Basildon Arts Collective – stonking new website! #bac #basildon

If you’ve not yet noticed, Basildon Arts Collective has launched a brilliant new website. If you are interested in the arts in Basildon, then get yourselves over to BAC’s site and register ASAP.

And look out for Basildon Arts Collective at the Bas Fest 2010. More on that to come!

And don’t forget, the campaign for the Woodsman to be put back on display in the town is as strong as ever.

Congratulations to everyone involved in getting Basildon Arts Collective off the ground. Truly impressive. When work calms down I hope to finally make a meeting.

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Letter from Kamal’s family about the conditions in Adra Prison #syria #kamal

Kamal Labwani’s family have written to Maureen Thomas, describing the latest humiliations in Adra Prison, Damascus. Maureen’s covering comment is a timely reminder of the human frailty of our friends who have been imprisoned in Damascus: “One can only admire the prisoners’ pride, determination and courage but I worry for Haytham, Muhannad, Anwar and Kamal who still have a long time to go with no money or medication to help keep them healthy.”

The letter from Kamal’s family speaks for itself:

“We are ok actually and our father but now we are not visiting him because he asked us not to.

Him and all the prisoners of conscious in Adra prison reject to be visited because the authorities want them to wear prison pajamas during the visit and not civilian clothes or even sports pajamas as they say they want them to be equal like other prisoners.

So the prisoners of conscience rise up claiming that they should be also equal to other prisoners in other rights like their visit is not being watched and have the right to visit for two hours rather than only half an hour and other fair requests.  They say if you want us to be equal let us be equal in every single right.   It is really not a matter of wearing prison pajamas or not, they want to be treated like other prisoners.   If the authority wants them to be equal with civil prisoners they wish to be really equal.

And so now we cannot visit him because if we go he will refuse to come out and see us. We cannot give him money and provide him with medication. Not just us but the other prisoners’ families.

I would not be accurate if I called what the prisoners of conscience are doing as a strike because I really don’t know if they will end it or keep doing this until their demands are accomplished.  We really don’t know what the circumstances will bring but until now it seems that they insist to go on.

I’m sorry for this long letter. We all hope the new days will bring good news.”

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Super Ellie Sis gets the blogging bug

It would seem that my super-talented arty sis has caught the blogging bug. She is just starting out and has decided to share her thoughts as she works on The Enchanted Palace (and using WordPress just like her older bro).

Take a look and give her some encouragement!

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Tories Orwellian vision for Basildon Town Centre #toryfail

They look faintly sinister, Orwellian almost, like something that would be more at home in 1984 than 2010. These new cameras with I presume 360 degree vision are designed to make us feel safer.

Forget North Korea. Britain is the most surveilled state in the world. We have 20% of the world’s CCTV cameras in the UK – over 4 million cameras watching us as we go about our daily business. Now three more in Basildon.

In 2006 you may recall that members of the Surveillance Studies Network produced a report on the surveillance society. It makes for shocking reading:

And what do these cameras do?

They don’t deter the petty anti-social behaviour that plagues most ordinary shoppers – kids on bikes were still racing dangerously and recklessly through the crowds at the weekend. How do they improve the quality of our lives?

In 2005 the Home Office published a study into the efficacy of CCTV. It’s results were far, far from conclusive:

I find this continual erosion of personal space alarming.

And the Tories show their true colours when they come out in favour of the surveillance state.

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Purple squid tentacles gain alien landing lights #toryfail

As one of the councillors who voted in principle to bid for and accept the money from government to put new lighting in St Martin’s Square and the Town Centre, I am shocked and embarrassed by what the administration have done.

Purple Poles, St Martin's Square

Who on earth thought that serried ranks of purple poles, with the off-cuts of Robbie the Robot perched on top, could possibly improve the look of the area or the quality of the public space?

And in an age when we worry about light pollution and climate change, why do they cast light up but not down? And why are they on in the day?

Who advised them?

How ironic that at last week’s Cabinet we considered a report on Basildon’s open spaces which rated St Martin’s Square very highly – before the bulldozers moved in. It is very sad that the Tories placed petty local politics above even their own administration’s assessment of the value of this civic space.

A friend at dinner joked that maybe they were landing lights for the aliens coming to collect their purple squid tentacle lights… If only.

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Creative printing – art meets advertising

Bit like when I blogged about Ukrainian sand artist Kseniya Simonova, I am way behind the popular curve on this one. (Not surprising really as I have never been trendy exactly!)

