Sunday, 26 June 2016

CAMERON AT CLEETHORPES


ON THE PROMENADE


How did he feel on this dark dawn,
Waking early, crushed, forlorn,
The night behind him, with no sleep
With one appointment still to keep?

For vanquished souls, eager to flee
Cleethorpes was no place to be.
Flanked by soldiers, all decorated,
Stone faced he stood and grimly waited.

A page of Eton’s education
Missed from the handbook of the nation
How to spin this deep rejection
As revulsion rolled in his direction.

Overhead the fly-past growled
Help for Heroes patriots scowled
But he could see he was now hated
His Bullingdon youth, evaporated.

From the shaven headed, tattooed crowd
The cry of ‘Traitor’ rang out loud
For one fleeting moment I could see
For once he deserved sympathy

But he’ll survive and take the ermine
Because he’s one of Bevin’s ‘vermin’
The Neanderthal horde continued hissing
It was quite clear who they were missing.
  
In place of that man standing there
Would they have cheered for Tommy Mair?
As to our dark future we all grope,
Where fear and hatred replace hope.

Friday, 24 June 2016

LITTLE HINGERLAND


It Woz us Wot Won it!


Thank heavens that’s over! I’m writing this, bleary-eyed, at 8.30 am on the sunny morning Britain decided to pull up the drawbridge. Napoleon once called us ‘a nation of shopkeepers’, but he also said ‘Glory is fleeting, obscurity is forever’. In turning our back on the world, have we chosen obscurity? That remains to be seen. One thing seems sure; that is that we can’t shake off the baggage of our imperial past, so now we’re trying to carve a future from the tombstone of our long-dead empire. As the saying goes, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

     No matter how the vote panned out, in my opinion this referendum was totally unnecessary and it has split the country down the middle. It cost Jo Cox her life, and her killer will feel ‘justified’ as we spend many thousands of pounds keeping him in comfortable incarceration for the rest of his pathetic life.  It saw Yvette Cooper’s children and grandchildren threatened with death. It has divided families and old friends, some of whom have revealed such dark, xenophobic tendencies which may well separate us for good.


    And who are the victors? Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere, and, of course, the rich - in or out, they’ll continue getting richer. If you thought the government of David Cameron was right wing, then once the new champions, Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove take over, allied to the possible new President of the USA, Brexit supporter Donald Trump, the pre-referendum UK government will seem like communists. Whatever Britain’s ordinary working people have gained in social terms over the past four decades is now under threat. If you study history, call this an extreme view if you wish, but in my opinion there’s an ambience of Munich, 1933 in the air. Why?
EVERYONE LOVES A WINNER!

   There are 13 far-right Eurosceptic political parties celebrating our choice. Germany’s sinister Alternative for Germany party, led by Ms. Frauke Petry were keen for Britain to vote out, as was the ultra-racist right wing Dutch Freedom Party and Le Pen’s French Front Nationale. Now we face many dilemmas. Are Mansfield’s Poles, Latvians and Estonians, no longer beneficiaries of free European movement, about to be sent home? Will our EU traveller’s Health Cards become invalid? Will all the promises about an improved NHS be fulfilled? Now it has achieved its aim, will UKIP be disbanded? On a more humourous note, will garlic now be banned, and shall we dump ‘foreign muck’ like spaghetti Bolognese, pizza, chicken balti and kebabs? Shall we block the Eurotunnel off with straight bananas and French cheese?   

In his speech to young students at Zurich University in 1946, Winston Churchill called for a “United States of Europe, based on justice, mercy and freedom” saying “We are asking the nations of Europe between whom rivers of blood have flowed to forget the feuds of a thousand years.”  Well, here we all happily are, back where we started in ‘Little England’.






