I awoke with tired legs from the last couple of days walking round and dodging the throngs of christmas shoppers. It was one of those dull grey flat days that I had been expecting for the entire trip, Id been lucky with the weather so far. Luckily enough this was the day Id picked to go calling on clients and most were organised for mid to late afternoon when it would be getting dark anyway. So to compensate for the late start, the dull crappy day I thought I’d sample some of the local cuisine (yet again). When I’d stayed in London before everthing was horrendously expensive, I thought this trip would be no different. I’d ordered an oyster card in advance and loaded it up with the equivalent of day rates for the trip. Its not hard to believe that after only 2 and a half days in London, the transport costs had exceeded the entire hong kong trip!
The hotel had a couple of ‘greasy spoon’ type cafes across the road so I thought Id give them ago. Id chosen to stay between cricklewood and kilburn as Id wanted to sample a bit of non-tourist London. One of my aunts had lived up near Tottenham for a while so was keen to get out and about with ‘locals’. The ‘locals’ in the cafe consisted mostly of Irish and Polish men, the type of guys who would be usually working on building sites at this time of day if it wasnt for the recession.
The fry up would have choked 2 horses, never mind one, and cost about 7 quid and I genuinely thought I wouldnt eat anything else for a week. Prompting the later in the day well worn phrase of ‘no, I’m not hungry, but I could eat something’ that became the passphrase for my Canada/US trip last year.
Spending most of the morning in and out of the London transport system you get the feeling of how it has seemed to have grown organically rather than someone actually sitting down and designing it. It may have been designed, indeed it wasnt until I was 21 that I realised that Northern Ireland busses and railways actually had a timetable rather than just turning up and waiting for the next one.
Glad I wasnt taking many photos today as the train broke down, tube line was closed, roadworks for the busses and I only had 200 quid cash on me so couldnt take a taxi into town.
I could have been a one off but in my 4 month sojourn in London I decided Id try out this commuting lark for a week to see if I could hack it. My girlfriend at the time was living in Felixstowe so Id get the 6:30am train to Ipswich with the supposed connection to London Liverpool street which would put me at my desk by 8:50am. Well thats the theory… I dont think I was at my desk before 9:15am any morning. Im sure things have improved but at the time I worked with a guy who had a similar commute, he saw his kids only at the weekends despite living in the same house. He would be out of the house in the morning before they got up and back home long after they went to bed. I know its necessary but what sort of a life is that, not one for me really.
So I ask again, how on earth are they going to carry off the Olympics? Im only adding these lines in to wind English people up, every time theres an Olympics or World Cup or any major event, a lot of the pre-event publicity is on how much of a shambles it is going to be.
Reminds me of sitting in an internet cafe in Tokyo during the 2002 world cup. A number of US journalist were giving one of the fifa officials earache about all the problems they were having and one said ‘we told you about these problems yesterday’, to which the very polite official said ‘no sir, the problems you told us about yesterday have been fixed, these are new problems’. I suspect that wont be the case in London
As well as spending the vast majority of the morning in various states of waiting for parts of london transport to arrive I thought Id head over to Harrods and have a look round at how the other half lives. There had been an edtiorial in the papers about how Knightsbridge and Kensington had some of the most expensive parking in the world. I can well believe it as one of the houses I walked past cost more to rent per month than my whole house originally cost me!
I took a walk past One Hyde Park and joined the window shoppers outside the McLaren shop, some of the most expensive real estate in the world. I felt I didnt have enough money to even stand on the street outside! Across the road is Harvey Nichols and I’ve never been there, billed as the young persons Harrods I’ll have to have a look the next time Im over as I needed to get across town for various meetings. Just as I walked down the side, one of the security personnel asked me to move on. Well I was moving on, just not quick enough obviously and I wondered what was up. He said he thought I was paparazzi and Lady GaGa was about to come out and they’d been asked to clear the pavement. I laughed saying Id photographed her before but was heading on anyway. Oh PS mate, your building is on fire….
