Sunday, 31 January 2010

Rail upgrades for the London 2012 Olympics

"Millions of pounds were at stake in London's East End. Robert stood in the way, so the boys came around and hauled him off to the Essex countryside. 

"Robert is an Avonside 0-6-0 saddle tank locomotive, and has been moved to the East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel and Wakes Colne for refurbishment. Built in Bristol in 1933, it had been standing outside Stratford Regional station, which is now similarly undergoing its own facelift - though on a much grander scale.

"For with Robert out of the way, the Olympic Delivery Authority could get on with the massive task of increasing Stratford Regional's capacity to handle the vast crowds expected for the 2012 Olympic Games..."

"...The International Olympic Committee expects the station to provide a transport legacy that will prove the catalyst for east London's regeneration".

"...It will be interesting to see what passengers make of Stratford Regional's 21 platforms, as they're mostly numbered out of sequence. There's an abandoned Platform 4 near to operating Platforms 4a and 4b. And there hasn't been a Platform 7 for a long, long time, but there'll be a new Platform 3a and an extended Platform 10a!..."

"...That's why Storey and his ODA colleagues foresee 400,000 spectators and Games workers arriving on busier days. About 80% are likely to arrive by rail, 65% of them rolling up at Stratford Regional..."

These three extracts are taken from 'Olympic Gains..?' It's one of two features I've written for RAIL magazine about transport upgrades for London's 2012 Olympic Games. Copies of Issue 636 of RAIL are on sale now in WH Smith and other good newsagents (and maybe some not-so-good ones too). 

Top photo: 'Robert', with admirer, outside Stratford station before being removed for refurbishment. Photo from Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society.

Lower: Impression of the Olympic Stadium at Stratford where 400,000 spectators are expected to arrive on busier days during the Games. Image: Olympic Delivery Authority.

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Blood spills and water gushes on London's streets

Blood and water appeared on central London's streets as I came across the aftermath of two separate incidents today (Saturday, 30 January). 

Police had cordoned off a crime scene where blood stained the pavement on the corner of Bloomsbury Street and trailed across the paving stones covering the eastern tip of Shaftesbury Avenue (above).

Just around the corner, traffic piled up due to a burst water main on Southampton Row (above, click on image to enlarge). Police and a fire crew closed the road in both directions between Vernon Place and Russell Square. One car driver tried to steer through the torrent of water but was quickly stopped by a firefighter and a policeman who politely but firmly told him to do a prompt U-turn (below).

An Instant Reponse Unit officer from London Buses diverted buses 59, 68, 91, 168, 188 and the x68. He didn't have much choice and so buses and other traffic quickly ground to a seething static mass around Russell Square (below).

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Boris and Charlie and an official denial

Bit of a mysterious twist has overtaken the recent tale of our beloved Boris' alleged blithering ditherings with our bonnie Prince Charlie. 

On Wednesday 27th January, the London Evening Standard blasted Londoners with a front page story, banner headlined 'CHARLES' SECRET LETTERS TO BORIS'. The Stranded excitedly blared "sources at City Hall" had said Boris and Charles were in "regular written contact" and had met face-to-face "on several occasions". Tagged as an "exclusive", carrying City Hall Editor Pippa Crerar's byline, the story heavily implied Charlie had lobbied Boris over the controversial Chelsea Barracks housing project.

What a difference a day makes. Turn to page 2 inside yesterday's Stranded (Thursday 28th January) and a follow-up story, without tag and carrying nobody's byline, says Clarence House, Prince Charles' domain and his home where he apparently long awaits longing to be King, has "denied the correspondence" between Charles and Prince Boris was frequent and stressed they'd only had "one official meeting in the last two years". The article finishes by saying "the Mayor's office now agrees with the Palace's version of events". 
The Palace? I thought the Stranded said it was Clarence House's denial.

All of which begs a few questions. Are City Hall officials and the Mayor's office claiming that Boris and Charles are regular buddies? Why didn't Pippa and company at the Stranded include Clarence House's response in the original story? Is the Prince undermining the democratic process? Is Boris sucking up to Charles? Or is this all mere Stranded tittle tattle and should we all give a hoot?

Next up: What is the Mayor doing in Bloomsbury?

