When I was asked to edit an issue of the New Statesman I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me. I chose the subject of revolution because the New Statesman is a political magazine and imagining the overthrow of the current political system is the only way I can be enthused about politics.
I Wrote This
I have had the privilege of scuba diving. I did it once on holiday, and I’m aware that it’s one of those subjects that people can get pretty boring and sincere about, and sincerity, for we British, is no state in which to dwell, so I’ll be brief. The scuba dive itself was nuministic enough, a drenched heaven; coastal shelves and their staggering, sub-aquatic architecture, like spilt cathedrals, gormless, ghostly fish gliding by like Jackson Pollock’s pets. Silent miracles. What got me, though, was when I came up for air, at the end. As my head came above water after even a paltry 15 minutes in Davy Jones’s Locker, there was something absurd about the surface. How we, the creatures of the land, live our lives, obliviously trundling, flat feet slapping against the dust.
More from acute awareness of Instant Karma’s immediate sting than morality, I have learned to treat people apparently lacking power with cordiality. This means that when I arrived at the New York studios of Morning Joe, the gleaming, informal mid-morning MSNBC news analysis show, I was polite to everyone there.
I was surprised by the soundman’s impatient intrusiveness and yet more surprised as I stood just off set, beside the faux-newsroom near the pseudo-researchers who appear on camera as pulsating set dressing, when the soundman yapped me to heel with the curt entitlement of Idi Amin’s PA. In response I wandered calmly from the studio and into the corridor, where a passing group of holidaymakers were enjoying the NBC tour. Often when you encounter rudeness from the crew, it is an indication that the show is not running smoothly, perhaps that day, or maybe in general. When I landed in my chair, on camera, and was introduced to the show’s hosts – a typical trident of blonde, brunette and affable chump – it became clear that, in spite of the show’s stated left-leaning inclination, the frequency they were actually broadcasting was the shrill, white noise of dumb current affairs.
The news cycle moves so quickly now that often we learn of an event through other people’s reaction to it. So it was when I arrived in Los Angeles to find my twitter feed contorted with posts of fear and confusion.
I caught up with the sad malice in Woolwich and felt compelled to tweet in casual defense of the Muslim community who were being haphazardly condemned by a few people on my time line. Perhaps a bit glibly (but what isn’t glib in 140 characters) I put “That bloke is a nut. A nut who happens to be Muslim. Blaming Muslims for this is like blaming Hitler’s moustache for the Holocaust”.
As an analogy it is imperfect but I was frightened by how negative and incendiary the mood felt and I rushed. I’m not proposing we sit around trying to summons up cute analogies when Lee Rigby has lost his life in horrific circumstances I simply feel that it is important that our reaction is measured. Something about the arbitrary brutality, the humdrum high-street setting, the cool rhetoric of the blood stained murderer evoke a powerful and inherently irrational response. When I first heard the word “beheading” I felt the atavistic grumble that we all feel. This is inhumane, taboo, not a result of passion but of malice, ritualistic. “If this is happening to guiltless men on our streets it could happen to me” I thought.
Then I watched the mobile phone clip. In spite of his dispassionate intoning the subject is not rational, of course he’s not rational, he’s just murdered a stranger in the street, he says, because of a book.
In my view that man is severely mentally ill and has found a convenient conduit for his insanity, in this case the Quran. In the case of another mentally ill and desperate man, Mark Chapman, it was A Catcher In The Rye. This was the nominated text for his rationalisation of the murder of John Lennon. I’ve read that book and I’ve read some of the Quran and nothing in either of them has compelled me to do violence. Perhaps this is because I lack the other necessary ingredients for extreme anti social behaviour; mental illness and isolation; either economic, social or both.
After my Hitler tweet I got involved in a bit of back and forth with a few people who said stuff like “the murderer said himself he did it for Islam”. Although I wouldn’t dismiss what he’s saying entirely I think he forfeited the right to have his views received unthinkingly when he murdered a stranger in the street. Someone else regarding my tweet said “Hitler’s moustache didn’t invent an ideology that sanctions murder”. That is thankfully true but Islam when practiced by normal people is not an advocacy for violence. “People all over the world are killing in the name of Islam” someone added. This is the most tricky bit to understand. What I think is that all over our country, all over our planet there are huge numbers of people who feel alienated and sometimes victimised by the privileged and the powerful, whether that’s rich people, powerful corporations or occupying nations. They feel that their interests are not being represented and, in many cases, know that their friends and families are being murdered by foreign soldiers. I suppose people like that may look to their indigenous theology for validation and to sanctify their, to some degree understandable, feelings of rage.
Comparable, I suppose to the way that homophobes feel a prejudicial pang in their tummies then look to the bible to see if there’s anything in there to justify it. There is, a piddling little bit in Leviticus. The main narrative thrust of The Bible though, like most spiritual texts, including the Quran is; be nice to each other because we’re all the same.
