John’s Camping closes in August

Photograph of Nikki, John and JoJo ~ the staff at John's Camping, on 29th June 2014

Nicky, John and JoJo ~ the staff at John’s Camping

After half a century of helpful, friendly and personal service to the good citizens of Brighton, the owner of John’s Camping is to close his doors for the last time next month. John Holden, pictured left with his daughters, is long since past the age when most people wish to retire. John and his family were offered a very good price for the freehold of the shop. He has found trading in an internet age not as easy as before but nonetheless has competed wherever possible.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of John, of John's Camping, 29th June 2014

John Holden

John’s store ends its days on Brighton’s London Road, which is heavily populated by supermarkets. Their steady march to high street domination is not the cause of any celebration. Where they are soulless corporate behemoths, John was the very opposite. Everyone entering the store was made to feel like they were specially regarded. I’m quite sure that John, Nicky and JoJo didn’t know me from Adam but they always created the impression that they were pleased to see me again. That was as true when I discovered the sad news of their impending closure as it was when my folks first walked me through their doors in New England Street when I was just a few years’ old.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of JoJo of John's Camping (2) 28th June 2014

JoJo has served us beautifully over the years

John started his business on the Lewes Road in 1964, moved to premises on New England Street where he traded for 34 years and has been on the London Road for the last ten. Although he was reluctant to move to London Road a decade ago, preferring to remain in the ex-British Rail staff cafe, demolished to make way for the redeveloped corporate zone behind Brighton Railway Station, it proved a profitable move with far more in the way of passing trade. His arrival there held out the promise that the London Road wasn’t destined to remain forever the shitty end of Brighton’s commercial stick.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Nikki, staff member at John's Camping (c) 28th June 2014


John has sold the freehold but doesn’t know what the new owner intends to do with the building. He suspects that the space upstairs will be turned into flats. He’s now holding the grandest of all closing down sales, with bargains a-plenty. Whereas they could easily sell most of that stuff for twice the sale price on eBay, they’re choosing to give it away to the good folk of Brighton for truly rock bottom prices. Everything must go!

Brighton remains a town packed with independent retailers and gains much of its character from it. All things must pass and John’s Camping appears to be proof of that. Although those of us who can remember his previous stores may well view the closure as little more than the passing of our own time, nonetheless John’s final day trading will mark the end of a much loved era. It will be farewell to one of our most faithful friends.

Close To The Wind left me close to tears

cover shot of Jon Walter's Close To The Wind

Published on 3rd July 2014

It’s been a very long time since I read a novel in one sitting. Yet Jon Walter’s first book, Close To The Wind, induced me into fervent page turning behaviour. Pretty good for a children’s story. I tore through it so eagerly that I began to wonder if someone had been playing mischief games with the pagination. Suspenseful and subtle, Close To The Wind sensitively takes a small boy’s sudden relationship with his Grandfather and sets it off against an archetypal war zone. We find ourselves wondering whether there really is much difference between one refugee or another but the fortunes produced by the vagaries of fate, family and friendships.

Pitched for boys aged eight and over, Close To The Wind treads confidently through the nether world between childhood’s trust of all things adult and the first steps into a young man’s realisation of life’s complexities. We enter young Malik’s life as it hangs in the balance between a war ravaged land and the prospect of safety abroad. We follow his disgust at sleeping in abandoned houses, his horror of soldiers and his fear of failing to make the boat away. Kept strong by his faith in his Mama, Malik views every challenge as merely an obstacle to being reunited with her. He reminds us, even as he travels further away from home, that blood bonds run deeper than other loyalties, that we belong to other people, not specific places.

Portrait photograph of Jon Walter

Jon Walter

This is a tale told in a young person’s vocabulary. Yet it is magically descriptive and evocative for all ages. It is both detailed and beautifully non-specific. Malik could be escaping almost any country on the planet and going to almost any other. Thus, Walter’s story telling hangs on the tale itself, on the meaning of what it is to lose almost everything and flee, on the value of what is most precious, rather than on historical or geographical anchors. The story shines through and lights up the darkest of subject matters.