Friday, 17 June 2016

R.I.P. JO COX

IN HEAT AGAIN

Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men.
For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard,
the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”
Bertolt Brecht

Source; Referring to Arturo Ui (representing Adolf Hitler),
in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941)

I wrote this short poem (Birstall, below) on the day of Jo Cox's murder. Bob Geldof had also been in the news by taunting hard-working fishermen over their anti-Europe stance. Perhaps the multi-millionaire aging one-time vague pop star ought to be made to spend three weeks at sea trying to fish under EEC fishing regulations rather than cruising along the Thames with his yahoo bubbly-quaffing companions. Yet my stand on FaceBook over certain aspects of the Leave campaign's tactics saw me lambasted with hate; even a balanced, compassionate article in the Guardian I'd posted by Polly Toynbee was interpreted by the nouveau FaceBook fascists as 'stoking hatred' against Britain. They could see no connection between Geldof and Jo Cox's execution. So what this whole referendum thing has achieved is safety for the dark underbelly of xenophobia and flag-waving, gun-boat jingoism to finally slither from under history's heavy rock. Perhaps, unfairly tenuous though this suggestion is, they now have a dark champion in Tommy Mair. He encapsulated the leaver's national sense of hate and frustration. I was hoping for the 'debate' (a misnomer if ever there was one) to guide me as to whether I should vote in or out. I have made my decision now. I will abstain. All I will say is this: in 1981 as a pupil at Dulwich College, Nigel Farage was well-known for his fascist sympathies. So in the months or years to come, as the new right wing parties of Austria, Germany and France unite, as the toxic ant-compassionate views of not only Gove, Farage and Boris Johnson, but Cameron and his cronies gain traction, when the jackboots are being polished and our civil liberties reined in, at least my conscience will be clear - I didn't vote for it all. 

BIRSTALL 14.6.16


I saw a picture of the killer
A man in camouflage fatigues
He was thin and sallow,
Bland, inconsequential
Banal, vanilla-flavoured.
Yet behind the barrier of his eyes
The horror: a vicious pettiness
Hid itself away.
Yet for one day he let it out.

In him I saw the combination
Of computer propaganda
CGI warrior, terminator,
Predator, storm trooper, imaginary soldier,
Illusory avenger, star of
This month’s new releases,
With their Panzers, Uzzis, AK47s,
Medieval swordsman, Samurai,
The Ninja, all Hell’s heroes
Behind a reclusive killer’s eyes.

And all around his loathsome life
His steady hate encouraged
By fires of fury stacked and stoked
By the silver lizard tongues
In suits and ties, men far removed
From the killer’s prosaic being
As they wave their manifestos
Smile in secret, forget their education,
Protected by their privilege and wealth
They dismiss their toxic, lone assassin
Yet whilst feeding on our fears
Like crocodiles, shed tears.


Thursday, 16 June 2016

THE ART OF DARKNESS


THE ART OF DARKNESS
Andreas Paul Weber 1893-1980
Speculating on death


In April 1995 I visited Dachau Concentration Camp for The New Statesman magazine to write a feature (entitled Hell Was Here) on the 50th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. I’d imagined that Munich in April, being far south of Mansfield, would be mild and spring-like. No chance. It was freezing, and I recall the bitter sleet slashing against the train windows on the short journey from Munich Bahnhof to Dachau.

My fellow passengers disembarking at Dachau were a mix of elderly tourists and high school pupils. The older visitors included several Americans. Cold and icy, the weather seemed apt for such a destination, but that day was not without its humour.  There was a minibus waiting outside Dachau railway station which took people to the concentration camp. As we clambered on board, I noticed the driver, obviously of the new, post-war generation of Germans. He was huge, bearded and long-haired, wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with some heavy metal rock calligraphy. As we all shuffled into the bus interior, our colossal chauffeur turned in his seat and bellowed forcefully at us all in the kind of German accent only heard in British B-movies:

    You vill all move down zer bus und be seated now!” At this a small, elderly American guy who may well have been Jewish, piped up in a New York accent;

   “Gee, buddy - ya sure make these trips authentic!”


I spent most of that bitter day walking around the camp. All the main huts, but for a couple, had been demolished, but the Crematorium remained, as did the watchtowers and original SS barracks. There was an oppressive, doomy ambience to the place; no doubt this was to be expected considering the misery, death and torture which had existed there. It was the first of such establishments to be set up by Himmler as early as 1933, the idea being that the Nazis should imprison people as a ‘preventative’ measure - in effect, if they suspected that you might commit a crime, then that was reason enough to lock you up. And, of course, if you were a communist, a dissident, a critic of the party, and although the ‘Final Solution’ hadn’t been established yet, the first batch of inmates included numerous Jews.

It was in the SS barracks, where such awful remnants of mistreatment were displayed, like the whipping block, where prisoners would be tied down for sadistic punishment that I paused with an intake of breath at some framed lithographs. They were some of the most sinister, disturbing art I’d ever seen.