In between meetings I managed to get to the Imperial War Museum and their Don McCullin exhibition. I only had a quick look round, not enough to do it justice. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
I had a few follow up meetings on my last full day but during the free time the weather did work out for me again.
The phone apps Id mentioned in my last post did work wonders for highlighting some of the current events and I made a detour down to the South Bank for the chocolate food festival. No purchases here but wandering round the smell of cooking chocolate was enough!
It might seem odd but in the whole time Ive been coming to London I cant remember ever going anywhere near Buckingham Palace. Probably one of the must sees, if for nothing else than to say you have seen it. Its one of those weird places where tourists gather and just stand and stare. I watched loads of people just staring through the gates and I wondered if they thought the Queen would just pop out and say hello. Its not as if they just stopped, took a photo and cleared off, it took me about 15 mins to walk past the area and most of the people who were there when I arrived were still there and still staring through the railings. Would hate to see if if there was something on!
I enjoyed my trip to London, maybe I needed that break away from it to go back and appreciate it as one of the outstanding tourist cities instead of just a place to work ridiculous hours. I certainly saw more of it in my 4 days here than I did in the whole 4 months of working there. It was good to go back and wander round some of the old haunts and have a look round some new places. I’ll certainly be planning a return sometime in 2012, but maybe not anywhere near the Olympics
It had been almost 14 years since I last stayed in London. Well not strictly true I had spent a few nights in London since then but part of a medivac journey doesnt really count
London is one of those places I love to visit but would hate to live there. 16 years ago I spent about 4 months working in the west end of London. It involved working there 5 days a week and returning home to weekends which really meant getting in late on a Friday night, doing the washing and drying clothes on the Saturday and then packing for a Sunday night flight to be at my desk for 9am on the Monday. Not much of a life really and sounded a lot more glamourous than it actually was. After a month or so I tried to work 12 hour days monday to weds so I could get home earlier and when the offer of a permanent job came, I was never so glad to turn a job down in my life. Yes I spent time in some great hotels and got the opportunity to eat in some great restaurants but after a while all you want to do is go back to your hotel room and get room service and watch tv.
So I spent some time away from London but would always get over sometime during December, if for nothing else than to take a wander round Harrods and splash out a little.
Id organised this trip to go over and do some quick coffee meetings with some of my London clients. Its odd but I worked for a client in London for over 4 years and it was a good relationship with the client but we never met once in that period and I realised that this was the norm with my current clients so thought Id make an effort to press the flesh. I know I was probably asking too much to get the chance to go round and do some stock photos as it would be totally weather dependent and booked a month in advance it was pretty much a see how it is when you get there trip. If all else failed I’d go to a few exhibitions and I might even do some tourist stuff.
The way the flights worked out Id arrive after dark in London and had pretty much the first evening to myself. The question was then do I take in a show, go for a wander, go to the cinema, veg out in the hotel or… …well to cut a long story short I ended up at Chelsea for a champions league game. A great chance to get some quick street food which looking back on it I wish I’d missed. Not long after returning from Hong Kong where the street food there had sort of spoiled me So when I couldnt decide if the bap had more bread than the sausage I knew Id made the wrong choice!
Still the game was a good result for Chelsea and when the great Fernando Torres was introduced at 80 odd minutes it was time for me to leave and get a quick train home. Turned out to be a great move on my part, with delays, breakdowns and so on it took over an hour to get across London. How on earth are they going to hold the Olympics?
