Housing in our age

“Hypocrisy is at the heart of our national character – without the oil of hypocrisy, the machinery of convention would simply explode.”

What? I said. You don’t mean to say that’s it? I rubbed my eyes and emitted a sigh as tragic as Prince Charles on beholding the blueprints for the gherkin. For a year they had been toiling at a building site just down from where I live.

The jackhammers had been a-thumping and the cement mixers had been churning, and the whole scene had been a ferment of ant-like activity, and all the while my excitement had been rising.

What was going on behind the dust sheets? What surprise were they preparing for the neighbourhood, all those workmen who tramped every morning from the Tube?

Now the long-awaited day was at hand. The scaffolding was down; the dustsheets were whipped off – and look at it! Look at it and weep. Here was a chance to distinguish the cityscape with something both useful and noble.

Here we were in a prime location, not far from a major transport hub, a famous old park, and all the shops, theatres, restaurants and other civilised amenities of Upper Street Islington.

Here, now, surely was the moment for 21st-century London to make some kind of assertion about our times and our tastes – to send a message to posterity about the kind of thing we really liked.

And what did we get? We got red brick, slabby featureless yards of red brick, with no architectural punctuation except the featureless square windows.

I mean no disrespect to Norway when I say it could have been a cut-price motel in Trondheim, or possibly the headquarters of a small gas company. It looked about as exciting as a Dutch VD clinic.

And yet this was the best we could do; this was our way of dealing with the housing crisis in London – a medium rise block of brick-faced anonymity.

My eyes travelled listlessly from the roof to the ground floor, where a new shop was being proclaimed. It was – omigod – it was T-t-tesco. It was Tesco that had yet again cuckooed its way into the neighbourhood.

Tesco the destroyer of the old-fashioned high street, Tesco the slayer of small shops, Tesco through whose air-conditioned portals we are all sucked like chaff, as though hypnotised by some Moonie spell.

Is it one pound in eight that Tesco now takes from the spending public, or is it one pound in seven? Am I not right in thinking that Tesco takes 47 per cent of the retail market share in Twickenham, and if I am, is that not slightly too much?

I remembered the businesses that used to occupy the site – the lovely Korean restaurant where they grew their own vegetables, the old-fashioned weighing-machine business with its royal warrants. I started to keen and rave, and I turned to my nine-year-old companion and announced a family boycott. That’s right, I said: we were going to hit Terry Leahy where it hurt, and have a complete withholding of Johnson family custom.

We were going to use the excellent Turkish shops up the road; we were going to use Budgens, and if necessary we were going to grow marrows in the garden, just where we buried the hamsters. No one, I announced, is to buy anything from Tesco, and prepared to march on by with my head in the air.

But the nine-year-old was staring into the shop. “Look!” he breathed. I looked, and saw the shelves waiting to be stocked. I saw the happy employees getting ready for the grand opening, which falls today or tomorrow – and then I saw what had captured his attention. “Krispy Kreme donuts!” he cried, pointing to a whole new section devoted to this product, and I knew the battle was over before it had begun.

We will use the new Tesco. I will use the new Tesco. It has not only been constructed exactly half-way between the Tube and our house, so that the lure of the Krispy Kremes will be very hard to resist.

The brute fact is that Tesco provides food of fantastic quality at reasonable prices; it stays open late; the staff are friendly – and yes, my friends, with a guilty ching ching I will add to Tesco’s profits, because hypocrisy is at the heart of our national character – without the oil of hypocrisy, the machinery of convention would simply explode – and in a hotly contested field the British are at their most hypocritical when it comes to supermarkets.

We extol the small shops; we pretend to yearn for the days when you queued on sawdust for someone to climb a ladder and reach for a dusty tin at the back of a darkened shelf.

But in reality we love the light and the space and the ease and the affordability of the supermarkets; and that, I realised, was why Tesco had managed to instal itself in yet another location; not because the people at Tesco were megalomaniacal bullies, but because they were responding to public demand.

I walked on, shattered by this realisation. I stood convicted of hypocrisy in the matter of Tesco, and soon I was reassessing my response to the new housing on top.

My heart might sink at the slabby red brick, but someone else might think, yippee: it’s warm, it’s safe, it’s near the Tube, it has decent plumbing and it’s within my means – and frankly, they aren’t building that much of anything these days in London.

What this structure shows us, then – shop and housing together – is how the market can disappoint. If we want lots of lovely little shops (and post offices), then we must make sure to spend our money in them.

And if we want our housebuilders to create things of lasting beauty, with the adornment and colour and individuality that the Victorians took for granted, then we have to shout for them.