When some football fans smash up shops and beat each other up that isn’t because of football or football clubs. It’s because loads of white, working class men have been culturally neglected and their powerful tribal instincts end up getting sloshed about in riotous lager carnivals. I love football, I love West Ham, I’ve never been involved in football violence because I don’t feel that it’s my only access to social power. Also I’m not that hard and I’m worried I’d get my head kicked in down the New Den.
What the English Defence League and other angry, confused people are doing and advocating now, violence against mosques, Muslims, proliferation of hateful rhetoric is exactly what that poor, sick, murderous man, blood soaked on a peaceful street, was hoping for in his desperate, muddled mind.
The extremists on both sides have a shared agenda; cause division, distrust, anger and violence. Both sides have the same intention. We cannot allow them to distort our perception.
The establishment too is relatively happy when different groups of desperate people point the finger at each other because it prevents blame being correctly directed at them. Whenever we are looking for the solution to a problem we must identify who has power. By power I mean influence and money. The answer is not for us to move further from one another, crouched in opposing fortresses constructed from vindictive words. We need now to move closer to one another, to understand one another. If we can take anything heartening from this dreadful attack it is of course the actions of the three women, it’s always women, that boldly guarded Lee Rigby’s body as he lay needlessly murdered. These women looked beyond the fear and chaos and desperation and attuned instead to a higher code. One of virtue, integrity and strength.
To truly demonstrate defiance in the face of this sad violence, we must be loving and compassionate to one another. Let’s look beyond our superficial and fleeting differences. The murderers want angry patriots to desecrate mosques and perpetuate violence. How futile their actions seem if we instead leave flowers at each other’s places of worship. Let’s reach out in the spirit of love and humanity and connect to one another, perhaps we will then see what is really behind this conflict, this division, this hatred and make that our focus.
What does the slung about, bounced around adage that “Politics is show-business for ugly people” actually mean? I suppose that the narcissism and self-interest that motivates many entertainers is what lurks behind the ashen, jowly facades of most politicians. That politics is bereft of altruists, philanthropists and idealists but instead throbs and bristles with stunted show offs, who granted flatter abs and cuter noses would be jiving and caterwauling on Britain’s Got Talent or staring with glum vacuity down the barrel of a camera in a mock corridor in Holby City.
This pith squirt stings because we want our politicians to be motivated by high ideals and compassion and not to secretly seethe every time Harry Styles impeccably saunters through the public mind with hair that gently binds his scalp to the heavens and mankind to the angels.
When I met Caroline Lucas MP, the member for Brighton Pavilion, in an electromagnetic instant I was assured that I was in the company of a high caliber individual. For a start, and I suppose this shouldn’t matter, she’s attractive and could probably, if she so chose feature in Downton Abbey as a highly prized and conscientious scullery maid. Or she could’ve been in Pan’s People in the 80′s.
However when Pan’s People were sashaying around on Top of The Pops, no doubt with one nervous eye on the curiously gurning host, Caroline was at Greenham Common campaigning for nuclear disarmament. Caroline has a legitimate background in activism and on meeting her it is clear, the way it’s always clear, that she is a good person. We know, don’t we, instantly when under the tutelage of a good teacher, we feel it in the timbre of their voice, we can feel the subtle, invisible flow of their good intention. Similarly when held in some schoolroom Beirut, the captive of a gin blossomed pedagogue who barrages his hostages with a spit-flecked, halitosis tempest we recognise a system gone awry. Sat in a plastic chair, chained to the radiator knowing, beyond intelligence, beneath experience that the howling goon at the front of the room spluttering chalk dust and dogma did not care what we learned, only yearned, as we yearned for the bell and The Bells.
With all authority figures we can intuit intent. You can always tell when pulled over by the old bill if you’re in the vindictive grip of an impotent tit, working through his own playground trauma by waving his truncheon in your direction. What a joy it is when you come across a copper who’s just a person like you muddling through life, doing their job trying to do what’s right. You take a nicking on the chin when dispensed by a decent fella.
The greater the power the greater the obligation to be decent. Or as Stan Lee put it – in the mouth of Spider-Man’s uncle “with great power comes great responsibility” a maxim so irrefutably neat that I’d prefer it were Socrates. But there it is, I’m quoting Spider-Man’s uncle. Spider-Man’s uncle’s equation though is frequently subverted; often with great power comes a right arsehole and on entering the Houses Of Parliament one begins to understand why.
The whole joint is a deeply encoded temple of hegemonic power. John Lydon, erstwhile of The Sex Pistols once said of his state education that it seemed to primarily be the installation of a belief system that placed his generation and class at the bottom of an immovable hierarchal structure “look at all these amazing people” his teacher said of Shakespeare, Churchill, Brunel and Keats “they’re great and you’re not.” Luckily it turned out he was, but this format of designating power beyond the reach of ordinary people is shockingly visible in the Houses Of Parliament, a place which nominally represents our power actually demonstrates it’s absence.
