Sunday, 23 July 2017


As long term readers of this blog, or my Amazon Reviews, under the impenetrable nom de plume of tallmanbaby, may be aware, I have some interest in regeneration. By this I mean the actions by government (UK in my case) to seek to intervene through aid, or other measures, to address persistent relative (or in some cases absolute) poverty in a discrete geographically determined area.

I have read
Urban Regeneration in the UK by Andrew Tallon, and I am currently reading
After Urban Regeneration edited by David O’Brien and Peter Matthews

There are many interesting features to regeneration policy, for one thing it is explicitly treated as a policy with some sort of implicit goals and some sort of academic underpinning and assessment. Having said that, another interesting thing about regeneration is that despite the good intentions, and the academic input, there is not really much evidence that it has ever worked. Anyone outside London (and perhaps) a few other very rare areas, will be well aware that the areas of town that were run down and rough when they were children, will tend to still be run down and rough half a lifetime later. Persistent poverty and relative deprivation are things that tend to persist.

Having said that, just because it is difficult to firmly demonstrate that compassion yields tangible results, does not mean that we need be opposed to it.

An obvious dichotomy for thinking about regeneration is whether you are seeking to regenerate the physical structure, in which case you demolish old ugly buildings, and replace them with more modern and attractive ones. In which case you run the risk of gentrification, whereby the original inhabitants end up being displaced and replaced by adventurous middle class new entrants (I will leave off whether I agree with the term middle class for another day). Or are you seeking to ‘regenerate’ the actual inhabitants, in which case you could provide them with a community centre to increase social capital, community education to build skills and confidence, targeted support in accessing benefits, etc, in which case the more successful recipients of this targeted aid may simply up sticks and leave for a nicer area if they are successful in starting, or restarting a career.

Surely no one would disagree with the thought that the goals of regeneration are worthy, pockets of deprivation are clearly wrong, and it is clearly the role of government to tackle them. But there really seems little agreement, and little evidential basis for anything beyond that. Having said that in the UK active regeneration attempts seem to have been largely curtailed and funding has largely dried up.

I am concerned, hence my reason for writing this piece, that despite the money and academic effort that has gone into regeneration, the thinking has been unduly limited and constrained. Ideally you do not approach a policy problem with only one tool in your toolbox. If you only have a hammer then every problem will look like a nail.

I am therefore seeking to ask some questions about regeneration and the areas in need of regeneration, in the hope that they might prompt some fresh thinking

- why should we seek to regenerate at all, as our intentions will inform our actions and our measures of success.
- do pockets of persistent deprivation actually exist, are they genuinely different from adjoining areas in terms of objective measures, or are they just a lazy construct based on existing administrative area definitions
- do pockets of deprivation exist because of some intrinsic property of the area and infrastructure,
or because of some intrinsic property of those that live there,
or is there some magic recipe whereby different factors multiply the ill effects such that x and y provide a far worse outcome than simply the total of x and y.

In fairness this could be an artefact of the way we look at things. Hypothetically assume that there are ten variables that are actually impactful, and we only measure two of these. When we look at these two variables and they are both present there can be disproportionately bad outcomes. This could be because we have not taken into account other variables which are also associated and relevant, but have simply not been measured. Deprivation is frequently associated with disproportionately bad life outcomes, but this could be because deprivation is easier to measure, other unmeasured factors might actually be the determining ones.