Housing is in such short supply that we must either make do with whatever we are offered by the developers, on the grounds that beggars can’t be choosers, or else we must fight and protest in the name of posterity and the future reputation of the age of Elizabeth II.

If you want housing that is beautiful as well as affordable, if you object to the clap-clinic air of some modern blocks, then join me now and build the movement.

First published in Daily Telegraph, 15 July, 2008 as: My Tesco boycott was over the minute he spied those doughnuts.

49 thoughts on “Housing in our age”

  1. Merry Hill shopping mall provided a tax rebate for at least two years to it’s retailers (all huge concerns like M&S) and had free parking. Small businesses can’t compete with that – it’s not a level playing field. Surrounding towns were devastated.

    Supermarkets like Tesco can sign up farmers to have all their produce and thus the markets are a thing of the past, and the prices are driven ever further down for the farmer, but we pay the same unless it is this weeks loss leader for the store, but the store doesn’t suffer, the farmer gets paid peanuts. Because it’s a one-stop shop the supermarket never ever suffers.

    Tesco can bully and bribe local councils for planning permission and saturate the neighbourhood to maximise shopping loyalty (people get to know where things are and don’t like to waste time – we are inherently loyal as we live in comfort patterns) and then there’s the loyalty card.

    Do I shop at Tesco? Yes I do – it’s a supermarket and garage combined and is on the way to school. Why don’t I walk into Town and shop there? The subway stinks of urine with pools of the stuff lining the walkway. And there’s no free parking.

    Architecture and retailers are two different arguments in this comment: beautiful architecture, beautiful surroundings, nourish us and make us happier. I wish architects would notice that. Also green issues are being ignored when it comes to new builds.

    I would like to say that women being driven out of the home to be wage slaves rather than to care for their own children and do the marketing selectively (rather than be so busy you all need a one-stop shop) is the problem. But as you say Boris, if the little shops aren’t there and don’t have the goods then we’ll go to the supermarket. After all fuel is not cheap. I would like to see more little shops get together and use that buying power to get the best prices. They could offer box schemes, delivery: have a van that comes round (we used to in our village when I was young) and combine their wares (eg butcher) with anothers (eg grocer). They could do all this easily and cheaply if they used the internet. Most people are net-savvy nowadays and small retailers still rely on passing trade. Barmy.

  2. Now Boris, what would you know about Dutch VD clinics?

    And didn’t you know Tesco is sooo yesterday? All the trendy people go to Aldi, the pile-it-high cheapo supermarket.

    Aldi is the new Waitrose. Once the retailer of choice among penniless pensioners and chav mothers, its car parks are now stuffed with Beamers and Mercs. It’s the one good outcome of NuLab making us all skint – we can now sample the joy of unfamiliar, DelBoy-priced products from far-off lands without feeling ashamed.

    The only dilemma is whether it’s pronounced Orl-di or Al-di.

  3. I forgot to say… another beauty of Aldi is the total absence of checkout girls twittering “Would you like any help wiv your packin atorll?” when you’ve bought a loaf of bread; “Have you got your bonus card atorll?” (well, I’ve got half of it. OK?); “Would you like a wine carrier atorll?”…

    No old dears holding up the queue as they argue about their Christmas saving vouchers; no neurotic shoppers blocking the checkout while they wrap each tomato in those little crinkly polythene bags (jolly useful for sandwiches, though). At Aldi they just slam it through at lightning speed, cash or debit card only, AND they charge you for a plastic carrier bag. Your kind of place, Boris.

    But I still don’t know how to pronounce it.

  4. Taking The Piss
    It’s a £60. 00 fine for pissing in the public areas of London, have you ever tried finding a toilet? I am an old man and can’t hold it like some of the young people I see fined by the police. I deem this kind of treatment entrapment in this dump of a so called modern city.
    Stan Steel

  5. I pronounce it Al-di, Paul. And yes, I shop there too. Great place -> fab chocolate and cheap beer.

    (I can’t be tempted by a Krispy Kreme, it has to be at least 70% cocoa solids for me, preferably more..)

  6. Boris – I could not agree with you more regarding the poor aesthetic quality of new buildings. It is quite upsetting to see bland, featureless, soulless blocks of flats being erected, and seeing ‘glossy’ new adverts in newspapers proclaiming ‘great new modern living’ in something that seems to me to no different to a 60s-era council block. Have developers forgotten how to make beautiful buildings? Can it really completely destroy the budget of a multi-million pound development to perhaps put borders around the windows and add just a little design design? Sadly I suspect the market is not the answer to this: as an economist might term it, the property market is full of ‘rigidities’, especially in London. Where housing is in short supply people will buy almost regardless of quality or aesthetics, and developers know this. I would implore you as Mayor to call for some guidelines whereby new buildings should have some minimum aesthetic value, toward hopefully reducing this avalanche of sheds and towers of flat walls and square small windows that we don’t seem to be able to escape from.