I was being shown around first by Melissa Gurumurthy who works for Caroline Lucas, then by a bloke called Derek who does security there. His knowledge of the building, its numerous incredible artworks and history, far outweighed the dilettantish witterings I endured from Melissa (who obviously I fancy). My favourite bits of Derek’s Parliamentary wander were; a clock that’s literally priceless “that means no insurance company will take on the burden of insuring it” said Derek, my mate Gee, on the tour with me retorts “could say the same thing about my old Capri.” In the House Of Lords there are two thrones one for the monarch and another for their plus one. The Queen’s is (an all important) quarter of an inch taller. Philip must sit there fuming; in the context of marriage a quarter of an inch is a big deal. Also in The Lords amongst the phalanx of red leather benches is a solitary seat curbed by an armrest provided for a perpetually drunken Lord (hence the saying?) who required it to prevent him tumbling soused onto the hallowed ground.
There too on the table where orators stand, including Churchill who made his near mythical speeches here, not in the Commons which was being repaired after bombing (apparently there was a war on). There are fist shaped divets ground into the wood. Legend has it that it was the signet ring that Winston wore that carved the table in urgent pumps as he pounded out great gob-fulls of history. All this elegant data was gleaned from Derek who is present in Parliament solely to prevent argy-bargy. This next was my favourite morsel.
Around the modest gallery where the ladies would sit there is a knee-high velvet curtain to shield the eyes of the Lords from the inadvertently revealed ankles of the watching women. In this we see the way institution must bow to nature, how chauvinism is manifest. A curtain has to be installed to prevent men at work from ogling women’s foot bones. Were all the pomp and grandeur indicative of any actual substance it would be enough to say to these divine, governing beings “don’t stare at the bird’s legs, you’re meant to be running the country” presumably they tried that and it didn’t work – the Lords just continued to salivate and stare, the running of blighty relegated to a distraction form their blue-blooded erections, till one day the maintenance people, the Dereks of the day thought “fuck it, we’ll put a curtain up”. This demonstrates what we actually all know; the people that run our country are no different from us, flawed and flailing they flummox and flounder their way through the day. Melissa momentarily interrupted her deference to Derek with one astute observation as we sat in the gallery of The House Of Commons. Behind the thick, glass paneling installed in response to “The Father’s For Justice” purple paint ejaculation into the power paddock below some years ago, we sat and watched the harrumphing. I literally heard one bloke, a Tory stood at the front near that mace, where Betty Boothroyd used to be, it’s a bloke now, this Tory went “They should be sent home to prisons in their own countries” I thought “yep, that’s the sort of stuff I expect to hear”. Validating in its adherence to stereotyping; like hearing an Aussie holler “throw another shrimp on the barbie mate”. Cliché saves us from thinking. Melissa now observed that our beautiful surroundings, you’ve all seen them on the telly, (you could go and have a look, a security man downstairs said anyone can come “it’s surprising people don’t bother”) the green, leather benches, the relentless oak paneling, the Hogwarts fugue all look the same as the halls and chambers of Oxford University. Or Cambridge. Or Eton. These great monuments to privilege and power all deploy a consistent design and symbology. A symbology which is alien to the majority but comfortably familiar to the privileged few. When most of us are in these rooms we feel daunted and belittled, remember, “they’re great and you’re not” but the bloke up the front near the mace has spent his whole life in rooms like that, schools like that. The fact is though that it is an illusion. The power has to be so articulately asserted because it isn’t there. The power is within us, the people. We can at any time elect to ignore that power, or overthrow it. The reason I was in Parliament to meet Caroline Lucas, a person who is there, oddly, for the stated function of the place – to represent us, is because she is proposing that the government investigate the efficacy of their current drug policy. The prohibition of narcotics, the criminalisation of addicts, the prescription of methadone and the demonisation of people in the grips of an illness. Of this I can speak first hand. In all my years as a junkie I never encountered an addict who was persuaded to stop using by their drug’s legal status. “What?! This is illegal? Oh no! I’ve been taking it EVERYDAY!!!” Drug addicts don’t care that drugs are illegal, it’s irrelevant. If you’re addicted to drugs, you are going to get drugs at any cost. This is not a moral quandary but a physical necessity. My belief is that the only way to help drug addicts is to get them off drugs and to help them stay clean one day at a time. It is a lot harder to do this if they are regarded as degenerate from the get go. It skews our perspective. But what do I know? Perhaps what the government is doing is working, a thorough study will reveal how effective current drug policy is. That is what Caroline Lucas is proposing, I’m advocating and I am asking you to support. Let’s look at the evidence and then see what we should do. If we get 100,000 signatures on this online survey http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/45969 then Caroline can push it in the House Of Commons. I’ve signed it, it is a bit boring, it took about 90 seconds but I’m a bit of a techno-div. also it’s against my nature to fill in a survey like a little square, I’d prefer to smash a window or throw some paint but I don’t think it’s the answer. In Caroline Lucas, on this issue and I suspect many others, we have someone in a position of some power who actually cares about things that affect us. She’s not there so that she can get hold of a Cheeky Girl or meet Louis Theroux or get her toes sucked by an equine brass, she is endevouring to enact the needs of the people. So please sign this http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/45969 it’s hardly a fait accompli, perhaps the survey will reveal that all is well, that nothing could be improved, in which case we can all relax, watch Britain’s Got Talent, or Parliament on telly and await further instruction from our representatives.