WEBER IN 1979
Andreas Paul Weber (1893-1980) was one of the Third Reich’s first dissidents. His name rarely appears in dictionaries of art. In 1928, appalled at the rise of National Socialism, aged 35 he joined Ernst Niekisch’s anti-Nazi circle and began illustrating books for the Widerstands-Verlag (Resistance Press). When Hitler came to power, the Resistance Press was immediately banned and Weber was arrested and committed to Dachau Concentration Camp. Today there is a Paul Weber Museum in Ratzeburg, a town in Germany south of Lubeck. I would dearly like to go there and see Weber’s originals. There is a sinister darkness to his lithographs depicting the rise of Nazism, it’s corrosive invasion into private life and the hypocrisy of the war years.

'The Informer'
Yet there are blind spots in the museum’s biography of Weber; for example, when he was discharged from Dachau before the war, he at least managed to visit Cuba, and then during the war his work seems to have been (mis?)used by the Nazis. He was drafted in WW2. He did a series of works criticising Imperialism, The Britische Bilder (The British Pictures) producing over one hundred sketches and drawings to protest against Imperialism and Colonialism. In the 60s and 70s Weber became an avid supporter of the ecological movement. He maintained a love of nature and peace throughout his life, detested militarism, pollution, and devoted his art to themes such as justice.  This paragraph from the museum’s website succinctly explains Weber;

          Death is an important theme in Weber's work, as is the figure of the fool, which is a common character in his drawings. The artist identified himself with his figure, which was inspired by the historical joker Eulenspiegel, who lived a few miles from Ratzeburg in the town of Mölln, and by the medieval court jester. Weber envisioned himself as a court jester, because in this position he  could tell uncomfortable truths without being punished.
Titled 'Doom' this was the way Weber predicted National Socialism would go -
straight into the grave.

When it comes to capturing the dark mood of the underbelly of world politics, capitalism and war, every time I think about Dachau I now think about Andreas Paul Weber.  During his 87 years, he produced nearly 3,000 lithographs, hundreds of wood cuts, more than 200 oil paintings and several thousand other drawings. And still he has the power to chill me to the bone.
'The Meeting' 1932



Tuesday, 31 May 2016

RUNNING ON EMPTY


RUNNING ON EMPTY

The Hollywood Reporter recently gathered together six leading New York literary agents to share their thoughts on the publishing industry today. You can see this fascinating hour long discussion on line at www.litrejections.com/agents-roundtable/. One of the agents, Eric Simonoff of the WME agency, recalled one author’s letter which accompanied his MSS. It read; “Dear Mr. Simonoff, it would be an egregious lack of judgment for you to represent me; let me outline ten reasons why…” The writer got a deal. For literary health and safety reasons, I wouldn’t recommend you try this method, but I wish I’d known about it some years ago when agents and publishers still paid attention.
    I’ve heard a lot over the years about ‘writer’s block’ yet it’s not a condition I’ve ever had to contend with. The ideas keep coming, the fragile flame of hope that I can continue to make a meagre living still flickers, and without a daily target of words I feel lost. However, as with all occupations, physical or desk-bound, there comes a time when, imperceptibly at first, age, cynicism and lassitude begin to wear you down. As the literary landscape around you begins to change, a feeling of despair and isolation sets in. After a dozen published books, (deals mostly negotiated without the aid of an agent) countless magazine features, radio and TV work, to paraphrase Groucho Marx I’ve worked my way up from nothing to a state of extreme obscurity. I still write every day, but when it comes to optimism, I’m running on empty.
   It’s a common whinge among us older scribes that writing and publishing aren’t what they used to be. Technology may have initially seemed like a liberator, yet it has also become a destroyer. In the ancient era of the typewriter, a re-write of a day’s work would have taken you just that - a day. Now, on screen you can zip through it in a couple of hours. This ought to have freed up more time for human interaction, but the reverse is true. Good manners and communication in the field of publishing have been eroded almost to the point of non-existence.