When I worked in London one of my bosses was one of those typical London bosses, when he invites you out for Lunch, it is of the liquid variety. I learned this to my cost one Friday afternoon when I went out with him and a load of the senior managers. After 4 pints I couldnt remember what my name was but I do remember the whole pub laughing when I kept saying ‘no seriously lads, what are we having to eat’. I have no idea how I ended up back in Belfast that evening. The guys had always said that if I was ever in London looking a pint at 6am that I should get myself down to Smithfield Market. Under the market theres a pub called the cock and as long as you order breakfast you can get drink as well. Now as a light drinker the pint didnt really interest me but rather the opportunity to get a fryup that would choke a horse and be made up of every meat under the sun. I waited 14 years for that fry and can I say it was worth the wait. I would thoroughly recommend it and get yourself down to the Smithfield Meat Market (London City Markets) if you ever get a chance. If you are a social networking afficionado (I occasionally use twitter and use facebook for family and friends) then please dont send a message to everyone you know saying that you are enjoying a breakfast at the cock. Innocent enough until some so called friends leave the ‘breakfast at’ part out of their requoting. Sigh!
Seeing as it was such a ridiculous time in the am and the sun was just coming up I headed down over the river for some early morning city views. Going past St Pauls I got a first glimpse of the Occupy London protest and the ‘ring of steel’ around the London Stock Exchange. Lets be honest I remember some of the rings of steel thrown up here in Northern Ireland,so a few crash barriers and fat lads in dayglo jackets doesnt constitute a ring of steel London.
I do have to say it was an absolutely beautiful morning and whilst cold was probably one of the best Ive ever seen there. I would have mostly stayed there in the summer when at times the heat is oppressive, I remember coming out of an air conditioned office one day for lunch only to stay in the revolving door and go and get crisps and cola from the vending machine.
I spent most of the morning wandering in and around the City hoping to set upon some bankers and give them what for but they must have all been sitting in their office, banking, or something like that.
I had a fair idea of the types of photos I wanted so took a wander up around Westminster and in and around Whitehall. It was a good opportunity to try out some of the travel technology Id first tried at my path to enlightenment in Hong Kong. I had downloaded a london transport app, a tube map, walking and guided tour apps and was using google maps to navigate. Despite having an engineering degree and a masters in electronics this felt very weird. Id always travelled everywhere with a map and found it strange to be standing in Trafalgar Square and then finding the nearest highest ranked pub lunch within 100 yards. Sure enough my facebook and tripadvisor friends didnt let me down and I ended up in the excellent porter house just off covent garden. Of course only after Id sat down and ordered did I realise it was an Irish pub and just across the street from Rules where Id unsuccessfully tried to book a lunch.
I then made almost a fatal mistake, I decided to go for wander up round Regent Street and then Oxford Street in late evening a couple of weeks before Christmas. Only the previous weekend the police had closed Oxford Street because there were just too many people in it for safety.
Im sure it was nowhere near that now but John Lewis is an odd place to sit and have your dinner, like a bad comedy sketch Id tried to get in somewhere to sit down and made the mistake of trying to navigate through shops when I found myself outside the John Lewis Cafe. With the glories of trip planners, sat nav, tube maps I worked out that it would be a hundred yard dash to Regent Street tube station and then only one change to my hotel.
Ok so I’ll admit it Im chicken and I bottled out and went back to the hotel to watch the football on tv. Theres only so many shopping crowds you can brave before it takes its toll and if its this bad now, whats it going to be like come the 2012 Olympics?
One of the most famous, accessible, cheap and most memorable sights in Hong Kong is the star ferry journey across the harbour. As I mentioned in my last blog post the journey isnt as long as I remember it due to the land reclamation in the harbour. Some locals joke that in a few years you will be able to walk to the island without getting your feet wet!
IF you have a couple of hours only in Hong Kong make sure you take the trip. If you have more than a day make sure you take it at night as well. Check out the seats as they are all reversible and you just move the back depending on which direction you are moving in. Also keep an eye out for the moving gangplank when boarding, particularly in a heavy swell and sometimes the night crossing can be a bit hairy in one of the most congested areas of sea on the planet!