It was not without significant tribal turbulence that I attended Manchester United’s 2nd leg quarterfinal Champion’s League match against Real Madrid. Like a twerp I’d requested the tickets from former Hammer Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) via twitter, a lamentable exploitation of fame that elicited a red tide of justifiable online indignation. I suppose to the digital witnesses I was a bellowing, southern cyber-Stanley Kowalski binarily screeching for further privilege in a public square inhabited by millions. In this analogy, Rio Ferdinand is Stella, at a window, in a nightie. That’s the only reason I’m using it. Nevertheless I went to Old Trafford, in some way heartened by the purity of the truculence, football now having been largely rinsed of it’s scintillating aggression. My mate Nik, who was the reason for my attendance at the crimson Mecca, is a United fan. He’s from Manchester and everything. That’s the only reason I was going.
I’ve only been to a few matches that didn’t involve West Ham so I thought I might enjoy the spectacle of football without the accompaniment of tear inducing burst bubbles. But neutrality is not in my nature so before too long I was sort of pretending to be a United fan. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t cheer or gesticulate; I, Russell, did not and would not support Manchester United under any circumstances, I just pretended to be someone else who did. Like in a sexual role-play where you might (for example) indulge some incestuous fantasy and invite your partner to call you “Daddy”. During that fantasy responsibility is temporarily absolved, as you become a fictional third party, free from consequence. You don’t actually want to be their Daddy, that would be weird. And a lot of responsibility. So hopefully that makes it clear, I would never support Manchester United but I would pretend to be a pervert Dad having sex with an imaginary adult daughter. Imaginary. In the imagination all is permitted. Except the betrayal of club allegiance, that’s disgusting.
I was enjoying my macabre version of fantasy football, United, behind from the first leg and with some surprising first team omissions, most notably Wayne Rooney, were containing Real nicely. Xabi Alonso was occupied by Rooney’s replacement, Danny Wellbeck and unable to feed Cristiano Ronaldo. Imaginary United supporting me silently approved Sir Alex’s ingenuity.
Football fans always query and second-guess the decisions of managers but I always return to the baseline certainty that they must know more than us. They must. The alternative is too terrifying; that mad, flawed, myopic boors are running our clubs. So if Theo Walcott isn’t being played through the middle at Arsenal that can’t be because it’s never occurred to Arsene Wenger. Or if Matt Jarvis seems too deep to make an impact that can’t be because Sam Allardyce has never considered the alternatives at West Ham.
Impotent punditry though remains irresistible. Except perhaps at Old Trafford under the benevolent regime of Sir Alex. Now that his reign is over we are granted an almost posthumous perspective. I can just about remember his appointment in the 80’s; I would likely have enacted it through my voodoo Subbuteo rituals, which always had more peripheral theatricality than other boys. Managers were not provided by the manufacturers so I’d outsource the role to Star Wars figures. They were as disposable and interchangeable as their human counter parts and often more discerning in the transfer market. I can easily recall Ferguson’s early purchases; Gary Pallister from Middlesborough, Steve Bruce from Norwich and of course Paul Ince from West Ham. Me and video man, the man who rented videos out of his van (and sold weed I discovered a few years down the line when videos were no longer enough) discussed this last. He too was West Ham and he profanely schooled me in the breached etiquettes of Ince’s departure –“You don’t say you’ll sign a new contract then show up on the back pages in a Man U shirt”.
Ince remains irredeemable at The Boleyn Ground, this antipathy outlasting even Ferguson. John Lyall was manager of West Ham when the era of Sir Alex commenced, he’d been in charge for seventeen years when he was eventually fired, the league’s longest serving boss. Ferguson had only been in charge for three years and hadn’t won a thing, it was inconceivable then that we were observing a legend in genesis. Bill Shankley, perhaps the only comparable figure in the firmament’s famous refrain, that “football is not a matter of life and death, it is more serious than that” is true, football is a metaphor. It is a metaphor for war, adversity, unity and triumph. It is an amorphous, transcendent template through which we can understand our diffuse, convoluted reality. West Ham United represent consistency, inconsistency power, powerlessness, joy and disappointment in my own silly little life. My erratic ever-shifting perspective, my continually altering circumstance can be managed and understood through my relationship with the club. Alex Ferguson is a unique figure in the football faith because he has defied many accepted regulations. For a start he’s been manager for ages in a profession in which men are mercilessly culled. He is a powerful, working class man who has remained true to his roots whilst adapting to the economic circumstances of his own life and that of his culture. Labour supporting son of a shipbuilder becomes New Labour donor and racehorse owner. Importantly I believe that Ferguson resonates at frequency that we rarely encounter in our anodyne culture of the perpetual present; he is a recognisable and identifiable tribal chief at a time when our political leaders look like equine prefects (Milliband) or painted eggs (Cameron). These are not men that we are biologically predisposed to follow; they are men that we will tolerate. Malcolm X first became a concern to the CIA when at a volatile Harlem protest, as the energy of the horde threatened to ignite, he from his makeshift pulpit, with a single gesture bid them to disperse. The observing officer said it was the efficiency of Malcolm X’s motion that evoked such terror. “If he just raises a hand and they all head home what if he tells them to fight?”
