DAY 216: The gatherings

June 24th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Oh, if only the nation elected its prime minister at Glastonbury, eh? Or by any form of popular acclamation. Yesterday was (probably) the last night of Ramadan, and my plan was to go to my local mosque, Finsbury Park, where three days ago a racist driving a white van had rammed into worshippers, killing one man and seriously injuring several. It’s a social centre in our part of Islington and they were having a multi-faith commemoration and iftar. I had to go and join what was a popular Islington event.

The crowd was impressive (several hundred, I reckon about three quarters Muslims) and diverse. On the bus down I met Maggie, who with a team was bringing down boxes of flowers in pots to hand to worshippers- a gift from a local ‘healing centre’. The Stop the War Campaign could have taken lessons from the brevity of the ceremony, where about twelve speakers from different faith and community groups, from the council and the police(!) spoke strongly for about two minutes each on the value of our community and the mosque within it; and of unity and tolerance. An audiologist from UCLH found me a seat – thanks for that.

It was all over in about half an hour, and we went on to prayers and the iftar. On a personal note I was lucky to meet up with Cassy Paris whose testimony on the Calais jungle when it was still new two years ago moved me to get involved. (See no. 142 of this blog for a fuller account.) It was a good evening.

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But the realities of politics aren’t like that, it would be good if they were. As things are, understanding what’s going to happen is a complete nightmare for simple souls like me who don’t understand how you can have bring a bunch of fanatical creationists into the government without breaking the Good Friday Agreement. I’ve been spending more time discussing with some of my twitter friends whether we could celebrate the defeat of the EU by undoing decimalisation and bringing back the half-crown, the bushel and the peck. I raised the possibility that this might bring down neoliberalism as the neoliberals would find the maths too hard (while maintaining gay marriage and other social gains which don’t seem to depend on the number system. It may take two to tango, but that doesn’t say anything about what genders the tangoists are.)
But I think I have strayed off the point. As we all know, when St Joseph of Arimathea arrived in Glastonbury, he struck his staff into the ground, where it flowered and became the Glastonbury Thorn. It’s not
glastorecorded who was then ruler of Britain, though King Arthur seems a good bet, and he got the job by pulling a sword out of a stone. Which could be a way of dealing with contested elections. And he had, of course, no ambition to lay any claim to Scotland or Ireland. But the symbolism of the Round Table seems to echo that of the EU. Many a knight probably complained about the way in which building standards were being imposed on his castles.
In lieu of a print poem, I’ve been reduced to what’s maybe commoner these days: a Youtube poem, featuring Jude Cowan Montague‘s Gaza poem ‘The Messengers’ in Resonance FM’s iconic Borough studio. Not strictly related to anything I’ve been discussing, it relates to a general despair about the events around us.
I’ve never had the gall to post a song by the Incredible String Band, whose outlook seemed to coincide so closely with mine about fifty years ago. So here, if you don’t know what they sound like (or even if you do) is ‘Kooeeoaddi There‘ – Glastonbury many years before its time.

 

DAY 215: More

June 19th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Which could mean all sorts of things, of course (one thinks of Oliver Twist); I’m today, on the anniversary of her death, thinking of Jo Cox: ‘we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us’. How much more time do I have left to think these thoughts? Why don’t I have more friends to collaborate with me and stop me writing so much nonsense, as I so often do?

Indeed, we’re even more divided than before, as is shown by the reactions to the Grenfell Tower fire: between those who are angry and appalledScreen Shot 2017-06-19 at 08.38.19 and those who are – for whatever reason – indifferent. Between those who understand that deregulation and corporate capitalism have created a culture in which is’s legitimate for the writers on the  Mail and the Sun to attack safety regulations and support cutbacks in fire services routinely - and that this culture is potentially lethal – and those who go along with the attacks and cutbacks.