  7. Dear god, man, if you consider Krispy Kreme to be “food of fantastic quality at a reasonable price” then it MUST be true what they say about English food.

    My condolences.

  8. Surely these flats must have had planning permission. Perhaps you have some influence on any future development Boris??

  9. Jaq – does your Aldi sell tools? Ours has an ever-changing selection at truly astonishing prices.

    Maybe you’re not in the market for a £3.99 wrecking bar.

  10. Boris, I used to love that Korean on Holloway Road and use the excellent Turkish grocer just further north. There’s nothing wrong with building flats but they need to be spacious and pleasant on the eye: think Marchmont in Edinburgh, or Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. As Mayor one thing to focus on is the regeneration of the high street (please).

  11. You forgot to mention the fantastic selection of beer Boris, although as you’ve banned it on the tube and have to bang on about ‘anti-social behaviour’ I guess you can’t do that anymore.

    I was in one of the more massive Tesco stores last night myself. A recent movie on DVD for four quid and three bottles of ‘Seven Giraffes’ (winner of a Tesco ‘best beer’ award and from a Microbrewery near Falkirk of all places). Worked out cheaper than either a cinema ticket or three pints of bitter in the pub.

    If anyone can help us through the impending era of stagflation/recession/deflation – delete as appropriate to your view on what economic surprises await us around the corner – Tesco can.

    As for housing, I believe all those people who bought into the recent hype and leveraged themselves to the hilt in order to buy ‘luxury penthouse apartments’ will soon be nursing some serious negative equity. I expect shoebox studios etc to faal 50% in the worst cases once people reassess the fundamental value of a pokey flat in a not-so-nice part of town.

  12. @ Matt 12.42. There’s some truth in what you are saying – perhaps the housing shortage is not as bad as it looks – but our glorious leader is still banging on about 3,000,000 new homes needed by 2020. Like all their wretched targets, it looks as if this will be missed by a mile.

    Those articles you quoted do seem to use some double counting on vacant premises and don’t allow for certain realities, like there will always be some empty properties however much the government wishes there weren’t.

    If you were to look inside some dingy flats in London, you might change your mind. Low earners and oversized families are packed into some of these places; I recently saw a documentary where space was at such a premium they were actually sleeping on the kitchen worktops. London, for one, is not awash with empty properties. Although the theory of housing shortage may be overstated, why should people have to live like rabbits?

  13. Wow, since I wrote that Tesco are up 10p as the DOW goes into meltdown. Next time I big someone up on this blog I’ll buy shares in them first!

  14. Steven, you mustn’t haunt Boris with his booze ban on the underground. I have completely changed my mind about this since visiting Nashville, Tennessee.

    The police are merciless about boozing on the street (not to mention public transport) and under-age drinking. Bar doormen get real stroppy if you so much as put a toe over the ever-open threshold carrying a glass. But in every other respect it works – once inside the bars everyone parties like mad. Some of them allow smoking; with powerful air extraction systems there’s not a murmour of objection or a moment’s finger-wagging.

    The lack of tension or trouble on the busy streets was a joy. This is how things should be; put a few strict but sensible ground rules in place and let everyone have a good time. It works.

  15. “The police are merciless about boozing on the street (not to mention public transport) and under-age drinking.” (PaulD)

    The local youth are well aware of this and have adapted their drinking habits accordingly I am told.

    I have it on good authority from all the US college kids I met over the summer that the in-thing to do is to get someone’s older sibling to buy a whole keg of beer which is subsequently buried deep in the woods.

    Once word gets out the party is on they all congregate in a clearing somewhere deep in the undergrowth. The keg is then expertly opened to reveal gallons of warm lager. The ‘kids’ (most of whom are legal drinking age in any part of Europe) then hide out from the local Sheriffs Department whilst getting plastered and snogging each other.

    They are by and large well balanced, intelligent young things too. They venture over the pond in about June on Daddy’s credit card ready to hit the bars of London and Barcelona. Most of them are doing higher education and have ambitions in engineering, law or politics.

    I’m a believer that lack of open spaces to go away and hide in is one of the big drivers of gang culture in our inner-cities. More camping, fishing, camp-fire building and the odd cheeky can of beer would do our urban youth a world of good if you ask me.

