Monthly Archives: July 2012

A day out with John Rex in Handsworth and Sparkhill

I totally missed the news that Professor John Rex had passed away recently. He had been a significant figure for me since I came to Birmingham in the late sixties. With a friend, Kuldip Singh Rai, I attended his lecturers at Aston University, but I think under the auspices of Birmingham University, on Race Relations in The Modern World in 1980. They were stimulating not only because of John’s extensive knowledge and experience, but because those present represented the diverse community including a number of radical activists. We had in consequence lively and informed debate. One exchange became the subject of articles and letters published in the N.A.M.E. journal “Multiracial School” around this time. At times it became quite personal but nevertheless John answered his critics, which probably included myself. He was quite ready to drink with us in the pub afterwards, where we learned many more interesting things as John told us of legendary personalities with whom he had rubbed shoulders, such as Frantz Fanon.
I met with John Rex again when I visited Warwick University when I was researching my dissertation for London University Institute in Education in 1982. His books on Sparkbrook, 1967 and Handsworth in the early seventies. The latter co-incided with my work as a teacher in the Department for teaching English as a Second Language. In 1972 I became a senior member of department when there were around 300 teachers deployed in schools and centres to support children who were entering schools from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh principally. The Head of Department, Bob Chapman, took a broad view and I consequently had the interesting task of leading on educating teachers about the backgrounds of such children. Children from the West Indies were included in the remit, and a report produced by one senior member of staff, Alex Crump, noted underachievement as an issue. This was around the time Bernard Coard published his critique on the education of children from the Caribbean.
I noted that I was quoted in the work on Handsworth, not by name, but as the anonymous editor of Contact, a magazine I produced in the seventies. It is filled with names of those I knew (still know in many cases) and interacted with. James Hunte, the larger than life former West Midland County Councillor, is on the cover.
On a later visit to Warwick I introduced John to a friend, Professor Babu Desai, visiting from Surat in the Gujerat area of India. We were invited into a lecture and debate where we able to join in.
More recently I had a conversation with John on the phone. I can’t remember how it came about. He said he had funding to revisit Sparkbrook and Handsworth 30 years on. He met me and we spent the day visiting both areas and sites he had associations with. This included St Peter’s College in Saltley where for a time he had his base.
I dropped him off at Snowhill Station. He was having some difficulty walking following a fall he had had while visiting Beijing. Nevertheless he was still active and continued to have an office at Warwick. As one of the tributes to him says the British press were extremely quiet about one of their eminent and distinguished sociologists. It was left to his son to write the Guardian obituary. If he were French he would have appeared on the front pages. It is time to restore the balance.

Continue reading

Arafat’s death. No longer a mystery?

Israel’s secretive nuclear activities are shrouded in mystery, and that is how this rogue state likes to conduct its business with assassination high on the agenda. Only the action of Mordechai Vanunu exposed what President John F Kennedy had suspected. The question still remains did he pay with his life for persisting in asking the right questions? When Yasser Arafat became ill suddenly towards the end of 2004 exhaustive tests failed to find what was causing his deteriorating condition. Following his death there was no trace of poisoning. Now Al Jazeera have commissioned further studies looking in a new direction, the possible use of polonium, discovered by Marie Curie and the cause of death of her own daughter after an accidental leakage in the laboratory.
“At least two people connected with Israel’s nuclear program also reportedly died after exposure to the element, according to the limited literature on the subject.
But polonium’s most famous victim was Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian spy-turned-dissident who died in London in 2006 after a lingering illness. A British inquiry found that he was poisoned with polonium slipped into his tea at a sushi restaurant.
There is little scientific consensus about the symptoms of polonium poisoning, mostly because there are so few recorded cases. Litvinenko suffered severe diarrhea, weight loss, and vomiting, all of which were symptoms Arafat exhibited in the days and weeks after he initially fell ill.
Animal studies have found similar symptoms, which lingered for weeks – depending on the dosage – until the subject died. “The primary radiation target… is the gastrointestinal tract,” said an American study conducted in 1991, “activating the ‘vomiting centre’ in the brainstem.”
Scientists in Lausanne found elevated levels of the element on Arafat’s belongings – in some cases, they were ten times higher than those on control subjects, random samples which were tested for comparison.”
Source Al Jazeera 4/6/2012.

Continue reading

Speaking from Handsworth

Last year’s looting and burning once again linked to Handsworth, a name removed from prominence in many areas. The University Campus calls itself “Hamstead” from the nearby village in Sandwell. It used to be a parliamentary constituency, but this was replaced by Ladywood and now Perry Barr. Lord Boyle, former Secretary for Education was pleased to add “of Handsworth” as does Lord Morris today. To those who live here there is pride in the name and Handsworth can boast many names of famous personalities in music and sport. It seems to be a sort of Harlem in the UK.
There was unrest last year, but it was by no means confined to Handsworth. In 1985 trouble was centred on neighbouring Lozells but have gone down in history as the “Handsworth riots”. I was a councillor for the former “Sandwell Ward” from 1995 to 2004 which was a pleasure from beginning to end. Everyone believed they lived in and paid their taxes to Sandwell authority, but it was part of Handsworth in Birmingham now renamed as “Handsworth Wood Ward”.
This is what a young resident believes happened last year.