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Prince and the Poor Parper

Boris Johnson, London's Mayor, loves to parp up with a jolly turn of phrase. It's possibly all part of his self-styled 'cool buffoon' image. For instance, BoJo apparently says he plans to 'wage a holy war on 'holey' roads'. Translated, he's tooting that he's keen to publicly flay and curse utility companies who constantly dig up the city's streets. 
Another hoot came from Bozza when he welcomed the green light being given to Crossrail, London's east-west rail link that involves much tunnelling under central London. "When in a hole, keep digging," hurrahed BoZo.
Well, apparently, Boris has dug himself into a bit of hole by indulging in clandestine meetings at Clarence House and by exchanging letters with Prince Charles, our future King in waiting...(and very long the Prince has been waiting too). 
Pippa Crerar, City Hall Editor for the London Evening Standard, or Evening Stranded as Londoners tag it, cites "City Hall aides" and "sources at City Hall" as saying Boris and Charlie had "exchanged views over London issues including planning". The story originated from blogging journalist Adam Bienkov.
Crerar's eyebrow-raising front page lead story questions whether the Prince influenced Boris over controversial plans for the Chelsea Barracks housing project. "Sources at City Hall were not clear whether the Prince explicitly lobbied the Mayor over the Chelsea project," writes Crerar.
The project's Qatari backers dropped the development last June after Charles criticised their plan's appearance. The Stranded says Londoners aren't likely to find out if our unelected Prince's letters and meetings with our elected Mayor influenced the democratic planning process because "the Mayor's office turned down a Freedom of Information Act request to release them" (their letters that is, not Boris and Charlie themselves). 
It's a hoot of a story about our beloved Mayor that might toot for a bit longer. 
As Boris himself said when work on Crossrail began, "the shovels have tasted earth".

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Moviegate: Defence Of The Realm

Some of you might have watched In Treatment, an absorbing and intense HBO TV series featuring actor Gabriel Byrne who played Doctor Paul Weston, a psychotherapist frequently burnt by his constantly simmering and often fiery patients. 

Although Dublin-born Byrne is chiefly remembered for playing gang leader Dean Keaton in The Usual Suspects (1995, directed by Bryan Singer), I first recall Byrne’s smouldering on-screen presence as Nick Mullen (above), a scoop-seeking tabloid hack who turns overnight into a daring investigative reporter in Defence Of The Realm (1985, directed by David Drury, 92 minutes). It's this British film, set mainly in London, that kicks off this occasional Moviegate series looking at the depiction of investigative journalism on the big screen and on TV.

When first seen by British audiences in 1985, Defence Of The Realm reflected ongoing Cold War worries about the stationing of American nuclear weapons in Britain under the control of United States President Ronald Reagan. It also touched raw fears about excessive and oppressive United Kingdom government secrecy following the Official Secrets prosecutions of whistleblower Whitehall civil servants, Clive Ponting and Sarah Tisdall

However, I think Defence Of The Realm's enduring popularity partly stems from the way it captures and bottles the air of paranoia breathed by powerful money men, civil servants and by Her Majesty's less powerful subjects during Margaret Thatcher's Prime Ministerial realm in the 1980s. Thatcher and her backers seemed to regard all political dissent as Soviet-led, backed by 'Kremlin gold'. The British left viewed the UK as descending towards an undeclared police state. Released amid that paranoid climate, Defence Of The Realm enjoyed a receptive audience.

Mullen, a reporter for the Daily Dispatch, (a bit like the Daily Express), starts Defence Of The Realm as the uneasy recipient of an anonymous tip-off that uncovers a seemingly open and shut sex and national security scandal where Labour MP Dennis Markham (Ian Bannen) and a KGB agent have been sharing a prostitute. However, Mullen's journalistic instincts tell him that his story - that has forced Markham to resign - has fallen into his lap suspiciously easily. His instincts are confirmed when his troubled colleague Vernon Bayliss (superbly played by Denholm Elliott), who was working on a very different version of the Markham story, dies mysteriously after his London apartment was ransacked. Mullen works up Bayliss' story from a clutch of seemingly unrelated newspaper cuttings about Markham. It's a jigsaw yarn where Mullen cunningly unearths a near-nuclear disaster at an American airbase in eastern England and its cover-up by a powerful military and corporate alliance. 

