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And now for something completely (in)different

by William Bowles • Thursday, 8 June, 2006

Okay, okay, I know there’s all kind of shit going down. This morning for example BBC Radio 4 News ran a long piece on the reported death of ‘Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, how he was “leader of al-Qu’eda in Iraq” and how, with his alleged death, things would now be different in Iraq. The report by the Beeb’s John Simpson was an archetypal piece of disinformation. Not one piece of proof either of his death or even of his existence was offered by this mouthpiece for the state. Instead, we got a diatribe on what a “nasty” man he was. The Beeb’s Website reported that,

Zarqawi killed in Iraq air raid
The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has been killed in an air raid north of Baquba, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki announces.

The Jordanian-born leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq was considered the figurehead of the Sunni insurgency.

Amazingly, the BBC’s Website reported that

The head of US-led forces in Iraq, General George Casey, said Zarqawi’s body was identified through fingerprints and facial recognition.

Fingerprints? Where, exactly did these fingerprints come from? More ‘specific intelligence’ eh?

The report ended with the following proviso

The BBC’s Ian Pannell in Baghdad says this will be seen as a major victory for the new Iraqi government and US forces but it remains to be seen what effect, if any, it has on the ongoing violence and death rate in the country.

What a crock of shit! Major victory? The alleged death of one man who his family say has been dead already for four years. But without a single voice of scepticism, the public are led to believe that all the problems the occupation have are down to one (dead) man.

Then there’s the disintegrating story on last Friday’s “terror raid” in East London, or rather the non-story. Expect this one to die a death not dissimilar to al-Zarqawi’s.

Then there’s the arrest of 17 ‘terrorists’ in Canada, a frame-up if I’ve seen one with the Canadian government announcing that in spite of the fact that the 17 ‘terrorists’ knew they were under observation for two years, nevertheless decided to continue with their ‘plot’ to behead the Canadian prime minister and blow up Parliament would you believe.

For more on this rubbish see

The Toronto Star was just a little bit sceptical, see ‘So many possibilities . . . for courts

Just in: Toronto Terrorist Ringleader Has Military Connections

These are desperate times for the imperium. Things are just not going their way thus it’s necessary to create a slew of diversions. Is it a coincidence that ‘al-Zarqawi’s death’ gets announced at this time? And how long before we are presented with a ‘replacement’ I wonder?

Meanwhile, a Timesonline story (7/6/06) reports that ‘Britons begin to turn away from alliance with America’ (not that there’s any evidence to support the view that Brits believed in an alliance in the first place). The story goes on

A Populus opinion poll in The Times indicates that fewer than half the public believe that America is a force for good in the world, and nearly two thirds believe that Britain’s future lies more with Europe than with the US.

There has been a marked fall in the number of voters who say that British troops should stay in Iraq for as long as it takes to make sure that the country is a stable democracy, to 32 per cent, from 38 per cent in February and 49 per cent in October 2004. By contrast, 58 per cent believe that British troops should be “withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable”. Although this is slightly down from 62 per cent in February, it compares with 42 per cent in October 2004.,,11069-2214325,00.html

Well whaddya know …

So with all this nonsense going on, I decided it was time for something completely different. Well you folks need the occasional break from the doom and gloom don’t you?

Wandsworth CommonThis is Wandsworth Common, where I grew up. I spent a good deal of my youth on this oasis of green until I was maybe 15-16 years old.

For a kid growing up in the 1950s in the grey, war-blasted city of London it had everything, at least for me it did; fishing, football, cricket, even a miniature golf course, a bowling green, tennis courts and a café which brewed the worst-tasting tea you ever had.

My first tentative forays with the opposite sex took place on Wandsworth Common, admittedly not very successful forays but what else can someone who was thirteen years old and totally ignorant of sex let alone the opposite one, expect?

AlleyThe Common was only five minutes from my flat on Balham Park Road, past my Uncle Jeff’s and Auntie Phyliss’s house at No. 74, through a short alleyway and there it was, at least the first part, a triangle of green with the Victoria to Brighton train line running along one edge, then across Bolingbroke Grove, by the Hope Tavern onto the main section (itself bisected by the same rail line, with allotments lining the embankments, a survivor from the war years).

The first section was for playing cricket and footie, the second for fishing and the occasional outings with my mum and dad (though it was Walton-on-the-Hill where we did our serious hiking at weekends). My dad although no greater lover of cricket liked the peace of the scene, the cricket whites on green and the click of leather on wood on a Sunday afternoon, though he never said so.

My first real inter-actions with Asians and West Indians was on the Common playing cricket. I suppose I was eleven or twelve and I remember one particularly fearsome Indian bowler whose rocket-powered deliveries scared the living daylights out of me. That he was an adult and we were just kids meant nothing to him, that ball came whizzing at me regardless. This would have been around 1954 and Balham was one of the first neighbourhoods to be settled by West Indians, brought over by London Transport to work on the buses and trains.

Our first family doctor was an Indian from Bombay (now Mombai), Amber Peerboy, a Communist (of course), whose practice was just around the corner on Boundaries Road next to the rag and bone yard which was next to the Balham Hotel, our local pub.

My mates and I would collect old newspapers door-to-door in a broke-down pram and lug them to the rag and bone yard where we sold them for I think, sixpence a hundredweight, which is around 112 pounds.

My greatest delight however was fishing on the lake on the Common, though I always thought of it as a pond. For a small lake it was well populated with gigantic carp (almost impossible to catch), tench, roach, perch and pike. I even introduced some bream I’d caught in the Thames.

I used to bunk off from school, go to the fishing tackle shop on Balham High Road next to the Ritz cinema and buy boiled hemp seed and maggots, then catch the train to Kingston or Hampton Court and spend the day day-dreaming on the banks of the Thames. Weekends it was Longwater in Hampton Court Palace where for a shilling or two you could fish. Longwater was a beautiful, long narrow lake lined with enormous trees on both sides.

But I digress from the Common. I’m not sure what kids do today, the lake is now run by an angling association so you have to be a member to fish there. They have improved it though, it’s now tended and surrounded by trees and thick undergrowth, almost wild in appearance.

But back then, aside from the closed season, March to June, anybody could fish there and for free. Early summer mornings were glorious, you had the place almost to yourself with mist rising off the water, the ducks quacking, water voles, the giant carp would swim right by you (forget catching them). Catching something was, I suppose, important but more so was the solitude and peace, the smell of the water, the mystery of what lay beneath. The quill float would poke out of the impenetrable water, still until it twitched, then slid along the water's surface. Hand on rod I would wait, and wait, attempting to judge the right time to strike. Then it would pop out of the water; too late, again.

Am I indulging in some nostalgia here? Well possibly you can accuse me of such but I don’t look back on those times as some kind of ‘golden age’, far from it. London was a miserable and depressing place back then but the Common was a haven, a refuge for me and a lot of my mates in Balham; a place of innocence and also of learning. It was my ‘patch’, it was where I took my first photographs, mostly of trees.

My dad taught me to develop and print when I was around nine years old in our kitchen (he was the official photographer for the Musicians Union who supplied him with a Leica M1 and when he wasn’t photographing non-union musicians in the clubs and theatres around London, he would be out shooting night scenes and sometimes he took me along with him).

No, not exactly an age of innocence, more like the calm before the storm; it didn’t last long, yet compare it to today’s world, no wonder people retreat into the past, no wonder the state sells the idea of an idealised past, they know it’s a fucked up world and they know that we know it too. So rather than transform the present, they manufacture a past of imperial greatness, a past where the Empire ruled and everything was in its ‘rightful’ place; the white folks on top, where ‘we’ belonged.


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