My World

Blogs and newspapers are full of editorials about how climate change phophets of doom all forget one thing - that climate changes all the time. This is a little like saying murder happens all the time so the latest massacre was just an optical illusion, but anyway...

They point out that there was a flood in 1952, and a heatwave in 1976, and statistically tidal waves are bound to happen eventually. All of which is true, and completely misses the point.

Extraordinary events happen, by definition, only occasionally. When they happen all the time, they are no longer extraordinary.

Floods used to be rare, now they are quite common, and getting commoner. It doesn't make the slightest difference if there was one worse than any we've seen recently six decades ago - that's not the issue.

The issue is that we're seeing annual floods now, not that worse ones used to happen once in a lifetime.

It would be a lot easier to not care about any of this if half my friends weren't making babies who'll have to cope with the results of current willful blindness.

Maybe in twenty years, when the unsubmerged parts of Britain are covered in snow, there will be arguments about who is most to blame.

Here's the search terms people have used to find my blog in the last seven days:

"charles winsor" depression - Is the prince of Wales unhappy? On the one hand, he's got a godawful family, he lives in the permanent shadow of an arranged marriage that ended over a decade ago, and he's virtually estranged from his children, one of who isn't even his.

On the other, he's got loads of money and the love of a good woman. And he might even be king one day. nirvana

catgotwasted - The MySpace of my permanently stoned friend Ralph. He's disorganised, unreliable, and, well, permanently stoned. But I can't help liking him.

(Note to self: Must remember to invite him to the gig.)

(Note to self: Must remember to prepare music for the gig.)

(Note to self: Must repair computer so I can make music for the gig and invite Ralph to it. He will forget, of course.)

equical wikipedia

cd130e2ng price - the price of that particular camera is GBP20. It takes crystal clear pictures, it's light and compact, and it's the most unreliable camera I've ever worked with.

I have four cameras, and they're all unusable for different reasons, but this is the most unusable.

"the entertainer" "techno version" - I do not want to hear this.

tickten, hillel

pseudomix ebay

bbc "model b" secondhand - I do have one of these, somewhere.

"drifters tribute" - I an not a Drifters tribute band! Huh!

papillion in emmerdale -

"kraftwerk cover" - The Balanescu Quartet of Romania made an EP of Kraftwerk covers. Somewhere I've got their version of Autobahn, played on cellos and violas. It works surprisingly well.

mieville waste

De Viris Pulchris et Aliis ("Of Beautiful Men and Other Things", I think. Hi Ric!)

My favourite though would have to be:

"Mother and me have got hold of some new diet pills. They're called "Equical", and they're such a well-kept secret they're not even on ebay"

Yep. Someone pasted a paragraph from my blog, and used it as a search term. With, unsurprisingly, one hit.

Is this a good idea? Devo's "Girl U Want", rewritten and rechristened "World U Want" for an audience of environmentally aware artists.

Verse 1:
It springs from somewhere you can't see
It makes more products for you and me
It sends out a miasma of undefined smog
It drifts on down like a curse from the gods

It's just the world, the world, the world you want

Verse 2:
Hear them lying everywhere you turn
No more time but there just too much to learn
See them on the TV but you know it's all wrong
End of the line but you knew it all along

Look at them, with their mouths watering
Look at you with your life spinning
Why can't you just admit it's all hopeless
It's just the world you want

This isn't supposed to be an environmentalist blog, or a political one. Or indeed a musical one. It's just me being a bit sardonic about the surrealist parade that is my life.

River Horse

I've got a gig in a week. It's organised by Radical Artists Network.

They're not notably organisational types but they've got five bands to play in a pub. And with a week to go, I'm promised that all the stage equipment - amplifiers, speakers, turntables, microphones and cables - will probably be available. Or at least, the various people who provide these things have messages left on their phones.

All I need for my act is a CD player and a microphone, and this is apparently being sorted out by someone who's usually reliable.

