Lara Maiklem. Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames. London: Bloomsbury, 2019. RRP £9.99 paperback.
I have always been curious about Mudlarks. Once a way of scraping together a living for some of London’s poorest residents, modern Mudlarks are more likely to be hobbyists and amateur archaeologists. They search the Thames foreshore at low tide, searching for historical objects revealed or washed up by the river. So when Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames was published, I was keen to give it a read. I was not disappointed; Mudlarking is a fascinating book, and a joy to read.
For just a few hours each day, the river gives us access to its contents, which shift and change as the water ebbs and flows, to reveal the story of a city, its people, and their relationship with a natural force…As I have discovered, it is often the tiniest of objects that tell the greatest stories.
Maiklem, 2019; p. 5.
Mudlarking is not easy to categorise. It’s not a history book, a memoir, or a travel book, but it has elements of all 3. Lara describes the process and experience of mudlarking; explores what mudlarking, and the Thames more generally, means to her; and investigates and speculates on the origins and history of a huge range of objects that she has found over the years, from the mundane to the extraordinary.
The book is structured geographically, beginning at Teddington, where the tidal Thames begins, and finishing in the Estuary. The narrative winds and curves however, much like the river itself. Sometimes it jumps back Lara’s childhood, pauses on a particularly memorable trip to the river, or stops to reflect on a different types of object such as pins, buttons, or clay pipes. Mudlarking always comes back to the river however, and its relationship to London.
London is a city where the past is never far from the surface; simply turning a corner can catapult you back hundreds of years. There is just so much history there, so many lives and stories, most of which are irrevocably lost to us. The objects Lara finds on the Thames foreshore are a way for her to connect with those lost stories, to imagine Londoners long gone and conjure the city as it used to be in her mind. This struck a chord with me; I also find myself daydreaming about past people and places when presented with an archival document or running my hand along the walls of an ancient church.
Not only is Mudlarking well written, it is also well put together. It is full of special touches, from the illustrations on the inside cover, lovingly drawn by one of Lara’s fellow mudlarkers, to the font used for the front cover and chapter epigraphs, the type of which was consigned to the river by its’ creator in the early twentieth century. There are also two lovely maps of the river (there are few books that couldn’t be improved without the inclusion of a map or two, in my opinion!), and images of many of the finds Lara discusses.
Thanks to the Coronavirus lockdown, I haven’t been to London in five months. Reading Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames was a wonderful way for me to reconnect with a city that I miss. There are so many books about London, it isn’t easy to find a fresh angle. In Mudlarking, Lara Maiklem has done this, and then some.
Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who played a part in the city’s contentious past. Most of the Turbulent Londoners I feature are women, because their contribution to history has so often been overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. Next up is Olive Morris, radical, activist, and organiser.
There has been a conscious effort over the last few years to ensure that black activists throughout history receive the attention they deserve. Olive Morris is one of those who has been the subject of concerted efforts to research and publicise her life and legacy. She was even featured on a Google Doodle on the 26th of June 2020, which would have been her 68th birthday. Olive was an accomplished and dedicated activist, who made significant contributions to the developing Black Power movement in Britain in the 1970s.
Olive Morris was born on the 26th of June 1952 in Jamaica. Her parents moved to London when she was young and in 1961, aged 9, she joined them in Lavender Hill. She left school without any qualifications, although she would later go on to study at the London College of Printing and the University of Manchester. The London that Olive grew up in was not welcoming or supportive of people like her; black and Asian people faced a racist police force, attacks by racist groups such as the National Front, and discrimination in education, employment, and housing. In this context Olive became a fierce and determined activist, campaigning against racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. Her activism was intersectional; she believed that all forms of discrimination interact and overlap, and in order to fight one you must fight them all.
In 1969, at the age of just 17, Olive intervened in the arrest of a Nigerian diplomat in Brixton. The police did not believe that a black man could own such a nice car, so accused him of stealing it. Olive was physically and verbally abused by the police for standing up to them. She was also arrested, charged with assault on an officer, and fined £10 and given a 3 month suspended sentence.