I’ve seen half a dozen clips on twitter, and I’m sure it’s a fraction of the total, many distressed, angry, even breaking down; I think of Akala, of David Lammy (both friends of fire victims, and it’s not a coincidence). On any statistical test, the majority of dead are black, immigrants, marginalised; the owners and their spokesmen are white and well-off. The election gave us a chance to overcome this division, by putting a reasonably diversified bunch of people into government. But the rulers are determined to cling on to power, by making deals with far-right Irish racists; it’s how the system works, particularly when the signs are that an election tomorrow would bring in a thumping Labour majority.

We have still to be patient; it’s the tactic of the poor; angry,2C26A6E000000578-3232004-image-m-18_1442072742837 not submissive, but patient, believing that we are capable of victory. The rulers, the one percent, are much more defensive than they were a year ago even.

I was at a Momentum meeting in Wood Green this evening (that’s more than usually irrelevant). The mood was not uniformly optimistic, as one might have expected: ‘We are young, we have Jeremy, we won the election, who can stop us?’ As you might indeed expect in these days when disasters seem daily to pile on one another, it was a coupling of recent victory with a more sober assessment of the dangers ahead. It seems right. Have I posted ‘Komm, Hoffnung‘? I think I have, even recently. It bears repeating.

LOOK BACK IN ANGER, a poem by Les Nicholls

Timber plastic concrete and steel

Burned with a fury that hardly seems real

Taking with it the old the young of varying races

Scenes etched on our minds of their terrified faces

Babies mothers husbands and friends

The names of the missing on a list without end

Look back in anger now with total disgust

Betrayed by those people in whom they should trust

This was no act of god this was utter neglect

This was a lack of compassion and social respect

Look back in anger at the warnings ignored

Shunned by their landlord to whom they implored

We are shocked as a nation as this horror unfolds

And full of emotion as the stories are told

We have seen religion and culture all put aside

United in anger for all those that died

A public inquiry will not bring back the dead

it will not help those people who need to be sheltered and fed

Look back in anger as they talk and debate

While anger and despair haunt those left to wait

Look back in anger at the political spin

But the anger now rises as our patience grows thin

This tragedy occurred in a land of prosperity

In a home for the poor besieged by austerity

This suffering was caused by ignorance and conceit

It was an avoidable  horror we must never repeat

 

 

DAY 214: Inferno

June 15th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink


I feel this is something of a metaphor (don’t we all love metaphors?) for the current state of affairs, of blogging, of my mind: I’d dealt with my rumination on the astounding and encouraging election result; and was preparing for a lengthy discussion of the music scene in North London as I see it, when the Grenfell Tower disastergrenfell struck, with the following consequences:

1. It displaced all other news – and that at a moment of national crisis, when we had (we have) no idea of who is to govern us;

2. It brought into the foreground questions (which should have been there all along) of how the rich act with complete disregard of health and safety regulations, which they treat as ‘red tape’ constraining the entrepreneur;

3. It brought together a multiplex of underfunding issues – of safety inspectors, rescuers, hospitals, firefighters,

fightersall down to the same mean-spirited (but very profitable) neoliberal culture which has prevailed for years, and is still central to our government. I appeal to you, citizens, let us give one more push and get these rotten apples in the rubbish heap of history, where they belong!

But seriously, reader, do you not despair of that Twitter culture which constantly chains you to the events of the last six, nay the last two hours? So that all your latest comments, however thoughtful, lose validity because you don’t know, can’t know, what’s just happened? I’m not seeking to disparage what I’ve just said; and the General Election, however ‘snap’, has been on the way for some time. But all these Daesh attacks (to take one random example) distract the blogger’s attentions from the eternal verities where it should rest. In particular – to take  the example towards which I was heading  - from contemporary music in Dalston. Back in November (I think) I was moved to write about the amazing Aphty Khea who performed in Kentish Town (post 197, I think, if you’re looking). I quote:

‘A tall woman in a long dress12814670_1117701058261868_7769792526235084374_nstrode onto the stage and began to set up (a daunting array of synths and other electronic equipment). This took the best part of half an hour. Did the audience know what was to come? I didn’t, I was getting restive, and when Aphty Khea (for it was she) finally unleashed her repertoire on the pub, I was completely bowled over. That someone who by rights should be performing for huge sums at the South Bank was playing for charity at the Fiddlers Elbow! I hadn’t heard such a dazzling, provocative display of pure art – I’d like to say for years, but I have a duty to my journalist’s conscience (is there such a thing?).’

