pruning topic, one of the precursors for a main stem graft, which is widely used today to promise new forms of sustained fruiting, goes by the name ‘Human Capital’. The ‘Human Capital’ name involves the idea of replacing the principle of welfare state universal benefits with targeting and charging but with a philanthropic twist: the selected recipients of state education, health-care or other services are charged on a cost/benefit basis. The benefits are calculated (exactly how is a long running economic argument) so nobody get more than their fair share. Fair share in the context of ‘Human Capital’ means in some sense deserving of receiving but simultaneously being charged, with the state (or privatised element of the state) expecting to get something back in return, like more productivity or bigger and better jobs being done. In other words, state benefits are no longer universal.

It is true the orchard has been neglected over the last twenty years and more, and the branches of the ‘Human Capital’ stem grafts have been romping away. However, the main result has not been more apple fruit all round. Quite the opposite in fact. Ivy has been the main benefactor. First it grew in the shadow of overgrowing hedges and overhanging trees, and then increasingly simply as a multiplying derivative of its own great mass of ever-green shade. The ivy has proliferated everywhere. Serving only itself. Glossy. Green.

Fruits have been poor and sour in recent years.

Cut back one week there is the remembrance that green is a colour Mondrian detested, and avoided using the colour in all of his paintings of apple trees.

The ‘Human Capital’ graft was originally one of The Chicago School ideas of the 1960′s, and was especially successfully implanted in the universities of Chile. The economist Miguel Kast had trained in Chicago 1970-73 before returning to work at Odeplan, the Chilean state planning agency. There he became the architect for the state’s ‘focussed’ anti-poverty measures implemented under the Pinochet regime, being appointed Minister of Labour and Social Security in 1980 .

Cutting back much harder, there is the remembrance of Ground Zero, September 11th 1973 that is (not 2001), the date of the Pinochet coup in Chile: the storming of the presidential palace in Santiago, assassination of President Allende, and the violent overthrow of his democratically elected government.

In the Wordstall archive there are the yellowing copies of old newspapers, the front pages carrying throughout all South America with the headlines of Allende’s fall the day after, along with a graphic full page photograph showed the smoke billowing out of the windows of the palace. The photograph had been wired to the newsrooms of Rio de Janeiro and every other city and provincial town in the region. As the news spread out, it felt like a shadow was descending over every man, woman, and child, although at the time it was impossible to put a name to the feelings of insecurity and fear.

In this respect as in others, Pinochet’s Chile was the precursor: not only was it the first Latin American country to fully privatise the administration of its pension fund in 1980, it also pioneered the conditional safety net, establishing the Subsido Unico Familiar in August 1981. Combining the idea of human capital with the principles of targetting…” (Lena Lavinas, 21st Century Welfare, New Left Review 84 (Nov/Dec 2013), P. 5-40)

These coordinated plans of central government are now frequently given the name ‘Conditional Cash Transfer Programmes’. They have been and are being deployed worldwide in all regions of the world – and closer to home of course in the orchards of these misty isles for many years now.

The task of cutting all the ivy at ground level for every apple tree has now been completed. The main stems and branches have been exposed. They look alive and the next growing season will reveal which of these will blossom, which stems will sprout new shoots, and where new fruit will be set.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of buzzing going on within the hive. The bees are mostly asleep this time of year, but it appears that a fierce argument is currently going on about whether the richest ‘Human Capital’ of the misty isle should pay 50% tax.

Both the quantity of next season’s harvest and the likely sweetness of the fruit remains uncertain.

Apr 172013

We don’t go on strike anymore,

for instance,

see, you’d live on £ 53. 00 too

if you had to,

I wouldn’t go on strike either

for a hand-out


To stop. Then we might riot,

in order to,

I’d break into shops and steal

the latest gear

‘tho you wouldn’t escape getting caught

on closed circuit TV,


If I had to. And there’s no more room

here for your sort,

you’d find it hard to survive too,

no place to smoke,

even if health tax the living daylights

it’s my choice


Isn’t it? Now we don’t belong in the city more,

none of us do,

I say, go back to where you come from,

somewhere before

you and I were born, this nation state

can do without

the likes of us.

Apr 102013

Back on Track:

How far is this going? So far as I can tell the lines of the tracks run well beyond Istanbul, transcontinentally at least as far as Basra, and transoceanically to Buenos Aires and other locations well beyond that. Beyond the parochial perspectives of Ukania, that is for sure – so farewell Maggie. And running on the twin metal rails of “courage” and “sanity” (you ask for) in Spanish or Italian. You start from – Clackety clack! – here…

…And here is £53 to get you though the first week. Ian Duncan-Smith says he can live off that, or £7.57 a day, “if he had to”, which of course he doesn’t (and that is the difference).

On £53/week: I recommend the summary by Lucy Mangan in the latest Guardian Weekend (6th April 2013) :
“What IDS means is that – at best – he can live for a week on £53, not that he can live on £53 a week. Not if he wants to repair or replace anything (including clothes), go out, have a drink, watch television, use the internet or do anything other than simply exist, in the meanest, coldest dwelling, increasingly isolated from friends, family and any kind of averagely happy, easeful life.
If he and his ilk believe otherwise, they are fools. If they don’t they are liars. Either way they are thieves, stealing more money, peace and dignity from thousands every day.”

