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Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published: 3 January 2008
Like a Watchtower, Dr Miller?

I KNOW exactly how writer Alan Bennett must have felt when he heard a Jehovah Witnesses blitz hitting his Camden Town street.
According to his diary of the year – published in the current edition of the London Review of Books – he lay low until the coast was clear.
But, inevitably, his polymath neighbour Sir Jonathan Miller was more than keen to take up the challenge of a doorstep debate.
Assured of a “warmer welcome” at Miller’s Gloucester Crescent home, the Witnesses were soon assailed however by an onslaught only Miller is capable of.
“Jonathan Miller is never wont to turn down the chance of a debate and likes nothing better than a brisk canter through the arguments against the existence of God and the literal truth of the Bible,” writes Bennett in his entry for March.
“Two hapless evangelists had just had half an hour of this and were staggering down the steps licking their wounds when they spotted, parked in the street, a Ferrari.
“In some relief they were admiring this superb machine, not realising the sourge of God still had his eye upon them.
“And you shouldn’t be looking at that,” J calls from the porch. “That’s Things of This World. You should be above all that.”
In an entry for May, Bennett describes an “absurd accident” on his bicycle in Gloucester Avenue when his raincoat got caught between the brakes and the wheel.
Trying to take his coat off, he fell to the ground and landed “painfully on his bum”. He lay on the road for a moment or two, waving his legs in the air like Kafka’s beetle (a character in Kafka’s novel Metamorphosis, turns into a beetle – Ed).
“Another passing pensioner, seeing my plight, goes to a friend’s house for a pair of scissors to cut me free, except that the friend is out,” writes Bennett. So Bennett limped home, eventually managing to free the wheel without having to cut the coat.
“I imagine in the future,” concludes 73-year-old Bennett, “there is going to be more of this.”

Old Labour found in attic

CLEARING out his mother’s attic ­uncovered a remarkable find for Dan Segal.
Amid the jumble and bric-a-brac, he found a rolled up piece of cloth. And he was on the point of consigning it to the dump when his wife ­suggested he lay it out to see what it was.
And there it was, in all its glory: a historic Labour Party banner that had been put in the attic by his late father at his Hampstead home and forgotten about.
Dating from around 1910 and designed in the Arts and Crafts style of the era, it boasts a slogan that reads: “The Earth for all…not for the few.”
The banner was ­taken by Dan to the Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party’s ­Christmas party and he has now donated it to the People’s History
Museum in ­Manchester, where it will take pride of place in a collection of labour movement
He explained: “My father Paul was once the chair of Hampstead Labour Party, and the last time anyone remembered the ­banner out on the streets was at the ­anti-Vietnam was demonstrations
in Grovesnor Square in 1968.
“I suppose he must have been asked to store it and then it was forgotten about.”
Current Labour ­Party chair Mike Katz (pictured with ­Councillor Anna Stewart) said: “It is ­amazing to think of the famous alumni of ­Hampstead Labour
Party who might have marched behind this ­ banner – from Sydney
and Beatrice Webb and Bernard Shaw to Michael Foot.”

Chaim Bermant: heretic

ONE of my favourite writers was Chaim Bermant, a unique ­figure in British ­journalism. Often, I confess, I’d buy the Jewish Chronicle ­simply to read his ­latest humorous and profound observations.
Bermant, who died nearly 10 years ago, is remembered in an ­exhibition of portraits – mainly by his widow, Judy – which opens on Sunday at the Ben Uri Gallery in Boundary Road, St John’s Wood.
The Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits described him as “Anglo-Jewry’s voice of conscience”. I prefer his own description as a “licensed heretic”.

Banks for the card

A PROSPEROUS new year? Season’s greetings from Dartmouth Park’s Ronald Stamper and his partner Judith Walker this year were a little more complicated than that.
Friends didn’t get the normal card, they got an e-polemic about money. And, with the world economy in jitters, it’s a fascinating read.
Ronald asks: what is money? And he destroys a few myths about it. Most people, he says, believe that if they borrow £100,000 from the bank for a mortgage, that capital consists of money deposited by others into the bank. It is not. Rather the banks need around £10,000 of such money but the rest they create as new money. Moreover it’s the banks, not elected governments, that control the money supply. The whole system is inherently spectacularly unstable.
So are Ronald and Judith revolutionary anti-capitalists? Not at all. Ronald, 73, a former professor of information management, describes himself as disillusioned Labour (the Iraq war, stupid). Of the banking system, he says: “I don’t think there’s any great conspiracy,” he says. “But more people should understand the reality of it and it should be on the agenda for discussion.”

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