- are pockets of deprivation of a long term nature, or purely temporary phenomena
- how resistant to change are areas of persistent deprivation
- is there demonstrable evidence that the interventions used to tackle deprivation have ever worked in any context
- are areas of deprivation a feature of our society, there will always be someone who come last in a sprint, no matter how good the athletes are, suggesting that the humane policy is to ameliorate conditions, and remove barriers to exit, but not to expect much much more
- if we are looking to work with communities then do positive and benificial communities actually exist in that sense. Is a demonstrably strong community associated (in terms of real correlation and not occasional anecdotal correlation) with better outcomes. I know that Robert Putnam has written on this (Bowling Alone) but this could well be another sacred cow. By way of example, small villages can have a strong sense of community, but then they can often be pretty toxic places to live, with feuds and animosity playing out over generations and little genuine pressure on strong individuals to temper unacceptable conduct. Very prosperous suburbs can be economic powerhouses in the statistics, but with no sense of community at all. You do not join a gated community for the social life. Perhaps the relationship between economic performance and social capital runs the other way, economic performance is strong where social life is poor. Perhaps there are various possible models, and no straightforward relationship exists.
- by seeking to build social capital, is there any evidence that some people will give a hand up to those less fortunate than themselves. I suppose that an influx of middle class professionals might lead to some new members on the local committees, they might lead by example, encouraging aspiration, but could such modest changes be expected to have a measurable impact.
- what do those in deprived areas actually want ? Do they want to see the area gentrified so they cannot afford a house, probably not. Do they want to become more middle class and shop at Waitress, probably not. If they are not currently working, do they want to work, or is that simply not an option for some reason.
- are we seeking to regenerate because we are seeking to meet the needs of an area that we have arbitrarily determined, or are we seeking to regenerate because our eye is offended at the sight of a run down area.
- in policy terms would it be better to have extreme deprivation spread about so that it is less obvious, or should we ensure that it is all in the same place so it is more easily addressed.
- is there actually far more extreme deprivation out with areas targeted for regeneration and if so, why are we ignoring it.
- are areas of extreme deprivation actually bad for inhabitants,
- are areas of extreme deprivation actually bad for society
- are areas of extreme deprivation actually good for inhabitants, they offer cheap and accessible housing that is readily accessible to even the most disadvantaged
- are areas of extreme deprivation actually good for society, they provide a visible reminder that our current society does not readily deliver the needs and aspirations of all its members

I have written this piece as a piece of pure speculation, taking an idea for a bit of a walk. I probably do not agree with most of the speculations I have made, I am really just seeking to see whether regeneration is actually a useful idea based on useful ideas. For the time being, I do suspect that regeneration is a lazy idea, a motherhood and apple pie notion, that is too often used to justify pork barrel politics, funding one area, inevitably at the cost of something else, without any proper understanding of the underlying issues or any real thought through goal.

If I see a beggar in the street I can give them money, I cannot change society to ensure that no one needs to beg on the street. However with regeneration we are not talking about me as an individual. With regeneration we are talking about the options and aspirations of government and the entire society. If we believe that areas of persistent deprivation demonstrate that something is not working in society, then should government not have as their aspiration to seek to create a society in which such persistent and obvious deprivation can no longer exist, with the eventual evaporation (or at least ameliorisation) of obvious areas of persistent deprivation being a welcome side effect of their eventual success across the piece.

Postscript - a late thought to add to this, it is worth considering the political dimension. Traditionally housing tenure has been quite politicised. With a ready assumption that council housing housed labour voters and private housing housed tory voters. On that basis a Labour administration at local authority or central level would be tempted to building more council houses to gain more voters in their area. In contrast a Tory administration at local authority or central level would be inclined to stop building council housing, allow right to buy, and see people priced out of areas. Looking at recent history in London it seems clear that there were not likely to be votes for Tory politicians coming from those in affordable housing, so a Tory administration might be less inclined to prioritise and support those people to stay in the council area. Having housing tenure politicised in this way is destructive and encourages the politics of tribalism, and difference, rather than competence and a vision for all.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Emma Dent Coad MP - blog

Emma Dent Coad was a Labour councillor from 2006, one of a frustrated handful in the Conservative controlled Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council. From time to time she writes academic articles about architecture, and she has been doing a PhD on Spanish architecture as well as giving the odd lecture at the Bartlett.

After numerous recounts, she was elected as Labour MP for Kensington by just twenty votes at the snap general election of 8 June 2017. She is now the MP responsible for the Notting Hill Carnival and Harrods.

From March 2010 she maintained a blog site

detailing her frustrations as a councillor seeking to represent and defend the ordinary people of her wards against the onslaught of indifferent, inept, and possibly even corrupt ruling council administration. Despite being the richest council in Britain, or perhaps even the world, purchasing Pre Raphaelite paintings and running a huge surplus, council housing was subject to cuts and neglect. Clearly it would have suited the Council to see poor residents leave, they were strongly encouraged to move out of the area.