Close To The Wind is published by David Fickling Books and available in hard cover or kindle. The Sunday Times named it as its Children’s Book Of The Week (there’s a rare link from me to a paywall site). The cover price for the hard back edition is £10.99. Highly recommended.

Proposal for a Brighton hill climb cycle race

Brighton is famously hilly and cycling is very popular in the town. We have a council which is dominated by two parties which are sympathetic to cyclists: Labour and Green. Both have made efforts to give cyclists their own lanes on the roads. We have a sporting population which has taken to its local marathon with the same enthusiasm that our tourists take to our otherwise hedonistic culture. What we need is a world class cycle race.

Bottom of Elm Grove, Brighton

Bottom of Elm Grove, Brighton

With every cycling race, the watching crowds most enjoy the hill climbs. As the Tour de France kicked off in Yorkshire, all the best photographs were of the men of steel and two wheels powering up some the most atrocious slopes in England. Although our Brightonian streets can’t match Holme Firth for distance, we have no shortage of roads which are steep enough that only the most fanatical cyclists take them on. The sort which would bring out the crowds, the sponsorship money and the world’s best competitors. If only there was such an event for them to compete in.

Southover Street, Brighton

Southover Street, Brighton

When I was a teenager someone told me about an event of the sort I’m describing, which they said was called “The Hills Of Brighton.” I’ve searched in vain for records of this event and drawn the conclusion that it wasn’t anything the slightest bit official. Apparently the route forced the riders up all the steepest hills in town and then out to the Northern approach to Ditchling Beacon and round the entire circuit seven times. My friend picnicked on the steep slopes around the Beacon and watched the cyclists slaughter themselves each time they came around. He said the event was abandoned because of a lack of entrants the following year.

Albion Hill, Brighton

Albion Hill, Brighton

Cycling is much more popular than it was in those days. Mountain biking has taken off. There are lots of riders who relish a murderously difficult gradient. We could present them with a series of these challenges. I wouldn’t want to claim to have worked out the best route but for starters it could include having to ride up Combe Road, Elm Grove, Islingword Road, Southover Street and Albion Hill, in that order. They could come back down each road they’d just ascended. Obviously, we’d have to close the roads to traffic that day, to give the cyclists both sides of the road. One side to go up, one to race back down.

Bottom of The Drove, Brighton

Bottom of The Drove, Brighton

On the other side of town there are some outrageously steep streets too. Such as New England Road and The Drove. The latter is so steep that I once fell off my bike riding down it. Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list. But just imagine the atmosphere likely to be generated amongst the car owning middle classes of Muesli Mountain (Hanover)! They would lap it up and forgive the riders for closing them to traffic to the day.

Ditchling Bostall is steeper now that the cart levels have been removed

Ditchling Bostall is steeper now that the cart levels have been removed

So what say you, oh blogosphere? If we want this, we can make it happen. Let’s use the hashtag #BHRace when discussing on social media.

Does the Archbishop of Canterbury hate nature?

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of a grouse (c) 6th July 2014

Target of Justin Welby’s anger

Whilst fretting about why the Archbishop of Canterbury hasn’t replied to my correspondence, I began to research what he has been up to. Not much is the short answer. In his pre-religious past however, his life was a little more interesting. We all know that he made a small fortune when working in the oil industry. What’s less well known is that he enjoyed so-called country sports. That’s a euphemism for blood sports. He’s on record confirming that he once went grouse shooting. Recently he declined the honorary post in the RSPCA which is traditionally given to whosoever gets his cushy number.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of a pigeon (c) 28th June 2014

No relation to Brian Pigeon

Sending him a message by carrier pigeon now looks like an ill-advised error. I have a vision of him firing on all incoming flights from the roof of his pompous cathedral. Probably he’s a bit too old for that sort of carry on. He probably just loiters by the flying buttresses and takes aim from there. Whether or not he has personally killed my trusty companion, Terry, pictured here, I cannot say. What I can be absolutely sure about though is that he has not replied to my correspondence. I’ve tried every method of contacting him, I’ve tried every form of flattery and cajoling to obtain a response. But nothing.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of himself on the way to the pulpit (c) 6th July 2014