When, against Real Madrid, Nani was sent off, Ferguson, jaws agape, interrupting his incessant mastication, roared from the bench, uprooting his assistant and marched to the touchline. Then, with none of Brother Malcolm’s efficiency, he pumped his hands like Prospero summonsing the tempest, and at once the stadium stirred from somnolence and obeyed their leader and thundered with one, terrifying voice. Imaginary Manchester United supporting me was inspired. He recognised that this was no ordinary manager but a Chieftain Priest. This is why the emphasis at Old Trafford is on continuity rather than revolution, with Moyes as Bob Paisley and Scotand as some giant, rugged Anfield boot-room. Ferguson’s potency must be bestowed, a hereditary successor appointed. If there could be a son selected from those available it would not be Darren Ferguson schooled at The Posh but David Moyes, stern and stoic, hewn if not from the same DNA, then the same rock, the same nation, the same mythic paradigm. Sir Alex has urged his followers not to call him Boss, to reserve that moniker for Moyes. He has appointed and anointed, given unto them his son, if not his flesh, his likeness. Fergie has subverted much in his two and a half decades of omnipotence, desecrating the face of Adonis with a projectile boot, alchemically balancing the Lords of capitalism that took over the club from his friend Martin Edwards. He even made time itself his servant stretching games to a duration that meant his tribe could prevail. But Fergie time, unlike cosmic time is ultimately finite which is perhaps why we need icons, figureheads, Gods. They are our coordinates in the limitless morass. Our map back home, to a place where we have peace, free from injustice, a place where we are all United.
One Sunday recently while staying in London I took a stroll in the gardens of Temple, the insular clod of quads and offices between The Strand and The Embankment. It’s kind of a luxury, rent controlled ghetto for lawyers and barristers, there is a beautiful tailor’s, a fine chapel, established by The Knight’s Templar (from which the compound takes it’s name) a twee cottage designed by Sir Christopher Wren and a Rose Garden; which I never promised you.
My mate John and I were wandering there together, him expertly proselyting on the architecture and the history of the place, me pretending to be Rumpole Of The Bailey (quietly in my mind), when we spied in the distant garden a hunched and frail figure, in a raincoat, scarf about her head watering the roses under the breezy supervision of a masticating copper. “What’s going on there mate?” John asked a nearby chippy loading his white van. “Maggie Thatcher” he said. “Comes here every week to water them flowers.” The three of us watched as the gentle horticultural ritual was feebly enacted, then regarded the Iron Lady being helped into the back of a car and trundling off. In this moment she inspired only curiosity, a pale phantom dumbly filling her day. None present eyed her meanly or spoke with vitriol and it wasn’t till an hour later that I dreamt up an Ealing Comedy style caper in which two inept crooks kidnap Thatcher from the garden but are unable to cope with the demands of dealing with her and give her back. This reverie only occurred when the car was out of view. In her diminished presence I stared like an amateur astronomer unable to describe my awe at this distant phenomena.
When I was a kid Margaret Thatcher was the headmistress of our country. Her voice, a bellicose yawn, somehow both boring and boring – I could ignore the content but the intent drilled it’s way in. She became leader of the Conservatives the year I was born and Prime Minister when I was four, she remained in power till I was fifteen, I am, it’s safe to say, one of Thatcher’s children. How then do I feel on the day of this matriarchal mourning?
I grew up in Essex with a single Mum and a go-getter Dagenham Dad. I don’t know if they ever voted for her, I don’t know if they liked her, my Dad I suspect did, he had enough Del Boy about him to admire her coiffured virility but in a way Thatcher was so omnipotent, so omnipresent, so omni-everything that all opinion was redundant.
As I scan the statements of my memory bank for early deposits (it’d be a kid’s memory bank account at a neurological Nat West where you’re encouraged to become a greedy little capitalist with an escalating family of porcelain pigs) I see her in her hairy helmet, condescending on Nationwide, eviscerating eunuch MPs and baffled BBC fuddy duddies with her General Zodd stare and coldly condemning The IRA. And the miners. And the single Mums. The Dockers. The poll-tax rioters. The Brixton rioters, the Argentinians, teachers; everyone actually.
Thinking about it now, when I was a child she was just a strict woman telling everyone off and selling everything off. I didn’t know what to think of this fearsome woman.