On 14th June the Grenfell Tower fire broke out, as yet there is no final count for the number of fatalities.

Emma provided a sober maiden speech to Parliament

I recently made a text file out of her blog postings and I have been reading it on my Kindle. Over the years the blog grew to the size of a short novel, with comments on the arrogant ruling administration, Stella McCartney, the appalling condition of housing stock, creeping, or at times galloping gentrification (and not the nice kind), the Notting Hill Carnival, the normal ebb and flow of life as a councillor in a severely dysfunctional council.

Obviously this is a set of blog postings, written over a number of years, it lacks of polish of a top class political memoir like those of Barrack Obama, or a deep study of urbanism but it has an immediacy and tells a remarkable story. There was an appalling culture amongst the ruling council Cabinet of thinking that trickle down economics were a replacement for decent social housing and benefits.

All told the accumulated blog postings have been one of the most salutary and informative things that I have read in a long time. It is a highly recommended read and if there is an astute publisher out there, this could be the basis of a very powerful book of our time.

Monday, 1 May 2017


I once read a book about teaching yourself to draw, and it set out that there were three kinds of drawing an artist should practise. First of all copying from life, second of all copying from other artists, and third works of pure imagination. While all of these are no doubt invaluable in teaching yourself how to draw, I don’t think that they are all necessarily of equal wider interest. While an artist might teach themselves vital skills by copying the work of other masters, they need to move beyond being a mere copyist.

However we now seem to live in an era of copyists.

The advent of 3D printing, contributes to this notion of mere fabrication. That you can draft up, or copy the appropriate specifications, pop them into a 3D printer and hey presto out pops something, something that is not un-adjacent to something real and useful. But this is not something that has been crafted, honed, it is merely something that has popped out of a machine.

To what extent is a film like The Watchmen a genuine work of art, or is it merely a workmanlike rendering of the original comic strip. Or the recent Ghost in the Shell, was there really a need to plunder the original films to make an inferior live action version stripped of their strangeness, Japanese-ness or opaque seriousness.

There is a world of difference between making something with genuine feeling, something that you fervently believe needs to exist, and needs to be made to the very best of your abilities, and the mere technical fabrication of something to a specification.

We ought to value and cherish the original as it is becoming all too rare.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

tough as old boots

78TC Traditional Work Boot

107F Black Leather Field Boots

William Lennon Boots 

Further to my earlier blog posting, I was unable to resist and I am now the proud owner of two new sets of William Lennon Boots. 

The first pair were ordered online from their website and arrived within a week. They are the standard 78TC Traditional Work Boot for £143.95. 

The colour is what I would describe as a chocolate brown, the sort of colour that old leather satchels were. The leather also has that familiar thickness of a real quality item. These would never be mistaken for the finely tooled product of Italian leatherworkers, they are functional leather boots, and tough as the proverbial. Although with the thick leather these are clearly stiff and require some breaking in, they were comfortable from the start and are only going to get better with wear. 

My second pair were ordered from eBay, and don’t appear on the William Lennon /Rufflander website. A browse about Pinterest suggests that they might be Showman’s Boots, the box suggests they are 107F Black Leather Field Boots. These came with leather laces, which are a nice touch, so that as I walk there is a gentle sound of creaking leather. 

Both boots are firmly fitted with vibram soles, which are similar to the commando soles that Loakes shoes sometimes come with. 

Both are heavy boots, more than capable of a tough working environment. They are however well finished, and unlike most boots these days they will just shrug off harsh treatment, and are well worth the effort of a lick of polish so they can last and last and last. 

I am absolutely delighted with theses boots, and frankly I am just looking for some sort of excuse to buy more!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

of boots and shoes

Salvage Hunters visit William Lennon Boots 

I am actually quite particular about my shoes and boots, I do a lot of walking in all weathers and like to have dry feet. I prefer a traditional lace up shoe, brogues being a particular favourite. In addition with size six feet, it can be challenging to find footwear that I want. Many retailers simply don’t do men’s footwear under a size seven.