Scrapper Duncan goes to work

Despite preaching a homily two Sundays ago on the virtue of patience, the lofty Welby has tested mine to destruction. All my effort at communing with his has been rejected out of hand. Perhaps he is scared of me? After all, my religious duties revolve around mocking his. That and surviving the hell fire that comes with the job. My congregation is substantially larger and more demonstrative. I’m going to assume that he doesn’t want a consultancy on my clergy stand. Fuck him, he’s not wanted anyway.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of his sermon in 2012 (c) 6th July 2014

My religious duty is to survive this

People standing beside me when I give my annual sermon are often always injured. Forgive me, I won’t go into details. It takes courage, fortitude and a strong faith to keep preaching when people are throwing explosives at you. I didn’t expect Welby to accept my offer. It was rather more of a gift of good intentions. Although our take on the Gospel is so very different, our preaching has one thing in common. Afterwards no-one can remember what either of us have said.

However, in my case that’s because it isn’t physically possible to concentrate, let alone actually hear me. In Welby’s case it’s because no-one’s listening.

Homily #21: On size and whether it matters

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Canterbury Cathedral (c) 5th Julyt 2014

Canterbury Cathedral

In last Sunday’s homily on patience, I waxed lyrical about the beauty of taking your time, of appreciating the gentle, the quiet and the unrushed. This Sunday I feel the passionate urge to criticise another church man who has indulged himself too much in that shit. I complain of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He has taken contemplation before action to an all new low, by refusing to reply to my correspondence for well over a year now, despite me tweeting him, publishing my letters to him, emailing him and even sending him my fraternal greetings by carrier pigeon. I’m beginning to think he doesn’t want to reply. So today I’m going to compare and contrast the size of our respective churches, lest he thinks I’m too small for him!

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Southover Bonfire Society's Clergy Stand (c) 5th Julyt 2014

Southover’s Clergy Stand

When it comes to religion, size definitely matters. No-one gives a damn about whether your followers are truly versed in the gospel, just how many there are. If your congregation is swollen beyond all regular expectations, you will command attention. Thus, the Pope gets listened to on account of the sheer percentage of humanity sheltering beneath his ecclesiastical robes. Practically any sound bite from him is suddenly international news, despite it containing no more spiritual wisdom than one of my more recent robotic followers on twitter. We pretend to listen to him because he pretends to have the ear of millions.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of empty church pews (c) 5th July 2014

Pew knew it would come to this?

So the question for Justin Welby, the top cat in Canterbury, is how big is yours? Does it rise to the occasion, when required? Does it gladly face down the one it loves and make good its feelings? Do you tremble and quiver before the force of its feeling? Do you lie down exhausted after communing with it, like a half-drowned man gasping for air on the beach? Do you really believe that you can hold sway over me, the Archbishop of Southover, Lewes? When I’m done my preaching, I descend from a humble scaffold in an open field under the heavens, rather than from a pulpit inside a building fortified against them. And when we’re in that pulpit, what do we each see?

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Rob, Captain of Southover's Tab Team at the fire site (c) 5th July 2014

An act of faith

Where you see row upon row of empty seats, I look in vain for a parishioner who sits quietly waiting to be preached at. Whereas your flock has turned heel and walks away, mine makes good their spiritual and visceral protestations in my face. Here’s one of the more estimable members of my congregation, preparing to hurl a special gift for me, which he has lovingly prepared himself. He’s just lit it from the bonfire I’m destined for, when my time comes.

When that time comes, my soul will be prepared, by the knowledge that when it came to a body of people keeping the faith, through five centuries and more of authoritarian hostility, the bonfire belles and boys made it count through weight of numbers.

Stalinism is the key to success in English politics

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Joseph Stalin (c) 5th July 2014

Uncle Joe

Stalinism’s meaning has changed in the decades since Uncle Joe became Russia’s new Tsar. Once it meant the extreme suppression of political dissent, the concentration of power in the hands of one man and a foreign policy conducted according to the most aggressive strategy imaginable. Now it means being loyal to your preferred leader for political ends. How the definition went from one to the other has something to do with Westerners not fearing totalitarianism for the time being.