    Anyway I digress, where were we? Smoking and ventilation? Ah yes, only a couple more months until we have to start freezing our preverbials off again if we fancy a fag with our pint.

  16. Matt – I’m always in the market for a £3.99 wrecking bar but sadly wanted a voltmeter and my local store had sold out (I melted my Sealey).

    Raincoaster – everything you have heard about British food is being kind.

    Stan Steel – you have my sympathy, but at least you’re a bloke. (Imagine if you’re a woman with the remnants of a pelvic floor after 3 children to save your embarassment) I recommend TENA for men.

    A word for a blog buddy – Behind Blue Eyes, who was sprayed with CS gas and beaten. The most astonishing thing to me is that he dismisses the incendent as just another night in London..

  17. “The idea that there is a housing shortage is simply a fashionable myth…” (Matt)

    This is highly topical, even moreso on a day when the financial press have given the masses a useful further insight into how the US mortgage markets works in the wake of the Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac intervention by the US Treasury and Federal Reserve.

    Hats off to the FT today, who abondoned a lot of the usual cityspeak and produced some helpful illustrations for the benefit of us ‘widows and orphans’ who take an interest in the credit crunch for academic purposes.

    If I read it correctly it turns out that the mortgages bought by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac make up about 50% of the US mortgage market. These are then securitised and sold on in the financial markets to institutional investors. By way of their charter both Fannie and Freddie only buy mortgages where there is proff of income and an 80% loan-to-value ratio (in other word 20% equity I believe they are saying). Out of the other 50%, some of which are the so-called NINJA (no income, no job or assets) mortgages, a good proportion have been securitised by the big investment banks and sold onto institutional investors in the form of collaterised debt obligations and other such instruments. The FT reckon there is still a market for Fannie / Freddie backed mortgage securities, but not the other 50%.

    Getting back to the UK, it looks as if our lenders have been playing exactly the same game as the smaller regional banks in the US who originally sold the loans. Throughout the propety boom our mortgage banks have been aggressively touting self-certified (i.e. no proof of income) mortgages, sometimes at or over 100% loan ot value. Northern Rock was allegedly offering 125% mortgages at one point.

    Now in the UK there is no government backed finance house that buys and sells mortgages (well unless you count the Nationalised Northern Rock – but we’ll get to that). For our lenders to keep on lending and lending throughout the seven or so years of house-price hyperinflation we’ve just endured they had to be selling on a good proportion of those mortgages to investors. Much like over the pond I would imagine they were sliced, diced packaged and securitised into fancy instruments. These were then rated and sold on in the free market (when there was a market for these things that is).

    So back to Matt’s idea that shortage of housing is a myth, I have to say I’ve agreed with him for quite sometime. Back to the present and UK house prices are falling at the rate of 2% a month, the lenders have hardly any capital reserves and the mortgage-backed securities market has dried up. Are house prices falling because lot’s of Polish plumbers have returned to the continent, or is it a monetary phenomenon?

    I’d plump for the latter, and I think it’s going to get worse. The few brave anaylsts calling a 30% fall in UK house prices a few years back were derided as crazy, not anymore, everyone seems to have downgraded their expectations. Housebuilders – who basically took on big mortgages to buy land banks – are writing down the value of their assets, are unable to build new houses and are laying off tradesmen at a rate of knots.

    Who do you think took out all those self-certified mortgages then? Yep, that’s right, self employed brickies, plumbers, electricians, kitchen salesmen and all the other workers making a mint from the housing boom a couple of short years ago. Now their interest rates are rising as the UK mortgage lenders credit ratings are downgraded in the international markets and they have to pay more for their short-term finance from the big banks.

    If the housing market falls further, and unemployment gathers momentum, the financial institutions holding the dodgy mortgage securities will have to make further big writedowns. Less money will be available to fund the lenders and less credit available as a result. As the lenders business models become shakier their credit ratings will be downgraded once more. This will mean higher borrowing costs for them and the people who bought their mortgages, further turning the cycle into all out recession and negative equity doom and gloom. All those consumers leveraged up to the eyeballs on self-cert mortgages and 100% loans on ‘luxury’ shoebox flats will suffer negative equity for years ahead or bankruptcy.

    As the consumer becomes more and more tied down and stretched their spending in the real economy will wain. At the same time they will be dealing with the double whammy of inflation. According to the Mirror today 30% on fuel and 14% on food.

    Coming back to Northern Rock then, we all know they were one of the biggest culprits when it came to sub-prime mortgage lending. Does the nationalisation of Northern Rock constitute a government guarantee on all the dodgy self-cert shoebox mortgages they flogged onto investment banks, pension houses and hedge funds?