Perhaps my early apathy and indifference are a result of what Thatcher deliberately engendered, the idea that “there is no such thing as society” that we are alone on our journey through life, solitary atoms of consciousness. Or perhaps it was just because I was a little kid and more interested in them Weetabix skinheads, Roland Rat and Knight-rider. Either way I’m an adult now and none of those things are on telly anymore so there’s no excuse for apathy.
When John Lennon was told of Elvis Presley’s death he famously responded “Elvis died when he joined the army” meaning of course, that his combat clothing and clipped hair signaled the demise of the thrusting, Dionysian revolution of which he was the immaculate emblem.
When I awoke today on LA time my phone was full of impertinent digital eulogies. It’d be disingenuous to omit that there were a fair number of ding-dong style celebratory messages amidst the pensive reflections on the end of an era. Interestingly one mate of mine, a proper leftie, in his heyday all Red Wedge and right-on punch-ups was melancholy. “I thought I’d be overjoyed, but really it’s just… another one bites the dust…” this demonstrates I suppose that if you opposed Thatcher’s ideas it is likely because of their lack of compassion, which is really just a word for love. If love is something you cherish it is hard to glean much joy from death, even in one’s enemies.
Perhaps though Thatcher, “the monster” didn’t die today from a stroke perhaps that Thatcher died as she sobbed self-pitying tears as she was driven defeated from Downing Street, ousted by her own party. By then, 1990, I was fifteen, adolescent and instinctively antiestablishment enough to regard her disdainfully. I’d unthinkingly imbibed enough doctrine to know that, troubled as I was, there was little point looking elsewhere for support, I was on my own. We are all on our own. Norman Tebbit one of Thatcher’s acolytes and fellow “Munsters evacuee” said when the National Union Of Miners eventually succumbed to the military onslaught and starvation over which she presided “We didn’t just break the strike, we broke the spell”. The spell he’s referring to is the unseen bond that connects us all and prevents us from being subjugated by tyranny. The spell of community.
Those strikes were confusing to me as a child. All of The Tory edicts that bludgeoned our nation, as my generation squirmed through ghoulish puberty, were confusing. When all the public amenities were flogged the adverts made it seem to my childish eyes fun and positive, jaunty slogans and affable British stereotypes jostling about in villages, selling people companies that they’d already paid for through tax. I just now watched the British Gas one again, it’s like a whimsical live action episode of Postman Pat where his cat is craftily carved up and sold back to him.
“The News” was the pompous conduit through which we suckled at the barren Baroness, through newscaster wet-nurses, naturally, not direct from the steel teat. Jan Leeming, Sue Lawly Moira Stewart – delivering doctrine with sterile sexiness, like a butterscotch scented beige vapour. To use a less bizarre analogy; If Thatcher was the Headmistress they were junior school teachers, authoritative but warm enough that you could call them Mum by accident. You could never call Margaret mother by mistake, for a national matriarch she is oddly unmaternal. I always felt a bit sorry for her biological children Mark and Carol, wondering from whom they would get their cuddles. “Thatcher as mother” seemed, to my tiddly mind, anathema, how could anyone who was so resolutely Margaret Thatcher be anything else? In the Meryl Streep film it’s the scenes of domesticity that appear most absurd. Knocking up a flan for Dennis or helping Carol with her algebra or Mark with his gunrunning are jarring distractions from the main narrative; woman as warrior queen.
It always struck me as peculiar too when the Spice Girls briefly championed Thatcher as an early example of Girl Power, I don’t see that. She is an anomaly, a product of the freak-conomy of her time. Barack Obama interestingly said in his statement that she had “broken the glass ceiling for other women”. Only in the sense that all the women beneath her were blinded by falling shards. She is an icon of individualism, not of feminism.
I have few recollections of Thatcher after the slowly chauffeured, weepy Downing Street cortege. I’d become a delinquent by now living on heroin and benefit fraud.
There were sporadic resurrections; to drape a hankie over a model BA plane tailfin because she disliked the unpatriotic logo with which they’d replaced the Union Jack (maybe don’t privatise BA then) or to shuffle about some country pile arm in arm with a dithery Pinochet and tell us all what a fine fellow he was. It always irks when right wing folk demonstrate in a familial or exclusive setting the values that they deny in a broader social context. They’re happy to share big windfall bonuses with their cronies, they’ll stick up for deposed dictator chums when they’re down on their luck, they’ll find opportunities in business for people they care about. I hope I’m not being reductive but it seems Thatcher’s time in power was solely spent diminishing the resources of those who had least for the advancement of those who had most. I know from my own indulgence in selfish behavior that it’s much easier to get what you want if you remove from consideration the effect your actions will have on others.
Is that what made her so formidable, her ability to ignore the suffering of others? Given the nature of her legacy “survival of the fittest” – a phrase that Darwin himself only used twice in Origin Of Species, compared to hundreds of references to altruism, love and cooperation, it isn’t surprising that there are parties tonight in Liverpool, Glasgow and Brixton – from where are they to have learned compassion and forgiveness?