I was struck recently by seeing a facsimile of a rejection letter from Faber and Faber dated July 13 1944. It was addressed to George Orwell, a whole page and a half, around 500 words, telling him why Faber wouldn’t be publishing Animal Farm. It was signed by T.S. Eliot. Of course, Orwell was an important writer, yet it was the gentlemanly thoroughness of the rejection which stood out. Eliot and Faber’s directors had actually read the MSS. The two-page typewritten response was detailed, reasoned, helpful. Time had been taken to assess and evaluate a submission. One has to wonder, in the age of the ‘slush pile’, what might have happened to Animal Farm today.


   Needless to say, I’m no Orwell, just a jobbing old hack minus an academic past. With three GCE ‘O’ levels and a fascination with history, I set out to be a writer in the 1970s with no idea how to get into print. Yet even then, three decades after Animal Farm’s rejection, with all my futile romantic hopes and grammatical shortcomings, even a vain would-be wordsmith was allowed to communicate with the commissioning editors of the publishing world. When I tried to write a book in 1971, a history of an obscure Yorkshire railway line killed off by Dr. Beeching, no less than the managing director, David St. John Thomas of the publishers David and Charles, wrote to me a few days after receiving my pitiful MSS with a two page critique of my work and style, with pointers as to how I could improve the work, and encouraging me to keep on writing. In that same year, when I wrote an article on spec for the Observer, the editor of the Business Section, Anthony Bambridge, not only wrote me an uplifting letter, but telephoned me to thank me for my submission. And he printed it. At that time my work was being featured on BBC Radio 3 on a show called The Northern Drift. The producer was the late, legendary Alfred Bradley. He even agreed to meet me in a pub in Hull, where we sat for over two hours as he offered me advice.
   Fast forward to the so-called ‘age of instant communication’, 2016. Two months ago I sent out 7 detailed proposals, four to TV production companies and three to publishers. Return postage and envelopes were enclosed, the submissions all backed up by e-mails. The result to date is … zilch. For nine months last year, as instructed by an interested publisher, I re-wrote a children’s novel five times until they were happy. Then silence fell. I badgered them: eventually they said that their ‘budget wouldn’t allow taking my work on at this time’. Would they have told me had I not kept at them? No. Today more than ever, time is money, and no-one has any to spare. Magazines, newspapers, publishers, the BBC, today all are infected with this courtesy by-pass, where good manners have been burned on the corporate bonfire. That said, I did encounter one pocket of ‘old school’ good manners when I wrote to Ian Hislop with a TV documentary proposal. He actually wrote back, in longhand, telling me he was ‘too busy’ but wishing me luck.
   Of course, it is quite possible that after 40 years of work perhaps my ideas and my creativity have run their vague commercial course. However, I still fall back on Thomas Edison’s dictum; “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”    
David St John Thomas died in his sleep on 19 August 2014 at the age of 84 while on a cruise in the Baltic. I shall remember him and Alfred Bradley fondly, because something good died with them; the human etiquette of response and considerate correspondence.

Monday, 23 May 2016

FLYTIP NATION


Litter at the end of our street, 11 am, Monday May 23rd 2016.
Hope you had a good night, guys.

LITTERBUGS AND BUSYBODIES


ASBOs - remember them? In terms of anti-social behaviour in Mansfield, I call Sundays and Mondays ASBO days. Living in the town centre, close to numerous clubs and pubs, we find Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights make central Mansfield a no-go area for grown-ups. It’s also the time  when the takeaways do their best business, as bawling, immature feral drunks stagger though their midnight delirium in search of kebabs, pizzas and burgers. Probably due to an intoxicated lack of co-ordination, half of what they buy misses their noisy mouths, and is destined for the pavement, along with the packaging which held it, despite litter bins within sight. And so, on Monday mornings, I have go out with my bin bag and grabber and collect the cans, bottles, half-eaten pizzas, scattered chips, noodles, fag packets and assorted prawn crackers carelessly thrown down by these anonymous nocturnal inebriates. On the one occasion I did see litter being tossed on my pavement, using the most diplomatic reasoning I could, I challenged the culprits, only to be threatened with maximum potential violence. This is what you can expect in modern Britain; a good kicking or even a knifing for daring to engage in dialogue over something as prosaic (to them, at least) as turning your town into a shithole.