At this time, Brixton was a hub for black political organisations, so Olive found no shortage of allies. In the early 1970s, she joined the youth section of the British Black Panther Movement. In 1974 she was a founding member of the Brixton Black Women’s Group, which was formed to create a space for women who felt marginalised by the broader black freedom movement.
Olive began squatting in 1972, and quickly became very good at it. For her, squatting was a political act; she used it to draw attention to the fact that so many black people were homeless, despite good quality housing being available. In this way, she helped pioneer squatting as a form of activism. In 1973 Olive squatted 121 Railton Road in Brixton, which became an organising centre for community groups such as Black People against State Harassment. It was also home to Sabarr Bookshop, one of the first black community bookshops in Britain. Railton Road remained a squat and community centre.
Between 1975 and 1978, Olive studied economics and social studies at the University of Manchester. Whilst there, she was a member of the National Coordinating Committee of Overseas Students. Amongst other things, she helped campaign against raising tuition fees for overseas students. Olive saw this policy as a racist denial of British responsibilities to its former colonies. She was also a member of the Manchester Black Women’s Co-operative (later the Abasindi Co-operative) and the Black Women’s Mutual Aid Group.
During and after her studies, Olive traveled extensively, using what she learnt to inform her activism back home. She also wrote and published on her experiences and politics. In 1978, Olive co-founded the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD), an umbrella movement which brought together other groups and activists. After graduating, Olive returned to Brixton and worked in the juvenile department of the Brixton Community Law Centre. Here, she campaigned against the controversial ‘sus’ laws, which allowed the police to stop and search people based solely on suspicion.
Olive fell ill whilst on holiday in Spain in 1978. On her return she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Treatment was unsuccessful, and she passed away on 12th July 1979, aged just 27. It was a tragic shock to her friends and family, and also a great loss to London’s activist communities. In 1986 a Lambeth Council building at 18 Brixton Hill was named after her; there is also a community garden and play are in Myatt’s Field dedicated to her. In 2008 the Remembering Olive Collective was set up to publicise and preserve her legacy; the materials they collected are now held at Lambeth Archives. In 2009, she was chosen by public vote to be one of the historical figures featured on the Brixton Pound, a local currency. In 2011, the Olive Morris Memorial Award was launched, which gives bursaries to young black women.
Olive Morris was a dedicated, skilled, and strategic organiser and activist, who fought against discrimination in all its forms. During her short life she worked tirelessly to combat the disadvantages faced by black people in Britain and build networks of solidarity and mutual support. Some of these networks were specifically aimed at women, encouraging many women of colour to engage in politics for the first time. Olive is remembered as a local hero in Brixton, but her legacy goes much further than that. I somehow doubt she would be impressed by being featured in a Google doodle, but is a step towards the recognition she deserves.
Sources and Further Reading
Allotey, Emma. “Morris, Olive Elaine (1952-1979).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 24th May 2012, accessed 25th July 2020. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/100963
A raised fist is one of the most identifiable symbols of Black Lives Matter (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 by three women: Alicia Garcia, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, following the killing of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on 26th February 2012. In July 2013 his killer was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Trayvon was by no means the first African-American unjustly killed in the US, and he would sadly not be the last, but the injustice of his killer’s acquittal inspired a movement that is still going strong seven years later.
On 25th May 2020, George Floyd was killed when police officers knelt on his neck for almost 8 minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His was not even the first violent and unpunished death of an African-American that hit the headlines this year; the killings of Ahmaud Arbery on 23rd February in South Georgia, and Breonna Taylor on 13th of March in Louisville, Kentucky also caused disbelief and anger. But it was the killing of George Floyd that sparked a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement, leading to protests around the world. Protests and rallies leave traces on the environments they take place in; they alter streetscapes, even if only for a little while. A few days after a BLM protest in Brighton in the UK on 13th June 2020, I photographed some of those traces. Regular readers of my blog will know that I normally write captions describing and explaining the photos I take documenting protest and resistance, but this time I decided to let the photos speak for themselves.