For a long time Loakes have been my go to, gold standard for footwear. I might not always be able to afford them, but my favourite shoes have consistently been made by Loakes. They are proper shoes, with good quality leather that are built to last. In the past I used to go for leather soles, and take them in for repair, but it does cost a lot and as I do walk a lot, I was constantly taking shoes in for repair. Nowadays I tend to stick to shoes with commando type soles where I can, or something as close to that where possible. I can wear out commando soles in a year or two, and lesser shoes can be worn out in less than a year. Fortunately Loakes will take back their shoes and replace the soles, but they do get a bit looser in their fit, so replacing the soles once might be enough.

I have tried a few Clarks shoes, buying them at a local outlet store, but generally find that the fit is not as good, and they just don’t last that long, either the soles or the uppers, so they are not worth repairing.

For some reason everyone seems to wear boots these, days, but not proper boots. Despite appearances, often these are just lightweight fashion footwear, they don’t last well, the leather is thin, they don’t keep out the water, and prices seem to start at around £150, and go up and up from there.

I have been looking for some decent boots for a while now, but the Clarks ones do seem terribly overpriced for what they are, and Loakes now hardly sells any shoes or boots with commando soles.

If I am paying that kind of money then I want boots that will last for years, keep my feet dry and have some heft to them.

I was tempted by Blundstone Boots, from Australia, but I have just found out about William Lennon Boots. They are based in the Peak District, established in 1899 and are still going. To say that some of their products are niche is putting it mildly, they do a couple of different types of tug of war boots, hob nailed First Worlds War army boots, and fell boots which have such a huge curve in the soles that they roll you from one step to the next.

If you do want to see the factory then it appears in series ten, episode nine of Salvage Hunters.

A nice pair of William Lennon boots is now very firmly on my wishlist.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Review - No 2 - story of the pencil

87e04d7be960c856eab366a9cc8e1dbc original

This documentary is not currently listed on Amazon UK, so I will post a short review here. It is however available elsewhere, such as iTunes.  

This is a short (just over an hour) documentary about pencils. Clearly there is a profitable niche here for such documentaries, there was Gary Hustwit on the font Helvetica, I have watched documentaries on Letterpress (Typeface), Sign Writers and Linotype. There is also one on typewriters (The Typewriter in the 21st Century).  

Although this is potentially an interesting topic, it was marred by overly intrusive music, and far too much screen time for the more irritating interviewees and consequently not enough for the more interesting. I am also unsure why the developer of the app Paper got so much screen time, at times it was like an advert for their software. 

Those interested in pencils will have plenty of unanswered questions too, how does the Blackwing enthusiast rate the new versions, what actual differentiates pencils, the lead, the wood, something else, how do Japanese pencils rate, ... 

Although the documentary raises some interesting points, it suffers from treating pencils like some sort of post modern hipster affectation.  

Monday, 19 September 2016

On fixing a computer

I had some problems with my computer yesterday, an email account that i have had since I first went onto the internet is being discontinued, so I wanted to change the username for my iCloud account. 

Suffice to say I hit problems, which I partly resolved, but it was clear that I needed more technical advice. A quick check on the Apple User Forums generated the usual mixed bag of out of date suggestions, that usually seem to recommend using Terminal and deleting plist files. I have been using Mac computers since the early nineties and have never used Terminal, and certainly do not intend to start using it now. 

I started up an online chat with Apple Support, got escalated to a phone call, and eventually escalated to a senior support person. 

Throughout the people helping me were unfailingly polite and helpful and this was a call that lasted for three hours!

As the call was about access to iCloud, which is pretty much my entire online digital life, public and private, it was commendable that they were rigorous in checking my identity and were not offering to wave a magic wand to get me past the hurdles I was facing. They also seemed to have faith in the logic and dependability of the underlying operating system, trusting it to behave in a sensible manner.

It was also interesting that they were not asking me to use Terminal, or indeed anything particularly high tech. It was just a patient working through, if you click a button and it does not work, click it again, if you are stymied try a reboot, or a reboot in safe mode. 

It was a very gentle approach, no deleting or reinstalling from system disks, just working patiently through the issues in a calm and methodical manner. 

And if that is the sort of approach that experienced support staff adopt, then perhaps it is as well to follow their example.