However, like all good things it deserves a reprise…

British Design and Art Direction was founded in 1962 by artists including David Bailey and Terence Donovan. These days it is known simply as D&AD. Since 1963 it has made annual awards, its purpose “dedicated to celebrating creative communication, rewarding its practitioners, and raising standards across the industry”.

Last year, two students responded to a D&AD design brief from Hewlett Packard, the company that makes printers: “Present an idea which promotes HP Workstations ability to bring to life anything the creative mind can conceive.”

This is how Matt Robinson and Tom Wrigglesworth of Kingston University responded:

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EU-Syria Mediterranean Agreement – correspondence

I meant to post this correspondence with Liz Lynne MEP before now. It provides some interesting information, not least of all the link to the EU’s delegation to Syria which would appear to be a useful way of staying up to date with news regarding the EU’s engagement with Syria.


Dear Liz,

We’ve corresponded previously about the EU/Syria agreement (I used my personal address).

I’d be grateful if you or your office could briefly explain what the preparatory phase described in the attached link is – and what opportunity there is to raise pertinent human and civil rights concerns. The stock response when anyone in the EU is questioned about this is that engagement with Syria will promote human rights. However, no-one has yet pointed me to an example where that sort of engagement with other countries has produced a measurable improvement.

In addition, the Syrians have even indicated a readiness to sign yet. (There was also something very galling about the very earnest discussions around “civil society” at the recent Damascus conference, right at the time the Syrians are continuing to “disappear” journalists, human rights lawyers and opposition activists.)

Your advice would be much appreciated – together with contact details for anyone you think I might appropriately contact.

Best wishes,


(Writing in a personal capacity, rather than as Secretary to the Parliamentary Party)

Liz Lynne

Dear Ben,

Thank you for your further correspondence regarding the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement with Syria. The preparatory phase is part of the conciliation procedure which is used in the formulation of this Agreement This process, in part, requires consent from the European Parliament, which currently has not been given.

The provisions of the European Union’s Association Agreement with Syria are the prerequisite for full European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) status, but signature and full participation only come about once a number of steps have been adhered to. The aim of the agreement with Syria is to support economic and political reforms in the region. This process requires dialogue on human rights, democracy, terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation. The EU advocates engagement and diplomacy as the best way to do this, particularly in relation to reforming human rights.

However, the EU can also deny engagement and put on hold its support to instigate human rights reformation. For example, the EU’s decision to suspend the upgrading of its Association Agreement with Israel means that the expansion of trade and economic relations in the region have been delayed. Consequently an upgrade to the Agreement, thus further engagement, is unlikely to occur until Israel increases its efforts to abide by international law.    

In order to stay up to date with the latest bilateral and regional developments in EU-Syrian relations I suggest viewing the website of the Delegation of the European Union to Syria. A link to the site can be found here:

You can also contact the Delegation directly via email on

Thank you again for your correspondence and I hope this information is useful to you.

Kind regards,

Liz Lynne MEP

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UrbEx – the art of urban decay #urbex

There is something excruciatingly emotional about the loneliness of buildings abandoned to decay. I touched on it in my previous post Cold War ghosts: legacies in concrete and film and thought it a fairly solitary interest of mine.

I was completely wrong.

Sitting on the train tonight, and casually flicking through the Evening Standard, I came across an article on the UrbEx movement – UrbEx short for ‘Urban Exploration’. UrbExers combine a passion for adventure and exploration with a love of crumbling urban landscapes, testing the boundaries of the law in terms of trespass and safety. Regardless of your view of this last particular aspect, the results of their efforts can be startlingly beautiful and moving, capturing that sense of past lives that haunts abandoned buildings.

The Standard’s definition of UrbEx is succinct:

“Urban Exploration is the art of gaining access to parts of the city that are off-limits, including catacombs, tunnels, abandoned industrial sites and old municipal buildings. This often involves trespassing but rarely breaking and entering, as true UrbExers make their way in through existing breaches and frown upon theft. If caught, they will usually be escorted from the premises without prosecution. Dangers such as rotting floors, asbestos and faulty electrics are set against the adrenaline of discovery. Most UrbExers are keen photographers, drawn to the beauty of decay and, as Scott Cadman says, “being as far away from other people as possible”.

Cadman is a seasoned UrbExer with a stunning gallery of photographs. His series on West Park Mental Hospital are particularly amazing – click on the corridor picture below to see his UrbEx collection:

Corridor - West Park Mental Hospital

Corridor - West Park Mental Hospital, Scott Cadman

Flickr is host to dozens of UrbEx collections, many of which are pooled. Both urban explorers and UrBexer’s (Urban Exploration) are two such pools worth checking out if you find yourself mesmerised as I do by these broken, empty buildings.