Caitlin Davies. Bad Girls: The Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison. London: John Murray, 2018. RRP £10.99 paperback.
For 9 years, I studied at Royal Holloway, a college of the University of London in Egham, Surrey. For 9 years, when I told people I went to Royal Holloway, I had to put up with jokes about Holloway Prison, the infamous women’s penitentiary in London. Beyond that, I didn’t know much about Holloway apart from the fact that a lot of suffragettes were imprisoned there. So when I heard about Bad Girls: The Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison, it seemed like a good opportunity to find out more about why Holloway is so well known.
First opened in 1852, HMP Holloway was made female-only in 1902, rebuilt in 1971-85, and closed for good in 2016. In that time, it has witnessed dramatic changes in society, including seismic shifts in the treatment of both women and prisoners. In Bad Girls, Caitlin Davies recounts how life in the prison changed over more than 150 years, telling the stories of governors and staff as well as the women incarcerated there. Some of the women described in Bad Girls are well known, either for the severity of their crimes, such as Myra Hindley, or because they took a stand for what they believed in, like the suffragettes and the women of Greenham Common. The vast majority of the women who spent time in Holloway, however, are unlikely to remembered by anyone but their families. That does not, however, make their stories any less fascinating.
the history of women in Holloway is a bleak one and stories of triumph are few and far between. It’s impossible not to feel depressed at a century and a half of women betrayed and coerced, condemned and mistreated, wrongly imprisoned, punished and executed. But this is why its story has to be told, because women have for too long been kept out of sight and out of mind behind the walls of Holloway.
Davies, 2018; p.316.
The women imprisoned in Holloway did not just break the law, they also undermined society’s perceptions of gender; crime is simply not feminine. Caitlin Davies doesn’t just tell a good story, she also explores how dominant narratives around gender and femininity are tied up with understandings of criminality and punishment. She questions what prisons are for and highlights how their dual purposes of punishment and rehabilitation rarely complement each other. This book has as much to say to the present as it does to the past.
Although many of Caitlin Davies’ books are clearly based on extensive historical research, she describes herself as a writer rather than a historian, and this is reflected in Bad Girls. Unlike most history books, Davies herself is very much a part of the narrative; she details her visits to prisons and cemeteries, and describes the London cafes in which she interviews former inmates of Holloway and their descendants. I enjoyed this approach; it felt as though Davies is taking the reader with her on her journey to uncover the stories of women who’s lives have often been swept under the carpet.
Bad Girls is an excellent book. Not only is it a great read, it is also an ideal example of how an understanding of the past can illuminate significant issues in the present-day. In the acknowledgements, Davies mentions that she had to cut out a lot of material, and that a lot of stories have been left untold. My response to that is: when can we expect the sequel?
Murals thanking healthworkers have cropped up all over the world since the coronavirus epidemic began. This one in Hull city centre is by local artist Hull_grafitti (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
In my last blog post, I wrote about the streetscapes of Hove and Portslade during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown. Once the lockdown started, people began to place artefacts in their windows, gardens, and streets in an attempt to connect, entertain children, or just make each other smile. I recently travelled up to Hull (it was an essential journey, I wasn’t just testing my eyesight!), and whilst I was there I got to see how Hullensians used the streets to express themselves during the lockdown. The neighbourhoods where I spend most of my time in Hull, the Avenues and Newland Avenue, are pretty creative anyway, so I had high hopes for the city’s lockdown streetscapes. I wasn’t disappointed!
Window displays like this one have become increasingly common during lockdown, perhaps as a way of reaching out at a time when many of us are feeling isolated (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Over the last few months the rainbow has become a symbol of gratitude for our NHS and keyworkers. This has led some in the LGBT+ community to fear that their association with the rainbow flag is being overwritten (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Whilst some trends, like the rainbows, are common across the UK, some things are more localised. Coloured ribbons like this one are not something that I have come across in Brighton, but they are quite common in Hull (Photo: Tricia Awcock).