Not that I have the moral high ground here on getting things set up - I'm still not sure what set I'll be playing.

Two things I could probably have done without today:

(1) A familiar sounding telephone call to the effect of "My computer's sick. It won't even boot up. Can you come and fix it? And only take an hour please because I've got stuff to do on it."

(2) My own computer to become similarly sick after using it to backup files from the first computer's hard drive. A virus of some kind? Something that corrupts the boot sector?

I don't particularly need my music making computer to become inoperative just as I'm due to make some music. Looks like I'll be up all night with screwdrivers and installation discs again.

There's a small hippo on my bed.

My parents have purchased a "Junior Hippo" water pump, for use if and when the house gets flooded by rain and/or seawater and/or sewage.

Portsmouth has had minor flooding over the last decade - nothing more than ankle deep - and the bit I live in has miraculously (mostly) escaped. But sooner or later the hippo will have to come out of his box.

Sort-of following on from that, there's a debate going on in the scientific blogosphere about whether climate scientists should present a united front to the public on what they all agree on, ie that climate change is happening now and will get worse, or be open about their disagreements over detail.

On one side are those who say the important thing is to push governments to do something about climate change, not to muddy the waters with debates about exactly how much the sea level with rise and when.

On the other side are those who say such a united front would be alarmist, and whether or not alarm is justified, all alarmism will sooner or later be debunked and the skeptics (read: deniers) of climate change will have won the propaganda battle. Result: scientists who essentially spoke the truth will be disbelieved because they got caught out in small lies, nothing will be done, and the planet will become a much more hostile place because of it.

As a non-scientist who follows science, I'm pretty much in the first camp. Here's what I wrote in one debate:

Sometimes it's a good idea to be a little inaccurate, just to get things done.

When Carl Sagan testified in court against creationists that science is a self correcting process while religion has no such mechanism, he was not being absolutely, scrupulously honest. But the important thing was not to educate the judge about the finer details of post-Popperian philosophy of science, but to get rid of the rabid mystics.

Charles Darwin knew there were minor problems in his theory - there were gaps in the fossil record and he had only the haziest notion of how heritable traits could be stored inside an organism. But the important thing was to beat the critics, not give a seminar on what Evolution theory didn't explain.

And here, it's certainly true that global climate change doesn't exactly cause specific rainfalls or storms. But if you insist that the public have a detailed, nuanced understanding of the issue, you risk losing the bigger argument, which is about whether climate change exists at all.

The majority seem to be in the second camp, or undecided.

Bleeping Hell

And in today's exciting episode...

* I can't apply to do anything at the university because they insist on me using their online application system...which doesn't work.

* If you like East European men, as I do, register at the Human Factor Solutions employment agency. The name is more than usually meaningless, and if you can't drive a lorry or operate heavy machinery they can't help you, but there's always fit young men from Poland, Yugoslavia and the Ukraine hanging about.

* They say I'm suited to being a Team Leader ;-).

* I learned a new word today: "Jenki" - Polish for "Thank you".

* Elite Recruitment Ltd can't understand why "a man of your calibre can't find work". I'm not sure whether to be flattered or insulted.

* Maybe I should put them in touch with Ranstad Recruitment Ltd, who tell me "there's no point in registering you because there just aren't any jobs that suit your interests".

* The city council are legally required to publicly advertise all and any vacancies they have - even when they intend to recruit internally. Currently they're looking for five childminders, nine managers and a statistician.

* What is a "Digital Printer"? Am I one already?

It's 03:15 (in the morning) and for the last hour a car alarm has been sounding somewhere in a nearby street.

Presumably the car wasn't stolen, because it's still there, bleeping away. And presumably no thief was found and no police were called, because no one's switched the alarm off.

I started to wonder what would happen if everyone treated every alarm as false...and realised that pretty much everyone does already.

