Pretending to be rich to get closer to the Beatles

If this is the price I have to pay to see rooms once frequented by Ringo Starr, then I'll pay it.

Over the years I have been living in the Hovel, I have taken a mild interest in the changing use of what was once the Beatles’ Apple Boutique, nearby on the corner of Baker Street and Paddington Street. (I love the band with a fierce love and have discovered that every possible stage and nuance of a relationship is covered by at least one of their songs.) For eight months, this was where they sold smelly Afghan coats, velvet loons and Mary Quant knock-offs. When they realised that because of their trusting, open-door policy everyone was nicking the stuff left, right and centre, they gave up and officially let the grubby hippies pick up everything they wanted for free.

I have always been grimly amused by the subsequent history of what used to be the epicentre of the doomed counterculture. When I moved into the Hovel, almost six years ago to the day, the ground floor of the building was an employment agency. Then, for about a year or so, when everyone got jobs and no one needed employment agencies any more, it was a void, its windows splashed with whitewash. Now, it has become an estate agent’s.

This is cheering news. Everyone needs estate agents’; the people who work in them are the unsung heroes and heroines of the neoliberal project. Many is the time I have, on a whim, feigned an interest in a property in one of the swankier parts of town, simply so I could stroll around some A-list gaff whilelistening to a git in a shiny suit exhaust his stock of superlatives.

Actually, never is the time I have done this and indeed the last time I did anything remotely like it was in 1994, when my wife announced that we were buying the weirdly planned and pleasingly shabby old house off the “wrong” side of the Uxbridge Road, where she and our cat and our children still reside. On that occasion, the estate agent was charming and honest and was also a huge fan of mine because I had been quoted on the back of Fever Pitch, a book that is popular among estate agents, for some reason.

Back to Baker Street. “A unique opportunity to own the ultimate piece of Beatles memorabilia”, announces the sign in an estate agent’s but curiously not the one on the ground floor of the building. The sign shows a charming street scene: the Apple Boutique being mobbed by a crowd of monochrome young people. (Just look at the people in that picture, or in the last minutes of the Let It Be film, as a bemused public looks up at the Savile Row roof on which the Beatles are playing their last gig – there’s not a merry prankster to be seen among them, just dark suits and slim ties.)

This, it would appear, is a picture of the end-of-the-show free-for-all sale, hence the crowd; the building in the picture has been painted white, in deference to the outraged complaints of local shopkeepers when it was first decorated with psychedelic rainbows. The design company, as I recall, wascalled the Fool. Oh, heady, innocent days when you could call your design company the Fool!

“A boutique development of five stunning apartments in the former headquarters of Apple, the Beatles’ record company”, continues the sign. “To preregister your interest, please contact . . . ” It goes on, incidentally, to boast that the company was formed a year or two after John Lennon was shot, although it doesn’t put it quite like that.

The snag is, I don’t think I’ve got enough money to put a financial stake into a property on the corner of Baker and Paddington Streets. A quick, nauseating look at my bank balance at the cashpoint of the Barclays directly opposite reveals that I have about £0.00 to last me until the end of the month, once I have taken certain essential expenses into account. (Michael Gove: it is not about the “poor decisions” I have made. I suppose I could stop drinking, if I listened to certain counsels. But I can’t, for reasons I will explain in terms that even an imbecile can understand – I have to drink this much in order to deaden the pain of having to drink this much in order to deaden the pain of having to live like this. Got that?)

However, I don’t want to miss this opportunity to walk through this heritage, to look out of windows that Ringo Starr once looked from. And if I am asked whether I have the funds, I could reply that I do, for I have love; and, if four of the building’s previous owners were correct, that is all I need.

'Tired of being shopkeepers', the Beatles give away thousands of pounds worth of stock at the Apple Boutique. Image: Getty

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Can Miliband speak for England?

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7 problems with the Snooper’s Charter, according to the experts

In short: it was written by people who "do not know how the internet works".