It seems that in Mansfield, once you’ve had a few beers, dropping your rubbish is your God-given right, wherever you are. If you’re one of those people who can’t abide this anti-social criminality (there’s still a £2,500 fine for littering), and give up your time to clear up the mess, you’re regarded as some kind of interfering old busybody with nothing better to do. Well, that’s me, guilty as charged, m’lud - I just like living down a clean street. It makes one wonder; when these irresponsible oafs finally blunder into their own homes, do they throw the remains of their meals onto the living room floor, or toss the packaging into their gardens? Or were they brought up in a skip? 

Britain is the second dirtiest country in Europe - only Serbia beats us for rubbishy streets. Despite numerous powers and responsibilities for local councils enshrined in legislation,  litter remains an issue of  public concern, with levels of littering and fly-tipping failing to reduce substantially. Campaigns aimed at changing public behaviour don’t seem to work. Keep Britain Tidy places a £1 billion plus annual price tag on managing litter and its knock-on impacts nationally. The website litterheroes.co.uk drove along 1 mile of country lane and found 147 items of litter including 40 drinks cans, 30 plastic bottles, 20 bits of fast food litter, 20 crisp packets, 20 chocolate bar wrappers, 10 Cigarette packets, 6 Carrier bags and 1 hub cap (there’s always a hub cap). So it is hardly surprising that this ‘let somebody else clear it up’ mentality reaches its pinnacle with fly tipping, perhaps the most disgusting offence of them all.

If you’ve any pride in your civic environment, the only answer is to be a busybody. Pick it up, bag it, bin it. But whatever you do, don’t challenge the perpetrators - you too could end up on the pavement.

Friday, 13 May 2016

DEFEND OUR NATIONAL TREASURE


Mansfield's Kings Mill Hospital

No profit: Just Care, Just People.

As our work-worn physiques begin breaking down, those of us in the older generation need to visit a hospital more often than we’d wish. In my case an overweight lifestyle of drinking and scoffing gargantuan plates of food has resulted in 4 hernia operations, trapped bowels and assorted complications. One of these kicked in this week and I was in some agony. If we believe the constant barrage of anti-NHS propaganda issued from UK Plc’s ‘privatise everything’ media, then rather than passing through the doors of a hospital we might imagine we’re entering the gates of Hell.

Yes, there are long waits in A&E at some hospitals. Yes, some people do spend time lying on trolleys in corridors. On some wards around the country perhaps mistakes are made by staff working exhausting 13 hour shifts. However in my opinion, all the negative hype and deliberate underfunding has one underlying purpose - to destroy the NHS and replace it with a US-style private Insurance system. Those of us who use the service regularly are fully aware that the NHS is one of Britain’s finest surviving world-class social achievements - the other is the BBC, also fighting on under the same sinister commercial intimidation from corporate-minded Philistine politicians.

So having just returned from another spell in Kings Mill Hospital, what can I report? Did the NHS work for me? The negative aspect is that I had to go to A&E simply because my local surgery had no GP appointments available. I was in pain, yet couldn’t see a doctor when I needed one. The receptionist suggested Kings Mill’s Primary Care facility. I telephoned the NHS 111 line first to see if my condition warranted my bothering the overworked staff at A&E. After many questions and answers, the nurse on the line decided I should definitely go to the hospital. At 1 pm I arrived in A&E expecting a wait of several hours, but was seen in 20 minutes. Once in the Primary Care department, I spent 45 minutes with a wonderful, highly skilled nurse who gave me the most thorough examination: blood pressure, temperature, samples taken.
They're not called Angels for nothing ... and they're not looking for my credit card here ...

Still in pain, I knew I might not be going home. She rang the surgical ward, and within minutes I was being pushed there in a wheelchair. The ensuing 24 hours were a textbook example of medical routine, care and attention. The ward was subject to a cavalcade of honest care. Conscientious nurses, two junior doctors followed by the no-nonsense superiority of the consultant surgeon. Ladies brought tea, coffee and food from the impressive cosmopolitan menu. I was in overnight for observation. I slept well. The pain subsided, I went home. I’ll return soon for a scan.

     Therefore I conclude; in Britain’s increasingly unequal society created by the privileged rich, our NHS survives as a true bastion of equality. When that nurse takes your temperature and your pulse, she’s not checking your bank balance or credit card. She’s sharing the basics of humanity; care and compassion. The NHS, created by and for the people, still belongs to us all. Perhaps those initials stand for something else; the National ‘Humanity’ Service. Respect, support and defend it - don’t let them steal our last national treasure.