Thursday, 21 December 2006

Festive Farewells

OK. Enough. I’m going to sign off for the festive season. Just a few things to mention first though:

Thanks to all of you who’ve been signing up to read my Nairobi blog. There’s been a flurry of people in the last few days, and I haven’t added them all up yet, but it looks like we’ve made a good start. Still plenty more people-pestering and shameless self-promotion to be done in the New Year, of course.

This is one of my favourite things on YouTube at the moment: - the video cheers me up so much that I don’t mind the mutilation of Pink Floyd. As one of the people forwarding it around commented: all we have to do to make environmentalism look attractive is to loosely connect it to a bunch of kids running around and breaking into houses. It’s so obvious when you think about it.

You know when you owe a company or the local Council a load of money, and then after a while they stop sending you reminders and letters start arriving from some other mysterious organisation called “Westcott” or “JJ Associates” or “Derek and Steve’s Personal Debt Collection Service”? I didn’t realise – until informed the other day at my Random Dinner – that your original creditor may have actually sold the debt on to a collection company, often at a price way below the value of the debt. So say (as a random example) that you owed the Council £500, but then you moved house four times and they gave up searching for you, they might decide to cut their losses and sell your debt on to someone else for £10. The new “owner” of your debt then tries to track you down, and presumably only need a fairly low success rate to recoup the value of all the debts they purchase.
The most interesting thing about this is – according to my informant, who says that she’s checked this with a personal debt expert – is that these debt sales often take place online, and that there is no legal reason why you can’t buy back your own debt. In other words, if you were sneaky enough, and able to find out where your creditor was selling your debt, you could buy your £500 debt for £10.

Obviously that would be a dreadfully dishonest thing to do, but the sheer cheek of the idea kind of amused me.
I went looking to see if any of my own debts were for sale on ebay, but couldn’t seem to spot them. However, someone was selling a magic spell to ward off debts for only £9.99 (plus £1.99 postage and packaging), which sounds just as good really.

Have a fine, fine Christmas and New Year everyone,

I’ll be back in January for the World Social Forum warm-up,

D xXx

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Randomness and ROCK (Non-African Tangent)

It’s only Wednesday and the week has already included the following Great Moments:

1) Watching Tenacious D at the Hammersmith Apollo, which included Jack Black fist-fighting with the physical embodiment of METAL (a giant robot), a drum solo by the damned spirit of Colonel Sanders, and a rock-off with Satan. It’s good to see that some people still take music seriously.

2) Sitting in the house of a total stranger as she cheerfully told me about smashing her neighbour’s car windscreen with a shovel.

The latter was part of last night’s fantastic Strange Conjunction of Circumstances Evening. I only ended up having dinner with this slightly crazy but brilliant vegan skinhead (and her friend who lives in her driveway) because she’d volunteered to make dinner for the winner of November’s “Hammer & Tongue” poetry slam (, which I only even entered on a mad whim and somehow fluked my way to victory with a full-on anticonsumerist rant, which wouldn’t have happened if Jess hadn’t taken me along to the October one, which in turn wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t ended up in Oxford in the first place, which was only possible because everyone involved managed, against all the odds, to be born in the first place as part of the blissfully unlikely cavalcade of events we call human history after our species was somehow chosen by the whirling roulette-wheel-with-billions-upon-billions-of-numbers known as evolution to dominate this planet which only supports life at all thanks to some seriously freakish conjunctions of cosmic matter following the birth of the universe. Which made me damned grateful for that spaghetti bolognese, I can tell you.

I appreciated the company, too. My new friends live in Abingdon, in an apparently-infamous area with many fascinating local characters and a lively street life, as evidenced by the aforementioned shovel/windscreen incident. This was the result of some complicated events to do with transporting people to hospital, and led to the neighbour cheerfully smashing my hostess’s windows in return; the encounter ended with her sobbing in his arms and declaring “I only did it because I love you, you’re like my dad”. Later that evening she found herself accidentally streaking along the main road in a “Kiss Me Quick” T-shirt. This was actually one of her tamer stories.

I wouldn’t want to give you the wrong idea, mind you; she was a completely lovely and generous hostess, one of the most honest people I’ve ever met, and somehow seems to juggle looking after four kids (including home schooling), volunteering at a local community centre, and studing for a management qualification with a lively and unusual social life. It’s just that she also lives in a community that could rarely be described as dull, and on Tuesdays the kids are away and she’s free to drink brandy.