Markham’s personal assistant Nina Beckham (played by ‘English rose’ Greta Scacchi) helps Mullen piece together this horrifying story against the menacing backdrop of mid-1980s London and the bleak, flat Norfolk fens. Admirably, Martin Stellman's well-crafted and pacey screenplay simmers their intensifying relationship, never allowing it to overshadow the crackling main plot and theme of how a journalist, manipulated by powerful forces, risks his own career and life to reveal the true story.

Mullen’s journalism is bluntly effective at the start of the film when he shoves his foot in the doorway to stop Beckman from shutting him out. Later, Mullen manipulates quotes from MP Markham’s wife by pretending to be a plainclothes policeman. She blurts to Mullen that Markham, her husband, is “an adulterous bastard" before realising too late, "you’re a bloody reporter!”

Later, Mullen records a visiting time conversation with a detained juvenile offender by hiding a micro-cassette tape recorder (a National Panasonic!) under the raincoat he’s placed on the table. Mullen also extracts information from a US Air Force press officer by saying he is working on a run-of-the-mill feature for an obscure trade magazine. He's then traumatised by discovering accidentally that the security services are secretly recording his phone conversations. 

Do Mullen and Beckman succeed and get the terrifying truth into the public domain? Or do Mullen’s own editors, pressurised by the newspaper’s corporate owners, betray him and spike his investigative journalism? Rather than spoil the ending for you, I'll just urge you to open the bottle for yourself and inhale the 1980s paranoia that exudes from every frame of Defence Of The Realm.

Moviegate Trivia
Nicholas 'Nick' Mullen's pal Vernon Bayliss (Denholm Elliott) gets to deliver the best lines.
Bayliss to Mullen: 'Oh, well, don't let the truth get in the way of a good story.'
Later, a despairing and drunk Bayliss slurs at Mullen: 'Vodka and Coca-Cola. Detente in a glass!'

After filming, Byrne paid Elliott the backhanded compliment: "I amended the actor's cliche to 'Never work with children, animals or Denholm Elliott'." 

Byrne watchers will be pleased to know that Dr. Paul Weston character returns soon in a new In Treatment series. According to my source in the world of psychotherapy, Weston's clients include Walter, played by actor John Mahoney who is best known as Martin Crane in Frasier. 

Top photo: courtesy Carlton TV

Next up on Moviegate: The Insider

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Return to tender

Call me naive - and I expect you might well do so after this tale - but I always thought contracting out government services to the private sector involved a civil servant, wearing a grey suit and a stiff upper lip, diligently pouring over the strengths and weaknesses of rival bids whilst Her Majesty the Queen kept a royal eye on him via her portrait hanging on the wall of a Whitehall office.

Well, my cosy, complacent image was completely shattered when I read the saga of how the Ministry of Justice has tried to procure a case and document management system for the United Kingdom's spangly new Supreme Court. Yes, some civil servants were involved but it seems even the procurement and tendering process was put out to tender, meaning one private company was paid to powerfully determine which other private company would provide our legal wigs with IT kit.

The whole tale raises a plethora of further questions and journalist Rupert White doesn't shy away from raising them in his investigation ran in the Law Society Gazette. The MoJ hasn't satisfactorily answered whether its IT procurement was overpriced and poorly conducted. 

The investigation sheds welcome light on how taxpayers' money is spent behind closed doors...and perhaps also partly explains why former BBC newsreader Moira Stuart constantly pops up during TV ad breaks these days politely demanding on behalf of the Inland Revenue that we complete our tax returns by the end of the month. 

Click on link to Law Society Gazette to read the full story.

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Doctor, just give me the bad news

My friend’s knee was so painfully swollen she could barely walk. “I might just sit in A&E and see if they’ll treat me,” she told me.

Her General Practitioner had just said she might have to wait up to 18 weeks just to see a specialist. “I’m not even allowed to recommend that you have a scan,” said the GP. “Each scan costs the National Health Service £400 so they don’t allow doctors like me to make that decision for our patients.”

The frustrated doctor explained that the emasculation of GPs is just another way that the NHS is being “deliberately rundown” in London. “Soon, the NHS will only be for emergencies,” the doctor said. “It’s being rundown so people will be forced to take out private health insurance.”

