Saturday, August 07, 2010

Singing for their supper

I was recently in Norfolk and I spent some time ambling along the public footpaths, across fields, over rivers, and across more fields mainly, it being Norfolk, and also singing a lot to myself, and it occurred to me that it might be possible to take a backpack and amble across the country, singing to myself and I might enjoy it, if only I had enough money to get things to eat and places to sleep. It has long seemed to me that walking is the only way to travel, all other forms of travel being more about arriving than travelling. But whereas I managed to keep the idea going for all of a couple of hours, these guys go on ambles for months at a time, busking and working for cash, and often bedding down in woods under a tarpaulin, when they've not been taken in by the gentle good folk of old England. Ed and Will, and sometimes Ed's brother Ginger, are on a walk around Britain singing, learning and recording songs (some of which you can hear there), foraging, sleeping out, and meeting people and getting on with them, which is possibly their greatest achievement. They're frightfully well-spoken and earnest but basically on to a good thing, although perhaps I'll give their book a swerve, being a cold-hearted Londoner with writing standards.

Their appearances throughout the country are seemingly inspiring to England's cosetted comfortables and probably many more, although not particularly to sub-editors. They're definitely an advert for just getting on with something and not thinking about it until you don't do it. I can't help wishing I'd gone on a walk myself, but now wonder that if I turned up at some village they might not say: "Oh we had them lot in last week. They were much friendlier than you. And their songs were better." But even though they stole my idea - and actually went through with it - and even though all that fresh air seems to have made them a bit too perky for company, I wish them good luck.

Friday, August 06, 2010

'The effect being that the entire Olympic Park is contaminated with thorium at water-table level'

Slightly old, but still worth reading: Iain Sinclair's epic on the Olympic-sized scam crashing through east London. A stewpot of history, politics, reportage, comment and weary anger, if there is such a thing.
The Millennium Dome fiasco was a low-rent rehearsal. The holy grail for blue-sky thinkers was the sport-transcends-politics Olympiad, the five-hooped golden handcuffs, the smoke rings behind which deals could be done for casinos and malls: with corporate sponsorship, flag-waving and infinitely elastic budgets (any challenge an act of naysaying treason).
My naysaying credentials are impeccable: before we won the bid I knocked up some stickers pastiching the then ubiquitous leaflets that said "Back the Bid" showing swimmers diving off the Thames Barrier and a gymnast vaulting over the Gherkin or some such. My version had "Fuck the Bid" and showed the swimmers diving off a row of white elephants (biting satire, you see). Alas I was so convinced that we'd never win the bid - and also because I'm inveterately lazy - I never got round to printing them and quickly lost the Photoshop files. I did consider a post-bid victory version that said "(Give) Back the Bid", but by then the original leaflets had vanished down the memory hole. Anyway, let's hope that the Olympics don't suffer the same cuts as we all are going to, because that would be unsportsmanlike.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

something like that

Some charity or other organised a football match on Wormwood Scrubs between QPR FC and a Feltham Prison XI, most of whom turned up looking as if they'd been living on cigarette papers their whole lives. It wasn't a great spectacle, but the pros outweighed the cons.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The price we pay for our house prices

Fucking house prices.

House prices are supposed to be falling soon, by 20% some have said, although some disagree, and some said this some time ago. So nobody knows, but the likelihood is that nothing is going to be done about the insane price of houses, especially in London. Most newspaper articles herald a fall in house prices with much the same foreboding they might mention the sighting of four horsemen on the horizon. Here's a good article about why the value of your house is mostly a chimera, since no matter how expensive your house has become you can't sell it without needing to buy somewhere else and that is also likely to be comparatively expensive, unless you fall into some slender categories: 1) moving to a smaller property or 2) moving to a poorer area or, at a push, 3) both of these.

Otherwise, your house could worth all the cheese on the moon and it won't be any good to you. The nonsense about "releasing equity", ie. remortgaging, is equally irrelevant, as he points out in the moneyweek article, since you can only release equity when you sell the house, and the money you've borrowed off it will have to be paid back either by selling or by simply paying it back, like any other bleeding loan.

But the problems with ridiculous house prices go beyond first-time buyers priced out of their own neighbourhoods by whoever the hell it is fuelling this insanity and into the murky world of inheritance tax. My friend's mum is very ill with cancer and is likely to die soon enough, whereupon the house that he, his mum and his sister live in will be part of her estate. Now inheritance tax must be paid on 40% of everything over £300,000 (or thereabouts) in her estate. Their house, which they have lived in since day dot, is probably worth £700,000. Not because they paid £700,000, or because they have £700,000, or because it's worth £700,000, but because this fucking insane house price balloon bubble decrees that it would sell for £700,000. Which is nice and all, except that as we saw earlier, the value is illusionary - it has no meaning - unless you want to sell. Or, as in this case, when the government gets involved to make sure it gets it hands on its death booty. So my pal and his sister will get 18 months after their mum's death to sell the house they have lived much of the lives, and where they currently care for her, sell the house in order to pay off the tax incurred simply because of house prices, and nothing to do with whether they wish to sell the house, which they don't.

This is an increasingly common situation for people whose parents bought a house when prices were reasonably in line with wages, who haven't been able to get on the housing ladder themselves, who stand to make no money from the price bubble, and in fact stand to have to sell their house and be out of pocket for no other reason than the house's value on the market, which is a total irrelevance most of the time. If they lived in Huddersfield, where an equivalent house is "worth" much less, they'd never have this problem, since the value of the house would be less than the tax-free threshold. There could be rules to excuse the value of the primary property in an estate, or rules that raise the threshold in line with average house prices in the area, or rules that allow the tax to be held-over until the house is sold, at a time of the inheritor's choosing, but there aren't. So this 20-year housing bubble continues fucking people, even those who already have a bought-and-paid-for-over-25-years house.

Lately Cameron's mob have said they will cap housing benefit, to try and rein in some of those tabloid outrages where a immigrant family live in some decked-out mansion and housing benefit meet the exceptional rent demands. Now, when I used to claim housing benefit, I was told in no uncertain terms that I couldn't possibly get more than about a thruppenny bit contribution from the HB squad, so I have no idea how this sort of thing happens, but maybe a key reason the London housing benefit bill is so large is that London rents are so astronomical. And is not the astronomicism of rents something to do with the house price bubble? Or is that just more house price babble?