You kind of had to be there, really. I’m glad I was, and I wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t decided to have a go at the poetry thing, which might mean that the moral of this story is: grab every random opportunity that comes your way. I’ll be testing that theory tomorrow night when I try auditioning to be in a friend’s new rock band.

I just hope the spirit of METAL will be with me.


Friday, 15 December 2006

The Plan

OK. Enough distraction. Time to explain The Plan.

The World Social Forum is probably the biggest annual gathering of social movements and grassroots activists on the planet. People from all over the globe who are fighting for social and environmental justice come together, once a year, to support each others’ struggles and to try to build a vision of an different kind of world. The WSF seems to be all about recognising that many of the problems we are currently facing on this planet – climate change, mass poverty, the unsustainable use of natural resources, human rights abuses, a million different issues in two hundred different countries – are the product of, or are being made worse by, the current global economic system. One particular, rampant brand of the-market-must-rule-all-and-trample-over-everything-except-for-when-we-bend-the-rules-for-our-
rich-and-powerful-mates capitalism (otherwise known as “neoliberalism”) has, thanks to various twists of history over the last thirty years, become the “accepted” way to run the global economy, with increasingly disastrous results.

This is the point where lots of people often cry, “but what’s the alternative?”, and where the World Social Forum might reply (if it could speak with a single voice, which isn’t really very likely, but go with me on this one) “well, there are lots of alternatives, we just need to give them a try; in fact a lot of us are trying them already but it would be a lot easier if governments didn’t keep flogging off all our vital public services to unaccountable multinationals and using international trade and finance mechanisms to screw over our economies in order to make a small number of people very, very rich”.

At least, this is my interpretation of it all, based on everything I’ve read and seen and studied on the subject (which has been a fair amount over the last ten years), BUT I’ve never actually been to a World Social Forum event, and am very much looking forward to getting a deeper insight into its role, and a better understanding of what this kind of international networking may or may not be able to achieve. I also want to make my trip as useful as possible for any activists/campaigners/writers/researchers in the UK who aren’t able to make it to Nairobi but wish that they were.

So The Plan is:

1) I tell as many people as possible that I’m going to the WSF, and try to find out what useful things I could find out / contacts I could make for people while I’m there.

2) You all give me suggestions for people to speak to or events to go to on your behalf in Nairobi. Obviously, if I get too many I won’t be able to do them all, but I’ll do my best to help out as many people involved in as wide a range of issues as possible. Stick a comment on the blog, or email me on dannychivers(at)

3) If you could also send me an email saying that you’ll read my blog while I’m at the WSF, so that I know the whole thing’s worthwhile and I’m not just typing away to myself, it’d be much appreciated! I’m trying to get 100 people signed up. So far I have four. This needs to improve. You can help.

4) I go to Kenya and run around at the WSF trying to see everything, get a feel for what’s going on, chase up the issues I’m interested in, do some work for People and Planet, follow up any missions that anyone else gives me, and immerse myself in the unimaginable mega-multi-cultural festivities that will be going on every night. Whilst writing all about it in my blog. In five days. Wicked.

5) With help from comments, suggestions and discussion on this blog, I pull together a general assessment of the whole WSF process – can it live up to its ideals? Can such an enormous and diverse collection of groups, movements and individuals really pull together a coherent alternative global vision to challenge rampant free-market capitalism? Alternatively, I let Jess (who’s a proper journalist) do that bit in her blog whilst I go out on the town in Nairobi with all of the weird and wonderful people I’ll have met during the week, and try to figure out some good rhymes for Kenya. Other than Enya.

6) Elephants. They have them in Kenya. Lions, too.

You can read more about the WSF at, and can see the extraordinary list of international groups who’ll be attending and the events that have been arranged so far at

Let me know what you think, and if there’s any way my trip can help you; please also let other people know about my blog if you think they’d be at all interested.