The doctor’s bleak outlook is strongly echoed in London’s NHS On The Brink, a report launched today (20 January) by the London Regional Council of the British Medical Association. Health expert and report author John Lister warns record numbers of beds will be cut and hospitals closed if a new government squeezes NHS spending.

In this part of London, - Enfield -  NHS hospitals have struggled for years whilst the Nuffield, Kings Oak and Priory private hospitals have enjoyed sustained growth. Highlands Hospital used to boast its own A&E and other specialist services but the hospital has long since gone, replaced by a bleak, shoddy housing development with a ubiquitous Sainsbury. Grovelands, a temporary hospital for wounded British soldiers, is now a private clinic that sheltered the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as he hid from justice in 1998.

But the biggest stink has come from the decision to downgrade the 24/7 A&E service at Chase Farm Hospital along with children and maternity services. Despite concerted protest from local people, including two councillors elected to Enfield Council on a Save Chase Farm ticket, the downgrade goes on.

Lister’s BMA report says Private Finance Initiative projects, like the new Queen’s Hospital in Romford, will throttle London’s health budgets for the next two decades. Building Queen’s Hospital cost £238 million but Barking Havering and Redbridge Trust will have forked out £2.28 billion by the time the PFI contract ends in 2042. Worse still, this isn’t the most expensive of the twenty NHS PFI’s across London.

The BMA concludes London’s healthcare is heading towards a “major financial crisis” and planned cuts and closures are the result of  “secret discussions, plans and briefings that have been organized by NHS London”.  

NHS London say their decisions are “clinically led” and taken with “full consultation with local people”. An NHS spokesman responded to the BMA’s report: “To give people leading expert care we also need to centralise some services.”

Nevertheless, London’s NHS On The Brink contains a dire warning so I’ll be taking a closer look at the report's implications in future postings.

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Moviegate: Investigative journalism on the big screen

Many years ago my imagination was fired by All The President's Men. Director Alan J. Pakula's 1976 film remains the 'daddy' of all of the movies that feature investigative journalists.
      Starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, Pakula's film tells the true story of how the Watergate break-in triggered a persistent investigation of the Campaign to Re-elect the President by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. 'Woodstein', as their editor Ben Bradlee called the pair, unearthed a massive political scandal at the heart of American democracy that led to the resignation of President Nixon. 
      'Woodstein's' investigation, their later book and Pakula's film has led to the 'gate' label being tagged to virtually every major scandal since Woodward and Bernstein first broke the Watergate story in 1972.
    Sadly, compared to other film genres - such as science fiction, war or romantic comedies - films about investigative journalism are rare. Dismal media analysts and ivory tower academics tout a theory that that investigative journalism is a dying art partly, they claim, because young people won't choose journalism as a career if Hollywood, Bollywood or Pinewood aren't making blockbusters about investigative journalism. Personally, I don't think this viewpoint holds up but their contention will be contested in a later posting.
      For the moment, this occasional series will highlight the intriguing ways these films portray investigative journalism's nuts and bolts, its tricks of the trade and its impact and importance. It'd help too if you can suggest movies and TV shows that you think might fit this sub-genre. Please feel free to post a comment at the bottom of this post about the investigative journalism film or show of your choice and what you think about it.
      The series will kick off with Defence of the Realm, a fictional story born out of real genuine public anxieties about war and peace, secrets and lies. Look out for that posting, coming to a screen near you.

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Hail the free press!

Apparently, these are genuine answers to exam questions given by young people.

Thanks to Oren for forwarding these to me.

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Pain today, gain tomorrow...hopefully, maybe

Tomorrow never comes, so the saying goes. Yesterday, I blogged positively about rail projects that ought to reduce overcrowding on London’s rail and tube trains during 2010. Today, the story focuses on the pain that Londoners are told is necessary if rail and tube capacity is to increase in the future. The 2012 Olympic Games are driving a lot of these rail capacity upgrades.

‘The shovels have tasted earth,’ is how London Mayor Boris Johnson (below, left) greeted the onset of construction work on Crossrail, the east-west rail service designed to relieve tube congestion and due to open in 2017. Shoppers on Oxford Street and bus passengers passing through Tottenham Court Road have already tasted the road-level disruption caused by works that will enable Crossrail’s vast tunneling operation to begin. Many Soho businesses have been struck with compulsory purchase orders and Crossrail, wholly owned by Transport for London, has not yet settled a single compensation claim.