    I think we should be told, is the taxpayer expected to bail out the holders of the dodgy Northern Rock CDO’s in much the same way as the US taxpayer has to foot the bill for the overheating of the US housing market via Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

    Of course the US taxpayer, via the non-sub-prime mortgage firms Fannie and Freddie are kind of footing the bill for not only their own bad borrowing, but also the bad business practices of the local lenders and Wall Street investment banks.

    Is this why they nationalised Norther Rock rather than let it go to the dogs? To prop up the UK housing market at it’s artifically inflated levels and bail out the individual and institutions responsible for this madness?

    Who knows, but boy am I glad I’ve never bought a house.

  18. Excellent article Boris! Supermarkets need to be confronted on the issue of ‘retail aesthetics’. Tesco’s ‘corporate responsibility’ manager/spokesperson should be embarrassed into explaining WHY we should be expected to ‘put up’ with ‘utility designs’ simply because of the imperative for convenience. Tesco stores could be recognisable style icons of supermarket architecture instead of ‘red slab’ eyesores. To coin a recent Boris’ism, there should be some guilt induced
    ‘nicker twanging’ in Tesco’s Boardroom, over the state of its current retail design standards.

  19. Boris analysis stated in the Parliament on Tuesday which was intended to move away the false romanticisim advocated by committing crime among youngsters, were extraordinary. It illustrated important insight into meanings that drive our children’s lives.

  20. Steven_L – I think you make a very VERY valid point and ask pertinent questions. Someone I know has had 100% mortgage and is intending to re-mortgage soon, based on a rising house market in the area. This is all very well and good if a) she can afford the payments b) the house market remains stable. If, as you say, lenders recoup money from healthy loans due to bad investment/practice, then the market becomes unstable due to rising interest rates. The market goes down. The friend who could afford the repayments may now be put in a position where that is beyond her reach and has to default. The lender looses, the borrower looses and the whole pack of cards falls over. Which is why, I guess, Northern Rock was supported – to maintain confidence in the market. But…. this house we are talking about hasn’t been sold, the borrower hasn’t changed circumstances and the borrower still has the same job at the same wage. The only change is the money demanded by the lender.

    When Northern Rock was supported who lost out? Anyone?

    I don’t understand why renting is seen as a bad thing. Years ago generations were born and raised quite happily in rented accomodation. See David Lean’s film ‘This Happy Breed’.

    Also, in the fifties, a penkife was the number one christmas gift for boys. But they didn’t go out and stab their friends. The problem with knife crime isn’t the knife.

  21. Off topic:

    I’ve just seen on the news that an American company has £154M contract to mark SAT’s in this country. Why?

    I think the fact they are reported to be doing a rubbish job (but the results will stay on the childs record for the whole of their lives) is arguably less important than the fact this company is doing this AT ALL.


  22. Is this why they nationalised Northern Rock rather than let it go to the dogs? To prop up the UK housing market at it’s artifically inflated levels and bail out the individual and institutions responsible for this madness? (Steven_L)

    I doubt it. The collapse of Northern Rock would set off a tsunami through the financial sector and would have been political suicide for the government. Don’t forget, NR isn’t just mortgages – ordinary savers have billions invested there in “safe” accounts. If their life savings had gone up in smoke the shockwaves would have been felt in Wall Street and beyond.

    No suitable buyer was found for NR so Darling had little choice but to nationalise it. Well, that’s my reading of it anyway.

  23. PaulD – is that why investors in Equitable Life are being compensated by the government? I’ll have to check the story further but wonder why investors in a private company are being compensated by public taxes?

  24. Ah here we are:

    9th July report (BBC)
    “In 1999, Equitable launched court proceedings to enable it to force policyholders to accept bonus cuts. It won the first stage of its battle only to lose in the Court of Appeal and then the House of Lords. Unable to pay the £1.5bn cost of losing the court case it was forced to put itself up for sale. In December 2000, having failed to find a buyer, the insurer closed to new business.”

    15th July Report (Times)
    “Equitable’s customers are preparing to pursue the Government for up to £4?billion in compensation, arguing that ministers failed to stop regulators “falling asleep at the wheel … But the new report [out Thurs 17th] … blamed ministers for failing properly to implement EU legislation on insurance and said the financial regulators had been “excessively lenient” in failing to ensure Equitable Life had been solvent. Equitable customers will point out that Mr Brown helped Northern Rock savers by seeking a private sector solution of the failing bank and finally taking it into national ownership, thereby safeguarding deposits.”

