The Ghost of Watt Tyler

Watt Tyler was one of the leaders of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt. He was a slain by the King’s supporters after drinking a jug of beer “in a very rude and disgusting fashion before the King's face.”

Friday, February 06, 2009

Another Christmas

I've enrolled on a creative writing course, here is my first effort.

Another Christmas

She clutched his arm as they picked their way up the steps to the house. Her hands were scrawny and ridged with tiny blue veins. But her grip was firm, her fingers digging into his flesh, as though she was hanging on a cliff or a window ledge. He half-guided and half-lifted her up each step, listening closely to the rise and fall of her chest. The air seemed to fall out of her like iron filings; heavy, clunking and painful. He smiled weakly trying to disguise his thoughts. It’s cold isn’t it? In between breaths, she mumbled back to him. Yes. I Just. Can’t seem. To get. Warm. Any more.

At the top, they paused, arm in arm, unsure what to do next. The bright, electric lights on the leafless tree ahead were swaying in the wind. There were figures in the windows of the house holding wine glasses. Slowly she released her hold on his arm and began to hobble down the path. He stood still and watched. You’ll catch you death out here? He didn’t respond and pulled his thick, wool coat around his body.

As she approached the door, she glanced over her shoulder. Come on love, they’ll wonder where we are? I’ll be in a minute; I need some fresh air. If you are sure, she said.

Turning he looked over the man-made landscape of the levels. The narrow waterways rippled like silver ribbons and the muddy green fields stretched off into the darkness. Would she, he wondered, see another Christmas?

Friday, January 30, 2009


Published in the Guardian last week....

One of the words that did not appear in Barack Obama's speech was "Gaza" (Words of wisdom, 21 January). As he spoke in front of the biggest crowd ever to have gathered to witness a political event, the battered, abused and forgotten masses of Gaza returned to their flattened homes to bury their dead in overflowing graveyards. If the hope and change promised by his presidency is to mean anything, he must tell America's belligerent watchdog in the Middle East, Israel, to "unclench its fist" and lift its barbaric blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Tom Wall

I wrote it after seeing photos of white phosphorus landing on a UN building in Gaza.

For more see this from Amnesty, which has investigated the claims.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


This week a good friend - who sometimes lets his hatred of green toffs like Prince Charles get in the way of the truth - claimed supermarkets provide cheap food for the masses.

Sadly this is a myth peddled by - yes you guessed it - supermarkets.

In fact consumers pay three times: once in the shop, a second time in taxes through direct subsidies to farmers, and finally indirectly in taxes cleaning up the mess left by reckless industrial agriculture and subsidising the transport infrastructure supermarkets depend on.

It has, for example, cost the government over a billion pounds to install the equipment necessary to remove nitrates and pesticides from rivers and lakes.

The cost to human health is also considerable. Supermarkets like Asda and Tesco oppose the Food Standards Agency’s front of pack traffic light nutrition labels because they make most of the their money from processed food high in sugar fat and salt (there is, after all, only so much you can charge for an apple or a potato).

The myth of cheap food arises from the practice of selling some items like bread and milk below cost price. However it is often cheaper to buy other items from smaller local stores.

My local Turkish shop sells fruit and veg at lower prices than the nearby Morrisons.

Supermarkets exist to make a profit - not to help the masses. Only regulation can ensure consumers (and the environment and wider society) get a good deal.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Obama: false hope?

They did publish this one.

Barack Obama and John McCain are not as different as Jonathan Freedland suggests (McCain's attack lines against Obama have already been written by Clinton, June 4). They would both be loyal servants of corporate America. The top five contributors to Obama's campaign are registered corporate lobbyists. His backers include Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup. Obama claims Iran is a threat and so does McCain. Obama would attack Pakistan in pursuit of terrorists and McCain doesn't disagree. Obama has reserved the right to change his mind on withdrawal from Iraq and says he will listen to the advice of commanders on the ground. Obama has also voted to fund the Iraqi occupation and called for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan. His campaign theme may be "change" but he represents more of the same.

(I should add that I would love to see an African American in the White House and the Republicans defeated because of what it would represent: a rejection of racism and war. But my point is that in reality the Obama would toe the corporate line like every other democratic president.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Mugabe v US & UK

This letter was sent to the Guardian yesterday but it was not published.