Above, (left to right):
Crossrail BoJo, PPP Gordon and High Speed Adonis.

When all the muck is churned out of the ground beneath Selfridges and Centre Point over the next few years, be prepared for lots of blocked pavements and diverted buses and heavy lorries clogging central London’s streets. Support from David Cameron’s Conservative Party means Crossrail enjoys a cross-party consensus. “We’re not offering up any sacrifice on any part of the programme,” said Terry Morgan, Crossrail’s non-executive chairman. “We want to do the whole lot.”

Elsewhere, the Jubilee Line ought by now to have been running more frequent and longer trains but Tube Lines missed the December 2009 deadline to complete the signaling upgrade (top photo). It's part of the ongoing Private Public Partnership debacle foisted upon Londoners by Gordon Brown. “Tube Lines owe Londoners an apology for their failure to deliver,” cry Transport for London. Tube Lines say TfL, specifically London Underground, hasn't given their work teams enough access to the tracks.

For passengers, this means that Tube Lines, consisting of an Amey and Bechtel partnership, will want even more weekend or part-weekend closures of the Jubilee Line this year, on top of the 120 already inflicted on Londoners and way beyond the original prediction of around 50. Interestingly, Bechtel are also part of Crossrail’s project delivery team and Morgan used to run Tube Lines.

Let’s not forget Network Rail's £5.5 billion Thameslink project that has put Blackfriars station out of action until late 2011. By 2012, longer 12 car trains will run on the route between Bedford, central London and Brighton but fuming passengers have already run out of patience with the operating company, First Capital Connect.

The North London Line will also be severely disrupted from February onwards as the line is upgraded to accommodate longer and more frequent trains in 2011. Ubiquitous 'rail replacement' buses will run between Hampstead Heath and Stratford stations as services will be suspended between Gospel Oak and Stratford.

In March, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis (above, right) - some people's worst nightmare, a trainspotter with power - will produce his ideas about the route of a new High Speed route between London and all parts north of Watford. Over 30 sites for a London high speed rail terminal have been identified. Strange this, as a site near Euston has always seemed the logical favourite. It'll be a biggy, able to handle up to 18 trains and 20,000 passengers per hour.

Woops! I almost forgot to mention 2010 could see strike action over cuts in rail maintenance and track renewals. 
Finally, if an economic recovery trickles and pushes up inflation, expect the train companies to be falling over themselves to raise fares.
All those 'rail replacement' buses aren’t cheap to run, y’know.

* More about Crossrail in a later posting...

Top photo courtesy of Tube Lines
Lower photo courtesy of Crossrail Limited

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010

Monday, 11 January 2010

Real prospects for London rail in 2010

True, London's rail and tube commuters endure overcrowded trains but, as the photo of a train on the Indian sub-continent reminds us, there's often someone - somewhere - worse off than ourselves.

However, fingers crossed, London's rail and tube network ought to show signs of becoming less congested and overcrowded during 2010. The £1 billion East London Line extension, a new railway connecting north east and south east London, should start running from June. Big winners ought to be Croydon folk who'll be able to commute to Canary Wharf, the Docklands and to Stratford after a quick change at Canada Water onto the Jubilee Line. 

The ELL's 12 trains per hour will, it's hoped, reduce overcrowding on south London sections of the Northern and Victoria lines. The ELL fleet will eventually consist of 33 new air-conditioned, walk-through Class 378 Electrostars, each train holding 494 passengers. Hackney residents, who don't possess a tube station, will be connected to the rest of London thanks to new ELL stations at Dalston Junction, Haggerston, Hoxton (below) and Shoreditch High Street. The ELL will be run by private operating companies but managed as a strictly controlled concession by Transport for London's most recent addition, London Overground. So, if the ELL starts to go pear-shaped, quake with anger and quarrel with Boris Johnson, our beloved Mayor and TfL's boss.

Frequent Docklands Light Railway users will begin to notice three-car trains on some of their services towards the end of this month. Steadily, more 3-car trains will be introduced on the Bank-Woolwich branch during February. Three-car running on the Beckton branch is planned for 2011. 