Here, the rainbow and the ribbons have been combined (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The floral displays along Newland Avenue are changed frequently to reflect important events and holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Remembrance Day. During the lockdown, they have been used to celebrate the NHS (Photo: Tricia Awcock).
Creativity has shone through during the lockdown, and this drawing certainly brightened up the waterfront on a particularly dreary evening (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
These are lyrics from the Maroon 5 song “She will be Loved” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
These stickers can be found all along Newland Avenue. It is not uncommon to find stickers of all kinds in this area (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
There is quite a lot of street art in Hull. One area you can almost always find some is the Fruit market, which is where I found this unicorn impaling coronavirus (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
I almost felt like an intruder reading this, but Miss June and Mr February clearly wanted to commemorate this important moment during lockdown (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
A recent addition to the railway tunnel at Aldrington Station (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Since the start of the UK Lockdown in late March, I have being staying at my family home in Portslade, a suburb of Brighton and Hove. I used my daily exercise to do a lot of walking around Hove and Portslade, and as the weeks went on I started to notice more and more Lockdown-related ‘things’ appearing on the streets. First of all rainbows and messages of support for the NHS started appearing in people’s windows, then things began to appear in people’s front gardens and on the streets. Ranging from images and messages chalked, pasted or taped to pavements, walls, and lampposts to objects such as painted pebbles, bunting, and cuddly toys. I have been photographing protest stickers for a while now, and I am interested in the ways that people use public space to communicate with each other. So I started taking photos of Lockdown artefacts too. Below are some of the photos, and some thoughts on why people might be doing this kind of thing.
The idea of putting drawings of rainbows in your windows for children to count whilst out for exercise caught on early in the Lockdown. This is my Mum with the rainbow she drew. Rainbows have since become a symbol of the nation’s gratitude to the NHS. This has caused some controversy amongst the LGBTQ+ community, as some fear that their association with the rainbow is being overwritten (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Painted pebbles have become another common sight during the Lockdown. Items like this can be a way to reach out and connect with people at a time when the normal ways of connecting are closed off to us (Photo: Hannah Awcock)
This giant angry bird appeared overnight. I think it is connected to a trend of putting teddy bears in your windows for children to spot when they passed by. This didn’t seem to catch on as much as the rainbows, but in Portslade it went even further, with teddy bears being tied to lampposts, benches and railings all over the place. There does seem to have been some local variation in terms of which kinds of artefacts are popular (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Seeing loads of teddy bears tied to lampposts by their necks can actually be a bit creepy, but this Pingu looks happy enough with the situation! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Another motivation for leaving artefacts such as this on the streets could be a desire to make people smile in these difficult times. Crafting has become incredibly popular during the lockdown, whether is painting and drawing or baking. It could be that people have more time to practice their hobbies at the moment, but I also think that activities like this can be therapeutic, and we all need a way to relax right now (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The idea of being kind seemed to be gaining traction before Lockdown began, but it has really gathered pace over the last few months. I have spotted this sign in various places around Hove (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
I think there is a difference between artefacts that are displayed in a home or garden, and those that are left in the street, like this one. The person who made this will probably never get any praise or recognition, whereas I’d they put it up in their front garden then at least the neighbours might acknowledge it! I do think there is a competitive element to the artefacts displayed in or around people’s homes, reflecting the desire to ‘keep up with the Jones’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This origami heart is also encouraging people to be kind to each other. These artefacts have a lot in common with street art, in that people put time and effort into them, but are still willing to give up control over what happens to them. This heart could last a day, a month, or maybe longer, but the person who made it has no say in that (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
People may be producing these artefacts out of a desire to be a part of something. The Lockdown has been a lonely experience for many people in different ways, and any sense that you are part of a community can be helpful (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
I have found one or two protest stickers related to coronavirus, but a lot of the stickers appearing over the last few weeks do not have an explicitly political message. This sticker, by local artist MyPenLeaks, has popped up all over Hove and Portslade (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The children of keyworkers and those who are vulnerable have been continuing to go to school throughout the lockdown. Many primary schools have done craft projects like this one (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Chalk drawings and messages have become common during the lockdown. Lots of children have turned the pavement outside their house into an obstacle course for themselves and passersby. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The overwhelming message of these street artefacts is a positive one. They provide a sense of hope and resilience at a time when these qualities are being sorely tested (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Animal rights have been increasing in prominence over the last few years through the prism of vegetarianism and veganism. Brighton has been a hotspot for vegan activism over the last few years, and there a lot of protest stickers in the city encouraging people not to eat meat. However, there are many other areas where animal rights are compromised including fur, testing on animals, mass extinctions, and live animal transportation, and these topics also feature in protest stickers relatively often.
