Gibbs Crescent, Oxford – it’s the nightmare on Mill Street!

Blossom in Oxford in Spring

On the 14th of February this year, at 4:45 PM, a  huge explosion hit West Oxford.

I was in the wazzeria at the time, but the explosion was so great my windows bowed and I almost evacuated myself. I didn’t. I finished my wee and checked things out.

It seems some crazy greezer had blown up a house in Gibbs Crescent. He killed himself with the explosion – luckily no one else – and we’re waiting for the inquest to give us some rhyme or reason. And have been waiting for some time now. For the inquest.

I have some friends down in Gibbs Crescent, so have been following this closely.  Susanna Pressel and Colin Cook, the local Labour councillors, have involved themselves and got their faces in the Oxford Mail.

But, although I am by nature an anarcho-syndicalist – read trade unionist and NUJ member for that, I thought I’d drop a line to our newly elected LibDem MP – that Layla Moran – who seems to have pursued this story in an exemplary way. I draw your attention, for example, to the almost complete lack of social housing she highlights, and to the big big question.

When A2Dominion “rehouses” the Gibb Crescent residents, where are they going to go? ♥

Ms Moran wrote to me on Friday:

“Dear Mike

“Further to our previous correspondence, and particularly focusing on Gibbs Crescent, I have now received responses from Dawn Wightman, Director of Housing for A2Dominion, and Patsy Dell, Head of Planning Services at Oxford City Council.

“Ms Wightman confirms that any plans to redevelop Gibbs Crescent would include 50% affordable housing, consisting mostly of 1 and 2 bed apartments with some 3 bed properties.  She has not indicated what proportion of these affordable properties would have social rents.  The properties are described as being significantly larger than those currently at Gibbs Crescent, but A2Dominion do not confirm how many of the new homes would be 1 bed.

“A2Dominion have also outlined a number of the benefits that they feel the redevelopment of Gibbs Crescent could bring, though have not indicated what assurances they intend to provide existing tenants.

“Ms Dell confirms that Oxford City Council has not yet had any detailed preapplication discussions with A2Dominion regarding proposals to redevelop Gibbs Crescent.  I understand that officers at the Council held a meeting with A2Dominion, in which they discussed the need for public consultation on any proposals, but that by early December the Council had not had any follow up to this meeting.

“One of the issues Gibbs Crescent residents have raised with me is the serious shortage of social housing available in Oxford.  In light of this, I asked Ms Dell to confirm how many social properties are currently available for let.  She has replied that out of 7746 Oxford City Council properties and 3753 housing association properties, there are only 14 currently advertised as being available to let, with 2858 households currently on the housing register.

“I share the concern expressed by many Gibbs Crescent residents that these proposals would reduce the stock of social housing available in Oxford, rather than increasing it as is needed, and appreciate the impact that redeveloping Gibbs Crescent could have on existing tenants, including those who have lived there for many years.

“I hope that this information is useful.  I will continue to pursue these issues with the Council and A2Dominion, and will share any updates I receive with you.

“Kind regards,
Layla”

Layla Moran MP
Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon
Layla Moran
Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon

Sir Francis Dashwood gives us Hell

 

 

It’s a long since I’ve been to West Wycombe, it’s not very far by road, I understand,  but the Oxford Tube only seems to serve the plainly weird Lewknor Turn.

You can see Sir Francis Dashwood’s  stuff easily and  clearly from the train to Marylebone, though but.

When it’s not snowing and everything is “running”, however.

So I was very pleased last week to receive from Eamonn Loughran his beautifully produced and very finely colour illustrated Secret Symbols of the Hell Fire Club.

Eamonn is not only a producer of many very high quality books, which he bookbinds too, but has produced several rare editions of hard to get books – I’ve seen a few.  It is obviously a labour of love – but it’s certainly a labour.

I like loads of things about Eammon’s work, apart from his painstaking attention to detail.

This particular work examines very closely the symbolism of Francis Dashwood’s caves, “cabals” et al. There’s lots to say, and Eamonn says lots.

Chapter One deals of a mister called Maxwell Ashby Armfield, who, with his missus lived in West Wycombe for a while.

The whole world+dog knows about the motto of the Hellfire Club – I can’t translate it because I have neither ancient French nor modern English – but seems to go along the lines of the Sanskrit “svecchachara”, meaning be true to your own path.

Eamonn has produced many wonderful books from the past and for the future too.  This is not an uncritical review of this particular book, yet,  but as I used to be a letterpress printer myself, I’d encourage you to check out his website, Hell Fire CLUB

I’ve lost loads of my memory – and it’s not booze

tonybooze

Tony Dennis in the Wheatsheaf

LAST week, I was invited by three top boffins to the John Radcliffe hospital to discuss the rather new syndrome, transient epileptic amnesia – TEA for short. I’ve turned into a case study!

Professor Butler couldn’t remember he’d met me before, it’s fair to say, although professor Arjun Sen said: “Oh nice to see you again.”

Professor Sen said: “Are you still drinking?” I said yes. He asked: “About the same amount?”  I said yes.

Arjunaji indicated that was OK. And didn’t mention smoking fags this time around.

But Arjun did ask me how much I remembered about 2016. I told him: “About 20 percent.”  He looked shocked. Of course I remember the death of Tony Dennis.

Met another top prof at the John Radcliffe, a man who specialises in occupational stuff.  Apparently I was writing perfectly cogent IT stories for the whole weird period. He said: “OK, that’s a different part of the brain.”