    17th July report (BBC)
    “We expect to provide a full response to the House in the autumn,”

    Ok so the House is due to break for summer, yes? And all those little people who’ve lost their savings will be compensated when exactly?

    Have a great holiday, people, especially when you see pics of Tony Bliar earning millions and enjoying himself on someone’s yacht. And when you see pics of Broon? Think of the people due to be compensated for his abolishing the 10p tax. I guess Boris is glad not to be sat opposite him.

  25. It was really good to see Boris’s take on the London School Environmental Awards. He very sensibly concentrated on litter, graffiti, noise, preserving resources, green spaces and all the things that matter in our daily lives.

    I particularly like the idea of arranging school visits to places like the sewage treatment works so children can see for themselves how they operate. Later on in life they will think twice before pouring sump oil down the drain, for instance.

    So much better than filling their heads with global warming hysteria – a subject which I notice was commendably absent from the programme.

  26. The construction industry no longer build beautiful architecturally designed buildings in London, because there is too much focus on costs and commercial return on investment in the short term. Therefore, we are seeing more and more functional buildings.

  27. “When Northern Rock was supported who lost out? Anyone?” (Jaq)

    Well we know the people who had hung onto the share lost the lot. The taxpayer is exposed to risk too. I’m wanting to know whether there is any kind of government (i.e. taxpayer) backing on all the mortgages they securitised and sold on. The point I was making is that investors view Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages as having a US taxpayer guarantee.

    “The collapse of Northern Rock would set off a tsunami through the financial sector and would have been political suicide for the government.” (PaulD)

    It was the rise in defaults on US mortgage debt, the crash in the mortgage backed securities markets and the rise in the interbank rates that set off the tsunami. The Tsunami brought down Northern Rock, Bear Stearns, Indybank and there might be more to come. As for political suicide, New Labour are polling in the mid-twenties since the NR collapse.

    “…ordinary savers have billions invested there in “safe” accounts. If their life savings had gone up in smoke the shockwaves would have been felt in Wall Street and beyond.” (PaulD)

    There was one ordinary guy on the Newcastle Question Time a few months back who said he had worked for and paid into the Northern Rock employee share scheme for most of his working life. He reckoned he had £100k tucked away when Northern Rock was trading above £10 per share. He lost the lot, presumably he just sat back and watched it all go into meltdown, not even thinking to open some sort of trading account to hedge his exposure with. Presumably he expected some kind of government bail out. I haven’t heard if employee shareholder are being bailed out or not.

    The first £33k of your savings are government guaranteed I believe anyway. Why anyone needs to have more than £33k cash in any individual bank is beyond me. There are plenty of banks and building societies to deposit in.

  28. I heard on the radio this am that London has had it’s 21st knife crime. I wonder about the language (language is powerful). ‘Knife Crime’ is being used to describe muder with a knife. But these crimes are still either murder or manslaughter.

    Personally I think this situation is not down to any mechansim in the capital but an indication of the complete failure of NuLab from education to the Home Office. ‘Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’? ‘Education, education, education’? And the only solutions they can come up with are prisons run by inmates to which they send very few offenders anyway, and they now intend to send fewer still, prefering introducing them to their victim instead. Over tea perhaps? Expecting some miraculous wave of shame on the attackers behalf. How mind blowingly naive.

    It cannot be any coincidence that a majority of offenders cannot read and write. And it cannot be ignored that most young people openly admit they carry a knife to protect themselves. Why? Because law and order in this country is non-existent.

    I don’t know what Boris can do about this when he has no control over the utterly useless Labour run Home Office.

    Sorry, back to housing and the PM’s being a rubbish chancellor.

  29. Typo: Obviously I meant that ‘Knife Crime’ is being used to describe MURDER with a knife’.

  30. i wonder if supermarkets would ever consider advice from architects to make their facades more attractive. It is very imortant for our souls and spirits to have beautiful surroundings, it might be worth a try.

  31. Supermarkets are least of our worries, Angela (and Boris). Most of the Tescos I’ve seen are not too bad – the architects generally make some kind of effort. They are already temples of consumerism; do you want them to look like temples as well?

    No, what matters most is houses, or homes I deliberatly use those words because planners have for too long regarded them as “housing”, an abstract term totally lacking soul. For “housing” read “chicken shed”.

    Town planners and architects must move away from the notion of functional people-containers and think in terms of somewhere they themselves would like to live. Boris has spoken of this before, to his credit.

    In a perverse way the houebuilding slump has been a good thing in that it may teach builders there are bigger considerations than paring the cost of a house to the minimum necesary to make it watertight.