The Animal Liberation Front is a leaderless resistance movement that undertakes direct action in support of animal rights. Some consider them to be terrorists (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Church Road, 24/04/19).
Another anti-fur sticker with a pretty unequivocal message. I thought that public opinion had mainly turned against fur, but it is still common enough for activists to see it as an important issue (Photo: Hannah Awcock, New Road, 04/02/17).
Respect for Animals is an organisation based in Nottingham that campaigns against the international fur trade (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Dyke Road, 06/08/16).
Fox hunting remains a controversial topic, even though it has been banned in the UK since 2005. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Queen’s Road, 20/04/19).
Brighton Hunt Saboteurs uses non-violent direct action to prevent illegal fox hunts (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Jubilee Street, 27/08/16).
Experimenting and testing on live animals is another well-publicised controversial topic. This sticker uses a particularly graphic image (Photo: Hannah Awcock, West Street, 27/10/16).
The Swiss League against Vivisection has been campaigning for animal rights since 1883. Here they are targeting a specific airline in an attempt to pressure them to change their practices (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Queen’s Road, 24/03/17).
The RSPCA is a well known charity in the UK. They investigate animal cruelty, rescue animals, and prosecute those responsible. In this sticker they are calling for an end to the practice of transporting livestock long distances before they are slaughtered (Photo: Prince Albert Street, 20/04/19).
PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is another well known animal rights organisation. They are an international organisation, with more than 6.5 million supporters around the world. They focus on 4 main areas where they believe animals suffer the most: laboratories, the food industry, fashion, and entertainment. Although animals in circuses are much less common than it used to be, it is still legal for UK circuses to use wild animals (Photo: Hannah Awcock, North Street, 09/12/18).
It isn’t clear who made this sticker. The message reads “Don’t bet with William Hill greyhound killers.” The ‘H’ in William Hill has been overlaid with a ‘K’. Greyhounds typically live for 10-14 years, but they only race for about 4. I think this sticker is accusing William Hill of killing greyhounds when they are no longer competitive (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Church Road, 24/04/19).
The symbol on this sticker may be familiar to you now as the Extinction Rebellion logo. The symbol itself is older however, created in 2011 by artist ESP. The circle symbolises the planet, whilst the hourglass indicates that time is running out for many species (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Grand Parade, 18/04/17).
This march was organised in 2019 by Brighton Vegan Activists. I really like the design of this sticker, so it seemed like a good one to end on! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Queens Road, 20/04/19).
Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who played a part in the city’s contentious past. Most of the Turbulent Londoners I feature are women, because their contribution to history has so often been overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. Next up is Margaret Harkness, a radical journalist and author.
Margaret Elise Harkness was a second cousin of Beatrice Webb (nee Potter), one of the founders of sociology as an academic discipline. Margaret trained as a nurse before deciding to make her living as a writer, publishing under the name John Law.
Born on 28th February 1854 in Great Malvern Worcestshire, Margaret was the daughter of a clergyman, the second of five children. She was educated at home, before going to a finishing school in Bournemouth at the age of 21. In 1877 she moved to London to train as a nurse at the Westminster Hospital. After she qualified she worked at Guys Hospital in London Bridge, but she didn’t enjoy the work much.
