Monthly Archives: December 2012

Tidings of joy

Skirmish of the week this time round has to be our full-frontal assault on the Kremlin – the Republic’s citadel in Wood Green, to which I was invited, as honorary winner of the BBC Loose Cannon of the Year award, as a stand-in member of the cabal also known as the Haringey Allotments Forum steering group.

The battleground, of course, was the Republic’s attempt to sneak in a 100 per cent rise in allotment rents, the sneakiness of which was firmly blown out of the water last week by yours truly in a post a fortnight ago, followed  up by a blast in the local press. And for once, the local rag (or what remains of it) managed to distinguish themselves by simply regurgitating my press release, thereby completely failing to misquote me – and, better still, also heeded my warning that if their somewhat weary sub-editor was rash enough to reach for his even more weary, clichéd “lost the plot” headline yet again, I would never, ever speak to them again.

A grenade, left over from our visit to the Kremlin

A grenade, left over from our visit to the Kremlin

We digress. The invitation for a little chat was issued by none other than the Republic’s head honcho, the “lead member for the environment” – who clearly hadn’t got much of a grip on her brief at all, flanked by the generally avuncular but somewhat slippery head of “recreation services” – a man who is very difficult to dislike, even when he’s telling you that you are about to be forced to eat worms and die. He was basically there to dig said lead member out of a hole – and she did indeed manage to find herself at the bottom of one or two.

The ruck got off to a flying start when I found myself in total agreement with said lead member as soon as she opened her mouth, urging us all to switch to an adjacent bunker as the one where we had gathered was insufferably hot. Said member is quite a lot better padded than me so she obviously felt the heat even more than I did, and I reckon she was expecting things to get hotter still (if they really want to save some money, why not turn down the thermostat, for heaven’s sake).

Once ensconced, she then kicked off with a grumble about the volume of abusive emails she had received since her comments to the Republic’s “scrutiny panel” meeting the previous week, at which I quoted her as saying that having an allotment was “a privilege” (which is exactly what she did say). Alas, in her attempts at qualifying what she said, she dug herself even deeper into the same hole by noting that there are not enough allotments to go round (yes, we know all about that), that there is a long waiting list (yes, we’ve got the hang of that bit too), and it is therefore not unreasonable to attempt to price the hoi polloi out of the market. Charming.

The remaining 40 minutes of trench warfare involved various grenades being slung in various directions, punctuated by the odd bayonet charge. The long and the short of it is that the Republic is frantically seeking to scrape together as many rabbit skins and bungo beans as possible, regardless of the source, in their attempts dealing with a £25 million cut in grants from the filthy Con-Dem coalition over the next three years while attempting to fob us gardeners off with a load of baloney about how they are going to spend all this extra wonga on infrastructure improvements and repairs across its 27 allotment sites.

You may not be surprised to hear, dear reader, that the cynics amongst us would argue that no such thing will happen, and that what has happened here is that the Republic have simply hit upon the idea of turning the allotment “service” into nothing short of a money-spinner.

So what happens next? Well, we take the cudgels to the rest of the “socialist” ruling group in the hope of getting them to vote the whole lot down come the budget-setting beanfeast early next year. And the chances of that? Somewhat slim, I would say.

Still, one small ray of hope did emerge – a notion of the flying pig variety. The lead member, as she ducked and weaved her way around the torrent of grapeshot and tumbled down an assortment of elephant traps, came out with surely the best news I have heard for some considerable time – that what we really need is more allotment sites …

Hurrah. Quite so. Let’s bulldoze a few retail parks and turn them over to cabbage patches, shall we? After all, they’re all going bust too, aren’t they? Digging for victory? It worked before.

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Class war

Another week, and another howl of horticultural indignation – but this time, though the source was not unexpected, the occasion was.

I took a freezing bike ride down to Regent’s Park today to be “screened”, inducted and enrolled for my part-time garden design course – a 90-minute process, a fair amount of which I spent sizing up my fellow students. A mixed bag? I would say so.

The screening process was revealing enough in its way. It amounted to two 24-question quizzes to check for very basic literacy and numeracy skills (I have to ’fess up to the embarrassing admission that I got only 23 out of 24 on both counts – but I never got the chance to find out where the foul-ups happened, which at least would have given me the opportunity of indulging in my typically middle-class habit of arguing the toss about the question and/or the answer).

This is what I think of your subsidy cuts, you Con-Dem bozos

This is what I think of your subsidy cuts, you Con-Dem bozos

The revealing bit was ear-wigging on the subsequent, far from discreet conversations between tutor and those fellow students who had clearly ballsed up the questionnaires completely. The fact that English was not their first language no doubt had something to do with it in at least one instance.

The next revealing bit was where the ruck broke out – and guess what it concerned? Quite right – our old friend, money, again. And who was kicking up the fuss? Err, unsurprisingly enough, a white, middle class lady of a certain age.