When a burglar alarm goes off, people mutter and sigh in annoyance at the irritating noise, never stopping to consider there might actually have been a break-in. They just wait impatiently for someone to switch the damn thing off.

When there's a "terror alert" at a train station, everyone assumes (probably correctly) that the bomb disposal squad have blown up a piece of lost luggage, and passengers have been delayed for hours on an unfounded fear.

People don't seem to actually believe there is an ongoing threat from terrorists at all. Or rather, they believe in a vague way that Al Quaida or Spectre exists and wants to kill us all because they hate our freedoms or something...but at the same time expect any give bomb scare to be a scare with no bomb.

Everyone "knows" that car thieves are everywhere, but no one considers the possibility that the car alarm outside might have been triggered by an actual thief.

It's what might be called "abstract paranoia" - pervasive fear that something bad is about to happen, seamlessly replaced with certainty that it isn't happening the moment it appears to.

Teacher, Mother, Secret Lover

People can talk without fear of ridicule about how hearing a particular piece of music is an intense emotional experience. And it's not generally considered insane for people to describe one or another pop song in such terms.

Others feel the same way about certain movies - including commercial hollywood output. So how come you don't hear people describing how certain pop videos made them feel? How three and a half minutes of promotional film affected the course of their lives in some way?

Well, I'm coming out and saying it. A few pop videos have made me sit up and stare. They, and the music they accompany, tend to be those audacious experiments that either spawn a thousand pale immitations, or become unique curiosities.

Three of them are below. They are videos that made one half of my mind shout "That's wrong! You're not supposed to be able to do that!", and the other half, "I don't know what it is but I want more".

Or if you like, "Huh?" and "Wow!".

Paul Hardcastle - 19. Not the version you may know.

Art of Noise - Close (to the Edit). The animated UK version.

U2 - Numb. Not a band I usually listen to much, but this video remix by Emergency Broadcast Network shows why channel hopping makes TV better.

If there's a single theme, it's "cutting up the banal to make it startling, abusing the meaningless to make it meaningful, and stealing the bad to make it good"

Or as someone once said, "Video makes, out of the ordinary, something out of the ordinary."

It Never Rains

There seem to be two growth industries locally. One is telesales, where the lowest paid 10% annoy the top 10% by failing to sell them stuff over the phone. And the other is job agencies, which have a small rack of good vacancies in the window...and mostly telesales inside.

Google lists 759 agencies in and around Portsmouth. I spent the afternoon in one street with five of them, listening to the same spiel from a procession of women with identical hair and suits. "There's not much around at the moment in the areas you're looking for, but leave your CV with us and we'll get in touch if anything comes up". which translates as "Fuck off now so I can put your CV in the bin".

Incidentally, the areas I'm looking for are:
* IT
* Clerical
* Administrative
* Graphic design
* Web design
* Retail
* Educational
* Care work
* Bookkeeping
* Accounting
* Anything that doesn't involve driving a truck or getting a hernia

There's a school of thought that, by the law of averages, the more agencies you register with, the greater the chance of finding a few that aren't a complete and utter waste of time. I incline to the other school, which reasons that if nine tenths of the apples in a barrel are rotten, probably so are all the others.

Still, I did get to apply to a company who describe themselves as "small and fun, aiming to offer an amazing customer experience" for a post that requires "skilled manual administration". Thanks to that description, I've got no idea what the job really was, but it sounded intriguing.

The news media is full of how those parts of western England near rivers have been flooded by rainstorms over the last few days. Or rather, it's full of how plucky middle class britons are gamely wading through the waist deep water in their towns, and cheerfully mucking in with filing sandbags in case it rains tomorrow.

There's no mention of the antiquated drainage system being unable to cope and spilling sewage onto the streets, nothing about the rebuilding cost, and absolutely no mention of global climate change.

It's not quite New Orleans, and certainly not Bengal, but it is a warning being conspicuously ignored.