In the early 1880s, perhaps inspired by Beatrice, Margaret decided to try and make her living writing. Beatrice and her sister Katie supported Margaret financially, and introduced her to a circle of intellectuals who met at the reading room of the British Museum. She began to publish both fiction and non-fiction, most of it under the pen name John Law.
Margaret became friends with a wide range of the radicals in London at the time, including Eleanor Marx and Annie Besant. She began to take an interest in radical politics herself. Margaret must have seen the impacts of poverty first hand during her time as a nurse, and she came to believe that socialism was the solution to. inequality and poverty. Her beliefs influenced her writing, and she published five novels about the lives of London’s poor. The most famous is In Darkest London, first published in 1888. Another of her novels featured the famous Bloody Sunday in November 1887, when radicals clashed with police in Trafalgar Square over the right to protest there.
Margaret joined the Social Democratic Federation, and was an active campaigner during the 1889 Dock Strike. The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Manning, was instrumental in resolving the strike. Margaret went to see him in September 1889, and its thought she persuaded him to intervene in the dispute.
Margaret’s work enabled her to travel, she spent time in Manchester, Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand. It becomes quite difficult to trace her movements, but between 1906 and the start of the First World War she was in India. It seems likely that Annie Besant introduced Margaret to the religion of Theosophy, but she also became interested in Indian nationalism, and published a book about her experiences in the country. By this stage, Margaret had rejected socialism and now advocated the ideals and work of the Salvation Army, which inspired her last know novel, published in 1921.
Margaret continued to travel, living in France and Italy before her death, in Florence, on 10th December 1923. Margaret may not have been the best known radical female author in late-Victorian London, and she might not have achieved the most either. But her achievements were still remarkable, and I think it is important not to focus too much attention on a few prominent individuals. There was a vibrant radical community in London in the late nineteenth century, all of whom played a part in the successes and failures of that period.
Lucas, John. “Harkness, Margaret Elise.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 26th May 2005, accessed 5th May 2020. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/56894 [Subscription required to access].
Jules Boykoff. Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics. London: Verso, 2016. RRP £11.99 paperback.
I have had Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics sitting on my bookshelf for a while, but with the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics until 2021 – the Games have only been cancelled three times since they started in 1896 – it felt like an appropriate time to actually read it. Power Games is an engaging and insightful history of the modern Olympics, from their conception by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in the late 1800s, to their current incarnation. Jules Boykoff, an Olympic athlete turned academic, brings a unique perspective to the topic as someone who has both participated in and studied the Olympics.
Power Games is arranged chronologically. Some games are discussed in depth, whilst others are barely mentioned. Boykoff focuses on several themes throughout however, particularly the downsides of the games. The issues he discusses include a lack of accountability, greenwashing, extensive and long-term public debt, profit going to private companies, displacement of residents, and increased policing powers. Boykoff discusses the resistance movements that have grown up in host cities including Vancouver, London, and Rio de Janeiro. In some cases, activists have even managed to prevent cities bidding to host the games, including Boston, Hamburg, Rome, and Budapest.
The Olympic movement has descended into a slow-motion crisis. Fewer and fewer cities are game for the Games. For too long host cities have worked in service of the Olympics. It’s time for the Olympics to start working in service of host cities. A serious rethink is long overdue.
Boykoff, 2016; p.241
Power Games is an excellent example of how powerful the appearance of being apolitical can be. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has worked hard to portray the Olympic Games as above politics; they refuse to take a public stance on conflicts or disputes, and athletes who use the Games to make a political statement have been punished harshly. I am a strong believer in the argument that there is no such thing as apolitical however; even refusing to take a side has an impact. If you can convince people that something is apolitical however, then it becomes much harder to critique. In Power Games, Boykoff explores how this process works, and just how effective it can be.
I really enjoyed reading Power Games, it is well-paced and well-written. I knew a little bit about the mounting critiques of the Olympic Games before reading it, but my understanding is much better now. Boykoff also references quite a few geographers in his analysis, which is pretty much a guaranteed way to make me like an author! There are a few things that I think would have made the narrative easier to follow, such as a list of host cities and IOC Presidents, and maps of host cities and Olympic sites. I think pretty much every book would be better with more maps though, so perhaps I’m being overly critical.