  32. I have been moved. MOVED I tell you, to comment on the recent spotlight on Boz by the MoS (that rag). Judi James does not see what’s in front of her but is seeing the impression left by media comment and the lack of her own brain. Boris is simply NOT as she describes.

    I remember a friend telling me about a review with his boss. His boss told him that he was not just confident but aggresive, and given to deception. Because of his body language (the boss had recently been on a course). When asked how he came to these conclusions the boss remarked that my friend was leaning forward (confidant) but looking to one side (given to deception). My friend informed his boss that he spoke quietly and had to sit forward and look to one side as he was deaf in one ear.

    Sometimes people judge on what they’re told, rather than using the WHOLE of their brain, and considering other possibilities.

  33. I agree with you, Paul, that housing is the bigger problem – but am not sure new housing is always ‘watertight’ as buildings on floodplains or too close to ancient waterways are plentiful. For ‘chicken-shed’ housing, flood-plain housing and soul-less supermarket frontages alike, there is, however, one key ingredient in finding an answer: the local council. Where councils are strong and refuse to allow corporate-box frontages on businesses and where councils know the local geology and refuse to allow development counter to centuries of perceived wisdom, then towns and villages both retain their individuality and gain habitable homes rather than flooded concrete boxes.

  34. As a side issue: does anyone understand why the blocks of ‘apartments’ going up everywhere from Manchester to Reading now have washedout planks of frequently warping wood plonked on the outside of some of the concrete? Is insta-slumification a key fashion statement or something?

  35. It was such a nice photo and there is no evidence whatsoever for her daft remarks. The picture contradicts everything she says.

  36. Top Gear tonight: parking in London. Hilarious. Two middle aged boys failing miserably. I nearly cried.

  37. Also, I seem to recall Judi James analysing the body language of David Cameron in House. She said that because he led with his thumb when he gesticulated, it meant he was assertive and strong.

    Since then, every darn politician on tv. is thrusting his thumb forward, including Gordon Brown.

    What is wrong with Boris Johnson’s hair cut, it is totally suitable for the job he is doing and also looks good on him. He had a friendly smile on his face, which Judi interprets as a “naughty boy expression”. Mrs. Boris is smiling equaly warmly, but according to Judi her eyes are narrowed (a usual consequence of smiling) and her arm shows the need to escape……. Judi, do they pay you for this rubbish?

  38. Angela: I lost the thread. Did you accidentally post in wrong discussion?

    Jaq: missed Top Gear. Bother! Utterly daft, relaxing programme with a lot of brain behind it. Must see if it is on webcast.

    While I do the washing-up, any thoughts on how to fix housing so it looks pleasant, feels like a home, does not get flooded and just simply ‘works’? If we can fix that, I guess might get a few people interested.

    Anyone else with ideas on providing pleasant but realistically-priced housing?

  39. If you can get society to stop viewing housing as a commodity and slow down the breeding for a few generations, then the bottom will drop out of the market and you’ll have lots of available, livable housing. Of course, none of it will be new and there will be fewer rich people, but hey, everything’s a tradeoff.

    If you read the papers you’ll see that the great outcry lately is not “housing is not available.” It is “we aren’t going to make the killing we thought we were.” Did you see the piece about the Spanish condo flippers in the Guardian? Dear god, I absolutely bawled … with laughter. So you bought a few extra houses to turn into a Maybach later and now find that, GASP, at the age of forty you have to work for a living? Oh, you poor, poor thing!

  40. Hi Gill, how are you? I was answering Jaq’s impassioned post about the photo of our Mayor and his wife with the dopey comment on their body language by Judi James.

    I am sure Jaq and I are in the wrong place, please forgive us both.

  41. Angela – I’m sure we don’t need anyone’s forgiveness: this is Boris Johnson’s blog and our comments were off topic with regards to his article but about Boris Johnson, responding to fresh events in the media, so that’s ok. This is an inclusive blog, not a substitute for a newspaper, which is part of it’s appeal. So all is well 🙂

    We should be getting another article soon but have you seen a link to the Mayoral site run by the GLA on the RHS? Check it out here: http://www.london.gov.uk/

  42. Sorry, Angela and Jaq. It was a very long day or three and my post sounds a..l..l wrong. I was trying to find the thread link to answer Angela and missed it.

    Housing is important – I’ve seen some great ‘starter’ places this last week that are just lying empty and I don’t understand that at all. But holidays (or breaks from work) are equally vital. Where can we suggest for Boris, his ‘bathers’ and (why?) his bloomin’ Blackberry?