The Strict Machines have broken up, officially and irrevocably. They've done it before - about once every six weeks for three years - but it's different because...this time it wasn't guitarist Paul who did the disbanding.

You know how in some dysfunctional relationships one partner periodically saves it by threatening to leave the other? And how the one is taken completely by surprise when it's the other who finally leaves? well, it's like that.

Paul is now casting around for someone else to be in a band with (and guess who he's asked to program percussion for him), while Anna is inundated with musicians who want her to sing for them, now that she's free.

C'est Moi

Is this me?

A punctual and reliable worker. Takes pride in doing a job well, enjoys working with people and willing to learn new skills. Good telephone manner and interpersonal skills, with the ability to communicate with people in their own terms.

No, that's a description of a receptionist who is (a) very competent (b) neither liked nor disliked by collegues and (c) aproximately as exciting as an overdose of ketamine. However, for the purposes of the job market, it's me.

Is this me?

I have been involved in software development and end user support for most of my adult life, designing many kinds of hardware and software systems, training users in their operation, and modifying the systems in the light of user feedback.

Well, computer programming is what I did between the ages of fifteen and twenty four, and user support is what I've done since then, though not as a job, so in a certain sense, it describes me. But only in the way that "refused to wear jeans and owned two goldfish" describes me.

I hated to wear jeans at age five, and kept goldfish at twenty three.

In my efforts to get some kind of job, I've been reading websites on how to write CVs. There's some useful advice like "Put your name in big letters at the top", "Don't mention age or marital status" and "Don't give references unless specifially asked".

They also advise me to use lots of "action verbs". Now, in linguistics there's two basic kinds of verb - those which describe an action but don't specify the result (eg. throw, kiss, want, push, kick), and those which tell you about the result but not how it was achieved (smash, cover, kill, reward, make).

Which of the two do you think are what management professionals call "action verbs"? That's right, it's the second group.

These people seem to genuinely believe that things like creating. managing, overseeing, controlling, and enhancing are actions, performed by managers through an effort of willpower. The things that need to be done to make these results happen are relegated to some shadowy netherworld, performed by unseen menials who don't exactly exist.

Anyway, the one piece of advice which is always implicit but never written is "tell as many lies as you think you can get away with". Or "mislead the employer with selective truth, distortion and whatever outright fabrication you're sure they won't notice".

Why do this? Because everyone else is doing it, so if you don't you won't get a job. That's the logic of competition, and one day some economist or management consultant will be bright enough to realise it and brave enough to say it.

I wonder if there's a formula somewhere for calculating "Optimum cheating strategy" - measuring "benefit of cheating" against "corruption of competition" and "probability of getting caught".

So far, I've managed to avoid putting any actual lies on my CV. It's just got lots of what politicians and journalists call "spin" - misleading truth.


I've got a masters degree in Art, Design and Media, which makes me qualified to run an art gallery, curate a museum, write film reviews, publish articles about exhibitions I've never seen, or talk a load of bollocks as a consultant on "Urban Renewal and Cultural Regeneration".

Well, it would do if I'd spent the last decade sucking up to the right people, conversing in buzzwords at bitchy parties, and generally being the kind of vacuous tosspot who deserves to be hit repeatedly by an iron bus.

As it is, my MA just takes up one line of my CV, scaring off potential employers who think it means I must be ambitious and therefore won't stay with them for long.

So, I need a career change. Or rather, I need a career, and a change.

The best option I can find is teaching - and the two kinds of teaching most in demand are (a) teaching science (or computing) to teenagers and (b) teaching the English language to the offspring of the non-European middle class.

To become a science teacher in secondary schools I need to take a two year "conversion" course, which magically transforms my art degrees into art-and-science degrees by teaching me science for a year, and then teaching me how to teach it for another year.

The upside is: I'd never be out of work, because there's a great shortage of qualified people prepared to teach teens.

The downside is: Well, actually there's no shortage of properly qualified people, but no one wants to do it. Because it's such a hideously stressful and unrewarding job. About half of those who get the teaching qualifications never work as teachers, because they hate the job so much.