Keep in with this man

You’re abandoning politics and getting with the personal instead? You’ve no time for principles, you just want to see your people promoted? You don’t care for your party that much, so long as you get your patronage? Welcome to England, politics has been practised along these lines for centuries.

You’ll be well versed in your supreme leader’s spoken and written word output, so that you can be fanatically loyal to it at all times, without notice. That’s going to take quite a bit of time with a gobshite but less so with blander types. So if your hobbies extend beyond politics ~ comparatively rare for political activists, they do tend to be single-minded tediums ~ you will prefer someone whose utterances are an easily digestable dish you can eat on the move. Not something you may have to chew over.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of a political activist delivering newspapers (c) 5th July 2014

Ours not to reason why

You’ve picked your powerful friend, now you have to build yourself up to them. Flattery by attendance is the trick. Their every meeting, especially ones which they are only rumoured to possibly be attending. Retweet them frequently. Like them on Facebook. Sign their petitions. Go door knocking for them. Always be on hand to take on more. Especially the shitty chores like delivering their literature. Do it with aplomb despite it being back breaking to lug around, lifeless to read and certain to go directly into a recycling bin. Never ever criticise them or disagree with them or challenge them in any way. In private as well as in public.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Caroline Lucas MP (c) April 2014

Saint Caroline

You can see this principle in play in Brighton & Hove Green Party. Local Green Party members compete to congratulate Caroline Lucas on how wonderful she is. To prove that she can do no wrong, she is nicknamed Saint Caroline. When she recently fatally stabbed one of her earliest comrades in public, by condemning his tweets, she flushed out the non-Stalinists in her camp. They blustered out questions about her judgement. They haven’t learnt how to be Stalinists.

Privately Labour activists slag off their candidate, Purna Sen, for pissing people off and being incapable of building alliances. Conservative strategy seems to be predicated on keeping their heads down whilst Labour attacks the Greens for them. Caroline Lucas’ success will be measured by how many Stalinists she can cultivate by May 2015. She needs them to do the donkey work of her election campaign. She’s miles ahead of Labour and the Tories. She even persuaded Jason Kitcat publicly to publicly fall on his sword in support for her.

Europe could decapitate itself

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of cows by skyscrapers (c) 4th July 2014

How now brown cows?

No European capital city, London included, has as much in common with its own country as it has with every other of its cousins. Each member of the Capital Club has the most financial clout, the political muscle and the monarch (if there is one). It’s fair to note that the citizens of a nation’s leading city are almost always the most rushed and the least considerate. Inevitably, their machinations grind against their fellow countrymen and women’s best endeavours and by such domination, waste their potential.

The solution is simple. We can cut them off. Two years, Boris proposed London could be demarcated from the rest of the UK. A bold suggestion, doubtless intended to big up his brand. Though magisterial, Boris baulked at the bigger opportunity. Combine the capital cities in Europe and set them all free. Declare them another country, of themselves.

At a stroke, the rest of us would be free of their meddling. Scenes of them screaming blue heaven at each other or or baying blood curdling cries at the rest of the world would not foreign news to us. Since Westminsterial politicians claim an independent Scotland would be outside the EU, so would be Capital Land. Probably with a better name though. No-one would be expected to commute to another nation! Besides, like the other external borders of the European Superstate, we’d enforce the border pretty rigorously. With guns and shit.

Overnight, 99% of Europe would be free of terrorism. We would no longer be the targets because we would not have attacked, threatened or conspired against anyone. We get to wipe our slate clean, much like the Republic of Ireland did by disabusing their British connection. Most ejected cities would be immediately at the mercy of their previous dominions, being surrounded on all sides to them. Obviously, there would have to be transitional arrangements. Certainly, we’d expect to see horse trading over military bases outside London and, say, certain museums, perhaps some parks and a couple of venues. We’d have to see.

Ultimately, capital cities are oddly vulnerable to their surrounding populations. Watt Tyler in 1381 isn’t the only example of a rural revolt entering and overwhelming their governing city. In living memory, Albanians did much the same thing. They’d gone bankrupt, failed to pay the army, which distributed  their arms amongst the poor. In England, it would probably be massive tea and scones session in the park.