After the food excesses of the previous couple of days it turned out to be a McDonalds day. As much as I dont eat this stuff, well almost ever, out where my hotel was the cafes and restaurants didnt open until 10am (another reason for lying in) and McDonalds was open from 7am. 10am is all well and good in the summer months but when it gets dark at 4:30-5pm and you need to get photos taken then time really is money. So using my octopus card I just went in pointed to a breakfast menu and stood and waited. Normally Im very anal about research but how far wrong can you go?
Well ok you get this…
When I first took the lid off I thought WTF? Someone has accidently dumped my egg, burger pasta and cheese into a bowl of hot water. Then I thought hold on check around and see what other people get. Yes the same thing. Odd. As usual I ended up wearing some of it and realised I’d better go on a diet when I get home because I dont stain the top of my trousers any more I stain half way down my shirt (you can work that out yourself!
I had a few things on my must see list from previous trips and one of those was to see people do Tai Chi in the parks. In the previous trips I’d failed to see any purely because it seems to be mostly done at 7am and well, lets be honest I only see 7am if Im coming home or if the house was catching fire. So rather than the mass numbers you see in all the guidebooks (usually old looking photos – does it happen any more?) I happened to catch a few folk in one garden in central.
Down at the Star Ferry terminal the previous there had been loads of police knocking about with cordoned off areas. Nothing unusual there I just assumed it was a queue for some famous person signing or queue for a ticket launch or some other thing. I found out today when I saw the length of it that it was the queue for the launch of the iPhone 4GS. When I say queue I mean over 3000 people queued up. Yes three thousand! I was at the opening of the apple store in Belfast and I think there was one sad loser who queued all night and felt a right prat because number 2 in the queue didnt show up to 6am. There were perhaps about 150 people total, if that? Now all the mac evangelists I know are quite sad people. Its a cult or religion rather than a piece of over styled average technology but come on. At what point did people turn up and queue for 3 days think ‘maybe they only have 2000 in stock?’. Maybe they had more. Very sad indeed, get a life folks its a bloody phone and not a very good phone at that! The reason why the police were there was that scuffles had broken out at the front because people had been paid over 1000 pounds to stand at the front of the queue for other people. Now I can understand queueing up for 3 days and nights for a grand, I would be tempted myself but paying the grand? plus the price of the phone? Come on. Still it didnt stop me exploiting the situation and wiring in a few photos to a news agency.
One other thing on the list to see was the noonday gun down in Causeway Bay. A hangover from the British occupation where this cannon would be fired on the shoreline every day at noon by the Jardines company. It had apparently stopped for a couple of years but was going today. Give it another 6 months and it wont be anywhere near the sea which will be odd having this row of Cannons on a pier a few hundred yards inland. Access to the gun is limited to the half hour after the gun is fired and access to the gun area is a bit convoluted, down through the basement of a hotel. One of those times you ask for help or directions and are led down stairs, down a corridor, past heating ducts into the darkness when every ounce of sense you have is screaming at you to get the f**k out of Dodge and you laugh at the stupidity of such people in daft horror or zombie movies. Well I followed a couple of women down so I thought if they started disappearing one by one it was time to leg it.
The whole firing the cannon ceremony was typically British lots of spit and polish and loads of old colonialism thrown in for good measure but ultimately pointless. Still it keeps the tourists happy.
Speaking of the British and colonialism and all that. On my first trip to Hong Kong it was still a British Colony and I found most of the tourists were the panama hat, linen suit wearing brigade whose daily duty it was to be loud and thoroughly insult and be rude to the natives. A few were looking forward to going back to Mainland China control to get rid of the foreign oppressors. Of course now the chinese people barge into you, are loud and seem to spend the day being thoroughly rude to the natives. The American Navy were also in town and… well you get the picture. I guess most tourists seem to be the same regardless of where they come from and where they go.