So, on balance I should teach in a language school instead. The culture, atmosphere and opportunities are quite different. Now, how do I get qualified to do this?

I could spend GBP300 on a two day course, and there are many such courses to chose from. But I don't think they're taken seriously by employers, and quite right too - I wouldn't trust someone with a weekend's worth of training and no experience to do any job for me.

I could spend GBP1000 on a six week course. There's lots of these, and they are taken more seriously. Unfortunately most are embedded in BA courses, and I'd have to relocate temporarily to do those that aren't - which I don't mind doing, but it is expensive and difficult. And they'd only get me on the lowest rung of the ladder - part time, short contract, classroom assistant work.

Or I could spend GBP3000 over a year on a locally run MA in "Applied Linguistics and Teaching English as a Foreign Language", which would pretty much guarantee me a career.

Oh, and it's also something I'd love to do anyway. I'd have to get a dumb part time job to pay for it, but I could live with that.

So I'm thinking maybe I should get...another master of arts degree!

Which would make me: Kapitano, MAMA.

On Your Marx

I should write something about the Marxism conference. This year, I decided to go to meetings on subjects I don't know anything about.

After years of going to the conference, reading bits and pieces of socialist literature and associating with people who've read a whole lot more, I reckon I can predict the gist of a lot of the meetings. But there's still plenty of subjects I just don't know about.

Here's a selection of meetings in the former group, together with a summery of what I imagine was said:

How Important is Class Today? - Very. In spite of all half-baked theories to the contrary, there's still the two basic classes - ruling and working, the former constantly shrinking and the latter getting more miserable. The smallish managerial (or "middle") class shills for the rulers, but identifies itself and it's values with all humanity.

Will China be the Next Superpower? - Probably, in twenty or thirty years, but we can't be certain.

Has Racism Always Existed? - No. It began as a justification for the slave trade, and mutated into scapegoating on religious or national grounds.

Is Iraq the New Vietnam? - Not really, but there's a few useful parallels.

Who Really Ended Slavery? - Not the anti-slavery campaigners.

Can Identity Politics Help Us Fight the BNP? - Only the same way wearing clogs persuades your friends to learn Dutch.

Walter Benjamin - Philosopher of the Frankfurt school, and more-or-less Marxist. Wrote about pop culture and art.

Cultural Relativism - Isn't it odd how people who say there's no right or wrong never question the market?

Was Marx a Revolutionary? - Duh. But not all marxisms or marxists are.

Where Does Profit Come from? - The worker makes 300 dollars worth of product, and gets paid 100.

What's Wrong with Conspiracy Theories - They're unscientific, and distract from the real issues.

Do Western Workers Benefit from Imperialism? - The same way a slave charged to whip other slaves benefits from slavery.

Can the Working Class be a Force for Change in the Global South? - We bloody well hope so, 'cos if not we're totally frelled.

Marxism and Feminism - Feminists attribute the big problems of the world to it being run by men. Marxists attribute them to it being run by greedy bastards (who tend to be men). Marxists are by definition feminists to the extent that they oppose oppression of women.

Why is Multiculturalism in Crisis? - Because it's a way of saying "I generously tolerate you being different from me, so long as your difference doesn't affect me at all.". Or, because it's part of the problem it thinks it's the answer to.

Is Marxism Anti-religion? - Only when religion is used to oppress.

...and here's some meetings I actually went to:

Islam and Islamic Civilisations - The prophet Mohamed was born around 600CE, when two Arab empires were collapsing and fighting, and the old gerontocratic tribal cultures were dying.

He had a nervous breakdown, saw angels, heard voices and started a religion. Powerful groups found the relgion's message of unity, peace and mutual respect useful, using it as ideological cover for military expansion and reconsolidation of the middle east. Which some might find ironic.