The blunt, pathetic reality today is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision, if you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t. Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship. It isn’t sad for anyone else. There are pangs of nostalgia, yes, because for me she’s all tied up with Hi-De-Hi and Speak and Spell and Blockbusters and “follow the bear”. What is more troubling is my inability to ascertain where my own selfishness ends and her neoliberal inculcation begins. All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people’s pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful. Perhaps there is resentment because the clemency and respect that are being mawkishly displayed now by some and haughtily demanded of the rest of us at the impending, solemn state funeral are values that her government and policies sought to annihilate.
I can’t articulate with the skill of either of “the Marks”, Steel or Thomas, why Thatcher and Thatcherism were so bad for Britain but I do recall that even to a child her demeanour and every discernible action seemed to be to the detriment of our national spirit and identity. Her refusal to stand against apartheid, her civil war against the unions, her aggression towards our neighbours in Ireland and a taxation system that was devised in the dark ages, the bombing of a retreating ship – it’s just not British.
I do not yet know what affect Margaret Thatcher has had on me as an individual or on the character of our country as we continue to evolve. As a child she unnerved me but we are not children now and we are free to choose our own ethical codes and leaders that reflect them.
The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday. I had received “an inconvenient truth” from a beautiful woman. It wasn’t about climate change – I’m not that ecologically switched on – she told me she was pregnant and it wasn’t mine.
I had to take immediate action. I put Morrissey on in my car as an external conduit for the surging melancholy, and as I wound my way through the neurotic Hollywood hills, the narrow lanes and tight bends were a material echo of the synaptic tangle where my thoughts stalled and jammed.
Morrissey, as ever, conducted a symphony, within and without and the tidal misery burgeoned. I am becoming possessed. The part of me that experienced the negative data, the self, is becoming overwhelmed, I can no longer see where I end and the pain begins. So now I have a choice.
The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday. I had received “an inconvenient truth” from a beautiful woman. It wasn’t about climate change – I’m not that ecologically switched on, she told me she was pregnant and it wasn’t mine.
I had to take immediate action. I put Morrissey on in my car as an external conduit for the surging melancholy and as I wound my way through the neurotic Hollywood hills the narrow lanes and tight bends were a material echo of the synaptic tangle where my thoughts stalled and jammed.
Morrissey as ever conducted a symphony, within and without and the tidal misery burgeoned. I am becoming possessed. The part of me that experienced the negative data, the self, is becoming overwhelmed, I can no longer see where I end and the pain begins. So now I have a choice.
I cannot accurately convey to you the efficiency of heroin in neutralizing pain. It transforms a tight, white fist into a gentle, brown wave. From my first inhalation fifteen years ago it fumigated my private hell and lay me down in it’s hazy pastures and a bathroom floor in Hackney embraced me like a womb.
This shadow is darkly cast on the retina of my soul and whenever I am dislodged from comfort my focus falls there.
It is ten years since I used drugs or drank alcohol and my life has immeasurably improved. I have a job, a house, a cat, good friendships and generally a bright outlook.
The price of this is constant vigilance because the disease of addiction is not rational. Recently for the purposes of a documentary on this subject I reviewed some footage of myself smoking heroin that my friend had shot as part of a typically exhibitionistic attempt of mine to get clean.
I sit wasted and slumped with an unacceptable haircut against a wall in another Hackney flat (Hackney is starting to seem like part of the problem) inhaling fizzy, black snakes of smack off a scrap of crumpled foil. When I saw the tape a month or so ago what is surprising is that my reaction is not one of gratitude for the positive changes I’ve experienced but envy at witnessing an earlier version of myself unencumbered by the burden of abstinence. I sat in a suite at the Savoy hotel, in privilege, resenting the woeful ratbag I once was, who for all his problems had drugs. That is obviously irrational.
The mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help they have no hope.
This is the reason I have started a fund within Comic Relief, “Give It Up”. I want to raise awareness of, and money for abstinence based recovery. It was Kevin Cahill’s idea, he is the bloke who runs Comic Relief. He called me after reading an article I wrote after Amy Winehouse died. Her death had a powerful impact on me I suppose because it was such an obvious shock, like watching someone for hours through a telescope advance towards you, fist extended with the intention of punching you in the face. Even though I saw it coming it still hurt when it eventually hit me.
What was so painful about Amy’s death is that I know that there is something I could have done. I could have passed on to her the solution that was freely given to me. Don’t pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time. It sounds so simple, it actually is simple but it isn’t easy, it requires incredible support and fastidious structuring. Not to mention that the whole infrastructure of abstinence based recovery is shrouded in necessary secrecy. There are support fellowships that are easy to find and open to anyone who needs them but they eschew promotion of any kind in order to preserve the purity of their purpose, which is; for people with alcoholism and addiction to help one another stay clean and sober.
Without these fellowships I would take drugs. Because, even now, the condition persists. Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution.