Hong Kong is a shoppers paradise but it isnt as cheap as it used to be. As I mentioned in the previous post everything seems to be available on ebay for not much more and without the hassle of lugging it around, luggage weight restrictions and customs declarations but it is still fun to haggle regardless. Todays markets were the fresh food market in Yaumatei and the Jade Market. Now my first experience of a chinese fresh food market involved my first trip were we went into China for the day. The food was fresh as it was indeed, still breathing. The coach trip didnt realise that if you went around a market pointing at things they were generally fished out of their tank or cage and beheaded on the spot. 10 mins in to our 1/2 hour visit I was the only one left in the place.
It reeked of cow faeces, blood and the noise was amazing. I didnt mind the tying the goat up and slitting its throat, food has to be got somehow, what turned my stomach was the guy clearing his head, nose, throat and lungs up and spitting it into the fish tank to be completely devoured by the fish. Now I know you are probably retching now at the thought, I can still see it and will probably see it to my dying day. Thats one thing that has improved. My first two times people just decided to dump the contents of their mucal cavaties at each and every opportunity. You would never put your bag down on the floor in a tram, bus or even restaurant. To be fair to one of my previous travelling companions even my chicken dinner didnt taste the same when the crowd of builders at the next restaurant table put half the contents of their brains on the floor next to us.
Im assuming the outbreaks of SARS and bird flu hit all that on the head. Originally I thought people wearing facemasks about town were just paranoid, turns out it is a health issue but its one enforced by doctors in that if you have a cold and go in to town with millions of other people you wear a facemask to limit the chances of infecting someone else. A couple of weeks later on the London Underground I wished that rule applied here. Would probably breach our human rights…
Markets now are a lot more civilised places but the food is still fresh and some of it is still breathing. When I say food I mean things that you could possibly stick in your gub. Im assuming the more disgusting it is the more of a ‘delicacy’ it becomes. You cant say its not fresh though and remembering my first trip I remember seeing every single part of four pigs hanging up for sale in a butchers stall. When I say every single part, I mean every single part and you could tell there were a couple of male pigs in there as well. Think about it… ….but it took me a long while to eat pork sausages again.
The Jade Market is another good memory having visited it on previous trips with a couple of cheap souvenirs still around the house. As long as you realise you are probably buying cheap plastic then you cant be far wrong. Lets be honest if someone asks me for a tenner for a piece of polished jade stone and settles on a pound then the odds are its up there with my jade dragon story. If I havent already elaborated on that one before I’ll do a later blog post on the tat, sorry souvenirs I’ve bought around the world.
Ive mentioned the silk embroidery before and theres nothing like this and the range available from Hong Kong, just make sure you haggle in the night markets although places like Stanley Market shops have better quality and the prices on show are pretty much it although in bulk with cash you can get a deal.
Ive mentioned my chinese rosewood furniture before and the hollywood road is one of the places to go but a better deal was had on Queens Road East.
Unfortunately or rather fortunately the shop I bought all my stuff from had moved. To cut a long story short (would be a first) I ordered a dining room table and wooden bureau to my spec, colours, seats etc and paid the money to have it delivered half way round the world. Simple transaction and of course my mate (who also ordered some stuff) only researched how to do business in China after we came home. Oh the handing money and business cards over with two hands is polite and one is rude. Oops, now who were acting the colonialists? You dont do a deal straight away as its more polite to accept the sweets they offer, ok so I insulted the locals too, talk about family, ok yet again, and then come back the next day and do the deal. Ok you get the picture about insulting the locals.
So it would take six weeks to make and six weeks to ship in a container. It was only when we got home and arguably sobered up that we realised we’d just paid a couple of grand to a stranger in a small shop halfway round the world and did we really expect the stuff to be delivered on time. Well I can tell you it wasnt delivered on time, it came a week early. Despite the jokes from people at home it backed up all the advice we had been given before going that chinese people do business with trust and honour and I had hoped to call into the same shop and thank the owner or more likely their son or heir for the great service we received from them.
…Orange? Red, Blue and Yellow?
Who knows Ive always liked Dutch football and to be honest the Spanish tippy tappy football is ok to watch but boring 1-0s doesnt make great World Cup football.