Once isolated, us long suffering provincials across the nations could hold the wealth gatherers to ransom. With each successive round of sanctions, they would give up their hoards, for redistribution. Bit by bit, we’ll milk these cash cows until there’s butter for everyone. Or your vegan equivalent.

In time, the capital cities would surrender. Sooner or later they’ll want back in the EU or be erased from their share of history. By then we’ll have eradicated our physical dependency on them. It will be them that needs us. Probably as tourists. It’s about the only thing they’ve been good for quite a while now. We could turn them all into giant theme parks. Some practically are anyway.

Who will elect to join an independent Scotland?

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon map of Britain after Scottish independence (c) 3nd July 2014

Britain after Scottish independence

If Scotland votes for independence in September, Britain will be reduced to a country the size of Wales and England, as shown in the map on the left. The Union Jack flag really should be binned then. It won’t make any sense whatsoever. The background colour, albeit distinctively different from Saltire Blue, will misrepresent Scotland as still being in the United Kingdom. Although Wales has the coolest flag in the modern world, it never got a look in on the union flag at all. The red diagonal cross represents all of Ireland, which hasn’t been a single country since 1921.

We live in a democratic age, apparently. People are free to vote to leave their mother countries. Or vote to join another country, as Crimea recently did by hooking up with Russia. Therefore, there will no legal, political or moral reason to prevent Scotland from changing its borders. After several goes on either side Berwick-upon-Tweed ‘finally’ became English in 1482. Yet its football team plays in the Scottish league. If Scotland turns out to be a safer country to be associated with than England, the good folk of Berwick-Upon-Tweed may wish to rejoin Scotland.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP (c) 2nd July 2014

Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP.

That would be a relatively simply redrawing of the map. However, other places may be attracted to Scotland’s cause, especially if Alex Salmond’s proposed constitution is adopted. It will prohibit breaking international law. That would mean that Scotland could not get involved in any more of Labour’s England’s illegal wars. We can easily imagine peaceable Brighton, for example, making a unilateral declaration of independence as a prelude of a referendum to join Scotland.

Various other English cities have a strong affinity with Scotland. Liverpool is one of these. Over the last few decades it has consistently shown its opposition to the corporate capitalism served up by the City of London. The fact is that England is governed not from Westminster but from The City. Those leaving England to geographically join Scotland would escape the pulling power of the Square Mile.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon map of Scotland after Berwicj-upon-Tweed, Liverpool, Brighton and North Wales join it (c) 2nd July 2014

Greater Scotland?

It need not only be cities. Wales isn’t really a single nation. It was only unified by an eventual English conquest. North and South Wales share very little culture in common and precious few economic ties too. Welsh nationalism is strongest in North Wales but really, as with Scottish nationalism it is an expression of disquiet with English rule, rather than any nasty creed of racial supremacy. Perhaps North Wales could swallow its pride and join Scotland too?

With Scotland likely to remain or rejoin the EU, it might find itself overwhelmed with applicant English regions keen to get back into the European Club. How small would England have to shrink before it abandoned its isolationism and rejoined the continental club? Whether or not England shrinks, it will sink… under rising flood waters caused by global climate change. Ironically, just as the English channel widens, England will get closer to Europe.

How to annoy people and lose influence

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Nigel Farage turning his back on the Ode To Joy concert marking the opening of the EU Parliament (c) 2nd July 2014

Back to EU

Here’s Nigel Farage showing our European cousins how the British conduct themselves abroad. Whereas everyone else who turned up and politely listened to the orchestra play Beethoven’s Ode To Joy actually faced the band, in the traditional manner, Farage and his foot soldiers turned their backs. By so doing they perfectly exemplified the mixed message the UK constantly creates. Are we staying in to listen to the music or getting up to leave? Why is it okay to listen to the music but not look at the band playing it? What on earth was actually going through the Kippers’ minds when the came up with this wheeze?