If this seems odd to you it is because you are not an alcoholic or a drug addict. You are likely one of the 90% of people who can drink and use drugs safely, I have friends that can smoke weed, swill gin, even do crack and then merrily get on with their lives, for me this is not an option. I will relinquish all else to ride that buzz to oblivion. Even if it began as a timid glass of chardonnay on a ponce’s yacht it would end with me necking the bottle, swimming to shore and sprinting to Bethnal Green in search of a crack house.
I look to drugs and booze to fill up a hole in me, unchecked the call of the wild is too strong. I still survey streets for signs of the subterranean escapes that used to provide my sanctuary. I still eye the shuffling subclass of junkies and dealers, invisibly gliding between doorways through the gutters. I see that dereliction can survive in opulence; the abundantly wealthy with destitution in their stare. Spurred by Amy’s death I’ve tried to salvage unwilling victims from the mayhem of the internal storm and am always, always just pulled inside myself. I have a friend so beautiful, so haunted by talent that you can barely look away from her, whose smile is such a treasure that I have often squandered my sanity for a moment in it’s glow. Her story is so galling that no one would condemn her for her dependency on illegal anesthesia, but now, even though her life is trying to turn around despite her, even though she has genuine opportunities for a new start, the gutter will not release it’s prey. The gutter is within. It is frustrating to watch. It is frustrating to love someone with this disease.
A friend of mine’s brother cannot stop drinking. He get’s a few months of sobriety and his inner beauty, with the obstacles of his horrible drunken behaviour pushed aside by the presence of a program, begins to radiate. His family bask relieved, in the joy of their returned loved one, his life gathers momentum but then he somehow forgets the price of this freedom, returns to his old way of thinking, picks up a drink and Mr. Hyde is back in the saddle. Once more his brother’s face is gaunt and hopeless. His family blame themselves and wonder what they could have done differently, racking their minds for a perfect sentiment, wrapped up in the perfect sentence, a magic bullet to sear right through the toxic fortress that has incarcerated the person they love and restore them to sanity. The fact is though they can’t, the sufferer must of course be a willing participant in their own recovery. They must not pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time, just don’t pick up, that’s all.
It is difficult to feel sympathy for these people. It is difficult to regard some bawdy drunk and see them as sick and powerless. It is difficult to suffer the selfishness of a drug addict who will lie to you and steal from you and forgive them and offer them help. Can there be any other disease that renders its victims so unappealing? Would Great Ormond Street be so attractive a cause if its beds were riddled with obnoxious little criminals that had “brought it on themselves”?
Peter Hitchens is a vocal adversary of mine on this matter. He sees this condition as a matter of choice and the culprits as criminals who should go to prison. I know how he feels. I bet I have to deal with a lot more drug addicts than he does, let’s face it, I share my brain with one, and I can tell you first hand they are total fucking wankers. Where I differ from Peter is in my belief that if you regard alcoholics and drug addicts not as bad people but as sick people then we can help them to get better. By we, I mean other people who have the same problem but have found a way to live drug and alcohol free lives. Guided by principles and traditions a program has been founded that has worked miracles in millions of lives. Not just the alcoholics and addicts themselves but their families, their friends and of course society as a whole.
What we want to do with Give It Up is popularise a compassionate perception of drunks and addicts and provide funding for places at treatment centers where they can get clean using these principles. Then, once they are drug and alcohol free, to make sure they retain contact with the support that is available to keep them clean. I know that as you read this you either identify with it yourself or are reminded of someone who you love who cannot exercise control over substances. I want you to know that the help that was available to me, the help upon which my recovery still depends is available.
I wound down the hill in an alien land, Morrissey chanted lonely mantras, the pain quickly accumulates incalculably and I begin to weave the familiar tapestry that tells an old, old story. I think of places I could score. Off Santa Monica there’s a homeless man who I know uses gear. I could find him, buy him a bag if he takes me to score.
I’d leave him on the corner, a couple of rocks, a couple of $20 bags pressed into my sweaty palm. I get home, I pull out the foil, neatly torn. I break the bottom off a Martel miniature. I have cigarettes, using makes me need fags. I make a pipe for the rocks with the bottle. I lay a strip of foil on the counter to chase the brown. I pause to reflect and regret that I don’t know how to fix, only smoke, feeling inferior even in the manner of my using. I see the foil scorch. I hear the crackle from which crack gets it’s name. I feel the plastic fog hit the back of my yawning throat. Eyes up. Back relaxing, the bottle drops and the greedy bliss eats my pain. There is no girl, there is no tomorrow, there is nothing but the bilious kiss of the greedy bliss.
Even as I spin this beautifully dreaded web I am reaching for my phone. I call someone not a doctor or a sage not a mystic or a physician, just a bloke like me, another alcoholic, who I know knows how I feel. The phone rings and I half hope he’ll just let it ring out. It’s 4am in London. He’s asleep, he can’t hear the phone, he won’t pick up. I indicate left, heading to Santa Monica. The ringing stops, then the dry mouthed nocturnal mumble
“Hello. You alright mate?”
He picks up.
And for another day, thank God, I don’t have to.