One intriguing tidbit that the speaker brushed past: There are no surviving contemporary accounts of Mohammed's life, and he isn't mentioned in any documents until 125 years after his death.

Compare with Jesus, who isn't mentioned anywhere until 35 years after his death, and whose life story looks greatly like an agglomeration of older legends. There's no reason to suppose Jesus Christ the man existed. Is it possible Mohamed is also a retrospective fiction?

Latin America - A New Kind of Revolution? - I walked into this one not knowing what the title meant, and left still not knowing. What I do know is, the nationalist Independence movements in Bolivia and Venezuela are still getting stronger, they are focused on quality of life as well as self determination, and Hugo Chavez is a very mixed bag indeed.

I also know the speaker made herself very unpopular by accusing the audience of romanticising the working class.

Beethoven - Compared with slightly older composers like Hadyn, whose work is staid background music for aristocrats, Beethoven's is proud and assertive, reflecting the optimistic and individualistic values of the new bourgeois class.

Africa Before the Slave Trade - Everyone knows Africans used each other as slaves long before Europeans used them. What isn't known is there were many types of slavery, most had tenure limits, and slaves had rights.

Apart from that, Africa has had an absolutely dizzying array of shifting borders, intermixing language groups and some notably civilised empires in 6000 years of history. If I ever get a spare decade, I might be able to study some of it.

Marxism and Rubbish - A whimsical presentation from sci-fi author China Mieville, aka The Sexiest Man in Politics. Waste disposal is big business - there is 70 times more waste produced by heavy industry than by all other sources put together, much of it is amazingly toxic, and the governments of 3rd world countries are selling their land as dumping grounds for it. No recycling, no processing, and whole communities live on it and in it.

Rather than bang on about how evil capitalism is for doing this, Mieville asked how artists could represent and interpret the reality, without falling into the old traps of turning piles of rubbish into towers of benign beauty, or turning the tip dwellers into heroic figures living outside the system.

Tolerance as a Political Category - My favourite Yugoslavian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek holding forth to an audience of a thousand. He began by pointing out how tolerance in itself is nothing more than the powerful refraining from hurting the powerless, and what's needed instead is a removal of the power imbalance.

This is old news, but he somehow segued into how the political left in the west has failed to update its theories to cover the last thirty years of change - which is contentious but IMO partly true.

And then he ended by saying it's the task of intellectuals to radicalise the slum dwellers. Which is, um, an interesting thing to say.

I travelled up to the conference in the back of a furniture van, helped set up an art exhibition there, slept on the floor of a community centre (with 30 young Kurdish men, which was very nice), ate nothing but pasta salad, got blisters and sunburn, somehow managed to gain a pound in weight and lose an MP3 player, got rather drunk in the evenings, fell very briefly in love and travelled home in a slow, bumpy train.

Same again next year?

Romantic Interlude

On Saturday night my friends saw me talking for hours about philosophy and politics with a strange man, then getting rather drunk with him, and us leaving together - me reappearing the following afternoon. In between, a lot of talking, a little sex and a lot of cuddles.

He's a lovely guy and I really like him. In fact he's exactly the kind of man I always fall for - red hair, quite tall, something of a bohemian, hurt by life, intelligent but with a certain wide eyed lack of cynicism about political matters. I always fall in love with damaged dreamers.

But no, a relationship just isn't possible. Quite apart from living a hundred miles apart, he's a straight man who only discovered a gay side that night. It would be too much of a leap. We swapped telephone numbers, but I've got a feeling I'll probably never see him again.

Oh well, life is a stream of missed opportunities and bad timing. At college I was hopelessly pursuing R while P slowly fell for me - before I met C. At university I spent a year trying to make B feel about me the way I felt about him - but he wanted someone else, who didn't even like him. I threw away one relationship to be with S, who turned out to be an alcoholic. I let myself be persuaded that the gypsy lad E would lead me into a life of unhappy crime. I fell for D while he was still pretending to be straight, three years before he found the man of his dreams.