Robert Mugabe is clearly a despicable, undemocratic leader who will stop at nothing to ensure his odious regime remains in power (‘This is like inviting Pol Pot to a human rights conference’). But it’s hard to take the denouncements of the British and American governments seriously because they stay silent when their friends commit crimes. There will, for instance, be no criticism of Western allies like Egypt which has brutally suppressed food riots and demonstrations in recent months. Or the Israeli government’s blockade of the Gaza Strip which has brought water and sewage systems close to collapse. But then the UK and US are in no position to judge other countries as the Iraq war has killed an estimated 600,000 civilians according to the Lancet.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The last days of summer

I went swimming in one of Hampstead Heath’s three ponds yesterday after a long day in a stuffy office. The sun was sinking below the trees and the air was still. It was a truly tranquil scene, a world away from the belching traffic and bad tempers on show in central London.

The water quality is pretty good (it regularly exceeds minimum EU bathing water quality standards) although the swimming guard said there were rats in the area. This may mean a small risk of Weil's disease. As the guard said it probably best not to swallow lots of water.

I didn't see any rodents. They must have all on their way to the Tory party conference or working late in the city.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Climate Camp

An article I wrote for my mag after a visit to the climate camp outside Heathrow.

Penny Eastwood shares a joke with a police patrol as she walks around the climate camp she helped set up outside Heathrow Airport. The officers laugh but it was all very different yesterday.

Penny, a co-ordinator at a tree planting project in West Yorkshire, was arrested after she glued her hand to a metal gate on the edge of the camp in protest at ‘heavy-handed’ police tactics.

‘They wandered around the site taking photos of people and made campers walk half a mile down a road with their belongings. At suppertime they came on the camp in large numbers but people escorted them off. The press were off site and they were trying to provoke a ruck,’ she says.

The police insist the operation was necessary to ensure the safety of officers on the site.

However, the protestor’s relationship with the police is ultimately only a sideshow. The real issue is climate change and the expansion of Heathrow. This is why hundreds of people from all over the country – including a large contingent form the local community – have descended on a muddy field in west London close to the perimeters of the airport.

‘We chose Heathrow because building another runway is environmental lunacy,’ she explains as planes roar overhead. ‘The aviation industry likes to claim it is only 3 per cent of UK emissions and 6 per cent globally. But if you unpack the claim a very different picture emerges.’

The figures dates from 1992, she says, and doesn’t take account of the impact of releasing greenhouse gasses high in the atmosphere. The Inter­governmental Panel on Climate Change estimates the impact may 2.7 times greater
but other studies indicate it could be up to four times greater.

‘Also, the government measures outward flights and not return flights originating from this country. So if you take into account uplift and return flights it’s actually more like 20 per cent of UK emissions,’ she says.

But industry and people's homes are still responsible for far more emissions, so why pick on the aviation industry?

‘Because it is the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in the UK and it’s set to grow three fold,’ Penny says. ‘It is absolutely impossible to accommodate that level of emissions at a sustainable level.’

This charge is backed by the Tyndall Centre, the UK's best-known climate think tank, which claims there is no chance of tackling climate change without cutting aviation emissions. It recently calculated that if nothing changed, all other carbon-emitting sectors of the economy would have to stop emitting any carbon by 2050, just to allow for the growth in air travel.

Yet the government seems intent on building a third runway anyway. A recent progress report on the 2003 air transport white paper estimated a third runway is worth £5bn to the UK economy. But Penny claims the cost to the economy of not tacking climate change will be greater than any short-term benefits from increased air travel. The recent floods, she says, have shut countless businesses around the country and are just a taste of things to come.

Another criticism levelled at the camp is that their actions may disrupt ordinary people going on their holidays. Penny stresses their enemies are the air travel industry not passengers. ‘The whole idea is not to attack people because we need to get people on our side,’ she says.

This is reflected in the targets chosen by protestors: private business flights at Biggin Hill and Farnborough, the Department for Transport, BAA offices and an international freight depot.

The camp itself is a model of sustainability. Most of the site's power needs – including a cinema – are met with a combination of wind turbines and solar panels. The camp also provides compost toilets, a grey water system for filtering wastewater and running water.

But will the camp make any difference? Penny draws a parallel with the abolition of the slave trade: ‘Slavery was once legal and profitable. The slave trade was a bit like the oil addiction of our time. The whole economy rested on the slave trade just as now the whole economy rests on oil.’