Still, fair play to both teams, both massive underachievers in the past and generally teams who implode due to various factions in their squads long before the final stages. Both camps in the past have been rife with national tensions (spain and catalonia, holland and their players from colonial backgrounds) which leads nicely into Northern Ireland in July.
The 12th of July is known as Orangemans Day. There are very few more divisive days in the Northern Ireland calendar than 12th of July.
For some its a day when they have the opportunity to put on show their religious and political history and affiliations, for others is a mass display of triumphalism. For some its a colourful religious ceremony, for others its just a lot of drunks getting drenched/sunburnt (usually both).
In most other areas of the world any historical parades or festivals are scenes of celebrations and huge draws for tourists. You might not know the significance or indeed what goes on but everyone is heading into town for a party so you go along.
Its probably too early in our movement away from recent history for this to be the case here at home. Despite the local tourist board trying to fund the events and rebrand them ‘Orangefest’. It still doesnt stop the majority of the minority population getting on boats, planes or getting in the car and not stopping until they are 10 feet across the border.
And thats a great shame.
Along with St Patricks Day its one of the unique bank holidays we have here and everyone knows how much we like a holiday (and a chance to get a drink). I think the Orangefest is still on the right lines and hopefully for future generations and future tourists it will become a festival and with time the riots/disturbances/sectarianism will all be lost in time and people will just go and watch old men wearing bowler hats and as much orange as you would normally see at a Dutch international match.
Ive photographed both sides of the events, you have to in this country.
To give a simplistic explanation Orangemans day celebrates the Orange Order which was an organisation formed after the Battle of the Diamond in 1795 in or near Dan Winters home in Loughgall. The Orange side came from Dutch King William of Orange after his defeat of the mainly Catholic armies of King James in Ireland primarily at the Battle of the Boyne. A battle commemorated today between a half French, half english catholic king (James) and a half dutch quarter english quarter french king (William) which had very little bearing on this island except for the fact the main decisive battles were here. The fact that William was also James’ nephew and son-in-law just adds creedence to idea that we shouldnt really get involved in domestic squabbles. Families eh?
The Orange Order is often portrayed as an anti-catholic organisation. Perhaps that might be a bit strong or maybe its not but you cannot be a member if you are Catholic and in the past the order has expelled members from attending Catholic church ceremonies such as weddings and funerals and the like. Which certainly hasnt helped Northern Irelands fractuous sectarian relationships.
Its close association with the previous one party state government in Northern Ireland led it to be seen as part of the state.
So until recently we have the diametrically opposed views of ‘walking the queens highway’ and a ‘show of triumphalism’. This has often been exacerbated by demographic changes where ‘traditional routes’ used for years by Orangemen during their annual parades are now along main thoroughfares through majority Catholic areas. The new politics here in Northern Ireland means that protests against this are now allowed by the state and so people do protest, the most noticeable being the Drumcree dispute which is still not solved and used to bring the country to a standstill, usually in flames and caused a boon for the car park at Dublin airport who regularly overspilled by a factor of almost 10 into nearby areas to accommodate the Northern refugees flying off to the sun.
The 11th night is one communities ‘bonfire night’ with wood being collected and stacked very high for months. In recent years the size of these bonfires have been curbed and the burning of rubbish, tyres and other things that produce toxic chemicals has been banned. In a lot of cases there are now street parties and its more of a family event. The irish tricolour is still burned at the top though, I doubt that will ever change. Oh and for balance the catholic bonfire night is the 9th of August to celebrate the introduction of Internment without trial. One side celebrates the family squabbles between the dutch/french/english and the other side celebrates a night of getting banged up in jail for months on end without trial. Come on guys!
Things have noticeable calmed in recent years but there are still a few flashpoints, but mainly well away from the city centre and in outlying areas of the city or other areas. Disputes that will only be solved by talking and by time.
Drumcree Church and the Garvaghy Road.