Gutted is the usual term for what I was, to find that I’d just missed Aphty’s last gig for some time – and that in CamdenTown on Tuesday; I could easily have got to it. I’d set my sights on a different offering, compositions by the well-known (but not to me) composer Tansy Daviestansy who specialises among much else in dead modernist settings of translated troubadour ballads. The link will (should?) get you to ‘Troubairitz’ which is precisely that. A small crowd of enthusiasts sat, many on the floor (not me) and waited through some longish periods of drumming and stuff; between the real event, which was a series of recent and not-so-recent Davies offerings. Before heading off into the sticky Dalston Ramadan night.

Much earlier, of course, Arthur Brown of the Crazy World attended the Universities of London and Reading and studied philosophy and law, but he gravitated to music instead, forming his first band, Blues and Brown, while at Reading and produced his number 1 single ‘Fire‘, which is where we came in. None of his studies – even law? – led him to speculate, as he should – on the profitability of fire.

Or the irresponsibility of rulers. I suppose we could go back to Conrad’s Lord Jim (again, it’s only about 100 years) to find some lessons on how the British abandon health and safety regulations, particularly when Muslim pilgrims are involved. Preachy Marlow refers in Jim’s case to the ’struggles of an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should be.’

A City’s Death By Fire – Poem by Derek Walcott. (This has no particular relevance but what the hell.)

After that hot gospeller has levelled all but the churched sky,
I wrote the tale by tallow of a city’s death by fire;
Under a candle’s eye, that smoked in tears, I
Wanted to tell, in more than wax, of faiths that were snapped like wire.
All day I walked abroad among the rubbled tales,
Shocked at each wall that stood on the street like a liar;
Loud was the bird-rocked sky, and all the clouds were bales
Torn open by looting, and white, in spite of the fire.
By the smoking sea, where Christ walked, I asked, why
Should a man wax tears, when his wooden world fails?
In town, leaves were paper, but the hills were a flock of faiths;
To a boy who walked all day, each leaf was a green breath
Rebuilding a love I thought was dead as nails,
Blessing the death and the baptism by fire.

 

DAY 213: Jam

June 12th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Aren’t we in one! Among the hundreds of comments, posts, tweets, I’ve been wading through since That Election, I was particularly struck by Russell Brand’s observation that Mr Corbyn was thought to be unsuited for the post of Prime Minister because he has an allotment and makes his own jam. The making of jam, then, becomes (I mused) a metaphor for governance; and I recalled the gardeners in Richard II who discuss the parallels between ruling and gardening (pruning, weeding, chopping off heads of unruly citizens and that). Similarly as a one-time jam-maker I recall that the activity requires not strength and stability, much less forcefulness and aggression; but a good deal of patience and watchfulness -to stop it jamfrom burning and keep picking out the stones, if any. And it is with these qualities that the Labour team have built up their position from certain losers to sitting on the farcical knife-edge where we now find ourselves.

I expect many of my readers, however, will have found themselves facing Meg’s problem from Little Women, vividly analysed by Sarah Blackwood and Sarah Mesle in the LA Review of Books; ‘Meg has repeatedly offered to host John and his work friends as guests, and then when he finally shows up one afternoon with some bro having given her zero notice, it happens to be on the day when she is making jelly, which John Brooke “forgot.” Have you made jelly? You don’t forget it: standing over a hot boiler or steamer, dealing with a very sticky (and expensive) syrupy mess while some weird hard-to-predict chemistry happens with pectin.  In Meg’s case, the chemistry isn’t working: “she reboiled, resugared, and restrained, and that dreadful stuff wouldn’t ‘jell.’”

Have you ever read a more wrenching sentence about failed femininity?