(Continued – Parts 2 & 3 below)

Radical Tradition: Landstreicher

 Posted by at 10:31 pm  Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jan 092013
Vagrants 1929 by August Sander 1876-1964

There was Vagabond Literature before Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and there always will be; vagrants and tramps who write, and others such as ‘Wolfi Landstreicher’, nom-de-plume of a contemporary anarchist philosopher (who edited a Journal called “Wilful Disobedience” from 1996 to 2005).

Landstreicher / Vagabond brings back to mind the pivotal photograph taken by August Sander (1874-1964): “Vagrants 1929” in which two older men stare back at the camera with an uncanny mix of swagger and shame; two Burger und Hoffmann down on their luck on a country road. Why pivotal? The image marks the end of a mitteleuropa tradition of rags-to-riches/riches-to-rags wandering, including the ending of the contemporary itinerant lives of Joseph Roth and Robert Walser in hotel bedrooms and sanitoria.

For the Anglophone world pitch forward via Beckett’s country road and WG Sebald’s East Anglia (The Rings of Saturn) as well as back to the street-walkers and writers of ‘Strange Cases’ such as Hazlitt, Borrow, Thomas de Quincy, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others.


 Posted by at 11:30 am  Echo Effects, Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Dec 232011
wordstall graffiti

Grinding through the slow moving traffic, the blackened pillars, the open wrought iron gates come into view on the right. There is a spasm of nervousness as I indicate and pull over to the centre of the road and wait for a break in the oncoming line of cars. The metalled drive curves up the hill, through the park like acres of grass and trees – oaks and beeches. No sign of the inmates or the Victorian pile of the asylum. Damp December morning, a week before Christmas. Reluctant to get there too soon, I ease slowly over the speed humps and watch the stark trees for signs of life. For something! I imagine corpses swaying and slowly spinning in the breeze, hanging from the massive branches and leave them, pass them by, not knowing who they might be, whose side were they on, speed up, jolting over the humps, putting that image behind me. Are the inmates better cared for than my imagination does for them?

Oh, look over there, the first signs of human life, little figures skip skipping through the long grass. Little Englanders, mostly men, cared for on this reservation, free to roam and dream of distant empires. Well, they look happy enough. Well fed – even a bit on the pudgy side like little round steamed puddings; full of roast beef and, Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes followed by spotted dick and lumpy custard. Don’t look now, they’ve noticed me, in unison their heads turn towards me. Can they see my pro-European disposition, my tendency to see England as a small peninsular off the north western coast of Europe that got cut off by the incoming tide leaving the marooned islanders to believe that they had done it themselves.

Ukania with its dreams of fratricide, its dreams of slaves beaten into submission, cutting the sugar can on distant tropical islands. How quickly the years pass. How unreliable the memory.

Ukania – are you suggesting we look in the mirror and see Serbia? I remember both the dark streets of arrival in Belgrade and the bright sunshine the following morning as we strolled the castle grounds.

How the little Englanders cheered for their pinkly glowing champion. Though at the end of another week a different narrative seems to be gathering ground –  turning a blind eye to the petit gesture of the veto and getting on with what needs doing. But then again it’s Christmas.

Reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando one of the many things I have been struck by is how she describes the changing character of people over the three centuries of Orlando’s life. The shift towards allowing an uncertainty of identity. Of course she wrote in the midst of both her privileged background and the ‘wild’ community of the Bloomsbury group. A threat to certainty – it must have been deeply disturbing for many readers. The older idea of fixed identities – take Dicken’s characters, for example – was passing. We became more interested in the complexity of our inner lives, the complexity and conflicted nature of our desires.

In twenty years (God willing) we’ll be able to look back and see the where, when and who of the coming paradigm shift – what out of all the stuff we’re reading – will form the texture of the future?


Going Ahead on the Way

 Posted by at 2:48 pm  Exodus, Old Men Travelling, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Sep 292008
Kiosk 7

There are several changes which have happened over this week-end, and are causing us to adjust.

One adjustment is that ak has travelled to ROME and will be staying there for the next three months, while mmj remains based in the West Country of this Misty Isle. So for the time being we will no longer be meeting face to face, and this is likely to bring about changes in the talking and writing aspects of this blog.

Now there are the Alps and more than a thousand kilometres of road between us, Italy_023_2
and this will effect the walking aspect too. A month ago I discovered that the direct route between the Misty Isle of England and ROME is called the Via Francigena. I was in the town of Camaiore, which is near to Pisa in the north of Italy, and outside the town’s old romanesque abadia, I found this map showing the ancient pilgrim routes accross Europe and to Jersualem. I was excited by the revelation of this world-wide-web, but it was also shocking to have been ignorant of these Via for so long.

Another adjustment over the weekend, Milo, 20072008_030_2
our beloved pooch and walking companion died. He was 14 years old and had had a good life, but in the last 2 weeks he had suddenly become very breathless. An X-ray by the vet under anaesthetic showed that he had a large cancer in his lung, and the kindest thing was not to revive him but to give him a bigger dose so that he died there and then. We have buried him in a sunny area of the garden. His big dog heart is very much missed.