The DLR's £211 million new Stratford International-Canning Town extension is due to start operating from mid-2010. Built on the old North London Line route the two-track extension will link High Speed 1 domestic passengers to the Central, Jubilee and North London lines and to the DLR at Stratford Regional Station. The extension includes four new stations at Star Lane, Abbey Road, Stratford High Street and the Stratford International terminus. No doubt this will spawn a popular pub quiz question: which parts of London have three or more railway stations with the place name included? (Put on your thinking cap and post your answers via a comment at the end of this blog).

The DLR upgrade and extension promise to add 50% capacity to the driver-less network before the 2012 Olympics. By the time of the Games' opening ceremony, the DLR is expected to carry 100 million passengers per year, up from its current annual 70m. To this end, the Olympic Delivery Authority is funding £78 million towards capacity enhancing projects, including co-funding 22 of the 55 new cars. 

New trains and new signalling also ought to reduce chronic peak-time overcrowding on the Victoria Line, the world's first automatic railway that now carries over 630,000 passengers per day. 

However, that's where the hunky dory chunk of the 2010 London rail story ends. High Speed rail, Crossrail, Thameslink, the Jubilee, Northern and North London Line upgrades, fare rises and strike action all point to real rail pain being endured in 2010 before real rail gains are enjoyed. That'll be the theme for the next railway posting from this blog.

Don't forget to have a go at that question and post your answer as a comment: which places in London have at least three railway stations (tube and/or rail) that include the place name? See if you can win the mystery prize. I can hear your minds!

Lower Photo: Artist's impression of new 
East London Line station at Hoxton (c) Transport for London

Thanks also to the artist Ruma Nowaz for pointing out the train photo (Courtesy AP)

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

TV news frozen into solid block of boredom

Forget the cold weather, when will Britain's other Big Freeze begin to thaw? Television news editors and presenters at BBC News 24 and Sky News are currently frozen solid by their own mind-numbing obsession with the thick snow and thin ice covering Britain this week.

Despite the ongoing war in Afghanistan, a deepening economic crisis and a looming general election, the BBC and Sky are lazily blasting Britain's satellite dishes with a blizzard of bulletins constantly blowing hot air about the cold weather. Their 'big story' has literally fallen from the sky.

The rolling blanket TV coverage focuses on cancelled flights and trains and abandoned cars but barely mentions poorer older people who face isolation and even suffer hypothermia.

Many train drivers, signallers and station staff did report for work this morning. They enabled train operator First Capital Connect to run an 'emergency timetable in and out of London. That kind of normality wasn't reported either.

(Top photo) Gliding through the snow comes 313063, that formed the 1412 London Moorgate to Hertford North, approaching Grange Park station on the Great Northern Line's Hertford Loop.

(Bottom photo)
Black cat: Hey, why you sitting out here in the snow?
White cat: Jus' chillin', because my owners are watching their 39th TV weather forecast of the day.
Black cat: I like Channel 4's newsreader John Snow. John Snow! Snow, geddit?!
White cat: (Yawning) You is one tiresome cat, anyone ever tell you that, man?

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010

Friday, 1 January 2010

Where's all this stuff going on, man?

I wouldn't recommend watching BBC News 24 for longer than say…twenty hours in one day. It's depressing. War. Death. Terrorism. Recession. Depression…War. Death. Terrorism. Recession. Depression. Over and over again. 
After all this fear and tedium, I look out of my window. 
There’s only birds chirping. 
Where’s all this stuff going on, man? *

Rewind to January 2003. George Bush and Tony Blair are trying to manufacture a public consensus for war in Iraq. I look out of the window of my Hackney flat and catch sight of a protestor spraying an anti-war slogan on the wall of the public lavatory in the park (click on above photo to enlarge). I grab my camera and, thanks to this piece of intrepid photo-journalism, the dauber’s message duly hits a worldwide audience via page 7 of the Hackney Gazette (16 January, 2003).

Fast forward to January 2010. Iraq remains wracked by bloody violence. I look out of my window again, camera in hand. There’s no sign of Blair being chauffeured on his way to give evidence to Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq War inquiry but, thankfully, the birds are still chirping.

* With thanks and apologies to the comedian, Bill Hicks, the wise American.

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010