Little Women makes a little bit light of Meg’s anguish at the fact that “the jelly won’t jell,” because taking a light and breezy tone towards the deep wells of womanly distress is what the novel does best and a lot of why we love it — this “breezy tone,” of course, is necessary to disguise the real service the novel provides to young lady readers, which is cluing them in to the fact that the labor of domestic life is a shit show, all the way down. Making jelly is about breaking individual cells, the walls of the fruit, and recreating from these structured individual segments a glistening whole. It’s like making a family. It is a fragile dangerous process, an attempt to make the anarchy of multiple people’s clashing bodies and minds into something sustainable, and lasting, and even sweet.’

So what? So Theresa’s attempt to make this country’s government coagulate are failing in front of a whole roomful of Euro-guests. If only she, like Richard II, had learned the basic domestic skills which, it seems, JC has and is ridiculed for having. While Theresa is ridiculed for a host of other defects, and is in her turn called names which J.K.Rowling rightly finds offensive.

In a recent video I saw, the character complains of being stuck in traffic. To be met with the riposte: ‘You’re not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.’ Which is rather where we are.

We might just settle for making Lebanese dried fig jam, Lebanon being notoriously a synonym for strength and stability.

 

DAY 212: Vote!

June 7th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

What can I say! I’ve rarely been at a point which has so clearly typified old Antonio’s saying about pessimism of the intellect coupled with optimism of the will. I feel I’m constantly having to correct the foolish assumptions of my friends, or even my foes, that Labour will – or might – win the election. The chances of this are quite extraordinarily slender, and no number of heartwarming vids of Corbyn rallies to audiences of thousands. or Clean Bandit songs, will move us from the unlikely to the just possible. In this blog’s view, the best we can hope for is a) a hung parliament plus b) an agreement between the non-right-wing parties that they will form a pseudo-government and get some of the decent things done which we want to see done. At the very least, NOT do some of the horrible things they would do if they were Tories. I know, don’t I know, of the evil decisions Jack Straw made when he was Home Secretary. I only pray that if Diane Abbott or someone else in the non-Tory camp gets they job, they won’t make similar decisions; they’ll move to end detention, close down Yarl’s Wood,yarlswood start accepting Dubs children and so on. Is it too much?

To achieve which, you all have to vote, and get your friends to vote, for whichever non-Tory stands a decent chance of winning. I personally have no patience with this ‘no pacts’ mantra.  Do you want to lose? As long as we’re stuck with FPTP we have to play by its rules. I’m elated by the image of thousands  of people who believe that we only need all the young to vote (and all the old do what?). I don’t believe it. We need everyone who’s getting screwed by the current government (i.e. the masses) to vote it out.

A couple of months ago many of my friends and relations believed that Corbyn was finished. I didn’t, and I was right; he’s done an amazing job. But not being finished isn’t the same thing as winning.

Get out and vote Labour (or Scot Nat or Green in the appropriate places); and get this evil government out.

Or, as Helen Dunmore said in her wonderful last poem which I posted yesterday, if you’re as old as I am and have nothing to expect but endless Tory governments, welcome death…

Hold out your arms
Death, hold out your arms for me
Embrace me
Give me your motherly caress,
Through all this suffering
You have not forgotten me.
You are the bearded iris that bakes its rhizomes
Beside the wall,
Your scent flushes with loveliness,
Sherbet, pure iris
Lovely and intricate.
I am the child who stands by the wall
Not much taller than the iris.
The sun covers me
The day waits for me
In my funny dress.
Death, you heap into my arms
A basket of unripe damsons
Red crisscross straps that button behind me.
I don’t know about school,
My knowledge is for papery bud covers
Tall stems and brown
Bees touching here and there, delicately
Before a swerve to the sun.
Death stoops over me
Her long skirts slide,
She knows I am shy.
Even the puffed sleeves on my white blouse
Embarrass me,
She will pick me up and hold me
So no one can see me,
I will scrub my hair into hers.
There, the iris increases
Note by note
As the wall gives back heat.
Death, there’s no need to ask:
A mother will always lift a child
As a rhizome
Must lift up a flower
So you settle me
My arms twining,
Thighs gripping your hips
Where the swell of you is.
As you push back my hair
– Which could do with a comb
But never mind –
You murmur
‘We’re nearly there.’