Perhaps I'll write a song about the man I knew for one night in London.

A lot more happened at Marxism, and I'll write about that next, when there's more time.

Forward Planning

I honestly thought I was going to a job interview on Monday - all the job advert text and timetable arranging phonecalls suggested it was. But no, I was signing up to an agency.

An agency with very swish offices, immensely expensive computers,
and staff dressed in suits so sharp they could cut carborundum. But still, most likely, a complete waste of time.

According to one employment search engine last week, there around 1500 advertised vacancies in Portsmouth. Bear in mind that about 85% of vacancies never get advertised. So how many of these 1500 were not being advertised through an agency?


That's "Nine". For a population of 190,000, in forty square kilometres.

Still, I did get to take some computerised tests, so I now know that I'm officially 46% proficient at bookkeeping. Not great, but consider that I have exactly zero training in bookkeeping, and the average score after a year of training is 55%.

Which is possibly a bit worrying if you employ an accountant.

I turned up for my interview at the daycare centre for disabled adults, to find my interviewer in another part of the country and no record of my appointment. Somehow it wasn't entirely unexpected - I've been in there a few times and it's always chaotic.

One of the residents gave me a gift. A painfully shy man tentatively held out a piece of paper with some scribbled drawings to me. He couldn't make eye contact, but we exchanged names, and after some hesitation he managed to shake hands. But it was too much - blushing and smiling, he scuttled away.

It was an oddly touching little moment.

A sociological study has found that, although 54% of (American) scientists are atheists, compared with 14% in the general population, the chief determining factor in whether a scientist lacks religion is not that their scientific knowledge contradicts their religious faith. It's whether they were raised in a religious home.

To me, this is rather unsurprising. In my experience people tend to question their religion not when they think about science, but when they think about their religion.

You can learn all about the science related to photosynthesis, nuclear fusion or digestion in whales, and easily attribute all the wonders and complexity to a designer god, without (much) impeding your ability to research, reason and experiment.

It's only when you start to ask yourself about biblical contradictions, theological vagueness and the bloodstained history of your own church that you realise how unsupportable your religious beliefs are.

It's not necessary to be a good scientist in any field to have thought deeply about your own nonscientific beliefs.

The corollary of the study is that being raised a believer reduces the probability of becoming interested in science. Perhaps because having an infallible source of answers reduces the impulse to find them the hard way.

I'm planning to spend four days in London at the annual Marxism conference. Two hundred meetings, lots of debate, and the chance to meet people who only think I'm a little bit mad.

That and paying GBP2.50 on a lousy pasta salad twice a day. The only cheap thing in London is smog.

I always try to travel light, but what that means to me may not be what it means to you. Here's Kapitano's inventory of essentials for a long weekend away:

Toothpaste, Toothbrush, Anti-persperant - in the absence of showers, it'll hopefully do for a few days. Toothpaste replaces the tube of extra strong mints. There should be soap in the toilets there.

Aspirin - if I don't get a headache, there's always someone who will.

MP3 player, Headphones, batteries - 3GB of company, solitude, lullabies and something to do when my brain's exhausted.

Coat - doubling as pillow or cover for sleeping on the floor. Sleeping bags are good, but I don't want to carry one around.

Charged phone - aka "lifeline for emergencies".

Pair of socks, teeshirt, jeans - essentially, one change of clothes. Underwear? Haven't bothered with it for twenty years. I'm told this makes me uncomfortable (not that I've noticed), unhygienic (why?) and a bit of a slut (yeah, well...anyway).

Wallet - of course.

Notebook, pens - last year I took a minidisc recorder to review interesting meetings later. I've still got a dozen recordings and haven't heard any of them yet.

That's my version of light travel. Last year I lodged with some female comrades - tough, dedicated feminists who take no nonsense from any man. They were kind enough to explain to me the precise purpose of each type of make-up in their travelbags - foundation, eyeliner, eyelasher, bronzer, blusher etc. Their basic essentials.