That’s assuming there actually was a discussion, of course. More than likely, Mr Farage simply announced the strategy and the swivel eyed brigade followed orders, without question. In the chamber most of them looked like they were the ones humiliated, rather than defiant. Although Farage knows how to turn heel and look comfortable, most of them clearly didn’t know how to rebel. They were physically awkward, with some looking down, some up, some straight ahead into the eyes of their fellow EU parliamentarians looking in the conventional direction. Some stood up straight, some slumped and one of them sat on his desk.

I wonder how the post-match analysis in the UKIP offices went? We can imagine Nigel Farage rhetorically asking, “Well, didn’t that go well?!” and then a bit of a stony silence. It is hard to be triumphalist when you have just acted like a bunch of dicks. If we won’t be seeing a repeat of this futile gesture next year, we’ll know that they’ve thought better of it.

Neither Nigel Farage or David Cameron needs to face the front of the EU Parliament. Both their eyes are on the despatch boxes of the House of Commons. That’s why Cameron claims that losing almost every last supporter he might have had on the continent is somehow a victory. His glorious isolation is a strategic disaster but even then it’s better than being seen to co-operate with Johnny Foreigner. Not to be outdone and with no-one even pretending to talk to him, Farage is forced to adopt the politics of the badly paid stuntman.

Stung by the criticism that he was taking our tax money as salary but not even bothering to turn up to work, this is Farage’s solution. One wonders what the other options considered were? Will he be conducting all his parliamentary business facing the wrong way round? Should he have gone further and worn ear defenders, to make it clear he was immune to the influence of the music even?

Meanwhile, the rest of Europe grows every more exasperated with the UK. There’s now a substantial body of our MEPs who treat the European Parliament as if it’s a theatre. Prancing about on the world stage can only impress a population without any pretensions of real power any more.

Understanding Labour’s democratic deficit

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Robert Mugabe (c) 27th June 2014

Robert Mugabe

First up is Robert Mugabe, who fought a war of liberation for his people and then presided over the oppression of them just the same. Life expectancy in Zimbabwe, a country rich in fertile land, is now down to 35 years. Mugabe has ruthlessly suppressed all political opposition but he cannot properly be described as an absolute ruler. His country still has some form of an independent judiciary and his continuing in office over the years has been subject to elections, albeit ones which in latter years certainly could not be described as free and fair. All the same, there are definitely some people who wanted to and did vote for him.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Hassan Rowhani (c) 27th June 2014

Hassan Rowhani

Secondly, consider the top political leader in Iran. Hassan Rowhani presides over a nation which for decades described the USA as “the great Satan“. Yet somehow it managed to resist American attempts to crush it out of existence and now, incredibly, the two countries seem to be on the brink of a rapprochement, with a view to isolating our erstwhile ‘ally’, Iraq. Rowhani governs in a country according to the rules of the theocracy which is constitutionally entrenched. Although elections there cannot be described as free and fair, nevertheless Rowhani had to win a popular vote in order to win power.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Pope Francis (c) 27th June 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis is both a prominent religious leader and a political heavyweight in the world ring. By dint of the vast numbers in their communion, all popes are necessarily important in world affairs. Although he gets the job for life or, as we now know, until he retires, nevertheless he had to win an election in order to get the job. It was a very small, select electorate and the ‘democratic’ process could hardly be described as free and fair but nonetheless, for all his faults and for all the flaws in the Catholic system of governance, winning that election was critical to getting the top job.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Steve "Lord" Bassam (c) 27th June 2014

Steve “Lord” Bassam

Steve “Lord” Bassam is an unknown on the world stage and will be unrecognisable to almost everyone in the UK. Even in his manor, Brighton, only political fanatics will know who he is. Yet he won a place at the government table when Tony Blair was the Prime Minister and has a seat in the House of Lords. His job is to tell Labour parliamentarians how to vote, a duty which those of us whose lives do not trespass into the Palace of Westminster rightly regard as anti-democratic. Alone of all the rogues in this improbable gallery, Bassam did not have to face any elections to be promoted to government. He was simply chosen by Blair.

Clearly, Bassam is the odd one out. It seems strange that the three characters above him, notorious for their success in closed and impenetrable political systems, with seriously worrying records on human rights and basic freedoms, have each been subjected to more democratic scrutiny than Labour’s chief whip.