Part of the problem is the language used (as ever). The parades arent parades, they are demonstrations. That is a negative word. Its like when a good photographer friend of mine asked why we native English speakers say ‘take pictures’ instead of ‘make pictures’. He said as a non-native speaker the act of making pictures was better as take implied something negative. He has a very good point. The issue should be what we can do to make the parades more accessible to most and yet allow those who dont want to attend to go about their daily business. I remember as a kid being ‘sealed in’ by the Army on the 12th. Early in the am the army would set up cordons around our area and put up big screens, imprisoning us for the day. It will be a number of years yet before people my generation stop thinking like that, but it will come.
At some point maybe it will be a festival and before I sat down to write this I was going to extol the virtues of the opportunity we have for exploiting the tourism aspect…
…that was until I saw the weather and Monday (the twelfth) is the only good weather day to get my boat out and Ive no chance as most of the areas within driving (towing) distance all have parades and have traffic disruption. Thats the worst thing, the place just closes down, and that definitely has to change.
So come on the Orangemen (in the World Cup final of course). Orangemans day photos here more Belfast photos here more Ireland photos here
..is a UK general election on May 6th.
Northern Ireland is in a unique position in the UK in that we still vote for MPs at Westminster but we cant vote for the three major parties that usually make up UK governments and official opposition. No we have our own groups of vagabonds and thieves to vote for.
Northern Ireland politics is still very much on tribal lines, you have the green shades (not the eco parties) and the orange shades and the various other small parties fighting out the middle ground.
When I was younger I lived in West Belfast which since I can remember has always been green, I bought my house outside Belfast and moved to the most Orange constituency in Northern Ireland. Go figure.
One of these days tribal politics will decrease here and people will be voting on real issues such as the environment minister deciding not to put a temporary bridge linking a thousand or so homes with the rest of the village for a year whilst the motorway was being widened. It would have cost too much apparently but they didnt think of the 1000 or so people who had a half hour each way extra travelling to do for a full year and the number of small businesses that exist on call in or drop past business that virtually disappeared overnight. Remember that at election time guys.
There have been recent boundary changes so now Im in a knife edge constituency where some of the parties have been canvassing since the start of the year. Both main protagonists wanting to get hold of all the new blood in advance.
Northern Ireland has tradionally the highest turnouts for any poll in the UK. I didnt vote once. It was for a european election where the three main incumbents were going to be returned anyway. I think the turnout was low for NI at 60%. When I told my parents I hadnt voted they almost went postal on me. I got the whole ‘people died to get you that vote’ and although thats bandied about quite a lot, here in Northern Ireland it was certainly true within the last generation. When I was born 40 years ago neither of my parents had a vote. Northern Ireland was still a corrupt one party state where election boundaries were redrawn regularly to ensure that one party stayed in power and where business owners (usually one side of the community) could vote on behalf of all their workers ratepayers had the vote rather than tenants. This wasnt just a sectarian thing, it was as much to stop working class protestants from getting a vote as catholics but in the main the Civil Rights Association represented Catholic/Nationalist concerns. Reforms came in in 1972 with direct government rule from Westminster.
Ive voted in every election no matter how small ever since and I encourage everyone to do the same. People complain about their governments and elected representatives and although the conspiracy theorists may have a point about no matter who we elect the result will be the same, unless we get off our arses and vote or protest vote then we may as well talk to the walls.
As a press photographer in Northern Ireland, election time regardless of local council, local assembly, westminster or european is a busy time. Its an endless round of press calls and press conferences, of attending every one under the sun to give balance and meeting lots of politicians and wannabe politicians you thought had died since you hadnt seen them since the last election. People seem to crawl out of the wordwork only to disappear, even if they had been elected. Here in Northern Ireland we have the triple jobbers, those who are an MP and an MLA in the local assembly and who are also local councillors.
