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Not far from where the Peasants Revolt started…

This series of wooden sculptures in Wat Tyler Country Park at Pitsea in Essex was created by Robert Koenig to commemorate the Peasants Revolt which took place in 1381. For more information about the sculptor, see here: To read a heartfelt history of the uprising, see this post which appeared further back on this blog:

I’ve visited Wat Tyler Country Park on a fair few occasions but this time I specifically wanted to see and photograph these statues close up. When you see a sculpture like this, it’s a stark reminder that throughout history, ordinary people have sporadically risen up to oppose oppression and try to bring about a more just and equitable society…and we’re still trying to do that now, albeit with no success… When I was standing by these statues that depict the defeat of the Peasants Revolt, I have to admit I felt a bit of chill up my spine at the thought of what these people went through and the brutal way they were dealt with in the aftermath of their defeat…a strange feeling of empathy across the centuries



Way over the top…

Beak Street shut down by the Met while they seal off the convergence centre

This week is seeing a series of planned protests across London in the run up to the G8 summit which is being held in a remote part of the north of Ireland. As it’s physically and logistically impossible to organise any significant protest near the summit venue, London was one of the locations selected as the focus for actions instead. Tuesday 11th June was the ‘Carnival Against Capitalism’ with a selection of oil companies, arms companies and hedge funds amongst others across Mayfair being picked out for attention.

Planning for the week of actions has been an ongoing process for a good number of months. As part of the preparations, an empty building in Beak Street in Soho was squatted a few days ago to act as a convergence centre for protesters, a fair number of who came from abroad to participate the the process. Now, whether picking a location for the convergence centre so close to the focus of the actions was a wise decision or not is open to question. Personally, I thought it was a naïve move that would provoke a tough reaction from the authorities…sadly I was right. On the morning of Tuesday 11th June, the Metropolitan Police descended in force to raid the squat in a bid to derail the protest and to blatantly intimidate protesters. There were a fair number of arrests and numerous reports of over the top use of force.

I’ll be honest and admit that I wasn’t going to attend the protest as I’ve had my fill of being chased around the streets by hyped up cops. Also, I’m trying to move away from ‘activista’ style political activism to something a bit more community focused. Not only that, spending £19 on a one day travelcard to get into London mid-week is a lot of dosh just to get chased, kettled or battered. However, when I started to read the reports coming through about the raid on the convergence centre and the police using snatch squads to grab marching protesters off the streets, something snapped in my head and I though ‘sod this, I’m off into London’.

I got into London just before 5pm and my first port of call was Beak Street to see what was going on at the convergence centre. As you can see from the image above, the area around the convergence centre was still sealed off with a fair number of cops still around and a few protesters and news reporters looking on. Having checked out the situation I made my way down to Piccadilly Circus to see if the planned street party would still go ahead at the scheduled time of 5.30pm…

Two supposedly fluffy liaison officers plus an observer from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (formerly known as the RUC)

It did go ahead…sort of that is… Firstly, given the constant police harassment of protesters during the day, understandably those who made it to Piccadilly Circus were probably feeling a bit deflated. Secondly, it’s not easy to party in the presence of a good few hundred cops, many of who were clutching riot helmets and batons… However, given that the location was Piccadilly Circus and that there were hordes of tourists around, the Met had to be seen to be on their best behaviour. So it was a case of a watching brief from the riot cops ringing the street party. As you can see from the image above, there were also a few police liaison officers in their baby blue bibs trying to be ‘friendly’ to protesters in the hope that they can gain some intelligence about plans for the rest of the week. When one of the baby blues came up to the group I was with to ‘re-assure’ us that the cops surrounding us were there for our ‘protection’ I thought ‘you’re taking the sodding piss’. Who do these muppets think we are when after spending the morning battering people they turn around and tell us they’re here for our ‘protection’?!

The police helicopter which was constantly hovering overhead

Nope, the cops were there to intimidate. I mean, what other conclusion are you going to draw seeing a cop dressed in overalls, heavy boots, a baseball cap, a sodding great baton in his belt and clutching a riot helmet? By the standards of previous protests in London, this was small scale…a few hundred at the most. Also from what I saw of them, not a single one looked like they would threaten or intimidate anyone. Okay, there were a fair few who may be deemed to look and dress ‘unconventionally’ but if that’s a crime… Actually, judging from the over-reaction from the cops and some of the hysterical reporting that followed in certain sections of the media, it would appear that looking and dressing ‘unconventionally’ in the wrong part of town is now a crime and we are in the shite. It looks as though you can only legitimately be in the West End if you are working, going to a show, bar, restaurant or club or most importantly of all, shopping. The attitude is that if you’re not working or consuming then ‘what the f**k are you doing in the West End?!’