As a former athlete, Boykoff clearly has a strong affection for the Olympic Games, and he would like to see them reformed rather than abolished; he provides a clear and comprehensive list of the changes he believes need to be made in order for the Games to survive in a more sustainable and ethical way. If I was the IOC, I would pay attention.
An Extinction Rebellion poster at the main entrance to the University of Hull (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 16/03/20).
I have been living in Hull for just over a year now. Over that time I have come to appreciate and love this city. The nature of the academic job market means that I will have to move on soon, but I will miss it. One of my favourite things about Hull is that there is always something interesting to see when you’re out and about, whether it’s an interesting historic building, a piece of street art, or a new protest sticker. I have written about protest stickers in Hull before, on this blog and elsewhere, but new and intriguing stickers continue to appear.
There is a relatively active branch of Extinction Rebellion in Hull, who periodically put up posters and stickers around the city. The aesthetic style of Extinction Rebellion has quickly become familiar, but this is a design that I haven’t seen before (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 16/03/20).
This sticker, and others like it, began appearing in several cities a few months before the UK left the EU. The stickers promote the positive elements of the EU. They are produced by North East for Europe, a grassroots campaign group (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 09/09/19).
A lot of stickers in Hull relate to international politics. Stickers such as this one became much more common after the start of the European refugee crisis in 2015. This sticker was produced by Active Distribution, a radical publishers and shop which produces and sells more than 200 sticker designs (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 03/10/20).
This sticker refers to the protests in Hong Kong that took place throughout 2019 over the perceived increase in the control of Hong Kong by mainland China. The protesters called for support from the rest of the world, and whilst governments did little, there was clearly some international solidarity (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 15/10/19).
Whilst a lot of protest stickers are about international politics, some relate to local issues and groups. Football Lads and Lasses against Fascism (FLAF) was created to counter the increase of far-right politics among football fans. It is not tied to any particular team, but this sticker is connecting the group to the Hull Tigers, who play in the second tier of English football (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 19/09/19).
The Democratic Football Lads Alliance is an example of the kind of group that FLAF aims to counter. Set up in 2017 after a series of terror attacks in the UK, it is strongly associated with far-right politics and has been described as anti-Muslim by the Premier League (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 03/02/19).
Putting stickers up in public space is something that football fans and activists have in common. This sticker combines the two, combining support for Bristol City with an anti-police message (ACAB stands for All Cops Are Bastards). This image is a play on a popular Banksy work which shows a teddy bear throwing a petrol bomb at riot police. Banksy is strongly associated with Bristol (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 30/06/19).
This sticker was produced by the Hundred Handers, a far-right white supremacist group that prizes anonymity. The group’s members are expected to print and disseminate stickers around their local area. This sticker and several others appeared overnight on Newland Avenue, but most were quickly taken down or covered up (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 31/10/19).
Protest stickers range from the elaborately designed and printed to the hand made. This example is firmly in the latter category. I can’t be sure what the top half of the message said, but I’m fairly certain it was “white”. Stickers with a particularly offensive or controversial message often don’t last long before they are covered up or (partially) removed (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 02/09/19).
Whilst there are some right wing and xenophobic protest stickers in Hull, there are more from an anti-fascist/anti-racist perspective. This sticker is comparing UKIP to the Nazi Party. The text on the red background is hard to make out, but it says: “Fascists are greedy racists pretending to be innocent patriots” (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 05/03/20).
The roll out of 5G mobile network is proving controversial in several respects, including claims that it damages health, and fears over the potential implications of allowing Chinese firm Huawei a role in building the infrastructure. Anti-5G stickers are becoming increasingly common (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 30/06/19).
A few weeks ago, I was wondering how long it would take for the coronavirus to come up in a protest sticker. Not long apparently. This sticker is homemade, but is very well made compared to the White Power sticker above. It was removed the same day I took this photo, so I was lucky to catch it (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 16/03/20).