Now to be fair the Northern Ireland Assembly has been doing very little as they ignore the water charges, increases in rates, ruining of the economy, strikes, oversupply of empty housing developments, failure to tackle any real eco policies all because they didnt want the other side to control policing. Lets be honest about it, policing would get done regardless of who is in charge. Even if Sinn Fein got policing the first day the minister responsible walked into their new office and got a whole pile of ‘oh shit’ paperwork piled on their desk or email inbox any of the previous arguments would go out the window. Maybe that job sacking council refuse workers wasnt so bad after all.
Yes lads and lasses, welcome to the real world. Its amazing how quickly the fact that we arent concentrating on fighting each other that real politics takes over. The backhanders for land deals, the having affairs with lads young enough to be your son, the dodge land deals and going off to the carribean to see how they deal with wheelie bins rather than going to Dublin or Sheffield all comes to light. To be fair on the Carribean thing, which one of us wouldnt have done it. Its like the expenses scandals, ok I dont have a moat and Id like to think I’d be squeeky clean but if I had a majority of 60k I might just forget my working class routes and socialist ethos and sell myself a plot of land for a tenner, get it through planning permission and build a moat that pirates of the caribbean could be filmed in, plus go to the Caribbean to see if they would film it on the edges of Lough Neagh.
So which bunch of lying, thieving, inconsiderate, money grabbing, self indulgent morons will we vote in next….
Over the last couple of weeks there has been a concerted effort from photographers across the board in the UK to object to the Prince of Darkness (the unelected lord voldemort, sorry mandelson) Digital Economy Bill. A poorly thought out, rushed bill which is supposed to address some of the piracy issues blighting the film and music industry. What this bill proposed amongst other things was to set up a register for photographs which were ‘orphans’ i.e. photographs where the owner could not be traced where after a search was performed, the government would license you this image at ‘market rate’ and then if the photographer was ever revealed (or they found out) they would pass a section of this license fee on. Now this all sounds great but how was the search to be performed was a google search enough, would we have to register every image weve ever taken with a new agency which I assume would charge a fee. What is market rate? Is it microstock rates or what I would charge and how can they license my copyright? In addition to breaching the berne copyright convention this had massive ramifications for overseas photographers who could find their images being licensed legitimately by the British Government. It would have virtually killed the stock photography market overnight (ok maybe not overnight) but it meant you couldnt supply a client with an image without plastering it with watermarks (as on this site). Even then you arent assured that they wont be cut out. Its already a crime to strip out the embedded information in an image for your own commercial gain, something which a couple of companies have found out to their cost when they thought they were getting ‘free’ images from the internet or stealing them off my clients sites.
A herculean effort was put in by members of the Editorial Photographers in the UK (EPUK) who set up the stop43 website. MPs were lobbied, met, facebooked, tweeted, called and snail mailed. The Lords were contacted for the first readings and every step of the way, press photographers did what they do best, use their contacts and made things simple for MPs. Examples of what could happen were mocked up and put on the stop43 website and they were even quoted during the parliamentary debates. With the help of the opposition parties the government finally admitted they werent going to get the bill through and to placate the music and film industry lobbyists they dropped the photography clause and got the bill passed.
During this I actually did some research on my local MP, I just thought he was one of the ones who disappeared between elections. Hes a triple jobber and I dont like his politics and I’ve never voted for him. My research showed he was above average for attendance, above average for speeches and amendments and on all the measure available for MPs he was above average. Hes even sorted out his expenses claims. Overall he appears to be a very good MP and I’ve changed my view on him, even with tribal party politics involved Id say that I could do worse than to re-elect him. I cant say the same about the incumbent MP (from the same party) in the new constituency as hes below average and probably spent too much time chasing the leadership of his party. He may be a good MLA or he may be a good belfast city councillor but hes not a good MP.
I also watched the BBC Parliament channel for the first time ever, watching the readings of the bill. A year or so ago I had a market research person at the house going through TV viewing habits and she asked me if I’d ever watched that channel. I said no and she laughed and said no-one she had ever spoken to had. Well come round next time and I’ll be the first.