Lost in Time, Like Queers in the Rain

Gay Pride is an annual event, where gay people march in the street to feel solidarity and stick two fingers at those who pretend they don't exist or wish they didn't. There are versions now in most of the countries of the world, including some where there are only a few hundred incredibly brave people who defy hostile crowds. In England it's been going for 35 years,

Until around 1990 it was a highly political event, then it metamorphosed into "Pride", extended its range to cover transsexuals and others who define their sexuality or gender differently, and began the transition from charged political rally to corporate sponsored disco.

How neutered has it become? Well, this year it happened to fall on the same day as the season finale of Doctor Who - a science fiction kids TV show long beloved of gay men, for slightly mysterious reasons.

The organisers were terrified that tens of thousands of gay men would stay at home to watch it, rather than march through the streets to assert their right to exist and then have a free open air party.

So they did a deal with the BBC, and had the finale shown on the big screen in Trafalgar Square.

The mandarins of the Respect party decided Pride could use an injection of real politics. Or to put it another way, they're planning to stand candidates in London at the next election, and could do with the gay vote.

Either way, the call went out from head office that homosexual Respect members (and indeed non-homosexual ones) should get to Pride, and make themselves visible, waving flags and banners.

Simon M and myself, being the two uncomplicatedly gay branch members, were delegated - me somewhat grudgingly.

It started raining as I walked (sans coat) to the station. It rained on the train as it trundled to Waterloo. It rained on the Respect float, not exactly overfilled with eighteen of us.

Truly, it rained on our parade. But we didn't care, because we're queens, and we could have a good time on Jupiter if we wanted.

Next to our float, the GLADD - Gay and Lesbian Association of Doctors and Dentists. Just behind, the Dynamo Dykes - a lesbian volleyball team, actually playing volleyball as they followed. And running around, the London Fruitrunners - the fruity section of the London Frontrunners, a marathon club.

The majority of the participants in a parade are those who line the streets cheering, and there was no shortage of these. There were the obviously gay muscle marys, couples holding hands and dancing boychavs. But also families, children, and cafe or bank workers who'd stepped out of their place of employment to stand and watch in their work clothes for a few minutes.

A few onlookers dressed "appropriately" in sequined lycra with pink feather boas, or in shiny fantasy military uniforms. One was made up as Wonder Woman, looking not quite as butch as the original. Many were waving pink Union Jacks, a curious blend of subversion and patriotism.

There were two embarrassed men holding pieces of paper saying "I am Hetero" and "So am I". They cringed when I shouted "Don't believe you!".

No march would be complete without a counter demonstration. At the end of the route there was the National Front, giving Nazi salutes next to a banner saying "Outlaw Homosexual Marriage". A total of five hate-twisted men in their fifties, standing well back from the torrent of abuse.

Actually, two of them were giving Black Power salutes, but no one seemed inclined to point out the difference.

And next to the neo-nazis, the pseudo-christians. Twenty god-foamers, safe behind their own little barricade and almost invisible behind their umbrellas and bible-quoting placards, trying to persuade us through a megaphone that we were the unhappy ones.

In Nelson's Square, the mayor gave a speech about resisting oppression around the world...before giving way to a largely apolitical evening, with performances from Scissor Sisters, Graham Norton, The Sheilas (don't ask), and a white gay rap act. I remember ten years ago when "homo-hop" was a bizarre backwater of the hip-hop scene - now it's breaking through.

Trawling (or trolling) around the stalls in the omnipresent precipitation, the Labour party sat happily next to the Green Party, Barclay's Bank...and an SM/bondage stall staffed by men in chains and rubber shorts. The 911-truther's stall nestled next to an ice cream manufacturer giving away free samples, and an IT firm of three middle eastern men who design websites specifically for gay people.

So that was London Pride 2007 - Camp and damp.