A group of representatives from the UK Internet Service Provider’s Association (ISPA) headed to the Home Office on Tuesday to point out a long list of problems they had with the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill (that’s Snooper’s Charter to you and me). Below are simplified summaries of their main points, taken from the written evidence submitted by Adrian Kennard, of Andrews and Arnold, a small ISP, to the department after the meeting. 

The crucial thing to note is that these people know what they're talking about - the run the providers which would need to completely change their practices to comply with the bill if it passed into law. And their objections aren't based on cost or fiddliness - they're about how unworkable many of the bill's stipulations actually are. 

1. The types of records the government wants collected aren’t that useful

The IP Bill places a lot of emphasis on “Internet Connection Records”; i.e. a list of domains you’ve visited, but not the specific pages visited or messages sent.

But in an age of apps and social media, where we view vast amounts of information through single domains like Twitter or Facebook, this information might not even help investigators much, as connections can last for days, or even months. Kennard gives the example of a missing girl, used as a hypothetical case by the security services to argue for greater powers:

 "If the mobile provider was even able to tell that she had used twitter at all (which is not as easy as it sounds), it would show that the phone had been connected to twitter 24 hours a day, and probably Facebook as well… this emotive example is seriously flawed”

And these connection records are only going to get less relevant over time - an increasing number of websites including Facebook and Google encrypt their website under "https", which would make finding the name of the website visited far more difficult.

2. …but they’re still a massive invasion of privacy

Even though these records may be useless when someone needs to be found or monitored, the retention of Internet Connection Records (IRCs) is still very invasive – and can actually yield more information than call records, which Theresa May has repeatedly claimed are the non-digital equivalent of ICRs. 

Kennard notes: “[These records] can be used to profile them and identify preferences, political views, sexual orientation, spending habits and much more. It is useful to criminals as it would easily confirm the bank used, and the time people leave the house, and so on”. 

This information might not help find a missing girl, but could build a profile of her which could be used by criminals, or for over-invasive state surveillance. 

3. "Internet Connection Records" aren’t actually a thing

The concept of a list of domain names visited by a user referred to in the bill is actually a new term, derived from “Call Data Record”. Compiling them is possible, but won't be an easy or automatic process.

Again, this strongly implies that those writing the bill are using their knowledge of telecommunications surveillance, not internet era-appropriate information. Kennard calls for the term to be removed, or at least its “vague and nondescript nature” made clear in the bill.

4. The surveillance won’t be consistent and could be easy to dodge

In its meeting with the ISPA, the Home Office implied that smaller Internet service providers won't be forced to collect these ICR records, as it would use up a lot of their resources. But this means those seeking to avoid surveillance could simply move over to a smaller provider.

5. Conservative spin is dictating the way we view the bill 

May and the Home Office are keen for us to see the surveillance in the bill as passive: internet service providers must simply log the domains we visit, which will be looked at in the event that we are the subject of an investigation. But as Kennard notes, “I am quite sure the same argument would not work if, for example, the law required a camera in every room in your house”. This is a vast new power the government is asking for – we shouldn’t allow it to play it down.

6. The bill would allow our devices to be bugged

Or, in the jargon, used in the draft bill, subjected to “equipment interference”. This could include surveillance of everything on a phone or laptop, or even turning on its camera or webcam to watch someone. The bill actually calls for “bulk equipment interference” – when surely, as Kennard notes, “this power…should only be targeted at the most serious of criminal suspects" at most.

7. The ability to bug devices would make them less secure

Devices can only be subject to “equipment interference” if they have existing vulnerabilities, which could also be exploited by criminals and hackers. If security services know about these vulnerabilities, they should tell the manufacturer about them. As Kennard writes, allowing equipment interference "encourages the intelligence services to keep vulnerabilities secret” so they don't lose surveillance methods. Meanwhile, though, they're laying the population open to hacks from cyber criminals. 


So there you have it  – a compelling soup of misused and made up terms, and ethically concerning new powers. Great stuff. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.