As I wrote earlier, this kind of action really isn’t my style any more and there are legitimate criticisms that can be made relating to the planning and mobilising. However, when such a blatant and totally over the top use of force is brought to bear on a few hundred protesters, reservations have to be put to one side and solidarity shown. It’s clear that orders came from high up that sanctioned the level of force and intimidation used with the clear aim of putting people off from taking to the streets in the future. The question is, are the authorities cracking down from a position of strength or are there fears and anxieties lurking in the depths of the establishment? If they are getting their knickers in a twist about the kind of protesters I saw yesterday, they’d be cacking themselves if they had to deal with something like the infamous Poll Tax Riot in 1990!


Piece rate piss take…

Having been made redundant a few years back and being the wrong side of 55, there’s little chance of me ever getting back into full time employment in an economy that’s stagnating. So I make do as best I can by working part time as a self employed door to door leaflet distributor. Quite often I get hourly paid work – although the rate of pay isn’t brilliant, I’m given the leaflets, a map, a deadline and I’m trusted to get on with the job without any interference which suits me fine.

I used to fill in with some piece rate delivery work when the hourly paid work didn’t materialise. Suffice to say I don’t any more because there’s a limit to how much shite one person can be expected to put up with. Here’s why I won’t touch piece rate work any more…

The current going rate is £30 per thousand leaflets delivered. If you can deliver 250 plus leaflets an hour, you can get just above the national minimum wage. However, when you’re in a bog standard suburban area sodding around with gates, dodging badly parked cars and thoughtlessly placed dustbins, a rate of 185 per hour is the norm. Not to mention the dogs silently lurking behind the letterbox… But that’s not all – the customer wanted four leaflets delivered to each household. Those leaflets had to be collated and bundled and that took time – up to four hours in some cases.

Then there was the paperwork and the admin…suffice to say the people I used to work for were about the most anal, untrusting pair you could possibly meet. Firstly, I had to phone in before each shift to let them know where I was starting and at what time. They also wanted me to fill in a form with every road I’d done and a note of the house numbers as well. When I was working in an area for the first time, having to make a note of the house numbers in every sodding street was a time consuming pain in the butt! Not only did they want the forms sent to them at the end of the job, they wanted me to phone in at the end of each day to verbally report what I had done. It gets worse…they also phoned me up in the middle of my shift to ask for a report of what I’d done so far…

Here’s the real kicker. If I had to take a break whether it was for a bite to eat or to have a piss, I had to phone in to let them know and then phone in again when I restarted the job. They were on an 0800 number so that started to cost. Since I quit working for them, I’ve found out they now track their distributors using GPS so they can find out where they are at any time. No prizes for guessing that the distributors are expected to provide their own GPS enabled phones!

Now when I was getting paid piece rate, while there wasn’t a lot I could do about the time I spent on collating, bundling, route planning and paperwork, when I hit the streets, I aimed to do the round in the quickest and most efficient way possible. Which meant, wherever possible, roads full of detached houses with long driveways got put to the bottom of the priority list in the hope that I would have run out of leaflets before I got to them. On one job, yours truly leafleted an area of 1950s suburban housing in Rainham which was built to a reasonable density where I reached an average of 185 deliveries an hour. However, to get to these roads, I had to walk along a main road lined with low density houses and bungalows, all detached and with long driveways – didn’t do them as it would taken too long and as I was getting paid piece rate, it wasn’t worth the effort for the pittance I was getting.

The day after on the way into work, I got a phone call from the customer asking why I didn’t leaflet the main road with the detached houses, bungalows and long driveways. Telling the truth – you’re paying me a sodding pittance and if you think I’m going to waste my time trudging up and down long driveways, you’ve got another think coming – wasn’t exactly an option at the time. It was a case of thinking on my feet and managing in that case to bullshit my way out of it by explaining that I wasn’t given enough leaflets to cover the area I was allocated! Suffice to say, that was the last job I did for that shower…

Seriously, this is what it’s like at the murkier end of the self employment spectrum where customers routinely take the piss because they think you actually enjoy slogging up and down endless driveways in low density housing areas. No, we’re only doing this because most other employment options have been closed off… Yet the attitude seems to be that if you want any kind of work, regardless of how menial and low paid it is, you’re required to not just turn up and do your shift but to be pathetically grateful for it and to put your heart and soul into being exploited. Along with this is the growing disconnect between the amount of graft you have to put it, how much of your soul you have to sell to the job and the money you get paid for it – considerably more of the former is expected for a decreasing amount of the latter!