Thanks for reading,

More ramblings to come soon,


P.S. If anyone has any good suggestions for a name for this blog, I’d be interested in hearing them. “Danny’s Unnecessarily Long Ramblings About His Possibly Doomed Jaunt To East Africa, Along With Whatever Other Random Stuff Happens To Catch His Attention At The Time” doesn’t quite have the right ring to it.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Big Flying Chunks of Metal

I hate cheap flights. Cheap, annoying, planet-cooking flights that make people think that it’s fine to fly out to their Spanish second home eight times a year, or just pop back over to Zurich to pick up the jumper they left at the ski resort, and thus happily churn out a few extra thoughtless tonnes of carbon dioxide despite the painfully ironic fact that their behaviour is gradually bringing swarms of mosquitoes nearer and nearer to the Strait of Gibraltar and melting all their precious Swiss snow-caps.

I especially hate cheap flights when I need to get one. The timing of the WSF has meant that I’ve had to make several difficult choices. Firstly, there’s no way I could have enough time off work to travel there by any means other than flying. There is also no way I can easily justify putting 2.8 tonnes of CO2-equivalent into the atmosphere (calculated using the City Distance Tool at and the UK Government’s official long-haul emission figures - - combined with the extra effect of releasing these gases so high in the atmosphere, as explained in

I do want to make this trip as useful and effective as I can, by informing as many people as possible in the UK about some of the crucial things that are being done by grassroots movements around the world, and providing useful information and contacts to as many campaigners as possible; the idea is that if I can get 100 people to read and interact with my blog, then that’ll be 100 people that got something out of the WSF without having to fly there, which will dilute my environmental impact. Sort of. Which is all very nice, but doesn’t actually take any greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.

The only other way I can try to desperately justify this to myself is by reminding myself that I live a relatively low-carbon lifestyle the rest of the time. I reckon I’m down to approximately 2.5 tonnes of CO2 I year, or 4.5 if you include all of the things that happen in the UK economy on my behalf, like healthcare and education and stuff; the UK average is over 10 tonnes. It still doesn't work, of course, coz we're all going to need to get down to a tonne each by 2030, but it makes me feel a little better.

I’m coming to the conclusion that, in order not to be a total hypocrite, 2007 will have to be my final year of personal flying. In fact, after Kenya I’ll maybe go to China and then that’ll be it. No more holiday flights, slow travel all the way. Which actually has its attractions…

The other annoying thing is that in order to get a flight I can afford, I need to travel on the Thursday night before the Forum, which means I can’t perform at the Hammer and Tongue climate change poetry event ( which I’d really been looking forward to. I could put something about poetic justice here, but a joke as bad as that would be really unforgivable.


Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Only In Kenya

Well – it’s all actually happening.

Last week I spoke to the good people at People & Planet (the UK’s biggest student campaign network, which I’m still sort of involved with even though I finished being a student in September) and they agreed that I could be their official representative at the World Social Forum in Kenya in January. This means three important things:

1) I now have a real reason to be at the WSF other than “because it’d be cool and I want to find out what’s going on and stuff”;

2) They’ve already given me some useful things to do there (which I’ll get on to in a bit), and will be informing other student campaigners around the UK about what I’m up to, so that they can give me missions as well;

3) I’ll get to wear a special T-shirt.

I’m getting properly excited – and daunted – by this whole thing now. Luckily, I can always use this to calm my nerves:

It’s been around for a while, of course, but it still works. Even though there are no tigers in Kenya, my Norwegian housemate seems less than impressed by it, and that tune now automatically leaps into my head every time I think about my upcoming trip...


Sunday, 3 December 2006

Here We Are Then

Hello all!

Thanks for coming to look at my blog. In the next few days, I'm going to start posting about preparations for the World Social Forum, which I'll be attending in Nairobi in January. The main point of this blog - at least to begin with - is to report back the events of the Forum (or at least, as much of it as I get to see) to interested people who can't make it there themselves.

I'm not a journalist, or someone with a particular agenda to push. I'm an environmental and social activist looking to find out more about the different national and global movements that will be converging at the Forum, and to get a better idea of what we in the UK (or elsewhere in the world) should be doing to support their struggles.

I may also post other things up here from time to time, but I'll make sure everything's clearly labelled so that if you're mainly interested in the WSF then you can find the relevant stuff without having to read any late-night ramblings about what sort of jam is the best, or whatever.

For anyone not interested in the WSF, I'll make sure to put up plenty of pictures of me wearing funny hats.

Have fun everyone,