Thierry Buysse is a Belgian UrbExer whose website is simply stunning. Closer to home, urbex|uk is a stylishly minimalist site that highlights some of the UK’s most striking abandoned buildings. There are even UK forums such as 28dayslater where enthusiasts can discuss different sites.

And the cross-over into art doesn’t end with photography.

Urban Explorers: Into The Dark is an award-winning  U.S. documentary. Even if you never get around to watching the film, you can see it clipped on CBS:

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Sajovic exhibition: “Be-Longing” is in its final week #sajovic #gyspies #roma #travellers

Be-Longing: Travellers’ Stories, Travellers’ Lives, the ground breaking exhibition from Slovenian photographer Eva Sajovic, is in its final week at the 198.

There are two events being held.

On Thursday 18 March 2010,  7-9pm, there will be a film screening of Romano Hip Hop:

The final day of the exhibition is Saturday 20 March, 11am-5pm, with music provided by DJ Damian Le Bas, 6-9pm.

Don’t let the opportunity to see this ground-breaking exhibition from a highly talented artist pass you by.

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The woeful political illiteracy of ‘sock jock’ Peter Oborne #toryfail #mailfail

There is something remarkably gratifying about your politics becoming the subject of a doolally rant from Peter Oborne.

His comment piece in today’s Mail is both astonishing and embarrassing in its swivel-eyed political illiteracy – riddled with hackneyed clichés to such an extent that you can almost see his words foaming on the page like some twenty-first century incarnation of a nineteenth-century pamphleteer.

Of course on one level he can be simply dismissed as a slightly dotty commentator who, whilst perhaps a little too spiky to be regarded a lovable eccentric, nevertheless fulfils a role in the media as a vocal representative of a certain small-minded, right-wing conservatism. Of course, whilst in US politics the right has radio ‘shock jocks’, Britain, despite an increasing pace of life, still conducts its politics in a comparatively leisurely fashion, better suited to writer-provocateurs in our newspapers. These I always imagine to be sartorially-challenged individuals given to flamboyant or eccentric dress – ‘sock jocks’ if you will.

On another level, however, Oborne’s flailing around is a fascinating indication of the rising panic on the part of Britain’s conservative politicians and commentators who have coasted along for years, relying on a ropey strategy perhaps best summarised as opportunism bolstered by a confidence born of entitlement. Oborne, whether as ‘sock jock’ or unofficial Tory mouthpiece, reveals how politically confused and contradictory the right-wing of British politics has become – grasping out in a vacuum of principle for a policy to justify this strange sense of entitlement to power.

Bizarrely, he decides that the key point of political differentiation is not principle, policy or even political message, but rather election slogan. Sadly, I suppose his obsession with slogans is not unexpected from someone who is part of a media industry that seeks in its own condescending way to portray British voters as supine – unable to make political choices based on more substantive criteria without the benefit of the media intervening to interpret and translate.

Oborne, interestingly, also accuses the Lib Dems of opacity on the big issues. This seems to be one of his odder comments, reflecting more the fact that his preferred emperor is clearly wearing no clothes and, I presume, hoping that by shouting loudly at as many people as possible, no-one will notice.

It is also contradicted by his admiration of Nick Clegg’s stance on Afghanistan and civil liberties. In the same piece!

Add in the fact of the Liberal Democrats’ four key election commitments and Oborne’s article is reduced to simple, ignorant bluster.

This is confirmed by his dependence on a tiresome and dull confusion between campaigning and political positioning in a dismal attempt to justify an accusation of hypocrisy:

“For example, one internal campaigning document – called Effective Opposition – hypocritically advised the party’s candidates to face in both directions at the same time.

It urged them ‘to secure support from voters who normally vote Tory by being effectively anti-Labour and similarly in a Tory area secure Labour votes by being anti-Tory’.”

Oborne, like many ‘sock jocks’, appears to think that politics should occur in a vacuum of activity. The reality is any party looking to win a seat will be looking to maximise its support from voters by differentiating itself from other parties. To do that well, you need to present your policies in a way that is both relevant and effective. If you believe in the importance of local community politics that is going to be different in different parts of the country. It is basic campaigning common sense.

Fortunately, voters realise that, even if armchair media pundits – who lack accountability and often comment without any sense of responsibility – do not.

All of this adds up to one important thing: this election is still wide open and in the hands of the British electorate.

And the Tories know it…

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