The Peasants revolt

Today is 632 years since the start of the peasant’s revolt. Sod people moaning on about 1917 in Russia or the French revolution, or 1968. There all nonsense in comparison to what happened here in 1381.

First let’s set the scene.

The fourteenth century has been dubbed the worst century in history. The 1300’s started off with a sharp change in climate ruining crops for the most of the population who were either subsistence farmers or landless wage labourers.  This was followed by outbreaks of Murrain disease which killed up to 50% of sheep. The food shortage was so bad that the poor started eating diseased animal carcases. The number of adult men dropped by 15%

Food prices and land rents rocketed up.

Inequalities in wealth grew. The poor were starving to death on their farms, and when they died, their better off neighbours would simply expand their land into their dead neighbour’s property.

Then in 1348 the plague stuck killing just under 50% of the population.
Farming came to a halt, some towns were wiped off the map. People saw it as a great shadow moving across the land.

The next winter there was a massive shortage in people to work the land, there weren’t enough servants to run after lords or people to tend to cattle. Peasants picked up pretty quickly that with less people around their work was worth a little bit more.

They threatened to leave manors unless their rents were reduced. People had come through not just a hard time, but one of the worst. They weren’t willing to return to living on starvation wages.
Part of the reason for people demanding a bit more money to live off, turning down the worst work and trying to build a bit of a better life was because of a physiological effect of living through a plague. It wasn’t just the bottom of the rung plebs that died. Priests, government officials, tax collectors, the rich and the poor both died from the plague. Everyone died the same.  If this was some kind of punishment from god, then god was angry at everyone.

And how did the rich react to people standing up for themselves a little bit? They came down on them like a ton of bricks.  Making out that people wanting a little more money was ‘Malice’ they said people should be forced to work because otherwise they were just ‘idle’.  They created a Law called the Statute of Labourers in 1351 which forced people to work for the pre plague pittances. This was supported with lots of little laws saying what each class of person could and couldn’t wear, what they could eat, how many times they could have meat in a week. The real reason they did this was that the poor had the chance to earn a little more money, the rich were scared that the peasants and more well off lower orders would start to wear clothes like the lords. They were scared that a craftsman going round in a nice coat might be mistaken for a landowner.

Fucking Pathetic.

In 1360 they introduced more laws allowing justices of the peace to round up and arrest ‘master less men’ , Labourers who moved around . An of course the whole time that wages are being kept low prices are still going up.

At this point people were pretty fuming, But it was nothing compared to how they felt after the first Poll Tax was introduced. In 1377 the young Kings uncle, John of Gaunt, imposed a new tax called the Poll Tax to cover the cost of war with France. Unlike normal taxes, this was to be paid by the peasants, as well as the landowners. Peasants found it hard to pay the tax, especially as they had to pay in cash and not in farm produce. By 1380, many were hiding from the collectors, and avoiding payment.

We see the same happen again hundreds of years later when Thatcher tried a Poll Tax, between 1989 and 1990 130,000 disappeared off the books in London. The same happened back then with nearly 36% of the population of Essex disappearing off the books. There was such high levels of evasion of this tax that a royal commission led by John Bampton was sent out to Brentwood in Essex to find out what has going on.

Something was about to give.

On 30th May the people of Fobbing, Stanford le hope and Corringham  were called together  and told by John Bampton that the people of Essex would be paying their  full amount of Poll tax. He sent in his sergeant at arms to arrest anyone not co-operating. He was beaten up, chased out of town.

The next day the Essex rebels caught up with an killed Brampton’s servants. Word of the kick off in Essex spread like wildfire quickly reaching, Hertfordshire and Suffolk.

This was fast moving, there was no Twitter or BB messaging saying get down to PC world quick, This was people riding round on horses telling the towns to get your weapons, its on.

They took full advantage of it being the start of June, the time of big festivals and religious days used as cover to get together massive amounts of people together.  Mobs started forming up all over the country.