The revelation concerned the extent to which these courses are subsidised by the government. You see, they’re not really meant for well-heeled types such as me who have decided to chuck in their rather comfy, well-paid office jobs and eek out the final 10 years or so of their working lives on extended gardening leave before cashing in 25 years’ worth of company pension. They are actually meant for (and I am at risk of being roundly contradicted here) those who maybe didn’t do terribly well at school and need to get themselves set up in some sort of useful trade so that they can make some sort of useful contribution to the economy (and there were examples of that there today as well).

And the ruck? Well, the moderately posh lady was deeply underwhelmed when she found out that from next year, all subsidy will be cut for the advanced course that she intends to do when this one finishes. Me and the other poshies were obliged to stump up a little over £500 for our one-day a week, one-year study, while those enrolling today for the advanced course would be charged something in excess of £600. But next year? Oh no. How much for the advanced course? Something on the wrong side of £3,000. Ouch.

“Had I known that, I would never have done de-blah-de-blah-de-blah,” my posh-ish fellow protested. Indeed. Quite so. Well, she might well be in luck. As readers of last week’s missive will be aware, petitions are about to be signed, m’learned friends instructed, barricades erected, and so on and so forth.

More on the revolution, horny-handed sons of toil and bourgeois colonisation in next week’s post, comrades.

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Exemplary damages

It’s grovel time folks. I wish to make an unqualified apology concerning last week’s post which left readers with the clear impression that peace and harmony prevails – a rare and unusual thing in itself – on the normally vexed question of money. I have to retract everything I said, which, it transpires, was complete codswallop. And worse still, it may well be that in saying it, I have shot us all in both feet big time.

Oh dear, I hear you say, now what? I regret to report that our landlord, the Marxist-Leninist cabal that runs the People’s Republic of Haringey, has just decided to spruce up its capitalist credentials by doubling our rents from April 2013 – from £45 a year for a typical five-pole plot to £90 a year. Mass disobedience beckons, picket lines must be manned and barricades installed.

A large hole in the ground, similar to the one where all our money's going

A large hole in the ground, similar to the one where all our money’s going

Could all this be my fault? Could the politburo have read last week’s post and decided to cash in on the back of such a sang-froid view of the filthy lucre? Demands for my resignation may well merit serious consideration, if not my head.

All of this, by the way, is supposed to be top secret. I got a tip-off from one of my spies at the heart of the republican machine yesterday (Tuesday), suggesting that I should shift my ass pronto over to their bunker in Wood Green to attend the euphemistically titled “Environment and Housing Scrutiny Panel”. I was told that this could easily be a three-hour meeting, so bang went my hopes of watching Johnny Foreigner thrash the entirely useless Gooners at footy (again).

As it transpired, I was out of there after 25 minutes, but not before I had picked up one or two little nuggets of confusion and told them all what I thought. Not the least of those nuggets came from the mouth of the “lead member for the environment”, Councillor Nilgun Canver (is that an anagram for something?), who advised that £90 a year is not even the price of a modest lunch to the average burgher of this borough, resplendent as they are in their £2 million mansions on the Highgate/Crouch End/Muswell Hill border.

The psephologists amongst us may well affirm this to be the case, but sadly, it drives a coach and horses through Cllr Canver’s own back yard. Those with even the most fleeting understanding of the demographic and/or political make-up of this borough will know that it is split from stem to stern, with Cllr Canver’s Labour-voting benefit-scrounging largely unemployable heartland to the east while on the other side of the tracks (literally) lies the wall-to-wall Lib Dem opposition in the tax-avoiding Chablis-swilling bourgeois west.

So there we have it – what were once referred to as looney lefties seeking to stitch up the stockbrokers with a bill that will be no more than a flea-bite to them while poleaxeing their own hard-pressed supporters in the east with what to many will be a very hefty hike indeed. Regressive? I would say so. A political own goal? Certainly.

As for my own ha’peth, I confined myself to pointing out that the £30,000 that the republic hopes to raise from this raid (no, the sums don’t add up either) will be a drop in the bucket in dealing with the colossal backlog of outstanding infrastructure repairs (costed six or seven years ago at up to £500,000, borough-wide). And that what this amounts to is that we, the tenants of this borough, will in effect be penalised for the decades of managerial oversight, omission and neglect that has left us with such things as the environmental catastrophe that is the Rectory Farm site.

And where does all this leave us? A 50 per cent rent rise over last year and this; next year a 100 per cent rise; and then what? We all knew the flat-cap-and-ferret brigade had long since gone, but at this rate, allotment gardening – once the preserve of the urban peasantry – will become, like so many things, the exclusive preserve of the filthy rich.

Anyone for picket duty then?

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