Professor Butler is a very cool guy. He asked if I dreamed. Well I do, in full colour, panaroma view. He reckons I’ll have to take the anti-convulsant lamotrogine drug for the rest of my life. But, he added, rather wittily: “The condition is so new we haven’t had a patient die us on yet.”

 

 

Mad Mike investigates state of Nath sampradaya consciousness

I HAD a couple of communications this week from people I still know about a controversial London geezer.

The first was from a woman who seems to have something of the investigative journalist about her. You can find that here.

The second bit I also saw this week, and from a woman,  was actually published 10 years ago but I’ve only just seen it, and you can find that here.

Both pieces are about some old geezer who used to live in a little town called Mehmadabad, not far from Ahmedabad. According to the old geezer, when  I visited in 1978, Mehmadabad was ruled by a younger brother of Ahmed.  But what I would I know about that?  It was a dusty little town when I visited it all those years ago, even though Mr Lawrence Amos Miles tried to convince me that when the Muslims conquered Gujarat, it was full of gardens and fountains. ♦

 

Mad Mike views Oxford railway station with interest

It seems there is a plan afoot to refurb Oxford railway station. You can see more, here.  

Roy Taylor and John Byrne – memories are made of this…

IT WAS in Monaco – I flew in, I think for a channel gig.  I certainly took a helicopter from Nice to Monaco, Sukh Rayat and me were in the helicopter.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been to Monaco, but certainly was the last.

I found myself in a channel conference with old muckers Roy Taylor and Scot John Byrne.

They had fallen out – I’m not quite sure why – because they were one partnership when I’d first met them as a channel journalist.

Now, of course, they are very important people. I think John Byrne works now  for Dell-EMC and Roy works for Nvidia – sorry, AMD.

They were hammer and tongs in Monaco. I, being the perfect diplomat, brought them together in the cheapest bar in the place – a Guinness bar – where I persuaded them to love each other again.

I hadn’t expected Byrne and Taylor to jump on a table and kiss each other – in obviously  a fraternal rather than a gay way.

The rest is history. Or maybe mystery. 

Book Review: Monastic Wanderers

Monastic Wanderers: Nāth Yogī Ascetics in modern South Asia
Author: Véronique Bouillier
Manohar, 2017
ISBN 978-93-5098-154-2


The Western academic study of the Nāth sampradayas is really in its infancy, but in the last couple of years a few people have had a fair crack at making sense of the impenetrable mysteries of this rather heterodox cult.

One is David Gordon White with his rather sensationally titled Kiss of the Yogini and Sinister Yogis. Phil Hine, at enfolding.org has many interesting things to say about the origins and nature of the traditions.

Now Véronique Bouillier – through Manohar Publications – has had published her Nāth Yogī Ascetics in modern South Asia, which we’d say is really a tour de force. I guess we have to blame the copy editor for forgetting to translate French sometimes  in the book, and also for the sometimes very confusing use of different calendars so that you don’t know which one is being used. This is definitely the best book I’ve read by a Westerner on this tradition since Briggs’ Gorakhnath and the Kanphata Yogis was published in the 1920s.

There is now an English translation of a seminal text attributed to Gorakshanath, the Siddhasiddantapaddhati – this book, in five chapters – gives the central inner precepts of the Nath tradition.

Bouillier – a French anthropologist –  covers a number of the different manifestations of the different subsects of the sampradayas today, and her work is very revealing as she’s travelled through greater India – so including Nepal – to reach her conclusions. Did you know there’s a Gorakhnath temple in Sri Lanka in the vicinity of Kandy?  I do, and there is.

The author comes to the conclusion that the different traditions in India and Nepal have somewhat diluted their core message and indeed the different monasteries she visited do have some variations that are adopted for modern life.  While in the past the cult had kings as their patrons, to a greater or lesser extent the merchant classes have taken over that role.

Siddha Shri Ratnanath ji

She is particularly interesting in the details she gives about separate ashrams, really maths, that she has visited recently.  She explores, in particular, the story of Ratnanath (pictured) and the weird goings on in Mangalore. A friend of mine recently gave me a copy of his book, Isis: Goddess of Egypt & India, which makes interesting reading.

Shri Narharinathji and Mike Magee

She has a deal of interesting information about the monastery based in Fatehpur in the Sekhavati district of Rajasthan, which allies itself to the division allied to the Mannath panth. I’ve been to this monastery and to surrounding Mannath monasteries twice – on the latter occasion for a big festival for the 150th birthday of Amritnath, the saint responsible for the inauguration of the monastery.  I also met Véronique Bouillier when I was there in 2002. The surrounding monasteries are also most interesting, one of them containing the samadhi (tomb) of the founder of the Mannath panth. Pictured above is the current mahant (abbot) of the Fatehpur ashram.

Matsyendranath. The inscription reads Matsyavahan Mahasiddha Matsyendrath

Bouillier makes the point that Matsyendranath (pictured), the supposed founder of the sampradaya, isn’t held in very high esteem amongst modern day naths. Matsyendranath is the supposed author of the Kaula Jnana Nirnaya – a work of the Yogini Kaula school, and Bouillier’s book sometimes hints at  the tantrik bases of the modern sampradayas.

If you’re seriously interested in this tradition, I thoroughly recommend this book.

The book costs Rs 1,395.  I tried to order it from Manohar’s site which only apparently works with US dollars and Indian rupees, but my kind friends in Seattle bought me a copy and posted it to me in Oxford. Hence the review.