In Kent a mob formed up because men were sent after a man in Gravesend, the people of Gravesend refused to surrender him but he was arrested and taken away anyway. The rebels formed up made a move of the castle he was held in an freed him, they killed a couple of rich people on the way their for good measure.  This is where we first hear about a local leader called Wat Tyler.

Next they freed John Ball from Maidstone prison John Ball was a right nut who’d been running round for years preaching in markets, in fields, anywhere he can be heard, telling people to not pay their tithes, pointing out how the whole systems corrupt.  One of his most famous catch phrases was “when Adam delved an Eve spun who then was the gentlemen?” excellent, he was saying in language everyone could understand who was in charge when we were made? No one! Thats who, no fucking one.


A few days later the Kent Rebels captured Canterbury, the rebels appointed a humble monk as the new Archbishop.

Both the Kent and the Essex rebels now set out to march on London. By the 12th June The Kent Rebels were camped at Blackheath, and the Essex Rebel were just down the road at Mile End. A message was sent into the city demanding a meeting with the King.
Edward the III had died and the person in charge was a little snot nosed boy king Richard II, clearly his uncle was pulling the strings , but they sent this boy out to meet the rebels, and he shat himself, he was too scared to even get off his barge and went back down the Thames  promising another meeting in a week.

The rebels carried on, The gates of London were opened to the mob by Londoners who joined in with the attacks on the rich and the burning of wealthy buildings.

The Kent rebels got to Southwark where they started demolishing the buildings owned by the Toffs. They freed all the people from the local prison. The Essex mob attacked the Temple, burning all the legal documents inside. Lawyers were of course people that up held the unjust law in favour of the rich and any found on the streets or hiding in their rich building felt an axe across the neck.

Fleet street Prison was broken open, merchants were massacred and then the rebels came across the Savoy Palace. The property of John Gaunt the nob head who came up with the Poll Tax. The Savoy was said to be the finest palace in the country, there was meant to be more than five carts worth of gold and silver inside, as well as a very very fancy an expensive set of clothes. Sadly he wasn’t home, if he was his head would have been lobbed of. Instead the rebels went about taking apart his palace and burning everything they could.

His Gold and silver cups were smashed with axes and then thrown in the Thames,  Rings were ground in mortars so that no person could ever wear them again. They didn’t want to nick this stuff, they wanted it dematerialised, completely gone from the earth. They didn’t want anyone else to ever wear a ring again while others were starving.
Of course not everyone could be busy with grinding down rings and 30 looters burnt to death as they drunk themselves into a stupor in the wine cellars.

As the rebels burnt the city and killed any traitors they could find the king hid in the Tower of London. You can imagine him sitting in his castle hearing the roar of the party and the screams of the traitors being executed, knowing that the next day his got to go out and try bargain with people his spent his whole life looking down at.
On the 14th June the King rode out to meet with the Peasants at Mile End. They demand land rents to be reduced, the Poll Tax to be abolished, pardons for all rebels, rights and privileges for Peasants and for all “traitors” to be put to death. The King agreed to nearly all demands and makes up a charter with the Seal of England on it.

The rebels from Essex seemed happy with this and began to leave London. The Kent rebels with Wat Tyler weren’t having any of it though, a crew from Kent raided the Tower of London as the meeting was taking place. The serfs apparently strolled around the place like they were knights, stroking the beards of the noble knights and asking the kings mum for a kiss before jumping onto an laying in the Kings bed.
They found hiding there the Archbishop of Salisbury, the King’s treasurer. They are dragged out onto Tower Hill, and beheaded him, sticking his head up on a pike.

The next day they had another meeting where the abolition of lordship was called for along with the division of all property including the church’s to be divided between all men and held in common. Here Wat Tyler approached the king on a hoarse and when he got off had a dagger in his hand. This is where Tyler becomes my hero, I see him being played by Alfie Moon, or maybe Grant Mitchell.


The king asked Tyler why he wouldn’t go home, Tyler said he wanted a charter. The king said Tyler could have all that the king could grant.
This wasn’t enough for Tyler.

Tyler demanded a large jug of water, and gurgled it in his mouth spitting it out in a disgusting way. Then he demanded a jug of ale which he downed straight away. He then stood close to the king chugging his dagger from hand to hand while staring at the king.
The king must have wanted to cry as this uncouth barbarian gurgled around with a blade in front of him.