  43. No worries, Gill. I think you’re correct that housing is important but the current financial climate is worrying. I also think that NuLab’s complete failure to control our borders must impact on housing. No wonder Boris wants to go abroad to get from the crowds… coming here.

    Is Poland nice at this time of year? I see the MoS recommends Belarus. Sorry that’s just if you’re a British Lord, not a Mayor.

  44. Jaq thanks so much for the link, I will check that out. Please check out http://davehill.typepad.com/london3ms/, which is Dave Hill’s page. I don’t know if you read it. He writes for the Guardian, but unlike many left wing writers, he is extremely democratic and lets people say exactly what they want (short of virulent abuse of course). A lot of left wing websites brutally edit Tory supporters or don’t print them at all. He is very friendly and has always something interesting to say, and it is good to read the other view from a reasonable person.

    Gill have a nice glass of chilled white wine, which I would buy you if we met, and have that holiday, but I didn’t take what you said amiss at all, I am just naturally apologetic.

  45. Angela – many thanks. Spookily I came across that site today when checking out Boz’s stance on knife crime – Channel 4 have been hosting a season on ‘Disarming Britain’ which I looked at. Sadly a lot of rubbish wrapped a couple of truths in the debate I saw but it’s worth a watch I think. I’m amazed the older members of the panel didn’t remind the assembly that gang violence and ‘misunderstood teenagers’ are nothing new (as at least one panellist once did that themselves to some degree, thus negating his argument). I’m so glad that Boris has a knowledge of history, for if you don’t understand what worked yesterday, you can’t recommend it tommorow..

  46. I am a born and bred english citizen, i have lived in the same borough throughout my life, i entered the world of work and paying taxes and national insurance from the very day i turned 16 years old and due to circumstances beyond my control (i.e. 9/11 terrorist acts) i lost my job with British Airways at the age of 24 whilst heavily pregnant.

    That is when i became a statistic, i could no longer afford to house and feed myself and child and became a member of the ‘single parent society’. I was housed in a 1 bedroom flat on a council estate, dont get me wrong that was not a bad thing, despite the media and political hype it was a good, wholesome community and my needs were adequately met.

    I fell pregnant, not with a ‘benefit agenda’ but rather mistake, twice more in the next couple of years and whilst pregnant with my 2nd child found a part time job at a G.P. surgery but faced extreme prejudice and adversity when becoming ill.

    Throughout this time i have remained in my ONE BEDROOM PROPERTY, which has become ridiculously overcrowded, as any parent would realise children require mor space than adults! However the worst thing is my bedroom, which i share with 3 small children, has black mould growing on the walls and my local council (Ealing) have determined that as none of our lives are in IMMEDIATE danger we are not a priorty!!!!!!!!

    I feel the need to be the voice of London borough citizens and speak out about the discrimination we face. I have spent 2 years ‘biddibg’ in a ridiculous scheme called ‘Locacta’. It is basically a prejudiced auction, I have been advised by several, nameless, council employees that immigrants are given priorty, regardless!!!!

    What message does that send to genuine London citizens and the next generation of the voting population. I have even requested my local councillor to help and prior to the elections Dawn Larmouth made all the right noises with regard to wanting to help, however once i had voted Conservative ignored all my attempts of contact.

    I found this page in the hope of finding advice with regard to my housing needs and whilst very entertaining it failed to deliver, in fact in turned into an anti-Tesco rant. I understand that the Tesco monopolisation of our economy is beyond a joke, however average people like me have no choice but to give our custom to them as we have to provide the best possible food, clothes etc for our families with a very little budget.

    I would like GENUINE London citizens to be honest with regard to our situation, I am not being discriminent but am of the open that we cannot continue to accommodate more and more immigrants and ignore the existing population.

    Also I have tried to establish who is the current head of housing for Ealing Council and it would appear that there is not one, this information would be kindly received.

    Many thanks,
    Ms. A. Casey

  47. Believe me it is not just the London local councils that take this stance when it comes to housing people who are in need. Leicester City Council who are obsessed to the point of lunacy with a “multicultural city” will just about house anyone bar someone who was born in the city, worked and contributed all their life into the city and the state.

    Whilst we also have the never ending explosion of Tesco stores on every corner we also have to bear the the latest craze of student housing being developed on every plot that Tesco,s can’t buy or don’t

    Leicester City Planners really need to consult with the local residents if they wish to stop all the planning errors and lack of direction that has plagued this City since the 60,s.

    We also share the Lego Land landscape as the architects throughout the land show no design ability and take their inspiration from the back of Lego packages. Since when did cladding a building in timber and sheet cladding become architecture.

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