If only he’d don’t it. The weight of that dagger as he threw it from hand to hand. If only he’d stuck it in that snot nosed kings face. Then we’d have been free, hundreds of years of property, class war, millions dead in imperialist adventure could have been averted. But no. Tyler didn’t thrust the knife in, instead he was provoked into a quarrel and got stabbed by the kings guards, he was taken to a hospital. The kings men came for him, took him out of the hospital brought him back to the king and he was beheaded. His head stuck on a pike and paraded in front of the rebels.

The rebellion wasn’t over, rebels in Suffolk beheaded lords and put on little plays where the heads of the lords kissed each other on the lips. Norfolk was still going but throughout June the rebels were caught up with an massacred, the Essex rebels made their last stand at Billericay.

On the 30th the King felt strong enough to go back on all his concessions. The people would not be free.  The crown issued commands for people to submit to their previous conditions.  The king declared to the poor at a trail in Chelmsford “Rustics you were and rustics you will be, you will remain in bondage, not as before but incomparably harsher.”

Rebels were executed throughout the country, John ball was hung drawn and quartered.

What else can be said except “We should have killed the king”

This is a very short bit written about a massive bit of our past, its full of spelling mistakes and inaccuracies, so make sure you find a proper book to read all about 1381

One week on from Woolwich

It’s been one week since a soldier was killed on the streets of Woolwich. This has been a charged event that a lot of people have found difficult to deal with.  Maybe it was seeing the interview of the nut job after he’d killed a man, knives and blood in his hands. Maybe it’s the shock of a soldier being killed in this country.  Were used to hearing about soldiers dying abroad, Five British troops dead in Afghanistan, two soldiers blown up in Iraq.

What I’ve found hardest to understand isn’t the murder, but how people have been trying to earn out of it. The EDL have been trying to recoup their losses by attaching themselves to this story. A few months ago the EDL were a dwindling crew of a few hundred. Yesterday’s mob, unable to even walk round Walthamstow. But they have latched themselves on to this story and used this man’s death to bolster their numbers, an for what? To bring a mob out on the streets to give Nazi salutes outside Downing Street. How is that paying respect for British troops?

The same goes for the BNP, this Saturday their trying to skip along in their cars between Lewisham and Woolwich. There using this guy’s death to try and bolster their numbers after UKIP stole all their votes. It’s a sham, just a chance to spread their poison. They are insulting the idea of respect for the dead.  Would this guy have wanted Fascists shouting his name on the streets?

But it’s not just the bottom feeders out for a bit of gain, you’ve got Mi5 using this as reason to keep their funding from being cut. The Tories are using his death as a excuse to push through more laws eroding out right to privacy. As if keeping a log of what we look at on Facebook could ever stop a nutter with a knife.

An all the papers. Running twenty page specials on this “fallen hero”.  The family won’t get a penny from the papers sold after he died. For the media it’s just another bit of news to churn out, show a bit of shock and horror. Let a few crocodile tears drop and then move on, find another tragedy to profit off. Find another missing girls phone to hack.

All this nonsense around it, all these people looking to gain. It makes you forgot why the lad was even killed.

He was wearing a Help for Heroes T shirt going into a barracks. Help for Heroes is the most disgusting charity there is,  Not because they try to help disabled people returning to this country from war, but because it even exists. The idea that members of the public should have to subsidies the recovery of men an women sent out to die in this country’s name is wrong. Yet again the English state shows itself to the least patriotic of everyone.  The state should be paying fully for every aspect of their care. These soldiers should have everything they want from the state because they were willing to sacrifice their lives and limbs for the government’s war, and what do they get?

As Tony Blair and John Prescott roll around in fine silks racking in millions every year, writing books about the tough decisions they had to make over if they should send children to go off to war. These kids have to live with being charity cases. Hoping people will send in a few quid so the ministry of defence can buy a new swimming pool to help people without legs walk as Tony Blair spunk’s another million on champagne to quaff down with the Pope.

And that’s where the blame really lands isn’t it? This is just the fallout of the Imperialist wars of Tony Blair, or had people forgotten there was still two wars on?  Sure there might be an official peace. Sure their might not be peace marchers on the streets anymore and sure, there might be a military retreat going on. But Guantanamo bay’s still full, civilians are still dying, Drones are still flying and body bags are still being sent back here.

 If this kid had died in Iraq no would know his name. But he died on our streets and that’s what’s so hard to handle, that this stupid war this country was dragged into for the sake of oil is still raging on.


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